Teaser Tuesday: Emma’s Story

Teaser Tuesday Emma's Story

Several weeks ago, I shared Will’s reaction to one of Emma’s stories in A Year with the Baptists.  This week for Teaser Tuesday, I’m back with the story itself.

I clasp my hands together and lean forward onto the counter.

“Once upon a time,” I begin, and Will groans, “there was a girl.”

“At least it’s not a pencil,” Will comments.

I glare at him.

“Continue,” he says hastily.

“There was a girl,” I repeat, “and things were always happening to her clothes. She would put on a clean new outfit every morning, but by the time she went to bed at night, her clothes had turned to rags. Sometimes her family would rip up her clothes before she could even leave the house. Sometimes she would trip and fall of her own accord and mess up her clothes and when she would return home, her family would finish the job. Soon, all she had left to wear were rags, and wear them she did.

“There were whispers among the townspeople as she ran her errands, and her family and friends even asked her: why didn’t she make herself decent? The girl was ashamed of her rags, and went home night after night to piece them together into something decent. She was not much of a seamstress, however, and soon they all fell apart, and she grew tired of trying to make rags into something wearable.

“One day, she decided not to leave her room at all. It seemed she made everyone uncomfortable when she was in rags anyhow. She didn’t want to wear rags anymore, but she couldn’t do anything about them either.   So she sat in her room, day after day.

“Then, quite suddenly, there was a knock at her door. She summoned enough strength to get up and answer it. There was a woman at the door, holding a beautiful white gown. The girl had never seen anything like it. The woman explained the gown was from a prince who had heard of her plight, and wanted to give her something nice to wear. The girl was touched, but didn’t think she should accept it because of what had happened to all of her other clothes. The woman assured her the prince wanted her to have them that he thought she should have better than rags. The girl eventually agreed.

“As she came out in her new white gown, her family and friends and fellow townspeople saw the change and threw a celebration. They were so happy to see the girl in something other than rags.

“The girl grew and moved away to a new town, with new people, all of whom also were delighted by her white gown. The girl was stunning, and they held her in awe. They insisted she attend all of their town functions, and they would parade her around like a trophy. Her dress dulled to an off-white color from its overuse, but she had no time to clean it. Several tears began to manifest themselves. She was lectured by older townswomen on keeping her clothes in good working order, and one of them even gave her a needle and some thread. But the girl had never been a seamstress, and that hadn’t really changed. Her beautiful white gown looked more and more like rags every day.

“Ashamed, the girl ran away, back to her hometown. While people noticed her gown wasn’t in good shape, they kindly avoided the issue, and let her go about her business. At least it wasn’t rags.”

“The end,” I conclude.

~excerpted from A Year with the Baptists

Of the Persecuted: A Review

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Synopsis (from Amazon):

Laila Pennedy awaits death by hanging. For the Rendow Clan rules the Woodlands Region, aiming to slaughter the Faithful. And she deserves to die. But Lars Landre, the man destined to lead the Faithful out of persecution, has other plans hidden behind his rare and mysterious blue eyes. Rescue.

Following the daring escape, Laila seeks the path of a warrior and vows revenge against the Rendow Clan. She embarks on a dangerous journey with Lars, one in which they endeavor to reach the promised safety of a magical village, to train for battle, and to ultimately assure freedom for those with faith in the Maker.

Clashes of weapons and souls. Brutal loss of lives. Unrequited love. How in all the Woodlands will Laila survive?

About Angie Brashear (also from Amazon):

When Angie Brashear isn’t working or taking care of her family, she writes. Usually at night after her kids fall asleep. She’s a fan of speculative fiction and an avid runner, both of which perplex her nonfiction-reading, football-loving husband. Saved in her early twenties, Angie is grateful for the Lord’s presence in all aspects of her life. She is originally from Rockland, Maine and currently resides in Cameron, Texas with her husband and three children.

You can connect with Angie on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

My review:

I give Of the Persecuted by Angie Brashear 3 out of 5 stars.

First of all, Brashear is to be commended for presenting a Christian worldview in a fantasy world.   It’s hard to do, and while I didn’t agree with every conclusion at which the characters arrived,  I thought it was well-handled throughout the story.

 

That being said, Of the Persecuted was not what I expected.

From the synopsis, I really expected a tight, action-packed plot.  While the plot picked up considerably towards the end of the book, I wanted to see more conflict and action throughout.  I also wanted to understand and explore Laila’s bent on revenge, but it wasn’t terribly developed.  The plot focused instead on other things.

Of the Persecuted is classified as young adult fantasy-romance, but I felt the romance element outweighed the fantasy aspect and believed some of the content was mature enough for an older audience.  I enjoy a story with elements of romance (who doesn’t?), but I came away from reading a few times feeling that the plot focused too much on a build up to romance, and not enough on the struggle between the Rendow Clan and the Faithful, or even Laila’s feelings of revenge.

I enjoyed the cast of characters, from the good to the downright nasty.  I’ve got to say, my favorites were Moyna (you’ll know why if you read the book) and Jolene (a Faithful who knows her desires and commits them to the Maker: “He’s the perfect match for me and I plan to implore the Maker for our union as long as it takes.”)  There were a couple of great twists at the end too.

Aside from the story not being what I thought it would be, or that the romance element was not my cup of tea,  I can sincerely recommend Of the Persecuted to fans of the Christian Romance genre.   So if romance IS your cup of tea (or coffee, or cocoa, or whatever your cup of tea actually is), hop along over to Amazon and buy it! (I have on good authority the Kindle version is FREE for the next four days!)

 

Losing Heart

 

This year has been hard on my heart.   And by my heart, I mean that place inside of me where my hopes and dreams and visions are stored.  Some seasons, they are alive and well, because I am able to cultivate them; other seasons, they wither, because I cannot.  In the tension between what is and what will be, what will be puts up a noble fight, but what is eventually swamps it.   And so, this year has been hard on my heart.

Let’s just say  I’ve spent the past two months imploring God for snack crackers, something I wouldn’t have even considered the beginning of this year.  In fact, by and large, the decisions I’ve made the past twenty months reflect a strong conviction in what God is calling me to do.  The calling hasn’t changed in the past two months:  I’ve just grown tired of waiting for it as what’s in front of me grows more and more appealing.  So I’ve rid myself of any vestiges of hope in what will be, and declared to God, myself, and my closest friends concerning what is, “This is what I want.”  And not for the first time in my walk with Him, God declares to me, “Okay, if this is what you want, I’ll give it to you.  But then you will miss out on this calling.”

Honestly, friends, I know what God is calling me to is what is best.  Furthermore, I know that if I wait, God is going to bring about the things He has revealed.  Problem is,  I am tired of waiting, the hypomone.  I am tired of being in the same place I was a year ago, and I’m willing to do just about anything to make a move, any move.  I don’t want another twenty months to go by, when I am more than happy to accept what’s right here, right now.

And even though God says, “Okay, Lydia, if you really want it,” He’s been sending things into my life that have the potential to revive hope in what He intends, as if to try and talk me out of what I’ve convinced myself I want.

He has resurrected my own words from more hopeful, focused times.

This morning I was reflecting on Israel’s transition from the wilderness to the promised land.  I was thinking about how the wilderness journey is both applicable on macro and micro levels to believers.  On the macro level, this entire life is temporary before we enter eternity in the presence of God.  On a micro level, I think God calls us to something and then puts us in training for as long as He sees fit before bringing us to what He has called us to.  (Re, Wilderness Adventure).

Not that we can’t open doors by getting our little battering rams out and blasting through them, because we certainly can, and sometimes do. I remain convinced, however, that when that happens God continues to block our way until we get so tired of doing it ourselves we look to Him.  And when we look to Him, everything else fades away. We begin to see what’s important, what’s not. God redirects our paths to where we should have been all along. And the best part? He redeems that detour, that path we had no business on, for His glory and our good; it wasn’t a waste of time.  (Doors, Wilderness Adventures).

He has sent dreams.  I know some people don’t believe that God still speaks through dreams, and that’s okay (I guess), but my experience in the last few years has taught me otherwise.  I’m not just referring to the stunning dreams He has sent regarding my call, but troubling dreams that have since come to pass.  These dreams reminded me very recently and in a very painful way that what God reveals, He will bring about.

He has sent words through other people.  Blogger Emily Rose Lewis  wrote a post on the idol of food, and that got me thinking about the spiritual discipline of fasting, which I’ve largely neglected since college.  Honestly, I hate fasting because when I’m hungry, I want my food NOW (hence the food analogy for waiting).  Waiting for nourishment weakens me physically and drains me emotionally, because I’m accustomed (by and large) to having my needs met immediately.  Waiting builds character, whether in fasting, or other areas.

I was also convicted by this quote from Elisabeth Elliot: “Don’t dig up in doubt what you’ve planted in faith.”  There is nothing that has happened this year that makes me  think I misheard or misunderstood God, just the passage of what feels like a lot of time.   Yet, I’m more than willing to dig it all up because things just aren’t happening quickly enough for me.

God sent me a lesson about my personality this week. Apparently, I am an idealist, bent towards optimism. When I shared it with family and close friends, none of them were surprised, because I have always had big dreams for my life. (Example: I fully intended to be the next Peter Jackson until about five years ago). It shocked me to learn that I was optimistic, however, because I am often disappointed in my larger-than-life dreams (either because I grow discouraged with time or because they really are unrealistic), and I actually consider myself deeply cynical. In order to bypass a lot of disappointment over the years, I have short-circuited my inner dreamer and too often along with that, excitement and anticipation over the great and exciting things God is calling me to do.

Finally, God has brought His own Word to mind: precious passages that have brought confidence and comfort time and again as I’ve pursued His calling.

“We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame” (Romans 5:3b-5a). Hope in God’s calling is the result of time-consuming character-building and it is nothing to be ashamed of or back down from.

“It is God who works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Desire and the ability to follow God’s calling come from God Himself.

“For God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). God’s calling doesn’t change. I can fight it, or I can roll with it, but it isn’t going anywhere.

I want to embrace who God has called me to be and what He has called me to do, even those things that are not fully developed or perhaps not even here yet. I think that starts with prayer – prayer for the realization things God has revealed, prayer for continued revelation, prayer for more hope and desire and ability. And I think it continues in dreaming: anticipation and excitement and a level of planning for what’s coming. Not so much that I’m entirely future-focused and missing out on my present, but enough to cultivate God-honoring hope.

Hope

 

God’s Word Does Not Return Fruitless

“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall be My word that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11 NKJV).

I rest in this promise.

God’s word, from His mouth, bears fruit.  It is life giving.

It does not need my help.  It does not need to be reimagined or revamped by me.

By itself, it fulfills the purposes God sends it too.

The enemy tries to get me to let this peace go, to make me think there is something I must do.  Not long ago, I would have taken that bait, but no longer: it is God, solely God who sends out His word to accomplish His purposes.

And then, the more subtle lie: that my purposes, however good and well-intentioned, are the same as God’s purposes.

But maybe, just maybe, when God’s word goes out, it produces fruit beyond what I can imagine or see.

Even more hidden deception comes to mind: that the benefit, the fruitfulness, the liveliness is strictly for the hearer.

No! It replenishes the one who imparts it as well!

Heavenly Father, I confess I overestimate my part in spreading Your word, and underestimate Yours.  I confess that as a writer, as a storyteller I’m continually looking for ways to present the gospel, as if Your word does not speak for itself, as if it needs to be in a clever guise for people to accept it.  Give me a heart to love Your word and to love sharing it with others without presentation. I confess that I always have an outcome in mind when I share Your word with anyone, and I rarely consider that Your purposes in having me share may be different from what I desire.  Give me a heart to leave the framework of intention behind and to just share Your word because it is good.  I confess that when sharing Your word, I am way too focused on the hearer, and not focused enough on  the goodness of Your word for me, and for others who are imparting it.  Give me a heart to see the practicality of Your word for me, and for the teams of people I work with, not just for the people we’re trying to reach.  Most of all, God, give me better and better understanding of how You are in control of where Your word goes and what it does once it’s there. Thank You, God!

“And I, when I am exalted from the earth, will draw all people to Myself” (John 12:32 NIV).

Teaser Tuesday: Emma Gets the Third Degree

Teaser Tuesday Emma Gets the third degree

“Are these assemblies a branch off of the Pentecostal movement?” Pastor Springer wanted to know.

“No, actually,” Emma answered. “Doctrinally, they align pretty closely with the Independent Fundamental Baptists.”

There was a collective grimace around the table, even from little Timothy. Clearly, the Independent Fundamental Baptists were not a denomination to be aligned with, even though Emma had been looking for a common point.

“I’m going to ask you some questions,” Pastor Springer informed Emma. “If any of them go over your head, just let me know and I’ll explain what I mean. Okay?”

Hannah smirked.

“I’m sure I can take it,” Emma replied, confident. “Fire away.”

“Reformed or non-reformed?” Pastor Springer questioned.

Of course.

“Well,” Emma began cautiously, “those of us of the Protestant persuasion are all reformed to some degree, right?”

“What do you mean by that?” Pastor Springer inquired before taking a bite of his lasagna.

“Aside from the Catholic and the Orthodox churches, the denominations we have now are by and large born out of the Protestant Reformation,” Emma answered, “and the reformations that have happened since then. In that case, we’re all reformed.”

“I’ve never heard it put like that,” Jolene said, fork poised mid-air.

Pastor Springer nodded.

“On the other hand,” Emma continued, “if by reformed, you are referring to a adherence to those doctrines of John Calvin that we’ve since packaged into five neat little points, or a doctrine of replacement, or antinomianism, I am certainly not reformed.”

Now Hannah looked unnerved.

~excerpted from A Year with the Baptists

The Big Writing Blitz

I came into some unexpected time off a few weeks ago.  Although I didn’t request it, I had been feeling overwhelmed doing the whole working-two-jobs-AND-writing-a-novel thing, and I was incredibly grateful to see it on my schedule.  I decided to devote that extra time I suddenly had to a writing blitz on A Year with the Baptists , and decided to limit my social media engagement.  (Hence no new content, apart from that crazy brainstorm gone short story).  But, said blitz is over, and I’m back today with some thoughts on this blitz in word vomit format (i.e., no particular order).

First of all, I was going to cancel Netflix.  I really was.  My subscription is up on the second, and I was going to go in on the first and shut it down.  One less distraction, you know.  But Gilmore Girls came to Netflix on the first, and do you know how much I love that show?  So I decided to be disciplined instead.  (All things in moderation).  So far, so good.

Currently, A Year with the Baptists is 72.5K words, 200 (unformatted pages), and 40 chapters.  If I had to guess, I probably have 40K-50K words left before this (roughest of  the rough) draft is finished.

I was able to write 21.3K words in A Year with the Baptists the first eleven days of October, and A LOT happened in that 21.3K words.  I’ve been writing the actual year with the Baptists month-by-month, so I finished up August, September, and am nearly done with October.  Lest you think I’m further along than I actually am, the year with the Baptists starts in May, and is only a part (however large) of the overall novel.

If all of my calculations are correct, and I continue on at the rate I’ve been writing (averaging 1937 words a day), I should finish this draft by October 31st.  And that is my goal because I’d like to work on a new project next month during NaNoWriMo (I know, I know, I’m such a joiner).  Anyway, I probably won’t start revising A Year with the Baptists until December, when it will receive a total overhaul, because (according to my calculations) I’ll have 30K-40K words to cut.

The film-maker in me is actually looking forward to revising: making the plot tighter and snappier.  I already have lots of ideas, and its a challenge resisting the temptation to go back and start from square one right now.  However, the film-maker in me also knows that its better to have too much material than too little, so I blaze forward creating this mammoth, knowing I’ll shape and re-shape until it’s a horse.

There is no way A Year with the Baptists will release in February.  I’ll be blessed (not to mention surprised) if my personal revisions are finished by February, not to mention the time professional editing takes, and of course, beta readers.  I also want to have a more formal launch for A Year with the Baptists than I had for The Field.  That will take planning from me, help from other people, and most of all, time.  I’m shooting for the first half of 2015, but even that might be optimistic.

The beauty of self-publishing is that there’s no rush.

The idea I’ve had sitting on the back burner is a series, so it’s going to take years to write (even though I hope to get a 50,000 word start next month), and I won’t start the self-publishing process on that until it’s finished.

Never fear, though, I’ll have short stories and poems and essays to occupy you in the meantime.

Did I mention things happened in A Year with the Baptists over the past eleven days?  My characters just started doing things, some of them planned, some of them not.  One of the characters up and quit her job, or maybe she was asked to resign.  It’s not terribly clear at this point exactly what happened, because of all the accusations flying around.  Either way, that character is doesn’t have the job she started with anymore.  A different character gave Emma a cactus, and I have a feeling we haven’t seen the end of that.  Obviously there’s more, but those were some of the unplanned moments.

I also made a discovery:  Emma is her own antagonist.  I mean, there are other antagonistic characters, but Emma really seems to have it in for herself at this point in the story.  And she’s just going to get a lot worse before she gets better.

I actually hate that I can’t write without being so analytical about it.  I’d pay to not care that Emma is her own enemy.

There’s this coffee shop in A Year with the Baptists and it’s called The Perc (short for Percolator).  They have a rewards program called Perc’s Perks, and I crack myself up with that one every time it’s mentioned, even though I’m the one who came up with it.  (I may have brought it up on purpose a time or two, just to crack myself up).  I tell you this because as punny as it is, and as amused as I am by it, it (probably) won’t make the final cut.  And you deserve to know just how cheesy I am.

Finally, indignance is NOT a word.  I have tried to make it a word countless times (because I can’t think of the word indignation), but spellcheck always says no.  I mean, come on, if a person is indignant, why is the emotion he or she experiences not indignance?

On that note, I’m done babbling now.

It’s good to be back!

 

The Mysterious Case of Bella Lagerford

The other night an idea popped into my head for a short psychological thriller.  I wasn’t going to be posting this week, because I’m trying to make tracks in A Year with the Baptists (and I have been making said tracks), however, I thought it would make a fun post.

Disclaimer: this story was written completely spur-of-the-moment and has not been professionally edited (nor will it ever be).  Also, I’m not what anyone would call a master (or even apprentice) of the psychological thriller.  I only asked, “What if…?”

So now that your expectations are in the basement, I think we can begin.

The Mysterious Case of Bella Lagerford

by Lydia Thomas

(Copyright: 2014)

It was a crisp October Wednesday the day Bella Lagerford went missing.

Amanda first heard about it that night at dinner. It was a normal family dinner – her father sitting at one end of the table, her mother at the other, and her sister, Susannah, across from her, all eating quietly.

“Did you hear about the Lagerford girl?” her father inquired, cutting into his steak. “Isabella?”

Amanda perked up.

She knew a lot about the Lagerfords, having grown up with them, playing in the park after school. There were five of them: Bo, Brianna, Bella, Brighton, and Ben. In fact, she much preferred the company of the Lagerford siblings to that of her own sister, finding them far more interesting. As far as she could tell, they were always fighting about something amongst themselves, but they were united front against the rest of the world, and this intrigued her. Mr. and Mrs. Lagerford cursed and shouted at them, something Amanda’s parents would never dream of doing, but she felt anything would have been better than the stiff silence that pervaded her own home.

Amanda was most drawn to Bella. She supposed this was because the quiet girl was closest to her in age of all the Lagerfords and they studied dance together every Tuesday and Thursday at Mrs. Cartwright’s studio. Amanda was the better dancer; but of course, she was a year older, so that could only be expected. Bella hadn’t seemed interested in a friendship outside of dance, being the most introverted of her siblings, but Amanda wanted to know the girl, and had persisted in learning little facts about her here and there. Honestly, most of what she knew about the Lagerfords had come through Bella.

Naturally, Amanda was very interested in her father’s news about Bella.

“No,” her mother replied, a forkful of salad delicately poised in the air. “What happened?”

Amanda’s father shrugged.

“She’s gone missing,” her father stated. “Police are trying to determine if foul play was involved.”

“Foul play?” Amanda’s mother clutched a hand to her chest. “Who in the world would want to harm Isabella Lagerford?”

“Hard to say,” her father answered.

Her mother turned to her.

“Was Bella at dance yesterday?” she inquired.

“No,” Amanda mumbled. “She never showed.”

Suddenly, Amanda felt nauseated.

 ***

 Thursday, they found the body.

Mrs. Cartwright had walked into a wall of putridity at the dance studio and nearly vomited before searching the premises for what she suspected was dead vermin. She had not expected to find the graying corpse of Bella Lagerford in the closet behind the mirrors, peering at her with wide open and glazed eyes.

Amanda had been on her way to her dance lesson when she heard Mrs. Cartwright’s screams, and she had run away, afraid of what might have been found.

When she came back later, the studio was sealed off with police tape and a sobbing Mrs. Cartwright was giving a statement. Amanda’s fears were confirmed as a lifeless Bella Lagerford was wheeled past her on a stretcher, and she was certain those glazed eyes were staring right at her.

Amanda vomited, whether from the stench or from seeing Bella in such a state, she couldn’t say.

“Go home,” an officer told her. “This is no place for a young woman.”

 ***

On Friday, the toxicology reports came back.

Needles.  A lethal combination of drugs. An apparent suicide, if only accidental.

“Why on earth?” Amanda’s mother gasped.

And again, Amanda’s father shrugged.

Her parents didn’t know about the cursing and the shouting. Nor did they know this wasn’t Bella’s first time with needles.

But Amanda knew. Amanda had heard it from Bella herself. Bella had used the needles to inject herself with things that would take her far away from the life she lived. But Bella had stopped. Bella had sworn she had stopped after a scary episode over a year ago. Amanda was certain.

***

The funeral was Saturday.

Amanda knew she needed to be present for the Lagerfords. After all, they had been her second family.

“Why are you going?” Susannah asked. “It’s not like you knew Bella beyond dance, or like you know the Lagerfords at all.”

Amanda didn’t bother answering. Her sister could not understand the bond she felt to the Lagerfords.

Brighton would be missing his sister the most. They were closest in age and shared all kinds of secrets, Amanda knew. Brianna and Bella were almost complete opposites and didn’t get along well at all, with Brianna always bossing Bella around and Bella always fighting back, but Amanda supposed Brianna would be grieving in her own way today. Bo gave Bella a hard time, but he was fiercely protective of her, especially when it came to the guys she dated, something Amanda envied. Bella had always babied little Ben – what was Amanda thinking? They all babied Ben. Surely, he would miss her quiet, but staunch presence.

Amanda needed to be there today to fill that void, for all of them.

When she arrived at the church, Mr. and Mrs. Lagerford didn’t seem to recognize her, but Bo remarked, “You were in dance with Bella, weren’t you?”

Amanda nodded and quickly found a seat.

Brianna gave a speech commemorating her sister, and Amanda thought that was wrong, all wrong. The anecdotes of growing up and statements about sisterhood sounded phony and made Amanda’s blood boil. It should have been Brighton, or even Amanda herself. They were the ones who knew Bella best, not Brianna.

Little Ben’s body quaked with sobs in the front pew, and Amanda longed to go to him and wrap her arms around him. That was what Bella would do, she was certain. Amanda stayed seated where she was, fearing the rest of the Lagerfords might not deem it appropriate, especially as the preacher had already begun the eulogy.

Brighton seemed strong, but Amanda was willing to bet he understood about the needles and Bella’s obsession with them, just as she did. They were each other’s shelter from the cursing and the shouting, and no doubt Brighton was glad his sister would never return to that hell. Amanda was glad, too.

Bo sat with arms crossed, radiating sullenness. Amanda imagined he was angry that the one person he could not protect Bella from was herself.

The funeral passed quickly as Amanda observed the Lagerfords. Even after it was over, she stood in the foyer listening to the rest of the mourners offer lame condolences to the family. None of them understood who Bella Lagerford really was and what she meant to her family, at least, not the way Amanda did.

“She’ll always be in your hearts,” one elderly woman remarked.

It wouldn’t be the same, Amanda knew, and she was outraged at the woman’s insensitivity.

“She was writing this story for years,” Mrs. Lagerford replied, “in this leather journal. We can’t find it anywhere, but I wish – I wish we still had it.”

Amanda frowned. It couldn’t be the same as –

“To preserve her thoughts and words,” the woman said sagely. “Tell me, how is Staci holding up?”

Who was Staci?

Mrs. Lagerford choked on a sob.

“As well as can be expected,” she said. “They were as close as two sisters can be.”

Bella had another sister? She’d never mentioned –

Unless –

Amanda’s pulse quickened.

This couldn’t be right.

Bella must have lied.

Amanda dashed out of the church, throwing the doors open with a clatter. She had to get home, she had to see it to be sure.

***

“Isabella, put that away,” Mrs. Cartwright commanded sternly.

As far as Amanda knew, Isabella wasn’t even Bella’s full name; in fact, she was positive it wasn’t because all of the girl’s siblings called her Bella on the playground growing up. Still, the girl shut her blue ink pen in her leather journal obediently and rose to the bar.

Bella danced almost robotically, tirelessly watching her own reflection in the mirror.

“It helps if you stop watching yourself,” Amanda suggested. “Just let go and dance.”

Bella frowned, but said nothing. Bella never said anything.

Amanda sighed. She only wanted to be Bella’s friend, and to be friends with Bella’s family. They seemed so interesting, but she knew so little about them.

Near the end of the lesson, Bella’s oldest brother came in. He clapped, almost sarcastically, as she tumbled out of a pirouette.

Amanda frowned in his direction. So she needed a little bit of work.

“Ready to head home?” he asked Bella.

“Sure,” she said, following him out.

It wasn’t until Amanda finished her cool down stretches that she spied Bella’s journal sitting in the corner of the studio. It was too late to follow after Bella to return it. She would just have to wait until their next dance session.

Besides, she really wanted to get to know Bella better.

***

“No, no, no,” Amanda sobbed as she bounded up the stairs to her bedroom.

Bella had betrayed her, filling that journal with – stories? Some of it had to have been true, though. The needles had to have been real. Why else would she have taken her own life, even if it was only an accident?

Amanda rushed into her room and froze.

Susannah sat cross-legged on her bed, holding Bella’s journal.

“What is this?” Susannah asked coolly.

Amanda shook her head frantically.

“It’s not what it looks like,” she said, a tremor in her voice.

“It looks like you’re trying to get in with the Lagerford family by taking Bella’s place,” Susannah declared.

“No,” Amanda said desperately, “I just wanted to know her, to know them.”

“You went a little far, don’t you think?” Susannah inquired.

“What are you talking about?” Amanda asked.

“You made it look like an overdose,” Susannah said.

“You think I”- Amanda broke off.

“It says here she hadn’t had done drugs in a year,” Susannah said triumphantly.

“Susannah, it’s not real,” Amanda said, accepting Bella’s duplicity. “It’s a story.”

Susannah’s eyes narrowed.

“I have to return it to them,” Amanda insisted. “They need it to remember her by.”

“You can’t return it to them,” Susannah spat. “If you return it to them, it will only be a matter of time before they put the pieces together and realize it was you. You think they’ll accept you as their own when they know what you did?”

“But I didn’t do anything,” Amanda protested.

Susannah tossed the journal aside on the bedspread.

“Lucky for you, the police have ruled it as a suicide,” she stated, “or you’d be the one going down for this.”

She uncrossed her legs and hopped off of the bed.

“What are you talking about?” Amanda asked.

“Don’t worry, Amanda,” Susannah said, “I’ve got you covered.”

Amanda trembled as her sister threw a firm arm around her and hissed in her ear.

“What are sisters for?”