Amber seethed. How dare he? Taking away the younger kids’ shoes had been bad enough, but Seth’s actions had only gotten worse as the day went on. Her tongue was near raw with how much she’d been biting it to keep from reaming him out in front of the players. But now the last teenager filed out the center’s door, the required after-soccer tutoring hour having ticked its last tock.
The door clicked shut behind Roy, a shy boy Seth had playing goalkeeper who could speak a marginal amount of English.
Finally. No audience.
Amber spun on her heel, her fists planted on her hips. “Care to tell me what in the world you were thinking out there? The older kids were about to toss their cookies after the amount of running you had them do. And what if one of the younger ones had cut themselves on a sharp rock? We’re supposed to be helping those kids, not torturing them.”
Seth met her gaze with a steady one of his own. His eyes didn’t spark with anger at her accusation, but he did widen his stance.
Good. He’d need it. She’d only gotten warmed up.
“Don’t you think those kids have been through enough? That the world has been tough enough on them? We need to be a safe place, Seth. Not just another person yelling at them and pushing them and telling them how worthless they are.”
“I never told a single one of those boys or girls that they were worthless.” His nostrils flared, the only indication that her words were having any effect on him.
“Not in those words, but how do you think they felt to have a stranger shouting at them in a language they are just beginning to grasp, putting them through the same drill over and over again. Don’t you think they got the message that you didn’t think they were good enough?”
“Were they good enough? Could these kids work together on the pitch to beat another team?”
“No, but it isn’t about winning. It’s about—”
“I beg to disagree.”
Her brows jumped to her hairline. “Excuse me?” If he really thought the most important thing here was a bunch of hurting kids winning a stupid sports game, there was a lot more she had to say to him.
“It is about winning. Not football, but in life. You’re right, this world has been hard on them. Harder than any one of those kids deserves. But I have news for you—life isn’t going to ease up. It’s going to continue to be tough, especially for them. So, yeah, I’m going to be tough too. But I’m not tearing them down, Amber. I’m helping to build them up, together. They need to learn to work as a team so that they’ll have each other when this world tries to tear them down again. Together they’ll be stronger.”
The hot blood pumping through her veins cooled a little. She’d been surprised when little Yara had prattled on in accented English. Four years old and trilingual. When Amber had asked, the girl had said that her baba always spoke English to her and her brother at home. She’d started crying at the mention of her father, and Amber had remembered Seth saying the man had died in the war in Syria. All Amber had wanted to do was scoop Yara up and cradle her to her chest. “And you think your method is the best way to do that?”
Amber couldn’t. She would never be able to bring herself to be steel around those kids. Not when they made her insides turn to mush. She wanted to smooth back their hair and kiss their booboos and reassure them that everything would be okay. Even the big teenage boys that towered over her. They may have scowled and acted tough, but she could see their pain. If pushing them and acting like she didn’t care when her heart wanted to cry for them was the best way to help…well…this would be yet another arena in which she wasn’t equipped to do the job.
“The best way?” Seth turned his body slightly away and ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t know. Is there only one right way?”
Wasn’t there? Wasn’t that how life worked? Black and white. Right and wrong.
But people weren’t two-dimensional. They weren’t a true or false question on a pop quiz. They were heart and soul. Mind and strength. If Seth could speak to one part of them, maybe God could use her to reach another part. Then their two halves would make a whole. She could hope. And pray.
She licked her lips, feeling a little sheepish for laying into him when all he’d been trying to do was help the best way he knew how. “Sorry for…” She gestured between them. “You know.”
He shook his head. “Don’t apologize. It’s good for someone to fight for them for a change.”
Amber smiled, then remembered something. “At the end of each practice I saw you handing out slips of paper to everyone. What was that?”
Color climbed his neck. “My phone number. Most of those kids are in their flats by themselves while their mothers work long shifts.” He opened a box that had been left on one of the tables and then pulled out a striped shirt with a number on the back. The newly ordered jerseys for the kids. He glanced back up at her. “If they ever needed anything or find themselves in trouble, they know they can call me. Any time, for anything.”
Amber’s tongue thickened in her mouth. Moments ago, she’d boiled with how angry she was at the man before her. Now she flushed for a different reason.
How? How could another person have such control over her body?
Biologically speaking, it didn’t make sense. Then again, she had barely passed her high school anatomy and physiology class. Maybe she’d missed something important.
Philosophically speaking, she knew of Plato and Aristophanes’ idea of soulmates. That humans originally had four arms and four legs and were split apart by the gods, forever to seek their other half. And then the Jews had their idea of bashert, or destiny, found in the proverb that marriages were made in heaven. Two souls predestined to be together for all time.
But those were cerebral ideas. Ones she’d learned about in the classroom and could discuss with a certain amount of distance.
This? Her quickening pulse, the tingles she felt along her scalp, the queasiness in the pit of her stomach, and the perspiration dotting behind her ears? These symptoms were not academic philosophies that she might weigh and measure their merits. These were physical displays over which it seemed she had no control, as if her body revolted against the confines of her mind, seeking its own will. And its desire was to draw closer to Seth. To breathe in his scent, musky though it may be from running practice drills all day. To trace the black lines of the tattoo that marked his bicep. Push up the sleeve of his shirt and get a good look at what he wanted to commemorate on his skin for the rest of his life.
She swallowed hard, trying to dislodge the lump that formed there and get her thoughts back on the right track. She averted her gaze as her face flamed. If anyone could see inside her mind, feel the things that hummed just under the surface of her skin, they’d kick her out of the theology program for sure. She could almost hear members of the older, stauncher faculty quoting verses about thinking only on pure and good things and not falling to the lust of the eyes or flesh.
Is that what this was? Lust?
Shame filled her, causing her chin to fall to her chest. She wanted to hide, afraid her thoughts would be written clearly across her face. She twisted the purity ring around on her finger. A physical reminder of the promise she’d made to stay chaste until marriage.
Her jaw firmed. She hadn’t done anything wrong, so why should she feel guilty? If the deep study of the Bible in her theology classes had taught her anything, it was to study the Scriptures for herself. There were too many personal interpretations found among the different denominations. Conservative. Liberal. Moderate. They each wanted to tell her something different, to get her to believe the same as they did. But she wasn’t a baby anymore, needing someone to spoon feed her doctrines and creeds.
Like a gentle spring breeze dissolving the mist, her mind cleared. In her Intermediate Hebrew course, the class had translated the first five chapters of Genesis together. “Your desire will be for your husband…” The words of God to Eve. The original word for desire was the Hebrew Teshuqah—a rare word that was used only three times in the whole Bible—twice in Genesis and once in Song of Solomon. It meant…
“Longing.” She whispered the word. A God-given yearning between man and woman and between humankind and God.
“Amber?” Seth stepped toward her. “You okay? You look, I don’t know, lost in thought maybe?”
“Hmmm?” She raised her head to look at him, startled again by the pull in her chest. This feeling may be natural, but that didn’t necessitate that it was a good idea to pursue at the moment. “Oh, just working something out in my head.”
“Whether you think I’m a barbarian or not?”
“What?” The last tether to her internal thoughts snapped, and Seth came into complete focus. She laughed. “I don’t think you’re a barbarian. Quite the opposite really.”
He grinned. “Good.”
Taken from With You Here by Sarah Monzon. Copyright © 2019. Used by permission of the author. All rights reserved.
About the Author:
A Carol award finalist and Selah award winner, Sarah Monzon is a stay-at-home mom who makes up imaginary friends to have adult conversations with (otherwise known as writing novels!). As a navy chaplain’s wife, she resides wherever the military happens to station her family and enjoys exploring the beauty of the world around her.