A Friend of the Devil

by Bensiamin

Chapter 3

I began to rouse from sleep to find myself standing on a hard and cold stone floor in a huge chamber with an arched stone roof and grated windows letting in no light and tapers burning in holders along the wall. And before me stood a large and fearsome looking man. He was bald and draped in red robes and his eyes shimmed red as he stared me down.

I stammered, "Who are you? Why am I here?"

He grinned, a cold and fearsome grin and his eyes sparkled red and I felt the red light fall upon me. "I am a representative of the Council of Wise Despots – The keepers of all institutional truth, providing oversight and continuity to the maintenance of truth in all human organizations to assure their proper function."

I was dumbfounded. "I know of no such thing! Why am I here? What have I to do with this?"

He held the grin as he continued, and the red light continued to fall upon me. "The institutional truth maintained is the culled wisdom of the ages, that insight into the true nature of all things material and divine, which enables all humans to live and prosper and does so by assuring that they understand their limitations and comply with those institutional structures that have been created for their own good."

"There are myriad human institutions, with an equal number of stated reasons for being, but ultimately, they are part of larger institutions, which flow up to master institutions across categories of human experience such as government and science and religion. All religious institutions ultimately are part of the Council of Wise Despots wherein the ultimate institutional truths are defined and maintained, and among the Elders of that Council is the Grand Inquisitor to whom I report. For you must know that a despot is the "master of the house," the owner of that within, and we are the owners and masters of the true wisdom, and it is the Inquisitor's role within the Council and all other institutions to assure compliance and prevent degradation of that wisdom.""

"Why should this be? I've never heard of this. This is crazy."

"How dare you question me. You are here before me, are you not? Is that not enough to convince you of the truth of what I say to you? The truth is that all humans choose to worship. For them the chief problem is what or whom to worship, not if they will. You think you can free yourself from this? Hah, you cannot, for the greatest fear for all humans is the anxiety that comes from being free of worship. And so, you do not ask the questions 'shall I' or 'should I' but rather chase new concepts or objects of worship. You seek only to bow before that which is acknowledged by the majority as the right object of worship, and thus you unquestionably bow down before it. This anxiety of what to worship is humanity's greatest source of suffering, and so we exist to address that suffering, to provide the institutions in which that need can be assuaged."

I was speechless. I'd never considered such a thing, and now I felt the beginnings of fear creep up my spine.

"And as the Master Inquisitor of the Presbyterian Church I am here to confront you for your blasphemy. You, like all others contend you want freedom. What people truly want is the illusion of freedom. The development of Enlightenment principles, or democracy and liberal states in the last five hundred years has enabled this by putting forward liberal principles that convince people they are free. In many cases they establish what is in fact tyrannical rule by calling it true freedom. The problem with freedom is that those who want to be free have no idea how to properly and reasonably exercise it. Thus, the Elders of the Despots of Wisdom establish the protocols whereby people think they are free, while they are not, because they do not know how to be free properly. From this comes the good of a stable institution, of stable government. The truth is that people fear freedom, because with it comes uncertainty, anxiety and guilt, and worst of all knowledge in order to make decisions. Thus, people willingly surrender to their elders, to their leaders, to their rulers, the freedom they say they desire in order to receive security in its place, and they can then claim to have done so in the name of a higher freedom!

"But," I began to stammer, "how can this be? This is not the 'way, the truth and the light!"

"Silence," he thundered! You have no right to add a single syllable to that which I have just described to you. What I have told you is the way that it is, it is the way of life. Those within organizations chose to be controlled by those organizations. And we assure that those organizations hold within them the true Wisdom and thus you have no right to question this authority or to hinder us in our work."

"But you are claiming that you control all people. That there is no freedom. That is not right," I sputtered.

His eyes burned bright as he stared me down, and the red light from his eyes grew in intensity. "People feel satisfied in their freedom, and they do so because they have delivered that freedom into our own hands, they have consciously and submissively turned it over to us in order to reap the benefits of security. You have no right to question this truth. On what basis do you have the temerity to do so, you who have been trained and recently inducted into the ranks of the elders of this institution?"

"I am simply finding myself, trying to be true to myself, trying to finally become free of all the encumbrances of my life," I replied.

"You have no right to do so," he roared. "Who are you to think you do? You are not only a member of this institution; you are part of its structure. You gave up the right of freedom of choice when you became a part of the structure."

"What? No one asked me if I wanted to give up my freedom, if I preferred to lose the freedom of choice," I exclaimed.

"Are you mocking me," he said, his eyes flashing again? "You made the choice across your life. It doesn't matter if it was composed on a million small decisions or a single one-time decision. You chose to forfeit freedom for security. And having done so, you now face the consequences for trespassing that decision."

"Trespass," I sputtered, "how did I trespass anything. I don't know what you're talking about."

"The Temptations, fool! They come before each and every human and all have to decide."

I laughed like a lunatic at the ludicrousness of it all. "When was I ever tested? What Temptations? I was never taken to the desert! I was never raised to the pinnacle of the Temple! I was never given the choice of ruling the world. This is crazy. Those were Christ's temptations, not mine. What is this?"

He laughed, and the sound was deep and resonant and hit me like waves of blasting wind. I felt like my clothes were being ripped off my body, like the skin was being blown off my face. "Fool! Are you so ignorant? You who have been trained even! Are you so self-centered and unaware of reality and of the principles of life? You shame me by your very presence in the institution for which I am Master Inquisitor. Have you no shame? Have you no pride?"

He didn't allow me time to reply, though I was reeling under the verbal assault and my thoughts were a complete jumble as I was bracing myself against the physical onslaught of his humiliating laughter. "You will pay the consequences for recanting on your decisions. You failed the First Temptation, that of turning stones to bread, because you chose bread. Your entire life has been one of taking bread, of being fed, of choosing to be enslaved in order to be fed. And now you deign to consider recanting that decision? You imply that you have the opportunity to choose again?"

He didn't stop but thundered on. "You failed the Second Temptation not because you chose to throw yourself from the pinnacle of the temple hoping to be caught by angels, but because while you claimed to be seeking truth in your life, what you sought was a miracle, simply a sign, something to assure you of your wellbeing and so you chose to bow to the wonders of the institution in order to receive it. For it is beyond your power and that of all mankind to live without miracles, so you chose to become part of the institution and partake of the miracles it offers you, and now you contemplate recanting and not only denying the validity of the institution but the very miracles that satisfied you?"

Even the Master Inquisitor had to pause for breath before he roared once more. "And finally, you failed the Third Temptation because though you previously simply thought that to consider it would be sacrilege, for who but the most apostate could choose to become God, yet now you approach that very boundary. You like all mankind, instead of accepting your place, seek power and authority. All of humankind in one way or another pursues money and influence and control--all things belonging to a higher authority than you. You have the gall to consider that you may make your own decisions about your own wellbeing and attempt to abandon your slavery? For this you shall pay the price!"

I felt beyond words now, as if I had no energy life, as if the confrontation had sapped from me all my available strength. I was struggling not to fall to my knees. "How can this be," I feebly muttered? "I have made no decisions such as you describe. This is an unfair accusation. What proof do you have?"

The Inquisitor's eyes flared. "Are you so simple, are you so ignorant, do you not know how decisions are connected together and one anticipates the other and the first begins to form as a cloud on the horizon followed by others, which soon becomes a bank of clouds from which issues a storm? Are you not only guilty, but so facile?"

I was sobbing openly now. "I know not of what you speak. I have made no decision to be enslaved in order to be fed. I made no decision to choose the miracles of the institution over my own wellbeing. I made no decision to be a slave instead of to be free. How can I stand accused of these things?"

"Fool, you stand accused not of those decisions! You stand accused of beginning the process to recant those decision. You did so by violating the institutional norms of abstinence and laying with a depraved person. By acknowledging that you yourself are not only depraved, but have the right to choose about it, to even question the concept of depravity. Who are you to do such things?"

To my fear was now added confusion. I was on my knees weeping inconsolably, fearful and terrified, but overwhelmingly confused too. I did not understand the accusation. I had no knowledge of any of these previous decisions in my life. I certainly had no knowledge or understanding of the decisions I was being told I was already making, let alone of those ahead of me that the Inquisitor was now telling me I was already making.

"I have brought you before me because you have already engaged in the worst type of violation. You have begun to contemplate and to act on your own. You have chosen to make your own decisions about who you are and what you may do. You deign to think that you have spiritual freedom, that you are free to make decisions of this magnitude, and to arrive at uninfluenced love, but you will not. And you will not because I am here to prevent it. And I do so because the reality is that there are, in fact three almighty powers on earth, there are three ultimate forces upon earth, and they are the forces that control the conscience of humans, and they do so for your own good. Those forces are miracle, mystery and authority, and you shall not breach them. Your role is to acknowledge them, to comply to them as they are interpreted by the institution of which you are a part."

I could now see behind the Master Inquisitor a large furnace-like chamber, glowing red and hot, and his profile became more prominent as the glow brightened behind him until he almost appeared as a black form against a red background.

"You will be punished because your role is to comply, and you are choosing not to. The role of all mankind is to comply within their specific institution, and thus all mankind will live and die happily in ignorance. You think you have the right to ask the questions about who you are, and to consider the proposition of what you should live for, to define your own reasons for living? You shall not, humans shall not, because as the Despots of Wisdom know, as the history of mankind has shown, humans cannot do this, and they need their institutions to provide security and deliver them from torture. You shall not do this because to do so will not only destroy them but will shake the institutional foundations of life. Are you prepared to receive your penalty?"

Just as I felt the heat and the light from the furnace expand as if to consume me, I also felt no fear. I'd ceased crying and was standing, facing the Master Inquisitor and the force behind him. I was beyond tears and fear. I was simply standing there, waiting to receive whatever would come my way, waiting to receive whatever judgment was to be meted out.

As I expected that judgmental end to fall, a small sound began in my heart. It began like a small cymbal, then grew in volume to be replaced by a still, small voice.

"Don't be afraid. Stand strong. Your pursuit of spiritual freedom has saved you. There is no penalty for being free, only struggle."

I felt a type of relief, not the relief of the hangman's noose being removed, but rather the relief that comes from knowing that in spite of all the opposition or negativity, you've made the right decision, that you've been true to yourself.

It was then I felt a touch on my face, and a voice echoing softly in my heart saying, "If we love each other, and if our love is pure, then all will be well."

I took a huge breath and struggled to hold back the tears, though this time they were tears of joy. I looked around me and the stone chamber with its heat and red light was gone, and I was sitting in a meadow on a mountain, surrounded by wildflowers, and beside me was the person who I was beginning to understand was my true love.

I looked directly at him, pleadingly, and he turned from the view and smiled, then leaned over and kissed my cheek, and who simply said, "If we trust our love, then all will be well."

I slipped back into unconsciousness, and all thoughts and words were gone. I slept more deeply than at any time in my life.

I was alone in the bed. Where's Jackson? Was I just dreaming about sleeping next to him last night? No, not a dream. My mind tried to come to grips with the fact that I had just spent my first night sleeping with the most beautiful person I'd ever met. I had slept in the arms of a naked youth that said he loved me. We were both naked! It was wonderful, but I could still recall the loneliness and fear that preceded it. And my recollection of the dream I'd had frightened me and had me wondering too. I know dreams aren't real, but they do often express the concerns and emotions that the dreamer is experiencing in life. What did that dream say about me? I didn't even understand most of it. And that unsettled me even more. In spite of feeling disconcerted, it was a beautiful morning. The sun was shining through the bedroom window. The light was gorgeous and brightly colored the curtains and sheets. I lay there watching the light play on the surface of these things, watching the dust motes float in the air through the rays of sunlight.

The tune of the Gordon Lightfoot song started playing in my head as I lay there reflecting, and I sang it quietly to myself picturing last night. The first verse had hit me last night. This morning the next two hit home.

The first time, ever I kissed your mouth
I felt the earth turn in my hands
Like the trembling heartOf a captive bird
That was there, at my command
My Love
That was there, at my command

The first time, ever I lay with you
And felt your heart beat close to mine
I thought our joy
Would fill the earth
And last, til the end of time
My Love
And last, 'til the end of time

Watch the video of Gordon Lightfoot singing The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face from the 1960s

I stretched and groaned, thinking about the "trembling heart of a captive bird" and "your heart beat close to mine," cracking and popping my joints in that delicious early morning manner. My erection throbbed. Just like when I was a teenager. It felt so good. Once I got past the Master Inquisitor dream from last night, whatever it was I was dreaming about early this morning must have been good for me. Could it really be love? This kind of love? But being in love with a seventeen-year-old boy? How is that possible? I know it's illegal, but I couldn't even conceive how I could possible find myself in a situation like this.

Was that coffee I could smell from downstairs? It was almost good enough to make me want seriously to wake up and hop out of bed

"Hey Rev! Wake up! Daylight's burning!"

"Is it? What time is it," I said? Jackson's head peeked around the door, and he came into the room smiling mightily and walked right up to the bed, leaning over me with his hands behind his back. I started to reach up for him with both my arms.

"8:30 already, you lazy dog!" And with that and a giggle, he lifted the corner of the sheet. I couldn't see what he was doing, but then I felt the feather in his hand tickle the bottom of my foot. I yelped and sat straight up in bed. He was on me in a second, stroking and tickling.

"Jeez, Rev! I didn't know you were so sensitive. And so ticklish too!" He couldn't hold me still, but when he was tickling my ribs and feet with the feather I was responding wildly and struggling not to laugh crazily and totally lose it. I did what I had to do under the circumstances, I grabbed him and pinned both of his arms to his side and wrestled him into submission on the bed.

"Do you give? Will you stop," I hissed at him through clenched teeth? He was grinning wildly, dimples flaring, and I could watch him settle down and we started at each other and the reaction of assailant/assaulted slowly transitioned into lover/beloved. He whispered, "I give."

I could feel my erection pressing on him and could feel his tenting in his shorts through the sheets. I smiled and then leaned down to kiss him, and he said, "Oh, gross, Rev. That's some serious morning breath!" He was giggling and hugging me now.

I broke away and stood up from the bed. "No kiss then, till I brush my teeth."

As I stepped away, I heard him say "Don't go," just as I realized I was naked and looked down to confirm it.

"You made the comment about dragon breath, so there you are!" I must have started to blush because he was giggling and said, "That's right, Rev, you're as naked as a baby. But a pretty good-looking baby, if I say so myself. Want me to get out of these shorts and join you? You know, like last night?"

I watched his face light up as the giggling was replaced with a smile and then as it turned into a grin again. His eyes were glinting in the morning light. "No, thank you," I said to him, "I think I'll put some clothes on and get decent. You know, decent, like not naked!" I grabbed some briefs and clothes from the dresser, headed for the bathroom. I heard him remark on the nice shape of my buns as I went through the door! After a face splash of water and teeth brushing, I reappeared with shorts and a T-shirt on a few minutes later. He was still laying on the bed, partially covered with the rumpled sheets, but still slightly aroused. My erection was almost gone.

He was still grinning, loving every minute of having woken me up and then caught me out naked. "Oh no, you're not just dressed, but you've gone soft too," he almost cooed.

"I'll show you soft," I hissed as I took three long steps across the room and dove on top of him on the bed. We wrestled for a minute and finally I held his head still in my hands and looked him straight in the eyes and said, "I have a morning kiss for you now."

He became motionless except for his eyes that narrowed just slightly, and his lips that opened. I leaned in and kissed him, letting our tongues meet and dance ever so lightly together. We kissed deeply, and when we broke for breath he said, "I want every day to start like this. I put the coffee on when I got here. Maybe we should have breakfast in bed, you know, up here!"

I could feel both of us getting hard again and was just beginning to think about what breakfast in bed with Jackson would really be like when we heard the crunch of the gravel in the drive announcing a car pulling up outside.

We moved like scalded cates, and were off the bed, down the stairs and managed to be sitting at the kitchen table appearing to be casually pouring coffee as a woman's voice called from just beyond the back porch, "Ahoy, the house! Everybody decent?"

Jackson muttered, "Shit, it's Miss Albridge again."

I managed not to sound spooked or winded as I stepped to the back door, opened it wide and said, "Sure thing, come on in."

And she sailed right in. She wasn't tall, but she was wide. I managed to hide my wince as she dropped her shoulder bag on one of the kitchen chairs and plonked herself down at the table with a big grin.

"Hi, boys. Beautiful morning out there!" God, was she always this energetic?

We managed a weak reply in unison. "Morning, Miss Albridge..." We must have sounded like one of her classes at school.

"Jackson Harris, you again? Have you been home at all since I saw the two of you together as thick as thieves yesterday at the Food Town?"

Jackson tried not to look alarmed, as I gulped and replied, "Of course he has, Miss Albridge. He just got here after delivering my paper, and we were planning the day. Right, Jackson?"

"Uhm, right, Rev..." Susan Albridge's brows shot upwards at Jackson's nickname for me, but she smiled. He was thinking, though, and continued on, "Miss Albright, would you like a cup of coffee? It's fresh brewed."

She nodded her assent, and asked us both "So what DO you have planned for the day, boys?" Jackson got up and found her a fresh mug and poured her a cup of coffee. Her voice seemed to quiet when she was seated at a table inside like this. Thank God.

"Umm, I was just asking Jackson to, uhm, show me around town and begin to give me the lay-out of these country roads and so on..."

Jackson grinned. Thinking like this on the fly wasn't my strong suit, but I'd come up with something that wasn't far from the truth. I did have calling on church members to meet then individually on my list of things to do.

"Good idea. There are more than 200 miles of roads around this little community, aren't there, Jackson?"

"Yeah, I guess so. I never thought about it before, Miss Albridge."

We talked about the number of members that lived outside of town, and how learning the county road system was important. I told her my goal was to call on all the member families and meet them before too long. She nodded at that and then asked if we'd gotten all our shopping done yesterday.

I nodded and told her Jackson had been a God send—without him I'd probably have gotten lost half a dozen times, and he helped my put all the groceries away, and that he'd stayed around to help me sort out the unpacking, organize and file my albums and books.

"That's terrific Jackson. I'm so glad you two are working together so well. I know you have plans for the day, and I dropped by without an appointment, but can I have a few minutes of the Pastor's time in the study?"

It was like she was asking Jackson's permission, like she was treating him as a person that mattered. Jackson seemed a little confused by it, but he smiled and nodded, and then stood up and took his coffee cup to the sink. "Sure thing, Miss Albridge. Don't keep him too long, though because he hasn't had anything to eat. I had breakfast at home after my paper route." Miss Albridge looked surprised again, but said, "Good boy."

And we went into the study. I showed her my outline of Sunday's bulletin so far, and she brought me up to date on how they'd always done things before and asked me if I wanted any changes to the order of service. I told her that I didn't want to change anything until I had gotten a feel for what was already there. She smiled her appreciation. We chatted another 10 minutes or so, and I started to like her. She wasn't just an old foghorn. She had a heart as big as her wide body, I was sure. She warned me about a few of the worst cases in the choir, and I simply said that I was sure she'd do a superb job directing them while I got up to speed. She was a music teacher after all, used to instructing and directing students, and I took it for granted that she'd be directing the choir. One thing I had learned in my student pastorates was to identify, work with and support the pillars of the church—the ones that make it run.

When we'd covered all the service subjects, we walked back into the kitchen and as she picked up her bag, she turned and said, "It does my heart good to see you two boys together like this already! Jackson Harris, you spend far too much time alone. Pastor David, you teach him the value of close friendships, you hear?"

"I'll try, Susan. He's been really great so far; I wouldn't know what to do without him." I was surprised to hear myself come so close to the truth with her, but she seemed perceptive and good-natured. Jackson just grinned, a tad embarrassed, but pleased as well.

When she had left, Jackson came over to me and hugged me around the waist, nestling his head in my chest. He seemed to be listening to my heartbeat for a lovely moment or two. I said to him, "you seemed a little embarrassed by what Miss Albridge said."

He was quite for a minute, then said, "I've always been intimidated by her, but she turns out to be a nice person, just a little loud. Maybe that's from having to deal with obnoxious kids at school. But she acts like she likes me; she acts like she knows I'm here and I'm a real person and I matter."

"You do," I said. "So maybe you're not as much of an invisible kid as you think. Maybe you don't give yourself enough credit and need to be a little more open." I felt his head nod and he said, "I guess so." Another minute went by and then his muffled voice asked, "Wanna go fool around?" And he giggled.

I forced his head up gently, and growled, "Is that the only thing you think about?"

"Yup. When I'm around you..."

"Well, it's not a good idea. I imagine lots of people will be dropping by to see me and check me out. And I really do need to have a guide around all the roads here. I wasn't kidding about that."

"Tour guide again? How about we do that later, Rev?" And he reached up and tried to kiss me. Much as I loved the idea of that, it also made me nervous enough to wriggle out of his grip.

"No, no, no. I'm going to have a bowl of cereal. You said I needed to have breakfast, so thanks for looking out for me, and will you pour me another cup of coffee?"

He did while I put cereal and milk in a bowl and added a sliced banana and carried it to the table. I made to read the newspaper, as he sat down to watch. "What's on your mind," I asked?

"Well you, of course. That's why I asked if you wanted to fool around. You know, go back upstairs and pick up where we left off." He was wiggling his eyebrows and grinning, and I was having trouble keeping the cereal in my mouth. He started stroking my arm and it gave me goose bumps.

"Ya know, tiger, we could easily just go upstairs and get naked again and have sex." I looked down at him to gauge his reaction.

His eyes flashed like neon and I could see the excitement flash across his face.

"But that would be just sex," I continued.

"Whaddaya mean 'just sex'? That'd be great!" He squirmed on the kitchen chair; he was that excited.

"Jackson, I think it would be amazing, too. I've never really thought about how terrific sex was going to be. It was always pretty hazy and abstract to me before meeting you."

"Really?" He acted like I'd said something in a foreign language.

"We could have sex right now. Or we could wait."

"Wait? Why wait? Are you thinking about us getting in trouble again?"

"Sure, I'm thinking about that. You should be, too. But it's more than that. I think I'd still want to wait even if we wouldn't get into trouble. It's about love, Jackson."

"But I love you already!" he protested.

"I know. I think I'm in love with you, too. That's why we should wait."

"I still don't get this."

"You ever hear of dating before sex, Jackson?"

"Sure. Whaddaya mean?"

"What I mean is that we just met yesterday, and we haven't even been out on a date. We don't know anything about each other at all."

"What! We already slept together naked." He grinned and looked pleased with his quick response.

"But that's exactly what I mean, Jackson. Maybe we shouldn't have."

Jackson's grin faded like a cloud covering the face of the sun. "But...we both liked it. Right?"

"Yes, of course we both liked it. People are supposed to enjoy being sexual together. I never really thought about it before. I think I'm really going to like making love with you a lot."

"So, what's the problem?" He was really puzzled, like what I was saying just didn't make sense.

"So, don't you want to get to know me? Or do you only want me for my body?" I couldn't believe I was asking that. It could have been a line from a Bogart and Hepburn movie.

I went on, "You have to understand that I'm not just this guy you've fallen for, but I'm also an ordained minister. You only know what a minister is from looking at them from the pew, but it gets complicated when you're on this side. What I mean is that what comes with being a minister is a whole bunch of doctrine and theology, and equally importantly a bunch or moral and ethical constraints. I'm not going to swamp you with all of that stuff, but just ask you to understand that I've got that load of baggage and I have to work through it."

He wrinkled his forehead, clearly somewhat confused. I continued, "Look, you probably won't believe this but one thing that goes along with a call to the ministry, going to seminary, getting ordained, if you're not married, is essentially an agreement with yourself to be celibate."

"What, like a monk," he exclaimed?

"Well, not precisely, but along those same lines, because you're signed up for this package deal of theology and doctrine and morality and ethics and immoral sex isn't part of the deal. So, you kind of decide to put it on hold."

His brow wrinkled even more, and then he said, "But you told me yesterday that you jacked off. How does that fit into celibacy?" He had me there!

I just sighed and said, "You tell yourself it's about releasing built up tension and try to control your thoughts. But this is what I'm talking about when I say we need to get to know each other. You've got your issues you're working through, and so do I. They're just different. That's why I asked if you didn't want to get to know me and only wanted me for my body."

"Uhm...I know the right answer to that, David. But can't I have both?" And he giggled again.

"Let's keep talking about it, and I'll tell you when I'm ready. Ok?"

"Sheesh. I saw you when you got out of bed. You were ready then. I'll have to remember to attack you before you really wake up next time, that's for damned sure!"

I reached over and stroked his cheek with my fingertips and whispered, "Horny as ever, huh?"

"Okay, you said we hadn't even had a date yet. Can we count today's tour of the back roads as a date?"

"Yeah, I guess so..."

"Cool! This will be our second date, then, right? Yesterday counts too, doesn't it? What can we do after two dates?"

"God, Jackson, are you going to be keeping score or what?"

"Damn straight! Pardon the expression..." He giggled again and continued, "You're the one so serious about dates and all. How many dates before we can fool around some more?"

I ginned at him and said, "One of the most important things I learned in seminary is that there are no right answers to wrong questions." He looked a little puzzled for a few second, but then seemed to get the point because he smiled back. But his eyes were glinting so I know he was already working on a way to turn that statement on its head. I picked up my dishes, rinsed them in the sink and asked him if we were ready to go.

He nodded, and we headed out the back door to the El Camino. The Eagles album was still in the cassette player from yesterday, and I suggested he put in what he wanted to hear. He first came out holding a Leonard Cohen album and said, "None of that crap, he's so depressing!"

I replied I was pleased he even knew about Leonard Cohen and he smiled knowingly and pulled out Stevie Wonder's Songs In The Key of Life. He told me he'd heard about it and asked if it was any good. "Yeah, I like it. It came out last year, and he's an amazing musician. Put it on and see what you think."

"Love's In Need of Love" started playing as I backed the El Camino down the driveway. A couple of minutes in he said he liked the song and asked the name. When I told him he just raised his eyebrows and said, "See, this is what I've trying to tell you since yesterday. You need to listen to this guy; he's got a message for you!"

I rolled my eyebrows and kept driving.

Susan Albridge had been right about the several hundred miles of narrow blacktop and dirt roads that spread out on three sides of Newberg. On that first morning, we barely made a dent in all the lanes and by-ways crisscrossing each other. I was immediately pretty confused, and it all looked alike to me, but Jackson pointed out the little road markers, the system of Rural Route mailbox numbers, and some of the names on the bigger farms.

I asked him questions about himself, his habits, his likes and dislikes. He seemed oddly diffident when talking about himself. It was a noticeable contrast to his open pursuit of me sexually. I couldn't ask him any "yes" or "no" questions, because that was the only answer I got. The affirmative or negative response led nowhere else, conversationally. He just habitually held back and asked me more about myself. He seemed to be content to just be with me and didn't feel the need to talk about everything.

So, I found myself telling him about my workaholic lawyer father, who had grown up the eldest son in a very wealthy Philadelphia Main Line family, gone to Haverford School, then on to Yale and then to Yale Law. He didn't get along too well with his father and didn't want to run the family business, so he took a corporate legal position with a large pharmaceutical company based in the Philadelphia area that ended up with him being posted overseas as they pioneered polio vaccine production and later smallpox vaccine delivery systems. Introducing those treatments to third world countries required high level interactions with local governments and he did that well. So, well that we moved every couple of years (South America, Asia and then Africa) until he returned to the States for my junior year in high school. As an alumnus, he got me into the Haverford School, with an eye to Yale.

He was very successful, very well off financially, but never home, never involved much in the lives of his family. I told him about my depressed mother, who tried to fill the empty spaces in her life by perpetual volunteer activities in whatever churches we attended overseas, and when we moved back in the Presbyterian church in the classy Philadelphia suburb where we lived.

I told him about how Mother was much more emotionally involved in her dieting than in the lives of her children. I mentioned my older brother Michael, the flashy and successful amateur actor and football star, who seemed to revel in the social lives my parents carried on while I didn't. I explained how much of a contrast there was between his being the star athlete with a steady string of gorgeous girlfriends and my own loner status, the avoidant good student with few friends. I tried to describe my hopes for finding some Universal Goodness and Truth in my calling to the ministry.

Jackson asked me a few questions about how great it must have been living in those foreign countries. I had to tell him that while it came with novelty and excitement, like when we lived in Egypt seeing places like the Pyramids and the Victoria Falls, it also came at a cost because living overseas meant you were disconnected from your immediate and extended family and weren't part of a community. And, worse yet, moving every couple of years meant you never established any close long-term friendships. You couldn't, as a defense mechanism, because you knew one day you'd leave and the friendship would be over and you'd be alone and hurting again and have to start over in some new place where you knew no one and were the newbie and likely the odd one out.

As I spoke, I realized for the first time how empty much of my life had been. Not terrible, nothing awful, just empty, flat, boring, and intellectual. Yes, good schools, doing reasonably well in some sports, getting very good grades. But, everything compartmentalized, and most of the compartments not in touch with the other ones. Nothing emotional or exciting in my life. Until now. Until I met Jackson.

All the time I was talking and driving, Jackson sat like he had yesterday with his back against the door. He'd slipped off his Keds and his feet were on the console and the left one was against my thigh, occasionally making stroking motions with his toes. It felt wonderful. In spite of the physical connection, getting him to open up about himself wasn't easy. He wanted to stay in his shell, probably the result of years of self-protection. I needed him to open up too.

I asked him about his brother Gary. "He used to play football like your brother. But he's no star. He's a bully and a jerk."

"Does he bully you?"

"Only when I'm around him. So, I stay away from him."

"Where are your parents in this equation? Don't they intervene?"

"No. Either they don't see it, or they don't care. Remember me, I'm the Invisible Boy. My Mom is depressed and drinks too much. My Dad is a control freak who's angry most of the time.

I glanced at him quickly and stroked one of his feet. "You're doing a good job of being visible to me. You caught me out yesterday about being an isolated rock and an island. Sounds like you are too, or am I reading this wrong?"

He sighed deeply and said, "Yeah, it's true. I pretty much keep to myself and don't talk about myself. You're the first person that took me as I am and really seemed interested and seemed to care. I can talk to you."

I smiled and stroked his foot again. "Well, we have to be willing to open up about our real selves to each other if we're going to learn about each other, don't you think? And don't forget Miss Albright. She pretty much seemed to qualify in the 'I care about Jackson' department, didn't she?"

"You're right she did, and that probably means I haven't been fair to her, just thought she was loud and didn't care like the other adults and teachers. I'll try, Okay. You keep asking questions and I'll try and tell you about myself."

And so, I did. With Stevie Wonder playing in the background, Jackson slowly began to open up to me. I discovered that he liked sports that he could play on his own, like bicycling and swimming. He loved reading and lost himself for days at a time in fantasies and science fiction. His favorite subject in school was history, and he enjoyed placing himself in different historical time periods, imagining a better life for himself anywhere and anytime away from here. His passion was planning how soon he could leave small town life and move to a big city.

"Why is that?"

"Uhm, more people there, and more private."

"More private?"

"Yeah, maybe I can be different in a big city. There aren't any people here in Newberg that are like me, ya know?"

"Look, setting aside being gay for a minute, I think you're mainly talking about being accepted for who you really are instead of being controlled or put down aren't you? That can happen here or in another town, but it's mainly a function of not being in the circle of people that put you down, don't you think?"

"I don't know, Rev. I sure want to be somewhere else than here. Except that now, you're here. And maybe things will be Okay..." He was looking at me pretty intently now.

I slid my hand up his leg and squeezed his knee and told him I hoped the same thing. It was a quiet and tender moment. I'll remember it perfectly for the rest of my life.

He'd clearly reached the saturation point on opening up and sharing about himself for the morning. He suddenly changed the subject to the El Camino. "So, Rev, tell me about this cool car. You said it had a big engine and stuff. What'll it does? How fast is it."

I told myself to relax, that we had to do this a step at a time, and we'd covered a lot of ground already this morning. "Well, I said, like I told you it has a 350 V-8 engine, which isn't a big block engine though it's one of the bigger engines you can get. But I also told you I'm not really a car guy."

"I was looking for a mix of utility and sport, that's why I got an El Camino with a shell on the back and the SS trim package. I had a friend in seminary who knows a lot about cars, and he told me to be sure and get the 350, not the smaller V-8."

He grinned, "Probably so you can peel out and lay rubber, right?"

I smiled now, "Well, maybe, I don't know. I haven't done that. What Geron said was the era of muscle cars is over and with smog controls and changes like that they didn't produce the horsepower they used to. So, this car with the smaller 305 and a 2-barrel carburetor would run like a 6-cylinder used to! So, he said make sure you get the 350 with a 4-barrel, and I did."

"That's cool. Good to have friends who know stuff."

"Yep," I replied, "and he reckoned that the weight and balance on this El Camino is a lot like a Chevelle because it's built on the frame for a Chevelle station wagon, and with the 350 it would do the quarter mile in seventeen and a half seconds. Probably without the smog controls if would be down to fifteen or fifteen and a half. I don't know though because I've never timed it or raced it or anything."

"Well, you know Rev, it's never too late to try, like you keep telling me about my life!" He was grinning now, egging me on. "Are you going to show me what it'll do?"

"Well, I'm not a race car driver and try to drive responsibly, but we are out here on country roads with no traffic. Okay, we'll give it a try." I had a straight stretch ahead of me and floored the accelerator like I was passing a truck. The V-8 roared as the transmission downshifted and we jumped from forty-five to sixty-five in a few seconds. I heard Jackson say "Whoa!" and reach out his right arm to steady himself against the dash.

The El Camino was flying, but then I had to ask myself how far to take this. The road was straight for another half mile, so I kept going, but when we passed eighty, I'd had enough. These were rural roads after all, with some local traffic. I eased off the accelerator and the El Camino settled back and decelerated. I didn't say anything, but when we were back to forty-five, I glanced over at him. He was grinning big time. "Pretty cool!" was all he said.

He was right on it. "So, Rev, the quarter mile thing, that's from a stop isn't it? Like a drag race or racing somebody in another car?"

"Yeah," I replied, "I guess, but I told you I haven't raced anybody."

"Oh, I know you told me that. I'm just thinking that you've got over a thousand miles on this baby now, so the engine is well broken in. Can we give it a try from a stop? You know like a race? It's broken in, so it won't hurt it, right?"

I was getting outside my comfort zone, but I had bought the car after all. "I guess you're right, and it is probably well broken in, so we'll try it. Just to see, Okay, not that we're trying to turn this into a race car or anything. Let's look for a long straight stretch."

Within five minutes we came onto a long stretch of road running at least two miles down the middle of a long narrow valley. The hillsides were covered with orchards, and the valley floor seemed to be planted in wheat or grass. That probably meant few people and there seemed to be little traffic.

I could see no traffic ahead or in the rearview mirror, so I pulled to a stop and told him to face forward and get ready. The air conditioner was off, and I told him to roll up the windows to minimize wind drag. The engine was purring quietly, and I stepped on the brake with my left foot like I'd heard guys talk about, and slowly pressed the accelerator and felt the torque build and the car raise up as the engine growled louder. I didn't know how far I could go with this, and probably released the brake earlier than I needed to, but I was a newbie too. Finally, I let go of the brake and mashed the accelerator the rest of the way to the floor. The El Camino jumped forward and then surged down the road. I heard a shout of "Yahoo!" from the passenger seat.

I was alternating between watching the road ahead and glancing at the speedometer while I counted time in my head. We hit sixty in about ten seconds, and if what Geron told me was right, that meant we were a little over an eighth of a mile. Jeez! How fast would we be going at seventeen seconds if that approximated a quarter mile? I wasn't looking over, but I wasn't hearing any sounds from the passenger seat. Apparently, Jackson was as focused on the ride as I was.

I could feel my heart racing and I was gripping the steering wheel tight, making sure I was holding a straight line and watching out for any surprises. We hit eighty faster than expected and that was enough for me. I bailed out and let off the accelerator and let the car decelerate without tapping the brakes.

I finally heard from the passenger seat a triumphant yell of "Far out! That was totally amazing!" Now I glanced over and saw he was holding onto both the door handle and the edge of the console. The ride had gotten Jackson's adrenaline flowing too. He turned his head and grinned at me foolishly. I grinned right back. How stupid would we both look if the Yamhill County sheriff pulled us over right now? I replied back to him, "Yeah, that was pretty outrageous. It's nice to know this baby has that capacity, but remember we're not doing this all the time."

He was on it immediately. "You didn't say we'd never do it again, Rev, right?" I just shook my head. He went on, "Do I get to drive it some day? I mean I've got a driver's license?"

I glanced at him again. "You've got a license?"

"Yeah, but I've still got to be accompanied by an adult till I'm eighteen and Pop's such a control freak he essentially won't let me drive, so I don't get much practice.

I saw an out. "Okay, we'll work something out, but you've got to get your parents approval to drive this car first."

He smiled and nodded, but the expression seemed to say, "not much chance of that." We'd seen a lot of roads this morning, opened up to each other, tested the El Camino's capabilities, but surprisingly hadn't seen any church members! So much for the day's goals!

I let a couple of minutes go by so we could recover from the adrenaline rush. Then I asked him, "What's your biggest wish, besides getting out of this town?"

He swiveled in his seat again, so his back was against the door, and languidly put both feet back on the console and said, "getting it on with you!"

I should have anticipated that. I grinned. "What's your biggest secret?"

"You know that one already, David. That I'm gay!"

"No, not that, I mean, well, what's something else that I don't know about you...that nobody else knows about you?"

He thought for a minute, then answered, "I like going naked. At my fort, swimming in the river or the pond when nobody's there. I rode my bike naked once, in the middle of the night. The seat chafed the crack of my ass something awful, but I loved it. Rode for a couple of miles like that."

And he blushed. I laughed, and said, "I wish I could have been there to see it!"

He looked over at me and said, "You can if you want to, Rev! Wanna make that our next date?" I thought he was joking, but he wasn't. He was persistent, and that was an invitation.

"Maybe we'll make our next date bicycling, but it won't be naked bicycling!" We fell silent for a bit and then I saw someone familiar.

"Look! Isn't that Miss Albridge over there?" Jackson looked in the direction of my pointing finger and grunted in surprise.

"Yeah, sure is. I didn't know where she lived before. I didn't know she lived out here in the country."

She waved when she saw who we were. I guess a passing vehicle out here on these country roads always occasioned a look to see who was going by. So, I pulled the car up the gravel drive that circled the front of the house, as Jackson swiveled back in the bucker seat and put his Keds on.

"Let's not stay too long, Okay, David?"

"Come on, sport. I like her. She's Okay, I think."

All of a sudden, I had a whining teenager on my hands. "Come on David, she's one of my teachers...and I want to be alone with you! This is a date, remember?"

"Let's be sociable and make some friends. It'll be good for us, get us off our islands a little."

Jackson rolled his eyes and a look of resignation settled on his face. Susan was standing in the front yard, between flower beds of recently bloomed lilacs and roses still in their summer glory. She was smiling broadly as she welcomed us with, "Hello, again, boys! Fancy meeting you here! Come on out of that car and sit awhile!"

Before we could swing the car doors open, she turned to the house and called, "Ellen, come out here and meet the new Pastor I was telling you about!"

Moments later a tall and stately figure came out onto the porch and joined Susan Albridge. Although they both looked to be about 50 years old, Ellen was at least a foot taller than the friendly music teacher and cut an imposing figure in a starched white uniform of some sort. Her upswept hair style suited its dark red coloring, and her confident and erect posture reminded me a bit of Kathryn Hepburn.

"Ellen Hayes, meet David Ayers, our new Pastor. And this fine-looking young man is Jackson Harris."

We all smiled our greetings to one another. Susan continued, "Ellen is Head Nurse in the Emergency Unit down at the regional hospital." Susan looked a little proud as she said that.

Ellen smiled and said, "That's true but worse luck for me, and I have to go to work on a beautiful day like today." Her voice was deep, warm, and soothing, while also rock solid. I liked her immediately, and decided that warm manner notwithstanding, she could be a force to be reckoned with under the right circumstances. For that matter, so could Susan!

They walked us to the side of the house, onto a patio and invited us to sit around a patio table with a large umbrella over it. The colors on the cushions and the umbrella were bright and went along well with the flower plantings that surrounded the house.

I expected Jackson to be pretty quiet given his desire to not stay long, and he seemed quite surprised when Susan told us, "Jackson here is one of my favorite students."

He blinked and asked, "Why? I'm not much good at music..."

"Your voice isn't half-bad, young man, you just need motivation and practice. Besides, what's good got to do with anything? You try hard, you're a very nice guy, and you're cute, too!" Susan gushed. Jackson blushed.

Ellen smiled and said, "Don't embarrass him, dear. He'll never come back and visit with us again if you do that." And with that, Ellen gracefully moved the conversation along. It was light and enjoyable, and we were fast friends inside of twenty minutes. The freshly made lemonade helped, of course. And the thing was, I didn't usually feel so relaxed around new people like this. Susan and Ellen made me want to stay right there and come back soon. And neither of them seemed to think it was strange that my companion was a seventeen-year-old youth. Even Jackson was enchanted by their hospitality and forgot to worry about how long we stayed there.

The short stop turned into lunch, and quite a spread it was, too. Homemade bread stuffed with tuna. An amazing garden salad that seemed to include every green leaf and vegetable available. Fruit and cheese. Eventually, Ellen apologized and excused herself to drive to the hospital for her shift. Susan patted her arm as she left the porch. It seemed an easy, familiar, and intimate touch.

"I wish she didn't have to go in today. It's been such fun having guests like you two handsome men!"

We were both blushing. But I didn't want to out-stay our welcome, and so we also said our good-byes and followed Ellen's solid looking silver Volvo station wagon out the drive and down their road. She turned right, and Jackson pointed left and we turned back toward Newberg. It was the middle of the afternoon, so I told Jackson we should head back to the parsonage. He lit up with a smile that was about 100,000 watts in strength. "Now you're talkin', Rev...!" He had swiveled to his favorite position, leaning against the car door so he could watch me. When I glanced over, I could see the sparkle in his eyes.

"Hey, you! Don't you go starting about jumping my bones again!

"Aww, David..."

"I haven't told you I'm ready yet, have I?"

"Well, no, but...."

"No buts! This has been one of the best days I ever had. Don't ruin it by becoming a pest about getting it on."

"Jeez, David, you sound like one of those girls trying to play hard to get. We have had a great day, haven't we? Wouldn't it be great to end it back at your house with a hug and a kiss?

He'd changed intent and was now smiling innocently as if his motives were as pure as snow! I was shocked. I suppose I DID sound something like that. Oh well, there is something to be said for holding out for a special person, but I sure didn't want to seem catty and ruin what had been a splendid day.

"I'm not trying to play hard to get, and I'm not trying to tease you, Okay? You know I'm new at this, and we agreed to help each other when we stumble, remember? So, I take back my assumption that you meant when we got home you wanted to jump my bones, and now assume you meant a hug and a kiss, let me say that sounds like a delightful idea."

His smile really lit up now, the dimples flared, and he looked like the cat that got the cream.

"Of course," he went on, "you never know where a hug and a kiss might lead, right?"

"Well, till we agree it's going further that's as far as it goes, right?" I glanced at him again and he was still smiling.

"So, are you saying we have to like get engaged and kind of like married before we can do it?" And he giggled. I joined him, although I was trying to be serious which was hard because he was stroking my right thigh with his left foot.

"Jackson, I just want us both to be sure. I want it to be right. For the right reasons. At the right time. Not just because we're really horny for each other." And yes, my expression told him, I was just as horny right then as he was. He adjusted himself in his shorts, and I had to do the same in my khakis. That made us giggle at each other again, and he turned in his seat, tapped the shifter on the console, and when I placed my hand on it, he put his over mine. And we drove on in a pleasant silence deep in our own thoughts.

We drove through town and I turned onto our street. Our direction was such that we'd pass the Harris house before getting to the parsonage, and as we approached we could see Bud Harris out in the yard. I pulled over to the curb, and Jackson pulled his hand out of mine as we slowed. "Hi, Pop..." "Hello, Mr. Harris" we said simultaneously out the open window.

Bud Harris shuffled over to the car and leaned into Jackson's window as he looked at me. "Afternoon, Pastor. I need him if you're finished with him." And not even a look in Jackson's direction, or a reply to his greeting. I didn't like the looks of that.

"Why sure, Mr. Harris, no problem. Jackson was just beginning to show me the lay of the land, you know the county road system, so I won't get lost visiting church members. We're about finished for the day, I think. Right, Jackson?" I tried to sound cheerful.

"Yeah, I guess, if you say so. I'll just go get my bike and come right back, ok, Pop?"

"No dawdling around."

"Okay, Pop. I'll be right back." He sounded small and tense all of a sudden. I had never seen him like that, except for when he was terrified about my figuring out yesterday that he was gay. It certainly meant no hug and kiss in the house!

I drove the hundred yards further and pulled up into the driveway. We could both see that Bud Harris was standing right there in plain view, fists on his hips, waiting for Jackson. We exited the car as slowly as we could, to give us a bit more time to talk.

"I want to come back tonight, like before. Ok? I really need to. But I'll have to do a sneak, because I'm still grounded."

"I don't like you taking any risks. I don't want you in trouble with your father over anything. Maybe you'd just better lay low tonight and stay in."

He was fierce in his determination, even though he kept his body language casual and his voice low. "No! I need you. I want to be here with you."

I hesitated, then said, "I won't tell you no, and you don't need my permission, really. I can't stop you, anyhow. You have to do what you think best. But please think before you do anything rash."

"I know how to do this. Keep the outside lights off. Bye!" He looked close to tears as he picked up his bike and rode it down the driveway and toward his father.

I re-entered my own new house. At first, every fiber of my being was thinking about Jackson, wondering how much trouble he was in and what he might do to get himself or me into even more trouble that night. Notwithstanding the disruptive encounter that just happened, I knew I had a list of things to do, including working on my sermon for Sunday, the service bulletin, drawing up a list of members with addresses to visit, unpacking and sorting the last of my library, things like that. I decided the best thing was just to work and I did.

But believe it or not, the rest of the afternoon passed pretty quickly. I started with organizing the books on my office shelves since that would get them off the floor and make space. When that was done, I turned to the bulletin and using the list of hymns Susan had given me I typed up the bulleting and ran 200 copies off while the stencil was fresh.

That led to suppertime, and after the rather large lunch with Susan and Ellen, I prepared a light supper, then went back to the office. It was mid-summer so there was lots of light, and it was warming up. Lots of them were reference works I used in sermon preparation and such, so I liked to know where everything was, and have them close to hand. I figured out the simple office machines: electric typewriter, mimeograph machine, how to type the stencil for the Sunday Bulletin, and how to correct mistakes on the damn blue paper-like material without ripping a hole in it. Then I picked out hymns from the list of suggestions that Miss Albridge had left me and chose the readings and prayers from the worship book. I even ran off 200 copies of the bulletin, since I didn't want the stencil ruined somehow by waiting once, I'd finished it. I was worried that I might fold it in half and make a crease, or even sit on the damn thing. So, I got it out of the way.

By then it was suppertime, so I began to put together a light summer meal. After that watched the local news from Portland. And then, of course I tuned in on Walter Cronkite for the national doings on CBS. The reception wasn't too bad. I made a note to myself to subscribe to TV Guide, so I'd know when my favorite shows were on. Not that I'd have much choice with only the four local channels to choose from, But I was settling in and becoming domestic already!

I was actually excited to get back to work on the sermon for Sunday and turned off the TV and dug out my notes. I wasn't anxious but my mind did keep turning to Jackson, wondering how things were going down the street at the Harris home. I'd spent most of yesterday reacting, most of today had been more like reaching an understanding between us, and that felt good. It felt like we were making progress in working out the relationship, though I knew I still had to sort through what I really felt.

The idea of dating was buying time and did tie nicely to not getting in too deep till we were ready, but I had to give him credit for his witty comment about getting engaged and married before we got it on. He was perceptive and had a wry sense of humor. Today had allowed more observation than yesterday, and a much greater exchange of information about each other, and it was positive to see him in front of two other adults who liked him and didn't just accept him but pulled him into their life and treated him as an adult. In that setting he kind of bloomed and his personality opened up. I had to admit to myself that I was moving from crush and like towards a much deeper affection as I got to know him better. Maybe it was love. Maybe love didn't have to be so scary. I knew for a fact that there was a connection I'd never experienced before and I cared for him more deeply than feelings I'd ever felt about anyone, family included.

I recalled the almost panic attack of last night and realized that it was probably to be expected given the magnitude and intensity of what had happened during the day. It's not every day you admit you're gay and discover you are intensely attracted to the person that got you to admit it. The feelings and emotion were so intense by the end of the day that the hours without him seemed desolate.

With those thoughts running through my mind I read over the several pages of notes I'd already made on the sermon I would preach this Sunday. This would be an important event for all, for me as the new pastor, and for each church member who was certainly seeing how the new pastor measured up! I wanted to make a good impression of course, but I wanted to be liked and respected as well. But I also wanted to say something that mattered, that would be worth their time. Something that might make a difference in their lives.

So, I was concentrating hard on those notes. I hadn't looked at them in a couple of weeks. Now I read my first outline and the notes on the passage and they sounded strange to me. All of it was pretty intellectualized stuff. Dry, predictable, analytical, kind of like a class lecture. I didn't want to be dull like that. And I realized that I was feeling something new in myself and that I'd written all of those notes before I met Jackson. Before my emotions got connected to my head. Before I'd begun to feel things with my heart. It was as though the notes were from a previous time in my life, somehow. Black and white last week, this week all the colors of nature. Last week, I hadn't been falling in love.

So, I started re-writing. I began trying to write from my heart, and not just from my head and the books I'd been taught to use so well. Understanding that just knowing Jackson was already making me a better person, a more in touch man. Jackson's love was helping me see myself more clearly. My confidence was better, and I knew it was important that the sermon be relevant.

The evening passed. Bedtime approached. I put my newly expanded notes away and shut off the lights in the study. I got a beer from the refrigerator, walked back into the living room and put on a Leonard Cohen album. Jackson may think it boring, but I know his songs are about found and lost love, and it was the mood I was in. I settled down to enjoy the Rainier Ale while Leonard sang "Suzanne" and many others. The question that kept surfacing in my mind was about Jackson coming later. Would he? Would he be able to safely make it over? Would it be as wonderful a night as last night had been? I know what he wanted to do, and I knew we had to impose limits and boundaries, but I was positive after today that we could do that.

Tonight, I didn't let myself get anxious and worry. It was like something had changed within me today, and I'd moved to the bright side of life or something, When the beer was gone and Leonard had stopped singing, I turned off the stereo and the downstairs lights and headed for bed. I made sure the outside lights were off, and after brushing my teeth donned a T-shirt and briefs and slid into bed. I didn't want to be naked like last night given what we'd discussed and agreed on today. That would be too much temptation, I was sure! I felt anticipation like a kid on Christmas Eve might, but no desire to jack off. I was peaceful and enjoyed the sense of anticipation as I drifted off to sleep, wondering if it would be the same time as last night?

As I fell asleep, I was seeing images of Jackson, wishing he has here in my arms now.

I fell asleep and slept just fine. But he didn't come.

He'd tried to. He had been prevented. I didn't know anything about his pain until the next day.

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