"Sbrigati (Hurry up), Noah! We’re already late!” Nona urged as I parked the car, pretending like she wasn’t the reason we were late. I warned her that once she starts a series on Netflix, she wouldn’t want to stop but she didn’t want to listen so she learned it the hard way.
“Okay, okay, Nona. Calmatevi (calm down),” I said with a slight chuckle as I unbuckled my seatbelt then hers before getting out and walking over to her side of the car in order to help her get into church. Luckily, due to my timely driving, we were only five minutes late and even then, service was just starting up. We offered polite waves and light hugs to our friends as we made our way to the pews, but as we got closer and closer to our seats, I felt my heartbeat increase. I felt out of place. I was dating someone now: another boy, and I knew that if my church found out they’d lose their minds even though my devotion and love for God hasn’t changed or waivered one bit. That was partially why I didn’t come last Sunday because I was scared that I’d somehow manage to slip up and be exposed, but I couldn’t hide myself forever. Like they said somethings are between you and God, and you and God only. This was one of those things. Hopefully he wouldn’t judge me too harshly about something I didn’t choose.
“Oh look, there’s a seat next to Gracie and Mrs. Grant,” Nona pointed out and low and behold there they were in the fourth row, paying close attention to the choir as they warmed up and began to sing. I nodded before silently leading her to her desired place, her frail old voice lightly humming along with the choir as they began their first song. Gracie and Mrs. Grant offered silent hellos as they continued singing with the choir, Nona sitting next to Mrs. Grant and me next to Gracie. I could’ve just been me, but I could’ve sworn her hand kept brushing against mine...more times than an “accident” can cover.
After a few songs, claps filled the air and we all took our seats as Pastor Brandon took his place behind the pulpit. “You can have a seat,” he announced, and almost simultaneously, we all followed his direction. “Today, we’re going to talk about something that not only I, but many of God’s children around the world are concerned about. But before I tell you exactly what it is, will you all turn to Genesis chapter two verse twenty-four. When you have found this, please stand if you are able.” The shuffling of Bible pages filled the air as people began standing.
“Hey, Gracie. Can we share? In all the rush this morning I forgot mine at home,” I whispered as she too found the chapter.
“Of course,” she smiled as we stood up, with her shoulder pressed against mine.
“Amen,” Pastor said once he saw that everyone-minus the elderly like my grandmother and Mrs. Grant who couldn’t get up and down as easily as the rest of us- were standing then continued, “Starting in Genesis chapter two verse twenty-four, the Bible says, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.’. Before I elaborate on why I chose this verse, let us now go to the book of Ephesians chapter five verse twenty-five. When you get there, please say amen. ”
“What do you think he’s getting at?” I whispered to Gracie as I took the Bible and flipped to our instructed destination.
“I have no idea, but I think it’s going to be good. His sermons always are,” she whispered before I ended up at the correct passage.
“Amen,” we both said simultaneously.
After a few moments, Pastor Brandon continued. “And it says, ‘For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her.‘. You may all be seated.” We did as we were told. “Now, back to what I was originally talking about: there is a plague on this world and it has grown exponentially over the past few years, and despite multiple church’s’ efforts, they refuse to give up their sinful lifestyles in order to partake the goods that God promises. Ask me who am I talking about.”
“Who?” everyone, including me asked because I was genuinely curious and confused as to who he was talking about.
“These abominations who took the rainbow, one of God’s sacred promises to us, and twisted it to represent their whole sinful community. The people who I am talking about are the LGBT community, and we as God’s people need to do something about it.” My heart sank as people, including Gracie and even my Nona, clapped and cheered, causing Pastor Brandon to slightly smile before he continued. “They are vessels of the Devil and his demons, everybody. They have corrupted our music, our television, and there’s not much time left until they try corrupt the youth of this very church, and we can not let that happen! As stated in Isaiah fifty-four, seventeen...” He continued, but I couldn’t hear him. It was like I was underwater, everyone’s words were messy and echoed through my head. Panic rose in my chest as I blinked away the tears. They hate the LGBTQ+ community.
They hate me. Unable to stay there much longer, I excused myself and hurried out of my pew, trying to look as casual as I could, ignoring Gracie’s questioning look. I felt a panic attack quickly developing, something that I hadn’t experienced in years, as I hurried into the church’s empty lobby. My mind instantly went to Madison. I needed him to calm me down. But the very thought of calling him gutted me. What if someone overheard and outed me to the whole church? They’ll shun me. They’ll hassle my Nona and blame her for everything “wrong” with me. I’ll lose my church family that I’d known ever since I could remember. But Madison is my smile and joy. He picks me up with I’m low and makes me smile when it feels like the world is on my shoulders. Surely God wouldn’t punish happiness like that, so how could the church?
The whirlwind of thoughts caused the tears that were welling up in my eyes to finally roll down my cheeks as I let out quiet sobs that were being drowned out by the claps and cheers my Pastor was receiving as he continued preaching about how we need to “take a stand” and “pray for the gays” and”protect our children”. I needed to get out of here. Now.
Without looking back, I pulled my phone and keys out of my pocket and headed straight out the door, a blast of cool air hitting me in the face as I did so. As soon as I made it to the car, I texted Gracie that my stomach suddenly started hurting so bad that I had to go home then asked her if she could take my Nona home after service to which she instantly replied “Of course. Feel better”. After that, I jammed my key in the ignition before I dialed Madison, in desperate need of hearing his voice to calm me down.
He answered on the third ring. “Hey, Noah,” he answered, his voice saturated with drowsiness. “What’s up? It’s after ten, shouldn’t you be in-”
“I’m coming over,” I said, cutting him off, instantly hating the way my voice wavered, indicating that I’d been crying.
“Woah, woah, what’s wrong babe? Are you crying?” he asked, the drowsiness instantly vacating his voice, only leaving concern.
“Yeah, yeah, it’s just...” I trailed unable to finish my sentence without another wave of tears rolling down my cheeks and harsh breaths escaping my lips.
“Okay, Noah. Just take deep breaths and hold on. Tell me where you are and I’ll come pick you up-”
“You don’t need to pick me up, Mads. I’m coming to you, I just need you to talk me down please,” I begged, my voice slightly breaking near the end. I hated being so weak and vulnerable.
“Okay, babe. Just breath and listen to the sound of my voice, okay? You are an amazing person and an incredible boyfriend who I am so so lucky to have. You’re caring, considerate, funny, and so many other things that make me fall more and more in love with you by the second.” My heart fluttered.
“Y-You’re in l-love with me?” I whispered, unable to believe it. I could practically hear him smile.
“Yeah, crazy right? I mean, I know we’ve known each other for less than a month, but you are just incredible and I can’t see my life without you in it. You make me feel things I’ve never felt before and it feels...lo adoro (I love it).”
I smiled. “Thanks, Madison. I’ll see you in a bit.”
“See you, babe.”
I hung up then instantly pulled out of the parking lot and headed to Madison’s house. Luckily he only lived about six minutes away, so I was there in no time, and as soon as I entered his apartment, his lips were on mine. And though I relished in the moment, I found myself silently praying, Lord, please don’t hate me for this. I can’t help it.
I didn’t realize I was crying, no sobbing until Madison pulled me into his bare chest, tightly holding me in his tattooed arms. “It’s okay, Noah. Let it out,” he consoles as he rocked me, oblivious to the reason I was crying but comforted me anyways. “It’s okay babe. It’s okay.” He kissed my forehead and I found myself crying harder. What would mom and dad think? Would they think like the church and...and Nona? The memory of my grandmother avidly clapping filled my head and made me cry harder. And Madison let me. He merely held me and rocked me until my sons were no more than unsteady breaths.
“You want to talk about it now?” He asked as I straddled his waist and hugged him, resting my cheek on his left shoulder.
“I don’t want to, but I need to or I just might explode,” I softly said, my voice hoarse from sobbing for so long with the intensity that I had.
He pressed a kiss behind my ear. “I’ll listen if you want to talk.”
I nodded before I took a deep breath and began. “My church is full of homophobes.”
He scuffed. “What’s new? Haven’t you seen all the buzz around churches vs us? I mean, you have people like Westboro who literally try to harass the gay out of people then you have the monsters that think that church conversion camps will work or they kick their kids out. Sorry to say it, but when it comes to us and the rest of our community, religion can be a messy thing.”
I sighed as I moved so I was looking him in the eyes. “I know, but it’s just that...I’ve known these people all my life and I’ve been religious all my life, and being gay doesn’t change my view or need for God, so why does that make people so bothered? I mean, we kiss all the time, but that hasn’t caused a tornado or an earthquake or hell to unleash itself on earth. Why is it such a big deal to so many people?”
“Well, I did hear that the Midwest’s getting a few tornado warnings over the past few days,” Madison said in fake thought, causing me to punch him. “Kidding. Kidding,” he laughed. “But the way I see it, a lot of people are afraid of what they don’t understand so they hide behind whatever they can to discredit their opposers, even if it means clinging onto one page of the Bible that’s been translated a thousand times to say a thousand different things. I mean, you serve a God who loves and values everyone and wants his followers to do the same, but then they turn around condemning people to hell? They say that God loves all His children, yet they say it doesn’t apply to gays? I mean, now it’s come out that King James himself might have actually been really gay, yet the churches still read his version of the Bible.” Madison cupped my face and brought our foreheads together. “Look, babe, I know you’re super religious and will more likely than not stay super religious, and that’s good, but you need to be careful, okay? Some people might take it well while others won’t, and I would hate to get arrested for punching someone who made my boyfriend cry.”
I rolled my eyes with a slight chuckle before I punched him yet again, causing him to gently kiss me. “Thank,s Mads,” I whispered into his lips as he pulled away.
“That’s what I’m here for,” he said as he got up from his bed that we were sitting on and headed toward his closet. “I’m getting you some comfortable clothes because even though you look really hot all formal and stuff, I don’t want to ruin your Sunday’s best with my gayness.”
“Madison,” I whined, causing him to chuckle.
“I’m still kidding. Here, throw these on,” he said as he literally threw a pair of sweatpants at me. “I’m going to make some popcorn because popcorn fixes everything, and you can choose what you want us to do. Netflix. Kiss. Cuddle. Your choice, though I highly vote for us sucking each other’s faces off.”
I rolled my eyes as he walked out of the room before I quickly stripped and slid on the sweatpants I’d been given. Once my clothes were neatly folded on a chair in the corner of his room, I quickly grabbed the remote and got on his Netflix and had TVD cued up.
It’s his fault for giving me the power of choice.
“Babe, can’t you stay a little longer? I really want to see what happens between Elena and Katherine,” Madison whined as I rebuttoned my shirt.
“Sorry, Mads. But your dad called me in. He said it’s important.”
“Well then you can come right back after,” he said as he wrapped his arms around me from behind.
“No. My Nona’s probably worried about me since church ended a bit over an hour ago and I’m not home,” I countered before I turned my head and gave him a quick kiss. “But I’ll text you when I can.”
“Fine, I’ll just keep watching without you,” Madison said, dramatically turning up his nose.
I let out an equally dramatic gasp. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“Try me,” he said in a serious voice before we both burst out laughing at how ridiculous we were being. “Fine, I’ll wait for you, but you better hurry your cute little self down to the pizzeria before my dad loses his patience.”
“Alright,” I said before he planted one final, final, final goodbye kiss on my lips before I walked out, the sweatpants he lent me in my arms since he’d been so adamant about me keeping them.
I quickly hopped in my car and drove across the street to the pizzeria. When I walked in, I said a quick hello to the workers on duty before I went behind the counter and headed toward Mr. William’s office where I’d been instructed to go. I lightly knocked on the door and his deep voice instantly told me to come in.
“Oh, Noah. Prego, si accomodi (Please, have a seat),” he greeted as I closed the door behind me before following his orders. He was seated behind his desk with a huge computer monitor in front of him, its light illuminating his face. He was wearing a black shirt with old blue jeans. “How have you been?”
“Good. How about you, sir?” I politely asked though I was curious as to why I was called in.
“Good. Good,” he said with a nod. “Now is guessing you’re wondering why you’re here, and no it’s not because you’re getting fired. You’re actually one of the best workers that I have. Hardworking and concentrated, just like your Nona said. But I want to talk to you about something that’s not quite making sense to me. Come around here,” he said, gesturing for me to come around his desk, and though I was confused, I obliged. “You see, when the shop was closed down for inspections, I had security cameras installed without telling my employees not only to improve the safety of my establishment but to also make sure that everyone is being honest,” he started as he pulled up the security footage from my last shift. I still had no idea where this was going. “So I was just going through the footage, making sure that things were working as they should,” he continued as he started playing the footage. “And imagine my surprise when I saw this.” I watched as it showed Madison cupping my cheeks with his flour-covered hands, a mischievous smile on his face, followed by me getting annoyed and storming away. Then it all clicked and my heart dropped. The next thing that was shown was Madison spinning me around and placing his lips on mine and my fingers tangling themselves in his hair.
My throat tightened and my heart hammered in my chest.
We’d been caught.