By John Yager
This is the eleventh chapter of an ongoing series. I sincerely appreciate all the correspondence this story has prompted. Thank you for your encouragement, suggestions and criticism.
Andrew continues to provide much needed proofing and editorial help, for which I am sincerely grateful.
This is a work of fiction and in no way draws on the lives of any specific person or persons. Any similarity to actual persons or events is entirely coincidental. This is a work of gay erotic fiction. If you should not be reading such material or if such material is not to your liking, please exit now.
This work is copyrighted © by the author and may not be reproduced in any form without the specific written permission of the author. It is assigned to the Nifty Archives under the terms of their submission agreement but it may not be copied or archived on any other site without the written permission of the author.
If you wish to receive e-mail notification of subsequent postings, please let me know by sending your request to the e-mail address below.
Joyce had guessed and I was still not completely sure how. She said it was because I hadn't been more aggressive with her. I guess for a girl, that is reason enough.
Rick must have suspected. At least he was willing to risk a lot by coming on to me. If I'd rejected him and told others what he'd done it would have been very awkward for him. He must have been fairly sure I would welcome his advances or he would never have taken such a risk.
Ted Tucker, our youth pastor, knew because I'd told him. So the first person I'd come out to was Ted.
Three people, other than myself, knew I was gay.
The follow Sunday I ran into Ted as I was leaving my Sunday School class. We were both caught up in a mob of kids working our way toward the church. He looked nervous.
"I have this for you," he said, taking an envelope from his inside jacket pocket. I slipped it into my jacket as we walked on.
"I was hoping we could continue our conversation soon," he said, almost in a whisper.
"Well, Tuesday or Thursday after school I could come by. I have football practice the other days."
"Tuesday then? My office here at the church."
"Great, I'll see you then," I managed to say before our paths parted.
That weekend Joyce and her folks had gone to Jackson to visit friends. Rick and Debbie were away with a group from their own church, so I was on my own. After lunch with my mom and dad I slipped off to my room to get a jump on lessons for the following week.
My classes were going well. I guess a lot of kids find their senior year in high school a lot easier than the previous years. The required courses were out of the way and I was able to concentrate on the subjects I really loved. I also had been assigned to some of the best teachers in the school.
I had read almost everything on the literature syllabus so my teacher gave me an extra assignment reading the poetic works of T. S. Eliot. He was the first poet who made me see the relevance of poetry in our modern world. I read and re-read the Four Quartets until long passages were etched in my memory.
My French teacher did very much the same thing. I'd gotten well beyond the basics of the language and was working on irregular verbs. As my vocabulary increased I found reading French texts more and more enjoyable. Mr. Harding gave me a copy of The Stranger by Camus. I managed to work my way through the original French with only minimal use of an English translation. It was as if someone had opened a door to a world I'd not known was there. Camus dared to ask the unaskable questions.
Both Eliot and Camus had died within the last few years and there was still a lot being written about them. I'd started clipping articles I found in magazines and newspapers and soon had a large mass of material.
I had gone through those files that afternoon and begun work on a paper comparing a passage from The Waste Land with a passage from The Fall. It was heady stuff for a high school student and I was feeling extremely pleased with myself.
It was at that point that I noticed the envelope Ted had handed me that morning. I'd put it on my bed when I changed clothes after church and hadn't given it any more thought. When I ripped it open I found a single sheet of typing paper. On it was typed, "Read Leviticus 18 and I Corinthians 6. Read at least those entire chapters and if you have time, the chapters before and after them."
I found a Bible and looked up the passages. Reading through the passage from Leviticus I felt as if I was facing the overwhelming weight of the Old Testament Law. There were no exceptions, no grounds for leniency. I knew God hated me!
The New Testament passage was no better. Here St. Paul seemed to be saying that we were given the power to choose between good and evil, between sin and righteousness. If We persisted in choosing what God said was evil over what he said was good, we would be damned. "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?"
It was only six o'clock but I put my work away and got ready for bed. I ducked down stairs just long enough to tell my folks that I was feeling a little tired and wanted to get to bed early. "It's going to be a busy week," I said, and went back to my room. I piled my books and files on the desk. I got in bed, adjusted my reading lamp and settled in to do some serious reading.
It was time to get serious about this, I'd decided, and the only way to do that was to really face what I was, where I was and what I should be. I opened my Bible and began reading again, starting with Leviticus 17 and reading through to the end of chapter 19.
When I finished the Old Testament passage I went over to I Corinthians and did the same, starting at the beginning of Chapter 5 and reading through to the end of Chapter 7.
When I finished the New Testament passage I went
back to Leviticus and began again.
In Leviticus there were a series of admonitions against various forms of sexual relationships. Clearly, a major issue was incest. Then, towards the end of that list, was the passage which read, "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination." At the very end of the long list of admonitions I found this statement, "Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things, for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you, and the land is defiled, therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants."
Definitely not a pretty passage!
I Corinthians was no better. Here also I found "effeminate and abusers of themselves with mankind," listed along with fornicators and idolaters and adulterers as examples of the wicked who would not inherit the Kingdom of God.
I read and re-read. I have no idea when I finally fell asleep, but I woke very early the next morning, Monday morning, feeling cold and stiff. The Bible lay open on the floor where it has landed in an open heap. I must have kicked it off the bed in my sleep. How's that for symbolism?
The window was still open and it had gotten cold. Winter had come and the lazy Mississippi autumn was over.
Monday and Tuesday were not good days. I managed to get through them but my classes hardly held any interest. My mind was on other things, cosmic things, and I felt as if the charmed days of my innocent youth had ended. Now that I had seen a stark reality, an inescapable truth, I had to put my life in order and confront the best and worst life held for me.
A phrase of Eliot's from Ash Wednesday kept going through my mind, "The new years walk, restoring through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring."
On Tuesday, after classes ended, I almost ran to my meeting with Ted. I was a little winded with I slumped into a chair in his little office.
"You all right?"
"Yes, just out of breath."
"I guess you were anxious to see me," he said with a sly grin.
"Yeah," I said, leaving it to him to begin our conversation.
"Did you read the passages I suggested?"
"Yes." He wasn't messing around, but getting straight
down to business. I sat up in the chair, alert.
"So where do we go from here?"
I had prepared a sort of speech, a pronouncement. Now it seemed irrelevant. I sat there, silent, but he waited. Finally I mustered my courage and began.
"The other day you asked me if I thought I'd chosen to be what I am."
"You can say it, Rob, don't be afraid of the word."
"You asked if I'd chosen to be gay. I told you I was sure I hadn't."
"Yes. I mean what I am is what I am. I never decided to be one thing or another. I didn't decide, I just discovered."
"Can you tell me how?" He leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on his desk.
"Yes, I think so. I guess when you are a kid, a small kid, you have no awareness at all of anything sexual. You aren't aware of the sexuality of others or of yourself. It just isn't an issue. But even before you are really aware of it, long before you could ever give it a name, you begin to have some sense of the differences between men and women. Then, as you grow older, you begin to understand more. At some age, long before puberty, I understood that I was a boy, not a girl."
"Okay, I follow you so far."
"Well, then at puberty a lot of things begin to change. Your body is changing at a frightening rate. But it isn't just your body. You begin to be aware of sexuality, your own and other peoples' too. It was as I became aware of my own sexuality that I realized that I was attracted to other boys, not to girls. It was just there, not something I chose, or anything I could control."
"So you are saying that by whatever means, you were born gay."
"Born, made, I don't know. I don't know how and I don't know when. I guess it could be hereditary or biological or caused by my early training or some early experiences, I just don't know. All I know, Ted, is that it was not anything I knowingly chose or did."
"Okay, I can accept that."
"Good. I was afraid you might not."
"So, in light of that understanding, what was your reaction to the passages I suggested you read?"
"Have you read Camus' The Stranger, Ted?"
"Yes, in college."
"How well do you remember it?"
"Well, without getting into the plot, the main character tries to come to terms with his own existence in what he sees as a hostile world. He comes to understand what Camus calls "the benign indifference of the universe."
"Camus is an Existentialist, isn't he?"
"He was, he died in 1960."
"It seems like a very pessimistic view of human life, Rob."
"Yeah, I know. It first impressed me because it seemed as if Camus was taking such a risk. He was asking questions nobody I know would dare to ask."
"Well, I guess people in Spring River, Mississippi don't go around asking questions that strike at the bedrock of traditional religion and morality."
"You can say that again, but maybe they should."
"They should ask those questions because traditional religion and morality need to be shaken up, rethought?"
"Well, maybe that too, but I was just thinking that until we really ask the difficult questions we can't be sure if we really believe anything. If we still believe what we've been taught after we ask all the questions, it has become our own belief. If we don't, it really wasn't our own belief anyway."
"And what if you ask those hard questions and lose your faith as a result?"
"Well, if your faith can't survive, it probably wasn't worth much to start with."
"Traditional religions would sure yell and scream if you said that too loudly, Rob."
"Yeah, I guess so."
"So was all that what you came up with after reading Leviticus and I Corinthians?"
"Part of it, I guess."
"Yeah, Ted, there's more, the really hard part."
"This is really difficult for me to say the way I want to, Ted, so bear with me, okay?"
"Well, after I read those two passages I read through Romans. Somewhere I'd picked up the idea that Paul dealt with the same issue there. Then I read the passages about David and Jonathan in the Old Testament. I guess a lot of people think they may have been lovers."
"If they were, they must have been bi-sexual. At least we are told they both had wives and kids."
"Well, at least the Bible seems to suggest they loved one another in more than an emotional or spiritual way."
"Okay, so where does that get you?"
"Well, Ted, here's the really hard part." I was
silent for a moment, just thinking how to go on.
"You seemed to accept what I said about myself, about not having chosen to be gay."
"Yes, Rob, I really do believe that."
"Okay, than if I did not choose to be gay, but I am gay, and if God condemns me because I'm gay, then he is condemning me for something I have no control over."
"I wondered if you'd get to that realization."
"I not only got there, but I got from there to an even more difficult consideration."
"Well, the Bible says God is just. If he condemns some people because of things they can't really control, it seems to me he isn't very just."
"Well, Ted, I guess this is where the parallel with Camus comes in. I have to ask what I called the unaskable questions."
"You have to ask God?"
"No, I have to ask myself."
"So what are these questions that are so unaskable?"
"Well, you know I've been raised to believe in God. It's just something I grew up with and never really questioned. But I've always been told that God was a just God and a loving God. But if he condemns some people because of things they can't control, how can he be just and loving? That's one question I have never thought to ask before and I guess it sort of qualifies as unaskable. I mean, it sort of strikes at the bedrock of our faith, right?"
"I'd say so."
Then that brings me to an ever harder question. If he really is some sort of vengeful God who just damns some people because of what they are, isn't he more responsible for what they are than they are themselves? And if that's true, is he a God I really want to believe in and worship and serve?"
"Yeah, those are very hard questions. Do you have any answers yet?"
"No, not really. I mean, Ted, I don't want to abandon everything I've been taught, all I thought I believed. I guess on one level I'm sort of afraid to just chuck it all, but I want answers.
"Well, I guess for starters I'd say you need to look at the issue of who is good in God's view of things."
"Well, gay people sure don't seem to make the mark."
"But the Bible says nobody is good, Rob. Everybody fails the test, at least put up against God's holiness."
"So you're saying everybody's in the same boat?"
"Well, maybe. I just don't know what to tell you about those passages I suggested you read. I've read them myself, over and over, so many times my head spins."
"But, Ted, do you think we've both been reading them trying to find some loophole, some way to excuse a gay lifestyle, some way to make it acceptable to God?"
"Can I ask you something, Ted?"
"Yeah. I've been sort of wondering when you'd get to the big question. I sort of guessed you'd eventually want to know."
"So are you?"
"You know, one of the things I was so touched by, so far as you're concerned, Rob, is that you know the answer to the question. I'm not sure I do."
"Maybe that's the answer, so far as you're concerned."
"You mean, if I have to ask if I'm gay or straight, maybe I'm neither?"
"Bi-sexual, you mean."
"Yeah." We sat there looking at each other for several minutes. My mind was turning over the possibilities and at last I just asked. "Have you had sex with another guy, Ted?"
"Yeah, a college roommate, a guy named Trent."
"What about girls?"
"Never all the way. I dated a girl for three years while I was in college and we got some serious necking, but that was all."
"Did you want to go further with her?"
"No, but not because I wasn't attracted to her. With Trent it was different. I figured we couldn't get pregnant or anything. With her I was scared to death I would get her pregnant and it would ruin both our lives."
"I guess nobody here at the church knows any of this."
"Nobody but you. I hope my secret is safe."
"Absolutely, Ted. I'd never tell anyone." Again, we sat there in silence. Finally I asked, "how old are you, anyway?"
"I'll be twenty-three in about a month."
"Not all that much older than me."
"I guess, you`ll graduate in the spring, right?"
"I guess I`ll be heading for Old Miss."
"Did you know that`s were I went?"
"No, Ted, I didn`t."
"I graduated last spring and then got assigned here for two years while I and the church decide if I should go on to seminary and ordination. It`s called a period of discernment."
"So I guess you aren't really a clergyman yet, in the strict sense of the term."
"No, my title here is officially `Youth Programs Director,' but everyone calls me Youth Pastor. I won't be a fully fledged clergyman until I finish seminary and receive ordination."
"Do you feel that's the way you want to go?"
"I've felt that that's what I should do since I was about fifteen."
"A divine call and all that?"
"Well," Ted grinned, "no audible voices, but it has always felt right. I don't know what else I would ever enjoy as much as I do working with people in the context of the church."
"Then it sounds to me as if you are headed in the right direction. I bet you'll become a wonderful pastor."
"Maybe `bet' isn't the best term to use here," he grinned.
"Well, you know what I mean. You're a really caring person, Ted. All the kids feel that. Look, I've seen five or six youth pastors here over the last few years. I guess from what you said, we must get a new one every two years. They've all been young guys like you and they've all be great. But of the ones I've known, you are by far the best."
"Yeah? Well thank you, but what is the basis of your judgment?"
"Look, some of them have been good at organizing activities or classes or discussion groups, others have been good at music or drama or things like that. But of all of them, you are the easiest to talk with. I would never have felt comfortable talking with any of them the way I talked with you. In my opinion that is the real gauge of a good pastor."
"Well, thanks, Rob. That is encouraging."
"Well, it's true."
We again sat in silence for a few minutes. It felt easy, comfortable, just sitting with him, not as if we had to be talking all the time. Finally, I said, "are we going to talk more this afternoon?"
"I guess not. I have a lot to think about and I guess you may, too."
"Yeah, and I'm sure I'll have more questions."
"Well, when you do, let's talk."
I rose to leave and then remembered, "Mom told me to ask if you'd like to come back to our house for dinner this evening."
"Yeah? Would that be okay with you?"
"Sure, you bet." I grinned, remembering his comment about my use of that word.
Ted swung his feet off his desk and stood up. "Well,
okay then. I bet your mom's a great cook. It will sure beat a can of corned
beef hash, which is what I'd probably heat up on my own."
It was getting colder. People who don't know Mississippi assume it is warm all winter, just because it is so far south. We do get occasional warm days all winter but we can get some really cold days as well. When the harsh winds come off Arkansas and mix with the humid air moving north from the Gulf, the effect is bone-chilling.
Ted and I got to my house just as the day was fading into a cold, gray evening.
"Mom, Ted and I are home," I called from the front door. We took off our jackets and hung them in the entry hall closet. I smiled at Ted as we turned to walk through to the kitchen. He might be four or five years older than me but he still looked like a high school kid. It wasn't just his youthful face, but his whole demeanor as well. He moved like a kid. "Come on, we'll let my mother know we're here."
In the kitchen we were greeted by the smells of one of my mother's casseroles, a fairly regular weeknight meal.
"Hi, Rob," mother called from the stove. "Evening, Mr. Tucker."
"Evening, Mrs. Ballinger."
"Mr. Ballinger just called," mom said, referring to my father, "he will be home in about an hour. Rob, why don't you go visit a while with Mr. Tucker and I'll call you when we are ready for dinner."
"Sure, Mom," I said and led Ted back through to the stairs and up to my room. As I opened the door for him I said, "is this okay? We could sit in the living room."
"No, this is better. We can continue talking here."
"Yeah, that's what I thought, too," I turned the desk chair around for Ted and flopped down on the bed opposite him.
"You have an interesting room, Rob."
"Definitely. I can always tell a lot about somebody by what they do with the space they live in."
"So what can you tell about me?"
"Well, it's an unusual mix of things, not one I've seen very often. You have lots of books and they seem to be serious topics. There are a lot of novels by famous writers and some books of poetry. I bet you end up being a language or literature major at college."
"Yep, that's what I want to do, if I can keep my dad out of it. He thinks the only reason to go to college is to get ready for a career. My brother is doing a business major and that's what dad wants me to do, too." I paused and looked at him. I mean, I looked closely at him. He was a good looking guy. "Did you know my brother is named Ted, too?"
"Yeah, I met him and his girl friend at church a few weeks ago."
"Sure, you would have. So what else do you find interesting about my room?"
"Well, besides all these books, you also have all these sports trophies and awards around. That's sort of an unusual mix."
"Yeah, I guess it is. Most of the guys on the football team are heading for engineering and science, or business majors."
"So you are a sort of odd ball."
"Yeah, I guess so, but you already knew that."
I lay back on my bed and looked at him. Ted was as good looking guy. He wasn't an athlete, but he had a nice face and a decent body. He was sort of like the proverbial boy next door. I had a little difficulty thinking of him as just a few years older than me. That was the result of his position. I'd come to think of him as a sort of authority figure, I guess, and it was hard to let go of that.
"Can you tell me about your college room mate, Ted?"
"Can I or will I?"
"Will you, would you?"
"Sure, I guess so. Trent and I were just assigned as roommates when we began our freshman year. Neither of us had a friend from high school we wanted to room with so we'd not requested a room with anyone. I guess it was just a random assignment."
"But you two became friends."
"Yeah, we really hit it off. We roomed together all four years at Old Miss."
"And you became lovers."
"Yeah, I guess we did. At least our friendship and our affection for each other became deep enough that when he wanted it to become physical, I let it happen."
"So Trent started it, your physical relationship, I mean."
"Yeah, he started, or at least he asked me if I would let him make love to me."
"And you said yes."
"Yeah, I was curious I guess and I was also very repressed and frustrated."
"Yes, sexually, psychologically. I guess I was also at a difficult time in my life and Trent offered me the affection I needed."
"But if it went on, you must have wanted it to continue."
"Yes, I realized that I really cared for Trent and I wanted what we were doing together to go on. I didn't want to end it."
"So it lasted, what, a year?"
"Three years." He looked down, diverting his eyes from mine. "It started just at the end of our freshman year. By then we'd become very close. It went on until we graduated."
"So it ended because you just went different ways after you graduated."
"Rob, I'm not sure it did end. We just haven't been together much since last spring."
"So do you love him, Ted."
"I don't know. I think I may but I have never been brave enough to admit it, even to myself." He looked over at me and smiled, a simple, easy smile. "I've been so afraid to admit it, Rob. I couldn't admit it to myself and I couldn't admit it to anyone else."
"Not even Trent?"
"Not even Trent." He looked away and said, "I feel so ashamed. I may have lost him because I was unable to tell him, even though I think he knows."
"If he knows, Ted, you won't have lost him."
"I've been so focussed on my career, so anxious to prove myself to the people who are making decisions about me, that I couldn't risk exposing myself."
"Well, you know I won't give you away."
"I know that, Rob, but you may have shown me that I can't live a lie. I may have to give myself away. It may be the only way to save myself."
"Go slow, Ted. Think it all through before you do anything, before you say anything you can't take back."
"I guess in the vocabulary of the church, that means I need to be praying about it."
It was at that moment that my dad knocked on my bedroom door.
"Yeah, come in," I called.
"Well, boys, having a heart to heart?" dad said in his usual jovial manner as he opened the door.
"I guess you could say that, sir," Ted said.
"Dinner's on the table so come on down."
We went down to the dining room and the rest of the evening was given over to polite talk about the church and the youth program. Any further conversation between Ted and me would have to wait. At eight o'clock Ted left and I went up to my room to work on my lessons.
To be continued.