Untitled Novel—Chapter 1

(From the story I am working on)

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ONE — A Party

“God… I just can’t do this anymore.  Help.  Please.”

I lifted my tear-stained face from my dampened pillow. I must have laid on my bed for hours; through the closed curtains I could tell that the light outside was now just beginning to fade, and that it would soon be night. And that evening I and my three roommates would be hosting a party, and I knew I needed to get up and start getting the house ready for the guests. But I lacked the slightest speck of motivation to get up. I didn’t feel like getting the house ready. I didn’t feel like hosting a multitude.  I didn’t feel like being among a whole bunch of people. I felt exhausted, confused and overwhelmed with grief.

Let me explain why.

A lot was going on in my life. For the past few years, I had been dealing a sort of depression. That depression climaxed when my sister Monica, who had been battling cancer for two years, died a few months back. Thankfully back then I was home from school for the summer, and could be with her the day she left us. Monica and I had been the best of friends growing up; we were only two years apart. And although I knew that Monica was with the Lord and happier than ever before, I missed her terribly. I wanted her back. Her illness and then death had caused a lot of stress among our family—we still loved one another, and there was still peace among us, but for so long we have felt such an absence of joy in our home. So much so that I, in a way, was happy when summer break was over, and I could leave my home and go back to college, where I had hoped the environment would be just a little bit more joyful. While it was a little more joyful at school, the stress of school on top of family situations and my sister’s death was overwhelming. My grades were not doing well at all, and this was a constant source of much agony. Last but not least, I was sick and tired of my perfectionistic conscience. The bar was set at an unattainable height; everything I did, and thought, and desired, had to be just right. I wanted to glorify God in everything I did. But I am human. I tended to set standards for myself that were not realistic. I was forgetting to give myself grace, and to put my hope in God for help to overcome my sins. And, oh, the sin I was struggling with—fear of man, which often caused me not to do what I felt I should do, or to say what I should say—overwhelmed me. I knew I needed to look to Christ and trust that in Him I was forgiven, and I was trying, but why were the doubts so hard to shake off? Why did I still struggle with guilt?

Back onto the pillow my head rested. I lay there, gazing absent-mindedly at the crack in the wall, as I mulled over these unsettling thoughts for what seemed like the millionth time. “Lord,” I whispered between quiet sobs, “I just don’t feel at peace. Everything’s just too much. And I’m trying to hold onto You, but I’m so weak. Just help me not to let go. And don’t let ME go. I need You, God. I need You.”

 

My prayer was interrupted by a knock on her door. “Come in,” I said, attempting to steady my voice.

The door opened, and in walked my roommate, Lucy. “Willow?”

I had closed my eyes, trying to give the impression that I had been napping.

“I’m sorry, did I wake you up?” apologized Lucy.

“No, you’re fine,” I answered quietly.

“Were you sleeping?”

“No…”

Lucy looked a little concerned, and sat down on the edge of my bed. “Are you doing alright? Have you been just laying on your bed in this dark room this whole time?”

I sat up and wiped my eyes with the sleeve of my sweater. “It’s just unexplainably hard right now. School is just too much. And I miss my sister. And I’m constantly plagued by doubts. I’m trying to hang onto the truth, but–” I could not say a word more…and I didn’t have to. Lucy was well familiar with what I had been going through.

Lucy put both arms around me and hugged me tightly, and I hugged her back. We sat there for a good while, saying nothing.

At last Lucy spoke. “I’m really, really sorry, Willow. Truly. And I don’t know what to say or how to comfort you. I wish I knew how to make you feel better. But I don’t. But God does. So don’t give up crying out to Him. He will help you.”

I nodded in agreement. This was only a season; things would get better eventually.

Lucy stopped hugging me, stood up, and looked at me sympathetically. “Love you, girl.”

I smiled a little. “Love you too. Thanks.”

Lucy smiled back. “I think what you need right now is some fellowship. And there’s a fix for that, as people are coming in an hour and a half. Are you able to help us get ready?”

I nodded and got up.

 

We made our way into the kitchen.

“I need to check on my banana bread,” said Lucy, opening the oven, then slamming it shut. “Nope. 20 more minutes,” she said, adjusting the oven timer.

“What needs to be done?” I asked, trying to cheer up.

“Do you want to get those cookies out and put them on a plate? And then while I make lemonade, do you want to make sure the back porch looks presentable? Maybe turn on the Christmas lights?”

“Sure.” I took a spatula and removed the freshly-baked, just-cooled sugar cookies from the two pans on the counter, and neatly arranged them on a plate.

“Alrighty, these just go on the table then?”

“Yes. Wow, that’s quite the artsy arrangement there!” said Lucy, evidently impressed by the neat little mountain of cookies I had made. I, however, thought nothing of it. “Well, thanks!” I laughed, placing my cookie-tower on the table, then went to see that the back porch looked worthy of company.

 

“Anything else?” I asked, as I returned to the kitchen.

“Not that I can think of,” said Lucy. “I think we got everything we need to do done… Sarah and Lindsey are coming home in a few minutes, and they offered to make popcorn and a couple other snacks.”

“Sweet,” I said. “I’m going to go change and get ready.”

 

I walked into my room, which was now much darker than it had been when I was in it last. I turned on the light and looked in my closet through my dresses. I took out a red one, put it on, and looked in the mirror.

“Am I feeling this?” I wondered to myself. “Is it even long enough? Nah… not really. I think I need to retire this one.” I flipped through all my other options, and found my grayish-blue dress, with thin, vertical stripes and buttons down the front. I put it on and looked at myself again. “Hmm.. yes, much better. Yup, I’m going with this one.” My gaze went up from my dress to my head, and noticed that my hair was a mess. I grabbed her hairbrush, brushed it, and twisted it into a top knot. Then I put on my oxfords, and spritzed a little perfume on myself to finish it off. I then stepped back and looked at my reflection once more, to make sure everything looked just right. It did. I was satisfied with how I looked… I looked good. I hoped it wasn’t too vain to think that about myself. Then my heart, having momentarily forgotten its sorrow, sank again as I gazed into my own eyes and sighed. My outward appearance portrayed the exact opposite of what was going on inside my head. From the outside, I looked confident and cheerful; as if I had it all together. However, I didn’t have it all together; everything seemed to be falling apart. “I can’t be with people tonight”, I thought. “I’m a wreck. I don’t want to fake being happy. I want to actually be happy.” A tear rolled down my cheek, and I turned away from the mirror. “No. Stop,” I told myself. “Why am I so gloomy all the time? Life is hard, but God is still good, and I have a choice to choose joy right now. So, tonight I am going to be happy, and enjoy myself tonight. At least I will try my best. I will set my mind on pleasant, happy things. I will trust God with my failures and my sadness, and forget them for a while, and enjoy Him through some fellowship with other people.” I felt better after this self-exhortation. “Help me with this, God,” I prayed as I left my room. “Now what grace do you have for me tonight? Help me to have eyes to see it.”

 

“Wow, you look cute, Willow!” said Lucy, when I came back. “Is that a new dress?”

“It is,” I said.

“Really cute.”

I nervously laughed a little. “Thanks.”

 

Just then, the door had opened, and Sarah and Lindsey walked in with a few grocery bags.

“Welcome home!” said Lucy.

“Thanks!” said Sarah, as she and Lindsey set their grocery bags on the counter.

“What did you get?” I asked.

“I got some candy, some nuts, some crackers, some fancy cheese, and this huge summer sausage,” Sarah said.

After washing her hands of any grocery store germs, Sarah went to knife drawer and pulled out a knife, got a cutting board, and started slicing the cheese and sausage, and arranging it on a plate, along with the crackers. Then she set it on the table along with the rest of the snacks.

“Okay, so, we’ve got candy, nuts, a cheese-and-cracker plate, cookies, lemonade, water… and the banana bread is coming…” Lucy said. “That’s good, right? Are we missing anything?”

“I don’t think so,” said Lindsey.

“Okay, awesome.”

Everything was ready, and it was only a matter of waiting until the guests came.

 

About half an hour later, the doorbell started to ring every five minutes, and the house started filling up with people.

“Willow, would you mind getting that?”  Lucy asked, as the doorbell rang just as she was taking her just-cooled banana bread out of the pans.

“Absolutely,” I said, as I hurried to the front door.

I opened it, and saw that it was my good friend Nathan.

“Oh, hi, Nathan!” I said. “Welcome!”

“Thank you!” said Nathan. “How are you doing?”

“Ehhh… better than I deserve… how about you?”

“I’m doing alright myself.” said Nathan. “That paper, though, has been a real pain in the neck. I don’t know what my thesis is yet.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said, sympathizing with him, but not quite knowing how best to reply.

“If you don’t mind my asking,” said Nathan, “So you’re better than you deserve? That’s quite true (for everyone), but what did you mean by that? …Unless you’d rather not say–”

At that moment, the doorbell rang again. I hurried again to the door, and as I unlocked it, I looked back and said, “We’ll talk.”

“Sounds good.”

I opened the door. “Hey, Quinn, Nick, Justin! Welcome.”

The three guys walked in, and I closed the door and locked it after them.

 

The the guys, along with Nathan, went to the living room and found a seat, as did I. “How are your papers coming along?” I said, trying to start a conversation.

“Quite swimmingly…” said Nathan sarcastically.

“And how about the rest of you?”

“Ehhh…” was all Justin said.

I and the others chuckled.

“I take it that it’s not going too well?” said Nathan.

“Not really.” replied Justin.

“I’ve got one page so far,” said Nick, “and no thesis.”

“Not bad,” I said. “How about you, Quinn?”

“Two pages of word-vomit.”

“Hey, that’s better than I have!” I said. “I’ve got only a couple of paragraphs. I think I have a thesis, but I hope it will work.”

 

Pretty soon, everyone had come—about 24 people in all, all of them students from my school. The house had become rather noisy, and the noise exhausted me. Don’t get me wrong, I love people and I love having them over, but 24… that is a large group of people. After a couple hours of being in the presence of a large multitude, I can become very tired and want to retreat to the solitude of my room. That, however, was not an option, as I was one of the hostesses of this party. I would have to persevere until the end.

 

I was in the kitchen, making more lemonade. The guests had finished the pitcher that was on the table, and I had heard some disappointed laments of “The lemonade’s all gone!”, and figured that I should make more. Anything to have a few precious moments of time away from the crowd.

Nathan suddenly poked his head in the doorway, like a gopher suddenly popping up from his burrow. It made me laugh.

“Hey!” he said, “Anything I can help with?”

“Well… is anything on the table running out?”

“Let me check,” he said, his head disappearing from sight as quickly as it had appeared.

He came back with a nearly empty plate of cookies. “Do you have any more cookies, or was that it?”

“Oh, we’ve got more. Do you want to put some more on the plate for me?”

“Sure!” said Nathan.

I continued squeezing lemons, as he replenished the cookies, piling them rather haphazardly on the plate, not really caring about aesthetics.

“So was the conversation boring out there?” I asked.

“No, it wasn’t,” he said. “I just thought you might need some help.”

“Well, thanks.” I said. “That’s nice of you.”

“…Also, I’m dying to finish our conversation.” he added.

“Oh.” Right now?

“So…” he said, “Let me ask again, that is, if you don’t mind my asking… how are you doing?” It wasn’t creepy of him to ask; we were good friends, and talked about all sorts of things together. I was okay with being somewhat honest with him.

“Well…” I sighed. “It’s been rather difficult lately.”

His face grew serious, and showed a hint of concern. “How so?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said, “School’s been going a bit roughly for me, and then on top of that, I miss my sister—you know, the one who died—I told you about her, right?”

“No, actually not,” he said. “I didn’t know your sister died. Wow, that’s really hard.”

“I know.” I said. “I miss her a lot.” I fought back the tears. I did not want to start crying in front of him.  That would be embarrassing.

“When did this happen?” he wondered.

“Oh, it was a while ago. Two years,” I said. “But she was my best friend growing up.” Despite my endeavors to hold tears back, they did come. I was silent as they came—no awkward sobbing—but in order to successfully avoid awkwardly sobbing, I was unable to speak for a good minute or so.

At last I was able to speak. “Anyway,” I continued, when I could steady my voice, “That, and school, and struggling with doubts about assurance of salvation, and just not feeling at peace. Yeah.” I nervously laughed, wiping my eyes again. “A lot’s going on.”

“Wow,” said Nathan. “That is a lot… I had no idea… I’m really sorry.” I could tell he felt sorry for me, but didn’t know how to properly express it.

“It’s okay…” I said, even I thought in my heart I felt the exact opposite. No. Everything was not okay. But I had given him an idea of what I was going through, and would stop there, even if I hadn’t even scratched the surface. He didn’t need to know everything.

“I wish there was something I could say,” he said after a moment’s silence, “but at least I’ll definitely be praying for you, that God would comfort you and give you peace.”

“Thanks,” I said, a little comforted.

“What are friends for?” he smiled.

Nathan by then had finished with the cookies, but stayed and kept me company as I finished making the lemonade. I changed the subject, asking him how many siblings he had, and he told me he had 10 siblings—six sisters, four brothers—and that he was the youngest of them all. Then he proceeded to tell me stories about some of the ridiculous things he and his siblings had done growing up. I laughed until I could hardly breathe. It wasn’t so much the events that took place in the stories that made them so funny, but rather the animated way in which he told them. At last I had finished the lemonade, and he and I brought it and the cookies to the table.

 

Eventually, the party wrapped up as people gradually looked at the time and realized that it would be good to go home, and left.  Soon the only guests remaining were Nathan, Justin, and Bella, another one of my good friends. We were reminiscing about our freshman year, and all the fun things we did, and lamented over how things were so much different now than they had been then.

During an awkward silence, Nathan casually checked his phone. “Oh, wow, is it really one in the morning?”

We all were a bit surprised. Time does seem short when one is having a good time.

“I should probably go…” he said, putting his phone back into his pocket.

Bella and Justin both agreed, and, as much as I love my friends, I agreed as well. I longed for the coziness of my bed. Hosting and being with people all evening had worn me out.

Lucy, Sarah, Lindsey and I followed our guests to the door. They thanked us, and left. As soon as we had the house to ourselves, I got myself to bed right away.

 

“How did you like the party?” Lucy asked, when we were in our room.

“I thought it was fun,” I said. “I’m really exhausted now.”

“Are you doing any better than earlier this evening?”

“Yes, a little.” I said.

“Good,” said Lucy.  “I’m glad.”

The lights went off. She got in her bed. The two of us lay silently in the dark. I stared up at the ceiling, pondering the events of the day. It was good to have some fellowship; it took my mind off of my sorrows and gave me some happiness.  I actually got to enjoy myself for the first time in a long time.

“Goodnight, Willow,” said Lucy.

“Goodnight.”

“I love you.” she said. “So much.”

I smiled, though she couldn’t see it. “I love you too,” I said.

I turned over on my side and closed my eyes. But my endeavors to sleep were temporarily thwarted by the vibration of my phone. I picked it up and saw I had gotten a text, from Nathan.

“Thank you for telling me about what’s been going on in your life. I’m really sorry it’s been so hard. I really hope things get better for you. Trust the LORD. He is for you, no matter what happens. Praying for you.”

I smiled.

“Thank you, Nathan.” I typed in reply. “Goodnight. See you tomorrow.”

I hit “Send”, put my phone down under my bed, and snuggled back under the covers.

Pondering the events of the day, I smiled. I realized that no matter how painful, difficult, and excruciatingly almost-unbearable life can be sometimes, God always provides reasons to smile; reasons to be thankful. Parties. Hilarious stories. Lemonade. Good friends who encourage you and point you to the truth, such as Lucy and Nathan. I sighed with contentment.

“God, You are good.”

©MadelineH. 2016, 2017. Enjoy, and please do not steal. Thanks for your cooperation.
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