Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

Maranatha: Chapter 9.

to catch yourself up, get into the archives.

– Chapter 9 –

She was distracting. Did she realize how gracefully she walked, how squaring her shoulders once and for all would be all it took to make her formidable? Did she know how closely she resembled an editorial fashion spread with her angular movements, the abstract slope of her arm on her desk as she propped her chin in her hand, and the sharp juts of her jittery legs as she sat? Was he obvious when she strode by his desk in the morning and he quickly inhaled, like someone had just lit incense?

Of all the things Gideon had fantasized about, coming back here—storming the administrative offices and staging a coup or throwing copies of I Kissed Dating Goodbye out of his classroom windows or burning a bottle of Pompeian Extra Virgin in effigy or planning a field trip to a Unitarian church with a lesbian pastor—attraction to a student had never crossed his mind.

For one, church girls weren’t his type. He didn’t like their clothes, the ill-fitting skirt suits with boxy shoulders and overlong hemlines or the unfortunate floral patterns on all their dresses. Even when they wore something normal—a pair of jeans and heels, for instance, or a form-fitting frock—he hated the way they fancied themselves quietly revolutionary for it.

Their conversation also wearied him. They were so much more preoccupied with what other people were into, since they considered so many things sin themselves—so many things, besides gossip, of course. And worst of all was their preoccupation with marriage. When would they realize that, “I’m believing God for a husband” was second-date Kryptonite?

The dating venues were so limited. Restaurants. Bowling alleys. Museums. Movies were an option, but with anything rated R, a church girl might make a show of cringing at all profanity and looking away during any sex scenes or, worse yet, covering her eyes. Then later, when Gideon asked if she liked the film, he’d likely be forced into a lengthy conversation about the uselessness of onscreen nudity, or else she’d clam up and treat the whole outing like some kind of spiritual betrayal. She’d side-eye him, accusingly, like he was trying to coax her away from her salvation or, worse yet, her virginity.

Gideon couldn’t take the constant edge, the endless, dogging worry about shocking a date or knocking her off her evangelistic square.

He preferred women who’d grown up only attending church in passing or irreligious women who conceded belief in God but didn’t need to discuss Him on their dates. His favorite type of all was a woman who’d been devoutly raised with any religion—Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam—but had, for whatever reason simply stopped practicing.

They seemed best able to understand him.

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Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

Maranatha: Chapter 8.

catch yourself up with a visit to the archives.

– Chapter 8 –

This was Maranatha’s summer: sharing a bedroom with Anne at her nana’s apartment in Ridgewood; rabidly scanning the face of the driver in every car she passed, looking for signs of Gideon, on those rare occasions when she left the house; scrambling to write as much as she could before she was due back in Grand Rapids for the start of the fall semester, and preparing for the possibility of testifying in a class action suit against her alma mater.

It started slowly, as Ridgewood summers do, with steamy air clinging to her bare arms like cellophane and, in the wake of her recent breakup with Elias, a torturously silent Blackberry. But there were some perks to her lazy Maryland hometown, like the dollar-sales on plump, tart blueberries at the local produce stand all summer and the endless supply of dark, sweet cherries swollen with juice. There were the cheap matinees at Ridgewood 8 where the air conditioning kicked up to Icelandic and made you forget how sweaty and clammy and gross you’d felt before deciding to catch a movie.

“Look up in that cabinet and get me the vanilla extract.”

She spent most of her time with her mom, their minds elsewhere. It was curious to Maranatha, how painstakingly they avoided talking about the lawsuit or the complicated past that had precipitated it. She shouldn’t have been surprised; there were far more things Maranatha didn’t discuss with Anne these days than things she did. But it was still odd to dance around the details that loomed and the choices that would have to be made concerning them.

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Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

Maranatha: Chapter 6.

get caught up. visit the archives.

– Chapter 6 –

Gideon found himself zoning out quite often: in the morning, as he waited on a slice of bread to leap up from the toaster; at stop signs on near-empty residential streets; in showers, where he stood under the steaming deluge until he exhausted his hot water; in roundtables at the agency, while his colleagues cooked up copy for new ad campaigns; in restaurant booths sitting across from lovely women he’d rather drop off than dine with.

But it was particularly bad in churches, where the entire setup—half-hour of praise and worship, twenty-minute pre-offering sermonette, forty-five-minute sermon—seemed designed as a license to let his mind wander.

This was why he still went.

He’d chosen a place that didn’t remind him of home, an emerging church with all-White members, lax interpretations of biblical edicts, and a name ambiguous enough to belong to any number of businesses. It was the kind of place where you’d attend men’s bible study and, afterward, meet back up at bar for beers. Sometimes, rather than preaching, the pastor would screen a short film, shot by his Visual Arts Ministry, and the congregation would laugh and gasp and lift its hands, as actors played out some hardship on a scripture could fix. Once there was even popcorn.

They liked Gideon at The Lighthouse. When he wasn’t there, a twenty-year-old hipster whose actual birth name was Megatron shot him the occasional “Where ya been, bro?” text. When he was there, they worked hard to include him, asking him to offer his opinion on the design of their promotional material or trying to convince him to create an oversee a “Marketing Ministry.”

Gideon assumed the attention had to do with him being Black. This had happened to him a few times since he’d moved to Bellevue. He’d enter an all-white setting and either people were overly enthusiastic about his presence or they averted their eyes when he entered. The Lighthouse seemed really eager to have him there. Sometimes, if he stuck around long enough to have a conversation, he’d zone out while the person was talking, imagining himself grinning on their next brochure, standing between Tron and some bright-eyed girl with pink lip gloss and long blonde hair.

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Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

Maranatha: Chapter 4.

just tuning in? go here, then here, then here.

–  Chapter 4 –

remember:

we were savages

obsessed with each other’s scent

you: all starfish and pollen,

an allergen ever causing me to swell.

you said i smelled gamey,

like goat w/ its pelt pulled away.

a trapper, i captured the essence

of kola nut in my hair.

you sounded

like the crest of seas,

inhaling each loc,

exhaling sated.

Gideon tore the page from his spiral notebook—quietly, so as not to wake the woman gently snuffling under the sheets on his bed. It was bogus. They all were. He stared at the words for a while, just to make sure there was nothing there that he could salvage, then balled the paper up and let it fall to the floor beside his desk.

He hoped the woman—Naomi, maybe?—would sleep another hour, at least. He wanted to pray. Was it prayer, to sit alone silently monologuing toward God? Gideon rarely said anything aloud during his “prayers,” just willed his thoughts toward the general vicinity of the unseen. Whether the musings were heard was anyone’s guess, but he felt better for casting them toward a destination. When had clarity become so elusive?

He wrote that down: clarity has become elusive. No.

You’ve rendered clarity elusive. Yes? No.

clarity has become elusive. You’ve rendered clarity elusive.

Clarity, fickle consort, quit

eluding me.

He was sick of himself.

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Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

Maranatha: Chapter 3.

if you’re just joining us: go here, then here.

– Chapter 3 –

The random “chastity checks”—a concept that, even now, sounded alien and nefarious to Maranatha whenever she tried to explain it—began during her junior year. It was February and things were already at an all-time weird by then.

Back in October, Jacob Rich, who’d sat behind her two years ago in French, had been held after school in a private detention for a full week, just before Thanksgiving break. No one had ever been pre-assigned a week’s detention. Usually, when you were written up for disobedience in class, the penance for most infractions a simple hour or two of eraser-clapping and bible verse memorization.

Jake had found a letter from Principal Harris in his locker. No one knew exactly what it said—Joe never told—but everybody around him in the hall noticed the way his olive skin flushed as he read. And after he finished, he shoved the leaf of school letterhead between his jacket and backpack, slammed the locker door, and fled to the nearest bathroom.

Maranatha had always liked Jake, with his soft voice and fluttery fingers. She liked how easily he blushed and how he seemed to always be near to help her scoop up her books when someone deliberately bumped her hard enough to knock them out of her hands. His long eyelashes reminded her of perching butterflies. A tiny mole inked his right cheek, like a drawn-in beauty mark.

She couldn’t imagine him doing anything that would warrant a week’s detention.

After Jake got the letter, Maranatha noticed a few immediate changes. He stopped wearing the sweater vests he’d favored, in lavender and sea foam and peach, and took to sporting blacks and greys and Rockport boots. His full loose curls had been cropped much closer. Stubble sprouted on his usually clean-shaven face. And within a month of his detention, he’d asked some freshmen to be his girlfriend.

Maranatha was perplexed, almost enough to risk public humiliation by asking Demetria if she’d heard anything. But  answers came soon enough. During the basketball unit of gym, she overheard the girls who’d faked periods gossiping about Jake on the bleachers.

“… but I thought he was gay.”

“He was, but Principal Harris and some other teachers and church elders prayed it off him.”

“Why would that take five days, though?”

“I heard it was seven—the number of completion.”

“He must’ve had a whole lotta spirits on him.”

“’Legion, for we are many….’”

The basketball walloped Maranatha’s bicep. She stumbled and the group of girls swiveled at the thud. Hurriedly scooping up the ball, she kept her head down and shuffled back to the fold of players.

That night, Maranatha didn’t sleep. Her mind was too busy conjuring images of Jake, surrounded by crusty old faculty insistent on loosing him of the gaggle of green gargoyles clinging to his argyle sweater vest. She asked herself where in the building would their teachers have most likely staged a seven-day exorcism, and after careful deliberation, she decided it’d all gone down in the band room where, when the demons trembled at the name of Jesus, all the cymbals on the drum sets would clatter.

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Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

Maranatha: Chapter 2.

for those just joining us: start here.

– Chapter 2 –

Holy Pentecost Academy hardly seemed the same place, with its potholes in the sidewalk, flimsy plastic flapping across broken windows, and ripped flag sagging at half-mast. Maranatha parked her car and sat for a minute, half-debating heading back home. Just being here, outside but on the grounds, made her feel defensive and nauseous and ashamed.

The postcard on her dashboard noted that she only had five minutes before this thing got started in earnest. Her decision needed to be quick. She grabbed the card and her patented leather clutch and stepped out of the car.

She’d known all along she’d go in.

The side door truants used to use to dash was locked, so she navigated a slalom of orange cones, nestled in ditches of crumbled concrete, to the front entrance.

Her skin prickled. Holy Pentecost still chilled her to the bone upon entry. The sickening scent of cheap cleaning solution, reconstituted meats, and powdered eggs still wafted right up to her from the cafeteria. But there was another smell here, too, something like vinegar and mold.

She looked at the banners hanging from the ceiling above the main office. State Girls Volleyball Champions, 2006, Division C. Pastor’s Award for Excellence in Stewardship, 2008. 2001 Winners of District Youth Evangelism Challenge. Oratory Competition 1998 Runner-Up.

There were others, but she moved on, almost stumbling into a sign taped to a music stand. It read, Town Hall Meeting, Auditorium, 7:30 pm. And underneath, a big red arrow, like anyone who’d be here wouldn’t pivot left by rote.

She heard the screech of a microphone, then keened her ear to see if she recognized the voice mumbling, “Testing, testing.” She didn’t.

A group of women swanned out of a door 200 feet ahead and she froze as they filled the hallway. From here, they looked to be about her age. They were well-dressed, in silk blouses with skirt suits or swishing wide-legged slacks. Their clacking heels rang in her ears. Sweat beaded in her palms. What if she knew them? What if they were former tormenters, like Patra Davis—or worse yet, what if one was Demetria Simmons who had, by graduation, become a kind of frenemy?

She hadn’t seen any of these people in twelve years. Occasionally, in her desperate attempts at holiday small talk, Maranatha’s mother had leaked a few updates about alumni here and there. She knew, for instance, that Cammi Shaw, who barely waited till eighth grade to have sex, then swapped Maranatha’s name for hers when recounting her grand tales of exploit, had recently bought a three-bedroom townhome in Owings Mills. Demetria married a surgeon. Bryce Hall, the cutest boy in their graduating class, was a recovering alcoholic who lived with his mom. Some other boy whose name she hadn’t retained had beaten some type of rare cancer.

Maranatha wasn’t ready for any of this. She tried to square her shoulders, as the cluster of ladies approached. Then she saw them squinting and whispering, trying to place her. Panicked, she turned on her heel and headed for the bathroom at the other end of the hall.

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