“I remember he said something about that,” Simon said smiling, pulling out a mangled toothpick from between his teeth. “How it’s better to be ruler of the losers than a slave to winners.” He pushed his hair out of his face, combing through the tangles with nail bitten fingers as he watched Delilah picking at the skin beneath her cuticles.
“It’s just embarrassing, is all,” Delilah replied. She took the cigarette from Simon, carefully rolling it across the pads of her thumb and index finger. The embers burned off layers of paper, crawling towards her, the charcoal remains chipping off and floating onto the pavement with the wind. “It’s like, I don’t even want to be here anyway,” she continued. She pressed the filter to her lips and inhaled until her mouth ballooned with smoke. She slid her tongue against the roof of her mouth and frowned, opening her mouth into an O, letting the smoke slide out in front of her.
“How much longer do we have?”
“No idea,” Delilah said. She tapped the filter a few times, watching as the ashes landed on her white sandals, collecting just between the thong where she slid her big toe through.
Simon turned back towards the church, squinting as he raised his hand just over his brow to shade his eyes. “I was thinking,” he said. “I mean, what would happen if I just didn’t do it?” He leaned forward and spat in the grass.
“Just sit out here?” Delilah asked. She shifted a bit, adjusting her dress. “What about your parents?”
She snorted. “Yeah, okay.”
“No, but really. Like, I’m gonna be in high school next year. They can’t make me do anything.” Simon jumped up onto the curb, teetering back and forth on his heels. “You don’t do that right you know,” he said, gesturing to the cigarette still sitting delicately between Delilah’s fingers. She held it up, letting Simon pluck it out of her hands. He brought it to his lips swiftly, inhaling, feeding, lungs expanding, and then tossed it to the center of the road as if he was shooting a basket, his arm stretched high above his head, wrist limp in a finished form just as his father had taught him.
“Yeah they can,” Delilah said.
“Your parents. They can still…parent you.”
Simon chuckled, bending down to sit beside Delilah on the curb. “You just don’t get it. You’re still a kid.”
“I’m only a year younger than you,” Delilah said. She looked up at Simon who was staring intently at the smoke rising from the burnt out cigarette on the pavement. His shoulders were hunched, the bones poking out under the fabric of his white button up on both sides, his neck craning out from his wrinkled collar with the awkwardness of a growth spurt that left him lithe. She leaned over to check his watch. “Hey, we should go.” Delilah nudged him as she stood up, brushing herself with the back of her hands and pressed down her nylon skirt. She pulled out a bottle of body spray from her purse and spritzed it towards Simon, who begrudgingly spun on his heel.
“All right princess,” Simon said. “Let’s get this over with.” He straightened his tie and tucked his shirt into his trousers as he started back towards the church. Its white walls erected themselves before them, reaching up towards a metallic cross hung delicately on the tower in the center. It had been two years since Delilah’s father had first dragged her to mass, yet something about the way the tower peered over her with ominous clout still left her uneasy. Her heels clicked against the sidewalk as she traipsed alongside Simon, their enthusiasm matching one another with a reluctance that mocked itself.
“Are you nervous?” Delilah asked quietly. Simon slowed down and glimpsed down towards Delilah, his brow furrowed. He shook his head.
“Cheat sheet,” he said, pulling a piece of crinkled paper out from his pocket. “You can read it if you like.” He handed it over to Delilah, who was careful not to smudge the ink with her clammy hands. On it was a short list, only about five items long. She skimmed the list, glancing over the short phrases and the beginning of the Hail Mary prayer written in a loop surrounding his erratic scribbling. The bottom had a small note next to a star. She squinted, deciphering what Simon had written. Her head shot up, cheeks flushing a deep red.
“No, you can’t say that,” she hissed, trying to keep her voice low. She felt the tower watching her.
“Why? Isn’t it one of yours?”
“Well, I hate to break it to you, but it’s a sin,” Simon said. “You gotta say it.” As they reached the door, Simon kicked the rock lodged in the crack of the doorway into the grass and pulled on the handle, letting Delilah slide through as he slipped in behind her.
They were engulfed in a chorus of voices. The drone of a hundreds of people reciting verse echoed against the stone walls, ringing in Delilah’s ears as she shuffled into the pew behind Simon. “You smell nice,” James said as Simon and Delilah slipped by in front of him, settling in with the rest of their class. A welcomed place of church late-comers, the twelve of them sat uneasily bunched up next to one another near the center aisle. Only a handful of them had been converted from mildly annoyed to somewhat interested in Sunday mornings spent catching up on the readings for their sacraments and it showed. Typically, Delilah and Simon spent their classroom time passing notes and drawing demon-like creatures on each other’s arms while their teacher droned on with messages of sacrifice, forgiveness and redemption. The words held little weight for them.
Delilah leaned forward in the pew, checking on the rest of her classmates who were either picking at their nails or riffling through Bibles lethargically. At the end of the pew, Thomas with his arms folded across his chest was asleep, his hair falling delicately over his crusted eyelids, a small smile spreading across his face as he inhaled through flared nostrils.
“Scoot, yeah?” James asked, pushing against Delilah who wiggled closer to Simon. Simon winked, making her blush. The church quieted as people began to sit back down.
“Sorry,” Delilah whispered back to James, grabbing a Bible out of the netted pocket in front of her to share with Simon.
“But, I’m still wondering.” Simon continued through the silence. “I mean, who’s Father whatever to sit there and judge me?”
“He’s not going to judge you,” Delilah replied sinking back into the wooden bench, wary of the people around her.
“He ain’t a saint. He’s just a dirty old man.” Simon spat the words out with brevity and crossed his arms in front of him, furrowing his brow as he looked up towards the center of the hall.
“It doesn’t matter,” Delilah said. The woman in front of them swung around, curls bouncing, and brought her finger up towards her mouth, shushing them, her spit dripping down her chin.
“Qui-et,” she said sharply and turned back around.
“Who yells?” Simon asked, his voice rising above the silence. He looked over at Delilah with a grin. She smirked. Opening the book in her lap, she began leafing through the pages, increasingly aware of Simon looking down over her shoulder.
“Simon, are you really going to say it?” Delilah asked, pausing on a page.
“What you wrote.” She bit her lip, trying to focus on the words on the page as they blurred in front her.
“Of course,” Simon replied simply. “It’s not a big deal.” He moved her hand away as he flipped another page, pausing to skim through the passage, dragging his finger over the small print.
“Hey, it’s that one from today,” Simon whispered, smelling of stale cigarettes as he breathed down Delilah’s neck. He placed his finger below the passage – If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. Simon let out a sigh. “A load of bull.” He pulled the book out of Delilah’s hands and started the flip the pages rapidly, causing a few people to look over in their direction.
“You shouldn’t say it,” Delilah said, peering over towards one of the stained glass windows. The image of Jesus stared back, his eyes boring into her own.
“Well it’s my confession, not yours,” Simon replied definitively. Delilah broke away from the window, and tried to listen to the priest who paced back and forth at the front of the hall his voice drowning out Simon mumbling verses next to her.
Packed together on an assembly line towards the door at the front of the hall, the twelve students shuffled nervously back and forth on their heels, glancing around in an attempt to appear collected, unable to look one another in the eyes. Delilah held herself, her breaths irregular as she tried to focus on the gold plated candlestick on the podium. The image of the Virgin Mary peered over them, eyes gazing without feeling towards the line of children walking into the folds of her robe. They stood with the pubescent confidence only twelve middle-schoolers could muster. It amounted to roughly the courage of one introverted adult. The boy’s heads emerged from the shell of awkwardly fitted blazers, gangly limbs falling from sleeves in claw like fashion, only the tips of their fingers visible from the black fabric. The congregation continued clearing out, moving in hoards to the door. Simon turned around to look at Delilah. He reached down and picked out the piece of paper from his back pocket. He winked, sliding the paper back into his pocket. Lucy’s cheeks were burning. She looked down at her feet, still dirty from outside.
“You know, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” Simon said delicately, leaning forward to place his hand on Delilah’s shoulder.
“I was nice to you,” Delilah said, looking up towards Simon. “Don’t punish me for it.” She shrugged his arm away and clasped her hands together gently in front of her skirt. The line shifted up once more, and when she looked back up Simon disappeared through the wooden door.
“Just three Hail Mary’s,” Simon muttered as he passed Delilah. He flashed a smile, untucking his shirt as he waltzed down the aisle.
Delilah glimpsed back to find herself alone at the steps in front of Mary. She looked up as she walked forward, Mary’s eyes following her as she stepped through the wall, entering a small dimly lit room. Shuffling forward, she seated herself across from the priest. Delilah fumbled with her skirt, twisting the nylon until it was bunched up in a little ball, then she slowly released it from her grasp, over and over again until the priest cleared his throat. He said something inaudible to Delilah, who shivered and looked down at the lines in her palm. She licked her chapped lips. It stung. “Bless me Father,” Delilah whispered. The words disappeared in the sound of the A/C blasting cool air behind her.
“Take a deep breath.” His voice cut through the roar of the A/C, hoarse and with the depth of a mossy pool.
She struggled to compose herself. “For I have sinned and this is my first confession.” She snuck a glance at the priest and was met with the same expression that the Virgin Mary greeted her with every Sunday.
“I’m not really sure what sins I have,” Delilah said, finding her voice. She sat up a bit in her seat. “Sometimes I cuss.” She trailed off wishing she had brought a slip of paper in with her like Simon. “I lie when I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. I hit my brother until he cries. I cheated on my math test.” Delilah swallowed. Her throat ached in dryness. The text on Simons paper swam in her head. She took a deep breath, digging her fingernail into her skin. Nothing felt like it was the right thing to say, as if everything that tumbled through her head was not worth the effort to let out. “I let my friend kiss me,” She looked up, locking eyes with the priest trying to judge his reaction. He remained motionless, his expression unchanged. She hung her head, staring at the clasps on her shoes and curled her toes waiting for his reply.
“Two Hail Mary’s and-”
“I let him put his hands up my shirt,” Delilah said slowly. She scratched her nail deeper into her finger, moving it back and forth on the patch of inflamed skin, drawing the smallest amount of blood and watched it slide into the ridges of her thumb creating a crescent just below her nail. She raised her head towards the priest noticing his hesitation. His brow wrinkled in confusion, but he gained his composure and nodded ever so slightly.
“Seven Hail Mary’s,” he said, pronouncing each syllable over the tiredness that wavered in his voice. Seven. Seven to his three.
“Seven.” His answer definitive, Delilah exhaled and continued. She said the first with some strength, but as she reached the third, and then the fourth, her patience waned. Her voice faded. She found herself unable to properly enunciate the words, they jumbled together like that of a child’s. “Hail Mary, full of grace, our lord is with thee.” Hesitating, she looked back up at the priest, who was cleaning the lenses of his glasses with his porky fingers. “Blessed art thou,” Delilah continued, eyes narrowing as the priest slid the cloth back and forth across his right lens. “Among women.” Back and forth still. Delilah stopped, rising slowly out of her chair, the material of her skirt falling back down to cover her knees. She turned on her heel and briskly walked towards the door, her strides growing longer and stronger as she neared the exit. The priest called for her just as the door clicked shut.
Delilah stood alone on the steps, her white skirt knotted and wrinkled, her feet covered in dirt, and her hair smelling of smoke. She turned to see a figure down at the end of the hall, hands tucked into his pockets, his blazer draped carelessly across his shoulder. Delilah stepped down from Mary’s embrace and out of the light that fell from the tinted windows, starting back down the aisle, her heels clicking through the silence.
“How’d it go?” Simon asked when she reached him.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I left.”
“You left?” Simon raised his eyebrow in confusion.
“I’m officially off the rails,” she said, grinning at the sentiment as she tucked her hair behind her ear. Simon narrowed his eyes in confusion, watching Delilah carefully as she waited for his reply.
“So, what did he say?”
Delilah shrugged and took the paper peeking out of Simon’s pocket. She ripped it into pieces, letting them fall on the floor and cover her shoes. She shook them off onto the tile. “Can we just go out back again? Go somewhere else?” She asked, holding onto Simon’s arm. He nodded and followed her out through the door. Clutching his arm, Delilah stepped out into the sunlit field, the dead grass reaching out until she couldn’t see beyond it and though she didn’t recognize it she moved forward, cigarette pack in between her fingers and in between Simon’s grasp as he pulled her with him towards a place she didn’t know.