Saturday, December 13, 2014

Chapter 18, part 2: Avoiding Temptation

As I spent the night going back and forth between the dorm bathroom and my bed, what happened and what almost happened with Brad that afternoon tormented me. How did I let things go so far? Some leader I was turning out to be. Never mind evangelizing the Greeks, I couldn’t even admit to Tonya that I was part of CSF.
What next?  When I went to Brad’s room next time, the same pattern would repeat itself. He’d probably want to go even farther. And my curiosity about what would happen if I let him scared me. I felt like Ado Annie from Oklahoma, the girl who “cain’t say no.” 
The only really safe thing to do would be to break up. Then again, what was I afraid of? If the laws condemning Breanne and Lori were possibly antiquated, maybe the no sex before marriage rules were outdated too. Anyway, we didn’t necessarily have to have sex. What was wrong with just fooling around?
Who was I kidding? Some leader I was turning out to be, questioning the inerrancy of scripture so I could have my own way. Maybe it would be better for me to resign.
But how could I quit CSF? What reason would I give? Phoebe and Ian were counting on me. Mom and Daddy had been so proud when I shared the news. Probably the only person who’d be happy about it would be Lacey, but it wasn’t like me quitting would get her spot on the team back.
So it was back to breaking up with Brad. That wouldn’t be easy to do. Maybe I didn’t have to? It might be safer to just avoid him for a while. After all, school would be out in less than two weeks, and then we’d be halfway across the country from one another all summer long. 
Either he’d forget about me and move on with Zoey or another “pal,” or we could continue our relationship, but this time with fresh new boundaries. By the time I saw him again on the Germany trip, I’d be stronger and have better self-control. Maybe then I could be a pillar of purity, the one who could lead Brad and all his fraternity brothers to give up their evil ways and join the ranks of CSF.

Sleep finally came, only to be interrupted by a nightmare of Brad and Zoey in bed together, laughing at me. 
***

The next morning, I skipped breakfast at the dining hall and just ate some granola bars in my room. Rob came to pick Lacey up and from their conversation I gathered they were planning to spend the day in Avondale. I was alone in my room studying for finals when Brad knocked.

“Feeling better, babe?”

“Yes, in fact I’m starved now. Must have been food poisoning or one of those 24-hour bugs.”

“You get those a lot, huh?”

“Yeah,” I said as we headed to the dining hall for lunch. “My stomach has been more sensitive ever since I was on those antibiotics last semester. I’ll never know when a meal won’t agree with me.”

“So whatcha wanna do today?” Brad asked after lunch. “I was thinking we could snuggle up on your couch back in your room and watch Pirates for old times sake.”

That was a recipe for a major make out session if I ever heard one. “I’ve been cooped up in there studying all morning, and it’s so pretty out. How about we go for a walk?”

“That’s an awesome idea! My buddy Josh, the one you met last night, was just telling me about this neat spot he found upstream a bit. He said there’s even a waterfall. We could drive out and then hike around a bit.”

“Perfect!”

“We’ll just stop by my room first so I can grab my camera. For all intensive purposes I’m done with my photography project, but a few more shots can’t hurt.” 

I restrained myself from automatically saying “intents and purposes" to correct his grammar.  Though I didn't want to admit being so judgmental, errors like that drove me crazy.

After stops at both of our rooms for cameras, hats and sunscreen, we headed for the main entrance of Warner Hall.

Ian was playing pool by himself in the lobby. “You two look ready for adventure,” he said as we walked by. “Where are you off to?”

“Off to enjoy the great outdoors,” Brad said.

“We’re hoping to find some waterfalls,” I added.

“The ones up by Eddington?” Ian asked. “I’ve been meaning to make it out there.”

“Want to join us?” Brad asked.

“Sure!” Ian racked up the billiard balls and put the cue away. “What better way to spend a Sabbath afternoon than in God’s beautiful creation?”

We headed out to the parking lot. Ian started to climb in the backseat of Brad’s red hatchback.

I tapped him on the shoulder. “I can squeeze back there easier than you. Take shotgun,” I offered.

“Good idea, babe. I’d like to get to know your friend,” Brad said. “Ian, I’ve only met you twice, and both times you mentioned the Sabbath. I don’t get it. At first I thought you were Jewish, but now I know you’re in CSF with Giselle. I thought all Christians worshiped on Sunday. I asked Giselle about it but she said it was too hard to explain.”

Brad’s frank question surprised me. Maybe he was searching after all.

“Your question reminds me of the story of the Samaritan woman at the well,” Ian answered.

“Don’t remember that one from catechism class, sorry,” Brad said.

“She asked Jesus where it was right to worship God: on a certain mountain in Samaria, or at the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus told her neither … what counted was worshiping in Spirit and in Truth.”

“So the place didn’t matter; are you saying God doesn’t care which day we go to church either?” I asked.

“I’m not necessarily saying that. I do believe a day of rest from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday was ordained by God and still holds today, but it’s all meaningless without Jesus. Only by trusting in His completed work can you have a true Sabbath rest.”

“Do you think it is a sin to go to church on Sunday then?” Brad asked. “Not that I make it to Mass all that often, but if I did, I’d want to make sure it was on the right day.”

“Sunday is the Lord’s day, the day of resurrection. Both have meaning for me. Neither one would have meaning if I didn’t know Jesus the way I do. Do you know Him?”

Brad’s long silence unnerved me more than Ian’s boldness had. Had we offended him?

“Maybe not the way you and Giselle do,” Brad said at last. “But I have to admit, sometimes I wish I did. Meeting Giselle and now you might have been a blessing in the skies.”

In disguise, I silently corrected him.

Spiritual talk gave way to general chatter and silence as we enjoyed the tinkling laughter of the river and drunk in the beauty of the wildflowers carpeting the cathedral formed by the soaring trees. The falls were tiny compared to Yosemite, but still lovely.

The outing turned out to be quite romantic despite the company. When he wasn’t snapping pictures, Brad had his hand in mine or around my waist as much as the terrain would allow, and he stole a few kisses when Ian wasn’t looking.

Ian insisted on riding in back on the return trip. Brad drove with one hand, stroking the back of my hand or squeezing my knee with his other. Anticipation and dread built in my gut. It felt like we were leading up to something and I didn’t know if I’d be able to stop once we started.

“What next?” Brad asked after we said goodbye to Ian in the lobby. He pulled me into a deep kiss. “Want to go out to dinner?”

“Let’s just grab a quick bite in the dining hall. I’m sorry, but I really have to get back to studying for finals. I’m so glad we had this day together, though. It’s going to get crazy and we probably won’t have much of a chance to hang out between now and the last day of school.”

“Totally understand. Still want me to drive you to the airport when school gets out?”

“Isn’t it out of your way?” I asked.

“Not really. Besides, I want to spend all the time with you I can before you go all the way back to California. I’m going to miss you so much. At least we can keep in touch online.”


Chapter 18, part 1: Going Public

One Friday toward the end of April, I broke a long, lingering kiss with Brad and straightened up as much as I could in the huge bowl of his papasan chair. “I’ve been meaning to ask you. What do you think about coming with me tonight to CSF’s activity of the week? They’re showing Facing the Giants tonight.”
“Babe, we’ve been through this. I don’t have a problem with you personally, but a lot of people in that club of yours are judgmental freaks. Sorry to be so harsh, but I wouldn’t be caught dead in a CSF meeting. Besides, I thought tonight you could come with me to the Kappa Sig party. I want to show you off, and it’d be a good chance for you to get to know the others who’ll be coming to Germany with us.”
I considered fighting to get my way. I’d missed about one third of the CSF meetings, Bible studies and other planned events in April because Brad and I lost track of time holed up in his room, making out. I didn’t mind all that much; Brad’s kisses were heavenly and it was still awkward to be around Lacey and especially Rob. I stayed away from our shared room as much as possible these days.
I once again snuggled in beside Brad’s lean, well-muscled form and planted a wet smooch on his cheek. “I’d love to meet your friends,” I said. If anyone from the CSF leadership team questioned my absence, I could always explain that I’d been busy putting their plan for evangelizing the Greeks into action.
The combined population of Elk River College and the town of Elkridge was less than five thousand. The closest movie theater and bowling alley were twelve miles away in Exeter, meaning that for those without a car, there wasn’t much to do outside of clubs, social or otherwise. Nearly 80 percent of the freshmen class rushed each year.
But not me. I wasn’t sure if I had been more afraid that no club would pick me or that one would. For some reason I assumed all members of fraternities and sororities were godless – lost souls in search of nothing but pleasure. Maybe even alcoholics or even drug addicts. Brad seemed different, but that was when we were alone together. Would I see his true colors tonight.
Before I could speculate as to the answer, Brad pulled me into another long, slow kiss. All worries floated away as he intensified the kiss and ran his hands up and down my back. One moved to tangle in my long curly hair, and another teased at the hem of my loose cotton shirt. His rough hands were so warm on my abdomen. A niggle of conscience urged me to say something to stop his advancing caresses, but curiosity to see what he would do next and how it would feel won out. I returned his kiss with full passion, not stopping even when his hands cupped the outside of my bra.
A blast of music from Brad’s cell phone startled us both.
“Hey, Josh,” Brad finally said after fumbling to extract the phone from his pocket. “Dinner? Is it already that late? Sure, sounds good. We’ll meet you outside of Paxton Hall in five minutes.”
I sat up and pulled down my top, simultaneously relieved and frustrated at the break in action. How far would he have wanted to go if the phone didn’t ring? How far would I have let him go?
“Hungry?” Brad gave me a quick kiss. “That was my big brother in Kappa Sigma, Josh Breckenridge. He and his girlfriend Tonya thought it would be a good idea for the four of us to eat together before the party. Ready?”
“Sure.” How could I say that I dreaded meeting his friends? How could I possibly fit in with them?
Dinner went surprising well. I wolfed down three double-cheese slices of pizza while we chatted amiably. Josh and Tonya seemed normal and were easy to talk to. What did I expect? Horns growing from their heads? I thought. No wonder Brad thinks Christians are judgmental freaks.
The party started off small and laid-back in the sitting area of the Kappa Sig house. Brad introduced me to Tom Carmody and Owen Jacobs, the pitcher and catcher from the Elk River baseball team. Conversation ebbed and flowed around us, and I enjoyed watching Brad interact with his teammates and fraternity brothers.
My stomach started it’s by now familiar twists and gurgles. Why did this have to happen now of all times?
Tonya interrupted my thoughts. “Giselle, I haven’t seen you at many parties before. What do you usually do for fun?” Tonya asked.
Should I mention CSF? No, better not risk turning her off just yet. “I love to read,” I said instead.
“Cool, me too. What’s the latest book you’ve read?”
I mentioned a few titles and then let Tonya take over the conversation. The rumblings in my gut were increasingly distracting, but I nodded and smiled at the right times as Tonya described in detail her love of the latest young adult fiction series.
Tonya’s cell phone buzzed, and she checked the message.
“It’s about time,” Tonya said. “That was Josh. I told him to signal us when the kegs got here. Now this party can really get started! Coming, Giselle?”
Tonya led us through the maze of hallways to the back door of the building. As we neared the exit, the thump-thump of bass grew louder. The pulse of rap music assaulted my ear drums when we finally went outside. We stood at the top of a staircase leading down to a painted wood deck. People crowded the wide, shallow porch wall-to-wall with students, most with clear plastic cups of yellow liquid in hand.
From this vantage point on the stairs, we could see Brad at the opposite corner of the deck. A curvy redhead in a skimpy halter top and Daisy Dukes hung on his arm, whispering in his ear. He threw back his head and hooted in response to whatever she said, and then together they downed their beers in one swallow.
“Oh, good, Zoey’s already here,” Tonya said, evidently indicating Brad’s buxom drinking buddy.
Zoey? This was the “pal” he invited on our trip? Now I really did feel like I was going to be sick.
Tonya grabbed my hand and led me through the sea of people. As we squeezed and bumped past, I couldn’t help comparing myself to the other women there, glancing from my loose shirt and baggy pants and then at the scantily-clad tanned curves all around. I was overdressed, except for my face, which felt naked compared to the eyes rimmed with heavy liner and cheeks caked thick with makeup. Never had I felt more plain or dowdy. How could I hope to compete with the fun-loving bimbo on Brad’s arm? What was I even doing here?
By the time we reached Brad and Josh, there was no sign of Zoey. All I could think about was the building pressure in my stomach. This was worse than all the other episodes I’d had. Maybe I was coming down with the flu. I stood in stony silence as Tonya, Brad and Josh chugged a few more beers. They offered one to me, but I shook my head and mouthed no thank you. Eventually Brad yelled over the music to ask what was wrong.
I leaned close to his ear and explained my upset stomach. “I think I’d better head home,” I said. “Nice to meet you, Tonya, Josh,” I shouted. “Brad, say goodbye to Tom and Owen for me.”
Brad gave me a hug and attempted a kiss.
I turned away from his beer breath and offered a cheek. “Don’t want you to catch whatever I’ve got,” I quickly explained.
“Poor thing. Hope you feel better, babe. I’ll come by your room to check on you tomorrow morning, okay?”
“Sure, see you then.” 

Chapter 17, part 2: Brad's Surprise

“Good to see you, babe,” Brad said as I walked into his room after dinner the next night. He flipped shut his laptop and crossed the room to embrace me. “I have two surprises for you.”
I clapped and hopped up and down. “I love surprises!”
“You’re so cute.” He rummaged in his desk drawer and turned around with his arms behind his back. “Pick a hand,” he said with a mischievous grin.
“The left one.”
He held out a long skinny velvet box, but still held his right hand in a fist. “Go ahead, open it,” he urged.
I looked at him questioningly as I took the box. We had only been seeing each other for a few weeks. What could he mean by giving such a fancy present? I drew in a sharp breath at the sight of the sparkling cross necklace on a delicate chain. “Brad, this is too much.”
“Don’t worry – it’s not diamonds or anything, just some fake bling bling. A little something to help you celebrate. Even though I’m not as into all that faith stuff as you are, I know it’s a big deal that you’re going to be a leader or Cowhand or whatever they call it next year. Here, let me see that.” He reached for the box and took out the necklace. “I’ll help you try it on.”
I turned and lifted my heavy curls out of the way. I heard him put something on the desk before he reached around to place the cross pendant against the base of my throat. He struggled to fasten the tiny clasp. When it was finally on, he moved us to face the mirror, still wrapping his arms around me from behind.
“Beautiful, just like you,” he murmured. He met my eyes in the mirror. “Babe, will you let me call you my girlfriend?”
I drank in our reflection, enjoying the sight of such a handsome man with his arms around me. “Your girlfriend? What are we now?”
“The way I see things, right now we’re just seeing each other. But if we’re boyfriend and girlfriend, then we’ll be seriously dating. What do you say? Can we be exclusive?”
I met his eyes again through the mirror and nodded, breaking into a giggle at the huge smile that spread across his face.
“You made the right choice, babe,” he said, nuzzling my ear.
It felt so good, I didn’t want it to stop, and that scared me. I abruptly turned to face him. “Wait a minute. You said pick a hand. What would have happened if I said right instead of left?”
“Then I would have told you the other part of my surprise.” He turned back to the desk and scooped up a small keychain with a mug of beer on the end.
I stared at the tacky gift uncomprehendingly. “What’s this? You know I’m not much of a drinker.”
“I know, I know. It’s a symbol.”
“A symbol of what?”
“Of our trip to Germany this August!”
I stared at him, speechless for a moment. “Our trip? So you want to come along after all?”
“That’s right. Spending all that time with you will be worth missing a few games.”
“That’s so sweet. But you won’t need to miss them after all. I never did manage to find enough people to go.”
“I figured as much, that’s why I got a few of my frat brothers and my pal Zoey to sign up too. We all put our deposits down today. It’s a done deal.”

I threw my arms around his neck. “Thank you! You’re the best boyfriend a girl could ever have.” 


Chapter 17, part 1: Recruiter

When I went to put the deposit for the trip on my credit card the following week, it turned out to be a moot point anyway.
“Sorry, Miss Gottlieb, but there hasn’t been much interest in this trip. I think it might be canceled.” Dr. Eberhardt said when I approached him after class.
“Canceled? Why?”
“You’re actually the first student to commit to going, and if we don’t have at least four more definite commitments by the end of next week, we can’t go. I knew it was a gamble to announce a trip this late in the year. Too last minute to get a good response.”
“But if at least five students sign up by the end of next week, we can still go?”
“That’s right.”
“Okay, so why don’t you take my deposit now, and I’ll work on getting some of my friends to come along.”
“I like your enthusiasm, Miss Gottlieb. I suppose we can try that. I don’t see how it would hurt to take your deposit now. Worst case scenario, you’ll be the first one signed up for next year’s excursion.”
Despite my bravado with Dr. Eberhardt, I tried and failed to think of four people I’d feel comfortable inviting to go. Any time I thought of an acquaintance who might be interested, I imagined the conversation and thought of all the reasons they’d say no. They might even think I was weird for bringing it up.
That Friday just before dusk, Brad and I walked hand in hand off campus for a date.
“Look, there’s my friend Ian,” I told Brad. “I’ve been wanting to introduce you to him.” I called Ian’s name.
“Hey, Gigi,” Ian said when we caught up. “Brad, heard about your grand slam at this afternoon’s game. Awesome.”
“We’re headed to the Shake Shack to celebrate with an ice cream. Want to join us?” Brad asked.
“Have to take a rain check, bro. It’s almost sundown. Ice cream is great, but fellowship of believers on the Sabbath is even sweeter,” Ian said.
A twinge of guilt shot through me as we said our goodbyes. Since I started seeing Brad, I’d missed a few CSF meetings. Last weekend I even missed church with Lacey after a Saturday midnight movie in Avondale kept us out until almost 3:00 a.m.
“Sabbath? Is he Jewish or something?” Brad asked after Ian turned onto a side street.
“Not exactly. It’s hard to explain,” I said. I wasn’t really in the mood for a spiritual conversation just then, so I quickly changed the subject. “Hey, remember that trip I told you about? It’s probably not going to happen. I’m so bummed.”
I explained the minimum attendance requirement. As far as I knew, I was still the only one interested .
“That sucks. I wish I could tell you I’d go just to make you feel better.”
“I sense a but coming …”
“But, what about the unrest in the world right now?” He knitted his brow. “Is it even safe to travel? And what if we get picked for one of those random enhanced patdowns? I don’t know if I could deal with someone — I mean some guy — touching my junk.” He winked.
Those issues had never even crossed my mind. “I guess I didn’t think of it like that …” I trailed off, lost in thought. Daddy said it was a waste and Brad just said it was dangerous. Was I being foolish to even consider the trip? But then again, a freak accident could happen to us at any minute. I didn’t want to miss out on a chance to see the world because of fear. “You may have a point, Brad, but--”
“Aww, Giselle, I was kidding. Sure, all the craziness in the world does freak me out a little, but … Well, the truth is, it’s just that I can think of other things I’d rather do with my summer – like go to Indians games. My dad has season tickets and I’ve kind of made it my personal goal to attend all the home games I can. Isn’t there anyone else you can ask?”
“That’s the thing. It’s probably stupid, but I’m afraid to bother people or seem pushy by telling them where to go and what to do.”
“You don’t have to be pushy, just bring it up in conversation, you know?”

“That’s worth a shot, I guess. I’ll try that.”  

I mentioned the trip to Ian the next time I saw him, but he said that though it sounded fun, he couldn’t miss his family’s annual trip to visit his grandparents in Michigan the first week in August. Lacey still wasn’t speaking to me, which made it hard to bring up the concept of traveling together to a remote location in casual conversation. Maybe Breanne?

I walked over to her room, planning to join her for dinner. I knocked and pushed the door open.

She was on the bed making out with someone with long dark hair.

“Excuse me, I didn’t know I was interrupting anything,” I said as I quickly backed out of the room.

“Oh, Zella, it’s you. Come on in.” Breanne turned to me. “This is my girlfriend, Lori.” She stood to reveal a small brunette woman who I recognized from the grocery store on Main Street. She looked to be at least 10 years older than us. “She’s the reason I missed the movie the other night.”

“Nice to meet you,” I said, shaking her hand. So the rumors were true. How could I not see it?

“Zella, I’ve heard so much about you,” Lori said. She looked at me appraisingly. “I can see why Breanne was crushing on you last semester.”

“Uh, thanks,” I said. Did she say crushing on me?  How dense was I?

I didn’t know what to say so decided to change the subject. “I was actually headed to the dining hall to eat. Want to join me?” I asked.

“Dinner time already? Whoa, we really did lose track of time,” Lori said, winking at Breanne. “You know how it is when you’re in love,” she said to me.

“I’m starved.” Breanne said. “But, um, could we go some place off campus?”

“Sure thing, love,” Lori said. She turned to me, “We were in the dining hall yesterday, and this couple comes up to us and asks us if we know that queers will burn in hell.”

“That’s awful. Who would do that?”

“I hate to tell you this,” Breanne said, “but it was your roommate.”

“Lacey said that to you?”

“Well, not exactly. Her boyfriend did all the talking.”

“That Rob! He’s awful. I’ve never liked him — an intolerant, arrogant jerk.”

“Just like every other Christian I’ve ever met,” Lori said.

“I’m a Christian,” I said quietly.

“Zella, you’re different,” Breanne said quickly. “I don’t know why, but you are. You and Phoebe. Before I met you both, I felt just like Lori, that all Christians were hateful bigots. But if all Christians were like you, maybe I’d even want to be one.”

“Come to CSF with me some time,” I offered. “You’ll find out there are a lot more people like me and Phoebe there than people like Rob.”

Breanne and Lori giggled and flirted with each other over dinner. It made me uncomfortable at first, but then I saw how happy Breanne seemed. Weren’t they just like any other couple newly in love? Did gender really matter?

When the Religion 101 professor had ranted about the irrelevance of the Bible to modern-day sexual ethics last semester I’d flatly dismissed his arguments as heretical, sacrilegious, blasphemous. Now, faced with a real-life example of two people condemned by Biblical standards, I felt less certain. Slavery was allowed in the Old Testament and outlawed today, same with polygamy. Maybe homosexuality was an example of something outlawed then that was permissible today?

When I got back to my room, I realized I had completely forgotten to ask Breanne about the trip to Germany.

Chapter 16, part 2: Bad Reaction

Monday afternoon, Lacey sat hunched over her desk, her back to the door when I came in from classes.
“Hi, roomie!” I said.
She only grunted an acknowledgment of my cheery greeting. Was she angry with me? No, probably just concentrating hard on her studies.
I scrambled up to my loft bed and settled into read a mystery novel I had checked out from the campus library. It had a romance angle to the story as well, and I raised my eyebrows in delighted surprise when the love scenes became increasingly steamy.
One particular description of the heroine’s physical reaction sent an unexpected jolt through me. Almost unconsciously, I crossed my legs tightly as I re-read the scene. Wait. What am I doing? Lacey’s right there.
Just then there was a rap on their door. I froze. The knock repeated, more loudly. Lacey still made no move to answer it.
“Who is that knocking at my door?” I sang out as I climbed down. I hoped the song would cover my flustered embarrassment at what I had been reading. I swung the door open, revealing Phoebe Daniels, the outgoing CSF Chief Shepherd, and Becky Burke, who would be taking her place next year.
“Hey, Giselle, do you always give your guests a musical greeting?” asked Phoebe.
“Just on special occasions.” I gave a sheepish grin and felt my color rising.
“Well today is a very special occasion,” Becky said. “Can we come in?”
“Sure, what’s going on?”
Lacey turned from her studies and approached the door. “Hi, Becky, hi, Phoebe. What’s up?”
Phoebe and Becky squeezed onto the narrow black futon under my loft, and Lacey and I each pulled out our wooden desk chairs.
Phoebe cleared her throat again. “Well, first of all, we were so excited to see both of you volunteer to be part of next year’s leadership team.”
“We think you both have awesome hearts for God,” Becky added.
“Wait, Becky, there was something I wanted to say first. ”As you know, we don’t usually pick sophomores to be on the Shepherd team, but we have to remember that God’s ways are not our ways. Sometimes the decisions we make turn out to surprise all of us—”
“I’m sorry,” Lacey interrupted, “but I’m dying of suspense … and I’m sure Gigi is too. We know what you’re here to tell us, so if you don’t mind, can we hurry this along?”
“I’d really like to give a little more explanation of our thinking process first,” Phoebe said. “This year, we were really focused on using a strategy to guide our choices. We want the right type of leaders to get our foot in the door to reach different segments of Elk River’s student body, especially those underrepresented in CSF.”
Lacey leaned back in her chair and folded her arms. “Like who?” she asked.
“Well, everybody really, but especially the Greeks,” Phoebe said. “That’s where you come in, Giselle. Word on the Elkie Grapevine is that you and Brad Talbert are an item.”
Lacey raised her eyebrows at this information. “You never said anything to me,” she said. “How long has this been going on, Giselle?”
Before I had a chance to reply, Becky and Phoebe continued their explanation.
“I don’t know him that well,” Becky said, “but everyone knows his name after the amazing season the Elkie baseball team’s had the past few years. Imagine how God could use someone like that, someone with so much influence on campus. Is he a believer?”
I shifted in my seat. “Uh, well, I think he’s Catholic. We’re still getting to know each other really … I could try to bring it up in conversation and find out for you if you want.”
“You have the right idea,” said Phoebe. “What we really would like is for you to use your position as Brad’s girlfriend and your position as CSF Shepherd to start influencing the Greeks for Christ.”
The legs of the chair made a harsh squeak against the linoleum floor as Lacey sprung to her feet. “This is ridiculous. You’re picking her? Just because she’s missionary dating some frat boy?”
“Yes, but—”
“I’m not finished. I can’t believe this! My oldest brother is the one who invented the whole Shepherd system when he was here twenty years ago. I started praying that God would let me serve Him as a CSF Shepherd before I can even remember. I deserve this way more than her.”
I was surprised at the disdain in her voice.
Lacey headed for the door. “Don’t tell me this decision was made with prayer – you’re just looking to win a popularity contest. Rob was right about all of you.” With that, Lacey stormed from the room and slammed the door.
We sat in uncomfortable silence.
“Sorry about that, Giselle,” Phoebe finally said. “Becky, don’t say it.”
“Can’t help it. I told you so! We should have just told them they were both on the team right up front.”
“Wait,” I said. “Lacey made it?”
“Of course she made it – as a legacy, she almost is guaranteed a spot on the team. It’s too bad she reacted this way. Now I think we might have to reconsider. We were planning to pick you both – and Ian too. With you three being so close, it seemed like a great foundation for a strong group of sophomores on the Shepherd team next year.”
“Who else did you pick?”
“You three, plus the Finley twins, and Dwayne Jurgen. I don’t know if you’ve met him. He’s a junior,” Phoebe answered.
“But now it seems Lacey might not be quite as spiritually mature as we thought. We might be looking for an alternate to take her place,” Becky said.
I stayed silent, too stunned to immediately jump to my friend’s defense. Lacey’s disdainful tone echoed in my ears. I nodded slightly to myself as I remembered what I had been reading when the CSF leaders knocked on her door. Lacey was more right than she knew.
“I see you feel the same way,” Phoebe said, seeing my nod. “Since you know her better than we do, we’ll have to take that into serious consideration.”
“No, wait—”
“Giselle, you’re so sweet,” Becky said. “I know you’d never want to go on record as speaking against your friend. And you didn’t say anything, really. But that little nod says volumes. I’ll have to talk it over with the others, but if it were up to me, Lacey’s out. We’ll have to meet again and decide whether to replace her with an alternate or only have eleven Shepherds next year.”

No matter how I tried to explain, Becky and Phoebe’s minds were made up. My stomach roiled. My best friend on campus would never realize her lifelong dream, and it was all my fault. How would Lacey ever forgive me?
***
I called home that night.
Mom was thrilled to hear that I’d been picked as a CSF leader. I left out the fight with Lacey and my own uncertainty as to my fitness for the job. I asked to speak to Daddy. “Deposits are due on the Germany trip soon, and I still haven’t asked if he’ll help me out.”
“Don’t get your hopes up Giselle,” Mom warned before handing the phone to Daddy.
After some small talk with him about how my studies were going, I mentioned the trip. I started by describing the itinerary in glowing terms, emphasizing that it would be educational.
Daddy interrupted. “Giselle, I can see where this is leading. Let me save you time and energy. The answer’s no. Do you want me to be broke in my old age? I need to save every penny for retirement.”
I rolled my eyes, grateful that we weren’t Skyping. I wanted to retort, but bit my tongue, holding back what I really wanted to say: “Every last penny except for the few thousand you spent on that new Beemer, or on tee times, or… ”
“I was hoping to use the money from the settlement with the oral surgeon,” I lied.
“Out of the question. I already put it in Oma’s trust. That money is to be used strictly for your education. If I had my way there wouldn’t be any trust at all. I’d rather have you pay your own way – how else will you ever understand the value of money?”
“Fine, I’ll find another way to get it.”
“That’s the spirit. But this whole thing sounds like a waste to me. If you have extra money, you should be saving it for the future, not gallivanting across Europe as though money grows on trees.”
I tried not to indulge my hurt and disappointment. Why did I expect him to have changed? I straightened my shoulders and forced my voice into cheerful tones. “This is important to me. I have money in savings and I’ve already planned to work my butt off this summer to earn the rest of it. I wouldn’t have even brought it up, but … I do need one small favor. The first deposit is fifteen hundred bucks. It’s due in two weeks, and I’m about seven hundred short right now. Would you consider floating me a loan?”
“What do you think?”
“I’m hoping you’ll say yes. That’s why I asked.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m not a bank. Besides, don’t you technically still owe me for the damage to the Miata?”
I didn’t say anything. Would he ever let me live that down?
“That was supposed to be a joke, sweetie. The point is, if you’re such an adult now, I’m sure you can get what you want without help from your mother and I.”
I gave up further arguing and quickly got off the phone. Not only would Daddy not lend me the money, he was still harping on the biggest mistake I’d ever made, borrowing his new convertible without permission my senior year of high school. As much as I tried to tell myself it was the drunk driver who ran the red light, I still felt an enormous wave of guilt every time he brought up the incident.
He was right about one thing – I was an adult and could figure out how to make it to Germany without his help. In fact, I had just received a pre-approved credit card with cash advance checks in the mail along with Mom’s care package.  

Chapter 16, part 1: Leader Material?

After class a few weeks later I met Ian in the Student Center to hang out.
“So, tonight at the CSF meeting they’re going to ask who wants to be considered for leadership next year,” said Ian. He pushed back his demolished plate of nachos and rocked back in his chair.
I looked up from People magazine. “I bet Lacey can’t wait.”
“Where is your roommate anyway?”
“I thought I saw her across the room with Rob a few minutes ago. Maybe they left already.”
The ground floor of the student center buzzed with people. Everyone seemed to be bubbling over with the energy of the spring day. Many wore shorts and sandals, though my California blood wasn’t quite ready for that. Still, sixty degrees felt positively balmy after the deep chill of winter.
Ian wiped a smear of cheese with his stubby finger and licked it off. “What’s with you two recently? You used to be like peas and carrots.”
“Nothing’s changed. I mean, we’re still friends and all. It’s just that—she has Rob now, and I kind of get the sense that he doesn’t like me very much.”
“Who wouldn’t like you?” Ian said.
I blushed, wondering anew if Ian could ever think of me as more than a friend.
He continued. “I’m sure that’s just your imagination. Once she and Rob get past the honeymoon phase, you and Lacey will be Gigi and L.Jo again, just like before.”
“You’re probably right.”
“How about you?” he said with a knowing smile. “Interested in anyone?”
“Oh, not really,” I said, trying to suppress my own smile. My interest in him was supposed to be gone. I’d just gotten to the point of feeling like I could act normal around him. We were back to being buddies. At least, until a conversation like this stirred things up in my heart.
“Not really, huh?” He arched half of his unibrow at me. “Didn’t I see you walking down to the pizza shop with Elk River baseball’s power hitter the past few Friday nights? What was that about?”
“And what were you doing out so late? Anyway, if you already knew, why’d you ask?”
Ian’s wide grin revealed a mouthful of crooked, yellowing teeth. “Just to torture you a little. I was on my way back from my house church when I spotted you together. Brad seems cool. Isn’t he a Kappa Sig?”
“Something like that,” I said quickly, eager to change the subject. “So I guess you’ll be signing that clipboard when it comes around, right?”
“I’m definitely going to put my name up for consideration. Aren’t you?”
“I’m not sure it’s my thing. It seems like so much responsibility. It’s almost presumptuous to think I know enough about God to lead anyone else.”
Ian wasn’t going to let the matter drop. “I really think you should consider it, Gigi. Leaders should be someone active and growing in their faith, and I really have seen you grow a lot since we’ve met.”
“Last time I checked I was still five foot three.”
“Maybe I meant horizontal growth.” He puffed up his already plump cheeks like a fish.
“Hey!” I rolled up the magazine and playfully smacked his arm with it. “That’s just rude.”
“Serves you right for playing dumb.” Ian chuckled. “You know what I meant. Spiritual growth. God-sized changes.”
“Like what?” I couldn’t resist the chance to fish for a compliment.
“Quit being so modest. I bet you can think of at least one way you’ve grown since we’ve met.”
“Now that you mention it, putting up with you has certainly taught me patience.”
He gave an exaggerated nod. “Well, there you go.”
We laughed together.
“Seriously, Gigi, you should do it. After the way you dealt with being sick last semester, people in CSF look up to you. All you have to do is write your name on the clipboard when they pass it around. What’s the harm in that?”
“It seems awfully presumptuous. Like I’m saying I’m better—”
“Better than everyone else? Do you really think the Shepherd team is like that?”
“No, no, you misunderstood me. I know all the leaders are really great people, just like you and Lacey. You guys inspire me. You deserve to be leaders. In fact, you already are leaders, even without the Shepherd title. But the way I see it, you’re all at a different level than me. I feel like if I put my name down, then I’d be pretending to be closer to God than I really am. And if people look up to me like you say for whatever reason, then maybe the leaders would make the huge mistake of actually picking me. What would I do then?”
“Give them a little credit. The whole selection process is done by the Book. The Shepherd team prayerfully considers each nominee and they won’t pick anyone unless God confirms it. See? By putting your name down, you aren’t doing anything wrong or pretending to be anything. You’re just telling the Man Upstairs that you’ll let Him make the final call. Don’t you trust Him?”

“Of course I trust God.” I said firmly. Maybe that was what kept Ian from seeing me as more than a friend. Maybe if I were more godly, more spiritual, I’d be the kind of woman he—or someone like him—would want.  

***

That night at Bible study, I sat on a sofa, sandwiched between Ian and Lacey. Though Lacey spent so much time whispering and giggling with Rob that we might as well have not been there.
For most of the year I thought I was lucky to have a roommate I could get along with and even be friends with, but this semester things had changed. Lacey seemed annoyed by me, especially when Rob was around. No, that’s not fair, I scolded myself. Some of the blame was on my side.
I felt guilty about lashing out at her after Oma’s death, but didn’t know how to make it right. I’d also been more than a little distracted by my own burgeoning romance. Since Brad didn’t really care for the CSF crowd, and I had so far avoided getting involved in the frat party scene he normally frequented, we kind of kept to ourselves. There was a part of me that kind of liked it that way – just the two of us in our own little world.
When the clipboard for leadership nominations reached our side of the room, Lacey signed her name and handed it behind my head to Ian. “Here, Ian. I know Gigi’s not interested in leadership, so you might as well take this next.”
Ian held the clipboard over my lap and looked at me quizzically. “Actually, I thought she was signing up… aren’t you?”
Lacey raised an eyebrow. “She is?”
“What’s wrong with that?” Ian retorted.
“Oh, nothing. Just surprises me is all.”
I thought I saw Lacey roll her eyes at Rob, but shrugged it off as my imagination.

After glancing from my roommate’s skeptical expression to Ian’s expectant face, I took the clipboard. “Yes, Ian’s right. I feel led to do it,” I said, wishing I felt as certain as I sounded. 

Chapter 15, part 2: Movie Night

The rest of the week flew by. I had a full social calendar for the weekend, between a movie night in Warner that Breanne and I had agreed to go to together Friday, and a CSF field trip to Cedar Point on Saturday.

After dinner I sat on my bed reading while Lacey and Rob hung out at her desk. I felt like a third wheel when they were together, but maybe that was my fault for not being more friendly to Rob? It was worth a try.

“Lacey, I’m going to the lobby to watch the Pirates of the Caribbean marathon they’re showing. You and Rob want to come?”

Lacey paused the YouTube video they were watching. “Naw, we’re going to stay in. You should watch this with us … this pastor is explaining his calculations for when the end of the world might be. Fascinating stuff.”

Lacey had always been more passionate about her faith than me, but ever since she started hanging around Rob, she’d been verging on wild-eyed fanaticism. It seemed like all they talked about were end times, purity and corruption. Of course, according to Rob, anyone who didn’t buy into his interpretation of how to literally follow the Bible — that is to say, everyone but him and Lacey — were headed straight to hell. What did she see in him?

“I was really looking forward to the movies, and I told Breanne I’d meet her there. I’ll try to watch that video later. Email me the link, ok?”

As I walked out the door, I overheard Rob say, “She spends an awful lot of time with that lesbo. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?”

I stopped in my tracks and turned back. I couldn’t let that go. “Makes you wonder what, Rob? Breanne’s my friend. Don’t talk like that about her.”

"You’re so naive. Everyone knows it’s true.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t pay attention to the campus gossip. I thought someone as holy as you wouldn’t either. See you later, Lacey.” I slammed the door behind me.

Breanne and I were supposed to meet in the lobby. I was expecting a lot of people to be there, but I saw only a few guys on the couch.

And one of them was Brad Talbert.

“Hey, Dancing Queen!” he said with a grin when he saw me.

“Hey yourself.” I said, blushing. I wondered where Breanne was.

“There’s room on the couch. Squeeze on in, we were just about to start.”

I sat next to him, and the two other guys moved to a different couch. Instead of moving away, Brad inched closer. Throughout the movie, he turned to me and cracked jokes. Was he actually flirting? I guess it worked out that Breanne forgot about the movie.

At the end of Dead Man’s Chest, Brad announced he was hungry. “Anyone want to walk down to Plus One Pizza with me?”

A chorus of noes and yawns answered him.

“I’m up for it,” I said. “I’d have to go back to my room first to get my coat, though.”

“Here, babe, just wear mine,” he said, handing me his Elk River letterman’s jacket.

We walked out of the dorm into the brisk early spring night, me in his coat. It had a familiar smell that I couldn’t quite place. Suddenly, an image of me pinning a boutonniere on Quan’s tuxedo flashed in my mind’s eye. That date to the prom had been the beginning of something special. Maybe Brad sharing Quan’s taste in cologne was a sign that this would turn into something too.

“How come I haven’t seen you around before?” Brad asked on our way back to the dorms.

“Well, I was pretty sick last semester and didn’t get involved in campus life very much. Unless you count CSF meetings.”

“CSF? Is that a new sorority?”

“No, it’s the Christian club on campus.”

“Ah, I see. What kind of Christian are you?”

I thought about how to answer. Was I still a Lutheran? I wasn’t messianic, but was I Pentecostal? “I’m not sure what you mean,” I hedged.

“Are you Catholic or Protestant?”

At least that was easy to answer. “Not Catholic, but I dated a guy once who was,” I said.

“Good,” Brad said.

“Good how?”

“I’m Catholic, so it’s good to know I might have a chance with you.” Brad bumped shoulders with me and grinned.


When I got back to my room there was a message from Breanne. “Sorry I stood you up, Zella, but I met someone special. Can’t wait to tell you all about it.”

Chapter 15, part 1: Spring Fever

When Spring Break ended, I returned to campus as scheduled. The first day back was hard. I had trouble paying attention, missing Oma.
Then at the end of German Literature class, Dr. Eberhardt said something that cut through my anxiety. “Class, before I let you go, I have a special announcement. A last minute opportunity has opened up. The college has agreed to let me add a summer course abroad to the course catalog for this department. I can take a minimum of five and a maximum of eight students on a three week tour in South-Central Europe. I’m still working out the details of the itinerary, but preliminary plans call for stops in Munich, Vienna and Prague …”
I just had to go on this trip! I had always wanted to see Austria, the birthplace of my Oma. Since Oma’s death, the longing had become a more specific goal. I already had money saved from graduation cards and the summer job with Pastor Jim, and just that morning I had lined up a job proofreading for the campus paper to make even more extra money. My last bank statement registered eight hundred dollars. It still wasn’t enough, but it was a start.
As the class filed out of the room, I ran straight to Dr. Eberhardt’s desk.
“Interested in the trip, Miss Gottlieb?”
“Definitely. When are you planning to go?”
“Probably the last weeks of July or the first weeks of August.”
“And how much will it cost?”
“That hasn’t been determined quite yet.”
“Can you give me a ballpark? I want to talk to my parents about it tonight and money is going to be the first thing they ask about.”
“Plan on spending about up to three thousand between the cost of airfare, souvenirs, entrance fees, lodging, food and so forth. If you plan to go, you’ll need to put half the money down as a deposit to secure your place.”


I hoped that Dr. Eberhardt didn’t see me flinch at the price tag. The balance on my savings account suddenly looked paltry. I wasn’t even halfway there. Where would the rest of the money come from? Even though I’d mentioned parents, chances were they’d be unwilling to foot the bill. Heck, they weren’t even paying for regular tuition – why would they spring for something extra like this?

***

Before heading back to the room I shared with Lacey, I picked up the mail from the student center. The scruffy clerk handed over a bulky package with a Citrus Valley, CA address.
I stopped at a table to open it. Inside were two books, one an inspirational romance novel and the other a cozy mystery. Nestled alongside the books was a box of six See’s Candy chocolate truffles and a handmade card from Mom. The card’s rubber stamped message read “Thinking of you” and on the inside Mom had written, "Oma would be so proud of you. P.S. Hope you like the novels. I’m not familiar with the authors, but the clerk at the bookstore recommended them.”
Folded inside the card was a sheet of brightly colored paper decorated with cute Japanese animal characters. “Hi, Gigi,” the note read in Kirsten’s neat rounded handwriting. “I haven’t told Mom and Daddy yet, but I sent in my decision letter to Elk River today. I’m so ready for high school to be over so I can get out of this house! I know you understand.”

Ruth sent a hand-drawn picture. I chuckled at how my kid sister managed to make the Elk River College mascot look more ready to pose for a toothpaste ad than to rip the opposing team to shreds.

***

Outside, the world was a riot of color, from the pink dogwood blossoms to the robins-egg blue of the sky to the neon green of the newly emerging leaves and fresh growth of grass blanketing Elk River’s hills. I hurried back to the dorms, greeting each person I passed with a wide smile and the customary Elkie Hi. For the first time since the funeral, my grief over Oma eased and almost slipped away.
I was going to Austria this summer, I had no homework to speak of, and this afternoon I had two good books to read. My world couldn’t get more perfect.
Not seeing anyone around, I did a little hop-skip, closed my eyes and began to twirl. Being on a hill, I lost my balance and stumbled.
Stumbled right into the broad muscled chest of a boy -- no, a man, definitely a man -- wearing a Kappa Sig t-shirt.
“Watch it!” a bass voice said.
“Excuse me,” I stammered as I looked up from the taut fabric of the t-shirt to a set of teasing chocolate brown eyes.
I knew instantly who those eyes belonged to. Brad Talbert, Elk River’s star baseball player.
Out of all the people to crash into during an embarrassing moment of girlish frivolity, Murphy’s Law dictated that it had to be someone like him. I’d never met him, but everyone knew who he was. The freshman girls of Warner all agreed he was the most beautiful man on campus.
“I’m so sorry. I don’t know what got into me.” I wanted to sink into the ground and disappear. Had he noticed me twirling? Maybe I could play it off.
“I was just …”
“No problem. You’ve got spring fever, right?” He winked at me. “Everyone feels like dancing when the weather warms up.”
So he HAD noticed. Great.
“Spring fever, right. Achoo! Watch out or you might catch it!” I did another awkward little twirl and hurried off.
I was shaking all over by the time I reached my room. What an idiot I was. Oh well, at least I had the books Mom sent to take my mind off it.
I usually devoured the books Mom sent in a few hours. Today, maybe I’d treat myself by reading a little more slowly while finishing off the box of chocolates. I sighed dreamily, looking forward to the part of the book where the hero inevitably swept the heroine into his strong arms and declared his undying love for her. I got tingles down my spine just thinking of it. The mystery looked interesting too – perhaps I’d read that first and save the romance novel for dessert.
Before I dove into the books, I called Mom and told her about the trip to Europe. “What do you think? Will Daddy help me pay for the trip?”
“You’ll have to ask him yourself when he gets back. He’s out of town at the annual award banquet. But don’t be surprised if the answer is no. You know how he feels about you girls paying your own way.”

Chapter 14, part 3: Bad News

By early March, the infectious disease specialist gave me a clean bill of health and discontinued the antibiotics.

“What will you be doing over spring break?” Ian asked on our final drive together back from Avondale.

“I can’t believe it’s already less than a week away. I’ll be flying home tomorrow and visiting my Oma every chance I get,” I answered.

“How is she doing?”

“She looked great at Christmas, considering everything. My mom says she thinks Oma’s been making more improvement since then. Shows you doctors don’t know everything. They thought she’d reached a plateau.”

“The doctors didn’t know you had everyone in CSF praying for her. Praise to Yahweh Rapha, the God who Heals,” Ian said. “Of course, you would know. He healed you too.”

“Yeah.” I shifted in my seat, wanting to change the subject. I didn’t want to be known as the sick girl anymore. “I’m so ready for Spring Break! But first I have to get a monster paper for my German Literature class written and turned in.”

That night I worked hard on the paper. I got so in the zone that it took a moment to register the source of the sound when a Skype call from home came in. I briefly debated ignoring the call so I wouldn’t lose my train of thought... Too late, the train was derailed already.

I accepted the video chat and waited for the picture to load.

Tears streamed down Mom’s face. “Gigi, honey, it’s your Oma. She had another stroke. She’s gone.”

“Gone? But she was fine last time I saw her,” I said. “You said she was doing better.”

Lacey came up behind me and put a hand on my shoulder. I controlled the urge to shake it off.

“It was sudden and quick, thankfully,” Mom continued. “The doctor says she didn’t suffer.”

I kept expecting tears to come, but my eyes remained dry. At least I had seen her when I was home for Christmas. Who knew that would be the last time? Still, I wished I had been there for her last moments. Maybe if I had taken the semester off or continued my studies from home like Mom wanted, I’d have been there.

“Am I going to miss the funeral?”

“No, the memorial service isn’t until Saturday. Then you’ll have the rest of spring break to mourn and visit with family before diving back into your studies.”

“My studies! I can’t think about this now,” I groaned. My paper was only half finished.

“I’ll let you go. Call back if you want to talk about it some more. Don’t worry about the time.”

When Mom ended the video chat, I stood, not sure what to do next.

Lacey started to embrace me. “Oh, honey,” she said.

I knew if I let her touch me the tears would come. I’d never finish this paper if I started crying now. “Leave me alone!” I said with more vehemence than I intended.

“I was just trying to help,” Lacey said, putting her hand on my arm. “You’ve been through so much.”

I did shake her off that time. “You’ve helped enough.” I grabbed my laptop and fled the room.

In the dorm’s lobby I found a couch and hunkered down to work on my paper. Somehow I managed to push my grief aside long enough to eke out a reasonable conclusion to my analysis of the short stories of Thomas Kleist. I uploaded it to Dr. Eberhardt’s website and crept back to the room I shared with Lacey.


I overslept the next day and missed a class. Lacey hadn’t bothered to wake me. Guess I deserved that. Hopefully we could both cool off and be friends again by the time I came back.


I walked numbly through the rest of my classes and through the motions of packing that afternoon. I let Phoebe do most of the talking on the drive to the airport. I thought I’d be able to let loose and cry once I was in the solitude of anonymity on the plane, but tears wouldn’t come. What was wrong with me?

When I landed, tears finally flowed at the sight of my family. Mom, Daddy, Kirsten and Ruthie had all come to pick me up. We went to dinner and cried and laughed as we shared our favorite anecdotes about Oma. The memorial service was a beautiful celebration of Oma’s life. It was the day before Easter, and the senior pastor at Blessed Redeemer made our resurrection hope the theme of his eulogy.

I couldn’t help but think of Ian. He had celebrated Passover back in Ohio. He’d explained the pagan roots of Easter to me. Were we offending God by celebrating on the wrong day, in the wrong way? Could we even be lost, unsaved because we weren’t worshiping God the right way? Maybe we were just fooling ourselves with this talk of resurrection hope.


All I knew is that I wanted to see my Oma again. Surely someone like her had to be in heaven with Jesus. I prayed God would show me the right way to believe and live so I could get there too.  

Chapter 14, part 2: Snow Day

Soon I was back on campus and absorbed in a new class schedule. It was a blessing not to have any classes with Ian spring semester. He missed the first CSF meeting, which was a disappointment and a relief at the same time. I told myself that spending so much time with Oma had the side benefit of helping to tamp down the feelings that I was sure he would never return. But that was easy to say when I hadn’t seen him yet.

He stopped by our room on Thursday evening, the lower half of his face covered in a scruffy beard. The change in appearance helped. At least the mere sight of him didn’t make my heart flip like it had last semester.

“Hi, Gigi, L.Jo.” He pulled off his gloves and heavy winter coat. “It’s snowing something fierce outside. I heard that classes might be canceled tomorrow if it keeps up. How awesome would that be?”

The three of us chatted easily about our breaks and new classes. Soon Lacey excused herself. She had a date with Rob, a fellow Elkie from her hometown. As she left, she suggested the four of us go out together sometime so we could meet him. “That is, if you’re feeling up to it, Giselle.”

It wasn’t the first time since we’d been back that Lacey showed such concern for me. It grated on my nerves. I was fine now, and tired of getting special treatment.

Then again, I did still need some help.

“Hey, can I still count on you to drive me to Avondale for follow up appointments?” I asked Ian after Lacey was gone.

“No problem, Gigi. Be glad to. That is, unless they are on Friday afternoons. I don’t know if I told you or not, but toward the end of last semester I started keeping the Biblical Sabbath with a local messianic home church. I don’t want to miss services. Plus, I try not to be out driving after sundown.”

Just as Ian predicted, classes were cancelled the next day. Elk Ridge’s president sent out a campus-wide email inviting all students over to the hill behind her house that afternoon for sledding and hot chocolate.

Phoebe tapped me on the shoulder while I was waiting in line with Ian and Lacey for my first sled ride. “Gigi, can I talk to you privately?”

“Sure.”

She led us inside the president’s house to a small sitting room.

“What’s up?” I asked after we finished unbundling ourselves.

“You’re friends with Breanne Gonzalez, right?” she asked. “Well, she came to me the other day, scared and asking for advice. From what she told me, it sounds like she may have had some sort of demonic encounter.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s best if you don’t know all the details. Just know she’s in the middle of some intense spiritual warfare and needs all the prayer she can get. I’m telling you this because you’re her friend and because you seemed to have such a heart for prayer last semester, always sharing your needs with such quiet faith.”

When we came out of the house, I found Lacey and got back at the end of the line with her. Ian had left to attend the messianic congregation. While the line inched forward, I had several cups of hot cocoa. Right before we reached the launch point, I started to feel sick to my stomach and an urgency to get to a bathroom. After the exhilarating ride, I fled up the hill. I barely made it.

On our next trip to the infectious disease specialist in Avondale, Ian talked to me about the joy he’d found in starting to keep the Old Testament laws, and why he thought they were still in force for today. His argument sounded convincing. He invited me to join him at the messianic home church, and I attended the next few weeks. Soon though, I realized I was there mostly for Ian. For my own sanity, I had to stop going with him.

At the same time, I had still been attending church on Sundays with Lacey, where they preached against legalism. Brother Thomas said anyone who tried to follow Old Testament stuff was trying to save themselves and was living under the curse of the law. But one Sunday, he concluded a sermon by saying if we didn’t witness to at least one person a week we had reason to question if we really were walking with the Lord. Wasn’t that just legalism in another form? Besides, Ian and his new friends didn’t seem cursed.

Every time I had an appointment in Avondale, Ian would share more about what he was learning. Every Sunday, I’d hear a slightly different gospel at the Pentecostal church. The conflicting voices confused me. How could I know if I were the right kind of Christian?

My stomach continued to bother me intermittently too as the weeks went by. I figured it was just a stress reaction—my class load was heavy. 

 Whenever I found myself in the bathroom with another episode, I’d remember what Phoebe had said about Breanne and wonder how to pray for her when I didn’t even know what was going on. I didn’t dare ask Breanne herself, for fear that she’d know that Phoebe violated her trust.