When Brinley came back from her grandparents’ house in Maine, she knew she was a different person. She felt fine, she didn’t need any kind of alcohol to keep her functioning, and, for the first time in what felt like forever, she was truly happy.
Her mom and dad greeted her at the airport with huge smiles, glancing at her from the corner of their eyes every few seconds as they walked to get her luggage. They’d kept in touch with Brinley the whole summer, and she knew they talked to her grandma all the time to see how she was really doing, but she also knew it would take a while before they fully trusted her again. She understood that. But there was no reason for them to worry anymore.
“So happy you’re home, sweetie,” her mother said, following Brinley as she dragged her suitcase into her room.
“Me too, mom,” Brinley said, slowly closing the door so her mom would get the hint.
“Alright. Goodnight. Love you.”
“Love you too, mom.”
At church, everyone greeted her as if she had returned from the Olympics with a gold medal.
“Brin, I’m so glad you’re back!” Jordan, her tall, African-American friend said, coming up from behind her. “Youth group just wasn’t the same.”
“Hey, Jordan.” Brinley gave him a big hug and followed him to the section where the youth sat.
“Brinley!” Maci flung her arms around her. Maci was Brinley’s best friend, the only person at church who knew the real reason behind her summer in Maine.
When they’d sat down after the onset of greetings, Maci asked Brinley in a low voice, “How is being back? You doing okay?”
“Yeah, I’m great,” Brinley said. “I’m totally over it. It’s good to be back and see you all again.”
Maci smiled. “Good. I was a little worried that you’d relapse when you got back. You know, familiar surroundings and everything.”
“Nope. God’s been really good to me, Mace,” Brinley said. “I’m in a good place right now. I want everyone to feel the way I do.”
“You’re awesome,” Maci said, smiling.
It took two days of her being home before Kiandra called. Brinley was getting out of the car from her trip to the mall with Maci, bags still in hand, when her phone rang. Seeing who it was, she took a deep breath and answered her phone.
“Brin, it’s Kiki. What’s up, girl? I heard you’re back.”
“Yeah, a few days ago.”
“Did you hate your summer? I’d have died if I’d been stuck at my mommom’s house all summer.”
“No, it was great. Hey, we should meet up; I can tell you all about it!”
Maci watched her friend and whispered, “Who is that?”
Brinley pretended not to see and walked toward her house instead. Maci followed.
“Yeah. We can go to Rusty’s tomorrow night,” Kiandra said.
“Umm, I don’t really—“ Brinley glanced at Maci and looked away quickly. ” – drink anymore.”
“What?! You serious?”
Brinley could still feel Maci’s gaze on her as she unlocked the door and went inside.
“Yeah. I’ll tell you about it. What about Wendy’s or Taco Bell?”
“Whatever.” Brinley could hear the sarcastic tone in Kiandra’s voice she knew so well. “That works.”
After discussing a time, Brinley hung up, and Maci started right away. “Was that Kiandra?”
“Yeah. She wants to catch up.”
Maci looked disappointed. “Are you sure you should be hanging out with her? She’s not exactly the best influence on you.”
“I know. But I want to be a good influence on her. I was able to change, and she should too.” Brinley turned away and started pulling clothes out of the shopping bags.
“But what if she just drags you back?”
“The Bible talks about loving the sinner and showing them grace. How will she know that there’s a better way than getting drunk all the time if nobody tells her?”
Maci put down one of Brinley’s new shirts and looked at her, shaking her head. “I’m not sure you’re the best person to do that.”
“What? Are you going to talk to her?” Brinley laughed. “She’d rather talk to Pastor than you.”
“I’m not saying I’m the right person either, Brin, but I don’t know if you’re ready to be hanging out with the same people you used to get drunk with.”
Brinley scowled and flopped down on her bed. “I’m tired of nobody trusting me. I haven’t had a drink in two months! The latest I was out all summer was midnight, and that was for the Fourth of July fireworks with my nieces and nephews. At least my grandparents treated me like a normal person. All of you here are acting like I’ll go off the deep end at any minute. How can I move on if everyone treats me like I’ll never change?”
Maci looked stunned. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to act like that.” Her voice lowered. “I’m just scared for you. I want you to be better more than anything, so I’m being overprotective. I don’t doubt that you’ve changed, but I don’t want you falling back.”
“I know. I didn’t mean to go off like that,” Brinley said, looking away. “But I’m fine. Really.”
Three days later, Brinley heard the familiar honk of a car horn and ran out of the house to where Kiandra was waiting in her car. She opened the car door and got in.
“Off to Wendy’s!” Kiki said, razing her eyebrows in mock enthusiasm. “How the heck have you been?”
“We don’t have to go there; I was just giving a suggestion,” Brinley muttered. “But I’ve been good. Never better. I had so much time to think at Grandma’s.”
“I bet you did,” Kiki said. “What time did you go to bed? 9?”
Brinley laughed. “It wasn’t that bad. They let me do my own thing mostly, as long as I let them know where I was going. But I started going to church with them, and that was cool.”
“So? You go to church here too,” Kiki said and cursed the car that had just cut her off under her breath.
“Yeah. But this was different. I finally understood why we do this. Christianity isn’t all rules, Kiki. It’s about God. He loves us so much, he tells us what to do for our own good, so we don’t mess things up.”
“Really?” after pulling into the Wendy’s parking lot, Kiki actually stopped and gave Brinley her attention. “So that’s why you stopped drinking? That’s not the best for you or whatever?”
“Yeah, I realized how much I was hurting myself and others by doing it. God doesn’t want me to be addicted to anything. He is enough, and I don’t need anything else.”
“Hmm. So what else did you learn up there?”
When Brinley got home, she gushed to her mom about her time with Kiki. “Mom, I really think I’m getting through to her. She asked questions and seemed interested.”
“That’s good, baby,” her mom said, wringing her hands. “Are you sure you should be spending time with her? She wasn’t the best influence.”
Brinley rolled her eyes. “Everyone keeps saying that. But she needs Jesus too. It’s my job to tell her. I think we’ll hang out sometime this weekend.”
“Okay, as long as you can handle it,” she said with a worried glance at her daughter. “I’m here if you need me.”
he next time Brinley got in Kiki’s car, she was under the impression that they were going to the movies, excited for another opportunity to share more about what she’d become. But when her friend drove past the movie theater, Brinley asked, “Wait, shouldn’t we have turned there?”
“Oh, I forgot to tell you. Brady is doing this party thing at his house, and I have to go. It’d be rude if I didn’t show up for a few minutes.”
Brinley’s heart dropped. “Wait, you didn’t say that before. I really don’t think—“
“Just a few minutes, Brin. You can survive that long,” Kiandra said, smacking her gum.
Brinley shook her head, knowing she’d lost the battle. “It better not be any longer than that.”
Brady’s house already had a line of cars in front of it. Kiki found a spot farther down the street and hopped out. “Come on.”
“I’ll just wait here,” Brinley said.
“Don’t be stupid. These are your friends too, and they want to see you. You won’t get drunk just from saying hi.”
Brinley got out slowly, knowing that she was stepping into dangerous territory. Just a few minutes, she thought as she followed Kiki to the house.
“Kiki!” Brady said way too loudly when he opened the door, can of beer in hand. “And is that Brin? OMG, it’s been forever. Come in!” He went to give her a hug, and Brinley patted him on the back awkwardly. She was soon surrounded by her friends with whom she used to spend so many nights just like this. Kiki disappeared, and Brinley found herself sitting down on a couch with Nicole and Jose, music blaring around her, people tripping to get around each other in the living room.
“How was Maryland?” Nicole yelled to be heard over the music.
“Maine,” Brin yelled back. “And it was good. I learned so much—“
“You want something to drink?” Jose asked, leaning in. Brinley could smell the beer on his breath.
She took a deep breath. “No, thanks. I’m good.”
“I’m getting something,” he said and disappeared in the crowd.
“Brinley, we missed you!” Caitlyn said with her familiar toothy grin. She’d clearly had too much to drink already. “Nicole, did you hear about Michaela and Seth—?”
Brinley listened to the two girls gossip and felt strangely comfortable. She was used to this. And who said she had to drink to be with them? She didn’t even notice the time passing, and an hour later, she decided it was time to get up and find Kiki. She discovered her friend in the kitchen laughing hysterically at something a guy was whispering in her ear. “Brin!” she said with a big smile, grabbing her wrist and pulling her closer. “This is Jake. He can juggle.”
“Cool,” Brinley said, eyeing the smiling guy in front of them. “Kiki, we gotta go. You said we were just staying for a minute, and we’re going to miss every movie if we don’t leave now.”
“Oooh, I like movies,” Kiki said. She leaned on the guy, grinning up at him. “Do you like movies, Jake?”
“Movies are the best,” the guy said. His annoying smile never left his face. He stepped away from Kiki, wobbling and grabbed Brinley’s arm to steady himself.
She pushed him away, knowing that her friend was clearly not in the right state to go anywhere but to bed. “Come on, Kiki. Let’s get you home.”
She practically dragged Kiki to the door, past the many people encouraging her to stay. “Sorry, we really gotta go,” she said with an apologetic smile. “I’ll see you all later.”
She drove Kiki home and then called her dad to pick her up, saying that Kiki wasn’t feeling good and couldn’t drive her home.
Her dad was not at all happy to hear with whom Brinley had been. When she got in the car, she could sense a fight coming. “Did your mother know about this?” he asked as he drove.
“Yeah. It’s not a big deal.”
“It is a big deal, Brinley, and I never would’ve allowed it. You should stay away from that girl and her friends.”
“Dad, is that what the Bible teaches? Aren’t we supposed to share Christ with everyone? She desperately needs God, and she won’t hear it from anyone if not from me.”
Brinley’s father sighed. “That’s not the point. You aren’t strong enough to stand up to them yet—“
“Why is that what everyone says?” Brinley burst out. “Like I’m some weak-willed person who will always fail. Why don’t you have faith in me? I hate how you guys have been treating me since I got home. How am I supposed to move forward if nobody lets me forget the past?”
“How can we trust you when you haven’t been trustworthy? You went behind our backs, Brinley, and did things you knew were wrong, and it’ll take time for you to gain that trust back. We want what’s best for you, and hanging out with the same people isn’t good for you. You have to take care of yourself before helping others.”
“I—literally what have I been doing this whole summer? Why—“ Brinley stammered with anger. “I’m done. You just won’t listen to me.” She sat with her arms crossed the entire way back, refusing to look at her father. He didn’t say anything else, just gripped the steering wheel with whitened knuckles.