“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; to those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has been shown.”
Luke couldn't remember when they had last spoken. All he knew was that he had been the one who broke off contact.
As he made his way up the aisle of the nearly empty Church, he put his icy cold hands over his mouth and exhaled warm breath onto them. In his hurry to get out of the house he hadn't even taken the time to put on his gloves. He just needed to escape for awhile from all the yuletide joy at Snyder Farm. Even though Christmas had always been his favorite time of year, Luke did not feel the slightest bit joyous this particular Christmas Eve.
As he sat down in an empty pew near the front of the Church, his eyes focused in on the baptismal font to the right of the main altar. This was the same font at which he had been baptized twenty-two years earlier. He was surprised to find a lump of emotion forming in his throat at that acknowledgment. It had been a long time since he had been in the Church for any reason other than to attend a baptism or funeral or to see his sisters and brother in the Christmas pageant. He couldn't even figure out what had brought him there that night. As he was taking his walk, something had steered him to the entrance of the Church and he had made the spontaneous decision to go inside.
He stared straight ahead at the large cross above the altar and sighed deeply. What the hell am I doing here? he thought to himself. He had stopped believing in these fairy tales years earlier.
His mother often reminded him that, as a child, he loved to pray. Although he never asked anything for himself, he would spend nearly a half an hour every night before bed blessing everyone and everything, from every member of his family, to the bees, the trees, and the guy who ran the vegetable stand. Luke knew exactly what she was trying to do whenever she reminisced to him about those times. She was trying to coax him back into faith.
Although not a particularly regular churchgoer, faith in a loving God had always been important to Lily and she had passed that on to her children. Luke knew that he had disappointed her the day he told her he didn't believe in God anymore. But he had made a promise to always be honest and not hide his true feelings. So, one day, when Lily casually asked him what role faith played in his life these days, he had no other option but to tell her he no longer believed. She told him she respected his decision, but that didn't stop her from frequently giving him those gentle reminders about his pious boyhood.
As he continued to fix his eyes on the cross, he thought of Noah. He and Noah had never talked much about their religious convictions until the day Luke “outed” himself to Lily as a nonbeliever. Thinking that he and Noah were completely in sync on everything, he was surprised to find out that Noah strongly believed in a loving God. He was even more surprised to find out that Noah prayed every day.
“We've been together for over a year,” Luke told him. “How did I not know this about you?”
“Well, I don't know if you've noticed this about me,” Noah said, a sly smirk on his face, “but I tend to keep a lot of things to myself.”
“Well, I know that,” Luke answered, laughing and rolling his eyes. “But it just seems like such a big thing not to know about the man I love. Do you ever pray for me?”
Noah's blue eyes made contact with Luke's brown. “Luke, you're the first person I pray for every day and you're the first blessing I thank God for every day.”
Luke found himself deeply moved by that answer, but this new revelation of a major philosophical difference between him and his boyfriend also prompted a question. “Noah, there's so much evil in the world. There's so much hatred and bigotry that is rooted in religion. There's so many good people who pray fervently and never have their prayers answered. I can't get that to work in my head. How do you get it to work in yours?”
Noah nodded contemplatively. “Some days I don't,” he answered honestly. “But somehow I just know I've never really been alone. Even at my lowest points in life, there was a force, a spirit that was carrying me through. I've found strength and help when I've needed it.”
“One could just say that was your human spirit persevering, though,” Luke pointed out. “It doesn't have to be the work of an active deity, some supernatural father figure. I respect what you're saying, Noah, but I just can't buy that there's some personal God out there when this world sucks as bad as it does.”
“There's just as good of a chance that you're right as I am,” Noah conceded thoughtfully. “But I'll tell you one more thing that has really strengthened my faith,” he added, wrapping his arms around Luke.
“Oh yea, what's that?” Luke asked, puckering up and meeting Noah in a soft kiss.
“You are the answer to every prayer I've ever prayed,” Noah answered and, despite Luke's belief that prayers were totally ineffective, his heart swelled with love for the man who was holding him.
Luke found it so curious that Noah would be the believing one in their relationship. Colonel Mayer had been devoutly religious and had beat hardline conservative Christianity into Noah's head from a very young age. While Holden and Lily had raised Luke to believe in a merciful God who loved and forgave everyone, the Colonel had raised Noah to believe in a condemning God of immense anger and wrath. And yet somewhere along the way, Noah had crafted for himself a personal faith that was much more in line with the Snyder vision than the Mayer vision.
Luke prided himself on being open minded and tolerant, so he felt no need to argue religious beliefs with Noah. And, although he didn't want to admit it, it warmed his heart every morning and night to know that Noah was saying a prayer for him. Feeling the need to reciprocate in some fashion, Luke decided that the concept of sending “good vibes” would be a nice equivalent to Noah's loving prayer for him. So, although he never told Noah, he began making a nightly habit of sending “good vibes” to him at the same time that he knew Noah was saying his nightly prayers.
The only time that he ever felt like “good vibes” might not be enough was when Noah had the accident which blinded him. In the panicked moments immediately following, and the agony of the months afterward as he felt himself losing Noah, he found himself with an inescapable desire to look heavenward and scream, “Help us! Please help us!” And he came close a few times. On the day he broke up with Noah, he found himself down on his knees with his hands folded before telling himself that he was being ridiculous. God couldn't help them. There was no God. There was only them. Them and a pain from which there was no hope of escape. Luke had laughed bitterly at the thought that Noah had thanked God everyday for their relationship and yet this was where they had ended up. If that didn't prove the absolute futility of prayers, nothing did!
Luke's gaze shifted from the cross over to the nativity scene to the left of the altar. He remembered playing a shepherd in the annual Christmas pageant all throughout his childhood. After the hard year of young adulthood he had just endured, he really envied the carefree innocence of childhood. The year that was now coming to a close had been, without question, the absolute worst year of his life. Worse than the year he had almost died from kidney failure. Worse than the year he had spent hiding his sexuality from his family. Worse than the year Colonel Mayer had shot and temporarily paralyzed him. All those other years were banner years compared with how excruciatingly awful this one had been.
“You're in my prayers.” If he had a dime for every time someone had said that to him in the past four months, he'd be far wealthier than he already was. Kim Hughes had just said that a few hours earlier when they had run into each other in Oldtown. She tried to sound nonchalant about it, but he could tell she was concerned with how thin and pale he looked. He knew how many people in town were whispering about him and how the tragic death of his neurosurgeon boyfriend had reduced him to an empty shell of a person.
That was not even a halfway accurate assessment of what had been going on inside his head for the past four months, but it was an easier one to allow people to believe. Despair at the loss of his boyfriend in a horrific accident carried an almost noble quality with it. It rendered him merely a victim of unforeseen circumstance and absolved him of any culpability in the grief that now gripped his heart and soul. But Luke knew that was not the whole truth. So, as much as he appreciated the spirit behind everyone's prayer offerings, he knew the prayers would do nothing to bring him comfort or peace. He knew they would not be able to undo the misguided words he had spoken or the woefully wrong choices he had made in the past six months, which had ultimately cost him the love of his life.
Because, as painful and heartbreaking as the loss of Reid had been for Luke, Noah was the true love of his life, the man for whom Luke's shattered heart yearned that Christmas Eve.
“Help me,” Luke said softly, surprising himself with his own unexpected verbalization. He turned and looked self consciously around the Church and saw that the few remaining people who had been in silent prayer had left. He was all alone, and the realization hit him that he was now free to give expression to his thoughts out loud.
He picked up where he had left off. “Help me. I can't do this anymore.” He reached up and wiped away a tear that had leaked down from his right eye. “Look, I don't know if you're there and I don't think I even believe in you-” he chuckled mirthlessly at that, as the irony hit him that, if he was saying these things, on some level he DID believe.
“I haven't done this in a long time,” he continued, addressing the cross as a focal point. “I wish HE was here to remind me how to do it.” He nodded sadly. “I just wish HE was HERE. I love him so much. I always have. I always will. But you already know that, don't you?”
And with that, the floodgates opened and he began to cry in hard sobs that left him gasping for breath. It took him at least a full minute before he could pick his face back up out of his hands and speak again, his eyes remaining focused on the cross in front of him.
“Why did you let it happen? Why did you let Noah get hurt? Everything would have been perfect if it wasn't for that day. We'd be at the farm right now singing Christmas carols. We could have survived almost anything else. Hell, we DID survive almost anything else. Why did you give me the greatest gift I could have ever asked for and then let it all be destroyed just like that? How am I supposed to believe you're loving and merciful when all of my dreams have turned to dust?”
He paused, willed himself into composure, and stared defiantly heavenward. “There was never anything wrong with our love. It was never sick or sinful. It was beautiful and good and, dare I say, SACRED, so if you were trying to punish us, you're the one who is sick and demented, not us!”
Righteous anger was such a familiar and oddly comfortable feeling for Luke, but as his thoughts returned to Noah, he felt himself softening. Noah had always had the effect of smoothing out some of his rough edges.
“But Noah never believed that. He asked you to bless our relationship every day. He believed that you gave us to each other as gifts. And I trust him, more than I've ever trusted anyone. So I think I'm going to have to believe it, too. But I need you to give me that faith again. Because somewhere along the way, I lost my faith in you and I lost my faith in him and me. And you're going to have to help me if I'm going to regain those again.”
He closed his eyes and concentrated harder than he had concentrated on anything in a very long time, trying to connect himself with truths he knew deep down, but had yet to speak out loud.
“That was you, wasn't it?” he said, his eyes still tightly closed in contemplation. “You were that voice in my head, every time I got closer to Reid, every time he kissed me and touched me, every time he tried to initiate sex-” he paused, realization dawning on him as if someone had just switched on a light in a pitch black room. “-When he told me he loved me in the parking lot. You were that voice in my head telling me 'This is all wrong. You love Noah.' That was you, wasn't it?” At that point, the question was purely rhetorical. Luke knew the answer in his heart.
“Why didn't I listen to you? Why did I tell him that Reid was the one I really wanted? Why did I let him leave thinking he had lost my heart? He'll have my heart forever. Always.”
He stood and made his way up to the nativity scene, sitting himself down next to it. He picked up a piece of hay, twirling it absentmindedly in his fingers. The light that illuminated the nativity scene seemed to shine into the shadows of his heart, too. He felt as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders in unburdening himself of the thoughts that had weighed him down for months.
In the silence of the empty Church, he thought of Noah at his best, which was most of the time. He thought about the strong, humble, and gentle man he had fallen in love with more than three years earlier, the man who had stood by his side and comforted him in the hours and days after Reid had been killed, including attending an impromptu memorial for the man who had taken Luke away from him. Luke wondered if he would have possessed the same strength of character to rise above his own pain so unselfishly if the roles were reversed.
No, he thought sadly, I probably wouldn't have.
He thought about their goodbye at WOAK and Noah's promise to wait for Luke. He didn't have to wonder if Noah had held to that promise. He always kept his promises. Noah never made promises unless he knew he could keep them.
He imagined Noah in LA, living a quiet, unassuming life as he waited for his former boyfriend to give him another chance. A former boyfriend who had chosen someone else. A former boyfriend who told him he was in love with the other man. A former boyfriend who told him they were not right for each other.
Not right for each other. There were no five words Luke had ever spoken that he regretted more than those.
In that moment of stillness and self reflection, Luke made a decision.
He bowed his head reverently, cleared his throat, and began to speak slowly, choosing his words carefully. “Please be with my beloved Noah tonight. Send peace and comfort into his heart this Christmas. Bless him with friends, good health, and success in the new year. Help him continue to develop his talents and open new doors of opportunity for himself. But most of all-” Luke paused and swallowed hard, emotion welling up in his throat. This was the hard part, but he believed it had to be done. “But most of all, send him a good and kind man who will love him the way he deserves to be loved and who will appreciate him, cherish him, support him, and make him so, so happy. The way I once did.”
Tears had begun cascading down Luke's cheek and onto his trembling chin. “I thank you for the gift of Noah Mayer in my life, but now I believe he deserves someone better than me. My prayer is for his happiness, whatever that may mean.” He lifted his head back up and gazed his moist eyes on the baby Jesus in the manger. “And help me figure out how to live the rest of my life without him,” he finished, his voice thick with emotion. He nodded his head, in sad acceptance of everything he had just said. “Amen.”
Luke wiped his eyes one more time, stood up, and turned around to leave when he was stopped dead in his tracks at the sight of the figure standing not five feet ahead of him. Noah's handsome face smiled back at him and his beautiful blue eyes glistened with tears.
“Noah,” Luke said, when he finally found his voice. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to offer my own prayer,” he said, gesturing toward the altar. And then, to answer the actual meaning of Luke's question, he said, “Where else in the world do you think I'd rather be on Christmas than Oakdale, Luke?”
Luke hesitated for a moment before asking the next question, but decided he had nothing left to lose. “How much of my prayer did you hear?”
“Enough of it,” Noah answered simply. “Would you hold my hand while I offer my own?” He stepped forward and extended his hand to Luke, who grasped it immediately. The two of them stepped up to the altar together. Noah closed his eyes and bowed his head and Luke's heart was filled with such overwhelming love in that moment that he thought it might burst from his chest. The heat of Noah's hand in his seemed to spread a gentle and healing warmth throughout his entire body.
“Thank you for bringing me out of darkness again and again. This year, literally.” As Noah said this, he squeezed Luke's hand, and Luke knew that Noah was addressing this as much to him as he was to the Divine. “Thank you for loving me despite my faults and failings. I don't know what I ever did to deserve your love, and most of the time I feel like I truly don't deserve it. But I have to accept it as a gift, the greatest gift I've ever gotten. Help me to never take that gift for granted ever again.”
Luke squeezed Noah's hand back to let him know he was responding to and understanding the double meaning of the prayer. Noah's eyes remained shut, but he smiled broadly. Luke hadn't seen this jubilant smile on Noah's face in well over a year. This was the smile that had captured his heart in the first place, he thought.
Noah continued. “And I want to ask your forgiveness. I ask your forgiveness for losing faith in you, blaming you, and pushing you away at the very time when I needed you the most. I am so sorry for giving in to my fears and forgetting what a precious gift your love is to me. I will NEVER forget again.”
Luke leaned over and kissed Noah on the cheek. He whispered softly into his ear, “I love you so much.”
“I love you, too,” Noah said, and neither man spoke for a few minutes. The two of them just stood there, holding hands and listening to the sound of each others' gentle breathing.
Suddenly, Noah opened his eyes and turned to Luke, taking his other hand as well. The thought struck Luke that the two of them standing at the altar facing each other, with both hands joined together, greatly invoked the imagery of marriage.
“This is not just my prayer,” Noah told Luke, playing with his fingers the way they always used to. “This is OUR prayer, if you trust me to speak it for both of us.” Luke smiled through fresh tears and nodded his head vigorously. In the past hour, he had come to completely reverse his position on the efficacy of prayer.
Noah's eyes never left Luke's as he began to address a force greater than both of them, and Luke once again had the distinct feeling that an unbreakable spiritual bond was being formed between them before this altar. “Luke and I know that it will be a long road back. After everything that has happened, we're going to need to start over and forge a new relationship from the ashes of the old one. Renew us in our love and give us the strength, courage, and patience to persevere through whatever life throws at us in the future. In our time apart, we have both arrived at a shared recognition of what a gift we are to each other, and tonight we stand before you ready to reclaim what we once thought had been lost forever. We're here tonight to reclaim each other. We pray that we will never be separated again.”
And although Noah had not prompted him that this was the end of the prayer, Luke intuitively knew that it was. Standing at the altar on Christmas Eve, with their hands joined and their eyes locked, both men spoke at the very same time. “Amen.”
They both leaned forward and sealed it with a soft, gentle kiss, and Luke wondered to himself if the actual wedding, that he was now sure they would one day have, would be as powerful and emotional a moment as this was. The two men drew each other into a hug that seemed to last forever, neither of them wanting to be the first one to break the embrace. Finally, they seemed to make an unspoken mutual decision to let go, but immediately joined hands once again.
Luke looked down at his watch, the same watch Noah had given him for Christmas two years earlier, which was inscribed with the words “Worth the Wait." It was a quarter past midnight.
Luke nodded meaningfully down at the watch and lifted his left wrist up to show Noah the time. “Merry Christmas, Noah,” he said.
“Merry Christmas, Luke,” Noah answered and, hand in hand, the two men left the Church, walking back out into a world suddenly filled with new hope and promise for the future.
I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas! Best wishes for peace, health, and happiness in the new year!