The Two Worlds of Sydnee Cameron Year 3 Episode 12: Who Do You Love More?

Welcome to The Two Worlds of Sydnee Cameron, entering its third year. If you’re new to this series, just start reading. 

If you enjoy this episode and want to catch up on Year 1, you can start with Year 1, Episode 1: Winners and Losers or check out the List of Year 1 Episodes or read the Year 1 Synopsis.

Previously in The Two Worlds of Sydnee Cameron, Sydnee’s cousins, Derrick and Joseph, surprised everyone by showing up at the Claytons’ house. (Episode 10: The Prodigals Part 1 and Episode 11: The Prodigals Part 2)

Episode 12: Who Do You Love More?

Can you come over to my house while I’m home at Christmas? 

I’d read that line in Jax’s letter a dozen times. We’d been writing each other since August. We talked a little about what was going on in our lives. I told him about placing second at State for Cross Country and how we’d won our first four basketball games. He told me how hard his classes were, especially geometry. But after the small talk, we discussed God and the Bible and Christianity.

We can talk about God and stuff.

I wasn’t really sure how religion had become the major topic in our letters. I’d told Jax that my cousin, Derrick, had needed more than motivation to stop causing trouble. He’d needed God.

Jax found that crazy at first. Maybe because Derrick with his black wardrobe and piercings and color-of-the-day hair didn’t look like a Jesus follower. But over the last couple of months, I’d tried explaining the unconditional, supernatural love of God.

And now Jax wanted to see me.

I hadn’t thought about seeing Jax when I got permission to write him at school. Yeah, I’d said we could hang out when he came home at holidays, but I’d meant that to give Jax hope that his parents weren’t sending him off to boarding school forever.

Chris Clayton, my boyfriend, knew about my letters to Jax. He saw me put my letters to Jax in the mailbox by the bus stop. He saw my letters from Jax waiting on the dining table after school. And on those days, Chris was extra touchy-feely, holding my hand, putting his arm around my shoulders, kissing me. He’d accepted the letters, but they were just letters. Words on paper. He’d hate it if I hung out with Jax.

But Jax wanted to “talk about God and stuff.” How could I say no?

I folded the letter and stuffed it back into the envelope. Jax wouldn’t be home for another two weeks. I didn’t have to make a decision now.

***

Four days later, on Saturday, my lack of a decision haunted me.

I sat at the dining table in the kitchen, alone, working on homework. Chris and Joseph had a Saturday basketball practice at school. I was only half paying attention to the algebra equations, but math was my easiest subject. My brain performed calculations automatically.

I could just ignore Jax. He’d said I’d have to call him because he didn’t know my number and his dad had taken away his phone with all his contacts as part of the punishment package that included the boarding school. And he might not get any letter I wrote now because his school had to read them first. I don’t know what they censored, but apparently not religion.

So not making a decision was definitely an option. An option that guilted me awake at night.

The sound of pouring cereal pulled my attention away from solving for x and y.

“Derrick? Can I talk to you?”

“No.” My cousin grabbed milk out of the fridge without looking at me. His hair had grown out in the last four weeks since he’d returned from Kansas, and he’d looked more like himself. He sounded like himself too.

I never took Derrick’s refusals seriously. I abandoned my homework and walked over to the counter. “Jax wants me to come over to his house during Christmas break.”

“Why are you telling me?” Derrick stabbed a spoon into his cereal. “If you’re asking me to talk to him again, the answer’s no.”

“Talk to him?” I hadn’t thought of that. But that might make things easier. At least Jax and I wouldn’t be hanging out just the two of us. “Why won’t you come with me?”

“Because I’ve got nothing to say.”

“But you had plenty to say last time. And you really made a difference.” More than Derrick knew. Maybe I shouldn’t have told Jax so much about Derrick’s spiritual transformation. But Derrick wasn’t a respecter of personal info—his or others.

“If I made a difference, then I really shouldn’t talk to him again.”

“Why?” I leaned against the counter, preparing for a conversation.

“Because I failed.” Derrick poked his spoon through his cereal, pulverizing the flakes. “Everything I told him about not doing things just to anger someone, but doing what he wanted to do, what he cared about—I failed at all that. I lost my computers, my hair—” he pointed at the short blue spikes on his head “—pretty much everything.”

“Why can’t you tell him that?”

“Because if what I said is working for him, then he doesn’t need to hear that it might become too hard. It’d be like telling him he will fail. Especially when he’s home around his dad again.”

“Or maybe what he hears is that you tried and failed, so you returned to a place where you wouldn’t spend every day losing.”

“But it’s not like I chose to come back here either.”

“Don’t lie. Nobody makes you do anything. You could’ve left Joseph in the bus station in Chicago and disappeared. You didn’t because you wanted to come here. But you were scared to admit it because that would mean wanting something, and like you already said, you’d failed at doing what you wanted.”

He stared at me for a long moment. Then he set down his uneaten breakfast and clapped. “Great story.”

“True story.” I sounded confident, but I’d pulled all that out of the air. Now I’d said it though, it made more sense than Derrick only coming here because Joseph was the one with the money.

Derrick shrugged, picked up his bowl, and started eating what by now had to be soggy mush.

“But that’s not what I wanted to talk about.” I opened cabinets and found a bowl and cereal. Soggy mush or not, watching him eat made me hungry. “Should I see Jax at Christmas?”

“I don’t know. Do you want to see him?”

What did I want? That was a question I couldn’t figure out the answer to. I splashed milk on my cereal. “Chris will be really mad if I see Jax.”

“Oh yeah.” Derrick made a sound like a laugh. Did he find the potential drama funny?

“I hate fighting with Chris.” Now I was the one stirring my cereal into mush. So much for being hungry. “But Jax said he wanted to talk about God and the stuff I’ve been writing him about. So how can I say, no, sorry, my boyfriend barely tolerates me writing you?”

“Why are you asking me this? Do I look like your life coach?”

“Yes. If this computer game designing thing doesn’t work out, you should consider a career as a life coach.”

Derrick attempted a deadpan stare, but the corners of his mouth twitched.

“And I really don’t want to be a girl whose boyfriend controls her friends or what she does.” I ate a bite of cereal before it became too mushy. “So what do I do?”

“You ask like I have experience. I’ve never had a girlfriend, you know. So maybe you should be talking to someone else.”

“But you know people. And you’re objective. You aren’t bothered by offending anyone. And someone’s going to be offended.”

“Fine. Since you asked me, deciding not to see Jax because Chris will be angry is a bad reason. Like you said, he doesn’t have the right to say who you’re friends with.”

“So I should see Jax?”

“That’s not what I said. I said not seeing him because you’re scared of Chris’s reaction is a bad reason. That’s a reason to break up with Chris.”

“So I should break up with Chris and then see Jax? I don’t like that idea.”

“I’m saying you should take Chris out of the decision.” Derrick rinsed out his bowl and stuck it in the dishwasher. “Decide why you want to or don’t want to see Jax. Then tell Chris.”

“That’s not helpful advice.”

“Guess I should come up with a different Plan B Career?” Derrick flashed a grin. “See you later.”

Well, that didn’t solve my problem.

I finished off my cereal and returned to algebra. Those problems I understood.

***

“It’s only eight-thirty.” Chris held open the gym door for me and a dozen other friends and parents of the freshmen basketball team. The December air stung my cheeks. “Want to get ice cream or something before we go home?”

“Sure.” Almost a week had passed since I’d talked to Derrick, and I still hadn’t made a decision.

Actually, that was a lie. I knew what I wanted to do. I just didn’t want to tell Chris.

“Something wrong? You look worried.” Chris pulled me into his warm side. I slipped my arm under his coat and around his waist. “I promise we’ll be home by ten.”

“I’m not worried about that.”

“But you’re worried about something?” Chris unlocked the car and opened the passenger door.

“Not exactly. Just thinking. Thanks.” I climbed inside.

I needed to talk to Chris tonight. Jax would be home next weekend, and I wanted to see him.

Chris drove us to Bekah Rose’s Ice Cream Parlor downtown. Inside, the shop smelled of sugar and waffle cones. I ordered a scoop of mint chocolate chip and a scoop of banana nut in a cup. Chris got a waffle cone with rocky road and whipped cream.

We sat at one of the little round tables and talked about the basketball game—who would be a good asset to the varsity team next year, strengths and weaknesses—as if either of us had a say in the coaching of the team. But the topic was easier than what I needed to discuss.

A lull hit. Chris crunched on the end of his waffle cone. I scraped the melted puddles of ice cream from my cup. My heart raced—maybe from the sugar. Maybe from what I had to say.

“Jax wants me to come over while he’s home for Christmas.” The words rushed out while I felt a moment of bravery.

Chris froze mid-chew, his jaw off-center.

“He says he wants to talk to me about the things we’ve been writing about. Like about God.”

Chris swallowed and his eyes darkened. “That’s not why he invited you to his house.”

“How do you know? That’s what he said.”

“He likes you, Sydnee. It’s like a date.”

“It is not.”

“Yes, it is.” Each word was sharp.

“But he knows we’re together.”

“So? You know being in a relationship doesn’t stop people.”

“It stops me.” Heat bubbled beneath my skin. Just because Chris and my cousin Joseph had cheated in their relationships didn’t mean everyone did. “Besides, if Jax liked me, wouldn’t he have shown up when my mother fixed me up on a date with him?”

“What?” Chris’s voice was as cold as I was hot.

He didn’t know about Jax’s and my non-date in New York this summer, and now was probably the worst time to tell him about it.

“You went on a date with Jax?”

“No. Jax stood me up.”

“But you were going to go on a date with him?”

“No. Not a date, because Jax is just a friend, and he knows you’re my boyfriend.”

“But you were going to hang out with him in New York?”

“Yes.” I couldn’t deny it now.

“You were texting me every day, and you never said anything about your mother fixing you up on a date.”

“Because you’d get mad about it, and there was nothing I could do to get out of it.”

“You could’ve told your mother no.”

“Like my mother listens when I say no. Fighting with her accomplishes nothing. Fighting with you would’ve accomplished nothing. And Jax didn’t even show up, so it never mattered anyway.”

Chris pushed away from the table.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. But I’m telling you about seeing Jax at Christmas.”

“I don’t know why. You’re going to do whatever you want. You don’t care what I think.” He stood and walked toward the doors.

“Chris?” Was he leaving me in the ice cream parlor?

A blast of cool air, and Chris was gone.

Yep, he’d left me.

I sat, stunned. I’d known Chris wouldn’t like me going over to Jax’s, but I hadn’t expected this kind of fight. And I definitely never expected him to abandon me.

I pulled out my phone and opened email. Derrick didn’t have a phone and couldn’t text, but he was probably on his computer and would get an email.

sydneedraw33sm

I told Chris about going to Jax’s, and he left me. I hit send and waited.

A few second later, a reply arrived. Left you where?

Me: In Bekah Rose’s.

Derrick: You knew he’d be angry.

Me: Not this angry. He says Jax likes me and inviting me to his house is like asking me on date. Is Chris right?

Derrick: About Jax liking you? Yes. About Jax’s reasons for inviting you over? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not.

Me: But if Jax likes me, why didn’t he show this summer when my mother fixed us up on a date?

Derrick: Did you say that to Chris?

Me: Yes. I know—stupid.

Derrick: Very stupid. You’ve known Chris a long time. Did you really think he wouldn’t get mad about that? 

Me: Of course I knew he’d get mad. That’s why I hadn’t told him before. And I didn’t mean to tell him now. But back to my question. If Jax likes me and wouldn’t care about the fact that I have a boyfriend, why didn’t he show up for that date?

Derrick: Maybe he respects you having a boyfriend. Or maybe he didn’t show up because he was avoiding you over the summer.

Yeah, the avoidance thing. Jax hadn’t spoken to me most of the summer.

Me: What do I do? Should I not see Jax? What if he really does just want to talk and it has nothing to do with whether or not he likes me?

Derrick: Again, why are you asking me for relationship advice? But since that won’t stop you, do you really want to let Chris control your friendships? Does that sound like a good relationship to you?

Controlling my friendships? So you think I should break up with him? Chris doesn’t control my friendships, does he?

Derrick: He sounds controlling of this one. But since he doesn’t have a problem with the other guys you’re friends with, you probably don’t need to worry.

Yeah, I felt better now. And why would Chris have a problem with any of my other guy friends? Probably didn’t want to go there. So I should see Jax? Or I shouldn’t?

Derrick: I’m not telling you what to do.

Me: Will you tell me what I should do about going home? If Chris doesn’t come back in the next ten minutes, I won’t be home by ten and I’ll be grounded.

Derrick: David won’t ground you for missing curfew because Chris ditched you. He’ll ground Chris.

That didn’t make me feel better. I didn’t want to get Chris in trouble. But Bekah Rose’s closed at ten, so not only would I miss curfew, I’d be kicked out and into the cold. Wasn’t like I could walk ten miles home. Well, I could walk ten miles, but that would take all night and probably wasn’t safe to do on the highway.

I stared at my phone. I’d have to tell David I needed him to come get me.

“You ready to go?”

At Chris’s voice, I jumped. “You came back.”

“Yeah.” He avoided eye contact and stood behind my chair.

I stood to face him. Anger pinged off him, hitting me almost like static electricity. If this was about my relationship with Chris . . .

I wrapped my arms around him and kissed him.

“What was that for?” he asked.

“Because I . . .” My heart drummed in the pit of my stomach. I slid my hands to his shoulders. “Because I love you.”

“I love you too.” Chris held my wrists, keeping me close to him, and kissed me.

“Maybe you’re right about Jax.” I rested my forehead against Chris’s, watching his blue-gray eyes as I spoke. “But maybe you’re wrong too.”

Chris pulled away a little, still holding my wrists, his grip tightening, looking anywhere but at me.

“What if Jax is telling the truth about wanting to talk about God? Who else is he going to talk to?”

“Stop, please.” Chris’s voice was rough, but not exactly angry. “You’re going to win this argument. You’re going to win, and I’m going to say you should see Jax, but I’m going to be angry about it. And I don’t want to be angry right now.”

“Okay.” If it mattered this much to Chris, maybe I should listen. Or compromise. “I won’t go over to Jax’s house.”

“You won’t?”

“No, I won’t. I’ll invite him over to our house instead.”

“Sydnee.” Chris groaned and moved away from me.

“If he comes to me—to us—everyone will be there. David, Candy, Derrick, Joseph, you. If he’s telling the truth, then that’s a lot of people who can talk with him. But if you’re right, all of you can help me beat him up.”

Chris shook his head, looking out Bekah Rose’s windows and into the dark street.

I took his hand, trying to pull him back to me.

“Why do you have to be friends with him?” The struggle in Chris latched on to every syllable.

“I don’t know.” I wound Chris’s arm around my waist, pushing myself into his side. “But I am friends with him. Just friends.”

“I know.”

“So can you be okay with me inviting Jax over?”

Chris let out a long sigh that seemed to carry his frustrations. “Yeah, I guess I can be okay with that.”

“Thank you.” I kissed him again. Then I put on my coat and grabbed my empty ice cream cup off the table.  “If we leave right now, we should be home by ten.”

“But if we’re late, then we’ll be grounded and no one will be allowed to come over.”

“You’ll be grounded.” I threw away my trash and walked outside. The cold, dark air slapped my face. “Not me.”

“Because Dad likes you better than me?”

“Yep. Not because you almost abandoned me.”

“Hey! I came back.” Chris reached around me to open the car door. “And by the way, I didn’t really leave you. I was outside, waiting.”

“So you were going to come back in eventually?”

“Maybe. I don’t know.” He ducked his head. “Actually, Derrick emailed me and told me that if I didn’t want Dad to find out I’d abandoned you, I better go back.”

“Derrick told you that?”

Chris nodded.

“What else did Derrick say?” My eyes narrowed and I stepped behind the open car door. Derrick wasn’t one to keep secrets.

“He asked if this was worth breaking up over.” Chris looked at me over the window. “Were you thinking about breaking up with me?”

“No. This wasn’t worth breaking up over.” I leaned into the door and kissed him. “I’m not choosing between you and Jax. I already chose you over everyone.”

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