Pastor Markus Stone knew what he’d walked into. He stood before his congregation, clutching his bible, hoping to draw strength from it. As he peered out at the members of the church, the stretch of faces were stained with disbelief, disappointment, and disgust. But, the rumor had buzzed with such frenzy that he had no choice but to address it.
Absent was his wife, Dottie, who had chosen to take the first plane back to Los Angeles, than continue her role in any sham of a display of solidarity.
“Brothers and sisters of the church, I have sinned.”
There were audible hisses and groans floating throughout the auditorium. Pastor Stone planted his feet firmly, erecting himself tall.
“For the last year and a half, I’ve been engaged in a consensual relationship outside the confines of my marriage.”
“Consensual?” Someone spat. “Don’t you mean homosexual?”
An older woman, a beacon of wisdom to the congregation rose, her frail frame trembling. Her bulky purse swung in her grasp as though she wanted to hit the pastor with it.
“And you call yo’self a man of God? You need to be ashamed of yo’self!”
Amens spattered the auditorium. No one would dare defend him. She had the entire crowd with her. “Leviticus 18: 22,” the woman stomped up and down through cheers of familiarity with the verse. “‘Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination!’ Read your bible!”
Pastor Stone looked as though he’d been slapped in the face. But he regained composure to say, “Deacon Matthews will act as your pastor until a permanent replacement is found.”
The mother of his lover stood up. “Was it worth it? You mean to tell me you couldn’t go after somebody else’s baby?”
“Baby?” another person exclaimed.
“Aw, man! He ain’t no better than those nasty-ass priests!”
“Yeah!” the crowd screamed, sounding less like a group of worshippers and more like a lynch mob.
Pastor Stone placed his bible on the podium and lifted his hands to the crowd, palms out. Tears streamed from his eyes. “He was 18. He wasn’t a baby,” he said to no avail.
“He was my baby!” the woman spat.
Pastor closed his eyes, his temples aching. He expected this, but it would all be over soon enough. He needed to finish what he wanted to say. It wouldn’t change the many minds of the members, but at least he would have gotten to say his piece.
“I have shamed God. I have shamed this church. I have shamed the young man I’ve grown to love over this past year and a half. I’ve shamed my wife. And…”
“Boo!” from the congregation.
“I’ve shamed myself. I apologize with all of the love I have for each of you as your brother in Christ…”
Pastor Stone walked from behind the podium. He stood toward the angry crowd, outstretching his arms as though he had done the best he could. He wished someone would’ve shot him dead right then, rather than continue his walk of shame through the auditorium and out the door. But that relief never came. He slowly descended the pulpit. Each painstaking step seemed an eternity. Midway through the aisle, he turned to his left and saw the mother of his lover, who stood with folded arms; void any forgiveness in her eyes. He shook his head before continuing outside.
He made it through and out the church. The carrying on would continue, of that he was certain. He made it to the car before members of the church piled against themselves in the doorway; shaking their fists, seemingly foaming at the mouth. He turned and looked at them one last time before driving off.
Instead of feeling weight lift from his shoulders, he felt as though he were pelted lower than low. He sought to relieve himself with the one vice he knew, though it had been years since he had partaken. Long ago before he’d given his life to Christ, Markus Stone had battled the bottle. It was one of the stories he used to tell to show examples of deliverance. Now, with nothing left, he pulled in front of the first bar that came into view. After two hours of drinking vodka tonics he removed his wedding band that he’d still worn for no good reason. He placed it on the fifty dollar tip he left the bartender.
Once home, he saw the object of his forbidden love sitting on his steps.
“What’s wrong with you?” the eighteen year old asked.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Markus said, opening the door to the house.
“You did it, didn’t you? You got up there and confessed.”
Markus turned and looked at his lover before entering the house. He smiled at the young man’s naiveté. “You know what? I think for the first time I’m really seeing how young you are. I had to do it.”
“Bullshit!” the young man yelled, pushing past Markus to enter into the house first. Markus wearily entered behind him.
“You don’t get it, do you? I just hope that you will…someday,” Markus said.
“So what are we going to do now?”
“We aren’t going to do anything. But, you’re going to go home and try and patch things up with your mother.”
“I ain’t got shit to say to her!”
“She doesn’t blame you. She blames me. That’s why you still have a chance.”
“I’m staying right here with you.”
“Sweetheart, Angel, now isn’t the time.”
“Markus, we have nothing to be ashamed of. We fell in love. If they don’t understand it then tough shit!”
Markus smiled. “You know, you’re much too intelligent of a young man to have such a dirty mouth. There’s plenty of other ways to get your point across.”
“You’re just going to stand there and lecture me?”
“No, you’re going home.”
Markus kissed his lover on the forehead. A long sigh escaped his lips. “Listen, today isn’t a good time for me. I’ve lost a lot. I can’t be bothered with your mess, too.”
“Yes. You’re not helping. I just want to be alone.”
“Will you call me later?”
“I don’t know. Probably not.”
“Are you breaking up with me?”
Markus’s eyes began to tear up. “As much as it breaks my heart to say…yes, I’m breaking up with you. We had no business doing this in the first place.”
“Yeah. Okay. Whatever. You’re an asshole! Go ahead; spend the rest of your life cooped up in here. And I thought I was the kid.”
“You’ll meet someone who’ll give you what you need.”
“You better call me later,” the young man said, walking toward the door.
“I’m not going to promise that.”
“Fine. Go fuck yourself!” and he slammed the door behind him.
Markus stood there, looking at the door as if the young man were going to bust through it again. He stood there, only half hoping that he would, before heading toward his bedroom. He took a piece of notebook paper from his sermon notebook and scribbled something on it. Then he walked a few paces outside his bedroom, looked at the paper, and let it fall from his grasp. Then, he went into his bedroom and closed the door.
He lay on his bed, still dressed from top to bottom and pulled out the church directory.
The woman who had told everyone about the pastor and her son was microwaving a Hot Pocket. She wasn’t even sure she’d be able to eat it; not after the day she’d had. As soon as the microwave beeped the phone rang.
“May I speak to Cheryl Greene please?”
“This is she.”
“Hello. This is Markus Stone.”
“Who in the hell do you think you are calling my house?”
“I was just calling to see if you were home. I’m glad that you are. I wanted you to hear this…”