I wish you were here. We all miss you terribly and long for your direction. Baba and the general do not agree on too many decisions, and when we wonder what you would do, we find ourselves at a loss. Times have grown darker since you left for Salt Lake City, and though Elder McKinley's arrival here is a blessing, we desire your presence more than anything.
I know you are not truly dead. I know that Salt Lake City is a real place, and you are there. I wish I could be there with you, but every time I express this to Baba he becomes upset with me. He still thinks it is a metaphor for Heaven but if you are there, he is not wrong, because Heaven is wherever you are. Uganda was Heaven when you were here.
I love you, Arnold Cunningham. And until you return, I have sworn myself to celibacy, and I will wait for you even in the Heaven of God.
With my eternal love,
Arnold rang the doorbell to the Prices' house, the wrinkled paper Elder McKinley had given him in hand, and he hopped back and forth on his feet as he waited for someone to come open the door. Oh, man, he really should have used the bathroom before he left the restaurant!
Kevin opened the door, the smile on his face washed away by Arnold's exclamation: "Can I use your bathroom?!" Luckily, Kevin only seemed surprised, not annoyed, and he stepped aside and pointed Arnold in the direction down the hall. Arnold pushed the "text" into Kevin's hands and made a quick dash for the bathroom, happy to finally relieve himself after an hour of squirming in his seat on the bus when he realized that maybe he had drank too much water at Benihana.
When Arnold finally emerged from the bathroom, he saw Kevin still in the foyer, his brows creased together as he read the note. Arnold gulped.
To his part, Kevin looked sheepish as he folded the paper back up and handed it to Arnold. "Sorry," he murmured. "I thought it was maybe for me. Guess not. I wouldn't have read it if I'd known."
"No, it's okay!" Arnold exclaimed. "I, uh, wanted your advice on it anyway."
No, actually, Arnold did not want Kevin's advice on it. What could Kevin possibly advise on? Even if Arnold drafted a response, he had no way of getting it back to Nabulungi, and even if he managed to get back to Uganda—well, that was easier said than done! He didn't have the money, he didn't have the means, and he was trapped forever in Utah. This letter was all that it could be, and it was more than Arnold had expected, and what else could be done about it? But asking for Kevin's advice was a far better alternative than being angry at Kevin for reading it, especially since it was an honest mistake, so Arnold decided to roll with it.
"Yeah! Um, well, I don't know what to really do."
Kevin eyed the note. "It was pretty… intense."
Arnold nodded. "Yeah."
"How did you get it anyway?"
Arnold thought it was weird that Kevin tensed up like that; he probably felt really bad for missing lunch. "Don't worry, he said he might show up since his sister's a member of your church and all."
"Uh-huh." Why didn't he look more relieved about this?
"Maybe if you sent him a text or something he really will show up! He seems to think you don't want to see him, but don't worry! I told him that you did."
Kevin nodded and pointed up the stairs. "Let's just talk about this letter you got from Nabulungi. How did Elder McKinley get it anyway?"
"He went back to Uganda this summer," Arnold explained as they climbed the stairs to the already familiar warmth of Kevin's room. Ah, much better. "But he said he can't afford to go back again anytime soon, so I can't write a letter and ask him to deliver it for me. And sending it myself through the mail, well, you know how it goes."
Kevin closed the door. "Yeah, I know, especially with the missionary center gone. And you can't really afford to go back there either, can you?"
Arnold shook his head.
"Well, why don't you get a job and save up your money, and maybe by summer vacation you'll be able to go. Your parents won't pay for you to go, so don't even bother asking them, and you're old enough to drink and vote and do all kinds of crazy adult stuff, so who cares what they say?"
That was not what Arnold expected to hear from Kevin Price, so all he managed in response was a, "Huh?"
"You want to do something about this, right? The way I see it, your options are to send them a letter that they might never actually receive or to go back yourself, or sit back and do nothing because what else can you do? They don't have Internet or a good phone service, not unless something's drastically changed since we left, which I doubt. What did—" Kevin paused. "—what did Elder McKinley say about Uganda?"
Elder McKinley had said a number of things: that Mafala and General Butt Effing Naked were constantly at odds with how to run the village and how to continue to spread the Book of Arnold, that the few provisions Elder McKinely had managed to bring them could not have come sooner, apparently, and that warlords from nearby towns and villages were starting to see theirs as a threat, to which Elder McKinley had expressed complete bewilderment over, for they were now a peace-loving village who only fought with words and kindness, not guns, fists, or knives. Worse yet, the Ugandan government was turning its attention towards the village and not in a way that Elder McKinley could smile about it. But instead of telling Kevin all of this, Arnold only managed:
"He said that things were going awesome there!"
Kevin raised an eyebrow. "Really? Nabulungi said otherwise."
Uh-oh. "Really! I mean, yeah, things aren't completely peachy there, but things aren't completely peachy here, either, and, um…"
"Mafala and the general aren't getting along, right?"
"How bad is that? Did Elder McKinley say?"
"Arnold. Don't lie to me and then have me encourage you to your death."
Arnold sighed and stared at his feet, refusing to meet Kevin's eyes. "Well, he did say that, um, things were getting pretty rough there."
Kevin sighed. "Why lie about this, Arnold? I'm not an idealistic idiot anymore. Giving people faith doesn't do much good except give them a reason to work towards a better tomorrow. Which is great and all, but I saw the fallout between Mafala and the general coming the instant the general decided to become baptized. No matter how many inspiring words you tell them, they're going to interpret them their own way and, well, let's just hope that no one gets hurt from it."
Arnold shifted his feet and fell to the bed. "That's not all. Apparently they're still starving and dying of AIDS and stuff."
"And, um. They might be in trouble with the government or something? Something about their religion, and other things, plus, well, the general's not the only warlord, you know?"
Kevin said nothing for a moment, pacing a complete two rounds back and forth in his room before he settle down next to Arnold. "I take it back. Going back to Uganda is a bad idea."
"But we have to do something!" Arnold was more taken aback by his own words than Kevin was, who only smiled sadly at him in response.
"We can't do anything, least of all you. You'd get shot on sight."
"No, I wouldn't!" But Arnold knew Kevin was right. "And what about Nabu—Nabu—" He unfolded the letter. "Na-bu-lun-gi. Nabulungi. What about her, huh?"
"Celibacy, damn," Kevin murmured with a quiet whistle. "I don't know, buddy."
"Elder McKinley—Michaelsaid that we should try to bring her to America."
"Easier said than done."
"Which means we haveto go back to Uganda!" Arnold stood, determined now. "So that we can bring her here! We can bring her, and her father, and—and Sister Kimbay and Elder Mutumbo and—"
"Arnold, stop. Getting Nabulungi here alone will be hard enough, but the rest of her village too? The United States government isn't as benevolent as you think it is. You could marry Nabulungi, sure, that'll make things easier, but everyone else, I don't know, best we could do is try to convert them to real Mormonism and then they could try to come here as a sanctuary or something—Arnold, no."
Arnold knew the grin on his face was much too wide, but Kevin had a point. If they could get them to believe in all of his stories, maybe getting them to convert to real Mormonism would be a cinch, and then he could really for real this time actually save them.
"That's a brilliant idea, best friend!"
"No, it's a stupid idea, forget I said anything—"
"We just have to go back and tell them to believe in the actual Book of Mormon!"
"It's not going to work that way—"
"Then they can all come here and their AIDS will be cured and they won't be hungry anymore or on the verge of starving to death or in danger of getting killed or imprisoned or whatever!"
"Arnold, listen to me," said Kevin as he stood and grabbed Arnold by the shoulders. "It's not going to be that easy. Just thinkabout it, okay? There's a lot more involved with that and I really don't think the Church would pay to get a couple dozen Africans to America. They weren't willing to do it when they thought we were actually converting them, and they definitely won't be willing to do it now."
"Yeah, but we have to try." Then Arnold remembered something else that Elder McKinley had told him. "Oh! I know! I know what would make it easier! Elder—Michael said that he was studying to become a lawyer or politician or something. That'll help us too, right?"
Kevin raised his eyebrows, and Arnold had no idea how to interpret that. Was he impressed? "Isn't he still in undergrad?"
"Well, yeah, but he's learning all this stuff, so that'll help, right?"
"I… guess. Are you sure that's what he said—no. Arnold, we can't save everyone like that, by bringing them all here. It doesn't work like that."
Arnold narrowed his eyes. "We have to try," he repeated, punctuating each word. Just because Kevin Price had lost something in Uganda did not mean that he had to be such a Negative Nancy about everything. He once said that he believed in Arnold; why was now, here in Salt Lake City, any different than in Uganda?
But Kevin remained unmoved. "Not like this."
Then the door swung open and Kevin's brother poked his head inside. "Hey, Mom said to come downstairs, the guests are arriving."
"Thanks, Jack, we'll be right down." After Jack left, pointedly not closing the door again, Kevin continued. "We'll talk about this more later, okay? Let's just go grab some food before all the good stuff is gone."
Arnold sighed, dejected. "Yeah, okay."
"And hey, Arnold? Nabulungi?"
"Wouldyou be willing to marry her? To get her a green card?"
That question was the most ludicrous thing said all day. "Of course I would! And not just for the green card, but because I lo—" Arnold choked on the word, his face growing hot as he remembered everything Nabulungi had written in the "text." "Yeah, yeah I would. If she would, you know, want to marry me too, anyway."
Once again, Arnold could not make sense of the face that Kevin made, but it was gone before he could think about it more or even ask Kevin about it. "Huh. And for the record, buddy? She said she swore herself to celibacy for you. She'd marry you in a heartbeat, if you just asked."
Kevin beamed. "Yeah."
Arnold grinned at that, his chest feeling like a butterfly was rapidly beating its wings in it. "And hey!" he exclaimed. "I'm sure your girlfriend loves you like that, too! I bet if you proposed, she'd say yes!"
Kevin said nothing to that and only headed out of his room. "Come on, let's go get some of that food. I definitely want to stock up on any deviled eggs before they're gone. Then we'll play video games or something."
"Yeah, okay," said Arnold as he bounded right behind Kevin. This Christmas was already shaping up to be a million times better than anything he could have dreamed of.
Kevin had hoped that if he and Arnold swooped down to the dining room quickly enough, they would not have to endure very many pleasantries at all and could easily fly back up to his room to enjoy dinner in peace. Kevin's hope had been dashed the instant he picked up his plate and saw that Sarah Brown was right behind him.
Now he and Arnold sat in the living room with the rest of the young adult Mormons from church as they ate and chatted and some even tried to engage Arnold, but thankfully Arnold was being Arnold and quickly made everyone else feel uncomfortable with his awkward laughter and random bursts of changing opinions and white lies just so that he could fit in with everyone else. Kevin smiled throughout all of this, especially when Sarah on the other side of him began squirming after Arnold's sixth out-of-place guffaw.
Better than any of this, however, was when Mrs. Lane showed up without her brother. Thank you, Heavenly Father, for giving me a little bit of a break for once.
So Kevin finished off the rest of the food on his plate and leaned back on the couch, enjoying every moment that Arnold participated in the rest of the 20-somethings conversation. Finally, nobody had a word to say to Kevin about Sarah Brown because now when they looked at Kevin, they saw Arnold and not her, and when they looked at her, well, they probably saw exactly what he saw. He kept an ear to any fluctuations in Arnold's voice so that they could escape the instant he faltered, and then they could probably sneak into Jack's room and play something that Arnold might like, or they could even talk about Uganda some more.
And yet Kevin knew exactly what opening up that line of dialogue would do, and he could never live with himself if Arnold really did decide to go through with his original suggestion of saving up money to go to Uganda. Why had Kevin even suggested it in the first place? He should have known not only from the letter but from pure common sense that for as unpleasant as it was for Arnold to be in Utah again, Uganda would be just as dangerous.
So if Arnold decided to go Uganda, Kevin knew that he would have no choice but to go with him. Hopefully he could persuade him that the only viable option was to propose to Nabulungi and then get the hell out of Dodge and deal with Immigration when the time came.
Maybe it was time to pick up a part-time job himself. Just in case.
Then Arnold perked up and excitedly waved towards just outside the room. "Hey! Elder—Michael! Michael! Glad you came!"
Kevin froze and slowly turned to where Arnold looked, and sure enough, Michael McKinley himself was there, exchanging words with his sister and waving at Arnold with an uneasy smile. Any hope that Kevin had that maybe, just maybe, Michael would not recognize him was gone the instant they locked eyes, and Michael's smiled faded in favor of a slightly panicked frown and Kevin, well, Kevin found it too hard to breathe.
Never mind, God, You fucker. You're really enjoying this, aren't You?
Arnold patted the empty seat cushion next to him—nobody had been too eager to sit next to him—and as Michael McKinley approached, Kevin kept his eyes to his knees. He and Arnold really should have made a break for his room sooner, and now it was too late.
At least Kevin could take some sort of glee in the discomfort the other Mormons in the group now showed with their shifting in their seats and wary smiles. Oh, yeah, they knew exactly who this was, didn't they? The gay ex-Mormon brother of one of their fellow church goers who was also in Uganda to spread the word of the Book of Arnold. Who else could it be? But how much more could they figure out? Could they look at Kevin and then at Michael and just know… but that was stupid. Of course they couldn't. Mormons liked to think they were many things that they were not, and they were most certainly not mind-readers, thank God.
But the heat of the Ugandan summer night, the buzzing of killer mosquitoes, the chirping of crickets, and the desperate rum-scented panting of two inebriated boys as lips moved across skin and clothes slowly falling by the wayside filled Kevin's mind that he knew that somehow, someone was looking at him right now, and they knew, just knew, because shame had to be written all over his face and embedded into every little move he made.
He wanted to excuse himself so very, very badly, but he couldn't leave Arnold to the vultures, and dragging Arnold up to his room with him was no longer an option with Michael McKinley here.
Why did Arnold have to insist that he come anyway? Why did Kevin have to lie to him about wishing he could have gone to lunch with them? And damn it, why couldn't have Kevin just admitted that he had no interest in ever speaking to or seeing Michael McKinley again, and then he could have just lied about why instead of everything else he did?
Damn, no wonder why the Church of Latter Day Saints preached against lying so harshly.
"Kevin, sweetie? Could you come in here and help me with the pies?" his mother called from the kitchen.
Oh, thank God.
"Coming!" Kevin hopped to his feet. "Hey, Arnold, want to come with?"
"Sure!" cried Arnold, but Kevin's relief was quickly tempered by Arnold turning to Michael and extending the invite to him. Thankfully, the panic was short-lived.
"No, I'm fine, it might get too crowded in there anyway."
Kevin had no idea what game Michael or God was playing at, but he was willing to take small blessings. Not only was he able to flee the crowd, and Michael, and Sarah Brown, but he was able to take Arnold along with him, and even if it was to endure the housewives bustling about in the kitchen, that was eons better than anything in the living room.
Mrs. Price smiled sweetly at both Kevin and Arnold when they came into the kitchen. "Hello, Arnold," she said as she pulled one pie after another from the oven. Kevin was still impressed by how many she was able to fit in both of the ovens they had; such was the way of big Mormon families, he had quickly learned after visiting one of his non-Mormon college friends at his home for dinner one night. "Could you two set these on the table out in the dining room? Just on the racks is fine. Thanks."
As the two completed the task for Mrs. Price, Arnold said, "I'm really glad Michael was able to show up after all! Aren't you?"
"Yeah," said Kevin absentmindedly as he set the pies down.
"He doesn't seem too comfortable though, but hopefully the others warm up to him like they have to me!"
They really haven't, Kevin wanted to say but because it was Christmas Eve and he didn't want to spoil Arnold's good spirits, he kept his mouth shut. It's just the polite thing to do to make you feel included.
"Mmm! And these pies smell really good!"
"Yeah, Mom's a great cook."
"You think since we're helping we get first dibs?"
Kevin beamed. "Of course! The strawberry rhubarb's my favorite, but I think she's got a chocolate silk coming out soon, too."
Well, that was the easiest change of subject ever. And maybe by getting these "first dibs," they could easily steal away to Kevin's room and just pretend that Michael McKinley wasn't here, and Sarah Brown was too much of a nice Mormon girl to try to track him down up there, and then the rest of this party would be a breeze.
They finished setting the table with the pies and had begun cutting their own slices when Mrs. Price called for the guests to come get their desserts. Awesome, they would be well on their way upstairs before anyone else could even get to the line. Perfect. Kevin grabbed his pie and left, stopping in the doorway to wait for Arnold. As Arnold approached with two large lumps of pie—one chocolate and the other strawberry rhubarb—on his plate, Jack exclaimed in a roaring laughter.
"Hey guys! Looks like Kevin's under the mistletoe!"
This was so cliché Kevin wanted to punch something. Preferably his brother. Fleeing was the better option, but as he turned on his heel to make a break for his room, Sarah Brown was unceremoniously pushed into him. He was only happy that he was able to move his plate above his head fast enough to avoid any tragedies.
But wait, wouldn't a tragedy like spilled pie save him from something like this?
He turned to Arnold for help, but Arnold's clueless idea of help was to encourage Kevin to kiss his girlfriend because, well, to be fair, this is what boyfriends and girlfriends were supposed to do, right? Except for the part where Kevin had never actually kissed Sarah Brown before.
Hasa diga Eebowai indeed, fuck!
Kevin turned back to Sarah, who was standing much too close to him with her head down and her face redder than any red stocking of the season, and he felt his scowl so harshly that he knew that others could see it, but nobody seemed to care. Damn it, Heavenly Father, if You wanted to torture me, couldn't You have found a more creative way to do this? Seriously, now. The Uganda torture was gold. This? What the fuck, Man?
When Kevin looked up again, his eyes found Michael McKinley's, and Kevin hated that look on his face, that look of pure sadness, and he hated how that look made him feel, like someone had decided to punch him in the chest, grab all the organs it could, and squeeze until Kevin dropped dead.
So, well, he really had no choice now, did he? Fuck, he hated his life.
"Let's just get this over with," he muttered and quickly pecked Sarah Brown on the lips and pulled away as quickly as he could.
He was hoping for cheers and not the jeers that he endured instead: "You call that a kiss?" "Again, with more feeling!" "Can't believe of all people, Kevin Price is the shy one!"
Bedroom. Now. That was where he needed to go before he had to go through that all over again. As he pushed past the crowd, his eyes looked for and found Arnold, who thought that the spectacle was the most hilarious thing ever, and his eyes looked for and couldn't find Michael McKinley, which was just as well.
Kevin motioned at Arnold to follow him up the stairs and he hoped that no one, especially Jack, would try to come find them and bother them. He had quite enough of this godforsaken holiday, thank you very much, and he really wished that he had a secret stash of beer or something in his room to drown away this weird… guiltyfeeling he now had about Michael.
Now that was weird.