College-life up 'til now had pretty much sucked for Abigail Hopkins. A country girl all alone in a large, public university located smack in the middle of a large city, Abby didn't have a true friend to turn to. Unable to afford the private, Christian college of her choice, she had been forced to stick it out with all the partiers here. Everyone she had met thus far had wanted nothing but drinking. There were probably some good people attending the school, but she hadn't met any yet. She was constantly being confronted by guys wanting to use her, girls encouraging her to be more loose and free with herself, and no one who wanted to have anything to do with a guy named Jesus. She had made a few friends and was even able to meet some half-decent guys, but whenever she mentioned the idea of them going to church with her, they would run in the opposite direction and fast. One so-so friend from high school had followed her to college, but once there Sophia Hicks had turned to partying and all the other sinful things that Abigail abhorred. They still remained friends, but Sophia was constantly trying to get her to join in.
Tyler Jennings was no different; in a few of her classes and a good friend of Sophia's boyfriend, Jake, he'd been after her for about a year. Yet he constantly refused to go to church. She had never given in to his constant admiration, but she couldn't simply get him to leave her alone. She enjoyed his company and friendship, but she didn't like him that way. Tyler was a good person. He was really nice, as long as you didn't talk to him when he was drunk. It was just that God had higher standards. She would remain his friend, but Abby really wanted him to stop liking her.
These were the thoughts running through Abigail's head as she scrubbed dishes one late September Saturday. Abby took off her apron, tossed it in the basket with the others, and headed for the door. "I'm gone, Lonnie."
"Alright, sweetie. I'll see you Monday," Lonnie called from the kitchen.
She hit the asphalt of the parking lot with a dance. The rest of the weekend was hers. Sure, she loved working at Rita's Diner. Her fellow employees were great people, and Rita wasn't that much of a pain either. The customers could be friendlier, but that was life. Next Wednesday would make two whole years of slaving away in the kitchen almost every afternoon after classes and Saturdays. It had gotten her through her freshman and sophomore years and would continue to help her earn her bachelor's in early childhood education.
School was the last thing she wanted to deal with right now. Today was a beautiful, cool, autumn day, and Abigail was going to spend it having some fun. The first thing she did when she reached her baby-blue mustang was let the black top down. It was the perfect day to ride around and feel the wind in her long, reddish-brown hair. Abby rode around for about an hour until the wind had completely dried out her green, colored contacts, and she headed back to her dorm room. She parked the car, put the top back up, and went inside.
"Hey, Abby. Wait up!" someone called from behind her. It was Gina from down the hall. "What's up, girl? I haven't seen you around much. Some of the girls on my end are hittin' the clubs tonight, why don't you join us?"
"No thanks; I don't go to clubs."
"Why not?" Gina asked shocked.
"I don't think it's right."
"Alright, suit yourself," Gina said turning around to go back to her room.
Once she was inside her room, Abby tossed her purse on the floor and flopped down on her bed grabbing her phone. She immediately dialed Sophia's number. It rang twice before she picked up.
"Hey, Abby; what's going on?"
"Nuttin' much. I was just wondering if you'd like to go with me and see a movie."
"Sorry, babe. I'd love to, but Jake and I are going out tonight. Why don't you call Ty up? I'm sure he'd be glad to go with you."
"Yeah, but if I call him, then that lets him think that I want to date him, and I still can't see anything happening with him."
"Come on now, girl. How do you know whether or not something could happen if you never give the guy a chance?"
"I don't really like the guy that much."
"Well, I gotta go; Jake's on the other line. Talk to ya later," Sophia said ending the call.
Abigail let out a long sigh as she hung up the phone. Couldn't her friends see that she wasn't like them. She didn't want to spend her weekends getting drunk or having short flings with hot guys. She needed something more fulfilling than that. The Lord had called her to live a different kind of life, one devoted to serving Him and seeking His will. Disheartened, Abby logged onto the computer in hopes of finding another Christian. After about an hour and a half of talking to various students, her phone rang. It was her mother.
"Hello, mom. How are you?" she asked continuing to type.
"I'm doing good, sweetheart. What about you?"
"I'm fine. Just chillin' in my crib."
"How come you're not out with your friends having fun?"
"Because I don't find getting drunk and flirting with boys fun."
"Well, Mr. Right isn't just going to fall in your lap, honey."
"That may be, but I've got a better chance of finding him the first go 'round if I keep my head clear at all times, a.k.a. not partying. Look; there's someone at the door," she lied. "I've gotta go. See ya soon. Love you; bye."
Abigail left her screen-name active while she went and picked up a book. Everyone thought she was crazy—even her mom—for still believing in the handsome prince in shining armor riding a white horse that would one day come and rescue her from some evil witch, but Abby continued to read her romance novels of the perfect, love story. Not long after settling into the newest book, her computer beeped at her. She didn't recognize the screen-name; it was probably just some bored freshman. Abby didn't have anything better to do. She might even been able to get an extra job, tutoring the little booger.
'Some friends and I were admiring your screen-name that we saw on facebook, lilyamongthorns96. We were wondering where it came from,' the screen read.
'There's a verse in the Bible, Song of Songs 2:2, that says "like a lily among thorns is my darling among the maidens." '
'I told you that's what it meant' Leah09 directed to two other IMers. 'My name is Leah Brandon. I'm a junior in dorm 20B4.'
'Hay, I'm a junior, too. The name's Abigail Hopkins.'
'You're in my Psyc class with Professor Daniels. You sit up front next to Tyler Jennings.'
'Yeah, I do.'
'Well, I always sit in the back with Nicole and Matt and them.'
'Oh, okay. I know who you are, now. You're always hanging around with those two.'
'Yeah, we're going to Coffee Underground tonight. Would you like to join us?'
'Coffee Underground? I haven't heard of that before.'
'It's a Christian coffeehouse downtown. Every Saturday night there's always a local band playing from 7 till whenever.' Dragonchic08 explained
'Sure, I'll go. What time are y'all leavin'?'
'We're leaving at about six thirty. Just come by my dorm sometime before then so you can meet everybody. You can ride with Nicole and me; the guys are going on Matt's mustang.'
'Alright, I'll see you then.'
Abby signed off and looked at the alarm clock sitting on her desk. Four thirty stared at her in bright red numbers. Good, she had enough time to shower and get the burnt food smell off. The showers were empty, so Abigail took advantage of the opportunity to shave the scraggly stuff off her legs and just relax in the hot water. She also took enjoyment in the fact that she could be using all the hot water forcing some guy upstairs to have a really cold shower in a few minutes. She got dressed pulling on her favorite T-shirt, 'Satan, You've Been Punk'd' and a pair of jeans, all the time jamming to Audio A. It took close to forty-five minutes to get her hair just right. It was just shy of six when she finished getting ready. Abby double-checked to make sure she had everything, some money, her cell, etc.; then she headed out to Leah's dorm.
Abigail reached 20B4 and knocked on the door. A voice from inside promptly told her to enter. Inside Leah Brandon, Nicole Lawson, and Olivia King were chatting. Leah Brandon, an extremely outgoing junior with curly, dark-brown hair, immediately introduced Abby to the rest of the gang. Nicole got up off the bed to greet Abby.
"Hi, I'm Nicole Lawson. I'm a senior and live down the hall," she said fidgeting with her dragon necklace. Her short, dirty-blonde hair was pulled back, except for her bangs which attempted to hide her startling, blue eyes. "You'll meet my brother, Matt, later. He'll try to tell you we're not related, but don't believe him."
"I'm Olivia King. Nicole and I are roomies, and I'm a senior, too," said another girl getting out of the desk chair. Olivia had short, black hair pulled into two, little ponytails behind her ears. "I've gotta get to work. Bye y'all. It was nice meeting you, Abby."
"Nice meeting you, too. Hope to see you around."
Olivia left the room, leaving the three to talk until six thirty.
"Olivia is always working. Her parents can't afford to pay for her college, but she really loves being here. She wants to be a missionary," Nicole explained.
"I can't say much," Abby replied. "I work almost every afternoon and Saturdays to help make ends meet for my parents. I really don't want to have all those loans to pay off afterwards."
"Yeah, I know how that is," Nicole added.
"Like you have room to talk. Matt's practically coming for free, him and his academic scholarships," Leah brought up.
"Whatever. Where do you work at, Abby?"
"Rita's Diner. It's next to that old dry cleaner's. I don't remember the name of it."
"I know where that is," Leah said. "I've been there a few times; it was pretty good. How long have you been working there?"
"I've worked there the past two years, except for Christmas and summer break."
"Are they hiring right now?" Leah asked hopefully
"Where do you go to church at?" Nicole asked taking a seat and inviting Abby to sit, too.
"Umm, Briar's Grove over on Eastside."
"We go to Cramdon Hill Baptist, in the Bethel area."
"I heard it's a pretty good church, very active."
"Yes, you oughta come with us tomorrow," Leah offered.
"Sure, why not?"
At that moment a phone rang. The strange, twisted, rock beat startled Abby, making her jump a slight bit. It was Nicole's cell; she answered it. Matt had called to tell them that he and Charlie couldn't make it. Both of them had a project to work on, so it would just be a girl's night out. The three of them decided to go on and leave then. They all piled into Leah's little, green Jeep Liberty and headed downtown. They parked and walked up the street till they came to a little stairwell at the side of a building. They walked down the steps and into the door of Coffee Underground. Abby immediately noticed the perfect, coffeehouse atmosphere with a hint of Christian pizzazz. It was awesome. Leah headed straight for a table for four towards the front of the stage.
Not long after they had sat down, a waiter came to take their orders. This waiter had a broad, muscular build that would have looked much better in a work shirt manning a tractor rather than the crisp, white, dress shirt he was wearing. The sleeves were rolled up to the elbow, revealing his strong, tan lower arms. His curly black hair wasn't too long, but it needed a little trimming around the ears. The waiter's deep, blue eyes only added to his gorgeous appearance.
"Hi, ladies, Leah, Nicole…I don't believe I've met you before," he directed at Abby.
"Joe this is Abigail Hopkins. Abby, this is Joseph Thomas…the only reason we come here," Nicole said, a wide grin spreading across her face and Leah laughing along with her. They were always teasing him about his good looks, taking special precaution to make sure his head didn't swell, but he thought they were only joking.
"Girls, it's not nice to lie, especially to my face," Joe said unable to control his own laughter. "What can I get y'all tonight, the regular?"
"Yeah," Leah said. "What about you, Abby, extra-large hot chocolate with butterscotch syrup?"
"Can I get white chocolate syrup instead?"
"Alright, I'll be back in just a minute," Joe smiled at Abby before turning to walk back to the counter that was set up against the back wall. There was a couch and a few chairs arranged by the door, in a little 'Friends' kind of way, that Abby thought was adorable. The rest of the small coffee shop was filled with small tables sometimes for four other times for two; the carpet was a burgundy color, matching the cream walls perfectly. The stage that was set up only a table in front of them was solid black and shined under the spotlight. There were a couple of microphones, a drum set, keyboard, and two guitars set up on the stage awaiting the arrival of the band.
"Okay girls, you didn't tell me there'd be guys like him, here," Abby said leaning over the table and lowering her voice to make sure that Joe couldn't by any chance hear her.
"Who, Joe?" Nicole asked sarcastically. "Joe's just a little, country boy."
"So?" Abby stated plainly. Being from the country made him even more appealing to Abby, herself being from a little "hole in the wall" kind of town. "Tell me about him."
"He attends the seminary on the other side of the city. This is his last year at the school, and he's going to be a youth pastor. He's a really, great guy, smart, and he seems to seek God's will," Leah explained
At that moment Joe Thomas returned with their drinks. After setting the steaming hot mugs down on the table, Joe walked away. A little while later a band of three boys and one girl got up on stage and began playing. The music was good, Abby had to give them that, but she wanted to know more about this Joe Thomas. When they finished their drinks, Abby took their mugs to the counter where Joe was drying some freshly washed mugs.
"What do you think of the band?" Joe asked setting a clean mug under the counter and taking the three dirty ones from Abby's hands.
"It's not my favorite, but they're pretty good," Abby replied.
"What is your favorite band?"
"It's hard to say, but Audio Adrenaline and Building429 are definitely up there on top with Barlow Girl."
"Those are awesome bands, except maybe the Barlow Girl, but I take it you're a rock chick."
"Yeah, pretty much. I'll listen to anything, but prefer rock."
"I'm the same way," Joe smiled showing bright, pearly whites behind his lips. Joe turned to go back to work, "I'll see you around."
The next morning, Abby's alarm sounded ending her deep, restful sleep. Ecstatic that she was going to a new church with true Christian people, she got up and skipped down the hall to the bathroom. As usual, the entire hall was dead, vacant of any life, except for some clothes that had been lying on the floor for months. She could swear that they were alive and moved on their own. After returning from the rank, mildew-infested bathroom, she pulled back the green, shower curtain covering her closet and chose a nice Sunday outfit. Abby decided to wear a long, denim skirt with cow-print fabric where the split used to be, equipped with a matching sash; she also grabbed a loose fitting, three-quarter length, black button-up shirt. After dressing, Abby dampened her hair, pulling it up in a tight bun and tying a black and white ribbon around it. She quickly applied a little make-up and put on her usual jewelry before grabbing her Bible and purse and running out the door.
Leah, Nicole, Olivia, and a couple of guys were walking towards Leah's Jeep when Abby arrived. She immediately recognized one of the men to be Nicole's brother, Matt. He had short dark brown hair with blonde streaks that was gelled all over with the front spiked up. His build was small, and he was wearing a nice, clean, collared shirt and khakis.
"Hi," she said extending a hand to Matt, who accepted the gesture and grinned. He went on to introduce Charlie Rogers as his room-mate and a fellow senior. This Charlie had deep, brown eyes set in a strong, tan face. Both of his ears were pierced, and he was wearing a black and silver chain.
The girls piled into the Liberty and the guys into Matt's metallic blue, '98 mustang. In a few minutes they were all getting out and into the parking lot of a large, brick building that looked more like a school than a church. The sign out front was even equipped with a digitized runner displaying upcoming events and today's sermon topic. They went inside and sat down in a row in the middle of the sanctuary.
The church was quite modern; instead of the traditional wooden benches, rows of gray, upholstered chairs filled the sanctuary. The choir loft was still behind the pulpit, but there was a drum set, a keyboard, and guitars set up to the left of the podium. Two projector screens were set up on either side displaying announcements and such. Abby was still admiring the layout of the church when she heard Leah call out, "Hey, Joe."
Abby turned around to see the waiter from last night walking down the aisle. He was wearing a blue, short-sleeved, collared shirt and black slacks; he also wore a plain tie making him look extremely professional. His jet black hair was brushed back away from his face. He said hello to the others with her and then came to stand beside her.
"May I sit here?" he asked looking directly at her.
"Be my guest," she replied, moving her purse and bible under the chair in front of her.
Joe sat down, "I didn't know you attended Cramdon."
"This is my first time, actually. I've been going to Briar Grove; Leah invited me."
"I'm glad she did," Joe was silent and soon after the service began.
They started with popular 'praise and worship' songs followed by announcements and then more songs. During the announcements the associate pastor mentioned that they needed chaperones for the annual, youth, fall retreat. The announcement brought back memories of Abby's high school days going with a group of twenty plus other teens for a weekend of serious Bible study and having fun, too. Those were the days, she thought to herself, when I had all the time in the world to grow-up. Life consisted of little more than making friends, having fun, and a little school. She had enjoyed her time in the youth group and knew that it wouldn't have happened if it weren't for the youth helpers.
By the end of the service Abby had convinced herself that she needed to help with Cramdon Hill's youth group; just one problem, she didn't have a clue how to go about it. This was her first time here and she didn't know anyone except for the college students on her row. Little did she know that the question of how and when was about to be answered. After singing the invitational hymn, the pastor said the closing prayer. When he finished, the congregation said amen and immediately began to dissipate. Abby gathered her things and stood to leave when Joe caught her attention.
"What did you think of the service?" he asked looking straight at her, truly wanting to know her opinion.
"I liked it; I liked it a lot," she said genuinely, smiling at him. The two began making their way to the main door of the sanctuary.
"So, will you be coming back?" he asked nodding at the smiling faces passing by as they headed up the aisle.
"Yes, I think I will."
"Good. I'm glad…Hey, I'm filling in for the youth pastor tonight; would you care to join me?" he asked as though he were a mind reader.
"You know, I had just been wondering how to get involved in the youth ministry here," she revealed to him unable to believe how fast God could work. "And here you come and show me how. Thank you, Joe."
"No problem; I'll see you tonight at quarter to six. I'll meet you here," he said pointing down at the front steps of the church building that they were descending.
"Okay, I'll see you then. Bye, Joe."
The others were waiting for her at the vehicle, and she didn't want to make them wait too long, even though she felt like she could talk to Joe much longer. Abby calmly walked to the car and coolly got in, completely hiding the excitement she felt having just seen God's will unfold before her eyes.
"What was that about?" Leah asked, turning the ignition then pulling out of the parking lot.
"Joe invited me to the youth meeting tonight. He's doing the lesson," she smiled unable to contain her joy. "It's amazing how God works; during the service I felt an urge to work with the youth, remembering the college students who helped when I was in the youth group, and then Joe provides a way for me to get involved."
"God is awesome," Nicole said. "I think you would be a good example for those kids; you're not like so many of the college students here." Abby thanked her for the compliment and the SUV was silent until they reached the campus and parked.
The two guys weren't there and had apparently gone out somewhere for lunch. None of the girls really had any money to eat out, so they headed for the dining hall. Once inside the four of them picked up a tray and began to examine the scant choices they had for lunch. The pizza looked good, but the cheese was rubbery and tasteless, and it was generally either over- or under-cooked. The lettuce in the salad bar was brown and soggy, and the burgers didn't look like real meat. So all of them grabbed a grilled, cheese sandwich, fries, and a cup of half-decent fruit.
"How are things going with you and Matt, Leah?" Olivia asked finding an empty table and sitting down. Olivia was recalling the steady relationship that the two had been in for two-and-a-half years. They had met Leah's freshman year when she ended up being room-mates with Nicole. Their friendship had developed from there, and the two had even begun to talk about the future, together.
"Things are going good," Leah replied, pulling a bottle of water out of her purse. "What about you and Tyler, Abby?" she asked, pulling attention off of her. "It's going 'round psyc class that you two are a couple."
"No, not really; those are just rumors. Tyler's a nice guy; don't get me wrong, but I don't really like him that way. Plus he's not a Christian and refuses to go with me to church. I've told him plenty of times no, but he just can't take the hint."
"That is a problem," Nicole said swallowing yet another undercooked fry. "I'll be praying that God take care of the situation."
"Thanks," Abby admired how easily the group brought up God. When the group finished eating, they returned to Leah's dorm, which had been dubbed their hangout spot seeing as she had one of the largest rooms and no room-mate.