The Neals were the first to arrive at the party that night, Kirsten in tow. She and Charlie disappeared up into her room, the door cracked just enough for propriety. I successfully avoided meaningful conversation with Pastor Jim by hanging out with Ruth and her friends, playing the part of cool big sister, or sitting on the patio listening to Mom and her friends chit chat.
My ears perked up when their conversation turned political.
“I can’t believe those Evangelical Lutherans are actually ordaining homosexuals,” Mom said. “It’s so sad to see them turn away from God’s word that way.”
“My brother is gay,” Mrs. Neal said. “I think it’s great that some Lutherans are willing to open their minds.”
“Well, whatever your beliefs, it’s just terrible to see so many congregations torn apart,” Pastor Jim’s wife said.
Apparently adults weren’t any better than college kids at hearing God’s will. They were all just making it up as they went along based on their own prejudices.
The next night Alicia picked me up. “Bet you’re so glad to get away from the snow,” she said as we wound our way down the hill to the freeway. “Or would you rather have a white Christmas?”
“I kind of get the best of both worlds. Since decorations seem to go up earlier and earlier every year, I got my fill of twinkling lights reflecting on the snow before the semester ended.”
“Yeah, it can be pretty the first day it falls, but after that it’s a headache. What I really miss is my boyfriend.”
“What? You didn’t tell me about any boyfriend. I want all the details.”
I filled her in on the whole on again off again on again saga with Brad.
“A former surfer huh? He sounds like a hunk. Quan’s not going to be happy to hear about this.”
“Quan? You still keep in touch with him?”
“Yeah, we kind of hung out by default the first few weeks of school freshman year and we’ve become good friends. Didn’t I tell you?”
“I guess you did mention it last year.”
“He asks about you all the time. I’m pretty sure he never got over you.”
“That’s so sweet.” And maybe a little sad. In the same amount of time I’d dated Brad, had feelings for Ian. I certainly hadn’t been pining for Quan.
“I always thought you guys were such a cute couple. Why did you break up anyway?”
“His parents made him.”
“Oh yeah, he’s told me they want him to marry an Asian girl.”
“Yeah, and well, I never told him this, but I figured we break up eventually because we were going to different schools in the fall.”
“It’s never too late to change your mind. I’d love it if you would transfer to UCLA!”
“What, and miss out on all that snow?”
Our laughter stilled as we crossed the scene of our accident at the intersection of PCH.
“I still flinch every time I drive through here,” Alicia said.
“That was a scary night.”
We drove in silence until we reached the ferry to Balboa.
Alicia turned to me as the ferry pulled away from shore. “I’ll never forget the way your mom handled everything that night,” she said. “It made me wonder for like the hundredth time what was different about your family and how I could get it.”
“I don’t think we’re all that different,” I said.
“You are though, you just can’t see it. It wasn’t until I started going with Quan to church this semester that I figured out what it was that made you different.”
Alicia going to church? I’d been her best friend all through high school and never even tried to talk to her about God, figuring she could care less. “So you’re Catholic now?”
“No. We go to a small student congregation on campus. Just a bunch of kids that are passionate about Jesus.”
In that moment, she reminded me of Ian or even Lacey, so serenely spiritual and secure in their salvation. Part of me was jealous that Alicia seemed to have found the secret that had been eluding me for so long.
But another part of me wanted to tell her to run far away before she got hit by the bait and switch of “churchianity,” as Brad called it. How long would it be before she found out the promise of grace at the front end was just a pleasant disguise for the guilt, hypocrisy and shame of never being good enough?