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Bus No. 1804. (Short Story).

cropped-12301412301.jpgEarly November.

“Why don’t we ever use that bus over there? The one sitting in the corner of the church property?” Pastor Holmes asked the man leaning a bit on the snow shovel, “I don’t think I have ever seen it used.”

The janitor spoke up slowly as he shoveled the newly fallen snow, he didn’t look at the bus in question, “It’s broken. No brakes.” He refused to look in the direction of the bus sitting in the farthest corner of the church parking. There was something unpleasantly angry about the scene in the corner of the property with the bus just sitting there looking weather -worn and sullen with rage. It was how he saw the thing as it sat there waiting. And it was waiting he thought, it was always waiting.

The new pastor of a couple of months frowned puzzled at the man’s odd behavior, “So, let’s get it fixed then.”

The older man seemed to ponder that a bit before responding, his tone was direct as he looked at the younger man, “Pastor Holmes, it’s broke. It’s been broke a long time and no one wants to get it fixed….” Under his breath, “Just let it sit there.”

Pastor Holmes didn’t appreciate the man’s tone but he was new at the church so he remained patient, “Why isn’t it being fixed? Looks like it just needs a little maintenance and a new paint job. What’s the trouble?”

He retorted back sharply, “It’s not worth the effort, Pastor Holmes. Just let it sit there. It likes sitting there being left alone…”

“It likes to be left alone? Explain that remark, it’s a bus, it can’t like anything…” He looked again over at the bus sitting alone near the fence, “If it can be fixed let’s get it fixed and use it. It can be fixed?”

He looked at the youthful face of the man and tried to not sound to annoyed or was that show his fear of the thing sitting over there just waiting, watching, and probably getting hungry again, “Pastor Holmes, it can be fixed mechanically.” The janitor replied finally as he shoveled the sidewalk, “It’s been fixable for a long time but…” He could see the interruption coming, “But it’s best to leave it alone…”

“Leave it alone? Explain that remark as well.”

The old man finally glanced quickly at the creature, he sighed a bit knowing the response as he leaned on the shovel and addressed the man, “It’s haunted, Pastor Holmes. It’s simply haunted so we leave it alone.”

Pastor Ian Holmes was a rational man and had never been one to believe in ghost stories or anything else that relied too much on the supernatural. He just preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ and that didn’t mean he believed everything in the Bible should be taken literally. He spoke his mind, “Haunted? Haunted by what or whom if I may ask?”

The older man looked at the church parking lot and the sidewalk that needed to still be shoveled of snow, looking at the man, “It use to be a city school bus. We bought it some years ago.” He started coughing  and felt the slight pang of his hurt lungs; damn bronchitis was coming back he thought annoyed, “It had been involved in a few accidents in it’s fifteen years as a school bus; some were fatal of course…” He could see the look in the dark brown eyes that the man was really having a hard time believing what he was being told. “….It was cheap so the church bought it.” Again he coughed, “It’s going to be a cold evening and probably snow.”

A silence followed as the wind softly blew at them with a chill of the weather of late Fall in Minnesota. It was going to be a long cold winter he thought. He also sensed the new pastor was waiting for him to continue his story. He reluctantly continued knowing it was a waster of time to tell people the unpleasant story of the bus that sat brooding in the corner of the yard. Brooding? Yes, damn it, it saw brooding, waiting? Yes, it was waiting. Patiently waiting. It was always waiting for the right time to go and hunt. It liked to hunt. It liked to kill.

He leaned on the shovel a bit, even his legs were hurting today, “So, as I said, the city sold it too us rather cheap. It was beat up even then but it worked and was actually fine for a while. Nothing happened for a long time…” Like it was waiting? Yes, just like that he answered his own unpleasant question. “…Well, nothing odd that anyone cared to notice or point out at first…” The old man wondered if the thing would ever simply just leave and never come back. Wishful thinking he heard himself reply back. It always came back. “As I said before, it’s haunted. We simply leave it alone.”

He had to interrupt and he wasn’t sorry for his tone, “I don’t believe in  ghosts, Kevin.” The cold hands went into the parka, “Ghosts are for children.”

This one eats children he wanted to state but didn’t. “That maybe true, Pastor Holmes, but something is very wrong with that particular bus. So, we just let it sit there gathering weeds and rust…” He coughed again, winced from a slight stab of pain, “Lungs hurt, and it’s going to snow some more….” Looking at the thing in the corner very briefly, “We have even accepted the idea that the snow can cover it all we care.”

Annoyed with the attitude of course, “What? You think if you ignore this problem it will go away?”

He looked at the man with a look, “What and what many of us think it is should be left alone, Pastor Holmes. Leave it and let it rust and hopefully die…” He could see the man was getting angry, “…We had it once towed away some years ago…”

“What?” Taken back, “You had it towed away, but it’s sitting right over there, Kevin. You didn’t tow it very far.”

Looking at the thing in the corner of the big church yard before returning his attention back to the man looking more upset than before, “It came back.”

“What do you mean it came back! Bus’s don’t simply come back, David!”

He told himself to be patient as it wasn’t going do any good to force the man to see the evil sitting on the church property. “Yes, Pastor Holmes, it simply just came back. We then tried it again and it came back again. It’s been sitting there ever since…” Moving the shovel a bit, “We even had a prayer service over it one night…” He knew the moment he said it what was going to happen.

“This church had an exorcism for a bus!” He was incredulous and trying to fathom if the fellow was serious. What kind of church had he gotten himself assigned to?

He was still trying to be patient, “Pastor Holmes, the damn thing is haunted by something very unpleasant or someone in a bad mood, but whatever it is we have learned to try and live with it….” Pointing at the bus, “But it’s haunted!” He again coughed painfully, “But whatever it is that is in that bus, well, Pastor Holmes, it should be left alone as much as possible…” He didn’t add that it didn’t seem to have any problem with reaching out and touch anyone near it. In bloody fact it seemed to chose people beforehand and lure them some how into the bus.

“That’s stupid!”

“Stupid maybe….” Not really listening anymore as he knew it was pointless to say everything, “Sometimes I get the impression it’s feeling or listening to everything that’s said about it….” He looked briefly at the bus, “I sometimes get the vague notion that whatever is inside that bus is very old…an ancient evil one could call it…” He coughed again, “Coming down with a cold again…love winter in Minnesota.”

“So, what about this ridiculous prayer service for that normal looking bus?” His tone was accusing of course, “I would like to know what happened with this praying over a vehicle accomplished…”

Ignoring the tone of course, still  avoiding looking in the direction of the bus, “Several deacons and the last pastor laid hands on that thing…” He coughed a bit, felt the slight pain from the bronchitis he was sure on the way hit his lungs.”

Impatiently, “And, what happened?” He wasn’t buying any of the story from the older man who probably needed to be replaced. The fellow looked about seventy so maybe a few changes were drastically needed and as he had a few liberal ideas for the church he had been voted into so it was apparent that changes were needed. Besides, he thought with assurance, one cannot believe everything is evil just because the Bible say it is or isn’t.

The older man knew full well what the younger man was thinking, “What happened was that as the men were praying over that thing it burst into flames and tried to kill them. They all had burn marks on the palms of their hands, Pastor Holmes…” He coughed again but it wasn’t so painful, studying the man with a look, “That bus is simply evil or controlled by something evil, but it won’t leave this property.” Softly but afraid, “It likes it here. For some reason it likes it here.” Softly under his breath, “It’s mocking us and our beliefs.”

Losing his patience a bit, “Any deaths since it decided to stay here?” He had to ask trying to take it all seriously on some level. The older fellow believed what he was saying that was very obvious and that he was afraid of something.

Sadly, “Yes, eight since that thing showed up.”

Not buying it still, “Any this year?”

The custodian looked at him as if he wished he hadn’t asked the question. He kicked the cold snow covered ground a bit, his feet were starting to ache from standing too long, “Yes, Pastor Holmes, three kids sad to say.” He inhaled and slowly exhaled the cold frosty air; it would be waking up soon if past history was correct as it liked the winter months. “One kid was found in the bus. He had frozen to death somehow….”

“How can…”

“Let me finish and I will explain.”

“Okay.”

“There was another one crushed to death beneath the bus. The third, well, she simply vanished inside it…the kids saw her go in and never saw her again. They swore they saw her one minute and then the next she was simply gone…” He actually looked in the direction of the bus briefly as he felt the fear again rising up his spine, “She simply went into the bus and never left. The other kids told her it wasn’t allowed but she went in anyway and simply vanished….”

“That makes no sense. Children don’t simply vanish inside a bus.”

“They also aren’t suppose to freeze to death in matter of seconds when stepping on that bus, but he did. They watched him get in and in within seconds they watched as he literally froze to death before their eyes. Something in that bus killed them.”

“He froze to death in seconds? And this other child simply vanished?” Pointing, “Inside that bus? Inside that ordinary looking bus?”

“Nothing normal let alone ordinary about that bus, Pastor Holmes. It’s evil. And it will not leave.”

Folding his arms to make his point, “You said another kid was killed?”

“Yes,” He took notice of his attitude, “A kids ball had rolled under the bus. The kids forgot the rule about this particular bus The kid crawled under it and as the other kids reported the bus simply just, well, slammed down and didn’t stop for a few long seconds and then simply stopped…It was horrible what was left under that bus, Pastor Holmes. The bus simply likes to kill. It simply likes to kill…” He didn’t bother adding that when they retrieved the mangled body of the ten year old boy it was not only crushed but had burn marks on the body as well. The bus seemed to not only want to crush the life out of the kid but wanted to make it’s point by burning the body as well.

Interrupts angry, “This is insane, absolutely insane and beyond reason. What you’re saying went out with the dark ages. A haunted bus? A evil haunted bus! Get rid of it then!”

“It will come back as I said before. It likes it here.”

“So, all this happened and no one did anything about it? No investigation?”

Patiently, “No, Pastor Holmes. There were investigations on all the strange and unpleasant deaths and the vanishing of that little girl. Each investigation they came up with a reason that made sense to them and simply refused to believe, like you, that the bus simply killed those kids. It’s understandable in the long run, no one is going to believe that a bus simply decided one cold winter day to make a young girl vanish and never be found again. They simply decided she ran away and that was that. They couldn’t explain of course how the kid froze to death in a bus on a fifty degree day in October, but he did. They certainly had no way of explaining how that kid was literally butchered and then somehow burnt under a standing still bus. That the police never had a good answer for. The kids told them what they saw, they simply didn’t listen or didn’t want to listen….” Pointing again at the bus, “But that bus, has killed eight people one way or another since being here. It sits there waiting and waiting for the moment that it only knows it’s time to kill…and it likes to kill.”

“It’s a damn bus, David, they don’t hunt people.” Pastor Ian Holmes was simply losing his patience with the man, “This is all madness created by taking good and evil and the supernatural way too seriously, David. It’s damn school bus. I am certainly going to have a few sermons on the issue of rational belief in the supernatural and the irrational belief in demonic superstitions!” Looking at the man with a look, “I am also going to call for a deacon’s meeting next week and discuss this matter with them. This irrational belief in a possessed bus is getting out of hand….”

A few snow flakes started to fall.

David simply smiled feeling very tired, “While your in the deacon’s meeting ask Deacon Fitzgerald where the burn marks on his hands came from and watch his expression. He was there, ask him about the night he and the others tried to pray over a bus. He’ll probably give a bad reason and not the truth but watch his expression….it will say it. Don’t ask Peter Johnson, he was there also, but he’ll just walk away and say he doesn’t want to talk about it…”

The clouds where getting gray and threatening another snow fall.

“….You could also just park near the bus one of these cold evenings, it likes the very cold weather we have also noticed, and just sit there and then tell me the feeling I get from that bus is my imagination and insane, Pastor Holmes. Just sit there a while alone in the cold air and silence of the night’s snowfall and tell me or those kids butchered and their parent’s that it’s all irrational imagination…” He forced himself to stop, wiped his eyes, noted the cold in the air, “I did that one night. I thought I would confront the bus…I will never do that again.”

“What do you claim to have seen?”

He looked away from the man making demands on his memory, “It just sits there waiting and brooding and I can feel it. Many can feel it. We can’t get rid of it so we have learned to simply try and ignore it. There is something very wrong with that bus’s soul if buses could have one. I know what I saw that cold night last winter. And no amount of prayer is going to erase the horror I saw coming from that bus’s door…” Agitated and feeling his chest hurting, “I don’t like talking about it, Pastor Holmes, what I saw or partly saw coming from the bus door isn’t possible…It’s evil, an ancient evil…” Softly, “Even the kids around the neighborhood avoid that bus. It’s never vandalized….” Looking away at the bus  and back to the man looking at him with growing impatience, “Well, we don’t really know if it’s ever been vandalized…”

Angry, “Just have it towed away, David. It’s must a bus, a piece of junk sitting in the corner of our property and shouldn’t be here if it’s causing so much angst for this church…”

“It will simply come back.” He said it and looked at the man who simply wasn’t listening and wasn’t going to learn anything until it was too late. “We’ve towed it away a few times before as I said before, it’s come back every time. It’s been brooding in that corner and we leave it alone.”

“Maybe what we need is a new custodian, David.”

Amused, “I mow the lawn, I also have to mow near that thing, so good luck finding anyone who wants to mow that part of the property.”

“It’s a irrational superstition this idea that some demonic entity can posses a bus!”

“Not sure really it’s a demon, I call it an ancient evil because I have no other answer for it. But, Pastor Holmes, something in the bus….”

“David, just have it towed away. Enough of this. Next thing you are going to say it was made simply evil!”

“Yes, that’s what I mean. It was made and it was made all wrong somehow. Somethings are just made wrong and then grow from it.” He was thinking more to himself of course, “Something happened in the building of that particular bus….something went wrong. It became evil somehow?”

“This is absolute rubbish, it’s superstitious non-sense and I am going to put a stop to this fear of a piece of metal and rubber and rust!” His anger was rising, “Just have it towed away and be done with it. It will not come back!”

“You know the last time we did that I know the person who saw it coming back and simply park itself where it sits now. It likes it over there. He was coming out of the building late one night and saw the thing backing up into it’s space….the thing was burning inside. He could see the flames engulfing the inside of the bus like a hell on wheels….he never felt more afraid in his life….it’s killed eight people since being here. This winter so far it has left us alone….we leave it alone by not touching it.” Adding as he saw the man about to interrupt, “He claims he could hear from inside the bus horrible screaming….he left the church a few weeks later but I see him every once and a while.”

Finally having had enough, “David, I am ordering you to tow it away by the end of the week. I want it gone!”

“He claims he could even feel the thing staring at him with a hatred he could feel…”

“Get rid of it, David. It’s just a bus.” He stormed off swearing under his breath. “….Superstitious nonsense!”

The older man watched as the new pastor stormed off; he wanted to call after the man to please listen but it was apparent he wasn’t going to. The snow was falling  as David simply continued his shoveling as he headed away from the view of the bus that sat in the corner of the property he knew was waiting, brooding, thinking, watching him with a malice David could feel. He knew it was pointless in the end to get the new pastor to see what the others knew and felt from the creature brooding in the corner. The man would have to discover for himself what it was and hopefully live long enough to understand that the bus was never going to leave. He stopped shoveling and walked to the back of the church building and headed toward the small custodial and maintenance area room behind the church; no one needs to see where he worked thought David. Truth was though he had not told the new pastor completely the truth about the bus. Would he had believed David anyway? He had mentioned the eight deaths since the bus arrived and the man didn’t seemed to interested or really that phased by the comment. Eight people were killed by that thing in the corner of the church. The truth was that he and a few others knew the history of that bus and quit possibly what was actually haunting it? Haunting it? It seemed so wrong to say that word for a bus used once as a church bus. But the truth was it was originally an old school bus and even then there were stories about the thing killing; mysterious deaths so said the school that sold it to them. Unexplained deaths? One story went that someone set it on fire to destroy it but somehow he never got out of the bus in time; burned alive. He opened the door and leaned the shovel against the wall near the door. He was tired of the bus; he really wished he could just get rid of it but it would come back. The bus just kept killing and nothing was going to stop it because it wasn’t a ghost that haunted the damn thing, the bus was alive and it liked mocking him from the corner of the property; it mocked them all.  It killed for the fun of it. It even stalked people for the fun of it; just ask the last pastor.

A days later and as always Pastor Holmes was the last one to leave the Wednesday night services. But he had waited a little longer than usual for everyone to leave so he sat in his office doing some minor reading in the Bible and some brief praying before heading out of the building.

The heavy snow was falling of course and the cold was of course whipping the snow about in hurricane looking swirls as he drudged to his car. He had of course deliberately parked near the so-called haunted evil bus to make his point clear about his thoughts on their superstitious minds. He caught a few weary and unpleasant glances from the people but he did it anyway with a smile and wave. It was just a damn bus people! Nothing was haunting it or making it kill people! Enough was enough of this haunted church bus. It was irrational and stupid to believe in demons or haunted pieces of rusting yellow and black metal of a bus. It was going to stop now and he told the janitor again yesterday when he discovered that he hadn’t gotten rid of it yet.

“It will simply come back, Pastor Holmes.”

“It’s a school bus, unless someone drives it back it can’t come back!”

David said nothing but his look said something that the man didn’t like.

Pastor Holmes walked the best he could through the heavy falling snow; the yellow and black rust streaked bus loomed next to his car. He hadn’t noticed it before of course but the closer he got to the bus he did feel watched; it was a foolish to think such a thing. It was stupid. It was irrational to believe that everything in the Bible was meant to be taken literally or seriously and he wasn’t taking a demon controlled bus seriously. They had allowed a few deaths, granted horrible and unpleasant, but still deaths do occur on bus. This was the 21st Century, time to leave the Middle Ages!

The blustering wind whipped and particularly blinded him with a white snowy carpet. It was typical Minnesota. This was getting bad he thought and worried a bit about being stuck in the snow. Hopefully some of the roads were being plowed? He fumbled for his keys as sermon thoughts came to him and one of them was going to be on the irrational belief that demons and evil spirits couldn’t, didn’t, and don’t take control of machines and kill people with them. Pastor Holmes had a few opinions on the idea on demons and their mythology and maybe he would do a few sermons on that as well. He finally got to his car and stood at the door. The unpleasant feeling of someone watching him was more and more apparent and he didn’t like it. It was stupid. But it did feel like something or someone was watching him rather closely. He turned around with a grunt of disgust at his own silly imagination and looked at the bus and of course saw nothing evil or remotely evil stating down at him from the windows. It was a damn bus sitting in the damn snow and not much damn else he thought satisfied with his correct thoughts on the bus.

A few hours earlier.

“Pastor Holmes, may I speak with you?”

He looked up at the man who stood at his door, “Yes, Deacon Tichardson?”

The man was nervous, uncomfortable in his manner, even afraid it seemed, “I have heard you have ordered the bus removed from the property…..”

The hand went up, “Yes, I have, and I will have it removed. It’s an eyesore and not being used. I will not allow that thing to become some kind of demon to excuse everyone’s behavior…”

Tichardson understood the man, “The last pastor had the same idea, the bus stalked him. Didn’t try to kill him but it did stalk him until he finally left. That bus isn’t going anywhere, Pastor Holmes, as I am sure you have been told it likes it here.”

Not happy, “Why would that be the case? Why would it want to be here?”

Tichardson knew this was pointless, “What people don’t understand about that bus is that it was causing deaths from day one of it’s use. I checked it history before buying it and there are many deaths associated with it….It started with a fire on it’s first day of use, several kids were killed…”

“What caused the fire?”

“No one knows, it just started one kid reported, it simply started burning.”

“The bus just started itself on fire?” Remained sitting, “I suppose you too believe it’s possessed by some kind of demon from the pits of hell?”

Tichardson frowned a bit, “Not sure it’s possessed by anything but it’s own need to kill.”

“That makes no sense.”

“Pastor Holmes, that bus is alive and no I don’t know nor anyone else does why it’s alive but it is. It’s been alive since it’s creation and I and no one else can explain it. I’ve gone back into the records of it’s actual building and every place it’s been it’s killed one way or another.” As he turned around to leave, “It’s an evil bus because it wants to be…”

“That’s foolishness, Deacon Tichardson…” He got up and closed his door. That wasn’t the only person that week who begged him to just ignore the bus and accept it’s part in their lives. It wasn’t going anywhere! It would just come back was their final comment and it annoyed him top impatience.

He stood at the door frame looking uncomfortable, “Pastor Holmes, leave the bus alone. Let it stay where it is and let it rust…” Softly, “Maybe it will simply one day collapse from rusting and just finally whatever it is that dwells inside it will die…” Deacon Tichardson tried to be calm even as the other man simply stared back with no emotion, “Look, I know of some who have seen that thing coming and going from it’s resting place…” He raised a hand as the other man tried to interrupt, “I know you will not leave this alone but let me tell you one last thing about that bus. It drove the pastor from this church….it stalked him. Ran him off the rode one night he claimed. It followed him. He too wanted to get rid of the bus, he even in a fit of anger went outside and confronted the evil that looked back at him. He swore that he could feel the bus glaring back and just daring the man to come closer. He could feel the glaring evil from inside the bus or the bus itself. A few weeks later he had a nervous breakdown as he swore he could hear the bus from the pulpit taunting him….”

“This is madness created by not thinking things through and believing everything has a devil attached to it. The Devil has more important things to do than haunt a bus…”

“Pastor Holmes, do you believe in the Devil? In Evil at all.”

He stood up, “I am aware that you are one of the few who felt I was not qualified to take the last pastor’s place, Deacon Tichardson. I am aware that this church was having problems but I was not fully aware that this church was still living in the Dark Ages of theology and belief in devils who take over bus’s…”

“We don’t think it’s a devil or even the Devil. Something else dwells in that bus.”

“Nothing dwells in that bus but ignorance and superstition, Deacon Tichardson. Nothing more than that. I know nothing about these stories you have all convinced yourselves to be true….”

“I was one of those who tried to pray over the bus, I was there when the horrible screaming began from inside the bus….”

Losing all patience, “Enough, that eye sore will be gone by the end of this month, Deacon Tichardson, and it will not be coming back with a big old happy demonic grin on it’s face. It will be gone.”

The snow was still coming down as he felt stupid staring at the bus and letting his imagination get the better of him. He was going to prove to them all that it was nothing but their ignorant imaginations and old thinking about the devil and hell that was the real issue. He walked up to the bus best he could in the thickening snow and touched the metal he knew was going to be cold too the touch. It was cold; very cold actually. He laughed a bit as he slammed his open palm into the bus. But it was warm now. No, no, he thought quickly, that’s silly. So he touched it again. And again he could feel the strange warmth beginning to spread across the side he was touching. He put both hands on the bus sides again and it was getting warmer. He cursed at the thing.

“What the damn hell?” He stepped back a bit and looked up at the empty and yes cold looking bus windows. He saw nothing. He felt uncomfortable and he didn’t like it. This was irrational he heard himself say it out loud. “This is stupid, there is a rational answer for this, Pastor Holmes, very rational….”

The engine of the bus screamed into life; and then the screaming inside the bus began as the inferno engulfed the bus and the lone figure pounding on the side of the bus.

Deacon Tichardson stared out feeling tired and defeated at the congregation that looked back at him with their own feelings very evident; they were terrified. He started talking but it was strained.

“As Pastor Holmes has gone missing for a week now…” That wasn’t completely true but for the moment it was good enough, “We have called this special congregational meeting to decide whether to remain in this location as a church or sell the property and locate the entire church somewhere else….” They all looked shell-shocked he thought, each one wondering what had really happened to Pastor Holmes and knowing the horrible answer; he should have left the bus alone. “We have been planning this for a while and after the latest, um, incident, maybe it is time to leave this old property…” He knew he sounded idiotic because they knew what the real problem was and were quite convinced it would follow them. He noted a few heads shake and one or two of the older members weeping softly to themselves, “….Maybe it will stay here….” He wanted to cry at the reality of the statement, “Maybe it will leave us alone….” He wiped his eyes, “Leave us alone…”

It didn’t but at least it had a new driver.

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Not Apologizing. (Short Story).

cropped-12301412301.jpgCharles studied the principal sitting across from him in the man’s large church office; actually it seemed more office than was needed for the few books he had Charles thought as he studied Pastor Thomas Flincher, school principle and junior pastor of First Evangelical Free Church. He was sure that his wife, Andrea, may have had more books. It was a minor observation but it was an observation that struck him at first as the bookshelves seemed to have the books spread out as if trying to convey more books than there were? But as Charles thought about it it was a minor observation of the man behind the desk that also seemed sparse for such a big office.

Pastor Flincher was still talking in the tone that Charles knew all too well, “It’s your daughter again, Charles. We have had this discussion before about her attitude. Your daughter seems to not realize just how prideful she sounds or simply unpleasant in her conduct…”

“Emma? What did Emma do?” Actually he had another daughter but Emily was rarely in trouble and seemed quit content to remain that way.

The older man sat straight and it seemed uncomfortable in the high back chair, his hands folded together on the book he was reading, “Emma was argumentative in class yesterday. In fact down right refusing to apologize for her attitude.” The features of the man seemed to have decided to not smile, “I have been very patient with her attitude up to this point because your wife is also a teacher here. I have given your daughter plenty of chances to curb her opinions…”

“Which class was she having a problem?” He really wished the man would get to the point. “My daughter does have strong opinions on certain subjects. Which class?” He wanted to laugh but it was apparent the man across the oak table was in no mood for that reaction. Emma would have corrected the man by stating she had opinions and she wasn’t opinionated. He once asked her the difference. As for Andrea, she was a substitute teacher at the moment. As for Emma, well, she had her defense on her opinions.

“Dad, an opinion is just educated thought or even guess, being opinionated is to not believe anyone else has an opinion worth listening to.”

Pastor Flincher responded, “Mr. Conrad’s science class.”

Charles had to do a quick mental remembering of Emma’s teachers, “Ah, Mr. Conrad. Teaches mostly earth sciences, also the gym teacher if I remember what Emma told me.” He leaned back a bit in the stiff chair, “What was Mr. Conrad discussing?”

“She was being argumentative in class, Charles.” The tone said it all. “Mr. Conrad was quit bothered by her refusal to apologize for being wrong…”

“Principal Flincher, my daughter doesn’t argue with people unless pushed. She’s a quiet girl; not as quiet as her sister, but quiet. For her to do as you are suggesting she would have to have been pushed. I know she has opinions and very strong one’s for a fifteen year old, but arguing is not her way….” He decided to not remind the man he also had an older son in the school as well; Craig was about to graduate into collage next Fall.

The tension in the older man’s features remained, “Mr. Conrad was discussing the Noah story and geology of the Noahic Flood. He was explaining the problems with the belief in a universal flood…”

Being polite, “I am not seeing the issue yet.” Though he had an idea where this was going. He would have added his own thoughts on the Noah story but decided it wasn’t needed.

Frowning, picking up a pen and slowly tapping it on the desk, “You daughter’s personal opinion or views on the story of Noah has no place in Mr. Conrad’s class.”

Pretty sure knowing where this was going even more, “What views?” Emma had spent an hour talking to him in his own office at home and it was quit a story. It was of course her side of the story but Emma seemed to keep to the general idea of the story. Emma defended the idea of the tale as truth and factual; Mr. Conrad seemed to question and seemed to not actually believe any of the story. That was the general idea Emma gave her dad when they stopped talking once they were called for supper. She of course continued the discourse at the table until her mother reminded her that she had made her point and let it go; Emma smiled at that; Emily giggled.

Pastor Flincher was replied tapping the book with the pen, “Charles, just tell your daughter to keep her views to herself in class.”

Though he knew already, he had to ask, “What did Emma say in class, Pastor Flincher?”

The man wanted to say something but stopped himself, “Let’s wait till Mr. Conrad arrives, he was there.”

He was put off briefly, “Okay. Sure.” Something wasn’t making sense.

“Your daughter is fourteen is she not?”

“Fifteen actually, will be sixteen in October.” Adding, “My youngest, Emily,  will be fourteen soon, next month actually, and my oldest, Craig, will be off to the U of M…”

“Fifteen can be a tough age to deal with I know…”

He disagreed, “I find my kids to be quit well-adjusted and very few issues really.” He understood full well where this was going, “My kids, all three of them, have their different personalities but have never given me cause for alarm….” Though Emily’s tomboy tendencies to break parts of herself like last week did trouble him at times; broke her arm and seemed proud of the adventure that got it broken and that would be climbing questionable tree branches. She walked around quit pleased with the dark blue cast on her left arm, a few still healing cuts on her face and nose. But she was alive, healthy, and followed her sister around for which Emma endured with patience. He continued, “Pastor Flincher, my kids are doing just fine. I have very few issues or problems from them…” He could see the man wasn’t really listening anymore; he seemed more impatient for Mr. Conrad to show up. But he was going to continue to defend his kid, “Emma’s a good kid, Pastor Flincher, I’m sure that she wasn’t that much trouble in her discussion in her science class. She does like science.”

“Yes, yes, of course she’s a good kid, Everyone’s kid is a good kid, Charles. But they do sometimes get ahead of themselves in what they think they know or understand.” He tapped the pen on the book again lightly, “They do have a high opinion of their knowledge, Charles. Kids think it’s all about them…”

“Not sure I am following really. What does this have to do with her science class?” Emma had already told him much about her science class and Mr. Conrad, but Charles had to give the other side a chance to state their side he had told her. Emma had protested of course that she wasn’t making anything up and that she was simply stating her opinion of the subject. It was a circular night on the discussion but eventually she went upstairs to help her sister with her own homework; Emily stood at the stairs staring at Emma till she got the point. It was funny thought Charles. He continued, “Pastor Flincher, I am not following very well, all Emma was doing was voicing her mind on the subject of Noah’s Flood…”

Interrupting with patience, “What kind of books does your daughter read?”

“Emma likes to read and generally anything. Takes after her mom in that regard.” He could tell he was fishing for something. “Though of late she has been doing some reading on fossils and dinosaurs…”

The patience wasn’t there, “Don’t you monitor her reading?” He held up a hand, “I don’t mean to interrupt, Charles, but she does seem to read a lot of books she may be too young to read let alone understand their full context.” He smiled a bit, “I’m not telling you how to raise your kids, Charles, but it does seem to me that what she is reading is having a negative effect on her. What kind of books is she reading?”

Why did he feel uncomfortable at the question, “Of late I believe she is reading books on fossils. I think she sees herself as a future fossil hunter…”

Interrupting again with a raised hand, the smiled seemed clued in place, “I am just concerned by the books she is reading. She voiced some very odd views in Mr. Conrad’s class.”

“Odd views?”

“Maybe you and your wife should be better monitoring her reading habits more closely. As I said I am not here to dictate you or your wife’s parental rights but she did as Mr. Conrad stated become rather argumentative in his class.” He closed the book in front of him, “Look, let’s just wait till Mr. Conrad comes and we can discuss this better.” He tapped again the pen in his hand.

Charles noted the book’s title, ‘Rescuing The Bible From Fundamentalism.’ By. Sponge. And another on something called replacement theology sat next to his Bible; which he never heard of.

Pastor Flincher was talking, “Mr. Conrad was simply stating that the idea of a universal flood such as told in the Bible story of Noah was never meant to be taken as literal as it has been by some in the church. Your daughter became very defensive….”

The knock at the door seemed louder than it had to be thought Charles.

Mr. Joseph Conrad entered the office as if he owned the room.

The voice was clipped, “Principal Flincher.” It was said calmly up to a point though Charles as the man spoke mostly to the man behind the desk. He sat down, looked at Charles without much else, “Mr. Nichols.”

The look he gave Charles said much.

Pastor Flincher leaned back a bit, put the pen down and observed the other two men with a smile of patience, Now that we are all here, we can discuss this matter better.” Charles was about to say something but the hand went up, “I am not finished, Charles. I feel this meeting is needed for all involved…”

Charles gave up trying to say anything. Andrea was home taking care of a not feeling well daughter who was being talked about. But still, they hadn’t asked Andrea for the meeting, but only him. He felt uncomfortable about it for some reason.

“…Emma felt she had some right to voice her opinion and not have to listen to anyone else let alone the teacher, that would be me not her, Charles. I have certain rules in my class and she seemed to act as if those rules didn’t apply to her…” Mr. Conrad sounded as if he were giving a speech he had given a few times before.

“Mr. Conrad does have a right to make rules in his class, Charles. It is his class. If he feels the need for certain rules and for certain books not used in a science class, I support him…”

The man was talking a lot but not saying much thought Charles that made sense to him for the moment. He was also beginning to feel as if he were being double-teamed for some reason.

Breaking in bluntly Mr. Conrad spoke up, “Your daughter…”

“Her name’s Emma.”

“…your daughter seems to take Noah’s story very literally. I tried to explain to the child it’s only a story with a moral point. It was never meant to be taken as a factual event. It’s physically impossible to rain that much and her stubborn response was that God could have simply done it. The child…”

“She’s not a child, she’s fifteen…and it’s only a story with a moral point?” He was somewhat taken back by the comment, “This is a Christian school is it not?” It had to be asked as this conversation was becoming nonsense to him even if he wasn’t a Christian; a secular Jew yes, but never a Christian. His wife, Andrea, was the Christian adult in the family, and he was convinced that Emma was, Emily he was certain wasn’t but didn’t mind going to church with her mom and sister. It was complicated? Not really he would told anyone who asked, but he had to ask the question of the man who had taken over the job a few years ago. “I would have thought that the story of Noah was Christianity 101…”

The man looked back uncomfortably at Charles, “Charles, we are not here to discuss my own persona beliefs or opinion on what the Bible says or doesn’t say….”

It was obvious to Charles that Mr. Conrad was growing very impatient with the way things were going. Pastor Flinch wasn’t noticing much.

“….We are here to discuss what to do about your daughter’s attitude in class. She is becoming a disruption in Mr. Conrad’s science class.”

Conrad had enough, “Look, I’m not a Christian, I simply deal with real science. I try to teach actual scientific facts to the kids in this school. I do not teach religion. I’m a science teacher…” Looking at Charles hard, “Your daughter needs to learn to listen and not interrupt my class with her opinion about science…” Looking at the man behind the desk who looked back somewhat lost, I was hired by you to teach science. Factual science and not debate one’s personal beliefs in science class. She needs to just sit in class and listen and take my tests. Not stand there in class and tell me that the story of Noah has to be taken literally because it’s in the Bible as factual history and that somehow the fact of all those dead fossilized animals prove the flood of Noah was real…”

The look in the man’s round puffy face would have been comical thought Charles but this was becoming a very unfunny if not odd conversation. He was sure he was missing the obvious real reason for all this double-teaming against a fifteen year old girl with an opinion.

Conrad was still talking, “….Noah’s story is just that a story taken from other stories, legends, and a lot of mythology that God made it rain for a few weeks. I told the child it just wasn’t possible to rain that much. It’s a fine moral story if that is what you want to believe but she was taking it personally and as factual history that a man built a 475 foot long boat….”

He wasn’t sure how to respond to any of this. He couldn’t see his kid standing up and doing anything of the kind. What happened to his shy little girl? But if anything, he was impressed despite the fact that the man next to him was glaring at him. Charles spoke up, “I am confused.” Looking at the pastor who looked back again uncomfortable, “You hired him and he doesn’t believe or agree with the religious stance of this school?” He also began to think that maybe if hadn’t been paying close enough to his family as much as he thought he was or thought he had. He wasn’t becoming angry at Emma, she was standing up for something and he felt proud of her. The cancer didn’t kill her as a young kid and this just made him prouder; those were stressful and terrible years of her early life. “I am very confused, Pastor Flincher, I would have sworn that defending the Bible was a good thing. My Emma’s gone through a lot in her young life, I’m not sure I can be too mad at her over this…” Looking briefly at Conrad who only looked more annoyed, “Why did you hire someone who doesn’t even agree with your beliefs?”

Pastor Thomas Flincher was not amused, “I will not have my decisions questioned, Mr. Nichols. Mr. Conrad is an excellent science teacher and your daughter was argumentative in his class. She refused to apologize for her outburst….” He reached over and grabbed his Bible, tapping it again with the pen, “Look, Charles, not everything in this book is too be taken literal, and your daughter needs to listen to those in charge, those in authority over her, and to learn to listen to those with better understanding of this book. She needs to learn to not question those in authority over her in the classroom…This book has warnings against those who attack or act as your daughter did to someone in authority over her…”

He bit his tongue from getting angry, “Is Pastor Donald aware of all this?”

The hard look remained, “I’m in charge of the school, Mr. Nichols. Pastor Donald has his duties, I have mine, and they do not crossover. I made that very clear when I took this job a few years ago…” He flipped open the Bible as if looking for a particular verse of Scripture to make his point, “I’m the principle of this school, I make the hiring choices and Pastor Donald knows this and so do those when I was voted in…”

He was surprised that Conrad was being so quiet. In fact he was beginning to suspect there was more to it than his kid stood up for herself. And it seemed to him it was being dragged out for some reason.

“….I will hire who I think is best for this job. The school is important to me. Mr. Conrad is a very good teacher. He was highly recommended from the last school he worked at…”

“Where was this?” He found himself asking, “How long, Mr. Conrad, where you at your last school?” He asked the question because the man didn’t look over thirty and something was beginning to bother him about the guy. He carried himself with a stiff air of the self-important was true and obvious but there was something else about the man that troubled him.

“Charles, Conrad doesn’t have to answer your questions, he’s not the issue, your daughter is.” The arms folded across his chest but he quickly tried to relax, “I will hire whom I feel is best for this job…”

Finally interrupting in anger, “Your daughter owes me and the entire class an apology. She will stand up in front of my class and apologize for her behavior! I will not tolerate in my classroom such an attitude!” The man wanted to get up and make his point but he was forcing himself to remain sitting. “I’m owed an apology and I will get one. Standing up in front of the class like that and acting as if she knows better science than I do. I’m the teacher, not a fifteen year old girl, Mr. Nichols. Not sure what books she is reading but they are not science books.”

He wasn’t sure why he said it, “Well, she does read her Bible, she reads other books…” It sounded ridiculous but he felt compelled to defend Emma on some level. And none of this was making sense with the two men who sat demanding he force his kid to apologize for something he was convinced she shouldn’t have to apologize for in a Christian school. To the other man who sat next to him with that look of one not use to getting his way, “You want me to force Emma to apologize for standing up for what she believes in? In a Christian school of all places? She’s defending the Bible as far as I can tell. What’s wrong with that?” He wondered where Pastor Donald was in all this. Something really wasn’t making sense. Maybe he was missing something? Something obvious? “I thought the Bible was the Word of God?” He couldn’t believe he said it; secular Jews don’t say such things. “Thanks, Grandfather Aaron”, he told himself with an inner laugh, “I guess I was listening?”

The voice was flat in response as it continued, “We don’t worship the Bible, Charles.” He flipped through some more pages, “We study it, we learn from it, and we follow it knowing that not everything in it was meant to be taken literally. Historically speaking, the first eleven chapters of Genesis were never meant to be taken as actual history. The Bible is God’s Word, but that doesn’t mean we blindly believe everything we read in it.” He tried to be a little more relaxed as he felt he was making his point, “The Bible is a good book to live one’s life by in matters of morals, ethics and basically how we should treat people, but it’s not history and it’s certainly not a science book….”

“Does Pastor Donald share those views?” That sounded more like an Andrea question.

The annoyance returned, “I’m not like Pastor Donald, Mr. Nichols. We differ on a few points of the Bible.” He flipped a few more pages as if having a problem finding something, “But Pastor Donald is also nearing retirement, so we choose to simply agree to disagree until we we get another pastor…”

Conrad spoke up again, “I’m not here to discuss religion, Pastor Flincher, I’m owed an apology.”

Charles was getting annoyed by the complaining of Mr. Conrad, “My daughter, Emma, will not being apologizing. I want to know what she said exactly in your class, Mr. Conrad?” Emma had tried a few times to tell him what the man was like as a teacher. He had passed it off as typical student complaining about the teacher sitting on his right with a growing look of anger in the small eyes and balding head.

The voice was hard, unpleasant, “There is no discussing or debating religion in my class. Your daughter was belligerent in my class…”

Interrupting, “Not even sure Emma knows what that is, Mr. Conrad….”

“…She refused to stop mentioning the Bible in class as if it were an authority for science facts. She refused to stop interrupting me in class when I try to explain to her that the Bible was not a science book and has no place in science class…”

Charles noted the silence of the other man. Was this really the church his wife and daughter’s actually liked being at? “So, defending her faith, what she believes in, what she was told was the Word of God, in a Christian school is the problem?” He was beginning to note he was sounding like his Christian wife. Was that good or bad? Well, he did marry the redhead knowing her religious faith was Christian and not of her own Jewish roots? Well, that wasn’t fair, she never left her Jewish roots behind but she knew his own thoughts on the subject of the church and was simply diplomatic when the subject came up. He married a Christian girl with a Jewish last name; he had no regrets. His pointless talking to himself was interrupted by the annoyed Mr. Joseph Conrad and his demands that his kid be dragged before the class and forced to recant her beliefs; it’s how it felt he told himself.

Mr. Joseph Conrad seemed offended by the statement, “I am not a Christian, I am certainly not religious in anything. I teach science and only science. She will apologize. She was wrong and needs to be corrected…”

“Why did you quit your last job?” Charles asked it calmly for the most part, “I would curious what school you taught at before you came here.” Adding; “Do you not allow your students to ask questions?”

Annoyed, “I allow science questions, Mr. Nichols, I don’t allow students to stand on soap boxes and preach in my class…” Holding up a chubby hand, “As for my last school I taught at, that’s a private matter and of no concern of yours or your daughter…”

He decided to let that go for the moment, “And Emma didn’t ask a science related question?”

“No.”

“What did she ask or say that has gotten you and the principle so worked up?”

The man leaned back in the chair he seemed uncomfortable sitting in, “I am not here to be asked questions, Mr. Nichols, I am here to let it be known that she will apologize…”

“What was the question or statement made by Emma? I know my daughter, she can be stubborn but she knows what she believes in and why. She doesn’t just simply blurt out statements without thinking things through….” He could hear the pen being tapped on the desk impatiently, Charles really wanted to tell the man to stop it but of course he didn’t, “I know Emma, she asks questions to understand what she is being told. So, I think I am asking a valid question, what did Emma say?” It was becoming apparent this was a man who didn’t like being questioned; another observation Emma had told him.

Principal Flincher seemed bent on being silent.

“Mr. Conrad,” Charles started out patiently, “As a parent I am allowed to ask why my kid is in trouble. So far you have said nothing to indicate that Emma did anything to deserve her being forced to apologize for stating her beliefs and defending her beliefs…” He decided a knew tact, “Look, Mr. Conrad, I’m not a Christian, my wife is and so are my kids, they like this church, they are liked and seem to have gotten much from being here. I am seeing a great value in them being here, I may not believe as they do but I do see them being pretty good kids because of this places influence, but I am not going to allow my daughter to be forced to do something she has no obligation to do like apologize for something you have yet to really explain….” He could see the interruption coming from the small dark eyes. “So, again, what did she say or do to get me out of a day of work and have to come here and have my daughter raked over the coals?”

Not happy at all, “We were discussing the impossibility for the world-wide Flood of Noah to be anything but a story and very possible a local flood told so many times it became the whole planet. It was a local flood told over and over and the story became bigger with the telling. The story of Noah was nothing more than a moral tale of some kind…”

“There are other cultures with flood legends…” He was convinced the man simply didn’t like the fact that Emma stood up and disagreed with the man.

The hand went up, “She said that as well. I pointed out to her that the Bible took those tales and made it their own. It has nothing to do with an actual world-wide global flood….”

Charles wondered if he did the hand thing a lot in his science class? Emma said he did it a lot. Mostly when he felt the student was making too much sense Emma told him with an impish smile.

“….She insisted that the fact that so many cultures world-wide have flood legends would indicate that the stories have some truth to them. She stated the Bible was a factual record of the reasons for the flood and who caused it….”

“Sounds reasonable to me, Mr. Conrad.”

The hard tone returned, “She was being belligerent.”

He cracked a smile, “Emma has no idea what that word means.”

“She was being argumentative then. But I tried to be patient knowing that she read odd books by people claiming to be scientists….”

He would have asked who those were but Charles was sure he already knew. She made him once watch the Ken Hamm/Bill Nye debates and of course he did as he did enjoy her talkative behavior even when forced to watch that which he didn’t want to watch. But he did. They actually had a good time sitting next to each other, eating popcorn, and spending half the time talking about everything but the show on the tv. At some point Emily showed up and joined the watching of the debate; Emily fell asleep mid-way through the program.

“….She seems to read a lot of books and I really wonder at what point is she going to read an actual science book….” Angry for some reason, “Ken Hamm is not a valid authority in my class on science. But she kept on quoting him…” He folded his hands on his lap as if he were addressing a student, “Look, she is your child, you may let her read all the fake science books you want, not my problem anyway, but in my class we will discuss real science with real science books as those are by people who have studied actual science….”

“You define real scientists as who?” He took notice that the principle was completely allowing the other guy to take over the problem; but the pen was still clutched in the man’s left hand as he slowly seemed to be flipped through his Bible for something?

“I define real scientists those with actual and real degrees in science.”

“Their names? Because I know what Emma reads for the most part and even books on evolution she has and does read….” He could see the expression in the man’s face was uncertain of Charles’s statements, “I know she’s read Darwin’s book…And some guy named Bakker as well.”

He interrupted and with it came the hand following, “She’s read Darwin’s “Origin Of The Species?”

Charles liked the look in the man’s face, “Yes, she’s read it.”

“She talks like she’s never read a book on a real science subject…”

“You mean she questioned what you were teaching because so you assumed she never read anything else but Ken Hamm. I admit Emma can be stubborn, but what kid isn’t at times. But she is my daughter and I known her very well. Belligerence is not in her makeup….” He raised a hand as the guy was about to interrupt, “Let me finish, Mr. Conrad.” He noted that Principle Flincher was listening finally, “I know my Emma. She’s a fairly normal fifteen year old girl. She doesn’t get belligerent but she does stand up for what she believes in. She has never caused me much trouble in her life. She’s grown up to be a pretty girl and I am proud of her. She’s gone through a great deal…” Why did he keep bringing up the cancer days as it was apparent they didn’t care?

Principal Flincher interrupted, “There is no reason to get defensive, Charles, but your daughter needs to apologize for being at least over-stepping her bounds as a student in Mr. Conrad’s class….” The Bible page flipping ended, “Mr. Nichol’s, we are here to simply discuss your daughter’s conduct in Mr. Conrad’s class….”

Emma had once explained something that was also becoming clear, “Daddy, no one calls him anything but Mr. Conrad, he even spent a few minutes explaining that he would not answer to anything but Mr. Conrad. In fact he seemed to demand it, Daddy. It would have been funny if he didn’t say it in such a way that everyone in class was afraid to say anything else…”

“….It’s Mr. Conrad’s class and he will and can run it as he pleases. If he doesn’t want the Bible mentioned for his own reason’s that is choice to make. I am not bothered by Mr. Conrad’s demand how his class with be run…”

He was getting tired of the merry-go-round, “My Emma is not apologizing.” He wanted to get up.

The science teacher got and stood over Charles, “She will apologize or I will fail her. Period, end of conversation, end of discussion, end of subject. I will expect this apology tomorrow morning and in front of the class or I will fail her…”

“You’ll fail her? For disagreeing with you?” He slowly got up.

“It’s my classroom, it’s my rules, I do not discuss religion in my class, and she will either do as she is told or I will simply fail her. I will not have my classroom being used as a religious soapbox, Mr. Nichols….and certainly not by some Jewish brat!”

Charles smiled despite the last part of the statement, “Ah, the truth comes out finally, my Emma is quit proud of her Jewish heritage; takes after her mom on that point. Along with the mane of read hair. Finds it great fun to remind people she’s Jewish, it’s something I am proud she is still holding unto…” He could see the looks in both men and it explained everything, “This isn’t about Emma disagreeing with you, you don’t like the fact that she wears a Star of David on her neckless or doesn’t hide the fact she is quit proud of her Jewish heritage, that’s what is bothering you two…She’s my Jewish princess and it’s the only thing you two have a problem with…” He wanted to laugh but didn’t at their expressions, “She’s not apologizing for having an opinion let alone being a Jewish girl with an opinion you don’t like…”

Heading toward the door in a huff but stops abruptly, “She will apologize in the morning and in front of the class, Mr. Nichols. In front of the class or I fail her!” Opening the door with a violent jerk, looking at both men but speaking to the silent principle. “I will have an apology or else. Your Jewish brat will do as she is told!” The door slammed violently shut.

“As you can see, Charles,” So began Principal Flincher in a cold tone, “The truth is that as far as I am concerned your daughter will apology for her belligerent conduct in Mr. Conrad’s class. It’s that plain and simple.” Standing up, “Listen, Mr. Nichol’s, soon Pastor Donald will retire, I will be voted in as the senior pastor and changes will be made in this church. I don’t hold to many of the views of Pastor Donald, he holds to doctrines I do not agree with. Changes will me made and people can either except them or leave this church…” Closing his Bible quickly, “I will not tolerate any opposition to the changes I will make, your daughter will apologize. It’s that simple or you and your Jewishness can find another church.” Heading toward the door, “End of discussion, Mr. Nichol’s. Either do as you are told to do or leave my church….” Opening the door and standing at there looking at the man with a cold hard look, “I don’t believe as Pastor Donald does that Israel and the Church are two different things in Scripture. The Church is the new Israel via what Scripture states very clearly is what I believe, Jews are not welcome here and if they refuse to conform or not apologize when they overstep their rolls in the new Israel, well, they can leave…”

“My daughter is not apologizing, Principal Flincher even if I understood what you are talking about.” The man was talking theology Charles had no clue about.

“Doesn’t matter if you understand or not, just leave if you are not going to do as you are told.”

“I am not going to force my Emma to apologize because you two don’t like her for being my Jewish kid. Not happening…”

He glared, “Listen, I am going to make an example of you people and that’s what I am going to do…”

“You people?” He stared back, “You mean Jewish people or people who question you or anyone else here?”

“Yes, you people, where ever there are Jews, they create problems by just being there! You don’t belong in the Church of Christ as far as I am concerned. Where there are Jews there are problems and problems generally created by your kind! Down through history your kind have been a problem and I will make an example of you and your family until you either do as you are told or leave!”

Walking up the man, “I don’t teach my children to apologize for their heritage let alone what they believe, I am not about to start now, Principal Flincher. Not about to start now and teach my kids to be cowards and hide their family heritage. Never going to happen!”

“You will do as you are told or leave my church, Mr. Nichols.”

Charles Nichols shook his head slowly, “If we have learned anything since the Holocaust, Principal Flincher, we don’t run anymore and we don’t apologize for being Jewish.”

“Then leave my church! If you cannot do as you are told, then leave my church!”

The man seemed on the verge of hysterics thought Charles, “I am not going to make my Emma apologize for anything and certainly not for being Jewish. I’m not going to go quietly into that repeating of history, you want me and my family to leave, you’re going to have to try harder than threats of failing my kid…this Jew doesn’t apologize. I may not be a practicing Jew…”

“Troublemakers are all you people are. Down through history your kind have been nothing but trouble. Nothing but a stubborn bunch of anti-Christ bunch…”

He forced himself to be calm because he wasn’t feeling calm, his grandfather would have been proud, “…But this non-sense would make me a practicing Jew just out of spite.”

“Nothing is stopping you from leaving, Mr. Nichols.”

“Yes, someone is, her name is Emma and I couldn’t look at her in that young strong-willed face if I didn’t do as I have taught her to do…this Jew is not apologizing nor is she going to apologize…”

The face was unpleasant, “We’ll see just how much you believe that…” He walked away in an angry huff, “Damn stubborn unwanted people…”

He watched the man walk stiffly and certainly angry down the long hall and really wondered what he got himself into. But one thing was for sure, there was not going to be any apology. His cell phone buzzed. He looked at the caller ID.

“Hey Emma…no it didn’t go well at all….No, Emma, you are not apologizing….Jews stopped apologizing after we stopped running and stood our ground…” He walked down the hallway quit convinced everyone in the office heard the man yelling and the conversation over-all. “….No, Emma, you are not apologizing….” He heard her laugh, it sounded good to hear her laugh a bit, “Jews don’t apologize, Emma….the Holocaust taught us that enough was enough of running away…” He laughed at something she said, “Yes, we are a pain in the ass when we stop playing the victim….we are certainly a pain when we stop and fight back….” He laughed again as he walked out the building and toward his car, “No, Emma, it’s not going to be pleasant tomorrow….” It was silent a bit on her end of the phone, he knew she was thinking carefully before speaking again, he spoke up, “Emma, we are not apologizing for who we are….” He opened the car door, sat down, and started the engine, “I know, I know, it’s going to be unpleasant tomorrow….” He could sense she was trying to hold in her emotions, she may have been a smart kid but could be emotional at the drop of a hat, “As you stayed home today, you feeling a little better….” She woke up looking tired, not feeling well, “…..Yes, of course, doing homework…”

He laughed at her as she lightly laughed with him. He wasn’t sure what had happened in that office he just left because the truth be told he really never thought about his heritage as much as Emma took it or studied it. Something inside him simply snapped and he sounded more like his Grandfather Aaron than himself. It surprised him and it startled him as well that he sounded as he did. Because he was no practicing Jew, really never thought about it nor the truth be told ever really cared too much about it. But something snapped in him as the two of them made demands on his kid and her beliefs and then they made it personal. Damn personal? Yes, maybe that was what it was. It became personal and it caused something to get very angry in himself. And they attacked his kid? And they kept attacking his kid and wouldn’t stop. Or was it what she stood for? What his whole family stood for? Whatever the reason or cause or whatever, he had become angry. Very angry. Where did all that come from? Well, maybe it wasn’t that hard to understand. He simply had walked away from his family and he thought never looked back or even remembered things he thought he had forgotten or tried to forget. He had forgotten nothing. He had never forgotten his Grandfather Aaron’s words when his grandson confronted him about his constant harping on his family’s history and heritage. “Not apologizing, Charles, you may nor like it, but you’re a Jew, you have faith, a heritage, a family, a history that you do not apologize for…” Charles thought as he slammed the door of the man’s apartment that he hadn’t been listening but apparently he had.

“I’m heading home, Emma, be there in a bit….”

No Connection. (Short Story).

cropped-12301412301.jpgHe took stock of the present situation as he sat in his home office looking out the window. He basically felt like crap, so it had to be the beginnings of the flue. Great, just bloody great, he thought not really regretting it. The yearly late January three day battle with the flu was about to begin and a good excuse to avoid going to work. Slight fever, sinus’s clogged, and that slightly ache in his legs; yes, the flu was on it’s way to wreck his week. Taking a bath sounded good about that moment but he would hold on that idea a bit longer.

He studied the outside world of the early morning and watched the light snow fall. Ah, yes, more snow. That’s what the present day needed, more snow to shovel for two ungrateful landlords who really shouldn’t be working together; a father and son team who were in constant bickering mode. It was January and it was cold; very cold of course for a January day in Minnesota and the snow was falling from the north and it was suppose to get heavier as the day went on. It was winter so what did one expect.

The radio was tuned on the Mike and Mike sports talk show; it was Super Bowl Sunday coming up in a few days as the New England Patriots were going against the Seattle Seahawks. And for the moment he sat at his desk looking outside at the morning slowly coming to life at five thirty-seven in the morning; the only light at the moment came from the outside street lights. It was quiet and at the moment it was all he cared about. It was good he was a morning person, he flipped open his laptop and typed in the password, and waited for the screensaver to show up. The screen popped up of the pretty Japanese girl in archery pose.

He joked, “Ohayo gozaimasu, Yuki-san.”

He could imagine the girl’s soft voice replying in kind. There was a wonderful quality to a Japanese girl’s sing-song softness of a voice he told someone once; they thought he was weird. Though he had one point lived in Japan so that explained his love of that particular country and their literature. That was only the beginning of that enjoyment; the Japanese could write one hell of a ghost story. Not the mention one very good stories such as Kawabata’s ‘House Of Sleeping Beauties.’ The girl in the archery pose on his screen was simply a young girl standing among the dark green bamboo of Japan aiming her bow and dark eyes at someone in front of her. The scene looked like a scene from a movie taking place somewhere in the mountains of Japan. Beautiful country with even prettier walking around scenery he thought.

“What to post, what to post?” He asked the question as he connected to his Facebook page. He took notice of the air temp outside, “Good grief, ten below zero.” He returned to the screen, “I should just go back to bed.” But he couldn’t do that now as he was up and awake, he typed, ‘”I am bored.” But didn’t push post. There was always pornography to waste time with before the morning really began but he thought better of it. Once one started to watch that crap the more times passed until you realize you’ve spent hours staring at the same thing and not doing anything else but waste those three hours; wasn’t that yesterday? Yes, shibari, aka, Japanese rope bondage. The curse of boredom he thought with some measure of disgust with himself.

Maybe if human sexuality didn’t fascinate him so much it would be easier; maybe?

He studied the outside world of frozen cold air and falling snow; shouldn’t it be too cold to snow? Didn’t he read that somewhere that there was a temperature when snow wouldn’t form let alone fall? He watched for a bit as someone drudged to their car, open the door, and get in; the engine started up with a frozen cold sputter and struggle to get past the cold and start up with a few gasps of effort. The grey-black smoke from the exhaust sputtered out of the tail pipe and the person in the car sat a bit as the car warmed up as best it could. He didn’t know the person in the slowly warming car so he slowly got up and walked to another window facing the south end of the apartment complex and looked outside at pretty much the same scene but on a smaller scale as the fence of the property was about twenty feet away. The cold looked even worse from  this window he thought with an bitter thought he still had to go outside and shovel the apartment walks for the landlord; ah, Latvians. Ah a  bunch of pain in the ass Slavs he thought with no hidden dislike of them lately. But it kept him in the small apartment by working for them so he put up with their behavior which would have done the Czars proud. They were a father and son duo who shouldn’t be working together let alone be in the same room too long together. He was convinced that one day one of them would kill the other. And he wasn’t sure that the other one didn’t deserve it.

He heard a door opening below where a few cars parked. He took notice of the young woman heading to her beat up car. It was Cassie running off late probably to her job. He had brief encounters with the skinny girl with the look of one who drank a bit too much; he did find her once sitting outside slightly drunk one time and barely dressed; he could see her tits down the flowing dress; nice tits he thought with a smile. He did wonder if her tits were cold as the weather and if they were getting hard. He watched her drive off. He hated getting bored and he was getting bored. He had such thoughts because they were better than realizing just how much he really hated the idea lately of having to deal with the son of the landlord; asshole. Thinking of Cassie’s small round soft tits was far better than thinking of how much he hated having to deal with the guy. Besides, she was a nice girl who got drunk and hadn’t dressed very well and showed more of herself than was good; but still, wonderful pair of tits softly swayed when she had bent over and showed all her wonder geography. What did Zeus call them, a ‘Beautiful Evil.’ Well, that view wasn’t evil, questionable conduct yes, but evil viewing not so much.

He studied the landscape of cold a bit longer. He was bored and getting even more bored. It was below zero and had no liking of going out side if he could help it. This weather would cure him of ever wanting to take up ice fishing. He had lived over twenty years in the land of the frozen tundra and not once did he have an inclination to walk out unto a frozen lake to walk and drill a hole in the ice and sit there and fish. Maybe it was fun to ice fish. He would always see those ice houses on the many lakes as he drove by and took notice of the many styles of ice houses. Some quit big on small lakes and that even troubled him as a fun idea. What was so fun about it? Twenty odd years and not once had he gone ice fishing; he also hadn’t been invited as well so there was that.

He walked away from the window and headed back to his desk and sat down. He stared at the screen feeling that it was going to be a very cold day. He knew eventually he’d have to go outside into the cold and probably shovel a bit of the snow that had lightly fallen to make the two idiots happy and off his back for the day. He glanced out the window and watched as another car left the parking lot.

The two idiots? He was sure one of them was staring out his window and glaring at the imaginary snow fall at his precious apartment complex convinced it was being buried under several tons of snow and that their slave labor or at least indentured servant Daniel wasn’t doing his job. They were both idiots and they really shouldn’t be working together as one hated the other with a passion. Daniel knew this because the younger one told him enough times how much he hated his father and really wished he would hurry up and die. The older man seemed to keep living just to spite the son. It was a lovely relationship Daniel thought with a smile. Somewhere between a great white and a bull shark in a very small fish tank.

He started at the computer screen, contemplated writing something on his Facebook page about ice fishing? He had never gone ice fishing. He wasn’t sure he even liked fishing all that much but it was something to do and mostly do when he visited his own dad in Florida; CoCoa Beach to be more exact. He wrote a sentence and then deleted it; boring subject? Well, not really, but it wasn’t that interesting. He had never gone ice fishing his entire time since moving to Minnesota some twenty odd years ago. He stared out the window and thought about how long he had been in the land of the frozen north. He had arrived before the famous or infamous October snow storm? He took notice of a few other people drudging toward their vehicles; he knew a few of them by sight and one of them he was sure was a resent tenant. He heard the foot steps above him; well, she was up stomping about he thought. Not an unpleasant woman but not a friendly one. The footsteps above seemed to be heading out the door; good because the woman walked like a heard of elephants. Thin floors and thin walls make loud neighbors. He started typing again and again on ice fishing and again he deleted it. He took a sip of the lukewarm tea, thought about getting up and simply heating it up again. What he needed was a hot chocolate. With or without rum? At the moment he replied to himself maybe more rum than hot chocolate.

“Morning, Son.” The IM window chirped open.

He typed with amusement at the interruption of him doing nothing important, “Morning Father.”

“How’s the weather?”

“Ten below. Snowing.”

“Too cold.” So wrote the man living in Florida.

He responding with a head shake, “It’s fairly normal for Minnesota” He also noted that his brother, David, was online as well. They hadn’t spoken much in a few months. David and his dad were probably chatting up a storm; they had a close relationship.

He typed something, “Doing anything today?” While he waited for the answer he thought about his younger brother, David, who lived in Colorado at the moment. He tried to not think of David and the life he was living in Denver with his latest wife; Paul liked David’s first wife despite the strain between him and his brother as their marriage fell apart. Paul and Missy still spoke on a weekly basis and that was the beginning of the issues; Paul was too close or nice to Missy apparently and that didn’t sit well after they finally were divorced. Paul needed to take sides and the side to take was with his brother not the cheating ex-wife and she did cheat. Missy even admitted she cheated. It was mistake from day one to get married and it ended as it was going to end. But Paul liked the girl and had no intention of simply toss out a friendship with the girl.

The message came, “Going golfing later this morning.”

Typing back, “Nice. Sounds fun.” Actually it did sound nice. It was also one of the safe topics between the two of them; at the moment there were none between him and David. Of late there were no safe topics. It began some months ago this unpleasant lack of real talking.

Paul got up, heated up the tea, and returned to the desk and sat down. He noticed the new message from the man in sunny warm Florida; Paul still preferred Minnesota.

“Talk to your brother lately?”

“Not lately.” He typed a little annoyed with the two of them. David wanted him to not talk to Missy and that was that. Paul had no intention of doing so and so their relationship was not on solid ground and going nowhere. He liked the girl from Mexico and had no reason to still talk to her despite the protests of the wronged party and his brother was the wronged party for the most part. The fact was they never had a chance to be married beyond five years and Paul had even reminded his brother that he told David that little fact. But David liked the girl and was going to marry the girl even though both of them had no similar interests or even a connection in any real marriage level. Paul had told him that. David didn’t like being reminded that his older brother told him so. He took sides because only one side was talking to him; David eventually told his brother his side and it helped him understand the mess. But he still had no intention of not remaining friends with Missy. He and her had at least some connections and one common problem and his name was Paul and David’s father.

The message finally came back from the old man in a tone that something was bothering him? “Your brother and Veronica are still getting married, you know that right? Next month?”

Ah, yes, Veronica. All legs, all blonde hair, and again, not one single thing in common. He had met the girl a few times when he did visit David in Colorado and found her okay; not as interesting as the petite girl with the long dark hair and smile that could melt steel into a puddle of molten something. And besides, she liked movies like Paul did, liked history liked Paul did, and liked a hell of a lot more things than David ever did. Veronica simply seemed to like hanging on David’s arm and that was enough for her. She was eye candy and didn’t mind the role she played for the guy. Veronica wasn’t stupid, she knew full well what she was doing being David’s girlfriend; she certainly liked the attention.

Still talking, “…..Do you plan on coming to this wedding? It would be nice if you would apologize to him and come to the wedding to do so…”

He was so tempting to type back something akin to when hell freezes over. Paul didn’t do anything but not take sides after hearing both sides. Yes, Missy cheated, yes, David was betrayed and it hurt very much, but she didn’t do it to Paul. He thought a bit and relaxed even more before responding. The old man wanted him to apologize for being right and for pointing out he was right and that he refused to treat Missy like a pariah! Well, it wasn’t going to happen. This one story had many sides and no one was completely without sin.

“Father, I am not apologizing for being right. They never should have gotten married. Completely two different people with very little if anything in common.” He sent the message knowing what was going to come back. He had listened to her side of the affair and why she had one and why she felt pushed in that direction and then eventually David told him his side of the affair and so on and so forth. He knew the biggest issue was going to be when he found out she was a Catholic; David was a staunch atheist. The signs of the coming mess and divorce were there if anyone had gotten his damn head out between those wonderful tanned legs of Missy and saw the obvious problem. Paul wanted to type that as well but didn’t. Their whole relationship was based on one thing; she was damn good in bed but outside of it they had nothing else to hold them together. And as for the blonde Veronica, well, Paul was keeping that opinion to himself. Well, at first he kept it to himself.

The answer came with the tone, “You have no business talking to your brother like that. He loves you very much. You have simply chosen sides and it’s not very brotherly of you.”

He was about to respond but interrupted by another message.

“Missy had the affair, Missy cheated on your brother who didn’t do anything, you took sides.”

Paul wasn’t arguing the facts, “I know what she did, she told what she did, but let’s not paint a picture that only one side is too blame, Dad, because it’s not.” He studied what he wrote, wondered if it was worth sending, he frowned as he looked away and at the outside snowing world. He started again, “Dad, I have not chosen sides, I simply refuse to treat Missy like you want me to…” He was sure that his dad and David were talking about this between each other on their own Face Book pages. “I never said what Missy did was right, even she admits to that, but let’s be fair, the two of them were not connected other than the obvious physical attraction.” He pushed the send button.

He wondered what David was thinking as all this was being said. The message came back quickly. Despite it all, he did miss him.

“You should apologize to your brother at the wedding.”

He was so tempted so actually send a message to David directly but didn’t. He stared at the response trying to remain calm in speech because telling the man the biggest problem that David ever had was the guy Paul was talking to! But what would that have solved. Nothing! Absolutely fucking nothing!

“I didn’t chose sides, Dad, I simply refuse to treat Missy as completely the problem.” Thinking about it, “They both share some blame for the mess. They had nothing in common, no connection beyond….”

Another message popped up from the man.

“You own him an apology. You owe me an apology…”

He frowned and spoke out loud, “I owe you an apology?” He kept reading.

“…You’ve been nothing but critical of your brother during all this and me. Blaming me for their marriage falling apart.”

“Because you are…” Paul wasn’t that confused, typing slowly, “What are you talking about?” He sent it after thinking about it before sending it. He leaned back in the chair and waited for whatever explanation for the little tirade. Something didn’t make sense. But then again he was dealing with a man who believed whatever he wanted as long as it made him look good and his oldest son look bad. He again took notice that his brother was still on his Face Book page; he was tempted to simply talk to his brother. Something just didn’t seem right or was simply wrong? He felt like he was being drag into a drama in the making? It felt like something was being orchestrated? Or was be just being paranoid? Possibly came an answer, but remember who you are dealing with. He replied softly with an edge, “I always do.”

The message came back.

“You know full well what I am talking about.”

Paul got up, reheated his tea again, and sat back down with the inclination that he would simply stop talking to the man. He typed a message.

“No, actually I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. Wish I did.” What did he write to his brother the last time he actually spoke to him he tried to remember. It was months ago the last time he had talked with David. He remembered if anything he had told his brother what he felt about the whole mess and divorce. Did he mention the old man yelling at him from Florida for an apology for what? He ignored the next few rambling angry messages demanding apologies for slights and other things he was sure he had no intention of apologizing for. And some of it was unknown to him as to it’s origin. The man was simply venting.

He looked again at the Face Book screen and noted his brother was still online. He looked at the latest message from the old man sitting in his condo off Cocoa Beach. He looked at it again, he didn’t remember saying it but it was something he had said once to Veronica.

“…I am not a control freak, Paul. I don’t demand people simply agree with me….” The protest went on for a while.

He replied to the message but to himself in the room, “Actually, you are and I’m not the only one who’s said it. Wife number three has said it.” He knew telling the blonde anything was probably a mistake; another reason to like redheads Paul replied to himself. “Veronica is your problem, David….but you are my brother…” He started typing a private message to his brother, but stared at it with a frustration that he didn’t like what he wrote, and deleted it. No reason to be mean or pick a fight just to pick a fight. David really wasn’t the issue and even if Veronica was a minor part of the issue even she wasn’t worth talking about. Family is messy Paul thought out loud. Simply a messy venture into barely not killing one another.

He looked out side and noted that he would have to go out side and do some shoveling before one or both of the idiots came storming to his door and scream at him for not being out side shoveling the walks. Idiots! They complained about every snow fall as it were a major snow storm and would jam out the doors of the apartment building and cause their piece of junk of a boiler to stop working; which it would on occasion. They were still idiots as far as he was concerned.

Paul chuckled despite himself at another thought; Veronica has a big mouth he thought out loud; he also thought something else about that mouth but refrained from writing it down. He noted again that David was still online. He started typing again something else as he felt there was something up and that maybe David wasn’t actually talking to their dad. Call it a gut feeling he heard himself say out loud, but something was off and he felt it was off. Something about his dad and listening to the latest girlfriend was triggering his gut that something was happening and maybe it was time to end it once and for all this lack of connection to his own brother. And then once it was said and done, walk damn away and don’t look back. It made no sense of course at the moment but nothing was going to be solved or fixed or punched in the face by sitting in Minnesota while the real problem acted more the victim than his brother or even Missy was acting; Veronica was just a minor issue that a muzzle would solve or a big old ball shoved down that throat would solve just as well. Damn bitch. He had met her once and simply liked nothing about her. There was something about her he couldn’t define and now he was sure he knew what it was. Family was messy he thought out loud; too damn messy. Well, he was partly to blame for even telling her anything about his opinion of his dad and his brother. But still, someone needed to be punched in the mouth; maybe all three? He laughed at his own absurdity. He knew he wasn’t making much sense on the issue of the family problems. It was a mess. It was simply a mess of personalities either gossiping about one or another or simply trying to divide each other; he placed Veronica in that department. So wonder he moved so far north to escape the family drama. But still, David was his brother, David was setting himself up for another short termed marriage with the walking, talking, long legged clueless bitch but it wasn’t his life anyway. He was of course venting and rationalizing but for the moment it didn’t have to make sense, it just had to be said even if it was in an empty apartment.

He deleted the message again and wrote another, “David, I’ll be there.” He pushed the button and waited for the response. His brother wasn’t the enemy. And neither was Missy. It was just going to have to be something they would have to work through.

He took notice that Missy was now online; he finally noted the old man had sent another message.

“Maybe you shouldn’t come at all if you are not going to apologize to me or your brother…” He could hear the man’s voice of annoyance or was it dislike that Paul refused to apologize. “…You owe me an apology at the very most…” It went on like that a bit longer but Paul had stopped reading it.

Paul laughed a bit at the man as a message came from Missy.

“VERONICA’S PREGNANT!” The message from Missy simply read.

He eventually went outside to shovel the snow that had really started falling.

Ecce Homo. (Short Story).

cropped-12301412301.jpgThe Italy On The Hill restaurant wasn’t as busy as he thought it would be for a Friday night. He had heard good reviews about the place so it didn’t look good that it was barely half full, but then again it was only a little after five thirty and the frigid weather might also have been a issue.

This was the third and last time he thought with this one. Angela was indeed above and beyond pretty and all that went with it but not worth another attempt at dating. One can only take so much he thought again as he sipped his chardonnay which tasted as if it might have been left out a bit too long. He wasn’t even sure really why he went out with her the second time let alone this time. Maybe it was just plain biology and her physical biology was indeed wonderful to see; she did take care of her five foot ten slight frame was obvious. It also might have something to do with her being the friend of his sister Alex and Alex pleading with him to go out with her again; she even offered to pay for the meal and he wished he had taken her up on the offer. He remembered sighing in defeat but agreeing to go one more time out with the girl. He could never quit say no to his sister and he couldn’t then either. He simply didn’t really want to be at the Italy On The Hill Restaurant with Angela; food wasn’t even that good.

The voice wasn’t mid-western, “So, what do you do again?” Angela asked also in a tone that made Paul feel like he was in the court room all of a sudden. “I know you told me before what you did I just forgot…” The laugh was flat; she was trying too hard?

But Paul of course answered, he wasn’t going to be rude, “I teach history at Century College.” He doubted she heard the answer, “I teach American History mostly…” The large blue eyes seemed to register his words with absolutely no hint she cared, “I also teach a Asian History class every few years.”

“History must be interesting…”

It sounded as flat as the rest of her comments, “Been into history since my freshman year in high school. Mr. Cyrus was quit a good teacher and made the subject interesting….” She was bored and looked it, he wasn’t as he was talking about his favorite subject. “History is simply a fascinating subject on human nature and humanity as a whole, Angela.” She was slowly tapping the table with her spoon, he wanted to laugh, “He mostly taught about the ancient civilizations of the Middle East. I suppose with a name like Cyrus it made sense…” The stare was blank so he continued without comment, “He made the Babylonians sound interesting along with the Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Philestines even…” She looked so bored, but at least the spoon was no longer tapping the table, but she did take a few long sips on the wine she was drinking and the rate it was being sipped it would be gone in about a minute, “He even taught about the impact of the Persians and Greek civilizations on the Jews…” There was a slight hint of a reaction to that comment, “He made it all interesting.”

She drank some more wine.

He asked the obvious question, “Do you like being a lawyer’s assistant?” Though thoughts he was having were all wrong but he couldn’t see this girl doing much but looking pretty and spread those long legs of hers. It was of course crude but he wasn’t sure he was wrong on that point. He didn’t really talk much about the actual practice of law as if she had any clue what any of the terms meant; which he was convinced she didn’t.

She kind of perked up, “It’s great money.” Angela retorted with a look in her blue eyes that said much abut the subject of money, “I like the job as a job but the money is better and why I keep doing it.”

“What about the actual practice of law?”

She scanned him with a puzzled look, “I told you, it’s about the money. That is all that’s good about it. Law is law, Paul.”

Why didn’t that answer make any sense to him he wanted to ask her but stopped himself. Just get through the evening he told himself as he noted their waiter walking by with a bottle of wine; he needed a drink.

“So, it’s the money then that you like and only making money?” Paul asked knowing it was a stupid question but then again the whole date up to this moment was stupid. Where was Stephanie he wondered and asked himself. Now there was a girl worth being around he decided as he took stock of the woman sitting across from him with that just as bored look he felt was on his own face. Stephanie was in Chicago visiting her parents; probably went to a Cubs game if she had a chance. Probably also practicing her photography hobby which was slowly becoming her profession; well, a part-time profession. The girl did look good in her Chicago Cubs t-shirt he thought warmly of the girl’s geography.

Someone laughed behind him; she sounded pretty and at least having fun.

He had to say something, “So, Angela, money is very important to you?” Another dumb question.

The look on the perfectly applied make of a round face with arching eyebrows answered slowly, “What else is there to working at all, Paul. Money is everything….” She flashed a toothy smile, “I suppose I get some pleasure out of the practice of law, but the bottom line it’s the money that I like most of all…” She rambled on about other things that seemed to only relate to money and it’s many uses; Paul was getting bored. “….I have been to Paris a few rimes because of the money I make….I was there last summer and it was great.”

“Only Paris?” Might as well ask Paul reasoned; his sister owned him big time; a girl’s voice from somewhere behind him laughed at something. The place was finally looking more alive than when they arrived.

She perked up a bit, “I’ve been to the British Virgin Island, that was fun as well…”

The same voice from he was sure was from Brooklyn droned on and on he thought and it had no point in it’s talking at all. The only aspect of this chattering girl that interested him anymore was what was behind that dark blue strapless dress. Her breathing was a real pleasure to watch or at least pretend to not notice the soft rising and falling of her well-rounded flesh called her tit’s at this point in the date he reasoned. He was past really listening to the girl called Angela. Up and down. Up and down. Up and down they went in perfect synchronization and it was at the moment the only think not annoying him by talking; talking in words anyway he would admit to himself. The valley of the girl below her chin was probably at the moment the only thing about her he was liking. She was ruining everything by talking and she was still talking about the Virgin Islands. This basically perfect body of flesh and hair and deep blue eyes which were probably contacts was ruining everything by opening her mouth and uttering nothing interesting with damn words. He pictured her with a ball gagged into her pretty and round mouth to make his point that she was talking too much or at least talking about nothing that interested him.

Another burst of some laughing came across the room; someone commented on their food; a waitress walked by carry something that smelled good he thought.

Stephanie never talking this much even when she opened her mouth and she uttered words that where actually worth listening to. She had that mid-western tone in her voice and it was a pleasant sound tom his memory; certainly in bed. He sipped some of his wine that had yet to be touched since it arrived; Stephanie wasn’t a drinker.

Angela was still talking, “…I mean really, Paul, I get paid no matter what the verdict is. So, Paul, why should I worry about it…” The wine was drunk again, “The money is what’s important and in any life that’s what’s important, Paul.” She studied him puzzled by his look, “I like money, Paul, I like spending money and I like it being spent on me…” Amused by her own humor she only saw thought Paul, “Money is a girls best friend and does make the world go around and around the globe, Paul.” She looked about the room, “Where is our food anyway?” Looking at him with that smile she was sure he liked, “I don’t apologize for liking money, Paul…”

“I didn’t say anything.” He wanted to say something rude but declined as it was pointless.

“Yes, well, people think I am some kind of money hungry bitch only after what she can get form a job or guy…”

He remained quiet and he hoped their food would show up at some point. He was beginning to really notice the aromas of the food about him; garlic bread the best smell of them all he thought as he smiled at the girl. “Okay, you like money, I get it.”

She ran a hand through her blonde dyed hair, “What can I say, Paul, this girl likes money and last year I got to go to the British Virgin Island, mostly on Saint Thomas…”

He refrained from correcting her.

“…It’s great money.”

“Is there anything else you like, besides money.” He observed briefly the decor of the place that certainly took it’s theme of Italy very seriously. The three tiered fountain certainly added to the center of the place along with the aromas of Italian cooking; did she even notice any of this he wanted to ask.

The hostess walked up to them, apologizing with a friendly smile, “Sorry, sorry, running behind on garlic bread…” Placing basket on the table, “Short staffed today as well…”

“No worries…”

“About time, I’m starved.” Grabbing a piece of garlic bread and biting into it.

He thanked the girl who smiled back as she walked away. He watched her slowly walk down the isle, talking to other customers, even laughing at some older man’s compliment, and then vanishing behind the door in the back. He did wonder if the dark hair girl was actually Italian or not for a brief few seconds. Probably not but she had the look he suppose, dark hair, dark black eyes, Mediterranean toned skin, and a smile. Maybe more Greek in features than Italian? You’re an idiot, Paul, but it’s better than talking too much to Angela; not nice Paul he could hear his sister’s admonishment, you’re being mean, would be the other comment. She would of course be right as always. But then again she was the one who got him into this date through Italian purgatory.

Another garlic bread was being eaten with gusto, “I went to Paris my first year working for the law firm and it was great. I had never been to France of course…”

He smiled to be polite but he was sure it wasn’t her secretary skills the lawyer was after. “Never been to France.” Though Stephanie wanted to go to the United Kingdom; mostly Scotland as that was where some of her family was from.

“It was okay. I didn’t understand a word anyone said.” She laughed of course, “But it was fun seeing all that French stuff…”

French stuff? “Did you visit any historical sites?”

She frowned, “Not likely.  I think John did but I didn’t want to see an old cathedral so I stayed in the hotel and watched t.v….” The look she was giving him implied much more happened besides watching t.v in Paris?”

“Don’t you have any other interests in life?” Adding with a look, “Except money.” He took notice of the large wall mural of the Fontana de Trevi in Rome; he recognized it from an art class he once took. He also began to notice the light classical music being played above; he couldn’t have identified it if his life depended on it; Verdi came to mind but he had no idea. He liked classical, but to identify one from the other was not an ability he had. He asked again, “Are there no other interests you have besides money and what it can buy you let alone take you?” He really was hoping there was more to this girl than money and maintaining her looks; maybe like she enjoyed old movies? Anything!

The bare shoulders shrugged, the blue eyes seemed to register nothing inside her head, “I don’t really do a lot….”

His cell phone rang it’s usual tone of Beethoven’s ‘Ode To Joy’. Paul grunted his almost displeasure that he actually wanted at the interruption from the phone in his jacket pocket. Taking out the phone, looking at the caller ID, smiled a bit, and mouthed he needed to take the call.

She wasn’t pleased, “Sure.”

He would have smiled at her unpleasant tone, “Yes, Mike, what’s up? Aren’t you suppose to be at a party celebrating your triumph or something?” He joked softly knowing how long it had taken the guy to get a play produced. “What’s up, Mike?” He could picture the guy, who always looked like young Zane Grey to him, sitting in a chair brooding and of course drinking a bit too much.

The tone was Mike at his best, “Drowning, I am simply drowning, and I am sorry for interrupting your date with your sister’s friend, but I am drowning here…”

“Drowning?” Did all playwrights  brood this much as he rolled his eyes in amusement but refrained saying anything to Angela who glared back. “Why are you drowning, Mike?”

“Yes, I am drowning, Paul. I am sinking into a mire of unpleasantness. Descending onto Dante’s Inferno…”

Paul shook his head at the bad attempt of being poetic, took a sip of wine that needed refreshing, took notice of another painting that he had no idea who painted it,”It’s your big night, Mike. You finally have a successful play.”

“Yes, I am having a wonderful night, I am surrounded by friends I trust and I think like me, hard to tell sometimes, and you I might add, choose a date over my big night.”

“You’re whining, Mike.” Mike chided his friend softly. Which also meant that he was drinking a little too much and no one there was stopping him from getting drunk. Mike was fine with a little drinking but when he drank to get drunk as it was sounding to Paul, Mike’s personalty became whiny and feeling more sorry for himself than was healthy. “What happened to that guy you met?” The look from Angela was priceless, “Didn’t he say he was going to come to your party?”

He said something Paul didn’t understand at first, “He didn’t show up, Paul….that figures though…” Mike trailed off not really wanting to talk about it on the phone. “He did call but he made excuses and didn’t show up…”

He had to say it, “I did try to warn you.”

“Yes, yes, I know you did…” He slowly admitted in defeat. “He wasn’t interested in me, he just wanted to be seen hanging around with me…”

Angela spoke up and she wasn’t happy, “Who are you talking to?”

Mike laughed a bit, “Sounds annoyed.”

Paul replied with a smile knowing where this was going eventually, “Just a friend, Angela.”

She folded her arms, which of course pushed her breasts up a bit which Paul noted, “What’s her name?”

“Feisty isn’t she?” Mike commented with a tone that Paul recognized, “Probably a red head…”

“No, Mike, not even close…” He looked at the girl who he knew had a right to be a little annoyed, “His name is Micheal Alexander, aka, pain in the ass and friend for about ten years…” He knew Mike wouldn’t mind the humor too much, “He is also a finally produced playwright. You should go see his play…”

“Never heard of her or him.” The chest rose and fell as her mood was not improving, “Is she or he any good?”

“I’m bloody brilliant.” He spoke up softly on the phone.

Paul ignored him, “He’s getting better at it.”

“Thanks, Paul, I sense sarcasm.”

Still ignoring him, “He’s fairly good….”

“Flattery will get you anywhere….”

“I still never heard of her or him.”

Ignoring her this time, “So, Mike, what’s the problem?”

The waitress returned with their food; his calzone smelled very good; Angela muttered something under her breath.

The pretty girl smiled, “More wine?”

Having a notion he was going to drive a certain guy somewhere, “No, thanks, I’ve had enough…”

“I’ll take more….” Angela spoke up as she bite into her pasta salad and held up her glass; the glass was filled. She didn’t say anything as she sipped the wine with a steady look at Paul.

“Where are you?” Asked Mike, “Sounds good.”

“Italy On The Hill and food so far isn’t bad…” He took a bite of the calzone; his favorite Italian food. “You’d like it.”

“My name is Micheal Alexander Zeece, Greek food, Paul, Greek food all the way.”

“Ah, yes, of course, Mr. Zeece, where are you anyway? Doesn’t sound like a very big room, Mike.” He had a good hunch where the guy was; the slight echo was giving it away.

Mike replied sheepishly, “Well, Paul, to be honest, I’ve locked myself in the bathroom…”

He had to say it, “Drama queen. You are a damn drama prima donna sometimes…” He knew he could say such things to the guy as it he didn’t have thin skin but acted like it when drinking too much took over.

“Hey, hey, be nice to me today, it’s been a long difficult week…” The chuckle could be heard, “okay, fine, yes, I am being a little over-dramatic. But damn it, Paul, I’m not enjoying this night and I am lonely at my own party…”

“I told you I would be there tomorrow night.”

“I know, I know, I could have cancelled tonight and moved it but Neil said he could only be here tonight and you know how my brother is…”

Something was being drunk thought Paul as a long silence followed.

“Mike, what is really bothering you?” He knew Mike well enough to know his moods and this wasn’t ordinary drinking on Mike’s part.

Another silence followed; Angela was busy eating.

“Mike? You are still there I hear you breathing.”

Softly, slowly he responded, “I’m here, Paul.”

“Mike, talk to me.” He noticed the look in the blue eyes across the table. He was sure behind those blue eyes was a woman pissed. “You called for a reason, Mike. You interrupted my date with Angela for a reason, talk.” Paul heard Mike cough lightly, the sound echoed a bit, and he said something to himself.

Mike finally replied to Paul, “I need to stop smoking these damn things, oh, wait, I don’t smoke anyway…” He laughed lightly.

“Mike?”

He coughed a long painful sounding moment, he finally spoke up, “I got a call this afternoon.”

Paul was uncertain of the comment as he searched his memory why this would be a problem; it came to his mind slowly. “The doctor called today? What did he say?”

Slowly again, “Yes, he wants me to come in this coming Tuesday.”

Paul knew his friend well enough, “Mike, don’t worry yourself to the point you are. You know doctors, they always sound gloomy even when giving good news…” He was of course a little concerned but was convinced the run down voice of Mike sounded terrible and exhausted and he was drinking would be fine.

He almost yelled it, “Oh, god, Paul, I’m damn terrified…”

The voice came across from the table, “Is this conversation going to be any longer?” Angela demanded and commented, “I have to be in court early tomorrow morning. It’s an important case I am helping in…”

“It’s Saturday tomorrow.” He questioned with a look of his own. “Do you normally work on a Saturday?” He was giving Mike some time to compose himself. “I am sorry that Mike called but he is my friend and he’s having a rough week, Angela.” She wasn’t happy he took  notice in those blue eyes that glared back, even her chest was becoming less appealing to him but he didn’t really blame her. Mike was interrupting their evening.

Angela wasn’t happy, “I have been known to have to work on a Saturday, Paul. It’s not completely unusual…”

Mike’s voice spoke up in a whisper, “Their a beautiful evil I believe Zeus called them…”

Paul ignored him but he did want to laugh,

“Who are you really talking to?” She demanded.

“I told you, Angela, a friend having a rough week.”

“Everyone has a bad week, Paul, they don’t call and interrupt other people’s night when they know they are on a date…”

“Sounds like a true humanitarian…” Mike commented.

“Mike has a tendency to forget that little detail when drinking a bit too much…”

“Ouch, Paul, ouch, but true…”

Still ignoring the guy for a bit, “Listen, Angela, he’s my friend for a while, he’s just having a rough week and I know he just wants to talk to talk it out of his system. He’s a good guy…” He was of course repeating himself a bit, “Be a little patient, Angela.”

Angela went silent in protest and picked at her food.

“So, I’m a good guy, thanks, I think…”

“Mike, I am sure its not what you think it is. Try to enjoy your night…”

“Enjoy my night? Paul…” The voice rose a bit, “Cancer runs in my family, Paul….” He took a breath, “My Aunt Lee died of it you know…” He gulped down a light sob, he slowly regained himself, “I always got along with her. She was great. Did you ever meet her? Fantastic lady, so full of life. She was a professional photographer…pretty good at….”

“Yes, I believe so a few times.”

He sighed feeling very tired, “I feel lousy, I feel tired, I feel bored.”

He wasn’t sure what to say really, but he kept trying, “Maybe once you go to the doctor and find out it’s nothing but being tired you should go somewhere on a vacation, Mike. Recharge those creative juices of yours…” It of course all sounded so damn lame but he was sure that the guy was simply overreacting and very tired. “Go visit Neil, you enjoy visiting him in Minnesota and his kids; even his wife likes you…”

“A ringing endorsement if there ever was once to go visit, the wife likes me.”

“You’re being snarky now.”

“I am also drinking too much.”

“That I gathered.”

Softly, with some thought to the statement, “I don’t want to be alone tonight. I want some friends about me. Real ones! Not hanger on’s just because I have a produced play! Leeches all of them….all of them, Paul.”

He wasn’t sure what to say or if Mike expected him to say something; another brief silence followed. The sounds of the restaurant seemed to have increased he noticed as he couldn’t hear the overhead classical music anymore; but the smell of the food was great he thought as he took another bite of his own food. He could see Angela getting ready to bolt from the whole scene; he didn’t blame her. She looked beautiful and bored all in the same moment; she also looked as if she had been drinking a bit too much as well. The voice interrupted him from the phone.

“Next Friday is my birthday, Paul, are we still going to hear Chopin?” His voice sounded pained, “I think his music the greatest when it comes to the piano…”

“I haven’t any other plans, Mike.”

“I do enjoy his music. He was no Mozart, but he wasn’t bad…”

He knew that Mike was just talking to talk before he returned to the main subject.

“….I can play fairly well the piano, I love the piano, Paul. I took it when I was a kid and I have never regretted it. I love the piano, Paul. Greatest instrument ever.”

“Well, okay, I prefer Beethoven’s piano works…”

“You’re a snob, Paul.”

“Yes, I like Beethoven. Better music…”

Mike said something unpleasant under his breath about Beethoven.

“You’re lucky I like you….”

Mike again chuckled and then went silent a brief moment before replying painfully, “What if the doctor has bad news, Paul…what if…”

Paul interrupted, “Mike, then I will be there, I’m not going anywhere….”

Another silence from the phone; Angela was chewing her food a little bit loudly.

Trying to cheer the moody guy up, “Did the play go well?”

Mike was still silent a few seconds, “The play went well, Paul. Very well I think despite the usual first play mishaps and missing of lines….” The voice went low, reflective, “I really hope it isn’t the last play I can ever write. That would be very depressing, Paul.” He sighed deeply but more for effect, “Or the last one period?”

“I thought you had another idea already in that over-thinking brain of yours.” He knew Mike suffered from these moments of depression like a tidal wave and talking about a new project usually cheered him up a bit. Formulating new plots energized him as a writer. The voice was beginning to be effected by whatever he was drinking as well thought Paul.

“Oh, yes, that idea…maybe, maybe, maybe…maybe not, Paul. I don’t know….it’s a work in bloody progress…” The silence didn’t last long, “I am pleased up to a point that tonight went as well as it did. They seem to enjoy the play, the actors did well. It was a success I suppose….no one threw anything at me….”

“What is the new play going to be called?” He could feel Angela’s eyes boring into him; not a happy woman he knew was getting more unhappy as the minutes passed. He didn’t really blame the girl for feeling neglected because she was being neglected and being treated rather rudely.

With a slight slurring with a flair, “Ecco Home.” He laughed at the joke he was sure was there somewhere, “It sounds terrible but it’s Latin for ‘Behold The Man.’ It sounds so provocative doesn’t it. Even grandiose! Ecco Homo! Behold the man!” He stopped briefly as if trying to remember something was the impression Paul was getting, “Its from your Bible you, it’s the words Pilate said at Jesus’s trial…”

“I’m aware, Mike. And why this title? You know what’s going to happen?”

Happily willing to not talk about the unpleasant subject he had brought up, “Oh, yes, and that is the whole wonderful point.” Another pause; probably drinking something thought Paul. “Not sure if I like the idea but I love the title. Sounds like it will cause all kinds of problems and good PR.” Adding with a laugh, “Can never really have bad PR, Paul.”

Paul had to ask as it was concerning him, “What are you drinking, Mike? I hear a bottle of something.”

Mike chuckled, Champagne of some kind.” Takes another drink, “Tastes very expensive. Good, but damn expensive…”

“Mike, don’t drink too much, please. You know what happens when you drink too much.” It was a rare moment when Mike did drink heavily but when he did he was an unpleasant drunk and liked to think he was ten feet tall and bullet proof as the song went and picked fights with the wrong people. And generally lost those fights.

The voice was angry, “Who are talking to when you should be talking to me. What’s her name?”

Mike spoke up, “I liked the other girl, better manners. Though I do like the mid-western voice, Paul…”

Paul couldn’t help himself, “Well, you do like something about women after-all.” He heard Mike chuckle as he took another sip and say something Paul didn’t understand.

“Who are you talking to?”

“I liked that other girl you were dating, what was her name again? Jessie or something like that.”

“Her name was Stephanie, Stephanie Anne Miller to be more exact….” To the annoyed Angela, “Talking to my friend Mike who’s getting drunk when he should be enjoying his success of a play tonight…”

“Tell Mike, that’s she’s interrupting our date and go get drunk somewhere else…” Adding as she drank deeply from her last drop of wine, “Who’s Stephanie?”

“I’d like to enjoy tonight but I am not…”

“She’s someone I use to know, Angela. She moved to Chicago…”

“Use to know?” Mike laughed cheerfully despite himself, “I think I recall it being more than that, Paul…”

“Be quiet, Mike, this doesn’t concern you.” Paul scolded.

“Who the hell is this Stephanie?” Angela demanded in her very best lawyer sounded tone as if questioning a hostile witness.

“Stephanie had manners.” Mike commented as he finished the bottle, “I’m surprised she’s still there after I have talked so long.”

“Yes, she is still here.”

“Not for long if this keeps up, Paul. Hang up on her, you’re with me tonight…”

Quickly, feeling a little sick, “Paul, I need you here. I’m bored. I shouldn’t be bored at my own play opening party….and I’ll complain all I want…I need a drink again….” He started singing Lesley Gore’s song,  “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want too…” Kicking the bottle, “This should be the greatest day of my life and it’s not!”

Paul spoke up carefully, “Mike, why is it will all the gay friends you have, you always call me when you’ve drunk too much or are simply unhappy?”

Mike seemed apologetic, “Because, Paul, I know you wont hang up on me when I call.” The voice was of course whiny; the alcohol wasn’t helping. He knew he was being a pain in the ass, but he needed someone to talk to. And Paul had always shown himself a friend no matter what when he could help or simply listen. He knew he was being a jerk by interrupting Paul’s date.

Paul gave up, “What about Zach?”

“On a date himself. You know him, never without someone with him.”

Had to say it, “I’m on a date.” Of course it collapsed a while back but Angela for some strange reason still sat there breathing in and out those wonderful breasts of hers through that dress. She looked miserable and he didn’t really blame her but nothing was stopping her from leaving. Why wasn’t she leaving? He was giving her enough reasons to get up and slam her plate of food on his rude head and storm off.

Mike’s voice spoke up, “Sorry to interrupt your all-important date you don’t want to be on in the first place, but Zach’s a an okay friend as friends go, but he’s not exactly a good listener or even that interested in other people’s problems. Good actor, did well tonight, but not a trustworthy friend…” A bottle was kicked again but a little harder as if to make a point, “Look, I called you, Paul, because you would understand…”

Angry, “Hey, you two, I’m still bloody here!” Angela wanted to get up and that was obvious, “Hang up or go do whatever with each other, but could I finish this date…”

“Sounds very testy, Paul.” He of course replied in a tone that cried he was drinking way too much. “Stephanie had such a nice smooth voice; the kind I like in a guy….” The tone was trying to be apologetic but failing miserably, “But the other one does sound very testy and on the verge of stalking away in a huff.” Amused, “A very angry huff.”

Sounding apologetic, “Well, Mike, you did call at the wrong moment.”

Somewhat sorry, “Ya, I know, Paul, but you’re the only real friend I have. Odd as that may seem you are the first person I thought of when I got the phone call. No one else, just you…”

“Mike, you have plenty of friends, I’m just the one you know doesn’t have much of a life right now…” He regretted saying it, “You have people who care about you and you know it.”

Frustrated, “I’ll hang up, I’ll be fine of course.”

“No, no, Mike, I should not have said it that way. If anything my dad taught me was that friendship is the most important and sometimes even inconvenient blessings out there.”

The tone was somewhat cheerful or drunk, “I like your dad, Paul. Not many preachers invite a gay guy to a Sunday brunch and then spend most of it on talking about theater.”

Hesitant but felt it needed to be said, “You know my dad went through his own cancer scare, you could talk to him.”

The tone was uncertain, “He’ll preach at me.” He wanted it to sound half joking but he was sure it didn’t, “I just don’t want him to preach at me Paul…” It was a lame excuse even it if had a few grains of truth to it; it was the man’s job to preach after all. “He’ll just preach at me about my need for Jesus and the such…I don’t need that right now.” He stopped himself as he knew how he sounded, “I know, I know, I am not being very fair your dad who has always been very nice to me….’ Coughs briefly, a bottle is kicked and it sounded like it cracked, “I’m sorry, Paul, I know your dad would say things he felt was important for me to hear. I’m just terrified of what the doctor will say. It might be cancer, I never knew about your dad having cancer…”

“Yes, about ten years ago.”

“I suppose I could talk to him as well, but I don’t want to be preached at. He will preach at me, Paul….”

“Only because he cares about you, Mike.”

Angela had had enough as she stood up, “I’m the damn third wheel around here this damn evening. I’ll go.”

She glared at Paul but all Paul saw were those magnificent breasts slightly move with her agitation in a smooth wonderful rhythm of her annoyance as she stormed off. He couldn’t blame her for being angry. His sister was going to kill him when Angela was done telling of this evening. Alex was simply going to kill him. A few seconds of silence passed as Paul watched the poetry of Angela’s butt walk away. It was Robert Burn’s in motion he thought with a smile; maybe even Blake?

The voice sounded as if it was sorry for interrupting, “Did she leave?” Mike also asked sheepishly, “And you’re watching her ass aren’t you? Boy, Paul, you haven’t changed too much.” He chuckled a little more drunk than even he wanted to sound, “Probably for the best.”

“Yes, Mike, you drove another one away.” He tried to sound amused, “And it’s or was a great ass so be quiet. You’re in enough trouble as it is.” Yep, he thought in dread of his sister, Alex was going to kill him dead.

“I think you and Stephanie would be better together….” He picked up a bottle and looked at it with a few thoughts, “What was wrong with Stephanie anyway. I thought you liked the girl…” A door window was heard going up and a comment about the light snow falling. “I don’t understand the appeal of course, but you were happy with the girl.” A bottle was heard being kicked, “She moved to Chicago for a reason, Paul…”

Paul frowned at the sound of the bottle and that was because it didn’t sound like a bathroom anymore, “Mike?” Bathrooms don’t have car windows.

The voice seemed far away, “Yes, Paul.”

“You’re in your damn car aren’t you?” He wasn’t sure if he was angry or amused by it all. It was typical Mike though.

“I’ve been also thinking about writing a historical play on the life and tragic ending of Edward II of England…”

“Answer the question, Mike, you’re in your car?”

“…And his tragic relationship with the love of his life, Gaveston…”

Trying to not sound angry, “Mike, where are you?” He declined to correct his friends questionable history.

Mike seemed pleased with himself, “Been sitting here a while thinking about my play tonight, my possible life’s work being only one play. I got bored at the party…” He seemed to almost want to apologize but didn’t, “One can only take Jordan’s stupid jokes for so long. He isn’t funny anyway. Good actor, also did a great job tonight, but isn’t funny off stage….rather a dull fellow.”

He wanted to be angry but the guy really sounded lost in his thoughts and not to mention the alcohol was doing it’s job of tiring him out. “So, Mike, you ruined my date with the lovely but vain Angela because you got bored at your party?” He of course that wasn’t the only reason but it was turning into that reason.

The voice seemed sluggish a moment, “You didn’t sound like you were enjoying it too much anyway.”

Party true, “It’s a good thing I like you, Mike, or I’d slug you once I get outside.” He signal for the bill, stared at it and wondered again if it was really worth it despite the girl’s physical charms. Still on the phone as he got up, “You are damn lucky I like you…”

A sluggish laugh back, “I’m grateful for that. Now get out here.”

“rest room first.”

“Okay, I’m not going anywhere.” Morbidly, “Unless I have cancer and I die while waiting.”

“You don’t have cancer, Mike, so the play went well?”

A grunt was heard, a bottle was kicked, a sour comment was made that Paul didn’t catch, “I’m not complaining…” He laughed, “Okay, I am complaining, but it better not be my last play…” Dramatically, “Ecce Homo, the Tragic Life and Loves of Edward II, King of England….a little too long for a title…but it might work.”

Paul peed into the urinal, wiped his hands, and wondered why he didn’t hang up yet? Maybe something was gnawing at him about the possible cancer his friend might actually have. He also wished Mike had not brought up Stephanie. That was over. She moved back to Chicago. Life went on. Why did she go back to Chicago again. He did miss the girl. She had excepted the job back in Chicago where she was raised and had family. He pushed the door of the bathroom open and headed outside. He spoke to Mike, “You are aware my truck is still here…”

“I’m parked next to it.”

“Yes, I can see that min cooper of yours.” He walked toward the car with the guy slouched in the passenger side of the car staring at his hands as if he wasn’t sure what they were for.

He got in and looked at the guy who really looked drunk, tired, and unhappy.

“You look awful.”

“Thanks, Paul, I’m dying of cancer.”

“No you’re not. You’ve been drinking too much again and you always do this when stressed out about your writing.”

Closing his eyes, “Christopher Marlowe wrote a play about King Edward II, did you know that? He was fucking better than Shakespear, Paul….He was brilliant!” Looking out the window briefly, “I suppose talking to your dad wouldn’t hurt, but no damn preaching at me, Paul….” He laughed at something, “Writer’s don’t like being preached at about their lives or drinking or sex life or pretty much anything else…”

Paul could see the exhaustion taking over; the final effect of Mike’s drinking too much, “Just go to sleep, Mike. I’ll take you home…”

“Of course you will, that’s what friends do for each other. They drive their drunk ass friends home because friends don’t let friends or one play wonders drive home when drunk…” He laughed and went slowly silent with mumbling about his next play and then went silent.

He headed out of the parking lot and thought of Stephanie’s offer of inviting him to come to Chicago and live there. Mike shifted a bit in the car seat, said something under his breath. Mike would be fine without him? Paul knew this drinking would get worse and history would repeat itself with the guy who had a streak of the self-destructive about him. Even Paul’s dad wondered why he didn’t ask the girl to marry him when he had the chance. Mike had a tendency to be a little needed and this wasn’t the first time Paul had to drive him home.

Out loud, “Why do I do this again…”

“That’s what friends are for…” The voice spoke up but it was apparent Mike was half-asleep, “Thanks, Paul, thanks for taking me home…”

Softly, “Might have to be the last time, Mike, been doing this too long…”

The voice was more awake, “I’d be lost without you….a drunken bum writing crap.” He opened his eyes, “You’re thinking about moving to Chicago aren’t you?”

“Thinking about it…”

The voice was strangely sad, “I’ll miss you.” Adding with a depressed tone, “And like most people you’ll leave me alone…”

Paul said nothing; he hated it when Mike drank.

 

 

Keeping The Peace. (Short Story).

cropped-12301412301.jpg“Tit’s and ass, Mark, tit’s and ass, that’s what life is really all about…and pussy as well; we can’t forget that part. Life is just that and not much else.” Joel Anderson was talking as he always did and that generally was with the attitude he was correct about most things. “…I’ve tried to be married for over twenty odd years…” The hint of anger came and slowly left, “It’s a lot of crockshit to bother to try too hard to make it work when I am the only one actually trying to be married….” He watched as a young girl walked by where they sat in the food court of the Maplewood Mall. Pointing at the girl in the short cut-off jeans and dark blue tank top a little too small for her frame, “That’s reality right there, Mark….It may be March here in Minnesota but they still dress like that…” He watched her walk down the bathroom hallway, “Probably in her early twenties, probably not married yet, it will be a shame when she does…” Looking at her still with that look, “Jill looked a lot like her, long legs, blonde hair, pretty, carried herself as if she knew full well she was being watched….” He returned to Mark. “Jill use to look that good at nineteen.”

All Mark could notice of the girl were the furry boots; well, Spring was around the corner and it seemed a rite of passage that when Spring was coming girls in shorts and furry boots began to make their appearance known. It was a pleasant sight; Steph looked good in her own jeans and same boots. He hoped she was having a good day.

For the moment they where on lunch break from their different jobs. The Maplewood Mall Food Court was not very busy at the moment.

Mark finally interrupted, “I don’t see life that way I guess….” Mark had this subject before with the guy from the downstairs men’s suit store. “Been married almost ten years and Steph and I are still very married and no plans on changing that status…” He could see the question formulating in the man’s black eyes, so Mark answered it before it was asked, “It hasn’t always been a bed of roses of course, what marriage doesn’t have it’s thorns, but we’ve worked through a lot of it…”

The expression disagreed, “Wives submit to your husbands, that’s in the Bible you know…”

A couple of young kids walked by chattering away in Hmong; well, to Mark it sounded like that particular language.

“…The Bible says for the wife to obey their husband. Be silent….”

Mark had heard some of this before, “I think you’re quoting that stuff out of context, Joel. A wife is not property…” He sounded ridiculous saying it but the guy really did like saying these things; Joel could be a broken record sometimes.

The bony finger jabbed in Mark’s direction, “Look, Mark,” The tone was of course challenging, “She’s my wife and there are rules to being married to me. Says so in the Bible. I’d show you book, chapter, verse, if I had a Bible with me…”

“Well, there is Barnes-Noble, they have Bibles.” Mark worked in the sports store across from the bookstore, “We could always go over there and you can show me these rather strange and archaic rules.”

The finger pointed again, “Mark, as I said before, life is tit’s and ass. Not much else to it.”

Mark tried to ignore the obvious, “So, you go to church still? Do you like it?”

“It’s just church, Mark.”

Mark had to ask, “What church do you go to?”

Disliking the question, “It’s just a church, Mark, their pretty much all the same.”

He wanted to think the guy was making a joke but he knew better, “Don’t think their all the same, Joel. The Catholic faith is really nothing like going to a Baptist church I am pretty sure.”

“Do you go to church?”

“No, never been really all that interested in church.”

Grunting annoyed, “Well, I am married to a woman who does.”

“Was she going before you married her?”

“Well, yes, but she stopped, and then again she started up again. She started again because her friend, Lydia I think her name is, invited her….”

“Why?”

“She thought it would do her good because we were going through a rough time in our marriage….so she invited her to go to her church.”

“A troubles in a marriage seems normal.”

Joel grunted, “Roughs times seems to be the only marriage I’ve had, Mark. It started out okay, me and Jill met at church when younger of course, in our Sunday school class.”

Mark nodded as if understanding any of it when it came to Joel’s life and comments.

“Jill’s been attending for a couple of months now at Lydia’s church.”

“Did you ever go to church before Jill?”

The uncomfortable look returned to Joel’s expression, “My family started going to church. Not sure when or why really, we just did is all I know. I was of course still at their home so I went as there was nothing I could do about it. They went, I had to go. The church had a young adult Sunday school class, so I went to that class with my older sister…”

Sounded disjointed thought Mark with no comment.

“My sister, Ingrid, loved it of course. She made friends easy.”

He wanted to ask about his sister’s name, Ingrid?

“…I sat in the back row nearest the door to escape if I had to. I simply wasn’t that interested in being there except I had no real choice to be even at the church. But I sat there, Ingrid next to me with her Bible open and taking notes as the teacher droned on and on about some Bible story or other subject. Ingrid loved all that crap, but she would as she actually believed it.”

“And you didn’t? Why?” He asked as the young couple holding hands went by; the food court was it’s usual busy self he thought.

Shrugging his shoulders, “I just never did. I went to church because the family went and as long as I lived under my dad’s roof I was going to church.”

“Your sister liked it?”

“My sister, Ingrid, always liked church because she got along with everyone. My parent’s went because they liked it and they were involved. I went because I had no choice….”

“You didn’t like it all? No friends?”

He sipped his coffee, “I had a few friends I guess. Once I left I left all that behind. Church at the time didn’t interest me; still doesn’t really….”

There was a disjointed way he was talking that made Mark wonder the truth of it all. Joel Anderson didn’t talk much about his family and when he did it was guarded as if he didn’t like talking about them or admitting he had a family that went to church in the first place. “So, you met Jill at this church?”

For a brief moment the eyes looked pleased but it vanished, “I was sitting in my usual place, Ingrid talking to someone a few chairs down our isle. Knowing her it was Mrs. Coleman…” Sipping his coffee again, “Mrs. Nancy Coleman was married to the teacher of the class, Marty Coleman was a jovial guy with a over eager need to shake my hand every time he saw me. He was a nice guy, don’t get me wrong, nothing wrong with him really, I just didn’t get into the subject like he did….” As if it mattered, “He had a pretty wife, I think they met in high school, I don’t remember really but I think they met there.”

“And Jill?”

“Nancy was a long legged brunette so I can understand why they had eventually five kids…they had three already when I first met them. Two girls and a boy; the girls looked very much like her.”

Mark ignored the comment best he could.

“….She was all legs, so wonder Marty was so jovial.”

“And Jill?”

He seemed too preoccupied with Nancy Coleman, “She taught at the St. Paul Ballet. I can see that as she was certainly built for dancing. I think she even taught her three daughters as well….”

He seemed lost in thought about the brunette he wasn’t married to Mark wanted to suggest but didn’t.

“I don’t remember what Marty did for a living. I think he taught math in high school I don’t remember….”

“And Jill?”

He seemed to finally get the hint but it was reluctantly away from his memories of Nancy Coleman, “We were having one of our group potlucks. Ingrid of course made something; she was good in the kitchen. It was probably one of her mac-cheese combo things; she loved her mac-cheese.” He watched a bunch of teen age girls walk by chatting, laughing, and pretty much acting like the young girls they were. He had an opinion of them of course, “I don’t like Asian girls, never understood the appeal of them. Nothing special about them. All have the same body parts-tit’s, ass, mouth, legs and so forth. Don’t like Vietnamese…”

Mark spoke up of course, “I think they were Korean actually, Joel.” He had to say something as he as a military kid had spent two years in Japan and got quite use to them and pleasantly so. “And what’s wrong with them?” He was beginning to suspect that Joel was actually avoiding the Jill question. “Well, I spent two years min Japan, so I kind of have a liking for them…” He also knew they were Korean by the fact one of them had a jacket with the Korean flag on the back.

He made a face, changed subject, “Jill walked into the room. I do remember that day fairly well. One of the few more pleasant moments and memories was that first meeting, Mark. I haven’t forgotten everything about her…and it was thick blonde hair, beautiful blonde hair…”

Mark said nothing but smiled in agreement.

“She was very much looking like the Swedish girl she was, Mark. Long straight blonde hair down to her butt in a long braided pony tail….”

There was actual affection in his voice as he spoke thought Mark so he didn’t interrupt.

“….Very blue eyes. Good grief were they ever blue. She was very pretty, I wont deny that fact. Jill Anne Johansson was stunning at nineteen, Mark….” His tone abruptly changed as if he realized he said more than he wanted or wanted to deal with or maybe it was admit to? “But that was then, Mark, but people change. And not always for the better.”

The food court was getting busier noticed Mark. Kids, adults, couples walked through the food court; some stopped at particular places. He also noticed that Joel’s story seemed to have some discrepancies in the telling to his way of thinking.

Joel was still talking, “….We hit it off that first meeting, we were dating a few months later.”

“So, you got married when?”

The tone was hard, “Better question is why we got married actually, Mark…” He picked up his empty coffee cup, looked at it with a moody look, put it back down and answered the question slowly, “She got herself pregnant was the real reason we got married.”

Mark had to say it, “She got herself pregnant?”

He of course ignored his remark, “We had to get married in that particular church because we had to avoid a scandal. So me and Jill got married and eight months later she had the twins….twins! I wasn’t ready for one let alone two little balls of personality….” Adding, “Though I must admit Jill took to motherhood and seemed to enjoy it.”

“Okay, their names?” Mark wanted to ask an obvious question but decided to not.

“Emma and Emily.”

“Pretty names.”

“Yes, they’ve grown up to be pretty girls…”

Why didn’t he look happy with that thought Mark wanted to ask but again kept his questions to himself; Mark and Steph were having their own issues on that particular front as Steph kept having miscarriages. They had of late thought and had been talking about adopting a kid or two. Steph wasn’t against the idea of adoption; she loved kids and simply just wanted to be a mother. She was at the moment at lunch with a friend of her’s from St. John’s Hospital. It was good for her to get out and be around a friend.

Joel was still talking, “…Emma, Emily their almost twenty now. Will be twenty in October. Thank God they’re not identical twins, but they certainly act like they shared a space for nine months. They get along very well.”

“Me and my wife Stephanie are trying to have kids…” He could see the guy was almost listening, paying more attention to the girl’s walking by, and his thoughts on that subject was obvious, “We are even looking into adoption…”

He looked at him with a grunt, “Adoption? Don’t get me wrong, Mark, about me or my kids. I love my kids, but they are a job and a half to deal with….”

The face said much thought Mark with some annoyance. “Steph’s had two miscarriages, they were devastating to her, it was like losing a child twice….” The last time was a few months ago. And lately she was just feeling run down and tired of trying. It had and was a rough week for her.

“Twice?”

“As Steph stated it was like giving birth and then realizing your baby died after birth…” The guy’s features never seemed to quit understand where Mark was coming from, “So, lately we are thinking of adopting a daughter….”

“Daughter’s can be a handful, Mark. Don’t get me wrong, I love them very much, they’re doing well at Century Collage, but they are not easy to be around after a certain age.”

“A certain age?”

“Once they hit puberty, Mark, the relationship has to change for the obvious reasons…”

“Doesn’t mean you stop being their dad, Joel. They still need a dad.”

“Now you sound like Jill.” The tone was annoyed of course, “She complains that I simply stopped being affectionate to Emma, Emily once they reached thirteen or somewhere around that time….” Defensive, “Hey, Mark, biology was taking over by that point. I did the correct thing. They were teenagers by then, what good was I for them at that point…”

“You were still their dad, Joel. Girl’s still need a father in their lives even as teenagers.” He folded his arms across his chest, thought about getting another hamburger at the Hmong run burger cafe, “Girl’s don’t simply shut off their need for a dad, Joel. My dad never once thought that because my sister reached thirteen that she no longer needed him…”

“Didn’t know you had a sister.”

“Two actually.” Adding with an amused smiled, “And a surprise little brother when our parent’s were in their late thirties.”

“Ah, yes, those little surprised and unplanned kids…”

Mark didn’t like the comment, “Well, Matthew is the baby of the family. Heidi is the oldest, Maddie is behind me by a year and some months. I come from parent’s who liked kids….”

“I said nothing bad about my kids, my kids are fine, doing well, staying out of trouble, all I said was at a certain time I had to stop being as affectionate as I use to be. Their fine, Mark, despite what Jill keeps saying even when they are almost in their twenties….”

“You and Jill having marriage problems, not thinking of divorce are you?” Adding, “What happened to cause all this unhappiness?”

The expression changed somewhat, it clouded over, “Jill changed since she started attending that church of her friend, Lydia, for a while now. They work at St. John’s Hospital in Maplewood. We had eventually stopped going to that other church after about five years of going there. We simply agreed it was a waste of time to go there when we really didn’t like it too much. Jill felt uncomfortable there, I simply just didn’t want to be there. Nothing against religious people, but I simply didn’t see the need for religion in my life, Mark. We agreed to simply stop going….”

“You two simply decided to stop going to church? And Emma, Emily? Didn’t they have friends there at the church?”

Sharply as if of course it wasn’t that easy for them or Jill to simply walk away, “They were fine, Mark. They made new friends rather quickly at their school. They were fine, they survived.”

“Jill?”

“What about her? She survived as well. Me and her discussed this and we decided it was a waste of time and we could be doing something else on Sunday….” He again took notice of a girl walking by, “Jill and the girl’s survived just fine. I told them maybe one day we’d find another church and try it again….they were fine. They found new friends. Life went on as I knew it would.”

It was so obvious he was very uncomfortable and simply didn’t want to be truthful about something.

“Did Emma, Emily make new friends?” Adding, “And was Jill really okay with this drastic lifestyle change? I don’t go to church, never been to one really, but it seems a drastic change of your families life to simply stop going because you got bored…”

“It wasn’t just me, Mark. We both got bored with it. It wasn’t just me making rules and making demands that we needed to leave. Jill agreed it was time to leave….”

“Steph has been attending a church in Maplewood, she had a friend invite her a few months ago….” He felt he should say it, “She seems to like it, made a few friends…”

“That’s how they suck you in, by being your friend.” The expression of annoyance said it all as well, “They act like your friend for a bit and then entrap you…”

Ignoring the comment. Besides, going to church was helping Steph get over the last miscarriage. If it was helping her then he wasn’t going to stop her. “I take it then you don’t like the fact that Jill has returned to church?”

“We left that other church for a reason, Mark. Jill followed my lead because I was and still am the head of the house. The Bible even says that. It wasn’t up to debate when we left the first time. I don’t like church, I never felt comfortable there and I still don’t. But Jill went back because her friend, Lydia, invited her. It’s a waste of a Sunday; I could be watching golf if it is on or even watch the Vikings lose again. Bu Jill felt it was time to go back, even the girls have gone back….”

“And you? You stay home?”

An older couple walked by; several feet separated the couple from each other. They weren’t talking but just walking as if the other wasn’t there thought Mark. It depressed him to think that his marriage would ever get to that point. Or even Joel’s point of a marriage.

He looked unhappy at the question, “Oh, I go. Jill badgered me enough so I go now to keep the peace and so far she has stopped badgering me about it. I never had an interest in church or what it taught. I went because the family went, Jill went originally because her parent’s went. It’s probably why we hit it off so well. We both really had no interest in church or being there unless made to.” Leaning a little bit forward with a look, “Sex is what we had in real common, Mark. That’s about it. Sex and only that, but she had to go and get pregnant.”

“Well, Stephanie was a church kid before I met her, she also drifted away from it for a while….” He was sure Joel was barely hearing a word Mark was saying, “She left at eighteen if i remember correctly. Moved out of the house and didn’t go back for a while.”

“Church was and is a waste of time, Mark. But Jill insists we go as a family so we go as a family…”

“What’s the church?”

He had to think about it, “It’s near St. John’s Hospital….First Evangelical something Church I think it’s called.”

Mark tried to not laugh, “Ah, I know where that is.” He didn’t add of course that was where Steph was going; she might even already know Jill let alone Lydia.

“I go to keep the peace. Well, what peace there is too keep in the house anymore. The girls are off living their lives doing something most days…They seem to have fit in the church very easily according to Jill.”

“Keeping the peace? Is that what you are really doing? Doesn’t sound very healthy for a marriage to survive….”

The anger came and slowly went but not in his features, certainly not in his eyes, “Marriage? What marriage, Mark? We were married for one reason and only one reason. And that was I was pressured into that marriage because she got herself pregnant!” Adding with no real emotions but anger, “An abortion was out of the question of course….”

“An abortion?”

Not happy, “I did suggested it. It made sense at the time, Mark. At the time we were way too young to have kids, she certainly wasn’t ready, I really wasn’t ready….” He didn’t like the look Mark was giving him.

Mark didn’t care, “What was Jill’s reaction? Horrified I assume.”

“She refused to speak to me for a week, so yes, she was horrified by the suggestion.” His emotions were just simply angry, “I was pressured to marry her. Her dad had become a deacon by then so it would have been way too much a scandal to not simply get married quickly before it became very bloody obvious the bride was already pregnant.” Adding under his breath, “As if it wasn’t already being whispered about Jill was pregnant…”

“So, you’re glad you didn’t have the abortion of course.”

He simply got up with a disgruntled look, his response was unemotional but cold, “Ya, I’m glad, Mark. Their great kids…Like I said, life is tit’s and ass and not much else…” The look said something else as he walked away with a slight wave of the hand and comment, “See ya next time…”

He watched the guy walk away with the stride of a man certain of nothing except his own belief in his own course of life was always correct; Mark pitied the man.

He got up slowly, took notice of the people and activity and simply walked back to work; he hoped Steph was having a better day than yesterday.  He checked his cell phone for the time and figured that she was with her friend at lunch and was hopefully having a good time and hopefully forgetting a little bit about the beginning of the week.

Lydia certainly got around; he was certain she was the same person Steph had met at the hospital a few months ago. He even thought it would be funny to see the expression on Joel’s face if Mark showed up at church. As he walked to work though the look on Joel’s face about his kids and wife troubled him, “Keeping the peace?” His philosophy about life troubled him just as much, “Tit’s and ass?” He felt a need to call his own wife, just to hear her voice for a moment. He headed into his store, waved to the girl at the counter, “Hey Claire, be right back, have to make a phone call…” and vanished into the backroom. He waited for Steph to answer her phone.

More like losing the war to spite yourself, Joel, he commented to himself as Stephanie’s voice answered the phone.

The voice was strained, it had been crying, “Mark….”

“Ya, Steph, what’s wrong?”

It came out in a sob that he felt through the phone, “I think I’m pregnant again…not again, Mark…” She started crying, “Please, not again…”

He let her cry, what else could he do? He silently prayed to a God he doubted existed for a miracle this time. Just one small, breathing, and laughing little girl miracle would be nice he asked the God he had never believed in in a very long time. Just one little miracle would be nice.

Please.

 

Days After. (Short Story).

cropped-12301412301.jpgThe church building had the look and feel of the desperate or defeated.

The church wasn’t empty, but was he really that surprised by the number of people inside; a few outside debating whether to go back in. But they all had that shaken and ashen look of disbelief that what they believed wasn’t enough. Well, he thought feeling defeated himself, it apparently wasn’t enough. He wasn’t even sure how many had simply and finally decided to camp inside or outside the church. But he was sure it numbered over fifty people either people alone or parts of families and even a few whole families seemed to have decided to stay together. And all had that shell-shocked look in their eyes and asking the same questions of themselves and each other.

It all started last Thursday.

“Hey Jeff, how’s it going?” So he had greeted the youth pastor of the last five years.

“Good, good.” The younger man had replied as he poured the coffee into his Iowa State coffee cup, “Just getting ready for the trip up to Camp Shamineau. The kids are very excited…”

“Yes, they do seem to like going there. Always fun.”

Youth Pastor Jeff Dexter smiled his usual good nature smile, “Though I hope to avoid the broken leg of one of the kids I had last time…”

One of the secretaries walked into the break room and got her coffee.

Hey Katie.” Both men greeted the older woman.

“Hello, hello.”

Pastor Williams walked in and replied in his usual pleasant tone, “Morning gentlemen.”

All was normal that last Thursday morning.

The day changed around one thirty that afternoon when from his music directors office he noticed the silence; it was too silent? It was the odd too much silence that didn’t seem normal to him and came to his attention. The usual background sounds seemed to have vanished as well as he sat in his office taking notice of the silence of nothing in a building always busy with people and sounds of activity.

How could a silence feel so wrong and it was very wrong. The panic set in when it became apparent that the building was completely empty. Everyone was gone. They were simply all gone. Gone! Over and over he kept repeating as he searched the building in a panic, “People just don’t vanish like this…” He found no one in the building and he looked everywhere.

The building was empty; horribly empty. Then the phones started to ring and they didn’t stop ringing. Panic, crying, screaming, sobbing, and the voices of those who had decided to curse him for whatever caused their lives to have been so terribly disrupted. He sat a while in in his office trying to not feel the absolute truth of the day; he lost that battle as well as he thought out loud and cursed himself, “He actually came back….” He felt the emptiness even more as he said it and realized it was all too true and he simply never really believed it as a fact.

Of course he wasn’t the only one left behind from the church.

“But it’s suppose to be the Second Coming, not the, um, Rapture, what happened?” The frantic older man repeated as he sat in the front pew staring at his hands, “I’ve read my Bible, Zach, I’ve read it my whole life. Why wasn’t I taken if this was the Rapture of the Church…” The older man looked up at Zach with a look of incredible loss and then at the pulpit area and then stared at the wooden cross in the corner, “I shouldn’t be here…” Looking at Zach again with a look, “Where’s my wife?”

What was he going to say, she was Raptured? “I’m sorry, Mr. Carlson, but I am in the same boat you are in right now. A lot of us are still here. Jesus came back and took His Church home…”

The look he gave Zach said it all as the man got up and walked away. Zach watched the man walk out the church building. He heard later that day the man had killed himself out of a deep sense of grief.

He was straightening up the sanctuary as there wasn’t much to do at the moment but stay busy when Kyle Peterson found him and started talking. At the moment it also gave him time to think and pray best he could to what was to be done next.

“I’m part of this church, Zach. Why am I still here!” Kyle simply launched when he found the music director, “I can understand why a few were left behind, but not me!”

Zach stood his ground as he shoved the hymnal into the pocket below the pew seat, he studied the man who looked as if he hadn’t slept in a few days, “Kyle, were all here now and we can’t change that. It’s what we do now that counts…” It sounded so cliched he felt stupid saying it. “We are here, we now need to figure out what to do next…”

“I’ve spent my entire life in this church, Zach. I grew up in this building…”

“Wasn’t enough, Kyle.”

“Wasn’t enough!” He was offended of course, “My grandfather helped plant this church. He was a deacon here, Zach for a long time.”

Zach stood his ground and felt that letting the man vent was better than another argument on why they should be where they were.

The anger was rising in the younger face, “He should have taken me with Him if it was the Rapture. I shouldn’t be here!”

He didn’t hide his puzzlement, “Jesus should have taken you, like He owes you something? Are you listening to yourself, Kyle?” As for himself he had already vented his anger at his own feelings that it was unfair; but of course it was fair. Shelia was even gone and he was very certain she was a true believer even before she vanished while driving her car to see him that Thursday afternoon; they had a lunch date. After his first reactions to the empty building he tried to get a hold of the girl; she was gone. His anger at that was even more foolish but he was reacting like any other person would when being confronted by the facts of his religious life but certainly not a Christian one. He continued, “Jesus owes us nothing, Kyle…”

Shouting, “Yes, He owes me. He should have taken me like He took the others. What was so special about them?”

“They believed Jesus was coming back. And how does Jesus owe you anything, Kyle?” He was convinced he was watching a man having a mental breakdown, “Somewhere along the way we who are still here stopped believing in His return or maybe never really believed in it in the first place…”

Kyle glared, “I have spent my whole life in this place, my family has spent their lives doing His work, Zach. My uncle is, um, was a missionary in Japan…”

From somewhere outside a siren was heard going by; that sound was becoming very regular lately. The world was a mess and about to get worse thought Zach.

Interrupting and trying to be patient, “Look, Kyle, we did something or simply ignored something profoundly important. Maybe some of us simply really didn’t believe He was coming back…”

Jesus owes me!” He slammed a palm into the door frame he was standing between, “I’ve worked hard in this building most of my life….”

To Zach the guy seemed to not want to enter the sanctuary. Afraid of something?

“…Why was I left behind anyway. Shannon wasn’t. She’s gone. Simply gone….” The anger was rising as he clenched his fists, “It’s not fair, Zach, it’s simply not fair that I am here…”

“Not fair? In what way is it not fair? I’m also here, I was left behind, I missed the Rapture…”

“I was involved in this church, Zach, my whole life. How long have you been here, a couple of years? I grew up, I met my wife Shannon here, raised my kids here…” He simply refused to step any further into the room noted Zach but he was still venting, “Shannon wasn’t even involved in anything at church. She just showed up every Sunday and took care of the kids in the nursery. I at least did something while here!”

“Shannon did nothing?”

“In think she was planning on joining one of those woman’s Bible studies. Does that count?”

“Your kids?”

Puzzled for a moment, “Leah, Naomi, there were just entering junior high church, so not much they could be doing in the church to warrant them more than me!”

“You think you earned the right for Jesus to take you?” He leaned a bit on the pew, “You think you’ve done enough to earn your salvation enough to be taken? Because it’s obvious that we could never have done enough.”

“I shouldn’t be here, Zach!”

“Yes, you keep saying that but the sad fact is that we are here. We missed it…”

Kyle simply folded his arms across his chest, “Look, I simply do not understand how after everything I did for this church and for Jesus I would be taken at the Second Coming, um, I mean Rapture I guess it is…”

He wanted to laugh at the stupidity of it all not only the conversation he was having quit often lately, “Well, we are here, there is a lot of us still here, Kyle. The question is now what are we going to do about it?”

Kyle stood his ground, “What are we going to do about it? I shouldn’t be here!”

Still trying to be patient, “Kyle, you can repeat that all you want. I don’t like being here anymore than you do. But we are and there is nothing to do about it except figure out what to do next. We can either figure out what to do next for Christ if we can or simply reject it and walk away cursing His name for not taking us because we think we have earned or deserved it.”

Kyle’s features didn’t change much but he didn’t like what he was being told.

“Kyle, we missed His coming because He knew we really didn’t believe it or simply and really didn’t believe in Him in the first place. It’s that simple.” He waved away Kyle’s attempt to interrupt, Well, Kyle, we are still here. Let’s figure out what we are to do about it. Lamenting our great error isn’t going to fix it. We’re here now, Kyle, let’s go from there.”

He was still angry of course, “Like what, Zach, like what do you have in mind?”

Picking up the Bible on the pew, “We still have the Gospel to preach, Kyle, if we are here, we still have that to do and reach the lost and we only have seven years to do it in.”

“I’m not lost, Zach!” The fists clenched.

He wanted to laugh again at the man’s expression and refusal to admit the obvious truth but there was no reason to be unkind at the man’s broken look. They were all broken people. Left behind for one reason or another. All of them grappling with their hearts on the subject that Jesus Christ came and took His Bride to heaven without them. He was strangely encouraged that so many had actually made the building their home as if they had no real other place to go or be.

He finally spoke up as he opened the Bible, “We’re all lost, Kyle, until we finally realize we simply have to except Jesus Christ and Him alone as our salvation…”

“I’ve heard all this before, Zach, I don’t need to be preached at.” He shoved his hands into his pockets, “I’ve spent my life listening to sermons….”

“But did you believe them? Act upon them?”

Kyle said nothing with a look before responding, “I’ve been going to church my whole life, Zach, my whole life has been the church!”

“What about Christ? Because so far that’s all you’ve said you’ve followed.”

Kyle glanced about the sanctuary before responding to Zach, “Listen, Zach, I don’t know why I am still here, I think your wrong, Jesus simply made a mistake…”

“Jesus made a mistake? Who was Jesus to you?” It was a question of late he had been asking himself a lot and those who came to him with their own unhappy fears and thoughts on what happened.

Kyle didn’t like the question.

Looking at the Bible as if understanding something for the first time, “We simply didn’t believe it and simply lied to ourselves about what we believed, Kyle…we simply were very religious and not much more than that and Jesus looked into our hearts and knew who was His and who wasn’t His….” Looking at the man who stared back with a hard cold look, “We simply were going through the religious motions and we fooled only ourselves, Kyle.”

Angry of course, “I am not lost!”

A little annoyed with the guy, “Then why are you still here, Kyle? It’s that simple. Either Jesus made a horrible mistake or we have been playing the game of being religious and not once being His followers? That’s the only two answers, Kyle…”

The interruption came from the foyer as the nineteen girl came into the sanctuary out of breath and puzzled. She looked afraid as well thought Zach.

“Mr. Greenberg!” The young brunette spoke loudly, “It’s on the radio…”

A little concerned, “Yes, Erica, what?” Her parent’s had vanished as well.

“Russia has just invaded Israel! It’s on the radio!”

Kyle under his breath, “Damn Jews again…”

Zach ignored the guy with a look and followed Erica to where a radio blared out the news in the foyer; others were standing or sitting and listening to the news report.

“The Russians and other countries have invaded Israel…” The pause was strangely silent and when it was continued the speaker seemed baffled, “Their being destroyed by some power….it’s impossible! But Israel is surviving the attack…Russia and her allies are bring destroyed….”

Zach stood next to Erica and heard her voice quoting from the Book of Ezekiel as if it was quit normal to do so, “And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him. And say, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal…”

They all listened to the girl quote from Ezekiel; they all believed.

 

 

Rest In Peace, Charlie. (Short Story).

cropped-12301412301.jpg“It wasn’t even her real name you know. It was actually Charlotte but she hated that name, so she told people it was Charlie.” The voice was sitting and looking up at him was commenting as he talked to the older woman at one of the foyer tables. The woman talking was named Dorothy Tollerson, about eighty-something thought Andrew with a patient smile, “She was a strange kid if you know what I mean, Andy…” He knew her name because about three years ago he was a teacher at this particular school slash church and she was a secretary. Three years? Only three years? Seemed damn longer. As for Charlie? He had a vague memory of the girl. Was that good or bad? The voice was still talking away.

“She was a rebellious child, Andy…” Mrs. Tollerson patted her open Bible with affection, “I remember her unpleasant manner, she carried herself as if she were better than those around her. Didn’t talk much to anyone…”

He hated being called Andy and maybe she would stop saying it at some point; he was an Andrew but he gave up correcting people on that fact. It was like being a David in the land of the Mid-west called Minnesota and eventually your name becomes Dave whether you like it or not he thought. The woman was still talking.

“…She was simply an odd and unpleasant girl. Her parent’s have been going to this church for over twenty years I believe. I know her mother as a nice godly woman with one daughter she felt was a disappointment I am sure by her odd behavior…” She turned a page on the Bible, “She was an embarrassment to her family, Andy. Walking around with that unsmiling face as if she just dared anyone to be nice to her. My niece, Carolyne, tried to be her friend and she simply was unpleasant to my sweet pretty niece…”

Andrew couldn’t picture Carolyne.

“…She simply decided to drive people away. Her sister, Emily, is a very friendly sweet girl and is pleasant to everyone. She thought she knew better than everyone and had an opinion about everything…she was simply an odd girl…”

Andrew simply nodded to be nice because punching the woman in her gossipy mouth wouldn’t go over well at the girl’s funeral and she was in her eighties after all. He was surprised that she had yet to realize he use to work in the same school as her. Granted he wasn’t a teacher but for three years but he hadn’t changed that much had he? She certainly hadn’t changed much; still liked to talk about people.

He commented, “What odd behavior?” He knew where this was eventually going to go. He also took notice of the changes in the church building as she continued.

They had remodeled the foyer area; it looked good and much larger.

“Her mother is a godly woman married to a wonderful man who is a doctor, I forget what kind, but it’s known they are well-off…” She smiled at this bit of news she was sure she had every right to say, “Her mother, Julie, was a Sunday School teacher here….”

He knew most of this already.

“….Julie has another daughter as I already said, her name is Emily, very nice young lady and certainly nothing like Charlotte…” She made a disagreeable face, “I refuse to call her by that silly name she choice for herself. Nothing wrong with the name of Charlotte….”

What he had noticed about the foyer was how much it had been enlarged by removing the office break room that stuck out into the foyer area like an arrow shaped room. They had even created a counter where the all-important coffee and treats were placed. It was a good piece of construction and did look good and it did make the room much larger than it use to be he admitted to himself. The six small round tables were knew; a dark blue couch and two chairs sat in the corner near the large open window. The walls looked freshly painted; dark blue seemed to be the color they choose despite the lite brown carpet. Yes, Andrew thought, they certainly went out of their way and probably money to enlarge and improve the look of the front and foyer of the church; it did look better.

“…Emily is in college and doing quit well I hear. I would have ask again what she is going for…”

“Isn’t she here today for her sister’s funeral?” He was taken back a bit how few people were at the funeral service and granted it didn’t start for another hour but still wouldn’t there have been more people? At least some of the kids? He figured there would be more people here than there was for one of their own.

“Emily and her parent’s are in one of the rooms with Pastor Geoff….” She looked at him with a strange look, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I have been talking to you but didn’t you once come to this church?”

He took notice of a lone girl walking passed them and down the hallway; she looked familiar but it had been a while since he had taught at the school. Well, at least one teen was there to pay their respects. Better than no one? He politely answered.

“I use to teach here, Mrs. Tollerson and attend of course.” Her look really didn’t change all that much, “I taught ninth grade English and creative writing…” Adding as it mattered to him, “Sometimes I taught history for Mr. Gregory…”

The face frowned, “You didn’t have the beard back then that’s why I don’t remember you, Mr. Neslen wasn’t it?”

Her tone said it all, “Yes, I taught here a while, I believe my last year would have been her first year of ninth grade…” He could still the skinny young girl of fourteen sitting in back of the class with the expression on her unsmiling face of just wanting to be somewhere else. Dark long hair, dark eyes that looked at the world only one way and that was sadly it seemed to him. Though she did always seem to be reading a book before class actually started. Certainly a bookworm.

“I’m surprised you have come here at all let alone for a funeral of someone you couldn’t have know very well…”

“She was a student in my class, Mrs. Tollerson, she deserves to be remembered…” He didn’t like her snarky answer, “I remember her being a good student, did her work, and was passing my class with very high grades.”

Some voices came from the hallway and into the foyer area; they both watched as several people chatted and laughed a bit as they headed to the sanctuary. He recognized only one of them; Tom Johnson, deacon. He looked about the same but it was only three years ago he saw the lanky man who wore bow ties. Andrew didn’t recognize the other guy chatting with Tom.

“That’s our new youth pastor, rather young to be a youth pastor around all those young girls but we voted and he started a few months ago…”

He studied the woman carefully before commenting, “I assume you mean not Tom but the other younger guy, what’s his name?”

The expression simply wasn’t going to change, “Names Mark Jensen, he’s married luckily, but he’s doing okay. I didn’t vote for him as I think he is too young and not enough pastoral years under his belt. Nice guy I am sure and the kids like him I suppose, but still, he’s too young…”

“I see Tom Johnson is still here?”

No change, “Yes, he’s still the head deacon.” She sipped her cold coffee, “So, you came to Charlotte’s funeral, how did you hear of it?”

The front entrance door opened and several people came in talking; not one teenager he noted. He took notice of those who had entered and again they didn’t look familiar. He was beginning to wonder if he was going to recognize anyone who came into the building. Tom Johnson he knew and had been friends with. It was apparently the guy didn’t even see him sitting with Mrs. Tollerson. Tom was also a teacher at the school and taught science and probably had Charlie in his class. He was a nice as far as he could remember much about the guy. “Tom was good guy, had a great wife named Chloe if I remember that correctly…”

“She’s pregnant again.”

“Okay.” Being polite despite the tone of the woman he wanted to get away from, “They had three last time I saw Tom and Chloe…” Trying to remember their names, “Two daughters if I remember correctly. I think the oldest was Kelley, second was Kathy…”

“She’s having twins.”

“Well, they like having kids, they like to have a big family I think Tom once told me.” Adding, “Their only son, I believe is named Kyle? Sounds about right.”

“Yes, Kyle.” Returning to another subject, “How did you hear about the funeral?”

“I ran into a friend of church at the bookstore and he told me about Charlie’s death…” From the outside window he could see the person in question; Alan Davisdson was of course parking his mountain bike at the bike rack. Alan had rode that thing today of all days despite the fact it was bloody ten degrees outside and that wasn’t counting the below zero windchill; well, it was winter in Minnesota. Despite the figure all bundled up he knew who it was before Alan ripped off the ski mask and exhaled the cold air with a look of one wondering why he did this at all. Of course the backpack was with him as he shoved the mask into it’s unzipped part and headed to around the back of the church; must be working the funeral thought Andrew. He was sure that Alan wasn’t thrilled with that. Why was he parking the mountain bike in the front anyway?

Answering her question, “Alan Davidson told me, I ran into at Barnes-Noble while at the cafe they have there. He told me about her suicide…” Her expression simply didn’t change despite what he was saying, “He knew her well enough…”

“Yes, Alan, does spend a lot of time around the kids…”

Shrugging his shoulders, “They like him. Kids simply like him and even he doesn’t know why but they do. He had one kid who followed him everywhere after her class was over on Wednesdays. Helped him clean up…”

“Yes.” The look and tone said it all, “The Nelson kid. What was her name? Their not here anymore…”

“Annabelle.” He doubted she forgot anything. Most people he realized who gossip forget nothing. This woman liked to talk and liked to gossip. “She, if I remember correctly from Alan, was into ballet…” The features didn’t change, “And simply liked to help him clean up…”

Interrupted with a look of disgust at something, “He should just do his job and not be interacting so much on the clock when he’s working. But it’s not my call to make but it seems awfully questionable…”

“No one made her help, Alan, she liked to help him and it kept her out of trouble by being busy. Her mom certainly knew where she was…”

“Yes, yes, I am sure she did.”

He ignored what the woman was implying. “Annabelle wasn’t the only one who liked to help him, Mrs. Tollerson. No one forced them to help. Alan just gets along with kids because he treats them like kids and not a bother to his day…”

The voice boomed from behind him.

“Hey, Andrew, is that you!”

Turning around just in time to have a beefy hand of Tom Johnson shoved into his own and shaken with great enthusiasm and with an apology.

“Sorry I didn’t say hi when I first saw you, I was discussing the funeral, but it’s great to see you…”

Pleased to see him, “Hello, Tom.” He got the impression the man wanted to hug him but the guy refrained, “Nice to see you again…”

“Glad you are here, such a tragedy, such a terrible tragedy about Charlotte. Such a young girl to do that to herself…”

“Yes, she was a sad girl…” So cliched it bothered him for saying it. She sat alone in a classroom full of fellow students but the truth of it was she was simply very shy; a very true introvert. He continued, “Yes, I was shocked when I heard about her death…” Why did everything sound like a cliche at these moments of human tragedy? He felt Mrs. Tollerson staring at him with those unblinking eyes of hers, “She was a good kid, how’s the family holding up?” He could see that all this was bothering the man, “She was a good kid…” Why did he feel he had to keep saying that phrase? She was a good kid who killed herself by slitting her wrists in her bathtub because being such a good kid people loved her and she knew it? Good kids don’t kill themselves? Bitterly, yes they do. Bullied kids certainly do!

Tom was talking, “….They are doing as best they can under the circumstances. Their with Pastor Geoff at the moment.”

He nodded; he could see there was something on his mind.

Feeling for the man, “How is Chloe doing? The kids?”

More relaxed Tom spoke up; other people started entered the building and going about their business; Andrew simply listened.

“Chloe is doing very well, pregnant again. Twins this time….” Amused, “Well, that’s what the ultrasound is telling us. The kids are doing well, their healthy, excited for their coming new siblings….”

“Five kids is almost a volleyball team…” He felt the need to say something, “The church foyer certainly has changed quit a bit. When did this happen?”

“Two years ago.”

Some people walked by saying hi to Tom; he greeted them; Andrew observed the others in the room and still oddly enough very few teens had entered the room as far as he could tell. And who were most of these people as he recognized none of them.

Tom returned to the unpleasant subject, “I wish I could handle this better than I am, it was such a shock when I heard the news….”

He had to ask, “Why do you think she did it?” It was a crude unfeeling way to ask the question but the look in Mrs. Tollerson’s face edged him on, “What was making her so unhappy here that she would kill herself?”

Mrs. Tollerson spoke up, “It was a sin issue, Pastor Tom, a simple sin issue…”

“A sin issue?” Andrew wasn’t that surprised by her comment.

Pastor Tom wasn’t convinced, “In what way, Mrs. Tollerson?” The look said it and mostly that she was stepping over a line, “I think she was just an unhappy girl…” He shoved his hands into his pockets, “Charlotte was a good kid….”

They all said that thought Andrew thinking it was the worse of cliches on days like this.

“A good kid doesn’t do the things she did or act the way she did, Pastor Tom. And they certainly don’t kill themselves because of having issues with the other kids…”

“What’s that suppose to mean? The other kids? What issues did she have?”

To Andrew they seem to be dancing around being simply to the point. Yes, he thought, they both knew something and were simply not saying it with too many ears around? Another reason he hated funeral’s was the feeling he was invading the families personal lives and or their personal grief.

She was talking, “….She was a strange girl, asked strange questions, and I’m not even sure she was a true believer, Pastor Tom….” Standing up slowly, looking at them with that all seeing look, “Look, I do not wish to speak ill of the day, her family is going through enough as it is, but Charlotte was a moody child and if she felt bullied she brought it on herself by her attitude….”

Pastor Tom’s impatience surfaced a bit, “She brought it on herself? No one has a right to bully anyone in a church, Mrs. Tollerson. I find it just as bad as bullying. In fact it’s just verbal gossip that destroys people just as bad as any other form of bullying.”

“My niece, Carolyne tried to be her friend…”

Andrew tried to remember what Carolyne looked like; it was too long ago from the place to remember everyone. He could see that Tom was growing weary of the conversation but was too polite to say it.

“….Carolyne is friends with everyone. Everyone likes her. Very popular. Very pretty of course as she takes after my daughter, Kari…”

Kari he remembered; actually Kari was quit a nice person Andrew thought if he remembered correctly; taught piano as well.

“Carolyne attempted to befriend Charlotte, she is always so helpful toward others…”

“You said she felt bullied, Mrs. Tollerson, by who?” The impatience was there thought Andrew; some things don’t change he thought with a smile; he noticed Alan enter the foyer, look about the room as if all the people shouldn’t be there, and headed toward the offices with a look in his direction with a half smile. The guy carried his thoughts with every look and didn’t bother hiding it.

The woman’s features remained the same, “My Carolyne is a good person, tried to befriend her.”

“No doubt.” Tom replied waving to a elderly couple walking by who slightly waved back with a somber look, “Who did she feel was bullying her?”

“Not my Carolyne, never.” She dared him to contradict her and that was obvious, “Charlotte took their normal kid pranks too seriously, Pastor Tom, way too personally. She had no sense of fun. Always mopping about…”

“What happened?” Andrew spoke bluntly; Tom wasn’t going to.

“Supposedly Charlotte was pushed into the janitor’s closet with the lights out, they closed the door on her and wouldn’t let her out….she panicked for no reason.”

“And you don’t see the problem with that?” Again Andrew spoke for Tom who really did look uncomfortable. “She was obviously afraid of the dark, Mrs. Tollerson, what they did was gruel, not funny to her…”

“They were only joking around with her, Andrew. Simply having fun  with her and she acted like they were physically hurting her…”

The voice came from behind them, “She hated the dark and they jammed the door closed, Mrs. Tollerson. She was crying when I found her…” Kirsten smiled at their look, “They left her in that closet, Mrs. Tollerson, I found her and let her out.” She stood folding her arms. She smiled at Andrew, “Hey, Mr. Neslen, nice seeing you again though it would be nice somewhere else and for a better reason…” She extended a hand which he shook, looking at the others, “Don’t worry, I wont touch you with my hands.”

Pastor Tom spoke up, “It’s been a while, Kirsten…”

“Not long enough. But Charlie was a friend so I owe her my respects…” Not at first looking at Mrs. Tollerson who glared back offended by the girl in the mixer of black and purple tipped hair, Beattle’s t-shirt over the black turtle neck, and black pants with dark purple knee high boots. And she was enjoying the effect it was having on those who noticed her.

Pastor Tom was talking, “…Long or not, it’s good you came to pay your respects. It’s a tragedy…”

“The tragedy is that it came to this, Pastor Tom.”

“Yes, it’s a tragedy.” He responded measuring his comments, “You said she was locked in the closet?”

“Yes, I, um, let her out of the closet one could say…”

Andrew really tried to not smile at the comment; Kirsten pretended she didn’t notice.

“It’s all shameful.” Mrs. Tollerson spoke up.

“What’s shameful? The fact that Carolyne and others locked her in a closet or that they made fun of her questions she would ask during class? Or the fact she was my friend…”

“You were an awful influence on her.”

Kirsten smiled at her, “Thanks”

Mrs. Tollerson didn’t like the answer; Andrew tried to not react.

“What questions?” Pastor Tom asked noticing the room filling up a bit more, “I would like to understand, what questions, Kirsten?”

Kirsten McQueen liked the attention, “She liked to read books not found in the Bible and ask why they were not there…”

“What books? Catholic books?” Pastor Tom asked calmly because he was calm; he did care why Charlotte killed herself and he wanted to know why she did. One of the kids in the youth group killed themselves for a reason and he wanted that reason explained! “What book did she talk about?”

More people where finally entering the large foyer; some mingling about, others chatting down the hallway, others entering the sanctuary where even where he was standing he could see the closed casket; even a kid here and there finally where showing up. He was bothered by that fact but what was he going to do. It made him feel as if he was indeed intruding on a families loss and grief to say something to a girl he really barely knew. But Alan had told him and Andrew felt he should show up; where was Alan anyway? Must be a working funeral as always Andrew thought.

Kirsten was talking, “….Charlie was into the stuff that talked about the Bible but not in the Bible. She liked that book mentioned by, um, Jude, I think…”

Andrew actually answered that question, “Book of Enoch.”

“Ya, sounds about right. She asked why if it was mentioned in the Bible and was used by the writer why wasn’t it in the Bible?”

“When did she ask this?” Pastor Tom asked.

Mrs. Tollerson interrupted, “It’s not in the Holy Bible because it wasn’t written by Holy Spirit, that’s why, Kirsten…”

“So, why did Jude mention it then? That’s all she asked and she got laughed at, made fun of, and made to feel stupid for asking the question.” Adding, “She asked Pastor Whitcombe when he was here anyway….” Amused at something, “I heard he was asked to leave?”

Mrs. Tollerson interrupted, “You have no business to talk, Kirsten. We all know about your shameful life…”

Unmoved, “Charlie simply was asking a question and was dumped on for daring to ask such a question….”

“Pastor Whitcombe made a mistake in judgement and asked to be replaced with the present new youth pastor, Mark Jensen, and is proving himself very good at his job…”

Kirsten held her ground, “Made a mistake? What I heard was more than a mistake in judgement…”

Andrew wasn’t sure why his friend Tom wasn’t being more vocal as this conversation seemed to warrant it all of a sudden.

“You have no business making accusations, Kirsten. He made a mistake in judgement, and on his own he resigned his position.”

Kirsten smiled a bit, “Resigned on his own, huh? Not what I heard.”

“I will not allow gossip in this church, Kirsten.” Tom spoke up a little too defensive thought Andrew, “Ted Whitcombe made a mistake….”

Andrew had heard about the ‘mistake’ from Alan when he ran into him at the Barnes-Noble in Roseville.

“He had an affair, not sure who with as that seems to be a secret around the church which means it wont remain one very long…” Alan had that smile that Andrew wasn’t sure it was a smile or a smirk of amusement; probably both knowing him. “He’s either resigned on his own or was asked to resign…” Alan was looking at him with that look, “What do I know, I just clean toilet’s and vacuum the floor, and pay no attention to anything that’s happening around me…” He smiled with his own look, “I see nothing and care even less…”

Andrew of course laughed at that; and took notice of Alan heading back down the hallway with a look of one not amused by something or maybe amused by everything except he was going to admit to it. No wonder the kids liked him, he simply refused to play the game of acting like he was at church any different than anywhere else he was standing.

“All I know, Andrew me lad,” Alan had continued as they walked down the used history book section of the library, he took a book off the shelf, looked at it briefly, said something to himself that he probably had the book already and shoved it back into the empty space, “That they are in need of a new youth leader…”

“What are the kids thinking?” Andrew had asked as Alan looked at another book he seemed more pleased with.”

“How would I know.” He was responding while reading the book, “I don’t have this one…”

“You know a lot and observe everything and you know it, kids like you and talk to you…” Andrew knew that Alan wasn’t going to say too much as he was sure the kids probably asked him to say nothing but he was sure that some of them talked to Alan Davidson as he was liked by them and they trusted him. Annabelle and her mom did. They had left the church some years ago.

All this after finding out about the upcoming funeral.

“I hate funerals, Andrew. Half the people walking around looking as if it was a normal Sunday and acting as if it were about them and not Charlie…And some of the people really need to look in the mirror and ask themselves whether showing up for a funeral in a practical mini-skirt is the proper attire for a funeral. Both adults do it, kids do it…If I can see more flesh than clothes there is a problem with what you are wearing people!”

“Have to work it I take it?”

Alan gave him a look with that smile again, “Of course I do.”

“I should be there.”

Mrs. Tollerson was talking and looking as if she wanted the conversation to end but couldn’t stop the gossip portion of her mouth from opening, “Look, I don’t know what Charlotte told anyone and I am sure it was all lies. But Ted Whitcombe is a great man of God who simply made a mistake. Jesus forgave him…He is a good man and a good father and husband…”

“Hallelujah, praise Jesus, and it’s BS…”

Tom spoke up angry, “I will not have that language spoken here, Kirsten.”

Standing her ground, “Charlie was my friend. My only friend in that youth group where no one questioned anything and let certain youth leaders say and do whatever they wanted because of their last names. She got a phone call one time during class and answered it and found out a friend of hers had tried to kill herself and was shaken up by it…Mrs. Whitcombe yelled at her to hang up, nothing was more important than what she was teaching and that included a stupid phone call.”

Pastor Tom was going to say something but didn’t; Andrew simply listened; Mrs. Tollerson fumed. And Alan Davidson walked by with a bucket of ice melt and headed outside with a look in Andrew’s direction; the look he gave Andrew said it all and mostly is the day over yet.

“….She had just been told her friend tried to kill herself and was shaken up by the call, she didn’t need to be yelled at by the….”

Andrew noted she almost said the bitch word.

“….Charlie left the room in tears and was still being yelled at.” She looked at them, except Andrew, as she was just daring them to say anything. “She went to the library and she was yelled at there as well.”

Pastor Tom seemed to notice that the room was too occupied to continue the conversation. Mrs. Tollerson didn’t seem to care. He also noticed a few people he did recognized. But they seemed to take no notice of him. A few teens entered the room and went straight into the sanctuary.

Still venting, “Nothing was done about those who bullied her, made fun of it, and made her feel crap all-around…she was made to feel like she was the problem and no one did anything about it. Charlie felt like crap…”

“Such language in the house of God.” She scolded.

“When it becomes one I’ll change my language, Mrs. Tollerson.”

Tom spoke up, “Okay, okay, Kirsten, let’s end this conversation there…” Trying to be patient and knowing it was going nowhere, “Let’s remember why we are all here.”

Kirsten looked at him, “I have to use the bathroom anyway.” Walking away with a look in Andrew’s direction. The look was either wondering why was she there or vindication of why she was there?

Pastor Tom spoke up, “Well, I have to go help Pastor Geoff, I’m sure he is wondering where I am…”

“It was good to see you, Tom.” He shook the man’s hand again.

“Don’t be a stranger, come back more often. You’re always welcome here.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“All I ask.” He walked away with a smile and vanished into the sanctuary.

Mrs. Tollerson spoke up, “That Kirsten is a queer you know, a lesbian, she shouldn’t here…”

Pushing his glasses back up his nose, trying to remain calm, “I thought the church was the exact place she should be at being a sinner and all…”

“Not her, she’s been a bad influence and she was one on Charlotte….” Clutching her Bible to her chest, “I feel sorry for Charlotte’s family and what they are going through right now. So sad for Julie and Emily to deal with this….Charlotte just needed a firmer hand and none of this would have happened…”

“And Kirsten?”

“Filthy girl.”

“I thought Jesus came to save the filthy?”

“Only the repentant one’s, Mr. Neslen.” Adding as she started to walk away, “That girl got Charlotte involved in her filthy lifestyle, that was the sin issue…that’s what killed her, Mr. Neslen, a sin issue…no one bullied Charlotte that much anymore than any other kid in this church…”

“Carolyne seemed to have.”

“How dare you, my Carolyne is a fine Christian young lady and tried to be a friend…”

“How is pushing someone into a closet and not letting her out being a friend?”

“Carolyne was only trying to have fun with her. Charlotte simply over-reacted to them trying to get her to have fun…”

He let her talk. It was pointless to interrupt her. And for someone who gave the impression they didn’t want to talk about it anymore she couldn’t stop talking about it thought Andrew with an impatient look of his own.

“….Charlotte just couldn’t understand that it was all done in fun. She took it all too personally…She had no business questioning the teaching methods of her teachers anyway. Just sit and learn, Andrew, was what she should have been doing. Not asking rude questions about books not in the Bible. Just read the books in the Bible…”

Andrew noticed Kirsten returning, looking in his direction with a look that he couldn’t read, and then heading to the balcony stairs.

“Hey Grandma!” Carolyne shouted as she entered the foyer and headed toward her grandmother with a happy smile, “It’s so sad about Charlotte….”

Andrew watched as the long blonde haired girl in the mini-shirt hugged her grandmother with a smile. Andrew walked away feeling disgusted; he finally remembered the girl and it all made sense.

The funeral was beginning. Pastor Geoff Gunderson was talking as Charlie’s family sat down in the front row.

He sat next to the girl who rolled down her sleeves as Andrew sat down next to her near the shorter seats near the wall; the scars still evident on her wrists, “So, did she tell you I’m a lesbian yet. I’m sure she did.”

“It came up.” He knew why she sat in these particular seats; not many people could sit near her in these shorter seats. She felt safe?

Whispering as they stood up with everyone else as they started to sing, “We didn’t have a relationship, not a physical one…” She smiled a bit, “Well, we did try though….but it was evident she liked boys.”

“Okay.” What else was he going to say? He was sure if the others near them knew what she said they would have screamed in some form of protest.

“I thought she did but she was not into it, she needed a friend more than anything…” She looked at him from corner of her eye, whispering, “She was my friend despite what they all said about me and directly at me…and they did say it. I was called all kinds of name.” The sadness was there, “She simply defended me and that simply made them mock her even more…” lower in her whispering, the tenderness was there, “I gave her the idea about her name change, she never felt like a Charlotte…..she was more a Charlie.” She wiped her eyes, “I refuse to cry in front of these people…”

He agreed.

“…Look at them, singing and pretending to care about her. They disgust me. Charlie deserved better than this show of false tears and loss…” Observing Charlie’s family, “I have nothing against them, Charlie’s family….I’m not sure they even noticed what was going on….I think Emily did….she hates being the favorite…” Looking at the casket below, softly, sadly, “Rest in peace, Charlie….please.” Wiping her eyes again, “I hope you’re happy now…”

He simply nodded as it seemed to him she just wanted to vent as the room sang “Amazing Grace.”

She wiped her eyes, “….she was my friend. She remained my friend….” Amused at something, “She was a lousy kisser…”

Andrew smiled a bit, softly he replied, “Rest in peace, Charlie…”

The girl next to him continued to struggle to not cry; but she lost that battle in the middle of Pastor Geoff’s sermon on the importance that fellow Christians love, pray, and be there for one another and the tragedy of Charlie’s life ending as it did.

Under her tearful breath, “I should have answered the phone…”