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The café buzzed with activity as Jonathan sipped his coffee.
“Can I freshen that up for you?” A young waitress was standing over Jonathan with a pot of coffee.
“Yes, thank you.” Jonathan held out his mug to her.
As she filled his mug, the waitress asked, “Are you waiting for someone?”
“Yeah.” Jonathan nodded. “He should be here soon.”
He was waiting for his friend and mentor, Campbell Jennings, to arrive. Campbell had been Jonathan’s Ethics professor in seminary, and, after graduation, the two had become good friends. Campbell was attending a conference in Florida, and had arranged to have lunch with Jonathan on his way through Tennessee.
“Jonathan!” Campbell was approaching his table, a big smile on his gray-bearded face.
“How are you?” Jonathan asked as the older man embraced him with a thump on the back.
“Can’t complain!” Campbell pulled out the chair opposite of Jonathan and sat down. “Although, I’m very glad to be out of that car.”
Campbell perused a menu as he asked, “How’s the family?”
“They’re good.” Jonathan smiled. “Everyone’s well, at the moment.”
“How’s little Emma?” Jonathan had called his friend for advice, but hadn’t told him about Bates’ attack.
“Emma’s fine,” Jonathan replied, “You wouldn’t know anything happened. She acts like nothing ever did.” He then filled Campbell in on the attack.
“Sounds like justice was served in a round-about way.” The older man rubbed his beard and studied the younger man’s face.
Jonathan looked surprised. “I felt that way, but felt guilty for it.”
Campbell shrugged. “We’re human.”
The waitress came to take their order before the conversation could go anywhere else. After she had returned with coffee for Campbell, he asked Jonathan, “How’s everything else?”
Jonathan sighed, and leaned back in his chair. “Things with my sister are the same. Annie’s probably going to be with our parents for a long time. Maybe for good. Titus is taking guardianship of our two youngest nephews; the older two are staying in Annie’s house. They’re adults now.”
“How are they holding up?”
“As good as can be expected. I think Travis is having a harder time than Caleb, though.”
“I remember being mad at the world when my mother died.” Campbell’s blue eyes sought Jonathan’s. “That’s not an experience a young boy is prepared to deal with. Your nephews lost their father and now their mother, too. I would expect they’re all having a harder time than you know.”
Jonathan nodded, the ever-present guilt welling up inside him.
“I’ll continue to pray for them.” Campbell sipped his coffee, and then asked, “And how’s the church?”
“Well,” Jonathan paused as the waitress returned and set their lunches in front of them, and then continued when she left, “if you had asked me that a week ago, I would have said excellent. After yesterday, though, I’m a little worried.”
“What happened yesterday?”
As Campbell ate his sandwich, Jonathan filled him in on the vandalism of his brother’s house and the report Tammy Hall had given to Abigail. As he finished his account, he said, “I’m not sure whether to be worried about it or not.”
Campbell wiped his mouth with his napkin, and leaned back in his chair, not speaking. He studied Jonathan for a moment, and then said, “How does your conscience feel?”
Jonathan looked stricken. “What do you mean?”
“Just what I said. How does your conscience feel? Do you feel like you should stand up for your brother or take a stand against him?”
“I’ve never considered the situation in that light,” Jonathan began. “I’ve been round and round with Abigail on the topic. She doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with Titus being gay. She thinks God made him that way. I honestly think Titus is just the way he was always meant to be. I can’t imagine him any other way. But, when it comes to me doing one thing or another, I always try to go back to what the Bible says about the subject, and then I’m at an impasse. I want to stand with my brother, and I also want to take a stand for the Bible.”
“Does Abigail not care about the Bible?” Campbell arched one thick, gray eyebrow in question.
“Of course she does.” Jonathan was offended at first, until he remembered his friend rarely asked questions in a conversation like this that he didn’t already know the answer to. “What are you getting at?”
“How does Abigail get to a place of not having a problem with Titus’ sexual orientation and yet still care about the Bible?”
Jonathan chuckled. “In typical Abigail fashion, she quotes the Bible to me.”
“She quotes Matthew 22:37-40 to me.”
“Ah,” Campbell smiled, “the Greatest Commandment.” Winking at his younger friend, he said, “Refresh my memory on how they go?”
Jonathan chuckled. He knew his mentor knew the verses by heart, but he humored him anyway, “ Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
“Ah, yes.” Campbell grinned. “It’s coming back to me now.”
“Those are her favorite verses.” Jonathan grinned. “She says until she masters number one and two, she’s not going to worry about the others.”
“There’s wisdom in that,” Campbell’s smile broadened. “I’ve always been fond of your Abigail. She reminds me of my mother.”
“In what way?”
“My mother was always a bit of a rebel.” Campbell laughed. “She was a good, good woman, but she didn’t care what anyone thought. She was true to herself and what she believed in. She used to say, ‘I’m the one who has to live with myself. I have to go with my conscience.’”
“That’s Abby to a ‘T.’” Jonathan agreed. “That’s what she says. She says God gave her a conscience, and she is going to trust it.”
“There’s wisdom in that,” Campbell repeated.
“So, you’re saying I should heed my wife’s advice?”
Campbell grinned. “I’m not telling you what you should do, Jonathan, because this is a tricky subject for a Southern Baptist minister. My standing with the Convention is shaky at best, right now. I’m just saying, the older I get, the more I lean toward my mother’s philosophy. I’m the one who has to live with myself.”
©2015 Rachel Holbrook
Rachel Holbrook writes from her home in Knoxville, TN. She is the author of the syndicated serial, Little River, Volumes 1 & 2. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Burningword Literary Journal, *82 Review, Ink in Thirds, Akitsu Quarterly, The Avalon Literary Review, and various other literary journals. When she’s not writing, she enjoys going on literal and literary adventures with her husband and six children.