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Character cameo--Josh Cathcart

In Protection for Hire, there’s the character of Josh Cathcart who appears twice--once when Tessa is picking up her new friend Karissa, and again at a very dangerous and romantic ball.

Those of you who read my Sushi series may also remember Josh from a particularly memorable scene in Single Sashimi that involved massive amounts of red peppers and a slice of pizza--which really happened to a youth group member at my church. :)

In case you haven’t read it or need a refresher, here’s Josh’s first appearance in Single Sashimi. I think it completely explains his behavior in Protection for Hire. :)

In this scene, Venus is helping with the church youth group and the scene opens with a youth group game that we really did at my church several years ago.

Josh, a tall high school boy, clutched his stomach with one hand while the other still held the half-eaten slice of pizza. Except it was no ordinary pizza—this one had gobs of dried red pepper flakes piled on top of it. Sweat streamed down his face, and he grimaced as he chewed.

Herman sat next to him, the instigator of this agonizing “game,” wincing as he gathered the courage to take a bite of his own pizza, also loaded with red pepper flakes.

First one to finish won.

The high school kids gathered around, cheering and laughing. They loved challenging Herman because he was up for anything. Including excruciating bites of food that would probably melt his intestines tomorrow.

Leaning against the wall next to Venus, Rachel huffed. “He’s supposed to be my date for the Monster’s Ball, and now he’s going to be too sick to go! I’ll kill him!”

Naomi tittered. “If the pizza doesn’t kill him first.”

“You actually have a Monster’s Ball?” Venus studied Rachel’s face to see if she was just pulling her chain.

“Well, it’s just a ball where the girls dress up and the guys dress grungy.” Naomi sighed, echoed by a couple of the other teens.

“And it’s in a couple weeks?”

“The weekend before Halloween.”

“Do you guys dress as something?”

“We try.” Sarah gave a sigh that came up from her gut and emptied her lungs.

“Oh, ignore her.” Rachel flapped a hand in her direction. “She’s still peeved her mom wouldn’t let her go as a belly dancer last year.”

Venus’s mouth dropped open. “Belly dancer? I don’t blame her.”

“It was only three inches. Three little inches of midriff.”

“Tcha! It was more like seven or eight.”

“Besides, at least you can go.” Mika looked down, not meeting anyone’s eyes. There was a thread of hurt in her voice that silenced the other girls, as well.

“Your parents won’t let you go?” Venus didn’t know what to say. She wasn’t used to dealing with drama like this. Her mother’s drama didn’t count—most of the time, that was like spaghetti thrown at a wall. Her mother would hurl all kinds of things at Venus to see what would stick, what would provoke a reaction.

“My mom won’t let me go to any dances.”

“Her mom hates men,” Naomi piped up. “Ow!”

Sarah had smacked her in the arm. “Dummy. You don’t know if Mika wants somebody else to know that.”

“Oh.”

“No, it’s okay.” Mika had that distant look and tone that Venus recognized, trying to pretend the issue wasn’t that important when in reality, it ate at her heart like battery acid. “She’s been like that since Dad left.”

Silence descended among them, surrounded by the cheering of the other kids as Josh and Herman ate themselves to death. The girls fiddled with their earrings, their bracelets, their rings, with stray threads on their fashionable tops, with strands of their hair. What should she say now? Venus’s panic was like a silent scream in the midst of their non-chatter. She didn’t have a clue on how to be warm and fuzzy.

Jenn. Her cousin was always encouraging and sweet and everything Venus was not. She’d pretend to be Jenn. “It’s okay—” She put her hand on Mika’s shoulder.

She shrugged it off. “No, actually, it’s not okay.”

The girls seemed to be all holding their breaths.

“It totally sucks.” Mika spoke in a throbbing whisper. “Sometimes I just hate her for being so unreasonable. And she’s so bitter and selfish and she just doesn’t listen to me.”

Hmm, that sounded familiar.

“And Pastor Lester always says for us to do our best to honor our parents, because that’s the only commandment with a promise attached.”

There it was again. The commandment had popped into her head the past few weeks at random times. “How do you honor a parent you can’t even respect?”

“Exactly!” Mika’s breast heaved.

Venus didn’t want to encourage a griping session, but she also knew she was supposed to have some kind of answer, wasn’t she? After all, she was a youth leader, and she’d read through her Bible twelve times. Shouldn’t she know how to answer her, rather than asking an angst-filled question?

“It’s so hard.” Mika sighed. “And I’ve been trying so hard. But I keep getting into fights with her.”

Venus couldn’t even say she was trying. This fifteen-year-old girl embarrassed her with her passionate heart. Venus’s faith was simply stagnant—she treated her mother the way she’d always treated her.

“Do you still want to go shopping with us tomorrow?” Naomi asked.

“Naomi!” Rachel hissed.

“It’s okay.” Mika sniffled. “I can at least go shopping. It’s one of the few things she’ll let me do.”

Venus doubted Mika’s mom was that restrictive, but she had realized in the past few weeks that these girls liked to exaggerate. Practically everything.

“Venus, you want to come with?” Naomi asked.

“Me?” She looked around at their fresh, young faces. “I don’t know a thing about ball dresses.” She hadn’t gone to her own prom, much less any other dance in high school.

“But you’re always dressed nice.” Rachel fingered her Banana Republic blouse.

After that first night at youth group, she’d dressed both for potential mess and with a little more style. Problem was, her closet consisted of suits, workout clothes, and loungewear she’d never walk out of her house with. Her designer jeans had cost several hundred dollars, her tops were mostly separates to go with her suits.

But they must have thought she looked nice. Maybe it was the fact the price tag on her back probably topped these girls’ allowances for an entire year. “I guess … if you guys really want me to.”

“Yes!” Naomi clapped her hands. “You can help us pick out something really sophisticated.”

Maybe all those fashion and gossip mags she loved weren’t just mind candy—she could use the style guides to help these girls look their best.

The one person who really knew fashion was her mother.

No. No no no no no. She wasn’t even going to consider that. She hadn’t spoken to Mom—or rather, her mom hadn’t spoken to her—since that day at work weeks ago. Mom wouldn’t even want to see her.

No, that wasn’t true. Usually her mother’s moodiness ensured she didn’t hold grudges for very long. If Venus proffered an olive branch, Mom would probably leap at it.

Honor your father and mother.

She’d stopped telling herself to shut up by now because it hadn’t been working. It had also occurred to her that the voice might be God and not just some secret place in her head.

“Can my mom come, too?” The words flew out of her mouth before she could change her mind.

The girls looked thoughtful.

“She’s really good at fashion. Better than me. She’d love helping you guys.” And she realized that it was true. Her mother would delight in helping each girl look stunning in just the right dress for her.

“Okay.” Naomi’s eyes were as luminous as Mikimotos. “I could use help because I have such big hips.” She sighed and looked down at her teeny weeny torso.

Venus had never been that small, and never could be, with her bone structure. She wisely looked away before she did something dumb. Like smack her.

“I’d like to meet your mom,” Mika said.

Oh, Lord, I hope this isn’t a mistake.

Meanwhile, at the table, Josh shoved his last bite into his mouth and collapsed onto the floor.

Excerpted from the novel Single Sashimi © 2009 Camy Tang

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