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Andy knocked, just a little nervously, and waited to be acknowledged. When he noticed the full of head of silver hair bob up and the transfixing stare of those piercing blue eyes, he smiled nervously. “Good evening, Pastor,” he began, his mouth already dry, “Sandra said you wanted to see me right after choir practice.”
“Yes, Andy,” the pastor stood to his full height and showed his beautiful, white teeth. “Please, have a seat.”
Andy made his way to one of the two leather parson chairs that stood before the pastor’s desk and sat, raking his hands slowly over the front of his trousers. Andy never knew why he was so nervous around this man; he’d known Pastor Koslowsky and his wife for most of his life. Andy had even done some babysitting, in his younger days, for two of their four children. Andy had an enormous amount of respect for this man; his sermons were always riveting, thought-provoking and had inspired Andy more than the words and actions of everyone else he knew, combined. The fact that the pastor was tall, handsome and the sweetest person on the planet had never escaped Andy’s attention either. For Andy, the reverend was like the father he’d never known.
He caught himself staring, probably smiling stupidly – as he always seemed to do around this man – and shook his head a couple of times. “I’m sorry?”
“I asked you how your new job at the bank is progressing.”
“Oh, yes, that,” Andy chuckled to himself, ever-mindful of how disoriented and pathetic he felt when he was around this man. “It’s going very well, thank you for asking.”
“People are treating you well?”
“Oh, yes,” Andy enthused, “very well.” Andy had not spent a lot of time getting to know the other people; he was one of the IT geeks while everyone else seemed to be a specialist of some kind. “Thank you.”
“I’m very glad.” The pastor leaned across his desk a little and offered Andy a sincere smile. “I’ve been worried about you, if you don’t mind my being a little overbearing, since your mother’s passing last year.”
“Of course I don’t mind, Pastor.” Andy didn’t really like to think about where he was a year ago; losing his mother so soon had been a shock, one that he thought he would have dealt with by now.
“Well,” the reverend smiled more broadly, “I’m glad to hear that things are getting better.”
Andy appreciated the reverend using the word ‘getting’; he wasn’t foolish enough to think that putting on a brave face would fool this brilliant man. “Yes, yes,” Andy nodded, his face heating a little, “they are, Pastor, thank you.”
“Okay, then,” Pastor Koslowsky leaned back and retrieved a small piece of paper, holding it out for Andy. “This is the reason I asked to speak with you. I know you probably want to get home, what with it already being past nine, so I won’t keep you much longer.”
Andy did not interrupt the pastor, but stared briefly down at the piece of paper; there, in the reverend’s beautiful cursive, he saw a man’s name, address and phone number. Andy couldn’t help but wonder what this was all about.
“Mr. Kobb lost his son a few days ago.”
Andy’s head shot up. “Oh, I’m very sorry, Pastor.” Andy noticed the patient smile cross the pastor’s lips.
Pastor Koslowsky flattened both of his hands on his desk and continued, “Mr. Kobb’s son had a very unusual wish…one for his funeral.”
Andy looked down at the piece of paper and then back into the pastor’s eyes. He waited.
“It would seem that Mr. Kobb’s son, Jacob, was a very big admirer of your singing.” A broad, pleased grin spread across the pastor’s face. “Obviously,” the pastor raised his eyebrows, “a man of very fine taste.”
Andy looked down, embarrassed by the praise, his face burning from the rush of blood. He was a thirty-three year old IT tech, still single, very inexperienced in the ways of life and had never been able to take a compliment – especially from the one man he admired more than any other. “May I ask how old he was, Pastor?”
“Jacob was only thirty-three.” The pastor stated sadly. “Your age.” Without dwelling on the answer, which Andy could tell caused a little sadness for the pastor, Reverend Koslowsky continued. “Mr. Kobb told me that Jacob made a point of coming to hear you sing, wherever and whenever, even here at the church.”
Suddenly, with the swiftness of sixteenth notes, Andy realized what would be asked of him. But he waited for the pastor to finish his thoughts.
“It would seem that one of Jacob’s final wishes was that you sing at his funeral.”
“I…um…is that appropriate, Pastor?” Andy had only ever been to his mother’s funeral, so he wanted to be sure that he would not be doing anything that would offend. “I mean…”
“Yes,” the pastor smiled for him again. “I assure you it would be quite appropriate.” The pastor raised himself up to his full six feet, five inches and moved around the desk to stand beside Andy, who had also gotten to his feet when he saw the pastor stand. Andy was maybe a half-inch over six feet himself, but he always felt so small next to this man – safe, but small. “But you don’t need to provide an answer right away.” Reverend Koslowsky put his hand on Andy’s shoulder and together, they walked towards the door. “I told Mr. Kobb that you would consider it carefully, as you do everything, and would call him with your decision.”
“Yes, Pastor,” Andy nodded and looked down at the paper again. “Thank you. I will.”
Andy stared at the screen in front of him, realizing at the last minute what the complaint had been about. “Sorry, did you say you did or didn’t do an application refresh?”
“I did not.”
Andy had heard that tone of voice so many times that he didn’t need to be told that this manager obviously considered herself far too busy to follow the simple instructions he supplied in his earlier email. He was trying his best to remain calm and professional, but this woman drove him absolutely bug nuts; if she wasn’t whining about having to log off every night so he could do his job, she was bitching and complaining about the machine being too slow – even though she insisted on having every single application open at the same time. No matter how many times Andy had tried to explain to her that she couldn’t run twelve different programs, including the internet applications she didn’t need to run since they were also on the intranet, without expecting some sort of delay. He guided the pointer to the bottom right of the screen and hit the little white box with a red circle, chose the task he wanted, and, low and behold, her desktop then showed the program she’d been insisting that he’d somehow removed. “All done.” Andy delighted in giving her a smug and smarmy smile, pushed aside the guilt and headed to his office to grab his lunch. Hearing her exasperated sigh, he resisted the urge to turn around and bark a “You’re welcome!” at her and kept moving towards his office.
He’d found himself with a rather slow morning and had had quite a bit of time to think about Mr. Kobb’s request. He’d never really doubted that he would do it since Pastor Koslowsky had told him that it would be appropriate, but he’d found himself stuck on the idea of singing in a room full of people who’d lost a son, a brother, a friend, a cousin, a grandson. Andy didn’t seem to be able to wrap his brain around the idea of doing something he loved to do while there were so many sad and despondent people in the church pews. And then to find out that this poor man had followed his singing for years, without ever once introducing himself; the whole idea made Andy sad and a little lonely. Maybe if he’d ever said something, we could have become friends.
Andy didn’t know why, but he couldn’t help but wonder if Jacob had taken his own life. Of course, people died that young, but something about how Pastor Koslowsky had spoken, something in his manner had alerted Andy to the idea that Jacob’s passing had been rather unexpected. Trying to dismiss such thoughts before speaking to Jacob’s father, Andy shook his head. With the little slip of paper in front of him, Andy had come back to the same thoughts over and over again: Why had he never said anything to me? All the times he’d come to hear me sing, why had Jacob never introduced himself?
The rational part of Andy’s brain tried to assuage any guilt at the thought that he could have done anything to bring about a different outcome; it was quite possible that Jacob had been sick for a long time and that he had died of some incurable disease. But still, Andy couldn’t help but imagine, as he picked up the phone to dial the phone number on the slip of paper that no one had expected Jacob to die so suddenly. He practiced his deep breathing exercises, as he did when he was warming up to sing, and listened to the phone ring on the other end of the line.
“Yes, hello,” Andy began, “my name is Andy Eisenberg and I was given your number by Pastor Koslowsky.”
“Yes,” Mr. Kobb sounded tired, as if the discussion to come might be too much for him. “Thank you for calling. Did Pastor Koslowsky tell you anything about why I asked to speak with you?”
“Yes, he did. I’m very sorry for your loss, sir.” Andy tried to imagine what it would feel like to have to ask what Mr. Kobb was to ask, and decided to help him. “I was calling to ask if Jacob had a favorite song or if there was something specific he wanted me to sing.”
“Thank you, Andy.” Mr. Kobb’s voice hitched a little and he cleared his throat, beginning again. “He spoke of you often.” Andy closed his eyes, the same thoughts of a few moments ago circling his brain. “In the will that he left us, uh, he mentioned a piece by Mendelssohn that he’d heard you sing several times over the years.”
His mind automatically sorting through the catalogue of Mendelssohn songs he’d sung over the years, Andy tried to imagine which one would be appropriate for a funeral. As he kept picking a song as a possibility and discarding it seconds later, Andy heard Mr. Kobb clear his throat again.
“Andy?” Mr. Kobb’s voice sounded strained, as if Andy not answering right away had left him with the wrong idea.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Kobb,” Andy sputtered a little. “There are quite a few Mendelssohn arias I’ve sung over the years. Did he happen to mention which one specifically?”
“For the Mountains Shall Depart.”
Andy closed his eyes; learning that aria had been difficult for him when there had been no such loss to contemplate while he sang it. He’d so often marvelled at the beauty of the piece, the emotion, the overlapping melody and harmony creating a strong reaction from him. “Of course, sir, I can do that.” He wasn’t sure that he could, but he had already come this far; he would just have to do his best and try to remember that it was one of Jacob’s final wishes. “Pastor Koslowsky did not tell me when the funeral is scheduled.”
“Thank you, Andy.” Mr. Kobb sighed heavily, one less burden lifted from his shoulders. “The funeral will be this Saturday, at eleven, at the church.”
Neither man spoke for a few seconds until Andy realized that he hadn’t confirmed he’d heard the arrangements. “I will be there, sir. And again, I’m very sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you, Andy.” Mr. Kobb stated, voice low and resigned. “Of course, you’ll let me know if there is any fee involved –“
“Oh, my goodness, sir, of course not.” Andy cringed at the thought, not sure if he was more upset at the idea of payment or at his hasty and rushed refusal. “I mean, I couldn’t possibly.”
“Thank you, son.”
Andy said his goodbyes, put the phone back in its cradle and closed his eyes again, wondering for the first time if Mr. Kobb had any other children, if he had anyone left to whom he would still be able to say those words. He pushed the thoughts of Mr. Kobb outliving his son out of his mind and took out his cell phone, texting Sandra, the church’s choir director; he would need to arrange for an accompanist.
“I don’t know if I can do this, Sandra.” Andy fidgeted with the buttons on his shirt as he darted his eyes from Sandra’s fingers on the piano keys to her patient smile.
“It’s certainly a first for me, too, Andy.”
“I went home after work and tried singing it, but all I could think about how he’d come to hear me sing and I don’t even know what he looks like, and…now, he’s gone.”
“I met him a couple of times.” Sandra rested her hands in her lap, but never took her eyes from Andy’s. “I think he was a very sensitive soul, as my mother would say.”
Andy had nothing to say in response, so he tried to calm his breathing, mentally ticking off the list of tasks on his warm-up exercises. He’d learned long ago, with Diane, his voice teacher, that emotion was a way of telling the story through song or, if not kept under control, would be the one thing that ruined it. “I can’t seem to stop thinking about him. About what he was like as a boy, what he was like as a young man, about his first kiss, his first girlfriend.” Andy took a deep breath and let it out slowly through pursed lips. “Was he married? Did he have kids?”
“Andy?” Sandra patted the space beside her on the piano bench. “Jacob Kobb was a very shy man.” Sandra reached out and placed her hand over Andy’s, as if to reassure him that Jacob had not meant to be long for this life. “He was incredibly introverted, but he loved music more than anything.” Sandra gave a wistful smile and looked down at where her hand covered Andy’s. “I only met him a few times, and each time, he came to me to request that you sing certain songs during the Sunday services.” Sandra looked back into Andy’s eyes. “When I asked him why, he said that your voice gave him great comfort. You singing I Know that My Redeemer Liveth this past Easter was his idea.”
Andy laughed a little when he remembered the difficulty he’d had with that piece. The tessitura had not given him any problems, but he’d had such problems learning the proper phrasing, learning how to move through the long phrases in one breath and still make them seem effortless, as if he were speaking the words with conviction and passion. Now, he could not imagine never singing the song again, he loved it that much. Somehow, knowing that Jacob had requested the song of him did not make him feel better; it made him feel as if he’d been right to think that had he only been able to meet Jacob, he could have done something, anything, to prevent such an early death.
“Should we try one more time?” Sandra was rubbing Andy’s back, the contact warm and reassuring.
Andy nodded and stood. “For Jacob.” Sandra smiled and winked and placed her hands over the keys, taking one deep breath. And then, Andy heard the first few notes of the uplifting song, realizing that Jacob had requested it for that reason; he’d wanted a song of hope and promise sung at his funeral. Sandra’s words passed through Andy’s mind – troubled, loved music – and Andy knew how he would have to interpret the song, just for Jacob.
“How are you doing, Andy?” Sandra was standing beside him, her hand finding its way to his shoulder. He could only nod; he’d experienced nerves before, but nothing like this. He’d always laughed at Diane, his voice teacher, when she’d told him that stage fright was a good thing; it helped to keep all of one’s focus where it needed to be.
But Andy wasn’t nervous about the singing he would be doing; he would be able to get through that. What was making him nervous was realizing that he would be singing for such a small gathering. Andy had naturally assumed that there would be a church full of mourners, all coming to pay their last respects to a departed friend, brother, son and grandson. But there weren’t even thirty people at the front of the church. The service would start very soon, and if there were more people due, they would be missing their chance to say goodbye to Jacob Kobb.
He didn’t understand; the funeral for his own mother had seen at least four times as many people in the church. For some foolish and naive reason, Andy had always just figured that funerals would be the one reason to put all differences aside and bid farewell to someone you knew and liked, even loved. Oh God, Andy felt the thought cause a wave of nausea over him, maybe Jacob didn’t have anybody other than family.
Willing the thought out of his brain, Andy followed Sandra towards the front of the church and the two of them sat to the left of the small wooden box, away from the small group that composed Jacob’s family and friends. Pastor Koslowsky started the service and Andy found his eyes riveted to the charismatic minister; Andy felt, as usual, that every single word from the pastor’s mouth was meant for him; each word and sentence was meant to help guide Andy to a better, more fulfilling life. He took these words seriously, using them in his daily life to find comfort, joy, peace, even humor. The pastor had garnered quite a reputation throughout his thirty years at this church as a devout Lutheran pastor, but also as a man with a wicked and dry sense of humor. One Sunday, the entire congregation was struck dumb as the pastor launched into one of his thought-provoking sermons about a contemporary issue that had seen the congregation divided. As the pastor stood at the pulpit, he recounted the story of a young girl who had conceived a child out of wedlock and had decided to have an abortion instead of carrying the child to term. Pastor Koslowsky told the story with such passion and such conviction that Andy had been quite certain that the moral of the story would be that abortion was wrong. Instead, Andy felt the slight tickle of an ironic laugh in his throat when the pastor asked all of the men in the congregation to think about what they would do in such a situation, and then to think about their decision again the morning they awoke and found themselves to be a scared, abandoned unwed fifteen-year old girl with a uterus. It was, of course, the pastor’s way of letting everyone in attendance know that there should be no judgment passed on anyone, even if each member of the congregation had once been in the young girl’s situation; judgment did nothing but divide. Understanding, the pastor said finally, is what everyone needed.
Andy was always a very private person and did not share too many details of his life, but at that moment, he could still not be certain that the pastor would not condemn his homosexuality. He’d had to listen to his own mother speak of homosexuality as evil, as the devil’s work. Andy wanted to believe, with all his heart that the pastor would accept him, despite what religion may have taught everyone about homosexuality. Andy needed to look on Pastor Koslowsky as the warm, gentle soul that he had always thought him to be. It was one of the reasons that Andy found such great comfort attending church services; he didn’t like to think about the day that would probably come very soon – the day that would see the church being led by another pastor.
As Pastor Koslowsky spoke lovingly about the loss of Jacob, about the shy, talented artist that had designed the church’s stained glass windows, Andy found his eyes wandering up the tall walls and settling on those windows. They were beautiful; Andy had always found them to be so, and had often wondered about their history. He’d never known that Jacob had designed them; a small pang of guilt surfaced when he realized that, until a few days ago, he’d never known of Jacob at all.
The pastor addressed a man called Karl. Andy listened, his eyes searching the small gathering for the man whom the pastor explained was Jacob’s older brother, his only brother and only sibling; the brother that Jacob had idolized, had followed around as a youngster, the brother that had never complained when Jacob would insist that they do things together; instead, Karl had taken Jacob with him whenever the younger brother had asked. As the pastor spoke of how much that had meant to Jacob, Andy’s thoughts were on how he had been an only child; but he was grateful that Jacob had been blessed enough to have had someone so attentive and loving as a brother.
The pastor smiled and chuckled to himself when he told the story of how a ten-year old Jacob had insisted on going along with his sixteen-year old brother when Karl had finally summoned up the courage to ask out his first girlfriend. Andy’s eyes lighted on a blushing, handsome face sitting next to, Andy assumed, Mr. and Mrs. Kobb. Andy’s smile was hard to fight as he listened to the pastor recount how the young lady had smiled and agreed so readily to the uninvited guest, insisting that Karl would have to behave himself or that she would have other options that evening.
As Karl’s tired eyes found his, Andy felt the heat rush to his face and looked back down at his hands, feeling embarrassed and as if he’d done something completely inappropriate. He felt himself fighting the urge to look back at the handsome face, to study the fine square jaw and the juxtaposition of the dark shadow of his shaved beard and the paleness of his smooth skin. Andy felt a wave of shame as he realized he was wondering how it would feel to touch that cheek, what scents would assail him as he pressed his cheek against Karl’s. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the words to the aria; he would be singing for Jacob in less than ten minutes.
Waiting for the pastor to finish the prayer, Andy stood, allowed Sandra to move past him to the piano, and began to take deep, calming breaths. He turned towards the pulpit, not having enough nerve to turn all the way and face the small group of mourners. He nodded to Sandra and within moments, Andy’s light baritone voice filled the church. Andy thought of little Jacob following Karl around the house, pestering him to play. Andy thought of Jacob and how he’d probably been so shy that he’d never been able to ask a girl out on a date. And Andy thought of how short Jacob’s life had been, how unfair it all seemed that Jacob had never introduced himself, had never let Andy know how much the singing had meant to him.
Nearing the end of the aria, Andy closed his eyes and put all of his thoughts and prayers into the last few words – But thy kindness shall not depart, shall not depart, but thy kindness shall not depart, shall not depart from me. Neither shall be removed the covenant of thy peace. Andy held the final note until he heard Sandra tap the final chord and then opened his eyes. He did not seem to be able to control himself; he looked over at the small group of people and saw that Karl’s tear-streaked face held a smile. Embarrassed, Andy offered a quick smile – not sure if this was proper etiquette or not – and sat quickly when Sandra moved past him and sat as well.
Andy relaxed his breathing, trying to force air into his lungs as he felt Sandra’s reassuringly warm hand squeeze his; he offered her a sincere smile and his gratitude for having helped him through this.
Andy accepted the hug from Sandra and headed out the back entrance of the church to his car, relieved that he could now escape, unnoticed. He was glad that he could do this for Jacob and prayed that the poor, shy man would now find some peace. He still wasn’t sure of the circumstances of Jacob’s passing, but was content to know that he was able to do this for him, and his family. His thoughts were on his own mother’s funeral and how he’d been offered so many comforting words by her former Sunday School students when he heard his name. When he turned, he saw Karl running towards him. He braced himself. For what, he didn’t know, but he suddenly felt panicked at having to try to explain to this man why he’d been caught staring.
“Andy,” Karl said, breathlessly, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.” Karl came forward to stand mere inches from him. “I wanted to thank you for doing this…for Jacob.”
Andy had had many people come up and speak to him after he sang – festivals, competitions, Sunday services – but this seemed so different. Not knowing what else to say and thinking that You’re welcome just didn’t seem correct somehow, Andy nodded and offered, “I’m very sorry for your loss, Mr. Kobb.”
Karl extended his hand. “Please, call me Karl?”
“Karl.” Andy nodded again, the cool wind of the afternoon feeling so good against his heated cheeks. “I’m so sorry. I wish I had had the chance to get to know your brother.”
Karl leaned his head to one side and smiled. “That really wasn’t Jacob’s style.” Karl looked down at their clasped hands and finally let go. “He was a very private person…very, very shy.” Karl looked back up into Andy’s eyes. “But he did love to hear you sing. Talked about you all the time.” Karl laughed at a memory that Andy hoped he’d share, but uncertain if he could hear much more. “Even dragged me to hear you once.” Karl’s expression changed as he heard the words he’d just uttered. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean – “
Andy shook his head and chuckled. “It’s okay, Karl,” he reassured, “classical isn’t for everyone.”
“No, no,” Karl sputtered, “that’s just it. I didn’t think it was for me until I heard you singing in that festival just a couple of months ago.” Karl tapped his forehead with his fingertips, as if he were trying to remember something important. “You sang a piece by…” Karl looked up to the sky. “Jacob’s gonna be so pissed that I don’t remember.” Karl threw his hand out to the side in resignation and defeat. “Anyway, it was some very moving piece about not fearing anymore the heat of the sun, and – “
“Yes,” Andy interrupted, nodding his head. “By Finzi, and the words are from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline.”
Karl smiled and let his hands rest at his sides. “It was incredibly moving.” Karl looked uneasy for a moment and shrugged his shoulders. “Jacob recorded it on his cell phone.” Before Andy had a chance to register the comment, Karl’s hand came up to rest on Andy’s forearm. “Don’t worry, he didn’t put it up on Youtube or anything. He only…wanted it for, you know, himself.”
Andy squashed the renewed desire to find out just what, precisely, had taken Jacob at such a young age, but kept his mouth closed on that topic. “Well,” he said after a few moments, “I’m glad I could do this for him, and for your family.”
“Listen,” Karl said, turning to look behind him, as if he felt some guilt about standing out here speaking with Andy. “Jacob asked me to give you something when he…when…” Karl brought his hand to his forehead as he tried to gather his thoughts. “Is there some place and time we could arrange so that I could give it to you.”
“Oh, uh,” Andy hoped that this wouldn’t turn into another conversation about payment. “Look, I already explained to your father that there wouldn’t be any need for a fee or – “
“I’m sorry.” Karl’s cheeks pinked as he looked behind him again. “No, what I meant was that there is a series of sketches that he did, and…he wanted me to make sure that you got them.”
“Yes,” Karl nodded and gestured to Andy. “Of you.”
“Me?” Andy heard his voice rise about an octave at the thought that Jacob had done sketches of him.
“Is there some place where we can meet?” Karl turned and pointed to the church, then turned his eyes back to Andy’s. “We could meet here if you’re worried about –“
“Shouldn’t you, I mean, your family keep them?” Andy opened his mouth to continue his sputtering, but Karl reached out to place a gentle hand on his forearm again, silencing him.
“But he wanted you to have them.” Karl’s face and tone of voice made Andy feel horrible that he’d thought of refusing one of Jacob’s final gifts. “He said you’d always given him so much without ever knowing what it meant to him.” While Andy tried to figure out what to say, Karl took back his hand and asked, “Please?”
Andy reached into his trousers and pulled out his wallet, offering one of his cards to the handsome brother. “The last number is my cell number.” Andy took a step back towards his car, not really sure what to make of this bizarre situation that seemed to keep on getting more and more bizarre. “I just feel uneasy about taking something from your family. You’ve already lost Jacob so suddenly, and – “
Andy noticed Karl’s expression change to one of confusion. “This wasn’t sudden, Andy.” Karl turned to look behind him again. “We’ve had five years to come to terms with Jacob’s condition. We knew that we would lose him eventually.” Karl pulled out his own wallet and stored Andy’s card in it. “We were lucky.” Karl offered a small smile. “We had him for much longer than the doctors predicted.” Karl looked as if Andy had been frightened by something and took a step towards him. “And he wanted you to know that you inspired some of his most beautiful work.”
“What, uh, I don’t – “
“Jacob died of cancer, Andy.” Karl took a step back and reached for the handle of Andy’s coupe. “He fought it with everything he had, but, in the end…” Karl’s voice trailed off and he tried to smile for Andy.
“I’m so sorry, Karl. You don’t owe me any explanations.” Andy moved to fold himself into the car, but looked up before he could put a foot in the car. “Call any time then, okay?” Andy offered a sincere apology and nodded when Karl patted the wallet that had been returned to his breast pocket.
Andy smiled up at Karl as he put the coupe into gear and slowly pulled out of the parking lot of the church.
Andy stood in the middle of his condominium and stared at the framed sketches, his own eyes staring back at him.
“I hope you don’t mind,” Karl was wringing his hands together, nervously nodding at the sketches, “but I had my two favorites framed.”
“Beautiful?” Karl smiled, seemingly much more relaxed now. “They are. They’re of you.”
Andy looked up to see the grin on Karl’s lips, not really sure if he was reading this situation correctly. “I remember singing in these places…remembering wearing these suits, but…I…”
“Jacob didn’t like to be noticed.”
“I’m sorry, Karl,” Andy finally remembered his manners, “please come in. May I get you something to drink?”
“I’d love some tea.” Karl shucked his windbreaker and sat at the dining room table. “Some of the relatives discovered dad’s stash and things got a little…well, let’s just say I’m not Irish.”
Andy laughed in spite of himself and opened up the cupboard beside the oversized stainless steel sink. “Any preference?” Andy stood aside to allow Karl to see the dozen or so boxes of tea he had neatly stacked on the first two shelves.
“Oh, man!” Karl raised himself up off his chair and moved beside Andy. “And I thought I was bad!” Karl looked down at Andy’s smiling face and shrugged. “What do you like?”
“Licorice.” Andy reached for the little blue and violet box that he’d discovered only a few weeks ago. “It’s supposed to help soothe the throat.”
“And?” Karl was now leaning against the sink, his arms crossed over his chest.
“I don’t know,” Andy laughed nervously, noticing how the sleeves of Karl’s polo shirt strained against his biceps. “I just open my mouth and sound comes out.”
“Didn’t sound like it to me.”
“That was a little different.” Andy filled the kettle, noticing that Karl didn’t really move far enough away. Andy’s shoulder brushed up against Karl’s bicep and he felt a shudder pass through him, moving away towards the stove. “It was…I had to get it right, you know…for Jacob.” Andy put the stainless steel kettle on the element of the stove and turned back to face Karl. “It was a final wish. I had to do…I don’t know…more than just show up and sing.”
Karl’s smile faded a little and he unfolded his arms, hooking them into his own back pockets. “It was truly beautiful, Andy.”
Andy blushed and looked down at his feet. “I’m glad.” After a few seconds, Andy looked back up to see that Karl was still staring at him, the same wistful smile on his lips. “Tell me about him?”
Karl sighed heavily and looked up at the ceiling, considering where to begin. “Well,” he started and moved to take hold of Andy’s elbow leading both of them to the dining table, as if this were his home and not Andy’s. “He’s six years younger, was incredibly gifted with drawing and painting from as soon as he could hold a crayon, loved classical music and had a huge crush on that actress that played Monica in Friends.” Karl noticed the look of surprise of Andy’s face. “I think that’s one of the things that always surprises me.”
Defensively, Andy tried to shake the look that must have been on his face. “What?”
“Jacob was straight.” Karl held up his hand and smiled as Andy opened his, his face already protesting what he knew he’d been thinking. “It’s okay, Andy. It was actually something that we joked about.” Karl let his hand come down and rest on Andy’s forearm. “Everyone thought I was straight and that he was gay.”
“I didn’t…I mean, it’s none of my business, so –“
“I think,” Karl removed his hand and leaned back in his chair, “it’s one of the reasons that he was so sensitive to other people. He saw what I was going through, saw how difficult it was for me, and always…I don’t know…somehow, he always wanted to make people feel better about…everything.”
“I don’t understand.” Andy was becoming more and more confused by the secrets that Karl was revealing. Mercifully, the kettle started to whistle and Andy jumped up to fix two mugs of tea. “Do you take anything in yours?”
“No, thank you.” Karl accepted the oversized mug from Andy’s hands and set it in front of himself on the table. “This is a beautiful space, Andy.”
“Thank you.” Andy took in his surroundings, smile firmly planted on his face when he thought about how much work he’d done to the place – all of it since his mother’s death. Fixing up the space had given him something to focus on besides the loss. “I’m no artist, but I like it.”
“I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, Andy.”
“Uncomfortable?” Andy guffawed. “No, you didn’t make me uncomfortable.” Andy closed his eyes and nodded once. “Okay, but I was just a little taken aback, is all.”
“By my advances?”
Andy felt himself blush at Karl’s attempt at a lascivious look and wrapped his hands around his mug of tea. “No.” Andy spoke into his mug, not daring to look up. “Those I found quite charming.”
“Oh, good,” Karl let out a breath of relief. “Jacob always told me that I had a tendency to be as sensitive as a steamroller.”
Andy tilted his head to the side and offered a smile. “How are you doing, really?” Before Karl could answer, Andy explained. “I mean, I know you told me that this wasn’t unexpected, but still…I spent most of last night trying to imagine how hard it must be to lose…” Without thinking, Andy realized where his words were leading and he didn’t want to upset Karl with thoughts of how brothers were supposed to have each other for a lifetime. “I’m sorry. We can talk about something else, if you’d like.”
“No,” Karl whispered softly, “I like talking about Jacob.” Karl took a slow sip of his tea, licking his full lips, Andy noticed, when he brought the mug away from his mouth. “I always thought of Jacob as a gift, really.” Karl squinted at some memories that Andy could tell were flitting through his mind. “I remember hearing my friends complain about their brothers and sisters, about how they were always tagging along, getting in the way.” Karl shook his head, and then sighed. “I would always go home and wonder how they could think that.” Karl regarded Andy with frankness in his eyes. “How could anyone think that?” Andy had no answer; so he offered a small shrug instead. “I remember when we were younger and shared a room, Jacob would get so scared during thunderstorms that he’d wake me up – if I wasn’t already – and want to climb into bed with me.” Karl shook his head, a lopsided grin on his face. “I would lie there, with Jacob in my arms, for hours listening to the sound of the rain on the roof, or his breathing, feeling his little hands cling to my T-shirt and think, How could anyone not love this boy?”
Andy felt the sting behind his eyes, chalked it up to the steam from the tea and raised himself off his chair. “I’m sorry, Karl, I haven’t offered you anything to eat.” Andy returned to the kitchen and opened a few more cupboards, picking out a platter on which to arrange some cookies. He prepared the platter in silence and then returned to place it in front of his guest. After a few moments, when neither man had spoken, Andy opened his mouth and admitted, “That must be a very special memory for you, Karl.” He watched, intently, as Karl picked up a cookie and held it up for Andy to see.
“These were his favorites.” Karl twisted the two cookie shells apart and peered through the hold where the strawberry-flavored gelatin usually sat. “He would take two of them and make glasses out of them.” Karl popped one half into his mouth and chewed slowly, smile still on his lips. Andy noticed the smile fade. “I overheard the pastor talking about you losing your mother last year.” Karl said after swallowing. “I’m sorry, Andy.”
“Thank you.” Andy pointed to the foyer where a quilt hung on one of the walls; it was a classic patchwork quilt that she’d made him using scraps of material that made the entrance space seem brighter – to him anyway. “She made that for me as a housewarming gift.”
Andy nodded and took a sip of his tea. “Was Jacob married? Did he ever have any children?” Andy thought he’d misspoken, but then saw Karl give a small shake of his head; Andy didn’t press for any details. “May I ask a favor?”
Andy stood and retrieved the two framed portraits from the kitchen island. “Will you help me decide where to put these?”
“Me?” Karl laughed so hard that tears came to his eyes. “If Jacob were here right now he’d be on the floor laughing.” Andy squinted through a wary smile; he didn’t understand the joke, but kept quiet when Karl continued. “Jacob always used to say that I was the only gay man in history who had absolutely no sense of style.” Karl wiped at his eyes as he followed Andy into the kitchen. “Honestly. If it weren’t for Jacob, I don’t think I’d have moved too far beyond the concept of dressing or decorating in anything other than black.”
“Well,” Andy laughed, “we are a fine pair then, aren’t we?” Andy stepped into the living room and saw the look of horror on Karl’s face when the older man saw nothing but black leather furniture.
“Oh, Andy, I’m so sorry about –“
“Don’t worry about it, Karl,” Andy smiled, the tension easing out of him; funny, but he hadn’t even noticed how tense he’d been until now. “I’m afraid I don’t have much of a flare for anything either.” Andy leaned over to put the framed portraits on the floor, leaning them against the side of the sofa.
Karl came up beside him, his hand finding the small of Andy’s back. “Except for singing.” Karl moved his hand up Andy’s back and smiled at the little shiver it caused. “And making people feel at ease.” Karl’s lips brushed against Andy’s and Andy wasn’t sure if the whimper had come from his mouth or from Karl’s. The kiss was soft, sensual with no pressure being exerted by either man. Andy enjoyed the moistness, the warmth for a few moments and then felt Karl pulling away. “And kissing.”
Andy felt the heat of his cheeks when Karl brought up one hand and stroked it gently. He couldn’t think of anything other than Karl’s lips, the taste of licorice still on his lips. At a loss for words, Andy simply said, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Karl offered a wink and moved to step away, but Andy reached out and held his arm firmly.
“Kiss me again?” As Karl brought their foreheads together, Andy’s eyes closed on reflex, the smell of Karl’s cologne mixing with the feel of the older man’s hands tracing a trail up Andy’s forearms, arms and shoulders; when they finally came to rest on either side of his head, Andy felt Karl’s body press against his own, and heard Karl whisper a few tender words against his lips. Reaching out with his own hands, Andy let them circle Karl’s trim waist, delighting in the shivers this sent through both of their bodies. It had been so long since Andy had allowed himself to feel another man, always so afraid that his mother would find out, that Pastor Koslowsky would find out. But he didn’t seem to be able to stop himself from melting against this handsome and solid man.
Andy had known that his mother was relatively open-minded, and he even knew – since the sermon – that Pastor Koslowsky would probably not spurn him or think less of him, but it was an obstacle he’d never thought he’d need to overcome. Andy had always been content with his singing and his insular life; he had always been content to read in the evenings, his one big adventure being his voice lessons once a week. But with Karl wrapped around him, their mouths locked together and their hands exploring heated and sensitive skin, Andy wasn’t so sure he was ready for this particular step. He pulled away suddenly, his mind awash in thoughts that this was somehow wrong.
“What’s wrong?” Karl’s eyes searched over Andy’s body, his expression surprised. “Did I hurt you?”
“No.” Andy put the back of his hand against his own forehead and stepped away, wondering how incredibly Dickensian he must look at that moment. “I’m sorry, Karl. I guess I just got caught up in the moment, and…” Andy searched for the words. “This is a bit of a surprise for me.”
“And me.” Karl stepped away from Andy and thrust his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “Too fast?”
“I’m sorry, Karl.” Andy’s breathing was ragged and strained. “I can’t do this.”
Andy looked up, sharply, to see the look of confusion on Karl’s face. “I just can’t.”
“Right now?” Karl’s face was pinched, as if he was considering an answer he didn’t want to hear. “Or ever?”
Andy ran his hand through his short, brown hair and couldn’t get his mind to focus on the question, too panicked by the implications brought by any and all answers that raced through his mind. If he said not right now, he would have to find some way to reconcile his growing feelings for Karl against his need to remain part of the church; and if he said not ever, well, the thought of never seeing Karl again made Andy want to lock himself in his room and never come out. “Please try and understand, Karl.”
“Andy?” Karl stepped forward and brought his hands to rest at Andy’s elbows. “I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that everything will be okay, that we might not come across some resistance, or…or downright nasty people, but…” Karl’s eyes searched for his.
Andy looked up into those earnest eyes, blue as the sky, and tried to smile. “No matter what’s happened in my life, there’s been the church, and singing.” Andy let himself fall against the warm chest, his head turned so he could listen to Karl’s steady heartbeat. “Pastor Koslowsky is like the father I never had, and if he…” Andy could not bring himself to finish that sentence.
“Hey, hey, Andy, slow down.” Karl put a gentle finger under Andy’s chin and lifted his face up so that he could reassure the shorter man with a smile and a kiss to his nose. “We’re just getting to know each other here.” Karl offered a small chuckle as he let Andy’s head fall back against his chest. “I wasn’t planning on running out and telling everyone that you like boys.”
Andy heard his own chuckle. “I do have a tendency to be a bit panicky about losing people, Karl.” Andy stepped back and offered a shy smile. “You should probably know that about me.”
“Well, then,” Karl said as he pushed his hands back into his pockets. “There’s something you should know about me, too.” Andy watched the faint shimmer of a grin ghost over Karl’s lips. “I think I fell in love with you the first time I heard you sing.”
Andy felt the words in his chest as if Karl had physically pushed him backwards. How could someone fall in love just from hearing someone else sing? Andy’s first instinct was to dismiss this as some sort of playful banter, or worse, a cruel joke meant to lower Andy’s defenses. But the look of utter truth on Karl’s face prevented Andy from doing anything, even breathing.
“I’m sorry there are small-minded people out there Andy,” Karl took his hands out of his pockets again and motioned to the large window opposite him, “but…well, I’ve learned not to let them decide how to be happy.” Karl moved closer and cupped Andy’s cheek in his hand. “And you,” Karl smiled sweetly, “being around you makes me happy.” Karl kissed Andy’s forehead and then moved away, Andy immediately missing the contact. “I’ll let you decide if you think I can make you happy.” Karl turned and exited the living room and headed for the foyer with Andy following him. “May I call you sometime?”
Andy nodded, surprised when a fragile yes escaped his lips. He handed Karl his windbreaker and watched as Karl strode to the door and turned at the last minute. “Oh, I almost forgot.” Karl pointed to the sketchbook that he’d placed on the tall kitchen island. “There’s something for you in there. I hope you like it.” Karl smiled for him, so sweetly that Andy felt himself wanting to yell at Karl to stay, to spend the night. But Andy said nothing, too scared to consider that Karl was right, about everything. “Good night, Andy.”
Andy held up his hand, not trusting his voice not to betray him at that moment. He listened as the door shut and the lock clicked automatically into position. He stayed glued to the spot for what seemed like hours before making his way over to the island. Flipping through the pages, he came across some sheet music, handwritten. It was a song entitled Jacob’s Wish. Andy flipped through the pages quickly, sending a grateful prayer to his mother for all the years she’d refused to let him drop piano lessons, and headed to the little upright piano his mother had left him. He’d never really had much need to play it; he usually learned the songs by studying the sheet music and hearing them in his head. But he wanted to hear this one out loud.
Andy sat at the piano for almost an hour, playing the song over and over, reading the words, and then finally singing them out loud. And as the last note faded into the still of that Sunday afternoon, he smiled. Jacob had not only been a talented artist, he’d also been a talented composer and lyricist. As he stood up from sitting at the piano, Andy noticed the framed portraits and knew exactly where he would hang them.
Andy stood suspended above the congregation. Well, it always seemed like he was suspended; actually, he was standing at the railing of the choir loft, waiting for the pastor to sit. Andy would be singing solo again this week, as he had last week. The flu had seemed to dessimate the choir over the past month, leaving only a few members in each section, so Sandra had arranged a few arias and hymns for Andy to sing during the past several services. But today, he would be singing Jacob’s composition. It wasn’t necessarily religious in nature, but the pastor had been kind enough to listen to it after last Sunday’s services and had expressed his enthusiasm that it might fit in well with a sermon he was planning on delivering today.
The pastor finally seated, Andy listened to the beautiful notes on the pipe organ, the legato lines of the melody in heart-stopping contrast to the dotted quarter notes of the harmony. It was as if Andy could see someone running in a field, trying to move quickly but too taken aback by the beauty all around him. Andy had wondered that night, just after Karl had left his condo, just after he’d played the song for the first time, if this is what Jacob had been feeling; were these notes to represent his love of music in conflict with the knowledge that he would be taken away so soon. Was this breathless anticipation wrapped in a beautiful, flowing melody of appreciation for what gifts he’d already been given?
Andy opened his mouth, ready for his entrance when a sudden movement caught his eye. Karl sat in the last pew, his eyes closed and his head tilted back slightly. Andy remembered that this was how he had sat – as a young boy – listening to the music waft over him, caress him and embrace him; he was so caught up in the memories, and the thought of Karl, that he almost missed his cue. As he heard the first two whole notes escape his lips, he closed his eyes and tried to imagine Jacob’s face; he’d seen pictures during the funeral, but he wanted to imagine a healthy, whole Jacob enjoying this song. He wanted to fulfill Jacob’s wish, wanted everyone to hear the music that Jacob had created, from just notes in his head.
And so, eyes still closed, Andy sang the words that Jacob had written; the words praising love in all its forms. The love of a mother for her child, the love of a father for his family, the love of one brother for another, the love that told someone he was safe, cared for, accepted. Andy felt the key change that signalled the end of the song and opened his eyes. He looked over at Sandra, who was smiling broadly, and took his seat, watching the pastor ascend the pulpit. He took a few more deep breaths and felt excited to hear the pastor’s sermon. Pastor Koslowsky had been so secretive about it, refusing to give any hints at all, that Andy felt his usual annoyance at the sound of a baby crying. He chastised himself in light of the song he’d just finished and concentrated on the words.
Thirty minutes later, Andy’s hand was shaking as he wiped away the tears that had fallen onto his cheeks. He wasn’t crying because the pastor had begun the sermon with glorious praise for the beautiful words of the song or about the beautiful music that had accompanied them; he wasn’t even crying because the pastor had spoken with such high praise about Andy’s voice. Andy was crying because the pastor had decided to speak of love. Andy had sat, as had most of the other parishoners, transfixed by the pastor calling each member of his flock to realize that their God was one of love and acceptance, that no member should ever be shunned or judged based on the gifts that God had given them. There is nothing that anyone could tell me, the pastor had enunciated clearly, that would make me turn them away.
As always, Andy found himself thinking that Pastor Koslowsky was speaking directly to him, to his fears of being driven from the one place that had given him comfort for so many years. And knowing that he would never be turned away, for any reason, Andy had been unable to control the tears. He felt embarrassed, now that the sermon was over, at his reaction, at feeling so disheveled, that he rushed to the stairs so that he could let the cool morning air help calm him.
Andy found himself outside, the cool air helping him to relax, pacing just outside the huge double doors. He breathed in, deeply, a few times and turned to go back inside. He stopped short when he saw Karl standing just a few feet away.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“You do like to sneak up on people.” Andy laughed as he remembered how Karl had sneaked up on him in the parking lot after Jacob’s funeral. “I’m okay.” Andy found himself searching Karl’s face. They had seen each other just two days ago, but something in Karl’s eyes had changed. He looked worried, or hurt, or…Andy couldn’t quite figure out the change. “What’s wrong, Karl?”
“Nothing.” Karl shrugged his shoulders and found a smile for Andy. “You sang beautifully.”
“Thank you.” Andy felt himself blush a little; Karl had told him that many times over the past few weeks, but Andy still presented the same reaction. “I just wish I could have thanked your brother for it while he was still alive.”
Karl’s head tilted to the side as he asked, “Why would you want to thank him?”
“Didn’t he…” Andy studied Karl’s face for a moment. “Isn’t he the composer?”
“No.” Karl laughed nervously and his hands pushed away the tails of his suit jacket and found the pockets of his trousers. “Well, it was his poem, but he always told me that I should set it to music.” Karl’s voice was perfectly controlled, as if he were reciting baseball statistics. “So I did.” Karl smiled then, and added, “I started working on it after the first time I heard you.”
Andy found himself moving, involuntarily, towards where Karl stood. He looked at the deep blue eyes and suddenly, Andy understood what Jacob’s Wish really was. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It’s the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard.” Andy laughed as if Karl’s question had been so blatantly idiotic that not even he should need to ask it.
“Yes!” Andy swatted at Karl when he saw the playful look of mischief in Karl’s grin. “That was his wish, wasn’t it?” Karl reached out and pulled Andy close to him. “He knew the kind of talent you had and wanted everyone else to know it too, didn’t he?”
“He was my biggest fan,” Karl sighed into Andy’s short hair, causing a shiver to travel quickly up the shorter man’s body. “I never thought I was anything special. Not like him, anyway.”
Andy pulled away briefly to look up at the slow blush creeping up Karl’s face. “Nothing special?” Andy reached up and pulled Karl’s face towards his, intent on kissing him.
“Woah…Andy.” Karl pulled away and took a step back, all playfulness gone from his handsome features. “People will see. What about your singing and the pastor?”
The laughter that erupted from Andy took Karl by surprise; he could tell by the look on the taller man’s face. Finally, when he had control of himself, Andy shook his head and asked, “Don’t tell me! You’re one of those people that falls asleep during sermons, right?”
Karl’s face turned crimson red and his mouth was set to deny any such thing, but Andy was pressed against him in an instant. And as he stood on his toes to kiss Karl’s cheek, Andy could just make out the strains of Awake, My Heart, With Gladness, accompanied by his fellow parishoner’s voices, wafting out to where he stood, where he belonged, in Karl’s arms.