“You can’t talk about God in a public-school setting.” The high school principal paced back and forth in his office, agitated that one of his students’ parents had called the school before Alex’s presentation was even over. “And you can’t tell the kids to not have sex and drink alcohol.”
“Gosh, I wasn’t aware the State of New York had changed the legal drinking age.” Alex couldn’t help the snarky attitude.
Malik cleared his throat from the seat beside him. Acting jointly as physical therapist, agent, and chaperone for their speaking engagements, Malik was also there to keep Alex in line.
All the adults in his life had come to the understanding that Alex wasn’t one to let people tell him what he could and couldn’t do. At times that was to his detriment, but he held firm on his beliefs. “What did you think I was going to talk about when you scheduled me to speak about my accident and near-death experience?”
“I don’t know.” The principal threw his hands in the air. “Your accident? And your near-death experience.”
“I got in an accident because my buddies and I were plastered drunk after leaving a party where all the other teenagers were also plastered drunk. Twenty other cars left the party that night also. No one talks about those kids because they didn’t wrap their car around a telephone pole. But they were just as drunk as we were. And just as stupid to have gotten behind the wheel of a car. How would you feel if one of your students got plastered drunk and crashed their car and wound up in the hospital… or died?”
The principal stopped pacing, pursed his lips, and then collapsed into his desk chair. “I’d be devastated.”
“And how often do you have a student get pregnant during their high school years?”
“At least once a year,” the principal said in a frustrated grumble.
“With regards to my trip to paradise, what you would probably refer to as heaven, did you think I just hopped around on billowy clouds singing with angels until my body recovered enough to let my spirit back in?”
“I hadn’t thought about it,” the principal admitted. He leaned forward and picked up a paperclip that was sitting on his desk blotter. He rolled it over and over in his fingers then glanced up and met Alex’s gaze.
“I was in the presence of God for three days,” Alex said. “That changes a person.”
“I thought you said you didn’t meet God.” He narrowed his eyes slightly.
“I didn’t see God face-to-face; I just knew he was there. I knew where I was, and I felt his presence. I can’t explain that away. He was there. All around me. He still is… just not as strongly.”
“You feel God with you… right now?” The principal raised his eyebrows.
“Absolutely,” Alex said without hesitation. “He has prompted me to speak on his behalf. So, when you try to tell me what I can and can’t say in a public school, I can’t agree to that. I have to follow his direction, not yours.”
“You’ve gotten five emails in the past twenty minutes,” Ellen interrupted, holding up Alex’s cell phone showing a list of notifications. She was along for the trip acting as publicist and coordinator. Her hair twisted up in a clip and wearing a business suit, studious glasses, and makeup, she could almost pass for a woman in her twenties. Alex was glad to have her along not just because she was his girlfriend but to add prestige to his entourage. “Oh, six. Everyone wants you to speak at their school also. Guess news travels quickly.”
“Guess so,” Alex said, placing his hands on the wheels of his chair, ready to take his leave. “If your students’ parents want to complain, give them my attorney’s phone number. It was a pleasure meeting you, but I have other engagements to attend to. Your students were a great audience, and you should be proud of them. Thank you for having us.” Alex reached across the desk to shake hands with the principal.
The man stood and shook his hand. “Thank you for coming. And please forgive me if I offended you.”
“No offense taken, sir,” Alex said. “I have a feeling you won’t be the last person to push back against my message.”
The principal nodded with resolution. “Good luck to you, son.”
With that, Alex wheeled himself from the office, followed closely by Malik and Ellen. Off to the next speech before heading to their hotel.
Book Club Discussion Questions: What do you think? Realistic? Not realistic?