If Stella hadn’t been wearing a name tag, I never would have recognized her.
I didn’t expect my former classmates to look exactly the same, at our twenty-fifth class reunion, but this black-clad Morticia Addams clone in front of me didn’t remotely resemble the girl who’d sat next to me in our senior high Sunday school class.
She caught me staring at her name tag and glanced quickly at mine, without enlightenment. Her eyes shrugged out an inquiry. “I’m Laurel McKenzie,” I told her. “Donner is my married name.”
“Little Laura Mc Kenzie,” she smiled, and her eyes flashed me the familiar smile of her former self. “You look exactly like I expected: Mrs. Conservative. I’ll bet you have two perfect kids, a dog, a house in the suburbs and a preacher husband.”
I laughed. “Well, my husband is a preacher, but we have four kids and a cat. I guess I was pretty predictable. But you don’t look like I’d pictured you, Stella.”
“Well, you know. Life’s pretty tough. I couldn’t live the fairy tale forever.”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, you know: God, the Bible, and the American Dream.”
“I know those things are right for me, Stella Bella.”
She smiled again, and her expression softened for a moment. “Stella Bella. No one’s called me that in twenty years.”
“Not even Steve?” I remembered the nice guy she’d been engaged to, back when we’d lost touch.
“Steve,” she spit out, as if the name were a curse word. “He couldn’t hack it. Look, Laurel - you seem really nice, and I’m glad life worked out for you. But as you can see, I’ve embraced the reality of life’s cosmic darkness.”
“Is that what your black clothes and make-up are all about?”
“Basically. Look: I’m not a devil worshipper or anything like that. I just figure it’s easier not to fight the dark side of life. After all, life is hopeless, and you do your best to make your own way out of the darkness.”
“You didn’t used to believe that.”
“Yeah, I used to believe God would help my life turn out all right. But I grew up and faced reality.”
“Are you saying I didn’t grow up or face reality?”
“Hey, your reality is your own. This is my reality – and it doesn’t include a God Who didn’t help me.”
I looked at her black clothes and saw a cry for help. Stella’s stark black hair and make-up spelled out her sadness as surely as if she’d written it on her name tag. “Stella,” I began, “I can’t pretend I know or can relate to whatever happened in your life. But I do know you gave your life to Jesus back when we were teenagers. I also know the Lord would never abandon you – no matter how it seems.”
Her veneer seemed to crack for a moment, as tears glistened fleetingly above the kohl. But she shook them off with a sneer and gave me another big shrug. “It figures you’d say that, Laurel. Look at you: you’re still wearing your little cross.”
The cross: I’d been wearing it since the day we’d both given our lives to Christ; our Sunday school teacher had given one of them to each of us. I pointed to it. “Where’s yours?”
She gave me another shrug. “Who knows? I can’t remember the last time I even saw it. You have to admit it doesn’t exactly go with my outfit.”
“It goes with you, Stella. You’re still that girl who accepted Jesus back in high school, no matter how much black you wear.”
“What can I say, Laurel? I won’t deny I believed that stuff, back then. But my clothes reflect my life since then and if Jesus was there I sure couldn’t find Him.” She shrugged again. “Look. I’d love to stay here and chat about your old times and Jesus, but I’m gonna head over to the bar and get blitzed. It would be fun to catch up, but I’ll bet you wouldn’t be caught dead at a bar.”
I breathed a quick prayer and knew I needed to take the opening she was offering me. “I’ll have a coffee while you drink, Stella Bella. No matter how much we’ve both changed, I’ll bet you could still use a friend.”
“Whatever,” she said again, but I could swear she glanced longingly at my little cross for a moment before she led us over to the barstools.
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