By the time Jason and Chris returned to the room, Gary had made up his mind not to tell them what had happened. Having been forced to change his pants and garment bottoms, and not wanting to undress in front of Luke after what had happened between them, he’d decided it was better to go and change in the shower instead.
The heat of the water had slowly calmed him down until he was relaxed enough to think over what had transpired between him and Luke. He realized he couldn’t deny how he felt any longer, as much as he wanted to pretend otherwise. His body had reacted in ways that he hadn’t expected. He felt betrayed by his surging hormones, but he also was starting to accept that he wouldn’t be able to change anything. He was gay, and the sooner he came to terms with it, the better off he’d be.
But what to do about Luke, on the other hand, was something else entirely. As much as his body wanted Luke’s, Gary knew it was a terrible idea to get involved any further with him. If anyone at the MTC found out what had already happened between them, he would be at serious risk of being sent home early. Of all the options ahead of him, having to go home early was the worst thing he could think of. Not only would it mean facing his parents’ crushing disappointment, but it would make him an outsider at church and in his community. It would end his life as he knew it, and he doubted it was something he’d survive.
By the time he had turned off the water, he had made up his mind. He was going to keep his distance from Luke, and only interact with him when required. Since they weren’t companions it should be easy enough to do, and he was certain he could bring Chris around to avoiding Luke with little persuasion.
He returned to the room, toweling his hair dry as he stood just inside the doorway. He glanced at Jason and Luke who were talking quietly at their shared desk. Luke gazed up with a questioning look in his eye, and Gary quickly averted his eyes and moved further into the room. ‘So far so good,’ he thought as he headed for the set of bunk beds he shared with Chris. Chris was lying on the top bunk with a thick book titled “Jesus The Christ” in his hands.
“Hey, we still need to get our laundry done, don’t we?” Gary asked. Chris set the book down on his chest, open and facing downward, as he looked at Gary.
“Yeah, I suppose,” he said. “We’ve only been here a couple of days though. Do you really need it?”
“I would rather have all of my clothes clean going into a new week, yes,” Gary replied quickly. “We’re only supposed to do laundry on P-Day, so we won’t get another chance until next week if we wait.”
“All right. Let me get my things,” Chris replied, sliding a bookmark into place before setting the book aside.
It didn’t take them long to gather the few articles of clothing which needed washing, but Gary was glad Chris had agreed. Not only would it give him a chance to wash his cum-stained clothing, but it would get him away from Luke.
As soon as they were out of the dormitory and on their way to the laundry center, Gary put his plan into motion. “I know this seems like it’s coming from nowhere, but I think I need to keep my distance from Elder Phillips and Elder Hadley for a while.”
“Why?” Chris asked, confused. “I like them both, and they seem to like us, too.”
“Well, I’m not so sure about how Elder Phillips feels about me,” Gary continued cautiously. “I think he’s still mad about what happened our first night in the MTC, when Elder Hadley freaked out. He made a comment while you guys were gone about it, and I think it would just be better for everyone if I just kept my distance.”
“What did he say?” Chris asked, stopping and gripping Gary’s arm. “He didn’t say anything inappropriate, did he?”
Gary hesitated. He hadn’t thought this far ahead, and he had to think of how to proceed without giving a hint of what had transpired between him and Luke. “I don’t want to talk about it.” It was all he could come up with on the spur of the moment, and he prayed that Chris would buy it.
Chris nodded slowly and started walking again. “Okay, but you know I’m here to listen if you decide you want to talk about it later. Until then, I guess we’ll try and stay out of their hair. It sucks though. I was finally starting to like Elder Hadley.”
“Thanks, Elder Knight,” Gary said. He suppressed a sigh of relief and then felt a pang of guilt. He didn’t want his companion’s friendship to suffer, even to protect himself, and so he added a bit sheepishly, “I’m sure it won’t be for long, just long enough for Elder Phillips to get over what happened.”
“I understand, Elder Dumont,” Chris said with a relaxed smile. “Don’t worry, we’ll get everything sorted out, I’m sure.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The next week passed by quickly as the four new Elders became engrossed in their studies. It didn’t take long for them to establish a rhythm, and they became used to their schedule of classes, church studies, and practice of the skills they’d learned. Luke thoroughly enjoyed his language studies, and was quickly proving to be ahead of the rest of the missionaries in his class, but he tried to keep it from going to his head.
He was grateful that he had another problem to focus on instead, though he would rather that Gary would stop avoiding him. Every time he approached Gary, the other missionary would find some excuse to head off in a different direction. If there was a chance that they’d end up alone in the room together, Gary always left to find Chris, leaving Luke alone to wonder if they’d ever resolve what had happened between them.
But he had to keep his thoughts to himself. If Gary didn’t appreciate his advances, then there was little he could do about that. He had hoped to show Gary that he was someone who could be trusted because of their mutual attraction, but he wondered if he had gone too far.
Luke had been certain Gary would react favorably to his advances, even though he was scared, but he was beginning to doubt that Gary was even gay as he had originally surmised. It was a shame, Luke thought, as he found the blonde-haired Elder to be more than attractive, and Gary’s shyness was adorable.
While his initial attraction had been minimal, after he stole his kiss from Gary, Luke wanted more. There were times he found his eyes wandering to Gary across the dorm room, or even during class. The times he was most affected were whenever they were changing for the showers or for gym, though Gary seemed to go to great lengths to avoid changing anywhere near Luke whenever possible.
Today was different however. Their class had ended late and they were hurrying to their third gym session since they’d arrived at the MTC. They didn’t have any time to waste, and so they’d all changed quickly. Luke took the chance to watch Gary out of the corner of his eye. His body, although slim, seemed soft. Luke wondered what it would be like to hold that body, and imagined Gary would be quite comfortable to snuggle up against.
His mind wandered as they left the dormitory and walked briskly toward the gymnasium on the other side of the center. He lagged slightly behind the others, which gave him the opportunity to watch Gary from behind, and found himself staring at Gary’s buttocks several times. Whenever he realized his eyes were wandering lower, he shook his head and tried to refocus his attention elsewhere, but no matter how many times he did this, his eyes seemed to have a mind of their own.
“I don’t know if I’m ever going to get used to exercising this often,” Gary said as they pulled up short in front of the gymnasium. Luke glanced up at Gary’s face and wondered how he could say something like that, given his slim figure. Gary certainly didn’t appear overly muscular, but he hardly seemed out of shape either.
“Did you never do any sports, Elder Dumont?” Chris asked, his expression showing surprise to match Luke’s.
“No. That wasn’t really my thing,” Gary said, shrugging. “The only time I ever did physical activity for the fun of it was when my friends wanted to. I’d join them for a football game in the park or something, or I’d go swimming sometimes, but otherwise I preferred to read or play video games.” He smiled as he extended the shrug. “Maybe watch a movie.”
“Those are all good, too,” Chris continued, “But I’m surprised you’re in as good shape as you are if you don’t work out. You don’t look flabby.”
Luke took the opportunity provided by the attention of the others being drawn to Gary to take a long look at Gary’s physique. With how often he had been forced to conceal his interest by looking away quickly whenever he wanted to study his crush, he was glad that he now had a perfect excuse to study Gary’s more attractive features. While Gary wasn’t the most handsome or rugged looking guy, he did have a baby face matching his shyness which drew Luke in even more.
“Looks can be deceiving,” Gary said with a grin as he grabbed his stomach through his shirt and was able to grab a small bit of fat, framing it with his hands. “I may not have a lot of extra weight, but I’m not toned or anything. I try to eat right, which is probably why I’m not too fat.” He patted his stomach and dropped his hands to his sides. “And I also rode my bike everywhere through most of high school, though I didn’t really go very many places.”
“Well, maybe we just need to get you into shape then. You’re going to be doing a lot of walking and probably need to be able to run on occasion,” Luke interjected, sensing an opportunity to get Gary alone again. “I know that a lot of areas in our mission won’t be biking ones. We’re going to be in Seoul, and you know what Brother Evans said about public transportation over there.”
Gary hesitated as he turned his attention back to Luke, biting his lip uncertainly as he met Luke’s gaze. Before either Chris or Jason caught on to the meaning behind Gary’s hesitation, he responded to Luke’s thought. “Yeah, I wonder what it’s like to be able to get anywhere in the city by subway or bus. That’s going to be crazy.”
Luke opened his mouth to reply with an offer to help get Gary into shape when Jason jumped into the conversation. “I wonder if it’s going to be the same in Pusan. It feels weird that I’m not going to see any of you in my mission. I’m starting to get used to having you three around.”
“I know what you mean,” Chris replied. Luke closed his mouth, silently cursing his missed opportunity to be alone with Gary as Chris continued, “Obviously people come into and leave the mission field all the time, so we’ll be saying goodbye to people the whole time we’re out there, but I didn’t expect to be saying goodbye to a friend so quickly.”
“Are you getting mushy on us, Elder Knight?” Jason asked, clapping Chris’ shoulder lightly as he grinned.
“Oh, shut up, Elder Hadley,” Chris said playfully. “If you’re scared of me showing a little emotion, that’s your problem.”
Gary winced, and the expression did not go unnoticed by Luke. He raised a questioning eyebrow as he met Gary’s eyes, but Gary instantly looked away, blushing. Luke shook his head as Jason responded to Chris, but he didn’t listen to what Jason said. Now that his curiosity was piqued, he wanted to figure out how to get Gary alone again to confront him about that pained look.
They walked through the doors of the gymnasium as Jason and Chris continued to banter back and forth, whilst Luke was lost in thought. He almost walked into the middle of a game of basketball when he heard Jason call his name.
“Where d’you think you’re going?” Jason asked, and Luke turned around and walked back to his roommates. “And does that sound all right to you?”
“Does what sound all right?” Luke asked, scratching his head. “I’m sorry, I was thinking about something else.”
“I asked Elder Knight if, since he’s in such good shape, he’d help me bulk up,” Jason explained as Chris nodded along. “It would mean that you and Elder Dumont would work out together, which I figured was okay since you prefer to run during gym time. We were talking about getting him into shape, too, and I thought you two could work together well . . .”
“Sounds good to me,” Luke said with a shrug. “How does that sound to you, Elder Dumont?”
Gary hesitated, but with all three sets of eyes focused on him, he knew he had to respond quickly, and before he even realized that he was speaking he said, “Yeah, um . . . sure, I guess?”
“Perfect,” Jason said as he nodded to Chris. “Shall we? We’ve got less than an hour left, and I don’t want to waste any time.”
Chris grinned and said something which Luke couldn’t hear as the two missionaries began walking away, leaving Gary and Luke standing at the edge of the gymnasium. Gary was avoiding Luke’s eyes, but Luke wasn’t going to have any more of that.
“Come on, we might as well work out if we’re going to be stuck with each other,” Luke said, forcing a grin as he hoped to get Gary’s attention. Gary looked up briefly and smiled a weak smile.
“Sure. Whatever. Elder Knight and I only lifted weights the last time we were here, so I don’t know where we go to run,” Gary said, dropping his eyes again.
“Top floor. It’s actually terrible for running, but there’s a rectangular balcony ringing the entire level and that’s where we’re expected to run,” Luke said, nodding toward the stairs. “Don’t worry, I’ll go easy on you. We’ll work our way up to something more intense.”
Gary nodded and followed Luke to the stairs and then up, but remained silent until they reached the top. Luke started onto the track at a slow jog. He looked over his shoulder and then stopped, waiting for Gary to catch up. Once they were side by side Luke set a manageable pace for Gary.
“How are you feeling about Korean, Elder Dumont?” Luke asked between breaths.
“It’s going okay, I guess. Not as good as it has been for you. Are you some sort of genius?” Gary asked, breathing a bit more heavily than Luke. “Or is this just because you’ve been studying languages at college?”
“Languages have always made sense to me, which is not what I can say about other aspects of my life,” Luke said, chuckling as they rounded one of the square corners. His knee protested at the sharp turn, but he pressed on, hoping his time running on such a poor quality track wouldn’t screw his legs up too badly.
“Other aspects? Like what?” Gary asked. Luke glanced at him, wondering if Gary was making conversation or if he were truly curious about Luke’s past. Gary seemed much less guarded than he had been over the past week, but Luke wasn’t about to believe that Gary’s doubts were fully behind him.
“Oh, I think you know some of those,” Luke said at length. “I’m not very good with relationships, or with religion.”
Gary didn’t immediately respond, and they finished their first two laps before he pulled up short at the top of the stairs to catch his breath. Luke stopped and jogged back to him and then started to stretch as he waited for Gary to be ready to continue.
Before that happened, Gary spoke, and his voice was soft and hesitant, but the words hit Luke as if they had been thrown at him. “You were right about me, Elder Phillips. About everything. I owe you an apology.”
Luke stopped stretching and stared at Gary, not knowing how to respond. Gary looked up and met his eyes, his mouth twitching between a smile and a frown. “I just wanted you to know, Elder Phillips. I’m sorry that I’ve been acting like a jerk.”
“I get it,” Luke said after a moment. “I know how hard it can be, especially when you’re so used to keeping it in. Don’t sweat it. I was a total jerk as well, and I was way out of line with how I acted the other day. I hope sometime we can have an actual conversation about it, though.”
“Just a conversation?” Gary asked, leaning forward conspiratorially as he eyed a nearby companionship of Sister Missionaries. The two Sisters were deep in conversation as they used the elliptical machines, and didn’t appear to notice Luke or Gary at all. Despite this, Gary kept his voice low as he added, “I really don’t know if I can trust you, Elder Phillips.”
“Just a conversation,” Luke echoed, raising his hands in mock surrender. He grinned and stuck a hand out for Gary to shake. “I’ll even shake on it. There won’t be any more than a conversation, unless you want it to be more. I really am sorry about the way I acted, and I’d like us to be friends, if you can forgive me.”
“Deal,” Gary said as he took Luke’s hand and shook it. Luke felt something travel up his arm as their hands touched, an electric jolt which compelled him to meet Gary’s eyes and see the longing there. They held each other’s gaze for a moment as their hands remained locked together. After a few seconds Gary unclasped his hand, blushed and looked away. “We should get back to running,” he said as he stepped back onto the track.
Luke nodded and fell in step beside Gary and remained silent, though he was grinning from ear to ear. Whatever doubts he had held about Gary’s sexuality were now gone, and Luke knew what Gary desired. It would only be a matter of time before Gary decided to pursue it.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“I’m not sure how I feel about cleaning the gymnasium,” Luke said as he looked up from the floor he was scrubbing to survey his surroundings. “This place is gigantic.”
Jason looked up as well and scanned the place, silently agreeing with Luke’s assessment. Although they had grown accustomed to the routine of the MTC after three weeks of following it, he still wasn’t used to the service projects they did every week as a Zone.
All of the Korean speaking missionaries in the MTC made up their particular Zone, and they were assigned to work together to clean an area of the center. While he had gotten to know a few of the other missionaries in the Zone, Jason still felt much closer to the missionaries he roomed with and didn’t pursue any other friendships, and he’d jumped at the opportunity to clean the floor in the gymnasium when the task was offered, as it was only a two person job. He and Luke could work it without interference from anyone else.
But removing the scuff marks from hundreds of tennis shoes from the gymnasium floor was still a monumental task to get done in an hour and Jason wondered if he hadn’t made a bad call. “Good thing we only have to do it once a week, huh?” he asked, smiling weakly.
“Yeah, I’ve never really liked cleaning. It’s not really my thing,” Luke said as he reached for his nearly empty spray bottle of cleaner and tried to squirt it at a nearby black mark but only managed to get a few drops out.
“Mine either, but it could be a lot worse, you know,” Jason said as he nodded toward the bathrooms on the second floor balcony. “We could be the ones cleaning the toilets.”
“True,” Luke conceded, nodding. “I wouldn’t want to be Elder Dumont or Elder Knight right now. The bathroom is probably my least favorite place to clean.” He stood and stretched in an attempt to alleviate the cramps forming in his legs and back from being bent over the floor for so long. “Hey, my spray bottle is almost empty. How’s yours?”
“It could use a refill,” Jason said as he picked up his bottle and looked at it.
“I’ll head across the gym to the storage closet if you want to keep scrubbing,” Luke said as he reached out for the spray bottle.
“No fair,” Jason said, pouting, “I don’t want to keep scrubbing.”
“You should have offered first then,” Luke snickered and Jason handed his bottle over. “I’ll be right back.”
Luke started running toward the open door to the storage closet and across a particular shiny section of flooring. “Hey, you might not want to run. They just buffed that sec—” Jason called out just as Luke hit the shiny patch and started to slide.
“Whoah!” Luke cried, his arms flailing out to his side, stumbling as he tried to catch his balance. He pitched backward and he shuffled backward with his feet, but his momentum caused his body to twist awkwardly as his foot made contact with the floor, and his foot didn’t twist with it. There was a sickening crack and Luke collapsed to the floor, a dazed look on his face.
“Elder Phillips!” Jason called as he struggled to his feet and then rushed toward his companion. He slowed as he came upon the wet section of flooring and then approached more cautiously, not wanting to end up falling on top of Luke and making the problem worse.
“Uh . . .” Luke said as he propped himself up on his elbows, shaking his head, “that hurt . . . I . . .”
“Here,” Jason said, holding his hand out to Luke, “let me help you up.”
Luke took Jason’s hand and allowed himself to be pulled up, but as soon as he put weight on his right foot he fell into Jason. “Ow! My ankle!” he yelped, blinking back tears. “Ah, damn that really hurts!”
“Come on, lean on me,” Jason said as he reached around Luke’s back to support him. Luke wrapped his arm around Jason’s shoulder and Jason started moving forward. “Let me get you over to the wall and then I can go find the supervisor.”
They hobbled forward until they reached the wall, and Jason let Luke down gently, careful not to drop him on his injured ankle. “Are you going to be all right with me leaving you alone?” He asked, looking down with concern.
“Yeah, I think so,” Luke said, wincing. “I think this is the first time I’ve actually missed my cell phone since we’ve been in here. I really wish I could call someone right now.”
“Me too,” Jason said, biting his lip as he hesitated leaving. “I’ll be right back, okay?”
“Yeah, sure,” Luke said as he closed his eyes and leaned his head back. “Just hurry, please?”
Jason nodded even though he knew Luke wouldn’t see the expression and started toward the stairs. He had last crossed paths with the supervisor in charge of the gymnasium on the second floor, and he decided to check there first. He was halfway around the level when he saw the middle-aged man leaving the restrooms with Gary and Chris right behind him.
He rushed toward the trio and stopped to catch his breath as the supervisor turned to face him. He started to explain the situation between breaths, “Hey, I’m sorry to—”
The supervisor interrupted him, wearing a stern glare. “Where’s your companion, Elder?”
“He was injured,” Jason said, straightening as he pointed to the gymnasium floor over the edge of the balcony. “I came to find you—”
“You’re supposed to stay together,” the supervisor continued in a gruff tone. “Is that why he was injured? Did he get injured while the two of you were separated?”
“No,” Jason shook his head, looking to Gary and Chris for support, “he—”
“All right, take me to him,” the supervisor said waving away Jason’s next words. “We’ll deal with discipline after we help him. Didn’t you two study the handbook at all?”
“Yes, we did,” Jason said, starting to get annoyed. “We were together when he was injured. I don’t know why you think we weren’t.”
“Elder Hadley,” the supervisor grumbled, glancing at Jason’s name tag, “it’s your responsibility to watch out for your companion. You should know better than that.”
“It was an accident! What the heck is your problem?” Jason asked as he started toward the stairs. “Screw this, if you aren’t going to help him, I’ll find someone who will.”
“We’re coming with you, Elder Hadley,” Chris said as he walked past the supervisor who looked to be fuming. “We’ll help you get him medical attention, even if this guy won’t. Take us to him.”
“All three of you Elders are going to be in trouble for this,” the supervisor said as he crossed his arms over his chest. “You’re really going to risk your mission by defying me?”
“Look, I don’t care what kind of power trip you’re on, my friend is in trouble, and I intend to help him,” Chris replied as he set his bucket of cleaning supplies at the supervisor’s feet. “You want to get me in trouble, fine, but you’ll be putting your own job on the line if you’re wrong. Do you really want that to happen?”
“What’s going on?” a voice said from the stairs. The group turned to see a group of missionaries gathered there, including Elder Flynn and Elder Montgomery, the two zone leaders who had been appointed to be in charge of all the other Korean-speaking missionaries. “Elder Hadley,” Elder Flynn said as he walked forward, “We sent a couple of guys to help Elder Phillips when we found him downstairs. You and your roommates should probably go after him.”
“Thanks,” Jason said before he looked back at the supervisor. “Looks like your discipline will have to wait. It’s been a pleasure.”
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