Elle leaned into Michael, feeling his warm, strong arms around her. This spot behind the bleachers was usually the closest thing they had to privacy. She dreaded every day when 4:30 would come and her dad would pick her up in front of the school. She knew it would be way too long before she saw Michael again. And with him being grounded, it was almost a sure bet they wouldn't get to talk on the phone.
He caressed her curling brown hair and tilted her head back to kiss her. Elle felt like she could melt in that kiss and didn't want it to end. It was always like that with him. But far too soon, she felt Michael pull away. He reached into his pocket, then dangled something in front of her.
Stunned, she looked at the little square packet in his hand. "What exactly is that supposed to be?"
"I got it from the nurse's office. You know, 'Just say No, and if you can't say No, then use a condom.' It's not a big deal." Michael shifted his weight, then smiled his sleepy smile, reaching for her hand. "It's just in case."
"Michaellook, I don't know what to say. This makes me kind of uncomfortable."
Michael squeezed her hand and moved closer. The warmth fading into her from his nearness made her skin feel alive, like all of her was reaching for him. His voice was low when he spoke. "Don't push me away. We've been together long enough for me to know how much I want you. I love you, Elle."
Elle felt like she was spinning through space. He loved her! She leaned her head on his chest, reveling in that confirmation. "I'm not pushing you away, it's just . . . can't you just throw it away?" She raised her head to look in his deep, green eyes.
But instead of love, she could almost see the wall going up and wished she knew how to chisel a hole through to the feeling of just a moment ago. His face changed as he tensed. "I knew it. You're all hot and cold. It's not like you're the poster child for purity."
Elle blushed, confused. So the rumors hadn't died down after that party months ago. "Don't be like that. I really care about you. I just don't want the pressure. That's not who I am any more."
There was a cold edge to the breeze blowing locks of hair into her eyesand an even colder edge to the stare Michael gave her. The silence stretched, and faint sounds of gym whistles filled the space as football practice started in the next field.
"Yeah, you 'care' about me." Michael sneered and dropped her hand. His gaze flicked back to hers. "Guess you 'cared' about him more, didn't you?"
He spat on the ground, then walked away, pocketing the condom as he went. Feeling bruised inside, Elle sat on the ground hugging her knees.
"God, You told me to believe in You and I could be made new." The anguished words poured out in a flood. "You told me to come to You 'just as I am' and You would love me and change me. But he doesn't want me, only what I can do for him. So what do I do now? I'll always be that girl at the party to him... and to everybody else."
Tears racked her body, and she didn't try to stop them. "What if they're right?" she whispered.
Elle wasn't sure how long she sat there, but soon she became aware that she wasn't alone anymore. She looked around. No one stared back. It was a Presence, not a person.
No answer greeted her with thunder from the sky. No stone tablets appeared in her hands. But she began to feel something differenta certainty that somehow she really could be made new. Closing her eyes, she saw Jesus and the intensely real and tender love shining from his eyes. She imagined the beating, the derision, the whips pulling him to pieces, all amidst catcalls from people who refused to understand or to accept the love He offered with arms wide open.
She remembered the stray kindnesses of some of the kids at school even after that party and the inexpressible sympathy in their eyes as they tried to reach out with a different kind of lifelineone she had spurned, satisfied with fitting in and seeming older. Elle hadn't wanted to be a goody-goody. They weren't the cool kids, you know?
Of course, some of the Christian kids were just like everybody else, did the same things. Elle had thought it didn't make a difference and that they were just self-righteous hypocrites. Then came that night with all the drama and drinking and . . . everything, right there in a room at the party.
And something that was supposed to be private and "special" was somehow front-page news. Ryan was so smug and ugly to her, but she just kept reaching for him because she'd already opened that part of herself to himbecause she couldn't stand the thought that she'd lost control and didn't feel all that great about it, now that it was done, or that every one of his kisses might have been all about building a bridge to her zipper.
For a while, she had just played along with her friends, wearing a veneer of sophistication that she didn't feel inside. Older guys, including Michael, had started paying more attention to her.
But some of those "uncool" kids were just nice people. They had made a point of talking to her when the gossip got bad . . . and inviting her to hang with them, even at church. (That had gotten a laugh from her!)
Then she went. On a dare, at that. If some of the kids from school were at that service, she didn't remember. Elle had found it completely unbelievable that her story-book Love at First Sight moment should happen there, with a Man who'd lived 2,000 years ago. Talk about irony! The beginning of something different had started in her life that night. And Michael had just made it plain that at least one of her "friends" didn't welcome a shiny, new Elle. Same stuff, different day, right? So maybe if she wanted to grow beyond what she had been trying to be, she had to make room for friends who really believed in the One who made those changes possible.
But what if they didn't want anything to do with her?
Dejected, Elle sat with her chin in her hand. A few minutes later, a couple of "those kids" walked past the bleachers. They saw herthen waved, beckoning to her.
Guess that answers that, she thought, wiping the tears as she rose to join them.
Lisa Holloway is a Christian freelance writer, as well as a copy editor and writer for Inspiration Networks. She has served with the U.S. Navy and USAID/OFDA, and has studied in India. She recently wrote four stories for the compilation "Can My Marriage Be Saved?"
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