Sun, Stand Still: Chapter One

Phil Lofton
Porch Light Collective
13 min readMar 19, 2021

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“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” — Matthew 16:18

stylized Aries zodiac sign

Wednesday March 20, 2019

Meeting halfway was the plan. It didn’t quite work out that way this time, but plans change, don’t they?

She had chosen a loungy area in the corner of the cafe to flop, a spot filled with cushions and a table meant for coffee, not the three-course lunch her stomach told her it wanted. She wanted to be here for a while, and this spot seemed like the only place to sit that wouldn’t make her ass howl with pain after twenty minutes.

The cafe was a cozy enough place, at least in some corners. The decor, all plastic plants, natural wood, and exposed concrete and HVAC, gave her the impression of the love child of a Panera and a Lululemon.

Her phone vibrated, and she looked to see an expected “Running late! So sorry 🏃‍♀️🖤” from Mickey, sent fifteen minutes after they were supposed to meet. Kendra laughed, sent back a “Ya think?” and tucked the phone away. She didn’t expect anything less from a musician’s daughter. You either pulled as far away as you could from the quirks that floated down your bloodline from your parents, or for Mickey, you leaned into them like a drunk against a wall.

She smiled, thinking of her oldest brother, and popped in an earbud, flipping in her music library to his album Hyperborea, and closed her eyes.

Kendra senselessly scrolled through Twitter while she sat. The contents of her feed faded from one post to the next, and her eyes started to glaze over when a wet willie shook her back into reality as she blurted“What the Hell?”.

Next to her stood her niece, Mickey. Her red curls were stuffed under a floppy beach hat. She leaned against a fake fiddle-leaf fig tree next to Kendra’s seat and wiped her hand off on her pants.

“Hey Auntie.” Mickey said, with equal parts mischief and affection, and Kendra jolted upright and seized her niece with a rib-crushing hug.

“It’s good to see you, you nasty idiot! Jesus, you look like a travel host with all that bohemian stuff you’re wearing!” Kendra said, tousling Mickey’s hair under her hat. “How was your drive?”

“It was fine.” Mickey said, noncommittal. “Remind me why we didn’t meet in Indianapolis again?”

“We did that last time.” Kendra said, waving away the suggestion. “ And besides, I thought the hills on this route might help keep you from falling asleep at the wheel again.”

Mickey rolled her eyes and plopped down into the assembled pillows, tossing off her burgundy cap onto Kendra’s bag.

“Have you ordered yet?” Mickey asked. In reply, Kendra brandished her lo-jack buzzer and clacked it onto the table. “This place is pretty cute isn’t it?” Mickey replied.

Kendra pulled out her phone and paused the music that had been playing into her earbuds. Mickey looked down at the screen, spying to see what her aunt had been listening to. She spun the phone around and picked it up, looking at it as though she had recovered something precious.

Sunday, March 20, 1999

The door to the bedroom flung open, and torrents of awful Christian elevator music poured into Scott’s dark room, jolting him awake.

I’m going to break that damn CD.” Scott mumbled into his pillow. In the back of his mind, the part that he wasn’t proud of, he wondered why he had bothered to come back to Franklin between the legs of his tours. But he was here to help. He got himself decent, throwing jeans and a t-shirt on, and got to work.

As he left his room, he rapped a gentle knuckle on Monica’s door. It opened quickly, and Monica, already dressed and made up, emerged with an annoyed expression.

“What?” She asked.

“Just waking you up.” Scott said.

She gestured to herself, head to toe and said “I’m as up as you are, brother of mine. Go take care of the twins. I’ve got reading to do.”

Scott shrugged and turned around, knocking on the next door. He waited for several moments, leaned against the door, and knocked again.

“Ty?” He called in.

Silence.

He opened the door and walked into the room, where Titus, asleep like the dead, lay. Wordlessly, he slung his little brother over his shoulder and carried on to the last room in their part of the house.

He knocked twice and opened the door into Kendra’s room, a room full of Beanie Babies, Legos, and American Girl dolls, where the youngest of their family snoozed under a Powerpuff Girls comforter.

“I hope no one in here’s asleep.” Scott said, doing his best imitation of a moustache-twirling villain’s voice.

Kendra’s eyes stirred, and she did her best to hide a smile that cracked reflexively.

“It would just be terrible if some poor, innocent girl in here were to be awakened by a flying TITUS!” Scott shouted, tossing his little brother down onto the bed, shocking the boy awake and jolting Kendra from the bed in a fit of giggling.

He tousled each of their heads of hair and pulled them towards the door, shouting “breakfast time”!

The kitchen was already busy with life. Stirring furiously over the stovetop stood a tall, dark-haired woman with her curls pulled back in a floral scarf, dressed in a long, billowy skirt. She smiled as Scott descended the stairs, but didn’t turn, focused wholly on her cooking.

“Mornin’”, Scott said, placing his two siblings down on the island stools. “Anything I can do to help?”

The woman chuckled and said, “You already did. Is Monica on her way down?”

“Yep, just taking her time.” Scott said. “Got any coffee? Feel like I’m half dead.”

The woman gestured a spoon down the counter to a half-full pot of the morning’s lifeblood, and Scott had to stop himself from drooling.

Almost as if on cue, Monica descended the stairs, kissed the cooking woman on the cheek, and grabbed a mug for herself. She jabbed it into Scott’s bicep to let him know he was welcome to pour her some.

He arched an eyebrow and filled up her mug, keeping the last of the pot for himself. After Monica had walked away to tend to the “two minis”, Titus and Kendra, Scott slid down the island close to the cooking woman, facing the kids as she faced the food, giving the impression of soviet conspirators on a park bench.

“How’s Mom?” He asked, doing his best to keep a smile on and keep his voice low.

“I gave her some food a bit earlier this morning,” the woman replied, keeping her voice down as well. She gave Scott a caring, kind look that Scott knew was a bad sign. “I think she’d like it if you went up to see her. She might open the curtains if you were there with her.”

“Did Dad poke his head in there before he left, or did he just send her thoughts and prayers on his way out the door?” Scott felt a little too much snark in his voice as the words left his mouth. The woman looked at him with a scolding glance and he rolled his eyes. “Am I wrong?”

“Your dad cares a lot more than you give him credit for. He does a lot that you don’t see, too. ”

The woman flipped the bacon out of the skillet onto a paper-towel covered plate on the counter and cupped Scott’s face with her hand. “Go. Check on her.”

“You got it, Aunt Judee.”

“Ugh, you know I hate that.”

“Ok, ok! You got it, Aunt Jude.” Scott said, drawling out his Aunt’s nickname.

“Love you, Scotty.” She said in a singsong voice.

“Love you too.”

Scott grabbed a piece of bacon, then walked up the small staircase and across the living room to his parents’ side of the house, a place he had come to jokingly refer to as the Cloister.

The guest bedrooms on that side sat welcoming with their doors open. One bore the coat-hangers, sampled and discarded ties, and other debris of his dad’s morning preparations and his unmade bed while the other was clean and tidy, well up to Auntie Jude’s standards for her room of the house.

The master bedroom’s door was shut, and behind it, the only sign of life was the hum of the oscillating fan. Scott put a hand on the door and leaned against it for a moment, readying himself, then opened it with a knock.

Blue pastel wallpaper and puffy sheer pink drapes greeted him as the light of the hallway filtered in behind Scott, and for a moment he thought about keeping the door open to try and bring some color in the space, but only for a moment.

He walked to his mother’s bed and sat in the chair beside it, taking hold of her hand. She was curled up and rolled to the side facing him, and he shuffled down in his chair to try and be in her field of vision. He wasn’t sure why, but he felt like she could hear him better that way. She was rail thin, and getting thinner by the day, it seemed. Scott’s mind flooded with what he could do — should do — and what his father should’ve been doing.

“Hey mom.” Scott said. He gave her limp hand a squeeze and forced out a smile. “Auntie Jude says she gave you some food. Did you eat?”

His mother quietly mouthed “you eat” in an echo to Scott.

“Do you want to go to see dad today?” Scott asked. “It’s Sunday.”

Her eyes remained unfocused and she stayed quiet.

“I’m gonna open the blinds and let a little light in, ok?”

“Ok” she mouthed.

With a pat on her hand and a kiss on her cheek, Scott stood and walked towards the window, catching sight of the full plate by the bed as he moved. He tugged the chain, rolling up the blackout shade, and with his best James Earl Jones impersonation said “Let there Be Light”.

As he left the room, he let himself be furious at his father for a moment. Nothing longer than ten seconds. There was still work left to do, and being mad wouldn’t help get his family to church on time.

A half hour later, Auntie Jude, Monica, Scott and the two minis were ready for the big show. The entourage, all done up in their best suits and dresses, loaded into the silver town and country that sat in the driveway and they hauled out towards Wine of Life to see the Reverend at work.

Scott rode, as always, up front while Auntie Jude drove, and Monica sulked in the back as the twins squirmed in their cheeto-dusted captain’s chairs and watched the videos with the talking tomatoes on the tape player. Monica, a year or two too old for the videos, but a fan in spite of herself, mouthed the words along as the tomato sang about the boogeyman and God.

“How was she?” Auntie Jude asked Scott quietly. “Did she talk?”

“Just the usual parroting.” Scott replied. “Nothing new.”

In the rearview mirror his eyes met Monica’s, and even though he tried his best to keep his voice low, some hurt within his sister told him he was just loud enough.

“You playing again anytime soon Jude?” Scott asked, sliding down into his seat to dodge the glance as he switched the topic.

“I’m playing this morning.” Jude said, one eyebrow raised. “Your dad asked me to play an offertory. Nothin’ crazy, just your standard issue ‘pretty piano hymn.’”

“Don’t you need to practice if you’re playing?” Monica drawled from the back seat.

Jude’s eyes darted up to the mirror and she cracked a devious grin. “I’ve been playing with those boys for three years now. If we can’t handle a ‘How Great Thou Art’ without a run-through, we deserve to look like a bunch of idiots.”

Titus turned back to look at Monica, ready to add something, but she was grinning, flipping through her book, Lost Nations and Hidden Peoples, and that was good enough for him.

“Hey”, Scott said, even more quietly than he and Jude had spoken earlier. “Thanks for taking care of everyone.”

Jude smiled at him and said nothing.

“I worried about these guys while I was gone. Especially the minis. I know we’re not real family, but-”

“You’re the only real family I ever had.” Jude whispered, and looked at him with a sad, solemn look. “That’s all there is to it, and it’s enough for me. You don’t need to worry about these munchkins, Rock Star.”

Scott grinned and shrank back into his seat, happy, letting the rest of the ride pass quietly, aside from the singing veggies. He thought of a call that he needed to make, a call he hated to make, and stuffed the thought down again. This morning was a time to be happy. To be home.

Wine of Life was everything a modern church in the cradle of American Christendom should be. The building was an unintimidating rectangle. If you weren’t related to the Reverend, the dress code was relaxed. Comfy, stackable chairs had replaced stiff pews, and bright, shining screens had usurped hymnals.

As they entered the sanctuary, Jude gave each of the kids a hug, pausing at Scott to ask “Got it from here”? As he nodded, she ran off to huddle with the boy’s club that made up the Wine of Life worship band, and Scott and Monica shepherded the kids to the front row.

There was a quiet comfort to this, Scott thought. He had seen most corners of the country within the last couple of years. And there was something good, something holy about standing on the stage or pressing to the front of the pit. But this, sitting with his brother and his sisters, penning them in as they waited for their father to speak, this was home.

As the band took the stage, ready to play their opening notes, Sully, the bandleader held out his guitar towards Scott, feigning an offer for him to play. Scott laughed and shook his head, and pulled little Kendra up along with him to stand for the service. She climbed up on her seat instead.

The final notes of the song rang out, and onto the stage strode their father, the Reverend Clayton Jones, smiling wide, perfect teeth gleaming in the stage light. He glanced down to Scott, the usual moment of his attention he could spare at this spot in the service to see if everything was ok, and gave him and the family a wink as Scott gave him a thumbs-up.

“Well good morning, brothers and sisters!” He said, hands firm on the podium. “What a beautiful day we’ve been given today on our first day of Spring. And thank goodness we got a little bit of payback for our Vols, last night!”

The congregation laughed politely, and a few requisite “Go Vols” shouts rang out from within the auditorium, and the Reverend kept on. His eyes turned back down to Scott and his siblings, and immediately fear filled his gut.

“I’d like to welcome back my globetrotting, prodigal son Scott this morning.” The Reverend said, with another blinding grin. “Scott, why don’t you give folks a wave?”

Scott awkwardly got to his feet, gave a broad, sweeping wave to the congregation and plopped back down onto his seat.

Kendra looked at him like a gremlin and snickered.

“Did you tell him to do that or something?” Scott asked.

“‘Course I did.” She said, “You’re famous.”

Scott rolled his eyes and pulled his sister in for a noogie as their father continued to speak. He trailed off and the band returned, shooting the congregation back to their feet, except for Titus, who had fallen asleep in his chair. Scott shot a look to Monica, and she tugged him back to wakefulness.

After another song, Jude came up to the edge of the stage, still invisible from everyone but those sitting this close, and she blew a kiss at the kids, then strode out to her piano where she sat like a bird on a wire and began to play.

Scott looked to Kendra, who, with eyes wide smiled. “She’s the coolest person in the world.”

Wednesday March 20, 2019

Mickey propped her feet up on the cushioned bench and took a generous bite of her burger. It looked delicious, Kendra thought, regretting her salad choice a little as she speared some onto her fork.

“So,” Mickey asked through a full mouth, “Ty-Ty tells me you two met up in Denver?”

Kendra planted her palm against her forehead. “Oh my God, you cannot call him that.”

Mickey shrugged and took another bite.

“Yeah, we did.”

“And?”

Kendra thought about the trip, about Titus and his big, bushy beard, and Ashley, and the baby. And she thought about the strange hesitation that was there in the hug her twin gave her as she left him at the airport. The way he and Ashley would both change the subject any time Monica came up. The gaps in the pictures on their walls.

“It was a start.”

“That bad?” Mickey asked, bringing her feet down and leaning in. “I thought he’d be happy to see you.”

“You know it’s more complicated than that.”

“I guess.” Mickey replied with a smile. “It shouldn’t be, though. You’re family. Hell, you’re twins. You guys are supposed to have some sort of weird private language, not beef about ten years ago.”

“You really are Scott’s kid.” Kendra said, sharply stabbing another forkful of salad.

“It doesn’t sound like a compliment, the way you’re saying it.”

“It is.” Kendra said. “I promise you, no matter what, Mickey, it always is.”

“It’s still a good thing you went.”

“It is. An awkward weekend’s better than years of silence.”

“Or loud, outright hate if we’re talking about Auntie Monica.”

“Yeah.” Kendra said, feeling her forehead for her own personal mark of Cain, the scars Monica had given her years ago. “Definitely better than that.”

Out of the corner of her eye, a woman sat down with her family, a husband and older kids, maybe in their late teens, on the other side of the room.

Mickey noticed Kendra’s attention shift, and she turned to follow her aunt’s eyes. “See somebody you know?”

Kendra squinted. Her eyes had been getting worse, but she could swear there was something familiar about the older woman. Awful, and familiar.

“Maybe.”

Chapter Two available here

© Phil Lofton, 2021, all rights reserved.

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Phil Lofton
Porch Light Collective

Storyteller, Podcaster, Percussionist. Proud member of the Porch Light Collective.