“Good morning, Miss White,” someone says above me. “I’m Don Jones, an elder here at the church. I was wondering if I could speak to you—in private.”
It bothers me that he greeted me and not Luke. I really can’t understand what these people have against this sweet, kind-hearted boy.
“As long as it doesn’t have to do with girlie issues, you can say it in front of Luke too,” I say, grinning a little.
Don is blushing. “B-but you may want to reconsider—it’s very personal.”
“Does it have to do with girlie stuff?”
“Then talk,” I say, finding Luke’s hand on the carpeted ground, and squeeze it gently.
“I…” Don coughs, and it must be a super-cough, because everything that he says after seems to have more power. “Miss White, I know that this is a very difficult time for us all and most of us aren’t thinking clearly. Believe me when I say that I only have your best interest at heart. I’m thinking of your safety.”
“I don’t really think there’s much you can do about that, sir,” I say humorlessly.
“Broadly speaking, no. But your survival here may depend on who you put your trust in.”
My off-center eyes narrow. “Go on.”
Jones shifts in his shoes. I can see him as an older man, just starting to grey and thin, slightly chubby with a hopeful beard and a too-kind smile. His voice reminds me of the boy who introduced me when I first arrived at the safe house.
Don Jones, elder or not, is a fake.
“Go on,” I repeat, more forceful this time. “You started this conversation. So finish it.”
“You can’t…Miss White—Rosie—excuse my abruptness, but you don’t know this boy at all. Do you? You’ve only just met.”
I get it now. “Yes,” I say. “We met when he saved me and literally carried me here yesterday.”
“You can’t,” Don struggles, “see him, Miss White. You don’t know, because if you saw him, you would understand.”
Luke tries to pull his hand out of mine, but I won’t let him. “Understand what?” I snap. “What are you trying to tell me? Spit it out.”
“He’s dangerous!” Don says, and he does spit it out. “You don’t understand that he’s dangerous, because you can’t see him. He-he…”
My blood is boiling—snapping, crackling like a fire in my veins. My breath comes short and fast just like it does when I cry. But no tears fall from these eyes. Not this time. “If I could see, what would I see when I look at him?” I ask Don. “If I wasn’t blind, what would he look like to me?”
“Uh, tattoos and piercings…long hair…Rosie, you have to trust me—”
“Trust you? You stand here, judging the boy who saved my life because he has a freaking tattoo, and you ask me to trust you?”
“You’re pathetic. You’re completely, utterly… You’re supposed to be setting an example for me, for us, and you’re saying Luke’s a bad person because of a tattoo. You’re pathetic.”
“I’m trying to protect you,” he grits out.
“Well where were you when I was sitting in the middle of a mob of panicking people? Where were you when I was wandering the halls looking for this stinking place? And where were you when…” When my mom was murdered. Where were you?
The sound of silence overwhelms my empty ears. Floods my thoughts. The silence is worse than when he was spewing filth about my…Luke.
But how dare he? How frigging dare he judge my hero? How dare he say Luke’s not trustworthy, that he’s a bad person? How dare he?
I want to scream and curse and throw my collection of bobble head dolls at Don Jones. I want to be able to see so I can find something to judge him about but all I can find is that he’s a horrible, rotten person and I hate him for how he treats Luke. I hate him.
“Get,” I tell him.
“Go on, get,” I say like he’s the neighborhood stray.
“Get away from us,” I say, deadly calm now. “You don’t deserve to call yourself a deacon or an elder or the head pastor. How can you call yourself a follower of Christ when you mistreat His children? How can you?”
“I…I’m sorry to have taken up so much of your time,” he recites. I know he’s gone when the background chatter resumes.
Luke is a rock beside me. His hand is limp and mine is tight, and shaking from fury. My legs are locked, straight in front of me, and locking your knees can make you faint but I’m wide-awake and humming with rage. I’m alive with anger.
My mom always taught me to be accepting, but she also made sure I knew right from wrong. I have a very black-and-white personality. Homosexuality is wrong. Sinning is wrong. Loving is good. Judging is bad. Condemning is also bad. Accepting people for who they are and realizing that all have sinner and fallen short of God’s glory is so important.
So while I have never even thought about getting a tattoo and have never done more than pierce my ears, who’s to say that it’s a sin? We all make mistakes. We all have regrets, and I’m not saying that Luke’s body art decisions are regrettable. I don’t see anything wrong with decorating your body. It’s the same as wearing jewelry or make-up, just a little more…permanent.
That man had no right to trot right up and judge Luke. Don Jones has sinned, too, so he has no right to point the finger.
Christ alone, the perfect, spotless Lamb, has the right to judge, and He’s the least judgmental being. He would never deny a child because they had an inky butterfly on their back. He welcomes us all with equal fervor. He loves us, mistakes and all.
There’s the slightest pressure on my fingers.
“Are you okay?” I ask him. “I am so sorry that jerk said those things, I had no idea when he said ‘personal’ that he meant—”
“Did you mean that?”
“Sorry?” I’m confused. He’s not…angry? He should be. I am. I’m angry enough for the both of us.
“What you said. Did you mean it?” he repeats. “Any of it?”
Luke sounds so happy. I’m sure that there is hope filling his eyes, hope that I did defend him when no one else would have.
More anger flares up in the pit of my stomach. It burns there, like a fire. It makes my head spin.
His happiness means one thing: no one has ever stood up for him before.
He doesn’t even stand up for himself.
I ask him that. I say “why?” I say “why don’t you defend yourself, Luke? Why don’t you speak up? I shouldn’t have had to yell at that creep, because you should have been doing it yourself.”
“I…” His head droops.
I snatch my hand away from him and cross my arms right around my chest. “You can’t let people walk all over you.”
“I know,” he says lamely.
“Then why do you let them?!”
He is silent.
“Look,” I say quietly, not sure if he’s still with me, “from the day I was born, my mom told me the same thing. For your sake, I’ll paraphrase. My mom loved to give speeches. She said, ‘There are enough people in the world who would be more than happy to criticize you. Don’t join the crowd’.”
I would usually be crying when she said this. Crying or throwing the first thing I touched or complaining. My mother was an angel, no disguise about it. She endure my nightly nightmares, the unbalanced mess I had become, how I always came home from group therapy more frustrated than before, my bag-loads of audio books, the passionate hatred I had for my cane, plus the normal things a teenager goes through. She’d lucky she didn’t have to deal with school drama too.
I didn’t have any friends and no one ever made fun of my blindness (for fear of Adan’s fist in their throat) but I still had my issues. Obviously.
I hated that I didn’t have friends, or anyone besides my family. I hated that I wasn’t a normal kid. I couldn’t go shopping for clothes like a regular human being because I can’t see myself in the mirror. Mostly I just hated the accident, and myself. Oh, I really hated myself.
“Trust me,” Mom said, smoothing back hair, wiping away tears. “Rosie, so many people are going to dislike you. You’re going to meet people who, for whatever reason, just can’t stand you. They’ll make fun of you and talk behind your back and treat you like crap. You can’t let yourself be one of them.
“You have to be stronger.”
Not just strong. Stronger-er. Er.
“Are you going to be one of your own haters,” I ask Luke. Not unkindly. I just want to know.
I hope he doesn’t hate myself as much as I used to.
“It’s hard,” he says. He sighs. Surrenders. “It’s hard to not join the crowd. It’s a big one.”
“Hey, it’s quality over quantity, brother.” I nudge his shoulder gently. “More Mom wisdom. Quality over quantity.”
I hope he’s thinking of me when he says, “The quality looks pretty good on my side.”
“That’s what I thought. If you’re winning, there’s nothing to complain about.”
He laughs tiredly. “This conversation is getting confusing.”
“Then just agree with me.”
“What am I agreeing on?”
“You’re promising me that you’re going to start sticking up for yourself. If that bozo walks past, glare at him like a normal person would. If he talks to you, ignore him. If he’s a jerk, tell me and I’ll kick him in a very unpleasant place.”
“Aw, I want to kick him too.”
“Then we’ll kick him together,” I concede. “Promise me?” I hold up my hand, pinkie extended. His cold hand bumps mine before our fingers curls around each other.
“Pinkie swear,” we say together, and I can tell that he’s grinning too.
Luke pulls me into an awkward side hug. I’d much rather be in his lap, but I let him squeeze my shoulders.
But it’s maddening. After spending all night draped across his legs, curled around his chest, listening to the sounds he makes in his sleep, a side hug, frankly, isn’t going to cut it.
I twist and swing my leg over him. It’s the only way to hug him properly. His hands are flat against my shoulder blades, his cheek against my ear.
I bury my face in his neck. He smells like cinnamon and ember, like apple cider and Christmas stores. “Luke? I meant every word.”
He knows what I mean.