The pet food aisle: maybe a dog would help me through the loneliness of my first job and a new neighborhood. I eased the wayward trolley to a halt and scratched my half grown goatee. If people look like their dogs I’d have to get an Afghan Hound: all legs, hairy and no sense – especially if I took any kind of pet back to my miniscule home.
Frying pan. Egg flip. Washing up liquid. The trolley filled quickly with the basics I’d need to set up house. At the checkout I was grateful for the cash Dad had pressed into my hand.
“I’ve rung the pastor at your closest church, son. There’ll be a hot meal waiting.”
I’d been fed well and really appreciated it. How could I not go to tonight’s ‘Desperate and Dateless’ singles function?
“They’re a lively bunch,” Pastor Rockman handed over a huge dish. “Tuna casserole.”
I wouldn’t need to cook for a month.
“Not many desperate amongst them. Just there way of having a good time on Valentine’s Day.”
That was good, because I was definitely not desperate. And that’s what worried me. First pay cheque I’ll see a therapist. That should sort me out.
By the time I’d finished finding places for my groceries my brain hurt from spiraling thoughts that went nowhere. I thumped the kitchen bench and it nearly disintegrated. How do I know? Do I want to know? Was there a medical test that proved one way or the other? It wasn’t that I didn’t like girls. Back home I’d lots of friends who were girls. But that’s where the relationship began and ended. We had fun together, full stop. In twenty three years not one of them had raised my heart beat. Not one. Mind you up until now I hadn’t felt attracted to guys either, that was some consolation. Small, but nevertheless something to hang onto.
I began arranging my gear into the bathroom cabinet.
“I couldn’t bear it, Lord. If I was… You know. Like Matthew.”
Boy, he’d made the congregation sit up and check the condition of its love barometer. Matthew had walked off the street and in to church one Sunday morning and grabbed the microphone at sharing time.
“Hi. I’m Matthew. I was bitter with God and the church for a long time because of the way I’m wired.”
He hit an exaggerated camp pose. Next to me, Mrs. Jawolski nearly fell off her seat.
“I’m HIV pos.” I shifted in my seat, ready to catch her. “I might live for a year. I night live for ten years. I don’t know. I don’t care. God loves the sinner. That’s me. The wages of sin is death. I learnt that at my Dad’s knee. It’s true. I’m gonna die, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus!”
Deathly silence. I could hear the fluorescent lights buzzing.
Then, I don’t know why I did it, I stood up and, trembling, shaking and blushing I prayed for Matthew.
I can’t say Matthew (Never Matt, “You walk on mats, Ned.”) and I clicked. I can say he clung to me like I was the only way through shark infested waters. I was slowly drawn into his circle of friends.
Mrs. J. said, “Avoid the company of sinners, boy.”
But Jesus made friend of publicans and prostitutes, didn’t he?
Dad just patted my back when Matthew and his friends came over. “Not ‘Beaches’ again! Soon I shall know it backwards.”
I topped his prayer list along with Bush, Blair, Howard and Osama Bin Laden.
I hooked up my stereo. Loud music would drown out my thoughts. But I couldn’t find the headphones. OK, food. ‘The Desperate and Dateless’ flier drooped from a fridge magnet.
I don’t remember pulling out the tuna casserole and putting it into my back pack.
My steps slowed as I approached the church. What would I say to the greeter? “I’m Ned and I’m new in the neighborhood. I’m not desperate or anything.” Yeah. That would do.
The greeter stepped into the light. I’d never met a Christian girl who wore black Doc Martins with a dress. I’d never had a Christian girl in Goth makeup look at me with such a wide and inviting smile.
She threaded her arm through mine “You must be, Ned. I’m Carrie.” Her eyes twinkled mischievously.
I smiled down at her, imagining us on a moonlight beach, hand in hand, jeans soaked from running through the shallows…
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