tagRomanceTess and Josh

Tess and Josh


Chapter 1: Trouble

Tess met Josh at the most unlikely of places: a baptism.

Tess had only come because Liz had begged her to. She had blown off a party that she'd much rather go to, but sometimes you just had to do family things. Liz was her cousin after all, from her father's brother Peter, and once they had been the closest of friends, and it was Liz who was getting baptized.

Tess had gone searching through her clothes looking for something demure enough to wear to a baptism, and had only just succeeded. The skirt was too short, and the blouse too thin, but it would have to do. Once she wouldn't have had a problem finding the right clothes; Tess had grown up going to the church, a good little Sunday school girl, and best friends with Liz. But on the day after her sixteenth birthday, she had announced to her parents that she was no longer going to go to church, no longer interested in that boring religious crap, and she was now in charge of her own life, thank you very much. They wept, and wailed, and threatened to throw her out of the house, but when she'd called their bluff and gone to start packing, they'd backed down, and after that Tess had done her own thing.

When she first got to the baptism she hung out at the back of the church, feeling so very much out of place. After two and a half years of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, she had half expected that she'd be thrown out, but instead people had been quite welcoming of her, though she could still feel their judgment in the air. But she knew most of the kids well, and when Liz and her friends drew her into their circle, and she found that she was having an unexpectedly good time. There were some new kids in the circle, but the one she really noticed was a tall energetic guy with a glint in his eye. When Liz had introduced her, Josh did something completely unexpected – he had taken her hand and kissed the back of it, as if she was a lady. Tess knew better, she was no lady in any sense of the word, but she had still got shivers down her spine.

After Liz had been baptized, Josh had gone out the front with a guitar. Tess hadn't known the song, but she watched in awe as Josh carried off the tune in a beautifully smooth voice. It was a gentle song with a haunting melody, and full of words of love and compassion. It was about Jesus and how he cared for his loved ones, and though Tess knew she wasn't one of them, it still spoke strongly to her. Tess was doing a music journalism degree, counted herself part of the local music scene, and she'd done the whole band girl/groupie thing, but nothing had reached into her heart like this song. Anywhere else, and Tess would've gone up to him afterwards, thrust her pelvis out, and said "fly me!" Tess very much doubted that this would work with Josh.

After the baptism, a circle of friends hung at the church playing games and singing. Several of them, including Josh, had guitars, and Tess had blown off the party she'd intended to go to afterwards, and she'd stayed, just part of the circle, enjoying it much more than she had expected.

The next day, she went round to catch up with Liz, and they had long chat. At the end, Tess said, "You know, I've been thinking, I might start coming along to church a little."

"Oh, why's that?"

"Everyone was so nice to each other; they really cared how each other felt and made sure they were included. I never really appreciated it before, but my friends are not like that."

"How can they be your friends?"

Tess shrugged. Maybe they weren't really friends, just people that had screwed around with each other in the past, and maybe would again if it suited.

"I think that there's another reason," said Liz, with a smirk in her eyes.

"Was I that obvious?"

"Tess, the way you looked at him, the way your mouth hung open while he was singing?"

Tess sighed, and then Liz had told her all about Josh. Tess knew that this was a guy she could really fall for. Sporting – he played volleyball, musical, clever, outgoing, no current girlfriend, what was not to like?

Liz could see it too. "Tess, don't get your hopes up. Josh really believes, he's given his life to Jesus. You don't really have any basis for a relationship with him."

In her mind Tess knew how true that was, but her heart was not going to listen. It never had, that was how she ended up where she was. She had been starting to feel like her life was spinning out of control. Perhaps it was time to take a break, pull up and re-assess what she wanted from life.

On Sunday she went to church. Her mum cried at the breakfast table when she announced that she was going. Josh smiled when he saw her, and when he brought her into his group of friends, her heart leapt.

As she was leaving church, she realized that chasing Josh was going to be different to all the other boys she'd had. Usually she just offered up her body, and made sure that the guy had a good time, she knew how to do that. But Josh was going to be harder; he'd reach much further into her before even getting interested in her. He'd talked to her, let her be around him. But when the chance had come and she'd leaned into him and, without thinking, pushed her breast into his side, he'd just pulled away and created some space, but he'd also smiled at her. If Tess hadn't grown up in the church, she mightn't have known how to interpret those mixed signals.

"I'll do whatever it takes", she said to herself. And if whatever it took was to go to church, then she'd happily do that. She had lost it bad for Josh, she knew, but it made Tess nervous. She had never had a relationship not based on sex, and she wasn't sure that any guy would want her without the sex - it was the only thing she was really good at.

* * * * *

The next Saturday night, she went to Group, which was the weekly Saturday night gathering, mainly for teenagers, with games, Bible readings and singing. She hadn't felt good all day, some tummy pain thing. Though her period was overdue, it hadn't felt like normal cramping at all; but she took a couple of pills and went anyway. She'd enjoyed the night, and had even spent some time talking to people who were not Josh, but the pain had been getting worse, and eventually she had to go and curl up in the corner by herself. Liz had noticed almost immediately, and when Tess had not been very responsive, she'd got her boyfriend Sam to carry Tess out to his car and take them both to hospital.

The emergency department admitted her quite quickly, and once they'd given her some pain medication, she started to respond a little. The female doctor had given her a once over, and then asked her when her last period had been.

"About 6 weeks ago."

"Is it possible that you're pregnant?"

"No. No way." Tess was indignant, as if she was a virgin.

The doctor paused. "When I see a teenage girl who's shaved her pubic hair off and replaced it with a tattoo of a snake, I figure that she is sexually active."

Liz, who'd been sitting with Tess holding her hand, stood up and said "Perhaps I better leave", but Tess had grabbed her hand tightly.

"No, don't. Ok, I am quite sexually active, but I'm on the pill, and I always do safe sex."

The doctor snorted in dismissal. She took some blood, and then disappeared. Tess turned to Liz. "No way I'm pregnant. It's just not possible." Liz kept her opinions to herself, and they talked about other things, much better than they'd talked for years, only pausing when the nurses came occasionally to check on Tess.

Eventually the doctor came back, and sat down next to the bed.

"Tess, you're pregnant, about 6 weeks."

Tess felt herself sliding away. There was no way she could deal with this. Pregnant? Oh no. But how? She cast her mind back four weeks, and then remembered. "Oh no, the gang bang", she whispered.

"It looks to me like you have an ectopic pregnancy."

"What's that?" Tess asked.

"It means that instead of being implanted in the uterus like it's supposed to, the egg has gotten implanted in the wrong place, one of your tubes, and now that it's trying to grow into a baby, you're getting pain and probably bleeding. We have to confirm this with an ultrasound, which I'm going to go and organize now. If it is an ectopic pregnancy, it won't be viable."

"Baby" and "not viable" were pretty much the only words that Tess heard in all that. Once the doctor finally left to go and organize the ultrasound, Tess burst into tears. A baby? Pregnant? And not viable? Tess had absolutely no idea how to feel. She didn't know whether she wanted to lose the baby or not, didn't know how to think about it at all. She told Liz about the gang bang. Really, it would have been rape if it was anyone else, but she'd bragged about how she'd try anything and do anyone so often, that when the guys she was with decided that a gang bang was a good idea, she hadn't really known how to say no, and the drugs and alcohol hadn't helped. There were seven of them, and while it had been fun in a bizarre Tess-really-will-do-anything way, in another way, the how-Tess-really-feels way, it had been decidedly the worst experience of her life.

Finally, it was time for the ultrasound, and it confirmed the Tess really did have an ectopic pregnancy. The doctor said that the drugs, alcohol and some other medicine she'd taken earlier when she was sick must have stopped the pill from working properly, and one of the guys must have not worn a condom or it broke or something, so the doctor was also testing her for STDs. She said that there was no chance for the pregnancy, and that she would admit her, and give her a drug to help terminate the pregnancy as quickly as possible, and that Tess would be in hospital for a few days for observation.

Liz finally called her dad to come and pick her up about 5am, when Tess had finally stopped talking and crying and gone to sleep under sedation.

* * * * *

Liz was the first visitor the next day. When she walked in, she could see that Tess had been crying. Immediately, Tess launched into the offensive. "Where's my family? Why didn't they come to see me? I bet they went to church instead!"

Liz nodded, "They probably did, though I didn't."

"That'd be right, Gotta go to church, much more important than visiting a daughter in hospital."

"Tess, be gentle, they have no idea to deal with this. They only found out this morning. They don't want to come here and say that they told you so, but they can't come and say how sorry they are that this happened and how they will make it better."

"Oh right, so you've come to say told you so?"

"Oh come on." Liz looked at Tess with compassion. "I'd never say anything like that. Though I don't really need to, do I?"

Tess knew that was true. That was about the only thing she'd figured out in all this – that she had completely screwed her life up. How she actually felt, what she was going to do now, she had no idea about that stuff.

Liz stayed and talked, and held Tess again when she cried, but eventually Liz had to go. The next visitor really was a surprise, but if Tess had known that Josh was coming, she really would have gone insane beforehand.

He walked in to her room and smiled at her, "Hello, I thought I'd drop in and see how you were."

Tess' heart quaked. Josh – oh no, she'd blown any change with him now. How could such a genuinely nice guy want anything to do with a truly confirmed slut like her?

"Err, hello", she offered tentatively.

He sat beside her bed and took her hand. "Are you OK? I was worried about you when I saw Sam carry you out."

"Didn't Liz tell you anything?"

"She told me where you are, but said that she promised you not to say anything else, so I didn't dig."

Tess decided not to tell Josh very much, but the words just bubbled out of her, and she ended up telling him almost everything. So, she was blowing any chance with him. But news would get out one way or another, she might as well tell him herself.

Josh hadn't appeared horrified, or judgmental. He'd encouraged Tess to talk about how she felt about being pregnant, and how she felt about losing the baby, and about taking a drug to help with the termination. When Tess cried, he had held her hand and fetched tissues for her, and just waited till she was ready to talk again. It was during this conversation that Tess started to get a handle on how she felt, how she could start thinking about what was happening to her, and that lead to a wider conversation about where her life was, and what she was going to do about it.

Eventually Josh had to leave, and Tess' world came crashing down onto her again. But he'd left her with something, some knowledge about herself, some feeling that there was hope for her somewhere in this mess. And he'd also left her with a palpable hole, a missing space where he'd just been. Oh, she had it so bad for him. Too bad there was no hope in that particular direction.

The next day her parents visited. It was difficult. They didn't say much, obviously trying not to say the wrong thing; but since everything they wanted to say was the wrong thing, there wasn't much to say. Tess sighed to herself. It was always the wrong thing. But she didn't yell at them. If it hadn't been for Liz and Josh, she probably would have, but she just dug deep and waited them out. Still, she was certainly down when they left, and it was a happy surprise when Josh walked in not long after.

He walked to her bed, kissed the back of her hand again – as if she was a lady, even though he did know better by now – and got his guitar out of it's bag. "No talking today, you need a happy face."

He spent the next twenty minutes singing parodies, rip offs of all sorts of genres of music, in turn funny, stupid, irreverent and whimsical, and Tess laughed the whole time despite the pain in her body and soul. And then suddenly he stopped.

"Right. Now you pay the price for the entertainment. Can you go for a walk?"

"No, the nurses say I have to rest."

So he went and fetched a wheelchair, and Tess found herself feeling truly ridiculous, being wheeled through the hospital while holding a guitar, and they went to visit Sister Beth. She was an old lady from the church who didn't have any family in the church. Tess hadn't known she was in the hospital, and wouldn't have dreamed of going to visit some old woman she didn't know who was dying from cancer. But going visiting with Josh wasn't like going visiting with anyone else. It was fun – the guitar made all the difference, and she even joined him singing some of the old classics that Beth liked.

Once she was settled back in her bed, she could see that Josh wanted to go.

"Thanks so much for coming to see me."

"No problems."

Since that hadn't got the desired response, she decided to be a little more direct. "How come you've come to see me twice?"

Josh thought briefly, and then said, "Well, there's a few reasons. I do try to visit anyone I know who's in hospital, and I could tell that Liz was worried about you. And you really need visitors, you know."

And then he was gone, leaving Tess wondering whether that really was all the reasons, and whether she dared hope that there was one more reason.

* * * * *

Josh drove home wondering whether going to visit Tess had been very clever. Tess was trouble. Ok, Tess was in trouble right now, and there was no way he could not try to help someone who was in trouble. But Tess could also be trouble for him. He kind of figured that Tess was interested in him. He'd certainly been getting some of the classic come on signs from her, though what she'd told him in hospital confirmed his suspicion that she was pretty loose indeed with her affections. He'd already heard about that anyway. But the way she'd suddenly come to three church things in a row and looked to be around him spoke volumes, as did Liz's non comment when he asked her why Tess had suddenly started coming along.

Tess had a real style about her, and a real directness, which was something he found refreshing. And she was pretty easy on the eye, very fit, with a long sinuous body that moved like a lioness. Wow. Josh had decided that he would remain a virgin until marriage as Jesus had asked him to, but he knew that Tess was available to him right now for sex, no strings attached, and for the first time he was actually finding that tempting. Josh sighed. Sometimes following Jesus was harder than he had expected it be.

On the other hand, in the group class on Sunday morning, she'd been quite outspoken. He'd watched as she gave the leader a hard time. It might have been more than two years, but she'd still remembered her way around the Bible. So she was smart too. All in all, she had quite a lot going for her, but it was a real shame that she had chosen the wrong direction in her life. Now she would have to rethink her direction, and she might choose a much better direction. Josh hoped that Tess wasn't going to breach the walls he had built round his heart, but he knew that he had to let it happen some time. However if he got involved with her, he'd never know whether she chose her own direction, or was just doing what she thought he'd want.

Yes, Tess was trouble.

Tess had a few more visitors before she was discharged. Her parents came to visit along with her younger sister and brother, and Liz came by a couple of times, once with a group of the other guys and girls from the church. But none of her supposed friends came to visit. She'd txted them all, and a couple of them had responded, and when she called what she thought were her real buddies, they'd all been in a hurry to get off the phone to her. She had gotten a few txts inviting her to gigs and parties. On the whole, she was appalled at them. She did have some long chats with a counselor that the doctor organized.

On the last night she was in hospital, she came to some big decisions. The first was that she was through with drugs and alcohol. No drugs ever again. Maybe a quiet drink on occasion, but for now she was on the wagon. If the place she was at or the people weren't fun and interesting without alcohol, they weren't going to get any better with them, so she'd just leave.

She was done with sleeping around. It had been fun for a while, but the attraction had begun to pall even before the gang bang, let alone getting pregnant. She was going to have a six month break from sex altogether, to give herself time to figure out what she really wanted from life. The counselor seemed to think that she'd been doing what her mother wanted her not to do, not what she actually wanted to do herself. That had been a bit of a shock, when she was so sure that she was doing her own thing.

Being pregnant had been quite a shock. Tess was very proud of the shape her body was in, and the idea that she could've had a real pregnancy had made her realize how important that was to her. The doctors had assured her that it was properly terminated and that the pain and bleeding would drop off soon, so physically she was ok. She was glad about that. If the pregnancy had been viable, she would've carried the baby to term, in spite of how it had been conceived, though she didn't know what would've happened then. But after all this, she decided that she was going to have a crack at a full triathlon, she was going to start really focusing on training for that.

She was going to go to start going to church again, and have another go with that to see if that was really what she wanted to do with her life. And finally, there was Josh. She was going to dig deep, and take it really slowly with Josh, and find out whether Josh was what she actually wanted in life. Having a fling with Josh was no longer enough. She wanted more than that, and, in spite of everything, there still seemed to be a slim chance. "Whatever it takes," she repeated to herself.

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