Chapter OneMy whole
new chance at life was not
turning out as I had hoped. It's kind of easy to think that
you'll be able to reinvent yourself, to change the course
of your life with a single decision. But then you turn
around and you are facing the same people, who look at
you in the same way they always have.
I knew I wanted things to be different. Even sort of
believed they could be different. But something happened
as I walked down the hall that first morning after
the New Year. The first time I walked down the hallway
of the school I had attended for the past two and a half
years. My first time as a new believer. What happened
was . nothing. Absolutely nothing. I still felt very much
like the same Rebekah Madison of two weeks ago. And
I began to wonder if anything was really going to
change at all.
* * *
"Hey, Madison!" I turned to the sound of Gretchen
Stanley's voice commanding my attention. She always
commanded attention from anyone nearby. I was glad we
were on amiable terms, but when Gretchen called, you
had to jump. I wasn't sure I wanted to jump for anybody.
But today, I jumped.
"Yeah, what's up?" I smiled.
Liz, Mai, and Theresa hovered nearby. They looked
so much like Charlie's Angels standing there waiting for
their orders that I almost laughed. Theresa was a tall redhead,
Mai was a younger, meaner version of Lucy Liu,
only with shorter hair, and Liz was totally Cameron
Diaz, complete with long smooth blonde hair and a certain
"airhead" quality. I noticed immediately that
Chrissy wasn't nearby, and I realized I hadn't seen her
with the group recently. They seemed to mostly travel as
a unit. Chrissy must have been blacklisted for some reason
and Liz, who usually hovered near the outskirts, and
who was trying hard to shed her Lizzy nickname, had
moved into the "inner circle." It was all kind of ridiculous,
but I knew my life at school was much better since
I was no longer in "social Siberia." For a moment I felt
sorry for Chrissy, and I didn't even know her.
Gretchen turned to them and shooed them away,
rolling her eyes as she did so. Once they moved away she
gave her blonde curls an extra toss-surely meant for
someone other than me-as she pulled me close.
"Have I got a secret for you! You won't believe what
I found out over winter break."
"What?" I asked, genuinely curious, not only about
the secret but her desire to pull me back into "the know."
"Not heeeere," she said dramatically. "We'll talk
before rehearsal. You just stick close to me, Madison, and
I'll watch your back." She turned and shimmied down
the hallway, waving and giggling at her public. I watched
her go, wondering for the millionth time why she was so
popular. She was cute and built well, but there was nothing
extraordinary about her. And even though her skin
seemed tan and flawless, she also had this narrow nose
that turned up a bit at the end, which made her look
even more stuck up. I turned back to my locker. Even
though it was pointless to worry about what Gretchen's
big secret was, I did. All day.
* * *
"Well, you'll just have to wait and see what she tells
you. Don't stress about it." Lori was overly calm about
my news at the lunch table.
"But what if it's . you know. About what happened
Lori's eyes grew large, apparently just cluing in to the
depth of my anxiety. "But how would she know about
that? Who knows about it?"
"Just my family. And you."
"Then she can't know. They have confidentiality
things at those places. Don't worry, I'm sure it's some
dumb rumor about some guy she likes."
"I hope you're right."
"I am. Now on to more interesting topics. Have you
seen Mark today?"
I grinned in spite of myself. "A couple of times. You
know, we've only been back a couple of hours, and he's
all I can think about. Well, him and Gretchen's big secret.
That can't be good."
"But at least it's normal."
"Yeah, but we talked about this. I prayed with you
that night to put Mark into God's hands and let Him lead
me. But my heart seems to have a mind of its own."
Lori thought for a moment before she answered.
"Look, all I know is that we're brand-new at this whole
Jesus thing. He must understand, we'll just keep trying."
She took a deep breath. "'Yep, we'll just keep trying."
"We? I thought I was the one with all the heart problems.
'Fess up. What aren't you telling me?"
Lori dropped her head, letting her long dark waves
fall across her face. "I've been spending an inordinate
amount of time thinking about Mark's friend Brian."
"What? You didn't tell me that! I thought we were
friends." I pouted.
"Oh, we are!" She looked up quickly. "Forever
friends. I guess I have been trying denial. It isn't working."
"Well, aren't we a pair?" I said, gathering up my
"Yeah. You've got that right."
* * *
I was so glad that Lori had moved to town. Even
though we had been friends only a few short weeks, I felt
closer to her than I had ever felt to anybody I don't suppose
many friends can say that they both made a life-changing
decision on the same day. We had been over at
Lori's house, and her foster mother, Megan, had shared
with us about Jesus in a way I had never really understood
before. That day, both Lori and I had made commitments
to follow Christ. We were in it together, and it
helped to know I had someone rooting for me.
That's why I felt a pang of guilt as I walked to my
next class. The one thing Lori didn't know was how much
Gretchen hated her. Lori wasn't stupid. She knew full
well that Gretchen wasn't interested in being friends
with her, and it didn't bother her. But I couldn't bring myself
to tell Lori about Gretchen's true feelings. Gretchen
was just jealous, but she was also lethal. She had single-handedly
made my life at school a nightmare after my
mother's death. She had an ability to sway public opinion
any way she wanted, and right now she wanted Lori
In truth, I still hadn't figured out why Gretchen had
changed her mind about me in the first place. She had all
of a sudden gone from publicly persecuting me to inviting
me back to the "in crowd." I liked being popular
again, but how long I could stay there I wasn't sure.
* * *
Gretchen had convinced me to try out for the
school's musical, Annie, before Christmas last year. I had
earned the part of Molly-one of the orphans who is
friends with Annie-and Gretchen had gotten the title
role. I was surprised she could fit her head through the
"Beka! There you are." She grabbed my arm and
pulled me through the side door of the stage into a hallway.
"Gretchen. Rehearsal is going to start in like three
minutes. We'd better go back in."
"Oh, please. They can't start without me. I'm Annie.
As if could forget, I thought.
"I have to tell you what I found out this weekend!" I
took a deep breath, bracing myself. If she had found out
about my hospitalization, my life as I knew it would be
"Well, I just happened to overhear my mother talking
to my dad about this 'sweet little case' she had been
assigned. You know she's a court-appointed advocate,
I nodded, still not sure where the conversation was
"Well, I could only hear bits and pieces of the conversation,
but I figured out that the case involved a sixteen-year-old
girl being adopted. Apparently it's a pretty
unusual case. Well, of course, I just had to find out the
rest of the story. I mean, people depend on me for accurate
She paused, looking at me to agree with her, I nodded
but felt sick to my stomach. Now I knew exactly
where the conversation was headed.
"After my mom went to bed I took a look through
her briefcase. I figured whoever it was must go to our
school since it's a Bragg County case. Of course, I didn't
find any actual papers, but I found a note in her planner
about a meeting with . are you ready? Trent! Rollins
and Trent. It's Lori! That obnoxious new girl is an
orphan!" She waited for a moment and then pushed my
shoulder. "What's wrong with you? Isn't that the most
interesting bit of gossip we've ever had in this dull
"Gretchen, you can't tell anybody that."
"Who, me? Beka, I have a responsibility to protect
the people of this school."
"Protect them from what? So she's an orphan. For
the moment anyway. What's the big deal?"
"How did she become an orphan? Huh? What if she
murdered her parents or ."
"You can't be serious."
"I warned you that there was something wrong with
that girl-I just know there's some sordid story in this
somewhere. I'm your friend, Beka. I know that you're
trying to be nice to her and all, but you're being terribly
naive. I'm trying to help you."
"There's no story, and you can't just go around telling
people about it. It should be her decision." I said the
words firmly, but I was shaking inside.
"You knew about it, didn't you? Didn't you? How did
her parents die?"
"That's none of our business." I decided to switch to
a different tactic. "Look, Gretchen, I'm asking you, as
your friend, not to say anything about this. Please."
She looked at me carefully as she pulled at a blonde
"Sure, Beka. I won't say anything." She paused and
leaned in closer. "But you owe me," she added.
"Yeah, I'll keep your little friend's secret-for now.
But you owe me."
Suddenly the door flew open next to us and slammed
against the cement wall, causing us both to jump. It was
Mai, her silky black hair flying as she stopped short.
"You two better get in here. T is ticked."
We followed Mai back into the auditorium and
slipped into some seats, but our entrance did not go
"That is the one and only time you will be late for
one of my rehearsals," Mr. Thompson, the director,
called from the stage. "Do it again and I will replace you,
We both nodded, but Gretchen didn't seem to care.
* * *
By the time I reached home I could feel my shoulders
knotting up from the tension. T, which is what most kids
called Mr. Thompson, was not a very laid-back type of
guy-just the opposite in fact. The rehearsal schedule he
had handed out looked like it came from a man who was
oblivious to the fact that we all had to go to school while
we prepared for the play. He scared me. Gretchen
seemed to think he was harmless, but I had never been
around anybody who was so completely . intense.
"So how was the first rehearsal?" Paul asked as soon
as I came into the kitchen.
"Not bad." I shrugged. "Has Thompson always been
Paul grinned. "You get used to it."
"You quit the band, remember?"
"Yeah, but not because of Thompson. He just takes
everything dead seriously. It's not just a school musical to
him. In his mind you all are opening on Broadway."
I leaned on the counter where Paul was slicing
cucumbers for dinner. "Do you think it's . I don't know
. weird? That I'm in the play?"
He stopped slicing and looked over at me. "No. Not
at all. It's not something I had ever imagined you being
interested in, but I think it'll be good for you. See how it
turns out when it's all over."
"Yeah, you're right. Do you need any help with
"Nah, I've got it. Hopefully Mary will be back soon.
I'm getting kind of bored with spaghetti." He grinned.
"Me too," I admitted. "Well, I guess I'll try to get
some homework done before dinner."
He nodded his head and gave me a sympathetic smile
before I left. Paul had offered to cover dinners while our
housekeeper, Mary, was training somebody to care for
her elderly mother. Mary had been helping out with the
housework and dinner ever since my mother died, but
while she cooked all sorts of wonderful things, Paul had
been alternating between spaghetti, hot dogs, and frozen
I smiled as I went up the stairs. I was so glad that Paul
and I weren't fighting anymore. It felt nice to be able to
finally take a deep breath and relax while I was at home.
* * *
I really did try to get started on my English paper, but
my mind kept wandering back to Paul. We were finally
getting along after so much trouble and tension, and it
was all going to end. He only had six more months at
home before college gobbled him up. It hurt to even think
about it. Growing up only sixteen months apart, the times
we had been close way outnumbered the difficult times.
And it wasn't just the fact that I was going to miss
him, either. I wondered how the house would change
when it was just me and my two little sisters. I didn't
think Anna would be a problem-she was only eight and
was more interested in having fun than just about anything
else. Even after Mom's death, she bounced back
pretty quickly. But Lucy. She was another issue altogether.
She rubbed me wrong sometimes . and if I was really
honest, I'd have to say I probably bugged her too. She
still didn't trust me completely. I didn't blame her for
being skeptical, not after all my lies, but still . everyone
else had given me a chance to get back into their
lives and hearts. Lucy was still waiting . and watching
me. I didn't know how to convince her that I was really
serious about God this time, and part of me thought that
I shouldn't have to convince her at all. Paul was kind of a
nice buffer between us-he seemed to deflect the sparks
that sometimes flew. I wondered if those sparks would
set off a major bonfire when he left.