Before anything happened at the church on those Tuesday nights, everyone arrived and if they were early enough there was time to talk. Time to catch up over the week that had passed. I liked that time. I had gotten used to it. Mostly, I liked observing. Whoever came up to me I’d exchange a few sentences with while they pet my dog. I liked hanging out on the border of social interaction between teens and studying the body language of insecurities, confidence, attempted flirting and who may actually cause some trouble. Christian music played and I’d watch kids scurry up to the counter to buy something from the café. Leaders like myself walked the perimeter or talked amongst themselves. Two of the girls from my group, two that went to the same high school I graduated from, scampered off right before Jane walked up. “Hey,” she said like she’d been running to get here but I saw her come in, she wasn’t moving fast.
“Hey, how are you?” I asked.
“Bad, this week was bad. How are you?”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I told her, leaning against the wall by the bathrooms. I always felt like something weird was going to happen in the bathrooms. If not though, they were close by when I had to pee. “I’m great, thanks. I like being here. Why was your week bad?” She shrugged and looked at me uncertainly, standing there in a t-shirt, flat shoes, and tight pants. Her eyeliner as dark as her long straight hair.
“I don’t really know if I should talk about it.” I nodded and scanned the room, there was no clock in view so I wasn’t sure what time it actually was. My mom was by the welcome table near the entrance conversing with someone. She looked happy. Mom always looks happy. “What do you do when you’re not here?” Jane asked.
“Nothing, I sit in a room and wait till next Tuesday.” She wanted to smile but held it back.
“You can laugh,” I said, “that was sarcasm.” She did laugh a little then. “What do you do when you’re not here?” I asked, “things you don’t talk about?” When I stopped surveying what was around me and caught her eyes again she looked worried, nearly terrified.
“That was also sarcasm,” I said. “I don’t know what you’ve been up to.”
“Oh okay,” she said, “you looked like you knew.”
“Should I?” Whatever she had been doing it was too much for the sarcasm that I was in the mood for. I decided to give her a break. “I’m in class or I’m writing. That’s what I do when I’m not here.”
“Oh, how is that?” She asked, relieved the spotlight wasn’t on her now. The music stopped, signaling everyone to file into their seats for worship. Several students came up to her asking to get seats but she told them she’d be right in. I thought she might have been waiting for me to head that way. I don’t usually sit with the students. Another minute went by and then she turned away.
“Jane,” I said before she left. “Why don’t we hang out and I’ll tell you about it?”
“Yeah, okay. That sounds great.” After she went inside I went up to my mom and then we found our seats as the band began to play. I didn’t know where anyone sat in there, plus I’m bad with faces. I would feel people look at me and try to ignore it. I wasn’t really there for anyone but Jesus anyway. He’s a good friend. The girls always wore the most comfortable looking hoodies. I loved hearing about their highs and lows, places they had gone, events that were coming up. A couple of them were easily the most talkative which was fine, I just had to make sure the quiet ones had their time too. The quiet ones I found to be the most interesting. They were smart and thoughtful, they didn’t waste energy having to prove that. The outgoing girls were their own kind of delight but there wasn’t much to figure out about them because they would say it all. Thankfully, the six or so my group had dwindled down to got along well. I didn’t go into detail on the lesson that night because they had taught it thoroughly downstairs and I didn’t want to sound like a parrot so I pitched a few ‘what if’s’ at the circle and let them run with it. I asked them how they felt about failure. Did they feel like they would fail? Did they feel like failures already? What was failure to them? I told them about a woman named Gabrielle who was born in 1883. She was an orphan raised by nuns. She wanted to sing.
“Do you guys know Chanel? Can you name any of Coco Chanel’s hit singles?” Blank expressions looked back at me. “That’s because there aren’t any. She never made it as a singer. Some people may even say Coco Chanel was a failure in that sense. After her stint in music, she got a job as a hat maker, that’s how she entered the fashion industry. In 1921, the perfume Chanel No. 5 was introduced. Today, she remains a fashion icon. If she hadn’t failed at one thing, she would not have succeeded in another,” I said. “Failure can be a great thing. There’s no need to lose heart when you do fail and you will. As long as you continue and rely on God, greatness will come. It’s unavoidable.”
I waved goodbye to most of the girls. Some of them hugged me so I hugged them back. I really only hug people who hug me first, it’s a balance issue. My mom and I made our way through the crowded foyer. “Hey,” Jane was running up behind me but I didn’t stop because I can’t stop on a dime like that. I lingered in the door. “Did you really want to hang out or was that sarcasm?” I smiled but I was distracted by all the bodies coming through. I hate being in the way. Plus I had a dog with me so I pushed that door as wide as it would go, telling her to follow me. After my dog did a spin around and we were both facing forward again, I felt settled enough outside the building to answer her question.
She was nothing like me and I loved it
“I do really want to hang out,” I said, “let’s do dinner. Whenever you’re free.”
“I’ll meet you at the car,” my mom said, going into the parking lot after giving Jane a hug goodbye.
“Okay,” Jane said to me, “I’ll text you.”
“Great,” with that she went back inside to wait for her ride. I turned toward the parking lot and then felt someone’s weight on me. I almost fell over.
“Forgot to give you a hug,” she said. I was trying to remain upright.
“Okay, whoa, that’s nice but if you’re gonna do that be prepared to catch me.” I was half leaning, half gripping her arm for balance.
“That’s why I didn’t let go. Sorry to freak you out.” I told her it was fine, no worries, I hadn’t fallen. It was only a mini heart attack. She met me a few days later at a TGIF restaurant. We sat in a booth scanning our menus. I wanted an appetizer but I don’t really eat them so I thought I shouldn’t get anything if she didn’t want it. I asked but she said no, that was fine. She was going to get a salad. I ordered a burger.
“I usually say grace, if you don’t mind,” I said when our food had arrived.
“I figured,” she said. I folded my hands and did a quick prayer over the food and our time together. It was nice to get out of the house and forget about course work for a while and sit with someone other than who I would usually have dinner with. As I was eating fries I tried to decide what the theme was for the decor of this restaurant. They had a bunch of objects stuck to the wall, Star Wars memorabilia. Jane was saying how she was happy the week was almost over but she wasn’t happy about the weekend because she would be staying home. She asked what I write about and I told her I was finishing the first book I’ve ever written, a young adult novel about fame and friendship. She asked what I was going to school for and I said creative writing. Then I asked her the same question and she said she just wanted to be done with it. I told her I felt the exact same misery in high school. I asked about her family, her parents who weren’t really her parents. I had only met her stepmom during the brief instance of her picking Jane up at the church. She seemed nice, Jane could not have disagreed more. I told her about my brother who was closer to her age than I was. He took part in the student ministries as well.
“What’s going on?” She asked, having finished most of her salad. I didn’t answer. Not because I was chewing, my burger had vanished, and I was taking my time with the fries. Though I had an idea, I wasn’t exactly sure what she meant. “I mean like, why are we hanging out now?”
“I wanted to and you said you did too, so we are.”
“No, I know that duh. Why though? Why do you want to hang out with me? You’re like this Jesus person.”
“Please don’t label me a Jesus person,” I laughed. “Why wouldn’t I want to hang out with you?” She was nothing like me and I liked that. “I was wondering when you were going to bring up whatever’s been bugging you.” I ate another fry.
“You know what I mean,” she said, “I’m not a Christian and you are. You write books and I…I read books sometimes.” I asked her what she liked to read but she was stuck in a state of confusion. “Don’t you think it’s weird?”
“I think it’s weird that you think it’s weird.”
“I mean what I do on the weekends and then show up at church and now we’re hanging out.” She sat across from me, dressed in black like Johnny Cash, fiddling with her numerous bracelets. She was clearly nervous, picking at her already chipped nail polish. I couldn’t help but find it charming.
“What’d you do on the weekends?” She shot me a look. Classic rock played overhead. The waitress refilled our waters. “I don’t care what you do on the weekends, Jane. Don’t think I’ll judge you because I hang out with Jesus too.”
“I go to raves on the weekends.” Her blurted confession offered an opportunity for clarity on something I had wondered about, what exactly is a rave?
“Could you please tell me what those are?” My frame of reference was movie scenes filled with strobe lights and bodies covered in sweat.
“No,” she laughed. “If you don’t already know I don’t want to be the one to tell you,” I asked her what people did there. Did they dance? What were the glow sticks for? Was it like a New Years thing? She couldn’t answer because she couldn’t stop laughing. I thought maybe finishing my water would flush out the foolishness I felt.
“So you go to raves on the weekends and I go to church. Who says we can’t hang out in the meantime?”