This story is critical of religion, so if that is going to offend you, I suggest reading something else. There is, however, sex.
Sunday Morning, Nathan’s house
Nathan woke and heard his parents moving around downstairs. The smell of the traditional Sunday bacon tickled his nose. It did nothing to alleviate the pit in his stomach. For the first time in as long as he could remember, he dreaded going to church. When he was a kid, of course, he didn’t like having to sit still and wear nice clothing, but afterwards, he got to run around with his friends and eat cookies. As he got older, he enjoyed the ritual, the readings, and the sermons, which reinforced his beliefs. And even into his teenage years, when some doubts crept into his mind, he was comforted by the familiarity of everything—the services, the sermons and the members of his community.
And, of course, for the past few months, he knew that he would see Shelby, dressed up and looking beautiful. His Shelby. Who loved him.
But today, he knew that there would be tension. He knew that the gossips in the group would have already passed the word around about the meeting with Pastor Cullum. And that no one would have heard any of their side. He knew that there would be whispering, and continued denigration of Shelby. And he knew that his parents would be watching him like hawks to prevent him from spending any time with her. Even if it would be impossible for them to keep them apart, because of school and the fact that they were not home during the weekdays, they could certainly make things difficult.
But he had no choice. Nathan got out of bed, went to the bathroom, brushed his teeth and ran a brush through his short, sandy hair, and went down to breakfast.
Although his parents tried to pretend it was a Sunday like every other Sunday of his life, everybody, other than Tommy, realized that it was different, and they soon ate in silence. Nathan cleared his plate, rinsed it in the sink and put it, and his coffee cup, into the dishwasher, and silently went to his room to shave and change for church.
The ride over was quiet, punctuated by Tommy’s childish babble, and his mother’s attempt to engage the young boy in what he would be hearing at the service. Nathan leaned his head back against the headrest and closed his eyes, visualizing first Shelby’s face, and then her breast. But he realized that was dangerous, and he tried to focus on Scripture, to take his mind off of Shelby, but it didn’t work.
His father pulled into the crowded parking lot, and they got out of the car, greeting their friends, as usual. Nathan’s head swiveled around, looking for Shelby, and his heart leapt when he though he saw her near the church door, only to realize that it was Marcy Johnston, a junior who looked a little like Shelby from a distance. They approached the church entrance, when Nathan felt compelled to turn his head, looking back to the lot, and he saw Shelby getting out of her parents’ car, looking beautiful in a patterned dress that was more appropriate for church than her usual outfits.
He knew that his parents would freak out if he waited to see Shelby, so rather than cause a scene, he followed them into the church. Nathan was not sure if he was imagining it, but he was pretty sure that people were subtly pointing toward him and speaking while using their programs to block their mouths. He began to feel pressure behind his eyes, anger welling up inside him about the pettiness and nosiness of his fellow churchgoers. Nathan wondered what Jesus would tell them about minding their own business and not judging their neighbors. He wondered how many of the whisperers could pass the John 8:7 test, since he figured none of them was without sin. And his sin, and Shelby’s, to the extent they even had sinned, was trivial.
Nathan took a seat with his family, and not, as had become his custom, with Shelby and some of their schoolmates, and glanced at the program. His eyes went immediately to the text for the sermon: “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4).
Seriously? Nathan thought to himself. This could not be a coincidence. Pastor Stephens pulled out his old standard anti-sex sermon to shame him and Shelby in front of the entire community. Nathan turned and saw that Shelby’s family was sitting toward the rear of the church. He saw her reading the program, then look up, her face turning red. She caught his eyes and they quickly looked at each other before Nathan turned around.
Pastor Stephens was sitting in his big chair, on the stage, with Pastor Cullum and Mr. Stanton, the deacon. Nathan thought that Pastor Cullum’s eyes narrowed when he looked at him, and he hoped that it was his imagination.
The choir began to sing, and the service began. It was a blur to Nathan, who went through the rote motions, but paid no attention to any of it until Pastor Stephens stood to deliver the sermon. He wondered Kartal Escort how bad it would be, and whether the old minister would actually single Shelby and him out for shaming.
Pastor Stephens stood before the lectern and waited for silence. Everyone in the congregation who had heard about Nathan and Shelby’s meeting with Pastor Cullum, and that was likely almost everyone, understood the meaning of the text chosen, and waited to see what would happen. When the crowd was silent, and he had waited long enough to create dramatic tension, the tall, slim, white haired minister began to speak in his booming baritone, with its hint of his birth in the deep South.
“We all know, or at least we all should know,” he began, looking first at Nathan, then at Shelby, “that the Lord commanded us against the sin of adultery. We know, or at least we all should know, that marriage is a sacred bond between one woman, and one man, joined in the presence of the Lord, and that certain things are permitted of married couples that are strictly forbidden to unmarried people.” He looked again at Shelby, and then at Nathan, who sunk down in his seat, trying unsuccessfully to hide his 6 foot tall body.
The sermon went on from there, with Pastor Stephens dragging out most of the usual war horses, the passage from Hebrews that was the inspiration for the sermon, Matthew 19:4-5, Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 6:16 against prostitutes, which Nathan didn’t think was all that relevant to the discussion, the other passages in 1 Corinthians about marriage, and all the other verses that had been pounded into Nathan’s head since before he even knew what sex was.
Nathan felt the eyes of his fellow church goers on him the entire time, and it was not a pleasant feeling. Meanwhile, Pastor Cullum sat on stage, looking smug, even though he was a bigger sinner than either he or Shelby ever was. The anger continued to build inside Nathan as Pastor Stephens sonorously inveighed against that which Nathan knew in his heart was not a sin—showing his love to Shelby.
And then, it was over. Nathan had never been happier to hear the word “Amen” in his life. He breathed out and looked back at Shelby. She and her parents were gone.
The service ended, and Nathan ran out of the church without engaging in any pleasantries, but when he got outside, he saw that Shelby’s parents’ car was gone. He called her cell, but it went to voicemail, and he didn’t leave a message. The rest of the crowd was gathering for the traditional punch and cookies on the lawn, but Nathan wanted nothing more than to be able to leave. He texted Shelby, but she did not respond.
Nathan stood apart from the crowd, watching them happily chatting away, drinking punch and eating cookies. He saw the little kids running around and through the crowd, and the groups of teenagers flirting and teasing each other. He saw his classmates studiously avoiding him while stealing furtive glances his way. He thought back to his younger days, and how much fun he had after church. And now, it was awful.
Then, Nathan reminded himself that he actually hadn’t done anything wrong. And really, neither had Shelby. But he was being treated like a sinner, an immoral person, and Shelby was being humiliated as if she was a whore. Without doing anything more than asking questions. Yes, there was that breast, in his hand, but it was an aberration, and it went no further. Nathan started to laugh, slowly at first, then louder, as the tension inside him bubbled to the surface. He was laughing so hard that he didn’t notice Pastor Cullum step in front of him.
“What’s so funny?” the young minister asked him, a cruel edge in his voice.
“Nothing,” Nathan replied.
“I hope you learned something today,” Pastor Cullum replied, and it was clear that he was not just talking about the Scripture lesson.
“I’m not saying anything to you, Pastor Cullum, since it is clear that nothing that we discuss can be considered confidential.”
The minister looked hard at Nathan. “I see that your whore of a girlfriend’s lack of discretion is rubbing off on you. I expected more from you. I expect that you will show more care in the future, or there will be consequences.”
It took all of Nathan’s self-control not to take a swing at the smaller man, and Pastor Cullum knew that he was in no physical danger. He looked back at Nathan and said, “I admitted nothing, and anyway, no one will believe anything that you or that slut say. I’ve made sure of that.” He strode away, toward a group of older women, who fawned over him.
Nathan’s phone went off, and he pulled it out of his pocket. It was a text from Shelby. “Better for you to stay away from me, I think.”
Nathan furiously texted back, “Never. I will call you later. Please take my call. ILY.” He stared at his phone, as if his gaze could make Shelby’s response come faster.
Finally, the phone went off. “O.K. Tonight. ILY2”
Putting the phone back in his pocket, Nathan looked Yakacık Escort around and was relieved to see his parents and Tommy headed toward him. They did not, however, look happy.
“Well, that was humiliating,” his mother said in a low voice.
Nathan looked at his father, but James’ face was stony. Nathan realized that nothing he could say would make things better, so he stayed quiet as they walked to the car, Tommy skipping ahead of them, oblivious. The ride home was silent, and when they arrived home, Nathan went straight to his room, changed, and started working on his homework. He hid in his room for the rest of the day, coming out only for a hushed dinner, which he ate quickly and joylessly, before withdrawing back to his room.
Finally, he felt that it was time to call Shelby. Nathan was worried that she would ignore his call, but she picked up.
“Hi,” she said, and Nathan felt happy just hearing her voice.
“How are you doing?” Nathan responded.
“O.K., I guess. My parents are still being pretty cool about the whole thing, but they are being ostracized by the other parents and I can tell it is uncomfortable. I can’t believe that this is enough to set everybody off. What’s next? Flaming torches?”
Nathan laughed. “My parents are furious. They have been pillars of this community for a long time, and now they feel ashamed.”
“You have nothing to be sorry about. You asked honest moral questions to a minister, which is exactly what they have told us to do our whole life here. And now, we are being punished because that asshole, excuse me, because Cullum told everyone to protect himself.”
“I know, that guy is creepy,” she said.
“He basically tried to intimidate me after church today.” Nathan chose not to tell Shelby exactly what Pastor Cullum had said about her.
Once again, Nathan was both surprised and a little excited by her use of language that was forbidden. “I know that my parents are going to try to stop me from seeing you.”
“I can’t believe the way everyone is reacting. I should have just walked naked into church. It couldn’t be worse.”
Nathan imagined that happening, and got aroused. “You’re right. This whole thing is nuts.”
“I want us to be together, now more than ever,” Shelby said, in a low, husky voice.
Nathan paused. His body continued to crave Shelby, but he still wasn’t fully ready to give up everything he had believed his whole life. However, the hypocrisy and behavior of Pastor Cullum and the overreaction of pretty much everyone else was making him think. “Don’t worry,” he replied. “We are 18, and they can’t stop us, if we want to be together.”
“I love you, Nathan.”
“I love you too.”
“See you in school tomorrow.”
“Of course. Good night.”
Shelby responded, “Good night,” and disconnected the call.
Nathan brushed his teeth and prepared for bed. He was getting ready to get into bed, when there was a knock on his door. His parents came in, looking serious.
“We need to talk,” his father said.
“I have nothing more to say,” Nathan replied.
“Nathan, I am still your father, and you will show me respect.”
“Yessir,” Nathan replied without much commitment.
“Today was truly one of the worst days that your mother and I have ever experienced.”
“I’m sorry,” Nathan responded.
“Nothing like this ever happened before you started seeing that girl.”
“Dad, her name is Shelby, and if you want to talk about her, please use her name.”
“Fine. Your mother and I don’t think that you should be spending time with her. Shelby,” he continued, emphasizing her name with a sneer in his voice, “is a disrespectful and dangerous girl.”
Nathan felt anger welling up inside, and it took all of his power to control it. “Mom, Dad, I love Shelby. She is amazing. She makes me think and she makes me happy. I’m not going to stop seeing her because Pastor Cullum is trying to make her look bad to protect himself.”
“You said that before. What do you mean?”
“I told you. Shelby asked why we should take advice about sex from someone who never had it, and it was clear that he had, even though he has never been married. And when she asked him directly, he refused to answer and threw us out. Now, he wants to make us look bad so no one will believe us.”
“That is ridiculous,” Nathan’s mother stated. “He didn’t respond to …. Shelby,” Marcia spat out her name like a curse, “because you have no right to ask those questions to a man of God.”
“Mom, whether or not you believe me, it is clear that he is a hypocrite and sinner. And whether or not you believe me, Shelby and I haven’t done anything wrong.”
James looked at his son and said, “Nathan, you are not to see Shelby, and that’s that.”
“You can’t stop me,” Nathan yelled. “You’re being an ass.”
Marcia gasped at the word and James raised his right arm as if to strike his son, and Nathan Kadıköy Escort grabbed James’ wrist. Although James was in good shape, Nathan was stronger, and he prevented the blow. They struggled briefly, before James withdrew his arm, and he and Marcia turned and walked toward the door. James turned and rubbed his elbow, saying, “This is far from over, Nathan. Far from over.” They left the room.
Nathan was breathing hard. His father had not struck him in years, and then it had been only standard spankings. And Nathan had never, ever, raised his hand to his father. Or used that kind of language in front of his parents, much less at them. He got into bed and under the covers, but his mind was racing.
He lay in bed, awake, for hours, thinking, until he realized that he needed to be ready to leave home, if his parents really tried to keep him away from Shelby, or even threw him out. He looked at the clock, surprised to see that it was 3 a.m. Nathan got out of bed, and quietly packed some clothing in his backpack. He took all of the cash that he had saved from birthdays, Christmas and the occasional odd job and stored in one of his extra Bibles, and put it in his wallet. He realized that he might have to find a job, and needed his birth certificate.
Nathan quietly opened his door and listened. The house was silent and dark. Wearing his pajamas and socks, he padded down the hall, down the steps and into his parents’ office. Closing the door behind him, he turned on the lamp to the lowest setting. He saw the smiling family pictures, and could not believe that the events of the past couple of days had turned his parents against him. Somewhere, he knew, there was a file of important papers, and he opened the filing cabinet, and pawed past tax returns and insurance papers until he found a folder marked “Important Papers.”
He opened the folder, and saw Tommy’s birth certificate. Passing that, he saw his parents’ wedding certificate, from the church, signed by Pastor Stephens. He was about to leaf past that, when he noticed a mistake. The certificate said that their wedding date was November 24, when he knew that they were actually married on August 24. That was strange, he thought, but figured it was no big deal, and moved on. The next document was the marriage license from the state, issued on November 23. Something was wrong, but Nathan wasn’t sure what.
He leafed past the marriage license, and found his birth certificate, which was properly dated June 30. All of a sudden, it struck him, and he dropped the folder on the floor. Scrambling to pick it up, he confirmed the math. If his parents were actually married on November 24, he was born 7 months after that. No one had ever said that he was premature, and his parents always celebrated their anniversary in August.
Nathan began to shake. Everything his parents had told him was a lie. They were only a few years older than he was now, and his mother must have gotten pregnant before they were married. And they lied about their anniversary to cover it up. And they pretended to believe that premarital sex was wrong. And Pastor Stephens, and probably other people in the church knew, and said nothing, letting this sin go unpunished, and sinned themselves by lying. After the events of the past few days, Nathan seriously wondered if there was anyone in the church who wasn’t a sinner.
He sat in the desk chair, holding the folder, and shaking. Tears began to pour down his cheeks. He felt empty inside, as if everything he knew had been torn out and left with nothing. Eventually, he calmed down, took his birth certificate and replaced the folder in the file cabinet. Turning off the light, he padded back to his room, put the paper into his backpack and got back into bed.
Nathan lay in the dark, thinking and feeling both free, but hollow, like a helium balloon floating on a swirling breeze. Although he never fell fully asleep, he was jarred from his half consciousness by the alarm.
It was an effort for Nathan to get out of bed, but he knew that he needed to go through the motions, as if nothing had changed, even though everything had. On autopilot, he prepared for school, ate breakfast, made uncomfortable small talk with his parents, grabbed his heavier than usual backpack and headed to school.
He waited outside the building for Shelby, who was, as usual, cutting her arrival close. When she arrived, Nathan’s spirits rose as he watched her graceful and beautiful form approach. He barely noticed the attention that was directed towards them by the other students, teachers and administrators as Shelby approached. It was as if they were waiting for something to happen, some further breach of order, but they were disappointed.
“We need to talk,” Nathan said, as Shelby neared and he could smell the fresh scent of her shampoo.
“Lunch?” Shelby asked, as they walked into the school, next to each other but not touching, followed by the rest of the crowd.
“Yes, O.K.” Nathan said, looking into the icy blue eyes of his girlfriend and trying to send her his love, telepathically.
Shelby could see in Nathan’s eyes that something had happened, and that Nathan was in pain. She knew that she would not be able to concentrate in class.