“Jesus is with us. I want you guys to be clear on that. He’s always with us. He knows us better than we know ourselves. And he understands us. He accepts us. He forgives us. I can talk all day and night about Noah and Moses and Isaac and all those dudes—yeah! Yeah, you know I could. I have, man. But they’re stories. Good stories—don’t get me wrong. More than stories: they’re lessons. But listen: there is one truth that matters above all the lessons and all the stories and all that good stuff. That truth is this, my friends: Jesus is with us. He loves us. And he’ll always forgive us.”
It didn’t matter how loudly the pastor spoke; the chapel door opening and closing overpowered everything. Heads turned. Jacob kept his forward, but his eyes lingered in the peripheral. Cameron slid into the pew at the far back of the chapel, next to Jacob.
“Man, I’m fucking beat.”
Jacob listened to the slow grind of his own teeth. He saw Amanda tiptoe down the aisle and duck into the pew with the other female counselors. She glanced over her shoulder in his direction and waved with her fingers. His eyes returned to the front.
“I don’t pretend that you guys will remember everything I preach up here. Ha, ha, yes, thank you, but I’m serious. The bible’s pretty big. I mean, look at this thing. Whew! I get a workout just having to lug it around.”
“Ended up crashing in Brian’s dorm. Motherfucker snores like a—I don’t know—like a rhino or something. Barely slept.”
“Gotcha,” said Jacob. “Keep it down, eh?” They were two pews behind anyone else but Jacob wanted to hear the sermon, even if he couldn’t concentrate.
“But seriously—there’s a lot to remember. I get that. I just want you guys to walk away from here knowing that the Lord is looking out for you. Church, camp, school, home—he’s got your back. Let’s pray.”
Jacob bowed his head along with the campers and counselors and pastor, but he kept his eyes open just a slit. He saw the glow of a cellphone on Cam’s knee. He thought he saw Amanda’s name. Cam turned the cellphone off and Jacob squeezed his eyes shut. When the prayer ended he didn’t want to open them again but he did.
“How come you didn’t come back to the cabin?” he asked quietly.
“Man, I dunno. It was like three in the morning and I was super tired. Wish I did. Least you don’t snore. Bonfire was fun, though. You shoulda come.”
“I was tired from work. And I stank.”
“You still kinda stink. Ha, ha. I’m kidding, but no, really, that’s, yeah, that’s one of the reasons I stayed in the dorm. Didn’t wanna smell fish guts all night.”
Jacob could hear Cameron grinning but he didn’t look.
“You probably had the right idea, anyway, man. I bet you got plenty of sleep. Kinda jealous right now.”
“Was Amanda there?”
“That doesn’t mean you got a free pass to Heaven, though. You know what I’m saying? You gotta follow his example. You gotta keep him in your heart. He’ll always be there, but just because he’ll never leave doesn’t mean you can’t leave him.”
“Mhmm. She hung around a bit.”
“I guess she was feeling better?”
“Was she? I mean, yeah, I mean, I guess so. She seemed okay. I dunno. Maybe she was still kinda sick. Hard to tell.”
“She had a migraine.”
“Oh. Well I dunno. Guess she felt better. I just kinda ran into her on my way here and she looked fine.”
“You can’t go off and do whatever you want, get into trouble, commit sins, and expect he’ll shrug it off and let you into them pearly pearly gates. That also doesn’t mean you can’t make mistakes. He will forgive you. He will. Man, that’s what he’s all about. But you have to repent. You know what that means? That means you gotta be sorry. Really sorry—not the polite kind of sorry we Canadians are famous for. It needs to be a genuine, regretful kind of sorry. He’ll know when you are. You can trust in him.”
“You guys had fun?”
“Yeah, man. I did, anyway.”
“Mmm. Hey. Do you remember that Pac-Man puppet?”
“The—? Ohhh, sure sure. Man, that was so long ago. Your grandparents still have that thing?”
“Found it last night. Used it as a pillow.”
“Musta been dusty as hell. Probably smells like fish guts now.”
“It reminded me of that time when we were kids—the first year we came to camp—and I found that puppet in my grandma’s toy chest. I was surprised—I never would’ve thought she’d buy anything from a video game. It was ancient even then, but I loved it. I used to put my hand in it and hold it under my head when I slept because it was softer than the pillow. I even brought it to camp with me and kept it in my dorm. It would eat all the camp ghosts, right? Bible camp is scary when you’re a kid. Devils are everywhere, ready to possess unsuspecting campers. Remember?”
“Sure. And your grandma always had those horror stories of sinful kids getting possessed.”
“So I kept the puppet to keep the ghosts away. Had it with me every night, until the last day. Then I couldn’t find it. I looked everywhere, asked everyone. I asked you. You said you hadn’t seen it. It was the last night and it was the last chance for the devil to get me and I didn’t have Pac-Man looking out for me. I didn’t sleep at all except to have nightmares.
“I know it wasn’t mine. Not exactly. But it meant the world to me. At least you gave it back after we got home.”
Cameron looked straight ahead. The pastor began another prayer. Cameron bowed his head and closed his eyes. Jacob looked at him. He tried to see through Cameron’s eyelids but couldn’t.
When Jacob opened the chapel door to leave, everyone turned their heads at the noise. Everyone except Cameron.