"The Badger and the Phoenix"

Chapter 1

"Preconceived Notions"

Memorial Day weekend 2006

I was a young, gorgeous fifteen when my story starts. Black hair that cascaded around my shoulders and steely green eyes that spoke of untold stories and almost too slim to be healthy. My freshman year of high school was almost over and I was ecstatic.

My parents had been divorced almost three years. My mom's best friend Jean, whom she had met in divorce counseling, had invited the two of us down to a beach house that she had rented for the weekend. So we packed our bags and headed out Friday afternoon as soon as school let out. Jean's college-age daughter Rachel, and son Matt, who was finishing his senior year in high school, were coming along with her.

Since the beach house was on the Oregon coast, and my mom and I lived in Spokane, we spent the night in a hotel in Portland and drove the remaining hours the next morning. It was raining that morning and I was eager to hit the beach.

My English teacher had assigned part of our final already: we were to take a poem and illustrate it. So I chose a poem from one of my stories and had the early sketches done. I planned to spend the weekend lounging on the beach drawing the final product and finishing it out with watercolor pencils.

We passed into a forest of evergreen trees about thirty minutes from the beach and I grew more excited by the minute. I had heard that Matt was a scoundrel but a gorgeous one at that. I hadn't been on a date since Homecoming and I was eager to flirt with a new guy. I was the typical freshman girl in some ways.

"So what's this Matt guy like?" I asked for the millionth time, trying to pry some more information out of my mom since she had met Matt several times.

"I already told you!" she sighed. "I swear you're so boy crazy!"

"No I'm not!" I said with a chuckle. "Can I help it if I'm bored and my love life is lacking right now?"

"Alright, since you don't seem able to concentrate on anything but Matt, I'll tell you again."

I had been raised for most of my life in this part of Oregon so I was drinking in the familiar surroundings as she continued.

"He's eighteen with blond hair and blue eyes. He's not that tall, but he is good-looking. He's into pot and he's a complete scoundrel, so don't get your heart set on him. I don't want you to get mixed up in his bad habits."

I rolled my eyes.

"I won't mom! I have too many dreams to let his marijuana get in the way. I want to be a professor someday and I want to get a novel published before I graduate. I'm not going to let some guy stop me from doing that."

I had no idea how much else I was going to sacrifice before the end.

"Okay, I trust you, you're a smart girl."

We fell back into silence as the Switchfoot CD ended. I switched it out with a Jeremy Camp CD and leaned my chin on my fist and continued to stare out the window lost in thought.

Tall evergreens rolled by and the cloudy gray sky continued to drizzle down on us.

Oh! What if Cade dies? I thought as a few cars passed by in the opposite direction. This weekend wasn't going to be just about my English final, I was also planning to work on some of the finer details of my book "Dragon Rider", my fantasy novel.

An hour later after stopping for lunch at Kylo's, a great sea-food restaurant, my mom and I were driving down the short street of beaches houses looking for the one we were going to be staying at. We turned and began to climb up a steep gravel grade. About a hundred feet from the shore, a gray two-story with a huge porch and Jacuzzi in front came into view and my mom parked our rented Nissan Altima next to the front door.

I pulled my letterman's jacket on and stepped out of the car, conveniently forgetting my flip-flops. I hopped over to the trunk and retrieved my backpack and small red duffel bag.

Jean threw open the door and smiled down at us.

"Welcome! You must be Sami?"

"Hi!" I said, as this was our first meeting.

She came over and gave me a big hug and took my backpack from my hands. She grabbed my mom's purse and helped us inside. Two feet inside the door I dropped my bag on the floor as I caught sight of Matt's backside as he looked out the set of windows to the beach.

He closed his cell phone as his mom said, "Matt this is Sami, and you remember Jill."

He smiled and I almost melted at the warmth in those gorgeous blue eyes.

"Hey, what's up?"

"Uh, hi!" I said as I mentally slapped my forehead for not having a better greeting.

Then I was completely shocked by what he said next.

"Did you want to go for a walk on the beach?" he asked as my mom stepped in behind me and closed the door.

"Mom can I?" I turned to her with imploring eyes.

"Sure, just don't be gone too long."

The CD in the small stereo finished playing and Matt put in another CD before heading across the living room into his room to grab his shoes. He slid on a pair of beat-up brown loafers and stood up from the bunk bed. He opened the front door and waited for me to step out before closing it.

We walked down the hill in silence and when we reached the road I asked, "So you're the infamous Matt I've heard all about."

We ran across the silent road and he grinned as we walked down between the final row of houses to the sandy beach.

"Just what exactly have you heard about me?"

I debated whether I should tell him all of the things I had heard or not. I decided that the truth couldn't hurt since I didn't have a future with this bad boy. I was so wrong.

"Well let's see, you're into pot, you're a drop out that goes to a secondary high school now, you're living with your dad because you pissed your mom off, and you're a bit of a rake when it comes to the ladies."

Matt whistled.

"So you have heard of me. Well I'm not going to lie. I am addicted to pot, but I am going to quit."

"Famous last words," I commented as we began walking toward the far-away cliffs in semi-wet sand.

He chuckled.

"Touché. Do you mind if I smoke?"

I hesitated a fraction of a second and shrugged.

"Not really. Are you really a rake?"

The question burst out and I wanted to crawl under a rock. I really needed to work on the thinking before speaking concept.

He laughed as he exhaled smoke.

"You're a sly one aren't you?" I blushed, as he said, "Not anymore. I think that I'm technically 'taking a break' from the whole dating thing. I just don't find love all that fulfilling anymore."

"Same here, my last boyfriend dumped twenty-four hours after asking me out; and he dumped me because he was into my best friend."

"Ouch! He sounds like a jerk."

"He is, and nobody likes him for it." I shrugged. "But life goes on somehow."

A puff of smoke escaped from his lips as he chuckled.

"It does, and it's beautiful too."

"Huh?"

"We've been given this life for a reason. I believe in getting out there and experiencing everything, the brokenness, the love, the beauty, and the pain. This life's all we've got. Take it, drive it, lead it; squeeze it for all it's worth."

"Did you use to be a Christian?" I asked with interest as something he said rang true.

"Yes actually, but I gave up about a year ago."

"Why?"

"Because the church is incredibly sick and nobody sees it! I couldn't take it anymore! My ideal church is when on Sunday morning the pastor gets up and does a passionate speech from the heart and then the whole church, not just a few people, the whole church goes out and helps the community in some way."

I stopped walking and stood with my mouth hanging open at him.

"You…you…I…wow!"

"You're catching flies," he said with a grin.

I continued walking as what he said sank in. The church he described was the church that Jesus had wanted. If only I could make him see that sometimes one bad apple didn't mean that the whole barrel was bad. I watched his blond wavy curls flutter around his sculptured face in the sea breeze and I had to remind myself that our parents would kill us if we did anything together.

"But don't you think that's why we have the church? To fix the broken and build each other up?"

"Yeah, but I think that I just need a break and to get out and see the world from a different perspective. I've experienced some things that would shock you Sami."

"Try me!" I said defiantly.

He began counting off on his fingers, "I've lived with lesbian lovers, gotten stoned and drunk with people I don't even know, gone to wild parties that lasted until the wee hours, and loved so many women I'd be standing here till the new year if I tried to list them."

That was when I fell for him. He had a wild side, but he saw the beauty in it. He'd experienced life, and he knew it. I had lived a quiet life with not much excitement other than my parents' divorce; but he had gotten out and seen the world and come back wanting more. But when I looked into his gorgeous eyes I saw a craving for something more, a deeper unfulfilled passion that needed to be quenched.

"Then don't you think that it's time that you come home again Matt? If you've gone out and seen life, don't you think that it's time that you settle down and strive for your dreams?"

His eyes sparkled with adventure. "Not just yet, I have a feeling that there's one more adventure around the corner that I don't want to miss out on."

I laughed as I caught his meaning about us and said, "But we can't, Matt. We both know that it's impossible to find true love at this age."

His eyes filled with sadness that struck me to the core.

"I know, but I feel empty and hollow inside and something tells me that this weekend will fix that."

"Maybe," I said as I decided to throw caution to the wind and flirt with him. "C'mon, let's head back to the house, we've been gone for a while."

Matt dug out his cell phone to check the time and stubbed out his cigarette.

"Yikes! We have been gone for a while. We'll be lucky if our moms don't give us twenty questions when we get back."

I smiled as we turned back the way we came.

"Then let's start thinking up answers for those questions."

Our laughter echoed down the quiet beach with the gulls' cries…