The Bully, written by Dan Kirk was posted by a fan. Original story can be found at: http://dkstories.gayauthors.org
Daniel Job Pemberle was the kind of guy that grew on you over time.
When I first saw him, I thought he was nothing but an artsy-fartsy city boy, who'd grown up pampered with big movie theaters, bowling alleys, skating rinks, putt-putt golf courses, all-night diners, and who'd never had to work a hard day's work in his life. Everyone knew city folk were like that, pampering their kids until they'd been gone and done with college. Daniel wasn't like that, as he showed in the weeks of the third harvest and leading up to the new school year.
'It's Saturday, right?' Daniel asked as he stood at my feet. I was bellied up to another one of our swathers. They were getting old, having been used for the past eight years, but they cost a couple hundred grand, and if we didn't have to put out that kind of dough for equipment, it was worth a thousand here and there to fix them. Besides, there wasn't a person in three counties who could fix machines better than me.
'Yeah.' I grunted as I finished reconnecting the fuel hose. We'd have to bleed it of air now, and test it, but we were almost done for the night. Daniel took the tools I passed back out to him without questions. When he'd started last Monday, he'd barely known a wrench from a screwdriver, but after I'd taken an hour to show him everything and where it went in the toolboxes, he'd managed to not only hand me the right tool every time I asked, but to put them away in their proper place as well.
He'd blushed when he admitted he had a near-photographic memory.
'Do you think we can stay at my place tonight?' Daniel asked and I frowned as I crawled out from under the tractor. He'd stayed at my place every night this week in one of the guest bedrooms. Mom had frowned at first. When I'd been younger and actually had friends come over once in a while, they'd always slept in my big waterbed with me. There'd been plenty of room, and it was fun chatting with each other, but I'd not had a friend over in years. For some reason, she'd taken to thinking that because I wasn't having Daniel sleep in my bed I was treating him as less than a friend. She just didn't understand that I didn't want him in there with me.
'You don't have to work tomorrow so it's no big deal if you sleep at your place.' I said with a shrug as I took his hand and let him help me stand up. His creamy skin was a little more red, but nowhere near burnt like I'd expected, and while the old pair of my coveralls he was wearing made him look even younger than his fifteen years, I knew his arms were filling out even more. Sure he'd had a well-developed chest and abs before, but he didn't look quite as skinny as he had last Sunday. Then again, it'd only been a week and maybe I was imagining things.
'Well, I've slept over at your house all week. I thought it'd be nice if you stayed with my family for one night.' Daniel's voice was actually almost shy, and he didn't quite meet my eyes.
'What's wrong, Danny?' I asked him softly and he frowned before looking back to the tool box.
'Are we friends?' He asked me, turning to meet my gaze while my eyes widened at the directness of the question. 'I mean, we've practically been joined at the hip for the last week, and I know you're a good guy once you stop trying to act like the school bully, but... I don't know, do you think of me as a friend?'
'I don't have friends.' My voice couldn't hide the hurt in it and I broke his gaze first, climbing up on the swather to pump the fuel line.
'Why not?' He asked me, having climbed up after me.
'Friends can hurt.' I said softly and then turned to glare at him. 'Look, even if I did have friends, I've only known you for a week. Most people in this town, I've known them for all my life. You can't just waltz in here and expect to be friends the next day in a place like this. We don't know you, and we won't know you. Eight of the kids in our class at school, I've known since we were babies. We've all been together since we started school. During the summer we almost never see each other cause of work, but when school starts we know each other. Billy won't be at school until the second week. Denny'll be there in the afternoons for the first week and he'll be acting like he's got a sore tooth cause every year his old man barely scrapes by with the harvest. Truth is, if old man Elliot didn't drink half his profits up in the town's bars or visit the whorehouse every other damn week, they'd have plenty of money. June and Wilma will be there with bells on, studying hard like they always do. They're convinced they can get themselves scholarships to UNLV or Reno and get out of this town. Margie will go on and on about being the only black in town and how everyone looks at her weird. The injuns'll come up from their reservation and give Sean dirty looks until the second week in school when they'll play cowboy and injuns with fists and feet. Maybe this year Sean'll win, but most years it's an even draw. Then they'll be suspended for a week and yack it up like they never had an ill word for each other. What'll you do when school starts? No one knows, you've never been here before and because of that, no one'll really trust you right off.'
'You trust me though.' Daniel's comment was meant to be a statement, but a look in his blue eyes told me he was looking for reassurance I wasn't about to give him, even if he was easy to get along with.
'You're not a total waste around the farm.' I conceded and ignored the hurt look that flashed through his eyes for a moment. Really, what did he expect? 'You're also easy to get along with. Maybe if you'd been around for a few years, or would be staying around, we could be friends, if I wanted friends. But you're not going to be around, even if your family sticks here, which I doubt.'
'For a guy who claims not to talk a lot, you've sure said a lot in the last few minutes.' Daniel's voice was ice cold, and I turned back to turn the engine over. As I expected, it worked just fine and I let it purr for a minute before shutting it off and meeting his angry gaze.
'You asked the right question.' I said with a shrug. 'Look, you're here for a year, and then you're gone. Why should anyone go through the effort of being a friend when you're going to be gone in the blink of an eye?'
'A year isn't the blink of an eye.' Daniel's voice rose almost a full octave. 'It's a damn long time.'
'Maybe for you it is, but not for me, not for most of the people here.' I retorted, standing up and almost having to push him aside when he didn't move right away. He jumped down in time, though and I followed him down onto the large garage's floor. 'We're done for the night.'
'Come to my place.' Daniel said again, this time a hint of pleading in his voice. 'You're not seeing the whole picture here. Yeah, I might be gone from this place in a year, but if we're friends...we'll stay in touch.'
'Yeah right.' I snorted with disbelief. There were a few people who'd come through our lives in this town, and when they left that was it, we never heard from them again.
'Back in the fifth grade, I had a friend, my best friend.' Daniel's voice was quiet as I went to put the keys up for the swather, and to make an entry in the repair book I kept for each and every piece of equipment. It let me track how much time and parts I spent on each machine, and the tax accountant Grandpa used was usually able to turn into a tax deduction. I even noted the time Daniel had spent helping me.
'Yeah, how many moves was that ago?' I asked him bitterly.
'Six.' He said, proving my point. I'd known preachers before, and not many of them stayed in the same place for more than a couple of years, and when they moved their families almost always moved with them.
'See?' I pointed out and he let out a sigh.
'I talked with him the week before we moved.' Daniel said in that soft voice and I had to control myself to keep from spinning around and calling him a liar. 'I'll probably write him a letter tomorrow after church. His parents are Jehovah's Witnesses, but they let us keep in touch by phone and by writing. He's working at his uncle's repair shop and he's marrying some nice girl from a family at his church next summer. Sampson's even asked me to come out and be his best man at the wedding.'
'So you've kept in touch with one friend, big deal.' I said bitterly, wondering if he was the only preacher's kid who ever bothered to do that. It still didn't justify taking chances with him.
'Come over tonight, please.' Daniel said in his soft, silky tones. When I looked up he was almost pleading with his eyes. 'Let my family get to know you a bit better. By now they've heard the stories I heard last Sunday, and probably then some, so they're going to be worried about you being a bad influence on me.'
'And you think me having dinner with them and staying over there's going to make them like me better?' My snort was really loud this time. 'They'll tolerate me because my Grandpa is the one whose checks keep that church going. That's the only reason anyone in this damn town tolerates me. It sure ain't because of my old man.'
'You sound like you don't like your father.' He said with a deep frown and I had to turn away from him, so he wouldn't see the pain in my eyes.
'He's my father.' I said with careful control of my voice. 'I respect him, he works hard, but he's got his damn fucking pride, ya know?'
'No I don't.' Daniel said and there was a brief echo of his feet moving closer. 'Remember, I'm the fucking stranger here.'
'You cussed.' I said with a chuckle, but without turning around.
'You've heard me cuss before.' Daniel retorted.
'Look, Danny, I... it's just too much to tell someone I barely know.' I said softly.
'I bet you've never told anyone else either, even thought they've known you all your life.' Danny retorted, and I shuddered at the accuracy of his words.
'I... it's just that... it's not the same.' I said softly. 'They don't need to be told, they already know. See, that's what I mean, none of them have to be told, they know already. It's part of being in a small town.'
'You think I don't know what that's like?' Danny snorted. 'It don't matter how big the town is you're living in, when you're part of a church, it's just like this. Everyone's nose is in everyone else's business. When you're the preacher's kid, it's even worse. Every old biddy knows every damn grade on your report card, or every little fight you get into. Even people who aren't in the church get in on the fun, telling people in the church every time you were heard cussing in the park.'
'It's not the same.' I protested and I could feel his glare on my back.
'Yes it is.' Daniel said. 'Look if I wanted to just dig up dirt, I'd ask my mom and by this time next week she'll have all the info on you and your father I could want.'
'Then why don't you just do that?' My voice was rumbling now as my temper flared up. It was hard resisting the urge to turn around and pop him a good one in the jaw. Anyone else would have been splayed out on the ground now, crying from the pain I'd inflicted on him.
'Because I want to be your friend.' Daniel's voice was low, and full of something that sounded like compassion. 'You play all tough, you scare the shit out of people, I know that. But I can tell you're in pain, and I like you. I want to help.'
'There's nothing you can do, preacher's boy.' I snarled as I pounded the workbench with my fists. 'My old man is my old man. He loves me in his own way, and Mikey, and my mother, but he's bitter about Grandpa's money. I know when he started dating my mom that my grandpa didn't like him and tried to break them up. Because of that, my Dad refused to take a dime of money from him. Sure, he accepted the land, and the help building the house, but not once over the years has he taken money from Grandpa. I think he thinks that Grandpa thought he was after the money and he's determined to prove he could make it without money from Grandpa. It's made him... bitter at times.'
'Man, the folks who think you're not all that smart really are fooled.' Danny's voice was calm, and as much as I wanted to hear derision or a patronizing tone, there was none of it in him.
'I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed.' I mumbled the old refrain. I'd heard dad say it a few times when he thought I couldn't hear.
'Bullshit.' Danny's cussing jerked my head up and I turned to face him. He was smiling gently at me. 'I've seen you this last week. You're as smart as anyone I've ever known.'
'You've never seen me try to write an essay.' I chuckled and he shook his head.
'Smart isn't just being able to write well.' He said. 'I've known plenty of people who thought they were God's Gift to Humanity and all they really were was a total dumbfuck.'
'Yeah, right.' I snorted. 'I know what I am, and what I'm not.'
'Just keep telling yourself that.' Now Danny was slightly angry. 'We done here?'
'Yep.' I said softly, trying to sort through the feelings that were going through me. Danny had punched through me, and swirled everything up so that it was hard to think straight.
'Good, then you're coming to my place tonight.' Danny said with a smirk. 'We'll stop by your place and pick up your Sunday clothes. You can meet your parents when they come in for church.'
'I need to...' I started to protest, but under his glare this time I didn't finish my protest. 'Oh, okay, if you want it so bad.'
'That's better.' He said and his impish grin returned. 'So, you going to let me drive the Wrangler back?'
'Not on your fucking life.' I growled, but I was smiling already. Sure, he was still leaving in a year, but maybe, just maybe, if I knew that upfront, I could let him in a little and it wouldn't hurt so bad when he left.
When we got back to my house, Mom was setting out a late dinner for us. While Danny and I ate, she sat at the table with us and chatted quietly about how our day went. Poor Danny was still sore, he admitted, but otherwise doing good. When he brought up me staying at his house tonight, Mom gave her assent immediately. Dad spent the entire time in the living room watching the fuzzy picture on the television.
'You be on time for church in the morning.' He said as we headed back towards my room.
'I'll make sure he's there, Mr. Hathaway.' Daniel said in a sweet tone that made my stomach churn.
'Fine.' My dad responded with a grunt and turned back to try and see a picture through all the fuzz on the television. It took me just a few minutes to pack a bag with some casual clothes as well as my dress clothes for the church service.
'Let's get out of here.' I said to Danny who just nodded and followed me out, thanking Mom for dinner and her hospitality on the way out. The drive to his place was made in silence, and when I pulled up in front of the parsonage, parking next to his mother's RX-8, we got out. He didn't move to go inside right away, rather he stretched a bit and looked up at the sky.
'The stars are so beautiful out here.' He whispered softly. I looked up at the sky, noticing the sky wasn't all that different than any other summer night. The heat of the day was almost gone, and a slight chill was setting in, as usual. The arm of the Milky Way was clearly visible, stretching across the sky.
'You probably don't see stars like this in the city, do ya?' I asked in a hushed voice that matched his.
'No, I've never even seen how the Milky Way stretches across the sky until I came out here and you pointed it out to me.' Danny admitted, giving me a smile that made me blush slightly.
'Well, it's getting chilly.' I said quickly and he nodded before heading inside.
'Mom, Dad, we're back.' He half-yelled as soon as we were inside. There were the sounds of little feet running as we reached the top of the stairs and his little sister rushed him to give him a hug. She was well over five-foot three now, but still had that childish exuberance of a little kid.
'Danny!' She squealed. 'You're home! You stink!'
'I've been working all day.' He said with a chuckle. 'Of course I'm going to stink.'
'Oh.' She said while pulling back and wrinkling her nose. She noticed me and smiled at me while lifting her arm in a short wave. 'Hi Ed.'
'Hello, Melinda, how ya doin'?' I asked her, not use to dealing with little kids except to tell them to get out of my way. Obviously that wouldn't work here.
'Boring.' She wrinkled her nose. 'I couldn't got to the Morris's today, so I didn't get to see the horses again.'
'Oh, that's too bad.' I said after trying to think of what to say for a moment.
'Welcome home, son.' Pastor Pemberle said as he appeared from somewhere back in the house. He gave his son a hug and then moved towards me. 'Welcome, Edward.' He said while giving me a good ole Baptist hug of my own.
'Thank you, Pastor.' I said softly and he chuckled.
'Mr. Pemberle is fine at home, son.' He said to me before turning back to Daniel.
'So, how was your first week of work?' The Pastor asked Daniel with a smile.
'Hard, but I learned a heck of a lot.' Daniel was grinning.
'Well, you boys make yourselves comfortable.' The Pastor replied. 'Now'd be a good time to take showers, and then you can come out and tell your mother and I all about your week. Edward, my son asked us if it was okay for you to stay the night. I assume you won't mind sleeping in the same bed as him? It's a king-size, but the way he sprawls all over it most of the time may not leave too much room. If you prefer, my wife can always make up the couch for you.'
'It's okay, sir.' I said with a smile. 'I've got a waterbed just like his at home and I hate sleeping on a regular mattress now.'
'Good, now Daniel show your guest the bathroom and where everything is located.' The Pastor said with a nod of his head. 'Your brother just went to sleep so try to keep it quiet.'
'Sure thing, dad.' Danny said and led the way back into the house. I didn't quite have the nerve to tell the pastor I'd been in the house a lot over the years and knew where all the rooms were located. Sure enough, the towels were pretty much in the same spot, although the wide choices of shampoo and soap in the shower were a little confusing. I'd always used the same brand of shampoo and soap at home.
Thirty minutes later we were both clean and I was dressed in the casual jeans and t-shirt I'd brought along. Daniel was wearing a pair of sweats that were far too tight in my opinion and another designer shirt that clung far too tightly to him. We sat on the couch, sipping some hot chocolate his mom had prepared, and Daniel spent another thirty minutes telling them all about his week, including learning to drive.
'Don't think you can drive my car now.' His mother scolded him, but she was still grinning and Danny gave her an answering grin back.
'He won't be driving my Jeep anytime soon either.' I tried a joke and was rewarded with a couple of chuckles from both of the adults while Danny gave me an offended look.
'That's mean.' He mock-pouted and I joined in the laughter.
'Don't worry son, there'll be plenty of time for you to learn to drive.' Pastor Pemberle said with a gentle smile. He was so different from my father that I found myself liking him despite the fact that he probably wouldn't be here after next year.
Preachers just didn't last that long, unless they grew up here, and most of those leave and never come back.
'Tell me, Edward, have you lived here all your life?' The Pastor asked me and I smiled at the naivety of the question.
'Yes sir, I've never even been out of Nevada.' I answered him.
'You're kidding!' Daniel sounded shocked and he was staring at me with wide eyes. 'I've been to like six different states and Canada!'
'My life's here, why would I want to go see other places?' I said with a shrug, slightly offended at his reaction.
'That's...that's...' Daniel spluttered and my eyes narrowed as my temper rose again. It was hard to push it back down, I wasn't use to doing that anymore, but I did and calmed down.
'Son, not everyone is interested in seeing the world like you are.' Mr. Pemberle said in a kindly voice that was somehow not patronizing to me. 'Edward here might just be happy enough with his life here that he doesn't need to explore new things.'
'That's right.' I agreed, happy he'd expressed my feelings so good. Maybe he was a better preacher than I'd been giving him credit for being. If he understood me so well, he might just last longer because he'd understand the people who lived here better.
'If you're so happy here, why are you angry all the time?' Daniel asked sharply and I could hear his mother sucking in her breath at the question. Strangely, it didn't raise my temper. I almost felt happy to answer the question.
'It's a good, simple life.' I said quietly. 'I know what I'm doing now, I know what I'll be doing ten years from now. What more could I want?'
'Are you ready for school to start?' Mrs. Pemberle asked, changing the subject while her son thought over my answer. My initial response was a shrug.
'School is school.' I told her honestly. 'I've really done learned everything I need to know for the rest of my life, so it's not that big a deal. At least we'll be playing football this year so I'll have a chance to do that before I get on with the rest of my life.'
'Do you have a girlfriend?' The Pastor asked and I barely stopped myself from frowning.
'Not this year.' I answered with a shrug. 'During the summer it's too busy for me to carry on dating, and to be honest all the girls in my class are either going off to college, and most likely never coming back, or we're not really compatible. There might be one or two I'll ask out in the junior class, and if we hit it off nice I'll ask her to marry me when she graduates, if she's willing to stick around. Otherwise, well I'll meet one eventually, we'll get married, have kids, and raise them here on Grandpa's farm.'
'God always has a plan for us, son.' Pastor Pemberle said, probably trying to reassure me, and in a way it was reassuring.
'Yes he does.' I agreed with him and he graced me with yet another smile.
'I must say you're far different than I expected.' He told me and I couldn't help the frown that appeared on my face. 'You're a fine young man and welcome over here anytime.'
'Thank you, sir.' I said while trying to put a smile back on my face. It felt like I was being judged, and I hated that with a passion.
'Well, I'm sure you boys have had a long day, and it's about time for bed.' He said as he stood up and I followed, still holding the now-empty mug of hot chocolate.
'I'm right tired, alright.' I told them and smiled at Mrs. Pemberle. 'Thank you for the hot chocolate ma'am. It was delicious.'
'Oh, you're welcome Edward!' She exclaimed happily as she took the mug, gave me a quick hug and moved off into the kitchen after doing the same with Daniel. I followed his lead in saying good night to his father and we went into his room. Suddenly I was very nervous as my memories came up of other times in this room, and I crossed over to look at the trophies scattered on his desk.
'You've been playing football for a long time.' I said in surprise noticing his oldest trophies for Pee Wee football.
'Yeah.' Daniel said as he closed the door and moved to stand near me. 'I've almost always played quarterback too. I can pass pretty damn good.'
'Joel might be a little disappointed this year after all.' I stated with a smile and Danny's face brightened up.
'Any idea when practice starts?' He asked me.
'First day of school.' I told him.
'When's the first game?' He frowned.
'The next week.' I answered.
'That's not a lot of time for practice.' He was really frowning now.
'Yep, but when most of the students work on farms, it's hard to get a team together sooner.' I reminded him and he nodded in understanding before stripping off his shirt. It was hard not looking at him as he continued to get undressed, but focusing on getting undressed myself seemed to help a bit. When I turned back around he was standing there in black boxer briefs that made me feel really plain in my whitey tighties.
'Which side of the bed you want?' He asked me with a grin and I reacted instinctively.
'The left.' I answered. It was closest to the door.
'Okay.' He grinned as he turned off the room's light and crawled across the bed. I followed him, lifting the sheet and comforter so I slid in easily, adjusting to the barely-noticeable waves created by his movement. The bed moved even more with my greater weight, but that was normal. Apparently he had the same type of mattress as me, without those wave-reducers. Really, what was the point of having a waterbed if it didn't move whenever you did?
'Thanks for coming over.' Danny's voice was soft as I adjusted the pillow and laid flat on my back.
'Your folks are nice.' I said just as softly. 'Not what I expected.'
'You expected every other word out of my dad's mouth to be about God?' Danny asked, hitting the nail on the head. He really was good about reading people, or at least me. Was I that much an open book to him? That thought scared me because if I was, he'd have figured out... no that wouldn't do to think about that.
'Kind of.' I admitted in a whisper, and the bed moved again as he shifted his position. A quick glance out of the corner of my eyes showed him propped up on his side, his head resting on his hand and he was looking at me. The pale light of the moon was shining through his window, giving just enough light to see his creamy complexion. I wondered how much the acne scars on my face repulsed him.
'He's not a holy roller type, although he does get going when he's preaching from Revelations.' Danny told me. 'When it's just sitting around like tonight, he doesn't lay on the religious stuff real thick unless you ask for it from him.'
'Oh.' I said softly, and something inside me stirred, getting me to voice a question I'd never dared with the other preachers' kids. 'Do you believe in God?'
'What?' Danny's voice was muted, but full of surprise at the question. I actually turned my head and looked at him. His eyes were wide, and his mouth hung open.
'Sorry.' I apologized but he actually started chuckling.
'Don't apologize.' He said after he got control of his laughter. 'I just haven't been asked that since Sampson asked me years ago.'
'So?' I pushed and he smiled, barely visible with the shadows except for the gleam of his oh-so-white teeth. Every time I saw them, I felt like my mouth was dirty even though I brushed three times a day and flossed.
'I believe in God, yes.' He said with a heavy sigh that told me he still had more to say. 'Whether I believe all the things my dad preaches about, or they teach us in Sunday school, I just don't know.'
'How's that?' I asked him.
'Well, it has to do with why there are so many denominations of churches.' Daniel explained in a very quiet voice, as if he wanted to make sure no one else heard. I had to scoot a little closer to him, and he did the same so that when he whispered I could feel his hot breath on my cheeks. It smelled sweet, like the hot chocolate we'd had earlier. His window was open a crack, letting in the now-chilly air, so the warmth of his body near mine was welcome in its own way.
'I don't understand.' I whispered back, and caught the flash of his grin again. Is that what braces did to the teeth? Petey Johnson had braces two years ago, but his dad lost his farm and the entire family moved to Petey's uncle's place over in Eureka.
'You know about the Reformation, right?' He asked and I shook my head.
'I done told you I ain't all that smart when it comes to book learnin'.' I reminded him, trying not to feel angry about being reminded how much more stupid I was than him.
'Okay, you know that up until the end of the Middle Ages there was like one big Christian church, right?' He asked and I gave him a sharp look. I wasn't that stupid.
'Weren't there really two of them, the Catholics in Rome and the Orthodox in Byzantium?' I asked as a dim memory of something like that came up in my head.
'Close enough.' Daniel said with a grin like he was happy I'd known that much. 'Well, as the Middle Ages came to an end, people started thinking different things about the scripture, and with printing presses it became possible to print bibles that anyone could read, if they knew how to read. With that came different ideas about the proper way to worship, and now today we have hundreds of different sects, all calling themselves Christians.'
'I know that.' I told him and his grin widened just a bit.
'I'm sure you do.' He said, but it wasn't patronizing when it came from his lips. 'What it boils down for me though is that we have all these different religions coming from different interpretations of the bible.'
'Not really.' I pointed out, really warming up to this. 'The Catholics have two books in their bible we don't have.'
'Yeah, and depending on what Baptist church you go to, they have different translations of the bible. My dad's always used the King James Version, but there's plenty of others people use, and churches even split over that.' Daniel countered my argument easily. 'Some churches believe one interpretation of the bible, others believe a different interpretation. There's a church in the Bay Area, that's near San Francisco, that when they built their new building they made it an L-shape. In the middle where the two wings met was the dais for the pastor and baptistery and the choir. The more conservative church members sat on the right side, and the more liberal ones sat on the left.'
'You're kidding me.' I laughed but his face had a serious look and he shook his head.
'My dad interviewed there and I went with him.' He told me with a shudder. 'It was awful, and we left half-way through the first sit-down interview. My dad told them they needed to get their eyes back on worshipping God instead of holding onto their pride and fighting. He told them they should tear the building down and build a new one. They practically ran us out of there after that.'
'Oh.' I said and he winked at me.
'Back to what I was saying... they had these two wings and each side sat with their own group so they wouldn't even have to look at each other. Then they hired an artist to paint a mural of Adam and Eve. When it was done, a big argument broke out over payment to the artist.' Danny continued in a serious tone and I realized I was hooked on every word. 'One side didn't want to pay the painter until he fixed the mural and the other side thought the mural was perfect.'
'What was wrong with it?' I asked with curiosity and got a flash of white teeth as reward.
'Adam had a belly button.' He answered and I was confused.
'Of course he had a belly button, we all have one!' I retorted and he shook his head.
'That's because our mothers carried us in their womb, and we had to have a belly button so we could grow and develop.' He shot back. 'Adam wasn't born, he was made by God from the dirt of the earth. Why would he have a belly button?'
' B-but... because we are all made in God's image!' I exclaimed after trying to search for an answer. 'If God hadn't made us all in his image we'd none of us have a belly button!'
'Then why are some of us dark-skinned, or have almond eyes?' He asked.
'Those are just changes based on... evolution.' I countered and when he got a vicious grin, I knew I'd stepped into it. Still, this was like major fun, even if I was exhausted.
'You dare bring evolution into an argument about whether Adam had a belly button or not?' He sneered, and I knew he was having fun with me, so I didn't get pissed this time.
'Yea well... it's kind of a stupid thing to fight over.' I said with a shrug. 'What does it matter whether Adam had a belly button or not?'
'When their pastor told them that, they fired him on the spot, both sides.' Danny laughed as he told me this and I had to join him, it was really, really stupid.
'So what does this have to do with your belief in God?' I asked him and he turned really serious.
'If it's so easy for people to disagree over whether Adam had a belly button, isn't it possible that the church, and its leaders can get other things wrong?' Daniel asked as his answer. 'I don't doubt God, I just doubt how we've interpreted his words over the thousands of years since it was written.'
'I see.' I said softly, and I really did. He made sense, and I'd have to think about it some more, but it was worth spending time thinking about.
'Good night, my friend.' Danny said softly as he laid flat on his back and settled in for sleep. His shoulder was touching mine as he lay on his back, and where our skin met it felt like hot fire, but I also relaxed as the little finger on his right hand touched the edge of my left. Just feeling him next to me was... good.
'Good night, my friend.' My words echoed his, and when they were done, my eyes closed, carrying me down into blissful sleep.