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"What Resides" by William Matheson (revision)


            It's all in your imagina-----tion…
            So sang the monaural speaker of the colour television tuned to the low-budget children's program on the Public Network. Happy images of flowers and rain described in the lyrics did indeed fill the screen, as if the concept of imagination needed to be fed to the audience in such a way as to defeat its purpose.
            No one gets hurt
            No one feels sad…
            Is that true? I want that, Andrea thought to herself.
            Voices interrupted her reverie, dear though unwanted.
            "Why are you letting her watch TV on the Sabbath?"
            "I don't... I- maybe I forgot."
            "You forgot? How? We were just getting ready for church!"
            "Oh, Paul, what difference does it make?"
            "It's the principle of the thing! When you married me, you agreed-"
            The accusations grew louder. Andrea stared yet more intently at the picture tube, trying to bury herself in the happy construction paper images. The reality on TV was a world apart from her own, yet something she would endeavour to make hers.
            "- it's healthy! The other children wat-"
            "What? This? Imagination?! It's all lies! It's teaching the children that it's okay to tell lies to themselves! Do you not remember Genesis chapter 6, verse 5? 'And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.' Or Jeremiah chapter 7, verse 24? 'But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward.'” He wasn't reading from an open Bible; he had most of it memorized.
            Guilt. Anger. Guilt because she didn't deserve to possess such a world. Anger because the people on TV dared to make her feel guilty. She hated being guilty more than anything else in the world. If the house were to burn down, Andrea would have asked, "Mommy, did I do it?" and hearing a negative she would nonchalantly ride her tricycle off into the sunset.
            The belt wearer walked over to the switch and deactivated the TV. "It's the Sabbath anyway, and we have church in an hour." His personality was prone to sudden swings. He was never violent, but Andrea wondered why he was so much more awkwardly precise than other fathers.


            Andrea would someday attend school at Clay Lake Western Adventist Academy, where in one particular gym class, everyone was going to play ball hockey. The teams, as things normally went in classroom exhibition play, weren't exactly evenly matched. Andrea's team had two people who could play passably well, but a lot more people who couldn't. James, although no doubt inspired by his new Patrick Roy goalie mask, was letting in as many shots as not.
            After the game had been given up in the minds of the players, James walked out to become a forward, leaving his position and mask for a boy named Joey. Andrea watched him as he awkwardly took his place, but with an awkward grace that indicated that either he was ignorant of being awkward or perhaps he was deliberately being awkward as if it was in his character.
            You don't have to do that to impress me. But she watched him try anyway. There was something irresistible about the – almost more about the situation than about Joey himself. Andrea was certainly more attracted to his ways than his body. "Good save, Joey," she said when Joey made a good, though extravagant save – putting too much focus on the stopping of the ball and not enough on the further playing of it (his rebounds provided more opportunity to his opponents than their original shots). Andrea couldn't gauge Joey's reaction to her encouragements. He seemed to play harder when she came near, but he would rarely look upon her. Well, maybe he was busy goaltending. Another save. "Good work, Joey." James then gave her a quizzical look that asked her why the heck she hadn't noticed his good saves, although James himself had done enough noticing for everyone, with his periodic shouts of "What a goaltender!"
            At a pause in play, Joey glanced at Andrea's teammate Nick, who looked frustrated. "What's the score?" Why doesn't Joey know? He is the goaltender.
            "Who wants to know!?" Nick yelled, giving him a beastly cross-check. Joey bounced against the floor.
            Andrea watched Joey walk out of the gym through the stage exit. He might have been crying. As soon as play resumed, Andrea exited unnoticed through the main doors. She circled around through the corridor and found Joey walking up the narrow corridor to the main corridor, and he was indeed in tears.
            The poor boy! Andrea stretched out her arms to embrace him. "Oh, what did he do to you?" she asked in a very heartfelt rhetoric.
            But instead of sharing their tears like she expected and desired more than anything else in the world, and instead of finally feeling what it would be like to be in each other's arms, Joey recoiled as if he was profoundly offended. He turned his back to her and stalked off towards the stage again. "I don't want to talk about it. Leave me alone!"
            Leave him alone? Didn't Joey like her?
            "I suppose I must then," she cried softly.

            The spirit of Andrea floated in the air, just a few feet forward and above Joey, smiling and laughing down at him. Or rather, if things were fair, it would have floated in the sky about that gravel road, like something between a ghost and an angel. She would be nothing so tormented as a ghost (unless love could be a torment), nor so pious and duty-driven as an angel – what's more, she couldn't have been an angel anyway because all the angels were created before man, and people did not become angels when they died.
            Andrea was a foil for Joey's melancholy spirit, with her weightlessness and freedom, and, most importantly, her unconditional love. When Joey sighed, she smiled. When Joey said something funny, she smiled. When Joey looked at her, she smiled. Andrea wanted to read the things that Joe wrote, and in this form she already knew about the encrypted “Dearest Andrea” letters, saving Joey the labour of telling her about them.
            She saw through his fears and made Joey happy, which made Joey want to cry his eyes out because it was all a lie. The images in his head refused to take on the substance that he willed them to. And then Andrea disappeared.
            Suddenly it became clear to Joey that she wasn't going to come back.
            Wait a minute, she wasn't there! What do you mean, "wasn't going to come back?" She's a figment of your imagination!
            Shut up! I want her to be real, so she's real!
            She's not real! She's a ghost and she went away!
            What do you mean? She's not even dead!
            Yeah... she's just going to live on without me.
            Yes, without you! Of course she would! What would make you think any different? You don't have any friends!
            No, I don't. Why not? I'm a nice person.
            No you're not, you're an asshole.
            It's not my fault!
            Yes it is!
            Yes, it's your fault, and you're going to Hell!
            I don't deserve to go to Hell! I'm not going! I believe in Jesus!
            No, you don't. So you're going to Hell!
            Wait a second, if I don't believe in the system, then why should I believe that I can be conndemned by it?
            Oh, that's what everyone says. And they all end up going to Hell.
            But maybe that's just what they say. That question can't be answered because asking the question is wrong in and of itself. So therefore, is the system flawless, or is it worthless? Does it exist or not?
            Well, look, there's a lake down there; why don't you go find out?
            Joey's feet shuffled their way down the grassy forest cottage driveway, transporting his tear-filled eyes, open mouth, and backpack filled with Calvin and Hobbes books (a profound influence) into the neighbour's property and towards their lakeshore. No one was home, probably because it was only April, and the owners of the cottage were summer-only Canadians. A sign posted on the shady moss said "Trespassers Will Be Scorned."
            Okay, now I just have to dunk my head in the water.
            You'll never do that.
            Yes I will! Just watch! Life sucks!
            Listen to yourself! Life doesn't suck! You suck!
            Leave me alone!
            Suicide is wrong, you know. You'll still go to Hell.
            Well, maybe they'll have sympathy for me. Like Andrea.
            Andrea has more sympathy for you than you'll ever deserve.
            That's why I love her so much.
            And you can't even talk to her.
            Communicating is hard! I don't want to communicate!
            If you don't communicate, you'll never get to be in her arms.
            But I'm scared...
            Yes, you're too scared to talk to a girl-
            She's not just a girl! This is Andrea!
            - you're too scared to talk to a girl, and you're too scared to drown yourself. How convienient. We've got you trapped very well. At least Andrea won't despair that you have died.
            Would she cry?
            A little.
            Well, let her cry! She should be here comforting me!
            How can she? She lives in the Residence, and you don't even talk to her. In fact, I sa-
            - I saw you! Just this morning, you walked away from her and told her to leave you alone! You've always said that you hated girls and that you didn't like her at all. You sa-
            I didn't mean that! I meant the opposite!
            Well, how's she supposed to know that?
            She has to! She must!
            Well, apparently she doesn't. If she did she might try to approach you again. But she won't make that mistake again! You put up a really good front there, Joey. She'll never see through your cowardly deception. By the way, just what are you afraid of anyway?
            I'm afraid of Mark and Chris... I'm not supposed to like girls. They'd make fun of me.
            They make fun of you already. Quit clinging to the old ways; they don't work anymore! This is Grade frigging Nine! The Bare Naked Ladies are writing songs about you already! Anyway, as far as the fear goes, I'm talking about Andrea. Why can't you just scheme up something? Why should Mark and Jamie and Nick have to bother you?
            Joey couldn't answer.

Dearest Andrea,
      I write this message in code because I don't want anyone to know how much I adore you. I can't speak to you because I am afraid of everything.
      I'm sorry I told you to leave me alone. I didn't mean that. I wish I had hugged you.
      I love you.
            - Joey

            Andrea walked out of Ms. Walwonziak's classroom and found her locker. She opened it and her collection of cow ornaments tumbled out (Someone must have disturbed my locker, she thought), but something else fell out too. She bent her narrow frame towards the floor and picked it up. A note. It must have knocked over the Uber-Holstien when it was slipped in through the top.
            She tried to read the note. "Dearest Andrea," it began, just like all of Joey's unsent letters (except that this unsent letter was, inexplicably, sent). Of course Andrea wasn't aware of the wording because she was not yet familiar with Joey's custom glyphs.
            "Who wrote this?" she wondered aloud. Of course she knew it was probably Joey. Nobody else at Clay Lake Western Adventist would write anything in symbols.
            Just then a boy named Chris (from the eleventh Grade at Clay Lake) walked up. "Something wrong?" he asked in his nonchalant way.
            Andrea looked at his short, stylish blonde hair. "Well, nothing really, just that I ca-"
            "What's this?" Chris grabbed the note. "Hey! It's in a crypt!"
            "Y-yeah, can I have that back?"
            "Well now, wait a second, Ms. Walwonziak's really good at the cryptyquotes in the newspaper, maybe she should try do decode it." Chris had a point. Andrea knew it would take her days to decode the message. But even so…
            'Even so' of her feelings, it didn't matter. Chris, with the note, was off to Ms. Walwonziak before she could stop him.

            “Joey, I… I read the note.”
            “How do you feel?”
            “Well, I… I like you too, Joey.”
            They skipped the awkward, juvenile “now whats” and embraced unashamedly. Andrea's jet black hair shifted as if by a breeze and came to rest on Joey's arms that were now joined around her back.
            “Joey, I think we should BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP.”

            The new morning's horrible, detestable, depraving, despicable light spilled in Joey's windows. The clock had advanced all the way to 7:30am, not doing the right thing, the humane thing – which would have been letting Joey stay within his dreams and not making him confront cold reality.
            Walking downstairs for breakfast (which would fall as 'incomplete' as determined by the cereal commercials), Joey wondered if he should take the half-hour to have a shower. He'd just had a shower three days ago, and the dandruff and grease was just starting to set in. However, given the circumstances… Hmm… better not push it. Yes, Andrea would be reading the note today and embracing him as her eternal boyfriend. With that, the decision to shower was made. Looking at the toiletries, Joey thought it would be prudent to pack a comb and perhaps some gel-
            No, the note! Joey couldn't believe it. Had he been silly enough to… leave the note? Aughh! Aughh! Joey couldn't go to school because of it. What would happen? This was uncharted territory for him. After nearly six years of running away from girls and his other problems, he had finally expressed a shred a truth among his lies, for the sentiment behind “Dearest Andrea” was true. It was the truest thing he had ever expressed, even truer than the “You're my best friend,” he said to his sixth cousin once removed. But it was only in the Halcyon days of his youth that he could freely express such profound truths; now Joey was in Grade 9, and his life was over.
            Nooooooo! No! No! No! No! No! No!
            “Quit stomping around!” his mother yelled from her bedroom. “Hurry up and take your shower, or you're going to be late!”
            “Leave me alone!”
            Clenching a big ball of stress in his teeth, Joey went into the bathroom and undressed for the shower. His likeness appeared in the full length mirror, complete with pimples, pot belly, boy breasts, and unformed penis, but the significance of these fittings did not register with him. Okay, he was going through an awkward age, but he still felt he looked good, more or less. His spirit hadn't been broken forever just yet. Andrea liked him because he was smart and special.

            Timid, tremulous, trembling, and terrified, Joey approached the school entrance with trepidation. He had walked so slowly from his house that he was ten minutes late, with the purpose that he wouldn't have to actually talk to anybody, or face the awfulness of what he did. A thousand terrible possibilities roared through his mind, some focused on the shock Joey imagined must have been on Andrea's face, some worried if anyone else could have known – Joey hoped more than anything else that Andrea kept the note to herself; he wouldn't have known what to do if anyone else… knew. All of the possibilities he imagined were negative.
            Joey opened the doors and looked around, keeping his footfalls as quiet as he could considering he was at this “awkward age” in all the worst ways. No one was to be found, so fortunately he was still unnoticed in the building.
            Of course, he'd have to get to class eventually. Currently he was missing Bible Studies, taught by the gentle Western Adventist pastor from down the south coast who told stories and kept things pretty light. Academically, it wouldn't make or break him, but the reality (Joey hated that word) was that he would have to join up with his Grade 9 classmates eventually and look upon Andrea. Joey wanted instead to hop in a spaceship and fly to – just somewhere away from Clay Lake Western Adventist. He could use his genius-level electronics skills to break into Residence through the alarms and take Andrea away to another galaxy, forever. No more forlorn glances across empty rooms. No more wedgies in the dark.

            He hid in the shadows for as long as he could, but eventually he summoned up the courage to enter the classroom, but through the back library instead of through the main hall. He noiselessly opened the door, and walked on exaggerated tiptoe across the back of the room, knowing full well that Ms. Walwonziak was staring right at him.
            "Joey, why are you late?"
            No, no, don't call attention to me! Andrea can't see me! Everyone turned around to look at him, except for Andrea, who kept her eyes firmly on the front blackboard, as if trying to make her self disappear into the letters of "Provincial Studies Homework, pg. 384, #3, 6, 8."
            "I, uh… well…"
            "Never mind, just have a seat." And the class continued without further incident.
            What? Why isn't anyone saying anything? Joey wondered.
            After a time the class was over for lunch and everyone spilled out into the hall. Instead of staying behind to read Ms. Walwonziak's Dave Barry books, Joey walked into the library, anxious to watch Andrea. Of course, Andrea and everyone else had actually walked directly into the hall, but Joey wasn't ready for a head-on confrontation just yet. Joey held off for a few seconds, then walked in to the hall just in time to see Chris exit out the back doors. He didn't look back. There was no one else in the corridor.
            Supposing that everyone had gone outside, Joey prepared to do likewise. He took a small triangle-shaped piece of softwood from his locker that he had rescued from shop class and shaped into a handheld plasma gun. Stealth mode!

            "Chris, my father is sending me to Queen's Academy next year."
            "You mean you're not going back to the Cape?"
            "Hey Andrea, where is Queen's?"
            "It's in Orniciara, near Grand Lake." This was the country's largest city, but it was also known for being far away from Newlinder / Clay Lake and even further from Cape Island. "It looks like a nice school, but I think the schoolwork is going to be really hard."
            "Will you be staying in Residence there?"
            "Yes. But there's all kinds of stupid rules. I won't be allowed to have boy visitors, I'll have to sign papers just to go for a walk, and there's a mandatory bedtime. But on the plus side, I'll be able to eat beef!" she laughed sarcastically.
            Joey forgot about the Stormtroopers he was trailing for a moment and stared at Andrea, Chris, and her other friends near the swings. Moving? Where did that come from? Wasn't she going to stay in Residence forever? Couldn't Joey wait until another day? Another month? Joey's carefully structured artificial reality collapsed into a pile of dust.

            Class eventually resumed again, but only Joey and James and a few other people were actually in the darkened classroom watching the second half of the BBC version of C.S. Lewis' "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader." Joey honestly wondered where everyone was even though he suspected the answer, but it happened to be one he didn't want to believe. Ms. Walwonziak seemed to be aware of the situation as well, but more from her own intuition than from deciphering the note (which she really didn't know what to make of but had tentatively attributed to something called "puppy love").
            In the middle of everything, Andrea came into the room through the library entrance as Joey was deliberating Lewis' creative abilities with Ms. Walwonziak, who gently asked her why she wasn't in the class at the moment.
    She stood stock-still and her mouth below her beautiful tear-filled eyes said, "There's a problem." She deliberately avoided eye contact with Joey. Now that the two of them were doing all they could to avoid each other yet not avoid each other, they could accomplish things like avoiding eye contact even more easily than before. She left the room with a sad flourish, leaving a permanent impression on Joey's heart. What was the problem? In a way he knew full well what at least part of it was, and he felt no guilt for the certain supposition.

            Back in the hall after Aslan told Lucy and Edmund that they'd come to know him on Earth as well, but by another name, Joey saw one of Andrea's snottier friends (Brenda) at her locker. He knew full well what was going on, but he needed to talk to someone about this. Someone had to know about his own pain concerning Andrea's imminent departure to the Central Province.
            Unfortunately, his psychological bounds forbid him a plain, "I'm going to miss Andrea a lot". Instead, to distance himself from the situation in Brenda's perception, he asked, "So what's all this going on about Andrea?!" as if they were all as square as a cabinet TV set for being outside and talking and crying so much (and, more importantly, for leaving him out of it, but that was the upset that he had to conceal at all costs).
            Brenda turned and gave him a nasty look. "She's moving, you idiot! We're her friends, so we feel bad that she's going! Of course you wouldn't understand that because you don't have any friends!"
            Joey walked, then shuffled, away; but he soon found the dark supply closet by the stage, which was a good place for him to climb into and cry for a half-hour. It seemed no matter how much he indulged in self-pity, he still felt sorry for himself.
            Why don't I have any friends?
            We've been over this. You're an asshole.

            It took a day or two for everything to settle down again. In the blink of an eye, May had become October for Joey. With a struggle, he swept the imminent departure of Andrea out of his mind and saved the pain for June.
            Back in class, a fundamentalist church educator named Ms. Beaner (who was Brenda's mother) was brought in to teach the provincially-mandated sex education 'class.' This consisted of a video tape and Ms. Beaner's fast-forward button, enabling her to bypass the offensive / female parts. Joey asked her why she was skipping all the information about the female systems and how babies are conceived and whatnot even though there were a few women in the class, and Ms. Beaner simply said, "They must know all that already."
            However, on one of the fast-forwardable segments, Joey caught one of those strange "sex-education only words," so it was the first that Joey had ever heard of this, and he wondered why anyone would want to do it.
            “Why is this wrong? Why are you fast-forwarding it?”
            That surprised her!
            “Because it is demeaning to yourself and makes you feel bad. The sexual feelings that come out from it are supposed to be saved for marriage.” Ms. Beaner was not the type who was used to justifying the immorality of certain practices with real reasons.

            I'm not a sinner. This is the last time I'll ever do this.
            As it turned out, Ms. Beaner's lecture backfired, because after school had let out, Joey had let his mind wander (as it was apt to do) during the long walk home. There were two things wrong with what he was doing. First of all, he was standing in the middle of the woods. Secondly, he was using a sock.
            Eventually the pain became too much, and he was forced to zip up again and walk back to the street imagining that he had been pressured by aliens into giving up his sperm. Of course Joey didn't even give any sperm unto his sock, but the state of sex education at Clay Lake Western Adventist ensured that he didn't know the difference.
            “Why can't you just leave me alone?” Joey asked the aliens. But they didn't reply.

Dearest, Most Beloved Andrea,
      Why must you be so cruel? You're worse than the aliens! Why can't you just talk to me? I'm sorry I told you to leave me alone. If you'll forgive me, I'll never leave you alone again. I don't mean that in a bad way. I wish you were here. Can we be friends? Good friends?
      I really love you very much. I want to run my fingers through your luscious raven hair. I want to kiss you and then there's the rest of that stuff that I don't really understand. Of course we'll be abstinent until we get married like Ms. Beaner says because I know you like her and her daughter, so we'll have to get married right away. Maybe we could get married in Ms. Walwonziak's church someday. We'll get Dave Barry to MC for us. What do you say?
      I love you.
            - Joey

            That one he didn't bother to deposit.

            The next morning, Ms. Beaner was called in again to substitute in the morning Bible class usually taught by the Pastor.
            “Now, have any of you thought about what you're going to do in heaven?”
            “First Joey and I are going to build the Enterprise-D, and then we're gonna play hockey!” James said, clutching his Patrick Roy goalie mask inside his backpack.
            “But you can't play hockey in Heaven,” Ms. Beaner said.
            “Why not?!”
            “You can't play hockey because it's brutal and violent!”
            “Then what can you play?”
            "Sports of any kind are-"
            “What about video games? Ones without violence?” Joey asked.
            “None of it. Even if you had a game of picking flowers, it would still be a sin to play it. If I'm playing against someone, that's competition, and if I win, the other person will feel bad. So there aren't any games in Heaven.”
            You mean, we're doing all this to go to Heaven, and once we're there we can't have any fun? “What are we supposed to spend eternity doing, then?” Joey asked.
            “You will derive all the pleasure you could want by praising God.”
            A boy named Mark with attitude and fists of iron (so Joey had discovered previously, in a story which he might dwell on in his mind if he were hungry for more self-pity at the moment) leaned back in his chair and looked blankly at Ms. Beaner. "You know, I can follow most of this Bible stuff, right? But there's this one thing-"
            "What?" This was an exasperated sigh, as if there were only a few good tickets to Heaven for the entire class, and some of the people would be making the journey in coach.
            "I don't think Mary could have had Jesus if she's a fuckin' virgin!"


            On the transit bus from Newlinder to downtown Seneca, Joey glanced over the shoulder of the woman in front of him to see the book she was reading. He saw in the page headers that "The Case For Faith" was the title. Oh no, Joey groaned. Why did they even publish this stuff?
            In the book was described the case of a woman who wrote a letter to God pleading to win the lottery. She wrote her numbers in the letter. This was proof, said the book, that miracles exist (since the odds were so much against the occurrence), therefore there must be a God. Some characters in the book even went on to talk about it being "improbable that the media would report this if it wasn't true." Joey already knew that, and he saw the holes in the rest of the argument right away, and unwilling to restrain himself he said, "There's something seriously wrong with that book you're reading."
            "Pardon me? Oh, Joey!"
            Oh, no. Brenda.
            "Are you going to come to the Campus Crusade for Christ meeting tomorrow?"
            "You should. It'll be good for you. We'll have lots of fun."
            "There's something wrong with that book you are reading."
            "What's wrong with it?"
            "That lottery argument is totally ridiculous! You're a science student; don't you know about the law of very large numbers?"
            "What do you mean?"
            "I mean if you get enough of a sample size, anything outrageous is bound to happen. If there weren't so many people playing in the lottery, there would rarely be any winners! But if the odds of winning the lottery are something like one in twenty million and five million people play, there will be huge winners once in a while."
            "Odds mean nothing."
            "You're half right – odds in and of themselves don't mean anything, assuming independence of events. But if I flip a coin a hundred times, it will probably come out fairly near 50 heads, 50 tails, right?"
            "Yes, but-"
            "But if I flip that coin a thousand times, it will come even nearer 500 heads, 500 tails! These are the effects that we live and die by! It's why gamblers… except for Blackjack card-counting which is illegal and sports betting which has its own problems because a bunch of people get too good at it the sports books will move the line and gobble everyone up… well, it's why gamblers always loose in the long run, and why the most dangerous part of a pilot's job is the drive to work!"
            "But she wrote a letter, and God answered her call."
            "You can't prove that! If this book were being fair - which it isn't, because it's violating every scientific principle there is by reporting selected bits of reality to support a pre-determined conclusion – if that book were being fair, it would mention the millions of other deluded souls who must surely have written letters to God and received no answer! After enough people write these letters, one of those people will win. After enough women take fertility drugs, one of them will give birth to nonuplets. This is a big scary world, and all sorts of crazy things are bound to happen within it."
            "But you can't prove that this particular instance wasn't a miracle can you?"
            "No, but that's the whole point of science – I can't prove anything! The idea is to disprove."
            "It's a lot easier to destroy than to build, isn't it? You just don't know the pleasure and security of Faith in God yet."
            "I guess you and I are polar opposites. Compromise on this is impossible, because you're trying to crush my interests, and I'm trying to show you the supposed folly of yours."
            "Are you going to come to the meeting? Aren't you worried about what will happen to you after you die?"
            "I think your God must be particularly cruel if he would pick on people for their thoughts instead of their actions."
            "Yes, but if you'd read the Bible, you'd discover that Jesus is the answer."
            "You know, there was this other guy named Bar Kochba whose life created almost as much controversy as Jesus'. I was reading Paul Lutus' Confessions of a Long-Distance Sailor and in it he remarks how sailors got robbed of a great oath this way."
            "Excuse me? Is that all you care about, swearing? This is more important than your thoughts. This is bigger than you, Joey."
            "I admit that it would be unwise for me to use words that make other people feel uncomfortable."
            "It's a sin too."
            "Well, who told you it's a sin? Geez, everything's a sin! Family planning, real science, continental drift…"
            "Only in some churches."
            "The church's moral compass is completely out of whack – in fact, there shouldn't even be a church. We'd get along much better if everyone was able to decide for themselves what the best action is in each particular moment. Sometimes after enough time, though, a bit of flexibility might creep into the church arguments – for instance, a lot of people think that lying is a sin but yet they will point out situations where it's okay or even 'good' to lie. But think of other things; for instance, what about bringing family planning to an African village? Won't that help alleviate suffering? And yet it's sinful – many institutions refuse to promote anything but abstinence. But you people need to realize something: right now we are living in Nature. This isn't about Sin. This is about Survival. If I was in a world where there was a clearly marked and proven path to Heaven, I would probably change my tune. But as far as I can see, I'm not."
            "I have to get off here. I think you should come to the meeting."
            "I'm not going to."
            "Are you sure?"
            "Well, take care, then. I hope you find the Lord. I'll pray for you even though you don't want me to. I care enough because it's the right thing to do."
            "Take care."
            As the daughter of the zealot got off the bus (the argument had scarred Joey less than his argument with Ms. Bonner about dinosaurs walking with man), Joey thought about the Western Adventist school he once attended, and then he remembered Andrea – the second and last woman he had ever loved. In religion as well as romance he had made the same mistake twice. Well, actually, maybe he'd made the mistake more than twice already, but never twice with the same person, so it didn't count. Or perhaps the two mistakes were just the two big mistakes that emerged from the thousands of little mistakes. At any rate, Joey felt that his real problem was waiting for the opportunity to make that mistake to come around again. It seemed to him that people were either stupid or they didn't care about him, which to him was really the only thing worth caring about in Joey's world when you got right down to it.
            Well, if they could act with carelessness and abandon, so would he.

            Andrea walked out of the embrace of Chris and sat down in front of her computer. "I have to check my e-mail," she told him. "I might be hearing back about that job in Lakeshoreville."

MSN Hotmail – More Useful Everyday
Subject: Sender:
Telefone com BINA pelo menor preço!!
The goverment is SPYYING on YOU!!!!!
19/f/ca hot sluts
No job!??? NO problem!!

            What was that? She clicked on the descriptive and clever subject "hello" and read the message because somewhere in the back of her mind she thought the name "Joey" was familiar.
            Andrea didn't know what to make of it. The letter itself seemed fairly innocent – just an unremarkable hello / generic apology for the past, and a request to hear of her whereabouts and whatabouts. Somehow, though, the timing (in terms of years) was off, and Andrea also wondered why a twenty-plus-year-old would be writing a letter to someone he knew in Grade 9, no matter what the feelings might have been.
            If she had written a reply, she might have said something about moving on, but the reply in itself would have been a contradiction.
            "What's that?" asked Chris, who had stepped in and taken a look over Andrea's shoulder.
            "Oh, it's nothing." She pressed 'Delete' and moved on to the previous messages, wondering what it would take for Joey to do the same thing. If he was the same person who had blown her off in the hall in Grade 9, it might take a lot.

See also:

"A Mistake"

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