Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

Maranatha: Chapter 15.

– Chapter 15 –

“Tell me about your wife,” she said in the morning, with her head at the foot of the bed and her toes tapping out a rhythm on the wall above the headboard. Gideon flounced onto his left side and propped himself up on an elbow. Maranatha felt deliriously happy and childlike, and though in the back of her mind she worried that too much silliness would remind him of their age difference and make him recoil or rush her back home, she couldn’t wipe the grin off her face, even when her cheeks began to ache with the effort.

They were up until 4 am. She glanced at the clock on the nightstand. It was after 11. They’d squandered all but an hour before check-out and she knew they should hustling to avoid the late checkout fee, but the thought of leaving this bed was just too maudlin. Tears burbled deep in her stomach. She bit them back, already missing him. She’d have to go home eventually and Anne would need to know where she’d been all night, even if she didn’t ask outright or right away. Maranatha was already concocting her cover, something vague and uninteresting that didn’t reference Gideon at all and wouldn’t require any follow-up.

She covered her eyes with one hand, sobered. It was all too much.

Gideon’s lips landed on hers and she peeked out at him through her fingers.

“What do you want to know about her?”

“I want to know whatever you want to tell me.”

His brow furrowed as she’d watched it do all night and goose bumps rose on her arms. He kissed her forehead. “This isn’t a bed conversation,” he said. “Get up. I’ll take you to breakfast; we’ll talk it out.”

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Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

Maranatha: Chapter 14.

– Chapter 14 –

Maranatha had heard, years ago, that the Agees lived in a mansion. According to the inter-church gossip circuit, it was a gated twelve-acre estate high on a hill and surrounded with flowering trees that made their home invisible from the road. At Christmas, they hosted Gatsbyesque soirees, opening their house to other area pastors and a few select families of their 5,000-member congregation.

Before Gideon came back to Ridgewood to teach, when Maranatha was around thirteen, her mother and stepfather were invited to one of the Agees’ parties. Anne had been invited to preach at a women’s ministry banquet at their church earlier that year. Children weren’t allowed at the party, so Maranatha was forced to stay home with a sitter, dreaming up tables filled with crab puffs and caviar; a twelve-foot tree trimmed in glitter and gold leaf; a live jazz band playing carols as guests tippled sparkling cider; and Gideon home on holiday, regaling guests with stories of post-college life.

She’d never gotten to tell him that she’d thought of him long before he resurfaced, wondering what he might look like or if he had children or whether she’d ever see him again. Maybe he knew. Maybe he figured it, but didn’t quite care.

As it turned out, the house wasn’t quite as palatial as Maranatha had imagined it all these years. It was stone and brick with beautiful bay windows and a sprawling, impeccably manicured lawn, but it wasn’t exactly a compound with a family crest over the threshold and horse stables in the backyard.

That Maranatha was able to pry her hands from her steering wheel, after working up the nerve to park in the Agees’ graveled driveway, was a marvel, but she managed it. She couldn’t tell if anyone was home. There were no silhouettes of movement behind the sheer, silvery curtains on their front windows, and any cars that may’ve been there were probably parked in their double-garage. What would she do if one of his parents answered? Would their eyes still shoot laser-like contempt and disdain? Would they glare at her through the peephole and yell that she should leave before she inflicted any further damage on their family?

She’d always wanted to apologize to them. On occasion, she still strolled down the greeting card aisle at the grocery store, looking for an appropriately remorseful message. But there was just no way Hallmark could help her adequately express the sentiments, I’m sorry I sued your son. I’m sorry for any insomnia my parents might’ve induced by demanding “justice” from the “crime” of an unassuming kiss. I’m sorry jail time was threatened. I hate that your equity in this house was jeopardized. I’m sorry I wasn’t more convincing, defending him, and that my stepfather remembered the Christmas Eve he spent here and saw dollar signs, recalling your plush white carpet, your baby grand piano, the stainless steel appliances in your kitchen, and your imported leather upholstery. I’m sorry if, afterward, you ever resented your son. I’m sorry I thought I could love him.

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Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

Maranatha: Chapter 13.

Part II

– Chapter 13 –

Law offices set Gideon’s teeth on edge—and with good reason. He envied the millions of people who got to live their whole lives with little to no contact with the justice system. They were lucky, traipsing joyously about, nursing benign delusions about the effectiveness of Law, and luckier still were those for whom Law was simply an abstraction to bandy about at dinner parties.

They would never know the sting of arrest or accusation. Central booking ink would never blacken their fingers. Their mugshots wouldn’t be Googleable. Their paychecks would never be garnished. They wouldn’t have to explain their complicated history with law enforcement on an additional sheet of a job application.

And above all, they’d never have to suffer a fidgety paralegal repeatedly offering room temperature water from a dusty pitcher in a windowless room like this one.

He’d worked with Cooper, Willis, and Dunn once before. They specialized in discrimination and child advocacy and they’d settled his case with Maranatha’s father. They were a much smaller firm then and what he remembered most about them was that they weren’t hard-nosed about agreeing to settle, even though pushing that case to trial would’ve brought them very high-profile publicity.

They seemed fair and he was appreciative, but that didn’t mean he wanted to be here a minute longer than he needed to be. The stuffiness of the room and his inability to look outside it made him feel like an interrogation was imminent. The overhead light was abrasive. The print on the wall, of a boy at the edge of a pond filled with water lilies, was cloying and, for whatever reason, that made him uncomfortable, too.

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Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

Maranatha: Chapter 12.

catch up with a visit to the archives.

– Chapter 12 –

It was glass, delicately blown from the breath they held, on each other’s approach. A paper-thin pane, their friendship: fragile and crystalline and spotless. But there it was: hanging in those spare, unnoticed moments when they glanced and looked away to grin to themselves before or after class. It was widening, this glass, during those first few months as she wrote elegant op-eds for the school paper, as he gingerly critiqued the poems and photographs she’d submitted to The Manna Quarterly. Every conversation, a vibrant stain. Every smile, a beam of color through the glass.

By late winter, when the worst of the snow had fallen and she knew that more of senior year was behind her than before her, Maranatha began to let slip tiny bursts of excitement every weekday morning. And though she absorbed more than enough customarily sour stares and nose-upturns each day to dampen her high spirits, Gideon was there in the afternoon, waxing practically romantic about Steinbeck and Fitzgerald and her lips couldn’t help but perk up at the corners.

She’d been collecting a sack of happy incidents: that time he’d caught her crying on a side entrance step and dropped his briefcase to sit beside her, silent, till she stopped; the poem he wrote and read during class, about Jesus as a swashbuckler; how close he’d stood so close in the cafeteria line once that their trays almost touched.

He was the kind of teacher she’d never thought she’d encounter till college, the kind she feared might only exist as myth. He was free-thinking. He wasn’t afraid to reference other religions and knew how to cast his lot with one, without disrespecting the others. Though he rarely referenced the bible in lessons, his voice took on equal parts ecstasy and reverence whenever he cited it. She recognized the tone as near identical to her own and knew that the great joy of Gideon’s Christian life had been approaching the bible as poem and story and surprising himself with how easily he accepted all its accounts, however horrifying or fantastical.

Sometimes, in class, Maranatha found herself wanting to run with him, to grab his hand and spirit him away to some reckless space where her crush made sense and she didn’t feel self-doubt singeing its edges.

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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 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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