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Time of the Preacher

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It was the time of the preacher, and the best church in town somehow turned out to be only church in town. Or any place for religious activities whatsoever, for that matter. The rickety, white steeple and bell was ran by a man who claimed the name of Jack Lawrence - a southern preacher that took too many liberties with his sermons and could swear more than the devil himself. But that didn't make his service a bad one by any means. No, the townspeople left chattering about the powerful words the preacher blessed upon their ears, always, every time.

There was talk about the sturdy man, Jack. He was absolutely shrouded with mystery. Why did he become a priest? Oh, of course! God led him on the right path to better himself and give to the community. What is the story behind the jagged, thick scar on his face? Well, you see, there comes a time in every man’s life when he reaches the darkest depths of his sorrow and has to see the opening to an opportunity to better himself. The angel of Christ Almighty, bless he be, guided him through the toughest of times.

A load of bull, avoiding every answer, but the people ate it up. Even Rhys.

Rhys was a country boy with no exposure to sin and a heart as pure as glass. He went to church every Sunday morning with his ma and pa, even went on Wednesday nights, after his bible studies and school classes were over. His eyes were big with adoration for the beloved preacher, always repeating his words and accepting them gratefully into his life. The preacher had been there in that little church Rhys’ whole life. He was only at the fresh age of seventeen and, well, he'd never known any other man he looked up to as much as he did Jack inside this shabby, hick town.

The two of them had formed a sort of relationship over the years. Rhys was just six when they first officially met, by chance, because of his parents striking up a deep conversation one night with the man after a particularly moving sermon the man had made. Rhys had only said his name, age, and how he was rightfully endowed by God. Jack ruffled his hair, said hello back, then continued to talk with his parents. Leading up to Rhys’ thirteenth year, he and Jack shared welcome looks, never speaking more than a few words until one summer afternoon when the boy had a nagging feeling inside of him.

It was anger, towards school boys that would hurt his friend Vaughn, and insult Rhys about his height and “alien eyes”. He came to the minister after school, with a bloody nose and red face. He opened the doors to the church, calling out loud that he was a sinner and he needed to be cleansed. He hated those boys, he wanted to raise his hand to them and send them to hell. Jack simply sat with the boy on one of the benches and calmed him down, rid his nose of blood. The preacher said one last thing before Rhys left him.

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,” He quoted, with a calm air about him. “The book of Romans said that. Damn fine preachin' in there.”

With that, Rhys knew the type of man Jack was - one he would confide in.

And the years went on. Fourteen years old and Rhys was experiencing trouble with girls. He wanted to touch their hand; was that a sin? At fifteen he had given up on romance, but that's because school had become such a struggle. He would wait until he was ready for marriage, anyhow. When Rhys turned sixteen, he was meeting with Jack every night before supper, not just for religious matters, but to chat about their days, what they liked and what they didn't. Jack was a great help with his mathematics homework, too. He said he used to be an engineer.

That’s about as much as Rhys had learned about Jack - he was an engineer and ended up in Texas, down on his luck without a penny in his pocket. Through a twist of fate (and some details that he had cleverly left out), the man decided he wanted to become a man of God. He saw the light, or so he said. Another thing that he occasionally brushed upon, and quickly swept under the mat, was word of his little girl who was ironically called Angel. Rhys didn’t know much about her or where she was, but he decided not to pry, seeing as Jack was a man of his privacy and valued his secrecy. He assumed she had something to do with Jack’s righteous endeavors for God.

Jack liked Rhys, liked his parents, and it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if he liked the whole damn town, seeing as there were only a few thousand people surviving in the dustbowl city they lived in. He was a man of wits and charm, had that wholesome southern personality that clung to him like a nice oilskin duster. There were parts of him that were secret, though. Rhys could tell they were stories of sin for another day and maybe he would have the good fortune of hearing them from the man himself. Jack Lawrence would open up in time, like them stone-cold cowboys did in the movies. As for now, Rhys was focused on the stories of the present, listening to his dearest preacher and reveling in his prayers.

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It was a close-knit community that Rhys lived in.  He hadn't had the best of luck with friends, only left to a select few, so that left him to spending lots of time with his mama in their hot house, cooking for supper, or out with his father to shoot pigeons from the sky, though he never liked that very much - he'd rather be plucking them and putting them in the oven.  Today was one of those summer days that made brows glisten with sweat and make your stomach growl from the smell of barbeque in the air. Rhys’ neighborhood was having a get together today, and of course, his mama held it at their house, ever the doting housewife and mother. Rhys wasn't excited for this event. He never enjoyed spending long hours out in the sun, even if it was out in his own front yard where his papa grilled up fresh meat for everybody coming. It'd be rude to say he didn't like the company, but it was the truth and nothing but it.

Dressed up in a short sleeved, white collared shirt and black slacks, Rhys took out a tray of freshly squeezed lemonade and ice water for the neighbors gathered outside of their house (he'd counted twenty, and none that he particularly liked).  Most of their chatter blended with the loud buzz of cicadas, which was a welcomed sound for the young country boy. Rhys set the drinks down on one of their wooden table benches and began to take drinks to the middle aged parents and their children, smiling and nodding politely when they said their thanks and gave him a quick blessing. He hurried with his task and quickly found a place to stand in solace.

Sighing to himself, Rhys stood by his family’s porch, thankful for the shade it endlessly provided. He watched the people - the old ladies sipping their drinks, his mother springing from the house with potatoes and cole slaw and sweet rolls, the kids running around. And then he heard the deep rumble of a Chevy pickup and Rhys perked up like a sunflower at dawn.

The preacher.

Watching the sparkling black vehicle park on the side of the road, Rhys started his way toward the older man when he stepped out from his truck, clad in all black, minus the white priest’s collar. “Preacher! I didn't know you were coming,” Rhys chirped at Jack and smiled as the man approached him and gave him a friendly squeeze on his arm. “It's good to see you here, outside of the church and all.”

“It's nice to see you too,” Jack’s hand lingered on Rhys’ upper arm, not really paying attention, or finding people more interesting than Rhys, then slowly pulled off. His eyes were scanning over the crowd instead of meeting gazes with the boy. “Let me go greet your folks, Kiddo. I'd best say my thanks to them for inviting me over.”

And with that, Jack stepped away, doing just as he said. Rhys watched with annoyed eyes. Watched Jack say hello to the old dames with his big grin and velvet voice - none of which Rhys received or heard - then wander over to his mama to give her a kiss on the cheek. She blushed, but so did every other peach-cheeked girl when they got such a sweet hello. His father gave Jack a firm pat on the back and a ‘good to see you’, before going back to his grill.  And then there was Rhys, sitting slumped on one of their picnic benches with his chin sat in his hand. He didn’t like anyone here all that well, and he couldn't cling to his mama to talk to and pass the time with, so that Preacher was his only source of good company.

He didn't get to visit the church all that often during summer time off of school. Family trips, working with his papa on their small crop garden in the back, staying home to get extra Bible lessons: all of which he thoroughly enjoyed, yet it limited his trips time to meet with Jack.

Rhys fiddled around, digging into the grain of the wood table with his fingernail or humming a tune to himself while the unforgiving sun finally sank down below the thick oak trees. The sky turned a faint blue, then it melted into orange. A firm hand squeezed Rhys’ shoulder and a weight pressed down beside him on the bench. “Sorry ‘bout that,” Jack smiled the smile that Rhys had wanted the moment he stepped foot onto their property. “Had to go say hi to all the old crows before they pecked me apart,” He laughed and rested his arms on the table, long black sleeves rolled up to his elbow to reveal his tan skin and mysterious scars.

“It's alright, Preacher. I don't blame you - my mama would cast me down to hell all on her lonesome if I didn’t do the same.” He giggled and played with a lock of hair that was tucked behind his ear.

Birds sang their sunset song all around them, and for once that day, Rhys finally felt like he wasn't alone. They watched the little ones play in the grass as they spoke. “What have you been up to this summer? Haven't seen you around all that much,” Jack piped up after a spot of silence.

“Yeah, my folks have been keepin’ me real busy.  I've been meaning to go down there and pray, but I just haven't be able to.” Rhys looked to Jack and smiled. “I'll try real hard to get over there soon. I swear it.”

Their conversation floated into a comfortable silence once again. The two of them had formed an odd bond over the years - Rhys could never decide if he viewed Jack more as a parental figure, or a teacher, or maybe just his close friend. He'd never had more than Vaughn by his side, and the pretty, dark-skinned girl, Yvette, that his parents never let him see. He didn't understand why he wasn't allowed to spend time with her, and when he asked his mama why, she simply said: “It's just the way things are.”  Rhys didn't like those ways. He still tried to see Yvette every now and again.

Jack shifted beside Rhys, which willed the young mind back to the present.  “Hey, Mr. Lawrence? I gotta’ question.”  Rhys said and met eyes with the holy man. Jack raised his brow and nodded.

“Go ahead, Kiddo.”

Rhys searched for his words, trying to think up a proper question. He would be lying if he said he wasn't a little intimidated when asking a priest, even Jack, a question. Finally, he spoke. “Have you ever… Liked someone you shouldn't like? Will God punish me if I do?”

Jack chuckled. “Well, I think it depends on who you're talkin’ about.  Everybody sins, Rhys, but I don't believe the Lord will be too upset with your curiosity.  Naw, I don't know who or what you're dealing with, and I won't ask if you don't want me to, but it all depends on the circumstance,” Jack explained. He always used his hands when he spoke; always expressive. “In the grand scheme of things, Kid, you're so loyal to prayer that I wholly believe God and all of His little angels will take you up into Heaven without any hesitation.”

Rhys blushed. He almost laughed at how elated he felt, but he just went pink-faced and turned away to regain his composure. He took in a breath to calm himself and looked back to the preacher, still with a grin. “Mr. Lawrence, you always know the right things to say.”

Warm was the feeling that Rhys would use to describe the man beside him. Jack made him feel warm in his heart, warm on his cheeks, warm all over - even in the deep pit of his belly. The preacher rubbed a hand down Rhys’ back, squeezed his shoulder, comfortably.

Looking to Jack for one last question, Rhys felt almost worried to ask this question, but he continued with it anyways. “Have you ever done something you're not supposed to?”

When the younger boy asked that, he felt guilty, as if he were questioning the pure authority of their town’s minister. Rhys knew Jack wouldn’t be mad, but he still ducked his head like a beat dog who just stole dinner from the table. He twiddled his thumbs as he listened to the man take a breath.

“I ain't always been a man of God, Rhys.”

And that was that. The preacher said nothing else, keeping his cards hidden, as always. Rhys wanted desperately to ask for more, to tell him what he meant by that, but Jack sat still beside him, smiling happily to the youngins playing on the ground, yet somehow the stoic air around them still grew, and suddenly, Rhys was afraid to ask anymore.

Not too far off, Rhys’ mother called for him, and gratefully, the boy excused himself from Jack. He got a nod and a “be seeing you around, kid."

The get together roared on for another 2 hours before a majority of the families went home. The last car was pulling out from their house, the wife waving as they puttered off down the road. Jack had said goodbyes long before then, telling everyone he had a tight schedule that day and he'd see them all in church tomorrow morning, if they could come. When everyone was gone, it took a while to tidy up: picking up all of the glasses, sticky with leftover lemonade, trying to chase down any litter that got dropped in the grass, and putting away his daddy’s beloved grill. Rhys was glad he could finally change into his pajamas and relax after a warm shower, but that also left him to his thoughts.

Flipping on his radio to the Diamond City station, Rhys quietly listened to the melodic tunes of the best of the best, sometimes switching between sounding melancholic or exorbitantly upbeat. In his room, Rhys thought of what Jack said to him earlier.

I ain't always been a man of God, Rhys.

It made the young Christian boy think. Did Jack turn to religion because of prior mistakes? Was his faith in God just a ruse to cover up for an abhorrent incident that happened? What if he didn't really care about the Bible at all and it was all just an act to keep a spotless social persona. Jack was a man that played charades. He had come from a difficult past, everyone had known that, but he never specified. It made Rhys question his own faith. Why was he devoting all of his time to religion? Did he really have a reason? His mama and papa dragged him to church for the first time and he just stuck with it, like a normal part of his life.

Feeling an uncomfortable tension in his heart, Rhys turned off his mind and crawled into bed. The stars outside kept his room dimly lit. When he wrapped himself in a big quilt his grandma sewed for him, the music from the radio seemed like a distant thought, and the one thing on the forefront of his mind was his cherished preacher, making him feel confused and secure about his faith all at once.

Rhys just hoped that the sermon tomorrow morning would make him feel better, when the sun was out and the Lord was smiling down on all of His angels.

Chapter Text

Whenever Jack was on stage, all ears were open and all mouths were shut. The man had an air about him that demanded unwavering, devoted attention, and all who entered the presence of the preacher were trapped in a mesmerizing show of faith and assurance. Walking across the raised wooden platform of the chapel, he seemed unstoppable, like the word of God guided him through thick and thin, giving him absolute dynamism. His voice was bold - no one dared to miss a word of his sermon.

Rhys adored him.

Everyone had been packed into the church, hot and sweaty, even when it was only 8 in the morning. Nobody in their town had enough money to purchase air conditioning, yet, plus it was a real rarity even to those fancy people in cities like New York. Rhys was still just as happy to hear a new sermon, whether it was biting cold or blistering hot.

Holding his hands patiently in his lap, Rhys watched his idol greet everyone with a honeyed voice, saying good morning, God bless you, and let’s begin. The room quieted, and the only noises besides patient breathing was the soft creaking of old, wooden benches. Jack spoke.

“When sin looks more enjoyable than God - That’s what we’re talkin’ about today.” The scarred man stepped to his altar, picking up his worn copy of the Bible, and held it to the air. “So many people got this book all wrong. They think it’s just a list a’ rules. A bunch of do’s and don’ts. They think it’s… Religion. Religion that’s like a system of works where ya’ earn your way into God’s graces.” Jack set down the book and shook his head. “And I’m just sittin’ here, thinking that’s disgusting. That’s sad.”

Rhys gulped and closed his legs, starting to fiddle with his fingers, timidly. Did the preacher base this sermon after the talk they had yesterday? About what’s wrong and what’s right? He felt himself blush, adding even more color to his already heated cheeks.

Jack’s eyes always glanced around the room to survey his audience, but this time they stuck to Rhys when he delivered. “That’s never been God. Understand, this book ain’t about religion. Nah, this book is about love. ” Looking away, and back to the general crowd, Jack continued. “This is the most romantic damn thing any of us will ever read. It’s about a creator who was so filled with passion that he pointed to you,” He widened his arms and gestured to the people, “and said I want you.” Rhys smiled.

“From the very beginning it’s been about love. God’s greatest command is love me, after all.Love me with your heart and mind and soul, be faithful, and I will love you back.”

Opening his Bible, Jack said, “Turn to Jeremiah 2:5.” After hearing several pages fluttering, he started again. “God says, ‘What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far away from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.’

“And doesn’t that sound like so many of our lives? We’ve all found that one thing that entices us, y’know?” Jack stared down at his altar, picking at some of the splintering wood. Something bothered him, but before Rhys had the chance to think too closely about it, the preacher looked back up. “We’ve all had that somethin’ that makes us stray away from God, and He’s just asking Himself why. What did He do to make you forget about Him?”

In the crowd, Rhys felt himself staring in awe. Jack put so much devotion into his sermon. So much passion, just like God did. He shivered in the sweltering heat.

“The people in Jeremiah committed two sins. One, they chose their sin. And two, they chose their sin over God. That’s the thing that really broke God’s heart. We blindly leave Him, but for what?”

Suddenly, Jack walked away from his altar and down the two steps that separated the platform from the people. “Lemme do a little demonstration.”

Scanning the crowd for the right participant, Jack turned his head to Rhys and smiled, knowingly, as if he had already planned to chose the young boy. The way he turned his head made some lightly greased locks of hair fall against his forehead. Stepping back to the second row of benches, Jack rubbed a hand against Rhys’ back, while pulling out a brown leather wallet from his pants pocket. “Alright, Rhysie. In here, I have somethin’ really valuable. Are you willing to trade me everything you have in your pockets for what’s inside of here?” He lightly shook his wallet and looked fondly down to Rhys, but hidden beneath that was something ornery and playful.

Taking a moment to process what Jack offered, Rhys patted down his slacks for what he had inside, then nodded. “I am.”

Jack raised his brows. “Really, kid? What d’ya have for me?”

Rhys reached into his pockets and dug out some coins and a piece of hard candy, holding it in his palms for the preacher to see. He let go a small laugh.

Opening his own wallet, Jack revealed what was inside with a grin. “Alright, well I got nothin’. Give it here, Baby.” He opened his palm out for the loose change Rhys had, chuckling vivaciously when the boy set his stuff in his hand with a pout. He'd give it back later, he supposed. The man gave one last pleased smile and walked back up to the stage, addressing everybody, once again. “But ya’ see there? That’s the picture of sin. It’s the feelin’ of thinking there’s something better in there. You give everything, but you go walkin’ away with nothing.

“This morning I was thinking of what I could say to y’all that would really make you stop runnin’ to the things you’re tempted by.  ‘Cause the truth is, some of ya’ aren’t gonna be here next year. You’re not gonna be following God. Somethin’ will tempt you and it’ll lead you away from here. Some of ya’ ain’t even gonna make it to the end of this year and it breaks my fuckin’ heart.”

Rhys widened his eyes. Jack rarely used that word during a speech. Sometimes it was shocking to hear a pastor use such brash language, but it really drove the man’s point home. It was sad that so many people would undoubtedly lose their faith. Jack was right.

“Don’t blame your sin on God. Some people will say ‘well it’s God’s fault, he made me this way,’ but He didn’t bring any a’ this evil into your life. The longing - The sin and desire comes from inside of you. The only one you can blame is yourself.”

Jack shrugged. “But what do we do? Do we just close our eyes and block out all that temptation? That’s not gonna do anything. Nah, we’re surrounded by sin. Everything’s pullin’ our attention, just toyin’ with us and trying to get us to stray away from God. But, y’know what the Bible says? It says keep your eyes open. Keep ‘em open and look to the word of God. Look to Jesus. Set your mind on things above - not on earthly things. Fill your body with so much love for God that you don’t even think about those other things. You’re so focused on Jesus, so focused on love, that y’all don’t even notice the temptation around you.

“God says that once you’ve let desire in, it gives birth to sin. And sin, once it’s full grown, it gives birth to death.” Jack paused, looking to his book, and tapped his finger on it a few times. “There’s a graphic in the Greek, here. It depicts a baby. A healthy baby inside the womb; but when ya’ give birth it’s a stillborn. I’ve been with families that’ve gone through that - gone through the misery of havin’ a poor baby die inside the womb. That’s what sin does. You have so much hope, so much joy and anticipation of what’s to come, but what’re you left with? An empty wallet? A stillborn child? And ya’ left God for that? In James 1:16, God says ‘don’t be deceived, my beloved brothers and sisters’. He’s sayin’ don’t fall for that desire. Don’t fall for it, it’ll just lead to death. The word death means a separation, here - a spiritual detachment. One that splits you and God apart. Once the divide gets bigger ‘n’ bigger, you’ll have an eternal separation. No chance of you two gettin’ back together again.”

Shaking his head, Jack sighed, pacing around the raised platform. “Once you’re lookin’ up to God, completely disconnected, you’ll be thinkin ‘why did I give you up for that’? Why did I let us stray so far apart? I get to spend an eternity without you because I chose sin over you. And it’s a literal hell.”

The hall was quiet. Not even the benches were creaking anymore. Just like the baby Jack spoke of, the room was silent. Still.

“Some a’ you are taking the bait of sin, hook, line, and sinker. You don’t want to be here ‘cause your heart is somewhere else. I’m here to tell you to not be fooled. Don’t be deceived. Don’t turn your back on a Father who loves you.”

Taking a deep breath and smiling, Jack peered back to the people. “God bless you, thank ya’ for comin’ today. If any of y’all have questions, I’ll be steppin’ outside.”

With that, the chapel was immediately cleared after the preacher went out the doors for fresh air. Rhys gently tugged on the sleeve of his mother’s light purple blouse. “Mama, please, can we stay a little longer to visit with Mr. Lawrence?”

Getting a shake of the head, Rhys’ mother told him that they really should be heading home, to get out of the sticky heat. Huffing disappointedly, Rhys folded his arms across his chest and followed his parents out of the church and to their yellow cadillac. Rhys peeked back over his shoulder to a pond of men, women, and children swarming Jack, and the man taking every compliment and question with such a beautiful grin on his face. He looked so nice with his hair messily falling apart after a long morning in the heat. That’s the last thing Rhys thought of before he had to clamber into the backseat of the family car - how handsome the preacher was.

After his daddy drove home, Rhys was quick to hop out of the car and into their house. He hurried up to the second floor of their home to shed his sweaty clothes and turn on the tap to the bath. Adding a drain and waiting for the tub to fill, the boy couldn’t stop thinking about what Jack had said today. It was weird to have a sermon directly related to his current struggles.

Rhys dipped his fingers into the water when it was filled, then stepped in, lowering his body into the bath. So many times Rhys had thought about committing a sin. Accusation, anger, greed, spilling his seed… Rhys dunked his head under water and closed his eyes tight. It was so hard to deny temptation. Too hard, at times, but he didn’t want to make God mad. He had to remember Jack’s sermon and ingrain it into his head. Don’t lose sight of Him. He has to be a good boy to live a happy life.

The water splashed around when Rhys lifted his head. Gently touching his skin, Rhys drew an invisible picture of the baby of desire against his stomach. Maybe there was an egg of sin inside of him, but he wouldn’t let it grow. It would stay small and incapable of being born. But, like the Book of Jeremiah said, God was mad at His people for two things: picking their sin and choosing it over Him.

If the baby inside of Rhys was growing from just one sin, what would it be? What would he pick over God? He didn’t know if it was even possible for him to love something more than God. He’ll probably never get to find out, either.

On Thursday, Rhys and his family decided to go out to the river nearby their house once it cooled off a bit. He wore a big white shirt, blue jean shorts, and a sunhat, exploring the quiet nature with barefeet. Listening to the birds and bugs around him made his heart feel happy. These parts of the world where humans rarely came were filled with such small, innocent lives. They all seemed happy.

Rhys’ parents were at one small pool of water, sitting on blankets and picking at the food his mother brought, but their son was off the moment his feet touched the ground. He was travelling along the flow of water, walking farther and farther away from civilization and enjoying every minute of it. Rhys sometimes splashed his feet in the water or rubbed some of it against his face to cool him off, but other than that, he was set on getting away as far as he could before the sun started to dip below the treeline. That's when he'd have to come back.

Deciding to climb up one of the taller trees was a good idea. Rhys was able to see far off into the distance - if he squinted, he could even see their banana-boat of a car from where he was at. Taking a full 180°, however, something else entirely different caught his mismatched eyes.

Not too far from where Rhys sat perched up in the tree, there was a boy his age, maybe a bit older, sitting beside the bend of water in only a pair of swim trunks. He was already wet and seemed to be all alone. Feeling concerned, Rhys considered coming down from the tree and heading over to the boy to see if he was lost. With one foot already moving to a lower branch, Rhys had started his descent to the stranger, but upon closer inspection, Rhys saw that the boy wasn’t in any trouble - quite the opposite, actually - he was completely at ease. Going back up to his original spot above the leaves, the younger boy watched the unknown person strip out of their shorts and into nothing.

At first, Rhys shielded his eyes. He shouldn't be seeing this. It was dirty. It was bad enough that Rhys was spying on him, but even worse was the fact that he really wanted to watch. Rhys turned his head back to the stranger and saw that he laid a hand on himself - where it shouldn't be - and began to pleasure himself. It made Rhys’ stomach churn, but he didn't feel sick.

The teenager below fondled himself, whimpered sounds of pleasure that only devoted brides were allowed to make, flexed his muscles when he touched himself where it felt best. Watching this play out before him, Rhys could only stare. His thighs burned, but maybe that was because he was holding his weight up on the tree. His heart pounded and his cheeks flushed with shame, not because he was embarrassed to watch, but because he was admiring a boy.

His daddy always said homosexual acts were an abomination to God. Hot tears filled Rhys’ eyes, but even through blurred vision he didn't look away. It was covetable to see someone in such bliss. He longed for more. With the hand that didn’t keep himself steady on the oak branches, Rhys trailed confused fingers between his legs and touched himself in mental anguish. He was sinning. He was being played by temptation, by Satan, the ugly serpent who tricked Adam and Eve into a corrupt world. It felt evil when he touched himself, just like the boy below did. Rhys felt tears drip down his cheeks when he massaged against his hand, but he didn't stop, he just pressed more firmly.

Slinging his legs around a thick branch, Rhys held on tight to the tree as he rocked himself against the rough feeling of bark. His legs dangled high in the air when his hips rolled and rubbed his tender, virgin body to completion. Rhys’ cheek pressed against the tree, while his legs closed tight around the branch as he felt his underwear fill with sticky, uncomfortable heat. He cried.

When his belly stayed hot, Rhys knew the temptation inside of him grew into a baby conceived from sin.