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Patio Girl

September 9, 2018

She wasn't anything I could imagine and nothing I could even begin to fathom.

Her perfume smelt like a morning filled with baking cookies, making the kitchen a mess but making memories that outlasted the stains on the counter.

Sunday morning, I saw her. She was propped against the patio of my church. A yellow and green book was open across her lap and a large sunhat shaded her entire face. Flipping the page every once and a while, she seemed to exist in a different plane of reality—she ignored every single passing person from the steady flow as the service ended. Her book must've grabbed her and pulled her into a different timeline, one where she could ignore the rude stares and the dirty whispers behind her back. 

I never once saw her inside the church. I, on the other hand, was there every Sunday from sunrise to noon. 

Past its cramped little patio, which was full of tables and chairs (both of which the girl declined to use), up the three steps leading into a small hallway, and then finally, after passing the community bulletin board and your great-aunt May, you were in the sanctuary. 

Now, I'm not really a religious person, but if there was a God, somewhere up there, this sanctuary was proof of it. 

Light streamed in through the beautiful stained glass, casting colorful shadows all over the room. The room was small, with only two rows of ten pews. The pews were old, they had grooves from people sitting in them for thousands of years, as well as from rebellious teenagers carving their names in the old wood. A narrow pathway led from the end of the hallway to the preacher's podium at the front of the room. You could usually find Nessa there, in full preacher garb, hands speeding through the air as she felt God's blessing rain down from the heavens and move through herself to her audience. 

She used to be the reason I came every Sunday, to watch the human embodiment of Up Above shine her sunlight on all of us. But these days, I came more for The Girl Who Sat on the Patio. 

She was startling. I once caught her laying on her back in the grass in front of the church, eyes up. Her hair was perfectly placed in the grass, giving her a heavenly halo. Besides her head was her sun hat, not doing much to protect her pale exterior from the raging sphere of fire shining down on her. The green and yellow book was nowhere to be found—she must've finished it. 

People shook their heads as they pounded the pavement to get to the church parking lot before the crowd. The boys pointed at her and laughed and kicked the dirt towards her and, even through all this harassment, The Girl laid still, eyes on the sky. 

She was mystical. 

A miracle. Not a Miracle, though. Not yet. 

On the sixth week, I saw her on the patio. I stopped to talk to her. 

The sun had just broken through the trees and streams of light captured the small moments in the early, still morning. It highlighted the flowers lining the path to the patio, the small saplings swaying in the cool breeze, the mailbox covered in flaking paint. The highlights of our little church. 

The sun also shined down on The Girl, but her hat blocked it, creating a circular shadow of darkness that surrounded her. As soon as I stepped into that circle, the world of happy sunrises melted and the hair on the back of my neck stood tall. 

"Have you ever been inside?" I asked politely, curiously. 

I shifted my weight to my other foot while awaiting her response. She flipped a page. 

"Miss?" I asked again, then slowly I extended my hand into the dark circle, towards her shoulder, but before I could touch her the world stopped. 

She had grabbed my wrist. 

I exhaled a breath I didn't know I was holding in. 

"Yes, I have," a small voice below the hat answered. 

"Then why... why do you choose to sit out here?" I could feel something building up inside of me, shivering up my spine to my heart. 

She turned and looked up at me, her face no longer hidden behind her hat. 

The Girl on the Patio stared at me for a second, eyes flicking between my eyes, then my nose, then my lips, and all the way down until they were finally resting on the Bible in my hand. 

"You're why." 

The Two Words the Patio Girl Spoke to Me stuck with me for weeks. It played on a loop in my head every waking hour of the day, and I heard her voice every night in my dreams. Why was I prohibiting her from entering the beautiful church I called home? Why was I some kind of threat to her gaining this beautiful experience that I cherished so deeply? Why was I in the way? These thoughts tumbled around my brain for several more weeks. 

Every Sunday when I walked up the stairs and crossed the patio and stepped past the threshold, I no longer made eye contact with her. I no longer studied her movements, no longer wondered what was under her hat. I became disinterested. 

Her magnetic pull that had once grabbed me and yanked me out of the stream of normalcy seemed to gently throw me back into it again, head first, narrowly missing a protruding boulder. 

I slowly righted myself and balanced out. I started to swim with the current, not against it like she had pulled me. I started flowing in and out of the crowds as normal, before she showed up on the patio. On our patio. 

Must've been late in January when she disappeared. I didn't notice until months later. 

After moving away from my river community, years later, I thought of the Patio Girl again. Of how she grabbed me, why I was so affected, and how I'd so quickly been unaffected. 

It was only then that I missed her, wishing I had something I could question once again. 

She wasn't anything I could imagine and nothing I could even begin to fathom. 

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