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Thursday, July 2nd, day 32

And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.

—Exodus 14: 22

“Oh, my gosh you can’t be serious. She’s getting married?”

“Yeah, I guess so,” I told Araunah with forced cheerfulness.

“Hanuara, you have to let Jada and me plan her shower! This is going to be so awesome! Thanks, ’bye!”

“Well, you’re welcome,” I said to the dial tone. Now I had to explain to my mother that my friend of two weeks wanted to plan my sister’s bridal shower. Better get to it, before she hired somebody professional to do it.

I hadn’t wanted the news to get out, but of course it wasn’t my decision, though I felt I owed Araunah and Jada a personal explanation. My mother was doing her phone calls, and my father his, and I had a feeling this was going to be a big wedding. My invites consisted of Araunah, Jada, Lee, Sophia (they were a package deal) and Chris. Blair didn’t want to go. heck, I didn’t want to go. but as the maid of honour, it was part of my job description to show up.

From downstairs, Monica exclaimed how beautiful a wedding cake was, and my mother’s and Aunt Tina’s squeals joined in. The sound grated on my nerves and made me want to jump out a window.

For the first time in years, I decided to check my fan mail. Nothing to get you up like four years of overdue compliments. I resolved to answer everyone, to make the time go by.

Friday, July 3rd, day 33

Mom was thrilled that my “adorable little friends want to be in charge of the bridal shower.” They did do a good job, I had to admit. With free reign of her credit card, they had everything ready in less than a day. Just because it was a Memorial Day, didn’t mean you couldn’t do something in your own house. everything was either blue, purple, or white (including Monica), and there was a whole tent just for presents. Everybody had gotten here on time, and I was sitting chatting with my fellow bridesmaids when Julius tapped me on the shoulder. I smiled and kissed him, and took his hand when he sat with us at the outdoor table.

“So you’re Hanuara’s betrothed,” said Jane Wells, who was looking good in her brief jean shorts and a long-sleeved tee-shirt.

“Jane, betrothed means engaged. I think you mean beloved,” said Kendra Malroy, Monica’s best friend.

“Whatever, you know what I mean. So, where’d you two meet?” Jane nudged me with a wink.

“Crimson Beach. I bought, like, six pounds of ice cream without realizing it, and I was in desperate need of help, and voila, there he was!” I leaned in to him, laughing when he kissed my forehead.

“It was very romantic,” he insisted, smiling at the other girls. “We watched dolphins at sunset, and Steven shot off fireworks, and I knew I was in love.”

I froze in shock. Did he just say “In love”? I gave him a questioning look, but now was not the time to go into freak-out mode. The other girls awwwed and looked at him dreamily, and all the while I was just grateful that he was mine. And no one else’s.

“I met Dallas at the bottle depot,” said Francine Vickerson. “He told me that I should really learn to take the caps off the bottles, to save him the time of doing it.”

We all stared at her. “How odd,” said Jane.

Francine shrugged. “We’re still together, after all these years. Isn’t that what counts?” We agreed.

Jada and Araunah, wearing blue-and-violet feather boas around their necks, skipped up and asked how we were enjoying the party, and if we had tried the guacamole. “Ancient family recipe!” Araunah winked at us. About half my table got up to go to the snack table, and I took the momentary distraction to pull Julius into the fenced off back yard. Here the lights from the party couldn’t reach us, and it was almost pitch dark. But I could see his face perfectly.

“Did you just say you’re in love with me?”

He looked down at our clasped hands. “Yes,” he said softly. “I was going to tell you, but I wasn’t sure of the right time. I wasn’t quite sure if you felt the same way.”

“’Wasn’t quite sure’? I thought I made it perfectly clear!”

He smiled sadly. “People lie, Hanuara. You are like an oasis in the dessert to weary traveller, beautiful, but too good to be true.”

“But I’m not. I love you too, with every part of me that’s real. Honest.”

He wiped away a tear and then kissed my cheek. “Okay, I believe you. And thank you.” When I reached up to kiss him, his arms circled my waist in a way that was very sweet and just that—loving.

Until he hooked his index fingers in the loopholes of my jeans and began to pull down.

Gasping, I pulled away from his lips. “Julius what are you doing?” I asked, frozen with absolute and total shock. He didn’t say anything, just approached me again, begging me with his eyes not to pull away. His hungry, half-crazy-in-lust-eyes. When he placed his hand on my stomach and his fingers began creeping up, I pulled back my fist and slugged him in the face.

“Julius Felix Lorenzo!” I screeched softly as he touched his face with a shocked hand. “Is this what this was about the entire time? You know what, I have had to deal with your kind of slime ever since I was old enough to date, and I really thought you were different. But you know what else? You’re not. It’s over. Good-bye!” Still not believing it, I tried to turn away, but I was still rooted in place by my cold disbelief.

“Hanuara, no—” he reached out to me, which was honestly the wrong thing to do at the time.

“Did you not hear me?” I shrieked, letting my voice out a decibel. “I said GOOD-BYE!” Face flushed with anger and embarrassment and suppressed tears and disappointment and every other jumble of mixed up emotions I was feeling just then, I stormed around to the other side of the house. Lee was there, speaking on the phone, and he snapped it shut.

“What’s wrong, Hanuara?” he asked.

“Nothing.” With one rage-fuelled leap, I caught the edge of my balcony and hauled myself up and in.

I refused to let the tears flow. Storming around aimlessly in my room, I seethed. Right after he told me he loved me, he had tried to…but I couldn’t finish. Just the thought of what he had almost done made me blush three shades of red. But the nerve of that guy! And I had honestly thought he loved me. I really thought he cared. With a choking sob, I fell face-first on my bed. He had called me a desert oasis. He had looked so sincere. In his deep brown eyes, I had seen something deeper than love, something more than compassion. But, to quote him, people lie. He lied, he had been the whole time. It heart felt like my was going to stop beating any second now.

I remembered the first time I saw him standing there, in the line buying ice cream. His eyes were so warm, just like they had always been whenever he looked at me…and then I realized something. He had been in the line to buy ice cream, but when I had offered to give him one of Blair’s sundaes, he had said no because he was on the swim team. If he didn’t eat ice cream, why had he been in line? The only thing that shack sold was ice cream, not water or Coke or anything. just ice cream. With this new and odd realization, my tears stopped cold-turkey. I had no explanation.

“Mary? Are you in there?”

Monica poked her head in the door, her eyes the picture of concern. “Are you okay?” She caught sight of my tearstained pillow and sat on my sofa. “Lee said you left in a huff, and I just wanted to see if you’re alright.”

Though she was obviously feeling better, her long beautiful hair had been chopped off in apprehension of chemotherapy. Now it was in a short boy cut that made her look impish. Her eyes were still sunken in quite a bit.

“I’m fine. Now. I just broke up with Julius, though.” I tried to shrug like it was no big deal, but the thing is, it was, and it showed.

“Can I ask why?”

Again, I shrugged, more convincingly this time. “He crossed the line. You know.” I focused on a spot above her head.

“Oh. that.” uncomfortable, she got up with some effort and touched the First Love painting I had hung on the wall. “This is new. Where’d you get it?”

“From the museum in Gambry. The girl there, Raquel, gave it to me. Lee has like, this secret membership to this back room filled with paintings and stuff.”

“Yeah, Lee’s pretty cool that way. too bad about that Sophi, though. Now, she has a debatable personality. Its so odd that they’re together.” Tell me about it. “But, if you’re feeling better, do you want to come back to the party? We’re going to open the presents, and then Jada’s going to dance.” As appealing as that sounded, I said I would rather stay here. she understood and didn’t push me, just said I was welcome to come down whenever I wanted. Actually, I never wanted to come out ever again. but, since that was obviously not an option, I settled for just the night. And maybe tomorrow. And the day after that…

Saturday, July 4th, day 34

“Lee, I don’t want to go,” I said for the eighteenth time. “I’m sick.”

“Great!” he said brightly. “I’ll pick you up in twenty minutes.” he hung up. Annoyed beyond belief, I pressed end and reached for my bathrobe. No reason I couldn’t look presentable when I refused his offer to Forksburgh for the nineteenth time. fifteen minutes later I was showered and dressed and brushing my hair. My annoyance peaked when I realized I was trying to imitate the way he had combed my hair into blond perfection that one day. I angrily flung my brush on the vanity and raked my hair into a messy braid.

Lee was just about to knock on the door again when I threw open the door. “I’m not going with you to Forksburgh!”

“Nice place.” He let himself in. “Very spacious.”

“Lee, get out.”

He held up his hands. “Oh, come on. Hanuara, a break-up isn’t the end of the world. Actually, it could be the start of a new freedom for you. Now you’re single.” He smiled, pleased with his little speech.

I, on the other hand, was ready to call in Sam and Carl. Lee may look like he could take on the world, but Sam and Carl were sworn to do my bidding. I glanced at them, ready and waiting. “Who told you me and—him—broke up?” I asked, crossing my arms.

“Are you kidding? He stumbled back to the party—crashed it, really—with his face swollen up like a balloon. Before that, you stormed into your room. It’s not hard to put two and two together.” He looked at me as if to wonder how I dared demean his intelligence.

“Yes, well, now you know why I don’t want to go anywhere. Especially not with you.”

He looked injured. “What’s wrong with me?”

“You don’t listen, first of all. I don’t think I could tell you how many times I’ve said GET OUT.”

“Well, counting that time, which I’m sure you would, that would only be two. Honestly, even for a celebrity, I thought you’d be able to count that high.”

Now he was insulting me and interrupting my sob-fest? That was lower than low, and I was not going to stand for it. “Lee, if you don’t leave right now—”

He cut me off with a wave of his hand. “Okay, how about this? If you come with me to Forksburgh, I’ll buy you a giant brownie at the bakery. Girls like chocolate, right? especially after a nasty, nasty break-up.”

The way he looked at me then, teasingly yet inviting, I found myself warming to the idea of not spending the day holed up in my room. And anyway, what had I planned to do, sleep all day? Lee was a friend, and I needed a friend right then. what better a way to satiate that need by spending time with a friend? Like he said, it isn’t hard to put two and two together.

“Fine,” I said, trying to sound defeated, when really I was pleased that he hadn’t given up. “Just let me go get my coat. It looks like it’s going to rain again.”

“What about my big brownie?” I quipped as we passed the Forksburgh Flower Bakery. “You promised me a big brownie.”

“I know, you’ll get it. after we go to the orphanage.”

“The orphanage? What on earth are we going to the orphanage for?”

He smiled. “You’ll see.

The orphanage was in downtown Forksburgh, and just like downtown Tianam, it was a bit older and crummier than the uptown part. The orphanage was even more so. Lee held the door open for me. the entrance was clean and orderly, and a desk clerk sat in one corner. From behind a wall, I could hear giggling and shouting. “Go on in,” said the clerk. “They’re waiting for you.”

“Thank you, Madeleine.”

Did he come here often, then? we went down a hall that the kids had obviously painted. The place was bright and sunny, and smelled like baby powder and apples. The floor was carpet, and the windowsills were painted different colours. If I was an orphan, I would definitely come here first. We opened a door painted with incomprehensible squiggles.

“LEE!” shouted about thirty voices. A wall of children, from two- to thirteen-year-olds, rushed forward and entangled themselves in Lee’s legs, some crawling onto his back or into his arms. He laughed.

“Hey, guys! You miss me much?”

Esta mujer es bella y muy alta,” said a little girl with blond curls, pointing at me.

Muy bien, Christina. But she is not as tall as I am, is she?”

Adonde esta el baño?” asked another child.

“i’ve been teaching them Spanish,” Lee admitted. “But guess what else I’ve been teaching them?” He didn’t bother to answer his own question, but the kids did seem to know what he was talking about. They clapped their pudgy little hands, and ran chaotically around the room. Lee reached behind a changing table and pulled out a boom box. He whistled loudly and the children all lined up, as orderly as drill sergeants, and definitely faster than I would have believed possible. Lee set the boom box down, and popped in a CD. The intro of an angry, wordless song came on. Trying to hide giggles, the children danced. They didn’t do handstands or back flips or anything horribly complicated, but they were very good. Even the youngest two-year-old kept up with everyone else. The music changed to something you might here on an Airwick commercial, and their movements grew slow and almost lethargic, except for the fact that they couldn’t seem to stop their silly smiles. Every now and then, one of them would break out in a random giggle. At the end of the dance, they were all lying on the ground in what I assumed was symbolic of wilted flowers. Turning around, I saw that the children had gathered an audience. The secretary, and who I assumed was caretaker with a whole bunch of little toddlers who had just learned to walk were clapping loudly, whistling and cheering.

“Good job, guys!” He praised them in Spanish for a  couple seconds, and they nodded like they actually understood. They were all over Lee again, asking “did I do good?” while gazing up at him wiht expressions of hero worship.

We all agreed, praising the children’s hard work, laughing when a little boy asked if dancing would “give me muscles as big as Lee’s?” Honestly, seeing him with the kids was like seeing the Hulk playing with calico kittens. But it was a sweet picture. They looked at him with their wide little eyes as he told them that, yeah, it probably would. They cheered when he flexed for them, and then got down and did push-ups with two five-year-olds on his back. he didn’t even seem to care that we were watching him with awed amusement. He was all about the kids.

“But there was a lesson in all of that.” we were on our way back to his homely purple Chevrolet.

“Oh? and what was that?”

“Art is hope,” he said simply, and I understood his double meaning. “And do you remember how I told you art is perseverance? That’s because we have hope that it will pay off. They go together.”

“But what if you try and try and nothing works?”

“Then you try something different, but never lose sight of your goal.” He sounded a bit too Master Yota for me, but that was the way it was with him. take or leave it, he didn’t care. He was just there to offer the advice.

So, I though resolutely, if Lee was anything to go by, there was hope for us yet.

Thanks for Stopping by!

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.”
~ Romans 15:13

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