War

The Lincoln brothers were still behind her.

She couldn’t run so she walked out of the store in a hurry and straight toward home. The Lincolns didn’t allow her to get too close to Bolivar’s bridge and over to the east side of town before they blocked her way.

“I think yo’ dress is pretty,” Richard grinned, his frame casting a shadow that covered her entire height. She stepped back when he stood in front of her.

Mercy backed away with every step he took. She looked up right into his face, the whites of his bright blue eyes contrasting with his black hair and staring right back at her. Her hand gripped tighter around her paper bag. With one hand Richard reached for her hair and twirled her curls around his finger and played with the collar of her dress with the other.

“Where’d you get the money?” Paul, his younger brother, questioned and blocked her left side escape onto the road. Now her sole escape was through the trees, where she did not want to go; there was no place to hide there.

“Home. Where I need to be now.” She said it so fast that it came out as mumbles. They always messed with her; they messed with everybody since they didn’t go to war. But they never followed anyone.

Mercy tried to walk between them, but Paul pushed her back. “Where you goin’ so soon?”

“Home.”

She tried again and this time Richard grabbed her arm.

“I thought we were friends?” Richard poked out his bottom lip then laughed.

Mercy clenched her teeth together and looked around, hoping that someone across the road at the store or the mechanic’s had seen them. The Lincoln boys were both taller than she and had pushed her a good distance from the road in behind the trees.

She attempted again. “I really should be gettin’ home.”

“But we’re havin’ so much fun,” Paul replied, rubbing the back of his pale, cold hand against her face.

Mercy snapped and slapped his hand down with a quick step back. Her mouth dropped open and eyes opened wide. Paul didn’t hesitate a moment before he backhanded her—a blow that knocked her against a tree and caused her to drop her bag. She yelped and held her eye and the right side of her face.

“My Papa and Josiah are coming after me.”

The Lincoln brothers laughed.

“We’ll see about that.”

Richard grabbed both her wrists, holding her back against the tree. She twisted in pain to get out of his grasp, but didn’t attempt to yell. She didn’t want to get hit again.

“Please, I’m sorry.”

Paul raised the left corner of his mouth in a crooked smile as he closed in on her. She breathed shallowly and closed her eyes tightly when he brushed his cool fingertips down the right side of her face, standing so close that she could feel him breathing on her neck. He chuckled softly and began to unbutton the front of her dress slowly.

Just as she felt the heat of the sun touch her exposed chest, a familiar voice ordered, “Leave her alone.”

Mercy opened one eye at a time. And when Paul moved out of Mercy’s line of sight, she saw Levi walk through the trees toward them.

Richard laughed a bit. “Join us, Levi?”

The scowl on Levi’s face shut Richard up. He stared directly at Richard as he walked into the middle, with both Richard and Paul on one side and Mercy, with her back still on the tree, on the other. He didn’t make eye contact with her.

“Get back to the store. My daddy lookin’ for y’all.”

“What he need with us?” Paul retorted.

Levi’s head snapped to Paul. “Get back to the store now. She ain’t botherin’ nobody so you shouldn’t be botherin’ her.”

Levi then stood in front of her, pointing the Lincolns to the direction of the store. As they walked away, the brothers mumbled some words under their breath. Paul spit in their direction then followed his brother. Levi didn’t move until they were completely out of sight. Only then did Mercy bend over and began to snatch up the items that fell out of her bag.

“Are you okay?” He reached for her hand and examined her exposed body. “They didn’t touch you or…”

Mercy didn’t answer him. She wiggled her hand out of his, fixed her dress and continued to pick up her things. Levi took her hand again and caressed it, begging with his grayish-blue eyes. He was starting to look more like his daddy and less like Richard. “Mercy.”

Mercy raised her eyebrow and leaned back with her arms folded. “She ain’t botherin’ nobody?”

“I got rid of them, didn’t I?” She scoffed and snatched away from him when he tried to help her up. “I’ll deal with them later.”

Mercy shook her head and looked away. “How long have you been home?” She spat.

“I got back last night,” he responded slowly, confusion spreading over his face. “Late. We are a long way from New York.”

She exhaled hard and walked away; Levi flanked her right side.

“Your last letter was three weeks ago! You could’ve sent me a letter in three weeks sayin’ when you would be back. Josiah did.”

He stopped. “What does Josiah have to do with anythin’?”

“Forget it.”

He caught a hold of her wrist as they walked. “I wanted to surprise you.”

“I can’t handle anymore surprises,” she retorted, smoothing down and dusting off the bottom half of her dress. “You still could’ve sent me somethin’.”

He held both of her hands and crouched down to get her attention. “Don’t be mad. Come to the root house later.”

“I don’t want to.” She moved her hands to her hips. “Won’t you mamma and daddy be at home?”

He dusted off the rest of her dress and made sure all of the buttons were fastened. “They’re stayin’ late at the store tonight. Please come. I missed you.”

“Maybe.”

“Please.” He brought his face so close to her that their lips almost touched. She could smell peppermint and cinnamon on his breath. “Please.”

She closed her eyes then shrugged her shoulders slowly. “Fine…I guess. I have to bring a cake from Mama Nolia by your house anyway.”

Levi smiled and reluctantly let go of her hand when they reached Bolivar’s bridge. Mercy started walking home, looked back at him, and then walked faster knowing Mama Nolia was waiting on her.

* * *

When Mercy returned home, Mama Nolia was standing with her hands on her hips in the middle of the square porch, blocking the front door. Mercy kept her head down when she handed over the wrinkled bag and maneuvered around Mama Nolia to get into the house to clean up. Her hair was a mess and her dress still had spots of dirt stains.

“What happened to you, girl?” Mercy heard Mama Nolia walk through the screen door after her.

“Nothin’.”

“Girl you better turn around and answer me.”

Mercy kept her head low, but looked up at Mama Nolia. Mama Nolia tightened her lips, put the bag down next to the magnolia vase on the end table near the door and brought her hands back to her hips. Her apron was still covered in flour.

“Nothin’.”

Mama Nolia stared long and hard at her. Mercy turned around and speedily disappeared down the dark hallway. The bathroom door and Mama Nolia and Papa’s bedroom door were closed, causing the only light come from the one window at the end of the hallway and her open bedroom door. She rushed past the Jesus, Mary mother of Jesus, and family portraits on the wall before her door and closed it with one hand behind her.

She exhaled leaning against the door. The curtains were closed and everything was neatly in its place—the way she left it. Quickly she unbuttoned her dress, breathing heavily, and used the inside of it with an old cup of water next to her bed to clean off whatever dirt was left on her body and the sweat on her face. She opened her drawer and pulled out a folded red and white polka dot dress that Levi brought home from New York the first time after he was sent back from Europe. It was his favorite. She slipped it over her body before she balled up the old dress and hid it under her bed. In the small mirror above her dresser she fixed her hair, pinning her curls behind her ears with a new ribbon.

When Mercy joined Mama Nolia in the kitchen again, Mama Nolia said, “Girl, you fillin’ out that dress. You might need to stop makin’ these cakes with me.”

Mercy gave a half smile in response and rubbed down the dress. She took the knife from Mama Nolia and iced the cake. Mama Nolia put the finishing touches on it and covered it before she pushed it toward Mercy.

“You be back before supper.”

To get to the west side of town, Mercy had to pass the store again—she could see the Lincoln twins, Mr. and Mrs. Graham and a couple of other customers inside the store—and cross the town center. She crossed the road to be on the side where Levi’s house was so she would not have to cross later with the cake if a car was coming; then she would have to run. The seven houses she had to pass before the Grahams’ were almost identical outside of the colors: two-stories with white- or yellow-painted enclosed front decks, a porch swing on one side and white wicker chairs on the other. The Grahams were the first to paint their front door the same orange as the general store and left the old wooden rocking chair on the porch since Mr. Graham’s daddy died. It was dark inside.

Mercy skipped the front door and walked between the shrubs Mr. Graham planted to mark the end of his property. She walked a ways off behind the Graham’s tall home and backyard, which led to the west side’s Meadow. She pushed the trees and plants out of her way with one hand until she found the wooden doorframe of the root house.

Its flat roof was covered in fallen leaves and was only slightly taller than the base of the largest tree in the Meadow. It was built there many years ago, long before Mercy and her friends discovered it. Back then, all the kids—black kids included—played in building before and after they went hunting with their fathers and grandfathers, conjuring up stories about secret hideaways or praise meetings. A younger Levi put in a bed when all he wanted to do was do homework, sleep alone, and read books. He used to read his favorite books to Mercy in there. They became man and woman together in there.

Mercy knocked four times, kicked the door twice, and then knocked again three times. Levi opened it, dressed from head-to-toe in his tan uniform with colorful badges and hat. She had seen him once like this before—when he left the second time. She frowned.

“I’m glad you came. I thought you would’ve stayed at home.”

“I told you I had to bring the cake.”

“Smells like cinnamon. My favorite.”

He grinned at her and let her in. She watched him as he took the cake out of her hands and looked directly into his eyes when he placed his lips on hers. His hands dropped down to the small of her back as he pulled her to the bed behind him. She let her eyes shut as she kissed him back, feeling the chills surface on her skin as the comfort of his lips and touch took her in. She let him turn her around and gently lay her on the soft quilt and smoothly move his body on top of hers. While he kissed her, she felt his hand slide over her knee, up her thigh and under her dress. Her eyes blinked open, seeing nothing but his forehead and his flattened dark brown hair from the cap that he must have taken off when she closed her eyes. When he started to kiss her neck and lower, she bit her bottom lip and curled her toes in her shoes. She turned her head and stared at the bookcase. It was as if everything Mama Nolia said about boys becoming young men were true and she had allowed herself to be used as only a step in the process.

Levi glanced into her eyes to bring his attention back to her face and lips. He stopped.

“What’s wrong?”

“Is this all you asked me here for?” she asked still staring at the bookcase.

He pushed himself up and rolled over to the open space on the bed, blocking her view. “Not exactly.” Mercy propped herself up on her elbows and fixed her dress. “But shouldn’t I be happy that I survived the war to see my wife?”

“I’m not your wife,” she answered lowly and then turned her back to him, now looking at the wooden desk under the only window in the root house. The book they were reading last was missing.

“You are. And I was going to keep my promise to come home you. That’s why I gave you the ring…” He rotated his body to her and caressed her left hand, noticing that it was not gracing her finger. “Where is it?”

Mercy drew back her hand and looked at the door. “I hid it in a safe place.”

“Why aren’t you wearin’ it?”

“People asked me where I got it. I couldn’t tell ‘em. And you know I can’t wear it any time I go to the store ‘cause I’m sure your mama and daddy would know that it was your gran’ma’s. I don’t want give nobody cause to talk about me.”

“Why does it matter? It’s a gift from me to my wife.”

Mercy pushed herself up from the bed and walked past him to the trunk of the tree in the middle of the house. With her arms folded, she looked at him on the bed. “Why do you keep sayin’ that? You forget where we are? You ain’t in Europe no more! You and I both know I’m not your wife. We’re pretendin’.”

“I’m not pretendin’,” he countered as he moved from the bed to the trunk. He glanced down at her with his hand on the trunk, his lips brushing the side of her cheek, and leaned in for another kiss.

Mercy rolled her eyes and pushed him back. “Then why don’t you have a ring? Huh? Why aren’t you wearin’ one when you go out?”

“I will.”

She scoffed at him and paced around the trunk because she couldn’t sit still.

“You’re lyin’ straight through your teeth. And it won’t change anythin’. People will still talk. They’ll know, Levi. They’ll know. And then other things’ll happen.” She took a book from the shelf but didn’t read the title. Instead, she threw it on the floor. “You can leave. You can go back to Europe like you talked about in your letters, move on, and it won’t even matter that I’m still here. I can’t go with you. And if you leave, everyone’ll know for sure about us and talk about how I laid down with a white man and was left on the ground like a dog. They’ll say I’m no good no more, just like they talk about them other girls with white men.”

“You will not be one of those girls,” Levi sighed as he got up from the bed. He glanced down at her, no smile on his face. “You are not one of them. Don’t even compare yourself. I won’t let that happen.”

He attempted to hug her from behind, wrapping his arms around her waist and planting a kiss on the nape of her neck; she broke through his arms.

“What are you gonna do? Tell them that I’m not doin’ nothin’ to nobody like you did your cousins?”

Levi’s face reddened. “Do you want me to go to them right now and make sure they don’t mess with you again? I’m sure they’ll take me seriously then,” he said heatedly, almost to a yell.

“No! That’s—that’s not what I’m asking.” Mercy shook her head back and forth and used her fingers to message her temples. “I’m just sayin’ it’ll be worse if we wear rings and then when the baby comes—” She paused. “You don’t have to deal with these problems.”

“Baby?”

She didn’t look at him. “I’m gon’ have a baby.”

Levi suddenly took her in his arms and spun her around. He was extremely excited, asking aloud if he wanted a son or a daughter, how he would hold him or her, what they would name the baby. Mercy did not share his excitement. He put her down and stood in front of her.

“You’re not happy?”

She bit her lip and gazed up at him. “You know I can’t have this baby. What are they gon’ do to me then?”

Levi sat next to her on the bed. “How long have you known?”

Mercy shrugged her shoulders. “I guessed after that time didn’t come twice. Only a couple weeks. I couldn’t tell you sooner. I thought you decided to stay in New York City when didn’t send me anymore letters.”

“I was always comin’ back home.”

Mercy rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand. “You didn’t send me anythin’ sayin’ when you were comin’ back.”

Levi stood again and paced the floor in front of her. He scratched his head and swallowed hard. “Anyone else know?”

“Only you.”

He nodded his head and rubbed his chin. “Good. I’ll think of somethin’.” He kneeled on the floor in front of her and reached for her hands, looking down.

“What are you gonna do? You’re not leavin’ me.” She ran over her words and held tightly to his hand.

He glanced up and smiled. He pushed her hair out of her face. “No. I’m not leavin’. I’ll think of somethin’.”

He kissed her forehead and wrapped his arms around her. With her ear to his neck, she felt his heart rate race and then slow to normal while he held her close. He kept repeating, “I’ll think of somethin’.”

Advertisements

SURFACE | 3

3 | KAIYA

Procrastination was Kaiya’s best and worst frenemy. Though she was known to be one of the most organized teenagers—her 3.7 grade point average proved her success—she had a bad habit of leaving lots of things to the last minute. And if she had stuck to her timeline and checklist, she would not have to deal with the stress of actually putting the study party together to make sure that people didn’t see her as a flake or disorganized.

It was times like these that made Kaiya wish she had a license, a car, or that Coach Otero had not called Jeremiah in for emergency drills. It wasn’t even the season for baseball. So she had to walk the entire thirty minute distance from her house to the church’s multipurpose building, carrying bags of snacks and holding a large ‘Happy Birthday’ sheet cake for this month’s birthdays under a dark sky that was ready to burst at any moment. On top of that, because she did not ask anyone other than Jeremiah for help, she was stuck setting up all the tables, chairs, and board games Deacon Allen supposedly left out.

With only three hours until the study party began and people started showing up, Kaiya rushed to lock up her house and power walk down the block focused on only what was in front of her. She prayed Deacon Allen got her voicemail and text message and left either the key or the church open. She was so focused on getting in to the church and finishing the setup on time that she did not notice someone walk right behind her and reach his hands under the sheet cake as she tried to open the door.

“OH MY GOD!”

It was Levi. He had a good grip on the cake so that when Kaiya threw her hands up in terror he caught it. “You scared the heck out of me!”

He flashed his signature smile, lifting up the left side of his lip, laughing. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. You looked like you needed some help.”

Kaiya put her hand over her chest and breathed slowly, giving him a half smile in return. “Thank you. Actually I did.” She watched him pull a key ring with a small set of keys on it out of his hoodie’s front pocket and open the glass warehouse doors to the multipurpose building. He held out one of his hands to show her the way in. “Where did you even come from?”

“I was hanging out with Westley and Jonathan in their garage when I saw you pass by,” he said. “I didn’t realize how close you lived to the church.”

“Yeah.”

The large open space was as empty as Kaiya expected it to be, with the tables and chairs stacked in straight lines up against the brick walls, outlining the shape of the room. Levi followed her inside the bare kitchen area where they laid out all the snacks Kaiya bought for everyone on the center island.

“I hope it doesn’t rain until everyone gets here,” she said as she pulled out a two-liter bottle of Sprite. “I don’t want anyone to be left out because of a little rain.”

Levi put down the sheet cake and pushed off his hood. “It’s amazing how the weather can change that quickly. Yesterday it was blazing hot.”

“Right. You can’t even trust the weathermen.”

Avoiding eye contact, Kaiya immersed herself in arranging the drinks in the fridge and decorating the island bar counter with different flavored Laffy Taffy candies, chocolate, popcorn bags, chips and dip. In the corner of her eye, she saw Levi move closer to her, dipping his hand in the open bags and popping chips in his mouth.

“You do know that’s for everybody, right?”

He chuckled and placed another handful in his mouth, walking past the center island toward her. When she turned around from the fridge he stood over her with a mouth full of chips and a side smile. She quickly averted her eyes and stepped around him.

“So…I heard you have a thing for me,” he said, leaning over the counter with his eyes still on her. She did not turn to look at him and shrugged her shoulders, fiddling with the positions of the dip containers. “Oh, come on.”

Kaiya left the kitchen without answering him and began to move the chairs from the wall. She heard the squeak of his tennis shoes follow closely behind her and caught a glimpse of Levi putting down the tables. Every time he came close to her, she moved further away.

“Who told you that?”

“So it’s not true?”

Kaiya paused for a moment, glanced in Levi’s direction and the clock high on the wall behind him, and then proceeded to fix the chairs around the tables.

“I mean, I like you, yeah. We’ve known each other for a while and have had meaningful conversations, I guess.”

Again, while Kaiya was distracted, Levi found his way in front of her, cornering her next to the exposed brick. This time he stood closer than before.

“You know that’s not what I mean,” he whispered.

His warm breath against her face made Kaiya almost hold her own. He brought his hand to her face and caressed it, his lips being not so far behind. She instantly melted. Once their lips touched, her immediate reaction was to kiss him back. It was all she wanted and imagined him doing for years and it had finally happened.

Kaiya’s own hands and arms moved without any hesitation as they wrapped around his torso and pulled his body closer to hers. He softly parted her lips with his tongue, joyously welcomed by the light moan that escaped her mouth. That must have excited Levi; Kaiya’s eyes opened once she felt his free hand roam down her back and squeeze her buttocks.

She pulled away. “Wait, stop. We can’t do this.”

“Yes we can,” he said. “No one’s here or will be here for a while.”

Levi moved in for another kiss, but she held him back with her hands on his chest. “No,” she said, “I like you, a lot. But no, we can’t and we shouldn’t. Especially not here.”

“No one’ll know.”

“I said, ‘no.’ And you shouldn’t want to either,” she responded, staring directly into his eyes. “At least not yet. We’ve got school, college…what about getting married? There’s one more year until we can do that legally or we could ask our parents.”

“Who said anything about marriage?” he laughed.

Kaiya scoffed and then looked at the floor. “Well, I want to wait until I’m married, okay? Sorry to disappoint.”

Levi stretched out his arm and placed his wide hand across the brick wall. Kaiya glanced at it then rolled her eyes with a slight shake of her head. He was acting so different. Nothing like she remembered him or even how she saw him just minutes beforehand. She regretted allowing him to kiss her.

When she moved to get away from him, he gripped her forearm.

“What are you doing? Let me go, please.”

He didn’t respond, only stared at her.

“Levi, let me go. I have to finish setting up.”

Before she could get another word out, he slammed her against the brick wall. She cried out, her eyes bulging. She could feel the sharp edges of the wall cut into the skin on her back. With one hand he kept her pinned to the wall; with the other, he pulled and tugged on her shirt, popping off buttons. She kicked upward; yet only reached a part of his thigh.

She tried to run but he still had a good grip on her top. The both of them fell to the floor—she hit it hard and he crashed on top of her.

“Levi, stop! Okay! Okay! I’ll do it! I’ll do it!”

She could not believe this was happening. She knew the more she tried to fight him off, the angrier he would get and the more it would hurt. Wrestling, along with everything else he did, made him so much stronger than she. So as he lifted the skirt part of her dress—the one time she decides to wear a dress in cool weather—she allowed her head to fall over to the side, staring out of the space at the entrance doors. She felt him rip her tights and lift up her right leg while he moved around, shimmying out of his own pants. She held her breath when he forced himself in and did not exhale until she could not hold it anymore.

Her mind was blank the entire time. She just stared out the door. No one came early. It did not start raining. Not one person even passed by the doors. Not even an animal scurrying down the sidewalk.

Once he was done, she felt him roll over and lie on his back. The tiled floor felt like freezer burn against her skin and she could barely move her legs without pain. For another moment she did not move until she heard Levi’s raucous snoring echo throughout the hall. She slowly glanced over to make sure he was asleep before she moved again.

A single tear fell from her eye when she lifted herself off the floor using a nearby chair. She did not look back once she got to the door. And she was not going back home. There was only one other place she could go.

Kaiya limped for at least two hours in the rain to get to Jeremiah’s house. She only hoped that he had not left home already for the study party. At his door, she rang the doorbell twice before her legs gave out and she collapsed on his welcome mat. Her hair fell around her face as she curled over herself. With one hand she attempted to beat on the door.

“Please be home,” she whimpered.

She heard the door open. “Kaiya? Kaiya! What happened?” He was home. She felt him left her head and try to help her up. “Kaiya. Kaiya, talk to me.”

“I’m sorry.”

FINALLY!!!

I know I’ve been gone for a long time y’all. I apologize. I got sick and then I started working — BUT — I now make time to write things that come to my mind. I will be trying my hardest to get in updates every Friday (or every other Friday). We shall see.

However….I have updated Surface. Click the link and read the update. Comment too.

SURFACE | 2

2 | JEREMIAH

Since freshman year Kaiya and Jeremiah had a standing lunch date every Monday and Tuesday at Ichiban Hibachi and Sushi Grill. Before Jeremiah got his license and inherited his mom’s old midnight blue Volkswagen Jetta they would walk the three blocks down the sycamore lined street from the football field to the cobblestone pavement of the strip mall, just talking or sharing a large bowl of frozen yogurt. Though they saw each other every Sunday and multiple times throughout the week because their small families were close, Jeremiah’s baseball practices and deejay gigs and Kaiya’s Honor Society, after-school theatre club, and internship with the World Africana Museum curator kept them busy in addition to all the schoolwork they had to finish. And with the HGA study party coming up, this lunch date was bound to turn into a business meeting instead of catching up.

“So what’s the plan?” Jeremiah asked as he opened the passenger side door for Kaiya to get in.

Just before she answered him, someone shouted “Right face!” like an army general running backwards followed by two straight lines of guys running in hand-cut sleeveless shirts – or top at all – and gym shorts. By the length of the lines, the lack of females, and the fact that Liam Steele was at the head of them, Jeremiah guessed it was the wrestling team and some football elites. They were parading through the parking lot again when they could have been using the football field as per usual. It was like watching a bad re-run of Baywatch or a scene from 90210.

“Seriously?”

Kaiya chuckled a little and closed the door. “Let them exercise.”

“That’s not exercising – that’s ridiculous. Isn’t going without a shirt against school policy?” said Jeremiah. “School’s still in session.”

“And it’s football season.”

“Fall,” he responded as he got into the driver’s seat and switched on the A/C. “Fall is football season, not summer.”

“That just gives them more of a reason to go without shirt.”

Jeremiah rolled his eyes before he pulled off into the street. “Please stop making excuses for them. You just want to see Liam with no shirt on. Feeding your fantasies.”

“Just drive; I’m hungry.” She adjusted the vents then looked at Jeremiah with her tongue sticking out. “I do not have fantasies about Liam.”

“You lie.”

Kaiya had been crushing on Liam since she and her mother moved to the neighborhood from California the summer before eighth grade. With him being in the position of her best friend – she still hadn’t made many female friends – Jeremiah was responsible for listening to and caring for her love life. She told him about every guy as the winds of her tastes changed, including his older brother Joey, but somehow she always returned to the great Liam Steele. Every time she mentioned Liam and whatever obsession she had with him, it was like she dragged Jeremiah into her dreamland of perfection where she and Liam were married off into a white-pickety future. It was stupid to him that she was constantly trying to fit Liam into her life: she was wasting her time and energy on him.

Liam was the epitome of preacher’s kid living a double life and Jeremiah was sick of hearing things about him. Liam made captain of the wrestling team. Liam’s doing another sermon. Liam’s leading worship. Liam wrote another song. All Jeremiah heard was Liam could do no wrong. Didn’t he already get enough of this at church? It seemed like every other Sunday Pastor Levi had some cute anecdote of how baby Levi used to imitate him, preaching in front of stuffed animals, or how trustworthy he was when it came to managing his responsibilities of the house and his schoolwork.

How could anyone not see that? Liam spent most of his free time with the college crews at the parties where Jeremiah was called to deejay. Jeremiah wasn’t one to judge – he was at those parties, too, playing the music they paid him to play. Staying away from their fun kept him from seeing his father’s face in the mirror when he woke up the next morning. He also refused to act like he knew more or had it all together; there were just things he wouldn’t do because he knew better. He was smarter than that and his mother and Coach Otero kept a short leash. But somehow Liam’s actions never added up to how he portrayed himself on school grounds or at church. It seemed like no one could see that but him. Just because Liam was the pastor’s son and did well in school should not make him poster boy for teenager of the year.

“Why do you like him so much?” Jeremiah asked as he held the glass door open for her.

Kaiya rolled her eyes with a smirk as she entered the dimly lit building, following the hostess to a booth against the exposed brick wall at the back of the room. He walked close behind her, allowing her to scoot into the center of the leather seat.

“Don’t start that, Miah. Let’s just eat, talk about the study party and then go back to school,” she ordered as she opened the menu and kept her focus down. “What do you want?”

“I want you to stop acting the way you do whenever he comes around or you hear his name. You change into this starstruck groupie or something.”

“Starstruck groupie?”

Before Jeremiah could respond to the raised eyebrow and angered look on her face, a middle-aged waitress stopped at their table with a plate of edamame and placed two green- and red-topped bottles of soy sauce in front of them. They both ordered their usuals – spicy tuna rolls and shrimp tempura that they would share – and Kaiya kept her lips pursed as she stared at him.

He glanced over and laughed. “You heard me. He’s not even all that great. You treat him like he can do no wrong when you know he’s living life.”

“I know he’s tried some stuff.”

“Oh he’s beyond trying it, Kaiya,” he retorted while taking out his iPad, “And please don’t make any excuses for him. He needs to be held accountable.”

“More than you?”

Jeremiah clenched his teeth together and glared at her.

Every time. She did this every time Liam came up. It was annoying. He was not in competition with Liam for who was the most sinless or sinful. All he did was speak the truth.

“Can we get back to the study party and your list of songs, please?”

Kaiya smacked her lips. “You brought him up.”

Yes, he did bring Liam up to prove a point and it had come back to bite him. He had known Liam since the fifth grade and they were somewhat friends, but things started to get awkward and unfriendly between them when they hit middle school. Summer came and went, puberty and hormones kicked in, and girls started crowding around the new Liam—tallest sixth grader playing rugby and wrestling—leaving Jeremiah the computer nerd with the glasses to play with his music alone. People only paid attention to him once Joey taught him how to work the turntables with his computer and let him tag along to all the high school and college parties. And yet, Liam’s shadow was cast so big that no one seemed to get out of it.

Liam always won. Even when he lost—game or match—he always won everyone’s affection.

Jeremiah glanced down at his iPad and moved around some apps to keep from looking up at Kaiya. “I kinda wanted you to see through his charade, not take up for him.”

“I’m not taking sides, Miah.”

“I think you already have,” he let out a deep sigh, then looked up at her, “Skrip or Dee-1?”

Yo!

So I’ve finally added to something! Yay! I’m already working on the next section/chapter/part (whatever you want to call it) and I can’t wait.

Please feel free to comment. You don’t have to have a wordpress.com log-in to comment. I like feedback. ;1

SURFACE | 1

/ˈsərfis/ adj.
1. Of, relating to, or occurring on the upper or outer part of something.
syn: superficial, external, exterior, outward, ostensible, apparent, cosmetic, skin deep.

When we can no longer breathe, we will rise to the surface.

1 | LIAM

If anyone could move from leading praise and worship to delivering a sermon in front of two hundred plus people sitting below on blue upholstered wooden pews without a hitch, it was Liam Steele. Resembling the spitting image of his father at seventeen he strummed the acoustic guitar and powerfully sang the closing lyrics to Starfield’s “The Kingdom” with the entirety of the congregation singing along, the movement of his arms careful not to wrinkle his denim shirt or play a wrong note. He held the guitar close as he leaned into the standing microphone smiling slightly at the satisfaction of seeing the church enjoy the song he chose and raise their hands at his voice. In the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of his father, Pastor Luke, to the right of him doing the same.

Rather perfectly, he hummed the melody while the rest of the praise team sustained the rhythm, handclaps, and stomps. He stepped up on the blue-carpeted elevated platform, past the hanging projection of the lyrics, where his father stood in front of long black and white cushioned pew with his hands clasped in prayer form. Once the music stopped, his father took a moment to pull him into a hug, almost covering him with the navy blazer he wore, and pat him on the back.

“Good job, son,” he whispered as he pushed Liam forward toward the oak pulpit at the edge of the platform. “Make me proud.”

Of course he would make his father proud. He had been taught by the best. Liam had come from a long line of pastors, missionaries, seminary professors, and Jewish and Early Christian historians. He could quote the most obscure of scriptures, things people once heard a long time ago in their childhoods but could never find without being told exactly where it was. He knew more about ancient Israel than he knew about early United States history. Public speaking was in his nature; it was like his father and grandfather trained him for opportunities like this.

And he had rehearsed this sermon at least twenty times in the past week, performing for his mother and baby sister for feedback and criticism, preparing himself to deliver his sermon directly to his peers. 1 Timothy 4:12 was something they all knew and heard and Liam was going to tell the leaders who were youth in the church the proper conduct.

Liam did this every fourth Sunday of the month; it was Youth Sunday. Though there were plenty of volunteers for ushers, greeters, and servers for the community lunch after service every time this Sunday rolled around in the month, no one ever stepped up for the sermon.

His sermon was actually supposed to be sermonettes – five exactly. Five different kids from LYL C (Live Your Life for Christ, the elementary and junior high kids) and HGA (His Glory Alone, the high schoolers and young adults) were supposed to give five-to-ten minute sermonettes. But every fourth Sunday, it was always Liam giving a full on forty-five minute sermon, like his father.

Now he really didn’t mind speaking in front of the sitting audience, watching the pens and Bible pages move frequently and hearing them give occasional “Amens.” It was the fact that he was always the one to speak. Wasn’t there at least one other person capable of giving a sermon? Were his peers so stupid that they didn’t see that the more who sign up, the less time they have to speak? Why didn’t his father just step in and choose someone? Or better yet, ask his mother, who was also an ordained pastor, to give a special sermon?

“And that’s why Paul tells Timothy to act in this way,” Liam said as he came to his conclusion, “As Timothy was like us, someone aged in the middle, we are to be examples not only for the little ones who look up to us but if we act according to God’s word, the older – excuse me, more seasoned – people would see what’s good to do also. Then the more seasoned people would not only forget about how old we are but also respect us as leaders. And as a leader, we definitely need respect. Follow God, you gain respect.”

Liam gently slapped the outside of the pulpit and ended to the applause and standing ovation of the entire congregation. His mother, in the handmade summer dress gifted to her by their sponsored Ugandan family, waved a colorful arm to him and gave him the thumbs up from the front row. For the umpteenth time, he would be the conversation starter over dinner tonight. He hoped his parents would focus more on Hannah’s first day of Kindergarten. Her first day of real school should be a lot more important than another rehearsed sermon given on another Sunday. There was nothing new about it.

Since he gave the sermon, he took his place beside his father at the open French double doors of the lobby, shaking hands and making small talk with the congregation. He never understood how his father could be so dedicated to this aspect of being a pastor; even if he didn’t preach or was terribly tired, his father still took the time to talk to each and every person who passed by.

“How are you doing, Sister Denise?” his father smiled, shaking both Sister Denise and her daughter’s, Kaiya’s, hands.

“Very good, actually. I got the design contract in Japan. So I’ll be gone for a couple of weeks,” she said and pushed Kaiya forward, “And I’ll be entrusting my honor student here with the house.”

“Congratulations to the both of you. I’m glad you two are doing well. And I can’t wait to hear what you have planned for HGA this week,” said Pastor Luke.

Kaiya giggled. “It’s going to be fun. Jeremiah’s the DJ and it’s going to be like a huge tutoring or study party. Like come and get tutored or take a short break.” She batted her eyelashes at Liam then looked away. “Maybe Liam can join us? I know all of HGA would want you to be there. And that was a really great sermon.”

Liam gave her a smirk back and fixed the collar on his shirt. Kaiya was kinda cute, especially when she smiled, her high cheekbones pushing the outer corners of her shimmer gold lined eyes higher up. “You know I’ll be there, if my dad says it’s okay.”

“Of course it’s okay. What kind of father would I be if I didn’t allow you out of the house with friends I know and people I trust,” Pastor Luke said as he slapped his hand on Liam’s back.

“And of course with the college HGAs and Deacons Allen and Mark, they should be well supervised,” Sister Denise said with a side eye to both her daughter and Liam.

Liam filled his cheeks with air and deflated them fast. Kaiya nodded her head, awkwardly smoothing down her black lace dress.

“That’s the plan.”

Pastor Luke’s laugh cleared the air. “Well our kids are good kids and I’m sure everything is going to run smoothly. Thanks for all of your hard work, Kaiya.”

With a grin, Kaiya ran her hand down Liam’s forearm as if she missed his handshake and said, “See you at school tomorrow.”

As she walked away with her mother, he kept watch on the movement of her hips. He could only guess that she was going extra hard on the slow walk down the concrete pathway to the parking lot in a pair of heels that made her only a few inches shorter than he. She may not have been the thinnest girl, but she knew how to dress herself to enhance the curves she had and the chubbiness she had gotten rid of last year.

She liked him.

At least two large groups of members crossed in front of him before snapped his fingers. “Liam? You okay, son?”

“Yeah,” he nodded while shaking Sister Lillian’s hand and playing with her toddler son. “Just a little hungry, I guess.”