Chapter 3

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"One! Two! One, two, three, four!" Cale cried into the mike as he strummed a syncopated rhythm on his electric guitar and the other band members joined him perfectly in time. His fingers ran nimbly along the fingerboard and his deft right hand alternated between the pick and his fingers when needed. He had a husky, but mellifluous, voice that rang out without effort. The set progressed easily and Cale stopped the band only a few times during each song to tweak the rhythm or the intonation of the harmonies. Cale mostly focused on trying to get their fill-in drummer integrated into the band but since their new guy was very talented, it wasn't too difficult.

            "Ok, we're playing during service tomorrow, so let's going over the worship songs," Cale ordered when they were done with the set and the other guys in the band whined.

            "Dude, we haven't had a break this entire time. We need one, C," the temporary drummer, David, spoke out, voicing all of their opinions although the regular band members wouldn't dare to interrupt Cale. David didn't know any better.

            Cale shook his head as though clearing it and then smiled. "You're right, I'm tired too. Let's catch some dinner and then we can come back and finish. Is that straight?" he asked the relieved and grinning members of the band who didn't answer but scurried to put away their equipment and grab their wallets.

            "So what brings you here for university?" Cale asked David as he carefully put away his guitar and David jammed his sticks into his back pocket.

            "I want to study biology and the program here is better than the school back home," David replied, pulling out his school ID with a meal plan on it to pay for dinner in the cafeteria.

            "Biology? Sounds tough," Cale remarked as the other guys joined them, joking amongst themselves and making light conversation.

            "It is, but I like it. But anyway, you don't have to worry about knowing the songs for service, I grew up in a Christian household and I probably know most of them," David said, voicing Cale's previous concerns when he'd first picked David as the temporary drummer.

            "Really? What made you turn agnostic?" Cale asked with interest. To him, it was impossible not to believe in the Lord and wondered what could have turned such a cool guy off from Him who gave them life.

            "A number of things, not least of all the terrible church I went to and mostly all the things I've been picking up through reason and higher education. It's just hard to believe everything rationally although I know a lot of faith is required. I dunno, it's hard to explain," David said with a shrug and a wry grin. Cale clapped him on the shoulder.

            "Well, if you have any questions about it you can always ask, but I won't push you, man. Don't worry about that," Cale responded good-naturedly. It was hard not to because David was so open and unafraid of offending him with his opposing beliefs.

            "Thanks," David said appreciatively and they both joined in the conversation the other band members were having. When they reached the cafeteria, Cale broke off with the group to use the restroom.

            "I'll be there in a sec guys, just pick a table in our usual spot," he told them and they nodded before proceeding up the escalator to the cafeteria.

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            Renée sat quietly on the upper floor of the cafeteria picking at her meager meal of meat and vegetables, feeling emotionally ill and physically tired. She'd just finished taking the exam she studied all night for, after her interlude with Jack, and she knew that she passed. The thing that was troubling her was the fact that she felt no satisfaction from that fact. Life seemed to be very meaningless. Even her goal of going to medical school seemed shallow since it was not really a personal one, but one to show up the demons of her past that continued to haunt her. As she mused, she played with her food and ignored the several men that came over to speak with her.

            "Renée?" a soft voice asked and Renée's head swung around to face the speaker: a small, blond, rather meek looking girl.

            "Elise is it?" Renée queried, laying her fork down on her tray and waving to the seat across from her which Elise quickly sat in with a small smile.

            "Yes, how are you?" Elise asked, noting the tired, haunted look in Renée's brilliantly green eyes.

            "Tired, but okay. I had a long night last night and an exam this morning," Renée told her, not lying, but only telling a half truth. In actuality, she felt just as hollow as when Jack had left, but she would never let on to Elise.

            Elise noted how Renée was withholding information, but chose not to interrogate her because of their very new relationship. Elise could also tell that Renée was not one to spill her emotions at the drop of a hat so she turned the conversation to safer territory.

"What exam did you have?" Elise asked, digging into her mountain of food. Renée actually laughed at the sight: a tiny girl eating as much food as a grown

man and Elise glanced up curiously from her fork with a raised brow. When she noticed Renée was studying her enormous plate of food she laughed as well and shrugged as if to say, "What can I say? I eat a lot."

            "I had a biochemistry exam," Renée replied as her laughter died down and Elise's jaw dropped.

            "Why in the world would you take biochemistry?!" Elise asked with great curiosity and alarm. Just the word "biology" made her cringe

            "Because I'm a biochem major and I need it to get into medical school," Renée said with a slight chuckle at Elise's incredulous look.

            "Wow…I would have never guessed," Elise commented without thinking and then blushed deeply. "I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean…"

            "It's fine. I know what you mean," Renée said dully, used to such comments but actually flattered that Elise had apologized. Most didn't. "What's your major?"

            "Education. I want to teach little kids," Elise said with a smile that lit up her rather plain face.

            "I could never do that. I don't have the patience. But it's great you want to. What made you choose that?" Renée asked, finally pushing her tray away from her, leaving her food barely touched. Elise noticed this, but did not comment, unsure if it was a common event or not.

            "I teach a children's bible study group on Thursday nights. They are so completely precious, Renée," Elise gushed, dropping her fork to wave her hands with enthusiasm. "It's completely wonderful to see what peace Jesus has brought into these kids who are so young. You can see it in their eyes and I'm completely honored to teach them."

            As Elise spoke, Renée remembered Cale's sapphire eyes for some odd reason. Then, when Elise had finished speaking, something in Renée snapped and her mood turned extremely foul. Elise could feel it in the air and immediately drew back from the table.

            "What's wrong, Renée?" Elise asked timidly.

            "I think you know what's wrong, Elise," Renée bit out and stood up suddenly, adopting a very intimidating stance. Renée was a tall girl and the deadly look in her green eyes left no for questioning her emotions at that exact moment.

            "N-no, I'm s-sorry I-I…"

            "You just think I'm some poor, helpless screw-up who is in need of some crazy idiot who talked too much and got himself staked in the ground. What's his name? Oh ya, Jesus. Oh là-là!" Renée spat sarcastically. "And so now you're preaching to me. Well, forget that shit. I don't need your help, or the help of some dead guy, thank you."

            With those final words, she stalked off leaving her tray laden with food on the table and a teary-eyed Elise in her wake. She practically sprinted down the downward moving escalator. Because of her speed, however, she tripped over the last stair and fell…directly into a pair of strong arms. Glancing up in surprise, her wide, green eyes take a moment to register the handsome face before her. Two sparkling, blue eyes were trained on her face and Renée recognized the look in them: the peace that Elise was talking about; the peace that finding God gave someone.

            "If you wanted a hug, you should've just said so," Cale remarked dryly as he helped Renée right herself and straightened out her halter top and skirt. The completely masculine part of him wanted to reach out and touch her because she looked so devastatingly gorgeous and all he wanted to do was keep his arms around her. But, the rational side of him scrutinized her face and saw the remnants of a long night and he closed himself off to her once more.

            "Shut the hell up, Cale," Renée snapped and all her frustration with her life and her annoyance at Elise returned tenfold.

            Cale immediately narrowed his eyes, disliking her attitude immensely and wondering how he could be attracted to such a complete bitch.

            "I'm not the one falling into random people's arms, like you tend to do, huh?" Cale shot back, knowing the double reference the incident that had just occurred and to her sex-life was immature, but he couldn't seem to help himself.

            "Ah, another Jesus freak. Well, let me tell you something. You're an idiot. Jesus is not real. He doesn't help anybody. If he does, then why the hell doesn't he help poor "fallen" me? Huh?" Renée growled, jabbing her finger into his broad chest as Cale's eyes shot open in surprise. It was definitely not what he expected.

"Oh no words? Hmm? Well, I wonder why. He's not real. He doesn't help everyone," Renée continued as something in her snapped and she felt her hollow heart collapse inwards on itself. "If he's such a good guy, then why am I like this?!"

Her arms waved to emphasize her words. She was on the verge of hysteria, completely unaware that it was the first time she'd practically broken down in front of another person.

"He's not fucking real. He's bullshit that you made up to make yourself feel better," she finished in a low hiss before turning sharply and stalking away, shaking from head to toe as Cale looked on wide eyed. Anger began to consume him. It began to gnaw at the center of his being and his fists balled up at his sides. She'd just attacked the one thing that made his life worth living and red clouded his vision. Wanting to chase after her and hit her, he took instead several, long ragged breaths and prayed.

'Lord, she knows not what she says. Help me to overcome my sinful reaction. Lord, please just help me,' he prayed silently, fervently. Instantly, he felt the weight of someone's hand on his shoulder. A hand he somehow knew he couldn't see, but it was there all the same, showing him he wasn't alone. It gave him the strength to overcome.

"But He is," Cale softly protested and penetrated the heavy silence that had fallen. Renée stopped dead in her tracks at the sound of conviction in his voice and turned slowly around. What she saw nearly made her gasp. Somehow, there was someone else with Cale. It wasn't that she could see him exactly, but she knew Cale wasn't alone and for a moment she just stared at the…"thing"…before her emerald eyes locked on Cale's sapphire ones. A shudder tore through her and Cale saw how shaken she was and felt a great sympathy for her, one he'd felt an inkling of before but now felt in full force.

Then, annoyed at herself for imagining things, or so she told herself, Renée once again turned her back on Cale and his "stories" and stormed away, feeling torn and confused and unable to handle whatever had happened.

            Cale watched her until she was out of sight with bated breath and all the while the hand remained in place.

            "Thank you Jesus," he breathed. With one last squeeze the hand slipped away, but did not leave Cale feeling alone. He knew his Creator was always with him, whether he felt him or not.

            The incident left him completely drained and in awe. Cale realized how big that step was in his spiritually maturity as he turned and went upstairs to meet his friends for dinner. What bothered him, however, was how that woman still managed to rile him up.

            "Whatever," he muttered with a long sigh before another person came crashing headlong into him with a squeak.

            The little creature jumped back in fright and Cale saw the tears streaming down her face.

            "Elise?" Cale asked with worry.

            Cale!" she cried and threw herself in his arms again with more force he ever thought someone so small could muster.

            "What's wrong?" he asked, realizing that his interaction with Renée hadn't taken but more than a minute or so, as he put his arms carefully around his friend. Elise's heart nearly jumped out of her chest when he hugged her despite her distress.

            "I…Renée…she said…it was awful," she sobbed, clutching at his shirt, immensely glad that he was comforting her, although she found his reaction unusual for his personality.

            "What did she say?" Cale asked, feeling his anger rise and immediately berating himself. How could he become angry after that amazing experience? What was Renée doing to him?

            "That Jesus…" she began but couldn't finish as her voice broke.           

            "And you believe her?" Cale asked, gently, rubbing her back.

            "No, it just hurts that someone could say that about Him," she whispered between hiccups and small sobs.

            "I know," Cale said. He'd just felt it. Renée was a tornado of controversy that seemed to wreck havoc with the violent winds of her temper and her sad life.

            "You've grown up Christian. Just think back on all the security He has given you, El. That should help. I know you have a hard time sharing the faith with nonbelievers because you hate confrontation," Cale murmured, wondering when he'd become a comforter of the downtrodden. It was never his thing. He usually kept to himself.

            'You, Lord, never cease to amaze me. Who would have ever thought?' he prayed silently.

            "I know, Cale. I pray about it all the time, but…"

            "Shh, Elise. It'll be okay. God will provide," Cale whispered, hugging tightly and gently rocking her. "How about I walk you back to your dorm and you rest?"

            She nodded against his chest, wishing he would never let go. But he did, putting his hand at the small of her back and guiding her out of the cafeteria. He pulled out his phone and called his band mates, letting them know he would miss dinner but that he would be at the rehearsal room in forty-five minutes to finish up the set.

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Thanks to hmm and lellida. This chapter was for you. I hope you enjoy guys!