"For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, 'Fear not, I am the one who helps you.'"
As they made their way through the halls, Annette tried to imagine Peter being bullied like she had been, on the ground, drenched with that disgusting liquid, being ridiculed by his classmates. The image was there, but she couldn’t get a clear picture. It just wasn’t something that she could see. But she believed him. They might have only known each other for half the day, but she knew that he wouldn’t lie to her.
She followed him down the hall and out the side door. They made their way across campus and walked towards town. It really shouldn’t have been that easy to leave campus, but the administration was so relaxed that they didn’t keep an eye on who was walking to their next class and who was leaving campus. Annette was thankful for that. She really didn’t want to have to explain to her mother why she had gotten in trouble on the first day.
Still, she was wondering why everything was so laid back at the school. Teachers didn’t patrol the halls (that was evident by the incident with the Jeek Juice), no one supervised them at lunch (no the lunch ladies didn’t count), and now she was able to sneak off campus in the middle of the day. None of this would’ve been possible at Saint Mary’s.
“They trust us,” Peter said suddenly as they walked along the main highway. “The teachers I mean. They figure that we’re smart enough to make it into the school so we should be smart enough to go to class and do our work.” It was as if he was able to read Annette’s mind. It was a bit discerning. How was he able to answer the question she’d never asked? Strange.
A sudden thought came to her mind, one she was surprised that she hadn’t asked yet.
“Why are you at that school?”
“I am a musical genius!” Peter responded, grinning at her. She looked at him skeptically and the smile faded. “What, you don’t believe me?”
“You just don’t look very—musicy.”
“And you don’t look like a history buff.”
They walked in silence the rest of the way. Annette was enjoying being out on the town. She loved it there. Right next to her school was a corporate building full of offices. But on the ground floor there were restaurants and a bar that her father used to go to every Friday night. That was before he began his preaching and traveled around the world. She wondered if there was a new bar in each city that he went to. He never got drunk. He claimed that it was the atmosphere that he liked.
He told her once, “I can really focus on Christ when I’m there. I know it might sound weird, but with all that noise, it’s easier for me to hear God. His voice cannot be outdone by the voices of those He created. So I just have to listen real hard and I can find His voice in the crowd.”
Annette looked up to her father. He was exactly the person that she wanted to be when she grew up. Except for the fact that she didn’t want to be a preacher. It was a wonderful and fulfilling job, but it was a special path that one had to be born into. If there wasn’t an undeniable burning passion in your soul to spread God’s word from the day you were born, the path of a preacher was not yours to follow. Although there had been some documented situations where people had changed and seen the light; literally.
But Annette knew that it wasn’t going to happen to her. She loved God and believed that Jesus was her Savior, but her relationship with Him was on a personal level. She wasn’t ready to pour out her soul to complete strangers. Not yet at least. She could do it on a local level, what with her church youth group, but never on a national level. Not like her father.
Just passed the corporate building was yet another school. This was a small pre-K center. Annette smiled as she walked by. She thought the kids who went there were the cutest things she’d ever seen. They always looked so excited to be there.
If only she felt the same way about going to high school. It had only been one day, half a day, and she was already burned out on school. She never wanted to go back. She never wanted to face Jordan and the rest of the kids who only saw her as a jeek and not as herself.
But it was for that same reason that she needed to go back. She had to be brave and stand up for herself and for Christ. She needed to be that example, that beacon of light. She just wasn’t sure how to do it when everyone was being so cruel to her.
Peter eventually slowed and came to a stop outside of a Christian bookstore. Squinting, he read the sign on the door. His mouth tightened and he stormed into the store. Alarmed, Annette chased after him.
“What’s the meaning of the sign on the door?” he demanded from the poor old lady behind the counter. She didn’t even look up at him or even flinch. She just kept writing whatever she was writing on a tiny notepad on the counter.
Annette figured that she was a typical librarian. Her hair was short, gray, and curly. And her classes were huge and hung from around her neck. Annette couldn’t see much of her outfit, besides the loose blue top, but she figured that she had on a long skirt and comfy loafer shoes.
“The store will be closing tonight,” the lady answered. “We’re having a sale. All books are free and jewelry half off. Take whatever you want. I don’t want to be caught with this stuff once Staucher takes control.”
Peter was taken aback. “Staucher? But he’s all the way on the other side of the world!”
“Uh-uh, sweetie.” The old lady finally looked up and pointed behind them. “He’s on his way here now.” Peter spun and nearly hit into Annette. She stumbled backward and followed his gaze.
There on the wall was a tiny television, nothing like the big screen that she had hanging in her basement. This television looked to be one from back before she was even born. It was so small and the screen was so grainy that she couldn’t even see the image on the screen. But she could hear the broadcast.
“Live from Washington DC where the White House is under attack. I am being told that the Secret Service has custody of the President and he is being moved to a secure—” The reporter was interrupted by gun shots and an explosion. Annette’s eyes desperately raked the screen, trying to make out a picture. Something was happening and she needed to know what was happening. The picture just wasn’t good enough for her to see.
Peter seemed to understand what was going on though. He whipped out his cell phone and pressed it against his ear.
“Hey,” he shouted into the mouthpiece. “Come get us. Now.” Another round of gunshots sounded, but this time they were closer. Annette’s heart pounded. She was sure that the shots were coming from just down the street. “We don’t have time!” Peter grabbed her hand and pulled her from the shop. When they reached the sidewalk, she froze. The scene around her was just too much to take in.
“Come on!” Peter yanked at her arm, but she stayed put. He groaned and pulled harder. “If you want to live we have to get moving.” That woke up her senses. Her feet moved from their spot and she ran after Peter down the street. But every so often she looked over her shoulder to see the damage.
In the distance, fire filled the air. Smoke rose over the top of buildings and into the air. Everywhere, people ran for cover, frantically waving their arms and holding tight to each other. She watched them dive into buildings and into cars to drive away. She didn’t blame them. That’s all she wanted to do; run and hide.
And then she saw them. They stalked down the street, their footsteps even. Of course they were the ones causing the terror. They were much too calm to be regular people. Each one wore a dark green body suit and carried a small hand gun. One woman had a small bag clenched in her fist. She suddenly stopped, turned, and threw the bag into a building. The building immediately went up into flames and the old lady from the book store rushed out, hacking and coughing, into the street.
Annette was enraged. The air around her turned from cool to hot and she began to sweat. Her hands shook and she wanted desperately to rush the woman who had set fire to the bookshop and strangle her. How could they have destroyed the store? More importantly, why did they destroy the store?
“It’s all over the damn news,” Peter was yelling into the phone between gasps for air. “I know you’re at school but there’s gotta be something on your phone. No? Well get a new phone! Just get your butt down here and—what do you mean you can’t miss Algebra?! When I say it’s an emergency, that means it’s an emergency!”
They continued running until they couldn’t anymore. Peter finally slowed and collapsed onto the ground. Gasping for air, he tried to keep up his phone conversation. “I—just need you—to bring—the car. Need—we—safe house. Now.” He hung up the phone and laid face down on the pavement. But Annette couldn’t relax like that. Everything going on in the town was just too much for her. They were ruining her town! Whoever they were.
Almost the entire town was in flames. The smoke rose higher until it disappeared into the sky. Fires raged, spreading from one house to another. Few firefighters rushed to contain the fires, but there were much less than Annette knew the city could deploy. They were able to contain the fires, but the flames still spread.
Who could ever do this to a town? Especially one full of people. And then it hit her and she felt like a two ton weight was pressing down on her chest. All of the things Peter had told her at lunch made sense. The way her teachers acted, the way Jordan made fun of her and poured that concoction all over her; she understood.
History was repeating itself and she hadn’t realized it.
Christianity was once again under attack. Christians were dangerous, feared, put out of society. They would be shunned, persecuted. Her entire world was falling apart. How could this be happening? How’d it get to this point? What had her parents not told her?
A horn sounded and Annette pulled her gaze away from the destroyed city. She stared in surprise at the person driving the red Jeep at the curb. She was about to speak up when Peter pushed himself off the ground and climbed into the front seat.
“Hurry up!” He held out his hand to Annette who took it and climbed in next to him. The front seat was a bench seat, stretching from the passenger door to the driver side door. She sat next to the window while Peter sat in the middle and Jordan sat behind the wheel.
“Everybody hold on!” He slammed down the accelerator and took off down the street just as fire exploded where the Jeep had been parked. Once her heartbeat had settled, she leaned forward to glare at Jordan.
“What are you doing here?” He opened his mouth, but Peter spoke up.
“You still have that Jesus fish on the back of this?”
“Yeah,” Jordan responded. “Why?”
“You idiot! That’s why they tried to cook us before we drove off!” Peter playfully smacked him on the arm and laughed. Jordan glared and then turned his eyes back to the road.
“So you think this is funny, do you?”
“No, I’m just trying to lighten the mood a bit—”
“Somebody better tell me why,” Annette interrupted. “Jordan—the same boy who hasn’t ceased to make fun of me since this morning—is driving us somewhere.” Both boys were quiet. For a second, Annette was scared that she wouldn’t get her answer. But then Peter sighed and turned to face her.
“Jordan was never against us. He’s always been a Christian.” Annette looked at him, dumbfounded.
“What do you mean? He was acting it the whole time?”
“Sorry kiddo,” Jordan said. “It’s part of the act.”
“Don’t call me kiddo. And I can’t believe all you put me through! How dare you!” Annette slid low in her seat and looked out the window. Jordan started to say something, but Peter silenced him.
“Dude, let her be. This is a lot of information for her. She didn’t know any of this before.” Jordan looked at him. “Parents,” Peter explained. “They sheltered her. Just—keep driving. We’ll talk more when we get there.”
Oh I know exactly what’s going on. Annette thought. But she wasn’t about to let them know it. She wanted to hear the whole story, from the beginning, from Peter. There was still a lot she didn’t know. Like how the government couldn’t have fought off an invasion. They could win a war, but they couldn’t defend their own country? How ridiculous!
And what about Jordan? He was so mean to her and now she’s supposed to just accept the fact that he was really just acting the whole time? It didn’t really make her feel any better. He still had made fun of her and terrorized her. That was a real Christian way to act.
Speaking of acting like a Christian, she wasn’t acting much like one at the moment. Here she was, sulking about Jordan being so mean to her and hating him deep in her heart. That wasn’t supposed to be how it goes. She was supposed to forgive him, to trust him and be nice.
But she couldn’t; she just couldn’t. Jordan had been too mean to her. Of course she wasn’t just going to brush it off and go on with her life. He had to ask for forgiveness and only then would she forgive him. She knew that now was the time and place to forgive him, but there just wasn’t enough love in her heart to do that.
So she sulked for the rest of the ride. It was only when they reached her house that she perked up.