Bathwater Baptism © 2018 Coralee June
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Pastor Greene was on a roll today, yelling so loud about hell and damnation that the veins in his neck bulged and spit flew from his lips. I never much liked attending chapel. My skin felt like it caught a right nasty fire every time I sat in those pews. I've never been a fan of rules. The idea that life was one big test freaked the hell out of me—pun intended. Every morning before class, I was forced to listen to the consequences of what happened if you gave in to your sinful side, and I hated it.
Daddy always said I was born of the devil. He was an enthusiastic yeller, could probably put Pastor Greene to shame if he wanted to wear the robe. He always thought he could scream the evil out of me.
Guess he lost his voice.
It wasn’t all bad. The one good thing about chapel wasn’t the air conditioning keeping us cool in this sticky heat, nor was it the communion wine I liked to steal extra sips from. No, the best part was Tennessee Jordan. He was sinfully sexy, just hot enough to make me wonder if his skin also prickled when he walked through the chapel doors.
Best I could assume, Tennessee and I had a lot in common. We were both named after places we'd never been to. We were both born in this town, and would probably die here, too.
I didn’t really know Tennessee very well, only what others had told me. But like every other red-blooded girl at our school, I admired him from afar. The guys had different classes, to eliminate temptation and sexual impurities, but I still saw him in the halls and at lunch.
“Savannah, pay attention,” Miss Temple, my homeroom teacher, hissed while adjusting the oversized hat she wore. It was decorative and pretty, but looked like something pigeons would perch on. She wore her Sunday best every damn day of the week. She said it was ’cause God was always watching. I thought it had more to do with vanity, but I wasn’t one to talk.
Miss Temple started fanning herself with a flyer for the church cookout before turning her attention back to Pastor Greene. He was a handsome fellow, despite his angry disposition, and I heard that his voluntary vow of celibacy had a flexibility clause when it came to Miss Temple. People in Bathwater, Texas liked to brag about their sacrifices in the open but contradicted themselves behind closed doors—or in their case? The choir room.
I wrinkled my nose and mimicked her with a scowl, making my best friend, Lucinda Barret, giggle. In case you weren’t aware, giggling during chapel was a sin. If caught, you had to ask forgiveness while scrubbing the floors. I was fairly acquainted with this particular path to redemption because I had to clean the splintered, wine-stained wood just last week for cutting class.
The sermon droned on, and I got that itch. You know the kind. It felt like your skin wasn’t your own. You had to move. Do something—anything. Daddy said idle hands were the devil's handiwork, so I've been conditioned to keep moving my whole life. But apparently, I wasn’t supposed to take that literally, because in chapel we were expected to keep still. It was my own personal hell, and with how long these services were, it was like Lucifer himself was sitting on my damn chest, preaching about disobedience when all I wanted to do was obey.
I stared at Tennessee. Again. I’d been treating him like a focal point for my anxious energy since last year when he transferred to St. Marks Academy after his mama got saved. She had started attending Pastor Greene’s sermons and decided that public school was a breeding ground for sin. She transferred her son and younger daughter that day. He was sitting a few pews down with the other boys that attended St. Marks Academy. His blond hair was swept back and touching the tips of his wrinkled collar. I could only see his broad shoulders from where I sat, but I imagined his green eyes staring at Pastor Greene with disdain.
I fidgeted again.
“Sit still,” Miss Temple hissed while glaring at me from over her shoulder. I wanted to slap her across the cheek. Daddy always said impulses were like demons.
Instead of clawing at her face, I responded with a reverent, “Yes ma’am,” before digging my nails into my thighs, pressing so hard I was sure I’d draw blood. Maybe I could put the crimson drops in the offering plate. Lord knows Daddy and I didn’t have money to spare.
When it was over, I stood up and filed behind the other girls in my class like the obedient girl I was, keeping my head low, not looking at anyone because we were taught that pretty faces were a sinful temptation. Daddy never let me wear makeup or show any skin, but despite his best efforts, I still wasn’t ugly enough for him. My lips were too full. My lashes too long. My eyes too alluring.
I stole a glance at Tennessee. He was joking with his friends, a practiced smile on his lips as he chuckled about something.
“You’re staring again,” Lucinda whispered in my ear before nudging at my back. She knew all about my fascination with Tennessee and liked to tease me endlessly about it. I couldn’t tell you how many times she demanded I just go talk to him, but I couldn’t. “Don’t let Miss Temple see. She’s been complaining about how dirty the supply closet is and is looking for someone to clean it.”
I rolled my eyes before stealing one last glance. I wasn’t necessarily drawn to Tennessee because he was sinfully sexy, though he was. I was looking for the moment—the slight slip in his seemingly ever-present smile. It was a dark look he let break free when he thought no one was watching. I’d seen it a couple of times, the observant creep I was, and I wanted to see it again.
His friends turned away, and the brightness in his eyes dimmed. I took mental snapshots, committing to memory the sad look on his face. Tennessee had it all: looks, money, influence. And yet he seemed broken inside during these brief moments. I didn’t understand it.
I was walking in line when I bumped into a hard body, red liquid spilling down my uniform at the contact. I snapped my attention to the person in front of me and scowled when I saw Pastor Greene, who had an angry expression on his face. Paster Greene was handsome, with dark hair parted to the side, straight, white teeth, a dimpled chin, and strong jawline.
“Watch where you’re going, child!” he seethed. I breathed in, the smell of wine permeating my clothes. Looks like he spilled the blood of Christ on me.
“I-I’m sorry, Pastor Greene,” I whispered, feeling shame and embarrassment fill me from head to toe.
“Savannah!” Miss Temple called from the front of the line, her icy tone freezing me up. Stalking over to me, her two-inch heels clicked on the wooden floor with every step. My eyes flashed to Tennessee again, and to my horror, I found that his piercing green eyes were staring right back at me. It was like time stopped. His eyes looked me up and down, the soft perusal coaxing me. But the moment was short-lived, because a hand gripped my chin, yanking my direction back to a fuming Miss Temple.
“What have I told you about paying attention, Savannah? Your head is always somewhere else. I think detention after school will help remind you to be more mindful.”
I wanted to scream, the anger lashing out like swipes of a blade in my throat, but I held the sharp words I wanted to say back. Daddy used to say that evil was like a devouring beast, the more you fed it, the more it craved. So instead of telling her what I really thought about her caked-on makeup and bad breath, I replied with a meek, “Yes, Miss Temple.” Starve the beast, Savannah.
She fixed her hair and turned a flirty smile to Pastor Greene. “I’m so sorry, sir. She’s one of my more challenging ones,” she said with a hair flip. He placed a hand on her lower back, guiding her away as they chatted, probably about prayers and forgiveness and fucking.
“You have an extra uniform in your locker?” Lucille asked once they were out of earshot while giving me a sympathetic smile. But instead of answering her, my eyes went back to Tennessee, mortification urging me to take another glance. He was long gone.
“Nope,” I finally responded with a shake of my head.
“Good thing I keep spares, though you might get a dress code violation.” Lucinda was much more petite than me, didn’t have the curves I did nor the long legs I’d been told to hide my entire life. She was short and cute. With a button nose and long, blond hair that nearly touched her hips, Lucinda was naturally pretty in an adorable sort of way. Her bright, blue eyes were always glistening like she held a perpetual secret.
“Better than smelling like wine all day,” I growled, annoyed at the state of my uniform. I only had a couple of shirts, and I knew there was no way I’d get this wine stain out.
Lucinda was right. I got three dress code violations, ensuring that I’d be spending the next five days in detention. One for the gaping hole in my blouse, showing off the white cotton bra I wore underneath. One for the length of my skirt, which hit well above my knee despite my best efforts to pull it down. And one for my attitude. Apparently, rolling my eyes at Miss Temple was a bad move. The school would rather me spend the day smelling like wine than showing off my God-given body.
Daddy worked at the factory across town, so I couldn’t ask him to bring me a change of clothes. Therefore, I got to spend my lunch in independent study while Pastor Greene stared at me with contempt. I was surprised he didn’t force me to hold his hand as he prayed about my promiscuous choices.
“Welcome to detention,” Miss Temple said with a positively gleeful expression while pointedly eyeing me. I didn’t understand why she didn’t like me so much. Maybe it was because I saw through her carefully constructed facade. I was sitting, arms crossed over my chest in the front row desk, shooting daggers with my eyes at her face. There were a few regulars here with me. Judas, who liked to graffiti the walls. Rose, who cut class to make out with her girlfriend, and me, a misunderstood clusterfuck. Miss Temple rubbed her hands together before speaking. “Today, each of you—”
She was interrupted by someone opening the classroom door. I lazily turned to see who was there and my heart raced when my eyes caught sight of a familiar face.
Tennessee Jordan. I nearly gasped at the look of him. He was sporting a black eye and busted lip. He didn’t look fussed about being in detention, just bored. “Mr. Jordan. Nice of you to join us,” Miss Temple said with an eye roll. Tennessee’s eyes—I should say eye because his right one was swollen shut—fluttered over to me, and I immediately snapped my gaze to the front of the classroom to avoid his stare. My weird obsession with him was safe from afar, but I didn’t want to ruin my fantasies with the reality that he probably wasn’t all I’d built him up to be.
“Have a seat. I was just discussing your punishment.”
The classroom was virtually empty, giving him a wide variety of seats to choose from, but for some reason, he picked the desk beside mine and even went so far as to brush his arm against my shoulder while settling in his seat. A thrill traveled up my spine, and I had to force myself not to smile at the brief, accidental touch. Lucinda would be thrilled to hear about this. I didn’t look his way, not even for a second, too afraid my nervous energy would show through my wild, dark eyes.
“Anyways. You’ll all be cleaning the gym’s supply closet.” Surprise, surprise, I thought to myself. Lucinda called it. “I want an inventory of every ball, racket, and bat. Not one thing left unaccounted for. After that, you can sweep, mop, dust, and organize it. Since most of you will be here for three hours a day for the next week, I’ll give you until Friday to finish the project. You’re dismissed.”
Miss Temple then picked up a clipboard and slammed it down on Judas’ desk with a manic smile. “Have fun,” she sang before grabbing her ostentatious, pink purse and strutting outside. Something told me she was off for another romp in the choir room with Pastor Greene.
“This is bullshit,” Robin muttered under her breath before standing up. She yanked Judas to a standing position before speaking again. “Come on, asshole.” Judas moaned while following after her, his ink-stained fingertips gripping the clipboard as he went. The two of them had been best friends since kindergarten. We’d all had plenty of visits in detention, but not once had they ever included me. I was an outsider in this little pack of misfits, but for the most part, I didn’t mind. Daddy was picky about who I spent my time with, and becoming best friends with people I met in detention would have its consequences.
I sat a moment longer, willing Tennessee to stand first. “You coming?” his low, gravelly voice asked. He sounded worn and tired. Dark and deep.
“After you,” I replied. I was still wearing Lucinda’s skirt and didn’t want to give him a healthy view of my ass.
“Ladies first,” he insisted playfully, and something told me that he knew exactly why I was hesitating.
Fine. I was too nervous to stay with him any longer, anyway. Resolving to look ridiculous, I stood up, my legs shaky from his rapt attention as I went for the door. I almost paused to ask him if he was coming, but before the question could bravely escape my lips, he stood up and followed after me. His tall body was right at my back as I twisted the knob and headed out into the hallway.
We walked in silence for a few minutes. The gym was on the complete opposite side of campus, and with each step I took, I was painfully aware that Lucinda’s skirt was riding up.
“You realize I can see your pink panties, right?” Tennessee asked with a chuckle, and it was like I could feel his perusal traveling up the back of my thighs and landing right on my ass. Embarrassment made a bright blush flood my cheeks, and I abruptly stopped right in the middle of the hallway, making him smack into me. His hard body pressed against mine with strength and warmth. A better man would have moved, but Tennessee stayed right there, his hot breath feathering down my neck. How’d I go from being the invisible stalker that watched him from afar to having him speaking and… touching me?
“A gentleman would walk ahead of me,” I snapped, not sure where my bite came from. Starve the monster, Savannah. “I-I mean. I’m sorry. I had to borrow my friend’s uniform when Pastor Greene spilled communion wine all over my shirt,” I tried to explain.
“I’m no gentleman,” he admitted, still standing at my back. “And I saw what happened—that pervert planned on running into you. Probably wanted to see your perky tits and have his own personal wet t-shirt contest. Do you think he’s imagining you when he fucks Miss Temple in the choir room?”
I blanched before spinning around to face him, my nose nearly bumping into his chest at my abrupt movement. “Excuse me?” I asked. Up close, I could really see Tennessee. He had sharp cheeks and a rounded nose. His lips were full but split and caked with blood. Despite the bruise rounding his jaw and the swollen eye, he was hot, in a dangerous sort of way. I needed to stay the fuck away.
“You have to know you’re hot. Girls like you flaunt that shit like it’s something to be proud of,” he replied with an eye roll.
“Girls like me? You don’t know shit about me,” I growled. The beast was fucking hungry. I could turn the other cheek, but I preferred to do the slapping.
“I don’t have to know you to know what you’re about. You’re tragically unoriginal. Just another shallow, pretty face.”
“And you’re just a tiny dick overcompensating with pretentious put-downs,” I gritted. All my curiosity about Tennessee Jordan dried up on the spot. That dark look in his eye had nothing to do with some poetic inner turmoil. He was just an ass.
Tennessee simply laughed before shrugging off his uniform jacket and placing it over my shoulders, the scent of his smoky cologne filling my nose the moment the fabric touched me. “I thought you said you weren’t a gentleman,” I bravely gritted. I was so mad I could barely speak, and I had half a mind to rip his jacket to shreds with my fingers, but self-preservation won out in the end. His words made me self conscious, and I wanted to cover up. The beast roared.
“I’m not. But you’ll be bending over to count balls all afternoon, and I don’t want to see your ass.”
My eyes widened in shock. That nerve of him. Was he always so… abrasive?
“Thanks,” I replied sarcastically before shrugging my arms into the sleeves, the jacket still warm from his body. I looked down and noticed a drop of blood on the collar.
“Is that winning personality of yours the reason you got beat up?” I asked. Men were prideful creatures. If he wanted to make up my truth to boost his own ego, then I’d pick at his wounds.
“Maybe,” he drawled before sidestepping me and making his way down the hallway. “But unlike you, I own up to my shit. I’m an ass, and you’re nothing but something to look at. Come on, pink. Let’s get this over with,” he called over his shoulder.