Forbidden Fruit – Chapter 2
Setting his notepad down, Adam glanced at the clock on his phone. Becky should be home by now. The lesson plan for Wednesday evening youth group could wait. The past couple of days had been rough. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t keep old memories locked away.
He cycled through the contacts on his phone until he found Becky’s. As he pressed her number, he thought about their relationship over the past year. He had met her the first week of his sophomore year. They’d met at church but had become friends when they found themselves in the same Intro to Physics class. He was interested in the ministry, and Becky wanted to become a teacher, and neither was very good at physics, so naturally, they teamed up as study-buddies. By the end of the fall semester, Adam asked Becky out, and they’d been casually dating ever since.
“Hey, Adam, how’s Wakefield treating you?” came the voice from the other end of the call.
“Sup, Becks? Not bad. Wish you’d stayed in town for the summer. I don’t know what to do with myself when you’re not around.”
The laughter on the other end brought a smile to Adam’s face. She said, “I know the feeling. I felt the same way. Then I ran into some of my old girlfriends. We’re going to go catch a movie this Friday night.”
“Sounds fun,” Adam said. He really did miss his girlfriend. Whenever Becky was around, the creeping feelings locked away were gone. No, not entirely gone, but certainly held at bay and under control. Now, a week and a half after starting this summer youth pastor gig, he felt shaky and afraid that everything he’d done to put his old self away was slowly unraveling. If Becky wasn’t half a continent away, he knew he could conquer these unbidden thoughts.
“When are you planning on coming back into town for the fall semester?”
More laughter, “Jeeze, Adam, the summer’s barely underway, and you’re already trying to get me back to out there. Probably won’t make it back until mid-August. You think you can manage without me until then?”
Adam put more cheer into his voice than he felt, “Of course, Becks. Did I mention I’m taking the kids up to Six Flags tomorrow?”
“Better you than me. I don’t like roller coasters.”
“Note to self, no dates that include roller coasters,” Adam said with a chuckle.
By the time Becky had to get off the phone, Adam felt better, back in control. He told himself there wasn’t really any reason for him to feel the way he had. None of the kids in the youth group looked at all like Clint, and he had nothing to worry about. But the less he thought about Jacob, the better.
“Mom, do I have to?” Isaiah said as his mom pulled into the church’s parking lot.
“Yes. You’ll have fun, I’m sure of it,” Amanda said as she parked the car.
Isaiah wasn’t sure, but it wasn’t like his mom was giving him any options. When he climbed out of the car, she handed him a couple of twenty-dollar bills. “For meals. Don’t spend it on the midway, until after you’ve eaten. Promise?”
“Yeah,” Isaiah said, although he wasn’t sure what a midway was or why it would cost money. Looking at the two bills in his hand, he added, “Didn’t you say that money’s tight. If I don’t go, you’d save forty bucks.”
Chuckling, his mom gave him a quick hug, “Think you’re getting sneaky. Go on, have fun.”
The older kids sat at the back of the fifteen-passenger van while the younger took the seats toward the front. That put Isaiah on the seat right behind the driver’s seat. Jason, the preacher’s kid, sat next to him. Beside him sat one of the girls from the eighth grade, whose name Isaiah couldn’t remember.
The drive on the interstate was uneventful. Their driver, Adam, stayed in the right lane almost the entire way. And Isaiah was miserable the whole time. He glanced at his seatmates from time to time. Jason was interesting. Even though he was only twelve, he looked more mature. He even had a bit of fine hair over his upper lip. And, he was even more attractive than Josh. And that left Isaiah with a painful lump in his throat. There wasn’t any reason to say anything. The girl on the other side of Jason occupied the other boy’s attention.
The ninety minutes it took them to arrive at Six Flags felt like the longest ninety minutes of his young life. The other kids were obviously friends with one another and were ready to go on the rides as soon as they could get their tickets and get inside the park.
When they assembled by the Econoline’s sliding door, Adam came around and gave everyone their tickets. “Hey, everyone. Your parents expect me to have you home by eleven. That means we’ve got to meet up in front of the carousel no later than eight-thirty. That still gives you upwards of ten hours.”
As Isaiah fingered the edge of his ticket, the youth pastor added, “Next up, nobody goes off by themselves. Buddy up into groups of 2 or more.”
The boy’s heart sank as the other kids grouped themselves together, leaving him standing next to Adam. He felt something burn at the back of his eyes when he felt a hand rest on his shoulder. He glanced up into Adam’s face. The young man squeezed his shoulder, “How about the two of us buddy up, Isaiah?”
That kindness reached from his green eyes to his red lips, and Isaiah felt that constriction in his throat loosen. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Adam raised his voice, “Alright, before we all run off to ride the Titan, everyone gather round, let’s say a quick prayer first.”
The boy felt his heart thunder in his chest when Adam took his hand. It didn’t lessen the moment when everyone joined hands as Adam said, “Heavenly Father, thanks for letting us make it up here safely…”
While the young man prayed, Isaiah tried to listen to the words, but the fact was, he was thankful Adam had stepped in as his buddy for the day. Adam hadn’t said anything weird to him since his mom buttonholed him in the fellowship hall a week and a half before. Maybe his mom hadn’t said anything about how he’d fallen out with Josh.
No sooner were the words “amen,” out of Adam’s mouth, than the group broke up into their smaller groups as everyone made their way toward the park’s entrance.
Adam fell in beside him as they followed the other kids. They were halfway across the expansive parking lot when he spoke, “You have a favorite ride?”
Isaiah shook his head, “No. Mom’s never had the time or money to take me. What about you?”
“Yeah. It’s old school, but I like the Shockwave. It’s been here since my parents were kids. You okay with riding the roller coasters?”
The boy felt an icy grip on his heart. The only roller coasters he’d ever seen had been on YouTube videos and TV. And they looked scary. He shrugged, “Dunno. Are they safe?”
Adam chuckled, “Very. Unless you’re pregnant or have a bad heart. Either of those a problem for you?”
Isaiah laughed, “No. Don’t be silly. Um, I guess we can try one.”
It took almost as long to get into the park as it took them to cross the parking lot. Even though the pandemic was under control and a vaccine available, there were still people wearing face masks and observing the old social distancing rules. It was easy enough. The blue circle with feet were placed every six feet from the start of the concourse, all the way to the gatehouse where attendants still took people’s temperatures before allowing people through the turnstiles.
Once they were inside the park, Adam pointed toward the carousel, spinning around with little kids and their parents. “Is that one you had in mind?”
Isaiah could hear the mirth in the youth leader’s tone. The boy squinted up at the young man before shaking his head, “I don’t think so. You’re too short for that ride.”
Laughing, Adam placed a hand on his shoulder, “Fine, let’s go find the Shockwave and see if it’s still as fun as I remember it.”
The walk over to the Shockwave would have been worse if the park had been crowded. For a Thursday morning is was surprisingly empty, just a few thousand souls enjoying the park’s thrills and rides. Isaiah stopped in the middle of the concrete path leading to the Shockwave as he watched a train of cars zip along through the double loops for which the ride was famous.
Adam’s hand returned to his shoulder, “You okay with this? We can start with something easier if you want.”
Feeling better with his youth pastor’s hand on his shoulder, Isaiah swallowed hard, “Yeah. I think so. Will they let us sit together?”
Nodding, Adam led him toward the ride.
The line started a couple of hundred feet away from the turnstiles that accessed the platform where the cars were unloaded and loaded. Most people ignored the blue markers for social distancing, and only a few wore masks. Isaiah didn’t miss his. The speed with which riders were whisked through the ride meant he and Adam soon were waiting their turn to load onto the next set of cars to cycle through.
As the roller coaster’s steel frame shook as the train of cars zoomed by overhead, Isaiah’s anxiety grew until, without realizing it, his hand gripped Adam’s.
“If you don’t want to ride this, we don’t have to,” the young man said, bending down close to his ear.
The thing was, Isaiah felt like he had to. Not just for himself, but to show Adam that he wasn’t a little baby. “I want to,” the boy growled as the gates separating the queue from the cars swung open.
Once they were seated and the mask-wearing attendant lowered the bar that secured the two of them in place, Adam must have felt him shaking with nerves. He reached out and put his larger hand over Isaiah’s smaller, “You’ll be fine. You’ll see.”
Then the cars shook as they rolled forward. Isaiah felt the car jolt as a long metal chain pulled the cars up a steep incline. He felt the rattling of the chain all the way into his teeth, as foot by foot, they pulled the train of cars upwards. Ten seconds, twenty seconds, thirty seconds, they continued to climb. Then, when it seemed as though the whole world was on display below, they reached the top. The cars, propelled by nothing but gravity, went around a hundred-eighty-degree arc. No sooner had they turned a sharp corner then the floor fell out from under Isaiah. At least that was the sensation when the tracks fell down a steep drop. Isaiah’s hands gripped the bar resting against his lap even as Adam’s shout sounded joyous as he raised his hands in the air.
And then it was on them. The first loop came up faster than the boy could prepare for it, and as his head was forced against his chest, adrenaline shot through his still-eleven-year-old body. By the time the car took the second loop, Isaiah added his voice to Adam’s as he screamed, just for the heck of it. This wasn’t as bad as he feared.
With so much force propelling the cars forward, the boy was surprised when more controlling chains gripped the cars, throwing him and Adam against their harnesses and slowing the cars down, before letting them continue onward, around another sharp bend. With a few more twists and turns as well as a couple of more sharp drop-offs, the train of cars looped back around to the starting point.
Once they were out, Isaiah, still on his adrenaline high, yelped, “That was freaking awesome! Can we ride it again?”
The change in the boy’s demeanor brought a wide grin to Adam’s face as they queued up for the Shockwave again. The line was even shorter their second time around. Now, as the car lurched forward and started up the long climb to the top of the ride, he glanced at the boy sitting beside him. Gone was the fearful expression. In its place was an intense look of expectation. The only thing remaining the same the second time up the steep climb was Isaiah’s hand clenched to his.
After the cars careened around the U-turn, they plunged a hundred feet toward the ground before heading into the first loop. Taking Isaiah’s hand in his, Adam raised it into the air as his voice was ripped out of his lungs on the plunge down the roller coaster’s steel-shod tracks. Around and around the two loops they flew. The five Gs of gravity forced his head against his chest until they shot out of the second loop. The boy’s giddy laughter was music in Adam’s ears. He had come close to making one of the other groups of kids take Isaiah with them, but as they were shaken around the track, instinctively, Adam knew he’d made the right choice.
The rest of the morning flew by as they rode Mr. Freeze and the Tower of Power rides. As they came off the Tower of Power for the second time, Isaiah seemed to wilt a bit under the hot north Texan sun. It was, if Adam was honest with himself, time to hydrate and eat.
Resting his hand on the boy’s shoulder, he said, “How about we get a drink and food? There are lots of places around here to eat.”
“Yeah. I could eat. But I’m pretty thirsty.”
“Sit down or grab-and-go?”
The boy’s expression grew thoughtful, “Can we rest for a bit?”
Adam nodded as he guided his charge through the thin crowd. He took the boy over to Johnny Rockets, one of the park’s larger sit-down restaurants, where they ordered hamburgers.
After finishing his burger, Adam found his eyes taking in the boy’s every detail. His dark brown hair was a darker shade than the milk-chocolate of his eyes. At a shade under four and a half feet, Isaiah was the shortest kid in the youth group, although sitting down at the moment, it wouldn’t have been noticed. His cheeks were tanned, although, at times when embarrassed, crimson would flush away the light brown of the boy’s tan. The boy, Adam’s subconscious mind decided, had perfect skin, unblemished by puberty’s cruelty.
Without realizing his mind going there, it wasn’t Clint to whom Adam compared the boy, but to Jacob. When he realized what he was doing, Adam tried to shut the thoughts down. Although all Isaiah shared with Jacob was his age, that was all. With a slight shake of his head, Adam amended the thought. There was nothing to compare. Not at all.
Still, his mind wouldn’t entirely let go of that unhealthy thread. In the deep recesses of Adam’s subconscious, his brain worked over the connection. Then, as the boy finished his meal, the youth pastor saw, not Clint, not even Jacob, but himself in the features of the not-quite-twelve-year-old. As they left the restaurant, despite the near one-hundred degree heat, an iciness gripped Adam’s insides as his mind worked over the implications. Was he Isaiah’s Clint?
Oh, God, no! Adam quietly prayed even as his young charge was entirely oblivious to his newly awakened fear. Isaiah said, “Isn’t there a train that goes around the park?”
There was. Pretty much the only ride to survive the parks’ more than fifty years of operation was the railroad. Fortunately, the walk toward the nearest depot was only a few minutes. And their timing couldn’t have been better. A few other people waited as the train pulled into the station. It was an old-style steam engine pulling three passenger carriages. A few people got off the train before the depot attendant opened the gate and let the handful of people, including Adam and Isaiah, find their seats in the open-air carriages.
Isaiah ran on ahead, climbing aboard the middle carriage. When Adam joined him, the boy leaned against his arm as they waited for the train to depart the depot. After a bit, the carriage jolted and rolled forward. Isaiah murmured, “I was worried I wouldn’t have a good time. But this has been so much fun. Thanks.”
Adam had walled away his fears. He knew he didn’t have anything to worry about. The boy was as safe with him as he’d be with his own mom. “Me, too. Now that you’re no longer afraid of roller coasters, which one do you want to do next?”
“Can we try the Giant? It looks huge.”
“Yeah. You bet.” He enjoyed the feel of the youngster leaning against his side. Despite errant mental wanderings related to Clint and Jacob, the balance of Adam’s mind wondered if he could be a positive role-model for Isaiah. The way the boy clung to his side left him convinced he needed a positive role model.
The wait for the Texas Giant was the longest so far, but it was still only fifteen minutes. They rode it twice before they headed over to the Titan. By the time evening rolled around, Adam and Isaiah rode the train around the park a couple of more times, although the boy’s head rested against Adam’s chest the last go-around as he slept.
Adam wasn’t surprised that a couple of the groups of kids didn’t show up until almost nine. Knowing how he was at that age, he’d budgeted more time to collect everyone.
The drive back to their hometown was a lot quieter than the drive up. Most of the kids were asleep before they left the metroplex. He could see Isaiah in the rearview mirror, with his head lolled back on the seatback. He could also see Jason and Meredith, also on the front row. The tall seventh grader’s head rested against the girl’s bushy red curls. Both were passed out. As ninety-minute drives went, it was peaceful, with only the occasional murmured voice breaking the silence.
The church parking lot was half-full of cars when he pulled into the van’s normal space. Parents leaned against the sides of vehicles, quietly talking among themselves, patiently waiting for their kids to spill out of the van, in their zombie-like trances.
One by one, cars pulled away, taking their tired charges home until Adam found himself alone. Or nearly so. As he opened the van’s sliding door, Isaiah slept, his head tilted back. The youth leader spun around, scanning the parking lot and surrounding streets. They were empty.
What the hell? he thought. All the parents knew they were supposed to pick their kids up no later than eleven. Another glance at his watch showed it was already ten minutes after.
Adam opened the passenger’s side door and grabbed a notebook full of permission slips. When he found the one signed by the boy’s mom, he put the number she had left into the phone. But before he could press the dial button, an older model Chevy pulled into the parking lot. Amanda Clayton climbed out of the car, her hair a disheveled mess.
When she came over to Adam, her cheeks were aflame with embarrassment, “I’m so sorry, Adam. I fell asleep on the couch. When I woke up, it was already eleven.”
Her eyes roamed about, “Where’s Isaiah?”
His lips turned upwards at the woman’s distress, Adam opened the sliding door, revealing her sleeping son. “All safe and sound.”
Relief washed over the woman’s face, “Oh, thank God. Had me worried for a moment. How’d he do? He wasn’t too much trouble, I hope.”
Adam shook his head, “Not at all. He was a delight.”
A note of relief in her voice, Amanda said, “That’s good to know. He doesn’t make friends very easily. I was a bit worried the other kids wouldn’t take to him.”
Uncertain how to respond, Adam pressed his lips together before finally admitting the truth, “Well, he didn’t really bond with the other kids, Amanda. When they broke into groups, he ended up with me. I hope that’s okay.”
Staring at her son, still asleep in the seat, Amanda’s brows knit in worry. “I guess. After he lost his friend, Josh, I kinda hoped he’d make more friends in the youth group.”
Adam didn’t want to pry, but the boy’s mother had strongly hinted whatever had happened between Isaiah and his friend still troubled her. “Give it more time. He’s a really sweet kid. He’ll make more friends.”
Amanda smiled and rested a hand briefly on Adam’s arm, “Thanks for looking out for him, Adam. I’m grateful you see how special he is. I know you’re only here at Wakefield through the end of the summer, but I’ll be forever grateful for any mentoring you do.”
Seeing the sleeping boy, Adam felt a desire to protect the boy from the harshness of the world. For now, there wasn’t any thought about his own troubled past or how similar Isaiah was to himself at that age. He simply wanted to be there for the boy.
Adam said, “My pleasure, Amanda. How about we get him awake so you guys can get home.
Copyright 2019 – Caliboy1991
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