I slept one of the most peaceful nights I could remember. After all the years of listening to my father, I would have thought that I would have been consumed with fear of eternal damnation. But surprisingly I didn’t.
I was beginning to accept that I was gay. I still couldn’t believe that Colton had kissed me, and I didn’t think that it was wrong. I didn’t feel like what we had done was an abomination like my father had warned. When our lips met, it felt natural, not sinful.
I was also out now to Tiffany, Cathy and Mrs. Oliver. Well, not really out to Mrs. Oliver. She just assumed I was gay after watching me and Colton together. I worried if we were really that obvious that an elderly lady would even notice us. Could other students see it in our actions? Surely, Darryl had picked up on it. That was probably why his hostility had moved beyond just taunting Tiffany. He seemed to be obsessed with us, even to the point of being suspended from school.
As I dressed, I could hear Mrs. Oliver in the kitchen, and I could smell the aroma of bacon wafting down the hall. My stomach growled as I entered and saw her scurrying around the room.
She turned and smiled when she saw me. “Good morning, Dear,” she sang out as she took some eggs from the refrigerator. “How about an omelet this morning?” I asked if she wanted me to do anything, but she told me to sit and keep her company while she prepared breakfast.
I asked, “Are you going to church this morning?”
“I go to church every Sunday morning,” she responded. She laughed and added, “I’m an old woman now. Won’t be too many years before I meet my maker. I don’t want him questioning me why I haven’t been to church lately.”
I asked, “What about my father?”
She sat opposite me with a cup of coffee in her hand. She took a sip before responding. “Church isn’t just about what some preacher says,” she remarked thoughtfully. “It’s about fellowship and sharing your friendship with others.”
She took another sip and continued, “I love playing the organ. When I’m playing a hymn, I’m at church. It comforts me.”
I nodded my head, but I still had trouble accepting how she could sit week after week and listen to my father. However, I had done it since a small boy, and I never once questioned what he was preaching. I guess after a while, you become accustomed to it.
I couldn’t understand how Mrs. Oliver could sit and listen to my father call her granddaughter evil and vile. Tiffany told me that she often can’t hear the sermons when she’s sitting at the organ. She was only beginning to understand through other members how my father was condemning Tiffany before the congregation.
As we ate, Mrs. Oliver teased me about Colton. She asked if we were going ‘steady,’ but I tried to convince her that we were only good friends.
She giggled and said, “Well, if he asks you to go steady, accept his offer.” I don’t think my face could have turned any redder. It just seemed weird to be discussing my feelings for someone else to her, especially another boy.
I told her to get ready for church while I cleaned the dishes and tidied up the kitchen. She kissed me on my forehead, and then she went to her bedroom. Twenty minutes later, she returned in a pretty floral dress. “I’m off,” she announced as she put on her coat. “Mr. and Mrs. Turner will be here shortly.” They were neighbors who also attended my father’s church. Like Mrs. Oliver, I had known them all my life. Just then, a car honked outside, and Mrs. Oliver hurried out the door.
I was in my bedroom reading a book when I heard the doorbell ring. I looked at the clock. It was 11:16. It couldn’t be Mrs. Oliver because father always finished his sermons exactly at noon. When the doorbell rang again, I got up to answer it.
Standing timidly outside was Jerome. He seemed embarrassed as he asked me what I was doing. I told him I was reading a book, and he quickly apologized and began to walk away.
“No wait!” I shouted. He turned and looked at me as I asked him, “You want to come in?”
He asked nervously, “You sure I won’t be bothering you?”
I laughed and informed him I was reading a chapter of Wuthering Heights for my English class. He smiled and told me he had finished the book already. “I don’t have too much to do when I go home,” he stated sadly.
He followed me into the kitchen and sat at the table. I smiled and asked, “Want me to fix you a drink?”
He giggled and replied, “How about a rum and coke?”
I pulled out a bottle of cola, held it up and replied jokingly, “A coke it is.” After pouring the cola into a glass, I sat down at the table beside him.
I took a sip from my glass and asked, “So, what brings you here today?”
His face reddened as he responded, “Nothing much.” His hand shook as he took a drink from the glass.
I worriedly asked, “Is something wrong?” I could tell by his attitude that something was bothering him. I also realized that he was probably a lot like me, he didn’t want to talk about himself to others.
He shook his head slightly and replied, “No, nothing’s wrong.” I had noticed yesterday how handsome he was becoming, but sitting directly beside me, I was surprised by his remarkable features. His creamy skin was flawless, much like Tiffany’s face. His brown hair was nicely styled, and it appeared he may have just had it cut. His eyebrows were arched which accentuated his dark brown eyes. He also had the traces of a faint mustache above his lip. Other than that, it didn’t appear like he had any other facial hair.
He seemed to grow uncomfortable with me staring at him. He looked down at the table as he began to blush. “I shouldn’t have come today,” he muttered so softly I could hardly understand him. When he started to get up from his seat, I reached out and stopped him.
“It’s okay,” I assured him. “I was kind of bored reading. I like the company.”
He looked up with a grin and responded, “Okay.” We then sat for several more minutes in silence. I could tell Jerome wanted to talk, but he was hesitant to do so. Finally, I began to talk about what we should do Monday night.
He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t know. I guess we’ll just sit and listen to what is going on.”
I laughed and replied, “Knowing my father, all Hell will break out.”
He giggled and said, “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard you cuss.”
I puffed out my chest and jokingly stated, “It’s the new me. Bobbly Long.”
A sad expression appeared on his face as he sullenly remarked, “I wish I could be the new Jerome Norman.”
“Why can’t you be?” I asked worriedly. It appeared he was ready to cry at any moment.
He replied, “Because people won’t like me anymore.” He shrugged his shoulder when I asked what that meant. We sat again in silence for several more minutes.
Finally, he sighed and looked over at me. He whispered almost inaudibly, “Can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” I assured him. “Ask me anything.”
He looked down at the table for a minute and swirled his glass on the table. He didn’t look up as he asked softly, “What do you think about gay people?”
I was completely stunned. I knew that Jerome was probably outing himself to me. The question was, did I want to out myself yet to him by answering his question. I had only gotten to know him yesterday, and I wasn’t sure if I could trust him.
I hesitated a moment before responding. It was now my turn to look down at the table and fiddle with my glass. Finally, I took a deep breath and said, “I like gay people.” I looked over at him and our eyes met. I then confessed, “I’m gay.”
His eyes brightened, and a huge smile appeared on his face. “Really?” he asked excitedly. “Me too.” His grin grew even wider as he said, “I can’t believe this.” He held up his hand, and we high-fived each other.
He spent the next several minutes explaining how depressed he had been the past couple of years. He said he had no one to talk to about the feelings he was having. He said his mother kept questioning what was wrong, but he felt uncomfortable confiding in her about his secret. He said when all four of us were together yesterday, it was the first time he felt he could safely talk to someone. I was almost in tears when he finished.
“I felt the same way,” I assured him. I spent the next ten minutes relating to him how difficult it was to grow up with someone as intolerant as my father. When I finished, he leaned over and gave me a hug.
“Thanks,” I smiled as I wiped tears from my eyes. “I needed that.”
“Me too,” he giggled. “This is so great. I have someone I can talk to.”
“Anytime,” I laughed as I gave him a hug. I got up from the table, went to refrigerator and poured more cola into our glasses. “So when did you know you were gay?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “I just always knew, I guess. It got worse when we were in about the seventh grade.” His face reddened as he confessed, “I had the biggest crush on you.”
“Really?” I laughed. “You should have said something.”
He squealed, “Are you kidding? You are the preacher’s son!”
For a brief second, it saddened me that that is how others saw me growing up- I was the preacher’s son. It was as if I was unapproachable. And Jerome was probably right. If he had said something years ago, I might have gone home and discussed it with my father. It probably would have ended with him storming over to Jerome’s house and informing his father what a perverted son he has.
Jerome looked worriedly at me and asked, “Are you okay?” I assured him I was.
I frowned and acted hurt. “So, you don’t have a crush on me anymore?”
His face reddened as he responded, “No, I like you and all, but…”
I giggled at the embarrassed look on his face and asked, “But what?” When he didn’t respond, I laughed and asked, “You like someone else?”
When his face reddened even more, I insisted, “You do.” I scooted closer to him and pleaded, “You have to tell me. Who is it?”
He giggled and said, “You first.”
“You first,” he laughed.
I wasn’t sure if I should tell him I liked Colton. If I did, then I would be outing Colton to him. He giggled and held his hand to his mouth. “I know who you like.”
I was stunned when he replied, “Colton.” He giggled again and said, “You couldn’t stop looking at him yesterday.”
“Okay, Smarty Pants,” I laughed, “Now you have to tell me who you like.”
“I can’t,” he replied worriedly. “You may tell her.”
I became puzzled. “Her? I thought you just said you were gay.” When Jerome’s face reddened, my eyes widened and I shrieked, “Oh my God!”
He looked around the room as if he was afraid someone could hear us. “You won’t tell her I like her, will you?”
I couldn’t help but stare at Jerome. “You like Tiffany?”
He gave me a puzzled look and asked, “What’s wrong with that?”
Suddenly, I felt extremely guilty. I had unwillingly stereotyped Tiffany. I thought that since she was who she was, that no one could possibly be attracted to her. I smiled at Jerome, leaned over and gave him a big hug. I whispered in his ear, “I think that’s wonderful.”
I pulled away and asked, “So, tell me how this all happened. You only met Tiffany yesterday.”
He explained that when he walked Tiffany home yesterday, they had a really nice time. They even stopped by the Dairy Queen for ice cream. “She’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met,” replied Jerome as his face began to redden. “I just really like her.”
I giggled and said, “You two will make such a cute couple.” Suddenly, a sullen look appeared on his face, and I asked him what was wrong.
“It’s really confusing,” he replied. “I know Tiffany is a boy who wants to be a girl, and I’m okay with that.” He became silent for a minute, and I could tell he wasn’t sure what to say.”
I asked, “So would you prefer that Tiffany was a boy?”
“No,” he assured me. “I’ve got no problem with that. I like Tiffany just the way she is. But…” Again, he stopped talking.
Jerome took a sip of his cola before proceeding. “If Tiffany is a boy, and wants to be a girl…” Again he hesitated before continuing. “Does that mean she would like a boy or a girl?”
Now it was my turn to be confused. “What?”
Jerome’s face reddened. “I mean,” he said, “If Tiffany was Samuel, then would that mean he would like a girl.” His face showed he was becoming more confused. “But if he’s Tiffany, would that mean if she liked girls, she would be a lesbian?”
“What?” Jerome’s logic was beginning to make sense. The night before when we talked about me being gay, not once had Tiffany indicated if she was interested in boys or girls. I had naturally thought that she was gay, like me.
“Wow,” I replied as I sipped on my cola. “I never thought of that.”
Jerome seemed to become very upset. “What if she wouldn’t like me, you know, like want me for a boyfriend?” I giggled when he began to blush.
I asked, “But you said you had a good time last night. Right?” He nodded his head. “Then just go slow, like me and Colton are doing. Maybe you’ll get up the nerve to ask Tiffany out.” Jerome’s face began to redden. I giggled and asked, “You already did, didn’t you?”
He grinned and said, “We’re going to the movies next weekend.”
I smiled, leaned over and hugged him. “Well, there,” I said. “You got your answer.”
He grinned and replied, “Yeah, I guess I did. She seemed excited when I asked her out.”
“Good luck,” I said.
He looked at his watch and said he had to get home for lunch. His parents would be worried if he didn’t show up on time. I told him to have a good time on his date with Tiffany. He tried to convince me it really wasn’t a date, but he was still excited about going out with her. I walked him to the door and watched him almost skip down the sidewalk.
I went back to my room and continued reading Wuthering Heights for my English class. We had been required to read the first four chapters, but I was now reading Chapter 12. I was afraid that if I became involved in the Board meeting tomorrow, then Mrs. Hawthorne might assign more chapters. At least I wouldn’t fall behind.
A little before one o’clock, I heard the kitchen door slam, and it sounded like several people were talking rather loudly.
I headed for the kitchen, but when I looked in the living room, there were about a dozen people standing around talking. Many of them seemed upset and very animated. Mrs. Oliver was sitting on the sofa with two women on each side of her. She appeared to be crying, and the women were trying to comfort her.
I walked over to Mrs. Grayson, a member of the church I had known since a boy. When I was younger, she was one of my favorite people in my father’s church. She would sneak me candy and cookies after the service. She always made sure my father or mother didn’t see her. I think she knew it was the only treats I received.
“What’s wrong?” I asked her. I looked over at Mrs. Oliver as she wiped tears from her face with a tissue. “Has something happened?” From the way everyone was acting, I was afraid a member of the congregation had died.
Mrs. Grayson raised her voice and said angrily, “I’ll tell you what is wrong!” Suddenly, the room became quiet. I was stunned when she continued. “We just walked out of your father’s church.” I looked around as everyone started nodding their heads. “And,” she said excitedly, “We’re never going back!” I looked over as Mrs. Oliver started sobbing rather loudly. The two women sitting beside her held her hands and patted them gently.
All I was able to ask was, “Why?”
Mr. Grayson stepped beside his wife and spoke in an irate voice. “I’ll tell you why,” he said animatedly. “We’ve had enough of your father’s moral castigations!”
I gave him a puzzled look and asked, “What?”
Suddenly, everyone started talking animatedly. From what I was able to gather from their tirades was that my father began another of his rants about Tiffany. He was attempting to get as many members as he could to attend the meeting tomorrow night.
When Mrs. Oliver heard some of the things he was saying, she left her seat at the organ, and then she took a seat in the front row before my father. It still didn’t stop him from ridiculing Tiffany in front of the congregation.
When he spoke out and insisted that the ‘Scourge of Northdale High School should be eradicated in Jesus’s name, Mrs. Oliver rose and hit him in the shin with her cane! Right in front of everyone!
“The poor dear,” exclaimed Mrs. Grayson as she looked over at Mrs. Oliver. “She had to sit there and listen to all the horrible things your father said about her granddaughter.” Mrs. Oliver continued to cry.
I asked, “What happened after she hit my father?”
Mrs. Davenport, another long-time member of the church, rose from her chair and approached me. “I’ll tell you what happened, Jacob,” she hissed as she waved her hand in front of her and looked down at Mrs. Oliver. “Helen turned, held her head up high, walked down the aisle and left.” She waved her hand around the room and added, “And so did the rest of us.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I know Mrs. Oliver had talked about leaving the church, but I didn’t believe she would actually do it. After all, it is difficult to give up something that has been a part of your life since you were a little girl.
I looked back at Mrs. Davenport when she started to speak again. “And it wasn’t just us,” she said as she looked around the room. “Fifty or sixty members followed her out.”
Mrs. Grayson then started to talk. “We marched right out of your father’s church, got in our cars and headed over to the First Street Unitarian Church.” She began to laugh. “You should have seen the look on their faces when we barged through the doors.”
“Reverend Powell is such a wonderful young man,” remarked Mrs. Littleton, one of the women sitting beside Mrs. Oliver. “I think he knew what was going on. He had everyone stand and hold hands while he prayed. It was so good to finally hear someone say how loving our God is.”
The room filled with a chorus of ‘Amen!’
Just then, someone started pounding on the front door. I think everyone thought it was another member of the church coming by to lend their support to Mrs. Oliver.
Mrs. Grayson walked over and opened the door. We looked over when we heard her ask angrily, “What do you want?”
Mrs. Grayson stepped aside as Sheriff Tackett entered the room. He is a short, burly officer whose large belly hangs over his holster and belt. I always thought he looked like a cartoon character. However, everyone likes his affable manner. He is always friendly, and seems to treat everyone fairly. I’ve listened to numerous members of our congregation tell how easily they were able to talk him out of a traffic ticket.
He stepped into the room and looked around. We he saw me, he walked back over to the door and motioned for someone to come in. Seconds later, my mother entered the room.
Mrs. Oliver rose and shouted, “Get that woman out of here! This is my house, and she is not welcome!”
Sheriff Tackett attempted to quiet her. “Now, Helen, settle down. I’m here on an investigation.”
Mrs. Grayson stood before him, looked over at my mother and asked, “What is she doing here?”
The sheriff looked over at me and said, “I’m here to take the boy back home.”
It was now my turn to get upset. “What!” I shouted. “I’m not going home!”
My mother approached me and insisted loudly, “Yes, you are! Your father and I don’t want you to remain here any longer.”
I looked at Sheriff Tackett and pleaded, “Please don’t make me go!”
He gave me a sympathetic looked and responded, “Your mother told me that you ran away and came here. It’s my duty to return you home.”
“What!” I shrieked. “I didn’t run away! My father kicked me out of the house.” I pointed toward my mother and added, “She brought me here to stay with Mrs. Oliver.”
A surprised look appeared on his face. He turned to my mother and asked, “Is this true, Martha? “You didn’t tell me that.”
Mrs. Oliver rose from her seat and approached the sheriff. She pointed at my mother and said, “She is most certainly lying to you, Will. Martha called me last week and asked me if Jacob could stay here indefinitely.” She walked over and wrapped her arms around mine. “This boy isn’t going anywhere.”
My mother shouted, “He’s my son, and he’s going with me!” When she approached me, I took a step back.
I shouted, “I’m not going anywhere with you!”
Sheriff Tackett grabbed my mother’s arm and pulled her away. “I think we should go until I can figure out what is going on.”
Mother starting shouting, “I want my boy to go with me!” Mrs. Oliver stepped in front of me to prevent my mother from coming nearer.
“Now, come on Martha,” insisted the sheriff as he attempted to pull my mother out of the room.
My mother stopped, pointed at Mrs. Oliver and shouted, “Then arrest her for striking my husband!”
We all sighed with relief when Sheriff Tackett pulled my mother out of the house and onto the porch. We could hear my mother shouting as they argued outside.