THE ATONEMENT CHILD.

CHAPTER 16.

Dynah saw Joe sitting comfortably at the top of the marble steps of the library, his back resting against a pillar. He smiled and stood, meeting her halfway as she came up.

“Going to work?”

“Not until six.” She raised her head and searched his eyes briefly. “I thought I’d study for a while.”

“It’s a nice day to study outside. What do you say we go to the quad?”

She hesitated suspicious. “Did Ethan send you?” When his mouth curved ruefully, she rushed on to explain herself. “You’ve always made it such a point that I’m Ethan’s girl.”

“You still are.”

She frowned, wondering why he was waiting for her. He must have a reason. It had to be Ethan. Shifting her books, she held them tightly against her chest and waited. She wasn’t sure she wanted to hear what Ethan might have told him about her behavior last night. “I’m not angry anymore, if that’s what hy you’re here waiting for me. You can tell Ethan I find no fault with him. He can’t help how he feels.”

Joe’s expression changed, softening as he searched her face. He didn’t avoid looking at her the way Ethan did but gazed straight into her eyes, accepting the inner turmoil and anguish that lay just beneath her surface control. He didn’t hide from her pain. “Let me be a gentleman and carry your books.”

Dynah allowed him to take them from her. They walked along the cobblestone road and between the political science and liberal arts buildings to the quad. The maple trees were just beginning to bud with spring leaves. Before the attack, she would have noticed and remarked about it. Now, she didn’t even look up. She stayed close to Joe as they walked beneath the shade and into the sunlight again.

Joe didn’t say anything, but she felt comfortable with his silence. Unlike Ethan, Joe didn’t try to fill every minute with words or suppositions.

“God has a reason for everything he does.”

She couldn’t seem to drive that thought out of her mind.

What reason, Lord? Tell me what reason.

“This looks good,” Joe said and put her books down.

Dynah looked around. He had picked a place in the open, no shade, sunlight streaming down from blue heaven. She used friends to feel the sun beat down. Now she wished for a dark corner a ay from people. She felt Joe watching her, waiting.

Forcing a smile, she sat down and curled her legs to one side.

Joe sat resting his forearms on his raised knees. She had always felt at ease with him, which made her tension now that much more disturbing.

Picking up a textbook, she opened it. “So, what does Ethan want you to tell me?”

“He didn’t send me, Dynah.”

She raiser her head, her eyes narrowing slightly. “Are you sure?”

“I want to sit with you and talk. I want to know how you’re doing.”

She lowered her head. “I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not. You’re too pale to be fine.”

“I spent the better part of two weeks in my room. Now I work at the library.” She was ashamed by the edge of bitterness she could hear in her voice, the undercurrent of anger. Anger was the enemy now. Christians were supposed to be docile, accepting, obedient to God’s will…..

Was it your will, Lord? I don’t understand. Why had this happened? Why is my life turned upside down?

“How are you sleeping?”

“Fine.”

“Come on, Dynah. You can talk to me.”

She clenched her teeth. Why did it have to be Joe asking? Ethan should be the one to want to know Ethan should be listening and comforting, but then Ethan was personally involved, wasn’t he? He had lost the most, hadn’t he?

She looked away. “I have nightmares,” she said dully. Embarrassed, she looked down again. She shouldn’t be exposing her feelings to Joe. “I need to study.”

“OK,” he said quietly and stretched out on his side. “We’ll study.” Propping himself up slightly, he pulled out one of his textbooks. Taking a highlighter out of his backpack, he pulled the cap off with his teeth as he read. Every no and then he ran the pen along the line of text over a term.

Looking down at her own open textbook in her lap, Dynah tried to concentrate on the terms she need to memorize. Midterms were coming, but she couldn’t seem to get the term to sink in. She rubbed her forehead and started over, taking one term at a time, trying again, but her mind kept wandering.

“Do you think there’s a reason for everything that happens?” She felt Joe look at her. Afraid of his answer, she went on quickly. “I mean, Ethan thinks so. He thinks God must have a reason for punishing me.”

“Were those his exact words?”

“Something like that. Maybe not in those words. Oh, I don’t know. Maybe that’s not what he meant.” Maybe she hadn’t heard him correctly. Maybe she was being unfair. Maybe she wasn’t thinking straight about anything anymore. She rubbed her temple with trembling fingers.

“It wasn’t your fault, Dynah.”

“How can I know that? I should’ve listened to Mr. Packard. I could’ve asked for a ride from Sally or called Janet or waited until Ethan was finished with the Bible study. I could’ve -“

Joe sat up, halting her flow of words, and reacher over to take her hands firmly. “Look at me.”

She did, hardly able to see his face through the blur of tears.

“It was not your fault. You didn’t do anything to deserve it.”

“There has to be a reason.”

“God didn’t send that man to rape you.”

“He didn’t stop him, either,” she said, pulling her hands free and clutching her book again. “Maybe he did send him, Joe.” He didn’t say anything, and she tried to explain her jumbled feelings. “Didn’t God send the Assyrians to destroy Israel? Didn’t the Babylonians conquer them, too? And Job. Joe, what about Job? What did he do wrong that he had to suffer that much?”

“He didn’t do anything wrong, Dynah. He loved God. He honored him. That’s why Satan wanted to sift him, to prove he could break Job’s faith.”

“So I’m being sifted?” She saw him wince at the quick sarcasm of her response and blushed, ashamed that she could sit right here, dead center of a Christian college, and dare criticize God. She wanted to say she wasn’t like Job. She would break. Her faith could be crushed. A few words from Ethan and it was already unraveling. She closed her eyes and lowered her head. “I’m sorry.”

“For what? For being hurt and angry over what happened to you? You have reason.”

“God has a reason.”

Maybe she just wasn’t good enough to be part of his kingdom. Her heart squeezed tight, shrinking inside her with fear.

“Maybe Ethan’s right. I should try and forget about it. Put it behind me and go on like nothing happened.” She opened her book.

“Dynah,” Joe said, and the compassion in his tone made her stomach tighten in a painful knot.

“If we have to talk, Joe, let’s talk about something else. Please. I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to think about it. OK?”

Joe sat silent for a moment and then nodded. “You call the shots. I just want you to know I’m around if you need me.”

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