You're a little uncomfortable at Bruce's father's wake.
The primary reason is that everyone here believes in God. Everywhere you turn, when someone bumps an elbow against your tightly clenched fist you get a flash of someone's prayer. Being a pretty well established atheist at this point it's really not at the top of your list of Saturdays.
The second reason comes when Bruce's mother comes by and asks you if there are any special girls in his life. "They're all special," you say, and that's a total misstep, and she didn't like you already and now she really doesn't like you, like you're the sum total of Bruce's sins packaged up right before her in a nice white bow. Except she's looking at you odd, instead of like that. She's looking at you as if she's seeing a secret.
There aren't many black people in Maine, it's true, but Bruce doesn't really seem the type to mourn his loss of identity. The fact that you're nearly the only white face in the crowd isn't what's uncomfortable. It's when Bruce's mother puts her hand on your shoulder, looking at you like that, and you get a vision of what she must think is going on. She thinks that you're sleeping with Bruce.
"You know, Mr. Smith, that my husband wanted Bruce to be a pastor?"
You sip your Pepsi and try not to infringe upon Bruce's privacy. Just being here, you think it might be going over the bounds of your friendship. He invited you, but it's not like he knew you'd see him at ten, preaching the Word and doing it *well*. "I got that impression, yes."
"God works in mysterious ways," she tells you, contemplatively. She's looking over at where Bruce is chatting with some neighbors. You gave up trying to keep their names straight hours ago. "He sent my son halfway across the country, and never brought him back."
Perhaps if you're candid she'll understand that you really are the stranger here. "To be honest, ma'am," and you sip your Pepsi, "I've never been much of a spiritual man."
"Really?" She looks surprised. "I would have pegged you for someone who's tread the narrow path," she says. Narrowing her eyes, she adds, "in fact, Mr. Smith, I think you're treading it right now."
Bruce comes over, big grin. "It's doctor Hines, man! I haven't seen him since I was twelve."
You give Bruce a tight smile. In the back of your mind is a ten year old talking about choruses of angels, and the Washington monument covered in soot. "Your mother was just saying I look like a man walking in the footsteps of God."
Bruce raises an eyebrow. He's careful not to touch you. "We do what we can," he tells her, and then looks away.
In the last year, you've come to understand just exactly what your place in life is. You're not a religious man despite the Good Book in your house as a child, and you don't really listen when Bruce talks about eastern religious philosophy because personally, in your heart and for yourself, you do not care. But - and especially with the particular experience of seeing what your life would be like if you'd never been hit by a semi-truck - you know what your place in the world is.
"Do you know the story of Daniel?" Bruce's mother is saying. She's materialized by your elbow again. You still don't know her by name, though you know she makes pecan and rhubarb pies, not together, and likes her blue gingham apron because her sister made it for her years ago.
You say, "aren't there a few?"
She eyes you. "A few, yes." She points to a little girl running around, hair in tight braids. "My great-niece," she tells you, and then, "I don't think I'll ever be a grandmother, so I'll take what I can get."
The girl bumps into you and you see her at five years old with a dead rabbit. It drowned in the water dish. It was just a baby. The girl was devastated; it was the single worst moment of her life, and when her mother told her God would take care of her rabbit, the girl shouted in her face.
"Wasn't Daniel a prophet?" you say suddenly.
"He was indeed."
"The king," and you have a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, "that delivered the Jews from Nebuchadnezzer."
Bruce comes over, Bruce saves you. "No preaching now, mom."
"We were talking about Daniel, dear," she says, and the pats Bruce's shoulder. "It's still one of my favorite stories."
You don't say how not fond of it you are. You don't say anything. You stare into your drink, as Bruce glances at you, and then tells his mother, "It's not all that."
You might as well be sleeping with Bruce. He's really the only one you feel comfortable enough with to have a real relationship with, bizarre as that is. Honestly, he's the only one you trust not to cause a catastrophe of Biblical proportions. Everyone else, including yourself, is suspect, everyone else is tied into that single vision of Washington on fire. It feels, sometimes, like your entire life is hooked around that moment, your days attached to that fulcrum, with no way to come loose. Want it to or not, that one thing you've seen governs your world.
If there was one vision you wish you could show Bruce, it's that one. You're still not one hundred percent sure he doesn't think you're crazy for having a wall mapping Armageddon in your basement. His doubts wouldn't necessarily be unfounded, after all. Sometimes you think that if he saw that, if he bore witness, then the vision would diminish.
It's also the one vision you hope he never, ever, has to see.
"--and I beheld a pale horse, and his name that sat on him was Death," someone was saying on the far side of the room. "It was his favorite passage from that Book, mark my words."
You stare, transfixed, at the bald man who said it. Bruce mutters, "what's up, man?"
"Do you ever regret," you hear yourself saying, "getting dragged into this?"
Bruce rolls his eyes. "Believe me, John, from what I just saw it's as well I did. You'd be all Oswald on me."
He turns from you. "Nevermind." Bruce looks out at the crowd. It's a respectable size; his father was a respected man. "I know you think the end is coming, John. Maybe it is, I don't know."
When he doesn't elaborate, you say, "it sounded like there was more to that, man."
"Yeah," Bruce says, "eventually."
Bruce's mother comes up, and touches your elbow before you leave. "I hope you have a good flight," she says to you, and squeezes your arm. "And please take care of him."
You grin faintly at her. "It's usually the other way around, ma'am."
The vision you get is her, just after giving birth, and a baby that has to be Bruce. All day you've seen Bruce as a child, Bruce not as he is, but as he was. The boy he was is foreign, alien, but you think you're getting to know him. She still thinks you and he are something more than you are. All Bruce is to you is the only other person on the planet that knows the world is ending. Some nights, he's everything.
"Come on," and there he is, car keys already in his hand. "Let's get out of here."
The life you could have had with Sarah still haunts you most nights. The pain of losing it is nearly unbearable. When it doesn't, your thoughts are usually worse.