Terri-ble Trouble

   small houseWham! The door of the old servants' quarters slammed shut as Terri plopped her books down on the table, then thought better of it, and picked them up again.

     "Terri," Mrs. DuBois called, "You know Tanner takes his nap at 3:00PM. Will you please be more careful with that door?"

     " 'Theresa', Mom. I told everyone that I want to be called Theresa."

      Fran sighed. Yes, Terri had told her two nights ago. Each night she and Tristen took turns talking with each of their six children. Once the twins had been born and the "kid count" had reached four, they had decided that they would take time with each child each night so they would always feel loved and important. But when little handicapped Tanner had come along three years ago, and Tamika, a 15 1/2 year old foster child a year later, the nightly routine had to be split between them.

     Now she pondered Terri's sudden change in personality since entering high school three weeks before. Terri had told her that she wanted a more sophisticated, feminine name like the other girls. The family was supposed to use her given name, Theresa Juliette. All the other girls were using their full names. Fran wondered if it might have more to do with the fact that the class bully was Terry Jonas.

     Terri interrupted her thoughts.

     "If we ever do get a new house, I won't have to worry about banging doors. This old place is just impossible."

     "You should be thankful Preacher Talbert allowed us to live here on the plantation. And besides, you know full well that the insurance company is giving your Dad fits over the claim on the fire."

     "Soorrrry!" Terri apologized.  

      "Terri - I mean Theresa, that will be enough."

     Terri knew her parents had a thing about "attitudes", but she didn't feel like being thankful, or worrying about Tanner. This little 19th century house was squashed. There were only three bedrooms. She and Tamika had to share one; TJ, Tyson, and Tom were squeezed into another, and Mom and Dad had to keep Tanner and all his medical equipment in theirs. There was no real dining room or living room, just one large room that served as the kitchen, dining area, and living area all at the same time. And there was only one add-on bathroom. They had to schedule times for baths in the old tub. There was no shower. They almost had to schedule times to "go" with eight people in the house.

     Tamika was flopped across their double bed when Terri entered their room. She was going through some music to sing for church. Terri knew it would only be a few minutes before she started practicing. Unlike the rest of the kids, who did chores and played after school, Terri liked to get her homework done right away. That way she could get some peace and quiet to write while the others did their homework after supper. If she got her work done early, she would escape to her favorite old dogwood tree. But it was raining. It was going to be terribly hard to concentrate today.

    Terri usually spent her free time writing. She was good at it, and she knew it. She wasn't proud or cocky though. She understood that God had given her a talent, and she intended to use it to write Christian fiction for children someday. She had already won an essay contest on the sanctity of human life and written a short series for kids who were just learning to read. Her parents had secretly found and surprised her with a Christian publishing house that had accepted her works. They were great about that, but when the house burnt down there was suddenly no money. Oh, why did God have to let their nice, large home burn down, the one with three bathrooms?

 

     High school had proven to be somewhat of a challenge for Terri. Not that the classes were too hard. She already had skipped 5th grade. Back then skipping would have been an easy transition for her, except that it was the same year her brother, TJ, a year older, had to repeat 4th grade. They had started out together, but TJ couldn't go as fast as the rest.  Now he was only in 7th grade, while she was in 9th. The other kids always compared the two of them. She hated that. However, she had different difficulties now. First, for eight years she had been in Grace Christian School "A", the first of the four elementary and junior high schools in the greater Huntsville area. Now she was in Grace Christian Regional High School with 3/4 of the teens being from the other schools. Her life-long girlfriend, Mary Kate, was still there, but she seemed to be melting into new circles. Secondly, she was 1-2 years younger than the rest of her class. The kids from the other schools didn't want to bother with a 13 year old, especially one that could show them up academically in almost any class.

     There were two students, much to her dismay, who did notice her: Terry Jonas and Sam Taylor. Her long, straight, auburn hair, flashing dark eyes, and trim shape drew their attention like ants to a picnic. Furthermore, unlike her family, they liked to call her Theresa Juliette.  A week after school started Terry had reached out for her hand. She slapped it quietly.

     The remainder of September was no improvement. Terry and Sam were making up inappropriate things to say whenever they passed in the halls. After lunch one day, when she went to get books from her locker, Sam, even tried to grab ...  Terri was seething. She had grown up with 4 boys at home and was no wimp. She trounced his foot. Sam yowled. Terry pushed her away from his cohort. She banged her head hard on her open locker door. Terri had taken enough. She was humiliated and her head hurt. She decided it was time for this stooge to learn some math. She jerked her algebra book from the shelf, and before she knew what had happened, Terry was on the floor, holding his head, with a small line of blood trickling through his fingers.

     By this time a large group of students had gathered, and two adults. One was the assistant principal. Terri tried to melt into her locker, but slim as she was, she was too wide for its narrow space.

     "What is going on here?" demanded Mr. Decker.

     "Miss DuBois, here, hit this young gentleman over the head with her, ah… algebra book?"  That was Mrs. Trumble, an algebra teacher of many years. "I saw her myself. Acting like a total hooligan in the halls of our fine Christian school." 

     "And for some reason, which I can’t imagine, she stomped on my foot as we went by," added Sam helpfully.

     Terri was stunned and speechless. Was she going to take the blame for this catastrophe? Everyone in Grace Christian "A" knew Terry Jonas was a troublemaker. The only reason he was still in the Grace Christian school system was because his parents were paying for extra tutoring and counseling, and Preacher Talbert was still trying "to rescue his poor soul". 

    She gazed across the hall. She saw “Mary Kathryn”, her old friend. Terri clearly remembered that she had been there and seen the whole thing. Terri made a pleading face at Mary Kate, who shrugged her shoulders airily and turned to talk with her new friends.

     "Take Terrell Jonas to the nurse’s office," Mr. Decker barked orders. "I want to speak with Samuel Taylor now. Miss DuBois, Theresa is it? You go to the waiting room outside the offices and wait. I will speak to you last. Then we will be calling your parents." 

    

     Tristen DuBois said nothing on the ride home, but his eyes were flashing. 

     "But it wasn't my fault, Dad." It was the only thing Terri could muster,

       Fran DuBois had been out grocery shopping. The principal, Mr. Hammond, had thought it was necessary to contact one parent immediately, so he called Tristen during an important meeting at work to come get her. Terri had been suspended for the next three days with no make-up work. That meant she would get an "F" automatically on her Literature test tomorrow. Tris said nothing until they reached home.

     "Tell me what happened, Terri. I'm listening." he said in an even tone.

     Terri didn't even correct him for not calling her Theresa. How was she going to explain this one to her dad?  One thing in their home was "girl things" were only talked about by the "girls", and "guy things" were only talked about by the "guys". She hung her head, fighting the tears. Through blurry vision she focused on something that flashed. It was her diamond ring that Dad had given her for her 13th birthday last March.

     There had been a special seminar for the 7th-12th grades last December. The man preached on staying pure and purposing not to defile yourself. Then the girls were separated from the guys. His wife had spoken to the girls about keeping yourself clean for the Lord and your future husband; wearing modest, feminine, appropriate clothing and why the Bible commanded it; carrying yourself properly, and behaving appropriately around boys. She had used examples like Ruth, Mary, and the virtuous woman in Proverbs chapter 31. Terri had heard a lot of that before because Mom had been dealing with Tamika, but somehow that day in December, it was different. Maybe it was because Tamika had messed up her life so badly. Tamika had been expecting a baby when she was 14, but she had had an abortion. Maybe it was because Terri was growing up. She was 12 then. Maybe it was just because the Holy Spirit had been working in her heart. Maybe all three. But of one thing she was certain. She told God she was going to be that virtuous woman someday. She was going to stay pure right up until her wedding day. She told Mom during "talk time" that night. Mom had been so pleased. When her birthday came, so did a beautiful gold ring with a cross on it and one tiny little diamond. Dad wanted her to have something as a token of that promise to God and as a remind her of it through her teen years.

      Terri studied her ring. She was sure she hadn't acted like a virtuous woman today, getting into an all out fight in the hall. Getting suspended. Making Dad leave work early. Getting a zero on an important test. Her dad was really disappointed in her. She was sure. So was God. That was it. She had failed God. Not like forgetting to do your chores or something, but something really big. She couldn't hold the tears any more. She collapsed into her dad's firm arms. She couldn't say anything. All she could do was cry and cry.

     "I love you, my little Rosebud."

 

    "Fran, I don't get it." Tristen threw up his hands.

     "One minute Terri is normal - quiet, busy, writing, respectful. The next she is trying to be "sophisticated - Theresa Juliette”. Then she's upset about everything. There's the fire too. She still hasn't gotten over that. It's been four months.  One moment she's our little girl who loves the Lord. Then out of nowhere, she gets in a fight. She wouldn't tell me anything about it either. She's always been open with me. And have you noticed her language around here. She's beginning to sound like Tamika used to. And her attitudes! Where are they coming from? By God's grace alone we survived Tamika, but I can't do this again, Fran. What's with her?"

     "I haven't heard you put that many words in a row since TJ mowed your new hybrid rose plants," laughed Fran. 

     "I still can't believe he thought they were weeds..."

     "...because they had thorns on them." she finished.

     "Incredible how his mind works."

     "Seriously Tris, don't think too hard about Terri. She is 13, you know.

     "Oh... ah, hormones - right? Girl stuff? 

     "Yes, Tris," nodded Fran. "Girl stuff. Besides all that, she is under an awful strain at Grace Christian. Can't you see the change since the school year began? She's so young to be coping with high school pressures. Her best friend ignores her. Terri doesn't fit in any more. She doesn't know where she fits in, or if she will ever fit in again." 

     "Mary Kate? That airheaded red head who thought she lived here every weekend?"

     "Yes. You haven't noticed she's been missing?”

     "Well, there's already six kids in this little place and..."

     "Tris, you're tired. You've had a hard meeting this morning and then this thing with Terri. Let's give it a little time. Don’t push. She's growing up. She'll tell us in her own time. She's pretty upset now. I suspect there is much more to this than what you were told."

     "You think so, Fran?"

 

     September faded into October, but Terri still did not tell anyone what had actually happened. The kids at school were openly making fun of the “Math Book Masher”. She was beginning to understand what TJ had gone through for so many years.

     Home life didn’t improve either. She retreated into herself more and more. Tamika’s continual presence in their room was a growing frustration. Tamika was so much happier than she used to be, always talking about how the Lord did this or that.

     It was Terri’s turn to watch Tanner. Each of the three teens was required to watch him one hour each week, so Mom could get a little break. Mom was also training the 9 year old twins to care for him for a short time, but she still stayed with them. Tanner had always been so listless, almost lifeless, but lately he was beginning to cry more. Occasionally he made other noises which interrupted her writing, which wasn’t going so well. She put down her notebook. There was something odd about his behavior change. Terri, Tamika, and TJ all had the notion that he might be trying to communicate. Mom didn’t want to get her hopes up.

      While she sat, Terri thought back over her life. She picked up her notebook and wrote her thoughts as they came. Why did she have to get stuck with a zombie for a little brother? Why did his twin sister, Tanya have to die 3 days after she was born? Terri had been only 10 when she looked into the little casket. That was so awful. Mom had been impossible too. On occasion, she could still hear Mom crying after everyone was asleep. It wasn’t fair. Years ago, Mom had lost another  baby girl before it was born. That was before TJ came. And TJ wasn’t exactly “normal”. "Perceptual difficulties" they said. Yet TJ was always friendly, even to those who ridiculed him. She didn’t understand that – how he could be nice to his enemies. After Mom got over Tanya, Tamika came. No, the word “came” didn’t fit. She had blown in more like a tornado, leaving destruction in its wake.  Then there were twins, Tyson and Tom. At least they were healthy and normal.

     Then came the fire. That horrible fire! They lost everything even though they had all gotten out. Ty’s dog Rock got killed. Ty had left him behind so he could save Tom’s dog, Rick, to show Tom God’s love. Tom had fallen and broken his elbow. It wasn’t fair. Why did Ty have to lose his dog? What had he done wrong? Tom was the one who had been so jealous before he got saved.

     School, the last awful frontier. How could she ever regain her status as a normal human being? She had always been the good kid at Grace Christian "A". Now she was considered unstable or a trouble maker by the faculty. People at church were beginning to believe all the gossip too. Why hadn’t she spoken up? Why didn’t she tell Mr. Decker and Mr. Hammond the truth? She had said nothing at all.

     Dad called for supper. Her time with Tanner was up for this week. She really did love the little guy. It was just so hard for everyone to care for him all the time.

 

     Fran and Tris prayed constantly for their little rosebud who apparently was wilting. Fran spent extra time with Terri every night at talk time, trying to get her to open up, but she shunned her mother’s love all the more. Tris noticed that she wasn’t writing sermon notes in her ever-present notebook any more. She was getting hateful with the boys too, even TJ, whom she had always protected. Tamika tried to get her to talk too.

     It was a few days before Halloween. The boys had decided to go around passing out tracts on Trick-or-Treat night. They wanted Tamika and Terri to go with them. Tamika wanted to, but had to babysit Tanner. Dad had a deacon’s meeting, and Mom had the flu. Terri had planned to go along, but when TJ called her to go, Terri had changed her mind. She turned on him like a vicious dog. TJ backed away, confused and worried.

     “Dad,” he asked during talk time, “What’s wrong with Terri? She always wanted to serve God. Now she doesn’t care about Him anymore. She doesn’t do anything but write in that old book of hers – except in church. She doesn’t take notes anymore.

     “You noticed that too, Son?

     “Uh huh.”

     “I wish I knew, TJ. I’m not sure I understand either. Your mother says it part of being a girl growing up. I’m sure glad you, Ty, Tom, and Tanner are boys.”

     “Me too. Let’s quit talking. Let’s pray for her tonight.”

     Dad smiled and gave his oldest son a bear hug. They understood each other perfectly.

     

      November rolled in. Nothing had changed. The insurance company still had not given approval for money for a new house to be built. Terri still had said nothing. She was working on schoolwork under her dogwood tree. It was a warm day in Alabama. Inside she could hear Tanner crying. He was getting a good set of lungs. Mom was talking, trying to calm him. Tamika was singing in their room. Ty was practicing for a performance with his boys’ choir, playing the accompaniment on a piano someone at church had loaned them. (There were now two less chairs in the small room.) Terri knew God had given him a talent like He had her, but there were two people singing and the piano over top of Mom’s continuous talking. TJ and Tom were throwing football in the old cotton field next to the house that Preacher Talbert had given them to use.

     Preacher Talbert’s gardener had taught TJ how to drive the tractor mower. He had mowed the field, and the twins had helped clean it.

     “Better for the boys to take care of it for themselves,” he had said. “Then they won’t take it for granted.”

     Rick was barking and intercepting the ball, which made the boys holler more than they had been. Terri couldn’t take the chaos for another minute.

     “Mom,” she demanded, as she stomped in, banging the door again, “We have to get out of this dump. I’m going nuts with all this noise. I can’t even get away from it outside! I never have any quiet anymore. I never have any privacy. I’m going crazy!” She broke into tears, ran back out the door and kept going, way past her tree.

 

     “Preacher Talbert, we have a problem at home.”

     “… and its name is Terri,” he cut in.

     “Yes.” They both responded at the same time.

     “You know we are eternally grateful for you giving us a place to live…”

     “…but it is a mite tight out there. Right?

     “Uh….yes, Sir.”

     “I thought so. I’ve been doin’ some thinkin’ on that here of late. I done noticed that Terri likes to keep to herself and do all that writin’. She’s good at it too. Us adults need to respect her and encourage that – the writin’ part that is. I think what that child needs is some place for herself. Someplace quiet where she can hear herself thinkin’.”

     “I was already plannin’ to call you folks. I was considerin’ on that child, and the good Lord put an idea right in my head last night. When your house burnt flat, I knowed the Lord wanted me to help. After all He done gave me this huge plantation. But I couldn’t bring myself to have you and that quiver full of children you have to live in the mansion with me. I didn’t think I could take the noise and all. I told myself I needed a quiet place to study the Good Book, and that eight people would be disturbin’ my quiet. So I let you have the servants’ quarters instead. But the Lord told me I was bein’ selfish. Those folks need more space, especially those teenagers.”

     “Well, I got to thinkin’. There are at least 10 bedrooms on the second and third floors. My room’s downstairs, so as I don’t have to do all those stairs. I’m thinkin’ that it might be helpful if Terri had a quiet room all her own to be doin’ her writin’ in and all. She wouldn’t make no noise. Then the Lord cracked my head again and I thought of that Tamika, almost all growed up now, and becomin’ a young lady, studyin’ hard to catch up, and needin’ a place to practice her singin’. I thought she might want a room up on the top floor. I wouldn’t hear her up there. She could start learnin’ to be on her own again a mite– the right way this time. And of course there’s our shining young Master TJ. Maybe he could study just a bit better if he had a quiet room too. They are all old enough not to break things, and I think I could trust ‘em to behave when they are here.”

     Tristen and Fran looked at each other and then back at Preacher Talbert.

     “Are you sure?”

     “Yessah, I’m sure. The Lord done told me.”

     Terri was thrilled when her parents told her about having her own quiet room to visit each day after school.

      “At least someone in the stupid church and school still respects me and isn’t perverted by all the gossip.”

     “Theresa!”

     The next week the three teens moved their few favorite things from their bedrooms to their new “quiet rooms” in the plantation house. They came and went all week, but Friday evening Terri did not come home for supper.

     “She’s working on a special essay of some kind,” explained Tamika, “in hopes that her Literature teacher will accept it for extra credit, and make up for that test she lost when she was suspended.”

     Fran fixed a plate of food and handed it to TJ.

     “Here, run this over to Terri. Tell her to be home in time for devotions and talk time.”

 

     On Monday, Terri was bright as she hopped onto the school bus. She had finished her essay on the comparison of two Puritan writers. She was sure it would do the trick. No matter what people thought of her, she was not a quitter. She was going to get an A if it killed her.

     As she put her coat in her locker, she heard Terry and Sam coming down the hall. They had gotten off with only a warning, and they reminded her of it constantly. They were throwing her their normal, crude wise cracks.

     “You can’t ruin my day today.” She waved her essay in their faces. “I’ve got a full-proof plan for Lit class. You are not going to ruin my grade after all.”

     “Oh, that’s right. The “Math Book Masher” is also a “Lousy Literature Flunkee.” Terry cracked.

     “Knock it off. You’re not messing with me today.”

     The boys continued, their crude harassment growing exceedingly suggestive.

     “That’s horrible! Everybody knows you’re not a Christian, Terry Jonas, but I am! Do you know what this ring means? She shoved it in his face, fist clinched. If you two don’t lose your sick, unsavory suggestions, I’m going to turn into the “History-Hitter!” She pulled out her fat history book and waved it menacingly in his face.

     “You wouldn’t…would you?”

     A few passing teens heard the threat. They backed off, but hung around to see if anything would happen. The warning bell rang. The others left.

     “I’ll get you later, Book-Bonker,”

     Terri forgot about the morning hassle with Terry and Sam when she got to Lit class. Miss Winfried, her teacher refused to accept her paper because she had been under disciplinary action. Her grade was part of her discipline. She would have to learn to take the consequences for her actions.

    Ah! Phys. Ed. The end of the day. She took off her shoes. She was taking her time getting re-dressed. On P.E. days she usually chose to skip the bus and ride home with Mrs. Cartwright, who lived only a short distance from the Talbert Plantation. She was one of the few who had reserved judgment about the September fight. All of the other girls had left, except Angie, who was on the far side of the lockers.

     She heard a bang as the heavy locker room door closed. She looked up to see Terry and Sam smiling triumphantly at her. Sam had snatched her skirt, and Terry reached out to grab her. Terri ducked. Angie poked her head around the row of lockers, screamed, and quickly retreated. Terri swung the shoe in her hand with all her might. The heel caught Terry on the side of his head - hard. He staggered and howled. She winced. She had done it again. The coach in the office heard the noise and came to investigate. Angie had already grabbed her things and made a hasty getaway. So did the boys. Terri made a dive for the skirt on the floor. It was only then that she realized with great relief that she was still wearing her sweats.

     “Thank God,” she blurted.

     The coach, seeing only Terri, shrugged her shoulders and ordered,

     “Keep it down in here. I have to think.

 

     Terri retreated to her room in the mansion without a word to anybody.

     Tamika had finished her homework early and was already upstairs. Terri could hear her bumping around. She flopped on the antique bed and cried.

     A few minutes later, there was a knock on the door. The teens normally respected each other’s privacy, but Tamika could hear Terri crying. After a few minutes she quietly entered the room and put an arm around her. Terri jumped, but let Tamika hug her for a while. She sobbed harder. Tamika just held her tight. She had been here herself not too long ago. Terri finally turned to look at her adopted sister.

     “Oh, Tamika. You’ll never believe what happened. I’m so humiliated. I’m mortified. I can’t stand this anymore.”

     “Tell me, Kid.”

     The load was too much for her. She could bear it no longer. It all tumbled out, from before the fire until the locker room.

     “You really need to tell Mom and Dad,” Tamika admonished. They can help you. So can Jesus, if you’ll let Him.”

      Tamika’s mention of the Lord made her squirm.

     “I can’t tell anyone else. They are already so disappointed with me. I failed them all. Worst of all, I failed God. I promised I was going to be a virtuous woman, but I feel like trash. That's the only reason I can tell you, because you…”

     Terri stopped short. She suddenly realized the implication of what she was saying to Tamika.

     “…because I was trash,” finished Tamika.

     “No. That not what I meant. I…”

     “Yes, it was what you meant, and you were right. I was trash, but Jesus saved me. I’m forgiven. He washed away all my sin and gave me a new life. I don’t have that weight of guilt on my back anymore. You can’t imagine all the horrible things I did. I hurt myself and everyone I knew. I kill…” She choked, then continued shakily.

     “On top of it all... I burnt the house down.”

     Terri looked up at her with horror.

     “On purpose?”

      “No, not this time.”

     “You didn’t know that, did you, Kid? I left my hair straightening iron on, and the fire chief says a towel must have fallen on it. That’s why the insurance doesn’t want to pay. They call it 'negligence'.”

     “Worst of all, I spent my whole life hurting Jesus, and He still loved me. So did your parents.” Now Tamika was crying too.

     “It’s OK to feel bad about the fire. You lost the house you had always lived in and everything you had. But you have to tell Jesus how you feel. Tell Him you are angry. Tell him you are hurt. Tell him you are all messed up inside. Tell Him you don’t understand. Ask him to forgive you and help you feel thankful for the things you do have. Tell Him you want to be thankful for the servants’ quarters. Tell Him you are thankful for your quiet room here. Tell Him you are thankful for Preacher Talbert. Tell Him you are thankful for everyone escaping the fire. Tell Him you are thankful even for Rock dying, because it was Ty’s sacrificing him that helped Tom get saved. Don’t you get it, Kid? If it hadn’t been for the fire, Tom would still be lost and going to hell for all eternity. Are a house and a dog as important as your brother’s eternal life? He would have been in a worse fire forever and ever.”

     Tamika continued. Terri shuddered at the memory of the burning house. She could still see the flames in the dark night. She imagined the flames of hell. She pushed her face back into the pillow.

     “I know you know that in your head, but you didn’t let it sink into your heart. You’re letting your emotions be your fuel. Don’t let your feelings run your life. Right now your feelings are mixed up about all kinds of things. That’s why you can’t see straight.” Tamika stopped to catch her breath.

     “About school, and the fights. You have to tell Mother and Dad the whole story. They are mostly disappointed because you haven’t been talking to them. They don’t know what happened. They will understand. They understood me when I was hopeless.”

      She rolled Terri over to look right into her face.

     “Theresa Juliette DuBois…” she corrected in a parental tone.

     “…you did nothing wrong when you stomped Sam’s foot. He deserved it. You were only trying to keep your promise to God. And about Terry – you were only protecting yourself against Grace Christians’s worst creep. He could have hurt you real bad. What else do you think you should have done? Don’t you understand?”

     “What you did mess up on was not telling what happened right away. You made your own life ... and ours miserable. I know it would have been embarrassing for you; you’re always so closed. I know  telling Mr. Decker and Mr. Hammond would have been awful for you. But you could have told Mother… or me. I’m learning to listen, and I’m not afraid to say anything. You know that. Do you know how hard Mother has tried to get you to tell her what happened? She never did believe you did something really terrible. She wanted to help you. Me and Mother and Dad prayed for you every night. TJ too, I think. I got up to go to the bathroom one night. I heard Mother crying while she was praying.

     “Really? Honest-to-God truth?”

     “Honest-to-God truth. Wait. I’ll be back.”

 

     “Mother! It’s Terri! Come!” Tamika was out of breath from the sprint back from the mansion.

     Fran looked at Tamika. She understood. She was just getting ready to recall the troops and serve supper.

     “TJ, get supper on the table for you and the twins. Keep an eye on Tanner. He’s been fed. Then get to your homework – all of you.”

    Tristen walked in the door from work, tired and hungry.

     “Tris, it’s time.”

     Fran and Tristen quietly knocked on Terri’s door and entered. Tamika followed. She could help fill in what Terri couldn’t say. It was almost 8:00PM before they all bowed their heads for prayer and everyone gave Terri an encircling hug. She didn’t pull away.

     “Fran, take the girls home. I have some business to attend to – some phone calls to make. I’m sure Preacher Talbert will allow me to use his phone. It’s my turn to read devotions tonight. Cover for me. You’ll have to do all the talk time with the boys. I know you’re dead on your feet, but I may be late. Put out some leftovers for me.”

 

     A week later Mr. Hammond summoned Terri to his office. When she arrived, Mr. Decker was present also. She shrunk into a chair. What was she going to get in trouble for this time?

     “Miss Dubois, I mean Theresa, we’re here today to make an apology. We did not give you a proper chance to explain what happened. We assumed what Mrs. Trumble said was true. It was, as much as she saw, but she didn’t see the whole thing. Sam was new to the Grace Christian school system, and we took his statement for truth, since you never contradicted it. We made assumptions. We should have investigated further before making a decision. We understand now why you were hesitant to speak. We failed you. When you needed help, we were throwing stones. Theresa, will you forgive us?”

     Terri nodded slowly, still trying to make sense of what she was hearing.

     “We want you to know that you will be safe here at Mercy. Both boys have been released. It will be up to your father whether he wants to do anything legally. We have spoken to your teachers to see if there were any academic consequences for which we were responsible. Miss Winfried will administer your missed test when you are prepared. Study hard. She will also accept your essay for an appropriate amount of extra credit. Coach will be watching the locker room a little more closely too. We realize that your adjustment to Grace Christian Regional High has been difficult. Is there anything else we can do for you, Theresa?”

     Terri closed her mouth which had been hanging open and smiled weakly. Her mind went blank. What could they do more? Adults apologizing to her, a 13 year old freshman? Then it came to her.

     “Um,” she ventured, “there is one thing. Will you be at the Thanksgiving praise service?”

     They both nodded. She gained a little confidence.

     “Tamika helped me learn how to be thankful for things I never thought I could be – like the fire and the servants’ quarters. Every year I have written things down things I was thankful for and prayed it to the Lord, but this year I am going to read aloud the whole list  at the service."

      Ah...and please call me Terri.”

"Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart."

2 Timothy 2:22

"For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways."

Psalm 91:11

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