Below, you will see the graphic for the blog’s next featured story:

Grace Trials

THE STORY

If you saw the post about Manuscript Monday, going into extensive detail about why I chose the story I selected, I mentioned a story I wrote called, “Girls of Grace”.

“Grace Trials” is “Girls of Grace” rebranded, revamped, an under-new-construction rewrite. I guess, this will be my revision quest and I’m inviting all of you along for the ride.

In the original “Girls of Grace”, it was about three girls who became friends through church. In all honesty, this story is slightly based on real life, but in totality it really isn’t.

Like, the main character is a little like me. One of her friends is a little like one of my strong-willed friends that battles depression. The main character’s other friend is this super-family-oriented-person who has OCD. All three of them go to a tiny, baptist church where everybody knows everybody.  Me and my two friends, all went to a tiny, baptist church where the three of us formed a friendship. Beyond that, that is as real as the story gets. Okay, most of the story takes place in the city where we all live…

But the main plot points, the scenarios that unfold, and events that take place… never happened to me or my friends in real life… to my knowledge.

This revamp, however, will be wildly different. I started the project in 2012. Seven years later, with the characters well developed and a plot with lots of options, the content will be richer.

SYNOPSIS

Lauren Rae Tyler – 18, Melissa Grace Russell – 21, and Makayla Johnson – 17, are best friends that are closer to each other than sisters. Through all the trials life hurls them into, they rally to be there for one another and see each other overcome their tribulation. But they know they can’t obtain any victories without God’s grace.

Grace Trials may be the name of Lauren’s dad’s ranch and church, but the “Grace Trials” make up the casebook that proves God’s grace is for those who believe and cannot be saved, delivered, or set free without the free grace of God. (Okay, you’re right – the Bible has already done that, and proves so… It’s great!)

DREAM-GOAL

Yes, I want this story turned into a movie too! Executively-produced by Kirk Cameron. Pray with me y’all! (I’d accept working with David AR White too.)

It’s odd that I want to work with him so much… like I’m not a fan girl of his… I don’t really watch a lot of his ministry videos, nor have I seen any of his latest Christian Film Productions.

I just want to work with him. I think it would be cool!

WARNING

This story will feature some hard to swallow material, but the topics shouldn’t be ignored and swept under the rug in the church anymore.

MY REQUEST

If you like it as you read it, share it with someone you think may enjoy it, or benefit from it in someway.

MY HOPE

Is that someone who never had faith before, find faith in Jesus.

Yes, this may be a fictional story, with fictional characters, but the God of the Bible is the only God. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life… and in this little piece of fiction, God can save you or someone you’re praying for to be saved!

MANUSCRIPT MONDAY or STORY SUNDAY

At this point, I’m thinking neither, but we’ll see.

Thank you for joining this journey with me.


If you read my post,“Crossing the Finish Line”, then you heard about my story on LITNET called, “A Digital Age Courtship”. If you didn’t read that post or even if you did…

A Digital Age Courtship

The link below takes you directly to that story. ENJOY!

https://litnet.com/en/reader/a-digital-age-courtship-b106691?c=928921&p=1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do I do God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How you doing Asher?” she asks.

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

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

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

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

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

Is it? Questions a thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, but what’s wrong?”

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

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

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

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

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.

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.