The teenager was watching. She didn’t have to. It wasn’t a requirement. At first, it was merely curiosity, but then she was unable to turn away, like watching a devastating train wreck as it took place. It was painful to experience other people’s pain, but she couldn’t quit watching individual after individual approach the end of the line … for one final conversation.
She had been standing within the gathered, sorrow-filled crowd of spectators, listening for what must have been hours, possibly days. Years, even. Person after person moved forward, listening to decision after decision, resulting in horror-filled expression after horror-filled expression. The line of the accused stretched back much further than could be seen, each individual awaiting his and her turn to hear about his and her failure to make one simple, important decision.
Then she saw her; her best friend. She was in the line, tears running down her face, fidgeting in place, anticipating her next couple of steps forward to stand and wait some more.
Making her way—pressing to the edge of the gallery of spectators—the teen called out to her friend, hoping to gain her attention. “Lauren!”
There were many in the line who responded to the call of the name. Many Laurens would eventually reach the head of the line. Many Sandys and Brittanys and Carols. Many Brents and Brandons and Marks. Many Sashas and Mishas and Sujas. Many Ahmeds and Ivans and Ye-juns. Every single ethnicity and culture. Every single religion and occupation was represented.
Another call out. “Lauren Capshaw!” This time her friend’s eyes found her own.
And just that quickly, Ashlee ran out of things to say. She stood with a muted stare, tears forming in her own eyes.
“Ashlee?” the non-specific question came again.
“I… I…” Words wouldn’t come. How could she communicate with such sorrow the tragedy she was witnessing?
“Ashlee,” came the name again. “Why… Why are you there?”
“It’s different…” Ashlee couldn’t continue.
“What? Why? Why aren’t you in line?”
“It’s different … for …” She stopped dead, again.
“It’s different how, Ashlee? Tell me!”
There was a combination of frustration and terror in Lauren’s voice.
Fear and self-loathing gripped Ashlee’s heart and mind. This whole thing might have been avoided if… If only…
“I’m … different.”
“You? You’re one?”
Ashlee’s head dropped. Her eyes closed. The first convulsion of sorrow forced its way through her chest.
“You’re a Christian?! YOU?!”
Without lifting her eyes, Ashlee slowly nodded.
“Wait … You knew about this? You knew this was coming?”
Ashlee lifted her head and looked at her friend. The line advanced a few more steps. Lauren now had to slightly turn back to keep eye contact.
“I was…” Ashlee broke down, unable to finish her sentence.
Anger flared within Lauren. “You were what?! Uncaring? Unloving? A fake friend?!”
“I was … scared.”
Lauren’s mouth dropped open. She just stared.
“I thought you’d laugh at my faith. I thought I’d lose your friendship.”
“And this… ? This is better? How? How is this better?!”
Ashlee couldn’t respond. There was no good answer.
“Tell me, Ashlee! Tell me how this is better!”
“I… It’s… It’s not better. It’s not! This is horrible!”
“No, Ashlee! No! This isn’t horrible; this is HELL! Do you understand? I heard someone call this the Great White Throne Judgment! Judgment Day! I didn’t know Jesus! I died without him! How could you… ? How could you not tell me? I loved you! We were friends! Even if I had been your worst enemy… How could you?!”
With barely a whisper she answered, “I was scared.”