Tuesday, December 14, 2010

First Chapter - first installment

Alex Cunningham flung open the door to the Second Story Bookshop, and the jingle bells announced his presence.  He rushed up to the coffee counter, his leather jacket crinkling, and the scent of peppermint and a breeze of cold air followed along.  He approached the counter, his reddish hair glinting under the Christmas lights.

“Sorry I’m late!” he said to no one in particular.  Alex quickly shed his winter wear and went behind the counter, pulling on an apron.  “What’ll you have?” he asked the next person in line.

Alex was relieved to be at work.  The smell of coffee and the sight of shelf after shelf lined with books seemed like a haven.  He had just left his girlfriend Annie’s place, where they had been in a desperate argument, the fifth that week.  Things just hadn’t been the same since his motorcycle accident last spring. 

But it wasn’t long before the bookstore worked its calming magic, and Alex turned his mind to the task at hand.  Soon the lunch rush was over, and Alex was free to head upstairs to his office.  It was Friday, and for Alex, that meant ordering and scheduling.  Alex made his way between the tables and the stacks to the stairs.  His office was upstairs, all the way in the back, and he shared it with Drew, the book purchasing manager.

Alex had worked at Second Story since July.  Before his motorcycle accident, he was a finance guy at a small local business.  But after his month in the hospital, he was only able to work part-time.  By the time he was ready to go back to full-time, the small business had folded.  So here he was, the café manager.  Certainly not ideal, but better than nothing.

As Alex entered the office, he noticed again the chaos that was his and Drew’s office.  Neither one was super detail-oriented, and they didn’t have enough storage space.  There were boxes along the wall, and piles of paperwork on every conceivable surface.  They had a halfhearted filing system going in the big filing cabinet that stood on the wall between their desks.  But it seemed like a lost cause. 

Drew Reynolds was already in the office, hunched over his keyboard.  “Hey Drew,” said Alex. 

“Uh, hello Alex.”  Drew didn’t even look up.  He was looking especially gaunt today, and there was a yellowish tint to his skin that made his dark hair look even darker.  His Calvin Klein jeans and Abercrombie sweater hung loosely off his limbs.  Drew was always well-dressed.  But about a month ago, it had become obvious that he was a really sick guy.  His clothes had begun to just hang off him, and his ordinarily lively face took on a more and more despondent look.  Today Alex could see that Drew was failing fast.

“How are you feeling today, Drew?”  Alex hesitated to ask.  Sometimes Drew would talk to him, sometimes he’d become angry, and sometimes he’d just speak in monosyllables for days at a time.  Alex could never predict which it would be, so that made venturing to care a dangerous proposition.  But Alex thought it was worth the risk. Drew didn’t seem to have many friends, and with his recent break-up, he seemed to become more and more withdrawn from life with each passing day.  Some days, Alex felt like he might possibly be the only person who cared a little bit about Drew. 

“Well, Alex, I feel like shit, as a matter of fact.  And my *!@& father picked last night to spring another lecture on me about the status of my mortal soul when I called to talk to my mom.”

Drew paused, his face becoming redder by the second.  “The jerk was supposed to be at a church meeting, but I guess it was cancelled, so he picked up the phone instead.  I don’t know why I even bother, anyway.  Nothing good ever comes of those phone calls.”  Drew threw a challenging look over his shoulder at Alex and then turned back to his work.

“But your mom must have been glad to hear from you,” Alex said.

“I didn’t even get to talk with her.  About five minutes through my father’s diatribe, I couldn’t take it anymore and hung up.  No way was I gonna call back later to talk to her.”

Alex raised an eyebrow.  He ventured, “That’s awful, Drew.  But your dad must really love you, to talk with you about your spiritual life like that.”

“Love me!  If that’s what you call love, I don’t want any part of that.”  Drew swung his chair around to face Alex.  “He doesn’t love me.  He can’t accept me.  He can’t accept who I am.  He can’t accept that I don’t fit that perfect image he laid out for me when I was two.  All he was ever concerned about was whether all the people at church thought he was a good guy or not.  And he’s made it very clear that how I choose to live has ruined his picture-perfect family and life.  According to him, it’s amazing that the church even lets him collect offering now.”

“Well, God l—“

"And don’t even talk to me about God!” Drew’s eyes flashed.  “According to my father, God hates me as much as my father does.  I don’t want to hear about any of that B.S. today!”  With that, Drew jumped up and stalked out of the office.

Alex’s body sagged as his eyes followed Drew out the door.  He sighed.  He could not get this right.  It had been quite a struggle for him to even get to this point.  When he first started working with Drew, they’d hit it off.  They had a lot of fun together, because they shared the same sense of humor and love of mischief.  They used to set up pranks for the other staff and watch as they usually went off without a hitch.  But when Alex found out about Drew’s then-partner, Eric, well, he’d gotten really uncomfortable.  It had never occurred to him that Drew could be gay.  And what was he supposed to do about that?

Alex had grown up in a church where being gay was a “sin,” and he was pretty sure that sin was supposed to be confronted head-on.  He knew that he was supposed to do something from Matthew 18--go to Drew alone first, or something like that.  And then if Drew didn’t repent, Alex could take someone else along. 

Alex cringed when he remembered the time he’d tried to follow that plan shortly after he’d learned about Eric.  It was a month before Drew had even talked to him again.  But obviously this whole love-oriented message wasn’t getting through either.  Every time he so much as breathed a word about God, Drew blew up at him.  And from the way Drew looked today, he might not make it much longer himself.  He NEEDED to get right with God.  And Alex was sure that he should be encouraging Drew to do that.  Wasn’t that what a serious follower of God would do?

Alex slammed his fist against his desk.

Agh!  Why does everything have to be so hard? 

Seriously, following God is supposed to lead to peace and love and happiness.  But ever since I got out of the hospital, it’s been one conflict after another.  How am I ever going to keep going like this?

Alex turned back to his inventory sheets and tried to focus.  But he couldn’t quite get rid of the nagging suspicion that he was missing something–some kind of skill or piece of information that could help him reach Drew.  There must be some way, right?  

God loved Drew, of that he was sure.  God even wanted Drew to spend eternity with him.  So how was God going to get through to him?  And how was he, Alex, supposed to be a part of that?

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