“There comes a point in your life when you realize who matters, who never did, who won’t anymore, and who always will. And in the end, you learn who is fake, who is true, and who would risk it all for you.” ~Anonymous
Monday rolled around once more and I was dreading it wholeheartedly. I didn’t want to face my group, didn’t want to try to be accepted again. However, I knew if I didn’t just suck it up and sit with them, it would cause more trouble for Alivia and I. Mostly everyone has noticed us talking and hanging out in the halls.
As usual, the two of us were walking to lunch together.
“I’m glad you came on Friday,” she said, adjusting her backpack on her shoulder.
“Me too. I had fun,” I said.
“Are you going to sit with us at lunch today or go back to your friends?” she asked out of the blue.
I paused to think about it for a few moments before responding. I could feel her eyes on me while I stared straight ahead. Eyes that I didn’t want to disappoint. Eyes of a girl I wanted to protect. Swallowing, I looked over at her hopeful gaze.
“I don’t want you to get hurt,” I said quietly.
She waited for me to finish.
“I mean, sitting with them would prevent them from harassing you or I.”
“I think I should just try to make peace with them, you know?”
“I understand,” she replied.
It killed me to have that conversation with her. All I wanted was to hang out with her and Sawyer, then ignore the people who supposedly hated me.
We didn’t say another word as she went to her table and I added on to the long lunch line. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t just do what I wanted?
“Why do you want to hang with her anyway? A few weeks ago you thought she was a loser!” a voice reminded me.
I shook my head in protest. I didn’t think she was a loser.
Ignoring the voice prodding at me that I was better than her, I retrieved my lunch of spaghetti and garlic bread. A kid in front of my volunteered to carry it for me, since I was still on crutches.
That week I was suppose to go back to the doctor to get my ankle checked out again. Hopefully I won’t be on these arm-pit rubbing, ultra uncomfortable, overall bothersome sticks anymore.
As I was walking over to my usual lunch table that I was dreading to sit at, my crutches were suddenly kicked out from under me. I gasped as I landed flat on my back, my foot slamming to the ground unexpectedly. The discomfort of a cracked ankle suddenly seemed a lot more severe.
“Awe, I’m sorry Tin Tin, didn’t see you there!”
I looked up to see Shelly looming over me like a ruthless dictator she was. I promise you if we were in medieval times with kings and rulers and stuff like that, my head would already be cut off because of her.
“What do you want Shelly?” I spat, struggling to sit up.
“Nothing. Just putting you where you belong,” she shrugged. “Also, I would like to ask a favor.”
“Why would I do anything for you?” I asked.
“If you don’t want to see Alivia get pranked again, you’ll do this for me,” she said, a mischievous smile coming across her face.
“Okay..,” I said slowly. “What do you want?”
“Saturday, there’s going to be a party at my house, and you’re invited,” she said, crouching down beside me and pursing her lips. “One last chance to come back to us and prove that you still are with us and not those weirdos.”
She jerked her head in the direction of Sawyer and Alivia’s table. I didn’t dare glance in that direction.
“Also you could make some cash. See, since it’s my Senior year, I want to remember every moment. All of it. So you take some pictures for me and I’ll pay you... Hmm... Three dollars per photo?” she bargained.
I felt my eyes grow wide. Sure, I’ve had photography gigs before, but this was insane. If I took fifty pictures, I would already have one hundred and fifty dollars in my pocket.
“Think about it would you? Oh, and in the meantime, don’t sit with us. They’re all out to get you anyway.” She smiled and stood up.
“Hey, back off Shelly.”
I looked up to see Sawyer standing in front of me, arms crossed, looking at his fellow classmate with irritation.
“C’mon Sawyer, I was just trying to make peace with him. Wasn’t I Tin Tin?”
I just raised my eyebrows at her and scoffed, “Yeah, real kind of you.”
She gave me one last glare then walked back over to her table putting great exaggeration in swaying her hips. I thought she was going to throw one of them out, walking like that.
“C’mon, we saved a seat for you with us, just in case,” Sawyer said.
He held out his hand to help me up and I took it. After gathering my crutches from the floor, I followed him over to his table.
I sat down beside him with a few other kids gawking at me. Alivia was across the table smiling up at me.
“What did she want?” Sawyer asked in a low voice. I turned to look at him.
“From her point of view, I think it was to give me a second chance.”
“But..?” he prodded.
“I’m pretty sure she was bribing me.”
Sawyer nodded and scooped some soup from a thermos into his mouth.
“She probably was,” was his reply.
“I wouldn’t doubt it. I mean, she bribed Jimmy and Marcus to leave me at the movies.”
“What a friend.”
“I don’t even know what to call them anymore,” I mumbled.
“Hey, I’ll be your friend,” he volunteered, grinning like the social person he was. “In fact, do you want to come over tomorrow? Alivia’s going out with you-know-who.” He said the last part in a whisper.
“I mean, if I have to be there to keep you from strangling the guy,” I joked. “But yeah, I’ll come.”
“I wouldn’t doubt if you had to.”
We both looked over at Alivia who was gazing at her phone in a daze. I could only imagine who she was talking to. It was even harder to think of a reason why.
  
The next day, Tuesday, I was driving under the canopy of trees beginning to lose their leaves on a dirt road. I had to drop off Pearl at our house since she absolutely refused to ride the bus again. It wasn’t really that big of a deal. I didn’t blame her for not wanting to ride the bus.
As I entered the Olson household, I encountered Mrs. Olson in the kitchen. She was sitting at the dinning room table shuffling through papers, seeming a bit overwhelmed. Her hand kept smoothing down her hair as she muttered things to herself.
“Hello Mrs. Olson,” I said, waving at her.
“Hi Tin Tin,” she said, sounding a bit worn out. She smiled anyway and stood up. “How are you dear?”
“I-I’m good,” I stuttered, a bit taken aback that she had called me ‘dear’. The only person who called me that was Grandma.
“Awesome. Well, we have drinks in the fridge and there’s snacks in the cupboard by the sink, just help yourself,” she offered, even showing me all the contents in her fridge.
“Thanks, but I think I’m good for now,” I said.
“Alright. Well, I think Sawyer’s downstairs,” she informed me, leaning against the counter. “You can stay for supper if you’d like.”
“Thanks Mrs. Olson.”
I went out of the kitchen and found the stairs which lead under the staircase going to the second floor. As I began to descend down to the lower level of the house, I stopped short when I heard a voice. Concluding quickly that it was probably Sawyer, I continued to go down. I turned to the left to see a door slightly opened.
“...perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him,” Sawyer was saying. It sounded like he was reading something out loud. And it certainly didn’t sound like homework or anything.
I leaned against the wall outside the door and continued to listen.
“Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because He has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.
“For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
I exhaled and thought for a moment. The whole paragraph he just read confused me. Aren’t all people good at heart? And isn’t God known for loving people no matter what? So why are we condemned if we don’t believe? If you condemn someone, do you really love them?
“Wait,” I said out loud.
I pushed open Sawyer’s bedroom door and he paused to look up from his bed pushed to the far wall beneath the one window that was above ground outside. He held a large book in his lap, looking to be near the end of it. Then I got it. He was reading the Bible.
“Hey, what’s up?” he asked, breaking into a smile.
“Nothing really... What are you doing?” I asked, gesturing to his book.
“Just reading,” he said as I took off my backpack and set it at the foot of his bed. I leaned my crutches against the wall and sat in front of him.
“I don’t understand,” I said. He looked at me a little confused. “Why are we condemned if we don’t believe? Isn’t God suppose to love everyone?” I elaborated, pointing to the book.
“Oh you mean you don’t understand the scripture I just read?” he asked, his eyes lighting up.
“Okay. Do you mind if I explain it to you?”
“Go ahead,” I said.
My heart was pounding fast in my chest and I didn’t know if what I was doing was good or bad. Everything in me wanted to run out of the room, afraid that he might tell me I was living my life wrong. Isn’t that what Christians do? Tell me everything I’m doing wrong? Alivia, Sawyer, and Diego don’t seem to be that way. But Tanner was totally like that. Why are Christians so diverse if they’re all suppose to part of one religion?
“So before the world was created and all that, like at the very beginning of the beginning, God was there. He’s always been there, and always will be there. And there are three parts of God, but they’re all God: the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. It’s pretty complicated, but that’s the best way I can explain the trinity.”
“Mind blowing, but okay,” I said, trying to picture how three separate Beings can all be the same.
“Anyway, God created the earth and everything in it. He created us to be with Him originally. But then we sinned. We messed up and went against God’s ways because two people were tempted way back when the world first began. Satan, who is the opposite of God, tempted them to go against God’s ways and fall into foolish thinking. As soon as we went against our Creator, we were separated from Him.”
“Why? Couldn’t God just save us with His powers or something?”
“If God is really real and has powers that is.”
“That comes later,” Sawyer said, grinning. “But throughout the Bible, up until the New Testament, people tried to follow God’s ways. We tried to cover up our sins by sacrifices and good works. We can’t vouch for ourselves to redeem ourselves from doing good works though. Nothing we can do can take away the fact that we’ve gone against God.”
“So if we’ve gone against God, aren’t we condemned, like the verse says?”
“And there’s no way we can get out of it?”
“Well, there is. So remember there was three parts to God? Well, the Son, Jesus, was sent to earth so he could take away our sins. He was crucified and took the penalty of death we deserved. If we trust that He is our true salvation and we can’t save ourselves, then in Him we have eternal life and are no longer condemned,” he explained.
“So what you were reading is basically saying that everyone who believes in Jesus has eternal life? Like, they’re immortal?” I asked. I knew nothing about church or the Bible or even how it worked. Some parts of what Sawyer explained were still fuzzy to me.
“Kinda. Like Heaven and stuff. We still die here on earth but we’ll live in Heaven forever.”
“Oh okay. So not everyone who believes in Heaven goes there?”
“Without God? I mean, you kinda have to believe in the Creator of Heaven to actually believe that Heaven itself is real,“ he said, leaning back against the wall.
“Makes sense,” I replied. My mind was still spinning with questions that I wanted to ask. I didn’t know the gist of the Bible, but it couldn’t hurt to, could it?
“I can study with you if you want,” he offered. He sounded hopeful and overall content while he was explaining everything.
“I mean... If you don’t mind-- if I can, I will,” I said.
At those words, all the voices in my head went silent and I wondered what I just did. Every sound in the room felt tangible. Not a thought in me was running around causing havoc. It was still.
Sawyer broke into a full smile.
“Great! But right now I have government homework,” he said.
“Yeah, I have some stuff to do too.”
“We won’t do it the whole time, I just hate staying up late to finish it,“ he sighed, closing his Bible and taking out his textbook from his backpack.
“Sounds good to me.”
Honestly, I would’ve probably never finished my homework if I was with any of my other friends. Sawyer was different, probably a straight A student, and seemed dedicated to trying. While I really didn’t want to even attempt my page and a half of Pre-Calculus, I brought out the book anyway.
I started to take in the entirety of the room. By his bed was a desk and next to his desk is what looked like a music stand. There was a door that I assumed was the closet and then a keyboard and a few instrument cases in the corner. Alivia had told me about how Sawyer was really interested in music, but wasn’t in choir or band of any kind.
As we started to do our homework, I realized that the conversation I just had with him could possibly lead to a change in the rest of my life. I don’t know if that terrified me or excited me, but all I knew was that learning about this Jesus guy and what God did for me wasn’t going to leave me a victim of society anymore.
  
When we both lost motivation to try and continue our school work, we went upstairs and played their Wii. Eventually, his mother came in and asked him if he would help her up at the fields. I didn’t know they lived on a farm, they never mentioned it.
I took the opportunity to get a drink from the kitchen. I hobbled back into the family room and sipped it while I texted Grandma to let her know I wouldn’t be back at her house for dinner that night. While I was waiting for a response, I heard the sound of a door opening and closing from the kitchen.
Automatically, I assumed it was Sawyer coming back from helping Mrs. Olson.
“Hey Sawyer! You ready to play again? What did your mom need?” I called, picking up my remote.
Something must’ve been seriously wrong or it wasn’t Sawyer. I shrugged it off because I didn’t want to get back on my crutches to go investigate and I highly doubted someone was breaking in.
After a few moments of someone shuffling around in the kitchen along with me trying to figure out which character I wanted to choose on Super Smash Bros, I sensed someone standing in the open doorway. Glancing behind me real quick, I recognized Alivia before becoming captivated by the game again.
“Hey Alivia,” I said casually.
She might’ve said hey back, but if she did, it was so quiet I missed it. When she didn’t move for a good minute, I looked back at her again.
I froze when I saw her expression.
Her lips were pressed into a thin line as her glassy eyes stared off into space. From where I sat, I could see her hands shaking as she began to wring them together. Her cheeks were red. And while her face was so full of emotion, she didn’t make a sound.
Something was definitely wrong.
“Alivia?” I asked softly, turning in her direction.
“Is Sawyer here?” she managed to whisper, finally looking at me.
I searched her face for some source of hope that she was just joking. I didn’t want her to be this upset and I definitely didn’t want to see her cry. I swallowed, wanting to give her the best thing to make her feel better. If her brother was what she wanted, then I would try to get him for her.
On the other hand, Sawyer wasn’t here and I had no clue where the fields were.
“No, he’s helping your mom in the fields. B-but I can go get him if you need him,” I volunteered.
That’s when Alivia Lilly Olson bursted into tears.
I sat shocked. I’ve never even heard of Alivia crying. She was always so happy, so optimistic. Seeing her cry made my frustration boil against whoever did this to her. She didn’t deserve this, she was so kind and honest and gentle-- she took a chance on being friends with me. And someone out there made her cry?
“Alivia,” I said, standing up on one foot and using the backs of furniture to help me get closer to her.
She stepped forward and looked me straight in the eye. I set a hand on her shoulder, then ended up engulfing her in a hug. Somehow, I managed not to lose my balance, standing on one foot like that. Her tears were hot against my neck as I rubbed her shaking shoulders. As she pressed her cheek to my shoulder, I held her tighter, not wanting her to collapse.
I didn’t know how to ask her what was wrong. Eventually, I guided her back to the couch and we sat facing eat other. Our knees were touching. I felt my palms start to go sweaty.
“Hey, what’s going on?” I asked gently, trying to get her to look at me as she refused my gaze. Her hair hid her face, but I could still hear her uneven breaths.
I placed my hand on her knee, trying to get her to open up. She turned my direction, but didn’t lift her head to meet my gaze. I put my finger gently under her chin and made her look at me. I had to find out what was wrong with her.
“Tanner broke up with me,” she whispered.
For a moment, all there was was my heart pounding in my chest and me gazing into her eyes. Then reality hit; she put her faith and trust into this guy and he just ditched her? How could someone do that to her? And, more importantly, why?
“Oh Alivia,” I said under my breath. ”I am so sorry.”
“I asked him what-- what time he had to be h-home and he said... he said...” She paused, trying to pull herself together. “He told me, ‘The minute after we break up’.”
She put her head into her hands and tried to gain control of her tears. I bit my lip, unsure of what to do--either stay here to comfort Alivia or go seek out this dude and yell at him for breaking her heart.
“How could I have been so stupid not to see this happen? I thought things were sorted out and everything was okay. And t-then he dumps me?” she said, directing her raw-red eyes to me again.
“You don’t deserve that!” I exclaimed suddenly, making her jump.
“T-Tin, yes I do! I was a terrible girlfriend. I don’t think he ever really liked me anyway... I was too-- too soft for him,” she blurted.
“Well, he should’ve known who you were before he asked you out,” I reasoned. She sniffled and gulped. I took both of her hands in mine, knowing I was totally breaking the rules since she just broke up with this guy, and stared deep into her eyes. “Alivia, listen to me. He didn’t deserve you. And you’re going to get through this because you are one of the strongest people I know.”
I never saw her smile so hopeless before until then. She attempted to push her feelings away right in front of me and I sighed.
“Okay,” she whispered.
I dropped her hands, then reached behind me to hand her a tissue.
“Can I do anything?” I asked, feeling like I wasn’t exactly helping the situation.
“Just... I-I don’t know,” she said, calming down. “Could you stay here until Sawyer comes?” she asked timidly.
“Of course,” I said, giving her a sympathetic expression.
I didn’t know what she was going through at all. I never had a girlfriend before at that point in time. Believe me, I tried with all my heart on some girls. But love doesn’t work that way. If you don’t get nervous when you see them while feeling completely comfortable with them at the same time, then it probably isn’t love. You can’t throw yourself at someone and expect them to feel the same.
With Alivia, I didn’t want to ruin the friendship we had by asking her out. Plus, she was really hurt by Tanner dumping her. Now definitely wasn’t the time.
She leaned back and stared at the ceiling, then closed her eyes and smiled.
“I remember,” she started, “how he always told me I was pretty and kept calling me ‘babe’. But I don’t know if I liked that, you know?” She looked over at me and grinned.
“I mean, I wouldn’t like it if someone called me babe,” I said and she laughed a little. “It’s kinda straightforward.”
“True. I didn’t feel like I was anything special when he called me that. I didn’t date him for his good looks though,” she said. “I saw him struggling and thought I could help. So when he asked me out, I said yes sorta... sorta out of sympathy for him. I don’t know if I ever actually liked him enough to spend the rest of my life with him. He was a good listener and really good at heart, but I knew he flirted with other girls.”
“That stinks,” I said, at a loss for words. She’s never been this open with me.
“I guess now it’s over though,” she whispered, taking in a deep breath.
“You deserve better. You deserve someone who will like you for who you are and won’t even think of pushing you away,” I blurted.
I so desperately wanted to say that she deserved someone who was better than me, because she did. I didn’t break up with her though, now did I?
“But just because it’s over doesn’t mean no one else will love you,” I said. I thought about my conversation with Sawyer from earlier that day. I assume Alivia believed in God as her salvation. So wouldn’t God love the people who trust in Him? “I mean, God loves you,” I assured her, slowly forming the words in my mouth.
Her expression was shocked as she gazed at me with wide, sparkling blue eyes.
“You... I... Did you go to church?” she asked. We never talked about God or anything during detention nor any other time. I suppose that when I brought that phrase up, it shocked her.
“No. I talked to Sawyer,” I replied, trying to shrug it off like it was no big deal. I mean, I barely knew about this Jesus guy and if God truly did love someone like me.
“Oh, okay,” she said, a small smile on her lips.
We sat in silence for a few more moments before I suggested we continued playing the game Sawyer and I had started. She agreed, seeming a little reluctant. Once we got started, her tears eventually dried and she seemed to be having fun. Maybe I did something to take her mind off of her heartbreak.
  
After dinner that evening, I told the family that I had to go home. Mrs. Olson gave me a container of leftovers for me to take home and I took them without hesitation. After I thanked them for having me over, gathered my school stuff, and agreed to come back soon, I left.
They all seemed to like me, especially Mrs. Olson. She treated me like I was one of her own kids. It was like I was already part of the family.
The topic of Alivia and Tanner breaking up didn’t appear during dinner, which was relieving. Alivia acted like herself, but after a few exchanged glances, I saw that she was still hurt from what happened that day.
I was going down to my car when I heard the door open and shut. Turning, I saw Alivia and stopped as she came toward me. When she stopped in front of me, I grinned.
“Hey, what’s up?” I asked.
Then she hugged me, almost knocking me off my feet.
“Oh, okay,” I laughed, hugging her back awkwardly, since there were crutches under my arms.
When she pulled away, I saw her shy expression on her face again.
“Just thanks for, uh,” she said, the wind blowing her hair from her shoulders and leaved from the trees. “You know, being there for me. It means a lot,” she finished.
“Yeah, anytime,” I said, smiling genuinely at her.
We stood there for a second later before we both turned away.
“See ya!” she called over her shoulder.
Finally, as I began to drive home, I let the events catch up to me. Tanner broke up with Alivia and I just happened to be there to help. Sawyer wanted to teach me about God, but I don’t know if I was sure about that.
I don’t know if I truly helped her, or if she was just being nice. I hoped that I did something to ease her pain about what happened. She didn’t seem too upset about it though.
Maybe -- just maybe -- she’s smiling now because of me. She’s crazy to take a chance on being friends with me, and I didn’t want to hurt her.
I felt like I was just jolted awake and it was the best feeling I’ve ever had.