In the Beginning
©2003 Roger E. Moore
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Synopsis: Brittany Taylor is hiding a guilty pleasure. How will people react when they discover what she’s been doing, and how long will she keep lying about it?
Author’s Notes: This story began as an entry in a May 2003 Iron Chef contest on PPMB. MMan asked for stories about guilty pleasures, secret things that certain characters in the Dariaverse did that they enjoyed.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to MMan for the contest.
In the beginning was the word, the word
That from the solid bases of the light
Abstracted all the letters of the void;
And from the cloudy bases of the breath
The word flowed up, translated to the heart
First characters of birth and death.
—Dylan Thomas, “In the Beginning”
In the beginning, it was easy to lie about it. Later, it wasn’t.
“In the kitchen, Brittany.”
“Is Dad around?”
“No, he’s still at work. You going out?”
“Yeah. I’ll be back about nine, nine-thirty.”
“Uh, no, not really. I’m not a cheerleader anymore. I graduated.”
“Oh! Stupid me. New guy?”
“Oh, um, no. Just going out.”
“It’s not that Kevin guy, is it?”
“No, we broke up. It’s not him. I just want to go out, maybe shop or something.”
“Oh! Okay! Drive safely!”
The key turned in the ignition of the white Mustang, a gift from her dad. The engine roared, the garage door opened, and Brittany rolled down to the street, turned, and headed out of Crewe Neck. She took with her a paper bag in the glove compartment, her purse, and her guilt.
It was impossible to shake a nagging guilt over what she had just done. She didn’t feel guilty about what she was doing, actually, just guilty that she wasn’t being honest about it with anyone. It was a big secret, what she had started doing on Tuesday nights since mid-June after she’d graduated high school. It was a secret because if everyone knew what she was doing, they’d . . . well, they think she was even more stupid that they already thought she was, and that would be pretty stupid indeed. It would make her unpopular with a lot of people, maybe with everyone. Brittany had always been popular. What would she have left if no one liked her?
However, not being honest about where she was going was . . . well, it was a sin, especially since she wasn’t being honest with her Dad or Ashley-Amber. That was definitely a sin, even if Ashley-Amber wasn’t really her mother, but she was Brittany’s stepmother and that was close enough.
Brittany felt her face turn red, and she frowned. Distracted, she negotiated the streets through Lawndale, heading for the west side. This was dumb. It was really dumb. She knew she wasn’t the smartest person in Lawndale, the smartest person in Crewe Neck, or even the smartest person in her family (her mother in Los Angeles was the smartest, she suspected), but even so, she knew she was doing something wrong when she lied like she had been lying. Some lies she told were okay, of course, like if she lied to a guy about what a great lover he was, or lied to Brian that she didn’t know why his pet mice kept disappearing, but that was okay, no one got hurt. Lying about what she was doing now, however, was just wrong.
She swallowed, feeling bad. She’d have to ask about this tonight, definitely, after the meeting. The light ahead of her turned red, and her Mustang rolled up to it and stopped. Brittany reached over to her right and popped open the glove compartment and reached in, pulled out a paper bag, and emptied it on the seat beside her.
A small Bible with a black leather cover slid out of the sack. Brittany tossed the paper sack to the floor and put her hand on the Bible—her Bible, with her name written on the inside after she secretly bought it at Books by the Ton a month ago. She tried to will herself to feel better, but touching the Bible didn’t help. She had been lying about attending Bible study classes for three weeks now, and it was eating her alive.
“Well, what difference does it make if anyone knows, anyway?” she abruptly said to the red light. “I’m grown up enough that I can go to Bible study classes. I’m learning a lot, and I’m not doing bad things, and I’ve made some good friends who like me because I know stuff about life and not because they’re trying to go out with me, I think, and I know all this really wild stuff about Genesis now, all about God making the world in five days and creating the weekend, and the Hanging Gardens of Eden, and the Leaning Tower of Baby-something, Bibble, whatever, and Noah’s Ark and all the animals except the dinosaurs and aliens and stuff, and why he had to take even the gross things. I know a lot now, so why should I be ashamed because I don’t want anyone to know I’m going to a Bible study class? I don’t—”
She reached up and wiped at her eyes. A car honked its horn behind her. She realized she was talking to a green light and started through the intersection, more embarrassed now. “Sorry!” she called to the car behind her, though its driver couldn’t hear her.
She knew pretty much why she was going to Bible study. Her life had changed too much lately, and it was uncertain and loose and scary now. She broke up with Kevin weeks ago, but she still sometimes wanted to see him. Ashley-Amber always reminded her that it was no good seeing a guy who wasn’t going to college like she was, which was what Brittany had said to Ashley-Amber in the first place but now Brittany wasn’t remembering her own advice so well. She had all sorts of guys who wanted to go out with her, guys from other schools even, but even with all that she was lonely and sad and felt lousy most of the time. She wasn’t the happy, perky Brittany she used to be. At least Kevin knew her enough to cheer her up, so it was hard to keep away from the phone so she didn’t call him and ask him over or go see him, but she was doing fairly well so far, most days.
And college was coming. College scared her, though it didn’t used to scare her when she applied to Great Prairie State and got accepted with the other cheerleaders. After graduation, Brittany began to think too much about college, even though she knew thinking too much would lead to trouble. She couldn’t help herself. The more she thought about it, the worse she felt.
College was really for smart people like Brittany’s former classmate, Daria Morgendorffer, who knew an incredible amount of stuff that made her an incredible brain even if it made her miserable sometimes, too. Once she was in college, Brittany would learn a lot of stuff, too, and she was afraid it would make her miserable like it had made Daria miserable. “It’s not good to know too much!” Ashley-Amber liked to say, but sometimes it was not good to not know too much. Brittany frowned. Had she gotten that right? She went through it again. Yeah, it sounded right, sort of. Even if knowing stuff made you feel bad, it was sometimes better to know the truth, like the way Brittany knew her dad was working late because he was seeing someone at his office, his secretary with the long black hair and big bust, and Ashley-Amber didn’t know that but Brittany wouldn’t tell her because . . . well, she couldn’t. It was better, sort of, to know what was really going on, though knowing what her dad was doing made Brittany feel rotten and ashamed and terrible. He was her dad, after all, and he shouldn’t be messing around with someone else when he had Ashley-Amber, who was sweet and tried to do mom kinds of things and really liked Brittany and even tried hard to like her little brother Brian, who wasn’t easy to love or like or even tolerate for a short while.
“Damn it!” Brittany said, because she was going to cry and she couldn’t afford to get teary while she was trying to get to Carter County Christian Church for her Bible study class. She was only halfway there, but her vision was all blurry, so she pulled over to the side of the road near a warehouse and found a handkerchief in her purse and wiped her eyes clear. Now, two blocks ahead of her, the railroad signals at Twelfth Avenue began flashing. She groaned and briefly considered gunning the engine and racing through the crossing, but she had seen a picture once of a car that tried that, and it didn’t look like a car anymore.
Brittany put the Mustang in park and turned off the engine and waited, hearing the train horn blare across the late afternoon sky. She had plenty of time to get to the church for her class, but she had hoped to get there a little early and ask Dr. Martinson about whether it was a sin to lie about going to Bible study. She sighed and reached for her Bible. It was light in her hands, and she flipped through its pages: Numbers, Judges, Kings, a bunch of long names she couldn’t pronounce, Luke, John, a bunch more names she couldn’t pronounce. She had never read anything much in it, since the last time she’d been in church had been, um . . . a long time. In the last three weeks, though, she’d read more Bible stuff than she’d ever imagined possible—and they weren’t even out of Genesis yet.
She flipped the Bible shut. It was stupid to even ask Dr. Martinson if lying was a sin, and she knew it. She had to stop lying about it sometime and just tell everyone where she was going. And when she did, her dad would just . . . and Ashley-Amber would . . . they’d . . . they might . . .
Brittany shook her head, her eyes closed. No, they wouldn’t understand. The train horn blared louder, still some distance off but coming. Her dad would blow up. She knew it. He’d say, “Why the hell do you need to go to a Bible study class? Whatever possessed you to do something dumb like that?” Her dad said he loved her, but he didn’t know her and when he couldn’t figure her out, he called her dumb. She would say, “Dad, I just had so much on my mind with school out and Kevin and I breaking up and college coming and—” No, couldn’t say anything about his cheating “—and all kinds of stuff, and my head hurts and I just have to think about things and it helps me to think about things when I go to Bible study. It makes me feel better, you know?” But her dad didn’t know. He would never understand. “You don’t need it!” he’d say. “Go see Kevin or someone else, go to a party, have something to drink, but stop this stupid class!”
Thinking about this extremely likely scenario, Brittany had a gut feeling that if she talked about the Bible, it would scare her dad even more than going to college scared Brittany.
And Ashley-Amber was really sweet and lots of fun, but she would be all confused. “Why do you want to go to church, Brittany?” she’d ask, even after Brittany had explained that to her dad, and Brittany would say, “You remember when Dad had that big party for me last year, and he gave me that big crystal glass cheerleader’s bullhorn, but Quinn Morgendorffer leaned on that music thinger and the shrieking noise made the crystal bullhorn break? I was really bummed, but I thought about it and I wondered if maybe it was for a reason, you know? Like maybe God or someone wanted to show me that the bullhorn wasn’t so important, even if Dad spent a lot of money on it for me, and maybe other things were more important, which I know now is true, like—” No, couldn’t go any further. She was about to mention her dad’s cheating again, which was definitely more important than a crystal bullhorn getting smashed, but she couldn’t talk about it with anyone, especially not Ashley-Amber. Or her dad. Or anyone else.
The train horn was ten times as loud now, and closer.
And Brian. Brittany shook her head again, looking out of her car to the side. Brian wouldn’t understand at all. He was into dumb boy stuff like knives and guns and shooting things and blowing stuff up, and he was also into experimenting on pets and other animals in really bad ways, and Brittany had to watch him like a hawk, even more than she used to watch Kevin to make sure he didn’t cheat on her. Brittany had freed lots of little animals from Brian’s room and let them run away outside, but she had been too late sometimes to save others and when that happened, it was awful. Her dad was thinking about taking Brian to see a doctor about this, but he never did anything, even when Ashley-Amber saw one of the failed experiments and freaked out and screamed and cried rivers and complained to her dad about it, too.
Brittany rubbed her forehead. She was getting a headache, and the train’s ear-blasting horn was getting on her last nerve.
When would she be able to tell her dad and Ashley-Amber about her Bible study class? When would she tell anyone, and stop lying? She had started the classes because she was curious and wanted to get her life sorted out and thought the classes would help, and they had turned out to be fun, lots more fun than she’d imagined, but she was so afraid of what others would think of her, now it wasn’t so much fun. How was she going to work this mess out?
The Mustang vibrated all over from the approaching train’s thundering roar. Brittany picked up her Bible and opened it and read the first thing she saw. The book opened at the place where Brittany had found Psalm 23, which she had heard before on TV or maybe the radio, and she had marked the page with the built-in bookmarker.
However, it was the Psalm before that that caught her eye, Psalm 22.
Psalm 22 began: My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?
The train shot through the crossing two blocks ahead of her, rumbling Brittany’s insides and her bones and her head as it went.
Where are you, God? Brittany thought, staring at the passage. Where are you? Can you bail me out of this? Can you make everything okay for me? I’m so afraid everyone will laugh at me, or call me stupid, or make me quit going, or . . .
Brittany’s thoughts faded. She read on, struggling with unfamiliar words and strange phrases: But be not Thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me. . . . Save me from the lion’s mouth. . . .
The book fell shut in her hands.
Whoever wrote Psalm 22 had felt just like she was feeling now. Alone. Abandoned. About to be made ashamed of doing something she thought was good, which seemed as bad as being eaten by lions, sort of.
Psalm 22 had no solution that she could pick out.
But the writer had understood her.
Brittany sniffed and put her Bible aside. The long, loud train had passed. The crossing ahead was clear.
“I’ll tell Dad and Ashley-Amber tonight,” she said aloud. If her Dad wasn’t home, she’d tell Ashley-Amber first, since she might have to explain this a bit, but she wouldn’t mention what her dad was doing late at the office. If her dad wouldn’t listen when she told him, fine. She could deal with it. She’d still go.
Maybe Ashley-Amber would go with her to Bible study next time. She probably wouldn’t, but it was worth asking. If she ever found out about her husband’s fooling around, she might want to go to Bible study just to find out what to do about it.
Brittany started her car. She would tell the truth tonight when she got home. For the first time in weeks, she didn’t feel guilty about the only pleasure she had left to her, this last summer in Lawndale.
She only hoped Dr. Martinson wouldn’t be mad at her for skipping ahead in the book. They weren’t supposed to read past Genesis yet.