Hamilton’s mouth kept moving, but Gabby couldn’t hear anything he was saying. Her world fell mute the moment her lanky love interest terminated their friendship. As he stammered and avoided making eye contact, she grew fixated with his ears for some reason. She’d never noticed them before. They were small and tight against his head.
Plus, they were cute. Like him.
Their kids would be lucky to get his ears.
“Gabby?” he asked. “Are you listening to me?”
“Yes. Of course I am. But the truth is, Ham, I don’t believe you.”
“I think we’re good for each other.”
“Good for each other? Are you kidding me? I haven’t slept all week. Stealing cars, professional killers, and Russian thugs who track me down online are not good.”
“I can explain that—”
“I can’t do this anymore, Gabs. You, of all people, should get it.”
“Why me of all people?”
“Because you hang out with Father Peters and all that, trying to find your religion and all. It’s important to you, right?”
“It’s a work in progress, but yeah,” she said.
“Well, I’m trying too. Almost every time I go to confession, I’m confessing something I’ve done with you. Does that sound like we’re good for each other?”
“No…” She paused, troubled by the thought she could be damaging his soul.
“It’s gotten too hard,” he said. “Friendships are supposed to make us better, not worse. Right? I mean, c’mon, Gabs. Has it been easy for you? Lately, whenever we’re together, you look at me weird. You barely say anything unless you’re barking orders or something. We used to have fun. Hang out for the sake of hanging out. But, ever since… well, since the Fourth of July, it’s been a lot harder. I used to see your number on my phone and get excited. Now I have a panic attack.”
His observation begged for an explanation, one that could justify why their friendship hadn’t run its course, but the truth of his words cut her like a machete. She had no choice but to agree with him.
“Right…” she said. “You’re absolutely right.”
“How did you see this playing out, Gabs? How close to prison did I have to get before you stopped asking me to do things you know I shouldn’t do? I thought you’d be the one who would protect me from the dark side of human nature, not surround me with it. Evil people gravitate to you like a magnet. I’m not strong enough to live in your world, Gabs. You go where I can’t.”
“I get it, Hamilton,” she whispered, stopping him. “You’ve made your point.”
The ache welling up in her heart spread through her body like a virus, contaminating everything within her and filling her with profound sadness. Neither tears nor rage could express her suffering. Gabby’s emotions washed out of her like watercolors left in the rain, seeping into the earth beneath her feet, their vibrancy fading from bold hues to empty shades of gray.
Hamilton stepped forward to offer an apologetic hug, but Gabby swatted his arms away.
“No,” she said. “You’re not going to betray me with a kiss. Or a hug. Or whatever.”
“I’m sorry, Gabs,” he said. “I’m so sorry.”
He took a few steps backward, trying to say something more, but then shook his head and started toward the parish hall.
Gabby remained motionless, staring straight ahead, not looking at him, but through him, passed him, focusing on nothing and everything. Her eyes finally settled on the cross adorning the top of the church, her senses numbed by her sudden loss. Unable to feel the warmth of the air or smell the salty breeze drifting off nearby Safety Harbor, her nerve endings no longer responded to her commands. Her legs wouldn’t move, and her breath started to fail her.
The recipient of a malevolent bolt of lightning, her life had instantaneously turned from normal to surreal. She closed her eyes, expecting she would find herself awake in her bed at any moment, staring at its ugly popcorn ceiling.
This can’t be real. I’ll wake up from this. I’ll wake up.
Nothing changed when she gazed upon the church once more. A life without Hamilton threatened to pull down one of the pillars supporting her fragile life. All of it could crumble to dust.
She was stuck. She didn’t want to go to youth group anymore, nor did she want to go home. Yet, inside of her, she felt a nudge drawing her toward the church. A pull.
Maybe she could pray her way out of this.
That hope was replaced by anger and the culpability she placed on God for not stopping her friendship’s demise. Just like how he didn’t stop her mother from dying, her town from exploding into rivers of blood, or her best friend from being kidnapped during a hurricane.
If God can do anything, why does he do so little?
Through her emotional haze, she heard a familiar voice and spotted Father Peters waving to her, beckoning her to join them in the parish hall.
She didn’t move. Nothing inside that building interested her anymore.
Actually, that wasn’t true. Hamilton was in there.
Maybe, after some time, he’d rethink his decision. If Gabby stayed on her best behavior, maybe they could be friends again, the way things were supposed to be. The way she needed them to be.
With cautious strides, she headed toward the parish hall. With each step, she buried her emotions inside. She wasn’t going to give Hamilton, or God, the pleasure of watching her break. She’d faced more threatening foes before, ones who were more callous and evil. They had cut her, beat her, and threatened the lives of those she held most dear, but none of them had wounded her as deeply as Hamilton had.
As she entered the hall, she found a circular formation of plastic chairs. They were all filled except for one directly opposite of Father Peters. She scanned the large group of teens and found Hamilton sitting next to Melanie. Scott sat at her side.
When did Melanie find religion?
As expected, Emma was a no show. She’d dropped off the face of the earth after her mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She didn’t seem interested in asking God for help with her problems either.
“Gabby?” Father Peters asked. “We’re waiting…”
All eyes, sans Hamilton’s, stared at her.
“Sorry,” she said.
She eased into the cold seat as Father Peters opened with a prayer. Gabby half listened as he prattled on about how he hoped God would work through them for his greater glory. It took all of her strength to keep from warning them from saying yes too quickly.
Read the fine print, people! It’s not all that it’s cracked up to be.
At the conclusion of the prayer, Father Peters took a deep breath and leaned forward, placing his hands on his knees.
Uh-oh. I’ve seen that stance before. We’re going to dive deep into the theological pool.
“Today,” he started, “I’d like to talk about the concept of martyrdom.”
“What’s that?” Melanie asked.
“In very general terms, it’s when people are killed for what they believe.”
Gabby glanced at Hamilton and thought that was a great idea.
Tomorrow – Chapter Five
This novel follows up almost immediately after the events which unfolded in Kneel & Prey, Lost & Found. and Sins & Suicide,. If you haven’t read the first novel, download it for free. I hope you’ve enjoyed this free sample and let me know what you think in the comments.