Bella stared at her plate, regretting her words even as she said them. Now he would question her about them. What should she say? How much should she say? Maybe he didn’t hear her. No, she was sure they were loud enough. But would he ask her about them – or ignore them as he continued talking? She didn’t have long to wait.
“Knew what?” he asked as he bit into a slice of toast.
Stalling for time, she placed a large forkful of scrambled eggs into her mouth and began chewing slowly. Of course he would ask. Did she dare reveal her suspicions of aliens and a giant spaceship? No! She couldn’t risk having him laugh at her too. He’d think she was crazy and she’d lose any further answers about the pastor and his church. So what could she say? She didn’t want to lie, but she also didn’t want to tell the whole truth. Or did she? After all, he was the one to bring up the possibility that Pastor Toby was not human.
She swallowed the eggs, took a sip of her iced tea, then looked up at Andy.
Not knowing which direction to take, she decided to ignore his question and ask one of her own.
“What do you mean ‘for a human’?”
“Humans have weaknesses. We all have good and bad days, and we all have… less than good thoughts about other people from time to time.”
“That’s what I said,” she reminded him.
“And I’m agreeing with you.”
Exasperated, she blurted out, “But what about Pastor Toby? You said he was always good and I said that it wasn’t possible. And you said ‘for a human’. Are you saying Pastor Toby is not a human?”
Andy raised an eyebrow. “Not a human? What do you think?”
“I think this is a waste of time. No one seems to want to give me answers. Everyone just keeps talking in circles. Why is it so hard to get a simple answer to a simple question?”
“Maybe because your question isn’t simple.”
Now it was her turn to raise an eyebrow. “How is telling me who Pastor Toby is not simple?”
“Hmmm… well, maybe this will help. What if I asked you, ‘What is a rainbow?’ Simple question, yes?”
“But is it still a simple question to answer for a 3 year old kid?” he interrupted.
She had to admit he was right. “So a simple question to one person may not be so simple to another.”
“Exactly. It depends on what they are ready to understand. A child’s brain has not developed enough cognitively to understand rainbows. But yours has. So to you explaining what a rainbow is would be simple. But it would be pretty much impossible to explain it to a young child.”
“I get it. Do you think I’m not able to understand who Pastor Toby is? Is that why you haven’t answered that question?”
“No one knows whether you’re ready or not, except you. I can guess based on things you say, but I don’t know for sure.”
“So, do you think I’m ready?” she pushed.
He looked at her seriously for a few minutes.”I think you might be,” he said at last.
“OK. So tell me. Is Pastor Toby human or not?”
“Not,” he said, still watching her closely.
Bella was stunned. As much as she had played with the idea that Pastor Toby might be an alien, to be told straight out like that was still a shock.
Conflicting emotions overwhelmed her. From fear and incredulous disbelief to relief that her instincts had been correct and a growing curiosity. If he wasn’t human, then what did he really look like? Humanoid? Insect-like? Or maybe some kind of energy form? Her mind was swimming with a whole new set of questions. Not able to hold them in, she began shooting them off to Andy, beginning with the most important one.
“Is he dangerous?”
“What does he really look like?”
“No one knows.”
“Why is he here?”
“For us. Because we’re here.”
“What does he want with us?”
“To be friends.”
“Friends? Why would he come all the way here just to be friends? Surely he had plenty where he came from. Where DID he come from?”
“Well, that’s a bit harder to answer. He didn’t really come from anywhere. It’s more like he’s everywhere.”
“How can that be? Is he part of a collective consciousness or something?”
“Yeah, like a hive mind. A bunch of beings all share the same mind so in a way they, as a whole, can be in many places at the same time.”
“No, nothing like that. He can read other minds, but they can’t read his so it’s not really a shared mind.”
“Does everyone else know about this?”
“No, not everyone.”’
“I mean, at the church. Does everyone there know all about him?”
“Some people know more than others, and no one knows everything there is to know about him, but sadly there are those who don’t really want to know more than the basics.”
“That he’s there and he loves them. Beyond that, they don’t have much interest in learning more.”
“Because, the more you learn, the closer you get to knowing him, the more he requires of you. And some people aren’t ready for that. Oh, and the enemy also comes at you harder as you grow in knowledge.”
“Enemy? There’s an enemy?”
“Yes. But don’t worry about that right now. Once you belong to Toby, you’re under his protection.”
Bella didn’t know what to say. Enemy? How dangerous was this enemy? And what did Andy mean – belong to PastorToby? She didn’t want to belong to anyone. She had worked hard to become independent and was proud of her efforts. If she spent more time with Pastor Toby, would he make her give up her independence? Become his pet or something? And what if he decided to leave? Would he force her to go with him? Are those the plans Jude said he and his dad had for her?
Bella stood up abruptly. This was way more than she was expecting. “I’ve got to go,” she told Andy. “I’m sorry, but… I just… have to go.”
Andy stood up, too. “Bella, I know this is a lot. And it’s OK to be feeling a bit overwhelmed right now. I understand. I felt the same way when I first found out. But please don’t let it scare you away. Pastor Toby really does love you. More than you can imagine. And he only wants good for you.”
Andy pulled a card out of his pocket and handed it to her. “When you’ve had a chance to process all this, please call me. I would love to talk more about this with you.”
Bella took the card and slid it into her pocket without looking at it. “Yeah, sure,” she said. “Thanks for…” she motioned to the half eaten food on the table, then, shaking her head, she raced towards the exit door. Good thing she had chosen a booth close to the door.
The nearby exit made a quick escape, but it also prevented her from hearing Andy’s prayer: “Father, I’m sorry. I sure messed this one up. Please be with her. Help her to understand and to feel your love for her. And bring her back to us soon. Don’t let anything I said drive her away from you.”