by Rolf Devries

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    Was this guy for real? She had to know, even if it meant being sneaky.

    “The time is 6:30 A.M. The time is 6:30 A.M. The time is 6:30 A.M.

    Keith Kellman’s head emerged from under his pillow and trained a baleful eye on his talking alarm clock, which seemed to be taking special delight in waking him this Sunday morning. As his hand hit the “stop” button, he considered putting his head back under his pillow.

    After all, the house heat was still off and it was cold out there. It wasn’t as if his parents would care if he got up or not; he was the sole churchgoer of the family. And he was tired. Early-morning seminary every weekday, and now priesthood meeting at 8:00 A.M. But then Keith sadly realized that all this thinking and debating had gotten his brain waves going, and he probably wouldn’t fall back to sleep anyway.

    It wasn’t until he was showered, dressed, and halfway out the door that he remembered that today was the Sunday he had promised to give the bishop his answer.

    He began to dig his car out of the snow, shivering and muttering to himself. Even before the Great Wednesday Humiliation, he had his doubts about going on a mission. But what had happened on Wednesday had really clinched it. But how do I tell the bishop? he wondered as his foot came down on the accelerator. The noise from his broken muffler shattered the morning silence.

    “Cut your headlights. That must be him. Yep, ’80 rust bucket with an exhaust system loud enough to wake the neighborhood. Okay, he’s far enough ahead of us now. Pull out and follow him,” she said.

    Keith was grateful his car made it to the church without the muffler falling off. He was also grateful he found a place to meditate before the meeting. He even began thinking the bishop might forget to call him into his office today.

    Yeah, sure.

    “Okay, so we followed him to this church and watched him go in. Now what? We know he hauls himself out of bed at an insane hour every morning to go to this church. You’ve seen what you wanted. Let’s go.”

    “No. I want to wait a while and see if anybody else shows up. Then I’m going in to see what’s inside.”

    “You’re going in? He’ll recognize you and know something’s up.”

    “Don’t worry, baby brother. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m wearing my black wig today. I always wear my blonde wig to school. Anyway, I don’t exactly have the kind of face that will turn any heads. He’ll never know.”

    “This is so stupid. If you’re that interested in this guy and his church, why don’t you just ask him what you want to know?”

    “Listen. Anyone can mouth scriptures and high-sounding ideas. But does he really believe what he said last Wednesday. I want to know what this guy and everybody else inside are like when they don’t have an audience.”

    “Following church, Keith went for his bishop’s interview. As he sat across from the bishop, Keith shifted nervously in his chair and then cleared his throat. “It isn’t that I don’t want to go on a mission.”

    “Great, Keith. I’m glad you want to go.”

    “Please, Bishop. I hate it when you do that. Look, it’s just that I really don’t think I’d make a good missionary. Face it. I weigh 120 pounds and I wear these stupid glasses. Nobody takes me seriously. I get so nervous when I have to speak in front of more than two people that I ooze sweat until my face turns red. Nobody’s going to listen to me; they’ll just laugh and slam the door in my face.”

    “Don’t you think you’re exaggerating a little, Keith?

    “Every time I try to be a good example, I become a laughingstock. Like last Wednesday at school. I was just going to lunch when this guy, Greg Filtch, stops me and pulls me into the lunchroom office. He said that he heard I was a Mormon and that he was interested in hearing a little about the Church.” Keith took a deep breath and went on. “ I knew Greg liked practical jokes, but this time I thought he might be sincere. So I told him about the Book of Mormon and how the Church had changed my life.

    “Sounds promising. What happened?” the bishop asked.

    “It was a setup. He had the PA system microphone under his jacket. He was broadcasting my testimony to the entire school. When I came out of the office, everyone in the lunchroom was in hysterics. Now I’m known as Mr. Televangelist. Everyone’s always going, ‘Hey, Preacher’ and ‘Hallelujah! Got any more good sermons today?’ My one try at missionary work and I disgrace the Church.”

    “You can’t disgrace the Church by doing the right thing. I hear you substituted for the Gospel Essentials teacher this morning.”

    Keith shrugged. “Another disaster. I was supposed to be giving a lesson on the importance of baptism, but halfway through the class this black-haired, skinny girl comes in and sits on the back row. All of a sudden the lesson plan goes completely out of my head and I start talking about the plan of salvation. About a half hour of this andshe excuses herself and cuts out of class.”

    The bishop raised his eyebrows. “Sometimes that happens to me too. I feel impressed to teach certain principles at certain times.”

    But Keith didn’t hear the bishop. “I drove away the only investigator that’s come to that class in a month.”

    “Well, how’d it go? You look like you’re hyperventilating and your eyes are red. Should I call the doctor?”

    “No, just give me a few minutes. I’ve decided I’m going to need your help tomorrow, though.”

    “Hey, it’s the lunch-time preacher man! Here’s a little something for the collection plate.” Keith ducked as pennies from the Monday morning school crowd showered him. As he continued walking, Keith suddenly found himself staring up at all 225 pounds of Mike “The Wall” Wade, starting left tackle on the football team.

    “Well, well. If it isn’t Mr. Righteousness, the man who knows the truth about everything,” Mike said. “I hear you think you’re Mr. Informed, Kellman. Mr. I Know The Truth.”

    “I never, uh, said … ” Keith began to sputter.

    “Here’s the deal, Mr. Religious. Why don’t you just admit to me and all these good folks that you may have been wrong about all this church stuff?”

    Keith’s eyes focused directly into Mike’s. For some reason, Mike’s expression reflected more curiosity than fierceness—more like he wanted to know something. Keith relaxed a little and said, “What are you going to do, Wall, bash everybody who doesn’t agree with you? What I said last week stands. I told the truth. You might as well learn to live with it.” Mike looked at him, seemed to think about what Keith had said, then walked off.

    “That was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done for you, Sharon. I hope you’re satisfied.”

    “I’m satisfied, Mike.”

    “I have to admit, though. That Kellman kid was beginning to get to me too. No more games, okay?”

    “Okay. It’s time to hang up the ol’ cloak and dagger. Hand me the phone book, will you?”

    “I got here as soon as I could, Bishop,” said Keith, meeting the bishop in front of his office. The bishop opened the door but didn’t say anything. When Keith stepped inside, he saw Mike Wade and a thin, familiar-looking girl standing in the far corner of the room. They both looked uncomfortable.

    “Keith,” the bishop said, “I think these people have something to tell you.”

    Mike pointed to the girl. “My sister Sharon. I know we don’t look like we’re from the same family. I got all the healthy genes, I guess. She’s … ” Mike’s voice trailed off.

    The pale girl started to speak. Before she could, it hit Keith.

    “Hey, you’re the girl that came to my Sunday School class. And haven’t I seen you around school? Only with different hair?”

    “Keith,” Sharon began in a soft, clear voice. “I’m afraid we’ve been doing some awful things to you. It was all my idea, so don’t blame Mike. We’ve been spying on you, following you, and causing you all sorts of grief.”

    “I, I don’t understand.”

    “I had to find out if you really believed what you said.”

    “What I said about what?”

    “Let’s just say we caught your broadcast from the lunchroom.”

    “Ohhh no. Not that again,” Keith sighed.

    She smiled. “It wasn’t only that. It’s a long story.”

    Mike cut in. “We live near your church, and every day we’d wake up when your car would come chugging down the road.”

    “I go to church on Sundays and early-morning seminary the rest of the week,” Keith explained. “I guess I better get my muffler fixed.”

    Sharon picked up the story. “At first, the noise just made us mad. But then I got to thinking. Why would someone get up at 5:30 every morning? After hearing what you said last week, I—we—followed you to your church. I realized you go all alone; like no one’s forcing you to do this religious thing. I was curious to know more in view of my current situation.”

    “Current situation,” Keith repeated mechanically.

    “Under this wig, I don’t have any hair. Chemotherapy. And it’s not doing much good anymore.”

    Keith stared blankly, then allowed what she had just told him to sink in.

    “I’m not looking for miracle cures or healings. I’m beyond that, I think. What I am looking for is—how do I put this?—not why I’m going to die, but why I lived in the first place. Does my life count for anything? Is there some sort of plan to all this?”

    “Anyway,” Mike continued, “Sharon’s got this funny feeling that maybe you know something most everybody else doesn’t. So she crashed your church class, eavesdropped, tested you, and even made me threaten you. I’m sorry about that.”

    Keith looked from one to the other and found himself speechless.

    “I don’t blame you if you’re angry, but I was getting kind of desperate to know if there was anybody out there who really believed in anything. I remember what you were saying in that church class, and it made me feel really good inside. I think you can tell me what I want to know. You can tell me why?”

    Keith met her gaze. “Yeah, I think I can.”

    The bishop, who had been standing behind them, finally spoke. “She’s asked to take the discussions from the missionaries, Keith. Maybe you’d like to sit in on them with her.”

    Keith smiled and hooked a thumb at Mike. “What about His Wallness?”

    Mike grinned. “Well, I could go. I guess I owe you that much.”

    Keith added, “Maybe I could learn a few things too. Maybe even pick up a few pointers that will come in handy for the next two years.”

    Illustrated by Greg Newbold