A Question of Honor

by Alma J. Yates

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    Trevor Sims turned the volume up on the radio as he turned down Cherry Drive and accelerated for home. Now that Brad was gone and he was alone, he needed a distraction to ward off his nagging conscience. Earlier, while Brad had been with him, everything had been so funny. They had laughed and made light of their evening, but how as Trevor drove home there were mirthless regrets. The humor had long since dissipated; only the bitter realization remained.

    He pulled into the driveway and parked the family car. He saw a lamp burning in the living room. He squirmed uneasily in his seat and suddenly felt a queasy reluctance to go inside. Did his parents know, he wondered. Several excuses flashed through his mind, excuses which had seemed so valid earlier and now seemed empty and trite.

    Whistling quietly in an attempt to allay his own anxiety and appear casual, he strode across the lawn, leaped up the steps, and pushed open the front door. His father sat in his easy chair reading his scriptures, something he did early every morning—or when he was troubled. Trevor glanced at his watch and then at his father, who peered over the top of his reading glasses.

    “You’re up late,” Trevor remarked with a forced smile. “Checking up on me?”

    His father closed his scriptures and pulled the glasses from his nose and smiled. “How did it go?” he inquired cheerfully. “Did you have a good time?”

    Trevor avoided his father’s eyes, sank onto the sofa, and grabbed a magazine. “Oh, it was all right,” he remarked, thumbing through the magazine. He could feel his father’s gaze upon him, and he sensed a warm guilt redden his cheeks. That was what happened when a boy’s father was the bishop, he thought. Bishops seemed to have that uncanny ability to look right inside you and know what secret thoughts you harbored there. Of course, Trevor’s father had been like that even before he was made bishop, but Trevor felt it more nowadays, especially tonight.

    “How did you like Michelle?”

    Trevor shrugged indifferently, trying to avoid an untruth. The thought of telling a lie to his father had always been repugnant to him, and yet right now he didn’t feel capable of telling the truth. The truth shamed him. He groped for a noncommittal answer, one that would not plunge him into a lie but which would circumvent the truth just enough. “Oh, Michelle’s all right—for a sophomore. She’s not the greatest girl in the world, but she’s—well, I don’t know how to describe her. I’m not planning to go out with her again if that’s what you mean.”

    “She called tonight,” his father said simply. It was a mere statement, and yet the words hit Trevor like a powerful hammer. His stomach knotted, and he felt the blood creep up his neck and flood his cheeks.

    “What’d she want?” Trevor asked, attempting to sound disinterested.

    His father set his scriptures to one side and sat up, his forearms on his knees and his head and shoulders leaning forward. “She called about an hour after you left. She was wondering where you were.” The room was silent. Trevor suddenly wished that the evening had been different. “I told her that there was no need to worry, that I was sure you would be there soon. I said you might have had car trouble or that Brad might have been late.” He chuckled. “I think she was worried you might stand her up. I told her not to worry though. I told her you weren’t that kind of a boy.”

    “I guess we did have a little trouble,” Trevor explained, fidgeting and thumbing rapidly through the magazine and then closing it without having read a single word. “Well, I better get to bed. That welfare project at the stake farm is tomorrow morning, isn’t it?”

    “Six o’clock.”

    Trevor stood and started down the hall to his bedroom.

    “Trevor,” his father called after him. Trevor stopped without turning around. “Did Michelle have a good time?”

    “How should I know? I didn’t ask her.” There was a sharp edge in his voice, one he rarely used with his father, and he had not meant to use it then. It just slipped out.

    “I was just wondering,” his father replied, no rebuke in his voice. “These girls’ choice dances are always hard on a girl. They take them so seriously. It would be a shame if they worked and waited for weeks and then didn’t have a good time. I always worry about the girls.”

    “Well, I didn’t ask her,” Trevor mumbled. “I guess I’m going to bed.”

    Inside his bedroom, Trevor sat on the edge of his bed without getting undressed. He grabbed his pillow and flung it angrily across the room. If his father had accused him, he wouldn’t feel so bad now, but he had merely asked, not out of suspicion but out of concern. Trevor slammed his fist hard into the mattress. If he had not just listened to Brad’s proddings, Trevor thought. If he had just said no rather than having toyed with the idea as he had done and finally succumbed to Brad’s coaxing.

    For almost 15 minutes he sat on the edge of his bed, his conscience refusing him any peace. Finally he stood, opened his door, and returned to the living room, where his father still sat reading.

    “You might as well know it. I didn’t pick her up,” Trevor blurted out, as though he were challenging his father to chastize him, ground him, anything to appease his conscience. His father looked up but didn’t answer. “I didn’t want to go,” Trevor argued. “Brad didn’t want to go either, so we stood them up. They shouldn’t have asked us. I hate these girls’ choice dances. You’re always stuck with someone you’d never pick in a thousand years.”

    “Like the girls are most of the time?” his father asked with a wan smile.

    “That’s different. It’s the boy’s job to ask. If the girl doesn’t want to go she doesn’t have to.”

    His father took a deep breath and stared down at his opened scriptures. “All she has to do is stand the guy up. Is that what you mean?” he asked softly.

    Trevor licked his lips. “No, she can, well, she can tell him when he calls.”

    His father set his scriptures aside. “Couldn’t you have done the same thing with Michelle?” he asked in the same quiet tone.

    “She had no business asking me,” he retorted, searching for some justification. “Nobody told her I wanted to go. She hardly knows me. And she’s as homely as a mud fence—glasses, braces, and she’s only a sophomore.”

    “Does any of that give you the right to hurt another person, to break a promise?”

    “I didn’t promise.”

    “Didn’t you accept the date?”

    “But I didn’t promise. I didn’t promise I would go.”

    His father took a deep breath. “Trevor, a person does not have to preface everything with ‘I promise’ to make a promise. When a person says he will be at a certain place at a certain time, he has made a promise. If he fails to appear, unless there is a very good reason, he has broken his promise. Maybe not in a court of law, but he’s broken a promise in the Lord’s court—in the long run that’s the only one that counts.”

    Trevor looked at his father and then at the floor. He pushed his hands into his pockets and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. He knew his father was right. His own argument was just a front, a hasty attempt to clothe a wrong in respectability. “Okay, I should have gone,” Trevor admitted begrudgingly. “I’m sorry.”

    “I told Michelle I was sure you would come. I told her that you weren’t the kind of young man to let a person down, that you were true to your word.”

    “Look, dad, I said I was sorry.”

    His father nodded his head. “I know you’re sorry, Trevor, but I don’t deserve the apology. I wasn’t stood up. I guess I’m a little disappointed, but I’ll get over that because I know you. I know that you probably didn’t do this maliciously. I accept that. I doubt you’ll ever do anything like this again. But, Trevor, someone has been wronged. Someone has been hurt.”

    “Oh, it’s no big deal. It was just a dumb dance. There will be another one sometime. She can ask someone then—someone that wants to go.”

    His father shook his head ruefully. “It’s more than a dumb dance, Trevor. It’s your word and Michelle’s feelings, her entire evening and probably more than that.”

    “Come on, you’re making a big deal out of it. If I got stood up, I wouldn’t lose sleep over it.”

    “You’re not a girl. It’s different with a boy.” He paused. “When did Michelle ask you?”

    “Two or three weeks ago.”

    “Do you ask girls out that much in advance?”

    Trevor shook his head. “No, because it’s no big deal, as you said. But with a girl like Michelle it is a big deal. She’s planned this. Maybe it’s her first date. She probably made a dress just for tonight. She’s probably planned this thing for weeks, even before she asked you. She probably fixed her hair special. She has probably talked this over with her friends. She’s proud and honored that you accepted, and all her friends will know that. They will also know you didn’t show up.

    “With a boy it’s different. He takes a shower, combs his hair wet, puts on the same suit, walks out the door, and doesn’t really think about the evening until it’s started. If he’s ever stood up, he might let off a little steam, his friends might kid him in the locker room, and then he forgets the whole thing, unless it’s to joke about it later.”

    Trevor’s father bowed his head and was silent for a moment, and then he continued, his voice soft: “This wasn’t just a dumb dance for Michelle. I know. You have two older sisters. I’ve watched them get ready. I’ve watched them wait and fret, and I’ve seen them when they were brokenhearted.” He looked up at Trevor and asked, “How would you feel if someone did to your sister Susan what you have done to Michelle?”

    “She doesn’t even date.”

    “She will.” He paused. “How would you feel?” he persisted. “Would it be no big deal? It would be a big deal to me.”

    Trevor knew he was wrong. He had known it all during the movie he and Brad had decided to see. “All right,” he conceded, “I’ll apologize Monday. Will that make you happy?”

    His father leaned back in his chair. “Trevor, you didn’t stand me up. Michelle is the one you need to consider, her and Brother and Sister Stewart. They’ve all been anxious. Are you going to make them wait and wonder until Monday?”

    “You don’t expect me to go there tonight?”

    “You told her you would be there.”

    “But, dad, it’s almost midnight. They’ll all be in bed.”

    “I doubt it. With her hair fixed, her new dress ready, her parents and family expectant, excited to greet this young man their daughter and sister has asked out. No, she won’t be in bed. She won’t be ready to go to a dance, but sleep won’t come easy tonight, not for any of them. Do you think it’s fair for you to go to bed and sleep and leave them hanging, not knowing why?”

    “But, Dad, not tonight,” Trevor pleaded.

    His father took a deep breath and began to speak: “I knew a boy once who stood up a girl. He was a senior, like you. She was a junior. It was a hayride for a girls’ glee club. She asked him to go, and he accepted—reluctantly.

    “First of all he felt quite superior to the girl. He was an athlete and rather popular. She was shy and a little homely. Her complexion wasn’t good. She wore braces and glasses. For two weeks he thought of how he might get out of his commitment. Well, the night of the hayride he had a bit of a cold. Nothing serious. He had gone to school, but he rationalized that he was too sick to go on a hayride.

    “Half an hour before the date he called her and cancelled. He tried to sound sick, but she wasn’t fooled, even though she did accept his excuse graciously. He went to bed to at least give his excuse a semblance of truth. But he didn’t sleep. He had lied, and he knew it; he knew that there were some girls who could have asked him and he would have made the date regardless.

    “At 11 o’clock that evening he got out of bed and went over and apologized to her. I know for a fact that it was the most difficult thing he had ever done up to that point. I also know for a fact that he never regretted doing it.”

    The room was silent. Trevor stared at the floor and stuffed his hands into his pockets. He wished he could relive the evening. He was trapped. He could go to his room and climb into bed, but sleep would elude him. His father was right, and yet he hesitated, his cowardice standing obstinately in his way. “So you think I should go tonight, is that it?”

    “Trevor, I’ve always had a lot of faith in you. I still do. I can’t make decisions for you. You have to decide. But whatever you do, make sure that you’re the one who decides. Don’t go because you think I want you to, because when you look back on this moment, you’ll want to look back on something that you decided and did.”

    The minutes ticked away. Trevor stood before his father, not debating his course of action. That was settled, even though he had not yet verbalized his resolve. The pause was an attempt to build his courage. It had taken no courage to leave Michelle waiting. It would require a great deal of courage to face her now.

    “Can I take the car?” he asked in a whisper. His father nodded. Slowly he turned and walked to the front door, his stomach churning, his mouth dry and his hands slightly shaking.

    On the way over to the Stewarts’ home Trevor hoped that the house would be dark, everyone in bed, giving him an excuse to postpone the confrontation. He groped for an apology, something that would lessen the ignominy of his tardiness, but his nervousness prevented him from organizing anything coherent.

    Finally he was there. One light burned in an upstairs window. He knew if he lingered in the car for just a moment he would lose courage and never go through with it. He stepped from the car, and before he fully realized it he was at the door ringing the bell. His heart was pounding, and his breathing was deep and almost painful. All the while he hoped that no one would come, that the upstairs light would flick off and leave him in the black stillness.

    Soon he heard footsteps; then the porch light flipped on and the front door opened a few inches. Mr. Stewart stood there, still dressed, no sign that he had been in bed that evening. There was no smile or greeting, just a curt “Yes?” which came out more as a challenge than a question.

    “Is Michelle up?” Trevor ventured, his voice cracking slightly. Mr. Stewart stared at him for a moment without answering and then nodded his head. “Can I speak with her?”

    Mr. Stewart looked at his watch and glanced back into the house. “It’s a little late,” he answered shortly.

    “I know, but I think I need to talk to her—if I could.”

    Mr. Stewart took a deep breath and said gruffly, “I’ll go check.” He was about to leave Trevor standing on the porch, but he reconsidered and invited him in by opening the door a little wider and motioning with his head.

    For almost five minutes Trevor waited, and then Mrs. Stewart stepped in and said, “She’ll be here in just a second.”

    “Oh, Mrs. Stewart,” Trevor called out, “could you and your husband come in too.”

    The three of them were soon standing there. The two parents entered somberly and Michelle followed timidly, avoiding his eyes, but even in the shadows of the dimly lighted room Trevor could see she had been crying. She wore her dress, and although her hair was a little messed up, it was apparent that it had been fixed earlier.

    “I want you to know,” Trevor began shakily, licking his lips and shuffling his feet, “that I have no excuse for tonight. I’m sorry. I’m not here to tell you why I didn’t come, because that doesn’t make any difference now.” He paused and sucked in a breath of air. “I’m here to tell you that … well, that I’m sorry. I know that doesn’t fix things up, but about all I can do tonight is tell you that I realize how wrong and cruel I was. I guess I didn’t think about that earlier, or I wouldn’t have done it.”

    “It’s all right,” Michelle mumbled, looking at the floor.

    There was a long awkward silence, and then Trevor continued: “There is something I would like to do though. I know you think I’m a real—well, I don’t know what—and I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to avoid me and never see me again, but I would like to show you that tonight isn’t a good example of what I’m like. I think I’m better than that, and I’d like to prove it to you. I would like to take you someplace, someplace nice, and show you that I’m a lot better than what you probably think I am. I know I don’t have any right to ask you to go, but I’d like you to give me another chance. I won’t blame you if you don’t want to. I’ll understand if you say no.”

    Trevor couldn’t remember the rest. He didn’t know how he finally ended up in the car, but he was there and he felt good. He was even looking forward to the next weekend, and he was determined that it would be a memorable one.

    When he arrived home, the light in the living room was still on, and as he came in the door he found his father still reading. At least the scriptures were still on his lap, but Trevor guessed that his father had not read much. The misty blur in his father’s eyes was evidence of that. His father looked up as he came in.

    “Well,” Trevor announced humbly, “I did it.” His father smiled. “I knew you would. I’m proud of you. It took a lot of courage, but you’ll be a better person for having gone.”

    They were both pensively silent for several minutes, each content to be alone with his own thoughts. Finally his father sighed. “You know that boy I told you about earlier?” he asked. Trevor nodded. “Well, he forgot about that girl—for a little while anyway.” He smiled. “After his mission and two years of college, he saw her again. She had changed.” He chuckled, leaned back, and stared up at the ceiling. “She had shed her braces and glasses, and her complexion had improved. She wasn’t the same girl. In fact, he didn’t even recognize her at first. He wanted to ask her out, but he didn’t dare. He was afraid she would remember. She was in demand then. Finally he built up his courage and asked her out, hoping all along that she wouldn’t remember that night five years earlier. She did though, but she accepted anyway. She told him later—after they were engaged to be married—that it was because he had gone to her home that evening and apologized that she accepted his date later. She said she knew how much courage it must have taken and she always respected him for that.”

    Trevor smiled and glanced slyly at his father. “I think I know that boy.”

    “Which boy?” his father asked with mock surprise.

    “The boy you’re talking about.”

    His father smiled, pushed himself to his feet, stepped up to his son, and put his arm over his shoulders. “Yes,” he said with a smile, “I think you do know him. I believe he married your mother.”

    Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh