Well, back to Soul Cages (PG-13). Marian is about to head off to her first youth group meeting for Andervender’s church.
Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore
Published by Osuna Publishing
This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogue, and locales are either drawn from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, and locales is entirely coincidental.
Part One. Dreams in the Desert
At four-thirty when Mom opened the front door, I heard her say, “Matthew! How good to see you—er, John, you’re here too. Come on in.”
Thank God. I didn’t know how John had pulled off coming with Matthew, but I was grateful he’d done so.
Despite Mom’s hints to change, I had stayed in jeans and white cotton shirt, keeping my hair in its ponytail, refusing to put on make-up. I wanted to look as boring as possible.
Dad was more welcoming of John’s presence than Mom. Which lifted my spirits, for it meant he didn’t truly care if I dated Matthew or not.
Matthew stepped into the living room smelling of his dad’s aftershave—a massive turn-off. He said to me in accusation, “John said you told him to come too.”
John lightly kicked Matthew’s heel. As realization dawned on Matthew that he’d been rude to me, he froze up like a deer in the headlights.
“Of course I did,” I said. “John has been a great help in explaining First Beginnings to me and Henry.” Let my parents ponder that. With any luck, they’d insist on John coming over any time Matthew did.
Matthew said, “Oh, what I meant to say was I’m glad you asked my brother to, uh, help you all get adjusted to our church.”
I watched John close his eyes. From his perspective this had to be like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Give it up, John. Your brother’s as sensitive as a brick. And there’s no way in hell I’d date someone who had chased down my brother.
Giving Matthew an easy time of it didn’t appeal to me at all. So I kept my mouth shut. Mom was forced to make small talk with Matthew about the weather while Dad wandered off to do more unpacking. John picked up on my simmering hostility and made warning gestures to Matthew, which were ignored.
After a few more failed attempts to bring me into the conversation, Matthew and Mom ran out of things to say. So Mom shooed us out of the house to go to Youth Group. The Andervenders’ SUV was parked in the driveway.
Matthew unlocked the SUV remotely, which gave me the opportunity to slip into a back seat before he or John could object.
What followed was a drive of utter silence for the first five minutes. Then John filled the void by talking to Matthew about his and Mr. Brown’s latest travails in trying to get Brown’s old house ready for sale. John’s tales of fire-prone aluminum electrical wiring, a sagging roof, black widows, and nests of mice hidden in the walls made the ride pass quickly.
Matthew turned off Tramway Boulevard onto a paved road that, to my surprise, changed to dirt. We drove past adobe houses on fenced two-acre lots covered in native scrub. Some lots had horses wandering around.
The SUV pulled through the open gate of an adobe wall. I saw a sprawled-out ranch house, which had to be twice the size of my own home. There’s no way they can afford this on a pastor’s salary. I searched my memory for anything Mom might have said about money.
A gravel driveway made a U-shape to the front porch, on which teenagers were sitting or standing. A line of cars and trucks were parked in a makeshift gravel lot near the property wall.
A memory came to me—Dad saying, “Must be nice to have a trust fund.” And Mom said, “It was God’s gift to Gena so her husband could dedicate himself to ministry.”
Matthew parked outside the garage. He said, “Well, this is our house. First is the Scripture reading from Corinthians, then pizza, then discussion.”
“Hmm,” I said. I opened my door and hopped down before Matthew could get out.
Cries of greeting came from the porch. A cluster of girls, all wearing dresses, came over and surrounded me, asking if the thin air still bothered me. The girls also chatted with John, but mostly ignored Matthew. After a few minutes of being passed over, Matthew left for the porch.
All the boys stuck to the porch and spoke in voices too low for me to make the words out.
My cell phone was hidden in my purse, set to OFF. The last thing I wanted was my owning a cell phone becoming a sore point with these teenagers. My parents would get pressured to take it away.
The talking stopped when the screen door opened. Pastor Andervender came out, Laura following behind him. He said, “Time is wasting. Downstairs, please.”
The house’s interior was polished wood floors and whitewashed walls. Unlike my house, it had air conditioning and smelled of lemons. The artificial chill gave me goosebumps after being in the desert heat.
As we passed through a living room of bookcases and leather furniture, Laura maneuvered to walk next to me. She whispered in my ear, “The rec room door is to the left.”
The stairs were narrow and circled around and around. There was no chatter or jokes. Andervender’s creaking tread could be heard from the end of the line.
The rec room was halfway buried into the earth and had high narrow windows.
I headed toward a cracked leather chair at the periphery of the gathering, but Laura and another girl (whose name I could not remember) tugged me over to the ripped green couch and had me sit between them.
I sank into the foam padding, and tried to ignore the curious looks. There were ten teenagers here, not counting myself, and Pastor Andervender. This would likely be my entire high school group if I obeyed my parents about going to First Beginnings.
This is WAY too small a group for me.
Andervender sat in a scratched dining chair near the stairs. He checked his cell phone, and I noticed how the others stared at his phone. “Let me make sure this rude contraption doesn’t disturb us. Its racket can ruin the soul’s contemplation.” He put the cell phone away.
John stood next to a glass coffee table with a hairline crack. He picked up the Bible from the table and began to read.
To my relief the reading had nothing to do with hate, but was instead about gifts of the Spirit. He read in a lively manner that soothed, as if I’d found a warm patch of sunlight in a cold room.
After John finished, Andervender huffed to his feet. I felt shoved back into an unwelcome reality.
“Very good, John.” Andervender launched into a sermon. I blanked out by thinking about ways to get my parents to say yes to the Sandia Crest trip, and how to coax them into getting Henry’s therapy programs restarted.
Andervender startled me out of my musings by saying, “So, Marian, what gift of the Spirit do you bring us?”
I blushed. The question was too intimate to talk about in front of all these strangers. Unbidden, my mind turned to the vivid dreams I’d been having.
Andervender frowned. “What are you thinking about?”
Dreams. I searched the wall behind him for a distraction. “The fish-shaped clock. I’ve never seen one before.”
“Well, we’re waiting.”
“I’m sorry, but my mind is blank.”
“Blank?” He blinked at me as if he couldn’t believe his ears. “Those who are blank slates are easily written upon by Satan.” He harrumphed. “Well, you weren’t properly guided, so your spiritual development is nonexistent.”
John made a noise of protest.
Andervender glared at him. “Be silent … or leave.”
Teenagers squirmed as the tension rose between John and Andervender. I watched John’s mouth twist into a bitter thin line.
Andervender took John’s silence as acquiescence. The pastor looked around the room with a challenging stare. I was shifted around on the couch as Laura and the other girl leaned away.
Satisfied, Andervender turned his attention back to me. “Have you ever had a vision? Spoken in tongues? Testified? Preached? Laid hands of healing on someone?” He flexed his fingers. “Anything?”
Harsh words choked in my throat as I again recollected him grabbing Henry’s head.
He pointed an index finger at my face. “You’re hiding something.”
I stared straight back at him, trying not to flinch.
The rec room door opened. I could smell melted cheese and risen crust. “The pizzas are here,” Gena called down.
Andervender broke eye contact with me. He called up, “We’re coming.” He said to the others, “Okay, time for dinner.”
I jumped up, and reached the stairs first, leaping them two at a time.
Gena caught sight of me as I emerged, “Marian, w—”
I skidded on the slick wood, but rushed past Gena, throwing open the front screen door with a bang.
The driveway gate was open. I headed for it, my sneakers crunching on the gravel, the air smelling of hot stone. The sky felt broad and wide after the confines of the Andervenders’ house.
John called out, “Marian, wait!”
I stopped so John could catch up with me.
John said, “Where are you going?”
“I don’t know.” I began to stride parallel to the adobe wall, and John fell in step beside me. The Andervenders’ front yard was scrub and neatly trimmed evergreens.
“Dad hates it when I interfere with his searching of the Spirit,” John said. “I made things worse.”
“It doesn’t matter. I’m never going to fit in at First Beginnings.”
“I know.” He took a deep shuddering breath. “Sydney always said she didn’t belong.”
I linked my hands behind my back and tilted my head toward him. I didn’t dare say anything for fear of making him stop talking.
“Last day of classes before winter break, she broke down and told me about the teachers and students harassing her to dump Donovan. She’d kept it secret from me for weeks. Her dad told her she’d be grounded if I found out.” John bunched his hands into fists. “Mr. Bauer asked them to ‘help’ him. They knew I’d interfere.” He looked away. “After lunch I proceeded to tell everyone exactly what I thought of them. I got thrown out and sent off to Texas because of my ‘disorderly conduct.'”
I stopped, and laid a hand on his covered arm. This time he didn’t flinch away. I waited for him to speak, but he didn’t. “Did you … did you get a chance to talk to her before—”
“Yeah, I called her the night I got kicked out.” John stared unseeing at my hand on his arm. “She sounded disconnected. Told me everything was fine, and that she’d see me after I got back from Texas. Damn, I should have realized how depressed she was.”
The screen door opened. John stepped back from me, and I swiftly dropped my hand as Gena emerged. Gena called out, “Dinner’s almost done.”
John led the way back, holding open the screen door for me. Faint chatter could be heard from the direction of the rec room. I followed John into the kitchen, and got a slice of pizza and a soda.
Shrieks and giggles came from upstairs, and the thump of shoes running across the ceiling. Mark and Luke.
Gena glanced up, and shook her head. “Those two sillies. They’re all excited. Time for me to get them in the bath.”
I overheard Gena whisper to John while he was at the sink, “You have such a gift for calming people.” John tensed, then whirled away from the sink to leave the kitchen. I followed him back to the rec room.
Silence fell as soon as I came in view on the stairs. Everyone stopped eating, and gave me and Andervender nervous looks.
Andervender paused in perusing the Bible, his finger holding his place. He now sat in the cracked leather chair I’d eyed earlier. He said to John, “So, you gathered up our lost sheep.” He beckoned for me to come closer.
I made myself take each step—going forward was the only way out of here.
Andervender said, “So, do you have something to tell me?”
I realized he expected me to apologize, then pour out my guts in public. “I doubt I have any gift of the Spirit. To ask me in front of strangers was rude—not to mention I hardly know you. I’d like to go home now, please.”
Andervender clenched his Bible so tightly I feared he’d rip it in half. He gave me a ghastly smile. “Matthew, please drive Marian home. Marian, I’ll talk to you later. Everyone, let’s begin the discussion.”
John watched me as I dumped my pizza and soda in a trash can. From his bitter expression, I knew the fear of making things worse kept him silent. I followed a sullen Matthew up the stairs.
I was not surprised when Matthew slammed the Andervenders’ front door and his SUV door. He didn’t look at me while driving, just kept his eyes on the road. We went the entire distance without speaking.
After he parked in my driveway, I said, “We need to talk.”
Matthew shifted in his seat, but kept looking forward, his hands draped across the steering wheel. “Make it quick.”
“I know our folks were thinking about us going out, but it’s impossible. We’re too different.”
“You’ve got that right.” He gripped the steering wheel so hard his fingers turned white. “How dare you treat my Dad like that!”
“After what you and your father did to my brother, I don’t care.” I threw open my door and jumped down, slamming it so hard the SUV rocked.
Matthew leapt out, and got in front of me before I could reach the house. “What’s that supposed to mean?” He was flushed, guilty as hell.
“You know exactly what I mean! You pinned Henry while your dad grabbed his head, you jerk.” I tried to get past him, but he blocked me.
“My Dad is trying to help your brother!”
I heard the front door open. “His ‘help’ sucks. Get out of my way!”
Mom stood in the doorway, her hand over her mouth.
Matthew became aware Mom was watching and stood aside. But as I passed, he whispered, “You leave my brother alone.”
I glared up at him. “He cares a hell of a lot more than you about Henry.”
Matthew said nothing more as I stalked up to the door.
Mom stood there wide-eyed, blocking the entrance, and I yelled, “Let me through!”
Matthew took off in a squeal of tires.
To my dismay, Mom trailed after me as I went to my bedroom. Mom said, “You didn’t have to be so nasty to him.”
I shot back over my shoulder, “Yes I did. He is such a jerk,” and slammed my bedroom door in Mom’s face.
************** End of Part One. 18. *****************
Have a great Halloween, and see you next week, L.M.