A Friend of the Devil

by Bensiamin

Chapter 14

What is it they say in the sports broadcasts? "Another one for the record books!"

Jeez, another crazy week-clearly one for this boy's record books. I don't know if I can take much more like this. I mean it's all good, it's just a lot, and almost too much good for someone like me that's been on the losing end of life for so long. Okay, I don't mean to sound like I'm looking for sympathy, but my life has just turned around so completely I'm struggling to handle it.

Since my last journal entry (remember, this isn't a diary!), David and I had an awesome day on a bike ride. It started with lunch at Susan and Ellen's, after he helped me get my bike organized. I mean, the Rev knows more about bikes and biking than I do, and that's cool, but I really can't let on, can I? He got our bikes tuned up, stripped off my paper carriers, then we rode out to Susan and Ellen's home, had a great lunch and then rode up to a county park they told us about that I'd never heard of.

The park is small, but it has a neat and hilly dirt track (they call it a trail!) and we rode it a couple of times. I challenged the Rev, and he gave it a go, but I was able to beat him both times……but not by much. He's still in pretty good shape, and I didn't know he used to ride his bike to seminary and also trail ride. If he keeps riding a lot, he'll get better and I may not be the winner in this deal! But who cares? We were together, and we had fun, and he spent time with me. Go figure! The pastor of our church spending time with me, doing fun stuff with me, a dorky high school kid!

Of course, we love each other, so that makes it different, but it is so cool to have someone older not just care about you but be into what you're into and spend time with you and dig it all together. That bastard Bud never did anything like that with me, and he pretty much shut down my life so no one else would or could either! God am I happy he's in jail—just where he belongs. I mean I don't want to be revengeful (or is that vengeful?) but he's made my life a misery for as long as I can remember, and here comes this one guy, our new pastor, my Sexy Man, and in less than two weeks my life's not just turned on it's head, but it's suddenly happy and worth living. Not that I ever really thought about offing myself, but I have to say there was a time when Nazareth's Don't Judas Me made me think about how shitty it all was and ask why bother continuing?

We stopped and talked after we did the dirt track a couple of times and I learned a lot more about me and about David and why he loves me. I mean just what he did physically, he had me sit down between his legs and lean back on his chest, and he held me with his arms crossed on my chest and I felt like I was whole, like for the first time in my life I was really loved and accepted and, and almost part of him…..like we were almost a one of something. It was so cool and beautiful to be held that way by my Sexy Man, who showed me that he loved me and cared for me and wanted to help me, all at the same time.

We talked about stuff I needed to do to get out of my "invisible kid" shell, and then we talked about the celibacy thing and he admitted that it was a mental construct (another new term!) he'd bought into so he didn't have to deal with sex and his sexuality. I guess that's what happens when people deny who they are, they have to come up with ways to deal with it. And it turns out it's not just some old Greek philosophy thing—Jim Morrison was talking about the same thing in order to be free. Go figure, a rock singer talking about serious stuff like that. Now I guess I'll have to go learn about who The Doors were and what they're music is all about. Any how, I was lucky I figured out I was gay early, at least that's what the Rev said, but he was denying it, and I'm starting to see why now. I mean not just the "family and society are down on it" stuff, but for him as a minister and that whole depraved sin bit, that has to be heavy. How can you even sign up for a program where the starting point is that they say you're depraved? I mean I know that what we do isn't depraved, it's fab. It's wonderful and exhilarating. It's beautiful. Fuck depraved, that's what I say!

Anyway, we talked about all this stuff and he made me feel so good about myself, like I had potential and wasn't totally worthless and a complete piece of shit. I've never said that before, even to myself, but it was huge cause my whole life seems to have told me I was worthless. And now here's this adult who's saying no, that's not true. And on top of that, I love him, and he loves me. How cool is that?

Then he really blew my mind when he shared that Elton John song, Where To Now St. Peter. I mean the Rev knows his music, and I don't think I've ever really connected on Elton John's songs. But he used that one to show what changes he's going through with the line "I may not be a Christian, but I've done all one man can." I don't' think I know what he meant by sharing it, but I'm sure it means he's struggling with what he was telling me about last week, the serious consequences of being gay when the church says it's a depraved sin. I think it's so cool that he felt free enough to tell me that. I mean, it was so obvious to me, but he's working on it, and I'm part of that. Another thing I still don't believe—that he wants me to help him work through his shit! Oh, and he's saying, "work through his shit!" That's cool too. He's getting hip!

But after all that, there was the great sex! David's been talking to me about being careful and not going over to his bed every night, and that makes sense—we don't' want to get caught, but it's hard. Way hard. Hard, get it! Or not hard, maybe. We agreed I'd stay away on Saturday night—he probably didn't want to be tired for church! But anyway, Sunday night was a good night and when I came over, I was ready to get it on, but I found out once again that "get it on" can mean different things. It was so passionate and sensuous (that new word again) and hot, but we only really just humped each other's stomachs! I mean, after a lot of hugging and kissing and stroking and licking and stuff. But we just were humping each other's stomachs and it was so sensitive and so hot and so amazing, I'm beginning to wonder if going all the way means anything anymore? I mean how much more amazing can it be than the way it felt on Saturday night.

After we humped away I came like I've never cum before, David sounded like his brain was going to explode when he came, he told me he'd never experienced anything that felt like that before, so what do you say to that? I mean, it's like before, I guess, that if you're trying to make your partner happy and satisfied, I guess that's all that matters, or what really matters, or whatever. Either way, I've never blown my rocks like that, and I don't think the Rev had either. It was even better than when we jacked each other off the time before. But I guess if we were humping each other's stomach, that's closer to what fucking is really like, so maybe there is something else in going all the way. I don't' know. I guess I should stop all this fantasy speculating and just be happy that I'm happy and that I'm loved and that I'm feeling better in my life than I ever have before.

Still, it ain't all a cake walk. Mom's started therapy and AA, and she says she's not feeling well. Maybe that's because she stopped drinking, and I guess you can have cravings. I hope that's it and not that all the drinking was covering up something else! On top of that, I've got to deal with the fact that I'm a bastard! I like saying that. I mean, it's a new label, and although it's supposed to be bad and dirty, it'd be cool to be able to say to someone "I did that because I'm a bastard. What do you say about that?" Or, "I'm glad I'm a bastard cuz that means Bud's not my father!" Like that would ever happen! So, having Bud not be my father is a relief, but now I've got to deal with the fact that I don't' know who my real father is. Does that mean I'm not a Harris? I guess it does.

I guess I shouldn't blame my Mom. If I was married to Bud, I'd probably be looking for alternatives too, but that doesn't change my situation. I wonder if I'll ever know who my real father is. Does it matter? Does Mom even know? I guess I'll have to ask, but that starts a kind of dicey conversation, doesn't it? It also makes me a little more separated from Gary, I mean we don't have the same father, do we. Still, we've got the same Mom, and more importantly, we've got the life we've lived together. I still can't get over that he was protecting me. I mean, I never would have thought he'd do that, since he was bullying me and all, but maybe that's the way he works. Anyhow, I just got bullied and he got abused and that means he's a better guy than I thought before. And, it's cool we're working together with the mowing business. If we're successful this summer, maybe it can be a long-term thing, and help us get along better.

Church was pretty cool on Sunday too, cuz the Rev had another great sermon on accepting outsiders. He called them The Other, and I'm still trying to figure that out. I guess it means anyone outside your family or tribe—meaning anyone other than what you think is normal for you. That message was kind of like the one the Sunday before, so I wonder if he's really trying to get at something else that he's not talking about, like accepting gays. You know, like us! That would be rad, but I bet he can't get that specific in public. And, he's got to be careful, cause even though he won't get into what the real relationship between Susan and Ellen is, and I can get why, he won't do anything to blow their cover. Did I say that? I mean that I think they have a relationship like David, and I do, but he won't say. That's cool, he's the pastor, so he has to be careful about stuff like this.

Then there's the church camp counselor thing. I still don't see how that's going to work out. I mean, I don't have any friends, I'm no good with kids and I don't know all that religion stuff. But David still says I'm right for the job. Go figure! I can't cut out now, since I told him I'd do it. And I have to find two more counselors! Maybe Susan's idea about Will Summers is a good one. We used to hang out, and maybe he won't think I'm too weird or a total loser if I try to get our friendship going again.

So much stuff. That's what I mean about not knowing if it can take any more, or at least take so much. Mom had her first therapy session today, and I'm guessing the next one will involve Gary and me! Any way, that's it for now. It's Monday night, I've got new mowing customers starting tomorrow, and then we'll see what chaos this week brings!

Tuesday dawned blue and bright, as is usually the case in the Willamette Valley during the summer. I'd been told to expect a weather change in the form of marine cloud cover coming in from the coast, but it hadn't materialized. Though July, it was still pleasant enough at night to sleep comfortably with the windows open and no air conditioning – it was the '70s, who had air conditioning?

I felt the difference as I woke, the absence of having had my love in my arms over night; it wasn't really loneliness, just a kid of emptiness. It was, though, I knew, an emptiness that would be replaced within the hour with fullness when that sunny smile walked through the kitchen door. With that uplifting thought in mind, I roused myself, did the bathroom routine, dressed and headed downstairs. I had breakfast organized and the coffee brewed by the time I heard the bike tires crunch in the driveway and could feel my smile of anticipation as I heard Jackson's steps on the back porch. Sure enough, as I turned to look, that sunny smile framed by dimples came through the door, eyes gleaming and holding a newspaper in his hand.

"Morning' Rev! Did you make it through the night Okay?"

Before I could respond, the eyes sparked and he continued, "You notice I didn't call you my Sexy Man, right? Because last night you weren't my sexy man. You made me sleep alone and it wasn't very sexy!" The smile had become a grin.

"Oh well, there's pain and suffering everywhere in the world, you know Jackson. Just look around and you can find people worse off than you!" My smile had become a grin now too.

"Do you have no sympathy for my suffering?"

I paused for just a moment and replied, "If you had been suffering alone, I might, but I think it's fair to say that the suffering was mutual. When I woke up this morning, I realized that I wasn't lonely, but I felt a little empty because you weren't there. Is that how you felt?"

I think that caught him just a little off guard because I could see him blink a couple of times before he said, "Well, yeah, I guess. But I was mainly thinking about the hard on I woke up with and the fact that we didn't get it on last night. But, now that you say it that way, I guess I should think as much about the emotions, right? Not just the sex."

"Well, Lover Boy," I responded, "there is an old saying about thinking with the head on your shoulders instead of with the head on your penis. Not that I'm implying that that head on your cock is driving your life! I know deep down your motivations are pure as the driven snow!" I was wiggling my eyebrows at that point, and in full grin.

"By the way, the coffee is ready if you'd pour two cups, and breakfast is simple today, cereal and toast. There's orange juice in the fridge, and how's the morning gone so far?"

As he was pouring, he said, "Pretty fab so far. Nice sunrise, sunny but not too warm, no traffic, it's been another smooth deal this morning. Oh, and then I get to come here and spend some time with you, so that's pretty fab too!"

I just smiled as I took my first sip of coffee. "That's how I feel about starting the day with you here. I can't tell you how much it buoys my feelings to see you come through that door with that radiant smile on your face and those dimples all scrunched up!"

"Yeah, and I feel a lot like that too. After years of morning being a return to jail after my paper route, this time with you is like being free, and it completely changes the way I look at each day. Now they're bright and sunny instead of one downer after another."

We'd both poured cereal and milk by now and I was slicing a banana into mine when he asked, "Can I ask you a personal question?"

I swallowed the mouthful of cereal and then said, "You should know by now you don't' need permission. Ask away."

"Well, uhm, it's about sex, you know about getting it on……. with you."

"Go on," I said, and stopped there.

"Well, I know I throw that term around and I always thought of it just one way, but now I'm finding out I'm not sure I know what it means. I mean it's usually used like going all the way or something, but what we've been doing isn't going all the way, so have we been getting it on?"

I paused out of pure perplexity for a minute, then said, "I think the problem starts with slang phrases, Jackson. They mean different things to different people in different places and have different uses. Usually they're not just slang, but also have a negative or gross connotation, or maybe callous is a better word, right?"

He nodded. I went on. "That's probably why it's more commonly described in general but affectionate terms like making love. That phrase can cover a lot of ground, but it includes positive feelings between the people involved." I decided to stop there for now.

Jackson's brow was furrowed again, and after a minute he said, "That all makes sense, and maybe I'm just confused. I mean I always told myself I wanted to find the right guy, someone I loved, and I wanted to get it on with them. I know that means sex, and I know what sex between guys can mean, but what we've done isn't close to some of those fantasies or to what's possible, or what's in the porn mags, but it's been wonderful and beautiful and I don't know if I know what it all means anymore." He stopped seeming momentarily at a loss for words.

I chose my words carefully. "I'm no expert, as you know. I'm learning a lot of this too as we go, and while you may be coming out of your shell, I'm finally starting to get in touch with the real me. I've been living in some kind of emotional numbness for years. What I can say is that we're both finding out that whatever we do, when we do it with love and when we care about each other and try to make each other happy, then it's good and beautiful. That probably means that it just can't be described by a common or crass or vulgar term. Does that make sense?"

He nodded. "I'll also say this," I went on. "Like I've told you, I've been in denial about being gay for ten of fifteen years. What went along with that was a lot of emotional shut down, and so while you may have fantasized about sex, about getting it on, there was pretty much no sexual fantasy in my head. That may be hard to understand, and it's kind of back to the celibacy thing, but it took totally falling for someone, namely you, to kind of like wake me up in the intimate emotions department. So, while you came at it with the idea of getting it on in your head, I came at it almost with a blank slate in my head. Either way, you know what's so great? That whatever we've done has been wonderful for both of us and expresses to each other how we feel for each other. Can it get any better than that?"

He was quiet for another minute, then simply said, "No, you're right. I guess we both need to reset our fantasies to the reality that we've got, right?

"I think so, and what's best about the whole thing is that we're able to do that. Somehow, I don't think many, maybe most people can. They're too busy living up to their expectations or living in their fantasies."

We fell silent for another minutes, and I changed the subject by asking," What's today's schedule? You've got a new mowing customer, right?"

"Sure enough, and I'm thinking we should move the parsonage to Monday as well cuz it looks like the new customers are going to fill Tuesday to Friday. We'll do it on Tuesday this week, this afternoon, then next week on Monday. I'm trying to keep Saturday free so we can ride bikes or do stuff. Is that cool?" He was glancing sideways at me now.

"It is by me. My days off never got formally established by the Session, so my assumption is that I can do that myself and be flexible when needed. So, Saturday and Monday is the way I'm thinking."

"Monday seems weird for mowing, so far no customers for Monday. Maybe it's just that the new customers are already established on other days. I hadn't thought about it till the other day, but it's a good thing that times are changing and people are putting in sprinkler systems to water their lawns all summer and keep them green, or the mowing business would be stopping right about now."

"Really," I replied, not understanding.

"Yeah, here it pretty much stops raining regularly by mid-May, maybe two or three time between then and mid-October. When I was little, like everyone else, we just let the lawn turn brown and go dormant in the summer. Then it sat there brown till the rains in October and then everything went back to green and growing. I guess back east it's different cuz it rains a lot more regularly, and that keeps the grass growing, right?"

"Yeah, you're right, and I'd never thought of that. You are pretty dependent on lawns being watered if you want this work to last all summer." I paused, then went on. "I can see it now, by next summer you'll have turned this into a landscaping business and be installing sprinkler systems too. You're a regular entrepreneur, you know!"

"What do you mean entrepreneur? Is that a compliment or something?"

"Oh, absolutely. Originally, I think it was synonymous with adventurer, but if I remember right from my economics class at Yale, in the eighteenth century it started being understood as the businessperson able to take advantage of opportunities to get good financial return. It pretty much describes someone willing to be a risk taker and deal with uncertainty. That sounds like Jackson Harris to me!"

He was quiet and his brow was furrowed. "Really, me? A risk taker? I've dealt with uncertainty pretty much forever, but that wasn't out of choice and it was mainly the 'Bud Harris kind of uncertainty.' Other than that, I've been the invisible kid, remember?"

"Oh yeah, I remember full well you keep telling me that and using that label but guess what. Just below the surface, once we peel that label off, is the beating heart of an entrepreneur. Don't you think you were being a risk taker just two weeks ago when you candidly opened up to me? Well, to be more precise, when you came on to me in the car and almost seduced me and almost caused me to run off the road. But anyway, that was being a risk taker. And you willingly agreed to be a camp counselor even though you didn't think you had what it takes to do it, but now you're finding out that you do. And you stepped right in to start a lawn mowing business without even owning a lawn mower! If that isn't risk taking, I don't know what is!"

The furrows were gone from his brow and the grin was back. "Maybe all that's just being dumb. You know, a dorky kid that can be talked into doing crazy stuff by persuasive adults."

"Yeah, right," I shot back. "Like you'd go for any of that if you didn't think you could pull it off, even if you didn't want to. As I said the other day, one of the things we're doing here is discovering your untapped talents, and being an entrepreneur is one of them. Which gets to another question: how does the mowing get handled during church camp? And then what happens to the business in the Fall and Winter?"

"Well," he smiled, "church camp is covered cuz I've already talked to Gary and he'll get his friend to help him that week while I'm off being a counselor for you. And I guess come Fall the business stops till next year. I guess I'll have time on my hands and no bucks."

"Good advance planning on getting Gary and his friend committed already. See, that's the business mind at work, just like I was saying."

"Well," he said, "speaking of planning, I've got to get home and check in with Mom and make sure Gary is ready to go today. If we do the parsonage after lunch, we'll be done early. Will you be here? Can I see you?"

I could see the gleam of desire and simple need in his eyes. "Sure. I'm doing office work here all day. Making a few calls to stay on top of the Harris family situation, and also getting church camp organized and the venues booked and all of that. I'll be here while you're mowing, and then let's all have a drink and see how it's going. Okay?"

"Sounds like a plan, man!" And then with a brief kiss he was out the door.

I cleaned up the dishes and headed for the office. It was now mid-July, and we'd be lucky to get camp organized for the first week in August. That said, this was small town Oregon, so we had a good chance of pulling it off. I spent the rest of the morning on the phone with the schools district bus company and then the various venues we'd agreed on with Susan, and luck held—we had to move the planned days of the week around a little bit, but we were able to book all the locations in the target week. Our summer church camp was a go. Now we just needed Jackson to come through with two other counselors!

Right after lunch the phone rang and it was Spencer Sullivan, the attorney, calling to let me know that Bud's hearing was schedule for the end of the week, on Friday. I asked him what his read was on how it was likely to go. "Well, and this is just speculation, but I'll tell you that he's going in with an attitude, and that's a mistake. Or top of that, he seems to have forgotten that this is a second offense for him. So, going in he's got that against him. Then there's the facts of the matter: he's going to be charged with physical abuse, exploitation and neglect. I don't think they have the evidence for a sexual abuse charge, but each of those charges carry a maximum penalty of one year and a fine. That adds up to a minimum of three years, and I'm pretty sure because of the second offense he'll get additional time plus a fine. I'm also betting that will change his attitude once it's over."

My response was simply, "That'll be tough for him but liberating for the family. It'll give them time to complete the divorce and get stabilized. Do you think Bud's business will survive?"

Spencer was candid, "Yes, I do. I've had a couple of conversations with his shop manager, and he's solid, and the business is diversified so with some oversight I think they'll do fine. At least well enough to stay in business, pay the shop manager properly for running the business, pay the rest of the employees, pay the child support after the divorce, and give Bud a financial base to rebuild his life after he gets out of jail."

"Spencer, I'm glad to hear you put it that way. You're not only taking the long view, you're also concerned about Bud at the end of this, and that's very commendable."

"Well," he said, and I could also feel him starting to smile," isn't there something in the New Testament about being charitable?"

"There sure is, and you're right there. Thanks for the update. I appreciate it. On this end, Lilly's first therapy session went well, and her first AA meeting is in the next day or two, and things are going well with the boys so far, so the signs are good."

"That's good news, Pastor. Good talking to you. I'll stay in touch." And with that he rang off. I'd heard the mower start up while we were talking, and when I looked out the window there was Gary running the trimmer and Jackson on the mower. I figured they had another forty-five minutes of work, so this was the perfect time for a nap.

I was back in the office when I heard the mower stop running, so I headed out to the back porch. Just like last week, Gary and Jackson sauntered over and laid down on the grass under the shade of the tree off the back porch. "You guys up for a drink, I tossed their way? Both nodded, so I popped back inside and came out with three cans of soda.

I sat on the back steps and we all took a few swigs of our soda before I asked, "So, how's it going?"

They looked at each other like they couldn't figure out who should take the question. "I take it that means you're getting along Okay and the mowing is going well?"

Now Jackson piped up, "Yeah, Rev, it is. We're getting along better than we were before, isn't that right Gary?" He looked at his brother, and I got the feeling he was trying to get him engaged in the conversation.

Gary took a while, then he finally said, "Yeah, it's true. I guess I always resented Jackson because of what was happening to me, and I took it out on him even though it wasn't his fault. I know that now, and you're right that the mowing business is working well, and we're getting to know each other in a whole new way, and that's pretty great."

I thought for a few seconds, because that statement was not just profound coming from Gary, it was the most substantial think I'd heard him say in the last two weeks. "That's really positive to hear, Gary. Where do you see it going from here?"

He paused again, gathering his thoughts, then said, "Well, we don't know, but we've talked about what could happen. If we make enough money this summer to buy our own mower and trimmer and stuff, maybe it'll work again next summer, and we'll have something going. I've also been talking to the bike shop downtown about working part time as a mechanic. They've got a good one already, but he doesn't want to work all the time, so they may hire me for a couple of days a week so that would be good. Maybe I'll get a chance to cover for him if he takes some time off this summer."

I looked straight at him. "I've only been in town for a few weeks and that's as long as I've known you, but I can really see a change from then to now. How do you feel about that?"

He was quiet again, then looked at Jackson as if for affirmation. Jackson nodded, and Gary said, "Well it feels good. But maybe more than that is that we're both out from under Bud's control and so we can do what we want, and it's turning out that working, and working together isn't just profitable, it's helped us understand each other better and it's even been fun…..sometimes."

Then he leaned over and poked Jackson in the ribs. "But only sometimes, cause he's still a kid who thinks he knows it all, and I can only take so much of that."

Jackson was defensive. "I don't act like a know it all. We pretty much talk about everything don't we? We agree on what's best and what we're going to do? I don't tell you what to do, do I?" He sounded genuinely concerned.

"No, that's right, you don't. I'm kind of pulling your chain, Jackson. You're turning out to be a good brother. Probably a better one than I deserve. You're rounding up the business for us, you work hard, you're more organized than I am, so that's what I really mean. We couldn't pull this off without you. That's what I'm really saying. I just have to get over thinking I'm the tough guy and getting with the team program."

"What's the team program," I asked.

Gary looked at Jackson again with a smile, then turned to me. "Well since we started, he's been talking about how we're in this together. It's not him or me, it's us. Then he started talking about teamwork, and how we get more done together than separate. I don't know where he got all that stuff from, but he's right, and it makes sense. I think its great we're doing this together, and he keeps reminding me that you were the one that got it started, so I guess I also have to thank you cause otherwise we might just be pissing away the summer."

"Hey, all I did was make a suggestion. It was you two that heard it and acted on it, like the old saying goes about carriage horses, you guys set the bit and started pulling the wagon. You're the ones making it happen. Either way, it's a good thing, and it's a gas to see you two getting along so well."

"Thanks, Rev." Jackson spoke for the first time in this conversation. "It's important to say again what Gary just said, we wouldn't be here if you hadn't suggested it and helped make it happen. Like you said this morning, we managed to start a lawn mowing business without owning a lawn mower, and that's cuz of you. We're back together as brothers because of you. That's a big deal."

I smiled and didn't know what to say. Eventually Gary looked at me and said, "He's got a cool friendship with you Pastor, and I know it's good for him. I've been one of the bad guys in this story, you didn't judge me and write me off, and I don't know what to say, I mean, how to thank you."

I didn't quite know how to respond myself. This was getting emotional, and my relationship with Jackson, that Gary didn't know about, made it difficult to get too close here.

Jackson quietly added, "He's trying to thank you for accepting him, the outsider, and for not Judas'ing him. You remember the lines from the song, don't you? About don't betray me or sacrifice me? You didn't do that. And it was at a time I was still hating Gary and you could have chosen to too, but you didn't and because of that we're back together as brothers and that's cause of you."

All I could do was smile, and though a Bible verse popped into my head, it didn't seem appropriate, so I just said, "It's a great new beginning. Now we all have to make it happen."

They both smiled, and then Gary said he needed to get going and get the mower home and take a shower so he and his friend could go for a bike ride. Jackson looked at me and asked if I was done with my work for the day and if he could stay for a while longer. I nodded, and we both watched Gary hang the trimmer over his shoulder and push the mower down the driveway. When he got to the road he turned and waved with a smile. I thought that was a breakthrough.

"Man, you've been working magic! Gary's really come around in a week, hasn't he?"

"Yeah, but you know what? There was really no magic. I've disliked or hated him for a couple of years, but then after we found out what's been happening to him, I started feeling sorry for him. Then you know what happened? I heard you preaching about acceptance in your last two sermons, about accepting The Other, the outsider, and I figured I needed to do it too."

"For the record, any good preacher could have made those points from those two Gospel passages, so the important thing is that you heard the message, understood the principle, and applied them in your own life. That's the hardest thing to do. Most people, even if they hear the message, just smile and shine it on."

Jackson just smiled.

"So, where did all this teamwork stuff come from," I asked?

He simply said, "It was what Gary said, plus watching how you suckered me into being a church camp counselor, got Susan pulled in, got us all on your so-called leadership team, and made us all think it was our idea! I was watching you; you can't fool me with your maneuvering."

Now he was up off the grass and coming my way. I was glad I wasn't on the lawn too or I know he would have dived on me and we'd be wrestling and rolling around in the grass. Instead I stood up warily and backed up onto the porch. He followed, the glint in his eye. "Where do you think you're going, Rev? You're not running away are you?"

I'd backed up to the kitchen door on the porch by that point and it seemed dumb to try and make a break for it, so I just said, "Nope, I'm just waiting here for you, whatever it is you're up to."

He grinned and his eyes glinted, and the green highlights shone in the sun. His hair had dried while we'd talked, and his bangs had fallen forward over his forehead. He tossed his head like a colt getting its forelock out of its eyes and said, "All I want is a hug."

He came up on the porch and threw his arms around me, and I did likewise. I felt him kiss my neck and he whispered, "We have a lot to thank you for, and I love you for it." I kissed the top of his head and hugged him tight and we stood like that for a couple of minutes.

Finally, I said, "Can I play you a song? When we were talking earlier about teamwork and leadership, I thought of something that I think you'd like."

He looked up at me and smiled. "Sure. On one condition. I get a serious kiss, right now."

Fortunately, we were on the back porch and probably out of sight, but I said not here, then I opened the kitchen door and pulled him inside. We kissed long and hard. It was bliss. Finally, when we surfaced, I said, "Come on, I'm going to introduce you to The Grateful Dead." I took him by the hand and pulled him into the living room.

"Am I right that The Grateful Dead aren't on your radar screen?" He nodded. "Okay, it's kind of a folk rock/country music style, but the rhythms are really great, and best of all, the lyrics were almost all written by a great poet and they're really meaningful."

"You mean like Simon and Garfunkel?"

"Yeah, in a lot of ways, yes. But most of the lyrics were composed by Robert Hunter and then Jerry Garcia did the musical arrangement, and Hunter's lyrics are both about normal things in life while at the same time really deep and substantial. They've got a few albums out, but my favorite is American Beauty, which is a few years old now. What I want to play you is a great song called Ripple. The album's full of songs that I think will become classics like Attics Of My Life, and Box of Rain, but this one's for you because of what Gary was saying about you."

He sat down on the couch and I found the album and cued up Ripple. I knew it wasn't his favorite style of music, but it has a catchy tune and engaging lyrics.

Ripple in still water
When there is no pebble tossed
Nor wind to blow

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty
If your cup is full may it be again
Let it be known there is a fountain
That was not made by the hands of men

There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone

Ripple in still water
When there is no pebble tossed
Nor wind to blow

You who choose to lead must follow
But if you fall you fall alone
If you should stand then who's to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home

Watch a YouTube video of The Grateful Dead singing Ripple

We were quiet as it ended, and I lifted the stylus so the next song wouldn't play. Jackson paused, then smiled, and said "I kinda liked it, and I'm betting you wanted me to hear the line about 'you who choose to lead must follow but if you fall you fall alone,' right"

I grinned. "You are so sharp, Lover Boy! That's exactly it. And I'm glad you like it. Not to be lost sight of is the earlier verse about 'There is a road, no simple highway…. that path is for your steps alone.' But that said, I don't' want to make too much of this. I'll loan you the album and listen to it when you want to. Now, can I tell you a funny story? Well, it's not totally funny, it's actually sardonic humor—do you know what that is?

He shook his head. "You'll probably get it in English lit next year. It means humor that is disdainful or mocking. But it is also something you can really laugh about from a distance when you look at it from afar. Are you up for this?

He nodded, and by his expression I could tell he wasn't sure, but he was game.

"Well, when I spoke to Spencer Sullivan after his last visit with Bud in jail, as they were discussing all the relevant parts of the situation, he was sharing with Bud how things were going with the family and he told him that 'Jackson has become a friend of the pastor.' Now, get this, Bud's response was 'friend of the pastor—more like friend of the devil.' And then he went on about how everything was fine around here till that new pastor turned up'."

I stopped and Jackson was looking at me like he wasn't quite getting it. "Come on," I said, "you get it. I'm a pastor and he's calling me the Devil. Isn't that ironic?"

Now he was smarting to smile. "Yeah, that's like the pot calling the kettle black, isn't it?"

"It is, and in that scenario, you're the friend of the devil. How funny is that?"

"Okay, I think I'm getting the irony bit," he said.

I went on, "but there's another really funny irony, and that's the fact that there's a Grateful Dead song called Friend of the Devil. Want to hear it?" He nodded and I cued it up.

I lit up from Reno
I was trailed by twenty hounds
Didn't get to sleep that night
Till the morning came around

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

I ran into the Devil, babe
He loaned me twenty bills
I spent that night in Utah
In a cave up in the hills

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

I ran down to the levee
But the Devil caught me there
He took my twenty dollar bill
And he vanished in the air

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

Got two reasons why I cry
Away each lonely night
The first one's named sweet Anne Marie
And she's my heart's delight

Second one is prison, baby
The sheriff's on my trail
And if he catches up with me
I'll spend my life in jail

Got a wife in Chino, babe
And one in Cherokee
First one says she's got my child
But it don't look like me

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

Watch a YouTube video of The Grateful Dead singing A Friend of the Devil

Jackson was grinning by the time we got to the end of the song and was tapping his hand on this thigh in time with the beat. "So, you see, 'a friend of the Devil is a friend of mine," I remarked, "what do you think?

"I think it's a hoot," he volunteered. "Bud's not that creative so he was trying to be nasty, but it turns out instead of nasty it became a joke. And on top of that I got introduced to a new band that means a lot to you. That's way cool!"

"Well, it turns out that Spencer has a wry sense of humor, and when I told him I would take being called a 'friend of the Devil' as a badge of honor he got the joke and just grinned."

Jackson was still smiling, but he said, "There's also those other couple of parts in there."

"Which ones," I asked.

"Well, there's the one about prison and the sheriff's on my trail—that could be about us if we get caught. Then there's the one about wife in Chino who says she's got my child but it don't look like me—that could be about me. I sure don't look like Bud!"

I'd been so focused on the 'friend of the Devil' play on words that I'd forgotten about the other two. "You're right," I said, as I walked over and knelt in front of him. "I'm sorry I didn't think about those two passages. I didn't mean to offend you."

"No worries, Rev. I'm not offended. They're kind of like good reminders. I was thinking last night it's not so bad to be able to say 'I'm a bastard' when it means I am really saying Bud isn't my father. On top of that, like you said last week, we've got to be careful and not got caught cuz we could both go to prison. You to the real one and me to foster care. And neither of those are the kind of prisons our love deserves to be in."

I leaned up and kissed him. Such profound comments from the 'mouths of babes!'. I slipped the album back into the sleeve and cover and handed it to him, knowing it was about time for him to head home for the evening. "Will you come to me tonight?"

He tossed his head again, and his eyes glinted as he said, "No chance I won't be here." He leaned over and gave me a sensuous kiss and got up and headed for the door.

I went through the usual evening routine of supper, some early sermon preparation and a little TV, then went to bed. Sure enough, I woke in the dark when I felt his presence. He smiled, walked from the chair to the bed as I lifted the sheets, and dropped his boxers and T-shirt on the floor.

"I missed you so," I whispered, "I'm so happy to have you in my arms again."

"Me too," he whispered back, and we kissed and hugged and expressed our longing for each other. We ground on each other as we kissed, and our tongues probed and played, and I thought back to our last time together. I was struggling mentally. I knew I loved this boy like no one I had met or even conceived of. I knew this wasn't legal because he was underage, though only months from being eighteen. I also knew that setting the age question apart, in many ways he was emotionally more mature than I was. At least he knew he was gay and a sexual being, and I apparently had blanked that out until a few weeks ago, and it was this very boy, the one in my arms who had shocked me into recognizing my condition and taking the blinkers off. I knew I'd never been happier in my life, and he gave every indication of feeling exactly the same way.

I'd realized that I had created in my mind a construct that if the relations I had with Jackson were limited then somehow, they were Okay. I'd thought a few times about what I had told Paul, that they were limited to "petting." That, though, I knew in my heart was something of a lie. I was trying to tell him and myself that what was going on was limited to kissing and caressing, but that wasn't the case, and a technical analysis would find it included more than kissing and cuddling. It was physically sexual, plain and simple, even if it presently involved no oral or penetrative acts. Still, I knew that I was in the deep end of the pool by choice, but where to draw the line. Was it even possible to draw a line or was that a false proposition? If we were stroking each or grinding on each other to climax, how much different was that than oral sex? How much different than penetrative?

He was still underage, and I was an adult. But he was the love of my life and wanting to express that love and share the emotion and sensuous feeling with him was something I longed to do. And even though I was a minister and presumably had an elevated sense of moral rectitude, the complexity of the situation was difficult to handle. I knew in my mind, even if it was a false proposition, that there would be no penetrative sex till he was eighteen. If that was a boundary not to be passed, was everything leading up to it acceptable? If grinding and hand jobs resulted in climaxes, how different was that than oral sex, really?

Fragments of this mental conversation had been flying through my mind on and off for days now, without any real resolution. The only thing I knew for sure was no penetrative sex between us till he was eighteen. I still couldn't work out limits that made sense short of that, though. Maybe that was the problem, trying to logically make sense of something so purely emotional.

Jackson had rolled off of my chest and we were lying side by side stroking each other's chest and abdomen, and tickling our pubic hair, and then he reached for my cock. As he did so he was looking me directly in the eyes, and there was enough moonlight for me to see the glint in them and the seriousness of his expression. He leaned over as he stroked, kissed me and whispered, "I love you so much. You are so beautiful. You're everything I need in life."

I kissed him back and looked back into his eyes, watching the love emanate from him and come my way, and feeling the sensations build as he stroked me. He kept my eyes locked with his, and his expression was a mix of placid and passionate as he stroked. He knew I was close, and he wasn't letting up, but he was controlling the pace and assuring the intensity was heightened by the lock he had on my eyes. I couldn't look away. All I could do was look back, be pulled into his hazel eyes, and revel in the sensations originating in my cock. Expanding through my groin and building to what I knew would be a mind-blowing climax.

A random thought flew through my mind. "He's doing this for me. It's not for him, it's because he loves me like no one else does." A part of my brain felt like crying with the realization, but it was overwhelmed with the erotic sensations as I came closer and closer to climax. Jackson could clearly see it in my eyes, because he slowed his stroking, and then brought his hand up to his mouth where he deposited a blob of saliva, and returned his hand to my cock so he was just holding and working the head, slowly circling in twisting motions. I almost shivered it was so intense, and I knew I was just moments away.

"Jackson, I'm so close, I love you so much," I almost whimpered in his ear.

His reply was simple, "I know, and I want you to feel like you've never felt before."

Ten seconds later I did – I'd never had a climax like this one, bucking on the bed, shooting into his hand and onto his stomach and chest, deliriously out of breath, groaning and crying out until I had to remove his hand from my over-sensitive cock head. "Unbelievable," was the only word I was able to utter, then he kissed me, and we hugged and began to recover. I reached down and grabbed the pillowcase to clean him up, and then he rested his head on my shoulder.

After a few minutes, when I'd regained composure, I started stroking his stomach with my fingertips and tickling his pubes. I pulled away from him and slid down so I could kiss his stomach and found myself licking his stomach from his navel to his pubes. He was shuddering and lifting his bum off the bed. He was clearly as stimulated as I had been. I reached down and held his beautiful penis, slowly, ever so slowly stroking it, and paused for just a second after licking his stomach to look at it. The head was swollen and beautiful and pulsed in my hand. I paused as if formulating a thought, but my brain wasn't working. Logic was out the window and I was operating on emotion and my desire to make him feel as good as he'd just made me feel. I leaned up, while still holding his cock, and kissed the head. Then I did it again, and licked across the top of the head, feeling his slit, and feeling a small amount of precum. I was pleased and surprised with the taste. All I could think was 'this is Jackson.' Then, before I knew it, I'd moved my hand away and taken the head of his cock in my mouth.

It felt like silk. I had no basis of comparison, but it was so smooth and slick, and I just softly sucked his head and licked my tongue around it. I didn't know what to do, but it seemed so natural. This was his cock, and it was in my mouth, and I was making love to it, I was aiming to give him the most pleasure possible. He moaned and ran his fingers through my hair, holding my head with his hands like it was a guard rail. It didn't even dawn on me whether he'd cum quickly like I did, or take a long time. It also didn't dawn on me what would happen when he came in my mouth. All I knew was that his physical reaction was saying it was pleasurable, and his heavy breathing and groaning was telling me he was ecstatic. It wasn't long before he was pulling my head onto his cock, forcing me to take more of him in my mouth. It was easy. He was smaller than me, but there was no tension, just love and a desire to pleasure the other. I felt my chin against his pubes and knew I had taken all he had. I slowly withdrew and then went back down a couple of times and then his fingers in my hair tightened and I heard him say, "Oh my god, David, I'm going to come." And he did. Obviously, I knew that meant he was cumming in my mouth and I'd have to swallow, but I had no conscious knowledge of it—I just did it. And it was a joy. A joy to hear his groan as he came, to feel his seed in my mouth, to experience him share his essence with me. I was totally elated.

When he became too sensitive, he pushed my head away from his groin, and I turned back and I pulled him to me as we lay side by side. We both were silent, just reveling in what we'd shared together. I think we fell asleep briefly because I felt like I came too after a rest, and he was still in my arms looking at me, and he leaned down and kissed.

"I'm sorry, but if I don't go now, I'll sleep here all night and that won't be good in the morning. Gary gets up early now"

"You're right, but I hate to have you go. I love you so, and you are so beautiful."

"I feel the same, David," he whispered, "and I never thought you'd kiss my cock like that. I can't tell you how that felt. I never even came close to imagining what it felt like. And you did it to me. You, my Sexy Man. You are the best, the most amazing person there is."

I smiled, "Don't get carried away. I didn't plan on doing it, but it seemed the right thing. I told you I love every bit of you, and the most important thing right then was making sure you felt as wonderful as you'd made me feel. I do love you so much I guess I just lost it."

"Well, I take that as a token of pure love. I'll go now and see you at breakfast. Then we'll have to talk, because Gary asked me this evening why I was in your arms hugging you on the back porch this afternoon after he left."

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