The Literary Girlfriend: Finding Religion
When Daniella started asking me desperate questions about my financial status as soon as she woke up, I knew that she really didn’t want to go to church that morning. We were still in bed, and she put her hand over her mouth as she talked to me. I knew we had gum lying around somewhere, but I couldn’t find it without leaving the bed.
“You’re not getting a big promotion soon?” she asked, her other hand caressing the side of my leg. I was pretty sure it was just affection. There wasn’t enough time for it to lead to anything serious. It was a little after 9:30, and we needed to get ready for the 11:15 service.
“Nope,” I said. “Not for another six months, at least.”
“You don’t have any inheritance money? A rich grandfather? An uncle?”
I laughed. “My grandparents did alright, but my dad gave most of it to my brother.”
“The antique shop?” she said with disgust.
“Gambling debts. That was before the antique shop.”
“Your brother has issues,” Daniella said. She really didn’t want to go to church.
Our relationship hadn’t changed much since Daniella had found out that my savings was gone. I still paid the rent and food and cable and most of the regular monthly bills with my salary, but Daniella now made her own car payments, including insurance, which was the biggest hit. Daniella didn’t like using her own money for anything. She knew she only had a few more years where she could rely on dancing, so she left her stockpile alone as much as she could. I was sure the only reason she hadn’t dumped me was because I was going to help her find a rich husband. Despite her occasional lack of morals, Daniella was a long-term thinker.
A woman like Daniella couldn’t stroll unescorted into an Episcopal church and not be seen as a potential gold digger. Even with her thick black glasses, she was too attractive. Any man with money would be suspicious (but some wouldn’t care). With me along, she could establish her presence in the church, and when we broke up, I would be seen as the villain in the relationship. Daniella would be the victim, and a bunch (or a few) single rich guys would be around to swoop in and rescue her. That was the plan.
I made a pot of coffee, took Daniella a couple cups while she was still groaning in bed, and I started running the water for her bath. Once the tub water was at the right temperature, I made sure Daniella was sitting up and drinking the coffee. We had plenty of time to move slowly as long as Daniella kept moving. We hadn’t gone to sleep until about 4:00, but I’d had a nap while Daniella was dancing at Nero’s, so I was in better condition for church.
Because of Daniella’s late hours at Nero’s, the 11:15 service was the only one we could attend. Personally, that would have been my last choice. With the early services, the practical churchgoer knew that the service had to be over at a particular time. The late service, however, was for the lingerers. I had too many childhood memories of wasted Sunday afternoons at church, waiting for my parents to stop talking in the lobby after church had long been let out. At some point, Daniella was going to have to be a lingerer. She liked to talk, and she’d make connections, and I’d hang around and watch and admire her as she set up her post-break up contacts.
But thankfully, this first week, there would be no lingering. We’d act like any young professional couple trying out a church for the first time. We’d go in, worship, sign their visitor book, and get out without making eye contact. It would be a few weeks before we’d get around to lingering.
By 10:30, we were ready to leave. Daniella still had puffy eyes, but her glasses concealed that. Her dress concealed a lot too. I wore a suit that was usually reserved for presentations at work, but we looked good together. When I dressed up and Daniella went into librarian mode, we looked right together. People might stare at us, but only because young couples were sometimes rare at church.
Once we left the apartment, Daniella squirmed around more than normal. She had wanted me to drive her sports car to church, but I thought it was too flashy. It would make us stand out at a time when we just wanted to blend in, so we took my reliable sedan. Daniella had a thick book on her lap. At first, I thought it was a Jane Austen novel I hadn’t seen, but then I realized that it was a Bible.
“Why are you bringing that?” I asked.
“I thought we were supposed to,” she said.
“The church has plenty. There’ll be prayer books, hymnals, and Bibles.”
“Church has Bibles?” she said. “Don’t people steal them?”
I had never thought about stealing a Bible from church before. “Maybe the church buys them in bulk.”
“Should I leave it in the car?”
“Yeah, you don’t want to seem like you’re trying too hard,” I said. “Just act like you’ve been there before.”
“I remember saying that to you once,” she said.
There was no way I could respond to that, so I kept quiet and drove.
“I was kidding,” Daniella said, and put her hand on my knee. “Shit, I’m nervous. I say bad things when I get nervous. Shit! Shit!”
“It’s just church,” I said.
“I know! But I don’t like being judged.”
“I don’t think it will be like that,” I said. “Not at first, anyway. Nobody will even notice us.”
“I know, but… Shit!”
“If you keep saying ‘shit,’ they’ll notice us for sure.”
Daniella stopped talking for a moment, and then asked, “Do you think we’ll go to Hell for this?”
Daniella lied all the time, stole stuff, and had committed one extreme act of violence that I knew about, and she was worried about going to Hell for trying to snag a rich guy at church.
“I’m not sure about God, but I don’t have a problem with what you’re doing.” I knew enough of Daniella’s history, how her mom had squandered most of her money on guys who never contributed anything, how Daniella had grown up poor. At least, as far as I knew, Daniella had never been hit on by any of her mom’s boyfriends, but that was the only positive thing I knew about her childhood.
Maybe I was wrong for taking Daniella to church, but I didn’t want her relying on some guy she met at Nero’s. At least with a religious guy (or a guy who pretended to be religious), she had a chance. And maybe, a little religion would do her some good. Of course, I left that part out when I talked to her.
St. Luke’s didn’t look like much from the main thoroughfare, a chapel surrounded by a bunch of trees with a surprisingly large parking lot in front. When I had first passed by a couple years earlier, I had wondered why a small chapel would need a parking lot like that. But once I had walked past the chapel, I could see the main church behind it and the community center complex. It was a perfect symbol of the Episcopal church, lots of money that non-Episcopalians wouldn’t notice.
When we pulled into a parking spot, Daniella was still restless, but she wasn’t saying “Shit” anymore.
“Are you ready?” I asked. “You can say ‘shit’ a few more times before we go in.”
Daniella smiled and nodded. She was in character. She wasn’t going to say anything for a while.
“Good,” I said. I held her hand and squeezed it. “Let’s go find you a rich husband.”
To be continued in… The Literary Girlfriend: Name Calling .
If you want to read “The Literary Girlfriend” from the beginning (it’s getting kind of long), start here.