Twelve – Tucker
That was all I could think on a repeating loop as we stood there on that cold Kentucky day, waiting as Pastor Vesco glowered down at us from way on high. Sterling’s hand was shaking, his skin clammy, his grip crushing. The man had crazy strong hands. Guess gripping footballs will do that for you. All I knew was that my fingers were numb, my life was a chaotic dumpster fire, and Sterling had just outed himself to his father. The minister. Some old song about the son of a preacher man began to float around inside my head as we waited for hellfire and brimstone to rain down upon us. Where had I heard that song before? Didn’t matter. Right now, that preacher man was a storm gathering on the horizon. I could see the clouds swirling in his dark eyes.
“What have you done, Sterling?” Pastor Vesco asked, his voice projecting clear to the wintry clouds blowing over the state.
“It’s complicated. Will you offer him sanctuary?” Sterling asked, his tone firm even if his hand was trembling. Fuck, the man was brave. I couldn’t have adored him more.
Pastor Vesco chewed on his son’s plea, his lips so tight it was a wonder he could force his reply through them when it came.
“Take him into the church,” Pastor Vesco said, then spun on his heel and stalked back into his clapboard cottage, the door closing behind him. Sterling exhaled strongly. I leaned into him in a soft show of support.
“I thought he was going to condemn us both to the bowels of Hell, then tell us to leave,” Sterling whispered into the still night.
“Why didn’t he?” I asked, my gaze back on the home that my boyfriend – yeah, Sterling had used that term first, and I was going to make sure it kept being used – had grown up in.
“I don’t have a clue, but let’s not question a miracle. Come on, I have the keys.”
The front door of the small chapel opened on silent hinges. I eyed the small plaque just beside the doorframe. It claimed that the church had been built on this spot in 1835 and was a Lutheran church, when first erected. It also stated that it was an important stop for the Underground Railroad. Being Canadian, I wasn’t overly learned about American history, but I did know what the Underground Railroad was, as many of the escaping slaves travelled all the way to Canada to settle.
“Wow,” I murmured as I ran a finger over the date the church was raised.
“Yeah, it’s a bit of history that always give me pause. Come on.” Sterling called me inside the darkened chapel, then locked the front door behind me. “We’ll set you up in Daddy’s office for now; there’s a sofa for you to lay down on. I’ll pick up some burner phones on the way back to Colchester, then I’ll call Gems. Don’t use the phone in the office.”
“You’re leaving me here alone?” I asked, my words laced with worry. I looked around the church, taking in the dark wooden pews, the stark pulpit, and the massive cherry cross on the wall behind the lectern.
“I have a game today, remember?” He hustled me along, nudging me into a tidy office with a window, a desk with a rotary phone beside a gooseneck lamp and a stack of papers, a chair, a wall of books, and a well-used couch. I sat down on the sofa. Actually, my knees just kind of buckled and my ass met the cushion.
“Yeah, sorry, I forgot. Are you going to miss it?”
“No, it’s a night game. I’ll have an hour or so to dress and hit the field.”
“I’ve fucked shit up so badly,” I lamented, burying my face into my hands. “I should have done things right when I came into the US. I shouldn’t have stayed at one place. Now, Shin and Ian and Butch and you are all wound up in my shit.”
“Hey, listen to me, okay?” He knelt in front of me, gently pulling my hands from my face. I stared into dark brown eyes ripe with anguish. “Your issues will be resolved. I’ll work with Ian, put my weight into getting you a green card or whatever it is you’ll need to stay in the country. I’m done hiding who I am, who I care about.”
I threw my arms around his thick neck. I never wanted to let go. But I had to. He kissed me tenderly, then stood, his fingers tracing the freckles on my cheeks. I smiled feebly up at him.
“You stay put. Daddy will probably ignore you because…” His sight darted to the sole window. “Well, just because. There’s a coffee pot in the meeting room across the hall. Probably some doughnuts from the service this morning. I’ll bring better food with me when I come back. Burgers, fries, maybe a milkshake.”
“After I come back?”
“Then, we make plans. For now, just lay low.” He bent down to press his lips to mine, then left, his gaze staying on mine as he backed out of the office.
I jumped up, ran to the window, and watched Sterling walk to his car, shoulders squared as if going into battle against Spartans. His father met him in the yard. There was an incredibly heated discussion that ended with Pastor Vesco slapping his son across the face. Sterling never raised a hand to his father. He motioned to the church, said something I couldn’t make out, then got into his car and left. Feet tangling, I stumbled back to the sofa, dropped down onto it, and gave into the turbulent emotions that had ridden on my shoulders since the call from Butch in the wee fucking hours. I didn’t cry often anymore. I’d learned not to during my childhood. The more tears, the harder the beating from Dad, so the breakdown was kind of an explosion of anger, fear, guilt, sadness, and joy. Yes, joy was in that muddy mess. I’d found a man that cared about me for me, not just for how I could please him sexually. He wanted more. I did too, so much more…
The office door opened with a blast that sent the knob slamming into the wall. I jerked in fright, leaping to my feet, my cheeks wet as Pastor Vesco entered the room.
“You have twenty-four hours safe haven under my roof. That is what I would give any human being that arrived on my doorstep begging for refuge. Tomorrow at noon, you will be gone from my property. You and my sinful son are not welcome here, as your deviate lifestyle is an abomination in the eyes of God and the world.”
“Okay. Thank you.” I pulled my hand under my runny nose. “I know you feel strongly about us, but Sterling and I aren’t deviates. We’re two people in love.”
His lips flatlined. “I suggest you spend your time here reading over the good book and praying that God forgives your transgressions. I will bring you dinner and a blanket. That is what was provided to those who came to this church many years ago. It is more than a man of your moral fiber deserves, but the Lord has spoken to me through my prayers and directed me to offer up a kindness to the sinner, and so, you shall be fed.”
“We’re not sinners we’re –,” I feebly argued. He left before I could finish my reply, pulling the door shut with a violent clack. My legs grew wobbly. Ass meeting couch cushion, I pulled myself into a ball, chin resting on my knees, and sniffled/cursed/wept my way through an hour. After that, I grew bored with feeling bad and rose, walking the office several times. I checked out the books; all of them were religious tomes. Books about scripture, mostly. Some biblical history reads, interpreting prayer, knowing when God is speaking to you, the plague of modern feminism, the scourge of Darwinism, and several books about sexual ethics.
Unable to resist, I pulled one of books down, flipped it open, and read the first two pages before slamming it shut and shoving it back where it came. I yanked another down, opened it to the middle, and then read a few lines. This one wasn’t as embroiled in hatred as the first had been. This one spoke about embracing queer people, but not affirming their behavior. Again, I slapped the hardcovers together, then set it back on the shelf.
Bored, and unable to find a book to read that wouldn’t make me feel like a monster for loving Sterling, I crept out of the office in search of old doughnuts. The meeting room was just across the hall, a small but clean room with a round table and eight chairs. The smell of coffee lingered on the air. Seeing the pot and all the fixings on a small cart in the corner, I made a fresh pot, stirred in some powdered creamer and a shot of sugar, then lifted a Styrofoam cup to my lips. The hot coffee felt good sliding into my empty belly. Shame there were no old doughnuts to be found.
Time ticked off slowly as the sun slid downward. I walked through the main part of the church, the smell of candlewax still on the air. I sat down, stared at the cross, and tried to pray, but then asked myself who I was praying to and why. I’d grown up knowing there was no God. There couldn’t be. If there was, wouldn’t He protect kids who were whipped with belts and fists by drunken parents? It made no sense to me that a god would be more interested in who someone took to bed than He was kids being hurt, raped, or killed.
The front door creaked open; my head craned around. Pastor Vesco appeared in the doorway, a thick quilt over one arm, a platter of food in the other. The sky was a wintery rose behind him. I got to my feet, picked up my empty coffee cup, and said nothing as he stalked past me. Falling in behind him, I followed him back to the office. There, he placed the food on the desk and the quilt on the sofa.
“Have you heard from Sterling?” I asked hopefully.
“I have not, nor do I wish to. Please wash the plate and utensils in the meeting room sink, then leave them to dry on the counter. You may have a light on in here until nine p.m., then it must be put out, as that’s when I leave the office for my home.”
“Okay, thanks. I do care about him, Sterling. I think I love him.”
His already tight features froze. Out he went without a reply. Sighing, I walked around the desk, flipped on the gooseneck light, and removed the foil covering the bowl of chili. The aroma of chili powder, onions, and garlic made my stomach growl. I lifted the spoon, dipped it into the reddish-brown mix of fried meat, dark red kidney beans, and chunks of onion and green pepper. It was spicy and delicious. I burnt my tongue a few times ladling the hot food into my mouth in a hurry, but the pain was worth it. I licked the bowl clean, burped, and gathered my stuff of to wash it. Once I was back in the office, I stared out into the encroaching darkness. There was one dim light on in the house, flickering. A TV, perhaps. Maybe Pastor Vesco was watching the game. I wished I could watch it, or even speak to someone outside of that miserable man in the tight white collar. I turned from the window and eyed the old rotary phone on the desk.
Maybe if I just made one short call to Gems, to let Shin know where I was, it would ease my mind. They couldn’t trace old phones like that one. It was only cell phones, right? The church was growing chilly, the heater locked on forty by the feels. Padding over the sofa, I lifted the patchwork quilt, draped it around my shoulders, and then sat on the edge of the desk, toying with the curly phone cord. One call. Just to hear the voice of a friend. Two minutes. No cell tower involved, so no way to locate me. What harm could it do?
I lifted the handset from the cradle, placed it to my ear, heard the dial tone then hung up. Sterling had said to sit tight, so I would. Tomorrow couldn’t come fast enough.