Boy From the High Country

by Arthur Kent

Chapter 16


Weekends at Thousand Trails were wonderful for the lazy camper. From Friday night through Sunday noon there were meals available at reasonable cost either in the club house or at the barbecue pit. Although there were more people on weekends, that also meant more variety of conversation and more choice of companionship for children. Members almost automatically trusted one another. It was hard to hide any skullduggery in the fairly close quarters of the resort.

Kelly and I had bacon and eggs and pancakes in the clubhouse, then dawdled over an extra cup of coffee for me, chocolate for him. He was happy and relaxed, not yet anxious over the noon arrival of the Watsons. It was as good a time as there was going to be to bring up one more concern of mine.

"Kelly, what if Freddie were a girl."

He looked at me incredulously. "Hunh?"

"No, what I mean is, what if the Watsons had a daughter instead of a son, and they adopted you, and you fell in love with her. What do you think they should do?"

"About what?"

"Well, do you think that they would expect that you would sleep together? Would they want their teenage daughter and her boyfriend to be having sex in their house?"

"I don't think so." He gave the verb particular emphasis.

"Okay, Kelly, you're a smart kid. What is my next question?"

That puzzled him for a moment, but he was indeed a smart kid, and it did not take long for the penny to drop. "Why should it be different for me and Freddie?"

"Freddie and me," I corrected him. Teacher's habit. "Exactly. Why should it be different for you and Freddie?"

"But that's... But we already... I mean... I don't know."

"Well, let me ask you another one. The first night we were together you stripped naked in front of me before we went to the showers. Would you have done that in front of Joyce?"

"No way," he laughed, blushing at the thought.

"Why not?"

"Because she's a girl, I mean a woman, and you're a man."

"In other words, it's more natural for two men to get naked together."

"Of course it is."

"And that's part of the reason it seems easier for you to have sex with Kelly than it might be if you were a straight boy, and they had a daughter. Before you can be physically intimate you have to get over your natural modesty. With two boys, that isn't as big a problem. Pregnancy isn't a problem, either."

"Okay, I get it. But what are you trying to tell me?"

"I'm not telling you anything yet. But I want to ask you another question. I'm sure you've heard about AIDS, Kelly."

"Of course, who hasn't?"

"Do you have any idea of why a lot of people think of it as a gay person's disease?"

"My stepdad says it's God's punishment on people for being gay."

"Oh, shit. Of course he would, that bastard. I'm sorry Kelly. I tell you to watch your language, and then I can't watch my own. Kelly, God doesn't work that way. Diseases have been around as long as there have been people. People get sick and die. Your father died of cancer. Do you think God was punishing him for something?"

"My stepdad said he was punishing me."

"He what? He said your father died because you were a bad person?"

Kelly nodded, and his eyes were beginning to tear up. I just lowered my head into my hands. The depth of human cruelty could sometimes still astound me. I looked up into Kelly's eyes. "Do you believe that, Kelly?"

"I don't know."

"Let me tell you a story. You know, Jesus had some followers who were just as dumb as your stepfather. One day they were walking down the road and they came across a man who had been born blind. So one of Jesus' friends said, 'Whose fault is it that he's blind, himself or his parents?' And Jesus said, 'Neither one. Did you hear about those men who were building a tower in the next town, and it collapsed and killed ten of them? Did you think those men were more wicked than other people? That is not the reason people die.' So if your father knew his Bible the way he thinks he does, he would never say what he did.

"Shit happens, Kelly. People get sick. People die. Sooner or later, we all die. That's the way it is. Some diseases you get from germs in polluted water, some diseases you get from people who coughing around you. There are several ways to get AIDS, but the quickest is directly into your blood stream. You bled when Jason raped you, especially at first, didn't you?"

Kelly nodded, obviously uncomfortable at thinking about this again.

"If he had HIV, you would have gotten it too. Anybody can get HIV, Kelly. Most of the people in the world who have HIV are women. Some of them are prostitutes, who have sex with a lot of men for money. Some of them get it from their husbands who have played around with other women. But in this country, HIV and AIDS spread faster among gay men because a lot of them had decided that being gay was a good excuse for having a whole lot of sex with a whole lot of people. The more people they had sex with, the higher their chances of getting the disease.

"Here's my point, Kelly. You don't have any control over whether you are gay or straight or whatever. But a gay person has just as many decisions to make as a straight person about when and where and with whom to have sex. Now I'm going to tell you what I believe. I believe that God intended sex to be something special between people who really love each other. I don't think that being gay is an excuse for adopting what some people call a 'gay lifestyle,' any more than being a straight woman is an excuse for becoming a slut -- I mean, for having sex with every man who comes along.

"I'm a teacher, Kel, and I know several of my former students who are gay, and I'll tell you what I hope for every one of them -- and this is what I have said to them. I hope every one of them finds one special man to love and cherish for the rest of their lives. And if you truly are gay, Kelly, that's my wish for you too."

I paused a moment to see if any of this was sinking in. I knew it was a lot to take in all at once, but this might be the last chance I would have to talk with him for quite a while. "Now I'm going to ask you one more question, Kel. I asked you yesterday morning, and now I'm asking again. Do you love Freddie?"

"Yes," he said without hesitation.

"So once more I ask: do you really love him? Or do you just love having sex with him? What would you be willing to give up to be with Freddie? Or would you just take Bryan instead and forget him?"

Kelly's eyes were growing moist. "I don't want to ever be away from Freddie. If Bryan came to this resort, I would never do anything with him. I only want Freddie."

"Okay, Kelly, here comes the big one. What if the Watsons said that you could live with them, but only if you and Freddie had separate bedrooms and agreed not to have sex together? What would you say?"

He began to squirm in his seat. This was not the kind of forced choice anyone likes to make. "You mean if I could only have Freddie as a friend?"

"That's exactly what I mean."

He stared at his nearly empty cup, and ran his finger idly around the rim. Finally, he looked up. "I would rather have Freddie as just a friend than ever be away from him." The tears were welling up in his eyes again, threatening to overflow the rim of his lower lids. "I love him, Uncle Art," he said, and when he blinked, a tear did overflow and run down onto his cheek.

"I guess you do, Kel," I said. "I guess you really do. And I'm glad you answered that way, because I have a feeling that is exactly what Bill and Joyce might ask you to do."

It was a very quiet Kelly who left the club house, clinging to my hand like a much younger boy.

I had thought about taking Kelly to church. I had visited a nearby small, friendly church on a previous visit to this resort, one where I knew Kelly would hear none of his stepfather's bigotry and rage. But considering his past, going to church would probably be a stressful occasion for Kelly, and he needed to relax. Instead, I signed us up for a trail ride. There were two spaces available for the ten o'clock ride. It was a child's type of ride really, a dozen horses loosely connected into something like a pack train, taking a leisurely stroll through the national forest land that abutted the resort. It would be even tamer than the trail ride in Cody. The horse he rode in Cody was really a small pony, but this time he was meeting a big chestnut gelding. Kelly was awestruck, and even more so when the horse gently nudged his arm with his soft muzzle. This was Kelly's closest encounter with a large animal since the elk that sniffed his arm at Mammoth Hot Springs. But he didn't hesitate when I clasped my hands together to give him a step up into the saddle, and on the trail, he offered chatty commentaries on the passing landscape, delighting in each new vista.

The trail ride left us a bit dusty, so we showered and changed. Kelly donned the shorts he would be using in lieu of a swimsuit. He wanted to be ready for a swim as soon as Freddie arrived. During the last half hour of our waiting time, he was a study in perpetual motion.

Freddie was cute, there was no denying that. Not stunning, but cute. He was almost exactly the same height as Kelly, and although he was a year younger, he looked the same age. He had a mop of blond hair that hung down nearly to his eyebrows in front, and on the sides was cut short only up to the tops of his ears, so that from the front it looked like the cap of a mushroom. His mouth was a little too wide so that when he smiled, which was often, it appeared to stretch from ear to ear. He had light brown eyebrows over sparkling hazel eyes. His nose was a bit too large, but all his imperfections worked together to give his face an elfin appeal. Only the pointed ears were lacking, thank God. The golden bronze color of his skin belonged in a tanning lotion advertisement. His boyish chest showed little muscular definition, and his belly button was -- well, I had seen innies, and I had seen outies, but Freddie's lay atop his perfectly flat abdomen like a miniature life ring, or a wide Cheerio.

All this I saw the moment he emerged from his parents' Ford Expedition because he had not just brought a swimsuit, he had worn one. It was a black Nike racing suit, but I had already noticed several other similar suits on boys at the pool. Apparently, boys in the campground were less driven to hide everything under baggy boxer-type trunks. He was shirtless, and there was a white towel thrown over his right shoulder. It nearly fell off when he leaped from the vehicle and ran to Kelly, unashamedly hugging him in boyish glee. Kelly appeared reluctant to respond. He glanced anxiously back and forth between Bill and Joyce, but seeing no open sign of disapproval, he finally returned the hug. Then he quickly released Freddie and moved toward Joyce, who hugged him as if they had been separated for months. Bill was less expressive, also offering a hug but a more tentative one. It appeared that Bill was more reserved and less given to open displays of affection, which might have helped create a certain emotional void in Freddie that Kelly was filling. The greetings past, Kelly took Freddie by the hand and led him off toward the pool, the two of them chattering like chipmunks. I saw Freddie give an admiring touch to the jade oval that hung from the silver chain around Kelly's neck.

I would later discover that Freddie was like Kelly in other ways as well. He was at almost exactly the same stage of puberty. Like Kelly he was uncircumcised, attributable as I later learned to the fact that he had been born in Europe while his father was working for Microsoft's German subsidiary. Unlike Kelly's contoured penis, Freddie's was as straight as a frankfurter and equally smooth with a rounded end; no "clam neck" on Freddie. All this became clear when I changed with the boys after a later session in the pool.

As the whirlwind of Kelly and Freddie moved away toward the pool, I directed my attention to the Watsons. I judged them to be in their mid-thirties, both trim and tanned. Joyce was wearing pleated khaki shorts and a white polo shirt. Her blonde hair was cut to medium length and was well but casually styled. Her grip was firm and her palms were dry as I shook her hand. Bill was about my height with light brown hair and blue eyes. His hairline was not visibly receding. He wore light blue unpleated shorts and a dark blue polo shirt. Both Bill and Joyce were wearing Birkenstocks over bare feet.

I had borrowed camp chairs from the clubhouse, so we did not have to sit on the hard bench of the picnic table. The sites on either side of us were deserted, their inhabitants off on one of the many weekend activities available in the area. We exchanged our vitals -- age and occupation, background and experience, church affiliation and political leanings. I told them as much as they needed to know about my relationship with Kelly, how I had found him, why I had taken him with me, how devoted to him I had become, what I had learned of Kelly's home life, if life it could be called. I omitted only the physical side of my love for Kelly.

We circled the runway for quite a while. Finally, it was time to land. I'd had plenty of time to think about what I wanted to say. "Bill and Joyce, here is the situation. Kelly obviously cannot return to the Fosters. He has no other living relatives. He needs a home. I have come to love Kelly like my own son and would give him a home if I could, but I am a fifty-five-year-old single male and I know the prejudice Oregon's child service agencies have against single men as adoptive parents. Wyoming is even more conservative, and we will have to deal with authorities there also. I believe that Reverend Foster has no desire to have Kelly any longer. The fact that Kelly was willing to hitchhike all the way to Seattle to find you is a powerful recommendation for you. It would probably be better not to mention the fact that one man transported him across three state lines. You have a previous relationship with Kelly, and it is very clear to me that he likes and respects you. Joyce, the fact that he calls you 'Mom' is not an accident.

"I have seen how you interact with Kelly, and he has told me how open you were to him those times when he ran away from Foster. I may be presumptuous here, but I have a feeling you would adopt him in a heartbeat, except for one other thing. I think there's a pretty good chance that Kelly is gay. He has a pretty mixed-up background, and there's a lot of sexual uncertainty with young teenagers anyway, but I think he knows who he is. So there is the situation."

I did not behave like a door-to-door salesman and attempt to close the deal. I just kept quiet and let them think about it for a while. It was Joyce who spoke first. "I just don't know what to think," she said. "I mean, we're a Christian family, and being gay just can't be right. I can't believe that God would ever make anyone gay."

I stood up and began to pace. I always think better on my feet. "I've been down this road before," I began. "Bill, Joyce, I'm nearly twice your age, and I've experienced a little bit more of the history of the Christian church than you have. My dad was a Baptist minister, and I grew up in that church. When I was a kid, this was back in the early fifties, people in my church said the same thing about alcoholics. They said that the Bible says drunkenness is a sin, and God would never make anyone a sinner, so no one could be born an alcoholic. They said that trying to define alcoholism as a disease was just at attempt to make sin sound acceptable.

"But guess what? Today, fifty years later, even the most conservative Baptist church is likely to have an AA group meeting in the basement. So what changed? Did God change? Did the Bible change? I don't think so. I think we finally just realized that we were asking the wrong questions. And you know what else? Those church people back then weren't just stupid and wrong-headed. They thought they saw evidence supporting their convictions. There really are people who drink too much and who are also notorious sinners. But there are also a lot of notorious sinners who don't drink at all. Here's my point: apparently in some Christian circles, alcoholism used to be a sin, and now it isn't any more. Even some conservative Christians are able to learn from experience.

"I think that fifty years from now, maybe even sooner, we'll realize that we were asking the wrong questions about gay people too. I know all the Bible verses people quote on the subject, but the ones they quoted about alcohol seemed just as clear and definite at the time. And let's not even start on what a lot of Christians used to say about slavery. I'll tell you the questions I think we should be asking. We should be asking about love and commitment and faithfulness. Let's stop telling God how he can or can't make people."

If Joyce had not been raised to be so polite, I am sure her mouth would have been hanging open. "Art, we moved here from Wyoming on a Saturday," she said. "We only knew one couple, and they were some Microsoft people we knew from Germany. They were so anxious to introduce us to their church that they came and took us there the next morning. The sermon was on diversity in God's creation. The pastor said practically the same things you just said, and it made me a little upset at the time. But now that I've heard it a second time, I don't know, I guess I'm going to have to think about it some more." There was a brief silence. "Bill, do you want to put anything in here?"

He looked a bit startled, as if he had been somewhere else for a moment. "Not right now," he said, "but Art, could we just walk around and talk a little bit? Joyce, is that okay?"

"Sure, Bill," she answered. "I have some thinking of my own to do."

The nature trail through the nearby woods began only a hundred feet or so away from the camper. Bill kicked a few stones, but seemed to have trouble getting started. Finally he ventured, "I suppose you've noticed that I've let Joyce do all the talking so far."

"Yes, I had noticed you were a bit quiet."

"I'm not usually that much of a talker anyway. But this is even harder." We walked on in silence for another dozen yards, and then he stopped and turned to me. "Can I trust you?" he asked. And then he began to laugh. "That makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? If I can trust you, you're going to say yes. If I can't trust you, you're going to say yes. Great question!" Another pause, and he kicked another pebble. "I guess I'm going to have to take a chance. If Kelly trusts you, I guess I can too." He started walking again, and this time he seemed ready to say his piece. "That question you asked me yesterday. I've tried not to think about that for a long time. Now with Freddie and Kelly, I guess I have to think about it. The answer to your question is yes. I did fool around with another boy when I was young. Only it wasn't a boy. It was a man, or, well, almost a man, I guess. My father was a college professor. He died when I was seven. There was a good pension for my mom, but also free tuition for all his dependents. So after a couple of years, Mom decided to go back to school. We moved into a university-owned apartment and rented out the house -- it was quite a ways out in the suburbs and I think it reminded her too much of Dad.

"Anyway, I was desperately lonely. I missed my dad so much. He was always the one who tucked me in at night, not my mom. He was a very warm and affectionate man. When he died it was like my world ended. There was a graduate student who lived down the hall from us. His name was Kevin. He used to baby sit for me when Mom was at the library or in a class after I got home from school. I was nine years old. I used to sit on his lap a lot, and I wanted him to give me hugs and kisses the way my dad did. He didn't really want to at first. Knowing what I know now, I suppose he was scared spitless. But I would hug him anyway, and pretty soon he started to hug me back.

"But you know, here was a kind and affectionate man who wasn't my dad, and he was maybe twenty-three or twenty-four years old and, you know, your hormones are still working really well at that age, and I think I must have made him horny, you understand. Anyway, one night I begged him to tuck me into bed, and then I didn't want him to leave, and I made him stay. That sounds funny, doesn't it? I made him stay. What was I going to do, beat him up? But, you know, I was nine years old and kind of cute I guess, and I just begged him to get into bed with me. It was summer and he was just wearing some sweats shorts, no shirt or socks or anything. Nothing under them either, I found that out pretty quick. I had my first real experience of sex that night. Well, not what you'd call real sex I guess but even at age nine I could still have an orgasm. It felt so great I wanted to do it again, and we continued to do stuff -- I'm just going to call it 'stuff' because it's kind of embarrassing -- for a long time after that.

"Anyway, the truth is that I really loved him. He was good to me, and he never hurt me. I think he loved me too. Heck, I know he did. He told me once that I had spoiled him for all the girls on campus. I didn't really know what he meant, but I thought it was a compliment. By the time Mom got her degree and Kevin got his Ph.D., I was thirteen. It was really different when I was thirteen because, well, you know, I wasn't just a little boy anymore.

"After Spring vacation of his last year, he started telling me that we had better start doing things less often, I mean the sex things, you know, because he was going to graduate, and Mom and I would be moving back into the house. He said I should get used to being alone more because soon we were going to have to say good-bye. And then he told me that he loved me. That was the first time he actually said it. He said he would always love me. And the funny thing is that I was almost ready for him to go away. I was never really gay, you know. I just loved this man. And by that time there was this girl, her name was Bridget of all things, that I was sort of starting to like, and Kevin told me that was a good thing. He even showed me a few things to do on the dance floor so I wouldn't be too embarrassed when I took Bridget on a date.

"So it finally came to an end. I was really sad, but Kevin said he would come and see me once in a while because he still loved me. And he did, too. He even came to my high school graduation. But we never had sex again after that. Later on, after I became a Christian, I thought I ought to feel angry and guilty and everything, but I didn't. I just remembered that Kevin loved me, and he was there when I needed him. I gave up a long time ago trying to fit that into my theology.

"So I understand Kelly better than you think. I know what it is like to be lonely and to not have a man in your life that you can trust. He also needs a father, and that's not necessarily the same thing in his case. I think I could be a good father to Kelly. But I can't be -- anything else. I can't be what Kevin was to me. I just can't. I won't. I couldn't do that to Joyce. And I don't think that's what Kelly really needs." Bill stopped walking again and turned to face me. "I watched him watching you when we first arrived. He wanted to see Joyce and me, and he was overjoyed to see Freddie, but he adores you. I think Kelly has already found the man he needs. Hasn't he?"

I looked at him levelly. "You know I can't answer that question," I said.

He smiled. "Thank you," he said. "That was the right response." He turned and moved down the path again, a little more briskly this time. "That brings us to Freddie. Do you think Kelly really loves him? I mean, not just a schoolboy crush or friendship getting maybe a little to intimate? I mean real love?"

"I think he does," I said. "As much as he knows his own mind, he does. He told me he would rather have Freddie just as a friend than be away from him."

"I don't think boys their age should be having sex all the time, do you? I don't mean just with each other; I mean with anybody."

"Honestly? You heard me say it a few minutes ago. I think it's better that they learn something about love and commitment first."

"Yes, and I'd like to see them keep their options open. Especially Freddie. I think he loves Kelly in his own way, but he really hasn't had much social contact with girls either. I'd hate to see him just assume he was gay because that was what he was used to." I said nothing, sensing that he needed to talk this out rather than get my advice. "And besides, how many men do you know who married the girl they were in love with when they were fourteen?"

"Two," I answered.


"Yep. So it happens. But you're right, not very often."

"I doubt it happens any more often for someone who's gay." There was another lengthy pause. "Still, boys will be boys, won't they?" I was amazed at how calmly he was taking all this. I supposed he had to be somewhat tolerant, or deny a whole period of his own life. "We couldn't afford to be suspicious and refuse to ever leave them alone together, could we?"

"That's probably wise."

"And they might sometimes do things we had asked them not to do."

I shrugged my shoulders. "They are thirteen, fourteen."

"I wonder what I would do if Kelly were straight and Freddie were a girl."

"Good question."

Bill stopped in his tracks. "You're good at not answering questions, aren't you?"

"Who, me?"

He laughed. "Let's get back to Joyce and the boys," he said. "Just one thing. I've never told Joyce about Kevin."

"She won't hear it from me."

"I actually knew that. Come on."

"Hang on just one minute, Bill. I do have one question. I don't want to sound accusatory, I've just wondered. When you learned about the way Kelly's stepfather was treating him, couldn't you have called child protective services, or whatever they call it in Wyoming?"

Bill's face twisted into a grimace. "It's complicated," he said. "You need to remember that Wyoming is a very small state. There are more people inside the city limits of Seattle than there are in the whole state of Wyoming. Bellevue has more than twice as many people as Cheyenne. So there aren't very many social workers, and you get who you get. The one social worker assigned to Cheyenne is Pastor Foster's brother-in-law, his wife's brother, and he's an elder in Foster's church. Getting him involved would have done more harm than good."

I just shook my head in frustration. Kelly really had the deck stacked against him.

A few minutes later, Bill and I were back at the camp site. Joyce had apparently gotten a Coke from the vending machine, and I apologized for not offering her one. "Did you boys have a nice walk?" she asked, with no apparent hidden meaning.

"We did," I answered. "And now, if we don't get over to that barbecue, we're going to get awfully hungry. The cupboard in the camper is bare."

"Just one thing," Joyce interrupted. "I know this is going to sound strange under the circumstances, but -- I mean, we don't want to be presumptuous, but Freddie and Kelly are going to want to talk. Just in case it would be all right with you, we brought a pop- up tent and a sleeping bag. We thought Freddie might be able to spend the night up here, and then Bill and I can talk without worrying about little ears hearing too much."

This was an unexpected development. "Are you sure about this, Joyce?"

"They have a chaperone, don't they?" Beyond Joyce's back, Bill waggled his hand back and forth in a gesture that said, "I'm not so sure."

We got the boys out of the pool only by solemnly promising that they could go back after lunch. We made it to the barbecue pit five minutes before the scheduled closing time of two o'clock, but the salad and baked beans had not run out, and the steaks were excellent and grilled to order. By three-thirty, the Watsons were getting ready to go. Bill was going to use his flex time to spend the Monday at home, and we were invited to their home in suburban Bellevue for dinner.

"Aw, Mom, do we have to go?" Freddie asked in an almost-whine that he seemed to have honed to perfection.

Joyce looked very serious. "We do," Joyce replied. The she smiled. "But you don't."

Freddie's smile was like the sunrise. "Really? I can stay overnight? I don't believe it!"

"Well, believe this," Bill said as he pulled Freddie's gym bag, pop-up tent and sleeping bag out of the back of the Explorer.

They kissed their son good-bye and drove away. Kelly and Freddie looked at each other. "Pool!" they said at the same time.

"Come on, Uncle Art," Kelly said, beckoning to me with his hand.

"Yeah, come on, Uncle Art," Freddie repeated with another wide smile.

We swam for at least an hour, and then pretended that Freddie was fourteen, the minimum age for the giant hot tub. After five minutes, we decided to come back when the air was cooler.

We didn't bother changing, because we knew we would be back. I put on a T-shirt, partly because I burn so easily, and partly because I believed that my fifty-five-year-old body did not improve the scenery very much. We played miniature golf and then, still somewhat satisfied from a huge lunch, went to the club house for hot fudge sundaes. A few hands of gin rummy degenerated into War (the card game, not the real thing), by which time the shadows were growing long. I had managed to get through the entire afternoon without telling the boys about the video game arcade in the basement of the club house.

The weekenders had pulled up stakes and left by the time we arrived back at the hot tub. Kelly and Freddie dared each other to go naked. They compromised on pulling their suits down to their ankles after they were in the tub, so a quick recovery could be guaranteed. Kelly could not resist coming to periscope depth, and Freddie followed suit. That is when I first thought of the frankfurter analogy. Freddie was very uninhibited in front of me. It occurred to me that Kelly must have told him more than I would have liked.

Freddia turned out to be one of those uninhibited kids who I have sometimes referred to as the "We give you all the news" kids. I heard about his teachers, his love for his parents, his complaints about his parents, his favorite movies, musicians, foods, colors, and every other topic under the sun. I even learned how he discovered masturbation. As I said, totally uninhibited. I think that his acceptance of me was a measure of his trust in Kelly. If Kelly said I would be okay with everything, then it had to be true.

It didn't take long to set up Freddie's pop tent and spread out his sleeping bag. I did the work while he and Kelly whispered and giggled together. I made up Kelly's bed in the camper. I had made no specific promises to Bill, but I was not comfortable bedding them down together. Besides, there was only one sleeping bag, and that would be just a little too cozy.

The boys asked if they could stay up and talk. I had Bill's implied permission. He had said they it would not pay to be too suspicious, never allowing them to be alone together. I lay in my bed in the RV clad only in my T-shirt, alone for the first time in a week. I could hear the boys continuing to whisper and giggle in the tent outside, but they were not causing a disturbance. Sleep eluded me. There had just been too many events packed into this one day.

I must have finally dozed off, because it was dark when I heard the door of the camper close. I heard a giggle in the darkness. "Good night, Kelly," I said. The only response was a shushing sound, much louder than intended, I was sure. I felt rather than saw a body climb up and over me to the far side of the bed. I was just turning toward him when I felt a second body climb up onto the near side. Two bodies had slithered into the bed with me, and both bodies were quite, quite naked. Two arms moved up over my chest, and the two hands intertwined.

"This is not a good idea, boys," I said. "I don't think you two should sleep together tonight. I more or less promised Bill that you would not have sex together."

"We aren't going to have sex with each other," Kelly assured me.

"No," Freddie said from the other side. "We're going to have sex with you," and the hands moved downward together.

And, God help me, they did. We did. I had the right ideas, I thought. I had the right words. What I apparently no longer had was the will to do the right thing.

It was gentle, it was intense, it was, ultimately, messy. It was glorious, and it was wrong. Of all the things that had happened since that day in the rest area outside of Sheridan, Wyoming, this was the first of which I was genuinely ashamed.

But about five minutes later, something strange happened in my somewhat addled brain, and that sense of shame began to dissipate. It was as if my thoughts had been like a scrambled Rubik's cube, but now it had suddenly resolved into solid colors. It was an epiphany. I had just been molested, I suppose you might say, by two young boys who had neither malice nor regret. It was not as if I had drawn them into a world of adult sexuality. They had drawn me into their world of adolescent sexual experimentation. I thought I had treated Kelly as an equal. Now Kelly and Freddie were treating me as an equal, treating me as if I were their age. They had thanked me in a way that for them was a little naughty and a lot of fun. It was what it was, and it carried no promise of anything going forward except their gratitude and love. No wonder they felt no shame at all, and could simply slip into an untroubled sleep. And now I could join them.

When I woke in the morning, I was still the filling in a boy sandwich. We were nested together like three spoons, Freddie at my back, Kelly at my front. I got a good morning kiss on the cheek from each side. I resolved to clear the air with them before we left for Seattle, or rather, Bellevue.

In the years that followed, the events of that night were sometimes hinted at, but were never repeated.

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