Dad had repairs to oversee at the church. For once, I need my father both as a parent and as a pastor. I go inside through the unlocked side door and I follow the noise echoing through the empty dark halls. Dad and Elder Cain Blair are in the men’s room replacing the piping underneath the sinks. Immediately, Dad instructs Elder Cain to keep working and escorts me to his office.

            To endure the trek, he makes small talk with me.

            “We’re blessed God provided the means for these repairs. I’m tired of soaking wet floors, holy walls, and torn up carpet.”

            “God is good.” I say, still analyzing in my mind the best way to bring everything up to dad and to get some direction.

            Chuckling softly, dad says, “All the time…”

            Sure that’s only half the saying but when you grow up in church, Christianese gets old and boring quickly.

            Dad sits down in his brown leather, swivel chair behind his dark mahogany desk. The wall behind him sporting his credentials and awards over the years. I sit across from him, in a simple, armless green sanctuary chair, wide and sturdy enough to hold all sizes. To postpone the burden, I’m about to place on dad, I ask where Pastor Josiah is. Dad says the board decided he would handle maintenance needs for the church since Pastor Josiah holds many other responsibilities.

            “Enough with the chit-chat, what’s troubling you?”

            I want to cry, but the strength to fend off that urge sustains my plain countenance.

            “Melody Gartner−,” I go to explain, but dad chimes in.

            “The girl you bring to youth group sometimes?”

            “Yes, sir.”

            Dad chortles, “Son, I’m your father first and a pastor to you second. Drop the sir. Call me dad. What about Melody?”

            “She’s my girlfriend.” I say.

            The shock on his face could stop time with his wide-eye stare and slight agape mouth. I know my parents believe I’d follow in their footsteps and not date until college. My dad did a lot of research on youth dating and majority of the data reflects more negatives than positives.

            Taking a very deep breath, as I exhale I confess, “And she’s pregnant.”

            That knowledge causes his face to fall into the palm of his hand as a feeble attempt to hide his broken heart.

            “She also wants to get married.”

            Sighing as he wipes his face lifting his head, “When did it happen?”

            I knew the it inquiry referred to the night of conception.

            “She says the night of the homecoming dance…” Relief rushes over me. I used to think back on that night a feel ashamed, now I no longer do.

            “You’re not so sure?”

            I shake my head. Everything about her and me makes me completely uncertain. “No.” I say, but I explain, “Before I came here I was spending time with the Lord… I felt so guilty… I regretted going to that dance, I regretted becoming Mel’s boyfriend, and I deeply regretted creating that baby… I thought if I never went to that dance the kid wouldn’t exist and as clear as day the Holy Spirit told me that the baby would. If I never slept with Mel, she wouldn’t be my girlfriend. I would have never slept with her, if the punch wasn’t spiked, and−,” dad holds his hand up to stop me from talking.

            “Are you sure you had sex with Melody? If you were drunk, do you remember that night?” Dad asks a justifiable question.

            “The last I remember is getting in the passenger seat of my car…I felt so weird I just wanted to sleep it off…”

            “How far along is she according to the doctor?” Dad asks a good question. “If it happened the night of the homecoming dance she’d be about 5 or 6 weeks”

            “The dance was a month ago?” I say.

            “Maybe you should take that sex ed class at school. Son, women are pregnant before they get pregnant. That’s just how the doctors count.”

            Silence rises between us and creates a giant of awkwardness. It didn’t really matter how far along Melody is in her pregnancy. Dad and I had a mutually strong feeling the baby isn’t mine. When I muster the courage to speak up, dad beats me to it.

            “Let me see if I understand why you’re dating her… You took her to homecoming, to be nice. Then you thought you lost your virginity to her, so you asked her to be your girlfriend?”

            I just nod my head yes feeling a little embarrassed.

            “Why do you think you did that?”

            The horrid sensation of my masculinity dissolving as I think of the real reason why, I slouch crossing my arms over my chest as if this position could protect how I feel inside… Sighing I confess, “I’m gonna sound like a girl if I tell you.”

            “No, you’ll sound like my son. It’s just you and me.” Dad says.

            “I want to wait or at least I wanted to wait until I’m married to have sex… Any kind of sex…” I shift forward and dangle my arms from my bent kneecaps. Scratching my head, I try to feel less exposed then I do right now. Why does guilt rack my heart with trouble when I’m just being honest? I go on to say, “I want to be like you and mom. You two waited until you met ‘the one’. And—,” before I could go any further, dad bursts into laughter.

            “What?” I ask.

            Cupping his mouth, he takes a deep breath. Shaking his head, he removes his hand and grabs a push pen from his desk. He presses the button again and again, and makes the pen click again and again as the ballpoint tip plays hide and go seek according to his actions.

            “What makes you think I was a virgin when I married your mom? I never stated that and I hope I didn’t imply that.”

            “You and mom both said several times you waited to sleep together until you married each other.”

            Dad raises his eyebrows, stops clicking the pen and sets it down as he looks me in the eyes. He says, “Yes, we said that… So I guess I see where you get that concept from, but I had a few girlfriends before your mother. One reason why I allowed your mother to leave that bookstore without saying anything to her, is because I was in a long distant relationship with my high school sweetheart. She went to Liberty University. We did a lot of fooling around. The girlfriend before her is who I lost my virginity to. We were both so scared that she could have been pregnant… Luckily, she wasn’t… And before that girl, I fooled around girls all the time at church camp since 7th grade. I actually got caught in 9th grade making out in the boys’ bathroom with the hottest girt at camp. And what we did is not safe for your ears to hear.”

            Dad gets real. He divulges the first time his eyes set sight on a dirty magazine when he was 11 years old. He admits that fantasizing and fondling himself wasn’t enough. He got the real chance to kiss a girl and explore the sensations of raging hormones. He added his middle school peers only inspired him with ways to explore the sexual desires within him without getting caught. In high school, his guy friends made it seem like a man was gay if he wasn’t having sex. For a long time, dad just flirted with girls on campus and went out on dates, and he allowed his friends to think what they wanted. However, it was different when he got a girlfriend. Making out and groping stories wasn’t enough to prove dad was a man. The pressure to prove his masculinity made him convince his girlfriend to have sex.

            When I asked dad, what about church and God, wondering if he felt guilty? He said he wasn’t serious about his faith. He added his church just preached on burning in hell a lot. If you weren’t a drunk, a homosexual, or an adulterer… no one feared going to hades. His church growing up taught him how to be a church goer not a Christian.

             His high school sweetheart, who was a different girl than who he lost his virginity to, was the girl who introduced him to the concept of a relationship with Jesus. They were never alone together. The only places she’d go out with him were to bible study, Sunday School, church, and church fellowship events. They would talk over the phone about the bible and he listened to what Jesus put on her heart. He wasn’t sure why he dated her for so long. He thinks it may have been because a few of his guy buddies were getting in trouble having sex. One caught Chlamydia, one got a girl pregnant, and the other got accused of rape, but was acquitted. All of them knew their friend was guilty, for he had no respect for women and was a very troubled young man.

           Dad planned on marrying the Liberty University girl, but that changed on their third-year-anniversary. She flew out to Tennessee and visited him at Belmont University. He was excited to see her. They went and grabbed coffee off campus and she explained this dream she had to dad. At the end of telling him about it, she confessed the dream made her realize she wasn’t in love with dad and didn’t think it would be a good idea to be together anymore. Simply because God was leading them both in separate directions and dad didn’t disagree with her. The break up lifted a weight off his shoulders and he felt free. He told himself when he saw mom next, he would talk to her. Liberty University girl left as mom walked into the café. The rest I know.

            “Looking back on things now, she showed me what it was like to personally know God. It was the process of growing closer to him, I thought about sex less, so I fed those desires less, and eventually, I didn’t think about sex again until your mom and I got serious. Then I had to practice self-control. It really boils down to where your mind is at, when you want God’s will more than anything else, because you trust God understanding that He knows what is best for you and that He loves you…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m sorry,” she says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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