"I don't know what the fuck God was thinking," Luke thought to himself as he walked out of the house where the body of the best friend he had ever known as a child had lain rotting. "There is only one way to make sense of all this."
Ok, let's go back a few years - twelve to be exact.
When Luke was 10 years old the authorities came and took him from his natural mother and father and put him in a foster home. Luke was happy about that. He had been the victim of abuse all his life from his father. And his mother was ambivalent about the whole thing. She didn't abuse him physically, like his dad did, but she allowed it to happen, and often even seemed unconcerned. Most of the time she seemed to support her husband in the matter, making up excuses for him and blaming Luke for his poor treatment.
"You know you really don't have anyone to blame but yourself," she often told him as she wiped the blood from whatever part of his body had been battered that time. "I would go apologize to your father for your behavior and maybe he won't need to punish you again."
What was the awful behavior that garnered such harsh treatment from his parents. Did he hurt his little sister? No, since he was an only child. Was he caught stealing? Nope. His real crimes were things like forgetting to pick up his skateboard from his bedroom floor, or maybe he had been late for dinner. Whatever it was, it was minor.
His father was a burly, hairy man, standing about six-one and often smelled like old booze. In contrast, Luke was rail-thin, on the short side of average, with pale blue eyes, blond hair, and the cutest dimples any mother could ask for. Well, except for his mother.
One afternoon as Luke walked in the front door from school, his father was waiting for him. "Why the hell did you tell your teacher that I gave you those bruises?"
"I didn't, Dad. I swear. She asked me and I told her I must have fallen down," he pleaded.
But Luke knew what was going to happen next. His step-grandfather had been a barber. And his dad took possession of the leather strap that hung on the barber chair to sharpen his razor. It was called a razor strap. It was his father's favorite torture device. Luke cringed as his father swung the strap back above his head and then flung it forward, striking Luke on the left shoulder. Luke spun around, but his father continued to strap him across his back again and again, probably a dozen times. Luke fell to the floor sobbing.
"Get up, you little baby. That was nothing compared to what you're gonna get if that teacher calls here again!"
His mother was sitting on the couch across the room, watching TV, paying little attention to the beating he had just received.
His teachers at school had been getting increasingly suspicious. But Luke didn't dare tell them because he knew what his father would do to him. But a couple of weeks later, when he came to school with unexplained bruises and a black eye from yet another encounter with his father, his teacher took him to the school nurse. She called Child Protective Services. Two weeks later, after an investigation, he was in his new home, and his parents were in jail.
"I guess God got his revenge," Luke thought after he heard the news that he was being placed with a loving foster family. Yes, Luke had been raised as a Christian. His parents were not very devout, but they did go to church occasionally. Statistically, most child abusers in America are Christian and many attend church. It's also true that protestant pastors are just as likely to rape a child as Catholic priests are. But that's neither here nor there as Luke's father was neither. Luke's father was a whore-mongering bastard with a drinking problem and a quick temper. And no, don't judge me for judging him harshly. He actually was a bastard, the son of a prostitute. Neither he nor his mom knew who his father was. He did have a step-father, though. He was a drunken barber.
Luke's dad had been known to have him some paid-for poontang himself, including his own mother. That's right; after he was old enough to get a job, his mother charged him for what he had gotten free as a young teen.
But let us not digress too much. His father's problems can't excuse what he did to Luke. Not in the slightest. Luke was just happy to finally be out of that situation. And he was truly digging his new digs. It was a large house, in a nice, quiet neighborhood. The streets had large shade trees lining both sides. All the lawns were neatly manicured, and most of them had flowers planted along the driveways. His new home had a large backyard with a playground and an above-ground swimming pool. He noticed two young kids splashing in it and throwing a beach ball back and forth. He could hardly wait to join in.
His new foster parents seemed very nice. They greeted him warmly and gave him a giant hug. The best part is he also was the recipient of four instant foster siblings! He now had two brothers and two sisters. They ranged in age from four to his own age, 10. The oldest foster sibling was Paul, age 10. He was quite eager to show Luke around the place and show him his new bedroom, which the two would now share.
Paul was the product of a broken home and also some parental abuse, though not to the extent that Luke had endured. His father left more than a year ago and his mother was a drug addict. Paul had been taken from his mother only three months earlier and placed in the foster home run by Mr. and Mrs. Kelsey. The Kelseys encouraged all their foster children to call them "Mom" and "Dad." They had no clue how long each child would be with them, but as long as they were, they wanted to make it seem as much like a real family as possible.
The Kelseys were more religious than Luke's real mom and dad. They went to church most every Sunday; they had an actual bible in the house - the King James Version. The house was also decorated with some religious paraphernalia. There were a couple of bible verses engraved into ceramic plaques hanging on the kitchen wall. There was also a ceramic "praying hands" sculpture on the mantle.
Mrs. Kelsey read stories from the bible once or twice per week to the children before bedtime. Luke's favorite bible story was Noah's Ark.
"Were there dinosaurs aboard the ark?" he asked Mrs. Kelsey one evening. "My teacher says all the dinosaurs were killed by an asteroid. Did that happen before or after Noah?"
"It's complicated," she replied. "Some of the stories in the bible are meant to deliver a deeper message than what the words say on the surface. We need to keep searching for the real meaning in the stories. Not all of them really happened just in that way."
"But how do we know what the real meaning is?" he asked.
"We just have to trust in God's divine plan," she answered. "One day it will all become clear to us."
"No offense, Mom. But that kind of sounds like an excuse people tell when they don't know, or when things don't make sense," Luke said with a shitty grin on his face.
"Don't be so smart!" Mrs. Kelsey snapped back. "God has a plan for us. But nobody really knows what that plan is. We can't tell the future, but God can."
The Kelseys and their foster children were a very happy family. They did things together. They had picnics in the park. They went to the local street fair. They went to church events. And during Christmas, each of the Kelsey foster children had a part in the church nativity play.
Luke and Paul had become best friends. They stuck together like they were pasted with putty. They were the same age, the same height, shared many of the same interests (astronomy and baseball), and they were even in the same classes in both fourth and fifth grades. Paul's eyes and hair were brown, which is how their foster mother could tell them apart. Well, at least that's what she would jokingly tell them.
"Do you think it was part of God's plan that Paul and I both got to come to the same foster home?" Luke asked his "mom" one day after school. His query came out of nowhere, but Mrs. Kelsey never skipped a beat.
"Of course," she quickly replied. "Nothing happens that's not part of God's plan. And you can see how He rescued you from where you used to live, and your old family. God just knows what's best for us."
Over the ensuing years Luke and Paul had had to get used to changing out their younger siblings. At least three times during the past six years they had lost all three younger siblings, which were quickly replaced by three more. First one kid, then another would be adopted out. Others would then show up to be included in the Kelsey household as foster siblings. And Mr. and Mrs. Kelsey would always welcome them with love and devotion, just as they had with Luke and Paul.
When they both were in the tenth grade, Luke met a young lady named Lilith. They shared a history class together while Paul was in math across the hall. Lilith was very pretty. She also had dimples, long blond hair, blue eyes, and a smile that could launch a ship. She was adorable. And Luke was really crushing on her. He was 16 and hormonal. He couldn't help it. It's a teen thing. All he knew was that Lilith was beautiful and he wanted some of that thing.
Along with his spiking hormones, Luke had also developed into a striking young man with no pimples. Behaviorally, he was still a bit awkward around girls he thought were cute, but then who isn't, right? He did manage to work up enough nerve to ask her on a date and was a bit surprised when she told him yes without him having to beg or anything.
So how did his best friend feel about Luke making plans to have fun with someone who wasn't him?
"Wait, what? You're going to fucking take a chick to see Space Squalls? We had plans to see that movie. What the fuck, man. Shit!" Yeah, Paul wasn't too pleased. But when Lilith told Luke that she could arrange for her best friend to go with them to see the movie, on a double date, and a blind date for Paul, Paul accepted. Paul had not matured physically as fast as Luke and so had had little success trolling for arm candy. So he jumped at the chance.
And then it happened.
They had been a part of the Kelsey family for six years and no prospective parents had ever shown more than a passing interest in adopting either of them. But all of a sudden, on the day of their double date, two couples - that's right, two - came to the foster home in search of teenage boys to call their own. Both sets of parents had been cleared by Child Protective Services and referred to the Kelsey household. When the two boys got home from school, their new parents were waiting for them.
"See, I told you. God has a plan for us all. And today is when his plan for you gets fulfilled," Mrs. Kelsey told her two foster sons.
The boys had some major mixed emotions. They were very happy and excited that they would finally be adopted and be part of a real family. At the same time, they were heartbroken over having to leave the only parents they had known for the past six years - not to mention they would have to take a pass on the date they had arranged with their newly-found hardbodies.
But the worst part about it, as they soon discovered, was that Luke would be going to Scranton, PA and Paul would stay with his new parents in Bangor, ME, only about 12 miles from his current home. That's not exactly walking distance! How the heck were they supposed to be friends now?
But, such is life. You take the good with the bad, right?
Luke became friends with another young lady he had met in Scranton. They graduated high school together and shortly thereafter he asked her, Beth, to marry him. Yes, he was young. But he had taken an apprentice position with his adoptive father's software business. Luke had become quite the coder and had plans to attend a local tech college while working part time with his dad. Beth would attend college full time at the same school. She had received a full scholarship. So they saw no real reason to put off getting married. They had been going together for almost a year, since the beginning of their senior year.
Things seemed to be working out quite well for them. They did get married; they attended college, and Beth was hired by a local law office as a clerk. Luke had moved up in his father's company and was now senior programmer. Things were working out so well for them that they decided, at age 22, to try to have a baby.
"My foster mom, Mrs. Kelsey, was right after all, I guess," Luke told his wife.
"How so," she questioned.
"She always told me that God had a plan for me, for all of us, and that one day I would see that His plan would work out. I love you so much, Beth. And I want to raise a family with you. This all has to be part of God's divine plan, don't you think?"
"I'm sure it is," she replied, and then gave him a big kiss. Beth believed in God but had never been that religious. After she married Luke, they had started to attend a local non-denominational church. The congregation was small and everyone knew everyone else. It was rather close-knit.
Luke had not really kept up with his friend, Paul, while he was in Pennsylvania. Oh, they were still Facebook friends, but Paul didn't post very often. He didn't talk much about his new family or what it was like in Bangor. He mostly just talked about video games or how he sucked in school.
When Paul went to live with his new adoptive parents he was at first happy with his new family. He no longer had any siblings, so he felt lonely at times, but his new mom and dad gave him a lot of attention. About a year later, though, his new parents started showing him the wrong kind of attention. They actually started to make Paul feel uncomfortable. They did things in front of him that most parents would be reluctant to do in front of their child: They made out while watching porn videos. Eventually, they even started having sex right in front of him, and invited him to stay and watch.
At some point, his parents started insisting that he participate in their love making. The father even started threatening him if he refused. This began about a year-and-a-half after his adoption.
Luke was puzzled at first why his friend would no longer post anything on Facebook, or even reply to his messages. He thought about going to visit his best friend, but his life had been very busy lately, with college, graduation, being married, planning a family. Then,one evening, he did get a Facebook message from Paul. But it wasn't Paul. It was his foster mother, Mrs. Kelsey. She was on Paul's account that he had created on her laptop when he was living there. She told Luke that something was wrong with Paul. She had heard about it when inquiring with Family Services, but they were coy.
Luke knew Paul's address in Maine. Paul had shared that with him a few months back, hoping that maybe Luke would come visit him sometime. He told Beth that he needed to go check it out. He owed his friend that much.
Beth agreed. They would both go.
In Bangor, the house where Paul had called home for the past several years, since his adoption, was a crime scene. His adoptive parents had been handcuffed and taken away. When Luke and Beth arrived, the police were gone but the tape was still up, around the house. They crossed it and stepped into the rickety old house. It smelled awful. Once, when he and Paul had gone fishing, they had captured several nightcrawlers and put them into a jar with a lid. The next morning they were going fishing, but their foster parents insisted on taking them clothes shopping instead. They forgot about the worms. When they returned, they remembered. They opened the jar, which had been sitting in the sun, tightly closed, and the smell almost knocked them down. It was the worst odor Luke had ever smelled - until now.
A police officer walked up and told Luke he would have to leave. He asked what had happened. He explained to the officer that he and Paul had been foster brothers. Hesitantly, the officer began.
Paul's adoptive parents had been abusive to him, the officer said. And not like it was with his real father years ago. That was bad. This was almost ineffable. The officer choked back a catch in his throat and wiped an eye with his forefinger. He was one of the prime investigators of this case and he was privy to all the information from Paul's former parents, his foster care, and his adoption.
According to the reports, his adoptive father would regularly burn him all over with a lit cigar. The mother would force him to have sex with her, while the father video taped it. They would tie him up and both of them would rape him at the same time. The father would hold his bound arms behind him while his mother sucked his penis. When he couldn't get an erection, his father would tighten the handcuffs around his wrists until they bled. He couldn't scream because they gagged him.
Then it was his father's turn. The mom would bend him over a chair and hold him down while his father had anal sex with him. The father would also force him to do oral sex with him as the mother watched.
They kept him out of school. When they were not molesting him, they would lock him in a small, hot closet. Sometimes he would be in there for days. They fed him cat food, if they fed him at all. If he refused their sexual advances they would beat him with the handcuffs they used to restrain him. They even pushed him down the stairs on numerous occasions, just for the fun of it. And what is even more curious about the incidents, the parents were not drunk or on drugs. They were simply abusive because it turned them on. The father would get an erection from seeing his son in misery. The mother would slap Paul around just to watch her husband's penis get hard.
Finally, after abusing him to within an inch of his life one night, they threw him in the closet and left him there for days, with no food or water. He was sitting on the floor in the closet, alone, in his own bodily filth in temperatures that reached into the 90s until his young, frail body finally gave out. He was 22 and should have been able to fend for himself. But years of abuse and lack of nourishment had stunted his growth. He was weak and frail, his ribs easily visible through his slim torso.
When he died, alone in the closet, his parents just left him there to rot. He was there for a couple of weeks before one of the neighbors noticed a weird smell coming from the property and called the police.
Luke walked away from the house and sat down on the curb. He was traumatized. He stared blankly into the street while Beth tried to comfort him the best she could. Luke could say but one sentence. He kept repeating, "There is just one way to make sense of this."
Luke was forced by his own mind to consider the plausibility that the same Divine Plan to which he had given credit for his own life with his new wife, new job, and new home could also be the Divine Plan that allowed the heinous torture and death of his best friend. There was no reconciling this. No excuses could be made for the God he had always believed in. If he was supposed to give credit to God for watching out for him and allowing his life to turn out so well, then he had to give blame to that God for the unbelievably tormented life of Paul. To believe otherwise would be fomenting a self-delusion.
After an hour, Beth convinced Luke that they should go back to the hotel. Beth drove, because Luke was still in a stupor. But after they had settled in, and Luke had washed his face, he said to his wife, "Mrs. Kelsey always told me, 'Nothing happens that's not part of God's plan,' and I believed her. Was Paul's unspeakable torture and...and the way he died, was that also part of God's divine plan?"
Beth looked stunned. She didn't know what to say at that point. Nothing she could say would help anyway. They sat in silence, caressing each other's hands, thinking about what it all meant.
Finally, Luke spoke, soft and gentle. "I've lost two friends today. Paul was my best friend since we were 10. I will miss him so much." He paused. His voice broke a bit as he uttered, "I've also lost the friend I used to call God. I know now that the God I believed in can't possibly exist. It's impossible for this to happen in a world where God exists."
Luke looked into his wife's eyes and he knew she couldn't join him - not today anyway. Her lips twitched, a sure sign she wanted to say something. But something held her back. She loved him enough to let him grieve. And he loved her enough to give her time to realize what he had just realized. They again clasped hands, as tears streamed down their cheeks.