A Friend of the Devil

by Bensiamin

Chapter 11

The plan was that we'd leave on our bikes around 10:00 am. Jackson wasn't going to miss the opportunity for breakfast, so he woke at 5:30 as usual, headed home through the fort and did his paper route. Then when done, he checked in with his Mom and had a quick bite of breakfast and rode over my way. I had spoken to Lilly on Friday and she agreed to us taking what would amount to most of the day on a bike ride. I got the impression that what made it legit and Okay with her was that we'd be stopping with Susan for lunch. That did add an air of legitimacy to the day, and I was fine with that in addition to being able to spend time with Susan and Ellen. To her credit Lilly did go on to say she was happy that Jackson and I were developing a friendship because he seemed to have few friends.

I took the opportunity to make the case that it would be more than a friendship, as important as that was. I told her that he'd agreed to be a counselor for a week-long summer church camp we were starting to organize, and she thought that was wonderful.

"He never wanted anything to do with church activities," she commented, "we'd have to drag him almost kicking and screaming to Sunday School and things like that. What a change."

I don't think it had dawned on her yet that more had changed than just a new minister in town that had befriended her son. It would take some time for her to recognize and acknowledge that a lot of the boys' emotional baggage was a direct result of his dysfunctional relationship with his parents. I wasn't going to push that, though. Hopefully that realization would come with time and therapy!

We'd agreed that Jackson would come over to the parsonage in the morning so we could strip off the newspaper bags he carried, and his bike would be more functional, give it a quick lube and pump the tires and be ready to go.

I woke about 7:00 am, which was now becoming my normal waking hour, did my morning ablutions and headed downstairs. That's when I realized I hadn't included in the plan that he'd very likely be over much earlier, paper in hand, expecting breakfast, and the beginning of the day. It looked like it would be a glorious summer day in the northwest. The skies were blue with no clouds, no morning haze, and if I remembered the forecast from yesterday's paper, the high was expected to be in the low '90s. That meant a cool morning and a hotter afternoon and all around a great day. Probably a sun burn day too, if we weren't careful.

Breakfast! Well, we were going for a long ride today, and that meant we needed calories, so I figured pancakes with eggs and bacon made perfect sense, and after starting the coffee pot, put the bacon on low heat. Then I got to work on the batter and figured scrambled would be easier and faster to whip together when he got here. It was now almost 8:15 and I was sitting down to my second cup of coffee when I heard the scrunch or gravel followed by his steps on the back porch.

I just sat there, purposefully watching his expression. He walked in the door like he lived here, swung to face the table and saw me sitting there. He paused momentarily, and his expression changed from focusing on one thing to recognizing and focusing on a new subject. That subject was me. His eyes sparkled, a smile began, and turned into a grin, which lit up his face.

He didn't say anything for a few seconds, just looked with that expression on his face, and then he said in the sultriest voice he could muster, "My Sexy Man. What a beautiful sight."

He almost skipped over to the table, bent over and we kissed. It was passionate and sensuous, and our tongues wrestled and we both recalled the night before. He must have because I know that I did!

"Good morning, my beautiful boy. You look radiant this morning."

He paused at that, took it as a compliment and said, "I wore this green T-shirt just for you because I remember you perving on me with it the day you got here. I didn't wear the cut off Levi shorts though, cuz I figured they would be torture on a long bike ride."

I grinned back at him. "You are a smart boy, alright. It also looks to me like the T-shirt is tighter than it was just last week. You may be in growth spurt. My bet is you won't fit in those cutoffs more than another week!" He gave me another short kiss and said, "I'll take a growth spurt, especially in the right department. What's for breakfast?"

"Well," I said, I figured we needed calories today so it's pancakes, bacon and eggs. Do you want two or three pancakes?"

He said three for sure, I knew two was enough for me, so I moved to the stove and started the cooking. I pointed at the coffee maker and said "It's fresh and there's plenty in there. Will you warm my cup up while you're at it?"

He did, and as I poured the batter on the griddle, I asked how the paper route had gone. "Smooth as glass, no prob. I rushed it a little to get here early, could you tell?"

"Sure did, normally it's closer to 8:30, but this is good because we have some work to do on your bike. Have you removed the paper carriers yet?" He shook his head. "That's Okay, it will only take a few minutes. One redeeming grace on that banana seat with the high back rails is that you can hang your paper bags there, but otherwise what does that have to do with riding a bicycle?"

I was acting silly and stern, and he caught on quickly and replied, "Oh, right, Mr. Tour de France, let's have you telling me about setting up a bike. I ride it for over an hour a day and when was the last time that bum of yours was on the saddle?"

I flipped the pancakes, and dumped the whipped eggs in the frying pan, and came right back at him. "I'll have you know that I may not have ridden a lot in the last few weeks—you remember I've been busy with certain matters like relocation to a new town and family crisis intervention and such, and that following graduation from Seminary, but prior to that I rode a lot. I rode to campus every day, and on most weekends, I went for a long ride on the fire roads up in the Santa Anita Mountains. So, as much as I love you, I suggest you hold you attitude of superior bicycling ability in reserve until we compete the trail ride this afternoon, and then we can have a complete debrief on technique and stamina and related matters. What do you think?"

He was a little slower on the comeback than usual. "Rev, I've got a few years on you, ya know? I've got the stamina of youth in my favor. So fine, we'll do your debrief after the trail ride, but don't get your hopes up that talking about it afterwards will make it any more likely that you'll do better than me." Then he grinned and the eyebrows started wiggling.

I let it go and put the food on plates and slid them onto the table. "Wait a second, I forgot the syrup." I grabbed that from the fridge, put it on the table and sat down beside him and leaned over.

"I love you, you know. Having you here makes starting the day just the best."

He just grinned and held up a forkful of pancake that he then proceeded to shove it in his mouth. We went to work on breakfast with a few comments about what his bike needed, and then as we got to the point where most of the food was gone, he asked how I ended up with a BMX bike.

"Oh, that was easy, since I was living in the LA area. Yeah, I rode to campus on paved roads, but I really want to be able to ride the gravel roads in the hills above Altadena or in the Arroyo, this big canyon between Altadena and La Canada, and a street cruiser or a racing bike like a Paramount were the wrong bike for that. Wrong frame, wrong tires, wrong gearing. But the San Gabriel Valley turned out to have a bunch of active BMX clubs and BMX courses with a lot of active dads. And there were a few really good bike shops that catered to BMX riders, so it wasn't hard to find the largest frame, one that would fit an adult, get longer seat post and handle stem, and turn it into a full-on adult bike. It worked great. As you will find out as the day unfolds!"

He just grinned. "Yeah, right!" Ahh, the pride of youth. Still, I was crowing about something that was untested. We'd never ridden together before, he rode seven days a week, and I'd not been on my bike for almost a month. Oh well, I was pretty certain I could keep up, even if he was seventeen.

We finished the food and were working on the last of the coffee when he looked over at me, with a sweet smile on his face, eyes sparkling and said, "I don't know, Rev, you were pretty frisky last night?"

"Frisky," I said looking at him with an expression somewhere between a frown of disgust and of unknowing, "what is that supposed to mean? I was just trying to show you how much I love you. I wasn't trying to be a porn star or anything." I was surprised at my comment. What was I over-reacting?

"Don't get me wrong, I wasn't putting you down or making fun of you, Okay? I was making a joke about how my Sexy Man who says he's trying to work through all this stuff about sex and being gay is actually a great lover. That's all I was trying to say. You know?" He smiled at me meekly.

I paused for a few seconds, mind spinning, "I'm sorry Jackson, I know it's me. I'm just sensitive and should be able to understand a compliment when it comes my way, but a lot of this is new for me. I looked in the mirror yesterday when I was naked and actually wondered what you find sexy about me. I worry that because I'm older you think I have all the answers, but when it comes to sex I don't know that much and haven't experienced that much and, and…., I don't want to disappoint you. I want you to feel good and be fulfilled. Does that make sense?"

"Make sense?" He said it louder than was necessary, "it sure does. It's part of why I love you so much. You care more about me and my feelings and whether or not I'm having a good time than you do about if you are. I'm no expert on romantic literature, but somehow I think that's the definition of a great lover." Then he looked at me, his eyes smiling and those dimples flaring, and said, "Isn't it?"

Now I was flummoxed. I didn't know what characterized a great lover. We all grew up thinking that it was defined along the line of Casanova or Barry Lyndon or something like that: it was all size and stamina and prowess. Maybe that wasn't the measure of success. At least as I was being told by my own lover who seemed to know as much as me on the experience side. I know making him feel good was what I cared about most, so maybe that was a good start on being a lover.

"Okay, point taken," I replied quietly. "I take being called a great lover as a great compliment and will try to be less sensitive in the future."

He was silent, then grinned again. "You're so cute when you get all…. what's the word for it, I remember it from English Lit……or actually, I can't remember it right now. You know, come on, help me out. When you're like remorseful or feeling bad. Come on, what's the word?"

I knew which word he wanted but I wasn't going to help him out with this one, it was starting to be embarrassing. I'd marched right into the swamp. I smiled and looked at him with a quizzical expression. "I'm not sure what you mean."

"Yeah right, Rev. Come on, you know. What's the word? Remorseful is close, but the other one is better, it's almost cuter, especially when it comes to love. You know," And, he was wiggling his eyebrows again, and the dimples were flaring.

"Contrite." He almost shouted it, as it came to him. "You're so cute when you're contrite. That's what I want to say. Did you know that?"

That was it for me. "Okay, lover boy, I think it's time to clean up the breakfast stuff and go to work on the bikes. We've got to get our act together.:

"Aw, come on. You're ignoring me now and that's not fair." He leaned over, grabbed my arm so I couldn't stand up and kissed my cheek. Then he pulled me to him and kissed me on the lips again. What a delightful way to start the day. Kisses followed by repartee followed by more kisses!

"Come on, Lover Boy," I whispered, trying to sound tough, "you do the dishes and I'll do the pans. How's that?".

It was now after 9:15 and we still had to work on his bike. The paper carriers were just canvas bags that tied onto the banana seat and that weird rail at the rear, all of which meant he rode at the foreword end of the seat. Getting the carriers off was pretty straight forward. He did have decent gearing on the bike, and Gary had tuned up his bike recently, so a quick lube and pumping up the tires was easy.

We had both bikes ready to go by the back porch by 9:45 and I suggested it would be a good time for a pee or whatever else nature required before we headed out of town. I changed into some tighter shorts and filled the water bottle on my bike and pulled a cap onto my head. This was a time way before helmets, sunglasses or sunscreen!

We were on the way by 10:00 and I figured it would be an hour and a half to get to Susan and Ellen's because most of it after we left town was uphill. It was a beautiful ride. This was Oregon farm country north of the Willamette River, and outside of town most of the hillside was sprinkled with fruit or walnut orchards. The traffic was light in spite of it being a Saturday, and we were able to ride side by side most of the way with light banter. Jackson had to show me how he knew how to pop a wheelie on his bike. I demurred when he challenged me to try—I wasn't up for hitting the pavement! There was just enough grade to keep the focus on breathing rather than on conversation, but that was Okay – part of the point of the day was exercise. We did make a wrong turn or two but realized it quickly and pulled up the driveway to Susan and Ellen's home shortly after 11:30.

They saw us coming and greeted us with a booming welcome. You'd have thought they never had visitors with the welcome they gave us. Hellos and hugs and all the rest of it. It was a warm and pleasant welcome. This time they showed us around their property, which was a few acres with pastures and and small barn with goats and sheep and chickens. Then through the house which was a 1910 farmhouse with a lot of history and well maintained and hadn't been updated so it still had original doors and windows and moldings. It was a beauty. They'd planned lunch for us, so it wasn't much after 12:00 when they walked us out to the little patio where we'd eaten previously to sit down for lunch. As usual, the food was terrific, cold cuts and German Potato Salad (from Ellen's mother's recipe) and a blackberry pie for dessert! The food was great, but the conversation was even more interesting!

I knew Susan and Ellen hadn't spoken to Jackson for days and would be full of questions, so I kind of sat back and ate and let them talk. They were curious how Lilly was coping and very pleased to learn about the early commitment to stop drinking and pouring the booze down the drain. Ellen volunteered how that was a very positive sign of commitment at the outset and hoped getting into the alcoholism program would keep it up. They discussed the in-home therapy that would start in a couple of days, and Susan was particularly emphatic that the level of success would be tied to it being a family undertaking and that Jackson and Gary's involvement would be really important. In other words, not to be reluctant bystanders.

Eventually the conversation turned to less dramatic subjects, and Jackson asked them how long they'd lived here, why they chose living out of town, how many eggs the chickens laid, and then the big question of how long they'd known each other. It turned out that they'd known each other for over twenty years and had lived in the house for ten years or so. They'd decided when it came on the market that they both wanted to live in the county and couldn't afford it alone but could if they went in together. That made sense and clearly, they had made a go of it and loved the quality of life and really benefitted from it.

I wondered if Jackson had an ulterior motive when he continued his questioning, and particularly how they must get along really well to share the work of a place like this. Susan seemed to hesitate, but Ellen jumped right in. "We both like the lifestyle and we both always wanted to be out of town. We knew what we were getting into with property to take care of and animals, especially since we both work. But we get help when we need it from the farmer down the road, he'll mow the pasture for us, and we can handle the gardens, and the animals produce food and wool, and we have a good life. It makes us happy together."

Jackson paused and looked at both of them and replied, "It sure does look like it makes you happy together. You seem really happy together. I appreciate it because, as you know, my parents weren't happy together at all. It's hard for me to imagine living in a house where the adults like each other and are happy."

It was silent for a few moments. I was afraid I was going to be embarrassed. Jackson's expression was one of pure innocence. Neither Susan nor Ellen seemed off put. After a few seconds, ELlen simply said, "Thank you, Jackson. You're a perceptive young man. We are very happy here, and I'm so sad to hear that happiness like we have isn't what you've been able to experience. It seems to me that every household deserves it."

Susan continued, "I am pleased that you and Pastor David have become friends. I've worried for a long time about you not having friends and being alone."

Jackson smiled, "Yeah, that's really great. Did you know he wants me to be a counselor for church camp too?"

I knew that was a set up question, but Susan didn't take the bait. "Yes, I did, and he even asked me if I would go so far as to recommend you. If you were responsible and credible and trustworthy and the like. I told him I wasn't sure but that I worried about how responsible you were for a position like this looking out for younger children."

Jackson frowned, not sure if she was serious or pulling his leg. He noticed her start to smile just a little and figured she was working him, then he replied. "Come on Miss Albright, you know I've always done my homework on time and stuff. You're just hassling me because I wasn't so keen on Sunday School and didn't want to sing in the choir, right?"

At that she really smiled and let it go with a mild, "True, you're pretty responsible overall. Pastor's going to need you to step up since this'll be his first church camp here and we haven't had one for a few years. You'll have to help him plan it out. Have you two spoken about other counselors?"

I nodded and said I'd asked Jackson who he'd suggest. She looked at him and asked the same question. He paused and acted embarrassed. "I'm still thinking about it. The problem is I don't have too many friends, so I don't know who to ask."

"Jackson," she said, "you used to spend quite a bit of time with Will Summers. Weren't you both friends?"

"Yeah, we were for a while, but I haven't seen much of him for a long time. He's in a band now and doing other stuff."

Susan wasn't going to let go. "What happened to your friendship? You used to both seem so happy together. Then it looked like you suddenly weren't spending any time together. Did something happen to change that?"

You could tell Jackson didn't want to broach the subject. But he did, hesitantly. "Pop didn't want me hanging around with Will. Or anyone else really. Over the last two years he pretty much kept Gary and me close at hand, that's what he called it, so he could keep an eye on us, and it's hard to have friends that way."

Susan responded, "Oh, that's so sad. It's so important to have friends when you're in your teen years. I hope now that things have changed at home that you can re-establish them. I'd encourage you to talk to Will. He's a good kid too. You may not see him much now in church, but I see him a lot in school, he's taken all our music classes and appears to be a pretty good musician. I'd rather see him playing the piano than the electric guitar, but that's what he likes….and I'm told he's pretty good. What's this about a band?"

"Or he and Tom Wilson and another guy that plays drums have a small band. They play rock and roll. That's pretty much all I know. I didn't know he was a good musician. That's good to know."

The conversation shifted to general subjects, and then Susan asked if all was in order for tomorrow's service. I assured her that I had just the final touches to put on the sermon to finish up. I suggested that we ought to be on our way if we were going to ride to the park and ride the trail and get back to town by evening.

Susan pointed us north and up the south slope of the Chehalem Mountains toward the county park. She told us it wasn't large, and was two or three miles away, all uphill on county roads. But she pointed out, the park had a hiking trail around it's fifty- or sixty-acre perimeter, and that was quite hilly, and also had a couple of nice picnic areas. She went on to tell us it was probably a good place to start, and for some other time at the summit of the mountains was a much larger state park we'd probably really enjoy…..but that really required driving to for safety on the windy mountain road.

We said our goodbyes and headed north. The climb started out gradual, allowing us to finish digesting lunch and get going again. I noticed Jackson wasn't popping wheelies this time, but he was leading the way. We rode through more orchards and a few grass or wheat fields, and twenty or so minutes later we were there. Even though it was a Saturday afternoon, there were only two cars in the gravel lot with families having picnics. We headed right to the trail and started off. Susan was right, it might be a hiking trail, but because the park was on the mountain side, there was a lot of up and down—none of it very long or really steep, but a good intro for us, as Jackson hadn't done much off road riding, and I hadn't been on my bike for a month.

There were a couple of longer and fairly straight slopes where Jackson gave me a smirk and said, "Hey, Rev, want to race to the top?" I knew what would happen since I weighed at least thirty pounds more than he did, but I wasn't going to be a roll over. "Sure, you think because you're a squirt you can beat me?" He just grinned a then yelled "Go!" Sure enough, not carrying that extra weight meant when the sprint started and we stood up out of the saddle, he jumped ahead of me and kept pulling away. I was pulling as hard as I could on the handlebars for leverage and could throw more force on the pedals than he could, but that only let me gain on him a little. He still won hands down.

"You know that was just a fluke, don't you," I grunted at the top, as we caught our breath. "Yeah, right!" was all he replied, and we kept on pedaling. A couple of minutes later we came to the second long section and he smirked again, "What to try and prove yourself again, Rev?"

This time I yelled "Go!" and got a jump on him, but gravity and mechanics prevailed, and by the time we were a third of the way up that section he was passing me and whooping like a cowboy on a bronco. When I caught up to him at the top, he'd stopped to rub in his victory. He was just grinning, so I said, "I didn't know you were really from St. Paul?"

He looked at me with a blank expression. "No really, I didn't know you were one of those rodeo kids from St Paul till you started whooping. We're on bicycles, you know. This isn't a rodeo."

He grinned all the more. "Anything you want, Rev. Just tell yourself anything you want to cover up your embarrassment. For the record, St. Paul is that little cowboy town with the rodeo south of here. I'm not from St. Paul. How does it feel to lose twice to a kid?" He was really grinning now, reveling in victory. I let it go with "Well, you have the advantage of youth, you know." He smirked and laughed and said, "Let's finish this thing.

It took us less than twenty minutes to get back to the picnic area, he glanced at me. "Up for another round, Rev, or are you too old and tired? I grinned now and said, "Save the comments, pal, just turn those pedals," and started for the trail. Half and hour later we were back and both families had left, and we had the place to ourselves. Across from the picnic tables was a grass area in the shade, and I suggested a break and some water before we headed back to town.

I sat down with my back against a fir tree, took a couple of long swigs and handed the water bottle to Jackson. He took a couple of swigs and commented on the importance of having a water bottle since the park didn't seem to have water. "Yep," I said, "you need to get a water bottle and bracket, and we'll mount it on your bike. If we're going to ride much, you'll need it."

He looked at me in a weird way. "Are we going to ride a lot?" It almost felt like he was testing the truth of what I'd said. "Sure, we are, you don't think I'm kidding do you," I asked.

He looked like he still wasn't sure, even though he was smiling, and then I realized what was up. I held out my hands and said, "Come here, Jackson."

As he sat down, I maneuvered him, so he was sitting between my legs, leaning back on my chest, and I put my arms together across his chest, and simply said, "I wasn't kidding, you know."

He was quiet, and then I went on, "Did Bud ever do anything like this with you, any kind of sports or recreational activity?"

"Not really," was all he said.

"You mean, not at all or just occasionally?"

He replied immediately, "Almost never, and pretty much only when he had to. I got him to let me go out for little league baseball, and he bought me a cheap mitt and dropped me off at practice the first day and told me to call him if I needed a ride home. He never came again. I just rode my bike. He didn't care. Like I said before, 'invisible kid'!"

"That's sad, Jackson. My Dad didn't do much in the way of sports with me, and he wasn't there for me most of the time, but at least he was there when needed or asked. So, you know I meant what I said, we'll be riding more. I enjoy doing things with you. You're my Lover Boy. Why would I not want to be with you doing things like this?"

He was holding my crossed hands now in his and seemed introspective. "You really want to do stuff with a kid like me? Most of the kids I know don't even want to." I wondered what had started this.

"Jackson, I haven't even known you two weeks, and because we have this love between us, a very special relationship, I willing to bet something. I'm willing to bet I know more about you, have seen deeper into Jackson Harris, than most of the kids you know."

He was quiet and I went on. "You know why? I'm only guessing here, but can I tell you why I think that?" He nodded. "I think it's because while you were right when you asked if the lyrics of I Am A Rock applied to me. You remember, after the line about building walls and fortresses, comes the verses that talks about having no need of friendship because friendship causes pain, and having books and poetry to protect like armor, and about hiding in your room where no one touches you? All in order not to feel any pain. Well, I think the truth in that song applies to you too. Maybe in different ways than me, but it does. The point in the sermon about that song was that to greater or lesser degree it applies to everybody."

I paused to let that sink in. He was resting his chin on our clasped hands now and didn't say anything. "So, what I'm thinking is that you started the wall and fortress business to deal with the pain caused by Bud, and then by Lilly and Gary, and then it extended to your circle of friends too. Bud didn't help by tying you down as much as he could. But the thing about friends, I mean real friends, is that you have to be willing to open up and disclose yourself, be honest about yourself. And when stuff like you experienced is happening it's hard to talk about it with anybody. It's easier to shut down and close up and withdraw. Do you think there's anything to what I'm thinking?"

He was quiet, then he kissed the top of my hands crossed across his chest. "Yes, I guess I do. I used to have friends, or at least kids I hung out with. Now it seems none of them want to."

I waited a while, then said softly, "I believe you, but I'm willing to bet that if you reached out to them, you'd find they'll be surprised and that most of them are willing to reach back. It may not be all that comfortable, and you may have to talk about some painful stuff, but I'm betting you can rebuild a lot of those friendships."

"What do you mean painful?"

"Well, Bud was arrested, right? He's in jail. That's public record info and it will get around that he was arrested for physical abuse. There's no escaping that. We're all trying to keep the sexual abuse stuff out of public knowledge, but if you decide to open up to people, they're likely to ask about the abuse and you have to be willing to talk about it. You've got to decide that for yourself."

He was quiet again, and after a minute simply said, "I know. I've got to think about that stuff."

Another minute went by, then he said, "Can I ask you a question? A personal one?"

I wondered where this would go, but said, "Sure, were totally honest with each other."

He paused for a few second, then said, "Well, uhm, what did you mean the other day about being celibate?"

I know I needed to buy some time. "What are you asking? Can you be more specific? You're not asking what it is, right?"

"No, you said something like being an ordained minister and not married is an agreement to be celibate. I don't understand how you can say that after last night and the other nights we've spent together."

I took a breath and hugged him. "I don't either and that's another thing I'm sorting out. What I can tell you right now is that it's easy to buy into a concept like that as some kind of intellectual construct and not have to do the real work about what it means, about if it's true, if it really applies to you…..or rather, to me. I told you I didn't think about sex a lot, remember. I mean you know I jacked off, but it was like beyond relieving the physical urges I managed to put a lid on what sex meant for me. I'm pretty sure now after talking to a couple of minister friends last week, one of whom is gay, that it was a compensatory mechanism, you know, a way to deal with a painful reality so I didn't have to deal with it. You know what painful reality I'm talking about, right?"

He nodded and asked, "You mean being gay?"

"Yes, that's what I mean. You figured it out for yourself. I've been in denial about it. I don't just mean not dealing with it, but I mean denying it, and we're both starting to figure out why. Besides all the personal and family stuff, deciding to go to seminary and be ordained is a real problem if you're gay, right?"

"Sure, seems like, it," he said softly.

"Well, the starting point is that celibacy isn't mandated for ordained Christians outside of the Catholic church. But, abstaining from sex outside of marriage is. And then like we talked about a few days ago, that's compounded by the teaching on homosexuality as depraved. So, while Catholic priests have to be celibate, practically speaking so do single clergy if they're going to live up to the church's standard. Having to cope with the physical urges is bad enough, but compound that when you're gay with an entire church belief system and practice that makes it clear that to have feelings of love and affection towards a man is intrinsically disordered and unnatural and abominable, and that's a hard package to deal with."

"So, if you're like I was, like I'm now realizing that many clergy are, it's easier to come up with some kind of mental construct than it is to deal with the reality, with all the implications and consequences. We talked about the implications of depravity before, and when you add in this other stuff it's easier to deny and figure out a way around it. I used to kid other seminarians that although the church says it wants to help people discover and develop their gifts, that only goes as far as stuff like singing or playing the guitar or teaching Sunday School, or whatever. What the church is really poor at, what it almost avoids doing, is helping people discover themselves because of what might be found."

I decided to pause there. He was quiet for a bit then said, "I think I know what you mean."

So, I went on, "Remember when I told you about that old Greek saying, 'know thyself' and about 'to thine own self be true?' Well, to be true to yourself you have to know yourself. You have to do some deep exploring, and like digging a hole in the ground, you never know what you might find. So, the easiest thing is not to do that exploring. You must have heard of The Doors, a '60's rock band. Jim Morrison was their singer and writer, and he was also a poet, and he talked about the same thing when he was asked about freedom and he said, "The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can't be any large-scale revolution until there's a personal revolution, on an individual level. It's got to happen inside first."

"Either way, it starts with deep personal work. For institutions like the church it's often much preferred not to help people explore because of what they might find. Instead it's easier to tell them what they're supposed to be, how they're supposed to behave, all of that. I don't mean there shouldn't be values or morals or anything like that. But if you don't help people discover who they are and enable them, you're instructing them to role play, to put on a mask. Then you're setting them up for some difficult experiences or basically saying come up with your own way to deal with it. So, for me, I latched onto the celibacy concept."

"So now to answer your question, I used the celibacy concept so I didn't have to deal with my own sexuality because if I had I would have to have owned up to being gay and I wasn't up for that. At least I wasn't until I met you!"

This had gotten pretty heavy, and I was telling Jackson things I hadn't even ever told myself. I wondered where this left me now? Then two thoughts flashed in my brain. I needed to call Paul Gallagher again and have this conversation with him, and I remembered the verse of a song that could maybe lighten this up a bit.

"Does that answer your question, Jackson, or have I dumped more on you than you wanted to know?

"It helps a lot," he said, "none of this is easy, so I've got to think about it a bunch."

"Telling you what I did made me think of a song I haven't heard for a long time, one that came out way back when that you probably have never even heard of. It's called Where to now, St Peter by Elton John. Ever heard of it?" He shook his head.

"Well, the verse I'm thinking of goes:

So where to now St. Peter
If it's true I'm in your hands
I may not be a Christian
But I've done all one man can
I understand I'm on the road
Where all that was is gone
So where to now St. Peter
Show me which road I'm on

"That's kind of how I feel. I don't know if I'm a Christian, I may not be any more. But I do understand I'm on the road, and I'm on that journey with you, and we have to figure out which road it is. Does that make sense?"

He was silent long enough that I started to worry I may have pushed too far. Then he hugged my hands and kissed them again and said, "That's so sweet. Thanks for being so honest and especially that what you're going through you're not going through alone. I know it's hard for you, harder probably than for me, but I'm stoked that we're doing it together."

He paused again, and I could feel him take a deep breath and straighten up in my arms I could almost feel his face light up and the grin form when he said, "And thank God that celibacy shit just got thrown out the window. That was creeping me out, and now I don't have to worry about it, and that makes me want to get in on with you even more."

I just hugged him and chuckled. "We'll get there slowly, Lover Boy. You're the only person I'm going to be getting it on with."

His response was expected. "Far out. We'll just have to work on when then!" Then he changed the subject. "Do you think Susan and Ellen are an item?"

I was quiet. He went on, "You know what I mean by an item, right? I hear older people use that term about two people being together. Do you think they're together like more that just sharing a house?"

I knew I had to be careful here not only because or our friendship with Susan and Ellen, but also because of her being a teacher and her role in the church. "I've wondered that myself a time or two, but you know this is really private, don't you?"

He nodded, "Sure I do, I wouldn't ever say anything to anyone else but you. But they act like they're in love. You know, they can almost finish each other's sentences. They both seem to know what the other needs when they're doing stuff together, like fixing and serving lunch. It's like they're more than room mates. I've never known older gay people, so that's why I ask."

"Well, Jackson, for women the term seems to be lesbian not gay, and I haven't either. I'd say at this point that if they are, I'm happy for them and it's up to them to tell us. They have to control that. If it's true then it sure challenges the notion of homosexuals as depraved, doesn't it?"

He started laughing, and said, "It sure does. I mean when it comes to us cuz we're young I can see people thinking all we do is suck and fuck and that's depraved. But two older women together doesn't quite fit that picture."

"Hey, hey," I responded, "we don't fit the suck and fuck picture either. Don't get carried away."

"Well, Rev, you know, we may get there someday, don't you think?" He was still laughing. "I don't mean right now, and I'm being gross, or what do you call it…. graphic, on purpose. Isn't that a figure of speech to make a point?"

He had me there. "Yeah, it is, and they sure don't fit that image, do they! Okay, it's getting late and we've got to ride back to town. What do you say we get this show on the road?"

I hugged him and he hopped up and we pulled the bikes up off the grass and headed across the parking lot and to the road. The ride back to town was downhill all the way to city limits, so it was fast and easy. On the way we were both grinning and really enjoying the time flying down the mountain, but I was also trying to figure out the words to tell him what I had to when we got back to the parsonage.

We pulled in the driveway, I put my bike in the garage and he leaned his up against the back porch, and I asked him if he wanted a drink. It was now almost 5:00 PM. He'd be expected home for dinner soon, so I suggested we put the paper bags back on his bike's rack. Then we headed in the kitchen and I grabbed a couple of cans out of the refrigerator and said, "Inside or out?"

He took a can and said, "Outside on the back porch—it's in the shade." As we sat down, he went on, "This was a great day, David, thanks for thinking of it and wanting to do it with me. Sorry for getting so negative back there about being a loner and all. I know you're right. I've made some of that for myself and have to work on it."

"Hey Lover Boy," I said, taking his hand, "we're in this together. You help me and I help you. But we've both got work to do. I could say I'm amazed you wanted to spend most of a Saturday with an older guy like me."

He turned his head and looked right at me, "That's what I've always wanted. An older guy who loves me and who has his shit together. Who will take care of me and love me and be with me! I'm the happiest kid in Oregon right now."

Not to be outdone I said, "I'm probably the happiest minister too. Straight or gay!" I grinned and he cracked up. "Rev, you can be pretty funny when you let your guard down."

I let the grin on my face settle into a smile and then said, "Look, we've got something else to talk about today. Last night was wonderful. The best part of my life is you coming into my bed at night, but we can't do it every night. It's too risky. We've got to set a schedule or something or keep it down to a couple of times a week or something. We can't risk getting caught Do you know what I'm saying?"

He still was holding my hand and squeezed it. "I've been waiting for this, and I'm not going to get all emotional like some fucking kid, Okay? I hate the idea, but you're right about every night being risky."

"I'm so glad to hear you say that," I replied and leaned over and gave him a quick kiss. "It's risky for me like we've talked about, but it's also risky for you. If you get found out in a gay relationship with an older man while all this stuff is going down with your family and before Bud is sentenced and with therapy for your Mom starting next week, it could blow everything up, and you and Gary could end up in foster care or worse. Then our relationship would be in real trouble. I know we're outside the law right now, but somehow, I think we can make it. I'm optimistic because we love each other, but we've got to be realistic and careful too. Okay?"

He nodded. I went on. "Okay, that means you're sleeping at home tonight, and we'll figure out what nights you come over next week. Can you live with that?"

He winced. I wasn't feeling good either. I turned his face back toward me with my hand. "Having you in my arms when I fall asleep is the most joyous thing I've experienced in my life, Jackson. I'm not doing this to hurt you or to play some silly celibate game, Okay? I'm doing it because we have to be careful, that's all. And we'll have time together during the day, it just won't be sex."

This time he gave me a quick kiss, and said "We probably have to be careful kissing out here on the back porch, Rev, don't you think?" I just rolled my eyes. "Yeah, being careful, for sure!"

We sat quietly for a couple of minutes. Finally, I said, "Okay, Lover Boy, you head home so you're there early enough to help Lilly with dinner. I'll finish up my sermon tonight and see you at church tomorrow. I love you."

"Me too," he said as he stood up. He wiggled his eyebrows and I knew we were Okay. We'd had a good day and a lot of fun and gotten to a new level of understanding.

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