Flashing red lights. The piercing scream of a siren. The sharp smell of rubber and asphalt. The polluted New York air was thick with humidity and it wasn’t even July yet.
The ambulance Micah Dupree heard was trying to make its way past her, on to some emergency. But even though she remained perfectly safe, Micah couldn’t stop sweating. Her pulse was racing and her chest felt tight. The ambulance would have normally sped by in seconds, but the bumper-to-bumper traffic on Canal Street kept the siren blaring loudly in the same spot for several long minutes.
She squeezed her eyes shut and covered her ears, but she could still hear the high-pitched noise of it. The sound reminded her of a day she was always trying to forget.
She attempted to slow her breathing, but nothing worked. She bent forward and focused on the laces in her shoes, but her eyes kept blurring with tears. Micah couldn’t breathe. It felt like she might die.
“You good?” some stranger asked when she dropped her bag and staggered to sit on the closest curb.
“Uh-huh,” Micah mumbled.
She reached for her phone with sweaty hands. She needed to call Ty, to hear his calm, reassuring voice, but he still didn’t know about her panic attacks. Micah worried that he wouldn’t feel the same way about her if he knew, so for now she wanted to keep them a secret. She typed out a message to Noelle Lee. She was almost certain her friend would be working at her grandparents’ nearby restaurant. Noelle was the only member of the Flyy Girls, and really the only person period, who she trusted with the truth. It’s happening
, Micah typed. Can you come?
Noelle texted back instantly. You’re sooo lucky. Mei just came in for her shift, so I should be able to sneak away. Where you at?
Minutes later, Noelle sat down beside Micah on the curb and handed her a bottle of water. She lifted Micah’s hand and put it on her chest, and told her to breathe.
“In and out,” Noelle said. “Yeah, just like that. It’s okay. Slower. Breathe with me. It’s all right, don’t cry. You’re doing so good.”
When it finally ended, it felt like the panic attack hadn’t even happened. Now Micah couldn’t stop laughing at Noelle’s story about the family who came into the restaurant with a baby who pooped through his onesie and knocked over an untouched order of chow fun.
But because she lived in New York City, Micah knew the next ambulance (and the next attack) could be right around the corner, literally. She still felt a little on edge all the time.
It made her paranoid. It made her want a different brain and body. But she knew that wasn’t possible, so she was trying to cope with what she had.
Micah hadn’t always felt like this. But last summer changed everything. Now the sound of an emergency vehicle made her freak out. If it passed her quickly enough, she’d just get sweaty palms or shake a bit, feeling weak in the knees. But if not—if she and the ambulance had to spend any time sharing the same space—she panicked.
“Are they happening less, at least?” Noelle asked.
“They had been, but ever since it started getting hot out, it’s been reminding me more of the day it happened.”
Noelle nodded. “That makes sense. You still seeing that doctor?”
“Every Tuesday,” Micah said.
“Is it helping?”
“Yeah. Therapy helped Pierre a little. But he still has them if he gets too overwhelmed.”
This was why Micah always called Noelle when her body went haywire. Noelle’s little brother deals with anxiety, so panic attacks didn’t freak her out like they would Tobyn. And Micah thought Lux might just tell her to pull it together. Micah’s parents didn’t even like admitting she had anxiety issues—they ignored it, and so she tried to, too. But Noelle knew exactly how to help.
“On your way to work?” Noelle asked, and Micah nodded. “Gonna see Ty?” she asked next, kinda singing the words. Micah couldn’t help but grin, but then Noelle’s face turned serious. “He know about these? Or about the fact that they’re happening more lately?”
Micah didn’t want to think about next month’s anniversary. It hovered over this whole summer like a cloud threatening rain. She didn’t want to talk about it with Noelle, and she definitely didn’t want to tell Ty. He knew about what happened last summer, but she didn’t want him to know she couldn’t hear a siren without losing it.
“No. I don’t want to bother him with all the drama.” She had something more important on her mind when it came to Ty, anyway.
Noelle shrugged, opened her bag, and handed Micah what looked like a small yellow pie. The sweet egg tart with a flaky crust was Micah’s favorite Chinese dessert.
“Well, for now,” Noelle said, “keep calm and eat daan taat.”
Micah grinned and grabbed the pastry. “Whatever you say.”
Miraculously, after she thanked Noelle for coming to her rescue, Micah made it to church without another incident. Triumphant Kingdom A.M.E. Church was the only place Micah could spend any real time other than school. She attended service every Sunday, Bible study every Wednesday, and sometimes went to a prayer service or two during the rest of the week. So the church-run camp was the only place her parents would ever hear of her working in the summer. Her boyfriend, Ty, went to the same church and worked at the camp, too. She couldn’t wait to see him. When she spotted the back of his head through one of the stained-glass windows, she took the steps two at a time up to the front door.
Since they’d first discovered they could get away with it, she and Tyriq Valentine had risked sneaking into the church’s back parking lot to make out while the littlest campers took their naps. They were supposed to be on their “lunch break,” but the only thing they tasted when they stole away for the hour was each other.
If they were ever found out, it would not go well. For one, they were both well known enough at the church that their parents would definitely hear about it. Whether the news came through gossiping church members or from a church elder telling her mom and dad directly, Micah could imagine her mother’s stern tsks and her father’s disapproving frown followed by a quick and severe punishment. And since they were supposed to be working, doing anything that wasn’t work—and making out definitely counted as not work
—might even get them fired. Maybe worst of all, they both wore promise rings—silver bands they’d been given two years ago when they promised during a Sunday service to wait to have sex until they were married. Making out in a back parking lot wasn’t sex, of course, but Micah knew from experience that church folks had a way of jumping to conclusions. Micah couldn’t imagine being caught, so she tried to be careful.
The only problem? Ty Valentine was an excellent kisser, and Micah sometimes found herself being a little more reckless. Today, for instance, she touched his face when she thought no one would see. She’d been so relieved to hear his soft voice after the morning she’d had that she couldn’t help it. A few hours later, she slipped her finger into his back pocket and yanked him closer to her while the campers were lining up to walk to a nearby playground for recess. And when naptime for the youngest kids at camp came around, she grabbed and held on to his hand before they’d even made it to the church’s side door.
Ty used his hands a lot when they kissed, which Micah loved. He cupped her cheeks and held the back of her neck, and he never reached for her hair because he knew better.
He was the only boy she’d ever kissed, and secretly Micah hoped he’d be the only one forever. She couldn’t imagine feeling this way about anyone other than Ty, whose pretty skin was the color of bread crusts, just a hair lighter than her own. He bit her bottom lip a little, and she smiled without breaking contact and kissed him harder. In that moment, she felt a tug on her heart and in her body. She might want to do more with Ty Valentine than kiss him. And soon.
“Do you think . . . ,” Micah started saying with some hesitation in her voice, “that abstinence makes sense?” She asked this as soon as Ty broke their kiss, and gave her a chance to catch her breath. “Like, do you think it’s realistic for kids like us?”
Ty looked a bit surprised, but this kind of talk wasn’t coming out of nowhere for her. During their makeout sessions, they often got into debates about different things. Sometimes they talked about music, politics, or which new TV show was best. And often they talked about stuff like this: the rules they were supposed to follow and what they really
thought about it all.
“You’ve been thinking about this for a while, haven’t you?” Ty said. He snaked his arm around her hip and tugged her closer.
“Maybe,” Micah muttered. The truth was, she’d been thinking about this since she had her first crush at twelve or thirteen. Even then she could imagine the fluttery feeling in her stomach growing into something like love. She’d been thinking about it more often since last year, when Ty and his family first came to Triumphant Kingdom. When he smiled at her for the first time a few months ago during Communion, and then asked her out right after the service ended, she had so many questions. How did one date and not kiss? How did one kiss and not do more than that?
Ty promised he’d keep their relationship a secret after she told him she wasn’t exactly allowed to date, but she couldn’t stop thinking about what it might mean to love someone and how she might want to show it. And now that she’d fallen hard and fast for Ty this summer, the questions had turned into something firm enough to say out loud.
“I guess I’ve been feeling like some of the stuff Pastor Bridges talks about isn’t as black and white as he’d like us to think it is. Like maybe there’re shades of gray to all of this.”
“Even abstinence?” Ty asked.
“Especially abstinence. Like, do you know anyone who stayed a virgin until they got married other than the weirdos on those reality TV shows who kiss for the first time during their wedding ceremonies?”
Ty laughed. “I guess not. But I think the waiting is about more than just following some random rule. I think it’s about sacrifice and discipline, and showing God you love and respect Him and His Word more than the things your body wants.”
She loved that he never immediately agreed with her about anything.
“Sure, okay. But what if it’s not only something my body wants? Isn’t this—sex—supposed to be about love?”
Ty smirked and nodded. “So, what exactly are you saying?”
Micah swallowed hard. All that stuff about lust and sex and sin they learned about in church didn’t feel like it applied to her and Ty. Plus, she wanted
this. She wanted him.
“I guess I’m saying I love you. And I’m not sure I want to wait.”
Ty grinned. He reached for and held both her hands. “Look, you know I’ve loved you since the day we met,” Ty said. “But this is a big risk, Micah. And while I would definitely be down, I don’t want us to regret it. Or to get caught.”
Micah laughed. “Okay,” she said, nodding. She got up on her tiptoes and pushed her lips against his again. “We’ll plan it all out, every detail. And I’ll think about it a little more, too.”
“Even if you decide you really want to do this, shouldn’t we wait a little while, anyway? Didn’t the accident happen around this time last year?”
Micah’s nostrils flared as she thought about ambulances and Noelle and last summer.
“Shut up and kiss me,” she said. And Ty listened.
Copyright © 2020 by Ashwin Writing LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.