This is a continuation of the story begun in “A Jogging Contradiction” and then “The Good One”:
The son of a multimillionaire evangelist, and the brother of a millionaire fraud, drove a rented Toyota Tercel. His father would have been picked up at the airport in a limo. His brother would likely have snorted cocaine in the back, hypothetically having been on an airplane where such behavior was frowned upon.
Johnny Jacklin studied the Wendy’s board as if it were holy writ. He finally ordered a double with cheese, a bowl of chili, and a Coke. Eliza Evermore had some kind of salad that came with packets of croutons and cashews. She drank water. They found a table near the window. It was a lovely day at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.
“It’s been so long since I just had a simple cheeseburger,” he said. “On the way from the airport, I saw it sitting here, and it was all I could do to wait. It was too early for lunch, then. I guess it wasn’t open.
“I was tempted to try that Bacon Portobello Burger, but it would have been too much, you know. Just a basic burger — lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cheese – that’s what I wanted.”
Eliza just smiled. The missionary had childlike enthusiasm.
“You’ve been so many places,” she said, finally, “and yet you couldn’t be older than, what, twenty …. eight?”
“I’m thirty-two,” he said. “Basically, I’ve been traveling the world since I got out of college.”
“You went to Stanford. Your brother went to the family school.”
“The family school … that’s funny. You’re right, though,” Johnny said, between spoons of chili. “Rog didn’t really even go to college. They just gave him a diploma. I didn’t want that. I wanted to be educated, not just in the ways of the family ministry.
“I don’t know. Christian Family University might be a decent school if your last name’s not Jacklin. How about you? I didn’t just slander your alma mater, did I?”
“Oh, no,” Eliza said. “I went to CU. Sociology major.”
“And how did you get from there to here?”
“Well,” Eliza said, “I had a lot of experience counseling in the summers. Camps. You know. Youth gatherings. That type of thing.”
“It’s just a job, isn’t it?” Johnny asked. “I mean, it’s one you obviously do well, but it’s not really what you want to do.”
Those piercing eyes. That forthright directness. It could a take a girl’s breath away.
“No,” she said.
“But the money’s good, and my brother likes you, and it’s not like you’re out there, separating old ladies from their money.”
“You said that, not me.”
“Obviously,” he said. “How’s the salad?”
Johnny put the empty cardboard bowl aside and started in on the burger.
“Um, this is so good,” he said. “It’s not that uncommon to find a McDonald’s anywhere in the world, but there aren’t too many Wendy’s. I’m no expert, but I think most Wendy’s are in North America. I’ve never seen one in, you know, China.”
“You’ve been to China?”
“Six months,” he said. “Right after the Philippines and just before Thailand. I’m sort of the Lord’s roving troubadour.”
“I didn’t know you were a musician.”
“I’m not much of one. I play guitar a little. I’m not packing them in at the soccer stadiums. A guitar’s just a good way to break the ice with people, kids, especially.”
Johnny finished his burger and waited for Eliza to get done pushing lettuce around her plate.
“My brother’s an addict,” he said quietly.
She felt exceedingly awkward.
“Uh, I don’t think he is without a genuine aspect,” Eliza said.
“Well, I’m glad you feel that way. I try not to be judgmental. That doesn’t mean I’m not analytical. I am of the opinion that I can trust you.”
He was so direct. She thought, My God, he knows everything about me. From his instincts.
“Don’t be uncomfortable,” he said. “I probably should explain something about myself. I’ve renounced material things. I just take what I need, draw from the ministry’s accounts. The pencil pushers make it work.”
“So … you have … a certain freedom.”
“Yes,” he said. “No one knows what to do with me. My father and I are at, I guess, you’d say, an impasse. I’m ‘admirable.’ I get in his way, but he can’t really do anything about it. He and my brother leave me alone. Occasionally, they send a film crew to follow me around and take footage to help them with their fundraising. I don’t do anything other than what I already do. I won’t let myself be scripted. They can shoot footage, edit what I say, what I do, but, other than that, I try to be true to myself and the Lord.
“I’m not here to tell anyone what to do,” he said. “Again, I try not to be judgmental, Eliza.”
Johnny smiled. Eliza was captivated. She loved him for his innocence. He was as charismatic in his way as his burly, overwhelming father and his compulsive brother. Yet he seemed nothing like either.
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