George never liked being here. Churches made him itchy. They always had. Mass made him nervous. Ever since his brother had let one rip in the eighth grade and Mrs. Donahue had let him have it, George had been terrified of passing gas during mass. Itchy and constipated he sighed and genuflected, surrendering to an hour spent sitting on a hard wooden bench next to his mother. But he came every Sunday that he was home because of his mother. Because going to school two thousand miles away meant that he could still keep up pretenses with his mother.
He’d been to fancy new churches. Baptist churches billing themselves as “Christian” without alluding to denomination. Churches with reclining chairs cushier than those in movie theaters. And it just didn’t work for him. Church was pain. Sitting through it should be a discomfort otherwise Mass was easy and if it was easy then you obviously weren’t making enough of a sacrifice to God. George knew that anything worth anything involved suffering, involved compromise and giving something up. George understood that he was young and selfish and he liked being both young and selfish. That’s why he didn’t like church and why he didn’t keep girlfriends. He kept girls, yes, but never girlfriends, nothing where he might have to put someone else first.
He spent the hour of the service thinking of a myriad of things including the young priest’s new hair. Father Patrick had grown it out recently and it was now long enough to tie back. Word was that he liked it and planned on keeping it. The little old ladies offered to give him free hair cuts or the less skilled ones just tried to badger him into it but he just smiled benevolently at them and they left whispering about rumors of a bet that got him grow it out. George didn’t listen to the rumor, he knew the truth. It was a bet, he’d been there when it was made.
They were exiting the church, George a few steps before his mother, when a piece of plaster bigger than a grapefruit broke from above the door frame above and landed between George and his mother. He’d felt it pass behind him, the breeze that it had created on his neck, and knew even before he met Father Patrick’s eyes that it had narrowly missed his head. He didn’t move, just met Father Patrick’s stare like a deer caught in the open. His mother, looking up from the plaster she had also been starring at met his eyes and patted her son on the shoulder. “George,” she said, “maybe you shouldn’t come to church with us anymore.” He should have known his mother was a sharp enough woman to see through pretenses.