“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.“ ~1 Peter 3:9
The rest of the race was spent waiting for results and sitting on a blanket under a tree. I was given some medicine for headaches, which seemed to be helping greatly. Asher sat by my side for a long time and we played with his army men the best to my ability. He would giggle and laugh if I ever just touched him with the little soldiers. I almost forgot about my headache.
Eventually, Sawyer came over and asked him if he wanted to go to the car to get something to drink. Of course, he did, and I was watching the two walk over to the parking lot when Alivia plopped down beside me. The broadest smile was on her face, causing her to seem glow-y.
I felt myself beaming back at her.
“Hey,” she said, all smiley.
“Hey,” I replied, leaning against a tree with my leg stretched in front of me.
“How’s your head?”
“A little better,” I answered, shrugging.
She tilted her face up to look at the sky between the tree branches. The tips of the leaves were just starting to turn color. Her long, light brown waves touched the top of the grass. Through dark eyelashes, she gazed at the new perspective, absolutely mesmerized.
I felt my head go light again, but it wasn’t from the concussion.
“Isn’t it cool,” she began, “how the leaves know when to turn color? Like, they don’t question when or how to change, they just slowly do and then they end up falling, one after the other. And the color just shows how far they’ve come. They know they have to fall sometime, but it’s only halfway to the ground that they realized it happened. It’s beautiful, don’t you think?”
I was stunned by her sudden talkative mood. When I first met her, she was angry with me, then when I went to her house we hardly exchanged a word, and now she’s talking about... Leaves changing?
Copying her, I stared up at the sky, trying not to let the light bother me. I could feel her eyes on me and I swallowed, trying to concentrate on leaves, but knowing my attempts were worthless with her here.
“I would say that leaves are pretty impressive, but they aren’t the only beautiful thing here,” I said, trying to keep my voice even.
Our eyes met and she blushed underneath freckled cheeks. She smiled tentatively and I could practically see the wheels turning in her head.
“You’re probably talking about the food the people are having behind me,” she joked. I glanced behind her and saw a guy with a hamburger.
“Yes because there’s not a pretty girl sitting in front of me,” I said sarcastically, returning to staring into those crazy blue irises of her’s.
She tried to hide her smile and then I remembered: she has a boyfriend.
“Oh, sorry, I forgot you had a boyfriend... He--”
“No it’s okay,” she interrupted, her voice going quiet. A hurt expression came across her face as she looked away. Her eyes clouded over with confusion as she broke her gaze.
“He’s really lucky,” I said after a moment.
“He-- yeah. I mean, thanks,” she responded, crossing her ankles in the grass.
“Everything okay?” I asked, growing concerned.
“It’s fine. He’s just... He doesn’t understand some things. Like why I came here and why you came to dinner. He’s a Christian. But not very open minded about me talking to other guys,” she explained. She sighed and hung her head a little. “I sound pathetic, don’t I?”
“No.” I shrugged. “You’re just really nice.”
“Thanks. I try.” A moment of silence. “I’m really sorry about not talking to you at dinner and getting mad at you. I just didn’t know what to do.”
“You had a right to be mad. I mean, I wanted to beat myself up after I did that to you!” I exclaimed.
“Don’t beat yourself up over that,” she said, shaking her head a bit. “I forgive you for what you did and I’m sure God will too, if you ask Him.”
I blinked hard, causing a slight throbbing behind my skull. We went from leaves to boyfriends to God. I couldn’t decide whether I liked the way the conversation was going or not. Warning flags were going off in my head to shut this down before we went any deeper.
Then I had a thought.
Was I afraid of opening up to the topic of religion because I didn’t want to change who I was?
I hated carrying the guilt around of hurting her and hanging out with people who liked to make fun of others. All I wanted was to find a way out of those uncomfortable conversations about pranking and trying to find flaws in people. For some reason, I was becoming impatient with my clique.
If I could find a way to escape all of those people, I would be a free man. Then again, I’d probably have to jump through some more hoops to prove I’m worth it, just like everything else.
“How do I ask Him?” I asked, sounding desperate. Her eyebrows shot up in surprise.
“Well, you just kinda... Ask Him I guess. I think of God as my Father and that He would do anything for me, as long as it was part of His plan.”
“I’ve never prayed before,” I told her, my heart speeding up in my chest. She crossed her legs and looked at me with a small smile on her face.
“It’s like having a conversation, except with the Creator of the universe. I get on my knees and bow my head and cry out with my heart for God to forgive me. I’m hardly worthy to even address Him, but thankfully Jesus lets me connect with God,” she elaborated, her eyes lighting up.
I thought about it for a moment. Having not grown up in the church, I don’t know fully what she was talking about. A small part of me wanted to, but I was having trouble even grasping the idea of just asking God to forgive me. Did He even exist?
So I just nodded, doing my best to understand.
Our conversation stopped there and she sighed, sounding content. We watched Sawyer come back with Asher on his shoulders, gripping a juice box that I hoped wouldn’t spill all over Sawyer.
“Tin! I tall!” my two-year-old brother squealed, holding onto Sawyer’s face. Alivia was smiling up at her own brother.
“Yes you are, Squirt,” I replied.
“You ready to go?” Sawyer asked us as Asher reached for the leaves on the trees.
“Yeah,“ I said, “coach said I could just go home and he’d tell me the results later.”
“Great. We’ll stop to eat on the way home,” he said, looking up at Asher who was looking down over Sawyer’s head in absolute awe.
Alivia jumped up and turned to look at me.
“Need a hand?” she asked.
“Sure,” I answered.
She reached out with both hands to help me up and I grabbed hold of them. Honestly, she was a lot stronger than she looked and pulled me up a lot faster than I anticipated. I fell into her, trying to avoid using my injured ankle. She laughed and held onto my shoulder so I wouldn’t fall over.
My cheeks reddened and I looked over at Sawyer, who was talking to my brother. I hobbled over to their truck and we all hopped in. Within minutes of us being on the road, I was asleep in the backseat, overtaken by headaches and heartaches alike.
  
It was a few days later and I crutched my way up the stairs from the art room. As soon as Grandma found out about my ankle and slight concussion, she took me to the doctor immediately. When I actually went, they found a little break and put me on crutches along with a brace. I was out for the rest of the season.
Turns out I didn’t break the record. I didn’t expect to, honestly, knowing that the guy throwing me to the dirt had taken many seconds from my time. It was a day before Mom even asked me about it, but I didn’t see her that often anyway. I didn’t know if Dad knew or not.
It was Friday, and I was ready for the week to be over. Instead of being supportive like friends should, they all teased me about how slow I was getting anywhere. The only one who helped me was Alivia, who carried my backpack up the stairs from the basement. I wouldn’t let her help me in any other way. My “friends” would just make fun of her.
The day was going as usual and then I got a text from Grandma as I was going to lunch.
‘Did you take Asher to daycare today?’
At first, I was completely confused. I asked her if I was suppose to. Then she informed me that she was, once again, out of town with a friend for the weekend, and that my parents were suppose to tell me to.
Then I began to panic.
Asher was alone by himself! He’s only two, he can hardly make it up the stairs. Unless my mom took a day off the job hunt, he was all alone. And it was my fault. I couldn’t recall my parents telling me this, but maybe they did and I just refused to listen.
I had to get to him, get him somewhere he’s at least supervised.
I forgot everything and started formulating a plan as I crutched down the hallway. All I told Grandma was that I’d take care of it, and that’s what I intended to do.
Lunch was forty five minutes long. That would be plenty of time to run home, grab Asher, then come back before class. The only thing was getting off campus.
I stopped by the office instead of going into the lunch room and stood in front of the desk.
“Yes?” the receptionist said.
“Uh, could I go out to my car for a second?” I asked. Despite a slightly cracked ankle, I could still drive with minimal pain. Technically I wasn’t suppose to, but since when did I really do what I was told?
“What for?” Her glasses slid to the tip of her nose as she inspected me.
“I forgot my textbook for my next class out there and I really need it,” I blurted. Didn’t know I could be that smooth. “I’ve missed a couple days of school because of my ankle, so I’m already behind as it is.”
She sighed, and I couldn’t tell if she believed me or not.
“Just sign out here,” she said, pushing a clipboard toward me. I thanked her and put down my name and the present time before going out the doors to my car.
Lying has never really been a big thing for me. I lied to my mom to why I was coming home late from the meet, and she didn’t question me. I was used to getting off the hook.
Finally, when I made it to my car, I unlocked it and climbed into the driver’s seat. Pulling my crutches in, I made sure no one else was in the parking lot then started the engine. I wouldn’t drive past the office, so this was be a piece of cake.
“Don’t worry Squirt,” I mumbled to myself as I pulled out, “Tin’s coming.”
  
By the time I had pulled into my driveway, my mind had managed to come up with everything wrong that could’ve happened. It took all I had in me not to panic. He could be hurt or crying. It was one thing for me to feel forgotten sometimes, but Asher was too young to experience that.
I almost forgot about my ankle and put pressure on it as I stepped out of the car. I sucked in a breath, closing my eyes momentarily to try and block out the pain. I grabbed my crutches and moved as fast as I could up to the house. Quickly, I unlocked the door and went in.
As soon as I entered the house, I heard it. Asher was crying and yelling really loudly from upstairs. I’ve never felt more guilty in my life.
“Mommy!!!” he was yelling. “Hungry!!! Ash hungry!”
I slowly made my way up the stairs, his cries shattering my heart. I can’t believe we all forgot him.
After what felt like eternity, I was at the top of the steps. I opened his door and flipped on a light. The little guy was still in his crib with tears rolling down his face. When he saw me, he sniffed and reached for me.
“Squirt I’m so sorry!” I exclaimed, feeling like the world’s worst brother. I leaned on my crutches and pulled him out with some difficulty. He buried his head into my shoulder and I bounced him up and down a bit.
We stood there for a moment as I hushed his cries and closed my eyes. How did this happen?
“What do you want to eat?” I asked him, setting him by my feet. He grabbed onto my foot that wasn’t injured, which just made it harder to move around and grab his things. I didn’t tell him to stop, though. I didn’t want to let him go either.
“Cheese,” he answered. I laughed a little, but I knew he was talking about mac-and-cheese. As soon as I got his bag ready, we both went down the stairs, slow and steady. Eventually I fed him and we were out the door.
I turned to him as I parked the car in front of the daycare.
“You won’t tell Mommy, right Squirt?” I said, smiling a little. He paused from sucking on his juice box and shook his head. “Thanks Buddy.”
  
Relief filled my stomach as I drove back to school. I had a solid twenty minutes to get there. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a book to carry in with me to solidify my case. I would just say I couldn’t find it.
The moment I reached the parking lot, I went in as fast as I could. It shouldn’t take me half a lunch to find a book, even I knew that was far fetched. I signed back in with the receptionist who didn’t glance up at me as I came in. She just pointed to the clipboard and I filled out the rest of the information.
I sighed as I made my way out of the office. Asher was okay, and I still had time to grab some lunch.
“Tin Tin Amble,” a commanding voice said from behind me. I froze and looked over my shoulder to see the principal with crossed arms. He held the clipboard in one, thick hand and was tapping his foot impatiently. His cross expression set chills through me.
“Yeah?” I asked. I turned around to face him, standing up as straight as I could.
“Why did you even try to sneak off campus?” he asked. “You know we have security cameras in place. We saw you leave the school.”
“I just had to grab a textbook.”
“Ah, I see. And where would that be?” His feet were now shoulder width apart. I promise you this guy trained in the military before he became a school principal.
“Couldn’t find it?” I tried. I wanted to kick myself.
“You’ll just have to come with me to my office young man, and we’ll sort something--”
Both of us turned to see Alivia coming toward us. She looked between the principal and I before taking a deep breath, nodding at me, then turning to Mr. Wimble.
“Yes Alivia? What do you need?” Mr. Wimble asked, his voice growing less hard as soon as he started talking to Alivia.
“It’s my fault he snuck of campus, I dared him to,” she said firmly. I almost believed her myself.
I wanted to tell her not to do that to herself, that this would go on her record. Alivia definitely had no part in this, I hadn’t talked to her since Tuesday. After everything I did, after all the stupid things I’ve said around her-- she’s still is vouching for me?
“Mr. Amble, is that true?” Wimble asked me, narrowing his eyes.
I swallowed and glanced at Alivia.
“Alivia, I don’t want to get you in trouble,” I said out loud, raising my eyebrows at her.
“I don’t care. This is my choice and I confessed that I dared you. We got caught, might as well not hide anything,” she said casually. She really wanted to get in trouble with the principal and she didn’t know what was going on.
“Have we decided on a decision yet? Because in my book, you both should be in my office already.”
“Yes,” I said, “Alivia dared me to.”
“Come with me please,” Mr. Wimble sighed, leading us back to the office. Alivia smiled a bit at me.
“Just go along with it,” she said under her breath.
I nodded and looked around before stepping into the office for the third time that day. Sawyer was standing at the entrance of the cafeteria, wide eyed.
“Someone explain to me everything that’s going on. I am not in the mood for this today,” Principal Wimble said, clasping his hands on top of his desk.
Alivia and I exchanged glances from out standing places in front of his wide, metal desk.
“Well, you see, sir,” Alivia started, “I was talking about how my cousins used to sneak off campus all the time and not get caught. He said anyone could do it, so I dared him to.”
I had to admit, that was a really good cover story.
“Tin Tin, is this true?”
“Yes sir,” I muttered, taking a sudden interest in the carpet.
“Huh. It’s clear that Alivia should be punished, but Tin Tin, you didn’t have to do what she said.”
I began to panic a little. Alivia was going to be punished in my place?
“Yes, yes I did,” I answered. “I was bound to do it sometime, might as well try it out now.”
“You do realize this will go on you record.”
We both murmured our yeses.
“I’m going to be frank with both of you. I’m flat out tired of handing out punishments today. Lunch detention in my office for a week, got it?” he said. We nodded again.
“Alivia, I am surprised that you actually dared him to. Why?”
“Just wasn’t thinking, I guess,” she answered.
“Alright. Well, get back to lunch. See you next week.”
Alivia pulled me out of the office so fast I almost didn’t have time to get my hands on my crutches. The bell rang and students started pouring out of the lunch room. But she pushed against the crowd and was standing by her table, shoving her remaining food into the brown paper bag she had.
Everyone had filtered out by the time we were making our way up the hallway.
“Why did you do that?” I asked. She was walking slow to keep in pace with me.
“Didn’t want you to get in trouble,” she said, shrugging. A beat of silence was between us.
“That’s it?” I said.
“Pretty much. Where did you go anyway?” she asked.
“My parents told me to take Asher to daycare today and I forgot. Grandma texted me and asked if I did, but I seriously don’t remember them telling me. Which meant Asher was home by himself,” I explained.
“Oh wow,” she said, blinking. “Why didn’t you just tell the receptionist that’s what happened? She’s nice.”
“Nobody really knows about my home life, and I want to keep it like that. I don’t want anyone pitying me because of it either,” I said shortly. I had my reasons for my privacy.
A look of brief guilt crossed Alivia’s face.
“That’s why you did it, didn’t you? You pity me,” I said.
“At least I was there. No one else was going to help you out, who did you want? The President?” she said, sounding a little hurt.
“No I--” I closed my eyes and took a deep breath before looking at her again. “I’m sorry. I’m just used to having my guard up and giving reasons. A lot of people expected things from me that I can’t do, I’m not used to having people feel bad for me.”
“I just, I dunno. I realized how good I have it and I didn’t want you to get in trouble with your parents, so I made up that story.”
“That was pretty impressive, by the way,” I said, smiling.
“I tried,” she laughed. We stopped in the hallway where we were about to turn our separate ways.
“Well, uh, thanks for helping me out and stuff,” I said. She grinned.
“Anytime,” she said softly. She reached out and rubbed my shoulder a little before turning away.
“See you in detention!” I called after her. She smiled at me over her shoulder, laughing.
“Can’t wait!” she replied.
I stood there for a moment in a daze of what just happened.
“Me either,” I said to myself.