Going to Emily’s house for a sleepover always has its conditions. When I stuffed my backpack with pillows and pajamas, I had to pack my church clothes as well. I have this ugly, itchy red dress with a big bow on the butt and uncomfortable black flats that squish my toes at the top. My family goes to church too, but we don’t dress up unless it’s Christmas. So, this is my Christmas outfit.
The Smith family really believes in God. Not like my family doesn’t, but they really believe in God. Like in a praying-every-night, blessing-before-dinner, and showering-in-holy -water kind of way. I just go to CCD on Tuesday nights and sleep during mass, hoping that that’s enough for my ticket to heaven. But they go to church like three times a week.
Sometimes I feel like Emily’s mom thinks I’m going to hell. That’s probably why every time I sleep over at her house, she brings us to church first. Even though it’s Wednesday. And 2:00 in the afternoon.
When Mrs. Smith’s gray Honda Civic pulls into my driveway, I’m half excited and half miserable. Sleepovers with Emily are like a reward for listening to old men with one foot in the grave talk for hours about nothing. I don’t know if it’s worth it. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in God enough. I just don’t like church. And sometimes I wonder if God even believes in me.
I have to flatten down my poofy dress and sit on my huge bow when I squish into the back seat of the car. Emily hugs me from her booster seat, which she still has to sit in even though she’s ten years old. Her mom says it’s for safety. Sometimes it makes me a little worried that I’m going to get into a horrible car crash and everyone will die and the Smith’s will go to heaven but I’ll go to hell. I don’t know. Maybe that’s dumb. Maybe they’re wrong. Everyone has a different idea about who God is and what he wants from you, so somebody’s gotta be.
“Sofia, can you grab my bag?” she asks. “I can’t reach it.”
I bend all the way down to her feet, where a pink sparkly backpack is squished into the corner. I have to yank it a little because one of the straps is stuck in the car door, and you can’t open the door of a moving car unless you really wanna see God on this day. I hand it to her, and she starts to dig.
“Emily,” Mrs. Smith says from the front seat. I actually like Mrs. Smith a lot when she’s not being all Jesus-y because she lets me have as many Gatorades from the fridge as I want.
“What did I tell you?”
“I’m not gonna bring them inside,” she says. “I promise. Just for the car.” I can see her shake her head from the mirror.
Emily’s really good at being right. My mom said that she would make a good lawyer when she grows up. She also said I’d make a really good plaintiff for her. I don’t know what that means, but she laughed when she said it, and then she said “Because you’re partners in crime”, but I still didn’t get it and then she didn’t explain the joke.
“Here.” She pulls out a Barbie doll. It’s white, with blonde hair, black flats, and a big pink dress poofier than mine. She holds it out to me.
“I don’t want that one,” I say.
“Her dress is too big.” She pulls the skirt of the dress off so that the floof is gone and it looks like Barbie is wearing a pink swimsuit.
“Okay.” I take the doll and she pulls out a second one. This one is brown, with a black pantsuit and red heels. She smooths down the fabric on the suit and fixes her long black hair. “What’s that one?” I ask.
“It’s a business Barbie, I think,” she says. “I don’t remember. Boom.” She crashes Business Barbie into Princess Barbie. The plastic head hits my hand a little bit but I don’t mind. Mrs. Smith does, though.
“Emily, no hitting,” she says.
“I wasn’t hitting. I was sword fighting.”
“Sorry.” She just shakes her head again and turns up the radio. It’s K-697, the gospel channel. “…so you must pray everyday, brothers and sisters,” a pastor says, his voice crackling in and out as we get closer to the church. “And you will be granted a good and eternal life. Give yourself to our Lord and you will live forever!”
“Do you think that?” I ask Emily while combing through Princess Barbie’s hair with my fingers.
“Your life will be good if you pray a lot?”
She shrugs. “I mean, I dunno. But my life’s pretty good, and I pray, like, all the time.”
“I wonder if we’ll actually live forever. If we pray a bunch.”
“Maybe I should pray more.”
“Maybe you should.” I take Princess Barbie’s black flats off and roll them around in my fingers.
“I wonder what God thinks of Barbie dolls.”
“We’re probably like God’s Barbie dolls if you really think about it. Oh, look,” She points out the window. “It’s raining.”
Raindrops start hitting the window and sliding down. I love when it rains while I’m in the car because I like the sound of pitter-patter on the roof while it’s driving. It makes me feel safe. Emily rolls down her side and I feel the spray of water on my face, getting my Christmas dress all wet. Good. She sticks Business Barbie out into the wind.
“She’s swimming,” she says. “And doing business.”
“What if her office is underwater? And she’s doing business in the ocean.”
“Oh, yeah! Maybe I’m a lawyer and you’re the criminal.”
“What’s my crime?”
“Fire. You would be arrested for burning your dress.” I lean over Emily and stick Princess Barbie out the window too. The water rolls down the plastic of her swimsuit and we make them sort of bounce around, which is what we pretend swimming is. In five years Emily will die of cancer and I will stop believing in God. But today we’re on our way to church, dolls in hand, believing that prayer is the only thing you need to live forever.