TIES THAT BIND (chapter 1)
Home sweet home. Mark Malone walked through the side door that led from his garage into the kitchen of his serene house and let the cool, manufactured air wash across his face and body. His blond hair was neat, his body trim and athletic in his long golf shorts—just the right length to cover his sacred garments—and blue jersey-print polo Ashworth shirt.
Eighteen holes of golf on a hot August Saturday took the stuffing right out of a man. Still, it was necessary for his business to make these sacrifices. And he did enjoy the game, and even an occasional side bet, although that needed to stay between him and the Lord—and his biggest client and golf partner, a Catholic man who drank heartily and cursed vilely during every game. Next to that man, surely God didn’t begrudge Mark a few small vices.
He worked hard at his insurance business every day and listened to people’s problems every night, trying to resolve issues that local bishops could not. It was part of his calling as stake president: an overseer to the web of wards that constituted the Kanesville East Stake. Each bishop took care of several hundred families, and in turn, Malone took care of those bishops, which included intervening in problems they could not solve.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had a stranglehold on this landlocked state, and almost everyone who lived here was touched by it in some way, even if they were not regular, faithful, tithe-paying members.
That meant a lot of people, a lot of clients, a lot of problems.
His church calling constituted a difficult job—one that came with no earthly pay or training, but heavenly blessings. It often drained him more than he had believed possible. Sometimes he thought it was too much for any one man to bear. Just last night he had been faced with a young father addicted to Internet pornography—and it was destroying his marriage. The young wife’s tears had stirred something inside Mark, and he’d admonished the man severely, counseling him to seek repentance with the Lord and to disconnect his Internet. Mark felt he’d handled the situation well.
When he’d received his calling he’d been flattered and thankful and, of course, secretly, overwhelmed at the prospect. Would he be up to the spiritual challenge? Was he in tune with his Savior enough to offer the right advice? Was God really inspired when He made his choice?
Mark Malone was not a man without sin. Yet surely God must forgive that sin, or he would never have been called. Everyone knew that Mormon callings were “inspired” and of the spirit. Knowing this, he had embraced his position. Unfortunately, his family had been, well, less than supportive. Especially Jeremiah. Teenagers. Having a father who was in such a position of responsibility within the church community seemed to be a burden to him. Mark’s beautiful boy, who had once looked up at him with open, shining eyes and begged for a game of catch, now watched him with hooded lids and flashes of derision. All he “caught” was the hatred in the boy’s glares.
As Mark thought of the resentful teen, his eyes flashed to the dormer window that overlooked the backyard and anger began to seep into his chest. The lawn was long and unattractive, and he was having his counselors in the stake presidency and their wives over tonight for a barbecue. The only job he had required of Jeremiah was to mow the lawn and trim and edge it, not very difficult for a strapping young man.
But it hadn’t been done. Not one piece of grass had been touched.
One little thing. All he’d asked.
“Jeremiah!” he yelled, his voice strained and rigid with control. The anger was hot and tight inside him, wanting out, forcing the blood to pound through his veins. “Jeremiah, the lawn is still not mowed. What the heck have you been doing all day?”
No answering voice. Not even that of his wife, who had an entire barbecue to prepare. He knew where she was, of course. In her bed, sleeping away her horrible, horrible life. After all, she only had a beautiful three-thousand-square-foot home and a husband who was at the top of his church’s career ladder, at least as far as one could go at a local level. She was not forced to go outside the home and work, like so many other Mormon mothers; her only job was to care for his house and his son, Jeremiah.
She had done neither very well. Mark felt the stirrings of guilt in his gut, the same things he felt whenever he considered Lydia’s mental state. Had he somehow brought this on? Did he fail in this most important aspect of his life—being the solid cement that would hold together his eternal family?
There was a housekeeper/cook who provided meals that could be heated in the oven shortly before he got home. That woman also kept the house clean and the laundry up. The guilt moved aside and resentment filled his broad chest, mixing with the anger. It was a powerful combination.
Lydia had been writing her master’s thesis in education when they had met at Brigham Young University. She’d been young and beautiful, her fiery auburn hair matching her spirit.
Now there was no fire. There was nothing but flat eyes and a flabby body and a vacant look that said he could be the mailman for all she cared. His eternal companion should have stayed young and vibrant and attractive and, most of all, still interested in him. And Lydia had given him only one son instead of a large family. Slowly, the person he’d married had slipped away and become just a semblance of the woman she’d been, emotionless except for resentment and a grief he couldn’t identify or assuage.
“Jeremiah?” he yelled again. He opened a cupboard, took a glass from it, and walked over to the side-by-side refrigerator. He pushed the glass into the opening in the door, and ice, then water quickly chunked into his glass. He took a long sip and, carrying the glass, headed out of the kitchen and toward his son’s room.
When they’d built the house, Lydia had insisted on a rambler, all one level, with the bedrooms close together. Although Jeremiah had been only eight at the time, she was already worried about his teenage years—him sneaking out, possibly getting hurt and never coming home. The Lydia-that-used-to-be hit Mark in the chest like a punch. Irrational and sometimes breathless with fears of which he would never even have conceived. Back then, that eccentricity had been part of her charm. Now it was her downfall.
He passed his study, the door just slightly ajar.
Of course. The reason the lawn was not mown and trimmed was in this room—the computer where Jeremiah spent hours doing who knows what. Mark and Lydia had put on trackers, content monitors, and parental controls, and yet somehow he knew his son had managed to get past them all. There was no proof Jeremiah was doing anything wrong. And every time Mark tried to see what his son was doing, he’d found him innocently chatting on a messenger program with some of his friends. But there were too many hours spent there, too much time unaccounted for. And a few times Jeremiah had cringed a bit and looked nervous when his father came into the room unexpectedly, but he could never find anything. Nothing incriminating, anyway. And the police never came to his door. The teachers at school did not complain. The only person who seemed genuinely concerned about Jeremiah’s behavior was his father. Lydia had long since given up the ability to think rationally, the fears taking over her mind until she was incapable of doing the one thing she had always worried the most about: protecting her son from the world.
Maybe the only reason Mark Malone was so worried was because of the sheer loathing his son oozed in his direction.
Or maybe it was the knowledge that all males had vices. But everyone said to build trust. He had no proof. How could he take away Jeremiah’s computer privileges when he had nothing concrete, nothing but a feeling that the boy had done something wrong? And yet the thought of the young father from the night before, and his crying wife, made President Malone’s stomach churn. His whole life had been based on a feeling, his testimony of the truthfulness of the Mormon Church. He’d built everything he did around that, so maybe it was time to listen to the still small voice telling him something was up with Jeremiah.
Mark decided to surprise his son, and maybe finally catch him at something. He swiftly pushed open the door and headed into the room—
Then stilled. The water glass slipped from his hand and fell to the floor, hitting the hard pine and shattering into tiny pieces, much like his life was doing right now.
On the floor, in front of him, lay his beloved son, a blue silk tie coiled tightly around his neck, his face a matching blue, his body lifeless.
TIES THAT BIND Copyright 2012 by Natalie R. Collins.