Title: You Want a Better Story
Word Count: 1,388
Notes: This piece does touch on the concept of God, and as such I have been told by a couple of people that it made them uncomfortable. So there’s that.
John finds God on a Wednesday at Starbucks. She’s there when he pulls in, standing at the door and smiling vaguely in his direction. “Right on time,” she says. Which he thinks is strange, since he only just decided coffee sounded like a good idea before turning into the parking lot.
He doesn’t immediately realize what’s going on, or who he’s dealing with, until they’re at the counter and she’s placing the order. “Hello,” she says to the barista. “May I have a double-espresso cinnamon dolce latte, no whip, and an espresso? “ She gives the name Gigi for the order and tells John he might as well call her that, too.
John fumbles for his wallet when the total springs up. “Let me,” he says, but Gigi pushes the wallet against his chest gently.
“It’s my treat,” she says. “Why don’t we grab a table by the window? It’s a beautiful day.”
John considers the view on the other side of the glass. Blue-grey clouds fill the sky, and as he watches a fork of lightning appears and disappears in the distance. “Sure,” he says.
They don’t sit until their drinks are made. Hands brush when Gigi passes the espresso and John shivers. He knows they touched, saw the fingertips graze one another, but he felt nothing there.
The espresso is good, hot and strong and just what he needed today. John watches, bemused, as Gigi takes a long sip and smacks her lips together.
“Now then,” says Gigi. She tucks stray hair behind her ear and folds her hands delicately upon the table. “What would you like to talk about today?”
“Why are you here?” John hadn’t meant to blurt it quite so rudely, but there it is. He bites his lip and studies the lines in the table, wondering what it’s going to be like to be scolded by a deity.
Gigi smiles with just the corner of her mouth. “Didn’t pay attention in bible school, did you? I’m everywhere.”
“No, I mean. Why are you here at this table, and why do you look like that?”
She takes another pull of her drink, regarding John over the rim of her cup, her expression brimming with fondness. “Not what you were expecting? People tend to prefer the Morgan Freeman rendition. I don’t really blame them; that man has a very powerful presence. This is just how I look in this particular moment.”
“Then you’re not always a woman?”
“John, really.” Her voice tilts an octave, more of an exasperated teacher who’s trying not to let her student know she thinks he’s funny. John wonders what it would take to make God laugh, if the sounds he would hear would be true or just an echo of another mortal somewhere on Earth.
“I’m here because you wanted to talk.”
“That’s not fair,” says John with a frown. “Lots of people want to talk to you; I don’t see you having coffee with them.”
“And you wouldn’t. Nobody in this shop sees you having coffee with me. They see you with a young woman, probably a classmate or a cousin. Maybe even a lover.
“I’m here like this, John, because you’re a little more stubborn than most. Normally, I can reach people in their dreams or on the breeze or the kindness of others.” Gigi slides her cup to the side so she can lean forward, rests her chin in her folded hands. “You don’t dream anymore, John. You still talk to me, but all my replies turn to white noise.”
John feels something seize in his chest. He reminds himself to breathe, to draw air in a regular pattern. He’s careful to keep his gaze focused on Gigi, careful to blink at regular intervals to keep the tears at bay.
“Ask me, John.”
The first drops of rain begin to spatter across the window. Outside, there is another flash of lightning; the whole sky is illuminated and the world is lost in the glow. A beat of quiet before the thunder sounds in the distance.
“Am I a bad person?”
Gigi closes her eyes, a lazy cat-blink, and studies John carefully. “You aren’t good or bad. Everyone is, essentially, neutral with a tendency to lean one way or the other. “
John frowns. “Is this whole conversation going to consist of fortune cookie platitudes?”
“Let’s keep talking and we’ll find out.” Gigi grins, exposing a sliver of teeth.
John lets the silence fold around them again while he considers his words. In the parking lot, a girl squeals as the rain’s tempo increases. At the counter the cashier apologizes to a customer when the lights flicker, resetting her register.
“Am I being punished?”
“Why would you be?”
John shrugs. “I haven’t exactly been the best person. I’ve lied to my parents, cheated on tests. I’ve had pre-marital sex. Isn’t that all things that you’re supposed to be punished for?”
Gigi gives him an indulgent look. “You really have no idea how this works.”
“I just don’t know what to do anymore,” John sighs. He runs a hand through his hair, fidgets uncomfortably in his seat. “I’m trying; I’m really trying so hard. Every time I think I’m making progress, it seems like the hill just gets steeper.” John scratches absently at his arm, bites down on his words and takes a moment to stare out the window again. The world has been lost beneath the pounding rain. “I just keep thinking, if I hadn’t-“
“John.” Gigi leans forward, covering his hand with her own. It’s that same queer not-there feeling from before and John stares helplessly at the place where they’re linked. “It wasn’t because of that.”
“Then why,” John swallows around the knot in his throat. “Why can’t I ever be enough?”
Gigi leans back in her chair, folds her hands over each other at the wrist and fixes John with a look that reminds him of his mother. She had looked at him exactly the same way, when he was six years old and she told him his dog had been ran over.
“It’s not that simple. I can’t give you the answers, I’m sorry. There will never be a day where things are magically fixed, there is always going to be the good days and the bad. That’s what makes the good days worth it, but it’s also what makes the bad ones hurt so much. You have to find it in yourself, John, to want to stick it out, to want to experience everything that comes to you. I know it doesn’t seem like it right now, but it will be worth it.”
John found himself blinking, everything has gone blurry and he feels it all leak out of him; all the shame and anger and fear and self-loathing running down his face in hot streaks. “Will you still love me, if I can’t?”
Gigi rises from the table, comes to John’s side and embraces him, presses his face to her chest and strokes his hair. “Of course I will.”
“Why did you come here, if you can’t give me answers?”
“To let you know I’m here for you, no matter what.”
Nobody pays any attention to John’s little outburst. He realizes they’re the only ones in this corner of the store; everyone else is huddled against the far wall away from the window. Gigi reclaims her seat and drink, smiling congenially like she had not just held and comforted John. “How’re we feeling?” she asks.
John considers the question as outside, the rain slows. “I don’t know. Not better but I guess…calmer?”
Gigi bobs her head, attention diverted to the window. “Ah, it’s over already. What a short storm.” She slurps the last of her drink up, her gaze sliding back to John. “That’s the thing about rain: no matter how bad it gets you have to remember the sun will come back to you.”
John finds himself smiling, a chuckle even rumbling up from somewhere he thought he had lost. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
They stand, almost in unison and head towards the door. “Take care of yourself, John. Remember to call, alright?”
He nods along, breathing in deeply. The air still smells like the storm, rainwater and ozone and maybe second chances. “I’ll try.”