"We have a free period after lunch," Rusty said sitting down next to Asher in the cafeteria that dinnertime and started to shake the bottle of chocolate milk that he had just bought out of the vending machine. No form of solid food around, just the bottle of chocolate milk. It had been the same for the last week or maybe he would open a packet of crisps.
"Thank you, Mr Obvious. I do believe that I have been at this school longer than a week so therefore I am aware of when my free periods are." He pointed out as he started to peel the orange that he had bought while studying the bottle of chocolate milk. "How old are you?" He quipped deciding that it was time he teased his new friend about his apparent regular dieting habits.
"I'm eighteen, love. Want to see my ID during this interrogation too?" He said with a dazzling smile before taking a long tug on the bottle before offering it over to Asher. Asher eyed the bottle warily before looking back up at Rusty. "Have you ever tried anything like this or do you always stick to your bottle of water? Or is this another one of those money situations?"
It was Friday; that meant it was five days since Rusty had joined St Paul's High School and he had tried to irritate Asher every single day. If it was not a dig about his family, it was a dig about his brainwashed friends that acted like zombies and could recite the bible on demand. However, despite his stone cold attitude, the entire school was buzzing about the new guy. The constant echo of Rusty this or Rusty that haunted the halls every single day as if they had been graced by a celebrity or something. It may be an all male school but everyone still appreciated the importance of making the new blood welcome; especially if it helped them out. The jocks wanted to know whether he could play any sports and if he was any good; the drama nerds wanted to know if he had ever been in any plays or was he interested in trying it out; and the musicians wanted to know if he could sing, play an instrument or if he just wanted to help boost their numbers for the annual Gospel Choir tournament that celebrated the end of the academic year amongst all the Catholic schools. Rusty had been a good sport and had insisted that he was not the group joining type, especially with so little time left in the term and having to so desperately catch up with his studies if he intended on passing anything.
"You're an arse, Rusty." Asher laughed but took hold of the bottle and took a swig out of it anyway, grimacing as the thick liquid hit the back of his throat and he was hit by all the sugar. "God, why don't you just go eat a sugar cube or something?" Rusty just laughed as he accepted the bottle back and taking a drink from the bottle without wiping the lid off like most people do when sharing bottles. Despite their short term friendship, the two guys seemed to feel comfortable enough to share everything. Asher thought it was over their one little kiss back before they knew each other but Rusty insisted he was just that kind of guy.
"You just don't know what's good for you, kid."
"I'm a month younger than you, old man." Rusty just smiled at him and Asher reminded himself that they were meant to be keeping their friendship platonic. Smiles like that made his stomach flutter and it was a feeling that he should not feel, ever. "So what are you planning on doing with your free period?" He said returning to the original conversation. "I'm thinking about going to the library and starting my religious studies assignment. It's meant to be in a month or so and I haven't even started it yet. I'm actually starting to..."
"Not happening. You and I are going to break out of here." Rusty cut across shaking his head as he lifted the bottle of milkshake back up to his lips.
"I've never left on a free before."
"That I believe, church boy." He said rolling his eyes. "How come your halo can slip on some things but not all things?"
"And when exactly does my halo slip?" Asher challenged before realising what hole he had opened up for himself. Rusty was about to answer when Asher just covered his mouth with his hand, a smile on his face as he shook his head. "Let's avoid ourselves entering awkward conversations, shall we?" He tapped his fingers against Rusty's mouth a couple of times as if slapping his back before pulling his hand away. "So if I break out of here with you, where are we going?"
Instead of answering, Rusty just tapped his nose as he grinned over at Asher but the latter boy noticed how his eyes darkened as if something was bothering him. Deciding not to comment on the sudden air of mystery, he just popped a wedge of the orange into his mouth and turned to talk to his best friend, Mark, about the upcoming religious studies assignment deadline – the one that he would have been writing in the free. Rusty just eavesdropped in their conversation, a silly smile tugging on his face as he realised that Asher would probably only ever let his good boy reputation at school slip for him. It made him feel good. This was just not something he would be telling Asher, yet anyway.
So sneaking the car out of the school had been harder than they thought but by the time they had indicated out of the school, Asher had decided that it was too late for them to do any damage so they might as well keep going. The worst that they could do was phone his Mother but recently even that had not been much of a punishment. She was too distracted most of the time to even notice what was being said. "Do you drive?" Asher asked Rusty as he turned onto the road the latter indicated.
"No. Why? You sick of being my chauffeur?"
"Chauffeurs get treated with more respect than I do," Asher grumbled as Rusty thumped his arm to indicate that he had to take the turning. "And normally the annoying charges sit in the backseat of the car."
"You'd send me to sit in the back by myself?" Rusty said pouting his lips as he fiddled with the radio dial. Asher slapped his hand away, grumbling about annoying people thinking they could take over before responding.
"If you were paying me a fare for this journey then yeah I think I would."
"And how would you want to be paid, oh driver of mine?" Ignoring the jibe, Asher took the next turning that Rusty pointed at before realising that they were pulling up outside a church. "Stop here," Rusty finally said and Asher did as he was told.
The church looked like it should have been condemned a long time ago but Asher knew that never happened to churches anymore. They were turned into bars or chemists but this one definitely needed a facelift. Ivy infested three out of four walls and the windows looked like they had not seen a clean rag in about the same amount of years as Asher had lived. There was no message board stating the name of the church so Asher did not know if it was one he was aware of but he decided not to ponder on that too long as he watched Rusty unfasten his seatbelt.
As they climbed out of the car, Asher threw Rusty a confused look. "So we busted out of our Catholic School to go to church? I don't think anyone would believe us if we tried telling them that one."
"Oh they would of you, church boy." Rusty commented. "Your family name is pretty much gold in that school. Everyone wants to be friends with the almighty Asher." Crossing the road, Rusty slipped into an old gate that took them to the graveyard.
"No," Asher said shaking his head as he buried his hands into his coat pocket and followed, quick on Rusty's heel so not to lose him. "Everyone wants to be friends with the brother of the almighty Micah." He was aware of how he sounded like the jealous younger sibling but it was something that had always bothered him, even though he tried to deny it.
"Is Micah really that amazing?"
"Well that depends on who you're asking. Father Thomas remembers him as the naughty prankster from year seven whereas Father Louis..." he wrinkled up his nose as he thought of their parish priest and of his adoration for his older brother. With a shrug of his shoulders, he continued with "well I suppose it depends on who you're asking. To some he's a devil child in disguise but to others he's pretty much the second best thing to the second coming, you know what I mean?
"I believe that you're problem is it's a massive shadow to follow." Rusty said hitting the nail on the head, as always.
"I don't want to follow it. He wants to sacrifice his life by becoming a priest then so be it. It's his decision to make."
"Sacrifice is a strong word, A. I thought it would be an honour if a boy like you or Micah decided to be ordained." Confusion laced Rusty's words and Asher cursed himself for having ever mentioned it in the first place.
"And what do they miss out on by deciding to be a priest?" Asher asked as he slumped down on a bench, his gaze roaming over the gravestones that were around the bench. This church was not near his so he did not know many in the congregation but it was obvious not many had been buried here for a long time. The stones were all weathered thanks to years of acid rain. "My brother will never understand what it's like to cave under the powerful emotions of love. He'll never hold a woman in his arms and decide to spend the rest of his life with her, nor will he ever have children. He'll never have a family outside of us and the priesthood."
"But that's not the life some want to live. You should know that better than some."
"Why? You think I still don't want a family life because I've kissed a man?" Asher snapped angrily deciding that he was sick to death of that being thrown against him. Father Louis had tried to insist on him also that the only thing a boy like him could do was raise a good catholic family so that the generations would remain strong. "I thought the church's view was archaic but you should know that in 2013, gay men can adopt children. Hell, in a year or so we might even be able to get married legally."
"Only if the priest of the church deems it okay and you know damned well that Father Louis will never give you his blessing. Hell, he's sent me to be your friend in hope that I'll remind you what it's like to be a good Catholic boy!" The stinging reminder of how their friendship had been forced upon him caused Asher to look over at his friend.
"And tell me, oh good catholic boy, how come my parish priest believes you're so damned good?" His sudden harsh tone caused Rusty to pale as he looked away.
"He doesn't." Refusing to meet Asher's gaze, he reached out and drew patterns on the part of the bench between them. "My sister fell pregnant, Asher. She was sixteen. She never told anyone the dad's name but we all knew it was the deadbeat she had been hanging about with. I was so proud of her. She stopped having her few crazy moments of drinking and smoking so that she would be the best Mother in the world. I knew she would be. All she wanted was our Parish's blessing. It was 2012. You'd think they'd have been over the stigma of unmarried mothers but apparently they weren't. She was driven out. Thankfully Father Louis seems to be a little bit more modern and has promised that when Lucy is a little older she can have the Christening at the church."
"So your family is religious?" Asher asked, completely confused as to what was going on and to what Rusty was trying to tell him.
"My Mum is. And my older sister wants her marriage to be in a Catholic church but I just think it's all a farce. It's just somewhere to belong but how many lives have been lost over religious wars. It still happens in Ireland now and yet no one can see that this institution they fight for is so archaic it's unbelievable. I mean, all the priests are old codgers close to death and yet they still won't let women join them?"
Sitting back in the bench, Asher let out a breath of air before looking over at his friend. "Rusty, faith is a challenging thing and I believe you'll find yours one day but if you decide not to then that's fine too. Many people out there in the world are atheists and no one bothers them."
"And yet despite you feeling the same as me you'll still stand there and tell me you believe in God and all his glories?"
Deciding not to answer, Asher changed the conversation. "Why are we here, Rusty? This has done nothing but prove once again that our views are too similar and yet polar opposite to agree on issues. I thought we were going to make this friendship work?"
"I don't know what we're doing here. I just wanted you to see that I'm not some monster trying to stop you from having your views. I just want you to see that there are other options out there." Reaching out, Rusty took hold of Asher's hand and squeezed it lightly. "Besides, Father Louis said I had to help you find yourself and I think I know that the only way to help you find you is to find myself first."
"You should be a psychiatrist after school," Asher pointed out with a laugh as he tried to wrap his head around what was going off here. "Rusty, I know who I am."
"You're Asher Gordon, son of the great Phoebe and Christian. Brother to Micah and Shiloh. But more importantly, you're completely unique because you're no longer a brainwashed zombie."
Asher just snorted out a laugh before turning to look at Rusty, a soft smile on his face as he finally realised something. "So Father Louis has paired us together hoping we'll both help the other find the faith that they have lost." Rusty just nodded his head, words not needed as an answer as he continued to stare out over the graveyard as silence settled over them. Neither boy realised that between them, on the bench, their hands remained joined together as if it was the most natural thing to do.
AUTHORS NOTE: I know that this is just a short filling chapter but I needed to write it just so I could get my head back into writing. I apologise profusely for the lame ass way I am updating these days. I'm sure I mentioned that I got a new job as a care giver in a residential home for those with Alzheimers and Dementia so it has pretty much taken up most of my time but I am determined to get back to the swing of writing again. I'll make sure of it.
This chapter is dedicated to Rosieroo; my dear friend that makes sure I'm always attempting to write and being there to listen to me hate on all my writing. You're a star girl.