GWENDOLYN

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She raised her champagne glass amongst her closest friends and said, “Here’s to 18 you ponies, I’m finally free!” The gals, guys, and nons toasted to her declaration by clanging their champagne glasses against each others. Then they sipped on the top dollar champagne Gwendolyn’s points could buy.

The Lounge was the place to hang out for the Synthesizers and the Elect (the unemployed and/or in occupation training for the Private Sector) in New Haven Public. The Night Club sat on the edge of the Public Sector, right at the walled border of the Private Sector. Inside, the walls were gray washed wooden panels. Jade marble floors with various cracks of gold. From the ceiling, hung green and clear glass bottle shaped lights that made it just decent enough to see two feet in front of you.

There was a long, black countertop bar to sit at, with black cushion top stools, on silver poles styled like barber chairs, bolted to the ground. In the center of the club, were black sectional lounge couches and chairs, with glass end tables to set drinks down. In the far back corner, across from the entrance and far from the bar, was a good size dance floor that had strobing, flashing neon lights pulsing to the beat of the music.

Monroe, Gwenie’s fabulous queer male bff, snuggled up beside her at the bar on an adjacent bar stool and asked, “Who will be joining us in the bedroom tonight?”

“What do you mean us?” Gwen smirked sipping on her bubbly treat in a glass.

“We always hook up on your birthday… it’s tradition. But you’re 18 now, so we have to make it interesting. No offense, but I’m bored with just you and me.” Monroe explained.

Eye-ing a male-like brunette at the end of the bar, wearing wire, aviator style eye-glasses. Who Monroe picked out was definitely Gwenie’s type male or female, but Gwenie wasn’t sure who she wanted to take home tonight.

She just broke up with Ness, who was the longest romantic relationship she had. Granted, it was only three months long, but she only had sex with Ness, which is huge because Gwenie didn’t believe in monogamy, but Ness did. They’d still be together if it were up to Gwendylon, but Ness decided at her final ID Synthesis Evaluation she was heterosexual, not bisexual. And although she was madly in love with Gwenie, she wanted to fall in love with a man.

Maybe it was best they broke up. Gwenie was fascinated with the Synthesizer process. As an offspring to a Philosopher and a Healer in the Private Sector, she couldn’t undergo ID Synthesis even though she really wanted to.

It used to be under debate during the Digital Age, Pre-Age-of-Chaos, that gender was psychological. Then they discovered for some people, it was biological. Shortly thereafter, regardless of what science had to say, gender became decision no matter what one’s psychological view of themselves was or what one’s biological make up was. What one decided to be gender wise, whether that was thought, feeling, or biology, that was what one became, and whoever had the money to pay for the process to transition, did.

That’s when everyone got the idea to raise theybies. Parents raised their kids to be gender neutral and let them decide around the age four or five what gender they wanted to be, and then just before puberty, they would begin the process to transition from one gender to the other.

Years later, this led to mass suicides, along with young people dying of sudden heart failure. The hormone therapy the trans kids would take as children, severely damaged their hearts, and later in life they needed heart transplants or they died of sudden heart-attacks. Suicides occurred because they regretted their choices from childhood. They wanted to transition back, but they either didn’t have the money or when they did, they were unsatisfied they still weren’t their gender from birth… they were eunuchs and not intentionally.

Because of this dark history, and because the Private Sector was the future of the Society, the kids were raised the gender they were at birth. Now, if a child was born as both sexes, the child was taken from the parents and placed in a Sanctuary amongst the Protected to undergo ID Synthesis later in life.

Now, Private Sector Kids weren’t discouraged from exploring their sexuality, but there was this expectation, they would get married, and have heirs to carry-on the legacy of their families. For the kids who identified more as gay or as lesbian, usually chose to be bi. They would marry the opposite sex, but would have any type of gender partner on the side. Polygamy was legal, but more of a Public practice than a Private one.

“Ooo, it looks like Mr. Delicious showed up after all.” Monroe said referring to Jon.

Gwenie leaped off the bar stool and stood on her toes waving to Jon outrageously. She called out to Jon. He noticed her and made his way across the high end lounge to greet her.

Quickly, she hugged him lingering a long time. Monroe joined the hug, but Jon jumped when Monroe groped his butt and that made the trio disperse.

“Who are you?!” Jon spun around to face Monroe, “And how do you identify?” He added holding out his hand appearing frazzled from being touched without giving permission.

“Sorry,” Monroe cringed. Lightly shaking Jon’s hands by the fingers, “I’m Monroe, Gwenie’s BFF, and I’m a black queer man, who is a bisexual none.”

“I’m Jon. A-,” and without getting the chance to state how he identified, Monroe interjected.

“A Synthesizer. I know all about you honey.”

Gwenie angrily glared at Monroe.

“And that stink eye is my cue to go. I’m gonna get my pony-butt out of here and go talk to that fine young man over there.” Monroe headed over to the brunette conquest he pointed out to Gwenie earlier.

“I’m sorry about Monroe. He has no boundaries. Both of his parents are Policymakers so he never has to worry about fines or convictions.” Gwenie’s excuse for her friend’s behavior didn’t make things less awkward. She held up her glass to Jon, “Care for some champagne, it’s on me?”

“No thank you.” Jon answered.

Gwenie sat back down a little disappointed. Jon politely took a seat beside her. He added, “I’ve been reading some ancient texts about how sacred the body is and we shouldn’t poison it with gluttony and by drunkardness.” Jon clarified why he said no.

“Have you ever gotten drunk, or high?” Gwenie questioned.

“No.”

“You have had sex though, right?”

“Yes.”

“With more than one person?”

“No.”

“Well, that can change tonight… if you want it to?” And not letting him answer, she grabbed him by both hands and dragged him over to the dance corner. Once they crossed the sound barrier the music blared so loud it was hard to hear one’s thoughts. It was amazing how technology worked nowadays. The entire lounge was quiet so people can hear each other talk, while the dance corner looked like people danced under lights with no music. After crossing the shield that looked like the air in the space you were in, you broke through the sound silencer, and stepped into the party scene.

Gwenie made sure to dance provocatively with Jon, and he didn’t mind when she groped him in places she had no business doing so. But when she would get close to him, he would back away.

She understood he was her father’s apprentice, and if her father ever caught Jon on top of her naked, Jon could kiss his training goodbye. Though Jon was training to become a Philosopher, he wouldn’t be a member of the Private Sector until he completed his training, accepted onto the Philosophy Panel, and sworn in by the Policymakers. That meant he couldn’t touch Gwenie naked for a while. She actually wasn’t sure how long the process would take. A new Philosopher hasn’t been sworn into the Panel for over 20 years, way before her time.

Jon fled the dance floor and escaped to the bathroom. Gwenie found a couple of other guys to dance with, which one of them or both of them, were going home with her tonight. If she couldn’t have Jon tonight, she was going to have someone like him… well… at least some type of manly male.

KYL

Who was Gwendolyn kidding? She found the best deal. Male in appearance, but still physically a woman. Gwenie couldn’t let her BFF down either. She chose Monroe and the brunette, Kyl, to come home with her for the night. Though Kyl played along with Monroe, it was obvious the whole time he was into Gwenie.

Monroe, wasn’t a cuddler, so he saw himself out after the fun was over. Kyl, however, stayed and snuggled all night.

They stayed up talking for a while. His six month evaluation was in two days, like Jon’s. And all he could talk about was Nix, his best bud from the Sanctuary. Nix was who he lost his virginity to and though he didn’t like having sex as a woman, he loved being with Nix. He didn’t understand why, it confused him.

“That’s because you’re in love with Nix, duh.” Gwenie stated the obvious.

“But Nix could never love me like this and no offensive to him, but I won’t love him as a man. Not my type at all.”

“When do you get hormone therapy?”

“Not until my final evaluation, after I complete ID Synthesis. I have to be confident of my choice.”

“So, you like being with women and you consider yourself straight?”

“I have for the last six months… but every once and while there are some guys that are just gorgeous… I don’t get why we have to live with labels.”

“They tried living without labels before… remember? It led to total chaos!” Gwenie giggled. Kyl joined in the laughter.

“You maybe wouldn’t let me take you out on a date sometime… would you?” Kyl asked staring at her eyes locked on each other as they lied there on the bed facing inward.

“I told myself I wasn’t going to date Synthesizers anymore. My last relationship ended badly… plus… I could see myself falling for you hard…. which I don’t think is bad.” Exhaling, Gwenie sat up bringing her knees to cover her chest. “But my brother Garrison is married to a former Synthesizer and though Bailey is a woman now-,” freaked out Kyl cut Gwenie off as he jolted to sit up.

“Wait, Bailey Angelcrest is your sister-in-law?!” Kyl panickedly asked.

“Yes…”

“Bailey’s my sister!” Kyl hurried out of the bed and quickly got dressed to leave.

“Relax, were not related… no big deal…”

“No, it’s not that… But she might think I hooked up with you on purpose to piss her off.”

Curious, Gwen lied down on her stomach and bent her knees, crossing her ankles in the air, and she asked, “Why would she think you would sleep with her sister-in-law to piss her off?”

“She came to me last month asking me to donate my eggs to her.”

“Freaky! My brother came to be asking if I would be his surrogate last week. Not like any time soon. After I like get married and have my own kid or something. Still not seeing how us having sex conflicts with their plans?”

“It doesn’t… It’s just family is really important to Bailey and if we ever got to a non-talking basis, it would really upset her.”

Gwenie slowly got up and sat on her knees wrapping herself in the blue sheet. “Then how about we don’t date and we don’t hookup again. No one has to know this ever happened.”

“Okay.”

REUNION

Holding hands with their fingers intertwined, Gwenie escorted Kyl to the door. The front door opened unexpectedly as Jon rushed inside, abruptly colliding with the two. Immediately, Kyl expressed immense joy to see Jon and leaped to wrap him in a hug and to kiss him on the cheek. Gwenie observed how Jon wasn’t offended by this man hugging him intimately.

Still lingering in their embrace, Jon mentioned it was very good to see Kyl, but he referred to him as Lore.

“My father isn’t up yet. Why don’t the two of you go to the sitting room and catch up?” Gwenie suggested.

“I have to set up for my session with the Philosopher. I-,” Jon tried to make excuses, but Gwenie took them away.

“I’ll take care of it. I’ll get Helga to bring you some coffee.” Gwenie said glaring at Jon making it clear he would sit with Kyl and catch up.

Reluctantly, Jon handed his army green messenger bag to Gwenie, and he took Kyl by the hand and he led Kyl down the hall to the sitting room.

Gwenie observed how feminine Kyl was with Jon as to where Kyl was quite masculine with her. Maybe Kyl wasn’t male or female, maybe he was gender queer…

KEEPING PROMISES

Upstairs in her father’s study, the largest room in the entire mansion, was filled from the floor to the ceiling with shelves of books. The was also an additional room with hundreds of servers only Philosophers had access to for their studies, and the offsite access portals were carefully guarded in each Philosopher’s home. It was said the world’s history of perspectives on life, was housed in the homes of the current Philosophers. After all, it was their duty to give the Society guidance on how to live life, and to offer a compass of morality to a growing grave gray world.

Gwenie pulled the sacred text out of Jon’s bag that he was assigned to study. Holy Bible. She was shocked her father let it leave the house. At one time, the Holy Bible was the number one sold book in the world, and everything in it was believed to be true or used to understand truths about the human psyche. Two old religions used the Bible or some form of it. Judaism and Christianity. The Qu’ran was written after the Bible, though there used to be debate about that. But Islam was hijacked from Christianity and Judaism, and it was a very different version of God depicted then in the other two religions. Though Judaism didn’t accept Christianity, Christianity was an extension of Judaism. The Bible caused a lot of famous wars throughout the history of humanity.

Gwenie was not supposed to know this much about the Bible. She’s not allowed to touch it, let alone look at it. Every Bible and any variation of it (Judaism and Islam Texts) were destroyed and only one copy of each translation was kept, divided amongst the Philosophers.

She thought it was strange the Bible seemed weathered and used. The edges and corner seemed charred like it was pulled from a fire. That was when Gwenie noticed the Code and Conduct of New Haven Philosophers was in the bag too. That leather bound book was crisp and fresh, looking like new. To play it safe, Gwenie stuck the Bible back in the bag, and, but the book that was clearly her father’s she placed on the desk.

Then she hung his bag on the lone standing, black iron coat rack, by the door. From the closet, she pulled out two yoga mats and laid them on the floor by the fire place. On the mantle, she lit the incense, and told Plexa, the House A.I., to play meditation music and to dim the lights.

As she walked by the coat rack, going to leave, the lights flickered, the music cut off, and the messenger bag fell onto the floor open, allowing the Holy Bible to fling out and to flip open. Pages from the ancient text starred up at Gwenie resting at her feet. Curiosity drew her to take a knee before the ancient book and to peer inside. The words nearly jumped off the page as she read:

God so loved the world that he sent his one and only son to save them. That whosoever should believe in the son, should have everlasting life. For he came to save the world, not to judge it.

Her heart raced extremely fast causing blood to rush to her head, and causing her temples to pulsate. An energy she never felt before, even while mediating, invaded the room. It was different than all the other energies. It was electric, yet warm, and it was peaceful.

What does it mean to be saved? She thought.

Then suddenly she felt like an awful, wretched person who needed to be recused from her filthiness. Though she couldn’t define what it was about her that was dirty, but she felt stained to her soul and she wanted her soul made clean.

Not really understanding why, she whispered, “Son of God, save me. I believe in the son and that he came for me.” Freaked out she covered her mouth with her hands. Then she recalled a memory from her childhood.

A memory of her grandfather, her mother’s father, who was also a Philosopher. One day, he came to visit, just after Gwenie’s sixth birthday. He was arguing with her father about a new policy in this very den. The door was cracked open and she listened from the outside in the hallway with her brother.

Her father got upset and fled the study angrily. Gwenie and Garrison remained hidden to avoid punishment from their father. Garrison ran off to his room once their father made it down the long winding staircase, but Gwenie boldly went inside to see her grandfather.

When the old man noticed her, he hunched over to meet her eye level. She hugged his neck and kissed him on the cheek. She asked him what the fight was about. As he stood back up he sighed, and said, “Well, mankind is trying to erase God, and well, frankly, I don’t want any part of it.”

“Who is God?” Little Gwenie asked.

“When you’re older, the Philosopher’s will tell you God is the Universe or some collective consciousness inside of you. That you are a god and that meditating and spirit guides will help you find life’s answers… But that’s just making the latent power of your soul strong so you can’t hear the Spirit of God to learn the truth.”

Little Gwenie understood nothing the old man meant, but she asked a simple question anyway, “What is the truth?”

“That there is one way to God and it isn’t within yourself. His name is Jesus, He is the Son of God, and when you believe in Him, He saves your soul. Until you know Jesus, you’re a Sinner… a dirty person not clean enough to spend forever with God. But because God loved us, and still loves all us dirty people, he sent Jesus to save us. And when we believe in Jesus, we aren’t judged to die, we are gifted eternal life, which is a life beyond this one.”

“Oh…” Gwenie tried her best to get it.

Surprisingly swiftly, her grandfather picked her up off the ground and rested her on his hip. He looked at her face to face, “If you ever read the truth, and the Spirit of God shows up, trust your heart and believe in Jesus. You may lose your life here, but you’ll gain your life forever, and trust me Gwenie, it’s worth it. Promise me you’ll do your best to trust and believe when the Holy Spirit invites you to know God through Jesus?”

Connecting with her present reality she realized what was happening. As her heart said yes to the truth, yes to the Son of God, and yes to the Spirit of God, the all encompassing energy went from around her to being inside of her, and how dirty she felt on the inside disappeared and she felt clean.

A euphoria better than an orgasm on molly flushed her whole being and a giant sense of peace filled her soul to the core. She had never felt like this in her entire existence! She wanted to tell everyone about this Son of God from the Holy Bible, when a still small voice said, “Not yet… you must fulfill your ministry before you can tell anyone you believe.”

And she wasn’t creeped out by this voice. She knew that she knew that she knew it was the voice of God. Hurriedly, she picked up the Bible and stuffed it back in Jon’s bag and rehung it on the rack.

The meditation music started playing again and she left the room.

Jon looked like a happy little kid on Xmas Morning. He took Gwenie by the arms in the hall and shook her excitedly, as he exclaimed, “Lore wants to stay friends! We’re meeting up at the Lounge tonight to be wing-buddies!”

Gwenie brushed his arms away by swooping her forearms in a circular motion. “Do you even know what wing-buddies are?”

“We share me wings and drinks… I don’t know. I don’t care. I’ve just been pray-,” Jon suddenly fell silent. He stuttered to finish his thought, “I me- I go- I do- I- I-…” he sighed.

Gwenie patted him on the stomach and said, “Enjoy some wings on me, I got a feeling you won’t soar as a wing-buddy. Your game is weak.” As she walked away she brushed her pointer finger from his stomach to his back and followed her instinct to trace a fish-like symbol of his left shoulder behind his heart. “You’re all set up in the study,” she added.

Quickly, he turned to face her and his eyes bugged out, “You’re a be- be-,” he stuttered again.

Gwenie put her pointer finger over her lips and hushed him to keep their secret. That was her way of telling him she believed in Jesus. She didn’t know why it was important to him, but she just knew that it was. She winked at him as she spun away from Jon.

The Philosopher came out of his room, separate from the Healer, dressed in loose soft tan pants, and a white V-neck T-shirt. His graying black hair put up in a man bun. His gray and white beard long like Santa Claus’s full. As usual he was barefoot with teal nail polish on his toes. He wore beaded bracelets that matched the burnt orange prayer beads around his neck.

As Gwenie passed her father by, she stopped to hug him and to kiss him on the lips. He said good morning to her and wished her a happy day. When he saw Jon in the hallway, he snapped in his sassy, effeminate voice for Jon to meet him in the study.


Note from the Author

Soon I’ll post a video about what happened between Part 1 and Part 2 that isn’t written to read.

I’ll confess…I brought Jesus into this faster than I originally planned.

If you have any questions, feel free to comment or to send me a message. I kindly ask you keep it as positive as possible though, yet still being honestly you.

See you for part three next week!


 

I can’t believe I left my pencils at home. Now, I must buy overpriced mechanical pencils at the campus bookstore. The line could not be longer!

The song ‘Love is an Action’ blares from my pocket. The gf is calling for the umpteenth time. I pull my cell out reluctant to answer it. Seeing Melody a few weeks ago brought more to the light than I anticipated. I’m beginning to wonder if I truly love my girlfriend. Last month, I was certain we were ready for marriage. I have the ring picked out. I got permission for her hand. And God hasn’t told me not marry her. Double negatives really mean yes, right?

A small person abruptly runs into me from behind. How do you bump into someone standing still in line?

A panicked, petite voice shrieks, “I’m SO sorry!”

Rolling my eyes, I take a deep breath, I turn around and smile. “Don’t worry about it. I’m not bleeding.”

The pretty young lady laughs. She’s an African American woman, sporting a small afro. Her lime green and cream paisley go-go dress looks like it could be vintage and now a recreated fashion trend. She keeps her eyes closed enough to prevent anyone from actually seeing them clearly.

I haven’t felt this way since I was a teenager. That indescribable, yet cosmic proportion, sensation in my heart that I now set eyes on the ONE.

I’m craving to ask what her name is and to get her number. Then I remember I have a girlfriend, who I love, and I can plan a life with… Dang it, I’ve already started planning that life!

“Again, I’m sorry. I’ll buy whatever you’re getting in line.”

“No, it’s fine.” I turn away from her and face the front.

Only third in line from reaching the register, a slender hand grabs my forearm to get my attention. I look behind me and the African-American timidly asks, “Excuse me, but are you Asher Lucas?”

“Yes,” she holds out her copy of Everloving with a pen. She wants my autograph.

Cordially, I accept to fulfill her request. “Who do I make it out to?”

“Janet Washington,” she bops up and down ecstatically, holding her purse. She thanks me and says, “You may not be Melody but you’re the next best thing. Your role in her life encouraged me to invite every non-believer I know to church.”

Having signed her nearly purchased book, I hand it back to her, and yet she keeps talking.

“I wanted to buy the book a couple weeks ago at her speaking engagement, but I had zero funds… I barely meet my tuition deadline payments.” She smiles clutching the book to her chest.

Neglecting my burning desire to ignore her, I figure small talk can’t hurt. As we talked my admiration for her grew. Without understanding it, every part of my being wants to marry this woman. My head reminds me I have my dream girl. Eventually, I block out my head’s reasoning for the remaining duration of our conversation.

I purchase my pencils and she gets her book. We exit the bookstore together. Outside the front doors, I confess I must dart to class if I don’t want to be late. She admits she has a lecture to catch in the opposite direction. I defeat the urge to ask for her number. We wave goodbye to each other and I walk away feeling like I’m walking on the moon. I can’t remember the last time I felt this way, if ever after talking to the opposite gender.

‘Love is an Action’ rings loudly from my pocket. Like a man, I answer my gf’s call.

“Hey, what’s up?”

I stop my alarm, expecting a text from Melody asking if I’m up. Sometimes asking whether I’m awake refers to morning, but mostly it is an inquiry if I’m up in the middle of the night. She suffers from insomnia. A dilemma I didn’t have until lately. For some reason, I partially wake up a split second before my cell screen lights up and the whole device buzzes alerting me I have a new message. Last night I slept straight through until now, and there are zero text messages from Melody.

As I’m debating between Sunday’s Best attire or dress causal my cell rings. I drag myself back over to my bed to retrieve my phone thinking it is Melody and totally not wanting to go through our morning routine. To my surprise however, Natasha is calling me, not Mel.

“You can play guitar, right?”

“Yes, I can. Not ‘Zeven’ well though.”

“It doesn’t matter. Can you play today’s set list or do I need to make some changes?”

Talking under my breath, I say the set list in order trying to recall all four songs. “All but the third song on the bridge… That progression is too tricky for me in Eb Major.”

“What about D and you sing lead?”

The cell slips out of my hand from shock, but I jerk out of it and catch my phone against my abs. I’m not ready to lead worship? Not like Zev. I can’t do it. Negative thoughts cross my mind. Fear rises I my heart and gallops to its out rhythm in my head as more negative thoughts flood my mind.

You’re ready Asher,” I feel the Lord speak to my heart. Determined to listen to God’s voice above all others, I nod my head yes. Then I remember Natasha can’t see me.

“Yes…” I say. I didn’t agree softly or firmly, just generally.

“Okay. Thank you so much, please be here at 9 am for sound check.” She says and then she hangs up.

Forget Sunday’s Best or dress casual. Jeans, black canvas shoes, Desert Streams graphic tee with my black leather vest. Lord knows I’ve been saving that outfit for the first chance I’m blessed to lead worship. I can’t think about it too much or I will psych myself out.

I arrive 15 minutes early to pray and to plea for peace to do what is asked of me today. I find Nicolette at the altar on her knees. Soft worship music by Desert Streams plays subtly in the Youth Sanctuary. Nicolette and I eerily dressed similarly. We have the same gray, blue, and black color scheme. I wonder if the rest of the team is dressed the same? That will be weird if we are, especially since none us discussed color coordinating today.

Put the guitar onstage. I think. As I do this I pray in the Spirit and a soothing peace sweeps over me. I put my electric acoustic guitar on the stand where Zev usually keeps his. Tash didn’t tell me to bring my guitar, I just felt I should since Zev got upset the last time I touched his guitar. I place my case in the closet on stage left, where we keep extra music stands, mike stands, and extra sound equipment and instrument pieces. I set my case on top of mangled chords, piled in a black plastic milk crate.

Offstage, at the base of the stairs, I get on my knees to pray, when I hear Pastor Chastity’s voice from behind me.

“I’m glad you and Nicolette came early.”

I stand back up, turn around and Nicolette comes alongside me to face our Youth Pastor. She seems a little heavy-hearted with something troubling her mind. Her droopy eyes paired with her downcast countenance says it all.

“Until further notice, the two of you will be leading our youth worship team. Natasha and Zeven were asked to step down this morning.”

What? This can’t be good. I begin to think the worst because it’s natural. With Natasha coming from the home of a teen mother, her odds of repeating the family curse is higher than other teen girls. And living on the Reservation where teen pregnancy occurs at an alarming high rate. Yes, I always wanted to lead worship, but not like this, not at the expense of someone else’s virtue.

“Will you be telling the rest of the team or will we?” Nicolette asks.

“How about after church? We’ll meet briefly. I’ll have Natasha and Zeven sit in with us and we’re going to go over the criteria for serving in ministry again.”

“Yes, Pastor.” I agree biting my lip. I try to quiet my worst-case-scenario thoughts, but they won’t quit.

Pastor Chastity leaves toward the prayer room and when she is far out of earshot, Nicolette whispers out loud what I’ve been thinking.

“I knew they were doing it! Do you think she’s pregnant?”

“That could be why Pastor Chastity is so sad… I’m sure the last thing she wanted was Tash to follow in her footsteps like that.” Now I feel worse for saying something out loud. This is borderline gossip. We aren’t certain if what we’re thinking is true. “Wait, how do you know they’re having sex or they had sex?” I ask Nicolette.

She looks over her shoulder to make sure Pastor Chastity is out of the sanctuary. She looks around and spotting Chlonelle in the sound booth, she leans in close to my left ear. She softly whispers, “That fight they had in September. Aden said he heard Zev at school talking to his buddies about going to Third Base with their girlfriends. Zev said he and Tash did all the time. He was working his way to Homeplate by homecoming.”

The front doors swing open and Wilma and Aden walk in. Nicolette walks past me and adds, “It’s so disappointing. No one ever seems to make out of here.”

I don’t even understand all the sexual connotations implied in the baseball plate metaphor. Homeplate would be sex all the way though, right? Zev better join the adults today for worship. If I see him, I will deck him… Okay, I won’t. I’ll do what most Christians will do. Stare at him with seething anger and monumental disappointment, which will equal the unveiling of pure disdain for the boy who stole my dream girl. Big fat, giant lesson learned, and huge, greatly important note to self: DON’T LET THE FEAR OF MISSING OUT STOP YOU FROM TRYING FROM GETTING WHAT COULD BE THE NEXT BEST THING IN YOUR LIFE.

Suddenly, my peace evaporates and restlessness forms in my core like raging seas. Guilt hits me heavy in the heart. I cannot not go onstage and lead worship like this… I can’t let Nicolette either.

Approaching Nicolette and the rest of the band, I overhear them gossip-guessing what is going on with Tash and Zev and why they aren’t singing. Filled with a little righteous indignation and I throw words to proudly monkey wrench this conversation, “Maybe none of us should lead worship today and make the entire Youth Group join the adults in the Main Worship Service?”

“What are you talking about?” Nicolette questions?

“We have no idea why Tash and Zev were asked to step down. We can guess all we want, but until we’re told or the Holy Spirit tells us, and even then, the last thing we need to do is talk about it. In fact, we shouldn’t be murmuring about them. We need to be praying for them. I’ll admit, I gave in to the gossip monster too, but Tash and Zev are family…”

“Good point, Bro.”  Aden says.

I hold out my hands before me, one towards Nicolette on my left and one towards Wilma on my right. “Pray with me.”

The ladies take my hands and include Aden and Chlonelle. We bow our heads and close our eyes together. Nicolette leads us in a prayer of repentance for our gossip. Aden then begins to intercede for Zev and issues with lust. When he finishes Chlonelle prays for Tash about peer pressure and following the crowd. Wilma sings over our prayers with a song of praise. I close in prayer thanking God for the cleansing blood of Christ that purifies. I pray that we all have clear hearts and clean hands so the we may ascend the hilltop of God and receives all His promises. I pray for our worship to be pure and true, in Spirit and in Truth.

Together we say, “Amen.”

We release each other’s hands and we lift our heads opening our eyes. Pastor Chastity stands right behind me. With tears in her eyes and a feeble smile on her face, she hugs me. She whispers a thank you in my ears. She ends up hugging everyone, saying thank you and thank you again, to all of us. Chlonelle offers Pastor Chastity tissue paper to dry her tears, and as Pastor does so, she asks if we would be okay with cancelling the entire Youth Service and joining the Main Service today. The band looks around at one another with hesitation. I’m not sure whether to be relieved or disappointed, angry, sad, or happy. And I’m confused, I thought God said I was ready to lead worship today.

“Pastor Josiah has requested that the Youth Worship Team lead worship for everyone today.”

I titter, freaked out and excited simultaneously. God cannot lie. He is not a man that he should change his mind. Will his word not do what he says it will do? When he makes a promise, does he not keep it? My GOD IS AN AWESOME GOD! Somehow now, I know I’m ready.

All eyes are on me as if I’m the official authority on making this call today. I start nodding my head yes and the rest of band starts speaking yeah as if they’re expressing their approval with a ‘hell yeah’!

Two minutes to 10 am, we take our place. The church worship team sits upfront next to the Pastor and his wife. I go over the set list in my mind when the Holy Spirit lays on my heart to start off with Our God is an Awesome God by Rich Mullins. I tell Aden, who tells Wilma on bass. I whisper it to Nicolette and right at 10 am we intro with a classic oldie worship song. Ready for God to show up and show off!

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.

Tucker brings the last of my things into the tiny, fully furnished one bedroom apartment and sets the box of dishes Cory gave me on the two person kitchen table. Milo continues his nap in his carrier that I placed in the middle of the sitting room, by the coffee table.

“I don’t understand why this is necessary…” I state.

“Look at the bright side, you’re a Beta now… Working in product development for PlumTree… You’ve been released of High School classes. This is a sweet deal. When the new housing is finished, you’ll get a bigger place. You’ve achieved every teenager’s dream. You get to be a BIG PERSON.” Tucker chuckles.

“But I’m not comfortable with anyone taking care of Milo but me.”

“Oh relax, there’s a daycare at the office and you can check on him as often as you need.”

Rex knocks on the open door as he enters in without asking.

“Miss Elle, mom wants to know if you want come back to our house for dinner or will you be okay for the evening?”

“She’ll stay.” Tucker answers for me.

“Grandpa, I asked her… not you…” Rex retorts.

“Ah… Milo and I will join you, just let me make some new bottles for Milo.”

“Okay, we’ll wait for you downstairs.” Rex smiles like a dork, super stoked I accepted his invite.

Cory set all of Milo’s supplies on the kitchen counter. I go over there and look for the open canister of formula on the gray countertop. The entire decorum of the apartment are shades of gray. Light gray carpet through most of the place, an almost white tile in the bathroom and the kitchen. Dark gray appliances, sofa, recliner, coffee table, cabinets, tub, bed, entertainment center, dresser, and wardrobe. The sinks are silver. Then every other surface and the walls a normal gray. The ceiling a light gray.

I’m allowed to repaint and decorate however I want, but then I have to put everything back to the way I found it. What a hassle. I think I’ll just let this dreary gray grow on me.

“You stay away from my grandson…” Tucker says. He clarifies what he means as I shake formula powder and water into a milk-like substance in two bottles simultaneously. “Rex is not gonna be my first grandkid to make me a great-granddad.”

I giggle. It’s funny how he’s worried about a virgin ruining his clearly mutually virginal grandson.

“Don’t worry grandpa, Rex isn’t my type.”

Legal age of consent for intercourse is 15 in the DCA. If a couple are expecting, they don’t need parent permission to marry if they’re under 18.

In the RA, age of consent remains at 18. If you’re under 25, you need a “blessing” from both sets of guardians to marry. Usually, teen parents place their child in adoption because they don’t have the means to care for the infant. No one can get employment without a college degree. Abortion is a felony for the mother and the abortionist, and if the father knew about it and didn’t notify the authorities, he’d charged with a misdemeanor…

I guess mom found the perfect place to hide Milo.

Tucker checks to make sure the apartment is secure and then picks up Milo in his carrier to help me down to Cory’s SUV.

The apartment door automatically swings shut after we both step out. The apartment A.I.- Roogle, says goodbye in a pleasant, calm male voice.

In the ride back to Tucker’s neighborhood, Cory makes small talk.

“We’re gonna miss having you next door.” She says, looking at me through the review mirror.

“I’ll miss it too… I love you guys…” I say honestly.

I only read in mom’s journal what Paxton, Cory, Tucker, Uncle Houston, and dad were like. But even though Paxton and Cory will older and wiser, their charm and joyous spirit was the same.


Standing, Paxton holds out his wine glass to make a toast. The short man’s black full beard had the two gray streaks at the corners of his lips like white fangs.

“I’m so happy, that- that Elle here is gonna come into the office and use her genie mind to like make more new awesome tech for the company… For the WORLD! I’m ecstatic that Quora and Walker are here- back with fam will on break from college. AND next week- it is the anniversary of when Cory agreed to go out with me -like a lifetime ago- a long time ago- cause we’re old…” He lifts his glass high and we join him in the gesture, “Let’s toast, to a great year ahead life just getting better!!!”

As we clang our glasses up against one another, the lights go out, rushing steps close in on us, and before my eyes can adjust to the dark to defend myself, a needle pricks my arm as a bag is placed over my head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay, I’ll try it.” I say.

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

 “Did your mom make it?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Amen.” Melody repeats after me.

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

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

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

Melody blushes as she tucks her hair behind both ears.

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

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

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

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

“I love being called Mel.”

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

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

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

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

I text back:

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

Mom’s response:

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

“Are you hungry?” Melody asks.

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

Texting mom, I say:

          I’m having dinner here.

Mom’s response:

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

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

I text:

            Thanks mom, love you!

Mom’s texts back:

            Love you too! You have your key, right?

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

            K

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you okay?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Please, call me Adam, Asher is it?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Would your parents find it appropriate?”

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

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

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

I began gathering my textbooks and notebooks into my backpack.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where are you going?”

“To my room… I want to draw.”

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

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

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

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

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

Two Months Later, New D.C., DCA 2039

Never in a million years did I think I would spend any time in a safe room. Yes, a SAFE ROOM. It’s really self explanatory. It’s a hidden room built into the walls of one’s home to keep people safe in case of hostile emergency. It makes sense Colonel Tucker has one being an active agent for the NDS, the DCA’s version of the NSA.

We’ve spent the full 24 hours of Xmas Eve in here… and we have another 24 hours of Xmas to go. I never heard of Xmas. In the RA, we don’t have such a holiday. Tucker told me over 200 years ago in early USA, the entire country observed December 25th as the B-day of the Christian Savior Jesus. To celebrate the season, people would decorate, sing songs about his earthly arrival, and hand out gifts to each other. They also let kids believe in a mythical figure, Santa Claus. A fat, jolly old man who lived in the North Pole, owned a bunch of tiny people called Elves who built toys and other gifts, and then on the evening of the 24th, this Santa delivered gifts by himself on a sleigh led by flying reindeer to all the good children of their world, naughty kids got coal.

It was the perfect holiday to use against children to manipulate them to be good, and when the USA become a huge consumerism society, Big Business made a fortune off people buying presents for the whole family, even people they don’t like or talk to very often.

In the RA, there’s only one religion- The Way. We celebrate the birth of Yeshua (who is the same Savior a s Jesus in Christianity) in the Spring, before we observe Passover & Resurrection. We call it First Advent. We do exchange one hand made gift the day of and sings songs about His birth, but beyond that, we don’t do anything special. Then in the Fall, we celebrate Anticipation Second Advent during the Feast of Tabernacles. That is our celebration, rejoicing a head of time for our Savior’s return. The Bible says we don’t know when He will return to make His home on the Earth forever, but we celebrate during that time, because it could have also been the season for His First Advent… no one really knows for certain except not trusting He was born on the 25th of December.

I’m not really that religious, but it’s mandatory to attend Assembly on Holy Days, and the school I went to had weekly chapel services, therefore, I know a lot about THE WAY.

The DCA is different. They changed Christmas to Xmas, because the word CHRIST was too offense to people. Any mention publicly of the Christian Savior became a 200 merit fine. People became too coldhearted to spread good cheer and when people discovered the old ways of celebrating pagan festivities on the 25th, it returned to that. People drink, partake in sexuality immorality, and mobs wander the streets forcing anyone left at home to come out into the streets and party. The DCA allows the recklessness and the borderline anarchy to purge “enraging and degrading behavior” before the New Year arrives.

We must stay in here so no one will think we are home.

Tucker observes the monitors where security cameras capture footage of the perimeter, every outer wall of the house, and every place in the house but the bathrooms. All my sense of privacy is gone now that I know I don’t have it.

Milo sits up in his portable crib chewing on his teddy bear’s ear. He’s only supposed to be three months. And though he is average size for a three month old, he’ got the development of a 6 month old. He can sit up if you assist him. He plays with his toes if he doesn’t have anything to stick in his mouth. And he can hold his old bottle during feeding… I try not to go out in public with him to avoid awkward situations when they discover he’s only three months.

I take classes online and offer tech support for Plum Tree online for employment. The most socialization I get is with Milo, Tucker, and every once in a blue moon Cory, Paxton, and Rex when they invite us over for dinner.

I haven’t met Zave yet. He’s away on business and no one knows when he’ll be back. I’m glad he isn’t around though. I don’t think I’m ready to lie to my father’s face yet. It’s hard enough lying to everyone else.

Rex tries to come over a lot to keep me company, but his granddad, Tucker shoes him away. He claims he doesn’t want me to take advantage of Rex and beguile him with my beauty and charm. Is Rex cute? Sort of, but he’s barely taller than, skinny like a twin, he kind of looks like an owl with his big head, wide brown eyes, point nose, and ting lip… And he’s so nerdy and all about video games and sci-fi franchise films. Not my type. I like brawny boys, who like to be on the edge… I wouldn’t say “Bad Boys”, just relevant.

For a girl like me to be with a boy like him is fulfilling some rich nerd’s fantasy. I mean, he could be rich like his dad, Paxton, one day. His dad owns and runs PlumTree Technology. They make cellphone, tablets, computers, headphones, TVs, drones, you-think-you-name-it they have in electronics. They also have a contract with the DCA and build and design all their office technology needs.

I think that’s what weirds me out the most. Rex is mini Paxton, and Paxton is my dad’s best friend.

I forget there really isn’t money in the DCA, there are merits. Every citizen has a right to free healthcare, a free home, a free education, free food weekly, free public transportation, free hygiene products, etc. Depending on what type of job you have and how important it is, determines what level of free things you get. If you work retail, hospitality, or janitorially, you are level basic. If you work in art, influencing, sporting, and entertaining, you are level omega. If you work in technology, science, or education, you are level alma. If you work for the government, law enforcement, medical field or emergency services, you are level beta. If you own a business, serve as a boss in some capacity, serve in the highest level of government, and if your job is high risk and important, you are level alpha. Based on your work completion and efficiency, and performance you are grant warrants that electronically deposited onto person merit account. Merit can a lot you to buy things a retail stores, go restaurants and events, buy other wants and luxuries not basic necessities.

All students, even if they have a job, are one of two levels: dependent or emergent. Dependents are students that live at home, have no job, and obtain merits through school work and community service and/or from guardians. Emergents are students who have jobs and may still live at home or in dormitories on a college campus. They receive merits from work, school, and guardians. What sucks about being a student is that all merits cancel out on the first of the year and have to start earning at the beginning of the year. All other levels are allowed to have merits roll over.

Now, the rest of the world operates on real currency. The government treasury still uses money with the rest of the world for business. And business owners work with real world money to do global business. When a DCA citizen transfers outside of the country, they must apply for a travel visa and a travel spend card, if their drip is approved they can pick up their visa and travel spend card at the airport.

This has eliminated nearly all theft-related crime.

Disgruntled, Tucker slurs at the monitor in upper right corner of his screen wall made up of many boxes on one giant PlumTree Genius TV. A group of six stumble onto the snowy front lawn, will bottle of alcohol in one hand and some sort of battering object in the other- like a couple has a baseball bat, another a monkey wrench, the rest pipes.

In the back, Tucker goes over to his armory way, which has automatic rotating walls that switch out with more weapons. Knives, guns, shotguns, rifles, grenades of all sorts, and some weapons I didn’t recognize. He pulls a pistol of the first wall, and readies the weapon to first. He holds the gun with two hand, barrel facing down, and trigger off the trigger resting on the side of the nose.

“I’m gonna shoot a few blanks at their feet. Scare them off. I don’t need a repeat of what happened last year.”

“What happened last year?”

“Let’s just say I don’t really have a dead pet buried in the backyard.” He says as he opens the safe room door. “Whatever happens, don’t leave this room until the 26th.” He states ominously as the door closes on his back.

I find myself glued to the monitors. There’s no sound but when I see flecks of snow bolt up around the feet of the intruders I jump a bit. The drunken little gang gets spooked and dart of the lawn way faster than they stumbled on.

Tucker didn’t even leave the house, he fired at them from an upstairs window. Closely, with fear subtly resting in the back of my mind, I watch Tucker skip from screen box to screen box. Zipping through upstairs hallways, down the stairway, through the downstairs… until he disappears completely and moments later reappears outside the safe room door. He looks up at the camera and singles to let him in.

I go over to the door and press the open button. For some reason, I can’t shake thing feeling something isn’t right. As if keeping my eyes on the screen box with a view of the outer safe room door is helpful, I do that, and unfortunately witness Tucker getting knocked out by a figure in all black and a mask.

I face the door and quickly duck to avoid getting socked in the nose. Immediately, I find myself grateful mama taught me how to fight. However, doing it in real life is way different. All the adrenaline coursing through my veins is exhilarating, yet, I’m way too scared to enjoy the high. Muscle memory of combat movies does a lot of the work for me defensively, I hardly have to think it and I do it, but getting kicked and hit at full force by a man taller than me hurts way more than mommy dearest prepared me for, but this desire not to die keeps me going.

And Milo, I’m beyond ballistic afraid Milo will get hurt or end up dead or worse, get taken… has this man come from him. Has our cover been blown. Did mom get burned and the RA is here to collect what they feel is theirs?

No, if they wanted Milo and mom was burned, this intruder would have killed Tucker not knock him out. The RA doesn’t play nice. If mom was burned by Guyon, same scenario fate for Tucker too.

The man locks my head in his elbow… Trying to… analyze… the… situation… interfered with my… body’s… autopilot… I dip low as fast as I can, then I back kick his knee as I elbow him in the gut from my force of going down… I think I did that move wrong, but he loosed his arm around my neck enough for me to snatch his hand and roll way twisting his arm into position where I can break it if I band it against a hard surface. Lucky for him, we’re in the middle of the room.

“Who are you, little she devil?” The masked man asks with his voice cloaked by auto-tune.

“Why are you here? What do you want?” I ask back.

The man raises his free arm, I twist the arm I have in hand harder. He winces in pain.

Milo starts crying. Poor little guy can feel everything I feel emotionally. He knows I’m so scared I nearly peed my pants. At least we are afraid together.

“There’s a latch, on the left side of my neck brace… it will demask me… I’m the man in that picture behind you.”

Not looking at the portrait behind me and releasing the latch myself. The gas-like mask splits in half, folds up in cm by cm squares, and slips into the top brim of the man’s neck brace collar.

Accept instead of having my father’s brown eyes, he has the gray-crystalized irises of an alert and an active Theus. He also sports a gray speckled beard and his wavy locks are chopped off into a light fade. He about 20 years older than the photo of him behind with my mom and with Tucker on this houses porch.

There’s a few problems with this picture. I’m not supposed to know how to fight. I’m not supposed to really know who he is. Tucker’s just told me about Zave, because Cory, Paxton, and Rex bring him up… but they all work really hard not to say anything about Theus.

“If I let you take what you came for, will you do me a solid and not mention to Tucker I know how to fight?”

“I’ll make no such promise.” And in a blink of an eye, he gets free from my grasp, and in a breath, he snatches me by the wrist, twirls me toward him while I exhale in panic, and forces me to face the picture on the wall as he holds me with my hands behind my back.

“You’re only conscious because I am amused and curious. It’s as if someone trained you to fight against me, you used your body weight a lot, and you used objects around you to defend yourself. You’re not experienced though, you were too afraid to grab a weapon… from the armory wall.” Theus says.

“You’re not going to kill me. You know Tucker would never take in someone he doesn’t know everything about. He was protecting me in this room. If you hurt me, he’ll never forgive you.” I plead with the truth.

“Clearly, he doesn’t know you can fight… or so you think, why would you keep this from him if he knows so much about you?”

“Because I’m not who thinks I am, but that’s for my protection, not for any other reason.”

“Who are you then?” Theus asks twists my wrists.

I scream from the sudden sharp pain. Milo cries louder, his face lobster red as his tears flood his cheek.

“You’re scaring my kid, can you let me go please?”

Theus lets me go as he steps around me and takes the picture frame off the gray wall. He sets the large portrait down gently on the floor against the wall. I thought a vault door to a safe would be hiding behind the picture, in the wall, but it is just a blank wall.

“On second thought, I don’t care who you are. I don’t have much time before he wakes up to get what I came for…” Looking over his shoulder, he commands, “Get you son and step outside please.” Then he punches a whole in the wall with a kick, close range jab. Inside the wall there’s a safe built into the reinforced steal of the walls that make up the safe room.

I just do what he says. As I pick Milo up with his teddy bear, he holds out his arm and points to the blue bear with pink belly fur.

“Where did you get that?” Theus asks?

I don’t know what to say since my mom packed it in a bag of things for Milo. I definitely can’t let it slip Mara is my mom.

“Ah… it’s just a teddy… babies love them you know?”

“They stopped making those bears in 2013, the company went of business, most likely wherever more were stored got destroyed in the war… WHO GAVE YOU THE BEAR?”

Theus likes being in control. If he knew the truth, he would keep away, and I wouldn’t have to worry about telling my father the truth.

“My mom gave it to my son… her name is Mara… Mara Taylor…”

Wait?! My mom said to never tell Theus the truth either!!! Why don’t I listen to her? Ever?!?!

Cautiously, he takes the bear from me. Like he’s thinking back on the past, he stares at the blue, slobbery bear.

“You know, I gave this bear to Zave… I left him a note with it, promising him I’d never come back because I knew he and Mara wanted to start a family…”

“Why would she give this to you?” He interrogates holding the bear beside his head, but all can I do is freak out by the sight of his flaring nostrils.

Wait, I didn’t tell the full truth… I didn’t say Mara was my mom…

“She saved my life and she owed my mother a favor. When she put me on a plane in London to come here, she had packed in Milo’s bag… I just saw it when we settled in here.”

“She never told you about this bear? I mean, I made Zave swear he got it for her- for their future first child…  I knew she would be upset if I wanted them to have a family more than he wanted to have one- but his lack luster was my fault anyways… Even when I leave, I never leave him alone…” He says and then hands the bear back. He adds, “She taught you how to fight, didn’t she?”

“My mother wanted me to know how to protect myself… She had Mara train me.”

I watch Theus takes out a little domino size of clay explosive I forgot the name off. It’s not quite C4, but it is a lot like it. I hurry to leave the room.

A small explosion occurs. A bright green light flashes. A few weird blaring pitches go off. Then masked Theus barges out the room. He drags Tucker’s body back inside and I walk back in assuming that would be his instruction.

In the threshold of the safe room door, he says, “I won’t tell Tucker your secret, but it won’t take him long to figure it out. I took the footage from the safe room feed, so that will buy you a little time. And if Mara comes to visit, tell her Zave goes to their spot every year, waiting for her to come back. Happy Xmas.”

He leaves. I close the door behind him. I look at knocked out Tucker on the ground and the rubble on the floor. I can’t wait until this Crazy Christmas is over. At least Santa brought me half of my dad… and he is way cooler than my mom’s journal made him out to be. Now I have to think of a cover story of what happened to me… Oh, easy, I got knocked out too! Where should I lay down? First, I have to put Milo back in his portable crib.

Elle After Civil War 2

I thought we were heading for the border, but I was wrong… after a stop to Wally World to buy things for Milo, and a stop to mom’s safehouse, we went to the airport in Tulsa. The DCA Border Wall puts the Mexican Border Wall to shame. It’s like Great Wall of China of the West World.

Mom pulls up to the drop off curb at Air Canada Ticketing Terminal. She hands me a blue folder. Inside is a ticket a one way Quebec City and fake documents for Milo. His birth certificate says he was born in London, England and now my last name is Bardem? According to my new documents I was born in Madrid, Spain. I went to boarding school in England, just outside of London. Neither Milo or I have dad’s listed on our birth certificates. I have a different mom on mine… What is going on here?

“The safest place for you to be is in the DCA, but unfortunately, you can’t go there as my daughter.”

“And why not?”

“Tucker is smart, I could never pass you off as mine with a different dad than Zave. He knows me too well. The only child I would belong to your father.”

“I still don’t get-,” she cuts me off.

“You don’t need to have a thick Spaniard accent, it can be subtle. When you get compliments your English is really good, sell the boarding school in London, but throw in as a kid your mom took you to the RA a lot. And um, read the background profile I put in there for you, that will help you build your cover…”

“You put a lot of thought into this…”

“Well, you always have to be prepared for things to change. Now, there’s nothing in there about Milo’s father, you’ll have to come up with that, but keep it simple and model him after someone you would go for, you know… and if you give him a name, never come up with last name… just keep it at a first name, but don’t really talk about Milo’s father… Tucker or even Zave is the type to go track him down.”

I try to interject but she just keeps talking.

“The only person you can trust will be Tucker. He won’t be very trusting of you, which is fine… And you’ll want to break down and tell Zave you’re his daughter, but you have to promise me you won’t.”

I nod silently promising to keep the truth from the man I’ve dreamt of meeting my whole life. The way mom talks about him, she wouldn’t be a human being without ever falling in love with him.

“And avoid talking about London at all costs because you haven’t been there in a while. If you meet someone who knows the area well, unless you bring up the place and location, don’t agree with what they say.”

“Clearly, wait, I’ve been to London?”

“You were two, not a big deal… and um… if you ever have to leave the DCA, I left an email address you can contact me once. Don’t directly tell me where you’re going. Use that cipher we created when you were nine.”

“The Grimm Brothers’ Fairytale one?” I double check not understand typing childish gibberish could be useful and still translatable. I don’t even know if I remember how to use it…

“In case you forgot the cipher, I put a cheat code in the folder, for your eyes only.”

Moms think of everything.

She grabs be by the head, digging her hands into my wavy black hair, and she kisses me on the forehead, “I love you so much, you know that…”

“I love you too,” I say, trying not to sound panicked.

She let’s me go, “You don’t have to bring Milo…”

“No,” I say feeling attached to him already. Mom explained that since he imprinted on me, for the first few months of his life, if he’s away from me for than a week he’ll die.

“As soon as take down Guyon and terminate Project Hercules II, I’ll come for the two of you.” Mom promises. We both probably have that eerie feeling, she may never come for us.

We get out of the SUV and she helps me bring in my bags and the stroller while I carry Milo in his carrier. A courtesy escort takes over for mom inside by the ticketing. I set Milo down on the ground and reel mom in for one last hug. My eyes let loose the tear as I cry, preparing to forego life without my mom. Now, I’m supposed to tackle motherhood without her. It’s insane!

On my travels, everyone is super nice. Freakishly kind… even when I drop that I’m a teen mom, still overly polite to me.

I thought for sure on the flight, Milo would wail during takeoff and during landing, but he remained asleep in my arms. The Flight Attendants checked on me like every twenty minutes and worried about Milo’s uncanny ability to sleep all the way through a plane ride. It’s a good thing I can brush his peculiarity off and blame it on him being genetically engineered, otherwise their concern would have me panicked.

According to the lovely backstory mom came up with for me, I was born to disowned Spanish heiress. Her father owned a vineyard and had several business ventures in Spain, France, and England. She went to Madrid to pursue a career as a model but got stuck waiting table, after she got pregnant with me. That’s when her father took her back in, because of me, and I was spoiled to death.

My mother started working for my grandfather. When he started vineyard in the RA, he sent me and my mom out there to look after it. In middle school, I fell in with the wrong crowd and grandpa said boarding school was the answer to fix me. However, they were wrong… I stuck with the bad and go myself pregnant. I was shipped back to my grandfather.

A few weeks ago, I witnessed my grandfather’s death by Guyon’s men. For years, granddaddy was cutting deals with Guyon and his men. My mother’s been an informant for the RA, but becoming close friends with Mara, my real mom, she begged Agent Taylor to take me away and keep somewhere safe. This also includes baby Milo now too.

Tucker will tell his neighbors and friends that I’m the child of an old Interpol buddy who just died in the field. To ensure my safety, I’m to stay with Tucker until his Interpol buddy’s killer is caught and it is safe to say no one is after me. I really don’t know why I just could be the dead Interpol buddy’s kid, but then again, I’m not an official spy… I don’t know how weaving a web of lies convincingly works.

In the waiting area, a gray-haired man dressed in a navy blue suit, white button up, and a red tie held up a sign with me new name one “Elle Bardem”. Me and my courtesy escort walk up to the man I presume to be Colonel Benjamin Tucker.

“Elle and Milo Bardem?” The man asks in a raspy, monotone voice.

“Do I have to call you Colonel or can I just call you Tucker?” I wonder.

He takes the stroller from the escort, while he follows me to baggage claim. He’s definitely the quiet type. This will be interesting…