After I talked to Nathaniel through text that day, I haven’t seen him in person ever since. We talked through the phone from time to time, and I deleted the logs like he told me to. Things seemed to shift back to normal Sam wasn’t looking over my shoulder at every opportunity anymore, and Olivia’s worried looks had vanished, and she was now her typical bouncy self around me again.
Everything had gone back to normal, except me. I started looking at everyone differently. I was nervous. Would you throw me under the bus if you knew? Was what ran through my mind when socializing with church members for over five minutes at a time.
“It’s a bit exhausting.”
“It’ll pass,” Nath said from the other end, making me bite my bottom lip as I stared up at the ceiling. I was in the room that I shared with Sam, not doing anything in particular. It was midday on Thursday, and most people had gone out to knock at doors while I stayed on my bed and thought to myself.
“How have you been?” I asked Nath, sitting up on my bed before laying with the material of the green bedsheet. I heard Nath hum from the other end. I could hear barking in the distance and the turning of screws. He was probably at his workplace. I hoped I wasn’t bothering him by calling him up so suddenly.
“I’m doing fine,” I heard him say as the sound of something being lifted followed. “I miss you though,” he added in a soft voice like he wasn’t quite sure he was supposed to say that. A smile made its way to my lips, and my chest felt full.
“I miss you too,” I said into the phone, and Nathaniel stayed quiet on the other end. After a long pause, Nath finally spoke up.
“How are things at home?” he asked. My lips when thin. I was a bit disappointed he was trying to change the topic, but I didn’t bother and just answered his question.
“Things are fine. I’ve been emailing my parents back and forth,” I answered, and I heard him hum from the other end. “My sisters say they miss me since they actually have to do chores now,” I added, and Nathaniel laughed. I smiled as I thought about them.
“Do you have any siblings?” I asked.
“No, it was just me and my mum,” he said, and I heard a huff afterward. He had probably moved something. “I’m used to being by myself.”
I didn’t know what to make of that, so I just stayed silent on my end.
“Though, there was this traditional Baptist woman with nine kids on my street, lord,” he said with a little chuckle, and I laughed too.
“How’s your relationship with your siblings. I’m always curious how people live so many people in the same house,” he said, and I smiled.
“Well, my family house is pretty big.”
“Oh really?” he asked with a sarcastic tone and I laughed, getting up from my bed. I wondered over to the window, looking out as I hummed to myself. People should start heading back sooner or later if I was correct.
“Yeah, but like not extravagant. It’s a farmhouse. We have chickens and a little vegetable patch,” I said, and Nath hummed from the other end.
“Wow, you had enough space for a garden?”
“Is that weird?” I asked.
“Well, I mean, in the city, yeah,” Nath said, and I heard someone calling his name from the side of his line. He shouted something back to them before apologizing to me for the sudden pause.
“It’s okay,” I said, letting my eyes look onto the road. I smiled when I saw the stray dog walked by. It hadn’t rained in a while, so the red clear grounds were dry and cracked.
“So, more about our childhoods,” he said, making me laugh.
“I went to church three times a week. On Wednesdays for stations of the cross, on Fridays for the ‘A Day With the Lord’ program my mother was obsessed with, and Sundays — well, that’s universal,” he said, chuckling.
“My case was somewhat similar. We went for a lot of weekday church activities,” I said, running my hand through my hair as I bit my bottom lip. I was still looking out the window, not really sure of what to focus my gaze on. “Did you like going to church?” I asked after a while of both of us not saying anything.
“Yes,” he answered, and I heard the sound of metal moving. He was probably looking through a toolkit. “The thing is, it just felt comforting? Like a habit? It’s not like I’m actually Christian. I still pray sometimes. I still visit the Catholic church in the other town,” he went on, and I listen to him.
“Do you ever feel that way?” he asked, making me blink back. “Do you ever feel like going to church is just a hobby to you?”
“No,” I answered, and I heard Nath sigh from the other end. I could tell he was rolling his eyes. He always did that when I said something, and he thought I was being dishonest.
“Seriously Mathew, think about it. You grew up Christian, most of your fun activities have an attachment to church in some way or the other. Sure, the church is part of your person. It’s all you’ve ever known. It might not necessarily be part of your belief. Do you ever feel like you’re doing certain things like praying just because?” he asked, I leaned away from the window sill, licking my lips as I went to sit on my bed again.
“It’s not like that.” My voice shook, and I was gripping my bedsheet. Why was I acting like this? That wasn’t the case at all. If anyone was delusional about their beliefs it was Nath.
“What about you? Are you sure you believe you’re not religious because you think you shouldn’t be? You’re gay, and you think you shouldn’t...” My words were coming out badly worded. I couldn’t really find a good way to phrase them.
“What do you mean by I’m gay? We both know that. You’re gay too,” he said in an irritated tone before pausing. “Unless you don’t think that’s the case.”
I didn’t answer him. I stayed quiet and he just sighed, not saying anything for a while.
“I won’t bother talking about, and back to your question. No, some things don’t mix. Gay or Catholic. I had to pick one—”
“You didn’t have to,” I cut in and he groaned. He sounded angry, and I wasn’t just sure why I couldn’t just shut up and listen to him. Maybe I was afraid he would say something that would confuse me.
“Look. I’m not going to convince myself that I can be the two at the same time. I don’t care what other LGBT+ people have convinced themselves into thinking. That’s their business, it’s not my life, but to me, it seems illogical to grasp onto something that has no regard for your person,” he said. “Think of it this way. If you come out to your church members and decide that yeah, you still want to be Mormon, that you still want to go to church and all that gaze. I can list a bunch of things that will happen.”
There was brief silence on the other end, and soon Nath started talking. “You won’t be able to enter a temple, and you might be excommunicated if you don’t follow their silly; yeah you can be same-sex attracted, and Christian. Just marry a woman and not actually do anything a gay person would do, like sleep with men, okay?" he said the last part in such a condensing tone that it hurt.
“Be honest with yourself Mathew,” he added after a while of silence.
“Look, I can sit here and listen to you go on and on about things you don’t understand...” I trailed in a shaking voice. I was shaking.
“I understand Mathew, I grew up similarly. In a very religious household, and—”
“I’m Christian, Nath, stop this. You’re starting to sound like all those ‘preachy’ missionaries you’re always complaining about.” My voice was firm now, and Nathaniel didn’t say anything back to me. I could hear him breathing on the other end. My breathing was heavy too, and my mind was buzzing with unease.
“You know what? I’ll call you later. Take care Math,” he said into the line before hanging up. I sat down with the beeping noise from my phone ringing through my eyes for a while before I eventually put my phone down. I had never fought with Nath, and it was making me uneasy. Should I text him now? Should I wait for tomorrow to text him back?
I had paced about my room and crawled under the covers of my bed when I heard my phone vibrate with a notification. I reached out to the bedside table, picking up my phone before looking to find a message from Nath.
Message from: Nathaniel.
You’re right, and I’m wrong. I’m sorry for even bringing that up.
FRI, 7: 30 PM.
I stared down at the text, not really knowing what to make of it. It looked like he didn’t mean it, and he had just sent it to me to be the bigger person.
That only made me more irritated.
Message to: Nathaniel.
Stop being condescending.
FRI, 7:32 PM.
I sent, and the dots showing that he was texting me back soon popped up.
Message from: Nathaniel.
I’m trying, and I’m sorry. It’s a sensitive topic. I get it. You’re having a hard time, and cornering you like that was rude. It’s just sometimes... I’m sorry.
FRI, 7:33 PM.
Looking down at the text I bit my bottom lip before letting out a sigh. I didn’t know how to reply to that, so I just changed the topic. I didn’t want to be angry at Nath.
Message to: Nathaniel.
We should meet up sometime. We haven’t seen each other in a while.
FRI, 7:34 PM.
He replied with a smiley face, and I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I didn’t. I took that as the end of the conversation. We both needed time to cool off anyway. After a while, Samuel opened the door to the room we shared and walked in. He chatted with me through the time he went about doing his business. That night I couldn’t sleep. Nathaniel’s words were swimming in my head, and they made me uncomfortable — a little scared.