Forbidden Fruit – Chapter 5
“Catch the door, Isaiah. I’m getting the casserole out of the oven!”
The boy had already bounded off the couch and was nearly to the door when he heard his mom’s voice. “I got it!” his voice echoed through the duplex as he swung open the door.
Even though less than an hour had passed since he’d seen Adam at church, it didn’t keep Isaiah’s face from lighting up, “Hi, Adam. Mom’s in the kitchen. Come on in.”
A moment later, Amanda’s head poked around the corner, “Boys, dinner will be ready in about ten.”
There were shadows under Adam’s eyes. Isaiah had noticed them during Sunday School, but he hadn’t wanted to say anything at church. Perhaps the other kids hadn’t noticed, but something was wrong with Adam. He had been distracted during his lesson on the talents. Worried, the boy took Adam by the hand, “Come on, I got a new poster I want to show you.”
While it was true, he had gotten a new poster, the look in Adam’s eyes worried Isaiah. He grabbed the young man’s hand and pulled him back toward his bedroom. Once Isaiah had Adam in his room, he ignored the poster. It was the newest Ghostbusters poster. The movie was still in theaters and was blowing up on social media. The boy didn’t care about any of that.
Instead, he rounded on the twenty-year-old. “What’s wrong?”
Adam’s eyebrows arched in surprise. “Why would you think something’s wrong? I’m fine.”
Still holding onto the young man’s hand, Isaiah said, “Your voice is off, and you don’t look like you slept at all last night. That good enough reason?”
Adam sat on the lower bunk, “It’s nothing you need to worry about. We’re cool.”
Isaiah climbed onto the railing of the bed and used his hand on the top bunk to balance himself, “I thought we were friends. Was I wrong about that?”
Adam shot up, “God, no. I’m still your friend, Isaiah. I promise. Just working through some sh- stuff.”
Isaiah’s lips curved upward at his mentor and youth pastor, nearly slipping into profanity. Adam’s response was the most like himself he’d sounded. More than that, he believed the young man. But Isaiah didn’t understand why he wouldn’t share. He tried again, “If it was me that was bothered, would you let it go?”
A tired smile ghosted across Adam’s face, “Maybe not. Even though we’re friends, there’s stuff an eleven – excuse me, nearly-twelve-year-old boy doesn’t need to be bothered with.”
Isaiah wasn’t convinced, but he let it go as he pointed out some bits of trivia about a couple of other movie posters on his wall. It wasn’t long before his mom knocked on the bedroom door, “Dinner’s ready, boys.”
When they settled around the table, Isaiah sniffed the air. There was a hint of barbeque sauce in it. His mom’s meatloaf was one of his favorite meals. Of course, it couldn’t hold a candle to her homemade macaroni and cheese, which was placed next to the meatloaf. He was ambivalent about the green beans. Even with chunks of bacon in it, it was still green beans.
The problem with round tables is that nobody sits at the head. Of course, that had never bothered the boy or his mom. Now, with his mom on one side of him and Adam on the other, even if his friend was hiding something, Isaiah hadn’t felt better in a long time.
His mom took his hand and said, “Adam, would you do us the honor of saying grace?”
Adam’s lips grew thin before he pasted a smile on his face, “Sure, Amanda. I’d be glad to. Unless, of course, Isaiah would rather…”
His mom laughed, “Be careful what you wish for, Adam. With Isaiah, he’s more likely to say ‘rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub’ than anything meaningful.”
Isaiah gripped his mom’s hand more firmly, “That’s not fair. I can say a prayer, too. ‘Bless this food before us set, it needs all the help that it can get.’”
His mom groaned, “Oh, Lordy. See what you started, Adam. I prefer my prayers without insults added to the mix.”
Before he could launch into another ditty, Isaiah found his other hand engulfed in Adam’s as the young man gave him a wink before saying, “Well, we can’t have insults. At least until dessert. Let’s pray…”
It was easy to get bored waiting for adults to pray for a meal, but Adam was brief. Still holding the young man’s hand, the boy said, “You can always tell when a preacher’s hungry.”
Smiling back at him, Adam said, “How’s that?”
Grinning mischievously, Isaiah said, “The shorter the prayer, the hungrier the preacher.”
Adam released his hand so that he could hold his plate up while his mom dished out a serving of meatloaf. “Clever boy you’ve got Amanda. Quite the wit.”
His mom handed back Adam’s plate and grabbed his own, “Perhaps. Sometimes though, I think you’re only half-right.”
Realizing his mom was poking fun at him, Isaiah stuck his tongue at her, “Be nice, Mom. I’ll pick your retirement home.”
Amanda leaned over and pinched his cheek, “Oh, that’s cute. You think you’re going to survive long enough to pick where I retire.”
This was even more fun than the last time his mom had invited Adam to join them. By the time Isaiah finished his plate, some of the stress in Adam’s eyes was gone. His tired eyes were all Isaiah needed to see to know his friend was bothered and hurting. When Adam put down his fork, Isaiah decided if he and his mom worked together, maybe together, they could help him feel better.
“So, Adam,” Isaiah said, looking at his mom, “taught about the parable of the talents in Sunday School today, Mom. We learned about how the more you’ve been given, the more you should do to help others.”
Amanda leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table, “Sounds interesting. What did you get out of it?”
Adam’s eyes drifted between his and his mom’s as Isaiah said, “Well, maybe it’s not exactly like talents, but God has given me an awesome mom and a really good friend. I’ve learned that I should do more for them because of how much God has given me.”
Isaiah’s mom put her hand over his, “Does this mean you’re going to start cleaning up your room without being told?”
He flashed a smile, “Maybe. If I can remember.” Then his smile faded, and he looked over at Adam, “But when my one friend, who means almost as much to me as my mom is hurting, I want to help, even if it’s… how’d you say it? Stuff, a nearly-twelve-year-old boy doesn’t need to be bothered with?”
Adam squirmed in his seat, as even Amanda’s attention fell on him, “I wondered if something was off, Adam. You look worn, like you’re not getting enough rest. What’s wrong?”
The young man sighed, “It’s nothing, really. Certainly, nothing to ruin a fantastic dinner over.”
Isaiah sent Amanda a pleading look. It didn’t matter to him the age difference between him and Adam. The young man meant so much to him. And while he might not ever get to share a kiss with Adam, Isaiah realized, the young man had captured his heart more completely than Josh ever had.
Amanda said, “It won’t ruin anything to admit you’ve got problems, Adam. I’ve had problems bigger than what I could manage on my own. So has Isaiah. So, please don’t pretend you can carry whatever is going on by yourself. You wouldn’t let any of the kids in your youth group do that. Would you?”
Adam shook his head, even as it hung low over his chest. “No, I guess not. It’s just I don’t want to burden either of you with my problems.”
Amanda sigh and leaned back in her chair, “Then you’ve made the wrong friends. I’ve gotten to know you pretty well over the summer. But nothing compared to how well Isaiah knows you. I wish he made friends easier, but that’s not how Isaiah works. And you’re the one person he counts as a friend. Trying to mask whatever is going on, you’re just hurting him.”
Isaiah’s heart swelled at his mom’s spirited attempt to help Adam. He dared not get his hopes up when the young man lifted his chin. All the boy wanted was to be there for his friend. Just as he was certain, Adam would be there for him if their roles were reversed. Biting his lip, Adam shook his head as tears misted in his eyes. “My girlfriend dumped me, and I’m getting kicked out of my apartment.”
Isaiah had heard Adam talk about Becky before. But he hadn’t realized how important the girl was to his friend. But the idea of Adam being homeless horrified the boy. “What happened? How did you get kicked out?”
Adam pushed the empty plate away and crossed his arms on the table, “My roommate’s dad sold it. My roommate wants me to move into a new place, but the rent’s more than I can afford.”
The chair scraped underneath Isaiah as he got up and came around behind Adam. He threw his arms around the young man’s neck and hugged him. He had no idea what to tell his friend about losing a girlfriend. He’d never been through something like that. And, at least to Isaiah, girls weren’t very interesting. But his mom had been evicted a couple of times when Adam was younger. He knew how bad that could be.
Like a flash of light, a solution came to Isaiah. “Mom, can Adam stay with us?”
Adam’s head jerked up, “I couldn’t impose, Isaiah.”
Amanda worked one of her fingers in her hair, a thoughtful expression on her face, “We’re not going to let you become homeless, Adam. I don’t know why you couldn’t stay over here for a few nights on the couch.”
Isaiah stood up to his full four and a half feet, his arms still on Adam’s shoulders, “Mom!” he squawked, “I’ve got bunk beds in my room. Why can’t he stay with me?”
A touch of crimson reached Amanda’s cheeks, “We’ll see, sweetie. First, though, Adam, when you have to move out of your apartment, I want your skinny ass over here if you don’t have somewhere else to go. Alright?”
Adam craned his neck around until Isaiah could see his eyes. “Say, ‘yes,’ please.”
Then he looked across the table at Amanda. “Okay. Fine. I’m sure something else will open up before then. But if it doesn’t, then the couch would be fine.”
Adam heard the sound of Isaiah’s PlayStation in the living room as he took one of the plates and set it in the dishwasher. “I really appreciate the offer, Amanda, but I don’t want to be a burden.”
Amanda rinsed a bowl in the sink, “Stop it, Adam. I like you. I think you’re really good for Isaiah. Having you around until something else opens up will be good for my son and maybe even for you.”
Sure, he had confessed Becky’s breakup with him and being homeless, but there was no way he could explain the feelings Isaiah stirred inside him. With Becky gone, he had banked on putting the whole experience at Wakefield, even his friendship with Isaiah, behind him in the fall. If he lingered on, he wasn’t sure he could be strong enough to resist temptation.
Something on his face must have given something away. Amanda turned off the water and tapped him on the shoulder, and beckoned him toward the backdoor. The backyard was small, a patio with a grill on it, and a few square yards of grass, divided by a small fence from an identical yard. Amanda leaned against the back door, “When you finished up your job next week, were you planning on staying around?”
Adam’s shoe dug into the grass, as his hands dug into his pockets, “I don’t know. Sometimes, I think it would be easier for me to put Wakefield behind me this fall.”
Shaking her head, Amanda said, “I don’t give a damn about Wakefield, Adam. But there’s a boy in the other room who is having a hard time figuring out his emotions, but trust me, he adores you, maybe even more than he does me. And if you disappear from his life, it will devastate him. If that’s what you’re going to do, please, just go. Don’t go back in there and pretend to be his friend if you’re going to be gone in a week. I can pick up the pieces. I’ve done it before, and I can do it again. But, please don’t make it worse.”
Shamed by Amanda’s prescience, Adam didn’t know how to respond. He loved the boy. And that was part of the problem. The last thing he wanted to do was break Isaiah’s heart. He feared he wouldn’t be strong enough to not sin with the boy. If he failed there, not only would he destroy the boy, he would ruin his own life.
As Amanda stared at him, Adam managed, “I don’t want to see Isaiah hurt, Amanda. Never.”
Amanda smiled wistfully. “I know. I can see it in how you look at him. That’s why I don’t what you to go. I don’t know why you’re hurting, but if you can see past your problems, my son’s life is better with you in it.”
Adam felt the shame of his attraction to Isaiah and knew he couldn’t begin to explain it to Amanda. Yet her plaintive cry touched him. He didn’t know how he could avoid the temptation Isaiah represented, but as much as he didn’t want to give himself over to his desires, he also wanted to be in the boy’s life, despite the danger it posed to both of them.
With a shaky sigh, Adam said, “Alright, Amanda. When school starts up, I promise I’ll still be Isaiah’s friend. And I promise I’ll keep looking for a place closer to campus.”
Amanda came across the patio and hugged Adam, “Thanks, sweetie. I’m about to burn up out here. A boy is waiting for you inside.
Author insert here: I debated whether to include this next section. But it’s important context to who Adam is and where he comes from. A lot of what one of the characters talks about are things that most of us would rather not hear because it conflicts with how we view the world and our place within it, but because that’s the world Adam belongs to, it would be dishonest of me to pretend something like this wouldn’t happen to him.
Adam handed the keys to the van over to the pastor. “I think that’s everything, Pastor Rich.”
The Pastor of Wakefield Community Church set the keys on his desk. “I hope the summer was everything you expected, Adam. You were a hit with the kids in the youth group. Shame you’re not staying on for the fall.”
Adam looked at the amount of his last check. It would help tide him over until his grant and scholarship money came in. “It was a lot of fun. You’ve got a good bunch of kids.”
“Did the job help you decide any more about your calling in the ministry? Some of the larger churches in town want that religion degree even for their youth pastors.”
Strange how a summer changes people, Adam realized. He’d started the summer gung-ho about pastoring a youth group. And at the end of the summer, he knew he wasn’t cut out for it. The feelings for Isaiah were too strong to shake. And even though he was determined to avoid letting things get out of control, Adam knew at some point, he would have to publicly confront his sexuality.
He said, “I enjoyed the job, even working with the kids, Pastor Rich. But I’ve realized that perhaps I was mistaken about a calling. I don’t think God is leading me into the ministry, after all.”
Pastor Rich gave a short nod and knitted his eyebrows together, “There’s more than a few men who won’t ever admit that they got into this for the wrong reasons. If you’ve come to the realization that your path is down another direction, then far be it from me to discourage you.”
Sitting in the pastor’s office, Adam hated the attraction he felt for Isaiah, even as he knew he loved the boy. Still, it nagged at him that God would hate him for the way he felt. And no matter what he told himself, his faith was in crisis. Fearful of the reaction, Adam still felt compelled to say, “Um, Pastor Rich, can a person still be a Christian and be, um… gay?”
The pastor took his glasses off and grabbed a bit of cloth from a drawer in the desk, “That’s not a question I was expecting, Adam. I guess I can see why you might not want to explore the ministry if you’re grappling with more pressing issues in your life. Let me ask you this, can you still be a Christian if you’re divorced?”
Adam said, “Well, my mom’s divorced. She’s a good Christian woman.”
Pastor Rich said, “Fair enough. Doesn’t the Bible say that if a person remarries and they’re divorced, it’s the same as adultery?”
Adam blanched, “My mom’s never committed adultery. Well, not to my knowledge.”
The pastor chuckled, “Point taken. What about the glutton who weighs four-hundred pounds? Not talking about somebody with health issues. Just some run of the mill fatso who won’t stop eating. Can they still be a Christian?”
Adam thought about the men and women who took up two or even three spots in the pews, even at Wakefield.
He said, “Because gluttony is a sin?”
Pastor Rich nodded, “Yep. Or what about the church gossip? Is she still a Christian?”
Adam wasn’t sure the point the pastor was trying to make. “I suppose they’re all still Christians. But those are all different than gays.”
The pastor’s eyes arched, “Really? Why do you think that?”
“Well, the church is always telling people that homosexuality is a sin.”
“So is greed, lust, gluttony, gossip, and a bunch of other behaviors that get between us and our Creator. The difference is that most of those other sins nobody argues about. Most sins don’t create much conflict. The difference is that gays don’t want to be told they’re sinning, so they get upset. Of course, it doesn’t help when other Christians tell folks they’re going to hell.”
A chill ran down Adam’s spine, “Can a gay person be saved?”
Pastor Rich said, “I sure hope so. Because if they can’t, what hope does Aunt Myrtle, the church gossip have? Or my dentist, who’s working on his third marriage, and he sits in the fourth pew every Sunday. Really, the only person who can answer that question for you, is you. I may spend a lot of time listening to God. But the more I listen, the more I realize each of us is responsible for our own salvation, Adam. Sure, I’m a pastor, and my job, however poorly I perform, is to be an arrow pointing to Heaven. But the rest is between you and God.”
A weight of uncertainty lifted from Adam’s troubled shoulders. “Thanks, Pastor Rich. That really does help. So, what options does a gay person have in the church to be part of the ministry?”
The pastor leaned back, “You remember my dentist? Gifted guy. Has wrecked two marriages, so far. Working on his third. Does he fit the criteria for leadership?”
“No,” Adam admitted.
“Because he keeps cheating.”
Pastor Rich nodded, “Fair enough. What about my Aunt Myrtle? Bless her heart, she’d be on the phone spreading every rumor and tidbit of news if she could get away with it. Would you have her leading a church?”
Chuckling at the image of an old woman chattering on the phone, Adam shook his head, “No. Probably not. What’s that mean for someone like me?”
“Look Adam, if you’re trying to figure your sexuality out, no matter how you decide, I hope you’d always feel welcome here at Wakefield. The only thing I care about is what is between you and God. But let’s say that you wanted to become a member of the church. There are certain things that you agree to believe to be a member of this church. For instance, you can’t believe that most of the Bible is crap, and only a little bit is true. That wouldn’t be consistent with our beliefs. Or if we’re looking for a new deacon, in our church, we don’t permit divorced people to serve as deacons. As much as I like my dentist, he’s disqualified from serving in that capacity. There’s other stuff, that’s just an example.”
Adam rubbed his jawline, “That seems a bit harsh, Pastor Rich.”
There was a twinkle in his eyes, “Try cheating on your taxes, Adam. We’ve got nothing on the IRS. I had a friend who I graduated with from seminary. I’ve got a brass tongue compared to his silver tongue. He was at the top of his game, pastor at a big church in Houston. About ten years ago, he left his wife for another woman. Much younger and very good looking. What he did wasn’t much different than what a lot of powerful men do. The world outside the doors of the church would say, no big deal. But his church fired him, and rightly so. And you want to know something, Adam, if he’d been like my dentist, sitting quietly in his pew week after week, he might have gotten some nasty glances from other people in the church, but mostly he would have been left alone. But more is expected of a church leader, so now, my friend is selling insurance in Dallas.”
The pastor glanced at his watch, “The budget committee meeting is about to start, Adam. If you want to talk some more about what you’re going through, call the office and get on my calendar. I’ll always make time for you.”
When Adam left, he felt better. At least now, he knew God didn’t hate him, and that left him feeling a lot better, even as he realized he needed to think about what he was going to do after college. He headed back to the apartment. This was the last day before the movers were to arrive. While he had tried to find other options, at least for the next few days, he had a place to sleep over at the Claytons.
Copyright 2019 – Caliboy1991
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