A profound melancholy settled on the two companionships, and Chris was beginning to worry about his friends. Every day the tensions between them seemed to increase, and he was sure at times that it was going to snap and take them all out with it.
Gary's guilt and self-loathing seemed to carry him forward from day to day, but it was obvious he wasn't happy. All the enthusiasm he had once had about learning a new language and teaching the gospel was gone. Chris hoped that when they went to Korea, the new environment would help him overcome it, but he had his doubts.
It was their last Saturday in the MTC, and they would be having their exit interviews the next day. A few days later they would be heading north to the Salt Lake City Airport and be on their way to South Korea. Chris was anxious about leaving the MTC and entering the mission field, and wondered if Gary's anxiety was possibly complicated by the same issue.
But the conversation after lunch hadn't given him any new information or relieved his concerns. They had been on their way back to the room to get their books for class and Chris had asked, "Are you excited to be leaving next week?"
Gary had stared at him blankly for a moment and then had answered with nothing more than a shrug. They walked in silence after that, leaving Chris to ponder his friend's state of mind.
For a time he wondered if Luke was still trying to get to him, and he had watched closely, hoping he was wrong. Everything seemed to indicate Gary was giving Luke an even stronger silent treatment than Chris was receiving himself. Chris knew Gary had given Luke the letter, but Luke curiously remained as perplexed about Gary's withdrawal as Chris was himself.
It threw Chris completely off guard when Luke cornered him near the restrooms during gym and asked him, "Is Elder Dumont all right? I know that we agreed to, you know, stop what we were doing, but I didn't expect him to avoid me for so long."
Chris hadn't known how to respond, and the confusion in his voice betrayed him. "I wish I knew for certain. You haven't spoken to him at all then?"
"No," Luke had replied, shaking his head and staring across the gym at where Jason and Gary were standing, being as silent with each other as Gary was with everyone else. "I just hope he pulls out of it. He's starting to worry me."
Although he didn't trust Luke far, Chris was certain that he cared about Gary. All he could do at the time was sigh in agreement and say, "Me too."
Even Jason seemed to be increasingly agitated as the weeks had gone on, and every so often Chris would catch him looking sidelong at Luke or Gary as if he were analyzing them. He couldn't possibly know what had happened between Luke and Gary, because if he did, he'd be the first one to report them to the administration, but Chris didn't know what else would cause him to act that way.
He approached Jason at last when they were getting ready for showers that night. Gary had already left the room, and Luke was out in the hallway talking to some of the other missionaries who would be leaving for Korea the same time as them. It wasn't so much that he cared about privacy himself, but he thought it would help make Jason more comfortable about speaking his mind.
"Elder Hadley, have you been feeling all right?" Chris asked. He did everything he could think of to make Jason feel more comfortable, smiling and speaking softly.
"Oh?" Jason replied, blinking as if he were distracted. "Oh, yeah . . . just nervous about leaving next week, you know?"
"I thought it might be something else," Chris pressed, hoping for more. "You've seemed distracted for weeks now."
"It has to do with something going on at home," Jason said, waving away the question. "It's nothing to worry about, just a couple of friends of mine have been on my mind recently."
"Oh, well you know if you need someone to talk to, I'm here for you," Chris promised, knowing Jason was still holding something back.
"Thanks." Jason's reply was simple and short, as was his nod before he excused himself and headed to the showers, leaving Chris to wonder how everything had gone so wrong.
Gary's thoughts refused to let him sleep. The problem had been growing worse daily, and he knew there was little chance of it ending anytime soon. He hated the way he was treating Luke, but it had to be done. He hated himself, too, for what he had done, and that was the more compelling of his warring emotions.
Chris was watching him constantly, and Gary didn't anticipate he would stop until they reached Korea and parted ways with their new companions. It seemed as if both Luke and Jason were also in on the surveillance, and their constant vigil kept him on edge, pushing him nearer and nearer his breaking point with each passing day. They would be going to Korea in less than a week, but he wasn't sure he could stick it out for that long. He wanted it all to end.
He heard Chris start to snore above him, and he sighed with relief. With Chris asleep, Gary felt comfortable getting up and going to the bathroom without feeling like he was being watched, and he needed to splash some water in his face. He slipped out of the covers and into his slippers which he kept beside the bed.
He opened the door slowly so as to avoid making a sound, and then crept into the hallway, leaving it open a crack so the sound of it closing didn't wake anyone. As he approached the bathroom he checked his watch. It was two in the morning, and he had yet to get any rest at all. They were supposed to get up in four hours, and it was going to be one hell of a day. He walked to the sink and stared down into it before turning the water on and splashing it into his face.
It was their last Sunday in the MTC, and they would be having their exit interviews after church service. Brother Evans and the other members of the Branch Presidency would be meeting with each of the missionaries under their tutelage and assessing what they had learned during their time in the MTC. Gary was going to have to lie to them about his worthiness if he wanted to stay on and serve in the mission field, and he was uncertain as to whether he had that in him.
The only thing he had lied to his bishop about when he had turned in his mission papers was his sexuality. He had carefully worded every response to each question having to do with his personal chastity in order to avoid any indication he might be gay. He was sure there would be more questions speaking to that issue, and his guilt over what he and Luke had done would be written all over his face. They would see right through him, and then it would all be over and he would be on his way home in disgrace.
And, awful as that would be, it might also be the best thing for him, he had to admit. Keeping the secret was killing him, and keeping his feelings for Luke hidden was almost as terrible. He wanted to be with Luke so badly, but his desire was crushed under the burden of guilt given him by years of conditioning. Luke and Chris had both assured him that there was nothing wrong with him, but his family had gone to great lengths to convince him everything he felt about Luke was sinful.
Any way he looked at it, he was damned.
"Are you nervous about going to Korea next week?"
Gary's whole body tensed as he heard Luke's voice from behind him. That melodic voice which had whispered such wonderful things to him weeks before. The beautiful voice which had shown him a moment of happiness in a sea of pain by telling him there was nothing wrong with him, even though he could not allow himself to believe it. He would give almost anything to be able to hear Luke's voice and not feel compelled to run the other way, but that was exactly what he intended to do.
"Yeah, maybe," Gary said as he kept his focus on the sink in front of him. He wasn't brave enough to look up into the mirror and risk seeing Luke staring back at him. "What are you doing in here at this time of night?"
"I had to pee," Luke replied as he approached the row of sinks and turned the water on, rinsing his hands. Gary hadn't heard any flushing and doubted Luke had used the toilet yet. He was going to comment on that but he stopped when he heard the self-doubt in Luke's voice. "You can't blame me for that, can you?"
"No, of course not," Gary said, surprising himself by finding the strength to look up and meet Luke's eyes in the mirror. "Why would I?"
"You blame me for other things, though," Luke said quietly, biting his lip uncertainly.
"What brought you to that conclusion?" Gary asked, though he couldn't deny the claim. He did blame Luke for what happened, at least in part.
"You've been avoiding me," Luke answered.
"You think?" Gary asked, snorting as he rounded on Luke. He crossed his arms over his chest and scowled defiantly.
"Gary, what the hell is going on with you?" Luke asked as he kept his gaze focused on the mirror. He leaned into the counter, gripping it tightly.
Gary could see the tension in Luke, but he didn't care. He had been through hell since they had been discovered by Chris, and in his mind Luke didn't know the first thing about tension. "I'm trying to get on with my life," Gary growled. "I think you should do the same."
"That's bullshit, and you know it," Luke snapped, his head swiveling around to face Gary. He took his hands off of the counter and placed a finger on Gary's chest, filling each word that left his tongue with his angst. "We have no reason to avoid each other, even if you don't want to keep doing what we were doing."
"That's the problem, Luke," Gary said, his anger beginning to dissipate as he faced the inconvenient truth. "I do want to keep doing what we were doing, and that's why I have to keep away from you. Otherwise, I'll be tempted."
"You don't think you're going to be tempted in Korea?" Luke asked, giving Gary an exasperated look.
"What do you mean?" Gary asked.
"You don't think you're going to meet some Korean boy who really makes you want to be naughty?" Luke asked, shaking his head as he let his finger drop from Gary's chest, his voice dripping with derision. "You don't think you might have a companion who makes you want to take extra-long in the shower every morning?"
"Maybe," Gary replied, shrugging. "But how else am I supposed to handle this mess?"
"I don't know," Luke sighed. "But I do know you can't get past a problem by avoiding it. That only gets you so far before the problem arises again."
Gary dropped his defensive posture and turned toward the row of mirrors hanging over the sinks. He stared at his reflection for several long seconds before he closed his eyes and said helplessly, "So you're saying that I'm screwed either way?"
Luke smirked and said sarcastically, "I think you'll be able to find someone to screw you either way, yes."
"What a time for a joke," Gary said, angrily.
"I'm sorry, Gary," Luke said, putting a consoling hand on Gary's upper back and rubbing gently. "It just came out wrong."
"This is easy for you," Gary said as he opened his eyes and met Luke's gaze in the mirror, "because you don't believe in the church. I still do."
"If you think this is easy . . ." Luke began brusquely, but then he took a deep breath and started again, keeping his voice calm. "Gary, I definitely don't take any of this lightly. Maybe more lightly than you do, but I've never been more serious. If you're not comfortable with yourself, then you'll never be truly happy. Isn't happiness more important than anything else?"
There was a long moment of silence until Gary turned to Luke and asked, "So, what do you propose?"
"The same thing I suggested back when it was just you and me in that bed. You have to do what makes you happy," Luke said, sighing. "Whether that's following your heart or following your religion, it's up to you."
Gary nodded and stepped back from the sink. He took several steps toward the showers and then paused again, trying to analyze what his heightened emotions were telling him. He turned back to look at Luke who was watching him curiously.
"Where are you going?" Luke asked. His expression showed confusion, but his eyes told a different story. They brimmed with compassion, and if Gary wasn't mistaken, love. After all the times he had reacted to Luke physically, he knew this time what he was feeling was on a higher plane; this was a mental, an emotional, attraction. At that moment he knew for certain Luke was exactly who he wanted. Every fiber of his being longed for the young man who stood in front of him.
He started walking toward the showers again, and when he reached the entryway to the shower section, he turned to look at Luke again and nodded him forward. Luke came toward him cautiously, and when they were next to each other Gary, reached for Luke's hand and then began pulling him into one of the shower stalls toward the back of the room.
Once they were inside, Gary slid the shower curtain shut and then wrapped his arms around Luke's waist. "Back there, I wasn't willing to do this," he said before bringing their lips together. It wasn't a kiss like any of those they had shared before. Lust was absent, and had been replaced by a more soulful instinct, a deeper level of connection which neither of them had ever experienced before.
"This is risky, you know," Luke said as their lips parted, but hovered only inches away from each other's.
"Shush. I know," Gary whispered as he slid his hands up Luke's shirt. Luke lifted his arms and let Gary remove his shirt completely and toss it to the side. "I'm trying not to think about it," Gary continued, as he met Luke with pleading eyes. "Show me what happiness is, Luke. I need to know what I've been missing."
The sound of the door closing behind Luke was enough to wake Jason. Sleep had been particularly elusive over the past few days with the promise of leaving the MTC in a few days, and the slightest noise was enough to wake him.
He tried to roll over and go back to sleep when he looked across the room and realized that Gary's bunk was also empty. His mind was instantly drawn to the letter he had happened upon weeks before, but had so far refrained from reading beyond its first revealing paragraph.
Even that paragraph had been incriminating, but Jason was torn on what to do about it. He didn't want to invade his friends' privacy by reading further, but there was a battle raging in his mind. He had continued to write Zach every week, but had yet to receive a response from his best friend, and there was no doubt it was the result of the cruel and insensitive homophobic comments he had made at their last meeting.
He couldn't afford to lose any more friends, especially these three missionaries who had become like brothers to him over their time together. If he reported them, then had he learned anything from his disastrous experience with Zach? Was he being charitable by not outing them, or was he being disobedient by the same means?
He waited for several minutes, hoping that either Gary or Luke would return, and dispel his suspicions about what they were up to, but after five and then ten minutes had gone by, he knew he had to take action. With a heavy heart and light steps, he swung out of his bunk and started toward his desk.
His suit coat was draped over the back of his chair, and he reached into it slowly and withdrew Gary's letter. Hoping the light from his desk lamp wouldn't wake the snoring Chris, he slid into his chair and turned the light on, leaning forward to make sure he was well into the light to read the letter in its entirety.
I hope when you get this letter, you won't misunderstand anything that I'm saying. I'm still confused about a lot of things, but one thing I do know is that what we did yesterday can never happen again. I don't know what made me kiss you, and give in like that, but I . . . I want to be a good missionary.
Even as I write those words, I'm filled with the confusing longing that I can't seem to get rid of. The feeling of you pressed up against me won't seem to leave my mind. The touch of your lips on mine is perhaps the fondest memory I'll have from my mission, even if we were going against everything that the mission stands for.
I want you, but I can't have you. No matter what we do, I know that there's no way out for me other than to serve my mission, return home, and find some nice girl to marry. Someone who is okay with me having no physical desire for her. Someone who wants me to be a good husband and father for her children. My family would never accept that I'm gay, and I suppose that means I can't either.
You are kind, beautiful, and perhaps the best thing that could have been, but you can't be mine. As much as I want you, it is only a dream I have to wake up from. I have to move on, and I hope that you will be able to as well. Maybe someday there will be a future where we can both be true to our hearts, but I just can't see it.
Thank you, for giving me a small taste of happiness, even if only for a moment. I think I will always love you for that, and I'll cherish the memories, as fleeting as they are.
I'll be keeping my distance from you now. To remain close would be too hard for me, and I assume for you as well. Please don't take it as a sign of me hating you. I don't. You know there's nothing I want more than to touch you and hold you again. I just can't.
Best of luck with everything,
He set the letter down slowly, shaking his head in dismay. He now knew that it had been more than just a kiss; all hope that it was an isolated incident was gone. He needed direction, and his faith dictated where he seek that direction from.
He slid out of his chair and knelt beside it, resting his elbows on the seat as he closed his eyes and bowed his head. His eyes welled with tears as he began to pray in a whisper, "Heavenly Father, I need to talk. I'm completely at a loss as to what to do about something, and I could really use some inspiration right about now."
"You remember all the nights I used to talk to you about Zach." Jason's voice broke as he considered his best friend again, and he paused a moment to collect his thoughts. "Well, I've got something similar going on now, and it involves two of your missionaries. Elder Phillips, my companion, and Elder Dumont, one of my roommates. It appears that they've entered into a relationship with each other, or did. Right now I'm not so sure."
"I have evidence of what they've done, and I don't know what to do with it. These two have become my brothers, just like Zach was, and they're both good guys, just like Zach is. I don't want to get them in trouble, but . . ." He trailed off as he tried to understand what his emotions were telling him, but finding himself at a total loss he continued. "What am I supposed to do, Heavenly Father? How can I say I love my fellow man and then cause them so much pain? Are we not to exercise love and acceptance? Why is the church against their love, anyway? I've seen Zach and Kai together, and I know their feelings for each other are genuine. Why is the Church against true love?"
"Please, give me direction," he begged. "Please, give me some sort of sign on how to proceed. I'm so lost right now. Please . . ." As he finished his final plea, Chris snorted loudly and seemed to sit up straight in his bed and look right at him before settling back down and rolling on his side again. Jason watched Chris for a moment, wondering if that had been the sign he was looking for.
He decided it was good enough, and he quickly ended his prayer so that he could go and talk to Chris. "I humbly pray these things, with all my heart and soul, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen."
They were naked and panting, covered in sweat and smelled of sex and semen, but Gary had never felt better in his life. It was a release of tension like nothing he had ever felt before, and for the first time in his life he was sure that he knew who he truly was. Luke had given that to him, and he would be forever grateful, though that realization had come with a price.
"Are you crying, Gary?" Luke asked as he reached his arm around Gary's shoulder. Gary's back was against the wall as he leaned into Luke as they sat on the floor. "You are, aren't you? Please tell me those are happy tears not sad ones?"
"I'm not sure," Gary said, sniffling. "Probably both? That was the best thing I've ever felt, but at the same time I'm not sure what I'm going to do next. We're about to go to Korea, and then we'll be split up. How am I going to spend the next two years without this?"
"You were ready to before," Luke said with a shrug, though he wasn't thrilled by the prospect much either. "We can find ways to keep in touch. We could always write letters. Missionaries do that among friends all the time, don't they?"
"Yeah, but that would mean you'd have to actually read my letters," Gary said, snickering.
"What are you going on about?" Luke asked, scandalized. "Of course I'd read them!"
"You didn't do so well at following what I said in the last one," Gary said as he turned his head to look up at Luke. His smile faltered at Luke's look of confusion, and he went on, "What, I'm not really mad, I mean if you'd listened then we wouldn't have had that beautiful moment we just had . . ." He trailed off as Luke shook his head slowly.
"Gary," he said cautiously. "I never received a letter from you."
"What are you talking about?" Gary asked as he pushed off of Luke and spun around so he was sitting in the middle of the shower stall. "I left a letter for you in your Korean notebook the Sunday night after we were caught together in the room."
"You did?" Luke asked, scratching his head. "I never . . ." he paused, his eyes widening as he remembered that day. "Shit."
"What?" Gary asked, alarmed.
"Elder Hadley has the letter," Luke whispered, collapsing against the wall in defeat. "We're screwed."