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“You need to give.  Give to those who need it more than you.  Give to the church.  Reach into your wallets, whether it be a ten, a twenty, or a hundred.  Give to the House of God.  Look into your wallets and give, give, give…”  Paul Marion preached to the whole of America via the t.v. camera.  He reached into living rooms, invigorating his viewers.  Marion used vibrant hand motions and emotional words–words with which every person could relate: give, charity, church.  His voice echoed throughout the church in which he preached, vibrating off the stained glass and to his followers’ ears, even if they were hundreds of miles away.  He had been preaching for many years and knew how to do it well–how to make every single person in the church feel as though he was talking directly to them was Marion’s gift.  To make them remember their misdeeds on this Earth and beg for forgiveness was his role–that’s what Paul Marion was there for.  He was there to offer aid, lend a helping hand, and guide the lost…and Paul Marion was very good at his job.

            “Do not hold back.  It is never to late to repent for your sins.  Give to the church, and we, together, can help those less fortunate than ourselves.  You know who you are, who can give enough to pay for school supplies…new shoes…a meal…” he paused.  “Reach into your wallets and give, give, give…”

            Paul Marion could stir the soul in a way only few people could imagine.  He could entice the mind to give, give, give…to help those in need.  He could change the ways of many, convert morals to his own.  Flocks of people thanked him after every show.  He received grateful mail and donations upon donations.  Everybody loved Paul Marion, the preacher, and they were willing to give…give…give…

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            Julian Harbeau was not like Paul Marion.  He didn’t have a television show, and he wasn’t a preacher.  No, he wasn’t important enough to be listened to by hundreds; he was just a high school kid: too young to be taken seriously and too old to be watched over.  Unlike Paul Marion, he didn’t have booming voice that shook the soul and echoed through large buildings like a rumble of thunder.  He didn’t use expressive hand motions or passionate words, and he didn’t stand in front of people and talk.  The mere idea of a speech made him nervous, let alone the actual action.  Asking him to talk in front of a crowd (especially one as large as Marion’s) would have been like suggesting he stand in the middle of a freeway; not going to happen.

            Julian didn’t have hundreds of people thanking him, either.  In fact, most people liked to avoid Julian–that was the largest difference between him and Paul Marion.  Paul Marion was clean-cut, a man of God.  Julian was loner, cut away from the rest of normal rural society at Milestone Highschool by his style: black clothes from head to toe.  Everything he owned was black, complete with nail polish and mascara.  He didn’t talk, didn’t fit in.  He existed, too shy to make a difference and too unusual for anyone to care.

            However, Julian didn’t mind.  He was a loner.  A lone wolf, and in his mind that was okay.  If no one else wanted to understand him, he didn’t want them to try.  So, he’d sit alone at lunch and sit in the corner of class.  He’d walk home alone and go to the movies alone.  He could be his own best friend and get by.

            Life would be easier, though, if everyone else in the world wouldn’t care so much about him; not the loving “Are you alright, dear?”caring, but the “Can you believe that freak?” caring.  Julian couldn’t understand why everyone else cared so much about the way he dressed or how quiet he was.  He lived his life, did his homework, and wrote poetry–not exactly anything dangerous.  He wasn’t doing drugs (though whenever he’d walk by the police station on his way to the library, the cops would eye him suspiciously), and he wasn’t planning on bringing a gun to school any time soon (though he’d been sent to the counselor numerous).  He wasn’t harboring any anger or resentment; he was just quiet. Last time he’d checked, there wasn’t any law against being shy, but it seemed to be an unwritten rule that quiet people were avoided at all costs.  Again, to Julian that was okay.  He was a lone wolf…he just wished he could be a lone wolf without all the stares.

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            Paul Marion was better than good at his job…and he had the two million dollar home to prove it.  The saying was that God helps those who help themselves, and he couldn’t agree more.  He aided the needy by first aiding himself.  If people wanted to give, they could give, and Paul Marion would ensure it went to a good charity: The Paul Marion Home Fund.  How else was he supposed to pay for his house, or his plasma screen t.v., or all the other magnificent luxuries that life had provided?  After all, he was preaching the word of God, didn’t he deserve a few niceties.  “I believe I do,” he muttered to himself, running a hand through his mouse brown hair and looking out beyond the lake near his house. “I believe I definitely do.” 

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            “I believe I do,” Julian said to his mother.  She had asked him whether or not he’d had any homework and he had responded plainly.  He liked keeping his answers short. The less he talked, the more he could think, and today he’d been thinking up a new poem–he just needed a rhyme for the word “cherished” and it’d be finished.  He leaned over the table slightly, eating dinner quietly unless he was spoken to.  He knew his parents thought he was depressed, but Julian knew better.  He’d seen depression in the most unlikely of people on the news–athletes, movie stars–and marveled at how those who had everything could feel so low…maybe he’d write a poem about that too…

            “What in?”

            “Huh?” Julian was shaken from his thoughts by his father, a well-polished business man.

            “I said ‘What in’?”

            “Chemistry,” he muttered, returning to eating silently.

            “You should get started on it then.”

            Julian nodded, glancing at his watch; it was ten ‘til seven.  “I have to go,” he said, rising from his chair and leaving the table.

            “Where are you going?”

            “Out,” was his only response as the door banged shut behind him.

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            Everybody loved Paul Marion when he was preaching.  When he was using his vibrant hand movements, they couldn’t get enough–and they couldn’t give enough, either.  But nobody loved Paul Marion, the husband.  Nobody loved Paul Marion, the father, or Paul Marion, the employer.  Today had been a rough day for Paul Marion.  His gardener had quit, saying that Marion was harsh and picky.  The divorce had been finalized after a long six months, and the kids had gone with Gracey three states away.  Nothing was going right for Paul Marion–except the donations.  No matter how often everyone else might turn on him (though he couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to leave him; he was a preacher, after all), the donations were always pouring in, financing his own desires.

            Different people had different escapes when the world was closing in.  Some listened to music, some wrote–Paul had his money.  After all, Marion reasoned, it is money that makes this world go ‘round (not love as he so often preached). If Marion was right and money was the ultimate power, then he had nothing to worry about.  He had enough “power” locked up in the bank to finance those who needed school supplies…new shoes… a meal…

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            Julian found he was most comfortable at night. He’d never been able to explain the luster of the darkened hours, but somehow he found it invigorating.  The deathly silence that came on quiet back streets or the shimmering street lamps of the town against the stars all had a certain feeling about them, they were mysterious. 

            Julian crossed the street toward the church.  He didn’t walk up the front steps but turned toward the left where the kitchens were.  He opened the door just wide enough for him to squeeze in and was immediately met with the hassle of the soup kitchens–the mystery of the night broken within the small room.  The usual aroma of soups and herbs met him as he threw on an apron.  “Sorry I’m late, Mrs. Johnston,” he called to a lady at the counter, who was setting a bowl of soup on an elderly woman’s tray.

            “Oh good, Julian, take over here,” Mrs. Johnston shouted over her shoulder, turning away from the counter and rushing to the kitchens.  Julian hurried to his post, where the elderly lady had been replaced by a middle-aged man.  “Here you are,” Julian smiled. (He did that so rarely during the day).

            “Good to see young people helping out,” the man muttered before saying a quick “thanks” and returning to a table.

            Julian continued to grin as an older man approached the counter.  Nobody loved Julian, the goth.  But by the end of the day, he was accepted.  He still received a few stares, but he was accepted, and for Julian that was reason to smile.

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            Paul Marion was doing a t.v. special.  He was going around the country, preaching in community churches, which was okay with him.  He preaches one day somewhere new, he gets more viewers, and only one thing came form new viewers–more money.  No, he didn’t mind this at all…

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            “Where were you?”

            It was the question that always greeted him when he opened the door, and it went hand-in-hand with those looks–those looks that said “What are you up to now?”.  In all true honesty, he’d never been “up to” anything.  Never had he given them any reason to believe he was a danger to anyone; no, he’d always been fairly well-behaved.  He’d gotten a few detentions (no more than any normal kid, though) and had been grounded once or twice, but never anything to verify those looks.  Did they honestly think he was doing something stupid–breaking the law,  hurting himself?  His parents were just like the rest of the world, unwilling to understand.  So, he gave them the same answer every night.

            “Out.”

            “Out where?” his father argued as Julian turned toward the stairs. 

            “I just took a walk,” he answered, climbing the stairs two at a time toward his room–second on the right.  He closed the door quickly and was immediately met with the usual Black Sabbath posters.  His room was dark–like the night–and he wanted to keep it that way.  Julian reached for his desk lamp and turned the knob–the only light that obscured the darkness.  He turned it toward his bed, flipped on the stereo (which at present time held an Alice Cooper CD) and began to write.  He didn’t know what everyone else did when the world was nothing but a nuisance, but this was perfect for him: calming, constant.  Besides, he’d finally thought of a rhyme for “cherished”…

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            It had been month of phenomenal sermons for Paul Marion–a month of guidance, a month of donations.  The next town he was headed for was Milestone, Nebraska.  “Might as well slap ‘Middle of Nowhere, U.S.A.’ on the map,” he had boasted to his bus driver. Milestone was a small, rural town one hundred miles north of Lincoln.  Marion was stopping in Lincoln for some powerful preaching, then hitting the smaller towns, getting more viewers that may not have had the motivation to watch him as of yet: collecting more donations and…er…saving more souls.  “Let’s get going,” he said, clapping his hands together.  “Let’s get going.”

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            “Let’s get going, Julian!” his mother called him for the third time that morning.

            “One sec’,” he muttered, not nearly loud enough for his mother to hear.  He dipped his head into the sink again, washing out the dye.  “Should’ve done this last night,” he grunted, reaching for a towel.  It had been a month since he’d last dyed his hair, and his blonde roots were showing. He ran the towel through his hair and jumped down the stairs–he couldn’t afford another tardy.  “See ya’,” he muttered before running out the door.  His mother called after him, but he couldn’t make out what she’d said; all he knew was that he had to get to school; he had plans tonight, and he didn’t want to spend any of it locked up in a detention.  He whipped around the corner, nearly running into a man with mouse brown hair.

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            “Watch it, kid!”  Paul Marion yelled as teenager draped in black rushed past him.  “Look at that kid,” he told his assistant.  “It’s kids like that who’re ruining our society.”

            “I agree, Mr. Marion,” she said, nodding furiously.  “The church is down this way.”

            “Let’s get going then before someone else tries to run me into the street!” he snapped.

            The church was small, with a tall steeple that stood apart from the quaint country-style homes.  Paul Marion walked briskly up the steps, realizing again how insignificant this town was, but, if he managed more viewers…

            His sermon was scheduled for that evening at seven o’ clock.  Marion already knew what he was going to say.  It was always the same, just with a few different choice words for some added pizzaz.  “Let’s start setting up,” he yelled at his crew and took a seat at one of the pews.  “I don’t want to have a late start.”

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            “You’re late, Julian.”

            Julian walked into home room seconds after the bell.  If he had–quite literally–been two nanoseconds sooner, he would have been fine.  Most teens, he knew, would have argued, saying that they had been close enough to “on time,”but he didn’t bother.  What was more detention, really?  He supposed it wouldn’t change his plans much…Besides, whenever he tried to talk to someone outside his immediate family, he found he went brain dead.  Words wouldn’t form, and his voice box would shut down.  He merely shrugged and took his seat, looking at the clock: 7:31.  Another full school day lay ahead of him: several hours, plus a detention.  He already could feel that it was going to be a long day. 

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            After a long day of preparation and barking orders at his crew, Paul Marion was ready to preach.  The church was filled–country folk squeezed into the pews out of sheer curiosity.  “Another day, another dollar,” Marion muttered before walking in front of the crowd.  “There is not a person among us who has not sinned,” he began after a quick introduction.  “But we can repent.  We can repent for out misdeeds and go to our ultimate reward in Heaven.  To reap the glorious rewards of Heaven, we must give on Earth.  Give to those who need it more.  Give, and give with all your heart, for the more we give while on this Earth, the greater the reward in Heaven.  Give whatever you can.  A ten, a twenty, or a fifty…and for those of you who can reach into your wallets and give a hundred–and you know who you are–think of the lives you can change with a donation to the church, the House of God.  Our lives are not measured by our money in the bank, but by how many people we have touched.  How many lives we have bettered?” he paused, slowly scanning the church.  “How many lives have you bettered?”

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            Julian had been wrong.  It hadn’t been a long day–it had been horrific day.  He’d completely forgotten about that chemistry homework.  Of course, he could do it tonight for half credit, but now he also had three tests to study for as well.  Just to add to his day, all the tables at lunch had been taken, so he’d been forced to eat in a lonely corner (lone wolf, he reminded himself as he turned the corner to his house) .  His locker had felt like rebelling and nearly made him late to study hall, and, of course, detention had dragged.  In all true honesty, he couldn’t have imagined a worse day if he’d tried.  He’d have just enough time to do his work before heading out to the soup kitchens at 7:30.

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            “You need to give, give to the needy who have nothing.  Give and reap the rewards that come with it,” Marion preached loudly, walking about and throwing his hands in the air. He stopped at a mother who was cradling a baby.  “How do you feel, knowing that infants much like yours are suffering?  In orphanages, poor homes?” he didn’t wait for an answer.  “Give to help those less fortunate, give to the church.  We can touch the lives of many.  Give, give, give….”

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            It was dusk when Julian set out toward the church.  It was the time when night and day met, darkness and light mixing for a few short moments every evening, like the battle of good and evil swirling together for one brief moment.   Julian smiled; he’d have to work that into a poem somehow.  He was almost at the church when he froze, dead in his tracks.  He had never seen so many cars outside the church before, but one van in particular made his heart skip a beat:  a Channel 16 van.  It was a religious station that Julian usually flipped past when he actually watched t.v.  What was that van doing here?  There honestly wasn’t a show being filmed in there!   There couldn’t be!  This was his safe place, where he was accepted.  He didn’t want cameras or the chance of being in the eye of one.  Cameras meant audiences; Julian hated audiences.  He didn’t want the world to see him.  He wanted to fade into the darkness, drown in his poetry, not be apart of the rest of the world!  What was that…that…thing doing here?

            Julian turned to leave, but stopped.  He’d told Mrs. Johnston he would help out.  He’d told her he’d be there.  Julian might be unusual.  He might be awkward.  He might be a little bit dark, heck, he might be a lot of things!  But there was thing he wasn’t: a cop-out.  He’d made a commitment, and he’d stay with it.  He trudged forward, stuffing his hands in his pockets.  Perhaps he could work in the kitchens, rather than at the counters…

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            Paul Marion had preached long and hard. He had used his words and his movements to ensnare the church-goers spread below him.  He had done better than he had done in a long time.  Marion walked toward the soup kitchens, where he would end the show his viewers would see weeks later.  He opened the door to the busy soup kitchen, where poverty-stricken souls were receiving a little help from the good-hearted.  “Give to the church so that we may continue to finance soup kitchens much like this one.  Give the money that weighs down your wallets to help fill the stomachs of the hungry, the hearts of the homeless.   Give to the church and you will reap your ultimate reward…”

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            Julian looked up from the giant pot he was stirring. A man with mouse brown hair and official clothes had entered, talking into a camera.  Julian realized he was a preacher.  Unbidden, an immediate infuriation rose within him.  He didn’t know why, and he knew it was foolish and wrong to feel so angry at that man; he was a preacher, after all.  Julian knew it was selfish to feel so upset just because he had to share his “safe place” for one day, but he couldn’t help it. Julian continued to stir the pot, listening to the man’s booming voice.  Ah well, as long as he was helping people, Julian didn’t mind sharing…at least for one day.

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            Paul Marion was positive he had gained more viewers; and after a sermon as powerful as that, who couldn’t have?  The van was loading up, and he had stopped for a quick smoke before heading out towards Des Moines. “Let’s get outta here before I start talking like a country bumpkin,” he spat, noticing a teenager walking out of the church.  He was dressed in black and blended into the darkening night.  “Hey, isn’t that the kid from this morning?” he snapped at his assistant.

            She looked as well, nodding.  “I think so.”

            “What, that freak stalking me or something?” he threw down the butt of his cigarette and turned toward his crew.  “You ready yet?”

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            Julian turned sharply to see the preacher loading up his truck.  He couldn’t help but grin,  Good, no more of those cameras.  Last time he checked, good Samaritans just did stuff because they wanted to, not because some camera was shoved up their face–not to mention most people didn’t need someone telling them to help, they helped because they could and they liked the feeling of a good deed.  Julian couldn’t place it, but there was something about that man he just didn’t like.

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            Julian wasn’t the only person on the street.  There was young mother walking toward the church, carrying a suitcase and a small baby in her arms.  She looked as though she had been crying, mascara had blurred down her cheeks, and her eyes were puffy and red.  Paul Marion looked down at her when she stopped and sat on the church steps, cradling her sleeping baby.

            “What’s wrong with you?” Marion spat.

            She answered bluntly.  “I’ve been evicted.  I came to the church.”

            “Mr. Marion,” his assistant began.  She knew about the large sum of money Marion had brought with him for his own niceties.

            “What?” Marion snapped. “I can’t give money to every charity case that gives me a sob story!” he turned back to his crew. “Let’s go!”

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            When Julian had been a young child, he’d heard that life would have a lot of different roads.  One road would be easy to walk, and the other would treacherous.  He’d heard that the easiest road would get you far in life, get you money and power, if you played your cards right; but the treacherous road would get you something more. 

            Julian looked across the street and realized there and then why he didn’t like that preacher.   He could hear Marion’s shouts and feel his own wallet weighing down his pants: fifty dollars–fifty dollars he had been saving up for the past three months; he already could see those concert tickets flying out the window.  Julian looked from the church to the road ahead of him and back to the poor mother.  Julian took a deep breath and began to cross the street.  He couldn’t believe what he was doing, but he’d love to show that preacher howa real Samaritan treated the needy.

            “Excuse me,” Julian’s voice was higher and quieter than was natural, but he moved toward the mother, nonetheless.

            “Get outta here, punk!” Marion spat, walking toward his van. The mother began to stand up and held her baby closer, so Julian didn’t come any nearer.  He reached into his wallet, withdrew all the money, and held it out to the woman.  “Here,” he muttered.

            She looked apprehensive, so he continued, “‘Bout fifty dollars.”  He held it out farther, and in that brief moment, everyone paused; even Paul Marion had stopped to look at this strange Gothic kid giving his money out of his own pocket to the young mother.  “Here,” he muttered again. 

            “Thank you,” she looked somewhere between grateful and stunned as she took the money.

            Julian nodded and walked away, suppressing another grin.  At that moment, he was confident all the money in the world couldn’t compare to the feeling that was pulsing through his body now.  The wonderful feeling that came when you decided to give, give, give…

Copyright Sarah Davidson 2020

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