Adam Miller was still aching from the beating he had taken from his father on Monday evening. It was then that he had been discovered watching a CD of homosexual pornography. He did not know what possessed him to take the chance, or to want to watch it in the first place. When he first came across the CD, he had been looking for something entirely different. He had been at a flea market on Saturday afternoon, and overheard some other guys mention that there were some really interesting CDs at a particular booth. Adam sang with a Gospel quartet, mostly at his church and other Pentecostal churches, and thought there might be something that he could use – a new hymn, or a different take on an old one. He found the booth in question, with an old woman in charge. There was a cardboard box with lots of CDs jumbled together in it, and a label announcing that they were $2.00 each. Adam began going through the box, and did find two labels he thought might be interesting to him. Then, there it was, right in front of him. A CD of naked males having sex. His first impulse was to flip past it quickly, but something caught his attention. On the cover was a young man who looked familiar. How could that be?
Glancing around to make sure no one was watching, Adam picked up the CD to study it more closely. Then it came to him. The guy looked familiar because he had seen him in person. Back towards the end of the school year, there had been an assembly at school. As a senior, he did not think he should be made to attend those assemblies, but he was rousted out of his corner in the cafeteria and shooed into the auditorium by one of the teachers. The program was on sexually transmitted diseases, and was being presented by a student from the University named Rick West. Adam resented having to listen to such stuff. As a member of his fundamentalist church, he did not approve of extra-marital sex under any circumstances, and so was not at all favorably inclined to the message of safe sex being spouted by this Rick guy. But then Rick started to talk about a friend of his named Mike, who made gay porn, and he showed a slide of a good looking guy. Rick then told about an unscrupulous producer of gay porn who used infected models, as a result of which Mike came down with the AIDS virus. In Mike, the virus progressed at a rapid pace, in part because he was not in good health to begin with. Rick said he had seen Mike shortly before his death, and then he flashed another slide on the screen, showing an emaciated young man, hardly recognizable as the same person. The audience gasped, and several people cried out. Rick then showed both slides side by side, and one could see that they were, indeed, two images of the same person. Rick said the two were of Mike less than a year apart, and that Mike had died shortly after the second image, which he, Rick, took. He had visited Mike in the hospital, and had that image etched on his memory forever. He then went on to urge the high school audience to be responsible about sex, and if they were going to have sex, at least to use safe sex. Rick never explicitly stated that he had also been involved in making gay porn, but the implication was there. In the question and answer period which followed his presentation, Rick avoided answering that, saying he wanted to concentrate on the message, not the messenger. Adam had been disgusted, but also fascinated, by the presentation. He felt certain that AIDS was a punishment from God on sinners, and he was certain Rick was a sinner of the worst sort, not only a fornicator, but a homosexual as well, and this disgusted him. Those people only got what they deserved. But at the same time, he found himself fascinated. He was not sure why, or with what, but the fact that there was an ordinary looking university student standing in front of the student body talking about a friend of his who made gay porn, and who was almost certainly also involved in the same business, seemed surreal, like a dream, or one of those weird films which seemed both familiar and yet utterly foreign.
All summer, Adam went along his ordinary way, preparing to enter the University in the fall, and working to earn money to help pay for his education. He also took off two weeks to go on a missionary trip with his father and Brother Glenn, the minister at his church, and the other three guys in his Gospel quartet. They made the rounds, singing at church services and two different revivals. That was the week before. Now, only days later, here he was, standing in front of a booth at a flea market, staring at the jacket of a gay porn CD. On the jacket were images of Rick and Mike, although they were identified as Steve and Scott. He remembered that Rick had said they used stage names in their work. He would never forget those images of Mike shown in that presentation, and here he was, almost exactly the same pose. Adam did not know what made him do it, but he slipped that CD in with four others, including the two he had previously selected. The woman in charge of the booth was deep in conversation with someone else. Adam, held up five CDs, and held out a ten dollar bill. The woman took the bill without breaking off her conversation, and Adam departed.
He listened to the Gospel music he had purchased, but he had no opportunity to investigate the porn until Monday. Everyone else in the family was either at work or at school. He had the house to himself. It took Adam several hours to work up the courage to actually watch the video. When he did, he was again suffused with those same feelings of disgust and fascination he had experienced during the presentation in the school auditorium. He was watching someone he felt he knew engage in sex. The scene between Rick and Mike was only one of five on the CD. Mike was in another, and so was Rick, but not together. Adam watched the scene with the two of them together over and over. It was as though he were mesmerized, unable to break free of the spell of that disgusting, unnatural, sinful, and thoroughly sexual scene, in which he saw Rick suck cock, take Mike’s cum in his face, and lick the cum from his partner’s cock. Then Rick fucked Mike’s ass, and came on his stomach in large gobs of white sperm. Adam could not help himself. He unzipped his jeans, and pulled out his cock, jerking himself to a climax as he watched. Then, feeling guilty, he threw the CD in the trash, and went to clean himself up.
However, a couple of hours later, he still could not get the scene out of his mind. It haunted him, like a bad dream. He returned to the trash, and recovered the forbidden fruit. He stood staring at the CD, and the images of Rick and Mike on the jacket, for a long time. Then, almost against his will, he slid the CD into the player once again. He watched the scene all the way through, jerking off again. After cleaning himself, he went back, and started the scene over. It was then that he had been caught. “What the hell is going on here!” his father thundered. Adam had lost track of the time. His father was home from work, and caught him watching gay porn. He tried to explain, but he could not explain it, even to himself. He stuttered and rambled. He insisted that he was not gay, but was only watching because he recognized one of the guys. Nothing mattered.
Although Adam was eighteen, his father inflicted physical punishment on him. He did not try to fight back, and when he raised his hands to ward off blows from his father’s large fists, that only made the old man angrier. Adam was beaten with his father’s fists, and then with a belt, until he bled and could neither sit nor lie comfortably. He was also deprived of his supper, and sent to bed. All day Tuesday, he was locked in his room, with nothing to eat. His father had carried out a thorough search of the room to make sure there were no more samples of pornography around. He did locate another of the CDs Adam had picked up on Saturday. It was merely a contemporary rock group, certainly not Gospel, and had been picked up almost blindly as Adam was making his purchase, but it was enough to earn him another beating. All day Tuesday, Adam tried to understand what had happened. Why had he been so fascinated with Rick that he bought the CD in the first place, and why had he watched it over and over? Could he possibly be gay? No, that could not be. He had been saved and baptized, and was predestined for heaven, so he could not be a sinner like that. Nothing made sense.
On Wednesday, Adam’s father announced that he would accompany the boy to the University for registration and orientation, to make sure he did not get involved in any more undesirable activities. Adam was humiliated at having his father accompany him. Although he never consciously admitted it, he was ashamed of the uneducated image his father projected. He did not dare question anything, however. And so it was that, on Wednesday, 15 August, Adam found himself escorted around campus by his father. They attended a general session in the morning, at which various University officials spoke to them about the challenges facing new students, and the way the University operated. About eleven o’clock, that came to an end, and they were taken on a tour of the campus by a student named Kevin O’Malley, who seemed like a nice guy, with a wry sense of humor. Kevin pointed out various academic buildings, and mentioned which classes were housed in them. He emphasized the importance of the library. A little later, he took them by the fraternity houses, mentioning that he was a member of Sigma Alpha, which he characterized as the best on campus (of course). At another place, they were shown the various campus ministries, and Kevin ruined himself in the eyes of Adam and his father by mentioning that he was Catholic, although he never made use of the Newman Center. From then on, Adam saw Kevin as an agent of the Antichrist, and attempted to distance himself from his guide.
Fortunately, by then the tour was almost over, and Kevin delivered them to the student union, where lunch awaited the newcomers in the cafeteria. Adam and his father ate together. When another student sat with them, his father began quizzing the student about whether he had been saved or not, and the boy got up and went elsewhere. No one else tried to join them. One person started in their direction, only to be flagged down and engaged in a whispered consultation by another student, as a result of which the fellow sat at a different table. All this was bad enough, but they were making it through the day. After lunch, they were supposed to see academic advisors. Adam wanted to be a preacher, and so he thought a major in Communications made sense, so he was scheduled to see a Dr. Hutchison at one-fifteen.
Shortly after one o’clock, Adam and his father left the cafeteria, on their way to the building where the Department of Communications was housed. As they crossed campus, Adam suddenly froze. There, coming toward them on the walkway, was Rick West. He could not believe it. Somehow, Rick and all he stood for seemed unreal. To have him walking towards him made it seem as though he were in a dream. It was as though the image in a photograph had suddenly come to life. Adam stood stock still, unable to move. His father took a step or two, then, noticing that Adam was not with him, turned, and saw the strangest expression on his son’s face.
“What is it? What’s wrong with you?”
“What’s him? What the hell are you talking about?”
“Him! Rick! The guy on the CD!”
“What about him?” Wayne Miller asked in a threatening voice.
“Right behind you. That’s him!”
Wayne turned, and recognized the young man, who was now only about fifteen feet away. Without a moment’s reflection, Wayne reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a pistol. He began firing at Rick, shouting, “Die, faggot! Die, spawn of the Devil!” Rick collapsed on the walk. Students scattered in panic. Adam attempted to restrain his father, but was shot twice in the process. Dr. Osbourne and Justin Greywolf happened to be in the area. Instead of panicking and running way, they saw that the gunman was totally focused on his victim, and rushed him from behind, crashing him to the ground even as the sounds of sirens filled the air.
In a very short time, ambulances transported Rick and Adam to University Hospital, while a police vehicle took Wayne Miller to the station to book him. As they lay on gurneys awaiting care, Rick opened his eyes. Adam, who was not in nearly as bad of shape, said, “I’m sorry.”
“What happened?” Rick asked, his voice weak, almost a whisper.
“My father. He shot you.”
“Because you’re gay. He thinks you’re corrupting me.”
“I don’t even know you.”
“He caught me with a copy of one of your CDs.”
“I think I’m going to die. I want to see a priest!”
“Are you Catholic?”
“No, but I want to see a priest! I need to see a priest!”
Adam called out to an orderly, “This man wants a priest. Now!”
The orderly took one look at Rick, and ran off. Father Daugherty was visiting the sick, and had come in only shortly before these victims arrived. The orderly found him in the chapel, where he always stopped before beginning his rounds.
“Father, there’s someone in ER asking for a priest.”
“I’m on my way,” the old man said, rising to his feet and following the orderly. In the ER admissions area, Rick and Adam still lay on their gurneys, although some effort had been made to staunch the bleeding, and a preliminary review of their situations made. The priest asked whether Rick could be moved to somewhere private, but Rick waved that away.
“I’m in bad shape. Privacy is no longer a consideration. I need to see you right away.”
“What is it you want from me? I’ve seen you at Mass, but I’m afraid I don’t remember your name.”
“My name’s Rick. Rick West. I’m Joe Smith’s friend. I want to become Catholic before I die.”
“I know now who you are. Have you ever been baptized?”
“Yes, as a Methodist.”
“That’s valid. Now, I don’t think we have time for a full review of your past life. It looks like they are getting ready to work on you. In your mind, review all your sins, and ask God for forgiveness. Do you repent of all your sins?”
“I’m not sure what things are sins.”
“Do you repent of anything which might offend God? ... of anything which rejects God’s love? ... of any turning away from God?”
“Yes, but ...”
“That’s sufficient. Now tell God you’re sorry while I say the words of absolution.” As the priest repeated the formula, Rick felt a soothing presence. He ached to say he was sorry for any evil he had done, and especially for the consequences of his stint as a gay model, which brought about the trouble today. He felt a great weight lifting from him.
Father Daugherty reached into his coat pocket, and removed the viaticum. He held up the host for Rick to see, and said, “The Body of Christ, Rick.”
Rick answered, “Amen.” He took the host on his bloodied lips and tongue, and with great effort he swallowed.
“Thank you, Father. If I come out of this, I’ll be around to see you.”
About that moment, Joe Smith arrived. He ran over to where Rick lay. He was distraught in the extreme. He cried out, “Who did this? What does this mean?”
Rick answered, “I’m okay.”
Joe whispered, “I love you.”
Then, two orderlies wheeled Rick into the operating room. He died on the operating table a short time later. There were four bullets which had pierced vital organs, not only one lung, but also a blood vessel not far from the heart and his liver. It was amazing Rick had survived as long as he did.
Father Daugherty stayed with Joe after Rick was wheeled away. Joe sat, wringing his hands, repeating, “I don’t know what’s going on. This can’t be real. Oh, God, don’t let Rick die!” While they were waiting, Stephanie Williams came in, all agitated, having heard on the radio the news of the shooting on campus, and the identity of the main victim. Twenty minutes after Rick entered the operating room, a surgeon came out. He consulted with the receptionist, and then approached the little group. Joe saw him coming, and cried out, “No! Don’t tell me he’s dead!”
The doctor asked Stephanie, “I understand you’re the sister?”
“I’m very sorry to have to tell you that your brother died on the operating table just a few moments ago. We did all we could. He had extensive internal bleeding which could not be repaired. I’m sorry.”
Stephanie broke down in tears. Joe howled in rage. Father Daugherty attempted to sooth and comfort both of them. It took some time for them to recover sufficiently to leave. As they were walking out, Mr. West arrived. Stephanie fell into her father’s arms, and sobbingly told him Rick was dead. He blanched and staggered. In his own way, he had loved his son, and was devastated by his death. Joe had started to say something cutting, because Mr. West had been distant with Rick, and had not approved of his relationship with Joe, but, seeing the older man’s reaction. he remained quiet. He was rewarded when Mr. West, said quietly, “We’ll all miss him,” and squeezed Joe’s hand. Joe broke down again.
Only slowly did the story come out as to why Mr. Miller had shot Rick West. The media made a circus of it. Adam related to the police the entire story, while asserting that he did not know his father was carrying a gun, and had been surprised at his reaction to seeing Rick. Adam himself suffered two gunshot wounds, but they were not life-threatening. He had been hit accidently as he tried to intervene between his father and Rick. Wayne Miller maintained that he was doing the Lord’s will when he shot Rick, cleansing the earth of the pollution which was spreading sin and wickedness. He stated that his own son had been seduced by Rick’s evil example, and thus he, too, deserved to die. Brother Glenn, the pastor of the church where the Millers belonged, stated that he did not approve of murder, but refused to condemn Wayne’s actions, saying they were understandable, and any father might have done the same. This resulted in a spate of letters to the editor of the newspaper.
There was some little difficulty about Rick’s funeral. Mr. West still did not approve of Catholics, and did not want his son buried from a Catholic church. But Stephanie insisted that it had been Rick’s decision at the end to become Catholic, and his wishes should be honored. Father Daugherty tried to stay out of it, but Joe supported Stephanie, of course, and Mr. West gave in, but still wanted Rick’s funeral handled by the same people who had handled his wife’s interment, rather than one of the Catholic mortuaries. This was agreed upon by Stephanie and Joe. Father Daugherty conducted a wake on Friday evening, where Mr. West was in attendance. A large number of people came to pay their respects. At the wake, Father provided an opportunity for those who had known Rick to speak about him, beginning with his sister. Joe could not speak very much, as he was thoroughly distraught by the loss of his partner. But Austin Grey, Rydael Seagraves, and Zip Todd spoke of him, and of how he had cared for others. Zip told how Rick had come to him for help with Joe. Then a surprising thing happened. A young high school student, who no one there knew, got up and spoke about Rick coming to his school, and making his presentation about safe sex, and how that had affected him and many of his friends. He was followed by another student from a different school, and so on until over a half dozen had spoken. Mr. West had broken down during these presentations, and had to be escorted out by one of the attendants.
As the service broke up, Father Daugherty noticed a young man with his arm in a sling sitting at the back of the room, to one side. He was weeping, too, so the priest went over to comfort him.
“Were you a friend of Rick’s?”
“No. I never really met him.”
“You seem to be very affected by what the others had to say. Did you hear Rick’s presentation, too?”
“Yes. That’s when the trouble began.”
“You don’t know me, do you?”
“No, I’m afraid not.”
“I’m Adam Miller. It was my father who killed Rick.”
“I’m sorry. This must be difficult for you.”
“Difficult? I’m totally confused. I don’t know what to make of any of it. I’m just sorry all this happened.”
“Of course. We all are. Would you like to say something to Rick’s family? I believe his father had to leave, but his sister is here.”
“Oh, I couldn’t. They must hate me.”
“I doubt that. After all, you were hurt trying to intervene with your father.” The priest turned to see Stephanie approaching, having been attracted to the prolonged conversation between the priest and this unknown person. “Stephanie, please come and say hello to this young man. Adam Miller, I believe you said? Yes.”
Stephanie stopped. She recognized the name. Her first reaction was anger, thinking this person had come to mock or jeer. Then she saw the distress in Adam’s face, and her anger dissipated. She held out her hand. “I believe you were hurt, too. Thank you for coming.”
All Adam could say was, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for all of this.”
“Of course,” she replied. “Thank you. Come up front, and take a look at Rick. He’s at peace at last.”
Adam did not want to approach the coffin. He did not want to see the face of the young man who was a great sinner, but who had captivated him. He did not want to see the face of the man his father had killed. But Stephanie took him by the hand, and led him up to the open coffin. Rick did seem to be at peace. Adam looked. Time stood still. He was unaware of anything except this young life so abruptly ended. Adam began to weep again, tears streaming down his cheeks silently as he absorbed the scene before him, unable to put what he was experiencing into words or coherent thoughts. Then he heard someone else weeping, and the spell was broken. He looked up, and saw Joe sitting close by, his body wracked by sorrow. Joe was crying, and much more audibly than Adam. Seeing the direction of Adam’s attention, Stephanie said, “That’s Joe Smith. He was Rick’s .... partner .... good friend .... lover, I guess.”
Adam’s first reaction was revulsion. There it was again. Sin. Perversion. But sin was not supposed to look so pitiful. Joe was hurting. That was obvious. Adam stared at him. He did not feel revulsion any more, but sympathy. He approached Joe. As he had with Stephanie, he simply said, “I’m sorry.”
Joe looked up. “Thanks.”
Stephanie said, “You will come to the funeral Mass at St. Rose tomorrow, won’t you?”
“I ... I ... Yes, I’ll come.”
At home, Adam was having a rough time. His family wanted total support for his father, but he did not feel he could give that. He knew what his father had done was wrong. He was not sure just why, but it was wrong. His mother did not want him to attend the wake or the funeral of Rick West, but he did anyway. His family told him he was a traitor, and disloyal to their father, and to their church, and to the Lord. Adam felt miserable.
Nonetheless, he made his way to St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church for the funeral service for Richard Stephen West Jr. at ten o’clock on Saturday morning. He had never been in a Catholic church before, and this was one of the most challenging, with its statues, votive candles, odor of incense, stained glass windows, and everything Adam had been taught to regard as proof of the idolatry and blasphemy practiced by Catholics. He sat near the rear of the church, and witnessed the entire ceremony, from the entrance of the family, including Joe Smith, to the final recessional and removal of the casket. He did not understand much of it, and he did not approve of much of what he thought he did understand. He had not intended to go to the cemetery, but as he was leaving he was suddenly faced by Joe.
“Do you have a car?”
“Good. You can drive me to the cemetery.”
Adam found himself in the funeral procession, with Joe Smith as his passenger. He felt really weird, having this person seated in his car, this person who was a homosexual, a sinner, the lover of the dead man, and a black man, besides. Adam was partly afraid, partly repulsed, but also partly attracted, partly intrigued. Just as he had been from the moment he saw that CD back a week ago. He drove to a public cemetery. Rick was to be buried next to his mother, at his father’s request. Father Daugherty continued to conduct the ceremony, praying over the coffin. In his few words before the coffin was blessed, he noted that Rick had received forgiveness of his sins, and had received Christ in the Eucharist, immediately before his death, and so they could be sure he would be welcomed by Christ into heaven. Adam could not comprehend that. How could a sinner be welcomed into heaven? Then, he experienced a flashback, and saw the face of Rick in the coffin the evening before. He had been at peace. Maybe he was experiencing heaven.
After the service, Joe latched onto Adam again. He obviously knew who Adam was. He directed Adam to the Kenilworth, and then told him to come up to the apartment he had shared with Rick. Adam obeyed as in a trance. When they were seated in the living room, Joe said, “I want to understand what happened. I read what the papers said, and I watched the news, but I don’t understand. Tell me what happened.”
Adam began to talk. He talked about Rick’s presentation at school, about the CD, about his father catching him watching it, and beating him, about coming on campus with his father, and seeing Rick walking towards them, and then the horrible shots ringing out, and his father yelling at Rick to die. By the time he had finished, they were both weeping again.
Joe pulled himself together. “Thank you for telling me all that. I still don’t understand, but it helps some. And thanks for driving me around today. I wanted the chance to talk to you. I hope you don’t mind too much.”
“N-No. No, I don’t mind.”
“I know you think I’m damned, so there’s no reason to take my advice, but I’m going to give it anyway. That church of yours, which leads to such hatred and violence, cannot be the true church of Jesus. I know Jesus. I know I’m a sinner, but Jesus came to save sinners. He doesn’t hate anybody. Not even me.”
Adam did not know what to say. He stood. He nodded. He left.