“I trust Jesus,” June said as she crossed the stream, balancing on a log that was serving as a makeshift bridge. I followed, my arms stretched out to the sides, hoping that trusting my own footing would keep me dry.
We hiked up Eaton Canyon, new friends that day. We had met on a church retreat in Ojai. June was from New Mexico, but she’d grown up in London and sported an adorable accent, which was her most endearing feature. She was visiting Los Angeles, thinking about moving, and had called me up asking if she could sleep on my couch. I assumed she wanted to be closer to Jason, and the church. Lots of people who met Jason on retreats ended up moving to Los Angeles.
It had rained a lot that winter, years ago now, and the streams we had to cross were high. It would have been okay if we fell in but we didn’t want to ruin our shoes, especially on the way up. June had never been to the waterfall. She had heard about it and asked if I would take her. I hadn’t been there in a while but I knew the way so it was surprising that she ended up in front, with me following behind, watching her scramble over rocks along the path in her acid washed jeans. She was sort of provincial for a pseudo-European. She was cute with sparkling blue eyes and round features that made her look like a plush doll, especially the way her curly hair framed her plump cheeks. But she had no style. She wasn’t very coordinated or athletic either, but she wasn’t afraid.
“I trust Jesus!” she said it every time she had to balance on a log to cross the stream and it annoyed me. Why did she have to proclaim it? Was she trying to prove that she was more of a believer than me or was that just my own shit? I told myself not to be so critical.
When we reached the waterfall she just smiled. I was waiting for her to say, “Wow!” or “This is amazing!” but instead she just walked around the sandy area in front of the spot where the water fell in a surprisingly narrow gush, as if she had known exactly what to expect. I liked June. I admired her. But that knowingness about her made me resent her. She acted as if she really did trust everything and everyone and it made me uneasy. There were a lot of people like that at church, over zealous types who tried too hard to prove they were closer to Jesus or Jason than the rest of us. I didn’t want June to be one of those. I liked her. I wanted us to be friends. And I had to admit, I was jealous of her confidence.
“Let’s pray,” she said, sitting on a rock and closing her eyes.
That night we went to church together. When we got there a big crowd was waiting outside on the steps to be let in, as usual. That was just how they did it. A couple hundred people stood around outside being friendly and then at precisely six o’clock they opened the doors and we all flooded in like fans going to a rock show.
Inside the church it was dark and there were smoke machines going. I couldn’t stand the music, but I know that’s because I’m a music snob. I was in a real rock band in the nineties and toured and everything. So I can’t stand the Christian rock thing but I love Jason. He’s the reason any of us go to his church. He’s amazing.
I lost sight of June as soon as we got inside. We hadn’t planned where we would sit so I went to my usual area towards the back in the center. I liked being able to see but I didn’t want the music blaring in my ears. I kept scanning the room, looking for June and I finally saw her up near the stage talking to Adam. Adam is Jason’s right hand man. Of course, I thought. She’s going to try and say hi to Jason before the sermon starts.
The music was already going and I stood in the pews trying to get into the mood. I was next to a woman who had three adorable kids with her, all of them clapping along with everyone else. I noticed that the mother looked like she didn’t want to be there and I felt sorry for her when I noticed her husband on the other side of her, clapping like a maniac. Sometimes I really didn’t feel like I fit in at church, but only until Jason gets up and starts talking.
It was a good sermon that night, about compassion and how Jesus taught us that compassion is the only way we can save ourselves, and the world, but even though I was listening intently I couldn’t get out of my head and stop comparing myself to June.
I love the church because it saved me when I was really screwed up. I feel close to Jason because I know I can ask for his guidance anytime on his website and he’ll give it to me. He’ll get me back on track. When he hugs me during retreats and smaller gatherings I can feel his love. He’s like the sun. But I can’t stand how women flirt with him so openly, all under the guise of following him, or Jesus, or both. Maybe they can’t help it. But June just got here. She shouldn’t be that forward.
I didn’t see June again until she jogged up behind me as I was heading back to my car.
“I’m getting a ride home with Jason and Molly. They have an extra room I can stay in for a while until I figure out a place to live. Can I grab my things? They’re in the backseat.”
“Yea of course,” I said hugging her goodbye. As I drove back to Silver Lake along Hollywood Boulevard I couldn’t help feeling upset. How did she get in with Jason so quickly? Were they old friends?
The next week she called me.
“I went up to Eaton Canyon again,” she said, sounding excited. “I prayed at the same spot and guess what happened.”
“What?” I was afraid she was going to say Jesus spoke to her and I was going to have to go along with it.
“I opened my eyes and I was staring at a fox.”
“A fox?” I wasn’t sure I had heard her right. I’d never seen a fox in Los Angeles.
“Yes! A beautiful little red fox! It was amazing! And you know what he said?”
“He spoke to you?” I wasn’t hiding my skepticism.
“Well, yea.” She said this as if animals spoke to her all the time. “He told me to go back to New Mexico. To my old church.”
“Really? Are you going?”
“Definitely. I’ve been staying with Jason and it’s getting weird.”
“What do you mean?”
“He’s been flirting with me, right in front of Molly.”
“That is weird.” Somehow she had convinced me a fox had spoken but I didn’t believe Jason would have flirted with her. Jason’s the epitome of truth and honesty. Besides, he has three children, a son at Harvard, a daughter at Stanford and another one in high school at Marlboro. He’s obviously crazy about Molly, his gorgeous successful businesswoman wife who looks perfect in whatever she wears. Jason always gives her credit for the church’s success. There was no way Jason would jeopardize his marriage for flaky, frumpy June.
“Yea so I’m leaving. Thanks for letting me stay with you.”
“Sure. Anytime,” I said, and I meant it. “Did you really see a fox?” I had to ask. I knew that whatever happened with Jason, she was lying. I wasn’t jealous of her relationship with him anymore. But I was envious of her encounter with nature, which I trusted more than Jason or Jesus, combined.
“Of course I did. Why would I make that up?”