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 Press START to Continue (Adam)

1981

Adam, according to his parents, was born in the United States. But as far as he was concerned, he was a child of Jamaica.

His earliest memories were in his grandmother’s little apartment in Kingston. The place always smelled liked food. His grandmother, a lifelong cook, spent most of her evenings and weekends experimenting in the kitchen, and she would feed Adam her dishes before bringing them to her restaurant. He was her “test tongue,” as she used to call him.

But he was bad at it–when he was hungry, he would eat anything. After Adam ended up sick in bed one day because he’d eaten rotten shrimp, she stripped him of his title.

“No!” Adam had begged from bed. “Gramma, please!”

“Dat shrimp tasted like di bottom of ma foot.” She’d slapped a wet towel across his forehead. “I can’t trust you no more.”

He loved his grandmother. She always came home from work smelling like fat and meat and spices. He would bury himself in her skirts as she silently rubbed his head. Then she would feed him, usually with leftovers, and let him sit in her lap while they watched TV. His grandmother was a quiet woman, but sitting with her while the TV filled the apartment with sound was all the company Adam needed.

She didn’t look much like him. When he was old enough to ask why his skin was pale and his eyelids looked different and his hair flopped down in his face, she explained that his dead grandfather had been pale, making his mumma a little pale, and his puppa and all his puppa’s family were pale with different eyes. Adam didn’t see his parents much when he was a little boy, but he did know he looked more like them. It made him sad to look so different from his grandmother. But when he tried to color in his arm with a brown magic marker, his grandmother told him he was being weird.

“You’re American,” she told him. “When you go back to America, you’ll look like everyone dere.”

But that wasn’t what he cared about. He wanted to look like her. When he told her that, she kissed him and told him everything he got from her was inside. He thought she meant her food in his belly. He doubled what he ate for a week until she yelled at him for making himself sick.

Adam didn’t like school very much. He thought reading and math were boring. He squirmed in his seat and threw bits of paper at his friends and ran in the halls. When they went outside on break, he would roughhouse with his friends until they were dirty and sweaty and laughing. Adam liked that the best. But sometimes one of his friends would cry, and Adam’s teacher would yell at Adam for being too rough.

He didn’t know what that meant. Most of the time, no one would cry when he fought, so he didn’t understand what counted as “crossing the line.” He always found out too late…which meant someone lost a tooth and Adam had to sit in the corner for being bad again.

One day, when he was seven, his parents came to visit. He ate pork and rice in front of the TV while they discussed him from the couch.

“He’s getting in fights?” his mother asked. She had a little accent on her English from all those years in America.

“His teacher says he’s just rough. Dat boy’s got energy like a little dog eatin’ coffee beans.”

“He probably gets that from me,” his dad admitted. His funny accent was like the Americans on TV. “I was bouncing off the walls when I was his age.”

“Maybe we should put him in organized sports.”

“He plays sports!” his grandmother argued. “How do you tink dat boy down di street got his nose broken wid a football?”

“Then he has to learn how not to hurt people.” His mother grunted. “Nothing better for that than combat training. Will martial arts take him this early?”

“You know, we passed a martial arts place on our way here. I think it was Chinese…”

“Soldiers,” his grandmother muttered. “You tink fightin’ is di answer to everyting.”

“It’ll teach him discipline and give him an outlet. It’s better than him getting kicked out of school.”

“And could you start bringing him to church?”

His grandmother shifted on the couch with a slight creak. “Your church,” she clarified. “I already bring him to mine.”

“And thank you for that. It’s just…” His father sighed. “Nothing disciplines a kid like a Catholic upbringing. I know the priest at the church downtown–if I talk to him, I’m sure he’ll take Adam as an altar boy, maybe give him some duties. It would free up your Sundays.”

“I know the Catholic church is across town, Mumma. Do you mind?”

His grandmother paused. “You sure you wanna raise dat boy Catholic?”

“Please, Mumma.”

His grandmother sighed.

“Hey, Adam.”

Adam stuffed his spoon in his mouth and turned his head.

His father smiled down at him. “Be a good boy for your grandma while Mumma and I are away. If you’re good while we’re gone, we’ll bring you a great present next time.”

Adam swallowed his mouthful of rice. “You goin’ back on di boats?”

“It’s called the navy, honey.”

“Okay.” He turned back to the TV. “Mi gonna be good boy.”

I’m gonna be a good boy,” his mother said.

“He’s gonna be speakin’ some Patois while he’s living ‘ere. Don’t be worrying about dat now.”

“She’s right, Grace. There’s nothing wrong with it.”

His mother kissed him on the top of the head. “I just wanna make it easier for when he starts in American schools. Only two more years, Adam.”

Adam puckered his lips for a kiss, but kept his eyes on the TV. 

1988

Adam took to martial arts immediately. The first few weeks were the hardest, since Adam was bad at the discipline exercises–but he eventually got used to sitting still for more than a minute. His Master, a friendly Chinese man, gave him so many moves to practice that they tired Adam out. Adam slept better, he felt more accomplished, and he learned to bottle his desire for roughhousing until his martial arts classes after school. When he stepped onto that mat, he felt a bubbling, giddy excitement flow through to his fingers and toes.

Church was harder. Father John made Adam sit in a class with other children on Sunday so he could “learn about his faith.” He knew about God and Jesus from his grandmother’s church, but Father John’s class talked a lot more about sin. Adam had to memorize things that were good and things that were bad, even when he didn’t understand half of them. He took the Eucharist at Communion, but Father John yelled at him for chewing. Adam thought his church was weird. But when he asked his grandmother if he could leave, she insisted that his parents wanted him there, and listening to his parents was part of being a good boy…so Adam went every Sunday, and daydreamed about martial arts until Father John slapped a ruler.

The next time his parents came, they were beaming. Adam was surprised at how happy they were–he felt good about pleasing them, and even better when he saw his grandmother smile. His parents brought him the present that he’d completely forgotten was coming.

A Nintendo.

Adam knew what it was–one of the boys in his school had one, although Adam had never seen it in person. His mother hooked it up to his grandmother’s TV and showed him how to use the controller.

Adam was instantly obsessed. He played it for the entirety of his parents’ visit, pausing only to eat, go to the bathroom, and kiss his parents before they left. When they laughed and said he’d earned it, he felt a brand-new connection click in his brain. If this was what he got when he was good, then he’d never be bad again.

Adam redoubled his efforts to behave. He paid attention in Sunday school and during Mass, no matter how boring it got. He started doing his chores faster, doing his homework early, and learning how to cook simple dishes so his grandmother could come home and relax sometimes. When he brought her a plate of his cooking after she collapsed onto the couch, she cracked a smile.

“Tank you, Adam.” She kissed him on the head. “What a good boy.”

His heart jumped a little when she praised him. Before long he found that the praise itself was its own reward. But his grandmother also reported his good behavior to his parents, so his parents shipped him games. Games about sports and adventures and puzzles, and his personal favorite–games about fighting. His parents even sent him games still in Japanese, though Adam didn’t understand a word of them.

Adam ended up with a bigger collection of games than even the rich boy at his school. He became so popular that his grandmother’s apartment couldn’t hold all his after-school friends. They would watch Adam play, amazed at his talent, and laugh when he jumped up to replicate the fighting moves on the screen. He always shared the controller. He always encouraged his friends. His popularity swelled, which made him happier and happier.

Two years without his parents became four. The American navy needed his father to sail in the Middle East because of some war, and his mother needed to be wherever the boats needed an engineer. They weren’t worried about the danger, so Adam didn’t mind. It meant he could stay in Jamaica until he finished primary school. He was growing close to the boys he knew, so he was glad to spend more time with them.

He especially liked the boys in his martial arts class. He got to fight them and roughhouse the way he had when he was younger, but without making anyone cry. It was fun and close and made him feel more attuned to his body. Sometimes he got so excited to grapple that he would have to do extra exercises before class to burn off the excess energy. When his Master asked him why, Adam had trouble answering. He was just so happy, he said. Happy to be fighting, happy to be with friends.

“You used to be very wild,” his Master told him. “And now you’re much better. But this energy I see in you now…it’s different from the excitement of a little boy. You know that, right?”

Adam shrugged and practiced a spin kick. “If I practice dis,” he explained, “ma body gets tired. Den I’m gonna be okay.”

“Do your parents know about this?”

Adam paused. “Dey put me in dis class because I was fightin’ in school.”

“No, I mean…about this energy. This new excitement.”

Adam frowned at that. “Dey said a good boy uses his energy in sports or organized fightin’. Am I doing someting wrong?”

His Master hesitated. “You’re growing up,” he murmured. “You need to talk to someone about your body. I know you live with your grandmother…do you have any adult men in your life? Like a grandfather?”

Adam shook his head. “Ma granfada’s dead. But Fada John said I can come to ’im wid tings I would ask ma Puppa.”

“A priest! Yes, he could probably help you. Talk to him about the changes your body is going through.”

Adam was confused at his Master’s sudden concern. He’d learned about puberty in school, and he knew it would make him interested in girls–something Father John was always warning him about. But it hadn’t happened yet, so why the worry? And running martial arts drills still calmed him down. Adam didn’t know what had changed.

So Adam asked Father John. Father John, who twitched at the question, responded by dedicating an entire Sunday class to puberty and marriage. He talked about body hair and voices changing, then added some things about mothers and fathers and babies. Adam didn’t learn much new material. But when Father John finished his speech, he listed out a dozen related things on the board which were “always sins.”

The other students laughed and murmured at the things Father John wrote, even when he yelled at them to be quiet. He wrote stuff Adam had never considered before–like having “naughty thoughts” about a sibling–alongside stuff he already knew wasn’t allowed–like touching a girl under her shirt if she wasn’t his wife. One boy in his class claimed he’d already done something on the list; the class erupted into excited shouts as everyone crowded around him for details.

But Adam stayed in his seat, behaving like always. And, surprised, he found himself staring at one line written across the chalkboard.

Something inside him clicked. He felt understanding rush through him along with the suddenly powerful excitement that he knew all too well.

Oh no, he thought.

Oh no.

“Ey!” someone in his class shouted as he pointed to the same line. “Look at dat one!”

“Ma puppa knew a guy like dat!” someone added. “Dey used to beat his ass!”

The students laughed. Father John yelled at them.

Adam shrunk down in his chair.

After that, Adam knew he had a stain on his record. He had a secret that would ruin everything he’d been working at. So he buried that secret as deeply as he could. He tried to focus on school, even though he didn’t like it much. He tried to be extra helpful at Mass, even when Father John didn’t ask. When he felt urges in him rising, he frenetically practiced his drills to drive out the extra energy…and then he redoubled his efforts at good behavior in the rest of his life.

All the things that made him happy now seemed like a pathway to bad behavior. Martial arts class felt strained–he didn’t want to grapple anymore. He was afraid of having friends stay too long in his house. He started seeing things in TV and in the street with new eyes and an uncontrolled curiosity; he couldn’t turn off the new thoughts that rumbled in his head.He started to listen to the way people talked about girls and boys and being naked. He started understanding dirty jokes. He heard the way people talked about people who performed that one little line on the chalkboard.

Adam felt like a different person. A person no one would like…who would disappoint his Catholic parents.

His grandmother knew something was wrong almost immediately. She flipped on the light in his bedroom one night, when he was practicing drills well past his bedtime.

“Adam?” she called. “What’s wrong?”

Adam shook his head. “I’m fine,” he said as he punched the air. “I wanna calm down.”

“It’s almost midnight! You’re a little boy–you need your sleep.”

Adam felt frustration and fear twist around his heart. He couldn’t sleep. Not until he burned through the bad energy stored up in his body. Not until he exhausted the bad thoughts out of his head.

His grandmother stepped up to him suddenly; he froze to keep his fist from swiping her. She pulled him close and pushed his head against her chest.

Tense and sweating, he closed his eyes. Her nightgown smelled different from her skirts–like flowers and soap, not food and spice.

“Adam,” she murmured. “You’re actin’ crazy because you’re tired. Be a good boy and go to bed.”

Adam tensed under her touch. Good boys didn’t lie in the dark with bad thoughts in their heads.

Tears welled up in his eyes. “I…I wanna go to bed,” he breathed. “I wanna be good.”

“You are good.”

He shook his head. She didn’t know. She didn’t know what he had to fight.

When she asked him what was wrong, he just pulled away from her and apologized. He went back to punching the air, desperate to beat his mind.

His parents finally came for him when he was eleven years old. At that point, Adam was exhausted with avoiding the things that had seemed so innocent as a child. He needed a change. When they said he could live with them on a Navy base in Florida, he quickly agreed.

“Are you okay?” his mother asked him. “Your gramma thinks you’re depressed.”

Adam shook his head. “Sorry,” he mumbled.

“You won’t miss your friends if you leave Jamaica?”

Adam bit his lip. Of course he’d miss them–he loved his friends. But he’d been slowly pulling away from them because of his newfound guilt. He wasn’t as popular as he’d been…even his martial arts Master had trouble connecting with him. Adam was afraid that these people, whom he’d known and loved for so long, might figure out what he was hiding. It stained his happiness with them.

He’d never thought the day would come, but he genuinely wanted to leave Jamaica.

His grandmother hugged him and kissed him on the day he left. She was quiet, as she always was, and instead cradled him in her arms to communicate her love. He breathed in the mix of scents from her cotton dress.

“Be ’appy,” she told him quietly. “You’re a good boy.”

He missed her desperately before he even left her arms. He clutched the back of her dress with shaking fingers.

“Good-bye.”

1992

Adam’s new school was in the base. He sat with other kids like him–children of soldiers and sailors who had been around the world. The majority of them were white, like his grandmother had always told him, but there weren’t as many white kids as he’d expected from watching American TV. And they all had different accents on their English, some of which he’d never heard before.

“Where are you from?” some girl asked him in an unusual drawl. She was black, like a handful of his classmates.

“Jamaica,” he answered.

“Wow. Is that where your accent’s from?”

“Yeah. I lived wid ma grandmadda dere.”

“Is she Asian? Because you look really Asian.”

Adam shook his head. He was used to hearing that–classmates growing up had asked if he was “Chinese.”

“Where’s your accent from?” he asked.

“Ah, I’m just American. Born and raised in Louisiana.”

American. Like the white boy from Washington and the Indian boy from New York. Like the girl in his class who had a Vietnamese parent, like him. She had a different accent from all the others and supposedly knew how to speak Vietnamese. They were all different, but still American.

Like he was American.

But no matter how many times he heard it, Adam had trouble identifying that way. He still felt Jamaican. When he asked his mother about it, she smiled and rubbed his head.

“You’re Jamaican,” she assured him. “And you’re Vietnamese. And you’re American. You can be all three!”

Adam’s new home made him feel suddenly anonymous. The children of soldiers came from everywhere–even if he was “different,” everyone was different in some way. His classmates moved frequently, so students appeared and disappeared randomly. After feeling his happy life twist into despair in Jamaica, he was glad to feel less like a member of the community. It gave him time alone to deal with his problems. It meant people probably weren’t guessing and judging him for his secret.

His parents took him to Mass every Sunday in a church in the city. The priest warned against sinthe way Father John always had, but this priest added a lot more about redemption. He preached about performing good deeds to make up for weakness to sin. Adam had always lived his life like that, but hearing so much focus on it made him feel more confident.

The new perspectives gave Adam a lot to think about. He played video games for long hours, letting his mind wander as he dumbly tapped the controller.

“Adam?” His father flipped on the light in his room. “The sun set an hour ago. You’re playing in the dark, buddy.”

Adam mumbled a “thank you” but didn’t look up from the screen.

“How do you like your new martial arts trainer? He’s good, right?” His father smiled. “He’s been training soldiers here for years.”

Adam nodded. With how frequently he fell back on drills when he felt dangerous thoughts or feelings, he’d become an excellent martial artist. His new trainer taught him techniques ahead of the rest of the class.

His father stepped inside Adam’s room and closed the door. He hesitated for a second.

“Adam,” he said at last. “Do you need to talk about anything?”

Adam automatically shook his head.

“You’re becoming a young man, and I know you may have questions…please tell me if you need to talk.”

Adam swallowed and tapped his controller. “I know about becomin’ a man,” he answered. “And sex.”

His father cleared his throat. “I don’t just mean that. You spent your entire childhood in Jamaica, and now we’re just going to keep moving…that would be hard for anyone.”

Adam shrugged.

His father sighed. “You’re such a good kid,” he mumbled as he rubbed Adam’s head.

Adam felt his chest tighten at the words, but it wasn’t as bad as usual. He thanked God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost that he was finally starting to feel better. 

1994

His family transferred to a base in Connecticut. The new weather was a surprise–starting in the fall, the outdoors were cold. After a few miserable walks, he stopped forgetting to wear his puffy jacket in the morning. Adam was excited the first time it snowed in the winter, then swiftly grew tired of it as the months dragged on. He had to wear ugly boots to school and wring out soaking slush from his pant cuffs.

His parents found him a martial arts teacher who specialized in Wudang chuan. For the first time, Adam got to train in a weapon. He liked the staff. When his parents asked why he’d picked it, he shrugged.

“It’s not sharp,” he explained. “If I ’ad to defend myself wid it, I wouldn’t kill anyone.”

His parents liked that answer. They told him he was growing into a good man.

His teenage years were especially tough with all the hormones, but that didn’t come as a surprise. His body went through other changes that helped distract him from sex, though. He felt himself growing strong in his training, allowing him to fight bigger opponents. Before he knew it, he was as tall as his father.

Two girls in his class liked him. Although that knowledge struck fear into his heart at first, he was surprised at how little came of it. One of them developed a crush on someone else soon after, and the other was shy and moved away in a few months. When one of his friends complained about how hard it was to get a girlfriend as a military brat, Adam felt relief loosen the knots in his chest.

His old methods for dealing with his sexuality had become routine and reliable. He could play something on his Super Nintendo if he needed distraction from deviant thoughts. He could practice his Wudang drills to calm down any surging hormones. One night he had a dream that he was in a video game–he was a celibate white knight who protected innocent villagers. When he woke up from that, he cried in relief. His subconscious was finally adjusting to all his desperate goals.

After two years in Connecticut, his family moved to California and Adam got a Playstation. Two years after that, it was Hawaii and a Nintendo 64.

A year later, at age 18, he moved with his parents to the mountains of New York. They finally settled for an extended period in the naval base at Stafford Springs.

1999

His grandmother came to his high school graduation. Even though the school was small and the ceremony simple, she still flew in to sit in the front row. She smiled when he received his diploma and clapped when he shook the principal’s hand. Adam felt a rare, genuine happiness when she pulled him into a hug.

She was older now; new wrinkles carved lines in her face to match the cascade of white in her hair. Even though he’d long since grown taller than her, he still felt tiny in her arms. She hugged him tightly.

“Dat’s ma good boy,” she murmured.

Joy and misery flooded his heart. When she pulled him out to arm’s-length, she blinked. She rubbed her thumb under his eye.

“Are you cryin’?” she whispered.

He mumbled an apology and wiped his eyes. His parents didn’t seem to notice.

His grandmother cooked him a graduation feast that night. Adam ate until he couldn’t manage another bite, reveling at how the smells of meat and rice threw him back to his boyhood. His parents eventually excused themselves, since they had an early morning. His grandmother put her feet up on a chair while Adam did the dishes.

“Adam,” she eventually called. “Come ’ere.”

He turned off the faucet with a tiny squeak. He wiped his hands on his pants as he joined her at the table.

“Yeah?”

His grandmother paused for a long moment. “Are you ’appy in America?” she asked at last.

He shrugged.

“You’re always movin’ around wid dose parents of yours.”

He shrugged again. “It’s okay,” he replied. “At least we’re together.”

“Are you gonna join di navy?”

Adam took a long breath. “Maybe,” he murmured. “I don’t tink I wanna go to college.”

“You should go to college! You’re more dan smart enough for it!”

Adam frowned. “I don’t like school,” he admitted. “And ma Wudang Master says I ’ave a gift for fightin’. I could join di marines.”

His grandmother snorted. “You’re a sweet boy,” she muttered. “You shouldn’t fight. You’re fightin’ someting in yourself.

Adam froze. He dropped his eyes to the floor.

“You used to call me all di time, Adam. Now I’m lucky if you pick up a phone once a mont. What’s happened to you?”

Adam stared at his feet. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly.

They sat in silence for a long moment. Finally, his grandmother sighed.

“You get dat shut trap from me. You don’t talk when someting’s wrong.”

Adam squirmed in his chair. He’d tried that before–he’d done Confession multiple times, at least once in every church he attended. The first time he’d confessed his secret, the words had felt like fire in his mouth. The priest had forgiven him for bad thoughts and warned him against sins in the future. Most of the other priests said a variation on that, encouraging him to do good deeds and avoid sin in the future.

Their guidance still didn’t fix his problem. The hole inside him remained–a secret gap that he had to hide from the public, a piece of himself he had to deny. He hadn’t committed mortal sin–his control had never slipped–but that fundamental sense of wrong dragged at any sense of peace. He would always struggle with this. On the coldest of nights, it depressed him so badly he couldn’t breathe.

But he couldn’t tell her any of that. He just reached out, gripped her worn hands, and squeezed them gently.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, his voice cracking on the word.

2000

Adam worked at the church part-time and focused on his martial arts. He was so conflicted on the military that he postponed his decision as long as possible; his parents didn’t mind, since they’d both joined the navy later in life. Wudang still calmed him, and cleaning and managing the grounds of the church gave him a regular sense of penance…at home, he had his parents, a Dreamcast, and a Playstation 2. All things considered, he was doing pretty well.

The priest came to Adam one day while he repaired a stone step at the church. The man led Adam to a back room and shut the door to give them privacy.

“Adam, do you have anycurrentplans to join the armed forces?”

Adam frowned. “Still decidin’, Fada.”

“Because I know you’re a talented martial artist, and the Vatican needs a bodyguard for a young woman out in Japan…but she’s American. She speaks English. And considering your…background, I think you two might be an excellent fit.”

Adam blinked. “Bodyguard?”

The priest cleared his throat. “The Vatican has its own soldiers,” he said quietly. “Would you consider fighting for us?

Adam flashed back to the dream he’d had as a teenager, when he’d battled as a monastic knight. His heart leaped in anticipation.

“I-I didn’t know you ’ad soldiers,” he breathed. “Where are dey? What do dey do?!”

“It’s more of an outreach program, to deal with unusual problems in a variety of communities. God willing, you won’t have to fight, but she’s a technical expert and she’ll be out in the middle of nowhere–she could use some protection.”

Adam was thrilled. Using his skills to protect people for the Vatican was a dream come true. It sounded like the role he’d been born to take.

“Japan,” Adam repeated. “Do I ’ave to learn Japanese?”

The priest brushed him off with a hand. “I’m sure you’ll pick some up while you’re there.”

2001

Adam was surprised at how well he adjusted to a cabin in the woods of Hokkaido. He liked it in the middle of nowhere. He liked the quiet and seclusion.

And he liked Shouri. She was a year older than he was, and unlike anyone he’d ever met on a naval base–kind but defiant, blunt but gentle. She also wasn’t shy, so within a few weeks he knew a lot about her life. Including a…very strange condition where she had super DNA, which he still didn’t quite understand.

She said that she’d made a lot of decisions in her life after passionate arguments. That seemed bizarre to him.

“Do you…get in a lot of fights?” he asked one day. She was so friendly that he had trouble imagining it.

Shouri shrugged. “It depends. I’m not great with authority, especially when it tries to force things on me.”

Adam frowned. “But…dat’s di point of autority.”

“You’re from a military family, right? And you’re Catholic. You must be used to following orders.” She pulled her pink-dyed hair into a ponytail. “But the status quo can be really fucked up, Adam. Sometimes you’ve gotta smash through that shit.”

Adam thought on that a moment. Something stirred in his belly.

“Rules are dere for a reason,” he argued.

“Sure. And sometimes they’re there to protect us–like laws that punish violent criminals.” She scoffed. “But sometimes they’re there to keep people in their place. You have to learn to tell the difference.”

Adam opened his mouth, then closed it again. He didn’t know how to respond to that.

“Here, an example.” She spread a hand. “I consider myself a pretty good person. I wouldn’t hurt someone or steal, and I try to respect people who mean well. But because of my ‘Evil’ DNA, the Vatican thinks I’m a ticking timebomb of crime. They talk about it like it’s some mark on my record that I should be ashamed of.” She threw up the hand. “I was born like this! Why the hell should I be ashamed of something I was born with?! So instead of believing their bullshit and self-destructing on the streets, I joined their outreach forces. Now they’ve got a Malum on their payroll with skills they really need and I hope it’s shattering their stupid ignorance about this.” She let out a breath. “Judgmental assholes.”

Adam swallowed. This was sounding…radical. Dangerous. He tensed against the tantalizing draw of something so freeing.

“But, um…” He nervously shifted on his feet. “What if you want bad tings? And you know you’ll always want bad tings?”

“What kind of bad things?”

Adam clenched his fists. “Sex tings,” he murmured.

“Oh, please. Don’t get me started on that.” She waved off the question. “If you’re not actively hurting someone, then what gets you off is your business. And if it’s something you want but never get, what the hell is even there for them to judge?” She pointed at him. “Catholics are the worst about that. They want everyone to feel miserable for ever wanting sexDon’t tell me they guilted you with that ‘bad thoughts’ bullshit.”

Adam wanted to believe her. The breezy way she rejected everything he’d ever known–from church, from his peers, from the military, from society–was so achingly, powerfully beautiful that his body actually trembled. He wanted to believe her. He wanted so badly to believe her.

Out in the middle of nowhere, his perspective had started to warp. The world seemed far away–and most of his fear and guilt was waiting there, with the rest of his culture. So much of it was a product of what he’d been told. He still remembered that terrible day, when Father John had written out sins on the chalkboard…and from that moment on, he’d taken it on the word of everyone else that there was something wrong with him. That his desires were wrong. That his body was wrong.

“Adam?”

He blinked to clear his watering eyes. Shouri rose an eyebrow at him, clearly confused.

“Wh-what rules should I believe?” he breathed. “Which rules are right?”

Shouri twisted down her mouth. “That’s the hard part,” she admitted. “You need to do what you think is right, but you need to form that out of something. And that’s part of developing who you are.” She brightened a bit. “But when in doubt, trust the people you love and respect. They’re the ones most likely to steer you in the right direction.”

Adam choked.

You shouldn’t fight,” his grandmother had said.“You’re fightin’ someting in yourself.

Something cracked in Adam’s heart. Longing spilled out from the gap and flooded him in sudden need.

It was a surreal moment, but his subconscious screamed for him to follow through. Taking advantage of the vicarious clarity, he dug through his pocket for his cell phone.

“What are you doing?”

Adam shook his head as he dialed the familiar number. He lowered himself shakily into Shouri’s nearby computer chair.

The phone emitted a fuzzy buzz with each ring. At last, the line clicked.

“Adam?” his grandmother asked blearily.

The sound of her voice made him want to cry. He was suddenly a little boy again, punching the air of his room as she watched him in the dark.

“Gramma,” he blurted. “I-I ’ave to tell you someting.”

There was a long pause on the other end of the line.

“Okay,” she said gravely, in a tone he rarely heard.

Adam closed his eyes.

“I…I’m gay, Gramma.”

There was another pause on the line–but shorter this time. His grandmother let out a breath.

“I love you,” she replied quietly. “And I already figured dat out.”

The crushing weight on his shoulders lifted. After the incremental relief of confessing to the priests, this was a dizzying freedom unlike anything else.

“I love you, too,” he mumbled.

“Now it’s tree in di morning, you silly boy. I need ma sleep.”

Adam mumbled an apology and ended the call. He closed the cell phone and stared at it for a full minute.

“Hey.”

Adam looked up. Shouri walked up to him, a strange smile on her face.

“You’re gay?” she asked.

It felt weird to hear it out loud–so casual and public. He nodded because there was nothing else to say.

“Me, too.”

Adam blinked.

Shouri knocked a fist into his shoulder. “That must be what that priest meant when he said we’d be a good match,” she said with a dry laugh. “I guess they figured they could put us in the middle of nowhere and we wouldn’t bone each other constantly.”

Adam rose his eyebrows at her. “You’re a lesbian?” he clarified.

She sighed and flopped down in the only other chair. “I guess it’ll give us something to talk about,” she murmured. “Wanna bitch about growing up gay in the church?”

Adam blinked back tears. Ten years of questions, repressions, and loneliness bubbled up in his chest.

He nodded vigorously.

“You go first, Adam. Where are you from again?”

Adam swallowed down the lump in his throat. “Jamaica,” he said quietly. “Ma home is in Jamaica.”

This story is available in the complete Book 2.

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