“We’re going to church?” asked Theo. “Why?”
“Because,” said his mom. “”It’s Easter.”
“My family doesn’t go to church on Easter,” said Dillon. “We sleep in until, like, noon.”
“Well, you’re at our house now,” said Theo’s mom. “And we go to church on Easter Sunday. So you boys need to get up and get dressed.”
“Can’t we just stay here by ourselves?” asked Theo.
“No!” shouted his mom. She stomped back up the stairs.
“This sucks,” said Dillon.
“I know,” said Theo. “Let’s take forever to get ready.”
Despite a non-stop lecture the whole way to church from Theo’s dad about how their dawdling had made them late, the boys were dismayed to discover upon their arrival that church had not, in fact, started without them. There were still clusters of sort-of dressed up people standing around in the foyer talking and laughing and sipping from Styrofoam cups of coffee while their kids chased each other around potted plants and racks of informational pamphlets and evangelistic tracts.
“Hello!” said an elderly greeter with a lazy eye, pumping Theo’s parents’ hands, then Theo’s hand, then Dillon’s hand. “Welcome to Joylife Community! Happy Easter! Christ is risen! We have children’s church for the kids!”
“We don’t want to go to children’s church,” said Theo.
“Why not?” asked the greeter.
Theo and Dillon tried not to stare at his lazy eye.
“Do you know what children’s church is?” asked the greeter. “No? It’s really fun!”
“You don’t have to convince them,” said Theo’s mom. “They’re going whether it’s fun or not.”
“It is fun,” said the greeter. He winked at the boys. “Especially if you like making crafts!”
“I don’t,” said Theo.
“Neither do I,” said Dillon.
“I don’t believe you!” said the greeter, and he turned to greet a family of nine that was even later than Theo’s family.
The girl in charge of children’s church was young and pretty. She told Theo and Dillon her name was Miss Tracy. She wore a white dress with words printed all over it in looping red script. When she gently scolded Theo for the excessive amount of glue he was using on his sodden cotton ball clouds, he was able to read some of the words on her dress. One of them was “Revolution.” Another was “Quirky.” Another was “Holla!!!” with three exclamation points. While Miss Tracy was distracted with a girl having an emotional meltdown related to her bad home life, Theo leaned over to Dillon and in a low voice said, “Let’s get out of here.”
“You mean escape?” asked Dillon, his tired eyes sparking to life.
“Yeah,” said Theo. “Quick, while Miss Tracy’s not looking.”
The boys stood and walked out of the children’s church room. It was that easy.
The sanctuary had been built to accommodate almost a thousand people. Easter had parked close to 700 in the pews. The pastor was in the midst of a digression about his uncle’s false teeth, trying with all his might to wring a laugh out of the congregation. From the back of the sanctuary, it was hard to identify Theo’s parents, but Dillon finally spotted Theo’s dad’s unique, almost rectangular bald spot near the middle of the center row.
“How are we going to get up there?” whispered Dillon.
“We should surprise them,” said Theo. He got down on his hands and knees and looked under the pews towards the front of the sanctuary. He was already laughing as he whispered, “Let’s crawl up there on our bellies! Under the pews! And then we’ll crawl out from under my parents’ pew and sit right next to them and be like, ‘Oh, hi there.’”
Dillon got down on his hands and knees next to Theo. He looked under the pews at the rows of legs between them and Theo’s parents. There were legs in dress pants, legs in panty-hose, legs in jeans, legs covered by skirts that hung down over feet, legs bare from the bottom edge of the pew to the tops of high heels.
“Let’s do it,” said Dillon. “Straight until the black jeans and then to the right around the fat ankles.”
“No way,” said Theo. “Down this pew to the old sandals and then cut back up toward those chicken legs.”
The pastor’s digression had digressed further. He was now inviting the congregation to imagine a world without punctuation. Specifically, how confusing that world would be.
“Here’s what we’ll do,” said Theo. “You crawl your way and I’ll crawl my way and we’ll see who gets there first.”
“Deal,” said Dillon. The boys lay flat on their stomachs side by side underneath the back, middle pew.
“Go!” said Theo, and the boys army-crawled off under the pews in different directions, rocking back and forth on their elbows and pushing with their knees, the soles of their tennis shoes making soft scuffing sounds on the hard, gray carpet.
Dillon crawled to the black jeans, but from there it looked like veering left down the pew and going through the gap between the lacy skirt and the fraying corduroys would be a better option than going to the right around the fat ankles. But when he got to the lacy skirt, someone new had sat down in the gap, someone whose feet didn’t quite reach the floor, and he had to keep crawling down the pew to find another way forward. It was peaceful under the pews. The legs crept past Dillon on both sides as he crawled. Some of the feet tapped out the silent rhythm of unheard songs. Dillon was surprised at the number of people who had removed their shoes. A purse had tipped over next to a pair of tan legs in white sneakers and a peppermint had fallen out. Dillon picked it up, unwrapped it as quietly as he could, and popped it into his mouth. He crawled on until he found a narrow gap between two identical pairs of blue dress pants and holding his breath, he just managed to squeeze through without rubbing against them. He was then confronted by another line of legs with no immediately evident gaps between them. Dillon was forced to crawl back to the right in search of a way through. He suspected that he was not going to win the race. Theo had probably already made it to his parents, was probably preparing to grab his mom’s ankle right now, hoping she’d let out a scream and disturb the service.
Dillon was tired of crawling. It was more exhausting than he’d expected and he was not used to functioning on four hours of sleep. The carpet was hard, but it was cool and it felt nice on his cheek as he lay his head down, his face less than a foot away from the backs of a pair of bare, pink heels. It was comforting to think about all those people sitting right over his head, having no idea he was there.
The pastor’s digressions had multiplied, piling up on top of each other. A note of desperation hung in his voice. He was now speaking about the true meaning of Christmas, of all things. A return to the central point of the sermon had begun to seem all but hopeless.
But Dillon didn’t notice. He was sleeping.
Theo’s course had changed again and again, first out of a desire for a quicker route to his parents, then out of a desire to return to the back of the sanctuary so he could just get out from under the pews. He was beginning to feel claustrophobic and it bothered him that even though he felt like he was doubling back into territory he’d already been through, he didn’t recognize any of the pants, shoes, skirts, or legs. He was sweating from the effort of all the crawling and his growing frustration made him short of breath. As the sermon went on, some people stretched their stiff legs out under the pews in front of them, making even side to side movement difficult for Theo. Panting and angry, he lay flat on his back and looked up. He could see where the blue fabric of the seat was stapled to the underside of the pew.
“Irreverente,” said a small voice next to his ear.
Theo turned and his head and saw a little girl with dark skin and short black hair sitting on the floor next to a pair of legs in a floral print skirt. She was eating dry cereal out of a plastic cup with one hand and pointing at him with her other hand. “Irreverente,” she said again. Theo didn’t know what she meant. Then a hand came down and patted her on the top of the head and someone said, “Marisol, shh, shh.”
Marisol looked up, still pointing at Theo, and said, “Nino.”
“Shh,” said the voice belonging to the hand and the skirt.
Theo made a sympathetic face at Marisol and whispered, “Forget it. She won’t believe you.”
Marisol offered cereal to Theo. He accepted.
The pastor was aborting digressions as soon as they appeared, but no matter how many he brushed aside, there were always more, dragging him down and down. Was the central point of the Easter service even attainable anymore? Had there ever been a central point at all?
Somewhere in the sanctuary a woman screamed. “Something just touched my foot!”
“Everyone stay calm,” said the pastor over the mounting buzz of confused conversation. “It was possibly a mouse.”
“No!” shouted the woman. “Oh, ick, it felt like skin! Human skin!”
A man’s voice said, “There’s a boy under the pew. A sleeping boy.”
Theo sighed and held his hand out to Marisol for more cereal.
Dillon must have woken up and emerged from beneath his pew because Theo heard his mother shout, “Dillon?! What…? Where’s Theo?!”
“Where’s Theo?” shouted Theo’s father.
“Please,” said the pastor. “There’s no reason to get upset. It’s just a boy under a pew.”
Theo saw Marisol look up again and he could tell she was making eye contact with someone. Then the legs in the skirt scooted forward and a woman’s face appeared upside down below the edge of the pew, her black hair hanging down to the floor. When she saw Theo, the woman grinned and winked at him, holding one finger to her lips. “Shh,” she said. Then her face disappeared from view as she sat up and settled back into her pew.
Things seemed to be settling down in the sanctuary. Theo didn’t hear his parents shouting anymore. He supposed they were probably interrogating Dillon in the foyer. It was only a matter of time before they came for him. Or maybe they’d wait until the service was over and nail him then. Either way, he was doomed.
But for now, for the moment, he was still undetected. And Marisol was very generous with her cereal. Things could be worse.
“The stone was rolled away,” said the pastor, as if surprised to hear himself saying it, stunned to find himself, by some miracle, right where he wanted to be. “Christ is risen.”
Before he could digress even a little, the praise band burst into song, loud and very early. Theo didn’t know the song, but he suspected it would be long, which was more than OK with him.