Rita’s thirsty, but alcohol won’t satisfy her. Renee didn’t put nearly enough in the eggnog for it to be noticeable. Even Mitchell took a sip of it and barely flinched—probably thought the tang was from too much cinnamon.
Alcohol is dehydrating anyway. What Rita really needs is water, clean, fresh, saturating water. That’s where she’s going. To the store to buy water. She turned off her phone after Natasha and Renee called for the fifth time. No need to worry, she’ll be back, she’s only getting water.
But then, if it is simply water that she’s after, she could’ve easily gotten some at Renee and Bryan’s house. They always keep a pack of bottled water in the basement—never trusted the tap. Though, if she isn’t particular about where her water comes from or what might be in it, the tap is also an option. And Rita is far from picky; history proves that she’ll drink anything. She swallows back bile as she remembers all the unpleasant things she’s let glide down her throat.
She’s passed three convenience stores with the neon “open” signs flashing but keeps driving, with dry mouth and parched tongue, muscle memory taking her to a place it hasn’t yet communicated to her brain.
She doesn’t know why she said all those things to Mitchell. In the years she’s known him, she never said one nice thing about him, even threw up on him the night they first met. Ruined the ugliest corduroy jacket she’d ever seen in her life. Now the thought arises that she never apologized for that jacket. Maybe while she’s out looking for water, she should buy him a replacement, as a wedding gift. She bought Natasha sexy lingerie but nothing for Mitchell.
And why is everything always about sex with Rita? She’s used to it. Her mom was a slut, the other woman in an extramarital affair with her dad, who eventually chose his first family over them, the white girl who was only supposed to be a taste of forbidden fruit, not a full-on diet, and their frizzy-haired, freckle-faced bastard baby.
Rita’s never told anyone that she’s half-white. Wouldn’t make a difference; she looks mostly like her dad anyway. And white or black, she’s learned that all men are the same. Their love is conditional. It lasts only until they cum, or they sober up, or there’s a baby involved—even though she went to the clinic to have it aborted, started back on birth control, all for him, the one she gave everything to, he still tossed her in the trash like a soiled, wrung-out condom.
It’s only a matter of time before Hank does the same. Nineteen. She had no idea he was that young until Renee asked him his age—Rita never did. She probably should have—get to know him before she screws him. Now it scares her. When will his love run out, like all the others?
The truth is she wants what Mitchell has, what he and Natasha both have, a steady, constant, free-flowing love, that never runs dry.
So she’s parked her car in front of the doors of Revelation Christian Center, because she heard of another’s love that is like a never-ending well.
“God,” she says, looking up at the roof, “was it stupid for me to come here?” The clock on her dashboard says 11:47. Would the church even be open this late? Would anyone be around to unlock the door and let her in? Tash and Renee tell her all the time that she doesn’t have to come to church to be close to God; God is everywhere. Rita took that as an excuse to stop coming to church all together—avoid the hypocrites and judgmental stares—but she never tried to find God anywhere else, always sought solace in the weed, the booze, the men, which have become less and less satisfying. The weed fast has shown her just how empty her life is. And as much as she likes Hank, if she wasn’t having sex with him would he even still be around?
She wants a love that will never leave her, a love that she’ll never have to fear waking up in the morning to find gone. One that lasts forever, is never ending, never failing. One that is constant, like a spring of water.
She can’t remember the last time she opened a Bible—her mom never took her to church growing up—but she’s memorized one scripture that Tash and Renee have quoted to her several times over the years.
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you…
So this is her taking the initiative, coming to church in the middle of the night, because she could never open herself like this at home with Hank in her bed—she’s already missed that appointment with Jesus twice. She walks up to the double doors, presses her face against the glass, peers into the dark lobby. Another verse from Renee comes to mind.
Call to Me and I will answer…
She takes a deep breath, exhales, fogs the glass, says, “I need you,” but doesn’t feel she means it. She’s afraid. She’s freezing—tonight has been the coldest all winter, and she only wears a denim jacket. She’s not thinking clearly, because every man she’s ever needed has only hurt her. “Show me things can be different.”
Inside she sees something move. It startles her at first, and she tries to write it off as a shadow from outside, or her eyes adjusting to the night, but there it is again, and then the lights come on, and she sees that it’s Reverend Murphy, rushing to door to twist the lock and let her in.
“Sister Rita, what brings you here so late?” he asks.
“I–I didn’t think anyone would be here.”
“It’s not often that someone visits the church when I’m not around. Even afterhours. I basically sleep here.”
“Why?” Rita still hasn’t stepped inside. She’s not a regular member like the others. She’s not sure if she can trust him yet.
“A pastor’s work is never finished,” he says.
Is this why I’m here? Rita wonders. Renee always tells her that nothing happens by chance or coincidence; God is always in control. Rita looks at Reverend Murphy, who waits for her to speak, but she says nothing. Does he know? He talks to God everyday, surely. Did God tell him she would show up tonight? Is that why he came to the lobby, turned on the lights, opened the door for her so quickly? Is that why he seems happier to see her than she is to see him? If God answered his prayer, will He hear hers too?
A gust of wind forces her inside, and she drops to her knees onto the tiled floor. “I don’t know,” she says, beginning to sob.”I don’t know,” she repeats. Nothing is enough. When she sees Mitchell and Tash together at that altar tomorrow, she’ll realize nothing will ever be enough. The weed, the booze, all the sex in the world won’t make her forget what she doesn’t have.
The tears flow heavier now. She snorts to keep the snot from dripping from her nose. She breathes in short, quick gulps. She didn’t realize how hard it would be to admit it, that she needs God, that He is that one constant missing from her life. Maybe it’s enough that she’s here, crying in front of this man who truly is a stranger to her. But she has to hear herself say it. When she says it aloud, then she’ll believe it, it’ll be real for her, she’ll have that inner peace everyone always talks about when God speaks to you, when He finally accepts you. And she wants to know what that feels like, to be accepted finally, as someone’s own.
“Jesus, please!” she cries. She puts her head between her knees, stretches her arms out on the floor.
“Oh, sister,” Reverend Murphy’s hand is on her back, rubbing back and forth right on top of her bra strap. “I’ve waited so long for this moment.”
It puzzles her at first, because in the middle of her confession, a voice in her head says no man is different. What the reverend really means is that he’s waited for a moment to get her alone and vulnerable, and it’s literally fallen in his lap. She’ll look up and find his dick in her face, hard-on and ready for slutty Rita to do her best work, because she can’t change, God won’t love her, she might as well get up and leave now.
It’s the devil talking, it’s the devil talking. Get of my head! Rita clenches her fist, pounds on the floor. “God, I need you. Don’t turn me away,” she says over and over until the thoughts are gone.
When she opens her eyes, there’s no naked male genitalia in her face. Reverend Murphy is fully clothed. His eyes are warm, moist. If eyes could smile, that’s what they’d be doing right now, and she sees that inner peace she craves inside them. He takes her hand gingerly, as if about to propose with a ring, and asks, “Sister Rita, do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”
Without hesitation, she answers, “I do.”