I’ve got to admit, I was shocked out of my skin when Abby didn’t tag along. I’m starting to think that maybe church might be a good place for me after all! Chad’s grandparents aren’t so bad, you know, even if they did let my dad come into their house and threaten their grandson, who is looking pretty good after everything if you ask me. Not that anyone’s asking, but I’ll answer anyway because somehow he managed to pull off the look I had to add twelve layers of cover-up to achieve. And I don’t think he wears any make-up, by the way. Not that I really thought that needed to be said, but whatever. Jess, get a hold of yourself.
I think Chad just noticed how nervous I look. I’m a little afraid to tell him what I’m really thinking, because he might take it totally wrong and not be my only friend for the next two hours. It’s okay, it looks like he’s a little nervous too.
“Feeling alright?” I ask, hoping to get him to explain what’s making him so nervous, although I’m starting to think that it might be the fact that he’s worried I’ll ruin his reputation at his church.
He just nods. Well, that’s not surprising. It’s probably the same thing I would have done in his situation. If I had people hanging around caring about how I cared, I would be tired of hearing that question too. I quickly attempted amending any damage I may have done to our friendship by my thoughtless question.
“I’m sorry. I guess you’re tired of hearing that. I wasn’t thinking.” He shrugged. Now I was getting a little upset, as if I weren’t already. Was there a reason he wasn’t talking to me? I considered a vow of silence on Sundays, but quickly dismissed the possibility when I heard his grandfather talking freely from the driver’s seat. Then I quickly looked away from the driver’s seat and involuntarily glanced at the window. I almost started hyperventilating when I saw the curve in the road coming up and shifted my focus to the ground by my feet.
Chad apparently noticed me at this point. “Hey,” he began, then fell silent and closed his eyes while the obvious motion of the car told me were rounding the curve.
“Chad?” I asked quietly, being careful not to let my glance stray to the quickly passing, turning scenery, “really, buddy, are you okay?”
“Probably about as okay as you,” he answered equally quietly. His face looked positively pasty, and I had a feeling that I looked just as sick. Then it hit me. We were both thinking the same thing, of the same ride, of the same corner, of the last time we were both in the back of a fast-moving car.
I tried for a smile. “Um, yeah, well I guess that’s all that can be expected, huh?”
“Uh, Chad?” I ventured to ask again, because this was starting to worry me a little bit more than I was ready to admit. “You aren’t really going to be sick are you?”
This time he managed a shaky grin. “I promise I won’t ruin your dress, Jessie.” That wasn’t what I’d been asking, but I figured I’d just have to take it.
Maybe he said that on purpose, because by the time we pulled into the church parking lot, I think both of us had prayed a little bit more than we ever had before in our lives. The only difference was, somehow I didn’t think his prayers were hitting the ceiling of the car and bouncing back.
I took a deep breath and stepped out of the car, smoothing down the front of my dress to cover my mental prep notes: Deep breaths, get ready to see the underside of a lot of noses, and don’t try to say anything spiritual if you say anything at all, because chances are you’ll mention the wrong ritual. Don’t always follow along with their rituals, because you don’t have the spirit or the timing, and if they start talking gibberish, don’t join in because you’ll probably say something really bad in their own secret language. I shut the door, turned around and managed a real smile at Chad.
He grinned his normal grin back at me. “It’s a lot easier with your feet planted firmly on solid ground, isn’t it?”
I would ask if it was creepy how well this guy understood me, but no one would answer, so what’s the use? It was the thought running through my head, though. The church looked a little more modern than I had been expecting. I mean, I hadn’t been expecting it to be made of logs, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the fancy sound system and all the guys in jeans warming up their instruments at the front of the room when we got inside.
I glanced at Chad. “This is church?”
He nodded. “We have our first class in the basement, though.”
I wasn’t sure what he expected me to say, so I tried for the honest, straight-forward, grimacing, “Ugh. Steps?”
He grinned. “No, my grandparents got escalators installed just for us. C’mon. It won’t hurt as badly going down anyway!”
There weren’t a lot of people in the big room we’d been in, and I’d been expecting us to be the only two people downstairs, but instead I saw about fifty other teenagers and heard more as we neared the bottom of the stairs which ended in pain and an actual basement.
As soon as they saw us, about half of them came running over to hug Chad, and I sort of hung out on the bottom step thinking, “Well, so much for Chad paying any attention to me. Now I’ll hang here until it’s time to go back upstairs.” From my vantage point, I could see that there was a stage set up down here just like upstairs, which made me rethink the whole “hymn” thing. I was looking very interestedly at the different events showing up on the huge screen above the stage when Chad emerged from the huddle and looked back at me.
“Hey, guys, you don’t know my friend Jessie. She was in the accident with me,” he added. “She’s the other person you were praying for.”
If I’d been walking, I would have stopped short. These people were praying for me? I mean, sure, they looked like normal teenagers, but they were probably just as crazy as Chad and before I left, assuming they didn’t just pray for me to disappear, they’d all come up to me and insist that I join their cult. Before I had the chance to process this, three of the girls came over to where I was still standing stock still.
“Jessie! I’m so glad you’re alright! We’ve all been praying for you!”
“Thanks,” I said, smiling. That seemed safe enough, and no one looked or acted shocked, so I congratulated myself on safely maneuvering my first conversation with these people.
“You probably want to sit with Chad since he’s the only person you really know here, but is it okay if I sit with you too?”
Okay, let me just add in here, this is the most awkward situation I’ve ever been in. I really wanted to say no! I mean, honestly, I don’t know the girl! However, I forced my mouth to accept the invitation, and smiled as nicely as I could. “I didn’t hear your name,” I mentioned tactfully. “I mean, I guess you already know mine.”
“Oh, I’m Tiffany! And these are Maddie and Abigail.”
I glanced at Chad in time to see him cringe. No way was I going to sit next to an Abigail! And from the eyes she was making at him, it appeared the traits ran with the name. It was going to be an interesting day!
*NOTE: All characters and events portrayed in this story are purely fictitious. Any resemblance to actual people or events is entirely coincidental.*
Next part next Thursday! Suggestions, names for various characters, or other questions, comments, or concerns can be left below, or you can e-mail me at the address on my contact page.
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