"I am not worthy," Nabulungi Hatimbi said, and prostrated herself on the ground.
In most places, that would be a bad idea. People in crowds tended not to see vaguely person-shaped stumbling blocks. Especially when those people were wheeling heavy objects or talking with old friends, the safety of others would not be a priority.
In most places.
This was the Salt Lake City airport, though. Colorful signs welcomed home missionaries, commercial bankers in crisp suits and even crisper mustaches returned from conferences, and shops sold locally made huckleberry jelly beans. In that room, the people walked patiently around Nabulungi. She was left to safely sprawl on the airport linoleum in a religious fervor, like her own personal message from Heavenly Father was written in those scuff marks.
Kissing the floor like that was definitely a bad idea, though. There was no good place to kiss a floor.
"Stand up!" said Arnold Cunningham. A nervous titter escaped as he pulled Nabulungi to her feet. "You don't need to do that. And... and it's weird."
"It is not weird," she insisted. "I am standing on holy ground. Brave and wise Mormon pioneers may have also stood on this very land. When they left the cursed city of Nauvoo in search of the wisdom offered in Elder Yoda's Utah home, this spot may have been where they declared their new beginning!"
"Elder Yoda?" repeated Kevin Price as he waited for his belongings to appear on the baggage carousel.
Arnold shrugged. Salt Lake City was where the church had leveled up, just like Luke with his kickin' Jedi powers. Clearly, Nabulungi had listened to enough of his teachings to make some new connections of her own.
In retrospect, there was no way to call his two years in Uganda anything but an unqualified, "I beat the Kobayashi Maru" level of success. It hardly even counted that they'd had that tiny little clerical error with the furious elders who'd said that their official missionary work was canceled. (Right?) During his time in Africa, he'd brought countless souls to Heavenly Father and he'd landed the hot chick who wanted to see his place. Nabulungi had needed a little convincing that Salt Lake City wasn't just a metaphor, but then she was totally down for getting a passport.
Yet, he'd made all of those amazing victory laps but Kevin still gave him weird looks whenever Arnold talked about taking the hobbits to Isengard. Clearly, Kevin had missed out on many of the finer things in life. Some valuable cultural knowledge still needed to be shared by his one true best friend. Now that they were back home in the great state of Utah, they were going to hold a lot of movie marathons. Kevin could bring all of his favorite Disney movies, and in return Arnold would bring a finely cultivated selection of Stars, both War and Trek.
(And when they did have a movie marathon, maybe Arnold and Nabulungi could eat from the same bowl of popcorn. If he timed it just right, and practiced a lot, their fingers might touch when they both reached in. The idea gave him a funny warm feeling. He liked it.)
"Kevin!" cried a chorus of voices, just as the man found his bag on the carousel and lifted it free. Their trio turned to see the Prices making their way forward, with signs in hand to welcome home their beloved son. After hugging him firmly, Kevin's father placed a golden crown on his head and snapped a picture. It was plastic, but it still looked nice.
"So wonderful to have you back, son," said Kevin's mother as she pulled him into another deep embrace.
"We've heard all the news," said his father, and somehow sounded even prouder than his wife. "All of those baptisms, even after that trouble that happened with the other missionaries. It was everything we knew you could do."
Kevin's initially cocksure approach to their missionary years had, in truth, bombed harder than Speed Racer. Arnold's more creative approach to saving souls had moved things along when everything else failed. (Then it got the elders furious with them, true, but it was the thought that counted.) During their remaining time in Africa, the edges of Kevin's ego had smoothed out and the embarrassment over his initial struggles had eased. When they were in Uganda for the second year of their mission, Kevin had hardly seemed to mind how their fortunes had shifted.
But now, they were back in Salt Lake City. Everyone here thought that Kevin was the one true golden boy who was destined to save countless souls, and who had continued valiantly through other people's troubles. Gleaming statues of Moroni would watch over the temples that sprung up in his wake. For a long, awkward second, Arnold saw the temptation in Kevin's eyes. He wanted to be the same triumphant hero who he'd left as, two years ago. "Tell them," Arnold said, after a long second of his own. "Go on, Kevin. Tell your family how you saved that whole village, all by yourself."
Nabulungi looked at him in question, and Arnold shook his head. His best friend needed this, and Arnold would always be there for his best friend.
Kevin opened his mouth, then closed it. After a deep breath, he squared his shoulders and answered, "I helped my companion, Arnold, do the saving. We never would have gotten anywhere without him." At Arnold's surprise, he grinned and said, "What? Do you think I'd take all the credit away from my best friend?"
Hugging was Arnold's very favorite thing in the world, he decided as he latched his arms around Kevin.
"Hello, Arnold," said his own family as they walked up. They hugged him, but didn't have signs. Or a plastic crown. "We're so glad that you're home. We heard that there was some real trouble at first, but it seems like everything worked out."
"Yeah, it sure... darn it!" Arnold yelped as he noticed his bag on the carousel, and failed to grab it before it continued past. Nabulungi hurried over to scoop it up, and returned with a beaming smile. "Thanks."
Blinking, Arnold's mother looked at Nabulungi, then at Arnold, then at the bag in Nabulungi's hands, and back to Arnold. "Why is this woman looking at you like that?" As Nabulungi handed over the bag, she amended, "And where is your suitcase?" Their hard-sided suitcases hadn't been all that well suited for Africa, what with the violent, thieving warlords who liked the looks of them. On the flight home, they'd used duffel bags made of bright, patterned cloth that had been a gift to them from a newly baptized sister. The bags did stand out in the Utah airport's baggage claim.
"Long story," Arnold summarized. "But Mom, Dad... this is Nabulungi."
Nabulungi smiled. She was so pretty when she smiled. She was also pretty when she read, and did laundry, and even when she came back with ointment for all of Arnold's bug bites. (He'd never gotten any better with using mosquito nets.)
"Hello, Nabulungi," Arnold's mother said politely, and not at all like she was about to reach over and steer Nabulungi back into the terminal and onto a return flight. "And what are your intentions with my son?"
"Intentions?" Arnold repeated, giggling. "Her, um, intentions? With me." A glance at Nabulungi was no help; she looked just as shy as Arnold felt. "Right. Nabulungi's intentions. Here. Yeah."
Just as the Cunninghams were about to step in and demand a real explanation, Kevin took over. "Sister Nabulungi was Arnold's first baptism in Africa. When it came time for us to leave and come home to Salt Lake, she wanted to come and see the heart of the church."
Best friends always helped each other out.
"Oh," Arnold's father said, pleased. "Well, it sounds like you've made quite some conversions, son. How long are you planning to stay in town, Sister Nabu... er, Sister?"
If she noticed his tongue-tied response, she didn't acknowledge it. Nabulungi's eyes shone as she looked around the terminal. "Forever, I hope," Nabulungi said, with her hands clasped above her heart. "I can see that everything Arnold told me was true."
"Oh," Arnold's mother said, less pleased. Her smile strained. "Well, that's lovely. We should find you a good ward in town so you can meet some people. Other people. Besides Arnold." Her husband cleared his throat, and she mumbled, "Or you can come with Arnold on Sunday."
This was awesome! Arnold had saved Kevin's butt in front of his family, and Kevin had turned around and done the same thing for Arnold. They were totally like Legolas and Gimli, just as Arnold had always dreamed. His family even liked Nabulungi. Sort of. Mostly. Now, there was nothing to do but revel in the success of their glorious mission work. Absolutely nothing else. In the world. Yep. The music had swelled and the ending credits were rolling.
"So," asked Mr. Price. "What are you boys planning to do next?"
The triumphant John Williams music in Arnold's head screeched to a halt.
* * *
"I might major in communications," Arnold said as he scrolled down a page for the University of Utah on his laptop. A bolded line came into view: DON'T MAJOR IN THIS IF YOU THINK YOU'LL JUST WATCH TELEVISION. "Or maybe something else."
"Any school would be glad to have you both," Nabulungi said with a smile. "Both of you are tremendous leaders and thinkers. Especially you, Arnold. I am sure they will pay you a handsome sum to go there."
"Pay us?" Kevin and Arnold said in unison, then looked back to her. "No, see, we have to pay them to go," Kevin explained. "You had to pay for school over in Africa, right?"
"Of course, but the two of you are great missionaries who have completed your work. Why wouldn't they want to reward you for everything you've done?"
If only. "Well, that'd be nice. But we've still gotta pay tuition." Clicking through the web page, Arnold looked for the numbers, and Kevin dug through the papers from Brigham Young. "I'm sure it won't be too bad, though, since whoa my gosh holy crap!" Arnold boggled at the tuition amount. "Per year?"
"Per year?" Kevin echoed, staring at BYU's figures.
"Is there a problem?" Nabulungi asked after a full minute of their silence.
Nope. No problem at all. Just because Arnold had failed to prepare for life after his mission didn't mean that he was scared of those big, giant, titanic, apocalyptic tuition numbers staring back at him. It definitely wasn't a problem that he had no marketable skills without college. Totally didn't matter that he'd gotten distracted during his SAT and had turned his scantron sheet into a doodle of R2-D2. Or that his grades were kind of terrible because of how his English teacher had looked like a young Lynda Carter. So he definitely wouldn't get any scholarships. But this was fine. This was all fine. "Am I hyperventilating?"
Kevin sucked in a big, wheezing breath.
"Because I think Kevin is hyperventilating."
"This would eat up all of our savings!" Kevin said, clutching the brochure in his shaking hands. "I can't do that to my brothers and sisters. If I use up all of that money to go to college, then they won't be able to! This is actually...." With a frown, he paused, stood abruptly, and walked out of the room.
"Calm down," Nabulungi said, resting her hand on Arnold's wrist. Her fingers were cold and wet from the glass of lemonade. It felt nice. Well, it actually felt cold and wet, but, still: girl. Touching. "You just need to make money to pay for school. When we needed to repair our walls, I had to pay a nearby farmer for some cow dung." Off his response, she explained, "It helps when you mix it with the clay mud. But I did not have enough money for cow dung, as I had just needed to repair a dress that was torn after General Butt-Fucking Naked let his dogs loose in our village. So what did I do?"
"Huh," Kevin said, poking his head back into the room. "Our college savings account for me, my brothers, and sisters has exactly enough money for me to go to Brigham Young for four years. That's really weird." He vanished again.
"So what did you do?" Arnold repeated. After a moment of thought, he brightened. "Snuck into the farmer's pasture and waited for the cows to poop so you wouldn't need to pay for it?"
Offended, Nabulungi shook her head. "I am no thief! I would never take dung that I had not paid for. No. With the last of the cloth I had bought, I stitched a beautiful purse and walked twenty miles to the closest big town. After I sold the purse, I was able to buy enough material to make two more purses, so I walked home and made them. Next, I was able to make four purses. And soon, I was able to pay for all the dung we could ever use!"
Arnold considered that. Yes, another sister had gifted them that sturdy cloth for their new luggage, but it was true: Nabulungi had sewn the duffels. They were nice bags, too. "That's a good story. Why did you tell it?"
"Because," she said patiently, "if you need to raise money, you should start your own business. You are so wise and so clever, Arnold Cunningham. I am sure that in no time at all, you will have paid for all your schooling."
Wait. Could this be true? Could Arnold Cunningham, returning hero and vanquishing champion... just have been handed another quest to fulfill? After a very manly squeal escaped, Arnold shot to his feet. "Kevin! We just had a great idea!"
"Really, that is very strange," Kevin said as he returned from his parents' computer. "Their college planning account would exactly pay for my tuition and not anyone else's. Huh. What are the odds?"
Arnold slapped his hands flat on the table. "Listen up, mi amigo. That was in Spanish, if you didn't know. We are going to make all the college money we could ever need."
"I did actually know that was in Spanish." Kevin brightened. "Wait. Really? How?"
"You and I are going to start our own business."
"Start our own... that's brilliant!" With light dancing in his eyes, Kevin crowed their future success to the ceiling and downed a handful of celebratory mini-pretzels. Only when he'd chewed and swallowed did he ask, "What kind of business?"
"I, uh, don't know."
"But you're good at math, right?" Arnold prompted. "And business is math. It's also ideas, and I'm good at those. So I'm sure we'll do fine. See, Nabulungi was telling me about how she is really good at making purses—"
"And clothes," Nabulungi added modestly.
"That everyone wants to buy. She just started sewing things and pretty soon she had all the money she needed." Arnold scribbled notes as he spoke. It didn't really help to organize his thoughts, but it made him feel more professional. "So all we need to do is figure out something that we could make that would sell quickly." They just needed one idea. "Also, we should probably try to figure out a way for Nabulungi to make some money, too." His pencil tapped a steady rhythm on the table. There was an obvious answer here, he just knew it.
"Okay," Kevin eventually said, after Arnold broke the tip of his pencil and Nabulungi drank another glass of lemonade. "This might sound crazy, but... what if we opened up a store where Nabulungi could sell things that she sewed? I could keep track of the money—"
"And I could handle the ideas!" Arnold finished. He leaned over to Nabulungi and quickly amended, "I mean, I'd just find some awesome fabric for you to use or do the advertisements or something. You'd make the actual products, because you're so smart and talented and pretty and I'm sure all your purses would also be very smart and talented and pretty. Is it warm in here?"
"I love this idea," Nabulungi said. She might be blushing, too. "And I am sure that it will go just as well as your missionary work in Uganda."
* * *
When they'd landed in Uganda, they'd been attacked by a warlord, had all their initial conversions attempts fail, and generally made a mess out of things for a good, long time. This was Salt Lake City, though, and they had connections in their own home town. A cousin of a friend of a co-worker of Kevin's dad knew about an empty retail spot, and they'd scored it for what seemed like a highly reasonable rate. It was a little dingy, but big, and close to a streetcar stop.
"What should we call this place?" Nabulungi asked, turning a slow, wondering circle around the empty room. "It must be called something solemn. Something to show how deeply I want to commit myself to this wonderful city!"
There was only one possible answer to that, and Arnold had thought of it back at the airport. "Guys? There is only one name we can use. Because all of us are about to take one giant leap into our futures. We have been set on our true paths, and we're figuring out how to steer our own personal galaxies." With a grand gesture, Arnold spun to face them. "Welcome to Dagobah!"
Nabulungi looked at Kevin, who shrugged. "I don't have any idea what that is, either."
Yeah, they seriously needed to have some movie marathons. If Arnold's closest friends didn't understand that "Dagobah" meant that they were about to go through rigorous training to level up their Jedi skills, then he had completely failed them as a best buddy. "Guys, it's an awesome name and everyone's gonna love it. Trust me."
"I trust you," Nabulungi said with a smile. Man, their fingers were so going to touch when they had a movie marathon.
"Of course I trust you, buddy," Kevin said. "I'll get this place cleaned up. You go find some cloth so Nabulungi can get to work, and then you should go let people know we're here."
If there was one thing Arnold knew how to do, it was to get people's attention. With a startup promotional budget of approximately three dollars and nineteen cents, he had to get the most bang for his buck. Fortunately, the streetcar took him right where he wanted to go, and he had a monthly pass. "Hello, fellow travelers to a galaxy far, far away!" he announced as he walked into a Star Wars fan club on the University of Utah campus.
"Do you know who that is?" asked a student to the person next to him. The other boy shrugged.
"My mission companion and I have just returned, and with the aid of, uh...." His gaze settled on the poster someone had brought of Natalie Portman in that odd, yet appealing Amidala costume. "With the aid of a beautiful foreign princess, we have opened up a new shop for all of your traveling needs. Come visit Dagobah! It's on University, in the, um, Trader Joe's system."
The boy sitting in the head chair furrowed his brow. "Trader Joe's? You mean, the shopping center at University and 700?"
"Right, that's what I said." Arnold gestured grandly toward the west. "Come choose from our selection of purses!" Five boys blinked back at him, and he amended, "Or... backpacks! Backpacks, for all of your college student needs! Which I would know all about, as I am a fellow college student! Like you!" He'd heard that marketing messages were always more believable when they came from a peer. "It opens, uh... tomorrow night! Come to Dagobah! Tomorrow!" It didn't take longer than that to make backpacks, right?
The five club members looked at each other, unimpressed, until one of the boys turned back to Arnold. "Will there be drinks?"
Drinks? He was pretty sure he'd seen a drinking fountain in the back. "Sure, yeah."
* * *
"Pfft, no. All I said is that we'd have drinks." For an explanation, Arnold pointed at the drinking fountain in the small bathroom niche.
"They're not asking for water! They want—" Kevin's voice dropped to a whisper. "Liquor."
'Drinks' didn't mean 'drinks?' Man, this must be some weird college student slang. Arnold had heard that the kids at Utah were more wild than at Brigham Young, but he'd never expected it to go this far. "Okay," Arnold said as inspiration struck. "Stay here. I'll be right back."
Kevin caught his sleeve as he turned to leave. "You're not going to buy alcohol, Arnold."
"Of course not." Arnold patiently removed Kevin's hand, and smiled at him with encouragement. After two years together, Kevin really needed to trust him. "I'm just going along with the night's theme. Trust me: it'll work."
Ten minutes later he hurried back into Dagobah, laden with bags from the nearby Trader Joe's. "I got the drinks!" he whispered to Kevin, excited, and lifted a pack out for inspection. "We can tell everyone that this is an favorite of our beautiful alien princess."
"Stop calling Nabulungi that. It's weird."
He ignored him. "We'll say that this whole store is about bringing exotic new experiences to Salt Lake City. So they can buy Nabulungi's bags, and drink her favorite lemonade!" Arnold wiggled a bottle of the stuff at Kevin, grinning all the while. (It was funny. He'd never seen lemonade come in bottles, before. They almost looked like beer bottles.) "It's really just lemonade. What can it hurt?"
After a long beat of consideration, Kevin relented. "You're right. I like lemonade, too. Give me a bottle and I'll go explain everything." He wrenched off the top, took a long swig, and blinked at the bottle. "Wow, that doesn't taste like my mom's lemonade at all! Maybe they really will believe that this stuff is from out of town." Flush with encouragement and another few drinks of that special lemonade, Kevin went off to soothe the milling crowd.
The announcements came rapid-fire. With every purchase of a backpack, they'd get three bottles of the seamstress' very favorite drink! The seamstress, who was making unique, one-of-a-kind items! Direct from Uganda!
A mere hour later, they'd sold out of the first run of backpacks and had ten bottles left of that special lemonade.
"This is wonderful," Nabulungi giggled as she downed her third bottle from the remnants. "Everything about Salt Lake City has been so wonderful. And we have made so much money already. That is..."
"Wonderful?" Kevin guessed.
"Wonderful," she agreed.
Warmth filled Arnold as he studied the drink's label. Huh. They must call it 'hard lemonade' when it came in a glass bottle.
* * *
Arnold had no idea what 'consignment' meant, but the customer was always right. "Absolutely."
"Cool. Are you up for displaying my stuff? Because...." Pointedly, the girl turned around to survey Dagobah. Little existed between the tile floors and high ceiling. Nabulungi's bags had proven popular, and they seldom stayed on the shelves for long. "It seems like you have room."
"Displaying your stuff," Arnold repeated blankly. "Which we would do... because... we do consignment?" If he checked that word on his smart phone, would the bandana girl notice? She'd probably notice, and that would make him look like less of a knowledgable businessman. "Right. We will display your stuff. Because we do consignment. You've got it."
"Okay, I've marked all my prices," Rainbow Hair explained as she began to pull prints out of a portfolio. "I just had my senior art show and I really need to raise funds for my MFA, so... what's with the look, short stack?"
"That woman isn't wearing a top," Arnold whispered. He gasped again when the rest of the picture emerged. "Or a bottom."
"Yeah. Figure drawing studies. It's art. Look, give me a seventy-five percent cut and we're good. If you want, I can tell my friends. A whole bunch of us need to clear out our senior projects, and we kinda like that we can support an immigrant's start-up. It gives you more of a warm fuzzy than just selling on Etsy. Plus, it's a nice middle finger to everyone doing cultural appropriation with knockoff Kente cloth they got at Jo-Ann's."
Okay, he needed to look up about ten of those words on his phone.
"That sounds... great?" Arnold weakly agreed. She was right; they did need more on their shelves. Nabulungi could only sew so quickly. And naked art wasn't like other kinds of naked. It was an okay kind of naked. Supposedly. "Sure. Tell all your friends. We'll sell all of their art. Seventy-five percent."
"Cool. Here's my info. Let me know when things sell." With a loose wave, Rainbow Hair walked out, and Kevin was left to arrange all of those naughty figure drawings on the shelves. He tried not to look too hard. It was an okay kind of naked, but just like that slave bikini on Leia, it still made him feel all funny.
Like he'd been cued, Kevin returned from his lunch run, bags in one hand and another bottle of that special lemonade in his other. "Hi again, Arnold," he sing-songed on his way toward the back office, then paused and backed up. "That picture...."
Arnold swallowed. "Yeah?"
Kevin studied it closely, and took another long, considering drink of lemonade. "I don't think she's wearing any clothes."
Oh man. Oh man. He was in trouble. "It's art."
Perking up, Kevin leaned back and continued walking. "Sounds good! I love art! Hey, Nabulungi, I brought you some Mickey D's!"
"I love McDonald's! And I also love art!" Nabulungi said, just as chipper as Kevin. "Arnold, could you please make another run over to Trader Joseph's?"
With a sigh of relief, Arnold scurried out the door. That lemonade could do anything.
* * *
"Dagobah," Arnold repeated.
"Dagobah," Nabulungi repeated. "We have connected with so many members of the University of Utah! And they have been so welcoming to me. They talk about my work to their friends, I have been given countless recipes for something called 'brownies.'" Her smile grew. "Salt Lake City is truly a wonderful place."
"Are those women naked?" asked Mr. Price as he stared at a wall.
With a befuddled expression, the landlord looked at a figure drawing of two men, and then tilted his head to find a better perspective on how they were entangled. "Oh... oh."
"It's art," Arnold explained and bounded over to their newest display. This latest student had said his work was 'political sculpture,' whatever that meant. It was their first artwork besides paintings and sketches, though, so it was definitely exciting. "Look! I think this is supposed to be Mitt Romney."
"That is Mitt Romney," agreed a church elder. He'd gone very pale, and mopped his forehead with a handkerchief. "It is indeed a... marital aid carved to look like Mitt Romney."
"My son is selling Mitt Romney dildos," wailed Mrs. Price.
"What's a dildo?" Arnold asked Nabulungi, who shook her head.
"Mom, Mom, stop," Kevin pleaded. He caught his mother's arms in his hands, and although she tried to throw him off, Kevin held her until she relented into his hug. "It's okay. We're only selling fine art and backpacks! Pretty soon, I'll be able to pay my own way to school and get my degree in hospitality and tourism management!" After a second, he added, "Wait, what is a dildo?"
She whispered something into his ear.
Arnold had never heard his best friend scream like that before.
* * *
"I could sell my bags and clothes on 'the Internet,'" Nabulungi said thoughtfully. "People kept mentioning that. What is 'the Internet?' Would we have a new landlord?"
"That could work," Arnold said, staring through the closed door at the Mitt Romney sculpture. No one had ever explained to him what a 'dildo' was, but for some reason he was reluctant to look it up. "I'm not sure what Kevin and I could do next, though."
"We could always sell lemonade," Kevin said, and clinked his bottle against Arnold's. "This stuff is amazing."
"We could," Arnold agreed, and took a long, thoughtful swig.
As they stared at the shuttered Dagobah storefront, Rainbow Hair rode up on her bike and stared at it, and then at them. "Wait, you guys shut down? What the hell?"
"What the heck," Kevin corrected her. "And we shut down after we realized that we were walking down the path of delinquency, and darkness, and were just generally going to have a bad time. You and all of your artist friends will be able to get your things back. We're sorry for the confusion."
Rainbow Hair raised an eyebrow, looked them up and down, and made a soft noise of realization. "Ahh. Got it. I should have realized I was dealing more with Provo than Marmalade."
"Okay, I have to level with you," Arnold said. "I have not understood a single thing you've said since the first time we met."
"I mean," Rainbow Hair said patiently, "that you're super uptight Mormon types who wouldn't vote Democrat if I had a gun to your heads. Not that I would ever hold a gun. I have moral objections." At their complete lack of argument, she nodded. "Right. Well, let me just say that, considering how you must have just come back from your missions, it is super weird that you keep sucking down hard lemonades. Even if they barely count as alcohol."
All three of them froze. Very carefully, Kevin lifted the bottle to read its label, and swallowed when he got to the bottom. "Five percent... alcohol... by... volume."
Arnold had only heard his best friend scream once like that before.
"Wow, yeah, okay," said Rainbow Hair after Kevin's shrieks faded. "I'm just gonna get my stuff and go."
Gingerly, Arnold reached up and clasped Kevin's shoulder. His friend didn't run away or detonate like some bomb in a movie. That was a good sign. "Hey. Hey, buddy. It's gonna be okay. You'll see. So we messed up and Nabulungi's going to sell her bags online but you and I have nothing else to do with our lives and have no idea how we're going to make tuition payments."
With a choked voice, Kevin added, "And we drank! Alcohol!"
"Right!" Arnold paused. "Wait, no. I was going somewhere good with this."
"It will be all right, Kevin Price," Nabulungi said. "You and Arnold are both brave, successful missionaries. You will find your path, just as you did back in my home. Wait and see. Everything will work out. Heavenly Father has a plan for all of us, and it turns out that yours did not include running a store full of naked women and sex toys."
"Yeah. Okay." Kevin nodded. "I'm definitely going to hell."
"Well then, I'll be right there with you, buddy," Arnold said. "Because I accepted the artwork, and I bought the lemonade, and... oh crapola, I'm the one who's going to hell!"
With a wail, the men clung to each other.
"So touchy, and yet so repressed," said Rainbow Hair as she strode past them with her portfolio in hand. "Later, losers."
"And I noticed that the artist girl wasn't wearing a bra!" Arnold added, wracked with the weight of his sins.
"No!" Kevin gasped in sympathy.
They clung together again.
* * *
"This is something I've gotta do," Arnold said, with the most heroic voice he had in him.
"I understand," she said, stepping back. As she did, Kevin drove up, and he leaned over to open the passenger door. "Your friend is waiting."
Solemn, Arnold nodded. There was important conversion work to be done, and souls to save. He wouldn't do any good in the world by just standing around. He leaned over to kiss Nabulungi on her cheek, chickened out on the way, and instead turned tail for Kevin's car. "This is the right move," he decided when they were in motion on the road. "Spreading this message to new people... it's really going to help."
"Absolutely, buddy." Kevin clapped him on the shoulder. "This is a great idea."
When they reached their destination, they took a deep breath, then removed their seatbelts and stepped out to face the new fate they'd chosen. On the side of the van, the Dasani bottled water logo blared big and bold. "Come on, Kevin!" Arnold said, and shouldered a small palette of bottled waters. Seeing a student walking out of his dorm, Arnold hurried over there and pressed a pint-sized sample bottle into his unsteady hands. "Hi there! You look like you're suffering from what I call a 'hangover.' And I'd just like to encourage you to consider cool, refreshing water for your 'hard drinking' here at school!"
The student looked at Arnold, looked at the bottle, and asked, "Do I have to pay for this?"
"Cool, whatever," he said, and walked on.
No way. No way! He was at the top of his game, more than he'd ever been in Africa! One attempt, one conversion! Already, he was racing ahead in his missionary understanding.
Lesson one in the Grand Leveling-Up Plan: college students like free stuff. Who knew?
It turned out that all of those naughty, 'drink'-liking, nudie-drawing students were just screaming to be saved by the best missionary duo in the whole darn galaxy. All they needed to do for step two was convince the student body of the University of Utah that premarital sex was totally uncool, and they'd have done everything they'd come there for.
The water plan had taken about thirty seconds.
With any luck, they'd be done by lunch.