"Hello, my name is Amber Conrad," I say in my most serious voice,
"and I'm an alcoholic." I'm standing at the podium at the front of the
room wearing a new T-shirt and a deadpan expression. I take a deep
breath and continue. "And I am here tonight to admit that I am in
need of serious help."
Suddenly my friends burst out laughing and, of course, I can't
help but laugh too. I step away from the wooden podium and head
over to the kitchen area to help Simi and Lisa set up. It's actually
youth-group night at our church, and the three of us got here early
because we're in charge of setting up snacks.
"You happy now that I fessed up?" I ask Simi Gartolini in my
most sarcastic voice. Simi can take it. My best friend since middle
school, she's been on my case all day long about this.
"Hey, I never accused you of being an alcoholic," she responds
in a slightly defensive tone as she fills a bowl with cheese twists.
"I only said I was concerned that you went to that party last
"Yeah," says Lisa Chan as she arranges soft-drink cans into a
cooler full of ice. "What's up with that, Amber? You knew what
those kids were up to. Everyone knows they're just a bunch of
I laugh at this absurdity. "Yeah, sure, Lisa. Everyone at that party
is an alcoholic. Get real."
"Well, they're boozers," she retorts in that slightly superior tone.
"You can't deny that."
"I think you guys are just jealous," I say, hoping I can change
the subject from drinking to something a little more comfortable. "I
think you're picking on me just because you two didn't get an invite
to Tommy Campbell's party."
"Tommy Campbell's a snob and a moron." Simi makes a face as
she pops a bright orange cheese twist into her mouth. "I don't even
know why you think he's so cool anyway."
"Oooh," I say to Simi now. "Sounding pretty judgmental for a
Christian, don't ya think?" Then I grab a bag of tortilla chips and
attempt to open it, finally resorting to using my teeth to rip the stubborn
"I'm not judging. I just think God expects us to have some
common sense when it comes to choosing friends," she says, "and I
think your dad does too."
"Yeah," adds Lisa. "Going to that party was a dumb move,
Amber. I mean, kids look up to us as Christians and we're supposed
to be the leaders in youth group. Seriously, what's going to happen
when word gets around that Amber Conrad, daughter of Pastor
Conrad, is a beer-drinking party girl now?"
"Man, I never should've told you guys about it." I sigh loudly
and roll my eyes. "Besides, like I already told you, I only had one
beer and I didn't even drink the whole thing. Seriously, it's no big
deal, okay? The only reason I was there at all was just so I could
witness to Claire Phillips-"
"Yeah, you bet," says Simi. "That's a great idea, Amber-go to a
drinking party, have a beer, and then witness to someone."
Lisa laughs. "Yeah, brilliant plan. Maybe you should share your
strategy with the youth group tonight. Maybe we could take it to
Okay, now I'm feeling pretty defensive. I mean, what right do
these two have to judge me and everyone else on the planet for that
matter? Like, who died and made these two girls God?
"Whatever," I finally say as if I don't really care. "Think what
you want about me." I use a slightly wounded tone, hoping to garner
some pity, but then I hear the sound of voices coming down the
hallway toward us and I know it's too late. "But hey," I say quickly,
"it's not like you have to tell everybody in youth group about my
"You don't think they'll hear about it anyway?" asks Simi.
"I don't see how." Then I get more serious. "Come on, you guys,"
I plead, "don't make this into a big deal, okay? I mean, I trusted you
with this. I thought you were my friends."
Simi smiles now. "Okay, Amber. My lips are sealed."
"Yeah, mine too," says Lisa, although she looks slightly smug.
"You happy now?"
I shrug. "Hey, I appreciate it."
"But you can't blame us if the story leaks out anyway."
I know she's probably right. It's not like I can really keep a lid
on the big news that I, Amber Conrad, a slightly nerdish pastor's
kid, went to Tommy's party last night. I know as well as anyone how
rumors can fly through the information mill at South Ashton, but
usually the rumors are about someone else. I don't think there's ever
been a rumor about me personally. Like, who would care? Of course,
now that I'm a senior and graduation is only two months away, well,
maybe I don't really care either. I mean, hey, maybe it's about time I
did something worth talking about!
But as the room starts filling up with youth-group kids, I'm
not so sure anymore. I mean, do I really want these guys to know
what I was up to last night? These are church kids I have known for
years-kids whose parents are close friends with my parents-and,
for the most part, they're fairly nice kids. Now, I know that everyone
has their problems and stuff and nobody's perfect, but these are the
kinds of kids who really try to follow God and live their lives for his
glory. And for the most part, they are my friends too. But the truth is,
I'm actually thinking they're just a little bit boring right now. Maybe
I think this more tonight than usual. Of course, I don't let this show.
I know better than that.
Instead, I smile and say "hey" to everyone, just like always. I
even compliment Tyler Addison on his haircut, although I honestly
think it's way too short for his long and narrow head. In fact,
he kind of looks like Homer Simpson right now. And I ask Laney
Edwards if she's lost weight, and this makes her smile. The truth is,
she looks heavier than ever, and that fuzzy hot-pink sweater isn't
helping one bit.
Okay, I'll admit it: I'm a total hypocrite sometimes. But it's like
I'm supposed to have this happy outlook on life all the time, like I'm
supposed to make everyone feel good about themselves even if I'm
telling a big fat lie. It's just how a pastor's family is supposed to act,
Oh sure, my parents never actually say as much. In fact, I'm
pretty sure my dad would deny he acts like that at all, which in my
opinion is just another form of deceit. Okay, in defense of my well-meaning
parents, I think maybe they actually sort of believe the
outrageous things they say. It's like they've been doing it for so long
that they can't even tell the difference between the truth and phony
Anyway, I've studied them over the years, and I've learned from
them as they play their little feel-good game without ever thinking
twice. They just smile and tell their little white lies and act like it's
no big deal. And naturally, being a good daughter, I just follow their
lead and do the same.
That's probably what had gotten Claire Phillips' attention last
week. It looked like she was having a bad day, so I complimented
her on her outfit, which, although I suspect by the labels was probably
expensive, didn't really look that great on her. It actually made
her look stockier than she is. Not that she's exactly chubby, but she's
kind of short and compact-that curvy kind of compact that guys
seem to appreciate, including her boyfriend, Tommy Campbell.
"Thanks, Amber," she said to me with a bright smile. Then she
asked if I had my notes from English lit on me.
"Sure," I told her. "Do you want to borrow them? I noticed you
missed class yesterday."
"Yeah, I was sick," she said. "But I don't want to get behind. Mr.
Sorenson is hard enough on us as it is."
"Man, I know," I agreed. "He gave me a C for midterms."
"You got a C?" Her eyes grew wide.
"Yeah, and when I asked him why, he said it was to push me
harder for the final grade. Can you believe it? I've really been trying
to keep my GPA up."
"Man, that's harsh," she said as I handed her my notes. "I'll get
these back to you in time for class," she promised.
I should know better than to loan out my notes, but for some
reason, I trusted Claire-and all right, she's one of the most popular
girls in our class and I wouldn't mind if she liked me better. So I was
pleasantly surprised when she returned my notes, in perfect condition
I might add, and then actually invited me to come to Tommy's party.
"I can invite whoever I want," she assured me as we walked into
Mr. Sorenson's class. "So, I hope you'll come, Amber. I'd really like
to see you there." Then she laughed. "And everyone knows Tommy's
parties are the best."
I blinked and tried not to look too surprised, and then I told her
I'd think about it. By the end of class, she'd already written down his
address and phone number on a torn-off corner of notebook paper.
"Here," she said. "Now, seriously, I want you to come, okay?"
"Okay," I said and then added, "I mean, I'll think about it."
"Good." She smiled. "Since there are only two months until
graduation, I've been trying to get to know more kids, you know, so
I'll know more people at our class reunions."
Now, I had to laugh at that. "I guess I haven't been thinking that
far ahead," I admitted.
She grinned. "Well, maybe you should."
And that's how I ended up going to Tommy Campbell's party.
And here's the truth: I actually had fun. And it wasn't boring at all.
Claire was really nice to me, and then her other friends were fairly
nice too. It's like everyone just really cut loose and had a great time.
Sure, some kids drank too much and one girl even got sick and
threw up in the pool, which really put a damper on swimming. But
I didn't get drunk and I didn't get sick. Mostly, I just had an unexpectedly
fun time. And, really, what's wrong with that? I mean, even
Jesus drank wine with his friends. And wasn't his first miracle turning
water into wine? So, seriously, what's the problem?