Westpoint Tales

by Kiwi

Flight of The Toucan - Pt 9

They met at church next morning. The boys couldn't sit together, everyone sat in their family groups. They exchanged winks and grins across the hall and had to wait until the service was, (finally!), over.

The Keenans were no longer the newest additions to First Baptist, there was another new family that day. After coasting along for some time with no pastor, the elders had decided that they'd had enough of running the church themselves. They had engaged a new guy to take over the reins.

After much deliberation, they had chosen a young man - well, youngish, he was thirty-two. The newly ordained Reverend Geoffrey Mora, fresh out of theological college and full of fire and enthusiasm, was the new pastor of Westpoint First Baptist church.

He'd been going around town, meeting members of his new congregation, but today was his first appearance in the church.

Robbie sat in his pew, looking at the members of the new "first family" seated in front of him. Mrs. Mora seemed all right. A friendly-looking woman, she was all teeth and smiles. Their two little kids, one boy and one girl, all scrubbed up and dressed in their Sunday best, looked cute and they were on their best behaviour in their daddy's new church. The Reverend Geoffrey seemed nice enough too. He was a tall, skinny man with thinning dirty-blond hair, blue eyes magnified by his thick glasses and, again, lots of teeth.

He didn't envy him his job. Running a church, even a small one like this, was not something that Robbie would like to do. He suspected that his dad would though, sort of.

The head of the board of elders, Granny's boyfriend, Mr.Read, no less, made a short speech welcoming Reverend Mora and his family and said that they were looking forward to supporting the Reverend Geoffrey in his vision of a vibrant and caring, and growing, church community in First Baptist.

(Bryce thought, 'Ho, hum, get on with it.')

The new pastor got up and walked to the front to the applause of his congregation. He spread out his notes on the lectern, and then he began.

"Thank you, everyone, for your kind words of welcome. We are delighted to be here and to begin God's work. My text for today is from the Book of Revelation. Chapter three, verses fourteen to sixteen and nineteen."

His voice rose in volume and power as he began to read like a fiery Old-Testament prophet. "These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God. I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot. I would that thou wert cold or hot. So then, because thou art lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth. . . As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Be zealous therefore, and repent."

He went on to speak of his vision, God's vision, for his church here in Westpoint. For too long they had been lukewarm and neither cold nor hot. Now they must be zealous and repent. If the church was to grow in numbers and in power, then first they must root out and be done with the evil that lay within them and was hindering the work of the church of God.

He spoke with theatrical gestures, pacing up and down and addressing the small church as if they were a congregation of thousands. Robbie, as a semi-professional communicator, was not impressed. He soon forgot about what he was actually saying and just watched his delivery. It was verging on the ridiculous really. Where had they found this man?

At last, the service was over. Robbie and Bryce said their goodbyes and hurried off together to the Keenans' home. Robbie changed into his everyday clothes, grabbed his already packed bag, and they headed to the Hartigans' where he was staying the night.

Up in his room, Bryce didn't want to fool around. "Down Boy, down. Plenty of time for that later. We're going swimming first. Get your shorts on, Robbie."

"You sure you don't want to strip my clothes off me?"

"Absolutely sure. Come on, Robbie. Hurry up."

Once again, he felt that something was not quite right, but he didn't push it. He shed his clothes, put his shorts on, and they rushed over the road and down the road to the beach. It was a brilliant, sunny day, and the beach was crowded. There were maybe forty or fifty people there, scattered along the long, gray beach.

"This lot are in for a shock when the Rev. gets them all into his church," Bryce smirked.

"You think he will? I mean, look around, where would you rather be?"

"I'd rather be anywhere where you are, Little Boy."

"Cool. Me too - where you are I mean."

They got roped into a game of volleyball with some kids from school. Nobody really knew what they were doing, but it was a lot of fun. The water was still too cold to stay there for long anyway.

Several people told Robbie, quietly, that they hoped that Toucan would be back on Wednesday night. He hadn't decided. "We'll see."

Back to the house, they had a late lunch and went out to mow the lawns. Bryce had the lawnmower and Robbie was "helping." He was not a lot of help at all really. He did empty the clippings occasionally, but what he mostly did was to lie back in the shade, admiring his beautiful, and sweaty, boyfriend while he worked. At least his presence and encouragement helped to get the job done quickly.

Then Bryce managed to get Robbie involved with his dad who was untangling fishing lines and lures, and he dashed upstairs for a quick shower. This was part of his plan - Robbie liked for them to shower together but that always led on to other things. He dressed and went back down to take over helping his dad while Robbie, clearly disappointed, went up to shower alone.

After dinner, while they were cleaning up, Bryce ran up to his room for a minute. He didn't say why.

They watched a little TV, then Bryce stood, stretched and yawned and announced. "It's been a big weekend. I think I'll go to bed early. You coming Robbie?"

"Sure, of course I am. Goodnight Mr.H., Mrs. H."

"Goodnight, Boys," John Hartigan smiled as he looked at the clock - seven-thirty pm! "And remember, keep the noise down."

"Yessir."

"Goodnight."

Two red-faced boys made a rapid exit.

"Hey! What's this?" Robbie stopped in the bedroom doorway.

Bryce came in, closing the door behind him. "You can see what it is. It's a camp-stretcher. A camp-stretcher, sleeping bag and pillow."

"But what's it doing here?" Robbie stood looking disdainfully at the stretcher set up in the middle of the room. "Do I have to sleep on that thing?"

"No. Of course not. You're the guest here. You can have the bed and I will sleep here." Bryce lay down on the stretcher.

"But why, Blondie? I want to sleep with you. Why can't you sleep in the bed too?"

"Because you'll want to have sex, and we're not doing that."

"Why not? Don't you want to?"

"I want to, but we're not going to. Not tonight. Not any night actually."

"Bryce! Tell me what's going on. Why won't you love me?"

"I do love you, Robbie. I love you very much, but we're not sleeping together and we're not having sex. I'm on strike."

"On strike? You're on strike?? What for?" He demanded.

"For the good of the town - for the Coast. No sugar for you, Robbie Keenan. Not until you agree to go back on the radio."

"Do you really want me to?"

"Everybody wants you to. Well, maybe not Graeme Stephens, but everybody else does. Even the rugby team does.'

"And you?"

"Of course me. I love listening to you on the radio. I'm really proud that it's you - my boy - and everybody loves you.'

"But Toucan's been shot down. I can't do that any more."

"Toucan, Schmoucan. Forget Toucan, it's you they want - Robbie Keenan on the radio."

"Well . . .And I get sex if I do?"

"All night long, Lover."

"Okay then, I'll do it. Now come here, my Beautiful Boy."

Bryce crawled up onto the bed and they kissed.

"Would you really have cut me off if I didn't agree to go back?"

"Yeah. Or I would have tried to. You probably could have worn me down."

"Not very good at keeping your word then?"

"Yes I am. But, I really want you Robbie. I love you so much."

"Yeah, you do. Nearly as much as I love you."

The days until Wednesday dragged interminably. Robbie had decided what he was going to do. He told Bryce, but no-one else, not even his family. He had to tell Mr.Warwick though, so he did.

At school, they still hadn't completely forgotten the other issue and there were still a few taunts about "queers." Nothing they couldn't handle. No-one tangled with Bryce anyway and they didn't want Robbie doing a "Graeme Stephens" on them either. So they were mostly left alone, on that issue anyway.

The radio was something else. Everybody wanted to know when Toucan was coming back, even the Principal, Mr.Hardwicke, (and didn't THAT start some jokes?). He called him into his office and put the question to him.

Robbie's answer was the same as he gave everybody else. "We'll see. Listen to West Radio, and we'll see."

Consequently, at seven pm., on Wednesday night, West Radio had as big an audience listening as they had ever had. The previous announcer, when signing off from her drive-time show, told everyone to keep listening. "It's almost Toucan's time."

After the news, sport and adverts, Ivan's voice came on air. "This is West Radio, all over the Coast. The time is 7.09pm., and here is this evening's bird-song feature."

The piece of quiet bird sounds was drowned out by a parrot's screeching and, "Toucan. Toucan! Toucan!! Screech!" The collective sigh of relief was almost heard all over the town. All over several towns. But -

"Screech, screech, screech," Then Bang! A sudden explosive gunshot was followed by a squawk and a "thud", and . . .

"Enough of that. Evening all. This is Robbie Keenan on West Radio, all over the Coast." And music started.

Toucan was dead, he was gone but Robbie was still there and HE was the star. Bryce was so proud he felt like he could burst.

Congratulations and thank-you's were the order of the day at school next day, and again on Friday. By Saturday, Toucan was all-but forgotten. Robbie was the music man. He was cool. Who needed some dumb bird anyway?

On their way into church on Sunday morning, Robbie and Bryce were still feeling on top of the world, but that was not to last. Several people congratulated and thanked him on the way in. Mostly, but not all, younger members of the congregation.

The start of the service was delayed as the pastor and the elders were still in a meeting over some contentious issue. The newly-elected Robert Keenan, and also John Hartigan, were not invited. They didn't know why.

The service began with a couple of dry old hymns, unaccompanied. The organist was not there, again. Her on-going battle with the bottle was an open secret.

The pastor took his place at the front of the church, welcomed everybody, then invited Robbie Keenan and Bryce Hartigan to join him up at the front. They grinned at each other, both thinking, 'Cute in a suit.'

Both were feeling a bit shy, standing up there with everyone looking at them. Someone, maybe Michael, made a parrot screech, which got a laugh and broke the tension.

Reverend Mora didn't laugh, he just frowned and called, "Quiet everyone. Quiet please."

Then it began. "Okay. Thank you everybody. I have asked these two young men to come forward where everyone can see these two upstanding young members of our church. Gentlemen, would you please read, aloud, the two marked passages of scripture in front of you. Bryce Hartigan will read from the Old Testament. Robert Keenan will read from the New. Begin please, Mr. Hartigan."

Bryce's eyes opened wide as he saw the words before him. He didn't want to do this, but he couldn't see any way out of it.

"Read it out please, Mr. Hartigan. It is very short and quite clear, not hard to do."

Bryce looked again, (it hadn't changed.), then he took a deep breath and read aloud.

"Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is abomination."

"Thank you. Leviticus, chapter eighteen, verse twenty-two. Now for the New Testament. Mr.Keenan if you please, Romans chapter one, verse twenty-seven."

Robbie glanced at Bryce's crimson face, then he read. "Likewise also the men leaving the natural use of the women, burned in their lust, one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet."

"Thank you, Mr. Keenan. So there we have two examples from scripture of the sin of homosexuality, and here before you all, we have two examples of the sinners. Two members of this church who are known homosexuals. Again, I say, I will spew you out of my mouth.

Before this church can grow we must root out the sin that is amongst us. This sin. These sinners. Bryce Hartigan, Robert Keenan, you stand here condemned by the words out of your own mouths. Do you repent of your evil deeds.

Bryce was mortified. He'd never been so embarrassed in all his life. He stood with his head hung low, looking at the floor and wishing that it would open and swallow him up.

The pastor was on a roll now. "Repent!", he yelled. "And again I say, repent. Repent of your evil ways and beg forgiveness of God and His church."

Robbie, though also embarrassed, was not so easily cowered. He reached out and put his hand on Bryce's shoulder, feeling him trembling. He squeezed and smiled at him.

"Repent of what? Repent of the love I have for the best friend I have ever known? No! I will not repent."

"The Word of the Lord is before you, clearly written in black and white. If you do not turn from your evil ways, you will burn in Hell for eternity!"

Help came from a most unlikely source. The head of the board of elders, Mr. Read, got to his feet.

"Now just a cotton-picking minute there, Mr.Mora. I am not going to debate scriptures with you, but I am telling you now - you are wrong. I know both of these boys and they are both fine, clean-living young men. If they have love, one for the other, I fail to see what is so wrong with that and you have absolutely no right to berate them and humiliate them in public as you are doing. Is this an example of Christian charity?"

"Of course it is," the pastor snapped. "This is love in action. They must turn from the course on which they are set. If I stand back and watch them fall into Hell, is that love?"

Granny got to her feet. "Mr.Mora, be quiet! Thank you, John. That was well said. If this is love, then I would not like to see hatred."

"I did not write the words of the bible. It is there, clearly written, as they have read out."

Robert Keenan sat and watched and listened. His heart was aching for his boy up there, and for the boy who his son so clearly loved. His face got redder and redder as his temper rose like a volcano inside him. Finally, he erupted to his feet.

"Do you honestly believe that the Almighty God, creator and sustainer of this earth and of the entire limitless universe, is so overly concerned about what my son and his friend do with their little willies behind closed doors?

Robbie and Bryce love each other and they are harming no-one. This is my son in whom I am well pleased. I love my son and I will not have you, or anyone else, speak to him in this manner. I cannot condemn Robbie for being who he is and I do not believe that his Heavenly Father does either.

If God hates homosexuals so much, why did he create so many of them? Was it simply to hate them? To watch them suffer in their lives and then to burn in Hell for eternity? Is that the God who is love?

If that is your God, well, I'm sorry but it is not mine. You will not expel my son from this congregation. As head of my household, I am withdrawing my family from this assembly.

In the words of God, written on the wall before the king of Babylon, "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin" - your nation has been weighed in the balance and found wanting.

Good day to you all. Keenans, follow me, we are leaving. I suggest that you do as well, Bryce."

He walked out, his family following. Robbie said, "Wow! I have to go, Bryce. Come with us."

Bryce nodded, but paused when he looked over at his parents. Then he smiled widely when they got up and John Hartigan spoke. "I fully endorse every word that Robert Keenan said. We love our son as well. Come on, Bryce. We are leaving."

Reverend Mora's triumph turned to disaster as he stood and watched his congregation melt away. Family after family stood and marched out after the Keenans. Westpoint First Baptist Church was no more.

A couple of weeks later, approaching midnight, Robbie sat on the sill with his legs hanging out the open window. He looked down at the brightly-lit and crowded main street below him. There were no moving cars as the street had been closed off to traffic and hundreds of people walked and milled about in the middle of the road.

Many of them were carrying drinks of all sorts and happy, celebrating, groups were laughing and singing along to the Westpoint Municipal Band who were playing on the steps of the clocktower chambers.

In the distance, the squalling of the approaching Highland Pipe Band could be heard. Christmas lights and decorations still adorned the length of the street.

Bryce came up behind him, slid his hands around his waist and held him as his head rested on Robbie's shoulder. They sat/stood quietly looking out at the celebratory scene before them.

In the reflection of the shop windows across the street, they could see the blue-painted bench seat outside the bank below them. It was empty and it could stay that way. They didn't need it any longer. There was nowhere that Robbie would rather be than here, with Bryce, in his room.

And it was his room now. His brother's beds had been moved out - Bruce's to an attic storage room and Michael's out to the now unused, garden shed.

"Happy, my Love?' Bryce whispered in his ear.

"Oh yes. Never been better. How about you?"

"You'd better believe it." Bryce hugged him and kissed his cheek.

The two disparate bands joined together and, somewhere, the wailing of an electric guitar could be heard, but the music, and all activity, stopped as the bells on the clocktower began ringing out the Westminster Chimes, and anticipation built.

The entire crowd, all the people there, shouted with one voice as they counted down the striking of the hour. "Twelve! Eleven! Ten!. . . Three! Two! One! Happy New Year!"

Car horns sounded, sirens wailed, rockets streaked skywards and exploded over the town. People cheered, embraced and kissed everyone in sight. There were only two people up in the window of Robbie's room, so they kissed each other.

The bands played, together, sort-of, and the centre of the street cleared as the crowd quickly moved to the edges and, arms crossed in front of them, they all joined hands, forming a huge "circle" up and down the length of the main street.

Together they sang the immortal, but slightly odd, words of Scotland's greatest poet.

"Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind.

Should old acquaintance be forgot, in the days of Auld Lang Syne.

For Auld Lang Syne, my dear, for Auld Lang Syne.

We'll take a cup of kindness yet, for the days of Auld Lang Syne."

The singing of the chorus repeated and repeated, faster and faster, until the end, and -

"Happy New Year!!" The circle dissolved again into couples and smaller groups hugging and kissing in the street.

Robbie fell back into Bryce's arms, twisted his head around, and they kissed again.

"Happy New Year, Blondie."

"Yeah. It will be. Happy 1976, Little Boy."

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