I couldn’t believe that my parents were making me stay with Mrs. Oliver. “You’ll be staying until we think you are ready to come home?” What does that mean?
I know that Father and I had gotten into a few altercations recently, but it wasn’t enough force me to leave home. And that is what they were doing, forcing me to leave home.
Mrs. Oliver is the organist at my father’s church. I have known her since I was a little boy. She had been playing the organ long before my father took over the church. She is a widow in her seventies. Her husband died years ago, and her two children, a son and a daughter are grown. Both have children and grandchildren. Mrs. Oliver is always showing other members of the congregation photos of her great grandchildren.
Staying with her temporarily wasn’t anything uncommon. I had often stayed at her home when my parents attended a conference during the school year. She only lives a block from the school, so I can walk there. She is a great cook, and she enjoys me visiting because she says it gives her a reason to bake desserts. I love her rhubarb pie and chocolate cakes. I always feel I leave her house weighing five pounds more than when I entered.
When my mother pulled into the narrow driveway, I jumped out of the van, opened the back door, took out my luggage and slammed the door. She followed me up the steps and rang the doorbell. Mrs. Oliver peeked out the curtains before opening the door.
“Martha,” she smiled as she let us in. I stormed across the living room and headed to the back bedroom where I normally stay. I could hear them whispering as I walked down the hall.
I threw the luggage on the bed, and then I sat down and buried my hands in my head. I still couldn’t believe my parents didn’t want me come home. Ready to come home? Until when? Until I crawl across the floor and ask my father for forgiveness? Until I copy the entire Books of the New Testament? Until I stand before the congregation while he ridicules and embarrasses me for my sinful behavior?
And what had I really done? It wasn’t like I broke into a convenience store late at night and stole cartons of cigarettes and cases of beer. I didn’t mug someone on the street or sell marijuana to children.
No. All I had done was disagree with his bigoted and unchristian attitude toward Tiffany. I dared to call her by the name she wanted people to call her. I stood up for her like I would have assumed Christ would have done. Even though I didn’t understand why she wanted to be a female, I wasn’t going to judge her. However, now that I had taken the Christian attitude, one that I would have expected my father to approve, I am now being punished.
When I heard the front door close, I jumped from the bed and went to the window to look outside. My mother was pulling out of the driveway. I thought she might look at my window, but she didn’t even bother to look back.
I returned to the bed, and I just sat staring blankly around at the room. It was furnished as you would expect an elderly woman’s guest room to be. Heavy oaken furniture consisted of most of the room. There was an old easy chair pushed into one corner. The comforter on the bed, and the matching drapes contained a pastel lavender floral decoration. It was cozy, but nothing like a boy would decorate his room. In the past when I stayed, I was always too afraid to move around the room because I feared I would break one of the small figurines that were atop the dressers.
I turned toward the door when I heard Mrs. Oliver knock softly. She cautiously opened the door and peeked inside. She smiled slightly and asked, “May I come in?”
I nodded and scooted over on the bed to make room for her to sit. She fluffed her dress out before sitting down. She sighed and said, “I know you’re upset, Dear...”
I startled her when I shouted, “Upset!” I shook my head and added, “I don’t even know why I’m here!”
A concerned look appeared in her eyes. She patted my hand gently and said softly, “Why don’t we go to the kitchen.” She rose and shuffled across the floor. Before leaving, she turned, smiled and said, “I have some rhubarb pie you like so well.” She then closed the door.
I waited a few minutes before I left the room. When I entered the kitchen, Mrs. Oliver was cutting two slices of pie and placing them on a plate. She looked up and smiled when she saw me in the doorway. “Sit at the table,” she said as she placed a slice of pie on the table. There was also a Coke on the table. I walked over and sat down.
She sat across from me. She cut a sliver of pie, put it in her mouth and began to chew on it. She pointed her fork at me and said, “Go on, Jacob. Eat.”
I cut off a piece and nibbled on it. It was as good as I remembered. The rhubarb as sweet and tender. I put down my fork, looked at her and asked, “Why am I here?”
She took a sip of coffee before responding. “Your mother called me this afternoon and asked if you could stay with me.” She took another sip. “She really didn’t give me a reason other than to say she thought you should leave for a while.”
I asked, “She didn’t tell you why?”
“No,” she replied as she shook her head. “I was hoping you could tell me.”
I took another bite of pie. I then responded, “I don’t know. Father and I have been arguing lately, but I didn’t think it was that bad.”
“What have you been arguing about?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t know. He just seems so...” I couldn’t find the word I wanted to say.
Mrs. Oliver looked over and asked, “Bigoted?”
“Yeah,” I nodded my head. “Bigoted would be a good word.”
She took another sip of her coffee and stared at me. Finally, she spoke. “I’m seventy-six years old, and I’ve been an organist at the church since I was nineteen.” I nodded and listened to her story.
“I’ve seen preachers come and go over the years. Some have stayed for years, like Reverend Somerset, and others for just a year or two.” She stopped and took another sip of her coffee.
“What does this have to do with my father,” I asked.
She sighed and replied, “In over fifty years, I’ve never met a preacher I didn’t like,” she paused and then added, “Until now.”
Her remarks stunned me. I would have expected her to be an ardent supporter of my father. She clicked her tongue and continued, “He’s such an intolerant man. Everything to him is about sin.”
I responded excitedly, “That’s just it! That’s why we’re arguing. I think the same thing.”
I was surprised when she replied, “Good. I would hate to think that he was imparting his bigoted and intolerant views on you.”
She took another sip of coffee and nibbled on a piece of rhubarb pie. She then looked over at me and announced, “I’m leaving your father’s church.”
“What!” I shrieked. “Leaving the church?”
“Yes,” she replied adamantly. “I refuse to sit week after week and listen to his awful sermons.” She reached over and touched my hand. “I don’t think we’re all going to hell because of our sins.” She took another sip of coffee, and then she added. “I believe our God is a just God.”
I asked, “But where will you go?”
It surprised me when she replied, “I’ve spoken to a number of other members. They feel the same way I do. We’ve met a few times. We’re going to start attending the Unitarian Church. They are more tolerant.”
I sat back and just stared at her. I couldn’t believe that members of my father’s church believed like I did. They were so turned off by his intolerant sermons that they were going to leave. I asked, “How many members are leaving?”
She replied, “At last count, I would say about fifty.”
“Fifty!” I shouted. “That’s almost a fourth of Father’s congregation.”
She responded sadly, “And there may be more once the others leave.”
I wanted to feel sorry for my father, but I couldn’t. He was the one who was running off his congregation with his weekly sermons. People go to church to feel a sense of communion and acceptance. They don’t go to be warned constantly that they are sinners and destined to go to Hell.
Mrs. Oliver looked at the clock on the wall and announced, “It’s almost eight-thirty. I should be going to bed.” I had stayed with her long enough to know that she went to bed early, and then arose around six. She would let me sleep as long as I wanted. In the past, there were times I wouldn’t get up until noon. However, tomorrow was a school day, so I knew she would wake me up.
She looked over and smiled gently. “We’ll talk more tomorrow. You still haven’t told me what happened between your father and you.” She patted me gently on my hand. “Let’s hope that your stay will be very temporary. I’m sure a boy as nice as you can’t have done too much.”
She rose and I followed her into the dining room on the way to the stairs. I stopped before the dining room buffet where there were numerous pictures of her family. I had noticed them before, but I had never really looked at them. Some were extremely old. I assumed they were maybe her parents. Others seemed to be her children when they were small. She appeared in a few with them. I remarked how beautiful she was then.
She laughed, brushed back her hair and said, “You don’t think I’m beautiful today?”
“I..I..I’m sorry, Mrs. Oliver,” I stammered nervously.
She laughed and patted me on my arm. “It’s okay, Child. I know I’m no longer a spring chick.” She laughed again and added, “I’m older than a hen.”
I continued to look at the pictures. Many seemed to have been recent. I looked at one and held it up. There was a boy who appeared about five, and a girl who appeared years older. They were standing on a beach holding hands. Both had long blond hair. “Are these your grandchildren?”
“Yes,” she replied proudly as she took it from my hand. She pointed to the children in the picture. “This is Sammy,” she said as she pointed to the younger boy. She then pointed to the girl. “This is Maureen.” She took the picture and placed it back on the buffet. I looked to see if there were any other pictures of them, but I didn’t see any.
I then noticed a picture of Mrs. Oliver standing outside the church with a gentleman. I asked, “Is this Mr. Oliver?”
“Yes,” she replied wistfully as she held the picture and smiled down at it. “We were married forty-two years.
I was curious because no one had ever told me, and I had never asked her on my other visits. “What happened to him?”
She smiled down at the picture before placing it back in its spot on the buffet. “He died of lung cancer,” she informed me. “He smoked heavily. I warned him not to, but back then all men enjoyed smoking.” She looked at me and warned, “Don’t ever pick up that dreadful habit.”
“I won’t,” I assured her.
She glanced on last time at the pictures, and then she headed for the stairs. As I always do when I visit, I held her arm as she ascended the stairs. After escorting her to her door, she kissed me gently on the cheek and said, “Don’t worry, Jacob. Things have a way of turning out alright in the end.”
“Thanks,” I replied as she closed the door. However, I wasn’t quite as optimistic as she appeared to be.
I’m not really sure what is going on. I don’t understand why my mother and father don’t want me anymore. Have things really gotten that bad? All I did was stand up for what I thought you would want me to do. I thought I was doing the right thing. Love one another. Isn’t that what the Gospel preaches? Then why am I here?
I guess staying with Mrs. Oliver is a good thing. I don’t know how long I’ll be. Maybe just a few days until Father cools off. He can’t stay mad at me forever, can he?
Mrs. Oliver was in the kitchen preparing breakfast when I entered. She was humming a song when she turned and saw me. “Good morning, Jacob,” she sounded like she was humming my name to the song.
“Good morning,” I replied as I sat down. I didn’t know if she wanted me to do anything. Ordinarily, I would sit and eat whatever she had prepared. Now, I felt that since I may be staying longer, I should do something.
“How is school going?” She asked as she walked over and placed four strips of bacon on my plate? She picked it up, took it over to the oven and placed two fried eggs beside them.
“Okay,” I replied. When the toaster rang, I got up to butter the bread. I felt it was the least I could do. I asked her if she wanted any, but she insisted that all she ever ate for breakfast was one fried egg.
She sat, and we talked as we ate. The conversation was light and focused mainly on the weather and a few issues that were occurring in the news. When we finished, I insisted on doing the dishes. She at first objected, but then she sat and sipped on her coffee as she watched me work.
“You’ll make a woman a good husband someday,” she laughed.
I chuckled to myself, ‘Or a man a good wife.’ When I was finished, I looked at the clock on the wall. Since I didn’t have to ride the bus, I didn’t feel rushed. I went to my room and retrieved my book bag. I went back to the kitchen, told Mrs. Oliver goodbye and then headed for school. Since it was only a block away, it only took me a few minutes to arrive.
As I was walking to my 1st period class, I heard a commotion behind me. I turned to see Tiffany coming towards me. Darryl Stanifer was trailing behind her, taunting her.
“Aw, Boys,” he laughed to some guys who were with him. “Doesn’t she look downright purty today?” Tiffany hung her head and continued to walk at a fast pace. She glanced up briefly at me as she hurried past.
Darryl grabbed his crotch and exclaimed loudly, “I reckon she’d just love a little bit of this.” The boys with him started howling with laughter. When he stopped when he noticed me.
“Well, well, well,” he said as he stood defiantly in front of me. “It’s Ms. Thing’s knight in shining armor.” His friends continued to laugh.
“Why don’t you shut up, Darryl,” I responded angrily. I just wasn’t in the mood for more of his hateful antics.
He stepped up until we were face to face. He hissed challengingly, “Why don’t you shut me up, Jacob.” I looked to my left to see that Tiffany had stopped about ten feet away. When she started to approach, I held out my hand to indicate I didn’t want her to come closer. I was afraid what Darryl might do.
Darryl laughed, looked at his friends and said, “Ain’t teenage love sweet, Boys?” They began to laugh and agree with his comment.
Suddenly, Tiffany approached, grabbed my arm and tried to pull me away. “Don’t do this,” she pleaded. “You don’t have to get involved.” By now, other students were beginning to gather. I looked over when I felt someone approach and stand beside me. I balled up my fist because I thought it was one of Darryl’s friends.
“Back off, Standifer,” I heard someone say threateningly. I turned to see Colton. Both fists were balled as if ready to fight. He was staring down Darryl. “Why don’t you go crawl back under the rock you came from,” he snarled angrily.
Darryl’s eyes darted between me, Colton and Tiffany. He was outnumbered, and his friends didn’t seem like they wanted to come to his aid. It was one thing to laugh at his antics, but none were willing to be suspended from school because of them.
Colton stood and continued to stare into Darryl’s eyes. He laughed slightly and said, “Just what I thought. Chicken shit.”
Darryl took a step back and looked at the crowd gathered around him. “You’ll get yours, Wilder,” he exclaimed. “Just not here.”
Colton replied, “You name the date and time. I’ll be sure to bring a mop to clean your shit off the floor.” Students began to laugh, including some of Darryl’s friends.
Darryl flipped him off, turned and stormed back down the hall with his friends trailing behind him. Colton glanced at me, and then he asked Tiffany if she was okay.
She seemed surprised that two people she didn’t know had stood up for her. She pulled her blond hair from her face and said, “You don’t have to help me. I can take care of myself.” She then turned and headed off down the hall.
Colton laughed and said, “You’re welcome!” as she walked away. He then turned to me and asked if I was alright. I nodded my head. “Darryl is going to kick your ass,” he laughed. “This is the second time you’ve stood up for...” he looked down the hall as Tiffany turned a corner.
“Tiffany,” I informed him. “She calls herself Tiffany.”
“Whatever,” he said dismissively.
I gave him a puzzled look. “You almost got in a fight with Darryl for her, and yet you act like you don’t care.”
“I didn’t almost get in a fight with Darryl over her,” he replied. “I almost got in a fight with Darryl over you.” He grinned, turned and headed off to class.
When I went to the cafeteria, I approached Cathy and sat opposite her. She gave me a worried look and asked, “You’re not eating today?”
“No,” I replied. “I’m not very hungry.” And I wasn’t. I had eaten a big breakfast. Then after all the events of the past twenty-four hours, I didn’t have much of an appetite. First, my parents kicking me out of my own home, and forcing me to live with Mrs. Oliver had upset me. There was also the incident in the hallway with Darryl. I wasn’t concerned about Darryl as much as Colton coming to my defense, not Tiffany’s.
“Does it have something to do with your little fight with Darryl this morning,” she asked as she took a bite of what appeared to be a ham sandwich.
I insisted, “I didn’t fight Darryl.”
“Only because Colton stopped him,” she giggled.
I shook my head and said, “Just shut up, Cathy.” She smiled and took another bite of her sandwich.
Just then, we saw Colton approaching. Cathy giggled again and said, “Speak of the devil. Here comes your boyfriend now.”
I looked around to see if anyone had heard her and then hissed, “Shut up, Cathy!”
Colton pulled out a chair across from me. “Hey, Guys,” he smiled as he looked over at Cathy and me. “What’s going on?”
I nudged Cathy in her side when she said, “We were just talking about you.”
Colton smiled and replied, “I hope it was all good.”
I nudged Cathy again when she giggled and said, “Oh, it was.” I was becoming upset. She was pushing the matchmaking too far. Besides, I hadn’t told her I was gay, and neither of us had a clue if Colton was.
Colton opened a small paper bag and pulled out a sandwich, an apple and a carton of juice. He looked over at me and noticed I wasn’t eating. He asked, “You’re not eating?” I shook my head. He then opened his sandwich. It appeared to be peanut butter and jelly. He took half and offered it to me. When I refused, he shrugged his shoulders and began eating.
After a couple of bites, he looked over and asked me if I knew Tiffany. I asked, “Why do you ask that?”
He replied, “You’ve stood up to Darryl twice when he has started to harass him.”
“Her,” I corrected Colton. “She likes to be referred to as a girl.”
“I don’t get it,” he said. “I mean, I’m not going to judge someone, but I don’t understand why a guy wants to be a girl.”
When Cathy cleared her throat, he looked over and apologized. “There’s nothing wrong with being a girl, but why would a guy want to be one?”
Cathy replied, “Maybe he knows we’re the better sex.” She and Colton started laughing.
“Come on, Guys,” I responded. “It’s not funny.” I was becoming upset with their jokes. They were beginning to act like the others.
Cathy saw how upset I was becoming. “We don’t mean anything by it, Jacob.”
“I know you don’t,” I sighed. “It’s just that everyone is being so cruel to her.” They nodded their head in agreement. Cathy then explained how everyone was treating her in an English class they shared.
“When she came in the room,” she explained, “they started laughing. I felt so sorry for her.”
Colton added, “I think she’s kind of pretty.” Cathy gave me a weird glance. I guess she thought it was funny that boy would say that about another boy. However, Tiffany didn’t consider herself a boy.
Just then, the bell rang to end lunch. When Colton rose from his seat, he grinned and said, “Just be careful the next time you defend Tiffany’s honor. I might not be around.”
I insisted, “I’m not worried about Darryl.”
“You should be,” replied Cathy as she wrapped her arm around mine as we walked toward the exit. “He’s a football player, and you’re...you’re...”
“A wuss,” laughed Colton. I hit him on his arm, and we left the cafeteria laughing.
I didn’t see Tiffany the rest of the day. Colton told me during 6th period that he had seen her briefly walking down the hall between 4th and 5th periods. He jokingly said she was scurrying down the hall like a dog with its tail between its legs.
“Don’t you feel sorry for her?” I asked when Mrs. Rodriques handed out an assignment.
“I don’t mean to sound cruel,” replied Colton, “but there really isn’t much we can do. Is there?”
I shrugged my shoulders and said, “I don’t know. Maybe we can just be her friend.”
“From what I’ve seen,” he responded, “she doesn’t want any friends.”
“I don’t know,” I said sadly. “We can’t just sit back and watch as everyone torments her.”
Colton started laughing. “Good old, Jacob. You’re never going to change, are you?”
I sighed and replied, “I hope not.”
After school, I rushed to catch the bus before all the seats were taken before I remembered I didn’t have to ride it. Sadly, I turned and headed back to Mrs. Oliver’s house.
She was busy knitting a sweater for her cat when I entered the door. She asked me about school, but I could tell she would rather return to the blue and white sweater. “There’s milk and cookies on the kitchen table,” she shouted as I left the room.
I went to my room and completed my homework assignments. I knew from staying with Mrs. Oliver in the past that she likes me to watch television with her until she goes to bed. I never objected because I was able to watch a few programs that my father had forbid me to watch at home. He once watched an episode of Modern Family, and my mother and I had to endure an hour long rant about the decline of morality in America. All because there was a gay couple on the show.
I had finished my assignments, and I was lying with my eyes closed on the bed when Mrs. Oliver hollered that dinner was ready. As I entered the kitchen, I could smell the fried chicken she had prepared. She pointed to a chair and told me to sit down. I watched as she flitted around the kitchen preparing three plates.
I looked at the plates and asked, “Are we having company?”
“Yes,” she said with a smile. “I do hope you won’t mind if I invited my grandson, Sammy, to join us. My daughter and her family just moved here, and he hasn’t made any friends yet.”
I shrugged my shoulders and told her I didn’t mind. Besides, it was her house. I just assumed her grandson was a young boy by the way she was talking.
Just then, the doorbell rang. She got up to open the door. I heard a voice say, “Hi, Nana.”
“Come in Sammy,” she replied cheerfully. “We have a guest tonight.”
“Nana,” the stranger insisted, “I’ve told you not to call me Sammy.”
I turned when they entered the kitchen. Trailing behind Mrs. Oliver was Tiffany.
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