“Any progress?” Malik asked the same way he always did. This time Alex had a positive answer.
“Yes! Ellen and I prayed about me forgiving myself. And I’m not saying I’m totally through working out all the crap that’s floating around in my brain, but it was a step in the right direction.” Alex spoke so fast he wasn’t sure Malik understood. His excitement didn’t illicit the anticipated enthusiasm.
“Yeah, I heard you guys had quite a night…”
Alex cleared his throat but didn’t answer his girlfriend’s father, who also happened to be his physical therapist. Or was Malik his physical therapist who also happened to be his girlfriend’s father? Either way, Alex already knew he wasn’t going to like this conversation.
“Got a call from your dad…”
“I know you kids are legally considered adults, but that still isn’t cool to be sleeping together.”
“Why?” Alex finally gained his voice. He wasn’t going to apologize for falling in love with Ellen or for wanting to be close to her. He let his question hang, which made Malik squirm a bit.
Malik lifted one of Alex’s legs and started his usual stretches. There was no real answer to Alex’s question. Alex knew it, and he knew that all the adults knew it.
If spending the evening praying and crying together was wrong, they were all in trouble. Probably shouldn’t have been messing around afterward, but what they were doing was a more tame than what he’d been doing before his accident.
“Heard about your little science experiment.” Malik moved to the other leg.
“How’d you hear about that?” Alex raised his head to see Malik better. “Did Ellen seriously tell you about that?”
“No, she sort of let it slip to your mom when they were talking over breakfast.”
“Great, no wonder you guys are all mad at us.” Alex laid his head back onto the therapy table and stared at the ceiling.
“Not a bad way of testing your hypothesis, but not keen on you doing that with my daughter.”
“Your daughter is going to be my wife soon,” Alex said. “If I was asking some other girl to experiment with me, then we’d have a problem.”
“How about if we just focus on healing your spinal cord and hopefully everything else will fall into place after that. We’ll start our own science experiment.”
“What do you have in mind?” Alex asked.
“We talked about forgiveness, right? Have you thought about how your accident kind of humbled you, and brought you out of your sinful lifestyle?”
“Yeah, I have,” Alex admitted. “That’s why I kind of feel like I’m being punished.”
“I think you’re being prepared,” Malik said.
“Prepared for what?” Alex was almost holding his breath, as if whatever Malik was about to tell him was the answer he was expecting from God.
“Let me back up. What caused your accident?”
“My own stupidity?”
“What specifically?” Where was he going with this?
“A car accident…”
“And why did you get in a car accident?” Malik was no longer moving Alex’s legs, but had his hand on Alex’s shoulder, firmly meeting his gaze.
“Because we were drunk,” Alex answered in a near-whisper.
“And what did you tell your fellow classmates at your graduation speech a few months later?”
“To stay sober.” Alex searched Malik’s eyes for an answer that had been right in front of him. “Kids need to stay sober.”
“Yes, they do.” Malik seemed to be waiting for Alex to put puzzle pieces together.
“I need to talk to more kids.” Alex saw the big picture right in front of him. Multitudes of people needed to hear his graduation speech. This time he stated louder and with conviction, “I need to talk to more kids.”
“What a great idea.” Malik nodded once. Then he rolled Alex on his side to work his hips.
Alex laid there, staring out the window at the beautiful landscape, allowing Malik to work his magic. He imagined a high school gymnasium filled with hundreds, no, thousands, of students rising to their feet, promising to stay sober. If his speech saved even a single life, he will have done good in the world. In this world. The one God sent him back to. The place where God needed people to testify of the truth. God didn’t need Alex in paradise. God needed Alex here. He had work to do.
Book Club Discussion Questions: Big shift here. I'll just throw out the question and you can answer it however you want. What do you think?