“And love will hold us together/ Make us a shelter to weather the storm/ And I’ll be my brother’s keeper/ So the whole world will know that we’re not alone” ~Matt Maher; “Hold Us Together”
That night the ride home was full of complete silence between Pearl and I.
Not that I minded, there was a lot for me to think about. So many emotions were welled up inside me, just fighting to get out. All that surfaced was me being speechless. I couldn’t believe that -- no, I could believe it -- God died for me. Just out of love, He died for me and rose again. And He wants me that badly. I wanted to live it out with my whole being, but something was holding me back.
When we arrived home, I remembered the reason why. My father.
I could hear his raised voice even outside of the house when I paused at the door. I faced Pearl who was tense and looking to me for guidance. Swallowing, I put my hand on the doorknob, about to turn it, when Pearl grabbed my wrist back.
“What?” I asked her quietly.
“I don’t want to go in there,” she whispered. “I’m sick of living like this. I’m sick of hearing them fight. Can’t we just go back to the Olsons?”
I smiled tightly. Everything in me wanted to agree with her and turn back, but I knew that wasn’t an option. Like it or not, this was our house and our flesh and blood. For a moment, I even considered it. Then I pulled my sister into a hug and she wrapped her arms around me tightly.
“It’s going to be okay,” I said when I felt her shoulders shaking. I hesitated before adding, “God is with us.”
She pulled back and wiped her eyes quickly.
“Let’s just get this over with,” she mumbled.
I nodded and opened the door. The two of us stepped in together to find my parents yelling in the living room together. We didn’t dare look there though. I just heard their screams, grabbed my sisters hand, and pulled her upstairs. There was no escaping the yells that shook us both up, but at least I felt a little safer in my room.
“Go do your schoolwork or something. I’ll see you in the morning,” I told her, noticing Asher’s door was shut.
She hugged me one last time before obeying, closing the door softly behind her. I let out a deep breath as I ran a hand through my hair. A part of me wanted to know what they were fighting about, but I really didn’t. It wasn’t my fight and I wanted to keep it that way.
I opened Asher’s door to find him curled up in Grandma’s lap. She smiled at me and got up, putting Asher down as he buried himself in his blankets. She shut the door and smiled wearily.
“You made it home, dear,” she whispered, sounding relieved.
“Yeah... Uh, how long have they been...” I let my voice trail off. There was no need to finish the sentence.
“Hours,” she answered, sounding deeply worried. “Asher won’t stop crying.”
“Should I do something to try and make them stop?” I asked.
“No, no. Not now. Just do your best to do any homework. Have you eaten dinner?” she asked, rubbing my shoulder.
“I’ll be fine,” I assured her.
“Okay. Comfort your brother okay? He’s scared. And could you pray for me?” she requested softly.
I nodded, trying to smile. She gave me a brief hug, patting me on the back.
“I’m proud of you,” she said, looking at me straight in the eyes. I nodded and looked to the floor. Then she left, going downstairs. There was no need to ask her what she was doing.
Her words hung in the air, pricked at my heart. No one has ever told me that before. I had longed to hear those words for so long, and she finally did. I guess I just wanted to know I was worth something to someone. But I suppose I knew that now, thanks to God.
I went into Asher’s room and scooped him up. He didn’t even greet me. I’ve never seen him so sad before. I went to my room and sat on my bed, rocking his small figure back and forth in my arms. The door was closed, but voices still carried. The only light was from the setting sun. His tear soaked my shirt, every once in a while he’d let a cry escape.
“Squirt, it’s going to be okay,” I said softly. “It’s all going to be okay.”
“Mommy and Daddy aren’t,” he cried. It amazed me that he could comprehend such a big thing at a young age. Let’s be honest, it didn’t take Pearl or I that long to figure out our family wasn’t okay.
“I love you,” I murmured. “Jesus loves you.”
“L-Love you,” he managed before clinging to me again.
Asher cried uncontrollably.
My heart broke.
And I prayed.
  
The next day at school, I was dragging.
I could barely keep my eyes open. Asher ended up crying himself to sleep and I still had homework to do. When I tried to go to sleep, my mind kept racing. I couldn’t help but wonder about the fight between my parents, even if Grandma had broken it up hours before. I tossed and turned so many times that I wondered if I shoulder go to the guest room downstairs and wake her up to see what it was about, just to calm my raging mind.
I didn’t. Instead, I kept trying to go to sleep. When I finally did get a quick nap, it didn’t make me feel rested at all. I just woke up exhausted -- both mentally and physically.
“Fletcher?” Alivia said.
I snapped out of my daze and looked to Alivia. We were walking to lunch together, though I was barely aware of my surroundings or even her. I couldn’t remember talking to her during class.
“Yeah?” I asked.
She laced her fingers through mine and I smile the best I could.
“Are you okay? You seem really off,” she asked.
“I just have a lot on my mind, that’s all,” I replied, shrugging.
She eyed me and I knew she could tell that it was something bigger. We stopped walking in the hall, which was now vacant, and faced each other.
“You know you can tell me, right?” she said softly, which comforted me greatly.
“I just... My parents got in a really bad fight last night. Pearl and Asher were really shaken up.” I took a deep breath, speaking slowly and carefully. I didn’t want anyone to hear, even if no one seemed to be around. “Asher wouldn’t stop crying. Our grandma had to break up the fight, and I couldn’t sleep after that. It took me hours.”
I leaned back against the wall, yawning.
Alivia smiled sadly at me, not letting go of my hand. I tried to return it, but I felt so weighed down, so tired, that it hurt to smile.
“I wish I didn’t have to tell you this but,” she started, “I can’t go on the date with you tomorrow.”
She let the news sink in and I felt my heart grow heavier.
“I know this is a really bad time, and I just found out last night after you left. My dad’s surgery was moved to Friday, so he wants me to be with him tomorrow night. I’m so sorry, I was extremely excited for this date and I do--”
“It’s okay Alivia, I understand,” I interrupted, trying not to show my disappointment.
A silence fell between us and she tugged at my hand to get us walking again. I squeezed her hand, but she wouldn’t meet my eyes.
“I really do like you. A lot,” she said after we passed another hallway. “I feel terrible that I have to cancel and it’s at such a bad time. You deserve better.”
“No really, it’s fine,” I assured her, grinning. Finally, I caught her eye and refused to look away. “It doesn’t stop me from being intrigued by you in the best possible way.”
I saw her blush and started to feel a little better.
“I suppose you could come to the hospital with us, if you wanted,” she said.
“It’s okay, I think it should just be your family,” I told her. “But, we can definitely go out next week.”
“That’d be awesome,” she replied as we turned down the hall to the lunchroom.
“So Sawyer and I finished Mark last night.”
“How was it?” she asked, her voice lifting in hope a little more.
“I couldn’t believe it... Like, I could but you know. Just the thought of God dying for my sake is... Well, mind boggling,” I explained.
“It is crazy. But beautiful,” she added, looking to me contently. “Have you been thinking about it?”
“Lots,” I answered.
We stopped in front of the lunch room and she threw me a smile before letting go of my hand. She walked toward our table and I felt someone right beside me. I didn’t have to look over to know who.
“I wish I had the guts to do what you do,” Ace said.
“It’s not easy.”
I grinned a little, staring after her.
“Sometimes I find myself wanting to date Shelly again so I could be accepted.”
I nodded to myself, not particularly surprised that he still wanted to be back where he used to be. I know I wanted to for a while, but eventually I just let it go.
“To what?” I asked, turning to him. “Accepted into what?”
“The group, her satisfactions, I don’t know,” he said, sighing in frustration.
“Were we ever accepted though?” I thought out loud. “I mean, the only reason I was there was because of my dumb personality and camera. I was just under pressure to be perfect. Her threats are empty to me. I’ve lost things, but they were dead weight.”
“I suppose so,” was all he said.
I felt sympathy for the poor guy. He just had to learn to break out of himself and leave it all behind. Me of all people should know that takes time.
”They’re not worth it,” I told him. “God is. Peace is. Love is. They were hindering that. I’m not sorry about leaving if I was being cheated of things I could’ve had earlier.”
  
Thursday rolled around and I went straight home for the first time in ages. Usually I went to Grandma’s or the Olsons.
Pearl went right up to her room to do her homework. I found Asher outside in the backyard on the swing set in the chilly air. Most of the leaves had fallen off the trees by now, but the air wasn’t that cold for November. A little colder, but not unbearable.
I dropped my backpack on the barstool and ran a hand through my hair in distress. I prayed silently that my parents would get along tonight and for Mr. Olsons surgery to be successful. The world seemed to be falling apart, but I would get through it. This wouldn’t have happened if God didn’t want it to. And besides, Alivia still wanted to go out with me. That was still happening. Mr. Olson would be healthier and I was growing in faith.
I suppose life wasn’t that bad. Except one thing was still nagging at me.
I walked to the back porch where she sat on the steps, keeping an eye on Asher and reading a book. She looked up when I came out and broke into a smile. Patting the seat beside her, she insisted I sit down.
“How was your day dear?” she asked, laying a hand on my knee.
“Just grand,” she replied, smiling contently as Asher squealed going down the slide.
“Could I ask you something?”
I looked behind me to the house as I said it, as if my dad could come home at any minute and demand to know what we were talking about.
“I have been thinking a lot about faith and everything. I know what Jesus did for me and I want to believe it wholeheartedly, but I don’t know what to do next,” I explained quietly. Suddenly, with those words, my faith felt more real. It wasn’t just something inside my head, it was legit.
She beamed at me and hugged me around the shoulders.
“Tin that’s great!”
“It feels great,” I said, smiling genuinely, a warm feeling spreading in my chest.
“Baptism. That’s what most people do when they put their faith in Jesus. It’s what He told us to do as a public confession of our faith, though there doesn’t have to be an immense amount of people. You know what it is, right?” she explained excitedly.
“Sawyer explained it to me.”
I paused to think, thrilled by the idea of doing something Jesus wants me to. If He could give up His life for me, I could do this for Him.
“Do you think Sawyer could baptize me?” I asked.
She nodded eagerly.
“Are you going to do it?”
“I’ll pray about it,” I assured her.
Three days later, I knew that was what I truly wanted.
  
By then, it was late on a Sunday evening when I decided. I hadn’t told Sawyer yet, or even asked him, but I was still determined about what I wanted. I could hardly contain my excitement about truly becoming a Christian, but I had to. If my dad knew about it, I don’t know what he would do.
I didn’t want to find out.
Not much around the house had changed in three days, but I felt myself changing. I couldn’t help wanting to be joyous all the time or just talk about it. The only person I could talk to about it was Grandma. Whenever we were the only one’s in the room, she’d give me a knowing smile and I’d return it.
Neither Alivia nor Sawyer were at school Friday, but that was when their dad was having surgery, so I wasn’t expecting them to be. I called Alivia right after school when I was waiting on Pearl in the lobby.
“Alivia,” I sighed, a little relieved that she picked up.
“Hi Fletcher,” she sighed contently.
“How is he?” I asked, leaning back against the wall and waiting for her response.
“He’s doing great! Still in surgery, but the doctor came out a few minutes ago and told us he was in awesome condition. Thanks for asking,” she said, sounding less worried than she had in weeks.
“That’s good! Maybe I can come visit him,” I suggested, wanting to be back with the family I have come to see has part of my own.
“He’d like that. He likes you.”
“Really?” I beamed. Getting along with her dad was a good sign if I ever wanted her to become my girlfriend. Which I do.
“Really. How was school today?”
“Eh, it was okay. I missed having you and Sawyer around.”
“I missed having you around,” she laughed. I grinned.
“So, uh, Thursday okay for our date?”
“Totally!” she answered, sounding excited.
“Great. And will you be at school Monday?” I asked, wanting desperately to tell her about my decision to be baptized.
“I should be. Why?”
“I’ll tell you then,” I replied and she groaned.
“What are you up to, Tin?” she teased.
“You’ll find out.”
Pearl came and appeared at my side, ready to go with her backpack and all.
“I gotta go, but I’ll talk to you later!” I said.
“Okay, me too. See ya!” she exclaimed before hanging up.
I walked out of school with a wide smile on my face. In a daze, I started the car and drove home. Looking back, I’m surprised I didn’t hit anything. I didn’t remember driving anywhere or even walking through the door. I was just happy about Alivia and that Mr. Olson was doing great in surgery.
Pearl noticed, but she didn’t say anything. She just gave me a serious of weird looks and rolled her eyes a few times. I suppose on Saturday, my carefree attitude was beginning to get too much for her. Throughout the day, I couldn’t help but be happy. God blessed me with great friends and a Savior.
“Why are you acting so bubbly all the time?” Pearl asked as I was going to my room on Saturday night.
She stopped me in the hallway and was whispering quietly, eyeing our parents’ room. Not a sound escaped from there and I knew she was trying to be just as cautious as I was around here. Whenever we were in the house with our parents, it was like we were walking on eggshells.
I probably broke all of them, being a little out of it.
“I’m happy,” was all I said.
Pearl sighed and crossed her arms, a smile playing across her face.
“About Alivia?” she joked.
“That’s part of it,” I answered.
When she gave me a confused look, I took her to my bedroom, sat her down, and told her the story.