Wednesday, December 15, 2010

First Chapter - Second Installment

Annie Russo had spent that day ferociously cleaning her apartment.  She deep-cleaned the kitchen.  She vacuumed the carpet.  She did five loads of laundry.  But no matter what she did, she hadn’t been able to stop thinking about Alex and the fight they’d had that morning.  It was stupid, really.

Now she and Alex were walking through a Christmas tree farm looking for the perfect tree for her apartment, and she was determined to make the best of the evening.  She was tired of the tension and just wanted to have fun. 

Alex and Annie held hands, walking through the trees, and Annie racked her brain for neutral topics of conversation.  Alex had been unusually quiet on the way to the farm.  Usually, he was quite a chatterbox.

“So,” she said, “how was work today?”

But Alex didn’t answer quickly enough for Annie, so she dropped his hand and started running through the trees.  “Bet you can’t catch me!” she yelled, darting here and there.

She looked over her shoulder, but Alex hadn’t increased his speed.  He didn’t look like he’d even noticed she’d left.  Looking down at the fresh snow on the ground, she grinned.  She ducked behind a tree and waited until just the right moment.

Smack!  Bulls-eye!  It was a direct hit to the center of Alex’s chest.  But instead of making him lunge for the snow, as she’d expected, Alex just frowned and kept walking. 

Annie frowned.  How frustrating.  What was going on with him?

When Alex caught up with Annie again, she asked, “Alex, what is going on?  What’s wrong?”

He kept walking.

Annie stopped abruptly.

Alex kept walking.

She shouted, “Alex!  Stop.  Would you look at me?”

Finally, he slowed to a stop and turned around and glanced at her.  “Look, I had a really hard day.  I don’t want to talk about it.  Let’s just get your tree.”

Annie shook her head, her brown curls bouncing around her face.  “No, Alex.  I’d rather not.  Let’s just go home.”

Annie turned around and quickly started walking back the way they’d come.  Her shoulders were tense and a frown played around her lips.  After a minute, she heard his footsteps crunching through the snow.  In another minute, he’d caught up with her.  He gently grabbed her arm and pulled her to a stop.  “Look,” he said, “I’m sorry, Annie, I am.  It’s been a rough day.  I really want to get your tree with you.  Come on.  It’ll be fun.”

Annie struggled to push down her feelings of frustration and regain her optimism.  For a moment, the frustration was winning, and she longed to make a snarky comment about how he’d already ruined their fun.  Instead, she said, “Fine, let’s go.  But if you’re not going to talk about it, at least keep your bad mood to yourself.  This is supposed to be fun.”

They walked through the pines and headed toward the firs.  Alex began to tell stories about the people he’d served in the café that day.  Soon they were laughing and talking.  Not about anything serious, of course, but at least they were talking.  Annie felt the tension slowly leaving her body.

And then they came upon a slightly lopsided fir tree.  Annie stopped in her tracks.  “Ooh, Alex.  This one’s just right!”  Alex seemed to be laughing at her choice, but he immediately bent down and began sawing at the trunk.  It took just a couple of minutes, and the tree was theirs.

They slowly made their way back to the check out, Alex carrying the tree and Annie the saw.  Annie asked quietly, “So, Alex, seriously, what’s going on with you?  Is everything okay?”

She looked over, and she noticed his jaw clench.  Uh oh.  But it was too late now.

“I had a rough conversation with Drew again.  He had a bad conversation with his parents on the phone.  I was just trying to explain to him how much God loves him.  But he wouldn’t hear it.”

“Why do you even care about that guy, Alex?  He’s so mean to you.”

Alex switched the tree from his right shoulder to his left.  “It’s really important, Annie.  I feel sure that he doesn’t really know God, and I think he’s going to die soon.  I just don’t want to see him live his eternity in hell.”

“But what’s it to you?  He’s not even your friend.”  What was this obsession with God all of a sudden?  After the accident, he’d been talking about spirituality all the time–and not just to her, but to people he knew didn’t believe the way they did.  She didn’t know why.  Church was fine for Sundays, and she was really happy that she’d found a moral guy.  But to make it the topic of every conversation seemed a little much.  And why couldn’t he just leave Drew alone?  It was obvious that he didn’t really want to hear what Alex was selling.

Alex gripped the tree a little more tightly and started walking a little more quickly.  If he hadn’t been carrying the tree, Annie would have said that he was marching.  Annie struggled to keep up with him.  Finally, he answered, “I wish I could explain this to you, but obviously I can’t.  It’s important to talk about spiritual things with other people.  God cares about Drew, and God wants him to know that.  It’s important that he make a decision to follow God before he dies.”

“I get that it’s important to you that people have their spiritual lives figured out.  But it’s not our job to figure it out for them.  Drew obviously doesn’t care about this stuff.  So why even bother?” 

Annie tried desperately to keep the cringe off her face as she approached the farm’s hut to pay for the tree.  When they got back into the car, their conversation moved on to other topics.

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