BLESSED – BOOK ONE
A mixed-blood Catholic seminarian struggles to discern his true calling: the priesthood or his ex-lover, a proud but damaged Ojibway man.
It’s been ten years since Emery Matawapit sinned, having succumbed to temptation for the one thing in his life that felt right, another man. In six months he’ll make a life-changing decision that will bar him from sexual relationships for the rest of his life.
Darryl Keejik has a decade-long chip on his shoulder, and he holds Emery’s father, the church deacon, responsible for what he’s suffered: the loss of his family and a chance at true love with Emery. No longer a powerless kid, Darryl has influence within the community—maybe more than the deacon, and he intends on using his new-found power to destroy Deacon Matawapit and the church.
Hoping to save the church, Emery races home. But stopping Darryl is harder than expected when their sizzling chemistry threatens to consume Emery. Now he is faced with the toughest decision of his life: please his devout parents and fulfill his call to the priesthood, or remain true to his heart and marry the man created for him.
When Emery pulled up at the Treaty Grounds, the sun was sinking behind the mass of spruce trees. He cut the engine to the car and squinted. The four-wheeler was parked beside the bleachers where Darryl sat. The breeze ruffled his hair. With his hunched shoulders and head down, the problems of the reserve no doubt sat on his shoulders.
Emery thumped his palm against the dashboard. Thanks to him he’d bankrupted Darryl’s immense strength. Although Darryl had probably heard the car’s arrival, his head remained downcast. He had his aunt to think about, not petty bickering instigated by Clayton.
It’s not my place to judge others. Many on the reserve felt wronged by the past and current teachings of the church, from what Clayton had said the night he’d brought the two-spirit youth to the protest.
Emery yanked the keys from the ignition, got out of the car, and slammed the door. He stalked across the grass circle. His brain must have been on autopilot when he’d gone to the recreation center alone last Thursday to meet the kids.
“Hey.” He climbed the bleachers.
Dark circles rimmed Darryl’s eyes. “Hey.”
“How are you doing?” Emery plunked down beside him. He caught the scent of bug spray.
“Hanging in there. How about you? You’re the one with protesters parked across the road from your doorstep.”
“Part of our teaching at seminary includes people who oppose the church.”
“You’re not worried?”
“I’m doing the best I can to accept their right to voice their opinion. If Clayton thought to shake my faith, he’s wrong.”
“Do you think that’s why he started the protest?” Darryl wrinkled his brows.
“I don’t know. I wanted to introduce myself to the kids. I was going to bring them to Mom’s for ice cream. This seemed to upset him.”
“How come you wanted to meet the kids? Roy phoned me. He said Clayton was telling everyone you went there to convert them. I never believed it.”
“Oh, that.” The sharp sting from a mosquito pierced Emery’s neck. He slapped at the pest. “I guess Clayton doesn’t like me. Maybe it has to do with me being in seminary? I don’t know.”
“Could be.” Darryl’s gaze drifted to the lake.
“What is it?” Something was on his mind he wouldn’t elaborate on. Emery swatted another mosquito. “You said you needed to talk.”
“C’mon.” Darryl rose. “I have some bug spray at the four-wheeler.” He made his way down the benches.
“I’ve been back east too long.” Emery smacked the thirsty critter biting his arm. “I have to remember to bring repellent wherever I go. If it isn’t the black flies, it’s the mosquitoes.”
“No bugs in London, huh?” Darryl marched across the grass.
“Not in the city.” Emery waved off a few more of the blood-seeking pests. At least he had on pants, although Darryl was in shorts that exposed his strong, dark calves.
Emery whipped his gaze to the grass. Sexual attraction was normal. He wouldn’t be a healthy gay man if he didn’t admire physically handsome men.
The thickness in his throat vanished. Father Arnold was right. The old priest had said in time Emery would accept his God-given natural desires but had also warned not to put one’s self in too many tempting situations.
Darryl halted at the four-wheeler. He dug around in his backpack. “Here.” He held out the bug juice.
Emery grasped the bottom of the tube. Ensuring their flesh didn’t connect was a bad sign. Normal people wouldn’t care about body contact. “Thanks.” He rubbed the repellent along his arms.
“No prob.” Darryl leaned against the quad. “The protest doesn’t bother you?”
“Of course.” Emery stuffed the tube inside the backpack. “But there’s nothing I can do. Father’s orders. I just hope the demonstration isn’t at the expense of others.”
“The laity. They need a place of worship. Dad told me attendance at Mass has decreased. The pastoral council can’t meet their financial obligations without help from the reserve.” Emery swallowed at Darryl’s narrowed eyes. Great, someone was slipping on their political hat.
“We don’t have a budget for the church.” Darryl’s voice was flat. “As a member of band council, I have to consider the deficit incurred at the end of the fiscal year.”
At least he hadn’t spouted his usual partisan rhetoric. Emery would take a diplomatic approach, too. “I understand. Willie tried to call a meeting, but there wasn’t a quorum.”
“There’ll be one now.”
“Then I guess chief and council will decide the matter.” Emery stepped back. Why had Darryl asked to talk if his mind was already made up?
“You said you can’t get involved. Father Bennie’s orders. You can have an opinion. How do you feel?” Darryl folded his arms.
“I told you how I feel.”
“No. I mean what do you hope will happen?”
“Everything will be resolved. I don’t like seeing our people at odds any more than you do.”
“How can it be resolved?”
“It depends on the problem, I guess. For our situation, the protesters believe some community members can’t participate in the Catholic religion, so they want chief and council to withdraw their financial support. You know they’re wrong. I told you already everyone’s welcome to take the Rite of Christian Initiate of Adults Dad teaches. Catechism clearly states people attracted to those of the same sex should be embraced. They have many talents and gifts to offer.”
“If they play by the rules.” Darryl snorted.
They’d already had this conversation. It was time for Emery to take another approach. “You asked me why I went to see the kids at the recreation center last week. When I angered you by asking only for friendship, I tried to meet you halfway by attempting to recognize my own culture. I was going to join you the next morning so we could pray together, but Annie got sick.”
Darryl’s eyes brightened. “Really?”
A smile spread across Darryl’s face.
“I’ve been reading your column for a few months now.”
“And?” When Darryl pushed off the four-wheeler, the gap closed between them to a film of air.
Emery swallowed. Each time he attempted to meet Darryl halfway, he got the wrong impression. Emery squirmed back a step. Maybe he was assuming too much and should stop judging his friend by how he thought.
“I make you nervous when I get a little close.” Darryl snickered.