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Brad and Chris followed Brad's mom to the house they lived in next door to the church. She silently motioned for them to sit on the sofa in the living room as she took a seat in the chair directly across from it. She stared at the boys for a full minute before she spoke.
"When was I going to be told about this, Bradley?" she asked quietly. "How could you let me learn of something like this from another child?"
"Mom, I'm sorry," Brad started as tears came to his eyes. "Please don't hate me. I never wanted to be this way. I thought it would go away at first, but it didn't. When I met Chris, I knew I couldn't change how I felt. I tried to, I swear I did. I read the Bible over and over. I know all the verses that talk about it, but I can't help myself. I love him, Mom, and he loves me. We're happy together. Please don't blame him. Chris didn't make me feel this way. I knew I was gay before we ever moved here."
"You're what??" Mrs. Daniels gasped in shock. "I was talking about the role you have in English class son. I had no idea that you were… you can't be…. You mustn't be gay. Your father will have a stroke, Bradley, and you will never see Chris again."
"Mom, if you take Chris away from me, I will just see him behind your back," Brad said firmly. "I love you, Mom, but I love him too. I won't give him up."
"Bradley Jameson Daniels, you will not speak to me in that tone," his mother ordered. "Your father would say this is your sin spreading through your life."
"Mrs. Daniels, I know I'm probably not the person you want to hear from right now, but I think the idea that this is sinful is stupid," Chris said much more boldly than he actually felt. He didn't back down though.
"You are correct, young man," the woman told him. "I don't want to hear either of you speak right now."
"Well, ma'am, I mean no disrespect to you or your faith, but I want you to hear me out," Chris replied. "If you don't like what I have to say, that's your choice, but I feel you should hear what I have to say before you judge either of us."
"I don't judge you," Mrs. Daniels said quickly. "Only God will do that."
"Well, that may be, but I don't believe that He will condemn me for expressing my feelings for your son, when He is the reason I have them."
"Are you saying that Brad is to blame for making you this way?" she asked.
"Brad's not the being I was referring to," the boy corrected her. "God made me gay. He did it before I was born. I have never had any interest in girls, and now that I've met Brad, I no longer have any interest in anyone else of either gender. I love him and only him. I've never felt so complete and whole in my life as when we are together. The feelings I'm experiencing are way too positive to be evil."
"Be that as it may, this is something that Brad's father is not going to take at all well," Mrs. Daniels pointed out. "You were very brave to stand up to me and tell me how you felt, both of you. I believe you when you say that you will find ways to be together. I remember being young and in love once. I did what my parents thought was best, though and I stopped seeing the boy. I eventually met and married Brad's father. I have been content ever since." She looked into her son's eyes and saw the unmistakable message revealed there. "No I haven't been in love with him as I was before I met him, but we don't always get to have what we want in life."
"Do we all have to settle for what we don't want, Mom?" Brad asked. "If we're very careful, couldn't Chris and I still be together?"
"We already haven't been careful," Chris mumbled. "Ronnie knows, remember?"
"The arrogant little boy in class?" Mrs. Daniels clarified. "He will be trouble for us all, I just know it."
"I'm afraid you're right, Mrs. Daniels," Chris told her. "He's always been a self-righteous little bully as long as I've known him."
"Like father like son," the woman muttered. "Well, we'll have to deal with this as it comes along. There is one other thing I want to speak to you about now though."
"Yes, Mom?" Brad asked.
"Your study habits this afternoon were shameful," she scolded both boys. "I don't want to know what you were doing instead of studying. I don't think I'm ready for that heart to heart just yet other than to say that you should both be careful that you don't move faster than you are both ready to handle. Whatever you were doing, you weren't studying though."
"But Mom," Brad began.
"Now would be a very poor time to lie to me, son," she warned. "Had you studied the scene you are to perform tomorrow in class, you would have known that there are two kisses between you two."
"Mrs. Daniels, I just thought of something," Chris blurted. "If Ronnie told you about our parts in class, what's saying he won't tell Brad's father?"
"Very simple really," she replied calmly. "I threatened him."
"You what?" Brad gasped.
"I told him that if your father learned of this, it would do no one in this family any good," she explained. "That would mean that someone would be hurt. If my family gets hurt because of this, I will know that he was responsible. I won't respond well to that. I assured him that if he brought harm to anyone in my family, I will make sure that I do not rest until I have utterly destroyed his life," she added, practically growling.
"Remind me to stay on your mother's good side," Chris whispered to his boyfriend.
"What makes you think you are there now?" Mrs. Daniels questioned. Chris gulped loudly and his face drained of color. "I am certain that this relationship of yours will bring pain to my family in some way or another at some time or another. When that happens, you had best stay clear of me for quite some time, Christopher. I will not be happy with you at that point."
"Understood, ma'am," the boy whimpered.
"Mom, I didn't choose to be gay, but I have chosen this relationship," Brad said boldly. "If there is blame for it going wrong at some point, that blame will be mine."
"I could have said no, too, you know," Chris pointed out.
"When did my little boy grow up so much?" Mom whispered. "I will support this as much as I can, but don't expect miracles where your father is concerned."
"I understand Mom," Brad said just as softly. "I love you, Mommy."
"I love you too, baby," she replied. "Now go get your English book and bring it back here. This is study session two."
Brad ran to his room and retrieved the book. While he was gone, Mrs. Daniels eyed Chris up and down. She kept a very stern face the entire time, which did nothing to settle Chris' nerves.
"Understand me, young man," she said rather coldly. "That boy in there is the only good thing to have come from my marriage to his father. If you ever hurt him in any way, by intent or by lack of it, I will hunt for you for the rest of my days. I will not rest until you have suffered worse than you ever dreamed possible in your most terrifying nightmares. Am I clear, Christopher?"
"Yes, ma'am," the boy squeaked.
"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," she quoted. "That is nothing compared to the mother of a wounded child." The frightened young teen could only nod at this, his eyes wide in fear. Just at that moment, Brad came back into the room. "You two will share your book on the sofa. Brad go to the kitchen and look in the cabinet over the refrigerator. You will find a box there. Inside the box is my high school English text. You will get it and only it from the box and bring it to me."
"I trust I do not need to tell you that I would prefer your father not learn of that box or its contents," she added pointedly.
"Yes, Mom," Brad answered. When he came back to the room with the worn and faded book in his hand, he didn't immediately give it to his mother. He gave her a tight hug first. "Thank you so much, Mom."
"Whatever for, son?"
"For not hurting me or Chris, for accepting us, for giving us a chance, but most of all for trusting me, with Chris and with that box," he smiled as he stood away from her, but there were tears at the corners of his eyes. "I love you, Mom. I really, really love you."
"You're my son, Brad," Mom replied. "I love you too, but I also know you perhaps better than you know yourself sometimes because you are so much like me. I know you wouldn't intentionally choose to defy your father this much if it weren't truly important to you. I will be at your side through this son. I promise. Now let's start reading. You two take your parts and I will read the others."
"Yes, Mom," the boy grinned. He sat on the sofa and the three of them read through their scene several times.
"You are doing wonderfully, both of you," Mrs. Daniels smiled. While working with the boys, she couldn't help but notice how they responded to one another. They were truly in love as she had been at their age. Whether she understood it or not, accepted it completely or not, the one thing she couldn't do any longer was deny it. "Your father will want to know why we left the church, Bradley. Tell me a few things about your teacher that we can say you wanted to talk to me about in private."
"She saw me in the halls at school a couple of times today," Brad answered. "She was nice to me all day. She even sat and talked with us at lunch. She is afraid of consequences of naming me as Juliet and Chris as Romeo, but she says she feels that this is the right thing to do for all of us."
"Does she really?" Mom said sarcastically. "I have to admit that I question her judgement on that level. I fail to see how forcing these things to a head like this will serve for good for any of us."
"Wife!?" Brad's father called as he walked into the room. "You and the boys left the church during services on our first night as Pastor. Please explain to me what could possibly be so important that it required such an embarrassing action."
"The boys wished to speak to me privately of their concerns regarding their English class and its instructor," Mrs. Daniels replied.
"Naturally we would have preferred to speak to you first, Pastor, but we didn't want to take you away from your duties," Chris piped up. "You are far too important to bother at the frightened whims of a couple of kids. We could have been afraid of her for no good reason and would have wasted your precious time."
"Thank you for your consideration, young man," the pastor answered with a bit of deflation from his anger. "That was thoughtful of you both on such an important evening. The damage was perhaps not as bad as I imagined it to be. We will weather the storm of it with God's help."
"Amen, sir," Chris said enthusiastically. "I can see why the church was so anxious to have such an inspiring leader. If only I could convince my father to attend your church, perhaps he would see the error of his ways and close that vile theater forever. Such sinful movies that he is forced to show due to his contract with the supply companies have no business in our town. They lead too many of my fellow students and their parents into evil wicked ways."
"Young man, I feel you will be an excellent influence over my sometimes less enthusiastic son," the pastor smiled. "Will you be able to stay for dinner, do you think?"
"Certainly sir, and thank you so much for asking," Chris continued to schmooze. "With my mother no longer around, it will be refreshing to have a real home cooked meal for a change."
"My mom is the best cook in the world," Brad told his friend.
"Bradley, pride goeth before the fall," his father warned. "Your mother is an acceptable cook, but she is by no means the greatest in the world. To say so is an exaggeration and we both know what exaggeration is, don't we?"
"Yes, sir," Brad said dejectedly. "Exaggeration is a fancy word for lie."
"That's right," I suggest you go to your room and pray for forgiveness for you blatant sin of boastfulness and pride, as well as the lie you have told."
"Yes, sir," Brad told him.
"Sir, may I go with him?" Chris suddenly popped up.
"What's that?" the man asked in confusion.
"I would like to join Brad in prayer, if I may," Chris told the man. "Isn't it true that two or three people praying together is more powerful than just one. I know there's something in the Bible about that. I apologize for not being more familiar with the Scriptures, sir."
"That my boy is why you are attending our church now," the pastor said proudly. "The verse to which you are referring speaks of two or three gathered in His name."
"Yes sir, that's the one," Chris said happily. "Thank you for your instruction, Pastor."
"Think nothing of it, my boy," Elijah Daniel smiled. "It is after all my holy calling."
"Let's go pray now, Chris," Brad said nervously from the doorway. He grabbed Chris by the arm and hurried the two of them down the hall. Once they were in the room, he shut the door, being careful not to lock it. "Could you lay it on any thicker, Chris? If you'd been any more obvious at sucking up, I think I would have puked."
"You're just jealous," Chris smirked.
"Jealous? Of my dad?" Brad questioned. "Are you nuts?"
"That's right, jealous," Chris confirmed. "You couldn't handle the fact that I was sucking up to your dad instead of the other male in the family."
"HUH?" Brad said intelligently.
"I was paying too much attention to another male, and not enough to you, my boyfriend," Chris explained patiently.
"Oh, that's just gross," Brad complained. "You and my dad, you're weird."
"Shut up and kiss me," Chris told him. Brad thought about protesting more, but he gave in. Their lips met and he was lost to rational conscious thought. "God, I love you so much. You lead us in the right direction and give us the strength to fight off the bad influences at our school." Brad was looking at his boyfriend as if he was crazy, until he realized that the door of his room was opening.
"Relax boys, it's just me," Louise Daniels said quietly as she walked in. "Your father went back over to make sure the church was locked up, Brad." She saw her son visibly relax and thought about the fact that she probably looks very much the same when the man leaves the room. She turned to Chris and smiled, "Well, Christopher, it would seem you have a future selling used cars if nothing else presents itself to your conniving and devious little mind."
"I just wanted him to like me, so I could be with Brad more," Chris confessed with a slight blush.
"I knew that, but my husband bought your story hook, line, pole, pier and all," she confirmed for them. "You have achieved your objective, but don't blow it by overacting the part. He just agreed that you two should study together more often, and thinks that you'll make a wonderful minister someday."
"Ummm, maybe not," Chris stammered. Both boys giggled a bit at that, and Louise just smiled.
"Wash up for dinner boys, and then come to the kitchen and help me set the table," she told them.
"Yes, Mom," Brad returned her smile. He still wondered who this woman was and how she had replaced his mother, but he hoped she stayed forever.
Ironically, she was having very similar thoughts about her son. He had always been so withdrawn and reserved. It was as if he were frightened of making friends. Deep down she knew that moving so often had to be difficult for him, but she still had begun to fear that something deeper was disturbing him.
Now she knew what that something had been. Finding Chris seemed to have not only given her the diagnosis of Brad's problem, but had given him the cure. She once again had the happy boy that she had not seen since he was very small. If she were totally honest with herself, she would admit that it was living with Elijah Daniels that had destroyed both her son's spirit and her own. He was not an easy man to live with. He never had been. She often wondered why she had married him in the first place, but if she hadn't, she never would have had Brad in her life. Her son was worth putting up with a hundred hard, cold, unfeeling men like Elijah. If she counted some of the people she had dealt with in the churches he had pastored over the years, there were probably far more than that.