The Real Deal
by Denny Hartford
[The scene is a hamburger joint. At a table sit five teenagers.]
Mike: [Already talking.] …and then there was just him and me. So I just smiled and asked him – "Hey, did you want to tell me something to my face, Jackson?" Well, the big toad turned about five shades of green and mumbled an apology and then, I’m tellin’ you, he booked out of there like he was on fire. [J.T. joins him in laughter.]
Mary: Just you and Joey, huh? I heard the story a little different, Mike.
Mike: Yeah, like what?
Mary: Like right behind you were two of your Southeast friends and even then Joey did anything but run away.
Brenda: In fact, Mike, wasn’t it you that ended up saying it was all a misunderstanding and asked Joey to just forget the whole thing?
Mike: [Frustrated. Embarrassed.] You guys are nuts! You’re just trying to get my goat but I’m telling you the straight stuff. Joey was the cat who backed down and that’s the way it is, man. If he stepped in here right now, you’d see who was afraid of who!
Brenda: Well, isn’t that a coincidence. Look who just came in the door!
[Mike turns around fast. It’s obvious he’s spooked but it turns out that the person who entered is actually another fellow. He relaxes but then has to bear the laughter of Brenda and Mary.]
Mary: Yeah, there you go tough guy, you were talking about who was afraid of who?
Mike: What? What’s the matter? You guys really think….
Jeannie: Come on, Mike. Let it go. They don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re just teasing you.
Mary: [Still giggling a little.] Yeah, that’s it; don’t get so uptight. We won’t let anybody hurt you! [Shares a mischievous smile with Brenda.]
[Mike fumes silently. Jeannie pats his hand.]
J.T.: Hey, about that guy that just came in. Isn’t that the guy Lena is kinda’ stuck on?
Jeannie: Yeah, that’s him. He’s new this year. We’ve got him in our American Lit class.
Brenda: He’s cute all right but if Lena’s interested in that dude, she’s in for a shock. He’s not exactly her kind of boy.
J.T.: Not her kind of boy? I didn’t know there was a good-looking guy on the planet that wasn’t her kind of boy!
Mary: Well, Brenda’s right. Not that guy. [Mike has been appraising the fellow.]
Mike: He ain’t so good looking!
Mary: With that mug of yours, you’re qualified to judge a beauty contest?
Mike: Hey, lay off me, will you? What are you slammin’ me for this morning anyhow?
Jeannie: Mike, they’re nuts. Don’t let them bug you.
J.T.: [After a pause.] What’s the deal with that guy anyhow? What makes you think Lena won’t score with him? [He shoots a smile at Mike and gets a scowl in return.] It’s not like most dudes can resist her anyhow, right? [Jeannie’s expression flares in anger and she stares suspiciously at Mike.]
Brenda: His name is Luke and the reason he’s off limits to Lena and her type is that he’s a religious guy...and I mean super-religious!
Mike: Yeah, right! Like that’s gonna’ make a difference in the real world!
Jeannie: [Still smoldering.] What the heck do you know about Lena’s real world, honey?
Mike: [All innocent.] What? I don’t know anything about Lena’s world. [He glances grimly at J.T.] I’m just saying I’ve seen a lot of these God nuts and, besides their goofy ideas and their "What Would Jesus Do" T-shirts; they’re really no different from anybody else.
Mary: Oh yeah? What about Maria Gutierrez?
Jeannie: The Ice Princess? She’s not religious; she extraterrestrial!
Mary: Well, I think Maria's a sweet girl. She was an incredible help to me in Algebra II last year and, despite things some people say, usually jealous people, I might add, [She smiles and stirs her drink.] Maria is really a neat girl. Just ask Brenda.
Brenda: Oh yeah, Maria's cool. I don't' even mind that little group she hangs out with. What do you call them, J.T., the "Odd Clods for God Squad"? I think they're pretty okay, well except that sneaky little weasel, Andy. He's most definitely a pill – the classic hypocrite.
J.T.: For sure to that. Andy the Audacious, I call him. Awful loudmouth about his religion but it's really all about him. No, that guy is all Bible on the outside but no different than anybody else – even worse than most on the inside. I think that whole bunch can be a little stuck up.
Jeannie: [Generally, she would agree with J.T. but her suspicions about Lena and Mike are making her a little antagonistic.] Why stuck up, J.T.? Just because they don't dance to your tune? Different strokes for different folks, I say.
Mike: When did you get so tolerant, Jeannie?
Jeannie: Maybe I'm getting more tolerant about some things, honey, and getting more intolerant of other things!
J.T.: [Trying to rescue his friend, changes the subject.] Well, what's the number on this cat Luke anyhow? Is he part of the Squad or what?
Brenda: I don't know who he hangs out with really but I can tell you his religion is the real deal. He doesn't just talk about God the way a lot of these guys do; he's downright serious about living it.
Jeannie: How do you know?
Brenda: Well, like you said, he's in our Lit class and then I've got him in Speech and Home Room too. I don't know, I guess I kinda' admired the way he handled himself and so I got to talking to him over lunch a few times.
Mike: So! Maybe it's not just Lena who's got the Jesus freak in her sights, huh?
Jeannie: [Again, glaring at Mike.] She could do worse, that's for sure.
Mary: He's sure smart. I mean, he knows more about literature than Ms. Berkely does and in biology class a couple of weeks ago, he made Mr. Exeter look like a real dummy.
J.T.: How so?
Mary: Well, Luke wasn't mean about it really. He just asked a few questions about evolution and Mr. Exeter couldn't answer them and so he asked Luke a few questions in return. I'm sure he meant to embarrass Luke - sort of payback - but Luke just chuckled a little and proceeded to lay out a scheme that really made sense.
Mike: Oh, one of those Neanderthals, huh?
Mary: No, it wasn't like you think. Luke wasn't thumping the Bible or anything. He just laid out what he called "The Case for Intelligent Design" and, I'm telling you, it made perfect sense – a lot more than the Darwinism of Exeter's. In fact, Mr. Exeter knows it too and ever since that morning, he's been acting mad at Luke...but kinda' scared of him too. It's a little funny to see.
Jeannie: Yeah, that was pretty sharp. I thought Luke made a lot of sense that morning.
J.T.: Okay, so the kid's smart. Is that what makes his religion so uptown or what? Brenda, why are you so impressed anyhow? You've never been one for religion.
Brenda: You say that like it's a put-down, J.T., but you've sure not been interested in religion either. Am I right?
J.T.: Of course, you're right. But I'm not interested now whereas it seems like maybe you are. Or is Mike correct? Are you not so interested in the sermon as maybe in the preacher himself?
Brenda: [Pauses reflectively.] Well, to be quite honest, J.T....and if I can be serious for a minute, I'm not sure. I think maybe both.
J.T.: [A little surprised. So is everyone else.] Oh.
Jeannie: [Curious.] Brenda, go ahead and tell us. What is the deal with this guy, Luke? It's more than him...well, just being cute?
Brenda: Oh yeah, much more. Let me tell you a couple of things and see what you guys think because, well...I don't know. As I've been talking to him at lunch, I've been thinking a lot about my own life and, oh...well...maybe we should just change the subject.
Mary: Hey, no way. You've got me curious now. I knew you'd been kind of...well, kind of serious lately but I wasn't aware of just why. I'd like to hear more about it.
Jeannie: So would I, Brenda; go ahead.
Brenda: Well, okay. You know, I had been waiting for a chance to talk to you guys about it and so...thanks. [She pauses and thinks for a couple of moments.] Okay, here's one. You know what Luke does on Tuesday nights? He goes over to that nursing home down on Jewell.
J.T.: What for?
Brenda: Well, just to visit the old folks who live there. At least, that's most of it. I guess he plays the guitar a little too but the basic thing is just to show those people that are pretty much forgotten that they still matter to some people.
Mike: [Disgusted.] Good grief, what a geek!
Mary: What's so geeky about that, Mike? Our generation is always talking about coming together and showing the way to love and peace. What's so bad about someone actually doing something about it?
J.T.: She's got a point, Mike. We look at T.V. commercials where some young dude and some old dude make a connection and we think it's great. Why not in real life? Is that stuff just good for selling telephones or greeting cards but not for real life?
Mike: [Incredulous.] I can't believe you guys! Man alive – this nut's spending his time visiting worthless old carcasses in a nursing home and you're looking at me like I'm the crazy one? Get serious!
Jeannie: Mike, isn't the nursing home on Jewell the one where your grandmother is? [That hits home. He sits silently.] This is the place you never, ever visit even to see your own grandma...even when your dad has asked you over and over to go with him to see her?
Mike: [His face reddens but he blasts ahead.] Look, I'm young. I've got my life to live and I'm not gonna' be wasting it on stuff like that.
Mary: Your own grandma you call "stuff like that"? A "worthless old carcass"? Crimeny, who's the real geek here?
Mike: [Exasperated.] You guys are nuts. I'm out of here. [Rises and grabs for Jeannie's hand.] Come on, baby.
Jeannie: Come on, nothing...baby! You want to go; go on. I'll see you around. [She turns back to the table.] Go ahead, Brenda; what else is on your mind?
[Mike turns away in disgust and walks out.]
Jeannie: No problem, Brenda; let's hear the rest. [The others nod in agreement.]
Brenda: Well, in a sense, that's it really. Luke talks about his faith in Jesus Christ and he's answered questions I've had about the Bible but what's really different is that his religion just seems...so real...so much more than just the God Squad talking about it. It really makes him different - more like what you guess Jesus would really be like. [Pause.] Here's another example. Luke works construction in the summers and on Saturdays and he makes some pretty good money. But a good part of it he sends to some Christians over in South Africa who are running some kind of a medical clinic or some deal. And then there's another thing. Once every month he takes his little sister and some of her friends - they're in junior high - and they go with some other people from his church to an abortion clinic over on 48th Street.
Jeannie: The abortion clinic? Why on earth to the abortion clinic?
J.T.: Oh, brother. Don't tell me he's part of those "pro-life" marchers who try to talk women out of abortions there? I may end up agreeing with Mike about him being a geek after all.
Mary: Why? What's so bad about that? They've got a right to speak up for the babies, don't they?
J.T.: Speak up for the fetuses, you mean. That's a much different story. And anyhow, free speech isn't for weirdoes who want to shove their personal morality down someone else's throat, especially when they're screaming, calling people names, threatening them and everything else.
Brenda: That's not at all how Luke describes it, J.T. He says it's really a prayer meeting. It's a very quiet affair. Some of the people hold banners that say things like "Every Heartbeat Is A Gift From God" or "Please Mom, Let Me Live" while others carry pictures of – to please J.T. – fetuses in the womb. But he showed me a postcard that has one of those pictures and it sure looks like a baby to me!
Jeannie: [She has seemed somewhat preoccupied for several moments but suddenly she speaks out even though she faces down towards the table. She speaks quietly but with force.] Of course, it's a baby. J.T. can call it whatever he wants, but anybody who's really honest knows the truth. An abortion doesn't just interrupt a pregnancy. It doesn't just dispel uterine contents. Every abortion kills someone's baby!
J.T.: Jeannie, come on, you know that....
Jeannie: [Looks up sharply and interrupts him.] Yes, J.T. I know! [J.T. is shocked into silence, as is everyone else at the table. After a few tense moments pass, Jeannie looks up softly at Brenda.] Brenda, your friend Luke is telling the truth. The pro-life people at the abortion clinic are peaceful. And they're completely quiet except for one lady who calmly tries to talk the girls out of going through with the abortion. And, of course, they're right to do so. I can tell you from an experienced point of view, [She looks again at J.T.] abortion kills a mother's child. And, Brenda, I think that any religion that's worth anything at all would be dedicated to the max to try and persuade women not to take that terrible...unforgivable step. [She starts to softly weep.]
Mary: Jeannie, I'm so sorry, honey. I never knew.
J.T.: Jeannie, me too; I'm afraid I was insensitive; popping off like I usually do about stuff I don't really know anything about. I apologize.
Jeannie: Oh come on, it's not your fault. I'm the one that did it and so I'm the one who has to live with it, that's all. Even the father [She shrugs her head backwards indicating the exit.] doesn't have a clue about the weight of guilt involved. [She turns back to Brenda.]
Brenda, honey, your friend Luke does indeed sound like the real McCoy. [Pause.] Who would have thought it? A Christian that really tries to love people like we've all been told Jesus did. Old people...sick people. [She pauses.] Even people yet unborn. No, Brenda, the real geeks are the people that ignore the voice of God and go their own way. Believe me, Luke sounds like the kind of friend we should all have. I'd say, you're lucky.
Brenda: [Moved to tears herself.] Well listen, Jeannie; the thing I wanted to tell you guys the most was what Luke was telling me about forgiveness. I mean, with all that he's into, he says the essence of Christianity is forgiveness – that our sins and failures and even our most tragic mistakes can be forgiven because when Jesus was crucified on the cross, it was a deliberate deal. He did it to pay the penalty for everybody's sins. You see, Jeannie, that's the message I think I've been waiting to hear all my life. I don't know exactly how I feel about Luke. I may indeed be attracted to him but then it could be I'm more attracted to the hopes I feel when I hear him talk about Jesus' love and forgiveness. Jeannie, it sounds like maybe you'd be interested in hearing more about Jesus' forgiveness too, wouldn't you?
Jeannie: [Shaking her head.] No, I don't think there's really a remedy for me, Brenda. I'm afraid I'm way past the chance for forgiveness – even from Jesus.
Mary: [A little excited.] It sure wouldn't hurt to hear more though, would it, Jeannie? Just imagine! Your past forgiven; a brand new start; a reason to live beyond the narrow little patterns our lives have taken us so far. What do you say?
Jeannie: [Looks up, hardly daring to hope.] Really, do you think even after...Well, do you think God's forgiveness can stretch that far?
[There is some silence as they ponder her question.]
J.T.: Well, we'll never find out unless we ask an authority, will we? And it sounds like this Luke fellow may have more qualifications to fill us in than anybody else we know, don't you think?
Brenda: Really, J.T.? Should I ask him over to join us?
Mary: Do, Brenda.
[Pause. They all look at Jeannie. And Jeannie nods her head.]
Jeannie: Yes, please do. If Christianity means anything, it seems like Luke is a guy who can not only tell us about it but also show us what it's really supposed to look like.
[They all look to J.T. He shrugs and smiles.]
J.T.: Hey, it's better than asking Andy the Audacious, right? [He looks up and finds Luke seated across the way.] Hey, Luke! Yeah, you brother Luke! Over here, man!