Stripped Read online

Page 3


He blows out a long breath. “I expected better from you, Grey. ” His voice is suddenly hard, whip-sharp, and I flinch. “I really did. Film school? That’s worse than any lewd dancing. You would be working with the scum of the earth. People who think it’s okay to glorify murder and dishonesty and sexual perversion. ”

  “But Daddy, it doesn’t have to be like that—”

  “It would be, though. They would take advantage of you. An innocent, beautiful girl like you in Hollywood? They’d eat you alive. ”

  “But that’s what’s so great about this program. It’s here in Macon. I wouldn’t have to move to L. A. to do it. ”

  He doesn’t respond for a long moment. When he does, his eyes are hard as flint. “This conversation is over. You will not be a part of that industry. ” He swivels his chair away from me, toward his computer screen, a clear dismissal.

  I fight back a sniffle. “You don’t understand. ”

  “I do, all too well. ” He’s not looking at me, now. Dismissing me. “You’re the one who doesn’t understand what it’s like. What people are like, what they’ll do. They’ll pervert you. It’s my job as your father to protect you, to shelter you from that. ”

  My fists clench and tremble, my throat closing with hot, impotent anger. “But that’s all you do! Shelter me! You don’t understand me! Not anything. You never have. This is what I want. Just because you’re a pastor doesn’t mean I can’t live my own life and like my own things. Not everything is sinful, and that’s how you act, like every single thing that’s not a Bible study or a prayer meeting is sinful!”

  I’m standing up, crying and shouting. “God, you’re just so…so damn close-minded about everything!”

  Flushed with anger, Daddy stands up and knocks over a mug of pens. “Don’t you dare take the Lord’s name in vain in that manner, Grey Leanne Amundsen. ” He points a finger at me, and now he’s in full-out preacher mode. “I am your father, and God has given me the responsibility of taking care of you. I am responsible for your soul. ”

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  “NO! You’re not! I’ll be eighteen soon. I can make my own decisions. ” I’m torn between fear and pride. I’ve never, ever spoken back to Daddy before.

  This moment in time changes everything, somehow.

  “For as long you live in my home, you’ll follow my rules and do as I say. And I say you’ll not do that program. ” He sits down and rights the mug of pens. “For your rebellious attitude and foul speech, all dance privileges are revoked. ”

  I sink into the chair. “No, Daddy. I’m sorry. Don’t…I’m in a performance on Monday. If I don’t dance, they’ll have to re-block the whole piece. ”

  “Then they’ll have to re-block it. ” He doesn’t look at me again after that.

  I leave his study in tears, retreating to my room. Eventually Mom comes in and sits on the bed. I roll toward her, and sit up immediately. She looks pale and thin, her face pinched. “Mom? Are you okay?”

  She shrugs. “I’m fine, baby. ” She pats my hand. “I told you not to push it, sweetheart. I’ll talk to your father and see if I can convince him to let you be in Monday’s performance. But…you really should let go of this silly film thing. I know…I know you may not want to be a pastor’s wife, and I understand that. But film? It’s not for you. ”

  I don’t answer. I know they won’t get it, not even my mom. When it’s clear I’m done talking to her about it, she stands up, patting my hand again. “I’ll talk to him. Just…think about your choices, okay? Think about God’s plan for your life. Does this sudden obsession with sinful movies glorify Him?”

  I only sigh, realizing the futility of arguing with her about the difference between their ideas of God’s plan for my life and my plan for my life. She leaves, and I’m alone again. I lie on my bed and stare at the ceiling, honestly trying to think through it. I could understand their reaction if I said I wanted to move to L. A. and be an actress, or to Nashville to be a musician. But I’m proposing that I stay close to home and in their circle of influence after high school. All Daddy cares about is his own idea of what’s right and wrong. Everything is in black and white for him, and most things are black. There’s more that’s sinful and wrong than there are things that are okay.

  I find myself wondering how he knows that God disapproves of all the things Daddy claims are wrong. I know he’d have Bible verses to support everything he believes. I just…I just can’t help wondering if that’s manipulating the Scripture to fit what he doesn’t like or isn’t willing to understand. And honestly, he’s never left Georgia. He grew up here in Macon, got his degree in theology from Trinity Baptist Seminary in Jackson, an hour north. He can’t know everything.

  The more I think it through, the angrier I get.

  I start imagining all the smart and witty and thoughtful arguments I could have made to Daddy. I’ll never say any of them, but that’s the way I am. I’ll chew on an argument for days afterward, thinking about what I could have said, what I should have said, how I could have made it come out differently.

  I’m surprised when my door opens and Daddy stands in the opening. I expected it to be Mom, but instead he’s standing there looking scared.

  “Daddy? What’s wrong?”

  “Your mother…she—she fainted. An ambulance is on the way. It’s these headaches she’s been having. She just fell over, Grey. She hit the edge of the stove and broke her wrist. Pray for her, Grey. Pray that the Lord will protect her. ”

  I tremble, unshed tears closing my throat. This is bad. Very bad.

  Chapter 3

  I sit with my hands folded on my lap, eyes downcast. I can’t look at her. A machine beeps steadily, monitoring something. My eyes burn, but they’re dry. I’ve cried all my tears over the last few months. She went from bad to worse, and now she’s a skin-wrapped skeleton in a hospital bed. Her hair is gone. Her cheeks are ridges of sharp bone. Her fingers are limp, frail and tiny. She’s barely breathing. I’ve cried and cried, and now I can cry no more.

  I begged God to spare her. I stayed awake night after night, pleading, on my knees. And still Mama is dying.

  Mama. I haven’t called her or thought of her as “Mama” since I was ten and Ally Henderson made fun of me in front of the entire class for it. She’s been “Mom” ever since. But now…she’s “Mama” again.

  Undaunted, Daddy remains resolute in his faith that God has a plan.

  God Has a Plan.

  Those four mighty words that solve everything for him.

  I don’t think He does have a plan. I think sometimes people just die. Mom is dying. She’s only got days now.

  Two days earlier, I’d stood outside the hospital room while Dr. Pathak told my father to prepare himself for the worst.

  Daddy just repeated his mantra. “The Lord’s will cannot be subverted. ”

  Dr. Pathak grunted in irritation. “I respect your faith, Mr. Amundsen. I truly do. I am also a man of deep faith, although I know you would not agree with what I believe. So I understand your faith. Sometimes we must be prepared for the plan of our God to not be what we would like it to be. Perhaps your God will not work a miracle. Perhaps He will. I hope for your sake and for your daughter’s sake that He will do a great miracle and heal your wife as I have seen such miracles happen. I, too, pray, in my own way, for miracles to happen. But sometimes they do not. It is simply a fact of life. ”

  Now I hold Mom’s hand with its parchment-paper skin in mine, and I watch her breathe. Each breath is a slow process. She struggles to suck in air over long seconds and at last she lets it out again as slowly as she drew it in. Something in her chest rattles. Her body is giving up. She isn’t, but her body is. Mom fought. God, did she fight. Chemo, radiation, surgery. There are scars and lines of stitches on her scalp where they drilled and cut. She wanted the tumor out. She wanted to live. For Daddy. For me.

  She made me live my life. Made me keep going to high school, keep