Originally, “the wildflowers along route 77” was titled “Everloving” and the little book was 17 chapters, not 16. But near the beginning of posting each chapter, I combined two separate chapters into one.

I didn’t realize how many gaps I left in the plot and how I left so many questions unanswered. As the author, I know in my head what happened at the moments in between and where people are now, however, I wanted it to feel real in the aspect we don’t know what happens from every angle and not every person gets to find out the full the picture. Often in life we are left with so many questions.

Anything you want to know about any character, ask in the comments below, and I will respond wholeheartedly leaving nothing out.

I plan on writing a sequel that will go back and forth through Asher’s last year of college and Melody reaching out to LDS family members. As to when that sequel will be written, I don’t know yet. I have so many other ideas I want to work on and finish before they become out of season.

Anything I write, I consider it a job well done if one part can make me cry, and when I read the chapter where Asher confessed everything to his dad, and his dad was there for him as a father first instead of as a pastor, choked me up! I have some friends who grew up under the pressure of being a preacher’s kid and the ministry always came first over their needs as kids. I’m sure there are wonderful parents out there who happen to be in ministry and are more like Asher’s dad than “the-ministry-first-parents” my friends had.

I think the story makes it really clear, I don’t believe the Latter Day Saints of the Church of Jesus Christ is real Christianity. They don’t believe in the core Biblical things the rest of Christians believe. I’ve had a friend in real life leave the LDS Church after God Himself led her out. I did my best to present my fictional LDS characters as realistic as possible. These characters are loosely based on LDS members I know in real life, with a lot of fictional components I developed from some research.

Overall, I hope the point and message this story is clear, having a personal relationship with Christ through His love is the main point of existence. The second point, for why we live, is to connect others to the love of Christ.

I will make it clear, I don’t agree or believe in missionary dating, but I do believe in obeying God. Sometimes, God asks us to do things now that don’t make sense but one day, when we see the full picture, it will make sense!

Thank you for taking this journey with me, and one day may you see this book on a shelf or this story made into a movie! Hopefully, “the wildflowers along route 77” will be a published book and a feature film. And that I will be able to say, to God be all the Glory, for why such things were accomplished.

Thanks for participating in this Manuscript Monday,

Love,

Bri

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“Four years ago, I can attest Luke Joshua Torwalt was born 7 lbs., 6 oz., and 19 in. tall in the Valley, Arizona. The Torwalts are the lead pastors at Faith Rising Church and they are full gospel, Pentecostal believers, and to this day I’m blessed to be a part of Luke’s like as ‘Mellie’.”

The auditorium erupts with applause. Happy to hear about the happy ending, to the personal testimony of Best Selling Author, Melanie Gartner Begay.

“And doctors say my ER visit was a misdiagnosis, because I did not have a vanishing twin. The placenta proved it.” The crowd explodes with various hallelujahs and praises to God. She adds, “I’m a firm believer God gave me back my baby because I asked Him to.” She smiles at everyone with her face flushing bright, lobster red. She lowers the mike and sets it in her lap crossed at the knees, where she sits center on a stool with a back rest.

Her husband, seated in a matching stool beside her, grabs her free hand that sports her sparkling, very visible diamond ring. He lifts the grill of his mike to his chin and takes over the spotlight, “Does anyone have any questions for my wife… or for me… since her book sort of is the story of us…”

I stand up raising my hand. Risking, looking like a total fool. With a shaved scalp, a full beard, and glasses on, I’m certain neither of them can recognize me.

“Yes, hipster that just stood up.” Mr. Begay calls on me.

“Melody states in the last chapter, neither of you believe in missionary dating, but did not missionary dating lead you both to salvation?”

The young Navajo man chuckles. He cracks his neck by jolting his head sideways and then back upright. “Uh… As she explains in the book, God is Everloving. His love is unconditional, continuous, ever present, all encompassing, constantly pursuing us because He has the singular goal of having a relationship with us, His way. Yet, He is such a gentleman, He pursues us by wooing us, and He uses any method we give Him permission to chase us. By grace and probably a little luck, Christ encountered us through a person we dated.” He gazes at Melody, completely spellbound by her, madly in love with her, and gives her a peck on the check. Majority of the audience gushes over the public display of affection. “And I got to ask that person to marry me. Thank God she said yes!” The crowd nervously laughs with the couple.

“To add to what Colton said…” She raises her mike back up. She gulps and explains, “Now, I obviously didn’t marry Asher, but it took his love for me to open up to Christ’s love for me…” She falls silently and stares at me. The look on her face is the classic expression of the Holy Spirit downloading fresh information into her spirit. “Sir, could you take off your glasses?”

I think I’ve been discovered. I comply interested to see where this will go. The moment I do, Melody gasps, leaping off her stool. “ASHER LUCAS!” Everyone reacts in various ways. Some are excited, others are confused, by some facial expressions of audience members they think this was planned, and Colton leaves his wife’s side and hurries up to me. He nearly trips half way up the steps by not paying attention to his feet, but he grapples me into a hug and the NBA’s first Navajo point guard won’t let go.

“How could you sneak in here all incognito?” Melody asks from the front of the lecture hall.

Rubbing my shiny head, Colton asks, “What happened to the curly fro, Bro?”

Colton holds his mike to my mouth for the whole place to hear my answer, “I was tired of everyone commenting I had chick hair.”

Taking the mike back, “So you’re not prematurely going bald?”

“No. I’m not.” I confess.

“Asher, can you come down and tell everyone why you d—,” she pauses and then she murmurs, “Okay Holy Ghost…” Again, she re-asks me, “Can you please join my husband and I upfront and explain why you did what you did?”

Following behind Colton down the stairs, and the crowd goes crazy with excitement, I think to myself: God, your sense of humor astounds me. Colton was my best friend in Sanders. He was convinced he’d never go anywhere or do anything with his life. He didn’t even want to go to college. Then he becomes a Mormon. Goes to Brigham Young for free and plays basketball. Helps them win enough to make it to the Final Sweet 16 in March Madness his Freshman Year. He convinces Melody Gartner to date him before being the number three draft pick and playing for the state of Utah. While they’re dating he rededicates his life to Christ.

Because yes, that is what Melody did, she went to Brigham Young not believing an ounce of Mormonism. At her graduation, she gave a speech preaching the true gospel and nearly everyone there dedicated their life to Christ. The Dean of Students and the Chancellor resigned from their jobs the next day. Brigham Young did not ratify her degree and to this day are withholding it from her. However, that’s okay. The Lord encouraged her to write a book, which she finished in a week living in the Torwalts basement, because her and Colton were still engaged, and Everloving is currently #1 on the New York Times Best Selling List.

I knew about the book prior to publication. She wanted me to have a 5% royalty from the sales, but I said no. When I went to the campus bookstore to buy a copy, and found out her book was sold out, I regretted not taking her offer.

Melody clarifies things for the audience, “We had no idea he’d be here tonight. What are you doing here? Didn’t you graduate already?”

“I’m a senior this year.” I state. Anyone who reads her book learns her pregnancy encouraged her to graduate high school early online and she began college courses at Brigham Young over the summer. Upon her enrollment she took 20 credit hours a semester and whatever she could every summer, determined to be out of there as soon as possible, which enabled her to graduate her Junior Year as Salutatorian of her class. She was chosen as the key speaker for her exemplary community outreach, on campus contributions, and sexual assault activism.

“Right, I forgot I graduated early.” She giggles. Clearing her throat, “Anyways, this is Asher Lucas, who was a great friend to me high school and even with all my tricks and schemes stayed by my side for as long as he could. Asher, please explain why you did what you did?”

Colton hands me his mike. The bright lights are blinding but they help make the audience seem non-existent, which makes it easier to speak to the crowd. I never set out to date Melody. It would be rude to tell the truth, wouldn’t it? That I never wanted to talk to her. That I had to force myself to be cordial to her.

What do I say, Lord? I ask Him mentally.

The truth… He answers in my heart. I should have known that. God is big on the truth and anything hidden only remains hidden if God intends it to be a secret, but at some point, He reveals things.

The longer something stays a secret, the bigger and fancier the miracle is, after all, Christ was planned from the foundations of the Earth. His birth, his life, his ministry, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, and his yet to occur second advent… Clearly, Christ is the biggest, greatest, fanciest miracle to ever exist. Yes, exist, because he wasn’t created. He always was and always will be, He is eternal and all things were created through Him. Truth be told. All truth already exists and has yet to be revealed. Lies are created based on the truth. Life is one giant journey that begins in the dark, where everything is hidden from us, and we are to find the light in the pillars of truth placed in our midst.

I think I know what to say now.

“Um… I totally didn’t set out to date Melody Gartner. I had a severe allergy to Mormons at the time. Every time I came in contact with one, tell-tell symptoms of fear, judgement, and a critical spirit made my spiritual heart sick and believe-it or not, brought me closer to Christ. Before I could defend my faith to anyone Mormon, I needed to be reassured by Christ’s love that I knew Him personally, and my faith revealed more and more of Him daily…”

Melody opens the door and leaps to embrace me. Dressed to withstand the outdoors, in snow boots and a huge, ankle length jacket over her flannel pajamas, she steps outside to join me. Stuffing my hands back in coat pockets, I wish I brought my gloves today, then again no one really believed the weather man when he said it would snow after lunch today. The White Mountain usually doesn’t see snow until after Turkey Day, but this year winter came way early in mid-October.

“Thanks for coming by. I would invite you in, but it isn’t appropriate for us to be alone together.”

It’s 4:15 according to my phone. I tried to be here earlier, but there was an accident on the main road by school, traffic was backed up for over an hour and it was the only way out.

“Grab some essentials and come with me right now.”

Melody stares into the distance contemplatively. Conclusively, she crosses her arms and shakes her head no. “I’m gonna stay, Asher. I’ll be okay.”

The ambient crunching noise of car tires treading over mulch and dirt means I’m out of time. One car door slam, several rushed heavy steps, and the hum of angered breathing behind us moments later keeps me put just a little longer.

“Go inside, Melody,” Adam sternly commands. Father like son when it comes to demands.

Slowly, I turn around to face a mortal judge. A mortal judge that given the authority would kill me with a deathly glance.

“Adam, good afternoon.”

“Allow me to make this clear, you are no longer welcomed at our residence.”

“Sir, Melody is—,” Adam cuts me off giving me no room to speak.

“We will have papers drawn up relinquishing your rights to the child, so you don’t have to worry about anything. We’ll see to it that he or she gets a good home.”

“Tenor told me that Melody believes like my faith now, and—,” again, he interrupts me.

“Melody is just confused.”

“Sir,” I say and then regret it. He talks over me and hogs the attention.

“That night after she told us, I made it very clear, she wasn’t welcomed in this house if she didn’t respect our beliefs. She started packing her things. She set her cell phone, her driver’s and medical insurance cards on the table, and she was fixing to walk out the door with just a hoodie to keep her warm…” He pauses scratching the back of his neck, “She was mumbling that believing your way meant God would provide everything she and the baby would need. She wouldn’t listen to reason. She failed to remember the guidance of her religion…” Draping his head, he sighs. “I hate to say it, but that near miscarriage or that vanishing twin prevented my daughter from leaving my protection. That’s the providence of a god I serve.”

“But You can’t hold her against her will, Adam.”

Defensively, he jerks his head up and firmly aligns his gaze with mine, he states, “She is free to go whenever she wants, but if she is going to live in my house, eat my food, use my money, she is going to abide by my rules. She isn’t in school right now because the doctor prescribed bed rest. We talked it over, but when she is well enough, she will go be with my sister and her husband down in the Valley. We will place the child in adoption. The Bishop even has a few wonderful, faithful couples in mind. Then in the Fall, she will attend Brigham Young.”

Nothing can follow that up. He is in no positon to reason otherwise and for whatever reason Melody has seemingly agreed to his terms. Like I already knew, there is nothing I can do.

As I walk down the steps of the porch, Adam explains why I’m not welcomed in their home. Apparently, I’m home alone with his daughter too often, even though this is only my second offense, he is under the illusion we sneak around all the time.

Driving home I ask God why all this happening. Melody should be with me right now. If she went to all that trouble of lying in the first place, she wanted to keep her baby, and now her family won’t allow her to. She finally chooses Christ for real and now she’s trapped… I should be relieved. I should relax. I didn’t have to break up with her. I didn’t have to tell her I know she is a manipulator and a liar to her face. I’m entirely free from Melody Gartner drama in my life.

Yet, the burden on my heart for her is not lifted. Part of me wants to turn around, risk going to jail, and ask her to marry me just so has another option to leave. The other part of me realizes how dumb that would be… We’d be homeless and broke together facing the same issues she would out in the world alone.

These mixed emotions bring on tears, which blurs my sight, and therefore forces me to pull off on the side of the road to give me the chance to gather myself. I don’t even get why I’m crying. I didn’t even love Melody like that… At least I didn’t think I did. But it is true. I do love her. I care about her and I’m really scared she’ll go back to being Mormon. She doesn’t know enough about real Christianity to stay rooted in Christ. She doesn’t understand how to have dialog with God. She needs a body of believers to be her support system. She has yet to learn the power of prayer.

“Asher…”

I jerk to look in the back seat but no one is back there. I rub my eyes dry and look around outside but cars pass by on the left and the snow-kissed forest sits on the right. I check my phone to see if butt dialed anyone, but my cell isn’t on the line with anyone.

“Asher…” the same voice calls my name.

Am I crazy? Am I having a psychotic break or am I hearing the voice of God?

“I Am, Asher.”

That’s definitely a God answer. I would never call myself ‘I Am’ and that is God’s true name.

“Yes, I Lord.” I say back.

“Melody is my daughter.”

“I know.”

“Do you believe that Asher?” The LORD seems to question my honesty. He’s right, I don’t really believe Melody is totally saved. Most of her theology must still be predominantly Mormon.

The LORD adds, “I’m also Qanna. Melody is safe with me.”

“What does Kahn-Na mean?”

“Look it up. Exodus 34:14 is a good place to start. Or Google it.”

“Why can’t you just tell me? I asked you.”

The atmosphere in the car changes. My overloaded heart feels like a lightweight now. A joy sparks in my soul. I have peace and somehow, I’m certain everything will work out. I don’t know how. I certainly don’t fully understand why.

I’m so stoked I want to speed home. Treat 77 like the Audubon, but wisdom convinces me to remain a law-abiding citizen. I get back on the road, blast the worship music, and enjoy the experience of this victory in Christ that goes beyond words.

What’s done in the dark will eventually come to light… Another biblical truth I can’t run away from. I broke down in the car before I drove home. I cried out to God because I knew he was the only one that could sooth my aching heart, bleeding spirit, and troubled mind. After a fervent prayer pleading for guidance, a voice I thought I’d never hear again… which is crazy… how could I believe the lie, spoke to me, “Will you listen to me Asher?”

Considering that not listening to Him last time put me in this situation… I have to… I need to… There and then I swore to Him that I would. As He told me, “Good,” a wave of relief rushed through me and peace I could only credit to my God, my Savior, my Lord took root in me and sprouted in my entire being.

Melody doesn’t want to tell either of our parents yet… she thinks we need to break the news in stages. The stages being: stage one: Unveiling our relationship by telling our parents over dinner; stage two: Going public on social networking cites, since she’s the only who’s on them that will be her job; stage three: Reveal that Melody’s pregnant with our unborn child.

It seemed wise a couple of weeks ago when she proposed it. Unfortunately, we failed to implement it since our friends and family kept us busy with our birthday weeks. Last Friday, the 4th of October, was Melody’s 18th birthday. September 30th to October 11th during our fall break to celebrate Melody’s 18th birthday, her dad flew the whole family to Hawaii… for the entire break. Wednesday, on the 9th, on my 18th birthday youth group threw a surprise birthday party for me. Melody Skyped me from her fancy hotel room before I went to bed for the first time as an 18-year-old. Then for the weekend, my parents took me down to Tucson, we went to Old Tucson since Westerns are my favorite genre of literature. I can’t totally get into Western movies though. But what’s more romantic than a cowboy, in a white hat seeking redemption from his old wild ways by protecting the folk of the old west who need it, and in the end winning the heart of the fairest lady in town. Therefore, a dinner at my place and then hers, didn’t pan out, but I figured we get to it by this week.

Monday wasn’t good because it was a school night, except for my mom (her fall break was this week). Tuesday same excuse as Monday, Wednesday night Melody was too tired to attend church with me, Thursday night was family game night for the Gartner Clan only. Friday, Melody had to go into school since she’s failing English, and she knew after her day she would be exhausted. I woke up this morning expecting her to cancel, but I didn’t receive a text or a call, therefore I figured we were a go.

Today, with our Saturday tradition well and alive to commemorate our 6th weekiversary, as we walk holding hands like the love struck teens we are, along the lakeside Melody’s proposal shocks me, “Let’s get married,” she just blurts out.

Not given the chance to think it out, she kisses with an intensity she never has before, or maybe she has, I just can’t remember. Spellbound by the magic of this moment I find myself weak in the knees and running on fumes just to continue the motion of kissing with passion. And yet, holding her, kissing the mother of my child, I want more… Do I really want my kid born outside of wedlock; do I want Melody to worry that I’ll leave at any moment? What a better way to assure Melody and our future child that I’m never going anywhere than saying, ‘I Do’ at the altar before God, family, and friends.

Abruptly, prying her lips from mine to catch her breath she gently begs for clarity, “Is that a yes, Mr. Lucas?” Her hands clasped at the small of my back, her bottom lip tucked inside her mouth, her eyes on fire with anticipation, and my thoughts soaring through the euphoric clouds of my mind I proudly accept to have Melody Gartner become Mrs. Asher Michael Lucas, “Yes,” I tell her.

It’s not until after I dropped Melody off, I realize that I didn’t consult God. I didn’t ask for his direction. I’m scared to ask Him… I got the gut-wrenching feeling He’s going to make me choose the harder road… the one I’ve been avoiding. But I promised Him that I would listen to Him… that I was done doing things my way… But if I don’t marry Melody, she’ll probably just think I don’t love her, or that I want out of the relationship, or even worse she may close her heart to Christ altogether.

Suddenly the Lord says to me, “It’s not you who saves Asher. I SAVE.”

“What do I do God?” I beg for His guidance. He doesn’t say anything…

I’ve learned His silence means I got things in my heart I have to sort out before He can answer that question. He could tell me exactly what to do right now, but the big question remains: would I listen to Him? God doesn’t ask us questions because He doesn’t know the answer, He asks the questions to help us open our eyes. To help us realize where we’re at in life or to help us acknowledge a desire or a sin in our heart we haven’t recognized yet. Does God keep asking me if I’ll listen to Him, because in the deepest, truest part of my heart I won’t listen to Him? I keep doing my thing… Or do I keep doing Melody’s thing? Making me feel bad for her, she swindled me in to asking her to homecoming. I wanted to stop drinking punch and she persuaded me to drink more. Pitying her, I asked her to be my girlfriend. Thirty minutes ago she kissed me into accepting her proposal. Melody’s a devil, a snake! She’s the weed in my heart making me disobey God…

What do I do God?

As clear as the first time He said it to me, “Love her like I love you.”

God’s love is unconditional… I’m fully human… how can I love her unconditionally? A thought crosses my mind: Would I love her if she never found Christ? My love for her is conditional… I want her to accept Christ with every inch of my soul, that I’m compromising my soul just to please her. As if I fall from the graces of her favor, she’ll not only say the heck with me, but Jesus too… I’m standing in as savior of her life instead of allowing Jesus to come in and be her savior. I was there for her when she had no friends, I became her boyfriend to spare her a broken heart, and now I’ve agreed to marry her for security. What happens, if for whatever reason, I’m suddenly removed from the equation? What would Melody do? Would she just find another boy to be her knight in shining armor, would she run to her father like the daddy’s little girl she is? And what if, Natasha didn’t say yes to Zeven, and by some miracle she said yes to me (if I got the chance to ask her out)? I wouldn’t have taken Melody to homecoming, we wouldn’t be a couple, and the baby wouldn’t exist.

“Yes, he would,” the Lord inaudibly speaks to my heart.

Yes he would? Now I’m confused. God is love shouts from east to west in my mind.

God is love. In God’s Word Translation of the Bible, it uses the word love from Genesis to Revelation, with all its different forms and variant definitions of the word, but even with all of love’s many meanings, one underlying truth is clear: God loved us first, so we could love Him. We’re only capable of loving others because we’re made in His image. We were made to love. The reason why we fall short or fail to love is because of the callous nature sin brings into our lives. For our sake, out of love, God came as Christ to save us. God isn’t in the business of being liked… He’s in the business of being loved! To obey the Lord I have to be bold enough to love her more… to love her without conditions. The real question now is: how?

To an extent, Melody’s my precious little secret. No one knows we’re an item, but I imagine people suspect we are. We agreed not to partake in public displays of affection; in fact we don’t kiss much. Occasionally, she’ll bid me farewell with a peck on the cheek, or to thank me for her weekiversary gift, she’ll lightly lay a tender a kiss on my lips, but for the most part the only level of physical intimacy we practice as of late is hand holding. How I love to walk with her and just hold her hand, a warm blanket of security snuggles my heart in a bundle of joy.

The dawn of our couple-hood opens windows into each other’s soul every day. As friends we enjoyed the company of one another, but we didn’t exchange details about ourselves to grow and truly learn who we are. Who is Melody Gartner?

A girl without a middle name because her parents want her to keep Gartner as a part of her name once she’s married. Despising her flat, dull, nearly black hair she dyes it to look like a sandy blonde and by five in the morning she’s up styling her hair to make it wavy or curly with a special hot iron… I forgot what she calls it. All the creepy crawlies yet to be discovered, known, and classified terrify her to her innermost core and for that reason, she’s not a camper. The common white daisy holds the title of Mel G’s favorite flower, I of course, already knew that, but as of late, the wild, yellow daisy grows on her and her favoritism ventures toward a crossroads. I don’t see why she can’t like both? She tries, and tries, and tries, and tries, and tries but she’s a C+ student and she’s completely envious of my perfect 4.0 GPA. Jessie J stands alone as the pop, borderline hip-hop, diva when it comes to the Queen of Music in Mel’s opinion. If she were to meet Niall Horan of One Direction, she’d drop me in a second to be his lawfully wedded wife, if he’d have her. Unable to describe what attracts her to him, it could be his voice or his charm, but whatever it is makes her head spin daydreaming about him in math class… maybe that’s the problem with her grades? Mel harbors a well-guarded secret for her love of ‘enjoying the aromas of air fresheners’. In her closet, in the far back left corner there’s a chest full of aerosol cans and spray bottles of disinfectants and deodorizers of the popular brand variants. The latest thing I learned about Melody Gartner, though we hardly talk about religion since our relationship began, she’s deadly afraid God doesn’t exist and disappearing from existence when she dies.

Speechless I remained as we embraced in a long, lingering hug. When we were by the lake in the park, and she told me that about God, I wanted to say she’ll never doubt God or fear death knowing God personally, but I feared sparking an argument. I exhaled and I let the subject go. I stayed quiet that time, and we sat on the bench among the trees, where the light glowed like beaming rays from heaven through seams in between the branches of the pine trees. The entire forest-park was alive with the sounds of nature working around us…

Today marks our first monthiversary and I know I should get her something special… like a piece of jewelry. At Hallmark, in town, with mom and Abbey I notice a platinum, Celtic-inspired, ringed cross near the check out. Kyrene’s maiden name is O’Malley and if I’m not mistaken O’Malley is an Irish Surname. It would be perfect. I just have to figure out how to buy it without mom and Abbey seeing me. I have the cash ready when I see mom and Abbey in the far back corner by the mugs and I rush to buy the cross.

The mixed girl behind the register recognizes me from school. She even knows my name.

“How you doing Asher?” she asks.

“Pretty good,” I admit smiling to be polite. “I’m sorry, but I don’t remember your name.”

Putting my purchase in a small paper bag, she’s not surprised she’s nameless to me. “No one ever notices me… I’m a wallflower you know?”

Clearing my throat I apologize, I clarify what I meant to say, “May I get your name. I want a name to match the face in my memory? Pre-cal front center desk, right?”

A subtle rosy tint flushes her cheeks as she flashes an impressed grin my way handing me my purchase. Quietly, barely loud enough for me to hear, she shares her name, “Melanie Glover.”

Now I remember her, Melanie in the front. The thought rolls into the shoreline of my mind like a wave riding up to the coast: is Melanie Glover the childhood friend of Melody Gartner? I’m sure it’s just coincidence…

Is it? Questions a thought.

“What did you buy Ash?” Abbey’s voice pries into my business.

Facing her I tuck the bag into my back pocket, and in all honesty I inform my sister, “It’s none of your business.”

Abbey steps up to me and stares up into my eyes, “You’re so secretive lately, what are you hiding?” Her gaze scrutinizes me. I deliver a firm, “Nothing,” as I shuffle sideways toward the door, but Abbey follows me.

“I don’t believe you,” she huffs crossing her arms and if looks could severely dismember a body, my limbs would be spread throughout the store thanks to Abbey Gail Lucas’ deathly scowl. “Welcome to the dark side brother,” she smirks cockily as she steps around me and pushes the door open. Before exiting the store, she says, “I’m gonna go help dad and Ann with the groceries.”

I don’t know what happened to my little sister. Once upon a sweet time ago, she embodied the grace of a princess and her heart was that of gold. As an ugly reminder of her current state of witchery, that time ago is ever in the past, and a part of me longs for Princess Abbey Gail to return and once again share her love of singing gospel hymns and the peace of Christ’s Gospel she loved to share with the lost sheep. Where did she change? Was it here or back in Sanders? And what happened that changed her? It couldn’t be her christening into the teenage years, a different perspective of life fogged by raging hormones and the overwhelming desire to “fit in”. An event mom, dad, and I don’t know about? Some deep dark secret she’s harboring and allowing her heart to blacken with bile?
[*All I can do for her is pray. Again the thought poses the question Is it? It’s the type of thought not entirely my own… I know it comes from that place in me I’ve been ignoring one day shy of a month… well, since I didn’t listen to Him at the dance, today could count, and therefore, it’s been a month. (confusing)*]

A comforting, familiar slight hand touches the middle of my back. I look down and it’s mom creeping under my arm, folding me in her sideways mama bear clutch. Patting my stomach, she asks if I’m hungry. I am actually, but dad’s buying groceries and he’ll probably whip something together when we get home. Instead, she asks if I want to go to the Chinese Buffet a few doors down. I love my father, but I’ve been my mama’s boy since birth. Normally, I can talk to her about anything, but I don’t want to break her heart… I’ll wait for as long as I can to break the news gently. I want to accept her offer, but afraid from my growing guilt that I may spill everything about Mel, not just how great she is, but how and why we’re dating may be the main topic of our table talk, therefore, kindly, I convince her I can wait until we get home.

We agreed to meet at Woodland Park around ten in the morning last night while we were texting in bed. I’m the first to arrive by the mucky lake, the air refreshingly reeks of pine needles and a faint coolness follows the warm breeze. On a bulky rock, with a smooth top, about the height of 17-month-old Annika, I take a seat. Holding the Hallmark bag in my hands, I figured I could get away with not wrapping it, since I’m a guy.

The forest floor gets crushed and crunched by approaching footsteps behind me. The pace is rushed; someone is excited to celebrate our first month together. I stand up in preparation for a huge, bear caliber hug. But the face of Melody opposes the celebratory expression I expected. For the first time, before me, she’s without makeup. Her eyes swim with tears and glare with the gloss of a troubled soul. Dressed in baggy sweats, her dad’s Brigham Young Tee, old, scuffed white tennis shoes, and her hair− flat and un-styled thrown into a sloppy hybrid of a bun and a ponytail she looks like she was reluctant to leave the house.

“What’s wrong?” I ask reaching out to her.

She rambles anxiously and incoherently as she begins to accept my embrace but when she notices the Hallmark bag in my hand, she asks curiously, “What’s that?” with a twinge of poutiness in her tone.

“It’s a gift that can wait until you tell me what’s wrong.”

Looking into my eyes, she questions, “For our monthiversary?” with the whine in her voice still present.

“Yeah, but what’s wrong?”

Turning her back to me, staring out at the lake, and with gray, stormy clouds looming in the sky she thinks for a moment. Finally, she builds up the courage to admit… “I don’t want to lose you…”

I step up and stand next to her looking out at the lake too. I figure she’ll be more comfortable if I don’t look at her. “How can you lose me? I’m right here.”

A feeling of change rises in my spirit the instance our gaze reconnects… a little like when I saw Natasha for the first time… knowing… thinking we were destined. I’m not sure what I’m feeling… Entirely wrapped up in her light, golden brown eyes I hardly notice what she places in my hand. A cold end of a hard plastic stick, and as I look down at what it is, Melody says apologetically, “Probably the worst gift for an unwed teenage boy…” The words from Melody that follow afterwards trail off. Two pink lines… I’m pretty sure that means she’s having my baby.

Tears try to escape my eyes, and the overwhelming urge to flee rises tall within me, but I fight the cry pleading to breakout from me and I force myself to stay. I allow Melody to fall apart in my arms. Both weighed down with shame, guilt, and regret we fall together to the dirt soil ground and kneel on a bed of twigs, pinecone remnants, and pine needles as we grieve over the loss of a bright future and prep for the hard one to come.

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.

Prologue

Sierra Vista, Arizona, Former USA 2012

The setting sun stroked the streaky clouds with the hue of coral pink. The pale blue sky prepared for the coming starry night. Out in the Sonoran desert, by a bunker entrance of a southwest intelligence base, stood CIA agents Xavier D. Wace and Mara Taylor-Wace watching the sun pass away unto the other side of the world. All Zave wanted to do was to take Mara’s hand and hold it in the peace the coming dusk. The words, “I love you, Mara”, tickled the back of his throat, begging to be voiced. As if this very moment, was a flashback from the evening they officially became a team. It was that evening Zave knew one thing for certain, that he could trust Mara Taylor with his life. Now five years later, his future depended on Mara trusting him with her life.

Zave could only imagine what it was like to be Mara. Mara knew, however. Angry that a man madly in love with her was stolen from her soul. She looked at him, and felt guilt and shame. She felt guilty for lacking the capacity to love him back and she felt shame for being unworthy of his love. Aside from her last boyfriend that she co-dependently cohabitated with, Max, who apparently has been a dead rogue agent for the past five years, she didn’t do the love thing. She wasn’t even sure if she loved Max. Max was another warm body to lie down with to lessen the sting of loneliness. And he was a great spy… together they were great spies…

But Zave claimed, he and she were elite spies saving the world side by side. And in terms of the love thing, they set the bar for true love. If endless love were a real thing, they came close to it. And knowledge of such a great romance infuriated Mara! She could never be a good spy in a massive vulnerable state like being-in-love. Yet, somewhere deep at her core, she wanted to know what that felt like and to understand the impact that would have on her life. Therefore, she found a nearby, big rock and took a seat. She looked up at Zave and asked him to tell her a story: the story of them.

Practically bowing at her feet, he sat at the base of the rock and he told her. He saw for the first time at Langley, when she was given an award for outstanding work in the field.  At that celebration, he heard about all her missions and knew she was way out of his league since he was just an analyst. But the day they became a team, was where they currently were and after they got their orders they stood at this very spot and watched the sunset and that’s when everything changed.

He talked about all their missions. The first time they kissed for real and not for show, when they thought they were about to die in a vault running out of air. When they were on the run, and they realized they couldn’t be without each other. The time he made his first kill and lost Mara over it, and the time he won Mara back by saving her life… How he proposed the day Paxton’s third child was born. How he saved her life again a few weeks before their wedding day. And how he felt the moment he lost her.

Embracing their current reality, Zave looked up at her and cleared his throat, “Quorra made a cute suggestion… you know… she’s at that age where she watches movies about princesses all the time. The prince fixes everything with one kiss. She thought, maybe if we kissed, it would fix us… you might remember us.” He explained as he got up to face her on bended knee.

Those teary brown eyes of Zave intrigued her. It was a stupid idea and most likely wouldn’t work at all, but it was the least she could do for the man that saved her life twice. Swooping down by leaning forward gently, she went to kiss him. He met her lips halfway by cupping her face in his slender, lanky hands. The kiss was infused with passion lacking for nothing and it did stir something in Mara she couldn’t explain, but as far as the faintest memory of Xavier Douglas Wace… the kiss did nothing.

Reluctantly, Zave freed her from his lip lock. Holding his hands up, ready to embrace her in another kiss, he desperately asked, “So, anything?”

Remorsefully, she answered honestly, “I’m sorry… no…” Mara’s truthfulness surprised her. She’s never been so forthtelling nor has she ever wanted to be so frank with a person. Maybe she was in love with him. Unfortunately, only her subconscious knew it. Maybe she needed more of his affection to evoke that love for him. “Maybe if we kiss again…” she said leaning down for another kiss.

He was entranced to succumb to her will, but just as the surface of their lips skimmed each other’s, he pulled himself back and hurriedly stood up. Defensively, he held his hands out as if he could push her away with some invisible force. Wincing with discomfort, Zave knew it wasn’t right, whatever it was they were doing.

“It’s not supposed to be like this, Mara! I know the kiss thing was stupid… It was a little girl’s idea after all, but we’re in love, Mara… People in love are different than this…You deserve better than this.”

Baffled by his reaction, turning down another chance to kiss the woman he madly loved, Mara rose to her feet. Rising, the faint wind caught her hair and rustled her auburn strands across her face like a model picture-perfect-ready for a glam-bam-moment-money-shot. She reached for his hands, but he tucked them safely away into his pockets.

“So what are you saying, Zave… you want me to leave?” She asked, highly confused.

Reacting rapidly, his hands sprang from his pockets and up in the air as a gesture to aid his words, “No-no-no-no, GOD, no! That is the last thing I want. And I’m sorry Mara, but I can’t let you go back to being the lone spy. We’re a team. We’ll always be a team. It’s crazy to think that everything we had could come flooding back in single moment, when it took years to build it.” Coyly, he took her hand and rubbed the back of her hand with his thumb smiling like a dopey Snow White dwarf, and he finished saying, “We should take things slow like a Sunday-Evening-Drive and along the way take many trips down memory lane.”

Rule number one of dating, never compare, but since her last recollection of intimacy in a relationship was with Max, she automatically thought about what Max would do. By now, they’d either be in his car having sex, or in a hotel room… having sex… But Zave… he probably doesn’t use the word sex in the same context… Or does he? Why did she have to compare, when she could be wooed by his romantic gesture of chivalry? Perhaps, she fell for him because he’s not like other guys.

“Where do we begin then?” Mara asked, wondering where they’d go next.

“Motel 6,” Zave smirked, “We spent the night there before heading to San Diego. There was only one room available, with one bed, room 114…”

Fate was on their side. The room was vacant and they took it for the night. Cautiously, stepping into the room, Mara hoped a memory would sprout from the deep trenches of her mind, but her recall remained blank. As Zave scoped out the room, he recreated every detail of their night there five years ago as best he could with what the room had.  Disappointed, she fixed her gaze on the newly installed, standard hotel red carpet. The carpet was obviously new because it didn’t even look worn, and what were the odds Motel 6 had champion carpet cleaners?

Zave just closed the egg-shell white drapes, when turned to Mara to say something, but he noticed her long, drawn out observation of the carpet. Hope burned eagerness in his heart thinking if she could remember what changed about the room, more time together could trigger memories of their life together, and eventually he would have his Mara back: his entire life back. Restraining himself from running over to her, he froze where he was, as if he moved more than his lips he could compromise her potential memory from surfacing.

“What is it, Mara?” He asked.

“The carpet…” Mara started to say it was brand new, but Zave assumed her impending statement would offer more.

He interjected with the truth, “It’s different, isn’t? A different color… what color did the floor used to be?”

Zave bit his bottom lip, wincing with a hint of shame. He knew he shouldn’t forcefully elicit memories from her mind, but he couldn’t help it. If she couldn’t remember the faintest thing about him, he would lose her forever, and life without her wasn’t fathomable.

Mara didn’t have to be a spy to read his face. His face encompassed an expression of total dependency. He depended on her having a recollection about the carpet. She could fake it, but if she was wrong, it could make the evening awkward. Truth would be best.

She was about to confess she only made an observation, but then she noticed the drapes. White would go much better with a deep blue color. It was a Motel 6. Their colors were quite patriotic. And years ago, two years back according to memory, in reality seven years back, she stayed at a Motel 6 in northern Arizona. The architecture of both franchise motels resembled a similar style. Chances were the decorum was the same too.

Mara made a lucky guess, “Blue… it used to be a dark blue…”

Relief reverberated through Zave’s soul, she remembered SOMETHING! He couldn’t contain his joy. He leaped forward and engulfed her in his embracive arms. A cuddling warmth emitted from him and into Mara. Mara’s heart enjoyed such abounding affection, but her mind repulsed the very nature of that adoration resulting in the safety of stiffness, which signaled Zave to let her go and step back.

“Sorry…”

“It’s okay. I’m fine.” Mara beamed a quick, forced smile trying to show she was fine when she really wasn’t.

Her headache was more like a migraine now. And on the car ride over, her nausea came back. All she wanted to do was lie down and sleep until the pain, the queasiness, and the tiredness went away. The medical examiner at Fort Hauchuca said she didn’t have a concussion. She didn’t even need stitches for her forehead, just a big band aid. Normally, even on her worst days, Mara could battle her nausea and prevent puke from pouring out of her mouth, but today wasn’t one of those days. She nudged Zave out of her way, and rushed to the bathroom. Mara managed to pay alms to the poor john with perfect timing.

Highly concerned, Zave knelt behind her and held her hair.

“Maybe we should go back to base to get you checked out again.” Zave suggested.

“I’m fine.” She said standing up. After rinsing her mouth with water, she added, “I think I’m just coming down with something.”

Zave stroked some loose strands of hair behind her ear faintly chuckling, “Unless poisoned with super-spy truth serum or targeted with bio-warfare by my arch-nemesis, you never get sick.”

Humored and annoyed at the same time, Mara rolled her eyes as she giggled with subtle disbelief.

“You don’t believe me?” Zave huffed. “I’ll have you know, since I’ve known you, aside from the few cases I’ve mentioned, you’ve never been sick. The common cold couldn’t catch you.”

Laughter sprang from the core of her soul without an open invitation, but the way he talked about her health made her genuinely laugh. She can’t remember the last time she laughed this hard… with him it was probably a few weeks ago. Maybe he made her laugh the day she was taken from him. Did she trade in the life of espionage for a life of normalcy? A normal life being something she never really had.

Though the stew from the diner didn’t agree with her, she could eat a bacon cheeseburger with extra bacon and no onion. What was the nearest fast food chain with decent pig-angus-curdled milk-sandwich-galore? When Mara inquired about getting more food, Zave looked at her like she was insane.

“Seriously?” He asked making sure.

“Seriously.” She said as deadpan as possible to stress how important it was she got more food.

“Okay… You sit tight and I’ll go grab us a bacon cheeseburger with extra bacon and no onions to split.”

 “No,” Mara snapped.

Confused, he wondered if he was mistaken about her favorite fast food item, “Did you lose your taste buds too? Since when have you ever refused to split such a delicious beast with me?”

 “My taste buds are the same. I want my own.”

 Zave raised an eyebrow finding her appetite peculiar. He knew if he thought about it, he could figure out what it was, but right now he had to keep his bride happy. “Whatever the lady wants, she shall get… two heart-disease monsters coming up when I return.” Zave promised making his way out the door.

A calmness came over Mara while Zave was out. For protection reasons she was alert, but her tough exterior guise was down, because she felt a slight sense of security. She no longer had to worry about Xavier, deep down in her gut she knew she could trust him.

It wasn’t until she was braless and pant-less lying on the stiff, firm bed an uneasiness began to stir in her. What was she going to do as a civilian now? Xavier had the Plum Tree of course, but what did Mara have? Would she become a Kung Fu instructor to suburban spoiled brats or a cook at any number four star restaurants? Or would she work at a shooting range? Sure, she had a wide skill set and any number of jobs could be hers, but what would become of her? Would she be stuck in a mundane job for the rest of her boring normal life?  Could she live a normal life knowing she could do nothing to protect the Free World? Sorry Mr. Wace, but Mrs. Wace couldn’t do this… She couldn’t be the wife he needed.

Hurriedly, she got dressed. Before leaving the room, she checked how many rounds she had in her 9 mm. Cautiously, she tucked the gun in the back of her pants. Taking one glance around the room, she took in one final glance at a normal life. As a child a normal life was all she wanted. She imagined she wanted that with Zave too. But now, it was the last thing she desired.

A stone wall in stature and a tank in attitude stood outside the room door, blocking Mara’s quick getaway. That stone wall tank was none other than Colonel Ben Tucker. Standing sternly, with his hands cupped on his belt poking his elbows out at the side, and glaring at Mara suspiciously, he asked, “Where you going, Taylor?”

Mara noticed a bucket for ice in her peripheral vision, on the table near the door. Snatching the bucket, she put on a forgetful act, “I almost forgot this,” she held up the ice bucket. “It would be hard to get ice without it.”

“Mmmhmm… And I just stopped by to say hi,” he said condescendingly as he stepped into the room, forcing Mara back inside.

Tossing the bucket back on the table, Mara asked, “What are you doing here, Tucker?”

Working the room, staying on guard, Ben explained, “I figured Mr. Warm-and-Fuzzy would be eager to spark your old memories. This would definitely be the first stop down memory lane, except he forgot one major detail. I was stuck in this room too. I took the floor, and man, I gotta say I’ve slept better in guerilla infested jungles than on this floor.” He grunted disdainfully under his breath with his grizzly gaze upon the floor.

Ben positioned himself in front of the door again, looking at Mara with one hand behind his back, she knew he was ready to pull his gun if necessary, she too had a hand behind her back ready to pull her weapon.

Ben went on to say, “I’ve been your partner for five years. I know the old you and I know the new you. Old Mara Taylor, would do what your about to do. She’d take off and we’d never see her again. New Mara Taylor, Mrs. Xavier Wace, would stay and give Zave a chance. I decided to embark on the memory journey, just in case Old Mara Taylor got cold feet and wanted to flee.”

“I’m not cut out for this…” Mara reasoned.

“Without Xavier, I’d agree with you. But he changed you… he changed me even… Take it on good authority: think with your heart not your head.”

Mara knew she couldn’t get past Ben without a hassle. Another opportunity would present itself later for her to leave. “You’re not actually going to sleep in here on the floor again, are you?” Mara asked, defusing her defensive stance and resting both hands at her side.

Ben followed suit and reattached his hands to cuffing his belt around the buckle. He answered, “No. But don’t get any ideas in the middle of the night about leaving. Any move made outside of this room, I’ll know about it.”

Taking a seat at the edge of the bed, Mara asked why Ben cared about Xavier so much. Ben took a seat at the table. He took his wallet out of his side pocket. With the wallet open to sheaths of pictures, he handed it over to Mara to look at.

The pictures captured the portrait of a genuine, average, American family. There was a picture of a typical couple in love. The man was a scrawny, goofy but cute looking, bearded man embracing a stunning, vibrant woman with Tucker’s soothing, cool sage green eyes. Written on the back was: Paxton and Cory, 2005- 3rd anniversary. Another picture, with the same woman, she held new born twins and on the back of that picture was written: Mommy Cory with babies Sky Leia and Walker Luke, 2007.

In the picture after that, Mara held a fairly new baby girl and Xavier stood behind her looking down at the precious little girl. Mara held the child with her left arm and a huge diamond engagement ring sparked from the flash of picture captioning. Written on the back of that picture was: Baby Quorra Tronna with Auntie Mara and Uncle Zave- best engagement gift ever: their new goddaughter, 2010. The final picture had to be a recent one. Paxton, Cory, Mara, Xaiver, two little kids, a toddler, a woman, another man that looked incredible, a young teenager, and Tucker stood in a courtyard of some complex. On the back of that picture was written: the whole gang, 2012.

Mara flipped back to the face of the last picture. She stared at it knowing everyone and that place was familiar to her, but like a word on the tip of her tongue, she was at a loss as to who everyone was in relation to her and what that place was to her.

Ben talked about when that picture was taken and who those people were. “Mr. Incredible there-,” Mara stated his name in unison with Ben, “Houston Wace,” which surprised Ben.

“You remember your brother-in-law?”

“I worked with him on a few cases before he retired. Zave and Hew are brothers? They’re so different. I knew the director had two sons I just never knew Xavier was the other.” Mara was shocked too. Would she really marry to advance her career within the agency?

Ben grumbled a hum… not really sure what to say Mara. Therefore he played it safe, and went back to talking about the photo. “So Mr. Incredible, and his wife, Bea, threw a party for your first anniversary. Paxton’s buddy Logan from the Plum Tree took that picture. It was a good party. The only one who hated it was Egan, he was on babysitting duty.” He was in the middle of telling a story about the mischief the twins Leia and Luke got into, when Mara interrupted him.

“I get that Cory’s your daughter, but why do I get the feeling Paxton is more than a son-in-law to you?”

“He’s nothing more than an idiot son-in-law to me, but to Zave, his buddy Paxton is more a brother to him than Hew.”

Shocked slightly, Mara questioned, “You have a daughter? That bombshell Interpol agent isn’t her mother, is she? What was her name? Amiee Brasseur, right?”

“It’s a long story, wait, you didn’t find out about Amiee until four years ago?”

Huh… that’s the key to unlocking her memories… No pressure.

“Okay, so I remember something within the last five years… I remembered a few things while we were taking down Nee. Is Amiee Cory’s mother?” Mara couldn’t picture Ben with any other woman. Amiee and Ben were perfect together.

“Ah… no… Look, family is worth suffering the slings and arrows of civilian life. Xavier taught me that.” Ben tried to assure Mara.

Staring at those captured moments made Mara think about the woman those people expected her to be. She was a sister-in-law, a godmother, an aunt, a wife, and a friend. By no fault of her own, she failed each and every person because currently she was just a spy. Worried she’d drown in her thoughts, she slammed the wallet shut and handed it back to Ben.

“Tell me about civilian life then…” Mara sighed. A part of her wondered, if a man like Colonel Ben Tucker could manage normal life. Then perhaps she could do it.

Listening to Ben talk about his daughter Cory, and how his eyes filled with joy at the mention of her name, Mara knew he wasn’t the same NSA agent she remembered. She wasn’t sure what to think of him. Was it sweet he was a caring father and grandfather? Or was it just awkward and almost terrifying to comprehend? Ben Tucker had gone soft. It made Mara’s queasy stomach return.

Ben was in the middle of sharing how he found out Cory was his daughter, when Zave walked in with greasy, fattening food delight! Ben closed his lip and rose to his feet quickly. He greeted Zave like a fellow soldier without the saluting part. Serving up the food at the table, Zave asked Ben if he wanted to stay while Mara moved over to the table to get her food. Ben kindly rejected Zave’s offer, but that didn’t stop Zave from trying to convince him.

“Are you sure, Tuck? I can’t eat a heart-disease-waiting-to-happen by myself.”

With the door open, and ready to back out of it within the moment, he said quickly, “As much as I would love to die of a heart attack, I should call Cory and let her know we’re all alright. You two have fun. And try not to keep me up with all your baby-making noises.”

Immediately, after the door shut, Zave asked Mara, “How much did he tell you about our life?”

“Not much… what did he mean by baby-making noises?” Mara asked unfolding her foiled-up broiled burger. She salivated by the aroma alone. Her imagination went wild with high expectations of delicious satisfaction as the sweet memory of the combo taste of angus beef, smoked bacon, and cheesy cheddar awakened the taste buds on her tongue.

“It’s nothing… Obviously, something we’ll revisit in the future, if ever!”

“Anything referring to baby-making is not nothing? Were we trying to get pregnant?” Mara asked with a mouthful of burger.

Blushing ferociously, red throughout his face all the way up to his ears, he took a bite into his burger without saying anything. Mara swallowed her bite ready for more, but taking the time to tease was more appetizing than a bite of food.

“O my gosh… You want little carbon copies of us running around… Taking off their diapers and prancing around naked!” Playfully, Mara fist-bumped his shoulder, “Don’t you?” she egged.

Frustrated, Zave dropped his burger onto its wrapper and clearly stated sternly, “No I don’t… You do or did or do… You know what I mean. I agreed because I would do anything to make you happy.”

Now that was interesting. Zave turned Ben into a family. Zave was head over heels in love with Mara. Zave had an interconnected familial intimacy between his friends and actual family and he didn’t want to have kids and build a family of his own. Xavier Wace was not the open book Mara pegged him to be after all and Mara wanted to understand the reason why.

“How come you don’t want a baby?” Mara asked plainly.

“Because of Theus. A few years ago, he took over my consciousness and I almost didn’t regain control. You made me promise to leave Theus as inactive as possible. I’m just afraid I can’t keep that promise. I know you could survive without me, but it would be unfair to ask our child to do that.”

Theus, if Mara understood the gist of it, Theus was a semi-self-aware-artificial-intelligence that was integrated with cutting edge biotechnology based on Neuro-Science breakthrough discoveries. The goal was to create the Ultimate Spy with only enough humanity to make safe judgment calls. What the human host lacked in skill, Theus made up for it in more than one way. What Theus lacked in judgment, the human host took care of it. It was the intention that Theus and the human host were meant to merge in some way, becoming some new way to be proficiently human, but Theus was never supposed to override the human host’s soul.

But if weren’t for Theus, Xavier wouldn’t be married to Mara. Yes, Xavier and Mara both work for the CIA at Langley. But they worked in separate departments. While Xavier analyzed intelligence with a task force that cooperated with Interpol frequently, Mara handled clandestine affairs primarily in Europe.  Ben Tucker and Mara had a history of running into each other, since Ben worked in a similar department for the NSA. And though the NSA was supposed to strictly handle affairs directly a threat to the USA, duty called divergent action at times. When Xavier active the Theus Sphere on accident, and merged with Theus Sphere in gauntlet form, he become a valuable asset to the CIA and NSA.

Xavier would see Mara around in the elevators or in the cafeteria, but he never had the courage to even say hello. All he could muster was a goofy smile. She always initiated a simple, “Hello, how are you doing?”, and he would stutter in his response of simply being O-K.

Approximately five years ago to the day, Francis Wace, the Director of the CIA called Xavier into his office. Xavier was not made for field work but he was a brilliant analyst. Francis had his son working on some Top-Secret intel that mostly everyone who knew about it was dead. Xavier had to decrypt a highly encrypted file on a flash-drive, Francis wanted to know how much longer it would be until he cracked the code.

Xavier was about to tell his father, Francis, he had just finished it that night, and if the Theus Sphere from the Prometheus II Project really existed, the entire spy game could change, in the wrong hands, the entire world could change and not necessarily for the better. But Francis made the mistake bringing up Houston, the golden child… the perfect spy that gave up the spy game six years prior to that day. Francis wasn’t sure what agent he could trust to recover the intelligence on the flash-drive. Xavier offered himself, but Francis chortled at the thought. Xavier was cleared for field work, in his report it’s noted he’s not likely to survive in one piece. Thinking back on his training, he probably only passed because he was the Director’s son. Driven by the urge to prove his father wrong, he chose to lie saying he needed more time with the decryption, and he left his father’s office determined to recover the Theus Sphere and bring it directly to his father.

“New or old me, I know myself pretty well… If I thought, we were ready for a kid… then we were.” Mara said.

Yawning, Zave asked, “Are you tired? I sure am… we got a long drive back to Virginia starting tomorrow.” He gets up gather his trash into the fast food bag.

That night Mara slept in the bed and Zave slept on the floor. Early in the morning, Mara relied on good ole Ben not changing his tactical ways. She discovered his booby traps and escaped from room 114 before Zave or Ben woke up. As much as small part of her wanted to stay and find out who she could become, for the time being she was who she was and that person was a spy… not a civilian wife…


True Dallas, the Republic of America, 17 years later

“At that time I was who I was and that woman was a spy… not a civilian wife…” I read out of mom’s old secret journal. If I get caught looking at this she will have my head.

She never tells me anything about dad. I ask and she says he was a great spy for the former USA. She talks about great the old America was. It wasn’t perfect but at least it was a genuine, united republic democracy.

In the RA, here in the west, we have an oligarchy that operates as a legit republic. Only the people with money and power have a say in the affairs of the country.

The Democratic Coalition of America, in the east, claims to be a true democracy, but they all blindly follow the nonsensical, so-called wisdom of Philosopher Jessey… They don’t have liberty. They have a dictatorship, but he isn’t savage… maybe he’s more like a despot?

Mom was pregnant with me when she left dad and Ben behind at the Motel 6. She didn’t find out until a few weeks later. While she was pregnant with me, her memories started coming back. By the time I was one, she remembered who she was, and she contemplated going back to my dad, but then the Second Civil War broke out.

My mother fled with me to Europe. Madrid, Spain to be exact. She planned on raising me there, but then Civil War II ended and she decided to come back to North America. One would think it was to tell my father about me and reunite with him and we would become one big giant family… but no…

We leave in the RA as Spanish Immigrants. She works in PR for a fashion company. I go to fanciest Private School in the area: Bush Washington Academy.

Not wanting to tempt fate. I put her little black journal where I found it, locked in the safe in her bedroom walk-in closet. I hurry across the upstairs hallway to my room. It’s almost 6 pm. She’s been away all week on a business trip and she said she would be home today at 6 pm. My mom is never late.

As my plain white desk I stare at the screen to my tablet. I’m supposed to be researching on why Civil War II occurred for my history paper, but I find myself wondering if I look like my dad. If he met me and got to know me, who he be proud of me?

Right at six, I hear the garage door open. I rush to my window and watch mom’s black SUV zoom down the street, turn sharply onto the driveway, and brake abruptly taking shelter. Speeding home from a business trip is unusual. What gives?

As I head down the long, steep carpet staircase. I hear mom come into the kitchen from the laundry room, which leads to the garage. Mom enters her black hair in a messy bun and she’s dressed in pink hospital scrubs like a nurse. Something tells me mom is still a spy…

I mean, I’ve been thinking it for some time. She has a safe in closet with several different passports and alias, various types currency, a couple of guns and a knife. Plus, sometimes in the middle of the night, she’s not in her bed. Occasionally, I hear her take phone calls in German, other times Russian, and Cantonese… Never in Spanish or in French and she works for a Fashion Company… And as I read today, she’s a spy through and trough not some suburban single mom… well, she is that too, but do spies ever quit the game? I think not!

“Mom, what’s going on?” I ask.

“Remember how I had you pack a bag in case of an emergency?” Mom inquires rushing up the stairs meeting me in the middle.

“Yeah.”

“Go grab it. We need to go.” She orders grabbing me by the shoulders and forcing me back up the stairs.

“What’s going on?” I ask again. I know she won’t tell me but I can’t help put try.

“We don’t have time for discussion. Go!” She snaps.

As I race to me room, trying not to freak out externally as mush as I’m losing it internally, mom barks, “And change your clothes. Keep it simple like jeans and a t-shirt. However you’d dress to travel for a long time.”

“I take it you don’t really work PR for Noir Creations.” I state pausing in my doorway.

“Just do as I say, now is not the time to talk!” Mom hounds slamming her door shut.

In my lame travel outfit, blue jeans, a black tee, white cardigan, and black boots and my emergency backpack slung on my shoulders. I knock on mom’s door.

“I’m ready. Now what?” I yell.

Not opening the door and yelling back she directs, “Go to the garage. Get in the front passenger seat and wait for me. We’ll be leaving shortly.” Right as I step away, mom poke her head out of the door, “And leave the duffle bag in the backseat alone. Don’t open it.”

Telling a curious person to not touch or look at something is idiotic! It’s almost like she doesn’t know her daughter?

Standing outside of the vehicle in the stuffy, humid garage I stare at the bag through the tinted window. It just looks like a regular duffle bag. There’s probably just wads of cash inside… Oh that would be SO COOL to SEE!

No, I should listen to mom. Maybe the bag is laced with a bio chemical that would splatter all over me opening and I would contract a deadly, contagious virus and put the entire RA at risk for a pandemic.

Slowly, I take off my heaving backpack and open the backseat door. I toss it inside on top of the duffle bag. Suddenly, mom’s mysterious bag moves like a cat is inside of it. Weird for the cat not to snarl and meow though. The bag isn’t big enough to fit a dead body inside, well, not of a normal size person… maybe a little person.

Would if she killed an arch enemy spy that is a dwarf or something?

I’m sorry mom but I have to look!

Holy Mother Mary, Joseph, and Jesus… It’s a baby… a blue, blindfolded baby swaddled in a blue blanket. Mom killed a baby… why?

Carefully, I untie the  blindfold from the infant’s eyes. His perfect head of black hair silky soft. I jump when I notice his stomach moving and feel hot breath come out of his agape lips. Without notice, his eyes pop open but instead of screaming, his ice blue eyes lock me into a hypnotic gaze. As we stare at each other his color gently comes back to new born baby pink.

Mom comes barging through the door from the house with a few bags, but she drops them she spots me disregarding her orders.

“You opened the bag?!” She screams as she lunges around the front of SUV toward me.

She shoves herself in between me and the open door and looks at the baby, “You had to remove the blindfold…” She grabs my cardigan by the back of my neckline and pulls me back as she slams to door shut. Instantly, the baby begins wailing.

“Why were you suffocating a baby in a duffle bag? What kind of spy kills babies?”

“A spy serving her country preventing pure evil from existing in the world!” Mom screams massively pissed off. “You have no idea what you just did?!”

“Ah, I saved a baby’s life!” I shout back.

“We don’t have time for this we need to go. Get in.” Mom says reopening the backseat.

“I can’t ride upfront anymore?”

“Just get in a quiet the baby.”

“I don’t know how to do that.”

“He’ll be quiet when he sees you, get in.”

She’s right. The moment I sit in the baby’s sight… no more crying. My mom is right, I have no idea what I just did and I feel like when I find out I’m going to freak out externally.




Note from the Author

Have you ever watched that show CHUCK on NBC, starring Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski? Well, if you haven’t, stream it on Amazon Prime Video! (If it is still available there.) CHUCK is one of my favorite shows ever and if not for this show I wouldn’t have been inspired to write ELLE. Zave is my version of Chuck and Mara my version of Sarah, along with a few other characters.

Now, I could never re-create the magic of such a show, but when something ends I always like to think about what happened afterwards. ELLE is my sequel to CHUCK changing a lot of factors, combining my own concepts from my love of made up espionage.

So this Story Sunday is a little influenced by some Fan Fiction, but I also throw my own trademark flare… like there’s a baby in it already! This seriously will be a blast and I look forward to this ride with you!

For my fellow CHUCK fans, what were your favorite moments from the show? Comment with a GIF or words on this post!

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.