The next morning, John slept until ten. The police had let him go after Stoney decided not to press charges. But John would never see his last check. Stoney was keeping it to cover the cost of repairing the bar.
He plugged in the coffee pot and went into his home office. His days as a bouncer were probably over. He doubted any other bar would hire him. He certainly couldn’t count on a good reference from Stoney. He tried to think how he could have handled the situation differently. Was there any way he could have avoided the fight and kept his job?
The bouncer job was a good gig while it lasted. But now he would have to turn his part-time web design work into a full-time job. His degree was in computer science, and he’d made some nice money freelancing while in college. But these days he was bidding against guys in other countries who were happy to work for a couple of bucks an hour. It was harder than ever to get jobs.
John had gone to work for a NASA contractor when he graduated from college. But then his mom, Lizzie, got sick, and he ended up losing his job and destroying his marriage. After Lizzie died, he realized he’d burned too many bridges to ever go back to his old job—not that he wanted to. He hated working on team projects anyway. John liked to work alone. He didn’t like to be alone, though—not at home. He wanted his wife back. But that was never gonna happen. Annabeth had moved on—married John’s rival from high school. Right now, his life really sucked.
He got up and went into the kitchen for a cup of coffee, wishing he could take Lizzie a cup and they could sit down and have a nice long talk—like they used to. She would have been so disappointed in him for losing his temper at the bar. Of course, she wouldn’t have wanted John to take the job in the first place.
He walked down the hallway to her bedroom, went to the family Bible on her dresser, and opened it. She had written his name below hers and dated it June 1, 2004. That was the day she adopted him—at the age of fourteen. She said she wanted to spend the entire summer with her new son before they went back to school in the fall—John as an eighth grader and Lizzie as a high school English teacher.
John smiled as he remembered how hard Lizzie had pushed him that first summer. It took three years for him to finally learn everything she was trying to teach him in those first three months. He was stubborn, and had little interest in yoga, the Bible, or good manners. But Lizzie continued to nibble away at the giant chip on his shoulder, and he gradually accepted the fact that she truly loved him—no matter what—and he began to warm up to her and her ways.
He took off his boots and sat down on the floor beside her bed in the Lotus Position and closed his eyes. Lizzie had taught him Ashtanga Yoga, which they often did together. Then they meditated. After a few minutes, it made no difference whether they were together or not, since they were consumed in their own thoughts. But now, since Lizzie was gone, it sometimes felt like she was communicating with him from beyond the grave. The things she seemed to be saying to him were no doubt simply what he imagined she might say. Still—it had a calming, reassuring effect on him.
I’m happy that you were fired, John. I know it distresses you right now, but it’s for the best. I would have preferred that you never took that job. But God, in his wisdom, will use your experiences there to prepare you for the work you were meant to do—your true destiny. Always remember that God loves you, John.
When he opened his eyes, he felt relaxed, peaceful, in the warmth of his mother’s love. But then, as always, the cold reality set in: she wasn’t really there with him.
He screamed at the ceiling, “You’re wrong, Lizzie! God doesn’t love me. If he loved me, he wouldn’t have let you die!”
John jumped to his feet. He felt his anger boiling over—he wanted to yank the covers off the bed, rip the pillows apart, kick holes in the walls—
The doorbell rang.
As he walked down the hallway to the front door, he forced himself to regain his composure so he wouldn’t answer the door looking like a madman and scare the shit out of some little neighborhood girl selling cookies.
“Hey, John, how have you been doing?”
It was Mark Longly—Annabeth’s husband of two years.
“Hey, Mark. Are you…lost or something?”
Mark laughed. “Yeah, I know—what am I doing at your door? Sorry to pop in on you, but as you may know, I’m working for the church now.”
“Yeah. I just finished training as a team leader, and Annabeth though it might be a good idea—”
“So, this was Annabeth’s idea—for you to come see me?”
“Yes. She called to talk to you about it last night, but—”
“I never returned her call. I forgot. It was a tough night. Come in.”
John offered Mark a seat on the couch.
Mark noticed that John was wearing socks, but no shoes. “I didn’t catch you in the middle of your yoga routine, did I?”
From the tone of Mark’s question, he might as well have said, “I didn’t catch you doing something weird and embarrassing, did I?” John decided to let it pass. “So, what’s the deal with this new job? I thought you were working for some company downtown.”
“Yeah, I got laid off.”
“Oh. Sorry to hear that.”
“Yeah, and so Annabeth had heard that the church was hiring some more team leaders, and her dad thought I would be good at it so—”
“You decided to give it a shot.”
“Right. So, what I do as a team leader is recruit new members into the church, and it just so happens that your house is in my zone.”
“Really? I’m in your zone. But why does the church need recruiters to pressure people into joining the church? Shouldn’t they just join because they want to?”
“Well, a little pressure isn’t such a bad thing, is it? I mean, just think where you’d be today if Lizzie hadn’t adopted you and taught you the Bible? You’d probably be in prison.” He laughed.
“Don’t talk about Lizzie like you knew her. And don’t you dare try to use her to guilt me into being one of your new recruits. If I want to go to church, I’ll find my own church—but I’m never going to Pyramid. It’s a big-box church—a Walmart for churchies.”
“Oh, John, you’re exaggerating.”
“No, I’m not. I’ve watched a couple of the services on TV, Mark. That place is a showbiz carnival. One Sunday they had a knife thrower. The next time I watched, there were guys riding motorcycles up and down the aisles. Is that supposed to be worship?”
“It’s supposed to get the public’s attention and help bring in new members. Once we bring them in, Pastor Kap teaches them the word of God.”
John shook his head. “I just think it’s crazy. Even the shape of the building is nothing but a gimmick. Why a pyramid? That’s not even a practical shape for a building.”
“I guess our church isn’t for everybody. But I didn’t mean to offend you…about Lizzie.”
“Well, you did.” John stood up.
“I apologize, John, really. You’re right—I shouldn’t have said that.”
John showed him to the door. “Say hi to Annabeth for me. And good luck with the new job.” He slammed the door.