Leila sat on the floor of the bathroom, trying to calm the stranger clinging to her. Ellen’s fingernails dug into her arm, but Leila didn’t have the heart to pry the girl’s fingers off. After what seemed like forever, Trysten returned with the phone. “I don’t have your password,” she said, panting, and held out the phone with a shaking hand. Leila told her, not wanting to let go of Ellen even for a second. Trysten held the phone up to her ear, but in a minute shook her head. “She isn’t picking up.”
After four more tries, they gave up.
“Wait, I have an idea,” Leila said. “Call Shawn. He might know where Kayla lives.”
As Trysten held the phone to her ear, they could hear the ambulance in the distance.
“Yeah, this is the chick that was at the café tonight. The one with the suicidal friend. No, don’t hang up on me!”
Just then, a door opened, and footsteps sounded from the living room. “In here!” Leila called as she reached for her phone. The paramedics rushed into the already crowded bathroom, and Leila gladly passed Ellen to them. Ellen had stopped crying and was shaking uncontrollably. Leila glanced at her pants only for a second, coming to the conclusion that she desperately needed to change.
She grabbed her phone from Trysten and called Shawn again. “Don’t hang up,” she said when he picked up.
“What’s going on, dude? You ditched me, and your weird friend is calling me—”
“Our friend almost died, Shawn. I need you to tell me where Kayla lives. This is important.”
“Dang, man. I’ll text it to you, okay?”
“Thanks. Hurry.” Leila hung up and followed everyone down to the ambulance. Her phone buzzed with the address a minute later. “Hey, you go with her,” she told Trysten. “I’m going to go find Kayla.”
The punk girl grabbed her arm with eyes wide. “You won’t leave me alone, right?”
“I’ll be there ASAP.” Leila turned and realized her car was back at the coffee shop. “Can I take your car?”
Trysten tossed her the keys and climbed into the ambulance. Leila jumped in the car and pulled up the address on her phone. As she drove, she realized how many unanswered questions she had. She was especially surprised about Kayla’s involvement. These girls didn’t seem like her type, especially if she was all Christian like they said.
She thought back to the last time she’d been in church, back before her dad had left her mom for another woman and moved to another state, never to be heard from again. As a thirteen-year-old, Leila had taken her dad’s actions without showing signs of weakness, but she had always held onto hope that he would come back to see her, that he would send her a birthday card, that he would… anything. Her mom had told him never to come near them again, but Leila had still hoped. Now, however, almost 9 years later, there was still no sign of him. After her father had left, Leila hadn’t seen much point in going to church. God obviously didn’t like her. Why would he’d let her dad treat her mom the way he did? The old bitterness rose in her heart again as she drove. A lot God had done for her.
She turned a little too sharply down a narrow street and bumped against the curb. The car swung out into the other lane, and Leila slammed on the breaks, trying to regain control of the car. When it finally slowed, she let out a sigh of relief. Thank God, nobody had been driving down that street.
She came to a halt before a small house on a rather sketchy street not far from The Coffee Shop. Leila stepped out hesitantly. Was this really where Kayla lived? The house to its right looked like it had burned down not too long ago; the skeleton still remained, and where grass should have been, the ground was seared and black. She didn’t have time to ask questions. Ellen was waiting. She ran to the door and rang the doorbell. She didn’t think about how late it was until one of the dark windows lit up, and she looked down at her watch. It was past eleven.
An older woman in a bathrobe opened the door.
“I’m so sorry to bother you,” Leila said. “Is Kayla here? It’s an emergency.”
“She’s been sick all day. I really don’t want to wake her up,” the woman said.
“It’s very important. A friend of ours is in trouble, and she’s been asking for Kayla. Please, at least tell her Ellen needs her.”
“Oh, Ellen?” the woman’s eyes flickered with concern. “Is she okay?”
“They’re taking her to the hospital. Please.”
“Give me a minute.” The woman disappeared into the house. Leila looked around the neighborhood again. All was dark and every house looked run-down. It didn’t seem like a safe place for a woman like this to live. Or Kayla, for that matter.
“She’s coming.” Leila was startled by the woman’s voice.
“Okay, thank you. I’ll be in the car.” She didn’t feel safe standing around in the front yard. Half a minute later, Kayla walked out of the house, looking like she’d just woken up. Her eyes were puffy, and she wore sweats and crocs.
“What’s wrong?” She asked with a husky voice as soon as she was seated in the passenger seat. “Auntie said she’s in the hospital.”
Leila told her what had happened as she drove. Kayla listened without interrupting, other than coughing a few times. “I’m so glad you found her when you did,” she said when Leila was silent. “I can’t believe this happened the one night I was gone.”
“How do you know her? And does she live in that apartment alone? Isn’t she in high schooler? And how can you help her?”
Kayla smiled and coughed a racking cough. “Sorry. I hope you don’t catch whatever I have. Anyway, I invited her to my church a few months ago. She used to be our neighbor. But you saw what happened to the house.”
“That was hers? How did it burn down?”
“They said wires, but it could’ve had something to do with her dad. He drinks a lot. They moved into that apartment a few weeks ago. He doesn’t go home a lot. She pays for most of the rent. It’s not a good situation. I told her she could stay with us, but she wanted to be with her dad.”
“Has she done things like this before?”
“Not while I’ve known her; we’d been making a lot of progress. Ellen just needs love and guidance. Or so I thought. We may have to get her professional help.” She sighed. Leila could tell that she was devastated over hearing the news but was trying to keep a calm front.
“So you’ve been trying to get her… saved or whatever?” Leila asked after a longer pause. The word sounded strange coming from her mouth.
Kayla gave a laugh.
Leila hurried on. “I mean, I didn’t even know you were a Christian. Trysten just told me you’ve been telling Ellen all this stuff about Jesus. I don’t know why I was surprised though, that makes sense, seeing how happy you always are.”
“Well,” Kayla took a deep breath. “I don’t ever want to shove my faith down other people’s throats. At The Coffee Shop, people don’t pay me to preach to them. That’s not to say I won’t talk about it when the opportunity arises. But I’m sorry you didn’t know I was a believer. Maybe I’ve been hiding it too much.”
“Oh, don’t get me wrong,” Leila rushed. “I don’t want you to talk to me about it. But when I used to go to church, that was all people there talked about. I thought that was all you could talk about, or else you weren’t religious.”
Kayla leaned back in the passenger seat. “Christianity is so much more than what we call evangelizing, or telling people about God. It should become a part of your entire life, no matter what you do.”
“What do you mean?” Leila couldn’t help asking. “You have to, like, give all your money to the poor and go to church all the time?”
“I mean, those aren’t bad things,” Kayla said, smiling. “but even in the little things I do every day, I’m reflecting God’s love. I want to show others what he’s done for me. Even in my work, at home, when I wash the dishes, or walk the dog.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, let me see how I could explain it. I guess I’m just enjoying what God gave me and giving thanks in everything I do. Washing dishes isn’t fun, but I’m alive, I have two good hands, and I have a job that pays enough. So I do that cheerfully, thanking God for it. It’s a really dumb example, but that’s the idea.”
“So you’re just super positive all the time?”
“No, not at all,” Kayla said. “I’m not expected to be happy 24/7. Bad things happen. Being sad is the natural response. My dad left us when I was little. My mom died a couple years ago. I’m 23, living with my aunt and working at a coffee shop when I thought I’d be graduated from college by now. My life isn’t that great, humanly speaking. But that doesn’t mean I have to give up, get bitter, and hate God. I can trust in Him, knowing that He has a plan for me, and I don’t need to freak out when things go wrong. He’ll take care of me. He always has.”
“I don’t understand,” Leila said. She turned into the parking garage for the hospital. She’d never heard of this outlook on life that Kayla was talking about before, and, frankly, she had a hard time believing it worked. Who could be thankful to God if her father left her? Or if her mother died?
“It is hard to understand. It doesn’t make sense,” Kayla agreed. “but it works. We can talk about this later if you’d like to.”
“Yeah,” Leila said absently. “Let’s go find them.”