Additional Disclaimer: There’s a bit of potty humor in Chapter 30. The worst part is that it’s based on a true incident—I was the one who committed that gross oversight. Oops, pun not intended!
Agony in the Garden - Part 4
That was the last game of the regular season, Julia thought to herself as she waited for her father Rhett to pick her up. We’ll get our playoff schedules Monday. There was still a nagging fear in the back of her mind that she might not be allowed to join. Lindsay wouldn’t mind riding alone, she chuckled to herself.
The familiar tan sedan pulled into the parking lot, and she walked over to where her father parked. “Hi Dad,” she greeted him.
“Hi Julia,” he responded. “Were you still wanting to work on the Hell House tonight?”
“There’s a few little details I’d like to finish, but there’s not much left to do.”
“Would you mind if I came and saw it?” he gently asked.
“I wouldn’t mind,” she replied. “You’ve probably been wondering what I’ve been spending all my time doing these past two weeks.”
He smiled. “How about we get a little dinner first? Where would you like to go?”
“Taco Bell okay with you?”
“Sounds good,” he said, turning onto the main thoroughfare and merging into the proper lane to get there.
“I’m quite impressed by that house,” Rhett commented after his visit. “They really went all out.”
Julia nodded. “It’s one of their major vehicles for spreading the gospel. You know how people are fascinated by the macabre.”
“Indeed,” Rhett agreed. “It is an awfully thin line though, I wouldn’t want to see our church doing it.”
“I suspect some people are in it more for the blood and gore than to shock people to their senses.” She idly looked out the passenger side window. “It was fun, but it seems awfully unorthodox.”
“Julia, I got a message on the answering machine about your counselor
wanting to speak to me Monday. Could you possibly fill me in?”
Remember, Dad is on your side. “I spoke with the counselor about Justin.”
“I know you didn’t want to go out with him,” Rhett said, “but I have a feeling you didn’t tell me the whole story. This isn’t like you.”
“No, I didn’t tell you the whole story. Remember when I said I quit
“I remember that night. You told me Mom told you to date Justin or quit the tennis team.”
“I’ve had this nagging feeling he was going to ask me out for quite a while. He’s not a nice kid, Dad. He stalks me at school.”
Rhett’s eyes widened. “Go on,” he told her.
“I got fed up with it at lunch, and he figured out where I’ve been hiding out. Two of my friends were there, and I told him to get lost. He took exception to that and got a little physical.”
Rhett was truly concerned. “Are you okay? He didn’t touch you, did he?”
“No, but in retrospect, I think he was going to. My friend Kelsey stepped in front of him and he slapped her, hard.” She paused, noticing they were getting close to home. “You can’t walk around campus with a black eye without having a counselor get involved.”
“I’d hope not,” Rhett said. “I’m glad you trust me enough to tell me what happened, but I wish you would have said something about Justin earlier.”
“I was afraid you were backing Mom up,” she sobbed.
“Your safety comes first, Julia,” he told her solemnly. “I’m sorry your mother has given you reason to distrust us. But please, don’t hold things like this from me in the future.”
“I won’t,” she promised. “Thanks for listening, Dad.”
They pulled into the garage. “Where’s Mom’s car?” she asked, noticing the other bay was empty.
“I don’t know,” he replied as he pulled in and parked. He turned the car off and they both got out; he fished the keys out of his pocket and opened the door. “A letter.” He walked over to the dining room table and picked it up.
My mother had a little accident and dislocated her shoulder. She has limited mobility at the moment, so I am going to be at her house for a couple of days until my sister gets time off from work. I should be back Sunday morning.
“Looks like we have the house to ourselves tonight,” Rhett remarked. “I better call her first though, or I’ll be in the doghouse.”
Whoo hoo! Mom’s gone! I know I shouldn’t delight in it, but after all the grief she’s put me through, I don’t think the vacation could be long enough!
Third period had the Student Council back in the gym, cleaning up after the brunch rally and setting up for the fair scheduled the next day. “Well, Audrie, this is our final day before we open up the exhibit tomorrow,” Julia announced as she marked off the exhibit spaces on the gym floor. “Next week we’ll be stuffed back in the classroom going after each other’s throats again.”
“Ugh, Julia, why did you have to remind me of that?” Audrie groaned.
“Sorry,” Julia apologized. “Psst…I think Justin knows he’s in trouble.”
“Oh? Why do you say that?”
“In Statistics today he left me alone. Wouldn’t even look at me. He spent the whole period writing in his notepad.” She smoothed the tape down on the floor, and realized she had finished laying out all the exhibit spaces. “I guess it’s time to start dragging tables over.”
“Where’s our exhibit?” Julia heard a masculine voice complain at the other end of the gym. She turned to see Luke throw his hands up. “Mr. Eldon!”
“Hmm,” Julia murmured. “That’s strange.”
“Seems that Luke and Cassie misplaced their exhibit materials.”
“You think Natasha got back at them?” Audrie asked. “After all, they ripped up some of the stuff she was working on.”
She noticed Cassie walked over to where Natasha was while Luke disappeared, presumably to find Mr. Eldon. Cassie didn’t stop until she was within a foot of Natasha. “You fucking bitch! You destroyed our exhibit!”
Natasha whirled around to face her. “Your exhibit? I didn’t touch your goddamn exhibit!” she growled. “Although it is funny that it vanished into thin air,” she then admitted.
Cassie stepped around her and swept her arm across the work surface. “You’re not going to get away with this!” she howled. Brushes and little bottles of acrylic paint went flying in all directions.
Natasha shoved her away before she could get a second swipe in. “I fucking told you I didn’t do it, so stop sabotaging my project!”
“Piece of shit project you have going,” Cassie spat.
“Cassie,” Luke interjected. “Mr. Eldon has it.”
The freckled spitfire turned around. “Why does he have it?”
Luke put his hands on his hips. “He wants to have a word with us. Just us.”
“Stupid bitch,” Cassie muttered under her breath as she walked away from where Natasha was working.
“Hmm,” Audrie commented. “I don’t think we have to wait until next week for the fur to start flying.”
The gym became quiet again as the remaining student council members quietly finished up their projects. “I wonder why Mr. Eldon would have their project,” Kelsey mused.
“Didn’t Mr. Eldon say he was going to screen projects?” Jessie asked. “They must have run afoul of the guidelines.”
Cassie and Luke came back into the room, steam coming out of their ears. “They’re going to have to start from scratch, I’m guessing from the looks on their faces.”
“I’d like to know what they did,” Jessie wondered. “It must have been really bad.”
Kelsey grinned. “It’s probably something crass yet boring, and the only reason we’re intrigued is because it now is a mystery.”
Because it was too late to start on a new project, Luke and Cassie were instructed to help Audrie and Julia set up tables. “I can’t believe Mr. Eldon canned our project!” Cassie fumed to the two quiet Christian girls. “Natasha must be in on it!”
“I’m sure if Natasha did something tasteless she’d get her project canned too,” Audrie suggested. “What is that she has, anyway?”
Julia squinted, peering into the distance. “Looks like cherubic little devils dancing in a circle.” She giggled a little. “In fact, it reminds me of ‘Family Circus’ except the characters are sprouting little horns, a tail and a pitchfork.”
“I wonder what in heaven’s name Cassie and Luke did to get their project canned. There’s plenty of gross stuff on display planned for our Halloween fair.”
“I think Kelsey and Jessie are doing the ‘guess what’s in the box’ display. You know, you stick your hand in there and try to get what nasty thing it’s supposed to be.”
“The one where you peel grapes and try to convince people they’re eyeballs?”
“Eww!” Audrie gagged. “I’ll be passing that exhibit.”
“Wait, I think Mr. Eldon has shot down someone else’s idea this year,” Julia recalled. “I think Brendan was wanting to bring in a ‘cat box cake’ to sell at the concession stand.”
“Do I dare ask what goes into that?” Audrie frowned.
Kelsey and Jessie sat at their usual table in the quad with Natasha and Kacie when they saw two familiar figures approach.
“Hey, it’s Julia and Audrie,” Jessie interrupted the conversation at hand. “What’s up?”
Julia looked at the empty spot next to Kelsey, but she noticed that Kacie was sitting on the other side of her. It would be rather inappropriate to sit next to her considering…but…wait, we aren’t supposed to be competing! I’m just a friend, that’s all. “Anyone sitting here?” she asked, pointing to the spot next to Kelsey.
“Nope, make yourself at home,” Kelsey invited her. Julia settled next to her, and Audrie sat in the spot across from Julia. “I haven’t seen you out here in the quad in ages,” she commented.
“I think the counselor scared Justin pretty badly,” Julia informed her. “He wouldn’t even look at me during statistics.”
“Good!” Jessie praised. “About time that creep went back to the hole he crawled out of.”
“Hey, Julia,” Natasha queried, “would you happen to know what Luke and Cassie were doing that got them in trouble with Mr. Eldon?”
Julia shrugged. “No idea,” she replied.
“Come on,” Natasha pried. “You were working with them all during Student Council today.”
“I told you I have no idea.” She added, “I’m curious myself.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Kelsey tense. “Kelsey?”
“Shh,” the tomboy urged her, nervously watching something in the distance. The table fell quiet.
“What’s going on?” Kacie asked.
“I’ll explain later,” Kelsey tersely replied. “Jessie, as soon as he turns his back, come with me to the office. My dad is not supposed to be on campus.”
Jessie and Julia watched the scruffy older man wander around the quad. His gait was unsteady and stiff, and he looked a bit lost.
“And for the record, you guys don’t know me,” Kelsey told the rest of the group. “He’s turned his back. Let’s go!”
They quickly exited, leaving the four of them at the table, two goths and two quiet Christians.
“What’s wrong with her dad?” Kacie asked innocently. Natasha pinned her with her eyes.
“Don’t go there.”
“He looks drunk,” Kacie commented.
“I said not to go there,” Natasha growled, kicking her under the table.
“Oww! Alright already!” Kacie yowled.
“We’re going to go to the library,” Julia announced. “I forgot to print out my homework for my next class.”
“Alright, see you later then,” Natasha told the departing girls. “Nice lunching with you.”
When the two were safely out of earshot, Natasha exhaled. “Talk about awkward!”
“They seem like the last people you’d expect to see at our table,” Kacie commented.
“They’re friends of Kelsey and Jessie’s. They don’t like me.”
“They look like fundies,” Kacie noted. “Who dresses in long skirts and cardigans? And those colors—ugh!”
“They are,” Natasha confirmed.
“Would one of them be the one who pissed off Kelsey the other day?”
“Yeah, the tall one.”
Kacie tilted her head. “Is that the one you said Kelsey liked?”
“Mmm hmm,” Natasha confirmed. “She hasn’t told me outright though, but we all know. They’re the last two people you’d expect to be friends.”
“She’s so plain,” Kacie snorted.
Natasha giggled. “I think a little wardrobe change would benefit her greatly. Can you imagine her in leather?”
Kacie looked at her friend as if she was crazy. “Have you lost your mind?”
Because their town was small, there was only one high school to serve the entire community, and the student body was diverse, from the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich. While the side of town Julia lived on was rich and prosperous, the same could not be said for where the high school was. As a result, the high school was fenced in and during school hours, visitors could only access the grounds through the main office.
Kelsey ground her teeth as she approached this office. Some bozo let my father in, she fumed, knowing it was the only way he could get to the quad.
She stopped when she was at the secretary’s desk. She was the one who was responsible for signing people in and students out during school hours. “Yes?” she said, looking up at the two students.
“My father is on campus, and he’s not supposed to have any contact,” Kelsey sternly stated at her.
“Let me look in the log,” the secretary replied, taking the white binder. “What’s his name?”
She flipped through the pages. “We signed him in about ten minutes ago.” She paused, then reached for the stack of hall passes, shuffling through them before she grabbed the one she was looking for. “He’s signed you out for the remainder of the afternoon.”
“The son of a bitch,” Kelsey growled under her breath.
“Pardon?” the secretary asked.
“Sorry,” she apologized. “Look, he’s not supposed to have any contact with me. Court ordered. He doesn’t have custody of me, he doesn’t have custody of my sister Shana, and I would like you to call the police. He’s not supposed to be here.”
The secretary looked confused. “Let me talk to my supervisor.”
“Hey, Jessie?” Kelsey asked. “Could you go find my sister and bring her in? I don’t want him walking off the school grounds with her.”
“I have no idea where she hangs out.”
“Damn, me either. Julia’s in the library, maybe she’ll know.”
“Okay. I’ll be back.”
Kelsey was left alone in the office, when the vice principal came in with the secretary. “It is my understanding that your father is on campus and there’s a restraining order on him, am I correct?” the vice principal confirmed.
“He doesn’t have custody, he’s not allowed to sign me out and off campus,” Kelsey stated evasively, knowing that the restraining order had long expired when he had gone to prison years prior. “He’s a dangerous man.”
“We’ll call the police. What does he look like?”
“He’s about two inches taller me, about five foot nine, and he doesn’t look like he’s shaved or showered in days. And I think he’s drunk.”
The vice principal’s eyes widened. “Tammy, how did someone like that get through our office doors?”
She scratched her head, looking at the logbook closely. “Damn. It must have been when Becky took over when I took my lunch break. That’s not my writing.” She looked up at Kelsey, her eyes questioning. “You are not pulling my leg, are you?” she scolded. “You can get in a lot of trouble for filing a false police report.”
“Ma’am, I’m not kidding,” Kelsey tried to state calmly, but she could feel her voice rise as her throat tightened. The secretary picked up on her fear, and her eyes softened.
“Sorry,” she apologized, as the vice principal came back in.
“The police will be here shortly,” he said. The lunch bell rang. “We need you to stay here and get this sorted out.”
Jessie came in with Shana soon after. “Kelsey, what’s going on?” she asked, confused. “I need to go to class.”
“It’s not safe,” Kelsey told her. “Dad’s on campus looking for us.”
Her sister’s eyes bugged out.
“The police need to talk to us.” Kelsey leaned in and added in a whisper, “They’re questioning my reputability ‘cause I dress like a punk, so I’m glad you’re here to fill them in that I’m not joking about the bastard.”
Kelsey heard the door opening, and two officers in blue came in. “Time to go get this straightened out,” she muttered to herself as the vice principal led her, Shana and the officers to a room in the back.
Kelsey walked to her Datsun after classes were over, carefully eyeing the people in the parking lot for anything suspicious. The officers had spoken to her and Shana for a good thirty minutes—which was enough time to let the scruffy alcoholic slip off the premises. They thought I was making up the goddamn story, Kelsey raged as she scanned the parking lot one last time before she got into her little yellow truck. And by the time they were finished, I was pretty convinced I was imagining things.
She grabbed the keys out of her pocket and unlocked the door. Shana was getting a ride home from someone else, so it was just her alone this afternoon. I’m glad my sister was there to verify my description, but I suspect they didn’t believe her either. Good thing there were eyewitnesses in the quad who said they noticed him there too. There for a minute, I thought I had gone crazy.
She started the truck, and debated her next course of action. I don’t really want to go home, but I really need to talk to Mom about this. She needs to know he’s been sniffing around.
She looked in the rearview mirror, and saw that no one was behind her. Shifting into reverse, she backed out, then shifted into first gear and pulled out of the parking lot.
She noticed that there was an old faded red Honda hatchback parked out on the street. And I thought this thing was a junker, she joked to herself as she passed the decrepit vehicle that sputtered to life behind her.
She saw the old Honda pull away from the curb, and she felt a little uneasy about the red car. I’m probably just imagining things, she told herself, but she couldn’t help but be wary after the lunchtime scare. The old beater continued to follow her when she turned right onto the busy road. Don’t go straight home, a voice chimed in her head. What’s a nice indirect route that would lose this red car?
To the library, she decided, turning left two stoplights down the street, which led away from the house. Nothing really interesting down here unless you’re a nerd or got a term project. She waited at the stoplight, awaiting a green arrow. She noticed the red car pulled in behind her, and she got a good look at the occupant.
Son of a bitch, she thought to herself. He’s following me. She hooked a U-turn when the light turned green, thinking that going downtown when everyone was leaving work was probably not a wise idea. The little red car easily navigated the sharp turn, much to her consternation, even though she was not surprised—the itty bitty box of bolts had a much smaller wheelbase than her truck.
She got enough distance between her and the car to get a glimpse of the license plate. “Remember it in threes,” she told herself when she saw the mix of letters and numbers, reading the plate aloud to herself. She repeated it to herself again. Now where? I need to go somewhere that’s really public, so he at least has an audience. And then I need to call the police.
She saw a gas station right beyond the school, which tended to be busy at all hours of the day. There. Go there. She pulled into the parking lot and parked in front of the convenience store that sat behind the pumps. Grab yourself a soda. Act innocent. Do not leave the store until he’s gone.
She turned off the ignition, got out, and locked up. Walking inside, she noticed the line at the cashier’s to be long, so she went to the back and perused the refrigerator section. What do I want? There was a vast array of soda, in 20 oz and 2-liter sizes; none of the prices were marked. It’s going to cost me an arm and a leg, she grumbled as she made her choice. And I need to tell the cashier to call the police.
She looked up into the convex mirror that towered over the store and gave her a wide-angle view of the store. I don’t see him in here. She felt her palms sweat as she debated calling the police. They didn’t believe you at lunchtime. Why would they believe you now?
The door to the cold case slammed shut. I can’t. If they decide to take me in for filing a false report, we’re in trouble. I’m the only one who drives in this family.
With a heavy sigh, she knew she was on her own as she stood in line to pay for her drink. Keep your head on, Kelsey. The family needs you.
After paying for her drink, she walked outside and carefully scanned the entire parking lot and the street around her. I’m not going directly home, she decided. I need to be certain he’s gone.
She eyed the pay phone in the corner. I better let Mom know I’m running late. Fishing in her pockets, she found a quarter, and she walked over and stuck it in the machine before dialing her number. She was not surprised to hear the answering machine pick up—Mother always screened her calls.
Beep! the machine chimed. “Mom, this is Kelsey. I know you’re there, so please pick up.”
She heard the phone being lifted off the cradle. “Yes dear?”
“I’m calling to let you know I’m running late,” she informed her mother. “Dad followed me out of the parking lot this afternoon.”
She heard her mother sigh. “Kelsey, I’d normally tell you to stay at Jessie’s tonight, but I need you to come by and pick up Shana.”
“Where’s she going?” Kelsey questioned. “Is she home?”
“Yes, she’s home,” Mother confirmed. “I need you to take her to church. They’re having a Halloween fair.”
The tomboy exhaled. “Tell her to be ready, because I’m not staying long.”
“I will,” her mother assured her. “You better come in and pack a bag. I don’t want you staying here tonight.”
“Where am I to go?” Kelsey cried. “Jessie’s out of town.”
Her mother was quiet for a second. “Go wherever Shana goes then.” The receiver pressed against her ear started to beep.
“I’m running out of time and I don’t have any more quarters,” she informed her mom. “I got to go.”
“Take care and drive safely, dear. Don’t hesitate to call the police.”
Thank god he left when I pulled into the gas station, Kelsey mused to herself as she walked into her home. Probably thought I was calling the cops on his sorry ass.
Her mother was there. “Pack your bag,” she urged her. “Shana’s packing hers.”
Kelsey walked upstairs, to see her sister standing in front of the dresser debating what to take with her.
“What’s the big deal?” she snapped. “They’re just clothes! Grab some and let’s get going.”
Shana wheeled around to face her. “What bug crawled up your ass?” she asked, scowling.
“Dad followed me halfway home, didn’t Mom tell you?”
“She didn’t,” Shana admitted. “She just told me to pack.”
“That’s why,” Kelsey stated. “I want to be out of here in five minutes.”
“Five minutes?” her sister sputtered incredulously. “That’s not enough time!”
Girls, Kelsey grumbled to herself. “For chrissakes, just grab something!”
“That’s easy when you only own two changes of clothes,” her sister retorted. “And don’t wear any makeup.”
She’s really getting on my nerves. “Shana, it’s just a couple of days. Just grab something, worry about your damn face paint some other day when we’re not being stalked.”
It didn’t seem to convince her sister any. I’m done fighting. I’ll have Mom yell at her. She stuffed her change of clothes and pajamas into a small duffel bag and trotted downstairs. “Shana’s taking her sweet time,” Kelsey tattled. “I yelled at her but I think it just made her more determined to be stubborn.”
Her mother sighed. “I’ll deal with it.” Turning to face the stairs, she yelled, “You have one minute to get down here, young lady! Or I’m going to be breaking spoons on your backside!”
She heard nothing but silence for a moment, and then drawers started slamming. Guess she got the message. She heard the door to their room creak open, and her younger sister came trotting down the stairs. About time!
“I can’t believe I got talked into this,” Kelsey grumbled to herself as she sat in her Datsun outside Western Baptist Church’s Hell House. Shana had gone inside to find her friends Leah and April. Kelsey wasn’t too fond of the two girls; they were rather annoying in a typical freshman manner. At least they’re not finding mischief to drag Shana into like her old friends from middle school, Kelsey reminded herself. It’s rather hard to believe she’s the same girl after all the stunts she pulled last year.
Daylight was fading fast. I guess I’ll drag myself in there, she glumly decided. It looks a little fishy to be lurking about in a parked car. Guess what, Julia? You got your wish. She locked up and walked into the building. I bet you talked my sister into coming to this, since you know I have to drive her everywhere!
She caught a glimpse of the tall beauty in the distance. I should be mad at you, but at this point, I don’t think I care. I got bigger problems to deal with than your proselytizing.
It didn’t find Shana long to find her friends inside. “Shana!” the short, rotund brunette shrieked. “You made it!”
“Of course I made it, Leah,” the strawberry blonde freshman exclaimed as she hugged her friend. “All I have to do is mention to Mom is that church is holding an activity and I get a ride,” she grinned.
“Speaking of ride, did your grouchy sister come too or did she just drop you off?” The rotund freshman saw someone and waved them over. “April!”
A tall, thin blonde greeted them. “Hey, you guys made it,” she remarked as she hugged both Shana and Leah.
“And to answer your question, Leah, she did come,” Shana finished.
“Where is she then?” Leah inquired. “The Hell House was made for people like her.”
Shana shrugged. “She’s probably out sulking in the parking lot.” She paused, then asked, “Mom doesn’t want either of us going home tonight. Any chance either of you could let us stay over?”
Leah frowned. “I don’t mind if you come over, but please, don’t bring Grouchy.”
Shana turned to April, who saw the question had been extended to her. “You can come over, but I don’t trust your sister.”
“What’s wrong with my sister?” Shana cried. “I know she’s a little weird but I swear she’s harmless!”
April grimaced. “I don’t trust her. She looks like a dyke. She might do something like try to touch us.”
Shana rolled her eyes. She wasn’t surprised that her friends refused; they always looked at her sister like she was an alien from Mars. Still, she felt responsible; maybe she could convince someone else to let them stay over.
“Hey, Shana, let’s go see if we can find your sister,” Leah suggested. “Maybe the Hell House will scare the queer bullshit out of her. Then you wouldn’t have to worry about everyone at church treating her like she has cooties.”
“Let’s go back outside and see if she’s out there,” Shana suggested. A quick scan of the parking lot revealed the Datsun sitting, parked, but Kelsey was nowhere to be spotted. “She must have gone in.”
April stood on her tiptoes to get a good scan of the room. Being tall, she was able to get a fairly good view of the room. “I don’t see her,” she informed them.
“Maybe she already went into the exhibit?” Shana suggested.
Leah nodded. “Which is what we want. These things get busy pretty fast, we might as well see what horrors they came up with this year. Shall we go now?”
“Yeah,” April affirmed.
“Yup,” Shana concurred. They paid the admission fee and went inside.
“Wow,” Shana mumbled, “they went all out!”
Leah nodded. “It’s a major deal.”
The dark passageway led to the first room. It showed a young woman on an examining table, surrounded by emotionless nurses and a doctor. The patient was screaming, while the doctor held a bowl filled with something covered in blood. Blood was spattered all over the room, and the doctor held up the pieces in the bowl.
Shana squinted to look into the bowl. A severed doll’s head was floating in the blood. “So this is the abortion room,” she commented to herself, glancing at her companions. April looked pallid while Leah looked fascinated.
A little devil figure crept into the room; the doctor saw it and handed it the bowl of blood soaked parts. “There goes the soul of the unborn dead,” Shana narrated to herself.
The tour guide then ushered the group into the next room. It was a party, complete with drunken teenagers. One of the teenagers grabs a pair of car keys and the room emptied to reveal the teenager behind a steering wheel, swaying back and forth in his seat, unable to keep the wheel steady. He jerked the wheel and fell over while the speakers broadcasted a sickening crunch. A puff of white fog obliterated the view of the room, and when it cleared, bodies littered the floor. “The evils of partying,” Shana noted to herself. April looked less pallid, which relieved Shana’s worries.
The next scene featured a lone teenager looking at a bottle of pills. Out of the darkness, another demonic figure crept behind the teenager and whispered something into her ear. She opened the pill bottle and consumed its contents.
“Thank goodness this is just an act and that bottle is empty,” Shana reassured herself.
They entered the fourth room, in which a lone coffin sat, and a demon sat on top of it. “Another soul for Satan,” the demon cooed. “Died of AIDs. Can you believe I convinced him into thinking he was born gay? Hahahahaha!” The demon turned around, to see a figure approach. The person was dressed in very camp clothing, suggesting he was supposed to be gay. “I smell another victim…” the demon cackled.
The tour guide led them to a fifth room, where a figure dressed as St. Peter stood in front of a lectern, reading from a book. All the sinners from the previous rooms were lined up awaiting his pronouncements. “All you died without accepting Christ as your personal savior. To hell!” he bellowed, pointing to the next room. The tour guide motioned them to follow her in. Hell was a stuffy room, filled with a dark fog and filled with screams.
“This is where you go when you get an abortion,” the young patient moaned.
“This is where you go when you assist in an abortion,” the doctor groaned.
“This is what happens when you party,” the drunk driver warned.
“This is what happens when you commit suicide,” the depressed pill-taker gasped. “Nothing on earth was bad enough to warrant this!”
“And this is what happens if you choose to be gay,” a thin young man sobbed.
The tour guide let the group stand in the room for a minute before making an
announcement. “We are all mortal; we are all prone to sin. But there is a way
to avoid this fate—follow me!”
They went into the seventh room, where a person dressed in Biblical garb stood holding a bible. “This is the Bible. It tells you the story of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, who died for our sins so all who believe can go to Heaven instead of Hell.” The biblical figure went into detail of how to accept Christ before the tour guide led them into the eighth and final room—heaven.
The tour was over, and Shana scanned the room looking for her sister. “I still don’t see her,” she grumbled. She saw another group come through, one of the members distraught and in tears. “Thank God I’ve accepted Christ,” she told herself. “It was a pretty upsetting exhibit.”
“She wasn’t in there,” Leah commented. “Where could she be?”
April stood on her tiptoes to get a good view. “I don’t see her either.”
Shana looked stumped. “I have no idea.” She slumped her shoulders. “Wait—does anyone know if Julia is here?”
“Julia Williams?” Leah asked. “What does that have to do with finding your sister?”
“They hang out,” Shana informed her.
Leah coughed. “What? You’re kidding me!”
Shana shook her head. “I’m not.”
“Julia’s so pious, what would she be doing with your sister?” April argued. “I see her every morning in the library studying her bible.”
“I’ve never understood the attraction,” Shana grumbled. “Let’s see if we can find Julia.”
After asking a few people, they got an answer. “She’s backstage setting up the scenes,” one of the regular youth group members informed her.
“Has anyone seen a shorthaired girl back there with her?”
The young man nodded. “Yeah. Why?”
Shana shook her head. “We brought her here to see the Hell House, not to schmooze with the cast!” she griped. “Any way you can dig her out of there? I need to talk to her.”
“Alright,” the boy acquiesced. “I’ll go get her.”
A few minutes later, Kelsey came out, Julia beside her. “Have you seen the Hell House, Kelsey?” Shana asked, excited.
“I’ve seen it,” she informed her.
Shana looked at her quizzically. “No you haven’t. You’re too calm.”
“Speak for yourself,” Kelsey dismissed her.
“Mom told me you needed a place to stay and my friends won’t let you come with me until you go through the Hell House!” Shana demanded.
“She’s staying with me,” Julia interrupted. Kelsey looked at her quizzically, but said nothing, and returned her focus to Shana.
“Julia, think it’s possible to show them behind-the-scenes?” Kelsey volunteered. That ought to shut the brats up, she smirked to herself.
“Sure,” Julia agreed. “Come with me.” She motioned to a side door, and they slipped in. “They’re with me,” she informed the other cast members.
“This is the prep area for the abortion scene,” Julia informed them. “We use raw chicken fingers for the pieces of baby.”
Shana grimaced. “Eww!”
“And we have a whole vat of fake blood mixed up for the evening here,” she said, pointing to a large covered paint bucket. “We go through one of those a night.”
“Dang!” Leah exclaimed. “That’s a lot!”
“We promised a lot of blood and gore,” Julia stated. “Got to deliver on that promise.” She moved to the next staging area, where several cast members stood. “The drunk driving scene is a bit more complicated, since we have to set up about three different scenes—the party, the drive home, and the aftermath of the wreck.” Another bucket sat next to the door, as did several yellow tarps. Several of the cast members moved into the scene, leaving them alone. “And now to the next scene—the suicide.” She had several pill bottles lined up. “We filled them with water so she literally is swallowing something.” April looked alarmed. “She just swallows a sip of water, don’t worry.” The demon came backstage.
“Hey, Julia, what are they doing here?”
“They’re friends of mine, Justin. I offered a backstage tour. They won’t be in anyone’s hair, promise.”
The demon looked at them quizzically. “Uh, alright.” He turned around and started at the now-closed door. Shana noticed some of the sinners from the previous scenes walking along the passageway backstage.
“If there’s a group in every room, how do they get back in time?” Shana asked.
“We alternate sinners,” Julia informed her. The pill taker crept backstage and another cast member went in to do the next scene.
They passed by the next staging area. No one loitered there. “Why so empty?” April asked.
“It’s just a monologue,” Julia explained. “We had an alternate scene set up but none of the guys wanted to pretend to be gay so we had to do the coffin scene instead.”
“Who was it who showed up in Hell then?” Shana inquired.
“We had to dig around,” Julia admitted. “He’s in the ex-gay program the church sponsors.”
The actors stood next to the door and then entered the fifth room, where St. Peter stood. “This should be self explanatory,” she said. They entered a separate room, which was muggy and hot. “And this is Hell.” A lone teenager sat next to a CD boombox, pushing buttons to play the recorded voices screaming.
Backstage of the seventh room, a figure in Biblical clothing was sipping water. “Hey Julia,” he greeted. “Think you could grab me another bottled water? Telling people the Good News makes me thirsty.”
“No problem, I’ll be back with it in a few minutes.”
“Thanks,” the narrator said, before ducking back into the scene.
Behind the eighth room, another person was stationed to play sound effects. They left the area, to see three youth pastors with Bible tracts counseling various youths, some who were curious about the message and others in dire need of consolation after being traumatized by the exhibits.
“So Kelsey, when are you going in?” Shana nagged her. Kelsey shot her daggers.
“Hey, Shana, don’t worry about her,” Julia interceded. “I’ll take care of it.”
Shana looked at her questioningly for a moment, then turned to her friends. “Let’s go see what everyone else is up to. Julia said she’d deal with it.”
Kelsey watched the three freshmen leave. “Whew,” she exhaled. “They drive me crazy.”
Julia chuckled softly. “Freshmen.” They disappeared out of sight. “Were we ever that annoying?”
Kelsey looked at her funnily. “I used to be a lot more outgoing,” she admitted. “We must have driven our mother nuts back then.”
Julia regarded her friend curiously. “I have a hard time imagining you acting like that though.”
Kelsey laughed. “What about you?”
“I think I was born being serious,” she quietly confessed. “Let’s grab a water for the poor evangelist before he dies of thirst.”
The Hell House was winding down for the night; the last group had exited the exhibit. “Wow,” Julia marveled, “a lot of people showed up.”
Kelsey nodded. “I’m pretty surprised myself. You’d think the fact a church sponsoring it would be a deterrent.”
“I’m not sure how many people who passed through are unsaved though,” Julia noted. “I recognized quite a few people as being from other churches.”
“Didn’t you say that a lot of regular Halloween activities are forbidden to religious Christians like yourself?” Kelsey asked.
Julia nodded. “That is true.”
“Then this is their way of enjoying the spirit of the season while staying within acceptable confines of their religion.”
“Hmm,” Julia murmured thoughtfully. “You have a very good point.”
“I feel bad for the girls who were crying though,” Kelsey sympathized. “Reminded me of the first day of kindergarten when I went to school and was told my mom and my sister were going to go to hell for not going to Mass. I had nightmares for weeks!”
“You went to a Catholic school?” Julia sputtered.
“For about three years,” Kelsey informed her. “Then we had to move because my dad was threatening to kill us.” Speaking of killing us, he’s at it again. Ironic how things come around in circles. “Hey, Julia, thanks for offering me a place to stay. I would have gone to Jessie’s except she has an away game this evening. I’m not going to get you in trouble with your mother, am I? I can find somewhere else, really.”
Julia laughed. “Mom’s out of town until Sunday. She won’t know.”
“What about your father?”
“How many more nights do you have to work at the Hell House?” Kelsey inquired.
“Two more nights. After Halloween we take it down.”
“I thought you had a harvest fair at your church on Halloween.”
“It’s that afternoon, and I’ll be ducking out a little early,” Julia replied. “You want to come?”
“You asked before, and my answer is still no,” Kelsey rebuffed her. “But thanks for the offer.”
“Looks like this is it,” Julia concluded. “My dad should be here soon. Did you bring anything to change into?”
“Yeah, my stuff is in the truck.” She grimaced. “Damn. The truck.”
“What about the truck?”
“I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it. It shouldn’t be overnighting in a parking lot, but I’m also a little nervous about parking it in front of your house.”
“Why would that be a problem?”
“My father is very good at stalking,” Kelsey reminded her. “He followed me partway home from school this afternoon.”
Julia’s eyes widened. “Oh God, Kelsey.” Instinctively, she put her hand on Kelsey’s shoulder. “I thought lunchtime was the end of it.”
Kelsey snorted. “Ha! It’s a long story. I’ll explain it to you when we get to your house.”
They walked outside, where Rhett’s car was waiting. “We’ll ask my dad and see what he suggests.”
She walked over and opened the passenger door, leaning in. “Dad, is it okay if my friend Kelsey stays over tonight?”
Rhett turned around to see the shorter girl behind Julia. “Shana’s sister? Sure, no problem.”
“One more question. Where should Kelsey park her truck?”
“We have plenty of room at the curb.”
“I mean, can she park it in a parking lot? She’s afraid of being followed.”
“I have no idea what their policy is at this church, but it’s not a problem at First Baptist.”
Julia turned to face Kelsey. “You know where First Baptist is, right?”
“Of course,” Kelsey laughed. “I drive Shana there every Wednesday night and Sunday morning.”
“We’ll meet you there then,” Julia told her.
Kelsey had to admit it felt really weird to be sitting at the kitchen table at the William’s house. They had just finished dinner, and Rhett was in the kitchen. “We won’t have to worry about having roast beef for lunch tomorrow,” he joked.
Kelsey looked at Julia guiltily. “Sorry,” she mumbled. “I guess I was a little too hungry.”
Julia simply smiled. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Thanks for feeding me. Can I do dishes?”
“We’re just going to throw them into the dishwasher,” Julia told her.
“Might as well wash them then,” Kelsey declared. “You practically have to scrub them before you put them in there, you might as well finish the job.”
Julia laughed. “You got to be kidding me! We throw them in nice and dirty and it gets them clean. Seems a bit counterproductive to have to wash them before putting them into the dishwasher.”
“That’s how ours worked.” She gathered her place wear and put it all on her plate. “Well, before it broke,” she ceded. “Heh, that should have been a clue.”
After putting the dishes in the dishwasher, they went upstairs. Kelsey showered and changed, and when Julia went to take her shower, Kelsey sat on the loveseat next to the window and started reading a book. She only got a few pages further before sleep overtook her.
“Hmm?” Sleepy green eyes lazily looked up. “Damn, fell asleep.” She turned around and put her feet on the ground so Julia had room to sit next to her. The tall, dark haired girl sat next to her, and Kelsey was uncomfortably aware how small the loveseat was.
“It’s been ages since anyone’s been over for a sleepover,” Julia admitted.
“How come?” Kelsey asked. “It looks like you have enough space. Or is it your mom?”
“It’s a combination of factors,” Julia admitted. “A lot of people in our church get leery of letting their children stay elsewhere overnight once they become teenagers. Fears of parents not being home, that kind of stuff.”
Kelsey nodded. “Makes sense. I haven’t had anyone over at my house in ages, but that’s because there’s nowhere for anyone to sleep, and my mom said I was too old for that stuff anyway. I spend a lot of time at Jessie’s, but they have an air mattress over there that I sleep on.”
“No bed splitting?”
Kelsey laughed. “There’s barely enough bed for Jessie let alone two!”
During the course of their dialogue, they had both subconsciously shifted to face each other, and Kelsey felt a jolt when Julia took her hands and squeezed them. “Doing okay?” she gently asked. “I know it’s been a rough day for you.”
Kelsey felt a shiver run up her arm. Can you be any more of a bundle of contradictions, Julia? First we’re at a church spectacle that depicts people like me burning in hell, and then you come home and stoke the fires. I just can’t win, can I?
Think! She gave Julia’s hands a quick squeeze. “Yeah, I am. I’m worried about my mom though.”
“I can imagine,” Julia empathized. “Why did she send you guys out? I saw your sister leaving with Leah and April.”
“You ready to hear the dirty laundry?”
“If you want to tell me, I’ll listen, but I understand if you want to keep it to yourself.”
She doesn’t need to know, Kelsey decided. The only person who I’ve told this to outside the family is Jessie. Dare I trust her with this?
She looked up into expectant blue eyes. “Not right now, but I might take you up on your offer later.”
Julia gave her hands a squeeze. “I understand. Sleep? That shower tired me out.”
“Go on ahead, I’ll be there in a while. And go ahead and turn off the lights—I brought a flashlight with me.”
“I always read under the covers,” Kelsey grinned.
Julia frowned. “There’s no covers on the loveseat for you to crawl under.”
You expect me to do what? Kelsey pondered as her face felt flush. Dangerous territory…I don’t care if it’s a double, that bed isn’t big enough! Got to stall…
“Come here. I promise I don’t bite,” she continued, patting the other side of the bed.
Do you do this with all your girl friends? Wait, you said your parents don’t let you have friends over anymore…do you not understand why?
She could tell Julia wasn’t going to make a move to turn off the lights until she did as asked. Play with it. When she’s asleep, move back to the loveseat. She got up and took her spot.
“Good,” Julia smiled, as she got up and turned off the lights. “Night.”
Kelsey laid on her back, her heart hammering. I can’t believe how close I am to her. My god…I don’t think we’ve ever had this much privacy! Her heart continued to race faster. She wouldn’t have dared invited me over if she knew how I felt about her! Her limbs started to tremble. C’mon Julia, go to sleep so I can get up and move over to the loveseat. The temptation is just too much and I’m only human.
“Cold?” a familiar voice rumbled only inches from her.
“N…n…no,” Kelsey stammered. Maybe if I turn away from her, I’ll calm down. Forget how close I am to her. She rolled over, to face the window, still uncomfortably conscious of how close Julia was.
“You sound cold to me.” She felt warm arms wrap around her, slightly above her waist, and pull her in.
Oh god. It felt so nice, but she knew it was just so wrong. She’s just an innocent girl, Kelsey justified to herself. She doesn’t know any better. Just don’t turn over.
“Your heart is racing.”
“I’m fine, really,” Kelsey protested. Don’t even think about making me talk about this! “Night.”
It was an agonizing wait as she silently listened to the girl behind her breathe, hoping to hear the slow, deep rhythm that would indicate she was asleep. The worst part is that this feels so good, Kelsey sadly mused. I’ve dreamed about this for so long, but…I made a promise. She doesn’t know it, but I promised that I wouldn’t do anything contrary to her wishes. And after tonight’s Hell House…I know what her wishes are, and it doesn’t involve me touching her.
She bit her lip. C’mon Julia, go to sleep. I got to get out of here. I can’t sleep in one position all night, and I think I’m going to be in dire danger of breaking this promise once I roll over and face you.
Fuck. Fuck me, she angrily berated herself. Why did I have to fall for a fundie? Why couldn’t I have fallen for someone who could have reciprocated? And why does she keep stringing me on?
I know why she keeps stringing me on, a memory reminded her. But a promise is a promise. She may want it, but giving in is only going to make her feel guilty. And ashamed. Guilt and shame will make people do unspeakable things. If she feels cornered, I don’t doubt she’ll rip me to pieces just to save her own hide.
She blinked her eyes, trying to keep them open. This is going to be a very long night. She felt Julia’s arms shift a little and her skin tingled as she felt her shift into a more comfortable position, her torso and her legs closely pressed against hers. She’s starting to fall into slumber. Just a few more minutes, Kelsey. Let her fall completely into slumber’s arms, then you can extricate yourself out of hers.
She felt Julia’s breathing finally even out into a slow, steady rhythm. Now how do I get out of this without waking her? She gently grasped Julia’s hand, and she felt her shift against her ever so slightly. Did that wake her? She froze, intently listening to her breathing. No, still asleep. Carefully, she lifted her arm so she could slip out from underneath. Almost, almost…set her arm down gently…there. I’m free.
She gazed down to see her friend sleep blissfully, and it was with sheer willpower she pulled herself away to the loveseat. At least one of us gets to sleep soundly tonight. She grabbed her book and fished out her flashlight, propped her feet up on the couch, and started to read. She saw the words, but she didn’t really read them. Many nights I’ve dreamt of this, when I was too tired to think any better, that she held me, like that. And then when I get my chance, I’m too nervous to enjoy it. Oh Julia, what have you done to me?
Read your damn book and forget the pretty face on the bed, she scolded herself. Do I have to read the words out loud? She forced herself to concentrate, mentally reading the words to herself aloud, sentence by sentence. There you go. Continue.
Julia felt herself rise out of the sleep, but she wasn’t ready to open her eyes yet. She was on her side, under the covers, her arms draped to the side. I vaguely recall they weren’t like that when I fell asleep…
She inhaled, and could smell the faint scent of Degree deodorant and the Irish Spring she had stocked in the bathroom. I don’t use Degree, she thought to herself. Kelsey. She flailed her arms out to try to figure out where she went, but she was nowhere to be found, at least on the bed.
She forced one eye open, to see her staring out the window. There. She
rotated her eyes up, to get a glimpse of the alarm clock on her bureau. A
little after two. How long has she been up? “Kelsey?”
“Hmm?” a quiet voice responded.
I know it’s way past her bedtime. I remember when we went to the movies a month ago. “Can’t sleep?”
“Can’t sleep,” she repeated.
Julia stretched out, and then sat up, swinging her feet over the bed. Kelsey was standing by the window, looking out, and the moonlight illuminated her shape as a silhouette. She took a few steps until she was standing beside her. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
Kelsey didn’t anticipate her being so close, and took an involuntary gasp. “Damn! How do you manage to sneak over here so quietly?”
“Heh heh,” she chuckled. “Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you.”
“It’s alright.” The tomboy continued to stare out the window. “It’s hard not to worry about my mom right now.”
“Your dad?” Julia guessed, remembering how badly he had rattled her at lunch.
“Yeah,” Kelsey admitted. “He got out of prison a few weeks ago, and I think he’s out to finish the job.”
Julia rested her arms on the back of Kelsey’s shoulders. “Finish the job…”
Julia gulped. Now who would want to kill their family…especially hers? What in the hell has she done to deserve that? “So she’s sending you guys out so you won’t all be in one place.”
“Right. She’s convinced he’ll settle for just killing her. I personally don’t think he’s going to stop until he kills all three of us. Why else would he be on campus and following me around when I’m driving the truck?”
Warm hands started to massage Kelsey’s shoulders. “He’s been following you?”
“A couple of times,” Kelsey admitted. “I worry about Mom and Shana a lot.”
“What about yourself?”
“I do worry, but I worry about them more. I took karate lessons as a kid. They didn’t.” She involuntarily leaned into the touch as Julia’s strong hands worked on her shoulders and up her neck. “You’re going to put me to sleep if you continue doing that,” she protested sleepily.
“That’s the point,” Julia whispered in her ear. “I have no idea how long you’ve been up but I’m pretty sure it was eleven o’clock when I turned off the lights and it’s now two.”
“Hmm,” Kelsey grunted, leaning further into her.
“To bed with you,” Julia commanded. “Don’t fight me.” She took her and spun her around, wrapping an arm around the back of her waist and leading her to the bed. “In.” Kelsey flopped down, and Julia scooted behind her, pulling her further onto the bed so she wasn’t on the edge. “Down,” she commanded, pulling the covers of the heavy blanket over them.
Kelsey sleepily regarded her as she settled in on the other side, her hand never leaving her side. She knew she was supposed to fight it, but at that point, at two in the morning, she was too tired to care anymore, and she let herself slip into a sound slumber, in Julia’s arms.
There you go, Julia smiled to herself. See? I don’t bite. She shifted closer until she could feel Kelsey against her. I’ll be there, but you have to let me be there for you.
Ever since she was little, Julia had an instinctive feel for when it was dawn. She felt herself rise out of sleep, and she realized that she was on her back, and someone was using her shoulder as a pillow. Huh? She opened her eyes a little, to see Kelsey, asleep, her arms wrapped around her waist.
A small smile crept across her face. This feels good, Julia mused. Too bad we have to set up that fair at school today.
She watched Kelsey as her back rose and fell with each breath. Why would anyone want to hurt you? What possibly could you have done to deserve such a thing? Kelsey shifted a little, but just a little. She was still asleep. God, please don’t take her away from me. I’ve just barely getting to know her. And she deserves better.
She absentmindedly brought a hand up and started to stroke her hair. Don’t leave me, Kelsey. The thought of her absence felt like a stab in the heart, and she was surprised to feel her eyes well up with tears. She felt the girl shift again, and sleepy green eyes looked up at her.
“Morning,” Kelsey softly mumbled. “Hey, what’s wrong?”
“Just…” She started to explain, but putting her feelings into words just made her feel more emotional. “Hold me.”
Julia shifted so she was partially on her side, and Kelsey shifted so they held each other in their arms. The tomboy tucked her head under Julia’s chin, and they laid there, close, bodies touching.
They laid there, words unspoken, for several minutes, until Kelsey pulled back slightly to look into Julia’s face. “You’re crying,” she softly remarked, bringing her thumb up and softly wiping them away.
“Sorry,” Julia hoarsely whispered, embarrassed.
“It’s okay.” Kelsey brought her hand down to resume holding her, and she looked up into Julia’s blue eyes. She couldn’t exactly describe what she saw in those blue eyes—it appeared to be a mix of fear, sadness, and—she wasn’t sure what the other part was, or maybe she did but was too afraid to acknowledge seeing it in her beautiful blue eyes. All she knew it was a look she never saw anyone look at her with before, and it made her feel both loved and scared at the same time.
“I remember what you said last night, and it kinda sank in just now,” Julia admitted. “I don’t want to lose you.”
“You won’t lose me.” She put her finger on Julia’s lips. “I won’t leave you.”
Julia smiled despite the fresh tears that started to creep down her face. Kelsey felt a strong urge to lean into and replace her finger with her lips… “However, we have a fair to set up at school today and I don’t think your dad is going to be too thrilled to walk in on this.”
Julia nervously chuckled. “He’d probably get some weird ideas,” she ceded. “Do you want the first shower or shall I?”
“Go ahead,” Kelsey told her, rolling off Julia onto her own back. “Leave enough hot water for me.”
“Will do.” Reluctantly, she left the warm confines of her own bed, grabbed a change of clothes, and made her way to the bathroom.
She stood under the shower, feeling the warm water wash away the goosebumps that formed on her bare skin when she disrobed in the bathroom. I have no idea what just happened between us, Julia mused to herself as she grabbed the soap, but whatever it was, it was incredible. I don’t think anyone’s ever made me feel like that before.
She methodically attended to each body part, lathering it and then rinsing the soap off. There for a second I thought maybe she’d kiss me. Her eyes darted to the side, an image of what almost had been flickering through her mind. She can feel it too. Her eyes flickered to the other side, remembering how it actually was. I think she’s just as scared as I am. I wonder why. She’s done this before, hasn’t she? I’m the one in the closet, not her…
Her logical side crept into the internal dialogue she was having with herself, and she grimaced. I’m not gay, a part of her insisted. You don’t like girls. In that way.
She grabbed the shampoo bottle and squirted a little bit of it into her free hand. Maybe it’s because Kelsey is so boyish. There’s something unique about her. She put the bottle down and coated both hands with the shampoo before wetting her hair and running her hands through it.
It’s a one-time thing, she reasoned with herself. It’s just a fluke. I probably should just keep away from her so I don’t cave into temptation and it’ll go away. Right? The thought of running away from her again made her stomach hurt and her heart pained. I’ve tried that already, and it didn’t work.
She worked the shampoo in deep with her fingers, using the long digits to massage her scalp. Now what? If I can’t resist, then what do I do? Do I cave in? Do I just go ahead and sin and hope it works its way out of my system?
That’s a very ungodly way to think, Julia Williams, her internal sense of reason scolded her.
She tilted her head back and let the water rinse the shampoo out. Do I even care anymore? Why am I fighting this? It’s not like anyone else practices what they preach. Look at Luke and Cassie!
She felt the water start to turn cold as she worked the last of the shampoo out of her long hair. At least Kelsey doesn’t push. I think…I think she understands. She got the last of the shampoo out just as the water started to chill. Dang it, I forgot to leave some hot water for her. She’ll have to wait a few minutes before she can take her shower.
The school Halloween fair was slated to start later in the day, but there were quite a few things that needed to be set up beforehand. Student Council had rented an assortment of carnival games and attractions, and they were delivered around midmorning just as the Student Council members started to show for setup.
The fair consisted of multiple types of entertainment—there were games, spooky attractions, food and drinks, a raffle for door prizes, and there was a costume contest scheduled for that evening.
The student council was divided up into teams to handle the different areas of the fair. Brendan and Thomas, the freshman, were working the concession stand; Audrie, Natasha, Jessie, and Kelsey were working the games; Luke and Cassie had signed up for the spooky attractions section. Julia was in put in the charge of the raffle, and served as the at-large representative to relieve others at their stations and help Mr. Eldon keep things running smoothly. Originally there were supposed to be two at-large representatives, but since Todd the original Student Council president had been suspended, they were short-handed.
Audrie, Jessie and Kelsey were busy setting up the games; they had been delivered and required setup. Natasha was put in charge of setting up the props they had worked on all week.
“Hey, Jessie?” Kelsey asked.
“What?” the tall, broad shouldered brunette replied.
“Any chance I could stay at your house tonight? My mom doesn’t want us coming home for several days, since she thinks my dad is after us.”
“Not a problem—you’re always welcome.”
“Thanks,” Kelsey gratefully replied.
“Did Luke and Cassie get the stuff for setting up the contents in the mystery box?” Jessie inquired.
“Damn,” Kelsey grumbled. “And I don’t have my truck with me. Did you bring your car? I need to stop by my house.”
“That’s not like you to forget,” Jessie commented, a hint of concern lingering in her voice.
“She sent us out last night. I was a little preoccupied.”
Jessie looked at her quizzically. “Where’d you go? I’m sorry I wasn’t home last night.”
“Julia let me crash on her couch.”
Jessie let a fleeting smile cross her face. “I wouldn’t be offended if you went back.”
“No, no, no—it’s very nice of her but her mom is coming back tonight. She doesn’t like me.”
Kelsey laughed. As nice as the cuddling was, I don’t think I could take another night of being so close to her without knowing how exactly she feels about it! “Let’s get this stuff set up and then we’ll run to my house, how does that sound?”
“Sounds like a plan.” Jessie let her eyes flicker over to where Luke and Cassie stood, without anything to do and looking rather grouchy. “Spooky attraction section is going to be boring without their exhibit,” she innocently commented.
“I’m dying to know just what the hell they did that got their project canned,” Kelsey wondered.
Audrie interjected, “Speaking of them, here they come.”
Luke and Cassie stepped within the bounds of the games section. “Where in the hell’s the stuff you said you’d bring?” Luke angrily demanded.
Kelsey bit her lip, avoiding the temptation to bite back. “I left it at my house, we’ll bring it over soon.”
“What the hell!” Luke snarled. “You ditzy airhead!”
Kelsey stopped what she was doing, wheeled around, and turned to glare at him. “Who do you think you are, yelling at me? Hmm?” she demanded. “Besides, it’ll only take fifteen minutes tops to fix the perishable part of the exhibit. You could get everything else ready instead of standing around.”
Luke threw his hands up, then turned around and stomped off.
“What the hell is his problem?” Jessie wondered.
“He’s probably upset about their exhibit,” Audrie peacefully suggested. “It’s probably a real kick in the ego to have to set up someone else’s idea and not your own.”
“What in the hell did they do, anyway?” Kelsey grumbled. “I’m dying to know what got them in trouble.”
Audrie shrugged. “I haven’t heard anything from them.”
“I wonder what ever happened to the hay ride,” Kelsey wondered. “I vaguely recall the school having one our freshman year.”
“It was an insurance issue,” Jessie replied. “It got canned last year.”
“That sucks. What’s the big deal?”
“People might fall off the ride and sue the school, or someone’s snotty nosed kid might run in front of the tractor,” Jessie said.
“That makes sense,” Audrie agreed. “Too many things can go wrong. Doesn’t stop our church though.”
Several hours later, the school fair was ready to open. “Hey, Kelsey, why did you buy chocolate pudding to stick the grapes in?” Jessie asked curiously, as they cleaned up around the booths.
“People like chocolate, why?”
Jessie arched her eyebrow. “You know what people are going to think when they stick their hand in there and it comes out with brown stuff on it?”
Natasha started to laugh. “They’re going to think they stuck their hands in shit!” she howled, much to Kelsey’s embarrassment.
“Oh god,” Kelsey groaned, putting her head in her hands. “How could I not think of that?”
Natasha patted her shoulder. “Actually, that’s brilliant,” she congratulated her. “That’s probably going to be the grossest thing they find all afternoon and evening!”
Kelsey could swear she was blushing furiously enough to give a tomato a run for its money. “They’re going to wonder what sick fuck thought that up.”
“Everyone’s going to assume Luke and Cassie set it up,” Jessie pointed out. “The blame will lie with them.”
As the sun went down and the day shifted into evening, the crowds got larger; mercifully, members of the Booster Club came in (as scheduled) to relieve them so everyone could eat a little dinner.
“Hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza,” Natasha grumbled. “Don’t they stock anything vegetarian around here?”
“That’ll be the day,” Kelsey snorted. “I wonder how Julia’s faring. She can’t really eat anything greasy.”
“Speaking of Julia, here she comes,” Jessie noted. “Hey Julia.”
“Hey guys,” she greeted, looking down at the empty seat and then at the group. “May I?”
“Sure,” everyone at the table concurred.
“How are the games going?” Julia asked them.
“They’re alright,” Jessie replied. “I’m getting a little sick of the screaming brats though.”
Kelsey softly chuckled. “They should disappear soon, it’s getting near bedtime for them.”
Julia smiled, then leaned across the table. “I got to warn you that Luke and Cassie aren’t really happy with you two right now though.”
“They’re mad that they didn’t get their exhibit.”
Julia shrugged. “There’s that, but Cassie thinks you stole her idea, Kelsey.”
Kelsey instinctively sat up, a confused, outraged expression painted on her face. “What do you mean, stole her idea? I don’t even know what her idea was!”
“The chocolate pudding,” Julia enlightened her.
“Oh god,” Kelsey groaned, hiding her head in her hands again. “I swear it was an accident!”
“They don’t think so,” Julia regretfully said. “A couple of people have complained.”
“Jessie, I don’t think I can postpone this anymore. We got to go to the grocery store and fix this. This is embarrassing!”
Jessie looked at Julia quizzically. “Am I getting this right? Cassie was plotting chocolate pudding grossout?”
Jessie looked horrified. “I don’t think uh…uhm…I don’t think this is appropriate conversation for the dinner table,” she mumbled.
Natasha chuckled. “Agreed!” She then turned to Julia. “Did you find out what this mystery exhibit was supposed to be about? No one seems to know.”
“I finally did,” Julia proudly announced. “But I need to wait until after dinner, as Jessie suggested.”
Dinner was dispensed with fairly quickly; since they had a little bit of time left, and Kelsey thought perhaps the best way to cool Cassie’s fire was to substitute a vat of vanilla pudding for the chocolate, which meant they had to go to the grocery store. “Hey, Jessie, can we borrow your car?”
“Sure,” she said. “I stand to get in just as much trouble for your pudding caper as yourself.” No one liked the idea of going back so soon, especially after working in the gym all afternoon, so all five of them squished into Jessie’s RAV4. At the grocery store, they scattered; Julia and Audrie went to find something not so greasy for their dinners, while Jessie, Natasha and Kelsey went and found some pudding that wasn’t the color of chocolate.
By the time they got back, it was time to resume their shifts, and Kelsey walked over to the scary attractions booth, vanilla pudding in hand. “Hey,” she said, handing Cassie the bowl and its contents. “Sorry about the mix-up. I wasn’t thinking.”
Cassie glared at her. “Obviously,” she spat. “You’re not the one who had to listen to people shrieking they stuck their hand in diarrhea all afternoon.”
She shrugged, and gave Cassie a quick smile. “At least they got their money’s worth in the grossout section.”
“I’ve told Mr. Eldon what you’ve done,” Cassie growled. “You haven’t heard the end of this.”
“Enjoy,” Kelsey said, turning around and leaving before the feisty girl could pick at her any more.
She sauntered over to the games booth, where Julia had joined them, since the Booster Club was now roaming the fair at large. “Am I ever in big trouble,” she chuckled to her friends. “I have the feeling I’m probably in trouble with Mr. Eldon, but Jessie, it was my hare-brained idea, I’ll take full responsibility for it.”
“At least you can plead ignorance,” Julia chuckled.
“Julia, are you going to tell us what half-baked idea they came up with?”
“Alright, alright,” Julia ceded. “When Luke and Cassie heard about the Hell House I was working on, they decided to try to make their own version. Mr. Eldon apparently flipped out when he saw they were planning on displaying mock fetuses.”
“Mock fetuses?” Natasha muttered. “How in the…what in the…?”
“Was it cut up chicken in fake blood, like it was at the Hell House?” Kelsey asked.
Natasha turned to face Kelsey. “You went to the Hell House?” she asked incredulously.
“Yeah, I’ll tell you about it later,” she said, mindful that her commentary on it would not be too pleasing to the two pairs of innocent ears within earshot.
“To answer your question, Kelsey,” Julia continued, “I don’t know how they were going to do it, although it wouldn’t have been hard to ask around and get the ‘recipe.’”
“Did you find out why Cassie flipped out about the pudding?” Kelsey inquired.
Julia nodded her head, grinning. “Part of the spectacle was to sling it over part of the exhibit.”
Four sets of jaws dropped. “That’s disgusting!” Audrie shrieked. “Why would anyone do that?”
Julia rolled her eyes. “I got the explanation. It was…” she grimaced, “…horrifying. I don’t think I could bring myself to repeat it.” She put her hands up and shrugged, nervously smiling. “Sorry.”
“It’s alright,” Jessie assured her. “I think I can see where it’s going, you said plenty.”
“So, do I have it straight—the exhibit was about shit and dead babies?” Natasha choked out.
Julia nodded, grimacing. “You could say that.”
“What’s up with you fundies anyways?” she ranted. “For claiming to be pure and righteous you guys sure seem to be awfully preoccupied about what goes in and out of people’s crotches!”
Jessie choked on the water she was sipping. Kelsey hid her flushed face in her hands. Julia stood there, mouth agape. Audrie frowned.
“What?” Natasha innocently asked.
“I can’t believe you said that, Natasha,” Jessie coughed.
“Ditto,” Kelsey muttered between her fingers.
“I never thought of it like that,” Julia mumbled.
Audrie stopped frowning, her expression becoming more thoughtful. “You know what’s funny?”
“Jesus spent a lot more time lecturing people concerning what comes out of their mouths than their…uhm…”
“Crotches?” Natasha supplied. “I was only making an observation!” she defended herself.
Julia interceded. “No, no, I think Audrie’s talking about something else. Gossip, right? We’ve been talking about it a lot during Bible Study.”
Audrie nodded. “Yeah. Besides, I think Luke and Cassie might want to think more carefully the next time they lecture anyone about what goes in and out of…ugh.”
Curious glances were exchanged between the three non-Christians. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Audrie looked embarrassed. “It means I just got to eat my own words,” she confessed.
Julia looked at her, realizing that she knew exactly what Audrie almost said, and realized that it was a pretty juicy tidbit to have to keep between themselves. “At least you stopped in time,” she congratulated her.
“No fair!” Natasha whined. “You had something good to say!”
“Hey, here comes some more kids wanting to play games,” Jessie distracted them. “Let’s get back to work.”
“Thanks for giving me a ride, and letting me stay over,” Kelsey thanked Jessie as they rode back to her house.
“Where’s your truck, anyways?” Jessie inquired as she pulled up to the stoplight. “I have the feeling something big happened in the past twenty four hours.”
“It did, and it’s a long story. I’ll tell you when we get to your house.”
A few minutes later, they pulled up in the driveway. They went in, and went to Jessie’s room.
“Alright girl,” Jessie told her. “Spill.”
“Remember lunch yesterday?”
“Yeah, your dad was on campus. What happened?”
“They didn’t believe me, so he was still at large when I left school. Bastard followed me halfway home, until I managed to lose him. I told my mom, and she told us to find somewhere safer to hide. You were already en route to your game, which is why you haven’t heard about it yet.”
“How’d you get over to the other side of town?” Jessie asked.
“Shana wanted to see the Hell House. Apparently she thought I would see it and convert.” The tomboy started to laugh. “Biggest pile of bullshit I ever did see! Whoo!”
“What was it like?” Jessie asked. “I saw something about it on the net.”
“It was basically a haunted house tour. The first four rooms were about various types of sins you can commit that will supposedly send you to hell. You know, abortion, suicide, sex…”
“I’m going to guess one of the exhibits was about homosexuality,” Jessie commented. “The wacko right seems awfully concerned about that stuff as of late.”
“It’s a hot button topic, with gay marriage and Proposition 22 on the ballot next March and all,” Kelsey responded. “So then the next part of the tour showed people the horrors of hell. Nothing too spectacular, but it was really warm in there. Then someone came in and announced how we all can avoid ending up there.”
“Of course,” Jessie snorted. “The whole purpose of the Hell House. Does anyone fall for this shit?”
Kelsey solemnly nodded. “There were quite a few girls coming out of there crying.”
“That’s sad,” Jessie commented. “No. That’s fucked up.”
“It is,” Kelsey agreed. “You said you grew up Jewish, right?”
“I’m going to tell you a little something about growing up Christian. As soon as we’re old enough to hear stories, they start drilling us about the horrors of Hell and how we’re all going to burn if we don’t accept Jesus. God, I remember when they did that to me in kindergarten. I think I woke my mom up every night for weeks on end after they told me that.”
“That’s sick!” Jessie exclaimed. “I mean, I know about this heaven
and hell crap simply because it’s such a part of our culture, but isn’t that
“In retrospect, yes. You know how little kids will believe anything you tell them. So I figure that once a child goes through this stage of horror indoctrination, then you’ve planted a seed in their mind that somewhere, somehow, there’s a hell out there, so even if you lapse in belief, an exhibit like that will stir long forgotten memories and terrorize you into rejoining the flock.”
Jessie shook her head. “Damn.” She looked up at Kelsey. “Are you doing okay?”
“I will admit it’s pretty difficult to keep a straight face. I have to keep reminding myself I’m not five anymore and I know better.”
Jessie gave her a hug. “That’s a brave thing of you to do, to step in a viper’s nest like that.”
“Yeah,” she admitted. “I’m pretty glad Julia let me see it all from behind the scenes though.”
“She rescued you, hmm?”
“Yeah, my sister and her friends were being really annoying.”
“So you said you slept on her couch.”
“Sort of?” Jessie looked at her very intently. “What do you mean, sort of?”
“We were within earshot of everyone when I told you earlier.”
A big grin crossed Jessie’s face. “What’d you do?” she said in a telltale voice.
Kelsey crossed her arms. “Nothing,” she solemnly replied.
“Nothing,” Jessie chuckled, “right. So where did you sleep?”
“She has a double bed, and she kind of dragged me into it.”
“You make her sound like a caveman, dragging her mate off and all,” Jessie giggled. “And then what? That’s awfully close quarters…” she insinuated.
“I know.” She looked up into her friend’s eyes. “It’s not funny. I’m going to have to have a talk with that girl about boundaries, because she’s good at pushing them.”
“So you’re going to finally ask her out?” Jessie hoped.
“Damn it Jessie, I told you that’s not an option!” Kelsey snapped. “And it’s especially not funny considering she’s spent weeks setting up an exhibit detailing how and why I’m going to hell, and then she puts me in a position to sin!”
Jessie put her hands up. “Sorry,” she apologized.
“It’s alright,” Kelsey sighed. “I should find a safe crush. Someone who won’t freak the fuck out if I call them on their game.”
“Kacie seems interested…” Jessie supplied.
“She’s just a sophomore,” Kelsey dismissed. “And way too worldly.”
“So, what are you going to do about it? She’s going to continue to do this until you call her on it.”
Kelsey sighed. “Fuck.” She exhaled slowly. “You have a point.” She stared out the window, thinking. “Jessie, how can she not see she’s crossing a line?”
“What was she doing to make you think she was pushing the boundaries?”
Kelsey bit her lip. Fuck, I don’t really want to talk about this. I don’t want to make Jessie uncomfortable. But she is my best friend…maybe she’ll have an idea of what to do. If nothing else, she’ll confirm I’m not losing my mind, or maybe she will, but at least it won’t just be my opinion anymore. “Kelsey?”
“Sorry, thinking.” She inhaled, bracing herself. “She insisted I share the bed.” She saw Jessie about to say something, when she put her hand up. “Let me finish, I’m never going to get the story out if you keep interrupting to tease me.”
“It’s okay.” She took another breath. “She insisted, I refused, she insisted, I gave in, until I could hear she was sleeping. And then I snuck over to the couch in her room, got a little sleep over there, although it wasn’t nearly long enough to stretch out on. I finally got uncomfortable so I woke up, and she must have heard me, because she came over and talked to me, and then she dragged me over. Sort of. She basically put her hands on my shoulders and I was too tired and achy to complain about a nice soft bed at that point.”
“So you guys split a bed. We do that on long extended road trips for soccer.”
“She held me.”
Jessie smiled, but with a hint of sadness in her eyes. “That’s really sweet—but I can see how that could confuse the hell out of you.”
“It’s not just me, is it?”
Jessie shook her head. “No, it isn’t.” She tilted her head. “At the rate she’s going, she’s got to figure it out soon, if not already.”
“At the rate she’s going, she’s going to induce me to snap!” Kelsey cried. “I only have oh-so-much self control, and she’s really put me in some compromised positions.”
“Maybe she wants you to make the first move.”
“Oh god I hope not,” Kelsey groaned. “I’ve never kissed anyone.”
Amused brown eyes regarded her. “No spin the bottle in middle school?”
“Ugh, I thought it was gross then, and I still think it’s gross now!”
Jessie chuckled. “That does put you in a pickle.”
“You know what just occurred to me? Maybe if she wants me to make the first move, then it gives her plausible deniability. She can claim I made her do it.”
“That’s not good.”
“No, it’s not!” Kelsey sighed. “Then again, with the way I look, I suppose it doesn’t matter who starts it, I’ll still be blamed as being the pervert and she’ll be the sweet and innocent one.”
They regarded each other quietly for a few minutes. “I wish I knew what to say,” Jessie finally muttered.
“Thanks for listening,” Kelsey said sincerely. “That’s the most important thing you can do.”
“I’m sorry she’s put you in such a bad position.”
“I think I need to think about this long and hard. I like being around her,
but that’s the problem. How many more opportunities will I really get to slip
up like that? Or have her get that close? Her mom keeps a pretty tight rein on
her. Will I have to face this again?”
Jessie gave her a knowing look, but said nothing.
“You’re right,” Kelsey inferred. “She will probably find a way to put me in that situation again. Damn it.” She rubbed the tip of her nose. “I guess I’m going to have to have a talk with her.”
“That’s a start…”
“But what do I say?”
“How do you want this to resolve itself?”
“Jessie…” She pursed her lips. “Ideally or realistically?” She gave her a stern look. “What I want is not the way it should be. She’s too dangerous. As much as I’d love to believe otherwise.”
Jessie looked at her sadly. “I hate to be a sour sport, but I think you’re on the right track there. I would do nothing but worry about you if you ever went out with her. I mean, I like her as a friend, but I think we’re both on the same page that the moment you guys become something more, she’s crossed into forbidden territory, and that could get mighty dangerous.”
“It can.” Kelsey stared down at her own hands. “So basically, what I need to tell her is to back off.”
Kelsey nodded. “Hmm. I’m having a hard time with words. Maybe I ought to write it out.”
“That sounds like a brilliant idea. Need paper?”
“I got some in my backpack,” Kelsey replied, “but thanks.”
I like having you as a friend. I really do. But please, don’t put me into such tight quarters with you. I’d hate to have a moment of … a moment of instinct…fuck, scratch that, a moment of…scratch the whole fucking sentence out. I’d hate to be put in the position where I might do something we both regret. That’s better. I don’t want either of us getting hurt. Is that enough? Or is that too much?
She sighed, and folded the paper up. It’s been a long day. Best to sleep on it.
Thank goodness my skirt is ankle length, Julia sighed to herself as she walked across the parking lot of First Baptist Church. That way, no one needs to know my nylons got snagged.
Bible in hand, she made her way to one of the rooms off to the side of the main church. She was a regular attendee of the youth bible study group that was scheduled before the service. Rhett regularly facilitated one of the adult study groups.
On the outside, it seemed as normal as any other Sunday. The clock would strike nine, the youth pastor, Mark, would pass out bibles to those who didn’t bring one, and then would tell everyone which selections were up for discussion for that week. The routine didn’t vary much by week, but Julia knew her mind wasn’t in the same place as it was most other Sundays.
Getting ready for church was radically different without her mother running around the house nagging everyone beforehand. For once, her and Rhett got to church early instead of barely on time or even late. By all means, it should have made her feel less edgy. But she couldn’t shake off the nerves she had, and as she eyed everyone in the classroom, bibles opened to the passage they were discussing, she felt uneasy. Very uneasy.
What is going on with me? she despaired, willing herself to keep her hands still, but her legs were unwilling to stop tapping out a cadence underneath the table. Her eyes stopped when she saw Shana discussing something quietly with her friend Leah. She felt her stomach drop. Everyone here would hate me in a heartbeat if they really knew me. Does Shana know?
“Julia?” Pastor Mark called out. She looked at him quizzically. “Could you read the next paragraph?”
She gritted her teeth; she had no idea which paragraph they were on. She nudged the young man next to her and asked where they were. He looked at her, surprised, but gladly pointed out where the previous speaker left off.
She dutifully read the passage, but afterwards, she couldn’t remember what she had just read aloud. What is wrong with me? she despaired, but she knew the answer. She just didn’t want to admit it.
She stood outside for several minutes after Sunday School ended. They had about fifteen minutes before the service began. Perhaps a little fresh air would clear my mind, she hoped.
“Julia?” a distant, feminine voice rang out. “Julia?” This time, it cut through the fog in her mind. She turned around, to see Shana standing next to her. “Are you alright?” She looked at the tall, raven-haired girl rather quizzically, then added, “You look like you’re a million miles away.”
“Oh,” she laughed. “I’m fine.” She then turned the conversation onto Shana. “How are you doing?”
Shana looked at Julia a little defensively. “She blabbed, didn’t she?”
Julia put her hands up. “Hey, I was just concerned. She didn’t blabbed; I pried it out of her. Besides, I saw your father at school at lunch on Friday. Kind of a little hard to keep it hush-hush when you witness it first hand.”
“I’m sorry for snapping at you,” Shana apologized. “It’s just so…it’s embarrassing.”
Julia took a piece of paper and wrote her number on it. “If you need anything, just call, okay?”
Shana looked at the paper in her hand. “Thanks.”
“It sounds like the service is about to start. Let’s go in.”
Julia and Shana stood out in the parking lot after the service. “That was pretty funny how Pastor Mark fell asleep during the sermon,” Shana giggled.
“The snoring was even funnier,” Julia quipped.
“I missed that?”
“You must not have been sitting close enough.”
Shana squinted, her eyes focused on a distant part of the parking lot. “I was wondering how long Kelsey was going to leave that shabby old truck of hers out there,” she muttered.
Julia’s eyes drifted over, to see Jessie’s RAV4 parked nearby. “Looks like they’ve come to pick it up.”
“I probably ought to talk to Kelsey,” Shana grumbled. “Want to come along?”
“Sure,” Julia said a little too enthusiastically, her heartbeat picking up. Maybe that might get me out of my funk.
“Why do you like my sister so much, anyways?” Shana asked her. “Everyone else thinks she’s grouchy and unpleasant.”
Julia pursed her lips. How do I answer that? Innocently? “Most people don’t get to know her well enough,” she replied. “She’s a very nice person once you get to know her.”
“I’ve known her all fifteen years of my life, and I still think she’s grouchy and unpleasant.”
“You’re her sister,” Julia countered.
Shana shook her head. “Whatever.”
They walked in silence for another hundred feet until they reached Kelsey and Jessie. “Hey,” Julia greeted.
Jessie and Kelsey turned. “Hey guys,” Jessie greeted.
“Hey, Kelsey,” Shana asked, “Have you heard from Mom?”
The tomboy nodded. “Spoke to her this morning. She’s fine.”
“Did she say we can go home yet?” Shana inquired.
Kelsey shook her head. “She wants us to stay out several more days.”
“Damn,” Shana grumbled. “I think Leah’s getting ready to kill me.”
“Ask April then,” Kelsey suggested. “Might not be a bad idea to alternate back and forth.”
Shana nodded. “Good point. Keep me posted on how Mom’s doing, okay? I got to go catch my ride.”
“I will,” Kelsey promised. “Later.”
They walked back to the church building. “I better go,” Shana said. “Leah’s folks are about to leave.”
“Alright,” Julia said. “See you in school tomorrow.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the pine trees rise above the church. Hmm, the church gardens. I haven’t been there in ages. Without thinking, she started to walk in that direction, passing through the open gate into the garden.
It was a small garden; it was larger when she was a small girl, but several buildings were built since then, each building encroaching further onto the old garden lands.
She found a bench in the middle, a secluded little enclave surrounded by trees and bushes. She sat down, and flipped open her bible; perhaps it would give her insight. The book fell open to a passage in Matthew, chapter 26.
“Hmm, this is the section after the last Supper,” she noted. “Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, ‘Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.’” She looked up, and felt comforted by the embrace of the tree canopy above.
“And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith He unto them, ‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.’”
She sighed. “Got to love the archaic language used in the King James version.” She reflected on the passage, feeling a bit awkward that it was just her, alone to bear the weight, in the garden. “Even Jesus felt pain and sorrow,” she commented.
She continued to read aloud to herself. “And He went a little further, and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, ‘O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass unto me: nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.’” She felt a bitter taste on her lips. “What cup is this that is pressed to my lips?” she wondered.
Her finger scrolled down to the next sentence. “And He cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, ‘What could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.’”
“Weak flesh,” she repeated to herself. Her mind thought flashed to Kelsey. I know they say that liking someone of the same sex is a sign that the flesh is weak, but does my flesh feel for her? She grimaced. That's not why I like her.
She read the next sentence. “He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, ‘O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, Thy will be done.’” Her mind flashed to the warm evening in September, when Shana had dragged Kelsey to one of the youth meetings, and they had sat outside talking and holding each other. And then I went off on her when Shana told me she was gay. That wasn't a nice evening.
She scrolled to the next sentence. “And He came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. And He left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Then cometh He to His disciples, and saith unto them, ‘Sleep now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.’”
She felt a chill go down her spine. She wasn't sure why; she had read that story many times before, and knew the outcome, yet she never felt the tingle of fright run through her body like it did then. “What in heaven's name?” she muttered, shaken.
She shook her head, trying to clear her mind of the unexpected sensation. Her eyes drifted up the page. “Jesus said unto him, ‘Verily I say unto thee, that this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.’”
Before she could censor the thought, it flew in, like a bird through an open window. I will not deny you, Kelsey. Then she realized what she thought. It's getting harder and harder to fight. I wonder if she feels the way I feel. I can't fight this any longer. I must tell her.
Feeling better about herself, she finally left the gardens, to face a nearly empty parking lot. Her eyes darted over to the far reaches, where the Datsun had been earlier. It was gone.
Julia laid in her bed that night, staring at the ceiling. Every once in a while, she’d look over to her alarm clock, dismayed by how the time kept ticking by yet she couldn’t find fall asleep. I can’t believe it was only two nights ago she was here. She interlaced her hands and rested them on her abdomen. She shut her eyes, remembering how wonderful it felt to have her wake up in her arms. I would have freaked if Luke and I did that. She sighed. But with Luke, it wouldn’t have simply been just cuddles. He would have wanted more. How can you relax if you know there’s a hidden agenda behind every nice move?
I wonder what goes through her mind. That is, if she likes me the way I like her. Would she think the same thing? Do I think the same thing? She opened her eyes, and scratched her right temple. How do girls do it?
She softly chuckled to herself. I’m such an innocent. Would she bolt if she ever found out how naïve I am? Would she freak if I told her to take things slow? Would she dump me if she found out I am not going to have sex before marriage? Which, by default, would mean not at all? She felt a heaviness settle on her chest. Why must everything be so complicated?
She felt a pang of guilt. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t. At the rate I’m going, I’m going to disappoint everyone. Her thoughts flickered over to her parents, and she knew what they expected. Husband. Children. And we all know how the latter happens—ugh. Why can’t I just accept my fate like everyone else?
“Hey Audrie,” the tall, dark haired girl greeted her small friend.
“Hey Julia,” she replied in turn. “Are you okay? You look tired.”
“I didn’t sleep well,” she confessed.
“Something bothering you?”
Julia grimaced. “I got a question for you. What do your parents expect you
to do after high school?”
“They want me to go to college,” Audrie replied.
“And after that?”
“Get a good job…”
Julia looked at her intently. “Besides a career.”
“What are you trying to get at, Julia?” she asked calmly. “Marriage? Children? Someday. I don’t give a lot of thought. I figure it’ll fall in place in due time.”
“Would they kill you if it didn’t fall into place?”
Audrie shrugged. “I have no idea. I have an aunt that never married.”
“How do they treat her?” Julia inquired. “Is she allowed to visit over the holidays?”
Audrie looked at her, confused. “Of course! She’s family!”
Julia put her head in her hands. “Some days I wish I was Catholic. Then I could just claim celibacy and not have to deal with the whole thing.”
Audrie put her hand on Julia’s back. “It’s okay to be scared of sex, Julia. Why do you think I haven’t dated anyone in high school? I’ve certainly had enough offers from cute boys.” She rubbed her back. “It’s not something you have to decide on now, Julia,” she reassured her.
“Not the way my mother speaks,” Julia said quietly. “The whole thing makes me want to vomit.”
“It’s probably a generational thing,” Audrie suggested. “People married earlier not too long ago. The idea of women and careers is still fairly new to a lot of older folks.”
Julia started to laugh. “No offense, Audrie, but are you sure you go to First Baptist? Pastor Jim would be the first to say that women and careers don’t belong in the same sentence!” She put her hand up, wishing to further clarify. “Too bad there aren’t more folks that feel the way you do.”
Audrie exhaled, a smile on her face. “You had me worried there for a minute. I know you’re a devout Christian, but I have a hard time imagining you leading the crusade back to the kitchen. Haven’t you ever noticed that it’s a crusade led by men?”
Julia shook her head. “I’m pretty sure it’s my mom telling me my destiny in life is to be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen—can you imagine my dad saying something like that?”
“I can imagine my dad saying that,” Audrie countered. “No wonder I’m so hesitant to get involved in a relationship. I’d probably end up dating someone just like him!”
Julia nodded in agreement. “It always seem that the nice guys are either taken, gay, or don’t go to our church.” She shut her bible. “Like Dylan from the Student Council trip.”
“Yeah,” Audrie agreed dreamily. “He broke a lot of hearts on that trip. Poor Jessie especially.”
“Jessie? She had a crush on him?”
Audrie nodded. “Yep. Too bad he’s gay.”
“What?” Julia exclaimed, noticing that she startled a few other patrons in the library. “Whoops, didn’t mean to be so loud,” she embarrassedly muttered. “I…how…what…huh?”
“I overheard it,” Audrie informed her. “I don’t think I’m supposed to know that, considering the four of us were thick as thieves back then.”
“The four of us?” Julia quizzically repeated. “Oh right, we were still hanging out with Luke and Cassie then. That was the weekend we split paths.” She leaned back in her chair. “Dang, it feels like ages ago.”
“Nearly two months now.”
“What do you think about him being gay?” Julia queried.
“How so?” Audrie asked for clarification. “It’s a little weird, I will admit. But I guess that’s because I made assumptions that all gay men must be queens and well—big, burly football players hardly qualify as queens.”
Julia bit her lip. “Did it make you think any less of him?”
“No, why?” Audrie looked intently at her friend. “I’m guessing someone just recently came out to you and you’re wondering how to react to it.”
I’ve known about Kelsey for quite a while…can’t let the cat out of the bag here though. “Yeah.”
Audrie smiled. “I thought you knew already about her,” she laughed. “But I’d say you’ve been doing good so far. It takes guts to push down all that indoctrination we’ve been bombarded with and treat her with kindness.”
But can you treat me with kindness? Julia wondered silently.
“Hey guys,” Jessie greeted as she joined Natasha, Kacie and Kelsey at their table at brunch. “What’s up?”
“Not much,” Natasha replied. “Been quiet this morning.”
“Wonder how much longer that will last,” Jessie wondered. She glanced at Kelsey, and noted that Kacie was still standing rather close to her. Buy a clue, Kacie, she fumed to herself. “I wonder if Luke and Cassie have calmed down any over the fair on Saturday.”
“What got their panties in a wad now?” Kacie inquired.
“Don’t go there,” Kelsey pleaded, breaking her silence.
“Why not?” Kacie asked. “Something interesting always seems to be going on in your Student Council class.”
“Let’s just say it involved people sticking their hands in a vat of chocolate pudding,” Natasha giggled.
“Damn it, Natasha!” Kelsey snapped. “I don’t want to hear about it again!”
“Lighten up, Kelsey,” Jessie said, trying to soothe her embarrassed friend. “It’s not a big deal.” She carefully watched her friend’s reaction, to notice she didn’t seem to relax any. Time to beat Natasha to the punch while dancing around what’s bothering her. “Luke and Cassie had planned an exhibit that involved chicken pieces dipped in ketchup and chocolate pudding. They were going to label it “Abortion” and “Homosexuality.” Our teacher nixed their idea, and they’re mad about it.”
“What do chicken pieces and chocolate pudding have to do with abortion and homosexuality?” Kacie asked.
Natasha answered, “I think Julia said the chicken was supposed to represent aborted fetuses and chocolate pudding does look like shit…”
Kacie gagged. “Eww!” She scrunched her face up. “Guess they were going a little literal on the term ‘fudge packing,’ weren’t they?” She glanced at Natasha and smiled.
It was Kelsey’s turn to gag. “Enough,” she pleaded. “The whole thing is disgusting and I’m grateful Mr. Eldon canned their goddamn exhibit.”
“Amen!” Jessie wholeheartedly agreed. “Natasha, Kacie, what did you guys do for Halloween?”
It didn’t take long for Julia to spot the red headed tomboy in the quad. She felt her mood lift; questioning Audrie before school about what she thought about gay people left her on edge, and she was desperate for a distraction—no, she was looking to reaffirm why she was toying with the idea of telling Audrie that she wasn’t really straight and the handful of boyfriends were a façade plastered on to please her mother. Life can’t ever be that simple, can it? What’s gotten into me? Why am I debating telling Audrie about these strange urges anyway?
But then she saw the skinny goth standing next to Kelsey, and as quickly as her mood lifted, it fell. It’s that girl who’s been hitting on Kelsey. And she’s not fighting it. She frowned, casting her eyes down to the concrete ground. I guess if she ends up going out with that girl—what’s her name, Kacie? —then I won’t have any reason to confess to Audrie what a twisted heart I have.
Her thoughts were interrupted when she heard a vaguely familiar male voice address her. “Julia?”
She turned around, to see Justin looking at her. Damn. “Yes?”
“Can I ask you something?” he asked, leading her down the hallway.
“Sure,” she relented.
“Will you go out with me?” he asked.
Kelsey had to admit she wasn’t really paying attention to the conversation at hand. She had been scanning the quad for Julia, hoping the tall, dark haired girl would join them and make her forget that Kacie was standing a little too close for her comfort. Then again, I promised I’d have that conversation with her, she sighed dejectedly. I really don’t want to have it. I just want things to be status quo. She noticed Kacie was now so close she was practically touching her side. And I think I’m going to have to have a conversation with Kacie too. Damn. She’ll probably take it the wrong way and leave the group. I like her—but only as a friend. I’d miss her around the group if she got upset with me and left. But could I blame her? Is it fair to string her along? I thought she’d have bought a clue by now.
She finally spotted Julia, and her green eyes lit up for a minute as Julia had spotted her and smiled. But then she saw a tall, lanky dark haired boy approach her. Damn, it’s Justin! I thought that asshole was going to leave her alone. She watched their conversation from afar. He looked to have been pleading with her, and they disappeared into the hallway, out of sight. Damn, she sighed as she felt her heart fall. The thought of her crush hanging out with that creep made her feel sick to her stomach.
Justin asked, “Will you go out with me?”
Julia stopped dead in her tracks in the middle of the hallway. I thought this issue was dead! She gritted her teeth, consequences be damned. “No.”
He looked crestfallen; he hung his head and shoved his hands in his pockets. “I knew you were going to say that,” he mumbled. “And I don’t blame you.”
She looked at him quizzically, and he looked up at her. “I haven’t been very nice to you,” he admitted. “There’s more to it than you see.” The bell for third period rang. “I have something to tell you. Can I meet you for lunch? It’s going to take longer than the five minutes we have until the tardy bell rings.”
Julia looked at him intently. What in heaven’s name is he thinking? He looked resigned, and a bit sad. As long as he doesn’t get possessive like he was last time, what’s the harm? “Sure,” she consented. “Where should I meet you?”
“I’ll find you.”
“No you won’t. How about here?”
“See you then.”
Lunch. Kelsey was grateful the bell didn’t ring any later than it did; she was ravenously hungry. I hope my sack lunch is enough, she prayed. I have a feeling I’m grabbing something from the snack bar.
She sat down at the table, unzipped her backpack, fished out the brown paper bag, and ripped it open to reveal its contents—a bologna sandwich, a few potato chips and an orange. Definitely going to be supplementing it. Soccer practice starts today; I’m going to need every calorie I can get my hands on, since Coach Sawyer is going to be running our asses off. I hate conditioning.
She felt someone invade her personal space; out of the corner of her eye, she saw Kacie. “Hey there,” she said. “Sack lunch?” She unwrapped the pizza pocket she had purchased at the snack bar.
She peered over, wrinkling her nose. “How can you stand that stuff?”
Kelsey held up the sandwich in question. “Better than having nothing for lunch,” she sighed, taking another bite.
“They got tastier stuff at the snack bar,” she suggested.
“I can’t afford it,” she confessed.
“I’ll get you something,” she offered.
“No,” Kelsey blurted. I don’t want her thinking I owe her something.
“You sure?” she asked, amazed that her companion could stand something as plain as a bologna sandwich.
“Yes,” Kelsey insisted.
“Suit yourself,” Kacie relented.
I wonder if Julia’s going to join us for lunch like she did Friday, Kelsey mused to herself. She turned around, to see the dark haired girl walk out of the hallway. Followed by Justin. Guess not, she sighed to herself. Damn. I wonder if she’s reconsidering going out with him.
She turned her attention back to Kacie. Kacie’s certainly willing. Why don’t I want to go out with her? The skinny goth saw Kelsey looking at her, and she shyly smiled. I hope she didn’t take that as a sign of encouragement, Kelsey cringed.
Julia couldn’t help but feel tense as Justin walked alongside her. He didn’t look any more relaxed than she did, and he kept looking down at his shoes. I wonder what he has to say to me.
They found a secluded area of the quad to sit and lunch. “You’re wondering what I have to say,” he stammered. “First, I’m sorry for the way I treated you. Things aren’t the way they seem.”
She looked at him warily. “How so?” she asked after a moment of silence.
“My father was really pushing me to ask you out,” he admitted. “Uh…uhm…sorry, this is hard to say, I’ve never told anyone this before.”
So your father was pushing you to ask me out. Just like my mother was pushing me to say yes. Church folks are like that, where’s the big deal?
“My father thinks he’s a prophet,” Justin continued. “Part of his vision involves matchmaking. You know, celestial couples.”
“Soulmates,” he clarified.
You are not my soulmate! Julia’s mind screamed immediately.
Justin continued, “For some reason, he’s convinced you and I were a match made in heaven. Literally. Every time he pointed out you didn’t seem interested, he told me to get more aggressive. And when I told him about your non-church friends, he urged me to do whatever I had to do to get between you and them.”
“Didn’t work, did it?” Julia hissed.
“No,” he agreed. “I thought he was nuts, but I couldn’t very well tell him that. That would be blasphemy in my church. You don’t go against a prophet.”
Declaring oneself a modern day prophet is pretty blasphemous in and of itself, Julia thought to herself. I guess this explains the weird vibes I got from Western Baptist.
“So, what happened when your plan backfired?” Julia asked.
His shoulders slumped. “He told me I must be living in a state of sin—if my soul was pure, you would have said yes.”
“No offense, Justin, but I don’t think there’s any way I would have said yes, and it has nothing to do with you.”
He nodded. “I’ve been under a lot of pressure to do unrealistic things. Like speak tongues—don’t tell anyone I said this, but I think everyone’s faking it. But at Western Baptist, if the Holy Spirit doesn’t move you to speak in tongues, then you must not be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
“That sounds like a pretty heavy load of guilt.”
“It is,” he sighed. “They’ve been laying hands on me for the past few weeks trying to cure me, and my dad forces me to confess daily in hopes I will break down and admit whatever sin has been keeping me from seeing the Spirit.”
“The Spirit can move quietly,” Julia offered.
Justin emphatically shook his head. “Not in his church. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong!” he cried. “I try everything to be perfect, but it’s just not enough. I cry to Jesus every night to tell me what I’m doing wrong, but every morning—silence.”
“Have faith, Justin,” Julia urged. “Jesus does hear you.”
“Does he?” he shakily asked.
“Yes he does—the Bible says so.”
“Why can’t my dad see that then? He’s talking about pulling me out of school and sending me to some ex-gay camp in Tennessee. But I’m not gay! I don’t like boys that way!”
“Do you like girls in that way?”
“That’s a sin too,” Justin protested. “One can’t win, can they? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I’m just damned. Jesus doesn’t care—I’m not one of the elect, so I might as well stop wasting church resources on this hopeless cause.”
“Justin, Jesus accepts those who accept him.”
“I accept him.” Justin quietly stared at the ground, and added, “But he doesn’t accept me. He’s chosen who is going to spend eternity with him. Call it fate. How much longer do I have until my dad figures out I’m not what I’m supposed to be? What will happen to me then? I can’t imagine he’ll want anything to do with me once he realizes I’m one of the damned.”
I don’t like the sound of this. I better talk to a counselor about this. I’m way out of my league here. “Justin?”
Sad brown eyes looked at her.
“Life’s not easy. Temptations happen. People’s expectations of us often don’t match the reality. But Justin, Jesus loves us. He knows we’re only human. That’s why he died on the cross—because we can’t be perfect. Look in your heart, Justin. You’re not a bad person. Satan is trying your soul right now. He’s telling you lies—lies that Jesus has already selected the elect and somehow the rest of us can pray for our souls day and night and still be damned. That’s Satan speaking, Justin. Don’t let Satan win. Keep the faith—it will get you through.”
Justin weakly nodded. “I’ll remember that.”
“I’m so tired,” Kelsey sighed, lugging her soccer gear in her duffel bag. “I’m going to be sore tomorrow!”
“Me too,” Jessie agreed. “I haven’t ran that hard since the start of volleyball.” She wiped the sweat off her forehead. “At least it’s cooler now.”
“I can’t imagine doing this in the middle of fucking July.”
Jessie chuckled. “You get used to it.”
Kelsey nodded. This was how the season started every year—for the first couple of weeks, coach would run their legs off running laps and doing drills to get them in shape; then when the season started, they’d run their legs off playing games. It was always a shock the first week until their bodies got used to the increased demand of stamina the game required.
I wonder how long Kacie is going to hang around now that soccer’s started, Kelsey mused to herself. I’m not very pleasant to be around when I’m tired like this.
“Did you and Julia ever talk?” Jessie asked.
“No,” Kelsey replied. “I was at the table during lunch, remember? Wait, you weren’t, you had that meeting.”
Jessie nodded. “If she won’t come to you, you got to go to her,” she urged.
“I really don’t want to have that conversation,” Kelsey despaired. “Once it gets out, then neither of us can deny what’s going on, and I really don’t want to cross that boundary. I just wish we could pretend nothing’s going on.”
“Uh huh. But it’s not going to make the problem go away. You’re going to have to chase her down and tell her.”
“She had company today.”
“Audrie’s not that possessive.”
“No, she lunched with Justin.”
“What?” Jessie shrieked incredulously. “Don’t tell me she’s reconsidering dating that bastard.”
“I have no idea,” Kelsey dejectedly said. “God, I hope not. I know she doesn’t like him—but if she dates to please her mom, then does it matter if she likes him or not?”
“Don’t jump to conclusions,” Jessie suggested, although she herself was doubtful that they could have an innocent conversation. “They might have just wanted to talk.”
“Yeah, sure,” Kelsey choked. “Guys don’t talk to girls unless they’re scheming some way of getting them into the sack.”
“Isn’t that a bit broad of a statement?”
“Well, obviously it doesn’t hold true if they’re gay,” Kelsey corrected herself.
Jessie simply laughed at her. Okay, so most of the time, they probably are thinking about how to get some girl in the sack, she admitted to herself. I think someone’s taking this pretty hard—perhaps a little harder than she should. It’s not like it’s confirmed or anything that she’s going out with Justin.
After a quiet drive home, Kelsey and Jessie ate dinner at Jessie’s house. Earlier in the day, Kelsey had called her mother, and was instructed to continue staying over since it wasn’t safe at home. How much longer is this going to continue? She was getting a bit sick of being on someone else’s turf—as much as she liked Jessie, it made her feel like she was taking advantage of her friend by staying for an indefinite period.
“Jessie, I got a question for you.”
“Yeah?” the tall girl replied in between bites of spaghetti.
“Is it wrong of me to not be interested in Kacie? She’s been pretty obvious about the fact she likes me.”
“You can’t force attraction,” Jessie told her. “If the spark isn’t there, then you’re probably not going to find it later.” She took a bite of garlic bread. “Of course, going out on a date doesn’t necessarily obligate you to anything further. You could always do it casual but at least be upfront with her that you’re not really looking for more.”
Kelsey hung her head. “That is a possibility.” She twirled a bit of angel hair pasta around her fork. “Maybe it’ll get my mind off what I can’t have.”
“Tread carefully,” Jessie cautioned. “It’ll probably hurt her to know that you have someone else in mind the whole time you’re out.” She dabbed a splash of spaghetti sauce off her cheek. “If you do ask her out on a casual date, be careful. I get the feeling she’s probably the pushy type.”
“You think?” Kelsey snorted, laughing. “I wish the pond was a little larger. I think she’s the only fish stocked in it—at this rate I’d rather go hungry!”
“I have a hard time imagining you’re the only gay girl in a school of two thousand plus souls. What’s the ratio—one in ten?”
Kelsey shook her head. “We’re all too young to be out and about. I didn’t figure it out until the end of my junior year. I didn’t know of any seniors who were out last year, so I guess I’m a bit early.”
“It’s also a small town,” Jessie advised her. “There’s probably a lot of people waiting it out until they escape to college.”
“Escape,” Kelsey repeated. “I can’t wait.”
“Me either. You don’t have to be gay to itch to run as far and fast as you can.”
Kelsey woke up in the middle of the night. She thought she merely had to use the bathroom, but if that was the case, she should have been able to go back to sleep; instead, she was lying awake, glancing at the red digits on Jessie’s alarm clock every few minutes, and realizing that it was now 3:30 am, she had been wide awake for at least twenty minutes, and falling back asleep wasn’t on the horizon any time soon.
She sighed. What can I do at 3:30 in the morning? It’s too early to do anything. I could go read in the bathroom, but that fan is noisy and if someone notices I’m in there, they’re either going to think I’m masturbating or I’m really, really sick.
Her eyes flickered over to the window. Hmm, that doesn’t have a screen on it, she mused. Home is only a few blocks away; maybe I’ll take a little walk. She slipped into her jeans, laced up her boots and put on her hooded sweatshirt, then quietly padded over to the window. I should be able to close it behind me and still get back in without making too much fuss. She opened the sash window, then looked down. Thank goodness her bedroom is on the first floor; I’ll be able to climb back in without too much fuss. She crawled out, draping her body over the sill and then quietly landing on the other side. She pulled it down until it shut, then quietly left the side yard and walked down the street. I hope the cops aren’t out enforcing curfew, she prayed, her heart beating. She had never been outside at this hour—what could she expect?
There was no traffic on her way to her house, and she walked around to the side yard, remembering from rote memory all the spots she’d have to tread carefully lest she make a sound. Everything looked as she remembered it last, and she went around to the backyard. Everything was normal—or so she thought, until she noticed things were a bit different than she recalled last. She carefully looked at all the windows, switching back and forth from the side to the back yard. They don’t appear to be tampered with, she sighed with relief. But there was still something disconcertingly wrong with the backyard, although she couldn’t put her finger on what. She knew her mother hadn’t been out there—she didn’t get around very well, having to hobble around with a cane. Look, the windows are fine; you’re just imagining things. Go back to Jessie’s before you get into trouble.
She quietly slipped back in via the window she exited; she quietly shucked her boots, her jeans and her hooded sweatshirt, put her pajama bottoms back on, and fell asleep.
“Morning, Julia,” Audrie greeted, setting her backpack on the table in the library and sitting down beside her. “How are you? You still look tired.”
“I didn’t sleep well again,” she admitted. Still thinking about Kelsey. Wait—can’t admit that. Should I tell her about Justin? Or should I just say nothing? “I’m sorry I bailed on you at lunch. Justin wanted to talk.”
“I thought he had given up on you,” Audrie said, surprised.
“I thought he had too.” She flicked an errant strand of hair behind her ear. “He threw me a bit off balance. He kept talking about how his father was pressuring him to date me.”
“Interesting,” Audrie drawled. “Your mother was doing the same thing to you.”
Julia nodded. “It is interesting. We’re both being pushed to do things for others whether we want it or not. It surprised me. How many other souls on this campus live their lives for others and not themselves?”
Audrie tilted her head, then looked around the room. “More than we think, I bet.”
“Would it make us happier to tell people to can the b.s. and let us make our own choices? Or are we really that incompetent that we can’t make simple choices for ourselves?”
Audrie could feel the anger simmering under the words. Granted, she said them rather angrily, but quietly—a quietude that betrayed the passion she could feel radiating from her friend. “I guess from their perspective, a lot of kids can’t be trusted to make the right choices. Look at all the drugs, sex and alcohol lurking about.”
“True, but if you’re adult enough to avoid those pitfalls, can’t you be trusted to make the rest of the choices? Or do they feel obligated to swoop in and take the credit for you resisting temptation?” She paused, catching her breath. “If I’m not doing it for myself, why do I try to be good then?”
Audrie gently put her hand on Julia’s wrist. “Because ultimately, it is for yourself. Senior year is ticking away. Soon we’ll be going off to college. Those who do things only to please their parents will fall by the wayside. Those who do things for their own sake will survive. Keep the faith Julia—ultimately we have to do what’s right for ourselves, not for everyone else.”
Julia reluctantly nodded. “Funny, I was telling Justin the same thing yesterday.”
“About keeping the faith?”
“Yes. He feels he’s let everyone down because he can’t meet unrealistic expectations, and that no one would love him if they knew he couldn’t measure up. I think what worried me the most about our conversation at lunch yesterday was that he felt convinced even Jesus had turned against him.”
Audrie grimaced. “I don’t like the sound of that. If you’re the minister’s son and you feel Jesus has turned his back on you—did he talk about killing himself?”
Julia shook her head. “No, but I got the same unnerving impression.”
“Did you tell any of the counselors?” Audrie asked.
“I thought about it,” Julia answered, “but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that these counselors wouldn’t understand a thing about his situation. I mean, it was rather complicated scripture-wise; the last thing he needs is some heathen counselor to tell him the Bible’s just a funny book written by dead Romans back in the Stone Age and that no one believes that stuff anymore except us puritans.”
Audrie sighed dejectedly. “Everything has to be complicated, doesn’t it?”
“Indeed, it does.”
“I think we should talk to the counselor though. They’re trained to intervene; we’re not.”
Brunch. Julia was especially shaky now; her and Audrie were late to their first class because they spoke to the counselor about Justin. The counselor looked rather alarmed by Julia’s comment that Justin felt himself to be damned, which confirmed their suspicions that he was indeed in trouble. Julia had received weird looks from her classmates in English, but she was thankful she had a hall pass excusing her tardy.
It did make her better to inform the school’s counseling staff of Justin’s state, but the feel-good feeling quickly vanished when the tardy bell rang for her second period class, Statistics, and he was nowhere to be found. She couldn’t really remember the lesson that day—all she remembered was the horrible feeling of dread that clung around her throat.
Maybe if I talk to Jessie and Kelsey I’ll feel better, she hoped. But when she walked out in the quad, she saw Kacie had an arm draped around Kelsey’s waist. Or not. She walked back into the hallway. Mr. Eldon’s classroom should be open. I don’t want anyone to see me right now.
She slipped in, relieved to see the room empty of everyone, including the teacher. She took her seat, sat her head down, and cried.
She heard the first bell ring, announcing the end of brunch. The tears had drained out a few minutes prior, and while it made her feel a little better, she knew it wasn’t going to solve the crises at hand—that Kelsey had moved on, and that Justin might have departed this earthly realm. She grabbed a few tissues from the tissue box at the front of the class and dabbed her eyes. I hope it isn’t too obvious that I lost it, she prayed, rubbing her eyes in an attempt to get the red puffiness to subside.
She heard Kelsey and Jessie enter, both of them laughing. She was grateful that the desks faced away from the doors, and as she heard footsteps, she lowered her head, hoping neither of them would notice her distress. They slipped by her, and took seats up front. They didn’t even see me, she despaired, feeling even emptier. Natasha passed by and joined Kelsey and Jessie upfront; she had no idea what they were laughing about, except she heard something about a sword wielding woman and a guy wearing a metal colander on his head. There’s a mental image.
She couldn’t be bothered to give a care about the happenings in Student Council that day, and slipped off to a corner of the classroom, praying she wouldn’t be disturbed. Can you hear me now, Justin? I wish I knew where you were coming from when you started dogging me. Maybe things could have worked out some other way, and we wouldn’t have had to insult each other. I wouldn’t have gone out with you still, but there was no need for things to have ended the way they have either. And if you have indeed passed on, then you probably know why I said ‘no’ to you. And you probably know all the other dirty little secrets those of us left behind harbor. Amazing how we all think we’re alone, only to find out we’ve all fallen—only some are more obvious about it than others.
She was roused out of her thoughts when she heard her name called. “Julia.” She shook her head, capped her pen, and turned around to face Kelsey.
“Hey,” she said, relieved to see her. But it wasn’t a happy face she was looking into.
“We need to talk,” Kelsey firmly stated, her brows knit and her jaw clenched. “Are you free at lunch?”
“Yes, where should I meet you?”
“How about behind the theater department? I need to tell you something.”
Julia felt herself break out in a cold sweat. She’s going to tell me she’s going out with Kacie. Kill me now. “Okay,” she replied. Kelsey turned around and left before she could get another word in edgewise.
She turned to see what she was working on. My letter to Justin. I hope she didn’t see it.
Kelsey’s hands were shaking. I wonder if she’s still waiting by the theater department, she wondered. I wouldn’t blame her if she thought I bailed and left. She had fully intended to go over to their spot behind the theater department as soon as the lunch bell rang, but she ran into her sister halfway there, and they ended up having a rather drawn out discussion turned argument that left her in a jumpy, irritable mood.
She turned the corner, and saw Julia wasn’t there. She thinks I’m a punk, she glumly concluded. Where would she be? Would she be with Audrie? Or has she run off with Justin somewhere?
Let’s try finding Audrie first. I’ve been working up my nerve all morning; I’m not about to have another day like this.
She spotted them sitting on the steps of the library. Whew, I found her. “Hey Julia,” she greeted. “I’m sorry about not meeting you there earlier, my sister insisted on talking to me and that’s why I’m delayed.”
The tall girl shrugged. “Well, what is it?” she asked hastily. “Did you come to tell me that you’re going out with Kacie? Congratulations.”
Kelsey scowled. “I’m not going out with her, I can’t believe you said something like that out here in public, and what I need to tell you is between you and I only!”
Julia put her hands up. “Sorry,” she mumbled. “She’s just been touchy feely with you, I assumed things.” She got up and grabbed her backpack. “Where to? Behind the theater department?”
“Yes,” Kelsey instructed her. They silently headed out that way, not saying a single thing the entire way. Audrie warily watched them from a distance. She better not hurt Julia.
They got to the area behind the theater department in several minutes. Julia had noted that Kelsey’s shoulders looked hunched over and tense; she had been clenching her fists the entire way. I don’t like the looks of this, she feared.
Kelsey swallowed nervously. Do I dance around it or say it outright? She felt the bright rays of the sun pound in her head. I can’t even think right now. “Julia,” she began, “I like having you as a friend.”
I wouldn’t know that from the way we’ve been treating each other this week, Julia snorted to herself.
“Really, I do.” She took a deep breath, her angry façade fading to that of nervousness. “But it’s both a blessing a curse. A blessing, because I like having you as a friend.” She bit her lip, and continued, “And a curse, because I also have a crush on you. I can’t walk around being friends with you and pretend otherwise.” She clenched her fists, her thoughts getting jumbled as she hurried to spit them out before the adrenaline wiped out her train of thought. “And I hate walking around on eggshells around you, afraid that when I slip up you’ll be at my throat. So here’s your chance. Have at me. Hate me. Hurt me. Do whatever you want. I don’t blame you if you hate my guts. But I’m not lying to you anymore.”
This isn’t what I expected, Julia thought, shocked. She likes me too! Her mind jumped for joy. She went to open her mouth, but her jaw simply dropped; she willed herself to say something, anything, but nothing came out. She tried to move her lips, but they wouldn’t move. She tried to think of something to say, but the words were everywhere, except on the tip of her tongue.
Silence passed between them, and Kelsey’s attempts to look impatient were giving way to fear. The bell rang, and she turned on her heels and walked away.
“Kelsey, wait!” Julia yelled, dashing after her. She caught up to her; Kelsey turned around to face her.
“I’m sorry I had to tell you,” she apologized but in a cold tone. “Let me be.” She turned around and started to walk away again.
“Kelsey!” Julia yelled again. Damn it I’m losing her! She thinks I hate her and nothing could be farther from the truth! she panicked. “Kelsey!” But the tomboy wouldn’t turn around to face her. Everyone was going to class. I can’t afford to be tardy. Damn it! There’s no way I can talk to her after school—I’ll be on the road up north for playoffs by then. Damn it, damn it, damn it!
Kelsey hurriedly tried to eat her lunch before soccer practice began. She saw Jessie, who sat alongside her. “Lunch now?” Jessie queried.
“Yeah,” Kelsey mumbled, taking another hurried bite of her sandwich. “Ran out of time earlier.”
“Did you talk to her?”
“How’d it go?”
“As expected. Lousy.” Kelsey stuffed the rest of her sandwich in her mouth. “Looked at me like I sprouted a pair of antennae.” She then hurriedly ate her apple. “I won’t have to worry about her hanging around anymore though,” she bitterly laughed.
Soccer practice began with four laps around the track. The team assembled, and the coach split them into four teams. “The team that finishes its sprints first will be excused from laps at the end of practice,” Coach Sawyer told them. “You will run from goal post to opposing goal post, then you’ll run from goal post to the halfway point, then you’ll run from the goal post to the penalty box. When you’re done, the next person on your team does the same. Go over to the goal line and wait for me to give you the whistle.”
Kelsey and Jessie were on the same team, paired with a pair of forwards, one of them returning for the varsity quad and the other one trying to make the leap from junior varsity. They were speedy, but another team had an equally speedy set of forwards, leaving them in a dead tie. Jessie easily ate up ground with her strong legs, but since she was a fullback and not a forward, the shorter sprints were more her forte, and she was dragging by the time she finished, leaving their team trailing the other one. It’s all up to me. Damn, Kelsey groused as she took off for the opposing goal line. Just focus. She knew she was out of shape, and yesterday’s practice left her sore. Keep running, long strides, focus. She could hear cheers and cajoling from the other end of the field, but she blocked it out, focused on one thing and one thing only—to beat the other team. The shorter sprints were even worse, because she had to shift her momentum to go in the other direction. She ran the last sprint, between the penalty box and the goal line, and gritted her teeth to will her tired legs to extend fully to the finish.
The other team had beaten them by two strides. She leaned down and put her hands on her knees, trying to catch her breath.
“That was pretty impressive, Kelsey,” Jessie tried to cheer her. “They were starting to panic when they saw you were gaining on their heels. They thought they had it wrapped up after my turn.”
Kelsey weakly nodded; her skin felt flush and her limbs were shaking as they walked over to where Coach Sawyer was, who had in mind another torturous drill to subject them to.
Jessie listened to the instructions, then turned to Kelsey. “Partners?” she asked, then noting her friend’s pale skin. “Kelsey?”
“I don’t feel so good,” she shakily said. The coach dismissed them to team up; a few steps in, Kelsey ran off the field, towards a trashcan. She didn’t quite make it before her lunch decided to rebel.
“Oh boy,” Jessie sighed. “Should have eaten your lunch earlier.”
“Feeling any better?” Jessie asked as they walked towards her RAV4 after practice.
“A little,” Kelsey mumbled. “It’s just been a bad day, and not getting to eat my lunch until after school was the last straw.”
“Sorry about that,” Jessie sympathized. “I can beat her up for you if you want,” she offered.
“No, no,” Kelsey defended her. “It’s not all her fault. Shana picked a fight with me at lunch, that’s why I didn’t get to eat. And you remember the scare I had this morning when I called home and found out the line was disconnected.”
“Yeah, we had to drive over there,” Jessie remembered. “Glad she’s alright.”
“It certainly didn’t make my mood any better,” Kelsey admitted. “I got scared something happened to her.” She sat in the passenger’s seat, in silence a few minutes. I wonder if my dad was out in the back cutting the phone lines, and that was why something looked askew when I snuck over last night. Hmm. Can’t admit I know that, though; I’ll be in so much trouble if anyone finds out I have been sneaking out at night to check on Mom.
Julia laid there wide awake; she had turned off the lights an hour prior, but sleep was elusive. I guess playoffs have me all worked up. That was pretty sweet to go in there and slice and dice the competition up. A goofy grin crossed her face as she recalled how she unleashed a torrent of vicious backhands and sizzling overhead slams. But then the smile disappeared. It’s a good thing I was able to channel my frustration from lunch on the court. That could have gone either way.
She sighed. I think that’s why I can’t sleep. Oh, don’t deny it to yourself, Julia. She assumes you’re mad at her. I got to fix this first thing tomorrow morning. I bet she’s not sleeping either. She ran a hand through her hair. I hope she at least hears me out. Sometimes a person gets so convinced that something is going to happen one way that they aren’t open to hearing a different outcome. She was rather short with me, as if she was expecting me to hate her for it.
Don’t leave me, Kelsey, she thought as tears came to her eyes. She rolled onto her side and curled up in a ball, quietly sobbing into a pillow.
At some point, sleep finally came to her.
‘Great. I’m back in the pit of hell again.’ She eyed the dark, ominous cavern. ‘It’s been a while since I’ve been here.’ The cavern was deathly silent, unlike the many other times she had dreamt being here, and she wondered why. Instinctively, she went to the side and leaned over, trying to figure out why everything was silent this time.
She saw the figure falling, and screamed. She tried to grab at the falling figure, and she briefly grasped her.
“I got you,” she reassured the victim.
The victim looked back at her. “Let me go.”
“It’s too late; save yourself. Now let me go.”
Julia opened her mouth to say something, but no words came out. Before she knew it, the victim had wrestled her way out of her grasp and was falling again, now out of reach.
“Don’t you leave me!” Julia cried, in vain, as the victim fell away. But she didn’t disappear into the fog; she could see her fall all the way, to the bottom.
She didn’t get back up.
She bolted up, her heart racing in quadruple time, her shirt soaked in sweat. “I hate that dream!” Julia groused to herself. “It has been a while since I’ve had it.” She ran her hand through her hair, cold and damp. “What does it mean? Why does it keep repeating?”
She couldn’t stop shaking. I might as well use the bathroom. What time is it? Too early to get up, that’s what.
Kelsey tossed and turned on the air mattress. I hate it when sleep eludes me, she groused to herself, rolling over on her side and propping herself on her elbow. What time is it? Ah. 2:43 in the morning. Hmm. If I’m going to check on Mom, I better do it now.
What kind of trouble am I inviting, sneaking out and checking on her, anyway? Kelsey wondered to herself. You know your mother is armed to the teeth—she hears something fishy outside, she’s going to presume it’s my father and not me. Just go back to sleep.
She lied down on the mattress again, but she felt a growing sense of unease creep into her bones. I better go check on her. Father was around last night—I wasn’t imagining things after all. Determined, she quietly got up, changed into her jeans, laced up her boots, threw on her hooded sweatshirt, and crept out the same window she exited via the night prior.
Traffic was quiet, the only sound she heard walking home was crickets and the occasional hoot of an owl. Amazing how quiet it can be when everyone’s asleep. Off in the distance, she could hear the faint sounds of traffic on one of the main drags through town, but that was a ways off.
Like the night prior, she snuck into the side yard. She felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise; however, she couldn’t see anything amiss. I don’t like the feeling of this. Nothing’s disturbed, though. She crept around the back, and glanced at the windowsills. I take that back—someone’s broken into the house.
She plastered herself next to the building, figuring that if he were to look outside, she’d be hard to spot. So which window is it that he jimmied up—let’s think—the dining room. Now, how am I going to get in there without making a sound? What’s on the other side of that window? The floor. Wooden floor. It won’t muffle the sound of my boots if I’m not careful. How far is it from the sill to the floor? The length from my hip to my boots. Okay. What can I arm myself with? Her eyes darted around the yard. No, no, you don’t want to carry anything into the house. What’s in the dining room? I’ll be close to the kitchen. Kitchen knife. I don’t think he’s going in that direction—it’s opposite of his target. There’s also that cast iron skillet. That’s heavy. I might be able to knock him out better with that—but it’s so heavy, by the time I get momentum going, it may be too late. Where would I use a knife on him though? Ugh. I don’t want to think of all the fleshy places a blade can slip. Which knife should I use? The big French knife would work well—no, no, no, length is not what you want. The itty bitty vegetable corer is sharper—don’t think I’m going to forget the time the blade slipped and I had to drive Mom to the emergency room for stitches. Yes, that would draw a lot of blood, and I wouldn’t have to worry about length. And it would be easy to conceal.
Okay. Kitchen. Small knife. Go. She quietly opened the window, slipped in, and remembering the distance—30 inches—she slowly lowered herself so her boots wouldn’t make any noise. She unlaced them and stepped out of them. There, won’t have to worry about them anymore. Now clad in socks, she carefully walked around the dining room, careful to stick to the shadows, where the night lights outside couldn’t catch her silhouette. She walked stealthily, first putting down her heel, then rolling the length of her foot so the ball of her foot was last to strike, then using the ball of her foot to launch off for the next step.
She could hear a door creak upstairs. She froze, listening intently. Mom doesn’t walk like that. The son of a bitch is here! She quickly made her way into the kitchen, and keeping to her plan, grabbed the small knife. Upstairs.
She hit the base of the stairs, and decided walking up next to the wall was less likely to make the aged steps creak. Remember, the third, the seventh and the second from the top creak, she noted to herself. Silently, catlike, she tiptoed up the stairs, holding her breath when one of the other stairs let out a slight creak, but it was a very small sound. She paused at the last stair before she hit the top, standing stock still. Can I hear him? She noted the sound was in the opposite direction of Mother’s bedroom. Either he’s looking for Shana and I, or he’s clueless as to where the master bedroom is.
He’s sure making a lot of noise, she noted. But still, not a sound could be heard from her mother’s room. She has no idea he’s here. I had a feeling this was going to happen. She debated how to approach the situation—he was rifling around in her room, and there was no way she could creep into the hallway undetected should he be looking down the hall. Well, he’s going to have to come by this way sooner or later, she realized, and decided keeping vigil hidden in the stairwell was a better idea.
Angry footsteps stormed out of the bedroom, and Kelsey rushed to put her brain together. Grab him! He was unprepared for his daughter’s intrusion, and his bloodshot eyes widened as he saw her lunge. He stepped backwards into the bathroom, evading the lunge; her forward momentum brought her crashing onto the bathroom tile face first.
Shit! She quickly gathered herself to get up, only to feel herself being shoved back down onto the tile, followed by a desperate forward kick that landed on her ribs. The adrenaline surge rendered her impervious to the pain that was sure to follow, and she decided to get up in a crouch, not bothering to get up all the way before she used her strong thighs to propel herself at him again. He tried to push her down, but he was unable to brace himself against the explosive surge of power that pinned him against the back wall of the bathroom.
It was weird to be able to look her father in the eyes. He had been so much taller when he went to prison years taller—and from the panicked look in his eyes, he hadn’t expected his daughter to grow so tall, so strong, or so determined to stop him. She tried to pin his arms against the wall, but the pin was only half effective, and she could feel him trying to grab something. Time to pull the trump card, she grimly realized, as she drew her right hand back and sharply jabbed the knife up into his ribcage.
He let out a blood-curdling scream as he felt the blade rip into the tender flesh between his ribs. Struggling against his captor, he managed to partially free himself, and Kelsey felt something hit her on the side of the head. Pin him! She took her left hand and tried to grab his arm as he attempted to hit her on the head again. She intercepted the blow, and a loud ring echoed in her ears. Fuck, that’s a gun! He swiveled his hips, forcing her to release her pin, and it them both a split second to pull back. She lunged again with the knife, but the blow was intercepted by a devastating elbow to her head. She gritted her teeth, feeling very dizzy; she vaguely recalled the bathroom light being switched on and her hand brushing against something hard. And then everything went black.