What is it about women that they know what to do, what to say when someone is falling apart?
“You lost your father?”
“I didn’t know him.”
I go on to tell her about the accident with the swing and how it drove him to drown in alcohol and then leave us. Anne squeezes my hand even tighter. Just now I notice her thigh is pressed against mine.
Then it happens, like it should. My arm slips around her waist and I pull her close. She looks into my eyes before she closes them and we kiss, soft and sweet. Her breath is moist against my face as our lips hover in the limbo of what’s next. It’s a momentary pause, that slips easily into full searching kisses, desperate, like we waited too long, years even, to know the warmth of each other’s mouths, the heat radiating up our necks, the peachy fragrance of her lip gloss mixing with salty sweat of me. Without meaning to I press her down until we are prone on the bench and still we kiss. When I know I want more than just her kisses, I pull away. As I shift, the bench swings back and we are both dumped onto the plank wood floor of the gazebo. The swing comes from behind and clunks me in the head.
Anne breaks out in laughter. “I guess Dad had something to say about that!”
We lay there flat, under the swing. I touch the softness of her face and her smile fades. Her eyes hold a soulful dilemma. I don’t perceive it right away. I think maybe she has just thought of Bobby, but then she speaks. She lifts up the bird pendant and I know in that instant, it’s a dove. I never saw it before.
“Do you believe in God?” she asks.
“I do.” I’m not lying. I believe there is a God, but I’m fairly certain I’m not in his club.
“Do you believe in Jesus?”
“I don’t know what that means.” When I was a kid, mom dropped me off every summer to Vacation Bible school. I learned about Christmas and Easter but it never felt real to me any more than Noah and his ark. I brush a stray hair from her face. She sits up and I follow her lead. We don’t get back on the swing but move to the edge of the stairs. We are shoulder to shoulder and she grasps my hand like she doesn’t dare let it go.
“If you die would you go to heaven or hell?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “I was kind of hoping I could do some extra credit along the way to pass the grade, make it to heaven or at least get to that place, what is it purgatory? Pay up for awhile, not end up burning forever.”
“That’s quite a plan,” she says with an amused smile. She rubs the pendant again.
“A dove, not a cross?” I ask her.
She looks down at the silver bird. “I can’t forget the cross or how Jesus gave himself to pay for my sins. I don’t need to wear a cross. But sometimes I forget that he has given me peace, all I need to live in this contentious world.”
“Peace?” To me that is as elusive as happiness. Just getting by everyday with a little love from my dog and once in awhile the comfort of another human being, that’s as close as I get to either.
“Peace with God. Peace from God,” Anne says with not a flicker of doubt.
In all my life I have never thought of God as a source of peace. Judgement, yes. Punishment, yes. And why not? I’ve done some bad things. Hurt people. Stolen stuff when I was really desperate. I’m trying not to be that way, trying not to make the same mistakes but really, I’m pretty good at finding new ones.
Anne is staring at me and I realize I am staring at her looking for the path she’s convinced she has. Then she does it, she unclamps her necklace and puts it around my neck.
“No,” I say trying to open the small clasp. “You just said you need this.”
She pulls my hands away. “Borrow it, until you know what it means.”
“Anne,” I say measuring my words carefully. I did not kiss her for the thrill of it. I kissed her because I want to be in that space with her, that closeness not reserved for just anyone. The connection that says, you mean more to me than just a girl I came across. The thought of losing that ground with her, is splitting me in half, but more than anything, I can’t lead her on. I can’t be dishonest. Even in my ignorance of all things Christian, I know that is a sin I will not commit.
“It won’t mean the same thing to me. I’ll think of you only, not God.”
She lifts the pendant from my throat, only a moment ago it was resting on hers, safe, holy, charged with faith. Now it is on mine where it does not belong except for the sweet sentiment in her heart.
“That’s fine. Precept on precept, faith comes.”
I laugh. To hear her even suggest I would have her kind of faith sounds ridiculous. Then I realize what a callous ass I am. Her hand freezes on the dove. I think she will rip it off and storm away from me. But, she doesn’t. She smiles, warmly.
“No worries, Tyler, I’ll pray for you.”
That is no laughing matter. I’m terrified.