SUNDAY NIGHT HIGHJINKS
There was a tiny country church called the Church of Laramore on the corner of a farm road right off of the interstate in Laramore, Texas that met for Sunday evening services. There were just a handful of cars in the gravel parking lot. One of them was Joey's truck.
Inside the church, Joey and Kurt were sitting in a middle pew off to the side. The majority of the congregation was of the farming variety. More elderly than young, though there were a couple of men there around Joey's age, if one could put an age on the man. It was Sunday evening in a small town where Sunday best was saved for the morning service. In the evening, dress was a smidge more casual. A lot of overalls and cowboy hats could be found.
Joey's dress didn't change much no matter what the occasion. Jeans and t-shirt with his black overcoat seemed to be appropriate dress for him no matter the occasion. Occasionally, the color of the t-shirt would change. White one day, blue the next. Tonight was a pleasant faded green color. Kurt went with a jean shorts paired with a Spider-Man shirt. A professional duo.
"What's this favor you have to do for this fella?" Kurt asked.
"Something kind of personal," Joey answered, cryptic as usual.
"Ah," Kurt replied.
"What? No mysterious reason to keep it from you," Joey said, sensing Kurt's annoyance.
"Anything I can do to help? You say you brought me along for a reason."
"Yes. Pray," Joey answered.
"Erm, okay. Specifically?"
"How's about throwing up one asking God to help whoever may need to make some sort of decision tonight," Joey said.
"And this will help you?" Kurt was skeptical. Prayer he could do from anywhere about anything. Why did he have to be at this little podunk church to do something he could have done from the cab of Joey's truck or the comfort of a junky motel room?
"Pretty good shot of it, yeah," Joey replied.
"Ooookay. I'll do it." What else could he do? They were here now.
Even when faced with sarcasm and skepticism, Joey responded with sincerity and gratitude. Kurt was beginning to think he may have run across the one pure soul left in the country. Sure, Joey could have a bit of fun and barb around with Kurt, but there was never any sense of mean-spiritedness about it. It was always the good-natured ribbing of someone you cared about. It was hard for Kurt to wrap his head around. What had he done to inspire such camaraderie in a person he had ostensibly just met? How did he find it easy to trust someone who seemed to know more about him than he would probably ever know about them?
He shook those thoughts from his brain, trying to make an actual effort to silently pray the prayer that Joey had asked of him. He had come on this trip hoping for answers, so he might as well play along. Kurt may have had some anger and questions for God, but he still believed in prayer. He believed it had the power to cause change and the ability to heal. The fact that he hadn't been doing much of it in the past week was more on his state of mind than his core beliefs. Perhaps he should start praying for himself as well. Heaven knew he could use some peace and healing.
A nervous-looking young man walked by their pew and sat down in front of them. Brad Silver, a young feed store manager, ran a hand nervously through a thick head of brown hair and glanced back at the two.
"Hey, how are ya'll doing? Never seen you here before," he said.
"We're kind of passing through," Joey said pleasantly.
"Oh. I'm actually kind of new here," he said.
"How's the preaching?" Joey asked. "Is it worth anything?"
"Oh, he's good," Brad assured them. "What he says kinda gets under your skin and stays there. In a total good way."
"Good to hear," Joey said. "I'm always in need of a decent sermon."
"You'll probably get it. You guys enjoy yourselves."
"Ditto," Joey said.
Brad turned back around, grabbing a copy of an old hymnal from the back of the pew in front of him and flipping through it as if trying to keep his mind occupied. Joey
continued to stare at the back of the young man's head, his expression thoughtful.
Another man walked by them and took a seat on the pew a few feet away from Brad. Brad's feet began to unconsciously jitter, a nervous tick. There was obviously something on his mind and something else had begun to unsettle him.
Kurt felt something in the pit of his stomach. He sat back in his pew, putting a hand on his belly. Had he eaten something weird? Dairy Queen probably wasn't the healthiest thing he could have consumed in the last few miles of their road trip, but he had eaten it a hundred times before and got nothing more than unnecessary cholesterol added to his bloodstream.
Joey turned his glance from the young man in front of him to a peaked looking Kurt.
"You okay?" he asked.
"Maybe all this driving and riding is getting to me," Kurt replied. "Stomach's a bit upset, that's all. Probably a little bit of motion sickness. I have been known to be prone."
"Well, we have a couple of hours before we get back on the road. We'll try to do another couple before hitting a hotel and settling in for the night. Hang in there."
Kurt nodded, trying to put the feeling in his stomach out of his head. There was an unsettling part of his mind that felt a sense of familiarity with that feeling and then it was very difficult to keep the dread from seeping in.
There was another Sunday evening service being held in another small Texas town a couple of hundred more miles down the interstate. Granted, Markland was a metropolis compared to Laramore, but it was also hardly Houston.
Hillside Christ Church did a typical Sunday evening service where the adults gathered for a bit of music and a short sermon, but the youth got to hang out in their class away from the stuffiness of adult affairs.
The youth had taken over a small room in the corner of the community hall where most of the classrooms were held. Doors adorned both sides of the hallway where Sunday School classes were held before opening up to the fellowship hall on the other end. Like most good churches, there was guaranteed to be a potluck dinner every first Sunday of the month after evening services, but unfortunately, it was already the second Sunday of the month.
Bruce Chance sat in a chair at the head of a circle of folding chairs surrounded by his youth group, mainly of junior high age. Circling Bruce sat Jenny Leaves, Cody Fuller, Jamison "Jamie" Nutter and Laurie Prescott.
"Who is this kid that Mattie is bringing tonight?" Cody was asking.
"One of her students. A guy named Randy Gentry," Bruce answered. "Any of you know him?"
Laurie spoke up. Dressed more stylishly than anyone else in the room, Laure was the sort who seemed to live for the moment that she got to add to the conversation. Whether it was asked of her or not.
"I do. Kind of. We have Mrs. Bead together. He doesn't say much," she said.
"Which is, of course, against every principle you live your life by," Jamie piped up. Jamie had received a reputation amongst his peer group of being sort of the class clown with a heart of gold. If someone found themselves in his circle of friends, they just had to get used to the fact that the way he showed how he cared for those close to him was by good-natured insults that sometimes came off sharper than he might have originally intended.
"Shut up, Jamie," Laurie glared at him.
"Guys," Bruce put his hands up, calling for peace.
"Anyhoo," Laurie continued, but not before shooting another withering glare Jamie's way who winked back at her. "he sits right over by Janice Starling who said that he's never really said anything to her, but he will pass a note for her, over to Russ who sits on the other side of him, who Janice has this huge crush on, but she knows I like him too and that I would go out with him in a heartbeat if he'd ask, but he acts totally interested in her and…"
"And I think the original point has been got," Jamie interrupted. "Kid doesn't say much. We'll break him of that habit."
"Just so you don't scare him off," Jenny said with a savage grin.
"Hey, I wouldn't harm a fly."
"But he doesn't know that yet," Jenny reminded him.
They heard a noise from outside the room and looked towards the door as it opened. Mattie walked in, followed by Randy who was doing his best to try to keep his eyes looking at the group instead of his sneakers.
"Guys, this is Randy," Mattie introduced. "Randy, these would be the guys."
Bruce stood and walked to Randy, offering a hand to shake. Randy took it and gave it a nervous half-hearted shake.
"Hey Randy, good to see you. I'm Bruce."
"Our fearless leader," Jamie said, "who sits on the throne."
He pointed at Mattie. "...of which she is so obviously the power behind."
Jamie took Randy's hand in a shake.
"And I would be Jamie."
Cody stood up beside Jamie.
"Real name: Jamison Nutter. Nickname: Nutty Jamie."
"An original and well thought out one at that," Jamie rolled his eyes. "I would like to publicly thank Cody for divulging that to God and everybody. Take a bow Code-man."
"In case it wasn't made clear by Jamie, I'm Cody," he said, shaking Randy's hand. Cody was a bit bigger, more of a jock type than Randy was used to hanging out with.
Randy found that his handshakes were becoming firmer as he met the group and the nervous limp hand effect was beginning to fade away. Thank God for small favors, he guessed.
"Hey Cody," Randy said.
Jenny was next in line.
"I'm Jenny," she said.
"Our resident preacher's daughter. But don't let that scare you off, she's nothing like her rep makes her out to be," Jamie said.
"'Preciate you clearing that up, Jamie," Jenny smirked.
"The pleasure is all mine."
"And you're in my class," Laurie said, always a bit more excitedly than what the situation called for.
"Laurie, right?" Randy asked.
"Seeing as how you share a class with her," Jamie said, " you automatically receive on hundred pity points."
"Jamie," Laurie glowered. "Be quiet."
"It is said that she has the capacity for cohesive thought, but her energies are spent on socializing and shopping," he went on, oblivious or more likely, uncaring of the glare blazing in his direction. "I'm sure if you've tried to get to know her in class, that blackhole she disguises as a simple mouth opens and you end up helplessly in 'nod your head politely at appropriate intervals' land."
"Quit being mean," Laurie pouted.
"I'm not mean," Jamie said defensively, "just truthful. Always be honest and tell the truth. Wasn't that last week's Sunday School lesson? Anybody got me on that?"
"Lest we forget that tactful and truthful go hand in hand," Jenny admonished him.
"But you see? She admits to me being truthful."
"And, as usual, you twist my words, 'Nutty'." Jenny said.
"Hey!" Jamie exclaimed in mock protest.
Bruce stood off to the side, arms crossed and shaking his head. He had been in this situation before and had learned the best way to deal with it was to let it run its course. At the moment, he had decided the course had been run.
"As much as we appreciate your helpful commentary, Jamie, why don't you guys cut it out before you give our guest here a list of reasons to run off and never return," he cut in.
He motioned Randy to an empty chair.
"Randy, why don't you have a seat and we'll get started."
Randy nodded his head. Weirdly, something about this group and the way they talked to each other eased his mind. They didn't seem to be a self-important sanctimonious lot, at least at first glance. He didn't know how he would fit in with them, if he would do so at all, but he chose not to worry about that now.
He took a seat, the nerves in his stomach still very much present, but with less of a hold on his bowels than even a few moments before.
Brother Manning brought his sermon to a close. The word had been a good one, but nothing Kurt hadn't heard before. He was sure it had spoken to someone but he was confused, thinking Joey had brought him here because he figured Kurt was going to get something out of this specific sermon.
The old preacher was obviously popular with the locals. They laughed good-naturedly as he called out particular members with gentle jibes when he was making a point. Kurt had listened intently, but felt that nothing called to him personally. The unsettling feeling in his stomach remained but never intensified. He had almost managed to forget about it.
"Let us pray before we open our hymns for the invitation," Manning said.
Kurt bowed his head with the rest of the congregation as Brother Manning led them in their invitational prayer.
"Our Heavenly Father," Manning began. "I pray that these words touched at least one heart today and that you would further speak to that heart."
Kurt sensed movement and opened his eyes to see Joey reach to the pew in front of him and touch the shoulder of the dark-clad stranger sitting next to Brad. He was rather alarmed to hear what he thought was a slight hissing sound at the contact.
The stranger looked back at them and Joey motioned to the back of the church. Kurt wasn't sure, but the stranger seemed almost frightened. Joey nodded his head in that direction.
"I pray that if you are telling one to come during one of our verses, Lord, that they would put aside their fears and listen to you," Manning continued.
The dark stranger stood and silently slinked to the outer aisle. He made his way to the back door exit. Joey got up and followed him, making no noise. Kurt watched them in interest. Joey looked back at him and indicated that he should stay seated. Kurt shrugged his shoulders and turned back around.
"And we ask these things in Your precious, holy name, Amen," Manning concluded. The congregation looked up. Kurt glanced back. Joey and the stranger had exited the church.
"If you would turn to our invitation hymn, 'Just as I Am", the number is in your bulletin," Manning said.
He took a step down in front of the pulpit and stood as the congregation begins singing the hymn. The singing is loud if not very harmonious. Make a joyful noise was the Biblical command, Kurt knew, it didn't have to be pretty. The feeling in the pit of his stomach worsened and he looked back at the back of the church. He had barely noticed Brad in the pew in front of him still seated, squirming nervously in his seat.
Without giving it much thought, Kurt threw up a silent prayer for the young man and quietly worked his way to the back of the church.
Outside of the church, Joey stood next to the stranger. Kurt opened the door a crack to peek out at them. He saw something he hadn't been privy to before, an angry-looking and annoyed Joey. It was on the verge of frightening.
"You have gall coming in here like that," Joey told the stranger, his voice low and cold. It was enough to send a shiver or two down Kurt's spine. Is this what the feeling in his stomach was about?
"My boss thought it was important enough to chance," the stranger said, trying to shoulder past Joey to the door. Joey seemed to stand taller than he had before.
"My 'boss' thinks it's important as well," Joey said, blocking the stranger's way. "Important enough that he got me involved."
The stranger ignored him, almost oblivious to the fact that Joey stood taller and broader than him. Joey blocked his way again, his body a veritable wall of flesh.
"And you would go so boldly against my boss," Joey said, shaking his head in disbelief.
"If I don't do this, mine would be most upset," the stranger said, his voice thin.
"And whose master would you rather be upset with you?" Joey asked.
The stranger stared down at the concrete of the sidewalk leading to the church. When he looked back up to Joey, Kurt was a little surprised to see genuine sadness gleaming in his dark eyes.
"Yours is already angry with me," the stranger said. "Once upon a time, I made a wrong choice and there's nothing I can do now to rectify it."
Joey found himself having to block the stranger's advance one more time. Surely the stranger realized how futile it would be to get past the big man. When Joey responded to the stranger, his voice was full of resolve but held a twinge of hopefulness.
"Because of who you once were," he said, "I'm allowing you the opportunity to walk away."
The stranger sighed, a hollow dead sound, and shook his head, his eyes meeting Joey's, refusing to yield.
"You have no idea how much I wish I could."
A black fog surrounded the stranger's hand before solidifying and forming a sword, shimmering in dark energy. He raised it in front of himself, the point under Joey's chin.
Joey backed up a step, nodding his head regretfully. A sword formed in his hand as well, this one seemingly made up of pure light. He held it to his side, point down.
"So be it," Joey said.
The stranger struck. Joey easily parried the attack and spun around, swiping his sword at the stranger's midsection. The stranger sidestepped and went on the offensive. After a flurry of strikes was blocked soundly by Joey, he backed away.
Joey went on the offensive. He swung for the head. Blocked. Down to the body. Blocked. The swords clashed in midair before Joey pulled his away and swiped down at his opponent's feet. The stranger jumped back away from the blow. Joey feinted to the left, drawing the stranger's sword away for a block, then faster than naturally possible reversed his swing and sliced the stranger through his midsection.
The stranger lost its human form. Kurt, already staring in open-mouthed disbelief at the display in front of him, stepped back horrified as the stranger began to reform into something much darker. Something that resembled what Kurt had yanked out of Bernie. It floated for a tick and then disappeared much the same way as well.
None of this was lost on Kurt. He closed the door, pulling himself back into the church just as Joey turned around. The whole affair lasted no more than a moment or two, but the moment seemed to last for hours to Kurt. The service was as the end, the song over but the organ replaying the strains. Kurt stood stiffly as Joey rejoined him in the pew.
"Anything happen?" Joey asked.
Kurt looked at him a long second before answering.
"That guy we talked to earlier went up during invitation," he said simply.
Joey looked up to the front to see Brother Manning praying with his hands on Brad's shoulders in front of the pulpit. He smiled.
"Good," he said, undisguised relief in his voice. "That's great."
Wendy's wasn't what one would call a high class eating establishment, but it made a fantastic place for a group of pre-teen and teenage kids to chill out after a Sunday night service at church. Bruce Chance's group of self-proclaimed ragtag kids sat at a booth in the corner, trying and somewhat failing to keep from being a noise infused nuisance to the other diners.
Randy had spent the class more listening than engaging and had found that he begrudgingly enjoyed himself. The camaraderie of the group, the charm and easy-going nature of their teacher and even the lessen itself had surprisingly made an impression on him. Perhaps he was just eager to be a part of something, a group of people his age. He was by nature a withdrawn guy and did not put himself out there. Even on the wild unanimous world of the internet, he kept to himself. No message boards, chats or comment sections. He was a lurker, in digital life as much as he was in real life.
Still, he was surprised by the invitation from the group to meet them for their weekly after church dinner and more surprised by his acceptance of it. He had assumed he would sit awkwardly through the night's class and be driven home immediately afterward. After a short but intense verbal skirmish, Wendy's was decided on, despite Jamie's impassioned plea for the far superior (in Jamie's humble opinion, of course) Whataburger.
He found himself sitting on the edge of the booth seat next to Laurie, who had been regaling them with her adventures throughout her day.
"And I could not believe it," Laurie exclaimed. "He had been giving me the signs all year. He had to have liked me like that. But it turned out he was just trying to get to know one of my friends that…"
"So Randy," Jamie interrupted her, "you say you like Saved By the Bell, huh?"
Randy looked quickly from Laurie to Jamie, surprise etched on his face. Did he just interrupt her like that?
"Uh...yeah," he answered somewhat hesitantly.
"What's your favorite episode?" Jamie asked. "I know it's a pretty old show but I was kind of raised on the reruns. Mom had an enormous crush on Slater. Still does, come to think of it."
"I don't think she was through," Randy said, indicating Laurie. Laurie, glowering at Jamie, smiled at Randy's defense of her and nodded her head in agreement.
"Oh, it's nothing we haven't heard from her before," Jamie said, waving his hand dismissively. "Millions upon millions of times. I'm sure we're much more interested in getting to know someone new than forcing ourselves to sit through yet another one of her personal soap operas."
Mattie sighed from her corner seat next to Bruce.
"Jamie…," she began.
Randy had begun to get the feeling that this type of conversation happened all the time with this group.
"What?" Jamie asked. "You know, it's said that Laurie puts herself through more drama
and angst in a single day than an entire season of 'Dawson's Creek' JUST so she'll have something to talk about to us."
"What's 'Dawson's Creek'"? Laurie asked.
"It's about being respectful for other people," Mattie said more calmly than Randy's mom would ever have in a situation like this. Not that it was an explosive situation, it just seemed that the group took Jamie's bouts of explosive verbal diarrhea as par for the course but at least had to acknowledge them from some sort of authoritative vantage.
"Hey! I resent that," Jamie said. "I'm only a snothead during allergy season."
The groans were simultaneous and unanimous. Jamie smiled to himself in victory at the reaction. Laurie, meanwhile, gave a dramatic huff and a roll of eyes as she crossed her arms over her chest.
"Fine," she said, putting on a haughty voice that was well-practiced. "You don't deserve to hear of my experiences anyway."
Jamie nodded his head in a "that's fair" type of way and turned his attention back to Randy.
"So. Saved By the Bell…"
"I think I like the ones where they go on summer vacation," he said. "Where Zach falls for that girl from 'King of Queens'. They were cheesy but the change of scenery was pretty cool."
"Those are fine, I suppose," Jamie said. "But I really dig the one with James, the actor
dude that works at the Maxx."
"Oh yeah," Randy agreed with more enthusiasm than a modern teen probably should for a tv show that ended before he was born. "He's funny."
"Like when Jessie wanted to get into that one college, but they wanted Zach cause his SATS were higher instead of her, who usually wipes the floor with anyone when it comes to school, so they get James to dress up like a Harvard recruiter for the college day thingie and he's all got this fake British accent and everything and then, as per usual, hilarity ensues."
"It's frightening how well you know this show," Jenny said.
"I remember that one," Cody chimed in, trying to affect a British accent through his more native southern one and falling a tad short. "'You aren't fit to shine Jessica Spano's shoes!'"
"See," Jamie said, "that's some funny stuff."
"'There is only one HAAARVARD!'"
They all regarded Bruce with raised eyebrows.
"What?" he said. "As if you were the generation these shows were made for. I remember when Miss Bliss was on the show and they were in Junior High."
"Everyone knows those, Bruno," Jamie said. "They reran them with the rest."
"Except they weren't exactly reruns when I watched them. Man, you guys know how to make a dude feel old."
Jamie gave Bruce a consoling pat on the shoulder. Randy found himself smiling with the rest of them. He didn't realize exactly how it happened, but he couldn't help but feel like he had bonded with these guys over a cheesy eighties sitcom. The best part was, he didn't have to say much; they did most of the talking. Stranger things had happened for sure, but not for him. Never for him. For the first time in a long while, he had actually felt good.
Joey shook the hand of Brother Manning as he prepared to leave. They had been sharing pleasantries and Joey had mentioned how uplifting it was to see a soul come to Christ.
"After all these years, the excitement has never died at a conversion," Manning said. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Joey. If you are ever passing through town again, our doors are always open."
"Just keep it that way, Pastor," Joey encouraged, giving his hand a final friendly shake. "Have a good one."
"You as well."
Joey nodded and turned to leave. Kurt was waiting for him, leaning against the side of the truck. He had his phone out, flipping through his email. Nothing exciting, just a bunch of junk. How was it that no matter what setting he had it on, spam always managed to break through the barriers? No matter, he was simply going through the
motions to keep his brain focused on something mundane so it could contain the explosion of weirdness that was just waiting to erupt.
"Ready?" Joey asked, walking around to the driver's side.
Joey hit the automatic lock on his key fob and opened the door.
"I saw what you did outside this evening," Kurt said as casually as he possibly could, opening the passenger door.
He climbed behind the wheel as Kurt pulled himself up onto the passenger seat, closing the door beside him. Of course, Joey would know. He knew what he did to Bernie. He knew where to find him. He knew how little he needed to say to prod Kurt on this road trip. That still confused him. He was Kurt Collins, the biggest homebody introvert that he knew and this guy had him going cross-state with him.
This had always been his problem, the thing that kept nagging him from some distance in the back of his mind. How did this guy know so much about Kurt and why did Kurt still know so little about him, except for the fact that he had the ability to call a magic sword out of nowhere and swing it about like he was a Knight of the Round Table? He was having a hard time processing.
Joey started the truck and reversed out of the parking lot. He pulled out into the street and started making his way back to the interstate. He drove in silence, apparently eschewing explanation until Kurt was ready to prod.
"If I saw that a month ago, I'm pretty sure it would have blown my mind to smithereens," Kurt said. "That being said, I would be lying through my teeth if I didn't admit to being more weirded out than I was this morning." He shook his head. "You know a heck of a lot about me and my whole situation. You just had a lightsaber duel with Darth Maul out there and you're not one bit surprised or alarmed that I saw the whole thing."
Joey shrugged his shoulders.
"I guess you have your very own Obi-Wan Kenobi," he said.
Kurt grimaced. Would that make him an Anakin or a Luke? At the moment, neither option held a whole lot of appeal for him. He had half a mind to ask Joey to turn the truck around and take him home and allow him to sleep in his bed, under the blankets to continue to wallow in his grief. Maybe not so fun, but at least it was an idea that he could wrap his head around. It was something a normal human being would do.
Kurt breathed in a deep sigh, wondering if the question on his mind would make its way through his mouth in a verbal manner. He had no idea, it was one of those things that was impossible to make a decision on by consciously thinking about it, so maybe his body would just choose him.
"This is more than likely the most insane thing that I have ever uttered in my life in a serious way, but would you happen to be of a more…. Angelic persuasion than your average, ordinary human person?"
He did it. He just asked a man if he was an Angel. It was ridiculous, the thought that it could be true and the fact that he had voiced it aloud.
But it sure would explain a lot.
Joey flashed him an enigmatic smile.
"You saw what you saw and you're smart enough to draw conclusions," he turned to look at Kurt, an amused expression lighting his features. "But it sure would explain a lot, wouldn't it?"
Kurt started. That had to have been a coincidence. Hadn't he just thought that exact thing? He didn't say it out loud. At least he didn't think he did. So much did not make sense to him at the moment, he could have muttered it without realizing he had done so. Angels, if that was indeed what Joey was, could not read minds, could they?
Regardless of whether or not his mind had been read or if it was just the case of two great minds thinking alike, the thought had dug itself into his brain and wouldn't let go. It sure would explain a lot.
To Be Continued…