Jon and Jenny watch from the balcony as Bettina latches on to Riley’s elbow with her left hand and leads him toward the front. She slows down when they’re in the front 1/3 of the auditorium. Say when, she tells him. He stops at the third row, and looks at Bettina. She nods her approval. We need to find a spot where Lana can sit right behind me, so I can turn around and hug her, she whispers to him. They excuse themselves past some others and sit in the middle of the row. Riley on her left, Simon on her right. Lana indicates to Raul to find a seat in the row behind them. And Tom sits on her right, directly behind Simon.
Do you want to sit with Lana or not? Jon asks Jenny. She’s with Raul, and there’s not enough room, so I’d better not.
Simon’s phone beeps. He looks at it. It’s a text from Jon. I’m here with Jenny. She wants to sit with Lana. Simon bolts upright and turns around. Jon and Jenny are here, he tells Lana. She wants to sit next to you. You two, Simon says, pointing at a young couple sitting next to Tom. I’ll give you a thousand dollars cash for your seats. Right here, right now. They look at each other and stand up, and Simon hands them his money clip. Thanks, they tell him. He sits back down. They vacate their seats as Jon arrives pushing Jenny. Tom stands up and makes his way to the aisle. I’ll take care of this, he says, gesturing to the wheelchair. Jon helps Jenny up, and she walks slowly toward Lana, using the back of the pew to steady herself, and eventually sits next to her. Lana and Jenny clasp hands as the auditorium goes dark.
Simon hears a can tab popping, and extends his hand back without looking. Jon takes a sip, and then gives it to Simon. Simon takes a long slug of the Tangerine RedBull and then hands it back without turning around.
Raul watches a montage of children play across the big screen in the darkened auditorium, as the worship team sings “Wonder” to open the service. Matthew 18:3 comes on the screen to close out the photostream, citing the need to have the faith of a child. The pastor bounds up on the stage after. Welcome to Sardis. The Bible says that man was created in the image of God. Think about that for a moment. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Now turn around and share His peace with your fellow image bearers. Lana and Jenny huddle together, and everyone leaves them alone. Bettina offers both her hands to Raul. Thank you for coming, Raul. This is my friend Riley, who bailed me out of jail in Portland. The men shake hands, and then turn around to greet others around them, as Bettina goes past Riley. Hey Simon! A couple of college guys in polo shirts give him the nod. Simon sees Tom talking with Jon, and Lana and Jenny still whispering. He sees Raul sit down. Riley makes a drink gesture and points to Jon’s Red Bull. You can bring in whatever you want, Simon tells him. I wish you would have told me that ahead of time, Riley notes.
People file back to their seats as a heavyset black man comes out and sings the first verse of Amazing Grace in a resonant bass register, acapella. And he gets a spontaneous round of applause as he returns to his family sitting in the front row. The stage lights go dark, and the band guitarist and keyboard player are backlit with purple lights. A pretty woman sings the lyrics to Broken Vessels, and the worship team spread out across the stage echoes her in singing the first verse of Amazing Grace. Raul sees others follow Bettina’s lead and stand up and wave their arms in the air. After a while, Simon breaks down weeping. Bettina sits down with him and rubs his back. Lana digs into her purse, and hands Bettina some Kleenexes, and she gives them to Simon for him to blow his nose. John 3:16 comes on the big screen as the music fades.
Then it’s just an attractive woman backlit on the stage with a keyboardist. She sings “It is Well” with her eyes closed and her hands moving, and invites the congregation to join her at the end. Raul listens to Lana belt out the song next to him with her free hand in the air and her eyes closed. Bettina turns around at the end of the song, and Lana lets go of Jenny and stands up to hug her.
The pastor goes up on stage and wipes his eyes. Our worship time together is the closest approximation we have to what heaven will be like. Now take out your Bibles. He pauses. Hold them up high, he says. He pauses. Lana grabs Raul’s hand, and they stand together as she holds up her Bible. Now repeat after me….
The pastor preaches a sermon against laziness, deriving his text from the 7thCommandment, Thou Shalt Not Steal. Christians should be the best workers on the job, he tells his congregation. Jenny is fast asleep against Lana’s shoulder the whole time, so she cannot take notes.
After the service, Jon and Lana deposit a drowsy Jenny in her wheelchair. And Jon turns down Tom’s offer of lunch. I’ve got to get her home.
A woman with her toddler intercepts Raul and Lana on their way out the auditorium. Sir, I am so sorry for bailing on you Friday night. I heard that you covered for me, she tells Lana. Lana digs into her purse and pulls out an envelope with the name ‘Emilie’ inscribed on it. This is your tip money. I was going to have Raul to give it to you, but since you’re here. Thank you. You have no idea how broke I am. She gives Lana a big hug and breaks down crying. It’s so hard being a single mother; I just cannot find a reliable babysitter for him. Well, I’m $210 an hour, Lana tells her as she gives her a card. The woman breaks out laughing. When I win the lottery, I’ll hire you, the woman says. My mother might be up for it, Lana says. But she will spank him if he misbehaves. The woman looks at Lana with wide eyes. I’ve gotta go, Lana says. It was nice to meet you, Emilie.
Simon, what you did was one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen, Tom tells him as they walk out to the Highlander. You just stored up a treasure in heaven, Bettina tells him and takes his hand in hers.
Who was the pretty lady with the swan neck who came up to Lana? Riley asks Bettina as they drive to the restaurant. The waitress who had to leave Auggies to take care of her kid. I saw Lana give her an envelope. Bettina nods. Her tip money from the other night. Including your hundred dollars, Riley, Bettina says smiling at him. Does Lana know her? Riley asks. No, but the staff at the restaurant all love Emilie, and begged Raul not to fire her. Lana talked to her mother, and asked if she’d be willing to babysit. What did she say? Tom asks. She’s not willing to go into a strange home. But if Emilie drops him off and she can spank the boy if he misbehaves, then okay, but she wants twenty dollars for each time. That’s cheap, Simon comments. Lana was spanked growing up? Riley asks incredulously. Bettina nods. Are you going to spank your kids? Riley asks her. Of course not, that’s going to be my husband’s job.
I want to sit next to Lana, Bettina announces, as they’re shown their table at the Olive Garden.
A prudent man forsees the evil, and hides himself. Do you agree, Lana? She nods. Then I’m buying you a new car, Tom tells her. Summer is coming, and I don’t want you breaking down on the side of the road. Lana puts her head down. Simon inspired me, Tom confesses. I’m a rich man. What are wealth and authority good for if I cannot use them to help others, especially my daughter’s best friend? Lana’s head stays down. Daddy, Lana wants a used Mazda 3 hatchback with a six speed manual transmission. Fine, a newer car then, Tom replies. Find what you want, and we’ll trade titles. Lana doesn’t say anything and her head stays down. Lana, can you give me a reason, other than pride, that you won’t let me do this for you? Tom asks her. I accept. Lana says, finally looking at Tom. I’ll find something within the week, sir. Thank you. He nods at her, and Bettina excitedly gives her a hug, and beams at her father.
Lana, Simon says, looking at her. Yes, Simon. I love you. Lana looks down and grins, and Bettina and her dad chuckle. Simon, Bettina says. I’m making it official. You are my boyfriend. Everyone laughs.
Everyone orders. What happened Friday night? Tom asks Raul. It’s all my fault, Bettina interrupts quickly. I wanted to see his reaction when he saw Lana, so I was waiting on the lawn with Runt for cover and pretending to stretch. But Runt got away from me and ran over to greet Lana when she came out, and drooled all over her nice dress. So she went back inside and changed, and decided to dress down, and came back in jeans and a tshirt. So then Raul had to change, and they decided to eat at Auggies. Which was serendipitous. Tom looks at his daughter. Why don’t you want him to answer?
I thought it would impress Lana to be able to walk into a crowded restaurant and get a table. Perks of being the manager. But then my hostess tells me that the wheels are coming off. Lana tells me to go with it, that we can go for a walk afterwards. What do you want me to do? And I tell her to pull the fire alarm. And she grabs my arm, and tells me that everyone is looking to me. And that I need to be a man of excellence. And I tell her that I only have one waiter for the entire restaurant. And then she tells me to get her an apron, and draw her a map of the tables in her section. And we made it work. Bettina rubs Lana’s arm, and everyone grins at Lana.
Riley and I showed up to rescue her, Simon tells Tom, but she wasn’t interested. I’ll finish what I started, and Raul will bring me home. So we stayed to watch her work. I drank a little too much, Riley admits. Sorry about that, Lana. She nods.
Have you meet Lana’s partner? Tom asks Raul. Raul nods. What did you think of him? Tom asks. I’ve never met anyone like him, Raul states diplomatically. If you could only use one word to describe him, what would it be? Bettina asks suddenly. Raul strokes his chin. Restraint, he finally says. Tom studies Lana for a reaction, but she has her eyes downcast and gives none. You don’t see him as a rival? Tom asks. Raul steeples his fingers and looks back at Tom. We talked, he finally says. Raul! Bettina exclaims. I want to hear this. I do too, Simon says. Rolf stories are always the best. I suppose I could tell it. Where to start?
My brother, Ramon, is engaged to Samantha Zeller. I believe you know her. Tom nods. She invited us over for dinner last Saturday at her house. She asks if we had heard the news about Lana, and shows us a Go Fund Me page for a movie, Predators 2, with Lana cast as the star. Simon breaks out laughing and gives Riley a high five. He set that up, he tells Lana. It’s taken on a life of its own, Riley tells Lana.
So my brother and Samantha are watching the original, when the doorbell rings. You weren’t watching it with them? Bettina asks. No. I don’t watch TV. You’re going to get along great with Lana’s parents, Simon says chuckling.
The food comes to the table. Please continue, Tom says.
So I answer the door, and there is a bald girl looking up at me, standing between the drummer and the shy guitarist. Come on in, I tell them, and Rolf leads the way right into the den and they all sit on the couch with Samantha and Ramon. And Rolf tells Samantha…
And your brother went with it? Simon asks. He called me for my apple crisp recipe, Bettina says proudly. So I follow Samantha and Rolf, intending to accompany them, and she turns around at the door, and tells me not to meddle with strife not belonging to me. That she’s got this. Lana chuckles to herself.
A couple hours later they come back, and I tell Samantha that everyone is still watching the movie. She goes upstairs, and I ask Rolf to join me at the table. And tell him that Samantha is my brother’s fiance and leave the rest unsaid. And he tells me that he understands, and it won’t happen again. Then I tell him that I’m glad that he dropped by, because I’ve been wanting to talk to him. I break the ice by telling him that it speaks well of him that he would show charity to a sick child. He says nothing to this and just stares at me. Then I mention that Lana has told me that he is a partner in her firm. He nods, and still doesn’t say anything. So I ask him how much to buy out his share. And he tells me that money isn’t a motivator at his level, that it’s just a way of keeping score. And to take it up with Lana if I have a problem with them working together. That’s Rolf, Simon says. So I ask him how he can still keep company with her after what she did to his friend. Lana puts her head down. And he replies, that’s between them. And then he asks me what my intentions are. And I tell him that we are going to start seeing each other when she gets back into town. Do you have a problem with that? Her business. And I tell him that I do not approve of her handling his home security. And asked that he allow me to hire a replacement, at my expense, subject to his approval. And he bats this away with his hand. And tells me that he and Lana have been through a lot together, and you don’t build that level of trust and rapport overnight. And we left it at that, as the others came into the room, and Jenny ran over and gave him a big hug. And he whispered something in her ear, and then she came over and hugged me too, and told me that Lana was her hero.
Jenny called me and told me what you said, Bettina tells him. May I tell them? Go ahead. I’m not ashamed of my faith, Raul replies. He told Jenny that she was near death and that if Lana were here, she would tell her to seek the friendship of God. And she asks him how does she do that? Confess your sins, believe on the Lord Jesus, and be baptized. And then Jon spoke up that she was too young to have committed a mortal sin. And you told Jon that unbelief was a mortal sin, and that she was walking towards sunset. And then Rolf told you to prove it. And you told her that when she was a child, she ran around the house naked and unashamed. But when she became aware of her nakedness, she left that Edenic state and will be held accountable. And to fear hellfire and eternal torment, because that was where she was headed. And Jon yelled at you, and you told everyone that they had been warned, and then gave Jenny my number and told her to call me if she didn’t want to talk to you anymore.
You’re a lot like your brother, Tom comments. I respect that, he adds.
What does Rolf believe, Simon? I have no idea, Riley. I told him once that I was an agnostic, and he just scoffed, fagnostic, and left the room. The other guys just died laughing, but I was really hurt by it, Simon admits.
He knows the Scriptures. Raul tells Simon. I asked him why he didn’t come out during the day. And he told me that it was written the evening and morning of the first day, and that the day begins in the evening. That doesn’t make any sense, Riley comments. It does as an allegory, using this life to prepare for the next, Raul says. I told him this as a corrective. And he asks me, is that how it reads to you? Nothing in Scripture is incidental or accidental. And I asked him how it read to him? And he looks at me for awhile, and then tells me that he sides with Irenaeus, not Augustine. And I told him that I didn’t know what he meant by that. How could you, with your theological precommitments. You’re on the other side of the Tiber. And my brother jumped in and changed the subject.
I don’t understand any of that, Bettina says. Daddy? He’s not Catholic, Tom comments. Lana? I’ll tell you later what I think he meant when we go for a test drive. Tom nods. Share, Simon tells her. Drink your milk, she tells him. Raul, Tom, and Bettina burst out laughing. Simon and Riley look at each other puzzled. I love you too, Simon, Lana tells him.