"Welcome to class, Elders and Sisters," the tall and lanky brother addressed the room as he walked through the door. He let the door close behind him and then shrugged off his coat, revealing the standard Mormon uniform, a white collared shirt with a plain-patterned tie. He hung his coat on a hook behind the door and turned to face them, a small smile on his lips. "I'm Brother Evans, and I'm going to be one of your teachers during the weeks that you're here. I hope you've all gotten to know each other? I suppose that's a silly question, since this is the first class we've had together."
Chris surveyed the room. Aside from his roommates, there were two other people in class, Sister Missionaries whom he hadn't yet met. They had only arrived in the classroom seconds before Brother Evans had. One had straight, black hair pulled back and braided, and the other had shoulder-length blonde hair neatly held back from her face by a series of clips.
Both of them were watching the elders with a similar level of curiosity, and before any of the elders could speak up the black-haired sister said, "Actually, we had some trouble finding the classroom so we only arrived a moment ago. I'm Sister Andreas, and I'm happy to meet you."
"And I'm Sister Forsythe," the blonde said with a warm smile. Chris instantly liked her, as she had a motherly quality which seemed to fit her even though she was barely older than he was. She turned to Brother Evans and asked, "Do you want us to do more than introduce ourselves? Like say where we're from?"
"Sounds like a reasonable plan to me," Brother Evans said, nodding. "How about we start with the Elders since you two Sisters already stated your names, and we'll work our way around the room. Say your name, where you're from, and . . ." He paused as he looked at Gary, his lips pursed thoughtfully. "How about why you chose to serve a mission? Elder, how about you start us off?"
Gary nodded and swallowed nervously, a reaction that was not lost on Chris. With a stammer in his voice, Gary addressed the rest of the group. "I-I, um . . . I'm Gary, er, sorry . . . Elder Dumont, and I'm from South Jordan, Utah. I decided to serve because I want to teach the gospel to those who haven't had a chance to hear it. Um, that's it."
"Great to have you, Elder Dumont," Brother Evans said, smiling warmly. He turned to Chris, and for the first time since Brother Evans entered the room Chris was able to clearly see his eyes. They were piercing blue and calculating, and Chris felt Brother Evans was far more analytical than his jovial mannerisms had initially let on.
Chris rose to his feet and found that he and Brother Evans were very close in height. He considered that thought for only a second before he turned his attention to the others in the small classroom. "It's good to meet everyone. I'm Elder Knight, and I'm from Sandy, Utah. I decided to serve because of the peace the gospel has given me, and I want to give others the opportunity for that same peace, should they wish to find it. I only want to share Christ's love, and serve my fellow man."
He resumed his seat and found Brother Evans watching him with those same calculating eyes. There was something new in them though; it was respect. He nodded slowly and said, "Welcome to the MTC, Elder Knight. Glad you're here."
Luke stood and made sure he met everyone's eyes before he started speaking, though he seemed to take a fraction of a second longer with Brother Evans. "I'm Elder Phillips. I'm from Bakersfield, California. I decided to serve because, well . . ." He seemed uncertain for a moment but then continued, "I decided to serve because I know from personal experience how much good the church can do in someone's life, and I want to make that happen for others."
Chris knew it wasn't the full story as soon as Luke sat down, but he wasn't going to make a deal out of it. He assumed Luke had his share of skeletons in his closet, but he was also in the right place to work through them. If Luke needed support, Chris would be first in line to give it if he could.
It was Jason's turn, and though he followed Chris and Luke's example by standing, it was clear he was nervous about it. His knees were shaking and his arm trembled as he pushed his glasses back up his nose, though they had barely slid down a millimeter. But then he took a deep breath and steadied himself on the desk in front of him and said, "I'm Elder Hadley. I'm from Provo, Utah, and I'm serving because it is my duty to our Heavenly Father to preach his gospel whenever and wherever we are called. I'm looking forward to serving with all of you."
Chris suppressed a smile as he considered Jason's words and completely missed Brother Evans' response. That was a trained answer if he'd ever heard one, and he wondered if Jason really knew what he was getting himself into.
Sister Forsythe was the first of the sisters to stand, and Chris redirected his attention to her. "As I said before, I'm Sister Forsythe. I'm from Denver, Colorado, and I chose to serve because I want to help lighten other people's burdens."
"Short and concise," Brother Evans observed. "There's a lot of strength behind that way of thinking. And that leaves us with you, Sister Andreas."
Sister Andreas stood and smoothed out her skirt before saying, "I'm from Reno, and I've always wanted to serve a mission. There was never a doubt in my mind that I wanted to spread the good news to everyone in the world. I want everyone to enjoy the peace that I have always enjoyed."
Chris almost groaned. She was as bad as Jason, and he wondered if either of them had really spent the time necessary to examine their beliefs to see if their religion was the right fit for them. He knew from personal experience there was peace to be found in religion, even though he also understood the church wasn't the right fit for everyone. It certainly wasn't for his dad, but that had never made Elder Chris love his father any less.
"Thank you, everyone. I'm glad that you could be part of this class," Brother Evans said as he approached the blackboard and picked up a piece of chalk. He then turned back to look at everyone in turn, drawing their eyes to him. "By the end of the day, everyone here is going to be able to read and write in Korean. You may not be able to understand much, but the alphabet is rather straightforward." He then turned and looked directly at Gary, who immediately sat up straight in his seat. "Elder Dumont, are you ready to learn your first Korean word?"
"Yeah, sure," Gary replied, nodding, "of course."
"All right, your first word is 'kido'," Brother Evans said before turning to write a Korean word on the board. He then swiveled back to Gary and asked, "Kidohashigessumnika?"
"Um . . ." Gary said, scratching his head, "is that hello?"
"Not unless you're saying hello to Heavenly Father," Brother Evans said with a sly smile.
"Oh!" Gary replied with sudden excitement. "So 'kido' means prayer?"
"You've got it," Brother Evans said, chuckling. "Would you offer an opening prayer to get the class started?"
"Of course. I'll kido whenever you want, just as long as you don't expect me to do it in Korean," Gary replied, "it's my first day."
At the end of his first day, Gary Dumont was beginning to wonder if he was in over his head. The language study had gone well enough, and he felt he had a good grasp on the alphabet considering he'd only studied it for a day. It was a simple system, and though the characters resembled Chinese characters they were letters rather than ideograms. Brother Evans had taught them that the Korean alphabet had been invented as a way to make it easy enough for the Korean people to learn in a day, and Gary could easily believe that was true. He found the characters and how they were written to make complete sense, but vocabulary was a different matter. He'd been trying to remember the word for 'prayer' all day and couldn't seem to recall it no matter how many times he tried.
There was a long line for the showers, and he decided to lie down on his bed and work on vocabulary while he waited for the crowd to clear up. They had been given an hour to prepare for bed, and he was sure he had time. He watched Jason leave for the showers with Luke right behind him, and they left the door propped open to the dorm hallway as Chris gathered his towel and other toiletries in preparation to join them.
Other missionaries from the dormitory were hanging out in the hallway, laughing and talking and getting to know each other, but he found the noise distracting. He wasn't in the mood to join in on their frivolity or to engage in pointless chatter with those he might not see again. He, Luke, and Chris had been told they were the only missionaries going to Seoul who were currently in the MTC, and even Jason would become a memory after they left for Korea.
He had wondered about that when he arrived. It seemed unreal there would be so few missionaries going where he was going, but he had been told the Missions in South Korea were in the process of redrawing their boundaries, and that would change the face of missionary work all across the country. There would be more missionaries going to his Mission as soon as the dust had settled and the church had a better handle on the situation.
It made him question if mission calls were as divinely mandated as he had been taught. If God had a plan for every missionary, then why did He have to involve so much bureaucracy in order to get the job done? Couldn't He just send the missionaries where they were supposed to go and have that be the end of it?
These thoughts were weighing heavily on his mind when Chris moved over to the bunk beds and started fishing around for something on the top bunk while Gary watched him from the bottom. As soon as Chris found the small bottle of shampoo he was looking for, he pulled back from the bed and readjusted the load in his hands before glancing down and meeting Gary's eyes.
He smiled the same warm smile that Gary was already coming to recognize as a clear sign of Chris' genuine nature, and then Chris spoke in a voice calm and unassuming. "Hey, I couldn't help but notice that something is bothering you. Are you all right?"
Gary sighed and put his notebook down before propping himself up on one arm and replying, "I've had a lot of people ask me that question over the last few days, but yeah, I think so. I guess I'm just homesick, you know?"
Chris was nodding before Gary had even finished the sentence. "Yeah, I get it. It's kind of unreal what we're about to do. Two years away from everyone we know and love, right?" He laughed nervously and shook his head. "I never thought I would reach this point, honestly."
"Oh?" Gary asked, his interest genuinely piqued. "Why not? I guess we haven't had a chance to really get to know each other, but from the way you were talking in class today, it sounds like you have a strong testimony."
"Well, that certainly wasn't always the case," Chris replied with a chuckle. "I'm a convert. I joined the church when I was sixteen, so I've only been a member for four years."
"Really?" Gary asked, shocked. "I'm a convert, too. I was twelve at the time, and my parents kind of made the decision for the whole family." His smile faltered a bit as he added, "I don't know what I'd be doing if they hadn't."
"But you wouldn't be doing this?" Chris asked, cocking one eyebrow. "Is that what you're saying?"
Gary fell back against his pillow and placed his hands over his eyes as he groaned. He kept his eyes covered and exhaled slowly. "Ugh, I don't know what I'm saying anymore. I'm so overwhelmed by it all. I just need a chance to catch my breath."
"I hear you there," Chris said. He waited until Gary was looking his way again before continuing. "You know, whatever it is you're going through, I'd be happy to listen if you want to talk. I've been through a lot in my life, and I might be able to give you a fresh perspective."
"Thanks, but I think I'm good for now," Gary replied, smiling weakly. "I'm looking forward to a nice relaxing shower and then sleep. Assuming the line for the showers ever dies down."
Chris tapped the side of the bed, nodded, and then started to turn toward the door before he stopped and said over his shoulder, "The sooner you get in line, the sooner you'll get under the water."
"I think I'd rather wait and do it when there're fewer people," Gary replied and then snorted. "I think I've had about all I can handle of meeting new people today. I'm not sure how I'm going to make it when that's what I'll have to do every day. Hopefully it's something I'll get used to."
Chris chuckled. "I know what you mean. I practically live in the mountains, where I like to hike and get away from everyone, and the fact that I can't even leave the MTC for twelve weeks is already starting to grate on me. I don't know how I'm going to survive in Seoul. No mountains? For two years?"
Gary nodded in understanding. "I guess we all have our own worries, don't we?"
"Now you're understanding my point," Chris said, wiggling his eyebrows. "Hey, I'm going to go take a shower, and then how about we work on Korean together before curfew?"
Gary looked at Chris and smiled wide as he replied, "Sounds great."
Chris nodded and turned to leave, almost running into Luke at the doorway. "Excuse me," he said. "I didn't expect you to be back so soon."
Gary's attention was drawn toward the conversation, but he stopped listening to what they were saying as he realized Luke was standing with only a towel around his waist, revealing his sculpted abs and perfectly toned pectorals. If Gary had thought Luke was attractive in his suit and tie, he was even more so when he was no longer wearing them and his athletic body was on display.
As if the lean muscle of Luke's upper body wasn't enough, his skin was also gorgeously tanned from long hours in the sun. There was no visible tan line, though the towel could easily be obscuring one, and Gary's mind became instantly entangled in the thought of finding out just how far down that tan went. He felt his arousal start to come on strong, and he immediately looked away from Luke, not wanting to be caught staring and especially not with an erection.
He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and started toward the wardrobe. He knew that either Chris or Luke had put their clothing in there, but as neither he nor Jason had been in the room when their companions had arrived, he didn't know which one had for sure. Chris hadn't accessed either of the wardrobes while he was gathering his supplies for his shower, pulling both his toiletries and his towel from his still largely unpacked luggage.
Gary found his towel as he heard the door to the room close, and he looked up to see Luke standing alone at the door, toweling off his face. Gary's eyes instinctively took the opportunity to travel downward, past Luke's navel to the subtle 'v' which led into his white garment bottoms, the bottom piece of the underwear that adult members of the church were to wear to signify their covenants with God. There was still no sign of a tan line, which left even more questions in Gary's mind as his eyes settled on Luke's package which was now clearly outlined through his white underwear.
He forced himself to tear his eyes away before he was caught staring again, and turned his attention back to finding his towel, but he was beginning to feel his arousal intensify again. This time he knew it might be a while before he managed to will his untimely erection away, so he focused instead on retrieving his deodorant and toothbrush from the drawer at the bottom of the wardrobe.
As soon as he finished finding all of the items, he nearly sighed in relief upon noticing his erection had mostly subsided, and he straightened from his crouched position, causing him to collide with the half-naked Luke, who was standing right next to him and waiting to get into the wardrobe. Gary fumbled with the items in his hand, and then dropped both his deodorant and his toothbrush, which tumbled as they hit the floor and rolled behind Luke. The towel in Luke's hands fell to the floor as well, though this landed at Gary's feet.
"I'm sorry," Gary said as he reached down to pick up the towel. Luke bent down at the same time, turning to retrieve Gary's items. As Gary started to straighten he found his face level with Luke's buttocks, with only a thin layer of semi-transparent white cloth separating him from the beautiful tanned flesh beneath. His heart started to pound as he felt his erection return to full mast, and he frantically tried to turn away as he stood to hide his arousal, but the maneuver knocked him off balance and he found his body pitching forward instead.
His right arm flailed to the side to catch his fall on the door of the wardrobe, while his left arm searched for anything steady to keep from falling over and landed on Luke's smooth back. Gary was only able to slow his momentum, and his distended crotch collided with Luke's backside.
Luke tensed from the touch on both his back and his behind, but the momentum of Gary's collision forced him to reach out and steady himself against the wardrobe to keep from falling over face first. They held the pose for only a second as they regained their bearings, but it was enough time for the doorknob to turn and a stunned Jason to enter the room, drying his hair with a towel which was then summarily dropped to the floor.
"What the heck is going on here?" He demanded, his eyes widening as his face began to color and contort with rage.
"This isn't what it looks like!" Gary squeaked in protest, removing his hand from Luke's back and stepping away.
"Yeah, sure, I bet it's not," Jason snorted. "I'm going straight to administration and tell them what I just saw. There's no way I'm going to let two homos share a room with me. I suggest you two start packing." He then abruptly turned and left the room, leaving Gary gaping with horror as he felt all his hopes flee from him.
Luke had other plans, and without any thought to his state of dress, he followed Jason out of the room, calling his name. Gary watched him go, then collapsed against the wardrobe, eyes welling with tears. He had been gone for only a day, and already his greatest secret was about to be told to everyone who would listen, and all because of a simple misunderstanding.
If there was a God, there was no doubt in Gary's mind that He held no love for him. What had he done to deserve such a fate?