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“This is excellent. This is really good work, Colin, you should be proud of yourself.”
I had sent in my report about our second date the morning after I got back from your beach house. Dominus had called me out for one of his usual 2 am walks to go over in detail. We strolled along the sidewalk, the cold air making me shiver through my jacket.
I didn’t want to tell him the intimate details of what happened between us, Zach, but I felt like I had no choice. There had never been any secrets between Dominus and me. And he could always sense if I was leaving any part out or glossing over anything. He knew just what probing questions to ask to get the full truth out of me.
So, despite my discomfort, I told him about kissing you on the beach, about you inviting me back to your place to stay the night. I even told him about what we did to each other on the couch.
The one thing I didn’t tell him was how much I’d enjoyed it.
“Wow. You’ve really gone above and beyond for Ecclesium,” said Dominus. “I won’t forget this when the time comes.”
“When is that, exactly?” I asked. “I mean, when will my part in all of this be over? I can’t keep lying to him forever. And sooner or later I’m going to have to tell him about Ecclesium.”
“You’re right,” said Dominus. “Which is why I think it’s time to take things to the next step.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Bring him to E-day. It’s the perfect way to introduce him to us.”
E-day was our yearly celebration of the founding of Ecclesium. The different chapters of Ecclesium from all over the country would fly out to DC, gathering together to put on various skits and performances in honor of Dominus. It was generally a fun-filled night with dancing, drinking, and entertainment.
I breathed a sigh of relief. At least now I could stop hiding my involvement with Ecclesium. It had been next to impossible to avoid the topic on our first two dates, as Ecclesium was such a huge part of my life. And Dominus was right, there was no better way to show you what we were all about than with E-day.
“What is this thing again? Some kind of self-help group?” you asked as we pulled up to the venue.
“It’s a personal development organization that I’m really involved in,” I said, opening your car door for you as you stepped out. “Trust me, they’re really amazing people. I can’t wait for you to meet Dominus, my friends from LA… You’re gonna have a blast tonight.”
You wrapped your arm around mine and kissed me on the cheek. “As long as you’re here, I’m sure of it.”
My heart swelled. I was excited to finally introduce you to my friends from Ecclesium. I knew you’d fit right in with your buoyant enthusiasm and easy sense of charisma.
I also had to admit, you looked incredibly cute in a leather jacket and a pair of distressed jeans. With my tight grey polo shirt and dark slacks, I couldn’t help but think that we looked like we were going to entirely different events (and I was the one headed to the wrong one).
As we walked through the doors, you clung to my arm like you were my date at some gala. I suddenly realized from the stares we were getting that people had no idea what to make of us. After all, I realized, nobody knew about Dominus’ plan to recruit you. As far as they were concerned, you really were just my date.
I wasn’t sure if people were more taken aback by seeing me with another man on my arm, the fact that that man was the president’s son, or the fact that two Secret Service agents followed us everywhere we went.
“Colin! What’s up brother?” I heard a voice call out from behind me.
I felt a hand clap me on the shoulder, then turned to see my friend Jeff grinning at me.
“Are you excited for tonight or what?” he said, shaking me gently.
I unhooked my arm from yours and gave him a punch on the arm.
I grinned as I said, “I’ve been looking forward to this since you did that god-awful skit last year. You’re not gonna be singing again tonight, are you?”
“Stand-up, if you can believe it.”
“Don’t you have to be funny to do stand-up?” I asked.
“Fuck you, dude,” Jeff laughed.
I noticed you standing awkwardly next to me, smiling politely with your hands clasped. I realized you were waiting for me to introduce you.
“Oh, uh, this is my friend Zach,” I said, patting you awkwardly on the back. “Zach, this is my bud, Jeff. He used to run the Hollywood brand of Ecclesium back when I was first starting out. Then he ditched me to take over the branch here in DC.”
“Yeah, well, LA wasn’t big enough for both me and your ego, so…” Jeff said, giving me a friendly punch in the ribs. I smacked his hand away and went to hit him back.
“Wow, you guys are… violent with each other,” you said with raised eyebrows and a smirk.
“We just like to give each other a hard time. Nice to meet you, Zach,” Jeff said, reaching his hand out to you. “How do you guys know each other?” he asked, his eyes flicking over to me with a smirk.
You smiled warmly. Maltepe Escort “Oh, we-“
“We met at an art fair last week. Zach’s a fan of my show.”
You looked at me strangely. I knew that was the wrong thing to say, but it was the only thing that came to mind.
“Nice!” Jeff said politely. “Well, I gotta get ready, I’m up first. Wish me luck!”
“You’re gonna kill it, man,” I said, fist-bumping him before he walked back towards the stage.
“So, should we go find our table?” I asked you.
“Please, lead the way,” you said dryly. “After all, I’m just the groupie.”
My cheeks burned as I took your hand and led you through the crowd towards the buffet table at the side of the hall. I chastised myself internally. Tonight was key to getting you to fall in love with Ecclesium the same way that I did, and yet I was already fucking things up.
We filled our plates and then took our seats. Your Secret Service detail stood by the wall a few yards away from us where they could keep you in full view.
We were seated at one of the tables near the front next to a few Ecclesium members I recognized from previous E-days but didn’t know all that well. I chatted amicably with them, trying my best to include you in the conversation as much as I could, which was tough considering you didn’t know anything about Ecclesium to be able to follow along.
The lights dimmed as the show began to start. Jeff walked up to a lone microphone in the middle of the stage.
“Welcome to E-Day,” he said. “I want to start by saying that I think I speak for all of us when I say none of us would be here today without Dominus. His courage, his fearlessness, his innovation is the reason that Ecclesium is able to help so many people take back control of their lives. I swear, if that man told me to jump off a bridge, you better believe I’d be diving headfirst into the ocean. And I can’t even swim!”
I rolled my eyes. God, Jeff’s humor was almost as bad as his singing.
“Seriously, he’s built such a wonderful thing here that I think we can all appreciate. So now we’re going to thank him in the only way we know how: a series of amateurish skits and musical numbers that will no doubt wind up on YouTube and embarrass us for years to come.”
I laughed along with the rest of the crowd. At least he was warming up a little bit. I looked over at you to see how you were enjoying it. You turned and gave me a smile.
“Now, I know we’re all here to celebrate how much we love this group, but I need you all to understand. I love it the most. I mean, seriously, I LOVE Ecclesium. Now, if you ask an apostate like Stacy Chapman, she’ll tell you I’m a broke, gullible, brainwashed fool. But let’s be honest, I think we can all agree that my brain can use a little washing!”
You leaned over to me as everyone laughed. “Who’s Stacy Chapman?”
“She’s the worst,” I whispered back. “She came out and made up all this fake stuff about us like we were this crazy cult and stole all her money. It’s ridiculous, really.”
You nodded, your brow furrowing in concern as you turned back toward the stage.
After a few more minutes of stand-up, Jeff finally stepped aside and introduced the next team out onto the stage. It was the Virginia Beach chapter of Ecclesium, and they’d prepared a parody musical theatre number about Dominus and the founding of Ecclesium.
I’m not a big musical guy, but even I could tell that a parody of the song “Into the Unknown” from Frozen 2 wasn’t exactly Broadway-level quality. I knew that not every group was going to be talented, but I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed. After all, I wanted you to like it.
I looked over to see if you were enjoying the show and was dismayed to find you looking down at your phone. My cheeks started burning as I turned back to the stage to watch the rest of the performance. I felt a sour pit in my stomach. Sure, they weren’t very good, but I couldn’t understand why you were being so rude and not even paying attention.
I watched the next few acts, glancing over at you every few minutes to see if you were enjoying it. Each time I found you looking at your phone. I could feel the anger rising in my chest. What was your problem?
After the fifth act had finished, the lights came back on as intermission started.
“I’ll be right back, I’m just going to use the restroom,” you said.
The Secret Service agents followed after you as you walked out of the hall.
I sat there at the table, my head resting against one hand as I picked at what was left of the food on my plate. Tonight felt like such a bust. The excitement I had felt at the beginning of the night turned to ash in my mouth as the pit in my stomach grew heavier.
“So, on a scale from 1-10, how much did I bomb?” asked Jeff as he slid into your seat.
I smiled. “You ever see something so unfunny that it actually starts to become funny in a sort of sick, twisted way?”
“Yeah, your acting career.”
I laughed and punched Jeff on the arm.
“Hey, Tuzla Escort by the way, I gotta ask,” he said, lowering his voice. “What’s up with the gay guy?”
“He’s the president’s son,” I said matter-of-factly.
“No shit! I was wondering who those meatheads were by the stage. I figured they were just somebody’s bodyguards or something.”
“Yeah, they’re pretty much with us all the time.” I continued picking at my food, tapping my fork against the plate.
He nodded. “So… you guys are friends, or…?”
I shrugged. “Yeah, I guess.”
“Because he’s kind of all over you. I mean, why was he holding your arm when you came in? Does he think you’re gay?”
My face was beginning to turn red. I wanted to tell him the truth, but Dominus had told me not to say anything about my mission. I also didn’t even know if I knew what the truth was anymore.
“I don’t know, Jeff,” I said.
“What are you-“
“You know, I gotta go check on him. I’ll be back. We can catch up after the show.” I got up to walk away, patting him on the back.
“Sure thing,” he said as I walked away.
I exited the hall and headed towards the bathrooms. I could see the Secret Service agents standing watch outside the door to the men’s room. I was about to go in when you came out.
“Colin, hey…” you said.
“So,” I asked. “What do you think?”
You gave me a forced smile. “It’s nice! It’s, uh, it’s a bit intense,” you said.
My face fell. “What do you mean? This is fun.”
“Totally! I’m having a great time, don’t get me wrong, I just… what’s up with all the Dominus stuff?”
“What about it?” I said coldly.
You scratched your head. “I mean, it’s like everybody worships the ground he walks on. Every skit was about him and how great he is. It’s kinda strange, isn’t it?”
“I don’t think so,” I said defensively. “We don’t worship him, he’s just a really smart guy. He’s helped a lot of people, myself included.”
“And what was up with that thing about Stacy Chapman? I looked up what she said and apparently, she’s made some serious allegations.”
You pulled out your phone. I could see the fucking Atlantic article on your screen. “Have you read this?”
I rolled my eyes. “You can’t believe the stuff you read on the news. It’s all just made-up propaganda. The media has a monopoly on keeping people down and afraid. They’re threatened by us, is all.”
You looked at me strangely. “Colin, something about all this gives me a weird feeling. How well do you know this Dominus guy? Could there be some truth to what this lady said?”
“There’s no fucking truth to it!” I snapped. “I’m the one that brought Stacy in, okay? It was my mistake. I thought she was cool, but she was just a dumb bitch who was desperate for attention. She wanted another five minutes of fame just like every other loser back in Hollywood, so she made up stories about us to try and make a name for herself. Surely you of all people know what it’s like to deal with people like that?”
The Secret Service agent standing nearby stepped forward. “Is everything okay, Zach?” he asked.
“It’s fine,” you said, waving him off.
You looked back at me with concern. “What’s going on with you? I’ve never heard you talk like this before.”
“Well, maybe you just don’t know me very well,” I said abruptly. I was steaming at this point. “You certainly don’t seem to be the best judge of character, at least as far as Dominus is concerned. He’s a great guy and he’s better than you or I will ever be.”
“…Okay,” you said quietly, your hands raised in an effort to calm me. “Maybe we should just go back inside-“
“Maybe you should just go home,” I said. I could feel a fury rising inside me and I have to admit, something deep inside of me wanted to hurt you in some way.
Your face fell. “But I thought-“
“This was supposed to be fun, but clearly you’re hating it, so maybe we should just call it quits.”
You bit your lip. I could tell you were holding back tears. “Do you really mean that?”
I looked away from you. My brain was screaming at me to stop, that I was being a complete idiot. But I could still feel the rage inside me, wanting you to suffer.
You turned back to the Secret Service agent and nodded. He followed after you as you walked past me, heading off toward the exit.
I walked slowly back into the main room and took my seat back at the table. I tried to watch the rest of the festivities, but I was still seething from our earlier interaction. I had been so hurt by your reaction to Ecclesium. I felt like I’d shown you a part of my soul, and you’d tossed it out like some piece of trash.
“Well, good riddance,” I thought, although I knew I didn’t mean it. I kept repeating that in my head, trying to convince myself that I had done the right thing by sending you away.
You had hurt me. You didn’t understand me. You never could.
By the time the night was over, the only thing I’d convinced myself of was that I had Anadolu Yakası Escort made a colossal mistake.
I’d never seen Dominus so angry as I did when I told him what had happened.
“What the fuck were you thinking?” he said.
Dominus was rarely even short-tempered, so to see him this angry was something new.
“You wanted me to bring him in, but he wasn’t having it. He just thought we were a bunch of cult freaks. It’s not gonna work, he doesn’t want anything to do with us.”
“You think after one night he’s already made up his mind? That after all this effort, one bad impression is all it takes for us to lose him? You were just going to throw all that away because, what—your feelings got hurt? There’s a lot more at stake here than you realize, Colin,” said Dominus.
I frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“I mean we’re broke. We have no corporate sponsors anymore. They all pulled out after the Stacy Chapman article.”
“What?” I asked. “I don’t… what about the money from courses? Isn’t that enough to help us get by?”
Dominus shook his head. “That article has had a serious chilling effect. Course enrollment is less than half of what it was a month ago. We’re not gonna survive for long.” He sighed, rubbing his forehead. “We need Zach to help us gain access to deep pockets again. Otherwise, Ecclesium is over.”
“I didn’t know that-“
“Well, you don’t need to know every little thing in order to do what I ask you, do you?” snapped Dominus. He softened a bit. “Listen, you made a mistake with Stacy, it wasn’t your fault. You can’t go back and change the past. But if you just keep working with him a little longer, I promise you, he is going to be the key to fixing everything.”
“I’m so sorry, Dominus. I’ll fix this, I promise. Just please know that-“
“I don’t need your apologies, Colin. I need you to do exactly what I tell you, when I tell you.”
I nodded. “All right. Tell me what to do.”
“You need to call him, apologize to him. Tell him you were being oversensitive. Don’t even bother trying to defend Ecclesium, just focusing on repairing the relationship. You can leave the convincing up to us.”
I got up to leave. “What do I do if he doesn’t forgive me?”
Dominus shrugged. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”
I called you right after I left Dominus’ office. My heart pounded as the phone rang. I had no idea what I was even going to say to make up for the way I had treated you. But I didn’t have to wonder too long—your phone rang several times, but you didn’t pick up.
I hung up the phone, silently cursing. I drove over to your apartment, pulling up behind the Secret Service agents’ car outside. As I walked up to your door, the agents opened their car doors and got out onto the sidewalk.
“He’s expecting me,” I said as I tried to push past them.
“Uh-uh, buddy,” the agent said as he blocked my way. “Turn around and go home.”
“Just tell him to come out here,” I said angrily.
“You need to turn around and leave now.”
“At least tell him I’m here!” I shouted. “Please-“
“I’m not gonna ask you again,” the agent said, reaching for his gun.
You stood in the open door with your arms crossed. The look of fear in your eyes sent a shot of pain right through my heart.
“Zach, I need to talk to you,” I said. The agent was eying me warily, standing in between the two of us with his hand still on his gun.
“About what?” you asked. “You told me you wanted to call it quits. That was pretty clear.”
“Please,” I said. “Let me come in. I just wanna talk.”
You stared at me for a moment, your eyes full of sadness. Finally you nodded.
“Okay,” you said.
The agent glared at me, then stepped aside to let me past. I followed you through the door into your living room.
“This place is nice,” I said as you sat down on the couch. You grabbed a pillow and stared at me nervously.
“It’s bigger than it looks from the outside. And I like the walls, the pastel is-“
“Colin, what do you need to say?” you asked quietly.
I was silent for a moment as I stood nervously in front of you. How could I begin to undo the damage I had done?
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I fucked up. I shouldn’t have reacted that way, it wasn’t cool.”
You sighed. “You really hurt me.”
“I know…” I said softly.
You shook your head. “I don’t understand you. One minute I feel like you really like me and the next it’s like you’re afraid of me or something. I’ll touch you and you’ll cringe away from me.”
“I’m not afraid of you,” I said, looking away from you. “I just… I told you, Zach. This is all new to me.”
I closed my eyes. God, this was so painful. I wanted to apologice to you fully, to tell you so many things. I wanted to tell you that I was lying to you, that I was only pretending to be gay to get close to you.
But I knew that that was no longer true. Whatever ulterior motive I had had when I first met you, something real had started happening within me. In fact, it would all be easier if I actually did feel nothing for you. Then I could simply pretend.
Still, I didn’t feel as though I had any other choice but to continue lying. Ecclesium was everything to me. I would be nothing without it.
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