Read Out Online

Authors: Laura Preble


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Laura Preble



© Laura Preble 2012

by Natalie Lakosil of Bradford Literary Agency

Image Copyright ©
Dan McDowell

rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization
of this work in whole or in part in any form is forbidden without the prior
written permission of the copyright owner of this book.

is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This
may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If
you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an
additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of
this author.

Also by Laura Preble


The Queen Geek Social Club

Queen Geeks in Love

Prom Queen Geeks

“Preble expertly
handles the ups and downs of teenage friendship and romance, as well as...real
characters who go through the typical trials of teenage life.” -
Library Journal

Table of


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Thanks and Acknowledgements

About the Author


All I wanted
was to love her.

Because of this
I’m a prisoner in this gray maze, where my name is no longer my own, where I
can't tell if it's day or night. I’ll probably die in this place.

I know she’s
here. They let me see her, just once, when they wanted me to help them. They
held a gun to her head, she was bruised, shaking, crying…I wasn’t strong, I
wasn’t a hero. I did what they asked. Then they dragged her out, and her eyes
pleaded with me to save her, but I couldn’t. I was a coward.

I haven’t seen
her since.

I say her name
in my head like a prayer. I used to pray to God, but that was before all of
this. I used to sit in my father’s church and stare at the angels on the
ceiling, hoping for a blessing or a direction, just something to let me know I
was noticed. And I was a good boy.

Until Carmen.
Until I lit a single candle…

Chapter 1

My father paces
in front of the congregation. In this church he is king; he stares down each
couple, each family, good Parallels following the Word.

And I’m along
for the ride. Son of a preacher man. Skinny dork doomed to goodness. Doomed to
Goodness. Awesome name for a Christian punk band.
I beat a rhythm on my knee, as if my hand is
unconnected to my judgmental brain.

Old Mrs.
sits next to me.
She’s deaf anyway.
Doomed to Goodness wouldn’t bother her.

“All rise.”
David Bryant, warm and caring minister. Model father. Pushy bastard. If he had
his way, I’d already be married and moved out, the sweet young husband to an
influential gentleman with social connections and, preferably, a sizeable
fortune. He’s been hinting around about it, too. Chris, you know it’s time you
thought about your future. Chris, have you considered…Chris, maybe you should
forget about school and get involved in the social circuit. As if I’m not smart
enough to go to school.

I gently nudge Mrs.
to get up. Her wife, Eleanor, died last year. Must suck to be old and alone. Of
course, that’ll probably happen to me. Seventeen and never been kissed.
She smiles, and squeezes my arm in that
too-tight way grandmas tend to do, and I help her stand.

My father
continues: “A reading from the Book of St.
'And in the west we listen to the voice of our God, who says: 'Trust in the
Lord your God with your whole heart, and whole soul, and keep thyself pure for
the work that is to come.' This is the word of the Lord.”

“Praise be to
God,” everyone responds, then sits. The shifting of bodies causes the wooden
pews to creak and groan. When I was really small, I crouched on the kneelers
and pretended to be running a shoe shop, selling the shoes of the people
kneeling. It was really fun until one day Warren caught me doing it and told
David. I still have the
scar on the back
of my leg where the switch bit in too deeply. No more pretend shoe sales after

When David
checks out the congregation before a sermon, it reminds me of a wolf eyeing its
prey. He is committed to winning the souls of the people, no matter what it
takes, fueled by the absolute conviction that he is more right than everyone
else. Maybe he is. I’m certainly in no position to question his rightness. I’m
a 17-year-old virgin with a latent case of acne, a great vocabulary, and a
twisty psyche. I think my surrogate mother must have had some faulty genes or
something. Maybe she was secretly reading banned literature while I was in
. Listening to pirate radio. Dabbling in deviant art.

Right. No way
David and Warren would have chosen a less-than-perfect-model-Parallel-citizen
surrogate for their family. Conscious survival of the species and all

On today’s
menu: David rattling on, again, about the Perpendiculars.
The warm, buttery baritone of his voice lulls
the congregation, makes them feel like he’s taking care of them. But I know
what happens next. They know too, but they keep coming back.

“We must fight
the good fight, save those sinners or convert them, do whatever needs to be
done, with love, of course.” He stares up at heaven, as if waiting for a
message. And then…a slight increase in tension and intensity: “We Parallels
have a duty to uplift and support the misguided brothers and sisters, to save
them from themselves. Perpendiculars are children of God also, simply children
gone astray.” He focuses on the floor, hands folded. And then…wait for it…he
lifts his chin and, eyes blazing, points at some unlucky person in the third
pew. “What have you done today to help God fix the situation?” he thunders.
People squirm uncomfortably.

Oh, yes.
I know, it’s wrong, and
if Perpendicular couples lived freely, society would go to hell, there’d be
chaos and unplanned babies; God wants Parallels to be parents because they
choose the experience. With
, it’s all lust and
gratification, no thought to the future. Lust is one of the seven deadly sins,
right? Parallel relationships are clean, safe, sanctioned by the church. You
have to plan to have a child, apply for a license. It’s progressive evolution,
and all that stuff they teach you in school. If we could just get rid of those
opposite-sex couples, everything would be just fine.

I personally
never saw what the big deal was. I mean, if you love somebody, anybody, isn’t
that great? I’ve never loved anybody, I mean not romantically. Not even a
little crush. I think I’m asexual. I’ve looked at guys, but I’ve never had that
soul-crushing adrenaline rush people talk about, where your heart kind of
stops, you forget to breathe, time stands still, and you’re in a movie musical
in soft focus.

This is not where my mind should be, but I’ve
heard this sermon dozens of times.
You know
what’s fascinating? Watching people watching David. Some have glazed eyes, but
mostly I see fear and lust. Weird that they'd look all lusty when David is
talking about deviants. Maybe they’re all imagining their own soft focus movie
moments, and no one is really listening at all.

He finishes
with one of his best tricks: “So, my friends, remember that when God asks for
help in doing his almighty work, he asks all of us. He asks you,” points to a
guy in pew three, “you,” a kid in row ten, “you,” a deacon in the front.
“All of you. God sees into your heart, and
knows if you are truly of the Word, or simply parroting what you’ve heard. Do,
don’t just be!” His voice echoes off the old stone walls.

Time to sing.
People creak to their feet, and strains of Amazing Grace rasp from old throats.
Almost communion time. I have perfected the art of swallowing as much wine as
possible while still making it look like I’m only taking a delicate sip. It’s
not enough to get buzzed on, really, but it’s sort of fun to do anyway. I’m not
a drinker or anything, oh, no. My
like their
grape; I’ve seen what merlot can do.
makes you tell the truth. But you know, communion is totally excusable. It’s a

“Blood of
Christ,” the deacon mutters as he wipes the rim of the gold chalice and hands
it to me.

“Amen.” I do my
of cheap, nasty communion wine
and start to choke a little…David would not like that. I cough to cover it.
Saved. Amble back to my pew, and Mrs.
already kneeling and praying so hard her blue hair is smoking. Or maybe that’s
just the incense, but either way, it’s a cool effect.

I sit because kneeling next to Mrs.
is weird. She smells of peppermint and cat urine.
But sitting is uncomfortable too; I’m supposed to be on my knees praying. David
wouldn’t like this. I have to get up and move around…my eyes find an escape. I
can light a candle!

Trying to look
as holy and prayerful as possible, I shuffle toward the glowing red eyes of the
votive alcove. What can I light a candle for? World peace? An end to hunger? A
first kiss before I'm thirty? That last one sounds good, but I’ll probably burn
in hell if I even consider praying for that.

Smelling of
winter coats, a few people hover around the candles. At the votive station, I
select a long, wooden match from the red glass holder, ignite it from another
sputtering candle’s flame, and have my target in sight: third from the top,
three over. I arch my forearm, lean in a bit, and brush against another
presumably bored candle lighter's naked arm.

Our eyes meet,
and I’m drowning in a sea of sapphire, blue electricity bulleting through my
blood, thought banished by raw, pure feeling.
A wave of heat, the liquid-fire burn of 100-proof whiskey combined with
the sensation of careening wildly down an open road at 3 a.m. with the top down
on a red Corvette.


I stop breathing.

What happened?

I pull my hand
back as if I’ve touched the flame, and stare, horrified, at the stranger. Her
face is a blur of dark hair, her mouth a perfect open oval as if she's been
surprised by an unexpected Christmas gift, eyes blinking, as if she, too, has
been hit with this raw electric jolt. A scent of exotic flowers mingles with
the smell of burning wax—I want to touch her again, to talk to her,
, why does it feel
like I stuck my finger in an electrical outlet? She turns toward me, closes the
gap between us. Caramel-colored skin, blue eyes—yes, they are blue, like an
ocean—wonder, widen, and finally fill with panic; she grimaces at the floor,
blinks, and walks quickly away.

Don't look at
her. Don't look at her. Where is she sitting? I’m shaking, seriously, but I
light the stupid candle. When I turn around, I scan the church for a sign of
the red blouse. Can’t look too obvious, of course; if David notices me noticing
anything other than the service—not good.

Minutes tick
by, David goes on about going forth, etc., etc., and finally we’re released. I
shuffle out of the church, maddeningly stuck behind the elderly who form a
solid phalanx of snail-paced frustration in front of me. And I still can’t spot
the girl in the red blouse.

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