Everything But Love

by Joel Young

Chapter 3

The Tellico Falls Baptist Church

On my first morning in Tellico Falls, I came downstairs and saw my aunt taking a cake out of the oven. "Good morning, Aunt Gretchen," I said.

"Morning, James," she replied.

"Mason said I have chores to do. What would you like me to do first?" I asked.

"Well, I'm not sure," my aunt said. "What chores did you do at home?"

I didn't have any routine jobs to do at my home in Connecticut. The servants took care of everything. I suspected, however, that saying I wasn't required to do chores at home would be the wrong thing to say here in Tellico Falls.

"Well," I said, desperately trying to think of an answer. "I put away my clothes after the housekeeper brought the clean laundry upstairs. And sometimes, I'd help the cook bring in groceries from her car."

"Oh, you poor, Dear!" Aunt Gretchen said sarcastically. "Sounds like my sister worked your fingers to the bone! I do hope Angela at least had the maids polish that silver spoon in your mouth."

My emerging puberty and its related irritability tried to take control. I wanted to say, "No, but I'm sure the gardener would have been glad to pull out that stick lodged up your ass!" But fortunately, I said nothing of the kind.

"I know my life will be very different on a farm," I said. "And I want to pull my own weight around here. Where should I start?"

I was proud of myself for taking the high road and trying to keep the conversation civil.

"Do you know how to take care of a chicken coop?" Aunt Gretchen asked, knowing full well that I'd probably never even seen the inside of a chicken coop.

"No, but I'm willing to learn," I answered.

"Well, I don't have time to show you everything this morning," she said. "I have to finish up some deserts for the church social this afternoon. I'll just have to tell you what you need to do. I hope that snooty academy school you went to taught you how to follow directions!"

I bit my tongue again. "I'll do my best," I said.

"Okay. Clean up the chicken manure and put it in the compost bin," Aunt Gretchen said. "Then, feed the chickens. There's a bag of feed in the barn. Make sure they have plenty of water. Then, collect the eggs. There are baskets in the coop. Open the coop to the outside pen so the chickens can move around. You can bring the eggs into the house. I'll take care of them."

"Yes, Ma'am," I said.

I found the chicken coop and set to work. I was unsure how to complete some of my tasks, such as how much feed to use. But I was determined to figure everything out for myself. I finished up in about an hour. I took the basket of eggs into the house and set it down on the kitchen counter.

Aunt Gretchen wasn't in the kitchen, but a middle-aged man was sitting at the table. He was drinking coffee. The man was probably 6 feet tall, stocky, and his dark hair was starting to turn gray. He needed a shave. I assumed he was my uncle.

"Good morning, Sir," I said. "I'm James. Are you my Uncle Nathan?"

"I am," he said. "Welcome to our home, James, and thanks for bringing in the eggs. Would you like some coffee?"

I was pleasantly surprised that Uncle Nathan spoke kindly to me. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but my mother had told me he was known to have a temper.

"No, Sir," I said. "But thanks anyway."

"How about some orange juice instead? You need something after doing chores first thing in the morning," he said.

"That sounds good, Sir," I responded.

"It's in the fridge," he told me. "Help yourself. Glasses are in the cupboard above the coffee pot. And, enough with the 'Sir' business. 'Uncle Nathan' will be just fine."

I got a small glass of juice and sat down at the kitchen table. "How was your bus ride yesterday," my uncle asked.

I decided not to be negative. "It was fine," I said. "A little cramped, but it beat having to walk."

Uncle Nathan smiled. "I was kind of surprised that your parents didn't buy you a plane ticket. We could have picked you up at the airport."

"Thanks," I said. "But the bus was fine - and a lot cheaper."

My uncle rolled his eyes. Although he said nothing, I knew what he was thinking. He thought that with all the money my parents had, they should have sprung for the plane fare.

Aunt Gretchen came into the room. "I see you've had your juice, James. I'll put some water out for you at breakfast. Now, go get ready for church." She went over to the basket of eggs.

I put my empty glass in the sink and started for the stairs. "Wait a minute!" Aunt Gretchen said in a rather critical tone. "Two of the eggs in this basket are cracked. You must not have been very careful, James. Chickens don't lay cracked eggs."

"I'm sorry," I said.

"Sorry doesn't fix anything, young man!" she barked.

"You go on upstairs, James," Uncle Nathan said. Then he turned to his wife. "I'm sure those eggs will be just fine if we use them up this morning."

"There you go again!" Aunt Gretchen said to Uncle Nathan. "Always taking the kids' side over mine!"

I left the kitchen as quickly as I could. I didn't want to be around if my aunt and uncle were going to get into an argument – especially if they were fighting about something I had done.

After I got ready for church, I came back downstairs for breakfast. Uncle Nathan had gone to bed after his long shift at work. Aunt Gretchen served Mason and me a hot breakfast of oatmeal, bacon, and eggs. It was delicious! The fresh eggs were better than any I had ever had before. After we finished eating, I cleared the table, and Mason washed the dishes before we left for church.

The Tellico Falls Baptist Church was larger than I expected. It was a stone building, and it appeared quite old. Aunt Gretchen, Mason, and I went into the church. There were greeters at all three entrances to the sanctuary. My aunt went to the middle door and introduced me to an elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. Carter. "Oh, it's so nice to meet you!" the lady said as I shook hands with her and then with her husband. "What church did you attend in Connecticut?"

"The Unitarian Church in Bridgeport," I answered.

Mrs. Carter looked surprised. "Well," she said. "This is a Christian church!"

"Unitarians are Christians," I said. "We believe in the one God - and the teachings of Jesus."

"Well, I've heard enough about you Unitarians to know you don't believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit," she said. "If you don't believe in the Trinity, then you're not a true Christian! I'll let Pastor John know that there's a non-believer in the flock today."

We went into the sanctuary. Aunt Gretchen chose a middle pew, and we sat down. "Don't you listen to that old biddy!" my aunt said to me. "Angela and I grew up in the Unitarian church in Bridgeport, and Unitarians certainly are Christians! How dare Elaine Carter say that you're not a true believer!"

I was surprised and pleased that Aunt Gretchen seemed to be taking my side on something.

The Tellico Falls Baptist Church services were quite different from what I was used to in my church at home. I expected to hear organ music, but only a piano player accompanied the choir and the congregation during hymns. The Bible readings and sermon focused mainly on fighting the temptations of sin. And I wasn't used to people in the pews hollering out, "Amen!" throughout worship. Still, I liked the church, and I felt comfortable. I was not, however, expecting a two-hour service!

After everyone finally left the sanctuary, there was a social hour before the church luncheon started. Aunt Gretchen went downstairs with several ladies to work on preparing the meal. Mason went off with some guys who looked to be his age.

Pastor John came over to speak with me. He was very tall and thin. He had a prominent Adam's apple and a cheerful smile. He looked to be in his mid-thirties. "Welcome, Mr. Covington!" he said. "I hope you enjoyed our services this morning. Nothing too fundamentalist for you, I hope. Mrs. Carter warned me that there might be a 'free-thinker' in our midst."

"I did enjoy the services, Sir," I said. "And I never meant to say anything that would upset Mrs. Carter."

"So, you're really not a heretic – who only came here to 'case out the joint' before reigning evil on our congregation?" Pastor John teased.

"Not at all, Sir!" I told Pastor John. "I'm just trying to fit in. Moving here from Connecticut is a big change for me. It's a bit overwhelming."

"Well, if I can be of any help, please let me know," he said. "There is a teen group that meets on Wednesday nights. You'd be welcome there anytime." Pastor John called out to a boy who was standing near us. "Mark! Do you have a minute?"

The boy walked over to us. "James, this is Mark Salinger," Pastor John said. "Mark, this is James Covington. He just moved here from Connecticut. I was hoping you might show him around a bit – maybe even tell him about the teen group."

Mark extended his hand. "Hi, James. It's nice to meet you."

"Thanks," I told Mark as I shook his hand. "Nice to meet you, too. I like your church. Everyone seems very friendly – well, mostly, that is."

Mark gave me a puzzled look. Then, Pastor John explained my comment. "The first person he met was Mrs. Carter."

Mark smiled. "God bless her soul!" he said. "Come on, James. Let me show you around the rest of the building."

I said goodbye to Pastor John and followed Mark. I thought Mark was very friendly, and I immediately liked him. He looked to be maybe a year older than I was. Mark had brown hair and a boyish face with big rosy cheeks and dimples.

Mark showed me the Chapel across from the sanctuary. He pointed to a large, covered, tomb-like box along one side. "That's the immersion pool," he said. "Some people still want to be completely dunked in water when they're baptized."

We left the Chapel, and Mark led me down a long corridor that ran perpendicular to the sanctuary. "This is the Christian Education Wing," he said. "That's what they call it, but it's really just the Sunday school. In the summer, they have Vacation Bible School here."

"Do teens go to Sunday school?" I asked. "Or do they attend worship services?"

"We used to have Sunday school classes up through high school. But then, they started the teen group on Wednesday nights," Mark explained. Now, Sunday school only goes through 7 th grade. So, kids our age attend worship."

"Cool!" I said.

"Anything else you'd like to know?" Mark asked.

"Yeah," I said sheepishly. "Is there a men's room around here?"

Mark laughed. "Our long services can leave you in need of some relief. Most of the bathrooms in this part of the church are made for little kids. Let's go downstairs. I need to take a leak, too."

"That's the Assembly Hall," Mark said as we passed a large room with rows of dining tables set up and decorated for the church social. "The bathrooms are just down the hall."

Mark and I entered the men's bathroom. I looked around for the urinals, but I didn't see any. Mark walked up to a long, porcelain trough across from the toilets, and he unzipped his pants. I was dumbfounded! I had never seen an arrangement like this in a men's room!

"Don't look so shocked," Mark said as he pulled out his dick. "We may be behind the times, but we're functional." He began urinating.

I had to go really bad! So, I had no choice but to take out my dick, just like Mark had done. "This is so weird!" I said as I started my stream and aimed it into the trough.

"You don't need to be shy," Mark said. He turned and looked directly at me. I noticed his eyes drop just a little. "Guys around here are pretty cool about things like this. And besides, we all peek – right?"

I said nothing as I continued to empty my bladder, but I felt my face getting warm.

"Oh, my God!" Mark said. "Are you blushing? James, I'm so sorry. Really, I didn't mean to embarrass you like that. I wasn't accusing you of peeking at me!"

"It's okay, Mark," I said, sounding quite uncomfortable. I had never carried on a conversation with anyone while I was peeing.

"Geese!" he said. "I'm such an idiot! You weren't doing anything. I was the one peeking at you. I'm sorry, James. It's just that – well, your dick is so big! It kind of surprised me."

"It's okay," I said. "Let's just forget about it."

Mark and I finished up at the trough. There was a large, half-round sink that was also designed for several guys to use at the same time. I didn't see any faucet handles. "How do you turn on the water?" I asked.

"Watch," Mark said. He stepped back and used his foot to press down on a round bar that ran along the bottom of the sink near the floor. That started the water flowing. Mark and I washed our hands and dried them off using paper towels. We headed toward the door.

"You're not mad at me, are you, James?" Mark asked.

"I'm not mad at you, Mark," I said. "And by the way, I'm not that much bigger than you are."

Mark grinned at me as we went into the hall. "So, you did peek," he said. "See, we all do it!" I was glad when he changed the topic of conversation. "Want to see where the choir rehearses?" he asked.

"Sure," I answered.

We entered a large room directly across the hall from the restrooms. It looked like most choir rooms. There were risers near the back wall, a portable podium in front for the Choir Director, and a piano off to the side. Mark went over to the piano, sat down, and plunked out the tune to "Heart and Soul."

"You play?" he asked me.

"I've had a few lessons," I said.

"Do you know "Heart and Soul?" Mark asked.

I had been working on an intermediate-level Beethoven Sonata with Peter. I learned "Heart and "Soul" early in my training. "I know it," I said.

Mark smiled at me. "Great! Have a seat. We'll play a duet."

I sat down next to Mark, deliberately choosing to sit to his right. I wanted to play Primo.

"Ready?" he asked.

"You're playing Secondo," I said. "So, you start."

We began playing Heart and Soul together, a little tentatively at first. I think both of us were wondering just how much the other one knew. But as we went along, we realized we both knew the piece very well. Then, our playing became more confident, and we started having fun. Our heads started bopping to the beat of the music, and our hand movements became more dramatic as we reached the end of each segment.

About halfway through the piece, I noticed a small group of people, including my aunt, gathering inside the door to the choir room. They were listening to Mark and me play. A girl in the group was quietly singing the lyrics of the song. I smiled at her and quickly motioned for her to join us.

Hesitantly, she came over and stood next to the piano. Mark and I were playing the end of one segment. I nodded to the girl, inviting her to start singing as we moved on to the next section. She did, and she had a great voice!

Heart and soulI fell in love with your heart and soulBecause you held me tightAnd stole a kiss in the night

Heart and soulI begged to be adoredI lost control and tumbled overboard gladlyThat magic night we kissedThere in the moon mist

Oh, but your lips were thrilling, much too thrillingNever before were mine so faintly willingBut now I see what one embrace can do That little kiss you stoleHeld all my heart and soul

Now I see what one embrace can doLook at me; it's got me loving you madlyThat little kiss you stoleHeld all my heart and soul

When the three of us finished the song, the group that had gathered just inside the choir room started clapping. "Bravo!" someone called out. Mark and I high-fived; then, each of us high-fived the girl.

As people left to go back to their activities, Mark introduced me to our singer. "James," he said. "This is my good friend, Sylvia Turner. Sylvia, this is James Covington. He's new to Tellico Falls."

Sylvia was about the same age as Mark. She had shoulder-length brown hair and a pale complexion. Sylvia was the same height as I was. She had a great smile, and she made me feel comfortable.

"Nice to meet you, James," Sylvia said. "You play the piano very well. Where are you from?"

"I just moved here from Connecticut," I explained. "I'm staying with my aunt - Gretchen Dwyer."

"Are you related to Mason Dwyer?" Sylvia asked me.

"Yeah. He's my cousin. I'm sharing a room with him," I answered.

"My condolences!" Sylvia said as she rolled her eyes.

I wasn't particularly impressed with Mason myself, but I was curious about Sylvia's opinion. "Why? What's wrong with Mason?" I asked.

Sylvia pointed to Mark, and he answered my question. "Mason's got a reputation around school. He sort of thinks he's God's gift to women - and that all the girls want to go out with him."

"Yeah," Sylvia added. "And if any girl does go out with him, he tries to get into her pants – on the first date! What a jerk!"

Just then, a lady came into the choir room. "Time to eat!" she announced.

Mark, Sylvia, and I went into the Assembly Hall. It was almost full, and several people had started serving themselves from the potluck buffet. We got in line. The food looked great. And I thought there must have been enough to feed an entire army! "I guess the Baptists like to chow down more than the Unitarians do," I thought to myself.

After filling our plates, Mark, Sylvia, and I set our meals down at the end of one row of tables. We got some lemonade and sat down. I was happy to have some other teens to sit with at lunch.

The three of us had a great time at the church social. We talked easily and laughed at each other's corny jokes. Mark and Sylvia pointed out some of the other people in the room and told me about the rumors going around about them. "This is a very small town," Sylvia said. "So be careful. Everyone knows your business!"

Several adults stopped by our table and complimented us on our performance of "Heart and Soul." The whole afternoon was a lot of fun, and I was pretty sure that I had just made some new friends.

Pastor John also stopped by. He bent his knees and lowered himself so that he was on the same level as us as we sat at the table. He spoke in a hushed voice. "I hear you three put on quite a show in the choir room," he said. "Unfortunately, I've had a complaint that you sang a dirty song."

Mark, Sylvia, and I looked at each other with shocked expressions. "It was just "Heart and Soul," I explained to Pastor John. "What's dirty about that? It's one of the first duets that every piano student learns!"

"Oh, I don't know," Pastor John said. "I heard that the lyrics include things about teenagers stealing kisses in the moonlight. And something about some 'thrilling kisses' leaving them out of control."

I had had a really good time making music with my new friends. And I was pissed that someone with a dirty mind and a meddling personality had complained about us. I let loose with a typical adolescent response – pointing the finger at the person pointing the finger at us.

"I don't know who complained to you about an innocent song like "Heart and Soul," I said. "But ask them if they've ever read the Bible – maybe Judges – the part where Samson goes to Gaza and meets a harlot – and sleeps with her! Oh, and how about Genesis? Doesn't Lot get drunk and 'lay' with his firstborn daughter - to 'preserve his seed?' Shall I go on?"

"No, no!" Pastor John said. "You've made your point." Then, he laughed. "First, I was told you were a heretic. Then, I heard that you sang dirty songs in the church basement. But now, I find out that you're a feisty student of the Bible. You've made quite an impression on your first day at a new church, Mr. Covington. May I ask what you have in mind for next week?"

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