The Way You Say My Name Ch. 07bywavyscribe©
“What the hell is going on here?” Dillon’s voice cut through the stillness of the room, distracting Ash and giving Jamie the advantage he needed. Jamie raised his knee and planted it right where Ash least wanted to be hit. He clutched his nuts, and down he went.
Dillon crossed the room in an instant and hauled Ash to his feet. He had his fist cocked and ready to put Ash’s lights out when Jamie hollered, “Don’t do it, Dillon. He’s drunk. I wouldn’t have kneed him if he hadn’t been trying to . . . well, you know.”
“Yeah. Can’t you smell it?” Even from where Jamie stood, the stale smell of whisky filled the whole room.
Dillon nodded and wrinkled his nose. He dropped Ash, who fell to the floor in a heap, holding his balls and moaning. Dillon said, “Well, shit. What the hell are we supposed to do with him now?”
“I don’t think you’re allowed to say ‘shit’ in church. Isn’t it like a law or something?”
“James, I think even God would agree that ‘shit’ is the right word to use in this case. The service is supposed to start in about fifteen minutes, and, as bad as I hate to say it, we can’t just leave him here like this.”
Damn. Dillon was right. As much as Jamie would like to leave Ash in a miserable pile for trying to force Jamie into giving him a blow job, the fact remained that he couldn’t. Jamie was pretty sure the alcohol had motivated the advance, anyway. Ash was an honor student, as well as a Plunkett High football star. He’d never been in any real fights that Jamie knew of, and even though Ash wasn’t exactly a champion for gay rights, he’d never known him to be a basher, either. He wasn’t even sure what Ash was doing here. He barely knew Ben. Jamie was just about to try his luck at getting an answer from Ash, who’d progressed from moaning to a slight mewling sound, when the door swung open, and Chad Minton came into the room. He took one look at Ash and whirled on Dillon. “What the hell did you faggots do to him?”
Dillon’s face turned red, and Jamie could tell that he was just about to blast Chad, when Ash spoke up, his voice thick and slurred. “They didn’t do anything to me, man. It was my own fault. We should never have come here, and if my damned father hadn’t made me pay my ‘respects to a fallen classmate,’ I wouldn’t be here now. Just help me up, and we’ll get outta here.”
Chad went to Ash’s aid, even as he said, “What will your dad say if the two of us ditch before the service even starts?”
“Like he’s gonna know. He and stepmother number five left for Europe about two hours ago. Second honeymoon, they called it. Funny, seeing as how they’ve only been married for three months.” He stumbled to his feet with Chad’s help. They were almost to the door, when Ash turned back and said, “James?”
Ash opened his mouth, then closed it again before any sound came out. Jamie figured he was about to apologize, but the words must have stuck in his throat, because all he got out was a squeaky, “Never mind,” before Chad helped him out the door.
Once they were gone, Dillon rushed over to Jamie, putting his hands on Jamie’s shoulders and looking into his eyes. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. He didn’t hurt me.”
“Not for lack of trying. You wanna tell me what just happened?”
“Pretty much what it looked like. I came in here to pray for Ben, and the next thing I knew Ash was in my face, demanding service, so to speak. I said no, you came in, and the rest is history.”
Dillon removed his hands and balled up his fists. “Drunk or not, I should have kicked his ass for touching you in the first place.”
That hit Jamie the wrong way. So what if he was smaller than most guys, or more reserved? That didn’t mean he was helpless. Did Dillon think that because Jamie had let Dillon take advantage of him in the past, that Jamie was the girl in their relationship? The little woman, in need of protection? Having Dillon try to fight his battles for him played upon all of Jamie’s worst fears and insecurities, fear that Dillon saw him as something less than an equal. That, plus the stress of saying goodbye to Ben and being pawed in the middle of church, caused Jamie to snap.
“Why should you have kicked his ass, Dillon? Because you believe I’m not capable of taking care of myself? You think I’m some puss who needs his big, bad boyfriend to play bodyguard?”
Dillon’s face turned white as death, and if he hadn’t been so upset, Jamie might have felt guilty. Dillon’s voice was horse as he stammered out, “No! I never thought of you that way. I wouldn’t . . . James, it’s not like that.”
“Then how is it, Dillon? You tell me.”
Dillon might have answered if Megan hadn’t stuck her head into the still open doorway. “The service is about to start, guys. Pastor Oakley just stepped onto the platform.”
Dillon nodded and then cast Jamie one last, pleading look before following Megan out the door. Jamie steeled himself for what was coming, the argument with Dillon temporarily cast aside in the face of Ben’s memorial. This was it. He took a deep breath and followed them.
Jamie, Dillon, and Megan sat together, three rows from the front. Aunt Sadie was sitting with the Nash family, one row back. The place was packed, from the first pew down front to the balcony above. Jamie was almost willing to bet that half the people there hadn’t even known Ben. Hearse chasers, looking for a good show.
The First Christian Church was beautiful, a mixture of late nineteenth century architecture and modern restoration done in period style. The things that set the place apart, though, were the cathedral ceilings and the massive stained glass windows dominating the east-facing wall, windows that seemed delicate despite their size. Too bad Jamie couldn’t soak himself in the beauty. He only saw what was missing: his best friend. He noticed a blown up picture of Ben--grainy and having been lifted from the yearbook--placed on the raised stage, and several tasteful flower arrangements clustered around the altar. Since Ben had been cremated, there was no casket, and Nora had wisely chosen not to showcase the urn holding Ben’s ashes. Jamie thanked heaven for small favors. He looked around for Nora, but couldn’t see her in the throng of designer-clad spectators. Nothing like a memorial to bring out the best in folks--or their wardrobes.
Walter Oakley approached the pulpit, a pleasant looking man, with gray, thinning hair, and round, wire-framed glasses. He’d seemed nice enough when he’d greeted Jamie in the hallway, but, even so, Jamie dreaded what he was about to hear. He expected some long winded diatribe about how everything happened for a reason and how they shouldn’t grieve for Ben because he was in a better place. Jamie, though, was in for a surprise.
Oakley adjusted his glasses and looked out upon the crowd. “Normally, I begin each funeral or memorial service with a prayer, and then I go into a heartfelt sermon about celebrating a life well lived and rejoicing because a soul has been reunited with his Lord. Then again, most funerals I preside over are those of older folks, such as myself, who’ve had a chance to live, to taste the world and all its wonders. There is no way I can, in good conscience, tell you that I celebrate the passing of an eighteen-year-old boy whose life hasn’t even started.”
“Benjamin Lewis left this earth a babe, another victim of a senseless tragedy that defies all logic and reason. Though Ben was not a personal friend of mine, time and again I’ve seen young ones like him fall, cast down before ever really having had a chance to rise. At times like these, I wish I had a direct line to God. I’d ask Him why Ben Lewis was taken, why he experienced so little joy in his young life, only to have what little happiness he’d managed to find so cruelly snatched away.” Oakley removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Since I can’t do that, I, like you, am asked to trust God, to believe that the answers will someday be made clear to us. I do believe that, but to those left behind, there is often little solace to be found in such beliefs.” Oakley replaced the wire frames on his nose and again scanned the crowd. “There is a certain peace to be found in our Creator, but it is often hard won in the face of tragedy. As He prepared His disciples for the Crucifixion and the trials to follow afterwards, Jesus spoke of such a peace--as we are told in the thirty-third verse of the sixteenth chapter of John--when he said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.’”
Oakley closed the prayer book he’d earlier placed upon the lectern and said, “Jesus overcame the world, and through him, so may we. That is not to suggest that the road between the here and the hereafter will be a smooth one. In fact, we are assured of just the opposite. My prayer now is not for Ben, who’s reached the end of his journey among us, but for his family and friends, those left behind and trying to find order in chaos. Would you bow your heads?”
Jamie closed his eyes, and though he heard the words of Oakley’s prayer, he couldn’t wrap his mind around them. He liked the fact that Pastor Oakley hadn’t tried to explain away Ben’s death with some tired old speech, but he still wasn’t sure how he was supposed to feel or what he was supposed to do to obtain this closure everyone kept going on about. Jamie didn’t even realize the prayer was finished until he saw movement from the corner of his eye and noticed folks were raising their heads. He did the same, the whole time wondering what was next.
Oakley said his amens and went straight to the next part. Jamie was grateful to the man for not dragging it out “I think now would be a good time to hear from those who knew and loved Ben. If any of you would like to say a few words on his behalf, please, step forward at this time.”
Nora Slater came up first. Jamie always marveled at what a striking figure Ben’s foster mother made, with her long brown hair and her olive complexion. At five-eleven, she reminded Jamie of a willow tree, towering over most women--and many men. Even so, she carried her slender frame with a subtle grace that emphasized her beauty. Though she was not a day older than forty, Nora was the only stable adult influence Ben had ever known. Too bad she hadn’t gotten him sixteen years sooner.
Nora approached the lectern and smoothed imaginary wrinkles from her elegant black skirt suit. Her hazel eyes scanned the crowd, finding Jamie almost immediately. They exchanged a look-- a subtle acknowledgement of the bond they shared--before Nora said, “I’d like to thank all of you for coming. I’m overwhelmed by the turn out. I hope everyone here knew Ben, or at least had the chance to know him.” Her voice turned thick, but she held it together. “If you didn’t know him, you’d probably think he was a tough guy, one of those kids who gave a lot more crap than he took.” She managed a weak smile. “That was true, but there was another side to Ben, a softer side. If you were one of the lucky few to be loved by Ben,” again she looked to Jamie, “he would have moved Heaven and earth to see you happy. That’s the Ben, the loving Ben, that I say goodbye to today.” Tears began to roll down her cheeks. “That’s the boy I grieve, the boy I was proud to call my son.” Nora said another quick thank-you, nodded to Walter Oakley, and returned to her seat.
Next up were two girls Jamie recognized from school, both with teary eyes and padded bras. Each one gave a stirring account of what a tragedy Ben’s death was and how deeply he would be missed. Jamie was proud of himself for not gagging.
When the second girl finished her act, there was an awkward pause while Oakley waited for the next speaker to come forward. Dillon leaned close to Jamie and whispered, “You gonna go up there?”
Jamie shook his head. He couldn’t do it. He’d never make it through without loosing it. Dillon seemed to understand. He gave Jamie’s knee a light squeeze before pulling back his hand.
Oakley was just before reclaiming the pulpit when Dan Morgan stepped on the stage. “If you don’t mind, Pastor, I have a few words I want to say.”
Pastor Oakley moved back to his chair as Morgan took his place at the podium. His Italian suit looked to be hand cut, and as usual, every hair on his head was in order. He stood before the memorial crowd like a politician addressing potential voters. “We’re here today to mourn the passing of one of our own, a young man cut down in the prime of his life. Ben Lewis was perched on the cusp of manhood, only to be plucked from our midst by an almost unfathomable tragedy. We come here today to make sense of the senseless, to infuse logic into the illogical. Though as Mr. Oakley so deftly pointed out, such a happening is difficult to understand, I think I may be able to put Ben’s death into a perspective you can all relate to.” Morgan smiled again, but this time Jamie could have sworn he saw something behind Morgan’s grin, some malicious intent buried beneath the flashing white teeth and the prep school charm.
Morgan placed both hands on the lectern. “Just like Mr. Oakley, I put great store in the principles laid out for us in the Bible. Now, I’m not up on chapter and verse, but I think I can make my point just the same. To paraphrase, ‘Whatever a man reaps, that’s what he’ll sow.’ You ask why Ben Lewis had to die. I’ll tell you why. The evil that he did in life finally caught up to him. Ben Lewis sowed seeds of sin and strife. How ironic, then, that Ben’s life should be taken by a drunkard, a man whose own life has been just as fruitless and violent as Ben’s.”
Jamie heard Walter Oakley clear his throat as Nora gasped and someone else cursed, but Morgan was far from finished. He pulled a folded piece of paper from his breast pocket and then continued.
“Now, lest you take my word for it,” he shook out the paper, “I have here a list of Ben Lewis’s indiscretions. And these are just the ones we know about.” Holding the document in front of himself like a banner, Morgan said, “Benjamin Lewis was a rap-sheet with legs. Between the ages of eleven and fifteen alone, Ben was arrested four times for solicitation, had five petty theft charges, got sent to juvenile hall three times for misdemeanor assault, and was implicated in two separate drug busts. Ben lived in twelve different foster homes--mainly because he was so unruly his foster parents couldn’t control him--and did over six months in two different juvenile detention facilities. Perhaps if those ‘kiddy jails’ had kept him until he turned eighteen, he’d still be alive. For some reason, he always seemed to get out early for good behavior.” Morgan snorted. “Good behavior was something Ben Lewis knew nothing about. Even after he ran away from his last foster home and Nora Slater so graciously took him in, Ben couldn’t seem to get his act together. I know he was arrested several times for crimes ranging from shoplifting to drug possession.” Morgan paused for effect. “The question then becomes, should we really be grieving for Ben Lewis? I say, he got what he deserved.”
“And I say you’re full of shit, Morgan.” Brandon Nash stepped up on stage and gave Oakley an apologetic glance. “Sorry about that, Pastor, but only a craven coward talks trash about a dead man in front of his loved ones.” Morgan opened his mouth to speak, but Brandon beat him to the punch. “Sit down, Morgan. You’ve had your turn. You’re lucky as hell I can’t think of anything to charge you with for exposing Ben Lewis’s juvenile record. If I can find something, though, you bet your ass I will.”
That shut Morgan up and propelled him back to his seat. Brandon took the pulpit, his eyes flashing. For some reason, Brandon’s anger soothed Jamie. At least someone besides Nora and himself was outraged over Morgan’s comments. Jamie had no idea the amount of comfort and resolution Brandon’s next words were gonna bring.
Brandon spoke with obvious reluctance. “I’m not much of a public speaker. I leave all that diplomacy crap to my better half. God knows how I got elected sheriff. It certainly wasn’t for my people skills. But the fact is, I did get elected, and that put me in a unique position where Ben Lewis was concerned.” He shifted so that his hip was propped against the podium in typical Brandon Nash style. “There are two kinds of arrestees: the kind that clam up on you and go all quiet, and the kind who get made as Hel--um, heck, and raise the roof. Ben was in the second category. I got to see the worst of him, the angry, belligerent side. He was brought in on a variety of charges--all misdemeanors, I might add--and never once came in without setting the whole station on its ear. Even so, I can honestly say that I admired Ben Lewis. I may not have agreed with his views on the differences between right and wrong, but I admired the person he was inside, apart from that tough guy routine of his.”
Brandon’s blue eyes scanned the room. He settled on Jamie for just a second before moving on. “As Morgan so kindly pointed out, Ben Lewis didn’t always make the smartest choices, but no one really knows how much of that Ben did to survive. And survive he did. That’s where my admiration for Ben comes in. He wasn’t one of those people that sat down and gave up just because life dealt him a lousy hand. Was he bitter? Yeah, a little bit. But he didn’t let that bitterness or fear keep him from living a full life. He lived--and loved, from what I hear-- like there was no tomorrow.” Again, Brandon’s eyes settled on Jamie. “I can’t say for sure, but I believe if Ben Lewis were here with us right now, he’d tell those he cared about to do the same thing, to let go of what’s holding them back and move forward.” With that last bit of advice, Brandon nodded to Pastor Oakley and exited the stage.
Pastor Oakley wasn’t about to give Morgan a chance to say anything else. The minute Brandon relinquished the pulpit, Oakley reclaimed it, thanked everyone for coming, and ended the service. It took Jamie a full minute to realize people were starting to stand. He was still locked under the spell of Brandon’s words. They shamed him, made him realize he’d been hiding behind Ben, using his death as an excuse not to face his feelings for Dillon. The question now was, did he have the courage to change all that?
Dillon peered down at Jamie from where he was standing. “James? You okay?”
Jamie looked up at him, blue eyes into green. “Jamie. My friends and family call me Jamie.” He lowered his voice for Dillon’s ears only. “I always loved the way you said my name.”
Dillon’s smile was the best thing Jamie had seen in a long time. “Jamie, are you ready?” He said “Jamie” like a caress.
Jamie stood up and slipped his hand into Dillon’s. “I’m ready.” And he was ready. Ready for everything he’d been denying them both.
Dillon held on to Jamie’s hand like a lifeline, afraid to let go, scarcely daring to believe that Jamie’s new-found acceptance of him was real. He wanted to get Jamie alone, to talk to him, to find out what he was thinking. Dillon led him through the sanctuary, stopping just long enough to say goodbye to Megan and to tell Jamie’s Aunt Sadie that they were leaving. Jamie had accepted Dillon’s offer of a ride home--a good sign--but Dillon needed more. He needed to know what was going on in Jamie’s head. They’d almost made it to the front doors of the church when they ran into Nora.
Her eyes were red, and her face was pinched, but Dillon could tell that the smile she gave Jamie was genuine. She took Jamie’s free hand and pulled him in for a tight hug. “Thanks for everything, Jamie.” Her eyes were filled with tears when she pulled back. “You did more for Ben than anyone ever could have. I can never repay you for making the last two years of his life so special.”