WARNING: Contains content that may be a trigger for anyone who has experienced sexual assault. However, the content is not graphic just a relay of events.


On Saturday, at 7:29 pm I pull up in the Gartner driveway in front of the porch. In the rearview mirror, I notice my tie is crooked. Usually mom ties my tie, and does a perfect job, but I am capable of tying a tie myself. I should probably do it more often to get better.

Walking up the stairs, I freak out for a second worried I didn’t wear the right colors. Tan suit, pastel green shirt, and sunburst (or closest shade I had to) yellow, and brown leather dress shoes. Fortunately, as a pastor’s son I have a wide variety of suits and dress suits. I haven’t worn one lately because the church on the Res isn’t very demanding that we dress up every Sunday.

A petite, boldly, blonde woman with a fake sun tan and heavily masked face caked with makeup opens the door with an exaggeratedly happy face of salutations. As if she’s a relator ready to sell me this overpriced home.

“Come on in Asher.” She encourages me to step inside. Closing the door, she tells me, “I’m Kyrene, Melody’s mama.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Kyrene.” I say looking down at the woman looking up at me.

“You’re almost as tall as my husband.” She jokes knowing I’m a good 4 to 5 inches shorter than him.

“MOM!” Melody frantically hollers.

“If you’ll excuse me, Asher, I have to finish Mel’s hair. She’ll be right down.” Kyrene explains as she heads up the stairs.

Adam emerges from the living room holding a huge blue leather bound book and wearing gold, wire-rimmed reading glasses. Astutely, he takes off his glasses, folds them up, and tucks them into the front pocket of his shirt. I know it’s a father’s duty to be intimidating, but is there any way he can tone it down a bit? It’s not like I’m dating his daughter, we’re just friends going to homecoming together.

Clearing his throat, in a deep gurgle, he steps further into the foyer, inching closer to me. I see the silver inscribed title of the book, which reads: Doctrine and Covenants and the subtitle reads: of the Church of Christ of the Latter-Day Saints. Adam cups the book to his chest.

“Have her home by midnight,” he says looking at the ground, yet I can feel the seriousness of that request. As if it was a threat if I don’t have her home by then.

Walking over to a drawer, a part of a fancy, tall end table with a dark wood finish, he slides the drawer open and pulls out a small, hardcover blue book, which I’ve seen before. Kaylie gave one to Colton. It’s the Book of Mormon. I’m prepared to reject the offer to take it, but Adam faces the living room archway. Barely looking over his shoulder, looking back at me out of the corner of his eye, he says, “Have fun… and keep my daughter safe.”

“Yes sir,” I promise… I forgot to call him Adam, but I suspect he’s okay with it this time. He knows I’m serious, but to be safe, I correct myself, “Of course Adam.”

Adam’s trek into the living room is interrupted when Kyrene announces, “May I present to you the lovely, Melody Gartner,” from the second floor by the stairs.

From around the corner, Melody makes her descent down the stairs. Her sienna sand hair is up in a voluminous bun of big, roller-made curls. Little yellow, wild daisies are woven with the strands of her hair. Two long, wavy strands of hair dangle, one beside each ear. She wears a long, pastel green shawl around her shoulders to accent her simple, yet elegant sunburst yellow dress gown. Once she makes it to the bottom of the staircase, she turns to the side, and the waistline of the gown is tightened by a rope-looking tassel tie wrapped in a bow, the colors of the tassel rope are brown and tan.  Under direct light, her skin sparkles with a golden, glittery glint. I totally get it; she’s a wild daisy along the roadside under the sun.

Kyrene forces us to model before a camera to document this special night. For the first pic, we stand side by side, but for the second pic, Kyrene has us stand like were in a conga line. She’s folded in my arms around her stomach, her outward facing head rests against my chest, and her hands are clasped over mine. The third take is similar to the second, Melody stands in front of me off to the side, but our arms and hands are near the same position. I know we’re not a couple, but it feels like it currently, in this pose… I’m not sure what to compare it to or what feeling describes it. To hold her in my arms, the way her hands clutch to mine, it’s like she needs me to stay tethered to life, and every part of me wants to be that stability for her.

All eyes are on us, when we walk into the galaxy-themed, strobe lit, various neon flashing lights gym. Okay, not all eyes are on us, just the jealous eyes of Jon Hurst, the jaded glance of Meaghan, and the envious stare of Charley. Living on a prayer, I hope they all leave us alone.

Melody drags me to the dance floor immediately, and I follow her lead. We keep a safe distance of a foot and half apart. I’m not really into the whole dancing thing, but Melody clearly is. She has serious dance moves… like she could dance professionally… Not like a pole dancer but like a backup dancer for Beyoncé or some other pop star.

After a gazillion songs I need refreshment and a break. Reluctantly, Melody drags me to a table and sits me down. Talking over the music, she tells me she’ll go get us some punch. I try to do it instead and ask her to rest, but she demands I let her do it. Her demanding side has the bite of a hungry wolf. I’m not a fool… I’ll let her do what she wants. The punch citrus flavor packs a powerful kick, but sweet tanginess settles the kick a little. It’s pretty good.

We rest. We dance. We repeat the process. I lose track of time. By the time I have my fifth or sixth glass of punch, I must have a sugar rush because I feel super charged! I’m SO amped to dance, Dance, DANCE! I never noticed how strobe lights can make you dizzy, but they can. I didn’t think I’d have this much fun at a dance… Dancing… I love dancing… it’s like… AWESOME!

After a bathroom break, Melody hands me another glass of punch. If I drink anymore I’ll be peeing all night.

“No thanks,” I say nudging the cup toward her.

“Aren’t you thirsty from all the dancing though?” She questions.

That is true. I’m pretty parched from all the grooving. I hold out my hand and she smiles handing it to me. As I drink from the cup, the thought don’t drink it comes to me… Why not drink it?

“Asher,” I hear someone say.

I look around, but I don’t recognize who it could be. I guzzle down the punch and lightheadedness comes over me instantaneously, and my breath drops down into my stomach… you know, the type of feeling you get on a roller coaster ride lunging down the slope. Hunched over, holding my stomach makes the feeling cease. When I stand up, the strobe lights jumble everything in sight around and people start to double. I hope I’m not epileptic… I hear lights like this can trigger a seizure and since this is the first dance I’ve ever been to with such lights, how would I know?

Rest. Drink. Dance. Restroom. Repeat. Rest. Dance. Drink. Restroom. Repeat. Dance. Drink. Dance. Restroom. Dance. Repeat. Rest. Repeat… Repeat… Dance? Rest? Drink? Repeat? Sleep? Yes… sleep!

The scent of clean linen and lavender comes from the soft fabric my face is buried in and it’s a glorious smell to wake up to. Did mom switch the laundry detergent? Turning my head, not wanting to open my eyes and admit I’m awake, the thread of the sheets caresses my skin with a fresh sensation. That was so sweet of mom to change my sheets… I’ve had the same ones for a week. They were getting grimy and gross. I feel liberated lying in bed… I don’t feel smothered and imprisoned by my PJs. Am I in my boxers?

Upon the realization I’m butt naked under the covers I wake up and find myself in a room that belongs to a girl, not me. This room is the size of two of mine, therefore, definitely doesn’t belong to my sisters. I’m in a huge beige, framed canopy bed, under a tangerine sheet, and a lemon-yellow comforter. The bottom of the walls are paneled with wood the color of the canopy bed frame, and the top of the walls are thin vertical lines of tangerine orange and pearl white. I see my suit laid out on a chair by a window that peers into the piney forest.

Crap!

An ache ten times stronger than a brain freeze pulses through my head. Looking toward any source of light intensifies the headache. Closing my eyes helps, but the pain twinges on. I hear a door creek open and close gently. Soft, but fast footsteps creep toward me. The bed dips lower as I sense someone sitting beside. A moist, faint pressure purses against my lips and startles my eyes to open wide. I jerk back to part Melody’s lips from me. She’s wrapped in nothing but a towel and her hair is flatly straight, dripping wet.

“Well, you’re kissing attitude has certainly changed from last night.” She titters.

I scoot away shutting my eyes tight. I don’t want to see anything I shouldn’t.

“What are you freaking out about? You already saw all of me last night… well it was dark. Maybe you just felt your way.” She says poking me in the ribs.

I sense her stand up and hear her walk away from the bed. I hear doors slide open. That must be the closet. Hangers rattle and clang as she looks for a wardrobe.

“I’m not looking your way if you want to get dressed.” She says.

I open my eyes, thinking she must be hidden behind a changing partition, but instead I’m exposed to her entire back side. For the first time, I experience what the first Adam felt for his wife after he left the garden: lust. Instinctively, I stare at her backside asset and marveled by a fascination I can’t grasp it’s hard to look away.

A flood of shame inflicts my spirit and hurriedly I avert my eyes. I rush to get dressed. When I finish, I discover fully clothed Melody’s been watching me. She’s wearing jeans and a white t-shirt.

Another thought invades my mind: Adam! He’ll kill me!

“Your dad,” a panicked squeal leaps from my mouth.

“No one noticed us sneak in. It rained last night, hard. I called dad and said we were going to wait for the rain to let up. He said he couldn’t wait up any longer, that he was going to bed.”

“But how am I going to get out of here?” I ask.

“Out the front door… My parents are already on their way to church. Tenor drank the spiked punch too, so he’s still out like a light.”

Spiked punch?

How could I be so stupid?! Strobe lights don’t make the world spin, intoxication does. It was the Lord that called my name last night… That thought wasn’t me saying not to drink the punch, it was God! And now I did the worst thing possible… I lost my virginity to a woman that isn’t my wife. I disrespected her body and took advantage of her while we were influenced by alcoholic spirits (alcohol in our system)…

I’m so sorry God! Unable to stand I buckle to the ground on my knees. I try not to cry, but my breath shallows as the salty tears leak from my eyes. An ache in my heart plagues me with sorrow and spiritual agony… How could I be so dumb to fall so low? Melody bends on her knees, rushing to my aide. Her arms reach to embrace me, but I reject her comfort by scooting back from her extended arms-length.

I fold myself into an empty corner near her bed. I repent again and again and again, but relief doesn’t find me and I lack the sense of God’s forgiveness. I betrayed Him. I broke my promise to stay pure. And worst of all, I disobeyed God by ignoring His voice. I try to be still enough to hear God’s voice say something. To hear Him say He’s still with me. To hear Him say He forgives me. I’d take comfort in a simple hello, but nothing. I just feel the overwhelming guilt of my sin consume my spirit and place a bleak hopelessness in my heart, taking root in my mind.

My parents… they trusted me to be alone and I broke their trust. They’ll never trust me again. And now I’m so confused. In the Old Testament, once a man and a woman lied down together, they were married in the eyes of God… And even though we have a ceremony today, the truth is a soul tie was made between Melody and I. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we’re closer now than we were before, because we have exchanged a piece of each other. There’s no going back to the way things were, pretending like nothing happened. Does that mean I should date Melody now… give her a chance… but what if she never gets saved…

Oh God! I’ve ruined my witness. I claim to be a legit born-again Christian waiting until marriage to take that step of intimacy sex offers and I just slept with her because I was drunk? Saliva pools in the corner of my lips as nausea-on-roids attacks my stomach.

“I’m gonna be sick.” I moan.

Melody rushes and grabs the trash pale beside her desk and hands it to me just as barf bursts out of my mouth. Soothingly, she rubs my back as I empty the contents of my stomach. At the least optimal time, she jokes, “Glad I kissed you before you hurled.” I’m too depressed to laugh.

Since Tenor was trashed too, Melody drove us home in the black truck. My dad’s car is still at school. When my stomach settled enough to travel, she drove me back to school. Parked beside the old silver Toyota Corolla, Melody questions if I’m okay to drive home, and I tell her yes, but I must not have been convincing. She drives out the parking lot and takes us through the Mickey D’s drive thru.

In the parking lot of Mickey D’s, she forces me to drink an iced-coffee and a breakfast sandwich. I’m surprised that she downs three breakfast sandwiches and three hash brown bars. Driving back to my dad’s car, she makes me drink a coke too. She’s claims it will help with the hangover. Surprisingly… it does… I feel way better than I did thirty minutes ago.

Parked again beside the Corolla, Melody questions, “You’re not gonna blow me off are you?”

“What?”

“Well, you kept your end of the bargain… You took me to homecoming… You could like let things go back to the way they were… and just wave hi to me in the halls.” She explains entirely convinced that I used her for sex and now I’m going to treat her as if she didn’t exist.

I start off to say we’re friends but how do you stay friends with someone after having sex with them? Wouldn’t we be lying to ourselves? I don’t know what to say.

“Melody…” I sigh.

What should I do? I’m tempted to ask for God’s help… to have Him speak for me… but my sin has separated me from Him… He’s the furthest He’s ever been in a while for me. Internally, I feel completely alone, yet I can feel Him watching me… looking down on me with disappointment and embarrassment. But just because I messed up once, doesn’t mean I should change who I am all together. I’m about honesty and doing the right thing, especially when it’s hard, but what is the right thing to do? What is my honest opinion? What do I want our relationship to be from here?

“Melody… I never meant to give you the wrong impression…”

She interjects, “We don’t have to be more than friends… I get that what happened last night was a mistake, but you’re the only friend I have right now and I don’t know what I would do without you. I’d be totally alone…” she whines with tears swelling in her eyes.

“Of course we’re friends Melody. It’s just… You have no idea how sorry I am for not treating you like the treasure you are.”

Sniffling, she looks at me confused.

I continue, “You deserve more than a drunken night with a fool… I took something that belonged to your future husband.”

“You didn’t take anything. I’m not a virgin…” She admits shamefully.

“That’s not exactly what I’m talking about. I took a moment of intimacy that was meant to be for you and him… and whether you acknowledge it or not… We gave a part of ourselves to each other last night, and the only way we’re going to get it back is through God’s grace… We’re never going to think of each other in the same light and therefore, our friendship is going to be a struggle.”

“So you don’t want to be friends?” She asks with a quivering lip. Crinkled, meshed ripples coil in her chin.

I take her right hand and hold it delicately. “No… I want you to be my girlfriend…”

Pure awe embodies her gaze as she looks at me. I think she expected me to dump her as a friend altogether.

“But, we’re not having sex again unless we’re married, because we owe it to ourselves to honor God as being His living temples.”

Melody nods excitedly, as tears stream down her face. She tugs me into a hug, locking my neck in the fold of her arms. “Thank you,” she shudders in my ear…

Then her hands slither to cup my face, and slowly her lips approach and for the first time we kiss… without being under the influence. The moment is everything I dreamed and dreaded at the same time. The fact of having a girlfriend, something I’ve wanted since early boyhood, fills me with joy, but the way I got my first girlfriend breaks my heart. With her being Mormon and me being a Christian… there’s no way this relationship will last, not without one of us making huge sacrifices and I will not give up Jesus for religion.


Note from the Author:

The night of Homecoming in this story can be a trigger from those who have experienced sexual assault. If you or anyone you know need help to recover from trauma, please DO NOT hesitate to reach out for assistance. The link below is from the RAINN website and the info there can connect you to resources that will lead to healing and can even lead to justice. There is HOPE.

Link:

https://www.rainn.org/about-national-sexual-assault-telephone-hotline


From RAINN.ORG

Need help?

Call 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

Melody ignored me completely on Thursday. I tried to sit by her at lunch, but she got up and walked away. I assumed going to homecoming together was a dead concept.

But as I’m saying bon voyage to my family, my phone alerts me I’ve received a text message as mom hugs me goodbye. I pull out my phone as mom’s the final person to get into the minivan.

The text from Mel G. reads…

We’re still going to homecoming tomorrow night, right?

Is this girl bipolar? One minute we’re all buddy-buddy, then she ostracizes me for an entire day like a typical Amish shunning, and suddenly I’m acceptable to talk to again. No; let’s not go together. I want to text that and I begin to, but then the thought love her like Christ loves me blares in my head. Whoever thought being a Christian was easy was a lunatic… Doing the right thing is harder than doing the wrong thing. Sometimes doing the wrong thing is a struggle too, but it still seems easier majority of the time as if wrongdoing is second nature. Oh wait, it is… thanks a lot Adam and Eve for the wonderful gift of sin.

Before I respond to Melody, I figure I should get my parents’ permission. I call mom’s cell. She worries why I called so soon and asks me what’s wrong. She asks if I’m locked outside of the townhouse. I remind her that it’s impossible to lock the door unless you’re inside or outside with a key, with a deadbolt lock there’s no way to lock the door behind you.

“What is it then?” She wonders.

“Can I go to homecoming? I’ll be home by curfew, I’ll go pick up Melody and drop her off at home. The only reason why I asked her is because I could tell she really wanted to go and nobody asked her.” I blurt out as quickly as possible. If I spoke slow enough for her to grasp all the words, it would somehow give her a chance to tell me no, but she could still tell me no.

“Let me ask your father.”

I can hear her talk to dad. Abbey bickers about how unfair it would be if they allowed me to go. Dad requests the phone to talk to me.

“When does the dance end?”

“Eleven-thirty,” I say.

“How faraway does Melody live from school?”

“About 15 minutes,” I’m pretty sure that’s right.

“Be home no later than a quarter to one. We’ll probably all be sleeping, but send your mother or me a text when you get home, so we can be relieved in the morning when we wake up.”

A wave of relief mixed with a touch of eagerness ripples through me as I thank dad ecstatically. I don’t have to let Mel down now. Dad hands the phone back over to mom. She tells me to drive safely and she sends a bundle of love my way. I thank her too, because none of us Lucas kids get to do anything, if both parents aren’t onboard.

As I walk inside, Mel shoots me another text asking if I want to go to the homecoming game tonight. I text yes if she really wants to go. Her ex will be the star, her brother will be a bratty showboat, and her ex-eagan bffs’ will be there. She texts that her parents are going, therefore she has to go. Begging me, she pleads that I go to spare her from boredom and humiliation. When I feel like I should accept her invitation, the alarming mental reminder that I have Worship Practice tonight blares in my mind. Regretfully, I tell Mel that, but I’m completely honest.

She texts back:

I understandJ Rock Out 4 Jesus. C U 2morrow nite!

In the Youth Sanctuary, everyone waits for the leading worship duo. Aden warms up on drums. Nicolette double checks the sound levels on the mikes with Chlonelle. Wilma plays scales on the bass. And since Zeven, left his acoustic guitar, I daringly pick it up and play around with it. Once I get into playing a Gabrielle y Rodrigo song, a song that carries the heat of running with bulls yet sooths like summer rain, everyone on the team stares at me, therefore I stop.

From way in the back, in the control booth, Chlonelle hollers, “Where did you learn to play like that?”

“I taught myself…” I say overwhelmed with embarrassment. Everyone thought that was good? If I practiced more often, I’d be way better.

“Can you play Desert Streams acoustic version of Born?” Nicollette asks.

“What key?” I wonder which she would prefer, “A, Bb, or E.”

“E please.”

My parents never got me a capo, so I learned how to play in different keys without one. It’s not always easy, but it is possible.

After I play the intro and the chorus, Nicolette uses her brazen mezzo-soprano voice to slay us all in the Spirit. She is such an anointed singer. She would probably lead more often if Tash wasn’t Pastor Chastity’s daughter.

Midway through the bridge, Tash bolts into the sanctuary with Zeven rushing behind her.

“Can we at least talk about it after practice?” Zev pleads.

Abruptly, spinning to face him, she whispers loudly, “No. You… bring it… and we… done!” Is all everyone could make out. She turns around and faces the group. “Sorry we’re late. Lost track of time.”

Zev glares at me as he approaches the stage. Hopping onstage he questions if I can play and challenges me to play a G-progression. When I do, he grudgingly acts like it is cool I can plays as well. I surrender his guitar back over to him. Everyone takes their rightful places and we officially rehearse for the week.

Natasha and Chlonelle (Clo-NELL) are setting up the stage, making sure the sound levels are right for worship, and that the lights are ready for their cues. Melody’s grip of my hand is firmer than her father’s handshake. I didn’t realize someone could be so nervous over going to church, but I remember walking in here is more a spiritual battle than a mental one for her. Nicolette, Aden, and Wilma enter the youth room from outdoors laughing together. When they see us, standing by the door to the hallway, they come over to greet Melody.

Nicolette’s style complements Melody’s. Today they’re both wearing black flats with ribbon bowties, skinny jeans (Nic’s are faded while Mel’s are midnight blue), Nicolette wears a white blouse with a ruffled collar and a knitted light gray, long sleeve cardigan sweater while Melody wears a yellow blouse with a cow bell neck line and a long, baggy black cardigan.  Stubbornly, keeping my hand in her clutch, Melody uses her right hand to shake. I introduce her to Nicolette first, and Nicolette winks saying, “Nice shoes!”

As Aden, Wilma, and I join Nicolette in a quick giggle, Melody only smiles uncomfortably. Fixing her sandy blonde, wavy ponytail Nicolette complements Melody’s hair too. This time we spare the giggles to alleviate the awkwardness of this first encounter.

Aden opts to wave instead of shake hands. He’s a borderline germaphobe. Hopefully, Melody isn’t offended by it.

Lastly, Wilma and Melody shake as I inform them of one another’s name. Melody’s grip has loosened now that she sees these guys are cool.

But she tenses right back up when Nicolette asks if she’s ever been to church before. Grinning out of angst, she huffs lightly, “Not one like this…” I expected her to follow up by professing she’s a Mormon, but she just lets her sentence drop and die out. Averting her eyes, she looks around the Youth Sanctuary… it’s really just a humungous room with a two foot high stage in the corner.

Wilma says, “We’re glad you’re here.”

“How do you know Asher?” Aden asks.

“We go-,” Mel and I both start to say, a titter escapes through our breath from our lips in unison too. She lets me finish the sentence. “We go to school together.”

Nicolette nods her head pursing her lips, her lame attempt at trying to be cool, as she says, “Right on.”

Until I’m required to report to my Youth Worship Team post as an ensemble singer (as Natasha calls us) Melody and I hang out in the Book Nook Corner. It’s a corner in the back, filled with Christian literature for youth and young adults. Bean bags surround the outer edge of the area, turning the corner into a square. Melody still holds my hand hostage while exploring the book selection. When I tell her she can borrow anything for free, she just has to sign it out on the clip board, she appears eager to take something home. By the look in her eyes, it’s obvious she doesn’t have a clue where to start. I would make a few suggestions, but I don’t want her to feel like I’m pushing her. Only if she asks… I’ll point a few books out.

“There’s so much here…”

“Yep.”

“Have you ever checked anything out?”

I think she’s fishing for me to tell what’s good to read, but I shouldn’t just assume. I answer honestly, “No, but-,” I point to a book I own and have read several times, “I have this one at home.”

Without hesitating, she pulls the red softcover book titled: not a fan. The book divulges what it really means to follow Christ and answer His radical call. After reading the summary on the back, she puts it back.

“Could I barrow it from you? It may take me a while to read it.”

“Sure.”

She continues to look on, dragging me with her. I try not to look as surprised as I feel when she pulls The Case for Christ off the shelf. Holding it up, she inquires, “Is this a good one?”

“I heard its good, but I’ve only read More Than a Carpenter… they’re similar, since both authors were former atheists.” I say.

Handing it to me, she says, “You should check it out and then after you read it, tell me which one I should read.”

I hand the book back to her, “Or you could check it out, and tell me what you think. Then maybe I’ll want to read it.”

“Asher man, let’s warm up.” Natasha calls out to me.

I manage to break my hand free. Once I think I’m scot-free to walk on, I’m held in place by a nervous-someone tugging at my shirt.

“Don’t leave me,” she yelps in a frantic whisper.

I pry her fingers off my shirt, and I join her hands together to the clutch the book in her grasp instead of me. Locking eye contact with her, I say to her, “You’ll be fine. Hang back here and skim the pages. See if it’s worth checking out.” Gently, I guide her to my favorite bean bag to sit in. It’s filled just right, not too full, and not too flat. Tenderly pressing down on her shoulders, I guide her to sit down in the royal blue, cloth bean bag. As she sits in it, her posture stiffens like a tall board, and her knees hug up against each other as they point to the side. Apparently, she is a princess now, sitting as royalty should.

Zeven happens to make his way to the stage as I’m heading there. He looks over his shoulder at Melody and asks, “She with you?”

I just nod, not feeling in a very talkative mood toward him.

Patting me in the back, “It’s about time you got a girl man. Congrats dude.”

I open my mouth to correct him, but a part of me wonders if Natasha would be jealous if she thought I had a girlfriend. I just pretend like I didn’t hear him.

We do a quick run through of our set. Natasha just makes sure we understood her notes on our sheet music about her arrangement, and she makes sure our sound level is perfect for worship. While we’re singing How Great is Our God, Chastity, who’s been standing in the sound booth all this time, steps out and goes over to Melody and interrupts her reading.

I’m fortunate this song is programed in my brain, because I can’t seem to concentrate as I observe my Youth Pastor talk to my Mormon friend. Considering my past experiences with Mormons and misguided Youth Pastors, I’m totally panicked that Chastity’s going to kick her out. But everything seems to be okay. Chastity gets Melody to genuinely laugh, which should help me relax, but now I wonder how close Melody is to accepting Christ… the real one…

The strangest thought crosses my mind once she’s saved, maybe we could date… My heart literally skips a beat, which is the first time I’ve ever experienced such a phenomenon. Clearly, my heart is aching over my missed chance with Natasha and Melody is the close proximity rebound.

The music dies instantly and Natasha hounds at me, “We’re repeating the chorus twice in the end Asher.”

Autopilot doesn’t always work out best. I apologize.

“Let’s take it from the bridge.” Natasha orders.

Melody tries not to laugh at me, by burying her face in the book. Once the music plays, Melody gives me two thumbs up trying to be encouraging. Chastity looks at me and in her expression she tells me to get focused without words. A peace sweeps through me as I trust Chastity to look out for Melody while I practice singing praises onto the Lord.

We get started right away tonight because everyone managed to show up five minutes after we finished rehearsal. Melody makes sure she’s front and center during worship. She doesn’t sing along much, but she reads the words on the projection screen, and sways to the beat of the music as she keeps the Case for Christ clinched in her hands.

The worship team joins the rest of the youth group on the ground as Chastity takes the stage with a bible in hand and a head mike attached to her face. As usual she makes announcements. On Sunday, we’ll begin the sermon series on Sexuality: Knowing Him and Her. The first Saturday of September, we’ll be having game night here in the youth room. There will be food and drinks and games provided. All we need to do is bring ourselves and some friends. Melody whispers in my ear that she wants to go. I nod my head, promising her we’ll go. Zeven and Aden walk around with baskets to collect tithes and offerings, then after everyone has given to God what belongs to God, Chastity begins her sermon.

“Tonight, we’re going to start a new series… Does God Know You?”

Zeven’s hand pokes in between my head and Melody’s with two slips of paper. Aden comes beside me and hands us a bible to share. Melody and I went out to eat at Lucano’s, which gave me no time to run home to get my Bible. Usually, I bring it with me Wednesdays to school in case I run behind, but today I forgot. Breakfast time was quite the showdown as Abbey picked a fight with my mother over cereal. The cereal was a cheap knock off brand and Abbey put her two cents in about it. She’s lashing out because she doesn’t get to attend homecoming, instead, she has to stay home and babysit her little sister. Dad told me to go to school alone, he had to have a talk with Abbey and he said he would drive her up the hill to school. Dad text me at lunch that he would pick Abbey up from school too, and by the looks of her not being here, I think she’s in big trouble.

I look at the half sheet of paper.

Does God Know You? Part I

1)    God knew you in the womb. Ps. 139:13-16; see all Ps. 139

2)    God has a plan for you. Jer. 2:5; Jer. 29:11; Ps. 16:11; Ps. 119:105, Pr. 3:5-6

If God had a plan for Jeremiah, certainly He has a plan for you.

Trust God and see His plan unfold. (Pr. 16:4)

3)    You were born with the knowledge of God. Rom. 1:18-25

4)    Seek God (knock) and you will find God. Mat. 7:7-10

Have you sought God with all your heart?

Have you asked to get closer to Him?

Melody pokes me to get my attention. She mouths: Do you have a pencil or a pen? I scout my pockets and find my favorite sketch pencil, but I trust Melody with it. Taking it, she notices what pencil it is, and she mouths: Are you sure? Casually I nod yes.

The sermon wasn’t questioning whether or not we legitimately know God, it was encouragement to seek God’s face and know him personally. Over the next four weeks, on Wednesday, we’ll be learning how to deepen our relationship with Christ, so we can have that deep, intimate relationship with God. I was wrong about Abbey being a no show, she showed up ten minutes into the sermon and she looked pissed. I try to find out why she was upset after our closing worship song, but Dad showed up to collect her. I know I’ll find out later.

On the car ride up the hill, into town, Melody won’t quit with the questions. Why were a lot of our worship songs about Christ and not God; aren’t we putting Christ above God doing that? I explain that Christ was fully man and fully divine, which she agreed with, but I lose her when I tell her God gave authority to Christ. I admit that I totally don’t understand it, but Christ is one with the Father, because that’s exactly what the Word says.

Next she asks, if we were born with the knowledge of God, wouldn’t that mean we were spirits with Him, before we passed through the veil and were born into fleshly bodies and forgot about Him? She almost lost me with that question, but I ask her, “If we forget about God once we pass through the veil, how could we be born with the knowledge of God?”

She argues the fact God knew us before the foundations of the Earth were laid, so we had to be spirits living with Him before entering earth. God knew us, because he foresaw us, but he knits us together in the womb (says so in Psalms), and directs our paths to fulfill the plans He has for us (mentions something like that in Proverbs). Taking a moment of silence, she mentally chews on my response.

“So if God, Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit are three persons in one… what does that mean? Like how are Elohim and Jehovah not actually father and son, because the whole three persons in one concept seems like the father and son relationship is a figure of speech or symbolism for something, right? Like why would God talk and pray to Himself?”

For fun I question, “Do you not talk to yourself?”

“Well yeah, but…” her words cease as she looks out the window up at the stars.

“I don’t really know… and I think if I did it would boggle my mind. In my short 17 years on this planet, I’ve learned that God doesn’t think like us… If He did, why would we need Him, so that means some things about Him are incomprehensible; and when we try to understand Him in light of our knowledge, we misconstrue the message.”

Sighing, Melody wonders, “How do you reconcile your faith?”

What does she mean? “What do you mean?” I ask for clarification.

“In the beginning, the law was mandatory wasn’t it, then all of a sudden it isn’t, how do you progress in God’s grace?”

Lord, what is she asking and how do I answer it? Take over Lord. Holy Spirit give me the words.

“Why don’t you ask God and find out for yourself?” I ask her.

Really God? What about explaining that Jesus set us free from the law through His death and resurrection and that God’s grace is a completely free gift impossible to gain or keep by what we do. The only way to receive grace is choosing Christ and building a relationship with God, and through the Holy Spirit we’re empowered from within to imitate our Savior and live in God’s will.

“I did that about six years ago and I thought I got my answer…”

“How did you do so?”

“Well, I had all these types of questions before when I was 12. I had a friend at school, Melanie, and I spent the weekend at her house. I didn’t know she was a Baptist. When she talked about church, I thought she went to one like mine, I just figured she attended the church in Show Low or something. After Sunday school I started thinking that maybe I’ve been lied to about God all my life. I was scared of going to hell because I didn’t know the true Jesus the Baptist preacher talked about. I went to my dad and he told me to read the entire of the Book of Mormon. Just like it says at the end, you’ll pray seeking God’s Wisdom and know by the burning in your chest. And it happened, I felt just that and I knew I grew up with truth… or so I thought.” She sighs heavier, keeping her gaze out the window.

“Why are so unsure again?” I question.

“I don’t know…” She sniffles.

Is she crying Lord?

“Do you believe in devils?” I ask curiously.

“The Devil exists. He was upset he didn’t get to be our Redeemer so he fell and God chose Jehovah, who was an angel before He was born to Mary.”

“Of course you believe in Satan, but do you believe in devils and demons?”

Melody makes a gentle “ah” noise about to speak, but she falls silent after a short, low grunt. “I’m just confused!” She blurts out.

“God is the God of peace, confusion comes from the Enemy.” I say calmly.

Melody doesn’t say anything; she just grunts again sounding annoyed. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice her elbow resting on the window seal and her hand shoveled in her wavelets of hair.

Adam comes out to the car as I pulled up by the porch. He opens the door for Melody. Ducking low, and poking his head inside the car, he probes for details about our night by simply asking where we were. I open my talk piece to confess we went to my church, but she says we went to a movie: The Nephilim Class: Nexus the First

“How was it?” Adam asks.

I try to say, ‘Good’ but I just shrug my shoulders.

Melody covers for me. Resting a hand on my shoulder, she lies, “He fell asleep. His baby sister kept him up all night. I liked it though.”

Adam steps back so Melody can get out. Melody forgets her backpack, but Adam notices it on the passenger floor and picks it up for her. Slowly, closing the door, he tells me, “Have a good night Asher, and tomorrow after school, could you just drop her off right away. It’s family game night. You’re more than welcome to join.”

The chance to say yay or nay passes for he closes the door without waiting for a response, which I think he’s trying to encourage me to say nay.

On the drive down the hill, I pray nonstop for Melody, and ask the Holy Spirit to take care of the seeds planted within her tonight. In the parking lot, I take a moment in the car. Tears swell in my eyes as Colton comes to mind… I beg God to bring him back home before it’s too late, and I plea for Melody to see the truth. I confess that I don’t care if she stays my friend… I just ask for her salvation. If I could, I’d take her place, but You Lord already did that… You paid the price for her… Help her see that… When she asks… and I think she will… reveal Yourself to her so she knows without a shadow of doubt that You Lord are God the great I AM. The burden that built a home in my heart during our conversation in the car has lifted and peace once again resides in my heart the moment I say, “In Jesus’ name… Amen.”

It’s twenty after nine when I get inside and for some reason as of late I tend to get home when Abbey’s throwing a tantrum toward my parents. Rising from her place at the dining table, nearly across the front door where I stand, Abbey yells at mom and dad, “This is ridiculous! You don’t trust me, but you trust a 17-year-old boy to have the whole place to himself for the entire weekend? I swear I’m your least favorite child and you just love to see me suffer. I hate you!

Both of you!” She follows up with a loud, angered shriek as she stomps up the stairs to her room. For sure we presume she’s going to slam the door, but Annika must be in bed already, because she closes it as softly as possible.

“What is she talking about?” I wonder.

Dad stands up and grips me by the shoulder carefully, “Abbey’s coming with us to babysit Annika while we attend the wedding festivities. It’s her punishment for her disrespect lately.”

Mom comes to the other side of me, crossing behind me, and kisses me on the cheek.

“Have I ever told you how grateful I am you’re not a troublemaker?”

A little prideful that mom sees me as her angel child, I huff a tender a smile.

Giving me a quick pat on the back, dad says, “Don’t be too wild while we’re away.”

We all chuckle in a unified matter as we go our separate ways. Mom goes to the kitchen, dad plops down on the couch for his nightly devotions, I go upstairs to my room.

Tossing my backpack in the closet, I realize I don’t ever have to tell mom and dad I’m taking Melody to homecoming, but I should ask encase they’re not okay with it. Too lazy to put PJs on, I strip down to my briefs and the Sanctus Real band shirt I’ve worn all day. For the fun of it, I rush and leap into bed, landing face first into my pillow. The impact wasn’t as cushiony as I imagined it would be, but it was a small thrill… I’m too easily amused.

Lying on my back, wide awake in the dark I think of all the things I could have said to Melody in the car, but didn’t. It must have been the Holy Spirit because I wouldn’t operate a conversation that way… Restlessness rises up in me again… and I’m not sure why. Like an alarm clock blaring, very alertly the Lord says to me, “Melody, pray for her.”

But I did Lord?

What do I pray for? I prayed for everything I could think of in the car. Well, when you don’t know what to pray for, you let the Holy Spirit pray for you. After I say aloud, “Dear God,” strange ramblings of gibberish I don’t understand, yet it sounds like a combination of Spanish, French, Hebrew, and complete nonsense spews from my mouth. I pray in tongues until the ick feeling in my spirit dissolves. I look at my alarm clock on the nightstand and the red, block numbers illuminate the time: 10:45 pm. I prayed for one person for over an hour… I’ve never done that before… at least I don’t think so.

As I close my eyes to go to sleep, the Lord leaves this final word with me, “Will you listen to me Asher?”

Of course, Lord. I respond.

          When I give her the drawing at lunch, she studies it carefully. I can tell she likes it, but she’s partly confused.

            “Why isn’t it colored in all the way?”

            “I wanted the petals of the daisies to stand out… I think… I’m not really sure why. I feel like just the various shades of yellow say a lot.”

            “It’s beautiful… thank you.” She smiles touching my hand. Retracting her hand she adds, “I love it,” keeping her attention on the sketch of her.

            Having a muse is new to me, and I don’t know why, but being around Melody makes me want to draw. Not just her, but other things. I forgot the freedom that art brings to the soul. Fueled by a joy I can hardly grasp or explain, and my only driven desire is fixated on sketching all the ideas blooming in my mind.

            I spend nearly all of lunch drawing a griffin flying through the forest with a living black smog chasing it. I’m not sure where these images come from sometimes. The ancient Greeks believed muses were actual spirits that influenced writers and artists, almost like the writers and artists were just instruments or tools for the muse spirits. Considering all the crazy tales and mythology the Greeks created, I believe one hundred percent they were influenced by demons.

            “You should at least eat your apple.” Melody suggests, concerned about my level of food consumption, in particular my lack of food consumption.

            “I don’t want to get apple juice on my sketch.” I say.

            “Then can I have your apple?” She asks.

            She’s already eaten my honey roasted, peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich, my bag of chips, my bag of carrots, and now she wants my apple? All she’s left me are my mom’s homemade chocolate chip cookies. Why am complaining about that? That’s awesome! Cookies for lunch…

            “Sure,” I say reaching for the apple to give to her, but her zebra-decorated faux nailed fingers grasp the big, delicious red before me. Without thanking me for it, she bites into it. I snatch a cookie while there’s still one to grab, after she devours that apple she might want some junky sweet food next.

            Seemingly out of nowhere, Jon Hurst plops down beside me.

            “Hey I got a question for you Christian boy.”

            “Jon, go away.” Melody snaps.

            Jon ignores her and asks me his question, “If God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, why don’t you believe in prophets or the priesthood anymore?”

            He’s asking because he’s curious and that’s good.

            “In Matthew 5:17, Jesus said, ‘Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.’ So he didn’t come to do away with it. He wants us to still obey the law and to respect our prophets; does the word not say so?” Jon reasons.

            He makes a convincing argument, but the first thing that comes to mind is when Satan tempted Jesus in the desert. He used scripture trying to entice Jesus to bow to his corrupt will, and not to rely on God. I think I shock Jon when I tell him I agree with him, but only about Jesus fulfilling the law.

            “While Jesus walked the earth, he did fulfill the law. He had to because he was a rabbi and to some he was considered a prophet, but he had to live by the law and the teachings to prove he was the Messiah, but after he died on the cross and rose again we were set free from the law and salvation was made possible for gentiles like you and me. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, but we are all children of God. The Book Galatians and Romans Chapter 8, explain it well if you don’t want to take my word for it, but God’s word for it.”

            Without asking, Jon takes one of my mom’s cookies. While chewing, he says, “But Paul wrote that… Jesus didn’t say it.”

            I want to say Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon and you take it as the word of God over the real thing, but I don’t say that. Instead I ask, “Is Jesus not the Word of God, who existed in the beginning, before all creation came to be?”

            “But why would God change?” Jon questions.

            “God hasn’t changed, but his relationship with man has… So you believe that every prophet in the church is appointed by God?”

            “Yes.” Jon answers.

            “Was Brigham Young considered a prophet of the LDS church?”

            “Yes.” Jon answers affirmatively, very proud of the dead man.

            “In Jeremiah chapter 28, the prophet Hananiah makes a prediction about Israel, and Jeremiah confronts him questioning whether that prediction came from the Lord. He basically said that a prophet of the Lord can be known when what that prophet foretells comes to pass.”

            Jon and Melody continue to listen to me intently. Their eyes seem fixed on my lips instead at me as a whole. I pose this question, “Did Brigham Young not claim that the Lord told him Utah would not be accepted into the State of the Union unless polygamy was legal upon ratification?”

            Neither Jon nor Melody says anything.

            “Utah became a state, but polygamy was not legal.” Before I can say anything else, Jon quickly jumps to the dead man’s defense.

            “He’s only human, no man is perfect. And polygamy protected women and children during that time because men kept dying from wars and quarrels with the Native Americans fighting over the land.” Jon says throwing my mother’s half eaten cookie onto the floor as he comes to his feet.

            “Jonathan, if God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and He is love, truth, and just, why would he appoint a prophet who can’t tell the difference between his own inner voice and God’s voice?” I’m astonished by the rhetorical question that I spoke from my mouth. Who else could it be but the Holy Spirit speaking on my behalf… Thank you Lord.

            Jonathan walks away faster than he appeared. Ever since we had that huge debate in Geography class last year over the introduction of oxen to the Americas, he likes to come up to me and ask theological questions. At first, it made me nervous, but every time the Holy Spirit always spoke for me. Like I know for a fact I haven’t read the entire book of Jeremiah. I didn’t even know there was a prophet Hananiah. Who else could it be other than He who is in me?

            Melody stares at me quietly as she eats my apple. I finish up my drawing, well, I try. Melody staring at me wigs me out. Why is she staring at me?

            “What?” I huff in frustration.

            Munching on apple mush, she mumbles, “Nubbing…” as she conveniently stares up at the ceiling. Swallowing a large gulp, she raises a brow, staring at the table instead of me and says, “It’s just… I just realized… you always talk about God and what He does.”

            Now I’m confused… We’re supposed to testify about what God does, not to boast about how He loves us, but to Glorify Him. Doesn’t everyone who loves Him talk about God and what He does?

            “Well, what has God done for you lately?” I ask, again sensing that question wasn’t all me, but more the Holy Spirit’s asking.

            Melody’s gaze sinks into an expression of thinking. If you have to think about what God has done for you lately, you either have too much to testify or you have nothing. I can’t imagine what the latter is like nor do I want to.

            The bell rings signifying the end of lunch. As I put the final details in the griffin’s feathers, Melody gathers our collective trash from lunch and throws it out. In gratitude for her gesture, I carry her books to class as we walk together since my next class is just down the corner from hers.

            At the door to Mr. Thrall’s Government class, Melody takes her bundle of books from me. Clearing her throat keeps me standing by her, since I figure she has something to say.

            “You have church tomorrow night, right?”

            “Yeah,” I say.

            My heart begins to pound fast. I think I know what she’s about to ask and I want to tell her of course before she even asks, but I speak in tongues mentally to stay calm.

            “Can I go with you, if your parents are alright with you driving me home afterwards?” She asks.

            A twinge of excitement surges through me. She actually wants to go to church with me. I didn’t ask. I haven’t ever asked her. Out of pure curiosity for herself she wants to go! If my parents say no, I may defy them. It would be worth it, just to give Melody the chance for true, freeing salvation.

            “Yeah, I’ll check with them tonight.”

            The bell sounds as she walks into class. Quickly, I zip around the corner into Mrs. Schuster’s for math class. Pre-cal is one of my favorite subjects, but if I ever admitted that out loud I’d be a laughing stalk. There’s something about numbers and complicated equations that soothes me and relaxes me. I’m so amped right now because of Mel’s choice to attend church with me; I could use something to bring me down to earth.

On the ride to her place, I ask if I’m going the right way. She nods and hums if I’m right. If I’m wrong she corrects my directions in a mopey, borderline monotone voice.  I pull into her long, narrow driveway. When I turn into the half-roundabout area near her front porch, I’m a little struck with awe gazing at the three story log cabin house. It’s like a woodsman plantation home… It has that type of magnetism of a southern home but the cryptic exterior look of a mega cabin in the woods.

Opening the passenger door, she asks, “Do you want to come in for a snack? It would just be us, no one else is home.”

I am hungry, but I’m not going to be alone with a girl, in a house with a bunch of empty bedrooms, especially, when that girl is low in spirit and prone to act out of madness. I got enough common sense to turn this one down.

Right as I’m about to say no, she entices me by saying, “The caramel apple bites I made should be ready to eat.”

I have no idea what a caramel apple bite is, but it SOUNDS DELICIOUS! I put the car in park, lock the doors behind me, and I hurry to follow Melody inside.

Once we enter her screen door, and wood door, she says, “Give me your shirt.”

For a second, I’m actually stupid enough to think she meant the white shirt I’m wearing, but she’s talking about the shirt in my backpack, which I brought in with me. Opening up my bag, I try to remember why I brought it in, and then I remember why. I like to do homework while I eat my snack. I keep my brain energized while I work… It’s a win-win for my mind and my body.

The foyer’s the size of my dining room and living room combined. Across from us at the door is the first flight of stairs leading to the second floor. To the right seems to be the living room or a family room. I’m guessing family room, because it’s filled with two sofas, a couple reclining chairs, a coffee table, bookshelves but no television set. A brown, typical piano is tucked back in the corner. To the left, the direction Melody begins walking as she takes my shirt is a confined hallway. She opens sliding, shutter, closet-like doors and reveals a washer and a dryer. Pointing further down the hallway, she tells me to walk straight into the kitchen.

Each step creeks along the plank wooden floor, I’m relieved by the silence when my feet meet tile ground. The tile is bright jade, marble-like flooring. Maybe it is marble tile? I think it’s safe to say the Gartner’s have money. I look out the window above the sink and notice the lake. They have lake front property… Yeah… they’re rich alright…

The kitchen’s like two and half of my family’s kitchen. The cherry wood finish of the cabinets make the floor and the matching countertops pop.  There’s a dark, wooden, elegant-looking, four person table by a row of tall windows that showcase a riveting White Mountain landscape. The slate gray clouds make the lanky, thin pine trees below look somber, and the calm lake appear mystical. The view is absolutely, cinematically serene.

I take a seat where I can focus on the view and into the heart of the kitchen. Melody joins me in the kitchen, and sets her things across the table from me. I get out my homework as she prepares our snack. She pulls a metal tray out of the fridge covered with wax paper. The potent aroma of fresh caramel and tart granny smith apples engulf my nose.

“Almond milk, vanilla almond milk, grape juice, or water?” Melody asks, pulling tall, plain glasses out of the cabinet. “Vanilla almond milk tastes really yummy with the caramel apple bites.”

“Okay, I’ll try it.” I say.

She carries both plates on one arm, while carrying an empty glass in each hand as she walks over to the table. With poise and grace, she sets everything in the proper place by the table: A plate and glass before me, and a plate and glass at her setting. She goes back and collects the metal tray, serves us, then she carries it back to the double door, black fridge and she puts the caramel apple bites away in exchange for a glass canter of what I presume to be vanilla almond milk. As she pours my glass to the brim, she mentions, “It’s homemade,” referring to the almond milk.

 “Did your mom make it?” I ask.

She chuckles as she pours herself a glass. “My mother has many talents but none in the kitchen. This is my dad’s forté. But no, I made it actually.”

I look at my plate. Golden brown, flakey pie crust square bits encase what I can only guess inside is the taste bud pleasing combo of caramel and granny smith apple. I pick one up to bite into it, when the thought: pray reminds me to be grateful. Dropping my first bite attempt startles Melody.

“Too cold?” she worries as she tosses a bite in her mouth.

“No. I don’t know… it’s fine… We just haven’t prayed.”

I don’t know why I’m praying before a snack. I never do at home. I just eat.

Then the Lord questions the intent of my heart, “Do you trust Me, Asher?”

I close my eyes bowing my head. I pop one eye open and notice Melody bowing her head ready for prayer.

“Dear heavenly father, thank you for this time together as friends, and thank you for the snack we’re about to enjoy, bless this food, bless our evening, in Jesus’s name, the name above all names, the king above all kings, thank you again for all that you do, AMEN.”

“Amen.” Melody repeats after me.

Finishing the bite she held in her mouth, she stares at me waiting for me to take a bite. I bite into half of one. Buttery, flakey goodness kicks off the start of my taste bud pleasure followed by a soft, yet crisp tart gush of granny smith apple covered with cold sticky, chewy caramel. Food like this brings nothing but food-tapping good joy to my soul. That’s something I do when I eat food that wows, amazes, and impresses me as I enjoy eating what I taste: I tap my right foot to the natural rhythm of my joyful heart.

“How is it?” Melody asks, nervous to hear the verdict.

“Fantastic,” I say right before I shove a couple into my mouth.

Melody blushes as she tucks her hair behind both ears.

The milk blows my mind. Creamy, sweet, rich, yet not thick like the stuff from the store and it has the perfect amount of vanilla. No after taste either, like most milks…

Raising my glass to Melody, I say, “Epically delicious Mel.”

Happily, she points out, “You called me Mel…”

Gulping a huge swig of milk I shrug my shoulders. I manage to question, “So?” after the milk is officially swallowed.

“I love being called Mel.”

“Well, don’t ever call me Ash, I hate it.”

Nodding shortly and sternly, she says, “Sure Ashhh,” she drags out and then quickly she adds, “Sher!”

We end up eating the entire tray of caramel apple bites as we complete our homework. I look at my phone to check the time and see that it’s nearly six. The hour of dinner approaches and I’m not home. Just as I’m about to call home, a text message from mom comes through.

            Are you M.I.A. for dinner tonight too?

I text back:

I’m at a friend’s doing homework. Forgot to tell you… Sorry…

Mom’s response:

       Should I keep a plate warm for you or are you eating there?

“Are you hungry?” Melody asks.

Exaggerating of course, I say, “I’m starving!”

Texting mom, I say:

          I’m having dinner here.

Mom’s response:

          Ok, be home by 10 please. It’s a school night.

Wow… I’m allowed to stay out until 10… well 9:30 if I want to make it home by 10…

I text:

            Thanks mom, love you!

Mom’s texts back:

            Love you too! You have your key, right?

I inform her that I do and that I’ll probably be home sooner than curfew. She just texts back a simple:

            K

Melody whips up a couple Sweet Italian Turkey Sausage Links, kettle fries, and sautéed sugar snapped peas. Of course, Melody didn’t let me sit by idly. I scrubbed the potatoes clean, and I chopped the potatoes into uneven strings of fries.

Once we sit down to eat, I’m curious where her family is. I may be crossing boundaries by asking, but I thought Mormons were extremely family-oriented. Wouldn’t they all be home for dinner? Wouldn’t her parents be asking me 20 questions trying to figure out the intentions I have for their daughter?

I try to be as subtle as possible, “Are you usually alone for dinner?”

Holding up a finger, requesting I wait patiently as she finishes chewing her mouthful of food she shakes her head no. She swallows her food and then says, “My mom is with a bunch of other moms from church planning the fall festival dance, which you’re welcome to come to, if you want. And my dad has a critical patient at the clinic. Tenor, well, he probably seized the opportunity to hang out with his buddies.”

“You’re dad’s a doctor?” I’m surprised to learn. I didn’t even know Pinetop had a clinic, I just thought there was the hospital. Wait the hospital’s in Show Low… Maybe Pinetop does have a clinic.

Melody laughs, covering her mouth so she doesn’t expose the mouthful of her food mush. Shaking her head she corrects my misconception, “He’s a pet doctor. You know a vet.”

Wow, I’m an idiot. But it’s not like they have a bunch of pets to give me a hint.

“Aren’t vets normally animal lovers?” I inquire.

“Ah-huh,” she nods, “but get this. My mom’s allergic to cats. My brother’s allergic to dogs. I’m allergic to rodents, and all three of us are allergic to rabbits. And though my dad loves fish, he likes to eat them more than take care of them. Hence, we are a pet-less family.”

Our laughter synchronizes, but falls out of sync when Melody drops her laughter as her hands clutch the ends of the table. She looks nauseated. I hope we’re not eating spoiled food. I would feel sick too then, wouldn’t I?

“Are you okay?”

Silently, she nods, but it’s not very convincing. Softly, she says, “I have a… an… intolerance… toward… sugar snap peas… and green beans… I guess I’ve had too much lately… because…” holding her stomach she rises out of her seat, “if you’ll excuse me…” she blurts as she runs out of the kitchen and down the hallway. Why would you eat something your body rejects? Some people I may never understand.

In a wood house, doors opening and closing, and especially footsteps are incredibly audible. Big, heavy footsteps gait toward the kitchen down the hall. That definitely isn’t Melody coming back. I look to the doorway, and a nearly seven foot tall man, with an all-white beard like Santa, but a clean cut head of dark brown, almost black hair looks at me. Wise, wide golden brown eyes gape at me in shock. The man wears a maroon polo shirt tucked into khaki slacks. Stepping into the kitchen toting a brown, leather brief case he says, “Hello, are you a friend of Tenor’s?”

Standing I reach out my hand to greet him properly. He sets his briefcase on the counter nearest to the table as he shakes my hand. I give all the basic info, my full name, and the truth: that I’m a friend of his daughter not of his son. Smiling to be cordial, I can tell he’s trying to not to reveal his ugly face of fury.

“Is my wife home already?” He asks knowing she isn’t.

I rub my hand due to his bone crushing handshake. I know handshakes tell a lot about a man, but I’m still trying to build up the muscle to give a firm handshake. Unfortunately, my handshake says… bony wimp. It’s odd having to look up at someone for once. I’m the tallest member of my family, so I’m always looking down at my parents. I know it’s not just in my head. Mr. Gartner is laying on the intimidation thickly. I admit, “No sir.”

“Please, call me Adam, Asher is it?”

“Yes sir,” clearing my throat I realized I screwed up by calling him by a title instead of his name as he requested. Quickly, I correct my error, “Yes Adam, my name is Asher.”

“That’s some hair you got.” He comments turning to face the stove. He walks over and picks a fry out the stove top kettle. Nibbling on a bite he hums in delight enjoying the potatoey goodness of a homemade fry.

I guess I could cut my hair, but I kind of like the floppy fro I got going on lately. However, by the tone in his voice I know he doesn’t really like it. Thank God I’m not dating his daughter, or else I’d be a thousand times more nervous.

“Do you think two teens of the opposite sex alone in a big empty house is appropriate, Asher?”

I’m not sure of what answer he’s looking for. An actual response or silence, I guess it depends whether or not the question was rhetorical.

“Would your parents find it appropriate?”

Okay, he wants an answer. “Not if we’re not related sir.” I sigh because I did it again. “No Adam.” I add.

Facing me again, Adam says, “You’re welcomed in our home any time, when I’m home or Kyrene is home, okay?”

“Okay,” I nod. “I should probably get going anyhow.”

I began gathering my textbooks and notebooks into my backpack.

“You haven’t finished your food. Please, stay… enjoy. Sit, finish eating.” He says walking over to the fridge. With his head in the freezer, he asks, “Where is Melody?”

Melody returns beating me to a response, “I’m right here daddy.”

Adam drops his quest for food to give Melody a loving embrace. Adam makes a joke about being alone with boys lead to trouble. We all laugh, but it’s safe to say Adam finds it more humorous than Melody and I do.

Adam cooks himself a premade (by him) turkey burger, fresh kettle fries, and sautéed broccoli while Melody and I finish eating. Melody takes my dishes and rinses them in the sink. I offer to help, but she insists I do nothing because I’m a guest.

Melody walks me to the car. She apologizes for creating an awkward moment between me and her father. I just make her promise to avoid all possible future moments like that by not letting us be alone together in that house again. She vows so solemnly to me.

I open the driver door, toss my backpack in the passenger seat, and as I go to get in, Melody surprises me with a smothering hug.

“Thanks for being my friend today. I really needed someone and I’m glad that someone was you. I don’t know what I would have done.” She says with a cry underscoring her tone.

The last thing I want to do is leave her crying. Rubbing her back would be soothing right? As I do that, I find me hunched low resting my head on top of hers, and for the first time between us our hug feels genuine. It doesn’t touch on the type of hug Natasha can give, but this is good. After she thanks me again, I kiss her on the top of her head, which shocks me. Why did I do that? She may get the wrong idea that I want more, and all I’m willing to offer is friendship.

Wiping her tears from her eyes, she again tells me, “You’re a really good friend.” She stands outside her door, until she sees me off down the bumpy, rocky narrow road that leads to the street.

On the drive home, I realize I don’t want to disappoint Melody. I have to find a way to take her to homecoming dance. To be a good friend because that’s what a good friend would do.

When I pull into our parking lot, I see Melody’s and Tenor’s time-share truck backing out of a parking space. The tinted windows prevent me from seeing inside. For all I know Tenor could be making funny faces at me as he drives by. I park next to the minivan and walk inside. The door wasn’t even locked.

Abbey’s disrespectful voice yells from upstairs, “That’s so unfair! I swear you two want me to be unhappy! It’s just a school dance. I don’t see what’s wrong with one dance.” The smack of slamming her door rings through the townhouse.

Dad strongly tells her, “Sweetheart, you know the rules. No dating until your 16, plus, we don’t know Tenor or his family very well. There will be plenty of high school dances in your future.”

Wow, dad is like the parent of Mercy and Grace. He rarely ever yells, even when we act up. He’s never spanked us or threatened too. Yet, the idea of disrespecting him, at least for me, absolutely terrifies me. Dad’s just cool… All kids with loving dads proclaim this but my dad is the best in the world. I’m glad I didn’t get stuck with a dad like Adam… he’s just creepy.

Mom descends down the stairs with Annika on her hip, who’s been crying ever since the door slammed. Babies never like conflict, but the sudden, loud noise would alarm anyone with exceptional hearing. Or is her hearing normal by now? I stopped reading about babies a few months ago.

I was in the bookstore, by the grocery store, reading a parenting book concentrated on the toddler years. Annika was with me because Abbey and mom were getting their mani-pedis a few doors down in the plaza. A woman, with toddlers of her own, mistook Annika for my daughter and she started sharing her parenting secrets with me. I was reading the book because I wanted a heads up on what Annika would start acting like soon, since I was 2 going on 3 when Abbey was born and I don’t remember how she behaved.

Once at the base of the stairs, I make a funny face at Annika. She giggles feebly, but determined to keep crying her faces gets ugly as she begins to wail again. This time I spit a raspberry (stick out my tongue while making a motor sound) as I make another funny face. Annika looks at me uncertain of what to do: laugh, cry, or just stare blankly at her big brother? She chooses the latter. With wiggling fingers, I tickle her tiny pot belly that forces an upside down frown to post on her face. Annika’s current status is: happy, which means her big brother did his job.

“Whose house were you at?” Mom finally gets to the investigation. I’m surprised she didn’t text interrogate me.

“Melody’s house,” I admit. There’s no point in lying to parents. The truth always comes to light eventually.

“Oh,” mom huffs a little staggered by my answer. Trying to make sense of it, she asks, “Did you do homework together?”

“Yeah,” I say passing mom and stepping onto the first step.

“Where are you going?”

“To my room… I want to draw.”

I haven’t felt like drawing in eons… On the drive home, with the cinematic scenery of the open forest, and the wild yellow daisies that line the sides of the road, made me think about Melody at the grocery store last Saturday. She picked a bouquet of white daisies. In the past, I’ve seen her wear a yellow daisy in her hair to school. Clearly, she likes daisies.

Sitting at my desk, facing the large window in my room, that overlooks the wilderness valley of the White Mountain Res, I ready my sketch book and I hold the pencil still in my hand. I try to clarify the imaginary floating through my mind. Finally I see it, Melody hitchhiking her way down the hill, standing in a bushel of wild, yellow daisies with the grassy meadow behind her against a wall of piney forest, topped with a beautiful blue sky accompanied by a few glorious, puffy clouds. There’s a slight breeze that rustles her hair. A few strands swiping across her face making her look like a model from an ad.

I’m still drawing when dad knocks on my door.

“It’s almost 11 buddy, light outs in fifteen okay?” Dad says. That’s his kind, gentle way of telling me to go to bed.

I can get up early and finish it. I think all that’s left are the daisy petals, her hair, her eye color, and the double yellow line of the road. Everything else I’ll just outline in black marker. It will be perfect.

Sunday night, at dinner, when I planned to ask mom and dad if I could go to homecoming, before I told them I promised to take Melody, mom and dad sprung some surprising news on Abbey and me. Since mom didn’t have school on Friday, because of the parade in Whiteriver, she and dad were going to their friends’ wedding rehearsal that evening in Phoenix. They would be there Saturday for the happy nuptial ceremony, and then either late Saturday night or way early Sunday morning they’d travel home and be to church by 10 am. Since we don’t have school on Fridays (something new the school is trying this year), they figure they can leave Annika with us and we would share the responsibility of looking after her. It’s an ingenious parenting strategy. We can’t have guests over, or throw a wild party if we have to take care of a 16 month old. Well, now I have a legitimate excuse to bail on Melody. I have to babysit my little sisters. Let’s face it, as being the oldest child; I will mainly be responsible for the household while the parental units are away.

Miss Combs, Lexi we usually call her, will check in on us around dinner time on Friday and around breakfast time on Saturday. She lives three doors down from us. She teaches second grade at Whiteriver Elementary, where my mother teaches fourth grade. Dad hasn’t gotten a teaching job here, even though the district could probably use him. Right now, he’s just serving as the assistant pastor at the church. Dad says God is teaching him to rely on Jehovah Jireh. So far, it’s not bad. We have a roof over our head, we have food on the table, and we get gifts for birthdays. God is providing just fine… perhaps more than fine.

I decided this morning, the first chance I get, I’ll break the news gently to Melody in person. The second I put the car in park, Abbey pops open her passenger door and springs out of the car. She doesn’t even say goodbye. She slams the door and in the rear view mirror I see her take off running. That can’t be good. Clearly, she has something sneaky in store, and I have a gut-wrenching feeling it’s related to the homecoming dance.

Walking across the parking lot, I noticed Melody in the distance arguing with her best friend Meaghan. I’m too far away to hear what the conflict is about. Melody’s in full fledge tears holding a single red rose as Meaghan hollers at her with a scowling face. Melody, in a begging manner, tries to hand Meaghan the rose, but Meaghan smacks the offer away causing the rose to fall onto the ground. Meaghan looks for it on the ground only to stomp on it. After yelling one last time in Melody’s face, Meaghan storms off without looking back at her friend once.

Melody flails her back against the huge black pickup truck I’ve seen her drive often to campus. Cupping her face with her hands, she wails in sorrow crying over her dispute with her friend, if they’re still friends at all.

She doesn’t notice me. I could keep on walking and maybe break my bad news to her tomorrow. I take one foot forward and the thought: Love her like Christ loves me came to mind again. Ugh! I don’t want to love Melody! I don’t even really want to be her friend. Because I’m tired of listening to her beliefs when she won’t sit and listen to mine. She just hums in agreement and nods condescendingly, with her ears closed and her eyes covered with blinders. Me on the other hand, like when Colton talked about the LDS church, I listen. I listen enough to allow doubt to creep into my soul. But after every time, God reassures me of truth, and then my heart breaks… I just want her to experience completeness in Christ… not the illusion of completeness in Christ.

I cautiously trek over to Melody. Seeing me causes her to latch onto me, and sob into the fabric of my green cotton, button-up shirt. Again, embracing her feels impeccably uncomfortable. Rub her back or don’t rub her back? When I finally decide to rub her back, she releases me from our embrace as she wipes the running mascara from her eyes. I thought they made waterproof mascara now? She looks at my chest, near my left shoulder, where she happened to be crying and she pouts her bottom lip.

“I’m sorry,” she says.

I look down and sure enough there’s a black, blotchy, spotty area of gunk on my forest green shirt. Luckily for her, I’m wearing a white undershirt.

“It’s okay.” I say, unbuttoning my shirt. I take it off, bundle it up, and stuff it in my backpack.

“You’re a real friend,” she pauses to sniffle, “You know that?”

Am I really? If she knew my thoughts she’d know I’m not really a friend of hers. I’m more likely a man on a mission doing what God told me to do.

As I suspected, she pulls a white handkerchief out the back pocket of her ocean blue, form fitting jeans. She finishes wiping her eyes and then she blows her nose. She folds up the handkerchief and stuffs it in her back pocket. That’s even grosser than when she wiped Annika’s nose.

“Could you walk me to class? I don’t want to be alone right now.”

How could I refuse her? We stop at her locker, before walking to her 1st period class. We both look down the end of the hall when we hear a group of people laugh. Jon Hurst, the QB and most popular guy in school (is that not textbook cliché?), is escorting Meaghan Holmes down the hall with their elbows locked together. Her brother, Charley, and Zander walk behind alongside Teagan and Reagan. Keegan trails the back with Tenor. Jon’s about my height, 6’5”, and his black hair isn’t as curly as mine. It’s more of a wavy quality than curly… in my opinion, its guy hair, while mine is total chick hair. His eyes are droopier than mine, but that’s probably a good thing. The vibrant hue of his blue-green eyes is eerily creepy. The more closed his eyelids are, the better chance not see the hue. Being an athlete he’s built with a sleek muscle tone. And for a white boy, he’s got a dark complexion, but at least it’s not blotchy. He looks complete… a look I wouldn’t mind having.

As they walk past us, something surprising happens. Jon doesn’t glance at Melody once. That’s a first. Since I went to Redridge, Melody and Jon ogled each other every chance they got. Melody’s doing her best to avoid eye contact with him too. The entire group ignores Melody and me… No glances from Charley or Zander? What’s going on? I have a feeling that fight between Meaghan and Melody was monumentally serious and it looks like Meaghan won. I’m MAJORALLY glad I’m not a girl. Girls are mean.

Melody begins tearing up as she grabs what she needs out of her locker. Not being able to hold it together, she tosses her books and binder into my arms as she darts off to the nearest ladies room. Okay… now I’m full of curiosity itching to know what’s going on or what exactly took place to exile Melody from her beloved, chain link group. What could turn brother against sister? Best friend against best friend? Admirer against admirer?

Since I’m a student that’s never late to class, I figure I can handle the consequences just once. Melody looks like she could really use a friend right now. I might as well come to terms with it. Melody and I are friends, because by the looks of it, I’m going to be her only friend for a while.

A few minutes after first bell, Melody emerges from the bathroom. She looks like she just lost her breakfast to the porcelain throne seeing that she’s three flesh tones lighter and pretty ghostly looking. If I was a Ferris Bueller type of boy, I’d say let’s blow school off and go gallivanting around town, but I’m not. Wrapping her under the wing of my one armed embrace, I nudge her to walk with me.

“Maybe we’ll go off campus for lunch?” I say. In my cheesiest, raspiest, machismo voice I add, “Queiro Taco Bell.”

By a small miracle, it gets Melody to breathe one laugh. Who knew I could be funny? The second bell rings when we get to her class. I’ll be late to mine but at least she’s on time to hers.

We didn’t go off campus for lunch, because I couldn’t find her. I ate with Pernel and he gave me all the juicy details traveling through the grapevine. Apparently, Charley and Melody were dating, but they weren’t public yet because they were taking it slow. But Melody confessed to either Teagan or Keegan that she’s not over Jon. I guess her and Jon dated as well for years. From Freshman Year to Junior Year, they broke up a year ago because they were just tired of the drama between them. Since the beginning of July, Meaghan’s been dating Jon, and that’s been very public. Meaghan asked Melody if it was okay to go out with him and everything. Melody swore she was so over him.

Yesterday, after church, Meaghan caught Jon and Melody kissing in his red truck. Jon claims they were just talking and Melody kissed him out of nowhere. Whether that’s true or not, Meaghan took her boyfriend’s side. So this morning, the disaster I witnessed in the parking lot was Meaghan ordering Melody to stay away from Jon, Charley, and all their friends. If she bothered any of them, Meaghan would tell Melody’s parents something that would break their hearts. I asked what that something was, but Pernel didn’t know.

Abbey texts me that she’s going to the movies with a group of friends and that someone will give her a ride home after school. She claims she called and asked dad… I hardly believe it, but it’s her that has to answer to our parents if she didn’t ask for dad’s permission. Exiting school, I see Melody at the pick-up and drop off curb arguing with someone on her cellphone.

“Today’s my day to have the truck! How am I supposed to get home?”

By the sounds of it, she’s arguing with Tenor. He went all grand theft auto and hijacked the truck from his sister… Normally, I would laugh about this, but she’s having a really rotten day.

Angrily, and patronizingly, Melody barks, “I love you too Tenor,” and then she hangs up on him. Without thinking, she chucks her phone against the nearest redbrick school wall. On impact, the case pops off, the back falls off causing the battery to fall out, and the screen cracks as it flops to the concrete ground. Just looking at her phone in pieces on the ground, her face tears up as she breaks down crying. Clearly, she’s PMS-ing. How else could she go to blazing angry to weeping willow sad? Continuing her song of sobbing, I pick up her phone and put it back together as best as I can. It takes a moment, a moment longer than it should, for it to turn on. It will definitely be hard to check her text messages, but I think she can manage calls.

I place her cellphone in her hand as I again sweep her into a sideways embrace. I don’t even ask. I guide her across the parking lot to the car, and open the passenger door for her.

Shocked by my kindness, she questions, “Are you sure?”

“Not quite. I’m not sure where you live, but it will be a good practice run for Saturday night.”

Flashing me a weak, feeble appeasing grin, she gets into the car. Once I’m buckled in and I have the engine going, she says, “About Saturday night…”

“No. I’m not letting you cancel. You can’t let those… let’s not be mean and call them what they are… you can’t let them win and keep you down. You wanted to go to homecoming, now you got a date, so we’re going to homecoming… and you’re gonna like it!” I say.

My pep talk seems to assuage Melody a bit. She nods her head as I back up.

Chapter 2

Natasha runs off to put the daylilies in a vase of water while Chastity escorts us to the dining area. The table is set with all the fixings, seven place settings, and a high chair for Annika stands at the end of the table where an eighth place setting would normally be. When Natasha joins us, she’s accompanied by Zeven holding hands.

We all take our seats, the way everything works out, Natasha ends up sitting across from me. Today she sports a blue, faux peacock feather in her hair. It matches her dangling, lab-made sapphire earrings. Zeven has frosted the tips of his black Mohawk with blue to match Natasha’s color phase fascination with blue. Looking at the two of them, side by side, they do look like a cute couple. Their features complement each other, and will one day blend well together… if… they’re meant to be together…

Chastity asks dad to say grace, we all take hands and bow our heads.

“Dear heavenly father, thank you for this gathering of friends. Thanks for the food you’ve provided for the Lane household and we’re grateful they’re sharing it with us. We ask that this food be blessed, and especially, our time together. Thank you for all that you do. In Jesus’s precious holy name, Amen.” The rest of us follow suit and say a collective amen.

Chastity hands the main course, meat loaf, to dad and allows him to serve himself. Natasha picks up the basket of crescent rolls and takes one as she passes the basket to Zeven. Zeven does the same, continuing to pass it on to Chastity.  Zeven grabs the bowl of green beans and serves Natasha a few spoonfuls on her plate. Graciously, she thanks him with a peck on the cheek. They’ve been dating for a week, and they’re already at the kissing phase? Getting through this dinner is going to be harder than I thought.

Chastity kicks off the table talk by telling my mother, “The flowers are gorgeous Becky.”

“They are, aren’t they? Actually,” mom starts to say.

“Daylilies are my favorite.” Natasha interjects.

Zeven looks to Natasha surprised, “I thought wild, yellow daisies are your favorite.”

In unison, without intention, Natasha and I say, “They were.”

She looks at me caught off guard. She further explains without breaking eye contact with me, “But once I saw and smelled my first daylily back in June, daylilies are my new fav.” Clearing her throat, she directs her attention to Zeven, “I thought you were around when I talked about it at Worship practice?”

Zeven shrugs his shoulders as he takes the dish of meat loaf from my hands. “I guess I need to pay more attention to my girl.” He remarks.

Mom finishes what she meant to say earlier, “Actually, Asher picked out the flowers.”

Both Chastity and Natasha look at me, but with different opinions displayed on their faces. While Chastity’s expression reads as impressed, Natasha’s expression seems conflicted. Getting the daylilies was a good move… Natasha knows my selection wasn’t by chance.

We move on to another subject: Chastity’s upcoming sermon series for Youth on Sexuality creatively titled Knowing Him and Her. She came up with that title from the scripture Genesis 4:1a from the New King James Version, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife…”  More modern versions tell how it really was by replacing “knew” with “made love”. Since Chastity was a teen mom, and based on the high rate of teen pregnancy in America and on the Res, and some of the concerns parents have brought to her, she felt God placed on her heart to discuss sexuality with the youth of the church.

In actuality, it’s more about God’s design and purpose of marriage, and how Christ comes first for both husband and wife. She’s hoping that through the message God will instill in the youth a desire to do things God’s way, and that each young man and young woman will feel precious in the eyes of God. And as current temples of the Lord our God, we’ll respect that honor and choose to do it God’s way… by waiting to have sex until we’re married.

Mom and dad are impressed. They agree that the youth are in need of such a message and they are glad to hear she’s doing it. Showing the sliver of uncertainty left in her, she asks dad and mom for their prayers that when she begins the message the Holy Spirit leads the series. Proudly, my parents accept the request and promise her they will do so.

After dinner, Zeven shares the new worship song he wrote in the living room with everyone else while I help Natasha stack the dishwasher. Natasha isn’t her normal, snarky, talkative self. Deafening silence builds a barricade between us. I can tell she’s deep in thought. I want to speak… but I don’t know what to say. The song of Zeven travels faintly into the kitchen. I listen to what I imagine the chorus is… it sounds like it’s in the Key of E or maybe C.

“We will shout on the hilltop.

  We will sing in the streets,

  And dance in the yard.

  Praising the only worthy-

  Of our praise- Jesus Christ

  Lifting our voices

  On high,

  We sing- Hallelujah

  To our King-

  As we band together

  In unity not conformity

  The light that’s in us

  We let it shine

  As we lift our arms

  Lifting praise we sing

  To our king

  Of everything

  As the body of Christ

  We will shout from the hilltop…” he continues to sing on, singing the chorus again.

Now I have a talking point. “That’s a pretty good song.” I say.

Natasha winces, “It needs a lot of work. The words don’t flow. They’re good, but the song needs to be fluid, not forced. I’ve tried to help, but he’s too proud of it. Maybe now that I’m his girlfriend he’ll let me revise it.”

“Musically, it’s perfect though.” I comment.

Smiling in defeat, “True, when it comes to notes Zeven is a genius.”

“So maybe he’s the music and you’re the lyrics,” I say. Wow, I sound supportive of their relationship. I know I’m kind of coveting my neighbor’s significant other, it just feels like she’s been taken away from me, and I didn’t ever really have her.

Her whole face lights up with excited joy as if I prophesied to her. “You’re so right!” she closes the dishwasher, now that it’s stacked full, and then gives me a quick hug. Every hug from her is magical and heart-warming. As she slips out of my reach I wish the hug could have lasted a second longer, and I wish I had the guts to reel her back in, but I let her walk away. I follow her into the living room, where we’re all about to enjoy a game of Bible Trivia. Well, Annika’s gonna watch.

Chapter 1

The day I first saw her, I swore she was the one. Before I learned her name or heard her voice, a shift in my heart opened a place for her, and somehow I just knew. It’s the moment men in literature and in films talk about. How they just looked at their future-bride-to-be and knew without a shadow of doubt she was the one. I was especially convinced, because as I looked at her, I recalled the story of how my parents met.

Mom and dad were freshmen at Belmont University. A week or so prior to the first day, they bought books at the same time. It wasn’t until they were in line, they noticed each other. Well, dad noticed mom first, because she stood in front of him in the checkout line. Her wavy auburn hair wrapped up in a bun, platinum three inch hoop earrings in her ears. Wearing a floral purple dress, with pink flowers, and pink leggings to match, and worst of all she wore big, clunky black boots. My mom’s fashion sense in the early 90s wasn’t the greatest. To her, that outfit was tame Madonna-esque.

Dad’s gaze gravitated to her. She must have felt him staring, because she looked over her shoulder at him, and nervously he shied away looking the other direction. When she had stepped up to the cashier, dad found himself watching her again. Supposedly, the way he felt in that instance was indescribable, but like me, he just knew… Mom was the woman he would marry. Of course, hearing the end of this story makes you wonder how they ever ended up together. Dad let mom leave the bookstore without saying hello or getting her name, but the thought of her and what life could be like didn’t leave his mind.

The first day of school, they had one class together: Bible History 1. They learned each other’s names by the instructor calling on them to answer questions, but still, they never talked to each other outside of class. The semester ended.

After winter break, the spring semester came. After summer break, Sophomore Year came. Throughout both semesters they saw each other on the campus and waved and said hello, but they never sat and held a conversation. In the middle of Junior Year, when dad saw mom at a café off campus, dad worked up the courage to ask mom if he could buy her a coffee. From then on, they became friends. About 7 months later, dad asked mom out on their first date. And a week after graduation, the two were married, and it’s been happily ever after ever since.

When we first moved to the Fort Apache Reservation on the White Mountain, the church my dad got hired at, wanted to show him the premises immediately. It was a Friday Night, the Youth Worship Team practices for the Sunday Youth Service. Then usually church members spend that night cleaning the church.

Mom, Annika, and Margret (the pastor’s wife), were off taking their own tour of the church. Dad, Abbey, and I were with Pastor Josiah and Pastor Chastity (the Youth Pastor) on our way to the Youth Sanctuary. We walked down the white-walled hallway partaking in typical small talk. The Youth Sanctuary doors were just ahead, when we heard a door open up from behind us. Natasha stepped out of the nursery room.

Her black hair, with crimson red highlights was bundled in a floppy, unorganized bun. Strands of hair draped around the crown of her forehead. Dressed in faded blue jeans, a neon yellow ‘EYE on IT’ TobyMac tee, and hot pink canvas shoes, she wore yellow cleaning gloves and she held a rag in one hand and a bottle of disinfectant spray in the other. With genuine happiness she beamed with delight as a smile that expressed her thrill to meet the new comers. Before I heard her voice, or knew her name, with one eye glance, and in that moment as her cool gray eyes met mine a shift opened a place in my heart for her and somehow, I just knew… she was the one

***

I was so sure Natasha Lane was the one, but now I’m not very certain she is. She just got a boyfriend and he isn’t me. Zeven Thackett… now they have a storybook love story… if they’re met for each other. They’ve been bffs since they were toddlers. They grew up in the church together. They’ve served on the Youth Worship Team since they were 13. Now, in their Senior Year of High School they have become an item. It’s like their life has been perfectly designed for each other.

That’s what I get for waiting… Today, marks one year Natasha and I have known one another. Tonight, we’re going to the Lane home for dinner, and I planned to ask her out either before or after dinner. Last month, I even asked dad how you ask a girl out, and if I should ask Natasha out. The only tidbit of advice he gave me was, “Did you ask God?”, followed up with, “If it’s meant to be, sloppy or smooth, it will all work out.”

That’s the thing, I didn’t really ever consult God as to whether Natasha was the one or not. I think a part of me was afraid that she wouldn’t be. All my life, I’ve heard the story of how my parents met again and again, and every time I hear their love story the love I’ve reserved in my heart for my future wife gets stronger and stronger. And before we moved to the White Mountain, I heard about a couple that were brought together by God. They were friends for five years. They didn’t kiss until their wedding day. It was the sweetest thing I ever heard, more romantic than my parents’ story. I pondered if it was possible. Then God reminded me that in the OT, people were strangers when they got married. Or they knew each other through family for years before they got married. I slowly became a believer.

Not too long after hearing about that seemingly perfect couple, God told me to do something strange. Write a letter to my nameless, faceless, complete-stranger-to-me-currently, future bride. I wrote one without question. I talked about my dreams, my fears, and I told her how much I love her. It was the girliest thing I ever did, but I don’t regret it. Not long after that, God told me to pray for my future wife, and as I prayed I thought about her and our future together.  And of course, I fantasized about our possible future as I prayed, almost every time. But I stopped praying for my future bride a year ago, when I met Natasha Lane. I prayed for Natasha often, but consumed by the crush I had for her, and still have for her, I have neglected my future bride in prayer. Some future husband I am.

It’s annoying when looking at something triggers a whole fret train of thought. Mom’s probably wondering where Annika and I are. I cradle her in my arms, with her back against my chest so she can get a good look at the flowers. I know she’ll want to touch them too. Her little fingers touch the daisy petals, and she’s cooing with giddy sighs and happy giggles. While Annika amuses herself, I try to eye the perfect bouquet of daylilies, well, at least close to perfect. I don’t understand why we have to bring flowers to dinner; well, I guess Christians don’t really bring wine. We could bring grape juice though. Daylilies are Natasha’s favorite so it’s cool the store has them. By getting daylilies, will Natasha think it was intentional or coincidental? What does it matter, Zeven will probably be joining us for dinner. Who cares, I’m still getting them.

“Hey there fellow red hawk!” I hear a high pitched, flirty voice say. I know who it is too: Melody Gartner, a girl that never ceases to puzzle me.

She doesn’t like me in that way, so she’s claimed, but she’s always flirting with me. I didn’t figure out it was flirting, until Pernel pointed it out to me. That’s one thing I don’t do… at least I don’t think. I don’t flirt because I sort of don’t see the point. If you like someone, why not just be straight forward about it.

“Hey, Melody.”

“Picking out flowers for the dining table too?” She inquires as she picks up a bouquet of white daisies and then she smells them closing her eyes. Annika stares at Melody with her mouth agape. I think someone wants to learn how to do that.

“Ahh!” Annika moans reaching for the flowers in Melody’s hands. She gibbers some language only one-year-olds comprehend.

Melody’s light brown eyes, accented with bronze eye shadow, pop open, and her ruby red glossed lips coyly smile at Annika. Maybe that’s just how Melody is. Her mannerisms and attitude are flirtatious toward everyone. Come on, who smiles coyly at a baby? She puts the bouquet to Annika’s face and Annika plunges her face into the bosom of daisy blossoms. Just as quickly, Annika jerks her head back and sneezes a few consecutive times.

Melody and I happen to be laughing in sync, but Annika doesn’t find it so humorous with the wad of snot drizzling from her nostrils. Melody sets the daisies back, and then she pulls a powder blue handkerchief out of the back pocket of her blue, brown, and tan plaid patterned cream color Bermuda shorts, and she wipes Annika’s nose. Annika’s a pretty good baby, she doesn’t fuss when someone cleans her up, in fact, she looks like she enjoys it. She likes being pampered.

“Someone loves to be pampered.” Melody says after she’s finished wiping Annika’s nose. She folds up the snotty part of the handkerchief and stuffs it into her back pocket. Gross.

“I know it’s kind of grody, but handkerchief’s come in handy.” She says with a faint spirit of giggling in her tone.

Melody picks up the exact same bouquet of daisies and says, “Well, I’ll see you at school on Monday. I have to get back to dad before he finds me flirting with a boy unsupervised.” She winks at me walking backwards cautiously. The corner of her lip curled up in a teasing smile. Then biting her bottom lip she pivots on one foot, turns, and walks away from which she came.

The thought, how little she knows the love Christ has for her, crosses my mind. And I question, asking God, how can You help her Lord? And in that still, small, inaudible voice… not even in the tone of my own thoughts, I hear Him say, “Love her like I love you.”

My phone alerts me that I have a text message by blaring 20 seconds of Paramore’s Part II. I take it out of my pocket and its mom, wondering where we are, she says she’s in the meat section. I text her that I’ll be right there. I pick up the first bouquet of daylilies, I don’t second guess, and I speed walk with baby and bouquet in tote to the meats!

During my hurried pace to mom, I think about what the Lord said to me. Love her like He loves me. Then suddenly I panic. A fear I forgot I had, rises up in me.

Melody Gartner isn’t just some faithless, lost soul. She’s a faithful, damned soul. She’s a Mormon, like most of the people at my school. There are a few Methodists, Baptists, and Catholics, thank God, but for the most part… everyone’s Mormon. And even though the world considers us all Christians the truth is we’re not all Christians. Unlike us Methodists, Baptists, and Pentecostals and other followers of Christ, the Mormons are not who they claim to be. I know, because God never instructed me to read the Book of Mormon. I know because God has reassured me, I’m not crazy, that there aren’t many paths to God and that God may be three persons in one, but He’s not three deities that work together… Well, I’m not sure if they think the Holy Spirit is God or a god, I don’t know what they think about Him at all… I don’t know much about them and by secular standards it wouldn’t be right to judge them without knowing more, but am I judging them or observing what I see?

Back on the Navajo Reservation in Sanders, before my mom got hired at on the Apache Reservation in Whiteriver, my best friend Colton Begay converted to Mormonism. There was a girl, Kaylie Jenkins. They became friends quickly and Colton was really excited to share the real Jesus with her once he knew she was Mormon. Well, every time he talked about his faith, she shared hers. They never really argued, but at school we always heard them talking about her religion and his faith (or at least I thought he had faith to share). She made it seem like she wanted to date him and that they should be respectful of what each other believe. She came to our church and then he went to her church. He told me how weird and different it was. Every time he talked about anything Mormon I felt an ick feeling in my spirit, and I grew afraid. I saw my friend slipping away and I didn’t know what to do to stop him. I prayed and prayed and prayed, but my prayers seemed to go unanswered.

I watched DVDs talking about the falsehood of Mormonism, I read books about how to converse with (or witness to) Mormon Missionaries, if they ever came to your door, and I listened to everything Colton told me about Mormonism. Before he converted, I could already tell he was on the verge because he talked about marrying Kaylie. In his company, I spoke to his intellect trying to get him to see that he was being led into darkness, instead of relying on the Holy Spirit in me to do the talking for me to speak to his inner spirit man. I marginalized what God could do instead of trusting how miraculous God is.

It took only two hours after he made his conversion for the whole church to find out. Now I know, if my father was the pastor at the church, what happened to Colton, wouldn’t have happened. The entire congregation murmured and gossiped about his decision. His parents kicked him out of their house. And when he tried to come visit our church, when Barry Holiday, who was like a grandfather to all of us, passed away to see how we were holding up, the deacons swarmed like a battalion of soldier-bees and escorted him out into the cold, dark winter night. The Holy Spirit told me to go wait with him outside, but I was afraid of what everyone at church would think, and above all I worried most about my father’s image as a pastor. He wasn’t even a part of that pastoral staff… and I was concerned for his reputation… something that wasn’t my responsibility, my only responsibility was to be a son of God and act in love as Christ would have in that scenario.

Though God made it clear to me Colton’s choice wasn’t my fault and even if I had listened to the Holy Spirit that night, Colton is his own person and he has the power to choose: God or the World, and he chose the World whether he ever realizes it or not. I still talk to him occasionally, but not often does a day go bye I don’t think of him, and feel partly responsible for him slipping away.

“There you are!” Mom says dumping packets of red meats into the cart. The impact of the pounds she picked out rattles the cart.

Mom sees the daylilies and says, “Good choice. Those are beautiful.”

“Really?” I question with a nervous sense of happiness tingling through me. I’m probably blushing.

I put Annika in the provided baby seat, and set the bouquet inside the cart, on top of cereal boxes.

“Could you go find your sister? She’s not responding to my texts. I sent her off to go get pasta and marina sauce a while ago and she’s not back yet.” Mom explains.

“Yeah, sure.” I tell mom as I head to the pasta and sauce aisle.

It figures that Abbey is talking to a boy when I reach the location mom sent her. And of all boys, it had to be Miss Flirty’s brother: Tenor Gartner. He’s an Adonis to my sister. The type of boy she’s always pictured herself marrying. He plays wide receiver on the football team. He’s way taller than her standing at about 6’6”. She’s maybe 5’4” if she’s lucky. Like an Abercrombie and Finch model cut out of an ad, he wears the latest fashion gear: Faded blue, sagging, skinny jeans, a flamboyant, salmon pink, short-sleeved, v-neck tee, and loud, colorful kicks that match his outfit. His walnut brown hair is moosed in a statuesque hairdo like a Mediterranean work of art. And his wise, wide, glossy gold eyes look pensive and insightful with a charismatic smile that makes a sophomore girl melt. I may be a man, but I have to admit he’s handsome, if not gorgeous.

Mom says I’m handsome. That any girl would kill to have my tight curly, black hair (not sure why my mom compared me to the opposite sex). That she would give anything to have my relaxed, hazel-blue eyes, and my strong cheekbones. I look at my reflection and just see an incomplete person, but I guess that’s what happens when you have a biracial mother, and a pasty white dad. It’s hard to say what Annika will look like, but so far, Abbey’s the prettiest capturing most of mom’s beauty.

Brownish-red, curly hair, big dark brown, beautiful eyes, a cute button nose and full pink lips, and brown, olive skin… absolutely gorgeous if you ask me. Me… I look too white next to mom, and too odd next to dad. I’m odd… not handsome or ugly… just odd.

Tenor’s whispering something in Abbey’s ear that makes her laugh.

Mormonism can’t take my sister too! The thought blares in my mind. Anger lodges in my throat with a thick, hot energy I’m anxious to release on Tenor either with a fist punch or slew of nasty, awful words. Just as I open my mouth, Abbey’s eyes get wide spotting me and she pushes Tenor away.

“Asher, what do you want stalker?”

Tenor looks over his shoulder at me smugly. Like he knows he’s bothering me and he’s enjoying it. Without saying hello to me and before I can order Abbey to follow me to mom, he looks back to her and asks, “So will you go with me?”

Say no, Abbey. Don’t you dare go to church with him! I want to say aloud.

“Abbey, do you have the spaghetti and sauce?” I ask.

Ignoring me, she answers Tenor, “I don’t know… I have to think about it.”

“Abbey,” I snap and immediately, I feel bad for being short and impatient with my sister.

Then the Lord says to me, “What are you afraid of Asher?”

“Chill for a sec Ash,” she barks back. Talking to Tenor, “I already got a couple other offers and I don’t even know if my parents will let me go.”

Walking backwards, toward me, he bids his farewell, “You can text me your yes later. I gotta go find my dad and Mel.” Then he pivots quickly on one foot like he’s making a dance move, and he looks toward me with the same crooked, flirty smile his sister gave me as the aftershock from flashing it at Abbey. The smile shifts to an arrogant smirk when his creepy gold eyes catch mine. Our shoulders brush each other as he peruses past me. I know he knocked into me on purpose. Out of the corner of my eye, I watch him disappear to the left, and relief finds me now that he’s gone.

“Abbey, you shouldn’t go−,” I start to say but she just rolls her eyes at me.

“Don’t freak out Ash, I’m not going to convert… He just asked me out to homecoming, which you and I both know mom and dad won’t let me go to, especially with a Mormon.” She says, grabbing a box of spaghetti and a jar of marinara sauce off the shelf. The two items conveniently stocked beside each other. Sighing disappointedly, she walks around me and I assume she’s off to meet up with mom.

She’s right. Mom and dad won’t let us date anyone they don’t know, plus, Abbey doesn’t meet the minimum household dating age, which is 16 years old. The fact that Tenor is Mormon, it’s going to be an epic NO because my parents will just pull out the “unevenly yoked” card or use the “light and darkness don’t mix” statement. In my parents’ world, dating isn’t really a thing. It’s more of a courtship… But it’s not like once you start a courtship that’s the person YOU HAVE TO MARRY… it’s more like… MAKE SURE GOD BROUGHT YOU TWO TOGETHER.

As I turn the corner, coming out of the aisle, Melody Gartner reappears before me. Abruptly, bumping into each other was unavoidable. She laughs flipping her long, wavy-styled, sienna sand hair. Melody’s pretty tall for a girl at least 5’9”, 5’11” maybe. Her gaze up toward me isn’t long like it is for my sister and my mother. I didn’t notice until now, as she gapes at me, like her bother, she has similar wise, wide glossy eyes.

“Hey again, Asher,” she beams cheerfully with her grin showing the dimples in her cheeks and her bleached white, perfectly straight, teeth shining at me.

“Hi… again… Melody…” I say, as kindly as possible, trying to keep the restlessness within me at bay.

“Have you seen my brother? He’s supposed to be getting Alfredo sauce.”

Pointing left, I leap at the chance to say, “He went that way,” though foolishly I give a full report, “but unfortunately he had no sauce of any kind with him.”

“Oh that’s okay. I’ll get it for him.” She titters.

As she stepped around me, a powerful, grumpy, bold, and agitated attitude compelled me to tell her, “And tell your brother to ask someone else to homecoming. My sister can’t go.”

Melody freezes her feet in place and she cocks her head sideways glaring at me in disbelief. Like what girl’s parents don’t let her go to a dance? Pouting condescendingly, she asks, “Why not?”

Why not is a simple question to answer, yet I can’t bring myself to answer it, because the only thought that crosses my mind is: Love her like Christ loves me. Melody interrupts my thought process with her own words.

“Well, that’s a bummer. At least she got asked to homecoming. And there are plenty of girls from church and school dying to go with Tenor, he’ll be fine. See you later red hawk.” She says as she continues to walk by me.

At least Abbey got asked? Was Melody implying that no one asked her to homecoming? Jon Hurst and she nearly undress each other with their eyes from across the hall at school. Zander Arvizu talks about her being on his ‘to do’ list in the locker room at school after P.E. And Charley Holmes, her best friend’s twin brother has had a crush on her since elementary school, or so I hear. None of those three guys asked her out? Why not? They’re all Mormon, they’re all around her age, and Melody’s a beautiful young woman. What sane, teenage boy would not ask her out, especially to a school dance?

I can’t believe I’m asking her this, “No one’s asked you to homecoming, yet?”

For the first time ever, I see flirtatious Melody dissolve into the air around her, and the real Melody Gartner revealed her true colors. A young woman, with outer beauty a lot of girls are probably jealous of, burdened with low self-esteem as her disappointed gaze met the marred and scuffed tile floor of the store. Her feet were twisted inward, with the tips of her shoes overlapped, and her knees buckled in.  The jar of Alfredo sauce nestled in her clasped hands as her shoulders slouched.  Quietly, slightly below a whisper she utters something. I ask her kindly to repeat herself. Looking up at me, with tears in her eyes, she mutters, “No.”

Then she tries to speed walk away from me, but I end up getting in her way, blocking her clear getaway path. I want to ask why she’s upset. But that would probably just upset her more. The shock hits me after the words escape my lips, “Would you go to homecoming with me?”

Questioningly, she raises an eyebrow at me. If I could, I’d raise an eyebrow to myself? What did I just ask her? And why? WHY?! I can picture Abbey calling me a hypocrite right now. I can hear mom and dad telling me I can’t take Melody to the dance next Friday night. You can’t take her to the dance. I hear myself telling me not to take her.

“Seriously?” she inquires with a faint smile. If I say I was kidding… No… I won’t go there. I’ll be honest… At least I think I’m honest.

“Seriously,” I say in my most serious tone with a very serious expression.

“Oh my God you are so SWEET!” She shrieks as she reels me into a very tight, powerful hug. I feel awkward embracing her back, not really sure what to do with my hands on her back. Pat her or don’t pat her? By the time I make up my mind to do a quick pat, she breaks away from me demanding my phone number as she holds the jar of sauce in one hand and as she pulls out her phone from a back pocket, hopefully not the same one with the snotty handkerchief in it.

I can’t cease to amaze myself as I give her my number. She sends me a quick text.

This is Mel G. Thanks a billion Mr. Sweet Guy! XOXO

Right when I think we’re going to part ways, she ends up following me back towards my mother and sisters. Speaking like a motor mouth, she asks what color I look best in… Should we go out to dinner or just straight to the dance? At some point I tune her out. I know she’s talking, I just don’t know or care what she’s talking about.

My mom and sisters have made it to the eggs. As always my mother meticulously inspects as many egg cartons as possible so she can choose the right carton.

“This must be your mother, Becky right?” Melody double checks looking at me, I nod.

Mom sets her selected carton into the cart as her outstretched hand takes Melody’s and they shake introducing each other to themselves.

After Melody shares her name, mom wonders, “Tenor’s sister?”

Melody excitedly nods yes with humming a strong, “Uh-umm.”

How does mom know who Tenor is? Don’t tell me mom agreed to let Abbey go with Tenor to homecoming?

“Well it’s a pleasure to meet you.” Mom says to Melody.

Is it really? I think.

“You as well,” Melody says. She rests a hand on my shoulder, “You have quite the good Samaritan for a son… He’s super sweet.” Her hand slides down my back as she backs away.

What’s up with her and Tenor backing up? It must be a genetic trait. Do they think they’re cool or something?

“I gotta go, but it was lovely meeting the wonderful mom Asher talks so much about.” Then referring to Abbey and me she says, “See you red hawks Monday.”

Mom and Abbey stare at me not sure what to think. I imagine my countenance mirrors theirs. Normally, I’m calmer around Melody and not so edgy internally.

Last year, we were science partners in Chem. It wasn’t until that partnership we built a relationship that was more than an acquaintanceship. Occasionally, she invited me to sit and eat lunch with her and the ‘-eagans’: Meaghan, Teagan, Reagan, and Keegan.

In the beginning, she talked about being LDS and her church, and of course, she tried to get me to go with her, but I held my ground… I refused to go… in a kind way… When she realized I’d never go to church with her, we stopped having lunch together, but that didn’t stop her from saying hello to me in the hallway, or sitting next to me at sporting events and catching up. I wouldn’t say were friends, but we’re not not friends… if that makes sense?

We all opt not to say anything and we finish grocery shopping. On the minivan ride home, Abbey’s trying to sell mom on letting her go to homecoming. I know if I say I’m going, mom and dad will probably let us both go. But I guess, a part of me is hoping something comes up to where I don’t have to take Melody.

 


Synopsis

It is senior year of high school for Asher Lucas.  His family moved to the Fort Apache Reservation the year before. They move into a cozy, three bedroom townhouse in Teacher Housing in Whiteriver, Arizona. His mother teaches second grade and his father serves as the Associate Pastor at a church nearby their new home. He’s the big brother of two sisters, 15-year-old Abbey, and baby Annika.

Asher grew up in a Christian home. He’s known Christ Jesus personally since he was a little boy, but in his last year of high school his faith has never been tested more, when he starts a journey to share the love of Christ with Melody Gartner, a senior girl at his school, who goes from Miss Popular to Nobody after breaking up with the school QB, Jon. Melody is a sweet, bubbly, vibrant girl whose dad is the Pinetop-Lakeside’s best vet and her mom is the queen of charity events. And she goes to church too– the Church of Latter Day Saints of Jesus Christ. Melody once embodied everything a Mormon Teen should be, but rumors spread she’s a cheating whore and she struggles to deal with the social fallout.

Abbey has a crush on Tenor Gartner, Melody’s brother, and Asher being the protective big brother he is, wards Tenor often at every opportunity presented. Tenor doesn’t like Asher’s religious influence over his sister Melody, so Tenor tries to make Asher’s life difficult.

As his he grows closer to Melody, Asher desires to save Melody from her world of mess but he knows he can’t. Therefore, Asher battles to allow Christ Jesus to step in and be her Savior. Along the way, he gets a little closer to Christ.


MEET THE CHARACTERS (Drawn by Me)meet the characters

[I sketched these beauties on SketchBook, on my SurfacePro 3, using a PAC DOT S PEN. I used Canva to lay them out for a blog title template.]


Fake Sunflower2.png

[I sketched this too on SketchBook… I drew it to scale of the space I had, so some petals are incomplete. This is a simple PNG File.]


Originally, the story was called “Everloving”. Yes, I was trying to coin a new word like Shakespeare. I wanted to create a word to describe the EVERLASTING LOVE of GOD and I came up with EVERLOVING because HIS love is continuous in action towards us!

I remember feeling like a genius when I came up with this title. I sat in my living room, pretending I was being interviewed on The View, along with Kirk Cameron about “Everloving” the Movie. Kirk Cameron was the executive producer and played Asher’s dad. While I was the writer and director of the film. I imagined being asked what it was like when Angelina Jolie stopped by on set to watch her daughter’s performance. That’s right, I envisioned Shiloh Jolie-Pitt playing Melody when she’s old enough.

And we discuss how controversial everything is because not only are we saying a popular religion is wrong, we get a girl who is a hardcore tomboy to be a girly-girl in a film. The big kicker is the Shiloh gives her life to Christ onset and it rattles Hollywood.

Yes, clearly, I’m a dreamer, but you never know, it might happen.


Every Monday for the foreseeable future, I will post a chapter from TWAR77. I encourage you to share the posts with your friends and family. PLEASE, bombard me with constructive feedback in the comments. This means even if you catch a typo or super awful grammar mistake. I do ask that you’re respectful in your feedback, otherwise, you will be ignored.

I truly you hope you visit weekly for Manuscript Monday. I can’t put fully into words how I feel about this project. I do plan on publishing this book. Will I self publish it? I don’t know. I’d rather not.

I wrote this story for a few reasons. When I got the idea, I was unexplainably driven to write it. I think part of it is was I live in a region where being a Mormon/LDS was the same as being a Christian. I even went to church with people who didn’t understand that Mormonism doesn’t follow the Bible alone and founded by a con artist Joseph Smith.

I know a lot about Mormonism because I had a friend that became Mormon, but through fervent prayer and staying in touch, she came back to Christ Jesus within a year. I thought if I could understand the religion I could understand why she converted… but it didn’t help.

The Holy Spirit once told me to just love my friend when I was with her. I’m an intellectual, so I thought using apologetics for faith was loving, but I was missing the mark. It didn’t matter how well I debunked the LDS Church with history, science, and scripture from the Bible. When I realized my words were futile, and I recognized loving her was hanging out with her and just being us together, there would be moments she would ask what I thought about some Mormon practices. That’s when I was able to answer with what the Bible had to say, or history, or science… There were times I didn’t have an answer, but then I could pray with her for her to receive an answer. The loving approach was better and way easier than trying to be her savior.

I also know some really great people, who are Mormon, well LDS members (using the M-word is a no-no now according to HQ) and part of me hopes they read this one day and they make the decision to follow Christ Jesus through the Bible and the Holy Spirit alone as an ex-member of the LDS Church.

Melody’s dad is Adam in the story and many of things he says or experiences he has are from actual accounts I’ve heard LDS members share online in YouTube or in person. And Asher Lucas is my display of how I think a teen today should aim to carry out their faith. These people are fictional but there is truth in their interactions.

To be clear, I wrote this story because I was inspired to, I want to reach the lost, and I want people to connect with God and embark in a real relationship with Him. God is my DAD and I’m beyond blessed to be His Daughter, and I’m so grateful I don’t have to buy or earn His love. He gives it because He is LOVE and all He does is done because of His love for US.

THIS MONDAY – 12/03/2018 – VISIT HERE TO READ CHAPTER 1

 

Happy Thursday everyone! I can only hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. As November comes to a close, keep an attitude of gratitude.

I recently went to a seminar for documentary filmmakers and the speaker, who worked on Oscar-nominated projects, said the most successful people she worked with carried two key perspectives to life: Gratitude & Sense of Abundance. Therefore, thanking God for everything you have under the sun and believing you have more than enough to work with in any given situation will take you far in life.

I must be lacking thankfulness and abundance because all I see lately in my life are failures. LOL. JK.

If you got to see any part of my creative process, you would know I sometimes write a bunch of different versions of any given concept my brain develops. Sometimes, I have three or four different versions in my head before I commit the idea to pen & paper, or to keys & word doc. My goal with this blog was to be disciplined. To force myself to stay the course of my first thoughts, but this isn’t the case… I think I’m just trying to create a formula for my creative process and I now know that is impossible and if it is possible, I should treat such a process as non-applicable.

Part of the excitement in life is the journey, correct? Just because I thought of one plot point first, doesn’t mean it is the best plot point, correct?

What are you trying to say, Brianna?

I’m saying I decided to change the story featured on Manuscript Monday. Instead of chapters of “Girls of Grace”, you will read sections of “The Wildflowers Along Route 77” every week.

Check out the title graphic art below. I made it in Canva with my free access. I used white font, size 12, style Trocchi. I used Unsplash for the photos. I’m incredibly grateful for the creative eye of “gades photography” and “Nathan Anderson” for the beautiful photos they captured. I did add a filter to the forest to brighten it up and I made the sunflower more transparent than normally.

BT - TWAR77

My inspiration for the graphic and the story come from Whiteriver, Arizona along Scenic Route 77. In July, after the monsoon rains flood the land, along the two-way highway flowers spring up along the road. They look like sunflowers, but I don’t think they are, I’m pretty sure they’re weeds. Whether they are weeds or flowers they are absolutely beautiful. Especially, when the green grass is vibrant from drinking in the rain. The wind blows gently as soft gray storm clouds loom over the mountain plateaus in the horizon. Simply breathtaking to see as you cruise 55 mph down a winding road.

What is this story about?

Let’s back up a bit and talk about Whiteriver, AZ a little. The town sits on the Fort Apache Reservation. The only people who live there are Natives and Hired Teachers. Depending on how fast you drive, the town Pinetop-Lakeside is about 40 minutes away, Show Low is another 10 minutes away. The land is a mixture of chaparral and piney forest inside a valley on a mountain. The White Mountain Apache have four tribes: the Eagle, the Bear, the Roadrunner, and the Butterfly. Of course, these English words have Apache word counterparts, however, I do not know the language “AT ALL” to even relay the information.

(I will also confess, all this information I have about the tribe I picked up through observation, and what my friends at church told me. If I get anything wrong and you have empirical evidence or first hand knowledge that I describe something wrong, please email me with the details or leave a comment and I will make the correction, and credit you for the update.)

Their language is not lost, though much of the youth don’t know it, the Apaches are hopeful the language will be kept alive. Members of the tribe are either Christian, Traditional, or both. Many of the tribal members who live on the reservation experience alcoholism, suicide, teen pregnancy, physical abuse, sexual abuse, drug abuse, gang violence, witchcraft, and spiritual warfare in their families. Though there are Christians, there can be a big emphasis on RELIGION over RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.

The Apache identify as a people group through their native culture. Christianity preaches that all of their native practices are of witchcraft and are of the devil. And I would agree a lot of it is demonic based on what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard. But I have seen some struggle to hold onto their culture and pursue God will reckless abandonment, because they do not want to lose who they are.

In Pinetop-Lakeside and Show Low, the wealthy or upper middle class vacation there for skiing, hunting, and fishing all in the appropriate seasons. For the people who live there year round, like other towns they have their share of the poor and the wealthy. Small businesses for the time being are able to flourish there, but who knows when big business will fully takeover. (Oh that’s so grim, let me change it!) I mean, IT’S AMAZING AT ALL THE GREAT SMALL BUSINESSES THERE!

Must go to places are Darby’s, Baked in Pinetop, White Mountain Ice Cream, and Village 8 (Movie Theater). If you ever pass through the area, try to grab breakfast at Darby’s. For sure pick up a fresh loaf of sourdough from Baked in Pinetop. If you love ICE CREAM, go to the Ice Cream Shop by the movie theater in Pinetop-Lakeside. And, for those like me who can’t go on vacation without going to the movies… GO TO THE MOVIES in the WHITE MOUNTAINS because I used to work at VILLAGE 8 and it was one of the most fun jobs I ever had. The theaters are privately owned by the Croney Family and they LOVE what they do and owners like that give the people the best deals and the best service!

Believe it or not, Pinetop-Lakeside and Show Low are heavily affected by the drug scene. People who are born in the area, rarely ever leave. Many families encounter alcoholism, abusive homes, teen pregnancy and drug addiction.

And I can continue to compare and contrast life on the Reservation as opposed to life in the towns, but hopefully, it becomes evident in the fictional story I wrote.

The White Mountain area is a huge Latter Day Saints region. They have churches in Pinetop-Lakeside, Whiteriver, and in Show Low. In Taylor and Snowflake there are statues to commemorate important LDS moments or history in those towns. Then there Assemblies of God Churches and plenty of Baptists. There’s a Methodist church somewhere up the hill (Pinetop-Lakeside or Show Low). And even a Unity Church.

I will state I believe the LDS church and the Unity Church are falsehoods preaching doctrines of men and devils. It depends on the Assembly of God Church and Methodist Church… some are starting to stray away from the truth.

Now, I lived in Whiteriver for three years with my mom. She taught 2nd grade on the Reservation and I lived with her until I went away to college for a second time in Columbus, Ohio. We went to Canyon Day Assembly of God, under the leading of the Holy Spirit, and to this day, that church family is FAMILY. When we go to Pinetop-Lakeside or Showlow, if we’re there on a Sunday, we go to Canyon Day for church!

These two facts play a big role on the story you will read on Manuscript Monday. The main character Asher, moves to the Reservation with his family. His mom is a school teacher and his dad becomes the new associate pastor at a church near teacher housing. Asher is multiracial like I am, but he’s mixed differently.

Would you say the story is autobiographical, a little?

I’m gonna say no. I used realities in my life and applied them to the main character Asher, but there’s so much the story covers and goes into I’ve never lived or experienced in my life.

Now religion vs. relationship with God is a huge theme in this story. Many moments will feature Asher wrestling with his faith and the pressures of being a teenage boy in our modern culture. I do include a lot about the LDS Church. It may be different than what you’ve heard or seen or know. I can honestly tell you, I’ve heard different things from different LDS members. I think a lot of it has to do with what region the members are from and because the LDS Church is not based entirely on the Word, and not truly led by the Spirit of God, stories and doctrine will be contradictory.

True, a lot of people say Christianity is contradictory. The Bible has loads of evidence authenticating its many books. All legitimate denominations believe in core values from the Bible, therefore, unifying us under one belief. And all and all, I believe there’s only one way to the Father and that is through Jesus the Messiah. Once you believe in Him, you are sealed with the Holy Spirit and you pretty much live your whole life, from the point of belief, growing closer to God.

Of course, you’ll see my trademark ingredients to a story. Who knows, maybe I’m the future Nicholas Sparks of Teen Faith Fiction. His books always feature a death, a forbidden love story (one person comes from money and the other is poor), and a broken relationship (an abusive relationship, a bad daddy-daughter relationship, or estranged parent and child relationship). I still love the stories all the same, but he has a very clear niche that has made him very wealthy.

Is my aim wealth?

I certainly don’t want to be a dead published author or a starving one. But I write for this simple fact: writing is my passion and telling stories is life for me. I would write for nothing. Wait, I already do! At times, I’m a little vain glorious, but God so help me, in the end let my work not be in VAIN!

This venture is going to be an amazing journey and I’m glad you decided to join! I pray this story blesses you in some way! Enjoy.