Chapter 22 – They Are But They Aren’t

by Backseat Devil

Late one night he gets  up and stares at Aaron sleeping in the bed next to him.  They do not sleep close, they never sleep close, even when Jake is gone.  Watching him sleep is like watching a sunflower gently rock gently in a moonlit breeze.  He is so beautiful in his features and style… even for a hippy.

He gets up and exits the room and quietly walks across the hall two doors down and opens the door.  This room has been empty for a week and the housekeepers keep the door open until someone is assigned to it with a key.  James closes the door behind him.  It’s a flipped version of his room.  The moonlight is pouring in through the large window onto the grey carpeting providing drastic diagonal lines illuminating the space in the middle, but making the rest of the room that much darker, the scene that much starker.

He takes a spot on the floor under the beam from the window to lie down on his back. spread eagle and closes his eyes to allow his body to absorb as much moonlight as it can.

If he thought anything between he and Aaron was going to change after having sex, he was wrong, it didn’t.  They were still the same rambunctious duo they were before, same caring listeners, same studious congregational participants, and same hard workers they were before.  Over the months things had taken a dirtier twist, a freakier level.  Aaron was indeed a masochist and James had plenty of experience being a sadist, but this was the first time there was sexual pleasure linked with burning someone with hot wax on their nipples or attacking their back with a homemade claw until the skin whelped flushed with red and pain. Aaron felt free to ask any request or suggest whatever he wanted and it made Friday nights feel more like an ‘open mic night’ at the kink club than anything else.  They didn’t paddle or spank because of the noise it would make… a problem James was already familiar with.

In day to day activities Aaron became more confident, especially since he and his overseer developed a better understanding of how to work with each other.  But in the bedroom he was more passive, even when he would suggest things and he liked how James took control and yet… on some nights out of the blue, he would turn the tables and pin James down and whisper “My turn.”

It was all very gratifying but kept in the context of Friday night.  It was their only night of indulgence, drinking, and complete satisfying relaxation.  Every other day and night they were Joe Bethelite doing the Organization’s good work.  Every morning they were in their assigned seats to listen to the morning text and discussion.  Every morning they would socialize with everyone at the table with spiritual exchanges before they were off to work.

Every afternoon they would meet up for lunch and enjoy the company of whoever the visitors might be dining at their randomly picked table, and they were sure to present the perfect Joe Bethelite persona.  They worked at their jobs, and worked well.  In the evenings they studied for the meetings separately, attended the Monday evening Watchtower study for Bethelites, and made the forty-five minute journey twice a week to their congregation, three times if they went out in field service on Saturdays.  They were still crass, they were still insightful, there was nothing evil or manipulative going on.  They were not bad people.  Nothing about anything they were doing felt sinister or destructive.  In fact, they were more coordinated and harmonized with a “two heads are better than one” characteristic.

They still found time to eat out, go to a spring concert festival where Aaron was invited on stage to dance with Iggy Pop, singing with a suspicious nose bleed.  They made it to Albany to see the Garbage/Smashing Pumpkins tour, hike trails, and there were still trips to the city to enjoy musicals with Neil.

James twists on the floor and opens his eyes to stare at the ceiling, blue and barely visible as he is blinded by the radiance of the moon.  That’s not what is bothering him right now.

After the initial ninety days, bethelites are given one day of vacation for every month they serve.  James and Aaron had built up enough to take a long weekend vacation for the summer’s Messengers of Godly Peace District Convention anywhere they wanted.  The choices were either Aaron visits Houston, or James would visit Seattle (where their convention would be held).  James had never been to Seattle in the summer and he desperately wanted to go… and Aaron was very anxious to see his family.

James and the twins would correspond by letter.  James and David did not.  In the first month David received a series of extremely dark and depressing letters written from a James that David was not familiar with.  It cause the one and only phone call between the two guys.

So, are you going to kill yourself?


Okay, good to know.  Gotta go.

James had been writing out his feelings just to get them out of his mind and shipping them off to the safest place he trusted… David’s room.  Even with the most advanced search party, nothing could be found in there.  All that emotion changed once Aaron entered the picture, and James really wanted his two best friends to interact.

James invited David and the twins to Seattle and they agreed.  He was overjoyed.  They get a summer vacation together, Aaron gets to meet David and the twins, and the two bethelites will finally have some decent space away from the compound.  Reservations were made, tickets were purchased, and anticipation was at full discharge.

The reunion started a day late, thanks to one of the twins mis-reading the departure time.  They had to get on a flight the next day, which pissed off David to the point where he almost didn’t show back up.  The following afternoon Aaron’s family and James collected David and the twins from the airport.  James has never been happier to see anyone in his life than the three of them.  David was in full beard and pouting, in the same clothes he was in the day before, throwing out a I’ll hug you later, and barely greeting Aaron’s family.  The twins overcompensate as they get acquainted with Aaron’s mom and sister.  It was a dynamic that James missed dearly.

In the boys hotel room, Aaron goes and spends time with his family and David excuses himself to shower and shave.  When he comes back out, he is fresh and clean-shaven and goes Now I’ll give you a hug, and gives James the biggest hug of his life.

I am so glad you came.

I almost didn’t.  I was so pissed.

I don’t believe that.  You wanted to see me too much.

Ahh!  Don’t test that theory.  So he is the new me?

He’s not the new you.  No one can replace you.

Damn right. 

He and I have a very different relationship than you and I have.

Are you a couple? He asked jokingly.

We are not a couple.

You act like a couple.

We do not!

There is a knock at the door and the twins come in for more hugs and chatting, constant apologizes for not showing up the day before.  Everyone is hungry… it’s time to eat.

James closes his eyes and breaths in the silence of the empty room.  He holds his breath… then releases it.  He does this again.  He does it once more.  They act like a couple, they feel like a couple, they fuck like a couple, they work around each other and take care of each other like a couple… but they are not a couple.  Something is missing that is impossible to have, namely, the small displays of intimacy and affection.  It is missing because that is something couples would do, and externally it is something that couldn’t exist because if anyone, anyone at all would have seen it… even the slightest peck on the cheek or wink, it would be instant tribunal in a judicial committee and a trip back home.

But it was heavily missed.  James loved Aaron so much and the time they are having together is mindblowing, but he would give it all up for a kiss on the cheek after a hard day at work, or to hug him from behind if he is unusually depressed.  He so desperately just wants to hold him in his arms as they watch a movie or snuggle up together when the nights were cold.  He missed how Ollie would stare at his eyes no matter what they were doing, whether they were at the store, walking along the streets of Houston, fucking, or if the world was crumbling to ash around them, Ollie would still be staring at James’s eyes the whole time… still with a half smile, and still beaming with his bright blue eyes while paying attention to the environment around them so as to give a slight brush of the hand when nobody was looking.  That was what was missing… the cohesive cement that says You are on my mind as much as I am on yours.

And it was that electricity he craved so badly.

In Seattle it took less than 24 hours and David and James were back in sync.  The convention was great.  David managed to sit still through most of it, mainly because their seats were near the arena floor, brightly lit and open for to everyone and he wasn’t hiding in his normal spot of the grey level of the Astrodome that was dark and cold, perfect for napping or wandering around.

During the final Sunday Aaron’s parents headed back to Oregon and the boys and the twins were left in Seattle on their own on a bright and sunny day.  After walking down Alaskan Way they decide to eat at Fisherman’s on pier 57.  They were given a round table right on the water with a expansive view of Puget Sound.  James and David ordered seafood life by the bucket to split.  Aaron and the twins ordered meals from the menu.  Then… James, David, Kristy, and Katy picked up and started talking like nothing had ever changed.  Aaron sat back and enjoyed the show respectfully, but eventually his opinions were dragged out of him. Aaron made everyone laugh.  He did good, he fit well.  He was comfortable holding his own at round table, and everyone liked him… a lot.  James looked at him with with his head tossed back, laughing with the water and the clear sky, the greenery of the hills beyond.  He so wanted to be in love with him.

Part way through dinner there was a excitement that erupted in the restaurant.  Two wales were seen in the distance on the opposite end of of the sound.  All five at the table looked, and sure enough… there was a spray of water off on the other side near the island.  It made for a good sign, although probably not for the wales who are somehow trapped in Puget Sound.  Toward the end even Aaron had to admit, this banter was something unique.

Do you four always talk like this?

Katy answered.  Yeah, but it’s usually only with James and David.  They bring it out of us.

Aaron paused for a moment.  Seriously… I can tell you two apart (pointing at the twins) better than I can tell you two apart (pointing at James and David).

Everyone laughs.  James desperately missed the sound of the twins and David laughing – the strange mixture of two soft chuckles in stereo with one harden hackle piercing in the middle.  After dinner the five walked around the park and even listened to some live music before calling it a night, as they had to get up early in the morning and the girls did not want to miss the departing flight yet again.

Aaron went ahead with the girls to give James and David some time to talk.

I like him.  He’s cool.

Thanks.  I think so too.

I’m glad you found someone.  I thought you were going to… you know…

Yeah well, I… seriously… it’s just not a place for me.

Then leave.  We’d love to have you back.  

Aaron’s made it tolerable. He really saved me in all this.

I can tell.  He’s nice though… like actually nice.  He’s a good person.  Not like us.

He has his wild side but you’re absolutely right.

You need to be careful with that.

I know.

He knows.

Aaron later talked about how it was good to see James’s roots, where he came from… the people that helped create the crazy guy he knows now.  He was shocked at the candor everyone spoke to and about each other.  It was refreshing and raw, honest and unapologetic.

They are what kept me sane.  I had the pressure of drafting a $12 million assembly hall, setting up the Regional Building Committee computer system, cranking out Kingdom Halls, while still trying to maintain publisher’s average in field service and responsibilities of a ministerial servant in the congregation.  Just like you twist your back for work and it sometimes needs massaging, well, my brain needed massaging… and they were it. 

The pressure of Bethel was no different.  Even more so when someone like James is just expected to be a career bethelite and someone like Aaron is constantly threatened with being sent home.  Bechman seems to be looming in the shadowy corners everywhere with his discriminatory forehead and leery eyes.  The segregation between the departments of Bethel is bizarre.  It felt frowned upon that someone from the computer department would be such close friends with someone from the factory.  It was so typical of the real world where the white collar guys eat at one table while the blue collar workers eat at another table, and life at the Watchtower Farms was no different.  Not only were Aaron and James going against the Bethel standard norm, but the typical sociological behavior of the work environments as well.

There’s no time to just be us…

And that’s the point.  They were suppose to be Bethel workers functioning in unison for the Bethel business, not individuals there having the times of the lives.  And there is to be no mistake, The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, New York is a business.  James had access to all kinds of files and programs.  The Organization was bringing in over $2 billion dollars a year worldwide in donations.  The extensive real estate property in Brooklyn has more square feet than the Empire State Building and is valued well over $1 billion dollars.  But each volunteer at all the Bethel facilities only receives $90 a  month for expenses.

The paper they use is cheap and thin, half the cost of regular magazine paper.  The ink they make themselves at a cost next to nothing.  Food is grown and prepared themselves, and there is constant maintenance on the buildings and its infrastructure… all with volunteer labor.  They use the oldest of machines with a team of workers keeping them running.  There is no real cost to the printing of anything and yet there is consistent reminder to the Jehovah’s Witnesses on the outside that production of books and magazines is expensive and costs must be compensated with donations.  The rest of the Organization may be in panic that Armageddon may be arriving at any time, but not at the World Headquarters.  Investments where being made, future projects are being planned and reorganization was taking place for the introduction of the SAP program coming in the next year.  It is 1996 and James was spending most of his time preparing for the 1999 to 2000 year changeover.  Outside the walls of the World Headquarters, Jehovah’s Witnesses are presented as a religion of faith and devotion, but inside the walls of Bethel it is a business dependent on its slave labor.  And somehow two nonconformists that seem to be attached at the hip are maintaining their deviation from conformity and smiling the entire time, and this was not consistent with Bethel as a business.

He turns to his left side and faces the moonlight streaming in through the window and clouds floating still overhead, the sprinkle of stars covering everything like a cool blanket.  He crosses his arms and holds them close to his chest.  That is the problem.  Aaron is legitimately good… too good to be working at Bethel.  James knows he has the ability to pull the best and the worst out of people, it’s a talent and a curse.  He can handle the broken heart.  He can handle the rejection.  He can handle not having any more sex.  What he couldn’t handle is shattering someone who is inherently decent on levels they are not experienced in and that was what was going to happen to Aaron, either at James’s hand or Bethel’s.  Testing boundaries is one thing, even sex is one thing, but harming one’s heart at the core is unforgivable.  James knows he can put sex in its proper place, but some of the sexual suggestions Aaron expresses feels like he was taking it to a level this could not go… a place James wanted it to go… and yet it goes there, but only one night a week.

The end result is a relationship limbo, where the presentation of a brick wall is on display, but lacking mortar in between the bricks to give the wall any real structural integrity.  Aaron and James were presenting the display of a couple, everyone could see that.  They were even presenting it to themselves on Fridays.  But the subtle ethereal delicacies were missing, the tiny slivers of mortar that solidifies a relationship and gives it real structural integrity.

They could disagree in the most drastic ways:  Upon seeing RENT in the spring Aaron thought is was a gritty tale of love and art.  James thought it was a loud obnoxious story about bums who wouldn’t get a job.  They discussed it all evening at a diner in the City and all the way home.  There was no end to the conversation and the mental stimulation without judgement or condescension, which is a relief from working at a facility where so many thrive off judgement and condescension.   There were no complaints about the physical stimulation.  Aaron was beautiful and handsome.  There was nothing about his body he did not enjoy, but Aaron’s suggesting new things to do in bed annoyed James sometimes.  It wasn’t the kink aspect… Aaron still had a long way to go before he reached James’s boundaries.  It wasn’t that Aaron’s suggestions weren’t good… they were always fun.  But sometimes James had in his mind a simple question of Can’t we just sit here and enjoy each other for a moment?  The energy that the two bodies gave off is so comforting James just wanted to just relax intertwined and appreciate it.  And they didn’t.  That would be too emotional.

Too late, though.  He was already connected to Aaron emotionally.  He loved him, he desired him, he felt fresh air when he entered the room, he would protect him, fight for him, do anything on this earth just to make sure the sunshine he brings to the planet stays lit.  But that very emotional love is also considered one of the worst sins by the Organization.  And that was a problem.

No, sex didn’t change anything.  It just made the obvious more obvious, and because of it, that much more confusing.  This trust, honor, love, excitement was something straight people have all the time, every day.  They are allowed to be smitten with each other, dote on each other, grab each other’s hand from across the table, hug each other on top of a mountain at the sight of a breathtaking view… and over time through tests and turmoil, the bond between them is strengthened and shored from beyond the little moments of affection to honest and true faith and security taut with moorings.  That is exactly what these two bethelites have and the emotion and feeling at the end of it is so rewarding and satisfying.  The benefits of waiting to have sex until you have that perfect mate has certainly become justified in his mind.  It’s all there with bright colored contentment.

But only on Friday night.

James knows sex.  He knows how to handle it in different configurations.  He also knows love… in all its different forms.  Everything about this particular situation is well within his boundaries, but he is in no way convinced they are within Aaron’s nineteen-year-old psychological tool belt.  He doesn’t have the vast array of knowledge spent understanding the difference between sex, love, and intimacy and how to separate the three beyond the typical male “shut down” avoidance technique.  James does.  Ollie did.  Sex is only as complicated as the rules that are placed upon it.  With Ollie the structure was simple, clean, and strong… very little rules allowing for a myriad of fun, appreciation, and adventure.  With Aaron, there is a weight of the person’s mental well being, levels of appropriateness, rules of the religion, attraction, dependency, and all the matters of the heart and of self discovery that are then all tossed aside for the benefit of Bethel, Inc.

He’s a good person.  Not like us.

And although James wants to be with Aaron for the rest of his life, the reality is that he will not as long as they are in this Organization… and it is something he has already come to grips with, mourned, and wept over.  Aaron is a perfect companion, he’s just not allowed to be a perfect mate.  The end result is a constant emotional distance and it was eating James up on the inside.  He grinned and bore it because he seemed to make Aaron more comfortable, and anyone who was captivated by those big brown eyes and half smile would see that the energy that emanates from his core was so blinding it was almost addictive to the point of lunacy.   He heart leaps out of his chest each time he makes a joke that catches Aaron off guard.  He melts every time Aaron enters the door with a big smile, head cocked to one side, arm out, and starts the sentence with “Oh. My. God.”

All of this, James keeps inside.  He has learned to do it countless times before.  He would rather let it out and be free, which is why he still misses Ollie.  But what weighed on his mind was not being sure if Aaron had the ability to understand the depths of what was happening.

The door opens.  James stays motionless.

There you are.  Aaron closes the door gently and comes up behind James and kneels down beside him, rubbing his shoulders.  What are you doing in here?

Thinking about how we’re going to hell.

Aaron gives a half laugh.  I find it best to just put it out of the mind.

James smiles.  That’s what he was afraid of.  It’s hard to do for an overthinker.

Come on back to bed.  Aaron rubs James’s back until he gets up from the floor and they return to room A314 across the hall.

That would be the only physical contact they would have that night.

James P. Perez © 2013