The Book of Aric
by Doc Sawzall
It was near the end of summer when the draft notice came. It never should have as Ethan was enrolled as a commuting student at the Agricultural College, he should have been exempt from the draft. We didn't find out till later that the admissions office had screwed up and have failed to process his paperwork officially enrolling him. I was pissed at the thought that they had cashed the check and took his money, without a thank you kindly. At supper time Ethan handed the draft notice to his father who after reading it had a very concerned look on his face. Ethan went pale and looked at his father uncomprehendingly. At first I was confused, puzzled as the ramifications were unclear to me. I did not fully grasp the consequences. I simply figured it was a correctable mistake. Mr. Tompkins said he would make a few phone calls to sort the situation out. After a few days' past by the draft notice slipped my mind as life continued on as normal.
It was about two weeks later when Ethan brought me out to the pond out past the barns. I could tell he wasn't centered, something was bothering him. Stepping out of the jeep he grabbed our blanket and placed it in the clearing so we could look out over the pond. Of all of the places on the farm this was our spot above all others. My senses and internal alarms started to alarm me and my concern was going off the charts. Fear and dread began to creep into me as I tried to get a sense of what was going on. We had shared enough that each of us could read the other. None of this was helped by the set-in Ethan's jaw. He was frowning and obviously concerned. His brow was furrowed and while normally reticent he was downright taciturn and monosyllabic in his conversation with me. Sitting on the blanket he patted the space beside him and motioned me over and I sat beside him. Placing his arm across my shoulders he pulled me closer and I placed my head against him and sat quietly for a few moments. Gazing over the pond and steeling himself, he told me how much he loved me. Picking my head off of his shoulder I turned to look at him to tell him the same when I noticed the tears streaming down his face.
"Dad tried but the draft notice is final. I have to report to basic training in two weeks" he said with a voice tinged with resignation. "I am not afraid of going and serving my country. It will help to pay for school once I am out. It is for four years and I will find a way to see you at every chance. If I have to, I will fly you to me if I can't get home. I love you Aric with all my heart. I won't blame you if you want to move on, four years is a long time to wait ".
Looking at Ethan I saw the full range of emotions play across his face. He held his hand out to me and I took it. I brought his hand to my chest and placed it against my heart. "I loved you yesterday, I loved you the first time I saw you and I loved you this morning" I sobbed "I love you now and I will love you tomorrow. I will love you to the day I draw my last breath. There isn't any way I could ever stop loving you". As the last of those words passed my lips I released his hand, grabbed him by the shoulders and forced him down on his back as I spun and sat on him. "I don't know what the future holds and how we will get through all of this but we won't fail because of me". Ethan slipped his hands from my grasp and brought my lips to his. We kissed as lovers for several minutes in a state of sheer joy, panic and trepidation. Breaking our kiss Ethan stood up and grabbed me by the elbow and brought me up with him. He told me to grab the blanket as he took a basket out of the back of the jeep. Placing his free arm around me we walked down to the edge of the pond. What I didn't see when we arrived earlier was the rowboat. The son of a gun had this planned all along. Placing the basket in the boat he then took the blanket and put it over the basket and guided me into the back of the boat. With one leg in and the other on shore he pushed off. Picking up the oars he rowed us out and situated midway in the pond is the island. I have been told the pond is about 65 acres in size and the island while not large is about 15 acres in size. It is a combination of field and forest and has blueberries all over it. There is an old fire pit not to far up from a classic sandy New England cove.
Once Ethan had brought the rowboat to shore he reversed the process in emptying out the rowboat. With the basket in one hand and me in the other with the blanket we walked a few yards in. Placing the basket down, he took the blanket from me and set it out. From the basket, he brought out plates and silverware and set our places. He then set out some cold fried chicken and apple pie. We washed it down with a couple cans of soda. We sat side by each and enjoyed the food, view and each other. When we had finished, he gathered everything up and once everything was put away and the basket moved to the side, Ethan gently placed a hand on me and lay me back. He unbuttoned my shorts and brought them off my legs and removed my shoes, socks and my tee shirt shortly followed. I lay there as I watched him undress and then bring himself to me. We confirmed our love that summer afternoon and while we did not take the next step I knew it would be coming soon and I was content to wait for it to happen. The sun was setting and the mosquitoes were coming out by the time we returned to the jeep.
In between our bouts of passion, we had talked openly of our dreams for each other, our dreams for us and our fears. Of a life, we both wanted working the farm living together. While we knew, there would be time and distance apart as a result of my schooling, college and his service, we would be just as determined to work out and through this interruption in our plans. Neither of us was very happy with our prospects for the immediate future but we were resolved to see it through.
We enjoyed each other and had a very memorable night on the eve of his departure. We grasped, fondled shared moments, held hands and appreciated every moment as we took that next step. The morning of his departure Ethan brought me up to the old hickory tree above the farmhouse and next to the family cemetery. Turning to me he dropped to one knee and took my hands in his.
"Squirt…ah crap…Aric Peterson…listen to me please. "In front of family past and present I ask permission to commit myself fully to you. While I can't give you a ring I can give you this" he said as he brought my hands to his heart. "I pledge myself to no other and ask if you will have me". Looking at him with tear filled eyes I slid down so our faces were even and simply said "Yes". We held hands as we walked town to the farmhouse. As we passed the barn we let go as we approached his father's waiting car. There was nothing left to say as we made our goodbyes with heavy hearts. I couldn't bring myself to take those final steps and ride as I felt it only right that father and son share that ride.
Nearly two years later
I was standing the workbench in the tool shed cleaning or trying to clean some sparkplugs as Eddy entered and walked past me and sat on the bench, I could tell something was up. "How's it going Eddy? You still look pretty frazzled".
"I don't know Squirt; I just can believe Ethan is gone".
"I know what you mean, I have also been lost in a fog, nothing feels right, I can't seem to enjoy anything and I have no appetite. I just wish I could understand why something so senseless had to happen. I mean his letter helped but it seems so fucking stupid". I could barely choke back the anger, the black all-consuming rage that was living somewhere deep inside of me. "I only wish I had the magic words that would make all of this go away and all of us return to normal. God I just miss him so fucking much ".
Tears start to flow down my cheeks. I can't bear to look at Eddy for fear that I will break down completely. Ethan is barely a week into the grave and despite everyone's kind comments and concern, it isn't getting any better. I'm in a deep hole and I can't crawl out. Eddy is quietly sobbing beside me. His hands are clenching the edge of the bench and his eyes are burning holes in the floor. His body when not wracked by sobs trembles slightly. Drawing a deep breath, he starts a conversation that floors me to the very depths of my being. "Squirt I need to ask a favor of you… before you answer I need you to promise listen carefully".
"Anything Eddy just let me know".
"There's no easy way to say or ask this and I will understand if you get upset at me. I need you to think through what I am asking and how important what I need is to me. You need to promise not to interrupt till I am done speaking. Please keep this as a favor strictly between the two of us".
"Eddy you have my word, fire away".
"Squirt I know how much you cared for Ethan and for that matter all of us, while we may not be related by blood we are by choice. We share a connection and I along with the rest of the family think of you as one of us. You will always have a place here at the farm and we don't want to lose you now that Ethan is gone".
Tears are running freely now and Eddy's words are providing some comfort and confirming a connection I always knew was there. I could feel some of the hurt dissipating; taking some of the weight I have been carrying around leaving my body.
"Having said that Squirt need to ask a personal favor, I understand if you are reluctant or say no but before you answer, please think of why I am asking".
Eddy placed a hand under my chin and lifted my head up to meet his eyes and holds it there. Drawing in a deep breath he goes "I know how close you were to Ethan." Startled I started to draw back, fear consumes me.
"This stays between us Squirt, you can relax. I suspected for a couple of weeks before Ethan was drafted but just passed it off as the two of you becoming best friends. Just how closely I didn't know until I saw the two of you in this room. I was stunned at first and I had no problem accepting it. I thought what the two of you was nothing more than what I would do given the chance. I am going to have to trust you with this next part and as you can probably guess Squirt, you're the only one that knows that I am just like you and Ethan ".
I was stunned, floored and completely surprised; there was no frigging way in a million years that I would have ever seen this coming. I opened my mouth as if to speak when Eddy placed a finger against my lips and continued.
"Having lost Ethan, it would kill me to lose you. I couldn't bear it and I don't know if I could find the strength to carry on. I don't know what the future holds or who I will find to share my bed with, but you need to understand with Ethan being away for the better part of two years and now in the ground, I am starting to lose him in my memory. I feel I can't remember the sound of his voice or what he looked like. I carry his picture so I can remember what he looked like Squirt, He is fading away from me as time goes on and I am so frigging scared. What I have to ask you can't drive a wedge between us so please consider very carefully what I am about to ask you ".
"Each time you and Ethan made love, you left a part of your souls with each other. You freely gave the best of yourself to Ethan and he did as well for you. You absorbed part of Ethan's essence and because of that he lives on in you. I know this will sound insane and over the top but I need you to help me. I need that part of you inside of me. I need you to give to me the best part of you and Ethan. I hope you can understand why I am asking to help me with this crazy desperate need of mine. You need to understand by doing this you are giving me a cherished part of my brother back. Not only do I have a part of Ethan with me forever but I gain a brother, you also become a permanent part of me, and me you. Please, can you find it in your heart to help me"? Eddy's tears fall like raindrops and streak his cheeks in tiny rivulets. His gaze implores my soul seeking my quiescence for his tender supplication. To connect him with a part of a brother forever lost. He is in need of the tender mercies, the gift that only I can give. I looked deeply into Eddy's eyes, my tears matching his. Bringing my hands to the side of his face I brought us close and placed my arms around him. We hugged and comforted each other, two lost souls cast away in a cruel tempest raging through our lives. We were close enough I could feel his heart beat as he gave into the storm that threatened to consume the both of us. We were adrift, lost in a sea of pain. Holding him, helping him to hang on to what little we had left, I knew I had his answer.
'Yes…yes…I think I can. I understand and appreciate you asking me. I have to admit I never saw this coming. I never would have thought you were like us or that you caught us. We always tried to be so careful. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your keeping what you saw to yourself. I loved your brother more than life itself".
I thought it was an infatuation at first. We'd have our fun and if I was lucky maybe we'd do it a couple of times and move on. It didn't work out that way and before he left we planned a life together, a life living here and continuing on with the farm. I have been taught that the fastest a body can fall is 32 feet per second…squared and for those of you who believe in the metric system 9.8 meters per second…squared. I can tell you I think it is bullshit…I fell for Ethan in a fraction of a second, a blink of an eye; in the time, it took for my eyes to meet his. I knew before I knew. We can measure with electron microscopes the smallest of particles yet fail to measure the time it took to confirm what we were to each other.
"You need to know I can't just rush into this. I need some time to fully comprehend and come to terms with what we are going to do. I've only shared myself with your brother. Not if…but when we do this, and out of respect to your brother, it needs to be done right. It has to be special for the both of us; we can't force or rush this. I loved Ethan too much to be careless with his memory and the gift you seek. This just can't be just raw meaningless sex but done in the memory and with the love we both share of Ethan. Just give me some time to figure out where and when".
Eddy leaned forward and again placed his head on my shoulder, he was sobbing his heart out and I comforted him. After a few minutes his tears slowed and his breathing became more regular. I could feel the tenseness leaving the both of us, a decision had been made, one I never saw coming but strangely started to look forward to.
"Squirt" he said softly, "Just let me know when you are ready".
Leaning forward I gave Eddy a light kiss and told him "If I don't get this tractor fixed before supper your Dad won't be too happy. We'll talk before supper. Meet me back here after you are done with your chores and we'll walk up to the house together ".
I think for the first time since the moment I heard the news about Ethan's death, I noticed the sun was shining. I know it sounds stupid but I could hear the birds singing as well. It was if a long winter in my heart was ending. And my soul felt renewed in the nascent dawning of a new spring. Trouble was I couldn't make out or pinpoint an exact reason why with everything that had just transpired. I mean I knew fully what I had just committed myself to and to be frank, I was a little more than scared and worried than I let on. I knew somehow while it was a problem I could sort it out. I finished cleaning the plugs to the tractor, replaced the fuel, filter and she fired up on the first try. After letting her run for a few minutes, it turned her off. I cleaned up, put my tools away and straightened out the shop.
While I was doing this, memories started playing before my eyes. Many of them followed one another, of my first time with Ethan, of all of the times all over the farm, my fears on the day when his draft notice came only to be compounded when the finality of his leaving set in, of our last night together. The horror and shock that followed the day the military chaplain showed up at the door with that awful telegram. The pain, never ending pain and desolation, the raw nerve my soul evolved into and finally the letter he wrote, hoping it would never need to be given.
If everything hurt beyond belief the moment I found out it was doubled when I read his letter. The worst part was it happened, he died while he was on his way back home on a compassionate discharge Mr. Tompkins had a severe heart attack and Ethan was needed to run the farm. I didn't find that out until much later. His fucking plane from Saigon crashed on foggy runway while attempting in Germany. They only found his dog tags; I carry them with me always. Nothing else was found but charred bits and pieces of the planes passengers. It's all I have or will ever have now, that and my memories.
I remember sobbing uncontrollably and was inconsolable as the military honor guard fired their salute over a nearly empty casket at the family cemetery up by the old hickory tree. I took small cold comfort that from that vantage point; he would have for eternity the best view of the farm and the valley below. I had often come up here to think with Ethan or alone and it a small way it comforted me to know this would be where he would always be. As the last of the mourners left to return to their cars to leave Mr. Tompkins came up to me and told me to take my time. He asked me to come back to the farmhouse when I was ready. As he turned to leave he stopped, reached into his jacket pocket and with a deep look of concern handed me a letter sealed in an envelope.
"Ethan wanted you to have this letter if something were to happen to him. Please know I am always here for you, I love you as if you were one of my own. You are very dear to Mrs. Tompkins and me. I can't begin to tell you how much joy you bring to us. I will be on the porch waiting for you when you decide to come back down".
Waiting at the side of the cemetery were the rest of the Tompkins clan and my parents. There were Ethan's brothers, Ernest, Ezekiel, Everett, Edward and of course Eddy. Over the past couple of years, I had gotten to know all of them and could never get over how much they all looked alike, just younger and older versions of their father. Watching them make their way back to the farmhouse I sat against the old hickory and opened Ethan's letter.
I sat for another hour or so and let all of my raw emotions out till I had no more tears to give, emptied myself completely. As the sun finally started to set I headed back down and met up with Mr. Tompkins on the porch. He reached his hand out and pulled me close to where he was sitting and then lifted me onto his lap wrapping his arms around me. We sat quietly and undisturbed, when I started to speak he shushed me. He started to speak softly with great affection in his voice. He knew my bond with Ethan. He understood what we were to each other he told me. He let me know how much he appreciated me for bringing out the best in Ethan and how proud he was of the both of us.
"It didn't bother you" I asked?
"Why should it" he said. "It was clear that the both of you loved and respected each other. You acted as gentlemen and never let your relationship interfere with the household and the running of the farm. I wondered if the path you both chose would bring misunderstanding or intolerance in the world outside of this place but as I watched how the both of you grew I was confident you would both rise to meet any challenges".
Continuing on he told me of the ambush in the jungle so many years ago. As he started to speak he pulled from his shirt pocket his Medal of Honor.
"This is the highest honor this country can bestow on an enlisted man. Very few are ever given and they gave this to me because I did what I thought to be the right thing. I no more wanted to take a life than the next man. In that time and place, my platoon came first, and getting home second. Those enemy soldiers that died also wanted to go home. Those of my squad that didn't make it after the ambush also wanted to go home as well. Each and every one is with me every day when I wake and when I go to sleep. They are dead because of failed men and failed politics. Knowing this I could have let it destroy me or come back to the farm to heal. I chose Squirt, to come back to the farm. Please understand that life is precious, giving of yourself in service of your country is a noble cause. There is no higher calling a man can achieve. Life is too precious to waste on hate or loss, doing so will only destroy you.
I told you I love you as one of my own and I am telling you again son. Please don't go away or leave us, this door is always open and we need you. Remember that Ethan is home now and while his grave may be cold, his soul is here healing. If you give it a chance you will find healing as well".
"Mr. Tompkins" I started.
"My name is Earl, please call me Earl" he replied.
Words failed me as I simply collapsed into his arms. I had no more tears to give. He gently rocked me as nothing further was said. Words couldn't adequately describe mine or Earl's feelings and emotions. He held me as day ended and night fell. I fell asleep in his arms as the barn owls and the old tom cat began their songs of the evening.
I found myself standing at the old hickory when the memories that had been playing in my head ended, how I got there was beyond me. Looking down towards the farm and valley below I said a silent prayer for Ethan. I asked for his understanding and guidance and reminded him of my undying love for him. As I was finishing my silent prayer a gentle breeze rippled through the cornfields below causing them to look like a gentle rolling sea. There was a movement near the furthest stone wall that separated the lower from the upper fields. Stepping out of the woods was a stag, eight maybe ten points if I counted correctly. Scanning his surroundings to see if it was clear, he took a few steps forward and looked directly at where I was standing. I stood frozen for what seemed forever when the stag lowered his head twice and pawed at the ground. My heart confirmed what I had thought, Ethan was home.
I didn't hear Earl come up behind me nor did I know how long he had been standing there. "If you're thinking what I am thinking then there will be no more deer hunting on the farm" he said. Earl's eyes were wet as he slung his arm over my shoulders as we walked back down the hill. I was glad that someone had witnessed what I had seen. We did not say much as what we needed to say remained unspoken, we simply knew. Earl told me to find Eddy and get cleaned up for supper as it would be ready in a half hour.
We separated at the tool shed and I went in to finish cleaning up so I could find Eddy. As I was putting a few lose odds and ends away he came in and sat on the workbench next to me. He was very nervous and fidgety I believed because of our conversation earlier that afternoon. I told him of my walk up to the old hickory and of my prayer to Ethan. I described the appearance of the stag and he was incredulous until I informed him that his father was there unbeknownst to me and saw it as well.
We had both stood there watching the stag until it went back into the woods. It was only then did I notice his father standing behind me. I explained to Eddy that I had gone up there to ask Ethan for his guidance in granting Eddy's request and as I had finished my prayer the stag appeared. I took it as a sign that Ethan approved of what we were going to do.
"Eddy, I believe that stag holds Ethan's spirit. While I can't prove it and frankly don't need to I believe we have his blessings. So, this is what we will do about this… tomorrow your father has an appointment downtown with the Good Doctor for his heart checkup. While your Mom and Dad are gone, we can give this a try. Since you asked me earlier today, I have given this a lot of thought and I would like if we did this in Ethan's room. I can understand if you are reluctant to go to his room but I believe his spirit will be with us." Looking directly into his eyes I was trying to fathom his reaction to all of this. It had been a trying day fraught with much spoken and unspoken emotions.
"That's fine with me" he replied. "I just can't thank you enough for this or let you know how much this means to me. I've never been with anyone before. I only hope that it won't be awkward for either of us."
There's hesitancy as he speaks and a little uncertainty in his words. I lean forward and for the second time today and for the first time in more than two years I kiss someone other than Ethan. As kisses go, it wasn't long or involved as we were needed up to the house for supper. As we walked up I noticed that it was getting darker earlier, summer was over and fall was rapidly approaching. Down by the swamps the weaker trees were in their full autumn regalia.
Supper was uneventful with the exception of Eddy's parents informing us of a slight change in their plans. They were going to spend the night at the Gooding's house, longtime friends of theirs. They would meet with the Good Doctor at his hospital office in Worcester and travel to Boston from there. As they had to get an early start it seemed to make the most sense. We had tomorrow off from school because of a teacher's workshop, giving us a three-day weekend. By staying at the Gooding's, the drive in the morning would be easier as they would drive and keep them company. Earl was to undergo some specialized testing he could only get in Boston.
While he was mending nicely according to the Good Doctor the drain on Earl would be significant. Eddy glanced over to me and indicated he wanted to go outside once we were done at the supper table. I met him on the porch and sat next to him. I was thankful I remembered to bring our jackets as the early evening was turning brisk. I understood what was on his mind and placing a hand on his thigh and gave him a reassuring pat. We watched as the last fading glimmers of the fading sun on the horizon and listened to the sounds of the approaching evening. Not to far from us were several bats catching their supper in a symphony of aerial acrobatics. Down by the paddock the old tom cat was starting his evening rounds and was none to discrete about it as he called out his presence.
"If you want we could do this tonight after we clean up the kitchen and I would suggest showers are in order" I commented.
"My thoughts exactly" Eddy replied.
We sat out on the porch till it was time for the Tompkins to go, there were hugs all around and admonitions not to stay up late and reassurances that we wouldn't. As we watched their tail lights fade from view as the turned off the driveway onto the road, I found myself standing very close to Eddy. I held his hand and Eddy drew close to me. Our eyes met and our lips locked. Letting his hand go I placed mine alongside his face. We continued to kiss or a few more moments while Eddy's hands were exploring me. Halting our kiss, I motioned Eddy over to the bench and we sat making sure I held Eddy close.
"I need a moment if you will. It's been some time and in fact the last time was with your brother the night before he left. Since then, I haven't had the urge or desire to be with anyone else. I was always waiting for him for him to come back. In those solitary moments when I needed release and relief it was always Ethan guiding my hands. Since his death, it was like that part of me had died and now our conversation this morning. Something has woken in me and thanks to you, my dark cloud of grief has started to go away. I care for you Eddy and deep down inside I love you. With what we do tonight I am so afraid of hurting you, destroying our friendship. If we don't clearly understand all of the implications what we do, tonight could destroy us. To be honest I don't know if I can love you like I loved Ethan and I don't know if there is someone you have been thinking of as well. If we can agree to take this slowly and be considerate of each other's feelings, then we should go upstairs. It has been a long time since I shared a bed and if you are still willing, I need your help as well."
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