5
min

The Prayer Closet

661 readings

89

FINALIST
Jury Selection

Parties never really appealed to me, and it’s not because I look down on them or the people that attend; it’s because I don’t think I fit in with that crowd. I know, this sounds like it’s going to turn into one of those “I’m not like other girls” spiels, but it’s the exact opposite.

I’m just like other girls: reserved, sheltered, Christian girls.

Being born and raised in a strict Catholic household along the bible belt, I think it’s inevitable to end up just a bit sheltered. I couldn’t watch PG-13 movies until I was fourteen, had a tracker on my car, and my parents checked my phone right before they locked it up in some secret place for the night. They were—and still are—the epitome of strict parents, the type that usually raises sneaky kids. (My little sister ended up being the sneaky one—conforming was just easier for me.)

Then I was accepted into a college that wasn’t within arm's reach of them. Neither of them was happy. From the day I got that letter up until I left for school, my father rarely looked my way, and my mom’s eyes would get misty when she mentioned me.

I think they thought I chose somewhere so far from them on purpose, and maybe I did. Subconsciously. My relationship with my parents was always decent.

The first time I stepped foot on campus, I experienced intense culture shock. Every other word was followed with an, “Oh my God!” and I passed at least three students wearing Harry Potter regalia on my way to my new dorm room. Not to mention K-Pop fans.

Blasphemy, witchcraft, false idols. My parents would have had aneurysms if they were with me.

You don’t know just how sheltered you are until you step away from wading waters and swim farther out to sea.

Or, sometimes it’s like sky-diving. Stepping out of that plane and plummeting to the earth. It’s exhilarating, horrifying, liberating. But it’s necessary. You have to jump out, or you won’t discover what the thrill of life is all about.

Maybe that’s why I decided to go to a party with my roommate.

In all fairness, it’s not exactly a party. It’s a get-together, and it’s smaller than my youth group. Only about ten people are here, and with how they all hang off of each other and talk with their hands, I assume that they are all friends, or friends of friends.

My dorm mate wanted to assimilate me to college culture, or that was how she put it. She’s a sophomore, so she said she wanted to show me the ropes, make me more comfortable. I agreed to come.

We’ve only been here for a few minutes and I know I stick out like a sore thumb. (An understatement, truly.) Turtleneck, denim skirt, thick cable knitted tights, and mary janes.

(My roommate asked if I was dressing for Jesus or snowmageddon. She makes a fair point—August in Texas is like living in the devil’s armpit—but I wanted to dress nice.)

No one makes a spectacle of my dress, though. And everyone’s in jeans, tee shirts, sweats.

Except this one girl, and her eyes are on me like she’s scoping me out. A thick, black braid hangs off of one of her Hawaiian shirt clad shoulders and she keeps her high waisted jeans up with a thick, brown belt. The cuffs of her jeans are rolled up like they’re making a statement. This stranger meets my gaze and the side of her mouth curls up into a smirk; I look away, but the tips of my ears prick with heat.

“Hey, Jess!” someone says to my roommate. The speaker stumbles past Cuffed-Jeans. She has curly hair, hazel eyes, and a pretty smile. “Who’s this?”

Jess nudges me and I fumble as I stick out my hand. “Olivia Adams.”

“I’m Grace—oh, can I hug you?” She pouts her plump, glossed lips. “I’m a hugger!”

“Come on, now,” Jess says in my defense and pulls me away from her friend—Grace—by the scruff of my turtleneck. “Don’t make her uncomfortable. We just got here.”


Oh, thank God.

“Well, don’t get too comfortable.” A mischievous look flashes in Grace’s eyes that leave me uneasy. The knots in my stomach contract. “We’re playing seven minutes in heaven.”

“Ooh.” Jess, too, looks intrigued while I stand here, completely unaware. What’s seven minutes in heaven? Some sort of prayer game, I hope.

We have a few prayer games in youth group.

I try to reassure myself. Seven minutes in heaven, I think, how bad can it be? But thinking about that look Jess and Grace gave one another makes my stomach cramp.

Maybe I should’ve stayed in after all.

“Is everyone’s name in the hat?” Jess says as I sit next to her. While the others are distracted by the question, I look around, trying to get a look at everyone. There are only a couple of boys, and I think they were dragged here along with the girls clinging to them. Neither of them appears too engaged; one is on his phone. Everyone else watches Grace put one more name in the hat, then she holds it up.

“Let the fates decide who is paired off!”

With how she presents the hat, it’s like she’s holding the Eucharist up to be blessed by God.

“Tone it down,” one of the girls with a boyfriend says.

“If your boyfriend doesn’t know what he signed up for, that’s his problem—anyway.” Grace draws two names and her brown eyes instantly dart in my direction. “Olivia and Cass up first.”

I gulp, almost choking on the lump in my throat.

It’s just praying, right? (There’s no way it’s just praying.)

“C’mon,” the girl with the Hawaiian shirt—my heart skips a beat; that’s Cass?—says as she stands, waving me over with a finger. Her voice is soft and seems to have a grip on my senses, which confuses me. I don’t know how she does it, but I stand up at her word and follow her right to a closet. My normal mental functions? Nowhere to be seen. When the door closes behind us, I finally snap out of whatever trance she had me under.

I have never seen someone pray in a closet. (This cannot possibly be about praying.) Wait, not true—I’ve watched War Room with my parents a couple of times.

And I guess it’s sort of like Adoration, but I’m not kneeling before the Consecrated Host.

I breathe out the nerves that have been choking me. This isn’t bad at all. I start to kneel—

And I’m yanked up by the wrist, startled with the remembrance that I’m not alone.

“What are you doing?!” Cass asks, her voice not as melodic as it was a moment ago, but still lovely all the same. And panicked. I can’t see her face. The closet is pitch black.

“I...uh...I—”

“I don’t know you, were you about to go down—”

“I was going to pray!” I squeak, and Cass lets go of my wrist and giggles.

“Pray?”

“That’s not what seven minutes in heaven is,” I say, half-question, half statement. I have to maintain some of my dignity

“Babe, no, it’s not.” Her fingers wrap around my wrist again and my heart skips a beat before quickening its pace. Oh, I don’t like this; it’s not supposed to do that.

“What is it, then?” I ask, even though I’m garnering an idea.

Dark closet, two people, the looks on Grace and Jess’s faces....

“Do you...do you want me to show you?” the surprise in her voice dissolves into something more alluring—it supports my hypothesis.

My mind screams to run out of the closet, to get down on my knees and actually pray, but my heart and how it’s bound to break out of my chest if I don’t test my hypothesis tells me to get a bit closer. I’m sure my parents would think this is unacceptable. God might smite me and all of that.

It’s all just romance, though, isn’t it? It’s not hurting anyone. And no one has to know.

I follow my heart and step closer to her. She smells like cedarwood and musk.

The fingers on my wrist trail up my arms, caress the collar of my turtleneck and comb through my hair. Her hand falls back down to my cheek and she cups it, her thumb raking along my cheekbone.

The closet is silent, but I can hear my heart violently beating and I’m sure she can hear it, too.

I shouldn’t do this, I don’t know why I’m doing this, my mind screams.

But I goad her anyway. “Show me.”

And she does by kissing me right on the mouth.

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Image of Victoria LaBarre
Victoria LaBarre · ago
Hi, this was really interesting! I'm trying to set a meet up between the story authors (no matter who wins) so we can meet each other on UTA campus, would you be interested/ what time are you free this Friday?
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Image of Ma Fu
Ma Fu · ago
This is really good! the internalized homophobia... oof! (but a good oof)
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Image of Kim Burdi
Kim Burdi · ago
So proud!! *hugs*
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Image of Rachel Minier
Rachel Minier · ago
Love it! So proud of you Maddie!
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Image of Alyssa Roerick
Alyssa Roerick · ago
Great work!
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Image of Chasidah Fried
Chasidah Fried · ago
I really related to this story as the only Orthodox Jew in the town where I commute from to attend UTA. I also related to this as having always done non -traditional work and being mistaken for "gay " on several occasions ,As if there are no butch-straight women on the planet. I am very curious to know what you think of my stream of consciousness/18th century Russian-esque unresolved story. Voting hopefully not to my detriment :")
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Image of Paula Bennett
Paula Bennett · ago
You made me squirm in my chair! My homophobia took over! Love your work and soooooo proud of you! Auntie loves you Maddie!
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Image of Stephanie Raffety
Stephanie Raffety · ago
Great story 💕👊
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Image of Holly Elliott
Holly Elliott · ago
Awesome Maddie ❤️👍🏻
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Image of Kayla Marshall
Kayla Marshall · ago
you wrote about a familiar topic but your writing style made it feel new and fresh. amazing!
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