Alex - Chapter 7 

 

 

 

That experience was when I really began to understand the importance of trusting that God knew what he was doing when it seemed like life was being totally unfair to me. From that experience of finding forgiveness in my heart for Dalton and David, I seemed to have stumbled onto what could be a key to life here on earth. That being: that it’s important to forgive others for the things they do that affect me, because when I do that, I can usually move past the hurt. That’s something that doesn’t come easily to me, so I have to keep reminding myself to work on it in other relationships that I have.

 

 


 

  

It had been the very next day in class that I noticed Beth Ann – or rather that she noticed me.

 

“I noticed you weren’t in class yesterday,” she told me, “Were you sick or something?”

 

“I, ah… I was tied up with some other stuff. You’re Beth, right?” You’d think that after thirty weeks of classes, I would know everyone’s name, without asking.

 

“Must have been important to miss one of Carson’s finals reviews. It’s Beth Ann,” she corrected.

 

“Yeah, well I wouldn’t have, except I had to clear up a misunderstanding I was involved in last week, and yesterday was the only day I could do it. So like, what did Carson go over? Anything important?”

 

“Like Duh… We just reviewed all the material from the first half of the semester. You have a girlfriend?”

 

“What?” Where did that come from, I wondered? “Ah, not really, I mean…”

 

Judging by the way she was looking at me, she must have thought I was a little wacked, but she kept the conversation going. “Wow, I’m guessin’ she either doesn’t know you’re interested, or else she knows you’re interested, and she’s not puttin’ out?” I could tell by the twinkle in her eyes that she was asking me, and not just making small talk.

 

“Actually, I guess she doesn’t know yet,” I explained, trying to avoid telling a fat one that would most likely come back to bite me later.

 

“I’ll bet it’s Susan Shertzer,” she suddenly surmised. “I see you looking at her like all the time.”

 

“I do?” I asked stupidly before realizing my blunder. “I mean… You do?”

 

“Like yah-ah… Like all the time.”

 

Not sure what she was talking about, I turned and looked toward where Susan was sitting and felt my face heating up. It wasn’t Susan that I was always looking at. It was Javier Montanez, who usually sat beside her, that caused my eyes to be pulled in that direction. No matter how hard I tried to keep my eyes zoned away, sooner or later they found him – and Beth Ann thought I was looking at Susan. Thank god for small favors.

 

“I knew it. Oh my god, you are like so blushing. I knew it was her. Hey Susan,” she called across the room.

 

Susan spun around in her seat to see who had called to her. Javier turned too, and caught me looking right at him. My eyes quickly darted down toward the table top in front of me.

 

“You are the bashful one,” Beth Ann chided.

 

“Yeah well, It’s just that I ne…” I caught myself before finishing.

 

“Never what? Come on… Never had a girlfriend? …or never got past first base with one?”

 

“Not since I’ve been in California,” I faltered. “I guess I kind of liked to party a lot the first semester and didn’t want to be tied down, and then… well, I kind of had this thing happen to me over Christmas break, and ever since then, I haven’t really had a lot of extra time.”

 

I thought I handled her question pretty well, not even really having to stretch the truth, but she seemed to see right through me – scary!

 

She chuckled to herself. “You scared of ‘em? I’ll bet I could fix that in one easy lesson.”

 

As long as they kept their distance, I wasn’t scared of girls, but Beth Ann was getting too close for comfort.

 

“Tell you what. Let’s go over to the coffee shop after class. I’ll show you the notes I took yesterday and you can sit real close and enjoy the view,” she told me, pushing her chin back and looking directly down at her ample breasts to let me know what she meant by the comment that had sailed right on over my head. I glanced down at the fleshy mounds that she had done an adequate job of not hiding too well in her tank top, and felt a cold sweat break out on my brow. “…who knows where we’ll end up,” she saucily cooed.

 

I really did need to see someone’s notes. And I knew that Beth Ann had aced most of the course to date, so I tried to find a way around her come on. “Don’t you like have a boyfriend? I mean, I’m actually kind of hung up on the monogamy thing.”

 

“You’re kidding? Oh my god. You mean you never had sex before? Oh my god,” she repeated more loudly than the fist time.

 

Her voice was way too loud on that one, and seeing a few heads turn, I felt the need to defend myself. “I’m not a monk,” I shot back at her loudly enough for others to hear, “I didn’t say celibate, I said monogamy. I only do it with someone when I’m in a committed relationship with them.”

 

“Well I’m not hung up on monogamy, but I don’t really have a steady right now.”

 

 

 

Professor Carson finally finished his conversation with the grad student who was assisting him with the class, and took his place behind the lectern.

 

Halfway through the lecture, I realized that I was staring at Javier again and forced myself to turn my head back toward the front of the hall. I first felt, and then when I looked out of the corner of my eyes, saw that Beth Ann was watching me. As soon as she noticed that I saw her, she broke into this huge smile, like she had caught me, and was going to make me pay.

 

 

 

“I could color my hair red, if that’s what turns you on about Susan” was the first thing I heard after Carson ended class.

 

“What?” I asked, not realizing at first why Beth Ann had said that. Then remembering that she had caught me looking in Susan Shertzer’s direction, I thought to myself, “Yeah, but could you dye your skin bronze and make your body look like Adonis’?

 

I had been hit on by girls a few times in the past, but for some reason, this seemed different – I mean she was really laying it on.

 

“You gonna buy me a latte? It’s pay-per-view,” she added as she smiled and again looked down at her chest.

 

“Hey, lighten up. I was just kidding.” I guess she saw my wrinkled brow, and gaping mouth.

 

“Ah… sure, that’d be great. … as long as you bring you class notes.”

 

She gave me a bothersome wince, and turned toward the door. I was almost past her before I realized that she wasn’t moving, and was standing exactly like my mom used to stand when she wanted my dad to wrap his arm around her waist.

 

I felt the warmth instantly drain out of my hand. For me, putting my arm around a girl was like trying to scratch your nose with a twig that you’re holding between your toes, without poking out an eye. I had never done it before, and had no idea what to expect. Whenever I had put my arm around Caleb or Eddie, my hand was always met with the resistance of well conditioned muscle. I never had to think about how to hold on to them. Beth Ann was totally squishy. I mean, she wasn’t flabby, but there was like nothing solid to rest my hand on. I just kind ended up holding my arm in the air and kept my hand in contact with her hip – at least that was a little solid.

 

I felt a little self-conscious sitting so close to her in the café, but she had pulled the chair up next to her before I had a chance to sit down. I swear someone turned off the ventilation system in there. Beth Ann must have thought it was hot too, because she kept grabbing the neck of her top and pulling it away from her chest.

 

She seemed to be getting a little annoyed that I wasn’t taking the hint, so I finally gulped silently, laid my chin on her shoulder, and pulled it back slightly, so she knew I was looking downward. That seemed to make her feel better. I just don’t have a clue as to why two lumps of flesh turn some guys on.

 

 

 

Sunday, I couldn’t bring myself to getting up and going to church – no surprise there. What did surprise me was a knock on my dorm room door at two-thirty in the afternoon while I was going over the notes that Beth Ann had given to me. No one ever knocks on your dorm room door; they just come in if they want to talk to you. When the door didn’t open, I walked over to see who it was, and got the shock of my life. There, standing in the hall was Mr. Henderson, Dalton’s dad. As soon as he saw it was me, he averted his eyes and looked to the floor.

 

“I… I noticed you weren’t in church today.”

 

 

 

Silence

 

 

 

“I suppose I owe you an apology, Alex. And I can understand if you don’t ever come back to Faith Chapel after what happened, but I was kind of hoping you’d show up anyway so we could tell you how sorry we are for jumping to conclusions and blaming you for something you didn’t do.”

 

I wanted to run, but he was pretty much blocking the doorway, so I started to close the door on him.

 

“I understand… Alex, before I go, I just want to ask you to forgive me and Dalton. We were wrong. I know that might not help much, but I don’t want to be the reason for causing a fine young man like you to turn his back on his faith and lose trust in all Christians.”

 

Again, silence filled my ears, blocking out all the blaring stereos and noise that fill the dorm halls on a Sunday afternoon.

 

We both looked when someone from down the hall shouted “What the fuck are you doing! Shoot the goddamn ball,” at his TV.

 

“Alex, please. Just let me know that you won’t let my stupidity keep you from finding another church, and getting involved there. You have so much to offer kids.

 

When I couldn’t utter a sound, he turned to leave, head hanging down; looking like he had failed to do something that was important to him.

 

“Mr. Henderson?” I managed to whisper. “I… I forgive you.”

 

He hesitated briefly then continued to turn away.

 

“You… you want a Coke or something?” I wanted to forgive him. I wanted this all to be over and done with; it’s just that I had no idea how to do it.

 

He stopped and looked at me before telling me he’d enjoy that.

 

I carefully blocked his view of the inside of the fridge Seth and I shared, and rooted around the beer to find the one can of Coke that I was sure we had.

 

“I guess Seth must have drunk the last one. You want a beer instead? Seems like that’s all that’s in here.”

 

I looked up and saw a smile break across his face. “I didn’t know you were dorming with an upper classman?”

 

I felt my face flush.

 

“Hey,” he said, “just kidding. I went to college too.”

 

I grabbed two bottles and unscrewed the caps. “Yuengling, okay?”

 

“Yuengling’s fine, if that’s what you’re having.”

 

By the time we had both thrown down two brews, conversation was getting easier. Mr. Henderson was a Human Resources Specialist with the city, and his wife had her own beautician shop. I told him that I had come out to L.A. because my mom had moved here after divorcing my dad, but that my phone call from the police station had been the only time I got up enough nerve to call her. “Seems kind of stupid to pick a school because of that, when there are so many schools closer to home,” I told him.

 

“I think I see the Lord’s hand at work, Alex. Who knows what the Lord’ll do for the two of you.”

 

I studied his face to try to figure out what he meant.

 

“Listen, I got to be going. I’m ushering at the evening service, you want to come along with me? I can drop you back on campus afterwards.”

 

Talk about dumping a bucket of cold water on a conversation. Faith Chapel was the last place on earth that I wanted to go just now. Mr. Henderson must have seen the look of disgust on my face, because he suddenly got serious.

 

“Alex, all through your life, you’re going to be faced with things that slam you for no apparent reason. You might think that the best thing to do is to turn and run away from it. But what if God brought this situation into your life to help you to see something that you could never have seen without going through it? You ever see the movie Facing the Giants?”

 

“No”

 

“It’s about man named Grant Taylor, who coaches the football team at a Christian high school to one losing season after another. On top of his coaching troubles, he and his wife want to have children and hadn’t been able to conceive. Coach Taylor got to the point where he felt like God must have turned his back, and forgotten him – just like maybe you’re feeling right now.

 

“He could have just thrown in the towel and walked away from it all, but instead, Alex, he turned to God for answers. That’s when he began to realize that coaching high school football shouldn’t be about winning football games.”

 

I looked at Mr. Henderson with a screwed up expression on my face, trying to figure out what coaching football was about, if wasn’t about winning games.

 

“No sir. What God helped him to see, is that coaching is about using a game to teach young men to give their all to something, even when the odds are stacked against you. Coach Taylor began to see that he could use football to teach the players how to win in the game of life. When those boys learned to sell out to a cause and give everything they had… well, that’s when God did some pretty amazing things.

 

“There’s a giant in your life right now that I, along with Dalton, helped to create. I don’t know why God chose to put you in the middle of this mess, Alex, but I do know that if you’ll press through the trouble, and give whatever it takes to find his purpose in it, you won’t be sorry in the end.”

 

Mr. Henderson, paused for a moment to watch me think about what he was saying.

 

“Alex, I’d like nothing better than to help you face that giant, and see you beat it. What d’ya say?”

 

I was not into picking fights with giants at the moment. I had lots of practice just sitting on the sidelines licking my wounds. I was getting good at it, and had no desire to do anything differently this time around.

 

Absentmindedly, I began picking up the empty bottles, and dropping them in the trash, neither speaking, or looking at Mr. Henderson, as he stood to leave.

 

“Dalton and I have asked Pastor Berger if we could stand in front of the church tonight to ask them to forgive us for what we did to you. It would be really special if you could be there with us, so we could publicly ask for you’re forgiveness too.”

 

I was stunned – and amazed. I never heard of anyone doing something like that before. I didn’t know how to react, but I did know that I wasn’t ready to face three-hundred people who still thought I was a pervert who had tried to rape one of their youth. That giant was just too big for me.

 

“No thanks,” I told him.

 

“I understand, Alex. But please, before I go, promise me that if you can’t find your way back to Faith Chapel, you’ll at least find another church to get involved with.”

 

“Yeah, sure” I told him, certain that I would never set foot in a church building again.

 

 

 

Seth tried his hardest to get me to go with him to the party at his bud’s frat house, but I was deep in thought. I couldn’t get Mr. Henderson’s words out of my head. Aside from Phil and his family, I had never met “real” Christians before. I mean the kind who actually admit that they’re not perfect, and don’t expect you to be either.

 

 

 

Fearing that I might be walking into another trap, I pushed the sanctuary door open and slipped into the nearest chair just as Pastor Berger was ending his sermon.

 

“Folks,” he said when he was finished, “we all know that the Lord commanded us to ask forgiveness when we do wrong. We also know that it’s the church’s responsibility to forgive those who make mistakes in judgment, and embrace them back into fellowship. Many of you are aware of a certain unfortunate incident that took place in our fellowship this past week, and as a result of that, there are two families who have asked if them may confess there wrongdoings to their brethren, and ask your forgiveness. I understand the party who was wronged, Alex Harper, declined to attend tonight’s service, but that shouldn’t keep us from doing what the Lord commanded.”

 

With that he nodded to the front row, and six people stood up and walked to the podium.

 

David Pendergast was first to talk.

 

“My lying about something I did made Alex Harper go to jail.” David stopped to swallow. “I… I want to ask you all to forgive me.”

 

A hushed murmur rose from the crowd of people, as well as a few “we forgive you David’s.”

 

Mr. and Mrs. Pendergast gave David’s shoulder a squeeze as they moved off the platform and sat down. I thought to myself that they actually looked like they forgave David too. I wondered if what I had told them at the police station had made a difference in the way they treated David when they got home that day.

 

Dalton was next. He was sweating, and looked nervous. His voice trembled as he offered his apology. It seemed like he was just going through the motions – like he had been told what he had to say.

 

Lastly, Mr. Henderson, holding tightly onto his wife Dottie’s hand, stepped up to the microphone. He scanned the church congregation like he was looking for someone in particular. I slid down in my seat hoping that he wouldn’t see me. Our eyes locked for and instant before mine darted toward the mauve carpet at my feet. When I worked up the nerve to look up again, he was still looking at me. He smiled and squeezed his wife’s hand.

 

“Brothers and sisters, I come to you, feeling the pain of regret,” he began. “My son, who seems to be a lot like I was at his age, told a very believable tale about something that supposedly happened here in church. I hope when he gets to be my age, he will be a little smarter than I am, because without checking his story with others who were involved, I believed him. I’m here tonight to ask you to forgive me for being a fallible human being, who believing the best of his own flesh, put another fine young man’s Christian walk in jeopardy. I spoke with that young man, who had offered so much to the youth of our church by helping Rex Davies on Tuesday nights, and asked him to forgive us for the wrong that we had done to him.

 

“He assured me that he forgave me and Dalton, but that’s not enough. Please pray for Alex, so that God might restore him to the faith that we all may have so badly damaged – the faith that we all must have in other people.”

 

Then he looked straight at me and asked, “Alex, will you give this congregation another chance to prove that we love you?”

 

 

 

I leaned forward in my seat, burying my head in my hands, as several people laid their hands on my shoulders prayed for me.