Read the First Chapter
The dog’s low growl vibrated through the blankets. Victor stirred, and in an instant, the warm weight that had been curled against him turned into a pulsating mass with a wet tongue washing his ear and cheek.
“Jumpy, stop it,” he said as he rolled to face the dog straight on, defending himself with his arm. With a sharp bark, the dog jumped off the bed and ran to the closed bedroom door. A groan from the second twin bed brought him racing back to bark at Kyle, who was invisible except for an arm hanging nearly to the floor.
“Hush, boy,” Victor said. “You want to go out?”
With a whoosh, Kyle’s arm powered back a mess of blankets, and he rolled on his back chanting to the ceiling, “Jumpy, Bumpy, Lumpy, Grumpy wants to go out.”
Victor looked over at him and laughed. Kyle was always goofing around with words. He claimed that his favorite game was Scrabble. What other kid got away with something like that?
Kyle swung his legs over the edge of his bed and stared down at Jumpy, who was in a frenzy of barking. “Why can’t I have a plain old alarm clock?” he asked the dog.
Victor watched Kyle stretch and amble to the door. As he disappeared with the dog down the hall, the room grew silent. Victor bunched the pillow better under his head and lay still. He could hear Kyle’s mom laughing downstairs, “Sleepy head! Serves you boys right for staying up to watch videos.”
Victor loved spending the night here. Kyle, the twins, and the dog made it livelier and fuller, not like his home where he was an only child. When he was at Kyle’s, he wasn’t the center of attention. They didn’t ask about every detail of his life. He was treated like family, and they made him do the dishes like everyone else.
With unnecessarily loud stomping and door banging, Kyle returned to the bedroom and threw himself back on his bed. “You go first in the shower.”
“No, you!” He bounded up, pulled Victor’s pillow out from under his head and started whacking him with it. Victor started kicking back, trying to shove him away.
The two boys scuffled playfully. Victor was taller, but Kyle was a strong and flexible gymnast and soon pinned Victor down. The beds creaked as Victor thrashed back.
“You won’t be ready for church if you don’t take your shower,” Kyle mimicked a parental voice.
Suddenly, with a quick calculation, Victor went limp, and Kyle sprawled on top of him. Victor savored Kyle’s weight on him, along with its spasms of laughing and panting. He knew it would only last an instant, but he stored it away in his mind and carried it with him, as Kyle pulled him to his feet and pushed him out the door.
Across the southern Indiana town of Stanton, the windows of a compact blue bungalow glared back at the early sun. Inside the house, all was quiet. Bridget Wallace floated on the edge of her dream, but finally the constricting sleeping bag was too annoying to ignore. She forced herself awake enough to arch her back in order to find the zipper pull. With jerks she freed herself and then sprawled happily back on the bed. Packing boxes filled the room, forming a rough cityscape against the freshly painted bedroom walls. Fluorescent tags glowed against the dull cardboard. Stretching out her arm, Bridget flipped over the nearest tag to read the contents. Shoes, boots, mittens. Nope. That wouldn’t help right now.
Maybe Mom found the towels, she thought, as she rolled off the bare mattress and headed for her very own bathroom. She loved their new house after living in a Chicago apartment. She wasn’t sure she loved anything else about their move to Stanton, but having her own bathroom was totally awesome.
“Bridget! Good morning, honey! You up?” her mother called. “We’ve got about an hour and a half before church.”
“Church! Why didn’t you tell me? We haven’t found our towels, and you want to go to church?”
“I know,” June said, now standing at the door with her second cup of coffee. “But when you’re new in a town, you’ve got to jump in with both feet. If we don’t go today, you’ll be off at Grandma and Grandpa’s for the month, and it will all be delayed until July. Here’s a beach towel. It’ll work.”
Her daughter grimaced at her. “I guess my other choice is to stay home and unpack boxes.”
“Bingo,” her mom agreed. “I thought we’d stop for donuts on the way. Maybe that will convince Lexie to come along.” Bridget wasn’t sure her younger sister would agree.
She started again for the bathroom. Church! She would have to wash her hair. The mirror in the bathroom reinforced the point. Her one great feature, long brown-black hair, was tangled and gross. She rubbed her eyes and turned on the faucets full force.
June heard the shower start and tapped on Lexie’s door. What a wonderful thing for the girls to have their own rooms now. “Lexie!” she called.
“My full name is Alexandra! Start practicing.” Alexandra had decided to try on a new identity along with her new life in Stanton. Why couldn’t she use her full name? Her mom needed to pay attention.
“Sorry, Alexandra! I keep forgetting. But it’s time to get up. We’re going to get donuts for breakfast on our way to church.”
“Church! Je-e-e-sus, Mom. Do I have to?”
“I will assume that language is from some R-rated movie script you are writing.”
Alexandra grandly did not respond.
“I agree, you don’t have to go to church,” June continued, “but I would like you to. I want to get to know our new town right away. The donuts are a bribe.”
Alexandra groaned long and loudly. “But I don’t know where my clothes are,” she grumped. “I sure hope we find sheets and blankets today. I’m all tangled up.”
“Your suitcases are at the foot of your bed. We’ll come straight home from church and get sorted. Besides, you don’t want to completely unpack, because you’ll be off to Grandma and Grandpa’s.”
June was all efficiency. The two weeks had been too short to pack up the apartment and move before starting her new job, but to her it was a luxurious stretch of time. And she would soon have a month with the girls gone, during which she could run down all the details of driver’s licenses and water bills. It hadn’t been very long since she had been in the grip of the extended nightmare - Sam in Hospice care, his death, and the girls’ struggle to comprehend what was happening. The pace of work at the Tribune had not let up all spring. No day had been long enough, no night restful, and no morning had presented promise such as this one.
Ruffling her stylishly cropped hair, she moved toward the master bedroom to find her own clothes. She could pull out any outfit, and it would be like new here. Thank the Lord for this fresh start! It was a blessing that it was working out so far. Now her job was to keep moving, keep hugging the girls, and keep working at it. These impulses had helped her get out of the city, with its expense and cramped living. As a southern Indiana native, she had hoped that a move back to the area would be right for her and the girls. Getting to church would be another foot forward.
About the same time, George Morrow was downtown tugging at the heavy front door of the First Presbyterian Church. The massive brass ring set in the center of the panel gave him no leverage. He tugged again. His elbow groaned while the door rasped, but held fast.
The Sunday morning service didn’t start for over an hour. George paused, sourly regarding the door and mentally cursing his spreading arthritis. Shifting his stance, he mockingly looked upward as if in prayer. His gaze slid up the soaring carillon tower, and he felt the startle of visually rocketing to the sky. The quickly moving clouds tricked the eye. Perhaps the tower was moving, and the sky was stationary. George stood still, teasing the sensation to last. Too soon, a flock of starlings swooped by the tower, killing the illusion, and securing the tower back on its foundations.
“Nothing is what it seems,” he said to himself for the millionth time in his life. “But this door is real.” He grabbed the knob in hand-over-hand fashion. The door slowly swung open.
George stepped inside and headed for the large coatroom. A beige raincoat drooped from the closet rod, which was sheltered by a high deep shelf. A shovel stood in one corner, and George claimed the two folding chairs leaning against the low windowsill.
They flopped open with clangs as he put them side-by-side in the sun. Collecting the box of bulletins to be used at the service, he settled on one chair and started folding. Three at a time. Using a credit card, he creased them sharply. As he completed a handful, he looked up, monitoring the sidewalk to the church.
The pile of folded bulletins was about to topple when the first car pulled into the parking lot. Porter and Mavis Hofmeister were on schedule - which is to say they were early. As choir director, Mavis never allowed herself to get frazzled by being late. It was frazzling enough getting music out of her singers.
“George beat us here,” said Mavis, waving to him as she got out of the car. “He’s got his red on,” she added, referring to George’s jolting red plaid jacket. Today was Pentecost Sunday, the celebration of the birth of the church when the Holy Spirit in the form of flames roared through an assembly of believers. Parishioners often wore red for the service. Porter’s red Christmas tie was also getting an airing.
Mavis had done her part. Her red cookies had red sprinkles for good measure. She always baked for her choir, hoping they would smile more readily and, therefore, stay on pitch. “I used a full bottle of red food coloring,” she said as she opened the trunk. “Pentecost isn’t supposed to be pink.”
Pulling at her purse strap, she loaded Porter, the packhorse, with baskets and a huge tin of cookies. Gathering the linens, she closed the trunk. Porter lugged along beside her as they crossed the street. He couldn’t remember a time when he had just strolled into church with his hands in his pockets.
George was storing the folded bulletins. “Bring me a cookie, too,” he said in greeting. Porter grimaced and steered his load carefully toward the kitchen. There he turned on lights, unlocked cabinets, and made a pot of coffee. It was a weekly routine.
“Got any left for me to do?” he asked, as he delivered George his cookie and coffee.
“All done. Only one insert today, about the committees getting in gear for the Wood Carving Festival.”
The two men enjoyed their coffee together in silence. The cookie was dyed shortbread: sweet, dry, and perfect for dunking. George wondered how Porter had avoided getting fat with a wife who baked nonstop.
Porter brushed red sprinkles off his tie. “Can’t be getting this dirty. I only wear it twice a year,” he grinned. When his coffee was gone, he methodically shredded his cup. The sound of tearing competed with the chirping birds and scampering squirrels in the unfolding morning.
“I’m thinking about getting married again,” Porter suddenly announced.
George stared at him. “What in the name of…? I had no idea you and Mavis were split up. You still come to church together.”
“Huh?” Porter was momentarily mystified. “Oh, no! I mean re-married to the wife. Mavis. Not someone else. Like having a second wedding, a church service and all.”
They looked at each other and chuckled. “You had me there for a minute,” said George. “Why are you planning to do all that? You should spend the money on a cruise.”
“Well, I haven’t decided. Been thinking about it, though. It would mean a lot to her.” He sifted the pieces of his cup through his fingers. “I have this idea that I could re-propose to her. You know, do it better the second time. I was pretty green the first time around.”
“Then have at it,” George said supportively. He could sympathize, although Porter with his well-known, conservative views wouldn’t appreciate why. When George and his partner, Duke, had fallen in love, there had been no guidebook. Duke had been an admissions officer at Purdue University, and they had joked about submitting applications to each other. Was one of them supposed to kneel? Instead, the two men had stood in front of the fireplace and formally asked each other the same question. “Will you accept my love and live your life with me?” The improvisation in front of the white bricks had worked just fine.
As for anniversaries, neither George nor Duke had dreams of a public renewal of vows. The world had come some distance during their 29 years together, but he was certain that Stanton wasn’t ready for a gay couple owning to vows – much less renewing them. Maybe in the next millennium! But, hey, that shouldn’t stop them from planning a cruise, say, for their 30th. George turned over the thought in his mind. It wasn’t a half-bad idea.
Musing about their particular worlds, the two men quietly let the time pass.
Killing time at church involves skill. All churchgoers grow proficient at it, withstanding a windy preacher or waiting for a mom to finish her chat. Hanging around is a major part of a church usher’s job, and Porter and George were masters in the guild.
Soon, people began to arrive. In the sanctuary, individual staccato voices pierced the air, and in due order, like an orchestra warming up, the huge room swelled with life and sound.
People were swamping the doorway. “Hello there, buddy.” George shook hands with every child.
“I’m glad you brought your mom and dad to church,” he said seriously. The children nodded back seriously.
“And I am delighted to see you, too,” warbled an elderly woman to George. “It’s wonderful to see everyone in red, and I love that plaid jacket.” Her own red ensemble, including hat and red stockings, was a standout. “You know what I say,” she confided to him in a loud whisper, “when you’re too old for sex you can still have color.” George grinned broadly back at her. She was such a pistol.
June Wallace, along with Bridget and Alexandra, was coming up the sidewalk. The girls exchanged glances at the sight of the woman’s red outfit. That was something they expected to see in Chicago, not here. Bridget felt a sudden bubble of curiosity about Stanton. Porter greeted the new family and gestured vaguely that they were welcome to sit anywhere.
The red-robed choir crowded through the doors. In beat with the trumpet pipes from the organ, the choir started down the aisle. Porter and George closed the vestibule doors and retired to their folding chairs outside, happy with their vantage and view.