Have you voted yet?

I personally hand-delivered my mail-in-ballot the other day. In a state that is deadlocked, one vote could literally determine the course of the nation, and I wasn't going to let my vote get lost in the mail.

How about you?  If you've read earlier posts, you'll know that I feel strongly about being an informed voter.  Don't believe things just because someone you respect tells you. A number of people I dearly love and respect, otherwise thoughtful, intelligent people, have told me that the president is a Muslim, for example.  He isn't.  Here are short videos showing him speak of his faith.  If you aren't sure, take 15 minutes and watch the videos. Even if you're going to vote the other way, know the truth just because truth is precious, and hard to come by in this election season.  

In this he talks about the crucifixion and what it means to him.

Here's another where he gives the gospel of salvation.

Here's another--this one might be even better because he talks about what he prays about daily, for himself and for this country.

Last Easter

And here's an interview he gave just a couple months ago.

My point? If you're a conservative voter, you still have lots of reasons to vote for Romney instead of Obama. But vote based on fact and not on false witness.  

And while you're at it, take a little time at a site like www.factcheck.org. Surf through their checks on the seemingly thousands of ads you've probably seen by now. You'll be surprised how little of the stuff these people pay good money to push at you is true.

One vote could decide the course of the country—even the world.  If you're still planning to vote, make it an informed vote. And if you don't have time to check things out, do us all a favor and stay home. Voting for the sake of voting is pointless and possibly even harmful.

I just wanted a burger. Was that too much to ask?

Apparently, it was, to someone—the owner of the voice that came out of the speaker at the drive-through at Mickey Dee's.

I'm not referring to the franchise with the clown, though this drive-through was in fact one of their former 50's retro outlets. You know the ones with the golden arches on either side of the building? Mickey, the owner of Mickey Dee's, had them painted brown and intersected with spokes, transformed into wagon wheels. A corrugated tin farm shelter arched over the angled roof, covered with white plaster. It was supposed to make the building look like a covered wagon. It looked like a corrugated tin farm shelter on top of a building. The plastic clown statue had been removed, but Mickey had kept the Hamburglar, repainting him to look like a cowboy. A really creepy masked cowboy whose arms spread his cape out like a flasher. The original zebra stripes of his tunic had begun to leech through the weathered brown paint. It was like visiting a weird Halloween exhibit all year round.

The voice coming out of the speaker was so mangled I couldn't even be sure whether it was male or female. "Jusay glurp? Gwan tries widdat?"

"Just a burger. Bur. Ger. Meat. Buns. Maybe a pickle." I was shouting now. The guy in the car behind me tooted his horn.


"PICKLE!" I sucked in a deep breath. "Never mind. I'll come inside and order."

There was a pop, and suddenly the voice was clear. "That'll be seventeen dollars and fifty cents. Drive up, please."

"No! Don't place that order!" I screamed into the mic.

"Shakes will be extra."

"No! Stop!"

"Twenty-six ninety-five."

I resisted the impulse to scream for fear I'd end up doubling the order, and put my car in gear. I zoomed up to the window and waited impatiently while the cashier flirted with a guy who was dressed like a cowboy. He had a brass tag on his chest shaped like a star. I guess that meant he was the "sheriff"—that's what Mickey called his store managers. For some unknown reason, Mickey likes his staff to wear half-masks, so while they both looked familiar, I wasn't sure I knew them. After a couple minutes ticked by, I rapped on the glass. The girl turned and shot me a glare that said she didn't like me interrupting her love life. I glared back and rapped again.

The manager said something and walked away, and the girl took her sweet time sauntering to the window. She slid it open with a jerk. "Wadja want?" Her gum snapped as she spoke. Appetizing.

"I want to cancel the order."

She smirked. "You can't. It's waiting for you at the next window."

Already? "I don't care. You got it wrong. All I want is a hamburger."

"Then you shouldn't have ordered all the other stuff." She glanced over her shoulder and saw the sheriff ogling her and flicked her honey-blonde ponytail. He grinned and even with the half mask, I could tell he winked. She was the kind of girl that made girls like me feel like we're just old gum stuck to the bottom of a guy's shoe.

"I didn't order all the other stuff!" The words came out through clenched teeth. "I ordered a hamburger. One. Hamburger. There must be something wrong with your speaker system."

Just then the radio by the cash register crackled, and a guy's voice came through. "I'd like a meatloaf sandwich—hold the gravy, lots of ketchup."

Clear as day.

I narrowed my eyes at her. If she heard me that clearly then she had to be messing with me. Like pieces of a puzzle coming together, my mind filled in the parts of her face hidden by the mask. She was in my science class, but couldn't imagine why she'd want to prank me.

Then I recognized the sheriff—yeah, that was Alec, my lab partner. Aha.

Alec and I enjoyed a kind of nerdy camaraderie over dissected fetal piglets. He called me GG—for Geeky Grace. I wasn't fool enough to think he saw me as anything more than a way to ace the class, but I still looked forward to science lab.

"That's twenty-six ninety-five." The girl's name was Yolanda Something. Alec called her Landa. Her lively china-blue eyes sparkled with malicious glee.

I gave Landa my best evil eye. "I'm not paying for anything but a hamburger. One. In fact, cancel that, too." Judging by her attitude, it would be seasoned in ways I didn't want to think about.

Her jaw set. "You ordered it—you pay for it. We don't throw food out just because you changed your mind."

Forget this. "Tell Alec I want to talk to him. Mickey too, if he's around."

Landa's eyes rounded. Guess she hadn't thought that far ahead. Landa was a beauty, but it looked like there were only moths in the attic. Probably why Alec had chosen me as his lab partner instead of her. He might like the way that lame cowgirl outfit clung in all the right places, but when brains counted, he liked me better. Score one for Geeky Grace.

She slid another glance over her shoulder, then leaned out the window. Her face was pale now. "I'm sorry. It was just a stupid joke."

She sounded sincere, but I wasn't buying it. "What is waiting for me at the next window?"

She flushed. "Um… Six orders of Mickey's pulled pork. And… uh… six large fries."

I winced. "That's some joke, there, Landa." Mickey's "specialty" pulled pork was known all over town as so bad even dogs wouldn't touch it. And his fries—let's just say they were nothing like McDonalds' perfectly crispy little treats. Nothing like potatoes, really. I had a theory they were plaster crumbled off the tin shelter upstairs.

"Please…" Landa's pretty, pouty lips trembled, and I was pretty sure those were real tears in her eyes. "If Mickey finds out I screwed up another order, he'll fire me." This was either a pretty good act, or she was really scared. "I’m begging you, Grace—just pay for the order. I'll pay you back tomorrow, and I'll make it up to you. I promise. I can't lose this job!"

Against my will I was starting to feel sorry for her. "If you're playing me, I swear, I'll come back down and tell Mickey—"

"Tell Mickey what?" Alec had sauntered up to the window just in time to hear. Landa gave a little squeak and straightened sharply, banging her head on the window frame. Alec put a gentle hand on the back of her head. "Careful! You OK?" Without giving her time to answer, he turned to me and said, "Hey, GG!" He shot me his trademark casual, lopsided smile. The one that always makes me feel a little too warm in science class.

"Fine—I'm… fine." She shot me a pleading look and mouthed the word, "please."

I had a feeling I was going to regret this, but I grinned at Alec. "I was going to tell Mickey how much I like his fries." I grimaced at the look Alec gave me, like he suddenly didn't think I was so smart after all. I directed a meaningful look at Landa. "Meet me before science class tomorrow."

"Thanks, Grace!" Her big, white smile explained a lot about why Alec took her to the Homecoming dance last month. I still had a feeling I'd regret this, but I nodded and pulled forward.

I had to dump out my purse to scrape up $27 to cover the bill. It pretty much killed what was left of my allowance for the week. Landa had better make good on her promise to repay me. I didn't even have enough money for a blasted burger someplace else.

I'd missed lunch—finishing touches on an assignment for Honors Math that afternoon. Yeah, I live up to Alec's nickname for me. I'm a mathlete, even. Chess Club, too. And I probably kind of look the part. My hair's middling brown shot with blonde streaks, and I keep it shoulder-length, with bangs. Last spring, Mom talked me into giving up my glasses for contacts, but I don't care much about clothes and it probably shows. Still, Mom says I'm cute. And some of the guys in the Chess Club flirt in an awkward, dorky way. I look OK, but if you stand me up next to Landa, I'm the invisible girl.

My stomach growled, and I actually considered trying the pork. The smell coming out of the bag changed my mind, though. I drove around until I found a Dumpster behind a busy restaurant and pitched the bag in. After a little thought, I circled back and closed the Dumpster's lid. I didn't want to be responsible for a bunch of poisoned raccoons. The thought of raccoons brought me back to thinking about Landa.

What she'd done was downright malicious, and what had I ever done to deserve it? I should have ratted on her. But for some reason I was glad I hadn't.

Last Sunday at church, the pastor gave a talk on Romans 12, and verse 21 now came to my mind: "Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good." And I think there was something in there, too, about being nice to your enemies, and how it heaped hot coals on their heads.

Yeah, I'm a Christian, too. But I try not to make a big deal of it. Some of the kids who go to my church scold me for hiding my light under a bushel. But they walk around school with these big crosses around their necks and preachy messages on their t-shirts. They make a big show of praying over their meals at lunch. And nobody likes them. They actually brag about that—they keep saying the "world" hates "true Christians." And they slide meaningful looks to those of us who aren't part of their clique.

In my opinion, it's not their faith but their behavior that makes people dislike them. They're always scolding kids at school for various "sins," things that don't seem all that bad to me. Like having tats and piercings. Or texting OMG. Yeah, I know, it's probably blasphemy. I don't do it, but nobody made me the boss of other people. These guys, though, they act like being Christian entitles them to judge the rest of us. Like they're better than everybody else.

Maybe I'm missing something, but in my Bible, I think it says we need to be Christians because we're not better than everybody else. Sounds to me like Paul, in Romans 7, despaired of his own constant struggle with sin. But these kids, these Christians, act like they never have that problem.

And the thing is, we all know better. Everybody knows what Bill, the pastor's son, and his girlfriend Allison get up to during their "study sessions" in the back corner of the library. Everybody knows, too, that Paul, the deacon's son, will do his best to sit behind the smart kids and copy their answers on tests. And that he comes back from lunch sometimes a little glassy-eyed.

So I don't make a big deal about my faith, and I do my best to steer clear of those kids, because I don't like them, either. But I admit, I got a little thump that night out of realizing that I'd done something Biblical, even though I hadn't really been trying to. Something that Jesus might do. And the more I thought about Landa, the more kindly I felt for her—did that mean I was loving my enemy, like Jesus said we should? The cynic part of me wondered whether I was a complete patsy, but I ignored that part. I was increasingly convinced that I'd somehow stumbled into doing the right thing, and it felt good.

The next day, Landa caught up to me in the hall just before the end of lunch period. She touched my shoulder, then drew back her hand as if she shouldn't have. "Grace… I wanted to…" She flushed and thrust her hand in her pocket, pulling out a small roll of bills. "Here—your money back."

I started to take it, but something made me stop. I stepped back. Her eyes widened, and she looked scared again.

I hoped my smile would reassure her. "I just want to know why, first."

Her eyes flashed, surprising me with their anger, and her face turned a kind of funny shade of puce. Not really attractive with her hair. Then she sucked in a breath. "OK. If it makes you feel better for me to admit it, I'm jealous."

"Jealous?" The word came out louder than I meant it to, and Landa flinched when people turned to look at us. "Sorry." I caught her arm and pulled her into a deserted classroom. "Of me?"

She rolled her eyes like I should know. "Alec—you know the only reason he took me to the dance last month was because he couldn't work up the nerve to ask you."

I gawped at her. "You've lost your mind."

She gave me a funny, questioning look, then started to laugh. "You didn't know? That's just…so…clueless!"

I glared at her. "You're pranking me again."

She laughed again. "Geez, everybody sees it but you, Grace! He follows you around like a puppy in science class."

"He does not!" Or if he did, it was just because he wanted to take some of the credit for our lab work. I almost snatched the money out of her hand and stomped off, but something made me stop again. A new question popped into my head, out of nowhere. "Why were you so panicked last night, when I asked to talk to Alec and Mickey?"

She suddenly stopped smiling. For a minute, her mouth tightened like she wasn't going to answer. Then she glanced at the door, pushed it all the way closed, and looked back at me. "If you tell anyone…"

I raised my hand. "I swear."

"My dad—he and Mom haven't been getting along so well lately. Last month, they had a big fight over how much my homecoming dress cost. I kind of eavesdropped, and, well, Dad doesn't want us kids to know about it, but he lost his job awhile ago. He took a job at the hardware store, but it doesn't pay nearly as much. And I thought if I…" Her eyes filled with tears. "He threatened to leave us, when he and Mom were fighting. Over my stupid Homecoming dress."

The truth hit me like a shotgun blast. "And you're working after school to make enough money to pay him back for it."

"I knew it was really expensive, but I wanted to look special for…"

"For Alec." And she really did think he favored me over her. The thought that he might made me want to purr, but I saw how much it hurt her, and I didn't like that at all. I put a hand on her arm. "It wasn't me Alec was ogling last night at Mickey's, Landa. And it's not like I'm so scary. If he'd wanted to ask me to the dance, he would have. He asked you. He likes me as a friend."

She blinked at me, and one of the tears that had been trembling on her lashes escaped and dashed down her cheek. "You really think?"

"I do." I gave her a firm nod.

She flushed—this time it was a becoming pink blush. "Well… thanks." She started to hand me the money again, and I danced away.

"Nope—don't want it." Even as I said the words I knew she wouldn't want charity, not from me. The jealous feelings were still there, maybe a little softened, but there. My mind scrambled for a solution. "You know that dress?"

She nodded.

"What did you do with it?"

"I tried to take it back to the shop, but since I'd worn it…"

"Will you sell it to me?"

She frowned. "But…why?"

I grinned to show I wasn't offended. "It's a fair question. I don't go to dances. Mostly because nobody asks me. But… well, suddenly I realized that I might like to." I saw the little glimmer of suspicion in her eyes. "Listen, if Alec really does like me sooner or later he'll ask me out. I don't think it'll happen, but if it does, do you really want a guy who looks at you as second-best?"

Her eyes widened, like it hadn't occurred to her.

"Seriously, Landa, half the guys in school are crushing on you—it's disgusting, really. I'm pretty sure Alec is, too, but if he's not, you should find a guy who is." She frowned as if I'd just given her a hard math problem, so I let it drop. "Meanwhile, I've never owned a nice dress, and we're about the same size."

"People will recognize it—I got a lot of compliments on it."

"Maybe there are some things I can do to make it look different. Will you help me? I really can't afford an expensive dress, not at retail. But if you'll let me pay you part of what it's worth, between that and what you make at Mickey's…"

She smiled, and again I saw what Alec saw in her. "You know, it's a nice green—it'll actually be a good color on you. And—oh, I know—we can take off the sleeves and maybe use them to make a big bow right here—like a bustle." She touched my back, just above the hips.

I let her go on about the changes, and I could almost imagine them. Maybe by the time the next dance rolled around somebody would invite me. I glanced at Landa, suddenly feeling a little shy. "Um, would you maybe show me how to flirt?"

She blinked, but then she grinned. "Long as you promise not to flirt with Alec." Her smile widened. "In fact, I know exactly who you should go after. You know Miles—the guy in your Honors Math class? Tall, black hair—big blue eyes? He goes to my mom's church. He's really nice. And smart—like you."

All I wanted was a hamburger. But I ended up with a new friend.