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Laurel Shadrach Series 1 Purity Reigns
By Stephanie Perry Moore
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2002 Stephanie Perry Moore
All rights reserved.
keeping it together
Picture this," my handsome boyfriend of two years, Branson Price, whispered in my ear. "The hottest guy in school and the cutest girl in school—seniors! A couple again, ready to rule Salem High School. Every guy wanting her, every girl wanting him, but everyone else is out of luck because they want each other. Do you know what I'm talking about, Laurel? Can you picture it?"
All I could do was smile. He was talking about us. Though he had been my boyfriend since we were sophomores at one of the top schools in the state of Georgia, we had an on-again, off-again relationship. We were as fragile as the wind at times. Everything seemed to blow us apart, but we had made a commitment over the summer and now it was August. It was a hot day in Georgia and we were at Six Flags enjoying one of our last days of freedom. However, we weren't really disappointed about the thought of going-back to school. After all, it was our senior year, the moment we'd been waiting for since kindergarten.
We were standing in line for the Freefall, a ride that dropped hundreds of feet straight down. I could imagine my heart falling out of my chest. I was scared and didn't want to get on the ride.
"You're riding with me," Branson said. "Relax. I've got ya."
Six Flags was packed. It was the Friday before we had to go back to school. Although it was scorching outside, we were having a blast. We didn't need friends to accompany us. Just the two of us—that was the way I liked it. All of his attention focused on me.
Branson had grown a lot in our junior year. He was more mature as well as a lot more physically fit. Muscles rippled in his chest and a cute, tailored haircut accented his blond hair. He'd worn glasses the year before but now, with his new contact lenses, those beautiful blue eyes were even more vivid. Every time I peered his way, I was mesmerized. He had me in the palm of his hand. Whatever he said, I wanted to do instantly. Even the most uncomfortable things seemed all right.
As we waited in the long line to get on that scary ride, Branson propped himself up on the black iron gate, pulling me to him and whispering sweet things in my ear. He cupped his hand against the back of my head, then slowly fluttered his fingers through my light-brown hair, which fell in layers down to the middle of my back.
I loved his attentions. But when I saw a little girl of about nine years old watching us, I felt uncomfortable. She reminded me of Little Orphan Annie, from the movie I'd seen with my brothers the week before. This wasn't a sight she should see: a couple practically making out in an amusement park.
I didn't really want to stop my boyfriend. Things had been great between us in the last two months and I didn't want to rock the boat before school started. However, my instincts pulled me back.
"What are you doing?" Branson asked with subtle frustration. "You're beautiful and you're mine. Don't turn away."
I always melted when he called me beautiful. My three younger brothers called me exactly the opposite, especially when I took too long in the bathroom washing my hair, putting on makeup, and deciding what to wear.
I was always trying to do more to make myself look beautiful. But no matter what I did, I never felt like I measured up to the other girls.
My best friend, Brittany Cox, was drop-dead gorgeous. She had blonde hair like Christina Aguilera. She dressed, talked, and even walked like some of the hottest pop-music stars. I didn't want to be like her, but I did admire her natural beauty. If she woke up and went to school without even combing her hair or putting on any makeup, she would still be beautiful ... and she knew it. Her attitude made me lay into her quite often, but I guess that's what best friends are for—telling each other the real deal. Besides, I wouldn't have traded her for anything. I knew she would always be there for me.
My other good friend, Meagan Munson, was a cute redhead who was extremely shy.
I came across as shy to some people, but I wasn't. I was just not really confident, except on the balance beam in gymnastics. You can't step on the balance beam and do flips without being totally confident that you're going to make your next move.
I'd been competing in gymnastics since I was in the fourth grade. Salem High School didn't have an official gymnastics team, which was a huge disappointment to me. But Mom signed me up at Rockdale County Gym, which had lessons three evenings a week and every Saturday during gymnastics season, which started the same week school did.
Rockdale Gym always competed in a big state meet right after Christmas. This year I really wanted to qualify and compete in the National Championship. All the scouts would be there, and I desperately wanted to go to UCLA or the University of Georgia on a gymnastics scholarship.
The previous year, however, had not been a good one for me. My coach, Mr. Milligent, who had the build and face of a professional wrestler, was really hard on me. I guess that was good in a way. He always got me to do my best.
As much as I wanted to go to college on a scholarship, I also wanted to quit gymnastics altogether so I could spend more time with my friends. That was part of the reason Branson and I broke up so many times. He kept saying, "Gymnastics is coming before me again."
I always tried to make him feel like that wasn't the case, but one day I lost it and said, "Yeah, just like football comes before me every single time. And what are you gonna do about it?"
He shocked me when he said, "I wanna break up."
I thought back to the disheartening moments of being apart from him all that May, not even being able to go near his locker in the hall for fear he might be with another girl.
I didn't want to go through all that again. I wanted this to be the picture-perfect senior year. I could see us being the happiest, hottest senior couple around. As we got off the ride, which I had survived thanks to Branson holding hands with me, I knew we would make it.
My father, Rev. Dave Shadrach, was the pastor of our church in Conyers, Georgia, where we lived. We'd moved there from Conway, Arkansas, four years before. Conway and Conyers were both small country towns, and I had grown comfortable in the growing city of Conyers.
Being a preacher's daughter had never been difficult for me ... until that year. I started to feel emotions for my boyfriend that went totally against the things my dad preached about every Sunday and in our Saturday Bible study and at our Friday- night youth meetings. Abstinence was one of his big messages to us teens, and as adamant as he was about it to the church congregation, he was even stronger on the issues with his own children. He always said he knew how tough it was for us kids, but I knew he wouldn't understand or want to hear about my inner struggles. I could never walk up to him and say, "Dad, I just want to put my hands all over Branson, and when he gives me a peck on the cheek I want the kiss to last for days."
There is so much I didn't dare say. Partly because I knew my dad didn't really want to hear it, and also because I knew I shouldn't feel that way.
Branson and I walked hand in hand to the next ride. Since we were both sweating, we decided it should be Splash Waterfalls.
As we walked I thought, Most precious God, I thank You for answering my prayers and putting me back with my boyfriend. Only You know how much I care for Branson and what a big place he holds in my heart. Now You have given him back to me and I know I need to honor that. But whenever I walk with his strong, tanned hand in mine, like now, I feel a little dizzy inside. I know those feelings are a sign of trouble. Help me stay focused in this relationship. In Jesus' name, Amen.
"Earth to Laurel." Branson's voice broke into my thoughts. "Hey, where did you go?"
"I'm sorry," I said, tearing my gaze from the beautiful, cloudless sky. "I was just looking above. It's such a pretty day."
All of a sudden, with thousands of people walking all around us, he stopped me dead in my tracks and kissed me. After about six seconds, we pulled apart.
"I really dig it that you appreciate the little things," Branson whispered. "And that kiss should show you how much I appreciate you." His voice grew husky and seductive. "I want to appreciate every part of you. Why don't we leave Six Flags and go cruisin'?"
"Aw, c'mon," I said, pulling his hand. "Let's go on the log ride."
I really had been looking forward to Splash Waterfalls. But the main reason I put him off was that I didn't trust myself to leave with him, even though I had just prayed for strength.
The Lord knew I needed to stay in a public place. After some convincing, Branson finally conceded and we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon in the park.
We got home too late to make it to the Friday-night youth meeting, so we skipped it. As Branson drove me home in his blue Camaro, with my head buried in his chest, I was deep in thought. I wondered how I would be able to fight these feelings that Branson was having trouble holding in. I could tell he wanted to take our relationship further, but I couldn't agree to that. A strong voice in my heart and my spirit said no. But my flesh was speaking a language altogether different. And with a guy as hot and handsome as the 6'1", 210-pound stud beside me, I didn't know what might happen if I wasn't careful.
* * *
"I can't believe you don't have a boyfriend," I said to my best friend, Brittany, as she helped me prepare for my date that Saturday evening.
"Boyfriends tie you down," Britt replied. "I prefer the freedom of being able to go out with a different guy every weekend if I want to. That's why I never let a guy think I'm his. Besides, if I had a boyfriend, I wouldn't be able to take care of you and Branson like I do."
"Oh, and I thank you so much," I said sincerely, wrapping my arms around her neck. "We wouldn't be back together if it wasn't for you. I don't know what you told him, Brittany, but it saved us."
She hugged me back. "Don't mention it. It was my pleasure. Do you like my nail polish?" She held up her square, bright-red nails.
"It's a pretty color," I conceded, "but it is totally not you." Brittany was into French manicures, cotton-candy nail polish, and natural colors that go with anything. She got her fingernails and toenails done at a salon every Saturday while I was at Bible study. We were opposites, but for some weird reason, we had a connection.
My family wasn't at all like hers either. When her parents got divorced, she and her brother, Gabriel, went to live with their father. Now that Gabe was off at the University of South Carolina, Brittany was practically an only child. Her father gave her everything she ever wanted.
Meagan was spoiled too. Her parents were still together, but they worked all the time. Meagan was practically raising her younger sister, Elise, who was entering the ninth grade. Their parents always left before Meagan and Elise got up for school, and they didn't return until ten or eleven at night. They were both lawyers—her dad was with the district attorney's office and her mom was in private practice. Meagan always said she was proud of her parents for their accomplishments, but I knew she wished they spent more time at home.
My mom was always around. She'd been a stay at home mom all my life, even after all four of us kids were in high school. I was about to start the twelfth grade. My oldest brother, Liam, the creative one, was going into eleventh grade. My middle brother, Lance, the athletic one, was starting tenth grade, and my youngest brother, Luke, the brain, would be in ninth. Luke was the smartest of my brothers because he'd been around older kids all his life. My father's first priority was always home and family, even though he was the pastor of an always growing church. That was definitely a good thing, but sometimes he could be a little overbearing.
"What should I wear for my date with Branson tonight?" I asked Brittany, holding up two shirts. One was a pale-blue blouse with spaghetti straps and pearly buttons that I begged my mom to let me get last year because "everyone" was wearing them. The other was a scoop-neck beige tank top that went with just about every skirt I owned.
"Ugh! I don't like either one of those," my friend ragged on me.
"But these are my favorites," I cried. I knew my closet wasn't a walk-in mall, but I thought I looked good in some of my stuff.
Brittany tilted her head. "I'm sorry, but both of those shirts are so ... yesterday. You know what I'm saying? Hey, you asked my opinion, and that's it. You have got to get some new stuff already. Tell me you've gone shopping for new school clothes. You can't be wearing last year's stuff. You're a senior now!"
"My mom has picked me up a few pieces here and there," I said in a weak voice.
"Where are they? Pull them out," Brittany insisted, her hands on her curvaceous hips.
"Actually, I haven't even seen them yet. When I was at Six Flags with Branson yesterday, she took my brothers shopping and she said she bought me some stuff."
Brittany's big blue eyes opened as large as the dangly gold hoops hanging from her earlobes. "Girl, tell me I just heard you wrong! Do you mean to tell me you let your mother pick out clothes for you? And she just got you a few pieces two days before school is about to start?"
"So do you want to look good for your date tonight or not?"
I wasn't sure how to answer that question. Sure, I wanted to look good for my boyfriend, but after being with Branson yesterday, I knew the surface stuff didn't matter anymore. Our relationship had gone deeper than that. After all, Branson said he wanted to take it to the next level, and that proved things were extremely serious between us. He loved me and I loved him, and if I wore a paper bag, then my Branson wouldn't care.
So, after talking myself into believing that Brittany's comments didn't make sense, I tossed the tank top on the nearest chair, pulled on the spaghetti-strap top and a modest-length skirt, and smiled at my friend and myself in the mirror.
Brittany sprawled across my bed. "What are you doing tomorrow?"
"It's Sunday; I'm going to church," I replied. It was a dumb question to ask. Brittany knew I went to church every week of my life.
She sat up and folded her shapely legs under her. "But you went to that Bible study thing at your church this morning. And tomorrow's the day before our first day of school!"
"So what's your point?" I asked, curling the ends of my long hair with a hot iron.
"How can you stand being cooped up in church all the time when there's so much stuff to be done? Aren't you sick of being a pastor's kid?"
"Are you sick of being a doctor's kid?" I teased.
"My dad is so tired after working all week that the last thing he thinks about on Sunday is getting up and going to a worship service. And that's just fine with me," Brittany bragged, as if sleeping in on Sundays was a good thing.
I turned away from the mirror, sat next to her on my bed, and looked her in the eye. "For me, going to church is a joy. I have so many insecurities and so many crazy thoughts, the house of the Lord is a safe haven for me. It's a place where I can thank God for all He has done in my life."
She didn't look convinced.
"Our church is different from a lot of other churches around."
"Oh yeah? How so?"
"Why don't you come with me and find out? We go everywhere else together. Why not church?"
Brittany stared at her fingernail polish. "I wonder why they call this 'waitress red.' I've never seen a waitress wear this color. It really is pretty, though, don't you think?"
I couldn't believe my friend was so set against learning more about God. Suddenly, for the first time in four years, it hit me that Brittany couldn't care less about the Lord. But I needed a friend who could keep me accountable, a friend who would help me follow the things of the Spirit, not the things of the flesh. If waitress red fingernail polish and fashionable clothes were so important to Brittany, how in the world could she help me get closer to God?
"So," she said, grabbing a pillow, "tell me about Six Flags yesterday. Did you go straight home afterward or did you guys go ... you know ... parking?"
"What are you insinuating, Brittany?"
"Oh, don't play dumb with me. Remember our conversation two months ago when I spent the night over here? You told me everything that was inside that Christian brain of yours. You said you wanted to put your hands all over every inch of Branson's body."
I got up and looked under the bed for my shoes. "Do you have to remind me? You know I feel horrible about that. I'm trying to put those thoughts out of my mind."
Her eyes sparkled. "Why?"
"You know why," I said, slipping on my Converse All Stars.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. That Bible stuff again. OK, I'll leave you alone for now. But I've got to tell you two things."
"What?" I asked, not sure I wanted to know.
"First of all, we're seniors now, and Branson is so hot he can have his pick of any girl at Salem High. So don't give him a reason to pick someone other than you. Get my drift?"
I nodded. "What's the second thing?"
Brittany looked at my tennis shoes. "You have got to get yourself some platform shoes, girl. Seriously!"
We had a good, long laugh. Then I noticed the time.
"Hey, Branson's going to be here any second. I'll call you after church tomorrow."
"No way," Brittany said, getting up off my bed. "Call me tonight. I want to hear the details."
As I walked her to her car, Branson's blue Camaro pulled up. "Hey, Britt," I said, "I've got to run inside real quick. I don't have my purse or keys, and I need to let my mom know I'm leaving. Can you tell Branson I'll be right back?"
"No problem," she said. "I'll be happy to talk to him for you."
"You're the greatest," I told her, giving her a hug. "I'll be right back." I raced up the sidewalk and barreled through the door.
"So, where are you two going?" my mom asked.
"Just a movie," I said, grabbing my purse and keys off the table in the hall.
"I don't know yet," I said. Rolling my eyes, I added, "Something PG, Mom, I promise."
"Sweetheart, I know you're getting older and you don't think you should have to report to your parents about everything you do. But I need to know where you're going."
Excerpted from Laurel Shadrach Series 1 Purity Reigns by Stephanie Perry Moore. Copyright © 2002 Stephanie Perry Moore. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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