Gavin stood before Mr. Greenspeed, who was glaring at his employee as if Gavin was a bug that needed to be squashed. "Why is it you think you need a day off next week?" the lawyer demanded.
"I need to go to the hospital," Gavin replied. "And I don't need to go the entire day. I just need the afternoon off, or maybe a few hours so I can talk to my doctor."
"Didn't you take the afternoon off to go to the hospital a few weeks ago?" Greenspeed asked.
"Yes," Gavin replied. "I was getting some tests then. Now, I need to go back to the hospital so they can tell me about the results."
"Can't they just tell you over the phone?" Greenspeed demanded. "Don't people realize that some people have jobs?"
"It's not really the kind of information I think they want to give out over the phone," Gavin supplied.
"Why?" Greenspeed demanded. "What were you getting tested for, anyway?"
"I'd rather not say," Gavin muttered.
Greenspeed snorted, then said, "If you're sick with anything contagious, you'd better tell me. I don't want you spreading some disease to all my clients, not to mention everyone who works here!"
"Don't worry, Mr. Greenspeed, I'll keep you informed," Gavin assured his boss. He actually didn't much relish the idea of sharing his personal problems with Mr. Greenspeed, but if the test results were positive, he supposed he'd have to tell one of his superiors.
Apparently satisfied with the reassurance, Greenspeed said, "All right, you can have Wednesday afternoon off. I want you working late Thursday and Friday, though, until you catch up on all the work you missed. Understand?"
"Yes, Sir," Gavin said, then he ducked out of the office before Greenspeed could add any more conditions.
Donna was waiting for Gavin when he emerged from the office. "How'd it go?" she asked.
"All right," Gavin answered. "I asked for the afternoon off, Mr. Greenspeed made a big show of asking me all these questions, then he gave it to me."
Donna smiled. "You're brave, Gavin. If I had to work for Greenspeed, I'd never ask for anything. He scares me."
Gavin chuckled. Of the five lawyers who worked for the Community Law Offices, he had to work for the meanest of the bunch. He could imagine why his predecessor had quit.
Gavin quickly got to work. Even though Greenspeed had already granted him the afternoon off, Gavin wanted to appear to be a productive, hard-working secretary. Of course, Gavin was hard-working when he had a lot of work to work on, and even though he didn't have much to do that day, he wanted to look busy so Greenspeed wouldn't change his mind.
Over his lunch break, Gavin looked over a book he'd bought the day before at the bookstore. It had caught his eye because on the cover, in bold golden words, it read, "Have problems understanding the Bible? Not really certain what an ancient Christian book has to do with today's secular society? Now there's help!"
Gavin tried to read a few pages of the study-book every day. It explained Bible stories in modern-day language, and more importantly, explained the meaning behind the stories. The more Gavin learned about Christianity, the more he began to picture himself as a Christian. The parables the book described were far more meaningful to him than the stories of Noah's Ark and Adam and Eve that he'd learned in Sunday School as a boy.
After work that day, Gavin decided it was time to pop the big question. He finished up a few minutes before Donna, and waited in the parking lot until she emerged. "Hey, Donna," he said.
"Oh, hi," she said, balancing a stack of papers in one arm while she tried to unlock her car door with the other. Gavin rushed to help her.
"Listen, there's something I've been meaning to ask you," Gavin said once her car was opened and Donna turned around to take back the papers Gavin had held for her.
"What's that?" Donna asked.
"How do you become a Christian?" Gavin demanded, making her stop short.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
Gavin shrugged, then said, "Well, do I have to get baptized again at the new church, or sign up as a member, or what? How do I, uh, convert?"
Donna's face immediately brightened, and Gavin feared she would begin squealing with excitement. Luckily, she calmed quickly enough, and settled just to throw the papers into the driver's seat so she could hug him.
When she pulled away, Gavin could feel the heat in his cheeks that indicated he was blushing. "Uh, yeah," he muttered. "So, what do I do?"
Donna was grinning broadly, and she said, "You just have to pray and believe, Gavin. Pray to Jesus that He might come into your heart, and then just believe that He is God's son and that He rose from the grave."
"That's it?" Gavin asked.
"What else do you expect? A multiple choice test?" Donna asked.
Gavin shrugged. "I guess I expected there would be more to it than that."
"It's not supposed to be difficult," Donna reminded him. "After all, we want more people to believe what we believe, not to keep them away."
Gavin smiled, then asked, "What do I say when I pray?"
"Say whatever you want," Donna replied. "There aren't requirements that you must say this or you must begin with that. Just speak from your heart and say whatever comes to you."
"Could you give me an example?" Gavin requested shyly.
Donna smiled at him, then said, "How about 'dear Father in Heaven, thank you for all the good things you've already given me in my life. Please come into my heart so that I might better serve you. Amen.'"
"I'll try that as soon as I get home," Gavin assured her.
"Great," Donna answered. She gave him one more hug, then left. Gavin walked to his car.
When he arrived home, Gavin walked straight into his bedroom and closed the door behind him. He knelt on the floor and folded his hands, adopting a posture he was sure represented humility. Next, he reflected on the words Donna had given him, and began, "Dear Father in Heaven . . ."
He paused to gather his thoughts, then said, "All right, God. Sorry about that, but I can't really pray all formal like that. Hope you don't mind. Uh, anyway, thanks for everything you've given me. Thank you for letting me still be alive, and for letting me have a job, and letting me have a new friend. Please could you come into my heart so I could be a Christian? I know I've said some mean things about you in the past, but I want to change now."
His prayer concluded, Gavin added a quick "Amen." He wasn't sure what it meant, but all the prayers he'd ever heard ended with an "Amen," so it seemed like a good way to end this prayer as well.
Gavin waited. He'd read somewhere that when people converted to new religions, they sometimes felt a euphoria similar to that they would experience if they got high. When Gavin didn't feel much of anything, he wondered if he'd said his prayer right, or if maybe God just didn't want him after all he'd done.
After a few minutes, Gavin determined that he was all right. After all, not everyone felt that thrill he'd read about, and Gavin supposed that after all he'd been through, he didn't really want to fell like he was high anyway, even if the high didn't come from drugs.
When Gavin stood, he noticed for the first time how much his knees hurt after kneeling for so long. He wobbled as he rose to his feet, and put a hand on his wall to steady himself.
He gave himself a few seconds for his legs to wake up again, then he walked into the living room, staggering a little bit. By the time he'd reached the phone, however, he'd recovered.
A sort of calm happiness settled over Gavin. He wouldn't call it a euphoria, nor would he have associated it with drug use, but Gavin recognized it as pleasure over having made a meaningful change in his life. Smiling, Gavin dialed his father's number.
On the second ring, his father picked up. "Hello?" he said.
"Hi, Dad," Gavin gushed. "I have something to tell you!"
"You do?" his father asked. "Did you get back the results of that test all ready?"
"Nope, not yet," Gavin replied. "I'll find out the results next week, but you can be sure I'll call you right away. My news is better than that. I'm a Christian!"
A pause, then his father asked, "Oh?"
"Yeah," Gavin replied. "I know that may not mean a lot to you, but-"
"Now, hold on a second," his father interrupted. "What do you mean, it may not mean a whole lot to me?"
"Well, you know," Gavin replied, floundering a bit with his reply. "You haven't been to church in years."
"I still go occasionally," his father argued. "In fact, I was planning on going this Sunday, so there."
Gavin chuckled, then said, "All right, Dad. Sorry about that comment."
"What's the real reason for the call, though?" his father asked. "You were raised a Christian. Your mom and I sent you to church every Sunday."
"Yeah, but that was a long time ago," Gavin replied. "By the time I graduated from high school, I didn't really consider myself a Christian any more. As recently as two weeks ago, I didn't even really believe in God, but now, I'm a Christian again."
When his father didn't say anything right away, Gavin knew he didn't quite believe his son had spent so long as an atheist. After a while, he said, "Well, good for you, son."
"Thanks, Dad," Gavin replied.
Later that week, Gavin went to the hospital to hear the results of his test. Once again, worry overtook him as he sat in the examining room waiting for the doctor to arrive.
When Doctor Garner finally walked through the door, he carried a clipboard. "Morning, Gavin!" he said cheerfully.
Gavin, who was in no mood to exchange pleasantries, answered, "Just tell me the news."
The doctor's eyebrows shot up and he shook his head as he sat the clipboard down on the counter. "Are you in a hurry, today, Mr. Martins?" he asked.
Gavin sighed. "No, sorry," he replied. "I'm just a little bit on edge. Could you tell me how my test came out so I can relax a little?"
Doctor Garner smiled. "The tests were negative, Mr. Martins," he said. "Of course, you should come back in a few for months for one more test, but unless you acquired AIDS mere days before the test, the odds are that it would have shown up by now."
"There's still a chance that I could have it?" Gavin asked.
"Yes," the doctor replied. "Which is why you're going to come back in three months for one final blood test. In the meanwhile, you can breathe a little easier."
Gavin couldn't help but grin. "Thank you, Doctor," he gushed.
A week later, Gavin was shopping for groceries at the supermarket a few miles from his house when he bumped into Cassie. Despite their past differences, Gavin tried to be cordial, and greeted her with a cheerful, "Hey, Cassie! How are you?"
Evidently, Cassie was in a personable mood that day, for she responded with a natural-looking smile, then said, "I'm all right. I felt a little sick this morning, but I'm better now."
Cassie's complaints about her health reminded Gavin of her condition, and he immediately sobered. When Cassie noticed, she, too, stopped smiling and looked away long enough to reach for a can of beans on the shelf. When she turned the attention back on the conversation, she smoothly changed topic by noting, "I haven't really seen you around for a while. What have you been up to?"
Reasoning that the supermarket wasn't the best place to describe his recent conversion to Cassie, Gavin avoided the question, saying, "Oh, nothing much, really. Things have been pretty quiet for me."
"That's not what I hear," Cassie argued. "Trevor tells me he saw you Wednesday night at a café with a beautiful brunette. Did you get a new girlfriend and not tell me?"
Gavin needed a few minutes to remember what he'd been doing Wednesday night, and quickly replied, "No, she's not a girlfriend. Donna's just a girl from work I know. I took her out to eat after our Bible study to say thanks for some things she's done for me."
He expected Cassie to press for more information about Donna, but instead, she asked, "What were you doing at a Bible study?"
Gavin might have liked to avoid any confrontation that might stem from his next confession, but at the same time, he didn't want to hide his new beliefs. He had no reason to feel shame. "Didn't you know?" he asked, although he knew Cassie had no way of hearing the news. "I'm a Christian now."
For a few seconds, Cassie stared at Gavin in amazement, then, she laughed, attracting the attention of a few other shoppers. "You? A Christian?" she asked rhetorically. "You? Mr. No-intelligent-person-believes-in-God-anymore? Give me a break!"
"It's true," Gavin insisted. "Donna brought me to visit her church, and I really liked what the pastor there had to say. I realized that when I complained about religion, I was basing those complaints on negative stereotypes, and when I just opened my mind, I realized I had no excuse not to believe."
Cassie shook her head, then, her eyes opened wide as if she'd just received a realization. "You got your tests back to find out if you had AIDS, didn't you?"
"Yeah," Gavin answered.
"You have it, don't you?" Cassie demanded. "That's why you've turned all religious on me! You're going to die, and you figure that if there's such a thing as Heaven, you might as well make sure you get in!"
"That's not why I became a Christian," Gavin argued.
"I'd bet," Cassie responded.
"I was negative," Gavin continued. "I'll have to get another test in a few months, but as near as the doctors can predict, I'm going to be just fine."
"I don't believe this!" Cassie declared. "Why would you become a Christian if you're not even going to die!"
"Because I genuinely believe what the Christians have to say about God and Jesus," Gavin replied, trying to remain calm. He refused to let Cassie draw him into yet another argument.
"Nobody believes that, they just act all holy to draw people in," Cassie declared, dropping her volume as she noticed a few people were staring at her. "Have they brainwashed you, or is the clock just ticking until you get sick of your self-righteous life style and come back down to earth with the rest of us?"
"I don't have to listen to this," Gavin said aloud even as he realized it. He pushed his cart to the front of the store. As he walked, he called back, "I could have broken off our friendship a long time ago, Cassie, but I didn't because we've shared so much. If you can't even show enough respect for me to have a conversation without yelling, you can forget about me being around when you need help. Think about that next time you're in jail!"
Gavin waited for the inevitable nasty come back, but none came. When he peered over his shoulder, he saw Cassie staring at him, her mouth open. Gavin shook his head and paid for his groceries.
As he loaded the plastic bags into his car, Gavin wondered if what Cassie had said was true. After a few weeks or months, would he get tired of the Christian lifestyle and finally fall back on old ways? Would he get tired of the church and forget about his new religious convictions?
Gavin doubted those possibilities, however. He'd worked too hard and had come too far to go back to the old habits he'd finally broken. Sure, he'd stumble and make mistakes, but with his new friends and even a new set of moral codes, he could recover from them, whereas before they would send him into fits of depression.
He wasn't certain, but Gavin was pretty sure he'd be all right.