“The last order of business today is, should we allow Jesse Teller to leave Harmony?” Pastor Haste said.
A grumble dropped like a pattering of rain on the crowd at the Wednesday night Business Meeting as the motion hit the floor. Servant sat in the back of the church, looking with a deep sadness and a sense of longing at the place where he had learned to love the Lord. The men and women who raised him sat quiet before Brother Faith stood.
“It is not our place to say where this young man worships. None of us want to see him leave, but he has a reason for going, and I find it to be a pretty good one. I put a motion on the floor that we let him go with God and do the wonderful things he will be doing.” Brother Faith turned to me with his gruff face and soft eyes and said, “It has been a joy watching you become a man, Jesse. I know you will do well where you go now.”
“And where is he going?” Brother Justice said. “I have not heard his plans. If he wishes to go, of course we will let him. He is in good standing with our congregation and we have no reason to warn or deny the church that will take him, but I would like to know what is pulling him away.”
The room turned to me and Servant stood. He was not sure why we were leaving, just that we had to go. This was his church, the place where he had first heard the Word of God. Behind that choir box sat the tub that had baptized him on July 16, 1989. He could still remember weeping when he dedicated himself to Christ. Could still remember the water rising to his waist and the way the pastor had gripped his nose when he bent him back into the water.
Servant could not explain how or why it was so, but he had been lifted out of that water and felt cleansed. He felt as if the hand of God had washed him. He had passed into a new place that day, and this church was the hub of that change. This was where he had grown in faith. This was ground zero for the love of Christ, and Servant did not want to leave. He stood up to say so when Shadow came out.
This was Shadow’s first time speaking in this church, an entire room looking at him, and he knew what was happening here.
“What are these plans you have, Jesse?” a man asked, who Shadow could not name. “Where are you off to?” Shadow knew he should know this man’s name, knew someone had just been in the middle of a question. But he had no idea who this man was, who anyone in this room was.
Watch your language. They might not be cool with it.
“Dude at my work invited me to his church a few weeks ago. When I got there, the music director was—” Shadow didn’t know how to say it in this setting. The only term for it was fucking hideous. The music director ought to be set on fire at a stake in the front lawn of the fucking church. But he couldn’t say that.
He looked at Rose sitting next to him and grinned. “The music director was not a singer.” He looked for anyone to laugh, but they did not. He chuckled to himself and shook his head. “Good man, not gifted with a throat of gold. So I was asked to lead the church in song. And I just kind of, you know, did it. And I didn’t f— screw it up. I did pretty good, and well man, the church just needs me, man.”
A second dude Shadow did not know stood and nodded. This was not a man who smiled often. “Do you feel led to lead this church in song?”
“Led,” Shadow scoffed. “Well, someone has to do it. And I think that guy needs to be me.”
“So God has gently pushed you in this direction,” the man said.
“God kicked me out the boat in the deep end with this f— church, man. I swam, so I guess I am supposed to be there. Congregation is pretty cool. They accept me and my rough spots. Kids are cool. I know all the songs. I can stand in front of a crowd. I am pretty da— darn good at it. They need me.”
“Second the motion,” the man said.
Shadow didn’t know what that meant, but it sounded good. He dropped into the pew and sat in it like it was a booth at a bar. He looked around, his mother beside him dabbing the corners of her eyes with a tissue, and he damn near smacked her.
That display was bullshit. He was almost sure of it.
The congregation talked a while longer before they took the vote. They said a lot of things about our past with that church, a lot of flattering things Shadow did not remember.
“Will you be playing guitar and singing at this church?” a man asked.
Rose shooed us to our feet.
Shadow stood. “Sorry, I don’t know, man, maybe. I am not very good at guitar, to be honest. It is not a thing I am that into.” The room looked at him confused. They had seen us play guitar at that church for five years. But Shadow did not know that, so he kept going. “I do like to sing. And I might play for them. I am not sure. For now, I am just trying to get to know the church and do my f— my job.”
They voted. Everyone but Rose voted to let me go. She wept when they handed me my slip.
Southern Baptist churches keep membership slips for all the members baptized in their church. Brother Haste gave Shadow his, and Shadow looked at it and grinned. Laminated and small, it looked like a card kept in a notecard box.
Shadow stayed around for about five minutes after the meeting. When more and more men and women came to talk to him, wish him luck, and say they were praying for him, Shadow had to leave. He didn’t know any of those people.
Servant came out and after half a minute, he was weeping. Hugs. Tearful goodbyes. More and more of it, and before he left, Servant walked to the altar and laid a kiss on it. Then it was over for us and Harmony. A chapter had been closed in our life.
Now over to Arthur’s house to show you what is brewing.
Shadow knocked once and the door popped open. Guinevere stood with a smile and open arms. The TV was on in the living room and it was turned to MTV. She was dressed in a t-shirt that didn’t fit her anymore, with her hair done to exact detail but a little dated. She wore tight jeans Shadow could have taken her pulse through, and her make-up was perfect. She hugged him for a long time before taking Shadow by the hand and sitting him in Arthur’s chair.
See, Arthur works forty hours at Pizza Hut and he is also a full-time pastor. He has to visit sick congregants, help them if they have a crisis, and console them when they are upset. He has to be at births. He has to give private prayer. He needs to be gone. Guinevere is left alone with the boys for most of the day, most days. He asked Shadow to go to his house as much as possible when he was gone and be company for his wife and watch over his children. Arthur wants a man at his house because he has a rough neighborhood to contend with, and Shadow would set his mind at ease.
“Where are the kids?” Shadow asks, looking for the tops of blonde heads peeking over the back of the couch.
“I sent them to bed early,” Guinevere says. “It’s just us tonight.”
Shadow has not gotten his first tickle yet. He has not yet begun to see the issue rising here.
It is in her eyes, in the way her hands tremble when he is around. It is in the way she talks to him.
“You hungry? I have some good fucking leftovers in the fridge,” she says.
“Fucking?” Shadow says. This has him alarmed, but his instincts are not telling him why yet. See, he knows when a girl wants him. Has been able to spot it since he was born at the gas can and the shattered car window, but he is batting down his instincts.
She cannot want him, you see. It is not possible. This is a woman of God. This is the wife of his first true father figure. She is not even off limits because she does not even register as a woman to him.
I hope you can understand that. I hope you can see that when things spiral out of control, and they will, it will be a shock to him.
“I’m not hungry, but how good are these fucking leftovers?”
“They are pretty fucking good.” She giggles. She giggles like she had been wanting to say that for a long time.
“Let’s have it,” Shadow says.
When she sets the plate in front of him, he sees this is more than leftovers. This is a home cooked meal. Hot fried chicken. Fresh mashed potatoes. Hot corn on the cob. He will need a steak knife to eat it, but here it is. This meal had just been cooked. And it looks like it was a meal for two. She makes herself a plate and sits across from him.
“You eating, too?” he says.
“I didn’t eat with the kids,” she says.
“Did they have chicken?”
“Boyardee.” She eats very carefully, obviously does not want to get messy. She eats her chicken with a fork and her cob of corn she cuts like Shadow with a giggle when she sees him do it.
“I wasn’t always lame like this, you know,” she says.
“Yeah, a pastor’s wife. I wasn’t always lame. I used to be a party girl. I was pretty wild,” Guinevere says.
“Party girl, huh?” Now Shadow is thinking this woman must be pretty grateful to Arthur for pulling her out of that life.
“Drugs, rock, sex. I was pretty wild.” She smiled. “My favorite of the group Guns N’ Roses was Steven Adler, the drummer. Did you know Axl didn’t think he was that good of a drummer, but he was fun to party with, so he let him in the band?”
“I did know that. I was quite the fan when I was younger,” Shadow said.
“How old are you now?” Guinevere asked.
“You know what they say about twenty?” she said.
“Old enough.” She winked at me, grabbed her plate, and headed for the sink.
“You only ate half of your meal,” Shadow said.
“I’m losing weight,” she said. “You know, Steven Adler had blond hair, but other than that, yours looks just like his.”
“His was styled though, and mine is a mess and barely combed,” Shadow said.
She turned and scowled at him. “Don’t say that,” she said. “Your hair is gorgeous. Don’t say it’s a mess. It is perfect.”
He still didn’t see it.
Soon these little visits were intensified when Arthur told Shadow he wanted him to take Guinevere out to the movies. She was stuck in the house all day with the kids and she needed a break. He loaned us his car so we could come to his house as often as we wanted to.
Guinevere became a huge part of Shadow’s life. She was everywhere, often getting babysitters and showing up at our apartment uninvited and unannounced when she knew I was asleep for my night shift. When the house was dark and no one was there.
She began to let herself in.
It was not until she climbed in bed with Shadow, under the covers, and wrapped her arms around him spooning with him that he began to see it.
“I’m naked under here, Guinevere. I think you ought to get up.”
“Just lay here for a moment with me, Jesse. Just let me hold you. Just for a few minutes.”
“I don’t have any clothes on, Guinevere.”
“I know. I know you sleep naked.”
I had never told her that.
“I just want to hold you for just a minute and smell you.”
Now it all came to him. Now Shadow saw all of it.
But by then it was too late.
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 3: The Keep.