Despite his quiet ways and quirky behaviors, Holden Harris is very happy and socially engaged—on the inside, in a private world all his own. But Holden is an eighteen-year-old with autism. Every day he is bullied at school by kids who only see that he is very different.
Ella Reynolds is part of the in-crowd. A cheerleader and star of the high school drama production, her life seems perfect. When she catches Holden listening to her rehearse for the school play, she is drawn to him . . . the way he is drawn to the music. Then Ella makes a dramatic discovery—she and Holden were best friends as children. Frustrated by the way Holden is bullied and horrified at the indifference of her peers, Ella decides to take a stand against the most privileged and popular kids at school. Including her boyfriend, Jake.
Ella believes miracles can happen in the most unlikely places and that just maybe an entire community might celebrate from the sidelines. But will Holden’s praying mother, Ella, and a cast of theater kids be enough to unlock the prison that contains Holden? This time friendship, faith, and the power of a song must be strong enough to open the doors to the miracle Holden needs.
This contemporary, inspirational read is a standalone novel. Book length: approximately 80,000 words. Includes a reading group guide and a letter to readers from the author.
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
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A Love Story
By Karen Kingsbury
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2010 Karen Kingsbury
All rights reserved.
If the first day was any indication, this year was going to be the best ever.
Quarterback Jake Collins worked his way through the crowded hallway of Fulton High School's math building until he reached the meeting spot near the stairs. A group of his buddies from the football team were already there. At the same time, a couple of blonde freshmen girls walked past and giggled, flashing flirty eyes in his direction. Jake raised his brow and winked at his buddies.
Outside the brick building, the sun shone across Johns Creek, streaming through the windows and warming the cold hallways, making the river of kids squint as they passed by.
"The gang's all here!" Jake thrust his hands into the front pockets of his jeans and swapped a laugh with the guys gathered around him. He looked back at the blonde girls now halfway down the hall. "Hotties everywhere."
"Gotta love the Fulton girls." Sam Sanders elbowed him in the ribs. Sam had been Jake's go-to guy for the past three years, one of the top receivers in the Atlanta area and Jake's best friend.
"Dude, they're gonna love us this year." He fist-pounded Sam. "State titles, baby. All the way. Everything we touch is gonna be gold."
"Triple threat. No class has ever done it!" Sam nodded big. "Football ... basketball ... track!" He strutted in a small circle, arms raised.
Jake laughed. "Girls fallin at our feet." He high-fived Sam, and the two of them chuckled, eyeing another pair of girls. "Even more than usual."
"Mmm-hmm." Sam nodded at a pretty brunette, one of the two passing by. "Best Georgia peaches in the state."
They had six minutes to get to class, but that didn't mean anything to Jake and his boys. If the group of them made a blockade in the hallway, so what? The other kids would walk around them. Jake didn't care. This was their school. They could block the hallway if they wanted to.
"Look!" Rudy Brown, another football player, laughed and pointed to an overweight kid in a wheelchair a dozen yards down the hallway. Two teachers worked to maneuver him through a classroom door. "What? He's too fat to walk?" Rudy raised his voice louder than the noise around them. Rudy was six-five, three hundred pounds. Strongest offensive lineman in the county. He was being recruited by a dozen Division I college programs.
"Hey!" Jake scowled at his teammate. "Not the wheelchair kids. They can't help it."
"Yeah." Sam kicked the big guy's shin. "Have a heart."
Commotion at the end of the hall caught Jake's attention, and he turned toward it. He shaded his eyes against the glare of the sun and realized who it was. "Well, I'll be ..." He chuckled. "I thought Harris graduated."
"Who?" Sam scowled, searching the crowded sun-streaked hallway.
"That Holden Harris guy." Jake crossed his arms and watched Holden as he struggled closer. "Freak." Jake snickered. "Pretty face ... you know, the queer boy."
Holden was doing that weird thing he always did when he walked to class. Hands folded, knuckles close to his chin, flapping his elbows straight out to either side. Every few steps he stopped and his eyes darted to some random spot on the ceiling. Jake sneered at him. "Freak."
Sam made a face. "Why does he do that?"
"Cause he's a sissy." Rudy chuckled. "Nothing wrong with him, 'cept that."
"Leader of the short bus." Jake laughed louder, and the others standing with him did the same.
Holden Harris didn't look like a special-needs kid. That's what bugged Jake. It was the part that really got under his skin. Holden looked perfectly normal. No, he looked better than normal. Like some Abercrombie poster kid. A pretty boy with a football player's build. Not only that, but the kid had crazy blue eyes. Eyes that made the hottest girls turn and stare—even when Holden acted like an idiot, the way he always did.
"Let's welcome him back." Jake motioned to his teammates, and they walked that direction.
"Hey, pretty boy," one of them cried out in a mock high-pitched voice. Several of the kids crowding the hall between the football players and Holden looked alarmed. They scurried to get out of the way.
Sam waved big with as much sarcasm as he could pull off. "Hey, freak ... welcome back to school!"
Holden didn't seem to hear. He stopped short, clearly frustrating the kids walking behind him, and he pressed his fingers to his ears. After a few seconds, he lowered his hands and shot strange glances just above the kids passing by. Never right at them. Like he was counting them in or something.
"What's he, the welcome committee?" Jake shook his head, disgusted.
"Yeah, maybe he'll run for class president." Sam chuckled.
"Sure. President of Special Activities?" Rudy gave Sam a shove. "Get it? Special activities?"
"Yeah, that's it." Sam laughed harder and punched a few of the other players standing with them. "They don't get more special than that weirdo."
Jake let the others do the talking for a minute. Holden walked toward them, and as he did, he started the wing-flapping thing again. Folded hands tucked near his chin, elbows straight out and flapping at his sides.
"Maybe he thinks he can fly." Rudy sneered. He shifted so that the group of football players pretty well blocked the entire hallway. "Hey, pretty boy," he shouted. "You gonna fly home to Mama?"
Holden was only a few feet away, and he must've heard that because he lifted his chin and faced them—not exactly at them, but in their direction. His arms fell to his sides and he stopped short. Jake and his boys took up practically the whole width of the hallway, so Holden couldn't get by.
"Hey, freak." Sam gave Holden's shoulder a shove. "Why you act so weird?"
Jake waited a few seconds. "Freako, say something!" He pushed the kid's other shoulder. "You can hear us ... I know you can hear."
Holden stared to the side of Jake, like there was another person, an invisible person, standing beside him. Holden's eyes caught the light and he blinked a few times. Those ridiculously blue eyes. They searched the empty walls and rows of lockers—but never their faces—as if he couldn't understand a word they were saying. Or he didn't want to understand. He flapped his arms again and nodded a few quick times. Then he set his backpack on the floor in front of him, unzipped it, and pulled out a thick stack of flash cards. He sorted through them, his fingers moving fast, careful not to drop a single one. He must've found what he was looking for, because he pulled out a card and handed it to Jake.
"What's this?" Jake scowled as he took it.
"Too early for Valentine's Day, right Jake, man?" Sam and a few of the guys snickered.
"Shut up." Jake glared at his friend. "You're not funny."
Jake looked at the laminated card. It had the photo of a classroom on it. In the top corner was a small picture of a clock. Beneath were the words "Class Time."
"Flash cards?" Jake flicked it back at Holden, and it fluttered to the ground. "Use your words, idiot."
Holden didn't look at them, and he didn't look at the flash card on the ground. His expression tensed, and he set his full stack of cards on his open backpack. Then he made an awkward lunge for the card on the floor. As he did, Rudy gave Holden's backpack a solid kick. The stack of cards scattered everywhere.
"There." Rudy cussed at Holden and gave him another shove, harder than anything Sam or Jake had done. "Try words next time."
Holden tried to grab the cards as they scattered, but he missed and lost his balance. He landed with a thud, sprawled out across the linoleum floor. Quickly he scrambled to his hands and knees, breathing hard, his eyes darting about at nothing in particular. Then, with a frantic intensity, he began collecting his flash cards. The crowd in the hallway had thinned out, kids making their way to class. The ones who saw Holden struggling didn't stop to help.
Jake felt a flicker of remorse. Never mind what the kid looked like or how strong he was. Holden wasn't fighting back. They'd taken it far enough. "Come on." He slapped Rudy on the shoulder. "Let's go. Coach wants us on time this year."
A murmur of snickers and agreements came from the boys, and they side-stepped Holden and his flash cards. As they did, a skinny kid walked their way. He gave the football players a look, then he called out to Harris, still crawling around on the floor. "Hey ... I'll help you."
The skinny kid stayed to his side of the hallway as he passed Jake and the guys. Then he set his own backpack down and started picking up cards off the floor.
"What's this?" Sam stopped in his tracks and turned, his arms crossed. "Another guy from the short bus?" He spat the words at the kid.
The guy had stringy jet-black hair, tight straight-leg jeans, and a threadbare backpack. Another loser. The kid ignored Sam and kept gathering the cards.
"Hey, goth." Jake laughed. "You're too late. I'm pretty sure Holden already has a boyfriend."
Again the kid ignored the comment as he finished helping Holden. Jake waved his hand in their direction. "Forget 'em." Jake led the way. "We gotta get to class. It's a big day, boys."
They'd waited four years for this, the privilege to strut their stuff on the Fulton campus. Jake was about to sign a scholarship offer with one of the big Southeastern Conference colleges, and he was dating the prettiest girl on campus.
He'd met Ella at the pool over summer. They were both lifeguards, and from the first day Jake kept one eye on the screaming kids and the other on Ella. Through the hottest days of July and August, their friendship grew. Jake had seen her around Fulton, but they never really connected until the pool. He played sweet all summer—sometimes even thought he might be turning soft. She brought that out in him. Good girl, Ella. But he was too young for good girls.
Especially now ... his senior year.
Jake planned to hook up with lots of hot girls—especially the freshmen. Over summer—when he wasn't stealing kisses from Ella—he and Sam and Rudy and the guys talked constantly about the fall. This was their year, the season they'd been waiting for.
He punched Sam in the arm as they walked out of the building. "Win every game, take every title ..."
"Get any girl we want." Sam finished his thought, and both of them cracked up laughing.
Everyone on campus was going to know who they were. Even the freaks like Holden Harris and the skinny goth kid, whatever his name. Because that's how it worked.
And this year they owned the school.
Holden could hear the music. Beautiful and full and sweeping through the hallways of Fulton High. Rich horns and melodic strings. A fluttering of the ivories from every key known to man. Scintillating highs and mesmerizing lows that filled his senses and carried him along, reminding him that everything was okay. Music that sang to him of Jesus and goodness and love and joy. Peace and kindness. Church music. Music that told him the truth: no matter what, he was okay. Yes, Holden could hear the music.
He just wasn't sure anyone else could hear it.
Because why would his cards be all across the floor if everyone else could hear the same song?
Holden let the question slide. He collected his special cards and sorted through them until he was sure they were all there. All seventy-three. He looked at the friend helping him. He was saying something, but the words were lost in the music. Holden sorted through the cards again, searching. It was here ... it had to be. He had all seventy-three. Forty-six from the friend across from him and twenty-seven from all around his feet. Seventy-three.
Holden sorted, and the music played on. There it was! A picture of a smiling boy with his hand raised. The words on the card said "Thank you." Holden flashed it to the friend, but he didn't hand it to him.
Last time he'd handed over a card, they'd ended up scattered across the floor.
"What's that?" His friend looked at the card and smiled. "Oh. No big deal." He looked over his shoulder at the football players walking out of the building. "Stay away from those jerks."
Holden blinked and looked back at the big guys. Mixed in the music were other words, church words. He was three years old and Sunday school was in session and Holden was there again and the teacher was talking. No, Tommy, don't call anyone a jerk. These are your classmates and this is Sunday school. We don't use that word ... it's not nice. We need to pray for our friends, not call them names.
The big guys were jerks? They were almost at the end of the hallway. Walking to the music. Teacher said to pray for people, not call them names. And that's what the sign on the wall at the church said. Pray on all occasions. Holden nodded, intense, convinced. Okay, then. He would pray. Right now before another minute ran off the clock. Dear God, be with the guys at the end of the hall. They don't want to be jerks. Thank You, Jesus. I know You love me. Your friend, Holden Harris.
He prayed for a few seconds, and then his new friend held out his hand.
But Holden didn't take it. The walls were closing in a little and there was too much noise, too many words. The music was very loud now. He mixed the "Thank you" card back into the deck and looked for another. One more. Harder and harder he looked. There! He pulled it out and held it up to his friend. It showed two guys giving a high five. Beneath it were the words that he wanted his friend to hear.
"You're my friend?" The guy smiled. "That's what you want to tell me?"
Holden looked out the window. This was the pretty part of the song. He swayed a little, dancing to the music.
"Anyway, I'm Michael Schwartz."
Michael Schwartz. Maybe Michael could hear the music. Maybe. Holden shuffled through his cards and then looked out the window again. He slipped the cards into his backpack and zipped it up. The music was softer again. A little more swaying and another look out the window. His mom lived out that way. But he didn't get to find her until 3:10. After 3:10 he would climb back on the bus and the bus driver would take him home.
On the other side of the window.
"Well, okay then. Gotta get to class." Michael waved. "See you around."
Holden watched him go. He would pray for Michael, too, because Teacher said to pray for friends. Michael was his friend. But he wouldn't pray right now because the clock on the wall said 9:05. And 9:05 meant Trigonometry. Trigonometry was when he could relax the most because numbers were like music. They filled his senses and reminded him of the truth. Everything was going to be okay.
He looked at the wide, open hallway and he remembered the big guys. The ones they weren't supposed to call jerks. Something was wrong with them. Something he didn't have a card for, not even with seventy-three cards. A sharp noise screeched through the music. What if the boys kicked his cards again or what if they kicked him? The screeching grew louder. Screeching and ... and ...
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! The drums crashed and slammed through his head, pounding him, pushing him, hurting him. Hurting his ears. Holden covered the sides of his face, but nothing helped, nothing stopped the drums.
BOOM! CRASH! BOOM!
No! Stop the drums! Holden shouted the words, but it sounded like screaming in the music. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Please, God ... Jesus loves me, this I know ... please ... for the Bible tells me so ...
Holden breathed faster and faster and his eyes closed very tight. No, not the drums! BOOM! BOOM! Holden dropped down and lay flat on his stomach. The school floor was cool against his shirt. Quick ... very quick, he placed his hands palm down, his toes against the floor, his body stiff and flat like a board, and his daddy's voice came strong through the music.
"That's right, Holden, just like that. That's a push-up, except when you're older you'll keep your back straight. Very good ... like the big boys. If you can do that at three years old, you can do anything. Absolutely anything, Holden. Push-ups will make you big and strong like me, buddy. Thatta boy. Keep doing that and no one will mess with you ever ..."
Holden heard the words again and again and they sang out against the drumbeat. Up, down, up, down, up, down. Keep your back straight ... push-ups will make you big and strong like me, buddy ... No one will mess with you ever ... Up, down, up, down. Up and hold, down and hold, up and hold, down and hold. Up, down, up, down.
He breathed harder and harder, but now his breathing was the good kind. The drums were quieter now. Boom ... boom ... boom ...
Twenty-two push-ups, twenty-three, twenty-four ...
Excerpted from Unlocked by Karen Kingsbury. Copyright © 2010 Karen Kingsbury. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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