“Godly sorrow is a gift of the Spirit. It is a deep realization that our actions have offended our Father & our God. It is the sharp & keen awareness that our behavior caused the Savior, He knew no sin, even the greatest of all, to endure agony & suffering.” ~Ezra Taft Benson
 November 
The weekend passed, which consisted of me worrying about my date with Alivia and wondering about my faith. All morning on Sunday, I was so close to leaving the house. As soon as I was about to walk out the door, my father caught me.
“Fletcher, what are you doing up so early? On a Sunday?”
I froze with my hand on the handle, not wanting to turn around so I could tell him. Last week when I went, he actually called me while I was there and scolded me for going. I desperately wanted to go, to see Alivia again, to feel my heart be filled by the message I knew I needed to hear.
It was strange thinking that something I couldn’t see could satisfy me, but God did. I was beginning to learn how it happened inside me and now saw the difference between a Christian’s attitude and the world’s. Honestly, the world terrified me, and I didn’t want to become like it.
For a split second before I turned to face my father, I considered running out the door. Something made me stay though. For one, I knew I should respect my father for the sake of my relationship with him. Another was Pearl. I really should consider bringing her with me, since she didn’t seem keen on the idea of me leaving her alone at the house at any time really.
“I... Um...” Slowly, I turned around, well aware that my hands were shaking. I never remember being afraid of my dad, but for some reason, I was scared then. Like he’d crush all belief within me and I’d have nothing left.
“Speak up,” he grumbled.
“I wanted to... I wanted--” I started, thinking about how to word it. My hands shifted behind my back, hiding the small Bible from him. I needed it. I feared he would take it from me.
“No use in lying to me,” he huffed, crossing his arms over his plain t-shirt.
“I know, I know,” I sighed. “I just wanted to go to church?”
It came out more like a question, and I hated that for some reason. It made me feel vulnerable, more open about everything.
“I forbid it,” he immediately replied. His voice was even, which set me even more on edge.
“Please? Just one time--”
“No Fletcher!” he exclaimed, walking toward me. I stepped away from him, feeling my back being pressed against the door.
“Why?” I instantly asked. It wasn’t accusing or something to try and trip him up, like we sometimes did to each other during our disagreements. It was simply a question.
For a moment, he hesitated, staring me in the eyes and searching my expression. He opened his mouth to answer, then shut it, sighing. He didn’t know what to say to me, and for a brief moment I felt like I was winning.
“Why?” I repeated, more quietly.
“You are my son,” he said, “and I am trying to protect you from those hypocritical people.”
The words should’ve been comforting, but they were the complete opposite. They sounded cold, and dark. A chill went up my spine and I wondered if he was right.
“Alivia?” a small voice of hope said inside me. “She’s not a hypocrite. Sawyer?”
I let my gaze fall to the ground. Sure Tanner and Ace weren’t the best Christians, but that didn’t make them all terrible. The Olsons were really sincere in what they taught, not to mention they followed Christ. The reason I really wanted to do this is because they were gracious enough to teach me.
“They’re good people,” I said, looking back to my dad. I stood a little straighter. “I trust them.”
“I don’t want you to go there. You should trust me more than them, got it?” he said harshly. “You are not to leave this house today. Grandma’s coming anyway, and you need to be here.”
He backed away from me and went to the kitchen counter.
I wanted to yell at him. My frustrations boiled inside my chest. I had no reason to trust my parents. They were never here for me and hardly showed up to anything when they said they would. At least Sawyer and Alivia kept their word.
I couldn’t find the voice to say that to him though. Something inside calmed the raging storm of my emotions, told me it wasn’t worth it. For once, I listened to my common sense.
Stepping away from the door, I walked over to the staircase. I was only up two steps when he called to me again.
I cringed. It sounded sweeter when Alivia’s voice said it.
“The Bible. Give it to me.”
My back was to him and I felt my heart sped up. I couldn’t give it to him-- it wasn’t even mine. I also needed it. If I wasn’t going to church, at least I could read Mark or something.
Slowly, against every instinct, I walked back down the stairs and hung my head, holding the book with both hands. He could make me not go to church, but I couldn’t let him take it.
I felt him standing in front of me. I gripped the cover with both hands, hoping he’d let me keep it. I needed it. If he took my Bible, would he take my faith?
Silly as it sounded, I was aware of that and deathly afraid of that happening.
My dad’s hand latched onto the top of the book. He tugged at it, but I didn’t let go. A second time, he tried to take it. Again a third.
This wasn’t fair. After everything I had gone through to hide what I was doing and learn about what God was all about, it came down to this? Why? Would I ever be able to study again? In addition to that, I was working hard trying to help Pearl and Asher and my grades. Could I have one thing that my dad couldn’t take?
“No,” I muttered, well aware that I wasn’t going to stop him.
“This is my house, you can’t have this.”
“No Fletcher!” he exclaimed. I looked straight into his eyes.
“Please let me keep it,” I said softly, feeling myself break inside.
His expression hardened and he yanked it from my hands. They felt a sudden emptiness in them as a gamut of emotions overwhelmed me. I didn’t look at my dad as I stood in shock for a moment. I was angry he took it, upset he wouldn’t even let me go, and confused about his conclusion he made about Christians. One thing was for sure, he wasn’t a fan of me becoming one.
I turned and lifted my eyes to see Pearl. She made eye-contact with me and smiled sadly. I walked up to her and she took my hand, leading me up the stairs. If anything, all I felt was sorrow.
How could anyone -- God, Alivia, Sawyer -- even want to be associated with me if I couldn’t gather up the courage to face my dad and just go?
  
For the rest of the morning, I let Pearl lead me around. On any other circumstance, I would’ve asked her to leave. This time though, I felt so helpless and alone that I didn’t mind her keeping me company. First she made me get back into my pajamas, then she brought me up a bowl of cereal. Afterwards we sat in my room watching shows on her tablet.
However, one had to wonder, why was she trying so hard? Didn’t she say she didn’t want me to be there for her? Why is she helping me?
“Why are you doing this?” I asked between our fourth and fifth episode. “Don’t you hate my guts?”
She looked over at me, her hair pulled up into a messy ponytail. She was also in pajamas. We were just sitting on the bed in my room, since it was pretty big. Smiling she tilted her head a bit.
“Don’t you?” she replied.
“No,” I chuckled, grinning sheepishly.
“Exactly. You helped me so now I’m returning the favor.”
I hugged her and she hugged me back.
“Thanks sis. You’re not as bad as I thought you’d be.”
“Was I ever that bad?” she teased.
“Would you hurt me if I said yes?” I mumbled, which earned me a punch in the arm.
“Anyway, so you’re crush is this Alivia, huh?” she said, changing the subject. She wiggled her eyebrows in a creepily smooth manner, which caused me to roll my eyes.
“Was she with us on the way home from the soccer game?”
“Yeah. Her brother was Sawyer. We’ve been studying the Bible together.”
“Cool,” she said with ease. “Have you asked her out yet?”
“We chased chickens together?” I tried, dancing around it.
“What?!” Pearl exclaimed. I laughed. “That’s literally the lamest date ever.”
“It wasn’t really a date! We were just hanging out.”
“Have you kissed her?”
“What? No!” I almost shouted.
“Have you asked her out?” Pearl pressed, laughing at me.
“Why do you ask so many questions?” I shot back.
Now it was her turn to roll her eyes.
“Because I’m trying to help you step up your game.”
“Fine. I’ve asked her out and we’re going on a date sometime this week,” I muttered.
“Yes! That’s a start. Where are you going?”
“Oh c’mon. You have to have some idea in that brain of your’s.”
“Seriously Pearl. I have no idea, I’m absolutely terrible at this!” I groaned, rolling over on the bed.
“I’ll help you, don’t sweat it.”
“Really?” I asked sitting up.
“Of course. I--”
“Pearl? Tin?” a small voice came from outside the door.
I grinned and shuffled over to open up the door. Asher came in with a big grin on his face along with some peanut butter smeared on his cheeks.
“Grandma is here,” he announced. “She here and she staying!”
“She’s staying for lunch you mean,” Pearl said, smiling and getting up.
“No, she staying for long long long time,” Asher corrected her.
“Oh,” I said, confused.
Pearl and I exchanged looks, then followed Asher down the stairs.
Sure enough, Grandma was there with her suitcase and a smile on her face. We greeted her and Mom came out from the car, holding an additional bag.
“So, Asher says you’re staying for a long long long time,” Pearl said, half joking.
Grandma laughed and swept my little brother into her arms. Dad came in, actually grinning for once. Pearl and I exchanged glances, immediately wondering what was going on.
“Well, he’s not wrong,” my father mumbled.
“Grandma’s moving in with us,” Mom declared, looking overly excited about it.
“Wait, really?” I asked.
To say that I was especially excited was an understatement. Not just because I really loved Grandma either. I knew she was a Christian and she was practically my parent. She knew all about the Olsons. Maybe we could talk more about faith and things like that.
Pearl and I exchanged glances. She looked happy about the decision too. The light in her eyes surprised me a bit. Maybe Grandma was taking a chance in telling Pearl about God too.
“What are we waiting for?” Pearl asked. “Let’s get you moved in!”
  
The next day, Monday, Pearl and I were walking into school together for the first time. Not that anyone really noticed, the pair of us were becoming outcasts as it was. Usually her friends swarm her, but all of her friends were on the soccer team. They weren’t happy.
“So how does it feel Pearl?” one of them sneered as we walked past their group in the lobby.
“You know, to be alone? Off the team? Forbidden to play?” another said.
I saw my sister tense up and I frowned. I was used to hearing that kind of talk from Shelly, but it coming from freshman and sophomore girls just seemed harsher somehow. Like they learned the art of being nasty to people at a young age and had finally mastered it. Made me sick.
“She’s not alone,” I snapped. “She has me. And she has better things to do than play soccer.”
I took her by the arm and pulled her through the crowds. We fell in step together as we walked up the hall to the junior lockers. A comfortable silence filled the space between us as she gawked at me in wonder. Honestly, I was surprised I had stood up for her too.
The first night with Grandma staying at our house had been a pleasant one. She even cooked dinner from our house. Of course, my dad made up some excuse that his work needed him and he escaped us having dinner together. Mom seemed more relieved to have Grandma around than anybody else. Today, Asher actually got to stay home.
As I was putting my little brother to bed, he was babbling to me about how happy he was Grandma was around.
“But I still play with you, don’t worry, I still play with you,” he assured me as his eyelids drooped.
“Tin, guess what,” he yawned as he snuggled up in my lap after we had read books together.
“You my best friend.”
I smiled as he sighed and forced himself to stay awake one more second.
I gave him a kiss on the forehead before putting him under the covers.
“I love you,” I whispered.
“Love you,” he mumbled.
I grinned to myself as I opened my locker, remembering the moments with my little brother. Him and Pearl and I were truly family now. Making mends with Pearl felt immensely needed, and it was relieving to me to know she had my back.
“Hey, uh, thanks for what you did back there,” Pearl said quietly, smiling.
“No problem. You’re worth it,” I told her, pulling out my Spanish book.
I felt a hand on my arm and turned to see Alivia, grinning like there was no tomorrow.
“Alivia,” I said, smiling. I went to lean against my locker, but nearly fell in. Of course, it was still opened.
“Careful there,” she laughed. I felt my cheeks heat up.
“Still here,” Pearl interjected. I turned to her to see her smirking at me.
I introduced Alivia and Pearl before my sister decided to leave us alone. Not that I minded her being there either.
“You get her big brother,” she said to me, winking before disappearing into the sea of kids.
I tried not to be embarrassed by her confidence in me and I went back to Alivia. I held her hand as we made our way up the hall to her first class. But not before bumping into Sawyer.
“Hey look at that!” he exclaimed, nodding to our hands.
“Oh, stop,” I mumbled, as he gave me a slap on the back. Alivia just laughed and I took a deep breath.
“So, is Thursday night fine for you?” I asked as we reached the classroom.
“That would be awesome!” she replied.
“Pick you up at seven?”
“That works.” The bell rang, signaling for me to get to my class.
“I’ll see you fifth period?” I said.
“I’ll be there.” She grinned at me before going to her class.
It took everything in me not to do cartwheels down the hallways. Alivia Olson was going on a date with me. I was going on a date with Alivia.
“Good job Tin,” I congratulated myself. “Awesome job.”
A few people stared, but I didn’t care.
I was going on a date with Alivia Olson.
  
Tuesday rolled around and I still had no idea where to take Alivia on our little date.
I kept telling myself to live in the moment and not to stress about it, but that didn’t seem to be working. Pearl had suggested a series of restaurants, but none of them seemed right to me. If I wanted to go someplace nice, I knew I had to make a reservation.
Pearl was talking my ear off about things I should do on our date after school. I planned on dropping her off at the house and going over to Alivia and Sawyer’s, but Pearl is full of surprises.
“Wait, I want to come with you,” she stated as we pulled onto our street.
“What? Why?” I immediately asked, nearly stopping the car. I suddenly felt like she had crossed the line, maybe gone to far in her friendliness toward me. The Olsons had always felt like my place, somewhere where I finally felt like I belonged. Pearl going there made me shift in my seat.
“I just... I dunno, I want to do what you do,” she admitted.
I sighed. I guess being a good big brother meant sacrificing your privacy every once and a while.
I turned around and drove her to the Olsons as we listened to the radio turned up loud. Pearl was singing softly under her breath, and I smiled to myself. I wished that we had gotten along earlier in life. But, as Alivia would say, God is in control of everything and life isn’t a coincidence.
So if our relationship had begun earlier in life, we may not be in the position for something God wanted to do. We’re right where He wanted us to be. That brought comfort to me when I thought about my father and all the crazy things life throws at us.
Arriving at the Olsons brought a sense of comfort to me, then dread. Usually, I carry my Bible with me to school, but I didn’t think about not having it until I pulled into their driveway. It was Sawyer’s Bible, how could I explain it to him that my dad took it? The familiar sorrow I felt about not being allowed to go to church -- or even study the Bible -- washed over me. And surprised me.
Back at the beginning of the school year, I wouldn’t have thought about that at all. I just kept going on my way, satisfied with who I was, not caring about my relationships with my sister or parents. Now, I was here, thinking about God and going to a house I never even imagined stepping into.
I smiled as I realized that His hand was in my life, just like Alivia said.
“Hey Sawyer,“ I greeted him as I walked in the kitchen.
“That’s me,” he replied, opening the refrigerator and pulling out to cans of pop for us. That’s when he noticed Pearl. “Who’s this?” he asked with a smile.
“My younger sister, Pearl,” I answered as he handed me the can.
“It’s nice to meet you,” he said, shaking her hand. “Sophomore?”
“Freshman, actually,” she said, her voice sounding small.
“Oh yeah that’s right. Alivia should be around her somewhere--”
“Right here, Pan!” Alivia exclaimed, waltzing into the kitchen. She spun around on the hardwood floor and almost tripped over her own feet. Laughing, she pushed her hair over her shoulders and straightened herself. First she made eye-contact with me, smiling widely.
“Didn’t expect to see you here,” I joked.
”I know! It’s such a surprise,” she laughed, walking toward me.
She placed a hand on my shoulder as she passed me to the cabinets, which caused goosebumps to run down my arm. Pearl was at my side, smiling slyly at me. I almost groaned. As much as I loved her helping me, whenever she pointed out my behavior around Alivia I became embarrassed.
“Livvy, this is Pearl, Tin’s sister,” Sawyer said, breaking the silence.
“Oh yes! It is fantastic to meet you once again. We were introduced yesterday,” Alivia replied, grinning over her shoulder as she rummaged through the boxes of food. “Do you like pretzels, Pearl?”
“Awesome. We can hang out while the boys do their guy thing, if you want,” Alivia offered, turning back with the jar of pretzels in her hands. I silently thanked her.
“I’d like that,” Pearl replied, shifting her backpack’s weight on her shoulders.
“Let us be off!” Alivia exclaimed, only to laugh at herself. I could only do my best not to laugh with her as she pulled my sister away enthusiastically.
“She’s excited,” I remarked as I heard her shout something along the lines of, “This is going to be terrific!”
“About going on a date with you,” Sawyer said, leading me to his room. I noticed his parents out on the back porch together; Mrs. Olson in a rocking chair and Mr. Olson in a wheelchair. I had to snap myself back to Sawyer’s comment before letting myself as about his dad’s wellbeing.
“Oh, yeah. I have no idea where I’m going to take her or anything!” I groaned as we reached his room. “Girls are impossible.”
I collapsed on his bed dramatically, laying an arm over my forehead as he snickered. He nudged me with his foot and I sat up, grinning like an idiot.
“She’s just so beautiful and great. I want to do something awesome for her,” I mumbled, Shrugging my backpack off and opening the can of pop.
“Just take her to dinner and a movie,” Sawyer replied, sitting down and smiling contently at me. “Let me tell you, she is going to like you no matter what. She thinks your amazing and will be impressed. Don’t stress over it. Just be good to her.”
There was a beat of silence. He suddenly looked really pleased with me and I was shocked. I haven’t done a thing for him, but he constantly helps me out.
“Tin, I’m praying for you and I hope you fully put your trust in God someday.”
“Thanks. Me too,” I said quietly, staring at the wall in front of me.
“No, thank you,” he said. I snapped my attention toward him. “Thank you for making her so happy.”
  
“Wait. Stop,” I interrupted.
Sawyer and I were in the middle of Mark fifteen. As soon as we dug deeper and deeper into the chapter, I kept feeling my heart being pulled toward it, to the words. I was now using another Bible that Sawyer had borrowed from Alivia, but the words were still the same, and they struck me hard in the chest
So Sawyer stopped and looked up at me.
“I don’t... I don’t understand at all,” I exclaimed, rereading the words over and over again.
Jesus just died. Just like that. They killed Him, the people had actually killed this innocent man who did nothing. Why didn’t God save Him? How was it possible for Jesus, as powerful and amazing as He was, to just die? Why did He let us do it?
“What don’t you understand?” Sawyer asked softly. I scrambled between looking at the Bible and his gaze.
“Why... How? Why did they kill Jesus? How could He let them?!” I asked urgently.
“Because, that’s how it was suppose to be. He died for you, Tin.”
Now I was just more confused and more panicked than before. All along I had been learning about Jesus and how people followed Him, all the miracles He did. I had felt intrigued by this story and He dies? How did He die for me? I wasn’t there.
“Why did He die? He can’t die, He’s God!” I said, unintentionally becoming afraid. Did that mean all the evil would win or what? The Savior of the world died.
“Listen to me, okay? I’ll explain it if you just promise to listen,” Sawyer said earnestly.
“Jesus didn’t have to die. He wanted to. He let them kill Him because that’s how it was suppose to be.” Sawyer let the words sink in before going on. “Before Jesus died, Heaven wasn’t exactly open to everyone. That’s a little confusing, but anyway. There was death. As in, the place opposite Heaven. The penalty for sinning --for messing up-- was death, not Heaven. When Jesus died, He went down there. Because He lived a perfect life, death couldn’t hold Him. Because He lived a perfect life, we don’t have to. That could’ve been us not going to Heaven, but it isn’t.”
I hung onto his words, emotion bubbling up inside me. He did all of this... For us?
“Jesus defeated death for us. His grace covers us because He loves us enough to die. If we accept Him and get baptized into Him, we become His. We are now perfect in the sight of God because Jesus took the penalty of death for our sins. Now, we are God’s and not even the devil can touch us.”
I leaned forward, listening intently. Silently, tears rolled down my face.
After all of this -- Jesus teaching and healing and loving -- He ultimately loves us enough to cover our sins. He didn’t have to, He wanted to. And He loved me enough to do it. It was all surreal.
And to think, I was oblivious to this love all this time. God just wanted a relationship with me, but I kept running. He wanted me, but I turned my back and shut out His love, rejecting His gift, going against what was right. He wanted me, and I didn’t understand why. I was nothing, and He was life. But I desperately wanted God in return. The burning desire for God was almost unbearable.
“This is how much I love you. I want you with me,” a comforting voice said from within me. Jesus.
“God did this for you, Tin. He loves you that much,” Sawyer whispered, laying a hand on my shoulder.
“How did He defeat death?” I sniffed, trying to gain control.
But I just couldn’t. It was all too amazing, too much. I needed Him.
A smile formed on my friend’s face.