Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

Maranatha: Chapter 3.

if you’re just joining us: go here, then here.

– Chapter 3 –

The random “chastity checks”—a concept that, even now, sounded alien and nefarious to Maranatha whenever she tried to explain it—began during her junior year. It was February and things were already at an all-time weird by then.

Back in October, Jacob Rich, who’d sat behind her two years ago in French, had been held after school in a private detention for a full week, just before Thanksgiving break. No one had ever been pre-assigned a week’s detention. Usually, when you were written up for disobedience in class, the penance for most infractions a simple hour or two of eraser-clapping and bible verse memorization.

Jake had found a letter from Principal Harris in his locker. No one knew exactly what it said—Joe never told—but everybody around him in the hall noticed the way his olive skin flushed as he read. And after he finished, he shoved the leaf of school letterhead between his jacket and backpack, slammed the locker door, and fled to the nearest bathroom.

Maranatha had always liked Jake, with his soft voice and fluttery fingers. She liked how easily he blushed and how he seemed to always be near to help her scoop up her books when someone deliberately bumped her hard enough to knock them out of her hands. His long eyelashes reminded her of perching butterflies. A tiny mole inked his right cheek, like a drawn-in beauty mark.

She couldn’t imagine him doing anything that would warrant a week’s detention.

After Jake got the letter, Maranatha noticed a few immediate changes. He stopped wearing the sweater vests he’d favored, in lavender and sea foam and peach, and took to sporting blacks and greys and Rockport boots. His full loose curls had been cropped much closer. Stubble sprouted on his usually clean-shaven face. And within a month of his detention, he’d asked some freshmen to be his girlfriend.

Maranatha was perplexed, almost enough to risk public humiliation by asking Demetria if she’d heard anything. But  answers came soon enough. During the basketball unit of gym, she overheard the girls who’d faked periods gossiping about Jake on the bleachers.

“… but I thought he was gay.”

“He was, but Principal Harris and some other teachers and church elders prayed it off him.”

“Why would that take five days, though?”

“I heard it was seven—the number of completion.”

“He must’ve had a whole lotta spirits on him.”

“’Legion, for we are many….’”

The basketball walloped Maranatha’s bicep. She stumbled and the group of girls swiveled at the thud. Hurriedly scooping up the ball, she kept her head down and shuffled back to the fold of players.

That night, Maranatha didn’t sleep. Her mind was too busy conjuring images of Jake, surrounded by crusty old faculty insistent on loosing him of the gaggle of green gargoyles clinging to his argyle sweater vest. She asked herself where in the building would their teachers have most likely staged a seven-day exorcism, and after careful deliberation, she decided it’d all gone down in the band room where, when the demons trembled at the name of Jesus, all the cymbals on the drum sets would clatter.

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Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

Maranatha: Chapter 2.

for those just joining us: start here.

– Chapter 2 –

Holy Pentecost Academy hardly seemed the same place, with its potholes in the sidewalk, flimsy plastic flapping across broken windows, and ripped flag sagging at half-mast. Maranatha parked her car and sat for a minute, half-debating heading back home. Just being here, outside but on the grounds, made her feel defensive and nauseous and ashamed.

The postcard on her dashboard noted that she only had five minutes before this thing got started in earnest. Her decision needed to be quick. She grabbed the card and her patented leather clutch and stepped out of the car.

She’d known all along she’d go in.

The side door truants used to use to dash was locked, so she navigated a slalom of orange cones, nestled in ditches of crumbled concrete, to the front entrance.

Her skin prickled. Holy Pentecost still chilled her to the bone upon entry. The sickening scent of cheap cleaning solution, reconstituted meats, and powdered eggs still wafted right up to her from the cafeteria. But there was another smell here, too, something like vinegar and mold.

She looked at the banners hanging from the ceiling above the main office. State Girls Volleyball Champions, 2006, Division C. Pastor’s Award for Excellence in Stewardship, 2008. 2001 Winners of District Youth Evangelism Challenge. Oratory Competition 1998 Runner-Up.

There were others, but she moved on, almost stumbling into a sign taped to a music stand. It read, Town Hall Meeting, Auditorium, 7:30 pm. And underneath, a big red arrow, like anyone who’d be here wouldn’t pivot left by rote.

She heard the screech of a microphone, then keened her ear to see if she recognized the voice mumbling, “Testing, testing.” She didn’t.

A group of women swanned out of a door 200 feet ahead and she froze as they filled the hallway. From here, they looked to be about her age. They were well-dressed, in silk blouses with skirt suits or swishing wide-legged slacks. Their clacking heels rang in her ears. Sweat beaded in her palms. What if she knew them? What if they were former tormenters, like Patra Davis—or worse yet, what if one was Demetria Simmons who had, by graduation, become a kind of frenemy?

She hadn’t seen any of these people in twelve years. Occasionally, in her desperate attempts at holiday small talk, Maranatha’s mother had leaked a few updates about alumni here and there. She knew, for instance, that Cammi Shaw, who barely waited till eighth grade to have sex, then swapped Maranatha’s name for hers when recounting her grand tales of exploit, had recently bought a three-bedroom townhome in Owings Mills. Demetria married a surgeon. Bryce Hall, the cutest boy in their graduating class, was a recovering alcoholic who lived with his mom. Some other boy whose name she hadn’t retained had beaten some type of rare cancer.

Maranatha wasn’t ready for any of this. She tried to square her shoulders, as the cluster of ladies approached. Then she saw them squinting and whispering, trying to place her. Panicked, she turned on her heel and headed for the bathroom at the other end of the hall.

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Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

Maranatha: Chapter 1.

in the past, when i’ve posted excerpts of longer works of fiction, i haven’t prefaced them with any type of summary. a friend of mine told me this was a problem for him and deterred him from reading. so, in an effort not to deter you, here is yet another excerpt and the summary is as follows:

this is the story of maranatha miller, a lifelong loner at a private, pentecostal school who, at the age of seven, has a chance encounter with a troubled graduating high school senior named gideon. years later, gideon returns to the school as a teacher, when maranatha is a senior herself. forbidden, mostly repressed romance ensues as the two forge undeniable bonds, in spite of themselves.

their story is set against the backdrop of a larger scandal, as parents and former students form a class action suit against the school for unethical policies and abusive practices, and maranatha and gideon–both victimized by these practices over the years, in different ways–are called upon to testify.

the story spans three decades and each chapter represents a different period in time. this first chapter is the chance encounter i was telling you about. enjoy!

– Chapter 1 –

Whenever the primary-schoolers made their way to the Main Building, they were dwarves in a city of giants. The second grade class at Holy Pentecost Academy clasped hands so tightly they dampened and it became trickier to keep their slippery grip on one another. The wanton giants tromped about, jostling them without ever looking down. The tots trembled, inching through the halls of the Big Kid School, where assemblies were held in a massive, musty auditorium.

They should’ve been beside themselves with glee and anticipation. It was Friday, October 30: Hallelujah Day. Every year, the whole school gathered for candy, costumes, and a fantastical filmstrip about druids, witches, and all the satanic trappings of Halloween.

It was one of the most exciting days on their academic calendar.

But first they had to get past their initial ten minutes in Main, all of which they spent in wriggling in taut-eyed, primal fear. Usually, a third of the kindergarten class wet itself in anticipation. Then, slowly, as they made their way toward their candy-paved utopia, everyone settled down and suddenly, sharing space with students three times their size wasn’t such a Herculean feat, after all.

Maranatha smiled at the littler kids. She remembered kindergarten fondly. When she was five, she blended in. The other children shared their pipe cleaners and tissue paper in Arts & Crafts; and no one spread the word that her PB&J was covered in cooties when she tried to lunch-swap.

But now that she was seven, everything sucked. By second grade, all the kids knew what it meant to have a mom and dad who’d never married. Just yesterday, Demetria Simmons leaned over and hissed, “You were conceived in sin,” during story hour. Maranatha’s cheeks had raged, her eyelids hot and wet, as she looked around at the nodding heads and giggling lips. Everyone had heard.

Lately, she’d been learning to keep her head down. She knew the number of stitches in her sneakers. She knew how many Formica tiles stood between her and the cafeteria. It was comforting to focus on her own her footsteps, so comforting that when she really thought about it, the big kids bumping her on their way to the auditorium had never really frightened her at all. Maranatha felt dwarfed, no matter where she was and the size of things couldn’t bother you if you never looked up and noticed them.

*  *  *

The boy was like other boys his age. There was nothing special about him. He was tall and thin and the color of brown M&Ms. His close-shaved hair had been trained by a barber to swirl counter-clockwise at the crown. As a senior, he was immune to the lures of candy and conscience-pricking. He’d stopped caring about Halloween when he was 11. Getting out of class for the assembly didn’t especially excite him, either. He cut class at least once a week, anyway.

That afternoon, he smelled like Gain and Newports. He and his boy, Gerald, were fresh off a smoke break out behind the softball diamond. Now, in the crowded hall, they were tossing a ball of foil back and forth, pretending to be Jordan and Bird. Since they were charming and popular, the other kids and even a couple teachers simply laughed it off when they stumbled into them.

No one ever told them to stop.

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