Grandma’s warm fudge melted the second it hit my tongue. I reached out from under the table and felt along the top for seconds.
“Violet! There you are!”
I cringed and popped the fudge square in my mouth for moral support. A claw-like hand pulled me out from my refuge, the tablecloth mussing up my hair as I passed beneath it. My stepmother’s pink fingernails dug into my arm as she hauled me to my feet.
“This is no way to act, girl, and you know it. Now, march over to your cousin Martha, congratulate her on her pregnancy, and then mingle.”
I obeyed with a heavy heart. I hated mingling. Socially, it was the “thing to do” at the annual family reunion, and usually I managed to bear it. This year was different.
“I’m just gasping for a cigarette,” Martha sighed. “The doctor told me not to smoke when I’m this far along in my pregnancy, and so I’ve been limiting myself to two a day.” She popped a stick of gum in her mouth and chewed furiously. “Mum says you’ve completely given it up. Something about this church you’ve been going to…”
“That’s right. I’m a Christian now…”
“So, do you have any extra packs lying around your house or what? If you’re not going to use them, I’ll take ‘em off your hands.”
“I got rid of them.”
Martha wrinkled her nose and kept talking while chewing. I didn’t know how she managed it, but then, she always was good at multitasking, even when we were little. Now we were fifteen, and she was well-practiced in the art. “Too bad. Hey, does this mean that you won’t sneak to concerts with me anymore?”
“Nope. Sorry,” I said with sincere disappointment. The repetitive throb of a bass guitar underneath flashing lights set my heart pounding with excitement, and I knew I’d miss it more than the cigs. Martha shrugged and left me to find someone else – someone that she could still connect to. It wasn’t that hard.
As for me, the only one remotely sympathetic to my difficulties was Martha’s sister, Amy. And she was a witch. No, really.
Amy sat cross-legged on a picnic bench, leaning over the table to devour her vegan sandwich while her pentangle necklace drooped in her jell-o. She considered me between mouthfuls. “Hard, isn’t it? They were the same way when I first told them I was a witch, but then it became old news, and they got over it.” She brushed red blobs from her necklace pendant and considered the subject closed.
“Are they still giving you a hard time, Violet?” Amy asked the next year.
I nodded. “If anything, it’s worse.” I told her about an incident a couple of days ago, when my latest stepmother ordered me not to tell anyone about how she was lying on her income tax forms.
“Doesn’t your Bible say to obey your parents?” she smirked when I was on the verge of refusing her.
Amy couldn’t understand what the difference was, but she shrugged and made an attempt at consoling me anyway. “I’ll bet you’re feeling better, though, without those cigarettes damaging your body.”
“I feel better than I ever have… but it’s not just my lungs. It’s everything.” On a whim, I blurted out, “Come to church with me sometime?”
“No thanks. I’ve tried that.”
Then Martha flounced over to show off her new boyfriend.
“Was it really that bad?” my youth group friends asked the next day at church.
I groaned, nodded, and then spilled out my problems while they listened sympathetically and jumped in with family stories of their own. We all roared with laughter when Andrew told us about his Uncle Bob, and then cried with Sarah about her sister’s leukemia.
Pastor Dave, following our conversation from a few seats away, decided on an impromptu study of Biblical families and told about how one time Jesus’s mother and brothers tried to stop him from teaching. After that, we all made a break for the doughnut table and chatted happily.
Oddly enough, I had no trouble mingling here. And I couldn’t wait for our next meeting.
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