“Tormented And Torn Apart”
“I can't help but notice
You look somewhat surprised
Did ya think, son, after what you've done
The Lord would let you slide?”
- Welcome To Hell, TRACE ADKINS
The large double doors stood propped open. The early morning sunlight blanketed the concrete steps like a royal carpet leading up into the church. Pastor Rick was stationed at the entrance. smiling warmly at the parishioners entering the building, shaking hands, welcoming them to the morning service.
Noble lingered at the foot of the steps. He tugged absently at his tie, suddenly feeling claustrophobic. Though the morning sun had yet to gain heat, he was beginning to sweat. His gaze lifted to the large cross on top of the church. Rays of sunlight cut past it and stabbed into his eyes, causing them to water. He looked away quick as the blinding rays became spears of conviction piercing his soul.
How could he walk in there as if everything were fine? Even if he could put on a convincing face for the people – God would still see the truth.
You don't have to be in a church for God to see the truth. He saw you in the wine cellar, heard you beg another man to kiss you. He was there at Rebecca's parents' home when you accepted Jonah's kiss without resistance – and wanted more.
Noble raked his fingers through his hair. Anxiety gripped him so strong he began to feel dizzy. Just go home. Make an excuse and leave. He pinched the bridge of his nose and squeezed his eyes shut. His hairline prickled as a strange heat welled up inside him.
Oh god, I'm gonna pass out.
He turned to grab for the railing that ran up the side of the steps – and latched onto an arm instead. His ears were humming as he mumbled - “I'm sorry.” - to the person he'd inadvertently grabbed a hold of. Still he clutched the arm as his equilibrium went haywire.
A strong arm went around him and guided him to the rail where he gripped the cool metal and leaned against it unsteadily.
The humming in his ears swelled to ringing. He could barely hear the voice. It seemed to be coming from far away, much further than right beside him.
A hand gripped the back of his neck firmly and bent him over a little. “Just take deep breaths. You'll be okay.”
Noble did as instructed and sucked air deep into his lungs until the ringing in his ears abated and his head began to clear.
“Noble?” Rebecca's voice reached him loud and clear, noted with concern. “Noble, what's wrong?”
“He's okay.” The voice had clarity this time. Jonah – speaking from right beside him. “It was just an anxiety attack.”
A tremor ran through Noble when he realized it was Jonah he had grabbed onto.
“I can take it from here.” Rebecca's voice cracked with a brittle tone as she, in not so many words, told Jonah to get lost.
Noble straightened up slowly, still gripping the rail. He glanced discreetly at Jonah as the man backed off without resistance. Their eyes met briefly before Mason and Colleen suddenly appeared.
“What's wrong?” Mason directed his question to Jonah.
“Nothing.” he spoke low. “Just anxiety. He's fine.”
Colleen was next to Rebecca, her hand on Noble's face. He smiled uneasily. “I'm fine. Really.” But his voice felt thick, his throat tight. He didn't feel fine at all. His eyes slipped past Rebecca and her mom to Mason and Jonah.
For a split second there, Jonah had been a different man than the one who had cornered him in the wine cellar, and forcibly kissed him at Mason's the other night.
Don't be a fool. What you see here, out in public, is the facade. You've seen the real man that he is when no one's watching. He's the one you have to look out for.
Jonah caught his stare but the man's eyes were unreadable in the shadow of the tall spruce growing at the edge of the church lawn.
“Come on.” Rebecca said, tearing his eyes from the man. “Let's go inside, sit down.”
Nodding, Noble pushed away from the railing cautiously. His head remained clear as he, Rebecca and Colleen climbed the steps up to the church entrance. But at they approached the double doors – and Pastor Rick – Noble could feel the anxiety seeping back in.
Please, God, just let me get inside and sit down. Please don't let me have another attack.
He wasn't entirely sure if God was even listening to him anymore – or if He ever really had – but it was habit to pray when he needed help. So he prayed.
Though cushioned, the seat of the pew felt hard as stone. Noble leaned forward, his elbows grinding painfully into his thighs as his head rested heavily in his hands, his fingers digging lightly at his scalp. A cold heat sizzled his skin beneath his suit, a sheen of sweat breaking out all over his body. He was growing lightheaded again, but sitting down helped hold it at bay.
“Are you going to be okay?” Rebecca asked quietly. She touched his shoulder then rubbed her hand down the back of his head. “Do you feel nauseous?”
“No.” Noble swallowed with effort then slowly straightened up and leaned against the back of the pew. “I'm fine.”
Rebecca touched the back of her hand to his face. “You look pale, hon.” She said, concerned. “Are you sure-”
“I'm sure.” Noble rasped tightly, a bit too abrupt. “I said I was fine.”
A tightness squeezed Rebecca's face. She withdrew her hand. “I'm sorry. I was just concerned.”
Noble grabbed her hand and pressed it to his lips. “No.” He said thick, regretting his harshness. “I didn't mean to snap. I just...” He shook his head. “I don't know what's wrong with me. Maybe I am coming down with something.”
“Do you want to go home?” Rebecca asked. “Pastor Rick would understand.”
“No. It's okay.” Noble whispered. “We don't need to leave.” He drew a deep breath then let it out slow. “I'll be fine.” He forced a smile. “Really.”
He nearly jumped when a hand dropped onto his shoulder, his breath sticking. His pulse shot through the roof as he lifted his eyes. Rather than meeting the violet gaze he was expecting, Mason stared down at him.
“How you doing?” Real concern shadowed his eyes.
“I'm...” He glanced past Mason but saw no sign of Jonah. “I feel better.” He didn't, not really.
Mason nodded and smiled. “That's good.”
Colleen gently squeezed his arm affectionately then the two took a seat in the pew behind Noble and Rebecca.
Releasing a low sigh, Noble closed his eyes briefly. Maybe it was true that he was feeling better. The dizziness and cold sweats were beginning to abate some. Rebecca held his hand with both of hers and Noble began to relax. This was right. This was how it should be. He had no cause to feel unwelcome in God's house. The incidents a couple days ago hadn't been his fault. What had happened – had been forced on him. Like an alcoholic held down and forced to drink. Yeah, of course the alcohol is going to taste good, his body craving every drop – but that didn't mean he wasn't sick or that he even wanted to succumb.
Jonah had forced him to drink, so to speak. But it hadn't been his choice.
A sudden, tight breath slipped from between Rebecca's lips and her grip on his hand tightened a fraction. Noble opened his eyes and looked at her.
“Is something wrong?” he murmured.
Her lips pressed tight as she glanced past Noble's shoulder then leaned close and whispered, “I really don't see how he can justify setting foot in God's house...when he lives an openly sinful life – without shame or remorse.”
“What?” Noble frowned and glanced around. “Who-?” His words caught in his throat when Jonah's piercing eyes seized his as the man sat down by Mason. Noble tore away from Jonah's stare, everything rushing back in on him full force; the lightheadedness, the cold sweats, the all around anxiety. Why had he thought the man had left?
He was suddenly painfully aware of every shift Jonah made right behind him. Though he couldn't see him, he felt him lean forward and rest his elbows on his knees. He wasn't close enough for Noble to actually feel his breath on the back of his neck, but his phantom breath was enough.
The pastor walked by and approached the podium. Noble fought the urge to lean forward to get away from Jonah's presence. But he had no desire to give the man anymore indication that he was getting to him.
You're funny, man. He's got your number and he can dial it anytime he likes and get you every time.
No, that wasn't true. He'd caught Noble off guard – both times. But not again. He was onto Jonah's tactics now. He could fight it as long as he saw it coming. Determination tightened his jaw. Whatever the man's game was – Noble had no intentions of playing it with him.
Just ignore him. Look at Pastor Rick. Listen to the sermon. You'll be fine. You're in God's house. You're safe.
“Good morning everyone.” Rick smiled from behind the podium as he opened his bible then looked out over the congregation. “It's nice to see you all here.”
The small crowd murmured their pleasant good mornings to him then quieted again. Noble focused on the man. He had a friendly face and warm smile, and seemed to genuinely care about others. That should be a given for all pastors, but Noble had met enough to know they didn't all subscribe to the love your neighbor as yourself bit of biblical advice.
“Let's open with prayer.” Rick smiled, then motioned for everyone to stand.
A low rustle of shifting bodies filled the sanctuary as the congregation stood almost simultaneously. Noble was one of the last to make it to his feet. He gripped the back of the pew in front of him as Rebecca took his other hand.
“Let's bow our heads. “ Rick said.
All heads bowed and eyes closed. Noble glanced around the church then closed his eyes and bowed his head as well. Rick began the morning prayer and Noble tried to listen, but the ringing was back in his ears. He could feel eyes on his back but shook off the sensation, certain it was all in his head. Surely Jonah's head was bowed along with everyone else's.
Still, the tiny hairs on the nape of his neck prickled as if someone were lightly caressing him. He shifted and rolled his shoulders slightly as if to shrug off the tingling feeling. But it remained.
His eyes opened slowly and he glanced casually behind him. Jonah stood beside Mason, his hands resting on the back of Noble's pew. His head was bowed but his eyes were open. He grabbed Noble's gaze as soon as he looked back. Noble tried to pull away, but the man held him with a near physical grip. He couldn't read Jonah's eyes. The man apparently knew how to veil the view into his soul.
Noble wasn't certain how long he actually stood there, locked into Jonah's stare, before Rick ended the prayer. The sudden murmur of Amens snapped the hold and he turned away quick, his heart racing. His butt hit the pew rather hard as he nearly fell back onto the seat. Beneath his dress shirt, his skin was suddenly clammy. Jonah's presence behind him was stronger than ever. He swore he could literally hear each and every beat of the man's heart, every breath that seeped out between his lips.
The memory of Jonah's warm breath on his lips, slipping into his mouth, clutched Noble so suddenly his head reeled.
Noble clamped his eyes shut and willed the memory to go away. But the ache in his groin refused to be denied. Nausea welled as his heart beat faster, harder, with every remnant of the memory of Jonah kissing him, pinning him against the fireplace.
A whimper fought to escape but he forced it down, swallowing hard. God, please...please not now! Not here...please don't let me think about it...
The pastor called Mary Brennan, a fifty-ish lady in a flower print dress, up to the podium to lead the hymn service. Mary was a slightly plump woman with a pretty face and warm eyes. Noble had spoken with her often in passing during previous services. She had a peace about her that Noble envied. That certainty that she was square with God, and her place in heaven was secure. Something Noble had been fairly sure of not so long ago. Now...
Jonah cleared his throat and shift in the pew behind him as he leaned forward and tugged a hymnal from the slot on the back side of Noble's pew. For a brief moment, the warmth on the back of his neck wasn't his imagination. The tiny hairs prickled and he forced himself not to roll his neck to banish the sensation. When he sensed Jonah draw back in his seat, he relaxed a fraction, though not much.
Taking a hymn book, Rebecca opened it and held it for Noble as well. The last thing he felt like doing right now was singing. He could barely swallow, much less squeeze words out in a melodic flow.
Up at the podium, Mary gave the page number and song. Noble barely registered what she said, but Rebecca turned to the appropriate page. Noble stared at the chosen song. When We All get To Heaven.
Nausea ground his guts into agonizing knots. Who did the 'All' really encompass?
Organ music filled the air. “Lets all stand for this.” Mary spoke up cheerfully.
Once again, everyone stood. Noble remained seated, the dizziness returning. Rebecca touched his shoulder. “Noble?”
“I'm fine.” he said quietly and waved her to go ahead without him.
Voices rose and fell, singing out the words of hope for the afterlife. The nausea swelled as the voices began to meld together into a jumble of humming noise until just one voice remained crystal clear. Who would've thought Jonah had the voice of an angel?
“When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be.” The words fell from Jonah's lips and drifted down on Noble. He closed his eyes as his head began to pound.
“When we all see Jesus...we will sing and shout the victory.”
Noble's head throbbed and swam. A fierce heat encased him and his throat tightened, his stomach pinching. Oh God, I'm gonna be sick.
He grabbed the back of the pew in front of him and pulled himself up, then stepped out into the aisle. Please don't let me pass out right here in front of everyone. Or worse – vomit on anyone.
The porcelain gleamed spotless, the water crystal clear, as Noble hugged the toilet, his breath gasping, stomach twisting. But nothing came up, though the need to puke remained strong.
He stared at his rippling reflection in the clear toilet water and felt some degree of gratitude he was hugging a church toilet that was well maintained and cleaned regularly.
Drops hit the water with tiny poink! sounds. Loosening his grip on the edge of the toilet with one hand, Noble dragged trembling fingertips across his cheek, rubbing through a stream of tears. He gripped the toilet bowl again and hung his head, eyes heavy and bleary as he watched his tears splash into his reflection. An image of Jonah's face rose and hovered behind his eyes. The man's smooth, perfect voice as he sang out words of praise and hope...filled his ears.
And the feel of his hungry mouth burning his lips.
Noble's eyes clamped tight, his jaw clenching as his stomach turned, pinching painfully. Suddenly what little he had inside him dumped into the clean, clear water, instantly soiling it. His guts seemed to turn inside out as he tried to force out what was no longer in there.
“Dammit.” he choked. Tears poured down his face. One arm curled around his stomach as he dry heaved a few more times. His hand raked at the back of the toilet then managed to grab the handle and flush away the stinking mess.
Fatigue clawed at him and he tugged down the toilet lid and pressed his damp, fevered cheek to the cool surface and closed his eyes. He should get up, wash his face, wash out his mouth and go back to the service, but he couldn't make his body move. There seemed no strength left in him.
He actually began to fade off when the touch of a damp, cold cloth to his face jerked him to full consciousness.
“There are much better places to take a nap.”
It took effort for Noble to open his eyes, and when he did, they felt puffy, swollen. Jonah's face was a bleary haze before him as the man squatted to his heels and wiped Noble's cheeks with the clean, wet washcloth.
It was instinct for Noble to pull away, but he was still immobilized. Unable to do anything but just stare at the man as he rubbed the refreshing cloth across his heated brow and flushed cheeks.
I don't need your help...just leave me alone. The words tried to form on his tongue but slid slowly down his throat. His eyes grew heavy again and started to close; the cool cloth on his hot skin soothing, comforting.
“Hey.” Jonah said quietly.
Noble's eyes opened slowly.
Rising up, Jonah gripped Noble's arm and lifted him to his feet. Noble grabbed the edge of the sink as the room swayed a bit.
“There's a sofa in the daycare room.” Jonah told him. “Why don't you go in there and lay down for awhile. I'll let Rebecca know you're not feeling well.”
Not feeling well. Noble glanced at his reflection in the mirror. It's more than just not feeling well, his image seemed to whisper. You're sick. And it's this man making you sick.
Noble tugged his arm from Jonah's light grip. “I'm fine.” he rasped then clutched the sink with both hands. His face pinched as he stared at himself, his brow tight and furrowed. “Just leave me alone.”
A low sigh escaped Jonah. He rubbed his hand slowly over his mouth. “I'm just trying to help.”
“I didn't ask for your help.” Noble bit tightly without looking at the man. “I don't need your kind of help.”
Jonah lingered a moment, absently folding the damp washcloth, then draped it over the edge of the sink and stepped to the door. “Whatever you say.” he murmured.
His chest heaving, Noble squeezed the sink, his knuckles whitening, fingertips turning red. “And...stay away from me.” he said tight, quiet. “Don't ever...touch me again.” He trembled. His eyes burned as he stared at the sink basin. Tears trickled down his face and dripped off his fevered skin, splashing against the porcelain. “I'm not...like you. I don't want...the same things.”
When he received no response, Noble raised his eyes slowly and looked in the mirror, half expecting to see an empty doorway behind him. Jonah leaned against the door frame, one hand clamped on the back of his neck, eyes on the floor. His handsome face was tense, brow pinched. But not in anger. Noble couldn't pinpoint the emotion the man resonated.
I'll take it from here. Rebecca's curt words from earlier scurried through Noble's head. Her clear dismiss of the man, and total lack of acknowledgment of his offered help. And now – he was being dismissed again.
A remnant of guilt squeezed at Noble's heart, but he refused to give place to it. He had every right to tell the man to leave him alone. Jonah was out of line assuming anything about him – and then acting on it. To hell with him.
Jonah lifted his head and caught Noble's stare in the mirror. His deep violet eyes looked right through the wall Noble had so carefully constructed around him, piercing deep into his shadowed soul.
Don't look in there. You have no right! I don't want you to see – I don't want anyone to see!
“Keep telling yourself that.” Jonah spoke low, soft. There was a dejected note to his voice that Noble couldn't account for but refused to be swayed by. Jonah pushed away from the door frame and stepped out of the bathroom, adding quietly, more to himself it seemed - “Maybe one day it'll be true.”
© Copyright 2017 AMS1971. All rights reserved.
Book / Gay and Lesbian
Book / Gay and Lesbian
Book / Gay and Lesbian