Betty, the no good saint that detested Jack’s very existence, bound and determined to ensure he was damned on earth and in the afterlife, was ranting about abortion for her presentation in communications class. She had known Jack all her life, from kindergarten through community college and now the university. Undoubtedly she’d heard about the abortion, or at least Jack had thought so. Jessie wouldn’t have been quick to tell anyone, but her friends sure were. By the end of it, Betty had the entire class in an uproar. Most of the class was against abortion, most of them were Christians, some of them were fire and brimstone. Jack just tried to remain quiet.
A beautiful brunette with waiving curls in her long hair and a thick southern drawl that probably would have sounded ignorant on anyone else but only made her sweeter, was strictly against it. Her name was Ashley Krone and she almost always sat next to Jack when they had a class together. When she took sides with Betty she did not expect Jack to take sides against her. She knew, for a fact, that Jack was against abortion. They’d talked about it before. It was one of those things she respected about him.
“Abortion is wrong,” Betty said. “It should be illegal, but it’s not. And still everyone who gets one will burn in hell.”
“Amen,” Ashley said, beaming with the pride of the Holy Spirit. “God sees everything you do.”
The argument had been pretty mild up until then. There was no talk of punishment until then, just talk of what God wants.
“How do you know what God wants?” Jack asked, looking directly into Betty’s eyes, then Ashley’s.
“He told us in the Bible,” Betty said.
“Yeah,” Ashley said, taunting.
The teacher crossed the room to their side, but remained silent, waiting for things to get out of hand. Jack didn’t even see her move, he thought he was alone.
“You do realize that book wasn’t written by God, right? Just like all the rest of the books in the world, they were written by men,” Jack said, feeling angry because he knew even as he said it that the words were not being heard.
“Men wrote down what God said,” Ashley said, defensive, her once cheerful and friendly eyes now filled with disgust as if Jack were a leper Muslim.
“You read the King James, right? The fact that it’s a translat–”
“That’s enough,” the teacher finally said. “Very good Betty, but we are short on time. We have to move on to the next presentation.” She went back to her podium and called the next name on the roster.
An elderly gentleman from Britain who knew everything and had done just about everything made his way to the front to be mister wonderful again. Most of the class was whispering amongst themselves. Under the buzzing of the room Jack whispered to Betty, “Not everyone is in the same situation. Not everyone has the same strength. If God is real, then He knows your heart. So, Betty, I’d be more worried about yourself than anyone else.”
“I’m saved,” she said. “I’m just trying to save your soul from damnation. God loves us, but he will punish you. He will.”
“He already has,” Jack said. He got up and walked across the class to the door.
Mr. Wonderful British Guy paused in the middle of his presentation on how he circumnavigated the entire island on a raft of bamboo, with nothing but a broken oar to row with a sharp end for fishing, and a pail to catch rainwater in for drinking. He was holding the British flag he’d used as a sail across his chest. It appeared to be in remarkable condition for a flag used in such a manner. “Where you headed, lad?” he asked Jack. Jack said nothing. “Can it wait till after?” Jack continued out without answering. “Godless chaps,” Mr. Wonderful British Guy said, shaking his head.
Campus was crowded that day and Jack just wanted to be alone. He scaled the library, checking every floor and every room. There were places to sit sure, but there were people everywhere. Jack just needed to be alone. He didn’t know what was about to happen to him. It wasn’t Betty and Ashley, he didn’t think, but it was something. He was cracking. “Fuck it,” he whispered under his breath to himself and he went to his car. “Lithium” was playing on the radio. He turned it all the way up and sang with it as he pulled his car out.
“I like it, I’m not gonna crack, I miss you, I’m not gonna crack, I love you, Im not gonna crack, I killed you I’m not gonna craaaaaaaaaaak!”
He could see Jessie’s face in his mind, hovering there constant, stagnant. He thought about the way the child they were going to have would have looked. He beat on his steering wheel and he cried.
Life was wonderful when he was with Jessie. He’d met her randomly at a party with some friends at the university. She was a senior in high school but several of her friends were already in college so Jack assumed she was in college too, at first. Once they’d started hanging out it didn’t matter that she was in high school. The only thing that mattered was that he be with her. They were only three years apart, she was seventeen and he was twenty. In the old days it wouldn’t have mattered at all, but it wasn’t the old days. Her parents liked him, thought he was a real nice guy, but he was in college and they knew what college boys were like. Jessie’s mother was a short school teacher that resembled a grumpy troll when she was upset.
The first night Jack hung out at Jessie’s house he wound up staying all night. They didn’t have sex, they hadn’t even kissed yet, but none the less Jessie’s mother would not have been pleased to find Jack still there. Her feet could be heard rustling around promptly at six-forty-five, a loud, wet bout of smoker’s cough in the hall.
“Quick,” Jessie said, “into the closet.”
“What?” Jack asked, hoping she was joking.
“Get in the closet. She’s coming. She has clothes in the closet on the right. Just get in the left side.”
“Are you serious?”
Jack went to the closet. There were clothes and shoes piled in the way. Jessie was right behind him. She moved the stuff and stuffed Jack in, shutting the door behind him. Just as the closet door closed, the room door opened and Jessie’s mom came in.
“What are you doing up already?” she asked Jessie, her voice harsh and groggy.
Jack’s heart beat so loud he thought for sure they could hear it through the closet door. It was one of those slated closet doors and he could see the shape of Jessie’s mom lingering in the center of Jessie’s room. She knew something was up, Jack thought and he put his head in his hands.
“Whose car is that parked outside?” the harsh voice asked
“Oh,” Jessie said in a voice much sweeter than her mother’s. “I think there was a party up the street last night. Maybe it’s one of theirs.”
“Good answer,” Jack thought.
“Maybe,” Jessie’s mom said, finally turning to the other closet to get whatever it was she needed. “What time do you work today?”
“Not till four.”
Jack tried to see Jessie’s face through the slats but couldn’t. Her mother found something and moved back to the center of the room. “Well I don’t get off till two. Hopefully I’ll see you, but if I don’t, have a good day.” She turned to leave, then stopped and turned back. “Who was that boy you had over here last night?”
“He works at the restaurant, mom. I told you that,” Jessie’s voice was defensive. He hoped that meant she liked him.
“He works at the restaurant,” her mom said snootily. She, unlike her daughter, obviously didn’t like him, he could tell. “Is he your boyfriend?”
“No,” Jessie said flatly, stinging Jack’s heart a little.
“Are you having any relations with him?” her mother asked then added quickly, scrunching her face up in that troll-like way, “And how old is he anyway?”
There was a pause. It hadn’t come up before. Jack’s heart had stopped pounding but suddenly began thumping even harder. “How old is she?” Jack wondered.
“I don’t know,” Jessie finally answered.
“He looks older. Find out how old he is before you do anything else with him,” her harsh voice very stern and angry as she spoke. Then very heartfelt she said, “Please.”
As soon as Jessie got her mother out of the room she opened the closet door.
“Sorry,” she said, hoping he wasn’t angry or worse older. They sat down on the bed. “So,” she said, “I guess you know what I have to ask you.”
“I’m twenty,” he said, looking at the rug on the hardwood floor. “How old are you?”