Marcus leaned casually against the doorframe as he waited just inside the back door of the church, jingling the coins in his pocket, doing his best to appear cool and disinterested. At least, as cool and disinterested as a twelve-year-old could manage. Jimmy was late as usual. It wasn’t really his fault though. Mr. Floyd had never been great about being on time going anywhere. Marcus wasn’t worried. He’d show up soon enough. He always did.
Marcus rubbed the coins in his pocket together between his thumb and forefinger. His father had given him fifty cents that morning before dropping him off at the door. Marcus figured it would be just enough for…
His thoughts were interrupted by the pounding of footsteps down the hall. Two sets: one pounding with a steady, heavy thud; the other scurrying lightly ahead. Marcus craned his neck slightly to see Jimmy and his father coming his direction.
“That money’s for the offering box, Jimmy,” Mr. Floyd was yelling after his son. “I find out anything else happened to it and I’m gonna beat your ass. You hear me? That goes for you too, Marone.” Mr. Floyd pointed an accusatory finger in Marcus’ direction with his final statement.
“Ah, come on, Mr. Floyd,” Marcus said, putting on his best airs of I don’t know what you’re talking about. “What do you take me for? What kind of boy would I have to be to steal from the church?”
“You two may have your mothers fooled, but don’t think your pop and I don’t know what’s going on. Don’t think neither of us have noticed those absences on your grade cards from Catechism class. Now get yourselves to class!”
“Yes, sir,” the boys responded. Marcus grabbed Jimmy around the upper arm and nearly had to drag him through the set of double doors leading into the classrooms that occupied the back side of the church. But Marcus didn’t take more than two steps inside the door before stopping and checking that the coast was clear. Mr. Floyd may have been right about his pop knowing what was going on – it was true his pop wasn’t half as easy to fool about missing attendances on his Sunday school glade card as his mom was, his pop didn’t trust him like his mom did – but as long as he still hadn’t been caught, he was sticking to his plan.
“Aw, come on, Marcus,” Jimmy pleaded when he saw Marcus scouting the area. “One day of Sunday school ain’t gonna kill us. Maybe we should just go to class for a while ‘til my pop calms down. I think he’s serious about beating me, ya know. He and my mom decided to quiz me the other day, just to make sure I wasn’t gonna embarrass them or nothing during the Confirmation ceremony, and I screwed up real bad.”
Marcus just snorted offhandedly at Jimmy’s concern. “They probably just asked you some impossible question to make their point. They’re trying to scare you into being good. What’d they ask you anyway?”
Jimmy lowered his head, his cheeks turning red before he even spoke. “They asked me to name the Trinity,” he said, shame coloring his voice. “I didn’t know what the answer was and I just got to stuttering and nothing else would come out.”
Marcus stared at his friend in disbelief. “Damn, Jimmy! How stupid can you be?
Jimmy cringed at Marcus’ reply. “I just got nervous, that’s all,” he said in his own defense. “Besides, you shouldn’t be swearing in the church. You’re gonna go to Hell or something.”
Marcus rolled his eyes. It was going to take a lot more to get him into Hell than just swearing. But he didn’t feel like talking about that with Jimmy. “How much did they give ya?” he asked instead, changing the subject.
“Fifty cents,” Jimmy said. “But it’s supposed to go to the offering, Marcus. My pop told me—“
Marcus cut him off, throwing his arm around Jimmy’s shoulder as he spoke. “Are you really that afraid of your old man?” he challenged. “They don’t know what we’re up to. They’re just trying to scare us. Trust me. They ain’t got a clue. If they did, they wouldn’t have left us alone down here in the first place. You and me are getting out of this scot free, you just watch.”
Marcus let go of Jimmy and gently pushed the door that led back into the hallway open just enough to peek through. Mr. Floyd was no longer out there. The coast was clear. Perfect.
The boys had discovered a brief pocket in the time that it too for their pops to get to the adult Bible study and the start of their own Sunday school class. It didn’t always work out, but when it did, the boys had just enough time to slip out the back door of the church without having to worry about being noticed.
Marcus turned back to Jimmy.
“If we’re gonna do this, we got to go now. If we don’t leave before Father Walters shows up, you know we’re done for. Now, come on.” He grabbed Jimmy’s arm and pulled him out of the building into the half full parking lot.
“I guess you’re right,” Jimmy said, shaking free of his friend. “Who needs Sunday school anyways. I don’t remember Jesus saying nothing about it. So where we headed?”
Marcus couldn’t help but think maybe Jimmy should be going to class after all. Did he not listen to anything each week during mass? But he decided not to say anything. He didn’t want Jimmy’s ignorance to ruin the morning he had planned. “I was thinking we should go pay Mr. Potter a visit down at the bakery. I figure fifty cents each is enough to get us both a jelly doughnut and a cup of coffee. We could have ourselves a snack and be back to the church before our pops show up to take us back home. It’ll be good.”
“Sounds like a plan to me,” Jimmy said. So the two of them set off in the direction of Potter’s Bakery.
Marcus and Jimmy had discovered during the last year that skipping Sunday school was a lot easier than it should have been, and there were so many things around town that they could do during the hour they were supposed to be in class. Two weeks ago they had gone down to the high school football field and practiced for their upcoming Pop Warner game (which they won). One time last month they had ventured all the way down to the river and looked out at the city skyline rising up toward the sky on the opposite side. As they sat there, Marcus couldn’t help but feel he was going to be somebody important one day and have a fancy job in a building just like those.
Even with all the fun they had, Jimmy still needed to be coaxed week after week to continue skipping. The first couple of times it had been new and exciting. Both of the boys had jumped at the opportunity for just an hour of freedom with no one telling them what to do. But now that newness was starting to wear off and Jimmy was starting to wimp out as the possibility of getting caught was becoming more likely. Marcus felt it was his duty to remind Jimmy every week that the neighborhood was much more interesting than the possibility of getting caught was likely. There was no way for their pops to really figure out what they were doing. Sunday school was at the same time as the men’s Bible study group that their mothers insisted their fathers attend. Every Sunday after mass, the men and boys went to Sunday school while the mothers and sisters went home to cook Sunday dinner. For some reason the women felt the men needed to be asking for a lot more forgiveness than they did.
It took the boys ten minutes to reach the bakery. The bakery was just a few blocks from the church, but the boys took their time getting there, walking at a leisurely pace, soaking in the crisp autumn air. Once they reached their destination, they pushed the door open, a bell announcing their arrival to Mr. Potter. He turned to face them as they approached the counter.
Marcus strutted up to the counter, exuding his best airs of importance. “I’ll take a strawberry filled jelly doughnut and a cup of coffee, black,” Marcus said as he put his coins down on the counter. “And my friend here will have the same.”
“Well if it ain’t Marone and Floyd,” Mr. Potter said, shaking his head. “I know you’re not supposed to be here this time of day on a Sunday. Your pops are gonna beat you if they find you in here.”
“Ain’t gonna happen, Mr. Potter,” Marcus said. “See, my pop sent me down here this morning ‘cause my mom didn’t have time to make me breakfast. She’s too busy cooking for all the family coming over for dinner today.”
“You’re lying through your teeth, boy,” Mr. Potter said with a chuckle. “You boys go sit down. I’ll get you your coffee and jelly doughnuts.”
Marcus and Jimmy sat down at a booth far from the window. They decided that even though they weren’t at any risk of getting caught, it would be best not to advertise their presence by sitting next to the window. Just in case.
“What if he turns us in?” Jimmy asked Marcus in a nervous whisper after they had been given their coffee and doughnuts.
“Don’t worry about it,” Marcus informed him. “Mr. Potter’s a good man. He won’t turn us in. Besides,” he added with an air of smugness, “he owes me a favor.”
Though Marcus knew Jimmy wouldn’t believe he actually had a deal with the baker, he saw his friend relax a bit all the same. For the first time that morning, they were able to start enjoying themselves.
As they continued to make their way through their doughnuts and coffee, the boys grew louder and more outspoken with their surroundings. In here, for the time being, they didn’t have to be boys, they could be men. They puffed out their chests and sat tall in their seats, working to disguise their preadolescence while only accentuating it. Here they could curse if they wanted to and not get in trouble. They could whistle at the women who came through the bakery getting bread at cakes for their families in a way they thought was charming, not harassing. They continued to sip their coffee in the way grown-ups did, as if they didn’t even notice the bitter taste, unmuted by cream or sugar.
Lost in their game of playing adults, the boys had no reason to be alerted by the bell that announced the arrival of two new customers. It was another thirty seconds before Jimmy looked up to see the backs of two broad figures sit down at the counter. He froze mid-whistle.
Marcus watched the color drain from Jimmy’s face. “What the hell’s the matter with you? You look like you seen a ghost.”
“P-p-p-p-p” was all that Jimmy could manage to stutter as he pointed past Marcus toward the figures at the counter.
Marcus turned in his seat to see what had gotten Jimmy all tongue-tied. When his eyes fell on the two men, it only took seconds for his face to turn as white as Jimmy’s. He sunk low into his seat, hoping to avoid being spotted. But it was too late. Jimmy’s sputtering had already attracted the men’s attention.
Mr. Floyd and Mr. Marone stood up from the counter and walked over to the booth where their sons were cowering against their seats. Marcus caught a glimpse of the expression on his pop’s face and found himself wondering if that was what Hell might look like.
“Jimmy,” Mr. Floyd said.
Jimmy stuttered in response, unable to form real words.
“Marcus,” Mr. Marone said.
Marcus tried to be strong, tried to stand up for himself. He didn’t like getting pushed around. He was going to face his pop man to man.
“Hey, Pop,” he squeaked in a voice that suddenly sounded very much like a little boy’s.
All manner of civility dissipated as Mr. Floyd’s rage surfaced. He grabbed Jimmy by the back of his collar and dragged him outside, turned the corner, and headed in the direction of the church. Marcus had no time to feel sorry for his friend because his pop’s hand was wrapped around his ear before he had time to process what had happened to Jimmy. Marcus screamed as he was pulled through the bakery and into his pop’s car which was waiting for them on the side of the street. As he was pulled out the door, he saw Mr. Potter laugh at the scene that was taking place in his shop.
Bastard, Marcus thought as he watched the man’s amusement at his suffering. This would be the last time he ever trusted Potter.
After throwing Marcus into the passenger seat of the car and slamming the door shut behind him, Mr. Marone got behind the wheel and started the engine. Marcus’ father didn’t say a word as he pulled out onto the street. He didn’t even look at Marcus; his eyes were focused past the windshield with a look Marcus recognized all too well. It was the look that meant is pop was pissed. The look that meant he wasn’t looking at him because he couldn’t because if he did, he just might kill him. Any eye contact at this point would be a death sentence, so Marcus kept his head down, staring at the floorboards as he and his pop rode in silence. Once or twice, Marcus risked looking over at Mr. Marone, trying to get some read off of him to gauge just how much trouble he was in, but his pop was staring straight at the road, his face set in a deep, unchanging frown. Marcus could tell he was concentrating hard on whatever it was that was going through his mind, but Marcus was too afraid to ask what it might be. Therefore, the silence was left unbroken and Marcus’ mind was left to wonder about the many punishments his pop might be coming up with to be carried out once they arrived home.
It seemed like ages before they pulled into the drive. Mr. Marone turned off the engine but didn’t move to get out of the car. He just sat there, his eyes staying fixed on the windshield. Marcus kept his head down, unsure what was going to happen next. He could feel the tension between him and his pop so thick he could hardly swallow. The silence, now magnified by the stillness of the car motor, pressed down on Marcus for a few moments longer before it was finally broken by Mr. Marone.
Without taking his eyes from the windshield, Mr. Marone said, “This is the way it’s gonna be. As long as you keep quiet about what happened today, I will save your mom the embarrassment of know what you did. Capice?
Marcus raised his gaze to stare at the side of his pop’s face, a look of confusion spread over his face. Really? That was it? No death sentence? No punishment at all? Was he really going to get off that easy? This had to be a trick.
It wasn’t until Marcus’ mom stepped out onto the stoop to shout at them, “Tommy, Marcus, what are you doing back so early? Did your classes get cut short” that Marcus realized what had actually happened that day. His pop never should have been able to catch him at Potter’s Bakery because while he was skipping Sunday school Mr. Marone was supposed to have been in the men’s Bible study class. Which could only mean Mr. Marone had been caught skipping church too. But as long as he was willing and able to keep his mouth shut, Marcus and his pop would both be able to walk away from this situation scot free.