As told by Harper MacFarlane
I was visiting London for several days on business and pleasure. At the moment, I was enjoying the pleasure I so richly deserved, having arrived at the Halfway to Heaven Pub about three in the afternoon. I was enjoying a pint when I noticed someone sitting alone in a booth, eating fish and chips. He looked vaguely familiar which was interesting since I had never been to this part of London before.
I guessed he was forty-something and looking good. Perhaps too good, which automatically placed him into my impossible-to-catch category. He had that well-cared-for look which I appreciate. Before forty-something, you look fresh as a daisy under any and all circumstances, especially in the morning after a night of heavy drinking. After forty-something, maintenance is definitely required and this guy was well maintained.
He sat tall in the booth so I imagined he was a tall person – possibly six feet or preferably six-two; I like‘em tall in spite of being only five-ten myself, but cute. His leather jacket over a crisp blue and white checkered open-at-the-collar shirt gave him an appealing man-about-town look. His full head of jet-black hair, greying slightly at the temples, was the icing on this unavailable cupcake.
I ordered another beer as I wasn’t quite finished examining this guy just yet. The shirt was open three buttons down, revealing a flat layer of yummy jet black chest hair, and the way the buttons strained in buttonhole number four on down, was a good indication he was built which made him even more attractive and had me on the verge of trembling in my sneakers.
Then it struck me like a bolt of lightning out of the clear blue sky who he was. This was Vicar Stone from the Vicarage in Blackpool up the coast from Liverpool where I live. My parents live in Blackpool and I’ve attended services occasionally with them at Saint John the Evangelist Cathedral which Vicar Stone oversees. Ordinarily, I would not have given his presence a second thought except for one small, insignificant thing. The Half Way to Heaven pub is a gay pub. I wondered if Vicar Stone knew where he was. And if he did know, what was he up to? Well, that was a dumb question.
The thought of approaching him crossed my mind. But, I’d have to do it in a way that didn’t reveal I knew who he was, at least not right away. I sighed and could not help but think what it would be like to have a man of God like this as my life partner. Sincerity, honesty, love, respect, and most of all – monogamy guaranteed. I really wanted to find out what it would be like, but how? I’d have to approach him nonchalantly … like, Oh, hello, will you marry me? God, I never realized how pathetic I was – better to stay on my bar stool and drool from afar.
All the possibilities I had considered, and discarded, changed in an instant when this grease ball sat down at the bar and began ogling my vicar. Listen to me — my vicar. But I felt very protective of him. Grease ball was dressed in too tight leather chaps over faded Levis with engineer boots and a wrinkled denim shirt open down past his six-pack to his fat-free navel. From my vantage point, I could see a nipple ring under his open shirt. No way was this creature going to contaminate Vicar Stone. He could contaminate me if he wanted to but not Vicar Stone whose first name eluded me. I think it may be Johnathan.
When grease ball got up and slithered toward Johnathan’s table with a salacious smile fully engaged, I decided to go into action. I got off of my bar stool and marched over to Johnathan’s table, “Johnathan, I’m so sorry to be late.” I glared at grease ball, “And you are?”
He reluctantly got up, “No one you’d want to know.” He moved back to the other end of the bar.
I sat down. “It is Johnathan, isn’t it?”
He stared at me for a second, “Yes, it is.”
His slacked-jaw indicated he was in a slight state of shock. ‘I’m Harper MacFarlane and we’ve never met.”
“But you seem to know me.”
“Well, yes, kind of. I would never have interrupted like this, but when I saw that creature approaching you I had to do something – unless, of course, you were interested in him?” It suddenly dawned on me I may not have done the proper thing.
“No, no, I appreciate what you did.” He paused and looked around; “I have to go.” He slid to the end of the bench in preparation to stand up.
“Why? You haven't finished your meal. If you prefer, I can leave.” The look on his face was about ‘this far’ from panic. “Johnathan, please sit down for a minute. I’m not going to bother you.” What I meant was, I wasn’t going to out him.
He reluctantly sat down and heaved a sigh. My heart sank when I saw the expression on his face. He was obviously emotionally lost and wanted to be any place but here.
The bartender approached.
“Would you bring my beer from the bar over here? And I’ll have another pint, please.” I turned to Johnathan, “Let me get something for you.” When I saw his speechless expression, I turned back to the bartender, “Bring him a pint also. Thanks.”
I could do nothing now but wait for Jonathan to speak. He finally looked up at me, “You do know who I am.”
“Yes, you’re Vicar Johnathan Stone?”
“I … I …”
“Johnathan, have you ever done anything like this before?”
He looked down and shook his head.
I thought to myself, ‘Oh, Christ. He’s not out yet.’
I didn’t know what to say so, I said, “I don’t know what to say.”
He began to regain his composure and took a deep breath, “This is all so new to me, I’m not sure what to do.”
“Well, you can relax. I’m not going to tell anyone.”
A look of gratitude spread over his face; he smiled.
“You have a beautiful smile, Johnathan. Please do more of it, for my sake.” I laughed.
“You said your name is Harper …”
“How do you know me? You aren't familiar to me.”
“My parents live in Blackpool. I’ve been to your services with them a few times.”
He sat back, “Oh, I see.”
“Have you ever been with someone from a place like this?”
He shook his head slightly.
“No. I’ve thought about it for a long time and finally decided to try it.”
“Well, that can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.”
He smiled, “Thank you for intervening. I wasn’t sure what to do when that fellow sat down.”
“Do you have any gay friends?”
“Not really. I’ve kept it to myself for so long.”
“Well, I hope you will consider me a friend.”
“I’d like that. Thank you.”
“Now eat. You’re going to need your strength.” I chuckled, to soften the moment.
He grinned and picked up a piece of fish as the barkeeper set the beer on the table.
I ordered fish and chips and we talked … or rather, Johnathan talked – he had so many questions. After a while, he began to mellow. He loved his work as a vicar but he was so lonely personally, he felt his mind would crack at any moment if he didn’t do something about it. When he looked at me and said, “I have no one to play with, no one to be myself with,” I was on the verge of tears. I had all I could do to keep from telling him I would happily play with him anytime he liked. Thankfully, the image of me making a complete and utter fool out of myself kept my mouth shut.
I found out where he was staying and we agreed to meet the following morning for breakfast with the intention of spending the day together for which he seemed grateful. I was grateful also, being in London on my own. I was happy to have made his acquaintance and optimistically hoped for something more as we got to know one another.
Having been around the block a few times, I knew it would be difficult at forty-something, if not impossible, for him to come out to the world and especially his parishioners. He was caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place — age and vocation.
We were able to spend two happy full days together before departing for our respective homes. His questions continued and I was pleased to give my opinion on the many things he was interested in. He seemed to understand and be accepting but I wondered.
The subject of God and being gay came up the second day. Actually, it didn’t just come up, I brought it up. I had hoped to uncover the truth of the matter but didn’t hold my breath since Johnathan was having difficulty in accepting who he was. Unfortunately, I was right; he wasn’t quite sure on the subject.
I reasoned that if the Almighty was all-present, how could there be anything wrong with being gay. What difference did it matter who you loved? He countered with all the evil in the world – did that matter to the Almighty? He had a point and it certainly was a topic worth further discussion which I had every intention of exploring if for no other reason than to stay in touch with my new friend.
We exchanged email addresses and I heard from him almost immediately, thanking me for my kindness. I thanked him but did not mention how frustrating it had been for me to be so close to him and not be able to express my growing attraction to him which had developed many new facets once I began to understand how his mind worked.
I remembered thinking how nice it would be to have a man of God as a life partner. After getting to know this intelligent man, I knew I was right, but now I wondered if it would ever be – for me. We continued to write, exchanging ideas on all sorts of subjects. We were both candid about our personal lives which helped establish a deeper understanding for one another which surprised me. It was a perfect match as far as I was concerned. I wasn’t sure if he felt the same way.
I wasn’t sure what he was looking for on an intimate level and decided it didn’t include me. My impulsive lust for him died a natural death and I proceeded with my empty life as best I could. I did go back to the Half Way to Heaven Pub once, hoping he might turn up; he didn’t. I knew I was doing too much wishful think about Vicar Stone but could not help myself.
I contemplated visiting my parents and attending one of Vicar Stone’s services but, after careful consideration, I decided I would probably make a fool out of myself. It’s okay to be foolish when you’re young but it becomes awkward as you grow older. I stayed in Liverpool and tried not to think of Vicar Stone, with little success.
The holidays were approaching as was my obligation to be with my parents during these festive days. I would go and I would attend the Christmas service but stay in the background, avoiding Johnathan. As soon as the service was over, I would slip out ahead of my parents on some pretext and wait for them outside. That way I could avoid having to shake his hand at the entrance. I had it all figured out. Yes, that’s what I would do. Kismet, however, had other plans to which I was not privy at the time.
The Vicar must have figured I would be in Blackpool during the holidays. As soon as we entered the sanctuary, I saw him walking down the aisle before we had even seated ourselves. He extended his hand, “Harper, I am so glad to see you. May I speak with you after the service?”
“Yes … of course.” He withdrew and returned to the front of the sanctuary. My parents looked at me in astonishment. I finally said, “What?”
Mother spoke first, “You know, Vicar Stone?”
“And why shouldn’t I?”
Dad spoke next, “But how?”
“What do you mean, how? I ran into him in London some months ago. He’s a very interesting fellow.” They said no more as the service began. I didn’t hear a word of what Johnathan said during the service, my mind was in such a whirl.
When the service ended, I asked my parents to go on ahead without me; I’d wait for the Vicar in the sanctuary and join them later at home. They hesitated but complied with a somewhat perplexed expression on their loving faces.
Soon, everyone was gone; I sat alone. I heard the heavy entrance doors close and then soft footsteps came in my direction. Johnathan sat down next to me. He almost whispered, “I apologize for not keeping in touch with you.”
I turned to him, “What are you talking about? We emailed each other practically every day.”
“I know, but there were things I avoided writing about.”
I thought for a moment, “Yeah, me too.” We sat in an uneasy silence for a few seconds. “Can we go somewhere else to talk? I’m uncomfortable here.”
Johnathan got up, “Follow me,” and walked toward the front of the sanctuary. He removed his ceremonial garments and tucked them away in the closet of an anteroom. The black clerical suit with white collar he now wore was in stark contrast to the civilian clothing he was wearing when we met in London. The impact of who he really was suddenly hit me.
He carried a Bible as we walked out into the meditation garden at the side of the cathedral. The garden was deserted as we settled on a semi-circular bench near the fountain at the center. To break the silence between us, I broached a subject I was curious about. “I know this doesn’t apply to you, but what’s your opinion on celibacy?”
His peaceful expression changed to somber, “Thank God it doesn’t apply to me. I know a number of Catholic clergy with that millstone around their necks. You’d be surprised how many break the rule just to maintain their sanity. It’s so antiquated, I’m surprised it still exists.”
“So, what’s its purpose?”
“Communion with the Absolute.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Theoretically, the purpose of a priest is to form a link between God and parishioners. To accomplish that, celibacy is essential. But forcing it on priests and nuns hasn’t worked. Look at the mess within the Catholic Church.
Celibacy is a natural occurrence when an individual is so spiritual developed there is no longer a desire for anything this world has to offer including human companionship. It is only then that they are capable of devoting all of their energies to meditation and true prayer.”
“Prayer without words. It’s a state of silence wherein you listen.”
Jonathan just looked at me and smiled.
“Oh, got it. What about the Lord’s prayer? Those are words.”
“Yes they are, but they are meant to guide us to that moment of silence when those words come to an end.”
“I other words, we should all shut up and listen.”
Johnathan laughed, “In a nutshell, yes.”
“Wow. That’s pretty powerful stuff.”
“It is indeed but difficult to attain.
“I’m going to jump off a cliff here.”
Johnathan looked at me and smiled, “Be my guest.”
“Have I been included in your meditations?”
“You’re here, Harper.”
“Only if you want to be.”
“Don’t say that. It’s not about what I want. What do you want?”
“I know, but I’m afraid.”
“No, of course, not. It’s the direction we’re headed in.”
Once again I remembered thinking how great it would be to have a man of God as a life partner. In Johnathan’s presence, I hoped that might be happening.
I turned to him. He looked at me, “What?”
“Johnathan, I would like very much to hold you in my arms before we say anymore.”
His jaw dropped a little.
“Well ...? It’s not rocket science. You either want to or you don’t.”
He got to his feet, “Follow me.”
We entered the vicarage and closed the door. His Bible slipped from his hands and fell to the floor as we locked each other in an unimaginable heavenly embrace. I immediately felt the warmth of his body and then … and then, I could smell him which had me on the verge of swooning. All the words of our conversations came together in that one moment of union. He was really in my arms and responding as I had hoped for. He gave of himself with such abandon, I wondered who I was really holding – him or the God to whom he had dedicated his life. All I could do was hope for both in one beautiful package.
Before our lips met, I whispered, “I’ve already fallen in love with you, Johnathan. I hope you don’t mind.”
He began to sob softly, tightening our embrace. The convulsions of his body told me what I needed to know. I held him tight until he quieted. It was then, for the first time, I looked into his eyes, perhaps his soul, and kissed him on his lips. He began to laugh in the middle of this very important moment. I pulled away, “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing, Harper. A sense of profound happiness overwhelmed me just now. Thank you.”
We resumed the kiss with more passion than I thought possible. I later asked, “Where did you learn to kiss like that?”
He sheepishly replied, “I’ve been thinking about it for a very long time.”
“In general or with me in particular?”
He laughed, “What do you think?”
We stood holding one another for what seemed like a very long time. When I heard the cathedral clock strike the hour, I jumped. “Oh, my God. Johnathan, what are your plans for dinner?”
He laughed and shook his head, “Probably takeout.”
“Come home with me, meet my parents and have dinner with us.”
He wasn’t sure how to respond.
“Yes, I would like that. But, are we going to let them in on our little secret?”
“Of course not. They’ll figure it out sooner or later.”
“And they will be happy for me … for us.”
Johnathan stiffened as a look of fear spread across his face.
“Well, you have choices. You can go back to living the safe life of the past or you can move into a new phase of living … with me by your side and the devil be damned.”
“It’s the latter I’m concerned about.”
“Johnathan, if your spiritual guidance is what it should be, they won’t give it a second thought. If not, you should probably look for another line of work.”
“That’s easy for you to say.”
“No, it’s not, because I’m going to be by your side no matter what. That is if you want me.”
“I’m not sure, Harper. It’s so mind-boggling.”
“That’s okay. That’s the way it should be.” I laughed and threw my arms around him. “Don’t have any expectations, just give everything you’ve got and I’ll do the same. Kismet has brought us this far. It will take us the rest of the way – if we let it.”
“You make it sound so easy.”
“It’s not easy. It’s a 24/7 proposition. But I promise you’ll never be alone, lonely or unloved ever again.”
“I feel like I’m stepping off of a cliff into I don’t know what.”
“There will be everlasting loving arms to catch both of us. Remember to whom you’ve dedicated your spiritual life.” That statement seemed to clinch it for Johnathan.
“Better call your parents and tell them we’re coming to dinner. I’m starved.”
I did call my parents and told them – The Vicar was coming home with me for dinner.