I trace my middle finger along the edge of the three-ounce glass, half-drained of dark brown liquid. Jack and Coke—my drink of choice in my loneliness.
My phone vibrates against the table. Mitchell. Again. I can’t talk to him, can’t let him hear my words slur, can’t let him see how far I’ve fallen from grace, can’t listen to him apologize again and again. I’m not sorry. I’m not sorry. I try to convince myself of this truth as I let the last of my drink sit on my tongue, gulp it down.
Mitchell doesn’t like alcohol. He wouldn’t like that I’m here. He always hated this place, the noise from the bar, the fifteen different TVs along the walls on fifteen different sports networks, the pool balls clanking against each other, the occasional scream and body tumble from someone who had too much to drink—usually underage.
He came because of me. He was drawn to me. “You ever have that feeling?” he asked me one night. We were leaning against the wall, watching Bryan and Rita duke it out in pool. “To be with someone and then feel your heart tug, like on a string, whenever they walked away?”
I blushed. I never blush. But that night he made me blush, and Renee laughed that my cheeks had turned purple, like little blueberries freckling my face.
I thought he was flirting with me, that next he would ask me on a date, maybe to a quiet restaurant—Italian, I love Italian. And he was so cute. In his signature cardigan sweater, jeans, and converse sneakers. His slick black hair like waves in the ocean. I had my eye on him for weeks, but I would wait for him to come to me. “He that finds a good wife . . . “ Mama’s voice echoed in my ear.
Instead, he followed with, “Are you saved?” I paused, in the motion of closing my lips around the rim of a Yuengling beer, unsure if I should take the sip, unsure if he was judging me.
“Yes,” I finally told him, after putting my beer on the table. But it felt like a lie. Like I never accepted the call to the altar at age thirteen during youth night, like I never felt His presence within me, rattling my rib cage, filling my bosom as He spoke, “You’ll never feel alone with Me,” because He knew why I was on my knees crying into the pew cushion when I should’ve been praying.
But when I heard His voice, and rose—as if being pulled up, tugged by that heart string—followed the illuminated footprints in the plush carpet down the aisle to my Lord, suddenly it didn’t matter that my crush, Gary Zane, only wanted a blowjob, or that the girls in my gym class teased me for not having a boyfriend when they all did. I wasn’t alone anymore. I belonged to the King, concerned with His business, devoted to Him body and spirit.
Until last night, when I submitted myself, body and spirit, to Mitchell, who reminds me that I am still married to Christ, that he isn’t my husband, yet. But I want him to be, I so want him to be. He’s all that is on my mind now. I will sit here, like on my knees in that sanctuary, and seek his rising and sinking chest to lay my head at the bottom of this shot glass, clouded with my finger prints. Already, the Jack tastes flat, like water.
“You can leave the Coke,” I tell the waiter, who works the floors until midnight, when the only service will come from the bar. He nods and dodges the bending back ends of the pool players to my left, on his way to drop two empty beer bottles in the trashcan behind the bartender, the glasses shattering against each other.
A draft draws me to the door, where Renee finally enters. She sees me immediately and slides into the booth across from me. She shimmies out of her coat and scarf and gives me a twisted grin. I wait for her to ask me what’s wrong, why are we back at Mother Goose’s four years post graduation, what drove me to drink again after being sober for Mitchell since the day he asked me if I was saved.
But she looks away, taps a knuckle against the window, points to the snowflake decorations attached to the street lamps outside. “Don’t you just love Christmas?” Optimistic, Christmas-loving Renee. I know she sees the storm clouds gathering over my head, but she chooses instead to look toward the blue sky just beyond them.
“It’s a magical time of year,” I say, and I throw my head back, downing the entire glass, holding my breath to keep it from rising again.
“Aren’t you excited? You’re getting married this Christmas! You and Mitchell proclaiming your love for each other before God, and on His Son’s birthday! It’s more than magical, it’s—” Her eyes widen, a glimmer in her pupils. Her chest expands, and it’s as if her whole body is levitating from the seat as she speaks of Christmas and it’s magic and my wedding and the ultimate display of love and of affection and, Jesus Christ!
“We had sex.”
Renee stiffens, frozen in midair, it seems. She says nothing.
“Me and Mitchell,” I add, as if that’s what she’s stuck on, but she’s quiet. She stares at me, and I start to think that maybe even this news is too much for chipper Renee to handle. Even she was a virgin when she married, and I had been saved five years while the only thing about God she knew was that He existed and that He saw everything. Now I fear she too will turn her back to me, and what does that mean for my carnal soul if all I have left to console me is one more shot of this whiskey?
But she surprises me again. “So . . . was it . . . bad?” I swear her obsession with always seeing the bright side of things will one day make her blind. But I laugh anyway. I can only laugh. And she laughs with me. And maybe it’s because of all the alcohol that my voice grows from low giggles, snickers under my breath, to cackles, and before I know it, we’re both howling like we’ve had too much to drink, like at any second, we’ll be rolling on the floor, spilled beer soaking our hair.
And it’s this release of the tension building inside me since last night that assures me nothing has to change. That if Mitchell were to call again, and I answer, I won’t be shamed by the guilt embedded in his unwanted apologies, but I’ll receive the words I yearn to hear exit his lips now. “I love you. I won’t leave you alone.”
I look down at the blank screen of my phone. I will answer, you baby. Just call, one more time.