Excerpt from Tell the Rest, by Lucy Jane Bledsoe
In this excerpt from a much longer scene, Delia returns to the church and office of the pastor who’d sent her to Celebration Camp, where she’d been subjected to conversion therapy. The church’s current pastor turns out to be someone very different from that earlier pastor.
The next day, on Saturday afternoon, Delia drove to the church. Her Subaru was the only car in the expansive lot and she straddled two parking spaces, a tiny act of rebellion. She walked past the basement door and around to the front door, two tall panels with stained glass and long wooden handles, a bizarre opulence on the otherwise plain-as-a-paper-bag building. She hefted the door open and entered the church, expecting a dramatic physical reaction, like her knees buckling or involuntary gasping, but instead felt a small trickle of relief. It was just a building. Twenty-five years, hundreds of basketball games, lots of girlfriends, and one marriage had trekked through her life since the time these walls meant something to her. She stepped into the sanctuary. Just a room. Albeit a room that held people’s crazy hopes and unbearable grief.
Delia walked up the center aisle letting her fingertips slide across the tops of the pews on either side. She and Morgan had not married in a church of course; they’d taken their vows on a grassy hillside overlooking the campus, an early June heat wave ruining everyone’s outfits. She shoved aside these thoughts as she made her way to the altar. There she stood behind the pulpit and surveyed the scenery.
Pastor Carolyn had hung quilted banners with social justice messages—Be the Change and Love Is Love and Black Lives Matter—on the walls, making the place cozier, so much more welcoming than it had been when Delia was a girl. Still and yet, it was a church.
She guessed that a Saturday afternoon would be a good time to find the pastor in her office. Carolyn had looked like a person who wrote her sermons at the last minute. Delia found the office door open, but no one inside. To ward off the PTSD beginning, at last, to zing through her bloodstream, Delia needed a heretical act, at least a small one, so she picked up the pile of papers on the pastor’s desk and started to read the first page. The top sheet was indeed a handwritten draft of a sermon. God, in Carolyn’s lexicon, was a they.
“Shit!” a voice at Delia’s back barked. She swung around, the sermon draft still in her hand.
“You scared the living daylights out of me,” Carolyn said. “I didn’t know anyone else was in the building.”
Delia needed to keep her thoughts crisp. Her purpose was a short apology and then she’d leave. “You must have congregants who come to see you,” she said.
“Yes. But I usually hear them coming.”
“Well, I didn’t tiptoe or anything. I opened the front door and walked in.” Already she felt defensive, attacked.
Carolyn softened. “You’re welcome, of course. Have a seat. What do you think of the sermon?”
“I only read the first couple of paragraphs.”
“And then I lost you?”
“And then you walked in and interrupted me.” They both smiled.
“Sorry,” Delia said, dropping the sermon on the desktop. “For snooping.”
Carolyn waved a hand at the air as she circled her desk and took a seat. “I’m flattered you were interested.”
Delia glanced around, expecting familiar cues—the same mauve linoleum and aluminum-framed windows, the odd shape of the room, part square with one rounded side, like a mini altar—to trigger a bad reaction. But she felt okay, more evidence that the story, her story, had evolved.
“Sit,” the pastor said.
Delia remained standing, finally noticing the ways Carolyn had changed the space. She’d hung black-and-white woodprints of shorebirds on the walls. Books packed a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf, arranged pell-mell, some stacked on their sides, others with their spines facing the wrong way. Curtains, rather than a shade, dressed the window, which was cracked open, despite the chill. Delia wondered if Carolyn had a spouse.
“I came to apologize for being so rude in the grocery store,” Delia said.
“No need. It was the middle of the night, after all. The witching hour. No one can be expected to behave in a Safeway after midnight. But while we’re at it, I apologize for being sanctimonious.”
“And for my outburst at the end.”
“You mean the f**k you.”
“Yes, I mean the f**k you.”
Both women tried to hold their ground, but ended up smiling at each other again.
“I deserved it,” Delia said.
“Of course you didn’t. I shouldn’t have lost my temper. But I just get so tired of people misrepresenting the church and making assumptions.”
“Well,” Delia said again.
“Which is perfectly understandable. No one misrepresents Christians more than some of the people who claim the faith, the so-called Christians who act anything but.”
“That’s the truth.”
“So what happened to you in this church?”
Delia raised her hands as if Carolyn had pulled a gun on her. “Look. I just wanted to say I’m sorry. For the grocery store thing. I gotta run now.”
She’d made amends. She’d faced the church and pastor. She’d dredged the channel. Check, check, and check. Back to work.
“You fell asleep in my basement,” Carolyn said. “Your feet were muddy and wet. You were shivering in your sleep.”
“I wasn’t shivering.”
“No? In any case, I get to ask, you know, since you were trespassing. Also, if there are ghosts haunting the place, I want to know.”
Delia dropped into the armchair across from the pastor’s desk. “Do you?”
“I do.” She took a breath. “Cody Quade?”
Delia flinched. Visibly. “You’ve heard from others?” Carolyn stared back, mute. Of course she couldn’t break confidences.
“I’m not looking for counseling or help,” Delia said.
“Nor am I offering counseling or help.”
“Okay.” Delia used a reporter’s voice as she said, “Quade caught me kissing a girl in that basement. He sent me to Celebration Camp. Ever hear of the place?”
Carolyn shook her head.
“Use your imagination.”
An excerpt from Tell the Rest, copyright 2023 Lucy Bledsoe, used with permission of the author and Akashic Books ([email protected]).