Daniel sat in his car staring at the front door of the movie theater. He didn’t want to go in.
Without thinking, he reached into the backseat and grabbed a tub of bleach wipes. He methodically began to clean his Civic’s dashboard and steering wheel, putting the used wipes into the plastic car trash bag hanging from the cigarette lighter.
He was so lost in his cleaning that the knock on his window made him jump.
Mindy was standing next to his car, holding her pink motorcycle helmet. She raised one eyebrow at him.
He rolled down the window and she leaned in.
“What are you doing, Daniel?”
Daniel pushed the wipe he was holding into the trash bag. “Just cleaning the dashboard. It was dusty.”
Mindy looked doubtful. “I’ve been in your car dozens of times and I’ve never seen a single speck of dust anywhere.”
Daniel shrugged. “It was a long trip to Vegas and back. And it’s desert.”
Mindy straightened up and set her helmet on the roof of his car. “Are you sure that you’d not just procrastinating?”
There was no answer.
Mindy opened the door. “Come on. We have to go in eventually.” She pointed towards the theater. “Besides, they’re all watching you.”
Daniel looked over and sure enough, the entire congregation of the Fiery Embrace of Christ’s Love Ministry was standing in the big glass windows, watching him clean his car.
Mindy took his hand and drew him out of his car. Together they walked into the theater.
The six other members of the congregation rushed to the couple, all talking at once.
Finally Roger gave a two finger whistle that was probably louder than necessary and they all shut up. “Let’s give them a chance to say something, people.”
His wife elbowed him in the side. “You could have just clapped your hands, you know.”
To Daniel, the silence was worse than the chatter. At least when they’d all been talking he didn’t have to say anything. Now everyone was looking to him for answers.
Mindy squeezed his hand.
“Mindy and I found Pastor Sebastian,” he began and everyone began talking again.
“Is he ok?”
“Did you save our money?”
“Where is he?”
Roger clapped his hands and gestured for Daniel to continue.
Daniel pulled a check out of his pocket. “We got there before Pastor Sebastian played poker. I’ve got our money right here. All of it.”
“So where’s Pastor Sebastian?” Gretchen clutched her Bible to her chest, her voice shrill. Sally put her arm around Gretchen’s shoulders.
Daniel looked down at his shoes. One of his laces was untied, but he didn’t think it was the right time to tie it.
After a long silence, Mindy spoke up. “Pastor Sebastian didn’t come back with us. He stayed in Las Vegas.”
Daniel, still staring at his untied shoe, could feel the disappointment around him.
This was why he had avoided making friends for so many years. He knew that eventually he’d screw something up and upset them. Now they realized what he really was, a loser.
He glanced up at the congregation. Gretchen was crying silently, while Sally patted her on the back. The Ministry’s band, The Flaming Disciples, stood huddled together looking lost. Roger was staring into space and fiddling with his suspenders.
“But you should have seen Daniel,” Mindy continued. “He was amazing. He got the money back right away and he tried so hard to convince Pastor Sebastian to come back. He was very persuasive.”
Todd snorted. “Not persuasive enough.”
Mindy glared at him. “I didn’t see any of you racing off to Vegas to help Sebastian or save the church’s money. You all just stood here wringing your hands while Daniel did something. It’s not his fault that Pastor Sebastian is a sleaze ball! He went to every casino on that strip trying to find him. And spent hours trying to talk him into coming home.”
Mindy didn’t mention that many of those hours were spent in a strip club while a girl named Wichita gave Sebastian lap dances.
Roger sighed, “You’re right, Mindy. We owe Daniel our thanks.”
The rest of the group murmured their agreement.
“But what about our church? Is the Fiery Embrace of Christ’s Love going to close now?” Gretchen sniffled loudly and blew her nose on the tissue Sally passed her.
Mindy spoke again. “I’ve been thinking about that ever since we left Las Vegas. I think Daniel should become our minister.”
Daniel gaped at her. He didn’t want to run the church. He wasn’t even sure he believed in God, especially after seeing his spiritual leader drunk with his face buried between Wichita’s boobs.
“That’s crazy.” Gretchen cried out.
“I would agree, Gretchen.” The deep voice came from the theater door, where Pastor Sebastian stood. A man who looked like Elvis lurked behind him.
He was immediately surrounded by his congregation.
Daniel, who had never been so relieved to see anyone in his entire life, hung back, taking long deep breathes to slow his heart rate down. Mindy stayed beside him, looking disappointed.
“I’m back, my friends!” Sebastian announced, his hands held in the air as if in supplication. “I have stared my demons in the face for the second time and lived to tell about it.”
The Pastor continued to preach as he moved toward Theater Three, his small herd of disciples trailing after him.
Reverend Fake Elvis walked over to Daniel and Mindy. Together they watched the group walk away.
“How’d you convince him to come back?” Daniel asked the Reverend.
Reverend Fake Elvis shook his head. “It wasn’t me. He said God spoke to him. Again.” He chuckled. “This time it was in the restroom of the Spearmint Rhino. I don’t know why God always decides to talk to him in the can.”
Daniel caught the glimmer in the man’s eye and held out his hand. “Thank you, Reverend Fake Elvis.”
Elvis shook Daniel’s hand, “The name’s Ken, actually.”