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– 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.