AZURE BLAZE – an excerpt

CHAPTER 1 – Spiritual GPS

Her eyes stung. Blinking away tears, Crystina rode into the night. Questions spun in her mind, the loudest a mere three letter word. Why? After everything the enemy had taken from her, why did he have to go too?

She gripped the handles until her armored gloves began to pinch. “You are still good,” she whispered from between gritted teeth. “You are still good.”

Crystina still wore the old Kevlar gear Papi bought her from the vintage shop; the sort that made her look like a rev-head. Vivid blue flames curled down the arms of the jacket, spreading like wings across its back. When she had protested, saying she could just drive, he told her, “No granddaughter of mine is going to clunk around on four wheels.”

That was the day Abuela gave Crystina her crucifix. “Here, wear this if you’re going to go out on that machine of his…”

Crystina hadn’t understood Papi’s love of motorbikes at the time.

But she did now.

Crystina knew that in moments such as these, there were two choices. Run from God. Or run to God. And she wanted to ride to Him.

Churning the throttle to life, she eased onto Juniper Bay’s esplanade. Night sea winds barreled from her left. Turning onto main street toward old Juniper town, she coasted over cracked pavement and past abandoned buildings and warehouses. A faint breeze tousled the hair hanging loose from beneath her helmet. And here, a strange vision appeared in her mind’s eye—a road beneath the old bridge. She had only been there once before, when she took the subway to school, got off at the wrong stop, and ended up in no-man’s land. 

Go. Now.

It wasn’t audible but she knew it was Him.

“Jesus? What is this, some sort of spiritual navigation?”

He didn’t respond.

So, she did what any girl would do when the Holy Spirit captured her thoughts. She rode to that half-dead place in the middle of the night on a whisper that God might meet her there. 

Fighting fear and every logical thought, she rode through backstreets to reach the shadowy road beneath the bridge. Squinting, she searched for a sign. Something to tell her she was listening to God’s Spirit and not going crazy. Security cameras winked like stray stars overhead—no doubt they were broken by now. No one used this road. Well, almost no one.  The motorbike rumbled to a slow roll, and Crystina lowered her feet to steady it, treading the pavement. She switched off the headlight, wishing her eyes would adjust to the blackness and see whatever God had brought her here to see. Unless He hadn’t. Maybe it was just the harsh reality of the last two days weighing on her? She had heard grief could make people do strange things, but this had to be a new extreme. Riding to some forsaken place in the middle of the night, not having the sense to tell anyone where she went, and—

A woman’s scream rang out, echoing through the piers. Shadows shifted in the distance. Struggling. She revved the motorbike to life and kicked off the ground as it lurched ahead. Jesus, help me.

As she closed in on them, she caught a glimpse of aqua scrubs—the uniform of old Juniper town hospital. A broad dark figure overshadowed the nurse.

Without a second thought, she shouted, “Hey!”

The voice that left her lips was far more commanding than the teenage girl it belonged to. There was a growl in it. A strength she had never heard before. And somehow, it struck fear in the attacker. He staggered back and, with a precision completely foreign to her, Crystina drifted toward the nurse, coming to a stop a fraction from her trembling body and creating a wall between her and the man in the ski mask.

Crystina held out her hand and pulled the nurse onto the rear of the motorbike. Then together they sped into the night and the man bolted in the opposite direction.

Crystina’s heart thumped in her chest. It was all she could hear. Far louder than the roar of the engine.

She waited until they arrived in the heart of Juniper City ignited by streetlamps before pulling up to the curb outside the police station.

Still shaken, the nurse slowly staggered to the pavement.

“Are you okay?” Crystina asked.

She stared, clutching her bag to her body. “He must’ve been waiting for me. When I finished my shift… That has never happened…”

“But are you okay?”

With a shake of her head, she finally nodded. “Yes, yes… thanks to you.”

“Head inside and tell the cops what happened. I gotta go.”

“Wait—”

But how could she? How could she explain what happened? God told her to go there? Besides, she had just travelled with a helmet-less passenger.

As Crystina made her way back to the lighthouse, her spirit was aflame. A deep burning. It hadn’t been there before. In fact, the only other time she’d felt it was in the waters of baptism in Juniper Bay two years before. It wasn’t just internal anymore though. Now, it was revealing itself in goosebumps down her arms—she didn’t have to remove her jacket to know. And there was a lightness to her body—and to her spirit—that had only known heaviness for what seemed like forever.

Crystina didn’t remember a time before grief, before she lost her parents and brothers in a single night. She didn’t know if this lightness existed in her earliest childhood and the Lord was now using this new season of grief to connect her to the girl she used to be. But something was shifting inside her. And after her raw heart had experienced the Holy Spirit in such a miraculous and tangible way, Crystina knew He was bringing her to a point of no return.

There was one person she wanted to tell. One person she couldn’t help but tell. So she took one more detour on her joy ride with God.

Once in Juniper Bay, Crystina pulled into the side-street off the esplanade to an old family home she knew almost as well as her own. Leaving the motorbike and helmet a short way off, she waded through the bushes and long grass. He would be awake. He had to be. She knew all too well he studied around the clock these days. Which was why she’d hardly seen him lately.

She slipped off her gloves and knocked on the bedroom window like she used to when they’d sneak out to swim in the bay, back when they had no shame. She still remembered the night they were caught and told that soon things would change, and it wouldn’t be appropriate for them to behave like children anymore. There had been less talk about their sneaking out and more about their lack of clothing. Crystina hadn’t understood back then.

But she did now.

Jeremiah came to the window, his bare arms flexing as he shoved it open above his head. She hadn’t seen him without a shirt since last summer and she couldn’t remember him looking like that. He leaned across the windowsill and pulled her into a hug.

“I’m so sorry, Crys,” he whispered into her hair.

Then it hit her like an oncoming train. That scent. Soap, fresh laundry, and a hint of Old Spice. She breathed deeply, grateful he couldn’t see her on the border of madness. And with her exhale, her confident facade was obliterated, leaving her raw and vulnerable. Her hands rested on his warm dark skin and a new wave of guilt crashed over her. Papi was gone. And for the briefest moment, she had forgotten.

“Are you okay?” he asked, pulling away to study her face.

She swallowed hard. How could she tell him now?

“I’m sorry.” She shook her head. “I just wanted to see you.”

“Of course, here.”

Crystina took his arm, and he helped her climb in through the window into the dark room. Even in the middle of the night, she could tell everything was in its place. It was a good thing JCU didn’t insist on students residing on campus, Jeremiah wouldn’t have coped with a roommate. He barely restrained himself from commenting when Crystina’s odd socks were visible. Yes, everything was in its place. Except Jeremiah. He had just been rudely taken from his.

“You were asleep. I should go…”

“Crys.” He reached to switch on his lamp. “It’s fine. Sit down. Are you okay?”

She shrugged out of her jacket and joined him on the bed, trying to meet his eye without her gaze falling to his bare chest. What was wrong with her? This was Jerry. Her best friend. “How’s study going?”

“Exhausting,” he breathed. “Sorry I haven’t been around much.”

She had missed him. She missed his presence and the smell of him. But she couldn’t tell him that. “It’s okay.”

“Then when Abuela called today, I wasn’t sure if you would want to see me or if you just wanted to be alone…”

She opened her mouth to speak, but he continued.

“I just—” He stopped himself, his hand falling to his side. “I wasn’t sure what you needed. And I should know. I should—”

“Jerry,” she blurted, “I didn’t come here because of what happened to Papi.”

He adjusted himself on the bed, his forehead creased. “Then, why did you come?”

“I feel bad even mentioning it on a day like today but…”

“Hey, you can tell me anything. You know that, right?”

She nodded. “Yeah, well, it may sound crazy but…”

He eased himself a little closer.

“I went on a ride with the Holy Spirit tonight.”

He arched a brow. “Excuse me?”

“I know, it sounds nuts, right? But I totally saved this nurse, and there was this man attacking her and…” Crystina stared into his immense dark eyes, uncertain of what she was seeing. Did he believe her? She sighed. “Should I just go now?”

He relaxed a little, settling into his pillow. “I thought—” He shook his head. “Start at the beginning.”

“Okay, but then I promise, I’m going to let you sleep.”

Crystina was grateful for the space he held for her. No judgement because she wasn’t crying. She was still grieving, he knew that. But he let her feel the joy of what she’d just experienced to the full and it just made her want to stay by his side for as long as possible. But tomorrow held different plans for the two of them, and they both needed their sleep. So once she described every detail of her ride with God, Crystina hugged him and pulled her jacket back on. If only to cover the goosebumps that had returned like an unbroken fever.

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