Discovering Love

Written by Rick Beck

Chapter 18

Dueling Axes

How much later it was I don't know, but my eyes were blinking from the brilliant light of the new day. It had found its way right into my face as the sun shinned through the branches of distant trees. There was smoke rising out just in front of the window. It alarmed me at first until I leaned up on my elbows to see Greg's father working over the grill where he had cooked the evening meal.

"Morning," he said as I shivered up close to the grill.

"Morning," I said feeling chilled to the bone.

"Sleep well?" he asked.

"Yes, sir."

"Good!"

"What's that?" I inquired, watching his leather hands turning the mystery meat that looked a lot like chicken.

"This," he said picking up a piece off the fire. "That's rabbit. Dwight and I picked it out at the market last night."

"Dwight? I don't guess I met him, huh?"

"Dwight stays aloof. He's my black lab. He's out doing his own business this morning. He does that. Independent sort. I try not to crowd him if I can help it."

"There's a market up here? I thought...?" My confusion was obvious.

"This entire mountain is a market, Martin."

He chuckled as we talked and he mostly paid attention to the food. He talked about the hunt, when he found me curious about this outdoor market. He'd gone out after we all went to bed. He'd shot rabbit, brought it back, cleaned it, and when I woke up, he was cooking it for breakfast. Time wasn't something I knew much about then. I didn't think there was time enough for him to get in all that stuff and still find time to sleep, but Greg's father always had plenty of time to do whatever needed doing.

"I thought we might see you this morning," Greg's father said.

I was confused as I thought he was talking to the rabbit he was attending. I turned to see August Moon easing himself down off the slope behind us. He sat himself at the corner of the cinderblock wall, just behind us. How Greg's father knew anyone was behind us, I can't say. How he knew it wasn't Greg or Greg's mother coming from the house, I can't say that either. I did notice it though.

"Morning, sir," he said softly. He then said, "Hi" to me and nodded with a kind of a smile.

Augie wore a pair of faded blue jeans that looked a couple years old and he was still trying to pack himself into them. They hugged his body like a second skin and his thighs looked like they might burst through the cloth. I couldn't help but notice the crotch and how his equipment ran off to the left and down his leg. I forced my eyes up into his eyes too late. He already caught my eyes on him. He didn't give any response to my intent.

"My employer took off for the weekend. I'm all alone up on the property. I'm not good with alone. He left me money but no food. I was just out walking and I noticed your fire. I don't know anyone up here to speak of."

I remembered the girl we'd found seated on his lap.

"You know us," Greg's father said.

"Yes, sir. I was aiming on asking if I could have a ride in town when you go. So's I can buy me some supplies."

"Have a seat, son. This is about ready for the early bird special. I think you both qualify."

Greg's father grabbed a huge orange coffeepot off the back of the grill. He poured pure black liquid into blue metal cups. He grabbed the two cups so the handles stood out and he handed one of the steaming containers to each of us. Even the metal handle seemed too hot to handle for me. I sat the cup beside me on the concrete slab. Augie sipped it and exchanged glances with me again. His eyes were remarkably dark but not at all threatening.

"Glad I don't need to eat alone," Greg's father said, turning the meat as he sang the words. He placed pieces on paper plates. He turned potatoes and broke eggs into an iron skillet that he thrust over the grill.

The smoke curled up over our heads while the leathered man replaced the rabbit he took from the grill with more fresh cleaned meat that he took from a cooler next to the grill. He shoved a plate full of food at each of us. He sat in the chair he'd used the night before. We ate in silence, focusing in on the incredible taste of the food, but before long there were more tales being spun from the morning dew. The taste of the rabbit was like nothing I'd ever tasted. Eating my fill I barely gave a thought to any Easter Bunny I'd known.

"I appreciate this," Augie said between bites. "Perhaps there are some chores you'd let me do for you."

"Greg's trying to cut the summer supply of wood by the looks of it. If you'd like to give him a hand, he'd like that. Gloves and axes in the tool shed. It's not required."

Greg's father had a voice that was bathed in gravel and a laugh that gave away the amusement he seemed to find in much of the life he'd lived. Sitting there that morning was the final time I recognized the man's ethnicity. When I look back at those events, he was no doubt the most intelligent man I'd ever known. Back then it was the fact that he treated me like I was his friend and therefore his equal and this drew me into everything he said. It wasn't an experience I'd known from any other adult.

I was never comfortable around adults until I met Greg's mother and father. Perhaps I was growing up and ready for adult relationships and equality with them, but I suspect it had more to do with the way they treated me. Whatever it was, I liked these people and I would always find enjoyment in spending time with them. It was a good time for me to grow. The thing I liked most was there was no pressure for me to be anything but who I was.

I also started to understand how Greg and Doug had such strong characters. They were encouraged to be themselves, whatever that was. Greg's mother and father treated all of us the same. We were all their sons when we were around. They weren't pushy about it and Greg rebelled against this treatment we got, but he was shut down immediately when he protested too loudly.

"You have a story," Greg's father said after filling August Moon's cup with boiling hot coffee. He sat back down looking at his own cup as though he were seeing something in the steam as it swirled out of the container.

"Story?" Augie said, uncertain.

"This one is as pure as the driven snow," he said, leaning forward to rub my hair roughly and putting me a little off balance in my chair. "He doesn't have a story yet. You, my friend, have a story weighing on you. It hides in your eyes and marks your face."

"I'm not that innocent," I objected as though the conversation was about me. "I think about stuff all the time. I don't always think nice stuff either."

My confession was painful for me. I wasn't sure how it would be received. I felt like I had to be honest.

"Ah, I did not say purity. I said innocence. There is a difference you know. Thoughts don't count my young friend. We all think many thoughts. Some times we don't have much control over where our minds take us. When we act on our thoughts, that's when we lose innocence. You're still full of innocence, Martin. The eyes tell all and yours are clear. Your heart is good but perhaps confused. Time takes care of the confusion."

"Not entirely," I said, wishing I could tell him about what I felt for his sons.

"We all want things we can't have. We all imagine having them. Right, August. You want what you can not have? But that doesn't stop you, does it?"

What did he know? What did he see in that steam? Had someone said something to him? We sat silent for a spell. I looked at Augie's face for a clue but it was the same face I'd seen before.. He looked like a boy and he was built like a man.

"And sometimes we take them without permission," August said. "The things we want. I'll never be innocent again."

"You've found trouble in wanting what is not yours. Things have no value. Only what is inside you is of value. If you have your honor and your heart, you will be rich beyond your dreams."

"I stole a car. I was in prison until a few weeks ago. Ten days to be exact, tomorrow. I'm on work release. I've got to stay up here until they say different or until I'm eighteen. That's August."

"Ah, and the moon stood high and full the night you were born!"

"That's what they tell me."

"And you now have a chance to find August Moon. You have paid for your mistake. You can reclaim your honor."

"They don't figure I can get into much trouble stashing me up here. You can make trouble no matter where you are if you have a mind to. I don't though."

"I see. You are changed. Prison is nowhere to for a boy. You have seen a lot for one so young."

"I don't feel young. I feel like I'm about a million years old. Prison is no place for a boy but it's a good place for a boy to learn the truth about life."

"It is a place that can make you better."

"When you are treated like an animal, you can become bitter."

"The truth in jail is not the truth in life. You were done a wrong being put in a cage with grown men. It must have been a difficult place for a boy who looks like you to survive. It's best to get it behind you now that you own your life again."

"Yeah, well, you learn quick. You pick out someone that can protect you and you give him anything he wants for the protection."

"How long did it take for you to learn this?"

"One weekend is all. I'd have made a deal with the devil by the end of that first weekend."

"You had dealt with the devil who put you there," Greg's father said. "You are still a boy, only you've seen things no boy should see."

"What happened?" Timmy asked, coming off the slope and easing up beside Augie, leaning against the cinderblock wall with his arms across his chest for warmth. Augie handed him his hot cup of coffee and Timmy held it to his body taking the warmth off the cup for his hands, sipping sparingly and mostly enjoying the heat.

"You seem like you're still in a cage," Greg's father said. "You can breathe free air here. Let it go if you can. We don't care what you've done, only what you do, and I have no doubt you will do good. You made a mistake and any man who says he hasn't made a mistake either hasn't lived, or he lies."

Greg moved down off the slope with his arms folded on his naked chest. He spaced it so it didn't look like he came down with Timmy, but the timing was too close for them to have woken up individually and then one at a time came out. He was the only one to come out shirtless but he looked no colder than the rest of us. He moved toward the grill and the coffee and offered the pot around before pouring his own. He seemed relaxed. He seemed just like the rest of us. It was the first time he hadn't stuck out to me.

"Don't feel free," Augie said. "I'm on probation until I'm eighteen. The guy can send me back with a word. I've got to do what I'm told or else. I'll always be a con. A breed, a con, a loser."

"You are what you say you are, and I'll accept who you say you are. That's why you learn from your mistakes, son. Once you've worked your way out of this trouble, you'll know to let trouble pass you by from here on out. I know a little about the law and you can get your juvenile record sealed once you're eighteen."

"Really! Even if I was tried as an adult?"

"That will need to be looked into. A good lawyer can do wonders. We'll be here every weekend from now on. You stay close and we'll see that nothing else happens to you."

"That's the reason I got prison. I don't got no money for lawyers. I got in trouble at my last two foster homes. Then I stole the car. The prosecutor said I'm incorrigible. That's pretty bad."

"Do they speak the truth?"

"I don't know, sir. Everything I did was for a reason. I got in a fight with a guy that thought I was pretty enough to be his girl. I convinced him different but got tossed out because of it."

"You look big enough to take care of yourself," Greg said, having noticed the contours of Augie's muscles.

"I was one-thirty until I got locked up. Sort of a runt for six foot one. Lifting weights for six months beefed me up to one sixty. Wasn't anything else to do in there."

"Damn! I wrestle one sixty-eight," Greg said, checking him closely and not missing the bulge. "What happened after you got tossed?"

"They moved me to a house where I was the oldest male, figuring I might do better without older guys around. I got in trouble with a girl. She thought I was pretty too, they all did, but I didn't want to fight them. We got caught at it and there was a scene. Stuff came out that got everyone in hot water."

"All?" Greg said, hanging on every word.

"Yeah, there were four girls and five guys besides me. Three of the girls were doing the guys before I got there, but I was the one they caught at it. I'm not good at sneaking around. The girl tried to save me by squealing on everyone. There was only one girl and the youngest boy that weren't doing it."

"You were doing three girls?" Greg asked with astonishment in his voice. "They lived in the same house? I should get in foster care."

"I never said I was doing three. I only admitted to the one. First night she came into where I was sleeping and woke me up when she started up with me.... I'd always been in homes with guys. I figured it must be how things worked. It's not like I minded at all."

"Ain't that the truth," Greg agreed. "I think three a night is about right."

"Three a night could wear you down fast, dude," Augie declared.

"I'd like to take your word for it, but it's the kind of thing I want to know for myself."

"That girl at the clubhouse? You get with her last night? Did her brother watch?" Timmy asked.

"I wish. I haven't done anything with girls since I got locked up. She had her hand right on...." Augie stopped and looked at Greg's father. "She wanted to get right to it, sir. I knew it was dangerous but my brain isn't as strong as my dick."

"You were going to get with her in front of her brother?" Greg said.

"He set it up. Told me she was messing with his friends but he had to stay with her if we went off. Not a problem when it comes to pussy."

"Why would you need to steal a car?" Greg's father interrupted the hotter trend in our conversation.

"Same reason I couldn't buy me a real lawyer."

"Real lawyer?"

"Yeah, mine met me just before trial. I'd never seen him before. He spent five minutes together. Well, not exactly together, four minutes he was on the phone stalling off another case that he was supposed to hear at the same time as mine. He said if I didn't take the year I'd get five years. He said he worked hard to get me the deal. He said to take it and it would all be over. Right! It hadn't even started. In county they kept me by myself."

"Didn't you have any people to look out for you?"

"People? Relatives? Tribal council? Anything?"

"Just that lawyers and the guy what said I was incorrigible. I never saw no one else the three weeks I was up there."

"Why steal a car? You seem smarter than that," Greg's father observed.

"I heard my brother was in North Carolina. I had no way to get there. Ain't seen him since.... For a long time."

"Was he in North Carolina?"

"I don't know. I took the car from the front of a convenience store. Some guy jumped out and left it running. I jumped in and took off. They called the cops and pulled me over at the Interstate two miles up. A cop was waiting at the ramp for me. Flagged my ass down. Great police work."

"You didn't resist?" Greg's father asked.

"No, I knew I couldn't outrun his radio even if I could scoot past him. I didn't want to make him mad. He was cool. I haven't seen him since my daddy died. That's when we was separated. He's younger and probably don't remember me."

"You been locked up ever since?" Timmy asked.

"Yeah, I thought I might die up there. I never want to go back. I've never been confined before. Foster homes are cake compared to the joint. About the only thing you can do on your own time is piss. There's a lot of trouble inside. I don't miss it."

"You're outside now. You'll be fine. I'm going hunting again tonight. There's a badger up there I'd like to get. Want to come along?"

"Sure. Was that your dog I heard in the meadows last night?" August asked.

"Dwight!"

"Good hunter?" August asked.

"I've owned dogs all my life. This is the best hunter of them all. You going with, Greg?"

"Sure, Pops," Greg said, eyeballing Augie. "That girl from the clubhouse still around?"

"Yeah, she'll turn up. Wants me bad. Little brother comes with her though?"

"I'll figure a way to get rid of him," Greg advised.

"That's what I thought until she said he had to stay with her."

"You'd a done it in front of her little brother," Greg said, laughing.

"I'm hard up enough I'd have done it in front of her old man," Augie said as they related to one another. "Oh, excuse me, sir. It's been awhile. You understand. A man's got to be a man when he can."

"Augie wants to help you chop wood, son. You don't mind?"

"No, these little kids can't handle an ax. We'll go up to the clubhouse after," Greg said.

"Sure!" Augie said.

He locked eyes with Augie and Augie stared right back at Greg. Greg got up and poured his father's cup full without asking and then did the same for Augie. They stared at each other after the pouring was done. Each had a question about the other but I have no clue what they were.

I held my cup out as Greg backed away and he turned away without looking at me, "Get your own fucking coffee, asshole." I felt a little hurt.

"Greg!" His father firmly.

"Can't help it if he is," Greg said, flashing me a glare that froze my blood. He made sure it took before he looked away.

His father watched us and it was obvious there were hostilities in the wind. I wasn't sure what the fuck his problem was but what's new. I never could figure him out.

"Where's your momma?" Timmy asked, reaching out and putting his hand on Augie's forearm in the most tender way.

"That's a story too long to get into, sport. She ain't around."

"Can't she help you? I'll help you."

"I wouldn't have been in foster homes all my life if she could. I don't go no one, sport, and I can't even help myself."

Greg's abs looked amazing as he turned back to sit on the dirt wall next to the patio. The front of his jeans hung down to the top of his golden pubic hair but no further. He seemed to climb inside the cup as his sleepy eyes assessed the new day. I couldn't help but wonder what was going on inside that head of his.

After everyone ate their fill, Augie went out and got some gloves and an ax from the tin shed. He went up to where Greg had been chopping down trees and he started cutting one up that was lying on the ground. He'd used an ax before but he was clearing a lot for someone up where he was living.

Greg watched him awhile and then he too went to the shed to get some tools. He tapped Augie's shoulder and traded axe's with him. Once again Augie's deep brooding eyes locked in Greg's sparkling gems for longer than need be. They were taking the measure of one another and I thought Greg would find a way to run Augie off his turf when it was all said and done.

Greg went to work in a furious pace as the morning sun got above the trees for the first time. Sweat ran down Greg's muscles and they glistened and looked awesome, and then Augie pulled off his shirt. His arms and chest were cut deep and his thick shoulders narrowed down to a miniscule waist that was also cut tightly. His skin was pinkish but had a deep red tint that made him look a little like he was blushing all over. His muscles bulged and shinned as the sweat dripped down his back and off his elbows.

Augie worked behind Greg and matched him stroke for stroke. Greg never turned to see Augie's progress because he could hear it. It was like a serenade with the axes in near perfect harmony, one striking only an instant before the other. Over and over again at what seemed like an obsessive pace. From time to time Greg would stop and then Augie stopped and the silence was incredible, and then you could hear the birds and the frogs and that rushing river until the chopping began anew.

Doug came out and stood beside me, staring at the dueling woodcutters. Even Greg's father stood for a few minutes watching the two boys as they wore themselves down. He shook his head as if he knew something about the mission they had embarked upon. He seemed to understand that he was powerless to change the inevitability of the conflict and anyone's attempt to intervene would be futile. There was no reasoning with whatever unreasonable quest they had set out to accomplish.

"They'll be at that for awhile," he said, moving past Doug and I to head into his garden to turn more soil.

Greg stopped, reaching for the cold water he'd brought out before he had started. He saw Augie's body for the first time and he examined it as he drank, never taking his eyes off him. He saw me standing beside Doug and he immediately flipped us the bird in one bold and angry motion. He grabbed the ax and I wondered what was on his mind as he whacked away on the tree.

"I wish he hadn't walked in on us last night," Doug said. "He will find a way to use that against us."

"Why? What does he care?"

"You heard him. He was going to ask you to come down with him. In other words you should have been in his bed last night. I don't think he came down with Timmy in mind when he caught us. He figured I'd be sleeping because I sleep like a rock most of the time. He knew you'd jump at the change to get with him."

"Me?" I asked.

"You! He'll be impossible because I was with you. We should steer clear of him today if we can."

"He'll forget about it?" I asked hopefully.

"No, the king don't forgets. He'll occupy himself with someone else until he gets a chance to fuck us over," Doug said. "I don't know why I did that last night. I know better."

"I'm glad you did, Doug. I've wanted to.... I don't know what I wanted to but I know I like you a lot."

"Martin, I can't be what you want. Yeah, I get carried away like most guys when someone gets them worked up. And I take spells when I want sex all the time, but it isn't all my life is about. There are spells when I don't want sex. I like girls, not that it does me much good, but I still have hopes."

"Why did you do it, then? You didn't have to do it. I'm going to like you no matter what."

"You never hear what people say, Martin. You only hear what you want to pick out of what they say. Sometimes I don't think we're having the same conversation."

"What are you talking about. You said you wish you hadn't. God, you were great. I've never been with anyone like I was with you last night."

"That's what I'm talking about. That was last night, okay. This is today. Don't be expecting that side of me to always turn up."

"I don't expect anything, Doug. I was stupefied by what you did... not what you did, but the fact you did it with me," I said, suddenly feeling in a state of grace. "You were so good. It was so good. Wow!"

"I'm the brother of a pervert. It's what you learn when your brother is a sex fiend and all he associates with are more sex fiends. Since I was ten it's been like that."

"I'm sorry. I don't want you to do anything that makes you unhappy."

"It's like smoking or drinking. Once you try it, you always got a taste for it even after you quit. The right things happen, and you light up. Last night was like that. Only Timmy lit the smoke and you smoked it."

"No way you were just lighting up. You did stuff I've never done," I said. "You did it good. My dick's still hard. I don't think I been soft more than two minutes since you...."

"You think that makes me feel good? I can do that for another guy? Yeah, I like what I'm doing when I'm doing it but I don't want to be doing when I'm not," he said like it made perfect sense to at least one of us.

Doug's eyes moved to the front of my pants. He found the bulge and he didn't make an effort to keep me from seeing him looking right at it. I wanted to kiss him again. I wanted to slap him silly. He was a lot like Greg, only the reverse side of the same coin. Both of them confused the hell out of me and I was going to take whatever I could get whenever I could get. That's what I knew just then.

"You're more fucked up than me. I not only liked it I loved it. I'm just glad you did it. Any time you get the urge, give me a call. You were great. That's all I got to say about that."

Doug went up in the house and I stood, still enjoying the chopping competition. I thought about them turning on each other with the axes, and then I thought about them going hunting that night with real guns. My mind gave me a picture of them hunkered down behind logs firing at one another as dear and rabbit are leaping all around them, trying to escape the barrage.

I pictured the three of them and Dwight running across a field with a gigantic black bear chasing them.

I wanted to say I'd go hunting too, but then I would face the prospect of being expected to kill something and I wouldn't. I figured enough stuff got itself kilt without my help.

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