Chuck went quickly back into the house, locked the front door, and hurried to the kitchen, where the rest of the family was finishing breakfast.
“Luke’s here with a shotgun. All of you, go upstairs now and stay away from the windows. Angela, call the police.”
The boys and Angela hurried to do as Chuck said. He locked the back door before he and Albee went upstairs to a window in the front.
When Luke began pounding on the front door, Albee raced back down the stairs, barking. Although Aidan called him, the dog stood at the front door and continued to growl and bark.
Chuck opened the upstairs window, ordering, “Go home, Luke.”
“Not without my boy!”
“You’re not getting your boy. Go home.”
“Damn you, Woods, if I don’t get him now there’ll be real trouble!”
“True, but perhaps not the trouble you’re thinking of.”
Luke pointed his gun at the front door as Chuck moved away from the window. Without Luke knowing it, a police car pulled into the driveway behind his car, blocking his way out. Just as officers Webster and Maxwell got out of the cruiser, Luke stood back a step or two and fired both barrels of his shotgun at the front door.
Albee yelped, raced back up the stairs and leaped into Aidan’s arms.
“Drop the gun and turn around with your hands up,” Officer Webster ordered. Luke turned and saw the two officers, several yards apart, moving toward him with pistols drawn. Realizing he was trapped, he put down the gun and raised his hands as he’d been ordered.
“Now move away from the gun and get down on your knees with your hands behind your head.”
When Luke obeyed, Officer Webster holstered his pistol and walked cautiously toward the kneeling man. He handcuffed Luke, told him to get up, and escorted him to Officer Maxwell, who put Luke into the rear seat of the cruiser. Officer Webster went to the Carmichaels’ car and tapped on the window. Mrs. Carmichael hesitated before opening the window. The officer told her to follow the cruiser to the station.
After the shotgun blasts, Chuck had moved cautiously back to the window and watched as the officers disarmed Luke, put him in the cruiser, and drove away, the other car following.
He went to the boys’ bedroom, where Colin, Aidan and Angela were sitting on Colin’s bed. Albee was still in Aidan’s lap, petrified. Angela and Aidan were on either side of Colin with their arms around his shoulders. He was visibly quivering.
Chuck went over to him, knelt down, and said, “It’s all over now, Colin. Your father’s been arrested and probably your mother and brother will be too. You’re safe now.”
“D…d…do you th…think he would have shot me?”
“Thankfully, we’ll never know, but I suspect he was using the gun to force me into releasing you.”
Colin only nodded. Albee moved over to his lap, put his paws on the boy’s shoulders, and began licking the tears from his face. Colin giggled through his tears but continued shaking for several more minutes before the tremors slowly stopped.
The family, including Colin, whom they now considered a part of the family, went down and looked at the front door. Albee stayed far away from the door, where it sagged on its hinges and a large hole gaped where it had been blasted by the shotgun. Colin turned away, beginning to shake again. Aidan took him into the living room as Chuck said, “Well, it’s a mess but it’s nothing we can’t repair. If that’s the worst thing he could do, we got off lightly.”
Thursday afternoon, as the boys sat in their bedroom talking, Aidan asked, “What are you thinking about school?”
“I’m still not sure. I really don’t want to return to The Christian Academy, but I’m not yet comfortable at your school.”
Nodding, Aidan asked, “Would you be willing now to talk with Mr. Hartwell? I believe that should be the next step.”
At first, Colin refused, but, as Aidan kept encouraging him, asking him what he had to lose, he finally agreed to go.
Aidan went to the phone and called the minister, who agreed to meet with them after school on Friday.
Arriving at school Friday morning, the boys went into the office. Aidan asked the secretary if Colin could have an extension of his visiting permission until Monday, saying there was someone whom Colin needed to speak with before he decided.
After they received permission, they walked to Aidan’s locker, retrieved what they needed, and went to their first class.
Nothing unusual happened that day until they went to gym class, where Colin said he’d wait outside the locker room. He waited until he thought everyone had gone out on the field before going there himself and again watching the class.
At the end of the class, Aidan returned to the locker room to shower and change clothes; Colin waited in the hall.
In a few minutes, Aidan emerged and told Colin they both needed to talk to the coach. Reluctantly, Colin followed Aidan back into the locker room and then into the coach’s office.
Sitting in one of the chairs across from the coach, Aidan said, “Sir, Colin’s thinking seriously about coming to this school, but he has a strong religious objection to being naked in the locker room and showers. Is there anything you can suggest?”
The coach thought for a moment before looking at Colin and saying, “Colin, I’ve never encountered this problem before. I’ve had plenty of boys who were body shy at the beginning of their first year here. I know it was difficult for some of them at first and they often wore their boxers in the showers, but I’ve never had a boy who had a religious objection. Can you tell me why your religion would object?”
Colin was embarrassed and blushing, but he said, “My religion objects to nudity. The church believes it leads to lust, which is forbidden in the Bible.”
The coach thought a moment. Then turning toward Aidan, he asked, “This is probably an embarrassing question, but have you ever felt lust in the locker room or the showers?”
Laughing a little, Aidan replied, “Well, to be honest, last year I felt a little excitement at first. Maybe that was lust; I don’t really know. I’d chub up some, especially in the showers, but by the end of the first week, I’d gotten past it and now it never occurs to me. Showering is just what we do.”
The coach asked Colin, “Do you think you could live with it for a week or two and see what happens?”
Colin shook his head. “I don’t think so.”
The coach thought a little more before saying, “Okay, since it’s a religious objection, I’ll honor it for now. Would it work if you changed in a restroom before and after gym but skipped the shower for now?”
Colin was silent for a bit, mulling the idea over before finally saying, “I’d be willing to try it.”
They shook hands in agreement and the boys went to their final class of the day.
After school, as they walked out to Angela’s car, Colin asked, “Do we need to talk with the minister now? After all, we seem to have solved the gym problem.”
“Well, I’m not sure that’s a permanent solution,” Aidan replied, “and besides, there’s something else I want to ask about, too.”
Arriving at the church, the boys went to Mr. Hartwell’s office. He welcomed them and motioned for them to have a seat, asking, “What can I do for you?”
“Do you want to ask him or do you want me to ask?” Aidan said.
“You ask,” Colin replied.
Aidan nodded and, turning to the minister, said, “Colin’s thinking about going to the public junior high, but he has some religious reservations about the nudity in the locker room and the showers. He and the coach worked out a temporary solution, but we’re not sure how it’ll work and I’m certain Colin will get questions from a lot of the boys if he doesn’t dress and shower with the rest of us.”
Mr. Hartwell nodded before looking at Colin and saying, “I think I know enough about your church to believe that your reservation about nudity has to do with lust. Is that right?”
Mr. Hartwell rose, went to his desk, and returned with a pamphlet. Handing it to Colin, he said, “Most churches today have no problem with nudity in the situation you’re in. Nor do we have any objection to nudity in art as long as it’s not being used for lust. We do still have issues with nudity when it leads to truly lusting after a married person by someone other than the spouse, but that’s about it. I’d like you to read the pamphlet and look at the biblical passages it cites. When you’ve done that, let’s talk again.”
“Is that okay with you?” Aidan asked. When Colin agreed, Aidan told the minister, “There’s something else I’d like to ask you about.” Mr. Hartwell nodded and Aidan continued, “This is really embarrassing to ask, but I doubt if I’m the only boy in the youth group who wants to know.” He hesitated for a minute and then blurted out, “What does the Bible say about masturbation?”
Before the minister could answer, Colin asked, “What’s that?”
“Masturbation is a word that means playing with your penis until you reach orgasm, until you ejaculate,” Mr. Hartwell answered.
Colin was clearly horrified. “I know my church is really against it,” he said.
Challenging him, Aidan asked, “But you do it don’t you?”
Totally embarrassed now, Colin only nodded, before saying, “It’s a sin, and I hate myself after I do it, but sometimes, I just can’t stop. I ask God to forgive me but I’ve no way of knowing whether or not He does.” By then, there were tears in his eyes.
Giving Colin a few moments to collect himself, Mr. Hartwell said to Aidan, “You’re probably right. There could be a lot of boys who would want to know this, but I’m not sure how to handle it in a coed group.”
“Maybe we could have a meeting with just the boys?” Aidan suggested. It was more of a question than a statement.
“Let me think about it some,” Mr. Hartwell said. Then, speaking to them both, he said, “The Bible is, at best, ambiguous about this, as it is with many passages. One passage in 1 Corinthians, says, ‘No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you to be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.’”
“I never heard that passage before,” Colin mused.
“I’ll write down the reference so you can look it up in your Bible. I will remind you that all the Bibles in English are translations from ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and the different translations do need interpretation. Taking what they say literally is a dangerous course.”
“Are there other passages we could look up?” Aidan asked.
Mr. Hartwell gave them some other references and suggested they consult them before returning.
After a bit more discussion, the boys thanked him and departed.
Colin was furious with Aidan and they rode home silently in Angela’s car.
When they were in their room, Colin exploded, angrily. “Why did you bring up that master-whatever? Why did you make me admit I did it?”
“Sit down for a minute and let’s talk.”
Colin was in no mood to sit down and talk reasonably, but finally he sat on his bed while Aidan sat across from him. Colin stared at Aidan until at last he dropped his eyes and calmed down.
Then Aidan spoke. “I think I’ve said this before, but I asked because I’m quite sure that all boys our age do it. I expect even the ones that go to The Academy do it. The difference might be that the boys from The Academy may feel guilty, like they’d done something bad, while other boys, like me, perhaps felt that way at first but then got past it. Have you ever heard boys at school talking about jerking off?”
Aghast, Colin said, “Yes, is that what it means?”
Aidan nodded. “Colin, we all do it. We don’t think it’s sinful. If it is, then every teenage boy in the world is a sinner. Do you really think that’s possible?”
When Colin didn’t answer, Aidan continued, “If God made us, Colin, why would he call a sin something that comes so naturally to us and is part of puberty?”
Colin replied, “Do you know the story of Adam and Eve?” Aidan nodded. “So you know that when God found Adam and Eve hiding in the Garden of Eden, He asked why they were hiding and Adam said they’d eaten of the tree of knowledge and they knew they’d sinned. We’re all sinners, Aidan. From that time on we’re born as sinners. That’s why we have to be baptized. To cleanse us of our sins. After that we’re supposed to avoid all sin, but if we do sin, we can confess to our church and be forgiven.”
Aidan thought and then asked, a little brutally, “So you’ve jerked off. Have you confessed that to your church?”
Colin broke down and tearfully stammered, “N…n…no.”
“Because I’d be too embarrassed and Father would kill me.”
“Even if you confessed?”
“Yes, because he’d be embarrassed too and feel that we’d have to leave the church.”
“And that’s why your brother beat you? Because he found you jerking off?”
Colin nodded. “I told you that before.”
“Well, sort of. I’m sorry I brought it up again, but we need to come to an agreement about this.”
“Because we’ll both be jerking off in this room at night and there’s no way we could hide that.”
“Do you think I need to find another place to live?”
Aidan crossed over, sat beside him, and took his hand. “No. I’d be horrified if you did that. You’d probably live with foster parents or in a children’s home, and I think the same question would come up for you again. I think we need to sort this out. If we can’t find a solution, I’ll speak to my parents and we can try your being in the sewing room.”
“But then they’d know about me.”
“They already do. When you told us about the beating in the first place, you as well as told them, just like you told me. It’s not a secret in this house, Colin, or most anywhere else. Boys jerk off. And while it isn’t talked about much, parents not only know, they assume their sons do it.”
Colin thought before saying, “Maybe I could use the bathroom.”
“If you want to try that it’s fine, but I’ll do it here in my bed like I always have. I guess I should also tell you that I usually sleep naked. I haven’t since you came because I didn’t know how much I should tell you all at once. But it’s been awkward for me, so I’m planning to go back to my old habits.”
As they prepared for bed that night, Aidan went into the bathroom, brushed his teeth, washed a few strategic places, and returned to the bedroom, where he removed his boxers and climbed into bed. The lights were off, so he didn’t know how much Colin had seen, but he didn’t really care. As he’d said, he believed that Colin just had to get used to it if they were going to sleep in the same room.
While Colin was in the bathroom, Aidan began to stroke his cock. Just as Colin re-entered the room, Aidan exploded and cum shot onto his belly as he moaned. Colin stopped dead. Without looking toward Aidan he quietly walked to his bed, knelt as usual, and prayed. Then he climbed into bed and turned, facing the wall.
In a few moments, Aidan said softly, “Good night, Colin.”
There was no answer.
Over the weekend, Colin announced that he had decided to go to the public junior high, so on Monday, Chuck drove the boys to school and officially registered Colin. With that finished, Colin’s move to the Woods’ home was complete except for the question of custody. Chuck knew he would have to do something about that.
The two boys continued to be in classes together. At lunch they ate with other boys. When it was time for gym, Colin went into a restroom near the gym to change before going out on the field. At the end of the class, he returned to the restroom and washed himself as much as he could before applying deodorant and getting dressed.
It took a few days for the boys in gym to figure out what Colin was doing. Then the questions began. “Why aren’t you dressing in the locker room with the rest of us?” “Why aren’t you taking showers when we were told they were required?”
Colin patiently explained about his church’s beliefs regarding nudity. Most of the boys accepted what he said, but a few said he was weird. When Colin heard that, it saddened him, and Aidan had to talk him out of it. By the end of the week, boys stopped making those comments, but a few continued to treat him as though he were an oddity, as though there was something wrong with him.
Over dinner one night, Angela said to Colin, “I’m glad you’re enjoying school.” She paused for a moment before continuing. “Colin, Dad and I have agreed that we really want you to call us Mom and Dad the way Aidan does. We think of you as part of our family, and we’re hoping you can take that step.” From then on, Colin called them Mom and Dad. He had never called his own parents that. They were always Father and Mother, and he liked the way the change felt. It made him feel closer than ever to his new family.
On Sunday evening, Aidan and Colin went to the youth group together. There, Colin got questions about where he had gone to school and about his church, which he knew the group had visited. The questions were not hostile; they just expressed curiosity and interest.
He answered as best he could until he was asked, “Your pastor said that if anyone in the church sinned, they could ask the congregation for forgiveness.” Colin nodded. “Has that ever happened in your church?”
“Not as long as I’ve been going there,” he answered reluctantly.
“Does that mean that nobody in your church has sinned?”
“So what does it mean?”
Thinking for a moment, Colin replied. “I guess it means that nobody in the church has
had the courage to confess.”
“Does that mean you too?”
Colin nodded and he could feel tears in his eyes.
“Okay,” said Mr. Hartwell, interrupting the conversation. “Let’s move on. I think we can all agree that we’ve all done things we perhaps shouldn’t have done. Confession is good for the soul, but it’s almost never done in this church and if it is, it’s done privately with a minister, not publicly. But let’s talk about sin for a moment. Where does the Bible talk about sin?”
“There’s a lot about it in the Old Testament,” one of the girls responded. “It names some sins and hints at others.”
“Okay, what does the New Testament say?”
“Not much,” a boy replied. “I know it came up when the scribes and Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus.”
“True,” the minister continued. “What does Jesus himself say about sin? Did he believe that people sinned?”
“Yes,” said Colin quietly, “but he said that sins could be forgiven if people repented and confessed their sins.”
“Does he say they have to confess their sins to a group or congregation?”
“I guess not,” said Colin. “I think he believed that sinners had to confess to God.”
Turning to the whole group, Mr. Hartwell asked, “Is there anybody here who hasn’t sinned?”
There was complete silence as the students looked at one another, embarrassed.
Continuing, the minister said, “Of course there’s not. We’re all human. I won’t ask if you’ve confessed your sins because that’s between you and God. If you feel you haven’t spoken to God about it, you should.”
Changing his tone, he said, “Okay, let’s lighten up before we go. I’m going to introduce you to a game called, “God, Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John.”
As he explained, the game was played with everyone sitting in a circle. One person was appointed God and then people were appointed to be the Gospel writers, who sat in order next to God. Anyone who was not given one of those places was assigned a number in order down to the last participant. Everyone clapped and then snapped their fingers in rhythm. During the clapping and snapping, the first person, the one with the highest number, would say their number or name in rhythm and then call on someone else. That person then had to say their number or name and so on. If the person who was called on failed to name themselves and someone else in rhythm, they had to change places with the person who had named them. The object was for each person to try to move up in the group until they became God. Of course, God was called on a lot, so whoever was God had to be skillful with the naming and the rhythm.
At first, Colin was a little shocked, thinking the game was blasphemous. He realized that he might be challenged if he said that and he’d already had enough challenging for the evening, so he went along with the game, but never called on God.
The game occasioned a lot of laughter, and by its end, Colin was giggling as well.
Later, Colin lay awake in bed for a long time, pondering what had been said earlier about sin. Was the minister right? he wondered. Are Jesus and God truly forgiving? And is jerking off really a sin? It certainly doesn’t seem to be in the same category as murder. His questions went unanswered before finally he fell into a fitful sleep.
One night, after they were both in bed, Aidan began his nightly exercising. He didn’t know whether Colin had done it in the bedroom before. Aidan often fantasized about one of the boys at school as he pumped, picturing the boy naked and erect. He didn’t know whether or not that made him gay, but he found the fantasies exciting and it usually took him no time at all to become hard.
Meanwhile, Colin had begun sleeping naked. First, he prayed kneeling at his bed and then, before climbing in, he slipped his boxers off. Hmm, Aidan thought, stealing a surreptitious look. Progress.
As the boys sat in their bedroom talking after school one afternoon, Colin said, “I’ve been thinking.”
“About the locker room and the showers.”
“Ah. So what are you thinking?”
Colin was silent for a moment before saying, “Can I tell you something embarrassing?”
He blushed before continuing, “I’ve been seeing you naked every night when you get into bed.”
“You’ve been watching?” Aidan asked. Colin could almost hear the smile in his voice.
“Is that wrong?”
“No. Why would it be wrong? The boys in gym see me naked every day.”
“Well, that’s what I’ve been thinking. When I see you, I don’t get hard or anything, so I figure it might be the same in the locker room and the showers. I’m thinking of dressing in the locker room now. Do you think the others will give me a hard time?”
“No. One or two might comment at first, but it would only be curiosity and it wouldn’t happen for very long once you answered and didn’t make anything of it. Most of the boys at our school are nice. You’ve seen that. They wouldn’t be mean and they’d quickly accept you.”
The next day in the locker room, Colin disrobed facing his locker and then dressed along with everyone else. When he went into the showers at the end of the class, he held his hands in front of his crotch. Then he realized that nobody was looking at him, so he moved his hands and enjoyed the shower.
As the boys left the locker room, Aidan looked at Colin, grinned, and said, “Congratulations. Was it hard?”
Colin laughed! He actually laughed aloud for the first time since they’d been together. Then he responded, “No, it wasn’t hard and it wasn’t difficult, either.”
Aidan laughed, put his arm around Colin’s shoulder, and they walked to history class together.
Meanwhile, Colin came to the conclusion that his former church put way too much emphasis on rules and sin. The church he’d been attending with the Woods said almost nothing about sin. It talked a lot about forgiving and loving other people. He read the gospels again to see what Jesus had said and decided that the youth minister was right. While Jesus did believe in sin, he also forgave sinners if they repented.
Occasionally, he still had a knee-jerk reaction to things he had considered sins, but in time he got past that.
As the days and weeks moved on, Officer Webster kept the Woods informed about what was happening with Colin’s family. They had no lawyer so the court appointed one, but they decided not to fight the charges. There was too much against them. They knew that if Colin testified, denying what he said when the doctor and the police would still give evidence was futile. Besides, there were the scars on Colin’s back. They decided they just wanted it all to end.
All four of the Woods family went to the final day in court. After the judge sentenced the three family members, Mr. Woods’ lawyer rose and said to the judge, “Your Honor, there still remains the question of custody for Colin.”
Aidan and Colin held their breaths.
The lawyer continued, “Mr. and Mrs. Woods would like to obtain custody of Colin.”
The judge turned to Luke and asked, “Would you agree to that?”
Luke blurted out, “I don’t give a damn what happens to him. He’s already a sinner and condemned to hell. We can’t do anything with him. Do what you want.”
At first Colin was stunned by the answer, finally realizing that his father had never, ever loved him, and he had never loved his father. But then he smiled, thinking, At last I’m free of them!
The judge turned to Colin and, when the boy had stood, asked, “Colin, is that what you want?”
“Yes, Your Majes…um, yes, Your Honor.”
“Are you happy there and do you feel safe there?”
“Then I will grant temporary custody to Mr. and Mrs. Woods. The welfare people will need to agree to that and will probably have to visit the family and sign off on it, but I know that right now they have more children than they can handle and I think, unless the find some reason not to, they’ll agree to the arrangement.”
Aidan and Colin high fived. At last they could breathe easily.
To celebrate, they went to a Chinese restaurant in the city.
As they rode, Colin, sitting next to Aidan in the back seat, said, “You know, it’s odd. My family claimed to be very religious, but I never felt either their love or God’s. Now I’m with people who don’t make a big deal of their religion, but I feel your love and I feel God’s as well.”
Aidan reached over and, holding Colin tightly in a bear hug, whispered in his ear, “It’s true. We do all love you.”
Of course, Colin had never been to a Chinese restaurant before and didn’t know what to order.
“Usually,” Chuck said, “what we do is order as a family, each one ordering something different, but then we all share the food when it comes. There’s plenty to share and still take leftovers home.”
And that’s what they did. It was a lively, happy celebration. Colin found that he liked everything on the table. They ate until they could eat no more, and then they were served fortune cookies while the rest of the food was being packed up. Angela warned Colin there would be a little slip of paper inside his cookie so he should probably break it in half and take out the fortune before eating the cookie.
Aidan added, “It’s a tradition in our family to read our fortunes aloud.”
Breaking her cookie, Angela read, “Happiness is your future.”
Chuck read, “You will become wealthy.” Even he laughed at that.
Aidan read, “You are a truly loyal friend.” They all agreed.
Finally, Colin read, “A big change is coming in your life.” He smiled and said, “It’s already come.”
When they rose to leave, they all hugged each other. As Aidan hugged Colin, he whispered in his ear, “Welcome to the family, brother.”
“WHERE LOVE IS, THERE GOD IS ALSO”
“Where Love Is, There God Is Also” is a translation of the title of a short story by Leo Tolstoy. It is closely akin to a hymn of the Catholic Church known as Ubi Caritas. In Latin the hymn begins:
Ubi caritas et amor
Deus ibi est.
An English translation is:
Where charity and love are,
God is there.
As always, I am grateful to my editors, each of whom finds different things in my stories to comment upon. Together, they make the final story much more accurate and successful.