"Welcome home, Father Anderson!"
That's what the banner hanging above the pulpit read, bright, cheery blue paint in neat stenciled block letters suspended from the ceiling, a small trickle of paint trailing down from the 'n' at the end, like it had just been finished not too long ago and hung up in a hurry.
It was all a similar setup to the one Connor had received when he'd left for seminary school almost 4 years ago.
No. Not similar.
It was all the same.
The same long plastic tables filled with home made food.
The same cheap plastic chairs that nobody was sitting in.
The same lingering, cloying stench of incense and air freshener.
The same smiling faces patting his back and ruffling his hair and popping confetti poppers by his head, making his ears ring.
The congregation had been just as riled up when he'd given the news that he was accepted into Harvard divinity school.
Mom had cried. Looking over at her she was tearing up now, caught up in the emotion of the moment despite the fact that he'd been home for several hours now before they'd rushed him to their church so they could 'celebrate his graduation properly.'
He smiled and shook hands and hugged and greeted people accordingly, saying thank yous and telling people one after another how 'gratifying' the whole experience had been
Over and over, until he had talked to and touched every person in the room.
He felt like he was going to vomit by the end of it. Or jump out of his skin. Whichever came first.
All of the fake pleasantries and smiles and the touching... God damn he needed a cigarette.
It wasn't that he was ungrateful. Really. He appreciated the gesture, and the fact that so many people had come to welcome him home was nice but... He only knew the names of half the people in here. The other half were family, friends, or even acquaintances of the people he knew, all just here to join in on welcoming some stranger back and to score some free food.
He wondered how many had been dragged there under the 'there won't be any religion talk' pretense.
Probably quite a few.
By the time he was finally able to excuse himself and slip outside where the world was tinted in a rose gold glow he was completely and utterly exhausted. He'd managed to sneak out as everyone was meandering around while they prolonged goodbyes with idle chatter.
Propping himself up against the wall just off to the side of the back door he pulled a carefully concealed cigarette from his pocket and stuck it between his lips. He let the cigarette just hang there for a second while he let his head rest back against the cool bricks.
The air was chilly, despite it being late May and it caused the exterior of the church to become cool to the touch, seeping through his blue button down and into his bones.
It was nice.
Shaking his head he guarded his lighter from the wind with his hand and lit his cigarette, taking a long, slow inhale while he did.
They'd try to kill the nasty nicotine habit in school. 'Nobody respects a priest who smokes.' his roommate had chastised, throwing his pack into the garbage can in their kitchen with an infuriating 'thump'.
But it was either the shitty cigarettes or he was gonna kill his overly positive roommate, and the cancer sticks seemed like the lesser of two evils. So, in true Connor Anderson fashion, he'd made it a habit to go on runs every evening. To 'lessen the cravings' he'd claimed.
And, while at first he'd had every intention of trying to actually take the exercise seriously, during said runs he'd often find himself hailing a cab after only a few miles. Then he would end up paying the excessive fair to drive a town over so that he could hang out in some slum of a bar nobody he knew would be caught dead in. And there, in that dark, piss smelling hovel, he could be the worthless piece of shit he really was and smoke like a chimney, drink a beer or two and usually end up on the receiving end of more than one unwashed, hastily condom covered cock.
Surprisingly, he'd actually grown fond of the regulars there. After a few drunken sessions, he'd learned most of their names and, after about two months of his escapades he found himself sitting on the sticky bartop, beer in hand with half a dozen half drunk, bulking bears of men huddled around while he spilled his life story. He'd told them all about his homophobic mother. And his restrictive upbringing. His twin. His sexual awakening in high school, which was quickly followed by his sexual repression, which led to his current predicament. Talking about how his body reacted negatively if he went without sex for a certain period of time had earned several throaty chuckles from the men, but they'd been... surprisingly supportive. To the point where they became almost like a second family. They were always happy to see him, though Connor suspected the fact that he was always down for a good fuck had something to do with that. But they were a great support system, and seemed genuinely concerned if he came in to the bar in a bad mood. If nothing else, it was a lot cheaper than therapy.
Come to think of it, hadn't Tom said he was a therapist?
They'd even thrown him a party during his final visit as well.
Although.... that had been quite a different party indeed.
Recalling it gave Connor goosebumps.
And so it went.
So, for the last four years rather than 'i only smoke when i drink.' His smoking was almost always punctuated with a good dicking. And three drags in and he was already jonesing.
He was a creature of habit.
But this 'want' for sex wasn't a 'need.'
It was an easily ignored want based on a few years of routine.
No. The smoking didn't trigger him, thank fucking god.
All of that damn touching though..
Everyone inside pawing at him like he was some damn prize. Touching his shoulders. Being pulled into hugs against firm chests from semi-familiar school mates. Ruffling his hair. Telling him 'good job'. Lingering glances from familiar faces that, at this point, he couldn't remember if they were familiar because of church, or because he blew them in a bathroom stall at some point.
But that was a lifetime ago at this point, wasn't it?
He couldn't do any of that here. He couldn't risk approaching anyone about it, even if he was 99.99% sure he knew what they looked like naked.
They knew his family here.
Sneaking away for a quick fuck was easy when he was in high school and he had his brother to cover for him. Now? Now he was alone, with his mom more protective and overbearing than ever.
As he started to tap his foot on the gravel under him he cursed to himself, a slew of colorful, wholly inappropriate expletives coming to mind between one long inhale of smoke and a slow exhale.
It was starting.
It always started as a tickling in the back of his brain, like the feeling one gets just before falling asleep. Faint and barely there. Eventually spreading into a tingling in his legs. Then the voices. Voices coming from nowhere and everywhere at once, both from inside his head and whispered in his ear. Telling him things. Egging on his unholy, devious thoughts. Restlessness. An inability to keep thoughts directed on anything other than the complete, all encompassing need he felt. Cold sweats. And then the burning. The burning was the worst. If he let it go on for long enough, the fantasies bombarding his brain until there was nothing left, it started to hurt. It would start in his lower belly, that all too familiar feeling of arousal, without his brains active consent. Sexual molestation of his own body, by his own body. Then, if left alone, would spread into a full on searing pain that spread from one part of his body to the next, as though it couldn't decide where to set up shop.
Typical withdrawal from a typical addict.
That was the long and short of it.
Sex was the only thing that made it go away.
Masturbation was a band-aide. As were the cigarettes. They helped, but it didn't go away.
He hadn't had to deal with his little addiction rearing its ugly head for the past couple of years, save for the seldom isolated incident, since his nightly activities pretty much took care of things. But being back here, in this town he was raised in, surrounded by faces he knew and grew up with and cared for. Surrounded by some people he called friends, and others he knew in passing whom he shouldn't want but found himself lusting after anyway. Being back here where he knew that only a very, very small handful of people knew about his sexual orientation and his little 'problem' and the people that didn't know would never accept it... Well,
It made things worse.
He jumped a bit when the door to his right swung open and he dropped his hand holding the cigarette down by his side, out of sight. When his dad walked out though he breathed a small sigh of relief and brought the cigarette up to his mouth again.
"You sneak away too?" He asked, smiling as dad pulled out a cigarette of his own and lit up, nodding as he came to stand next to Connor.
"Yeah." He muttered on an exhale of smoke. "Mrs. Murphy started talking about her cats."
Connor made a face. "Yikes. Yeah, better to get out of dodge quick. Glad i left before she pulled out pictures."
"Oh, what. You don't wanna see how snowball ate one of her earrings but threw it up without a hassle?"
"Hm. Tempting, but I think I'm good." As they settled into soft chuckles Connor shuffled from foot to foot, flicking some ash off of the end of the cigarette.
"Have you talked to Niles?" He asked after a second, breaking the somewhat awkward silence that was settling between them. If he didn't ask now he wouldn't be able to. Mom wouldn't have it.
"Yeah.." Dad nodded, taking another drag as he stared out at the couple of cars parked around back.
"How's he doing?" Connor looked up at his dad, attempting to feign a casual expression and praying the hope he felt didn't show on his face.
"Hes doing good. Real good. Him and Gavin got a place downtown, and he was promoted recently."
"Detective. At Central station." Dad nodded again, as though confirming something to himself. "Hes doing good. Even asked about you last time we talked. I told him what you told me. Just 'cause it was divinity school didn't mean it wasn't still, and I quote 'fucking Harvard' and it was kicking your ass. How excited you were to graduate and be ordained finally." He gave Connor a sideways glance and a sly smile. "He called you a pretty choice name that... I feel would be inappropriate to repeat now Father Anderson." He leaned his body over, nudging Connor with his elbow, making him laugh.
Chuckling softly Connor shook his head a little and dropped his cigarette to the ground, crushing it under the toe of his shoe. He always preferred these quiet moments with Dad over mom. Dad was... More understanding. If they sat in silence for a while it was usually comfortable, and he never badmouthed anyone, which was refreshing.
Silences with mom just got tense, the air between them filling up with all of the things they didn't say. Things she wanted to ask or comment on but either didn't dare or was afraid of the answer.
And Dad still talked to Niles. And about Niles.
As far as mom was concerned, his twin was basically dead and buried.
"Alright." Connor sighed softly, shaking his head once more and he pulled himself away from the wall. "I'm gonna go wait in the car. Try and get mom out of there sometime this year?"
"Ill go get her." Dad laughed, taking another drag from his cigarette before snubbing the thing out on the sole of his shoe so that he could save the other half before heading back into the building.
In retrospect, sitting in the car by himself probably wasn't the best idea. As his mind began wandering and his palms started sweating he had to close his eyes and try to take deep breaths, rubbing his palms on his jeans.
He jogged his leg and stretched his neck, trying to do something to ease the tingling, anxious feeling that was creeping into his muscles, but it wasn't helping. His ears started ringing, then became hot as he started thinking about that last night out at the bar. He took a deep breath and counted backwards from 10, trying to will his brain to think of something else, but the only thing that was coming to mind was big hands, grabbing him everywhere. The ringing in his ears got louder until it warped into voices. At this point Connor couldn't remember if they were memories of the guys at the bar, or if he was hearing things. It was so damn clear. As he clenched and unclenched his fingers in his lap he could practically feel hot breath on the back of his neck as a deep voice encouraged him.
He pressed his forehead to the cold glass window and took another breath, his heart slamming up into his throat when the drivers side door opened and dad climbed in, apologizing for the wait. He was actually grateful when mom climbed into the car as well and started talking. It gave his mind something to focus on.
The drive home was business as usual, with dad driving and mom talking and asking questions that he halfheartedly answered.
When they finally pulled up the long driveway to their two story home Connor climbed out of the backseat and immediately excused himself to trot up the stairs to his room.
It was like heaven flopping down face first on his bed and just laying there for several long minutes with his nose pressed into the fluffy duvet. Breathing in the familiar scent of his moms preferred laundry detergent really, finally made him feel at home.
After a moment he breathed out a sigh and rolled over onto his back so that he could fish his phone from his pocket. He stared at the picture on his lock screen for a solid minute, watching the numbers over the two identical faces staring back at him tick away the minute as though to remind him why he took the device out in the first place.
Blinking rapidly he unlocked the thing and dialed the number he knew by heart, putting the phone to his ear and listening to it ring while taking a steadying breath.
Two rings. Voicemail.
Only now it was changed to something more professional to match his most recent promotion. Short, sweet, to the point. No fluff. Just a simple "You've reached Detective Niles Anderson. Please leave your number and a brief message and I will get back with you as soon as I'm able."
He sighed while the automated voice took over, instructing him to leave a message after the beep.
He wasn't surprised. It always rang twice and went to voicemail. It didn't go straight to voicemail, signifying his phone was off. Nor did it ring incessantly until the voicemail picked up, implying he was away from his phone. No. It was a conscious decision to decline the call. Niles was still avoiding him. Had been for the last four and a half years. But his brother didn't change his number. Nor did he ever block Connors. So...
"Hi Niles... It's me. I, um, I'm back home. But i guess you knew that." He stared at his ceiling, imagining his brother chastising him for allowing the vernacular 'um' into his vocabulary. He smiled. "Dad said you were promoted again. Congratulations. I'm sure you're really proud. I hope Gavin's doing well. Tell him I say hi, ok?" He sat up and ran a hand through his hair, sighing. "School was a bitch, but I'm officially ordained now, so... y'know, if you guys wanna get married you know where to find me." He laughed a little. "God, mom would stroke out at the mere mention, huh? Oh well.... Um... Id love to see you guys some time. Maybe... maybe we can meet for coffee? Or lunch? Let me know, ok? ....I miss you. Love you guys." He set the phone in his lap and hit the end button, sighing and rubbing at his temples until a soft knock on his door frame brought his head up. Mom was standing there, smiling at him while her eyes flicked back and forth between his face and his phone.
"Have you called Chloe? To let her know you're back? I didn't see her at the party."
Connor smiled ruefully, his shoulders slumping a bit despite himself. Mom loved Chloe. More importantly, mom loved the idea of Connor and Chloe together. Which they weren't. And if Connor had anything to say about it they would never be. But she was a nice girl, and seemed to carry a torch for Connor, so if nothing else she was a good distraction for mom.
"No. Not yet." Connor shifted on his bed, crossing his legs and shifting his phone absently from hand to hand. "I will." He assured her when she just smiled and stared at him.
"Why don't you invite her to dinner tomorrow?"
Mom nodded and made like she was gonna walk away but paused after taking a step. "Oh! And Simon, too. I didn't see him tonight either." her smile fell. "I heard his mom took a turn for the worst the other day so he probably could use the company."
Mom also loved Simon, because Simon was... Well, perfect. Perfect hair, perfect teeth, perfect manners, perfect for what she thought Connors best friend should be. The exact opposite of rude, impulsive, peevish Gavin who had practically lived with them throughout Connor's childhood. Connor however, liked Simon because he was gayer than a may day parade and mom had no earthly idea.
Connor quirked an eyebrow, unable to keep the smile off of his face. "You know if Simon comes over he's going to want to bring Markus, right?" Markus and Simon had been dating for years, unbeknownst to the church or anyone other than their own families and close friends, and they were inseparable on the best of days, but when Simon's mother took ill last fall the two were practically glued at the hip now.
Mom seemed to consider this, but ultimately just smiled. "That's fine! The more the merrier. Why don't you ask if they'd like to invite Mr. Manfred as well?"
"Alright, mom." Connor leaned back against the headboard of his bed. "Could you shut the door please?"
Seeming to take the hint his mom smiled and reached for the doorknob, but paused as she gave the room a once over. Letting go of the door she stepper farther inside and walked over to Connors dresser, much to his dismay.
For a second Connors heart sped up, swearing she had somehow developed X-ray vision and could see the fleshy pink dildo he kept stashed in the top drawer, under his clothes.
But no, her eyes were glued to the little picture frame on the dresser. The one that held the photo of Connor and Niles when they were six, both of them grinning from ear to ear, so excited that they'd both lost the same first baby tooth.
Connor loved that picture.
She stared at the frame for a second before turning back to Connor with a little sigh, her smile still in place but twisted into something a little sadder. She crossed the small distance between them and leaned over Connors bed, placing a soft kiss on his forehead.
"I'm so proud of you." She whispered, patting his shoulder before turning and exiting his room, closing the door softly behind her.
Once the door was shut, Connor let his head fall back against his headboard, screwing his eyes shut and letting out a sigh.
The tingling was back.
A half hour later he was back downstairs in sweats and his running shoes, popping his head into the living room to let his parents know he was going to go for a run before heading out of the house.