The rains late last night meant that this morning was wet, dark, and cold. I was in a sweater today, and instead of jogging I was walking and doing my best not to step on any muddy puddles. That was a thing I would have to get used to since most of the roads here were dirt roads — basically, leveled earth, and nothing more.
The movie showing was planned for the evening in a few days, and most of the sisters were going to be helping with sharing pamphlets. I was mostly going to help talk to some people that had agreed to see some of the elders for the rest of the day.
I was jumping over a puddle when I heard the sound of a dog barking. My heart started to beat faster since I knew who would be with the dog.
Nathaniel? I said in my mind when I looked about the place to find him at the corner with a dog jumping about him. He was wearing a pair of jeans, and his usual tank top — very inappropriate for the weather right now. Was this a pattern? He hadn’t been wearing a sweater when we visited the mechanics’ place in the evening.
I bit my bottom lip, trying to decide if I should walk up to him or turn away and leave without saying anything. In the middle of fighting with myself in my head, he turned to me. I blinked, startled, but he just laughed before raising a hand in a small wave. After that, he gave the brown dog’s head one last pet before making to walk away. It was then that I realized he was leaving, and I didn’t give myself much time to think before I started running over to him.
“Wait!” I yelled, making Nathaniel turn to me with a startled look. Maybe he had expected me to walk away too, but here I was red faced and wide-eyed and looking up at him.
“Well?” he asked, turning to look at me. I blinked, looking away. I knew he was tall, but I hadn’t ever thought of how tall. All the times I’ve met him we’ve been standing a distance away from each other, but now that I was right in front of him I could tell how tall he was. He was taller than Sam, and Sam was 6′1.
“I...” I started, running a hand through my hair. I really hadn’t thought this through. “I wanted to check up on you, have you started to read the book we gave you?” I asked, referring to the day Sam and I stopped at his house to hand him the book of Mormon and a pamphlet with the church resources written inside.
“Yes, but I already told your partner that,” the man laughed, making me blink back as I watched him put his hands into his jean pockets. The morning was still cloudy, but the area was now bathed in a light blue color instead of the usual yellow.
“So, you jog every day...” the man trailed, frowning like he was trying to remember something. I watched him close his eyes, shaking his head before he opened them again. “What’s your name again?” he said, probably giving up on remembering it.
“Mathew,” I replied, watching as he swung his left foot about, trying to get rid of the mud that was stuck under his tennis shoes. In appropriate shoes for the weather as well, who would have guessed? For some reason, I felt a bit insulted that he couldn’t remember my name, but I shook my head, trying to remind myself that it’s not like we were friends or anything.
“And you take a walk every day,” I said, watching as he smiled. Now that I could see his smile up close I saw how thing it was, and how it didn’t reach his brown eyes. It was like he was smiling out of politeness, for the mere fact of just smiling. That didn’t sit well with me, and it made me kind of anxious. I felt like I was being treated like an inconvenience to talk to.
“Yeah, it’s a good way to get you awake at seven in the morning, don’t you think,” the man laughed. “I have work to do, or maybe I should just stop doing the morning and night shifts,” he said like he wasn’t talking to me specifically.
“Oh, you do work far away?” I asked, and he shook his head. I frowned. Didn’t we see him at the mechanics’ workshop while we were driving to the station?
“I work around here, sometimes I do some sort of exchange, and that’s why you lot saw me that night,” he said with a smile as he turned and started to walk away. I was stunned, but I followed him, starting to walk at his pace when I caught up with him and was now beside him. I was in black joggers, and a blue sweater, while he was in his typical tank top. I turned to him, biting the inside of my mouth as I just watched him walk. His hair was in a low puff today, but his lips looked dry and cracked. I wondered if he was cold, but I didn’t ask.
“So, how’s your...” the man trailed as if looking for the right word to say. “How’s your church stuff been going,” he ended up saying instead, making me laugh.
“It’s been fine,” I answered, stepping out of the path of a puddle before moving to walk beside him again. “We’re having a movie showing soon. It’s more or less a party, do you want to come?”
“I’m not the one for parties,” Nathaniel said rolling his eyes as he took his hand out of his pocket again. “Also, stop trying to get me into your church. I’m not interested,” he said, and I looked away, realizing that from his tone I had probably touched a nerve. I bit my bottom lip, deciding to say something despite my better judgment.
“But you’re reading the book. That must mean something, right?” I asked, watching as he chuckled.
“It means that I love books, nothing more nothing less,” he said. I frowned a bit. I hadn’t thought of him as the type that would like reading, but I guess that was a subconscious bias of mine, nothing that really had to do with him per say. I mean, I didn’t know him much, and this was the first time we were actually exchanging words.
“Oh,” I simply said, and he chuckled.
“Anyone can be saved,” I said. “You can just sit with up and discuss things,” I added, looking over at him. His face had a small frown now like he was irritated. He rolled his eyes, scratching the back if his neck before sighing.
“You are kind of cute, but that’s enough of a bribe to get me chained in a room with you lot,” he said, making my eyes go wide as I looked away.
Why did he say that? What does he mean by that?
“So, let’s say I join you all for a talk. Then we do it again, and we do it again,” he started before staying quiet. The sound of our feet treading on the soft soil soon filled the void before he decided to finish what he has started saying. “Let’s say I keep saying yes, what happened when my gayness is brought up?” Gayness. The way he said it made me look away. He was laughing now, but was at himself or at me?
“What happens then?” he repeated when I didn’t say anything in reply.
“Well…” I trailed before closing my mouth and deciding not to say anything.
“So, you’re not going to tell me about the whole how you respect everyone, but you’ll hope that I ‘change’, hmm?” he asked, his voice had gone cold like he wasn’t talking to m but someone else in the distance. The bitterness I had spotted before was oozing out of him now, and that made me realize that he had probably been trying to restrain himself before.
“There’s a thing about tolerance,” he started, moving his hand to fiddle with the small necklace around his neck, but on closer inspection, I noticed it wasn’t a necklace — a rosary? “Everyone thinks it’s a fancy neutral word, but it really isn’t. It’s more like, how do I explain this? You can’t weed a particular plant in your garden, so you just leave it there — tolerate it, until you get the chance to. You might never get your way, you might never have the opportunity to do what you want, but that mindset still sticks. You’re ‘tolerating’ it. You don’t really want it there.”
Our head for our mission had told us about people hurting during the training. He had said it would take a long time to get through to people, especially when it was personal. We got outbursts when we talked to LGBT+ people, other Christians when we told them they haven’t really been part of a real church, sometimes women and people in premarital relationships. I looked up at Nathaniel again. It was personal. It was obvious to me, and now I plain sight. He was no longer the calm presenting person he had been his door.
I bit my bottom lip. I knew what would happen, but saying it would sound rude? I had to treat a discussion like this with care, that why we didn’t confront people about these things until later on when we spoke to them, because it was personal, and a hard thing to give up.
Nathaniel just laughed, shaking his head as we continued to walk in the silence. It was getting brighter, and I started to wonder how long we had been walking. My eyes went wide when I realized I was just following him and I really didn’t know where we were heading. I paused, and he stopped to look at me.
“I have to leave,” I said, and he just shrugged as he watched me turn and jog away. I didn’t really care if I was getting mud on my joggers, I just needed to make it back on time.
A sigh of relief left my lips when I got to the building and headed upstairs. Sam wasn’t awake yet, so I took a shower and reflected on what had happened just a few minutes ago. I had talked to Nathaniel like we were old pals taking a jog together. It both confused and intrigued me. The memory of my dream last night soon filled my mind, and I was blushing uncontrollably.
I stared at the mirror, holding my face. Is it because he called me cute? I wondered, shaking my head as I started to mutter a successive string of ’no’s. No, I was just overwhelmed with our conversation. That was all, nothing more, nothing less. It wasn’t that I was fascinated with him. It wasn’t that his looks made my eyes linger too long.
It was that I was trying to reach out to him — handling a difficult case — that was it.
Although I said that to myself my previous thought kept hanging around in my head like background music. It was like it was poking fun at me and raveling in my distress.
It was of the devil.
It wasn’t normal.
I won’t let it be normal.