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I'm really aiming for a character driven, go-deeper-into-people's-psyche type of writing. Still far from that so any suggestions would help... it's so hard to be objective when it's your own. Christian romance with an evangelistic slant.
She cries, she cries
Tears down her face
She floods the world with her sorrowful grace.
Denise stared out at the ocean from her vantage point on the rocks.
How was it that a fairly intelligent person could make the same mistake so many times? It didn’t seem possible, yet here she was again. She had just broken up with yet another boyfriend over exactly the same issue… her family.
Every relationship began the same. First there was attraction and the thrill of the chase. She always started out with the hope that maybe this would be the one. Maybe this would be the relationship that saved her from her life.
It was generally good for a while.
It wasn’t too long, though, before she was forced to choose.
The clash between her desire to just let loose and throw herself into the relationship and the obligation she had to her family was inevitable. Her obligation always won out and her ever so doting boyfriend, whoever it may be that week, would become jealous of the time she spent away from him.
This was the cycle that occurred and always brought her back to this place- wondering what on earth she was doing with her life. Was it really so hard to find somebody who could love her through the garbage in her life? The answer to that question was becoming glaringly obvious. Maybe her family was just a convenient excuse she used to salve her pride. Maybe she just wasn’t worth the effort.
Either way, this could not go on.
It had to be different this time. Her heart could not take anymore of this endless seeking for something only to be disappointed and let down again. Hadn’t she had enough of that in her 19 years of life?
Climbing down from the rocks and onto the beach, she began her walk home. Deciding to take the long way through town seemed the best way to put off her life for a bit longer so she swiftly made a left turn off the beach and into town.
As she walked through the main street of her small home town of Leisure Bay, she dreamed of escape. She loved this town and loved that the beach was always just a short walk away but even these delights had lost their lustre in view of the trapped feeling that was growing daily. She wanted to run but just never knew which direction to turn.
Looking up as she past the town information board, she noticed a flyer that had caught her eye before. It was a bright blue piece of paper advertising evening classes at the business college just outside of town.
Perhaps this was the next step to get her where she wanted to be… anywhere but here.
She took the flyer and made the firm decision to give the college a call first thing in the Monday morning. Stuffing the piece of paper into her pocket, she continued on her way.
“Unjani, mama?” Denise greeted the familiar face of the sales woman at the fruit market as she walked by.
“Ngikhona, wena unjani?” replied the woman with a smile.
“Ngikhona kodwa ngikhatela,” Denise answered, informing the woman that she was fine but tired. Soul weary in fact, but there was no need to inform this near stranger of that.
When Denise was much younger and her father had still been around, her parents had employed a domestic worker named Ruth. She was a gentle, warm woman and had quickly become Denise’s second mother. Denise learnt the Zulu language through stories and songs, spending most of her day in Ruth’s shadow. It wasn’t long before she was just as proficient in Zulu as she was in English.
Speaking the language never failed to bring back the memories of her long lost friend and confidant. It had been years since her mom had dismissed Ruth. They couldn’t afford her salary once her father left. Ruth had moved on to another family in another town but Denise still mourned her absence.
Shouldn’t she be immune to the pain of loss by now?
Arriving home before she was mentally ready, Denise headed to the back door, hoping to enter undetected.
“Denise, where have you been?” her mother shouted from her bedroom. She was clearly not as stealthy as she believed herself to be.
She found her mom getting ready for work. Her little brother ran to take hold of Denise’s legs as she entered the room.
“Joshua has been ridiculously difficult this afternoon and I need to get going before Phil has another hernia over me being late!”
“I’m sorry,” Denise apologised sincerely as realisation washed over her. “I completely forgot that you picked up the Saturday evening shift.”
Denise turned from her mother’s livid expression to greet her little brother.
“Hey, Joshie. Are you ready for your bath, boy?” she said as she picked up her litttle brother and kissed him on the cheek. She had years of experience at turning her feelings off and Joshua definitely did not deserve to take the brunt of her tumultuous emotions.
“Bye mom, I hope it’s not too crazy over there. See you later,” she said turning toward the bathroom to get Josh’s bath ready.
The only reply she received was the sound of the front door slamming as her mother left.
Josh was tired and grouchy.
Denise couldn’t help but smile into his sweet, tear streaked face though. She attacked him with kisses and soon had him smiling too.
He was an adorable little boy with a button nose and the same blonde hair as her and her mom. He had brown eyes, where her and her mom had green, but they all shared the same dark eyelashes and eyebrows.
As he splashed around in the bath, a giggle resonating from the pit of his stomach, a deep sense of guilt washed over her. She loved her little brother so much and her mom too. How was it that she so desperately desired to escape this place but the thought of leaving the people she loved was too much to contemplate?
It was overwhelming to be a part time mother to a two year old. Sharing the financial and emotional responsibility of floating a family often felt like too much of a burden to bear. She didn’t see how she had any choice in the matter though.
They barely made ends meat with both her and her mom bringing money in. How would they pay the bills without her contribution?
She had started waitressing while she was in school because she was able to take the afternoon shifts and still help out at home in the evenings. When Josh was born the financial pinch grew and also her responsibilities at home. There was a time when it seemed that the only option was for her to drop out of school.
It had taken careful planning and sheer determination but she had managed to pick up a couple of extra evening shifts that worked with her mom’s schedule and still stay in school. Her teachers always saw her as an underachiever because she always seemed to just scrape threw. She was too embarrassed to let anyone know how much she was really juggling.
After she graduated she had just carried on at the restaurant and that’s how it had been for the last year.
When her mom was home, she was at the restaurant and vice versa. It wasn’t exactly the model of a functional family but they managed to pay the bills and take care of Josh.
Denise refused to see it as a long term solution though. There had to be another way. She would give Josh better than what she had received.
As she felt her resolve grow and strengthen, she saw the dream of escape float away on the insubstantial mist of hope it had arrived on. Hope and dreams of bright tomorrows were foreign concepts. These were the cards she had been dealt. She might as well face it: she would never lead a ‘normal’ life.
The only way she saw to improve their situation was to find a job that paid enough to allow her mom to stop working. Or, at least, work less. She wanted Josh to have some actual maternal input and some semblance of normalcy in his life. Her mom hated her job and was miserable. Denise desperately wanted to make things better for her too.
She had tried relationships as the answer to her problems. She new it was infantile to believe that she would find a Prince charming who would come and save her from the evil that was her circumstance. She new it was ridiculous but somewhere inside her that hope kept burning. It was now time to extinguish that flame…for once, for all. The feeling of hope at the beginning of a relationship wasn’t worth the feeling of utter despair when her hopes were inevitably crushed at the end of it.
Who would want to make a wife out of a girl who came with enough baggage to bog down a Boeing 747?
The truth she had to face was that she was of the breed of women who were only good for use and abuse. She was hoping for a Cinderella story but could never seem to get to the part with the pretty dress and nice shoes. Every boy she had ever been involved with always promised to be a prince but in the end treated her as though she were less than a toad. She would never be more than just the little cinders girl.
She couldn’t depend on anyone else to make things happen. This was not a fairy tale. This was reality. She had to be the responsible party.
Relationships had not brought the answers that she had hoped for, so maybe a career and money would. This business college seemed the best solution. She had managed to finish high school while working and balancing her responsibilities at home. A few evening classes should be a cinch.
The fact that she would have absolutely no free time was appealing too because she didn’t trust herself not to fall into another dead end relationship that would distract her from her plan. Her ridiculous need to be wanted, even if only to pretend for a little while, always brought her the opposite of what she longed for…more rejection, more loneliness. Not again!
She let her mind plot while she rebuked any flutters of hope in her heart. This was her last ditch effort. She couldn’t allow her heart to hope knowing that if this didn’t work out she had nothing left to try. She was at the end of herself. She wanted this to be a beginning but couldn’t trust in any hateful hope of tomorrow.
Matt could hardly contain his excitement as he collected his luggage and made his way to the domestic flight terminal. He was actually in South Africa. After months of planning and saving, he had finally arrived. He wasn’t quite at his final destination, which was a small town called Leisure Bay on the South Coast of the country, but that did little to dampen his high spirits. He had landed at Oliver Thambo International Airport and still had to catch a flight to Durban aboard a small passenger plane. He wasn’t sure how long they would have to travel by car from there but any time spent in the car would be put to good use. He had so much to talk to his family about.
His uncle and aunt were picking him up at the airport and taking him home to live with them for the next 12 months. He was really hoping his cousins would be there to meet him at the airport too. Matt and his cousin, Mike were almost the same age and great friends. His cousin, Lauren, was 19 years old and such a character that Matt smiled to himself just thinking of her. He hadn’t seen his aunt, uncle and cousins for three years and he could barely wait for the reunion.
John and Trish guided their children to where they anticipated meeting Matthew. John was so glad that Matt had decided to take him up on his offer to come and work with him at his church this year. Matt had just graduated from Lancaster Bible College and wasn’t quite sure which direction God wanted to take him. Matt’s father, John’s brother, had suggested he speak to his uncle about going on a short term mission trip to South Africa. Matt had spoken to his uncle many times over the last few months. The problem was, the more they spoke, the bigger the plans got.
In the end, Matt had committed to spending a year in South Africa. The plan was that he would work with his uncle and cousin, Mike, equipping leaders to organise and run a Youth and Young Adults program in the church. His uncle was the pastor at the church and was excited about what his favourite nephew could contribute.
John had come to South Africa with his family three years ago to take over the pastorate from an old family friend who had retired. It had taken him a long time to decide to come, but ultimately he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was where God wanted him and his family.
He missed his family in the States though and saw it as a blessing from God that he would have this time with his nephew. He loved Matt dearly and admired his heart for people. Matt and his eldest son, Michael, had always been fine friends and he looked forward to watching the two of them ministering together in the next twelve months.
“There he is dad!” shrieked his daughter, Lauren, as Matt came into view.
They all waved their arms frantically to get his attention.
Matt rushed over.
After he had set his luggage down, he was embraced by four sets of arms. When he came up for air, they began talking all at once.
One overwhelmed look from Trish and the five of them were all in stitches over the cacophony they had made.
When they had all gotten their breath back, John took the lead. “How was the flight?” he inquired.
“Which one? It feels like I’ve been airborne forever.”
“You’re here now and that’s all that matters. It is so good to see you,” Trish said as she gestured for her children to help Matt with his luggage to distract them from the moisture collecting in her eyes.
“We were worried that you wouldn’t spot us and would get lost in this huge airport,” Lauren said sarcastically in her naturally dramatic way.
“There was no chance of missing you in that crazy outfit. I swear you get weirder with each passing minute,” Matt replied affectionately, reaching out to muss up his cousin’s short, spiky hair.
“The word you’re looking for is ‘unique’, not weird,” Lauren replied in mock outrage.
“Well, you definitely are one of a kind!” Matt countered, taking in the myriad of colours represented in Lauren’s sleeveless vest.
“So will you be ready to hit the waves this afternoon or are you going straight to sleep when we get home?” Michael interjected as he put his arm around his cousin’s shoulders and headed toward the parking lot.
“I would love nothing more than to go straight to the beach right now but let’s first face the car trip and then take it from there. How long is the trip home from here?”
“It’ll take us about an hour and a half. So you’ll probably pass out before we even get there. But before you do that, you know you are going to have face some interrogation. We’ve missed you too much to give you over to sleep just yet,” Trish said as she smiled up at her nephew.
She was so proud of this boy, she felt as though he were her own. She had really missed him. She had missed seeing him and Michael together. Her son hadn’t managed to grow as close to any of his friends here as he had been with Matt. God was so good to grant them this time together.
“Thank you my good and loving Saviour,” Trish said softly as she climbed in the car while the others helped Matt with his luggage. Once they were all in, they set off on their way.
“How are your mom and dad doing Matt?” Lauren asked as she offered Matt some of her orange juice that she had bought while waiting for him at the airport. She couldn’t go anywhere without snacking but somehow managed to remain a skinny, little thing.
“No thanks,” he said shaking his head. “They’re doing well. They’re talking of coming over for two weeks some time this year. They really have no idea when that might be at this point though. Dad has still got a lot of work to do on his latest book so it all depends on how fast he gets done.”
“How does he feel about this one?” John asked with both concern and humour. “He told me before I got the copy of his last book that I shouldn’t expect much because he really struggled to write it. We’re still using it as the core reading material for the Christian counselling course that we’re running through the church. He’s really doing excellent work for the Lord and I’m not just saying that because he’s my brother.”
“I think he feels like he’s writing under compulsion. He prefers teaching and counselling to writing, but understands that this way the message can reach more people. So he continues to plod on”
“What are you most excited about for this time here, Matt?” Lauren asked, changing the subject.
“It’s hard to narrow it down really. I’m so glad to be here with you all,” Matt said giving Lauren and Michael, who were on either side of him, a squeeze.
“I’m also just so blown away by how this all came together the way that it did. I know the Lord had His hand in it so I’m also just really excited to see what he’s got in store for me here.”
They all talked on for the next half an hour but soon realised that Matt was starting to nod off and so let him be for the rest of the trip.
Before Matt knew it, they had arrived at his new residence for the next year. The air was thick and smelt like the sea. He felt a little disorientated having woken up so abruptly from his deep sleep. He hoped he hadn’t snored.
Getting out of the car and stretching his legs, Matt had a good look around. The house was tucked in between a lush, green garden. It was not small but was by no measure big. To the side of the house was a little building that he presumed would be his home for the next while.
As if sensing his thoughts, Michael pointed towards the little building with a smile on his face. “Pretty sweet crib wouldn’t you say? A home fit for kings!” Mike exclaimed in a theatrical way.
“If the kings were really tiny and especially poor that is,” Lauren interjected with a wide grin.
“Now, don’t you listen to either of them,” Trish said quickly. “It may be small but it has everything you need. It has a bedroom and a bathroom. It doesn’t have a kitchen but I wouldn’t let you cook for yourself anyway. Your mom has told me some horror stories about your attempts at cooking.”
“I would deny it but then I would be lying. My dad accused me of trying to kill them the last time I tried to cook.”
They all chuckled, having heard the first hand account from Matt’s mom in her latest email. Apparently Matt believed that cinnamon was an ingredient that should be used in large portions and went with any meal.
“Well, lets get you settled in so that you can continue that symphony of snores you were performing for us on the way here,” John said and began to laugh at the look of horror that crossed his nephew’s face. “I’m just pulling your leg, son. It definitely wasn’t as beautiful as a symphony”
Denise picked up the phone as soon as she got to the restaurant on Monday morning, praying silently that this would work out. The phone lines had been down the day before. Denise had automatically taken that as a sign that this process was doomed before it began. Trying to be more optimistic, she typed in the number of the business college and waited for someone to pick up.
“Good morning. Vuka Business College, Brenda speaking. How may I help you?”
“Morning Brenda. I’m phoning in response to a flyer that I saw in town. I finished high school last year and am looking to do some sort of course but really have no idea where to start,” Denise said feeling more than just a little embarrassed. Did she sound as hopeless and clueless as she thought she sounded? Maybe this was a really dumb idea.
“We offer a wide variety of courses. Are you looking for something to help you get a specific job or something to further you in your current employment?”
Denise released a nervous laugh into the receiver. “I’m waitressing at the moment and really couldn’t be bothered to improve in that area. So no, I’m not looking to be furthered in my current employment. To be honest, I’m looking for something that will qualify me to work in the business world as soon as possible.”
“Then I would suggest you do a secretarial qualification. It’s a six month course and involves two evening classes a week. Would you like me to email the details through to you?”
“That would be great. Thank you.” Denise gave the receptionist her email address, said goodbye and put down the phone.
“That’s one more step in the right direction,” she said quietly to herself as she put her apron on over her head and tied the back. “Hopefully I won’t be wearing this blue monstrosity for too much longer.” She pulled a tongue at the laughing fish on her apron before turning to see to her tables.
It was odd but in some ways it would be hard to stop working at this tiny little beach front restaurant. She hated what it represented to her; but loved that it was comfortable and the people were like family.
Denise set to work and it wasn’t too long before she was so busy serving coffee and breakfast that she had no time to think about anything but the now.
“Hi there. My name is Denise and I’ll be your waitress this morning. Can I get you something to drink while you all take a look at the menu?” Denise said speaking to the table with three young people.
They looked around about her age but she had never seen them before. This didn’t happen often in a town like Leisure Bay. She had been at school with most the people her age, so even if she didn’t know them personally, she generally knew their names.
“We’ll all just start off with some coffees please,” said the guy with the dark brown hair and piercing blue eyes. He had an American accent which accounted for the fact that she had never seen them before.
“Sure, I’ll be back to take your orders,” Denise said, trying to keep her voice even. Wow, he was good looking! She turned quickly to go pour the coffees and give herself a deserving, mental scolding.
“Matthew Harrison!” Lauren exclaimed as she stared at her cousin who was staring after the waitress.
“What?” Matthew said as he turned toward them trying to look innocent but the embarrassment on his face still showing through.
“Were you staring after our waitress? That is something I have never seen you do before?” Lauren said half teasing and half serious.
“Yes, I suppose I was. But not in a bad way, I don’t think. She’s very beautiful but there was something else. She just had very sad eyes…” He said disappearing into his own thoughts. He looked up eventually and found two pairs of incredulous eyes boring into him.
“Sorry,” he said shaking his head as though to clear it. “That sounds cheesy even to me. I’m being all intense and it’s only breakfast time. So, you were telling me about the composition of your youth group at the moment...”
They talked on for the next few minutes and Matt even managed to remain focussed when Denise returned to bring their coffees and take their orders. As soon as their food arrived and there was a lull in the conversation, Matt allowed his mind to wonder.
What was wrong with him? Being drawn to pretty strangers was not his style at all. What was it about her that made him want to talk to her? He had met many good-looking girls in his life who had definitely not had this effect on him.
It wasn’t her looks at all though. It was the hidden message her eyes communicated. He wasn’t sure what that message was exactly, but he had the strongest urge to find out.
Denise’s shift was almost finished. She took the bill to her last table.
“Here you go. I hope everything was satisfactory,” Denise said handing them the bill. She had to objectively admit that the guy with the blue eyes was really striking. Was it only the way he looked? He was good looking but so was the other guy with him. They both had the same dark brown hair and similar builds. No, it was his eyes and the way he seemed to look straight into her when he looked up.
As a waitress, she had experienced two types of men. There was the type that were overly friendly and flirtatious. She enjoyed this type of customer for the fact that it generally meant a bigger tip for her at the end. The second type of guy was the one who saw waitresses as a type of vending machine. They didn’t seem to acknowledge that they were dealing with a person. An order was taken and service expected. No please or thank you required. These were the customers that really got under her skin.
This guy was neither of the above. He wasn’t flirtatious at all, but he definitely had noticed her. Denise mentally shook herself. She was tired and analysing this way too much.
“Thank you, please come again soon,” she said as the group left. It was time to go home and get all this ridiculousness from her mind.
On her way home Denise stopped off at the internet café across from the restaurant. A friend of hers from school worked there, so she didn’t need to pay. There was a time when he had had a big crush on her. The whole school knew but thankfully he had never had the courage to do anything about it, so they had managed to remain good friends.
“Hey Rob. How are you doing today?”
“Fine thanks, Denise,” he said, his face lighting up as she came in the door. “How was work this morning? I’ll be heading over to the restaurant in a bit for my lunch break. I’m going to see if I can get your mom to throw in some free coffee today.”
“Good luck. Your chances would be better with me; I’m more of a softy,” Denise paused to give him a sympathetic smile. “My shift was fine, thanks, just too long. I need to check my email. Can I use your computer?”
“Sure. You know, if my dad ever found out about the special treatment you get, I’ll be dead meat!”
“You really are a drama queen. All you do all day long is surf the net. If he hasn’t fired you for your laziness yet, I doubt a little favouritism would do the trick.”
Denise pushed him out of the way as she took his seat and typed in her email address and password. She opened the email she wanted and printed it up.
“Thanks for your help. See you tomorrow.”
“Pop into the restaurant in the morning and I’ll organise you that cup of coffee,” she said as she walked out the door.
Denise waited until she was home and her mom had left for her shift before she allowed herself to read the email. All her hopes hung on the answer to one question: what was it going to cost?
Denise read the email for the third time that afternoon.
Josh was playing contentedly with a toy truck on the carpet, leaving Denise the time she needed to think. There was absolutely no way that she could afford this. Was this the answer to her earlier prayer? Who was she kidding, she didn’t believe in god. In times like this she really did wish she believed in something because she just couldn’t find the answer in herself. The only thing she had left to try was to phone the college again and find out if they offered bursaries. She doubted that she would qualify, but it was her last chance.
“Hey Joshie, do you want to take a walk and go visit mom at work?”
“Mumma, work,” came the excited response from a smiling little face.
Denise picked her brother up and grabbed his nappy bag as they headed out the door. She decided to walk along the beach and let Josh have some fun in the sand along the way.
Josh had just found a muscle shell and was shouting excitedly when Denise looked up and saw two surfers in the water. They both caught a last wave and started heading back to the beach. Denise quickly recognised them as the two Americans from the restaurant this morning. They both looked athletic and competent in the water. When they got to the beach Denise noticed that the one with the blue eyes was about a head taller than the other guy. She thought again about how attractive he was and then grudgingly reminded herself that she had sworn off relationships and guys completely.
Picking Josh up again, she started walking towards the restaurant. The movement must have caught their attention because they both looked her way. As she walked past them she kept her eyes down but could feel their stares. She knew they probably assumed that Josh was hers. She had dealt with it so many times before that the looks of judgement no longer stung quite as badly. Today, however, she was feeling a little too fragile to look these two in the face and confirm her assumptions.
Matthew found himself staring after Denise again. It was rather odd to him that he knew her name and she probably didn’t even remember that she had seen him just a few hours earlier. She held a little boy that looked so much like her that he automatically assumed that he was her son. Maybe that explained the sadness that he had seen in her eyes. He couldn’t imagine what a huge responsibility it must be to care for a child at his age and he assumed that she was at least two or three years younger than him. He felt his heart swell with compassion for this girl and prayed silently for her as she walked away.
The minute the phone at the restaurant was free and the manager was out of earshot, Denise picked up the receiver and dialled the number of the business college.
“Good afternoon. Vuka Business College, Brenda speaking. How may I help you?” answered the friendly voice on the other side of the line.
“Good afternoon, Brenda. This is Denise speaking. We spoke earlier this morning.”
“Yes, I remember. Did you receive the email I sent threw?”
“I did, thank you. The courses look fantastic but are unfortunately a little out of my price range. I was phoning to find out if the college offers anything in the form of bursaries or financial aid to prospective students?” Denise asked with her heart in her throat.
“Unfortunately not, my dear,” said the lady on the other end of the line, sounding genuinely disappointed.
“Oh, okay. Thank you,” Denise replied getting ready to end the conversation.
“I do, however, know of a church in the area that offers a basic skills training course. I shouldn’t really be advertising for them but it sounded quite good. It would be enough to get you at least an entry level job in a company and as far as I’m aware it’s completely donation based. You just pay what you can afford. Maybe after that you can re-explore the option of the business college to further yourself.”
Denise felt the familiar pang of disappointment. “Thank you for your help. I’ll definitely look into that then. Good bye.”
“It’s a pleasure. Good luck.”
Denise put down the receiver and fought the wave of disillusionment that washed over her. Yes, this church thing was an open door but it definitely did not hold the same appeal. She had to admit that her expectations had been somewhat unrealistic. Hope had snuck in the back door undetected. In her minds eye she had envisioned herself at this fancy business college, meeting all the right people so that once she was done she could walk into just the right, high paying job. Once again, life had a way of bringing her straight back to reality. Still, she should be grateful. She had the will and there still seemed to be a way before her.
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