I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve officially signed a contract with Stairway Press to publish my next novel, Lie Lay Lain. Although we haven’t committed to a release date yet, I do expect it to be some time this year.
Considering how slowly publishing tends to move, this book is something of an oddity. My first novel, Last Will, took about three years to write and more than ten to sell. In a turn about, Lie Lay Lain took nine years to write and was sold in less than a year.
I don’t yet have a cover to reveal, but in honor of the signed contract, here’s an excerpt from the book.
The church’s Youth Director had an aura of cool that Olivia envied. She knew it influenced her, although she wanted to resist it. Marnie had always been one of the cool kids, Christian or otherwise, and when she tossed her hair back and clasped her hands over her modest cleavage and gold cross necklace, Olivia fell for it all over again.
“I have a huge favor to ask you,” Marnie said. She didn’t say it the way Olivia would have, like a supplicant. She said it with the same inflection she would have used to say, “I have a huge present for you.”
“How huge?” Olivia saved and closed the spreadsheet she’d been working on.
“I need another counselor to go on the Double Cross overnight.”
It was the sort of opportunity Olivia had once been eager for: participating in the youth ministry, making a difference in the kids’ lives, building the future of the church. Once upon a time, she’d been eager to live out all the public relations lingo Marnie used to recruit volunteer chaperones. Then Marnie shut her out, first telling Olivia she was too young to be a counselor and then four years later that she was too old. In short, Marnie didn’t want Olivia to be part of “the gang.” It felt like high school all over again.
Except now, Marnie needed her.
“I can’t. I’ve got plans with a friend.” Olivia reveled in knowing it wasn’t an excuse or a lie. She was supposed to see Rindell that night and she’d already promised Jennifer she’d go with her up to Anastasia State Park on Saturday, to help her find that little girl’s aunt. Olivia had a full weekend that didn’t include work or quilts.
Marnie didn’t even blink. “You could always reschedule with your friend. Double Cross only comes once a year and you can’t reschedule something special like that.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t.” Olivia didn’t care if her bulldog was showing. Marnie’s opportunism was so distasteful now that she could see the underbelly of it.
Two hours later, Marnie sent in the big guns. Pastor Lou poked his head into Olivia’s cubicle, peering at her over the top of his glasses.
“I hate to put you on the spot, Olivia, but I’d like to ask you to do something for me.”
“The difficulty,” Pastor Lou said, in the same voice he used to cajole the deacons board, “is that there’s no time for us to clear someone through the volunteer protocols. You, however, have already been through it, and you’re already on the insurance for the van.”
Olivia didn’t repeat what she’d said to Marnie, that she already had plans. She didn’t mention that she felt pressed into service, taken advantage of, taken for granted.
She said, “Okay, but I have to pack.”
At the hotel in Orlando, the other counselors and youths trundled their luggage down to their rooms. Olivia followed and discovered the full horror of what she’d been strong-armed into. She would be sharing a room with three teenage girls she barely knew. The adjoining suite held three more girls and another chaperone, Amy, one of the cool kids from the Young Couples Bible Study Group.
“We’re in for an adventure,” Amy said chummily, touching up her make-up.
“Yeah.” Olivia wasn’t surprised when they reached the concert venue that she was made to play the adult while Amy went off to chat with Marnie. Olivia was stuck doling out dinner money, corralling teenagers, and being asked, “Will you keep my lip gloss/cell phone/hairbrush/wallet in your purse?”
The music was nothing like the Christian bands of Olivia’s youth, but she preferred the unintelligible lyrics to the MC’s strident voice between bands.
“Give it up for Jesus!” he screeched, encouraging the kids to yell as loudly as they could. “You wanna know who the coolest guy in the world is? It’s Jesus. He’s your best friend, your study partner. He’s the man. Who da man?”
The answer came back in chorus: “Jesus is da man!”
It was all more slickly polished than it had been in Olivia’s day, and she covered her ears to make it bearable. From somewhere in her purse a cell phone vibrated. As she reached into the bag, searching for a phone that was probably not hers, she glanced up and saw two teenagers pressed together against a wall. They were wrapped around each other, kissing feverishly. The boy was a stranger. Or at least Olivia didn’t recognize the back of his floppy blond hair or his sagging jeans, but the girl was one of her own. Erica, in a tiny pink camisole that barely contained her breasts.
“Oh crap,” Olivia said out loud in the din of screaming guitars and teenagers. Her first ever outing as a youth group chaperone and she’d lost a sheep to the wolves.
Her first instinct was to wait for a more experienced counselor to intervene. Her second instinct was to march smartly over to the girl and give her a stern talking to—no, that was more of a fantasy than an instinct. Olivia did in fact take two steps toward the girl, but came up short when the contents of the “stern talking to” failed to materialize.
Her third instinct was to scurry through the crowd and tell Marnie. She found the youth director dancing in the middle of a circle of kids from Church of the Palms. At first Marnie smiled and waved obliviously. Only after Olivia made multiple gestures to her did she approach, frowning.
Leaning close, Olivia shouted into Marnie’s ear, “There’s a problem.”
“What kind of problem?”
“One of the girls is making out with some guy.”
Marnie was all responsible adult then. She followed Olivia back through the crowds, and promptly went into action. With a flurry of gestures and words Olivia couldn’t hear, Marnie separated Erica from the boy and herded her toward the Church of the Palms crowd. She did it without a single glance at Olivia, leaving her alone on the fringe of the crowd with her vibrating purse.
Back at the hotel, Olivia had plenty of time to repent not following her second instinct/fantasy. Marnie and Amy shut all six girls up in one suite with another chaperone and then they rounded on Olivia.
“How long was it going on before you came to get me?” Marnie said.
“I don’t know. I came and got you as soon as I saw it.” Olivia was as stupidly surprised at the contempt in the question as she had been in high school, facing down the random viciousness of cheerleaders.
“Why didn’t you intervene?”
“I didn’t know what to say,” Olivia said.
“How about ‘stop’?”
“We covered this last week,” Amy said. “We talked about abstinence in group last week.”
“I’m not a regular counselor. I don’t go to group.” Olivia hated how plaintive she sounded.
“Well, you can’t let them go off by themselves. You have to stay close to them,” Amy said.
“I can’t believe you didn’t reach out to Selena.” Marnie shook her head in disappointment.
Selena. Not Erica.
“I don’t know her,” Olivia said.
“You should have done something.” Marnie and Amy shook their heads in unison. That robotic self-satisfaction finally roused Olivia to anger.
“You asked me to do this as a favor!”
Marnie was silent for a moment and then in a low, sneaky voice, she said, “I won’t make that mistake again.”
She breezed back through the adjoining suite door and, on the other side, she said, “Everybody gather around. We need to talk about something that happened tonight.”
Olivia and Amy stood in the doorway, watching as Marnie wove her web around a teary-eyed Selena. In a few minutes they were all hugging and crying and saying, “We love you, Selena. We want you to love yourself. We want you to respect yourself.”
In Olivia’s ear, Amy whispered, “Isn’t she amazing? She’s so good with them. It makes me so happy to think she’ll protect them from the mistake I made.”
When Olivia glanced at her, Amy looked away, maybe regretting the confession. She separated herself from Olivia and fell into the arms of the crying, praying monster of teenage girls. Olivia stayed where she was, watching the circle she hadn’t been invited into and never would be.