Trish walked down the hallway, gripping her books to her chest, her lunch bag dangling from the fingertips of one hand, her head down, eyes on the floor. She felt the stares, heard the whispers and giggles, and saw the pointing fingers from the corners of her eyes.
At the end of the hall she bolted through the doors into the courtyard. She strode to a bench half-hidden by a couple large bushes and sat down. She placed her books on the bench beside her and sighed, then removed the baggie holding her peanut butter and jelly sandwich from her brown bag.
A shadow fell across her face and a hand set a can of Coke Zero on the bench next to her. Trish looked up into the face of an average-looking young man with light brow hair streaked with gold where the sun’s rays touched it—Brian Douglas, her church pastor’s son. He smiled at her.
“Coke Zero. Your drink of choice?”
She nodded. How did he know that?
“I noticed your brown bag and thought you might need something to wash your food down.”
“Thank you,” Trish mumbled between bites of her sandwich.
“Mind if I join you?”
Trish frowned. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Brian plopped down on the grass in front of the empty half of the bench. “Don’t worry, they won’t suspect anything with me talking to you. They all know where I stand on that subject.”
“That’s what I used to think.” Trish finished her sandwich and pulled out a baggie of celery and carrot sticks. She took one of each and offered the bag to Brian. It made her uncomfortable to eat in front of someone.
He took the baggie, helped himself to one of each, and passed it back to her. “So the rumors are true?”
She studied his face, his eyes, for any signs of judgment, but all she saw was compassion. She nodded as tears pooled in her eyes.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Trish popped open her Coke and took a long drink. What was up with this guy? He had always tried to talk with her at church, was always polite, but she hadn’t paid much attention to him. “Why do you care?”
There was a long pause as he looked at her. She shifted her position on the bench, his gaze making her uncomfortable.
Brian took a deep breath and released it slowly. “I’ve been interested in you for a long time. That’s why I always make an effort to talk to you at church.”
She quirked an eyebrow at him. “How come you’ve never made an effort here at school?”
“Well, you didn’t seem real interested when I approached you at church, and here, you’re part of a crowd that has no interest in me. I guess I thought I’d have a better chance getting through to you at church.”
Trish wrinkled her brow. Was he still interested in her after hearing the rumors? She’d just admitted the rumors are true. “What do you want from me?”
He leaned forward. “I’d like to be your friend, get to know you better, and see where that leads.”
“Did you miss my nod? The rumors are true. I … gave myself to Randall McQuade in the back seat of his car Friday night.” She choked back a sob.
“Trish, I understand you made a mistake and that Randall McQuade is the biggest jerk in the school to make such a fool of you.”
Tears spilled from Trish’s eyes and slipped down her cheeks. “My parents don’t know, but I’m sure it won’t be long. They’re going to be so disappointed in me. How can you, the pastor’s son, still have an interest in someone like me?”
Brian rose from the ground and sat on the bench next to her. “Trish, we all make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve a second chance. And you sure seem like you could use a friend right now.”
She sniffed and nodded. “Just so you know, he used protection, so there shouldn’t be any more … complications.” She hung her head.
Brian put an arm around her. “You’re going to be okay. And you should tell your parents. It’ll be better coming from you than if someone else tells them and adds to the story.”
“I know you’re right, but I’m scared.”
“Call me afterward.”
He stood to go.
“Brian, why are you so interested in me?”
“Because I think you’re smart and pretty, and you seem like someone I would enjoy spending time with.”
“I’m going to need some time. And when we start spending time together … we’re going to have to take it slow.”
“Not a problem.” He smiled. “I’m a patient man.”