“YOU are going to come and help me at the church tomorrow afternoon, aren’t you, Adam?”

Adam Matthew Jameson swallowed the steak in his mouth and looked at his mother from across the dining room table. Margaret Jameson was a beautiful woman for her age. She was very thin and her features very delicate; her skin was pale, as if she did not spend much time in the sun. Today, her shiny blonde hair was pulled back into a tight bun, and she was wearing a blue floral-print dress that brought out the color in her eyes.

“I am sorry, Mother, but I will not be able to help. Tomorrow is the day I start work at the homeless shelter across town. I will be home for dinner at five thirty, but I will be volunteering prior to that.”

“Oh, I was hoping you would be able to help me,” his mother said with disappointment. “The tables we use for Bible study are so very heavy.”

“Margaret, leave the boy alone. He is doing the Lord’s work by helping at that shelter. I am sure Adam would be happy to help you set up the tables after dinner. We can just leave a little early for Bible Study and do it then. If you have everything else set up beforehand, it should not take long.”

“Yes, Matthew. I suppose you are right. As always.”

“Of course,” Matthew Jameson replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. He shot his wife a look that could only be called a warning before turning his attention to his youngest child. “Now, Elisabeth, why don’t you tell us how your day at school was?”

Adam, thrilled that the heat was now off him, refocused on his dinner. He loved his family, but somehow the nightly dinners always seemed like another cold war, everyone holding their breath, waiting for something or, in this case, someone, to blow up. Matthew was an imposing figure in many ways. At six foot three and tipping the scale at two hundred and fifty pounds, he was built more like a linebacker than an accountant. But what always put the Jameson family on edge was his personality. His father was quick to anger, brown eyes capable of igniting in rage in seconds. Adam had learned early on to avoid confrontation with his father and was usually successful, but there was something about him that sent chills down Adam’s spine.

“Father, did you hear there is a chance that Abigail Mallory is pregnant? The whole school is talking about it,” Elisabeth said.

“I certainly hope that is not true. I am friends with Abigail’s father. He is a good man, and he has raised his family the right way. If it is true that Abigail has sinned so egregiously against the Lord’s wishes, then it will bring great shame to his entire family. And I certainly hope that you were not one of these children gossiping about the wayward children in your school.”

“No, Father. I just thought you would want to know because I know you are acquainted with Mr. Mallory.”

“Good. Now is everyone finished?” the patriarch asked. Getting the three affirmative answers he was looking for, Matthew announced they would now be having their after-dinner prayer. Adam clasped hands with his parents and looked at his sister doing the same, the Jameson family forming a circle. Adam listened to the prayer, eyes closed and head bowed, adding in his own silent prayer, thanking the Lord for helping him get through yet another family dinner.

After the prayer had concluded, Adam and Elisabeth cleared and straightened up the table while their mother washed dishes. Matthew retreated to his office, refusing to take part in such domesticity. Between the three family members, it only took twenty minutes to clean everything up, and Adam was free to escape to his own sanctuary.

Adam walked through the spacious living room, shoes clacking on the hardwood floors. He never really liked hanging out in the living room. It always felt more like a museum than a place to hang out. The plain white couch and matching wing chairs were as unblemished as the day they were bought. All the wooden furniture in the room was the same shade, from the bookshelves that flanked the front window, to the end tables next to the couch and between the chairs. Everything was in order as he climbed the stairs, glancing at all the family portraits that lined the staircase walls. He quickly walked down the hallway past the bathroom and his parent’s room, just in case his father had come out of his downstairs office without him hearing. Seeing his father again was the last thing Adam wanted, even though he had no real justification for feeling that way. Finally, he reached the white door at the very end of the hall and, with an audible sigh of relief, slipped inside.

For as long as he could remember, Adam’s room was his sanctuary. There was no other way to describe it. It was the only place in the entire world Adam felt he could be himself. Of course, he had to keep the place neat, and he was not allowed to have many things that could be found in a normal teenager’s room, like posters of hot women, a television, or even sports equipment. As Adam looked around his room, he was reminded that he didn’t really have much at all. His twin-sized bed was in the middle of the room, neatly made with a light-blue duvet, a small brown nightstand by the head of the bed. His desk was on the opposite wall, his laptop closed in the middle and a stack of schoolbooks on the side. A simple set of drawers that matched the nightstand held most of his clothes, with everything else behind the white, sliding closet door. There was no personality in his room. It could have belonged to anyone. Even the brown bookshelf under the window did not have any unique books on its shelves, just the classics and many books on the Christian faith that had been approved by their church.

Adam leaned against the door, trying to let the tension of the day seep out of him. He started to unbutton the simple, green, button-up shirt he had worn to dinner. His father always required them to wear business-casual attire to dinner. He said it was important to look nice as a sign of respect to those around you. Adam did not think it was necessary. They were a family, and they loved each other. That should have circumvented the need to show respect in that manner, right? But Adam would never dare to cross his father. Though he would never admit it aloud, Adam was terrified of the man. The few times he had seen his father really mad, he had been afraid he would be witness to serious violence. Matthew Jameson had some very intense views on life, and when something around him clashed with those beliefs, he had a tendency to get very angry, very fast. Adam had been very lucky to avoid that rage so far, but he had been witness to it in the past. Especially after what his father had done to John….

No. Don’t go there, Adam thought fiercely. It is not going to end up like it did with John. I am not going to get kicked out like my brother.

Pushing thoughts of the worst day of his life out of his head, Adam started to change out of his dinner attire. Adam stared at himself in the mirror after he finished getting his clothes off. He really needed to start working out. He was nothing but skin and bones, having no muscle to speak of. He ate like any normal teenage boy, which was a lot, but no matter how much he ate, he never seemed to gain any weight or muscle. His mother once told him that he was just a late bloomer, but he was starting to doubt he would ever have the physique he dreamed of. Sighing, Adam pushed his blond hair away from his green eyes and got some clothes out of his closet.

Pulling on a pair of sweatpants and a plain brown T-shirt, Adam started to think about how to spend his evening. Every night he went up to his room on the pretext that he had homework to do. The thing was, he very rarely had any homework to do because he was a bright kid and finished all his schoolwork quickly, so quickly that he always finished the majority of it in homeroom. He rarely had to do more than an hour or two of work at home in a week of school. The rest of the time, he just hid in his room, doing various tasks and trying to stay out of trouble. It might have seemed like a prison sentence to many, but it was normal to Adam. He had always lived his life like this, and he did not know any other way.

Deciding that tonight was a good night to sketch, he went to his closet and located the black wooden box he kept in the back corner. Adam was not too afraid that his father would care about him drawing, but he was not going to take the chance of his father’s dislike of the hobby. Things Matthew Jameson did not like tended to disappear out of their house quite quickly. Art had been a hobby of his since he was a child. He was completely self-taught, but he thought his art had come a long way, and he was quite proud of the works he was producing now. Adam opened his sketchbook to his most recent piece, and then took up his pencil and started work.

Most of Adam’s scenes were quite simple, just snapshots from real life. People going to get coffee, stuck in traffic, kids running for the school bus, and other things he saw around the city he called home in northern Alabama were all fair game for sketching. Currently, he was working on a picture from the last time he went food shopping with his mother. When they had their cart filled and were in the checkout line, he saw a group of six kids hanging out in the line next to theirs, laughing about something. They all looked so happy. A few even looked like they might be together romantically. A piece of Adam longed for such normalcy. Adam knew the life he led could not be considered normal, with his father’s conservative and religious stranglehold on his family. Adam was normally content with his life, but in that moment he wished for more. So he started drawing, pouring his emotions on the paper.

Adam had always wanted a group of friends like that. The harsh reality was that Adam never really felt like he belonged, neither in his house nor with his peers. He never agreed with the ways of his parents. He thought men and women were equal and no man should force his wife to do anything. He also did not agree with all the religious fervor that swept through his community. Everyone was always “God this” and “God that.” Sure, he believed in God, but something in his gut told him that the way the people around him were acting was not the will of God. The problem was that it wasn’t just his family who acted liked that, but everyone in his school and his church. However, because Adam could not bring himself to swallow all their beliefs, he never formed a real connection with anyone around him.

Not that Adam would ever in a million years question anything. Questions were always met with answers full of emotion and passion but not always logic. “They” were always right. People who questioned things were always scorned and put through some sort of rehabilitation. Adam, for all his disapproval, knew it was better to just sit down and shut up. But that didn’t stop his heart from wanting real friends like in the picture he was drawing.

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