Chapter 18 - Right or Wrong

Link: The Road to Hell Title Page and Description

CAUTION: Attempted Suicide
CAUTION: Referenced / Discussed Suicide
CAUTION - Highly Emotional Content

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As the school year came to a close, Josh and Grace were getting closer to one another, but he continued to struggle with his feelings while still clinging to the memory of his love for Jennifer and all that she'd tried to do for him. No matter how many times he tried to look at it, he couldn't figure out what the right thing to do was.

Exactly three months after the day of the dance, he found himself dressed in a conservative white floral dress and walking from the bus stop to the church on Spring Drive. He hadn't been to any church since the Sunday he'd lost Jennifer, but he was drawn to return that day and to that church in particular. As he approached, he saw Pastor Roberts standing in the doorway greeting members of the congregation as usual, just as though no time had passed.

Clearing his throat, he walked up and smiled. "H... hello, Pastor Roberts."

Taking a moment, the man's smile lessened somewhat as he searched his memory to identify the apparent young woman who'd greeted him. He knew the face was familiar, but he couldn't quite place it. Recovering, he greeted Josh anyway. "Hello!" Taking Josh's hand, he shook it gently and admitted defeat. "I'm sorry... I know I should know you, but I just can't quite place..."

"That's alright, Pastor Roberts." Josh blushed. "It was years ago. I was only twelve and came to church with..."

Suddenly a light came into his eyes and he smiled broadly. "Jocelyn! The girl who came with the Healys!" Remembering the months that followed her visits, his happy grin diminished. "I was sad to see you stop coming. So were the Healys. When I asked after you, they said that your parents forbid you to come with them." Thinking a moment, he frowned. "You're fifteen now, right?" Seeing the finely dressed boy nod, he shook his head. "Jocelyn, I should warn you that if your parents are still denying you the right to attend church, you could get in a lot of trouble if they find out you've been here."

"It's alright, Pastor." Josh smiled weakly. "My parents never forbade me to come to church. They just forbade me from associating with the Healys. They felt Vicky and John were trying to... influence me. Are they here?"

He shook his head sadly. "No, they moved away a short time later." Looking at his watch, he glanced inside. "I need to get in and start services. You're welcome, of course!"

"That's why I'm here!" Josh said with a breath of relief. As the two entered the church together, he touched the pastor's arm a moment. "Pastor? Could I talk to you after services?"

Nodding with a gentle smile, he placed his hand on Josh's shoulder. "Of course, Jocelyn. I'll see you afterwards!" Heading for the pulpit, Josh slid into one of the rear pews and was warmly greeted by an older couple.

Once again enjoying the happy camaraderie of the congregation, he sat and listened to Pastor Roberts' sermon, The Meaning of Salvation. After that the assembled faithful sang, celebrating their time together before the services ended. As he stood aside waiting for the others to leave, he saw the pastor wave him forward. Picking his way through the crowd and seats, Josh walked up to the man, standing with a woman about the same age as the pastor.

"Jocelyn?" he began, "I'd like you to meet my wife, Susan. Susan? This is Jocelyn, that girl that I told you about a few years ago? The one that came with the Healy family to see what church was like?"

Susan Roberts smiled in recollection of the story her husband had told her about Josh and gently shook his hand. "A pleasure to meet you, Jocelyn!" the woman beamed. "So glad you could join us again!"

Looking at Josh, Daniel Roberts nodded toward the side of the sanctuary. "We can talk in my office." he said as he headed toward a door. Going through and holding the door for Josh, Daniel led him into a room with a large desk overflowing with papers. Indicating a couch off to the side, he stood and waited for the youth. "Please, have a seat, Jocelyn."

The fifteen-year-old sat on the old piece of furniture, its upholstery of forest green having seen better days and smelling slightly of dust. He watched as the man sat in an easy chair adjacent to and slightly facing the couch.

"So, what is it you wanted to talk to me about?"

Taking a breath, Josh looked at the battered coffee table that sat in front of his feet. "Well, I... I have some questions. I was hoping you might help me figure some things out."

"Does it have anything to do with the Healys and why they left?"

"No." Josh answered before slightly reversing his answer. "Well, not really. I guess it's more of a question of what's the right thing to do about something. It's sorta complicated and... um... well, like when two people really like each other... and um..."

Seeing that he was showing signs of embarrassment, Daniel held up a hand. "Jocelyn. First of all, I want you to know that anything we talk about is strictly between us. I would never share that information with anyone, unless it presented a danger, to others or yourself. Secondly, if this is a matter of relationships and romance and you'd be more comfortable talking to another woman, Susan is a wonderful listener and she'd be more than happy..."

Josh shook his head, making the pastor halt his offer mid-sentence. "No... no thank you, Pastor Roberts. I... I don't know her. I know you and I trust you to have good judgement. I'm sure your wife is a wonderful woman, but... if you don't mind, it's your perspective I'd like to hear."

Nodding in understanding, Daniel sat back. "Alright. I'll do what I can."

Taking another breath, Josh tried again. "Well... OK, let's say one person likes another. They fall in love, but then they can't see each other anymore. Then one of them, who still loves the other, meets someone new who likes them. Is it a betrayal of their love to begin a new relationship? I mean, what if she starts to go out with the new person and then she finds out that the other person still loves her and is hurt because they feel betrayed? I guess I just want to know if it's ethical to give up on a relationship that has little to no chance of ever being rekindled, or if it's hurtful to 'move on', as it were."

Taking a breath, the man parsed the convoluted question, combined it with other things he knew, and put the pieces of a nearly three-year-old puzzle together. "Jocelyn, I understand your desire to be discreet, and I applaud you for doing so, but let's dispense with the hypothetical and get to what you're really asking. You and Jennifer Healy had feelings for one another. Correct?"

Fear gripped Josh's heart as his blood ran cold. Looking away toward the door, he was nearly overcome with a desire to run, but made himself face the question. "W-why would you ask that?"

Shaking his head slowly, Daniel chuckled lightly. "I have eyes to see with and ears to hear with, Jocelyn. After you stopped coming, Jennifer was... an empty shell. Physically present, but spiritually absent. At the time, I thought it might be because you two had some sort of falling out, but I recognized the signs of her being lovesick and heartbroken. I thought maybe she had a boyfriend and they'd had a falling out. I never would have guessed that... well... that you were the reason for her depression."

Getting up, he paced the room a moment. "Jocelyn, this is an Evangelical church... that is, it isn't associated with any denomination. As such, we have no position on the question of same-sex couples. It's simply never come up. If you ask me personally I'd say it's wrong, but I know I'm in no position to pass judgement on the hearts of my fellow man... or woman, in this case." He stopped and turned to Josh. "It wasn't until you asked your question that I was finally able to understand what made Jennifer... do... what she did."

Standing up, Josh quickly walked up to him. "Do what, Pastor? What did happen to Jennifer? Please! You have to tell me!" His eyes were wild with fear as his imagination ran through thousands of horrible scenarios.

Blinking slowly, he gestured to the couch. "Please Jocelyn, sit with me." Leading the teenager back to the couch, Daniel helped him to sit and took a place next to him. Placing his hand on Josh's, he took a breath. "Jocelyn, Jennifer tried to commit suicide a few months after you stopped coming."

The shock washed over Josh like a wave. He felt dizzy and his vision blurred. The next thing he knew, he was lying on the couch with Susan standing over him, looking down at him concernedly.

"What... what happened?" he asked as he sat up.

"You seem to have fainted, Jocelyn." she said sympathetically. She moved next to him and helped him to sit up, handing him a cup of water. "Here. Drink this."

Taking the offered liquid, he sipped it slowly. "Thank you." he said barely above a whisper.

Sitting next to him, Susan looked worried. "It's fine, Jocelyn. You had a bad shock. It's perfectly normal that you would react like that." Seeing the color starting to return to his cheeks, she inquired delicately, "You look like you're feeling a little better. Did you want to talk to Daniel again? He's out in the sanctuary, straightening up."

Nodding, Josh sat up the rest of the way, putting his feet back on the floor. "Yes please, Mrs. Roberts."

"Please, call me Susan!" she insisted. "I'll go get Daniel. You just sit and rest a moment, alright?" Getting up, she left him in the room alone.

Jennifer? Suicide? he pondered. Needing more information, he sat waiting until he saw Pastor Roberts come back in the office. Standing impatiently, he struggled for understanding as he wrung his hands nervously. "Pastor Roberts! What happened to Jennifer? You simply must tell me!"

"Please!" he said in a compassionately raised voice. "Jocelyn, sit down! I barely caught you from falling off the couch last time!" Seeing Josh sit once more, he sat back down in the easy chair. "I can't tell you everything, only what John Healy told me to tell the congregation if they asked, alright?"

"I just want to know if she's all right!" Josh pleaded. "Was she hurt? What did she do?"

Reluctantly, he recalled what John had told him. "Apparently, she tried to asphyxiate herself in their garage. She was only saved because Vicky heard the motor and went to go see what was going on. She was treated and then transferred to the psychiatric ward of the children's hospital in Akron. The family moved down there to be close to her while she was being helped."

Finally understanding why Jennifer and the family had just disappeared, Josh looked at the man kindly. "Thank you."

"I'm sorry I had to be the one to tell you the news, Jocelyn." he said as he looked away. "I... uh... I assume that in your question, you and she were..." his voice trailed off, unable to actually say the words.

"...in love?" Josh finished for him. Nodding, he looked away as well. "Yes, very much so. She was wonderful. She cared more for my happiness than her own. And I... well... I would have done anything to make her happy!"

Turning back to Josh, he smiled weakly. "That can be a most wonderful thing, Jocelyn. Getting on with it though, I take it that you've met someone else? If it wouldn't be too personal a question, may I ask if it's a boy or girl?"

Swallowing hard, Josh looked back at him shyly. "Girl." he stated softly.

"Ah." Blowing out a breath, he puzzled over the question. "Well, to answer your question simply, from an ethical point of view, even though you and Jennifer... loved... one another, you were far too young to make any sort of commitment. That having been said, our Lord told us that a sin of the heart is just as bad as a sin of action. It could be said that starting a relationship with one person while in love with another is a form of spiritual adultery."

He continued in deep thought. "However, things are never that cut-and-dry. If that were the case, then every single one of us is equally guilty and equally redeemable through Christ. When I met Susan while I was studying for my theology degree, I was getting over a breakup with my previous girlfriend. She'd left me for another man. When Susan asked me out and I accepted, I was still in love with Barbara. Was that a sin? Even if it was, the Lord has forgiven it of me, so I don't dwell on it."

"But was that the ethical thing to do?" Josh asked. "I mean, taking sin and forgiveness out of it, was it right?"

"Jocelyn, if you're asking me if it's wrong to start dating this new girl while you still have feelings for Jennifer, I can't tell you that. To my mind, the whole thing is wrong. I'm sorry."

"What if I were a boy?" he asked. "Could you answer then?"

Sighing heavily, he thought about it. "Alright. Theoretically, if you were a boy, and you still loved Jennifer but she's moved away, and now there's a new girl, then the answer would be the same. It's wrong because your heart is elsewhere, so it's not fair to the new girl, Jennifer, or you. That having been said, no one could judge you for it without being a hypocrite, so you should just do what you think is right."

Josh nodded sadly. "I was afraid you might say something like that."

He looked at Josh sympathetically. "I'm sorry I can't give you the answer you wanted, Jocelyn." As Josh started to get up, Daniel stopped him. "One moment." Josh sat back down and the pastor took a breath. "I want you to know that, while I personally don't believe that you getting involved with other girls is healthy for you, I will never ask you to leave this church for that reason alone. You're always welcome here, Jocelyn. Alright?"

Seeing Josh nod in understanding, he continued. "The only thing I ask of you is to not openly discuss your... private life... with the other members of the congregation. Not because I disagree with it, but because I worry about you and don't want to see you get hurt. People, even the members of this church, can be cruel. They react badly sometimes to things they don't agree with, even if they might otherwise be reasonable and tolerant people."

"I'm also not putting special limits on you." he explained. "I would ask the same thing if you were a boy. Church is not the place to discuss one's love life. It's a private matter. I've told that to boys and girls that have attended this church over the years when I've overheard them talking about such things. This is a house of worship, not a dating club. Do you understand?"

Josh looked at the man he'd come to respect. "When I first met you Pastor, I knew you were a good person. Now I know why." Standing up and waiting for the man to do the same, Josh gave him a friendly hug. "Thank you for helping me, Pastor... and for letting me know what happened to Jennifer."

Hugging her in return, he smiled. "You're a good young woman, Jocelyn. I knew that the moment you told me the truth that you'd never been to church before. Come back soon!" Separating, he watched as Josh walked out of the office before turning back to his desk.

Josh sat on the bus and pondered the advice the pastor had given him. He liked Grace very much, but his heart was still aching for his lost first love. Knowing at last what he needed to do, he grimaced with determination and waited the return to his home.

Not wanting his parents to know what he was doing, he picked up his laptop and headed for a coffee shop that was near his school. He knew the shop had free Internet access, so once he bought a cup of tea, he sat down and logged into their network. Doing a few searches, he found what he was looking for and braced himself for the task ahead. Texting Grace, he hoped she would understand.

Hey. You free?

A moment later he saw the response.

4 u? always! sup?

Meet me at the coffee shop near school.

Almost immediately he saw the reply.

B their in 5!

Putting away his phone, he sipped his tea and waited. As promised, five minutes later Grace walked in and spotted him.

"Hey, gorgeous!" she smiled as she sat down at his table. "You look so adorable in that dress! So sweet and innocent! What's going on?"

Glancing up at her, Josh forged ahead. "I... I found out what happened to Jennifer today." he started glumly. Repeating the story the pastor had told him, he looked up at her and saw the expression of shock in her eyes.

"Joss! That's awful! Are you OK?"

Shrugging, he stared down at his cup. "No, but I understand how she felt. I've thought about doing something like that a lot over the years." Looking up at her, he could see she was worried. "Grace? Can I ask you a favor?"

"Anything, Joss." she offered. "You name it and if I can do it, you can count on me."

"It's a big one to ask of you. I want to use your phone for a few minutes." he explained. "I... I found out where the Healys moved and I wanna call 'em and let 'em know I found out what happened. I have to know if she's OK."

Hesitating only a moment, terrified that she might lose Josh to Jennifer, she swallowed her fear and handed him her cell phone. "You... you should go outside. The reception's better. I'll hold your table."

Getting up, Josh walked around, put a hand on Grace's shoulder as he paused next to her, looking at her compassionately and thankfully, then proceeded out the front door on a mission. Dialing the number as he stood near the doorway, Josh was visibly shaking, he was so terrified at what he might learn. After a few rings, his wait was finally over.

"Hello?" Vicky answered.

"Vicky? This is... um... this is Josh. Josh Ryan."

Standing in her living room, Vicky nearly dropped the phone. Too shocked to speak, she could only just make her mouth open and close silently.

"Vicky?" he probed. "Vicky, please answer me. I... I just today found out what happened to Jenn. Pastor Roberts told me when I went to church this morning. Please! I... I just need to know if she's OK."

Finally recovering her composure, she cleared her throat before answering. "Josh! I... how did you get this number?"

"I looked online once I found what city you moved to." he explained. "The rest was easy, if you know where to look. How's Jenn?"

"Jenny's alright." she answered solemnly. "She... she was so devastated by losing you that... well... you know what she did. She told us that she wrote you about her plans, but you never did anything to stop her. Is that true?"

His turn to be caught speechless, he heard her say his name three times before he was able to answer. "I... I'm so sorry, Vicky! I couldn't read the notes she left for me! It just hurt too much. After the first one, I just took them and packed them away in a box. I never read any of them after that horrible day! You must hate me! I could have stopped her!"

"Of course I don't hate you, Josh!" she scolded him. "I understand why you couldn't read her letters. You must have been hurting just as badly, probably worse, after... after that day. I honestly blame myself. I was the one that insisted on talking to them. I thought they would be reasonable once they saw others saying the same thing you were. I'm the one who's sorry, Josh."

"Mom?" Jennifer said, causing the woman to jump and turn around suddenly in surprise.

"Jenny!" she said taking in a breath. "What is it, dear?"

"That's Jocelyn on the phone... isn't it?" she asked, her voice a lifeless husk.

"I didn't think you could hear me talking."

"I was curious who called." she stated hollowly. "Is she OK?"

"She... He seems fine, Jenny." her mother stammered. "He just wanted to know how you were."

"Can I talk to her?" both Jennifer and Josh asked at the same time.

Not knowing if it would be right or wrong to allow them to talk, Vicky was petrified. Jennifer had never fully recovered from the loss of him. Physically she was fine, Vicky had caught her soon enough that there was no lasting damage, but emotionally Jennifer was still as devastated as Josh. She feared Jennifer re-connecting with him might lead to her attempting suicide again, but she also feared that if nothing changed for her daughter, that she might try again anyway through sheer sorrow and loss. Biting her lower lip, Vicky made a decision. "Alright. Just for a few minutes, though."

Taking the phone away from her mother, Jennifer spoke to Josh for the first time in almost three years. "Jocelyn?"

Hearing the name was bittersweet. Josh loved her so much though, he could never hate what she'd called him. "Hi, Jenn. I... I just found out where you moved. I wanted to find out if you were OK... if you were... um..."

Lighting up like a tree on Christmas morning just at the sound of his voice, Jennifer genuinely smiled as though she'd never before known happiness. "I'm OK, Joss. How are you? You sound different. I guess I do, too."

"Yeah, but I think I'd know you anywhere." he sighed longingly. "I'm doing well enough." he lied. "Jenn, can I ask you something?"

"You just did!" she smirked.

Giggling a moment, Josh looked off toward the south in the general direction of Akron. "Good memory! God, I've missed you! I... I saw Pastor Roberts today. He told me what happened to you. Jenn, please don't ever do anything like that again! If you died, I'd die too! You have to promise me!"

Embarrassed, Jennifer looked down and frowned. "I'm sorry, Joss. It was stupid. I... I just hurt so much seeing you day after day, picking up my notes, and not even getting to see you read them. I watched you every day! When kids made fun of you, I told them off! I wanted so much to come up and talk to you, but..." She looked over at her mother and sighed. "...but I was afraid you'd just ignore me or I'd get my parents in trouble."

"I would never have ignored you, Jenn." Josh confessed. "I was afraid to talk to you. That if I did you might get in trouble. I was so sad when you left. I wasn't a very nice person for a while after that. Mom had me on blockers and they kinda messed with my head a little, but mostly it was because you were gone and... and I didn't know if you were OK."

"I missed you too." she answered simply.

"Jenn?" he took a breath. "I... I have to ask you a question, but I don't know how. I couldn't stand it if I hurt you again!"

"You never hurt me, Joss!" she stated in a firm voice. "It was all your parents! They were just so mean! Do they still have you on blockers?"

"I don't need them anymore." Josh informed her. "They... they put me on female hormones and had me castrated. I'm turning into a woman now."

"Oh God, Jocelyn!" she said in horror. "How can they do that!?"

Ashamed to say it, Josh felt she had to know the truth. "In the end, I just let them. Mom tricked me into getting castrated and after that, I just sort of gave up and let them do whatever they wanted. I'm sorry."

Now crying, Jennifer felt even more regret over her attempted suicide than before. "Oh, Joss! It's all my fault! If I hadn't done that, maybe you'd..."

"Jenn!" he shouted quietly. "Jenn, it's not your fault! It's hers." Pausing, he waited until Jennifer's sobs were under control. "I... I wanted to know if you were OK. Are you happy? Are... have... have you been seeing anyone?"

Guiltily, Jennifer nodded. "I'm OK. I... I tried, yeah. I feel bad about it now. Her name was Lindsey. I met her last September, but it didn't work out very well. I was still in love with you, so I messed it all up... but don't worry. I'll be OK. How about you?"

Closing his eyes, he told Jennifer the truth. "I'm OK, I guess... considering. I have a good friend. Her name's Grace. She knows all about me and likes me anyway. She wants to date me, and I like her, but... I... I can't. It... it wouldn't be fair... to her... or you."

Realizing that Josh was still in love with her, Jennifer's heart leapt before she realized there was no way they could see each other. Not only was there the distance, Melanie would be certain to still cause problems. Taking a breath, she let her heart do the talking and forged ahead. "It's OK, Joss. You... you should do it. I... I'd be happy for you, really." She meant it, even though the idea of him finally moving on stung.

Josh felt a tear roll down his cheek. "Same here, Jenn. I just want you to be happy. It's all I ever wanted." Taking a breath to calm himself, he knew there was not much more to say. "I... I guess I better go now, Jenn. Remember your promise, right? And just know... I... I love you. Always."

Crying as she responded in kind, Jennifer could barely answer. "Me too, Joss! Never forget that, OK? And I'll remember! Together Forever!"

"Together Forever." he echoed. "Bye, Jennifer."

"Goodbye... Jocelyn."

Both hanging up, they were immediately in tears from the heartbreak of their respective realities. While Josh went back into the coffee shop to be consoled by Grace, at the same time in Akron, Jennifer was bawling openly in her loving mother's arms.



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