Judge Not 04byJayDavid©
The conclusion to the story.
Nathan's parents would not give him any more details about what was going to happen at school or church, and he dreaded what would happen. After Pastor Stephens' outburst in front of everybody, Nathan knew that his chances of just quietly making it to graduation were slim, at best. He parked in his usual spot and walked toward the school worrying about what would unfold. He also knew that he no longer believed, at least not the way he had before everything happened, and he wondered if he would even be able to sit through all of the hypocritical religious doctrine that was somehow integrated into each class. He had increased respect for Shelby's willingness to question the authority, and her ability to do so without totally confronting what she clearly thought was wrong. And he kicked himself for having been such an unquestioning member of the flock for so long.
By the time all of these thoughts had swirled through Nathan's head, he was at the door to the school, oblivious to the looks he was getting from the other students. As he approached the door, he noticed that Pastor Cullum was standing on the steps, surveying the students and looking very pleased with himself.
"Nathan, come here," he demanded.
Nathan considered ignoring him, but wanted to know what he was going to say, so he approached the young preacher.
"I know that you wanted to have me fired," he said in a low voice so that only Nathan could hear him, "but the joke is on you, boy, because Stephens is gone and I'm still here, and running the church." He smiled malevolently at Nathan before continuing. "And I want you to know that I intend on making your remaining time here miserable, but that will be tame compared to what I intend to do to your slut."
Nathan again wanted to strike Pastor Cullum, but was able to restrain himself. Instead, he turned to the smaller man, smiled falsely and said, "And the Lord be with you too, Pastor Cullum," before heading into the school. When he closed the door behind him, he allowed himself to breathe deeply before heading to his locker.
His day brightened briefly when he saw Shelby approaching him in the hall before homeroom. She smiled at him, and he felt that warmth again filling the emptiness inside him, but he motioned to her, and she approached him.
"Did Cullum say anything to you?" Nathan asked.
"Yeah, it was strange. He called me over and said that now that he was in charge, the rules would be enforced strictly. And that I was warned." She paused. "Then he looked me up and down, and I feel like I need a shower."
Nathan fumed. He told her what Pastor Cullum had said to him, and they agreed that they needed to be careful. "I'll speak to my parents tonight," he said before they headed off to class, painfully without touching each other.
Later, on his way to lunch, Nathan was, as so often happened in the crowded hallway, jostled by an underclassman running to class. Nathan kept walking toward the cafeteria when he heard Pastor Cullum's voice.
"Nathan, come here."
He turned his head, and saw the clergyman standing in the hallway, smiling. Nathan walked toward him.
"I saw you purposely bump Henry before. I cannot believe that you would do that to a younger student. I'll see you in detention after school."
Nathan felt himself getting warmer, and not in the way he did when Shelby looked at him. He stared at the minister and realized what was happening. He knew that if he lashed out in any way, it would only get worse. He felt the eyes of everyone in the hallway staring at him. Nathan took a deep breath and said, in a low, calm voice, "You know that it was an accident, and that Henry bumped me."
Pastor Cullum smiled at Nathan and said, "That's not what I saw. Detention today, for the roughhousing, and tomorrow, for your insolence." He turned and walked away.
Nathan was fuming, but he gathered his wits and walked to the cafeteria, where he knew that Shelby would be waiting for him. He noticed people whispering and pointing at him, but he was rapidly becoming immune to that. But when he saw Shelby, sitting alone at what had become their private table, with puffy eyes betraying the fact that she had been crying, he felt a pit in his stomach and went running to her.
"What's the matter?" Nathan whispered.
"Cullum," Shelby said, beginning to sob again.
"What did that bastard do," Nathan said, careful that no one else could hear his language.
Shelby sobbed quietly, dabbing at her eyes with a crumpled tissue. Nathan sat, and in violation of school rules, took her hand and squeezed.
"Tell me," he demanded, firmly but with tenderness.
She looked at Nathan and he could feel her relax a little. "I was in the hall, and I dropped my notebook. I bent over to pick it up, and he....he.....he," she dabbed at her eyes and Nathan squeezed her hand. She continued, "He called out my name. I said, 'What Pastor Cullum?' as polite and calmly as I could. He looked me up and down, like he does, and said, 'I see that you enjoy displaying your rear end for everyone to admire.' I was stunned. I said, 'No, sir, I was just picking up my notebook.' At this point, everyone in the hall was looking at me. I started to walk away, and he said, loudly, 'Of course, a whore like you has no problem displaying yourself for anyone. Don't you have any self-respect?' I was humiliated. Everyone was staring."
"Oh my God," Nathan blasphemed. "I'm going to kill him." Nathan stood up. But Shelby held his hand.
"No, you can't do that."
Nathan strained briefly at Shelby's grip, but realized that she was right. "He gave me detention today for bumping into Henry Jepsen, who barreled into me in the hall and then another day for asking him what I did wrong."
"Well, I guess we will be in detention together, since he gave me a whole week."
"For what?" Nathan asked.
"He said that I was a woman of loose morals and needed spiritual guidance that I clearly wasn't getting at home."
"I'll have to talk to my parents tonight. I don't know what else to do."
They sat there, quietly, holding hands, not hungry for their lunch until it was time to go to class.
At detention that afternoon, Nathan was required to write an essay about obedience and humility and Shelby was required to write about chastity. After reading their essays, Mrs. Newman allowed them to go home. They ran out of the school and to their cars.
"What now?" Shelby asked.
"I think that we should go home. I need to talk to my father," he said, reluctantly. Because they were still on school property, there could be no kiss, so they looked at each other longingly before saying "I love you," and getting into their cars.
Later Friday Evening
"Can you prove it?" James asked. He no longer was sure whether to believe his son or Pastor Cullum. Although James' faith in the Lord was unshaken by the scandal at Harmony Church, he knew that the clergy were not guaranteed to be paragons of virtue. He also had some doubts about Pastor Cullum, at the very least whether someone his age had the background and experience to run a church.
"I'm pretty sure that if I went to Henry, he'd tell the truth," Nathan told his father across the dining room table. The little that James knew about Henry Jebsen made him confident that the boy would be honest if asked.
"What about the allegations against Shelby?" Marcia asked.
"That might be harder," Nathan admitted. "I could ask her whether she remembered the names of any of the kids in the hall when it happened and I could call them and see."
"I think that may make sense," James noted. "The church council is meeting with our lawyers tonight, and then there will be a full church meeting tomorrow afternoon, and decisions will be made."
"About what?" Nathan asked.
"Everything. The leadership of the church and school going forward. Our legal options."
"Anything else?" Nathan asked?
James paused, then shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "I suspect that your status, and that of Shelby and her family will be discussed."
Nathan stared at his father. "When exactly were you going to tell me about that?"
"I just did," his father replied.
"Only after I had to ask twice," Nathan noted.
"It isn't something that makes me happy," James responded. "That my son is involved in this mess, you know..."
Nathan stood up. "Are you serious? I'm a problem because I have made love with the woman I love—like you did? Compared to what Stephens did? And Cullum? I'm going to be at that meeting to defend myself, and Shelby, if necessary."
"I wouldn't," James replied.
"I'm an adult member of this Church and I have every right to attend. And I will," Nathan asserted.
James looked down at the table. Nathan was unsure if he was thinking or praying, but he didn't wait to find out. He turned and went to his room and called Shelby.
After bringing her up to date on what he knew, Nathan asked, "Do you remember anyone who was in the hall when Cullum accused you?"
"I've tried not to think about it," Shelby replied.
"C'mon, it's important."
After thinking for a while, Shelby said, "I think that Carrie Reynolds was there, and Adrienne."
"Great," Nathan responded. "The most religious girl in the junior class and my first girlfriend."
"But they would support me, don't you think?" Shelby asked, uncertainly.
"I've known them forever, so maybe I should call them."
"If you think so," Shelby agreed. "I love you."
Nathan replied, "I love you too. Let me call them. I'll let you know."
It took a few minutes before Nathan could get Carrie Reynolds' number, and after a somewhat chilly call, first with her father then with Carrie, he convinced her that telling the truth was the correct thing to do, and she agreed to attend the meeting the following day.
Before calling Adrienne, which he expected to be a little awkward despite the fact that their relationship, such as it had been, ended amicably more than a year before, he called the Jepsens and spoke with Henry, who was happy to set the record straight without much convincing. Nathan took a deep breath and called Adrienne on her cell.
"Hey," he said.
"Well, Nathan, it has been a while," Adrienne said, neutrally.
"Yeah, I know," Nathan responded uncomfortably.
"I assume that this has something to do with your, um, issues at school," Adrienne responded.
Nathan had been attracted to her initially because she was pretty, but also because she was smart and always a girl who got to the point. It didn't work out between them because there really wasn't any spark, and because they were inexperienced. "Yeah, Adrienne, it is. I need your help."
"What can I do?" she asked.
"You were there when Cullum ripped into Shelby today, right?"
"I was there when Pastor Cullum gave your girlfriend detention, yes," she replied.
"Look, Shelby says that she had dropped her notebook and was picking it up—not that she was doing anything lewd. He was just picking on her."
"Nathan, I know that she is your girlfriend, and all, but you know that I don't approve of what you two are doing. You know that, right?"
"Adrienne, what we are doing isn't anyone's business. What is our business is that Pastor," the word burned in Nathan's mouth, "Cullum is a mean, vindictive person, and if I can show what he is really like, then he won't be able to ruin the rest of our senior year, or the school for all of the younger kids. So, what did you see?"
"What you said, Nathan. But I won't go against Pastor Cullum."
"Because he is a minister. God speaks through him."
"How is that possible? You know that he is lying about this. Look, Adrienne, I'm sorry that it didn't work out for us. I've always liked you, and always thought that you were a fair person. I need your help."
There was a pause. "Let me pray on it, Nathan. I'll let you know later."
"Thanks, Adrienne. Text or call me tonight because there is a meeting tomorrow and I need to know if I can count on you. I hope I can."
"I will, Nathan. I'm sorry that you have decided to do what you are doing, but you've always been nice to me. But I need to think and pray."
"That's all I can ask," Nathan said, even though he really didn't mean it. "Good night, Adrienne."
"Good night, Nathan, and remember that Jesus loves you. No matter what."
Nathan disconnected the call and sat in his room thinking. He wondered if he sounded the same as Adrienne did for all of those years, and was pretty sure that he had. There was nothing left to do but to hope that Adrienne would come through. He called Shelby and brought her up to date, then went downstairs. His father was gone, presumably to the meeting with the church's lawyers, and his mother was puttering around the kitchen. Nathan went to the living room and turned on the TV.
After a few minutes, Marcia sat down next to him.
"You know, Nathan, your father and I never meant to hurt you."
Nathan looked at his mother and saw the hurt in her eyes. "And I never meant to hurt you and dad."
"It is hard doing the right thing," his mother replied.
"Especially when the right thing is different from what you've always been told," Nathan responded.
Marcia nodded slightly and realized that her son was not just a sex-crazed teenager, but a young man who had his whole world turned upside down in a short time. She reached out to him, and he moved closer and laid his head on her shoulder as she reached her arm around his broad shoulders. They sat there quietly, watching the television.
Nathan had trouble concentrating on anything. His father told him, in confidence, that the church council had requested that the church's home office send an experienced minister until they could decide on a full-time replacement. He also told Nathan that he had convinced the council to hear evidence on whether to retain or fire Pastor Cullum, and that decision would, to some degree, determine whether or not any discipline would be meted out to Nathan, Shelby and their families.
He called Shelby and gave her as much information as he felt comfortable, but hadn't heard from Adrienne, which troubled him. At 2:00, he dressed for the meeting, and drove over with his parents and Tommy, who was sent to the school for babysitting.
The mood in the church was different from any time Nathan had ever experienced. He had become accustomed to the fact that everyone looked at him and looked for Shelby. He didn't see her, or Adrienne anywhere. Carrie Reynolds was there with her parents, and Nathan caught her eye, and she nodded. He looked around and saw Henry Jebsen, who looked nervous, but the fact that he was there was positive. James walked up to the stage, and sat there with the rest of the church council. Pastor Cullum was sitting on the stage, but off to the side. Adrienne was sitting with her parents, looking forward, and Nathan thought, uncomfortably, that she was avoiding him.
There was a tense feeling in the room, and Nathan heard the hubbub of hushed conversations as he waited, sitting next to Marcia. A wave of sound moved forward from the rear of the church, and heads began to turn. Nathan looked back at the church entrance, and he saw Shelby, dressed more conservatively than he had ever seen, in a long, shapeless dress, her hair simply tied in a ponytail, walking between her parents. They took a seat near the back of the sanctuary and waited, as everybody did, until Deacon Stanton stood up at the lectern and cleared his throat. The big, white room went silent, waiting to hear what he was going to say.
"Friends," he began, "Harmony Church is a family, and unfortunately, sometimes in families there are problems. But when problems present themselves, we have to address them head on, and nip them in the bud."
Nathan tried not to laugh at the obvious lies, and listened as Deacon Stanton continued.
"I assume that most of you know that Pastor Stephens, who has been our spiritual leader for so long, appears to have strayed, significantly, from the righteous path of the Lord, and he has been suspended from his post. He has been arrested, and is currently out on bail." There were gasps from some members of the audience who were not fully up to speed on the gossip. "Some of you have heard rumors of the charges, but our attorneys have made it clear that we are not to discuss anything now. Pastor Stephens will have the opportunity to defend himself, and we can address his status after the legal process runs its course."
Deacon Stanton looked at an unfamiliar man on the stage, who Nathan assumed was a lawyer, and the man nodded. He continued, "The church offices in Des Moines are sending us Pastor Busch, who some of you may remember from his guest sermons a number of years back. He is retired, but has agreed to act as the interim Pastor of Harmony."
Nathan noticed a look of surprise on the face of Pastor Cullum, who fought to control his emotions and forced himself to smile.
There was some conversation in the audience before Deacon Stanton spoke again. "As I said, we cannot discuss any more details at this time, but I will try to answer any questions to the best of my ability, and with the help of the Lord's guidance."
A few members of the church asked questions, but Deacon Stanton was unable to respond in any detail, much to the frustration of the crowd. Then, Mr. Carson, the father of the most self-righteous of Nathan's classmates, Doug Carson, stood and asked, "What are you going to do about the lewd and wanton behavior that has taken root in the senior class?"
There were a few yells of "yes, what?" from the crowd, and heads turned to look at Nathan and Shelby. Nathan felt himself getting warm, but when he looked at Shelby, she sat, quietly, looking at the hands folded on her lap.
Deacon Stanton raised his hand for quiet and, when it was achieved, he said, "That is a matter that will be discussed, in private, by the church counsel, after this meeting."
Mr. Carson yelled out, "You need to stamp that behavior out now, before everyone at that school is fornicating like at the public school."
"Larry," Deacon Stanton said, "we will review the evidence and pray and try to do the right thing."
There were no other questions, so Deacon Stanton said, "I'd like the individuals involved to meet in the church office in 15 minutes. This meeting is over. Thank you for coming, and the Lord be with all of you."
Nathan ran to the door and made sure that Henry and Carrie and their parents would attend the private meeting, then ran off to find Adrienne.
"I don't think I can help you, Nathan," she said, quietly, when he found her.
"Why not? You are just telling the truth."
"My parents won't let me," she admitted.
"Adrienne—you are an adult. You need to do what is right. And you know that telling the truth is right."
She thought for a few seconds. "I'm not sure that supporting you, and Shelby, in sinning, is right, Nathan. I'm sorry."
"So that is more important than telling the truth. Adrienne? I thought you were better than that."
"And I thought you were better than this, Nathan. I'm sorry." She turned and left.
Nathan realized that they still had Carrie, so at least there was something. But he was disappointed in Adrienne. But not surprised.
The meeting with the church council was tense. Nathan was surprised that his father recused himself from being involved, and sat next to him. Pastor Cullum was astonished initially to see that he was being accused of misconduct. Nathan delivered his comments and statement well, and Shelby was uncharacteristically subdued and modest, even as both admitted to their premarital sex while professing their love and respect for each other, and that it was, in all ways, consensual.
Both Carrie and Henry did the right thing, and told the truth.