A Friend of the Devil

by Bensiamin

Chapter 1


ATTRIBUTION: The idea for this novel came from a three-chapter story by Michael Davidson II that I read in 2002, and that was never completed. When I read it, I was mesmerized because the core character was so much like me: an ordained minister struggling with his identity and his sexual orientation, and all the consequences associated with that circumstance. This is the result germinated from that idea. Characters, location and major story elements have been changed, but for the core concept, I am indebted to Michael Davidson II.

This story is dedicated to Mihangel, who provided much needed counsel over the years and always encouraged me to write!

With thanks to Geron Kees and Cole Parker for encouragement and suggestions along the way!

I set out running but I take my time
A friend of the Devil is a friend of mine
If I get home before daylight
I just might get some sleep tonight

From "A Friend of the Devil" by The Grateful Dead"

Adventure is the product of mismanagement. That's a maxim I remember from my youth, direct from the mouth of an uncle who was a cynic. Of course, I knew it didn't apply to me. How could it? For it to apply, you have to implement the mismanagement that creates the adventure.

At age twenty-five I was still pretty sure I wasn't mismanaging much. I had a high level of certainty that I had my life together, but that meant I was living a linear life and didn't understand the complexities. If someone had told me in advance where the pitfalls were, what blind spots I had, I probably would have thanked them, but pretty well ignored the advice because you have to understand you're not perfect in order to take seriously advice well given. I'd read fiction, but my entire concept of love and self-discovery turned out be a fantasy that happened to "them," the characters in the novel. It was certainly not as challenging and painful as what I was about to experience.

The Willamette Valley runs north to south in Oregon between the Cascades and the Coast Range, much like the Central Valley runs in California. Except it's smaller, cooler, and greener until late summer. I'd driven through the Central Valley yesterday, now was in the Willamette. It's the center of Oregon's agriculture, and has among the most fertile soils in the country. The biggest single crop was grass seed, and in mid-summer it was approaching harvest and that meant huge fields of dark green grass paling to gold, one to two feet tall, waving in the wind and waiting for the harvester to arrive. The foothills were mainly orchards, stone fruit and walnuts. So, apart from Salem, the state capital and Portland, the largest city, it was a state that ran on ag and timber. Just like the Central Valley, I-5 runs down the middle of the Willamette Valley, and then crosses the Willamette River and runs through the hills to arrive in Portland. It was July and I was driving north on I-5 through the Willamette Valley, and it was beautiful.

I'd graduated from seminary and been ordained. That's the way it usually goes. I was raised Presbyterian, went to seminary as one, was sponsored by my local Presbytery, and so when I graduated, after finding a church I was ordained as a Presbyterian minister. It happened to me as it happens to most, with not much thought at the time about what it meant. So, there I was: ordained and was now the Reverend David Ayers and heading for my first church. I had learned plenty of theology and tons of doctrine, had read lots of books and heard more than my share of sermons. I was ready to go, or so I thought. After graduating I'd started looking at open parishes and applying. I'd grown up on the east coast, went to an Ivy League university and graduated with honors, was easily accepted into and graduated again with honors from one of the best Evangelical seminaries. It was on the west coast, and I'd decided I liked the west. I liked the climate, I liked the country, I liked the mountains and the vistas, the proximity to the Pacific……I like everything about it except the size and congestion of the major cities. What I wasn't telling myself at the time was that I also wanted to stay out West because my dysfunctional family were all back East.

If you're reading this far, you may already be wondering why you're reading about a minister with the religion and related things that come along with the title. In a word, perhaps because ministers are human too. I really believed then in a calling to do the work of God. I didn't define that as being a missionary or converting people. Rather it was more centered in the desire to serve, to help others. I liked the early Christian concept of the church as a hospital where those with spiritual and physical ailments and injuries could find solace and spiritual healing. This was the time of "God don't make no junk" and "be all that you can be," and I thought of myself as pursuing intellectual truth and trying to help others. Little did I know how much help I still needed myself.

It was 1977, when the most common debates in religious circles where about positions on interpreting Scripture and ordaining women, followed closely by the question of accepting, let alone ordaining homosexuals. I didn't have well-formed opinions on the ordination of women and homosexuals, but there was no ignoring them: they were on the news all the time and part of the seminary chatter. The evangelical revival had been going on for a decade or two, I'd been involved in youth ministry for years, and I thought of myself as both open minded but also theologically conservative. I wasn't a Bible-banging "Fighting Fundamentalist" who stood by every word in the Bible literally, but I came down as solidly evangelical, as in "share the Good News. I wasn't too positive about those liberal seminaries back east, but still wanted to help people. I'd watched my father and knew business with its money-orientation and institutional bureaucracy wasn't for me, and I guess I could just as well have studied social work or psychology, but I "felt the call," and that's the direction I went.

I'd come from a well-off family so I could afford to go to seminary and not have to work or struggle financially. That's one of the consolations: my family was financially secure and helped me get into the right university, but they sure were useless at emotional nurturing. I was only beginning to recognize and work that out, but it turns out that having absentee parents takes its toll, and it is not just emotional. I was lucky that there were a number of open parishes on the west coast. I didn't want to be in a major metro area, and I also didn't want some little tiny rural town, so it took some effort to narrow down the list, but I was lucky and ended up being interviewed by search committees from several different churches in mid-sized towns. Of course, the desired profiles differed: some wanted older and more experienced pastors; some were looking for a pastor with a family and kids. I didn't fit either of those profiles, but I already subconsciously knew the "married with kids" profile was not going to be mine. In retrospect I hadn't sorted out my own sexuality but married wasn't part of it. I was green and inexperienced, but enthusiastic and energetic….and as it turned out, pretty good at interviewing.

The church that was really attractive turned out to be in Oregon. It was in a small town with less than 9,000 people at the north end of the Willamette Valley, and Newberg, Oregon seemed like a good fit for me. Newberg sits between Oregon's two mountain ranges and is just north of the Willamette River in the section where it runs east to west across the valley. Newberg was a small farm town with a small college, and twenty-five miles from Portland so there was a moderate size city close by. It still had an older downtown of early twentieth century building, with a scattering of late 1800 buildings that evidenced its pioneer history. It wasn't so small everyone would know your business but was large enough to have a thriving rural feel to it and still have a small-town demeanor. I wanted to be part of a community where people had the chance to know each other, where the pace of life didn't wear you out. It also had a down-to-earth quality to it; vastly different from the posh and "exclusive" suburbs of Philadelphia I had been raised in.

Grace Church in Newberg was a good church, especially for a first assignment. It was large enough to be financially strong. It didn't seem to be made up of control freaks. They didn't want a liberal East coast minister but were after a middle-of-the-road conservative one. it was a medium size congregation, with a healthy mix of families and singles, young and old, businesspeople and farm folk, active Sunday school and youth groups, good ideas about how to give back to the community, and a strong sense of social spirit. The search committee wasn't full of ultra conservatives and the interview wasn't filled with lots of theological gotcha questions. These folks seemed to be independent and fairly progressive thinkers. It was the west coast after all, even if it was Oregon, not southern California where I'd gone to Seminary. They said that their philosophy was, Bible-centered but not legalistic, that they wanted a pastor who would help build people's faith and strengthen the church community. They didn't mind that I wasn't married, and liked my great academic training combined with my informal and laid-back style. They were offering a nice package: better than average salary, good benefits, a nice large house right close to the church and a few blocks off Main Street, big enough for me to finally get the dog and 2 cats that I envisioned as my family.

So, they hired me. I did the paperwork necessary for joining the regional Presbytery. And I drove north on the Fourth of July and arrived in the town of Newberg, Oregon on Tuesday the 5th of July 1977. I was 25 years old, and life was about to begin, for just about the first time, actually. Life had been going on around me for some time, of course. But I had been more like an observer than a participant in it. I had no great passions about anything. I'd never loved or hated or agonized or felt any deep- flowing emotions—but I had opposed the Vietnam War and was fortunate to pull a high number in the lottery and avoided being drafted. Not that I felt like I was missing out on anything, mind you. I just thought of myself as competent and cautious and content with my own company. I had a good head on my shoulders and loads of smarts and training. But my head wasn't yet hooked up to the rest of my body, and it certainly wasn't in touch with my heart or my soul. I didn't know what I didn't know about!

My parents had given me enough money as a seminary graduation gift to purchase a new vehicle, and I'd bought one I thought of as a perfect compromise for a young pastor: a1977 El Camino with the SS trim package. It came with a 350 V-8 with a four-barrel carburetor and the Turbo Hydra-matic automatic transmission, and the shifter was on the center console. It had a real sport feel to it, but it also had air shocks to compensate for a load. It was dark blue metallic, and the dealer was able to put a shell on it, so it was sleek and had a covered bed. It also had a comfortable interior with cool bucket seats that swiveled to the door opening and space for storing stuff behind the seats. It was a fairly light vehicle, but with the 350 V-8 it could really haul. On top of all that it had air conditioning, power windows and I'd upgraded to add Delco's stereo system with a cassette tape player and Crossfire speakers so it could really resonate inside. I'd never been a car nut, building up performance engines, but this one made me feel like I had a performance vehicle without looking too radical. It seemed perfect for a young minister!

The El Camino did make the move north from LA pretty smooth and being able to move my book and record library in the bed under the shell and not have to load them in the U Haul trailer and risk damaging my collection was an extra bonus. I loaded the U-Haul with the little furniture I had, and the rest of my possessions. Those were the days we were just starting to think about gas mileage, but with the big V-8 it certainly was a great highway cruiser, even towing a trailer.

The drive to Oregon was under a thousand miles, but too much for one day, so after a long first day that got me to Redding, the second day was a shorter and more leisurely drive. You know you're within thirty miles of the Willamette River when you reach Salem and can begin to see Mount Hood sitting atop the ridge line of the Cascades to the northeast. That meant forty miles to Newberg and I arrived in the early afternoon. The sound system was blasting Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, as I pulled into the drive of my sturdy looking new home. I turned it down immediately when I noticed that there was a large group of church folks assembled there to help me unload and settle into the house. Three of the ladies were the "Parsonage Committee" and were prepared to show the new pastor around his new house, from top to bottom, including all the appliances, the circuit breakers, the water tank and the furnace in the basement. The place was fully furnished, and I mean with everything. I didn't even have to buy a toaster! Everybody was cheerful and welcoming.

The parsonage was a classic Pacific Northwest design. A wood home with high a high peaked roof, built of local Douglas fir and a cedar shingle roof. Inside the floors were darkly stained vertical grain fir and all the original fir base boards, window and door casings were still there. It had a classic aged feeling even though it was decorated in a pretty staid style, but I knew replacing the plain and not very attractive throw rugs with some Persian carpets would brighten the place up in no time. It sprawled across a doublewide lot, lots of trees and decorative flowerbeds, with rose and lilac bushes, and an area that was tilled in case I wanted to have a garden.

What happened in the next few hours is what changed my life!

There was a mix of folks in the front yard: families, adults, teens and kids. None of the youth looked to be there by choice, rather brought along by parents. After getting the initial greetings out of the way, I was introduced all around, including to the two teenagers, brothers Gary and Jackson. Gary looked to be eighteen or so, was certainly there for his brawn. He looked like he played football and would have no problem hauling furniture if I'd had much. He wasn't talkative and limited himself to carrying and placing boxes where instructed. I had him store my bicycle in the garage, and all the book and album boxes got piled in the living room or office. He was pretty nondescript, distant and polite, much like his father. Bud Harris looked like a serious and humorless man, perhaps even morose, but gave the impression he was helping because forced to be there too. Meeting the new pastor didn't seem to be something he'd choose to do himself. He introduced himself, his wife Lilly (one of the Parsonage Committee) and the two boys.

It was the other boy, the younger one, who was to be the storm coming into my life.

His age was hard to estimate, judging from his size maybe fifteen. I made the classic snafu of starting out by asking his age and he hesitantly replied "Seventeen, sir." I recognized my error and said, "Call me David! `Sir' is my Dad, Okay!" Which got me a faint grin and a musical but muted, "'Kay." I was lucky I didn't say what was on my mind, namely that he looked young for his age!

The parsonage committee did their duty, showing me through the entire house, room by room, and other than the occasional interruption to direct where to place boxes and such, I followed them around, but found myself distracted. What I was doing was watching for Jackson. Through the archway into the kitchen, out the window as he emerged from the garage, through the front door as he stepped out of the U-Haul trailer. I was making an inventory of the young man.

Chestnut brown hair that naturally parted in the middle, it fell forward across his forehead. I was betting that for the first few days after a haircut it would fall straight forward creating a very attractive bang down to his eyebrows. He had light feathery, straight kind of hair that swayed and moved with him, and he frequently shook his head to flick it back off his forehead. His hair fell over his ears and was cut longish in the back, and his complexion while fair, was clear. No skin conditions and not much of a tan. Of course, this was Oregon and I'd learn later you don't get much of a tan during a rainy winter! He had bright hazel eyes and his eyebrows were a shade darker than his hair color, setting his eye color off because of the contrast. They were watchful, intelligent looking eyes. And I'd seen the dimples on both cheeks that appeared when he'd smiled that first time. The dimples lit me up!

Of course, I was distracted and not paying much attention to the house tour and I can't believe now that I didn't know it more clearly for what it was at the time. I was that disconnected from my feelings. But I also know that there was something about his features that I recognized. Had I seen him before? That couldn't be—this was my first trip to Oregon.

We were back in the living room when he came in and said something, and Mr. Harris seemed annoyed, and barked, "What?" Jackson mumbled something and held up a box full of bedding. "Where do these go, umm...David?" His voice still had that vibrant youthful sound, no longer high like many teens, but not as low as an adult. You knew he'd struggle to control it while singing.

"Call him Pastor David or Rev. Ayers, Jackson." Lilly's voice was reproving.

"But, Ma, he said..." My voice then drowned him out.

"Hey, it's ok, Mrs. Harris, I told him to call me David outside, remember?" I spoke up in my best 'pastor voice.'

"Oh yes, of course, Pastor." She was scowling slightly, disapproving the informality, but I kept on smiling at her and powered through. The smile was easy to keep in place as he stood there with the box of bedding. I saw that his lower legs had a light covering of very light brown hair. The thighs where his jean cut-offs ended were hairless, as were his arms. He was also wearing a tank top, an orange one with Oregon State emblazoned on the front. It was tight and gave a full view of his arms and the moderate amount of hair in his pits. I felt like I was doing a check list in anatomy class. Ah, how we can deceive ourselves about what we're doing.

I had to force my brain and mouth into action. "Jackson, those can go up in one of the bedrooms, if you want." I watched as he went up the stairs, beautiful legs extending from a nicely formed bum, highlighted by those slightly too tight cutoff jeans. At his legs reached the top of each step there was a flash of white from his briefs!

The ladies were going on about the curtains, how everything had been washed and freshened up and asked if it all seemed fine. "Oh, right. Yes, well, they're are fine. Thanks for doing all this preparatory work for me," I replied, still really not aware of what was actually going on and how I'd been crushing on this boy.

I heard Jackson's steps coming back down the stairs, the soft sound of his Keds hitting the steps. He appeared legs first poised on scruffy Keds sneakers and white socks. As he descended the "stairway from Heaven" (Yes, I was thinking of verse 2: "there's a feeling I get when I look to the west, and my spirit is crying for leaving," but I wasn't looking west). I was looking up and, his knees were the next things to appear. Not scarred like many young athletes, and they led to the thighs that were more like the legs on the sculptures of young Greek me, the ones done in marble, creamy and hairless

And those thighs, of course, led to his crotch which was more pronounced than you'd expect in cutoff jeans because they were a little small. These were no longer the days of skintight pants like the '60s, but jeans were still pretty snug, and Jackson's were a little too tight—perhaps a carryover from last summer and he'd grown. He'd certainly filled out the bulge!

As his face came into view when he was on the next to last step, he saw me looking directly at him and reflexively looked back upstairs behind himself, wondering what I was peering so intently at, not thinking I could have been watching him. He looked to be about five foot six and maybe 135 pounds. He'd paused on the stairs, then he looked back at me, cocking his head a little to the side and raising one eyebrow. I just smiled into those hazel eyes. Which seemed to flash, somehow, and change color—they seemed darker now that we were inside the house. He blushed a little but smiled again setting off those dimples!

That's when I realized why his facial features looked familiar. I hadn't met him before, but he looked close enough like Davy Jones that he could have been his brother. I hadn't really been a Monkees fan in the '60s, but the thing I did like about them was that cute Brit. He was only five foot four but had great dimples and a 1,000-watt smile that just got my attention and pulled me in to that silly TV show and even their music. And Jackson had hair just like Davy Jones as well as the eyebrows and dimples. Now understand, their music wasn't that great musically, but it was popular, and Davy Jones was a teen heart throb. Of course, almost all of those for whom he was a heart throb were teen girls, not teen boys like me! There I was, thinking about how much he looked like Davy Jones, and not thinking about having just fallen head over heels for a look-alike to the first guy I'd ever had a crush on.

Somehow or other, the group of us moved back outside. The men were finished, and just waiting for their wives to finish giving me all my instructions. We joined them on the---my---new porch. Fresh white paint, gleaming on the wood siding.

One of the men, announced that all my belongings were out of the trailer and my El Camino and in the house or garage and asked if anything else needed to be done. I thanked them all for their help unloading and said the rest of the work was mine, unpacking and sorting. I was already wondering where Jackson lived, and how long before I'd see him again.

"Our pleasure, Pastor David. We're happy to help you get moved in and welcomed to our community. So, we'll leave you to it and see you on Sunday."

I smiled, shook his hand and thanked him and the rest as they started to leave. Bud Harris walked up to me and informed me that he'd had the boys mow the parsonage lawn with the lawn mower from the garage as well as till the garden plot if I planned on a garden—and if I planned on a garden, I'd better plant soon! My church experience was limited but I already knew I'd probably be overwhelmed with vegetables from other people's gardens during the summer – especially zucchini!

"Thanks a lot for that Mr. Harris, and you too boys, for getting that done for me." Gary grunted noncommittally, but Jackson was looking at me as much as I was him. I got that smile I was beginning to live for as he said, "You're welcome..."

I stood on the front porch watching them all walk away, hoping Jackson lived in the neighborhood. He did. He was bringing up the rear, stopping to look behind him at me at least twice. I counted two distinct backward glances; I remember it like it was yesterday. I waved. He raised his hand back at me. When he did that, his tank top lifted itself on his torso, exposing a bit of his stomach. I was rooted to that spot until the Harris family disappeared into their house, just down the street from me.

The evening was comprised of dropping off the U-Haul trailer, stopping at a small general store for some groceries and beginning the unpacking. The living room had substantial built in bookshelves, so I placed the stereo system centrally, and sorted book boxes to one side and record boxes to the other. It only took a few minutes to have the components connected and an LP on the turntable. Up came Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young singing. "Our house is a very, very, very nice house..." Supper was something simple, then upstairs to unpack clothes.

I was nervous. I wasn't the most confident person when it came to interpersonal relationships anyway, but of course I was wondering what kind of impression I'd made on these people. Truth be known, I was most curious what impression I'd made on Jackson and hoped he didn't think I was clueless and old because I'd asked about his age. He had waved on the way out, and that was encouraging. I found myself hoping he hadn't realized I'd been watching him. That could be a two-edged sword! What if he took it wrong? Well, I didn't' want to make him self-conscious, but he was so damn cute! He was on the short side, but starting to grow, as you could see in the cut offs. I'd always controlled my eyes and my thoughts, never allowing them to go too far afield in the sexual fantasy arena. But I noticed, like I assumed we all do. I pictured those smooth legs leading up to that cute butt in those cut offs. Whoa! Okay, time to reel it in and stop those thoughts!

Yes, I'd always tried to control my thoughts, but they were pretty much limited to boys, even though I couldn't have told myself that. I'd had a few dates in high school with girls, like the mandatory prom, and the same in college, but I found I just wasn't into it. And, being before the beginning of acceptance of homosexuality in American culture, the gay lifestyle wasn't even something that could be considered beyond being deviant or furtive. Even if you had those feelings, what could you do with them? Very little, so you stored them away in a certain compartment and tried to control them. That said, all the images stored there were boys, and now I had a new image to store next to an image already there—the one of Davy Jones! Now here I was with a look alike for the cutest of the Monkees living down the street!

Later on, I made up the bed in the master bedroom, a nice old wood frame affair that was a double size. Compared to the bed in my apartment in seminary, this was pure luxury. I flopped into it, to try it out. I felt lost in its immensity, but I luxuriated in it. As I'd been tucking in the sheets I found myself humming a tune, and now as I lay on the bed a little spaced and just daydreaming, the tune hummed through my lips, the lyrics assembled themselves in my brain and I found myself singing them, and the answer to what had happened to me today started to come into focus.

The first time, ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and the stars
Were the gifts you gave
To the dark, and the empty skies
My Love
To the dark, and the empty skies

I realized I was singing the classic old love song by Gordon Lightfoot, that became a huge hit while I was in college and was on his eponymous album. Everyone who could play an acoustic guitar and sang folk music in the mid-60's knew this one. All I could think of was how curious it was that his lyrics captured my quandary, expressing how I was feeling after the first time ever I saw his face. Of course, I was doing it in my compartmentalized mind, which wasn't connecting the feelings and emotions with the reality and consequences.

After I shut the lights off, I stripped and pulled the curtains closed across the windows and stood framed in the moonlight from the windows nearest the bed, I saw that I had a clear view of the Harris house three doors down. Lights were on here and there on both floors. Of course, I wondered which one was Jackson's window? Mused about whether he had his own room, or if he shared with his brother. Wondered what he was doing right then. Wondered if I could buy a pair of binoculars so I could see better tomorrow night...

It was a pleasure to climb into bed, between those fresh sheets and continue the thoughts and knowing exactly where they were going and who's image would be in my mind when I pleasured myself that night.

The next morning, I awoke earlier than usual due to the new surroundings and the sound and light of a new day. The sun was already up and streaming into the room, and I made the ritual bathroom stop to wash my face and dress, already thinking about coffee. I knew the major plans for the day were unpacking, and some real grocery shopping and starting on the inaugural sermon for Sunday, which now was only three days away.

I slipped downstairs in shorts and a T-shirt, glad I'd picked up some coffee and cream yesterday, and got to work with the coffee maker. As the brewing started, I walked out on the back porch for a breath of the new day, stretching and inhaling deeply, and that's when I noticed something unasked for on the porch. The daily newspaper. Did the church start it for me? If so, how thoughtful. I stepped over to pick it up off the porch floor by the stairs, and that's when I saw Jackson in the driveway, straddling his bicycle, head turned back over his shoulder watching me look at him.

It was apparent now he'd just tossed the paper onto the porch and heard me come out the kitchen door as he turned to head down the driveway. I smiled brightly and gave him an enthusiastic "Good morning," accompanied by a wave of the recently deposited paper.

Jackson grinned, letting out a cheery "Hi." He was dressed in a too tight green T-shirt and loose-fitting blue gym shorts. I wondered where the cut offs were! I continued, "I didn't know you were the local paper boy as well. That's cool." As soon as I said it, I had to ask myself why it was cool and why I'd just told him it was cool. I'm supposed to keep thoughts like that to myself. Time to move on.

"That must mean you're up early every day, huh?"

He stepped off his bike and walked it back up the driveway to the porch.

"I usually get up around 5:30. I don't mind. You kind of get used to it after a while. You're the first house on my route." He was sounding less shy and more outward going than yesterday.

"Well, I'm glad to have the paper. Especially with somebody I already know delivering it every morning." There were mutual smiles all around and I asked, "But who set this delivery up? How do I pay you for it?"

"Uhm...my father told me to start delivery today. He told me I should, uhm...like, give it to you, for a donation or something..."

I was startled. "You mean, he wants you to give it to me for free? I don't like that idea very much. I like to pay my way. So how do we do this? I don't want to get you in trouble with your Dad either!"

Jackson looked serious as he said, "Well, it's usually $8.00 every two weeks, but I could give you a discount and make it $5.00. I collect on Fridays. Maybe we could just keep it a secret? My father tends to get mad about sh--I mean, stuff like this..."

"A secret it is, then. I think it's cool to have secrets with friends." Then I felt the caution warning: secrets with Jackson might be cool, but they were also potentially dangerous."And watch your damn mouth around adults, huh?"

He looked worried until I continued, "You watch my mouth and remind me if I swear, and I'll do the same for you, too!" That got the biggest smile yet and that smile directed right at me got my heart pounding in my chest.

"That sounds like a fair deal. We'll keep an eye on each other, right? Keep each other out of trouble, eh?" The grin was wide now and I noticed that his dimples has flared. He was clearly having fun with this verbal give and take. I was already wondering about where the conversation would go next, knowing he'd soon have to be heading down the driveway to deliver his papers. I wanted to get to know him, no denying that! "What are you doing after you finish your paper route?"

"Nothing much. It's summer vacation now, and this is really my only job. My Dad won't let me do much else than chores around our place."

"Well listen, I have to do some real grocery shopping today, do some other chores, and I don't know my way around at all. Where's the nearest supermarket?"

"It's not in Newberg, that's for sure. It's up Highway 99 between Sherwood and Portland," he said.

"See, that's what I mean, I don't know where Sherwood is. How'd you like to be my tour guide and help me with the unpacking and stuff. That way I won't get lost and I'll pay you for your time." I was afraid it was sounding a little lame.

The smile stayed on his face. "Sure, David, that would be Okay. No problem. When do you want to go?"

"What time do you finish with the paper route?"

"Uhm, around 8:00 usually."

God, I was up early! "Ok, why don't we go around 9:00? I'll pay you for your time, like I said!"

"Oh no you won't!" He looked happy but determined. "I'm not going to charge you for this. It'll be fun, maybe. Anyway, we'll be going in that cool car of yours, right? I've never been in an El Camino and yours in an SS. That's got to be cool I want you to show me what it's got!

"Okay, it's a deal. See you back here at 9:00!" I was thrilled that his response was not only positive, but that there was something he was interested in on my side of the equation—the El Camino! That was cool. He's made it clear it was his decision, he wanted to be part of today's undertaking, or adventure, or whatever it was going to be.

"Ok, David! See you at 9:00. I'll leave a note for my Mom, so she'll know where I've gone when she wakes up." And he turned the bike around again, swinging his bare leg over the bar and mounting it as he did. Another flash of white briefs under the blue gym shorts. His perfect butt settled itself on the bike seat, and he pushed off, hair lightly swirling around his head as he turned and flashed me that infectious grin, and said, "Bye!"

"See you soon!" I was floating on air as I went back into the house for a cup of coffee.

Back inside I poured a cup of coffee and sat down at the table with the paper. I stared at the front page, but the words and images just blurred. All I could think of was that smiling face and that halo of brown hair. I knew I had to get a few things done in spite of my mental condition, so forced myself to walk the kitchen, opening cupboards and refrigerator to make a complete grocery shopping list, I knew I wanted to visit a hardware store too, and then realized I probably needed a shower too after last night's experience.

I was upstairs, showered, and changed into some slightly less casual clothes for the trip into town, when I heard a knock on the screen door, and a cheery, "Hey, David?" drifted up from downstairs. It was before 9:00 AM so he was anxious to get going too. That's far out, but also came with a note of caution. Don't be too eager, and anyway he probably just wants to ride in the El Camino and get a change of scenery from the usual boring summer days.

"Coming!" I yelled, fully aware of the ironic double meaning. "Come on in, I'll be right down!"

When I walked in the kitchen, Jackson was just standing inside the screen door, looking around. He'd changed his shirt but had the same baggy blue gym shorts on. I stopped just inside the doorway and looked him over. He saw my eyes stop at the legs of his shorts, the one with the logo on it. "The NHS stands for Newberg High School. These are gym shorts. I'm not on the basketball team or anything like that." The comment seemed innocent enough, not focused on me staring at his groin. I still noted that he was pretty observant.

"You look like you could play basketball, and a few other sports too," I said, trying to reframe the situation.

"Naw, I'm too small. Or at least have been till the last six months. You've got to be big enough to play against the larger guys, and anyway those team competition sports aren't my thing."

I decided to let go a comment about him being big enough in certain areas even if not in stature, but the thought was in my mind. "I've never been much on team competition sports either," I said, "so I relate. Alright, and we ready to get this show on the road?

"You bet. Where are we going first? Grocery shopping, right?"

"Yeah, the nearest big supermarket. Does that mean Portland, or didn't you say there's one in a suburb called Sherwood? Are you ready to go?"

"Yup, I think so! Do I look ready?" As he said this, he raised his arms to shoulder level and spun in place, ending up facing me with his face cocked to the side and eyebrow raised, just like yesterday. His T-shirt did that same elevation trick, showing me his lower abdomen and his innie belly button as he turned. Plus, the top of his briefs. I could see the white elastic

"Oh, yes...you look ready..." Already the thoughts about whether I was ready for him were forming in my brain.

He turned and opened the door, saying "Okay, come on and show me your car, Rev"


"Yeah! Is it Okay if I give you a nickname? You don't want to be plain old Pastor David, do you?" There was a wicked gleam in his eye.

I rose to the occasion." You're not implying that I'm old, are you? I'm not that much older than you."

"Yeah, right." He was looking me up and down, and said, "You must be at least...25 years old. Right?"

"That's too accurate a number to just be a guess. How'd you figure that out?"

"I really didn't guess. I did some spy work! My Mom's on the Parsonage Committee, so I checked out the paperwork from your application for the pastor job last night. Anyway, you can quit worrying about seeming old because you look Okay even if you are eight years and two months older than I am. So, can I call you Rev or what?"

Should I be worried? Was this an early warning? Why was he checking out my birthday? Trying to sound casual and maintain my cool I said, "So, that means that you'll be turning eighteen in... uhm..."

Jackson was right there as is he was anticipating the question, "...in October. The 26th, to be exact. Just so you remember for the presents. And I'm a senior next year when school starts." The grin was back!

"How come you'll be seventeen in your senior year? That seems older than usual."

"Yeah, it is, but I count it lucky. School in Oregon starts in September so being born in October I was ten months older than the other kids when I started kindergarten. So that gave me an age advantage, and it helped a lot because I was small for my age till the last year or two!"

"Right, I've got it, and October 26th for the presents. Oh, sure, go ahead and call me Rev, then, since we're getting to know each other so well." I grinned as I spoke. I also noted that he probably entered puberty late give his smaller size, but if the tight fitting cut offs were an indicator, he was in a growth spurt.

"Cool, Rev. And I'll remember to get you something special on your birthday, too. That'd be next month, on August 12th, right? That gives me six weeks to figure you out!"

Red flag warning! Was this going too far too fast. I stumbled for a response and finally got out, "I'm not sure you're supposed to be playing private detective and getting all the dirt, I mean facts, on your new pastor?"

"Oh, I'm betting I didn't' get it all, there's probably a surprise or two left for me to find out!" He was grinning now, and as the smile had turned into a grin and his eyebrows were waggling like he was having the time of his life playing me along. Beneath the waggling eyebrows those hazel eyes were smoldering again.

I knew I was being played, but didn't want this to get out of hand, so I just said with false scorn, "There are boundaries of propriety, you know," and we both giggled at each other." Come on, let's get out of here."

We headed out the door to the porch as we got to the El Camino in the driveway, I stopped to return for my house keys.

"Wait, I forgot my house keys. I don't want to lock myself out the first day!"

"No worry about that," he said. "I'm betting over two dozen people have keys to this house!"

"Really?" It hadn't dawned on me.

"Oh yeah, there's the parsonage ladies, and the Trustees, because they have to fix stuff sometimes, and, well, all sorts of people. Not a lot of privacy in this place. You'll find that out"

Not happy with the idea that so many people could just walk in and out of my life like that, I wondered out loud if I should change the locks?

"Boy, Rev, if you do that, you'll freak them all out. They'll think you don't trust them!"

"Really?! You think so? All I was thinking about was my privacy. Kind of like you should be able to lock your bedroom door whenever you want to, you know?" We were sitting in the car in the driveway.

"Listen, seriously, in small towns like this everybody knows a lot of stuff about everyone else. That's one of the reasons I want to get out of this place as quick as I can. And that's a secret, Okay?" He had turned somber as he looked at me, hoping that I'd take him at his word.

"I can keep secrets. What you tell me stays with me, stays private, Okay. Is this town that bad, no privacy, everyone knows everyone else's business?

"No, there really isn't any privacy. You know this was the first Quaker town in Oregon, right? There's a Quaker college. The town was dry till 1966. That's pretty conservative and uptight to me! There are lots of secrets here, but not much privacy. All I got that's just mine alone is the thoughts inside my own head..." Then he changed the subject.

"This is a cool car, Rev. I didn't know you could get an El Camino as a SuperSport. Does it have a big engine? I bet it goes fast. And these bucket seats are way cool."

"Yeah, it will fly if you get on the accelerator," I said, "because it has a big 350 V-8 under the hood. I got it with 15-inch rally wheels and wider tires, so it drives pretty well. Are you into cars?"

"Not really," he replied, "I mean we've only just had an old four door sedan, never had a cool car like this. I love these bucket seats, and the console makes it look really sporty. Way too sporty for a minister, don't you think, Rev?" He was smiling again now.

"Well, to be honest, I wanted something cool. My dad gave me the money as a graduation gift and was suggesting a station wagon, but I didn't want to look like an old fuddy duddy, so I compromised. You know, kind of a sports car with a truck bed in the back. That gives it utility and makes me look practical."

"In my book it makes you look more cool than practical," he said. I wondered what that meant.

He continued on, "But more importantly, do I get to drive it sometime? I mean I've never been behind the wheel of an El Camino before."

"Do you have a driver's license? Have you completed Driver's Ed?"

"Yep, did that in school last year, and got my permit. I still have to have an adult in the car with me till I'm eighteen. And my parents are like the worst about letting me drive their car, so I don't get much practice."

"Well, maybe we can work on that. We'll see. You want to see something really cool," I asked, showing off just a little. He nodded.

"Okay, open your door and reach down to the front of the seat below your right knee, then pull that little handle sideways." He did and looked at me quizzically, implying 'now what?'

I grinned at him and said, "It releases the seat so it swivels sideways, and you can swing your legs out." He tried it and said "Wow, that's far out!"

I grinned more. "I guess so, but I have no idea why you'd need it. Unless you weighed over two hundred and fifty pounds and had trouble getting into a car the normal way."

He giggled at that and returned his seat to facing forward and closed the door. I started the engine and backed out of the driveway and headed toward Main Street. "Turn left at the stop sign, head out past the place you dropped the U-Haul yesterday and out of town on Hwy. 99."

The cassette player had kicked in, and I asked if he was cool with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young or if he'd rather hear The Eagles Hotel California, the newest album in my cassette collection. His eyes lit up on that suggestions, and I pointed at the glove compartment. He dug in, pulled out The Eagles, switched the tapes, and settled back in his seat. The opening strains of Hotel California filled the El Camino.

I'd made the left turn and was heading northeast on Hwy. 99. "Now, back to what you were saying before, because I don't get it. No privacy, but lots of secrets? What do you mean?"

He'd turned in the bucket seat, which of course didn't have seat belts, and was partially facing me and leaning back against the door. He raised his left leg up so his foot was in the air, and thoughtfully asked if he could sit this way.

"It's Okay to put your foot on the console," I replied, "but keep those Keds off the seat. They're new leather, you know." He nodded agreement and quipped, "How about if I take them off and it's just my socks?" I nodded, and he unlaced the Keds and dumped them on the floor, then shifted so his left foot was on the seat and his right was on the console. As he settled into what he seemed to think was a comfortable position, and I couldn't conceive as comfortable, his shorts spread open and there were his briefs. He was displaying his equipment on either side of his scrunched-up shorts. I tried not to look and wondered if he knew he was giving me this view. He had to know. He'd been on point all morning.

He signed heavily, as though reticent about going down this path and then said softly, "On the privacy thing, I don't have any. You talked about locks on doors, and that's been over for me like forever, since the lock on my bedroom door was broken by guess who, Okay? So, no privacy unless I go to my fort. That's why it's so important to me."

"Broken locks can be fixed, can't they," I asked quietly?

"Rev, you don't get it. It's not an option at my house, Okay? I don't make the rules, I'm on the receiving end most of the time. I don't have a choice about locks or pretty much anything else." I could feel him getting emotional, and he swung his feet back onto the floor as he said, "Let's just listen to the music, Okay?"

"Hey, wait, what just happened," I said, totally caught off guard. "I'm on your side. I'm just trying to understand. I just got here, remember, and we're just getting to know each other, so you've got to help me out here. I don't read minds. Why are you suddenly so touchy about this? I mean, I'm sure I don't know the details, but we're just talking here, friend to friend, right?"

He was silent for a while, almost a minute and I just drove staring up the highway giving him some space. Finally, he said, "I'm sorry if I jumped you, Okay. I'm touchy about some things and can get angry easy and I didn't mean to with you. You didn't do anything, Okay? You've become my friend and I shouldn't have lit into you."

"First, calm down", I replied. Second, I understand about things that make people angry and I'm not taking it personally, Okay? I just want to get to know you, and that means you have to be willing to share about yourself: the good stuff and the bad stuff. And we all have good stuff and bad stuff, Okay. Do you hear me, you know what I mean?"

I glanced at him, and he was glancing at me and I could see him nod.

"Okay, so look, if I misunderstand something or don't get it or ask dumb questions, you've got to help me out? If I'm missing it or have got it wrong you've got to let me know. It's not much more complicated than that. Is that Okay? We've got to sort this kind of stuff out if this is really going to be a friendship."

He paused again. "Yeah, I can do that, and I will. I don't have many friends, and I'm mainly the invisible kid at home, so I guess I don't know how to be a real friend. I mainly go out to my fort alone and let off steam. "

"Okay, got it," I replied. "Now, tell me more about this invisible kid stuff. I don't understand."

He'd relaxed again because he swiveled in his seat and his feet were back up, one the seat and console with his back against the door. "My house is nuts. My parents have problems, Gary bullies me, no one ever asks me what I think, I get told what to do, it feels like I'm on something like detention all the time. It's like I'm not there, I'm just invisible, get it?"

I had to say, "Not really. But I want to. Don't get pissed off! Losing your temper doesn't contribute anything positive. And if you're going to lean back against the door like that, make sure the button is down and the door is locked so you don't go flying out. I'd hate to lose you so soon after meeting you!" I grinned as I said it, trying to lighten the mood and keep him talking.

It worked. He smiled at me, pushed the door lock button down and then relaxed back against the car door again, spreading those beautiful thighs in my direction again. Now I had to really concentrate on keeping my eyes on the road.

"Okay, got it Rev. I'm not pissed now, because you're really listening to me. Most of the time at home I'm treated like I don't even exist, unless they need something. Invisible, get it?"

"Got it. But really, nobody? Not your family? Teacher maybe? Friends?"

"Look, it's a problem home, my parents have lots of problems. My brother is a bully when he bothers to take any notice of me at all. It seems like teachers just talk down and don't want to listen to a kid like me. Friends? Umm, I don't think I really have any. I keep to myself. I read a lot."

Why would a good looking, bright and friendly kid like this not have any friends, I thought to myself. That's a mystery that needs to be explored! Okay, try another tack. "What do you read?"

"I like all kinds of stuff. My room is piled with books. Science Fiction is the best. Sword and sorcery, if it's not too lame and juvenile. Novels about historical stuff-I love historical fiction. Why? You want to get me to start reading the Bible and religious sh---junk? My folks already tried that. They gave up."

"I'm asking because I'm trying to get to know you, remember? The Bible isn't the main or only thing I read; you know!" He raised his eyebrows at that!

"Who's your favorite Sci Fi writer," I went on?

"Harlan Ellison. Isaac Asimov. Marion Zimmer Bradley. The Dragons of Pern, by some woman---what's her name---" thinking to himself, brow furrowed.

"Anne McCaffrey." I supplied the name casually.

"You read the Pern books?!" Jackson was amazed.

"Yeah. I have them all. Hard cover editions from the Science Fiction Book Club. I get something every month. Why are you acting all surprised?"

"Well, you being a preacher and all. I thought all you guys read was, like, Bible stuff. Saints and sermons and like that."

"Well, being a preacher doesn't mean you only read the Bible. Come on, you've got to have a broader education, and then there's reading for pure enjoyment. I read a lot of stuff, and have been a sci-fi fan since high school, and also really like historical novels too. My favorite authors are Roger Zelazny, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Marion Zimmer Bradley…. gee, there's so many good ones. One of my all-time favorites is Zelazny's This Immortal that takes place in Greece and draws on ancient classical Greek themes but is set in the future. I'm waiting to receive the next Zelazny book from the sci-fi club, it's called The Hand of Oberon and was supposed to be released last month."

"Can I ask you something about one of the books by Marion Zimmer Bradley?"

"Sure. Why not?" I was puzzled.

"Did you read The Heritage of Hastur?"

"Of course! It came out a couple of years ago. And I think it was nominated for an award too."

"Uhm, well there's a lot in there about umm, about sexuality, right?" He was stammering a little.

"Let me think," I replied. I thought for a couple of seconds and being purposefully cautious went on, "Let's see, it was part of the Darkover series, and yeah it explored sexuality and I think it was nominated for a Nebula Award for best novel that year."

"Umm, well my parents would have killed me if they'd found out what was in that book because wasn't it also talking about homosexuality as normal for humans. Umm, I mean like some of the people on Darkover are homosexual and some aren't but it's all Okay? And then there's one of the main characters, Regis Hastur, who has to come to grips with being gay, right?"

Uh-oh. I had really forgotten that part, although it had intrigued me at the time. Compartmentalized brain at work again!

"Yes, I think that's what she was getting at. What do you think about that idea?" I was nervous, but I couldn't help myself asking.

"That book helped me understand homosexuality because it made it seem like it was just normal for some people. But well, uhm, like, I never met any gay people before. That I knew were gay, I mean. Have you?"

Oh God. Shaky ground. But I suddenly realized that I wanted always to be as honest as I could with Jackson. I wasn't sure why, but the feeling in me was very strong about that. "Yeah, I do know some gay people. A few of my friends are gay."

"Oh." He was thinking hard about something now, for sure.

I tried to go back to less personal ground. "So, what do you think about Regis and Dani being that way, if they were?"

"Well, umm, I don't know..." He was looking out the window again.

"Listen, when I told you about my friends being gay, I decided to be totally honest with you, and treat you like I would an adult. I won't bullshit you. The Regis-Dani relationship isn't novel, you know. You should read Mary Renault's historical novels like The King Must Die or The Bull From The Sea. They're set in ancient Greece, and are historical novels dealing with Greek mythology. But, more importantly, you say you don't like it when you feel that other people don't seem to notice when you're around? Well, maybe part of the reason you feel invisible is that you keep your thoughts and feelings too much to yourself. You've got to make yourself more visible sometimes in order to be noticed and taken seriously." Yeah, like I was one to talk!

"Uh-huh. I think I see what you mean. But it's hard sometimes, you know? Maybe people won't like what they see, if I show them more about myself."

I had never had this kind of conversation before. In fact, I usually ran screaming from conversations like this. I had always tried to avoid confronting subjects like this, and here I was with a seventeen-year-old, trying to be open and honest. Me, and on this subject that was an entirely new experience.

"Can I tell you something?" It was almost like I had no control over my mouth: the thoughts just came out.

"Yeah, sure, Rev. What?" In truth, I think he was kind of relieved that I hadn't pressed him on the other question.

"Look, I'm new at this too, but we've started opening up to each other, sharing things about each other, and I want you to know that I see you, you're not invisible to me. I've seen you from the minute I stepped out of this car, and when I look back it seems like all I saw yesterday afternoon during the house tour was you. I remember almost nothing about the rest of it."

I paused, my thoughts were blank, and I didn't know what I was going to say next. But then I heard myself say, "I don't see anything that I don't like."

It turned out that Jackson had an incredibly beautiful combination of two features: dimples and blushing. His face was about as bright red as you can get, and the grin large enough that the dimples literally flared. He whispered, "Really, you're not shitting me, are you?"

"Really, as in no shit, and I usually don't say that. Somehow the more I'm around you the more I swear. I thought we pledged earlier this morning we'd help each other swear less." I turned my head briefly and met his eyes and reveled in the momentary connection. I'd never done that before.

"Oh, I saw you looking me over yesterday, and didn't know what to make of it. At first, I was confused, then I realized you were actually talking to me too, and then when you told me to call you David, something changed in me. You know you didn't say that to anyone else, right?

"Is that right, just you?" The paranoid part of my brain was wondering if he was the only one that noticed.

"For sure. And then I started watching you watching me, and I realized it wasn't weird, like you know, you hear about old dudes in restrooms and stuff. You were looking at me like you were, I don't know, uhm……like you were appreciating a painting or something. And, and when I realized that I got all tingly……"

Was this an outreach, some kind of test? I felt my chest constrict and didn't know what to say. I just stared straight ahead and took a couple of deep breaths. "You did," I said softly, "I don't know what to say."

"Me either. What does this mean? I'm the invisible kid. I don't talk to people hardly ever, and never about myself."

"It's new for me too. We're alike that way. I'm usually in the background or not talking when certain subjects come up, like this one. But something new is going on with us because we're both doing something together, we haven't done before." I glanced his way to get a read on him, and he was still leaning back against the passenger door, placidly looking at me.

"We're already good friends, Rev. We like each other right now, right? I mean, at least...uhm...Right?" He was groping for the right words. But we both knew there was a lot more to this than we'd said so far.

"Yeah, we are. We really are. If I am honest with myself, I was watching you yesterday, checking you out. Do you think other people could tell?"

His expression got a little quizzical. "Uh, no, I don't think so. My Mom said that you seemed to be good with young people, something like that. But that's it, I think. Why? Don't you want them to know you like me?"

"No, no! Nothing like that. I was just a little worried that they might think, I don't know, something about, like, maybe...I might like you too much, or something..."

"Too much? Whaddaya me...OH! Oh my God...! He'd pulled his feet back from the console and swung them down to the floor, so he was facing out the windshield again. We were both seriously looking straight ahead.

There was a vast silence for a few moments. Life in The Fast Lane was playing, and I thought to myself that it was more than ironic!

We still had another couple of miles to go before we started hitting the edge of town. We were still on the Highway 99 gently wending its way through the hills from Newberg. There wasn't much to look at outside the car, other than the farms and occasional dirt roads leading off to either side of the main highway. I'd already moved into a new mental space for me, where I didn't consciously know what to say, and when asked some new part of my brain took control and responded saying things, I never would have believed possible before. It almost felt like some kind of out of body experience.

Jackson finally spoke up. "Can..." He had to clear his throat and swallow before he could start over. "Can we stop the car for a minute?" He was still looking straight ahead, and not at me.

I saw a side road coming up, with a picnic area under some trees. The site was empty. I slowed the car down and pulled it into one of the two parking spaces and put it into Park. But I left the engine running with my hand on the shift lever on the console. I was deathly afraid suddenly that I'd crossed the boundary and had scared him or freaked him out and he was going to jump out of the car and bolt. I gripped the steering wheel with one hand and the shift lever with the other and just sat there staring ahead.

"Umm..." Jackson wanted to say something, but it was obviously difficult for him. But he did turn slightly so he could look at me without craning his neck. "How did you know?" he asked me softly.

Now I turned to look at him. I was totally confused. "How did I know what?"

"How did you know that I was, uhm...well, like that?"

"Like what? I don't know what you mean." Tears started forming in Jackson's beautiful eyes.

His voice became a little ragged as he spoke through his tears. "You DO know. You said you wouldn't bullshit me. How did you know that I'm...that I'm gay? Are you going to tell my parents? Please don't tell them. They'll kill me, I know they'll want to kill me..." And he started sobbing hard.

My hands were still motionless, and I was staring ahead. "Wait a minute. You're telling me that you're gay. Is that it?"

"Of course! But you must have known. To have looked at me that way, to talk to me about some gay people you know like you did. How could you tell? I try to be so careful..."

"I…I, really...I didn't know. Honestly! I was afraid that you were thinking that I'm gay. I wasn't thinking about whether you were or not!"

Jackson's sobs stopped suddenly. He caught his breath and looked at me in amazement. "But I thought, I mean, you said, I mean..." His voice trailed off as he tried to think it through. "Wait, you thought I was thinking that you were gay?"

I shook my head up and down. I couldn't speak.

His next question was logical, looking back on it like I am now. "Well, are you?"

I blinked, and still acting like I was a disembodied soul I said, "Am I what?"

"Gay. Are you gay?" At that moment, I marveled that this gorgeous young man could think so clearly when my brain seemed to have left my body. Then I realized what I had just thought. `This gorgeous young man...' Surely a heterosexual man wouldn't have thought that. It hit me like a bolt of lightning. I could literally feel the shock of the realization as it hit me.

Out loud I said, "Well, I've never been with either a guy or a girl..."

Jackson looked impatient. "Me, neither. But I do know what I am, anyhow! You MUST know! Doesn't everybody know? Do you think about guys or do you think about girls? You have to tell me!"

"Uhm. Well. I honestly have never thought about the answer to that question. I mean I haven't had to answer it; you know?"

"Huh?" Jackson was the clueless one now. He just looked at me; head cocked to the side like he always did when he was thinking hard.

"Uhm. Jackson, ask me that question again, please. I think I need you to do that."

Now Jackson was completely baffled. "Ask you again if you're gay? Okay, I guess. This feels really weird, David...Do you think about guys or do you think about girls?"

I focused on the question like a drowning man did his life buoy. "I don't really think about, umm, sex, really. I never noticed that before."

Jackson's eyes narrowed. "You don't think about sex? What DO you think about, for God's sake?! I mean, when you, well...when you, you know..." and he made that universal wanking movement with one hand for a few small strokes. "Um, you DO do that, right? I mean, well, everybody does that. At least I think they do."

I nodded slowly again. "Oh yes, I do that." My thoughts had become clearer to me. I decided on the spot that I had to tell him. It never occurred to me to deny it or evade, even if I could have. I looked him right in the eyes, and said, "When I do it, I do think about boys. And last night, I thought about holding you. Holding you and kissing you. I think that must mean that I'm gay."

Jackson didn't flinch. But he did make a pronouncement. "Jesus Christ..."

I nodded again, this time more firmly. "Yeah. Pretty pathetic not to know that about myself?"

"You really didn't know? That you're gay?" I shook my head side to side.

His voice squeaked again. "And you didn't know about me, neither?"

"Nope, I hadn't made a decision that 'Jackson's gay.' I really don't know what I was thinking. "

"Shit, David, you really are out of it, you know? Sorry about my language."

I choked out something resembling a short laugh. "With what we're talking about here, I hardly think our language matters very much... Jesus, I really am out of it. I can't believe this."

Jackson giggled a little. "Watch your mouth, Rev. Somebody might hear ya!" Then he did something so personal, so sweet, so touching and engaging that I'll remember it for the rest of my life. He slowly and carefully reached his left hand out of his lap and moved it over and set it on top of my right hand that was still holding the gear shifter in a death grip.

As I felt his touch, I quickly glanced his way and saw an expression of simple acceptance. Then I felt him stroke the back of my hand with his fingers, and he asked another question. "So, did you really think about, uhm, like, kissing me and stuff? That's so cool! Maybe that's why I started to get hard whenever you looked at me yesterday..." Then he blushed.

I couldn't believe we were having anything even vaguely resembling this conversation. But I was obviously going with the flow. "Yeah, I did think about that. I got hard too." I glanced down at my lap, and continued, "I am right now. Talking about it. Hard, I mean."

Jackson's eyes got wide. "Whoa! Really? Well, you know what I think?" He didn't wait for my answer. "I think you knew you were gay; I just think you hadn't admitted it to yourself."

Then he did something else that I'll never ever forget as long as I live. He moved his hand from its place stroking the top of my hand on the gear shirt to touch my crotch. He felt gently but thoroughly all over my penis, and if it hadn't been fully aroused at first, it surely was during the examination. He kept his hand in my lap, and said, "Cool..."

I never wanted him to move that hand ever again. But my erection was bent at an awkward angle. So, I carefully put my hand down there, right over his, and used both of them together to adjust it more comfortably. Then I just squeezed his hand, leaving them in place, right where they were. Jackson just kept looking at me, and looking at his own hand in mine, in my lap. He made a wiggling movement with his hips that told me that he had just performed the same adjustment exercise.

So, I said, "You, too, huh?"

He nodded his beautiful head, and said, "Uh huh. Uhm, David, what are we supposed to do now?"

"I don't have any idea, Jackson. Honest to God, I've never thought about any of this. Maybe we should just go to the store for right now. Maybe doing something sort of normal will help us think more about it as we go."

"Umm, Okay...but I'm gonna keep my hand, uhm, sort of where it is, Okay? I like it..."

"I like it, too." He squeezed it every so often, like he was checking to see that it was still there.

And with that, I started the engine and we headed back down the road to town, grocery shopping. The first morning of the rest of my life was only about half over.

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[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead