In Which I Say the Big, Bad C Word: Courtship



…is a hot button these days, and I’m not always sure why.  Some Christians have been the victims of dictatorial, patriarchal homes, but most don’t even have a clue what the word actually means. As a society, I think we’ve swung back and forth so many times on relationship norms that most of us are dizzy.  I think every generation “does it differently.”

Recently, my uncle, Richard Briggs, in an author Q and A query, asked me about my own ideas on courtship (I had a very successful and happy one!) and how it plays into my writing love stories.

Since we’re raising a new generation of children – my own included – and I’m seeing the pendulum swing again to “get rid of courtship altogether,” I’d like to say to look past the big, bad C word.  What even IS “courtship”?  Every single group I’ve ever been in defines it differently.

Let’s just talk relationships on the whole. My girls are young now but it is NEVER too early to start planning for and being aware of this.  You are raising children not just to be obedient kiddos in your home, but to be godly adults out in the real world.  Your home is just a stepping ground for all of life and, let’s face it, most of our kids are going to get married. So that relationship with their spouse will last the rest of their life, and be the most important relationship in their life.

So what are my views on courtship?  Here’s my succinct personal definition:

Committing to love, serve, and honor God by being intentional in doing the best for others and looking at relationships through the lens of future marriage. Being future-mindful and Christ-centered in your relationships, not selfish in your physical affections and giving into lusts, and not causing anyone else to sin, including yourself. Eschewing the worldly, selfish ideas of playing around before finding a spouse.

Beyond that, my ideas are so simple, and yet so foundational.  I think, when you muddy it up with more than this, you get into legalism. Let’s leave out all the common sense physical rules like what’s your curfew, if you’re chaperoned, if you kiss before your wedding day, etc. etc.  That’s up to your home and your child. My husband and I haven’t set any of those in stone. We’ll see what we decide when the time comes and where the child’s heart and temptations are.  And our “common sense rules” may be different from yours – and there should be no judgment from house to house on those types of safety rules.  But honestly, that’s not what I’m thinking about or looking for when I’m training my children to be spouses.

I want only three things.

A. I want them to so love God that they’re committed to honesty, morality/godliness, and Him most of all.

(See the previous blog post in the link above.) It’s why I’m seriously, seriously addressing sneakiness and dishonesty and selfishness and other traits now.  My child lies to me or selfishly hoards me or is disloyal to friends?  He’s going to be those things to his spouse too.  They don’t just disappear in marriage or adulthood.

B. I want to so strongly have my kids’ hearts – be such good friends with them and be so close to them that they trust me and communicate with me.

It takes two to tango on this one.  I can only do my part, and pray that God leads them to value me as their mother and counselor and friend.  ❤

C. I want them to so love others and think much less of themselves that they’re committed to protecting and doing what’s best for the opposite gender always.

At the heart of the “courtship model” that I know is protecting others because you value them so much as fellow human beings, and you love and care about their safety, their hearts, and their emotions.  Leading the opposite gender on when you have no intention of marrying or committing to them – whether it’s through mass dating or just being too affectionate as friends – can injure them greatly.

At the heart of relationship values that I was taught was protecting and loving others as better than yourself. (Philippians 2:3)

This starts in just sharing toys as toddlers and choosing to go last to getting your piece of candy.  These foundational things prepare them for why they choose what they do with the opposite gender in the future.


2DRJ Conte is a Christian, realistic, issue-driven fiction authoress with six books on Amazon, including the novel, Heartsick, for young adults. In Heartsick, the main character, a homeschooled college student, who has devised a picture-perfect courtship model with her father, turns her back on it to get entangled with a guy who has a very mysterious and dark past.  The novel has been likened to A Walk to Remember meets Hitchcock, and is recommended to any young Christian lady starting out on her own.

$2.99 on


Winner of the Mad Libs Contest!

We have a winner of the Mad Libs contest! Thank you for sending in entries!
Judging had to pick Jenna Skye Aquino for her succinct, creative, and clever paragraph using all 5 crazy words:
“Steven was trying the new meatloaf recipe his girlfriend had found online. The last time she tried something new it was disastrous. He had never felt his stomach crinkle like that before nor did Advil alleviate the pain. Hopefully this time around the recipe won’t make his body bloat like a globe. He was a nincompoop for trying the recipe but he loved her, this he would do to support her.”
Congratulations, Jenna. You win a paperback copy of Heartsick!

Do You Like Mad Libs? Here’s a Game For You…


Anyone ever get the feeling that Dr. Who episodes are created by the directors playing Mad Libs and then the writers just going with whatever comes up? 😛
While I’m waiting to get my voice and lungs back (had a rough bout of walking pneumonia) to continue my video series, I thought it might be fun to do an original sort of giveaway.
You guys are ALL writers, and you just don’t know it. 😉

I’m going to give you a series of 5 crazy words, and you need to write a 2-4 paragraph micro-story.

Results need to be in before November 1st! Winner will receive a paperback copy of my last novel published (and biggest novel!, Heartsick!
Send me your micro-stories over pm or email (
Now HERE are your words:

meatloaf, crinkle, Advil, globe, and nincompoop!

All 5 words MUST be used.
May the best Mad Libbers win!! 😀

Pretty Pictures of Leading Ladies!

Thank you for rejoicing with me over this miraculous pregnancy!!!

I’ve got more exciting news for you guys soon, but today I want to share what I’ll be doing on my Facebook author page all month.  July marks my thirtieth birthday as well as my 10th anniversary of being a published author.  My first book, Dashwood Avenue, turns ten years old!

Therefore, I’ll be running sales and doing fun facts all month on the Facebook page.  Make sure you like the page so as not to miss a thing.  🙂

Also, I created a collage of my leading ladies (or love interests) in my books.  Posting it here to entice you to read these girls’ stories.

You can find all of my books (Vivien’s story coming soon!) on by clicking right HERE.

RJ's Leading Ladies

If a Bird Pooped on You…

Well, when I finish one book, I immediately start the next.  😀  That’s because, while
writing the end chapters on the last book, I’m already scheming the next one.

I have to write something different every time.  I’m not usually a series sort of gal.  I have to have variety and try new things.  But THIS time I’m going to attempt a trilogy.  A sci-fi trilogy.  A SUPERHERO sci-fi trilogy.

I’m scared.

Not sure I can do this!  It’s going to take me a while, and I only have three chapters rough-draft-written at this point.

But, thanks to Janeen Ippolito, a fellow author acquaintance of mine, I got to ask some great awkward questions of my new characters, in order to truly get to know them inside and out.

To introduce you to them, book 1 (or perhaps the trilogy itself) is going to

Olivia and Slater

Slater and Olivia

be called The Depressers.  My superhero, Slater Khaven, is going to be an average computer software engineer with no special powers other than his sarcastic wit.

His girlfriend, the elusive, amazing, talented, savvy, tough as nails Olivia Gold, is actually dead by house fire at the very beginning of the book.  (No, no.  I didn’t get this mixed up with Heartsick!) and you learn, in flashbacks, what she was like and how she prepared and shaped Slater to be the superhero that he will be.

In a fit of sentimentality, Slater puts on Olivia’s contact lenses, the only surviving memento he has of her, and discovers a whole world only his girlfriend knew existed – of enemies he must fight.

In Myers-Briggs terms, Slater is an ISTJ.  Olivia is INTJ.

Here, I ask them super awkward questions.  😀


1. Would they wear the same clothes two days in a row?

Slater – Um… what’s wrong with that? I thought it was when you hit day 5… or wait. Was it day 7? that you had to change your clothes. Oh grief. Now all the ladies are going to think I’m gross. I DO change my boxers every three days. Or maybe every other. I don’t remember! I’m a bachelor and finally on my own! Do I HAVE to care? Man alive!”

Olivia – “Eh. I try. Sometimes I’m really busy and just can’t. I don’t sweat. I don’t stink. I’m practically perfect like that. Plus, my stuff’s all leather and nylon. That stuff breathes well. And I work at night. Yo, why are you asking about my clothes anyway? It’s none of your beeswax, idiot.”

2. What would they do if a bird pooped on them?

Slater – says every euphemism he knows under his breath. Makes sure not to actually curse, because he’s a Christian, but says everything else that’s as close to cursing as he can get. Scrubs it off with his hand… “Now wait, RJ. Come on! THEN I would change my clothes! You’re destroying my reputation here.”




Olivia – Would burn the outfit. Or at least throw it in a dumpster as far away from her house as possible. Probably shoots the bird.

3. What would they do if they ended up with an unexpected pregnancy?

Slater – Goes into a reclusive state for a few weeks where he doesn’t eat or sleep and thinks through every aspect of his future and mourns the loss of his dreams. Then emerges and responsibly cares for his child. Ends up being a great and involved dad.

Olivia – Doesn’t agree with abortion, but is tempted by it. In a hardened state of mind, refers to the baby as “It” and “fetus” and assumes she’ll miscarry because she keeps up her nightly “crime-fighting.” Delivers the baby safely and becomes a total over-protective, nurturing sap. Growls at anyone who tries to touch her child.

4. Do they have any addictions?

Slater – “*sigh* Probably TV. Oh, and Girl Scout cookies. Star Trek… Oh, I’m definitely addicted to coffee. The internet? Gaming. Yes, gaming. Wow, I think I tend to be an easily-addicted person…”

Olivia – “My job. And Slater.” *huge grin that is strangely evil looking*

Slater – “Man alive. I would’ve said you, Olivia. I would’ve. I didn’t know we could list people. You know you’re my world…”

Olivia – *holds out a taser*

Slater – “No. Put that down, baby. DOWN, girl.”

5. Who would they die for?

Slater – “Anyone. I’d love to be a hero. Honestly, I’d die for a stranger on a bus if I needed to. I’d like to think that’s in my nature. My brother’s in the military, and I can be a quiet hero over here in Seattle.”

Olivia – “Anyone. It’s my life purpose, and I have a feeling it’s going to happen someday anyway. Being a protector is what I was born to do.”



Paperbacks and Sales

Heartsick is now available in paperback!  I received my proof copy today, and it looks SWEET.


You can order the paperback here:  Use the code GETIT15 to get 15% off!

OR if you like your books in electronic form, the Amazon Kindle version of Heartsick is on sale this week for $1.99:

Also, just for fun, Angel-Lover is also on sale for $0.99  🙂

Happy reading!


Heartsick is available on Amazon for purchase!!  Celebration time!

Click here to buy!

Paperbacks will be available in around two more weeks.  Ordering myself a proof copy first.  🙂

Here’s the blurb:

Blessing Spivey didn’t expect to cause such an uproar on her first day of college.

She’s a missionary kid, outgoing and eager to achieve her dreams, and when she leaves behind the harder life of Mexico and arrives at her small Bible college, all she wants is to obtain a teaching degree – and maybe a man as well.

But she’s barely set foot on campus before a shadow looms over her. She is told she’s an exact doppelganger for Tessa Lyme, the popular school sweetheart who shocked the college last semester with her unexpected suicide. And now Tessa’s mysterious ex-boyfriend, Shale Westin, seems to have it out for Blessing.

Despite Shale’s hostility, Blessing is irresistibly drawn to him, and to the strange story of his girlfriend’s death. What secrets did Tessa’s glamorous life hide? And can Blessing protect her own heart from danger?





Everything You Need to Know About My New Release: Heartsick!

I did rather a bad job of keeping up with the #JanuaryWIPJoy on Twitter that Bethany Jennings so cleverly came up with.  (Smart bestie, that girl!) It’s probably because it required me to post daily, and my family and I have been so sick this month.  All four of us had colds.  One child’s turned into pink eye in both eyes, the second got an ear infection, and then I was just diagnosed with strep throat.  Blech.  A lot of staying at home, which is probably good because we’re about to move 25 minutes north to the first house my husband and I have bought!  Moving time next month will be busy, so let’s get all the illness out of the way now!

Heartsick comes out next month.  🙂  Two of my editors got back to me.  Thank you, Bethany and Catrin Lewis!

Therefore, I think I’ll just do all of February’s next list right here on my blog.  I hope this 2D(1)gives you a lot of fun details about Heartsick, and sparks your interest.  The book releases February 26th, and is already available for pre-order here.  🙂

My Books:

Can be found here on  Lucent Sylph is always free.  The Hotline Girl and The 12th Girl in Heaven will be re-released through Clean Reads press in the spring.  🙂

My Author Photo:

It’s a watercolor anime self-portrait.  I like to protect my privacy here on the web.  🙂


My Last 5-Star Read:

I think that would have to be Linda K. Rodante’s Amber Alert.  She has a heart for realistic, life issues like I do.  I appreciate her as a new friend!

Fun Heartsick Art:

In the beginning, I really liked this model for Blessing Spivey, my main character.

I also really thought that Jesse McCartney looked like Shale Westin from my book.  I played arounGreeneyed.jpgHeartsickd with images when I was first writing the book and made my own for-fun cover.  😛

Writing Music:

Oh yes.  I have a Youtube playlist for Heartsick.  The first song is a long guitar piece that I imagine Shale playing.  😀  The first songs on the list are bubbly and fun, as describes the beginning of my book. I warn you, though, later on, the songs get really serious. I have some Melanie Martinez on there.  She sings about really disturbing things.  However, to get into the mood of some of the stuff one of my characters went through, it really seemed to fit.  I cried more writing this book than anything else I’ve ever written.  To really take people at their darkest and bring them to the Lord is one of my passions.  I have a character – or two – that have truly gone through hell and then some.  ❤

Awesome Moment:Heartsick Quote


Challenge Overcome:

I actually put this book down for two years.  Went and wrote The Hotline Girl, The 12th Girl in Heaven, and Lucent Sylph in the meantime.  Shale just wasn’t fitting as a character.  I first had him as an STP, and people were either repulsed or defending him  Those were not the reactions I wanted.  I wanted a mysterious attraction.  In the time I took off, I rethought him entirely as a character, and brought him back as a real, true handsome-jesse-jesse-mccartney-mccartney-perfect-favim-com-197014INFP.  He makes a lot more sense now, and his character really came to life, helping me to finish the book.  *mwah*  I love you, Shale!

A Fave Review:

From three beta readers:

“You are a GENIUS” – B.J. when she got to the last couple chapters and realized what was going on. 😀

“I just finished reading Heartsick by RJ Conte and will definitely read it again!  I loved reading about the main character, Blessing Spivey.  So many of the struggles and thought processes were similar to ones of my own.  When beginning the book, I admit that I was afraid the main character would be perfect and make me wonder at my many struggles.  Instead, the honesty and realness in the book showed me I was not alone and encouraged me to continue onward in the fight for purity.  This book is open about many struggles of growing into adulthood and fighting to save oneself for marriage.  It is encouraging, and is completely focused on God’s grace and redemption.  I couldn’t stop reading it and enjoyed every second of it.  Every book I have read by RJ is incredible and this one is no different.  I highly recommend it!” – R.H.

“It was inspiring, romantic, funny, and it left me in awe several times. I couldn’t stop reading it! It captured my all my focus and attention from the very first chapter. I stayed up reading it was past midnight a lot, and then I continued thinking about what I had read while I was trying to sleep. It was so well done. I love romance books, but so many of them I never get to finish because they’re very inappropriate and have a curse word every sentence and I don’t want to read that stuff. But this one was PERFECT. It had just the right amount of romance but it was not inappropriate in any way. And it was very realistic. I felt like a part of the story throughout the whole book. I didn’t want it to end! I really loved it. It also made me yearn for the Lord a lot, and that’s a feeling I always love. I love feeling the need to just call out to Him. And having a book make me feel that is amazing. I think it was very well written and thought out and I will definitely be telling others about it. Thank you for letting me read it!” – S.T.

Killed Darlings:

Tessa.jpgNo killed darlings in this book.  Are you shocked?  This is RJ Conte!  😉  Tessa Lyme starts out dead.  Does that count?

She’s Blessing’s doppelganger, and Shale’s ex-girlfriend.  She was Hot on Campus before she took her life.  Blessing’s on a mission to figure out how to help the grieving Shale, but she gets a little in over her head…

A Favorite Book in my Genre:

Definitely Shredded by Kimberly Rae.  A tough read, but an excellent one for any Christian adult.  I adored it.  It was powerful.

Favorite of my Covers:

Hmmmm… I’ve had some fantastic covers, but I think Lucent Sylph is my favorite.  Maybe2D - Copy because I designed this one myself.  I even put the little veins in myself.  My cover artist just did font.  🙂


Wow.  I haven’t done any swag yet.  I need to get on that.  I guess I have an angel wings shirt for Angel-Lover, as well as a Lucent Sylph shirt.  🙂









Where I Write:

Here!  Although this is a pic from when it was first assembled, right after we moved in. it’s much messier than this now with stuff filling all of the cubby holes.  😀


Where I Relax:

See above.  😛

Fave Chapter Ending:

My favorite one would be a spoiler, so I’ll go with choice #2

Blessing closed her eyes, taking a deep, shaky breath. She swallowed, trying to shake off the happiness that choked out her anger. Muscling some negative emotion back in, she forced out a challenge. “Then what if I sit somewhere else? Is there a give and take in this friendship? If I’m worth more, will you follow me once in a while?” She looked up at him.

            “You have a small foot, did you know that?” he replied, completely ignoring her question. He scooted his chair back a little and craned his neck to look down under the table where he had captured her.

            Her blood was pounding in her ears. “Well?” she asked, not wanting to be deterred.

            Shale finally looked up again, voice low and firm. “No. I’ll sit where I want to because I’m not being controlled by a girl again. Never again.”

My Muse:

One of my inspirations would be a spoiler, so I’m keeping that to myself.  But I can’t say I really have “a muse.”  I just love writing when I know I’ll have people who will read it instantly and give me excited feedback.  So thankful for Melanie Snitker and Bethany Jennings who did just that.

A Dedication Page:

I’m dedicating this to all of the homeschooled young woman that will read this book.  All the college-aged young people who grew up like I did, blessedly safe and protected, and who now have to navigate the world.  May God show you the remaining sin in your hearts in quick, painless, and safe ways, so that you can have your happily ever after where He will be glorified.  ❤


God bless, and enjoy Heartsick!



Weird Facts About RJ Conte

Hello friends and readers!

Are you guys getting excited for Heartsick?  I am!  IMG_1227It’s my longest book – at over 80,000 words, and it’s currently getting a cleaning up.  After editing, I hope to have this baby out to you sometime January-February of next year.  I have a love for young people – especially Christian, homeschooled, “worldly-naive” young people.  Because I was one of them!  I hope my heart shows in Heartsick, which is a romantic suspense for 18+.  I love you guys, and your hearts mean a lot to me.  I hope God uses this book in each of your lives.  ❤

I thought, as a little addition, I would put out five interesting facts about the author.  I hope that getting to know me interests you more in my books, and helps us be friends even more.  Please leave any of your own questions in the comments, and I’ll answer them if I can!

  1. I used to play softball and tennis.  I am NOT sporty, and was always a mediocre player in softball, but tennis I truly enjoyed.  I have good memories of softball, however, because I got to be on a team.  I’m 100% extroverted, and just loved the aspect of having a group of girls all rooting for eachother and working together.  🙂  I used that time to evangelize, make friends, and pray for the girls.  It was pretty special, even if I was stuck as an outfielder because my actual playing skills were so-so.  😛
  2. I taught piano for ten years, taking a break when we moved to the pacific northwest in March of 2014.  I’ve recently taken up IMG_0559teaching again as my two daughters begin piano lessons with me.  🙂  Teaching piano kept me sane for the very lonely hours of writing I spent every week as a young adult.  I had to have people time to balance out the alone time.  Piano teaching was a joy, and I never got tired of it.  🙂
  3. I think in full sentences.  This lends itself to writing, of course.  But, also, whenever anyone asks me, “What are you thinking?” I can spew it out in complete paragraphs at a moment’s notice.  I don’t think my brain is actually all that artistically creative.  It’s very black and white and neat and orderly.  Boxes of all sizes and black and white sentences.  At least synesthesia helps bring some color to my brain.  🙂
  4. I respond to almost all of life with deep feels and obsessive thought.

    I even eat COOKIES passionately!

    Very few things don’t matter to me, and I feel strongly about everything (which can be exhausting).  I get attached to people and objects and houses and places and things very easily.  When I was younger, I was in a homeschool biology class where we took… mosquitoes?  They were bigger than mosquitoes, but they had wings… and we attached them, with clear nail polish to a microscope slide.  After class, I asked if I could take mine home.  I called him Dead Fred, carried him with me everywhere


    Me pretending to be a death-loving Goth while researching and writing Angel-Lover (see side bar of this page for url to Amazon)

    and petted him like a pet.  I stroked him so much, his head fell off, and I, still, to this day, in a box at the back of the closet, have a broken slide with a headless bug on it.  Someone should’ve given me a real pet.  Seriously.  It was pathetic.  I met new neighbors, the Hebdens, for the first time by shoving my bug at them and saying, “This is Dead Fred, my pet.”  It’s amazing Jennifer Hebden and I became best friends after that, and that she and her family didn’t run screaming. Yeah, I would NEVER be able to keep a Lucent Sylph alive…

  5. I read a quote about someone “not quite being in love, but having a tender curiosity,” and I would say that is my outlook on the entire world.  I don’t fall in and out of love easily or anything, and I’m IMG_0156happily married, but I feel a loving, tender curiosity for all people – including you reading this now!  Please leave me a comment so I can get to know you.  🙂


I should also have news for you, in a bit, about The Hotline Girl and The 12th Girl in Heaven, both of which were picked up by, the publishing house, and should be out on the market again next spring – with brand, spanking new covers!  Excited to share!

First Chapter of Heartsick

Just because I like to share!  Will you read it when I publish it?  😀


“It’s all about You, Lord … “ Blessing Spivey sang out cheerfully, closing her eyes and lifting her hands, along with about half of the other students in the chapel. She looked over and noticed her new friend Sadie had her eyes closed contentedly as well. The girl chose to sit with her even though it seemed that she knew almost half of the two thousand students who went to John Adams Bible College. Blessing smiled and felt her heart soar a little more. She wasn’t at college to have a social life, but a friend or two definitely wouldn’t hurt. Hitching up her long skirt, she stepped out from her end seat, and slightly into the aisle, to have a bit more room to sway to the music.

The chapel band, “Lovers of God” weren’t disappointing. They weren’t anything spectacular, and their homemade cds weren’t going to sell out at the local Christian bookstore, but they were just what Blessing needed that first evening at college. Their loud guitars and crooning lead tenor seemed to pick up the joy in her heart that had been stifled under a blanket of uncertainty and apprehension.

Back home, in Ensenada, Mexico, they had really worshipped, truly felt the music in their heart of hearts – sometimes the only thing that one could cheer and smile about in a week of eating only cheap beans and rice, and drinking warm, flat Cokes. Blessing missed crying out to the Lord in Spanish, but she found the English words came to her lips quite easily.

Blessing wasn’t paying attention to anyone else in the room, asking God to take her focus off of herself and the other students so that she could settle her heart in His for the day to come. She had just achieved this, her soul feeling satisfied and content, when she looked back at the front of the room.

A tall young man, standing two rows up, turned to the girl at his left and nudged her with his shoulder. The girl, who looked thrilled to be next to the guy, was out of place among most of the students around her. This young lady was definitely pushing the dress code. Her shirt was spaghetti-strapped, and there was very little back to her tank top. Her skirt, which seemed to be at least five inches above her knee – Blessing could see the backs of her thighs above the chairs — was black, torn, and strung with chains. When she turned to mouth something to her neighbor on the other side, Blessing could see a large skull pendant dangling from a chain around her neck. She had painfully big studs in both ears, and her dyed, neon red hair was in pigtails. The two girls sitting next to her also wore clothing that pushed the rules, but they were toned down from Pigtails. Did they have this sort of people at small, strict Christian schools too?

Blessing shifted her gaze to the back of the guy’s head. He certainly seemed comfortable sitting with them, even though he looked nothing like them.

And then he looked back, right as Pigtails whispered something in his ear. He caught Blessing’s eyes. His mouth gaped open and shut like his jaw was broken. His neck muscles worked hard as he swallowed a bunch of times. The light hit his eyes and there was a glint like they could even be tearing up. In an instant, he was up out of his seat without even a word to the girl next to him. Stepping out of his seat and making a beeline for a side exit door, he was gone before the song was through half of the chorus.

What on earth had the scary-looking girl said to him?

Blessing’s happy mood dissolved. She sat down with Sadie at the end of the chorus, her mind abuzz with classes that were to begin the next day, and the students occupying those classes. Nervousness trickled back into her consciousness like a leak that slowly but surely saturates a carpet. She bit her lip and turned to Sadie, desperate to return to her joyful and excited state of mind. “Who’s the punk?” she asked, trying to crack a joke.

Sadie didn’t even need to ask. She barely lifted her head from where she had it stuffed inside her giant purse, finally coming up with a stick of gum. “Randall.”

“Her name’s Randall?” Blessing muttered, surprised. No wonder the poor thing dressed like she did.

Sophie Randall,” Sadie explained. “But only her friends get to call her Sophie. Pretty much she’s known as just Randall around here. The teachers cringe when they see her coming. She’s always trouble. And trouble finds anyone else with a smidgen of rebellion in them. The other two play at rebels sometimes. Everyone wants to strangle them… in the most godly way possible.”

“Why doesn’t she get kicked out?” Blessing asked, chuckling at Sadie’s irony. “If she’s trouble and all,” she quickly added.

Sadie looked at Blessing with a kind, but bemused look. “You’ll have to tell me where you transferred from, you alien. This is college. You have to be put on academic probation or really do something wrong. It takes a lot to be ‘kicked out.’ And Randall’s a decent student. She just thinks differently and likes to show it. She enjoys pushing buttons. She’s still a Christian.” Sadie shrugged, “I think.”

“Oh, I didn’t doubt that she was or anything,” Blessing reassured, confused, and a little embarrassed about needing basic college mandates explained to her. “I’m an MK. Transferred from an online college. Grew up in Mexico.”

Sadie looked puzzled.

“Missionary kid.”

“Ahhh! MK! Of course! I have too many high-falutin’ things I’m storing up in this baby!” Sadie pointed to her head, with an apologetic smile. “That’s wonderful! I envy you!”

“So this is all a bit confusing!” Blessing explained, tapping herself with a fist to the forehead as well.

“Oh, don’t worry! You’ll get the hang of it! You’re smart. I can tell! And don’t mind me. I’m so corny I’m full of corn.” Sadie beamed.

“No way.” Blessing laughed, patting her friend on the shoulder.

The girls smiled and then Blessing realized that chapel was over as the music suddenly ended. She led the way out of the pew and almost ran into a girl coming out of the row across the aisle from her.

The girl came to a dead halt and leaned over her shoulder to her friend behind her. She meant for her voice to be soft, but failed miserably. “Whoa, doesn’t she look like Tessa?”

The friend’s eyes bugged out a little as she stared unbecomingly at Blessing. “Yeah!” she agreed. Giving Blessing one last look over, they continued on, whispering to each other with serious expressions.

Blessing smiled at them politely and continued in the single file line of young people shuffling along towards the door. She was about to jump ahead to ask Sadie another question, when a guy forcefully stepped in front of her and clapped a hand on her shoulder.

“Holy c…” he muttered, his words disappearing before they left his mouth. His pupils were huge.

Blessing rapidly and automatically moved out from under his hand, which went limp and dropped to his side.

The guy gulped and shook his head, shutting his eyes for a split second before opening them even wider than before. He lifted both eyebrows. He wasn’t bad looking. Blessing sized him up in an instant without realizing it. Did she look that funny? She had a feeling she shouldn’t have worn the multi-colored skirt her first day.

No, there had to be a different explanation than her skirt. Was this the new way guys hit on girls – acted shocked and then played a corny line? Like, “I’m sorry, but did you just fall from heaven?” How stupid.

Blessing rolled her eyes. “Excuse me?” she tried, hoping to prod the good-looking guy out of his stupor, as well as edge her way around him so she could leave.

Two other guys stopped behind him and stared at her as well. “What’s your name?” one of the new guys asked, his mouth hanging open a little askew.

“Blessing Spivey,” she answered immediately, kicking herself. One just didn’t give their name to the opposite sex in a first conversation back in Mexico.  Was this the way Americans did things? And why tell these overly friendly guys her full name? This was going to be an embarrassing pick-up scene, wasn’t it?

The sounds that formed her name seemed to leap through the air and slap them out of their stupor. They instantly relaxed, although the confused look never fully left their faces.

The guy who had asked the question gave a friendly grin. “Blessing? That’s really your name?”

Blessing nodded quickly, used to the patronizing smile she often got when introducing herself to Americans. She tried to move away.

“Cute,” the third guy said.

The two most recent additions grabbed the first guy’s shoulder and half pulled him away from her, opening up a path for her to escape. “Sorry, Blessing,” the most talkative guy said as they turned and walked off. “You look like someone we used to know.”

Caramba! Blessing thought in Spanish. Wbat on earth? That was what this was about?

She realized Sadie was long gone. She could just see her head bobbing out the door. She pushed forward to reach her and fell in step with her by the time they hit the pavement. “Sadie!” she cried, breathless. “Who’s Tessa?”

Sadie spun to look at Blessing, her nose wrinkling, eyes squinting. She put a hand on her arm. “You might want to come with me.”

There was an ominous feeling that bounced off of Sadie and into Blessing’s brain – intrigue and dread. Something dark. Blessing couldn’t put her finger on it. Gaping-Mouth-Guy’s face came back to her. The look that had transformed his face seemed to be trauma and shock dipped in pain. The girls, as well, sported hard expressions when they looked at her. Then there was the handsome blond guy. Maybe he left because his eyes had met hers. Maybe it had nothing to do with Punk Girl. Were all of these things connected? Could she really be the doppelganger to this “Tessa” the girls had mentioned? Could that be who the guys were referring to when they had lamely excused their borderline rudeness with a backward glance and one sentence of explanation? Or did Blessing just have one of those familiar faces?

Yeah, didn’t think so. Strange guys, who weren’t flirting, didn’t stop in the middle of the aisle and look as if their guts were panicking inside of them if she only had an everybody’s-cousin sort of face.

Sadie found an out of the way table outside of the campus café. No one was within fifteen feet of them as they lowered themselves into the wrought iron chairs. Sadie dropped the duffel-bag-like purse she carried into an empty chair and then turned to Blessing. She was about to open her mouth, when she closed it again, cocking her head and biting her lip as she examined Blessing’s face with her eyes. “Oh tartar sauce! You kinda look like her.” She gasped and put her hand over her mouth. Clearing her throat, Sadie then composed herself and interlaced her hands. “Yeah, wow. Did you hear her name because someone told you that you looked like her?”

Claro,” Blessing murmured in Spanish before catching herself and translating. “Bingo.” She leaned back in her uncomfortable, cold seat.

“Yeah… Man. Wow. Sorry about that. That’s no fun. Too bad you can’t do something drastic to change that, like cornhusk your hair or something,” was Sadie’s apologetic reply.

Rather than try to figure out what “cornhusk” was even supposed to mean, Blessing thought about what Sadie was implying. It’s a bad thing to look like Tessa? Her stomach got queasy. Ay de mi!

“Yeah, see…” Sadie seemed to struggle with her words. She lowered her voice to a hushed murmur. Rubbing her eyes with her hands wearily before looking up with a sad expression, her words came out like a funeral home director speaking to a bereaved child. “…See, Tessa… Tessa Lyme was her name. She was a junior last year. She died just this last spring.” Sadie bit her lip. “It was suicide. See… It was so sad… She… she filled her stomach with sleeping pills and drove her car off Highway 1.”