For the least of these, p.12

For The Least Of These, page 12


For The Least Of These

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  Everyone applauded Margaret, and now I thought I understood why. “She’s really worked hard. She should be proud of herself,” I whispered to Adam.

  I could tell by his expression that he was disappointed in what I said. “She has worked hard, but all of this was accomplished by God’s grace, Brandy. She couldn’t have done it without Him.”

  I never imagined that this religious stuff could be so complicated. Praying, being humble, going to church – it was easy to see why my parents had chosen to steer clear. Still, there seemed to be something to it all. Margaret had been a homeless illiterate woman just two years ago. Maybe I needed to start praying more. And my first bit of praying was going to involve Adam…

  The young man on the stage asked us to prepare our hearts for a moment of silent prayer. I figured that convincing God to give me Adam was going to take more than a minute of praying, so instead I thanked God for letting me meet Adam in the first place and for letting me be smart enough to see through Rick.

  After our silent prayer was finished, the young man began praying out loud. He was even better at it than Adam had been. He prayed for different people with health and other problems. He prayed for the church, the elders, and for the entire congregation. He prayed for God to open the heart of anyone who didn’t have a personal relationship with his son, Jesus. I knew he was talking directly to me. I was beginning to think that knowing Jesus would be a good thing, but I also knew I’d have to change a lot of things in my life. I wasn’t sure I was ready to do that, so I just thought about something else and wished he would finish his prayer.

  At the end of the prayer, he asked us to stand. Recorded music erupted from speakers that were apparently well placed around the room. I didn’t recognize the tune, but then the only hymn I knew was “Amazing Grace” and that was only because I had seen the Maverick movie. As promised in the bulletin, the words of the song were visible on the monitors up front. The name of the first song was “Holy, Holy, Holy”. It was slow and I didn’t really understand the references to “God in three persons”. The second song was “Blessed Be Your Name”. I liked it better, but it still wasn’t great.

  I became bored at this point and started looking around. I noticed that many of the people here were dressed similarly to Margaret. As we moved on to song three, I was too busy scrutinizing the congregation to notice the song title. Some of the people looked really dirty and scary. A few of them looked like bikers. I suddenly realized that if I’d met most of these people on the street, I would have run the other way. What kind of church was this?

  Evidently I had gotten so wrapped up in examining the flock that I didn’t hear the man tell us that we could sit down. Adam grabbed my arm and pulled me down into my seat. “Would you behave?” he asked, half-jokingly.

  The remainder of the service dragged. They took up the collection and the man prayed a few more times. I finally concluded that he was the pastor when he started to preach. His sermon was on Matthew 9:9-13. I listened part of the time. He was talking about how Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors, and then he spoke about how the sick need a doctor, not the healthy. I wasn’t sure what all of that meant. The Bible was really an enigma to me. I hadn’t read it, but I questioned how men could have written God’s word. Maybe Adam would explain it to me later. In the meantime, I just flipped through the pages and read snippets here and there. I was wishing we would sing again so I could at least move around a bit.

  As I became more and more disinterested in the sermon, I decided that maybe I could pray for Adam while Reverend What’shisname went on and on. I didn’t really know how to begin, so I just started thinking of what I wanted to tell God. I asked Him if He would please let Adam realize that I really cared about him. Then I asked Him to let Adam fall in love with me. I promised Him that I would start being a better person, that I would start going to church all the time, that I would actually pay attention to the preacher when I went to church, and that I would pray before every meal and before I went to bed at night. Oh, and then I added that I would start reading the Bible faithfully. I made a lot of promises, but Adam was worth it. I fully intended to keep each one. Well, at least until Adam was mine.

  I was so relieved when the service was over. I was ready to run out to Adam’s car and get as far away from all these weird people as I could possibly get. I had convinced myself that most of these folks were just at the church to watch the congregation and pinpoint who they should mug or assault after the service.

  Before I could make a break for it, Adam and I were surrounded by a bunch of people. It seemed that the whole congregation was closing in on us. Most of the people just wanted to shake our hand and thank us for coming. A few of them asked us questions about our lives. Adam was careful to avoid mentioning his profession, and I just avoided talking as much as possible. Everyone seemed to think that Adam and I were a couple, and neither of us corrected their impressions. Adam just didn’t want to explain, and I just kept dreaming that God was answering my prayers and that we were a couple.

  When we made it to the car at last, I had a million questions for Adam. Unfortunately, before I could ask even one, he noticed that he had a voicemail message on his cell phone. The message was from Rick. He and Alicia wanted us to meet them for lunch at an Italian restaurant called Moretti’s. I knew right away that Alicia had chosen the restaurant because of the name. She probably thought that I was related to the owners or something crazy like that. I’d have to make her aware that the Italian name Moretti was similar to the English name Smith in that it was very common. As far as I knew, all my American Moretti cousins lived in New Jersey. The rest of them lived in Italy.

  Adam entered the address Rick had given him into the GPS, and we started following the directions the voice gave him. After a few minutes, I had a revelation, and I said to Adam, “I thought they just ate breakfast. Why are we going to lunch already?”

  “Aren’t you hungry?” he asked. “It is after 12:30. I don’t know when or even if they ate, and I don’t care. I’m ready for lunch.”

  I did notice that my stomach was rumbling a little. And we were about to eat Italian, one of my favorites. Of course, most foods were my favorites – evidenced by my full figure – but real Italian was one of my comfort foods, reminding me of summer visits from my Nonna. My mouth started watering. “Yeah, I’m hungry, too.”

  Within ten minutes, we were pulling into the parking lot at Moretti’s. The shape and size of the building reminded me of an old Pizza Hut except the roof was green instead of red. The name “Moretti’s” was emblazoned on the top of the building in huge red letters.

  Rick and Alicia were already there. They were standing beside the Ford Taurus some of the band guys had been driving at the rehearsal the night before. I thought Alicia looked a little reticent, and I wondered if she felt guilty about this thing with Rick. I was certain that she didn’t – especially since I was sure she thought she was saving me. Rick, on the other hand, looked happy and exuberant. He rushed to meet us and hugged me much too enthusiastically. I really wanted to retch on him again, but I wasn’t able to. When he released me, I just smiled wanly at him.

  “Are you feeling better today?” he asked.

  I was somewhat amazed that he was asking after my health. I supposed that his mother had taught him some manners. “Yes, much better,” I replied frigidly.

  “Well, let’s go in and get some lunch. Alicia and I spent the morning talking at a coffee shop and we never did get around to having breakfast. I’m famished.”

  We all went into the restaurant. Rick held the door for Alicia, but he let it go when Adam started inside. Adam grabbed it before it slammed into him, and he held it open for me to enter. A young girl with blond hair approached us. She was wearing a tight red sweater and a short black skirt. She reached towards a stack of menus and asked Rick, “How many?” and Rick held up four fingers. The girl then led us to a booth along the back wall of the restaurant. “Your server will be with you shortly,”
she said as she walked away. Rick sat beside Alicia, so Adam and I sat on the other side.

  Moretti’s didn’t look any more Italian inside than it had outside. The inside was not decorated at all. There were booths around the walls and tables in the center of the dining area. The carpet was a drab green. There was a sparse salad bar sitting up towards the front, and the kitchen was in plain view behind it. Yep, it looked a lot like the old Pizza Hut back home. I began to worry that the food wouldn’t really be Italian after all.

  An older woman came to take our drink order. She was plump and she wore her graying black hair in a bun. She could have been Italian, but it was hard to say. After she left, I stared at the menu.

  Alicia hadn’t said anything up until this moment, now she said to me, “Do you think one of your relatives…”

  I cut her off, “No. This restaurant doesn’t belong to my long lost uncle. Moretti is a common Italian name.”

  “I didn’t know you had a long lost uncle,” she said.

  I rolled my eyes to the top of my head, “I don’t, Alicia. I just meant that I’m not related to the people that own this restaurant.”

  “Then why didn’t you just say that? Jeez, you drive me crazy sometimes.” I drive her crazy – who’d of guessed?

  Back in the menu, I wasn’t getting very impressed. They had spaghetti and lasagna, all kinds of sandwiches and pizzas, and two kinds of parmigiana: chicken and eggplant. Most of the other dishes were American: steak, seafood, burgers, and several southern dishes. No polenta, no risotto, not even tortellini. How could I eat here? I wondered. My father would disown me if he found out. I thought about a salad, but then I remembered the pathetic looking salad bar and changed my mind.

  Alicia piped up again, “Brandy should order for us. She’s half Italian, you know?”

  “I’m not ordering for anyone other than myself,” I said vehemently.

  Adam jumped in. “Why don’t we just get a pizza? Can we all agree on that?”

  Alicia sounded deflated, “I really wanted to try Italian country-fried steak and Italian-French fries, but okay.”

  By the time the waitress returned, we had decided on a pepperoni pizza with extra cheese. It was the only thing we could all agree on. Alicia also ordered a salad, and Rick got a small order of spaghetti.

  The waitress told Alicia she could help herself to the salad bar, so Alicia headed in that direction. I told Adam and Rick that I was going to the ladies’ room and I followed Alicia. Before continuing to the restroom, I stopped beside Alicia. “So, what’s this thing with you and Rick? Last night you told me he was – how did you put it – oh, yeah – your mud puddle back home was deeper than he was.”

  “A guy has to be deep to excite a woman? Eighty percent of the men in the world would be alone if that were true.” Alicia was trying to be smart, and for once I had to agree with her.

  “So, you really are attracted to him then?”

  “Sure. What do I care if he’s a dog that was about to sleep with you fifteen minutes before he showed up in my suite? I mean your suite. He is Rick Hartwood, entertainer, heartthrob, and all around cool dude. What’s not to love?”

  “So when are you dumping him?”

  “Whenever you decide that he’s a jerk and that Adam is the one for you.”

  “Already there. In fact, I was already there when Adam and I knocked on your door last night. You slept with Rick for no reason.” I loved telling her that even though I knew she’d done it to protect me.

  “Who said I slept with him? You and Adam have the most vivid imaginations. He thought the same thing when he saw Rick in the suite with his shirt off.”

  “I wonder why that would make him suspicious. And what were you wearing?”

  “Rick’s shirt.” She thought for a minute before adding, “I guess that might give off the wrong impression. Still, I didn’t have sex with Rick. He was terribly upset that you puked on him. He’d gone by his room to get another shirt, and then he came over to our suite to see if Adam had brought you back yet. He had the shirt in his hand, and I asked him if I could use it as a night gown seeing how I left mine back at home. He said sure and gave it to me. I had just gone into the bathroom to put it on when you and Adam started banging on the door. I knew you would think the wrong thing, so I sent you away. I put the shirt on and Rick and I started talking about you and me. I knew he was trying to seduce me, but I’m strong and I kept him at bay. Then Adam showed up and got the wrong idea – but it gave me an idea. I decided that you might get over Rick if you thought he and I spent the night together. So, I asked him to stay.”

  “I thought you didn’t sleep with him.”

  “I didn’t. He slept in your bed after I kept him up half the night talking. He thinks I’m a comedian or something. When we got up this morning, he started pouring on the charm again, and I still turned him down. I don’t think he’s ever been turned down before, and it’s made him more determined than ever. I suggested that we go to a coffee shop, and while we were there, he told me he was falling in love with me. Isn’t that the stupidest thing you ever heard? Oh, I guess that might not seem so stupid to you…”

  I wanted to smack and hug her all at the same time. Instead, I said, “I’m glad you didn’t have to do anything more. Thanks, Alicia.”

  “Like I would have done more. Not even for you. Even best friends have to draw the line somewhere.”

  I left her to finish making her pitiful little salad and visited the ladies’ room to refresh myself. When I got back to the table, Rick was halfway through his spaghetti. It looked atrocious.

  “I thought I was going to have to send Adam to find you,” he said with a grin.

  “Ha ha,” I replied.

  Alicia was eating her sparse salad, and she seemed to be enjoying it. Adam looked miserable. I reached over and touched his hand. He glanced at me, and then he pulled his hand away. I now felt as miserable as he had looked.

  At long last, the pizza arrived. It looked pretty good, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was good. I noticed Adam praying to himself, but he didn’t suggest that anyone else at the table join him. Rick and Alicia didn’t even seem to notice Adam’s behavior at all. Before long, we had eaten the entire pizza, Rick had paid the bill, and we were heading outside.

  Adam reminded Rick about the concert. Rick didn’t seem too worried about it, but he said that he probably should go start getting ready. He kissed Alicia on the cheek and told her he would see her at the concert. He jumped into the Taurus and drove away.

  “I guess I’m stuck with you two lovebirds,” Alicia said.

  Adam unlocked the car so we could get in. I knew he was waiting for me to correct Alicia, so I said, “We aren’t lovebirds. We’re…we’re church buddies.”

  Alicia got a wrinkle between her eyebrows. “Church buddies? What the heck does that mean?”

  “I took her to church. What else could it mean?” Adam asked.

  “You? Brandy? My Brandy? You went to church? Are you sure you really are Brandy?”

  “Yes, I went to church. And that reminds me, Adam; I have a lot of questions about that church.”

  “I’ll just bet you do,” Adam said. “And I really want to answer every one of them, if I can…”

  Alicia interrupted, “Do you have to do it now? I would really like to go to Wal-Mart and buy me some fresh clothes. You can answer her questions later.”

  Adam wasn’t sure. “It’s kind of important, Alicia. Maybe you should listen, too.”

  Alicia was insulted. “I don’t appreciate you deciding that I’m a heathen just because Brandy is. I know God and Jesus, thank you very much. And I’ve tried for over twenty years to introduce Brandy to them, but she’s never been interested before. I guess I just wasn’t cute enough to persuade her.”

  “I don’t think I’ve said either of you are heathen. I’m not trying to be judgmental. I’m just concerned for both of you. Alicia, your behavior with Rick just leaves me…wondering about you. So

  “You don’t know everything, Mr. Holier-than-thou. I’m beginning to think you aren’t right for Brandy either. For your information, I did not fornicate with Rick Hartwood last night or any other time – nor do I intend to.” Alicia was worked up. I had hardly ever seen her this upset. I had hardly ever heard her use such a big word as “fornicate”.

  I wasn’t sure if Adam bought her story about Rick, but he said, “Maybe now isn’t the time for me to speak to Brandy. I’ll wait until we are alone, if that’s okay with her.”

  “Yes, that’s fine,” I replied. At least I knew he was planning on being alone with me again at some time. In the meantime, I would continue to remind God – and Jesus, too, of course – of all the things I was willing to do if Adam fell in love with me.

  So Adam drove Alicia to Wal-Mart. While he headed for the Electronics Department, Alicia and I made our way to the Women’s Department.

  “I still can’t believe you went to church. You must really like Adam a lot. Have you ever even been to church before?”

  “Not really. I went to my Great-Aunt Carlotta’s funeral. And then there was the funeral for my mom’s brother, Clayton. Of course we both went to your cousin’s wedding. That’s about it.”

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