Andrew lay on his bed in the fetal position and held the covers to his body in the dark, which was only interrupted by the visible outline of the doorframe. He imagined that the blanket curled to his body was Pam and thought about the ease with which he used to fall asleep when she was laying in his arms and the Sundays they always spent together—even after she broke up with him. It was the last time he remembered being happy.
After his parents had bought him a car, they told him that he could stop coming to Bible Study at nine-thirty if he promised to drive himself to the main service at eleven, which he did for several weeks, slipping in just after service began and slipping out again just before it ended. The first Sunday that he missed, his parents lectured him on the importance of Church, which was enough to convince him to make the effort to get there the next three weeks. But he would miss again and this time make sure he was out of the house by the time his parents got home.
He would drive through the empty fields of the countryside, windows down and radio blaring. Pam would always leave the basement door to her parents’ house unlocked so he wouldn’t have to ring the doorbell, which might wake her brother Jonathan. Then they would sit on the basement couch cuddled up watching TV, or reading quietly on opposite sides of the room, with the warm awareness of the other’s presence always in their minds. Jonathan would come downstairs sometimes and they would talk music or make spontaneous trips to the movies, where they would sit in the back so no one would be bothered by the bursts of laughter from their bantering.
Before he left at night—late enough that his parents would be asleep by the time he got home—he would hug her goodnight and feel the weight of her body against him as she collapsed into his arms. It never lasted long enough.
Andrew held the blankets closer to his body. He decided to stop thinking about Pam and started counting sheep. He had never had this kind of insomnia at home. Maybe he wasn’t getting enough exercise. He got lost every time he went out into the city, so most nights he stayed on campus, studying and watching TV. His roommate Joseph usually disappeared at about two in the afternoon, leaving Andrew the room to himself, and didn't return until three in the morning, sneaking in through the darkness in an effort not to wake Andrew, who was invariably still awake.
When he reached twenty-three sheep, the door creaked open and a sliver of light grew to engulf the room. Andrew shut his eyes tighter as they adjusted.
“Shh,” he heard. “My roommate’s sleeping in here.”
“We’re just picking up the shit and taking off again, right?”
“Yeah. Come on in—just watch your step. The place is kind of a mess.” Silence. “Dude, get my boxers off your head!”
“Oh, these are totally me.”
Andrew couldn’t help but snort and chuckle at that.
“Dude, are you still awake?” Joseph said. Silence. “Andrew?”
“Yeah, I’m still awake. That counting sheep thing is bullshit.”
“Insomnia, huh? Hey, you mind if I turn on the lights. It would make this whole operation easier.”
“Yeah, no problem.”
Andrew squinted to see the big black guy with a pair of boxer shorts on his head and a wide smile on his face.
“That’s Roberto,” said Joseph, bending over to rummage under his desk.
“’T’sup,” said Roberto, with a nod of his head.
“Got it,” said Joseph, pulling out a wooden box. “Let’s get out of here.” He stopped and looked back at Andrew. “Hey, what time do you have class tomorrow?”
“Not ‘til two in the afternoon.”
“Hey, as long as you’re not sleeping, you want to come with us? Just a small impromptu gathering at a friend’s apartments nearby.”
Silence. “Sure, just give me a second to change.”
Joseph led Andrew down a long hallway filled with posters of peace signs and tie-dye, Bob Marley and Pink Floyd. They came to a smoky, candlelit room that had only one window for ventilation, and a cloud had collected on the ceiling. The space couldn’t have been more than two-hundred square feet, but with the arrival of Joseph, Andrew and Roberto, there were fourteen people crammed inside, either sitting on a sofa, one of four beanbag chairs, the ground, or simply leaning against a wall. The only way for everyone to be comfortable was for at least one person to be in the kitchen getting a drink or another slice of pizza at all times.
When Andrew was introduced to the group, the girl on the end of the sofa offered him the armrest while Joseph and Roberto took up perches on the opposite side of the room. She extended her hand to Andrew and said, “I’m Kara.” The tips of her hair were dyed red, and she had a tiny gold orb in her earlobe.
“Where are you from?”
“Upstate. Rural country.”
“Oh really?” A few more faces turned his way. “That’s awesome. It must be great to be out in nature all the time.”
“Yeah, the best we get is Central Park,” another voice chimed in, “which isn’t really nature. Being in the city all the time can get really claustrophobic.”
“No open spaces.”
“Do you miss it?”
“Really, I miss the people more than anything. I don’t know anyone here.”
“Well, now you know us,” Kara said with a smile.
Even after everyone found out that Joseph had dropped out for the semester, Roberto and Kara kept calling Andrew’s dorm whenever something was going on. He became acquainted with all the hot spots—the twenty-four hour coffee bar, the café that had open mics every week, the corner of Central Park where everyone met up, where he first saw Ricky, playing his guitar with his blond hair flowing in his face, while the group around him, some he knew and some he didn’t, whispered to each other, each movement and word to the rhythm of the music.
Andrew sat down next to Kara and Roberto, but didn’t say a word; he was so impressed with the raw flowing music. When the song ended, he turned to Kara and whispered through the applause, “Who is he?”
“Oh, that’s Ricky. He’s been doing small clubs in New England for the last couple months. Just got back a few days ago.”
“Play ‘Red City’,” someone yelled.
“Dude, I’ve been doing nothing but playing all summer,” said Ricky, putting his guitar away. “Give me a break.” He looked over at Andrew. “Hey, a new face.”
“This is Andrew,” said Kara. “He’s from upstate. He was Joseph’s roommate until he dropped out and moved back uptown.”
“Cool, nice to meet you,” said Ricky, extending his hand. He looked Andrew in the eye when he spoke, and his eyes caught the sunlight.
After a couple chance meetings at the coffee shop or around campus, Andrew asked Kara for Ricky’s number.
“Yeah, who’s this?”
“Andrew… the country boy.”
“Oh, right. What’s up man?”
“Nothing really, I just had some plans that fell through and I was wondering what you were up to tonight?”
“I was going to the hit up the open mic at Streetcorner and then a small gathering back at my place. You wanna come?”
“Don’t have anything better to do. What time does it start tonight?”
“Seven-thirty, but I have to be there early. I’m hosting tonight, so I’ll be on and off stage all night, but I know that at least Kara, Jenkins and Roberto will be there too.”
“Cool. See you later.”
Andrew’s eyes adjusted to the darkness, and he could barely navigate between bodies and crowded tables to the couch to the right of the stage on which his friends sat. Kara and Jenkins moved over, making a space for Andrew and each putting an arm around him as he sat down. Ricky was just finishing up a song on stage.
“Thank you,” he said in response to the applause. “You know, performing on the road is great, but there’s something nice about being in the company of old fans and old friends. Anyway, next up we have a newcomer here. Andrea Michaels is going to perform some spoken word, so make her feel welcome.” He hopped off the stage, his shirt flying up in the wind. “Dude, you took my seat,” he said to Andrew in a whisper refined through years of coffeehouse performances—just loud enough for only close friends to hear.
“Oh, sorry man. You probably need to rest in your downtime. I’ll get up if you want.”
“No worries—I’ve got it covered, he said, leaning over the armrest and falling backwards across the laps of Jenkins, Andrew, and Kara, who started stroking his hair as his head fell into her lap.
“Nice and comfortable?” she said.
“Oh yeah. This is the best. They need to start selling people-chairs. Except Andrew is a little boney. Don’t they feed you up on that farm, boy? Oh, everyone’s coming back to my place after the show, right?”
They gave an affirmative murmur and nodded.
“Awesome. I’m going to need some low, intimate energy flowing after tonight. It’s been a stressful day. A check I got from a place in Maryland didn’t clear, so I’ve been on the phone all day trying to—”
“Not to add to your stress,” said Kara, “but the mic’s empty.”
“Oh crap,” said Ricky, rolling to the floor and jumping back on stage.
Ricky didn’t turn on the light when the group, which had grown to eight, got to his apartment. He walked straight into the darkness while everyone stumbled through the doorway, trying to get their coats off without knocking each other into the walls of the narrow hall, and little spots of candlelight appeared in Ricky’s wake as he moved through the apartment and their eyes adjusted to the darkness. He put on a Radiohead CD, which played in the background as cigarette smoke began to fill the room and mingle with the candlelight. Andrew knew most of the people there, but not all, and certainly not the full-bodied redhead swirling wine around the edge of her glass, her midriff exposed between the red skirt that hugged her thighs and the skin-tight long-sleeved top the same shade of red. She winked at him when he made eye contact.
“Oh Andrew, I don’t think you know Crysta. Crysta, Andrew.” Silence. “I’ll bet you can’t guess what she does for a living.”
They turned to face each other again. “Go ahead. Guess,” she said.
Andrew stared and then slowly shook his head. “The only thing I can think of is, actress.”
Ricky laughed. “Well, actually, that isn’t too far off. She produces her own line of adult films.”
“Real good smut,” said a voice behind her.
“Hey, you’ve starred in some of that smut, Nikki,” Crysta said.
The brunette with short hair and big round eyes blushed. “Well, you can be pretty persuasive when you want something.”
The smoke in the room, highlighted by the flickering candlelight, took on a new, unusual smell, which Andrew breathed in deep, savoring the essence of all these people in this moment and the positive energy that surrounded him.
“Besides, I don’t consider it smut at all. Sex is a gift to be given freely to those you love, not hoarded. I haven’t slept with anyone on film that I wouldn’t have slept with otherwise. I’m loving my neighbor just like Jesus said to,” she said with a smile. “And any self-righteous Bible-thumpers who claim to have empathy for people without being intimate with them are all just afraid of really experiencing love and God.”
“Amen sister,” said Ricky, looking over to Andrew, his blond hair casting soft shadows on his face in the candlelight.
“I guess I’ve never really thought about it that way,” said Andrew. “About sex being a gift.”
“Of course. It’s giving pleasure to the people you love,” said Ricky.
“I’ll tell you what,” said Crysta, her smile radiating. “Would you like it if I went over and started making out with your friend Kara?”
Andrew bit his lip, he was so nervous and yet so tempted to be honest, until finally realizing he was with people he could fall into without ever fearing harm he said the word and savored it as it passed from his lips: “yes.”
“Then that’s what I’ll do, as a gift to you,” she said, and walked over to Kara who slid her hands around Crysta’s hips, pulling her near until their lips met in a caring embrace. They held each other tighter, and Crysta’s kisses migrated down Kara’s neck while she stared into space, smiling. Ricky looked into Andrew’s eyes and laughed easy.
Andrew felt his cheeks flush, mumbled something about needing to go to the bathroom, and stood up. He kept his head down while he walked through the haze towards the hall and into the bathroom. A hand stopped the door when he tried to close it behind him. It was Ricky.
“What are you doing in here?” His eyes were set on Andrew’s, who was affected by the intensity too much to look back.
“I don’t know. I felt exposed.”
Ricky slipped inside and closed the door behind him. “There’s no reason to be embarrassed for liking it. It was a gift. Nothing would have made them happier than for you to accept it in the spirit in which it was given.”
Andrew looked up at Ricky and felt his breathing stop. “So I guess I screwed up.”
Ricky put his hand on Andrew’s shoulder. “No, don’t look at it that way. They just wanted to make you happy. We care about you.” And with that he enclosed Andrew in his arms, and Andrew shook from the touch and his eyes watered. He held on still when Ricky began to pull away. Ricky looked at Andrew’s eyes for a moment, and Andrew wondered what he saw there to give the look he did.
Andrew didn’t think when Ricky’s lips were pressed against his. He only leaned back against the wall and drew Ricky closer to accept this wonderful perfect gift.
The moon was peaking through the cool mist, when Andrew stepped out the door of the apartment building. He had never experienced a more peaceful night, not even back in the country. There, there was always an edge of anxiety about him, but here the gentle calming street lights and the chemicals still circulating through his blood allowed him to connect with everything around him—the gentle hum of electricity, the feel of wind blowing through his clothes. When he stepped back onto campus ground, he took off his shoes and carried them, feeling for the first time the texture of the Earth beneath him as he walked while he hummed one of the songs Ricky had played that night.
Andrew turned the volume down on the synthesizer that he had borrowed from Kara’s friend Randal who worked the counter at Streetcorner. When Andrew had mentioned that he used to take piano lessons, Randal said he should perform on stage some time.
“Oh, I’m really rusty,” Andrew said. “I haven’t practiced in years. And even back then, my mom had me playing hymns most of the time.”
“Hey, we get all kinds of music. I’d love to here some hymns in here. It’d add to the diversity. You can borrow my keyboard if you want to practice. It’s just collecting dust in my apartment right now.” Silence. “Seriously, I would love for you to perform.”
Andrew turned down the volume so he could hear the phone. He said he would call when he got off his new part time job at the bookstore at seven. It was seven-fifteen. Andrew mouthed the words as he played. When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea-billows roll—whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul. The phone rang.
“Well hi Andrew.”
“Oh, hi dad.”
“We haven’t been able to get hold of you lately.” Silence. “How are you?”
“Okay I guess.”
“Have classes been going all right?”
“Have you gotten any snow yet?”
“Actually, it’s been pretty warm so far.”
“We had a foot and a half on Sunday. I tell you, church was pretty empty. It didn’t stop Pastor Joseph from preaching though.” Silence. “Actually, Pastor Stevens is talking about moving out to be closer to his family out East. We’ll probably have a new Pastor by the time you come home for Christmas break.”
“Your mother is going into the hospital tomorrow.”
“It’s nothing to worry about. She’s been under the whether lately, and her doctor found a lump… They don’t think it’s anything, but they want to make sure.”
“Mmhmm.” If he was trying to call he was getting a busy signal. “I should probably get back to studying. I guess I’ll talk to you later.”
“Oh okay.” Silence. “Well, goodnight Andrew.”
Andrew turned his phone off, put it back on the charger, and lay back in his bed. Nothing on TV at seven-thirty. Didn’t feel like studying or practicing. Sick of all his Playstation games. He stared at the Tetris block shapes in the ceiling tiles and moved them around in his mind to make them symmetrical. The room had become bare since Joseph had taken down his posters of underground rock bands and art prints and moved out.
Timmy and Jonathan came into his mind. In middle school, they had had assigned seats behind him on the bus, and they always took his pen when he was trying to do his homework and called him a faggot. He remembered when he had retorted, “For guys calling me a fag, you two sure spend a lot of time together.” He remembered it the same way he remembered the screeching breaks before a traffic accident, and he remembered Timmy slapping him on his temple and saying, “Listen to him! He says that just like a faggot!”
And one day, he was in a bathroom stall in school, and he heard Timmy, Jonathan, and some older boys whose voices he didn’t recognize come in and start flicking lighters. It took him a couple deep breaths to work up the nerve to flush and walk out of the stall when he had finished.
Timothy said, “Major faggot, so good to see you,”" and saluted.
Andrew stared at him for a moment, and said “at ease” releasing Timothy from his feigned tension and drawing a chuckle out from the group.
“Now you aren't going to rat us out little faggot boy, are you?” said Jonathan.
“No, I'm not going to tell on you.”
“That's a good faggot!”
One of the foreign exchange students from Europe started to walk in while Andrew was drying his hands and getting ready to leave. The boy saw the cigarette smoke and his shock was visible on his face. His posture became even more uptight than normal, his mouth dropped open in shock, and he turned around and walked back out the door, dropping a book in the process. He stumbled as he reached down to pick it up, and finally the door closed behind him.
A moment passed in silence with everyone staring at the door, and Andrew said, "Now that kid is a faggot."
Timothy and Jonathan were laughing so hard they had clung to the wall and slid to the floor. That was when he started hanging out with Jonathan, wasn’t it? Yeah.
Andrew felt nauseous. He turned on his phone and held it to his ear to make sure it was getting a dial tone, and then slammed it into the charger.
When he could no longer ignore the sun streaming in through the window, Andrew stumbled out of bed, wearing the same clothes he had on the night before, and forced a scowl onto his face even though no one was there to see it. But his face lit up when he checked his Email and saw Ricky’s address and the word “apologies” in the subject line. Apparently a friend of Crysta’s had stopped into the store and mentioned he had a boat. The two decided to grab as many people as they could and sail far enough out so that they could see the stars without the city lights. He tried calling Andrew once and got a busy signal, and by the time he thought to try again, they were too far out to get cell phone reception. It was amazing lying on their backs and seeing so many stars that the sky was painted with light, he said. He said he looked forward to seeing Andrew perform that night.
Everyone could see that Andrew was nervous, so when Ricky introduced him, Kara, Randal and Jenkins gave a standing ovation. Andrew couldn’t help but blush as he made his way towards the stage to set up the keyboard. He could barely see the crowd for the blinding stage lights.
“Hey. I’m Andrew, and I’m going to play a song that I learned a long time ago. Some of you may know it. It’s called, It is Well with My Soul.” And as he played, he remembered when he was fifteen and would practice for his performance in church the next Sunday when no one else was in the house, and how the spirituality took him as he reached the crescendo. He remembered the sensation of comfort and rightness like being in someone’s arms, and when tears reached his eyes on stage he didn’t fight them. He was alone with the lights. And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll. The trump’ shall resound, and the Lord shall descend. Even so it is well with my soul!
He couldn’t see his audience and the applause they gave didn’t compare to the swelling in his heart. Someone in the back corner shouted “We love you Andrew,” and he grinned with the renewed awareness that he was the center of attention as he rushed off the stage. He took his seat in the back corner, but he couldn’t see until his eyes adjusted to the darkness.
Randal took the stage. “Well Ricky had to run off a few minutes ago, so I guess that makes me your open mic host. Thus begins the dynasty of Randal!” which drew a laugh.
When Andrew could see again, he leaned over to Jenkins, the only one left on the couch. “What happened to Ricky and Kara?”
“I’m not sure. I think Kara just stepped out for a smoke. Ricky got a phone call and then said he was going to Crysta’s. No idea what’s up.”
Andrew rung the door bell three times, hardly waiting a minute between rings, before Ricky opened the door a foot and a half, his body blocking the opening.
“Andrew? What are you doing here?”
“You didn’t see me perform.”
“I heard about a minute, and then there was an emergency. What are you doing here?”
“What’s the emergency?”
“It’s kind of a private matter. Listen man, I can’t really talk right now.”
“Yeah. I get it. So I guess that whole love being freely given thing is bullshit.”
“What? What are you talking about?” Silence. Ricky sighed and slipped out the door, closing it behind him. “Given, man. Given! Not taken. Not demanded. Not held back as a negotiating tactic. I wanted to show you that, because I thought you needed to know it. To know it in your blood, you know? I mean, you get told that you’re loved, but you’re never really shown what that means.”
Andrew scowled and stared down at the doorframe. “So I’m just a charity case to you?”
“No. No, I happen to genuinely like you. But that doesn’t mean you have any claim to me. It doesn’t come with any obligations or warranties. I wish you would just accept what I give you for what it is, instead of being so damned possessive. If you think I’m not freely giving love right now, then you should know that Crysta’s friend who’s staying here is suicidal. And even though, you know, I don’t like that she feels that way, it makes me happy that she trusted us enough to be open with her problem and ask for help instead of—instead of letting a wound fester. Andrew! Andrew, come back!”
He didn’t turn the lights on when he rushed in and fell into the blankets on his bed, and he was wrapped in darkness as the door closed behind him. He closed his clouded eyes, and as his breathing slowed, he became aware of a recurring beep like a heartbeat in the room. He stood up and walked through the dark to the blinking light of his answering machine, and he stared for a moment before he pressed it. It wasn’t him.
“Hello, Andrew. This is your neighbor, Mrs. Norman. I’m afraid I’m the bearer of bad news. It doesn’t seem right telling you this through an answering machine, but we’ve been trying to get a hold of you all day. Listen, your mom went into the hospital this morning because of a lump. The doctors didn’t think it looked good, and they wanted to operate on it immediately. And there were complications. Oh, I really shouldn’t be telling you this over the answering machine. Just please call your father when you get this message. Goodbye dear.”
Andrew had sat down, and now he stared into space. He listened to the message again, and then picked up the phone and started dialing Ricky’s cell phone, but stopped before pressing the last number. He turned off the phone and slid down onto the cold hard floor with his arms crossed in front of his body, and the emptiness in his arms was tangible.
The door at the end of the hall—his father’s room, formerly his parents’ room—was always closed. He sighed when he saw that door and carried the boxes up to his room. He had made special arrangements with the college and had the rest of his belongings shipped home. They just arrived. The funeral had been a blur. The week that followed had been a blur—numbing. His father spent most of his time in his room. Andrew spent most of his alone. He thought about calling Pam, but he didn’t know what he would say. He heard she had started seeing someone else.
He pushed open the door to his room and set the boxes down next to the still unpacked suitcases that he had taken with him. Everything else in the room—his dresser, his bed frame, the books on his bookshelf—had collected a thin film of dust. Icicles hung from the thin spidery branches outside his window, which shook in the wind, and the wind howled through a tiny whole between the window and its frame. Andrew lay on his bed with his ear close to the wall that his room shared with his father’s, but he could hear nothing but the wind.
The doorbell rang. And again. Andrew waited for his father’s door to open, and his footfalls down the hall. It rang again, and Andrew stood up and walked downstairs. When he opened the door, feeling the cold sting of the wind in his face, he saw a striking brunette about his age with long curly hair loosely tied in a scrunchy behind her back. She was smiling softly and holding a casserole. It took him a moment to recognize her.
“Hi Andrew. I didn’t think you would remember me. I haven’t seen you in years… Anyways, I heard about the loss of your mother. She was a good woman. She helped with the nursery during service. I wanted to express my condolences.”
“I hope you don’t mind me asking, but how are you and your father coping?”
“I’m doing okay, I guess. Still a little dazed. My dad has been spending a lot of time by himself. I think he needs it in order to cope,” Andrew said, even though it wasn’t really what he thought.
“Yes, I understand. It’s a powerful experience to lose a loved one. Everyone deals with it in their own way.” Silence. “Listen, I talked to your mom a lot while she was in the nursery, and she told me how much you liked lasagna. I thought you might miss it, so I made you some. Here. Careful, it’s still warm. I just pulled it out of the oven before I came over.”
Andrew held it by the edges, which returned warmth to his cold numb fingers. “Thank you,” he said. “Would you like to come in for a while?”
“I would love to.” She smiled.
“I really haven’t had a good home-cooked meal since I left for college. My dad and I have been ordering in since I’ve been back. Neither of us are that great of cooks, and well, it just hasn’t seemed important.”
“It sounds like the loss affected you a lot. I mean, of course it would. I don’t know because I’ve never had anyone that close to me die, but I guess I don’t really understand being sad when a good person like your mother dies. She’s with God, Andrew. There’s no doubt in my mind.”
“Yeah, you’re right. You’re right.”
“Hey, if you’re that desperate for a home-cooked meal, please dig in.”
“Only if you’ll join me. Oh wait, we don’t have any clean dishes.”
“Oh that’s okay. I’ll wash some for us. I know my way around a kitchen.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“Please, it’s the least I can do.” She scooped a plate off the counter, turned to the sink, and in a moment placed it, spotless, before Andrew, who sat at the table. She turned again to the sink, and Andrew, momentarily lost in the poetry in her movements, became aware of a stack of clean dishes forming beside her.
“I thought you were going to join me.”
“Oh, you go ahead. I’m not actually that hungry.”
“But you don’t have to be a maid service.”
“I like cleaning. It’s not a big deal.”
There was no more objecting. She was already about the sink again. Andrew started eating. The noodles were so soft they dissolved on his tongue, and the steam filled his mouth. Melanie found paper towels under the sink and started washing the counter, while Andrew helped himself to a second piece of lasagna. He hadn’t realized how hungry he was. He stared out the window and watched the snow begin again. Melanie opened the refrigerator and hunted for perishables that had gone bad. She poured out the last few cups of milk in the gallon and threw out some leftover chicken that had been hidden behind a jar of salsa. Andrew, unusually unselfconscious, started on a third slice of lasagna. Melanie began to dust the surfaces of the wood cupboards above her head, but she couldn’t reach the tops.
“Let me help you with that,” Andrew said, and cleaned the places Melanie couldn’t reach. The kitchen was soon spotless.
The snow had continued, and Melanie decided she would stay until she saw a salt truck on the road in front of the house. They sat on opposite sides of the couch. The only source of light was the snow they were watching through the lace-curtain framed window.
“What is New York like?”
“Intimidating at first. I got used to it after I met some friends though. I guess any place can be homey if you’re with people you like—and trust.” He looked at the snow.
“What are they like?”
“Oh, they’re good people. Really creative. A lot of them are artists or musicians. I felt out of place a lot because I’m not talented like them, but they seemed to like me. For some reason.” Silence. “There was one guy in particular, named Ricky. I was really close with him.”
“Close?” She raised an eyebrow. “In what way?”
Andrew’s head sunk into his hands. He stared at a fixed point on the horizon trying to maintain himself, but the convulsive choking motion of his body betrayed him. And when he felt Melanie’s smooth, soothing hand move across his back, he couldn’t stop the tears that had welled up in his eyes from rolling down his cheeks, and he shook. He was pulled towards Melanie’s body and heard the words whispered to his ear, “It’s okay Andrew. It’s okay. God forgives you.” She kissed his head and said, “Poor little sinner. It’s okay.” Then it didn’t matter to Andrew what he was crying for as long as she was stroking his hair, and he clung to her and accepted her words and let them color the previous two months of his life.
“I think you should come with us.”
“Yeah, I know. I just don’t feel right about it.”
“We’re not protesting against the kids, Andrew. We’re protesting against the underlying idea that homosexuality is something natural.”
“I know. I know that’s what Pastor Michaels said. But I know it won’t help those kids. I’ve been there, and I know that a protest wouldn’t have helped me. When you’re inside of it, nothing else matters. And this would just wind up pushing the kids further away from God.”
“I think Pastor Michaels knows what he’s doing. And he says this will be good for your recovery.”
“I’m kind of nervous about going back to the city.”
“It’ll be okay. I’ll be with you.”
The crowd around him moved in waves—first he was pushed into the protestors in front of him and then into the those behind, who he heard shouting but couldn’t understand. To his right and left, children rode on the shoulders of their parents and held signs that Andrew couldn’t read. Melanie held his hand and pushed her way to the front, taking him to the barricades that separated the protestors from the students who were beginning to trickle into the new school, which was dedicated to homosexual students who wished to avoid persecution in the public schools.
Someone in the back began singing, and it didn’t take long for the shouts to die away as more and more protestors took up the song. Andrew mouthed the words but he couldn’t hear whether he was making any sound. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored. He has loosed the fateful lightening of His terrible swift sword. His truth is marching on!
Andrew held Melanie’s hand tighter, but she slipped away from him in the crowd, and Andrew was alone in the chaos. He saw a teenage boy walking close to the building, and staring into the crowds. His blond hair hung over his face, and for a moment Andrew thought he recognized him. Then he caught the boy’s eye, and they stared at each other, until rage built up inside him at the boy, at Ricky, at everything, and he lunged through the barricades towards him. Police converged on Andrew and the crowd followed him through. Counter-protestors ran in from their roped off area, and soon shoves escalated to blows, and a brawl erupted in the streets. The boy was lost in the chaos.