THE EYE stared at me. I hated that symbol. Mr. Beasley said it represented wisdom, but I didn’t believe him. I wanted to rip the poster off the wall.
My biology teacher’s voice brought me back to reality. “Shale, are you ready to begin?”
I stood and approached the podium, nervously stroking my long brown hair. My legs jiggled like the apps on my iPhone in wiggle mode. I glanced over at Chumana and Judd, my two opponents in the debate, and steadied my voice. “I want to assure you, we did not arrive here in UFOs or evolve from lower life forms. In fact, an all-knowing God created us in his image, as recounted in the first book of the Bible.”
I clicked on the first slide from the PowerPoint presentation showing the fresco painting of The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo.
Mr. Beasley interrupted. “Shale, this isn’t a religion class. We’ve spent six weeks studying evolution. I expect your arguments to be based on scientific fact, not religious references.”
“Yes, sir. May I continue?”
He waved his pen. “It’s your grade.”
The class snickered.
“As I said, the Bible says we’re the only creatures created in God’s image.”
“Does she believe this stuff?” a student muttered.
I bit my lip. Seconds passed. Maybe it would be better to faint and not finish. Somehow, I found my voice. “What does it mean to be created in the image of God?”
“It means we’re all gods,” Judd joked.
The room erupted in laughter.
Chumana rolled her eyes. “Everybody except Shale Snyder.”
The comments hurt, but I continued. “We are unique in the universe. God did not even create angels in his own image.”
“That’s a relief,” another student said.
A hot flash soaked my neck in perspiration.
“Have there been changes in animals? Yes, but God wrote those adaptations into the DNA. Species can change within the genetic code, but they can’t evolve into a new species. Besides, most mutations don’t help animals to survive.”
Mr. Beasley interrupted me again. “Name one scientist who agrees with you.”
“You can order Dr. Hugh Ross’s book from Amazon, A Matter of Days: Resolving a Creation Controversy.”
Mr. Beasley was nonplussed, but then a snarky smile covered his lips. “If there was a God who created everything, would you agree that evolution improved upon his creation?”
“Oohs” and “ahhs” filled the room. I glanced at Chumana and Judd as they jotted down notes. They would defend their positions when I finished.
Too many students appeared bored. Apathy seemed to be a common denominator when it came to God. I ignored Mr. Beasley’s question and continued with my prepared speech.
“I don’t believe it’s ethical to perform genetic experiments combining species or to attempt to create a perfect human—or any new animal.”
“And stop medical advancement that could lead to a cure for cancer and other diseases?” a boy interrupted. “My father is dying and you want me to believe in a God who would rather let him die than find a cure? DNA research can lead to cures.”
I countered his statement. “But do humans possess the heart of God? Are we intelligent enough that we can alter the genetic code only for good and not evil?”
Mr. Beasley stood. “Shale, you were to present arguments against evolution, not champion your religious beliefs. Because your statements are offensive to students in this class, I must ask you to stop your presentation and take a seat.”
My face and neck felt on fire as I stumbled from the podium. I dropped one of my cards. I started to pick it up, but Mr. Beasley reached it first. He handed me the card and whispered, “Nice try, Shale, but God has no place in the scientific community. Superstition and science don’t mix.”
I returned to my seat. Rachel smiled reassuringly. “Good job.”
I appreciated her praise, but Mr. Beasley’s opinion was the only one that mattered. He’d probably give me a failing grade, and I’d have to retake the class to graduate.
I glanced out the window. Dark, menacing clouds hinted at a brewing storm.
Mr. Beasley pointed his pen at Judd. “The podium is yours.”
Judd stood. As he leaned on the podium shuffling his papers, several girls ogled him. His dark, clear complexion, curly hair, and deep-set eyes made him a prize catch, but he had nothing on Daniel Sperling, my friend from the seventh dimension. If only he were here and could rescue me from this sea of ridicule.
Judd exuded confidence. “Evolution has been accepted as scientific theory by reputable scientists for the past hundred years, since Charles Darwin published his famous thesis on animal selection. We are evolving as humans.
“Sometime, in the not-too-distant future, we will possess the necessary knowledge to create a perfect human. There will be no more death or disease.
“The goal of the New World is to create a civilization ruled by a one-world government where the fittest survive.”
Judd paused to let his words sink in. He wagged his pencil. “Even now, we are on the threshold of opening a door to the future where we can take the best of each species and create a new one.”
He chuckled. “Imagine the woman of your dreams, perfectly shaped, who can hear like a wolf and see like an eagle—who wouldn’t want the perfect woman?”
Whistles and catcalls shot up around the room. Others clapped approvingly.
“Once humans have evolved beyond imperfection, we will no longer be limited. In fact, we will become as gods.”
Judd was on an unstoppable roll, and students embraced every word he uttered. He clicked on the PowerPoint wildly, and photographs of unusual animals popped up on the screen.
“Scientists at CERN are hoping to recreate the beginning of the universe with the hadron collider in France and Switzerland—even open doors to other dimensions. God has put no limits on our abilities. The Age of Aquarius has dawned, and the New World promises the utopia for which we all long, etched in our DNA through evolutionary processes.”
A photograph of a strange creature appeared on the screen labeled “Statue of Lord Shiva at CERN.” I quickly jotted down the caption to learn more about it later.
“We have much to look forward to as scientists discover new ways to create computers to think like humans. Soon we will be able to grow animals in test tubes that mimic human-like qualities. These robots will be programmed to perform the mundane tasks of day-to-day living, allowing humans to enjoy a more fulfilling life.”
Students stood and cheered.
After several minutes, Mr. Beasley stood. “Thank you, Judd, for that outstanding presentation. We all need hope for a better tomorrow.”
He glanced at Chumana. She was the only redheaded girl in the class, and her hot-tempered personality matched it. I didn’t know how I had survived sharing an apartment with her when my mother and I first moved to Atlanta.
Who did she hate more, God or me? What crazy story would she present today? I hoped it wouldn’t include her latest obsession with UFOs.
“CHUMANA, IT’S your turn,” Mr. Beasley said.
She approached the podium with one of those fake smiles you see from crooked politicians. Her words flowed like quicksilver.
“How can you explain the strange monoliths around the world—the pyramids in Egypt, the crop circles in Africa, or Stonehenge in England? Scientists have discovered ancient cave paintings with UFOs and extraterrestrials all over the globe.”
Chumana clicked through several unusual photographs in her PowerPoint presentation.
A stir rose from the class. “How old are these drawings?” a student asked.
“Some of the cave drawings in India, like this one, are thought to be twenty thousand years old. According to a UFO database, NUFORC, as of September, 2014, almost 100,000 sightings of UFOs have been reported in the last twenty years.”
Gasps filled the room.
Chumana leaned forward. “I’ll tell you how you can explain these strange anomalies. We are descendants of a race of beings called the Annunaki. They came here, and for whatever reason, they left.”
“Really?” a couple of students asked.
Chumana pointed her finger at the class. “Despite what some might say, life on other planets doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist. It simply means we aren’t alone in the universe. Did you know that a rogue planet is returning soon? It makes a visit to our solar system every 3,600 years.”
I rolled my eyes. Could that be true?
She laughed. “It’s arrogant to think we are the only intelligent life in the universe. If we continue to destroy our planet, we might need help from superior beings to survive. Be open-minded, and embrace the possibility that we are not alone in the universe.”
The room erupted with cheers and applause.
Mr. Beasley stood. “Thank you, Miss Chumana, for that excellent presentation.”
I chuckled. Ancient aliens–did she believe that? If she could get that worked up about extraterrestrial life, why couldn’t she get that excited about God?
I glanced out the window. Storm clouds had snowballed. Could a tornado be brewing? I tapped Rachel on the back. “Look.”
“Wow!” Gracie exclaimed. She sat across from me.
Soon everyone was peering out the window.
Unexpectedly, six bright orbs shot out of the clouds. They moved as one at incredible speed. The largest one in the middle broke away from the others. The aircraft sped quickly in and out of the clouds zigzagging back and forth. It stopped, disappeared, and reappeared, repeating the same appearing and reappearing act several times. Suddenly, it dropped down to the ground and skimmed over the treetops in a nearby neighborhood.
“They are here!” Chumana shouted. She held up her arm and pointed to her wrist.
The jarring motion of the unidentified object caused the classroom windows to vibrate. Without warning, the saucer-like craft headed toward the school. Seconds later, it landed on the football field. Students sitting next to the window jumped up and ran to the other side of the room. Others screamed. The poster of the supernatural eye fell on the floor.
Chumana shouted again. “They’re coming.”
“To kill us?” a boy asked.
“No, to save us from ourselves!” she exclaimed.
Mr. Beasley was clicking on his cell phone. Most of the students tried to leave, but the door jammed. I ran over and confronted Chumana. “What is that on your wrist?”
She stared at the UFO, as if she were in a trance. I picked up her arm and examined it. “What is that underneath your skin?”
“It’s a tracking device. They—come and visit me.”
“What?” I studied the aircraft. Whatever was underneath her skin was pulsating in rhythm with the lights on the UFO.
I heard a thump. Mr. Beasley had fallen on the floor.
Judd ran over to help him.
The school alarm sounded, and the unidentified object instantly shot up and disappeared into the clouds.
Momentary silence followed.
“Could someone help me with CPR,” Judd shouted.
“I don’t know how,” a student mumbled.
No one moved. I had never done CPR on anyone except a mannequin. I ran over to help anyway.
Finally, someone pried the door open.
The alarm was ten times louder with the door ajar. Students rushed out in droves.
“I got it on video!” a student shouted. “I’ll upload it on YouTube.”
How could he think about that right now?
I knelt over Mr. Beasley and listened. I couldn’t hear him breathing. “Let’s take turns doing chest compressions. I’ll start.”
Students who had stayed in the room crowded around us. After what seemed like too long, a student exclaimed, “He moved his leg.”
I stopped and saw his eyes flutter. When he attempted to sit up, Judd held him down. “Stay still. Help is on the way.”
RACHEL AND I plowed past students in the overcrowded hallway toward the cafeteria. Mrs. Twiggs, the principal, had dismissed classes for the rest of the day. Buses had already arrived to take students home. A long line of wild-eyed parents anxiously waited to check out their kids.
Everybody who was anybody had been to the school, including reporters from WSB-TV, the police, and firefighters. An ambulance had carted off Mr. Beasley. Paramedics treated on-site several students who had fainted or suffered injuries. I was thankful it wasn’t a terrorist attack, but it was obvious to almost everyone, except the principal, the school was not prepared for any kind of disaster.
Mrs. Twiggs had announced over the school intercom that the strange object was a military plane from Dobbins Air Force Base. I knew firsthand anything she said was suspect. Besides, why had Hazmat crews arrived in bulky suits and cordoned off the singed, smoking grass?
Rachel and I stood in line waiting behind a dozen or more students. “Do you know what CERN is?”
Rachel shrugged. “I have no idea.”
What were Judd’s exact words? “Judd mentioned CERN in his presentation.”
“Yeah,” replied Rachel. “I thought he said “certain,” but that didn’t make sense.”
The long line snaked through the cafeteria. I noticed a couple of students trying to break in. I refrained from saying anything
Rachel pointed. “Judd’s over there. Ask him.”
I handed Rachel a dollar. “Can you get me a water bottle? I’ll save you a seat.”
I walked over and plopped down at the table. After saying a quick prayer, I opened my brown sack and bit into a leftover roast beef sandwich.
Gracie approached the table. “Can I join you?”
“Sure. Just save Rachel a place.”
“How often has this happened? Judd asked.
Chumana brushed back her curly red hair. “Oh, three or four times.”
“During the day or at night?”
“Night, about ten.”
Judd leaned forward. “Where?”
“Here at the school.”
“Why were you at school so late?”
Judd noticed me listening. “What do you think of my hypothesis?”
I gazed into his brown eyes and remembered Daniel’s eyes were blue. I shook off the comparison.
“I believe God created us.”
“Yes, through the process of evolution,” Judd clarified.
I shook my head. “That’s not what the Bible says.”
Judd frowned. “Only if you interpret the words of the Bible literally.”
I changed the subject. “Tell me about CERN.”
Judd’s face brightened. “What do you want to know?”
“What is it?”
Gracie jumped in. “I know about CERN.”
“You do?” I asked, surprised.
“Yes. My father is involved with some projects there, in Geneva.”
Judd elaborated. “They smash subatomic particles.”
I knew little about Gracie’s family, other than she had recently moved here from Washington, D.C.
“What does your father do?” I asked.
“He’s a physics professor at Kennesaw State University.”
That sounded impressive.
“How about your father?” Gracie asked.
I swallowed hard. “Well, my stepfather was a stockbroker.”
Chumana laughed. “Why don’t you tell Gracie what he’s doing now?”
A hot flash crept up my neck. “He was a stockbroker until his conviction for securities fraud.”
“He’s in jail,” Chumana blurted out.
Gracie’s face turned ashen. “Oh, I’m—sorry. I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”
I shrugged. “He’s not my father anyway, not even my stepfather. I mean, he never adopted me.”
An awkward silence followed as no one could think of anything to say. “I don’t know what my real father does.” I could tell her what he did in the seventh dimension. Then I remembered what got the conversation started.
I glanced at Judd. “What does CERN have to do with evolution?”
“They think they have discovered the God-particle. The Higgs-boson.”
Gracie giggled. “My father talks about that, too.”
How did everybody know about this but me? “The God particle, what’s that?”
“It’s like the building blocks of the universe,” Gracie said.
Her impressive knowledge didn’t escape Chumana, Judd’s girlfriend. Those jealous eyes couldn’t fool me.
The redheaded drama queen and I had a long history together. Why Judd dated her, I had no idea, other than she was smart. He liked smart girls.
“What happens when the particles collide?” I asked.
Gracie said, “If they can recreate the beginning of the universe, the big bang, then they might understand how the universe began. Of course, the way I see it, somebody had to make the first big bang. Scientists, including my father, have other ideas when it comes to religion.”
“Oh.” I’d never heard Gracie talk so much about anything. I bet she was brilliant and spoke with that southern drawl so as not to sound like a nerd. If she could help me to understand the big bang, I’d be better equipped to defend creationism. “God would have to initiate the process, wouldn’t he?”
“Yes, exactly. I wanted to ask you about that. Scientists talk about this stuff, but they never mention God. It’s as if he doesn’t exist.”
Chumana sneered. “At least we know where you stand.”
Rachel set down her tray.
Chumana flipped her red hair over her shoulder. “I can prove it.”
Rachel asked, “Prove what?”
“That it was a UFO we saw and not a plane. I bet I can convince you UFO’s are real, aliens are here, and they want to be our friends.”
Judd laughed. “As ridiculous as that sounds, it’s still different from believing we came from aliens, and that was your argument.”
Chumana shrugged. “You have to start somewhere, right?”
I noticed Chumana’s hands trembling. “Why is it so important that we believe in UFO’s?”
Chumana railed. “It would be an obsession with you too if you had seen what I have seen—or been where I’ve been.”
I bit my lip. Did I want to get into another confrontation with her? I was such a sucker. “Tell me more.”
“You heard what I told Judd.”
“What?” Rachel said. “I think I missed something.”
Judd interjected. “A UFO abducted Chumana.”
“Abducted?” I didn’t hear that part.
Chumana leaned forward and whispered. “I’m telling you, they are here. They are everywhere.”
Chumana’s assertions gave me goosebumps.
She laid her arm on the table, too close to my half-eaten sandwich. I scooted it over.
I peered at Chumana’s arm. “What is that underneath your skin?”
“Go ahead and touch it.”
I ran my finger over the triangular object that moved under her skin. “What—what is that? I saw it pulsating when that aircraft landed.”
“I already told you, it’s a tracking device.”
“Did you show that to your mother?”
Chumana laughed uneasily. “Are you crazy?”
“Don’t you think a doctor should check it out?” Rachel asked. “It might be a disease or something.”
Chumana took her arm off the table. “They put it underneath my skin. Every time they take me, they insert another one.”
“Chumana, you need someone to look at it,” I urged.
“Promise you won’t tell anyone?”
Rachel and I exchanged glances.
“Why wouldn’t you want to tell someone?” I asked.
“Because they aren’t ready to share their plans.”
“To take over the world.”
I couldn’t believe Chumana’s words. “You meet them here at the school at night?”
Chumana tilted her head. “I knew you were listening.”
“You could talk to Doctor Silverstein.”
Chumana furrowed her brow. “You don’t believe me, do you?”
“I—I don’t know.”
Chumana pushed her chair back to leave. “Out of all people, Shale, I would expect you to believe me. You, who are so vocal about your faith, surely you must believe there is life on other planets.”
“It’s not the same thing. Go see Doctor Silverstein, will you?”
Chumana smirked. “When the time arrives.” She grabbed her tray and strutted off.
A hush fell over the table.
“Judd, is she crazy?” I asked. “What else did she tell you?”
He shook his head. “I shouldn’t say.”
“Why isn’t she afraid of them?” Gracie asked.
“She’s blocked some things. Or they brainwashed her.”
Rachel covered her ears. “Don’t tell me more. It gives me the willies.”
“Got to go,” Judd said. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”
He made a quick exit as the bell rang.
I reached over and touched Gracie on the arm. “You should come to our Bible study. We meet every Friday afternoon at my house.”
Gracie smiled. “I’d love to.”
We quickly exchanged phone numbers.
“Thanks for inviting me.”
Gracie added, “And don’t let Chumana get you upset. After being around physicists and bureaucrats, I’ve heard some wild things.”
I laughed. “You’re probably right.”
“See ya’ll later.”
Once she left, I turned to Rachel. “Since we’re getting out early, can you come over and we can work on that English project.”
“That’s a great idea.”
I pulled a gospel tract out of my purse and placed it on the table. “Ready to go?”
Rachel cocked her head. “Anyone who finds that will know where it came from.”
I grabbed my lunch bag. “And today, out of all days, they just might read it.”
“Yeah, if they don’t report you to Mrs. Twiggs first.”
“Well, it wouldn’t be my first trip to the principal’s office, would it?”
THE BUS dropped us off at the Hope Garden Apartments as the sun peeked out from behind the clouds, warming the winter air.
“My dad wants to move to Israel,” Rachel said as we walked.
“If Daniel returns, I’ll figure out a way to visit you.”
Rachel wistfully flipped her long brown hair on her back. “Dad brought it up last night.”
Rachel shrugged. “He’s worried about antisemitism. The refugee crisis in Europe will probably come here. America won’t be safe for the Jews—she glanced at me—or Christians.”
Daniel had told me about the future in the seventh dimension. “How quickly things have escalated.”
Rachel lamented. “It’s what happened to Israel in the 1900s. Immigration of Muslims from surrounding Arab nations affected people’s perception of Israel being Jewish. Muslims here expect the U.S. to accommodate their way of life with Sharia and dietary and religious concessions. My father fears it won’t be long until we’re living in another Nazi Germany.”
We walked in silence. My mind wandered. Daniel said he left in 2015, and it was now 2016. “Rachel, you don’t think Daniel died, do you?”
Rachel froze in her tracks. “Why would you say such a thing?”
“Because he hasn’t returned. He told me he left in 2015.”
“Didn’t you tell me time is an illusion in the seventh dimension? That means you can’t tie dates to specific events.”
I couldn’t disagree with Rachel. “Yes, that’s true. Whenever people name a date that a future event will happen, as in the rapture, they’re never right.”
“He’ll return when God wills,” Rachel reassured me, “and if I was to predict when, I’d say God will keep him there until he becomes a believer.”
I appreciated Rachel’s encouragement. “How can you be so sure?”
Rachel’s brown eyes shone brightly. “Because you’ve prayed faithfully for his salvation, and the Bible says God hears the prayers of the righteous.”
I smiled. “Thanks.”
“Let’s practice our Hebrew,” Rachel suggested.
We chatted in Hebrew for a few minutes. Then Rachel surprised me. “What time is it?” she asked in German.
“When did you learn German?”
Rachel laughed. “Did I say it right? I looked it up on Google last night as a joke.” She flipped her hair over her shoulder again. “I don’t know how you’ve learned to speak two languages at the same time.”
I remembered how impressed I was when I saw my father’s library in the seventh dimension. He had dozens of scrolls in foreign languages, and he could read most of them. Dr. Silverstein said I had an undiscovered talent when Mrs. Twiggs, the principal, tried to expel me from school.
Rachel stopped walking. “What was that sound?”
I listened. “I don’t hear anything.”
“There it is again. Did you hear it?”
I strained to listen. “I still don’t hear anything.”
Then a rumbling noise drifted from the sky. “I hear it now. What is that?”
“It sounds like a shofar.”
“Like they used to blow in the temple?”
The sound made me nervous. “Maybe it’s an airplane.”
“No, that’s not an airplane.”
Dead leaves fell from a sudden gust of wind as the noise repeated. “What is it?”
“That’s so strange,” Rachel said.
My uneasiness increased as I remembered the UFO at school. “Come on, let’s get home.”
As we approached our apartment, I saw Mother’s car. “She must have received a text message from school and come home early.”
I opened the door, and Much-Afraid greeted us. Her fluffy white tail wagged her rear end. After setting my backpack on the floor, I leaned over and scratched her ear.
Only Rachel knew Much-Afraid could talk to me. It wasn’t in human-speak but dog-speak that worked remarkably well. “Why is Mother home?”
Much-Afraid licked my cheek. “She’s upset about something.”
I lingered for a moment, petting her furry head before I walked into my bedroom.
Rachel followed me. “What did she tell you?”
“She said Mother is worried about something.”
“It’s probably what happened at school.”
“That’s what I thought, but then—we’re here, and she isn’t coming out of her bedroom. I’m going to go see.”
As I passed the living room, I flipped on the television. “See if we’re in the news.”
I knocked on Mother’s door and waited. When she didn’t answer, I opened it. I saw her on the computer wearing headphones. My computer was on her bed. “Is anything wrong?”
She turned. “Oh, Shale—she glanced at the clock—you’re early.”
“Did you hear what happened at school?”
Mother shook her head. “What happened?”
“They didn’t send you a text message?”
“Well, I haven’t checked my phone in the last hour.” She grabbed it. “Actually, I did get a text.”
She read it. “Students dismissed early due to airplane incident.” Concern crossed her face. “Did anyone get hurt?”
“An unidentified flying object landed on the football field.”
Her face turned ashen. “What?”
“Well, they said it was a plane, but it looked like a UFO to me.”
Mother’s eyes bulged. “My, God!”
I didn’t expect such a strong reaction. “Did you go to work today?”
She shook her head. “Something needed my attention.” Mother peered through the doorway. “Did Rachel come home with you?”
“Yes, to work on an English project. Is something wrong?”
She shook her head again. “It can wait.”
“What can wait? Why is my computer on your bed?”
“Oh.” She nervously clasped her hands. “Mine wouldn’t connect to the internet so I was going to try yours, but I didn’t know your password.”
Did I believe her? “Are you sure?”
“Did Remi call you?”
“No, he can’t do that.”
“Am I in trouble?”
Mother walked over and put her arms around me reassuringly. “I’ll tell you after Rachel goes home. No need to worry.”
I acquiesced. “All right.” Something was wrong. How could I not be distracted while we worked on the English assignment? I grabbed my computer. “I guess you don’t need it now.”
It must be Remi. His conviction had taken a toll. Everything was more difficult—especially now because we had so little money.
“Rachel won’t be here that long.”
Mother smiled. “It’s fine, Shale, really.”
I entered the living room and read the T.V. captions. “Dow Jones Industrial Average down five hundred points.”
“Is everything okay?” Rachel asked.
“Yes.” I plopped beside her on the sofa. “You’re watching national news. You should switch to local news on WSB. They had a reporter at school.”
“Wait, let’s see this first,” I said.
“Thousands more refugees from Syria flee into Europe. Germany refuses to increase quota.”
“Oh, more of the same.”
The scene switched to Jerusalem.
“Wait,” Rachel said. “Let’s see this.”
The onsite reporter stated, “Escalating violence within the Old City continues. Stabbings are becoming commonplace. Temple mount is off limits to the Jews. Unconfirmed reports claim more than 130,000 troops are amassed on Israel’s northern border.”
“I can’t watch this.”
Rachel muted the sound. “Why not?”
“If there is war in Israel, I’ll never get to see Daniel. My mother is depressed, Remi is in jail, and I probably won’t be able to go to college. My S.A.T. and A.C.T. scores weren’t high enough for a scholarship.”
Rachel put my mind at ease. “Don’t be so gloom and doom.”
“I’ll ask about Daniel when I go home,” Rachel said.
“You’ve promised before and didn’t.”
“This time I will.”
She turned off the T.V. and opened her backpack. “Let’s get this English done.”
Once we got started, time passed quickly.
Two hours later, however, we still weren’t done. I leaned back and rubbed my eyes. “I don’t think we can finish this today.”
“Give me your notes, and I’ll type it tonight.”
It wasn’t the first time Rachel had offered to finish an assignment for me. “Are you sure?”
“Let me tell Mother I’m walking you home.”
Rachel zipped up her backpack. “Oh, you don’t have to.”
“Mother is upset about something, and I can pray on the way back.”
By the time we stepped outside, darkness had fallen. I glanced up at Venus, hoping we didn’t hear any more strange sounds coming from the sky. I pulled the hoodie over my ears to block the wind.
“What do you think will happen at school tomorrow?” Rachel asked.
“I just wish they would tell us the truth. They never do.”
When we reached her apartment, she lingered. “I hope Mr. Beasley is okay.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“You might have saved his life.”
I bit my lip. “Maybe he won’t fail me.”
“He’s not going to fail you. Get some sleep and I’ll see you tomorrow.” She turned on the porch light as I headed home.
The full moon lit up the sky, partially shadowed by quickly passing clouds. I rushed back home feeling uneasy, but all I heard was a dog barking in the distance.
MOTHER WAS curled up on the sofa watching television when I returned. A white terrycloth bathrobe engulfed her small frame. I edged closer and sat in the chair.
Deep furrows underneath her eyes hinted at worry and lack of sleep. Probably ninety percent of those dark lines were because of Remi. I regretted being so critical of him, but I only wanted the best for her. It would take years to pay off the credit card debt he had racked up. I’d told Mother more than once she should divorce him, but she wouldn’t hear of it.
Much-Afraid padded over and joined us.
I smiled to break the ice. “What did you want to tell me?”
Mother puckered her lips. “Shale, you know I love you.”
“I’ve always wanted what was best for you, even when Remi and I married. You may not believe that.”
I touched her robe reassuringly.
“When you spent that night in the woods, I thought something horrible had happened—perhaps you had been kidnapped.”
I rolled my eyes. “That was over three years ago. Why do you bring that up now?”
Mother clasped her bathrobe. “I have put this off as long as possible, but I can’t put it off any longer. Now that you are eighteen, you’re considered an adult.”
Mother’s voice trailed off.
I prodded here. “What is it you want to tell me?”
Mother fixed her eyes on me. “Your father has requested you come to Washington— immediately.”
I pulled my long brown hair away from my face. “Washington—my father?”
I was not expecting this. I had met his counterpart in the seventh dimension—in first century Israel. Mother didn’t know about my time travels. I didn’t want to meet him again. Not now. Not ever. What could be so urgent that he wanted me to come to Washington? Why did she put off telling me?
Mother glanced away. “He won’t tell me, but since I can’t prevent him from seeing you, if you choose—”
“So you kept him from—” Mother had never told me that.
She crossed her arms. “Trust me. I wanted to protect you, but now you must decide. If you go to Washington, I fear your life will never be the same.”
I ran my fingers through Much-Afraid’s fur. Did I want to risk rejection—again? I replayed painful memories from the past etched on my heart. All my father cared about in the first century was himself—Brutus Snyder. He never made me important. He loved Nathan, my half-brother, but that was only because of his disability, and his wife—ugh.