The world was waking.
A bird chirping beyond the window was the only familiar sound David could pick out amid the hum of engines and the distant tolling of a bell. His stomach fluttered as he opened his eyes and realized it was still true—Isaac was with him in the plush guest bed in San Francisco. San Francisco!
From David’s spot stretched out on his back, he could glimpse himself beyond Isaac in the mirrored closet doors, full length, and ever-so vain. In the reflection he could see Isaac’s face, slack with lips parted as he breathed deeply on his side, the thick quilt-like blanket pulled high over his bare shoulders. David barely resisted the urge to caress Isaac’s mussed sandy hair.
They’d started out in each other’s arms, naked and damp from a quick shower. David wondered if he could draw Isaac near again without waking him. Probably not, and Isaac needed to rest. Still, he ghosted his hand over Isaac’s head.
It hadn’t been a dream. They’d really done it. They’d left Zebulon behind.
Here in Aaron’s house, it was so deliciously warm. David had always woken after midnight in winters to stoke the wood-burning stove downstairs. He hated sleeping with socks, and he’d hopped around on the icy floors in the darkness, shoving more wood into the maw of the stove and welcoming the sparks that nipped his toes.
As more gray light squeezed between the slats of the blinds covering the window above the bed, David stared at a huge black and white photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge hanging over a sleek black dresser. The picture’s silver frame gleamed.
The bed itself was what the English called queen sized, and the mattress felt as though it was five feet thick. David wasn’t sure he’d ever experienced anything quite so comfortable. They didn’t have any chairs or seats with cushioning in Zebulon, yet here even the headboard was padded.
Excitement thrummed in David with each beat of his heart. He was all the way in California! It was a place he’d seen in the movies on his secret trips to the drive-in. He wondered if they might visit the bridge, and he knew Isaac would want to go to the water. They’d actually made it to the ocean. After all his hopeless dreaming and despair, they’d really done it.
In the end he and Isaac had run with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. A hiss echoed in his mind, reminding him that he’d run away from more than the church. He’d left Mother and the girls alone. Sweet Mary, and Anna, and Sarah, and—
Stop! What’s done is done.
For a minute, David could only concentrate on breathing in and out as the swell of panic receded. Beside him, Isaac murmured and stirred before settling back into sleep, still curled away on his side. David listened to the lullaby of Isaac’s inhalations and exhalations.
On bus after bus from Minnesota to California, he and Isaac had sat with shoulders and knees pressed close, their fingers threaded together as the miles ticked by. Flat expanses had given way to hills and mountains, and then the desert. Never had David seen for himself just how vast the world truly was, and America was only a small part of it.
Time had lost meaning, and he imagined it might be what purgatory was like. They’d watched the land go by through dingy glass, only stopping in bus stations choked with exhaust and rumbling engines. In the darkness of long nights broken by only the harsh glare of the station lights, David had felt like they might never get to San Francisco. It all seemed like some kind of dream. But now they were here. It was real.
Isaac snorted and rolled toward him before falling quiet again, his lips still parted. With a smile, David folded his hands behind his head and watched. He wanted to trace the freckles that danced across Isaac’s nose and the tops of his cheeks, and kiss the corners of his eyelids to feel the flutter of his pretty lashes. Rub against the stubble on his face as their lips met, and see the amber of Isaac’s eyes as they opened.
David glanced at the electric clock with glowing red numbers on the table beside him. It was after seven, but they hadn’t been sleeping long. As much as David wanted Isaac against him, to simply have the freedom to watch him sleep was more than he’d thought possible. The only other time they’d shared a bed, there was no time for rest.
Quick as a snakebite, the familiar guilt returned, images of that day spilling through his mind. Scratchy sheets and yellow blankets at the Wildwood Inn, he and Isaac sweaty and sticky in their own world. The blinding white of the snow, and the crimson blood. The gray hospital, and—
He squeezed his eyes shut. No matter what anyone might say, the accident was his fault. If he’d resisted the selfish need to sneak away with Isaac, his mother would never have been hurt. Even if he gave her all his savings for the hospital bill, how would she and the girls get by on their own?
It had been three days now. He tried to imagine what they were doing right that moment. Were they going on like usual with washing and cooking and cleaning? What if Mary or Anna needed help with the sticky latch on the icehouse door? What of the barn work, and the horses? Kaffi could be a handful early in the mornings when he was grumpy and stubborn.
David thought of the inadequate note he’d scrawled over a scrap of paper on the kitchen table.
Isaac and I are going into the world. I will write soon, and please tell his parents he will too. June Baker has money for you. Kaffi is there. I am sorry.
He knew Mother wouldn’t understand his choice. He could write her a thousand letters, and it would never matter. He still heard the echo of her wail in church on Sunday before he and Isaac had run from Zebulon.
“Why does God punish me?”
It was the only time he could remember Mother showing such emotion, even when his brother and father died. To hear her dare question God’s will still made him shiver.
She deserved an explanation, but David could never tell her the truth about loving Isaac. He was an abomination in the eyes of the Lord and the church. He thought of the English word he’d heard in the movies—gay. Mother could never understand it. That he’d rejected the plain life was already undoubtedly a heartbreak for his family. If he told them who he really was…
His chest tightened. They could never understand. It was unthinkable. He imagined it going one of two ways—either they would do everything to convince him to repent and live a good Amish life, or they would shun him. Even if he wasn’t officially Meidung in Zebulon since he hadn’t followed church, his family could shut him out all the same.
Beside him, Isaac mumbled and shifted before settling back into sleep with a little rattle that wasn’t quite a snore. A line of drool spilled onto his pillow. David smiled to himself, again resisting the urge to hold Isaac close.
We’re really here.
Watching Isaac, David shoved his thoughts deep inside. No matter how much he hated himself for abandoning Mother and the girls, he’d had to leave. He had no doubt he was going to hell, since without joining the church heaven was far out of reach. Never mind his multitude of other sins. But it was the only path he could take.
For so long he’d tried to be a good Amish man. But when it came time to give his vow to God and join the church, he’d faced the truth. On his knees in front of Bishop Yoder and all of Zebulon, David had said the only thing he could: no. To say yes would have been a betrayal not only of his heart and honor, but of Isaac.
And he would not betray his Isaac. Watching him, David again resisted the urge to pull him near and kiss him awake so he could see Isaac’s smile. After the accident, David had caused such misery when Isaac deserved only joy.
Even before they’d become lovers, working side by side each day had given David a new sense of peace. Even a new appreciation for carpentry. Isaac had been the one to show him what true happiness and companionship was. Exhilaration rushed through him at the thought that soon they’d work together again. He didn’t know how or where, but they’d make it. They’d build a life with new tools, piece by piece.
As he stretched his arms over his head, David wondered if Aaron was awake yet. The house felt still, so he didn’t think so. The bus hadn’t arrived until one-thirty in the morning, but Aaron had still picked them up at the station. Isaac and his brother had hugged each other for a long time by the car in the cold rain.
The city had seemed ghostly in the small hours, almost empty but for the lights peppering the glass and concrete. David had sat in the back of the car, craning his neck to see the tall shadows of buildings looming beyond the fog. He could hardly believe this place was real. It was a far cry from the little towns of Northern Minnesota.
They hadn’t spoken much on the drive to Aaron’s home—a townhouse, he’d called it—in a place in the city called Bernal Heights. There was so much to say, and David supposed they hadn’t known just where to start. It was still hard to imagine that Aaron was welcoming them with open arms even knowing the truth about their sin.
As the guest room brightened inch by inch, David wondered what it would be like to see his own brother again. For a minute, he let himself imagine that Joshua had only been lost to the world like Aaron. He could still hear the last words Joshua had said when he climbed out their bedroom window that night with a wink and a smile.
“Don’t wait up.”
David hadn’t, and he told himself it wouldn’t have made any difference—that even if he’d crept to Mother and Father’s room to whisper the truth, Joshua and those poor girls would have already been dead, caught in the current of the Ragman River. He told himself he hadn’t failed his brother with his misplaced loyalty and cowardice.
He wished he had a picture of Joshua to remember him by. It had been more than seven years, and Joshua’s sharp smile was growing soft around the edges in David’s mind. Would the memory of his mother and sisters fade too?
With another long look at Isaac, David tiptoed over the smooth wooden floor to the tall mirrors. He hadn’t shaved in days, and he rubbed a hand over his rough cheeks. He supposed he could grow a full beard if he wanted. A mustache, even. There would be no Amish beard hanging off the bottom of his chin now that he’d refused baptism. Or he could simply shave every day as he’d always done.
The choice was his, and he smiled faintly at the notion. His light blue eyes had been red-rimmed the last time he’d looked in a mirror—dirty with a jagged crack in the corner—in a bus station bathroom in Reno. David blinked at his reflection now. He was pale, and his dark brown hair was sticking up after going to sleep with it wet. He patted it down uselessly. It was growing over his ears in the Amish style, but now he was free to cut it as short as he liked. Maybe he could go to a real barbershop.
His gaze swept down the reflection of his body. Although he’d seen his face many times in the bathroom mirror at June’s, he’d never looked at himself without clothes on. It gave him a strange little thrill as he traced a finger over his chest, and the dark hair scattered there over his reddish nipples.
There was more hair leading down from his belly to his cock, which was half hard as usual when he woke up. He pulled down his foreskin lightly to look at the head, and a tingle shot up his spine. After a few tugs, he continued his exploration.
More hair sprinkled his thighs, and when he turned his back to the mirror and peeked over his shoulder, he was pleased to see his rear was round and tight, and overall he was muscular and lean. To be admiring his own body was sinfully vain, and strictly against the Amish rules, of course. But there was no one to stop or shame him here. Not about mirrors or pride or anything.
Now that he could do everything, David wasn’t sure what to do first. He watched Isaac in the reflection again, smiling to himself as Isaac smacked his lips and sprawled onto his back. Every time David had woken on the bus, Isaac had been peering out the window with his forehead against the glass. David wished they could’ve taken one of Isaac’s beloved trains to California, but the bus had been easier.
He’d tucked away the names of all the places they’d rolled through on their way—Fargo, Bismarck, Miles City, Butte, Rexburg, Idaho Falls, Salt Lake City, Battle Mountain, Sacramento, and a dozen more little towns and outposts. He wanted to go back and see them all one day. He wanted to see everything.
“Go see the world.”
David’s chest tightened at the memory of June driving them to Grand Forks that night. She hadn’t asked a single question, and had smiled so brightly, supporting him without judgment as she had since they’d met. He’d always thanked God that something good had come out of that terrible day.
Racing over the field to Father’s side, the corn stalks slapping against him. Gripping Kaffi with his thighs as they thundered through the trees to June’s. The sun-baked wood of June’s porch under him as he struggled to breathe, her calm voice talking to whoever answered nine-one-one, her hand solid on David’s shoulder.
He wasn’t sure now how his later visits to June had gone from sipping lemonade to setting up a workshop there and borrowing her truck to taste the English world. He’d tamped down his curiosity for years, especially after Joshua. But bit by bit, something inside him had loosened the more times he visited June. She’d never pushed or judged.
And now here he was, more miles from home than he’d dreamed possible. In the mirror, he peered at June’s purple suitcase on the floor. He’d had a small collection of English clothes at his secret workshop at June’s farm that they’d changed into before leaving.
They’d left their hats behind at church when they ran, but inside the suitcase were their plain clothes. Clothes their mothers had made. Clothes they would never wear again unless they went back. David looked at himself, naked and free. No. They could never go back.
As the Greyhound had pulled up in the bitter January wind, June had held him close and said she loved him. He’d never heard his parents say that to him or any of his siblings in all his years. It just wasn’t their way to talk of such things. He knew Mother did love him, but to hear it from June had made him warm inside even as snow drove into their eyes.
He blinked at his reflection. He kept waiting to find himself alone in his bed in Zebulon—his mother and sisters buzzing around downstairs, lighting the lanterns. They were two hours ahead in Minnesota, and right now he’d be in the barn at his worktable, and one of the girls would have brought a snack soon—apple bread or sugar cookies.
Would old Eli Helmuth help with the men’s work around the place? Would he marry Mother and take care of the girls? How would they have enough money? Would they have everything they needed? David had to ask Aaron for a pen and paper to write them. Although when he imagined what he would say, his mind went blank.
He heard a muffled sound that was oddly familiar, and after a moment he realized it was water through pipes. Through a door beside the mirrored closets was the bathroom. In the tub there was a silver shower head you could lift in your hand and move all around while the water flowed endlessly like a waterfall. No heating up rainwater in the barn anymore, or tripping to the outhouse in the darkness.
Smiling, David listened to the distant rush of water and thought of mornings in the house back in Red Hills, when Joshua was young and happy. When rumspringa was just a faraway notion, and their family whole.
As the only two boys, he and Joshua had slept in narrow beds in the smallest room. The pipes in the wall were by David’s head, and each morning—even before the rooster crowed—he woke to the rush of water as their parents began the day. Joshua would remain burrowed under the quilt for as long as possible, able to sleep even if a herd of cows had broken their fence and thundered by.
After they’d moved to Zebulon and their world changed to one of outhouses and lugging buckets of water into a tub in the kitchen, for months David had missed the rush of water in the mornings. Eventually he’d stopped thinking of it. It was like anything, he supposed. With enough time, it would be forgotten.
Before long the staircase creaked with footsteps, and David pulled on jeans and a T-shirt. He’d have to start wearing some kind of underwear if he was going to wear pants with zippers every day.
After another long look at Isaac, he closed the bedroom door quietly behind him and paused on the landing. He could hear someone downstairs in the kitchen, and the smell of fresh coffee already wafted up. It was silent on the floor above where Aaron and his wife slept. Jen had been working overnight at the hospital, and David wasn’t sure if she’d come home yet.
He took a step, and jolted to a stop. I didn’t say my prayers. Morning prayers were such an automatic part of his routine in Zebulon—sliding to his knees by his bed before he was barely awake. Now he stood stock still at the top of the stairs, not sure which way to turn.
Would God even listen now that David had turned his back on the church? On the Lord Himself? And more than that, he’d just woken next to his lover. Though he knew he should beg forgiveness for their sins, he couldn’t. He wouldn’t truly repent in his heart, and he would sin again—gladly—before the day was out. So what was the point?
Yet it felt wrong not to pray at all. With a glance around, David dropped quickly to his knees on the landing. Closing his eyes, he prayed for guidance, and the welfare of Mother, the girls, Isaac, and Isaac’s family. He hoped that in these things, God would still be listening.
David was careful to be quiet on the stairs, the wood polished beneath his bare feet. The sun was up now, although the day was gray and wet. He peeked through the long window beside the door, and saw little more than fog. Steps led down to the street, and the red tail lights of a car glowed in the murk.
The main floor of the narrow townhouse had the same pale hardwood throughout, and the furniture was light as well, with green and purple cushions here and there. Tall windows made up one side of the living room, with an enormous television mounted on the wall nearby.
Most of the room was dominated by a lush wrap-around couch he thought was called a sectional, made in a pale beige. It had matching footrests he knew were ottomans. Then the space flowed into the dining room. David ran his fingers over the wide table, which was made of what he knew English people would call reclaimed wood. Pine, perhaps?
David jerked, turning to find Aaron on the other side of the white counter that separated the dining room from the kitchen. He smiled nervously, his heart skipping. “I like it.”
He knew Aaron had told Isaac he didn’t care that he was gay, and that David was welcome. But it was still hard to believe. Did Aaron truly not mind that David was sinning with his brother? As he tried desperately to think of something else to say, he wished he’d woken Isaac after all.
“Thanks. We wanted to mix up the modern look a bit. You could probably make something like it no problem.” He held up his mug. “Coffee?”
“Yes. Thank you.” David joined him in the kitchen, gazing at the stainless steel appliances and sleek white cupboards. Watery green tiles covered the wall by the wide sink beneath a window offering a view of a narrow garden and wooden deck with a round table and four chairs piled on each other. He touched the tiles tentatively. Glass, he thought.
Aaron chuckled as he poured the coffee. “This is probably the vainest kitchen you’ve ever seen, right?”
“Yes,” David answered. “But I like it.” He took the mug from Aaron and tried not to stare. Last night it had been dark and late, and he’d been too tired to pay much attention. But now he examined Aaron in the light of day.
David vaguely remembered him from years ago in Red Hills, and he wouldn’t have recognized Aaron if not for the twinkle in his smile that was so reminiscent of Isaac. Aaron was blond and taller than he remembered—probably six-two; a bit bigger than David—and he looked so…English. He wore gray pants with a buttoned-up shirt and pink tie that matched little checks on his socks. His belt buckle gleamed around his slim waist.
David had to say something. “Um, how did you make the coffee so fast?”
“It’s on a timer. Here, I’ll show you.” Aaron nodded toward a machine on the counter where he put the glass pot back into its slot. “See these buttons? You can set it to start brewing for whatever time you want. It’s great to wake up and have it ready.”
“I guess I’m used to Mother getting up early to make it. I have no idea how to do anything in the kitchen. I’ve seen things in movies, but…”
Aaron smiled easily. “Yeah, there’s quite a learning curve. But you’ll get the hang of it. Oh, did you want to try it with milk or sugar? I still just drink it black.”
“No—this is fine.” David took a sip, sighing as he swallowed the bitter liquid. He was struck by how light and happy Aaron seemed now. After following church, Aaron had been so somber. He heard Joshua’s voice echo in his mind. “If I end up as miserable as Aaron Byler, run me over with the plow.” How Joshua had laughed at David’s scandalized expression.
“I thought you’d both be fast asleep most of the morning after that journey. I have to go into work until lunch, but I got a sub for my classes this afternoon and tomorrow.”
“I don’t know why I woke up. But Isaac’s still sleeping.” He gulped his coffee. Aaron knows there’s only one bed in there.
But Aaron went on like everything was normal. “Are you hungry? Help yourself to anything.” He opened a wood box on the counter. “There are bagels and bread in here, and that’s the toaster. Do you know how to use it? It’s plugged in already, so you just need to put the bread in the slots and press this knob down.” He mimed the motion.
“Looks easy enough. I know a bit, I guess. I used a fridge at my friend June’s.”
“I spoke to her the other night after she took you to the bus station. I’m so glad she was able to help you guys. You can give her a call if you want. I did email her this morning to let her know you made it safe and sound.”
For some reason, David hesitated. It would be wonderful to hear June’s voice, but the thought of speaking to anyone close to Zebulon made his pulse race. “I will soon. I just want to settle in first.”
“Take all the time you need. Believe me, I know this is a tough transition.” Aaron sipped his coffee. “So, you like movies?”
“Uh-huh. There’s a drive-in near Zebulon I’d go to sometimes. I took Isaac once.” David ran his hand over the shiny stone counter, his ears burning as he remembered how that night had ended.
Isaac was beneath him on the ground, David fitting between his legs as if it was exactly how it was supposed to be. The wet heat of Isaac’s generous kisses burned, and his fingers were tight in David’s hair, his whisper hot.
Aaron grinned. “I’ll show you how to use Netflix, and you can watch all the movies you want. If you have any questions about anything, just ask. I know how overwhelming it can be at first.” He glanced at the clock on the microwave. “Jen came home a while ago. She’ll sleep until the afternoon, but don’t worry about noise. That’s the great thing about having a townhouse. Besides, I swear she could sleep through a nuclear war. Doctors get so used to staying up during residency that if they get the chance they’re out like a light.”
“Okay. Thanks.” He wasn’t sure what residency was, and he couldn’t help but marvel a bit that Aaron’s wife was actually a doctor. Not only did she go to work, but at all hours as well. He wondered if it bothered Aaron, but he supposed it must not. When he tried to imagine Mother or his sisters working anywhere but at home, he failed completely.
“Isaac’s still asleep?”
His cheeks hot, David stared at his mug. “Uh-huh. He didn’t rest much on the way here.”
“You don’t have to be embarrassed. You and Isaac sleeping together doesn’t bother me at all. Or Jen. I promise.”
David risked a glance at Aaron’s face. “But how does it not bother you? I know Isaac’s your brother, but you barely even know me, and he and I are…and it’s…”
“What?” Aaron leaned a hip against the counter, his voice calm. “What is it?”
David tried in vain to think of the right word, but all he could come up with was, “Wrong.”
“Does it feel wrong?” Aaron sipped his coffee as if he’d just asked about the weather.
“No.” Heart thumping, David stared at his bare toes on the pale wood. “I know it’s a sin, but I can’t help myself.”
“I don’t think it’s a sin at all.” Aaron laughed sharply. “And I think the Bible’s nonsense that men use to keep people under their thumbs.”
Blinking, David opened his mouth and closed it again, half expected a lightning bolt to strike them down right there in the kitchen. Nonsense?
“Sorry—I didn’t mean to upset you.” Aaron smiled ruefully. “I know you and Isaac are believers, and that’s totally okay. Jen believes in God too. So don’t let me make you feel uncomfortable.”
David tried to find the words. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t believe in God. I did growing up, of course. It never occurred to me that it was even a possibility not to.”
“I…” David opened and closed his mouth like a fish. “How can you not believe in God?”
“I just don’t,” Aaron said, as if it was nothing. “It was a process. I went to other churches here and there after I left Red Hills. I did a lot of reading. A lot of soul searching, I guess. Eventually I realized religion doesn’t make sense to me. The notion that there’s an omniscient being up there controlling our lives and passing judgment? I don’t believe it.”
“But…” David’s head spun. “I guess I’ve never considered it. I’ve thought about the Amish church, and the things about it that don’t make sense. But to think that there’s no God at all…” He shivered, gripping the ceramic mug. It was impossible. Even though he knew he was going to hell, the idea that God might not actually exist made him feel horribly wrong all over.
“Hey, it’s okay.” Aaron squeezed David’s shoulder. “Everyone has to make their own journey with their faith, or lack thereof. I’m not trying to convince you. It’s a personal thing, and there’s plenty of time for you and Isaac to explore your beliefs.” He winced. “I sound like a self-help book. Sorry. And this is a heavy conversation to be having on only one cup of coffee after the bus ride you just had.”
“I don’t mind.” David forced himself to breathe again. “I suppose I’ve never known anyone who didn’t believe.” He couldn’t help but feel saddened by Aaron’s lack of faith.
“We can talk about it later. Or not—no pressure.” Aaron splashed more coffee into his mug and blew out a long breath. “And I didn’t want to get into it until you guys were rested, but can you tell me what happened? Isaac had said you wouldn’t leave Zebulon, but obviously something changed.”
David traced the rim of his mug. “I was afraid. I knew I had to stay and look after my family. It was selfish to leave, but when it came down to it, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t live without Isaac. And even if he didn’t want me anymore, I couldn’t marry some poor girl I’d never be a real husband to.”
Acid bubbled in David’s gut as he imagined what kind, quiet Grace would think of him running away to the world. Granted he’d only driven her home from the singing twice—they hadn’t even been going steady by Amish standards, let alone been close to marriage. But she’d liked him for ages, and he’d used that.
I never should have gotten her hopes up. He’d known deep down he was fooling himself. He let himself think that once he made that vow to God and his community everything would somehow fall into place, like an English magic trick. If he’d gone through with it, he’d have only made them both miserable.
“It’s not selfish, David. You wouldn’t be doing anyone any favors in the long run. Trust me. I thought I could do it too. If the plain life isn’t what you want in your heart, all the prayers in the world won’t change it.” Aaron smiled faintly. “I thought if I could just get it out of my system and join the church, God would help me fit in. That He would bring me peace. It doesn’t work like that.”
“You’ve never regretted leaving?”
Aaron sighed. “Only that it meant being cut off from my family. I’m not going to lie—it’s hard. Since I’d joined the church before I left, I’m shunned. If anyone found out my sister Abigail in Red Hills still writes me, she’d be in serious trouble. Abigail keeps it a secret from her husband. Our sister Hannah is there too, but she wouldn’t break the rules.”
“My sister Emma is still there. I should write to her. Although she’s so much older she might as well be a stranger.”
“Is she the eldest?”
David nodded. “After her, I think there was a baby that didn’t make it. I don’t really know, but there was almost five years before Joshua came. That’s not the usual way. But I never asked. Emma has half a dozen children of her own now.”
“I wish I could know Abigail’s kids. I feel a little like I do from her letters.” Aaron swallowed thickly. “I hated leaving my brothers and sisters. Isaac especially. He was always…we were close. I can’t tell you what it means to see him again. When he called, I couldn’t believe I was hearing his voice. So grown up now.”
“I’ve never been so far away from my mother and sisters. I wish there was a way I could still talk to them.”
“You can’t be excommunicated if you didn’t join the church. If no one knows you’re gay, it should be fine to write. Even visit if they’ll have you. Of course you know you’ll get guilt tripped into going back for good. Your mother will tell you the only way to heaven is to be Amish. If you write, that’s all you’re likely to get in return: pleas to go home.”
“My sister Anna would write more, though. I know she would. Mary…” He winced.
“Even if Mary doesn’t know the whole truth, I’m not sure she’ll forgive me for taking Isaac away. She’s had her heart set on him for ages.” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “I’m a terrible brother.”
“But you love him, don’t you?”
Again, there was no judgment in Aaron’s gaze. How odd it was to talk so plainly with him about feelings. But David said the words. “More than anything.”
Aaron smiled. “Then that’s all that matters. Gay or straight, love is the same. Straight means men and women together. There are so many different words here—it was almost like learning English all over again.” He got a faraway look in his eyes. “I used to switch back and forth between German and English so easily. My German’s pretty rusty now. I wonder what word they’d use instead of gay. Not that the Amish would ever really talk about it.”
David shook his head. “You say it out loud so easily. I can when I’m alone, or I’m with Isaac. When I can forget it’s a sin. But you act like it’s nothing at all. And I think the word they’d use is abomination.” Heathen. Unclean. Deceiver.
Aaron grimaced. “Undoubtedly. But it isn’t an abomination. It’s the way you were born. There’s nothing wrong with being gay. I know you and Isaac probably don’t believe that yet, but you will. And there are plenty of Christians who don’t think it’s a sin either.”
For a moment, David could only stare at Aaron. “Christians? But…how?”
“The Bible can be interpreted in so many ways. There are religious people who aren’t homophobic.”
David contemplated the word. Homophobic. “It truly doesn’t bother you? That we’re…” He waved his hand.
Aaron chuckled. “Not even a little. I’m glad you’re here, David. You don’t have to hide your feelings now. You don’t have to hide who you are.”
David gulped his coffee for fear he might cry otherwise. He took a deep breath. “I don’t know what to say. I have some money saved, but I need to make sure my Mother gets most of it. Everything else I’ll give to you, and—”
“No you won’t. At least not until you and Isaac are settled and you figure out what you want to do. There’s no rush. Jen and I agreed.” Aaron smiled softly. “I always hoped one of the kids would find me. I thought it would be Ephraim, though. Isaac always followed the rules so quietly and diligently.”
“Until he met me. I don’t want to impose.”
“I made sure we had a couple of spare rooms when we bought this house, just in case. We want to have kids one day, but even if I never saw my brothers or sisters again, I needed to be sure they had a place here. We’re glad you’re here, okay? Please don’t worry about money right now. Jen and I have enough. Her parents practically paid our entire mortgage as a wedding present.”
Aaron laughed fondly. “Jen says they were so happy she was finally getting married they were probably willing to pay me too.”
David smiled. “She sounds nice.”
“The best.” Aaron drained his mug. “Okay, I’ve gotta run. I’ll see you soon. In the meantime, make yourself at home.”
Not sure what else to do, David walked with Aaron to the front door and watched him put on his shiny leather shoes and zip up his coat. He waved and stood at the front window, watching Aaron back his car out of the driveway onto the steep road before zooming away into the lingering fog.
The house was still again, and David imagined Isaac upstairs still fast asleep and peaceful. He rolled around the word in his mind as though it was brand new.
Copyright © Keira Andrews
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