I grabbed my phone and wallet and left as soon as I could. My room was cleaned and inspected, of course, right after Maria, the lady who cleans our house, came in and collected my laundry with a knowing look on her face. I often wondered what she told her family when she got home. Sometimes her son Hosea, would come and pick her up, and I could tell that he had some clue about what went on behind closed doors because he always apologized for showing up. He never had to apologize to me, I wasn’t one of the angry ones, but I got why he felt like he should. I would always try to smile and be exactly opposite of my mom, well, lately. I hadn’t always been so gracious. In fact, before Zella came into my life, I was on a fast pass to becoming Dotty Jr., but thankfully, I had mellowed since then. I had some snark when needed and sometimes when not needed, but I found that I wasn’t quite as angry and disagreeable as I had been, which I actually kind of liked. I called Zella on my way to Starbucks; she would want to join me, I was sure, and I needed her energy. The phone barely rang when she answered.
“Oona, you okay?”
She was always worried about me. Like any call might be an emergency. Not like I didn’t give her reason, but I still wondered if that would ever change.
“I’m fine, Miss gloom and doom.” Her sigh of relief whether she intended it or not was audible. I rolled my eyes. “I just wanted to know if you wanted to meet me at Starbucks?”
What the – I resisted the urge to curse, “No, next year this time.”
I rolled my eyes again, “Of course now!”
“Oh,” she laughed. I hated to admit it but I really loved to hear her laugh, even over the stupid things. She laughed with her whole soul. I had never laughed like that. She broke into my thoughts with her answer, “Sure! Want me to call Celle?”
I thought about that. Did I? Not really. “Just you, please.”
“Something wrong?” There she was again, projecting the worst and protective, as if willing to fight any demon that threatened to come against me.
“No! I just figured we could talk, just the two of us. Unless it’s a crime in Celesteville and in that case, by all means, call her up.”
“That wasn’t necessary. It was a simple question. I’ll be there in ten.”
It was more like twenty by the time her ponytailed blue hair and flip-flopped-self walked through the doors, but I gave her a break. It wasn’t nine o’clock yet. She would ordinarily be sleeping until noon. She plopped in the chair next to me and smiled. I smiled back. She demanded it with her presence.
“So, can I ask you a personal question?”
I braced myself for the worst, She was going to ask me if I had cut and I was going to have to decide to be honest or lie. Honesty would be hard, but lying would keep me stuck, I took a deep breath and prepared myself for that next moment, “Sure.”
“Is there a moment in your life when you don’t look gorgeous?”
I was relieved. No questions, just compliments. My secret could still stay hidden, instead of answering, I rolled my eyes.
“I’m serious. It’s way too early to be in public, and I walk up in here looking a hot mess in my cut offs and tank, hair haphazardly thrown in a pony, and then there’s you.” At that she stood up and bowed.
“I’m just saying.”
“Yeah, well, my put togetherness didn’t snag the amazing and wonderful Toby Woods, now did it?”
“Yeah, well…” she let the comment hang. She dropped her head. It’s crazy. Every time I said anything like that she would act as if it was the worst thing in the world. It was supposed to be a compliment! She frustrated me.
I decided to let it pass. I didn’t want to fight, “Whatever, Miss Girl. What are you getting?”
“Miss Girl?” her hazel eyes twinkled. “Okay, I like that.” She scanned the menu board, “I guess I’m getting a frappe. It’s hotter than Hades today, and I need something cold!”
“Fine. My treat.” I walked to the barista to give her our orders.
I stopped and turned back. “What do you mean, nope?”
“I mean, nope. I’m not poor, Oona. I can buy a freakin’ cup of coffee!”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” I walked off again.
She got up and stood in front of me, elbowing me out of the way, “Yes, Ma’am, I’ll take a venti Caramel Frappuccino, extra drizzle inside and out, and she’ll be having…” she turned back with a smile with her hand held out, gesturing my turn to speak.
“A tall, skinny, vanilla latte, hold the foam.”
“Exactly!” She turned back to pay for the order while I walked back to our chairs.
When she got back to the table, I took my drink and rolled my eyes, “Have it your way.”
“No. That’s Burger King.”
I groaned. She laughed. Yep. It was a typical interaction between us. I watched as she slurped her drink from a straw and I casually sipped mine, carefully slipping a few napkins on her side of the table, in case she decided to lay it down before she scarfed it up. We were quite an unlikely pair. She called it a “God thing.” I called it serendipity.
“So, I have a confession.”
That was unusual. I was all ears.
“I’m really worried,” she continued.
“About Robbie? Yeah, I’ve thought about that, too. He comes in tomorrow, right?”
She nodded, “Yeah, sometime around noon.”
“Well, do we know what happened?”
“Something about his leg, but still don’t know the extent of it.”
“It’ll be okay,” I reassured. “He has a family that loves him, friends that support him, and a little sister that will take anyone out if they look at him sideways.”
We both laughed at that. It was entirely true.
She sighed, “I’m more worried about Toby.”
That was interesting. “Because?”
“Because when he gets home, he wants to talk, and I know what that means.”
“So?” I was confused.
She frowned and licked some condensation off the side of her cup, “He’ll want to date, and I can’t.”
I rolled my eyes. Here we go again. I expressed my frustration, “That is so stupid.”
She got defensive, “It is not! I’ve made a commitment, and I intend on keeping it!”
“It’s a stupid commitment.” I decided to be honest.
“That’s your opinion,” she said as she took another sip of her frappe and looked away.
Then, I got angry, “What’s with a God that won’t even let you date, anway? It’s harmless! You like a guy, you date a guy, and if you’re completely out of your mind, you get married. End of story. God has a problem with that?”
She smiled, “No. But say that you like a guy, you decide not to date him, but you stay in love until you can get married, what then?”
“That’s stupid, and it doesn’t happen”
“You keep saying that but why? Can it happen?”
“No, and it’s stupid because you’re leading the guy on!” I raised my voice like a sweet Southern belle, and batted my eyelashes, “Oh Toby, you know I love you, but I can’t date you. You’ll just have to pine away and dream about me until we’re thirty because that’s what Jesus wants.”
She laughed out loud. ‘That’s awesome, but not at all true.”
I sniffed, “Isn’t it though? Toby likes you, right? He’s made that very clear.”
She nodded, head down again.
“And you like him, right? If you were dating, you would date him, right?”
Again she nodded.
“See, now that’s stupid!”
She growled. “It’s complicated, but it’s not stupid.”
I stood up angry, “It is stupid! You’re like the most amazing girl I’ve ever met! You have a heart for God, and talk about your Jesus all the live long day! Toby is the most amazing guy I’ve ever met! He loves God and Jesus, and yet, this same God and Jesus that you both so desperately love, doesn’t give two licks about what you want!”
She got very still, “That’s not true.”
“Yeah?” I questioned, “Well, He sure has a funny way of showing it!”
“You don’t understand.”
I sat back down still frustrated, but people were looking and I don’t like to draw a crowd, “I guess I don’t.”
She barely sipped her drink while I picked at my lid. Silence. Awkward silence.
Finally I spoke up, “So that’s it?”
She looked up, “What?”
“Your big confession?”
She chewed on her straw.
She looked out the window by her chair. “Yeah, I got that.”
Shortly after that , we got up and went our separate ways. I didn’t fill her in on my stuff, and she didn’t talk any more about hers. We did manage to talk a little more about Robbie and what to expect and what to say and how to act. Even that felt a little awkward, because I’m not sure how much she was aware of my conversations with Robbie. They didn’t mean anything, just chatting. I didn’t feel the need to tell her because it didn’t really matter, that wasn’t gonna happen. Regarding Robbie and Toby there was some kind of expectation that whoever they dated had to be pure and honorable, neither definitions fit me. I had pretty much accepted that. But, I sometimes wondered if Zella and Robbie had a deeper connection than they let on. They sure did seem to find reasons to talk to and about one another, and whoever I was talking to seemed to be concerned about the other. I tried not to think too much about it. If I was honest, it ticked me off.
I thought about our conversation later that afternoon, and debated texting her, back. There was a part of me that wanted to apologize and once and for all help me understand and explain to me her logic behind not dating because I obviously didn’t get it, and it obviously pained her, which infuriated me. You could see it all over her face. She wanted to date him. And who could blame her? Toby was perfect! After all, I had done my share of dating with guys nowhere near that wonderful and had made a few mistakes, but that was all part of being a teenager wasn’t it? You date a guy here and there; if you’re compatible, you keep dating. If it’s meant to be, ideally you fall in love and potentially get married. That’s the proper progression, right? What was so wrong with that? And, we were talking about Zella and Toby, for crying out loud! I seriously doubted they were gonna do anything desperate like have sex! And if they made out, so what? It’s a free country. We can do what we want to do, love who we want to love! Only they weren’t free. They were bound by God. Who would turn in their liberties for slavery? That’s what they called salvation? “No, thank you,” I thought, “I’ll keep my freedom!”