“Broken And Spilled Out”
“So please, please, please go
I'm not strong enough to say no
Please, please don't stay
I'm not man enough to walk away
Please, please pass by
I can't resist you even though I try
So please go, I'm not strong to say no.”
- I'm Not Strong Enough To Say No, BLACKHAWK
I don't need your kind of help.
The short hall that ran between the bathroom and the daycare room, leading back to the sanctuary, was at most twenty feet. For reasons that had yet to make themselves clear to Jonah, the short walk had the feel of the last mile of his life.
Stay away from me.
The soles of his dress shoes took each step silently as they sank into the soft maroon carpet. His hands hung loose by his sides but the tension in his shoulders crawled up the back of his neck, burrowed into his skull and began to throb.
Don't ever touch me again.
The door to the sanctuary seemed to withdraw from his approach, as if he were caught in a strange dream from a movie. But he didn't pick up his pace. Suddenly the thought of going back out there, sitting with his family – nearly assaulted him with a bout of anxiety induced nausea.
Somewhere behind him, outside the haze of his thoughts, he heard the bathroom door close quietly – and lock. Afraid you'll come back? Take more of what doesn't belong to you?
Jonah's steps faltered when the door stopped pulling away from him, and it was right there before him. He slid his fingertips over the smooth knob; brass plated and cool to the touch. He stood there, caressing the cold metal, then glanced through the large wall-length window into the daycare room. The walls were plastered with cartoon depictions of Jesus with little children, Jesus holding a lamb, Jesus holding out his hands invitingly with the words 'I Love You' at the bottom.
Jonah's eyes locked onto those words. Back in the bathroom, the faucet turned on. A quiet, barely detectable choking sob filtered through the closed door. Noble's face formulated in his mind; the man hunched over the toilet, eyes red and puffy from crying and puking his guts out. His mind cracking beneath the stress of what he couldn't accept.
He'll never accept it, Jonah spoke silently to the picture. As long as he thinks you hate him for it.
Jonah closed his eyes, took a deep breath, then released it on a weary sigh. The words from the picture stared back at him when his eyes opened again. I Love You.
“Do you?” he whispered, his voice thick. “Do you really?” He didn't ask it in bitterness, or with a lacing of sarcasm. It was an honest question. One which he had little hope of being answered.
The cool knob squeezed against his palm as his fingers tightened and he twisted, slowly opening the door. The congregation was onto a new hymn, though now everyone was seated. He stood in the open door, his hand sliding off the inside knob and lightly gripping the edge of the door.
The music was comforting. He loved being in church, loved the soul soothing hymns, found peace in the word of God and fellowship with God's people.
How many would fellowship with you...welcome you with open arms...if they really knew you?
This wasn't his church, his hometown. He came here off and on, even owned a house here. But this wasn't his home. Very few knew him. Would these people – who expressed the love of God so vibrantly – expel him from their church if they knew what he was? Not that he had to worry about them discovering it; his dad respected him and wouldn't say a thing without his consent, Colleen believed in keeping family issues private and within the family, and Rebecca...
Jonah licked his lips slowly and stared at the back of her head. Rebecca would rather die than reveal to her church family that her step-brother was a homosexual. As if it might somehow reflect poorly on her.
What're you going to do, Becca – when you discover your fiancé is a gay man desperately trying to convince himself he's straight?
“Are you feeling better, hon?”
Rebecca sat beside him on the blanket spread out on the soft grass behind the church. Noble sat with his legs draw up, arms resting across his knees. He watched a flurry of children dressed in their Sunday best chasing each other around, darting in between the sparse evergreens at the far edge of the large lawn.
So innocent, Noble thought. Not a care in the world. Too young to know just what they will...be when they get older.
“Noble?” Rebecca touched his back and he looked away from the kids.
“I asked if you were feeling better?”
Drawing a slow, deep breath, he nodded and smiled. “Yeah.”
The nausea had abated soon after vomiting. When he'd returned to the sanctuary, Jonah had been gone. He didn't ask where he'd went, and no one offered the information. It didn't matter. Everything was better when he wasn't around.
A sting of guilt needled him but he swiped it away like a pesky bug. He had no cause to feel guilty – the man had brought it on himself. Jonah couldn't hardly expect him to want him around after the crap he'd pulled.
Rebecca slid her arm through his and laid her head on his shoulder. Her eyes followed the children. A smile touched her lips. “I can't wait to have a baby with you.” She whispered.
A baby. A chill swept through Noble and his heart thumped hard against his ribs. He and Rebecca had talked about having kids, how many they wanted. She had her heart set on three or four. Noble had been all for it – then. But now? God, his mind was so fragmented lately that he couldn't even think straight.
When he felt her eyes on him, he glanced at her. “What?” he asked softly.
“Well...I guess I was expecting some form of response.” Uncertainty darkened her eyes. “You're not having second thoughts...are you?”
Noble rubbed the back of his neck, finding his skin damp with a light sheen of sweat as the warm sun beat against his back. “About what?” he asked. “Having kids?”
“All of it.” Rebecca's brow tightened. “Getting married.”
“Why would you ask that?” Noble's guts began to knot up again. Would he ever know another moment of peace again in this life? He was beginning to have his doubts.
“It just seems that...you're stressed a lot lately.” She pointed out. “More than just typical pre-wedding anxiety.” She shook her head. “What am I supposed to think? I mean...maybe deep down, you don't want to marry me.”
Noble slid his arm around her shoulders. “I don't know what's stressing me out. But I know for certain it isn't that.”
The lie slipped out so smooth it left him somewhat disturbed; would it always be this easy to lie to her?
Rebecca leaned up and kissed his cheek. “Well, whatever it is, I'm sure it will pass.”
“I hope so.” Noble murmured, but knew he had about a snowball's chance in hell of it passing.
A shadow fell over them and Noble glanced up.
“Rebecca.” Mason said. “Your mother asked if you could come help her in the dining hall.”
Smiling, Rebecca nodded. “Of course.” She touched Noble's chin and turned his face, kissing him lightly on the lips. “I'll be back soon. I love you.”
“I love you too.” Noble offered in return, his words thick, quiet. Please, God, let it still be true.
When Rebecca got to her feet and walked away, it dawned on Noble that he hadn't kissed her back. It was just a peck on the lips, she didn't give you time to kiss her back. Don't make an issue out of nothing.
“Mind if I cop a squat?” Mason asked.
Noble chuckled and shook his head. “By all means – squat.”
Mason laughed and it gouged at Noble how much his laugh sounded like Jonah's.
The man took Rebecca's place on the blanket, his legs drawn up, much like Noble's, arms resting across his knees. His gaze went to the trees where the children were playing. A smile stretched his lips. Noble found himself studying Mason's face, cataloging every feature that was reminiscent of Jonah's. He hadn't realized just how much they truly resembled one another.
“You okay, son?”
Noble blinked. Mason was staring at him, still smiling. Noble looked away quick. “Uh, yeah.” he chuckled low then pressed his lips tight. “I was just noticing...how much you and Jonah look alike.”
Rubbing his hand across his mouth, Mason grinned. “Well, I'll take that as a compliment.” He winked. “My son's a handsome man.”
Indeed. Noble fought the shiver that tried to race through him as the surface of his skin began to tingle slightly.
Mason's smile faded somewhat and Noble felt his eyes on him. Nerves instantly spun his guts into knots. Please, God, don't let him somehow see the truth of Jonah's effect on me.
“Did you speak to Jonah earlier?” Mason asked. His voice took on a slightly concerned tone. “He said he was going back to check on you. Do you know why he left without telling us?”
Shifting on the blanket, Noble shook his head slowly. “I don't know.” The lies seemed to be pouring out in a steady flow these days. “I spoke to him...briefly. Told him I was okay, just a little nauseous.”
“Hmm.” Mason looked forward again, eyes squinted with thought. “I tried calling his cell but it went straight to his voice mail.” He sighed. “I guess he'll call me back when he feels like it. I don't know what is with him lately, but something's off.”
The tense cords winding up Noble's guts stretched taut. “What...do you mean?” he asked slowly, cautiously. “Something's off.”
Mason shrugged. “Well, the thing is...Jonah is a pretty laid back guy. Not a lot gets to him. So when his behavior begins to change...it usually means something is bugging him.”
“He don't talk to you about stuff?”
“Usually, he does.” Mason said, then shrugged and frowned just a bit. “But not this time.” He sighed then grinned, and winked again. “Maybe he's fallen in love. Nothing like getting bitten by the love bug to spin a man's world off its axis.” He nudged Noble lightly. “Am I right?”
“Yeah.” Noble chuckled, but detected very little humor in it.
Maybe he's fallen in love.
No, Noble wanted to tell him, but remained silent. He isn't in love. Whatever this is – it has nothing to do with the heart.
Just one more thing.
Jonah's lips burned with the memory of that kiss – taken by sheer will, without permission, as if it had somehow been his right to steal.
Thou shalt not steal.
Yeah, well, that didn't seem to be the only commandment of the Ten he'd been violating lately.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife.
Jonah leaned his head back against the driver seat and closed his eyes. What about coveting your step-sister's fiancé?
He suspected that fell under the same umbrella.
And how about keeping the Sabbath day holy?
That one had been a lost cause from the moment he'd opened his eyes that morning, body drenched in sweat, heart smashing against his ribs as he awakened from an intense intimate dream of Noble. His morning rituals – shower, shave, coffee, breakfast – had toned down the memory of the dream somewhat. But when he'd pulled into the church parking lot and laid eyes on Noble, all decked out in his Sunday best, looking like an angel come down from heaven on a specialized mission to torture him with what he couldn't have – the dream came back with force, burning through Jonah's body with such heat that he hadn't dared even get out of the car for a few minutes until he forced his body to calm.
One thing had led to another, escalating until he'd found himself squatting beside Noble in the bathroom, wiping his tear stained, flushed face, aching so bad to just scoop him up and take him home and prove to him once and for all how amazing it could be to love and be loved by another man.
Jonah trembled. A shaky sigh worked up his throat as he opened his eyes and stared the underside of the car roof. He didn't know what he'd been hoping for when he'd followed Noble out of the sanctuary. It wasn't as if he'd been expecting something in return for trying to help him. His brain didn't seem to be working so well these days. In Noble's presence, it tended to glitch and freeze, and at times come up with crazy notions Jonah seemed helpless to follow through with.
Like the little stunt you pulled in the wine cellar? The kiss you stole at the dinner?
A groan stuck in his throat. He raked his fingers slowly through his thick, black hair then on back to grip the head rest of the seat. He was still in a quandary over his reasoning behind that kiss. It wasn't planned. The teasing? Yes. Uncalled for? No doubt – but still premeditated. Noble was in such fierce denial – even after the incident in the cellar – that Jonah couldn't help but prove to the man that he still craved Jonah's kiss. Clearly a juvenile move, but his brain had been in one of those glitching fits.
But the kiss. Now that hadn't been on his agenda. When he'd turned to leave, that had been his intention – just leave. Get out of the way. Why stay where he wasn't wanted, by anyone, save for his father? Noble had made it clear he stood with Rebecca on all things concerning him. He'd turned for the door and then...
Just one more thing.
The words were spoken before he even knew he was going to speak. And then his mouth was crushing down on Noble's. Perhaps if the man had resisted, even a fraction, Jonah would have backed off. But Noble hadn't resisted. Hadn't fought him. But rather dove into him, and that eagerness and need in the man had set fire to Jonah that blazed through him like a fire storm.
The scene played through his head on a consistent loop. Had he kissed him merely out of spite? Because Noble had insisted he would stand strong by Rebecca's side? Was the source really something so...petty and immature? Yet he didn't recall feeling spiteful. But if it hadn't been instigated by spite – then what?
His head tilted forward and Jonah slid his hands up around the curve of the steering wheel, his gaze settling on the double entrance doors of the church. When he'd left earlier, he had no destination in mind – just needed to be away from there. But away from what exactly? What was it that had truly caused him to flee the premises?
Stay away from me. Don't ever touch me again.
Those words dealt a sting that hurt much worse than it should have.
Jonah leaned back against the seat again and rubbed his hands down his tense face, a pressure in his throat and chest impeding his breath. Both hands shoved up into his hair as he squeezed his eyes shut. Why had he come back here? To apologize to his dad for just walking out without a word? That's the excuse he gave himself when he turned the car around and returned to the church. But now that he was here, the excuse felt weak, as if it were just that – an excuse.
What're you doing? He don't want your kind of help – remember?
The tight grip on his hair loosened. His hands dropped back to the steering wheel. The kiss from the other night taunted and teased his lips with the torturous memory. The craving for another was nearly more than he could bear. His pulse quickened and he grabbed the ignition key, ready to crank the engine, get the hell out of there before his brain went haywire and caused him to stumble into another puddle of stupidity.
The key squeezed between his fingers, the smooth metal of the ignition slot cool against his fingertips.
Just go. Leave the man alone. You're causing him more harm than good.
Forcing Noble to succumb to his base desires wasn't an indication the man truly wanted him. He just couldn't help himself. There was nothing real in Noble's reactions to Jonah's advances. The man was merely acting on his baser instincts.
Noble didn't want to be helped.
He wanted to be saved.
Unease jabbed at Noble's gut when Mason excused himself. It was a frightening and unsettling thing for him to be alone with his thoughts anymore. At home, he watched television, or cranked his music, or busied himself in ways that left no room for destructive thought.
But here, the distractions were minimal. Not nearly enough to keep his thoughts in line. He considered seeking out a conversation with someone, anyone. But he didn't feel like talking. He longed to just lay back on the blanket and take a nap, but he was afraid of sleep the most.
There are better places to take a nap.
Noble's face pinched as Jonah's voice exploded through his head. His eyes squeezed shut and he shoved his forehead against his arms, struggling to push the recent memories from his mind with sheer physical force.
God, just get him out of my head – Please!
His hands slipped into his hair, clutching fistfuls. He could still feel the cool, damp cloth against his skin as Jonah washed his face and brow with a gentleness he couldn't allow himself to contemplate.
Don't you dare do this – don't you dare change your game now!
Noble yelped and jumped when Rebecca suddenly appeared, her hand dropped gently on his shoulder.
She laughed and frowned as she knelt beside him on the blanket, sitting on her heels. She reached back and slipped off her shoes, setting them aside, then rubbed her hand up Noble's back.
“Are you okay?” she smiled. “I didn't mean to startle you.”
“Yeah.” He rasped then cleared his throat. He ran his fingers through his hair to straighten the mess after clutching it in his fists. His arms came back to rest on his knees as his fingers interlaced loosely and he stared at his hands absently.
Rebecca's hand slid up to the back of his neck, her thumb gently caressing the tender skin at the nape. There was a time when her doing that had sent pleasant shivers through his body. He closed his eyes and willed them to manifest once again.
“I, uh...” He cleared his throat again. “I thought you were helping your mom.”
Rebecca laughed softly. “Some of the other older ladies came in and shooed me away. They said I better keep a close eye on my handsome fiancé before someone else snatched him up.”
Jonah's face materialized behind his eyes so suddenly his pulse caught. He tried to banish the image, though it resisted with force.
“Don't think you have to worry about that.” He chuckled, but it sounded hollow.
“Well I should hope not.” Rebecca murmured, smiling. She kissed his cheek and combed her fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck. “Though it may not be for the lack of effort on another woman's part. Who wouldn't want you for their own?”
Another woman. Noble sighed. It isn't another woman you have to worry about.
His heart ached as she laid her head on his shoulder and continued to twist her fingers through his hair. I'm so sorry, Becca. You deserve better than this. So much more than what you're getting. I should have told you the truth about me right from the start.
Tears stung his eyes and he quickly blinked them away. He owed her the truth. But what if she left him? Forsook him? He couldn't fight this on his own. He was barely keeping his head above water as it was. If she walked away, he would have no one to turn to. He would drown. His parents didn't know about his problem. And he could only imagine what his dad would do if he did find out. They weren't a source of strength and support. They never had been.
Noble laid his head on his arms and closed his eyes. Rebecca's hand remained on the back of his neck, caressing. He could feel her eyes on him, her concern for his well being. Don't worry about me, Rebecca. Don't care so much. Please. I don't deserve it.
Mason turned from speaking with Pastor Rick and Emmett Anders, a deacon of the church. Jonah stood a couple feet behind him, seeming fidgety and, if Mason were to categorize it – on edge. It was rare for Jonah not to tell him when something was bothering him. Granted, their father/son time had diminished since his marriage to Colleen. Jonah didn't come around nearly as much these days. His reasoning tore at Mason's heart, but in many ways, he felt caught between a rock and a hard place.
“Jonah.” Mason excused himself from the conversation as he and Jonah moved away from the two men. Mason rested his hand on Jonah's shoulder as they walked towards the shade of the tree line. “Why did you leave earlier?”
Jonah rubbed a hand over his mouth and stared at the ground, seeming to follow his own footsteps. “I, uh...” he cleared his throat, his lips pressed into a tight line.
“I tried to call, but just got your voice mail.” Mason went on. “Where did you go?”
A low breath slipped from between the young man's lips. “I just...needed some air. Went for a drive.”
Mason pressed his lips between his teeth and nodded slowly, his gaze distant, thoughtful. “Did something happen with Noble?”
Instant tension seized Jonah's shoulders beneath Mason's hand and the man halted so suddenly that Mason took a couple extra steps before he realized his son had stopped.
“What do you mean?” Jonah asked low. His voice strained and squeezed with stress and a sudden, strong defensiveness. Furrow lines cut across his brow, pinching his handsome face and filling his eyes with a wariness and uncertainty that caught Mason off guard.
“I...didn't mean anything, really.” Mason said slow, studying his son with a measure of confusion. “I was just wondering if maybe...you'd had an argument or something. You left right after checking on Noble.”
Jonah jerked his eyes away and looked to the tree line again, but his stare remained stone, brow tight. “No.” His voice had a sudden roughness and thickness to it that hadn't been there a moment ago. “I barely spoke to him, just made sure he was okay, then I left.”
There was a hesitant note to his voice that Mason remembered well from Jonah's adolescent years. It was that skip in his tone when he'd done something he knew was wrong, and was trying to get away with not having to tell the exact truth – without actually lying about it. He hadn't heard that in his voice in many years. As an adult, Jonah apparently hadn't come across anything he felt he couldn't talk to his dad about, because that telling note had all but faded entirely.
“What did you do, Jonah?”
Jonah's stare snapped back to Mason's, his violet eyes slightly wide with a measure of shock as if he'd just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
“What?” The single word question puffed out on a stiff exhalation of air, his breath suddenly quick and uneven.
Mason slowly lifted one eyebrow and looked at his son. If there had been any doubt that Jonah was concealing something, it dissipated the instant the young man's eyes quickly averted away and looked anywhere but directly at his father.
“I don't know what you're talking about, dad.” Jonah's voice skipped again, betraying the lack of truth in his denial. “I just came back to apologize for walking out.” And there it was again. Mason's eyes narrowed slightly as he stared at his son's face. Jonah's eyes were distant, seemingly staring at nothing – until Mason followed his gaze and discovered it resting tensely on Noble.
Unease squeezed Mason's insides. Noble sat motionless, knees drawn up and his face buried in his arms as Rebecca sat beside him. Her head rested against him and she seemed to be speaking quietly.
Mason's gaze shifted back to Jonah's face. And what he saw resonating forth from his son's eyes heightened his unease and pressed against his heart.
Oh Jonah, son...no...no...no...what have you gotten yourself into?
The exact details of Rebecca's words were lost on Noble. The ringing was beginning to come back into his ears and it felt as if Rebecca was speaking from a distance. He couldn't shake the stress oppressing his body, mind, and soul.
He fought the urge to shrug off Rebecca's hand as she continued to play with the hair at the nape of his neck. It wasn't annoying – but rather, every touch against his skin reminded him that he was lying to her every second more that he refused to tell her the truth. But was it really lying if she wasn't asking outright questions?
Omission is betrayal.
If it was something she had a right to know – and he was keeping it from her – then yes, he was lying. There were no gray areas. Not with this.
He raised his head slowly – and was instantly caught in the trap of Jonah's powerful stare. He sucked in a short, sharp breath before he could stop himself and a shudder rippled through him.
He came back.
Noble's pulse quickened, speeding up faster and faster like a nascar racer shifting gears. When Jonah seemed to register that he was staring, he turned away with an abruptness that felt far too much like a stinging slap to Noble's face.
The scene from the bathroom spun on a loop in his head. Jonah had done nothing to warrant Noble's hostility. He'd simply been trying to help him, as he'd done out in front of the church. And rather than thanking the man – he'd dismissed him, as Rebecca had done earlier.
The look on Jonah's face, the hurt in his voice...it came back on Noble now as he stared at the man across the expansive lawn, speaking with Mason. His suit jacket was gone and the sleeves of his white dress shirt was rolled midway up his forearms. The navy blue tie he'd been wearing earlier in church had disappeared and the top few buttons of his shirt were unfastened.
Jonah shot him quick, discreet glances, almost unwillingly it seemed, as if he was trying not to look at him but couldn't stop himself.
Guilt jabbed at him as he again thought about what had happened in the bathroom. But he'd had every right to say those things to Jonah. The man had crossed the line before, and surely it was only a matter of time before he crossed it again. Wasn't it?
So why was guilt weaving around his heart like a web, slowly and steadily locking him in?
Just apologize and be done with it.
Noble shifted then crawled to his feet. He expected Rebecca to ask where he was going, but she didn't question and he didn't offer an explanation. The grass was soft and thick beneath soles of his shoes as he walked towards Jonah, the air warm, soothing on his face. The faint, hardly detectable breeze played with Jonah's black hair, casting strands over his forehead, into his eyes, then gently brushing them back again.
Noble's heart quivered against his ribs and his fingertips tingled with the need to slide through those soft ebony strands. He tried to fight the unacceptable thoughts but found he had no strength – nor will – to do so. His eyes were locked tight with Jonah's and he couldn't break away, didn't want to break away.
As he approached, Mason drifted off to speak with others, leaving Jonah standing alone. The man stared at Noble, just watched him intensely as he came closer – then suddenly turned away and walked into the trees.
Noble's steps faltered, an unexpected stab of pain piercing his heart, rejection stinging his eyes. Should he follow him? Did the man just want him to stay away – as he'd told Jonah to do? He glanced back at Rebecca but she was gone, perhaps having went back inside to help her mom. His gaze slowly turned back to the trees. They were sparse at the front but more dense the further back they went. Jonah's white shirt stood out as he weaved around the tree trunks, going deeper, not looking back.
You came over to apologize – so do it.
His heart pounding, Noble hesitated, casting another glance behind him. Was he searching for Rebecca in hopes that she would beckon to him, draw him back to her?
Or was he simply making sure she wasn't watching as he stood ready to go after the very man he swore he would never chase?
You're not chasing after him. You're simply seeking him out to apologize.
Too entangled with his erratic emotions to consider alternative motives, Noble embraced the lie and walked into the trees after Jonah.
© Copyright 2017 AMS1971. All rights reserved.
Book / Gay and Lesbian
Book / Gay and Lesbian
Book / Gay and Lesbian