Homecoming

TWAR77 – Chapter 7

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.

TWAR77 – Chapter 4

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.

TWAR77 – Chapter 1

Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, Melody.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Asher, what do you want stalker?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it really? I think.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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