Word Count C-2 = 5,779 Montgomery

Chapter 2

Pierce reluctantly wore his glasses to the health club on Friday; one of his soft contact lenses had torn.  Although his black metal frames looked great, he disliked the “unnatural” appearance they imparted.  Plus, they crept down his nose as he progressed through his advanced weight workout.

Nevertheless, he felt compelled to wear them at the gym, since it was important to him that he be able to survey himself in the mirror and to ascertain who might be watching him.  Besides intensifying the grimacing expressions on his face, it also helped him to squeeze in two or three more reps if he felt he had an audience.

After showering and then drying off in the locker room, Pierce wiped his glasses with the damp towel wrapped around his waist.  Geoff was a few feet away, in front of a mirror, brushing his hair.  Pierce and Geoff had seen each other around the gym for 5 or 6 years, but they never had conversed.  Neither was very talktative.  Geoff inquired, “Say, you normally wear contacts?  I’ve never seen you with glasses before.”

“Yeah, ordinarily,” replied Pierce.  They both offered amicable smiles as they exchanged glances in the mirror.  “These things are really a hindrance,” Pierce continued.  He held up his glasses to view a fluorescent light through the lenses to see if he had removed all the smudges.  “I’ve got an appointment in a few days with an optometrist to replace the lens I tore.”

“Oh, yeah?” responded Geoff, turning toward Pierce and continuing.  “Contacts are great, aren’t they?”

Absolutely!  I see better with them than with glasses, and they’re great for sports.  I hate playin’ basketball with glasses, ’cause they cut out so much of my peripheral vision.  Plus...they hurt my nose if something hits ’em.”

“Yeah, I know.  I’ve worn contacts for a long time, but I’ve always had rigid lenses.  I find them a lot easier to take care of than soft....”

“But don’t they pop out of your eyes sometimes?”  Pierce interjected.

“Well, they can if your face gets whacked, like in contact sports.  But normally they shouldn’t...not if they’re fitted properly.”

“Don’t they hurt, though?”

“Mmm...they shouldn’t if the edges are polished smoothly.”  Asking to see Pierce’s glasses, Geoff took them and, with one eye closed, held them about two feet away.  He rotated them one way and then the other, looking at the same fluorescent light that Pierce had viewed through the lenses.

Pierce, mostly dressed by then, began to comb his hair and resumed the conversation with Geoff’s reflection in the mirror.  With a glint of curiosity in his voice, he inquired, “You an optician or what?”

“Optometrist,” replied Geoff, returning the glasses to Pierce.

“Yeah?...no kidding?”  Glasses on, Pierce straightened them as he looked in the mirror.

“Yep.  If I had my own place, I’d get you a new contact lens at cost.  But I work for an HMO, and you’d have to be a member for me to examine you.”

“You don’t happen to work for VHG, do you?”  Pierce queried.

“If you mean Valley Health Group, yeah I do,” replied Geoff, zipping closed his gym bag and moving toward the door.  “Is that your health plan?”

“Sure is!  You’re not by any chance Doctor Hutton, are you?”  Pierce smiled inquisitively, slinging his bag strap over his shoulder.  He joined Geoff in stride as Geoff passed by on his way out.

“At your service!  Is your appointment with me?”

“I’m sure that’s the name the receptionist gave me.  Can you believe it?”

“Small world!” replied Geoff, though he was not at all surprised, as he perceived “coincidences” merely as examples of divine Will.  “When’s your appointment?”

“Monday afternoon...I think at five...bet I’ll be your last patient.”

“Yeah, you are.  Oh...be sure to bring your glasses with you...along with your most recent prescriptions for glasses and contact lenses, if you have ’em.  We can determine if your eyes have changed and, if so, how much.”

“Good idea.  I’m pretty sure I know where those prescriptions are,” replied Pierce.  “Hey, Doc...what’d you see when you looked through my glasses?”  As they departed together, Geoff related that, along with low to moderate nearsightedness, Pierce had only very mild astigmatism in both eyes.

Geoff added that, on Monday, he would give Pierce some explanatory handouts that he had generated for his patients.  Geoff took great pleasure in providing people with information which might enhance the knowledge and understanding of their eyes, vision, and visual hygiene.

“OK, Doctor Hutton...have a good weekend.  By the way, I’m Pierce Nevin,” he announced, extending his hand.  “I coach basketball at Foothill High—we’ve got a decisive game tonight—and I also teach science.”

Accepting Pierce’s right hand heartily with his own, Geoff returned, “It’s a pleasure.  Call me ‘Jeff,’ OK?...that’s G-E-O-F-F.  By the way, Coach...I hope you win your game tonight!  And, while driving with those glasses, watch out for other cars in your periphery when you change lanes!”

Walking toward his car, Pierce waved his right hand.  “OK, Geoff!”

As Geoff departed, he contemplated some of the optometric handouts he had created, considering which ones should be the most helpful and informative to Pierce.  He felt curiously at ease around Pierce and believed they had the potential to relate to each other on a deeper intellectual—maybe even spiritual—level.  He hoped that they would.

Pierce was unusually enthusiastic to have made a new acquaintance at the gym, something he ordinarily refrained from doing—but not because it was difficult for him.  With his strikingly good looks and absorbing personality, practically everybody wanted to get to know him.  Rather, he was more of a loner.  And because he often was wary of people—believing that most of them were drawn to him by his external appearance rather than by his character and integrity—he felt comfortable relating only to a select few.

Suddenly, a familiar apprehension in Pierce’s spirit resurfaced as he noticed the small, orange clasp envelope with black trim which had been placed on his car windshield behind a wiper.  He paused and, with a sense of trepidation, took a deep breath before retrieving the envelope.  Upon opening it, he found a cassette tape.  After starting up his car, he reluctantly inserted the tape into the tape deck before driving away.

<==>

Coach Nevin walked into the Foothill High School gym at 7:00 a.m. on Monday for a skull session, an hour prior to the beginning of his first period class.  He was greeted by the blissful faces of the boys’ basketball team.

The team captain and point guard, Jerry Wells, shouted, “Let’s hear it for Coach Nevin!” causing the entire Warrior team to gather around Pierce and, between exuberant cheers, bombard him with praises and slaps on the back.  It was a repeat of the scene at the same location on Friday night, after the team barely had defeated their biggest rivals, the Demons, 84–83.  The win had placed them as runners-up for the district title; all they needed was a victory the following Friday, and they would go to the regional tournament.

“OK, OK guys!” shouted Pierce above the clamor, pushing up his glasses with the middle finger of one hand.  He held up the other hand to quiet down the boys; yet, at the same time, he did not want the praise to subside.  “We’ve still got a lotta work to do, team.  This week’s practices have got to be intense so we can come out on top Friday night.  So, fire up, men!”

“All right, Coach!” and “Let’s get down to business, Coach!” were the collective responses, which resembled the cries of a pack of confined wolves longing to be unleashed for a kill.  Pierce echoed, “OK...let’s get fierce!

This was Pierce’s first year coaching and teaching at Foothill High, and he could not help but feel proud of himself.  Besides having been voted “most popular teacher” by the student body, he had led the boys’ basketball team to an unprecedented 18–2 season.  He was liked and respected by most of the students, even by those he did not instruct, and by all of the faculty members except for one: Steven Young, the football coach.

Coach Young, whose office was adjacent to Pierce’s, had arrived a few minutes beforehand, though rarely was he there that early.  Steven had been the best-looking and best-liked instructor—that is, until Pierce had joined the staff.  Remarkably, both men were the same age, 33, and had markedly similar appearances: short black hair, blue eyes, handsome features, and athletic, well-defined physiques, though Steven was a bit taller than Pierce’s 5'9".

Pierce had detected enmity in Steven when they had met—exhibited by his remark, “Great...a short basketball coach!”—and sensed it had escalated over time.  As a result, Pierce felt awkward when he unexpectedly noticed Steven, his left hand stroking his chin, observing Pierce with his players from his office doorway.  Pierce did not recall ever having seen the football squad, a few of whom were on his basketball team, granting Coach Young such a spirited reception.

<==>

Geoff arrived at work at 7:50 a.m.—ten minutes before his first patient’s appointment—and carefully perused his schedule on the computer, as he normally did.  He noticed Pierce Nevin’s name in the five o’clock time slot but, just as quickly, forgot about it.

Geoff did not like stressful “surprises” during the day, such as insufficient time being scheduled for a contact lens fitting, nor more than half the number of his patients’ being over age 70.  It was not that he disliked fitting contact lenses or examining seniors.  Rather, he knew that these and certain other patients often required more time-consuming testing and special attention to be serviced properly.  He wanted to be sure he had adequate time to spend with each of them without falling behind.  Unfortunately for his stress level, he usually did run late.

“How’re ya doin’, Doc?” came an exuberant greeting from Tom, Geoff’s lead receptionist for two years, who appeared in the doorway of the file room.  The lean, tanned surfer was 22.  He ran the long fingers of each hand through the full expanse of his damp, almost shoulder-length, sun-bleached hair.

“Hey, dude, I’m doin’ great!  You have a good weekend?” returned Geoff, who, though twice Tom’s age, never treated him as a subordinate.

“Yeah, I sure did!  Liz and I surfed both days.  The waves off Huntington Beach have been awesome for a week!” Tom replied enthusiastically.  “I even got in a few radical rides at dawn today—barely had time to shower—and, just between you and me, dude, I was tempted to call in sick and ride those ‘killer’ waves again all day!  D’you have a good weekend?”

“Not as action-packed as yours, but it was exciting.  I went camping out at Joshua Tree with my friend, Luke...even felt a little earth tremor.  We ate like pigs and did some hiking to burn off the calories.  I took Penny along, too.  She likes the new venison and rice food I switched her to.  Luke has just about taught her how to open the cans by herself.”

“Penny is smarter than the average pig...uh, dog...ya know!  How is that mut, anyway?...she recovered yet from gettin’ her innards yanked out?” continued Tom, his eyes closed.  He repeatedly combed his wavy blond hair with his spread fingers and shook his tilted-back head from side to side to finish drying it.

“She’s had a pretty remarkable recovery in a week.  I guess she’s reconciled to the fact that she’ll never be a mommy.  She went on a coupla short hikes with us but spent a lot of the time in the tent lickin’ her stitches.”

Tom already had printed out Geoff’s daily schedule and handed him a crisp copy.  “Looks like a gruelin’ day, Doc!”

“Yeah, I noticed,” agreed Geoff with a distinctive sigh.  “By the way, Mrs. Nolan’s ophthalmologist was supposed to laser a few of her post-cataract sutures last week to reduce her astigmatism before I refract her.  Can you call her, before she comes in, to see if that procedure was performed?”

“Been there, done that, Doc!” beamed Tom proudly.  “I called her the last thing on Friday; the doctor had zapped her eye that mornin’.”

“I shoulda known you’d be on top of that one, bud!”  Opening a drawer, Geoff retrieved an open package of small adhesive stars, peeled off a gold one, and reached up to stick it in the middle of Tom’s forehead—just as the first patient of the day was walking into the room through the open doorway.  Seeing the broken glasses in her hand, Geoff whispered through the side of his mouth, “Mrs. Bolger couldn’t see Godzilla if he were charging her.”  The two exchanged smiles; and Tom, stifling a laugh, removed the gold star—applying it to Geoff’s ear—before welcoming Mrs. Bolger to the office.

<==>

Pierce moved with his typical deliberate, self-assured stride down the hall on the way to room 238, where his science class awaited him.  He deeply was contemplating the two vital offensive plays which he had diagrammed on the blackboard and had discussed in great detail with his players.

His mind preoccupied, Pierce was not (though he often was) cognizant of the admiring, longing eyes of a few female teachers—including those of Mrs. Andrea Young, a.k.a. Mrs. Steven Young—which pursued him from classroom doorways.  Two students bolted past him en route to their classes as the eight o’clock bell sounded.

Energetically scaling two flights of stairs, two steps at a time, up to the second floor, Pierce continued down the wooden hallway in a jog.  “Hey, Coach!  Your eyes fallin’ apart like the rest o’ you?” echoed a goading voice, which originated from the entrance to room 232, just ahead.

Pierce felt like he had been jerked abruptly out of an engrossing dream.  He wrenched his head toward the source of the disconcerting verbal affront and, slowing his gait a bit, responded, “Wh...what’s that again?”

Coach Young, a wry smile revealing his overt pleasure in having violated Pierce’s innermost thoughts, inquired, “Nice glasses.  Are you the new librarian or what?”

Refocusing his attention directly ahead, and increasing his pace again, Pierce raised up one hand and responded just loudly enough for the intruder to hear:  “I tore a contact.”  He was chagrinned that someone who made him feel so ill at ease had reminded him of his visual deficiency.  Before entering his classroom, he removed his glasses and slipped them into his shirt pocket.

Raquel Lacey, the ravishing head cheerleader—and girlfriend of Jerry Wells, the basketball team captain—was in her regular seat at the front of the center row.  Pierce tangentially recognized her in her characteristic pose: lounging sideways in her desk, and bouncing one sculpted leg up and down as it dangled over the other.  She clasped an oversized pencil, the eraser of which Pierce knew she must be nibbling.  The pencil projected outward from between her thumb and first two fingers; her two end fingers pointed upward, as if she were holding a dainty cup of tea.

Although it was an effort, Pierce always made a conscious attempt not to pay more attention to Miss Lacey than to any other student, whether inside or outside of class, especially since he could feel her leering intently at him whenever they were together in the same room.  Today, he had in mind to educate his students about the range of wind speeds in each of the five categories of hurricanes.

This task was made a little easier than usual because, without corrective lenses, he did not observe the new, stimulating hair style, low-cut flowered dress, and fluorescent-pink lipstick which Raquel had purchased over the weekend.  Had he noticed, he rightly might have assumed that their sole purpose was to seize his attention.

<==>

A bit overwrought as he arrived at the reception desk, Pierce noticed the Eye Care office wall clock, maintained accurately to the second each day by Dr. Geoff Hutton.  It was 5:12 p.m., and Pierce apologized to the lone receptionist for being late.  Tom, caught in the middle of a big end-of-the-day yawn, looked up from his paperwork.  “Hi...could I have your name, please?”

“Nevin...Pierce...for five o’clock.”  Pierce ran a comb through his hair.  “Boy!...seems like the number of cars on the freeway at rush hour increases constantly in Southern California.  More accidents seem to hinder traffic flow everyday!”

“No kiddin’...but you’d be lost around here without a car!  Say, d’you remember me from Lowe High School a coupla years ago...Tom Hastings?”

“Oh, yeah, yeah...how’re ya doin’, Tom?” replied Pierce, extending his right hand, which was shaken by Tom’s as he arose partially out of his seat.  “Hey...as I recall, you’re a pretty tall fellow.”

“Six foot four-and-a-half,” gleamed Tom, standing up the rest of the way, his mouth settling into his trademark broad, pure-white smile, which all the local surfer girls deemed as “killer.”  Retrieving the doctor’s schedule onto the computer screen and tapping the keyboard with his pen, Tom found Pierce’s name and pressed the proper keys to highlight it, indicating that he had kept his appointment.  “Another perfect record.”

“’Scuse me?” inquired Pierce.

“Oh...all of Doctor Hutton’s patients showed today...not an uncommon occurrence.”  Tom, sitting back down, maintained eye contact with Pierce.  “The doctor’s runnin’ behind right now, so don’t worry about bein’ late.  I’ll let him know you’re here.”  Tom buzzed Geoff’s intercom once, notifying him that his last patient of the day had arrived.

As soon as Tom had done so, Pierce remarked, “Tom, didn’t I tell you once that I thought your height, big hands, and long reach might enable you to shoot some big scores for us on the Lowe High basketball team?”

“Yep...,” chuckled Tom, “and I told you that the only thing I knew how to ‘shoot’ was a gun—I’m a Marksman First Class—and that I probably couldn’t stuff a basketball into a swimmin’ pool from a divin’ board!”

“That’s it...I remember now!” laughed Pierce, whose smile also was deemed to be “killer” by many of the lady faculty members at Foothill High.

A familiar voice suddenly originated from the hall doorway.  “Hey there, Pierce!  I just now saw your name on my schedule and remembered you were coming.”  The chipper voice did not match the weary countenance, which Pierce and Tom perceived as they turned their heads toward Geoff.  “How’re you doin’ today?”

“OK, Doctor...uh, Geoff.  Sorry I’m late; the traffic was horrendous.”

“Hey, don’t worry about it.  As you can tell, I’m lagging behind as well.  But if you can hang on for about ten more minutes, I’ll see you then.”  With furrowed eyebrows, he added, “Will that put a damper on your schedule?”

Not at all...I’m skippin’ the gym today.  But I don’t wanna rush you.  Would it be better if we rescheduled this for another day?”

“No, no...believe me, I’m used to it...and the only ‘rushing’ I have to do is going home tonight to walk my dog and then to heat up leftovers.”

“Great!”  Pierce grabbed a generic sports magazine from the nearest table, sat down, and crossed one ankle over the opposite knee.  “I don’t mind waiting.  Tell you what...I’ll even treat you to dinner for your time,” he tendered, pointing his finger as a friendly gesture toward Geoff.

Geoff never, but never, passed up free food.  Although he liked his own cooking, ever since his divorce, he always enjoyed the opportunity to have a restaurant meal with someone else.  Pierce might just as well have presented him with a winning lottery ticket.  “You’re on, pal; that’s the best offer I’ve had today!”  He pointed back at Pierce, turned around, and returned to his exam room, all the while sensing a familiar supernatural “power” establishing a bond between them.

Tom buzzed the optical dispensary and handed Pierce’s file to the optician when she emerged.  With a pleasant smile, she asked Pierce if she might take his glasses.  Removing them from his shirt pocket, he handed them to her.  Her fingers passed deliberately over his as she took them.  Then she vanished back into the dispensary.

Having measured the strength of both lenses on the automatic lensometer and stapled the digital printout to Pierce’s chart, the attractive optician returned his glasses and handed back his chart to Tom.  As she left the room, she smiled once more at Pierce.  Had he not seen a diamond on her finger, he knew he would have engaged her in a conversation.

<==>

The subjective portion of the comprehensive visual examination was routine.  Geoff ascertained that neither Pierce’s spectacle prescription nor his contact lens prescription had changed.  Removing the phoropter from in front of Pierce’s face, Geoff remarked, “You sure make my job easy, Coach!  You’re an excellent observer!”

Really?  Some of those lens selections you gave me looked the same, and I didn’t know if I was giving you the right answers,” replied Pierce.  “Were you checking for astigmatism?  By the way...what is astigmatism, anyway?”

“That was one thing I measured, along with your degree of myopia or nearsightedness.  I also measured how balanced are the muscles that move your eyes, your ability to refocus between far and near distances, and other things.”  As he swung the slitlamp into place in front of his patient, he motioned for Pierce to place his chin on the chinrest and forehead against the headrest.

Geoff added, “Ideally, the cornea—the clear dome at the front of your eye upon which a contact lens rests—is shaped round...like the side of a basketball.  But most people’s corneas are not exactly round; the shape tends a little toward being like the side of a football...whether it is situated upright, or on its side, or at any axial orientation in between.  That’s astigmatism.  It’s the most common type of refractive error, and it causes the focus of light inside the eye to be ‘smeared’ rather than sharp and clear.  I’ll give you some detailed handouts when we’re done.  Now, hold still just a minute while I measure your intraocular pressures.”

Pierce held his breath and refrained from blinking his eyes, which had been anesthetized with orange-colored drops.  Geoff touched each eye with the applanation tonometer and withdrew the apparatus.  “Is that it, Doc?”

“Not yet.  Let me scan your eyes under very high magnification with my biomicroscope.”  Geoff surveyed Pierce’s eyelid margins, corneas, conjunctivae, lacrimal ducts, and irises.  As he slowly scanned over the second iris, Geoff noted aloud, “This is pretty fascinating.  I rarely observe eyes with exceptionally blue irises like yours.  Usually, there are brown, yellow, or green fibers woven in, or I see a dark freckle or two.  But yours appear pure blue, even under the highest magnification.  Interesting.  You can sit back now.”

“I remember a couple of old girlfriends who seemed to have a certain preoccupation with my eyes.  I guess I really don’t why when I look in the mirror.”

Geoff’s attention was centered on recording all that he had observed during the biomicroscopic evaluation.  “Sorry, what was that again?”

“Oh, nothin’...just reminiscing about old girlfriends,” laughed Pierce.

“Yeah, I do that too sometimes.  I’ve been married once, almost twice.  You?”

“Four times—almost—for me.  But I was always the one who got ‘cold feet’ and backed out.  I didn’t wanna hurt any of ’em; I just wasn’t ready.  Now they’re all married—I hope happily—but none of ’em stay in contact with me.  I wanted to stay friends with ’em, but I guess that wasn’t mutual.”

“I know what you mean,” mused Geoff.  “I guess if they couldn’t have us, they didn’t want to have anything to do with us!  Oh well, their loss, right?”

“No doubt about that, Doc!” replied Pierce, backhanding Geoff on the biceps.  “Anyway, I guess I’m skeptical that I’ll ever find the right girl.”

Geoff approached his extensive stock of contact lenses to find a pair: one to replace the lens Pierce had torn and the other to replace his second lens, onto which protein and other assorted organic matter had been deposited.  “Pierce, daily-wear contact lenses should be enzymed no less frequently than once every two weeks.  Another option would be to obtain disposable contact lenses, although you would have to pay an additional amount over and above what your health plan covers.”

Pierce opted for the disposable lenses at the extra charge.

Applying a brand new pair of disposable contact lenses onto Pierce’s eyes, Geoff changed the topic back to marriage and stated matter-of-factly, “You know, in the Bible, the writer Paul alleged that married people will face more troubles and distractions in life than unmarried folks.  For that reason, he advised unmarried men not to look for a wife.”

“Really?  That’s hard to believe!” Pierce exclaimed, with a detectable note of surprise.  His new lenses in place, he blinked several times.  Geoff sensed that Pierce’s reply was due partly to Geoff’s having made a direct reference to the Bible and partly to Pierce’s incredulity that the Bible would have such a statement in it about marriage.  “Do you think that writer felt it’s wrong to get married?” continued Pierce slowly, almost cautiously.

“No, no...I didn’t mean to give the impression that the apostle Paul felt that way.  He stressed that there is nothing wrong in getting married and, in fact, that married people should not seek to get a divorce.  These statements are in First Corinthians, chapter 7, verses 27 and 28.”

“Hmm...hey, I can see like an eagle with these new lenses, Doc!”  Geoff verified each eye’s acuity to be 20/15+.  “By the way, Geoff, what’s your favorite kinda food?”

“Well...I really like Vietnamese cuisine.  Would you consider eating over in Little Saigon?...that is, if you still want to go to dinner.”

Pierce was somewhat reluctant to try a new cuisine, but he had made a commitment.  And if he was anything, he was adaptable.  “Uh, sure...why not.  I’ve never had it, but I’m willing to try almost anything once!”

“Great!  Tell you what,” offered Geoff, “let’s go in my car, and I’ll bring you back here to get yours afterward.  How’s that sound?”  This suggestion was acceptable to Pierce, who took the leaflets Geoff handed him.

<==>

While waiting to be served, Geoff listened intently to Pierce recount how, thus far, he had taken his basketball team to within a hairsbreadth of the district title.  When the platters arrived, however, the attention was reversed, as Pierce eyed his newfound acquaintance with wonder and even a sense of awe.

Having disregarded the waitress’ words of caution, Geoff had ordered the spiciest menu item.  Yet the only perceptible sign that the fiery food had any adverse effect on him, other than an occasional sniffle, was a telltale flush on his face whenever he consumed a whole, dark red chili pepper.  Shaking his head, Pierce confessed, “I don’t get it!  You sure don’t look Vietnamese...nor, for that matter, Mexican or Persian!  Are you Cajun?”

His ardent concentration on the food before him broken, Geoff looked up.  He was not surprised to hear a remark like that from Pierce, as he had from many who had observed him in one of his favorite states of bliss.

“Huh?” came the response.  “Oh...I’m mostly Scotch-Irish, but I was raised in Northern New Mexico, well-known for its unique Mexican-Indian cuisine.  I’ve rarely found it like that in California.  When I was little, my brother-in-law used to get me these outstanding rolled tacos, and I learned to eat them with incredibly hot salsa.  Pretty soon, I craved the heat.”

“Hmm...what’s the hottest stuff you’ve ever had?”

Geoff paused and thought.  “Let’s see...probably it was once in college when I was studying with an Hispanic girlfriend.  We were at her parents’ home, and I took a break to go out and look at the stars for a few minutes.  On the way back in, I walked through the garage and noticed a plastic container on the clothes dryer.  Inside was what looked and smelled like red-hot chili.

When I asked her about the chili, she said that her mom, unfortunately, had made it way too hot for anyone in her family to eat.  So, when I asked for some, she was hesitant—like our waitress tonight—but I insisted.  I ended up eating three large bowlfuls because it was so good; then I took the rest home.  She couldn’t believe it and called me the ‘red hot tamale’ after that.”

“Man!...just looking at you eat that food makes my eyes water!” uttered Pierce.  “It’s a good thing I ordered mine mild.”  He continued staring as Geoff proceeded to devour his meal, like a man ending a long hunger strike.  “You look as if you get some weird kind of buzz from eating that stuff!”

Swallowing another mouthful, Geoff explained, “Actually, you may get a similar high after you’ve pressed weights one or two reps beyond the point where your muscles begin protesting.  You see, what makes chili hot is capsaicin.”  Saying this, he wrote “C18H27NO3” on his napkin.  “That’s its molecular structure.  It’s been discovered that some people develop an addiction to the stuff, and I must be one of ’em.  Your brain thinks your mouth is on fire when you eat it, so it triggers the release of endorphins, which are like internal morphine, to kill the pain.  Runners get a similar high whenever they push themselves past the limit.”

“I know about endorphins, but I didn’t know chili released ’em.”

“Yep,” affirmed Geoff, using his fork as a tool in an attempt to scrape every molecule of C18H27NO3 off of his plate.  “So, how was your food?”

“Actually, it’s one of the tastiest meals I’ve ever had.  I’m glad you recommended it!  I definitely will try it again.  In time, maybe I can take it a little hotter...,” replied Pierce with a grin and raised eyebrows, “like you!”

“Uh-oh...I hope I haven’t created another ‘chili addict’ like myself!”  They laughed.  “Say, uh...I’m just curious...what’s your ethnic background?”

“Well, I’ve got mostly Finnish and Italian in me; but, officially, I’m Jewish,” returned Pierce.

“So, your mom is Jewish?”

“Her mom was, and you apparently realize that you’re regarded as Jewish if your mom is Jewish.”  Pierce seemed to anticipate Geoff’s next question.  “My mom took me to synagogue when I was growing up—with no objection from my dad—and I learned all the Hebrew chants and songs.  But I guess I don’t adhere to the faith of Judaism...nor, really, to that of any religion.”

“What religious faith was your dad?”

“Catholic.  But, as I recall, he mainly went to church around Christmas, soon after my mom celebrated Hanukkah.”

“Hmm.”  Geoff nodded, maintaining visual contact with Pierce.  “So I guess the subject of ‘Jesus’ was sort of a foreign topic around your house.”

Pierce broke eye contact for a few moments and then regained it.  “Yeah.  As you know, a Jew believing in Jesus is as incongruous and contradictory as...well...a person of Northern European descent like yourself loving hot, spicy food...doesn’t make any sense.”  Pierce finished his soda, crunched a little ice, and noticed three waitresses huddled together across the room, eyeing them and whispering to each other.  He figured they could not believe that his companion had consumed an entire platter of blazing hot scallops.

“You know, of course, that Jesus was Jewish, right?”

Pierce gaped at Geoff for a couple of seconds, responding, “Really?...no, I guess I didn’t realize that,” before closing his mouth.

“Yeah.  In fact, not only were the authors of all the books in the Old Testament Jewish, but so were all the writers of the New Testament—except, possibly, for Luke.”  Pierce nervously readjusted himself in his chair.  “And I have seen convincing evidence indicating that even Luke was Jewish.”

Pierce’s only reply was, “Hmm.”  He wiped his mouth with his napkin.

“So...are you at all familiar with the Bible?” Geoff queried.

“Uh, sure.  The Hebrew Scriptures, especially the Torah—you know, the first five books of the Bible—were drilled into my head as a kid.  I remember a lot of those ancient stories about guys like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and others.  But I never saw how they applied to me, so I never had much interest in ’em.”  Covering the check with one hand, Pierce laid down his napkin with the other—ready to reach for his glassful of water, as his soda glass contained only melting ice.  The inside of his mouth felt like cotton.

“It seems clear in the Scriptures,” proposed Geoff, “that all those men you mentioned had extraordinary missions in life.  Actually, I have a strong feeling that you do too, Pierce.”

Reflexively, Pierce’s hand jerked, knocking over his water glass, as he recalled similar words he recently had heard on the cassette tape left on his car.  Water covered the tabletop.  Pierce arose from his chair at once, but Geoff perceived that this was due more to sheer uneasiness than to an avoidance of getting wet.  Pierce used the situation to his advantage, announcing, “I think I’m ready to go.  How ’bout you?”

“Uh, yeah...my dog’s probably crossing her legs by now.”  Following Pierce to the register, Geoff continued in a subdued tone, “Hey, man, this was an exceptional dinner!  Thanks a lot; the next one’s on me, pal!”

Pierce raised his right hand in the air but did not reply.  He also did not have much to say as they drove the long ten minutes back to his car, as though he did not want there to be a next time.

Geoff gathered that he had touched a sensitive nerve but did not want to press the issue by asking.  He reiterated in what excellent health were Pierce’s eyes, and probably the rest of him as well—since Geoff saw the eyes as a type of “window” into a person’s body—and that his first six-pack of disposable contact lenses should be ready to be picked up in three days.

As Pierce exited the car, Geoff repeated, “Thanks again for dinner.  See ya around at the gym.”  He did not notice until later that the handouts he had given to Pierce had been left on the floorboard.

“Sure, man,” was the response.  But Geoff did not see Pierce at the gym late any afternoon for the rest of the week, nor even when Pierce dropped by the office to pick up his contact lenses during his lunch hour on Thursday.

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Copyright © 1998– by Ted M. Montgomery.  All rights reserved.