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Ode to Joy - Chapter 6

Criticism is welcome!!! Here's a pic of Zee. Don't worry, I'll post a pic of Nat in the next chapter.
I remember a time when Stony wasn't with us. When me and mom, and my dad were really happy. It could have been yesterday the way I gripped to the memories of spring dew in New Jersey, rosy cheeks of nursery classmates, my daddy's big, wide face smiling down at me.

It's those memories that keep me from going crazy. It's those memories that remind the way Stony treats us is wrong.

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The next morning, I tiptoed down to the living room, the last place I saw her on lookout. I saw the cups of hastily made coffee, the wasted tissue box. I slumped. Stony hadn't come back last night.
I saw mom, curled up small in the woven wool blanket, face strained. "Mom?" I whispered gently shaking her. "Mom."
She groaned and turned to her side. "What?"
"You never answered my question. Can I go to church with Nat?" I whispered.
"Sure... whatever..." She mumbled and slipped back into sleep, and covered her head with the throw pillow. I glanced around the mess. I thought of cleaning up, to cut mom some slack. I thought of her confronting Stony and finally seeing he wasn't worth the beatings, the pain, the torture.
I shook my head. Nah... I had a date to get ready for.

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Maybe I over-thought of my outfit. But I really wanted to make a great impression. Even before mom gave me the thumbs up, I had ransacked my room for the perfect church outfit.
Never did I realize how short most of my skirts and tight dresses were, till I thought of how the churchgoers and repent! People would react. I ended up picking a knee length crème puff skirt and my slim-fitting emerald green top.

Strange, how well the outfit went with Nat's. As if we had planned it. When he drove up at exactly nine o'clock, in a beat up white pick up, I felt like running back up the stairs and choosing the blue blouse instead of this shirt.
He was wearing the boy's version of it. He smiled when he noticed. "What, did you spy on my choice?" He chuckled.
I smiled. "Why would I take fashion advice from you? Maybe you spied on me."
"Nah... you'd need my advice if you wear yellow bunny underwear..." He blushed and looked down.
"Let's get going." I said and kept my head down as we sprinted to the car. Let's just say the car ride was very quiet.

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Half an hour later, we pulled up at a quant yellow brick church on the edge of town. It was two-storey tall with a long winding cul-de-sac in front. The perfect place for taking pictures, especially at weddings.
"Well, this is it!" Nat said. "Christ's Cross Church."
"Well, ain't that a tongue twister." I commented, noticing the sexy cars in the parking lot behind the church. Audis, Mercedes, Porches and if I'm not crazy, one or two Lamborghinis! I snapped my attention back to Nat who had noticed the cars I was goggling.
"Yeah... some of the churchgoers are a little over the top." He grinned and motioned to the people entering the church.
As if the cul-de-sac had turned into a runway, women in the craziest heels and dresses gripped their tuxedo-clad husbands into the church. They made half my closet seem like the nunnery.

I glanced again at Nat's easy-worn jeans and green top. Had he been going here for some time at all? As if he sensed my question he laughed. "Yeah, I'm kinda new here. I just started going in June, when I moved here. Still, I think dressing up for church is overrated. It makes seem as if you only talk to God on Sundays."
I chuckled like I knew what he meant, feeling a little warm.

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The church inside looked like a stadium. The chairs and pews all pointed to the center, the stage. It smelled old, like my grandfather's study room. Adults of all ages arranged themselves from the second and third pew.
Nat cocked his head towards the downward slope that led to an oak door. "The adults have a separate service, then the teenagers join for main service while the kids draw. Come here." I followed him down the stairs to the basement.

I looked up the low-hanging ceiling in the cool basement hideout. It looked even larger than the main church. The peach yellow that extended to the main church evened at the base of stairs and became whitewashed walls with children's drawings hanging on the wall. Tiny crafty angels hung obtrusively over rugs that obviously acted as the classroom for the little ones. Kids of all ages milled about, chatting with their friends.

I couldn't help but notice the divide of ages across the room. The farther away the teens were for the armature angels and doodles of Jesus, the better. The kids my age side of the complex were bare except for art spray painted of the countryside. Nat paused at the base of the wooden staircase and spread his arms at the group. "This," he gestured, "is where the magic begins. We at Christ's Cross have a lovely classroom for children of ages 3 to 19. As you can see, we are closely knit and-"

I covered his mouth with my hand. "You sound like a salesman Nat. I'll get to the bottom of this." I brazenly smiled. He shrugged then brightened as an Asian girl walked up to us. I did a double take at her greenish hair piled high in a messy topknot and funky stockings. Half of it was black and white striped; the other half was the same fiery hue of her hair.

She bounded toward us with a stack of music papers in her arms. "Nat, you're late today." She glanced at me then looked back at Nat. "Do I have to ask? Aren't you going to introduce me?"
"Oh... this is Jenny. I'm showing her around CC." Nat mumbled. I raised my eyebrows. Is this his girlfriend? I snapped at myself. Do I care? Jeez, why else would he invite you to a church?

The girl rolled her eyes and leaned in to me. "Did he give the Christ's Cross Church Sales talk?" She smiled as Nat blushed. "My God, he scares every new kid with that talk." She peered at me from over her glasses and extended her slender hand, pushing all music papers into her left arm. "I'm Zei-Yin Woo, but people who like me called me Zee." Zee readjusted the papers in her arms and gestured for us to follow. "Don't mind Nat, Jenny. He means well, and Loovvees God, he's the worst at impressing the newbies.

"The Sunday school here is my life outside school. The kids here are absolutely adorable. All works on the walls are done by the kindergarteners." Zee paused and gave the walls a sweeping wave. "I wished the kids our age would show the same enthusiasm about the place." She shrugged, glancing over at some of the teens our age on the left.

"High school can do that to people you know." Nat said. I agreed and nodded. Though there was no one I knew from my own school, but then, how many would even bother to come?
"I know what you're thinking, why even come to church when you hate it?" Nat grumbled. "More than half these kids are on the left of the left you know? The king's right hand man or whatever. Their parents have to look good so they look good. And it is good to come to church every Sunday and then pretend in front of the cameras that sometimes they come here 'coz they like it."
Nat was fuming by now and Zee was casually rubbing his arm. She glanced at me and mouthed Jesus Frantic. I smiled.

"Anywho, what sucks is that we're going to be in their school from now on." Zee sighed. "Altus Levo's High School of Performance and Academics." She cringed. "A whopper to say eh? Only people there are like the Pretty Little Liars' cousins. Everything is drama. Everything needs payback."
"Hey, at least you've known them for decades, I've just moved here." Nat said as we settled in the corner with the teens leaning back and passing by. "I used to be her pen pal. Strange huh? People still do that. I used to live in New Jersey, not a long way from here, but we became friends over the years."
Zee smiled. "First summer he's spent here too. What about you?"
I perked up once they let me in on the conversation. I told them I had lived here all my life, we just changed houses, especially after mom's work got good. Mom's name? Mary-May Livingston. Wife of Dr. Livingston?
Yes. Zee smiled and mentioned that if she didn't become a musical sensation, she would become a gyno. I tried to smile back.

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I admit that though I was not an overly-religious person I enjoyed Pastor Wright's message. Today he was talking about hypocrisy in the church and beyond. How the rich and famous in this town pretended as if they didn't have any spots on their cheetah coat. How teenagers especially created a double standard: one for their friends, and one for their parents and the public. Wouldn't be easier to just have oneself to go to?

But then he had to add God into it. I have nothing against the Big guy, but how come He always wraps himself into everything? But my favorite part of the whole show was when Zee played the piano. Her music, what can I say... it was perfect. It was like if Mozart, Adele and Elton had made a piece together. Some people actually gave her a standing ovation when she was done. She blushed and bowed as she accepted the applause. I smiled at Nat who was standing up in his seat for her.

Then I saw him. One of the few who weren't clapping. The boy just slumped down in his seat, his hand on his forehead, a frown on his face. His hair... a mixture of all possible blondes flipped up and down as he moved his hands in a barely audible clap when his father glared at him.
He looked so tired. And his dress- shirt and messily cute hair didn't hide it. The only thing that was alive about him was his eyes: a deep amber brown so ablaze with anger, they seemed red.
I glanced back at Nat as he took his seat and smiled at me. "I'm never tired of Zee's parts. They are always so inspiring."
I nodded in agreement. "Who's that?" I whispered and nudged my head in the boy's direction. Nat shrugged and looked back on the stage as the announcements were said. "That's Ryan."

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Nat's POV

I glared at the only dude hard enough not to pretend for his parents. Ryan, or Ryder to his friends was a total jerk, excuse my language. But insulting words to me are training wheels for him.
I glanced at Jenny who was trying her hardest not to stare at him. I know I did when I first came here. His defiance seeps through his pores and almost ruins Zee's applause.
Zee, thank God, doesn't seem to notice. She bounds up to us a smile pasted on her face. "Whaddya think?"
"It was wonderful, Zee as always." I said. She danced in the aisle before squeezing herself into the pew. She looked around wildly at her fans, before settling on Ryder.
"Hey, who invited the sourpuss?" She hissed. I tooted her as I tried to concentrate on announcements.

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Jenny's POV

The car ride back was better than the car ride there. Zee car-pooled with us and kept cracking jokes from the choir boys' pitched voices to the audience's united smell.
But something was nagging on me... well two things. Who was the hottie who created a dark cloud over Nat and Zee's heads. Ryan...
And I wondered if Stony was back... I wondered if he would explain where he's been, and with whom.
I wondered if I would have Stony and Aileen's united smell to deal with.

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Mary-May's eyes shot open as she heard the familiar clomp of Stony's dress shoes. She righted herself and attempted to create a style with her bed head. She hadn't bathed or brushed her teeth since yesterday, the living room was a mess and... where was Jenny? Casting a glance wildly around, the only movement was of Tim's shadow moving down the stairs.
"Oh my God." She squeaked. Where is Jenny? Her mind screamed. Tim's dress shoes stiffened and he walked down the stairs.
"Good morning Mary-May." He said casually. His body appeared in the walkway, his shoulders blocking the light. He smiled at the mess in the living room. "Stakeout?"

Anger bubbled in Mary-May. "Yes, Tim stakeout! What am I supposed to do when my husband leaves without a call in the night? An apology? At least that Tim?"
Tim's smile dissolved at her eyes, and for a moment Mary-May had thought she had won for once. Brain over brawn, the pen is mightier than the sword!
Then Tim unbuckled his belt, grasped the thin Armani leather in his fists and plunged toward her.

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"Mom! I'm Home!" I shouted as I skipped over the threshold.
I looked at mom sitting in on the floor, looking so small. "Mommy?" I whispered, looking at her. She sighed and lifted her veil of hair. A dark bruise was spreading on her cheek. Tears streaked through her makeup, and made her look like a sad clown.
But her voice was strong. "Baby, could you get the safety kit?" I nodded and ran to the bathroom. As I took down the first aid box, I started to cry. It was my fault. I shouldn't Have gone with Nat. Not when Stony wasn't home. "Mommy... when did he come back?"
"Around noon." She managed as the alcohol burned over her bruised, beaten face. She looked down at the safety kit and clucked her tongue. "We need to restock."
My heart crash-landed in my stomach. What did she say to him?? What did she do? As if reading my mind, she touched my hand. She awkwardly sat up and I noticed the thin stream of blood on her thigh. I tried to imagine it was from her period. "It's something good Jo Lee, maybe it's something good."
The last time something was good, something never included him.
By
Published: 4/11/2013
Bouquets and Brickbats