“You’re my hiding place / My home / And fear cannot invade / These four walls / I need You near / I need You here” ~for King & Country; “Steady”
That night, I stared at the ceiling of a guest bedroom down the hall from Alivia’s. Sawyer offered to share his room with me, but Mrs. Olson insisted on me having my own. I was more than thankful for the Olsons letting me stay at their house for the time being. I felt needy and weak, but I didn’t deny their hospitality.
After we ate dinner, Sawyer was helping me put sheets on the bed and bring my stuff from the car, which was only one bag.
“I’m sorry this is happening to you,” he said, pulling a sheet out of the laundry basket.
“I mean, it’s not like I could’ve done anything to stop it,” I muttered, letting my luggage drop to the floor.
“Hey, don’t beat yourself up over this,” he stated firmly, making eye contact with me. “It isn’t your fault it happened.”
I swallowed and sighed.
“The least I could’ve done was tell them more efficiently. I just want them to know,” I protested, the sinking feeling in my gut never ceasing.
“Look, you just got baptized, just heard about Jesus. You’re new to this, and I bet God was guiding your words with your family.”
“Listen. Did you feel comfortable hearing about God for the first time?” he interrupted.
“No. I didn’t know what to think.”
“Exactly. Maybe your dad did hear about it years ago, but it takes time for the Message to sink in. Whether it be years or days. He panicked because the world doesn’t go for what we represent. Understand?”
His words echoed in my brain as I rolled over in bed, trying to go to sleep. The only light came from a nightlight in the hallway and the moon filtering through the curtains. My only company was the silence pounding in my ears. Every regret still screamed at me, but I cut them off, refusing to give them my ear.
Deep down, I knew it wasn’t my fault, but I couldn’t help but feel like it was. I was the one that brought faith out in the open at my house and corrupted the flow we lived it. It wasn’t like I could keep my most prized possession a secret though. I enjoyed believing, and I felt like I needed to in order to get through this life.
I just wanted to talk to them. I wanted to see Grandma and talk to Pearl. She at least has to know that I forgive her, and that it wasn’t her wrongdoing. Dad was going to figure out somehow, I couldn’t keep it from him for long.
Sitting up, I pulled my knees up to my chest and stared out the window. A different sense of gratitude came over me. Not only are the Olsons helping me, but God is protecting me. The whole situation could’ve been a lot worse. I could be on the streets right now. I could not even believe at all.
Eventually, I gave in to my drooping eyelids with one final thought.
“God, I’d be nowhere without You.”
  
The next day, I went to school.
While I still was feeling like a corpse of nothing, I couldn’t stay hidden away for any longer. I had to do something, go somewhere. At least try to make this better.
The ride to school with Sawyer and Alivia seemed longer than it should’ve. I genuinely enjoyed spending time with them, but that Tuesday morning we hadn’t said a word past “Good morning” to each other. The uneasy silence gave me a headache.
“Anything happen at school yesterday?” I asked, trying to sound interested in school, even if it was the farthest thing from my mind.
“Nope,” Sawyer answered.
“Just missing you,” Alivia added quietly, looking me for the first time that morning.
I returned her gentle, solemn gaze, taking her hand slowly. She wrapped her fingers around mine, sending a warmth up my arm. My gaze flickered to her fingers, which seemed to calm me, bring me back to earth from the silence.
In an instant, it felt like we were at the school, climbing out, walking in. Alivia’s hand remained in mine, for which I was very grateful. My backpack weighed on my shoulders as I entered the building, well aware that a majority of the people were staring at me and the large bruise on my face. I kept my eyes on the ground as she lead me through the crowd, to our lockers.
We stopped at my locker, Sawyer staying with us the whole time. I smiled weakly at them and began to load up my book bag.
“Tin, welcome back!” a voice sneered behind me.
I turned, expecting to see Shelly, but it was Marcus and Jimmy. The two of them looked more deceiving than ever with fake smiles and partially concerned expressions.
“Hey,” I said halfheartedly.
“Didn’t know if you were coming back, we’ve heard some things,” Jimmy remarked.
“Why would you care if I came back?” I asked.
“We don’t,” Marcus cut in, rolling his eyes. “Just wondering when you’re going to come crawling back to us.”
“Wh... What do you mean?” I yawned, too tired to try and think it through.
“I mean, are you really having the time of your life being this Christian person you’re not?” Jimmy stated.
“Yes,” I immediately answered, trying not to care or be offended. “I am a Christian person.” I didn’t have any energy to take the argument further, so I just raised my eyebrows.
They looked at a loss for words, so I walked away. I was beginning to question my judgement for coming here in the first place. How in the world did I think I could do this? Face Ace and Shelly and everyone else? It was one thing to go to the Olsons for help, but a whole other concept to actually pull myself together and stay here for seven hours.
I exhaled slowly, making my way up the hall with Alivia following behind me. Sawyer had somehow gotten lost in the crowd, probably greeting some of his friends. That made me feel a bit more relieved that I wasn’t dragging someone down with me.
“Fletcher,” Alivia said softly, “look.”
I snapped my eyes up to where she was indicating and saw Pearl’s head bobbing up and down in the moving crowd. For a moment, I froze, keeping my gaze locked on her. For some reason, I found it odd that she was there. I suppose school would be one of the only places where she could escape. I began weaving through people, in and out, pulling Alivia behind me.
A breath rose in my throat. I didn’t realize the emotion that would come with seeing my sister here.
“Pearl!” I exclaimed over the crowd, trying to get her attention. “Pearl!”
Her face turned in my direction. Instantly, she spotted me, surprise registering on her face as well.
She pushed her way to me, not bothering to apologize when dirty looks were thrown her direction. I reached her at the corner of a hallway and swept her into a hug. I didn’t care who saw or what they thought. They didn’t know me, and I didn’t know them. We all have our own steps to take.
Reaching my sister was one of mine.
Pearl buried her face into my shirt, wrapping her arms around my shoulders. Every part of her was trembling like a leaf, like she was about to collapse. When she did pull away, I held her back by the shoulders, inspecting her. Heavy bags were under her eyes, standing out against her pale complexion. Her brown curls were pulled away from her face, but I saw no bruises.
“You’re okay,” I sighed, hearing the relief in my voice.
“Somewhat,” she muttered, focusing on my eyes rather than my injury. No tears came to her eyes, just sorrow. Her gaze swam in sorrow and regret. I cringed.
“Tin I’m so sorry,” she said quickly. “I just was worried about you and didn’t want you throwing your life at something that I didn’t know about. I don’t know why I went to dad. I didn’t think he’d go that far, honestly, I didn’t!”
“It isn’t though! It’s not!” she cried. “This is all my fault. If I hadn’t said anything, you’d still be my brother.”
“Pearl, stop,” I said firmly, not wanting her to go on blaming herself. “This was not your fault. It’s okay, I’m fine. God is providing for me.”
She swallowed hard and looked away. I didn’t know how else to get her attention, so I knelt in front of her, holding both of her cold hands in mine.
“I am still your brother, and you’re still my sister,” I said softly. She looked down at me, conflicted. “And I forgive you. God loves you so much.”
She threw her arms around me, letting me hold her. I don’t think she cried, just needed someone. I couldn’t imagine how alone she felt at home. Maybe I should’ve tried to see her earlier.
Alivia smiled at me from over Pearl’s shoulder. I grinned as she nodded and left us to ourselves.
  
For the rest of the day, I struggled to pay attention in classes.
A couple teachers pulled me aside and asked me about my bruise, if I was okay, if I needed help. I assured them I didn’t, that trustworthy people were helping me, and I was fine. Shelly and her group left me alone for the rest of the day, not even paying the slightest bit of attention to me, which was more than I could’ve asked for.
In art, Alivia and I even got into a lighthearted conversation about our next date. It was something we could laugh about now, how extremely unfortunate most of it was. That took my mind off of the obvious things happening, which was needed. If the only escape I could take was sleep, then I may take a thousand year nap. Alivia helped me see things differently though, even if we didn’t directly talk about the issue.
Slowly, I came to realize that there wasn’t much I could do. It hurt to know I couldn’t go home, but it never sufficiently felt like home to me until recently. Home isn’t just a warm feeling with comforting things; home is the place where people give hope and comfort. There’s always the hope of home.
The Olsons place felt more and more like my home every time I thought about it. I felt guilty that I didn’t have a fantastic relationship with my parents. I honestly didn’t know how to change that.
Wednesday afternoon the three of us, Alivia, Sawyer, and I, all came home to an empty house. Mrs. Olson had told us beforehand that they were going to the doctor, just to make sure everything was going well. For at least an hour, we were alone. The three of us sat down at the table and did our homework. Then Sawyer had to go up to the fields and take care of some things his father couldn’t.
It was the oddest thing doing something so normal in very abnormal conditions. Out of all the emotions and pain I was caught up in, doing homework struck some sense in me. Every kid did their homework to some extent. I felt like a regular kid doing his work, and it was surprisingly relieving.
“Fletcher, come with me,” Alivia said, standing up from her closed textbook. A small smile crossed her features, making my heart flutter. Of course, I dropped my pencil and followed her out the backdoor into the cold November air.
We began walking toward the back of the mowed yard as air moved past us, chilling my spine. I shivered and shoved my hands in my sweatshirt pocket as we walked side by side. Her hair blew back from her face, a content look in her eye. A shed came into view, looking a bit worn, but usable.
She picked up her pace and walked faster, a passionate expression crossing her face. After days of seeing her concerned and worried, watching her let go of herself a bit was relieving to me.
“I want to show you something,” she stated excitedly. “Only Mom, Dad, and Sawyer have been here with me. You’ll be the first person outside our family to.”
I nodded as she approached the door, took a key from her lanyard, and unlocked it quickly. She motioned me inside, so I hurried, wanting to get out of the cold. She shut the door behind me and flicked on the lights. It smelled like the art room, full of things to create masterpieces with. What I saw was much, much more grand.
A large table sat in the middle with sketchbooks, easels, and paint all over it. There was a sink, countertops, and even a loft overhead. Art was hung all over the walls, surely done by Alivia. Charts for how-to-draw tips were tacked up.
Christmas lights wound around the rafters and window frames. Tin cans were full of paint brushes, pencils, and stencils. Everything was so orderly and chaotic at the same time. It was all so her.
I began to fall for her all over again.
“Livvy,” I breathed, daring to take a step into the impressive space. “This is awesome.”
“You think?” she asked hopefully.
I gawked at an oil painting of a wolf’s eye. It looked so real, like it was staring right at me. I took in a few more paintings, utterly impressed. I knew she was an artist and could definitely draw something perfect in an instant. But I had no idea that she was so dedicated to it.
“I know,” I stated, looking at her from across the table. She blushed, seeming a little proud of herself. And she should be.
I glanced down at the table to see a finished painting that took my breath away. I wanted to reach out and touch it, feel the beauty of the sky on my fingertips. She watched me, obviously pleased.
“I love this,” I told her, letting a little laugh escape. Tension released in my chest.
“That one?” She pointed to the one I was standing in front of.
“I made it for you,” she said, leaning into the table.
“What?!” I asked, shocked. “Alivia, this is too beautiful and perfect!”
“It was a beautiful and perfect moment,” she replied, walking over to stand by me. “And you were in it.”
I felt my cheeks turn red as she gazed at me. I continued to look at the painting. Two teenagers laying on the roof, pointing into the night sky. I recognized one with a camera on, both of them holding hands tightly. I grinned at the memory.
“Are you seriously giving me this?” I asked in disbelief.
“Yes!” she laughed excitedly.
I turned to her, lost in the moment she painted. That was when I decided that I was falling for her. Soon after that, I fell for God’s love, which just helps me to see her more clearly. We love because He loves.
“Thank you,” I replied.
Her eyes held my gaze with their hopeful expression. They were like oceans staring back at me. Utterly astounding oceans that I couldn’t stop looking into. I stepped closer as she took both of my hands in mine. She smiled up at me, never failing to amaze me.
“For everything,” I added quietly.
Her hands were on my shoulder, and I was aware of how close we were. Her breaths clashed with mine. My gaze flickered to her lips and she smiled even bigger. I held her closer until I was nearly looking directly down at her.
Without thinking, I leaned forward and gently pressed my lips to her’s, my heart beating faster faster faster. She held there, running her fingers through my hair for a couple seconds before we pulled away. She smiled shyly, her ears red, grin contagious. I looked back to the painting.
She held my arm and leaned her head on my shoulder.
“No,” she said, sounding simply happy. “Thank you.”
For a God-given moment, all hardships were forgotten and my hope rose higher than my sorrows.