Tag Archives: Short stories

Soul Cages – Part One. Dreams in the Desert. 22.

Here’s Chapter 22 from Soul Cages (rated PG-13).

Soul Cages

 Lynn Kilmore

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

22

I found Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday followed the same schedule as Monday. Morning run, then watching Dad drive off at seven. Unpacking boxes, then John arriving after lunch to fix things. Helping with repairs, then participating in a prayer circle with Mom and John at five-thirty when he left. Eating a too-silent dinner with Henry and Mom, then taking Henry out to play at Piñon Park; Ben, Sarah, and Fermat joined us on Wednesday evening. Sneaking off to call Nicole, then Dad stumbling home exhausted at nine from work.

Through it all, the winds blew, kicking up reddish dust to hang above the city. And the upcoming meeting with Andervender on Friday loomed in the back of my mind.

I asked Ben to stop by with Jin on Sunday to meet Dad. Ben was willing, so we set the time for one-thirty.

Every day John and I talked, but kept to safe topics since Henry and Mom interrupted us frequently. We talked about Alexandria versus Albuquerque; about autism; about Habitat for Humanity; about the yard work he did for Mr. Brown, Mrs. Girady, Mr. Rickmand, Miss Wratham and others; about East Alexandria High School, though I left Trent out; about my summer trips with Grannie and Aunt Letty to the Outer Banks; about the black sheep in John’s family—Uncle Arn, who was an entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles; about Grannie’s love of writing poetry and poetry slams; and on and on.

Each night I wondered if I ought to fake a fight with John to take the pressure off him to change my mind about First Beginnings. On Thursday night’s call I asked Nicole for advice.

“Forget it,” Nicole said. “It’s too late. They know you two get along, and would expect any fight to blow over. But if you told your mom you wanted to date him, his parents would freak since they think you’re not a good Christian. He’d be ordered to stay away.”

My heart sank. “I’d do it, except I’d lose John’s friendship.”

“Well, it’s the only solution I can think of. You sound so lonely and stressed out there. Once Mom’s past the chemo, I’ll come out to visit.”

“That’d be great.” But I wondered how willing Mom and Dad would be to have Nicole visit. They had left no friends behind, just acquaintances and coworkers. I doubted they would want to find out how First Beginnings looked through Nicole’s eyes.

************** End of Part One. 22. *****************

Happy Thanksgiving! L.M.

Soul Cages – Part One. Dreams in the Desert. 21.

We’re approaching the end of Part One of  Soul Cages (PG-13). Just a few more chapters, and then it’s on to Part Two.

Soul Cages

 Lynn Kilmore

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

21

I spent the morning helping Henry unpack his boxes and hanging up his white boards (one used for his daily schedule, the other for his monthly calendar). But the overstimulation of the last few days had taken its toll on him. Henry began to repetitively flick his legs, arms, and face after lunch.

“Hey,” I said, “do you need a deep pressure session?”

Henry ran for the white couch and got the seat cushions pulled off before I caught up with him. He flopped onto the carpet and lay on his stomach.

I piled the cushions on his back and legs. He preferred that I start with his back, so I placed both hands on the cushion, which rose and fell with Henry’s breathing, and pushed down as hard as I could.

Henry gave a happy sigh.

Then the blasted doorbell rang. I let Mom answer the door since I had no keys to unlock it. I was relieved to hear only John’s voice in answer to Mom’s greeting as I kept up the pressure on Henry’s back.

John’s toolbox rattled as he said, “I’ll start with the main bathroom faucets you told me about. Then I’ll look over the irrigation system.” He caught sight of Henry and me in the living room, and paused, bemused.

“Marian is helping Henry to calm down,” Mom said.

John put down his toolbox and came into the living room. He had fresh grass stains on his jeans and T-shirt. “Can I help?”

I leaned forward to whisper in Henry’s ear, “Is it okay if John pushes the leg cushion?”

“Yeah,” Henry said.

“Go ahead and push down on the cushion on his legs,” I told John. “Henry will say ‘more’ or ‘less’ if he needs you to push harder or relax.”

On his first attempt, John pressed gingerly on the cushion, and Henry said “More.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “You can’t hurt him with that cushion.”

John studied how much weight I was putting on mine, and adjusted his arms accordingly.

Henry gave a pleased grunt.

“Now you’ve got it,” I said.

“How long do you apply pressure?” John asked.

“You don’t have to keep doing this,” Mom interjected. “Marian’s got it under control.”

“No, it’s all right,” John said to Mom. “Like I said, I want to understand Asperger’s better.”

Mom fiddled with her keys. I could tell Mom was embarrassed about John seeing Henry like this.

I said, “I usually do this for ten to fifteen minutes per cushion. Feel free to get up whenever you’ve had enough.”

But John stayed the entire time, asking questions. I ended up giving a rather detailed lecture about the nervous system difficulties of kids with autism. At some point Mom wandered off to unpack boxes in the kitchen.

Once done, Henry followed John to the main bathroom to watch him work on the faucets and clogged sinks.

I went back to work on Henry’s boxes. But I could hear bangs and clangs from the main bathroom, and the muffled rise and fall of Henry’s voice asking questions.

Then I overheard Mom go into the main bedroom and scold Henry for bothering John. Which shut Henry up. But the clatter of tools and hammering went on. I was impressed that Henry didn’t come running into his bedroom with his hands over his ears. The lure of a toolbox had proved to be strong enough to overcome Henry’s noise sensitivity.

I’d gotten to unpacking Henry’s CDs of animal recordings— whales, frogs, and wolves were his favorites—when the racket stopped.

Henry said in the hall, “Here’s my dead bug collection.” He dragged John by the hand into his bedroom.

John caught sight of Sydney’s closet, and paled.

“Henry, let me get the collection for you.” I rushed for the shoebox on top of his short bookcase. “You can take it out to the backyard where the light is better.” I put the box in Henry’s free hand, and he whirled around and tried to drag John out of the room.

But John resisted, his gaze fixated on the closet. The raw pain on his face made me look away.

Henry tugged harder at John’s hand.

John snapped out of his thoughts. “It’s okay. There’s enough light for you to show me the collection here.”

I watched him struggle to listen to Henry as my brother pointed out the various dead insects and spiders he’d gathered.

When it became clear Henry was stuck in a monologue, I said to him, “Henry, how about you take your box outside and add those dead spiders we found near the apple tree?”

Henry raced out of the room. I made to follow, but John reached out toward me and said, “Stay, please.”

We both stared at the closet.

“There’s something I need to do,” John said. “If you would warn me if you hear your mother.”

I moved over to the bedroom door and listened. “Mom’s in the kitchen,” I whispered.

John walked over to the closet door slowly, as if he moved underwater, and gently grasped it to pull it all the way open. He took a sharp breath when the scent of roses hit him, and then flicked on the closet light.

The grimy interior was just as depressing as I remembered it. John stepped inside, kneeled, made the sign of the cross, and bowed his head.

He began to pray, too softly for me to hear.

My ears strained to place Mom’s movements. A faint sound of ripping cardboard; Mom tearing open a box.

John finished his prayer, made the sign of the cross upon the floor, and then stood up and proceeded to say the Lord’s Prayer while making the sign of the cross on the walls, closet door, and into the air.

Then he came out, flicking off the light. He said, sorrow in his voice, “I’ve done what I can.”

I was unable to hide my confusion.

He touched the cross around his neck. “Some say the souls of suicides are lost or damned.”

I thought of Sydney and shivered. “What does your father believe?”

“He believes they’re damned.”

“And you?”

“I’m pinning my hopes on grace.”

“You were praying for her soul, weren’t you? Praying she finds her way if she’s lost.”

John nodded.

Henry’s room felt too dark and damp. I needed sunlight. “Let’s take a break and join Henry in the backyard.”

I headed for the kitchen, John following. Mom was busy putting fine china in high cabinets where Henry couldn’t reach.

Mom caught sight of John. “How’s the faucets?”

“Fixed,” John said. “I’m going to look at the back irrigation system.”

I hurried into the backyard.

“I’ll bring out lemonade in a few minutes,” Mom called after us.

Henry sat in the house’s shadow watching anthills. The bright sunlight was welcome after Syd—no, Henry’s—room, but the gusts of dirt-filled wind were annoying.

John moved past me, and kneeled next to a plastic cover in the ground. “Stay back. May be black widows.” He flipped the cover up and over, and studied the interior. “All clear.”

Henry and I peered over John’s shoulder into the moist graveled pit in which the line valves for the irrigation system were laid.

Henry said, “Found two dead wolf spiders, and one dead daddy longlegs to put in my collection. I want any dead black widows.”

No,” John and I said in unison.

Henry groaned “Jinkies” in protest, and went back to watching anthills.

Mom came out, handed around plastic cups of lemonade, took a look at the valves, and then retreated back into the house complaining of the dust and heat.

John said in an undertone, “I’m going to check the irrigation sprinklers before I flip this system on. Come with me.”

His tone hinted that I wouldn’t like what he had to tell me. Something about Matthew or his parents, no doubt. “Okay.”

He went around the side of the house to the apple tree—out of earshot of Mom if the kitchen window was open. He studied the ground, and nudged a broken irrigation head near the tree. “Cracked,” he said to himself. “The ‘official’ reason I’ve been sent over here is that your parents need help getting this place fixed up.”

I tugged a leaf off the tree and crumpled it in my fist. “What’s the other reason?”

“Your mom told my parents about you demanding to go to a different church, and about the screaming match in the street between you and Matt.” John looked impressed. “That must have been some fight, because Matt swears he never wants to speak to you again. My mom’s given up on you two going out. I was supposed to help.”

“Yeah, I got to watch you stomp your brother’s toes and kick his heel.”

“Glad it’s over.” He shook his head. “My new commission is to change your mind about Youth Group and First Beginnings. But I think you should go where you want.”

“What happens if you fail in changing my mind?”

“That’s not your problem.”

“My feelings aren’t your responsibility!”

“They’ve now made it so. I’ll cope.” He pulled out a screwdriver to poke around the cracked irrigation head.

John acted like it was no big deal, but I sensed he was under intense pressure to get me in line. Anger simmered in me but I couldn’t think of an immediate solution. If I confronted Pastor Andervender, he’d figure out John was talking about things he was supposed to keep quiet.

There’s time, I told myself. I don’t have to have an answer now. Dad’s commitment to First Beginnings is weakening, and soon Mom’s will as well. I just need to be patient.

************** End of Part One. 21. *****************

Have a great week! L.M.

Soul Cages – Part One. Dreams in the Desert. 20.

My husband and dog are both definitely on the mend from their injuries from the dog attack, so I’m taking a quick moment to post the next chapter of Soul Cages as I promised. Oh, and the Goodreads giveaway of 9 signed copies will end by midnight on Nov. 18. (Soul Cages is PG-13.)

Soul Cages

 Lynn Kilmore

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

20

I crawled out of bed at six when my cell phone alarm went off. Thank God, I’d been spared another vivid dream. I needed to get back into a morning running routine no matter how tired I felt.

As I dressed in running clothes, I thought about the night before. Albuquerque sewer roaches had proved to be fast. The roaches loved to congregate in clusters next to the metal sewer covers. Henry had snuck up on each cluster to flick on his flashlight, causing them to scatter. If I’d let him, he would have done it for hours.

I’d convinced Dad to let me keep his keys, as long as he got them back before he left for work at seven.

The morning air was cool as I let myself out of the house. The Sandia Mountains blocked the rising sun. I did a slow run around my block ten times, studying the houses—there were barred windows, home security stickers, BEWARE OF DOG signs. One portion of the run I nicknamed Street of Barking Dogs due to the racket made as I jogged past. On a longer run I’d head for the bike trail to escape the incessant barking.

When I got back, Dad was microwaving his breakfast and had put out paper plates and napkins for everyone.

Dad said, “Mom and Henry are sleeping.” He pulled out his paper plate from the microwave—French toast sticks—and ate them with maple syrup and a sliced banana.

I sat at the kitchen table and put his keys on the smooth wooden surface, pushing them toward him. “I’ll see if Mom can get keys made from hers today.”

Dad looked apologetic. “I’ll have the car since it’s my first day. This Saturday we’ll drive over to a hardware store and have it done.”

“Okay. Oh, Ben was wondering if Henry and I could join him and his girlfriend Jin to explore Sandia Crest on Saturday.”

Dad paused in tossing his plate into the garbage.

I could tell he was torn. He knew Henry would love such a trip, but he hadn’t met Ben and Jin.

Dad threw the soggy paper plate away. “Not until I meet this Ben person first. And definitely not this Saturday, it’ll have to be a later one.”

He picked up his briefcase, made for the kitchen archway, stopped, and came back to me. “I know you’re angry about having to move out here for senior year, but your mother and I honestly believe we have a chance at curing Henry before it’s too late.” He leaned over and kissed me absentmindedly on the forehead. “Pastor Andervender wants to meet with you for counseling on Friday morning at eight-thirty. Be good and help your mother today. She’s exhausted from all the excitement.”

A counseling session with Andervender, just what I DON’T need.

************** End of Part One. 20. *****************

Take care until next time, L.M.

Soul Cages – Part One. Dreams in the Desert. 19.

When we last left off in Soul Cages (PG-13), Marian had just fought with Matthew and her mom.

Soul Cages

 Lynn Kilmore

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

19

I kept picking up my cell phone to hit Aunt Letty’s number, and putting it down again. Once I called my aunt, I’d be crossing a line I couldn’t return from. Mom and Dad had been enraged when I called Letty about the liquid diet the quack healer put Henry on. The result of the call had been Aunt Letty showing up in person, and a screaming argument which left Dad and Letty barely speaking to each other. Letty had won the fight and the quack’s treatment regimen was dropped, but the price had been high.

If I called Letty in to deal with Andervender, this time the break between Letty and my parents would likely be permanent.

To keep my hands busy I ripped open a moving box crammed with winter clothes.

Dad pounded on the door. “Open up, now.”

I unlocked my door. “It’s open.”

Dad came in first, followed by Mom. They sat down on my bed and watched me unpack sweaters into a dresser.

Mom said, “You were rude to Pastor Andervender, and rude to Matthew.”

“I’m not going to any more Youth Group meetings,” I said.

Mom shook her head. “You’ll continue going, or you’ll find yourself grounded.”

I dropped a blue wool sweater and stood up. “I don’t belong there. I’m miserable at First Beginnings.”

Mom said, “You need to go for your spiritual growth.”

“I’d rather go to a church like Grannie’s. I’m sure there’s a Methodist church nearby I could go to instead.”

Both Dad and Mom were taken aback.

Finally Dad got out, “Ma took you to her church?”

“Of course she did,” I said. “She invited me to go, she didn’t force me to do so.”

Dad was clearly dumbfounded by this. Mom, on the other hand, looked annoyed that Grannie had been sneaking me off to church for years.

Mom patted the bedspread, inviting me to sit next to her, but I ignored her. Mom said, “You have to understand. Pastor Andervender has special gifts, powers given to him because he does God’s will instead of what is politically correct.”

I said the next words slowly, feeling my way forward. “So you guys think it’s okay for Pastor Andervender and his followers to pound on Jewish people’s doors at Hanukkah to harass them? Does that mean Dad will be harassing the Jews at his new workplace when he starts tomorrow?”

Dad winced.

“Really, Marian,” Mom said, “don’t tell me you’ve been digging up lies. Who told you this?”

I thought of Ben, but said, “A neighbor told me. They’re not lies. The Jewish community really did file complaints against Pastor Andervender and First Beginnings last December for harassment.”

My words made Dad rub his bald spot.

Mom said, “There are a lot of people who are jealous of Pastor Andervender’s gifts, and they’ll say anything to ruin him. Gena told me about how miserable things got in Las Cruces before they abandoned the false church they were members of, and started their own independent church here in Albuquerque.”

I said, “I don’t care! I don’t want to be part of a tiny church full of Jew haters.”

Mom stormed out, while Dad blanched. He swallowed a couple of times and said, “Well, we’ve had a rough weekend. We’ll talk about this more later.”

He retreated out of my bedroom. I listened to his tread going down the hall, followed by the office door being firmly shut.

I stepped out into the hall to go listen at the office door, but Henry heard me. He ran out of his bedroom, waving a flashlight around like a trophy, and said, “Let’s hunt sewer roaches!”

Unfortunately, it was dark enough outside for the roaches to come out.

I shuddered at the thought of chasing huge roaches. I really ought to catch a few in a jar and dump them on John’s head for giving Henry this idea.

Henry and I went down the halls to the front door. I couldn’t make out the words being said from behind either office door. Too muffled.

As I was pulling open the front door, I realized that I had no way to lock it behind us. In fact, since the lock was a double-cylinder deadbolt, if our parents had locked it, Henry and I would have been stuck in the house.

None of the exits could be unlocked by hand to get outside—all needed keys. Not to mention the locked bars on the front and back doors.

We gotta get keys, or we’ll be pestering Mom and Dad every time we want to go outside. And what if there’s a fire? Need keys on a hook next to the front door just in case.

“Wait here,” I said to Henry. “I’ve got to get keys.”

I walked down the hall to the office door. Both Mom and Dad were in there, their voices muffled.

I rapped on the door. Dad opened it a crack.

I heard Mom say into her cell phone, “Wait a minute, Marian’s here.”

Let me guess. Mom called Gena.

Dad said to me, “What is it?”

“I need keys so I can take Henry out to look for roaches,” I said. “I promised.”

Dad dug into his pocket, and yanked out a ring of keys, holding them out to me through the crack. “Here. Don’t lose them.”

“Um, Dad.” I took the ring, warm from being in Dad’s pocket. “We need to plan on getting more keys made so Henry and I have our own copies, it—”

“Sure.” Dad nudged the door shut.

After a few seconds, I heard Mom talk softly into the cell phone.

************** End of Part One. 19. *****************

See you next week! L.M.

Soul Cages – Part One. Dreams in the Desert. 18.

Well, back to Soul Cages (PG-13). Marian is about to head off to her first youth group meeting for Andervender’s church.

Soul Cages

 Lynn Kilmore

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

18

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 silentor 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.