Monday, May 21, 2018

The Long Answers

Since making a college decision a few months ago, I have pretty successfully (albeit accidentally) shocked, scandalized, and horrified a great number of the people who know my New Plans.

"You're going there? But it's dangerous!"

"That's so far away! Why didn't you look at schools that were closer?"

"Are you sure you're ready for the Real World out there?"

"What's your boyfriend going to do while you're gone?"

"He's just letting you loose out there with all those college boys? So far away?"

Most of these questions are probably more rote than anything else - just conversational. Standard questions that we don't think much about, that don't mean a whole lot.

But I've spent like a month answering these questions over and over and over and over and over and over. . . you get the idea - and in all that answering, I started thinking about what was really being asked. And because I'm one of those people who chews on an idea for hours and hours and works myself into a total stew until I get it on paper or screen or something, I decided to type out my honest answers to these mostly-unassuming questions. Because they've gotten less unassuming over the last twenty-four hours, and I want to issue a little challenge at the end of this. Let's roll.

  1. "You're going there? But it's dangerous!"
Okay, so yeah, life is dangerous. But actually, the location of my next adventure is just a tiny bit safer than the location I call home at the moment. Really. PodunkVille beat out MetroZooVille on the questionable-characters and general not-niceness scale. And campus security is beyond thorough.

     2. "That's so far away! Why didn't you look at schools that were closer?"

Fact: I did. I got mail from pretty much every school in the state, not to mention the surrounding states, and the states on the other side of the country. I looked everywhere, and everywhere looked back at me, and it was freaky. I looked at schools from three hours away to twelve hours away. I got mail from some that were farther away than that. And only one of them clicked. Only one of them yanked my head up as God practically shouted, "HEY! THAT ONE!" It's far, but it's right. And it's only like a day's drive. Come visit me. I'll be back, too.

   3. "Are you sure you're ready for the Real World out there?"

One thing I've learned over the past two years (probably more like seventeen years) is that God doesn't really care what I'm ready for, and I shouldn't either. The point of living in His plan is not that I'll be ready for everything that happens - in fact, I've very rarely been ready for Anything that's happened. It's so Not About Me that it's not even my job to worry about what I'm ready for. I'm sure of where God has called me, I'm sure of His perfect plan for me, and I'm sure of His constant presence and protection wherever He calls me. The Real World is absolutely nothing for me, or any of God's children, to fear, because we are promised that our God is bigger than whatever boogeymen the Real World can come up with.

     4. "What's your boyfriend going to do while you're gone?"

Ah. This has been one of the hardest questions for me to even think about without turning into a boiling pot of wrath (and sadness). Here's the kicker: he doesn't need a babysitter. He doesn't need me to watch over him and make sure he eats right and goes to bed early. He's a grown man, he lives on his own, he's been feeding and dressing himself since way before I knew him - he's going to be fine. He is not dependent on me for survival. When we miss each other, we can call. I'm not moving to the Arctic Circle. He'll work, train, watch movies with his mom, and do pretty much all the things he does now - just without me. He doesn't lose all of his motor skills when I leave the room. He's independent, he's intelligent, and he's going to be totally fine. Probably sad. I'll be sad too. But it's not the Apocalypse.

     5. "He's just letting you loose out there with all those college boys? So far away?"

Well. . . yeah? And no? I am, after all, 50% of any decision we make about our relationship, so it's not like it was all his decision (it was more mine than his all along, to be fair, and if he'd for one minute decided it was all his decision, we would have had a very long serious talk). He respects that I'm my own person with dreams and desires, and possibly even more than that, he respects that God has a plan for me that I am totally committed to following. If that plan means we spend some time at opposite ends of the state, then that's what we do. 

Another big part of this question is the trust issue. He's not "letting me loose" at all. And it really bugs me when people say that - whether or not they mean it in any offensive way. The simple fact is that he trusts me (and if you can't trust your Person to handle themselves around people of the opposite sex when you're not around, quite frankly, you're already screwed). He knows me, he trusts me, and he isn't under any delusions about me "belonging" to him just because he said so. Any "belonging" of me to him is solely by my choice, and that's a choice that I make all by my big girl self. He is so respectful of that . . . it's freaking awesome. He also knows how much I respect him and our relationship, and he trusts me to be as faithful and respectful of him from across the state as I am from across the room.


     To be clear: this is not in any way directed at any individual, and it is certainly not just me throwing a fit and getting my panties in a wad about the amazing people in my life who want to know what my plans are. I love talking about my plans, answering questions, and all that jazz. These are some of my thoughts about how the questions we ask could be interpreted and answered. This is me trying to politely and coherently type out the "long" answer to the questions I've been answering in thirty-second bits for a month. It's also just some things I personally want to keep at the front of my mind because (here's a shocker) I'm really, really terrified of this whole moving-across-the-state thing. I'm so so excited! And so so scared. 

It's gonna be great.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Last Minute

I've attempted to type up short, sweet, to-the-point Mother's Day posts. And graduation posts. And best friend posts. All in one weekend. Because apparently we are all really, really good at planning.

And I am really, really bad at being concise.

Two days ago, I graduated from the local community college with my Associate of Arts in General Studies. I have photographic evidence.

That doesn't make it feel any more real. This morning I took the sister to school, came back to the house, and immediately flipped open the laptop to check the college BlackBoard - you know, in case I had any last-minute assignments.

Then it hit me.

The last minute has come and gone. There is no more last minute. It's over. 11:59 has passed, it's 12:00 in a fresh new chapter.

No more "Oh thank you, Professor, for waiting until Monday morning to tell us about the four pages of homework you assigned over the weekend."

No more "Seriously, how long does it take me to type one discussion post?"

No more "If I have to write another discussion post I'm going to tear my hair out and sign myself into San Quentin."

No more "Oh - this is the Friday that the 7 page paper is due? Maybe I should have started it already. . ."

No more "I'm sorry, I can't, I have homework."

It's done. The last paper is written, the last post is typed, the last page is read.

I stood in the Pit on campus with all the other graduates (and suddenly regretted decorating my cap with something other than "I swear I do not recognize half of these people), holding my head so still my neck hurt because those dang caps just do not stay, hands cold and sweaty all at once, and I thought, "Is this it? Is this really the end? It's all just done?"

And yes, it sure was. The band played and the audience clapped and we stood in the hallway because it wasn't done yet - but it was going to be.

The band played some more and we filed into the Palace and tried not to slip on the tarp that they taped over the gym floor, and it wasn't done yet, but it was going to be.

Our speaker from Washington State University told us that our past doesn't define our future, that where we've come from doesn't decide where we're going, and it wasn't over yet, but it was so close we could feel it and we all trembled a little.

And we so slowly stood up, row by row, and they snapped our picture in front of a green sheet, and we realized that we had no idea just how slippery those caps were, and they stumbled through pronouncing so many names but it was okay because this was the end.

They handed us little blue folders and said congratulations and I nodded kind of numbly because how do you wrap your head around the end of your Biggest Thing for the last two years?

It was done. And then we were clapping and people were squealing and it was done.

And then I realized that taking a shower before putting a graduation cap is A Very Wrong Thing To Do, and I had the best hat hair you've ever seen and I did not, in fact, take a picture of that because No.

But it didn't feel done. It just felt like another step, another moment on the way to the big moment we've all been waiting for and I had to keep reminding myself that no, this is the moment, this is what we've all been waiting for.

It flew by - the last two years, it really flew by. But at the same time, it feels like forever since I took my first class (Intro to Theater).

I'm pretty proud of myself. That's not all, though - stay tuned for a much more touchy-feely post about all the reasons this was actually possible, and all the people who made it amazing.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

It's Not About You

In Christian circles, we're really good at making it Not About Us.

We bashfully push away compliments, "oh, it's all for Him."

We know all the right answers. It's Not About Us. Not if you ask us.

But if you don't ask us, it's Totally About Us.

We know how to defend ourselves - oh, it's not about me, it's all about Him.

And then we stress out about how much it's not about us. And how if it's not about us then we can't have any problems. Because having a problem means needing help and needing help means being self-centered and then it's All About Us.

We can't talk about our struggles because that's making it About Us.

Let me tell you something.

My mom was part of the church we attend when it started as a house church over thirty years ago. My parents got married in that church. I was dedicated and baptized in that church - so was my little sister. Everybody in that church knows my family, my name, and probably the last four of my Social. At least, it feels that way sometimes. We speak better Christianese than some of our former pastors, sometimes. We know the answers. We know the Truth.

And every single Sunday (or pretty close), the man who is more of a grandfather to me than my real grandpa stands behind a pulpit and asks for a show of hands from everyone who has a special prayer need.

My mom has had major invasive surgery to remove a tumor from below her facial nerve. My entire family was under vicious attack from our previous pastor. We've been scammed out of two thousand dollars that we didn't have.

I've sat in those pews with more pain in my heart than I know how to handle, and those three examples don't even scratch the surface. I've had some really freaking special prayer needs.

Do you wanna know how many times I've raised my hand?

None. I have never once raised my hand to ask for help.

Because I am the good little girl who knows it's not about me, and I know that Jesus will fix everything, and I know all the right answers, and I have to have it all together because if I don't - who does? And if I raise my hand, the whole church will descend upon me demanding to know what's wrong with my perfect little world. And nothing that is wrong with my world is unfixable, none of it is outside God's control, and because I know that, nothing anyone says to me is going to make a difference.

So I sit in silence because my problems are not big enough to admit, and because I am committed to keeping up my perfect little Jesus-world facade, my hands stay quite safely in my lap where it is Not About Me.

But guess what?

Admitting we need help is not making it About Us.

It's making Room.

Room for the One that it is About to make Himself known. There is no shame in making Room for Him.

Hiding our pain turns so quickly into hiding His grace. If we aren't willing to make ourselves vulnerable and if we aren't willing to take a moment feeling like it's All About Us - it will never be All About Him.

So share your pain. Share the parts of your life that feel Imperfect and Selfish. There is no shame in being human - I heard it said once that Jesus, being fully God and fully man and incapable of sin, was not only the God-Man but also the Perfect Human. Human is real. Human needs God. Human needs help.

Human needs to make Room for God to make it All About Him.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Wanting A Ball Vs. Wanting A Prince

This weekend my sister was in a local high school production of Into The Woods. The vocalists were incredible - very well cast. The storyline was pretty freaking weird, but there were a lot of great concepts woven into this medley of fairytales.

One particular concept has been stuck in my head since opening night. Cinderella, as we know, is a runner. Not athletically, per se, but she runs away from the palace every night. Because, you know. That's just how it works. Great shock factor.

And in between the various sections of the story, the characters do a semi-ensemble number where the main characters drop little one-liner proverbs about themselves so far.

Both times I saw the show, I couldn't stop thinking about Cinderella's line:

Wanting a ball is not wanting a prince.



I get that. It's fun to dress up and be pretty and go to a ball, right? Every girl dreams about that. Most of them include the part about falling in love and marrying the prince and living happily ever after. 

But - 

To arrive at a ball is exciting and all, once you're there though- it's scary.

Yeah, that I definitely get. People are great fun and exciting from a safe distance of the outside of the story. I love people when I'm reading books. They can't get to me from inside the paper.

Going out and interacting with real live ones is a trick though, sometimes. So sure, Cinderella, we get you.

I've heard a lot about this idea that basically nothing I ever do is "asking for it." 

I can wear a miniskirt and a crop top but if somebody catcalls me I can get mad and lash out at them on any kind of media I choose because "just because I dress like this doesn't mean I want you to look at me."

To recap: just because I put my body on display like a swimsuit model - that doesn't mean I want you to see any of the various parts I might have out to be seen.

Girls, girls, girls - what? What? Do you see the problem here? 

Because yes - a man's responsibility is also to keep himself pure, and yes, that includes his eyes, and that means that technically he should know better than to ogle you. We agree there. And we agree that men have brains and they are more than capable of making adult-ish and modest decisions about women. No argument from me. 

But you are a woman. 

Sister, mother, daughter. 

We revel in the fact that men are surrounded by women and raised by them and taken care of by them. 

We laugh because "he couldn't get along without his wife."

We poke fun because they're just big oafs who can't function on their own, who only think about sex and food. 

But then suddenly when you want to strip down on Broadway and they see you, it's not funny anymore, is it? 

We teach them that they're too dumb to do anything alone. That they only think about girls and that if there's a girl in a bikini they just can't help but look. 

We teach them that they are void of responsibility. We all agree that's a problem. There is no purity there. 

But do we have no responsibility? We teach them that they are only useful for admiring our bodies. Until we suddenly don't want them to, and then it's a Big Deal and Not Okay.

Here's the thing: treat men the way you would want your girlfriends to treat your boyfriend/husband. 

When you treat them like they're too stupid to boil water, they hear you. 

When you tell them they are just obsessed with girls and sex, they hear you. 

And guess what? They believe you. Not all, of course. But some. And while they have a responsibility to be themselves for the glory of God, you have a responsibility to help them get there. 

Would you feel comfortable leaving your boyfriend or husband alone in a room with a girl who was wearing exactly what you're wearing now? 

Don't think about him, don't tell me that "he's too loyal to think about that." Because maybe he is but that's not what we're going for here. 

Your responsibility to not just the men around you but also to the women around you is to dress in a way that protects their eyes and your purity. Want to wear a crop top and miniskirt? My personal suggestion is this: wear it at home, alone - or wait till you're married and dress however you want when he's the only man who can see you. Because he's the only man who should see you, and you are the only woman he should see. 

That's a two way street too, honey. He is the only man who should see you and when you give away the gift God has given you, the gift of a pure beauty that comes from within, you rob your future husband of that. 

Beauty is a gift. Don't give it away like it's nothing. 

But back to my Cinderella story:

Getting dressed up and prettied up for a ball is harmless in and of itself. And going to a ball with no intention of finding a boyfriend is totally harmless. But it's a very slippery slope and a pretty short fall from "I'm not really here to meet anyone" to "Yes I'm wearing almost nothing in a room full of men but don't you dare look at me because I don't want you to." 

Be careful. Be consistent. Be loving.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

We Are The Gift

"Who do you think you are - God's gift to mankind?"

Not an unheard-of question. And sometimes it's warranted. We've all met those people who honestly drive us up the wall like that.

But did you know that you are? Did you know that the answer is yes?

It is. You, you who are beautiful and brave and created in the image of God - you are the Gift.  You are the second greatest Gift that God has given in the history of mankind.

The first, obviously, is His Son. That Gift paved the way for the Greatest Love.

The Second Gift also paved the way for Love - but not agape, not forever love.

Phileo. A romantic love. Love that so many of us spend half (or all) of our lives searching for.

This love is a picture of the Greatest Love. We hear about that at every Christian wedding - how the bride in her beautiful white gown is a picture of the Church, clothed in pure white as she meets her Groom.

Did you know it's more than that?

This love - this love is a love that means fulfillment. This love is a completion of God's most perfect work. This love is the finishing, the cherry on top, the end of the story.

God created the earth - the night and the day,the sun and the moon, the land and the sea, the plants and the animals.

And He said it was good.

Then He created man, Adam, from the dust of the earth.

It was not good. God looked at that man and said, "Nope, not good. That's not right."

Man alone is not good. Man alone is not completed. Man alone is not good.

So God created woman.

Not from the dust of the earth, like Adam. Not from the stars. Not from His kidney or spleen.

From Adam himself.

"Women were created from the rib of man, 
not from his head to top him,
nor from his feet to be trampled by him,
but from under his arm to be protected by him, 
near to his heart to be loved by him."
~Matthew Henry

God created woman from Adam's rib - out of the incompleteness, He created the fulfillment. Out of the broken, He created the healing. 

God created woman because man alone was not good enough.

Man alone was not God's best.

When God looked at Adam alone in the beautiful garden, He said, "It is not good."

When God created woman and placed her beside Adam, amid all the glory He had created, He said, "It is very good."

And then He rested. His work was completed. 

Woman is God's gift to man. Woman is God's answer to the incomplete. Woman is the final creation, the finishing of the project.

Woman is the answer to the brokenness and incompleteness.

Woman is God's gift to mankind.

So the next time someone tries to demean you or put you down for expecting to be treated like the glorious woman you are - the next time someone says "Who do you think you are?" just look them dead in the eyes and say, "I am God's gift to mankind."

Because you are.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Yada, yada, yada.

There's been a boy around my house a lot lately. He's got a lot going for him.

Since last September, he's fed me Chinese, Mexican, or Applebees on an almost weekly basis.

He knows the difference between Coke and Pepsi - and he knows that if he ever dares to bring me Coke I'll probably smack him.

He knows which select Disney songs I'll sing along to and he plays them practically incessantly.

He finally understands that when I ask him which shoes match my dress best, I'm serious, and if he doesn't answer me I really will follow him around the house until he makes a decision (and I'm also serious when I ask him to smell my shirt and tell me if it smells like wet laundry).

He knows better than to take my word for it when I say, "Oh yeah, I know how to get there," and he GoogleMaps it for me anyway.

He's adjusting to the fact that even if I'm totally not hungry, if he's got food I'm stealing some of it.

He's pretty much a professional at getting me to stop chattering and do my homework, and he keeps track of how much I have to do each week so I don't forget anything.

He's coming to terms with my intense hatred for meatloaf even though it's his favorite.

He knows that I will always, always order something way too spicy for my taste buds - just because it looks good on the menu, and he makes sure the waiter brings a glass of milk for me when I set my mouth on fire (after he warns me repeatedly that jalepenos are still too spicy for me).

He sits through hours of NCIS and Blue Bloods and Simon and Simon - even though they all bore him practically to death.

He pays attention and brings my mom presents on her birthday - but he won't let her feed him potato chips yet because he's too tough and macho man for that still.

He knows that when I'm upset, asking me what's wrong will probably earn him the death glare - but he does it anyway because "you don't make sense."

He knows the difference between my sad cry and my happy cry.

He knows that when I was five I had the biggest, most embarrassing crush on the guy who is now our best friend (well he's always been my best friend but y'know I'm better at sharing now.).

He knows how quickly my feelings get hurt and he's felt the sharp end of my tongue on more than one occasion.

He knows that I'm mostly just a lot of noise and sparks for about 45 seconds, but I fizzle out after that burst of anger and not much damage is typically sustained.

He knows that I can out-eat him anywhere except at a Chinese restaurant, and he knows that if he asks what I want to eat the answer will probably be Subway or pizza.

He brings me coffee from the gas station down the street every single Sunday morning. He's even started adding creamer for me (I have yet to convince him that all creamers are not equal though).

He's been there through every step of my college education so far, and he pushed me almost as hard as my parents - and he didn't flinch when I told him that in five months I want to move eight hours away to go to a new school.

He knows me.

He loves me.

But guess what?

He does not yada me.

Yada is the Greek word for God's deep, intimate, loving knowledge of us. The kind of intimacy that knows every hair on my head and the exact spot where it changes from my awkward brownish roots to the beach-blonde that I'm still trying to grow out. The kind of intimacy that goes beyond just listening to the complicated emotional strain going on in my family - the kind of intimacy that already knows and understands and sees an ending.

The kind of intimacy that wrote my entire story and knows the ending lines by heart.

I cannot fathom that. I can barely fathom the love of this boy that I hold so dear.

The thought that there is a greater love than this just blows my mind.

And that's a happy place to be.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Am Writing

I've decided to do something new with this today - an "Am Writing" post once a week. I'll share a chapter of whatever I'm writing with you guys, and if there's a particular chapter you want more of, let me know in the comments and I'll make it happen. Here's the first one!

Chapter One

"Chto oni tam stroyat?" A little girl's blue eyes squinted through the snow as she pointed a chubby finger across the street.
Her mother frowned. "English, small one. My daughter will speak English."
The child crossed her arms. "YA russkiy! YA govoryu po-russkiy!"
"You may be Russian-born, Anne, but you are not true Russian. You are American. You speak English. Try again."
Anne sighed. "Mama. What are they building over there?"
"That's my girl. And I don't know. Why don't we go ask?"
The two stepped out into the street, dodging between the many cars of Sochi, Russia. Neither of them were Russian-blooded, yet here they were, walking and talking among the Russians as though they belonged. They approached the construction workers and conversed with them in fluent Russian – the project was a new café, run by Americans, and it was set to open next week so the worker couldn't stand around and chat.
"Americans!" Anne squealed when they were safely away from the site. "Mama, mama, Americans!"
"Yes love," her mother answered, without much enthusiasm. Her face was clouded and dark. "Americans..." She breathed. "We have to call Daddy."

"Attention passengers, we are preparing to land in Moscow. Please fasten your seatbelts and wait for further instruction for ELEPHANT. Enjoy your stay."
There were six Americans on board International Flight 364 to Moscow – six Americans who did not know each other and did not intend to know each other. They all disembarked in silence, heads down, white-knuckling their carry-ons. They hailed six individual taxis to six individual hotels and thought no more of their fellow Americans.

Noah sank into the chair by his bed with a sigh. He reached into his vest and pulled out a folded sheet of cream-colored paper, searching it for any clues he might have missed in the seventeen times he'd perused it before.

My esteemed comrade,
There is a matter of great importance to our national security that requires your attention. You will board International Flight 364 to Moscow, Russia, on May 14th of this year. Then you will take a taxi to Sochi and check into the Villa Atmosphera under the name of Jon Rohan. Speak to no one about this. Trust no one. On May 16th, report to Hill Valley at 9 A.M. for further instructions. Black out sensitive information in this letter before going through security, and bring this letter as proof of identity. You will be paid well if you complete this mission.
Do not speak to anyone of this matter. Your silence is key.
Shawn Clancey, Head of Security

Noah sighed again, checking his watch. Thirteen hours until the rendezvous. Thirteen hours until he would perhaps have some answers as to why on earth he was yanked out of his office at FBI headquarters and plopped on a plane to Russia for who-knows-how-long to do who-knows-what. He was a computer tech, for gosh sakes, not a spy. And the signature on the letter? He'd never seen that name before in his life. For all he knew, he could be working for a terrorist group that had somehow hijacked the White House's official letterhead. It might be a crazy thought, but not impossible. He wished he hadn't thought of it. The engineer tucked the letter back in his pocket and crawled into bed, barely pausing to kick off his shoes.
For all the jet-lag he was feeling, he didn't sleep a wink that night.

Neither did the other five Americans in Sochi. They had all received the same letter, but with different hotel check-ins and rendezvous points. And of course, none of them knew of the other letters.

Mack slipped her hand under her coat as she strolled casually down the street towards her rendezvous, her fingers wrapped around the handle of her Glock. It wasn't her preferred weapon, but it was the only one that she could easily conceal under a jacket. The M-40 bolt action was her baby – it just didn't fit under her coat. Not that that was stopping her from going in armed. Until she knew exactly what she was up against, there was no way this Marine Corps Scout Sniper was walking into a rendezvous without some sort of ammo. She knew just how much red tape had to be cut to pull a Marine out of a tour, and since she'd been on her second tour of Afghanistan when she received the letter and direct orders from her CO to fly home and get on the flight, her guard was definitely up.
"Mackenzy?" The man wore a tux and stood in the doorway of the tiny, square building.
"Marine Corps Scout Sniper McCullough, sir," she replied, not even trying to mask the sass in her voice. She'd worked her tail off for that title and she wasn't about to let him skip out on the formalities.
"Of course. You have the letter?"
She paused for the briefest of seconds. "Sir, I'm going to need to see some identification first."
He raised an eyebrow before reaching into his vest for a black leather book-like object. He flipped it open to reveal a shiny gold badge with the words "Federal Bureau of Investigation" on it. "Happy?"
Mack snorted. "Not hardly. Agent number, please."
The man sighed loudly before rattling off a string of numbers than Mack quickly typed into her phone. "What are you doing?" He demanded.
"I've created an inventory of valid agent number for the FBI. I'm checking yours," she replied coolly.
Apparently, his number checked out, because she handed him a folded, creamy piece of paper. "What's this all about, Agent Harold?"
The agent shrugged. "I was just told not to let anybody in if their name wasn't on the list. You're to go in and wait for the contact here."
Mack nodded. "Will you be waiting here?"
"Sorry, but no. I have orders to be here at certain times and then leave. You'll be on your own. Not that I think you'll have any trouble," he added. "You seem like the kind of girl who can handle herself."
She nodded, tongue in cheek. If you only knew, she thought to herself. Aloud she said, "I'll be fine," and slipped past him into the small building.

An hour prior, another woman had stood where Mack was standing – with an almost identical expression on her face. " shop?" She whispered.
Stainless steel counters ran around the front half of the small room, more steel cupboards beneath them and bright sparkling machines on top of them. The other half of the room was filled with more steel – steel refrigerators bigger than any she'd seen before. Steel shelves reaching to the ceiling, packed with glass boxes of small brown beans – or colorful boxes of some sort of fruit puree – or silver bags stacked so high they threatened to slip off and explode on the (you guessed it) steel floor.
The woman frowned. "This doesn't make sense."
I smiled from where I stood in the doorway, just behind her. "I didn't promise to make sense."
She whirled, a small taser appearing her hand, a red bead on my chest.
I snorted. "And Harold said you weren't armed."
"Who the – who are you?" Her voice was steady but shot through with pent-up emotion.
"Call me Shawn," I replied, extending a hand. "I don't appreciate it when people attempt to take my life," I added, with a glance at the taser she still aimed at me.
The long-haired Latina narrowed her eyes, but lowered the weapon. "I'm -"
I cut her off. "Jordan Ramirez. I know. I also know you're the Navy's top criminal psychologist. And I know you've never seen action, which is why that taser has all the power of a Home Depot screwdriver."
Jordan's cheeks flushed.
"It's okay. It was a good thought. And I'm impressed that you got it through security with your limited weapons knowledge."
She flipped her hair back. "I might not know much about weapons, but I know a bit about the human mind and I'm quite good at playing games. This one is boring. Why am I here?"
I couldn't hold back a smile. "They said you were direct. I should have listened. I'm sorry about all the secrets. This is a very sensitive situation."
"Yeah, well, I'm very sensitive about keeping my head attached to my shoulders, so if this is going to threaten that then count me out," she snapped.
"Easy, easy. I didn't say it was life-threatening."
"You didn't say it was, either, and that's more important."
"Little spitfire, are you?" I laughed out loud this time. "I just need your skills for a few days, maybe a couple of weeks. Then you can go home to your cozy little office and squeeze stress balls all you want."
"What do you need my skills for?" She wasn't going to relax, I could tell that much now.
"You're posing as a barista here – at a new café. You're a college student studying abroad. Your major is government."
"Do you actually think a government major would take a study abroad program in Russia?" Now she was laughing at me. "That's the dumbest – that's ridiculous."
"Do you speak Russian?" I asked.
"Of course not. I'm a psychologist, not a translator."
"Then focus on learning how to be a barista, and let me take care of the rest."
"Yeah, about that. I don't even drink coffee. Is this the best you could do?"
"You don't have to drink it. Just make it. And your training starts tomorrow for that. You'll be working with five others. Do not trust them. You are here to do one thing: get close to the ambassador. He is suspected of leaking information to Russian authorities and conspiring against the President. I want you to collect all the intel you can about him. It doesn't have to be intense. Just tell me if you think he's involved." I pushed myself off the doorframe I'd been leaning on. "Savvy?"
"What authority do you have?"
I sighed. "I can't disclose that information. I need you to trust me."
"But I can't trust anyone else. Just you. Because it's convenient for you."
In one swift movement, I had one hand against her throat in a kung fu style block and my Glock pressed against her forehead. "I think it's more convenient for you to trust me than it is for me to trust you."
Her eyes were wide. "Sure. Okay."
"Be here at nine tomorrow morning for training. Do not contact me. I will find you when I need you." I released her, returned my gun to its holster, and left her standing in the middle of the café, still stunned.
So it went with the other five.