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.


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?”




/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.”