Here is sample chapter 3 of part 1 of my novel The Little Seer. Please let me know what you think!
The Little Seer, Part I: Desert
Aria passed over three crock pots of steaming baked beans on the card table the elders had set up behind her house. She gazed up at the two-story brick colonial with peeling white trim.
This house had always been home to her. The old church had been home, too, though. She missed the white wood building with the single bell in the steeple, the honeysuckle that grew under the windows—windows that opened to let fresh air in.
Aria scooped a large dollop of macaroni salad onto her paper plate, leaving room for a handful of cheddar potato chips and one sugar snap pea.
“I see you’ve got all your food groups there,” Mr. Bob said. He shuffled down the length of the table next to Aria and dug into the beans.
She looked up at him with a mischievous smile.
His red neck was spilling over the edge of his collar again. Mr. Bob always seemed to have a red face and nose, like he was holding in a sneeze.
“I have to eat my vegetables,” she replied.
She picked up a second plate with a frosted brownie on it.
Balancing both plates in one hand and her red punch in the other with a napkin and fork, Aria made her way across the lawn to where Jenny and Tara were perched on the lawn chairs by the back flowerbeds.
It was a warm spring, and the tall hibiscus stalks and peony blossoms were already starting to droop behind Jenny and Tara’s bare legs, which sprouted like pale stems from their denim shorts.
Aria smiled, but Tara turned away.
As Aria approached, she could hear Tara saying, “You know you could!”
Jenny giggled and tossed her long, dark hair.
“You could what?” Aria asked.
They both looked up at her.
“Um, you know!” Tara said meaningfully. She raised one eyebrow and wiggled a speared piece of asparagus at Jenny.
Jenny giggled again.
Aria gingerly placed her plates on the arm of a lawn chair that faced the house. “Yeah,” she said without smiling. She settled in to eat her brownie first.
She cleared her throat.
“What?” Tara asked, turning back to her with a hand on her hip.
I’m scared my dreams are going to hurt me and I want to know if God is real or if I’m crazy, and all you can do is giggle about asparagus! Aria thought, her forehead flushing hot.
“Nothing,” she said. She finished her brownie and dug into the macaroni.
A sudden yell from behind sent Aria sprawling on the grass. Something had bitten her ankles like a snake. Macaroni landed on her back, and her brownie went face down into the lawn.
She whirled around to find Jimmy wearing her chair like a sombrero.
“Jimmy!” she yelled.
Phil Donagee, Mr. Bob, and his wife Gail turned from their conversation across the lawn to look. Ms. Gail lifted her head out of her gray turtleneck, raising a pale blonde eyebrow. She reminded Aria of a turtle that lived in Mrs. Coghill’s backyard pond down the street—always pulling his head up and down to check for danger.
“Don’t hit me. I’m just a messenger,” Jimmy said with a grin.
“From whom?” Aria asked, shoving out her chin.
“God! He wants you to know, Technicolor Dreamcoat, that you’re crazy!”
Jimmy danced in a circle with the chair on his head.
Aria rolled her eyes, but she looked around to see who was watching. Ms. Nancy was keeping an eye on them over her paper cup, but when she saw Aria looking at her she turned back to her conversation with Jenny’s parents, the Stauffins. They were wearing their usual khaki, Mr. Stauffin’s slacks considerably more sizeable than his wife’s.
Phil Donagee was still watching too, but he met Aria’s gaze and smiled. He snapped his phone shut and raised his cup of punch in a silent toast to their mutual love of sugary picnic foods. His protruding belly, which strained against his polo shirt, betrayed the fact that he had seen a lot more picnic food in his day than Aria, though his stomach was as solid as a tree from his Army days—something the boys from the youth group hadn’t expected when he had invited them to punch him in the gut.
“Excuse me, everyone, can I have your attention over here?”
Pastor Ted broke the awkward lull in conversation by stepping up onto the deck and holding his arms up like Moses over the Red Sea.
“Everyone? Yes, thank you. Jimmy, put that chair down! Okay.”
Jimmy crouched down under Aria’s lawn chair and backed out to kneel on the grass. He grinned at Aria again, who crossed her arms and turned to glare at Pastor Ted.
Pastor Ted’s dark eyes held everyone’s gaze.
“I have some exciting news for you all,” he said with a toothy smile. “As you know, we have been fundraising to save up a down payment on our new building, which just passed its final inspections. Well, we had enough to roll our construction loan into a mortgage, so the new building is ours!”
He twirled his hands and took a shallow bow.
The church members tucked their plates into their elbows and clapped.
“God is so good,” Aria heard Ms. Nancy say to Jenny’s mom.
“Yes, isn’t his favor a wonderful thing?” Jenny’s mom replied with a bright white smile.
But as Aria turned around she caught Phil Donagee grumbling, “And how are we expected to pay for the rest of the building?”
He saw her watching him again and shut his mouth. He dug into a slice of cherry pie so aggressively that his fork stuck through the bottom of the plate.
Aria heard her plate crack under the force of Jimmy’s swift kick as he ran off to raid the desert table with Tara’s little sister Lydia, but her eyes were still locked on Pastor Ted.
He was watching her, too. His arms dropped to his sides, and he scowled.
Aria stared back, arms still folded across her chest.
Her skin crawled.
Why did I never notice how fake his smile is? she thought.
Then fear hit her in the pit of her stomach. What did Ms. Nancy tell him about my dream? She suddenly felt naked and looked away.
Mr. Bob came up behind Pastor Ted and whispered something to him, causing him to finally look away and run his fingers through his brown hair. He nodded and smiled at the deck as Mr. Bob explained something, then followed him to where Aria’s dad was standing by the sliding door to the family room.
Aria noticed her dad’s soft brown eyes looked troubled. He leaned against the house, ignoring the breeze mussing his sandy hair and picking furiously at the brick behind his back with a fingernail. Mr. Bob and Pastor Ted stepped into the house, and he turned to follow, escorting them inside with an outstretched arm.
An elder’s meeting during a picnic? Aria wondered. Her dad was the treasurer, but he should have been flipping burgers at the grill now, not talking money.
I wonder if they really do have enough money, Aria thought before turning away to get more food.
“Hey, Aria,” Aria’s mom called to her. “Your friends are going to play volleyball.”
“Why didn’t we set up the net in the back yard?” Aria called back with a hint of a whine.
“There aren’t as many people at the picnic this year, sweetie. We don’t need all the space in the front yard, so you kids get the run of it!”
“Fine. Keep the back yard. All you talk about is money,” Aria grumbled as she made her way around the house to the front. “No wonder people don’t want to come to church anymore.”
Aria dragged her feet through the grass on her way to the front yard, where the youth group boys were batting the volleyball over Tara’s head and laughing. Tara stretched her arm up as high as she could every time they threw the ball, screaming and laughing, but she couldn’t intercept it.
The boys paid attention to Tara. Aria was starting to realize that Tara’s blonde hair put her in a different category than the rest of the girls. She tucked her short dark hair behind her ear and joined the game that was starting in the middle of the lawn where they had always placed circles of chairs for the picnic.
Her mother had relaxed by the grill with Mr. Bob and Mrs. Stauffin and Phil Donagee in this spot the previous spring. They had laughed until they spilled their iced teas, watching Aria’s father, grill tools still in one hand, drag little Bobby Sinchak out of the drink cooler by his ankles, still clutching one soda in each fist.
Just a year ago. Was that possible? Those were noisier, happier times, when neighbors dropped in on a whim and helped fry piles of pork chops, when Aria fell asleep to the clinking of glasses and murmurs of happy conversation that carried over long past dinner and into the Indiana night.
It was before relations had started to turn cold between Aria’s parents and their friends, before Jenny’s mom had yelled at Aria’s mom after church. Aria couldn’t remember what she had said, exactly, but she remembered her mom’s answer.
“It’s everyone’s business how these revival meetings are managed,” her mom had replied, loud enough for Aria’s friends to stop their game of tag around the refreshments table and stare.
The women saw their husbands watching them and lowered their voices as they turned to hiss at each other. “You don’t manage God, Lily,” Jenny’s mom said.
“You do steward the blessings God gives you, though, and this revival thing is getting out of control!” Aria’s mom replied.
“Revival is a blessing from God!” Mrs. Stauffin raised her voice.
“Real revival, yes,” Aria’s mom shot back.
“Are you saying this church’s revival is fake?” Mrs. Stauffin gasped.
“You think it’s a sign of genuine renewal in the church when people roll around on the floor in hysterics but then get up to live their lives without any change? God comes to bless his people, to change their hearts! To heal them! Not just to show them a good time and let them go on being their miserable old selves.”
Mrs. Stauffin had stood with her mouth hanging open while Aria’s mom quickly composed herself and left to greet other congregants with a tight smile.
And then there’s the money, Aria thought. What will happen if the people still attending the church can’t pay for the building? This revival was supposed to bring in more people.
Then a terrible thought struck her. What if that was all the revival was for?
“Aria! Hit the ball when it comes over the net! Don’t just stand there dreaming,” Tara called to her. Aria turned to see the boys snickering through the net.
“Our serve!” the blond twins Jesse and Josiah said, and shifted positions for the next play. Aria blushed and hunched down to be ready to return the next ball.