It was the first weekend in February, and according to the weatherman, Southern Ontario was as cold as the artic.
Heavy snow, high winds, and low temperatures made driving difficult and put an end to my planned visit to Conner’s farm. His mom didn’t fancy the journey, and I didn’t want to spend the night in that cold farmhouse, so my boyfriend had to endure another weekend without physical contact.
I wasn’t grounded anymore, but the freezing temperatures kept me indoors, so I spent most of the day in my room thinking about Nathan and avoiding Don, who was back on the warpath. He was planning something, and Nicola gave me the heads up at lunchtime.
“Dad’s invited the pastor and his wife to dinner tonight. I thought I should warn you.”
“Fuck, he hates me.”
“Probably because you tried to push him over.” She thought it was funny, but the pastor didn’t think so at the time, and neither did Mr Symmonds. My behaviour that day would have earned Don an earful from the grouchy preacher, and he would probably be seeking an apology.
“Dickless Symmonds isn’t coming too, is he?”
“Just the pastor and his family. I think mom was expecting you to be staying at Conner’s house.”
It made sense now why Sue had cancelled my punishment a day early. She didn’t want me around when they were here. I couldn’t blame her for trying to avoid a potential flashpoint. She seemed to be doing a lot of that lately, while her husband, buoyed by the news of Nathan’s fall from grace, was enjoying a mini-revival in the power stakes.
My ex-boyfriend’s confessions had unwittingly surrendered the high ground to Don, at a time when his luck seemed to be running out. It was a gift gratefully accepted by my adopted father after his embarrassing failure to find drugs in my room.
I didn’t blame Nathan for wanting to come clean, but as far as Don was concerned, it was proof that everything he said was true. By his admission, Nathan had booked a room at the seediest motel in town to buy drugs, and have sex with a stranger he met online. A man who he knew was much older than him.
No wonder Don was walking around with an extra spring in his step, along with a loathsome grin that screamed, ‘I told you so’.
I had no time for a religion that refused to recognise my sexuality, so before they arrived, I informed Sue that I wouldn’t be joining the rest of the family for dinner. I thought it was the best thing to do in light of my repeated failures to contain my temper.
“I don’t want to get grounded again, so it’s probably best if I keep out of their way and eat my dinner downstairs.”
I was surprised by Sue’s reaction. Usually, when we had guests, they liked to keep the family together, but instead of opposing my plan, she looked like she was crying.
“Sorry, I’ve been chopping onions,” she said, wiping her eyes and attempting to smile. “You do what’s best for you, dear. I understand why you don’t feel comfortable in their company.”
For all her faults and some blatant mistakes, I felt genuinely sorry for the little woman standing in front of me. She had aged quite a bit since I joined the family and continuously looked on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
“Are you okay?” Never before had I felt the need to comfort Sue physically, and it surprised me as much as it did her when I reached out and put an arm around her.
She looked up at me and smiled. “Of course, dear. Thank you for being so considerate.”
“I’m not your enemy,” I said, repeating her words from the night before. It brought more tears to Sue’s eyes, and there were no onions in sight. I let her go and watched her scurry around the kitchen, trying to compose herself.
“You're still growing,” she said, attempting to change the subject. “How tall are you now?”
“I don’t know.” I hadn’t even noticed.
“Your father was quite tall. Maybe you’ll be the same.”
She rarely mentioned my real dad, but I put it down as a random conversation rather than a deliberate attempt to remind me that Don wasn’t the only father to reject me.
It was a touching moment. Sue would never be able to replace my mom, but she must have been doing something right because it hurt me to see her upset, and that hadn’t happened before.
As I walked away, Nicola was standing by the stairs. Probably too far away to overhear, but close enough to see. She smiled, stopped me, and kissed me on the cheek, so I guess whatever I did, met with her approval too.
* * *
It was the third time in a year the pompous pastor, his sour-faced wife, and their timid son, Matthew, had been invited over for dinner. They were usually drab affairs that focussed on the good work of the church and particularly the preacher—a kind of self-congratulatory pat on the back to justify his exorbitant salary.
We knew them as the ‘Happy Clappers,’ but officially, they were from the Unified Baptist Church in downtown Cobourg. They had strong roots in Ontario and beliefs that often pitted them against the progressive lawmakers.
The church was surprisingly powerful, and the pastor an outspoken and prominent figure in the local community. He shared the same conservative views as Don, as well as the same friends, including the mayor and the chief of police. The Cobourg mafia, as Sue called them in jest, seemed to have a firm grip on that town, and were unlikely to relinquish it.
It made me wonder just how ruthless these men were. How far would they go to keep out undesirables and stop the spread of a perceived threat?
I stayed in the basement bogged down with conspiracy theories while Don had the rest of the house to entertain his guests. I considered this a reasonable arrangement. It was supposed to be my house too, although, at times like these, it didn’t feel like home.
The pastor’s son was a geeky fifteen-year-old who looked about twelve. Usually, after dinner, Daniel was tasked with entertaining the spotty boy while the adults talked politics. But on this occasion, when my brother took him to the basement to watch the hockey with me, the pastor called him back and made him sit upstairs.
“It’s because I’m down here, isn’t it?” I said to Nicola when she came to retrieve my plate. “He doesn’t trust me around his son.”
‘Maybe he thinks it’s contagious’.
Nicola had more important news for me to digest, although it wasn’t unexpected.
“Dad told Daniel he couldn’t see Nathan anymore.”
I laughed. It was exactly as I predicted, but impossible to enforce. “How’s he gonna do that? Lock him up?”
“Keep your voice down; he can probably hear you.”
All it did was encourage me to talk louder. “I don’t care. They go to the same school, how’s that gonna work?”
“Probably not anymore,” said Nicola. “If the charges stick, Mr Andrews will be forced to expel Nathan.”
That’s when it hit me. Expelled from high school for dealing drugs would be a devastating blow for my ex-boyfriend. He wouldn’t graduate or get his diploma, which in turn would make it impossible for him to get into a college or the school of arts that he had his heart set on. Something like that could affect the rest of his life, and potentially wreck any chances of a career in acting.
The police had visited the school twice in the week to talk to Nathan’s teachers and classmates. Officially they were investigating his attack, but it didn’t make sense. He had already told them the guy was from out of town.
“He wasn’t selling them.”
“I don’t believe it either,” she said. “But it doesn’t look good. The police will want to know how Nathan could afford to buy them. He has no income. That’s usually the reason why people sell drugs.”
I slumped in the armchair, holding my head. It was a cruel turn of events.
‘Why did you have to do this, Nathan? I thought I was stupid’.
It was a shock to me at first, but I wasn’t overly concerned by him admitting he had used drugs. I had also used them in the past with Alex and Tom. I even smoked a spliff with Nicola and her boyfriend at my party, but they were random experiences, which I didn’t feel the need to repeat regularly.
Buying them from a stranger implied a more serious use, and that bugged me. What Nicola said made sense, and it played on my mind. I didn’t want to believe it, but I had to accept there was a possibility Nathan was lying to me. It was entirely plausible he was selling drugs to pay for a habit.
‘But selling them to who’?
“No, I still don’t believe it. You can’t sell that stuff online, or to people you don’t know. Daniel’s been almost living at his house lately. I think he would’ve noticed, don’t you?”
It didn’t add up, and my sister was equally baffled. She had spent the past week discreetly asking around in school. Unlike the police, she knew who to talk to, and so far, the responses were unanimous.
“They look at me like I’m crazy,” she said. “A couple of them were pleased he got beat up, some felt sorry for him, but they all laughed when I asked if he was selling dope.”
They were the real dealers, the ones who hid in the shadows surrounded by their friends. They were easy to spot, but nowhere near as easy as Nathan. I just couldn’t see how it was possible for a boy who wore make-up, and multi-coloured nail polish to keep a low profile. If he were selling drugs, everyone would have known about it.
We were interrupted by the sound of something hitting the window behind me. Nicola went to investigate and called me over.
“Have you looked outside lately?”
They had been issuing severe weather alerts on the television all evening, warning of high winds over Lake Ontario, but I hadn’t taken much notice. When I joined Nicola by the back door, the snow was blowing sideways, and visibility was less than a few feet.
I tilted my head and laughed. “That looks weird.”
“There’s no way they’re gonna be able to drive home in this,” said Nicola.
It made me wonder why the pastor decided to come in the first place when everyone else had the foresight to cancel their plans for the evening. Canadians weren’t easily put off by bad weather, but there were occasional days when it just wasn’t worth going outside, and this was one of them.
“Maybe it’ll stop for him. He has friends in high places.”
“Very funny; I should let them know.”
“Great, that means they’ll have to stay the night. I was hoping they would be gone soon. I’m bored down here on my own.” I jumped back on the couch and began channel hopping. “Hey, Nicola. Do you think their son’s a virgin?”
She laughed and almost dropped my plate as she climbed the stairs. “There’s some dessert in the kitchen for you.”
“Yeah, I know. Send him down,” I mumbled. “I’ll have him with cream.”
I flicked to the weather station before venturing upstairs. It looked as if the worst was still to come. My sister was right. There was no way they were going home.
Sue was in the kitchen, cradling a glass of wine and talking to the preacher’s wife. My adopted mother sounded a little tipsy when she grabbed my arm and insisted on introducing me to a woman I had already met and had no wish to meet again.
“And this is the newest member of our family. You know Robbie, don’t you?”
The woman smiled at me but made no attempt at conversation, so I ignored her to focus on the empty pie dish on the counter.
“I didn’t get any dessert.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, dear. I forgot about you.”
I stared angrily at her. “How could you forget; I was only downstairs? You could have saved me some. This is typical.” Swearing would have made me feel better, and it took a lot of willpower to resist the urge. Instead, I mumbled a few choice words under my breath and sulked as the preacher’s son strolled into the kitchen.
Sue was trying to placate me and rectify her mistake. “There’s some chocolate in the cupboard you can have.”
“I don’t want chocolate! Now you're trying to give me cavities!” The boy looked nervous as he stood next to his mom and watched me talking to myself. Sue was learning how to handle me. In these moods, I was best left alone to burn myself out. “You're not even listening, are you?”
“No, dear. You can take whatever you want and go downstairs. I can’t deal with you at the moment.”
“Fine.” I grabbed the bottle of wine, but it was snatched back by Don, who ambushed me as I left the kitchen. “She told me I could take whatever I want!”
I felt a firm hand on my shoulder and turned to see the pastor. At least he was smiling this time.
“I recognise that angry voice anywhere,” he said. I sneered at him and moved my shoulder from under his hand. “Hello, Robbie I was wondering when you were going to come upstairs and cause a commotion. It’s been way too quiet up here.”
“I’m not causing anything!”
“He’s angry because I forgot to save him some dessert,” said Sue.
“Oops,” said the preacher. “That’s probably my fault for having two slices.”
My head snapped around to glare at him.
‘I should have known’.
The pastor was drinking wine, so they must have already invited him to stay, and it was probably the reason why he was so jolly.
“I haven’t heard much about you, so I assume you're staying out of trouble.”
“Of course,” I said as Don grunted in the background.
“I keep expecting to see you in church.”
‘Don’t hold your breath’.
“I don’t go to church.”
“I know, and maybe that’s the problem. It’s not all boring, you know. There are a lot of kids your age. You could make some decent friends.”
“I already have friends.”
‘They’re just not very decent’.
“Like the boy in the hospital, you mean. Nathan, isn’t it? He was a friend of yours, wasn’t he?”
I glared at the slick-talking preacher. “Yes, and he still is.”
“Maybe you should choose better friends.”
“Maybe you should mind your own business.”
I was ordered back downstairs by an irate Don, who wanted to ground me for another week, but the pastor intervened.
“It’s okay. Punishing him will only push him further away. We want to help you, Robbie. If being rude to me makes you feel better, then carry on. I don’t mind.”
The temptation was almost overwhelming. I had a dozen choice obscenities lined up on the tip of my tongue waiting to be spilt, but it was a trap. I wasn’t convinced Don would honour the pastor’s agreement, and Nicola didn’t think so either. I could see her head moving from side to side behind Sue, who came to my rescue.
“Why don’t you go downstairs and watch TV, dear?”
“Because, I’m waiting for my dessert.”
Sue relented and sent Nicola into the pantry to search the freezer for something sweet.
“I’ve got something for you too,” said the pastor, patting me on the shoulder and pressing a book into my hands. “It’s easy to read with some nice illustrations. Let me know if you have any questions. I’m here for you.” He tapped my arm and looked into my eyes before joining Don in the living room, where my adopted father became increasingly belligerent. I could hear him ranting about my behaviour from the kitchen.
The book was titled ‘The Homosexual Hoax’. It was conversion therapy in paperback form with neat little illustrations of perfect families in a perfect world. A man and a woman, husband and wife, boy and girl. It was a constant theme, and I was soon tired of it.
I exchanged it with Sue for a piping hot bowl of apple strudel. I was no longer hungry, but her expression told me I needed to find a way to eat it.
“Why don’t you take it downstairs before you get yourself into trouble, dear. You would have been grounded earlier if it wasn’t for the pastor.” I couldn’t understand her logic. The pastor may have prevented Don from punishing me, but he was the reason why I was rude in the first place.
“It’s boring downstairs. There’s no one for me to talk to.”
The kitchen offered a lot more scope and a remote possibility of snagging some alcohol, so I decided to stay and annoy the preacher’s wife and offspring.
My continued presence upstairs was making them uncomfortable, but I was having fun. People weren’t usually scared of me, even when I lost my temper. I felt empowered by this hitherto unknown ability to frighten someone with my sexuality, and the more nervous they got the gayer I became.
A mildly intoxicated Sue could see what I was doing, and so did Nicola, but not the pastor’s wife. She yanked Matthew’s arm pulling him away from me when I tried to engage him in conversation. It was completely without reason. Anyone would have thought I was carrying the bubonic plague, but I only wanted to know what school he attended and if he played any sport. It was the first time I had bothered to talk to him, and it was probably a mistake.
His mother’s reaction earned her a rebuke from Sue. I guess she wasn’t happy with such blatant homophobia aimed at one of her children and felt the need to show her displeasure.
“Robbie’s only being polite,” she said. “There’s no need to be scared; there’s nothing wrong with him.”
Her words conflicted with everything the preacher’s wife believed. Maybe the wine had something to do with it, but Sue made her position clear. There was nothing wrong with me, and I didn’t need fixing.
Her tone must have surprised the woman who felt the need to apologise, pushing Matthew towards me like a sacrificial offering. I was tempted to accept her gift and take him downstairs to have my wicked way, but I had no interest in the scrawny boy other than as a useful prop.
I was proud of Sue’s instinctive reaction. It was very motherly and made her touch easier to bear as she put her arm around my waist to prove I wasn’t a threat. In return, I forgave her for giving my dessert to the religious lunatic in the next room and promised not to cause any more trouble. Sue wasn’t my real mom, but that day, no one would have guessed any different.
Daniel had long since given up trying to entertain Matthew and had sneaked downstairs to the basement to watch the west coast hockey game. I joined him a little later, unable to contain my amusement after Sue asked the pastor’s son if he wanted to sleep downstairs with the boys.
It was a perfectly innocent question, but there was something in Sue’s delivery that made me wonder if I wasn’t the only one having some fun at their expense. She gave no hint of amusement as I studied her face, but I still couldn’t be sure.
He would probably have preferred to spend the night in a pit of poisonous snakes than risk losing his innocence to a sex-crazed non-believer like me. Or maybe he didn’t trust himself not to surrender to temptation. I was prepared to make a joke about it, but they were serious and their behaviour that evening was quite insulting.
Did they really think I was going to waste my time trying to seduce a straight, religious boy who wouldn’t talk to me, and had the personality of a dead fish? It didn’t matter that I wasn’t the least bit attracted to this boy. He had a penis, and in their world, that alone made him vulnerable. It was the only criteria that mattered.
In reality, Matthew could have followed me around the house naked with a raging hard-on and a dildo up his backside, and he still would have been safe.
It was Nicola who saved the day. Sleeping with the boys was second nature to her, so she kindly offered her room to the pastor and his wife, leaving Matthew with the bed of death and a two-floor buffer between us.
“It’s more fun down here,” said my sister as she joined us in the basement wearing an oversize pair of men’s pyjamas. She was carrying her pillow and a giant blanket, which she wrapped around herself after kicking Daniel off the couch. “We can have a pyjama party. We used to do that when we were little, didn’t we, Daniel?”
He groaned. “That was a long time ago, and I used to hate it.”
“No, you didn’t. We used to have fun. Staying up late and watching horror movies.”
“I hated those movies. You used to make me watch them, but they gave me nightmares.”
“He was such a wimp,” said Nicola. “And he still is. This will be a good bonding exercise.”
Daniel wasn’t convinced. “It’s okay; I don’t need bonding.”
There was a brief standoff before Nicola growled at him. “Go and get changed, or I’ll make you. I can still do that.”
I wasn’t comfortable at all with that thought, but a pyjama party sounded like fun, so I followed my brother into our room, emerging minutes later in bottoms and a vest.
“I don’t have any pyjamas,” said Daniel. “I could never wear them again after those nights.” He strolled into the family room in a pair of boxer shorts, reluctantly dragging his bedding behind him. I watched him from the armchair as he found a space in the middle of the room and sat cross-legged with the duvet over his shoulders.
I often wondered what my adopted siblings were like when they were younger, and this provided valuable insight. Sometimes it felt like I missed out on a lot of things that would have been fun. Like pyjama parties, for example, but listening to Daniel gave me a different perspective. Having Nicola as an older sister had its disadvantages, and in his case, had left him with serious mental scars.
I tried to stick up for him. “It’s your fault; he doesn’t wear pyjamas, Nicola.”
“He’s exaggerating. He doesn’t like wearing them because he’s an exhibitionist.”
I didn’t get her point or understand why Daniel felt the need to go to the bedroom to get changed down to his boxer shorts. But I figured it would all make sense later, probably after we had bonded.
“So we don’t have to watch any scary movies?” asked Daniel.
“No, Daniel. This is serious. We need to talk.”
Daniel looked at his sister as if he wasn’t quite sure if he should trust her. “But, we never talk.”
“Exactly. But we should. The next few months are gonna be difficult.” When her tone became more serious, I realised what this was all about. “I don’t think their marriage will survive much longer, so I want us to stay close.”
My brother looked at me and tapped the side of his head to question her sanity, then narrowly dodged a wayward punch. I had a feeling things hadn’t changed much from when they were little, but this was fun.
I went to get my bedding while Nicola dimmed the lights, and the three of us set up camp in the middle of the basement like a bunch of ten-year-olds.
“First of all,” said Nicola. “We have to promise we won't keep secrets or reveal anything we discuss here to anyone else. Okay?” Daniel and I nodded, and she smiled. “Good. Secondly, I want this to be democratic, so we all get a say, including Amy. But if for any reason we can’t agree, then I’m the boss, so what I say goes. Get it?”
Daniel put his hand up. “I thought you said it was gonna be democratic.”
“It is, but I’m the boss because I’m the smartest and the eldest. That’s how democracy works, shit-for-brains.” I pulled a face at Daniel for being so stupid, and he tried to throw a punch at me. “No fighting! We have to stick together.” Nicola grabbed her brother’s wrist and punched him on the shoulder.
“Ouch, what was that for?”
I liked her style. Nicola ruled with an iron fist more akin to an authoritarian dictatorship than a democracy, but it was very effective. I didn’t like making decisions anyway, so I was happy to leave her in charge of whatever it was we were agreeing to, knowing she would act in her interests and probably drag us along with her. It was the easiest way.
“I told Robbie about Nathan,” she said, allowing Daniel to fill in the details and confirm Don’s instructions from earlier.
“He said it would be better for me if I let Nathan go his own way.”
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
“It means he’s not allowed to see him anymore,” said Nicola.
“Apparently, it’s for my own good. He doesn’t want me to be friends with a drug dealer.”
I laughed. It seemed so ridiculous calling Nathan a drug dealer. “But he’s not. He denies it, and we have to believe him.”
“Dad, don’t, and others won't either,” said Nicola. “They don’t want drugs in the town. Especially those kinds of drugs. They see what’s happening in the States with all the crime and get scared. They don’t want the same thing happening here.”
“It’s already here,” said Daniel. “Gangs are shooting each other in Toronto over drugs.”
I had seen it on the news too, but this was Cobourg, it sounded like scaremongering to me. “They’re exaggerating.”
“I can understand why people are worried,” said Daniel. “Drugs are bad. If you knew how many people are dying because of them all over Canada, you’d be shocked.”
“The pastor was talking about the evils of drugs earlier,” added Nicola.
“I thought he might. What a coincidence.”
“He has a point,” said Daniel. “It’ll happen here, too, if we don’t stop them.”
I had to do a double-take to make sure it wasn’t Don sitting beside me. It was a productive evening for the pastor. He was good at spreading fear, and it sounded like he did an excellent job with my brother.
“Stop who? Nathan?”
“No, but if Nathan’s got mixed up in it, then he’s gonna have to accept some responsibility.”
It sounded like he had already been convicted. Even his best friend doubted him. I was going to ask Daniel how Don was going to stop him from seeing Nathan in the future, but it no longer seemed relevant.
“Does this mean you can’t visit him in the hospital?”
“He didn’t say anything about that. He just told me not to hang around with him anymore. Oh, and I can’t go to his house either.”
It seemed like Don was still able to control my brother fairly easily, but it wasn’t Daniel’s fault. Don’s knee jerk reaction to the charges brought against Nathan had put him in an impossible position. He was torn between his father and his best friend, with no clear directive about what was expected of him.
Nicola seemed to think the same rules would apply to me, but unlike my brother, I had no loyalty towards Don and no intention of following his ridiculous agenda. Daniel knew this more than anyone.
“Maybe you should stick with Conner. It’ll be a lot safer.”
Nicola looked mystified by her brother’s comments, and I could see her mind working overtime. “You weren’t thinking of getting back with Nathan, were you?” I didn’t answer because I didn’t know for sure. It was still just a pipe dream. “You're crazy. Dad would totally flip.”
“I didn’t say that. You're jumping to conclusions. Conner’s my boyfriend.”
She stared at me, looking deep into my eyes. “And how’s that going?”
“Great. We haven’t seen each other for almost a week now.”
“That’s what I thought.” She shared a glance with Daniel before turning back to me. “And you think that’s a good thing?”
“Yeah, we get on better when we don’t see each other. In fact, the less contact we have, the better things are.”
“Wow, you guys have really got it figured out.”
“I know, who would’ve thought? Everyone’s jealous.”
“I bet. So how’s your sex life.”
“Fantastic. It couldn’t be better. We both have Skype.”
“You're kidding me, right?” Daniel suddenly took interest and sat up to look at me in the half-light. “You don’t.”
Nicola was covering her face with her blanket and trying not to laugh.
“Tell me, you don’t.”
“You're gonna have to be more specific, Daniel.”
“That’s disgusting,” he said.
Nicola didn’t think so. She almost choked laughing. “He’s practicing safe sex.”
“No, he’s not. He’s just jerking off.”
“And you don’t, I suppose!” I said.
“Not on camera.”
“What difference does it make?”
We both got a slap on the arm from Nicola, who was enjoying dishing it out. “What is it with boys? All they wanna talk about is their dicks.”
I thought it was a bit unfair. She was the one who asked about my sex life, and the two were definitely connected.
“Anyway, it only happened the once, when you were out.”
“Well, I wouldn’t expect you to do it when I was here. Unless it turns you on,” said Daniel.
That remark deserved a physical response, and this time it was me throwing a punch. It connected with Daniel’s arm and brought a similar reply from Nicola. The bonding wasn’t going too well, but it was early days. I liked the general concept, and the reason behind it was a good one. It made me feel more like I belonged. I didn’t have a clue what bonding was, but I don’t think they did either.
* * *
My little sister was annoyed at being left out of a pyjama party, and she woke me up to complain. I couldn’t remember falling asleep, but I knew I didn’t get a lot of it, so I switched on the TV and decided to go to bed.
When I stood up, I noticed Matthew standing on the stairs. He was fully dressed like he hadn’t gone to sleep and made me jump.
“You missed out on a fun night,” I said. “After you went to bed, we had an orgy. I’m surprised the noise didn’t wake you up.” I wasn’t expecting him to laugh, but he didn’t even crack a smile. He just stood there watching me as I pushed Daniel off my bedding. My brother fidgeted a lot, and I had to fight him in the night for my duvet.
Amy claimed the couch and beckoned to the kid on the stairs. “You can watch TV with me if you want, Matthew.” She pointed to the space next to her, and he walked around the room to sit down.
I put my duvet under my arm and stepped over Nicola.
“I was joking about the orgy, by the way.”
“I know,” said Matthew. I think they were the first words he had ever spoken to me, and they stopped me in my tracks. “I go to St. Joseph’s High School in Port Hope.” I must have looked confused. “You wanted to know what school I go to.”
“It was last night when I asked you that. Do you always take so long to answer a question? It’s okay; you don’t have to reply just yet.” I figured it would take him a while, so I went into my room and closed the door.
‘It’s too early to be dealing with shit like that’.
* * *
The storm had passed, leaving bright sunny conditions with a cloudless blue sky and a blanket of deep snow. At the back, it was halfway up the window, almost chest height, and at the front, it nearly covered the pastor’s car. It was the most snow I had ever seen, and the sunshine made it look inviting, but it was one of nature's clever deceptions. A hand on the glass reminded me of the cold.
It was too beautiful to ignore, so I ran upstairs in my pyjamas with Amy to marvel at the scene from her bedroom window. Some of the bungalows were almost submerged. It looked as if the whole town was sinking in a sea of white.
“Wonderful, isn’t it?”
“Amazing,” I replied, but I didn’t turn around to look at the pastor, and I wasn’t expecting him to join us either. Amy had the best view in the house, but the smallest window and the preacher’s proximity made me uncomfortable.
"Nature is a powerful force. It never fails to surprise me,” he said. “It makes us seem so insignificant.” I felt his hand on my shoulder. I didn’t like him touching me or breathing on my neck. He was too close and making me nervous. “God is more powerful than any government, which is why we have to take instruction from him and not weak-minded politicians. Whose side would you like to be on come the day of reckoning?”
The preacher wasn’t wasting any time, and it was a relief to hear Sue’s voice from the doorway.
“Breakfast is ready downstairs, pastor?”
He put his hand on my head and turned it, so I was facing him. “Think about what I said, Robbie. There’s a simple solution to your problems. We can talk later.”
‘I’d rather not’.
But I had a question. “When is the day of reckoning?”
“Soon, Robbie. Very soon.”
His voice made me shiver, and I was pleased to see him leave. Sue took his place, but her familiar touch was welcome and reassuring.
“What did he want?”
“I don’t know; I wasn’t really listening.”
Sue laughed. “I don’t blame you. He’s persistent, isn’t he? Unfortunately, they’ll be here for most of the day; the church service has been cancelled.”
I groaned, but it wasn’t unexpected. “He’s gonna try to convert me.”
“Just do your best to stay out of his way, dear.” She hugged me. “And I would prefer it if you got dressed while they’re here.”
* * *
I was able to avoid one meal with the pastor but not two, and was forced to sit around a crowded table with the rest of the family for a formal breakfast. I was jostling for elbow room with a disgruntled Daniel, who was beginning to annoy me. Nicola’s pyjama party had deprived us of our regular sleep, and we were both irritable. When he pushed my arm off the table, I lashed out with my elbow and caught him on the side of his face. It was instinctive, and I didn’t mean to hurt him, but everyone saw it.
Don was forced to take action, and I was sent to the kitchen to eat on my own. Daniel sneered at me as I stood up, so I pushed him in the back as I walked away, leaving him to complain.
“It was an accident,” I said. “He’s a wally.”
When I saw my brother after breakfast, he had a big red mark below his eye. Don made me apologise and then, as punishment, I had to shovel the snow from the driveway. I didn’t think an elbow in the face was a serious enough offence to warrant moving that amount of snow on my own, and someone must have agreed because soon I was joined by a disgruntled looking Matthew. His ridiculous winter clothing doubled his size, but he struggled to push a shovel and fell flat on his face making me laugh.
He scowled at me, which made me laugh even more. “It’s not funny,” he said, but it was, and the more annoyed he got, the funnier it became.
This was my second winter in the frozen north, and I had cleared enough snow from that driveway to realise this kid was a novice.
“You don’t normally have to do this, do you?”
“I know how to shovel snow,” he snapped.
“No, you don’t. I’m only trying to be helpful.”
“I don’t need your help,” but as he spoke, he slipped again and fell to his knees. This time I was bent double laughing at the poor kid who stood up and threw his shovel to the ground in anger.
“I didn’t think you were allowed to lose your temper.”
“Well, you're stupid then.”
“That’s not very nice.”
“Neither is laughing at someone.” He turned his back on me before picking up his shovel and starting again. “I shouldn’t even be talking to you anyway.”
“Really, why is that?”
“You're a sinner.”
“Do you really believe that shit?”
“It’s the truth.”
I shook my head and leaned on my shovel to watch him. “You don’t know anything about me. It’s not nice to judge people just because they don’t go to your church.”
“I know you're gay.”
“Does that make me a bad person?”
“Yes. You're going against God.”
“Only according to your church. What makes you so sure you're right, and everyone else is wrong?”
“You can come with me to a bible study if you want, they’ll teach you. It’s wrong to have thoughts like that for other guys.”
“That’s your opinion. Luckily most people don’t think like you. I don’t consider myself a bad person. Maybe I am for laughing at you when you fell over, but not for being gay.”
I went back to shovelling the snow, straining as I pushed another pile to the side, creating a mound that in places it was almost shoulder height. It was a backbreaking task with little satisfaction. One snowfall would cancel out all our hard work.
It wasn’t anywhere near as cold as it was the day before, but I was still frozen when we finished, and thoroughly pissed off. I pulled off my hat, scarf, and gloves and left them with my coat in the middle of the hall.
“Why does this country have to be so fucking cold?” Matthew flinched as I threw my boots across the hall towards the closet. Only one made it inside, the other clattered off the door frame, leaving a big black mark, and scattering ice and snow across the tiled floor. “I hate this place!”
My tantrum didn’t go unnoticed. It silenced the friendly chatter coming from the kitchen, and you could have heard a pin drop as I marched in wet socks to my bedroom. As I walked in, Daniel stood up and walked out. He had a big bruise just below his left eye, which I couldn’t help staring at before slamming the door shut and pulling off my damp clothes.
Conner must have thought he was in for a repeat performance of Friday when he saw me shirtless on Skype, but I wasn’t in the mood for jerking off. He looked even colder than me, and I didn’t envy him in that farmhouse.
“The storm did a lot of damage to the barn, and we’re snowed in,” he said. “My parents were supposed to have a meeting with some possible investors tomorrow, but it doesn’t look as if they’re gonna be able to get into town. This has happened at the wrong time.”
“I’m sure they’ll understand. I mean, it’s not your fault you're snowed in.”
“I know, it just adds to the pressure.”
“But your dad knows what he’s doing, right. I mean he’s gonna make a success of it. There will be people willing to invest.”
“Oh yeah, for sure. If he can get this thing going, it’s gonna make a lot of money. He already has contracts lined up. It can’t fail. Anyone willing to invest will double their money for sure.”
“So why isn’t the bank interested?”
“They don’t know us. It’s that simple. My dad has always paid for everything upfront. He doesn’t like owing money, so he’s never taken out a loan or anything. Something like that goes against you these days. My dad’s a farmer; that’s what he knows, and it’s what he’s good at, but sometimes that’s not enough. The banks want guarantees and professional forecasts of growth that we can’t give them. It doesn’t matter how good you are; they only want to see figures, or they won’t give you a penny.”
“I wish I could help.”
“You can,” he said. “If you're available next weekend, you can help us fix the barn. We need to get as many people here as possible, but so far it’s only Rory. It’s gonna be a hard day’s work.”
He looked hopeful, and I was happy to give him a reassuring smile.
“I’ll be there,” I said. “And I’ll see who else I can find.”
“What about Daniel?”
“You’ll have to ask him; he’s not talking to me. I accidentally gave him a black eye.”
“He attacked my elbow with his face, but it’s a long story.”
Conner offered an obligatory smile, but he looked distracted and couldn’t blame him. He had bigger issues than my inter-family feuds to worry about, and I genuinely wanted to help.
“Try not to get into trouble this week,” he warned. “I’m relying on you not to get grounded.”
It didn’t seem like a lot to ask of someone, but it put me under added pressure at a time when relations with Don were at an all-time low.
“I’ll do my best.”
“We can’t afford to pay anyone, but I’ll make sure you’re rewarded in other ways.” He winked at me. “You know I won’t let you leave without giving you something.”
I smiled nervously, then teased him by dropping my briefs and walking naked across the room to grab a clean pair from my drawer. He watched me dress and groaned as I covered my skin with a t-shirt and sweatpants.
“I’ll call you in the week,” I said. “When Daniel goes out with his girlfriend. Maybe I can think of something to take your mind off your problems for a while.”
Our conversation was interrupted by someone knocking, so I ended the call and opened the door to Matthew.
“What do you want?”
“We’re going now.”
“Bye.” I closed the door in his face, but he knocked again.
“That was very rude. My father wants to talk to you.”
I groaned. “Okay, tell him I’ll be right up.” I sat on my bed to pull on a clean pair of socks, but Matthew didn’t budge from the doorway.
“I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings earlier,” he said.
“You didn’t hurt my feelings.”
“My dad told me to apologise.”
“Well, if someone has to tell you to do it, then it doesn’t mean shit!” I pushed past him and walked straight into the pastor, nearly knocking him over for a second time.
“Sorry I didn’t see you there.”
He put his hand on my shoulder and signaled for his son to go upstairs.
“I wanted to thank you for clearing the driveway.”
“I didn’t have a choice.”
He chuckled. “At least you're honest. That’s a good quality to have.”
“I’m not always honest.”
“There you go again, being honest.”
I had to smile at his quip. Overall, the pastor had been reasonably friendly to me compared to his previous visits, and nothing like what I was expecting. I had to admire his determination. I had been consistently rude, giving him little to work with, but he was still trying to save me.
It made me wonder why I was so important to him. There must have been easier people to convert.
“Read the book,” he said. "I can help you if you let me.”
“I don’t need help.”
“Oh, believe me, you do; you just don’t know it yet.” He handed me a business card and leaned closer to whisper. “If you have any issues with Don, call me. He can be a little heavy-handed at times, but it’s not the right approach. I think it’s having the opposite effect to what we want to achieve.”
“And what exactly do you want to achieve?”
“We want you to be happy, Robbie. Not spend your life in hiding, or being persecuted because of poor choices. It’s not too late to change, but only you can do it.” He clasped my hands between his. “I know you won’t let me down. I’m relying on you.”
It seemed like there were a lot of people relying on me all of a sudden, but my track record in that department wasn’t good.
If you enjoyed this chapter, please take the time to leave a comment below and follow the story.
In the next chapter, Nathan is released from the hospital, the police find Alex, Don gives Robbie an ultimatum, and Nicola is convinced Stephanie is after her brother.
For discussion of themes and topics. The book can be found here: https://www.gayauthors.org/story/dodger/thecockneycanuck After 47 chapters and lots of drama I think it's time this story has a discussion topic where readers can interact with the author and each other. There are certainly plenty of situations, characters and emotions to bring up, and of course most of all Robbie the Cockney Canuck. Dodger has kindly given me permission to start this thread and has promised to be part of the di