The cup in her hands was warm
and comforting. She brought it slowly to her lips as she starred out the window
of her apartment. She usually loved this time of year. Fall brought out what
she considered was the most amazing display of colors, but for some reason
today just seemed…off. Well, there was the fact that…but that was two weeks
ago…she swallowed and tried not think about it.
It was interesting to see people walking around on the streets below, carrying about their life as if nothing had changed. But it hadn’t changed for them, just for her. They seemed so happy though. A father chased his toddler daughter around the front lawn, she had the most amazing toothy grin on her face. In the middle of the lawn an old couple sat, talking and just taking in the view. She wondered, were they married, or just old friends? Did they know that man with the little girl? Maybe they were grandparents?
She let out a slow breath before placing her cup down on the window sill. She wished it would rain, then maybe she wouldn’t feel so…the sound of her phone ringing broke through her thoughts. She reached over to look at the number and sighed. She could not answer the call from her mother, but then if she didn’t, she knew she would only call back more worried. That’s how her mother was, if she didn’t call back within a certain time frame she would just assume something was horribly wrong. She’d grown to accept that about her though. She took a deep breath before answering the call and bringing the phone to her ear.
“Hi Mom” she replied. “Hi baby, how are you?” She picked at the paint on the sill. “I’m okay. Just…taking care of stuff.”
“You should go outside, take a walk or something.”
“I’m fine mom.”
“Did you talk to the pastor I told you about?”
“Mom I said I’m fine!” Silence followed her response. She didn’t usually talk so briskly with her mother, but she was tired of being offered useless advice. She sighed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to yell.”
“I’m worried about you.”
“Do you want me to come over?”
“You say that as if you live right around the corner.” Her mother lived thousands of miles away. But that was her mother, in spite of the distance she would still drop everything if she told her that she needed her. She needed to sound happier. It was the only way to get her off her back. As much as she loved her, she also knew she didn’t have the money to fly over to see her, especially because it meant she would need to bring the younger kids with her. “I think I’ll go for a walk actually, the weather looks nice outside. It would do me some good.” There. That made her sound like she was being more proactive.
“I love you.” Her mother’s voice was oddly quiet in a sad kind of way. There was something empty about it, it was as if she wanted to say more but was tired. Tired of having the same conversation with her perhaps? “I love you too.”
“Are you coming down for the Thanksgiving?”
“I’m not sure.” She didn’t know if she was ready to face her family just yet. Why did she feel like such a leper? Get it together! “I need to check my work schedule.” It was a lie. She was pretty certain if she asked for it her job would give her the days she needed to come down.
“It’s a US Holiday Candace. Shouldn’t you already be off?”
“Yes…I mean…I’d have to fly down before Thanksgiving though mom.” At least now it could look like she was trying. “You should come even if you have to fly on Thanksgiving.” Her mom was not going to let it go. She sighed. “Ok mom. I’ll be there.”
“Let me know when you’re coming.”
“I’ll let you know when I know.”
“I’m your mother, as annoying as it may be sometimes, it’s my job not to give up on you.” She almost cried. In fact, she felt like if she said anything right now she still might. “Jonathon, take that out of your mouth this instant!” The sound of her younger brother broke through the tender moment. She was never so happy to hear his voice. She hated crying. It made her feel vulnerable in a way that didn’t sit well with her. “I’m going to let you go mom.” She finally managed to get some words out. “Tell Jonny I said I love him.”
“He misses you, you know?”
“So do the others.”
“Jonny has them all calling you Candy now.” Her mom laughed. She was grateful for a change in direction of the conversation. “Jonny had all the kids at summer camp calling me Candy.”
“I think he really looks up to you. When you’re here, it’s like no one else is here.”
“It’ll be great to see everyone again.” She tapped at the window sill. In the back of her mind she was just looking for a way to get off this call. End on a happy note. “Kick a ball?” Thank-you Jonny! Those words were his way of saying he wanted to go outside and play. “Kick a ball? Kick a ball?”
“I’m going to let you go mom. Sounds like little Jonny is ready to go out?” She added a chuckle just to make sure her mother didn’t think she was trying to get rid of her. “Kick a ball?”
“Sounds like. I’ll let you go then. Promise me you’ll do something today?”
“Love you too.”
“Bye.” She hung up the phone and leaned against the window. Why was that so exhausting? For some reason that conversation left her drained. Oddly enough, despite the fact that she felt drained, she felt like she really did need to take a walk. It took her a few seconds to get her body to move and then she was on it. Undress. Brush teeth. Shower. Lotion. Put on clothes. Comb hair. Grab keys. Out the door. It was almost mechanical in a way, but she suddenly felt a push from a place inside of her that she couldn’t describe. Take a walk, it said. She didn’t know where she was she was going, but she would walk aimlessly until she figured it out, figured herself out.
She pressed the button for the elevator and it immediately opened as if it was just waiting for her. She looked at it oddly before stepping on and pressing the button for the first floor. The elevator stopped on the eighth floor and she watched as a young guy came on with a black tee-shirt, jeans, and tattoos all over his arms. The tattoo peeking out from under the neck of his shirt suggested that he may even have them all over his chest as well. His hair was spiky, but not spiky like the way some people do when they create those tall spikes on their heads. It was more like he had wet his hair quickly, slathered in some gel and quickly ruffled it. He had earrings in his ears. Not the normal kind where you make a small hole and put earrings through. More like the kind that literally put a giant hole in your ear. She looked up from his tattoos to find him oddly smiling at her. She quickly looked away at the opposite corner as the doors of the elevator closed then looked up at the elevator panel as the numbers decreased. She felt like she was being watched.
Why did being in an elevator with a stranger make her feel so awkward? Did other people feel this way? She glanced at him from the corner of her eye.
It’s like she didn’t know whether to engage the person conversation completely or to just ignore them. A quick peek. He seemed harmless.
The longer you were in the elevator the more obligated you felt to have a conversation. Was he like a biker guy or something?
Was it rude to not engage in conversation? Right after she had that thought there was a jerking movement with elevator. It stopped between the fourth and third floor.
“Hmm…” She looked towards him fully when he spoke and crossed her arms over her chest. This wasn’t happening. Why did she listen to herself about this stupid walk? Breath of fresh air my but. Now she was stuck in an elevator with Mr. Tattoo. Breathe. Give it a second, it’ll start again. She watched as he reached over and pressed the button to call for help. Huh. Why didn’t she think of that? It was an awkward moment of silence before someone finally picked up. “Can I help you?” A woman with a sweet voice answered. “Yeah, the elevator just stopped,” He replied. “How long have you been in there?” He scratched his head and looked at her before responding. “It just stopped less than a minute ago.”
“Is everyone okay?” He looked towards her. “You all right?”
“I’m fine.” She shrugged, averting her eyes. She wasn’t about to share her feelings with a complete stranger. “We’re both okay.”
“All right. Sit tight. We’re sending someone to get you guys out of there.” Great. Just great. Well, this turned out to be a bust. She could hear movement from her side and she turned to see him now sitting on the floor. “May as well get comfortable.”
“I’m fine standing.” She really wanted to sit. “Suit yourself.” He shrugged his shoulders. Another awkward moment of silence and she sluggishly sat down on the opposite corner of the elevator, purposing not to look at him. He chuckled. “What’s so funny?” She crossed her arms.
“You.” He smiled. She turned away. “Did you know you’re worth dying for?” There was a moment of silence before she whispered words she didn’t expect to let come out of her mouth. “I’m not worth dying for.”
“Why, are you dying?”
“You look like it.”
“Excuse me?” If only she could learn to harness the power of killing with her looks. “Well you sure aren’t living.”
“You don’t even know me!” He shrugged. “Actions speak louder than words.”
“So do appearances.” She didn’t mean it. “Sorry.” He laughed. “It’s cool. I’m used to it.”
“Did it hurt?”
“The process is called gauging, and yeah…a lot.” He laughed. “Then why did you do it?”
“Then why don’t you take them out?”
“The holes are permanent I’m afraid…still trying to figure out how to move on.”
“Oh.” Silence. “So…how long do you have to live?”
“What’s your expiration date?”
“Don’t you think that’s a little personal?”
“You brought it up.”
“No I…”She paused in thought. “Well I didn’t say I wanted to talk about it.”
“I’m dying too by the way.”
“Are you now?” She arched her brow.
“When’s YOUR expiration date?”
“I don’t know.”
“Uh-huh.” Where were those elevator people?
“But then again…aren’t we all dying?”
“I don’t know what the big deal really is. Why do we all fuss about dying?”
“You’re not really dying are you?” The power of death at a single look. She was sure her look right now was close. He just laughed.
“Think about it. We could die while trying to get off this elevator. We could die crossing the street. We could get shot and die in a grocery store. No one really knows when they’re going to die.”
“O death, where is your sting?”
“I Corinthians 15:55.”
“Oh. You’re one of those.”
“One of what?”
“Sure don’t.” She narrowed her eyes. “Enlighten me.”
“You’re not one of those church people?”
“Do I look like one of those church people to you?”
“I have to admit you don’t look like what I normally expect…”
“Why do you hate church so much?”
“What makes you think I hate church?” He arched his brow and smirked at her in this way that almost felt like he was just piercing right through her. Seeing her. She sighed and bowed her head. “I don’t feel like I belong there.”
“I have HIV.” Where did that come from? She needed to get out of this elevator.
“Aren’t you going to ask me how I got it?”
“No. Why, is that important?”
“No…I… I guess…not.” She looked at him oddly. Everyone always just assumed that she…“When did you find out?”
“Two weeks ago.”
“How do your parents feel?”
“Yeah, you’re adopted, but I know your real parents.”
“You don’t know me. How would you know my real parents?”
“Forgive me if I sound like a church person when I say this, but the truth is that God is your true father. He created you, then gave you to your birth parents to watch over you for a little while.”
“That’s what my mom says.” She paused. “But it doesn’t make sense. If I believe that what you’re saying is true, then why did He give me up? Why did my real parents give me up?” Her lips trembled a little and she turned away before he had a chance to see her eyes.
“I’m not going to pretend for even a second to know the answers to everything. But I don’t think that was the original plan.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” She crossed her arms over her knees and buried her face there.
“Our great grandparents kind of messed up. You know, what we do matters, not just to us, but to the next generation. When they messed up, they messed up for everyone.”
“Yep. It does.”
“You’re talking about Adam and Eve?”
“Don’t get all churchy on me now…” He looked at her expectantly.
“Candace.” She smiled. “Candace. I’m Peter,” He paused. “And God told me I’d meet you today.”
“Bullshit…sorry…I mean…” He smiled and it reached all the way to his eyes. “It’s okay, I’ll let that one slide.”
“I thought you said you weren’t a Christian.”
“Correction, I told you I wasn’t one of those churchy people.”
“There’s a difference?”
“You’re not one of those racist people are you?” He laughed and she rolled her eyes. “You never told me what you meant by that?” She sighed and shrugged her shoulders. “I really want to know.”
“You really want to know?” She looked at him oddly and he just smiled and nodded. “OK. Well…you walk in, and they hug, but you can feel their eyes on the close you wear. They tell you they love you, but they never reach out. When you’re in a conversation with them, they manage to find a way to talk about the good things that they’re doing. They say amen when the pastor preaches, but outside the church you see them making the same mistakes or worse, than you. They act like they’re saving you from yourself when sometimes they look like they need to be saved from something. The people who are supposedly leading the church seem to get away with the most stuff. I mean, they do things that anyone in a normal fu-“ She gave him a sideways glance and noted his arched brow. “I mean, in a normal job, would get fired over, and yet in the church they use forgiveness as some kind of crutch to just dismiss inappropriate behavior. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
“Wow. Tell me how you really feel,” He laughed, she shrugged. “You asked.”
“Would it surprise you if I said that I agreed with you?” She scrunched her brows. “I…why? But you’re a Christian? Don’t you go to church?”
“Yeah I do. But you have to understand something. What is the purpose of church?”
“Permission to go ‘churchy’ on you?” She laughed. “Permission granted.”
“Jesus talks about the church like it’s a sheep-fold with a shepherd. You familiar with a sheep-fold?”
“Well, it’s literally just a bunch of sheep that are brought together in a closed space by a shepherd who takes care of the sheep, feeds them, all that stuff.”
“Now, let me ask you this question, what makes it a sheep-fold?”
“Well, they are in a gate, so I guess the gate makes them a fold?”
“And that’s where you’d be wrong.” He smiled. “It’s actually the shepherd that makes them a sheep-fold. I mean think about it realistically. Shepherds sometimes take their sheep out for a walk outside of the gate right?”
“Yeah I guess.”
“So it’s the same with the church. The building doesn’t make it a church. It’s a Pastor chosen by Jesus bringing people together that makes it a church.”
“Okay, but why does that matter? You still haven’t explained why they need to be in the ‘sheep-fold’ in the first place.”
“For one, everyone wants to belong to something. No one truly wants to be along. Also, we all need vision to belong to. Without it we run wild in any direction. The ultimate vision is supposed to be the love of Jesus Christ and what He did to show that love. Granted, each pastor has their own vision that gets at this, but in the end, love is the key. Their job is to show the people in their fold how to love, and I mean really love. So when do things fall apart?” He paused. “Well, we’re human. Even Christians are.” He shrugged his shoulders and laughed. “Sometimes we forget, forget that it’s not about the clothes, about anything on the outside so much as it is about the inside…and what’s supposed to be on the inside is unconditional love.”
“What am I supposed to do with that?”
“Whatever you want to do with it. It’s always been your choice.” She scrunched her brows again and picked at the laces on her shoes. “Just…don’t be so hard on ‘the church’, you’re right, they need to be saved just as much as the next person. And yeah, some of them are going to get it wrong on occasion, but that doesn’t mean that they all do. If you go to a church, and right off the bat you don’t feel comfortable, and I mean, that something really feels off about their message or the way they act towards you,” Here he shrugged, “try another one. There’s a church for everyone. Just be careful you're not being picky just because you want to be. No church is perfect. Also try talking to the pastor. Sometimes it may seem a church is a certain way just because you happened to talk to the one person in that church who's got everything backwards.” It was silent for a moment as she thought about what he said. No one had ever talked so real with her before and she wasn’t sure how to process it.
“Hello in there? You guys all right?” She looked up to the doors, trying to figure out exactly where the voice was coming from. “Yeah, we’re fine.” Peter replied. “Sorry it’s taking so long. The mechanic is checking out the situation and we’ll keep you posted as soon as we know more. If you hear a weird noise above you it’s probably him on the roof.”
“All right thanks!” Peter replied. It was silent again before she spoke. “What do you mean by God told you’d meet me today?”
“Ah. Well, this is going to sound very…um…odd, to you.” She arched her brow. “Odder than this conversation?” He shrugged. “Well, God doesn’t necessarily speak to me with a voice, though He did once, a long time ago. Sometimes he sends me dreams, and sometimes I just feel something in my spirit.”
“Well...I was talking with him this morning about being intentional about trying to share His love with someone else today.”
“You may or not believe me when I say this, but I guess that’s not important, but…I saw you before I got on the elevator.”
“You saw me?” he nodded. “Yep. Not in person of course…in my head.”
“So when I got on the elevator, and you probably didn’t notice this because you were staring at the tats-“
“I wasn’t staring!” He raised his brow. “Fine. I was staring.”
“So you probably didn’t see the surprised look on my face. I actually wasn’t expecting to see you so soon.” He shrugged.
“You shrug a lot.”
“So sue me.” He laughed. “Anyway, I was trying to think of the words to say. I mean, you can’t really have a long conversation on an elevator. Most of the time I don’t say anything at all. I mean, is that considered rude?” She laughed. “I was thinking the same thing…about staying quiet that is.”
“I know right?” He chuckled. “So anyway, I’m scrambling to figure out what to say, the floors are going by and all I can think is I am about to really blow this opportunity…and then the elevator stopped.”
“And then the elevator stopped.” She gave him a weird look. “Did you stop the elevator?”
“No!” He laughed. “Even though you purposed to be very anti-social, don’t think for a second I didn’t know you were watching me, tattoos and all.” She smiled. “Busted.”
“Funny thing, the last thing I thought was that we’d be having this conversation stuck in an elevator.”
“And what exactly were you expecting?” He shrugged. “I don’t know. After I saw you in my head, I felt something in my spirit tell me to take a walk, just figured I’d be walking somewhere.” She paled slightly at those words. No way. “What’s wrong? You okay?”
“It’s nothing. I’m fine.” She turned away. Was God really seeking her out?
“Okay…um…another weird moment…and you might really think I’m psycho now…but, I just felt this…you asked a question. I don’t know what it is, but the answer is yes.”
“I want out of this elevator right now!” Should stood up just as a thump on the roof was heard along with some voices. The mechanic had finally arrived. “Hello down there! It’s just me, Jay, the mechanic. I’m working on the situation and I promise I’ll have you out as soon as I can.” His announcement was followed by silence. She turned away. She couldn’t look at him just yet, but she also shouldn’t be mad at him. He’d been nothing but nice to her. It wasn’t his fault that she’d been in a dark place lately. Breathe. She slowly sat back down.
“After I got off the phone with my mother this morning, I felt something inside me say to take a walk.” Her voice was barely above a whisper. She was thankful for the fact that he hadn’t responded. “Just now I asked if God was really trying to find me.”
“It’s still bothering you isn’t it?”
“That you have HIV.” Her silence was his response. “You know, I meant what I said. It’s really not important when you die. In comparison to eternity, the time we spend here on earth, in this body, is meaningless. What’s important is what we do while we are here, and what happens after that.”
“Am I going to hell because I have HIV?” He looked at her incredulously. “Of course not! Where did you ever get an off the wall stupid idea like that?” She shrugged. He turned his head as if something suddenly clicked. She could see it in his eyes. “How did you get it?”
“I thought you said it wasn’t important?”
“It’s important if it’s important to you.” She shrugged. “Slept around...a lot.”
“And you think that what you’ve done automatically means you’re going to hell?”
“Doesn’t it?” He laughed. “No. It doesn’t.” She crossed her arms disbelievingly. “That’s the thing about Jesus, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done, it matters what you do next.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“It means that if you ask him to fix you up, all of that goes away.”
“How can it go away? It’s not like I can just up and forget about it!”
“Just because you choose not to forget about it, doesn’t mean He won’t. When you ask, He forgives, and He forgets, but it’s your responsibility to forgive yourself.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that.”
“But then I’ll be just like one of those church people, getting forgiveness for something they keep doing.”
“The process of forgiveness isn’t real unless the thing you ask for forgiveness for, you actually want to stop doing. Yeah, you might slip up now and then, but what matters is that you really, really want to stop. Do you want to stop?”
“Then let it go.”
“It can’t be that easy.”
“Well, you can choose to make it hard, but it is that easy.” She scrunched her brows. “You scrunch your brows a lot.”
“You’re more real than most people I meet.”
“Thanks. I think.” She paused. “Sorry for the mean things I said.”
“What mean things?”
“I called you Mr. Tattoo.”
“No you didn’t.”
“I didn’t say out loud.” This time they both shared a small laugh and only paused when they heard a small creek followed by the voice of the mechanic. “Okay guys. I figured out the problem. Let me just get off this bad boy and I’ll have you guys up and running faster than you can say elevator.”
“Have you found a church yet?”
“My mom’s been trying to hook me up with a church nearby.”
“Ah. Good.” He smiled. “I’ve noticed that you call her mom.”
“We’ve been together for a while, been through a lot. She may as well be. There’s actually six of us all together. Me and my little brother, who calls me Candy, and four kids from other families.”
“Can I call you Candy?”
“Ah, but Candy…” She glared. “Your family sounds comfy. So, you going to go to the church your mom suggested?”
“I have a feeling that you will.” He smiled as the elevator suddenly jerked and then started moving again.
They got up off the floor. “We can go back to looking at our separate corners if you want.” He said.
“And try to figure out if it’s rude to not talk?” She replied with a smile.
The doors slid open and they walked out. He reached out and grabbed her hand with both of his. “If I never meet you again Candace, I pray right now that you find what you are looking for.”
It was three weeks before she could muster the courage to go the church her mother had told her about. In fact, she felt so frazzled and anxious that she didn’t even tell her mother she was going. She still somewhat self-conscious about what she was wearing. She didn’t have much and her job didn’t really give her room for new robe choices. But it shouldn’t be about the clothes right? She stared at herself in the mirror. Was her skirt too short? Maybe she should just wear jeans? She changed again for the fifth time, finally settling for jeans, a plain red t-shirt, and sneakers. She shrugged as she grabbed her purse. It would have to do.
Her nerves, anxiety, and everything inside her bundled up as she left her small studio apartment and walked to the church. She didn’t have a car, but a mile didn’t seem to be too far. Besides, she liked walking.
When she was a block away she
paused. Fear starting to get the better of her. They’re just going to judge you. They’ll take one look at you and treat
you like you’re not worth the time. She swallowed. The butterflies in her stomach flipped
so many times and her hands felt clammy. What was wrong with her? It was just a
building. No, the building didn’t matter. But she did want to know what it
would feel like to be in a fold, the right fold. She took a deep breath and
managed to get her feet to walk the rest of the way. At the doors she was
greeted by a black elderly man with a huge smile.
“Hi! Welcome to our church. You’re new here aren’t you?”
“Yes.” She replied nervously. “Awesome! Sometimes I’m not good with faces. But yours is so beautiful that I can’t even imagine I would have forgotten it.” She was pretty sure she was blushing so hard that it was going from ear to ear. “I…thank-you.”
“Here’s a little pamphlet about our church. To tell you more about what we believe.” He showed her the pamphlet, turning the pages with shaky fingers. “Our Pastor is Peter Gabriel.” She swallowed. No way. It must be a coincidence. “Let’s see, there’s a picture here somewhere…I think it’s on the third page.” She listened nervously as he continued. “You know most churches put the pastor’s face on the first page of their pamphlet and I keep telling Pastor Pete he needs to do that but that boy is so shy. He’ll get it eventually…ah, here it is, fourth page.” Just as she saw the picture she heard a deep voice call out her name. “Candy!” He ran across the aisle and picked her up, swinging her around in a huge hug before putting her down. “You came!”
“You didn’t tell me you were a pastor.”
“You didn’t ask.”
“Did my mom put you up to this?”
“I promise I don’t know your mom.” He laughed. “Though I do know your dad.” She rolled her eyes. “Did you know I was coming?”
“I promise I didn’t, though I did think it was a possibility.” He smiled. “Keep an eye on this one Georgie, we definitely can’t let her go.” She turned to the elderly man and pointed with her thumb. “Is he like this with everyone?”
“Unfortunately.” They both shared a chuckle.
“Hey!” Peter laughed. “By the way, I’ll save you the best seat in the house. Right up front!”
“Ask him where he sits.” Georgie chuckled. She eyed him wearily. “Where do you sit?”
“Uh… in the back.” She crossed her arms. “So why should I sit in the front?”
“Okay fine…sit where you want.” He smiled wide. “I’m just happy you’re here.”
“Why is that? You only met me once.”
“Because, it means you’ve made the decision already. You just don’t know it yet.”
“Decision? What decision?”
“Don’t ask Candy. Can I call you Candy?” She shrugged and sighed as Georgie looped his arm through hers. Apparently Jonny didn’t even have to be present for his influence to be felt. “Let me show you to your seat.”