Kaiser's Magic

by Bensiamin

Chapter 1

© 2020 by Bensiamin. All rights reserved

David watched Jackson answer the phone on the far kitchen wall. They'd lived in the house now for going on twenty years and had extended the original single phone in the hallway when they'd remodeled the house just a few years back. Now they had an updated kitchen and modernized bathrooms, and a phone in the kitchen as well as another in the office. He could tell right away that Jackson was talking with Jane, his sister-in-law. She and David's brother lived in a Philadelphia suburb near where David had lived during high school. Though they now lived on opposite coasts, they worked hard to try and see each other at least once a year. Most summers they had, with a memorable one two years ago when they came west and all went to Crater Lake, and last summer when David and Jackson had gone back to Philly.

David heard the name of Jane's sister, Cassie mentioned. They lived in southern New Jersey across the river east of Philadelphia in the upscale township of Cherry Hill. Jackson turned and smiled at David, rolling his eyes slightly to let his boyfriend know that it was complicated, and then said, "Jane, hold on. David's right here, so let me put him on to talk with you."

Jackson handed the phone to David and sipped his wine as he sat back down. They'd been preparing dinner, and were catching up on each other's day while the chicken slow-roasted in the grill. He could tell a lot of the conversation was what Jane had told him, then he heard David say, "Yes, I remember your sister Cassie and her husband Julius, and of course I remember their son, Jerrod."

He was quiet, "Yes, we had a pleasant day on their sailboat while we visited you last summer. It was a memorable day for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was Jackson getting sunburned!" He glanced at Jackson and grinned, then grew quiet.

"Okay, I understand now," he finally said. "There'd be one camp in early June, then the second in early July. Now it makes sense. Absolutely. Why would he want to fly home and then fly back? Not that Julius couldn't afford it if he can afford the sailboat."

He was quiet again, then said, "Jane, I was joking! Lighten up. Yes, of course, have Cassie call me, or Jackson for that matter. We'll discuss it in detail, but my guess is we can figure out how to make it work. You remember Will and Sam? Jerrod is the same age as their son Eric, so it's not like he wouldn't have someone to relate to or spend time with."

He listened again intently. "What do you mean, more than meets the eye?"

Jackson saw his forehead wrinkle, the way it did when David was concentrating, and heard him say, "My initial reaction is it may be nothing. High school teens go through lots of age-related and hormone-related changes at this age. He may just be moody." He turned toward Jackson so he could wiggle his eyebrows at him as he continued, "Jackson was sure going through a lot of changes at that age." He broke into a grin, listened hard for a few more seconds, and then said, "Jane, let me talk to Cassie, though, and we'll talk details and come to a decision. How's that?"

He nodded his head and smiled, then said, "No, we're about to sit down to dinner, and with the time difference it will be quite late there by the time we clean up. Why don't you have her call us tomorrow. It's a Saturday and we'll be here and available all morning."

After hanging up the phone, he turned to Jackson and they both smiled at each other and David rolled his eyes too. "Did you get to the part about the two summer ski racing camps on Mount Hood?"

Jackson shook his head. "No, I only heard about the one. But I did hear the wise ass remark about the changes I was going through at that age. Did you have in mind age-related or hormone-related changes?"

David's face broke into a wide grin as he sat down and reached for his wine glass. "Actually, I had both in mind. As to the ski camps, there's two. One's in early June and since it's already early May it's kind of late to enroll so Cassie and Julius find that they can't get Jerrod into a second camp until early July—so, that leaves three weeks in between. Want to have a house guest for part of the summer?"

"Whoa! Suddenly this is a bigger deal than it seemed."

David finished his wine and poured them both a refill. "Yes, but we both thought he was a good kid last summer, and we did invite the family out to visit, and now this. So, the deal is that each racing camp is at Timberline and it's a week including room and board up there, so we don't have to do anything except get him up on the mountain for the week of the camp. There's the in-between time, though. Anyway, you heard—Cassie will call us tomorrow and fill in the details. We don't have to decide now."

David smiled at his partner and continued, "This is my family, but do you have any objection in principle?"

Jackson's eyes sparkled in the evening light and he smiled back and said, "No, but it does mean that whatever we do this summer we'll have to do later. Still, it's probably for a good cause. He did seem like an okay kid when we met him last year. He certainly knew what to do on that sailboat, as in being a good crew member."

"He did indeed," David replied as he glanced at the clock on the wall and then said, "We can pull that roast chicken off the grill. It should have a lovely brown crust on it by now. That leaves just the asparagus and the salad to do. Are you up for the salad, Lover Boy?"

Jackson paused, his smile deepened, and then he said softly, "You haven't called me Lover Boy for a while, and I'll always think of myself that way."

As David smiled back, Jackson reached over and caressed his cheek and said softly, "And you'll always be my Sexy Man."

David's expression changed from a smile of appreciation to a grin of anticipation as he said, "I love you, too, and you know that next year will be twenty years since you first set your hooks in me with those too-short cut off jeans and that tight T-shirt."

"Oh, I do! I wonder what happened to those cut offs? Are you sure it was the cut offs? I thought all along that it was my hazel eyes and lovely brown hair…and how much you thought I looked like Davy Jones!"

"It was all of that, and more! So, don't drink too much wine tonight because I don't want you falling asleep early. I have plans for you! Anyway, lean over here so I can kiss you, then let's finish dinner and settle into a relaxing evening. It's been a busy week for both of us. Did you rent a movie?"

Jackson kissed him passionately, then leaned back and said, "That was lovely and just what the doctor ordered. And, yes, Jerry McGuire with Tom Cruise just released on DVD, so I picked that up on the way home. Now, about the rest of dinner…"

They had just finished discussing the movie over breakfast, especially the classic line "follow the money" when the phone rang and Jackson raised his eyebrows and said, "Let me guess who that is!" David smiled back and said, "I think I'll take this one sitting down in the study," and picked up his coffee cup and walked down the hall.

When he came back into the kitchen twenty minutes later, Jackson had the breakfast dishes cleaned up and was reading the paper. David sat down and said, "So, Cassandra and her husband, Julius Burgoyne Esq., request that we extend human kindness and our famous hospitality and allow Jerrod to stay with us for the weeks between ski racing camps this summer."

Jackson grinned. "Why are we not doing ski racing camp?"

"Easy, hot shot! You have a full time job and only two weeks of vacation…and we haven't figured out what we're doing with that yet, and while I technically have the summer off, I really have to be on campus at least half the time, as you know."

"The price of success and what comes with being Dean of Students."

"Yes, funny how that works when there's a Summer Term."

"Anyway, what do you think about this request? It will pretty well tie us down here for all of June and half of July."

"Well, they showed us a good time sailing last summer, and then took us out to that over-the-top club that Julius belongs to for dinner…and we did invite them to visit us. So, my initial reaction is yes."

Jackson nodded, while saying, "What about the other stuff you and Jane were discussing last night?"

"You mean the comment about more than it appears? Well, she just said that suddenly Jerrod wanted to be somewhere else for the summer, wanted to do a racing camp. She said it came up quite suddenly, like it wasn't planned. That's all Jane said, and Cassie's explanation was along the same lines."

David paused, collecting his thoughts, then continued, "Jerrod's on the Haverford School sailing team, plays varsity tennis and is on the ski team and he races a lot in the winter. It's a long way to good skiing, but they have a condo at some ski resort in Vermont. She said it was late notice, but a week ago he suddenly wanted to go to a couple of summer ski camps out west, but she did say it suddenly came up kind of as a surprise. When I asked her why, she said she just thought he wanted a change of scenery, and after they looked into the options, the one at Mount Hood is top notch with good snow all summer because of the glaciers and the elevations…and then though they had one opening in the early camp they couldn't book back to back camps…and then she thought of us and our kind invitation to visit. So, she called Jane to inquire if it would be too big an imposition, and Jane said she'd call us. Now you know as much as I do."

"So, did you tell her yes?"

"No. I told her we'd had a preliminary discussion and there wasn't an obvious reason why not, but that we needed to discuss it further in terms of our summer schedule, your full time job, and my time requirements on campus."


"And…I told her we'd call her back within a couple of hours so she can complete booking the two racing camps and not lose the hold she has on the spots."

"She must have been pretty certain we'd come through," Jackson said with a wry smile

"Actually, I think it was more 'hope and pray' it would come together. She sounds harried about this and like she's not entirely clear why it's happening the way it is…maybe even a little worried. Either way, what do you think? Do we agree?"

Jackson wiggled his eyebrows. "Do we get to require that he earn his keep? Like he has to mow and help around the house and stuff? I don't think we want some well-off preppie kind of kid from a ritzy east coast prep school just hanging around while we wait on him, do we?"

"You mean preppie east coast school kid like I was? Remember I went to Haverford, too!"

"Yeah, but you're a different type of person, so caring and responsible and all. It would be no worries with you. But Jerrod grew up in this incredibly wealthy family with a powerful attorney father, the McMansion house, the sailboat and all the rest of it. I just don't want it to be a total downer."

"I think we can be confident that Jane wouldn't have let it proceed if she thought that was a risk. She knows us and she knows them. I think we can trust her."

"I do, too. So, let's say yes. Maybe it'll be fun. Or maybe it'll be an adventure!"

It was Sunday evening in early June when David and Jackson pulled into PDX, the Portland airport. He'd traded the 2002 tii in on a 5-Series mid-sized sedan with a powerful six-cylinder engine a few years previously, and, thanks to his friend Dieter, the BMW salesman, had made another transaction he was very happy with. The new car drove well, though it wasn't as peppy as the 2002, but had more interior and trunk space…which they suspected they'd be thankful for picking up Jerrod. David idled at the curb while Jackson went in to find him at baggage claim, and as he hopped out, he said he'd return in just a few minutes once he located Jerrod.

Jackson found him pacing in front of the baggage carousel, recognizing him immediately, even though he'd grown a couple of inches and filled out since the previous summer. He had very curly light auburn hair, that glinted almost dark blond in the right light, and blue eyes.

"Yo, Jerrod. You made it!"

Jerrod looked up nervously, but smiled and started to extend his hand for a shake, then paused when he realized Jackson wasn't going to respond in kind. "We're family, bro. Family gets hugs, remember?"

He grasped Jerrod and pulled him tight and after some time felt Jerrod hesitantly hug him back. He said softly, "How many bags?"

He released Jerrod, who stepped back and said, "Three. A suitcase and two duffle bags. Sorry, but it's a month and the two racing camps and all. Oh, and my skis."

Jackson grinned at him. "We ski, but not a lot, but you're lucky we thought to put the ski rack on the car."

He heard the baggage carousel start to move and said, "Anyway, hang tight. I'll go tell David we should only be a few more minutes, then I'll be back to help you carry your stuff."

Jerrod nodded, and he walked out to the curb where David looked up expectantly. "The bags are coming off now. Shouldn't be more than five minutes." He blew David a kiss through the window and headed back into the terminal.

David greeted Jerrod on the curb when they came out with the luggage and skis, giving him a hug, too. As he closed the trunk lid, he said, "Alright, let's get rolling," and Jerrod tossed his backpack into the back seat and climbed in. Jackson got in the front and as they pulled away from the curb, Jerrod said, "Thanks for picking me up and for letting me stay. It's really cool of you guys. I didn't know if you'd go for it. I didn't really know if you'd even remember me."

David looked at him in the rearview mirror and said, "What? How would we not remember you? You're my sister-in-law's nephew, we spent time with you last summer and you seemed okay." He glanced at Jackson and wiggled his eyebrows. "I have to say, though, in the spirit of full disclosure, that Jackson had some serious misgivings about it. You know, having two preppie Haverford School alumni under the same roof. I think he worried we'd hit critical mass of all that east coast preppiness and make his life miserable."

Jerrod was silent, and David could see his eyelids flicker, like he wasn't sure if it was real or a joke. He thought he saw a flash of insecurity and then Jerrod made as if to speak, but Jackson beat him to it. As he turned in his seat he said, "David, that's bull shit and you know it. My main worry was if Jerrod was competent with washing dishes and running the lawn mower and stuff. You know, if he'd be able to earn his keep."

He reached back and grasped Jerrod's arm, and continued, "You know, so we can loaf around while we put you to work!" He was wiggling his eyebrows at Jerrod, who finally started to relax and grinned back at him.

They left the airport and merged into traffic and David glanced in the rearview mirror, seeing Jerrod watching him. He smiled back at him and asked, "Are you getting tired with the time change? It's almost 9:00 PM east coast time."

"Naw, I slept a couple of times on the plane when I wasn't reading or listening to my DiscMan. It'll probably catch up with me before long, though."

"Well, welcome to our town. We'll cook dinner when we get home while you get settled, and tomorrow we'll take you up to Timberline in the afternoon so you can get checked in for camp. Then when you're back from the first one, we'll show you some of the sights. How's that sound?"

"Sounds good to me," wafted from the back seat, and they chatted about a range of topics for the next fifteen minutes till they pulled into the driveway. David said to leave the skis on the roof rack since he'd be home in the morning and drive Jerrod up the mountain. "Jackson's got work, so he'll be out of here early. I'm part time during the summer, so I have a flex schedule. Let's get the bags out and I'll pull the car into the garage."

They dropped the bags on the lawn as Jackson opened the garage door. Jerrod had noticed a second car in the driveway that he assumed was Jackson's. It was a 1995 Dodge Durango sports utility vehicle, and Jerrod appreciated the compliment of a practical vehicle that Jackson drove along with the cooler and more expensive BMW sedan that was David's. Then when Jackson had opened the door completely Jerrod saw another car in the garage.

"Wow! What is that? That's a cool car. You guys have three cars? That's pretty neat."

Jackson grinned at him. "It's a 1970 Dodge Challenger, and it's a long story, but I'll fill you in over dinner." David pulled the BMW inside, he closed the door, and they both came over to help with the bags. "We'll get you settled in the guest room, then I'm thinking that you should kind of re-pack the stuff you'll need for ski camp into a couple of bags, if you haven't done it already, and leave the rest of it here for when you get back."

Jerrod nodded at him. "One of those duffle bags is my ski gear, boots and ski clothes and stuff. But the rest of my stuff is kind of mixed around. Good idea on the repacking." They dropped the bags in the guest room, and David showed Jerrod the guest bathroom, then left him with Jackson who showed him the dresser and closet and suggested he put the stuff he wouldn't be taking up the mountain in them as he unpacked.

"First, though, you should call home and let your parents knows you arrived safely. Then you can unpack while we cook dinner. Make sense?"

Jerrod nodded, and Jackson walked him to the phone in the study and told him they'd be in the kitchen when he was done. Twenty minutes later he wandered into the kitchen, his nose twitching and a smile starting to form on his face.

"Smell good to you," David asked?

Jerrod nodded and David continued, "Lasagna, and it's an old family recipe from Philly. Our cook taught me when I was in high school. And we'll have fresh asparagus with it and a salad. How's that sound? Oh, and there's fruit juice and soft drinks in the refrigerator."

Jerrod nodded again and headed for the refrigerator, then sat down at the kitchen table and took a sip.

"How did you cook the pasta part so fast? You didn't do all this since we got home did you?"

"No, we cook a lot, but we're not that good! We cooked the pasta and assembled it this afternoon, since there was always the chance your flight would be delayed, and we'd be home late. This way all we had to do was fire up the oven and slip it in."

An embarrassed smile ran over Jerrod's face and he said, "Sorry for the trouble I'm causing you guys."

David walked over to him, wine glass in hand, and sat down across from him. "Can I say something to you?"

Jerrod nodded nervously, his eyes blinking.

"You said earlier that you didn't know why we'd do this and if we'd even remember you. Now you're acting all embarrassed about being here and us cooking dinner. You're family and you're our guest and so you're part of this household while you're here. Nothing to worry about or be embarrassed about. I know that day sailing last summer was the only time we've seen you since you were ten, but we're good with having you here. We want you here. I work with college kids all the time, and it's normal to be nervous in a new situation, but you're acting a little uptight, and I want you to know you're accepted here and there's no need to be insecure, or even be nervous. Okay?"

They'd been looking directly at each other as David spoke, and Jerrod had tried to pull back, but David wouldn't let him, holding his eyes and smiling, making clear he meant every word he said. He put his hand on top of Jerrod's and said again, "You okay with that?"

"Yeah," Jerrod said softly, "it's just that it's been a stressful few weeks with school ending and stuff. I was just glad the year was over, and I could leave Philly for the summer and come out here. I'm sorry if I'm acting uptight and like I think you don't want me here. I don't mean to do that. I'm just sorting through stuff and getting used to the change, and…and, I don't know. I'm just really glad to be here."

Jackson had joined them at the table and said, "Hey, there are times in all our lives when we need a change of scenery. I went through it at your age too, even if the situation was completely different. If you needed to split from your old scene in Philly for a while, that's cool. We are glad you're here."

Jerrod looked back and forth at both of them and finally said, "Me, too. It's such a relief. I just didn't know if it was really going to happen. Right up to getting on the plane this morning. But now I'm here, and I'll get with the program, okay? I promise."

He smiled at them hopefully, and then added, "And by the way, I can wash dishes and I mow the lawns at home. This summer Dad will have to find someone else though, and he'll probably be pissed at me that I didn't have a replacement lined up for him but there wasn't time. Anyway, thanks, you guys. Really."

They both grinned back at him, then Jackson said, "Good, that's out of the way. You're part of the family now, we'll work you like a slave but we'll also feed you really well, because David is a killer cook. You chill here while we do the asparagus and salad. We'll probably eat here in the kitchen so it's more casual. Oh, there's a loaf of French bread in the refrigerator. Why don't you pull it out and slice it and we'll make garlic bread as well?"

Jerrod smiled widely and said, "Put to work already! That's cool by me. You guys tell me what to do, okay?"

They proceeded through dinner prep and ate a relaxed meal, then all jumped on the clean up and washed the dishes. As David refilled their wine glasses, Jackson asked Jerrod, "What's your favorite music?"

"U2 and Aerosmith."

"We've got a few U2 albums, but no Aerosmith. Let's go in the living room and put on some U2."

Jerrod selected Pop , and Jackson dropped it in the CD player.

"Wow, you guys have a lot of records, and CDs."

"Yeah, it's a bad habit. I started collecting records before I met Jackson," David replied, "and we're both into music so we just kept adding to the collection and now it's CDs on top of the vinyl albums. You know Jackson's got a great voice and sings with the Portland Gay Men's Chorus, don't you?"

"No way!"

Jackson grinned at him. "Yeah, and it's a long story. We're off for the summer, but start weekly practice again in September." He nodded at David and said, "He was mainly responsible for reconnecting me with music our first year together, and then I was singing in the choir again, then my best friend Will got me singing in his band, and then I got a music scholarship to Lewis & Clark where David is Dean of Students, and the rest is history."

"No way! You got a music scholarship? Like you got to go to college and study music? That's unbelievable."


"Well, you've met my parents. There's no options like that with them. Dad's a big wig attorney and he wants me to do pre-law and go to law school. Mom's a nurse and she wants me to go to medical school. It's like those are the only two choices."

They were quiet as U2 sang in the background, and then David said, "Jerrod, I can understand parental desires for their children. I see it all the time. Is it really that bad?"

Jerrod swallowed hard. "Yeah, they let me play sports, but the pressure is always on about college prep to be able to get into law school or med school. I've never really been able to even think about anything else."

"That's too bad," Jackson said. "The four most important adults in my life when I was your age were my music teacher and her partner who was also a nurse, and my Dad who'd I'd just found out about, and David. And they all supported the music scholarship and wanted me to go to a liberal arts college so I could discover my talents and abilities and what I wanted to do."

"That's a foreign concept with my family," Jerrod said matter-of-factly. "It's like they've got the plan and I've got to do it. It's gotten really stressful and I haven't done that great in school this year, meaning not straight A's, and they're all wigged out about it. But they've got a plan, and that's the deal."

It was silent for a few seconds, then David softly said, "But what about Jerrod? What does Jerrod want to do? What's Jerrod's passion?"

It was silent again, then Jerrod finally and haltingly said, "Well, I love to ski and sail and play tennis, but that's not what you're asking is it?" He was getting emotional and his face was a little flushed.

David smiled at him and said, "Hey man, I'm not trying to put you on the spot. Let's leave it there for now, okay? Just remember what we said earlier. We're glad you're here. Nothing to be insecure about. You're part of this family while you're here."

Jackson moved over next to him and put his arm around Jerrod's shoulder and said softly, "Oh, and by the way, we do a totally honest thing here. No hidden agendas, we tell it like it is. David is a counselor and we've both helped a lot of kids over the years. You can talk to us about anything. If there's something you want help with, we want to help. Got it?"

They could both see Jerrod blink and then he was just beginning to tear up and Jackson gave him a hug. "Enough heavy stuff for tonight, bro. Let's relax, okay. I'm going to go over there and sit next to my boyfriend so he can put his arm around me and make me happy."

He got up and walked over to David, looked over at Jerrod and said, "So, you're okay staying here with a couple, meaning a couple of gay guys?"

Jerrod looked startled, then said, "Well, yeah. Why wouldn't I be? I'm cool with it."

"No worries, man. I'm just checking in on it. I just don't want you to get uptight about us being affectionate and stuff. We don't know if you've been around gay people before."

"Only a little, but no worries," Jerrod said breezily, and then looked away.

Jackson settled down into David's arm, his head resting on his shoulder. Then, wanting to change the subject, he looked at Jerrod and said, "You wanted me to tell you about that other car?"

Jerrod perked up, smiled and nodded.

Jackson smiled back. "Well, I can't really tell you about the car without telling you about my Dad. So, here's the deal. I found out my senior year in high school that the dude who I thought was my dad was only my step-dad, and he was abusive and ended up in jail. My mom died that year, and my real Dad came to the funeral, and that's when I met him for the first time. A couple of years later, his Dad, my grandfather, wanted to give me his car because he couldn't drive any longer. Dad knew a big sedan wouldn't work, and they both were committed that I'd be a Mopar guy – meaning I'd drive Chrysler brand vehicles. So, Dad traded the Chrysler Newport in on the Dodge Challenger and gave it to me to make sure I didn't commit the worst sin of all, namely buy a Ford."

"No way!"

"Yeah, really. True story. That's what he did. So, I've had the Challenger ever since. I've thought about selling it a couple of times, even thought about trading it in on the Durango, but a couple of older guys at work convinced me it's kind of a classic and that I needed to keep it for that reason. And, also to honor my Dad and Grandfather."

"And your other car is the Dodge Durango, and that's Mopar, so you've stuck with the plan."

"Yeah, I guess I got converted. You can see that my boyfriend is a traitor though, 'cause he drives a German car!"

"Wow! What a story. I can't imagine my Dad doing anything near like that. Even getting him to let me go to racing camp this summer was like pulling teeth. That's such a cool story. And your Dad seems like a cool guy, too?"

"He is. He's a helicopter pilot…well, used to be. Now he's the head of flight operations for Life Flight in Seattle. I don't know what I've done to deserve two great men in my life. Meaning my Dad, and this guy right here. Just so you know, they're really good friends. Like, totally tight."

They both heard David chortle and almost choke on that last comment.

"Well," Jackson said, reaching up and stroking David's cheek, "not tight that way, if you know what I mean."

Jerrod was blushing, and before long the yawning started and they all headed to their bedrooms. After he got in bed, Jerrod found himself thinking about what Jackson had said about the relationship between he and David and found his mind wandering. He'd promised himself he wouldn't go there, but it was hard. Here, in front of his eyes, were two guys that loved each other and were so close. It was something he'd thought only happened in stories on the internet.

In the master bedroom, David watched Jackson come out of the bathroom and across to the bed, and slip in beside him. After a quick snuggle, and as he felt Jackson's fingertips dancing on his belly he said softly. "Before we get started, what's your impression?"

Jackson glanced at him, smiling softly as he moved his fingertips into David's pubes, and said, "Something doesn't feel right. The rushed decision to leave Philly, the insecurity, why he's so nervous and uptight. How about you?"

"Something isn't right, that's for sure. I don't know what it is, but I remember him as pretty much a typical happy go lucky teen last summer, and now he acts like he's got this dark cloud over him. Can his parents be that controlling and oppressive? I got the impression that they have pretty high standards and major expectations, but that's different than this. And then his emotional reaction when you said what you did about how he could talk to us about anything he needed help with."

"That question you asked him, 'What's Jerrod want?' was right on, and then what you said about no need to be insecure or nervous rang his bell. That's one of the things I first really loved about you—you care about other people and always try to reach out and help."

Jackson leaned over and kissed David passionately, and David kissed him back and then said softly. "I love you, too, for the same reason. And speaking of reaching out, I really like the feel of the reaching out you're doing right now. I'm hard as a rock and you haven't even touched my cock yet."

It was almost 10:00 AM when David heard Jerrod walk into the guest bathroom. He left the study just as Jerrod came out, grinned at him and said, "Are you caught up on your sleep now? Over the jet lag?"

Jerrod rubbed his eyes and smiled back at him and said, "I needed it more than I thought."

"Why don't you take a shower and I'll organize some breakfast for you. We'll call it brunch, then we can probably be on the road by noon and have you up at Timberline no later than 2:00 PM. Does that work?"

"Yeah, sounds great. I won't be long."

Twenty minutes later when he walked into the kitchen David had orange juice on the table and after sorting out how he wanted his eggs cooked to accompany the pancakes, he nodded at the coffee brewer and said, "If you drink coffee, it's self-serve and right over there."

As Jerrod ate, David pointed out that this type of breakfast was usually reserved for weekends, but since he was visiting and eating late it seemed like a good idea. Jerrod smiled and nodded up at him over a piece of bacon and David felt like maybe something good had settled in the boy overnight.

They cleaned up the kitchen together and then David asked if he had his stuff packed. "Just about, only a few more things to sort out."

"Why don't you do that, then call home before we leave. I know your Dad's at work, but will your Mom be there?"

"It'll depend on her schedule. She's a nurse manager now and usually has the day shift. I can call her at work, though."

"Good. You should do that. You don't know what the phone deal will be at Timberline, plus you won't have a free phone in your room, and long distance on pay phones is expensive and so are collect calls!" He grinned and wiggled his eyebrows at Jerrod, who smiled back.

They were on the road by noon, and half an hour later were out of Portland and heading east on Highway 26 toward Mount Hood. They'd mainly driven in silence, Jerrod absorbing the scenery of the city, but now they were in the forested foothills, David glanced at him and said, "Pretty country, isn't it? Bigger mountains than in PA. You know Mount Hood is over 11,000 feet in elevation?" Jerrod nodded. David wondered what it was going to take to get him to loosen up a little.

"You seem more relaxed today. A good night's sleep helps, doesn't it?"

Jerrod nodded and said, "Yeah, it does. Helps leave the worries behind."

"I'm sorry if it felt like we put you on the spot a couple of times last night, but we want you to be sure you know you're welcome and to enjoy your stay here."

"I know, and I'm sorry if I was uptight or acting weird. I like you guys a lot, and being here with you instead of in Philly this summer will be really good."

"Apart from the racing camp part of it, why would spending the summer in Philly not have been so good this year?"

Jerrod tightened up and kept looking out the windshield Then his face relaxed and David thought it seemed like he finally decided within himself to open up a little, but it was not to be. "It's just been a tough few months. Really busy, and my parents riding me all the time. I just wanted to be away. Like Jackson said last night, a change of scene."

"A change of scene can be good, for sure. I thought about what you said last night when I was having breakfast this morning, while you were still in there sleeping and sawing logs." David glanced at him and smiled. "You ever heard of Freidrich Nietzche, the German philosopher?"

Jerrod wrinkled his brow and said, "Yeah, I think so, but probably can't tell you anything about him."

"That's okay. It's summer, you know, no tests. Nietzche is mainly famous with non-philosophy types for his novel Thus Spach Zarathustra , but he was a profound thinker and he said something telling about what we were discussing last night. I had to look it up to be sure I had it right, but he said, 'The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.' I find that quite striking."

Jerrod was quiet.

"I'm not trying to turn this into a lecture or put you on the spot again. We're driving you to racing camp. But based on what you said last night, think about that, will you?"

Jerrod said nothing, but nodded his head. David reached over and placed his hand on the back of his neck and squeezed softly. "We care about you, and we're here to help if we can. That's all."

"Thanks, David. That's good to hear. It's just complicated."

David glanced at him and Jerrod looked over, and David smiled and said, "I can understand complicated, and I'm not going to pry."

At that point they turned off the state highway and started up Mount Hood for Timberline. "Tell me about the two racing camps. What will you be working on?"

"The one this week is kind of general, like coaching and practice in slalom, GS and downhill. I can ski bumps, but don't really like it that much. Slalom is okay, but I'm really into GS and downhill—you know, the speed thing. Then the next camp is supposed to really focus on drills to improve race times, like more efficient edging and turning, picking the best line, getting better at running tight to the gates, getting better at smooth running between turns, stuff like that."

"Sounds like you'll be working your butt off, be tired at the end of the day, and sleep well every night!"

"Probably so. It'll be nice to be away from it all."

"Speaking of which, don't let me forget to give you my business card and write our home phone number on it in case you need to call us for anything? I've got a cell phone that I have on me at school, and I'll write that number down for you, too. You know, in case you crash, and the ski patrol has to haul you off the mountain in a sled, you'll have the numbers to call."

Jerrod looked over and rolled his eyes. "Like that'll happen. But thanks, though. I appreciate it."

"Hey, you never know. You'll meet Jackson's best friend, Will, and his wife was a ski racer and crashed her freshman year at Lewis & Clark and had to be hauled off the mountain followed by an ambulance ride to Portland. I'm not saying it's going to happen, and you know all the risks, and it sounds like you're a pretty competent skier."

They pulled into the parking lot at the end of the highway up the mountain, and when they walked in the lobby at Timberline Lodge, there was a ski camp registration table set up on one side. It only took a couple of minutes to get Jerrod signed in and someone was ready to show him to his room. David gave him a quick hug and said softly, "Have a good time, learn a lot, and take it easy on yourself, okay?"

Jerrod gave him a somewhat surprised but also knowing look, and smiled when he said, "I'll try, and I'll think about that Nietzche quote."

David was reflective on the drive home, wondering what would cause a teenage boy from a family like this to be so insecure and uptight. He'd seen lots of teen problems, so he knew patience and support was key.

Shortly after Jackson got home from work, and while they were discussing what to do for dinner, the phone rang. It was Jane, to whom, after saying hello, David said, "Well, look at this. My sister-in-law calling to check up on her nephew!"

She admitted she was calling to check in since she was the one who made the initial request about Jerrod staying with them. "How is he, how did it go yesterday and today?"

David decided to cut to the chase, "It went fine, as in his flight was on time, we had dinner and talked last night, and this morning I drove him up to Timberline and he registered and has started racing camp and it should be a good week for him. I think that's only part of what you're asking, so I'm just going to share with you that Jackson and I talked last night after we all went to bed, and we both think something's not right. He's uptight, he acts nervous and insecure, and seems to lack confidence in himself. He didn't do a very good job of explaining the sudden desire to get out of Philly this summer other than to say he needed a change of scene. Do you know why or what's going on?"

"Not really, David. What I know I hear second hand from Cassie, and I think she and Julius are just as confused and wondering what's happening…and hoping it's a phase he's going through. I can just add that I've noticed him being more withdrawn, and I have no idea why. Nothing that we know of has happened to him, so we're hoping it is just a phase and that being in a new place for part of the summer will help. Personally, I think him being with you and Jackson can be nothing but positive. I know you've worked with young people for years, and maybe you can get at what's going on. I'm sorry I can't be more help, and you have to believe me, the idea wasn't to drop him in your lap for a summer of therapy. I just consider it provident that you and Jackson live in Portland and are the people you are."

"Well, thanks for the kind words. Maybe the most important thing is that you're corroborating our first impression, so it probably wasn't just nerves about travel or stress from school. If you and his parents are somewhat concerned and don't know what's happened, then I'm glad you called and shared that, and we'll keep our eyes and ears open. You know us, no personal problem goes unsolved around here."

They both laughed at that comment, and David rang off to start dinner, sharing with Jackson what Jane had told him.

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