Are You There, God? Part II
Two days before Christmas, Shelly’s brother, Tom, pulls his forest green beater into their parents’ gravel driveway. Shelly climbs out into the Minnesota snow, burying her pink Uggs a good four inches before standing up and closing the door. A glance at her brother, already unloading her bags from his trunk, makes her giggle. His flaming red hair is sticking straight up, poking above the green trunk door like the red star topper of a Christmas tree. Tom leans over to glare at her, “You could help, you know. After all, it’s your crap.”
Shelly forces her mirth aside, pulling her mouth into an exaggerated frown. “I’m so sorry, dear brother,” she teases, making her way to the back of the car, “I didn’t mean to offend your delicate sensibilities.”
Shelly ducks Tom’s half-hearted swipe, slipping back into laughter as she helps him wrestle her three bags into the red brick farmhouse standing before them, the one that always reminds her of the third pig’s house in the story, “The Three Little Pigs.” She drops her Dad’s old duffel bag on the floor and slips off her boots on the snowman checkered welcome mat, leaving Tom to carry the other two bags up to her room. Her parents are still at work so she saunters into the sunny yellow kitchen to scavenge for a snack.
As she paints peanut butter on four pieces of her Mom’s favorite seven grain bread, Shelly considers her homecoming. On the one hand, she is glad that her parents could afford to fly her home for the holidays, and she is really glad that they have kept her room for her, instead of turning it into an office or an exercise room, like some of her friend’s parents have done, but on the other hand, she is not looking forward to explaining her report card when it arrives. She turned in as much extra credit as she could talk her History teacher into allowing, but it can’t possibly have been enough to make up for the D she got on her research paper.
By the time Tom stumbles into the kitchen, tripping over himself like the gangly teenager that he is, Shelly is washing down her sandwich with a glass of skim milk. “Way to go, Loser,” Tom grumbles, “so glad you found time for a snack while I played bellhop. This isn’t the Hilton, you know.”
Shelly pushes a plate across the laminate countertop and gives Tom a playful glare. “If you’d open your eyes, Loser, you’d see I made a sandwich for you, too.”
“Oh, well, thanks,” concedes Tom. “By the way,” he mumbles around a mouthful of sticky-as-tar peanut butter, shoving a stack of mail towards Shelly, “this is all yours.”
Shelly can feel the heat rising in her neck, and suddenly the peanut butter sandwich begins rolling around her stomach like a ball caught in a lottery barrel. She sifts through the pile of mail, pushing aside American Express applications and L.L. Bean catalog’s in her search for Northwestern’s purple logo. A quarter of the way through the batch Shelly finds what she is looking for. In fact, there are two envelopes from Northwestern.
She rips open the first envelope determinedly, while at the same time her heart is praying, Please, God, don’t let this be as bad as I think it is. Finding a letter, rather than a report card, Shelly does a quick scan, expecting the annual alumni request for monetary donations, but pausing when her eyes catch the word, ‘TriQuarterly,’ the title of Northwestern’s online literary print journal. She can feel her heartbeat speed up, pitter-pattering like a spring rain, as she zones in on the document, now searching for a different group of words, “Keeping the Faith.” There it is! “We are pleased to inform you that your Slice of Life article, “Keeping the Faith,” has been accepted for publication in our next issue of TriQuarterly Online.”
By this time, Tom has finished his sandwich and moved on in search of entertainment in the form of Halo II, so Shelly is free to do her happy dance without fear of ridicule. “Woohoo!” she yells, kicking her legs in a sickly imitation of an Irish jig. Thank you, God, for this validation!
Plopping back onto the warmed vinyl barstool, Shelly takes a cleansing breath and tears into the second envelope. A glimmer of hope begins to waver within her, like the first sparks of a campfire that have yet to be fanned into flame. Victory! She pumps her fist into the air as the enormous weight of senior year research papers and finals float up to the ceiling – through it, even, up to the heights of heaven, where God waits with a catcher’s mitt at the ready.