We left at the dawn of morning. The car was quiet throughout the ride beside the occasional sigh from Nath. I was not sure what he was thinking about, but I decided to let it be.
It wasn’t until we drove into town that Nath turned to me. I could see him from the corner of my eyes. His brown eyes were set on me like he was trying to figure something out. I didn’t look over at him because of the intensity of his gaze, and the fact that he might notice that my eyes were red and puffy. I might have sobbed last night, and I never got around to sleeping until late in the night.
“I took you out because I wanted us to have fun,” he said before he looked away, easing into the dirt roads. “I’m sorry things turned out the way they did.”
“It’s fine,” I muttered. My voice was shaky, and I wasn’t sure why it was that way. My mind was buzzing with questions I was asking myself, and a lump wedged itself in my throat anytime I thought of having to end this sooner or later.
I didn’t want to.
But I was too much of a coward to set my foot down and take the leap.
I heard Nathaniel sigh at my reply, and the car soon went silent again. He drove all the way to the front of my room’s window. We got down, and he helped me climb back into my room, using the concrete footing around the windows as mini stairs. I had checked the time in Nath’s car before we got out. It was currently past five in the morning, and I doubt anyone was awake. When I made it into my room I turned around, looking down at Nath. He waved, and I waved back before watching him walk back to his car and driving off.
A small smile made its way to my lips. It wasn’t a smile of happiness, more of a smile of confusion and pretense. If only that alone could convince me that everything was okay. After a while of looking out into the roads that were bathed in the blue-yellow color of the early morning, I stepped back from the window, looking behind me to find Sam fast asleep. A small chuckle escaped my lips. I guess I should be grateful for the fact that he slept like a rock. He didn’t react to me moving about the room as I freshened up and returned to bed like I had never left.
Later in the day, I went out with Sam as usual. Knocking on doors, sharing pamphlets and answering questions, but my mind wasn’t there. I was thinking of something — someone. I wondered what Nath was doing. I wondered whether he thought of me as much as I thought of him.
“Mathew.” I blinked, realizing I had spaced out again. Sam had been talking to me about something, though I can’t remember what exactly. We were standing in the middle of the hallway with a handful of other people dotting the corners.
“I’m sorry, what were you saying?” I asked, running my fingers through my dark hair as I looked up at him in embarrassment. His lips drew into an even thinner line. He was losing his patience with me. It was clear from his expression.
A frown formed on Sam’s face as he let out a sigh before shaking his head. “I’m worried about you,” he said, looking down at the clipboard in his hand before pointing at my name that was written at the top in a nice cursive print.
“Listen. I was talking to you about the service this Sunday. You’re supposed to be the one at the pulpit,” he said, and I nodded.
“Please don’t zone out while giving a sermon. I beg you,” he said, and I gave him a tired smile, apologizing again. Sermons. I used to love giving those, but since I arrived here I’ve been feeling more of like a prop, than an actual person whenever I was chosen to read out passages at the pulpits or give out sermons. My preaching felt more like lips service, than anything that came from the heart. I had also started to dodge partaking in the sacrament, and I was overall not just myself anymore.
“What?” I blinked, realizing that I had done it again. I had zoned out. “I’m sorry,” I muttered immediately afterward, covering my face with a palm before sighing. What is wrong with me?
Sam wasn’t giving me a reaction. He just stared at me. I took my hand away from my face, looking at him with a puzzled look. Did he have something to say to me? He had his lecture face on, and I didn’t like it.
I watched as his gaze shifted from me to the people talking a few meters away from us. “Can I talk to you in private?” he asked, and I nodded, not trusting my mouth to say anything sensible. He smiled, and he then turned, walking away. I followed him through the hallways, and eventually into one of the many rooms we used to talk to people. Sam took a seat on the closest sofa, and I decided to sit across from him.
We sat in silence. The fan blades above us moved with creaking noises. I could hear my own breathing and heartbeat. My lips felt dry, so I licked them, looking away from Sam to avoid his intense gaze. What does he have to say to me? I wondered, starting to worry if he had figured out I was gone last night. He couldn’t have figured that out, right?
I snapped back to reality when the sound of Sam cracking his knuckles made me look up at him.
“I know you’re struggling,” he said in a calm tone. I rose a brow, wondering what this was about.
“You’re acting this way because of Nath, aren’t you?” he asked, and my eyes went wide. I wanted to deny it. I wanted to yell ‘no’ like his suggestion was the most ridiculous thing in I had ever heard, but my lips were sealed. I don’t know. I just felt — tired.
“So I’m correct?” he went on, but he didn’t wait for my answer before he continued talking. “Olivia and I thought you were handling it fine, and I thought you were starting to get back into shape, but I think this is serious.” My gaze was on him. I was frozen in place. I didn’t know what to do or how to react. He was right. It was serious.
I was in love with Nath. More than in love with him — whatever qualifier that would take.
“We talked yesterday, and...” he trailed, not meeting my eyes. I frowned, wondering what he was too hesitant to say. “We decided to ask if you’d consider counseling. You know. You have to talk to someone, you can’t keep it all in—”
“What’s the counselor supposed to do?” I asked. My voice was high, loud and firm. Sam seemed taken aback. He blinked, sitting up straight on the sofa with brown cushion material. “What’s he going to do, huh? Un-gay me? Is that it?” I asked, my voice even louder. I wasn’t sure where I had gotten this courage from, but it was oozing out of me now. Keeping everything inside myself must have done this. I was so done, so done with overthinking everything.
“I’m in love with him Sam.” Why was I oversharing? I needed someone to talk to. God, I needed to let my thoughts out. They’ve been behind a cage for so long. “I love him so much, and...” I trailed, looking down at my hands. They were shaking, but my tongue was still desperate to speak. “I want him to love me back. I’m so confused.” It seems like my last sentence confused Sam. I wasn’t sure what he was expecting me to say, but what I had uttered wasn’t it.
He thought it was the other way around. If only. If Nath was madly in love with me like I was with him I wouldn’t be this
“He’s not pushing you to do this?” Sam asked. My eyes went wide with confusion, and then I frowned.
“No, of course not,” I said before looking down at my shoes. They were well polished, so much so that they reflected my face back at me. I sighed, running my fingers through my dark hair before I looked over at Sam. My hair had grown a little longer over the course of the past months. Nath liked it, so I kept it that way.
“Have you—?” Sam’s question was suspended in the air like he was trying to find a polite way to say this. “Have you always liked men? Is this something you’ve been struggling with even before we got here.” A frown formed on my face before I shook my head. No. No. It was just Nath and Nath alone. He was the only one I’ve ever thought of in this way, man or woman.
“I see...” he trailed, and the room went silent. We both sat there, not saying anything to each other. After a while, I looked over at Sam and he raised his gaze to meet my own.
“We’re friends Mathew,” he said, and I nodded. yes, Sam was my friend. I’ve known him his kindergarten. “I want to help you,” he said right after, and I nodded again, bringing my hands to my face and covering it.
“I’m thinking you should see a counselor—”
“That won’t work,” I cut it, taking my hands away from my face before shaking my head.
“How do you know that?” Sam asked. “You don’t know that,” he stated firmly right after.
“Of course, I won’t tell anyone without your permission, but you have to get help. You’ll be here for another year, and you’ll still have to be around him. That’s dangerous.” I bit my bottom lip as I listened to his words. Even if I left this town and headed back home now, I knew nothing would change. I would still be in love with Nath, and it was a little frustrating that Sam was framing it as being simple as avoiding it ‘problem.’
“What if,” I started, pausing. Sam rose a brow at me, wedging his chin on the small padding he created with both his hands. “What if I don’t want to do anything about it? What if I’m fine with it?”
Sam stared at me with a calm look, but I could tell he was horrified by my words from the way his eyes fixed on me and the way his nostrils flared.
“You don’t really think that,” Sam said. It was not a question. It was a statement. He believed I couldn’t think that — shouldn’t think that, but I did. I really did. I opened my mouth but closed it before letting out a small sigh.
“Do you really want to continue like this? Can’t you see how unhappy and unstable it’s making you feel?” Sam added, making me stare at him again.
“No.” I shook my head, folding my hands over my chest. “It’s not that. That’s not the reason,” I said, looking down at the carpet. “It’s the anxiety from hiding things that is eating at me. Plus, I’m not even sure Nath sees me the way I see him — or maybe he doesn’t want to, I’m not sure,” I added, and Sam’s eyes went wide.
“I want him to love me, Sam,” I said. I was heaving. I needed some air. I needed some natural light. No, both. I got up before heading over to the windows that were covered with heavy curtains. I pulled them aside, letting the dim light of the evening flood the room.
“Sorry about that,” I said as I turned to look at Sam before walking back to take a seat on the sofa.
“So, you’re not going to the counselor?”
“I’m not going to the counselor,” I said in a firm tone, and Sam just gazed at me. We stared at each other for a while until Sam eventually stood up from his seat. He adjusted his tie, wedging the clipboard he had been holding under his armpit before he looked down at my sitting figure.
“I can’t promise you that I won’t tell someone who can help when the time comes,” he said. His eyes were cold and void of emotion. “This isn’t something you can handle yourself, but I’ll let you be for now.”
“I’ll continue praying for you,” he said, and with that he was gone, leaving me in the room by myself.