“Stop it, Henry,” I whisper while Pastor Greg gives his Palm Sunday sermon. Henry just looks up, smiles, and goes back to scribbling in the hymnal book.
“Stop it,” I repeat. This time I take the pen away from him.
This does not make Henry very happy. He starts to cry and Mr. Willow is forced to take him out of the room.
Jordan glances over at me and gives me an assuring and understanding look. I give a loud, audible sigh and try to focus on what Pastor is saying.
“And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it,” Pastor Greg shouts in his booming, hearty voice. “And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.'”
Rocks crying out? How is that even…impossible? This is all just so confusing. I grunt. Mrs. Willow looks at me but says nothing.
My thoughts keep me from hearing the last bit of the sermon. Mini-palm tree like things are now being handed out as the teenage choir sings an unfamiliar song to me. I make sure to smile at Amelia during the girls’ solo.
I grab one of the mini-trees when I’m handed one and try my best to join in with the song. I feel even more like an outsider when the song is over. All of a sudden I feel hot and almost like I can’t breath. I must leave this building immediately. But I can’t. We’re staying afterwards for the Palm Potluck and since its still a little chilly outside, the normally outdoors event had been moved inside.
“I remember when Levi was that bad,” Jordan says as we walk out the sanctuary together. “He would throw a fuss every week and Mom and Dad got so sick of taking him outside that they just let him cry.”
“During the sermon?”
“During the sermon. It worked…after about five weeks. I guess that’s when he realized he was stuck listening to the boring sermons along with the rest of us.”
“Pastor Greg isn’t boring,” I say.
“Well, this was before Pastor Greg. Minister Trenton was the most monotone man God has ever created. I think the reason why the congregation was willing to take a chance on a Chadwick pastor was because Minister Trenton was so tedious.”
“He couldn’t have been that bad,” I say rolling my eyes. Jordan stops walking and gives me a stare.
I laugh loudly and some people look at me with kind smiles. Maybe I wasn’t such an outsider after all.
“So unladylike,” Kitty Chadwick whispers to Rebecca Stanfield as they pass by us. I take that back. I am very much so an outsider.
“If we weren’t in church, I’d pummel her faster than Austin could drive me crazy,” Jordan growls.
“Calm down,” I say. “You’re on the edge of attack mode!”
“She’s just jealous, you know.”
“Of me? Puh-lease.”
“Believe it or not Kitty and I used to be friends back when she wasn’t such a snob,” Jordan says. “I probably shouldn’t be telling you this but back in the sixth grade she had the hugest crush on Han. It was quite obsessive actually, and Phoebe and Kitty’s friendship fell apart because of it. Amelia never cared too much for Kitty so there were no damages there. Our friendship slowly crumbled until one day her daddy became the pastor of the community church and suddenly I wasn’t good enough to be her friend. I do have to admit it though. I can’t possibly know as much about the Bible as the pastor’s daughter.”
“Stop it,” I say shoving Jordan.
“We should probably tell Pastor Greg about her actions. I mean he knows about what happened on April Fool’s and I know she got severely punished for it,” Jordan trails.
“Let’s not,” I say. “Let’s go eat. I’m starving.”
We walk into the ‘Living Hall’ and spot Han, Amelia, Ben, Austin, and Phoebe right away. Han, Austin, and Amelia are still in their choir clothes, and Phoebe is wearing an apron. Amelia and Phoebe look simply sick by the discussion.
“Let’s go rescue poor Phoebe and Amelia. The boys are probably talking about muscles or something equally disgusting,” I say in a condescending voice. Jordan laughs and we skip over to them.
“Hullo,” Han says when we reach them.
“Have you been torturing Amelia and Phoebe?” I ask not even bothering to say hello.
“Of course not,” Austin says in a guilty voice. “We’ve just been…”
“Droning on about six packs,” Phoebe cuts in. Austin makes an attempt to steal her water as a desperate attempt but fails. Phoebe gives him a flirty smile and Jordan and I trade knowing looks.
“Hey, where’s Jonathan?” I ask.
“He’s having a ‘discussion’ with the choir director,” Ben says putting more interest into his voice than there really is.
“It’s probably about his big solo next week,” Amelia says playfully shoving Ben.
“Out of all the highly qualified high schoolers who tried out for the big Easter solo, Jonathan Willow the Second gets it,” Austin says shaking his head. “Life is so not fair.”
“You’re too busy directing the Easter Play and playing Jesus to sing a solo,” Jordan says.
“He really wanted that solo,” I say feeling a need to defend Jonathan. “He practiced for over an hour every day. At least my torture wasn’t all for nothing.
Han is the only one who chuckles at this.
“Hey, Nathaniel,” Kitty says walking up to our group. “I’m sorry you didn’t get the solo.”
“It’s all right,” Han shrugs. “I’ll get ’em next year.”
“I’m sure you will,” Kitty smiles brightly. Her expression changes. “There are some um things I’d like to discuss with you…later of course! You’re with your friends now…”
“Later,” Han promises. Kitty smiles and walks away content.
Phoebe and Jordan exchange a quick, careful glance. I manage to control my suddenly boiling anger.
“Vera,” Mr. Willow says walking up to our group, “Juliette just got sick. I’m going to have to take her home. If I’m not back before the potluck ends, you, Jonathan, Lizzie, Henry, and Amy will ride with one of the families on our street.”
“Ok,” I say but Mr. Willow is already gone.
“That is absolutely hopeless,” Jordan says with her gaze fixed on something. I look to find Jonathan trying to make conversation with Kitty.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Austin asks. Jordan sighs and says no more.
I’ve suddenly lost my appetite and the need to get some fresh air returns.
“You all right?” Han whispers in my ear.
“Just need some fresh air that’s all,” I say. “Too stuffy.”
“The Living Hall is a little cramped for all these people,” Phoebe says. “But seeing that it was below freezing last night, its probably not too pleasant outside.”
“True,” I say. “But I think I’ll go out there and enjoy the frigid fresh air anyway.”
I make my escape before anyone can insist on joining me. As I take deep gulps of air, tears start to splash out of my eyes.
Pull it together, VeeVee. My mother’s voice radiates through my brain. The sound of her voice only makes me want to sob.
Stop being such a wuss and pull it together, VeeVee! Stewarts’ don’t feel!
“I guess I’m not a Stewart,” I breath as I wipe the last of my tears from my eyes and walk back into the building.
“Can we talk?” Han asks. I nod. The potluck is just about over and Mrs. Willow is working out a way for us to get home. Apparently Juliette was puking so bad that Mr. Willow had to drive her to the hospital. Nobody on our street has a car big enough to fit The Willows, Henry and me all together so Mrs. Willow was trying to figure out who would take who with them.
My stomach turns as Han leads me out into the hallway. I suddenly get a feeling that whatever he wants to talk about has to do with what Kitty talked about with him in this very same hallway earlier.
“I’m going to be completely honest with you, Vera,” Han says after a long moment of silence. “Kitty and I had a discussion earlier and she’s…worried.”
About what? That you’ll slip from between her fingers?
“About what?” I simply say.
“She’s worried that I have feelings for you that I…shouldn’t.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well, in Scripture, 2 Corinthians 6:14 to be exact, it says that Christians shouldn’t be unequally yoked with unbelievers.”
“So she’s saying we shouldn’t be friends?” I ask. I mentally grit my teeth.
“No…she’s warning me not to have certain feelings for you since you’re an unbeliever and reminding me not to let our relationship go beyond a simple friendship.”
“It’s not like we’re dating! For goodness’ sake, Han! So, what we like each other? It’s not like we can do anything about it. Having a crush someone is a part of growing up.”
“True, but a Christian shouldn’t be having romantic feelings for an unbeliever. What’s the point of giving your heart to someone, if you can’t marry them?”
“Who said anything about marriage and giving our hearts to each other?” I ask infuriated. “Look, if anyone else told you this, I might not be so upset. But think about it, Han. Kitty brought this to your ‘attention’. She just wants to drive a wedge between us and make me upset!”
“I know you and Kitty didn’t get off to the best of starts, but I’ve known her practically all my life. She would never use Biblical matters to upset someone unless it was for their good.”
“So you’re taking her side?”
“Vera, there are no sides in this besides God’s side, and I must side with Him.”
“Ok…so what does that mean for our friendship? That you just barely tolerate my presence like Kitty or scream that I’m going to hell every time you see me?”
“Vera,” Han sighs, “we can still be friends. We–I–just can’t like each other in the way we–I–do–did.”
“I thought Christians were supposed to be accepting and kind. Loving. Merciful. Forgiving. Not excluding, snobbish, and malicious,” I say near the point of exploding. Before I can stop them, these words pour out of my mouth, “Well if this is how Christians really act, then I certainly don’t want to be one of them.”
Han’s face suddenly goes pale and pained. He stares at the ground and gulps. I start to regret those words but then I don’t. If Kitty is a model Christian and all the kind, loving Christians I know aren’t good representations of Christ, then I don’t want to be apart of their little group. Han finally raises his head. Tears have mounted in his eyes but they quickly return to their ducts.
“Be that way, Vera,” Han says in a strained voice. “It’s your choice. No one can force you to accept Christ. But please remember that Christians aren’t perfect. That we make mistakes. We sometimes also have to do things that hurt us and others, but that we must do them because the Bible commends us to. Christians are supposed to be accepting, kind, loving, merciful, and forgiving but we also must follow God’s Word. And there are certain aspect of our personal life that we must exclude non-believers from, but we are never to be snobbish and malicious.”
“Why don’t you go tell that to Kitty,” I say. I storm back into the Living Hall barely able to contain my tears.
“Vera, what’s wrong?” Jordan asks. “Where did you and Han go?”
I don’t answer her. I spy Kitty looking and smiling at me. I clench my fists.
“Don’t let her get to you,” Jordan says catching my gaze’s direction. “Whatever she talked to Han about is of no consequence.”
“Too late,” I heave. “I don’t know what I was thinking anyway. Han hangs on to every word Kitty says. He has no idea the sheer horror she can cause and he’d never believe it if I told him.”
“Vera, what happened?” Jordan says. “What did she say?”
“It’s of no consequence,” I say swallowing tears.
Jonathan, Henry, and I went home with the Richardson’s while Mrs. Willow and Lizzie went home with the Nelson’s. Jordan attempted to grill me while the boys talked about sports, but I refused to satisfy her gossip crave.
Mr. Willow didn’t return until late after Mrs. Willow had ordered out pizza. Juliette had been admitted into the hospital and Mr. Willow had to track down her husband, Jacques, who was on a special errand to find some top secret ingredient for Easter dinner. The nurses had refused to tell Mr. Willow anything since he wasn’t family and simply told him that it was up to Juliette to share her condition.
Juliette had sent home a list of things Mrs. Willow had to purchase for Easter dinner though which assured us all that she wasn’t in too bad of a condition. Still it was unnerving not to know what was wrong with her.
Monday morning came and there was no way I was going to school. So I stayed home with Henry while Mrs. Willow went shopping. When I woke up on Tuesday morning, I realized I was letting Kitty win and mustered up the strength to go to school.
To my surprise, Kitty sported several small bruises on her arms and face and Jordan was absent. It didn’t take long for me to put two and two together. I caught myself thanking God for Jordan and sent her a thank you text when Mrs. Lee wasn’t looking.
“So what happened yesterday?” I ask Amelia as we eat lunch. “Where’s Jordan?”
“Jordan and Kitty got into a fight,” Amelia says in an exasperated voice. “For some weird reason, Jordan came to school yesterday really mad at Kitty and during recess she confronted her. And with Jordan being Jordan, it was only a matter of time before it turned into a cat fight–no pun intended.”
Phoebe and I exchange glances. Amelia still didn’t know about the messages the cheerleaders exchanged in their ‘private’ area of the school blog. I wonder if Jordan read something on there that caused her to attack.
“Todd and Han broke up the altercation and dragged the girls down to the office. Jordan wouldn’t say why she attacked Kitty and Kitty kept screaming that Jordan was jealous or something like that,” Amelia continues. “Kitty was sentenced to a week of detention and Jordan was suspended for the day and is going to be in detention for the next two weeks.”
I nod and change the subject to the Easter Festival and play on Saturday. Phoebe, who’s playing Mary Magdalene, helped paint the set and write the script, starts to pour out her worries to us. Between Kitty, who was playing Mary the Mother of Jesus, not knowing her lines and the still unfinished Crucifixion set, Phoebe had plenty of reason to vent and Amelia and I encouraged her by listening.
After lunch, recess came and all the high schoolers and eight graders were set loose in the yard. I place myself in my usual swing spot minus Han. Instead of blabbing about homework problems and troublesome Henry, I watch Amelia and Ben play chess, Phoebe, Austin and some tenth graders play kickball, and Todd and Han participate in a Frisbee game.
“Hey,” Han says sitting on the swing next to me while I watch Phoebe run back to home base.
“Ahh!” I jump. “You startled me.”
Han manages a smile.
“What do you want?” I grumble.
“To talk,” Han says. “About what happened on Sunday.”
“What is there to talk about?” I ask. “You’ve made your choice and I’ve made mine.”
Han sighs. “But we’re still friends, right?”
“That is up to you.”
I met Han’s eye. My look challenging him to say something. He turns away and sharply brings his head back.
Before I can react, Han kisses me. Cold guilty chills run through my body. I quickly remember the punishment for getting caught in a romantic entanglement with another student. I hastily pull away.
“I’m sorry to have led you so far astray,” I stifle. Tears are sliding down my cheeks. I stand up from the swing with so much force that it swings back and hits me on the backside. I run into the building ignoring Amelia and Phoebe’s calls.
I dig my phone out of my purse and call Mrs. Willow to come pick me up, but then I remember she went to go see Juliette. I call Mr. Willow instead since Tuesdays are his day off. He doesn’t ask why I’m sobbing.
When he picks me up, he still says nothing. Probably saving my emotions for Mrs. Willow to deal with.
“Vera, darling, what happened?” Mr. Willow asks. “Are you being bullied? Did a teacher say something to you?”
I shake my head even though I’m not sure if what’s happening can qualify as bullying.
Mr. Willow comes to a stop light and drums his fingers on the steering wheel. When the light turns green, Mr. Willow puts his foot on the gas but I scream. A car speeds through its red light and slams into the passenger side–myside– of the car. My head jerks painful as another car slams into backside of ours. Air bags deploy as I slam into the dashboard. Instant pain radiates in my chest. I try to move my legs, but they’re crushed. I try to breath but panic arises. So much pain floods through my body that I feel consciousness slowly fade away.
“Jesus help me,” I whimper as pain wins the fight.
Nothing feels right.
My neck hurts. My chest hurt. My legs ache. My whole body hurts.
I had been in a car accident once before, but it had been minor. My mother had slammed into a pool and damaged the bumper of the car. This accident was major. I suspected I had whiplash, possibly some cracked ribs, and a leg injury. I wondered if I’d even be out of here by Easter.
“Good evening, Miss Fleming,” A voice says. The sound of a book closing causes me to jump. I regret it as pain comes running back.
“You’ve been asleep for about five hours,” A nurse says appearing in the light. “We told your mother to go home since the doctors didn’t think you’d wake up until morning since you were unconscious when you arrived and with all the pain medication and anesthesia we gave you. I better go call her.”
“My mother was here?” I ask extremely confused.
“Yes along with your brother and sister,” The nurse says. “Don’t worry, your dad is doing fine.”
“Ma’am, I don’t think you understand,” I start but she’s already left to call Mrs. Willow.
I sigh and place my head on my pillow. My mind starts to wonder. Was the car accident truly an accident? In drunken states, my mother had told me all sorts of disturbing things about her family–including their method of getting rid of people using car accidents. I laugh at myself. Half of the Stewart family didn’t even know who I was and probably didn’t give two peas about me. But what if they have something against Mr. Willow? I laugh at myself again. All this medicine must be making me loopy.
“Your mother is on the way and is bringing some of your friends,” The nurse says when she returns.
“Mrs. Willow isn’t my mother,” I correct. The nurse looks surprised.
“Well, you fooled me,” The nurse says. “You two look much a like.”
“Thanks…,” I trail. “What happened to me?”
“You have three cracked ribs, a moderate case of whiplash, and a crushed but thankfully not broken leg. You don’t have any nerve damage, thank God, but you had some serious cuts and bleeding. You’re going to have some bad bruises also and its not going to be fun to walk on either.”
I sigh. “When will I be out of here?”
“The Doctor has set your release on Good Friday, but it really depends on how you recover,” The nurse says.
I nod. Mrs. Willow, Jonathan, Lizzie, Jordan, and Phoebe show up ten minutes later.
“Vera,” Jordan starts, “you look terrible.”
I roll my eyes. Leave it to Jordan to be frank.
“Thanks. Where’s Amelia?”
“At home,” Phoebe says. “She and Han both said they didn’t want to come.”
I didn’t expect Han to show up, but surely Amelia would come and see me.
“I’m sure its out of shock,” Phoebe says quickly, noticing the change in my features. “Han locked himself in his room and Amelia is watching mindless TV.”
I nod and force a smile.
“How are you feeling?” Mrs. Willow asks.
“Terrible,” I groan.
“Understandable,” Mrs. Willow says. “Are you in any pain?”
“Yes,” I say through clenched teeth. For some reason the mention of pain reminded me it was there.
The nurse rushes off to get some medicine.
“Everyone at school was shocked when they heard,” Jonathan says. “We were just coming inside when we heard screeching and a crashing noise followed by another one. No one could see the accident, but just hearing the noises was scary. When we found out it was you and Dad, we started…praying for you.”
“I appreciate it,” I smile. I truly do. Jonathan smiles back.
The nurse returns with a bag of fluid and connects me to it. After a few minutes, I feel extremely tired and can barely understand what Jordan is prattling about.
“The medicine makes her tired and slightly loopy,” The nurse speaks. “She might fall back asleep on us.”
And I do.
“Are you sure you want to come to the service?” Mrs. Willow asks. It’s two days later and Good Friday. I was released from the hospital early this morning. The pain in my neck is slowly subsiding, but the pain in my legs is only intensifying. I spent most of the morning lying on the couch flipping between talk shows and soap operas.
“I’m interested to see what Pastor Greg has to say,” I answer truthfully.
“Juliette and Jacques don’t mind watching you,” Mrs. Willow says. “Juliette is staying home any way. I think it’d be best if you did too.”
Even five days after Juliette went to the hospital, I still didn’t know what she had. Jacques had assured me that it was not contagious and that Juliette would determine when she would tell what happened. I just hope she decides to tell soon.
“I’m feeling much better, Mrs. Willow,” I say. “Why put Juliette through that trouble when I’m perfectly fine to go.”
“I wouldn’t say your perfectly fine,” Mrs. Willow says. “But if you feel up to it, I guess you can go.”
“Thank you!” I squeal. I give Mrs. Willow a hug.
“I want to see that enthusiasm to go to church every week,” Mrs. Willow shouts as I bolt upstairs.
I collapse on my bed and wait for the pain to go away before I get properly dressed. My stomach starts to churn at the thought of seeing Han and Kitty again. I swallow bile and manage to gain control of my emotions.
“Your dinner, Mademoiselle Vera,” Juliette says walking through my open door.
“Thank you,” I say. “Is no one else eating.”
“Everyone else is fasting tonight,” Juliette says.
“Oh,” I say. I suddenly feel awkward. “I pray you feel better.”
Where did that come from?
“I am very much better,” Juliette smiles. “Merci, for asking.” I smile and Juliette leaves. I devour my dinner of leftover pot roast and find myself praying before eating.
What’s happening to you, VeeVee?
“I don’t know,” I think aloud. The accident. The accident shook me up more than I’d like to admit. In a way I feel almost as if some divine power had been protecting me, making sure my injuries weren’t much worse. I breath. Was it possible to me a Christian and not be a snob? Mr. and Mrs. Willow weren’t condescending people. Neither were Jordan, Amelia, Phoebe, and Jonathan–now. Why were Christians such jerks at times? Of all people on the planet, they should know better than to scheme and be nefarious. And just because everybody including Christians make mistakes doesn’t excuse their actions.
“Vera, are you ready?” Mr. Willow asks.
“Oh, yes!” I say jumping out of my thought. Mr. Willow takes my plate and helps me down the stairs.
I’m anxious the entire car ride. Wondering what its going to be like to see Han and Kitty again. I can just imagine the look on Kitty’s face when she sees how battered I truly am. She’d probably smirk and make a shrewd comment about my appearance. I groan. I don’t even think I can look Han in the eye after that kiss.
“Are you ok?” Jonathan asks.
“Yup,” I lie. Mr. Willow parks the car which allows me to avoid answering any other questions.
Church is crowded. Kitty is handing out programs at the door along with Rebecca. They aren’t paying much attention and chat about only God knows what. But when I reach them, they suddenly take notice.
“Vera,” Kitty says with laughter in her voice, “how are you doing.”
“Fine,” I squeeze out.
“We didn’t think you’d show up since you look so horrible and all,” Kitty says.
“Well, your father does preach some mighty good sermons and I’d be hard pressed to miss what he has to say about Good Friday.”
“Those are surprising words coming from a non-Christian,” Kitty says. A flash of fear goes through her eyes.
“Well, I’m thirsty,” I say hopping Kitty will get the message. She does. She shoves a program into my hands and moves her attention to Jonathan who’s behind me.
“What was that about?” Jonathan whispers as we sit down. “Kitty wasn’t all that friendly to you. She seemed almost upset that you wanted to come and learn more about Jesus.”
“Teenage hormones I guess,” I blurt. Jonathan looks at me strangely but then starts to flip through his program.
“Hey, Vera,” Todd says walking up to our pew.
“Hey,” I smile back. “What are you doing here?”
“Jordan brought me,” Todd says. “Jordan somehow managed to convince my parents to let me come to church with them on holidays and every other Sunday. Hopefully, my parents are warming up to Christianity a little bit.”
I smile and nod. Jordan comes over and gives me a hug. Phoebe too comes over to say hi, but Amelia just watches on. Han doesn’t even turn his head in my direction.
At eight o’clock, the doors are closed and Pastor Greg gets up and speaks about the significance and the horrors Jesus went through. Then the women’s choir sings a sad song about thanking Jesus for dying on the cross. As they sing, some adults go around lighting the candles that are placed all around the sanctuary. The lights are dimmed and Pastor Greg steps up to the pulpit.
“Please turn your Bibles to John 17 and read along as some of our youth read aloud,” Pastor Greg says. Pastor Greg’s son and Kitty’s younger brother, Jeffrey ‘Jeff’ steps up to a microphone and starts reading.
“When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.'”
Another boy, who’s name I do not know, took the microphone from Jeff and continued reading.
“‘I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.'”
Jeff took the microphone again.
“‘I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.‘”
Pastor Greg then went on to explain the situation. It was Passover and the night of Jesus’ betrayal. Jesus knew what was to come and after speaking these words left to go to a garden to pray. While Jesus prayed for God’s will to be done, his disciples slept (something I found to be quite rude). Eventually Judas showed up with a band of soldiers ready to arrest Jesus. One of the disciples, Peter, cut off the high priests servant’s ear. I was shocked to hear that Jesus actually healed the man. Here Jesus was about to be arrested knowing that a terrible death was to come and he healed one of his captors! It took everything within me not to look at Kitty.
Pastor Greg read from the Bible about Jesus’ bogus trails and Pilate’s vain attempts to save Jesus. In my heart I felt sorry for Pilate. Pilate did not wish to sentence Jesus to death, but Jesus’ death was necessary. His motivations for sentencing Jesus to death were not very admirable, but God used whatever means necessary to bring his plan to fruition. I feel guilty for not disliking Pilate for his role in Jesus’ death and deice to keep this feeling to myself.
Pastor Greg goes on to describe in graphic detail the extent of Jesus’ suffering and when he’s finished, he mutters through tears that the suffering Jesus went through is indescribable.
I tried not to suffocate as I realize I own the only pair of dry eyes in the house. How can I possibly be Christian material if I can’t even get emotional hearing about Jesus’ pain?
After reading the direction depictions of the Crucifixion from the different Gospels, Pastor Greg takes a moment to cry and then addresses the crowd.
“Jesus died on the cross for you. He died to save everybody. Sadly not everybody is elected to receive Salvation. Not everyone will accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior and it pains me to think about the millions of people out there living without Christ. But that is there decision. I can’t make it for them nor can their mamma nor can their daddy nor can their sister or their brother nor can their friend make it for them. You must chose and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord and that He died for your sins. I’ll be the first one to admit that Christians can be a trip. We get this complex where we believe we’re better than everybody else because we got Christ. We rip into people and do things without a care because Jesus will forgive us and we’re going to heaven and we’re always right. That is not how Christians should act. And if there are any non-believers in the crowd who are hesitant to accept Christ because of some Christians’ behavior, please don’t let the actions of a few scar your picture of many. Jesus loves you so much that he died the worst death imaginable on the cross for you. He knew you before you were even in your mother’s womb. He created you in His imagine and likeness. He loves you and wants you to become His child today. He’s standing at your heart’s door knocking. The question is will you let him in?”
The choir starts to sing Just as I Am and some people start to walk up to the alter. My heart aches to walk up there, but I don’t wish to make a show.
Then all of a sudden Pastor Greg says, “One does not need to walk down this aisle to become saved. Jesus will take you just as you are in your seat. The Bible says all you have to do is believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and you will be saved. Something that can be very easily done from your seat.”
“Jesus, You are Lord,” I breath.
“Huh?” Jonathan whispers.
“Nothing,” I smile. I add my voice to the multitude of people singing. Tears flow from my eyes as I realize the rest of my life has started. I can’t help but laugh.
As we leave the church, Pastor Greg, who’s standing at the door, whispers, “Welcome to the Kingdom.” in my ear.
I give him the biggest grin I’ve ever smiled.
“Oh, my goodness, Vera!” Jordan cries. “I’m so happy for you!”
Its the next day and Jordan and I are walking the grounds of the Easter Festival. I felt it was the right time to tell her the news. I told Mr. and Mrs. Willow after we got home. They were so ecstatic and gave me so many hugs I worry I may have organ damage.
“Have you told anyone else?” Jordan asks.
“No one besides Mr. and Mrs. Willow.”
“Everyone is going to be so excited!” Jordan jumps. “Life isn’t magically going to become better, but with Jesus on your side who could ever be against you?”
“Amen, sister,” I say. Jordan squeals and hugs me again.
“I heard quite a bit of squealing,” Jordan’s older brother, Tyler, says walking out.
“I’m just so happy!” Jordan cries. She gives me another squeeze.
“Enough with the hugging,” I laugh.
“My sister’s a nut,” Tyler mutters as he walks away.
“We’ve got to find the Nelson’s and tell them,” Jordan says.
“I don’t know about that,” I trail. “Not that I’m ashamed or anything…”
“But because of what happened between Han and you?” Jordan asks.
“How do you know?” I ask.
“Cheerleaders,” Jordan spits. I nod.
“Kitty deserved every punch and hair pull I gave her.”
“But what a way to turn the other cheek.”
Jordan rolls her eyes.
“I fear Amelia might know,” I say. “And maybe that’s why she’s been avoiding me.”
“But that’s not Amelia’s way. She always tries to play peacekeeper. I’ve never seen her run from an altercation.”
“Well, the altercations don’t usually involve her twin brother.”
Jordan shrugs. “I could get Ben to talk to her about it.”
“Oh, no,” I say shaking my head. “No way.”
“Suite yourself,” Jordan sighs. “But you’re going to have to work it out soon. And now that you’re a Christian everything can go back to normal.”
A thought occurs to me. I can feel the color leave my cheeks.
“What’s the matter now, Vera?” Jordan asks.
“What if Han thinks I’m only claiming to become a Christian?”
Jordan gives me a confused look.
“What if he thinks I’m simply saying I’m a Christian so everything can ‘go back’ to ‘normal’? And I wouldn’t put it past Kitty to put that thought in his head.”
“But he has to see that its genuine,” Jordan says. “Somethings changed about you and its not just that your scars are fading.”
“People see what they want to see,” I say. “And Kitty is capable of twisting this the way she wants it. And the way she wants it is Han away from me.”
“We need to tell an adult about her,” Jordan says. “Show them the website and posts. Maybe if someone knows this whole mess can be ended–“
“No,” I say sternly. “That would only make the situation worse. Kitty is probably doing this to get back at me for getting her in trouble for April Fools. Imagine what she’d do if I told.”
“I fear God, not man and especially not Kitty–not anymore,” Jordan says.
“Let’s pray about it,” I say.
“That is a fantastic idea,” Jordan says. “The Lord will show us what to do.”
I nod. “Now let’s go blow our money on some games.”
Jordan and I play everything from fishing to ring toss. I wind-up winning a stuffed bunny and Jordan wins a wooden cross.
“Let’s go satisfy our sweet-teeth,” I say.
“Han,” I say recognizing the voice.
Jesus, help me.
“I heard about your accident,” Han says. “I hope your feeling better.”
“Much. I still have pain in my leg and some pain when I breath but I’ll live,” I ramble.
“Nathaniel!” Kitty shouts. “Come help me dunk Josh Richardson!”
“I better go,” Han says looking at the ground. “See you around, Vera. Jordan.”
“Bye,” Jordan says stiffly. “Jerk.”
I want to argue, but can think of no points.
“Vera! Jordan!” Phoebe yells. “I need your help…like NOW!”
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“The play is a disaster!” Phoebe shouts. Tears run rogue down her cheeks. “Kitty suddenly quit this morning and manged to convince Rebecca, her understudy, to quit also. I know all of Mary the Mother of Jesus’ lines, but the ‘Director’ didn’t cast a Mary Magdalene understudy for ‘reasons’! Now I need to find someone else to play Mary Magdalene or the entire play is ruined!”
“How many lines does Mary Magdalene have?” I ask.
“Only a few,” Phoebe says. “She’s at the Crucifixion and only cries and then at the end when she finds out that Jesus has risen.”
“I can’t act,” Jordan shrugs.
“Maybe I could do it,” I say.
“I don’t know,” Phoebe says. “I’d have to ask Pastor Greg if its all right with him.”
“I’m willing to do it if he says ok,” I say. Phoebe nods and runs off to find him.
“She’s only hesitant because she doesn’t know you’re a Christian now,” Jordan says. “If she knew, she’d let you do it in a heartbeat.”
“That’s the thing that bothers me,” I say more to myself that to Jordan.
“He said it was all right,” Phoebe says. “Oh, I hope the costume will fit you!”
The costume was a little large, but in her frantic state, Phoebe didn’t care. She had me learn my lines and before I knew it, it was time for the play.
The play was short. It just depicted Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Yet somehow, Phoebe had managed to drag the play out as long as she could. My first appearance was an hour after the show had started. I was weeping at the cross and I don’t think anyone paid any attention to my attempt to cry. When the curtain closed, Phoebe told me I had done great and rushed me to wardrobe change.
After the scene with the boulder being rolled away and the Roman guards running for their lives, it was my turn to take the stage. A different kind of suffocating feeling hit me.
“Jesus is gone!” I cry in the best distress voice I could muster.
“They have taken Him!” The girl who was playing Mary the mother of James shouts. I drop my bag of ‘spices’ and rush off the stage.
The next scene is set and I tell the disciples that Jesus was missing. My next scene was after they had inspected the tomb. It’s the last scene of the play and I know Phoebe will never forgive me if I mess this up. I walked into the tomb weeping and carrying on and tried to look shocked at the sight of the two boys playing angels.
“Woman, why are you weeping?” One of the angels asks me.
“They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him,” I say with emotion. I turn around and try not to laugh at the sight of Austin.
“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Austin asks. By God alone, do I manage to maintain my sad emotion.
“Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away,” I whimper.
“Mary,” Austin says in a loving voice I thought incapable to be used besides to say the name ‘Phoebe’.
“Rabboni!” I cry out in anguish and joy.
“Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God,” Austin says.
“I have seen the Lord!” I cry as I run off the stage. The curtains draw and the crowd claps.
Pastor Greg walks up to the stage and announces the casts’ names one at a time.
“I would like to say a special thanks to our Mary Magdalene, Miss Vera Fleming, our new sister in Christ, for stepping in to play when Mary Magdalene when our previous Magdalene was called to play Mary the mother of Jesus. Please give her a special hand for stepping in and learning her lines so quickly!” Pastor Greg says after everyone else’s names have been called.
The crowd goes wild as I step onto the stage. I smile and wave as blush creeps up my throat. The only person in the crowd who doesn’t cheer is Kitty. She claps but looks at me with a smug look on her face.
“You saved my backside,” Phoebe says when we’re back behind the curtain. “I owe a lot to you.”
“It’s nothing,” I say. “We’re family now and family helps each other.”
Phoebe smiles and hugs me. I groan.
“Vera, wait!” Amelia calls. I stop in my tracks with a apple cupcake hanging out of my mouth.
“Did Pastor Greg mean what I think he meant when he said you’re our new sister in Christ?” Amelia asks.
“What else could it mean?” I ask, swallowing my bite of apple cupcake.
Amelia smiles and hugs me.
“Stop with all the hugging!” I shout playfully.
“I need to ask for your forgiveness, Vera,” Amelia says. “I’ve been avoiding you because I saw Han…kiss you and I felt awkward about it. I’ve been a terrible friend.”
“I totally get that,” I say. “I’d feel awkward if I saw Jonny kiss some girl and then have to go talk to her!” We laugh and hug.
“I thought you were avoiding me for another reason,” I say.
“I don’t quite know what went on between you and Han,” Amelia says. “But if you could please fix it, that would be great.”
I smile and laugh. “We’ll see. We’ll see.”
“Hey, you’re a Christian now. You’ve got to suck it up and ask for forgiveness,” Amelia says.
I groan because I know she’s right.
“I really am sorry for what I said…now,” I say. “Just how does one say ‘Hey, I was a total jerk and didn’t mean what I said the other day’?”
“You say it like that. You say you did something wrong and ask for forgiveness. If they chose not to forgive you, at least your right with God.”
I nod. “You are so right.”
“Of course I am,” Amelia says flipping her hair.
“That is disturbing never do that again,” I say in a serious tone.
“I promise,” Amelia giggles.
“Vera, can I talk to you?” Han asks walking up.
“Of course,” I say ignoring the fact that the last time he wanted to talk it ended in disaster.
“I hear congratulations are in order,” Han says. “Welcome to the Kingdom.”
“It’s great to be here,” I say like a fool. Han smiles.
“I’m sorry,” Han and I say at the same time. We laugh.
“So, we good?” Han asks.
“Very much so,” I say in my best Amelia impression.
“Don’t do that.”
I laugh and smile. “Let’s go and enjoy the rest of the night.”
We spend the rest of the evening eating sugary confections and hunting for Easter eggs.
“C’est une catastrophe!!!”
I don’t know any French but by Juliette’s tone, I know it can not be good. I groaned as I got out of bed. We had been home from Easter sunrise service for only about an hour, but I had gone back to sleep the meant my body hit the bed. My legs screamed as I along with the rest of the house minus Henry rush down the kitchen. Juliette lies on the floor sobbing as Jacques tries to sooth her tears.
“What’s the matter?” Mrs. Willow asks.
“Qu’est-ce que c’est?” Juliette asks Mrs. Willow in an angry tone. She points towards the turkey sitting on the counter.
“Turkey…,” Mrs. Willow says.
“Non, ce n’est pas la dinde. C’est le poulet!” Juliette screams.
“What’s the matter?” I ask Jonathan.
“Apparently, Mom bought a chicken instead of a turkey for Easter dinner,” Jonathan says. “This truly is a catastrophe!”
“I…I don’t know how this happen! I bought a turkey. The sign said it was a turkey.”
“Eh bien le signe qui n’allait pas!” Juliette screeches.
“Are you sure it’s not a turkey?” Mrs. Willow tries one last time.
“Je suis sûr!” Juliette yells.
“Amoureux, calm down,” Jacques says. “I’m sure Mrs. Willow just made a erreur.“
“Comment peut-on confondre une dinde avec un poulet? Comment suis-je censé faire un dîner Turquie Pâques sans la dinde?”
“We shall find a way,” Jacques says. He doesn’t sound like he has much confidence or hope.
“Je n’ai pas les épices pour faire un dîner de poulet! Sans les ingrédients nécessaires, je ne peux pas cuisiner ce repas.”
Juliette turns to Mrs. Willow. “I am sorry, Mrs. Amy Willow, but I cannot cook your Easter dinner with that.” She scrunches her nose and points to the chicken.
“I’ll run out and get a turkey right now,” Mrs. Willow says.
“But the dinde won’t be defrosted. I won’t have it ready in time,” Juliette says. “I am sorry, but I simply cannot do it.”
“What if I helped you?” I inquire.
“De quelle manière?”
“Umm…I could cook the chicken and you could supervise me,” I say hoping she said in what way or something close to that.
“I don’t really know my way around a kitchen, but cooking a chicken can’t be that hard, can it?”
Oh, yes, it can.
The chicken was barely four pounds and even though I was technically cooking the chicken, Juliette had a lot of advice in how to do it…and she mostly gave it in French.
“C’est épices ne va pas sur le poulet!”
“Vous faites mal!”
“No! No! No!”
Around noon, the turkey was ready. Just by looking at it, I knew my hard was worth it. The golden crispy look of the chicken and scrumptious smell guaranteed a successful dinner.
“I guess we can be old fashioned and call lunch dinner,” Mrs. Willow says as we sit down to eat. We laugh at this. Mr. Willow prays over the food and thanks Jesus for dying on the cross. For the first time, I say “Amen!” with glee and happiness.
“Now, let’s eat!” Jonathan shouts.
The chicken is better than delicious. It falls right off the bone and melts in my mouth.
“You know,” I say after we’re finished eating, “in a way this chicken reminds me of Jesus.”
“Please, do explain,” Mr. Willow says trying to keep laughter out of his voice.
“We weren’t expecting to eat a chicken tonight. The Jews weren’t expecting Jesus. They thought their savior would be some great king and come and strike down the Romans when Jesus truly came to save their hearts. Jesus was way better than what they were expecting but some people”-I risk a look a Juliette-“didn’t want the Salvation Jesus offered. They wanted a warrior king. We all wanted turkey, but this chicken turned out to be way better than we expected.”
“I can’t argue with that logic,” Mr. Willow laughs.
“We shall forever remember this Easter as the Easter of the Chicken!” Juliette laughs.
“The Easter Chicken!” Lizzie giggles.
“And to that we shall toast,” Mr. Willow says still laughing. “To the Easter Chicken!”
“To the Easter Chicken!” We toast.
I will never forget this Easter.