Becoming Real - the Novelette

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Becoming Real
A Team Meeting Story
by Andrea Lena DiMaggio

Some things are just more important than football...

This story is the novelization of the previously published series of the same name.



Caught in a dream of where I want to be
Wrapped in a web of where I am
I feel a wall between
what is and what should be

"You want to prove you're tough, kid?" Paulie Boy looked at Tony and Rocco and nodded.

"We're goin' over to that coffee house on know, where all the queers go? Gonna grab one and beat him up...just for the fun of it." It almost sounded surreal, since Rocco's voice hadn't changed and he sounded more like a middle school kid than a senior in high school.

"I don't know if I can do that?" These guys weren't a gang, but they had a gang mentality.

"Sure you can...I've even got the right tool for the job." Tony handed Paulie a baseball bat. Paulie had just quit the team after losing his starting spot in center for insubordination. He was a great hitter and a great fielder but he struggled with the basic human skill of being kind.

You find me waiting for a miracle
You hear me praying for a plan
You are the only one
prepared to rescue me

"Hey Callahan...betcha don't hit 250 this season." Paulie shouted as Johnny Callahan took his place at the plate. Being ragged on by an opponent was one thing, but to hear it from a teammate?

"Would you just shut up?" Andy said from the end of the dugout. He had been trying to help Johnny with his batting. That he was even playing at all was a miracle; he still struggle with his sister's death last fall, and was now only beginning to pull out of his grief.

"Fuck you! You're not in charge." Paulie yelled back.

"Maybe, but I am." Benjamin Seraphino stood in front on Paulie, his arms folded. He leaned into the young man's body space and poked him hard in the chest.

"You don't stop ridin' the kid, you're outta the lineup...I mean it. I'm tired of reminding you. Have some decency. That kid has been through way too much, and he doesn't need your crap on top of it, understand?"

"Yeah....sure, Coach. Sorry!"

There's sorry and then there's sorry. Paulie was only contrite as far as it kept him out of trouble. He didn't understand that the more he acted like a fool, the more he became one.

"Strike Three!" The umpire's call got Paulie's attention. Johnny came back to the dugout, his head down. He placed the bat and helmet gingerly back in place and sat down on the bench. Paulie leaned over and whispered,"

"I bet your sister would be real proud of you now." At one time in the recent past, Johnny would have taken Paulie's head off. Instead he looked at Paulie and tears just began to flow.

Tommy turned and looked at Johnny and nodded. Like he knew and he was going to do something about it. He stood up but a hand grabbed him and sat him back down.

"I'll take care of this, kid." Dom Sovrano stood and walked over to Paulie.

"Don't bother to get up for the sixth." He said softly. He turned and looked down the bench. Simon, go in for Paulie here at the top of next inning.

"Wait a minute. You can't do that!" Paulie went to stand and his head hit Coach Sovrano's chin.

"I just did," he said and walked to the edge of the steps of the dugout.

"Oh, fuck no...You can't do that, fucking ass hole!" Paulie started toward Coach, but two hands grabbed him from behind. Pete wrapped him up in a bear hug.

"I don't think you want to do that." Pete let Paulie go and he walked to the other end of the dugout and sat down. Bart got up and moved and Nate smiled and said,

"You gotta apologize, just gotta!"

At the end of the game, before the team got on the bus to return to the school, Coach Seraphino and Coach Sovrano walked up to Paulie.

"Do you have anything to say?" Dom asked. Paulie looked at him and was overcome by a wave of supreme stupidity.

"Yeah, go fuck yourself, I quit." Paulie said as he walked to the bus.

There is a way that might seem right to me
A dim reflection of what's good
just an illusion of the best that I can be

“Are you in or not, you big pussy?” Rocco said. He spit on Paulie’s shoe.

“Yeah…whatcha gonna do?” He said with bravado. These may have been gang wanabees, but that in itself may have made things even more dangerous.

“You just hang out at the end of the alley and keep an eye out.” Tony punched Paulie hard in the shoulder. He and Rocco handed Paulie their jackets as they rolled up their sleeves. Rocco had a baseball bat in his hands.

A few minutes later they heard a door open and a voice from the figure by the door.

“I’m going to go get the other boxes of brochures from the car, I’ll be right back.” The girl closed the door and took two steps before a fist hit the back of her head, sending her into the brick wall with a thud. She went to move but another fist punched her in the kidney, causing her to fall to the pavement.

“Fuck you, you fucking queer.” Tony said as he kicked the girl in the side. She gasped and tried to get up but another kick on her other side kept her down. A hard object hit her back, just below the shoulder blade causing her to grunt hard. Another blow caught the side of her head.

“What’s that you’re trying to say? You’re a faggot? Fuck yeah,” Rocco cackled his high pitched laugh. Tony picked up a brick from the pavement and banged it hard off the back of the girl’s right leg, but she didn’t scream. She put her head down and began to whisper softly.

“Fo…orgive….” She tried to say as she lifted her head. Tony kicked her hard one more time in her side and blood spewed from her mouth. Her head dropped to the pavement.

“Oh shit..fuck, let’s get outta here.” Rocco screamed as they took off toward the other end of the alley. Paulie strained to see what was going. The body on the ground had stopped moving. As he took a step toward the girl, two men brushed past him.

But there's another path you offer me
I wish I always understood
Somehow you see right through my thoughts
and know my needs

“Did you see who did this?” One man said? The other was already dialing on his cell phone.

“Nnn no, I just got here when you did.” He dropped the jackets behind a pile of cardboard and followed the two men down the alley to where the girl lay. He stood back as more people rushed to see what had happened. Moments later an ambulance pulled in from the other end of the alley and was making its way toward the crowd. Paulie was scared but he found himself drawn to the scene.

“This looks bad, Gabe, one EMT said to the other, noting the girl’s motionless body.

Paulie pushed into the crowd and drew up to the circle around the girl. He stood motionless, waiting for the good news that would never come. The first EMT gently cradled the girl in his arms and turned her over, revealing the lifeless eyes of Paulie’s little brother Stephano…Stevie. He had the most peaceful look Paulie had ever seen. A loud scream broke the pall of the crowd and Paulie realized the voice was his own.

“NNNNooooooo..noooooooo.” He tried to push past the line of people but a policeman who had just arrived pulled him back gently.

“Sorry, son, but you have to let them do their job.” He looked back at the first EMT who shook his head with a sad expression.

“Yuh…you…don’t understand…That’s mmm…my brother….” Paulie cried as he fell to the ground. The cop placed his hand on Paulie’s shoulder and patted it in silence. After a few minutes the ambulance had left and the crowd disbursed.

But then you take away the distance
found between the truth and me
And you give a simple reason
to my restless rhyme

“Can I take you somewhere, kid?” The cop asked. Paulie looked at him blankly before shaking his head. As the cop walked back to the street, Paulie stepped over to where his brother had fallen. Brochures lay in misshapen piles on the pavement in a pool of blood. Paulie picked one up and gazed at it.

“Open Arms Coffee House — A Place Where Teens Can Discover the Love of God.” Paulie went to drop the brochure but it stuck to his hand, coated with his brother’s blood.

“Fuck them…it’s their fault…The fucking queers…they did this.” Paulie muttered to himself before he tore off down the alleyway.

He arrived home after dark. The streetlight illuminated the driveway, double wide and filled with cars. A police car was parked in front of the house, as well as a non-descript sedan with ‘clergy’ plates. He walked in the house and was greeted by stares from neighbors and his Aunt Sally. Father Pietro approached him and took his arm gently and guided him into the living room. His mother sat on the couch. She was flanked on one side by his Aunt Marie and on the other by Mrs. C…Carmella Campagna who sat in her wheelchair.

“Paulie…my baby…come…your momma has been worried sick.” Marie Scialpi was his father’s sister, and his favorite aunt, especially after his dad died. She stood up and pulled him into a hug, followed by a kiss on his neck.

“I’m so sorry, baby. He was a good boy.” Her tears flowed like a cloudburst and she shook in Paulie’s arms. He patted her on the back awkwardly before turning attention to his mother. She seemed lethargic, owing to the sedative the doctor had given her earlier. She just sat and wept softly as Carmella stroked her hair.

Paulie ran into the bathroom. Turning on the cold water, he wet down a wash cloth and wiped his sweaty face. Looking up, he noticed his reflection in the mirror. A moment later there was a loud crash of glass breaking as he ran from the bathroom, the mirror in shards in the sink. His fist was cut and bleeding. Vito Compagna tried to grab him as he ran past. He stopped and noticed a smaller figure behind Vito; a girl about his own age. Sammi Campagna peered at him; her face was puffy and her eyes were red and filled with tears.

“I’m sorry, Paul, Stephie was one of my best friends.” She sniffled and buried her face in her dad’s jacket and wept.

“Oh fuck no…not you…not now…get the fuck out of my house.” Paulie yelled

“Paul….Paul, son…think of your mother.” Father Pietro said softly. Paul ran past him and into his room, slamming the door. He buried his head in his pillow, trying to forget what he had seen.

As he had stared in the mirror, he had seen three faces; three faces that would come to haunt him over the next few days. Three faces that would move him from hatred to harmony and from fear to faith. The first face was that of Stephano …Stevie …but not as he had ever remembered his brother; he saw a pretty girl who looked a lot like his brother, but she was at peace. The sweetest smile graced her face and she seemed to be saying, “I forgive you.”

Oh hide me in your heaven
You have held within your hand

The second face was that of his deceased father. He wasn’t a ghost, but a vision from perhaps a place of rest and serenity. No longer bent and broken from disease, his father was strong and vital and looked at peace, just like his brother…no sister Stephie. Like some have said, he had the face of an angel. And for this purpose, perhaps, he was an angel so to speak; a messenger.

“Paulie…how many times did I tell you to take care of your sister?” Paulie had shaken his head. He remembered his father imploring him to take care of his baby brother

“Paulie, take care of your mother for me. And stop trying to hurt me.” The voice was not angry or condemning; rather his father seemed to plead on Paulie's behalf.

“What the fuck?” Paulie had thought. “What did I ever do to hurt him?”

The last face in the mirror, the face that was the most horrifying of all of the visions; the face that mocked him as much as his father had implored and his sister had blessed. His own face. The face that looked more afraid than he could ever remember, and the face that said quietly these few words; words that caused him to break the mirror and retreat to his room. These words.

“Turn yourself in”

And make a way to find a way
to soothe my mind

Based in part on Acts 6:8 - 8:1, The Stoning of Stephen
and Acts 9: 1-9 The Conversion of Saul

Becoming Real

"Mom?" Paulie walked into the living room and found his mother sitting in the rocker by the front window, holding a picture album. She had it open to a photo of her holding Stefano the day they came home from the hospital.

"Oh, Paulie, how are you honey? I haven't seen you for hours." Paulie stood back. He did not want his mother to see he had been crying.

"I...I've just been playing X-Box, Mom." He smiled at her, confident that in the shadows she saw nothing.

"I've been looking at pictures, honey." She opened to another page. "You won't remember this, but this is you the first time you held him in your arms. Your daddy was so worried you'd drop him. See the hand behind you? That's your dad. He was gripping your shirt so you wouldn't fall over. She laughed.

Paulie had wondered whether or not he would ever laugh again. At least he could breathe a sigh of relief. Rocco and Tony hadn't learned from the horrible act they all committed. Three weeks after Stefano's death, the pair tried to rob a bodega downtown. They didn't count on their unloaded gun being so provocative, which led to the storeowner shooting both of them in the chest at point blank range with a shotgun.

"Come on, Mom, have something to eat." Paulie insisted. His mother looked at him with a wistful smile.

"You know he looked up to you." A wonderful thing for a mother to say to her son, but it felt like a dagger had just pierced his heart.

"Paulie, he never told you. He didn't want to disappoint you, but he and I had our secret." She opened the album to another page. A picture taken at Breslin's Photo down the block. Two figures looking like they were going to Sunday brunch after church. A mother and her daughter. Both in lovely dresses and wrist-length gloves, like the Magnolia sisters. But the picture wasn't of a girl's day out. It was a photo that Rosa had the photographer take of her and her son; her transgender son, the sister that Paulie never know about.

Paulie took one look at the picture and his stomach began to churn. He ran into the bathroom and promptly threw up in the toilet. The picture itself wasn't repulsive. To be sure, seeing the last photo of his brother and finding out that his mother had encouraged that made him think of why his brother was killed, which led to his own guilt.

He turned on the cold water and put his head under the faucet. Standing up, he reached for a towel and came face to face with his own reflection in the newly replaced mirror. The face across from him seemed to change, and he saw, not his brother, but his belatedly discovered 'sister,' who smiled as before. This time he thought he actually heard the words,

"I forgive you." The trouble was, it wasn't his sister's forgiveness he sought that day.

“I forgive you,” the voice repeated. Only his father’s face had taken the place of his erstwhile sister. “Tell her.” The voice was soothing and gave him strength. He wiped the tears from his face which was an exercise in futility as they continued to flow. He walked back into the living room. His mother had the saddest look on her face, but she brightened as she took note of Paulie’s appearance.

“Mom, Mo….mom?” He began to sob. She looked at him and opened her arms.

“It’s okay, honey, we’ll get through this. I miss him too.” She said softly as he fell to his knees and placed his head in her lap. He started to shake.

“What’s this? Paulie? What’s wrong?”

“Ma mom….I’m….” He tried to speak but the words kept getting choked off by his sobs. Rosa stroked his hair.

“Don’t you worry, honey. It’s going to be alright.” She kissed his forehead. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

“It’ll never be right ever again, Mom.” He managed to get out before he collapsed once again into her lap, overwhelmed by the gravity of what he was about to say. She continued to stroke his hair.

"Dormi, dormi Ninna nanna, ninna nanna dormi bambino bello dormi cu' tuo mama sta ninna nanna ch'io ti canto non t'a scordari piá¹ dormi dormi ninna nanna" ("Sleep, sleep lullaby, lullaby, sleep, precious baby sleep with your mama this lullaby I'm singing for you, please don't forget it sleep, sleep lullaby") She sang but he lifted his head and shook it.

“No, mama, no…no sleep ever again.” He sobbed. “Mama…I was there.” He looked at her as if his expression would let her know, but she asked?

“Paulie, what? What?” She looked in his eyes and the look back was one of utter despair; like a child who had lost his innocence, which Paulie had.

“I was there….I saw it…I saw it all.” He wiped his face with his sleeve in a futile attempt to staunch the flow of tears.”

“You saw it…oh…my baby!” She pulled him into herself and began to coo into his ear.

“No. Mom! I was there…I watched it happen…and I did nothing. to stop them!”

“It’s okay, Paulie…you were scared…I understand…It’s okay” He stood up and cried at her,

“Noooooo. Mom…you don’t understand. I helped them….I helped them kill Stevie!” He turned away and buried his face in his arm against the wall. Rosa jumped up and ran to him.

“What do you mean, you helped them?” She practically screamed. “Paulie, Paulie answer me!”

“They were going to beat up some kids and I tagged along. I held their jackets while they killed my baby brother. Oh, Mommy I am so sorry. I am so so sorry.” He cried and cried.

She walked to him and pulled him around and looked at him with the most hurt and angry look he had ever seen. And then she slapped him in the face. She began pounding on his chest with her fists. He offered no resistance.

“Killer…killer….I hate you…I hate you.” She said it over and over. She wasn’t a strong woman; the blows did no harm, but her anger hurt more than any pain he had ever known. And then she stopped.

“Oh, Paulie…Paulie, I am so sorry…I don’t hate you. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Now she was the one who pled. She was the one who wept while he just stood there. And then he turned his back. Not in anger but because he felt he didn’t deserve her mercy and apologies. He would never ever be able to face his mother again. He began weeping harder than he had ever in his life as he closed his eyes and he saw his sister’s face…the face of an angel.

Rosa grabbed him and pulled him close. He tried to push her away, but even in her weakened state she was determined.

“No….Mommy…I killed Stevie…you ….no…don’t….Mommy …don’t.” He begged her to let go but she held on.

“No Paulie, I lost one son, I am not going to lose another.” She kissed him and he felt her tears trickle down his neck. He tried once again to pull away but he couldn’t. He gave up and fell to the floor.

His sobs were almost animal like as he wailed with inconsolable grief.

“Nooo….nooo….Mommy…I’m sorry….I’m sorry.” He cried over and over. She fell to the floor and held him in her arms, almost like the man had held Stevie days before. And though he took a breath, and would continue, his eyes were as lifeless as the eyes of the pretty girl he knew as his brother, but without the peace and serenity; he was twice dead and alive at the same time

“Bello Bello, mi figlio…dormi bambino bello,” she said over and over until they both were sitting in the dark hours later.

“Mrs. Scialpi, if you insist on this course of action, I’m afraid I won’t be able to defend your son.”

Cal Penetente looked at her and shrugged his shoulders. “I can’t mount any type of defense with the concessions you want to give the DA.”

“Mr. Penetente. I believe you misunderstand. I don’t want you to defend my son. There is no defense for what he did.”

“That seems awfully harsh, Mrs. Scialpi.” Cal had worked with difficult parents in representing teens, but Mrs. Scialpi was an enigma. She seemed genuinely supportive and loving of her son, but she had refused Cal’s advice, which was not only wise, but perhaps Pauli’s best hope for freedom.

“Not harsh, Mr. Penetente not at all. I want you to demonstrate to the court that my son is remorseful and very willing to accept the justice that his act requires.” Any other mother would have sounded cold, but the tears in her eyes were evidence that she loved her son.

“Mr. Penetente? I want to do this…I need to do this…for Stevie’s sake.” Pauli was truly trying to change, but he still struggled saying his sister’s name.”

“Paul…you have to remember this. I know this is difficult, but even with the deal with the DA, if you show no change in your attitude, however small, the judge is going to throw the book at you.”

“He is trying, Mr. Penetente. He never knew that his brother and I shared the secret”

“Mrs. Scialpi. Paul is facing a long time in prison; perhaps the maximum sentence; eight to ten years. You shouldn’t have agreed to the terms without knowing the charge.”

“We understand, but we also have faith that God knows my boy’s heart and before this is over the judge will as well.” She smiled at Cal and turned to hug her son.

“Mom, I don’t care… I just want to get this over. Daddy said…I have to face this. I deserve to die, mom. I deserve to die.” He began to weep. That he felt no hope at all was apparent. But he didn’t care about the hope of freedom. He had lost all hope for his own humanity and wept over the loss of ever being alive again.

“I have you in chambers so we can discuss the plea agreement you both have reached.” The judge looked at the DA and Cal Penetente.

“It’s highly unusual for a defendant to enter into a plea arrangement before gaining an understanding of the terms. Young man?” The judge looked at Paulie.

“Has your attorney explained the arrangements for your plea?” Paulie nodded. His mother spoke.

“Your honor, if I may?” She looked at the Judge, who nodded and said,

“Of course, Mrs. Scialpi.”

“I just wanted you to know that Paulie is prepared to accept whatever consequences the court deems appropriate.” She smiled and sat back.

“Well then, if that’s the case, I shall see you all in court in one hour.”

“Are the terms of the plea arrangement agreeable to both the District Attorney and the Defendant?”

“Yes, Your Honor, Cal said and nodded to Paulie.”

“Your honor, while the District Attorney’s office is amenable to the plea, we take exception to the fact that the Department of Justice has stated it may pursue federal charges related to the ‘Hate Crimes’ statute. That in itself may nullify any and all agreements this office and the defendant have before the court.

“Duly noted, Counsel. The State has already been appraised of the unique circumstance concerning this case. The primary suspects in this case are deceased, and there are no corroborating witnesses other than the defendant concerning the nature of this crime. Barring any new evidence, the State will be sorely pressed to mount an indictment. Now, to the matter at hand. The judge looked at Paulie and continued.

“Young man, in agreement with the District Attorney, the court has decided to forgo any stipulation regarding the crime in deference to your mother. Have you been apprised by your attorney of the arrangement into which you are about to enter?”

“Yes, Your Honor.” Paulie put his head down, not out of disrespect but shame, which was understandable, and guilt, which was entirely appropriate.

“Is there anything you would like to say to this court before I pass out sentencing?” The Judge sounded stern, but the look on his face seemed almost fatherly.

“Yes, Your Honor.” The Judge nodded and Paulie began.

“I did not mean to hurt my….” He paused. Try as he may, he struggled with and found it difficult to call Stefano his sister. Nevertheless, he pushed past his own fear and ignorance.

“I did not mean to hurt my …sss…sister.” He wasn’t hesitating out of unfamiliarity. In that one moment he realized just whom he had lost. Someone who had always looked up to him and someone he cared about too little to understand.

‘BBButtt….I meant to hurt someone. I know I didn’t….” He sobbed for a few seconds and then composed himself.

“I …..I may as well have killed..kkkkkillled her myself. If I didn’t look out for them….. she.. ssshheed be alive today…..MOOOmmmy I am soo sorry.” He put his hand over his face and wept.

“It…it’s my fault…I deserve to die for this…..doesn’t it say that somewhere….I killed my sister.”

He wasn’t being maudlin or histrionic. His heart was rent in two by the realization that he’d never see her again. The boy he taught how to ride a bike. The friend he had when he felt lonely. The child who saw him as a hero. The sister he’d never ever know… He collapsed into his chair and wept at the knowledge that his sister was lost to him forever. Some might say that would be punishment enough, but even in his loss, he began to understand that the world didn’t revolve around Paulie Scialpi.

“I think it best that we take a recess. It’s nearly noon, so let’s all plan on being back here at one-thirty.” The judge banged his gavel and the crowd emptied as he retreated to chambers. Paulie sat in his chair, still weeping, almost a wail of utter despair as his mother put her hands out palms down; wanting to comfort her son while her grief over her daughter prevented her.

The judge sat at his desk. He stared at the photo of his daughter. She would have been about college age, had she lived. His own heart ached for the loss that Mrs. Scialpi felt as he thought of his own daughter’s murder as a high-school senior. Her case had never been solved, leaving both him and his wife in doubt and without closure.

His anger still burned against the unknown forces…fate? Kismet? Karma? Whatever grand design that included his daughter’s death escaped him, and he remained without solace even after three years. He thought of Mrs. Scialpi; torn in two. How she must hate her son; how she must love her son? He looked once again at the picture, put his arms on the table, placing his head tentatively on his arms, as if he had no right; he was a judge, wasn’t he? But he was a father as well. He turned his head to the side, glanced once more at her picture and wept.

There is a way that might seem right to me
A dim reflection of what’s good
Just an illusion of the best that I can be
But there’s another path you offer me
I wish I always understood
Some way you see right through my thoughts
And know my needs

“I have reached what I consider to be not only fair and just, but a compelling decision. I believe there is no other recourse for me but for what I am about to pronounce. Will the defendant please rise?”

Paulie stood slowly and shakily. He was not fearful of the sentence. No bravado, his confidence lie in the fact that he believed that whatever the judge decided, it couldn’t be any worse or unbearable than the gaping hole in his soul from the twin losses of his sister and his own innocence.

“Paul James Scialpi, in accordance with the plea arrangement made between you and the court, you have pled guilty to murder in the third degree. Your indifference to the victim led to her untimely death. It is not enough to say that you didn’t know who the victim was; you went with parties unknown to render bodily harm to same victim. That the decedent was your sister has no bearing in your verdict. Therefore, in accordance with the laws of this state, you are sentenced to six years”

He paused before continuing. “…with all but twelve months minus one day suspended.” The courtroom began to buzz, causing him to bang his gavel.

“For the record, there are no mitigating factors in this decision. However, I am taking into consideration that the defendant’s mother is also the mother of the decedent. Furthermore, barring any change in behavior or attitude, this court feels that the defendant’s and the state’s needs intersect, and that justice will be better served with the sentence as pronounced…In short, no one, including the court, benefits from this boy going to prison.’ He paused to see any change in Paul’s demeanor. Paul remained tearful.

“The remainder of the sentence will be served under the supervision of the Open Arms Community Fellowship. Pastor Nan Infante will be the primary supervisor of the defendant. Mr. Scialpi will reside with Rev. Infante and her partner, Inez Rodriguez, who will also provide supervision for the defendant. Mr. Scialpi will serve the church and any ministry decided upon for no less than forty hours a week, with his primary responsibilities working at the church teen coffee house. Suitable arrangements will be made for Mr. Scialpi to receive visits from his mother and to visit her on occasion.” He paused and looked at the courtroom.

“Mr. Scialpi. There is no atonement for what you did. Nothing can redeem the loss of your sister; your mother’s only other child. Hopefully this will be an opportunity for Paul Scialpi to be redeemed. It is my fervent prayer that it does. Good luck, son. This court is adjourned.”

The crowd was stunned into silence. Paulie sat down and wept. Rosa walked around the gate and shook Cal Penetente’s hand before sitting down next to her son. She was weeping for joy, since she felt the court was entirely fair and just. Paulie wept because he felt the court was entirely unfair; he deserved to die. He looked into his mother’s eyes and for the first time he saw the resemblance between her and Stefano…no, he said to himself. Steffie. He closed his eyes and saw her face again before he dissolved once more into a sea of tears.

Then you take away the distance
Found between the truth and me
And you give a simple reason to my restless rhyme
Whoa, hide me in the heaven
You have held within your hand
And make a way to find a way to soothe my mind

Based in Part on Acts 9:1-9 and I Timothy 1:15-19

Innocence Remembered

I still remember the world
From the eyes of a child
Slowly those feelings
Were clouded by what I know now

Three Weeks Later at the parsonage of the church…

"Okay, kid. Get your stuff out of the van." The deputy pointed to the back of the van before walking over to the woman with standing by the front porch of the house. Her arms were folded and she seemed impatient.

"He's all yours. His ankle monitor doesn't come off for anything without a court order. I'm supposed to pick up a schedule of his daily routine so we know where he'll be when he's off grounds." The woman looked over at the boy and frowned. She handed the deputy an envelope and walked over to the van where Paulie had just removed his backpack and his duffel.

“Follow me,” she said coldly as she walked to the side of the house. She opened a door leading to a stairwell downstairs. Walking down, she switched on a light and turned.

“This is the former sexton’s apartment. It’s half the basement and you’ll be staying here. I’ve posted your schedule on the door to your bedroom, and we have a copy upstairs on the fridge as well. During the day, when you’re not working or doing school work, you’ll be expected to participate in any of the church activities that we do. Dress around here is work-casual for all church functions, so unless you want to wear a jacket and tie, slacks and a shirt will do.” Her voice was clipped and unemotional, but the look on her face belied her neutral tone. If looks could kill, as they say.

“We have a lady’s luncheon every third Saturday of the month. You obviously won’t participate as an attendee, but you’ll be expected to work in the kitchen or help serve, understand?” She didn’t wait for a reply.

“Every Saturday night we have a Coffee House in town….” Her voice trailed off and she turned away. A moment later she continued.

“As I said, every Saturday we have a Coffee House. You’ll be expected to help set up, serve at the coffee bar, and help clean up. You will have free time after you finish your chores here in the evening if you don’t have any homework or there isn’t an activity.” She pointed to a desk and computer in the far corner by the stairs leading up to the rest of the house.

“Your community service is separate from any family or home function like chores. We all do them, and you’ll be part of that as well. No more than forty hours of service during the week, but like I said, that’s separate from anything going on at home.” She looked at him for some response. He nodded his head briefly and looked around the basement. A pool table was in the middle of a large area to his right, and an entertainment center sat against the wall across from a very large leather couch.

“This isn’t a cave to hide in. Even with your free time, we’ll expect you to interact with the other members of the family. Nancy and I have two daughters, and they’re both your about your age. And we have two other girls who are living here at present with another girl arriving next week” At that she frowned at him, almost as a warning.

“We have devotions right after dinner in the living room. You won’t be required to participate, but you will be required to attend.” For a something as spiritual and familial as devotions, her tone was very severe.

“Lights out at eleven, but you can read in your room if you like. Breakfast is a fluid thing since everybody’s schedule is different. Lunch is the same, but on Sunday we all eat together; no activities scheduled on Sunday other than morning and evening service. You’ll be expected to attend those as well. What you choose to do with the time is your decision.” Her words were almost cold. For someone who was ostensibly the partner of a pastor, she didn’t sound at all enthusiastic about her faith.

“There’s nothing scheduled at all today other than the family routine, so your clock starts tomorrow.” She frowned once again.

“Dinner is at six; tonight’s a freebee for you, so just show up and everything will be just fine.”

She glared at him, and he finally had to say something.

“I’m sorry for having to be here.” He started. She looked at him as if he had cursed.

“I mean…I’m sorry that you have to put up with me. Just tell me one thing. What did I ever do to you to make you so angry at me?”

“I didn’t have much to do with you coming here. The judge called Nan into his chambers since we both were at the trial. She had to agree to the terms in order for you to come here. Let’s just leave it at that. Okay?” She turned to walk up the stairs to the kitchen. Halfway up, she turned again.

“Dinner is at six like I said.” She walked up the stairs. After she closed the cellar door, she leaned against the fridge and began to sob softly, overcome by the memory of what had brought Paulie to their home.

“Hey, Inez, can you help me with something?” Steffie Scialpi struggled to open the door to the back office.

“Sorry, hon, I’m on the phone. Give me a sec, okay?” Inez Rodriguez held her hand over the receiver and shouted out to the girl.

“That’s okay, Mom. I’ve got it.” Trish called out from the outer office. She walked over and opened the door for Steffie. The girl smiled and placed the carton she was carrying on the credenza next to the copier. Trish walked into the office and closed the door. She leaned close to Steffie and kissed her on the cheek, causing the girl to blush.

“Do you know how cute you are?” She asked, causing an even deeper red to spread across her girlfriend’s face.

“Stop. Your mom will be so pissed if she finds out?’ Steffie pulled away and began to pull brochures out of the carton, laying them in neat piles on the table in the middle of the room.

“What she doesn’t know won’t hurt me!” Trish laughed and stepped closer to Steffie while puckering her lips playfully.

“Come on, scaredy cat!” She teased.

Steffie stepped back, but her retreat was blocked by a chair left in the gap between the table and the copier. Trish stepped closer once again and kissed her, this time on the lips. The girl blushed but gave into the moment and kissed back; her hand caressing Trish’s cheek softly. A moment later they parted.

“I’ve got to find the rest of these for the mailing. This only looks like half of what we ordered.” Steffie said as she looked around the office for the missing brochures. She stopped for a moment and then looked toward the back door. As Trish went to exit the office, Steffie put her hand on the door leading to the alley way.

“Tell your mom I’ll take care of this and we can talk later, okay.” She opened the door and said,

“I’m going to go get the other boxes of brochures from the car, I’ll be right back.” She smiled and disappeared out into the alley. Trish went up to the front of the café and began pulling out Styrofoam cups from a cabinet and placing them by the three large Coffee urns on the pass-through next to the kitchen.

She was busy for about ten minutes when she heard sirens in the back by the alley. She walked into the office and noticed the door open. Stepping through, she saw a crowd gathered in the middle of the alley. The ambulance was parked and the crowd had opened to let the paramedics through.

“This looks bad, Gabe! “ The one paramedic said to the other as a woman stepped aside, crying softly. Trish stepped closer as the first EMT knelt down and checked the girl lying motionless on the ground. He cradled the girl in his arms and turned her over, revealing the lifeless eyes of Steffie Scialpi. She had the most peaceful look Trish had ever seen.

A loud scream broke the pall of the crowd as Inez Rodriguez reached her daughter just in time to catch her as she fainted. Inez looked at Steffie just before the paramedics covered her face; her peace was matched in intensity by the anger that welled up in Inez as she fought back her own tears. She noticed a boy about Trish’s age weeping and shook her head before carrying her daughter back inside.

Where has my heart gone
An uneven trade for the real world
Oh I... I want to go back to
Believing in everything and knowing nothing at all

“Please don’t be mad with me,” Nan Infante pled as she sat down on the hard bench in the back of the courtroom. Just the words “don’t be mad with me” made Inez cringe, wondering what her partner had done.

“The judge asked me to help out, and I figured we’ve got the room, why not?” She cringed herself as Inez eyed her up and down with an inquisitive stare. She was about to explain when the bailiff came in and called the court to order…..

“The remainder of the sentence will be served under the supervision of the Open Arms Community Fellowship. Pastor Nan Infante will be the primary supervisor of the defendant. Mr. Scialpi will reside with Rev. Infante and her partner, Inez Rodriguez, who will also provide supervision for the defendant. Mr. Scialpi will serve the church and any ministry decided upon for no less than forty hours a week, with his primary responsibilities working at the church teen coffee house.”

Without a word, Inez glared at Nan before getting up and walking quickly out of the courtroom.

I still remember the sun
Always warm on my back
Somehow it seems colder now

Later in the Afternoon, the day of Paul's arrival...

“NO!” Trish threw the magazine she was reading and stormed out of the room in tears. Inez turned to Nan, who looked back with a half-smile.

“She’ll be fine, honey.” Nan didn’t even seem to believe it, but continued.

“I want to hope in the power of forgiveness and healing. I really think this is a good thing…I do!” She said, almost trying to convince herself as much as to convince her partner.

“Damn it, Nan…you had no right. She’s not …” Inez was angry, but not stupid enough to finish the sentence. Nevertheless, Nan picked up on Inez’ intent.

“I know she’s not my daughter, but she’s as much a child of mine as Lena,“ Nan said, referring to her own daughter. “You know I love her like my own! That’s not fair, and you know it.”

“Oh, shit, I know. But you had no right to agree to this without talking to us. At least talking to Trish first. For God’s sake, Nan, he killed his own sister. Trish’s girlfriend. Oh fuck.” Inez began to weep at the thought of the last time she saw Steffie.

"He didn't kill his sister, Inez!" Nan said emphatically.

“As far as I'm concerned, he might as well have. That's why he was convicted as an accomplice. If he hadn't helped those two, Steffie would be alive today. She'd be alive, but he wanted to be a big man. I should have been there. She’d be alive today if it weren’t for me.”

Inez stood in the middle on the room. She covered her face with her hand and wept. Nan walked quickly to her side and put her hand on Inez’s shoulder. Inez tried to pull away but Nan held her tight. She began to convulse in her partner’s arms as she remembered the innocence of Steffie Scialpi.

Where has my heart gone
Trapped in the eyes of a stranger
Oh I... I want to go back to
Believing in everything

I still remember.

Still later that afternoon….

“Hey mom, where’s Trish?’ Lena walked into the living room and noticed Nan sitting in the corner with her Bible open in her lap.

“She’s in her room and won’t come out.” She frowned and continued.

“She’s upset about Paul Scialpi living here.” Nan shook her head and Lena walked over and sat down opposite to her on the couch.

“Well, do you blame her? What the hell were you thinking?” She shook her head and got up. Pacing back and forth, she kept looking in the direction of Trish’s room.

“What the fuck, mom…hasn’t she had to deal with enough?” She plopped herself down in the recliner catty-corner to her mother and continued.

“And I’ve got to work with this bastard? Who gave you the right to make that decision?”

“No one, honey, and watch the mouth, okay?” It was more of a plea than a rebuke. Nan understood both girls were very upset with her decision.

“The judge asked, and we had the means to help.”

“The means to help? Carly and Gina are doubled up in my old room, and you already said that Kimmie is coming next week? Why do we have to have a boy living with us?” She folded her arms and blew out a breath.

“Just what we need. A ready-made bigot to make us feel crappier than we already do. It’s not right, and you know it. Can’t you just tell the judge we can’t?” She looked out the window trying to keep from getting angrier than she already was.

“I could, but I won’t. You’ve got to know that this is a great opportunity for us.” She half-smiled, hoping her daughter would understand.

“A great opportunity? What the fuck, Mom? We get enough shit from people like him out there…why did you have to bring him here. Fuck mom…it’s not fair…” Lena grabbed her backpack and started to walk out. She stopped and turned around, facing her mother.

“Why…just tell me that. Why?”

“Because I don’t think anyone is beyond redemption. I have to try…for everyone’s sake, sweetie, I have to.”

“If you need me, I’ll be in Trish’s room, okay? Someone has to stick up for her, and obviously it isn’t you.” She walked off and knocked on Trish’s bedroom door. A moment later Trish came to the door and welcomed Lena in without saying a thing; her puffy, tear-stained face appearing as a mask of grief before the door closed with a bang.

Nan turned around to grab her Bible and found that Inez was standing in the doorway. Her face was a near mirror-image of her daughter’s as tears freely flowed from her eyes. She held out her arms and Nan rushed to her side.

“Ho…hold me….I don’t want to hurt like this…I don’t want to hate like this…” She stepped out of the doorway and hugged herself, pleading all the while.

“Nnnnan….I don’t want to hate him….I hate myself…I hate what I’ve become….I hate what I’ve lost….I’m… sorry.” She fell back into a chair and buried her face in the wing, weeping. Nan knelt on the floor and grabbed her hands. She kissed Inez and wept, feeling the loss of the child their daughter had loved; and feeling the loss of innocence for everyone. Trish and Lena and both of them…even Paulie…maybe especially Paulie.

“I …. Can’t forgive him….I can’t forgive me….oh God…why ….why???” She cried out in a wail of despair.

Behind the bedroom door, the same scene played out as Lena sat on the floor with Trish in her arms, rocking her like a mother would a small child, all the while kissing her hair and cooing softly.

“It’s okay honey, let it out. I miss her too…I mmmisss her tooo.”

Never one to be emotional, Lena wept more than she had ever in her life. If Steffie had been Trish’s girlfriend, how much more had Steffie been like Lena’s other sister. The go-to-girl when she was confused or scared and didn’t want to talk to her mom. The girl she confessed to about her miscarriage…that no one else would ever know about. Her best friend. When Steffie died, she hadn’t just lost a sister or a friend; she had lost part of herself.

Where has my heart gone
An uneven trade for the real world
Oh I... I want to go back to
Believing in everything and knowing nothing at all

I still remember the sun
Always warm on my back
Somehow it seems colder now

Where has my heart gone
Trapped in the eyes of a stranger
Oh I... I want to go back to
Believing in everything

Based in part on Acts 9:1-14

Innocence Restored

I still remember the world
From the eyes of a child
Slowly those feelings
Were clouded by what I know now

Months before at the church…

“Inez?” A voice came from the choir area behind the pulpit. She looked up to see Steffie standing stock still, holding her hands in front of her nervously. She half-smiled.

“Do you have time to talk?” The girl almost pled.
“Sure. What’s up?” Inez peered at her, wondering what would make her so nervous.

“I wanted to talk to you about Trish.” She winced. After all, Trish was Inez’s little girl, even if she was already fifteen. Her baby; her treasure.

“Okay?” Inez said nervously.

“I….I wanted you to know…and please don’t tell Trish?” Her eyes pled once again.

“Tell Trish what?” This would almost be comical if it were someone else’s daughter she was talking about.

“I…I…Is it okay if…” She pouted like a little kid asking for an extra helping of ice cream after already being told no.

“If you what, Steffie?” Inez smiled to herself. This was actually fun, and she was going to stretch it out as long as she could.

“I mean….She’s your daughter…I don’t want to…I mean.” Inez took pity on the child and mercifully said,

“Do you want to date Trish?” The girl nodded.

“That will be okay, Steffie.” Inez said and the girl’s face broke out in a broad smile.

“And Steffie?” She said and the girl looked at her, nodding.

“Yes…she is my daughter.” Steffie shrugged her shoulders nervously and half-smiled before leaving with this.

“Thank you. I promise I’ll be good.” As the girl walked down the aisle to the front of the church, Inez shook her head and smiled.

A Few Days Later at the Coffeeshop...

“Hey, Steffie, got a moment?” Nan called from the office. Steffie set down the box of donuts she was holding and walked over to the doorway.

“Yes, Pastor?” She smiled sweetly.

“Someone was kind enough to leave these, and I thought you might like them.” She pointed to a brand new pair of suede boots sitting in a box on the chair in front of her desk.

“Oh….thank you! Thank you…I love them.” It was almost gleeful as she put them on. She smiled at Nan again and looked toward the door. Nan nodded and the girl went to show her friends.

About an hour later Nan was moving some boxes into the main area of the coffee house when she noticed Steffie and Trish sitting on one of the long folding tables. They were giggling and pointing at Trish’s cell phone.

“What’s so funny? Nan asked as she moved closer. Trish held up the phone, revealing a picture of Inez in a less than flattering position as she was picking up a pack of brochures. Nan’s face grew stern and she looked at the girls as if they had done something very wrong, but her face broke out in a smile.

“Can I get a copy?” she asked.

“Sure,” Steffie said with a giggle. It was then that Nan noticed that the girl was wearing her old boots.

“Oh, I’m sorry, honey. Didn’t the boots fit?” Nan was puzzled. They weren’t left by someone; Inez had bought them after asking Trish about Steffie’s size.

“Oh, Pastor…they were fine.”

“Didn’t you like them?” Steffie put her head down. Trish looked at Nan and spoke.

“She gave them to Kendra.”


“Oh please don’t be angry. Kendra had to leave all of her stuff behind when she moved in with you and she doesn’t have anything nice.” Steffie said. Nan grabbed the girl and pulled her close as her eyes began to mist.

“Angry, honey, oh no…I’m not angry…not angry at all.”

The Coffeehouse, present day…

"Hey, Paulie, Having fun with your friends?"

Kenny Street laughed and blew a kiss to Paulie as he made his way past the teens standing in the alley behind the coffee house. Kenny had been one of Paulie's friends at one time, but no longer. And as de facto head of the "Idiot Gang," as the local police had named them, it was incumbent upon him to tease Paulie every chance he got.

"You fuck could never do anything right. What a fucker."

He laughed again as his toadies nodded in approval. Paulie ignored him and opened the door leading to the back office. He had been at the coffeehouse since six that morning, and at six-thirty pm he was ready to go home. Except that home wasn't home and he had to work until the place closed at midnight. He put the carton down on the table and wiped his face with his arm.

"Did you get all of the boxes?" Inez asked. She had warmed only some, despite a rather painful epiphany during Paulie's first week at the parsonage. It was mid-July and Paulie was still indebted, so to speak, to the church and the coffeehouse until at least March.

"Yeah. I put some of them under the table like you asked. Anything else here or do you want me up front?"

"Go ahead and grab a sandwich in the kitchen. When you're finished ask Nan if there's anything she has for you to do." Inez didn't smile, but the lack of a frown on her face was a major victory. He might not feel wanted, but at least Paulie felt for once that he hadn't fucked up.

It was almost odd in a way, in this day of 'liberation,' that he was usually the one picked to do the lifting and moving.

"Can't these other guys help out?" He had asked one time, leading to a very embarrassing dress-down by Inez about how they weren't guys to begin with. He wanted to interrupt to say that he didn’t mean it that way, but he figured it was easier to get yelled at once than try to argue and get yelled at all evening.

When it came to it, he actually didn't mind the work at all. It was having to go into the alleyway that was painful. It had been almost ten months since Steffie died, but he still saw her face every single day. He saw her face every night when he went to bed. He saw her face when he woke up at four in the morning when the nightmares usually happened. And every once and a while he saw her face in a dream. She came to him in restless sleep; one time even sitting on the bed and talking to him. At least that's what it felt like.

"What do you want?" Trish looked at Paulie and folded her arms. Trish was almost the polar opposite of her mother. Where Inez had begun to warm up to Paulie, she had grown colder, it that were even possible.

"I was looking for Nan." He didn't have to, but he explained, "Your mom told me to ask her what she needed help with."

"Ah…she stepped out and left me in charge." Trish lied. But from her perspective, he didn't even deserve the time of day, so it was just a little fib.

"You can set up tables and chairs." She pointed to the cart with the tables and then to the chairs that were stacked against the wall.

"Okay," Paulie said and turned to walk into the kitchen.

"Where are you going," She asked

"Getting myself a sandwich." He smiled; an expression that was not returned.

"Oh...there's no food left. Just snack stuff for the coffee house. I guess you'll have to wait until we get back." She was going to add the word 'home' but thought better of it. "It's not his home anyway," she thought.

"Okay." He took a swig out of his water bottle and set to work. One of the girls actually started helping him until she saw Trish and backed away. Paulie worked for about ten minutes by himself until a soft voice called his name.

"Hey, Paulie." He turned and came face to face with his cousin Patty. His eyes widened as he realized he actually had a 'visitor;' apart from his mother his first since starting service with the church.. Then he realized who she was holding hands with.

"You know him?" Lena said angrily. She looked back and forth between the girl and Paulie until Patty spoke up.

"Sure. He's my cousin." She smiled at Lena and walked over to the group of girls who were decorating the archway over the makeshift stage.

"Patty is your cousin?" Trish asked. Paulie nodded and smiled.

"Huh..." Her voice trailed off as she watched Paulie get back to work.

"Huh." She shook her head again and walked over to the group and joined in. She looked at Patty and shook her head as if to say, “You've got to be kidding.”

"I guess that means you'll just have to learn to like him, right.' She smiled a cute adorable smile before kissing Lena on the cheek.

"I...I guess..." Lena said finally, dazed and most likely confused.

The next day, at the parsonage...

Inez was sitting at the desk in the study, looking over some bills when a knock came at the open doorway. She looked up to see Paulie standing half-obscured by the door frame.

“Yes?” Her voice seemed less detached than usual.

“Do you have time to talk?” It was a reasonable request for most people, but still was a stretch for Inez; she still held Paulie at arm’s length emotionally.

“I suppose. If this is about the chore assignments, you can forget it. I don’t have the time to reschedule anything just to suit you.” She looked at him with a half-frown and continued.

“You’re the only one here who can manage the garbage bin, so I suggest you just accept that and move on.” She was actually wrong about that; Lena was a big girl and of course Nan was actually taller than Paulie.

“Oh…no…that’s not what I was saying. I mean do you have the time to really talk?” He actually looked hurt. This was important to him, and likely the only relief he would ever request in a way from the frequent and understandable icyness of the house members.

“Yeah…okay.” She pointed to the chair in front of the desk. It almost looked like a meeting with the vice-principal at his school except that she was much warmer. He looked away and bit the inside of his mouth.

“Can I ask you a question?” She peered at him, seeking some indication of manipulation or deceit; it wasn’t easy even after all these months to sit across the desk from a “murderer.” She was almost disappointed to see his half-smile. She nodded.

“What was she like?” He asked.

“What was who like?” She said impatiently. Even as he hesitated she realized what he was asking. She started to think. Almost as if she was looking for a weapon to kill the boy with her truth; her reality; her pain.

“Mmm….my sister. What was she like?” She noticed his eyes had welled with tears. He continued.

“I….I mean…I knew ….him….I knew Stevie. But I never knew…. you know. Her?” He shrugged his shoulders nervously. She noticed his nervousness and nearly rejoiced in the opportunity. All it would take to crush him would be to deny him that…

“You bastard,” she thought. “You don’t deserve to know, after what you did to her.”

“I mean…I know what a great brother HE was, you know?” He was surprised at his own boldness; this was the longest conversation he ever had with Inez.

“But I never got to know her.” There was that phrase; it ate at Inez like fingernails on a blackboard.

“Well, fuck you, kid. It’s your own fault that you never got to know her. You killed her,” she thought again.

She wanted to scream at him. She was about to tell him off when the phone rang; granting a welcome reprieve from what was becoming too painful for both of them. She used her hand to shoo him out of the study. He walked out with his head down as she answered the phone and found the dial tone instead of a voice. Only then did she notice the blur in her eyes and the smudge of ink on her pad from the tears dripping off her nose. She put her head down on the desk and sobbed until she could cry no more.

Where has my heart gone
Trapped in the eyes of a stranger
Oh I... I want to go back to
Believing in everything
I still remember.

About an hour later she heard a soft voice.

“Hey honey, are you okay?” Inez looked up to see Nan sitting in the chair in front of her.

“You really seemed lost in thought.” Nan smiled, shaking her head as she noticed the puffiness of her partner’s face and her still-moist eyes.

“Oh…hi sweetie,” Inez wrinkled her mouth and went on.

“I was just thinking about Steffie.” She blinked out some tears.

“Oh gosh, honey…it wasn’t your fault. You have to let that go.” Nan shook her head once again, her face etched with worry.

“Oh…no…not that.” She shook her head. Yes, she was still plagued with guilt over the girl’s death, but not today.

“I was just remembering what a sweet girl she was.” She wiped her face with her sleeve.

Nan nodded her head. She thought for a moment

“Do you remember the boots?”

“Yeah…I remember the boots.” She said as she wiped the tears from her eyes.

“I got to thinking.” Inez continued as she got up and walked around the desk. Nan stood up and they hugged, patting each other on the back. She looked at Nan and looked down at her shoes.

“What, sweetie?” Nan said as she stroked her hair.

“She was such a great kid. I don’t know…” Inez started to sob.

“What don’t you know?”

“I mean…she was so kind and forgiving….how do I hold onto something…”

“Something she would have let go?” Nan had been thinking the same thing.

“Oh…Nan I am so sorry.” Inez buried her face in Nan’s sweater.

“For what, honey? Being human?”

“What…what do I do now?” She wanted forgiveness as much as to forgive.

“You don’t do anything…WE pray,” Nan said as she kissed Inez.

Later that afternoon…

I still remember the sun
Always warm on my back
Somehow it seems colder now

Lena sat in a chair by herself near the front window of the coffeehouse. Several of the kids had walked over to Palermo’s for pizza, leaving the place mostly empty except for her and Patty and Trish and a boy who was cleaning in the kitchen. Her arms were folded and she was looking out the storefront window in a daze. Patty walked over and sat down next to her.

“Are you okay?” Patty looked at Lena and smiled.

“Are you serious? Do I look like I’m okay? You’re the cousin of the kid who killed my best friend. When were you going to get around to telling me?” Lena glared at her.

“Today…and besides, he didn’t kill her. That’s Inez talking and you know it!”

“So what! He shouldn’t be here.”

“Where should he be, Lena? Prison? He’s only fifteen, for god’s sake!”

“I don’t care. As long as it isn’t here.”

“Lena…Listen to me. She was my cousin. You don’t think I’m angry at him. I know she was your best friend. Do you know how much that hurts me? I know she held your hand in the clinic when you lost your baby. I know she listened to you when you cried about your dickhead boyfriend. I can’t compete with that. But I’m not going to kick him to the curb just to make you happy.”

“What? Because he’s family?”

“No…because you and I both know Steffie would have forgiven him if she lived.” Lena’s mouth fell open as she looked in surprise at Patty.

“What did she do with Andy Cardonne? You remember how much he teased her. Like it was his mission in life to make hers’ suck?” Patty was angry, and it wasn’t at Andy Cardonne.

“She…she forgave him.” Lena said with a shrug.

“Where’s Andy now, Lena? What happened to him?” Patty said angrily. Lena looked at her and her face reddened.

“He’s right over there talking with Trish…somebody he wouldn’t have even talked to…someone just like my cousin Steffie, right?” Lena was silent.

“Don’t tell your mom I told you, but she told me it was the first time she saw anybody turn from being a real jerk to being a real sweetheart in a second.” Lena laughed but said nothing.

“The thing is... I bet there won’t be a single person here tonight that wasn’t touched by Steffie. So don’t tell me I don’t know what you’re going through.” Patty said angrily.

“She was the most precious person I ever knew….before you”.

“I know. I guess it just seems so unfair that he’s here and she’s not.” Lena shook her head as her own tears started to fall.

“Well, I wish they both were here. I may not like my cousin much right now, but I still love him, and I think you’re having such a hard time because of that.” Lena nodded. Patty grabbed her hand but she pulled it away.

“Lena…?” Patty put her hand on the girl’s shoulder. Lena shrugged and Patty removed her hand.

“Don’t you get it? It’s my fault. I wasn’t here. She died and I wasn’t here. She died alone in a fucking alley and I wasn’t here. I just had to go with my fucking boyfriend to that stupid car show. He gets me fucking pregnant and treats me like fucking garbage…” She almost yelled as she shook her head, wishing it weren’t so. She stood up and walked to the window.

“She holds my hand when I’m losing my baby and he’s off fucking some other girl the same day and then I go to the fucking car show while she…she…” She shouted and began to sob. Patty stood and walked over. She went to hug Lena, but the girl pulled away and faced her.

“It’s my fault she died…if I had been …b..been ….here….” she sobbed.

Nan sat at her desk in the office, stunned, as she realized what her daughter had just confessed. Tears fell from her eyes as she began praying.

“Then it’s my fault too!” Patty stepped forward and looked at the girl.

“Steffie is dead because everybody didn’t do enough to know that they would be someplace else when those creeps killed her. I didn’t invite her tocome shopping, right? You didn’t stay here to help out,” Patty said as she held Lena at arm’s length.

“Your mom just had to go to the store to pick up food. Right? Inez was so selfish she didn’t come out of her office.” Patty didn’t care how loud she had gotten. And she was joined by another voice.

“And….I could have offered to go to the car with her.” Trish said softly, covering her mouth with her hand, missing Patty’s sarcasm.

“I could have…I could have helped her but….” Patty cut her off.

“Stop it. Would you fucking stop it? Both of you. You didn’t do anything wrong, do you understand? Nobody had any chance…. we didn’t fucking do anything wrong. I’m so fucking tired of this shit….” Patty couldn’t stand it any longer. She grabbed Trish and pulled her close.

“No more fucking guilt. Stop it. Please stop it….okay?” Her voice softened and she kissed the girl on the cheek.

“You didn’t do anything wrong.” Her hand reached out blindly and grabbed Lena’s. The girl joined the embrace and the three wept together.

As the girls hugged, a figure stood quietly at the door from the back office. Paulie shook his head over and over as the tears fell from his chin.

“My fault.”

Where has my heart gone
An uneven trade for the real world
Oh I... I want to go back to
Believing in everything and knowing nothing at all

Based in part on Acts 9:1-14

Innocence Bestowed

tell me, please tell me
do you still miss the times that we played
will you remember to love me
now that I’m gone away
Will you tell me please do
can you forgive yourself
since i forgave you,
since i forgave you

A few days later, at the Parsonage…

"Listen, Paulie. The court is satisfied that the terms of your probation are being met. Of course, after the service here is over, you'll stll have another four years of probation, but you can do that standing on your head." Susan Krakowski, Paulie's probation officer, had been very encouraged by the reports that she received from Nan.

"I know, but..." Paulie looked down at the picnic table. They were having their monthly conference outside on the parsonage patio; mostly for privacy, but also because of the beautiful, cloud-free sky and nice late summer breeze.

"You've done everything they've asked you to do under very difficult circumstances." Susan smiled and pointed to the report sitting on the table. The judge wasn't being arbitrary in the choice of setting; if you could work and live in the environment where your sister found meaning, he felt you'd find meaning and purpose as well. You understand, don't you?"

Paulie nodded, but the expression on his face said otherwise.

"You're a kid who made an awful mistake; probably enough to last a lifetime, even if it's just the first big one of your life. But that's just it. You're only fifteen. You've got your whole life ahead of you; time to make a difference with your life." She was going to skip the next part, but she knew he needed to hear what she had to say, as painful as it was going to be.

"Steffie didn't have the chance you had, and she still had a huge impact on the people she knew and cared about. How much more can you do with the rest of your life layed out before you?" It was a tall order, as they say, but one in which the judge had confidence.

"Do you feel guilty?" She asked abruptly?

Paulie nodded. He hated to cry in front of his probation officer, but lately weakness seemed to be strength for him. He looked away quickly and then back again.

"I am guilty." He bit his lip and shook his head. "I was my fault."

"Yes it was, but not entirely." Susan usually didn't cut Paulie any slack. Her stern treatment did have an underlying compassion; she wanted to see him leave the program better than when he arrived, and she was satisfied that was the case.

"You knew someone was going to get hurt." She shook her head at the waste of the four lives that the assault affected. Three no longer lived, and the sole survivor still resided in his private hell. And the families of all those who cared as well?

"But you didn't know they would take it as far as they did. I wonder if they thought about that. We'll never know. But we do know one thing for certain. Your sister died and you helped." She paused and he winced. Not innocently, but the pain of his guilt still hurt like a spear piercing his heart.

"Like the judge said, it's too late to redeem what took place, but it's not too late for you. You've got a few months left and then you're free to pursue whatever you wish in the midst of your probation. I hope you continue to make wise choices, okay?" She smiled and he nodded. She got up and walked around and patted him on the back.

"I'm proud of you, Paulie. Keep up the good work, okay?" She smiled again and walked down the driveway to her car. As she drove off Paulie shook his head once before putting it on his arms resting on the table.

"My fault." The only words he heard throughout their conversation were his own. He lifted his head up and looked around. Seeing that he was alone, he put his head down again and wept.

you were meant for
better things
than not letting go
of the pain and the sorrow
of that day

Later that afternoon…

Inez walked into the kitchen from the back deck and headed toward the fridge. As she put her hand on the door handle, she saw an envelope pinned to the freezer door with a magnet. She pulled it off and noticed the name, her name, on the outside. Opening it, she read:

Dear Inez. I’m sending this note to you. I figured if anyone would act on it, it would be you, since you really don’t like me. That’s okay. I can’t stay here anymore. I’ve decided to leave. I figure I’ll probably get about a mile or so away before they figure out by the monitor on my ankle that I’m not where I’m supposed to be. It’ll be a violation of my probation, so I know that will mean jail time. That’s okay. I deserve it. It’s my fault that Steffie died. The other guys aren’t around anymore, and someone has to pay for her death, so it might as well be me, right?

Tell Nan thank you for having me stay there. I am sorry to leave like this, but nobody besides her really cared about me anyway. I know you hate me. I don’t blame you. I hate me, too. Sorry things didn’t work out, but this is probably the best thing I could do for all of you. Paul Scialpi

Inez stood staring at the note, dumbfounded. She shook her head and pulled her cellphone out and dialed.

“Hello? Police?”

Paulie was in the middle of Lexington, crossing to get to the other side when the loud noise of a siren sounded behind him. He walked to the curb and stood calmly as a loudspeaker blared.

“Get on the ground now and put your hands behind your head.”

The patrol car pulled to the curb. The officer got out and walked over to Paulie. Leaning over the boy, he put his knee on Paulie’s back, pulled out handcuffs and secured his hands behind him.

“Okay, son, let’s just stand up here,” the voice came from behind him. He walked slowly to the patrol car, steadied by the officer.

“Watch your head,” the officer warned, while assisting him into the car. A few moments later they were back on the road. Soon after Paulie realized the patrol car was not heading downtown toward the police station, but in the opposite direction.

“You know, kid, that was a dumbass stunt you just pulled.” The officer said, keeping his face forward.

“You’re lucky you have people that care about you, or you’d be in a shit load of trouble right now.” He finished as the car pulled up to the curb. The officer got out and walked around and opened car door. Helping Paulie out of the patrol car, he reached around and removed the handcuffs. He then walked over to the woman standing at the curb and said.

“He’s all yours, sis!” He kissed Inez Martinez on the cheek and smiled.

“Tell Mommy that Nan and the girls and I will be over Saturday for the picnic, okay, Benny?”

“Sure thing. And glad I could help.” He walked back, got into the patrol car and drove off.

“We need to talk.” Inez said as they walked into the house.

A short while later…

“What were you thinking, if you were thinking at all, which I highly doubt?!” Inez said angrily.

“You got my note, obviously. What’s to know? I deserve to be in jail, so this was the best way I knew how of making that happen.” Paulie said, shrugging his shoulders.

“Do you know how incredibly selfish that was? Do you know how hurt Nan would be if she found this note before I did?” She shook her head, but more out of frustration than anger.

“What difference does it make? Nobody likes me here? Well maybe Nan, but the girls and you all hate me.” He shook his head.

“This way, I’m out of everybody’s way, and you’re all one big happy family again.” He wanted to recall just how it felt to be filled with bravado. He felt sad instead, like you feel when you try hard to do something for someone and it turns out worse.

“It wouldn’t be a happy family without you, Paul.” Inez said softly. He looked into her eyes, and he saw that the icy stare that greeted him every day had been replaced with a warm gaze.

“I was wrong about you. I was wrong about a lot of things, but mostly I was wrong about your sister.” She sat down at the kitchen table and offered him some coffee.

“Your sister was important to me as a tool to use against you.” She frowned at the thought, almost as if she were more disappointed with herself that she had ever been with him.

“I was grieving my loss rather than her…the person I wanted her to be instead the real Steffie.” He looked at her without any understanding. She tilted her head in thought and continued.

“It was like I forgot who she actually was, how special she was and why I missed her. I was so angry that I lost sight of what she would have wanted for me. For you. For both of us.” She tried to smile but her tears got in the way. She grabbed a napkin from the holder in front of her and wiped her face.

“Paulie…there’s something I need to tell you. Something about your sister.”

Months before at the coffeehouse…

Inez sat at the desk in the office, looking over some invoices. Things were getting more expensive every day, and she wondered where they would get the next month’s rent for the coffeehouse. She was lost in thought when a knock came at the doorway.

“Hi Inez, Is Pastor Nan around?” Steffie stood outside the door, almost as if she sought permission to enter.

“Oh, no, honey. She and Gina went to the store to pick up some refreshments for tonight, sorry.” As she picked up another invoice she noticed the disappointed look on the girl’s face.

“Is there anything I can help you with?” In the few months that Trish had been dating Steffie, Inez had grown fond of the girl, almost as if she were another member of the household.

“Oh…I don’t know, maybe.” Steffie put her hand to her chin and grew quiet. A moment later she asked,

“Do you and Pastor Nan pray together?” She immediately realized what she had asked and quickly followed with,

“Oh, gosh, of course you do. I’m so sorry. All this stuff is sorta new to me. Please forgive me.” Getting used to the differences and even moreso, the sameness of her Pastor’s relationship with Inez was completely new and was becoming the major reason why Steffie was able to begin to accept herself as well.

“That’s okay…we’re different than what you’re used to…I understand.” Inez smiled.

“I…I’m worried about my brother. Really worried.” Steffie shrugged her shoulders almost apologetically.

“What’s wrong with…Paulie…that right? What’s going on with your brother?” Inez tilted her head and leaned forward, motioning for the girl to sit down. Steffie took a seat and continued.

“He…he’s been hanging around with a couple of guys…I’m scared.” She shook her head.

“They’re some of the guys that make fun of us at school.” She half-frowned and shook her head once again.

“And you’re afraid because?” Inez put her hand on the girl’s wrist and patted it softly.

“He’s teasing us now, and it hurts, but that’s not what I’m afraid of.” Tears came to her eyes as she remembered the hurt of seeing her own brother join in the cruel taunting she had received.

“They’re like gang wannabees, you know. I’m afraid that they’re going to do something stupid and he’s gonna be right in the middle of it.”

“You know that we can’t control anyone, honey…they have to follow their own path. All we can do is be the person we’re supposed to be, right?” Inez felt sorry for the girl, but there really wasn’t anything to do at that point…at least she thought so.

“Oh, no…I know that. I just thought it would be great if he came here…you know…to the youth group? If he could see what happens here…just once? Maybe he wouldn’t be so…mean.” She put her hand over her face and began to cry.

“I know it hurts honey, believe me. Nan and I have been through more than our fair share of hurt, I think. But then I have to remind myself that there really isn’t fair or unfair…it just is what it is. What do you want me to do?” Inez felt helpless until the girl spoke again.

“Maybe we could pray just that Paulie gets a chance to come here…you know. Maybe if he comes here he’ll see how nice it is and how people care about each other?” She was almost pleading.

“If he doesn’t see how much people care with you….” Inez thought and she grew angry. The poor child was the sweetest kid she had ever met and didn’t deserve the way she was being treated.

“I mean…He knows about me sorta…you know…little brother who isn’t the kind of kid he’d want to hang around with anymore…but if you knew him, you’d see how really neat he is. He’s the best brother anyone could ever want…at least he used to be.” She wiped her nose with a tissue from the box on the desk.

“I mean, maybe if he sees things the way they are here…he could meet….me. He doesn’t know about Steffie…but if he could?” She shook her head, wishing things were different but fearing they’d never change.

“I’d give anything to see him change…to be…like he’s supposed to be.” She said. Inez nodded but thought,

“Just like you, sweetie…just like you.” She thought as she smiled again.

“Tell you what. Why don’t we pray, just like you said? Okay. We can’t do anything but we know someone what can, right?” She looked upward and laughed softly.

“Oh, yeah. We do, don’t we?” She smiled and Inez patted her hand once again.

“Let’s pray, sweetie, okay? Dear Lord, you have heard the cry of this girl’s heart. She wants to see her brother Paulie safe. She wants to see him make better choices. I think you want him to be kind and thoughtful, Lord. She has said she would give anything to see him change. We put this in your capable hands, Lord, believing for the best for Paulie. Thank you God, Amen.”

She looked at Steffie and she could see that the girl was at peace. The prayer had already accomplished that, and Inez was relieved. The girl rose from the chair and walked around the desk. Leaning over, she hugged Inez and kissed her on the cheek.

“Thank you. You’re the best! “ She smiled again and headed toward the door.

“Oh Steffie, I just remembered, there are more boxes of brochures I picked up from the printer. I brought a couple of them in, but there are still a few in my car. Be a dear and get the others from the trunk?” Steffie nodded and Inez tossed her the car keys.

“I’ll be out in a couple of minutes and we can look at that poster you made. I’m sure it’s great, okay?” No sooner than she had finished speaking when the phone rang. She waved at Steffie and smiled. About ten minutes later she heard a siren growing closer. And five minutes after that her world fell apart.

In the present, at the Parsonage…

i wish to remember our kinship
even when you never knew my name
i want you to move on
and be all you can be

“See…I told you…my fault.” The boy’s eyes filled with tears as he lost all hope. His death was swift, complete and entirely painful, but the resurrection came as quickly.

“No…that’s not how it works. We prayed for what we thought was best, wanting to be in agreement with God. The boys were going to do what they were going to do, no matter what. You were going to do the same. God just reached down….” Inez struggled with the thought as she remembered her last look at that precious, sweet, and peaceful face.

“…And used the bad to make good. Do you understand?” Paulie shook his head no. He wanted to say the word but it got stuck as he sobbed.

“You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good…that’s what Joseph told his brothers. They couldn’t believe that the evil they had planned for their own brother turned out…not just okay, but better than ever because of how God works.” She wanted to believe this for herself…she had to believe to restore her own innocence.

“You mean he wants to fix this? I can’t believe it…Not for me. Not ever.” He was weeping and she got up from the table.

“Paul? If Steffie were here, what do you think she’d say?” She knelt down and put her hand on his shoulder. She smiled; possibly the most painful moment in her life and likely the most renewing as well.

“I forgive you, Paul.” It wasn’t just Inez saying it for his sake but for hers as well. He looked into her eyes and saw something that he had never seen before; himself, or at least the peace that he sought for himself. His eyes pled for the solid reality of her words; the truth behind the promise.

now that I’m gone away
Will you tell me please do
can you forgive yourself
since i forgave you?

“Paul…let it go. I forgive you.” No longer just the words of his dead sister; they were the words of someone who had grown to hate him but now had nothing but love in her heart for the boy. He grabbed her hand and wept more than at any time in his life.

Months of recrimination; deserved or no, that had paralyzed him and rendered him incapable of giving or receiving love. They melted away like wax on a hot day, leaving behind a true image of Paul Scialpi. Condemnation was replaced by acceptance as the boy was renewed and restored by the memory of a brother he missed desparately and a sister he never knew.

And standing in the doorway, reluctantly a witness to the grace of god, Trish Martinez wept as she tried to resist the urge to join them.

“Do I have to?” she mouthed silently as her gaze turned upward. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she shook her head no. Each movement of her head grew slower until her hand rose and covered her face. Inez looked up and saw her daughter lost in a debate that she knew she’d lose.

“Honey? Trish?” She stood up and walked to her daughter. Wrapping her in her arms, Inez kissed Trish on the top of the head and wept with her.

“I….I….We…” The girl’s voice was soft, and the words came haltingly.

“It’s okay, baby…let it out.” Inez shook her head and thought of the waste of so many lives. And the pain of knowing she could do nothing to ease her daughter’s heartache.

“Mmmomm?” Trish looked into her mother’s eyes and saw a peace she’d never known before; not since her father died, not since her own struggles with who she was. And not since Steffie had been killed. Her own eyes began to reflect that peace as her mother spoke softly.

“We’re going to be okay, honey. I promise.” The two embraced once again.

“We’re going to be okay.”

do you remember the love that we shared
I want you to go on and be loving

Later that evening…

The seats of the sanctuary were filled with the teens of the youth group. Nan sat in the front row with Rosa Scialpi as the service was about to start. Nan got up and turned on a microphone and began to speak.

"Tonight is special and sad and joyful. We gather together to celebrate the birth and life of someone we loved…someone who touched all of us." Nan looked around at all the faces of the group. Everyone was present except for Trish. "I can’t…it hurts too much," she had said. Tears were already flowing freely even as the faces for the most part were glowing with smiles. Rosa Scialpi wiped her face with a tissue and smiled with pride.

"I've asked my daughter Lena to lead us in prayer. After that, we'll all have an opportunity to say something about Steffie. It doesn't have to be anything other than what you want to say. Many words or few will do, since it's all about how you feel, okay."

Nan smiled and looked back at Lena. Things had gotten much better between her since she went to Lena about what she had overheard. No longer excluded, Nan felt that Lena trusted her more and more. There would still be girlfriends to confide in; maybe one in particular, she thought as she looked at Patty Scialpi.

"Dear God, please let us remember Steffie with joy. Let us be thankful for her, and most especially, help us to be as loving and kind as she was, and maybe like you are. Amen." She paused and looked around for a moment, searching for a face. Her eyes widened in recognition.

"Since I'm already up here, I guess I'll go first, okay?" She looked at Nan, who nodded.

"Steffie was my best friend. I could tell her anything. It wasn't just that she would keep a secret. She treasured it. I mean, stuff I told her...she acted like it was the most important thing in the world."

"I can get through this," she thought to herself as her eyes filled with tears.

"I want to tell you something." She put her head down for a moment.

"Last year...I got pregnant." A few sighs and some "ohs" filled the room. Nan looked shocked; not at what Lena had said; it was that Lena was talking about it with her peers.

"Steffie talked with me every day...up to the moment when I was lying on a bed waiting in the clinic after I...I lost....mmmy baby." The tears were flowing freely, but Lena composed herself and continued.

"I knew she was disappointed in me...not so much me as what I had been doing to get me where I was. She warned me about Carmine, but I didn't listen. He was screwing around with another girl the whole time he was with me....and he was with her the day Steffie held my hand…the day...." She sniffled.

"Anyway...I don't know how to say this, but it's the thing I think Steffie would have wanted for me." Lena handed Nan the microphone and walked over to a girl sitting off to herself, crying. It was no secret that Gina Torricelli was the girl her boyfriend had been seeing; one of the girls whom her family had taken in. She had felt betrayed and it hurt to know it wasn't a stranger who had hurt her. She put her hand on Gina's shoulder.

"Steffie would have wanted it this way. Gina…please forgive me for hating you? I'm so sorry." She hugged the girl and she was met with an awkward pat on the back.

"For Steffie?" She said softly. The girl melted into her arms and they both wept. As they held each other Nan held up the mike.

"Someone else?" A tall boy sprang up from a chair and walked swiftly to the mike. Taking it eagerly, he began.

" name is Andy Cardonne. I'm not a dickhead, but I used to play one on TV!" Ever the jokester, his humor was his way of deflecting the pain of real life. Maybe more than anyone, he appreciated the mercy of Steffie Scialpi

"You know how stupid stupid can be? You're so stupid you don't realize you're stupid and you keep acting stupid?" A few chuckles and nods. Most of the kids knew where Andy was going with this.

"Mr. Calabrese said that if I bullied one more kid, it was out the fu....out the door." Nan rolled her eyes.

"Anyway, there I was in the hallway making life hell for Stevie Scialpi." Steffie attended school as her boy self; she hadn't decided what or who she wanted to be at that point and felt safer as Stevie.

"Mr. Calabrese comes along...takes one look at me and says, 'That's it, Cardonne. Yer outta here...' Ya know, like an f'n umpire. Well Stevie turns to him and says, 'Oh no, Mr. C. Andy and I were just kidding around. He didn't do anything wrong. Please, he's okay, really.'" Andy shook his head and cried in public for the first time since he broke his arm while skateboarding when he was nine. After a moment he collected himself.

"After Calabrese leaves I turn to Stevie and ask him ‘What the fuck?’" He winced when he realized what he had just said. Nan looked at him and covered her face to keep from laughing.

"Anyway, you know when a kid is just saying something to keep being beat up? And when they're real, you know?" He looked around the room, as if expecting a show of hands.

"He looks at me and says, 'Now who's gonna pick on me if you get tossed outta school,’ just like that. I couldn't believe he said that, and with a fuckin' grin on his face." Nan pretended to glare at him, which caused his face to grow red.

"And then he smiles at me and says, 'I forgive you.' Yeah, I teased him in school, but it was HER life that I made a living hell. And even though HE wore boy clothes cause of school I knew it was HER who was talking." He shook his head and wiped his face with his sleeve.

"I know I got a long way to go, but I wouldn't be here with you if it weren't for her...I wouldn’t know anything about God, you know? And I wouldn’t know any of you. That's all I got to say!' Andy turned and smiled at Nan who nodded and smiled back. He handed her the mike and walked back to his chair and buried his face in his hands as the two girls next to him patted him on the back.

One by one, the kids got up and spoke about Steffie’s kindness and sweet personality. There was laughter and crying, sometimes separate and sometimes mixed together. A ginger haired girl stepped up, tears streaming down her face. Patty Scialpi had known Steffie longer than anyone in the room save for one.

“When I was about eight, we were over at my cousin’s house. My Aunt Rosa asked me what I wanted for my birthday, and I said a Barbie…I don’t even remember which one. My mom says ‘We’ll see,’ you know ‘cause Daddy had just got laid off at the plant and we didn’t have much money. Well my birthday comes around and I have a party. Everybody was there…Gina…I think you were there?” The girl was still weeping with Lena.

“Anyway…I was opening presents, and Stevie came up and handed me a box. It was sort funny cause he was the only….only boy.” She smiled and wiped her face with her sleeve.

“I open the box and it’s the Barbie I asked for. Well I scream like those kids in the Funniest Video show. After everybody has gone it’s just me and Mommy and Aunt Rosa and Stevie. I don’t think I was supposed to hear, but Mommy tells Aunt Rosa,”Oh…that’s too much Rosa, you didn’t have to.” She paused and stiffled a sob.

“Sshheee…She says…nnooot mmmeee.” By now several of the girls and two of the boys were crying as well, having heard the story before.

“Ss..Steviee. He saved his allowance.” She wiped her face again and continued.

“At the end of the day….they’re leaving and I teased him. “Hey Steffie, you can come play with Barbie anytime, okay?’ Well…he….looks at me and his….her face lights up like a Christmas tree, you know? S..hhhheee says, ‘Can I? Really?’ I knew right then….I knnneewww…..” She couldn’t hold it in any longer. Nan rushed to her as she began to weep, holding the girl in one arm she tried to keep it together herself.

“Anybody else?” No one spoke up. She was about to turn the microphone off when a voice spoke up in the back of the room.

“Can I say something?” Paulie walked forward, There were gasps of surprise, but more so for who was standing next to him. Trish Martinez was holding his hand. It wasn’t a firm grip; there was an uneasiness in the connection that would take a long time to abate, but she had chosen to hold tight, no matter how she felt. Paulie took the microphone. Everyone stared, wondering how he could possibly dare to speak. Their loss was his fault. Their heartache was his responsibilty. And He knew that they knew.

“I never knew my sister. My brother was something special.” They gasped. How could he say that? What was he thinking? But his next words helped them understand.

“Stevie was the nicest kid you’d ever want to meet. He was like a gem, you know…like something to treasure. My mom always called him my little treasure, you know.” Rosa began to weep. Nan walked over to her with Patty at her side. They sat down on either side of her and held her tight.

“But here’s the thing. In the six months I’ve been coming here, I got to know my sister.” He paused and nervously scanned the group in front of him, hoping for some relief. Nan smiled and gestured as if to say, “Go on, it’ll be okay.”

“Pastor Nan is one of the kindest people I ever met. Stevie…Steffie used to tell me what a nice lady she was and how she wanted to be just like her.” Nan gasped and tears streamed down her cheeks.”

“Lena is one of the smartest kids I’ve ever met. I know she’s much smarter than me.” He smiled as she looked up and awkwardly smiled back.

“Steffie used to say, ‘Jeez, Paulie, you should meet this girl Lena. She’s so awesome. I wish I could be as smart as her.” Lena shook her head no, wanting to push aside the memories that accompanied the praise.

“And she said that Trish was the prettiest girl she had ever seen in her life.” Trish was still holding his hand, and she let go to cover her face as she blushed and wept.

“I think if she ever had the….the chance.” His voice broke as he stifled a sob.

“If she ever had the chance I think she would have said she wanted to be pretty…” He turned and looked at Trish. “…just like you.”

“And I don’t see her here, but Inez?” He composed himself and continued.

“Steffie told me I should come here because….I would feel….welcome because Inez is the nicest person and would make me fff...eel at home.” His voice broke again.

“So….I got to know my sister because I got to know you…Inez …Nan…everybody. I don’t deserve anything but your hatred. I hope I can prove to you that I have earned your trust. Thank you for loving my sister.” He turned to walk and a hand reached out and grabbed his.

“I….I forgive you.”

Nothing fancy or emotional…the emotions might come later, but Trish held his hand fast and the look in her eyes told him everything he needed to know. No one got up, but softly, one by one the teens echoed Trish with the same three words. I forgive you. Nan got up and hugged the boy. She leaned over and spoke a prayer that only they heard.

Inez stood in the back of the room, her hand covering her mouth. Nan noticed and waved and her expression seemed to ask if everything was alright. Inez smiled through her tears and nodded.

Everything was going to be okay.

Steffie's Song

tell me, tell me
do you still miss the times that we played
will you remember to love me
now that I’m gone away
Will you tell me please do
can you forgive yourself
since i forgave you?
i wish to remember our friendship
even when you never knew my name
i want you to move on
and be all you can be
you were meant for
better things
than not letting go
of the pain and the sorrow
of that day
do you remember, please remember
do you remember the love that we shared
I want you to go on and be loving
promise you'll go on
and love everyone in my name
remember me as the one
who loved you and forgave you
the one who loved you

Based in Part on I Timothy 1:15-19 and Genesis 50:19-21

A Way performed by
Michael W. Smith
Words and Music by
Tim Marsh, Michael W. Smith & Gary Chapman

Field of Innocence
As Performed by Evanescence
From the Album Origin
Words and Music by
Amy Lee, Ben Moody, and David Hodges

Steffie's Song
Words by Andrea Lena DiMaggio
Based on The Days Between from Stepmom
Music by John Williams

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