Mathias Stahl is growing into his own man. He has a few revelations along the way.
|Notes/Warnings: None. Though I imagine I’ve taken liberties with Prairieleut Hutterite culture.
“Where are you going, Mathias?”
I paused at the door, in the midst of putting on my coat. “Just out for some air, Papa.”
A weighty silence said what my father thought of that before he spoke a word. “It’s cold out, Mats, and there’s still snow on the ground,” he said with a rustle of pages as he went through the evening edition. My back almost went up, as it usually did lately whenever I had to get father’s permission for something. Especially when he didn’t see the sense of it.
“I know, Papa . . . but I just want to get some fresh air before bed. Maybe take a walk. . . .”
My father grunted. “Well,” he said gruffly. “Don’t go far and tire yourself out. There’s work to be done in the morning.”
Isn’t there always? I thought, but I merely nodded and said: “Yes, Papa.” And before he could change his mind, I was shrugging on my coat and striding down the hall, through the kitchen. I paused near the refrigerator, listening for the rustle of pages once more before opening it and taking out the covered plate that contained two-thirds of the dinner I’d claimed to be too full to eat earlier. Then I grabbed the big flashlight from the utility drawer.
Plate in hand, I let myself out the back door, maintaining a sedate walk till I was halfway between the house and the barn. Then, as I passed my truck, I let my feet take me into a run, crunching across snow as my legs pumped, barely able to keep up with my heart.
“Wake up, Tad,” I said, kneeling next to the boy sleeping in Papa’s hayloft.
But Tad didn’t so much as stir, besides his shivering—which was visible, despite the extra blankets I’d snuck him a few nights ago.
Frowning, I set the flashlight down, and placed the plate where I wouldn’t forget and knock it over or step on it, and sat next to Tad, burrowing under his blankets and—after a moment of hesitation—laid down and pulled him into my arms. He went easily, bonelessly, with a soft little moan that did strange things to my chest and my stomach as he rolled from his right side, to his left, so he was facing me.
Then he was sleeping soundly again, snoring a little. As I held him, his shivers lessened and he hitched even closer to me, his face turned up to mine.
Unable to help myself—this was the first time I’d seen Tad asleep . . . ever since I’d found him in the barn a week ago, he’d always been awake and moving. Probably due to the constant cold, more than anything else—I reached up and brushed his black hair, streaked with electric blue, away from his face. My fingertips grazed his cheek, which was soft and cold.
He was small for his age—eighteen . . . a year younger than me, or so he’d claimed—and barely came up to my shoulders. Where I was built solid and stocky, like my father, Tad was lean, bordering on malnourished-looking. His face and hands were always pale, again, due to the cold, where mine were tanned from exposure to sun and wind.
Tad’s face was narrow, expressive, and foxlike, his fine-boned features perfectly-formed, from his clear, high brow to his almond-shaped, dark, dark eyes, to his heart-shaped mouth and pointed chin. My own face was wide, square, and frequently expressionless, also like my father’s. Scraggly beginnings of a beard were topped by a long nose made to be stared down, and wide-set, pale grey eyes like a scrim of ice on old cement.
In short, Tad was . . . beautiful, compared to me. Like someone from another world. He was a parakeet, and all my life I’d seen nothing but sparrows and wrens. He was every inch a different sort of person than I’d ever been exposed to—the way he walked, the way he talked, even his gestures were . . . more graceful and fascinating than those of anyone I’d ever met.
Though, admittedly, all I’d ever met in my nineteen years was ranchers, farmers, a few city folk, and other Prairieleut Hutterites, like Papa and I . . . though admittedly we lived a bit farther out from most of the other Prairieleut. The Stahl land was far from pretty much everything. Even the nearest state road was miles off.
It was a wonder Tad had made it from there to the barn, in winter, wearing practically nothing. He’d been nearly frost-bitten when I’d found him, huddled in the hayloft, wide-eyed and scared, and cowering in a corner. . . .
I’d been sneaking him in and out of the house since then to bathe, to change his clothes—my clothes, old ones, that I wore when I was thirteen—to simply get warm. An easy task, since Papa was out of the house most of the day. Unfortunately, we were out of the house at the same time, and when I was home, he was home. So I had to find new and creative ways to distract my father while Tad crept back out to the barn, bundled up in my old layers, which nonetheless swam on him.
Now, as I watched Tad sleep, I wondered if my father would be going to bed at his usual time, or if he’d be staying up later, despite all the work he’d mentioned awaiting us in the morning. If he went to bed soon, I could easily sneak Tad into the house—maybe even to stay for the whole night.
If he stayed up, and I stayed out here much longer, he might get to wondering what I was doing and come looking for me. . . .
Sighing, I brushed Tad’s cheek once more just because I could, and because seeing him so still and vulnerable made me want to . . . touch him all the more. Then I cleared my throat and let go of him. “Wake up, Tad. It’s supper-time.”
Tad moaned again, whiny and tired, and I found myself smiling as I slid out from under the blankets and tucked them back around him. “C’mon, Tadashi. Unless you’re not hungry for meatloaf, mashed potatoes, carrots, and cornbread. . . .”
At that, Tad stopped moaning and cracked his eyes open. The dark glitter of them immediately focused on me.
“You play dirty pool, Mathias,” he said, his low voice slightly hoarse from the cold. I winced, and wished I could take him into the house immediately, without caring what my father would say, or whether or not he’d allow it.
“I’d let you sleep, but I don’t know when Papa’s going to bed tonight. So I brought out the supper a little early.” I sat up and reached for the plate of food I’d brought. When Tad saw it, his eyes opened all the way and he sat up, yawning through a grin, and stretching. “It’s cold because Papa put it in the refrigerator.”
“Cold or not, room service is still room service,” Tad said, rubbing his hands together and taking the plate. But his gaze lingered on me. “Thanks again, Mathias. For . . . everything.”
I snorted. “For making you sleep in a cold barn while I feed you twice a day? You’re welcome,” I said, blushing at my own inability to help more, and at my own unaccustomed sarcasm.
Tad grinned again. “Yes. Thank you for that and everything else. For saving my life last week.”
Thinking of the events that’d lead up to Tad winding up in our barn—the man he was hitching a ride to Minneapolis with had gotten “handsy,” according to Tad, and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, eventually forcing Tad to execute a hasty escape, leaving behind his belongs, but for the clothes on his back—I had to shake my head and demur. “I didn’t—”
“You did,” Tad said firmly, nodding. Then he darted in and kissed my cheek, so quickly, I couldn’t have stopped him even if I’d wanted to. And I was stunned to realize that I did not want to. “You saved my life, kept me from freezing or starving to death. Gave me a place to stay till I can figure things out. . . .”
“As long as I’m able to hide you, you’re welcome here,” I said, and meant it, as my cheek tingled and burned from the simple press of his slightly chapped lips. Tad smiled wryly.
“That’s the best invitation I’ve had in a long time, sexy,” he replied and I blushed even more deeply than I had before, looking away from him. He chuckled, and took the plate from my hands, his cold fingers brushing my still relatively warm ones. “I may just take you up on that.”
Not the first time he’d said something like that—flirted with me. I may not have been the sharpest tool in the shed, but even I could recognize flirting for what it was. Even though it’d never happened to me before. And certainly not from another young man.
For such things were frowned upon in the Hutterite world. At least I was, having never seen evidence otherwise, fairly certain it was frowned upon. Did the Bible not say for two men to lie together was an abomination?
Certainly even flirtation between two men was . . . wrong. It couldn’t have been right. Could it?
But, moved by some impulse I couldn’t put a name to, I risked a glance up into Tad’s dark eyes and found him looking at me almost solemnly, clutching the plate of food like it was a life preserver and he was on a sinking ship. His wide eyes were even wider, framed by long lashes which, when first I’d seen them, had been caked in running mascara and eyeliner. Even then, when he should’ve by rights looked like a down-on-his-luck clown, he’d looked like a fallen angel. . . .
Now, he just looked like an angel.
Then his eyes were slipping shut as my fingers brushed his cheek again—quite without my own permission—lingering hesitantly on soft skin. I had calluses on my fingertips and didn’t want to mar his fine skin with them, like fingernails down velvet.
“Mathias?” Tad exhaled shakily.
“Yes, Tad?” He leaned closer to me and his straight, shoulder-length hair fell into his face, caressing my fingers like a skein of silk. I didn’t know what was happening to us—what was happening to me—and I doubted Tad did, either, for all his poses of worldliness. “Yes?”
“Why . . . why haven’t you k-kissed me, yet?”
My face went up in flames and my hand dropped away from Tad’s face, causing him to open his eyes and blink up at me.
“You do want to kiss me, don’t you?” Tad asked quietly, his brow furrowed, and I nodded, if only because I wanted to kiss that furrow till his brow smoothed out again and he was smiling once more. “Then why haven’t you?”
“I—because I. . . .” glancing down at my hands. I could hear my father’s dour voice in my head, saying things he’d never said to me—but probably would’ve, and at volume, if he could’ve seen me with Tad, just then—about kissing another man. “Listen . . . I’m aware such things are viewed differently by the English, Tad, but here, among the Prairieleut, scattered though we are, progressive though we seem, we have certain rules by which we live. And I’m certain that kissing you would be breaking at least one of them.”
Tad frowned, but his eyes were flashing. “Is that so? Well, we had similar rules and traditions about The Gay back where I’m from and in my family. And you know what I eventually said to those rules and traditions?” His eyebrows shot up in challenge and I sighed. I had learned over the past few days that when Tad was in this mood, it was best just to go along until he got whatever it was out of his system.
“What did you say, Tad?” I asked, though I was certain, from what I knew of Tad’s temperament, I could formulate a guess as to what he’d said.
But instead of answering me, Tad merely searched my eyes for a few moments, then his eyes flicked down to my lips briefly. He carefully put the leaned to his left, to plate down in the hay a few feet away, then straightened up. Took a deep breath, and launched himself at me.
We tumbled back into the hay, Tad’s body landing on top of mine. Lean, though he was, he certainly had solid bones. He drove the wind right out of me, and before I could even begin to recover any of it, he was kissing me on the mouth, hard and repeatedly. His hands came up to cup my face, and just as I was getting used to being kissed hard and fast—too fast to capture his lips or properly evade them—he suddenly went limp atop me and moaned, his final kiss lingering, softening, deepening, as he parted his lips.
I should’ve been pushing him off of me, and away. Instead, my arms, with no permission from my absent brain, wrapped around his small frame and held him closer, attempting and succeeding at rolling us over in the hay so that I was on top of him. I returned his kisses awkwardly, but enthusiastically. No one else had ever kissed me before, nor had I expected anyone ever would.
For the first few seconds I felt as if I was drowning—pleasantly, as his tongue invaded my mouth and set about learning me by taste—then I set myself to copy what he was doing and learn what he liked. That seemed the best way to proceed.
After an eternity of doing just that, copying and learning and, when appropriate, improvising, I realized I was now controlling the kiss. Tad was pliant and warm in my arms, his arms and legs wrapped around my neck and hips, respectively. He tasted salty and sweet, like toffee, and kept moaning and sighing happily as he rocked his body up against mine. He was very obviously aroused.
All during this, the dour voice in my head that sounded like my father, which kept telling me how wrong what we were doing was, continually diminished, till it was less than the whimper of a wounded gnat.
For I’d come across many things in the Bible that were touted as right for God’s chosen people, but held to be wrong in the Hutterite community. Slavery, selling children, war, capital punishment . . . surely, a quiet, but steadily loudening voice asked me, surely kissing another boy isn’t nearly as wrong as those other things? It doesn’t feel wrong. It feels good. . . .
Ever since I was old enough to read the Bible and understand what I was reading, I had puzzled over the . . . inconsistencies I’d come across. Tried to puzzle out the answers for myself, for I had sensed that asking them aloud of my father or of the Elders would not go over well. The Lord’s revealed Word was each man’s to discover and figure out for himself.
But the Bible had been transmitted by God, to men. Men who were no doubt fallible. It was entirely possible that those same fallible men had added their own . . . prejudices and grievances to His Word, even without meaning to.
Who was to say that God condemned me for kissing Tad? Would I go to Hell for all eternity for a kiss? Was I damned for being nothing more or less than what my God made me?
I didn’t think I was. I no longer, in the space of heartbeats, believed I was. I believed God had brought Tad into my life for a reason, and that maybe . . . this kiss—this amazing kiss—had something to do with it.
Finally, a need to breathe forced Tad and me apart, and we gazed into each other’s eyes, panting and smiling.
“I think,” he said softly, giggling. “I think from now on, I’m gonna answer every question I get asked by making out with a cute Hutterite boy.”
“You are. . . .” I trailed off, at a loss for words, till I finally found one that seemed to fit. “Lovely.”
Tad blushed, this time, and held me closer. “Even without my glam? You know, all the make-up and scandalous shit I was wearing when you found me?”
“Especially without those,” I averred, leaning down till our noses touched. “True beauty needs no gilding or accompaniment, but shines honestly on its own, like the sun.”
“Wow. Are all you Prairieleut-boys such sweet-talkers?” Tad asked playfully, then pulled me into another kiss by my ears, before I could answer.
In the chill air of the barn, the white plumes of our frantic breaths puffed up between every kiss. His hands, at first cold, then increasingly warm, found their way under my coat and up my sweater and shirt. My hands burrowed under his layers and found the warm, smooth skin of his waist, and squeezed till it felt as if I was branding him. Marking him as my own. . . .
“I want you, Mathias,” Tad broke our kiss to say, looking up into my eyes solemnly again.
“I want you, too,” I said, not knowing what it meant, only that the feeling was the largest I’d ever felt, and that my body, mind, and heart were, for the first time ever, completely in agreement.
“No.” Tad smiled that wry smile again. “I mean, I want you. Like, inside me. To . . . you know . . . make love to me.”
I blinked, surprised. “Me?”
Tad nodded, and I let out a breath. “I—why me?”
His gaze sidled away from mine and he was blushing again. “Because I . . . want my first time to be special. And I think it will be, with you.”
My eyebrows shot up and my jaw dropped. “But I’m nobody special—I’m not handsome or charming or worldly about such things—”
Tad kissed me silent, his hands sliding down my back, insinuating themselves into my trousers and underwear, to grasp at my behind. “You’re the one I want, Mathias.”
And as if those words were some sort of powerful spell, I couldn’t hold myself back from kissing him, crushing him to me, as this feeling that was too big to name welled up in my heart.
“I—I don’t know how to—” I began, swallowing around a lump in my throat, and Tad smiled against my lips.
“Don’t worry. I do. I’ve watched so much gay porn over the past few years, I could write a Master’s thesis on anal sex and fellatio.” My eyes opened and widened, and Tad was grinning up at me wickedly. “And I promise to teach you everything I’ve learned.”
I turned painfully red.
And Tad began pushing at the waistband of my trousers.
“Wait,” I said, shaking my head and ignoring the suddenly urgent throbbing between my legs.
“Wait?” Tad frowned. “Whatever for?”
I kissed the furrow between his brows and it did, indeed, smooth away. “Wait a few minutes for me to sneak you into the house, and to a proper bed.”
Tad began to smile, then his brow furrowed again. “Won’t your father . . . you know . . . hear us if we make noise? I’m pretty vocal when I come.”
The red hadn’t even had a chance to fade, before it was rushing back.
“The house is huge and his room is way on the other side. Plus, he snores so loud, he doesn’t hear anything over that once he’s sleeping.” I shrugged. “He won’t hear us. Even if you are, um, vocal. And I can heat up your supper for you, once we’re inside the house.”
Tad’s grin returned. “I’m not hungry for supper,” he said lowly, kissing me with teasing, salty-sweet lips.
For a few seconds, anyway. Then he was pushing me off him and sitting up. There was hay in his mussy hair, and my old clothes were large and askew on him. It made him look very young.
“How old are you, really?” I asked curiously, and Tad glanced over at me, surprise written clearly on his even features.
“Really?” He sighed, looking suddenly morose. “Fifteen and a half. Why?”
Now I was frowning. “And how long have you been on your own?”
Tad’s mouth pursed. “Since my parents threw me out three weeks ago.”
“Have you spoken to them, since?”
“No, I haven’t—what is this, Twenty Questions?” he demanded, getting his knees, then to his feet. Grabbing the plate and the flashlight, I did the same. “It’s history. Ancient history. Let’s just sneak into your house, and. . . .” he trailed off, but a quick kiss from him—and a grope of that urgent throbbing between my legs—got his point across admirably.
“But—” my common sense tried to rally, but was silenced by another grope, which was really more of a caress, this time.
“C’mon, baby, what’s with all the questions?” Tad asked, blinking innocently up at me. I shivered and tried to focus.
“I just—I want to help you,” I blurted out. “Or at the very least, I don’t want to be the latest in a line of people who’ve hurt you. Even if it’s only unintentionally.”
“Then don’t be, Mathias.” Tad smiled up into my eyes and slid his arms around my waist—essentially embracing me despite my full hands. His head rested on my chest trustingly and he sighed. “Don’t be.”
And, standing there, holding Tad’s supper, a dying flashlight—it’d seen a lot of use over the past week . . . more than it had in the past decade—and Tad, himself, I silently vowed: I won’t. Not ever.
We crunched across the yard, past my truck, hand in hand. Tad carried dinner, and I lit the way.
Above us, the clear sky was speckled with stars and constellations—the universe whirled above us like the grandest show ever put on. And I wondered what it might be like to lie out in the bed of my truck with Tad, under the same sky in summer. Just lay there, gazing at the stars and kissing. . . .
The house lights were all off, including the living room and my father’s room, except for the porch light. Tad and I had confirmed this before creeping hesitantly out of the barn.
In seconds, we were on the back porch, and I let us into the house. We quietly stamped our feet on the mat, then I was creeping toward the living room, Tad following a few cautious feet behind me after sitting the plate with supper on the kitchen table.
The living room was empty.
I waved Tad forward and together we made our way past the living room and down the front hall, up the stairs.
My room was the second door to the right of the stairs, and there were quite a few rooms between it and my father’s.
Nonetheless, Tad and I paused at my door and looked at each other. Finally he shrugged and winked. “Guess it’s our lucky night.”
It certainly seems to be, I thought, smiling at him and pulling him into my arms. He felt so right there, that I understood at my very core that whatever else this thing between us was, it was not an evil. It was not wrong and He was not condemning me for it.
I liked to think that, wherever He was, He was, in fact, smiling.
Tad and I gazed into each other’s eyes for long moments before he grinned and whispered: “Kiss me, Mathias.”
And I did.