After meeting the Faithville Four, the Maiths arrived in the NoUp district of New Hackensack, a mixture of nine-percenter sophistication and pryvie grit. Near New Hackensack’s Endgame Conflict memorial statue on Bergen Boulevard lies a a prominent hangout within a shiny metal container for young nine-percenters and pryvies alike: Dromann’s Grass Smoothies. When they passed the blue matter barrier and into the restaurant, complete with fluorescently painted walls, holographic advertisements and menus, and servers dressed in gray suits typically seen in sci-fi movies, they not only realized how popular Dromann’s was, but how familiar one Maith was to rowdy crowd.
After Jesse, Matt and Mary queued their place in line, they immediately detected a tall, skinny young man two feet in front of them sporting a navy-blue Everton jersey with MAITH and number seven embroidered in white on the back. They then looked at at least five other patrons wearing the same thing. Matt and Mary raised their eyes in astonishment, while Jesse winced in dismay.
“Just blend in, Jess,” Matt calmly pled. “Don’t draw attention to yourself.”
“You getting that cantaloupe special with a pinch of fudge, Jess?” Mary cheerfully asked. Jesse, remaining winced, ignored her.
“Forget it, Mare,” Matt beseeched. “We’ve lost him.”
Then, Matt glanced left and saw a man, sixty-ish, wearing a brown trench coat and hat, sitting alone, sipping a smoothie, reading a paper copy of the New York Herald tabloid. The back page headline read: GOLDEN ARM–Can Maith Lead Pioneers to Title? When Matt recognized who he was, he took himself out of line and approached him.
“Mr. Jacobson!” Matt shouted through the crowd noise. The man looked up, smiled through his thick gray bushy mustache, adjusted his Joshuan cross necklace, and shook Matt’s hand.
“Mr. Matthew Maith!” Jacobson replied with a slight squeak. “Son of Bob and Stacy , and my favorite next-door neighbors! How are ya, kid?”
“Great!” Matt bellowed.
“Your sister and cousin here too?”
“Yes, they’re on line! Jess! Mare!”
Mary noticed Mr. Jacobson speaking with Matt and exited the line. She joined Matt at his side and gleefully greeted her neighbor. Jesse followed soon after.
“Gregory!” Jesse gleamed as he shook his neighbors’ wrinkled hand.
“See,” Greg laughed. “You can call me by my first name but your cousins can’t! Appreciate the show of respect for your elders, though!”
The four briefly chuckled. Jesse greatly respected Greg. He and his wife, Betsy, have babysitted he and his cousins for nearly a decade, have vacationed at the Jersey shore with the Maith family for the past five, and have always treated them to cookies and other treats. More importantly for Jesse, Greg could give fatherly advice when Bob couldn’t.
“Sit! Sit!” Greg happily invited to the Maiths. Jesse sat to Greg’s right, Matt opposite, and Mary to his left on steel-reinforced chairs in front of a limestone table. “I’ll pay for your smoothies,” Greg continued, “for the inconvenience of leaving line! So, how are you three enjoying Everton? And Jesse, hell of a job Friday! Another undefeated season is coming!”
Jesse uncomfortably chuckled, but quickly deflected the conversation. “Thanks, Greg, but what do you have planned for this Saturday’s barbeque?” Greg remained silent, erasing Jesse’s smile. Mary and Matt subsequently looked at Greg with curiosity, feeling disturbed by the silence. Pryvie barbeques were not only one of the Maith family’s favorite pastimes, but the Jacobsons’. It was always a topic of happiness.
“Mr. Jacobson,” Mary asserted. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, dear…” Greg fumbled. “I’m fine, um, I guess your parents didn’t tell you?”
“Tell us what?” Mary timidly asked. “Is Mrs. Jacobson okay?!”
“Yes, yes, Betsy’s fine,” Greg instantly countered, then sighed. “Betsy and I…will no longer be hosting barbeques.”
The Maith’s jaws collectively dropped. Greg’s words, to them, had the same impact as the announcement of a death in the family.
“Why?” Matt stammered.
“Well, Matthew, Jesse, Mary…” Greg replied, “it’s simple, really.”
“Are you sick?” Jesse asked.
“No,” Greg replied with an eerie calmness. “We just can’t afford to do it anymore.”
Jesse became suspicious. “Greg,” he rolled off his tongue while squinting, “with all due respect, you and Betsy retired before turning sixty. You made millions managing hedge funds, your house is paid off, and you two never had children. For you, paying for pryvie barbeques is like paying pocket change for candy. How can you suddenly not afford it?”
“Fair points, Jesse,” Greg firmly replied, “but it’s not a monetary decision.”
“Wait,” an annoyed Matt chimed. “How is it about money if you can afford it? That makes little sense!”
“It’s a religious decision,” Greg conceded.
“Religious?!” Mary snapped. “No way!”
“I think he watched His Magnificence last night,” Matt suggested, “and he’s scared. It’s okay to be scared, Mr. Jacobson.”
“No, Matthew,” Greg replied. “It truly is religious. Yes,” Greg replied with a tiny grin, “It was based on a sermon from last Sunday.”
“The one at the Clarkson Joshuan church?” Jesse asked. “We were there too, sir. Father Ned mentioned nothing about…”
“I know,” Greg interrupted. “I’m referring to a sermon by Chaplain St. Pierre on the interlink.”
Jesse felt disheartened. He knew of the radical sermons Francis Stewart’s personal chaplain had presented in the past, including advocating imperialistic Joshuan revolution and that economic inequality was God’s plan, but to hear his neighbor manipulated by what he perceived to be cult-like talk felt like a hammer whacking at his heart. “I’m sorry,” he growled. “Greg, you know I love and respect you, but…Chaplain St. Pierre? You-know-who’s sycophant?”
“Excuse me?” a suddenly annoyed Greg snapped. “He made some very valid points. I think you should listen.”
Jesse restrained himself from shouting back by silently breathing deeply while closing his eyes. “Frankly, sir,” he rumbled, “it scares me a little that you would listen to someone like him.”
“You’re young, Jesse,” Greg calmly replied. “Someday, you’ll learn. To summarize St. Pierre’s sermon, prvyie barbeques are becoming a luxury, not a priceless cultural activity. He warned that rough times are coming, and we should save as much money as we can, and a byproduct of this is to sacrifice the barbeques.”
Jesse’s blue eyes shot skyward. “And you never thought to question why?!”
“Jesse,” Greg conversationally whispered. “You still haven’t learned what it’s like to sacrifice like Joshua did. If he can give his life for the greater good, we can all sacrifice a portion of our lives without question. Sometimes you just to accept things for what they are. That’s life! And honestly, pryvies, well… they’re just different.”
Jesse’s jaw dropped. In all the years he had known Greg Jacobson, he had never heard him make such a bigoted statement. He could only react with silence; no comeback, no rational rebuttal. He squinted his eyes and leaned backward, still attempting to process what he had just heard.
“I take it you understand,” Greg smirked. “You also need to turn off those liars on NOR and listen to Mark Leonard. He’s a smart man.”
“Wait! What does FNN have to do with this?!”
“Leonard reminded me of something important this morning. We are the only remaining country in the world devoid of video surveillance units on street corners. We’re the last remaining beacon of…”
“Freedom in the world,” Jesse interrupted. “I know. Bob and Stacy watch that trash all the time. I just can’t believe you all believe that.”
“The SPYFLYs are BS!” Greg growled. “There’s no way Stewart will ever allow such a thing!”
Jesse, once again, restrained himself from screaming at his neighbor. He stood up, leaned his hands against the table, but looked downward to avoid eye contact. His respect once again outweighed his anger. Knowing a debate would not be healthy for their relationship despite such troubling revelations, he nodded at Matt and Mary and requested that they get back in line. He then glanced back at Greg with a hint of sorrow in his expression. “Greg, I know we never discuss politics, and most of our conversations are about life, football, and trivia. But frankly, I’m uncomfortable about some things you just said, so I think it’s best we stop so we both don’t say something we’ll regret. Say hi to Betsy for me.”
“I’m sorry you disagree with me, Jesse,” Greg replied. “We’ll talk soon, maybe Friday night, and perhaps we can discuss the game. I’ll give your regards to Betsy.” Jesse nodded in approval. After he began walking away, a blonde girl in an Everton student uniform stopped him.
“Jesse!” the girl shouted. “Magnificent job Friday night!”
Suddenly, a swarm of students and other patrons who first heard the name, then recognized the face, began swarming around Jesse, begging for autographs and speaking their congratulations. Attempting to remain cool, Jesse feigned smiles and gave faint thanks as he attempted to filter his way outside, leaving a bewildered Matt, Mary, and Greg in his wake.
When Jesse finally emerged outside, he ran around the corner, hid behind a trash dumpster, then produced his ultraphone. Fumbling through the pixilations, he frantically searched for Frederick St. Pierre’s interlink site to find the audio link to his last Sunday sermon. When he finally located the link and clicked on it, an error occurred. The dark blue-lettered message that appeared before Jesse caused him to scowl in pure skepticism.
LINK TEMPORARILY DOWN
PLEASE RETURN LATER