So, does anyone remember those early Joey and Beth days? Sigh. I do. And theirs was such a sweet, sweet story. If you’re looking for something to read this weekend and enjoy love stories that involve childhood friends/older brother crushes/ministry couples (and probably a few more themes I’m forgetting, then you should definitely grab The New Girl. It’s only $3.99 on Amazon and FREE on Kindle Unlimited (as are all of my books)!
Check out the beginning…
Beth sat on the porch, alternately swatting mosquitoes and wiping away tears with her hands as she thought through her options.
Girls were mean. She was only thirteen, and she already knew that. They were mean if you didn’t wear the right kind of clothes, if you didn’t have a boyfriend, if you had pimples, if you had bad hair days, and if you didn’t need to wear a bra yet. They were also mean if you wore the right clothes, if you had a boyfriend, if you had clear skin, if your hair was perfect, and if you were already up to a C cup.
They were mean. All of them. But especially Kirsten and Amber.
Why was Haley so insistent on becoming friends with the two of them anyway? All four girls had gone to school together since first grade, so it’s not like they were strangers or anything, but they’d never been friends at all. That was likely because Kirsten and Amber’s parents were rich. Like, seriously rich, with big vacations all the time, expensive new cars, and dance lessons and gymnastics competitions and horse riding adventures, of all things.
Beth would have seriously given anything to be like them back when she’d been younger, but her parents weren’t rich. Her dad was a pastor, and her mom didn’t even work, which meant there were no fancy cars and certainly no horses to ride.
Haley’s family was the same. It was probably part of the reason why she and Beth had become such good friends. Best friends, actually. Beth had been content with just her one friend, her best friend, all through elementary school and now into middle school.
When Kirsten and Amber invited Haley to one of their parties (a party that involved boys and all – very grown up, you know), Beth had gotten an invite as well and had spent the whole night watching as the two popular girls led Haley around like their new best friend. Haley had acted like a girl in a trance the whole time, and before Beth could shake some sense into her, she’d invited the other two girls to her house the next weekend.
And now? Now Haley was ignoring Beth entirely, as though they hadn’t been friends their whole lives. Who could blame her, though? If the tables were turned and Beth was the one who was popular now, she’d probably do the same.
Surely she wouldn’t. Jesus wouldn’t be like that, so Beth would try her best not to be like that either.
The only reason Haley was acting this way was because Beth had told her the news.
She was moving from Louisiana to Oklahoma because her dad was going to be the pastor of a new church.
The front door slammed shut, and Beth angled her body farther away from view, thinking that if the mean girls caught her crying, it would be just more mortification upon mortification. She tried her best to wipe her eyes inconspicuously as she waited for their voices to come, an indication that they were finally acknowledging her.
“Good grief, Squeakers, why are you sitting out here?”
Not a mean girl. Just him.
Beth looked up, no longer caring that her tears were seen. It was just Joey, after all, and she didn’t have to impress him.
“Are you crying?” he asked, stepping closer to her. “Sitting out here in the cold and crying?”
“Excellent observation,” she muttered, even as he grinned back at her, making his way to his car, opening up the door, and pulling out a sweatshirt.
“Here,” he tossed it to her. “I’m going to still be nice to you, even though you’re being rude.”
She caught it and tried to hide a smile. He’d tossed her a cross country hoodie that was way too big for her, one with the high school’s name scrawled across the front, with his name under the logo. She slipped it over her head and chanced a glance over at him.
“Thank you,” she murmured. “I didn’t mean to be rude.”
“Yes, you did, which is weird, since you’re the most polite person I’ve ever known,” he said, sitting right next to her on the porch. “Maybe you’re learning the fine art of sarcasm all these years later. You sure didn’t know it when we met… well, how long ago was that? I don’t even remember…”
“Neither one of us can remember,” she murmured. “It’s been that long.”
But she did remember.
She’d been allowed to go to Haley’s house one afternoon after school that first grade year, after her parents had met Haley’s parents and had given her permission to go over there to play until it was time to go to Wednesday night church, when her family would be taking Haley’s family as their guests.
The Kirklands, reaching out to the Andersons.
Beth hadn’t cared about the details, only that she got to go and see Haley’s room, which was full of stuffed animals, Barbies, and coloring books, all the things that Beth loved as well. They’d gone to the kitchen to get a snack, where Haley had climbed up on a stool to get to the store-bought brownies her mother had gotten for the occasion. She wasn’t one step down the stool before both of Haley’s brothers came barreling into the house.
Eddie, who was fourteen, barely grunted their direction as he took the box from Haley, helped himself to three brownies, and tossed the whole box to the other side of the kitchen as Haley protested.
Beth had followed the box with her eyes as it soared through the air, and she jumped a little when it landed with a loud smack right into the arms of another boy.
“Nearly hit me in the head, Eddie!” the boy had exclaimed, grabbing another two brownies out for himself.
“Joey!” Haley screeched. “Those were for me and Beth!”
“There’s still some,” the boy said. “And who’s Beth?”
All their eyes had landed on Beth who was, as the youngest in a family full of much older girls who all spoke softly and did things daintily, completely out of her element in a loud house full of boys.
They had all watched her as she’d stared at them in shock.
“Me,” she barely managed, so quiet that it sounded like a little squeak.
“Squeakers,” Joey had said, pointing at her, cramming a brownie into his mouth, and tossing the box back at Haley.
And that was that.
She and Haley had been friends from then on out, of course, and Joey was just a given – one of Haley’s brothers, weird and loud, always off doing boy things that neither girl had any interest in at all.
Of course, he was seventeen now, already thinking about college, and as Kirsten and Amber had pointed out to her and to a mortified Haley, hot and funny and totally kissable –
Ugh. Not that the thought of kissing boys was repulsive in theory, but the reality of it was probably gross because tongues, spit, boy sweat…
And kissing Joey?
“Why are you looking at me like that?” he asked, mirroring the face she was giving him, which fell somewhere between disgust and horror. “Does it have anything to do with why you were crying?”
“No,” she said, wiping away more tears. Why was his concern making her cry worse? Being thirteen sucked. She could cry over anything lately, especially with the news about her dad, his church…
The Kirklands wouldn’t be at church with the Andersons anymore. Mr. and Mrs. Anderson didn’t go anyway, but Eddie, Joey, and Haley were all members now. Eddie came home from college once or twice a semester and preached from the pulpit. Joey played guitar for the youth group praise band and led the Bible study group for the junior high kids.
A group that she wouldn’t be a part of much longer.
This made her cry even more.
Moving sucked. She could hardly remember the last move here to this church so many years ago, but she was certain that she would never forget this move. How would she make new friends? Would she make new friends? Were the church people going to be nice? Would her dad have less stress? Would Oklahoma be anything like Louisiana?
What was even in Oklahoma?!
She was crying more about the move than any of the drama currently going on with Haley, with their changing friendship, with all that was ahead –
“I know why you’re crying,” Joey said, taking a deep breath.
He didn’t. No one but Haley knew about the move. Not yet, at least. Haley had been sworn to secrecy as the two girls had cried over the news together. Beth’s parents would get onto her good if they knew she’d told her. The rest of the church wouldn’t hear the news until Sunday morning.
“Why am I crying?” she asked Joey, wondering if maybe Haley had blabbed it to him, if she was blabbing it to Amber and Kirsten, her new BFFs right this minute…
“Boy drama.” He rolled his eyes.
Oh, wow. He was totally off.
“What?” she asked.
“I remember being thirteen,” he said, looking at her sympathetically. “I remember that girls are crazy at thirteen. And I know, now that I’m older and wiser, you know, that it’s always about a boy.”
“Oh,” she managed, wiping her nose on the sleeve of his hoodie.
“Let me give you some advice, Squeakers,” he said. “Boys are jerks. All of them.”
Well, that was a broad generalization.
“You’re not a jerk,” she said. “Well, not all the time.”
“I appreciate that,” he said. “But unfortunately, I’m a jerk, too. We all are. Best to just not waste any time on boys and their drama until you’re much older. Much, much older.”
“Old like you?” she asked, glancing over at him.
“I said older, not old,” he said. “And I don’t know, Squeakers. I’ll tell you like I told Haley, because you’re kinda like her, you know. Kinda like a bonus little sister and all, with all the time you’ve spent over here over the years.”
A bonus little sister.
Well, that was sweet.
“What did you tell Haley?”
“That she shouldn’t waste her time on drama,” he said. “Shouldn’t give her kisses away. Shouldn’t give her heart away. The world is full of enough trouble on its own without introducing boys and their drama into the mix.”
Moving. Switching churches. Being someone new, always the new girl, over and over again.
The world was indeed full of enough trouble.
“Thank you, Joey,” she said. “But I’m not having boy drama.”
He looked surprised at this.
“Then why are you crying?”
“Because,” she said, beginning to sob again. “Haley’s going to forget all about me because she has Amber and Kirsten now, and…”
And I’m moving.
“Oh, no,” Joey sighed. “It’s worse than boy drama.”
“Is it?” she asked, still crying.
“It’s girl drama,” he said. “And I don’t even know what to tell you about that, Beth. Because I, all praise to God, have no idea what girls are even thinking. Even girls my age.”
“They think they’re so grown up,” she said, thinking about all that Amber and Kirsten enjoyed talking about. “Makeup, clothes, shopping, crushing on boys –”
“Ah-ha, I knew it!” he said. “Boy dra –”
“Yes,” she said, rolling her eyes. “But not even because they really want to kiss boys but because –”
“What did I just tell you about saving your kisses –”
“I’m not kissing anyone, Joey!” Wow, he was annoying. Just like a big brother should be.
“Then what are you saying?”
“That it’s about having boys like them because that makes them cooler to other girls! They’re not trying to impress boys! They’re trying to impress each other! Because if a boy likes them, they’re cool! Cool, Joey! Haley is trying to impress those girls because…”
Because I’m moving, and she wants to have friends when I’m gone. Even if they’re awful, horrible, mean girl friends –
“Beth? Where are you? Where’d you go?” They could hear Amber. Or maybe that was Kirsten. (It was hard to tell them apart, honestly.)
Beth wiped her face again, hoping that she didn’t look too bad, even as Joey glanced over at her again.
Then, he slid his arm around her.
What? What was he doing?
Before she could give him an incredulous look over this, he winked at her, then turned to the two annoying girls who had just come out onto the porch and frozen when they saw them.
“Beth is out here,” he said.
“Hey, guys,” she squeaked out, trying to be as still as possible because Joey had his arm around her waist and she could smell his deodorant, which was weird and oddly exciting –
“We were just looking for you,” Amber said softly, her eyes huge as she took in the two of them.
“She’s sitting out here with me,” Joey said meaningfully, winking at Beth again.
Wow. This was really weird.
“Oh, hey, Joey,” Kirsten said, grinning at him, reaching up to smooth out her hair. “We were wondering where you were.”
“Sounded to me like you were looking for Beth,” he said. “But she’s with me.” He pulled her closer.
The movement wasn’t unnoticed. Amber watched Beth with amazement.
“Well, actually,” Kirsten said, a touch of annoyance to her voice, “it was Haley that was looking for Beth. Told us she wasn’t going anywhere without her. She went to the front of the house to look and bring her back so we can all go to the movies.”
And this made Beth feel better, hearing that Haley hadn’t forgotten her completely, at least.
Girl drama, just like Joey had said.
She gave him a small smile even as he glanced over at her.
“Yeah, well, she’s right here,” he said. “Go on back in and tell Haley she’ll be there in a second.”
And Kirsten and Amber did, giggling all the while because Beth was sitting with Haley’s brother out in the dark, wearing his sweatshirt –
“Well, that was weird,” Beth said to him, even as he was pulling his arm back to his side and letting her go.
“It was definitely weird,” he acknowledged. “But you’re going to be the most popular girl in school now, Beth. Those two blabber mouths are going to spread your good fortune around –”
“My good fortune that I’m sitting in the dark with you?” she asked cynically.
“Older guy,” he said, grinning. “Has his own car. Stellar athlete, top of his class –”
“Still you,” Beth said.
Rude twice in one day.
This move was stressing her out.
“You wound me, Squeakers,” Joey said, putting his hand to his chest.
“I’m sorry,” she said, unable to hide a tiny smile at the grin he was giving her. “And for what it’s worth, I don’t care what they say. I know who I am in Christ. And what they think doesn’t matter.”
This was truth. And though she faltered in saying it and knew she would do so much more often in the uncertain days ahead, she knew it was truth, that all that mattered was who she was in Christ.
She wasn’t the new girl to Jesus.
Joey watched her for a minute, considering this. “If only the rest of us could be so heavenly minded.”
“Yeah,” Beth murmured, still wanting to cry.
“Haley will come around,” he said. “And you’ll be friends like you were, after she ditches those two drama queens in there.” He looked at his watch. “And I gotta go.”
“Big date?” she asked as he stood to his feet.
“Nope,” he said, fishing his keys out of his pocket. “Just going to eat with some friends.”
“Boring,” she said.
“No more boring than the movies with those girls,” he said, pointing towards the house even as he walked to his car.
“Hey, Joey,” she said, reaching to pull off the sweatshirt, “you forgot this.”
“Keep it,” he said. “Though you might want to wash it because I’m pretty sure the last time I wore it was after a 10K race. Which I won.”
“Second place,” she murmured. “You lost to that Lucas kid. It was in the paper.”
“Second place to that guy is winning, Squeakers,” he said. “See you.”
And as he backed his car out of the driveway, Beth pulled his sweatshirt tighter around her, took a deep breath, and went inside the Anderson house one last time.
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