Gary was beyond devastated. There were no words to describe how he felt, especially after he had been so high only seconds before. The crushing realization that Jason knew about what he and Luke had done, sent him into a spiral of doubt and anxiety. That it was entirely his own fault filled him with self-pity; if only he hadn't written that cowardly letter, all because he hadn't found the courage to talk to Luke to his face. There was going to be an awful reckoning soon, and he couldn't immediately see a way out.
"What are we going to do?" Gary whined. He was standing in the shower stall now, though he had not bothered to get dressed. Luke remained naked as well, but was still sitting, staring at the wall with a blank expression. "Of all people, Elder Hadley knows?" Gary muttered, looking down at Luke for a moment though he didn't really see him. His eyes unfocussed as he imagined his entire world crashing down around him. "You remember how he freaked out about that time he thought we were doing things; what is he going to do now that he actually knows we've gone further?"
"There's a slim possibility he doesn't have it," Luke said neutrally. Gary latched onto the words, clinging onto the small shred of hope they offered.
"How?" he asked, his breath caught in his throat.
Luke looked up at him, though his expression hadn't changed. "Well, nothing's happened, so he hasn't said anything to anyone yet," he said, shrugging helplessly. Maybe the letter just got lost or ended up in the trash? Or maybe he hasn't read it?"
"I suppose it's possible he didn't read it, but I doubt he would've missed it if he looked through your notebook," Gary said, allowing himself to breathe again. "It was right in the front so you'd easily find it."
"So he has it." Luke sighed. He returned his attention to the wall, pursing his lips thoughtfully. "But for some unfathomable reason he's chosen not to act. Why would he do nothing?"
"You're his companion," Gary said, "You tell me."
"My best guess is he doesn't want to invade our privacy," Luke said after a moment of consideration. "As much of a jerk as he can be, underneath the religious zealot he's also a good guy. Maybe he just forgot to give it to me?"
Gary smirked at the thought despite the swift return of his anxiety. "You don't really believe that, do you? Why wouldn't he have simply put it back in your notebook for you to find? No, the fact he took it meant that he was planning to read it. I don't know if he has or not. Maybe he knew it would be invading you, our, privacy. But knowing him, he won't be able to resist. No, he's either read it, or he's going to."
"Why?" Luke asked, turning back to Gary with a hint of anger in his eyes. "Because you just want to believe the worst? What kind of a plan is that?"
Gary didn't seem to hear the tone of annoyance creep into Luke's voice. He began speaking rapidly, and then frantically. "We're about to be expelled from the MTC, Luke, and no amount of optimism is going to keep that from happening. I need to figure out what I'm going to tell my parents. Add to that my grandfather. I need to worry about that right now. Somehow, I need to explain to them how their son could end up gay, and coming home in disgrace from his mission. My mission is the only thing that has ever made my parents proud of me," He grabbed both sides of his heads as he threw his head back, stifling a wail of utter despair.
"Yeah, if you want to assume you're going home, I guess you could worry about that," Luke said with a shrug as he rose to his feet. He wanted to point out how useless it was to worry, since what was done was done, but then he sensed the depth of Gary's despair and realized that what Gary needed now was comfort and reassurance. Reality would come soon enough. He stepped behind Gary and wrapped his arms around Gary's naked waist. Gary initially tensed under Luke's touch, but then gave in as Luke began to whisper in his ear soothingly. "There's also a chance that we could cover this all up. Elder Knight doesn't know what we just did, and as long as that remains the case then perhaps he'll remain silent. Maybe I could ask Elder Hadley for the letter and-"
"And risk his curiosity?" Gary interrupted with a bitter laugh. "I think I'd rather take my chances that he doesn't know where it is or hasn't read it."
"Good." Luke smirked. "Well, now that you're no longer worrying..."
"Who said anything about that?" Gary asked as he spun around in Luke's arms and then stepped back and out of his embrace. "Of course I'm still worried! I'm completely freaked out. Do you even care at all?" he raised an eyebrow and shook his head, his despair returning full force. "My life is ruined."
"How?" Luke asked, extending his arms out wide. He noticed his voice starting to rise and barely kept it in check. "Your life is just beginning, Gary. You're young, and have your whole life ahead of you. Aren't you better off now that you know you can be true to yourself?" he asked, his eyes pleading. "Aren't you better off without hiding who you really are?"
"And who am I, Luke?" Gary asked. The question was full of bitterness and despair, and Luke's body went rigid as if he had been struck. "I used to know the answer to that," Gary continued in a whisper. "I used to know that I was my parents' child, that I had family and friends who loved me. Even though I hated myself for being gay, at least I knew if I kept it a secret, they would all still be there for me in the end. That kept me alive, Luke, and now..."
Luke took a step closer to Gary and placed a hand on his chest, his voice full of concern as he said, "Don't talk like that, Gary. Don't."
"Luke," Gary said, shaking his head as tears came to his eyes. "I don't know what else to do, I-"
"Stop that, you hear me?" Luke said as he took hold of Gary's face in both hands and forced him to make eye contact. "Your life is not over, and the one thing I can promise you is that no matter what else happens here, I will not stop supporting you." He stated it firmly so that Gary understood every word. "I will help you through this, okay? I got you in, and I'll do everything I can to get you back out. You are not alone."
"Luke..." Gary began, but didn't know what to say. He sniffled as tears slid down his cheeks, and he reached up to wipe them away when Luke gently pushed his hand aside and then wiped the tears away for him, caressing his cheek. He then leaned forward and kissed Gary gently. When he pulled away his own eyes were moist.
"You're not alone, do you understand me?" Luke asked, his voice breaking as he continued to caress Gary's cheek. "You and me, whatever this is between us, I'm not going to let go of it. Whatever fate awaits us tomorrow, whether it's two more years of missionary work or a return trip home next week, you and I will face it together, okay?"
Gary nodded, and swallowed hard. "Okay."
"Do you want to go back to the room?" Luke asked, keeping his eyes on Gary's.
"No, not yet. Whatever's done is done. Just, stay with me a little while longer?" Gary begged, his hands trembling as he reached out and laid them on Luke's waist. "I... I need something to hold onto."
"Whatever you need, I'm here," Luke said, pulling Gary into a warm embrace. He placed his mouth next to Gary's ear and whispered, "I won't abandon you, Gary, no matter what."
"Elder Knight, are you awake?"
When Jason didn't immediately receive an answer he reached out and began to shake Chris awake. It didn't take long before Chris snorted and bolted upright, blinking away sleep. The room was only dimly lit by Jason's desk lamp, but it was enough for Chris to see the look of concern on Jason's face, and he mentally prepared himself for whatever emergency he was about to be presented with.
"I am now..." he said as he rubbed his eyes and yawned. "What do you need?"
"Advice," Jason said resolutely. "Big time."
"Can it wait until morning?" Chris asked, stifling another yawn. "We don't want to wake the others, do we?"
"The others are sort of the problem," Jason replied hesitantly. "They're not here."
"What!?" Chris pushed his covers away and swung over the side of the bed, barely giving Jason enough time to scramble out of the way. He landed on the floor and looked at Gary's empty bunk before swiveling his gaze to Luke's similarly empty covers. He shook his head in dismay as he said, "Oh no... this doesn't look good. Do you know where they went?"
"I'm not sure, but they've been gone for a while," Jason said, scratching his head. "I'm less concerned with where they are and more concerned with what they're doing. I'm going to turn the room light on, because there's something you need to see."
Chris nodded and Jason moved to the light switch. Even though he had tried to anticipate it, Chris' eyes stung as the bright light flickered into life overhead. By the time he'd recovered, Jason was standing in front of him again with a letter in his hand and extended toward him.
"What is this?" Chris asked as he took the letter.
"It's a note that Elder Dumont wrote to Elder Phillips," Jason replied. Chris remembered watching Gary slip the letter into Luke's Korean notebook and wondered how Jason had gotten a hold of it, but he kept the thought to himself as Jason continued. "I found it by accident, and I meant to give it to Elder Phillips but then never got around to it. It's been sitting in my suit pocket for weeks now, but when I found them both gone, I remembered it."
"Why would their being gone instantly make you remember the letter?" Chris asked as he unfolded the letter but didn't start reading it. "You must have had some sort of suspicion beforehand."
Jason sighed and looked away, his voice full of shame. "All right, I admit it. I violated their privacy and happened to glance at the letter when I first discovered it. I didn't know what it was about for certain, and I managed to keep myself from reading it for a while, but tonight I just knew I had to."
Chris used the time it took Jason to explain that to figure out how he would handle the situation. He had been comfortable covering Luke and Gary's earlier encounter before Jason knew about it, but now he didn't know what to do. As he considered the implications of Luke and Gary being gone, he realized that covering for them may no longer be an option he could justify. "Okay. Let me read it," he said after a moment, knowing he needed more time to think. "Then we'll talk again in a minute."
He paced the room as he read the letter, watching Jason with his peripheral vision without being obvious. Jason was biting his lip and watching him, waiting for an answer. Why he expected Chris to be a font of wisdom on this issue, Chris couldn't quite comprehend, but he was glad Jason had trusted him. At least now they could figure it out together.
"So..." Jason said when Chris had finished with the letter and turned back toward him, his face expressionless. "What are you thinking?"
"Is this the first time you've discovered them disappearing at the same time?" Chris asked before resuming his pacing.
"Yes," Jason replied. "Why, has this happened before?"
Chris was glad he was facing away from Jason when the question was asked, or his face would have betrayed his prior knowledge of the situation. "Who knows?" he said as he turned back around, shrugging. "But I wanted to know if you'd noticed a pattern. This does sound troubling though. Do you think we should go look for them?"
"I don't..." Jason sighed and shared Chris' shrug. "I don't know if I want to find them. I mean, I guess we'd know for certain if we did discover them, right? But..." He trailed off helplessly.
"They may only be talking," Chris suggested. "Wouldn't you rather that we cleared up whether or not this was a problem, first?"
"Maybe you're right," Jason said, but then his eyes narrowed and he cocked his head to the side. "But this letter already shows they've done something before, doesn't it? So does it really matter when they've already broken the rules before? Isn't it our responsibility to turn them in?"
Chris nodded slowly but did not change his expression. He knew Jason was speaking the truth, and wondered why he hadn't seen it before when he had first walked in on Luke and Gary. "I'm surprised you're even conflicted on the issue, considering the last time this subject came out you went storming out of here, without wanting to get the facts straight," Chris said carefully as he wrestled with his own thoughts on the issue. "I would have expected you to have already tried to find someone to report this to."
"I guess my mind has changed a little." Jason shrugged and met Chris' eyes. "Probably not enough to let this slide, but a little. That night made me realize I was homophobic, which I had always thought I wasn't because of my friendship with Zach, and I don't think that's the way Christ would be either. I want to protect my friends, and I've grown to love both Elder Dumont and Elder Phillips like brothers." He shook his head helplessly and stared at one empty bed and then the other. "They went out of their way to make friends with me, even after I was a total jerk to them. They don't deserve to go through the pain outing them will cause, do they?"
"I suppose the question you have to ask is whether you're more committed to the Lord or to your friends," Chris replied as he struggled to find the answer to the same question. "You said you came seeking advice, and I assume you're wanting me to tell you what you should do with the information. I'm not sure I can tell you, because it has to be a choice based upon your own personal conviction."
Jason was silent for a moment as he digested the information. When he spoke, his voice was trembling. "What if the reason I choose not to tell on them is also selfish?"
"What do you mean?" Chris asked.
"If I tell, I know I'll end up telling them the whole truth, which means that I suspected something was wrong for a long time and didn't say anything." Jason's eyes were beginning to water, and he turned away from Chris, trying to hide the emotion he was feeling. "I'll be just as complicit in the crime as they are, and then I'll just be sent home along with them. If I tell, then I'm doomed to suffer the same fate." He choked back a sob before continuing. "I've wanted to serve a mission my whole life, Elder Knight. I'm not ready to throw that dream away, even if it means being disobedient."
"Maybe you won't have to," Chris suggested. He was beginning to be affected by Jason's emotion and worked hard to keep it out of his voice. "You could always turn the note in anonymously."
"But then they'd probably end up questioning both of us, anyway," Jason replied, shaking his head violently. "I'm not sure I could keep my mouth shut."
Chris realized he knew what he had to do, and in that moment he offered the advice he knew would get Jason to go with the plan forming in his mind. "Follow the Spirit."
"What do you mean?" Jason asked, looking up and blinking tears from his eyes.
"Keep the letter on you during your interview tomorrow, and if it feels like you should tell on them, then do so, or if the Spirit tells you not to..." Chris trailed off, shrugging. "You won't have to."
"I guess that's really all that's left to me, huh?" Jason mused, pursing his lips thoughtfully. "I have until then to decide."
"The longer you wait, however, the more it's going to eat away at you and the higher your chances of being sent home right along with them," Chris said, frowning slightly.
"I'll keep it in my pocket, and think about it some more," Jason said with a nod. "I'll pray about it in the morning, and hopefully get a little clearer guidance."
"That sounds like a solid plan," Chris said, nearly sighing in relief. Jason was falling right into place with his plans. "You need to firm up your resolve. Repeat it like a mantra. Where are you going to put it?"
"In my jacket pocket," Jason said as he reached out for the letter. Chris handed it back and watched as Jason walked across the room and slid the paper into the inside pocket of his jacket.
"And what are you going to do with it?" Chris asked when Jason turned back to face him, attempting to solidify in Jason's mind what was to happen.
"Pray about it and then decide what to do with it during the interview," Jason said, nodding resolutely.
"Excellent," Chris replied, forcing a reassuring smile to his face. "Now, I don't think it would benefit either of us to be awake when they return, even though I doubt either of us will get any sleep tonight."
"Likely not," Jason said as he returned to the light switch. "But I see your point, Elder Knight. I'll see you in the morning."
"I guess we better get back, huh?" Luke said as he picked up his watch from the shower stall floor. It was well past three. "We're going to want to try and get some sleep before we face the morning."
After holding each other for a little while, they had showered together to wash off the scent of sex and then returned to their position on the floor, huddling together for warmth and comfort.
"I don't know if I'm going to get any sleep tonight," Gary said as he lifted his head from Luke's chest and stared at the watch. "My heart is still pounding in my chest and I don't think it's going to stop until this is resolved."
"Come on, let's go," Luke said as he patted Gary's arm and yawned. He started sliding out from underneath Gary and reached for his clothing. "You're going to have to try. If you don't get any rest, then the morning is going to be even harder on you than you expect."
Gary pulled away and rested against the wall to the right of Luke, watching him thoughtfully. Luke slid into his shirt and then turned a quizzical eye on Gary. "What are you thinking about, Gary?"
"I was just realizing how beautiful you are, Luke," Gary said, smiling sadly.
"I thought that was what started us down this path in the first place," Luke said with a wry chuckle. As much as the prospect of going home scared them both to differing degrees, he was emotionally spent and the laughter felt good to him.
"It was, but this is different," Gary replied. "This is the first time I've really gotten a chance to just look at you. There's so much more to you than your looks... you're intelligent, loyal, and..." He shook his head and his smile widened, but the sadness didn't leave his eyes. "And beautiful."
"What are you going on about?" Luke said, sharing the smile as he slid into his underwear and then picked up his pants. "And come on. You need to get dressed."
"Luke, I don't want to lose you," Gary said, shaking his head wistfully. "God, this is so hard, but we both know what has to happen tomorrow, don't we?"
Luke froze with one leg in his pants and the other about to lift off the floor. He turned to Gary as he heard the certainty in his voice. It seemed to override everything else, the worry and the fear. Luke shook his head and chuckled again, and this time he was surprised to find mirth in it. He finished sliding into his pants and then extended his hand to Gary to help him up.
"Come on," he said as he pulled Gary to his feet. "Let's find out what fate has in store for us."