Brownie’s was always hopping on Saturday nights, but this particular night, cars were parked on the grass between the hamburger joint and Rex’s Hardware. Garish red and white lights raced around the roof of the building, in support of the Bulldogs, and The Eagles’ “Take It To The Limit” blared from the overhead speakers.
Kids stood around cars drinking colas and laughing, most wearing some form of the red and white school colors. A group of half-men, half-boys in letter jackets were replaying the game they had won two hours earlier.
Roxie Adams carried a tray to a black Trans-Am, long blond hair swinging to and fro as she skated towards the car. She attached the tray laden with burgers, fries and drinks to the open window and carefully kept her brown eyes. Tim Turner handed her a five and told her to keep the change. She smiled and thanked him and then turned to go back inside for the next order. Tim’s hand shot out and grabbed her wrist, holding her next to the car.
“C’mon, Hon,” he said. “How ‘bout a little somethin’ to pay for that tip.” His companions laughed as she twisted her arm to free herself from Tim’s grasp.
“Order up, Roxie!” Chip’s voice interrupted Aerosmith’s “Dream On” which was currently blasting through the loud speakers.
“I have to go!” Roxie said and freed herself with a final twist of her wrist. She rubbed her arm as she trudged back to the window. She fought back tears as hoots of laughter followed her from the Trans Am.
She entered the small area reserved for the hops and moved toward the counter. Chip Brown - Brownie to the local kids who patronized his establishment- handed Maisy Tillis, her co-worker, two trays. Maisy picked up the trays, threw him a disgusted look as she opened the door with her hip and backed out of the kitchen.
“You okay?” Chip turned back to the grill and flipped four burgers in rapid succession. He placed buns on top of the meat, wiped his hands on the apron strapped around his massive body and turned back toward Roxie. His round face was filled with concern and he took Roxie’s injured wrist in his beefy hand.
“I’ve been better,” Roxie said. She blew out a sigh and sat on a stool next to the counter, staring at the black diamond pattern in the cheap linoleum floor. “Oh, that’s nothing,” she said, noting Chip’s alarm as he inspected her wrist. “It’s mah pride that’s out of kilter.”
“Want me to kick ‘em outta here?” Chip asked, glaring towards the Trans Am, now surrounded by giggling teenage girls.
“What’s th’ point?” Roxie said, defeated. She slumped forward and placed her head on arms folded on the counter. “There’ll just be more to take their place. Sometimes I wish I’d never been born.”
Chip let her cry and turned toward the grill, furiously shoveling the steaming burgers onto plates and scooping fries into cardboard sleeves. He slammed the plates on the counter as Maisy returned from her rounds. She threw a disgusted look toward Roxie, glanced at Chip’s glowering face and bit off a smart remark. The door banged behind her as she went out to deliver the latest order.
Not for the first time, Chip wished he could get his hands around that Tim Turner’s scrawny neck. But that wouldn’t do any good. Roxie was right – ever since that no-good mother of hers had started an affair with the very married mayor, Roxie had been the butt of some pretty cruel jokes. Every kid in town believed the old adage “Like mother, like daughter.” Her Dad was just as bad – left her and her Mom when Roxie was just a baby. Since the scandal, Roxie had been ostracized by most of the girls and degraded by every young punk in town. Too bad, too. She was a good kid – didn’t deserve this.
Two hours later Chip flipped the outside lights off and watched disappointed teenagers climb into their vehicles and head home. He followed suit after Roxie declined his offer of a lift home.
Roxie sighed as she removed her apron and placed it into the small locker in the hops’ area. She pulled her purse from the locker, snapped off the lights and left the building, listening for the familiar clang as the lock engaged on the back door.
She walked slowly toward the apartment two blocks away that she shared with her mother, dreading the inevitable confrontation that awaited her at home. She and her mother had fought again that afternoon before she left for work. That’s nothing new – mother and daughter had been at odds since her mother was caught in that very embarrassing situation with Mayor Rauland. Roxie was losing patience with her mom, who saw no reason to change her ways – not even for the sake of her teenage daughter.
Roxie opened the door to a semi-dark apartment. Johnny Carson was doing his “Carnac the Magnificent” routine on the television in the living room. Her mom was asleep on the couch, a half-empty bottle of bourbon on the floor next to her. Roxie sighed and flipped off the television and the lights. Her mom snorted in her sleep as Roxie made her way toward her room.
She lay in the dark staring at the ceiling and thinking about the events of the night. Sobs rose in her throat and escaped her lips despite her attempts to stifle them. She turned on her side and whispered into her pillow.
“I’m not sure if you’re there, and I don’t really know how to talk to you if you are,” she said. “But God, if you are there, please help me.” She cried until she didn’t have any more tears left and drifted off to sleep remembering the kiddie prayer “Now I lay me down to sleep.” She figured if she should die before she woke, well that would be all right with her.
Her mom had already left for work when she left for work the next morning. She pulled on her jeans and left the apartment. She had no plans that day – she hadn’t had plans with anyone since the big scandal. She walked down First Avenue and stopped in front of the Central Methodist Church at the end of the street. She hesitated, but something seemed to draw her inside.
The chapel was empty on a Saturday morning, and she quietly slipped into a pew on the back row. Her eyes roamed over the Old Testament scenes depicted in the large stained glass windows on either side of the pulpit and then rested on a larger than life image of Jesus on the cross.
“Not sure you can help me if you’re trapped up there,” she muttered. She rose and turned to leave.
A muffled sob caught her attention and she whirled in the direction of the sound. A small child sat huddled behind one of the pillars to the side of the chapel. She hurried over to the toddler and instinctively threw her arms around her. She sat on the floor and rocked, fighting the urge to join in her crying.
“What are you doing here,” she asked, not expecting an answer. At the sound of Roxie’s words the child stopped crying and stared at her with big blue eyes.
“Not gonna tell me are you, Sweetie?” she crooned and looked around. “Well, let’s see if we can find your Momma.” She stood and lifted the child, carrying her through a door in the back of the chapel.
“Hello?” she called out tentatively. Her voice echoed in the empty halls. She walked slowly through the hallway, glancing in the various Sunday School classrooms as she passed. After a few minutes, she had wound through several hallways and found that she was hopelessly lost.
Suddenly, she heard voices coming from a door down the hall to her right. The child in her arms started to squirm, and she set her down and let her walk. Holding the little girl’s hand, she moved toward the voices.
A female voice was talking in that kind of sing-song voice one uses when talking to children. She glanced through the small glass window in the door. Her co-worker, Maisy was trying to catch up with four very active little boys, while Angela Cole, one of her classmates, was trying to tie a little girl’s tennis shoes while controlling a half-dozen other children. Candy Dawson was trying to diaper a screaming toddler. Roxie stifled a giggle as she opened the door to the nursery.
“You ladies lose one of these?” she asked, gently pushing the little girl into the room.
“Leslie!” they said in unison. “When did you get out?”
Roxie herded the boys and girls into a circle and firmly told them to sit down. She then moved over to Candy and expertly diapered the remaining toddler. After setting the freshly diapered child with the other children, she turned to the others a grinned.
“Looks like you could use some help in here,” she said.
“What are you doing here?” Candy said with distaste.
“Never mind that,” Angela said. “How did you do that?” She motioned to the children sitting in an orderly fashion on the floor.
“Oh, that,” Roxie laughed. “I spend most summers with my aunt. She has four little ones, so I’ve had a lot of practice.” She turned to Candy, who was still staring at Roxie, her arms folded across her chest. Roxie explained, “I – I just came into the church to look around. Found this one hiding in the chapel.”
For a moment, Candy didn’t respond. Roxie’s shoulders slumped and she lowered her eyes. “Well, I’ll just be going now,” she turned toward the door and started to leave.
“Oh no you don’t!” Maisy stepped in front of Roxie to block her exit. “I mean - please stay. You’re a God-send!”
“Yeah,” Angela said. “We volunteered to work th’ nursery on Saturdays so the Mom’s can have a day off. Didn't figure it’d be this hard.”
“Never thought I’d say this, but I’m beginning to dread Saturdays,” Maisy laughed.
One of the kids began to whine, and another jumped up and ran toward the window. Maisy looked at Roxie, who herded the stray back to the circle.
“Well, what’re we going to do with these little ones?” Roxie asked. Angela picked up a tape and slid it into the VCR. The children quieted as a bear appeared on the screen and sat on a stump in the middle of the forest.
The bear began to talk, narrating a Bible story in terms the kids would understand. A fox was standing beside a well, but didn’t have anything to put the water in. A cougar came by with a bucket and drew a bucket full of water, offering some to the fox. The fox seemed to know everything about the cougar, including all the mistakes she’d made in the past, but told her she was still valuable to him. The cougar offered the fox a drink of water – the fox offered the cougar a whole well full of forgiveness and love. Roxie listened in silence as the fox offered the cougar a chance for a new life, despite her past.
“I wish real life world was that simple,” she said. “Just talk to someone and everythin’ is wiped clean.” Angela and Maisy exchanged glances and Maisy started to speak. Candy beat her to the punch.
“Why, it is that simple,” Candy said. She sat down beside Roxie and looked at her. “Haven’t you ever heard these stories before?” Roxie shook her head, feeling foolish and out of place.
“Well, I just can’t imagine gettin’ through the day without them,” Angela said. “It’s like, you know, no matter how bad it gets, you know it’s okay.”
Roxie nodded, but the look on her face told the girls she didn’t know anything of the sort.
“You don’t know Jesus, do you,” Maisy asked softly. She sat down on the other side of Roxie, and Angela pulled up a chair in front of him. Roxie couldn’t help but feel like a trapped animal and fought the instinct to run.
“Well, I’ve heard of Him,” she said defensively, “and I sometimes I slip into the back of the church on Sunday mornin’s just to listen to the singin’. But when th’ preacher starts to talk, it all sounds like gibberish. I usually leave.”
“Oh, Hon,” said Candy. “Knowing about Him and knowing Him are 2 different things.” Roxie looked perplexed and Candy struggled to explain. “It’s like …”
“Like hearing about a good teacher at school, but not really knowing why she’s good until you’re actually in her class,” Maisy said. The others nodded and looked at Roxie expectantly. That sort of made sense, but she still couldn’t grasp what they were saying.
“It’s like us and you.” All three girls turned puzzled eyes toward Candy as she explained. “We’d … well, pardon me for saying, but we’d heard about what happened with your Mom and the mayor.” She blushed and Roxie lowered her eyes, wishing she’d never come to the church that day.
“Let’s face it,” Candy continued. “We all thought you were just like your Mother. I mean, she raised you, so it must’ve worn off on you.” The girls stared at Candy in stunned silence. Candy dropped her head in her hands and said, “Oh, I’m making such a mess of this.”
“We knew about you, but we never bothered to actually get to know you,” Maisy said, finally understanding where Candy was trying to go with this.
“Exactly!” Candy said. “Before you walked in to this room and charmed those kids the way you did - well, you were just some unpopular girl to us. We assumed you were a certain way, but you turned out to be completely different!”
“Yeah,” Angela chimed in. “You’re actually kinda cool.” The others giggled nervously and nodded in agreement. To Roxie’s surprise, Candy leaned over and gave her a little hug.
Roxie was speechless. The night before, she didn’t think anyone in the world would ever like her again, but here were three girls who were willing to change their thinking after spending just an hour with her. She suddenly remembered her late-night plea to a God she wasn’t even sure existed.
Roxie spent the rest of the afternoon with Candy, Angela and Maisy, talking and playing with the kids. She was having so much fun that she forgot about time. When the mothers began to arrive to pick up their kids, Roxie felt the familiar tightening of heart as the realities of her world started to creep back in. Sadly, she watched the other girls gather their purses and walk towards the door.
“You have to work tonight?” Maisy asked as they walked down the halls to the exit.
“For a little while,” Roxie nodded. “Chip’s kids are in town, so I told him I’d take care of the grill tonight.”
“Well, at least you don’t have to ‘hop’ tonight. Those kids were brutal last night,” she rolled her eyes and shook her head. “There’s something about winning the Friday game that brings out the worst in some of them.”
“Tell me about it,” Roxie giggled, surprised she could laugh about the torment of the previous night. She pulled open the back door of the church and felt the cool Autumn air on her face.
“Sunday school starts at 10 tomorrow mornin’,” Angela said as she passed through the open door.. “Miss Carter, our teacher, is real good. Can you come?”
“Sure, I’d like that,” Roxie said, and to her surprise, she meant it. She still didn’t know much about this Jesus, but if He could turn her world around in just one day, she certainly intended to learn all she could.
Her step was a little lighter as she walked back toward her apartment, and the rest of the day seemed to fly by. She hardly noticed the knowing looks the kids threw her way as she flipped burgers at Brownies that night.
Her mom was asleep on the couch again as she unlocked the door and headed toward her room. She hesitated before climbing into bed and awkwardly lowered herself on her knees beside the bed. Her lips moved silently as she asked Jesus to come into her heart and to teach her more about Himself.
There were no tears on her pillow that night as she drifted off to sleep. Her last thought of the day was that nothing had really changed in her life – at least not on the outside. But somehow, she knew that it would all be okay.
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