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High-school junior Becca finds herself resentful when her parents suggest adopting Alvaro, the ill Guatemalan boy staying with them temporarily.
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High-school junior Becca finds herself resentful when her parents suggest adopting Alvaro, the ill Guatemalan boy staying with them temporarily.
Thursday, October 4
T minus 21 days and counting. Only three more weeks of Alvaro. If life came with a remote control, I'd have my thumb on the fast-forward button right now.
Everybody thinks our family is wonderful for taking Alvaro in after his surgery. I thought so too—at first. Now I'm ready for him to go home so we can get on with our lives.
I'm sick of tiptoeing around after eight p.m. so Alvaro can get to sleep. Of waking up to his nightmare screams. Of doing extra chores so Mom has time to drive him all the way to the Denver hospital and back twice a week. I'm even sick of the way that nasty medicated salve smells!
But how can I tell anyone that I'm fed up with a poor, sick little boy? I'd sound like a monster. Sometimes I feel like one.
21 more days.
The 2:30 bell rang and Becca McKinnon jerked her attention back to algebra class. Oops. She was supposed to be getting a head start on the day's assignment, and instead she'd been scribbling down her thoughts. Oh, well. She'd do the homework tonight. She tore the journaled page out of her spiral notebook and crammed it into the pocket of her cargo shorts. Grabbing her books, she joined the group of laughing and talking students already pressing through the doorway and into the hall.
Becca grinned and waved as she spotted Katie Spencer weaving her way toward her through the crowded hall.
"How come you're not on the volleyball team this year?" Katie asked. "We could use your hustle!"
"Yeah, I was going to be your power spiker this year," Becca quipped, pulling herself up to her full 5'7".
"Don't sell yourself short, girl," Katie said, echoing their coach's refrain from the previous year. "You've got more on the ball than some of those 5'10" players. So what gives? I never thought I'd see you giving up sports."
"No way! I'm not giving up sports. I'd rather die!" Becca said. "I'm just taking the fall season off—I'll definitely be playing basketball this winter. But I can't fit volleyball in with paragliding. The good weather isn't going to hold out much longer. I don't want to spend every afternoon at practice when I could be gliding."
Katie rolled her eyes. "Think of me sweating on the court while you're gliding today, will you?"
"Actually, today I can't—" But Katie had spotted a couple of other volleyball players and dashed off to join them before Becca could finish. Becca stood still for a second watching them go. Katie was one of the most popular girls in the junior class. Becca didn't like to think that popularity was all that important to her, but she had the sudden, painful feeling of being left out. Maybe it was a mistake to give up volleyball, she thought.
Shaking her head as if she could throw off any regrets, Becca turned to the wall of lockers, counted five lockers from the classroom door, and set to work on the lock.
"Let's see—21 right, 8 left, 52 right." She frowned as she murmured her combination under her breath. "Or is it 21 left?" She gave the lock a good yank. It didn't open. She yanked again, smacking the locker for good measure. Still no success. Frustrated, she started spinning the dial again.
"Trying to break into my locker, McKinnon?"
Becca jumped and looked up. Nate Visser towered over her, a mock frown on his face while his blue eyes sparkled mischievously.
"Third time this month," Nate teased. "Am I really supposed to believe you still think this is your locker?" He grinned. "What is it you find so intriguing about me that you have to pull this mistaken-locker-identity stunt?"
"Keep dreaming!" Becca retorted, straightening up to face Nate. She noticed that, even standing her tallest, she had to tilt her head up to look him in the eye. "A simple miscalculation, that's all. I was talking to Katie. She distracted me."
Nate shook his head. "Honestly, Becca," he said, "how can a girl as coordinated as you be so directionally challenged? You do know your left from your right, don't you?"
"Sure," Becca answered, tucking her books under her arm and holding her hands in front of her. "My left hand is the one that looks like an L."
Nate groaned as he saw Becca's left hand, palm down, and her right hand, palm up, both forming the letter L.
"Very funny." He put his hands on her shoulders and marched her to the algebra classroom. "Stand here," he said, backing into the doorway with Becca in front of him so that they both faced into the hall. Becca felt a little shiver run up her spine, as if Nate's hands had started an electrical current running through her. Does Nate feel it too? she wondered. Do I want him to?
Still grasping her shoulders, Nate turned Becca to the left and said, "Look—to the left you're heading toward the cafeteria. My locker is five lockers left of your algebra class going toward the cafeteria." He pivoted Becca to the right. "Your locker is five lockers to the right of your algebra class, toward the gym. It's easy, Becca. Your locker, like you, is tied to the gym."
Nate let go of Becca's shoulders and looked speculatively at her. "You know, when you first started showing up at my locker this year, I thought maybe you were stalking me." Becca raised her eyebrows and waited for him to continue. "But I asked Tyler and he assured me it was just your problem with directions and not my personal magnetism." As Becca began to laugh, Nate hastily continued, "So, what it is about Tyler, anyway, that he gets to hang out with all you girls? What's his secret attraction?"
"Not what you're thinking," Becca told him. "I mean, I know a lot of girls think Tyler's hot, but I never see him that way. He's just Tyler." Somehow it seemed important to make sure Nate understood that she wasn't attracted to Tyler that way. Becca shrugged. "I guess it's because we've been friends practically forever."
She thought about this for a second. "Since fourth grade, anyway," she amended. "We started this club, Tyler and Jacie and Solana and me. Later when we got into reading Brio magazine we sometimes called each other Brio sisses like the editor, Susie Shellenberger, does."
Nate raised one eyebrow. "And Tyler?"
Becca laughed. "Tyler's our honorary Brio brother—partly because he's always been our best friend and partly because his mom is on staff at Brio." Becca stopped. "Am I rambling? You already know about Brio, I guess."
Nate nodded. "Yeah. It's girl stuff. I've been to a couple of photo shoots." Tyler's mom sometimes used Tyler and his friends for models in the magazine.
"Anyway, the magazine got us talking about God and faith and how we should live our lives. I guess that's part of what keeps us so close," Becca concluded.
"So you see Tyler like a brother." Nate seemed to want to be sure about this point.
"Definitely," Becca confirmed. "One happy family—that's what we are."
"Sometimes things change," prodded Nate.
"I know," Becca agreed, thinking of Katie and the volleyball team. Then she smiled confidently. "But not our little group of friends!"
Becca retrieved her homework, slung her backpack over one shoulder, and headed out across the quad to find the rest of her friends. It was a comfortable habit they'd gotten into, meeting after school to see what everybody else was doing with the rest of the day.
Solana and Tyler were already in the quad, sitting on the table under "their" tree. In front of them, Jacie was bobbing from one foot to the other as if she were dancing to some upbeat music only she could hear, waving her hands and talking a mile a minute, her face lit up with excitement.
"Becca!" Jacie exclaimed as soon as she saw her. "Guess what? You'll never believe it! The junior class officers asked me to design the window for homecoming!"
"That's awesome, Jacie! Of course I believe it. Everybody knows you're the best artist in the school. No—what am I saying? Your painting of Damien took grand prize in the Copper Ridge art show—you're the best artist in the city!"
Jacie beamed with undisguised pleasure at her friends. As Becca exchanged an affectionate "isn't she cute when she's excited?" look with Solana and Tyler, she saw that they weren't the only ones at the table. Perched primly on the bench behind the table, half hidden by Solana and Tyler, who were lounging on top of the table, sat Hannah Connor. With that gorgeous blond hair and that perfect figure, she'd be a knockout, Becca thought, if only she'd lose the bun and dress a little less like somebody's librarian aunt. She threw a suspicious glance at Tyler. Those tall, Nordic types were his weakness.
"Jacie, I'm happy that you've received such an honor," Hannah said. "But I don't really know what you're talking about, being a homeschooled girl and all. You are to design which window? Where?"
Becca caught Solana's eye. Hannah was new to Stony Brook High this year. Once Jacie introduced Hannah to the group, she'd just sort of glommed onto them. Sometimes Becca thought Hannah wasn't even trying to fit in anywhere else. Every chance Hannah got, she reminded people that she had been homeschooled. Which is fine, Becca thought, but we've heard all about it. It's time to move on.
Tyler didn't seem to mind, though. He was leaning over Hannah eagerly. "See, every year the downtown businesses let the high schools paint their windows for homecoming. Of course, every class wants to paint the best window. Last year our class painted our school mascot, the Studs—I mean, the Stallions," he hastily revised at Hannah's sharp intake of breath. "Usually they try to do something with the homecoming theme, too."
"That's what's so great about getting to do the design," Jacie cut in. "This year's theme is 'Celebrate the Good Times,' right? Well, you know how many keggers there are—"
"Keggers are the kids who drink," Tyler helpfully explained to Hannah.
"And you know what kinds of things other kids do with a theme like 'Good Times,' " Jacie continued. "So I thought it would be a great chance for me to paint a window that shows different kinds of good times. You know, let people see that not all teenagers are into partying and stuff."
"Oh, yeah, girl," Solana joined in. "You could even work the Stallions into that. Horseback riding as good times. We can go out to my uncle's ranch and use his horses as models." She grinned slyly and shot Jacie a sideways glance. "I'll tell my uncle you need hours of watching me gallop for your sketches. He'll be so proud to think of me as a model of Latina womanhood that he'll let me ride as much as I want!"
"Hey, here's an idea, Jacie," Tyler interjected. "You could do a sort of collage—"
"Montage," Jacie murmured automatically.
"—of different interests and hobbies," Tyler went on. "Stuff people do for good times. Like Solana and her horseback riding. Becca going climbing or gliding or something. And I could pose with my guitar."
There was a second's silence as Becca, Jacie, and Solana looked at one another, then they all began talking at once, each on a different subject, none of them having to do with music. Tyler, looking a little confused, finally shrugged, and turned to ask Hannah what she liked to do for fun.
Becca put her arm around Jacie and gave her a squeeze. "Whatever ideas you come up with, I know they'll be really creative. And I think it's so cool to use the window to make a statement about positive stuff." She looked at Jacie head on. "You know, Jacie, that's a really great way to express your faith."
Jacie smiled a little shyly. "Thanks, Becca. I want to get better at doing that. I wish I were as comfortable expressing it in words as you are."
"Hey, a picture paints a thousand words, right?" Becca added seriously, "Jacie, just be you. And be real. That's all it takes."
"When God closes a door, he always opens a window," Hannah's voice cut across their conversation, and Becca scrunched her eyes shut for a second in silent frustration. She hated to hear Christians spouting clichés—it sounded so phony.
"Or in this case," Hannah continued, "God uses a window to open a door." She turned from Tyler to address Jacie. "I think it's wonderful to have a Christian in charge of the window so we can denounce the drugs, sex, and rock 'n' roll that pass for good times in this secular high school."
"Uh-oh," Becca murmured under her breath, and looked at Solana.
"Well, that's my cue to get off my secular butt and go," Solana said cheerfully. "I don't actually have any drugs or sex planned for the afternoon, but mmm-mmm, that rock 'n' roll is calling my name." She cocked an eyebrow at Hannah, gave a little shimmy, and sauntered out of the quad.
"Wait up, Solana!" Becca called. "I'll walk you to the parking lot." She ran to catch up with Solana as the others followed more slowly.
"Sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll!" Solana fumed.
"I know," Becca hissed. And when did God appoint Hannah the judge of this "secular high school"? She hasn't even been here two months! Good thing Solana knows that not all Christians are like that. Becca took a couple of deep breaths to try to calm down. She knew she wasn't being fair to Hannah. They had all gone to the Brio Faith Fest conference last month and Hannah was really good with the adults she talked to. Maybe she just had trouble getting along with other teenagers.
"Hannah," Becca said, slowing down to let the others catch up, "I don't believe in drugs or premarital sex, either." She decided not to say anything about rock music. "I know you've had some great experiences sharing your faith, but I don't think 'denouncing' people is going to be a successful way to share your faith here at school."
"God doesn't call us to be successful," Hannah replied complacently, "just faithful."
"Maybe," Becca agreed, "but there's nothing unfaithful about wanting to make your faith attractive." More attractive even than Tyler seems to find you, even if you do look like a Barbie doll—with a bad wardrobe, she added silently.
"Well ... but I think you're right, Hannah," Jacie said hesitantly. "Maybe not about denouncing, exactly, but about standing up for what you believe." She threw an apologetic glance at Becca, then turned back to Hannah. "I'd like to hear more about your ideas."
She doesn't mean it, Becca thought. She's only trying to smooth things over. And I wish she wouldn't. Hannah will just keep spouting her pat answers.
"How about we all go to Copperchino for coffee?" Tyler suggested. "We can talk there."
"Can't," said Becca shortly, as they reached the bike rack at the edge of the parking lot. "Today's my mom's staff meeting at the community center and I promised I'd be home to watch Alvaro."
Hannah nodded approvingly. "Jacie told me about the wonderful things your family is doing for that little alien boy. Your family must be very special." She smiled—rather condescendingly, Becca felt.
"Don't call him an alien," Becca replied in exasperation. She didn't need anybody else telling her how special her family was. Anyway, since when had Jacie been discussing Becca's family with Hannah? "You make him sound like Jar-Jar Binks. He's from Guatemala, not some galaxy far, far away."
Hannah quickly put her hand to her mouth. "Oh, I didn't mean that kind of alien," she explained. "I meant like, resident alien or illegal alien, you know? Not that your little boy is illegal ..." Hannah stammered to a halt, seeming to realize that she was making things worse.
"Maybe Hannah thinks Hispanics belong in a galaxy far, far away," Solana said with a Mexican accent so exaggerated that even her own mother, who spoke Spanish at home, wouldn't recognize it. Turning to Hannah, she bowed. "Hola, senorita! Take me to your leader for American drugs, sex, and rock 'n' roll."
Becca erupted in a snort of laughter. Solana always could joke her out of a bad mood. Tyler frowned and said, "Lighten up, Solana!" Becca flashed Solana a quick thumbs-up.
She leaned closer to Solana, trying to choke back her laughter. "What do you think will happen when Hannah discovers that Tyler wants to be in a rock band?" she whispered to Solana. She glanced at the others to make sure they couldn't hear. No problem. Tyler had launched into some long story in an apparent effort to get Hannah's mind off her embarrassment.
"Worse—what if he finally does get a band together and she hears him sing?" Solana hissed back. "Poor Tyler! Any girl he tries to serenade had better be tone-deaf." Becca reached inside the neck of her T-shirt and pulled out the three chains that hung inside her shirt. Slipping the chain holding a bike key over her head, she bent over the bike rack, quickly unfastened the lock—no combination to slow her down—and freed her mountain bike from the rack. A lot of the upperclassmen drove to school, but Becca's brother, Matt, had taken the family's third car to college when he'd left this fall, and Becca's parents had been so busy with Alvaro's foster care that they hadn't gotten around to buying a beater for Becca to drive. Not that she minded. She'd rather bike than drive any day—well, any day that it wasn't raining. Or sleeting, or ... Come to think of it, given the unpredictability of Colorado weather, she hoped her parents would buy another car in the next month or so.
"Yo—Tyler!" a deep voice called, and Becca straightened up quickly. "So," Nate said, "have you guys made plans for homecoming yet? I thought maybe a bunch of us could go together." He kept his eyes steadily on Tyler. "You know, Richard, J.P., me, and—" his eyes flicked toward Becca, then back to Tyler "—all you guys. Maybe Damien?" he said, now looking at Jacie. He shifted from one foot to the other. "Unless you already have plans?"
"Me, I already have a date," Solana said with a satisfied smile.
"Let me guess," teased Tyler. "Dennis Sanchez asked you."
Solana tossed her head. "Dennis asked me to homecoming the first week of school. And the second. But I'm going with Derek Harris." Giving Becca a quick, barely perceptible wink, she added, "There's no reason the rest of you shouldn't go together, though."
"Sounds good to me," Tyler agreed, while Becca and Jacie nodded their heads. "We'll set up the details later. Hey, Jacie, do you have your car here today? My car's in the shop and I could use a ride—how about you, Hannah?"
Becca turned back to her bike. Sliding the scrunchie out of her hair, she shook out the ponytail that never fit quite right under her helmet. Her wavy brown hair fell past her shoulders.
"I like your hair like that!" Nate put out a hand as if to touch it, then abruptly changed direction and scratched the back of his neck instead. "I don't think I've ever seen you wear it down before."
"Oh, I usually pull it back to keep it out of the way," Becca replied. But maybe I should wear it loose more often, she thought, looking at Hannah's severe bun.
Hannah was deep in conversation with Tyler and Jacie, and Becca thought she looked half-defiant, half—what? Pleading? Regretful? Becca couldn't tell. Hannah looked uncertain, which seemed strange since she always made her pronouncements as if they came straight from God.
Tyler turned back to Nate and Becca. "Homecoming isn't going to work out for Hannah."
"My heart is breaking," Becca said in an undertone to Solana.
"So how about we all get together at your house instead, Becca?" Tyler suggested. "You know, hang out in your family room and play air hockey and stuff."
"Right," said Becca. "Like we'd want to play air hockey instead of going to the homecoming dance."
Jacie spoke. "It would be so fun to go to homecoming together. But we can't leave Hannah out. Her parents aren't comfortable with her going to events like that," she explained. "But they'd let her get together with friends at somebody's house." She shifted her gaze to Nate. "You know we always have a good time when we go to Becca's," she urged. "You and Richard and J.P. could come, too."
Becca felt as if she'd walked into some weird sitcom where she didn't know her lines. How had a group date to homecoming suddenly morphed into sitting around at her house? She was about to tell Nate she'd like to go to homecoming with him even if the rest of the group didn't go, then stopped. He didn't actually ask me, she reminded herself. He asked the group.
Tyler was acting as if everything was settled, but Nate looked uncomfortable. "No offense, Becca," he said. "Hanging out at your house is great. But some other time, maybe. I really don't want to skip homecoming." With a puzzled frown and a half-apologetic wave, he turned and loped across the parking lot.
"Thanks a lot, guys," Becca hissed furiously. "Did you hear me invite you to my house for homecoming?"
"Sorry, Becca," Tyler began. "But we always go to your house. You've never minded before."
"We go to my house on ordinary weekends," Becca corrected. "Not during homecoming."
"Well, maybe this year things need to be different. Now that Hannah's part of the group ..." Tyler left the sentence unfinished.
Becca opened her mouth, then shut it again quickly. "Listen, I've got to go. My mom will kill me if I'm late," she finally said, and pulled her bike from the rack.
Skirting the parking lot, she turned onto Stony Brook Road and sped down the steep hill in front of the school, her thoughts racing as fast as her bicycle. Since when was Hannah part of their group? Sure, she'd been hanging around a lot, but wasn't that only because Jacie had introduced her the first day of school and she didn't know anyone else? Tyler was clearly attracted to Hannah—but he ought to know that would never work in a group where the rest of them were like brother and sisters. They were the group that was never supposed to change.
At the first intersection Becca rounded the corner and leaned into the next hill to begin the ascent. What's the matter with me? she asked herself. I'm the one who's always wanting to meet new people and try new things. Why do I have a problem with Hannah? She crouched lower over her handlebars and pedaled harder, as if speed would help her think. Is it because she messed up my chance to go out with Nate? I don't want to be one of those girls who dumps her friends for some guy. Shaking her head slightly, Becca answered her own question. No, it's more than that. It's the way Hannah is messing with our tight group of friends. She's got Tyler all goofy about her. She butted into Jacie's business with the art show last month. And she has no idea how to be friends with a non-Christian like Solana.
With each pump of the pedals Becca pushed out her frustration. Pump. We used to have so much fun together. Now Hannah is spoiling everything. Pump, pump. I don't even really like Hannah. We don't have anything in common—except being Christians. Does being a Christian mean I have to be friends with everybody? Pump, pump. She picked up speed as she crested the hill and started down the other side.
God, I'm confused. Shouldn't doing what's right make me glad, not frustrated? Unconsciously Becca squeezed her eyes shut as she concentrated on her prayer. I'm not exactly expecting any big reward for helping out with Alvaro and being friendly to Hannah, but—
Ooomph! With a lurch, Becca felt her bike come to an abrupt stop, and she sailed over the handlebars.
Fast Forward to Normal (BRIO GIRLS)by Lissa Halls Johnson
Copyright © 2001, Focus on the Family
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.