On Sunday in the new church, Preacher John Roberts tells about the disciple Jesus loved whose name was also John, how at the Last Supper John lay his head tenderly on Jesus's breast. The preacher says we do not know why the Scriptures point to the disciple, we do not know why it is mentioned particularly that Jesus loved John at this moment of the Gospels. He grips the pulpit and gazes raptly into the air over the heads of the congregation, as if he can see the Savior there. His voice swells with holy thunder, and, listening, Nathan's father leans toward in the pew with a vision of God shining in his eyes. He is thinking about salvation and hellfire and the taste of whiskey.
Nathan's mother is thinking about the body of Christ and the wings of angels. Her spirit lightens in the safety, the sanctity, of the church. Dark hair surrounds her pretty oval face. Light from the stained-glass window tints her skin.
Nathan thinks about the body of the son of the farmer who owns the house Nathan's parents rented three weeks ago. Jesus has a face like that boy, a serene smile with dimples, a nose that's a little too big, and Jesus has the same strong, smooth arms.
Preacher John Roberts says, "Let us pray," and Nathan bows his head with all the rest. With his eyes closed he pictures his family, father, mother, and son, neatly arranged in the church pew. The prayer means the sermon has ended, and the tautness in Nathan's midsection eases a little. The first day in the new church is over. Now everyone can stop staring. Dad, as if thinking the same thought, stirs restlessly in the pew. Mom sighs, dreaming of a Sunday morning that will never end.
Nathan pictures Jesus's hands spread against the wood of the cross, fine bones and smooth skin awaiting the press of the nail, the first moment of blood.
At the end of the service, the preacher stands at the door and shakes hands with the congregation as they leave. Nathan and his parents join the line. Various people from the congregation welcome them, so glad to have you, make sure you come back now, you'll like this church, theres good people in it. Dad has already been invited to the Men's Prayer Circle on Tuesday nights and the Deacons' Breakfast on Saturday morning. This will add nicely to Wednesday Prayer meeting, Sunday evening Training Union, and the Thursday meeting of the Rotary Club.
After church, during the silent drive out of the town of Potter's Lake in the aging Buick, Nathan waits breathlessly. They have a house in the country this time, a farmhouse that stands adjacent to its more modern successor, at the end of a dirt road near what the local people refer to as the old Kennicutt Woods. The farmhouse and farmyard are neat and well kept, and the property includes a pond, a meadow, and an apple orchard. The farm family, Todd and Bettie Connelly and their son Roy, lives in the new house next door. They are back from church too, and Roy has already changed from his Sunday clothes and stands in the farmyard, hosing clay off his rubber boots beside the barn. Red clay has stained his white tee shirt, a smear the color of dried blood. Nathan tries not to stare, but Roy is two years older, and has the added prestige of being a school bus driver and a member of the baseball team. Roy catches him watching. He hesitates a moment, as if he too is waiting for a sign to speak. He nods his head in greeting.
All afternoon following Sunday dinner, Dad sips moonshine whiskey and reads from the Old Testament, the books of Kings and Chronicles. He is always quiet when they move to a new town. Nathan can rest easy today. Mom keeps Dad company in the shadowed living room at the front of the house. She is doing needlepoint, stitching the Alcoholic's Creed across cream-colored cloth. Embroidered violets climbed the bases of each letter. As she stabs the needle through the cloth in the circular frame, she keeps her eye on Dad. When Nathan passes by, she offers him a wan smile. He returns it. But there is always the moment when she cannot look him in the eye any longer. She searches her sewing basket for thread. Nathan climbs silently up the narrow stairs.
His bedroom in the new house seems airy and spacious after the smaller rooms he has occupied before. Large windows face the Connelly house over the high privet. A figure in the upstairs window above the hedge draws Nathan's eye.
Roy stands there. Maybe that is his bedroom, where the pale curtains fall against his shoulder. He has stripped off the dirty tee shirt and leans against the window frame. He has a smile on his face and a self-conscious look in his eyes, as if he knows someone is watching. The curled arm is posed above his head. He moves away from the window after a while. But Nathan goes on waiting in case he comes back.
Roy has been watching this same way for a while. In the beginning Nathan thought he was imagining things. The first morning he rode the school bus, he thought it was unusual to find Roy studying him from the rearview mirror. They had barely said good morning when Nathan climbed onto the bus the first time, and yet here was Roy watching.
Sometimes the look in Roy's eyes reminds Nathan of his own father, of the look in his own father's eyes, but Nathan prefers not to think about that and shuts off the thought before it begins.
Excerpted from Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley. Copyright 1995 by Jim Grimsley. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved.