His black ebony hair is of Hollywood trim and his golden tan speaks of days on white beaches under blue sky. But his brown eyes are blood shot and red rimmed, surrounded by dark un-unsleeping skin. Over the chipped porcelain bowl against which he is leaning, a cracked mirror hangs by a thread of string. He cannot look at himself in it.
He has lied to an endless stream of young girls and creditors, though not as often as he has lied to his parents. But in their honest loving eyes he felt shame that they knew he lied; telling them the same lies over the phone did not make them feel like smaller, lesser lies. He neither phones nor visits them anymore.
So he stands there, reckless and wrecked, and when he shaves he looks only at the flesh the razor cuts against, because he cannot bear to look into his eyes and see the liar staring back at him.
Outside, the rain falls.
Laura looked into the coffee cup, the bitter liquid reflecting the harsh neon lights of the unsleeping city, wondering if a city that never sleeps is afraid of its dreams. Young girls come here - from small towns you have probably never heard of - all the time, tempted by the city’s promise of dreams coming true.
She stared out of the window and up to the sky, hidden by the unsleeping city’s unnatural light, and missed home; she prayed. It started to rain outside and she smiled, remembering that the rain falls on tilled earth and growing shoots back home, feeding and nurturing them, refreshing the earth. A young man, high on something, fell against her on the way past her seat, jolting her from her thoughts with his laugh of injected hysteria.
She was beginning to doubt she had heard the Lord correctly. Why had He asked her to stay a day in this place when what she wanted was to go straight home from college and feel the free wind on her face?
The door of the café opened and she looked up. His ebony hair was of Hollywood trim; young women might turn their heads as he walked past, but what she saw was the young man she had known in high school, who had been gifted intellectually, who had disappeared a few weeks after his girl friend had killed herself. The father had later been arrested for molesting her and her young sister.
The unresolved pain, grief and guilt was etched as deeply on his face now, as it had been when Laura had last seen him 3 years previously. He turned, and she saw him flinch in recognition, but the Lord was giving her the chance to reach out to a grieving heart. She rose from her seat.
‘Tom!’ she called, walking towards him. ‘This is a surprise – how are you?’
Tom. When had he last been called that by anyone other than his parents? In this city his name was Todd; then he saw that it was Laura, the sweet kid from back home who had told him that he was in her prayers after Susie died. He remembered she was the only one who had been easy to be around, recalled how ironic that had seemed. His friends always seemed to be judging him, yet the Christian girl who read her bible in the refectory had been the least judgemental of anyone he knew. He smiled at her; they sat down together at the table and began to chat as though the three years had never happened.
She saw straight through his lies of course and ashamed of himself, he stopped talking.
‘It still hurts doesn’t it?’ asked Laura gently.
‘Yes,’ said Tom, and realised the relief it was to speak that now after all this time. He looked at her.
‘And you’ve been trying to destroy yourself ever since,’ said Laura. Her voice was as he remembered, soft and without judgement.
Then Tom felt the tears threatening to flow, the buried pain and hurt desperate to escape.
Gently Laura stood, drew him up and led him out of the café so that the salty tears flowed with the rain down his face as she whispered wonderful words about a great and unending love that would forgive him and heal him if he would allow it.
Laura lifted her hand to his cheeks and stroked away a tear.
‘Tears wash everything clean,’ she whispered.
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