The next morning Elise was late. She grabbed a tattered scarf from the closet and hurried out the door. Circumventing the corner of the street, she took a short-cut behind St. Ann’s. As she passed the rectory she slowed, noticing a new figure through the side window, a window in which the blind was customarily drawn. His head was bowed as he turned the pages of a book. Elise didn’t have time to dwell; when she reached Jesse’s she forgot to mention it.
Mornings were cold now. Most of the leaves had been stripped from the trees by rainstorms and wind, leaving wiry gray skeletons against a dismal sky. She moved closer to Jesse to block the wind. He allowed her near because it was safe. She didn’t have the false glee he found in other girls’ eyes, the way they laughed and tittered at everything he said; nor did she possess the hunger he sensed in Brother Logan.
Jesse was tall beside her, but she never felt small with him. There was affection in his eyes when they spoke, an unsaid understanding fostered from a common childhood. Even entering adolescence, they maintained a close, chaste friendship – more familial than friendly in fact.
“When’s the next basketball game?” she asked to pass the walk.
“Tomorrow. It’s away.”
“And this was going to be the one I attended. Damn.”
He smiled. No more was said. At school, they separated again. When the day was over he waited a little while for her, then walked home alone. The days were getting shorter.
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The seventh of November was the first decidedly frigid day of the season. Snow threatened from the dark sky, heavy clouds hung low and stretched in every direction. Winter was close. Jesse didn’t feel the sense of anticipation that he usually had on game days. He went distractedly from class to class, barely bothering to pretend to pay attention. As the last bell rang and the boys boarded the bus, he stopped to take in a deep breath of frosty air. It bit his lungs, and he was reminded that he was, indeed, alive, and part of this world.
On the ride out of town, the sun went down and the early dusk of Daylight Savings Time settled over the journey. The bus trundled along and Jesse tried to read a little in the fading light. He was behind on the book assignment for English. His friend Daniel slept beside him, his head now and then falling against Jesse’s shoulders – an oddly intimate motion, undulating with the swaying of the bus, repeated several times over. Out the dirty window, a gray landscape rushed by. Distant homes glowed beyond harvested fields. Intermittent highway lamps threw sweeping shadows, raking lines of yellow light over the bus seats and onto the roof.
The bus pulled into the parking lot and Daniel awoke.
“Shit, we’re here,” he yawned. Jesse was vaguely disappointed that the quiet was over. He slung his backpack over his shoulder and let Daniel out of the seat. They walked in with the other boys. It was already dark.
Jesse watched the Junior Varsity game, clapping a little later than everyone else, as hazy thoughts of Brother Logan were conjured and transfigured before dissipating, then more clapping, and Jesse late again. He trudged down the bleachers past his teammates. The hallway was empty, hushed after the noise of the gymnasium. At the water fountain he bent down and drank, wiping a bit of water from his chin.
He leaned back against the wall, allowing the back of his head to gently knock against the cement. Muffled shouts, squeaking sneaker treads, and the staccato squeals of the referee’s whistle could be heard through the doors. Jesse envisioned Brother Logan there, pushing him back against the wall, kissing him violently on the mouth, devouring him, tearing through him. He wanted to fight back, then let it happen, then stop it, and begin again. The varsity team burst into the hallway.
“Come on Jesse, time to get ready,” Coach called as the team filed into the locker room.
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Following their win, the boys were rowdy. Jesse had done all right in the game, even though Coach had called him out for being distracted and not focusing. He was glad it wasn’t a home game. As the team boarded the bus, Jesse hung back, waiting for his friend Daniel, who would also bring him home once they got back to the school. He didn’t feel like joining in the celebratory yelling and boasting that was coming.
It was at least an hour’s ride back home. He and Daniel sat near the front of the bus, a few rows behind the driver and Coach, and far from the boisterous group packing tightly into the back.
They were still in their game shorts, their sweat had cooled, and suddenly Jesse felt cold. As the bus sped along, the boys’ legs bumped against each other. Jesse could feel the hair on Daniel’s calf. In the dark, Jesse couldn’t tell if Daniel was looking at him, then he felt his hand being pulled onto Daniel’s hard-on. Outwardly Jesse didn’t react, then his own erection was being hidden by his jacket and Daniel had his fist around it.
They held onto each other, held fast, amid the raucous shouts of the other boys, spilling then hiding their milky mess in dim light and baggy shorts. Throughout, Jesse thought only of Brother Logan, interspersed with visions of the bloody lance wound in the side of Jesus. They never spoke about these episodes, leaving them hidden in the night. Boys were boys, and playing around didn’t mean anything, so long as it went unacknowledged. It would be different with Brother Logan; Jesse knew it would be.
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In their bedroom, the Crawford boys lay awake. Jesse had finally come to bed after showering and trying to finish the last of his math homework. The final problem was impossible to figure out. He had written out a long series of equations that would likely pass muster with Mr. Whelchel’s cursory glances. It no longer mattered to him.
Alone in bed, Jesse let the visions of Brother Logan come over him – stealing in with the night, skirting past the shadows. He saw him, felt him, opened his legs and invited him. On the precipice of sleep and wake, he tottered languidly along, his hand running absently down his stomach to the swirls of light brown hair surrounding his cock. It lengthened lazily in his hand as he listened for the deep regular pattern of breathing that would signify John’s sleep. Not that it made any difference.
“John,” he whispered hoarsely. “John, can you hear me?” There was no reply. He hadn’t said these words in months, maybe a year. When John first lost his hearing, Jesse constantly tested him, clapping his hands, snapping behind the ears – all in a vain effort to make it untrue, to pull John out of his soundless fog. He remembered one terrifying incident of shaking the boy and screaming at him, right in his face, and John yelling back, strange wordless moans, animal sounds of primal fear, and then the pitiful, unbearable wails of his crying, all wavy vowels and dripping spittle. It was the second time Jesse’s mother had hit him – an automatic slap, hard across the cheek. That was years ago. The only other time she ever struck him was when he said he didn’t know if he believed in God. He was a little boy then. Her actions came as such a shock, so hard and swift, that he vowed to always lie about whether he believed.
He looked at the black silhouette of the crucifix and imagined Brother Logan nailed to the cross. It was little consolation, and he fell asleep in exhausted frustration.
Mr. Whelchel did not check his math homework the next day.
“For the next few weeks, Brother Logan will be hearing confessions, so if anyone wants to partake of the sacrament, particularly during Advent, you are always welcome. We’re available according to the schedule, and we encourage all of you to make use of this blessed sacrament.” Father Daemon glanced at the Crawford family, ever-present on Sunday mornings. Beyond them his eyes connected with a few chosen parishioners; he smiled at a little girl running into the aisle, even as she squealed upon being picked up by her mother.
Mrs. Crawford shot a disdainful expression at the child before breaking into an unconvincing half-smile. Jesse saw the change. He watched the mother carry the squirming child away.
“The Gospel today is a fitting reminder for us as we celebrate Thanksgiving next week. For many of us, it is a time not only to give thanks for what we have, but also to reflect on what we should really be thankful for. Not the material possessions or money or cars, but our fellow brothers and sisters. Our family and friends and loved ones. The people who we love – that is what we should be most thankful for. The more I see of the pain and suffering in this world, the more I feel that our love for one another is the only way to heal.”
Jesse wasn’t listening, occupied instead with imagining Brother Logan in the confessional, planning what he would say, how he would confess, whether he would do it face to face or behind the screen. It had to be behind the screen – a face to face confessional was too thrilling, too daring. He wouldn’t confess everything then. No, he wouldn’t go at all.
Turning his attention to the altar boys, he stared at their hands, folded neatly in their laps. The boy on the right was twirling his thumbs around each other. Jesse wondered if he was nervous. Both of them had sleepy eyes, and both had yawned a number of times since mass began. Father Daemon’s sermon showed no signs of concluding.
Jesse looked toward the confessional. Inside Brother Logan waited to hear the sins of the congregation. The small light at the doorway was green, meaning it was okay for someone to go in. Once that happened, the light turned red, and someone was confessing. This morning, no one was in line.
Following the lengthy homily, the light in the confessional went out. Brother Logan emerged, closing the wrought iron door behind him. Its latch clanged loudly, echoing throughout the church – the sound of finality, of something being over. He stood there, arms folded across his chest, as Father Daemon began blessing the gifts. When the Eucharistic ministers made their way to the altar to hand out communion, Brother Logan joined them in line, taking the wafer on his tongue. He stood to the left of Father Daemon at the head of the center aisle.
Jesse filed out of the pew, following Mr. Crawford.
“Body of Christ,” he heard Brother Logan say to his father. It was his turn. “Jesse, the Body of Christ,” Brother Logan repeated to him, pressing the wafer into his hand and holding it there while engaging his gaze.
“Amen,” Jesse replied. He placed the wafer on the tip of his tongue then pulled it slowly into his mouth. Behind him, Mrs. Crawford advanced.
“Body of Christ,” Brother Logan repeated.
“Amen,” she whispered.
Jesse and his family knelt after returning to their pew. John watched the surging line of people, restlessly turning his head and straining to find a schoolmate or friend. Jesse stared furtively at Brother Logan the entire time, hoping for some sign of recognition – a smile, a look, a glance in his direction – but there was none. After the last person took communion, Brother Logan accepted Father Daemon’s tabernacle and brought them both to the back of the altar.
Father Daemon returned to his chair and sat down, pushing his flowing robe out around his legs as he surveyed his congregation from the high vantage point of the altar. Row after row now relaxed, sitting back in the pews after rising awkwardly from their kneeling stance. As the people settled, Father rose, extended his arms outward, and said in a loud voice, “Let us pray.”
The altar boy to his right scrambled up with the book. Father looked down on the boy’s black hair as it shined in the bright spotlights of the church. They seemed dimmer to Jesse during the day. The boy, younger and much smaller than Jesse, held the heavy book high on his chest as Father Daemon located that Sunday’s final prayer.
After mass, Jesse stopped his parents at the door. “Wait, let me run in and check the altar boy schedule quick,” he mumbled before heading into the church office. Father Daemon was still greeting the departing people, shaking hands and blessing babies. The two boys who had served mass rushed out, almost bumping into him in their haste to escape. Inside the hallway to the office, Jesse searched the wall for his name on the schedule, and waited. He saw the date in December and made a display of going through the remaining Sundays on the calendar, tracing them slowly with his finger. He repeated the action, pretending to read through it all again, but he couldn’t wait any longer. Around the corner, Brother Logan suddenly appeared.
“Oh, Jesse, hello.”
“Hi… I just wanted to check the schedule, for when I served next,” he explained.
“Sure, sure. Let’s see,” and Brother Logan stood beside him looking over the calendar. “Ah, there you are – a few more weeks and you’re up,” he said. He was so close, yet Jesse couldn’t discern any scent on him.
He searched his eyes, waiting for him to continue the conversation, until finally he mustered the boldness to ask, “Umm, maybe since I haven’t done it, for a while, just that once, you could practice with me again, if you have a free night? I mean, serving mass, practice for that.”
“Oh… well,” Brother Logan paused and Jesse immediately regretted asking. “Sure… Yes. Actually, that’s a good idea for Advent – just some minor changes in the mass you should know.” Brother Logan looked back at the calendar. He tried to focus and force the impure physical reaction of his body below the surface. It shouldn’t stir him like this. He took a step to the side, away from Jesse, feigning a closer look at the days. “How about tomorrow, same time?”
“Any… wait, no, I have basketball tomorrow… and Tuesday too. Can you do it Wednesday?”
“The day before Thanksgiving?”
“It’s not a problem,” he hastened to add. “I can, but is that when you want to do it?” Brother Logan asked. “It will be quiet actually. Father Daemon is going out of town for the holiday.”
“Yeah, I can do it then. I won’t have to get up early the next day,” he laughed, and adjusted the swollen cock in his pants. Brother Logan pretended not to notice, but Jesse saw that he had seen.
“So, I’ll see you then, on Wednesday,” and Brother Logan walked abruptly back into the office recesses without turning around.
He had left the noisy holiday preparations to his mother and John. Aunt Ellen had come over to help with the cooking, and the kitchen was filled with steaming pots, red burners, and a scorching oven. Heat was pressing against heat, and the stifling scene was too much for Jesse. John ran excitedly around the first floor of the house, racing imaginary cars or chasing made-up criminals. He was hiding under the kitchen table when Jesse left the room. Mr. Crawford had retreated to the den, responding to the occasional cries for help from Mrs. Crawford, but largely being left alone with his television. Jesse would be early if he left now, but it didn’t matter. No one noticed as he walked out into the brisk November evening.
Fallen berries from a thorny hawthorne tree stuck to Jesse’s feet as he hurried to the church. The rotten fruit spread into the soles of his sneakers. On the steps of the church he scraped them off; two small clumps of desiccated flesh, crushed stems, and torn leaves fell to the ground in shades of maroon and brown.
Jesse was early, and found the doors of the church locked. He walked around the immense building to the back. Father Daemon’s car was gone from the lot. The door to the rectory was open just a crack, and the warm yellow light from within was just starting to glow brighter than the dimming sky. As Jesse leaned forward to open the door, it swung in suddenly. He tripped on the top step and fell into Brother Logan. Their arms held each other up, and Brother Logan’s ready laugh boomed loudly in Jesse’s ear. They stayed that way a little longer than necessary, separating finally in the tiny entryway, and that was the moment that Jesse was certain. It was warm here, and the smoky scent of a wood-burning stove added to the cozy atmosphere.
“Sorry I’m so early. Had to get out of the house,” he offered. Brother Logan scanned his person, eyes hastily darting over his face, chest, stomach, thighs, legs, and back up again. Just being in his presence, hearing him speak, gave Jesse an instant erection. He tried pulling it into his body, in the end opting to fold his hands over it in some blasphemous quasi-prayer pose.
“You know what, we can do it in here,” Brother Logan said, swallowing nervously. “The practice. No sense in opening up the whole church. If that’s all right with you.”
“No problem,” Jesse answered, his voice hoarse. He cleared his throat. The two of them stood there, both hearts galloping wildly, taking quick, then deep, gulps of air.
Jesse walked up to Brother Logan, grabbed his head, and pulled his mouth to his own. He slid his tongue in, hungrily groping for some bit of faith to take away with him. Brother Logan pulled him off. Out of breath, he stumbled back against a wall.
“Jesse,” he began. Jesse slammed his mouth back onto him, and Brother Logan finally kissed back. He had to. Powerless over his desire, he had tried valiantly to suppress it. If only Jesse hadn’t wanted it so badly. He could control himself, but not when the object of his desire was actively pursuing him.
They kissed violently, grappling and pressing their bodies close, thrusting against each other. Brother Logan managed to maneuver their conjoined selves down the hall. At the door to his bedroom, he pulled away.
“Wait,” he whispered huskily. “We can’t.” He turned into the room. Jesse followed. He took off his coat and dropped it on the floor, closing the door behind him. The space was dark and gray. “I shouldn’t…” Brother Logan’s voice trailed away. “I’m sorry, Jesse. That was wrong. Please…”
Jesse leaned into his pleading lips, kissing him gently now. Brother Logan turned away and stared out the little window.
“It’s okay,” Jesse said softly. “I want you to.”
He had known the room would be plain. A desk was pushed in front of the lone window, its chair tucked neatly beneath it. The dirty window blind was pulled half-way down. A wooden crucifix hung above the bed. In the corner, a closet door was shedding its latest layer of paint. The bottom of it was splintered, a ragged edge of peeling wood, but the door-knob looked like it was made of crystal – a tiny sparkling orb in a room of dull, drab surfaces. It was out of place here. An oil lamp stood alone on the bedside table, the only bit of ornamentation in the simple surroundings. Brother Logan went over and lit it with a match, telling Jesse it had been a gift from his brother, before he died.
“Oh. I’m sorry,” Jesse mumbled quietly.
“Thanks. It was a long time ago.”
The lamp gave off a soft, wavering light, and a steady stream of black smoke when it burned too brightly. The top of the hurricane glass was coated with a thick layer of soot. In the corner of the room an old radiator hissed, the only noise apart from the ancient creaking floorboards.
This is where it would be done. Brother Logan stood before him. He closed his eyes as Jesse reached out and unbuckled his belt. Suddenly Jesse’s mouth was on him, engulfing him. He ran his hand through Jesse’s hair, massaging his head in small circles. Jesse dove into the dark whorls of Logan’s crotch, trying to extract the essence of him, taking as much into his mouth as he could. He gagged at one point, rearing back with watering eyes and returning to the flesh in front of him.
They were naked then in the small bed. Jesse thought he saw Brother Logan spit into his hand, and suddenly he felt the warmth and wetness of his hands, opening him up, easing him into it.
Jesse hadn’t been sure that this was how it would happen. He looked ahead of him at the small gash in the headboard. The smooth dent was lighter than the surrounding wood, breaking up the curved line of the board. What had struck it? Jesse thought of odd objects – a wayward hammer, an aluminum baseball bat, the thin leg of a desk stool… and then there was Brother Logan, the fur of his chest brushing against Jesse’s back, silky, not wiry like he’d imagined. It was the sensation of something soft before the impaling. Snippets of prayers came to him.
This is my body, it will be given up for you…
Logan wasn’t gentle at first, and the immense pain, followed by the shock of fear, caused Jesse to cry out. He was inside him, pushing through, tearing him apart. Logan did not let up.
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…
Jesse clenched his fists beneath the pillow and put his head down into the rough sheets. His body tensed and he pulled himself off of Brother Logan’s cock. The pain was too great, but he wanted it so badly.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…
Turning around, he caught Logan dribbling more saliva into his hand, then rubbing it onto his cock, and Jesse’s ass. His smile was gone, replaced by the same earnest gaze that had first arrested Jesse’s attention. It was a look of concentration, a look of serious intent. Jesse turned to face the wall, eyeing the peeling plaster and a cobweb in the corner.
Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death…
The pounding did not last long. Logan let out a small sigh with his final thrust, then quickly pulled out, furtively covering the blood and shit stains on his cock, hiding it from Jesse as he stepped into his plaid boxer shorts.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever…
Back on the small bed, Brother Logan kissed Jesse on the mouth. Their tongues met, darting at each other, flickering like the tips of flames. Jesse pulled away, and Brother Logan moved his kisses lower, traveling down along his smooth chest, over the pink nipples to the small, dark patch of pubic hair and Jesse’s circumcised erection.
He outlined the cock with his tongue, then took it all in. Jesse’s head went back, his body involuntarily pushing itself deeper into Brother Logan’s mouth. He, too, came quickly. Brother Logan rested his head on Jesse’s thigh, looking through the mound of hair and cock to Jesse’s chin, pointed upward at the ceiling. In the far corner of the room the radiator sputtered, releasing its pressure in a series of short hisses.
Brother Logan suddenly spoke, his tone markedly altered. “We have to keep this secret, no one can ever know.” Stern yet pleading, trapped by his own words and the world outside the tiny bedroom.
Jesse understood, not in a childlike trusting way, but in his own head he knew that to tell anyone would ruin what they had. Not only that, it would endanger the chance for them to do it again. Already he couldn’t see beyond a time when Brother Logan was not his sole passion, his only real inspiration.
Nothing more was said. None of Jesse’s questions were answered; none of them had been asked. He hadn’t known how to ask them. Silence seemed easier, and acquiescence was the province of adults. Jesse had felt older since he was a child.
They got dressed in the hushed quiet of fallen dusk. Outside it was dark. A late Autumn rain was clinging to the tree leaves, tearing the very last of them from their hold and pulling them down. In the wind, brittle twigs broke, shriveled berries were plucked from their perch, and everything was falling from the sky.
Beneath the steaming showerhead, Jesse scrubbed himself clean, unaware of the bit of blood that ran down his legs. He took his time, slowly lathering himself and remembering Brother Logan inside of him, then himself in Brother Logan’s mouth, and the feeling of someone swallowing his semen, sucking it out of him and draining the drops that usually fell on his own stomach.
This, then, is love. Giving up oneself willingly.
He felt like a grown-up, the only moment of doubt coming when he sat down on the toilet. A sharp, burning pain so intense he immediately started sweating, his eyes glazing over with tears. He held it in at first, but at length expelled everything. It hurt to wipe himself, but he forced his way through it. In the toilet, ribbons of blood flowed outward from his stool. He grimaced, then flushed it away.
Even so, it had been worth it – worth all of it.
On Thanksgiving morning, Mrs. Crawford swept into the boys’ bedroom, gently shaking Jesse and John until they were awake. “Come on Jesse, we’ll be eating soon. And I need a little help.” The phone rang and Mrs. Crawford ran out into the hallway. Jesse heard her polite, muffled replies, picking out his name and wondering if it was Brother Logan. He heard the phone being hung up, then his mother came back into the room. “Jesse, that was Mrs. Olin. They need some milk, just a cup I think. Elise is on her way over – can you get it ready for her?”
Jesse groaned. “Mom, I’m not showered. I just got up.”
“Thanks Jesse,” and she was gone.
John turned over and signed to Jesse, “What? What happened?”
Jesse waved him off, pulling on a sweatshirt and trying to tame a patch of unruly bed hair. “Screw it,” he muttered to the mirror.
Downstairs he opened the front door before Elise had a chance to ring the bell. She stood on the front step looking out toward the street. “Hey,” he said. “Come on in.”
She had been to Jesse’s countless times, but never felt completely comfortable there. Something about the family was odd. It wasn’t just that they had a deaf son, nor could it be said that Elise’s family was any closer to normal – it was something else. A ‘hollowness’ was how she tried to describe it once. All the hardwood floors, the empty echoes of footsteps, and Mr. and Mrs. Crawford, always kind and polite, always engaging and talkative with Elise’s parents, but never quite the same with the children. Though they doted on John, for necessary reasons, they remained somehow distant. Their children were part of what they were supposed to do. Elise had never witnessed them act in any way unkind or cruel, but in Jesse she sensed something missing.
“Do you want the whole carton? Or what should I put it in?” Jesse asked in the kitchen. A savory smell of herbs filled the space, and Elise noticed the turkey under a mound of foil on the counter.
“Oh shoot, I forgot the measuring cup. Do you have a glass or something I can borrow? My mother is making a cake at the last minute – something about not having enough dessert. Like we need ten things for six people.”
“Hey, we have an entire twenty pound bird for the four of us.”
“Aunt Ellen isn’t coming?”
“No. Better offer I guess,” he joked.
He wanted to tell her about Brother Logan, but he wasn’t sure. She thanked him for the milk, then hurried through the light rain to her home, spilling a bit of it on the way. There was just enough for the cake. Her mother was grateful.
The rainy Thanksgiving holiday passed, and the long weekend went by quickly. Jesse recounted his time with Brother Logan, going over the events in detail, slowing down the moments he wanted to savor, glossing over the disturbing parts with a vague, dismissive unease. In church that week he watched for him, but he was not there. The confessional was closed, the light neither red nor green, only dark. Father Daemon made no mention of him, and Jesse did not wait around after mass. When Brother Logan called the house that night, part of Jesse was surprised, but mostly he was relieved.
“Jesse, hello, how are you?” Brother Logan asked.
“Good. Glad you called,” he said, smiling a little. “Didn’t see you at church today.”
“Are your parents there?”
“Umm, yeah. I mean, they’re upstairs, not right here. Why?”
“And you haven’t told anyone? About us?”
“No.” Jesse was somewhat hurt. “I told you. I’m not dumb, or a kid.”
“I know, I’m sorry. You’re not… How are you? I’ve been thinking about you.”
It was what Jesse needed to hear. He closed his eyes, releasing a sigh of worry and suddenly foolish regret. “I’m fine,” he said, then, in a lower tone, “I’ve thought about you too.”
There was static on the phone, but they were both there. Jesse thrilled at the connection. He assumed Brother Logan was feeling it too, and wasn’t entirely wrong.
“Do you have time this week for another practice?” Jesse ventured. Brother Logan let out a sigh, then paused.
“Yes. Wednesday afternoon. Father Daemon will be on a retreat.”
Jesse didn’t say anything.
“Are you sure?” Brother Logan asked.
After a moment Jesse answered, “Yeah. See you then.”
He hung up the phone.
“I told Father Daemon I would help out at the church after school, with their renovation stuff,” Jesse announced at dinner the next day.
“Oh, that’s great,” Mr. Crawford said through a mouthful of potatoes.
“What would you be doing?” his mother asked.
“It’s volunteering… it’ll look good on my transcript for college,” he added.
“Good for you, sport,” Mr. Crawford finished.
He was growing away from them, and their exchanges, though never extensive, nor very emotional, were pointed enough lately that any sort of excitement or interest Jesse showed was met with easy assent, if not outright approval.
“You’ll have to bring John,” his mother added, exerting one final bit of control.
John was eating his dinner without looking up, attempting to wrangle a decent portion of peas onto his fork. Frustrated, he started to jab at them.
“I have meetings for the next three weeks, you know that,” Mrs. Crawford replied in her matter-of-fact way. Jesse recognized the tone, and knew it would not be changed.
He made one weak attempt. “John can be alone for a few hours,” he began, wondering if this was indeed the time they would agree.
“No, he’s ten years old,” his mother immediately answered.
Jesse went on silently picking at the last of his dinner while formulating a way around watching John. He looked over at his baby brother, fighting with his peas and unaware of Jesse’s resentful gaze. It wouldn’t be difficult. John was easily manipulated most of the time. Jesse would find a way.
He didn’t wait for Elise to walk home with him on Wednesday. John would return from school an hour after him, so Jesse hurried into the shower. It was one of his favorite parts of the day – alone in the house while Mr. and Mrs. Crawford were at work and John was still at school. He thought briefly of masturbating, but decided to wait. Toweling himself off, he looked into the bathroom mirror. A blurry vision of his face showed through a cloudy film of condensation. He wiped it off with his towel, studying his body and trying to see it through Brother Logan’s eyes. He turned around and admired his backside, spreading himself open and straining to see what he looked like.
With the towel around his waist, he walked to the bedroom. The sun slanted through the window – bright white through the leafless trees. Jesse laid back on the bed, hands behind his head, ankles crossed, staring at the crucifix.
Father forgive me, for I have sinned…
He got up and pulled on his clothes.
John had only been home a short time before Jesse whisked him back out. They walked briskly to St. Ann’s. “Mom said you have to come with me to practice, but you can just wait in the back of the church,” Jesse signed. “It won’t take long. Just don’t tell them.” He started to walk away. “And don’t go anywhere else,” he signed forcefully. John agreed. He had a bag of cars, and the long aisles of the church made good race tracks. Jesse took a final glance at his younger brother, down on his hands and knees, pushing a small car beneath the pews.
Behind the church, Jesse trotted across the small lot. It was windy and cold, and he had left his jacket with John. He put his hands in his pockets, driving them down and cupping his balls for warmth. Brother Logan wore a sheepish smile as he let Jesse in. Once the door was closed, Jesse attacked him, darting his tongue into his mouth. Brother Logan held him close, running his hands over his back, then around his butt, pulling Jesse into him.
They sealed their mouths together, then exchanged deep breaths – Jesse inhaled as Brother Logan exhaled – they were one then. Light-headed and dizzy with oxygen deprivation, Jesse pulled back, raising his shirt over his head – then Logan’s hands over his chest, Logan’s mouth and teeth on his nipples, Logan leading then following him into the bedroom.
Thrown face-down onto the bed to the harsh scraping of metal against wood, Jesse unbuttoned his pants just as Logan pulled them off. His bare ass felt the cool rush of air, then his cock rubbed the bed sheets, thrusting against the mattress, fucking it while Logan watched, rapt and unable to stop himself. In one swift motion, Logan spread Jesse’s legs open, then probed the boy with his tongue. Jesse squirmed, unaccustomed to the sensation, not knowing whether to laugh or cry out in joy at the pleasure of it. He squeezed, clenching his hole shut, but Logan was relentless. Pulling the boy onto his haunches, Logan spread him open with his hands, then delved into the hole with his tongue again. Jesse held onto his erection, ejaculating in furious spasms, his body bucking beneath Logan’s relentless touch, shooting the thick cream onto the bed and collapsing on it. He lay there listening to Logan rub his own cock, faster and faster before the guttural moan, the splashes of warm, runny semen on his back and butt. He waited for Brother Logan’s kiss, but it didn’t come. Instead, Logan handed him a towel, and the boy cleaned himself off.
“I have to go,” he announced when dressed again. “My brother is waiting. Thanks for the lesson,” he grinned mischievously.
“Oh, sure,” Brother Logan laughed, then stared at Jesse seriously. “Anytime… Really, anytime.” He kissed Jesse finally, knowing then how badly the boy wanted it, and suddenly recalling the importance of a kiss. “Hey, come here,” he said as Jesse was turning away. He folded him tightly in his arms before letting go. Jesse left him like that, standing alone, naked, hands awkwardly covering his flaccid penis.
Outside, the wind quickly chilled his damp t-shirt. Jesse hastened into the church and ran his hands through his hair. John was still waiting in the back, pushing two cars along the wooden rail of one of the pews. He looked annoyed as Jesse rushed down the long aisle. “That took forever,” he signed.
“Sorry,” Jesse mouthed, picking up his backpack and walking out the door of the church. “We were practicing for Christmas mass. Just be glad you don’t have to serve yet,” he signed. John was already ahead of him.
Elise and her family did not celebrate Christmas. They shared a relaxed Hanukah tradition, exchanging a number of smaller gifts, but that wasn’t their big holiday. December was spent accommodating the bombast of the rest of the town. Another reason she got on so well with Jesse was his disinterest and absolute apathy regarding the whole Christmas season.
She waited for him after school. They had missed each other more than usual the past few weeks – Jesse busy with basketball and Elise staying home with the flu for a stretch.
“I wasn’t sure, but I decided to wait, hoping the rain might let up,” she said as he joined her on the path home. A steady light drizzle fell, coating them both with a fine film of gray water droplets. Neither of them said more until they were within sight of St. Ann’s, and the corner where Elise turned home.
“Any plans for the holiday vacation?” Jesse asked. Elise looked upward, the icy mist stinging her eyes, and the sky growing ever darker.
“Not really. Mom was talking about a trip to Florida, but I don’t think Dad wants to go. What about you?”
“No, nothing special. Probably babysitting John.”
They were almost at the corner.
“Hey,” Elise slowed her pace, “Do you ever resent that?”
Jesse slowed with her. “Watching John?”
“Well, the whole thing.”
He knew how much Elise liked John. She had once defended him to a group of kids ridiculing him behind his back. John didn’t know, and Elise never explained, but Jesse had seen.
“At first, maybe a little. Not now, not anymore. He’ll have it hard enough.”
“Do you ever resent your parents? They seemed to handle it well, both of you, at least from what I could see. But I don’t know…”
“They did their best, I think,” he interrupted. Elise knew not to press. The two of them stood at the corner. Across the street was St. Ann’s, rising into the low clouds, hiding the brighter bit of gray sky that obscured the spot where the sun should be.
“Well, see you tomorrow,” Elise said before walking away.
Jesse crossed the street towards his house.
“Hey,” Elise called, her voice bouncing off the church, “Call me, if you want.” She ran the rest of the way home.
As he passed St. Ann’s, he looked back towards the rectory. Father Daemon’s black Dodge sat in the parking lot. Jesse continued on, head bowed, pelted by drops of ice. A menacing sky was opening up. Sleet and freezing rain, driven by a bitter wind, were coming down heavily by the time Jesse ducked into the house.
“I’ll be back by eight,” Mrs. Crawford explained, first out loud, then by signing to John. “Dinner is all ready – just heat it up. Your father should be home after me.” She rushed into the bathroom to apply lipstick. “Jesse,” she said confidentially, smacking her lips together, “Make sure he works on his report. No T.V. until he does it. Please.” He nodded and went back upstairs. He listened to his mother shuffling below. There would be a few hours when he and John were alone.
Though he was never sentimental about Christmas or exchanging gifts, he wanted to give something to Brother Logan. His eyes scanned the messy bedroom. A rumpled t-shirt hung half-way over the clock, hiding the red numbers on its face. Jesse pulled it off. “4:37 PM” it read.
The bureau the boys shared had a thin top drawer. John could not yet reach it, and by default it had become Jesse’s own private storage area. He didn’t keep his truly secret mementos there, but a few birthday cards, academic certificates, some small basketball trophies, and a collection of religious items were all shoved into the space. A gold rosary, a gift from his first communion, was pushed into the back corner, while a cloth scapular, with its faded picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and promise “Whoever wears this at the time of their death shall be saved from the eternal fires of Hell” was wrapped around a few laminated prayer cards, gifts from his Grandmother.
He retrieved the rosary, running the beads through his hands, trying to remember what prayer each bead represented. This would be his gift to Brother Logan. He could think of nothing else.
“Jesse, I’m going,” his mother yelled up the staircase.
“Okay,” he said, not certain that she heard him. The door closed and he listened as John turned on the television.
Inside his desk, Jesse rummaged for a box for the rosary. There was a plastic one that once housed a watch, but it seemed improper. He picked through dirty pennies, broken pencils, and a cigar box of baseball cards. The back of the drawer was pitch black. As he switched on a light, Jesse felt along the rough wooden drawer bottom, bringing forth first a rusty matchbox car (one of his father’s childhood toys), and then a tiny bag of worn red velvet. Inside the bag was a miniature set of playing cards, featuring an ornate ivy pattern and bordered by a band of dull bronze.
Jesse took the cards and placed them back inside the drawer. He got up from the desk, picked up the rosary, dangled it over the open bag, and dropped it in. It fit perfectly. He pulled the two strings and the pouch puckered shut.
Downstairs, John sat before the television set, intently reading the white Closed Captioning lettering that scrolled across the bottom of a cartoon. Jesse stepped in front of him. “I have to run out for a minute,” he signed.
“Where?” John asked. Jesse could tell he was going to be difficult.
“Just out,” he signed, trying to be patient.
“Can I come?”
“No. I’ll just be a second.”
“I want to go,” John signed, standing up. It was now a challenge. Jesse was tired of it.
“No. Stay here. I’ll be right back.”
John grabbed his arm as he headed to the door. “I’ll tell,” he signed with a triumphant, bratty smile. Jesse turned around, stared at him sadly, and shrugged. John had never seen his brother about to cry. Confused, he sat back down in front of the television. Jesse walked out of the house.
The rain and sleet had stopped, and only a cruel wind remained. The walk to St. Ann’s seemed longer, fighting the wind and the dark, and the nagging thought of John left alone. Jesse almost turned back, but quickened his pace instead. Without a coat, the wind bit at him, driving through his untucked shirt, ensnaring his wrists and ankles, and wearing away at his ears and nose. It was a damp cold, the worst kind, but he pushed through it for the chance to see Brother Logan.
St. Ann’s church was dark, wet with the dreary weather. If Father Daemon’s black Dodge Diplomat was there, Jesse had decided not to take the chance. Nearing the rectory, he saw the car in the parking lot. Disappointed and cold, he ducked into the covered doorway of the church, hidden in shadow and shielded from the wind. Suddenly struck by the helplessness of his situation, he took a few angry steps towards the rectory, then stopped. He couldn’t do it, not tonight.
Feeling for the rosary in his pocket, he willed that Brother Logan would come out. The unforgiving wind swept past; night had arrived early. But Jesse wasn’t certain. Peeking around the corner, he eyed the old Dodge again and gave up.
When he got home, John was still in front of the television. Jesse gave him a quick sign of ‘Thanks’ then trudged upstairs. He could not eat.
Elise was not on the corner when he passed St. Ann’s the next morning. He had purposely avoided looking back at the rectory, not wanting to see Father Daemon’s car there and be reminded of the previous night. He waited for a bit, then headed to school alone. It was a clear December day, with holiday tinsel sparkling garishly in the harsh sunlight, and the pathetic sight of exposed extension cords, unforgiven by the barren trees.
In his pocket the rosary pouch was warm against his thigh. Its presence there calmed him, a talisman of the – what? – Love? – Faith? – whatever it was that he felt for Brother Logan. Throughout the day he would delve into his pocket for it, and always the same reassurance. He wondered if Brother Logan was thinking about him at those moments, if he had the same presence in his life. It made him uneasy, the doubt, but it was also thrilling. To have someone in the world that had so permeated his existence, that could have him risk everything and that willingly, was an intoxicating exhilaration. He rode on that headiness as the day dwindled, and it brought him back to the rectory on his way home from school.
The sun had given way to a high layer of clouds. There was no trace of blue in the sky. Father Daemon’s car was gone. He might still be there, but Jesse had no choice now. The idea of Brother Logan impelled him, and the rosary, hot in his pants, drove him on. Determined, he stood on the steps of the rectory door, pushing the ragged buzzer and knocking three times.
“Jesse, why are you…?” Brother Logan stammered before Jesse interrupted.
“Sorry, for not calling or something. I was on my way home and had a Christmas gift for you,” and he reached into his pocket to retrieve the rosary. The velvet pouch was not coming out easily, and Jesse had to use both his hands to extract it – one to hold his pocket open, the other to pull the bag out. Even as he did so, the pouch stuck to the lining, pulling it inside out and dropping a couple of coins and a tissue onto the ground.
“Wait, not here,” Brother Logan said, looking past Jesse and around the lot. He came out and closed the door behind him. “Let’s go into the church. Father Daemon will be back soon. We can say we’re practicing if anyone asks.” He actually didn’t know what to say if anyone was there, and Jesse’s appearance had set him off-balance. He had forgotten that the other person was always an unknown, that Jesse might not be wholly agreeable to terms and conditions, and that attraction and lust were too often confused with affection and love. And yet he did feel something for this boy, something that maybe he hadn’t felt with others, but how could he know so soon? And why even pursue the possibility? Brother Logan held the door for Jesse and they walked into the church together.
A nativity scene had been set up on the left side of the altar over a large square of gaudy green astroturf. Wooden figures representing Mary and Joseph stood behind an empty manger, surrounded by a collection of wooden lambs and other animals, while an angel was suspended above, twisting slightly on a wire. The baby Jesus figure would be added on Christmas eve. From a set of speakers on each side of the altar, Christmas music was being played for anyone who wanted to stop by and pray before the nativity.
They stood there for a moment, neither speaking. For Jesse it was enough just to be near him, to look at him and wonder at the both of them together. The blueness of his eyes was perpetually startling – not the watery pale color of a weak sky, but a deeper hue, imbued by indigo, tempered by sapphire, and tinged with cobalt.
“Here,” he said softly, handing Brother Logan the velvet bag. “Merry Christmas.”
A song Jesse had sung as a child was playing in the background.
Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
A newborn King to see, pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,
So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
When we come.
Brother Logan opened his palm and accepted the gift. He worked two fingers into the pouch, opening it up and pulling out the rosary. A sad, confused smile formed, his lips wavered, and Jesse had to look away briefly.
Baby Jesus, pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum.
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum.
“You probably have the grand deluxe version of a rosary, but it’s the only religious thing I could think of to give, and maybe you don’t have a gold one?”
Brother Logan was touched. “No, you keep this,” he said, pushing it back towards Jesse. “To pray.”
“No, really,” Jesse insisted. “I don’t do much praying… I want you to have it. I have nothing else to give.” Their hands touched, the rosary between their fingers.
Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,
On my drum?
Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum.
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum.
Jesse knelt before him. He bowed his head and looked upon the scuffed mounds of Brother Logan’s shoes. Their tattered condition made Jesse sad. He reached up and hugged him. Brother Logan bent over and hugged him back.
Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.
The opening minor chords of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ broke their reverie. Jesse got up, his tall frame wispy and ungainly next to Brother Logan’s compact form, his coiled muscles and broad, firm shoulders.
“Thank you, Jesse.” Brother Logan’s eyes turned down. He couldn’t bring himself to look at the boy in front of him. What had he done to him? Did the boy even know? And would he do it again? His eyes watered.
“It’s really nothing. I was almost embarrassed to give it to you, but since you’re into the church and everything…” Jesse chuckled a little, knowing how foolish he sounded, and keenly aware that it was a cute thing to say. Logan kissed him through his laughter, and then nothing was funny.
A distant clicking – the closing of a door – sounded above the Christmas music. Someone had entered the church. Jesse looked to Brother Logan, whose face was stricken with panic before it eased into a questionably serene expression. He pushed the rosary into his pocket, dropping the velvet pouch. The footsteps were coming from the other entrance and Father Daemon’s silhouette appeared in the far doorway.
“Brother Logan?” he called.
“Oh, hello Father. I was just going over the advent mass with Jesse here.”
Father Daemon eyed Brother Logan and hesitated. Looking over at Jesse he saw the boy’s blank face and tried to discern anything out of place, any indication of something…inappropriate. On the contrary, the boy appeared bored and rather removed from the whole scene. Father Daemon turned his attention back to Brother Logan.
“He wanted some extra practice for when he serves this Sunday,” Logan said smoothly.
Jesse wasn’t bothered by the ease with which he lied; he only thought about the fact that Brother Logan had been aware of when he was serving next. So Jesse did matter then.
“Very good, very good,” Father Daemon said. “It’s basically the same, a few minor changes is all,” he continued dismissively. “I’ll leave you to it. See you on Sunday, Jesse.” Father Daemon disappeared the way he had come.
“You’d better go,” Brother Logan said sternly.
“Sure, I have to get home anyway,” Jesse said, pretending not to notice the chilly tone. He walked out of the church.
Brother Logan bent over to pick up the rosary pouch. He held it in his hand, running his finger over the thin velvet, worn bare in spots and discolored with age. Had Father Daemon seen?
The blood-red bracts of countless poinsettias lined the marble façade behind Jesse as he took his seat to the right of Father Daemon on the altar. He was not as nervous this time, even as he almost tripped on his cassock going up the three steps. The church was getting fuller – it would be like this until Christmas Eve, when everyone showed, holy for one night in their finest attire.
Jesse studied the crowd. Brother Logan had not been in the back, nor was he in the confessional. He searched for him behind the rows of people, hoping he was there directing them to seats or preparing to come up for the Eucharist.
High in the back of the church, the organ renovation continued. Each week a little more had been done, the scaffolding continually rearranging itself and the drop-cloths shifting discernibly. It wouldn’t be ready in time for Christmas, Father Daemon had explained earlier, but maybe by Easter it would be heard again. In the meantime, the small organ that had been plugged in on the altar made its pitiful sound, barely heard at the back of the church.
Jesse sat behind the nativity scene. He could see the back of the manger. The word “Xmas” had been spray-painted across it in white, destroying any sense of symbolism. He had not heard from Brother Logan since he dropped off the rosary, and he wondered if he’d done something wrong. Father Daemon hadn’t seemed concerned when he found them in the church. The ruse was believable, and Jesse was adept at appearing nonchalant, the key to successfully fooling people. Maybe it was a stupid present. A rosary for a clergyman? He couldn’t decide.
He thought of the moment that he got down on his knees and hugged Brother Logan. The side of his face had been against Logan’s crotch, his cheek must have brushed Logan’s cock, and his hands had cupped Logan’s butt. At the time it wasn’t erotic, but now it was giving Jesse an erection. He shifted uncomfortably in the stiff wooden chair.
The lector was almost finished with the second reading and it would soon be time to stand for the Gospel. Jesse thought of the baby Jesus, absent from the manger. He tried to remember what it looked like. The wooden figures of Mary and Joseph knelt before the empty spot. Jesse wondered if they had fucked, if Jesus hadn’t been the product of their lovemaking. Sex and religion seemed hopelessly intertwined sometimes, and he was forever fighting with his lack of faith. He had wanted to ask Brother Logan about it, but now that was mixed up too.
The organ played a weak introduction and the congregation sang ‘Alleluia’ as Father Daemon made his way to the pulpit.
After church, the Crawfords drove the few blocks to their house. Elise Olin was walking her dog as they got out of the car.
“Hi Elise!” Mrs. Crawford shouted. “How’s your Mom?”
“She’s well. She said she had a nice time at dinner the other night.”
“Tell her I said hello,” Mrs. Crawford called, following John and Mr. Crawford inside.
Jesse went over to her. The sun was strong and, though the air was frigid, there was no wind. “Hey,” he said. “How’s Cooper?” and he bent down to rub the dog’s neck.
Elise watched him with her dog. He smiled and laughed when Cooper jumped up to lick his face. “Coop’s good. Still crazy. How’s all at the Crawford house?”
“Crazy too. Your parents were over for dinner the other night.”
“Yeah, I heard. Sorry I couldn’t be there,” she said sarcastically.
Jesse squinted into the sunlight, trying to see her face. She turned away, covering her nose with mittened hands. “Damn, it’s cold today,” she said, her breath coming out in a cloud.
“Well, tis the season,” Jesse answered. “But it is pretty bad. I’m going inside. See you Monday?”
“Yeah, sure. I’ll be here.”
Jesse jogged into the open garage. Elise called for Cooper and the two of them continued walking up the street until it was time to turn.
He had wanted to call Brother Logan, but was afraid that Father Daemon might answer. Stopping by the rectory was not an option now. The church was busy with the fast approach of Christmas, and he had no reason to give if he and Brother Logan were discovered together again. He could do nothing but wait.
John was running excitedly around the house, playing another imaginary game, grunting and acting out surprise ambush deaths by invisible enemies. His grunts were not like those of other boys – the strange, shapeless sounds instead indicative of someone who has not heard himself since he was three years old.
From their bedroom, Jesse listened as his brother ran up and down the stairs. He was waiting for Mrs. Crawford to put a stop to the noise by finding John and leading him outside. One of the benefits to having a deaf sibling was that his parents often forgot that Jesse could still hear, resulting in a lot less yelling, as well as being privy to a lot of things he wasn’t supposed to know. It also meant that the only way to stop John from doing something was to physically go up to him and get his attention.
Jesse stood at the top of the stairs as John bounded up, catching him by surprise. He signed to keep it down while he was trying to study. John rolled his eyes and ran back downstairs as loud as ever. It was a battle Jesse always lost – fighting with a deaf brother about the noise level.
In the hallway, he picked up the phone and checked the dial tone, instantly ashamed of himself. Was this love then? Being driven to distraction, unbearable anticipation, and repeated, unjustified disappointment? He had tried to push Brother Logan from his mind, but the effort served merely to enforce the infatuation. He alternated from a giddy belief in a happy ending, certain that Brother Logan felt the same, to a hopeless despair of doubt that he even cared or thought about Jesse at all.
He’d had crushes before – on boys and girls – but none had ever seized him like this. It was invigorating, really, and for Jesse, who’d never felt passionate about anything, and who had in fact never truly cared about anyone, not even his own parents, it was a grand, terrifying, affirming jolt that jump-started a faith in humanity – maybe even a belief in something greater – a glimpse of a God whose existence he’d hitherto dismissed.
Christmas came and went, and still no word from Brother Logan. Jesse spent the break moping around the house in-between the odd basketball practice and Sunday mass. Whenever he was out he would look for him, finding his visage briefly in the faces of similar strangers, his heart jumping each time – a delicious moment of panic and happiness, and the relentless let-down when the man proved false. So the last days of the year passed, Jesse in his feverish state, and Brother Logan – silent, absent, lost. When the first proper snowfall arrived, Jesse welcomed it, thankful for the hushed, drawn-out death knell that marked the onslaught of winter.
It fell steadily through the night, swelling the ground with its drifts, leveling the barren, the ugly, the fallen, and the dirty with its power of pristine transformation. John watched the snow come down, running from window to window to try to gauge its accumulation, while Jesse lurked upstairs, removed and unconcerned with ‘how much’ and ‘how high’ and ‘how fast’, as his brother relayed it all to him.
Closing the door to their bedroom, Jesse switched on a desk lamp and sat down in the hard, unforgiving chair. He opened his backpack and took out the thick book of Collected American essays, thumbing through to his reading assignment – an apt short story, ‘Silent Snow, Secret Snow’ written by Conrad Aiken.
Fine crystals of ice were thrown against the window; static tapping at the pane. Jesse skimmed through the story, not understanding it, searching vainly for a recognizable plot and giving up before he reached the end. He switched the lamp off. Through the window, the blue-gray night threw shaded luminescence into the room. The rest of the world was white.
There would be school tomorrow. They never cancelled it for the first snowstorm. John’s excitement was pointless.