She called at my house in the morning, as she had done for the past three Sunday mornings. All I could do was groan and roll over in bed as the bell sounded in the hallway. A minute later she was stepping into my room with both hesitation and confidence.
“Den!” she cried, her golden tones too joyful for my mood. “Come on; we’ll be late for church!”
“Shani,” I sighed in a gruff voice muffled by a mouthful of pillow, “it’s gone wrong.”
“What do you mean?” She had no idea what I was talking about.
“I don’t feel like I can go back there a fourth time.”
“Why? What’s happened?”
“I’ve just discovered that it’s really easy to say you’ll commit your life to God, but it’s a million times more difficult to actually do it, okay?” I said, raising my head briefly, and dropping it with the close of my sentence.
She was silent. “What do you mean?”
I heaved myself out of bed and stood to face her. I was taller than she; standing felt more powerful than lying in bed.
“I mean what I say. It’s all very well to just say you’re a Christian, but you can’t be one without some direction.”
She was confused. “But you felt Him that time in the church. You were happier than anyone.”
“Look,” I snapped, growing impatient at her lack of understanding, “you’ve got your mum, Clara. You converted her. You have her to talk to about your faith, and you’ve got her to set an example for. I have nobody. My parents don’t care. They just laugh at me. The congregation don’t take all that much notice of me. They were delighted at my conversion but don’t realise that I’m not actually converted yet. It’s like everyone’s overlooking the whole process of growing in faith and all this and no one’s giving me any encouragement in it.”
“Oh,” she said. “So you don’t feel that you fit in?”
“Of course I don’t fit in!” I said, more bitterly than was deliberate. I stepped away from her towards the mirror, and made a face at my tousled head and baggy eyes heavy with stress. “I’ve never fit in. All those Christians, and then me. I don’t understand how to be a Christian yet. I’ve got to learn, and no one seems to see that. – See: you with your American accent, here, and me with my accursed British one. I don’t fit in.”
“Den, your accent drives me crazy,” Shani said, and the candid affection in her lightweight voice nearly drove me to tears.
“Oh, Shani,” I said simply, smiling at her in the reflection of the mirror. Her response was not unfamiliar or undelightful, but neither was it expected. One moment she was gazing back with her clear eyes. The next moment her hand had hand shot out from her body. She grabbed a handful of my shirt cotton, stepped into me as I turned and fearlessly raised her lips to meet mine.
How did I react? I can’t honestly remember. Either way, if I returned her kiss I was a lustful hypocrite, and if I did not I was still a lustful hypocrite.
Why? Because I didn’t pull away. And in that undone action, I gave Shani hope for something I did not feel for, and I betrayed my memories of Deanna Macpherson.
So while I remembered Deanna – even in my newfound faith I was two-faced – my arms folded about the other girl’s body, and she fell against me. In one swift movement of delight she had clasped her fingers at the back of my neck, and we were inseparable. I could not pluck her from my own grasp; and she was not to shrug away from me.
We didn’t make it to church that Sunday.