My ADHD/OCD friend Mark and I might have walked right past LifePath Christian bookstore if not for the a-shaped sign blocking the front of the store promising free wassail and yummy Christmas cookies. Hungry since we hit the gym hard at noon, time edging close to 6pm, Target and Best Buy could wait. Besides, we have enough nerdy-dude movies already.
“Dude,” Mark said, almost kicking the sign. “Free shit.”
“It’s like a zoo in there.”
Mark surveyed the numerous able-bodies lined up to the back of the store. “Christian places are notorious for having fresh shit. Trust me, I know.”
“I dare you to hold hands with me and walk around the store,” he said, laughing. “We should totally pretend to make out in front of the Bible section.”
“What?” I crossed my arms. “No. I don’t think so.”
Even if we were moderately gay, which I’m not, Mark’s way too beefy and short to be my partner. More, certain best friend boundaries can’t be spontaneously tested without suffering serious repercussions, like the two of us not being friends anymore because we pretended to make out in the Bible section of a Christian bookstore. Not even if I was stone cold drunk off my ass.
“Come on,” he said. “Let’s see what happens.”
“You know what’ll happen.”
“How do you know?”
“I can imagine.”
“No you can’t and that’s the point.”
“Tell me this isn’t your coming out day.”
“Pucker up and give me a wet one,” he said, pinching his nipples with sex face.
The thought of kissing Mark’s chapped lips didn’t turn my stomach sour; it was his bumpy, steroid face and back acne. “This is weird.”
“We do weird stuff all the time.”
“I’m not saying gay is weird.”
“Every couple needs to mix it up a bit.” He punched my shoulder. “Here’s our chance to spar with some of those righty-tighty Baptists and Pentecostals everyone’s always complaining about.”
“Someone in there could actually hit us.” I pushed him away. “Christians are crazy.”
“It’s a good thing for both of us you’re a lawyer.” He grabbed my hand.
“Stop it. I work in real estate, not personal injury.”
“Semantics. Now take my hand and hold me like you love me.”
Mark and I don’t talk about spirituality or any subject even remotely touchy-feely. Our conversations wrap around busty women, muscle cars, and rich flavors of dark beer. He doesn’t know I gave my New International Version Bible to the Goodwill the very same week I graduated Bible College with a BA in youth and family psychology, or that my brother, Justin, preaches brimstone every Sunday to a wealthy congregation in downtown Milwaukee. Ours, like my brothers, is the religious relationship of don’t ask, don’t tell. I once vaguely remember Mark saying something about practicing agnosticism—or did he call God a she? Whatever he said, we probably laughed out loud and then, as is our custom, forgot all about it.
“Pucker up, love kitten.” Mark pulled me into the store. Like Jonah and the Whale, we were being wholly swallowed up by the belly of LifePath’s smells of old-lady perfume and recently opened cardboard boxes. People were chatting and smiling as if happy to be stirring inside the auspices of fluorescent lighting and children whining. I tried pulling away but Mark had a strong handle on the situation. We walked slowly past a family of conservative churchy looking haircuts. The slender father looked at us through the top of his spectacles; the red fingernail mother feigned a smile and pulled her son closer to her side; the little girl, maybe six or seven, stuck out her tongue and said, “Eeeewwh.” These were real people—Christians no less—visibly noticing our hands. I closed my eyes and thought about busty women and rich flavors of dark beer. My fingers, however, interlocked with Mark’s, felt like soggy talons of chaste humiliation. I followed Mark through the darkness, humming Just As I Am.
“Can I help you?” a male employee asked. He didn’t look us in the eye. His plastic nametag—Chuck—sat crooked on the right side of an icky dark blue sweater.
“My sweets and I are just browsing your fine little store,” Mark said. His voice went up high and, much to my amazement, stayed there rather lithely. “We woke up this morning and I told my snuggly-wuggly bear here that this was a browsing kind of day, didn’t I?” I stood quiet, my mouth dry like Judas’ kiss. People started covering their mouths and snickering.
“What is it you expect to find in here?” Chuck asked.
Mark put his head on my shoulder and reached an arm around my waist. “Any good books on how to make awesome love even more awesomer?”
“We have an extensive self-help section. I could definitely recommend a few titles from there if you’d like.”
“Aren’t you a dear.” Mark winked. “Please show us the way.”
“You do realize what kind of store this is?” Chuck talked in front to us.
“All I know is you have the cutest little trinkets I’ve ever seen.” Mark’s voice couldn’t get any higher. “This just might have to become our favorite new store.” He grabbed my cheeks. “You’d like that, would you my little snuggly-wuggly bear?”
Mark and I hit it off instantly the first day we met at work. Like Abbott and Costello. Laurel and Hardy. Starskey and Hutch. Kindred spirits to those who think, and talk, that way. I’ve never met his mother nor has he ever met my wife. I’ve gathered bits of information about a depressive brother and an alcoholic aunt in Colorado. I’ve never mentioned my abusive father or an older sister I haven’t seen in almost twelve years. As much as we talk, you’d think we’d share stuff like that. But we don’t.
“You having a good time sweets?” Mark was in rare form.
Chuck almost toppled over a kiosk filled with inspirational bookmarks and bumper stickers, his ample belly fat wobbling like pudding as his unhealthy scent grew stronger by the moment. Mark, leading me like a submissive bottom, kept whispering, “This will all make sense to you, I promise,” only to nibble on my ear in front of a couple who simultaneously leaned backward and grit their teeth.
“Did you see those friggin’ homo’s?” a teenage boy said to another boy.
All because two guys are holding hands? I thought. That’s crazy.
Near the back of the store, Chuck pointed to a row of books on the top shelf: Reparative Therapy Aids. “I trust this section will help clarify any and all of your needs.”
“Love the wording.” Mark pulled off the descriptor and stuck it to the front of his shirt. “Aids. Did you catch that, honey?” He kissed my hand. “You know, one of the most arousing sexual positions in the entire free world is called reparative therapy.”
“I hope it’s as naughty as it sounds.” I have a rare form, too.
“Think quasi-missionary position with vanilla-scented lube and silk sheets.”
“Guess what we’re doing tonight.” I raised my arm upward and flicked my wrist.
“You’re not too sore from last night, I hope.”
“Hardly.” I licked my lips. “You’re such a gentle lover.” I chomped the air.
“Will you wear that frilly little eatable outfit I bought you on Valentine’s Day?”
“Okay, I get it,” Chuck said. “We all get it.”
“Get what,” Mark said, releasing me a bit.
“You’ve proven your point. There’s no need to keep throwing it up in my face.”
“We’re not the ones throwing things,” Mark said, placing the descriptor on his forehead. His voice returned to medium low. “You gotta learn to relax, dude. You’re gonna bust a nut.”
“What’s back there?” I pointed to a small room hiding behind all the books, CD’s, DVD’s, and communion wafers. Inside sat a long wooden table, twelve or thirteen chairs, a white board, and a huge banner on the wall: Ready To Get Your Bible On?
Mark and I jogged ahead of Chuck. In the room, we made funny faces and acted like nerdy rappers while snapping pictures of each other with our cell phones.
“Hell yeah,” I said, pretending to be a DJ spinning a record. “Go Jesus. Go Jesus. Go Jesus.”
“This room is off limits unless you’re part of the Bible study group.” Chuck went over to the white board. With his finger, he scrolled over the dates and times written on the calendar. “Unless you two are queer, I mean here, for the prayer without ceasing seminar.” His face turned as red as his Adam’s apple.
“Queers like to get their Bible on, too.” Mark nodded for me to follow along. I walked behind him as he approached poor Chuck. “What ya looking at, Chuckypoo? Like what you see?”
“You can’t be in here. It’s off limits.”
“Hey, wasn’t Jesus a fisher of men.” Mark gave the peace sign. “I mean, seems to me he was pretty interested in his own kind.”
I took a step backward, as did Chuck. Something in Mark’s voice necessitated space.
“I gotta get back to the register. Just shut the light off and close the door when you’re done.” Chuck seemed downright scared. I didn’t know what to think, or do. I was just happy not to be holding hands Mark’s clammy hand.
“Righty-oh, Chucky-poo.” Mark pretended to give Chuck an imaginary hand job. I laughed out loud, not necessarily out of happiness, although it was funny as hell, but from nervousness and worry. I saw anger growing across Mark’s face. Something wasn’t right. Something was happening to him, and fast.
Chuck, much like Moses in the red sea, never looked back. Mark stomped to the white board and grabbed a red sharpie. “Let’s do this before he comes back and tries to perform an exorcism.”
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