tagNovels and NovellasThe Outsider Ch. 14

The Outsider Ch. 14


Chapter 14 - The Sinclairs

Mike and Ruthie returned to his room just as it was getting dark outside. The moment they entered the room, Ruthie stripped off the uncomfortable dress. She was desperate to get her bra off, given that she had not worn one of those restrictive garments since she started college. Once she was naked, she stretched and spun around a couple of times. She looked at the pressure marks from her bra strap in the mirror and commented:

"I'd forgotten how uncomfortable wearing all this shit is."

Mike stripped as well. He took Ruthie in his arms. For a long time they stood kissing as he ran his hands over her bottom. That she enjoyed, because she did like being hugged and she especially liked it when he touched her bottom.

She could feel his penis stiffening. OK...might as well get that taken care of and get it over with. She reached down and gave his organ a squeeze before pulling away and reaching for her lubricant. She inserted it while he put on a condom. She dabbed a bit of lubricant on the end, then got on her elbows and knees on the bed. He ran his hands over her bottom, gave each side a quick kiss and then stood up and entered her.

Mike thrust vigorously as he grunted and sweat trickled down his body. For him the experience was totally great. She closed her eyes and played along, angry at herself for not being able to enjoy that part of the relationship, but thankful that the lubricant was making the experience bearable.


The students had a chance to relax once they were cleaned up. Ruthie cuddled Mike.

"I still can't get over how well things went today. You were great. I mean...what you said to my mom about church and all that..."

Mike kissed her forehead and ran his fingers through her hair.

"About church...you know that we made a commitment to your mom..."

"How do you mean?"

"We have to go. Might as well do it tomorrow and get it over with."

"What do you mean, we have to go? Go where? To church?"

"To church. To my church...there's two services, and I 'spose it'd make more sense to go to the earlier one at 8:30."

Ruthie sat up.

"Fuck that! I'm not going to your church! I'm not going to anybody's church! I'm done with that shit!"

"OK...so tomorrow night, your mom's gonna call and start asking: 'did you go to Mike's church? Well...why not? Mike told me he was gonna take you. So he didn't after-all? Then he was lying, wasn't he?' Isn't that what she's gonna say to you?"

"I 'spose..."

"So...we're going to keep that from happening. When your mom asks about you going to my church, you're gonna tell her 'yes' and when she asks you to tell her about it, you're gonna tell her what it was like, and you won't have any problems because you'll be telling her the truth..."

"I don't care! I don't want to go to your fucking church!"

"I'm not talking about you converting! I'm just talking about you going there, once, so you can tell everyone that you did. Look. I quit going too...several years ago...'cause there's no point in me being there...I mean...when you go you'll see what I'm talking about. But I do think you need to go at least once, just to satisfy your mom and so we don't have to keep lying to her. Might as well do it tomorrow and get it over with."

Ruthie remained sitting up, not sure how to respond. Mike continued:

"How you handle your mom is your business. I'm not gonna get involved in that. But I'm not gonna lie to her unless there's a damn good reason. This is not a damn good reason. The next time I see her, she's gonna want to talk about us going to my church, and I don't want to have to make up a bunch of bullshit. Besides, it'll get you off the hook with that Cristina who's looking for you. If you've already gone to my church, you can tell her that and it'll get you out of having to go to hers."

Ruthie finally nodded, because she wasn't able to come up with any arguments to counter Mike's logic. She hated to admit it, but she knew that he was right...it was easier to put in an hour at his church than it was to spend yet more weeks of evasive phone conversations with her mother and dodging Cristina. Besides, from everything he had told her, it sounded like his church was very impersonal and going there would not be a high pressure experience.


For the second time in less than 24 hours Ruthie put on her green dress, while Mike put on dark pants, a tie, and a sports coat. That was the most formally she had ever seen him dressed. They left very early, driving through thick morning fog to make it in time for the 8:30 service. They pulled up to a large 1960's-style modernistic church located in a neighborhood that was built about the same time. Only about a third of the parking spaces were taken, most of them by luxury sedans such as Town-Cars.

Ruthie noticed that everyone attending church was well-dressed. She also noticed that almost everyone around her were older white people. She looked to see if there were any young people at all, but she only saw a few couples in their 30's and 40's. She did not see anyone college-aged. Nor did she see any children because, as Mike would later explain to her, during the service children attended separate Sunday school.

The inside of the chapel reflected a by-gone era when there were more people attending and Mike's church had a lot more money. The ceiling was inlaid with expensive wood and the windows were modernistic stained glass. The décor was totally different from her mother's church, which had no décor at all apart from a cross and some posters with biblical passages. As the older people entered, they sat down quietly. In the background there was soft organ music.

Ruthie looked around at her bizarre surroundings. The cavernous chapel...the organ music coming from somewhere in the background...and all those old white people just sitting quietly...sort of gave her the creeps. Mike handed her a church program and in a hushed voice explained to her how the service worked, that it would last exactly 55 minutes, it would have three hymns, the reciting of the Lord's Prayer, and the sermon. Ruthie looked at the strange document in her hands, bewildered that a church service could be so carefully preplanned. She vaguely wondered if the service really would follow the program minute-by-minute...but as she looked around at all those old white folks, she figured that none of them was the sort to step out of line and disrupt a schedule.

Sure enough...minute by minute the service followed the program to the letter. Mike was familiar with the hymns and the Lord's Prayer. He sang and recited from memory, but there was no life or spontaneity in what he was doing. There's no life in this place at all, thought Ruthie to herself. This is totally dead...like...really dead...

On their way out Mike briefly talked to one of the assistant pastors, explaining that he had not attended services for so long because he had been in Chicago. He introduced Ruthie as his girlfriend. The pastor was friendly enough, but she could tell that he had no real interest in her. And that was it. As they returned to his car, Mike did not bother to ask her what she thought of his church. He knew that she could not have a positive opinion.

Instead he explained his own experiences with the faith his parents attempted to give him when they were more optimistic and Mega-Mart had not yet ruined their lives. For him there had been no sudden break in his faith, no moment of revelation like the moment Ruthie had experienced. During his last couple of years in high school he simple drifted out of the church, especially after his father lost his business. When he was a senior in high school, he still believed in God, but that belief became vaguer and more ill-defined as the year went by. Of course it did not help that God was of no assistance whatsoever as the Sinclairs were losing their pharmacy. Nor was it any help that as Mr. Sinclair's standing among the local businessmen declined, so did his standing in the church.

Mike commented about the horrible job his church had done attempting to retain younger people like himself. The church did OK keeping young people involved and motivated up through the end of high school, but young singles tended to drop out once they started college and very few ever returned. Younger people either ended up changing over to an evangelical mega-church or, like Mike, they simply drifted away from religion altogether.

"You have to understand something about my church. It's like my dad's business, and like a lot of other things in this country. It's a part of our society that is getting old and dying out. All those old people...once they're gone, the church will be gone too. It'll die with them. My generation got pushed out, 'cause those old people were too worried about themselves to worry about us. I have no reason to go back. And...when we were there today I didn't see anyone from my high school group. I don't know...maybe there's a few left that'll be going to the later service...but I've lost touch so I wouldn't know."

As they discussed their respective religious experiences, Mike and Ruthie were able to understand each other on the issue of religion. Mike did not have the explosive hatred towards organized religion that Ruthie had because his church was not such a domineering presence in his life as he was growing up. No one sought to control him or his mind, but when he and his family drifted away, no one made any real effort to prevent them from leaving.

Ruthie realized that Mike was right about having her see his church, because now she honestly could say that she did go, she could talk about the sermon and the music, and she give a physical description of the place. She was oddly depressed by the experience, nevertheless. There was nothing really offensive about Mike's church...there was no exhortation that the world was about to come to an end, no screaming, no talking in tongues, no interruptions from the audience, no mind-control, no megalomania from the preacher. But still, the place totally creeped-her out. It was just so...dead...just a bunch of old people reciting stuff for no reason other than it was what had been recited for the last 400 years. When she talked to her mother about her experience, she'd have to skip the detail about being surrounded by a bunch of half-dead rich white senior citizens.


The visit to the church put Mike in a melancholy mood and made Ruthie more reflective. Mike offered to show her the two locations where Sinclair Pharmacy used to be, which she accepted. He first took her to a dilapidated downtown area that appeared to have been built between the 1920's and 1950's. The buildings were mostly abandoned except for a few breakfast places and some "boutiques" that Mike suspected actually were money laundering fronts. He pointed to a corner building and commented that was the first location of Sinclair Pharmacy, where his great-grandfather and grandfather ran the business from the 1930's until the late 1970's.

They drove to a shopping center that had been built in the 1960's but had been remodeled several times since then. Mike explained that the shopping center replaced the traditional downtown area and that the majority of the local businesses had moved there by 1975. Sinclair Pharmacy was one of the last holdouts to leave downtown: Mike's grandfather moved the business to the shopping center in 1979.

Like the downtown area it replaced, it was clear the shopping center had seen better days. Only about half of the storefronts were still occupied: there were two pawn-ships, a cigarette discounter, a second-hand clothing store, a pay-day lender, a liquor store, a store that sold surplus packaged food items, and a clothing donation center. Mike pointed out the spot where Sinclair Pharmacy had occupied one of the larger spaces, which now was occupied by the outpatient services for a drug rehab clinic. Mike observed:

"Still a drug business in this spot...but I guess this is where the growth market is and my dad just got it wrong."

To Ruthie there was nothing unusual about what she was looking at, because there were several similar shopping centers scattered around Salinas, including the one where her mother's church was set up. However, Mike was able to give her a different perspective because he was old enough to remember what the area was like before it lost its businesses. He explained that before Mega-Mart cleaned out all the local retailers, the shopping center was a very different place, with businesses that actually served the needs of the public. There had been a major grocery store where the clothing donation center was located, a hardware store, a toy store, a gardening store, a book store, a store for school supplies, a pet store, several restaurants, and a mortgage & loan where the payday lender currently was operating.

Thanks to Mega-Mart, the shopping center's original retailers were gone and the blight coming from their successors was spreading throughout the neighborhood. For example, the pawn shops sold items stolen out of nearby residences by the bums hanging out at the rehab clinic, the liquor store, and the smoke shop.

"The best thing we could do at this point would be just get rid of the shopping center and put in a city park. Even some condos would be better than what's here now, 'cause at least people would live there and have to maintain 'em."

Ruthie suspected she knew what was coming next. They had seen Mike's church and they had seen the two places where Mike's family had their pharmacy. It would be logical that...

Sure enough, Mike suggested going over to his house for lunch. Ruthie was not thrilled at the prospect of meeting his parents, but given everything he had done to calm the problems she was having with her mother, she knew that the least she could do would be reciprocate. She would try to get along with Mike's relatives as best she could. Besides, she was wearing her best dress...just as good a time as any...

When they got to his house, Mike was surprised that no one was there. He told his girlfriend that they'd wait an hour or so before returning to Santa Cruz. Ruthie was relieved. Mike showed her around the house, which like everything else he showed her was dated to the 1970's and had seen better days. It was a split-level tract-home sheltered in the front by a couple of large trees. The interior was kept up, but the only thing Mr. Sinclair was doing on the outside was mowing the lawn. The paint was peeling and the roof's shingles needed to be replaced. There was a much more serious maintenance problem: a tree root had worked its way towards a rain gutter outlet and was pushing into the foundation of the house. Already there was a serious crack in the cement. When Ruthie commented about the damage Mike answered:

"The house isn't gonna be ours all that much longer. Dad doesn't give a shit about it, 'cause any money he spends on repairs would just be money thrown at the lenders. By the time they get their hands on this place, it's gonna be worthless, and that's what he's planning on."

There was a pool in the back yard, which was being kept up because Mike's parents still used it. The yard was surrounded by a wooden fence and tall bushes, so it was completely private and hidden from the neighbors. It was already sunny and starting to get hot. Mike took off his sports jacket. The couple looked at the pool and then at each other. When Mike suggested going for a swim, Ruthie eagerly accepted. They went into the pool house and took off their Sunday clothing.

Ruthie tread water in the deep end as she watched her naked boyfriend go inside to get them something to drink and eat. As soon as he came back, they set up in lawn chairs enjoying the sun and eating. A few minutes later they were back in the water.

They spent a very long time swimming and relaxing in the pool. Mike pulled a plastic raft into the water. When Ruthie climbed on top, he pushed her from one end of the pool to the other and then spun her around. Finally he left her alone to relax and enjoy the sun and breeze on her bare backside. He floated on his back as she dozed on her raft.

Clearly they had lost all track of time. Mike figured that his parents must have gone to the later church service (which they still attended every so often) and would be back around noon. It already was 1:00 when Mr. Sinclair's voice called out the back door:

"Mike? Mike? Are you out here?"

"Dad! Hold on! Wait a second!"

Ruthie woke up, rolled off her raft with a loud splash, and pulled it in front of her, but it was too late. Mike's parents already had seen her. They quickly retreated into the house to give their son and his friend a chance to get dressed. Mike and Ruthie scrambled out of the water, showered off, and put on their clothes. Ruthie was blushing and very nervous. The last thing she wanted to do at that point was face the Sinclairs, but Mike managed to convince her that what had just happened was not the scandal of the century. He reassured her that his parents themselves rarely wore swimsuits when using the pool and that was not the first time that they had stumbled into Mike or his sister swimming naked with friends. Still, it is not every day that the very first time a young woman sees her boyfriend's parents, she is lying naked in their pool.

Now properly dressed, Mike led Ruthie around the pool and into the living room. She shyly shook the hands of the elder Sinclairs. She was blushing and totally nervous, as she always was when meeting new people she was worried about impressing. Actually the pool incident was something that worked out in her favor. Mike's parents did not realize that her nervous behavior was normal for her: they assumed that she was mortified over them having seen her in the pool. Because of their mutual embarrassment, Mike's parents went out of their way to be polite to their guest and make her feel welcome. Under normal circumstances they might not have been so patient with her fidgeting and sideways glances.

Mr. Sinclair did the same thing with Ruthie that Mike had done with Doña Lisette: get her to talk about neutral topics that interested her. In Ruthie's case it was geology. Ruthie chatted about her major. Mr. Sinclair did not know much about geology, but both of their fields required knowledge of chemistry, which was something in common they could discuss. Mr. Sinclair talked about chemistry classes he had taken in college and asked Ruthie about hers.

From that topic the Sinclairs were able to get Ruthie to tell them about her background. She talked about Nebraska and to a lesser extent about Salinas. She mentioned some of the grants she had received to attend classes. Mr. Sinclair commented:

"You know that some of that's going away next year...with the state as messed up as it is...I hate to say it, but scholarships are gonna take a big hit."

Ruthie nodded. That wasn't something she wanted to think about, but losing her funding was a reality she was very likely to face within a few months.

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence, which was interrupted when Mrs. Sinclair suggested "getting a bite". Mike later explained that was how his mother handled any uncomfortable moment, by running out and "getting a bite". Mr. Sinclair obligingly grabbed his car keys and they left the house. Ruthie was immensely relieved to get out of the living room.

"Getting a bite" usually entailed driving around instead of just stopping in one place. Mike's father drove all around the neighborhood to show Ruthie various places that were of interest to him and his family's past. He showed Ruthie the schools where Mike and his sister had gone, the church that Mike and Ruthie had attended in the morning, and a house that once had been owned by Mike's grandfather. They drove a few miles out of town to see a WPA project where Mike's great-grandfather had worked shortly after arriving in California during the Depression. A major omission from Mr. Sinclair's history lesson were the two locations once occupied by Sinclair Pharmacy. As much as he liked chatting about the family's history, Mr. Sinclair never once mentioned the defunct family business.

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