The Rundown: Nicolas Cruz is an eighteen year-old boy who plans on becoming a seminarian the following school year. He hopes to someday become the first Hispanic Archbishop in his city, although he's made many mistakes in his young life. His plans are put on hold, though, when a dying gang member is left on the front steps of St. Peter's, his parish. This story looks at gay and hetero relationships in Catholicism and how romantic relationships affect the priesthood.
It was still dark out when Nicolas Cruz unlocked the doors to St. Peter's Catholic Church. Despite the rampant crime surrounding the downtown cathedral, Father Thomas always insisted that the church be opened to the public at six o'clock sharp, just incase they might have early visitors.
Nicolas knew, though, that even the earliest wouldn't arrive until seven—and since it was Saturday, not even the early bird old women would be by. Sundays, of course; weekdays, maybe, but Saturdays? Imposiblé Everyone was sleeping in this morning, as he should be.
Stuffing the ring of clinking keys into his pocket, he picked up a broom resting in the corner and pulled the doors of St. Peter's open wide. Office buildings encased in glass soared right outside the limestone walls of the cathedral compound, but they were unable to block out the glittering domed towers of the University and Chancery, located a few blocks away.
The air smelled as though it had been scrubbed clean from last night's rain, and a cool breeze tousled Nicolas' already messy dark curls. Taking a deep breath, he immediately gagged. Instead of tasting fresh, the air was acrid and bitter. The smell of cigarettes invaded his nose. Someone was smoking close by. He really shouldn't have been surprised; smoking was the habit of choice among the large homeless population that resided right outside the sanctuary walls.
Loud voices outside those walls brought Nicolas back to focus, and he began to attending to one of his many duties: the sweeping of St. Peter's steps. Leading up to the huge oak doors of the church was a wide, impressive set of white stone steps. Summer was still two months away, but the oppressive heat that accompanied it had come early, sucking the moisture out of everything and leaving a fine dust coating over the whole city. Father Thomas had been rather indignant about the whole mess. Dust on St. Peter's magnificent white staircase? Imposiblé So every morning Nicolas swept the staircase as fast as he could, desperate to finish before the morning sun crept over the horizon and burned across his back.
Really, he was supposed to have unlocked the front gates by now, but the voices outside were becoming angrier and shouting in an uneven mix of Spanish and English. Nevertheless, Father Thomas would be furious if he didn't unlock the gates, and he would take a minor gang scuffle over Father Thomas' wrath any day. Gang leaders wouldn't give him chores from sunup to sundown for not listening. So he unlocked the gates, occasionally flinching as the sounds of scuffling grew nearer. Finally the gates had been pulled open, and Nicolas hurriedly turned around to finish his sweeping.
It was too late, though. He could see them out of the corner of his eye and before he knew it, he was standing fixed in place, both eyes glued to the scene before him. Right outside the gates, a group of young men were roughing up another. The teen on the receiving end was obviously a member, since the bandanna covering his hair seemed to match those worn by the boys who were intent on pounding him into pulp. It was hard to tell the exact shade they wore in the dull, flickering yellow light of the street lamps.
An initiation, maybe? wondered Nicolas. But he was quickly disabused by that notion as the guy suddenly wheeled around and struck one of the largest gang members right in the nose. A stream of Spanish curses was let loose, and his confidence boosted by this, he side-stepped another of his attackers.
"You son-of-a-bitch! You filthy triador! Diablo's spawn!" These were snarled by the boy he was resolutely heading for. Nicolas reprised the situation. He knew that voice, and if the words were anything to go by, the teen who had been the victim of the gang's attentions was a traitor, and traitors weren't taken well to, especially in this particular gang. He blood quickened at the thought of this enfolding in front of him…
"I'm a son-of-a-bitch?" The voice was hoarse and ragged. "Look in the mirror, Raul. You got no room to talk shit." He proceeded to charge for the young man called Raul.
There were a shift in Raul's stance—a rolling of the shoulders, a twist of the wrist—and Nicolas' worst fears were confirmed. He understood, probably better than anyone, what that movement meant. He had always prayed that nothing like this would ever happen, that it would never come to this, and yet here it was happening right in front of St. Peter's gate. So as he watched the brutalized teen swing a fist, he knew that this was the end of the fight.
"NO, RAUL!" The cry froze every single gang member except the one whose name had been called; Raul himself was preoccupied. He dodged the fist and then moved sharply forward to embrace the traitor with one arm, his shoulder catching under the other boy's chin, forcing his head to snap back. The whole movement was viciously quick. Now both boys stayed poised where they were, the traitor's head flung back, Raul's eyes gleaming over his victim's shoulder, staring straight at Nicolas. Recognition burned there, and a wicked smile crept over his face. Nicolas shivered involuntarily. To everyone else, it looked like Raul was hugging that boy—that his victim was merely surprised by the motion. Nicolas understood though, he knew that when Raul would step back…
Raul stepped back, unwrapping his arm from around the traitor's back. His other arm had been trapped between their two bodies, and now that he moved back, the others could see why. Embedded in the traitor's stomach was Raul's knife, a dark stain spreading out across his white tank.
Raul looked positively gleeful, oblivious to the horrified faces of the other gang members. "Sorry, man. Here, let me help you out." He reached forward and jerked the knife out. That was the final push; the traitor crumpled to the ground.
"I'll kill you, I'll kill you, I swear to God I will, Raul!" But the words were uttered between gasps of pain and seemed to have no real force behind them.
Raul shrugged. "Whadya say?" He questioned the others. "Should we finish him off?"
"You crazy, Raul?" Grumbled the guy with the broken nose. "There's a fucking witness right there!"
"Relax, guys, it's just little Nico from the church. What's he gonna do, have God strike us down?"
The others spoke up now. "Yeah, man, 'sides, James is our brother! He's the boss' boy, 'member, Raul? He's got the full ink work done; we can't just pop a cap in 'im!"
Nicolas frowned. The knifed boy was obviously unconscious and if he didn't get medical help soon, he was going to die, regardless if Raul shot him or not. He lifted up his pant leg and carefully slid a large knife from the sheath he had strapped to his leg. He had sworn to never use it, but Raul probably didn't know that.
"Enough!" He called out the gang, who all turned to look at him. "You will leave him immediately. I've already called the police. Get out of here, you murderers." To enforce his threat, he held his knife out a bit and allowed it to glitter in the night light.
"Shit, he got a knife!" hissed someone.
Raul rolled his eyes. "You idiots, we all have knives too! Not to mention that I'm packing heat!" Then, addressing Nicolas, "You didn't call for the badges. You're lying."
"Am I? I heard your fight all the way from inside the church. Of course, you're welcome to stick around for when the cops arrive. I'm sure they'll be thrilled to find the drugs you're carrying."
"I'm not carrying any drugs!"
Nico smiled. "Now who's lying?"
The other boys weren't waiting for Raul's response. A few of them were already across the street, and the couple remaining were hassling their leader to give up and go.
"Fine. C'mon, guys, let's get outta here."
As soon as they all had crossed to the other street, Nicolas ran forward and grabbed hold of the bleeding teen and dragged him through the gates. Dawn's first light was creeping across the horizon, painting the sky lilac and pink.
Nicolas slapped the guy lightly on the cheek. "Hey, hey. You need to stay awake, okay? I'll get you to a hospital; just don't fall asleep just yet. We're gonna need to stop that blood flow." He whipped off his button-down black shirt and pressed it against the wound. He then picked up the boy's hand and covering it with his own, placed it over the wound and pressed down.
The other teen's eyes opened and Nicolas couldn't help his gasp of surprise. They were brilliant blue, a color quite unusual in a predominantly Hispanic city. He didn't have time to think on why a gringo was running around with Raul's gang now, though—he had to get this kid help. "Look, you just keep pressing down on the wound. I've got to go call 911."
To Nicolas' surprise, the blue-eyed gringo gave a small laugh. "You were lying after all."
Nicolas smiled in return. "Yeah, well, so was he, so it was even." He then stood and sprinted up the steps, through the entrance hall and past the crying room to the visitor phone. He only paused when he wondered whether or not he needed to dial 9 to make an outside call if he was calling 911.
He was just finishing up the call when Father Thomas wandered by.
Father Thomas frowned as Nicolas hung up the phone. "I thought I heard voices. Who are you calling at this time in the morning, Nico? And why aren't you wearing a shirt?" But before Nicolas could offer explanation, a shriek echoed off the vaulted ceiling of St. Peter's.
"Sister Catherine," the both muttered and took off running.
Sister Catherine was standing at the top of the stone steps, staring down at the body lying in blood a few paces away from the gate. The nun was deadly pale, one hand clapped over her mouth in horror.
"That's what I was on the phone about, Father," said Nicolas glumly. "There was a fight right outside the gate. They left him here, so I called 911."
"Who left him here," questioned Father Thomas sharply. It wasn't so much a question as a demand.
Nicolas gave a deep sigh. "Raul's gang. Raul's the one who knifed him."
The priest hurried down the stairs to observe. "You weren't involved, were you?" This was said casually, but the suspicion underlying his words did not slip by Nicolas.
"No!" His retort came out angrier than he expected, but he couldn't help it. Nicolas felt slightly betrayed by the insinuation that he would have something to do with the condition of this boy. How could Father think that he was like the boys in that gang? Hadn't he proved over and over again that he was different from other teens?
But you are like them, whispered a nagging part of his mind. Didn't you just stand by and watch? You could have interfered much sooner, but you didn't, did you? You wanted to see what would happen. You wanted to see the fight.
"No," he muttered again, as much in response to his thoughts as to emphasize his point to Father Thomas. But he couldn't deny that when he had felt a rush of excitement when he had realized which gang was involved, the instant hatred he had felt for the anglo when he had heard Raul's voice taunt him. Triador, traitor, traidor, traitor… No one likes a traitor.
The sound of sirens was approaching, and over the edge of the most distant wall he could see the glow of blue and red. Father Thomas looked up Nicolas; the priest's pale eyes only an echo of the crazy blues of the boy who lay dying on stones before him. "Nico, I'm going to go with him in the ambulance. You stay behind and keep everything in order. Get Sister Catherine a cup of coffee. And clean up this mess."
He didn't have to say what mess. Nicolas understood. He wants me to wash the blood off the cobblestones. He doesn't want the parishioners to be asking questions.
The ambulance arrived then, and Nicolas was shoved aside in the excitement. They carted the stranger away, who was serenely sleeping amid the frantic confusion. The dying teen was hurriedly lifted on the gurney, but before they could roll him away, Nicolas shoved through and snatched the bandana off the boy's head, revealing longish golden hair. Nicolas jumped back somewhat at this, surprised to find that not only had Raul let a blue-eyed anglo into his gang, he had let a blue-eyed blond anglo into his gang, something that was unheard of in this area of town.
He finally managed to tear his eyes away from the gringo traitor, only to look up and see his priest's disapproving glare.
"And for goodness sake, Nico, put on a shirt. No need to put your disfigurement on display."
Nicolas shrunk back, ashamed, and consoled Sister Catherine as the emergency crew rushed forward and popped the gurney into the ambulance. Father Thomas only had to argue for a few seconds before they let him come; his tired face was visible through the window as the white vehicle roared away, leaving Nicolas in stunned silence and Sister Catherine sobbing on his shoulder.