Two young men wandered along a dark and quiet wooded trail. The one in a hunter’s jacket was using a small flashlight to show the way, because the moonlight barely filtered through to ground level. The other, wearing a designer sweater, was walking at his side.
As they entered a small clearing, the second man stopped. “Scott, wait a minute.”
“What is it? Did you lose something?”
Rory Johnston grinned. “In a way, yes.” He glanced around the clearing and, seeing nothing in the darkness, pulled his friend into an embrace. “But I’ve found him again.”
Scott Handler laughed lightly. “Yeah, it’s good having you home again.” He reached behind Rory’s head and pulled him into a passionate kiss.
When they stopped for air, Rory pulled back. “That’s the problem. This isn’t home anymore. Massachusetts is home now. After four years away at college, I can’t call Greenwood home. I no longer fit in. And I don’t want it to be your home anymore, either.”
Scott frowned. “What are you trying to say?”
“I start work as a web developer in a couple of weeks. I’ll be earning enough to handle a small apartment. It’s going to be tight, but I want you with me. Come home with me, Scott. We’ve been apart for too long.”
Scott turned away and took a step toward the edge of the clearing, then looked back. “Rory, I can’t. I have to stay. This is my place.”
“This hole? What’s keeping you here? I’ve been waiting a long time for this. I could’ve finished my degree earlier, but I didn’t want to take summer classes. I always had to come back, just to see you. There’s nothing in Greenwood for me, other than you. Now that I can afford it, I want you to come with me, to make a life together. Isn’t that what we said we’d do?”
Scott flinched. “Yeah, we did, but now I can’t. I’m sorry, but I can’t leave.”
“Why?” Rory’s plaintive cry prompted Scott to move back to him.
“I wish I could, but Gramps needs me. Without me, the store would fold. He can’t manage it anymore. He’s my only family, at least the only family I see. Mom keeps saying she’ll be back, but I’ve seen her maybe a dozen times in the last six years. She’s going to stay in the Navy — she keeps saying she’ll quit at the end of her enlistment, but she always re-ups. It’s her life.”
“She gets to live her life, but you don’t? You know you can’t be out, here in this redneck town. We can be a couple in Cambridge, and we won’t have to sneak around.” Rory dropped to one knee. “I love you, Scott. It’s been painful, away from each other, but my heart is yours. It’s time — come with me.”
Scott shook his head. “Gramps would die without me. He needs me. Maybe later, but not now.”
Rory rose slowly. His shoulders were slumped. “That means maybe never. I didn’t want to think about it, but I was worried this might happen. It’s over, isn’t it?”
“No! I still love you, Rory. I just can’t go with you. I have responsibilities here that I can’t walk away from.”
Rory shook his head. “Don’t screw with me, Scott. If you can’t go now, you’ll never be able to go. It would be nice if I could wait forever, but I can’t. Those four years almost killed me. I can’t go through another year, thinking that this time we’ll be together.” He turned and headed back the way they had come. “Let’s go back to the road.”
“Rory, wait!” Scott almost leaped across the space between them. When he tried to put an arm across Rory’s shoulders, it was shrugged off. “Can you give me some time? I want to go with you, I really do, but I can’t leave Gramps to manage the store by himself.”
Rory stopped and stared at Scott. “I’m in town for two weeks. If I don’t know that you’re coming with me by the end of that time, I’ll have to assume it’s not going to work out.” Rory turned and stared into the darkness. “That you’ll never be my husband.”
“Will you help me find a way? If we can find a way to look after Gramps, I’ll be there, but I can’t leave him alone.”
Rory nodded. “Okay, that’s fair.” He smiled. “We’ll work together to see if we can come up with a solution. How did he react when you told him?”
Scott’s silence was revealing.
“You haven’t told him! We agreed that you would tell him this year that you’re gay, since I would be graduating and getting a full time job.”
“I couldn’t do it! I tried, I honestly did. But there was never the time or place to do it.”
Rory groaned and then smiled. “Okay. I wish you had done it, but I understand. I had enough trouble telling my parents, so I can’t really blame you.”
Scott grabbed Rory and pulled him in for quick kiss. “Thank you. I love you, Rory. I really do. We’ll find a way to be together. I know we will.”
Their next kiss lasted a long time.
“Damn you, Scott. Do you know what you’re doing to me?”
Scott grinned. “I could feel it. I think I should show you some country hospitality and take care of that for you.”
“Here?” Rory looked around. “How about some place more comfortable?”
“With some luck, Gramps will be in bed, or maybe down at the bar. Even if he’s around, we can sneak into my room. He won’t hear us from the other end of the house.”
Rory grabbed Scott’s hand. “What are we waiting for?”
The two ran down the path that led to a rambling old house in the woods, the sound of their chuckles slowly fading.
A few moments later, the flash of light from a match illuminated a craggy face near one of the trees at the edge of the clearing. The glow from his cigarette continued to mark the presence of the old man, but there was no other movement. He had walked down to the clearing to think, but the matters that had concerned him had fled his mind. In their stead, he had weightier things to consider.
* * *
“Scott! Where are you, you lazy son of a used car salesman?”
“Coming, Gramps!” Scott entered the kitchen, drying his hair on a towel. “What’s wrong with you? You’re sounding extra grumpy this morning.”
“We’ve got to open the store in thirty minutes, and you’re still not ready. I don’t think you’re up to running a business. You just don’t have the right attitude.”
Scott frowned. “Did you get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?”
“And don’t you use my sayings on me. You youngsters have no appreciation for what’s important in life. You probably spent half the night with that no good friend of yours, chasing girls.”
“Yeah, I did spend half the night with Rory, but so what? I’m here and ready to work. We’ve still got plenty of time.”
The old man shook his head. “You think gallivanting around with people like Rory is more important than being ready to open the store. You kids think everything’s a game. That Rory isn’t a country boy. He shouldn’t be here, and the sooner he’s gone, the better.”
“Rory’s been my best friend since our junior year. You’ve never said anything against him before. Why now?”
Gramps grunted. “Maybe I’ve finally seen him for what he is.”
Scott crossed his arms. “And what’s that?”
Gramps looked sternly at Scott. “A big city slicker. A high roller who’s probably going somewhere, but not here. He doesn’t fit in, and I don’t like him hanging around. He’s got an attitude that might be fine in the big city, but it doesn’t suit a good Greenwood boy.”
“He’s my friend. That’s enough for me. Anyway, you know he’s from here and his family is here. He’s still a country guy at heart.”
“You can’t be friends with a city slicker — and that’s what he is, whatever his stock — and be a country boy, too.”
“I don’t see why not. It’s not like I live in a city. I just know someone who does.”
Gramps shook his head. “That won’t work out, son. He won’t keep coming back here. You’re better off cutting clean of him, instead of letting him fill your head with big dreams and then have him leave you high and dry.”
Scott looked away. The conversation was uncomfortably close to the talk he’d had with Rory in the woods the night before.
“It’s almost time to open the store, Gramps.”
“That’s what I said before. Get a move on. I’ll be there when I can.”
Scott ignored the gruff tone and walked out the door. If he rushed, he could get to the store in less than ten minutes, but he still had plenty of time. A fifteen-minute walk along the wooded trail to town would give him some thinking time.
* * *
Scott smiled at the early customer. “Good morning, Reverend.”
“Morning, Scott. Is your grandfather around?” The portly minister glanced around the crowded interior of the general store.
“Not yet, but he shouldn’t be long. Is there something I can help you with?”
Reverend Ernest Hentingly shook his head. “I don’t think so. I want to ask him if I may put up some flyers in the front windows.” Ernest grinned at Scott. “Do you remember the time when you said yes to the same request?”
Scott laughed. “Yeah, I do. He sure tore into me, and then, as I remember, he did the same to you.”
Ernest chuckled. “Verbally, at least. He made it quite clear that this is his store, and that if people want to use a window as a free billboard, they have to ask him first. At least he let the flyer stay, and he’s been good with all the other times I’ve asked, but I’m not doing it again without his okay.”
“You’re a smart man, Reverend.” Scott glanced at the papers in the minister’s hand. “What this one about?”
“Something important, but then I suppose they all are. This one’s especially urgent, though. Some heathens in the state capital are going to put a referendum on the November ballot that would overturn the definition of marriage, if it passed. We’ve got to raise awareness of it, so people will get out and vote against it. We can’t let the sanctity of marriage be desecrated!”
Scott frowned. “What do you mean?”
“They want to overturn the state constitutional definition we voted in, and make it legal for two men to marry. Or two women. It’s just not natural, and we have to fight God’s fight and make sure they don’t win.”
“They’re not likely to, though, are they?”
“Probably not, but we have to be vigilant. I suppose you’ve heard what those activist judges did in California. We have to make sure that judges don’t do the same thing here!”
Gramps walked in through the side door, a cigarette dangling from his lips. “Don’t do what?”
“Morning, George. We have to make sure they don’t corrupt marriage, like they’ve managed to do in California. There’s a move to try to change the constitution again. I’d like to put up some flyers to remind people there’s going to be an item on the ballot on the subject, and we have to make sure everyone gets out and votes it down.”
Gramps grunted. “Any queers in this state ought to have the gumption to leave, if they know what’s good for them. They’re not welcome here. Put up your flyers, Ernest. Marriage is important.” He glanced at Scott. “Nonetheless, I seem to be waiting a long time to celebrate my grandson’s wedding.”
Scott reddened and turned away. He busied himself in a corner of the store, cleaning countertops.
Ernest grinned. “He’s still young. There’s plenty of time for some young lady to catch his eye.”
Gramps scowled at Scott. “We’ll see.” He turned back to the reverend. “Is there anything else we can do for you?”
“Why, yes, there is. May I borrow Scott later today? The rear door of the church is acting up again, and I want him to take another look at it.”
“Still too stingy to pay a professional?”
“Why should I pay someone when a good boy like Scott can do the job just as well?”
“Still stingy. As if free labor can do as good a job as someone who’s trained.” Gramps turned to Scott. “Do you want to do the job?”
Scott looked back. “Sure. It’s no trouble. I’ll do it on my lunch break.”
“Go do it now and get it over and done with. If you put things off, you never know what sort of a mess you’ll get into. I don’t know why I’m saying anything, though. You young people just don’t listen anymore.”
“I said I’d do it on my lunch break, and I will.” Scott was exasperated at his grandfather’s cranky attitude.
“And I said to go do it now. See? I said you don’t listen. I don’t know why I let you help me in this store.”
Scott threw his dust cloth onto the nearest counter. “Fine! I’ll do it now.” He glanced at the reverend. “It’s the rear door again, is that right?”
“That’s what he said, Scott,” Gramps replied before Ernest could open his mouth. “Did you forget to clean out your ears this morning?”
Scott glared at his grandfather before turning back to the reverend. “I’ll get my tools and I’ll be right there. I’ll let you know when I’m done. Will you be in the parsonage?”
“No, son, I’ll be out visiting some of our members. I’m sure you’ll do a great job, so just leave me a bill for any parts the church treasury will need to cover, and that’ll be fine. Thanks, Scott. I really appreciate it.”
Scott glared at Gramps as he replied, “No problem. It’s good that someone appreciates what I do.”
There was no answer. Scott’s grandfather appeared to be ignoring him, and Reverend Hentingly looked uncomfortable with the situation.
Ernest held up one of his flyers. “I’ll just put some of these in the windows and be on my way. Thanks, Scott. Thank you, George.”
Scott went to the back for his toolbox and the reverend moved to the front of the store. Scott was still teed off ten minutes later, when he started working on the church door.
* * *
Scott and his grandfather followed their nightly routine of having dinner at the kitchen table. It was Scott’s turn to cook, and he made one of his grandfather’s favorite meals. It was simple — grilled steak, corn-on-the-cob, a baked potato and string beans.
Scott waited until they had started eating before he brought up the issue that had bothered him all day. “What’s got into you, Gramps? You’ve been sniping at me almost non-stop all day.”
“Don’t exaggerate, boy. You haven’t been around me all day.” Gramps’ attention was on the meat in front of him.
“That’s what I’m talking about! If I’ve done something wrong, tell me. Don’t treat me like I’m some loathsome slug that’s crawled out from under a rock.”
Gramps paused, fork halfway to his mouth, and glanced at his grandson. “Do you think you’re a loathsome slug?”
“No, of course not!”
“Then my opinion is irrelevant.” Gramps put the piece of steak into his mouth and started chewing.
“Just tell me what I’ve done, because for the life of me, I’ve got no idea. You’re my family, and you’ve never been like this before. What’s going on?”
Something came over Gramps’ face as he stopped chewing for a moment. He stared at his grandson for several seconds, while his jaw resumed working. He swallowed, and then dropped his gaze to his plate.
“What are your plans for the future, son?”
Scott smiled at the gentler tone. The usual gruffness was there, but without the spitefulness that had tainted it all day. “I plan to help you keep the store running, and then take it over at some point, so you can retire.”
Gramps grunted. “Is that what you really want? To run the store until you’re old and decrepit like me?”
“You’re not decrepit!”
There was a hint of a smile on Gramps' face as he lifted his head. “At least you didn’t try to deny the ‘old’ part.”
Scott grinned. “There’s nothing wrong with being old. I’ll be that way, one day.”
“So that’s your future. What about family and kids? No plans to get married?”
Scott frowned at the bitter edge and made a guess at the cause. “Is that what you’re looking for? Great grandkids? I don’t know, Gramps. Yeah, I’d like to get married someday, but I haven’t met a girl I’d like to settle down with. Give me a break. I’m only twenty-two.”
“At twenty-two I was fighting the Germans and sending love letters to your grandmother. You’re old enough to have found someone you want to spend your life with.”
Scott looked sideways at his grandfather. “You never talk about that war. Why are you mentioning it now?”
Gramps returned his attention to the plate in front of him. “Maybe because I’m feeling old. The war taught me that sometimes life can be short. I’d like to see you married before my last day is done.”
Scott shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I can’t control when I’m going to meet someone, Gramps. And it’s wrong to marry someone I don’t love.”
Gramps grunted, ending that topic of conversation.
* * *
“Where does that leave us?” Rory asked as they walked along the trail that night.
“I don’t know. I think he’s getting worried about what’s going to happen when he’s too old to do things for himself. I can’t leave him now. That would be cruel.”
Rory put a hand on Scott’s shoulder. “I know, but that means it’s over for us. I can’t wait forever, Scott. I guess that’s the way it works in romance novels, but this isn’t one of those stories. This is real life. I’ve been out at school for two years, and I’ve had offers from some really nice guys. I turned them all down because I’ve been waiting for you. But I need to know you’ll be there for me. If you can’t be, I have to move on. I don’t want to, but you can’t leave me hanging.”
“Do you think I don’t know that?” Scott shook off Rory’s hand and moved a step away. “I want to be with you, but I need to be with my Gramps. What I need to do has to take priority over what I want.” He glanced at his boyfriend. “Are you sure you won’t move back here?”
“And move back into the closet? I can’t. Not even for you — it would drive me nuts. There’s just nothing here for me anymore — except you. There’s also no work in my field. You could get a job in Cambridge or Boston, but there’s no job for me here in Greenwood.”
“Are you sure? Couldn’t you find something where you could telecommute?”
Rory was thoughtful. “I’ll tell you what. We’ve still got time to try to work things out. Let’s see how homophobic this town really is.”
Scott’s eyebrows hit his hairline. “What are you going to do?” He glanced around nervously, even though everything was pitch black.
“Don’t worry. I won’t get you involved. I need to plan this carefully, but sometime in the next few days I’m going to let everyone know I’m gay. If it goes badly, I’ll just head home earlier than planned. If it works out well, it’ll open up some options we can explore further.”
“Don’t do anything stupid.” Scott reached out and took Rory’s hand. “I don’t want to lose you.”
“I know, Scott, but unless we do something, we’re going to lose each other. Something has to change. We haven’t come up with anything else, so I’m going to try it.”
* * *
The place was half full, typical for early evening on a Thursday, when Rory and his dad entered and sat at the bar between Bob, an electrician, and Joel, one of the local farmers. Trevor, the bartender, grinned at the newcomers.
“It’s been a long time, Rory. How’ve you been?” Trevor drew a beer and placed it front of the young man. “Have one on the house.”
“Thanks, Trev. I’ve been good, but I’m glad I’ve finished school. I’m looking forward to starting work when I go back to Cambridge.”
Bob laughed. “That attitude won’t last long. Welcome to the real world, Rory.”
Trevor grinned. “We’ll see, Bob. Some of us like the jobs we do. What’ll you have, Charlie?” he asked as he reached for another mug.
“The usual,” Rory’s dad replied, dropping a bill onto the bar. “Thanks, Trevor.”
“What brings you in tonight?” Trevor asked as he gave Charlie his beer and scooped up the money.
“Just having a brew.” Charlie winked. “The men in the house needed to get out and relax for a few hours. Helen’s a wonderful wife and mother, but she’s started to get clucky now that her youngest son’s back home for a couple of weeks.”
Joel grinned. “Rachel was the same when our kids came back from college. Does that mean you two are going to settle in here for the long haul?”
Rory and his dad exchanged glances.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Charlie said. “But that’s the plan.”
Trevor chuckled as he noticed that Rory had already finished his beer. “I can see that the typical college student’s love of beer hasn’t changed. Like another one, Rory?”
“Yes, please. Thanks, Trev.” Rory pulled out his wallet but was stopped by his father.
“It’s on me, son. I’m celebrating having you home, so I’m buying.”
Joel grinned. “When did you win the lottery, Charlie? That boy of yours can drink that wallet dry, if he’s anything like my boy.”
Rory laughed. “I did my share of binge drinking in college, but I’m not going overboard tonight. I’m just going to have a good evening.”
Trevor put another beer in front of the young man. “There you are. How have things been going? Is there a girl who caught you while you were away?” He winked.
“You don’t ask that sort of thing, Trevor, especially not in front of his dad.” Bob grinned. “We only need to know if there’s a girl he’s willing to bring home to meet his mom.”
Rory took a big swig while he waited for the chuckles to die down. He caught the slow nod from his father, but he kept his attention on his beer. He found that he wasn’t ready to look at Trevor while giving his answer.
“No, no girl. But there’s a guy who’s caught my eye, and I’m hoping he’ll be willing to marry me soon.”
Trevor laughed. “Yeah, right. Now pull the other one, Rory. It plays ‘Jingle Bells’.”
Rory looked up. “I’m serious. I’m not into girls. I like guys.”
Trevor’s grin slipped away. He glanced at Rory’s dad who stared back impassively. “Charlie?”
“My son, who I love dearly, happens to be gay. Helen and I have known for over a year, and we’re looking forward to meeting the young man who Rory wants to marry.” Charlie grinned at his son. “Even though he’s been very coy about it. He won’t even tell us the boy’s name.”
Bob slipped off his bar stool. “I’m not sitting next to a faggot!” He glared at Trevor. “You get rid of him, or I’m out of here.”
Rory began to stand, but his father’s hand on his shoulder held him down. “Stay,” his father said.
“Charlie, maybe it would be better if…” Trevor’s voice trailed off under Charlie’s glare.
“Do you have a problem, Trevor?”
“Ah… no. Not at all.”
“Well, I do!” Bob said. “I don’t want to be anywhere near that freakin’ fag.”
Charlie glared past Rory at Bob. “Then why don’t you leave? If you’re so narrow-minded that you find the mere presence of my son offensive, then you can go fuck yourself.”
“Dad…” Rory was uncomfortably aware that he was between two men who appeared ready to throw punches. There was half a roomful of other men, and several women, who were looking on, and few looked sympathetic. Most were merely curious, but a few showed emotions similar to Bob’s.
“No fighting in the bar! If you want to start something, take it outside.” Trevor’s normally stern barroom voice sounded unsure as he glanced at the two potential combatants.
“I’m not starting anything. I’m just having a beer with my son,” Charlie said, keeping his attention on Bob.
“Kick them out, Trevor, or you’ll never see me again.” Bob threw his ultimatum while glaring at Charlie.
Trevor looked from one man to the other several times before speaking. “They’re only having a beer, Bob. I can’t kick them out.”
“Fine, then you can say goodbye to my business.” The look Bob threw Rory was filled with hatred. “And you’d better watch your back, boy. If you try anything, don’t start crying when you get what’s coming to you.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Charlie demanded.
“You know exactly what it means! His sort do perverted things to kids. If I even see him near one of my boys, I’ll kill him!” Bob threw one last glare at Rory before storming out.
Five other people stood up and headed toward the door.
Rory gulped once before raising his voice. “I’m not like that. I’m not a pedophile.” He knew it sounded weak, but he couldn’t let Bob’s words be the last thing those people heard.
“I love my son, and if anyone’s got a problem with him, they can come see me.” Charlie’s glare around the room had most of the people turning their attention away from the drama at the bar. He sat back down and glanced at Joel. “What about you?”
“Me?” Joel seemed honestly surprised. “What about me?”
“Do you have a problem with my son?”
Joel seemed to consider the question seriously, and then he grinned. “Sorry, Charlie, but he’s not my type. And I’m already married, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for a son-in-law.”
Charlie had his mouth open, ready to argue, and it took him a moment to switch moods. He laughed. “Does that mean you won’t let me buy you a drink?”
“I never said that. I won’t turn down a free drink, but just keep your hands to yourself, Charlie. I’m not that easy.”
While Joel and Charlie chuckled, Trevor turned to Rory and gave him a hesitant smile. “Why won’t you tell your folks the name of this boy, Rory?”
“Because he hasn’t said yes, yet. Unless he does, I can’t say who he is.”
“Unless? That sounds like he might say no.”
Rory looked at the beer in front of him. He picked it up and drained it quickly. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
As the tension in the room faded, an old man in the corner kept his eyes and ears on the three at the bar as he sipped his beer. His observations during the previous few minutes had given him more things to think about.
* * *
“Scott? Are you home?”
“I’m upstairs, Gramps.”
“Can you come down here?” Gramps took a bottle of whiskey from the cupboard and poured a stiff drink after taking a seat at the kitchen table. He was just screwing the cap back on when his grandson appeared.
“What is it?”
Gramps pointed at the chair opposite him. “Sit.”
Scott sat down, looking puzzled.
Gramps took some of his drink before he began. “Did you know that Rory’s a homosexual?”
Scott’s eyes opened wider, and he tried to avoid his grandfather’s gaze. “Where did you hear that?”
“So you did know. As for where I heard it, he told the whole bar tonight, and that means everyone in town will know by morning.”
Scott looked up. “How did people at the bar take it?”
Gramps shrugged. “Some walked out. Some didn’t seem to care. There might’ve been a fight if his dad hadn’t stood up for him. How long have you known?”
Scott squirmed in his chair for several long seconds. “What do you think about him, Gramps?”
“None of my business what he does in the privacy of his own bedroom, as long as he doesn’t break the law. Now answer the damn question!”
Scott frowned as he considered his answer. “He’s my best friend. I’ve known for a while.”
Gramps stood up and grabbed his glass and the bottle of whiskey. “You’re a fool, son. The sooner you admit that, the better.” He turned and walked toward his room.
“What do you mean?”
Gramps looked back over his shoulder. “You figure it out.”
* * *
“Do you think he suspects?” Scott asked, as he lay on his bed.
Rory’s voice sounded scratchy as it came over the cell phone. “He might, but it sounds like he won’t have a problem if you tell him.”
“I can’t! You weren’t there on Monday when he said that queers aren’t welcome here. He might be okay with you, but he knows you’re leaving soon. He may have a very different reaction if I come out.”
“But he might not. And if he does, you’ll be able to come away with me.”
“That would be a good thing for me, but if I go, there’ll be no one to look after him. I think he was planning on getting drunk tonight. He’s never taken a bottle to his room before. I’m scared for him! I also think he meant I’m a fool for being friends with you, which means he’s not going to be cool if I come out.”
“Don’t worry about it, Scott. We’ll see how things go during the next few days, and if they go okay, we can look at the option of me finding a job around here. That won’t be easy, but we can give it a shot. I’ve got a good feeling about things. Besides the few who left the bar when Bob did, no one else seemed to be bothered by me the whole night. I had almost ditched the idea at first, when I saw your grandfather in the corner, but I’m glad I didn’t. Especially if it helps you with him.”
“You’d really consider moving back here?”
After a few seconds, the answer came. “I’ll admit that I don’t really want to, but if it means staying with you, then, yes, that’s what I’ll do. Sometimes I don’t think you really understand what you mean to me, Scott.”
Scott blushed as he realized he was questioning the commitment of the guy who had been waiting four years for him. “When do you think you’ll know if things have gone okay?”
“Even though I think everything went pretty well tonight, it’ll be a few days before we really know. Reverend Hentingly has me worried. I don’t know where he stands, but I think we’ll find out on Sunday. Mom, Dad and I will be in church, and if he doesn’t reject me, I think everything will be fine.”
Scott heard the optimism and enthusiasm, but he couldn’t join in. He had been in the closet for too long, and he could imagine too many disastrous possibilities.
* * *
Scott kept glancing back toward the church entrance, waiting for Rory and his parents to enter. There had been a subtle tension building in the town since Rory had come out. While many people seemed indifferent, a hardcore few were agitating for action against him. No specific action had been proposed, but there was a sense of impending violence that worried Scott.
“Something wrong, Scott?”
Scott wondered what he should say. Given his surroundings, he decided to be truthful. “I’m waiting for Rory to come in. I want to see what the reaction will be.”
Gramps grunted. “He’ll get the reaction he gets. You’re not going to change that.”
Scott was trying to decide on a response when the issue became academic. “He’s here.”
Gramps twisted around to watch with his grandson. They noticed that most of the congregation also turned to look.
Rory’s pace slowed when he realized he was the center of attention. He then straightened his shoulders and marched on down the center aisle with his parents. There was no other reaction until he went to sit down. Three people in the pew he chose immediately stood up and moved away. The statement they made couldn’t have been more clear, even though not a word was spoken.
“About what I expected,” Gramps said softly.
Scott glanced at him in surprise. “What do you mean?”
Gramps didn’t respond, but he watched Rory and his family for several more seconds. He then picked up one of the pew Bibles and opened it, shutting out any option for Scott to question him further.
The service began in the usual manner, but it was evident that the minister had noted Rory’s presence. It wasn’t long before Ernest Hentingly made his views clear.
“It has saddened me to learn that one of our flock has turned away from The Lord. I have to strongly warn anyone who believes they should take action on the matter, though, because it is up to God to pass judgment. We must beware the temptation the devil has placed in front of us, and turn away, rather than strike. Leave the sinner to consider his fate, and pray that he will see the light. Do not follow him along the path of sin by letting your righteous anger lead you astray.”
Most of the congregation glanced in Rory’s direction, Scott included. Rory’s expression was stern, with his eyes fixed on where the reverend stood behind the pulpit.
“Do not listen to those who corrupt the Word of God. The instructions are clear — homosexuality is a sin. But pray for Rory Johnston and his family. Pray that they will see the light and turn back to The Lord.”
Rory’s dad stood up, showing a fiery expression. “We’re all sinners, Reverend. My son is no worse than any person here today in this sanctuary, and better, I believe, than many. If you can’t see the truth, I see no reason to stay here and listen.” He glanced down. “Come on, we’re leaving.”
As the family made their way toward the narthex, the reverend raised his hands to the ceiling. “Oh, Lord, may Your saving grace come down and heal this poor family. Show them Your love and teach them the errors of their way.”
Rory stopped at the rear of the nave. He turned and looked directly at the minister, then reached over and pulled a Bible from the last pew.
Pastor Hentingly smiled “That’s right, son. That’s the good book that tells us all how to live, and it tells us that the life you’re living is one of sin. Repent and be saved!”
“What are you doing, son?” Rory’s dad asked.
Rory ignored the question. He opened the Bible and quickly found what he was looking for. With a loud and clear voice he started to read, while slowly walking toward the front of the church.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
The reverend seemed puzzled for a moment, but then he smiled. “God’s love is strong enough to forgive even one like you, my son. All you need to do is turn your back on that devil’s-spawn lifestyle to which you have subscribed.”
Rory continued. “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”
“Love, my son, not lust. The fires that burn within you are those of the devil, not of God.”
“If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
The reverend seemed uncertain as he responded. “Be careful, Rory. Just because love is praised, do not be fooled by the lies of the great deceiver. What you have espoused is not love, but an evil distortion of what is right and proper.”
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not rejoice in evil but rejoices with the truth.”
The closer Rory got to the altar, the more unsettled the reverend appeared. Rory had an aura that seemed to disturb the man behind the pulpit.
“We don’t rejoice in what you are, Rory, and neither should you. You’ve chosen a life of sin. It’s not too late to change, son. All you need to do is believe.”
“It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Ernest Hentingly wiped his forehead with a white handkerchief. It was not lost on the congregation that Rory seemed calm, but the minister did not. Ernest opened his mouth as if to say something, but Rory’s calm, clear voice seemed to strike him dumb.
“Love 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. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but where perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.” As Rory skirted the altar and stepped up to the pulpit, the reverend backed away. “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
Rory closed the Bible and slammed it down onto the pulpit. He stepped forward and the reverend backed further away.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Rory glared at the older man. “God made me gay. It is part of His plan, and therefore I intend to be the best gay man that I can be. I believe in a God of love. Who do you believe in?”
Without waiting for a response, Rory turned to the congregation. “That passage I’ve just read has been my lifeline for many years. God loves me. God made me the way I am. I’m not going to argue with Him, and I will continue to do what I can to serve Him to the best of my knowledge and ability. And if He blesses me with someone I can spend my life with, I’m not going to turn away from His gift. If you think He made a mistake in making me gay, then take it up with Him. I’m prepared to face Him when it’s time, and to stand up for what I am and what I’ve done. Who here can say that they can do better?”
Rory’s question drew only silence. He looked over the congregation before stepping away from the pulpit. “I know that God loves me. Your views mean nothing compared to His. But unless He calls me back here to Greenwood, I won’t return. You’ll have to face Him when he calls you before Him, and justify any hatred in your hearts, because He’s the one you have to answer to, not me. May God have mercy on us all.”
Rory marched up the aisle to where his parents were waiting. Their smiles told everyone how proud they were of their son.
Scott continued to stare after Rory and his parents, even when they were no longer in sight. The announcement of a hymn barely registered. It was only when everyone rose and he could no longer see the door that he turned his attention to the front. He looked over and saw his grandfather contemplating him.
Gramps shook his head. “You make your decisions and you stick to them until you know they aren’t working.”
Scott’s question was delayed by the start of the singing. After some consideration, he decided to leave it unasked. He knew that Gramps would explain himself when he was ready, and not before.
* * *
“Scott, I don’t want you to come here. I don’t want you to even look at me if you see me on the street.” Rory’s voice on the phone sounded frantic.
“Is it that bad?”
“Maybe not, but I’m getting scared. Mom and Dad have gotten lots of calls of support, but there have been two bricks through the front windows and a fire lit in front of the house. I’ve asked Dad to drive me over to the regional airport first thing in the morning, so I can catch a plane back to Boston — I’m not waiting until the end of the week. After I leave, maybe things will settle down. I’m sorry, Scott, but coming out hasn’t gone as well as I hoped it would.”
Scott sighed and stared around his bedroom. “So, then, we’re down to two choices. I either leave Gramps to fend for himself, or we’re finished as a couple.” Scott felt like punching something. “I hate this!”
“I know, and I wish there was another way. You know what I want, but you’re right about your grandfather, too. Sometimes there’s just no right answer, and I think this is one of those times. No matter what you decide, you know that I love you.”
Scott sighed again. “I know.”
“I’ve got to go, but take your time to make a decision. I asked you to decide by the end of the week, but that’s not fair. I’ll wait for you until the end of summer, and I’ll try to wait longer, but I just can’t keep hanging on forever.”
“Thanks, Rory. I love you, too. I’ll let you know as soon as I can, I promise.”
Five minutes later, a dejected Scott entered the den where Gramps was watching TV.
“What’s up, son? You look as if your best friend just died.”
“I’ve just been talking to Rory. I think some people wish he was dead.”
Gramps hit the remote control and silenced the TV. “And what are you going to do about that?”
Scott stared in surprise. “Do you think I should stand up for him?”
“I’m not telling you what to do. That’s up to you. I just asked what you are going to do.”
Scott looked away. “It doesn’t matter. He’s leaving early in the morning.”
“Good. I was hoping he’d do that.” Gramps clicked the remote again. “And Scott, we’re out of whiskey. My wallet’s on the table — go get another bottle.”
“Why can’t you get it yourself?” Scott was angry, but he knew he was mad at the situation, not at his grandfather.
“Because I asked you to do it. And the fresh air will do you the world of good. You need to get out, not mope around the house.”
“Okay!” Scott gritted his teeth to stop himself from blasting the old man. “I’ll be back!” He stormed out, snatching up the wallet as he passed through the kitchen.
When the slamming of the back door signaled Scott’s exit, Gramps muted the TV and picked up the phone.
* * *
When Scott opened the door, his mouth fell open at the sight of the Navy uniform. “Mom?”
Susannah Handler stepped forward and pulled her son into a hug. “I got here as fast as I could. How is he? Is he here or in the hospital?”
“What are you talking about?”
She pushed him back and saw that he looked bewildered. “Your grandfather. He called me to say he was dying!”
Gramps stepped out of the living room. “I never said that. “But it’s about time you came home for a visit, Susie. I was beginning to think you weren’t still part of this family.”
“Yes, you certainly did say that! You told me that this is probably your last summer!” Susannah glared at her father.
Gramps stepped forward and gave his daughter a kiss on the cheek. “What I said was that this is probably my last summer here. I’m thinking of selling everything and moving on.”
Scott interrupted. “What? You’ve never said anything about doing that.”
Gramps gave him a stern look. “It’s rude to leave your mom standing in the doorway. Pick up her bag and bring it inside, and then we can talk.” He turned and walked back the way he had come.
“Dad, what’s going on?” Susannah waved off her son, picked up her flight bag, and followed Gramps.
“When we’re all settled.”
Ten minutes later, after Gramps had had Scott make coffee, and they were all in the living room, Susannah tried again.
“Okay, come clean, Dad. Something’s going on, and I don’t appreciate the way you tricked me into coming here. You deliberately made it sound like you were dying. I had to call in some favors to get leave at such short notice.”
Gramps was unfazed. “I’m old enough that each year could be my last. And you’ve been neglecting your son. You did the right thing, leaving him with me to finish high school, but you’ve only been back a few times in these years since he graduated. I don’t think you know him anymore, and that’s just plain wrong.”
“It’s okay, Gramps,” Scott said.
“No, it’s not, Scott. Your mom has her own life to lead, just like you do, but that doesn’t excuse her from ignoring her family.”
“If you’re trying to make me feel guilty, it’s not working.” Susannah stared at her father. “So what’s really going on? And what’s this about selling out?”
Scott scooted out to the edge of his seat as he waited for the answer.
“I’ve decided to sell the store and move away. I haven’t decided where, yet, but working six days a week is no longer for me.”
“What about me?” Scott asked. “I thought you were going to let me run the store when you retired.”
Gramps shook his head. “I don’t think so. Yeah, at one point that’s what I wanted, but not now. The store’s not for you.”
Scott scowled. “Why not? I’ve been working there as much as you for the last four years! More, if you want to be honest, and now I’ve got no say in what happens?”
“You do have a say, but I get to make the final decision. As far as the store is concerned, your heart’s not really in it, and if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll know that I’m right.” Gramps looked at his grandson. “I think it’s time you filled your mother in on what’s been happening recently.”
“What do you mean?” Scott was uneasy, because he felt there was something going on that he didn’t understand.
Gramps rose to his feet. “You need to learn to listen, son. Talk to your mother. You two have a lot of catching up to do.”
“Dad, are you okay?” Susannah asked. “You’re acting really weird.”
Scott nodded his head. “He’s been odd all week.”
Gramps looked at them. “You two need to talk. Especially you, Scott. When you’ve finished, it’ll be my turn. Until then, I’ll be in the kitchen.” He quickly disappeared, leaving a confused mother and son in his wake.
“Scott, what’s going on?”
Scott slumped back in his seat and stared at the faded carpet. His grandfather’s surprising announcement had his mind spinning. One thing seemed clear, though: he wouldn’t be staying in Greenwood to look after Gramps. “Mom, you remember Rory, don’t you?”
She frowned. “Wasn’t he your best friend at high school, and then he went to college?”
Scott nodded. “He graduated last month. We kept in touch all along, and he’s just been back for a break before he starts his first job. He left town early, though, because of some threats against him.” The next part got stuck for a moment in Scott’s throat.
“Threats? Who would be making threats against him, and why?”
Scott cleared his throat and looked up so he could watch his mother’s reaction. “Rory came out last week, in a public place, so the whole town knows. Rory’s gay.”
Susannah’s eyes grew wide, and then narrowed. “This is still a pretty conservative place. Some people wouldn’t like that. But what’s that got to do with you? Dad pretty much implied that something big’s been going on.”
Scott suddenly realized that Gramps had to know something, which would explain some of his recent behavior, especially his antagonistic attitude.
“There’s more. Rory’s asked me to marry him.”
Susannah looked shocked.
Rory waited for her to regain her composure before he continued. “I haven’t given him a definite answer yet, but I’m going to say yes.”
* * *
The next day, Gramps sat down next to Reverend Ernest Hentingly and laid some money on the bar. “A beer, please, Trevor.”
Trevor soon placed a full mug in front of the old man. “Here you are.”
“How have you been, George?” Ernest asked.
“Not bad. Yourself?”
“Doing okay.” The reverend cleared his throat. “May I ask you a question?”
Gramps grunted. “I can’t really stop you.”
“What’s this about closing the store? That sign you put up has a lot of people talking.”
“People are allowed to talk, I suppose. No law against it.”
“Is there something going on that maybe I can help with? If you’re having problems, maybe there’s another way, rather than closing the store.”
“I’m getting old, Ernest. Have you got a solution for that? I’ve had enough of running the place. I want to retire and enjoy my life.”
Ernest smiled. “I don’t think anyone will begrudge you that. You’ve been a fixture of this town for as long as most people can remember. But you don’t have to close the store to retire. Scott’s a fine young man. I’m sure he could run it for you.”
“I don’t want him to run it. I’m being selfish, but I would rather close the place than let him have it.”
The reverend gave Gramps a look of concern. “What’s he done to deserve that? In my chats with him, he’s indicated he expected to run the store after you. He’s a good kid — kind and considerate, always willing to help others.”
“It’s not what he’s done. It’s what he hasn’t done.”
After a few moments of silence, Ernest grinned. “Getting information out of you is like squeezing blood out of a turnip. If you don’t want to talk about it, then that’s fine. I just want you to know that I’m here if you need to talk about anything.”
Gramps grunted. At the sound of the door opening, he glanced over his shoulder and saw his daughter, in civilian clothing, entering the bar. She smiled and nodded at him. His craggy face lit up as he accepted that her job was complete and Scott was gone.
“I don’t mind talking about it, Ernest. It’s really quite simple. One day, I’d like to see my grandson married, and that’s simply not going to happen here. The store would keep him in Greenwood, but his heart belongs elsewhere. To make sure he follows his heart, I’m closing the business.”
“I know he hasn’t met the right girl, yet, but there’s no reason he won’t at some stage in the future. I would be honored to marry him when that happens, and there’s no reason it can’t happen here.”
Gramps shook his head. “It’s too late. He’s already met someone, and I expect to be told of a proposal acceptance very soon, or someone is going to get a piece of my mind. Scott’s already on his way to Massachusetts, and I’ll be following soon. I want to be there for the wedding. I’m sure he’d love for you to officiate, but I don’t think you’d do it. If you support the constitutional amendment that keeps him from marrying his boyfriend here in this state, I don’t see that you’d do it there, where it’s legal.”
Ernest gasped. “Boyfriend? What are you talking about?”
Gramps rose to his feet and cast a disdainful glance around the room. “More than sixty years ago, I fought against oppression. I had the dubious honor of being part of the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.” A distant, pained expression appeared on his face. “The sight of that place has haunted me ever since.” He refocused and glared at the reverend. “It wasn’t only Jews that died there. Homosexuals were killed, too. They’re all human as far as I’m concerned, but to the Nazis, they weren’t deserving of that title.
“If you want to think like them and say that my grandson shouldn’t marry the young man he loves, then you can go to hell.” He turned to his daughter. “Come on, Susie, it’s time for me to start packing, before I die of old age.”
Without a backward glance, the two left the building. Gramps’ mind and heart were already on a plane to Massachusetts. His body would soon catch up.
Copyright Notice — Copyright © September 2008 by Graeme.
The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form — physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise — without the author's expressed permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.
Disclaimer: All individuals depicted are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.
I would like to thank Ray, Kel, C James, Shadowgod, and also everyone from The Mail Crew for the advice they have given me on this story.
I would also like to thank Aaron and Rain from The Mail Crew for editing this story for me. I can thoroughly recommend their website to all teenagers who are gay, lesbian, bi or not sure.