Drawing Beauty, Part 1 of 2

Fiction By Anna // 6/8/2009

 

 

~~~

Part One:

While standing outside her cousins’ house, a suitcase in each hand and a messenger bag slung over her shoulder, Holly Anderson felt small.

Very, very small.

She also felt exceedingly plain, with her curly brown ponytail, face without makeup, scuffed sneakers, faded blue jeans, and T-shirt.

That was the way her cousins’ house made her feel. Ugly and insignificant.

It was a grand, old-fashioned house, though her Aunt Gloria had done her best to try to fix it up as modern and flashy. As the kind of house that might have come out of Pride and Prejudice, seldom seen in the U.S. nowadays, it had big front gates, stately windows and doors, vast grounds, and gardens and walls and hedges.

Any other day, Holly might have appreciated that. In fact, any other day, it might have enchanted her rather than intimidated her. But today that old, dignified house seemed to stare her down, saying menacingly, "Did your parents banish you here, Holly? Even though they know you detest these people?"

Of course, she knew it wasn’t really banishment. When Mom and Dad had gotten sick, they needed someone to take care of Holly. "It’s only for the summer," they had said. Holly had made them promise.

Aunt Gloria Vanderburg and her two daughters, Lauren and Alexa, had been strictly a last resort. Even her parents didn’t like them, though her family tried to be gracious. After all, Gloria was Mom’s sister, even if she was a snob because her late husband had left her so much money when he died.

Aunt Gloria seemed to think it was Mom’s fault that Holly’s family wasn’t as rich as she was. Holly had heard the two talking once:

"I still can’t believe you married that penniless Richard Anderson, Leslie," Aunt Gloria had said.

"I love Rick, Gloria," her mother had laughed. "What else matters? Besides, you weren’t so rich yourself when we were only Lowells."

That had ended the matter, in Mrs. Anderson’s and Holly’s eyes, if not in Gloria Vanderburg’s.

Holly and Alexa had been friends when they were little. (Lauren, who was two years older than Holly, had never bothered with either.) But Alexa had become nasty somewhere between elementary school and seventh grade, and Holly didn’t have high hopes of renewing their friendship.

She found it hard to stand these people even over short visits, and now she had to stay with them all summer. She stopped right there on the doorstep and started praying that she would at least be able to get along with them until this was over.

~~~

"Hilary, darling! We’ve missed you!" Perfume invaded Holly’s nostrils, the kind that one pays good money for but which smells cheap.

"Holly," corrected Holly, trying not to sound impatient. "Nice to see you again," would have been the proper response, but Holly wasn’t a liar. "Thank you for having me," she said instead, halfheartedly.

With her expensive bracelets jingling, Aunt Gloria (a tall blonde woman in an expensive black dress) tapped Holly on the head as you would a toddler. "Oh, it’s no trouble, no trouble at all! Lauren and Alexa are shopping just now, you know, so we can have a nice long chat while they’re gone. You can tell me all about your poor parents, dear things…"

Holly didn’t get a chance to say much of anything, actually. She was whisked into the painfully clean living room and sat mutely on the couch, suitcases still unpacked beside her, while her aunt rambled on endlessly about how foolish her parents were to not have gone to the doctor sooner; how much taller Holly was; how she (that is, Gloria) had spent all of yesterday preparing a room- "And isn’t this necklace gorgeous, dear? It’s real gold."

Holly tried to pay attention, she really did, but her aunt’s professions of sympathy and interest in her parents were so obviously shallow and fake that they disgusted her.

Then a door opened in another room. Holly heard the click of high heels on the floor, and Lauren and Alexa burst in, arms loaded with shopping bags. They wore tight clothing and far too much make-up, which was exactly as Holly remembered them: miniatures of their mother.

"Mother, I found the most darling sunglasses!" Lauren say saying; then she caught sight of Holly. "Oh, her?" she snapped.

Not one for subtle dislike, thought Holly with some annoyance.

"You knew she was coming, Lauren," said Aunt Gloria in a warning tone.

"Hello, Holly," said Lauren. Her voice was icy and condescending.

"Hey," said Alexa, in a way less haughty and more friendly, so that Holly wondered if maybe they’d be companions again after all. But then Alexa made an immature face at her, and Holly took back her thought.

"Holly turned fifteen just in May, only a year older than Alexa and two years younger than Lauren. How time flies!" said Aunt Gloria to her general audience, as thought they had forgotten their ages.

Holly winced inside when Gloria mentioned time flying. Every time her aunt used a cliché, a small part of her died slowly.

"We know, Mom," said Alexa. The statement didn’t even merit a response from Lauren, who spun around and stalked off.

"Alexa, show Holly to her room," said Aunt Gloria.

Alexa opened her mouth to complain, but thought better of it. "This way," she said, turning down one of the numerous hallways.

Holly shouldered her bag and hoisted up her suitcases, wishing Alexa had offered to help carry them. Especially when they came to a flight of stairs- her cousin stood at the top tapping her fingers on the railing while Holly struggled up.

And that was only the first flight of two!

"I don’t remember this house having three stories," panted Holly.

"You’re sleeping in the attic," said Alexa. She spoke in a monotone, as if she were already bored of the subject.

Holly almost really did get angry then. They had a huge, spacious house- nay, mansion- and she had to sleep in the attic? But one look at the dirty room where Alexa refused to go changed Holly’s mind.

It had a slanted roof and one window that looked out over the grounds. A few shelves cluttered with knickknacks, books, and broken toys stood near a chest of drawers with one empty drawer hanging open (this piece of furniture stood at the end of the bed, which lay by the window).

Yes, it was dusty. Yes, there was only a single light bulb hanging from the low ceiling. Yes, it was messy. But Holly’s heart was won.

Since Alexa left her alone as soon as she reasonably could, Holly unpacked and set to work. Finding a rag, she got it wet in one of the bathrooms on the floor below and wiped all the surfaces. Then she arranged the shelves in the following manner:

She set aside the sad, broken toys to tamper with; the books she blew the dust from, straightened lovingly, and resolved to read; the knickknacks she wiped down and arranged artistically around the room (except for a clown puppet, missing an eye, that frightened her so badly she squeaked and shoved it out of sight).

"There," she sighed finally, satisfied. She looked in the small mirror she had brought from home and wiped a smudge of dirt from her cheek, then surveyed the room again. "Lovely. Really, I could get to liking it."

~~~

A week scooted along from that Monday. Holly woke up in the morning, read her Bible, had a prayer time (peppered with requests for patience), and got on with her day. At first she tried interacting with her cousins, but even Alexa made it clear she wasn’t wanted. And Aunt Gloria was like a butterfly, flitting around constantly- something Holly was mostly grateful for, because the very second day after her arrival Gloria "asked" her to weed the garden.

At first Holly felt resentful, but she did it; and before she knew it she was working in the garden every day, by choice: she had fallen in love with it, too. Her mother had a garden at home that Holly loved to help in, and because the Vanderburg’s garden was neglected as a general rule, Holly took it as her own.

Then the first Sunday rolled around, a Sunday that changed Holly’s life. The night before, Holly asked Gloria when church started the next morning.

Gloria laughed. "How old-fashioned!" She pinched Holly’s cheek. "Very quaint."

"You’re not going?" Holly said it more than asked. Honestly, the discovery didn’t surprise her- her relatives were not the sort of people one would expect to be in that habit.

"Rarely do," yawned Gloria. "I intend to sleep in tomorrow morning, but you can attend if you like." She told Holly that the church they semi-occasionally attended was only down the street a bit, so Holly put on a dress, grabbed her Bible, and walked down. She was early, but the building was unlocked, so she headed in.

It was a big building, recently built, with lots of windows that made the interior bright and cheerful. Holly wondered if the teaching was as good as the auditorium looked.

Sighting a sign that said "Youth Group Room" and having found out that Sunday school was held there for the teenagers before the song service (as in most churches), she found a chair in the room and, taking out her journal, wrote a letter.

Dear Mom and Dad,

So far it hasn’t been great. I’m not going to lie. But there are plenty of books, and a garden, so I suppose I’ll survive.

I’ve found a church to go to. Well, maybe, anyway. I’m actually in the building early, writing this letter, so obviously I haven’t heard their preaching yet. If you would pray that something would work out, that would be great.

It’s also really lonely with the Vanderburgs, but I know God is with me.

How are you? I miss you a lot. Are the treatments going okay? I’m praying and praying for you both- physically and spiritually. Please get ahold of me with updates A.S.A.P!

I’ll write again soon!

Love,

Holly

PS: Can you fix a porcelain doll or a toy car with Elmer’s glue, or do you need super glue? -Holly

She dog-eared the paper for future reference, then turned the page and wrote again for what seemed a long time. When she stopped she found herself staring out a window, daydreaming.

That’s when Holly noticed a boy sitting in the chair by the window- sitting directly in front of her window! She was startled, not having noticed him come in. Distracted from her daydreams, she observed him.

She judged him to be two years older than her at the most. He was thin, and though he was sitting she could tell he was tall. He had close-cropped red hair that curled slightly, and his eyes were large and brown, sparkling under longish eyelashes. Immediately a word popped into Holly’s mind that perfectly described his facial features: elfin. Almost instinctively she checked his ears for pointed ends. (Sadly, they were lacking.)

The boy must have noticed her surprised stare, because he turned his lovely face to her and winked impishly.

Embarrassed, Holly turned hastily and looked out a different window until the teen Sunday school started.

~~~

The youth leader, Riley Polowski (a man with curly brown hair, crooked glasses, and a booming laugh), spoke about loving your enemies, which Holly felt was awfully convenient. But really, she appreciated it and looked at her notes quite often afterwards.

Riley was a very engaging youth leader, and his youth group discussed things easily and painlessly with him. The freedom and the openness of the class appealed to Holly, though she wasn’t comfortable enough to share anything about herself.

She kept hoping the at the red-haired boy who had winked at her would speak, but he didn’t, and she more or less forgot about him. After the class, however, the other teenagers grouped together with their friends automatically. They probably didn’t even consider that Holly was there and new, but she felt very alone and friendless. She went into the auditorium, now filling with people, and it seemed bigger than she remembered- that, or she was tinier. She stood around uncertainly, afraid to invite herself into a stranger’s pew.

She heard a voice behind her, with a light British accent. "Are you new?"

Holly spun around nervously and found herself looking up at the red-headed elf-boy. She was momentarily lost in the depth of his warm eyes, then realized he was waiting patiently for an answer.

"I’m Holly Anderson," she replied quickly. "I’m staying with my aunt and cousins… the Vanderburgs."

"Are they here today?" he asked, unmasked surprise on his face.

"No, I came alone," said Holly. For some reason, she was blushing.

"I’m Thomas Chandler, by the way," said Thomas, holding out his hand. "My dad is a pastor here. Do you need somewhere to sit?"

Holly shook his hand and nodded shyly.

Thomas smiled an elfin smile. "Great. We have an empty seat."

"Thanks," she said, feeling foolish and clumsy next to him, and still much out of place.

As they walked, she got up the nerve to ask, "Are you British?"

"Yes," said Thomas. "My family moved here when I was ten."

"That must have been hard for you," said Holly sympathetically. She hated leaving home for just this summer, while he had moved across an ocean! But he had roused her curiosity, for sure.

"It was six years ago," he said, shrugging- but Holly thought he sounded sad.

They sat in a pew with Mrs. Chandler; Thomas introduced them to each other.

"So Gloria Vanderburg is your aunt?" asked Thomas’s mother in her lilting British voice.

"Yeah," said Holly, trying not to sound as uncomfortable as she felt.

"How long are you staying?" Mrs. Chandler asked.

"For the summer," said Holly, almost dismally. It still seemed an interminable period of time, but perhaps not so unbearable if she could make friends here.

"Will you be coming to church here?" (This was Thomas.)

"Depends on the preaching," said Holly, smiling suddenly.

"Oh, you won’t be disappointed." Thomas grinned from ear to ear. "Dad is preaching today."

After the song service (which she loved), a tall man with eyes like Thomas’s walked to the pulpit. "My text this morning is John 8," Pastor Chandler said in that wonderful British voice.

Holly was walking on balloons. She loved that chapter.

She was impressed by both the sermon and the man delivering it. His voice was loaded with passion, and he made parts of the passage light up as they hadn’t before. Holly scribbled notes feverishly, but her head was far from her hands, caught in the waves of Pastor Chandler’s voice bringing the Bible to life.

Then he dropped the bomb. "And I’m out of time- as I expected- so I’ll finish next week."

As she reluctantly she stood with the others for prayer and dismissal, Holly’s balloons burst. Her heart was still hearing the life-giving words of John 8; she was still inhaling the God-breathed Scriptures.

~~~

"Do you need a ride home, Holly?" Mrs. Chandler asked.

"Oh, I’m fine," said Holly, still a bit dazed from the sweeping effect of the sermon. "I’ll just walk."

"Okay, if you’re sure," she said. "Nice to meet you, and I do hope you come back soon." She smiled kindly and was gone.

"You should come again tonight," said Thomas from behind her.

"You have got to stop sneaking up behind me!" Holly exclaimed, whirling around.

"Sorry," he said- but he was unsuccessful in disguising the laughter in his eyes. Then he asked eagerly, "Will you be back for the evening service? I can introduce you to some of the other teens."

She wasn’t particularly excited to meet other teens; she was timid by nature, but if Thomas was going to take charge of the introductions she wished to come anyway. "What time?" she asked.

"It starts at six-ish," Thomas explained, "though I usually come early to help set up. It’s casual dress. Ends at eight, but people hang around."

"I’d love to," Holly said sincerely, "but I’m not sure if I can get away- Aunt Gloria probably has something planned."

Thomas’s face fell, a little like a stained glass window breaking. "Oh."

"I’ll try, really," she interjected.

"Thomas, we’re leaving," Pastor Chandler said, walking up.

"Okay, Dad," said Thomas. "Hope you can come, Holly," he added, then introduced his father to her.

She said to the pastor, "I loved the sermon. You’re a great speaker."

"Thank you, Miss Anderson," said Pastor Chandler gallantly.

"You ended too soon, though," she accused, blushing from the "Miss" business.

"I have to throw in cliff-hangers to keep your generation interested," he joked, winking just as Thomas had.

Holly smiled, Thomas and his father said goodbye, and she waved as their car pulled out of the church parking lot. Inwardly, she resolved to revise her letter to her parents; she had the feeling she had stumbled on the biggest highlight of the summer, and it made her very, very happy.

~~~

"Why on earth would you want to go again?" asked Aunt Gloria, aghast.

"I’m a Christian," Holly tried to explain. "Church is like food. And I like it." (Looking back, "food" wasn’t exactly the best comparison, but it was one her aunt should have at least understood.)

"But I have the nicest little plan for our evening," whined Gloria, sounding like a spoiled child. "You’ve been working so hard, so I though we might go to a store and pick something out for you. Just the two of us!"

Holly felt a twinge of guilt, as her aunt really did seem to want to spend time with her. "Oh, I suppose I can go to the Sunday night service next week…"

As quickly as a greedy child devours a lollipop, Gloria Vanderburg cut her off with exclamations of delight and plans for entertainment.

Poor Holly had no idea what kind of frenzy she had been roped into.

She and her aunt walked out to their expensive car. "Aren’t the stores in walking distance?" asked Holly.

"Walk? In this heat? Dear, that would be crazy," scorned Gloria, climbing into the driver’s seat.

Holly opened the door to the passenger seat, only to find Lauren sitting there. "Hey, lay off!" lashed the seventeen-year-old.

Startled as much by her cousin’s presence as by the aggressive greeting, Holly put her hands up and backed away. "Sorry…"

"Get in the back with Alexa," called her aunt. "The sooner we leave, the sooner we shop, right, girls?"

"Why do I always sit in the back?" Alexa complained.

"Because I’m older and wiser," shot back Lauren.

"They’re coming with us?" asked Holly, disappointment welling up as she buckled her seat belt.

Gloria seemed shocked. "What else would they be doing?"

"Well, I kind of assumed you were dropping them off somewhere," Holly said, "since you did say it was just going to be you and me."

Gloria’s head swiveled around to glare at her. "You didn’t think I could leave my precious babies behind to suffer, did you? Well, if you want to be so ungrateful that we let you stay with us, not wanted your own blood cousins to come with you, well, I’ll-"

"Okay, I’m sorry," said Holly, almost yelling. She was irritated and felt oddly betrayed, but concealing her anger at the unfairness of everything (she so desperately wanted to express it), she tried to settle down and enjoy herself… but her actual activity that night was limited.

At the first shop of many (though Holly had been under the impression that they would only visit one), Gloria asked, "Holly, would you be a dear and stay with the car?" Without waiting for an answer, she shut the door on her niece and left her in the heat. So the night progressed, while shopping bags filled with frivolous junk accumulated to keep a lonesome Holly Anderson company.

She kept picturing Thomas’s face when he asked her if she was coming back, and sighing. Long, deep sighs.

~~~

The next day, there was a knock on the door. Knocks were not unusual in that house, but it was unusual when a pixie-faced British boy stood there and asked for Holly Anderson.

Holly, who was in the garden when Alexa told her, was happy and startled and fluttery all at once. Trying to act nonchalant, she brushed herself off and met Thomas at the door.

"Hi," she said faintly. She could feel her cheeks heating up.

Thomas smiled. "Hey, Holly."

She blurted, "I’m really sorry about last night. I tried to come, but Aunt Gloria had a shopping spree planned-" (She failed to mention that her personal night had been spent guarding the goods.)

"I though that might have happened, so no worries," he said, putting her at ease. "But I did bring you the notes from the class. We’re starting a study, and I thought you might want to catch up- If you come next week, that is." He spoke quickly, as if he were afraid his words would fly away if not caught quickly enough. He held out three sheets of note paper, filled with writing back and front.

"Thanks so much; you’re very thoughtful," Holly said, skimming over them. Then, in admiration: "You keep very thorough notes."

"Can you read my handwriting okay?" Thomas asked, running his fingers through his red hair.

Holly thought he sounded perfectly sweet and anxious with his accent. "Yes, just fine. Thanks again."

A grin lit his fairy-face, and she met it with a shy smile of her own.

"Well, I have to go," he said. "My dad’s waiting-" He motioned behind him, and Holly opened the door a bit more to see Mr. Chandler in his car, pulled halfway into the driveway.

Holly waved slowly. "I guess I’ll see you Sunday, then," she said.

"See you soon!" he called once he was in the car. "Bye, Holly!"

She closed the door and turned for the stairs, intending to go over the notes in her attic, but she accidentally bumped into her aunt. "Sorry, Aunt Gloria," she said, looking up.

"Holly, who was that handsome young man asking for you?" Gloria asked sharply.

"Thomas Chandler," Holly replied absently. "He’s the son of one of the pastors."

"Hmm… You should invite him over sometime, dear."

Holly’s eyes brightened. "Really? Could I? When?"

"Oh, anytime. I’m sure we’d love to meet him as soon as possible."

Face flushed with joy, Holly ran to her room and wrote a letter to her parents; she was far too excited to notice the crafty smile on her aunt’s face.

~~~

Holly was free to go to both services that Sunday, and it was a welcome break from her chores. Of these she had a plethora: washing dishes, sweeping and mopping, dusting, laundry, gardening, etc. But she didn’t view gardening as a chore- she loved it, increasingly.

For once, she put her aunt’s advice to use.

"Hey, Mr. and Mrs. Chandler- would you maybe want to come over this afternoon?" she asked on Sunday morning. "My aunt said it would be okay."

"So sorry, Holly," said Mr. Chandler sympathetically, "but we’re busy."

"Taking care of some bugs in the sound system, you know," explained his wife sadly.

Holly’s heart plummeted.

"But Thomas can go if he likes," said the pastor. "Ah, there he is- why don’t you ask him?"

For an organ she would die without, her heart was exceedingly silly. It jumped back into her mouth, and she almost skipped over to him. "Thomas," she started. "Would you like to come over this afternoon?"

He looked surprised, but pleased. "Why, yes. Yes, I would."

She had to put a hand on the chair next to her to keep from soaring into the air, while his parents promised to "bring your stuff for you." (Holly didn’t really know what they were referring to.)

But, unfortunately, Holly didn’t get a word in edgewise all afternoon. Her aunt and cousins dominated the conversation. Occasionally they asked Thomas a question ("How old are you?" "Sixteen. Seventeen in February."), but mostly they babbled about themselves. They all seemed impressed by the British pastor’s son; even Lauren tried to act friendly, in her way. But it was agonizing for Holly, and probably for Thomas as well.

But finally Sunday night came and Thomas and Holly walked to church. True to his usual pattern, he went early, and even the Vanderburgs’ instant attraction to him couldn’t induce them to come with them.

As they walked down the sidewalk, Thomas suddenly burst into laughter.

"What, what?" asked Holly. "Did I do something weird?"

"Did you notice how your cousins kept trying to use British accents during the conversation?" he said between laughs.

Holly smiled, sorry to have missed it. "Did they? I’m afraid I wasn’t paying attention."

"You should have been; it was hilarious!" He coughed. "But I’m being mean. They have faults, but not being born in England isn’t necessarily one of them. It’s not their problem they don’t talk like Brits."

"I wouldn’t know," said Holly without thinking. "I’ve never met a Brit."

He stopped, with an eyebrow raised.

After a pause, she spun around with a finger raised. "Um, forget that. I only met you last week; give me a break!"

"Okay, Holly, okay," he said, straight-faced- but his eyes were laughing. "So I take it you wouldn’t notice if I randomly used an American accent?"

"Americans don’t have accents," she said with dignity. "They just mispronounce everything." From the look on his face she could tell he was having trouble not replying to that remark, so she said quickly, "By the way, I’d much prefer if you use your ordinary voice."

But she discovered his voice was... well, more than ordinary. But you’ll see that soon enough.

Thomas explained that on Sunday nights the teenagers went into their room and had their own worship service and study. What he didn’t tell her is that he played guitar in their worship service (his "stuff" was his guitar and music) and could sing as beautifully as his father could tell a Bible story.

She was pleasantly surprised about his guitar-playing, but she nearly fell out of her seat when he sang. You see, at first he only played, but then he stood up and passed out copies of a song and said, "Okay, we’re going to learn a new song. It’s called ‘Mighty to Save’ and we should have learned it long ago." He asked how many had heard the song before- many had, but Holly hadn’t, though she knew most they sang. Then Thomas explained that he would sing it first, then they would all do it together.

He didn’t sing again that night, but his voice, coupled with the song, blew Holly away. Then the worship ended, he put his guitar away, and Holly was going to comment on his voice, when he suddenly announced, "By the way, this is my friend Holly Anderson. She’s new."

They all looked at her and greeted her. So instead of complimenting Thomas’s wondrous voice, Holly blushed furiously and told him off for drawing attention to her.

The class, led again by Riley Polowski, was on the book Desiring God by John Piper; Holly had to share a book with another teenager (who ended up being Thomas, naturally). The class itself was very good, if a little more weighty than she had expected- but that was a good thing.

Since it was only two weeks or so into summer, it was rather dark when church ended. "I don’t think you should go home alone," said Thomas to Holly.

"I’ll be fine," she said lightly.

"Dad!" said Thomas, bringing his father over. "Tell Holly she shouldn’t go home alone in the dark."

"I’m not afraid of the dark, Thomas!" she laughed.

"We can drive you home, if you like," said Pastor Chandler. "It’s no trouble, really."

"Come on, be safe," said Thomas. His tone conveyed more "I’m worrying about you, perhaps unnecessarily" than "you silly girl!"

"Okay, fine," she said. "If you’re determined to pester me, I’ll do it." Secretly, Holly was both touched and somewhat relieved, though she didn’t show it.

They piled into the car. "Did you like the youth group?" asked Mrs. Chandler.

"Oh, yes, very much," she said eagerly, adding, "The worship service was great, too. Thomas’s voice and guitar-playing are amazing."

She felt Thomas’s eyes burning into her, and she felt suddenly that she had made an epic blunder. But a streetlight flashed on his face; she saw he wore his elfin smile.

"Not really, but thanks anyway," he said, laughing slightly.

"I was serious," she protested, to his genuine surprise... and pleasure.

When they dropped her off, Gloria Vanderburg came out and said, "You can come back any time, now."

Thomas took the invitation literally.

~~~

On Wednesday afternoon, Holly had just finished a 600-page book she had started the previous Thursday and was blissfully tending "her" garden. It was hot, really hot, and her brown curls were bound back by a wide headband. She was getting dirty, and she knew it, even though there weren’t too many weeds to be removed.

She heard someone humming. At first it didn’t interest her, but then she realized that her aunt and cousins not only didn’t hum, they weren’t home.

She didn’t recognize the tune. She could hear footsteps coming nearer, then the humming abruptly stopped. Holly stood up to look around and found herself eye-level with Thomas Chandler’s chin.

"Thomas!" she cried, springing back.

"Is this a bad time?" he said in that endearing accent. The sun was dancing in his hair and on his fine features, and he wore a grey shirt that said "I am the wretch the song refers to."

"I-no," stammered Holly, flustered. "No- no. You startled me, is all."

"I went to the front and knocked, but nobody answered. Still, I thought I heard somebody and had to check." He grinned mischievously. "I almost decided to sneak up from behind and scare you, but…"

"I would have slapped you!" exclaimed Holly. "Slapped you and killed you! You scared me badly enough as it was- and to think you’re a pastor’s son!"

His smile faded. "As I said, I can leave."

"Please don’t," she said, anger dissipating. "If you don’t mind my gardening while you’re here-"

"Oh, no problem," he said, sounding relieved. They both sat down. "So you like to garden?"

"I love taking care of the flowers." She smiled; then hesitated before saying, "It’s like having a sliver of God’s glory to tend for myself."

"I know what you mean," he said, then added hastily, "Not with flowers, that is. I have a dog."

"I’ve never had any pets," remarked Holly wistfully.

"You should see him. He’s a beagle, the funniest little thing…" he trailed off. "It’s weird, though. We really do so very little, even when caring for an animal or a pet."

"Mmhmm," she nodded. "God sends the rain and sun."

"And makes things grow," put in Thomas. "It’s a little bit like faith."

He paused as Holly struggled with a particularly difficult weed. "Here, let me help you." He pulled it out quite easily.

"See how graciously he descends to the level of the mortals!" Holly laughed (mostly to brush off her feeling of weakness).

"What are you talking about?" he said, responding with a slightly confused smile.

"Just a bit of nonsense," she said, looking down shyly. "Elfin nonsense."

"Don’t you mean Elvish?" he asked.

"Don’t you Tolkien me," she warned. "I’m a die-hard Ringer."

"I’ve only read The Hobbit," he admitted sheepishly. "I’m not an avid reader, exactly, though I can never say no to suspense fiction."

"Suspense fiction, as in Agatha Christie murder mysteries?"

"As in everything Ted Dekker has ever written," Thomas laughed. "He has to be the best American author alive."

"My mom and dad gave me a book by him before I left! It’s called- hmm." She thought a moment. "Black. It’s called Black."

"That’s the first in a trilogy, you know," Thomas said. "I can let you borrow the next two when you’re done."

Holly didn’t say anything, and Thomas realized she hadn’t heard him. "Hello? Earth to Holly?" He waved a weed in front of her nose.

The faraway look went out of Holly’s eyes. "Sorry… I guess I… zoned out."

Thomas changed the subject. "How do you like staying with the Vanderburgs?"

She blinked. Three times. "Umm… It’s fine."

"You can be honest with me," said Thomas solemnly. "Remember, I know them, though not well."

She hesitated. "It’s not as bad as I thought it would be. I have the garden, the attic, my books… the church."

"The attic? Why would you go their attic?"

"It’s where I’m staying," she explained.

"They make you sleep in the attic?!" He sounded almost angry.

"Best view of the house!" she laughed.

"I can’t believe your parents let you stay here," he said vehemently, yanking out a weed.

"It wasn’t their first choice, believe me, but I had to stay somewhere," Holly confessed. "They’re both really sick, with different things. Besides, I think they thought that if I was exiled for awhile, I wouldn’t be so scared or worried about them." She bit her lip, as though she had said too much.

"It’s not working," he noted quietly.

"I don’t want to talk about it, if you don’t mind," she said.

"I understand. When my family moved from the UK, I didn’t want to talk at all." He looked over at her. "But it’s not quite the same. My dad lost his job because of speaking out for Christ and moved to the States, and your parents are sick and faraway." He paused. "My situation seems so small and long ago, suddenly."

She granted him a very small, very sad smile. "Thanks for trying," she whispered.

They passed the next two or three hours discussing movies and music and Sunday’s church services; and it ended with Thomas saying he was going to walk home again and inviting Holly over that Monday at two, to see his dog and hang out until after dinner. "My friend Cody and his sister Lindsay are coming, too," he said, "though not till four. We can play games or watch a movie or joke around or discuss something serious or… whatever. Will you come?"

Holly eagerly agreed.

~~~

Monday, and Sunday before it, couldn’t come fast enough. Holly had permission from Aunt Gloria to go to both church services and Thomas’s house the next day. She- Aunt Gloria, that is- would have liked to send Lauren and Alexa with Holly on Monday, but even she knew it isn’t polite to invite oneself to the pastor’s house. (Or anyone’s house, though it’s doubtful if Gloria would have respected that courtesy if Thomas hadn’t been the pastor’s son.) Gloria did comfort herself that Mr. Chandler would be coming to pick Holly up, and if Gloria timed everything just right she might engage him in a conversation, and ultimately merit an invitation for some other day thereof.

Pastor Chandler did not speak that Sunday morning, having finished his John 8 sermon; a Pastor O’Brian (who was not Irish, despite his last name) spoke instead on submission and servant-hood. Riley Polowski had previously, in Sunday school, broken the usual code and had a time of confession and prayer with the teens, and- including Holly and even Thomas- had expressed struggles with this very issue. Holly found herself wondering how they coordinated their services to correspond with her thoughts… and praising her Father for his goodness.

All afternoon Holly washed dishes by choice and was rewarded by a smile from the cook, though Aunt Gloria never noticed. (Yes, the Vanderburgs had a cook, Hannah, though they kept no other staff, unless you count Holly.)

Thomas played his guitar that night for the teens’ worship service again (as Holly had expected and hoped he would), but he didn’t or wouldn’t sing, even when they reviewed "Mighty to Save". Holly was too caught up in the study to tell him how she wished he had.

The class that night ended in the middle of a chapter, and Riley regretfully told them that the next class wouldn’t be for at least two Sundays. He was going to Tennessee on business and asked for prayer to spend the Gospel.

The Chandlers drove Holly home again that night, even though it was much lighter.

Monday dawned cloudy, and began raining by ten a.m. Holly spent the morning reading Black in the attic, but then the window clasp broke and began blowing open and letting rain in. The light in the room was bad anyway, so she could have and probably should have moved, but she was so riveted to the Ted Dekker novel that she duct-taped the window down rather inadequately and read again. She finished the book by 1:30 p.m., when she realized that she hadn’t eaten all day and her aunt had been calling her to do laundry for half an hour.

When Mr. Chandler and Thomas came by at two to pick Holly up, she wasn’t quite done. Pastor Chandler was dragged off to the living room for Gloria’s mindless chatter, while Thomas sneaked off and found Holly in the basement, folding clothes.

As he helped her fold and carry the baskets upstairs to be put away, she explained how completely lost in Black she had been. And with such a cliff-hanger ending!

"And that’s not even the best one," was his only smiling comment.

They successfully maneuvered past Lauren and Alexa, and finally Holly and Pastor Chandler were released. They drove to the house- a single story (not including the basement) three bedroom house, one room of which they had converted into a junk/storage room, like a giant closet.

Thomas warned Holly against venturing into the basement. "The only time we ever went down there was to make sure the goblins were securely locked up and had plenty of rats to eat."

Then Holly met his dog, an adorable beagle with the silliest expression you ever did see.

"What’s his name?" asked Holly, stroking his silky ears.

"Wookie," said Thomas after a pause.

Holly burst into laughter. "You named your dog Wookie?"

"I was young and impressionable and I liked Star Wars!" Thomas protested defensively. "Keyword: liked."

"But- Wookie? I didn’t even know they watch Star Wars in England!"

"Well, I did," he said. "Stop laughing!"

She stifled her last giggle. "That has to be the most epic dog name of my experience," she said finally. "And for a beagle-! Ooh, my sides hurt."

"Serves you right," said Thomas; but he was smiling again.

They spent a long while in such light conversation; then, quite suddenly, Holly put forward a question, something that had puzzled her in Riley’s Sunday night study. Thomas admitted he wasn’t exactly clear on it either, so they brought their question before Pastor Chandler, who thought a moment and explained it in great detail. Holly and Thomas spent at least another forty minutes discussing it afterwards, right up until Cody and Lindsay Baker came at four.

Lindsay was a little older than Holly; Cody and Thomas were the same age. Cody had black hair and Lindsay was blonde, but they both had blue eyes that spoke of their family resemblance. They were both very nice to Holly, but mostly Lindsay talked to Thomas, and Cody said even less to her. Still, Holly enjoyed it- the two Bakers were fun and witty, and the time was interesting (to say the least).

After pizza at 6:30, Cody and Lindsay were picked up. It was still raining, and, as the Vanderburgs’ house happened to be on the Bakers’ way home, Mrs. Baker offered to take Holly.

She (Holly) was very reluctant to leave; when she was halfway to the Bakers’ car Thomas came dashing out, face flushed and red hair in disarray. He held out a book to her.

"Red," he said somewhat breathlessly. "Next book in the Circle Trilogy."

"Thank you so much!" said Holly, delighted, clutching it to her chest. "I’ll return it soon, I promise."

Thomas only smiled and waved goodbye. She had rewarded him enough with the glow of her eyes, and a long time after they all left he and Wookie the beagle sat on his porch in the rain, and Thomas was earnestly praying for the girl with sick parents, horrid relatives, and bright, bright eyes.

~~~

Summer progressed in a pattern. During the week, Holly would work for her aunt and cousins, including gardening, to which she attended zealously. She read when she could, from the Circle Trilogy to other Ted Dekker books to random interesting volumes she found. Some she got at the library, using Alexa’s neglected card, but most of the Ted Dekker books she borrowed from Thomas Chandler.

Oh, Thomas. Every Sunday she saw him (except a week when the Chandlers went on vacation), and often they would drop by each other’s houses on week days. Holly loved being around him. He was smart, fun, thoughtful, and kind. He made every effort to make her feel included, identify with her problems, and help her out. He was also elfishly handsome, had a wonderful voice (speaking and singing), and mad skill with the guitar. She also found out he could draw. Extremely well. Above all, he was godly and truly desired to follow Christ.

Holly realized she had a crush on him by the time she had known him a month (probably sooner). By five weeks she had accepted the way her heart beat faster around him as a fact of life. Her letters home were filled with "Thomas Chandler" this and "Thomas" that.

She was seldom able to get him to sing, though he did play his guitar for her if caught in a pleasant mood. And he actually drew in profusion, she Holly had completely missed seeing him doodle until she glimpsed his notebook. He hadn’t doodled at all on the notes he had given her that first week, which she came to realize must have taken a lot of restraint on his part. His hands were always busy.

"God has made so many awesome things. I draw everything I like," he told her. "I draw beauty."

He became her one real friend there. She talked occasionally to Lindsay and the other girls, and even Cody, but the only person she got close to was Thomas. Several times she thought Aunt Gloria would obstruct their friendship in some way, but though she schemed for Lauren and Alexa to bump into Thomas "unexpectedly", she didn’t really care if Holly spent time with him (as long as her chores were done).

Holly found herself confiding in him, especially about spiritual things… and her parents.

"We found out Dad was sick in March," she said, "with some sort of advanced heart disease. And Mom- she had a tumor removed before I was born, but the cancer is back." Holly had to stop so the tears wouldn’t come.

Thomas said nothing, but his silence in her sorrow was more real and comforting than any words; and his large, intense brown eyes said more than all her fears mounted together.

Finally, all he said was, "‘I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.’"

Holly looked up at Thomas slowly.

"John 16:33," he finished in a whisper.

"Thank you," she whispered back.

Take heart; I have overcome the world.

Take heart.

Take heart.

And, oh, they needed it. Both of them needed it.

It was early August when the bomb dropped.

~~~

 

Comments

Beautiful!

I really like this, Anna! You are an excellent writer. I'm looking forward to reading the second (and, alas, the last) part. Have you ever read any other of John Piper's books? I haven't but my father (who is a pastor) has read several. I think he wrote 'Don't Waste Your Life', which daddy said is really really good.

*************************************************
"Give the password," said the chief soldier.
"This is my password," said the King as he drew his sword. " 'The light is dawning; the lie broken'. Now guard thee, miscreant, for I am Tirian of Narnia!" --

Laura Elizabeth | Mon, 06/08/2009

*************************************************
The best stories are those that are focused, unassuming, and self-confident enough to trust the reader to figure things out. --

http://lauraeandrews.blogspot.com/2014/05/dont-tell-me-hes-smart.html

I love this!! Wow, not

I love this!! Wow, not fantasy....Kudos :)
I'm a Thomas fan. He's awesome! I like Holly too.

~Erin~

"Even if I could, I wouldn't. Scars can come in handy. I have one on my left knee that is the perfect map of the London Underground....." Professor Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

"I'm not skerd." Adam Lambert

Erin | Mon, 06/08/2009

"You were not meant to fit into a shallow box built by someone else." -J. Raymond

Oh, Anna...

This was beautiful. I had to laugh when I was reading your "side content" thing, but by the end -- OH WOW! --
Can I join the fangirl club? Which person was patterned after someone you know? ;) Oh, and that song...I LOVE that song; it's so powerful:)*****************************************
"To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be that have tried it." -- Herman Melville

Ariel | Mon, 06/08/2009

*****************************************
"To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be that have tried it." -- Herman Melville

Uh-oh...what bomb? Not

Uh-oh...what bomb? Not good!
I'm not sure where you're going with this. Given what you've said about dating and crushes before, I'm not sure at all...let's say you have my interest piqued. Of course, that's not difficult at all with your writing. :0)
When's the contest-winning story going to be available online? I'd like to read it.
*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
And now our hearts will beat in time/You say I am yours and you are mine...
Michelle Tumes, "There Goes My Love"

Heather | Mon, 06/08/2009

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
And now our hearts will beat in time/You say I am yours and you are mine...
Michelle Tumes, "There Goes My Love"

You didn't....

You didn't make it clear that this was a romance, Twizzler, dear... Not very kind of you, especially because I put off math to read it. ;) But romantic parts aside, I enjoyed it very much... Thomas reminds me slightly of Mikhal (who I wish you could meet...) except Mikhal's ten times cooler 'cuz he's South African.
But he can be so cruel at times and tease just like Thomas and worse.
... and now I must get on to my math. :)

-----
“The venerable dead are waiting in my library to entertain me and relieve me from the nonsense of surviving mortals.”
- Samuel Davies

Kyleigh | Mon, 06/08/2009

Laura: Um, I haven't read

Laura: Um, I haven't read it, but my church did a class on it (or, part of it) once. I also read Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ.
Erin: Thanks! I have to say my MLFFCD is worse for this story. :)
OFG: Sure. We need jackets. :D I don't actually know the person, per se, but Thomas is the character. I just borrowed the appearance and accent, really, not much more. I love "Mighty to Save" too.
Heather: Not a literal bomb! I know enough about a good story to not bring in an ending that comes outside of the story's plot.
I do try to not have crushes, at least on guys I actually know, but I don't usually succeed. And I don't plan on dating, but I still have romantic thoughts. This is actually kind of a way to get the romance out of my system. :)
Actually, my story is available online now. :) The link in the post about it should work to get you there.
Kyleigh: There's a reason I didn't send it to you before this, and it's because I know you loathe romance, you know. :) Thank you for putting off math anyway.

*************************************************
"In retrospect, I question the inclusion of a self-destruct button." ~Ferb (Phineas and Ferb)

Anna | Tue, 06/09/2009

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. --The Book Thief

Haha, I suffer (severely)

Haha, I suffer (severely) from MLFFCD :). A fangirl club WOULD be fun......Lol :)

~Erin~

"Don't put your wand there, boy!" roared Moody. "What if it ignited? Better wizards than you have lost buttocks, you know!" -Mad-Eye Moody

"I am who I am, and nothing's gonna change me." -Adam Lambert

Erin | Tue, 06/09/2009

"You were not meant to fit into a shallow box built by someone else." -J. Raymond

I like this alot Anna. It's

I like this alot Anna. It's really well done. :) Post more soon!
*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
If I disappear, and you cannot find me, please don't worry.
Just be sure to check all the wardrobes.

Clare Marie | Tue, 06/09/2009

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
"I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve." -Bilbo Baggins [The Lord of the Rings]

I know I already commented on this, but...

Does the title have anything to do with Thomas' drawing talents. Something like he draws a picture of her or somthing wondrous like that? Just wondering...
*****************************************
"To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be that have tried it." -- Herman Melville

Ariel | Tue, 06/09/2009

*****************************************
"To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be that have tried it." -- Herman Melville

Erin: Yah, me too. Though

Erin: Yah, me too. Though honestly, if I hadn't written this down it would have danced around in my head until further notice, and then it would have been even worse.
Clare: Thanks! I'll be posting the rest soon. :)
OFG: Well really I couldn't think of a title, so I just took his line and used it. As for drawing her, you'll see. ;)
*************************************************
"In retrospect, I question the inclusion of a self-destruct button." ~Ferb (Phineas and Ferb)

Anna | Wed, 06/10/2009

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. --The Book Thief

Ugh, yeah. I always have to

Ugh, yeah. I always have to write stuff like this down too.

~Erin~

"Don't put your wand there, boy!" roared Moody. "What if it ignited? Better wizards than you have lost buttocks, you know!" -Mad-Eye Moody

"I am who I am, and nothing's gonna change me." -Adam Lambert

Erin | Wed, 06/10/2009

"You were not meant to fit into a shallow box built by someone else." -J. Raymond

OOOOH!!! How could you leave

OOOOH!!! How could you leave it there? Someone's going to die, aren't they? Aren't they? Why do you always kill people??? Post the next part soon!!!!!!!!

"True love is the greatest thing in the world - except for a nice MLT - mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, when the mutton is nice and lean, and the tomato is ripe." - Miracle Max, from The Princess Bride

Bridget | Thu, 06/11/2009

"I always wonder why birds stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on the earth. Then I ask myself the same question." - Harun Yahya

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