I woke up from my nap and rolled over, rubbing my eyes. Then I sat up bolt upright with a yelp. Someone was sitting in the lounge chair next to the bed reading a magazine. My heart gradually settled down out of my throat when I realized it was Invisible Friend Jesus.
“Holy fuck, you scared the living shit out of me,” I said, clutching my chest.
He raised his eyebrows, smirking, then licked his finger and turned a page. “Does anyone actually pay to see Carrot Top?” he mused.
I stared at him a moment. “Sure,” I said. “They buy a package deal, along with tickets to Menopause the Musical. But more importantly, where the fuck have you been?”
He gave me an incredulous look and shook his head slightly, then went back to reading.
“I’m glad you’re here,” I said sheepishly.
“I figured you would be. Let’s hang out in the room tonight, drink some Diet Coke and watch Univision. You’ve had enough Vegas for a while.”
“You’re probably right. But you’re buying the soda. They cost like three dollars. Or, wait, you could just turn some tap water into Diet Coke, right?”
He wrinkled his nose. “This tap water would make horrible tasting cola. Just go spend the three bucks.”
I walked into the fellowship hall behind the church, clutching my elbows. I felt better when I saw Invisible Friend Jesus there, kicked back with his feet on the table, reading a pamphlet about himself. He smiled at me. I smiled back and sat down next to him.
“Hey,” I said.
Then youth group kids started coming in, and I got up to help the teacher pass out Teen Study Bibles. I opened to Genesis and found a cartoon of an ancient shepherd wearing sunglasses and untied sneakers, a little speech bubble saying, “And they ate the fruit anyway – that was the pits.” I closed it again, chewing on my lip.
“Why am I here?” I murmured.
“They need two adults here for legal reasons, etcetera,” Invisible Friend Jesus said. Then he squeezed my shoulder. “It’s okay, Tink.”
The teacher read a passage from 2 Peter about scoffers and the end times, and talked about this in conjunction with the teaching of evolution in schools. I clamped my chin to my chest. “I’m a fraud,” I whispered to Invisible Friend Jesus. “I don’t believe any of this crap.”
“Either do I,” he whispered back.
I cocked an eyebrow at him, and he grinned, showing his perfect teeth. I opened my mouth to ask him a question, but he hushed me and jerked his chin towards the teacher, who had gone on to talk about original sin and the corruption of man while the students pinched each other under the table and stifled giggles.
After the lesson, I talked to the teacher about fishing and watched the kids play volleyball. Then we went into the vestibule and listened to Christian rock. Invisible Friend Jesus distracted me by telling me a long story about his workout routine, so that I wouldn’t laugh at the lyrics.
I scowled at my dusty feet as we walked home. Invisible Friend Jesus walked beside me with his hands in his pockets, shooting me little glances. He wasn’t sweating, even though it was a hundred and two degrees and he was wearing a suit.
“I don’t get it,” I finally burst out. “I’m really no sort of Christian at all. I believe in evolution, and I don’t believe a lot of other things in the Bible, either.”
“But you hang out with me,” he said. “Pretty sure that earns you the title.”
“Yeah, but I don’t think you’re the same guy those other people hang out with.”
“I am. It’s just, you know how when you’re off doing shots of Patron with Argentinian guys in Vegas, and I’m there throwing cocktail onions at you trying to get your attention, but can’t? It’s the same with everyone sometimes.”
“But that youth group teacher is a really cool woman, and she seems more Christian than I am. It seems like she just hears you saying different things than I do.”
“No, that’s not true. When she’s listening, she hears me saying the same things that you do. It’s just hard to talk to people so that they understand.”
“Tell me about it,” I muttered, wiping the sweat from the back of my neck.
“I’m a very mysterious guy.” He ran his fingers through his hair and stroked his beard. “Most of what I say is very deep, and people just don’t get it.”
I snorted and kicked dust on his suit. “You are not. Everything you tell me is really simple. I just make it complicated.”
He shook the dust off his slacks and gave me his little smile.