My hands trembled. The journal slipped to the ground. The way Mrs. Carmichael described my grandmother, always writing, mad me believe this journal was hers. I let the reality register for a moment. This was my mother’s journal. My parents first met when they were just a couple of years older than me. They lived in this small town. I looked at my mother’s journal, then turned to my father’s bible. My yearning to gain information battled my fear of what I would discover.
Was I brave enough to step through this portal into the past?
“Seek and you shall find,” a whisper in my mind. I reached for the bible, and flipped it open once more.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12: Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
I ran my finger over the scribbles in the margins, and felt a tingling in my fingertips. It was reminiscent of that time our school went on a field trip to the local science museum, and the museum rep demonstrated an experiment showing what happens inside a battery to make it work. I remember combining pennies, zinc washers, and lemon juice. Charlie Espinoza took a sip of the lemon juice, and had to stand next to Mrs. Wilson for the rest of the trip.
The rest of us took turns being the person to charge the battery. We soaked paper towels in the lemon juice, and placed it over one of the washers. We put a penny on top. Then, we repeated that process, alternating each item until we had a full stack. The person “charging” the battery wet their fingers with lemon juice, and picked up the stack using their thumb and middle finger, making sure the finger touched the metal. Some girls screeched when they touched the metal. For a moment, I wondered if they felt more than the tingle that coursed through my finger.
Now, as my fingertips traveled over the words written by my father, I felt that tingle again. Determination kicked in, and I settled back against the treehouse wall. I began to peruse the margins.
Next to the Ecclesiastes quote my father had simply jotted, “I met a girl today.”
I’ve had a lot of experience as the new kid in town. We seemed to stay just long enough for me get that settled in feeling that comes with making new friends, having the teachers learn your name, and feeling like your’e part of the team. Football was the only sport I loved playing, and though I always told myself it wasn’t worth getting involved, I always ended up joining the team. The rush I got from hitting the field, hearing the clanking of helmets and pads, feeling the turf beneath my cleats, felt more like home than any house we had ever lived in, and we had lived in quite a few.
It wasn’t necessarily my dad’s fault. He deserved every one of those promotions. My friend, Danny, said his dad had worked at the same plant for twenty years, and planned on retiring there like his father and grandfather before him. I guess when you rise to the executive ranks like Dad has, there’s really no chance of that happening. Sure, we usually had one of the nicer homes in the neighborhood, had the luxury of being able to travel and see the world. I would trade it all for a “normal” life. What I would give to stay in one place, make lasting friendships, maybe even be considered for captain of the football team. A boy can dream, right?
Speaking of dreams, I was already getting antsy thinking of having to sit still and listen to the pastor for an hour, when I saw her slip in the door. What really shocked me was how the light bathed her, making her strawberry blonde hair glow, making me catch my breath loud enough for my mom to tap my leg like she did when I was five and restless in the pew. I had seen Althaea around school, always alone, always on the outskirts, whether it was lunch or biology class.
Word was out that I was an athlete and much the same way moths fly toward a flame without understanding why, students were suddenly interested in me. I will admit that playing sports made it easier to fit in, but I hated the attention. I was more interested in academics than sports if I was being honest, though I often downplayed that. It was easier to go with the flow than show my true colors. Kids wanted to show me around, wanted to know my schedule, who I had for Algebra, and if I wanted to sit with them at lunch. The first week, I sat with the athletes but soon realized what a mistake that was. I found myself scanning the cafeteria, studying moving lips, and wondering if any of those other tables held more interesting conversations. It was during one of these scans that I saw Althaea for the first time.
She was across the room, sitting at a table against the wall. Every so often she looked up from the book she held. I noticed she never really looked around the room, just a quick glance and back to her book she went. I couldn’t tell what she was reading from this distance. The way her long hair fell forward, creating a wall of sorts as she read, would have made it difficult to see the book even I if was sitting next to her. I suddenly longed to cross the room, tune out the noise, ignore the stares and tuck that strand of strawberry blonde hair behind her ear.
What was happening to me? I had met a dozen pretty girls since my first day, but this one held my full attention, even in a sea of inane chatter.
Walter broke my daydream. “Dude, stay away from that one. She’s weird.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I saw you looking at her. She’s definitely drop dead gorgeous, but take it from me, she’s not worth the trouble.”
“Why?” My question was drowned out by the sound of the school bell signaling the end of lunch.
I grabbed my tray, and made my way across the room. I didn’t care what Walter said. What did he know? I was determined to get to know this girl.
Someone bumped into my arm, and almost sent my tray flying. I turned to see who it was, but the cafeteria had turned into a mad rush for the exit. She was gone. I was disappointed, but knew I would find a way to meet her.
As luck would have it she entered the church, and not wanting to miss my chance I made my move. I knew I would catch hell from my parents later, but this girl made me want to break the rules. My parents are what you call conservative Catholics. Both were raised to believe church on Sunday was our way of showing our love and gratitude to the Lord. I never fully grasped the concept, wondering why we couldn’t show our love and gratitude on any given day.
When I was around eight years old I decided that just talking to God came easier to me. It felt less intimidating. I figured God didn’t care if my prayers sounded fancy, filled with bible quotes and “Can I get an Amen” sprinkled throughout. My mom’s prayers were always so eloquent, no matter if she was saying grace at the dinner table or being put on the spot by a friend who wanted her to stop everything and simply pray with her.
I saw my mom’s questioning look as I exited the pew, and quickly said, “bathroom” before making my way up the aisle to the side door. I was a bit surprised at myself for having had the nerve to invite this girl, a complete stranger, to meet me outside. I was even more surprised that she agreed. Or, maybe she didn’t, and I would get out there and feel like a big dope when she wasn’t there. As I approached the door, I took a deep breath and pushed it open, all the while silently chanting, “Please be there. Please be there.”
She was, but appeared to be walking away. Then, I realized she was pacing. Maybe she was as nervous as me. She turned back in my direction, and hesitated. We locked eyes.
Can you feel like you’ve known someone your whole life, before you’ve even met?
“Hi, you looked like you could use some fresh air. Sorry it took me a few minutes to get out here. I had to tell my parents I was going to the restroom. They are real sticklers for sitting through the entire service. How about yours?”
She looked away for a split second, ran her fingers through her hair. “Mine? Um, mine aren’t here. I should get going. They’ll be expecting me.”
Great, I was making her uncomfortable. I searched my pea brain for something to say, anything that would keep her here a bit longer.
“Wait, so you came to church alone? I’m impressed. Truth is, my parents drag me to church on Sundays. It’s not that I don’t have faith. It’s just I prefer to practice my faith after 11 am if you know what I mean.”
Now I was rambling. Way to go, slick.
She smiled. Well, it was more like a grin but I’ll take it.
“I’m usually up early. I like to see the sun rise whenever possible. Weird, I know but there’s something so hopeful about that time of day.”
I noticed she gently pressed the tip of each finger, pausing when she got to her pinky then starting once more with her thumb. This girl intrigued me. I took a step toward her.
“I have to run. See ya around!”
She called over her shoulder as she headed down the steps.
“Wait!” I yelled. “What’s your name?”
She stopped mid-flight and hesitated before turning back around.
“Althaea. Althaea Ray.”
“Althaea, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I hope to see you around. I’m James.”