The following story is gay themed. All the characters, events and settings are the product of my over-active imagination. I hope you like it. Mail me or if literary analysis interests you visit me at Eliot's Space. I have to acknowledge the support of Nifty and The Doghouse for their support. I encourage you to also join the Nifty Writers Forum and the Doghouse Forum where you can contribute to the conversation.
Graham slipped onto the hard pew, discarded the small candle beside him, and then surveyed the sparse congregation scattered below him. John claimed the sanctuary of St. Paul's United Church was never full for the midnight service. The rows of empty pews did not sit right with Graham's childhood memories. Where were the children? Graham surveyed the preponderance of bent grey heads. It was the late service after all. Graham shifted his heavy belt to a more comfortable position, wishing he had not worn his uniform. He might have come to that earlier family service, but it was hard enough for him to come to the late service. It was harder still to endure the service alone. Christmas was hardly a holiday for John, and Graham preferred the years when his own work served as a convenient excuse to beg off joining John in church. The clean white plaster vault and aged oak failed to touch his soul. St. Paul's was not so very different from the church of his youth; the church where his family would likely now be gathered together. Graham found his eyes tracking the few family groups arrayed below. He felt suddenly like Ebenezer Scrooge confronting his lost past. A spirited John had whisked him to these shadows of Christmas' past with a quiet plea and the eternal magic of his warm eyes. There was not much Graham could deny John. Graham saw echoes of his parents in the faces of fathers and mothers settling their restless broods. He saw himself in the youths slumped uncomfortably beside pesky siblings. God bless us everyone, Graham turned his eyes back to the glory of the organ pipes arrayed across the front of the sanctuary. He tried to lose himself in the heavy music. Ten years and he never could. Christmas simply reminded him of the unbridgeable gulf that lay between him and the close knit family he had stepped away from at eighteen. The excited families below also reminded him of the awkward Skype call home and the unexpected tears that flowed so freely afterword. Graham looked toward the pulpit for comfort, but it was still empty. Merry Christmas, bah humbug, a voice whispered in his ear.
Graham's eyes drifted back to a rangy youth self-consciously fidgeting three pews down along the left curve of the balcony. He had captured Graham's attention when he arrived. The tousle-haired teenager had paced the perimeter of the balcony twice scanning the sparse congregation. Despite the bitter cold, he was simply dressed in an oversized hoody and an equally shabby vest. The youth sat once, craned his neck over the railing and then moved on until something below finally caught his eye. He settled near Graham. He had sat ridged in his seat staring down at something below until a garrulous old voice broke the silence. The youth's head darted up and followed the noise. He seemed suddenly aware of the sprinkling of people around him. His eyes rested on Graham briefly and the dark orbs widened at Graham's blue uniform. It was an all too familiar reaction and Graham looked coolly back until the youth turned away. Graham sighed. The teenager's reaction depressed him further. The teen was Graham's present; another adolescent, lean and hungry, stalking the dark winter streets, always wary of a passing cruiser, always shy of the law. They shared another look and then the youth began peeling the ragged layers of his winter wear away. An ill-fitting black dress shirt and a badly knotted tie hung loosely from his slender frame. When the organ began to play a familiar carol the youth opened the order of service and began studying it earnestly. Graham watched the teen's right knee bounce nervously. His stomach fluttered sympathetically as the service began.
Graham turned his thoughts to John. John was his anchor, his center. John loved all this. You could see it in his face and hear it in his voice. Graham tried to let John draw him in, but as much as John had found shelter in this church, it offered Graham no consolation. Graham tried to keep up with the flow of the service that was at once so familiar and strange. The teen at hand seemed distracted. At each carol he would lurch to his feet, fumble to the right page, then stare, lips moving imperceptibly. At the conclusion of each carol he sank gratefully back onto the dark oak seat. Graham wondered what had brought the youth out so late by himself. Graham's attention shifted between the pastor at the pulpit and the teen. His young companion shifted forward to watch someone below. Graham caught hunger in his face. It softened the sharp adolescent angles and called forth the almost hopeful look of a small boy lost in a dream. Graham found himself warming to the youth. The older man had felt that smoldering passion.
The youth slid suddenly upright against the back of the pew. He sat primly with his hands clasped in his lap. Graham caught the movement of another youth moving up to the lectern rising from a riot of poinsettias. He was a finely-dressed youth who walked with the confidence of a well-loved son. When he reached the steps he took them two at a time before swinging around quickly to look at the sparse congregation with an infectious grin. Jesse, the name came to Graham suddenly. John had mentioned him in reference to the youth group he struggled with. John had counselled Jesse through some personal crisis. Jesse glanced down and when his face lifted again it was composed. The light tenor of his voice was strong and true. Graham was distracted by the youth's demeanour and the all too familiar passage made little impression on him. It was the animation in the teen's voice. The young speaker mixed an irrepressible enthusiasm with a gravitas that brought a slight smile to Graham's lips. It connected him suddenly to his own earnest participation in the church at that age. Graham's smile faltered at this unwelcome memory. He was weary of the regrets and forced them away again in much the way he did his best to bury each gritty moment on the street and the angry souls whose want was rubbed raw on festive nights like this. At that thought, Graham spared a glance toward the solitary figure of the self-conscious youth sharing the isolation of the balcony. His young body remained a coil of nervous energy on the hard bench, hands thrust tightly between his thighs.
The voice below drew Graham back to the youth at the lectern. Jesse's young face might have been buried in an unfamiliar text but instead his eyes cast around the congregation with a dramatic pause very reminiscent of John. The youth seemed intent on gathering everyone into the compass of his gaze. Finally, his face lifted to the balcony and with a sweep of his eyes invited Graham and the others into the mystery of the evening. Jesse paused on Graham registering his presence and forbidding uniform before moving on to Graham's left where they paused again. Their journey ended, dancing eyes dropped back to the pages on the lectern. The youth finished with a final burst of eloquence and a smile at his parents. He turned toward his minister and basked in the warmth of his smile. Graham saw that Jesse was the sort of boy people were drawn to. Graham recognized that in the way John spoke of him; as if Jesse possessed some unnamed quality that Graham would appreciate and empathize with as much as John did. Jesse abandoned the lectern after a final smile thrown toward the balcony where Graham and the youth sat in their isolation. Bright joy trailed him back to his place beside his family. The nearby youth sat quivering, eyes glued on Jesse.
The awkward youth was an interloper. The contrast between Jesse and his neighbour in the balcony deepened Graham's Christmas depression. Graham had been like that bright boy at the lectern once but then, he had also felt like that boy on the pew caught in a lonely turmoil. The painful desires of youth, wanting the unattainable; the fragile light of love bursting into life but so easily extinguished by life's rough winds. Graham wondered if he was projecting too much of himself on the stiff and awkward stranger craning to follow the progress of the youth below.
Jesse sat down on the very edge of Graham's vision. He was almost cut off by the heavy railing, but not quite, the curve of heavy oak pews on the sanctuary floor gave Graham a view of the youth's neatly trimmed hair. The youth nearby had a better, though equally discrete, view. Graham decided Jesse must have been the object of his neighbour's search when he came in at the beginning of the service. He had certainly picked the right spot to view the teenager.
Despite their location in the balcony, Jesse might have been conscious of his audience. From time to time he would turn his head toward the youth in the balcony. Jesse sat on the aisle fidgeting beside two younger siblings. His composure had been broken in some way. His attention strayed constantly. The younger brother drew him back to the orbit of his family with whispered comments that earned him a series of pokes from the father, who had to reach impatiently across a small girl. Jesse twisted once and looked up to the balcony and then turned his attention back to the progress of the service.
.... There is more of this story ...