Idolatria Ch. 03


“So that’s your house, huh?”

“Huh?” I had found myself drifting in thought and now snapped my head up, looking at Levi. I apparently hadn’t had to give him directions to the church from my place. He seemed to be finding his way just fine on his own. “Oh… Yeah. Well, it’s my parents’ house.”

Levi nodded, humming in affirmation. “You’re younger than I thought, aren’t you?”

My ears heated at his words. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

He smirked and glanced at me. “Do I need to worry about having you in my car alone?”

“I’m not – I-I’m in college – I’m twenty-three!” I said quickly, feeling the heat creeping at my cheeks.

“Oh, well, that’s a relief,” Levi laughed. He paused for a moment to shift gear. “Where do you go to school?”

“Immaculata University. In the next town over. Have you seen it?”

“I might have. Can’t say I’m very familiar with the area yet.”

“Oh – yeah, you said you moved here recently, right? Where’d you move from?”

“From the city. Philadelphia. I lived west, in Roxborough.” Levi looked over at me, his face warm and friendly despite its hard sculpture. “What about you, Ash? Where are you from?”

I laughed, tipping my face forward and folding my hands on the books in my lap. “I grew up in Lewitt,” I told him. “I’ve never moved. Been there my whole life.”

“Do you visit the city often?”

“Not at all…” I looked back at him, searching for a reaction that didn’t come. So I went on. “Why’d you move all the way out here? There’s not a lot…”

Levi shrugged. “Well, if you really want to know, it’s because of my job, in a way.”

“Oh… You came out here for work? Where?”

“Not to work for any company,” he said. “I’m a small business owner. A store front was going to cost me too much in the city.”

This surprised me. “You own a store?” I asked, incredulous. “Like, an actual store? Where?”

“Oh… a little place up there on Downing Street. A little ways away from downtown.”

I knew where Downing was. It was a side street off of Main where businesses rarely survived. There were a couple fronts where Levi could have easily gotten shop space, but I didn’t know one that had stayed in business for more than a year. “Is it hard… Making money there?” I asked him.

He smiled at me. “Not really. To be fair, I mainly make sales online. But I wanted a showroom, and I still have clients that come over from the city. I make home deliveries as well – which is why I need this car. I saw you looking a little confused when you got in.”

I flushed a little at this, but only gave an apologetic shrug. “Well… What do you sell, anyway?”

There was a pause in which I watched Levi stare straight ahead at the road without a word, then he glanced at me, his lips parting in contemplation. I wasn’t sure, but it seemed like he’d suddenly found it hard to answer me.

“What?” I asked nervously. “I’m… sorry, was I not supposed to ask?”

“No,” he said quickly. “It’s just not a simple answer, I guess. I can’t really sum it up easily. I make and sell custom equipment.”

Somehow this only left me with more questions. “Equipment for what…?”

But Levi was not about to clarify. Instead, he said with an indulgent smile, “You should come by sometime and see it.”

I found myself wishing I had a better imagination, because when Levi said ‘custom equipment’, all I could picture was the sort of stuff I had to get special made for sports. My tennis shoes, the grips and damps for my racket, shit like that. But I wasn’t sure why he’d be secretive with something like that – unless he somehow thought that being sporty was in contrast to the atmosphere he wore with his black leather.

Although Levi had driven us without needing any direction at all, he still let me take the lead when we walked up to the church together, gesturing for me to walk ahead of him. With winter still sucking the daylight away, it was dark by the time we made it to the doors, and few lights were on inside, marking only the rooms in use by now. “The men’s bible study room ins upstairs,” I said, turning to him and holding one of the big doors open.

Hands in pockets, Levi waited, looking at me as if reconsidering his acceptance of my offer.

“Come on,” I grinned. “You’ve walked through the doors here four times without bursting into flame. Once more won’t kill you, right?”

Levi’s head dipped and he gave a soft huff of laughter. Taking my invitation across the threshold, he clapped a hand on my shoulder and, casually, ran it to my elbow, the fingers lingering on my jacket and his eyes on my own.

The underside of my stomach felt lighter than usual.

“You’re an odd thing, Ash,” he said. His hand clapped twice more on my shoulder and he broke away, turning back to me once he’d made it to the center of the lobby. “Go ahead. I’m following you.”

Levi let me lead him up the stairs and down to the room where the men’s bible study group met every week. They weren’t the only one available ataşehir escort – there was one for practically any kind of person who went to our church, but my dad had introduced me to the men’s group, and I liked its focus on what one’s relationship with God means in relation to his manhood, even after my dad had stopped finding time to come with me after work. I tried to tell Levi about this before we reached the room, but I felt like I was having a hard time conveying my thoughts efficiently, and his expression in response was unfathomable. “Anyway, you’ll like it,” I said weakly, handing him my spare bible before opening the door.

I wasn’t expecting the group to receive Levi warmly, but I had at least hoped for more than what I got – six other members, all slightly older than myself, greeting him with lukewarm glances and throwing wondering stares my way. Only Jeff, who was just about to sink into a chair at the head of the round table, quickly got back to his feet and walked around to meet us, beaming at Levi and I in turn. “Well, hey, guys!” he exclaimed, shaking my hand vigorously and reaching out for Levi’s. When Levi extended his hand, Jeff seized it and his forearm in both hands, a friendly deathgrip with a toothy smile. I thought Levi would recoil, but he only smiled back and let himself be manhandled. I quickly introduced him, and Jeff bid us both to sit down and start the meeting.

I had to help Levi find the passages in the bible that we were studying that night, as I assumed I’d have to, so I would quietly reach over and guide the pages to the right point, indicating where the line started before flipping mine open to the same spot. Each time I did this, I was conscious of the others watching me and appraising Levi each in turn. After seeing him in action (or non-action) every Sunday, I could feel their intention – to watch for a wrong move, a word that they didn’t approve of, and seize upon it. But Levi was quiet and only read and listened along with me. I didn’t know if this was indicative of indulgence or disinterest. Either way, he sat beside me, as he promised to do, and followed my fingers and my gaze wherever I drew him. Only once did I see any sign that his attention was wavering – when I realized he’d been looking at me for a minute, and how long it was that his eyes locked on mine when I found them.


“Take every thought captive.”

The apostle Paul wrote in 2nd Corinthians 10:5: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”

“It means you’re supposed to rein in your thoughts and make sure they don’t drift away from God’s grace,” I said, back in the car. It had been the bible study topic, and I liked chatting about it afterwards. Levi didn’t seem to mind letting me. “So we reject harmful thoughts… things in our heads that we don’t want there… Like wanting things we can’t have, or thinking badly of someone.”

“That’s an admirable goal,” Levi smiled. “It would be nice to have complete control over your own feelings. Unfortunately, it doesn’t usually work that way. The subconscious does what it wants.”

“Sure,” I muttered, a little more forcefully than I had intended. I propped my elbow up against the edge of the window, running my fingers through my hair. “But people can try. They can give half a damn what they’re thinking about. They can try and pull back just a little of the hatred and judgment they always have! They can stop -“

“Judging… me?”

I felt the flare of heat in the base of my neck sputter weakly at Levi’s words, and found that he was looking at me rather calmly. He turned his face back towards the road. The slow-fading yellow gleam of streetlights ran over his throat and jaw before disappearing into the shadows of his eyes. “How’d you… Did you know they-“

“I expect people to have a certain line of thought about me, Ash,” he said, saving me the trouble. “Even if certain things aren’t said, people’s faces give them away easily. I wasn’t offended by whatever your study group thought of me. I wasn’t there to impress them. And besides… I remember you having the same look when you first saw me.”

“I-I wasn’t trying to…”

“I’m not saying that because I want you to feel bad or apologize to me,” Levi continued.

“I…” I chewed my lip, finding it hard to look at him with the cold shame creeping at my chest. “I feel like I should, though. I do want to apologize.”

“Then I forgive you,” he said simply.

The car went quiet between us, the radio regurgitating the recycled playlist of some faraway DJ to keep us from slipping into complete silence. Levi didn’t seem like he was going to say anything more about my perception of him. Maybe my being here was enough to prove to him that I didn’t think that way about him any longer.

“Where are we going to eat?” I asked finally.

“Oh,” avcılar escort he said lightly, “just some place I found online. Told you, I’m not from the area, so I had to look up some ideas. It should actually be around here soon… Hope you’re okay with spicy food.”

I quirked a brow at him. Somehow this felt ominous. “How spicy are we talking?”


Despite not being from the area as he claimed, Levi had found a part of another town that I’d never been to. It was a city that had once been all set for a monstrous boom in its population and stature, with a brand-new shopping mall and towering apartment buildings, but it had somehow failed in all of its efforts and the mall was only good for witnessing the entropy of corporate America eating itself – the kind of mall where the fountains lay dry and window displays still have dusty mannequins left behind the shutters. I’d been here a few times, mostly to fuck around in that mostly empty mall with my friends as a teen, so I wasn’t sure how I’d ever missed this part.

Levi had taken us down a gigantic, badly paved road along which sprawled restaurants, food markets, side offices and little specialty retail spots with various languages under their English names. I was glad we were in Levi’s hard-wearing SUV, because after the seventh or so pothole, not counting those he could avoid, I was afraid the journey would have shaken my poor car’s alignment to pieces. Damn Jersey roads.

The place we had pulled into was one of those little strips that lined both sides of the road. I didn’t see a place that looked like a restaurant, but Levi was confidently getting out of the car like he was sure he was in the right place, so I followed him. Somehow uneasy about the unfamiliarity of where I was, I found myself pulling far too close to his back as we walked, and my fingers brushed the cuff of his jacket on a forward swing.

He slowed and looked back at me, smiling. “Nervous?” he asked. “Wanna hold my hand?”

“Wh – no!” I blurted. My hands dove into my pockets, a strange pressure in my sinuses. “Where are we going?”

“Back here,” he told me. “Oh, man, I’m already hungry. I’ve been craving curry for weeks. Do you like curry?”

Somewhere halfway down an alley between two strips, the restaurant that Levi had been looking for popped into view as if it had only just realized it had two new customers. I was somewhat taken aback – it was an Indian restaurant, one whose name didn’t become completely apparent to me until I saw the decals on its front door as Levi held it open for me.

“I’ve never had curry,” I admitted to him.

“Really?” said Levi, eyes widening. He smiled again. “Well, I think you’ll like it. I hope you do.”

The place was cozy and modest, all reds and golds and soft wooden tones. A few tables and booths were occupied, but for the most part we had our pick of where to sit, and we were waved off to seat ourselves by a grumpy, elderly man behind the front desk, engrossed in his newspaper. Levi chose a small, intimate booth off to the side, and I tried to settle myself as we shed our jackets and our waiter greeted us with menus and glasses of water.

“Do you want something to drink besides water?” Levi asked, thumbing his menu. “Soda? Lassi? Oh, they have rose milk. That sounds really good.”

“Uh…” Between our close quarters, the conversation in the car, the bible study session, and the swirl of unrecognizable dish names in front of me, I was feeling a little overwhelmed. About the only things I could read were chicken and lamb. “What, um… what was that second one?” I asked him weakly.

Levi lifted his eyes to mine, something overcoming them just then. It was as if something had dawned on him – what, I wasn’t sure. “Lassi… It’s a soft drink with yogurt and fruit juice. Do you want to try it?”

“I really… I’m out of my element here, Levi.”

To my surprise, Levi reached over and patted the back of the hand I’d been resting on the table. “We’ll take it slow. I’ll help you find whatever you like, okay?”

I chewed my lip and looked back over the menu, bringing my hand up from the table to prop under my chin. I was ready to tell Levi he was going to be waiting a while for me to choose… But he really didn’t seem to mind. Indeed, he seemed to enjoy answering any questions I had about the food options and let me peruse everything at my leisure. I’m not terrible with spicy food, but I don’t like to torment myself, and Levi was kind enough to advise against the vindaloo when I told him. He ordered us drinks while I debated what I wanted, and by the time they came out, he’d helped me decide on the butter chicken – two words I definitely knew at least, though Levi told me it would be a spiced sort of gravy.

Our food ordered, I now contemplated the curvy little glass set before me, brimming with a creamy, yellow-orange liquid. “It’s, um… what is it?” I asked.

“Mango lassi,” Levi replied, lifting his own drink, which was a bubblegum pink and foamed at the top. “Try it. You’ll ataşehir escort bayan like it.”

I drew the glass close and caught a whiff of fruit. It smelled wonderful. Under Levi’s encouragement, I stuck in my straw and took a sip. The lassi was thick and sweet, but not so much that it was intolerable, and the mango flavor seemed to bloom the longer it sat on my tongue. I gave Levi an enthusiastic nod. “It’s good,” I told him. “Really good.”

“Good! So, Ash,” he began, then paused to take a sip of his drink. The rose milk, maybe? “I know about your church activities and a tiny bit about you now. What else?”

“What… What else what?” I asked.

“About you. You told me about your school earlier. What’s your major?”

I frowned slightly and fidgeted with my discarded straw wrapper. “It’s… Well, I’m a general education major.”

“Education?” Levi repeated, leaning his elbows on the table. “So you want to be a teacher.”

“I guess… Well… Not really.”

His brow lifted. “You don’t?”

I caught myself chewing my lip again. It was a bad habit. “I can’t see myself being a good teacher,” I admitted. “And I don’t even know what subject I’d teach…”

“So why did you major in education?”

His tone was gentle, not accusatory. I appreciated that. This was a subject I rarely approached, never quite sure how to answer. When Marc had asked me, I’d only shrugged and he left it at that. And yet, even though Levi’s voice was far from demanding answers, I felt more compelled to give him a satisfactory response. “My parents wanted me to go to school. I think I wanted to go, too, but…”

“But you didn’t know what to do when you got out?” Levi supplied.

I paused, trying to put the words in the right order. “I’m in sports. I wanna do that. But I can’t… y’know. I can’t do it forever, right?”

His smile broadened. “So you’re an athlete. What sport?”

Suddenly abashed, I lowered my head and let my hair fall in my face. “Tennis. I’m on the varsity team at Immaculata…”

“Tennis! That’s cool. Are you any good?”

I laughed weakly. “I hope I am.”

With little warning, Levi reached across the table and slid his fingers along my forearm… and when I didn’t protest, he thumbed the line of my bicep as well, his eyes alight with something between admiration and amusement. “You definitely have the frame for it. Your muscles are nice and compact…”

For what seemed like ages, my body refused to respond to the hand against my arm, the soft words in my ear. Slowly, awareness crept upwards through me until the signal struck my brain – He’s touching you. Friendly? Intimate? Arm stiff, I jerked it back and put my hands down by my sides, a knot of tension breaking at the middle of my shoulders. “Are y – what are you d-“

But Levi had returned his hands in front of him, just in time for our meal to arrive. The waiter set our entrees down in front of us, deluging me in their aroma, along with some kind of long white rice and a shallow basket of flat bread. Levi thanked the waiter and unfolded the silverware from his napkin, which he smoothed onto his lap. It wasn’t until he finally looked back at me that he must have realized I was still frozen. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I should have asked before I touched you. Are you okay?”

“I – no, it’s – it’s just the… the way you…” It occurred to me that I was rubbing my arm, so I dropped my hands to my unwrap my silverware as well. “Just… how you touched me felt weird, is all.”

Levi was quiet, turning his attention to his food and spooning rice alongside the rather spicy-looking stew on his plate. “Would you like for me not to do it again?” he asked.

What did he mean by that? Was I supposed to take it at face value? “I don’t… mind it, I guess,” I said honestly. “I was just… I don’t know. Surprised.”

“Take some naan. It’s good.”

“Some what?”

“Naan. It’s bread cooked in a tandoori oven. I ordered it for both of us.”

“Oh – thanks.”

I helped myself to rice and the flat bread Levi offered. The butter chicken was incredibly aromatic, a mix of chicken and caramelized onions in a thick orange sauce. I took a tentative bite and chewed slowly. Warm… incredibly savory, and only spicy enough to add a lingering kick… Mixed with the rice, it was unlike anything I’d ever eaten before. I let out an involuntary noise of delight and let my shoulders go slack, my eyelids fluttering. “That’s so fucking good,” I groaned.

Levi laughed. “I’m glad. Take your time, eat.”

We both indulged in warm silence for a minute, only the scrape of spoons and clink of glasses between us. I didn’t go out with people like this very often – when was the last time I sat down and had dinner with a friend? Marc and I mostly went to drive-thrus.

“So,” said Levi, picking the conversation back up, “what else can I know about you?” I paused, chewing and swallowing before I spoke. “I don’t know. What do you want me to tell you?”

He tore up a piece of naan and wiped his plate with it, looking thoughtful. “Well… Do you have a girlfriend?”

The question twanged at me in a strange way. I laughed nervously and ruffled the back of my hair, paying closer attention to my food. “No… I… no.”

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