He was an attractive young man, quite suave and debonair, with an handsome smile, melodic baritone laugh, and he was always sharply dressed, professionally or casually. He was intelligent – he had always graduated at the top of his class, all the way through law school – and had an excellent sense of humor. Why did he feel so damn bothered, then? And suddenly so lonely? So damn lonely! It was one thing to be harangued in court or in a pub somewhere … or, hell, even out on the street. But to be kicked in the gut by your own pastor! That was devastating … especially since she was so damn sharp and beautiful herself; it was like an insult.
Justin Case massaged his head for the umpteenth time, not that it did any good, and the three aspirin he’d taken with a full glass of filtered H2O still hadn’t kicked in either. It was a terrible day, and all his days had been terrible, ever since that woman, Effete “Mann” Sloughheart, gave him what-for, dropped him like a brick after her matters were settled, and then had all her legal files transferred to Phoenix Rising! Why? Justin just didn’t understand. She’d been so cold, so impersonal and rude. What had he done? It was Joy Brighterday; he was sure of it! She was really and truly a man-hater. Not just a feminist, but also a femi-nazi!
Of course, he had no evidence to back up that accusation, and he knew it … which irritated Justin even more! Why had Reverend Brighterday suddenly decided to dislike him? And, of all people, Effete? Here this woman was in dire straits, like so many other woman, and Brighterday made the call on her behalf. He didn’t have to do her any favors. Financially, materially, Joy Brighterday had nothing to offer (although he could think of some other tantalizing forms of payment that would have been more than enough!) And Effete? The first time she came in, she looked bedraggled, almost like … well, like some homeless person who’d just spent the night with someone charitable enough to take her in and give some food and blankets. She was nothing … or, at least, next to nothing. Then she turned into some monstrous, demanding, femi-nazi bitch!
Justin quickly shook his head back and forth, trying to get these overly angry thoughts out of his mind. There was only one thing to do, really, and he had avoided it for months now. He had to pick up the phone and simply call. Justin Case had not been in church since his last meeting with Effete Mann… Actually, he hadn’t been in church since his last meeting with Effete and Joy, which made the necessary phone call even more dreadful, but he picked up the phone nevertheless. The Reverend Joy Brighterday would be in her office at St. Gianna. More than likely, she would have some time to talk, too, which wasn’t very appealing at the moment, but…
“Hello, St. Gianna’s Church; this is Joy Brighterday. How may I help you?”
“Ah … Reverend Brighterday, well… umm … this is, uh … Justin Case.”
“Mr. Justin Case… Well, hello again. I certainly didn’t expect to hear from you, but I’m glad you called.” Joy paused. “How may I be of assistance?” Another pause. “Or are you calling on professional matters … or for legal reasons? I don’t suppose I’m going to jail, am I?” Joy laughed, trying to lighten the atmosphere.
“No, no, not at all,” Justin responded, even though one part of him loved the idea of her behind bars. “Actually, I was calling about our meetings during the Effete Sloughheart … now, Mann … umm during that period of time.” Justin hesitated, which was terribly unusual for him, as he scrambled for the right words, which utterly embarrassed him, too. “It seems that at one meeting in particular something went wrong … out of kilter, so to speak. Of course, I’ve dealt with plenty of tense situations, as I know you have, but … well, I just can’t get it out of my mind that, perhaps, I said or did something to offend you.”
“Justin, if I may call you by your first name…”
“Certainly, that’s fine.”
“Thank you and you may simply call me Joy,” she replied politely. “I remember the meeting well, and I’ll just be straightforward and honest about it, because really I think that’s what you want; that’s why you’re calling.” Joy took a deep breath. “Yes, I think something got ‘out of kilter,’ or ‘went off track,’ as you say… The whole case, in fact. Before going any further, though, I do want to say that I was very proud of Effete throughout the whole grueling, legal process, and when she met with you that final day – at least from what she told me – I was especially proud of just how strongly and confidently she handled herself, so … as far as Effete goes, she’s out of the picture in this conversation.”
“Yeah, o.k. Joy, then she won’t be a topic of conversation, but…” Justin felt his temperature rising again, “even now you sound perturbed, so … I’ll ask again, did I do something? Or fail to do something? I don’t understand your … apparent hostility toward me.”
“My apparent hostility?” Joy asked quizzically. “Justin, if I have come off as being hostile, then I apologize; that is not my intention. In fact, that was not my intention during our meeting. I simply felt … believed very strongly that you should have worked through her whole case more thoroughly. I think you should have gone further, and pushed much harder. Justin …” He couldn’t see, of course, but Joy was shaking her head, “I just don’t think … no, I know you didn’t realize then what you were sitting on, and you may still not realize that the most you did, ultimately, was take the tip-top of the iceberg and deal with that without even glancing at anything else… Justin, you had an evil, revolting, criminal fiend on your hands… That was Fen Sloughheart, Justin… That was the twisted, vile creature represented by Ripper, the most obnoxious, notorious – albeit extremely effective – attorney in these parts. Didn’t it shock your senses even a little when it became so, so very obvious that even Jack Ripper wanted to get rid of Sloughheart; that he didn’t want anything at all to do with him anymore … in any way, shape, or form?”
“Well, I have to admit … I, uh …” Justin was wrestling with the truth of the matter. “No, umm, the fact that we wrapped up the case so quickly and nicely, which was an obvious victory, I guess…”
“You see,” Joy interrupted, “that is just my point! You, Justin Case, have just hit the proverbial nail on the head! Another victory … wrapped up so nicely … and quickly. Yes, of course, and another notch in your belt, but you missed everything, Justin … everything.” Joy paused and Justin said nothing. “No, of course, I didn’t expect you to know everything about Fen Sloughheart; I didn’t know, and still don’t know everything about the man. I really don’t think I want to, but in your legal pursuit of another win, you missed the very real human elements involved. You totally overlooked the flesh-and-blood human beings involved. You failed to consider how much that monster had already hurt Effete, and probably others, and just how much you might be able to do… Oh my, Justin, I don’t mean to sound so critical; please believe me, but…”
“But I don’t care about people,” Justin broke in. “That’s what you’re saying. All I really care about is myself and my career, right?” There followed a moment of silence, heavy silence.
“Justin … right now, at this point in your life … yes, unfortunately,” Joy replied. “Right now, if you’ll listen to the one you at least used to consider your pastor, you need to learn the great lessons of modesty, compassion, altruism and genuine appreciation of others. Justin, you’re bright and intelligent, very talented and handsome, and certainly have so much to offer.”
“Well, now you’re sounding mighty pastoral, but that’s not the tone and tune I heard in my office that day several months ago,” Justin retorted. “And I’ve never thought of myself as being immodest, hardhearted, egocentric, or churlish … but now, at least, I know what my former pastor thinks about me. On the subject, though, you’ll please remember that you brought Effete’s case to me and, booked as I was, I took it; furthermore, I took it at 50% my normal retainer, which I think most people would consider charitable.”
“And there you go,” Joy came right back. “Yes, I most certainly did choose you, and I deeply appreciated your working Effete’s case into your busy schedule and doing so at half-price. However… my mistake was looking at you first as a member of my church, secondly as an especially successful young lawyer, and thirdly as just an all-round intelligent, gifted and fully capable individual who would – yes, I confess – look and sound damn sharp in the court of law. Again, my mistakes, one and all, and I completely own each one of them.” Justin was partly impressed by Joy’s admissions, yet pricked as well. He was all of the above, but… What? Was he also ostentatious, callous and self-centered? Did she really have anything purely good to say about him? “Justin, please … I want to re-emphasize that I fully believe – no, I know – that you are very capable, quite gifted, intelligent, handsome and likeable. I do not for a minute believe that you’re some kind of ogre, and if I’ve come across that way, please accept my apologies and forgive me.”
Justin felt trapped. He was glad this was just a phone conversation and not a court trial. Somehow, this beautiful, intelligent, very capable pastor had him in a befuddling corner. Joy Brighterday had practically scathed him and, yet, complimented and (possibly) even built him up. Was this some kind of psychological trick she’d learned in seminary? Break ‘em down, then build them up again. He’d learned some similar tactics in law school, so maybe that’s what she was doing now? But how to respond? Justin Case was not accustomed to finding himself befuddled, and he didn’t like it one bit … but he was befuddled, nonetheless. He couldn’t just end the conversation and hang up; no, he had to see this through to the bitter end … but he was having problems seeing now!
“I guess I really don’t understand, Reverend Brighterday,” he opted for formality now. “I honestly don’t because … huh,” now Justin was shaking his head, “umm … on the one hand, you’re laying out your critiques very clearly and sharply, but then on the other hand it almost sounds like … huh … like you’re complimenting me. Just how bad, or obnoxious, a person do you think I am? Could you rate it on a scale of one to ten?”
“No, Justin,” Joy Brighterday laughed. “No I cannot rate it on a scale of one to ten. By the way, there is no need at all to revert to formalities now. Let me try to be as clear as I possibly can, even though it may sound insulting; nevertheless, it’s probably necessary it you’re misunderstanding and looking at rating scales!” She laughed a sincerely jovial laugh again. “Justin, I honestly think it comes down to growing up … to maturation. Period. Overall, you’re not an obnoxious, horrendous person at all; in fact, I just said otherwise. I just said you are very capable, skilled, knowledgeable, good-looking and likeable.” She chuckled again. “I have no idea where that would put you on the scale of one to ten, but I doubt it would be low… No, my dear Justin, I really and truly believe it all comes down to maturation, and maturation specifically along the lines I mentioned before: modesty, compassion, altruism and genuine appreciation of others”
“Well…” Justin started.
“And before you say anything else,” Joy cut him off, “by saying what I’ve just said, I am not accusing you of being totally devoid of these characteristics. You just … well,” Joy took a deep breathe. “You just have some … umm, more growing up to do. That’s all, plain and simple. Moreover, if I’ve hurt you in any way by saying this, then I really am sorry. I’m really not the wicked witch of Verdure County.” She laughed, hoping again to lighten the mood. She failed again; Justin didn’t laugh, but he did surprise her with his response.
“O.k. fair enough,” he replied, slapping his free hand down on his desk. “I called, I asked, and I’ve listened to your very, very forthright and honest answer, but…” He hesitated. “O.k. just for the sake of argument, let’s say I’ve taken everything you’ve said to heart. Let’s say I believe you and I want to change, but that I’m also not so willy-nilly as to believe I can change overnight. Add to this the fact that there are bound to be others in some similar, deplorable situation as mine, then I have a proposal to make, if you will seriously listen and consider.”
“That’s easy enough to answer, Justin, because I have been seriously listening to you and considering every word you’ve spoken, so … by all means, let me hear your proposal.”
“Good, but first let me say that I in no way believe simple, classroom-type learning can affect the good changes you’ve mentioned; that is, that simply attending courses alone can mature someone. Having said that, though, since you’ve mentioned modesty, compassion, altruism and genuine appreciation of others more than once, you must place a high premium on these values, or qualities, so … I propose an hour and half, mid-week study on these qualities for … oh, say, four to six weeks. And I will go ahead and commit myself to faithful attendance, because I am now very, very genuinely and, may I say, deeply interested in hearing your explication and commentary on these virtues. You know, the words are easy enough to toss out, but I would very much like to hear them actually explained and the application of each reviewed … you know, in something like case studies.”
Joy was taken aback by this proposal and didn’t quite know what to make of it, coming, as it was, from Justin Case. However, she was open to ideas for St. Gianna’s Wednesday evening SSS (Song, Supplication, and Study) gathering. She’d just finished an enriching, and rather popular, series on the Epistle to Diognetus, an excellent example of second century Christian apologetics. So, what about modesty, compassion, altruism and genuine appreciation? Of course, more could be added, but what the hell, she would meet Justin part way.
“O.k. I’ll agree – initially, at least – to four, one-hour sessions on modesty, compassion, altruism and appreciation,” Joy answered. “If there is enough interest and if there seems to be adequate reason, then I might be open to expand this … series to one and a half hours for up to six weeks, but that remains to be seen.”
“And I take it this will be on Wednesdays, as usual, for the SSS class?” Justin asked.
“Yep! Give me this upcoming Sunday to announce it, and we’ll jump in right away!” Joy sounded confident, not seriously considering what she might be getting herself into, but anyway… “And I do look forward to seeing you, Justin, and thank you for calling today.”
“No, thank you … Joy,” Justin responded, not quite sure whether he felt good or bad feelings toward this woman now. “I dearly look forward to the series … and, oh, I promise I will do my best to be an attentive, kind and cordial student.” Now he finally chuckled.
“Sounds terrific, Justin, so there’ll be no putting you in the corner wearing the dunce cap!” They both laughed. “Thank you again, Justin, and you have a nice day.”
“Thank you and you, too… Good bye.”
Well, now that that was over and done with Justin felt absolutely no relief whatsoever! Still, he had to admit she’d given him a lot to ponder, and even though he didn’t exactly know where the idea came from, he was looking forward to the series.