|The Art of Faith
Author: NightWhisper25 PM
I was exactly the kind of girl this shouldn't happen to: devoutly Catholic, learned in my faith, and confident in my beliefs. At least, that was the case until God's worst weather blew Meg into my life, making me question everything I believed about love, faith, right, and wrong. F/F; references to religion, homosexuality, and crises of faith. Alternating POVs.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Spiritual - Chapters: 9 - Words: 28,180 - Reviews: 17 - Favs: 10 - Follows: 17 - Updated: 01-13-13 - Published: 06-29-12 - id: 3037323
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
My truck passed easily over the speed bumps as I pulled into the Brandy's parking lot. The tenacious little shop had apparently survived the storm of the century. I thought it safe to conclude that –barring an alien invasion aimed at taking out small entrepreneurships all across the east coast—my job was safe.
I hopped down from the truck, slamming the door behind me and hitting the lock button on my remote key. The afternoon was considerably cool for this time of year thanks to the rainstorm, making me stick my hands deep into the pockets of my ample sweater as I trekked from the parking lot.
I waved hello to Don as I walked through the jingling front door. He looked up from the clipboard in his hands to give me a friendly smile and joked about how he was glad to see I survived last night's "harrowing adventure". I just smiled politely.
In the employee room, I opened my locker –lucky number 13—and exchanged my blue sweater for the black apron all the employees wore as uniform. I tacked my "Hello, my name is Meg" pin to the apron, smoothed the front of any wrinkles, and headed back out.
Today was Sunday, which meant I would be working inventory instead of registers. When I got this job a little under a month ago, Don had explained to me that, since it was such a small business and he often lacked either time to do things himself or the requisite number of people to delegate various jobs to, he liked to have everyone know how to do a little bit of everything –from stocking, to inventory, to registers, to cleaning and locking up the place at night. It seemed to me like a smart way to manage things. Not only did the alternating scheduling for each employee make it easier on Don to handle the financial aspects of the business, but we employees also gained a number of skills we could easily translate to other (sometimes better) jobs in the future.
At least, that's the way I chose to see things. Some of the people I worked with seemed to never miss a chance to complain about the work they were "forced" to do.
One such person was Anita Smock, who was scheduled to inventory with me today since I was technically still learning the ropes. Her major interests in the stockroom seemed to be sighing dejectedly over the pastels, griping about missing her lunch break because she got caught up in a phone call with her boyfriend (because, apparently, she couldn't eat and converse at the same time –I'd hate to see her try to walk and chew gum), and vehemently mentioning that once she got the chance, she'd "leave this God-forsaken excuse for a job, and become an actress." Honestly, she probably could make it, too. She was dramatic enough.
It was during one of these episodes, while we were counting paint palettes, that I asked her why she had taken the job in the first place if she hated it so much.
"Because I'm good at it," she stated plainly. "I've had a lot of practice, too, having to do all sorts of stuff like this for my grandparents when I lived in Georgia."
I arched a brow and jotted down the number 53 under Palette Count on the inventory sheet. "Did your grandparents own an art supply store, too?" I asked.
"Just a small Mom-and-Pop's. Groceries, band-aids, that sort of thing." She wrote something on her own clipboard. "But that was family business," she continued. "My folks didn't let me take a salary from my grandparents, because we all benefitted from the store's profits anyways. At least here, I get paid."
I smirked. "Careful, Anita, you're starting to sound positive."
"But I am positive," she said, completely missing my joke. "I'm positive this job still sucks."
Well, that didn't last long. We spent the rest of the time in silence.
A few minutes later, Don's voice came through the two-way radio clipped to my belt loop.
"Meg, we have a glitter spill in aisle seven. Could you take care of that?"
From stocking, to inventory, to cleaning up, I thought to myself with a sigh. And the newbs will always get the grunt work. "Yeah, I'm on it, boss," I spoke into the radio, placing my clipboard and pen on a stack of canvases. I gave Anita a short wave and left the stockroom.
I arrived in aisle 7, broom and dustpan in hand, to meet a figure whose back was to me, stooping over a small pile of silver glitter and using the lid of the canister to scoop the glitter back in. By the time I reached the scene, it appeared the canister was already halfway full again. Well . . . this was awkward.
Probably sensing my hesitation, the figure decided to speak.
"That's alright, I've almost got it all."
I knew that voice.
"Naomi?" I asked. She turned, at the sound of her name and a smile made its way to her lips.
"Hey!" she said enthusiastically, rising to her feet. She held her glitter-covered fingers slightly away from her body as she clutched the canister and lid in opposite hands.
"Hey," I said shortly, taking in the rather humorous sight. "What are you doing?" She glanced at both of her hands before shrugging.
"Making your job easier, I guess."
"I'm not gonna have to pay you, am I?" I asked sarcastically.
"No. That's Don's job." I chuckled, looking down at the remaining mess. It wasn't much due to the fact that most of it was now clinging to her sneakers and the lower portion of her jeans. I began sweeping around the area, and she stepped out of my way.
"I'm really sorry about this," she said quietly after a moment. "I can be such a klutz."
I shook my head, "It's nothing. You'd be surprised how often stuff like this happens anyways."
"I'd be more surprised if you could point out any that weren't my fault to begin with."
I laughed at that. "You couldn't bethatbad." I said, brushing the glitter into the dustpan.
"Have they told you the paint story yet?" she asked. My eyes opened wide at that.
The paint story went something like this: A few months before I started working at Brandy's, one of the customers had been in the paint aisle, reaching a little higher than she was able to get some acrylics on the top shelf. She ended up knocking down several tubes of paint, and stumbled backwards, stepping on most of them, causing the tops to pop off the tubes and squirt paint all over the aisle. They managed to control the spill before any major damage was done to the floors, but nobody knew that the customer had also stepped in some colors during the accident. To this day, there are still red and blue footprints going up and down the aisles of the store and leading out the front door.
"That was you?" I asked, incredulous.
"Guilty as charged," she said evenly. I noted a faint redness rising in her cheeks. Is she blushing? "I couldn't show my face here for about a month after that, I was so embarrassed." She tried to laugh it off, but I could tell by the way she started looking away from me that it was still something she was ashamed of. "So like I said: klutz."
I shook my head, amused. My eyes absently wandered to her hands again; the glitter made them shine softly in the fluorescent lighting. She's an absolute mess, I thought, surprised at the adoring tone I heard in my head.
"Hey, do you, uh, want to clean up or something?" I'm so eloquent, no? She glanced down at herself and grimaced.
"That would probably be a good idea, yeah," she replied. "I'm just going to try to scoot to the bathroom without leaving a trail."
"Afraid I'll follow?" I joked.
"Terrified," she deadpanned before meeting my eyes again. "Do me a favor first?" She asked. I felt my eyebrows furrow slightly. Something in the way she said that made my stomach knot uncomfortably.
"Sure," I nodded.
"Just . . . don't watch me while I leave." There was a distinct chagrin in her voice. "I have a feeling it's going to take some sort of hybrid-waddle-slash-saunter-thing to get out of here without making another mess, and I think I've filled my 'humiliating-moments-in-front-of-Meg' quota for at least the next week."
I chuckled at the visual. "I'll see you later, then," I replied, obliging her request by gathering the broom and dustpan and walking toward the end of the aisle. I heard her waddle-slash-saunter away behind me.
I was still intermittently giggling at the thought of a glitter-covered Naomi shuffling off to the restroom twenty minutes later when I entered it myself. To my surprise, there she was, bent over the sink and scrubbing her fingers rather vigorously. I stood there silently for a little while, noticing the slight outline of the muscle in her arms.
Stop it, Meg. I caught myself sternly. Just stop.
"Always running into each other, aren't we." I said smartly. She looked into the mirror and saw me behind her. That sweet, sincere smile appeared on her face again. She couldn't always be that genuinely happy to see me, could she?
"Any more often, and I'd say you were stalking me," she said.
"I was about to say the same thing." She looked down at her hands again.
"It's just so hard to get this stuff off once you're idiot enough to get it all over yourself. I haven't even started my shoes yet."
I watched her pump some more soap into her palms and scrub relentlessly.
"Well, that's because you're going about it all wrong," I said, walking over to her. "All that's gonna accomplish is giving yourself some sort of impromptu chemical peel." I shut off the water, and pulled a few sheets of paper towel from the dispenser, placing them into her open palms. "You dry up, I'll be right back." I left her with a very confused look on her face and sped back to the employee area where I rifled through a few cupboards and storage lockers until I found what I needed.
Back in the bathroom, Naomi stood leaning against the sinks waiting for me. I walked right up to her.
"Hands," I said simply. She held them out for me to see. I scrutinized them a minute. She'd gotten a fair amount of glitter off her way, but at the same time, the vigorous scrubbing had managed to shift much of the glitter from her hands to her lower forearms. This would make my task slightly more painful.
I fished in the pocket of my apron for the thick roll of adhesive tape I'd retrieved, pulled a strip about 6 inches long, and cut it with my teeth.
I felt her eyes on me as I placed the strip gently along the length of her lower right arm and wrist. "Now, this is probably gonna rip some hair out of your arm either way, so I'm going to ask you first," I looked up to her, and found her blue eyes just inches from mine. She had been observing more closely than I thought. So close. I felt a surprisingly sharp shock in my chest, and it took me an uncomfortable second to remember what I was going to say. I think I finally snapped out of it when she arched one perfect brow at me confusedly. "Quick and easy, or slow and painful?"
She winced outwardly –at the thought of either idea, I guessed—but looked at me again. "Just rip it off." Brave soul.
I gently placed my left hand under her arm for support. Bad idea, I realized as my mind registered just how soft her skin was. I internally cursed every physiological response I had to that simple touch, I was in too deep to awkwardly back out of it now. I peeled the topmost corner of the strip of tape just enough to give myself a better grip. Naomi's arm tensed and a sharp inhale told me she was holding her breath.
I ripped off the tape.
"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!" she hissed suddenly, stunning me. "That hurt." She rubbed her forearm gingerly, easing the sting, as a cute little pout tugged at her lower lip.
Cute little pout? I caught myself.
"You got a lot of it off," she said after a moment. I watched her examine her reddening flesh. "Still some here and here," indicating another section of her forearm and the bottom of her palm. She held out her arm again.
I hesitated. I didn't want to repeat the motion if it had hurt her; I didn't know how much more of that she could take. Then –against my better judgment— I thought of all the excuses I had to touch her if I was doing this; how strangely attracted I was to the idea of simple, meaningless closeness; how heavy my own reactions were. I didn't know how much more of that I could take.
"You sure?" I asked, carefully guarding my voice from shaking.
"Mm-hm," she hummed. "Let's just try it slow this time, though." I was certain I had read the double meaning into those words, but either way, my stomach twisted.
I pulled another strip of tape about the same size, cutting it with my teeth again, and laid it just as gently against her arm as I had before. She held her breath again, but this time, I measured and timed the pull as evenly as possible.
I chanced a glance up, and was slightly amused to see she had her eyes clenched tightly shut.
"Better?" I asked. Her eyes popped open.
"Yeah," her voice was pleasantly surprised at the decreased sting. "Yeah, that didn't hurt half as much." Naomi paused to chuckle, whether at herself or me or the situation, I couldn't be sure. "I guess we discovered the secret." I felt the smile on my face.
I repeated the glitter-removal a few more times on her hands in silence, each time stealing glances at her face and measuring my pulls by her expression. Cringing meant too fast, and intermittent winces meant too slow. There were no more Biblical references.
It took some doing to convince her to hop up on the counter top so I could de-glitter-fy her sneakers and jeans. I might as well do those while I was here. She could object better than any defense attorney I'd ever seen (on television, that is. My criminal record just happens to be spotless, thank you very much), but she finally gave in.
A heady silence filled the room while I was crouched over her feet, strapping the tape onto the fabric of her jeans and pulling the adhesive away more quickly than I could on her skin.
"So, what did you need glitter for anyways?" I asked to fill the quiet atmosphere as my hands worked.
She leaned forward slightly, palms braced against the countertop. "I teach children's liturgy of the Word at my church. We have them do arts and crafts sometimes."
I didn't know what half those words meant. Did we start speaking Latin? I looked up confusedly. "What?"
She grinned at my expression. "It's like Sunday school," she explained. "A few other girls and I take the kids from the main church into another room and sort of make the message for that day more accessible to them through art projects or stories."
"Ooh," that made more sense. I nodded my understanding.
"Yeah. We ran out of some stuff today, so I came down here to stock up for next week . . . and then this happened." I heard her let out a sigh. "Sorry for ruining your day."
I snorted. "You couldn't ruin my day if you tried." I wondered a moment if I meant that or if I was merely trying to make her feel better.
"You just haven't known me long enough yet," she quipped. I rolled my eyes at that.
"Hey, Meg?" she said after a minute. "I've been meaning to apologize."
I felt my forehead crease in curiosity. "I already told you you didn't ruin my day."
"Not about that." She countered quickly. Naomi's voice was low and clear as she spoke, sincere. "I meant for yesterday. You left kind of quickly, and I couldn't figure out why, so I thought maybe I said or did something to make you uncomfortable . . . and if that was the case I just wanted to apologize." It all came out in a rush, and she was very still afterwards.
I realized then how wrong I had been to leave without much of a cause or explanation after she was so kind to me –a stranger, really. In her position, I probably would have avoided someone who had acted that way towards me, and drawn the worst possible conclusions about them to boot. But here she was, wondering if it was her fault instead of my judgmental attitude; trying to make it up to me.
I rose to my feet and looked her full in the face for the first time. There was about a foot of space between us, but I felt electricity when she met my gaze. "Naomi, you didn't offend me." I said plainly. "I just . . ."
I just what? Was inexplicably attracted to you? Judged you unfairly? Am scared out of my mind to say the wrong thing right now? Probably that last one. "You didn't offend me," I settled weakly.
Those four simple words seemed to set her whole world back in order. That's the only way I could explain the relief on her face. It occurred to me that you couldn't fake emotion like that. All her smiles and kind words and actions, they were all just as genuine as I thought they weren't.
I felt like crap.
"Are you doing anything later?" The question slipped out of me without my permission, and I almost immediately wished I could take it back. But I had to make it up to her. I wanted to.
Naomi thought for a minute. "You'll have to define what 'later' is."
I estimated the time. It should be about 6:00 by now. "In about an hour?"
"I should be free, yeah. Why?"
I hesitated. Uncertain what, exactly, I was trying to do here. "Let me treat you to coffee." I said finally. There. That wasn't so hard.
"Treat me to coffee? I feel like I should be treating you to coffee for helping me clean myself up."
"No," I said slowly, gauging myself. "I'd like to. Besides, we have to stop owing each other sometime."
Naomi seemed to consider that, hopping off the counter. "Okay," she said finally. "Okay, but you should know I have no ride. I walked here."
This shouldn't be this easy.
"So you'll ride with me," I said quickly. "Unless you mind waiting around here until my shift ends?"
She laughed. "I don't mind. But I thought you might." She elaborated when she saw I didn't understand what she meant. "The longer I'm in here, the more prone I am to klutz something up again. Might be a lot more glitter next time."
I smirked. "Future generations of Brandy's employees will hear the glitter story and dread your presence."
She shoved my shoulder playfully, feigning offense and moved passed me to the door. "See you in an hour, Meg."
I stifled a squeal of delight.
A/N: First author's note brings with it many apologies. Trying to show all the various colors and facets of any sort of relationships takes a lot more skill than I have, and I think it really shows in this chapter. It was especially difficult to write. Most of you other authors out there probably know how it feels to know where you want your characters to be by the end of the story, but not exactly how you're going to get them there. If I lost any of either character's individual attributes, I do apologize. Feel free to critique (constructively), and I hope you keep reading! :)