(Takes place during the months of October to December 1992)
I Corinthians 13:4-8
4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
Jonathan hugged his arms, still feeling David’s shaking body in his arms. His tongue passed over his lower lip as his dad pulled the truck into the garage. Cody hadn’t said a word since they’d turned onto their street, but his little hand had found Jonathan’s and held tightly to it. Jonathan knew it meant he didn’t merely feel discomfited, but terrified.
What if coming out results in exactly what he thinks will happen?
Bill looked up into the rearview mirror as he put the big vehicle in park, and Jonathan met his gaze as the older man asked, “How long have you known?”
Jonathan sighed, glancing over at Cody as his grip tightened on his older brother’s hand.
“Don’t heave and sigh at me, young man. You will answer my question and you will answer it now!” Bill clipped. “Jonathan—”
“I’ve known since forever, Dad.” He took a deep breath. “I don’t know why it’s such a big deal who loves who. I thought love was the point—”
“I thought being loved was—”
Bill turned to face him. “That’s enough!”
Jonathan surged forward, shaking his head. “But it’s not. There’s nothing wrong with David, Dad. Just like there’s nothing wrong with me.”
Bill Shea’s eyebrows almost hit his hairline as he stared hard at Jonathan. “I don’t follow?”
“Yes, you do, Dad.” He reached for the door handle, but a large hand covered his own, barring his exit, his father’s voice low as he growled, “Explain yourself, young man.”
You didn’t come out, Jonathan. Just me. You didn’t say—
“Of course I knew, Dad,” Jonathan managed, his throat dry. He shoved a hand through his hair as he lifted a defiant gaze to his father’s matching one. “Of course I knew. David’s my boyfriend and I love him.”
Jonathan sat in his room, his back to the door, still in his Sunday best. His eyes were closed as he relived the weekend prior to service that morning. His lips remembered the countless kisses shared with David. His arms recalled the strength of each embrace. Curling around him in the night, face pressed to long hair as warm and golden as sunlight—
God… God, what happens now?
His elbows met his knees as he buried his face in his hands. What if they do tell me I can’t see you anymore? Jonathan’s stomach clenched at the mere thought of not being able to see David. He ran his hands harshly over his face and hair, whispering, “We’ll get through this, you and me, babe. We’ll get through this and I’ll have you back in my arms in no time.”
“You tryin’ to give your dad a heart attack?”
Jonathan whirled around, finding his mother coming around the end of the bed to sit next to him, sliding her hand over his. He swallowed thickly, unprepared for the tears falling from his eyes and he turned his face away, lifting a shaking hand to his cheek to wipe away the wetness. “Hadn’t actually considered it, no. What do—what do you mean?”
Her soft fingers stroked the back of his hand as she laughed; the sound was comforting. “I think I always assumed that your closeness with David would just translate into a friendship that lasted a lifetime. I don’t think it ever occurred to me that it’d turn romantic. It didn’t surprise me. I meant what I said to David at the church when I told him I should have known.”
I don’t know if the tears are more for fear or for the fear that I’ll never get to see you again—but I promised you. I promised you! I won’t let them take us apart!
Jonathan looked at her, sniffling. “What do you think of me? Of me loving him? Of me loving David so much that the idea I’d live a life without him makes me not able to breathe, Mama? What do you think of that?”
“I think it sounds like you’re in love… like you’ve always been in love.” Abby Shea slid her hands over his cheeks, her thumbs drying the skin under his eyes, her own eyes shining with tears brought on by his pain. “Baby boy, you are my son, and nothing will ever take that from us. You are a beautiful young man, and you’re smart, and you’re fierce, and you’re honorable, and you love the Lord. Whatever you do, it all reflects on the One who loves us most. I don’t think that He’s ever been disappointed in you, not once.”
“But what Pastor—”
Abby took one hand from Jonathan’s cheek, placing a finger to his lips as she shook her head, her dark eyes sparkling with anger, her voice hard as steel. “Oh, Pastor Beals and I will have a conversation about what he did today, that’s for certain, but I want you to hear one thing, and Jonathan Abraham Shea, you will listen to your mother.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He took a deep breath.
“You will not just hear this with your ears, you will listen to it, and you will keep it in your heart, my beautiful boy. Am I perfectly, crystally clear?” Abby searched his eyes, and Jonathan understood then, with her utterance of a word he’d put into usage when a seven-year-old David mispronounced it. Not so long ago… but it seems forever ago we were that small.
“Crystally,” he echoed, swallowing a second time.
“You. Did. Nothing. Wrong.”
Jonathan started at her words. “But—”
“He might be a pastor, baby, but I read my Bible, too. I’ve read it cover to cover, and one thing that I know is this: Jesus’ words are the ones we follow. The message of hate in Leviticus is Old Testament. Old Testament isn’t supposed to be taught, baby; it’s like taking history and for me, it’s great poetry from David and Solomon, and it’s wonderful to read tales to children.” She smiled tenderly. “How many times did I read you Daniel and the Lions’ Den? And Esther and Boaz? And Shadrach—”
“Meshach and Abednego?” Jonathan finished. “Too many times to count… and don’t forget David and Goliath.”
“Quite pertinent to our conversation now.” Abby smoothed his hair. “Because what’s coming is going to be a Goliath. How you both choose to handle it will be a win or a lose for Team David.”
“How we handle it?” Jonathan echoed, furrowing his brow. “How are we supposed to handle it?”
“By knowing this: Jesus never spoke against homosexuality. His words were simple. His words, baby boy, endorsed love. Remember John 14:21?” Abby smiled at him, knowing Jonathan still had that particular verse committed to memory after helping a then twelve-year-old David memorize it for Bible School.
“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them,” Jonathan quoted, his voice steadying a bit.
“And John 16:26-27? Do you remember that reference?” Abby asked him. When he shook his head in answer, she quoted the Word to him. “Jesus said in verse twenty-six, In that day, you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. Now verse twenty-seven is important, beautiful boy, so listen and hold it to your heart. Jesus said, No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and believed that I came from God. God loves you because you love Jesus and believe in Him. God loves you because you love His son and believe He came from God.”
They both looked up to see Bill filling the doorway. Behind him, further down the hallway, stood one of the deacons from church. His mother stood up, shoulders thrown back, keeping herself between Bill and Jonathan.
“May I talk to Jonathan?” Bill asked, and Abby looked over her shoulder, arching an eyebrow in silent question.
“Yeah… it’s okay, Mama.” Jonathan sniffled, reaching up to hug Abby when she bent down to wrap him up.
“You are perfect and exactly who you were made to be. Remember that.” She pressed a kiss to his hair. “I love you.”
Jonathan shut his eyes tight as he held close to her. “Love you, too, Mama.”
A moment later, as he watched her leave, his father stepped into the room and closed the door. Jonathan turned, tugging one knee to his chest as Bill moved over to sit down across from him. Facing him, he pushed Jonathan’s leg down. “We are not at war, son. You need not take a defensive stance.”
Jonathan nodded, bowing his head. “But you’re angry at me. You’re angry at what I said.”
Bill took a deep breath. “Son, I’m not angry. I’m worried and I’m a bit sad.”
What? Why? This cannot be good.
“I don’t understand. You’re not angry, but you’re sad? For what?” Jonathan wanted to pull both his knees up against his chest, because he was certain his heart was about to take another beating.
“As I am responsible for this family, both in this world and in Heaven, it saddens me that you would rip yourself from us. You are my son, and you are my heir, and to be parted from you would hurt my heart.” Bill’s chin quivered for a moment. “You need to think about this decision you have made very carefully, Jonathan—”
“It’s not a decision! I didn’t decide to fall in love with him, Dad!” Jonathan’s eyes widened. “I didn’t decide to need him to breathe! I didn’t decide—”
“You decided to act on feelings that aren’t real! Jonathan, you’re seventeen! How could you possibly know—no, there’s no way you could—”
“Dad, with all due respect afforded you for your position, I’ve heard the stories you and Mama tell about your relationship, about how you were working three jobs to get up enough money to buy a small house for her, so that you could get her out of her parents’ house. You were nineteen and she was seventeen. You were married when you were still nineteen and the day after she turned eighteen. I was born not even two years later and you were still working three jobs to keep things easy for her and me. Mama’s always told us that you were also going to school so that you could get down to just the one job.” He shot to his feet. “How is that different from me and David? How? Two years from now, I’ll still be in love with him and he’ll still be in love with me! I’m gonna marry him—”
“That’s ridiculous. Men don’t marry other men, Jonathan.” Bill’s eyes glittered. “What you’re feeling—”
“Are you seriously about to tell me that what I feel isn’t love?” Jonathan laughed, but no mirth lived in the sound. Tears slid down his face. “What I’m feeling right now, Dad, is terror that love is going to—how did you put it? Oh, yeah! That’s right!” Another mirthless laugh ended in a half-sob. “I’m terrified that because I’m in love with my best friend, a person who just so happens to also possess a penis and not a vagina as genitalia, that my father will rip me from his side or worse—” Jonathan hugged his arms, meeting Bill’s eyes. “He’ll tell me that he forbids me to ever see him again.”
Bill stood up, shoving his hands into his trouser pockets. “You’re a responsible young man, then, as you already know how this ends.”
Jonathan didn’t move as his father moved over to press a kiss to his forehead. “I trust that you understand the ramifications of breaking the rules.”
So it’s like this now… oh, babe… this is going to be hard.
Two Weeks Later
Jonathan sat at the dinner table, pushing his food around his plate, but he wasn’t hungry. Cody reached out for a warm roll and tossed it onto Jonathan’s plate, gasping when it landed in his mashed potatoes and gravy, splattering gravy all over Jonathan’s tee-shirt.
“I’m sorry, Jonny!” he cried out, hopping down from his chair to hurry over with his napkin to try to clean his big brother off.
Jonathan smiled gently at his little brother, shushing him but allowing him to clean his shirt. “It’s okay. It was an accident.”
“I’m so sorry!” Cody wailed.
Jonathan wrapped him up in a hug, whispering, “I know. I know, and me, too.”
“Cody, you will sit down now.” Bill met Jonathan’s eyes. “Jonathan is comforted, and perhaps the roll will find its way into his belly.”
Reluctantly, Jonathan loosed his younger brother, watching as Cody climbed up onto his chair, and when he was seated, Jonathan nodded and took a bite of the roll. Usually, he loved his mother’s homemade rolls, but lately, nothing tasted good.
“How is David?”
He blinked, the note in his pocket feeling suddenly less than safe. “I’m sorry?” Jonathan asked. “What did you say?”
“I heard that the two of spoke today. I wanted to know how he was doing,” Bill replied, his voice almost amiable as he let Jonathan know he knew the rules had been broken.
He stood in the dark part of one of the theatre entrances, watching as David worked with Travis on stage. Jonathan purposely skipped Government to watch the progress on the scene with Chad. No, that was a lie. The real reason he’d skipped class was to see him and to hear his voice. Not being able to touch him was killing Jonathan.
The bell rang.
“Work on your scenes, people! Performances begin Friday!” Mrs. Sanchez called out over the din of voices. “If you need me, come see me in my office!”
Jonathan ducked farther into the shadows as students rushed past him out the doors of the theatre. He listened for David’s voice, finally hearing it as Chad and Travis walked him towards the doors, Chad asking, “You, uh… you doing okay, man? I mean—considering?”
“I’m…” David sighed heavily. “I’m as good as can be expected without the other half of me around. It’s… it’s really hard not… not having someone who’s always been around—I keep thinking that this must be what it’s like to lose someone. I mean, we’ve always been each other’s go-to person—”
“Shea’s not well, either.” Jonathan grimaced as Travis went on, nearing Jonathan’s hiding place. “He’s actually more like the definition of fucked without you.”
David gasped, his voice tenuous. “No! I never wanted that to—”
Jonathan waited until the three of them passed the brick wall he hid behind, before he stepped out and grabbed David by the hips, interrupting his sentence. Travis caught David’s bag as the boy turned to throw himself into Jonathan’s arms, Jonathan taking them back into the safety of shadow. “I miss you! I love you!” Jonathan hissed before losing himself in the beauty of David’s kiss.
David’s hands flew to Jonathan’s hair, slender fingers disappearing in the thick russet waves as Jonathan held him tighter to his chest. The kiss broke only for them to breathe, David whispering, “Love of my heart, strength of my soul… my everything.”
David stole a brief kiss. “You’ll make good on it.”
“We need more than this—”
David smiled, kissing under Jonathan’s chin. “One day, we’ll have everything.” He tucked something thick into Jonathan’s front pocket. “Read it when you get home.”
Their mouths found one another’s in a hungry dance until Travis laughed, signaling someone’s approach. Seconds later, Jonathan watched as David disappeared in the throng of students heading upstairs.
“Jonathan? Did you hear me?” Bill repeated, jolting him from memory.
Jonathan lifted his gaze, nodding. “Yeah… I mean, yes, sir. I heard you. I just… I’ve had a headache all day. It’s made it hard to concentrate.”
“Baby boy, whyn’t you go ahead and go to bed? I know your homework’s done.” Abby smiled at him. “Cody and I’ll do the dishes. You go rest.”
Abby turned a glittering gaze to her husband. “Billy, let the boy go rest. We’ll talk rules later, when he can concentrate. Right now, his head cannot manage it, so it’d do no good to have that talk.”
Jonathan nodded. “Thanks, Mama.” Excusing himself from the table, he pushed his chair in and left the room for the bathroom. Washing his face and brushing his teeth, he escaped to his bedroom, crawling into bed in his jeans and tee-shirt. His face was wet a second time before he even got the coverlets pulled over his head.