a HARPER novel: God Bless The Girl - PREVIEW

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I don't believe in anything I can't see, feel, taste, or at the very least prove. That's just the way I'm wired. It's the way I've always been wired. It's the way I'll be wired until I suck my last breath. I wear it like a goddamn badge. As such, people always look at me like I just told them the most complex riddle in human history when they find out my Maryanne was Catholic.
      She might not've been particularly religious herself, but she absolutely, emphatically believed that there was a God, and that he was responsible for everything, good and bad. I never begrudged her that belief, nor would I ever. I would, however, often tell her she was too smart for that fucking nonsense. Because I tell the truth.
      She held on to some form of that belief until the day she died, though there was often internal conflict. There were certain things she could never reconcile, but she said "That's why it's faith". If you're raised in it, there's simply no real escape, whether you believe it with everything you've got, or never really did. She did. She was certain.
      I was exactly the opposite. I never even considered believing. It always rang like bullshit to me. My Dad believed, but he didn't force it on us. He just let us be whatever the hell we were going to be. All he wanted was for us to be good people, and he believed that the best way to make that happen is to let someone discover that goodness within themselves, and in their own way.
      We all did. Al, Roxy and I.
      Mom... she was unsure. She always said anything was possible, and that it's nice to think you'll see your loved ones again after you go. At least until Roxy died. Then she was as certain as I am that the universe is a cold, heartless, godless, random place. Life proves that point to me time and time again.
      Maryanne's parents, however, most expressly her father, were both devout. They lived and breathed for their religion as surely as I lived and breathed for their daughter. Her mother, Lauren Hillard, liked me the instant we met. She could see the love her daughter and I shared radiating from every goddamn pore we had, whether we paraded it or not. She also knew about my lack of belief, but always firmly adhered to living an 'it takes all kinds' sort of life. She believed there was potential for good in everyone, regardless of their belief structure.
      Jack Hillard, on the other hand, wasn't my biggest fan. He didn't hate me, by any means. Not to start, anyway. That came later. In the beginning, he just had a hard time accepting the fact that his only daughter was so enamored with a shamelessly godless asshole of a heathen like me.
      He claimed he loved Maryanne with every beat of his heart and sometimes seemed to mean it, but was often too biblical with her upbringing, if you know what I mean. To the point I would wholeheartedly consider it child abuse.
      But I'll get into that later.
      As a result of Jack's religious insistence, Maryanne had to fight hard to be able to attend a secular school like Adelphi. Jack was worried she'd stray from her faith if she spent too much time away from home, but, thankfully, Lauren was able to get through to him. To get him to give their daughter the chance to experience the world her way.
      I didn't meet either of the elder Hillards until after I had my big blow out with Maryanne's ex, Randy Buchanan. Then, once Mary and I got back together, we just wanted to enjoy one another's company as much as we could before we ever took that eventual next step. A step we knew was coming. A permanent step.
      The step into family territory.
      One afternoon while on the cusp of our Spring break, Maryanne and I found ourselves, as we often did, enjoying dinner at Capistrano's, a little Italian restaurant just off campus. Our favorite haunt. We knew we were going to be spending break together, but we weren't yet sure exactly what that meant.
      "So, I was thinking..." Maryanne began, nervously fiddling with her straw wrapper for a moment before continuing. "Things're pretty serious here, wouldn't ya' say?"
      "I'd say that's a fucking understatement." I scoffed, as I would.
      "Well, I think- I think it's time to, uh... to start meeting parents." she continued, timid and never looking away from the straw wrapper.
      "I agree." I said. "Why don't you seem to?"
      She let out a sharp laugh.
      "Well, ya' know, my parents are devout Catholics." she confided. "Like... devout devout."
      "And you're worried I'll say or do somethi—"
      "No!" she cut in. "It isn't you I'm worried about at all. It's my Dad."
      "Well, all Dads hate their daughter's boyfriends, Mary." I replied, only half sincerely.
      "That's true!" she laughed, her eyes finally darting to mine. Rapid. Anxious. "I jus—"
      "Don't worry about it." I interrupted. "I fully expect them both to despise me."
      "Mom already likes ya'." she assured me, cheery as she reached across the table and patted my hand. "But Daddy's a little..."
      "I get it. Would you rather meet my parents first?" I asked. "They are dying to meet you, after all. Al too."
      "No, I think I wanna save them!" she laughed, her eyebrows twisting in a mixture of amusement and worry. "I think we'll need any positive experience we can get, ya' know?"
      "I'm sure meeting your parents'll go fine enough." I dismissed, shrugging like an asshole. "Again, I say don't worry about it. I'm certainly not."
      "Yeah, but how are ya' not?!" she half laughed, half pouted. Elizabeth does that all the time too. "I'm feeling really frayed."
      "Life's too short for me to care about how popular I am." I replied. "I'm popular with you, and that's all I fucking need."
      "So..." Maryanne sighed. "Spring break with the Hillards; Yay or nay?"
      "Yay." I immediately answered. "If they don't like me, they don't like me."
      And the truth was that I really didn't care what her folks thought of me. Here's a shocking revelation; I tend to rub people the wrong goddamn way, and that tends to leave vast amounts of people with... let's say unfavorable opinions of me. It's been a constant in my life, and as a result I decided early on to embrace it rather than fight it.
      The only people who truly matter to me are the people who can get past my admitted abrasiveness. Or, at the very fucking least, get over it. Maryanne herself usually found it charming, as she'd never known anyone before me who was quite so honest. I remember making some jab about how ironic that was, given the church's strict stance on honesty.
      She just laughed, as she would.
      Anyway, after we finished our dinner and headed back to her dorm, she nearly immediately called her Mom and said that not only would she be home for Spring break, but that she'd have me in tow. I could hear Lauren squeal "That's wonderful!" over the phone from all the way across the room. It was the same excited tone Maryanne often used. The same one Lizzie still uses.
      I'll say it until I'm blue in the face; Genetics are a powerful thing.
      "Well, that's it." Maryanne fretted. "Trigger pulled!"
      She sat down on the edge of her bed, her leg jittering up and down with nervous energy as she bit her lip. She even started growing pale. She was already, quite literally, worrying herself sick. I wasn't about to stand for that, so I walked over to the record player and threw on her copy of "Space Oddity" before taking a seat next to her.
      I knew the goddamn drill. She needed it.
      "Am I that bad?" she whimpered. "I mean, I know I'm starting to freak out a bit, but I don't wann—"
      "Calm down." I urged, grabbing her by the shoulder and pulling her closer. "There's nothing to worry about."
      "You're probably right..." she sighed.
      "I am." I asserted. "You'll see. The whole week'll go fine."
      She nodded, staring down at the carpet. Clearly she wasn't quite so sure as I was. It was obvious to me in that moment that I had to take a different approach to snap her back to her regularly scheduled programming.
      "Hey, what's wet and tastes like red paint?" I asked.
      She perked up and slowly turned her head to me, her face contorting more and more toward a quizzical glare until she was looking me directly in the eyes.
      "I— I dunno!" she exclaimed, already beginning to laugh.
      "Blue paint." I replied, flashing her a warm grin.
      That was all it took to launch her into her familiar, reedy snicker. All it took to calm her nerves for a bit, which was all I really wanted.
      She always loved the stupid, clean jokes I'd tell more than the dirty ones. That's not to say she didn't love the dirty ones too of course, just that she always appreciated when I didn't have to go blue for a laugh. It was her belief that, since my base level of vulgarity was quite high, the clean jokes posed more of a challenge for me.
      I suppose she was right.
      The final weeks leading into Spring break were a little more tense than they could've been, quite honestly. Maryanne had a rough time shaking her nervousness, but I did my best to snipe away at it any chance I got. Quite the pair we made. The way we instantly balanced one another out has been a constant source of wonder for me since the day we met.
      Something just... clicked. And it clicked in such a wholly profound way that it fast became the most important thing in either of our lives. I'm eternally grateful we were both smart enough to see it. I don't think I'll ever be able to stress enough just how important to me Maryanne is, was, and always will be. It's a goddamn statistical impossibility, if you ask me.
      Before we knew it, the big day had arrived. Maryanne's folks lived in Sewickley, PA, which is about seven or so hours away from Adelphi. It's a far nicer place than where I grew up, and much more affluent, but I'll talk more about my home town another time.
      No need to get ahead of myself.

 
Dan BurleyComment