29,131 / 50,000
Hmm, this chapter's running a bit longer than I thought. Getting time to wrap it up.
Charlie offered his hand, almost making the mistake of putting the wrong one forwards. "Nice to meet you, I'm Charlie Boxer."
"Oh! You're George's kid, yeah? He was a great guy, your dad. We were in the war together, did you know that? He came by here one day when he heard I was back in town."
They walked deeper into the church, through the small foyer. On either side of the doorway, inside the small stone box he had entered, were tables with racks of various literature for the Cerulean Order, all printed on the expected blue paper. They all looked to have been printed up off a copy machine somewhere. The only non-Order item on the tables was a stack of newspapers from that morning, left there for visitors and mebers to read while waiting.
Inside the main part of the church, it no longer resembled one much at all. It also didn't quite match up with what Charlie had come to expect from groups of this nature. The chairs weren't all in rows, or a circle. They tended towards rows, but still seemed to be placed haphazardly around the room.
The organ, Charlie presumed there must have been one at some time, was long gone. Above the foyer was a balcony that looked like an organ may once have belonged up there, near the large round window. The altar was gone, and there was now a large table up on the pulpit A few more metal folding chairs were also up there around it, but also several couches, that looked just as worn and hand me down as the one from Charlie's apartment in Gauthsburg.
The floor was also stone, but covered up with a large piece of carpeting. Charlie was surprised to see that it was not blue, but rather a light beige, somewhat darker than the skin on Charlie's arms.
More long, collapsable tables were set up along the left and right sides of the wall that met the foyer. One table had a number of books resting atop it, with a box of donuts, and napkins, and on the other was a couple of coffee pots, and soda fountains. Beside that was a regular sized fridge as well. Charlie would not have been surprised if he learned that several members of the Order would use the place like it was a replacement to the homeless shelter on the other side of town.
The presence of a few people seemed to make Charlie lean more towards that conclusion, given their appearance and ragged clothes. They each wore a pendant, save for one, but Charlie saw what was very likely his resting on the table nearby.
The church was well lit, light streaming in and casting crosses of light to dot the floor and walls, from the tower slits. More light filled in from the round window. There were more windows, conventional, rectangular windows, along the length of the side walls, but they afforded little additional light. Some did indeed trickle through, but with buildings on either side of the former church, most direct light was blocked. Several of those windows were also shuttered up still, more for privacy, or to keep some light out at certain times of the day, than anything else.
There were a few doors; one behind Charlie that led to the balcony above and was left wide open; another along the left hand wall that emptied into the alleyway as another exit. Another at the back was probably just a closet. Still one more was for the preacher's offices, where he would prepare before a sermon, greet with people, and possibly more. Charlie wasn't sure how far back the church went, and there could be living quarters back there as well. He doubted that Richard would just let him go take a look. No matter how much he wished he could get back there and dig around for what might be hidden from public view.
Aside from the balcony, there was only the one floor. The room was open up to the roof, where large arches held it aloft, supported by large columns that broke up the otherwise open hall. And all of it was made out of the greyish bluestone, every piece. Every wall, every column. Even the stairwell up to the balcony, which Charlie could see through the open door, was all bluestone masonry. He would have been amazed by the coherent vision that had seen this place built, at any cost, but Charlie's thoughts were preoccupied with what could be going wrong here.
Everything seemed innocent enough. No one appeared to be getting hurt, and they could come and go as they pleased. Charlie had a brief moment where he considered this place may be doing the good they claimed, but it was nothing more than a moment.
Nothing seemed out of order. The building looked like nothing more than a converted church, now being used as the local headquarters for the latest 12 stepper fad, wrapped up in oceanographic imagery.
Richard made the offer of some coffee, but Charlie had his fill while waiting at the cafe. Any more coffee, and Charlie thought it was very possible that he'd vibrate straight through the ground. The thought did bring up the possibility of a basement, in Charlie's mind.
Charlie just crossed his arms and leaned against the back wall of the church near the coffee pot, and let Richard talk while observing the surroundings. If he kept this up, Charlie thought he may be able to get away without asking a single question. With the way Richard talked, he might just spill something important and not even realise it. He was already disturbed by the fact that his father had come here, even just to visit an old friend. There was a fear that he had come here for even more.
Fears that were soon confirmed. "We got to talking, and I told him about the good work the Cerulean Order was doing here in town, and he was intrigued. He started coming to meetings. The war messed up a lot of people, your daddy and me included. But what happened to Darlene, that really did him in. We helped him a lot, come to terms with her passing, and your leaving. He really could have used you, Charlie."
Charlie bit back his words, as he chewed on the side of his mouth. He had suffered enough self-imposed blame for what had happened, and agonised for years about abandoning them. He had his doubts that his father would have wanted any help from his only son that had killed the love of his life. Some things are unforgivable, no matter how accidental the acts may have been, or how much undersatnding is broached by two parties. Either way, it was too late to find out for sure.
Having a stranger accusing him of things beyond his control, in more ways than one, was not what Charlie came here for.
Unfortunately, Richard seemed to be unable to stop speaking, so Charlie chose to just wait. "Yep, when your mom died, that was it for him. That little sister of yours had to grow up fast. She had to take care of him once you were gone. They weren't happy years. But we here at the Order, we gave them both direction. Your sister was better off, and she got to college, but still had her fair share of problems."
At long last, the man stopped to pause. Charlie was so used to listening to Richard blather on, he didn't know what to make of the sudden silence. Before he could start speaking, Richard was back at it, his pause ended.
"Now it seems the last of the Boxer family has walked through my doors seeking help. If you come to a regular meeting though, that would be the best. I've heard a lot about what happened from your dad and Adrienne, and I think we could help you too."
Charlie could not hold it in any longer. Having his family spilling secrets they had no right to tell to people who are little more than strangers, his secrets, that was the last straw. No longer could he stand idly by as the moron in front of him would not shut up.
He spoke up, interrupting Richard in midsentence. "Look, I appreciate the offer," he lied, " but I'm not here for help."
A wave of confusion washed over Richard's face. He was not used to people refusing help from him. Everyone that entered through the doors of Cerulean to wade deep within their waters came there with problems to be solved. Now though, someone had come to him, but not for help. Outside is comfort zone, he began to fidget with his one hand. He'd tug at his shirt, scratch at his hip, and pull on his collar.
"Well, friend, if you're not here to get some help, then what didja come in for? We're not giving sight seeing tours of the old haunted church. So if you're not here for anything, I'm going to have to ask you to leave, Charlie."
Charlie was intrigued. His mood had shifted quite a bit once Richard had learned that Charlie was not here for the Order. He also seemed to Charlie as if he had grown terse all of a sudden. On top of all that, Charlie could see that Richard was sweating as well, just like Brandon earlier. He nervously licked at his lips, as if he could use a drink.
"I'm sorry, I should say I'm not here for that sort of help. I do have something you might be able to help me with, though."
Richard only gave a nod, prompting Charlie to continue.
"There was a murder earlier today, just down the street."
"Yes, I'd heard. Such a shame." News did travel fast in a small town. Charlie knew that to be true long before he had ever heard the cliche.
"I was there, and he was a friend of mine. The killer was wearing one of those." Charlie pointed at the damned pendant dangling from Richard's neck. It swung there on it's shimmering blue chain. Charlie could see it had left a hint of paint in an almost invisible line around the back and sides of Richard's throat.
Richard flashed a friendly smile on the surface, but it had no warmth to it. "Oh no, don't be absurd. No one in our group is capable of such an act. Everyone here is a good, kind soul, who would never hurt anyone more than a wave lapping gently at the coast."
"Waves are funny that way," retorted Charlie. "They seem gentle, but sometimes they can bring down a wall, or destroy an entire island. They hide their true destructive power. Given enough time, even the gentlest waves will wear down the toughest stone."
Charlie could see his host was looking more and more nervous. "And for a group that claims they're non-violent, and wouldn't have such people as their members, you were sure quick to try and wrap me up within your seaweed and brine."
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, is that something my dad and Adrienne didn't tell you?" Charlie was proud that they hadn't revealed that much to these quacks, at least. "There was no way my presence would have helped my dad. There would be no consolation from me for his wife being in the ground. Who do you think put her there?"
Richard was stunned by Charlie's frank confession, the first time he had unloaded that little pile of guilt to someone. The doctors he saw rarely talked about it, outside of a clinical means of diagnosing his health. The topic was tiptoed around with his sister. Now here he was in a church, at long last confessing his greatest sin.