Chelsea wanted to be brave.
When they told her she couldn’t, her vision abruptly grew razor sharp. Her eyes focused on her father’s glasses, which were slipping down his nose. He noticed her stare and quickly fixed them.
“But I…” She whispered. The words were stolen from her breath. Her heart was racing, and her palms were clammy. She brushed her hair off her neck.
“We think it’s best,” Her father continued, “If you do what Sammie did. She’s a wonderful housewife, with beautiful children.”
She hadn’t wanted to be like her sister. She had hoped—
“It’s such a fulfilling job,” Her mother added.
It’s not a job, Chelsea wanted to say. It’s a lifestyle. Teaching is a job. It’s what I want to do. Why won’t you let me?
She felt slightly ill. She had thought for sure they were calling her down here to tell her good news. Like maybe she could submit an application, go to college, get a degree, move out on her own; all the stuff that other girls her age were doing.
Things she wanted. So badly.
Why couldn’t they see?
She forced herself to swallow. “I don’t know what to say.”
Her father stood from his chair, leather and so extremely comfortable. It dominated the living room. Kind of like he dominated the household.
“Chelsea,” He said. Nothing else.
She ran a hand through her smooth hair. All her plans, ruined.
“I don’t have to go to the dorms,” She said quietly. She had made pie charts. She had studied relentlessly, passed the SATs with flying colors. She’s written her essays again and again until she was satisfied, read them aloud. Her parents had liked them. They had been proud of her.
“What changed?” She asked, when her question was not answered.
Her mother exchanged a look with her father. “We were…thinking about the best path for you to take. And God told us that you needed to stay home.”
“I will,” She said, desperate. “I’ll stay and go to online college. I’ll work extra hard to get my degree, I promise. You guys can pick where I work.”
“Chelsea, you’re seventeen,” Her father reminded her. “You need to look to us for guidance. We’re going to put you in the right direction.”
But that didn’t make sense to her. Because she’d prayed a lot about it. For hours and hours, hoping for an answer. He’d given her one.
“But I think—”
“Don’t be upset,” Her mother said.
“You’re very lucky to have your mother to counsel you,” Her father interjected. “She’s going to teach you all that you need to know. So many other kids are never even given the opportunity. We feel this is best.”
But right then Riley, her fifteen-year-old brother, came pounding down the stairs, followed by newly-teenaged Amanda, eleven-year-old Gat, his twin counterpart, Leo, seven-year-old Bella, and the baby of the family, Willa, who was only four.
The four oldest took in their sister’s distressed face with understanding. Bella and Willow asked what was wrong.
“Nothing,” Chelsea managed. She turned to her mother, avoiding her nurturing gaze. “Should we start dinner?”
She walked forward to pat her daughter’s arm. “You’re off duty tonight, okay?” She turned to the rest of her children and clapped. “Amanda and Bella, I’d like you to come help me in the kitchen, please.”
The two younger girls complied. Chelsea watched them go with a foreboding sense of doom. She’d been like them, years and years ago. Naïve. Certain that she’d do something great. She wanted nothing more than to lurch forward, grab them by the arms, and pull them out the doors. She wanted them to have a chance equal to her brothers.
She’d never wanted that before. It hadn’t bothered her when Stephan, the oldest boy in the family, got to sit and chat over coffee with her father while she helped her mom with chores. Or the fact that Riley was never asked to wash a single dish, but told his sisters were always to do it for him.
He’d protested against that, even at a young age. Riley had a knack for seeing the unfairness in things. Like right now. The way he was looking at her.
As Gat and Leo descended upon their father, chattering away about the awesome bow and arrow they had constructed earlier in the day, Riley grabbed Chelsea’s arm and pulled her out of the room, down the hall, to the guest bathroom. He tugged her in and shut the door behind her.
She immediately burst into tears.
He hugged her for a while, saying nothing, just patting her back. When she pulled back, his eyes were downcast.
“So they told you no?” He asked softly, like if words were loud enough, then they’d be real.
“Yeah,” She replied.
“Riley!” She admonished. “Don’t say that. They only want what’s best for me.”
“They don’t if they don’t let you go to college.” He was almost angry, now. He turned toward the sink and washed his hands, even though they weren’t dirty. “You’re great with kids, you’re super smart…”
She smiled wanly at the compliments.
“…but yet they don’t see it. They think you’re good for nothing but being a housewife.”
“That’s who you’ll marry, though.”
“No.” He shook his head, reaching for a towel to dry his hands. “No. The more I think about it, the more I’m disgusted by it. I want a girl who’s not afraid to stick up for herself, and do what she wants.”
“Please don’t say that.” Frankly, he was scaring her.
Riley kept his back to her, but lowered his head. “I know I shouldn’t. I love mom and dad like crazy. But it’s not right.”
Chelsea swallowed, then heard her mother call her name. “Let’s just pretend this never happened. Take back what you said, okay? And don’t say it again.”
Before her brother could say or do anything, she slipped out of the bathroom. Her feet padded across the carpet as she walked down the hall.
“Yes, mom?” She asked, rounding the corner into the kitchen.
The older woman had her hair pulled back. It was a soft brown, the same color as Sammie’s, Bella’s, and Amanda’s. Chelsea was blonde.
The differences were piling up.
“Oh, it’s so good to see you.”
Chelsea watched as Sammie squeezed their mother close, then the other sisters. At last, she turned to her.
“How’re you doing?”
“Fine,” She said brusquely, despite herself. She was not fine, not at all. In the weeks since the announcement, she’d worked on finishing her high school degree, but it was with less enthusiasm than she’d had before. What was the point, if she’d never go to work or college or do anything? Her father was dissatisfied with her progress, and her mother was frustrated with her constant stupor. If she was being truthful with herself, Chelsea knew she was a bit depressed.
Sammie looked at her. “Let’s have tea, shall we? Amanda, Bella, Willa, you two can go play with Charlie.”
The girls hurried off to find their nephew, who was three years younger than Bella. Sammie had been married for five now, and was expecting her second child. Chelsea was silent as her mother asked how Sammie was doing. She tuned out their conversation as they made their way into the kitchen.
“Chelsea, would you get the tea?” Sammie asked.
She felt her throat thicken.
“Yeah,” She croaked at last.
Her mother gave her an encouraging smile.
She took three mugs from Sammie’s too-small cabinets. They clinked together in her hand. The water was already boiled, and she poured it. She asked if anyone wanted sugar or honey or milk.
The women sat down with their cups of tea and were silent.
“I could use some help these next couple weeks, knitting some clothes,” Sammie said after a moment. She rested her hand on her swollen belly.
Her mother looked at her. She expected Chelsea to volunteer.
“I can help,” She whispered.
Sammie smiled, pleased. “I knew you would! You’ll love it.”
“How’s Adam?” Their mother asked after a moment.
Sammie’s eyes grew dreamy at the mention of her husband. “He’s good. I’ve been trying to keep up with the housework and such, but it’s getting harder. He’s even had to help me cook dinner a couple of times. It was mortifying.”
“I’m sure he understands,” Their mother soothed.
Sammie nodded. “Still, he shouldn’t have to help with those things. He does enough, working hard every day.”
“Chelsea would be glad to help!”
Chelsea looked at her mother.
“I think…Riley would be better suited for that.”
Sammie frowned. “Chelsea, Riley’s not supposed to do those things.”
There was more silence.
“I don’t feel well,” Chelsea said at last.
Her mother sighed. “I know you’re upset—”
“I’m not,” She lied. “I’m just sleepy.”
“You stayed in bed until nine this morning.”
She ducked her head. “I’m just…”
“Chels,” Sammie said, reaching forward to grab her sister’s arm. “I know you’re upset, but this is right. It’s what women are supposed to do. You know that. Why would you ever want to go against God?”
“Then be happy. You’ll be great.” Sammie leaned back and tucked her hair behind her ears. She flashed a glowing smile. “I love being a mother, and a wife. It’s…just…perfect.”
“Maybe you should pray about it,” Her mother suggested.
Chelsea nodded. She just wanted this conversation to end. It was horrible. Her life, her livelihood, was hanging in the balance. She didn’t want to be a mother. She didn’t want kids any time soon, and she wasn’t interested in boyfriends, or courtships. It would be years before she found someone she loved. She couldn’t stand having to live at home until then.
“You’ll be fine,” Sammie promised. “A few years from now, you’ll be thanking mom and dad for making these decisions for you. When we’re young, we’re so quick to follow the crowd, or be foolishly ambitious.”
Chelsea stared at Sammie, only twenty-three years of age, so young, yet wise. She wanted to believe her. Truly, she did.
“Would you like to go to Youth Group?”
Chelsea looked up from her needlework, giving Riley a wary smile. “No, thanks. I don’t really feel up for it.”
He leaned against her doorframe. “You’ve always gone. You’ve never missed a day. Now—all the sudden—you won’t even go anymore.”
“I don’t feel like it, Riley.”
He opened his mouth, like he was about to say something, but instead shook his head. Somehow, that was worse. She wasn’t even worth his words.
“Wait,” She said as he turned away. She stared at her lap.
“Do you want your boots? It’s cold out there.”
She nodded. He hurried to get them for her.
Sometimes, Chelsea felt like she would be miserable without Riley.
He returned with her plain-Jane, practical shoes, and she quickly pulled them on, along with her coat. She smoothed her skirt and took Riley’s arm when he offered it to her.
Together, they traipsed outside, waving goodbye to their parents. The church they attended was only a block away. To Chelsea, it was a second home. Maybe even more so than her first.
“So I hear some new kids are going to be here tonight,” Riley said after a moment.
Chelsea let go of his arm. Just being outside, with the cool air biting her cheeks, night falling upon them, made her happier. She swung her arms at her side.
“Is that so?”
“Yup. From another church.”
“I hope they’re nice.”
Previously, Chelsea hadn’t had a good experience with kids from other churches. Most of them were public schooled, while the neighborhood they lived in was very conservative and many of the kids were taught at home by their mothers. All of them were well-behaved, and every person abode by God’s rules. But sometimes, like on nights like tonight, other groups ventured in. Kids with Aeropostale shirts and Jordache jeans. Kids who had iPhones and texted whenever they got bored with that week’s lesson. They all looked at Chelsea, and pretty much everyone else from the church, with disdain.
They never came back.
Sometimes she wondered if it was them. Maybe they weren’t exciting enough. Maybe the lessons did drag, although they always seemed interesting to her. She always felt guilty wondering about those sort of things.
Riley waited for her to catch up, as she had begun to lag behind, and they ended up walking in alongside one of the new people.
“Hi,” Chelsea said to the girl, who had very straight hair and a brushing of freckles across her nose. Despite that fair-skinned trait, her hair was very dark, almost jarringly so. She smoothed it down and smiled at Riley, ignoring Chelsea completely.
“Hey,” She said, smiling a little. She had braces.
Riley barely glanced at her. “Hello.”
“That was rude,” Chelsea hissed in his ear a moment later, when they’d taken their seats inside the big meeting room. Today it overflowed with people, and the two couches and four chairs had quickly been taken, leaving Morgan—their leader, a young woman in her early thirties—and Rex, her husband, to bring forth metal folding chairs. Chelsea scooted hers close to Riley’s, and tried her best to ignore her friends’ inquisitive gazes. She hadn’t spoken to most of them since the college thing. She just hadn’t felt like it.
She heard the scrape of a chair, and looked up to see the black-haired girl getting situated by Riley. He glanced over at Chelsea as if to say, Help me. She turned smugly away.
But then she wished she hadn’t, because Grace was there. Grace, someone who she counted as her dearest friend, and she looked worried.
“I’ve been praying for you,” She said right away, which didn’t seem like the best way to start the conversation they were going to have. Chelsea sighed.
“You haven’t returned my calls. I wanted to go Christmas shopping last Saturday, with our moms. You really hurt my feelings.”
“I’m sorry, Gracie. I’ve just been weird.”
“Yeah, I know.”
They stared at each other for a minute. Chelsea sniffed.
Grace’s face crumpled. “Oh, Chel.”
She wiped at her eyes, glancing around her to make sure no one was looking. Grace stood and took her hand.
“Let’s go into the hall for a sec.”
Chelsea followed her, still struggling to hold back her tears. Grace gave her a hug once they reached the carpeted corridor that ran the length of the church. She was a bit taller than Chelsea, just an inch or so, but miles and miles kinder and prettier. Everyone knew once her courting age came, she’d be the most sought-after girl in the neighborhood.
Now it was just a matter of who would earn her heart. And who her father would deem best for her.
“What happened?” Grace asked softly, pulling away.
Chelsea swallowed and waited to speak until she had calmed. “It was like…all the sudden…they changed their minds.”
“What did you say?” Grace asked, running a hand through her thick brown hair. It flopped back into place along her shoulders. Chelsea’s never cooperated like that.
“What could I say? I said I’d go online, stay home, do anything. And they just don’t get it. I don’t know what to do.”
“What did you want to get your degree in?”
“Teaching,” Chelsea said. “Why?”
“Maybe that’s why they don’t want you to go. Maybe they think the corporate system will soil you.”
Chelsea wanted to laugh, but Grace looked completely serious.
“I’m sorry,” She said after a moment. “But do I look stupid? I know how to hold onto my beliefs. I know how to stick to them.”
Chelsea shook her head. “Gracie, I love you. But I don’t want to hear it.”
Grace folded her arms across her chest. “You need council.”
“I need to go to school.”
They stared each other down for a moment, unwavering. This was the first fight they’d ever been in, Chelsea realized with surprise.
The sound of Morgan clapping for attention seemed to thaw the ice, and they both turned. Chelsea waited for her friend to go in first.
Both girls took their seats next to one another, stiff and at odd ends. Chelsea struggled to concentrate as everyone introduced his or herself. There seemed to be an even mix of boys and girls, which was new.
“Today we’re going to talk about Proverbs 3:5,” Morgan announced, and Chelsea quickly snapped to attention. She didn’t notice that three teens had already lost interest and we’re absorbed in their phones. She didn’t hear the whispers of conversation break out. She was waiting. Waiting for God to speak to her.
Morgan cleared her throat, then cleanly recited, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”
Chelsea started to feel uneasy.
“What does that mean to you?” Morgan asked.
There was a beat of silence, and then a few hands shot up in the air. Chelsea kept hers rooted firmly to her side. She didn’t know what it meant. She didn’t know what anything meant anymore.
“Lucie?” Morgan said.
Chelsea looked to whom she was addressing and was shocked to see it was the black-haired girl. She hadn’t taken notice of her name during introductions.
Lucie smiled, close-lipped this time, and brought her hand up to fix her hair again. Chelsea wondered fleetingly if it was a nervous tick of hers.
“I don’t mean to be, like, offensive,” She began, glancing around at the group. “But I don’t think that’s completely right.”
Grace coughed and nudged Chelsea. She glanced at her.
“Poor girl,” Grace mouthed.
Chelsea looked away.
Morgan blinked. “Pardon?”
Lucie sat up a little straighter. “I think maybe they were wrong.”
Morgan smiled at her, almost condescendingly. “Honey, the word of God is never wrong. To go against it is a sin.”
Lucie frowned. “I don’t think it’s wrong. I, like, believe in God, and we go to church. Sometimes. But, like, that seems…”
Someone snickered. Lucie seemed to shrink a little.
It was a tense moment, broken only when Riley looked at Lucie and gave her an encouraging smile.
She smiled back, faintly, and looked back at the group, slightly more confident.
“It seems like we should follow our hearts. Because they really tell us what we want to do, right? Like, my heart tells me I love my family. And it tells me that I really like music class, and that I want to be a beautician. Why is it wrong to listen to it?”
Morgan turned toward the class, obviously thrilled to have the chance to save someone. “Does anyone care to explain?”
Grace’s hand was the first in the air. Morgan called on her.
“If we listen to our hearts, we’ll be led to doing bad things, and not get into Heaven,” She stated.
“How do you know that?” Lucie questioned.
Grace frowned. “It’s written down.”
“But guys could have come up with those stories. We make our own rules all the time. Like, I think they made a lot of it up. But I’m not, like, saying it doesn’t have good messages. We should love everyone and be kind—”
“And fear God, and listen to Him,” Grace interrupted.
Lucie didn’t miss a beat. “I don’t get that either, though.” She faced Riley. “Do you? Why should we be afraid of someone who’s supposed to love us?”
Riley nodded hesitantly. “I’ve wondered about that sometimes, too.”
Grace looked ready to have a panic attack. She reached over and grabbed Chelsea’s hand so hard that her circulation was immediately cut off.
“Stop him,” She hissed in Chelsea’s ear. “This isn’t good.”
She ignored Grace. Because, for the first time in several weeks, she felt faint stirrings of hope. For once someone was saying something that appealed to her, that made sense. She leaned forward.
“I think this is getting a bit too intense,” Morgan said breathlessly. “Why don’t we have snack early? Alexa, Ivar—could you please go get things ready? The rest of you, go have a seat in the fellowship area.”
The whole group stood up and began making their way toward the front of the church, where snacks were always served each meet. Chelsea couldn’t help but notice as Morgan pulled Lucie aside. Riley did, too.
“Are you serious, Riley?” Grace said as soon as they were out of the room. Everyone broke into conversation. Chelsea wondered if they were talking about Lucie, like she was itching to.
Riley paid no attention to Grace, hurrying forward to catch up to one of his friends. She turned to Chelsea with palpable disbelief.
“This is worrying me, Chel! What are we supposed to do? I’ll walk back with you guys tonight and talk to your parents with you.”
“No thanks,” Chelsea replied as they walked into the fellowship area and slid into one of the back pews. “I’ve got it covered?”
“You sure?” Grace grabbed her hand. “I’ll do it.”
“No, I’m good. Thank you, though.”
“I cannot believe that girl! It makes me feel so sad. Is there hope for her? I know Jesus is so forgiving, though. If she would just do the right thing, then He would accept her. I mean, how can you not believe in Him? How?”
“I think she believes in Him. I don’t know that she believes in all that the Bible says,” Chelsea muttered.
“That makes me feel so horrible. I’m so thankful, you know?”
“Yeah,” She said. “I know.”
Chelsea didn’t tell her parents about Riley. And she didn’t talk to him about what he had said. Because she was starting to wonder if he was right. The Bible always talked about God’s love, but at times it almost seemed conditional.
Christmas came and went. When Grace stopped by with homemade gifts for everyone, she pulled Chelsea aside and asked about Riley.
“We had a talk,” She answered, fingering the snowman wrapping paper. “All of us. He understands now. Which is good.”
“That is,” Grace said, wide-eyed and somber. “Just make sure he asks for forgiveness, okay? Doubting God like that is dangerous.”
“Will do,” Chelsea said. “Thanks again for the present.”
Grace smiled. “Sure thing. I hope you enjoy it!”
She stepped out into the crisp air. Chelsea followed. Even though she was annoying, her best friend did have good intentions, she reasoned.
“Can you believe that?” Grace asked, pointing towards the street. Chelsea could just make out a lone biker, pedaling furiously across the slush and snow. “They have to be freezing, poor thing!”
“Maybe I should invite them in for coca,” Chelsea suggested.
“Maybe if they’re someone we know.”
The person pedaled closer. Chelsea made out the long hair and slight frame, realizing that it was a girl. A young one.
“Hello?” Chelsea called to the person, once they were only a few feet away.
The girl slowed to a stop a few feet in front of them, and removed her hood.
It was Lucie.
“Hi,” She said brightly, smiling at the them. “Is Riley home?” She took out a piece of paper from her coat pocket and held it out to Chelsea. Their address was printed on it in clean, precise hand. “He told me to come here.”
Chelsea unstuck her words. “Y-yeah. This is it.”
“Great!” She chirped. “Can I leave my bike in the yard?”
“Yeah. That’s fine.”
She waved to Grace warily and started toward the house.
“Oh my gracious,” Grace said once Lucie was inside. “I thought you said you talked to Riley!”
“I…did,” Chelsea said feebly.
“It’s so bad for her to be here! A girl’s not supposed to be here alone with your brother, is she?”
“No.” Chelsea shook her head. As far as she knew, all socializing had to be done under the supervision of an adult. And she, Riley, and the twins were the only ones home. No adults present. The rest of the children were at a doctor’s appointment, and her father was at work. It would be at least an hour or two until a parent was home.
“I can get my mom,” Grace offered. “You do not want him to be led into temptation, Chel!”
She shook her head. “He won’t. We’re fine. Go on home.”
“Are you positive?”
“I can’t just be an innocent bystander in all of this! I have to help him.”
“He’s my brother, okay? I’ve got it. I’ll make her go home.”
“Oh, Chel.” Grace threw her arms around her. “It’ll be okay. Go inside, get her out of there, call your mom. You will, right?”
Chelsea nodded. “Sure.”
She rolled her eyes. “I promise, Grace.”
“Good.” She turned and flounced down the street, turning back once to wave at Chelsea. She looked horribly concerned.
Chelsea waited until Grace was out of sight to uncross her fingers.
When she walked in, Riley and Lucie were sitting on the couch. She was laughing at something he’d said. Her hands rested casually on her knees, and his elbow drifted dangerously close to touching hers.
“Hi,” Chelsea said again, walking to stand directly in front of them.
Lucie folded her hands in her lap. “What’s up?”
“Not much,” She replied, sitting down slowly in one of their upholstered, mismatched chairs. “It’s nice to see you again.” She gave her brother a pointed glare. He stood and cleared his throat.
“I think I’ll go get us all something to drink. Anyone want anything?”
“Diet coke, please,” Lucie chirped.
Chelsea knew they didn’t have that.
“We don’t have that,” Riley apologized. “Anything else?”
“Water’s good. Better, really.”
He scuttled out of the room after that, not even waiting for his sister’s answer. Lucie waited until he was gone to speak.
“Youth group was fun.”
“Mhmm,” Chelsea agreed halfheartedly. “The debate was, um, interesting.”
“Yes!” She leaned forward, suddenly animated. “I live for crap like that. Like, the whole thing was just so, in-vigorous.”
“Invigorating, I think you mean,” Chelsea corrected.
Lucie laughed. “Yeah! Definitely. Anyways, I’m on the team at school.”
“Debate team. We argue everything. Religion, politics, lunch.” She laughed. Again. “Riley seemed really cool, you know. He’s into the same things. So, like, I gave him my number and I was so glad when he called yesterday.”
When had he done that? Chelsea felt a knot of worry in her throat.
“He did?” She settled for. She sounded hysterical.
Lucie noticed and immediately sat straighter. “I mean, yeah. But just to hang for a sec. I’ve got to go in an hour.”
For a sec? Chelsea’s mind reeled. She imagined her father coming home from work early, as he sometimes did, finding this strange teenaged girl sitting on their couch, waiting for Riley. It wouldn’t be good. Her brother would be in trouble.
Despite being angry with him, and frustrated, Chelsea still wanted to protect him. She loved him. They were incredibly close.
So she did what she had to.
“Actually, Riley’s not allowed to date,” She explained.
Lucie snorted. “This isn’t a date, I promise. I’m only fourteen. Like, I’ve had boyfriends but my parents would, like, kill me.”
“…Or have girls over,” She finished.
Lucie frowned. “You’re serious?”
She nodded somberly. “We’re very religious, and my parents have decided that having girls over would encourage inappropriate behavior.”
“Oh.” She swallowed. “Well, I can go, then. I guess.”
“I think it would be best.”
Chelsea watched as she stood, feeling mean. Lucie pulled her coat back on and flipped the hood up.
“Bye!” She yelled back to Riley.
He immediately appeared, brandishing a water glass with a wedge of lemon on the side. Chelsea stared at that lemon with an impending sense of doom. Riley’d never done that for anyone before. Despite being sweet, he didn’t usually pay attention to the little details.
And now he was. He liked her. A lot.
“Where’re you going?” He asked, setting the glass down. He looked at her, worried, and rung his hands.
“Your sister, um, explained everything to me,” She said. “I’m really sorry. I didn’t know you weren’t allowed to have me over.”
He shot Chelsea a look. “I am.” But he sounded unsure.
“Call me later, okay?” She opened the door. “I mean, if you’re allowed.”
There wasn’t any rudeness in the words, but Riley flinched.
Chelsea felt evil.
“Why did you do that?” He demanded when Lucie was gone.
She immediately felt belittled. And she hated it.
“Don’t talk down to me, okay? I’m your sister.”
“Oh, but it’s okay to follow the other rules. I’m supposed to be a ‘man’ and not have to do housework or anything, but when it comes to addressing you, I’m supposed to do it your way. Pick a side, Chels!”
“I don’t know what to pick!” She exclaimed. “I don’t know who’s right, and who’s wrong. I just don’t know.”
“This isn’t even about her, is it? It’s about Grace, and mom, and Dad.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means you wouldn’t have cared if Lucie came over! You like her—I can tell.”
She pursed her lips. “Yeah, that’s why I just kicked her out.”
“I’m your brother; I know you.” He took a deep breath. “Grace isn’t good for you anymore, Chels. You can’t let her dictate what you do. You can’t let mom and dad dictate what you do. You can’t let Morgan and Rex dictate what you do.”
“But what about God?” She asked.
He shrugged. “Chelsea, I believe He very much cares about people. But I don’t think He rules our lives. I think we’re each unique. I think maybe He points us in the right direction, but I don’t think He just…up and does everything for us. Isn’t that part of the experience? Learning things?”
She wrapped her arms around herself. She was shaking slightly.
“I really don’t know what to do,” She confided at last.
“Do you want to go to school?”
She nodded slowly.
He gave her a pointed look. “Then it should be easy.”
“Here’s the pattern for the booties,” Sammie said, leaning over behind Chelsea. She was seated at Sammie’s kitchen table, which was littered with papers, knitting needles, yarn, and all sorts of other goodies. The more Chelsea looked at them, the more they began to resemble torture devices.
“I’m not good at knitting,” She said.
Sammie shrugged. “You’ll learn.”
“When I have kids, I’m just going to buy their clothes for them.”
“It’s so much more fulfilling to knit them yourself!” She plopped down in the seat opposite Chelsea’s and patted her arm. “You’ll feel great. Okay?”
“Okay,” She mumbled, picking up the needles.
She listened as Sammie showed her how to work them, then demonstrated. She showed her a pair of powder-blue booties that she’d finished just over a week ago. They were cute, Chelsea had to admit. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.
But five minutes into it, she realized it would.
“I just can’t do it,” She said, dropping the needles. They clinked against the table with a musical air. “I’m no good.”
“You can’t just give up after five minutes,” Sammie said. “Keep going.”
Chelsea picked them back up. She struggled to breath. But it just wouldn’t…knit.
“I’m sorry,” She said. “I can’t.”
“Yes you can,” Sammie promised. “Try.”
“I said that I can’t. Okay?”
“Chelsea, you can’t give up like that! God will see you through. Just pick them up, and try again.”
She faced her sister, who was washing dishes at the sink. “Why would it be so bad if I didn’t do it, Sammie?”
She set a plate down and wiped her hands on her apron. “What’s gotten into you, Chels? You need to work on being more respectful.”
She seethed in reply.
Sammie stepped forward and picked the needles up. “Watch.”
She stepped back. “Pardon?”
“No. I’m not watching. I don’t like knitting.” Chelsea hopped down from her chair, which was one of those cool barstool seats, and headed for the door.
“You can’t walk out like this,” Sammie called after her. “Come back here.”
“Make me!” Chelsea yelled. She was tired of doing things she didn’t want to do. She was tired of constantly having to keep her mouth shut just because she was a girl. “I’m never going to knit. I hate it, I think it’s boring, and I really don’t care if it’s more satisfying. I’m not doing it.”
Sammie folded her arms across her chest, resting them on her belly. “Stop it.”
“No!” She yanked open the door. “I’ll see you later.”
She stepped outside, groaning when she saw the blanket of snow coating the ground. And she had to walk home.
By the time she got back, her boots were ruined.
She found herself writing an essay, of all things. It was one she’d been proud of, but now it seemed…mediocre, at best. She’d written what she’d thought people would want to hear. Those people being college execs.
There was a tap at the doorframe. She always had to keep her door open. She looked up and saw her father standing at the entrance to her room, arms crossed. She immediately felt her heart sink.
“Could I have a word with you?” He asked.
Chelsea nodded mutely.
He sat down on her bed. It creaked under his weight. She quickly sat up.
“You need to apologize to your sister,” He ordered.
She felt herself bristle. “But I’m not sorry.”
“But you should be. You were extremely rude and disrespectful today. Your mother and I are very disappointed in you. And we’re worried. We don’t want you to be rebellious. Yet you seem to be heading in that direction.”
Chelsea ducked her head, feeling a familiar sort of shame. “I really don’t know what to say. I didn’t—”
“We love you. We only want what’s best.”
“Let me go,” She whispered.
“What?” He asked.
“Let me go,” She said firmly. “Let me get away. I need to.”
He frowned. “That’s not going to happen. We’ve discussed this. We don’t feel like college is in your best interest, at this point.”
She frowned. “But I want it to be, Dad. I want it so bad.”
He shook his head. “I’m sorry.”
She knew that would be his answer, though. She hadn’t even dared to hope.
“I might just go,” She mumbled.
“Don’t say that.”
She looked up. “I might. I just might. I want to get away from all of this.”
“And how are you going to do that?”
“I don’t know. Leave.”
“Chelsea…” He didn’t seem to know what to say. “That’s…it’s not good to think like that. The Bible says to listen and respect your authorities. Your mother and I are those people. If you leave, it’s a sin.”
“I’m not sure I believe in sin anymore.”
He looked like he’d been slapped. “Stop it. Right now.”
“I don’t. I don’t think it’s real.” She stood up. “And there’s nothing wrong with that.”
He stood, too. “These ideas need to leave your head. Now.”
She looked down. “I don’t think they can. They’re already there.”
She heard Bella call her name and sighed with relief. “I should go help.”
He judged her with wary eyes. “You should.”
She walked toward her doorway. Keeping her back to her father, she said, “I do love you. So much.”
“And we love you. Listen to us.”
She kept on going.
Dear Ma’am or Sir,
My name is Chelsea Ethers. I’m eighteen. I know I’m writing a year late. I was ready to attend last year, but then again maybe I wasn’t. I think my parents did know what was best for me, after all.
I’ve wanted to go to college since I was a little girl. It seemed magical, a place that made you wiser and prettier. I found what degree I wanted when I was eleven years old, and I’ve stuck with it since. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
I hold religion very dear to my heart, God and Jesus especially. Last year, my parents told me that I wouldn’t be able to attend college. The reasons were unclear, but I believe it had something to do with fear for my safety, and fear of God.
I don’t think anyone should fear God. I’ve learned that this past year. My parents believed for a long time that many things amount to sin. But now my brother has a girlfriend, and she’s like family. Their dates are always supervised, and I believe they should be, but it’s progress. We love Lucie, and so does he. We think she’ll be a part of our family forever. Or, we hope she will.
It used to be that only the women in my family did the chores. But lately, mom’s been asking more from my younger brothers, Gat and Leo. Riley, only two years younger than me, was happy to step up and start to help. I watched with surprise as my father loaded the dishwasher last night. He’s never done that in my parent’s twenty-seven years of marriage. Mom was touched.
I believe I have a lot to offer your campus. I’m moralistic, and I have high standards and important values. I do not drink alcohol or party. I know you don’t much care whether I do that or not, but I will have you know I’m not going to be a statistic. I will make my college experience the best it can be, and in doing so I’m not going to participate in ridiculous things.
It’s been a difficult year for me. But I’m glad I waited to send in my application to you. I feel much better doing so with my parents’ blessing. I’ve learned that change is okay, and you don’t need to be afraid of living.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, if you did. I know side-notes aren’t always customary.
My essay is enclosed along with my application, grade records, and a resume.
May God bless you,