Now, not many people know this, but there are faggots in the Bible. David – yeah, the kid that hit Goliath in the head with a rock – fell in love with a prince named Jonathan, son of Saul. It's right there in the Books of Samuel. If I'd known about David and Jonathan, I wouldn't have felt so guilty all these years.
Brian and I were on the outskirts of town, "in the middle of nowhere" as I'd complained earlier. There was nothing to see but trees and grass, and even though the sun was going down, it was hot – hot as the devil's balls hot, so hot that we were sweating and flushed red and our white collared shirts were stuck to our backs with sweat.
Brian was still sitting in the broken-down piece of crap the church had given us, cussing under his breath. It was a maroon van that was covered with little dents, like someone had been golfing against the side of it at one point in its lifetime. Inside of the van smelled like McDonald's fries and cats. Brian was in the driver's seat, turning the key so that the van kept making guttural revving noises. The smoke from under the hood was gone, but the smell of burnt engine still hung in the air.
"I feel like we're in one of those deadzone cell phone commercials. You know, the ones for AT&T or Verizon or whatever the fuck it is."
Brian turned the key. He looked annoyed, like he wasn't in the mood for joking around. "You still can't reach anyone, then?"
I showed him my cell phone for good measure. Zero bars, absolutely no signal. He looked around at our surroundings with a clenched jaw.
"We'll stay here tonight until we can find some help tomorrow morning."
I watched him as he got out of the driver's seat. "Here – where? Not here."
"Yes, here," he said, sounding even more irritated. "We'll just sleep in the backseats."
"Brian, I'm not sleeping in the backseats."
"You agreed to this – agreed to come with me – with the understanding that you might have to give up some basic comforts, so don't start complaining."
I began talking before he even finished. "This is the fucking backwoods, Brian, where serial killers come to eat dead people. I'm not staying here."
"I'm not fucking around, Joseph!" He pronounced my name Yosef, the way my mother used to say it. When I was a kid, I hated it when she called me Yosef. It made me feel like I was a character in the Old Testament. I don't mind being called Yosef that much anymore, though. He took a breath and said more calmly, "Just get in the van."
I got in the van, and he followed me. I'd been sitting in the passenger's seat up until then, and in the back rows I could practically taste the grease. I kept glancing at him and looking away before he could catch me staring. Brian was a big guy. He'd always been a big guy. When I was ten, I saw Brian around church, helping to pass out flyers and holding the wine during mass. I watched him a lot back then. I even followed him around church once, and when he saw me, I pretended that I was looking for my dad. One afternoon, there was a church luncheon and I sat across the table from him, but I couldn't say a word to him or look at him. He asked me what my name was, but I pretended I didn't hear him. My dad was embarrassed. He laughed and said I wasn't usually that shy.
Brian wanted to be a pastor. I knew because he'd said so as he introduced himself to me two days ago when he didn't remember me. If Brian had been a blonde haired, blue-eyed WASP, he might've been a pastor by then. He wasn't, though. He was Israeli. So was I. We had dark, thick, curly hair and dark eyes. In our small town in Pennsylvania, people thought that we were hiding weapons of mass destruction in our basements. It'd take him an extra few years for people to get past the fact that he wasn't the terrorist they saw on TV and big-screen Hollywood movies.
Eventually, I went into my backpack and went through the many pairs of neatly folded black pants and collared white shirts. In between all of that was my hidden small bottle of rum. I pulled it out and took a sip.
"Needs coke," I said as I handed it over to Brian, who gladly took it and had a much longer sip than I did. "Didn't think you drank."
"Jesus has nothing against rum," he smirked. "That's probably why our families converted to Christianity."
"Maybe you're not such a hardass after all," I muttered as I reached for the bottle.
After he gave me the rum, he eyed me for a while. I knew what he was thinking about. Last night, the night that we started driving to Florida, we were sitting in the van and going down an empty road when we started talking about men – and more specifically, the fact that I had sex with them.
Brian found out I was gay the same way the whole congregation found out: a year ago I was caught in the locker room at Charlotte Keane Public High School sucking my good friend Eric off. There was proof too, because we were filming it.
The principal found out that we were going to upload the video to an amateur porn website because dumbass Eric admitted to it. He even confessed we were doing it for some money because we wanted to buy a PS3, and his parents wouldn't give him the money for it. The principal suspended us. Eric got off easy because his dad was the CEO of some important company, but I was well on my way to being expelled. That's when Pastor Gommermann stepped in. He started going on about how I was a troubled kid – with my mother passing away and all – and he got the principal to give me another chance.
I started skipping school anyway, though, just because I didn't feel like being stared at and didn't like hearing whispers follow me down the halls. The teachers were annoying too. Some teachers would pull me to the side and say, with looks of pity in their eyes, that if I ever needed to talk I should just let them know. Most of the teachers, however, acted like they didn't think I deserved to be there – which was true. The simple things that never bothered those teachers before, like getting up to throw something away, suddenly got me countless detentions. There was also a pretty big chance that the basketball team would have it out for me. They never liked me, and always called out after me, "Hey, where's your cousin Osama?" Now that they knew I was gay, I was pretty sure that they'd be asking me about my cousin Osama while they were punching my nose in.
I also stopped going to church because the old ladies wouldn't sit down next to me in pews, and Pastor Gommermann made a prayer during a sermon for a "certain individual who has recently become lost, and must find the way." He stared at me the entire time he said the prayer.
While Brian and I were driving, he suddenly asked, "Joseph, have you ever had sex with another man?"
Pastor Gommermann had probably told him to ask me. Brian kept his eyes firmly on the road ahead. I said yes. That was the first time I'd admitted it. I hadn't told my father or the pastor when they asked, hadn't told the counselor though he'd figured it out on his own. But there I was, telling Brian, who I'd only really known for a good few hours; and I even went on to tell him that the first time I did it a few years ago, it'd been with the same guy I was caught in the locker rooms with, that we'd been drinking beers and eating tofu nuggets that tasted a lot like chicken, and that we didn't use a condom. I didn't tell Brian that last month, Eric had said he was in love with me and that I'd said I wasn't in love with him. I definitely didn't say that I'd been pretty mean about it, too – mean enough to make Eric cry. Eric wasn't the type to start crying over any little thing. Brian didn't really need to know any of that, though.
Brian didn't seem too sure about what he was supposed to say or do, so for a while I just sat there and stared out of the window at the passing trees that glowed beneath the streetlights. I began to wonder if I should've kept something like that to myself. I began to think I was stupid for not keeping something like that to myself. "I don't know why I said that," I eventually told him, but that was a lie. I knew I told him because a part of me was hoping that he wouldn't look as uncomfortable as he looked then, and that he'd say that it was fine – that maybe he'd even admit to having sex with men too. It didn't happen. "Did Pastor Gommermann tell you to ask me that?"
He shook his head, his eyes still focused on the empty, straight road. "No, I just wanted to know." He suddenly cracked a smile, though it was gone again before he was even finished speaking. "I wanted to know the type of guy I'd be working with." Neither of us said anything else.
Brian and I eventually got into a little town in Maryland. We pulled over at a motel with a flickering sign that said LITTLE TIM'S MOTE because the L wasn't lit up. It was the type of motel where sleazy senators had sex with prostitutes. A woman was at the front desk. She had bright red lipstick and kept eyeing our black pants and white collared shirts. She asked what kind of uniforms we were wearing, and Brian answered her; and she began smiling and flipping her brown hair more as they talked. I didn't pay attention to what they were talking about, but every now and then I heard the woman's high-pitched giggle.
When Brian and I were walking down the moldy hallway to our room, Brian asked me to wait around outside for a while. A few minutes later, the girl from the front desk went past me and into our room, and I listened to a squeaky mattress and their groans for a few minutes. I felt like a creep standing there, so I started walking around the motel, though it was just the same moldy hallway over and over again. When I got back to the room, the woman was gone and Brian was getting dressed.
"I kind of figured you for the type to wait until marriage," I said, sitting down on my bed and taking off my black, glossy shoes. The room smelled like perfume and latex.
"Just because I'm Christian?" he said with a laugh. "You're Christian, Joseph, and you don't exactly go by the book either." I thought about David and Jonathan again, but only briefly, before I went under the covers of my bed without changing. "It's the first night and we're already getting into it."
When we walked past the front desk the next day, the girl was gone and in her place there was a hairy man smoking a cigar and listening to a radio. We'd been driving all day – or really, Brian had been driving all day – when the van gave out. Brian took the bottle of rum from me again. I watched him as he drank almost half of it. His Adam's apple kept moving up and down. When he pulled the rum away, his tongue wet the corner of his lips. I kept hearing his voice in the motel room. As he handed the bottle back to me, I asked, "Brian, would you ever have sex with a guy?"
He laughed, but he kept watching me. "You already know my answer to that."
"You mean you're a flaming faggot?"
He didn't laugh. "No. It's not God's way, Joseph."
I looked away and took a small sip from the bottle. The alcohol burned my throat. "Having sex with some random girl in a cheap motel isn't God's way either."
He didn't answer that for a while. When he did, he sounded hoarse. "Don't try to lecture me, Joseph, not about shit like that. You're here for acting like a jackass, for filming gay porn and getting arrested for stealing a Christmas tree."
"You're a fucking hypocrite," I muttered, but already I'd begun to wonder if I was being hypocritical too. He was right, after all. I had stolen a Christmas tree. I'd stolen a Christmas tree last Christmas Eve. Eric and I got pretty drunk and wanted to do something, so we jumped into his mother's jeep. We sped down the road and when we were passing by K Mart, I saw that the trees were still lined up outside the store. The last time a Christmas tree was in my house was when I was ten and my mom was still alive. My dad didn't like to celebrate Christmas without her. He'd said, "It's too painful," or some shit like that.
It was my bright idea to take one. I didn't know what we would do with it, but I didn't care because I wanted one. Eric and I grabbed the biggest tree there and drove off, but we didn't get too far before we crashed into a parked car in the parking lot. Eric and his big shot dad got off easy again, but the judge told me I had to volunteer for community service. I was actually kind of relieved back then, though, because Eric's mom kept on saying she'd have me locked up.
I would've happily helped sick kids in the hospital, fed the homeless at night, or even cleaned trash off of the streets; but Pastor Gommermann thought it'd be great if I followed a missionary around for a couple of days during the summertime, and the judge agreed.
The sky was a mix of red and purple and orange. The sliding door was open, my legs hanging off of the seats and out of the van. I'd taken off my shoes. Brian didn't have anything else to say to me, so I asked him, "What do you think about David and Jonathan?"
He knew the story. He knew the story because he knew every story in the Bible. He'd gone to college in Alabama to study God, the first step to becoming a pastor. "What do you want me to say? Because some people think that David and Jonathan were fucking in the Bible, gay sex is suddenly a holy act? It's not." He had another sip of the rum. "It's not."
"I don't want you to say that," I said. I hesitated. I felt like that ten-year-old kid, whose mother had just died, sitting across the table from Brian again. Even though I was now nineteen, I still didn't know what to say to him. He was watching me expectantly, and it was getting hotter and I could feel the Malibu rum in my stomach. I leaned over the row of seats and kissed him, but it was only for a second because he'd realized what I was going to do. He grabbed me by the front of my shirt and tugged me out of the van. I stumbled, but he didn't let me fall. He punched me. He punched me so hard in the face that my lip began to bleed, and a drop of red stained my white shirt.
I held my hand to my throbbing lip. The taste of blood didn't mix well with the taste of rum. "Fuck," I muttered, and more blood drooled from my mouth. I tried to catch it, but it slipped through my fingers.
"Don't do shit like that again – don't you ever do shit like that again, Joseph. You understand?"
I nodded because my lip hurt too much to speak.
He wiped a hand over his mouth and stared at it, as though he'd wiped the sin away and it left a mark in his palm. He gave me one last angry look before he turned away and sat in the front seat of the van. It went without say that I would go to the very last row in the back.