Ms. Regina Howard, our older-than-Moses choir director, had a set of rules we were all supposed to abide by on Sunday morning. Don't chew gum. Pay attention to the sermon. No talking. You know, the usual stuff.
Being the only son of the Reverend Isaiah P. Wynn, I was expected to never break the rules. Ever. Which was why I grew more and more irritated as Tony and the rest of the guys in the choir stand kept whispering to each other. Of course, I hadn't been included in the conversation, even though I was sitting smack dab in the middle of the group.
I tugged on Tony's robe. "Will y'all shut up? Y'all are going to get us in trouble."
"Sorry," Tony mumbled, although he didn't look at me. Something in the audience had captured his attention. Whatever it was, it was a lot more interesting than Dad's sermon. I tried to follow his gaze, but nothing or no one special in the congregation caught my eye.
As soon as the guys quieted down, I leaned closer to Tony. "So what were you looking at so hard?" I asked.
"Nothing," he said, his breath sweet with the scent of a green apple Jolly Rancher.
Tony turned toward my father and pretended to pay attention to the sermon, but truth be told, I wasn't even listening to Dad. To be fair, it was kind of hard to pay attention to something you had already heard the night before. I was Dad's soul-saving guinea pig.
"Come on, Tony," I whispered as Dad was about to launch into his final point. "Just tell me what y'all were looking at."
Tony sighed. "Weren't you just saying something about how I needed to shut up? Something about getting into trouble?"
He grinned. "Fifth pew. Third one from the aisle," he said. "The hottie in the black dress."
Had he forgetten where we were? "Tony, I'm not about to--"
"Hey, you're the one that asked," he said. "Don't look if you don't want to. But she kind of looks like Jenn, from a distance."
My gaze raced past the first four pews. Past Delano Jackson, in a striped shirt that looked three sizes too small. Past Mrs. Luretha Mae Madison, with her big white pillbox hat.
And then I saw her. But she wasn't my ex-girlfriend.
"I can't... " I blinked hard, just to make sure I wasn't making a mistake. "I can't believe... "
"Okay, so maybe she doesn't look like Jenn," Tony said. "Still, she looks good."
I would have nodded, but I was too busy staring at the girl.
No, not girl. Woman.
No, not Jenn. Maddie.
Tony nudged me. "You see what she's wearing?
Any second now, I bet she's going to bust out of that dress."
I frowned. "Shut up."
"I mean it, Tony. Shut up."
He scowled but kept his eyes on Maddie. I wanted to raise my Bible to his face to block his view. She didn't deserve to be gawked at.
Tony did have a point, though. Her dress was awfully formfitting. I didn't realize that she had become so... blessed. But then again, I hadn't seen her in over five years.
I turned back to Tony, who was still staring at her. I dug my elbow into his ribs, hard enough for his breathing to stop.
"Do you have to stare at her like that?" I asked.
He rubbed his side. "Don't blame me. Daniel's the one that started it."
I looked past Tony at the other guys in our row of the choir stand, each of their gazes locked onto Maddie. At least for today, the tenor section of the choir had conveniently chosen to ignore the tenth commandment.
Dad ground through his sermon, finally bringing it to a close in his usual thunderous fashion. The entire congregation leapt to their feet and clapped their hands in praise. Well, almost everyone. Maddie stayed firmly in her seat.
After all the announcements had been made and all the collection plates had been passed around, Dad proclaimed his final amen. Seconds later, Maddie marched toward the door.
I pried off my white choir robe and dumped it into Tony's hands. "Hold on to this for me. I'll be back in a few minutes."
"But what about the youth group meeting?"
"Tell Donna to start without me."
Excerpted from Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson. Copyright © 2010 by Varian Johnson. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.