“Her faith has given her wings and I’ve fallen in love with the way she flies.” ~Joey Palermo
A couple days later, Pearl and I went to school in silence. The day after the match, she had stayed home from school. Thursday, she had actually been sick. And now, Friday, Grandma was making her go.
Not a word was said, and hardly any eye contact was made. It was strange, but it felt totally normal. Usual we don’t talk to each other. Besides after the game, I can’t recall when I last had a real conversation with her. I felt extremely guilty about it, and sincerely wanted to change things between us. The only setback was that I didn’t know if she was willing to want to know me.
We walked in separate, and she went on her way as I went on mine. I didn’t give her the note burning in my pocket. I was used to my dad when it came to fights; we never exactly talked about it, we just let it slide and went on our own paths in the world.
I willed for Pearl to be different.
Throughout the day I went, wondering about what to do, when I should confront her about it. Subconsciously, I knew she’d still be angry with me for not being who she wanted. I couldn’t change that I wasn’t her parent, and she would have to learn to accept that. Eventually, though, I had hope that she’d give me another chance.
Other than Pearl, one of my biggest problems was Shelly. That day, I didn’t see her much and she didn’t talk to me. I didn’t mean to lead her on when I went to her party, I just wasn’t thinking right. If her definition of liking me was bribing to take pictures and arranging for me to be stranded at the movies, then I didn’t want to be with her anyway.
She was used to getting what she wanted, and I wasn’t giving it to her.
Not only did I worry about me with Shelly all worked up, I was concerned about Alivia. Shelly had to know something was up between her and I, seeing the pictures and all. Whenever I see Alivia, though, my worries fade, and all I want to do is be around her. I couldn’t help that I enjoyed letting myself get lost in those beautiful eyes of her’s, that content look on her face, that amazing smile that made my heart jump every time.
Yet, there was that nagging feeling that I wasn’t good enough for someone so caring and compassionate as her. If I ever worked up the nerve to ask her out, which I thought about a lot, would she even say yes? I mean, she held my hand, that had to mean something, right?
“--again,” Alivia said, bringing me out of my thoughts and back into reality.
“What?” I asked, embarrassed. I sat up a little straighter and dipped my paintbrush into the tray beside me.
“You’re staring at me again,” she repeated, smirking at me. I felt my cheeks heat up
“Sorry. It’s a habit,” I blurted and she smiled genuinely before going back to painting.
A moment of silence passed in which I scolded myself for not being smoother. Why couldn’t I just ask her on a date?
“Because it’s Alivia,” I thought to myself, “and she deserves the best.”
“So Tin,” she started, bringing up the conversation between us again.
“Are you coming over to study with Sawyer today?” she asked, concentrating on detailing her painting as she spoke to me.
“I was planning on it, yeah,” I replied, trying to focus as well she was.
“Could we, uh, I dunno, just...” She let her voice trail off and our eyes met before she continued. “Just... Hang out for a little bit?”
I tried my best to be cool about it, but I broke into a smile and almost shouted with joy. Of course I wanted to hang out with her, why wouldn’t I?
“Sure! I’d love to,” I answered.
“Great,” she said, grinning. “Whenever you’re over I try to catch you before you leave, but it doesn’t always work out.”
“I try too,” I said. “So are you doing okay?”
“With what?” she asked, looking a little taken aback.
I hesitated. I wanted to make sure she was feeling okay about her dad and Tanner breaking up with her. It all happened so sudden, I couldn’t imagine what it was like for her. It was still a struggle for me to see her side of things, being concerned about her dad and all. That didn’t mean I shouldn’t ask about it, especially since I kind of wanted to become more than friends with her.
“You know, uh” -- I cleared my throat -- “you’re dad and the break up and everything?”
“Oh,” she said quietly. Slowly, she nodded, contemplating her answer. “Yeah, I’m doing okay. I know God will take care of us. And Tanner’s in the past, I’ve let it go,” she answered, waving her paintbrush in the air absentmindedly, which caused some of the paint to fly off the brush and land right on my cheek.
I closed my eyes and smiled, listening to her laugh. I began laughing too, and soon, we were both laughing, trying not to be too loud. When I opened my eyes, I found her sitting next to me, just gazing contently.
“You have a little something on your face there,” she said softly, grinning.
My heart thumped as I took in the entirety of her face; her hair falling over her shoulders, the freckles, brilliant blue eyes, amazing smile. She looked me in the eyes and I became mesmerized.
“So do you,” I replied, swiping a bit of purple paint across her cheek.
Her eyes went wide and playful as she bit her lip to hold back a laugh.
“Maybe a little bit more right there,” she added, putting more yellow on my ear.
“Oh, you have a spot,” I said, tapping my temple. Her hand immediately flew up to wipe it off when I got her chin with it.
“I didn’t know you got highlights in your hair, Tin,” she teased, letting more fly off the brush into my dark hair.
“You’re looks fantastic as well,” I joked, managing to get some in her locks.
We broke off into held back laughs and tried not to draw attention to ourselves. Finally, I stood and held out my hand to her.
“You might want to get the purple out of your hair before it dries,” I said, grinning down at her.
She took my hand and, when the teacher saw us, he got a good laugh out of it. We went up the stairs together, stealing glances and shyly looking away. Honestly, I couldn’t believe that it had happened and we had a little paint war going on in the middle of class. I enjoyed it, just because I was with her.
We rounded the corner of the top of the stairs to find a girl sitting on the wall opposite it, her head in her hands. Dark hair fell over her face, over her fingers. It didn’t take long for either Alivia or I to realize that it was Pearl.
At first, I stood shocked. What was she doing here? Was she okay? Alivia let go of my hand and exchanged a look of deep sympathy for me. She continued walking while I stood in front of my crying sister. When Alivia had gone around the corner to the girls’ bathroom, I sat beside Pearl.
She didn’t look up at me, and didn’t speak. I felt myself at a loss for words. The one and only time I had ever comforted a crying girl was when Alivia and Tanner broke up. Never had I ever seen Pearl cry, and I didn’t know what to do about it. I was her older brother, and I didn’t even know what to do to help her.
Sighing quietly, I brought my knees to my chest. I had to say something.
“Hey... You okay?” I questioned her softly.
She shook her head, still not looking up. Tentatively, I laid a hand on her shoulder and rubbed her back a bit. Her silent, shaky breaths brought reality to my veins. My little sister was crying. And while she was wrong in disrespecting the ref, the world showed no mercy.
“What’s wrong?” I asked next, trying to be gentle.
“T-Tin just go away! Why do you care anyways?” she choked out, shifting away from me.
“You’re my little sister, I care about you. I have to protect you,” I said, dropping my hand from her shoulder.
She sniffed a little and slowly lifted her gaze to meet mine. Blinking away tears, I saw how hopeless her eyes had become. How full of regret and sorrow and hurt there was stored in them. She may only be fifteen, but that’s long enough to live through heartbreak and pain.
“You’re not ashamed of me?” she asked, wiping her face with the back of her hand.
“Why would I be ashamed of you?”
I smiled genuinely and cocked my head to get a better look at her.
“You never talk to m-me and I-I was horrible at the game,” she replied, not letting her eyes waver from me, as if she couldn’t believe that I was real.
“Well, I’m here now. And I want to talk to you and be here for you Pearl, I really do,” I assured her. I met her direct gaze and stared at our matching eyes. “Please believe me.”
For a moment, she let our eye contact fail and stared at the ground, like she was trying to make the decision whether to trust me or not. Then she looked back up.
“Okay,” was her answer with a small smile.
“Why are you upset?” I asked, settling into putting an arm around her small shoulders.
“Some kids in our drama class were making fun of me for being so outspoken at the game,” she responded, cautiously leaning into me. “And I didn’t say anything, I tried to ignore it. But this had been going on all week. And when I get home after school, Mom fights with me about how disrespectful and disappointed in me she is. So when those kids started at it again, I just couldn’t take it and walked out.”
I was speechless. I had no idea that me going to Sawyer’s would have a price for her. My heart melted inside my chest. I couldn’t let that happen anymore, she was my sister. As hard as it was to have sympathy for her sometimes, I had to be there for her.
“Everyone is so upset and d-disappointed of me. I assumed you were the same way,” she whispered, letting tears leak out of her closed eyelids.
For a moment, both of us were silent. If there was anything I had learned from that week and reading the Bible, it was that God could clearly do what He wanted here on earth, as well as Heaven, if it existed. So, had He caused all of this to happen? Why all the pain and heartbreak if He could heal us of disease back then?
“Pearl, listen to me,” I started, not really knowing what to say. She looked up at me again in utter despair and words just began pouring out of my mouth.
“Life is tough, you and I both know that at home. I’m sorry I’m such a jerk to you sometimes and Mom fights with you, but I’ve been thinking that she’s gotten used to communicating that way. While we’re strangers in the same household, I care about you, alright? I want to be there for you, honest I do.
“I’m not ashamed of you. Everyone messes up at some point or another. It stinks, but that’s the way it goes. I think you are a courageous person, you just gotta learn to channel your confidence the right way. As crazy as it sounds coming from me, I know God isn’t ashamed of you either. If He can love someone like me, and Sawyer says He can, then He can most certainly love you.”
“You believe in God?” she asked, surprised.
“I don’t know.” I smiled sadly at her and felt a twinge in my chest. I did know, but I think I was afraid to believe it. “But I’ve been learning. Some of the Bible is hard to hear, and I hate that me being away to study it had caused trouble for you and all of us. It’s worth it though. I just keep going back to read and I know it’s worth it.”
“That’s where you’ve been? Studying the Bible?”
I nodded and waited for her to question me. However, all she did was nod back at me.
The bell rang, signaling the period was over and lunch was going to start for me. I scrambled up off the ground and helped Pearl up, pulling her into a brief hug. I held her by the shoulders and smiled as students started pouring out of classrooms. She grinning back, letting her tears dry. I handed her the note I had written to her days ago then we went out separate ways.
  
That afternoon, I dropped Pearl off at Grandma’s intentionally in place of my house. She gave me a half-hearted grin before getting out of the car and letting me drive away.
I could hardly contain my excitement that I was going to be hanging out with Alivia after our study. I tried my best to pay attention to the words we were reading, but my curiosity of her caught my attention. Then, when Sawyer would point things out to me, I was able to concentrate again. It was nice having some one-on-one time with an experienced Christian. It made me feel like the message was more personal.
As much as I enjoyed the Olsons, their daughter wasn’t the only things captivating me at their house. I couldn’t seem to get over the fact that everything I thought about God was contradicted by the truth, as Sawyer called it. I thought the idea of God was crazy, but then again, it makes sense. Not everything could be a coincidence.
When I thought He was ruthless for condemning us, Sawyer pointed out that we turned against Him first. And it wasn’t us, it’s the nature of the world invested in us that makes us the enemy.
If I was lead to question His love for me specifically, I realized that I wouldn’t be here without God’s idea of me in particular.
“Sawyer can I ask you something?” I asked as we finished up chapter ten for the day.
“What kind of question is that? Of course you can,” Sawyer said playfully, shutting his notebook.
“Do you think God had all of this planned? Me pranking Alivia so I would meet you and learn all of this?”
“Yes,” he said after a moment. “I do. Because God loves all of us and answers our prayers, I had been praying for an opportunity to minister to someone. And you were called to my attention to be that person.”
“Oh okay. And... This is kinda random and really off topic, but would you approve if I took Alivia out on a date?” I blurted, hardly thinking about what I was saying.
Sawyer looked surprised at first, then smirked at me. He let out a short laugh that made me a little nervous about what he would say.
“I would think, “Oh look at that. Called that.” And then I’d realize someone was dating my sister again and get really serious,” he replied.
“No probably not,” he laughed. “I trust you and my parents do too. They really like you, and you’re one of my really good friends so... Yeah, I guess I wouldn’t mind it.”
I found myself sighing with relief as Sawyer pretended to ignore my nervousness. We climbed the stairs up to the living room and found their parents sitting there, watching TV together on the couch. I gave them a wave and they both smiled kindly back as the pair of us proceeded to the kitchen, only I found Alivia waiting for us.
“Hey,” she said happily.
“Are you ready?” I asked, overly excited that I was hanging out with her, but also completely nervous. I wanted her to be the one for me and I didn’t want to force her into anything. I suppose her asking me to hang out was a confidence booster for me.
“Yep! Come outside,” she said, grinning and bounding out the door.
I turned to look at Sawyer who had a smile on his face.
“Go ahead. Be good to her,” he said, gesturing in the direction of the door.
“You’re probably the most chill big brother I’ve ever seen,” I commented. He just shrugged with a it’s-just-what-I-do look. Intrigued and ready, I went out after her, hoping that we could be something.