Part VIII: Presbyterian
I stayed in bed, tossing and turning and waiting for the effects of alcohol to fade. When it was obvious sleep wasn’t going to turn up I gave up. I still felt groggy but told myself it would pass as I grabbed a cold shower. Then made the succinct decision to throw up. I figured it would help speed along the hangover process somewhat.
I got dressed into some jeans and a presentable shirt. A glance at the clock revealed it was now 5AM. I didn’t feel hungry nor did I want to talk to anyone. I pulled on my jacket and decided to go to the chapel. It was Sunday after all. Maybe I’d get some advice from God on how to handle the last 48 hours of my life. The chapel was dead this early so I sat in a pew in the middle of the room and thought, a lot. Time passed and the priest arrived and left me alone, apparently sensing I didn’t want to be disturbed.
Then some more time passed and Caroline turned up, sitting next to me.
“I knew I’d find you here.” she whispered. I didn’t feel talkative so didn’t say anything. “Where are your parents?” I kept the grimace from my face.
“They went back home. They said they had urgent business there,” I answered.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“Why did you lie to my father about us going to church?” I asked, well aware this was my first time returning since I arrived at Ravenhold.
“Because your parents needed reassurance that you haven’t gone astray or whatever they think is happening. Their world’s just been shaken and I can see they’re struggling to accept it. And beside, I intend to retroactively make it the truth,” she said with a smile. “Come with me to church.” I blinked at her words, looking at her directly for the first time since this conversation started.
“After everything I’ve done, I really don’t think I can…” I replied, my voice sore still from the throwing up.
“And I can?” she asked “I’m dating a girl, I’m trans, I’m a mutant,” she added. None of those reasons were my reasons though. I had broken a few laws last night, and almost had sex outside marriage. And to top it all off I hadn’t even wanted to be with Juniper but rather-. I cut off the thought. It felt wrong to think that in a holy space.
“But you’re a good person… I’ve sinned so much these last few days…” I answered, choosing not to elaborate.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9” Caroline quoted.
“You know your bible,” I chuckled.
“Of course I do. God also said to us; Get rid of all bitterness, passion, and anger. No more shouting or insults, no more hateful feelings of any sort. Instead, be kind and tender-hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you through Christ.”
I smiled, let out a defeated sigh and stood up, letting Caroline give me a hand as I did.
“Come on, time to repent for our mistakes,” she said.
“So, Charlie’s not coming?” I asked, looking around. “You two are usually inseparable.”
“No, she’s with her friend Marian today…” she murmured, her usual strength gone.
“Caroline?” I began, sensing something was wrong. “Are you alright?”
“We argued last night…” she explained.
“Oh,” I murmured. I hesitated before deciding I should offer some form of comfort. “Can I give you a hug?”
“Of course,” she replied, a small smile on her lips at the gesture. I kept it to a light hug but held it for a few seconds for her sake.
“Thank you,” she said with a snuffle.
“You’re welcome. And thank you for not giving up on me like everyone else did…” I replied.
“It’s the Christian thing to do,” she pointed out, her normal smile beginning to return.
“Guess we’ve had different experiences on that front,” I laughed.
“Faith doesn’t have to be all fire and brimstone, Allen. God teaches us to be kind, to forgive each other for our mistakes and to love one another. In my church, that’s the message we choose to focus on.”
Caroline kept hold of my hand from the chapel to her family who waited in the car. She introduced everyone and I admit I felt a little intimidated, but then I remembered how lovely Caroline was. They were all probably just as nice and understanding.
It took about thirty minutes to reach the church Caroline and her family attended in Saint Andrew. I’d never been to a presbyterian church so I wasn’t sure what to expect. During the trip Caroline’s grandmother had asked a few questions which Caroline thankfully helped me with. The church itself was a small brick building with a white belltower and simplistic stained glass windows. It was nice and idyllic. As we approached the entrance I could see the Reverend was greeting people as they walked inside. He was talking to an older mixed race man before diverting his attention to us.
“Misses Campbell. It’s good to see the both of you again,” he said to Caroline and her mother. His gaze then moved to her grandparents and myself. “I believe we have some new faces.”
“I don’t believe I’ve had the honor of meeting you before,” he said to me after Caroline’s grandparents introduced themselves.
“Hello Reverend, I’m Allen,” I said, ducking my head in respect as my previous pastor expected.
“Welcome to our church Allen, please come on in and make yourself comfortable,” he replied.
I followed Caroline and her family to an empty pew in the middle of the church. I sat next to Caroline and waited nervously. The service followed similar patterns to Baptist ones with some prayers, hymnes, story time and a sermon. However the whole feel of the service and the Reverends words were a stark difference to old pastor Moore’s back home. Here they focussed more on community unity and forgiveness. It was different but nice.
Following the two hour service there was a social mixer with food prepared by the Reverend’s wife and some of the regular elderly attendees. Caroline and I helped ourselves to some food and Caroline turned expectant eyes on me.
“So, how was your first presbyterian service?” she asked.
“I guess I was expecting something different,” I replied honestly, rubbing the back of my head. My hair had grown out a little and was due a shave. “I mean it was, but it was also really similar to what I’m used to. Just more hope and forgiveness instead of fire, and anger and shouting?” Caroline laughed.
“Well, I hope you liked it and I’d love it if you’d come again with me.”
“I’ll think about it, but it is nice to be in a church again,” I admitted, looking around the interior. The sunlight fell across the pews nicely through the stained glass windows.
“Were you afraid god might smite you with a lightning bolt if you dared come for being such a sinner?” she teased.
“With the way my mum talks about parahumans…a little,” I laughed.
“I’m sorry,” she said, giving me a short surprise hug. I smiled at the sweet gesture. “No smiting here, just repentance, forgiveness, and love,” she finished. Although her eyes immediately wandered afterwards.
“Caroline?” I said, frowning.
“Sorry, it’s just I’m thinking about Charlie and I wasn’t really fair, or understanding, or forgiving toward her this morning… I just left with a bitter feeling in my heart rather than try to make it up…” Carolien rambled.
“Oh, If you don’t mind me asking, what exactly happened?” I asked. I wasn’t exactly in any position to be giving relationship advice. My track record was basically assault followed by alcohol influenced bad choices.
“I don’t really know… Charlie has this friend called Marian she never mentioned, that girl who showed up at the dinner. And apparently they’re really close, Charlie swears she’s straight but Jenna says otherwise and I don’t know what to make of it all… I mean, I believe in Charlie, at least I want to… I’m probably just being dumb and silly, am I?”
I considered her words for a moment. I’d not hung around after the club so there was a lot of new information to take on board. I could get where Caroline’s paranoia was coming from, but it was a stretch. I really didn’t think for any moment that Charlie would purposely misguide Caroline like this.
“Okay… I don’t really know why Charlie never mentioned Marian but perhaps she would’ve in time as she felt more comfortable with you. Marian might be straight or Jenna might be right and she isn’t. But I don’t think that really matters because Charlie is with you and you seem to make her extremely happy. I don’t think you need to be doubting your relationship… did that help at all?” I finished with an awkward arm flourish. I quickly dropped my arms quickly, feeling self-conscious. Caroline hadn’t noticed the less masculine movement, instead considering my words.
“You, know what, you’re right. I’ve been thinking about this way too hard, Charlie and I love each other, that’s what matters,” she smiled. “Thanks for listening to me vent.”
“Any time, least I can do,” I shrugged.
“Well, thank you. You’re a good friend.” she said, her smile turning into a grin. “Say, I doubt you ever thought you’d give some gay relationship advice in a church, right?”
“Gotta say it’s a new experience,” I laughed. Although I were starting to get used to the idea that nothing in my life was going to as simplistic as I expected growing up.
“We’re Presbyterian, it’s okay here. Heck, Reverend Burke married a gay couple two weeks ago,” she explained.
“Wow, better not mention that part when I tell my mum I found a church. She’d probably need more blood pressure tablets,” I half-joked.
“You’re going to church, they don’t need to know the details beyond that.” she said. “And if they’re not happy, the Reverend could give them a sermon or two about homosexuality in the bible and how it doesn’t apply today to consensual relationships. And unlike your parents he’s got a doctorate in that stuff.”
“I guess I’ll keep it in mind, good thing I’m straight at least. I think being parahuman is bad enough for them to cope with…” I said. I wasn’t lying, right? Everything with Sage had been because they mostly presented feminine. Juniper just wasn’t attractive and there was a lot of alcohol not to mention drugs last night. Anyone can be a good kisser, which Carl obviously was. I thought Caroline expression briefly looked skeptical but I decided not to question it.
“You try being a doubly disabled, trans, possibly gay, girl on top of it.” she said, nudging me. “But as hard as the transition is, I can tell you that it won’t always feel like something massively stressful, I had people harass me when I first manifested, but eventually people just accept it, moved on and it became barely noteworthy.”
“I have no way to imagine that. The closest thing I can use is the difficulty I get as a person of colour. I admit I don’t know a lot about the whole gender gap issues but I do have some awareness I’m better —” I began replying, aware of my own shortcomings in knowledge.
She interrupted me quickly. “Allen, it’s fine I was teasing,” she chuckled. She glanced around us and I noticed people were starting to leave.
“it’s almost time to go. Let’s find my parents.” I nodded in agreement and let Caroline lead the way as always.
“So, I’m going to go home, make things better with Charlie and get my girlfriend back. Then how about we continue your training? You did so well last time, imagine how far you’ll be in a few more sessions?” Caroline said aloud as we searched. I chewed my lower lip for a second. My powers still scared me but nothing would be achieved by hiding away my whole life. I may as well learn how to use them so I can harness it for good.
“Sure,” I nodded, my voice a little shaky. We tracked down Caroline’s family and went into the nearby town for brunch. Thankfully there were no more intrusive questions from her grandmother. Afterwards they left us at the Ravenhold gates. I said my goodbyes to Caroline and wished her luck talking to Charlie.