Is this a bad time to post a, 'Would you date me, Wednesday?' Heck no! I'm not up for grabs. I'm married and contagious... That sounded so bad.
Today we have the lovely Jennifer M. Hartsock with us. She has been willing to entrust us with the fist few pages of her manuscript, BATTLEGROUND. And no, it has nothing to do with my ex-hasbend. Please help Jennifer out and leave her some honest feedback. And Thanks for stopping by!
Jennifer M. Hartsock
CURE A DISEASE BY AVOIDING ITS SYMPTOMS
In the city of Kinhedge, California, surrounded by the loud buzz of party chatter, horns and cheers boomed from outside in celebration of the New Year. With the last few days of Christmas vacation drawing near, everyone was eager to have a bit of fun before sophomore year started again. People in party hats with whistles and streamers gathered in clusters throughout the house—smiles and laughter galore—guzzling down alcohol. I remained seated in the kitchen corner, imagining myself somewhere different.
Samantha Withnell stood across the kitchen island from her friends, Ping-Pong ball in hand. She had teased her blond-streaked chestnut hair, but from the humidity of many people in a small space, it looked like a sticky mess of styling product. Her eyes peaked over her shoulder, and my hands shielded my face.
“Lilly, quit pouting and help me.”
“I’m not here.”
The stern look in her eyes confirmed her impatience with my attitude. Sam abandoned the island, catching me up in her whirlwind, and plummeted into the armchair with me. “Young lady, we’re getting down to the wire!”
The small crucifix around my neck rested at my collar, and I gripped it in my hand, making sure the pendent was tightly secured to the chain. If I was stranded in a pit of drunken classmates, I needed the best guidance possible.
“I’ll play only if we go home early.”
Sam furrowed her eyebrows. “Deal.”
We rose from the chair to take our places at the island. There were only two cups left in the game and, because I hadn’t drank tonight, I helped Sam toss the ball across the table. We managed to miss the cup.
Corbin Burke lifted his eyebrows at the disaster on the island. “You better bump up your game, ladies. Sober Island, hand me one of those shot glasses, will you? Standing here between drinks is less exciting than dropping a potato chip.”
I filled a shot glass and pushed it across the island. Corbin took it to his mouth and threw it back. “Hello, Lolly-bean. One more term to go until you’re a junior, yeah?”
“Well, you see, I’ll be a senior, so we havta hang out before the war!”
“I forgot about you joining the Army. One year to go, right?”
Corbin wrapped an arm around my neck, administering a nice, long noogie. Locked against his chest, I could only peek into the living room through the crook in his elbow. From under the hood of a jacket, blond hair curled around a stranger’s ears and neck, framing a pale face, a hint of freckles dappled across his nose. He played a guitar that no one, perhaps not even he, could hear.
“Corbin, let me go.”
“You can’t rush art.”
“Corbin!” I urged, and he released me, my lungs sucking down air.
Amid the chaos of fifteen partygoers, playing his music, there was a peculiar uneasiness in the boy’s eyes. Sad and longing, they seemed to ask for my help.
“Who’s that?” I asked.
Corbin looked over his shoulder. “Lilly Rosalie Dawson,” he said, patting me on the back. “Go find out.”
Should I? I didn’t want to wander too far from my friends, but what, in those strange eyes, could possibly compel my attention? I grabbed a bottle of something and took a shot. It warmed my agitated stomach.
Corbin crossed his arms, inspecting my impulsive drink. “Damn, Lolly. Right on.”
“Congratulations,” Sam announced, draping her arm across my shoulders. She handed over a cup of something that looked thick and sweet. “You’ve finally crossed to the dark side.”
Corbin snorted. “All for Parker.”
“Parker,” I said.
“Here.” Sam exchanged my cup for one with water. “It’s almost the new year. Try something new, okay?”
The crucifix felt comfortable and familiar in my hand. This was enough to ease me into the living room and sit across from the stranger. Even as the party raged around him, those eyes were distant in thought.
At just that moment—this picture perfect opportunity—a gangly albino sat next to Parker. He drunkenly leered at me. “Who are you?”
“Lilly,” I answered.
To my surprise, he jumped in his seat, almost knocking Parker in the face with his flailing right arm. “Chuck Norris doesn’t wear a condom because there’s no such thing as protection from Chuck Norris!”
“Ha, ha,” I said dryly. I could smell the beer on his breath and wished he would join the keggers in the kitchen. I tilted my water cup to him. “It was nice meeting you.”
He stared at me for several seconds, but ultimately took off down the hall. I laughed pitiably.
“Chuck Norris isn’t the best way to get a girl to like you,” Parker said.
He was speaking to me. “No, it’s not. Um, I’m—”
“Lilly, right? Gabriel Parker” —and finally I had a real name— “but call me Parker.”
He tucked a hand into his jacket and pulled out a plastic baggy of marijuana and papers. This boy was more lost than I’d thought. Was this why I was lured over? He peeped up at the right time to catch my pained expression.
“There sure are a lot of older people here,” I said.
“Just turned sixteen, so most people here are older than me.” Parker rolled his fingertips over a joint, puffed it, and exhaled the musty smell of pot. “Let’s toast to lost causes.”
Did he mean himself? “Who?”
“Uh, good question.” He exhaled again, and I watched the thick plume of smoke. “How about Kinhedge.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Everyone here is Christian,” he continued, “and every scumbag is Christian and every unintelligent person, too.”
The crucifix burned on my chest. Heat flushed my face, but with a quick prayer to keep my anger in check, I said, “I can’t believe you just said that.”
“I bet you’re Christian.”
“Of course I’m a Christian.”
His blue eyes flickered with interest. “Why’s that?”
Another explosion went off outside, and we watched a shower of light through the bay window. In the kitchen, one guy had a fistful of his puking girlfriend’s hair, while cheering for his buddy sucking down beer through a funnel. Something good would eventually come out of this. I was here for a reason.
But what was that reason?
Think of something.
With insecurity stinging my cheeks, I spit out something my pastor had said: “God has a plan for everyone, and although I might not know what it is,. I just need to know I’ll be a better person afterward.”
“Why does He need us to prove anything?” Parker leaned forward, elbows on his knees, and I knew to pay close attention. “Look, if God is real, He breaks His own rules. He sets up a game in which we begin as the losers, and if we do indeed win, He rewards us with an eternity of praising Him and nothing else.”
My brain became thick with disbelief. “Adam chose to eat the forbidden fruit. God’s mercy gives us a chance to be with Him again.”
“Assuming that God is showing mercy by allowing us to exist is completely illogical.” Parker palmed a bottle from under the coffee table and poured whiskey into a couple of shot glasses. He handed one to me, but I didn’t want to drink it. I set it on the table, and Parker only shuddered from the sting in his throat. “You’re just repeating what we’ve both heard in church every Sunday.”
The conviction of my beliefs flared in my heart, but just for a second. His awful convictions spat on my very being, but what hurt deeper than the tightness in my throat, or the tension in my stomach, was that he was right. These words were not my own. Someone else had inspired what I thought to be wisdom, what I thought to be true.
I could leave. If I really wanted to, I could leave.
“Why is it bad to repeat someone else if it’s the truth?” I asked.
“The truth?” Parker set the half-inch end of the joint in a discarded cup. “Okay, sure, but it’s your truth.” He gulped down the rest of the whiskey in a rush. “God, I say, is you, me, this bottle of whiskey, everything, and nothing. What you say God is, is true—as an idea, that is. God is whatever we say He is.”
“That’s not true!” When Parker began rolling another joint, I’d finally had enough. “You shouldn’t even be doing drugs!”
He set down the marijuana and picked up his guitar. He strummed the strings, a melody I couldn’t hear over the loud chatter. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
There was a quick flash of motion—Sam jumping over a pile of plastic cups—and then she was on the couch next to me. “We’re ready to leave.”
“Sure, okay.” I helped my friend from the couch, but didn’t yet follow her to the front door. I turned to Parker. “Would you—” I began, and lost the moment when he waved me off with his empty bottle. It was as easy as that for him to dismiss this discussion, inviting a pain in my gut, and a small hole of curiosity in my faith.
Why, when this stranger denied everything I believed in, was I hungry for more?