“Oops!” Jackie gasped.
“Oops?” Richard’s hurt and incredulous stare cut deeply and sliced an awkward rift into the conversation. “Whatever.” Watching him turn and walk away left an icy cold hollow in her chest.
“What’s his problem?” Marcia arched an eyebrow and wagged her head; Jeff and Linda laughed nervously. Marcia carried on.
“Don’t be intimidated, Jackie. You have every right to say whatever you want to. Freedom of speech, remember?” Jackie nodded reluctantly. She had a right.
“Did you see the way he was fidgeting with his sleeves?” Linda added. She sucked on her straw until the drinking box caved under the pressure. “Kinda weird, if you ask me.”
“So, when did he tell you about his homosexual temptations, Jackie?” Marcia folded the change from lunch and stuffed it into her back pocket. “We better be careful with that. Remember what Pastor Brad said about knowing them by their fruit.” Everyone laughed. Marcia sure knew how to find the humor in everything.
“Ah, that’s so gay,” Jeff added to the reverie.
Jackie looked into her soup and flushed at the remembrance of her ‘heart to heart’ the night before. Why had Richard picked her to confide in, anyway? She’d only befriended him because he seemed so insecure and lost. The whole thing made her a little awkward, really. She hadn’t meant to let it slip out but, then, he never told her to keep it a secret, either.
“Don’t sweat it, Jackie.” Linda bit into her banana. “Nothing’s hidden that won’t be brought out into the open. Maybe God just wanted him to face it.”
“Give the guy a break.” Jeff interjected, almost apologetically. “He’s a new Christian, and I hear he had a hard family life.” After a brief pause he added, “Hey, you guys going to the retreat next month?”
“Oh, yeah,” Marcia answered, “count me in. Isn’t it at that new resort on the bay? I am SO pumped about the rides, and the bands.”
“Me, too,” Linda added. “I can’t believe we get to see the Wounded Warriors live. They’re like, Platinum, aren’t they?” She raised both her arms up and swayed to the beat of the lunchroom cacophony.
“No kidding,” Jeff said. “The church went all out for this one. Jet skiing and hang gliding, too. It’s about time we did something that would really appeal to unbelievers. Just about everyone in my kayaking club is thinking about going.”
“You going, Jackie?” Linda asked. The question jolted her out of the brain freeze.
“Umm, I think so,” she said.
“Hey, Richard’s in the kayaking club, do you think he’s going?” Marcia asked, packing up the leftovers from lunch. “This might be good for him.”
“Beats me,” Linda answered. “I never asked him.”
“Me neither,” Jeff added, popping the last Gusher into his mouth. “I gotta get to math early; see you guys at the bowling alley.”
“I have to run, too.” Linda started dumping all her leftovers into her pack sack. “There’s Tracy! They just got back from that Alaskan cruise - catch you guys later.” She fumbled with the chair and jostled her way through the rows toward the blonde beauty.
Silence settled on the two girls left at the table.
Marcia broke it. “See you in class, Jackie. I have to meet with the Participation Committee. We’re brainstorming ways to be an outreach in the community; you in again for the Soup Kitchen?” Jackie nodded, slightly envious over Marcia’s tireless commitment. “Later.”
“Sure, later.” As the perky brunette’s absence left an open view out the lunchroom window Jackie caught a glimpse of Richard heading down the wide cobblestone pathway toward the exit gate, smoking a cigarette. Hadn’t he just told her he’d given that up for God? And now he’s skipping class, just days away from finals. Didn’t he appreciate all the efforts it took to get him into Abundant Life Academy? Why would he want to go and ruin all of that? Hopefully, he didn’t feel the need to confide in her again, though.
Oops, she thought. Better keep that to herself.
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