Elle leaned into Michael, feeling his warm, strong arms around her. This spot behind the bleachers was usually the closest thing they had to privacy. She dreaded every day when 4:30 would come and her dad would pick her up in front of the school. She knew it would be way too long before she saw Michael again. And with him being grounded, it was almost a sure bet they wouldn’t get to talk on the phone.
He caressed her curling brown hair and tilted her head back to kiss her. Elle felt like she could melt in that kiss and didn’t want it to end. But far too soon, she felt Michael pull away. He reached into his pocket, then dangled something in front of her.
Stunned, she looked at the little square packet in his hand. “What exactly is that supposed to be?”
“I got it from the nurse’s office. You know, ‘Just say No, and if you can’t say No, then use a condom.’ It’s not a big deal.” Michael shifted his weight, then smiled his sleepy smile, reaching for her hand. “It’s just in case.”
“Michael—look, I don’t know what to say. This makes me kind of uncomfortable. Can’t you just throw it away?”
He tensed. “I knew it. You’re all hot and cold. I can’t figure you out. It’s not like you’re the poster child for purity.”
Elle blushed, confused. So the rumors hadn’t died down after that party months ago. “Don’t be like that. I really care about you. I just don’t want the pressure. That’s not who I am any more.”
There was a cold edge to the breeze blowing locks of hair into her eyes—and an even colder edge to the stare Michael gave her. The silence stretched, and faint sounds of gym whistles filled the space as football practice started in the next field.
“Yeah, you ‘care’ about me.” Michael sneered, flinging her hand away. His gaze flicked back to hers. “Guess you ‘cared’ about him more, didn’t you?”
He spat on the ground, then walked away, pocketing the condom as he went. Feeling bruised inside, Elle sat on the ground hugging her knees.
“God, You told me to believe in You and I could be made new.” The anguished words poured out in a flood. “You told me to come to You ‘just as I am’ and You would love me and change me. But he doesn’t want me, only what I can do for him. So what do I do now? I’ll always be that girl at the party to him... and to everybody else.”
Tears racked her body, and she didn’t try to stop them. “What if they’re right?” she whispered.
Elle wasn’t sure how long she sat there, but soon she became aware that she wasn’t alone anymore. She looked around. No one stared back. It was a Presence, not a person.
No answer greeted her with thunder from the sky. No stone tablets appeared in her hands. But she began to feel something different—a certainty that somehow she really could be made new. Closing her eyes, she saw Jesus and the intensely real and tender love shining from his eyes. She imagined the beating, the derision, the whips pulling him to pieces, all amidst catcalls from people who refused to understand or to accept the love He offered with arms wide open.
She remembered the stray kindnesses of some of the kids at school even after that party and the inexpressible sympathy in their eyes as they tried to reach out with a different kind of lifeline—one she had spurned, satisfied with fitting in and seeming older. Elle hadn’t wanted to be a goody-goody.
But some of those kids weren’t like that. And Michael had just made it plain that at least one of her “friends” didn’t welcome a shiny, new Elle. Same stuff, different day, right? So maybe if she wanted to grow beyond what she had been trying to be, she had to make room for friends who really believed in the One who made those changes possible.
But what if they didn’t want anything to do with her?
Dejected, Elle sat with her chin in her hand. A few minutes later, a couple of “those kids” came walking across the field. They waved, beckoning to her.
Guess that answers that, she thought, wiping the tears as she rose to join them.
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