Forbidden Fruit – Chapter 1
Noise filtered into the large classroom next to the fellowship hall. As the small, black hand on the wall-clock edged toward the ten, the room filled up with junior and senior high students. Standing near the metal podium at the front of the room, Adam’s heart raced. Aside from a public speaking class the previous semester, he had never spoken in front of a group before, even teenagers, arguably the most challenging group to talk to.
As the students eyed his unfamiliar face, Adam second-guessed his decision to be the youth pastor intern at Wakefield Community Church for the summer. What had he been thinking? Sure, he wanted to go into the ministry, and what better way to dip his toe in the water than to be the Youth Intern for the small church’s youth group?
As the clock struck ten, he remembered Pastor Rich’s words during his interview a couple of weeks before, “Wakefield can’t afford a full-time youth pastor, Adam. We rely on college students, like yourself, to fill in during the summer. Organize our summer programs, which includes a few trips to Six Flags and the like, and to organize the kids to help out with Vacation Bible School in July. What with the pandemic, summer camp’s been canceled this year, that’s pretty much it, except leading the youth group’s Sunday school lesson.”
About two dozen kids stared back at him. They knew he was just there for the summer.
Adam cleared his throat, glanced down at his notes, and said, “Let’s see a show of hands, everyone who’s glad school is out, raise them high.”
The older kids shared glances as they tentatively raised their hands into the air. Raising hands wasn’t cool. The younger students were louder in their appreciation.
Adam shifted gears, “We’ve got some great plans this summer. Despite the last year and a half of this pandemic, we’re going to have an awesome time. As you can tell, some things are a bit different today. Jason, your spring Youth Intern, graduated, and now y’all get me. I’m Adam Weston, and I’m not the only person new today. This week, all the kids who just graduated from the sixth grade are now in the youth group. So, let’s welcome our new seventh graders and get them to stand up, please.”
A halfhearted smattering of applause welcomed the four kids who rose from their seats. Adam nodded toward a willowy girl sitting on the second row, “Ladies first. Please tell everyone your name and something unusual about yourself.”
The girl flushed with two dozen sets of eyes on her, “Um, I’m Tiffany Echols. Something unusual? I was born in Canada.”
Adam pointed to another girl. She was heavyset with frizzy red hair, “Hi…I’m Laura Manningham. I, uh, made the honor roll all last year.”
The third student was a boy. For a twelve-year-old, he was tall. Almost five and a half feet and platinum blond. He grinned sheepishly as several of the other kids waved and smiled at him. “I’m Jason Madsen. I guess it would be cheating to say that my dad’s the pastor here. Something folks might not know is that I’m adopted.”
The final student standing was in the last row of chairs. Physically, he was the opposite of the other boy. He was fully a foot shorter than Jason, with dark brown hair that hadn’t seen a comb in several days. “Um, I’m Isaiah. Something unique? I dunno… I’ll be the youngest seventh-grader in school. My birthday was the week before the cut-off.”
Unlike Jason’s treble adolescent voice, Isaiah’s voice was clear and unbroken. Unlike the other newly minted seventh graders, Adam worried the last boy, because of his clearly pre-adolescent look, wouldn’t fit in as well as the three other seventh graders. For reasons he wouldn’t dwell on, Adam decided he would do what he could to help the youngster acclimate to the youth group.
Then, Adam went around to the other twenty kids and had everyone else introduce themselves. There was no way he’d remember everyone’s names, but it was a good start.
Leaning against the podium, Adam felt a bit more acclimated. After leading the group in a short prayer, he opened his Bible, “Anyone familiar with the story of Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego?”
Hands flew up around the room, just as he’d anticipated. He smiled, “I’ll admit, those guys were pretty tight. They had it all. Good standing, prestige, and all that. It turned out pretty good for them. And they’re heroes in the Old Testament. But I want to talk about someone else. Who can tell me who was Ruth, and what was she known for?”
Jason, one of the new seventh graders, raised his hand. Adam bit back a smirk. Count on the preacher’s kid to know the answer. He pointed to the youngster, “It’s probably cheating to call on the pastor’s son, but go on.”
With a touch of crimson in his cheeks, the boy said, “She was a foreigner in Israel. And she was an ancestor of King David.”
With nerves slowly calming from the newness of standing in front of the group, Adam stepped to the side of the podium, “Right. But why include her story in the Bible?”
He called on one of the girls on the front row, and the remainder of the time passed by, as Adam discussed Ruth’s loyalty for her mother-in-law and how she was a conduit of change. As the class broke up, he said, “There are permission slips on the table next to the donuts. If you’re going to Six Flags, pick one up before you leave. Try to have them back by next week with your money.”
Adam straightened the chairs and threw away the empty donut box before turning the light off. He hadn’t gone more than a few steps into the fellowship hall when a young woman came over to him. Right behind her was the other seventh-grade boy. She wore her brown hair in a simple ponytail and wore only a touch of makeup. There was no way she was a day over thirty. “Mr. Weston –“
Stopping, Adam offered his hand, “Please, just Adam. Mrs…”
The woman’s shake was delicate, “Miss Clayton. But, please just Amanda. I’m Isaiah’s mom.”
She turned, “Isaiah, honey, why don’t you go on upstairs and grab a pew. I’ll be along directly.”
The boy looked disappointed at being dismissed, but he gave a tiny wave at Adam and left. He was halfway across the fellowship hall when his mom said, “We’ve only been coming to Wakefield since we moved to town at the beginning of the year. We’re still feeling our way around.”
Adam knew the feeling well. He put on his best pastoral smile, “Me, too. This is actually my first week as the youth group intern. How can I help you?”
“It’s about Isaiah. Since moving here, he hasn’t made hardly any friends.”
Adam could relate. He’d been in a similar-sized youth group when he’d started junior high. Just like Isaiah, he had been new to town. Moving back to his mom’s hometown, following his parents’ divorce had been hard on his twelve-year-old self. It would have been worse if not for Clint, one of the older kids in the youth group who had taken him under his wing.
“If he’s going on any of our outings, Isaiah will get to know some of the other kids, and I’m sure he’ll make some friends.”
Amanda smiled wanly, “I hope so. The one friend he’s managed to make since we moved here, he just had a falling out with. I worry he’s afraid of getting hurt again.”
Adam gazed at the young mother. He sensed she was getting to the reason she’d stopped him.
She continued, “I know you’ll be here for all the kids while you’re their youth pastor this summer, but if you can find the time, can you mentor Isaiah? He’s feeling lost right now, and junior high can be brutal on sensitive kids, like my son.”
Things started to click in Adam’s mind now. Single mom, young son. No father-figure. The kid had no male role model. Without realizing it, his head was nodding as Amanda finished. “I’ll do my best. But please remember, I’m only at Wakefield through the end of the summer.”
A warm smile spread across Amanda’s face, “I know. And I wouldn’t ask, except I’m worried about my son, and I just felt like God was prompting me to talk to you.”
With that, she turned and hurried up the stairs leading from the fellowship hall to the foyer of the church, leaving Adam alone with his thoughts. Short, brown-headed Isaiah reminded him of himself at that age. That realization triggered a memory, and Adam couldn’t help but wonder what had he just agreed to?
As he headed up the stairs, other memories he had locked away flooded back into his mind. He was the scrawny seventh-grader, new to junior high. His youth pastor at the time had put together a mentoring program, partnering older students with younger, as a way of fusing the youth group together. Clint had been his mentor. Sixteen years old and popular with the other kids in the youth group. Several months passed as Adam and Clint got to know each other.
Clint was everything he wanted to be. Tall, handsome, and popular. Adam had adored the older boy. When his mom had to travel out of town on business, she mentioned it to Clint, who volunteered to watch Adam. The two of them had been watching one of the Avenger movies, Adam leaning against the older boy’s arm, when Clint shifted and draped his arm around his shoulder. Twelve-year-old Adam felt a thrill run throughout his body as he lay his head on Clint’s chest.
When the movie had ended, he looked up into his sixteen-year-old hero’s eyes and felt something between him and the older boy. When Clint leaned down and kissed him, the part of him that should have been repelled remained silent as he returned the kiss.
Later that same evening, as they were getting ready for bed, Clint asked Adam if he wanted to join him in the shower. Before he could find the words to say yes, his penis strained at his pants. Sure, he’d seen other boys naked in the showers in gym class, but standing right next to Clint was an entirely different experience. The older boy was huge, at least to Adam’s eyes. He had to have been almost six inches. Contrasted to his own meager four inches, it was big.
That had been the first time anyone else had ever touched Adam down there. Clint’s fingers had been gentle yet eager as the older teen stroked him to the first orgasm he’d ever experienced. Adam still remembered the shocked look on his own face when a thin stream of clear liquid shot out onto Clint’s fingers.
Adam stopped on the stairs. The guilt he felt as a boy seemed as real at twenty as it had been at twelve. No doubt, if that had been the only time between him and Clint, he would have simply chalked it up as experimentation he later came to realize was a hallmark of male adolescence. But the next time Clint saw him, the older boy confessed that even though he knew it was wrong for them to do things together, he didn’t care. He really liked Adam, and doing stuff with the boy made him feel better, even if it was wrong. Adam had felt the same thing. He didn’t know how to stop himself from feeling the way he felt when Clint was around.
Their relationship lasted until Clint graduated from high school a few weeks after Adam turned fourteen. After that, he never saw the older teen again. Clint had been his anchor, the one who explained why their relationship was right when the world around them told them it wasn’t. And with the older boy gone, even though the attractions to other boys, either at school or at church, continued, Adam knew he had to ignore it. After all, it was a sin.
And for a few years, he had. Despite the typical travails of adolescence, Adam had slid into the youth group clique Clint had left behind, and things went well enough. Then, his senior year, his youth pastor asked him to mentor one of the new seventh graders. Jacob Easterbrook had been his polar opposite when it came to appearances. He had the blondest shock of hair Adam had ever seen as well as the bluest eyes.
And within a couple of months, Adam realized what he had shut away after Clint left was still there, just below the surface. He was sexually drawn to young Jacob, even more so than he’d been to Clint. Adam spent most of his senior year fighting the urge to make a move on the boy. And he nearly succeeded. The youth group had taken a mission trip at spring break down to the Rio Grande Valley to help build a church and conduct vacation Bible school in the impoverished Colonias along the north side of the Mexican border. On their final night, Adam and Jacob were walking around the hotel where they stayed for the week. They stopped between two church vans, and as they shared a Mountain Dew, Adam, in a moment of weakness, leaned over and kissed Jacob.
Maybe things would have been different if the boy had pulled back or gone and told on him. Instead, Jacob leaned into the kiss, his lips eager for Adam’s. The remaining couple of months of school, Adam was reckless and foolish, getting the younger boy alone whenever they could. Which wasn’t very often or for very much time. It never progressed past mutual masturbation, save for one time when Adam gave Jacob a blowjob a couple of weeks before heading off to college.
Adam had spent the past two years desperately trying to forget about Jacob. It wasn’t who he wanted to be, of that, he was sure. As best as he was able, he put all that behind him and even found a nice girlfriend at the start of his sophomore year. In fact, he would call Becky and talk to her. If he could hear her voice, maybe he could forget all about the feelings unlocked inside him.
The room wasn’t hot and stuffy. Isaiah knew that. But it didn’t change how it felt. All the other kids were talking and laughing as the youth group meeting broke up. And he felt more alone in that room than he was anywhere else. The other kids were total strangers. The few times they said something to him, Isaiah hadn’t known how to respond, and monosyllabic words weren’t useful for continuing the conversation.
His mom had told him to get one of the permission slips, so he grabbed one on his way out the door. He stopped, his hand resting on the doorframe, and looked back. The new youth pastor was collecting his things. He looked how Isaiah imagined a youth pastor was supposed to look. His light brown hair was neatly parted down one side and the tie around his neck was loose, not really hiding the unbuttoned top button on his yellow dress shirt. Even his pressed blue jeans looked right. It completed the image in Isaiah’s mind of I may be an adult, but I’m still approachable.
More than that, Adam had a friendly smile. Even when he’d put the boy on the spot at the beginning of the meeting, his smile made Isaiah feel good about introducing himself, despite how lonely he felt.
“Hey munchkin, how was your first day in the youth group?”
He turned. His mom smiled at him as she tousled his unkempt hair. “Okay, I guess. Here’s the permission slip you wanted. Do I really have to go?”
His mom looked at him like he had three eyes, “What? Who are you, and what have you done to my son? No child of mine could possibly refuse a trip to Six Flags.”
Isaiah smirked at his mom’s exaggerated manner, “None of the other kids like me.”
His mom’s face grew serious, “I don’t think that’s true. You just need to give them time to get to know you.”
Isaiah’s mouth twisted into a frown, “Like Josh?
He blinked his eyes rapidly as he felt pressure behind them. Thinking about the one person he’d befriended since moving to this crappy city made his heart ache. Especially when he recalled that moment a few weeks earlier when Josh had told him he didn’t want to be Isaiah’s friend anymore.
His mom frowned at the name, “He doesn’t know what a good friend you’d have been to him. That’s his loss.”
His mom’s eyes cut away as the youth pastor came out of the classroom, “Things will be better here. I promise. Let me talk with your youth pastor.”
Isaiah followed his mom across the cracked linoleum flooring. Not for the first time, he thought Adam had kind eyes. In hindsight, he wished Josh would have had eyes like that. Maybe then, he wouldn’t have pushed him away when he tried to get close to the other boy.
His mom said, “Mr. Weston –“
It wasn’t just Adam’s eyes, Isaiah realized. His smile radiated warmth, too. “Please, just call me Adam. Mrs. –“
“Miss Clayton. Please, just call me Amanda. I’m Isaiah’s mom.”
Even the way the young man spoke set the boy’s mind at ease. If he had to go to Six Flags with the other kids in the youth group, maybe Adam would make some of the other kids be nice to him and let him hang out with them.
His mom turned, “Isaiah, honey, why don’t you go on upstairs and grab us a seat. I’ll be along directly.”
He wanted to hear what his mom had to say to the youth pastor. But the look she gave him brooked no argument. Still, it felt right to wave and smile at Adam as he headed up to the sanctuary.
The sanctuary was larger than the congregation’s needs. There were long, wooden pews for at least three hundred people. But it was maybe half-full. Isaiah had no problem finding a place toward the back where his mom could easily see him.
The stain-glass windows defused the natural sunlight pouring in. There were at least a dozen scenes from the Bible composed of cut, colored glass. One that Isiah found himself studying was that of a young teenager. In one hand, he held a stone, in the other a sling. The youth made of cut-glass stared off to the side. Isaiah imagined the boy eying Goliath as he weighed the stone in his hand. Seeing the resolute youth, Isaiah thought David never had to deal with rejection from his best friend.
Still, Isaiah knew it was his own fault. Had he not tried kissing Josh, then the boy would still be his friend. Josh had been the only kid in school to befriend him. And they really had hit it off. They’d had a sleepover at Josh’s and then a couple of more at Isaiah’s. And over that time, Isaiah realized he really liked Josh, maybe more than just as a friend.
Isaiah knew it was wrong to feel such a strong attraction to Josh, but it wasn’t something he could ignore or turn off. And even though he’d tried a half-dozen different ways to let the other boy know how he felt, nothing Isaiah did or said managed to get through to Josh. Until that fateful kiss a few weeks before.
The look of horror in Josh’s eyes when Isaiah ended the kiss would be with him forever. The angry tone of Josh’s voice still rattled him, even now. “Y-you k-kissed me! What the hell, Isaiah?”
Isaiah was shocked at the other boy’s reaction, “I t-thought you liked me, too. I, I…”
Josh glared at him, “Not like that. I thought you wanted to be my friend, not to do gay stuff. That stuff is wrong, and you know it.”
Tears had spilled down Isaiah’s cheeks as the other boy climbed into the top bunk. “I’m sorry, Josh. I really do like you and thought…”
Isaiah didn’t know what to say. Josh turned away from him, facing the wall, “That’s gross, man. I’m not gay. I thought you knew that about me.”
Neither boy got much sleep that night, and the next morning, Josh had told Isaiah’s mom he wanted to go home. As the other boy climbed out of the car at his house, Isaiah cried out, “I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
Josh, eyes blinking back tears, shot back, “But you freaking kissed me! You shouldn’t have done that.”
Isaiah’s eyes moved on from the glass image of David. He turned his attention to the organist. She was a blue-haired lady. The boy wasn’t particularly good at guessing old people’s ages, but if he had to guess, she looked as old as dirt. He didn’t recognize the hymn either.
Tuning out the organ, Isaiah remembered the shocked look on his mom’s face as Josh walked away. They stayed parked in front of the other boy’s house until he disappeared inside. Then, as she pulled away, his mom said, “What just happened, Isaiah?”
He had muttered, “Nothing.”
“What just happened wasn’t nothing. Try again.”
The tears running down his cheeks were hot, nearly scalding on his delicate skin. “I thought Josh really liked me back.”
“So, you tried to kiss him.” It was more a statement of fact than a question.
The drive home was painful in its silence. When his mom pulled the car under the carport, she turned it off. Instead of getting out of the car, she said, “How long have you felt this way?”
“Well, about another boy,” she clarified.
“Josh was the first boy I ever tried to kiss. First anything,” Isaiah said, looking at his mom out of the corner of his eye. “Do you think I’m gay?”
His mom drew in a sharp breath and blew it noisily out her mouth, “I can’t answer that. I’m not you. Why? Do you?”
Isaiah shrugged. Some of the kids in the sixth grade has started dating each other. The idea of kissing a girl just didn’t sound much fun. Not like he’d felt when he thought about kissing Josh. He had convinced himself his best, but only friend had wanted the kiss just as much. Boy, had he been wrong. “I don’t know. Maybe. I had wanted Josh to be my first kiss.”
His mom slid the keys into her purse and opened the door, “Maybe even a boyfriend?”
Feeling shame, Isaiah nodded as fresh tears slid down his face. His mom got out of the car and came around to his side, and opened the door. When he climbed out, his mom wrapped her arms around him, “I love you, kiddo.”
“Y-you’re not mad, are you?”
Another long sigh, “Not at you, Isaiah. It’s my fault. I thought I could be your mom and dad. But I was wrong. You’ve needed a good father figure, and I messed that up.”
Isiah shook away the memory as the preacher came to the pulpit and prayed. Isaiah looked down at his shoes, wondering what his mom was talking about with Adam. He really hoped she wasn’t telling him about him and Josh. He couldn’t live with the idea that the youth pastor would know about his dirty secret.
As the preacher’s voice echoed across the half-full sanctuary, Isaiah lowered his head, praying the feelings he’d felt with Josh would go away. When he finished, he felt a hand on his back. When he opened his eyes, his mom smiled at him.
Copyright 2019 – Caliboy1991
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