Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

Maranatha: Chapter 3.

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– 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

She Sleeps, Serene.

You weren’t in a hurry that morning. Your Blackberry played the Pinball Countdown from Sesame Street at 5 am and you woke without the slightest hint of grogginess. You let Mia sleep in that morning, because she wasn’t a morning person; that’d been established in her infancy. She’d let you sleep till 9, if you let her, but woke you every midnight, like clockwork. Five years later, not much had changed, though the midnight awakenings had mercifully dwindled to two a week.

You were glad to be rid of her. This is among the few things that are easy to remember. You regularly peeked into her bedroom door, kept slightly ajar, because she wailed whenever you shut it. You took in the lavender walls, the glittery unicorns prancing arrogantly across her ceiling. Her tiny brown face, round and sweet as any cookie, was all her firmly tucked Strawberry Shortcake comforter exposed. She was so still when she slept that it seemed she was certain she wasn’t missing anything during all those hours she spent doing nothing. The world surely ceased its spinning every time Mia closed her eyes.

That morning, you studied her, fervent as a stalker. Her eyelids were two wilting rose petals, her lips two puckered tildes. Her nose crinkled cutely, like skunks had overtaken the happy forest in her dream. You smiled warmly at her, which was rare, and actually tipped toward her bed with every intention of delivering a rather risky kiss. (Mia slept in, but she also slept lightly.) But when you reached her bedside, your face four feet from hers, you recoiled. The expression that seemed so cherubic from across the fairy-bedecked room now resembled something out of Children of the Corn. Mia was baring Tic-Tac-sized teeth. Her impossibly tight ringlets writhed across her pillowcase.

You half-expected her eyelids to fly open, her gaze to turn you to stone.

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