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The following morning, I was alone in the house.
I actually didn’t have much time at home without anyone around. I had morning classes four days a week, and although my dad and brother had work and school respectively most of the week, my mom only worked part time, and she was nosy. So even with the house empty, I still felt the need to put music on and lock my bedroom door out of old teenage habit when I was doing certain things.
Like now, stretched out in bed with my sweatpants around my thighs and a hand wrapped around myself.
This was something I saw as more of a need than a desire anymore. My body had urges that I had to drain away periodically to keep my mind from drifting, and I was methodical and practiced in my release. Faith taught me this was something shameful, something that distracted me from my devotion. But thinking that way only kept me from taking myself with passion… not from doing it at all.
The way I’d done this hadn’t changed much – with tissues, store brand hand lotion, and under the watch of my Rafael Nadal poster, which hung over my bed displaying my favorite tennis player in backswing. I tried not to make eye contact with the poster. It unsettled me to think of him watching me jerk off.
Hand slick and sandwiched between my legs, I lay rationing my breath to keep myself quiet, trying to focus half on my music playlist, half on some fantasy or image I scrounged from my mind to help the process along.
There was a pair of pretty girls I’d seen once in a video, in only body oil and bikinis. Long legs and full breasts. Strings just barely holding it all in. Sun gleaming on copper skin.
A hand tracing my bicep, soft words admiring my body in a deep, masculine purr…
My breath hitched. Why was that what came to mind? I shook out the unwelcome thought and reached for something else.
Sand stuck to wet skin. Hard little nipples pressing through fabric. The girls’ lips meeting each other, playing, teasing.
Moss-green eyes and dark hair, and an untamed mouth so brazenly tonguing my name…
Again, I forced the thought away. I didn’t want to think about that now… not now… not like this…
Something else, anything else!
Hands on silky skin, brushing back sheets of shimmering blonde… An open, wet mouth, eager and wanting and slipping onto me…
I wonder what it would feel like…
Having it fill my mouth… Press into my throat… Licking, tasting, sucking until he came inside my-
Oh fuck, I’m -!
I inhaled sharply, unable to stop it before it happened all at once – the heat swelling to a peak in me, the muscles in my stomach clenching, my face pressing sideways into the pillow to stop my sudden noise. In total silence I brought myself to the edge, teetering, drawing back, and finally, reluctantly allowing release…
The image lingered like a ringing in my ears as I lay there with the mess between my fingers, and shame crashed down with the high.
Levi texted me his address that afternoon as promised. I thought about not responding, but ended up sending a “Thanks, see you soon” anyway.
I spent the afternoon on the campus courts, bundled up in my Underarmour to keep warm and practicing serves and lobs with a basket of fuzzy yellow balls. Any time the basket emptied, I’d just have to go to the other side, gather the balls up, and start over. I’d done this a couple of times before I was interrupted.
“Hey! Need a partner?”
I looked over to the high chain link fence surrounding the court, broken out of my concentration. I recognized the voice before I saw the face of the girl hanging around by the gate. “Hey – Janina! Yeah, c’mon over.”
Janina was shorter than me, and a year or two younger, but we were in the same year of our degrees. I’d entered Immaculata a year late. When I had joined the tennis team, I thought her figure was all wrong for the sport – she was pretty, but pear-shaped, with wide hips and an ample chest that she often complained about – but after she beat my ass sideways in several practice rounds, I had to concede that she was more than capable, and we’d pretty much been friends since.
Janina let herself in the gate, slipping the racket bag off her shoulder and unzipping it. She was dressed in tight leggings and powder blue fleece, her red hair tucked back in a matching hat. “It’s freezing out!” she exclaimed. “Why don’t you ever practice inside?”
“The floors in the gym aren’t the same,” I told her, dribbling while I waited for her to take her place opposite me. “I like the composite courts. Wish we had clay, though.”
“You’re so picky. What are you drilling?”
“Mind letting me do some volleys?”
“Sure. Serve it up.”
I sent the ball over to Janina, and volleyed it when it came back. A volley shot is when you’re close enough to the net to hit it back before it bounces on the court. I tended to play further back in exhibitions, so my volleys weren’t stellar, but it wasn’t something I could practice on my own easily. casino oyna On my third return, the ball went wide and landed out of the court. “Dammit!”
“It’s okay!” Janina called back. “Gimme another one.”
While I walked back to the basket to grab another ball, Janina started talking. “So… Marc told me you made a friend this week.”
“Yeah?” I said, huffing out a laugh. “Marc’s got a big mouth. What did he say, exactly?”
She spun her racket in her hands, pacing back to her spot. “He said you have some weird guy at your church, and you brought him to bible study.”
“He said more than that.”
“Well, he might have said the guy was ‘totally sketch’ and wore all black leather. Is that true?”
I huffed again. “Not all in leather.”
Janina laughed. “So did you bring him to bible study?”
I served the ball in a lazy underhand. “Yeah. I did.”
Janina returned it, equally slow. The ball made a satisfying puck sound each time we hit it. “Who is he?”
“His name’s Levi. He’s from north Philly.” Puck.
“Yeah? What’s he like?” Puck.
“He’s nice. He’s…” Puck. “… He’s strange.” I fought the urge to say queer.
Janina laughed and hit the ball back to me. Puck. “What kind of strange?”
The ball sailed over my head, missing my racket by inches. I went back and grabbed another. “He just says really strange things. And he looks weird, I guess. He’s got long hair… Earrings… Wears leather boots and stuff.” Puck.
“So… What strange things does he say?” Puck.
I frowned. “I don’t… think he believes in God,” I told her. Puck. “But he keeps coming back to church anyway.”
“Well,” she said thoughtfully, “you’d be the one to bring him in then, right?” Puck.
“I’d like to. If he lets me.” Puck.
Instead of returning, Janina caught the ball and walked back around the net. “Hey, it really is cold. You wanna train another day?”
I sighed and watched the mist cloud my breath. “Yeah, okay.”
Janina wanted something hot to drink, so we ended up at the campus cafeteria to use the complementary single-cup brewers on offer by the vending machines (my tuition hard at work). I declined but was happy to sit in the soft chairs by the window while Janina wrapped her chilled hands around her cup. She’d taken off her outer layers and let her hair down over her shoulders, still fluffy with static. She sighed and sank down in her chair.
“I feel like I can’t wait for spring break already,” she complained.
“It’s only February,” I pointed out.
“I know. It sucks.”
I pulled off my fleece ear warmer and shook my hair out as well. “You gonna do anything for Valentine’s day?”
Janina’s head perked up slightly, but her eyes were narrowed. “Who would I do anything with?”
I shrugged. “Yeah, I don’t have anyone either. It’s… It’s whatever.”
She said nothing, instead taking a measured sip of her cocoa.
I suddenly felt bad for bringing it up. Was it a sore point for her? I wished I had more to say. In truth, I’d just been trying all day to take my mind off of… earlier. I was upset and desperate to bring myself back to heel. The lesson from the previous night returned to me. “Take every thought captive,” I muttered.
“What’s up?” asked Janina.
I looked up at her, blinking. “Nothing, I just…” I struggled to think of what exactly I was just, and faltered. I wanted to spare Janina the gory details – I didn’t want anyone to know what I’d done and thought about – but I did want help. “I don’t know. I’ve had some weird experiences lately that made me… question things.”
Janina set her cup aside, folding her legs up in her chair. “What are you questioning?”
I gave a tired sigh, crossing my arms on my knees. “I’ve just… had some unhealthy thoughts that I really don’t want to discuss. I don’t even want to acknowledge them. But they’re there, and I need to get rid of them before they… go any further, you know?”
She was thoughtful for a moment, a hand fidgeting with the pendant at her collar – a cross, like mine, but of delicately patterned sterling silver inlaid with a violet gemstone, and on a much finer, shorter chain. “Do you need a little prayer session?” she smiled.
I hesitated, then gave her a weak half-smile, hair falling in my face. I brushed it back behind my ear. “Probably.”
Janina smiled and sat upright, leaning over the coffee table between us and reaching for my hands. I exhaled and reached back; despite our outdoor activity, her hands were dry and warm already against my fingers. Janina was better at leading these little prayers. I never knew what to say. She bowed her head and I followed her lead, half-closing my eyes.
“Lord, thank you for bringing us together today, to help Ash in this difficult moment,” she began. “We know that sometimes, our minds and hearts can drift away from you, Lord. And at these times we reach out; we ask to be forgiven, because we are not perfect, because even the strongest of us can sometimes stray. canlı casino Though no human is without sin, we strive to follow the teachings that you gave us. Lord, we ask for you to help us rein in our bad thoughts, and to return us to the right path. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”
“Amen,” I repeated under my breath. Janina grinned and squeezed my hands tight before letting me go. I did actually feel a bit better. It last like she’d taken ten pounds off my shoulders. I smiled back.
The address that Levi sent me wasn’t his home, as it turned out. He actually wanted me to pick him up at the corner of Downing and Main, just down the street from where he lived. He said it was more convenient, but I couldn’t help feeling slightly disappointed. Truthfully, I wanted to see what was up with this store that he was so secretive about. Was secretive right? He seemed to avoid the subject whenever it came up, and gave me answers too vague to decipher when I asked questions. Maybe I was wrong, and he wasn’t hiding it from me. Or maybe he was shy about whatever it was he made. But attaching the label “shy” to Levi felt very wrong. Either way, I’d probably convince him to let me see it when I dropped him off after church.
I told my parents of my plans on Saturday night over dinner. Dan was the first to react. “What, are you guys like, best friends now or something?” he snarked.
Mom swatted him. “I think it’s nice,” she said smartly. “It’s very sweet that you’re trying to make him feel welcome, Asher.”
I poked around my pork chop, not quite sure how to respond. “Well, I think… he just needs help coming into the congregation.”
Dad sniffed and said nothing.
It seemed like I still had my work cut out for me where Levi was concerned.
My car was partially my mom’s, partially a gift for getting into college. It was a little white hatchback, in pretty sharp contrast to Levi’s maroon SUV. Early Sunday morning, I pulled up to find that Levi was already waiting at the corner of Downing, hands in the pockets of his leather jacket as usual, although with the temperature dropping to a frigid 20 degrees, he had wisely added a fringed red scarf, french-tied around his neck. Needing no invitation, he let himself into the passenger side and ducked down into his seat, smiling. “Good morning, Ash,” he said brightly.
“Morning,” I said. “Did you have breakfast? I can stop somewhere.”
“No, no thank you. I ate. Ready to go?”
“Yeah – oh! Here.” I bent to reach the backseat and retrieved the bible I’d lent him Wednesday night, plopping it into his lap. “You should keep that,” I told him. “I don’t need it.”
Levi examined the volume as if he’d never seen it before, turning it over his hands. “Was this yours?”
“When I was younger, yeah.”
He flipped through it as we drove. “You’ve marked this a lot,” he said, sounding mildly impressed.
“Yeah, well,” I smirked apologetically.
We were quiet for a minute, Levi thumbing pages with offhand interest. I shifted nervously.
“I’m, uh… I’m really glad you wanted to come with me today,” I said sheepishly.
It was the second time I’d walked through the church doors with Levi next to me. But we weren’t alone this time. Most people didn’t seem to care, but I still noticed an abnormal number of eyes on us as we went through to the sanctuary. It was starting to really grate on me how people treated Levi like an anomaly, and I found myself fighting the urge to get in their faces about it. Levi, on the other hand, was totally nonplussed about it all.
My family had gone ahead of us and were sitting in their usual pew. Marc and his dad, I saw, were also sitting sitting down, although Marc seemed to be looking around for something. I wondered if that something was me.
“Where do you want to sit?” I asked Levi. “Middle? In the back again?”
“Would you mind being in the back?” he said.
“No, we can sit there.” I wanted Levi to be be comfortable – both in church and with me. So I followed him to the spot he’d sat in for the past month, with him on the inside and me to his left. As the organ played its languid morning song, I sat marking the pages in my bible as usual… And only looked up when I felt Levi’s eyes on me, watching my ritual.
I’d had hopes for that day. The night before, I’d imagined the ideal in my head: Levi singing the hymns or at least standing beside me, bowing his head with me in our prayers. Maybe this was too much to ask. But I hadn’t prepared myself to see him doing exactly as he had always done – sitting, watching, but only vaguely and silently participating at my direction.
And yet, I stopped worrying about this at some point. Instead, he was a calming presence, and I found myself enjoying the act of guiding him… even if I wasn’t sure exactly how much of it he was taking in.
Our shoulders touched in our proximity, and I became aware of things about Levi that I hadn’t been before… Like the fact that behind kaçak casino the gentle waves of his hair, his ear was pierced with a silver ring. Were both ears done? He’d shed his leather jacket, so that I could now see the lines that attested to the muscles in his forearms… And gradually, I noticed more. The roughness of the calluses on his fingers. The deep shadows under his eyes that suggested sleepless nights. And then those eyes moved to fix on mine.
And like so many times before, I was the one who had to look away.
“… And the HOLY spirit… Amen!”
The chorus of “Amen” preceded the organ and the clamor of movement of voices that rose over the sanctuary. Levi waited for me to get up before he followed. As I stood, I caught Marc’s eye from far in front of us and knew he’d want to interrogate me… But I needed to talk with Levi. Ignoring Marc, I gathered my coat and bible, nodded to Levi, and led him away – not through the crowding lobby, but off through a side door into a hallway I knew would be empty.
The noise of the sanctuary drowned into silence as the door closed behind us. This hallway was only used to get to the chapel at the east side of the building. I knew the chapel was probably locked right now, but the hall was good enough for us to chat.
“Taking a different way out?” Levi asked as I turned to him.
I bypassed his question, dropping my jacket and bible on the floor by my feet. “Why are you coming to church with me?” I demanded.
Levi seemed taken aback momentarily, but I stood my ground.
“Why did I start coming to church?” he asked. “Or why am I coming with you now?”
I blinked, not expecting this. “I… Both,” I decided.
Levi shrugged and tucked his jacket and my old bible under his arm, legs apart and weight shifting to one side. “Well, originally, it was curiosity. I own a business, and I was wondering why all of downtown was dead every Sunday. Every other store is closed – except mine. So I wanted to know where the entire town was going. And that brought me here.”
I frowned, running my hands through my hair. This wasn’t what I wanted to hear – wasn’t what I had thought or hoped for. “But you came for four weeks,” I said. “Why that long – just for that reason?”
“I was having fun.”
“Language, Ash. We’re in God’s house.”
I gave a hard sigh, folding my hands on top of my head. “Do you even believe in God?”
Levi’s answer came without a moment’s consideration. “Not the way you do. No.”
“You don’t… pray or worship. Ever.”
“But you came to bible study. You keep coming back to church.”
“And you want to know why.”
“Yes!” I said, exasperated.
He smiled. “Because you asked me to.”
Unsatisfied, I breathed out and leaned against the wall. “So… Yeah. I asked you because I thought I was bringing you into the congregation, Levi. I thought I was getting you to come to worship with me. But you don’t have the slightest interest in that, do you? I’m completely wasting my time.”
“I don’t think it was a waste of time at all,” Levi replied, his smile immeasurable. “Ash, I’m coming here for you. I don’t know how I can possibly make that more clear than I already have.”
“Well, let’s pretend I’m as stupid as I feel right now. Explain it to me like I’m five,” I snapped.
Levi gave me a sympathetic smirk and leaned back against the opposite wall, crossing one ankle over the other. “I am insanely interested in you, Ash. As a person. As a man. And as someone I desire. Seeing you passionate about something, and how blissfully innocent you are, turns me on like you wouldn’t believe. Is that what you’d like to hear me tell you?”
The words weren’t quite finding their hold in me. I felt the muscles in my mouth tightening, my brow tensing, lungs working to pull some kind of response through my throat. As I forced myself to speak, to yell, to say anything, I felt my body enflame from the base of my spine upwards, my head spinning, Levi’s image sliding sideways across my vision –
“Levi, I don’t w
I wasn’t sure how I got in front of the sinks in the church bathroom. The faucet was running, my hands were pressed hard to the cold stone counter, and the face in the mirror was pale and shimmering with water, the ends of my hair bedraggled and dripping. I turned off the faucet, taking deep and even breaths. The shake in my hands and the flush in my cheeks was ebbing. Straightening myself up, I grabbed a fistful of paper towels to wipe my face off. Then I realized what had happened.
I had fucking bolted.
But what was I supposed to say to something like that? What Levi had brazenly, unabashedly thrown at me? Hey, Ash, remember how I said you were hot? Did I mention I want to sodomize you? How does that make you feel?
Okay, maybe he hadn’t said that. But what else did it really amount to? How was I supposed to take it? I caught myself fidgeting with my necklace again, sighed, and instead threw the soggy paper towels in the bin by the door.
I wasn’t quite expecting Levi to be waiting outside the bathroom when I pushed open the door, and I must have jumped slightly when I saw him there against the wall.
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