WHAT IF GRACE…?

by

SANDEFUR

Disclaimer: This is fan fiction just for fun. I have no claims.

X-X-X-X-X

"What am I to do with you, Miss Polk?" Principal Chadwick asks.

"Suspend me?"

"Oh, you'd like that, wouldn't you?"

"I'd love it. The sooner I can put this monument to hypocrisy behind me, the better."

"Grace, you say that, and to some extent I believe you mean it, but you are too smart to pretend a high school education isn't important."

"I'm not smart."

"Your I. Q. tests say otherwise, not to mention your consistent high grades on classroom tests. Why do you bother showing up for the tests while skipping nearly all of the classes?"

"I take the tests to prove I can do the work, that this isn't about the classes being too hard. I skip the classes to protest this joke of an education. Do you know my Asian History textbook begins with Marco Polo? It's like Asia didn't matter until some white guy showed up to validate its' existence."

"I am familiar with that textbook, and the Marco Polo story is found only in the Foreword as a way to hook the interest of students raised in a western culture. If you look further into the book you will see it starts in the stone age and goes through to modern times. There are few mentions of contacts with Europeans."

"I read it. I passed the first test didn't I? In fact, I've passed all of my tests since school began. So why all of the fuss? I know the material – flawed though it may be."

"Grace, your education is about more than taking tests. Classroom involvement provides a fuller learning experience. I have tried to be lenient with you, tried to accommodate your radical politics and disruptive ways because I believe you have a lot of potential. But, state standards will soon take this matter out of my hands. If your absenteeism, tardiness and class skipping continues, I'll have no choice but to suspend you."

Grace smiles. "Good."

"Three suspensions during a school year means expulsion."

"My ultimate goal. Either you'll kick me out, or I'll quit when I turn sixteen in March."

"You'll have to endure a lot of detentions to reach your 'ultimate goal'. Are you so fond of detention with Mr. Price?"

"Gavin? Helluva nice guy. That's why he's soo popular with the student body." Grace replies, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

Chadwick sighs. "I'll have to call in your father for another discipline conference."

Grace shrugs.

"Or…perhaps it should be your mother this time?"

Grace tries not to show it, but there is a crack in her facade of indifference. Chadwick notices and recalls that although he has met Rabbi Polonsky several times, he has never seen Mrs. Polonsky…

"Yes, I definitely think we should bring your mother into this matter."

"No!"

"Why not, Grace?"

Grace tries hard to hide her panic. The thought of her drunk everyday mother showing up at school is her worse nightmare. "Uh, my Mom is sick. She's much too ill to be making a trip to the school."

"I'm sorry to hear that, Grace. I could of course come to your home…"

"Leave my Mom alone!"

"Alright Grace, there's no need to bother her…as long as your attendance improves."

Grace grits her teeth, angry that she has revealed a weakness. "Fine. I'll go to class. Can I leave now?"

"Yes Miss Polk, and have a good evening."

Grace hastily exits, accidentally bumping into the attendance lady… "Sorry, Mrs. Girardi."

"That's okay, Grace. How are you doing?"

"Dealing with the usual high school crap." Grace mutters as she rushes out of the office.

Grace didn't mean to be rude to Mrs. Girardi, one of the few people she likes at this school, but she has to get out of here! There are times when it feels like the walls of the school are closing in on her, and this is one of those times. Grace runs outside and is glad to see there are only a handful of students still lingering about this late in the afternoon. She takes a few deep breaths of air and begins to calm down. Grace spots her only friend…

"Rove, you waited?"

"Hey Grace…" Adam mumbles, his attention not straying from his sketchbook.

"It's so late."

"It is?"

Grace shows Adam her watch – he doesn't wear one of his own.

"Oh. Yeah, I guess I better head home before Dad starts to worry. Are we going to study for Chem tonight?"

Grace sighs. Of all of her classes, AP Chem has been the toughest, mostly due to her missing nearly all of the lab experiments. "Yeah, I suppose. Chadwick read me the riot act, and I'll have to at least make a partial show at effort until the heat is off. So, tonight at eight in your shed?"

"Cool. Too bad we don't have a third partner like the other groups to share the load."

(Due to the class size, one of the study groups has to be short by one member.)

Grace snorts, "Who would want to team up with sub-defectives?"

A sly grin crosses Adam's face. "I can think of one guy…"

"Don't say it."

"Luke Girardi. You know he has a crush on you."

"That's crap." Grace automatically says but with doubt in her voice. Ever since school began three weeks ago, the blond newcomer has been smiling, blushing and making lame attempts at flirting with her. This is a new experience for Grace, and her usual level of hostility has had no effect on the clueless Girardi boy.

Adam continues, "Luke is the smartest guy in class. If you were willing to…"

"To do what?" Grace asks with an edge to her voice.

Adam hesitates before replying, "We could really use his help, Grace. I'm sure Luke would jump at the chance to be in our study group if you'd just be…nice."

"NICE? Have you met me? Rove, I will never, ever flirt my way to any goal. Understand?"

"Cha. Grace you wouldn't have to… I mean, all you would have to do is pretend to have a little interest in him."

"Lead-him-on?"

Adam realizes what he is suggesting and blushes. "Sorry. You're right, that would be cruel. Sorry…"

Adam walks away looking dejected. Grace calls after him… "Tonight at eight, okay?"

Adam looks over his shoulder and nods. He moves on, lost in his own thoughts. Grace watches her friend walk away and worries about how he is doing. It has been nearly two years since Adam's mother committed suicide, but he still has more bad days than good. Grace sighs and begins the long walk home, which she prefers to taking the bus. The longer she can put off tonight's usual family melodrama the better.

As Grace cuts through the park across from the high school, she spots a weirdo sitting on a park bench. There are a handful of Goths at Arcadia High, but Grace doesn't recognize this one. Grace ignores him as she walks by, but the weird guy stands and starts to walk along with her…

"I'd like to talk with you."

"Get lost."

"It's important we speak, Grace."

He knows her name? Well, she isn't exactly inconspicuous at school. "Beat it, jerk. I'm not interested."

"How do you know until you hear what I have to say?"

"Look, whatever line you're thinking of using on me, forget it. In case you're blind, I'm not into guys, and even if I were to make an exception, it wouldn't be for a weirdo like you."

Grace walks faster and is relieved the Goth Kid stops, but he confidently calls out to her, "You're not gay, Grace."

Grace keeps going but winces at his words. Of course she isn't gay, just as Adam isn't a stoner, but they choose to let the world make their assumptions in order to keep others at arm's length. The fact is, the very thought of letting any guy get close to her causes Grace to panic. Not that any guy has ever tried to get close, except for Luke Girardi, who apparently is too dim to pick up on Grace's general vibe. For a moment Grace thinks about Luke and concedes that for a geek he is kinda cute… No! What is she thinking?

"You are attracted to him, Grace."

Grace snaps out of her reverie. There on the bus bench in front of her is the same Goth Kid, but how…? She left him two blocks back and at her pace, the only way he could have got ahead of her is if he ran right by her. She couldn't have missed that, besides, he isn't breathing hard.

"What the hell do you want with me?" Grace demands as she slowly backs away. It is still daylight and there are people about, but she is taking no chances. Casually she removes the biker's wallet from her back pocket. It is weighted down with rolls of pennies, and by swinging it with the attached chain, Grace can deliver a devastating blow.

"There is nothing of hell about our meeting, and there is no need to defend yourself, Grace. I would never harm you."

"How do you know me?"

"I've known you all of your life. I knew you before you were born."

"Bull. First, you're not old enough and second, there's no way I'd ever miss seeing someone who looks like you. Are you on drugs? Insane? What do you want?"

"There is a task I want you to perform for me, Grace."

"And why would I do anything for you?"

"Because, I'm God."

Grace snorts derisively. "Like I thought, a nutjob."

Grace starts to walk away but Goth Kid God calls after her, "Five years ago when your father reclaimed the Polonsky family name, you chose to stick with Polk. You did that because your grandfather asked you to."

Grace turns on her heel and stares at the odd stranger. "Yeah, that's right, but that isn't too hard to guess at. My Grandpa and his cousins were all teenagers when they fled Poland one step ahead of the Nazis. When they arrived in America they were naturally freaked out about anti-Semitism and didn't know if it would arise here. Most of the family, including Grandpa, changed their names to Polk and tried to hide their roots. Later, when they realized they were safe, they resumed being openly Jewish but kept 'Polk' because many already had children bearing that name." (*from my story, SAINT PATRICK'S DAY)

"But then your father married his distant cousin, who was born a Polonsky. When he became rabbi at the temple, he fulfilled his promise to Sarah and returned to the original family name."

"Uh...yeah, which caused a rift between Dad and Grandpa. All of this you could have learned through internet searches and by listening to gossip at the Temple. It doesn't mean you're God, you freak!"

Goth Kid God smiles and responds, "Last year to celebrate Adam's birthday, you climbed Mount Nashman together. At the top of the mountain you allowed Adam to sketch you topless." (*my story, MT. NASHMAN)

Grace blushes. "How...? Rove swore...!"

"Grace, you know Adam would never betray your trust."

Grace hesitates, acknowledging this is true. She begins to wonder... "Okay, one more time - an event from my past. If you're really God, you know what I mean."

A look of great sadness crosses Goth Kid's face. "Begining when you were four, continuing for over a year, you were molested..." (*my story, THREE TWELVE)

Grace slaps Goth Kid's face as hard as she can. "Damn you! Damn you. What kind of a God let's an innocent child go through that? Damn you..."

Grace's voice fades away as she drops to her knees sobbing. Goth Kid gently helps Grace up to the bench, holding her in his arms until she has cried herself dry...

"Grace, I am so sorry for what you went through. I gave humanity the gift of free will, but sadly many abuse that gift by doing unspeakable things."

Grace reaches into her pocket and removes a wad of paper napkins. She wipes her eyes and blows her nose...

"So that's it? People suffer and you do nothing? Is old man Knopf at least burning in hell?"

"He died unrepentant of his sins, so yes. But Grace, I don't stand idly by. I eagerly await prayers of faith so I may help people by my power and by the actions of my chosen instruments."

"Instruments? Like...God's agents?"

"In a sense."

"Then why didn't you send one of those 'instruments' to help me?"

"You were thought to be safe, so no one was praying for you. Also, those who serve as my instruments are surprisingly few and far between. I call on many, but it is rare to find someone with the faith and courage to act...Grace."

"Me? You want me to serve 'You' after you let me down?"

"Think of it as an opportunity to save an innocent in danger."

A war of conflicting emotions crosses Grace's face. She sighs. "You're a real piece of work. What do I do?"

X-X-X-X-X

Grace stands in front of Skylight Books, confirming her assignment - 'Help Wanted'. After leaving God, Grace immediately travelled to this location while dismissing the various doubts occuring to her. It would be so easy to put this off, to reconsider, but Grace has a decisive, act now personality. Besides, Grace has always believed in a God who was too weird to understand. The Goth version actually makes sense to her, even though the last thing he mentioned was that he would not always look the same.

Grace enters. A fan of bookstores, Grace has been here before, but this store is too upscale with too little in the way of radical literature for her tastes. She sees the owner is behind the counter handling a line of customers waiting to check out. Nearby there are open boxes of books waiting to be shelved. No kidding about needing help.

While waiting for the owner, Sammy, to be less busy, Grace wanders over to the magazine section. She spots the copies of that day's Arcadia Herald and begins reading the headline story. The murdered body of an 18 year old girl was found during the night. The victim, Abigail Dorsette, was brutally beaten and raped before being killed. The police were revealing few details. Grace ponders this report. Murder is rare in Arcadia, and the killing of a teenage girl is almost unheard of. Goth Kid revealed a great evil had entered the city. It is too late to help this girl, but could he have meant by saving an innocent...

"Can I help you?"

Grace looks up and sees there are no more customers in line. "I'm here for the job."

"Really..." Sammy says as he looks Grace up and down, taking in her leather jacket, faded jeans and defiant attitude. "Have you any experience working in a bookstore?"

"This would be my first job, but how hard can it be? Stock shelves, clean up, run a register - hardly takes an Einstein."

"You also have to be able to answer customer's questions. For instance, if someone asked you to name all four books of the Alexandria Quartet, could you?"

"Has anyone ever asked you that?"

"Well...no, but the point is you have to be well versed in literature to be of use, and you obviously aren't. Besides, you hardly fit the image of this store."

Grace bristles at being judged on her appearance. "Oh, 'I' don't? Have you looked in a mirror lately? You run a bookstore geared to the upper middle class, but you dress like a college freshman. Have you updated your wardrobe in the last twenty years?"

Sammy frowns at Grace's response, which confirms his opinion of her. "Get out. I wouldn't give you this job if you were the last smart-mouthed teenager on earth."

Angry, Grace storms to the door and just as she is leaving she hurls back, "By the way, jerk, the four books of the Alexandria Quartet are: Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive and Clea."

Grace exits, slamming the door behind her while muttering under her breath a string of foul words to describe the bookstore owner. But...what does she do now? She has blown her assignment and now some innocent person will suffer for her failure. Grace spots a restaurant across the street and heads that way, noting that the sun is setting. Once inside the restaurant, Grace takes a booth near the front and glares at the bookstore across the street...

"Coffee, hon?"

Grace looks up and nods to the African-American waitress. She pours a cup of coffee and lingers...

"You didn't get the job."

Grace looks back at the waitress, shocked but instantly getting the idea.

"I told you I would look different the next time we met, Grace." Waitress God says with a smile.

"I blew it! That Sammy guy will never hire me now."

"For future reference, aggression is rarely the best way to achieve a goal."

"So does this mean an innocent person will suffer because I failed? Is there nothing I can do?"

"You have good instincts, Grace. What do you think is going on here?"

Grace looks again at the bookstore. "You sent me to get a job there. A part time, minimum wage bookstore job would attract mostly high school girls... Hey, is that Sammy guy some sort of axe murderer?"

"Be objective, Grace." Waitress God says as she walks away giving a backhanded wave.

Grace barely notices as she focuses on the possibilities. The Sammy guy is ultra annoying, but he doesn't seem dangerous. On the other hand, Grace can easily imagine a string of upset, failed applicants storming out of the store. If someone was looking for a supply of vulnerable girls... Hey wait, isn't that Lindsay Mitchell? She's a junior at A.H.S., and she looks outraged - like she just got the 'Sammy treatment'. An instinctive chill runs down Grace's spine and she races out of the restaurant.

By the time Grace reaches the street, she can see a man in his thirties has joined Lindsay. He gestures toward the bookstore and whatever he says causes Lindsay to laugh her agreement. Grace carefully begins to approach the pair while the stranger continues to charm the teenage girl. He asks Lindsay a question that causes her to hesitate before nodding. The pair begin walking down the sidewalk while Grace quietly comes nearer. The creepy guy opens the door to a crappy car, obviously inviting Lindsay to join him, which she is apparently about to do. Grace realizes she can wait no longer...

"Oh my God!" Lindsay screeches as the man beside her suddenly collapses, a small trickle of blood coming from the back of his head. Lindsay turns... "Grace Polk? Have you lost your mind?"

"Me? Hey, are you the crazy one? Getting into a car with a strange man? I knew better than that when I was six!" Grace responds as she returns the weighted biker's wallet to her back pocket.

Lindsay blushes a little as she mentally agrees she has been foolish. But... "I just got rejected for a job by this incredible jerk named Sammy. I was so upset when I stormed out of the bookstore, I literally bumped into this man, Mr. Smith. When I apologized and explained, he was very sympathetic. It turns out he is a partner in the Apex Bookstore and knows 'Sammy' as a competitor. He calmed me down by telling a couple of funny stories about that pompous little jerk. Mr. Smith said there was an opening at his store, but I would have to get in an application right away before his partner hired someone else. He...offered to drive me to his store. I know I shouldn't take a ride with a stranger, but he seemed so nice. Is he okay?"

Kneeling beside the man Grace replies, "His breathing is regular and he's only bleeding a little. Yeah, he's just knocked out."

"You are going to be in so much trouble over this." Lindsay says, feeling a little guilty. She only knows this sophomore by reputation, but apparently Grace acted out of concern for her safety.

"Maybe." Grace says as she searches the man's pockets and finds a ring of keys. "Let's see what kind of a bookstore owner your Mr. Smith really is."

Grace opens the trunk of the crappy car and begins to search. It doesn't take her long to find a bloody paper bag hidden under the spare tire. Grace empties out the contents - panties, at least a dozen of them, most of them torn. Grace and Lindsay both shudder as they imagine how this man, this monster, acquired these 'trophies'.

As a police car comes to a halt next to them, Lindsay Mitchell realizes how close she came to being another victim. She quietly gasps, "Oh God..."

To Be Continued. Please Review.