Finding Tim

by Charlie

Episode 179

Birdwatching

An invitation to go birdwatching was the last thing that I (Brian Bert, Shel's partner) expected from Shel, but it's what I got. Well, it wasn't exactly an invitation, it was more like an announcement, "Brian, we're going birdwatching."

"What?"

"We're going birdwatching next week. Be ready."

"I don't suppose that I am going to get any further information about this, am I?"

"Of course not."

"I didn't think so. I'm not sure that I knew what I was getting into when I told you that I would wait for you."

I need to back up a little. Charlie came to me a while ago and told me that he wanted me to write the story of Shel's birthday. He told me that he thought it would be better if it was told from the point of view of one who was just along for the ride, rather than one who was involved in the planning. Well, he was certainly correct that I wasn't involved in the planning! And I was just along for the ride. That is sort of how I feel about my entire life with Shel. But what a ride it has been. I've heard all of the analogies between life with Tim or the Gang and riding a roller coaster. Well, believe me, that certainly describes life with Shel.

You know as much about the planning for Shel's birthday as I do. He started talking about it when he first talked about sex with me–at age nine, or as he put it, "almost ten." Well, now here he was, "almost eighteen," with a birthday coming. I knew that a lot of COGs, their partners, and others were waiting for Shel to turn eighteen so that they could all join the Gang together.

Shortly before the gathering of the Gang for the opening of NTAC–the Velodrome–Shel had taken me out to dinner at the Dakota Steak House. We often ate out together, but this was a very formal invitation, and I knew he had something on his mind. He told me, "Brian, you told me after your Olympic victory in Lilliehammer in 1994, that you'd wait, meaning wait for me to turn eighteen. Well, that'll happen in two years. Before that happens we need to answer, for each other, two questions."

"What questions, Shel?"

"Are we really ready to make a life commitment to each other? And, are we ready to make a commitment to join the Gang."

"When I said to you, 'I'll wait,' I was answering the question about a life commitment, and I am very confident of your answer to the same question. Back then, I wouldn't have known how to answer the question about the Gang, but in the last six years I've come to understand just what that implies. And, yes, I am ready to commit to the Gang. I assume that's true for you as well."

"Certainly."

"OK, why are we having this conversation now?"

"The Gang, all of them, are going to gather at the new velodrome just before the opening festivities. All of the COGs are going to formally ask to join the Gang. All of their partners are being invited to join in that petition. All of the residents of The Lighthouse and all of the Cavers are being invited to join in that petition as well. So you're going to get this same invitation at The Lighthouse tomorrow night–it's coming from Bob the oldest COG who isn't yet a member of the Gang."

"So, you're telling me that now is the time for us to make a final commitment to each other and to the Gang?"

"That's right."

"And you're willing to make that commitment?"

"Absolutely."

"So am I, absolutely."

"Let's enjoy our steak dinner."

A little later Shel told me, "Brian, my birthday–the big one, number eighteen–is coming in about two years. I am telling you now, I'll do all of the planning for that birthday. Don't even dream of doing anything but play follow the leader."

"That's my life with you, Shel, and I'll have to admit I love it."

"Good. I'll plan the birthday and some one or more of the COGs will plan whatever needs planning for our joining."

Except for random comments, that was the last that was said about Shel's eighteenth birthday until shortly after our return from Sydney in October of 2000. Shel simply said, "Make no plans for the first half of December." He said it in a way that made it very clear that if I did make any plans, they would be disrupted. And so, with only that warning, December of 2000 arrived. As did Shel's invitation to go birdwatching.

"Birdwatching?"

"Yes," announced Shel, "We're leaving next Tuesday, December 5, 2000, for a birdwatching trip. We'll get back just in time for my birthday party."

I knew asking questions would get me nowhere, so I simply asked what to pack. His answer, to dress for the tropics, didn't help very much, but at least I was able to rule out a trip to my home in Fairbanks.

Tuesday the fifth arrived and Auggie picked us up about eight in the morning and drove us to the Grand Forks airport, where we boarded a plane for Minneapolis. In Minneapolis I got an inkling of our final destination (was I wrong!) when we boarded a direct flight to Honolulu, with one stop in San Francisco. We landed in Honolulu about two in the afternoon, went to a wonderful hotel on Waikiki Beach, and checked into separate, but adjoining, rooms. As we separated in the corridor outside the rooms, Shel said, "I'll meet you on the beach in about fifteen minutes."

I went into the room, tossed my pack on the bed, went into the bathroom, pissed, and then came back into the room and sat in the chair, looking at the beach and ocean spread out before me. What the Hell was going on? Hawaii? Separate rooms? And what was this business about birdwatching? I had no choice but to get into a swimming suit, tee shirt, and towel and head for the beach.

Shel beat me there and was stretched out on a towel absorbing the sun. He said, "Sunbathing is a forbidden pleasure these days, but I am going to cheat, just a little, in the next week."

I went and got a beach umbrella and stretched out next to him. I stuck the umbrella into the sand so that it shielded him as well as me. I told him, "I made a commitment to you a while back, and part of that is to love you and take care of you. I don't want to be dealing with skin cancer in twenty years."

He didn't protest. He simply said, "Our birdwatching trip begins early in the morning on Sunday. Between now and then we can do whatever you would like–I've made no plans."

"That isn't like you Shel. You've actually left four unprogrammed days? I vote for the beach until I get tired of it, and that may never happen. Now, what's this shit about separate rooms?"

"No sex until my birthday. It's an insurance policy."

"We can't cuddle up together as we sleep?"

"Not until my birthday arrives. We're both going to be very hot by then. Oh, yes, no jacking off either."

"I'm not sure I can hold out. Beside, how will you know, if we have separate rooms?"

"I trust you. If I can make it, you can."

"OK. I'll promise to try."

By the third day I was bored with the beach. We rented a car and toured the island for the next two days. I couldn't get anything out of him about the plans for birdwatching.

Sunday I was aroused by Shel coming through the connecting door pushing a breakfast cart. As we ate he told me to pack up and be in the lobby by 8:30 a.m.–he'd handle the check out. At 8:30 I found Shel with a group of six rather unusual characters including a young woman who was obviously the leader of the group. Shel introduced me to Janie, our leader, and to Fred and Sylvia Dalien, a retired couple from Maine; Jill and Bob Cartwright a couple about my age from Honolulu; Molly Simpson and Fran Coulter, both middle aged women who looked like a lesbian couple if any two women ever did, but that may have been unfair stereotyping. Every single one of them had an expensive pair of binoculars hanging around their neck–including Shel. He handed me my own pair and I dutifully hung them around my neck. Our guide announced, "Welcome to Christmas Birdwatching. I'll be you're guide for the next five days. I am sure that you're going to enjoy your trip, and I very much hope that you'll be able to add to your life lists. In particular, I know that you all are hoping to add the bokikokiko, which is found only on Kiritimati, which is now the official name for Christmas Island in the nation of Kiribati. We have the potential of seeing more than thirty other birds on our trip, but we'll make a special effort to sight the bokikokiko. We'll be leaving for the airport in about twenty minutes. I have to go and make final arrangements for our van. I hope you'll all take the opportunity to get to know each other."

Christmas Island? Where in the Hell was that? And why on earth were we going there? Shel and I had no life lists to add to; I couldn't care less about seeing a bokikokiko, or whatever it was called; and I couldn't believe that Shel did. But it was clear that we were about to head for Kiritimati in Kiribati, whether I liked it or not. Clearly Shel liked the idea. He was eagerly getting to know our travel companions for the next five days.

I'll admit that all of our companions were quite likeable, if completely strange. They lived and breathed birds. It turned out that all of them had life lists over 2,000, and 2,000 is double the usual goal for most non-fanatic birders. We would learn, in conversations over the next few days, that the record life list was in the 8,000's and that the total number of species was about 10,000. The person in our group with the longest life list was Fred Dalien whose list numbered 5,126. He was hoping to add as many as ten to fifteen birds to the list, and in particular was determined to get the bokikokiko which could only be seen on Kiritimati. I still had no clue why Shel and I were in this group.

On the way to the airport Shel gave us a little geography lesson–it was clear that he'd been studying about Kiritimati. It's part of the Line Islands, specifically in the Northern Line Islands. It was discovered by Captain Cook in 1777, annexed by Great Britain in 1888 and became part of The Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony in 1919. The colony became two independent countries in 1978 when the Ellice Islands became Tuvalu, and in 1979 when the Gilbert Islands, including most of the Line Islands, became Kiribati. There were American claims to some of the Line Islands, and these were relinquished by the Treaty of Tarawa, ratified in 1983. I didn't really want to know all of that, but I'll have to admit it was interesting–and presented by Shel in greater detail than I've presented it here.

Of more importance was the fact that Kiritimati (Christmas Island) was just over 1,200 miles almost due south of Hawaii. When we got to the airport we learned that we would fly in a small to medium size turboprop of Air Pacific–the airline of Fiji. We learned that Air Pacific provided irregular service to Kiritimati, generally flying there about two times a month. There were only a couple of passengers other than our group, but quite a bit of freight. We would cruise at just under 300 m.p.h. and the trip would take about five hours. We would arrive at Kiritimati at about three in the afternoon. The plane would make a charter flight on Wednesday, returning Thursday, to pick up our group and some biologists from the University of Hawaii that had been working in Kiritimati for the past few months. I would learn later from Janie, our guide, that organizing these birdwatching trips was incredibly complicated, because there was seldom enough demand to make the cost of the flights reasonable. They'd been working for six months to make this tour work on the dates that Shel had requested. While the start date had been somewhat flexible, Shel's return date was inflexible. They had only made it work when Shel convinced the group from the University of Hawaii that they wanted to return on December 14. Shel later admitted that it had taken a phone call from the President of the University of North Dakota to the President of the University of Hawaii, who owed Tim a big favor for kindnesses Tim had extended at some time in the recent past. Tim had simply explained that traveling at the same time as our bird group would lower the per person cost. That's much more meaningful to a university president than to scientists who expect their grants to pay all their bills.

We arrived at the airport on Kiritimati about three, cleared immigration and customs almost instantly, and were put in two "taxis" headed for London, one of four towns on the island and one of the two largest–having a population of just over 1,500. London was also the port and the seat of government. It also contained a hotel–guest house would be the better term. It had eight rooms, all with twin beds (as it was common that unrelated persons had to share), and a little dining area on a patio to the rear, facing the ocean. We checked in, and as I completed my registration form I noticed the calendar behind the desk. It was a month by month wall calendar and December was showing. Someone had carefully crossed out each date so that the first uncrossed date would be "today." However, today was crossed out and the first uncrossed date was tomorrow, Monday, December 11, 2000. I pointed this out to the man at the desk, and Shel burst out laughing. Through his mirth he managed to get out, "Let's go to the room, drop our packs, and come back down to the patio for some refreshments. Then I'll explain." He turned to the group and said, "Welcome to Monday. Let's meet for a snack on the patio in about fifteen minutes. Does that work for our schedule, Janie?"

"Sure. We have nothing planned for today except for a chance to walk on the beach. This evening I am going to talk a little about the bird population on the island. The box lunches on the plane weren't much, I'm sure everyone would enjoy a snack."

Shel would answer no questions as we went to the room, but the implications of the calendar that I'd seen were beginning to sink in. As we gathered for fresh coconut and canned fruit on the patio, Janie said, "For those of you who are still confused about the calendar, Shel has agreed to continue his history and geography lesson."

"Neither Britain nor the United States, both of which claimed this island, worried about its time zone. Since it was due south of Hawaii it was considered to be in the Hawaiian time zone, which is Zulu, that is, Greenwich, minus ten hours. With independence, and then agreement by the United States in 1983 to give up all claims to the island, its relationship to Tarawa (yes, of infamous World War II battle fame), the capital of Kiribati, became much closer. But there was a problem, not only were they two time zones apart, they were on opposite sides of the International Date Line. When it was Friday here it was Saturday in Tarawa. So there were only six business hours a day, and only four days a week, when officials and businesses could talk to each other. Before radios that made no difference at all, but in the days of electronic communications that was a problem. The solution was very simple–move the International Date Line so that this island was on the same side as Tarawa. You might think that moving the International Date Line was a big deal and would take international agreements, treaties, or some such. But that isn't so. It turns out that the International Date Line is simply a line on the map put there by cartographers to show where the day changes. Each government near the line decides what time zone it's in and whether that time zone is considered west of Greenwich, like Hawaii, or east of Greenwich, like Japan. For example, in the north Russia considers all of Siberia to be east of Greenwich, even though it crosses the 180th meridian. Then the United States considers all of the Aleutian Islands to be west of Greenwich, even though they extend beyond the 180th meridian the other direction. It's strictly a national decision, not an international one. The cartographers show the line on the map that simply reflects the national decisions of each nation. So in 1985 Kiribati decided that all of the country would be on the west of the International Date Line, and the date in Tarawa is same as Kiritimati. Kiritimati stays in the same time zone as Hawaii, so it has the same time as Honolulu, but a different day. So when we flew from Honolulu to Kiritimati, the day advanced from Sunday to Monday. When we go back on Friday, we'll arrive back in Honolulu on Thursday. And, yes, Brian, that means that I'll celebrate my birthday here on Kiritimati."

All of a sudden it all made sense. The kind of perverse sense that only Shel could manage. He had found the unique place on earth where his birthday would arrive first. And he'd managed to get himself, and me, there to celebrate the arrival of his birthday. God only knew what was going to happen at midnight Thursday, or specifically at 00:00 a.m. on Friday, December 15, 2000. Now that I think about it, the only thing that I should've found surprising was that he didn't have the whole Gang with us on Kiritimati.

Janie proved to be quite knowledgeable about the birds on Kiritimati, and was quite entertaining in her descriptions. A major El Niño in 1983-84 had caused severe weather patterns on Kiritimati and dramatically decreased bird populations. Now, seventeen years later, the populations still hadn't recovered, but none had been eliminated from the island.

She put special emphasis on the bokikokiko, the bird everyone present wanted to add to their life list–well, except for Shel and me–and the main reason that most of them had paid the huge cost of this trip (at least I assumed that it was huge; the actual cost of this whole drama was the only thing that neither Shel, nor Fred, nor anybody would ever tell me. All I could get out of anyone was that I was worth it. That's very affirming, but not very informing.) We learned that it was also found on Washington Island, also in Kiribati in the Northern Line Islands, and had been found on Fanning Island, but was extirpated there about 1972. Travel to Washington Island was only by sea and difficult to arrange; if they wanted to see the bokikokiko they needed to find it on Kiritimati. She didn't think that was going to be too difficult.

The bokikokiko, also called the Kiritimati reed-warbler, was predominantly grey with white feather edging, and of about average size. It wasn't likely confused with other birds on the island. It inhabited several inlets, and we would set out for them tomorrow. It would be about a twenty-five mile ride and then we would cover about five miles on foot, eating lunch on the way, being picked up for the return trip in time for dinner.

If the bokikokiko wasn't sighted by everyone, the next day's trip would be similar, still seeking the bokikokiko. But it was assumed that the bokikokiko would be seen on the first day, and in that case the second day would be spent exploring the beach on the south end of the island, where it was expected that ten to a dozen sea birds might be seen. The third day we would drive all the way around the lagoon (London was on the north side of the lagoon) and come up the south peninsula back toward London, but separated by the lagoon opening. It was expected that on the south peninsula we would have a good chance of seeing a different variety of sea birds.

For Shel and me it wouldn't be quite as exciting as it would for these birders. However, they didn't have a birthday party at the end to look forward to! It would, however, fill our days, keep us busy, and we would see a part of the world that very few people ever see. I wasn't unhappy with the adventure that lay before us for the next three days, and neither was Shel.

It didn't take the group long to figure out that we weren't here for birdwatching, and we didn't pretend to be. It was Molly and Fran, the lesbian couple, that first figured out what we were doing on Kiritimati. We were eating lunch near an inlet on the first day when the two of them came up to us, and Fran said, "We're betting that the birthday that you referred to, Shel, is your eighteenth. You two are going to have quite a night, aren't you? Or should I say morning? Molly and I had a similar night about five years ago. It wasn't anyone's birthday, but the day that one of us got brave enough to come out to the other."

I had to laugh; they had us accurately pegged. And our assumptions about their sexuality were completely correct. I basically said that, and Molly said to Fran, "See, I told you we fit the stereotype. We can't hide it, you know." We all laughed, and Shel said, "Luckily we live in a place where we don't have to hide it."

"Lucky you. You know, Jill and Bob also figured out that we were lesbian, and they aren't too happy about it. If they figure you two out, they won't be at all happy."

Shel said, "Oh, too bad. What about Fred and Sylvia? They're older. Any idea what they think?"

"Yeah. They were the ones that told us that Jill and Bob weren't too happy about us. Bob said something to Sylvia and she had a fit. She told them to mind their own business and not worry about us. She and her husband, Fred, went out of their way to tell us we were welcome in the group. Age doesn't prove anything."

Shel, being Shel, decided to get it all out in the open. That night at dinner, right after the celebration of our afternoon's find of a small flock of bokikokikos, Shel told the group that we were lovers, that he'd fallen in love with me eight years before, and that we were on Christmas Island because it was the first place on earth that he would be eighteen years old. He didn't fill in the blanks, but you would've had to be pretty stupid not to figure out the implications of that.

The next two days moved slowly, but according to Janie's plan. We did see lots of birds, and everybody's life list was extended. Thursday evening we all sat around on the patio after dinner and talked about the birds, and in our case the birds and the bees. Everyone drifted off to bed, and Shel took my hand and led me down on the beach. We walked a ways north to an uninhabited area and lay down on the sand. It was 10:45 p.m., December 14, 2000. The night was warm, cloudless, and there was only a very light breeze. Shel had been carrying a bag, and he pulled out two swim suits. "Put yours on."

I did, and so did he. We swam in the surf for a while, came out and just lay on the beach. At exactly midnight he rolled over on top of me, kissed me deeply, and moved down my body to slip off the swim suit. His was already gone. Back to kissing, then he moved down my body licking and sucking my nipples, then my balls, then my belly button, my dick, pubic hair, ass, lips, dick, nipples, dick–that was all it took. Having not had an orgasm for over a week it exploded quite readily. It seemed to fill Shel's mouth, and he sucked voraciously for several minutes. Then he kissed me, and what was left of my semen was shared. He was on top of me, hugging me so tight I thought he might crack a rib. Finally he relaxed, and lay back on the sand.

He didn't say anything, but his body said it all. He was hard as a rock, and his body simply screamed, "Your turn." I started to suck him, but decided that I wanted to use my hand. His dick was still a little wet and my hand didn't slide very well. I said, "I need some lube."

"Not lube, silly. I don't know why everybody wants to lube up their hands and dick. Lube is for assholes. Baby powder is for dicks." He handed me a canister. I shook it over his dick and then wrapped my fingers around it and pumped. It slid smoothly and easily, and Shel, as hot or hotter than me (age eighteen after all) shot stream after stream up over his stomach, chest, and chin. Then I was on top of him, he was on top of me, me on top of him, and we rolled into the ocean, where we swam and finally got all of the mess cleaned up. Then it was back to the beach to try 69. No, not try, do 69–we were both fully capable of a repeat orgasm. Another quick swim to get the sand off, and we put our suits back on for the walk back to our room in the hotel.

We shared one of the single beds.

The next morning began a race against the clock, but one that Shel had planned carefully and was sure we would win. We were up at six, had a light breakfast and were taken to the airport with our birdwatching group. There we had to wait a short while for the arrival of the University of Hawaii researchers that had spent the night at a fishing resort not too far away. Our plane had overnighted, and was filled with cargo, and that included folding up all the seats in the front third of the plane so that cargo could be carried. We boarded and soon were off toward Honolulu heading due north. However, because of the strange eastward shift of the International dateline to accommodate Kiribati, we crossed the dateline about a fourth of the way to Hawaii. I should note that while time on land and in territorial waters is governed by national governments, time and date at sea are governed by maritime conventions and treaty. Thus the date line followed the edge of the territorial waters of Kiribati. I asked the pilot to announce when we crossed it and he did so announce about 45 minutes after takeoff. I turned to Shel and said, "Sorry, kid, but you're age seventeen again, It's December 14."

He said, "I know. This way I get two birthdays, but I wouldn't trade the one early this morning for anything."

I told him, "Shel, I can't believe you organized all of this. I know it wasn't for the 20 hour head start, it was a symbolic gesture of your love."

"Bullshit. I got to suck your dick twenty hours earlier. That was worth the whole damn effort."

"However you put it, I love you for it."

"I love you, too, buddy."

We landed at Honolulu International Airport at about two in the afternoon. At five we boarded a flight to Dallas which arrived about five the next morning, Shel's birthday! It took us until 2:32 in the afternoon to get to Grand Forks changing in Minneapolis. Tim and Charlie met us at the plane and took us directly to the Fred. Thank goodness we were both able to sleep on the long flight from Honolulu to Dallas, and we both snoozed a little en route to Minneapolis. Now we just had time for a nice long, hot shower. We were alone in the shower room, and Shel reminded me of the date. I let him play a little, returned the favor a little, but suggested that we might wait until his birthday party was over.

"What birthday party?"

"The one you have all arranged. Why else would Charlie have driven us to the Fred and not to The Lighthouse, or even your house?"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Of course not."

We got out of the shower and instead of putting on street clothes, he proceeded to put on his practice outfit for figure skating, telling me to do the same. I complied–there wasn't much point in protesting or asking questions. We headed out onto the ice to be greeted by a great cheer–from all the Gang, COGs, Cavers, Lighthouse residents, a number of his fellow skaters at the Fred, and other specially invited friends. On a low platform in the middle of the ice was a huge birthday cake. Shel skated around the rink, looking for all the world like he was warming up for something bigger. At that point Auggie stood up and announced, "Shel's birthday surprise for all of us is the debut of his long program for the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City."

I certainly knew that Shel was putting together a program for Salt Lake, and I had some idea of what would be included in it. But I had no idea that he had decided on a final program–it was a little early to be doing that, and I really didn't see how he could've done it without my being aware of it. But Auggie certainly wasn't making that announcement without Shel's knowledge, so evidently Shel was ready with his 2002 program. If so, I was eager to see it.

Shel went to center ice, just in front of the cake, bowed to us and struck a pose like he was in the "Get set" position for a race. His music started with a dramatic drumbeat and a fast tempo march. He treated the drumbeat as a starting gun and was off as if he were in a race. He very gracefully executed a turn only inches away from the end of the ice and flew back toward center ice, executing a triple, triple axel, with a speed and beauty rarely seen anywhere. His program, executed at unbelievable speed, included two quads and triples of all kinds, and three magnificent spins that I couldn't hope to rival. In the middle the music changed abruptly and switched to "The Swan" ballet by Saint-Sans. For thirty second we seemed to be magically transported to a ballet stage as Shel seemed more of a ballerina than a figure skater; I'd never seen ice skating even remotely like it. "The Swan" is often performed to a dying swan which fits the music perfectly, but Shel had chosen music from the early part of the piece, before the swan slows and dies. As his ballet ended, the music slowly speeded and morphed into an instrumental version of "It's a Hard Day's Night" by the Beatles. Shel was transformed as was the music and was back to his daring spins and his last quad–which ended his program.

I was awestruck. It wasn't flawless, though he didn't miss any of his moves. But he had a year and a half to perfect it. That he could do it at all was remarkable–I was, and am, completely convinced that no other figure skater on earth could accomplish that program–certainly I couldn't, and that settled for once and for all which of the two of us was the better. It wasn't me. I skated out to him and we hugged and kissed. He said, "That was for you, lover. I've been working on it for at least four years. You've seen me do all of the individual elements–except the ballet–but have never seen them put together. Did you like 'The Swan'?"

With that he pulled me over to the cake, shoved his hand in and grabbed a hunk of cake and icing and pushed it into my mouth. I was about to return the favor when he took off like a shot. I knew I'd never catch him, and skated over to Auggie. The cake was pushed to the side of the rink and was cut into huge pieces being passed to everyone. Toppy got out a trumpet and led us all in "Happy Birthday" to Shel. This was followed by the chant of "Age, age, tell your age; we won't shut up till you tell your age."

Shel yelled, "Eighteen," and skated over to me. He very dramatically shoved his hands inside my waistband and very obviously massaged my groin. For this he got a loud cheer from the spectators and a kiss from me.

Auggie yelled, "Patience, Shel. It's time for dinner. Auggie led the parade to the entrance foyer of the Fred–the largest open space in the building that didn't have an ice floor. There tables had been set up for dinner, and the university catering service served a magnificent prime rib roast dinner–with each plate having a thick slab of beef with a rib attached! It's a good thing that members of the Gang were pretty good at limiting their calorie intake for regular meals, because when they feasted, they feasted!

There were no speeches, just good conversation and fellowship. Shel and I ate quickly and then walked around and visited every table. Shel thanked everyone for coming and invited them to come by the Fred and watch him practice anytime they wished. By eight o'clock we were winding down and people started leaving. I wondered what, if anything was coming next, but realized that asking wasn't going to get me any information. While Shel had been part of the planning for his birthday party, he hadn't been part of any planning for the grand event of joining the Gang.

Finally all were gone but Charlie and Tim. Charlie said, "You guys don't have a car here, do you? I guess you'd better ride with us. Are you heading to The Lighthouse or your home, Shel?"

Shel answered, "The Lighthouse, where else?" The four of us went out to Charlie's car and got in, Shel and me in the back seat. We drove to The Lighthouse, but instead of letting us out in front and heading to Dakota House, Charlie drove the car into the parking lot behind, which we discovered to be quite full. We were directed to The Hideout, and went in the back door. We were greeted by Willie who directed us to go upstairs. The downstairs was dark, and we didn't see anyone, but we were pretty sure that the Gang was present, somewhere.

Upstairs we were sent into the master bedroom which was full of other COGs and their partners. Max, except for Shel the youngest person present, said, "We've all been told to strip naked and be ready."

I said, "And I see you have all followed that direction."

Max said, "We couldn't wait."

Shel and I stripped naked along with the others. I was 29 and older than all of the COGs. Bob, the oldest COG present was 25, and they ranged down to Max and Shel at age 18. I hadn't been sexually involved with this group, but had seen most of them naked. Nevertheless, this was a fairly arousing sight.

Then Wille called, "Open the doors and listen up. Each of you will be going downstairs, one at a time, as I call your names. I know which room you're in, so I'll open the door when I call your name. Then you're to head downstairs and you'll be told there what to do. Now please shut the doors."

I then realized that there were others than COGs in the other rooms. It seemed, however, that the COGs were going first, as the first name called was Willie's younger brother, Bob. I learned later that each was given a Gang number, and I'll list, in order, everyone that was called:

96 Seth, oldest Caver

97 Janice, partner of Seth, Caver

98 Evan, partner of Nick, Caver

103 Julia, partner of Dylan, Caver, second group

104 Lorrie, partner of Winston, Caver, second group

105 Tyler, Caver, third group

106 Winston, partner of Lorrie, Honorary Caver, third group

The ceremony was the same for each of us. Our name was called, we walked down the grand front staircase in The Hideout, and all of the Gang was standing around at the bottom. As we walked down the stairs Toppy sounded the trumpet with an appropriate musical flourish for each of us. All that had Olympic medals came down the stairs to the Olympic fanfare. Bob walked down to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Auggie, Perry, and Norman got the sea chanty, "Blow the Man Down." Everyone got something appropriate.

Three stairs from the bottom we were stopped, told to spread our legs, and asked, "Do you want to join the Gang?"

"Yes."

"Turn around and bend over." The appropriate number was inscribed on our two buns and we were told that we had now become members of the Gang. If partners were members of the Gang, they did the inscribing. If not, and if parents were Gang members they got the honor, each taking one bun. For the rest, an appropriate Gang member was selected. As we stood and watched subsequent new Gang members descend the staircase, we felt ourselves being fondled and goosed, but lightly and casually. We all had the good sense not to try to interfere, nor to try to figure out who was doing what.

Before Sally and Connie came down it was explained that Willie and Hardie had joined before they met Sally and Connie. By the time the two girls were ready to join the Gang, the COGs had agreed to a moratorium until today. Though the Gang offered to have them join, because their husbands were already in the Gang, they declined until all the rest of the COGs joined.

Almost last down the stairs was Lucy, from the first group of cavers and Austin's partner. Since she was an Olympic gold medalist, she came down the stairs to the Olympic fanfare. Toppy then played a stanza and chorus of "Old Hundredth," the popular name for the hymn "All People That on Earth Do Dwell" which is based on Psalm 100. This wasn't a particularly churchy group, but enough had grown up in the Christian church, or were familiar with its music, that they got the point.

Austin came forward to mark Lucy's buns, but when Lucy turned around Austin was confronted with a problem: a three-digit number and two buns! He put a one on the left bun, circled around the central hole with a zero, and put the second zero on the right bun.

Finally came the second and third groups of Cavers, Dylan, Julia, Lorrie, Tyler, and the loveable Winston, an Honorary Caver, and now full Gang member. Marty had done the marking on the last group of Cavers. When he finished with Winston, he capped the marker, said, "We don't need this anymore," and shoved it about halfway up Winston's ass. Somebody started a round of applause–we weren't sure whether it was for Marty, Winston, or Winston's ass.

The procession was finished. Several people left and returned with tubs of Cokes in bottles; everyone received one; and Charlie proposed a toast, "To the Gang, having passed its century mark in numbers, may it hit its century mark in years as joyful, robust, loving, and supportive as it's been since seven campers and one counselor discovered strength in numbers, exactly forty years ago this past August."

We all lifted our bottles, clinked them against the bottles of the Gang members near us, and drank the liquid–as sweet as the friendships it represented.

Then Ronnie rose and got everyone's attention. "Three things need yet to be accomplished, and all will be before the night's over. First, Winston, you can pull that thing out of your ass. Second, we need to start the process of getting to know our new members better. For those of you who may not be fully aware of the ins and outs of life in the Gang, when you think about that word, know, think in terms of the King James Version. Now, here's the deal. Amazingly, there are thirty-seven new Gang members. However, sixteen of those have partners in the thirty-seven, so if we think of those eight pairs as units, we have twenty-nine new members or pairs. And that's almost exactly equal to the number of homes Gang members have in Grand Forks. Each of you, including couples, and Willie and Hardie you'll go with your wives, are going to be invited to one of those homes for the night. In some cases another Gang member or two will be joining you–that includes the Michiganders and a couple of others who aren't playing host or hostess. As to what happens tonight; well, that's up to you. I'll just remind everyone of the first rule of the Gang: no one is pushed outside of their comfort zone.

Then Sid rose and spoke: "Ronnie said there were three things to be accomplished tonight. The third will involve a visit from either the team of Cathy, Auggie, and me, or Merle, Tina, and Lynn. We'll be sketching pictures of the new Gang members. We'll be working naked, and we'll expect our subjects to be naked. If there are questions, forget it; we aren't answering them, all will be revealed in the near future. Emphasis on the word revealed."

Well, I can't describe what went on in any of the other houses, but I certainly have a clear memory of Shel's and my experiences that night. Shortly after Sid finished speaking Bernie went over to Shel and told him that we would be his and Beverly's guests that evening. We could ride over in his car. We arrived at their house–it'd been Beverly and Sam's house before Sam's death–and were quickly followed by Dick and Jeff from Detroit and Camp White Elk.

Beverly invited us all into the living room. There was a pastry tray on a table covered with a glass dome. Beverly removed that dome and invited us to help ourselves to dessert. As we did that, she offered Cokes, tea, or coffee. She had tea, Bernie had coffee, and the rest of us had Cokes. The pastries were sweet and delicious, and I, at least, had two. I was pretty sure that whatever would come next, it would likely involve our losing our clothes, and I wasn't wrong. We were all sitting in comfortable chairs in a circle, and Beverly spoke. "Shel, I understand that you're just turning eighteen. I turned eighty this year, more than four times your age. We find ourselves in the same Gang–a Gang that has pretty emphatically rejected age differences as not being all that important in human relationships."

Shel gently interrupted her. "And I am about to be tested on whether I buy into that concept, right?"

Bernie said, "Well, it's not really a test. Remember, no one gets pushed outside of their comfort zone."

Jeff said, "Well, it doesn't sound to me like it's going to be much of a test for Shel, but it may be for Dick and me. Not living in Grand Forks, we haven't been a part of the intergenerational goings on in Grand Forks, though we've certainly heard about them. It appears that tonight four of us are going to confront that reality; at least I assume that that's where this is leading, Beverly."

"It certainly is, and regardless of his brash exterior, I am very eager to see how well Shel handles this. Shel, get your clothes off and then come over here and help me get mine off. The rest of you follow along as you please."

Beverly was right, Shel found himself in a little over his head. It'd been easy for him to fall in love with a man about a decade his senior. A woman six decades his senior was something else. I squeezed his hand and whispered in his year, "I don't think you want to admit that this is outside of your comfort zone. Go for it, kiddy."

He stripped and was very hard long before his underwear was off. He walked over to Beverly who hugged him as she stayed seated, and let her hands run down his back to his ass. Then she reached forward from behind and grabbed his balls. The unexpected squeeze made him jump back, and Beverly grabbed his dick. "Come back, Shel. I won't bite. Help me get my sweater, blouse and bra off."

Shel seemed a little awkward, but managed to get her naked above the waist. "Suck them, Shel." He did. "Harder. They're experienced, they can take it. Suck 'em, boy." In that instant Shel got the message: This was a woman, a sexy woman, and her age and a few wrinkles didn't make any difference. He stepped back, took her hand and helped her stand, and then undid the fastenings on her slacks so they dropped to the floor. He jerked her panties down, invited her to sit, and took off her shoes and anklets, and removed her slacks and panties from around her ankles. He invited her to stand, and they hugged tightly. We all softly cheered.

Shel looked around the room and said, "OK, people, all of you get naked." We did.

Beverly said, "We're heading up to the king-size bed and Shel, then Brian, then Dick, and finally Jeff are going to fuck me. No need for condoms, I'm well past the danger age. I am really looking forward to being serviced by you four magnificent studs. After you, Shel."

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