A Friend of the Devil

by Bensiamin

Chapter 17

We were lucky because it was Monday morning and late morning, so there was little traffic heading up Hwy 99. We passed the Food Town in Sherwood and giggled about our first drive up this way and the encounter with Susan Albright in that supermarket. Jackson told me dinner with Will and his parents had been fun, and the reconnecting was great. The parents hadn't grilled him about his life, but he got the impression that Will had filled them in, so they knew most of the story before he got there. They weren't feeling sorry for him, but did seem sympathetic, but most important, accepting. Like they didn't resent that he'd pulled away from Will and left their son hanging. He also told me he'd talked to Lilly about being able to drive the El Camino and she wanted to talk to me about it first.

I'd expected to have to drive to Portland to see a release like Star Wars, but the surprise was that the largest theater in the metro Portland area was in Beaverton, a suburb to the southwest, and it was the only theatre in town that was showing Star Wars. Neither the studios nor the theaters knew how successful it would be when it was released in May, so it ended up in a few big theaters for its first release. The Westgate theatre capacity was 950 seats and there were stories in the paper about lines of 1,000 people queued up before show time at the busiest times of the week. Monday is always a good day to go to the movies!

We got to Beaverton before noon, found a diner near the theater and had a quick lunch, to make sure we got to the ticket window in plenty of time. That turned out not to be a worry. We only had a few people ahead of us for the early show and were able to wander into the Westgate lobby with its orange and earth tones and huge orange chandeliers and then turn to the right side to the large auditorium with its massive seating. The lights were still on when we entered, and it was all in orange too: orange carpet, curtains and seat upholstery. The size was amazing, as was the sound system when the Dolby sound system kicked in. After the previews, it was amazing as the soundtrack started and those now infamous words began "A long time ago on a planet far, far away." We were lost for two hours and five minutes. We didn't even hold hands.

Everyone's seen the first Star Wars film by now, so there's no value in discussing the movie itself, or describing the characters, but the special effects introduced a whole new vocabulary: star fighters, light sabers, The Force, the Dark Side, the Death Star, Jedi Knights and R2-D2 and Chewbacca. For sci-fi fans like both of us it was sensory overload. We stumbled out of the darkened theatre into blinding mid-afternoon sunlight and it didn't take us too long to decide driving into Portland to find a bookstore for one book wasn't worth it. We were heading home to Newberg, aiming to be well ahead of the traffic.

As we drove, we continued talking about the locations, the spaceships, the special effects, the characters, all the cool stuff that first impacts and impresses you when you see an action film. The chatter finally settled down when we were halfway home, and Jackson asked me, "what did you like best about the movie?"

I thought about it a minute and then replied, "I think the story, but I haven't figured it all out yet, but especially the spaceship special effects, like the way the Millennial Falcon flew, and the cool star fighters. It didn't seem fake at all, like you remember the terrible effects in movies like Godzilla and stuff?"

He nodded, and I asked, "and what did you like best?"

He didn't hesitate. "I liked Obi-Won Kenobi, the Jedi knight. The kind of guy he was. a warrior but also a peace maker. And his relationship to Luke was far out."

I was thinking 'older man, younger boy!' Then I went on, "was he your favorite character?

He was facing me, leaning on the door with his feet up on the console and seat after taking off his Keds, and I could see him start to smile.

"What," I said? He kept smiling but was silent. The smile expanded.

"It's not a hard question, you know," I pressed. "Who was your favorite character? Maybe C-3PO?" I was trying to keep a straight face.

"What? He's a droid. I mean he was cool, but he wouldn't be my favorite character."

"Well then, who was?"

I could see the smile turning into a grin and the dimples starting to flare, but he was also starting to blush a little. He looked so cute.

"Come on, fess up! I want to know who and why."

"Alright," he finally said, "it was Han Solo because he's strong and courageous and has a wicked sense of humor and can fly a spaceship, and…"

"Yeah, go on."

"Well…., and because he's cute. He reminds me of you with your hair and that smile and the way he can look at you like "are you for real?" or "are you kidding me?"

"No way! He reminds you of me, or vice versa! Wow, I'd have never thought that. What great company to be included with? Okay, so now I know, you're crushing on Harrison Ford!"

"No way!" And then he was giggling, the boy coming out in him.

"It's Okay, you know." I slid my hand up his leg and squeezed his knee. "It's the kind of thing I love about you! And, you have good taste too!"

"Well, you know, you both are cute. And you do look kind of alike. But you also said you read an interview with George Lucas about the mythology behind the story. What was that all about?"

I had to tell him that I only know what I'd read, and that Lucas had said that as he was finishing the script, he'd re-read a book on mythology that he originally read in college, by Joseph Campbell. It was called The Hero With A Thousand Faces, that surveys myths from all over the world and concludes they are built from the same elementary ideas. "Now, I've got to admit I know very little about myths and mythology. When you're a Christian, and especially in Church School and then all the way through seminary, you're taught that by definition they are false. You know, myth equals pagan, and that's not just false, that's heretical."

Jackson seemed curious, "Okay, I understand some of that, you know, like all the Norse myths are just fiction and false and stuff, and you know it didn't happen and you can't believe in any of that stuff. I know about all of that. But it doesn't sound like that's the way Lucas was talking about myth, and I'm still processing, you know, figuring out the story line we just saw, but there was a whole lot of heavy stuff going on there that you don't see or read in most sci-fi. Like, most of it wasn't in The Heritage of Hastur, which we both liked, right?"

I agreed. "I think you're right. Heritage took place on another planet, but it was originally populated by the survivors of an Earth spaceship that crash landed there. So, they were backwards in many ways, but they were still humans and appeared to see the universe pretty much the same way and believe the same stuff, so there was no need to explore deeply. The points Lucas made about the story in the interview was that it was universal because it used mythological themes, and human beings are hardwired with them. We're born with a basic subconscious model of what is a hero or a mentor or a quest, all these things called archetypes, and that's why when we read it or see it, we understand it deep down. All the people and places and things and experiences fit together because subconsciously we know what they are. That was kind of a mind-blower for me, you know, but I noticed that neither of us needed to read a primer on the story before the movie and we both enjoyed it and seem to have understood what it was all about, right?"

"Okay," Jackson said, his forehead still wrinkled. He was still in his favorite position with his back against the door, his feet up on the seat and console, "but how can you have mythology and religion. Doesn't this make the case that mythology is real, and we've always been taught that mythology isn't real and that 'our' religion is right. In fact, 'our' religion is right, and all the other religions are wrong, and all the mythologies are wrong on top of that. Isn't that the way it goes down?"

"Pretty much," I said, "and that's a pretty sweeping condemnation for a start when you put it like that, isn't it? The thought that's completely new to me, because I grew up with that same view you just described, is the idea that these archetypes are behind all religion and myth. That means no matter who you are as a person, or when, it's part of being human. Lucas said that what Campbell called the 'Hero's Journey' is the same and that all religious are…. I think he called them containers… for the same essential truths. That's pretty radical. At least for a Christian minister it's pretty radical because it starts to explain things in different ways and starts taking away the absolute uniqueness we all claim."

"I don't get the Hero's Journey part," Jackson said. "Where is that in the Star Wars story. Am I missing something?"

"Well, maybe you have to think about it differently. That may be the only part I could figure out right off the bat, and that's only because I read that interview. Let's think a minute. At the beginning we've got Princess Leia's message, and Luke is too busy with the harvest and says he can't do it, remember? Then Obi-Wan Kenobi appears and rescues Luke from the sand people and sets him free and he can escape Tatooine, and he begins his journey. I mean, that's just the beginning, but I can see that as the start of 'a journey,' and for sure he's the hero in the story. I'm putting both Plato's Symposium and Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces on the book list for when we get to a bookstore in Portland. We've got some big questions to consider, Lover Boy." With that I reached over and squeezed his knee, and he extended his left leg and his foot started massaging my thigh.

"Sounds like a plan. Are we going to form a book club?"

I looked at him kind of quizzically, then reconsidered. "That may not be a bad idea. If not, if no one's interested maybe we'll just have a study group—just you and me. What do you think?"

He wiggled his eyebrows and smiled, and we fell into silence as we drove into town. When we pulled in the driveway, I asked him what was on his schedule and he said he needed to go home and check on his Mom and be there for dinner, then he'd come back tonight. I nodded and after a kiss sent him on his way.

When he returned later that night, I woke to his presence in the room as usual and I found myself wishing we didn't have to go through this routine, but that rather he could be with me the whole night. He slipped into bed with me and immediately pulled into a sensuous hug and kiss. We were both much more placid and less driven than we had been on Friday night, and our love making was joyous and pleasurable. We both seemed low on energy, but we slept well and there were many summer days ahead of us.

Tuesday I actually made progress calling church members and introducing myself, and as was becoming usual, Jackson stopped over after he and Gary had finished their mowing jobs. He recounted his day and we chatted a little more about Star Wars and promised to really get into it when we got the books. Then he surprised me because he asked me about the Renaissance polyphony, specifically the lamentation for Jonathan that I'd told him about.

"if you're up for it, then come on into the living room, but you've got to realize that this is completely different than most music you're familiar with."

He smiled knowingly, "Maybe not, remember I was forced to sing in choir for a few years, and that's why Susan said I had a pretty good voice, remember? So, I know a little bit and maybe won't be completely lost. What's the story with this song?"

"Well first, it's what's called a four-voice motet, that is there's four voices doing the singing, right? Like a small choir. No one really knows why it was written by Josquin de Prez, I think it's all speculation, but that quote from Peter Abelard pretty well indicates that Medieval and Renaissance thinkers and composers had a pretty well-developed understanding of love. In this case it's the loss of love. So, the composition is a lament sung by David, using passages from the Old Testament, in Second Samuel, that expresses his loss and grief upon the death of Jonathan, who had been his friend and soul mate and lover. Because it's a lament it is slow and highly expressive of those kinds of emotions. It's completely different music but think of it kind of like Please Don't Judas Me, which I almost think of as a rock lament because of the pain and anguish that it expresses."

He nodded, "Okay, cue it up." I added, "It's in Latin, so the first time through don't worry about the words, just feel it, Okay? Then if you're interested, I can give you the words in English in the Bible passage.

We sat quietly, side by side, as the motet played, and Jackson began looking straight ahead out the window, then after a while I noticed that his eyes closed, and small wrinkles appeared on his forehead like he was really concentrating. As the fourth stanza began with the words Doleo super te, frater mi Ionathan, decore nimis, et amabilis valde super amorem mulierum (I grieve for you, my brother Jonathan, beautiful beyond measure, and lovable above the love of women), I felt his grip on my hand tighten as if he instinctively understood the emotion that was being conveyed in the singing. When the motet ended, I stood up to lift the tone arm so as not to interrupt the moment, and as I walked back to sit down next to him, I noticed tears in his eyes.

I took his hand and just looked into his eyes, saying nothing, giving him the space. "You're right," he finally said, "it's nothing like rock and roll, but the pain, the anguish, is the same. You can just feel it, can't you?"

I just nodded and kissed the back of his hand, nodding my head. Some things are beyond words. I think we both knew that the pain and anguish we'd just heard presented to us would be the kind we'd experience if we lost each other.

Jackson went home shortly after that, knowing he'd be back at 5:30 for the counselor's meeting. Will and Tom were there right on time, and the meeting was pretty positive. It turned out that Tom attended church even less than Will but was a good guy too. They liked the idea of restarting Youth Fellowship by having a good church camp, and Will especially was impressed with the list of venues we had planned for the camp week. Tom worked as a bagger at the local grocery store and both said they'd worked out how they could take the time from work that one week for camp. It turned out that in this town when you were asking for time off for church activities it was a pretty persuasive argument. Camp was the second week of August, and we agreed to meet one evening the week before, with Susan, to walk through the morning church activities before we headed offsite and try to anticipate any problems we might run into at each one. They were jazzed about the places we'd be going with the kids, and I asked if we could end the camp on Friday when we got back to church with some kind of party or celebration with music—would they play? They looked at each other like they weren't sure, then smiled and nodded. "No pressure," I said, "and it doesn't have to be a big deal with your whole band set up. I'm just thinking something low key that everyone can enjoy for a little while and maybe we'll have cake and punch or something. You know, to celebrate a good week of church camp—assuming we have a good week of church camp, of course!"

They got the joke and told Will he had to bring his acoustic guitar to camp for song singing. When we were done talking about camp Jackson turned the subject to the band they'd formed, asking what they played. As expected, they were a cover band playing a range of oldies and a bunch of newer rock and pop hits like America's A Horse With No Name and David Bowie's Fame, Clapton's I Shot the Sheriff, and were working on Hotel California and other newer tunes. As we talked about all of this, Will told Jackson that he ought to get involved in one way or the other, and Jackson seemed interested but not sure. They also got talking about small bands versus larger ones, having more instruments and amps and speakers, to create more and better quality sound, and the concept of The Grateful Dead's 'wall of sound' came up, which was really the idea that one of their audio engineers had for big arena performances which used multiple instruments, like two drum sets, and then and enormous public address system that was tuned for distortion-free sound. They'd rolled in out in 1974 and it was the most amazing sound system for large concerts at the time.

I was trying to be part of the conversation but let it be theirs and asked what they knew about Phil Spector's so-called wall of sound. Surprisingly, Will knew quite a bit about it, how they worked in studio recordings to have multiple musicians play simultaneously, like two drum sets, two basses, four or five guitars, all at once, and would then feed the signal to an echo chamber or add delay or reverb and stuff like that to build the density of the sound. It was a lot of technical manipulation, and took place during recording, and would be much harder to achieve in live performance. Clearly, The Grateful Dead's concept started there and then built on it with the PA system for big arena performances.

I found myself smiling inwardly, and finally asked, "Are you guys interested in hearing the original wall of sound?"

That got their attention! They all looked at me quizzically, not comprehending what I could possibly be suggesting to them. "Well, earlier today I introduced Jackson to a completely new type of vocal performance called Renaissance polyphony. Do either of you guys know what it is?" The both shook their heads.

"Okay, so it's not rock and roll, for sure, but that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about musical density and harmonics, right? I mean both Phil Spector and The Grateful Dead's engineer were trying to do that, one on the recording side and the other on the big concert side. But both of those relied on one of two things: instrumentation or amplifiers, right? That is, multiple different instruments like drums and guitars, or powerful amps and huge arrays of big speakers. What if you could achieve a real wall of sound without either of those things?"

They'd been tracking with what I'd been saying, and now I had their interest. "Look, I'm no expert in the history of music, or even a musician really, like both of you, but I've read a lot and have a pretty good record collection. So, here's the story: modern music evolved out of classical music. Classical music developed out of multiple voice choirs, and they developed out of simpler choirs singing melody, and most of that was church choir singing. Be that as it may, in the Renaissance, this new form called polyphony, or many voices, developed where instead of everyone singing the same melody, groups within the choir were singing different parts, they were harmonizing. We take it for granted now, but in the fifteenth and sixteenth century it was new and novel. Anyway, there are lot's of famous Renaissance composers, and I've got records by many of them, but one that always stood out to me in the thing we're talking about is a composer named Antoine Brumel who was amazingly creative and inventive and created a whole new approach with subgroups within the choir to create this whole new sonorous and resonant sound. What we're now referring to as a wall of sound. Want to hear it?

It was silent for a moment, kind of like when you ask someone if they want to taste some new foreign and exotic food. Jackson was smiling because he had a sense of where this was going, and both Will and Tom looked over at him, and he nodded. They said, "Okay, knock us out!"

I dug out the O Magnum Mysterium album and got the Brumel record out and put it on. "You guys play rock and roll, so you like loud, right," I asked with a grin? They nodded, and I said "Good, because to really appreciate the nuance in the performance you need it kind of loud. But here's what I want you to think about. This is acapella choir performance—no instruments, no amps, no speakers. And on top of that, it's twelve voices—that is, twelve singers handling the four parts. Think about that and the sound density they're able to create." With that I cued up the Kyrie from Brumel's Missa et ecce terrae motus.

Watch the video of Schola Cantorum Stuttgart sing Missa et ecce terrae motus from 1976

The Kyrie is eight minutes long, and they sat quietly, almost entranced by the sound that was washing over them. "I don't know what we'll do with this," Will finally commented, "but it's pretty amazing. I still can't believe it's just twelve voices and that's all!"

"Yeah, it is pretty amazing," I replied, happy that they had been somewhat engaged by it, "and you don't have to do anything with it. I didn't play it for you to send you a message or to put a guilt trip on you or something, mainly to broaden your music exposure. It was such a huge leap forward in its day when it was composed, that you need to know about it, that's all."

We left it at that, and Will and Tom said they had to split to get home for dinner, and Jackson said he needed to scoot too. He walked outside and saw his friends off, then came back in for a hug. "That was cool! Thanks for sharing it with us. Will's a really good musician, you heard Susan say that, so for him to be impressed is something. We'll see where it goes!

"I'm glad you liked it too, but you want to know another very interesting thing about Brumel? He was a boy lover."

"No way! What do you mean?"

"Well, he lost at least two jobs as choir directors, one in Paris at Norte Dame, because of inappropriate relations with a choir boy. It says so right in the liner notes for the album!"

"Wow. That's more than interesting. I've got to read that sometime. He's doubly cool then, right. Okay, look, I've got go get home, so we'll talk later. Bye, David. I love you."

It was an hour later that Jackson called, and that was a first, him calling on the phone. He sounded really down, "Can we talk, David? While I was at your house for the meeting, the Doctor's office called, and they got the first test back and Mom has cirrhosis of her liver. That's pretty serious. They said they're also doing more tests. What does that mean?"

Jeez! What to say. I know how to talk to people I don't know very well, even church members when a diagnosis like this comes along, but it's different with someone you care for and love. "I don't really know all the answers, Jackson. I know cirrhosis is usually caused by too much drinking and it means permanent liver damage. My brother and I have worried about that with my Mother—she drinks a lot too. Beyond that I don't know much. I just don't. I doubt her doctor would tell me much more, and he may not know much more. I will do this, though, I'll call my brother. We don't get along too well, but we do speak to each other, and he's got a really good friend who's his squash partner and an internal medicine doc at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. I could ask him to call his friend and get some info."

"You'll do that?" He sounded less like he didn't believe me and more like a little incredulous.

"Of course. I'll do it right now. It's only 10:30 and I know he's still up watching Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. His wife and kids have probably already gone to bed. Let me go and I'll call now."

"Okay, I'll come over later. I think I'll need you to hold me."

"Okay, love. I'll see you then."

I did just that, and Michael answered the phone on the third ring. I apologized for interrupting his show, and he brushed it off, said he was happy to have me call and wanted to know how everything was going since I moved. I realized then I hadn't called him, and just had one superficial call with my parents. I apologized for that and said I'd call him back and fill him in on the details, but I was calling tonight because I needed his help. I described the family crisis I walked into, and that now the mother was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and they were planning on more tests and we were trying to find out what that meant and where the family should go from here. Given the starting point was a small-town general practitioner, I asked if he'd call his friend at Johns Hopkins and try to get a specialist's perspective and some direction on how I might council the family to proceed. He said he understood and would try tonight, and if that failed, he'd call in the morning and then call me back as soon as he had some info. I promised a longer call next time, and he told me not to worry about it, that it sounded like I'd been plenty busy.

It wasn't twenty minutes later, and the phone rang, and it was Michael. He said, "You must be living right because I got him on the first call. Oh wait, a minute! You're a minister, so of course you're living right! Silly me. Ha, ha!" I let him run with his joke, while wondering what he'd be saying if he knew how I was really living!

"Okay, so getting serious, here's what he had to say, and I'm reading from my notes. If you ask me any questions, I am almost certain not to be able to answer them. First off, in cirrhosis, and I told him about the lady's chronic drinking, liver cells not only are damaged and die, they're replaced by scar tissue, so that means less and less liver function as the disease progresses. Like so many other diseases, early diagnosis is important for effective treatment and/or cure, but that seldom happens. The bigger risk, especially if this is advanced, is the development of liver cancer. Not all patients with cirrhosis develop cancer, but most people with liver cancer have cirrhosis first. Common symptoms are weight loss, loss of appetite, tiredness, feeling full after a small meal, nausea or vomiting and an enlarged liver or spleen. In advanced stages, it also includes pain and swelling in the abdomen due to fluid build-up and yellowing of the skin."

He paused, "That's a lot of info, and none of it is good, if you ask me."

I agreed, and replied, "My hunch is that chronic drinkers like this essentially hide their symptoms from themselves with the alcohol, so early diagnosis is difficult. I'm guessing its kind of advanced. What about next steps?"

"Well, he said if it were him, he'd be getting to a major hospital with advanced treatment capabilities rather than toughing it out at a local hospital where there could be delays in testing and treatment, and then referral to a major hospital later. That all translates into lost time, and time matters now, especially if it is cancer, because the earlier that it is diagnosed, and treatment starts the more likely an effective treatment. I'm sorry that's all bad news."

"No, Michael, apologies aren't necessary. You've helped a lot because this give me a much better understanding to be able to counsel the mother and help the two boys in the family. Look I'll let you go because it's late for you, but thanks again, and I will call in the next few days and we'll get caught up, alright?"

He agreed and we rang off. Wow, this would be a dose of unwelcome news to have to deliver. I settled down in the living room to consider how to approach it all. It was a pensive evening, and I went to bed worried. I'd done my share of grief counseling and suicide hot line work in seminary, but it never involved someone I knew, and I'd have to be very careful about my own feelings while supporting the family. Tonight, when Jackson came, he didn't do the usual sit in the chair until I woke up routine. He came straight to the side of the bed, and undressed. I woke as he was pulling off his T-shirt and felt him lift the sheet and slip in next to me. He wrapped his arms around me and pulled himself tight, his face into my neck, and I felt him start to cry softly.

"It's Okay, my beautiful boy. It's Okay. This isn't easy, but you'll get through it. News like this always comes as a shock, so go ahead and cry."

The sobs turned to crying and I could feel him shaking in my arms." What if Mom dies? Then we don't have any parents. What happens then? I'm scared of all the things that will happen, that could go wrong. I mean I was thinking about her being sick, but I didn't think about how she might die. What happens then? What happens to me and Gary? What happens to us?"

"It's all manageable, my beautiful boy, alright? It's all manageable. You're not alone. And Gary's not alone. And most importantly, Lilly's not alone, alright? Susan and Ellen and Spencer are all in your life and have shown you that you're not alone, Okay? So, for now, don't worry about the worst possibilities. We've all got to focus on what's in front of us. That means diagnosis and treatment, not worrying about what might happen down the road a year or two from now. Do you hear me? Are you with me?"

I could feel him wipe his eyes. "Yeah, I guess, but so much of my life has been shit. It's bad enough Mom's sick and it could be really bad. But why does it have to happen this way, to me and Gary too. Haven't we had enough shit yet? I mean I feel like I just got set free from a prison camp with Bud in jail, and on top of that I've met the best person in the world, the first person I've ever loved, and now it could all fucking blow up and be destroyed. Why does that have to happen? Why? Tell me!"

"I don't have an answer to that, and I'm not going to be glib and give you some pat religious answer or quote you some Bible verse, Okay. But I will tell you one of the most important things I learned in seminary: there are no right answers to wrong questions. Meaning that some questions can't be answered, there is no answer, it's part of life. Much of life is beautiful and wonderful, but a lot of life is brutish and ugly. It's a mixed thing and we just have to accept it and figure out how to live with it, make the best we can out of it. Now tell me, how's Gary taking it?"

He was quiet for a minute, then said, "I don't know, I guess. He was silent at dinner when Mom told us, then afterwards he went up to his room without saying anything. As you've figured out, he doesn't say much about what he's feeling. I guess I'll be able to talk to him about it tomorrow while we're working. Did you talk to your brother? Will he call that doctor friend of his for us?"

"I did, and he did." Then I I told him what Michael had told me. He was quiet and absorbed it all. Finally, after he'd had time to process it all he said, "So what do you think that means we should be doing?"

"Well, I think the first thing, if you agree, is that I'll call Susan and Ellen tomorrow and talk to Ellen about this. Michael's doc friend was talking about a major hospital and that implies one with a cancer center, and I doubt if the regional hospital where she works qualifies. Her counsel will be important, especially if it comes down to what might be the most difficult part, and that's getting the local doctor to let go and refer her to a major hospital. I don't know where that is, but Ellen will. Are you Okay we me talking to Ellen and sharing all of this?"

I felt him nod his head against my neck and whisper, "Yes." He was quiet for a while and then said, "I'm so glad I have you. I'd be lost without you, you know. I'd be alone and wouldn't know what to do. With you I feel like I can face this." I felt his breathing deepen and then shortly after that I was pretty sure he was asleep. That was good. Talking and crying might be emotional venting, but the best thing right now would be a good night's sleep, and then we'd get on the case tomorrow.

To my surprise he had no problem waking up at 5:30 – it really was habituated into him. I felt him slip out of bed and heard him dress, and then he leaned down and kissed my ear and hugged around my shoulders and said "I love you. Thanks for everything." Such a simple comment, but so substantive! I felt elated just hearing him say it. I reached out and touched his cheek and said, "I'll have coffee for you when you get back. Bye Lover Boy." I heard his footsteps on the stairs as I fell back to sleep.

I was up at 7:00, deciding that I'd try and call Ellen at 8:00 not knowing her shift schedule or anything. I got out the breakfast fixings and brewed the coffee, then sat down at the phone with my first cup and called their home. Susan answered, as cheery as ever, and I had to tell her I was calling with bad news and briefed her on what we'd learned. Her reaction was predictable, and mainly focused on the impact on the boys, as you might expect for a teacher. I told her I needed to have a medical type talk with Ellen if she was there, and Susan said "Of course, you're lucky, she's on late shift today. Let me get her." A minute later I'd given Ellen the overview and then told her the information that came via my brother from the internal medicine doc at Johns Hopkins. She wasn't fazed at all.

"Pastor David, let me try and put this in perspective, and then talk about ways forward. First, your brother's doctor friend is right, this is probably a late stage diagnosis of cirrhosis, which is often the case with chronic alcoholics. The alcohol masks a lot of symptoms, and then there's denial as well. In spite of the way he said it, which is factually correct, there is a quite high correlation between later stage cirrhosis and liver cancer, so if I was a betting person, I'd say that is a likely diagnosis. That said, he's also vey right about time mattering, and getting Lilly to the right oncologist at the right cancer facility is the next most important thing, because until that happens, we won't know what stage the cancer is. Three years ago, the state created University Hospital in Portland, as the state's medical school and teaching hospital. That makes it the state's cancer center, and my sense is that's where we need a referral."

I was trying to process all this information. "Okay, Ellen, everything you're saying makes sense. How does this work though, since she's seeing a local general practitioner here in town? How do referrals happen? What about cost and insurance?"

Ellen didn't pause for a second. "Referrals happen either when the doctor decides it's time, or runs out of options, or when the patient request or demands them. The best thing in my opinion is for Lilly to essentially tell her doctor that she's talked to some informed people and that she knows there's a high probability she also has or will develop liver cancer and that she wants a referral to the Oncology Department at University Hospital as soon as possible."

I didn't say anything, and she asked me, "You do know what that means, don't you?"

I felt quite stupid and said, "I'm not sure I do know what you mean."

She went on, "Someone has to have a heart to heart with her and make her understand the facts and the realities in the most caring and positive way possible, so that she understands enough to request a referral. You're the best person in the position to do that."

'Oh, that's what she meant!' immediately floated through my mind. Within a few seconds I collected my thoughts. "Ellen, I'm a newly ordained minister, I'm not going to BS you, Okay? I've done some grief counseling and suicide prevention work, but this one's new. What makes you think I can do this?"

"That's easy," she replied, "you're close to the family, your caring and compassionate, you're knowledgeable enough about the condition to have the necessary conversation. And, you're not alone. I'm right here too, and if we need to meet with her together, and we might, I'll be right there with you. I work at the regional hospital, and I can tell you that the level of cancer work we do is fairly basic, and the more advanced or complex cases get referred on, and that's not time we have waste. Liver cancer is almost always incurable. So, we're talking here about getting the best diagnosis and treatment we can as soon as possible to buy time for Lilly to have with her boys. If it's early stage cancer that's encouraging. If it's later stage that's more problematic. In either case we're buying time. That is exactly what it comes down to."

There wasn't much to say after that, and I anticipated Jackson pulling into the driveway momentarily, so I thanked Ellen and said I would try and meet with Lilly during the day and then let her know how it went. She thought that was a good start and said she'd look forward to the call.

Jackson arrived five minutes later, and we spent a few minutes just standing in the kitchen holding each other. Given his normal spunkiness, he seemed depressed and almost withdrawn. Finally, I said to him, "Jackson, remember what I said last night, about how we've got to focus on the near term, not worry about what might happen in a year or two?"

He nodded. I went on, "Okay, then, that's what we've got to do. It's too easy to get in the dumps about this. Your Mom's illness effects both you and Gary, but the first priority is her illness and that's what we have to focus on. You can't let yourself get into a funk over it, as heavy and depressing as it is. Okay?"

He was quiet, then said, "You're right. I know you are, and I know that's what I need to do, I've just got to get through the emotional thing. You helped a lot last night, you know. Thanks for that."

"What? All I did was hold you and hug you and let you cry on my shoulder. Do you know you're even more beautiful when you cry? You are so attractive when you're vulnerable."

"That's the word," he said. "I feel vulnerable again after a few weeks of not feeling it. Last night I was vulnerable and scared. Today I just feel vulnerable. Maybe by tomorrow I'll feel less vulnerable."

"You will, Lover Boy, and I'll do my part to help that feeling go away." At that I tipped his face up and kissed him passionately and he responded. Hope springs eternal!

Over breakfast I updated him on my call with Ellen and told him what she recommended about a referral. He asked how we were going to do that, and I told him Ellen's suggestion was that I meet with her today and try to convey the clinical info and the need to do this.

"You'd do that," he asked?

"Of course. I'll do it for her. And I'll do it for you. It's the right thing to do. We're all in this together, you know."

He reached out and stroked by cheek. "That's why I love you, David."

I looked at the clock. "What time do you have to meet Gary?"

He replied, "Soon." I went on, "Okay, we've both got action items. I'll call and then go see your Mom. You need to talk to Gary about how he's feeling, where he's at. My worry is he's avoiding the feelings, and that's not good. Can you talk to him about it, kind of like we talked?

He nodded his head as he finished his coffee. "Will do, and now I've got to go, or I'll be late, and he'll be pissed. Or, maybe I should be late and let him be pissed. At least that way he'll be feeling some emotion."

I grinned. "Yeah, but that could be the wrong emotion." He brushed my lips with his fingers as he headed to the sink with his dishes. "I'll stop by this afternoon to check in, Okay?"

I waited till I'd cleaned up from breakfast and it was after 9:00 and I knew Jackson and Gary were gone before I called Lilly. She sounded pleasant when she answered and seemed positive when I asked her about meeting with her today. She said it would have to be in the morning because the in-home therapy was in the afternoon. We agreed on 11:00 AM, and I was there in my clergy garb. I decided to be candid and told her that Jackson had shared the news she received the day before because he was very concerned, and that I'd taken the liberty to talk to Ellen, so I was as informed as possible. She seemed to appreciate the fact that people cared and were taking action on her behalf. I then summarized what Ellen had told me, especially the part that most patients ended up being referred to a major hospital, and that requesting it sooner rather than later might be important.

She seemed to understand but seemed reluctant to pressure her doctor about it. I recognized the dynamic of years of being under Bud, where she had submitted to his will, and decided that wasn't going to work in this situation. "Lilly, this is serious. This is very serious. Time is everything in terms of diagnosis and treatment. If you also have liver cancer, then early diagnosis is important for treatment and extending life. You have to think about it in terms of the most time you have with your boys. You need to do this to get the most time. Ellen feels you should request a referral to the Oncology Department at University Hospital in Portland as soon as possible."

She seemed to be weighing the trade offs—doing the usual thing and deferring to her male doctor or pressing for the referral for the benefit of her boys. I decided it wouldn't be right to press her for an answer right then, but said I thought that Ellen was home and didn't go into work until later today and suggested she might want to call her and talk woman to woman. She smiled at that idea and said she would. I assured her I was there to help her anyway I could, and we ended the meeting at that.

To her credit, Lilly did call and speak to Ellen before she left for work and the hospital. Armed with that information she pretty candidly discussed her health situation with the in-home therapist in the afternoon and got the same message: if the goal of therapy was to put the family back together and make it functional, then her focus needed to be on doing everything to get an early diagnosis and treatment for the benefit of the family and the boys. That came before the therapy. She then had all the motivation she needed. She called me later in the afternoon to tell me that, and I offered to join her when she visited the doctor if she wanted me to. She had an appointment the next day and said she would appreciate the support. I told her I'd drive and would pick her up at a little after 10:00 for her 10:30 AM appointment.

It wasn't long after when I heard Jackson ride up the driveway. When he walked into the kitchen he was smiling and seemed a lot brighter than he had in the morning. Maybe a good hard day's work was all he needed! We greeted with a hug and a kiss, and when I asked him how he was feeling, he said "Better, much better. Thanks for the sanity check talk this morning. I needed it. I guess I was letting myself dwell on me and getting depressed. Thanks for the kick in the butt!"

I acted astonished. "Me? Kick in the butt! What makes you think that would possibly be part of my ministerial methodology? I always subscribe to logic and subtle persuasion. You know, subtle, like this." With that I tipped his head back for a kiss and stuck my tongue in his mouth. He responded immediately, his tongue darting back and forth, wrestling with mine.

When we broke, he was grinning, dimples flaring. "Yeah, subtle! Right! Of course, right now I guess I don't need subtle. That plus the kick in the butt this morning was just what I needed." I took his hand and led him into the living room where we plopped on the couch, and when he swung around and laid down with his head in my lap, I updated him on the day.

He ended up by saying, "Thanks for all you did. We've got a plan now, and it's so great your'e going with her to the doctor. The worry would be he'd pull the male doctor role, you know the know it all you see on TV, and she'd go along with it. You'll help her do the right thing."

"There's another option, too," I said, "he could turn out to be prudent and responsible and already be thinking of a referral. I'm just going along as an insurance policy." I asked him if he'd been able to talk to Gary.

"Yeah, but it was hard to get him to talk. I think he's feeling like me. You know, why does more shit have to happen to us, and especially right now. I tried to tell him what you told me about life being full of good and bad and that we have to figure out a way to deal with it, but I don't think it helped. You know he was more hurt by Bud than I was, so it makes sense this is harder for him than me. I don't know. What should I do?"

"Just keep talking to him. It's important to get him to talk about it, to express how he's feeling, not stuff all the feelings inside. Why don't you guys both come by here after you mow tomorrow. I can update you about the doctor's appointment, and maybe we can have a talk. How's that?"

"Sounds like a good plan. I should get home and help with dinner and stuff. I won't be over tonight if that's Okay?"

I smiled at him. "Sure, you stay there where you need to be. I'll see you in the morning Lover Boy." I leaned down and kissed his forehead, and he wrapped his arms around my neck for a hug.

Jackson headed home and after supper I went back to reading Zelazny's book. I had always been a fan, but was struggling with The Hand or Oberon as it mostly turned out to be a re-exposition of the earlier story of Corwin, favored prince of Amber who wears black and silver and who wields Greyswandir, the sword of the Pattern of reality. Zelazny's writing was engaging, and his action sequences were more than believable due to his study of martial arts and fencing. Still, it was essentially the old story over again, and I was now in a different place in my life, discovering love and passionate fulfillment on the one hand, and dealing with the current events in the Harris family on the other, and it just wasn't engaging me. I did finish the book though, I figured I'd paid for it, so I had to do that.

I picked Lilly up in the morning and took her to the appointment and made a point of sitting in the waiting room so the doctor would know I was there with her, and so she could call on me if needed. She didn't have to, she told me later that she had the impression he'd been down this road before and was sympathetic to an early diagnosis, and said he'd make the referral, and he expected his office could call her in a day or two to let her know it was complete and give her the information to make her first appointment. That turned out to be the case, and by Thursday afternoon Lilly had an appointment at University Hospital for the next week.

Gary didn't come by with Jackson on Tuesday after mowing, but did on Wednesday, and we all sat in the back yard in the shade by the back porch with a soda. After the standard chat about the day and the mowing, I told them I'd heard from Spencer and if they were game, we could go by his office tomorrow after they were finished mowing and do the paperwork for the riding mower and other equipment. Jackson just smiled, but Gary looked at me with a bit of disbelief.

"You didn't think we were just talking, that this wasn't real, did you?"

He said something about nobody ever doing something like this for them before, and I told him there was a first time for everything, and we'd drive to Spencer's office in the El Camino the next day. Jackson was right on it, "That'll be a tight fit won't it Rev, with those bucket seats?"

"Sure will, and you two will have to flip a coin to see who sits on who's lap!" They both cracked up at that. I then asked Gary, "Seriously, are you doing Okay with this news about your mother? Are you handling it alright?"

He just said, "I guess, it's hard you know."

I told him I understood, but he didn't have to do it alone. That we might not be close friends like Jackson, and I were, but we were close enough to talk, and if he needed someone to talk to, or just vent, I was there. I wasn't sure he got it, and my impression was that he'd probably never really had anyone he could talk to seriously about significant things.

The next day we went to Spencer's office and it was hilarious watching the maneuvering about who'd sit on whom in the bucket seat, and of course it ended up with Jackson on Gary because he was smaller, and there was all kinds of wise cracking about being too heavy and uncomfortable there and back. The paperwork part with Spencer was quick and easy, and he made it clear this was a loan to help them get their business really going, and not charity, and that his brother would be bringing all the equipment down on Tuesday. Jackson thanked him effusively, but Gary was pretty quiet, almost like he'd have to see and hear the mower to believe it was happening to him. Spencer sensed that and said, "Look I want you guys to understand our motivation. Pastor Dave asked me, and I told him because this is what any responsible and caring father would do to help out. You don't have one of those, so that's why we're stepping in to fill that gap." With that he stood up and shook both their hands and said, "Now it's up to you guys make the most of it and show us we made the right decision."

On the drive home the boys were pretty quiet, until I asked if they'd ever used a riding mower before and if they understood how much mowing they could get done in the same time. That started a debate about how much time, how many more customers they could pick up and how far out it would be to have the utility cart to haul the equipment. They were pretty upbeat by the time we pulled up the parsonage driveway and Gary opened the door and shoved Jackson off his lap!

The next day they both came by after work and he was smiling. "Good news, I asked?" and he said he'd gotten on part time at the bike shop as a mechanic. If things worked out, he'd be part time till the end of the season, and then fill in for the regular mechanic when he went on vacation, and maybe it would even continue through the winter because the mechanic may be wanting to take a few months off. That was encouraging, and he'd be working Saturday afternoons and on Monday, so they'd only have to move a few mowing jobs around.

Lilly had gotten her referral and her first appointment the following Wednesday. It would be an all-day affair with the hour drive to downtown Portland and the time for the tests and X-rays. I'd spoken to Ellen who didn't think she should do it alone, so either Susan or I were going to go with her.

Jackson came over Wednesday night and our love making was subdued, a lot of holding and hugging, like he was still processing the emotion of the last few days. By Friday he seemed pretty well back to normal, and after they'd finished the mowing Jackson came over. I was in the office and heard his bike and then the kitchen door open. The desire was back in full force when we met in the kitchen and I could see his hazel eyes glint as he walked to me, with a sly smile on his face. He reached his right hand behind my neck and pulled me to him, whispering "God, I've missed you like crazy all day. I've been dying to get it on with you all day." His kiss was passionate, and I ran my hands through his hair, then down his back and up under his T-shirt. I could feel him shudder and our crotches ground together. I felt his hand slip between our stomachs and down to feel my cock through my pants. He started rubbing along the length of it and whispered, "God, I want you."

I leaned back my head to look him full in the face. "Boy are you horny today, eh? Back to normal? That's great to see." He was smiling, understanding I was playing with him. And I was too, because I'd followed his lead and was rubbing his cock as well. "As much as I'd like to take your clothes off right here, right now, and make mad passionate love to you," I whispered back to him, "we have to be careful. It's still Friday afternoon. We have to wait till tonight."

He said he didn't know if he could wait, that he'd been thinking about it all day. Hadn't I? I admitted the thought crossed my mind a couple of times during the day, and as excited as I was right now, we just had to hold it till tonight.

"It's not fair," he whined. "I'm horny and I want you now." He was being a little petulant.

"Like I said, in a perfect world, I'd lock the doors and pull the curtains and we'd go for it. That's not the world we live in yet, though. We have to be patient." He looked pained, and with that I dropped to my knees and lifted his T-shirt, shoving it up to his arm pits and starting to lick his belly just above his shorts. I could taste his sweat and he smelled wonderfully musky. I had my hands on his hips and stuck my tongue behind the waist on his shorts and licked side to side, then licked up to his navel and pushed my tongue in and licked around it. His fingers went through my hair and he held my head, so we were both swaying in synch. I could see his eyes were closed and he was going with it, with his hard on against my chest. I started swinging his hips back and forth, rubbing his erection against my chest as I licked his belly, and he started to moan. I didn't know where it would go, but in another minute, he was rubbing his crotch harder and harder against me and I was kissing and licking as strongly as I could. The moaning told me he was getting close, and then with a gasp he came. I felt him pull my face into his abdomen and I could feel his diaphragm rise and fall as he panted. When he released my head and I looked up his eyes were kind of glazed, and he said, "Oh my god, what happened?"

I stood up and pulled him to me and kissed his lips. "You just had an amazing orgasm, from the looks of it." He was apologetic, and I told him not to be. "You clearly needed the release, and I love being able to assist. You're going to need a shower now, but somehow I think you'll be recharged by later tonight."

He smiled softly, still not having recovered fully and we stood like that for a couple of minutes.

Finally, he said, "You are my Sexy Man. Nobody else could do that to me. That was amazing." We continued to just hold each other, and then I could see that smile with the slight smirk to it assemble on his face. He turned up to me and said with all the innocence he could muster, "I hate to orgasm and run, but I need to get home."

I just kissed those delightful lips and said, "Go. I'll see you later tonight."

I wrapped up my office work and after supper was sitting in the living room reflecting on what had happened, and how because of the underage reality and my role we couldn't be who we really wanted to be. We had to hide our affection that was fast becoming love when we were outside the house. Even inside we had to worry about being surprised because the church office was here. We couldn't hold hands or show affection in most places. It was not only a set of roles we had to play that carried risk, to me it was more and more irritating because I couldn't be who I was realizing I wanted to be. It was the reality, though, and we had to deal with it and get through it. Even once we reached October and his eighteenth birthday, only one part of the problem would be removed. The challenge of being a minister having a gay relationship with a young man, of legal age or not, wouldn't change.

As usual, I woke when he came into my bedroom, and we greeted each other hungrily. "Are you sure you're not too tired," I asked him? "I mean after this afternoon and all!" He grinned and hugged me. "Not to worry Rev, I've got plenty of energy, especially for you." He whispered, "you smell fresh and clean." I told him I'd heard what he said earlier about being clean, and that I wanted to be clean for him too. He smiled and leaned up to kiss me on the lips, our tongues darting around and dancing with each other.

We'd been stroking each other's chest, and he leaned down and started kissing my nipples and biting them ever so softly. Then he started licking them, and I felt him shift out of my grasp and slide down the bed as he started licking down toward my belly. He stopped and licked and played with my belly button, as I'd done to him earlier. Then he continued down, licking my belly above my pubes, really going for it, making is quite wet, and the wetter it got with his saliva, the slicker it became and the more sensuous. I was stroking his shoulders with one hand and said, "If this is anything like it felt for you earlier, I know why you came so soon. This is an amazing feeling." I heard him mumble somethings down there, but not break his licking. He did take hold of my cock, though, and as he started stroking it, he slipped his tongue into my pubes, zipping around in them and creating a completely new sensation. I could sense he was getting closer to the base of my cock and could also feel how hard I was in his hand and knew I was leaking precum.

I felt him pause and looked to see him lick the precum off the top of his hand, and then swirl his tongue around the head of my cock, licking up the rest. He was smiling broadly now, telling me he loved the taste, and though I could barely see his eyes in the dark, I know they were glinting. He licked around the head and then slowly took the head in his mouth. I involuntarily dropped my head back on the pillow and closed my eyes, feeling overwhelmed by the sensations. Then Jackson reached his left had down to hold my scrotum. I spread my legs and felt him just feel my balls, and gently fondle them, carefully feeling through the scrotum and rolling it in his hand. I'd held my own balls before, but never experienced something this soft and sensuous and erotic. He still had the head of my cock in his mouth, and I could feel myself building toward a climax when I felt him pull off and lean down and lick my balls. I'd never felt that, and it felt like a shock, it was just amazing. He went back and forth between slipping his mouth over my cock head and licking my balls, and he must have felt me getting close to cumming because I suddenly felt his fingers slip below my balls and onto the perineum that he'd stroked the other night. His fingertips were wet with saliva and the stroking was intense. Soft but incredibly stimulating.

I didn't think I'd experience anything more stimulating than that until suddenly one of his fingers was on my anus, slowly stroking it like he'd been stroking my perineum. He went back and forth and then round and round and I thought I'd die. This was electric, so organic and fundamental and so erotic and hot. I could feel myself getting close, and moaned and raised my back off the bed, and that gave him the access he wanted, because as my back came down, that same finger was suddenly on my opening, slowly pushing to be inside of me. A month ago, I would have been revolted. Tonight, I wasn't. Tonight, I was clean, outside and inside, for my lover, and I knew what he was trying to do for me was at least equal what I'd done for him earlier in the day. Knowing his motivation, I tried to relax. We hadn't really talked about anal sex, but I just let go and trusted him. Jackson's mouth was still on my cock, his tongue playing with the head, and I was getting very close. He heard me groan and start to buck and I said, "Oh Jackson, this is amazing, I'm going to…." And then I felt his finger slip inside me. He was careful, he only went in a little, perhaps an inch, just enough to make sure I experienced the sensation and how, to my amazement, it added to the intensity of my climax. I came and bucked, shot in his mouth, clamped tightly around his finger, and realized that itself was a sensuous feeling. I felt overwhelmed, being stimulated from two places at once, and the intensity was beyond anything I'd previously thought possible. Then I realized, in what was left of my brain that was consciously thinking, that he hadn't pulled off and I'd come in his mouth! I lifted my head and looked down, and he then he pulled off and was smiling. I felt his finger pull out of my anus and slowly stroke around it, and he opened that smiling mouth and wiggled his tongue for me to see, and then said "Yum," and swallowed.

I was literally breathless, and felt almost senseless too, as I dropped my head back on the pillow. I was emotionally wrung out, that was the only word for it. Jackson slid up beside me, laying his head on my shoulder and stroking my chest with his left hand. The caresses of his fingertips on my chest were so loving and caring. Slowly I came back to my senses and became aware that I'd not only never had an experience like this, I'd never even contemplated it. And my Lover Boy did it for me. I whispered, "Kiss me, please." He lifted his head, with a deep smile and said, "I thought you'd never ask." Then he was on me, passionately kissing me, moving up over me and holding my head as he pushed his tongue in my mouth and we started all over again.

I could feel his erection pushing against my side and slid my hand down to stroke him. I reached behind it and felt his balls and carefully rolled it in my fingers and stroked it and heard him breathe more deeply. I could see the desire in his eyes and rolled over, so we changed places and he was on his back and now I was kissing him, taking control and trying to give back to him what he'd just given me.

We kissed for a minute or two, and I slid down to his chest and kissed and licked his nipples, and then down his chest to his belly, repeating what I'd done in the afternoon. I heard him moan deeply, and then slid down between his legs which he spread apart, and as I slowly stroked his cock, I slid down further and kissed his balls. The smell was intense and beautiful, and without thinking I started kissing the inside of his right thigh. He shuddered involuntarily, and I licked up his thigh, reaching his balls and licking them too. I felt him lift off the bed, and then did the same thing on his left thigh, all the while slowly stroking his cock. He was so sensitive in his upper thighs, just below his scrotum, and I loved the reaction that licking him there produced, realizing that I could get him very close by concentrating here. Each time he raised his butt off the bed as if he were being wound tight like a spring. I could hear him start to pant and raised up to see his head back and eyes closed, his breathing heavy through his mouth. I didn't think he'd go much longer, so I moved up and licked up the length of his cock, flicking my tongue around the triangle below his cockhead.

"David, I'm getting close, I'm going to cum," I heard him wheeze out softly. I knew how I wanted this to end, so I slid my mouth over the head of his cock, swirling my tongue around it, and watching his expression. He was getting closer and closer, and when I heard his panting intensify, I slid down and took his whole cock in my mouth. I heard him cry "Oh god, Ahhhhhhhrghhh!" and he started to come in my mouth—just as I wanted. He'd talked about mixing and swallowing our sperm as a way of becoming part of each other, and I wanted that now too. When I felt it becoming too sensitive for him, I pulled off and slid back up the bed and put an arm under his shoulders and pulled him to me. He wrapped his arms around me, and we lay there for a few minutes just in bliss. Eventually we settled into a more comfortable sleeping position and I pulled the sheet over us and kissed him once the forehead. "Good night, Lover Boy."

I felt him wake and slip out of bed early for his paper route, and kiss me after he'd dressed, and I fell back asleep as he went down the stairs and out to his paper route. I was up and had coffee brewed and breakfast organized by the time he was back at 8:15, and a few minute later we had bacon, eggs and pancakes before us.

We'd agreed to take our bikes down to Silver Falls State Park the next day to check the park out before Church camp. I wanted to actually visit all the sites before we went with the camp kids, and Silver Falls was the furthest away, so I decided we'd start there. We ate hungrily, chatting about the bike ride, and he recalled visiting the park once with he was younger. All he remembered was the waterfalls. I figured it could be as long as an hour and a half drive, so we wrapped up breakfast quickly, got the bicycles organized and in the back of the El Camino and headed out.

The drive was going to be beautiful, through small farm communities, across beautiful agricultural country and through Salem, the state capital and from there southeast toward the Cascade Range. I decided to let Jackson have his first drive in the El Camino so instead of the freeway we went south on a state highway hoping there would be little traffic. That would change we we'd gone twenty-five miles and hit Salem. I planned on taking back the driving then. I hadn't seen him drive before so this would be a test of sorts. We started out normally and when we got south of town and the traffic had thinned, I pulled over at a wide spot, and as he looked at me questioningly, I said, "Did you bring your license?"

His face lit up like a kid on Christmas morning, and he grinned with dimples flaring. "Okay, you get to drive till we get north of Salem. There'll be city traffic there, so we'll switch back. And if you don't damage the car, we'll do the same thing on the way home." He didn't say a word, his grin and flashing eyes said it all. After we made the switch and he'd adjusted the drivers seat forward and the driver's rear-view mirror and asked me to bring the passenger side mirror in a little, we started off. He was actually quite cautious, which I appreciated, and didn't even spin the tires coming off the gravel shoulder back onto the pavement. I paid attention and tried hard not to act like a paranoid parent. He was smiling and clearly enjoying himself. Fortunately, being a Saturday morning there was little traffic and we didn't even have to pass another vehicle. When we got to Keizer, the town north of Salem I said, "Okay, find a safe place to pull off the road and we'll switch back. I was pleased he didn't try to wheedle more time, and we changed places. As we resumed the drive, I asked him how he liked the feel of the El Camino. "It's way cool. Much more hip than our family tank. I could feel the power under the hood too."

I turned and smiled at him and said, "And I respect that you spent the first time getting the feel of the car, not trying to gun it and be a speedster."

He smiled demurely and wiggled his eyebrows. "I decided that could wait till next time," he smirked. I smiled back and let it go.

He went on to tell me about how he liked the handling even though it had power steering it wasn't like a big sedan. I reminded him it was built on a Chevelle frame, so that made is smaller and tighter. He did say he loved the feeling when he dropped his hand to the shifter on the console and shifted down into drive. We talked about all kinds of things as we headed east out of Salem and then finally, I had to say, "Okay, Jackson, we have to talk. What happened last night? What did you do to me? "

"What do you mean," he demurely replied, eye's sparkling. He was in his favorite position again, leaning against the door with his socked feet on the console.

"What I mean is I've never felt anything like that, when I came, I mean, in… in my life. I mean you were doing wonderful things with the licking to get me going, and with your tongues when you took me in your mouth, and…and then what you were doing with my balls, and then when…I couldn't believe it…when you put your finger in my ass. I mean, I didn't freak, you saw that, right? But I had no idea, I mean, what happened?"

"Well, my Sexy Man, you're too old to have had sex ed when you were in high school, right?"

I acted a little offended, but said, 'What do you mean too old? But you're right, where I went to school there wasn't any sex ed. Was there here?"

He grinned. "Yeah, Oregon was an early adopter, but it's not like it was all that great, but you learned about reproductive system and you could discuss stuff like what felt good and what to be careful of. There was a lot of emphasis on venereal disease, and there wasn't anything about being gay or anything. But that's where I found out about erogenous zones, and the prostate and stuff like that. So, then I started experimenting to find out what was erogenous, you know, what felt good and that was when I first felt my asshole."

"I guess I missed most of that."

"Well, Rev," he was grinning now, "its never too late to learn, you know. I'm happy to be your instructor too!"

I rolled my eyes, and he said, "I'm sorry. I'm not trying to make fun of you, but it is kind of fun to kid about it a little, don't you think."

"If you say so," I said, but I was smiling.

"So anyway, back to your question, erogenous zones are sensitive places on your body, especially sexually sensitive ones. The whole area between you cock and your asshole is erogenous, and not only does the head of your cock have lots and lots of nerves, so does your anus. So that makes it really sensitive. And you know what's inside your ass, right? What the doctor is feeling when he puts that rubber glove on and sticks it in your ass and tells you to cough? That's your prostate, and it's way sensitive too. So, I was just stimulating a couple of your erogenous zones, that's all!"

"That's all! How come talking to you about it I feel like a missed a year or two of school?" I grinned at him.

"Well, like I said, I'm happy to be teach you, you know, be your remedial instructor, help you with make up work." Then he reached over and put his hand in my crotch and softly stroked my growing hard on.

I knew we were less than ten minutes from Silver Falls State Park, so I delicately lifted his hands from my crotch and kissed the back of his fingers and said, "Remember me telling you about you bringing me alive sexually? If you keep that up, I'll have a raging hard on and it will be very hard to pedal a bicycle."

He kept holding my hand as he said, "Very hard! Ha, ha! I guess we have to save the remedial instruction for later."

The Park had a large parking lot and a huge open lawn are with two big timber pavilions with picnic tables in between. This would be perfect to stage the kids for church camp. We investigated all of that and spoke to a ranger who said that they could be reserved, otherwise it was first come first serve, but we'd probably be Okay on a weekday. We realized the Park was mainly hiking trails rather than bike trails. There was a four-mile mile trail we rode on through the foothills that looped back to the main area, so we did that and then stowed the bikes in the bed of the El Camino. I was thankful again for buying the shell because I could lock it and secure the bikes. We grabbed some lunch at the concession stand and headed out to see the waterfalls.

The park is pretty spectacular. It's over 9,000 acres with twenty-four miles of hiking trails and ten waterfalls. The trails are really pretty, and fortunately some are short, which would be good for the kids, and some are longer. Four of the waterfalls are mind-blowing because they are in an amphitheater setting where the trail drops down to the amphitheater, and you approach the waterfall and then the trails goes behind the falls and continues out the other side.

We did the main trail, enjoyed the falls, and while there were quite a few people, the trails weren't too crowded. This was definitely going to be a cool camp day, but I knew we needed to shorten the church activities and get moving on the bus as soon as we could.

When we got back to the parking area, we grabbed a soda and some cookies and found a shady spot in the firs not too far from the parking area. We'd enjoyed the day, and Jackson sat down after I did, leaning back against my chest between my knees. I hugged his chest and kissed his ear, and we just sat there in silence for a while enjoying being out in nature together.

Eventually he said very quietly, like he didn't want to disturb the quiet, "I bet this would be a cool place to go camping, with the forest and the water falls and all." I whispered, "Maybe we should try that." He giggled and said he'd never been camping, and I told him I hadn't either. Still, it would be something new to do together.

On the way home, north of Salem, I pulled into a parking lot in Keizer and said, it's all yours," and we switched places and he drove home. He had to pass a tractor-pulled hay baler chugging along on the road, but the farmer pulled over as far as he could, so we just sailed by at normal highway speed. About ten minutes later we came up behind an older couple going fifteen miles under the speed limit, and I thought to myself, "Test Number One." However, Jackson handled it just like it was his drivers test. He checked rear view and side mirrors, made sure he had line of sight clearance ahead in the oncoming lane, turned on his left turn signal and slipped into the southbound lane. As he did so he started accelerating, and when he was fully in the left lane, he floored the accelerator to downshift and pass. The El Camino roared and surged forward, and Jackson, who was holding the steering wheel tightly, let out a "Wow!" but kept staring straight ahead until he had decelerated and slid back into the north bound lane.

Then he looked at me and said, "Wow, this baby has some power!"

"I told you, it's a 350 V-8, so yeah, it does. Feels kind of exciting doesn't it."

"Oh yeah, its really far out. When you're driving sitting in these bucket seats and holding the shifter you feel like you're in a race car or something." He was grinning and clearly this was more fun than driving his parents four-door sedan.

"It is fun, but all the rules for defensive driving still apply."

"No worries, Rev. I got the message in drivers ed. It's a big heavy weapon and can kill people, including lots of teenagers."

We cruised back into Newberg, and the Saturday evening traffic hadn't picked up, so I wasn't worried. I did find myself wondering why I was so concerned and possessive about my El Camino. At the end of the day, it was only a car!

Jackson pulled in the driveway and we unloaded the bikes and reattached his paper bags. He turned to me, "Can we go in the kitchen and get a drink before I go home?" His expression was pure innocence.

I followed him into the kitchen and didn't even get halfway from the door to the refrigerator before he was on me, pulling my head down in a passionate kiss. When he surfaced, he said, "This was one of the coolest days ever. Thanks David. It's another day like Bud never had with me, but you did. And on top of the great park and bike ride and hike, you let me drive your very cool car. And you didn't act like a paranoid owner. You trusted me and had confidence in me, and I saw that. You don't know how much that means to someone like me that used to the the Invisible Kid. I mean it. It's a big deal. That's why I love you the way I do."

Some things need no response and that was one of them. I didn't think I'd done anything special, but if he had a great day, then wonderful. I leaned down and kissed him back, and we hugged for a while, just rocking in place enjoying the warmth and love we shared.

Jackson headed home, I had a quiet evening, anticipating the service the next morning. Jackson pulled up the driveway right on schedule and I pointed at the coffee maker as he came in the door. As he sat down at the table with a full cup he said, "I'm still trying to decide which is sexier: you in shorts and a T-shirt on a bike or you in your clergy clothing!"

I chuckled. "As if there's any contest. I bet you wouldn't grab my crotch in these clothes like you did yesterday on the way to Silver Falls."

He grinned at the challenge, and made to move over next to me, saying, "Want to bet." I know he was kidding, and the last thing I needed before leaving for the church was a hard on! Susan had the service organized as she usually did, and the church was half full. I assumed the novelty of the new pastor had worn off, plus the usually lowering of attendance due to summer vacations.

The Gospel passage was Luke 12: 16 -21, known as the parable of the Rich Fool, and the subject is a rich farmer who is focused on becoming richer. It's easy to preach a sermon about this passage if you just look at the text and tease out the tactical errors the farmer made about building bigger barns and deciding to wait for a higher crop price. Those are challenging things to do even today because farmers never know what will happen, say with the weather, or commodity prices or any number of other things. However, that would be to understand the parable on the surface, because when you dig a little deeper its clear the question is about how best to use the crops the rich farmer has amassed. It's about stewardship, and if we think about the last passage in Luke that was concerned with doing, that is living out the values of the Kingdom of God here and now, the right use, the best use, isn't in trying to turn a bigger and bigger profit. Elsewhere Jesus comments that "the poor will always be with you," and constantly talks about helping those in need. So, it should come as no surprise that as important a church father as St. Augustine said about it that the rich farmer, the rich fool, "did not realize that the bellies of the poor were much safer storerooms than his barns."

When I saw Susan and Ellen at the end of coffee hour, they were friendly and affable, as usual, and complimentary about the call to action in the sermon to help those in need. We chatted for a few minutes and then they and asked if I thought it would be possible for Jackson and me to come to their home on Friday evening to join them for dinner. I was pleased that they extended the invitation, and that it included Jackson, knowing that he really appreciated being treated as an adult by them. I told them I thought so, but Jackson would have to clear it with his mom. We chatted about Lilly's upcoming appointment at University Hospital and I thanked Susan again for being willing to go along with her.

I headed home for lunch, took a quick nap, then thought "Why not? It's a hot July afternoon." I called the Harris house and Jackson answered. When I asked what he was doing for the next couple of hours he said "Nothing." I asked him if he wanted to go swimming at Rogers Landing? He said, "Yeah! When do we leave?"

I asked him if we should ask Gary, and he said Gary was not there, he was at the BMX track being mechanic. So, I told him to bring a towel and swim shorts and come over in ten minutes. When he got there, we hugged in the kitchen and I said, "Okay, strip."

He grinned and said, "Really, here in the kitchen. I thought we were trying to be careful?"

I grinned back and said, "I mean change into your swim trunks, and then we'll only have to dry off and change into our regular shorts when we're done. I've already got my swim trunks on, so you can go in the bathroom if you prefer, or you can change right here and let me admire you."

He decided the kitchen was fine with him, and deftly and daintily dropped his shorts and briefs and allowing only the briefest of glimpses of his equipment as he managed to slip on his swim trunks.

He smiled at me smugly. "See. That was easy. No big deal. Let's go!"

When we parked at Rogers Landing, we headed upstream where we'd been before and there were only a few people around, mainly lounging on the bank. I knew the water was a pleasant temperature from our last time here, so we stowed our towels and made a run for the water with a running dive into the river. It felt great. We swam and fooled around for twenty or thirty minutes, then came out and laid on the bank in the sun. After the time in the water that felt good too. While we were laying there a pair of kayaks appeared from upstream and paddled past us. The people in them waved and seemed to be having a great time.

I looked at Jackson. "We should do that. Is there a place to rent kayaks or canoes around here?" He shrugged his shoulders. "Okay, we'll ask Gary or the guy that owns the bike shop."

After we'd changed, Jackson asked if he could drive home and I tossed him the keys. On the way back I told him I'd learned my lesson the day before about actually visiting the sites church camp would go to before we showed up. "You mean the part about finding out we need a reservation for the pavilion?" I nodded.

"So, I'm making a trip to each site this week. Want to go to Astoria tomorrow?"

"Are you kidding? Oh, wait a minute, let me clarify. Is this another date, or is this a professional trip?"

He'd caught me, and he knew it. He was almost breaking out laughing. "Well, technically it would be considered a professional trip because we're doing advance location work for the church camp. Why does it matter?"

He was cracking up. "Because I assume that if it's a professional trip then we can't hug and kiss at all, right?"

I gave him a dismissive wave and said, "Let's not get all caught up in the details." He was laughing so hard now he was hooting. I still didn't see what was so funny, but I was starting to get the joke and laugh along with him.

He said, "we'll make it both, how about that? As long as we can have lunch at the pier. I hear the seafood is fresh and the fish and chips is the best."

We agreed to leave at 10:00, giving up plenty of time to get there, visit the Astoria Column, then have lunch and check out the town a little. When we got home, we had our usual pause in the kitchen for a soda followed by a hug and kiss, or depending on the day, a hug and kiss followed by a soda. Jackson headed home and I planned on a quiet evening or reading and music.

To be safe, I called the Presbytery liaison about 9:00 AM, and we got caught up. Mainly I wanted to let him know that the Session had approved restarting the summer Church Camp and this week I was making advance visits to the sites we were going to and next week was the camp itself. So, unless he wanted to come down on a Sunday, we'd likely have to wait a few weeks to meet in person because I had Saturday off, and preparing for restarting church camp was a full-time job in itself. He asked about the family crisis and I told him it seemed to be under control, and then he chuckled good-heartedly and said it certainly seemed like a much busier first month or two than most ministers experienced. I chuckled back—if only he knew. We agreed to speak again in a couple of weeks.

The trip to Astoria was wonderful. We drove north to get on Hwy 26, then to the coast at Gearhart and north to Astoria with the Coast Range on our right and the Pacific and its rugged coastline on our left. The Column was easy to find at the top of a high hill, and it had plenty of parking. The realization was that it's 125 feet high with 165 stairs on a spiral staircase built inside the column. We'd need to plan plenty of time for the smaller kids to get up, and for Susan. Still, the view from the observation gallery at the top was astounding. We had lunch at a fish and chips place on the pier, and I made a mental note that they sold ice cream cones. We sat and watched the sea gulls and the boats, which were a combination of local fishing boats and large merchant ships going under the Astoria-Mehler bridge which spanned the Columbia River from Oregon to Washington. The Maritime Museum was small, and we decided that just bringing the kids down to the piers to see the river and ocean and activity was enough. Jackson drove home and I was getting completely comfortable with having him behind the wheel.

True to his word, Spencer's brother arrived at the parsonage the next morning in a pickup pulling a small trailer holding the riding mower and the utility cart. It was partially assembled and within half an hour he was showing the boys how to operate it and stayed to supervise them mowing the parsonage lawn to make sure they had absorbed all the instruction. I invited him in for a soda and we chatted for ten or fifteen minutes, and I thanked him for the extra effort of bringing the equipment down. He said it was nothing. Spencer had helped him out a lot and now it was his turn. We said goodbye and he went out and waved goodbye to Jackson and Gary and headed out.

When they finished the parsonage mowing they came in to talk for a minute, mainly to comment on how much faster they could mow, especially large yards, and couldn't wait to get the utility cart hooked up and load up the trimmer and other tools and head out. I told Jackson I'd see him later in the afternoon and waved them on their way. Then I called Silver Falls and reserved one of the pavilions and decided I'd visit Seaside and the aquarium on Wednesday, the Willamette Heritage Center on Thursday and the zoo on Friday. Then I'd have the loose ends tied up for camp.

Later that afternoon I called my brother to have the catch up call I'd promised to make. It was nice catching up, but it was also somewhat strained as we'd never been that close or had that much in common. Especially since I'd left the east coast three and a half years ago and had made the mental shift of living on the west coast, it seemed like we had less and less in common. I did thank him for the information he'd gotten for me on cirrhosis and told him the church member was going in for cancer testing this week. When he asked me about how I liked Oregon, I was glad Jackson and I had gone a few places since it made me sound credible when I told him about the country and the sights. He asked about visiting sometime and I told him he was welcome, that the parsonage had three bedrooms and lots of space and to come on out. I was pretty sure he wouldn't, knowing him, but it was important to be gracious. Little did I know where that would would lead to!

That night my Father called, and we talked a bit and then he said Michael had filled him in on our call and he and my Mother would like to come visit me this summer! He said they'd like to be there for my birthday, and that's when I realized for the first time that my birthday was on a Friday and that it was the Friday that was the last day of church camp. So, I had to beg off that week, and they settled on the following week. He said they'd like to drive up to Seattle while in the northwest for a couple of days and wanted me to join them. I couldn't see a way to say no. After all, he'd paid for my seminary tuition and given me the money for the El Camino. I agreed but reminded him that the El Camino, while practical for me, only had two seats. He said no problem, that he'd rent a car at the Portland airport, they'd drive to Newberg, and then drop the car off at the airport when they left. At least that way I didn't have to provide chauffeur service to the airport! But it would mean a whole week with my parents staying in the parsonage, and virtually no chance to spend time with Jackson!

The drive to Seaside and the aquarium was under an hour, and I had some lunch on the edge of the beach watching the surf and a few tourists. I was back by early afternoon Wednesday.

Later that afternoon, Susan stopped by after she dropped Lilly off on their return from University Hospital. Basically, she reported that they had had lots of time to talk on the drive up, over lunch and the drive back. The testing and radiology had taken a couple of hours, and it would be a few days for test results and Lilly had a follow up appointment with an oncologist. When I asked her how Lilly seemed she said quite concerned and somewhat bleak as if she expected the worst. I winced, "Would she have any basis to think that?"

"Well, she knows how she feels. She may not be telling us how bad it is, and it may have been a good portion of the drinking she was doing was to dull the pain. We won't know till we get the test results. She was effusive about the changes in both boys since you got them into that lawn mowing business. She hasn't seen them be close for years, and they seem a lot more friendly and responsible."

I was quick to reply, "It's somewhat funny that boys can become friendly when they are no longer being abused and the abuser is out of the household, isn't it?"

"Oh yes, and she's aware of that. It's just very hard for her to talk about. I think the counseling is helping her get reconciled to the realities, but this liver disease situation is going to become all encompassing if it is cancer."

"Then we can only hope its not that bad, right?"

She nodded and went on, "The other thing is a reminder about dinner on Friday night. We're looking forward to it."

I assured her bith Jackson and I were too.

She nodded, "That would be great. You know, Lilly is particularly taken with you, not just as our new pastor and a good preacher, but because of the friendship you've developed with Jackson. Just as I've said to you, it's brought out the best in him. She went on and on about how he's more pleasant to be with, more responsible as in helping around the house and with meals, and how happy he seems when he returns from spending time with you. I understand he has breakfast with you after his paper route each morning?"

I smiled, "Yes, as you know, the parsonage is the last stop on his route, and he grabs some breakfast before he goes, and by the time he's done with the route he's hungry and up for a cup of coffee, so we just kind of started spending a little time together before he goes off with Gary to start the mowing jobs."

"I have to think that after years with no relationship to speak of with an adult male, that having you as a friend also helps fill the gap of not having had much of a father and now not having one in the house," she said. I nodded, and she continued, "It was so great to have you come visit Ellen and me before you went on that bicycle ride. And I understand you've gone BMX riding with him and discovered that Will Summers is a really good BMX rider too. You've really helped reestablish relationships in his life. I think that's wonderful."

"It has been fun to watch, Susan, since he was quite withdrawn and isolated. It's like watching a flower bloom. And he is very appreciative of being seen and treated as an adult by you and Ellen. You two are the other important adults in his life now."

"We're happy to help there, it's only treating him as he should be treated. On top of all these things Lilly told me you took him to Beaverton to see Star Wars and that you both went to Silver Falls State Park for the day as well."

I didn't know if I should be concerned with the conversation and the amount of information that Susan suddenly seemed to have at hand. "I decided I wanted to see Star Wars after reading a review and then an interview with the producer about the use of mythology in the script. It seemed quite interesting, and you know we are both big science fiction fans. He's read almost as many books as I have, and we've discussed quite a few of them. The trip to Silver Falls turned out to be serendipitous because I got to see the lay of the land and how to stage the church camp day there, plus most importantly we learned that with reservations we cold secure one of the timber pavilions so we'll have a large shady area. That will be important for having a place for the kids to get out of the sun. It's also quite a drive, so we'll need to cut the church portion of the day short that day. It took us an hour and a quarter to get there, and that wasn't in a bus."

She said, "That is good information. A site visit to all of them is good planning. Good on you Pastor Dave."

I decided if she didn't know about the trip to Astoria, yet I wasn't going to bring it up. For some reason I was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable. To change the subject, I told her about Spencer Sullivan's idea about riding mower and how that would upgrade their mowing business, and that the equipment had been delivered the day before. She thought it was a tremendous idea.

With that she looked at her watch and said she had to be off. We said goodbyes and she said she and Ellen were looking forward to Friday evening, and that we'd also speak at the final camp planning meeting on Sunday afternoon. When Jackson came over after mowing, I reminded him about the dinner invitation, and he seemed quite pleased. Then I told him about my Father's call and my parents coming to visit. His expression was neutral. I said, "I had no choice, you know, they're my parents. It will be tough, though. They'll be here a week. In this house. That means you can't come over."

"I hate that idea," he said, "but what can you do?" He was trying to be sympathetic.

Thursday was a productive day. I made member calls from the office for a couple of hours, spent time on Sunday's service planning, and then drove to Salem to do the site visit at the Willamette Heritage Center. I was duly impressed with the old mill building and the collected history they had displayed. I had planned on visiting the Portland Zoo Friday morning, but Spencer called late Thursday and asked to meet on Friday to review the Harris family legal and financial situation. That had to come first, so I deferred the zoo trip to Saturday. That meant Jackson could come along, and I'd now heard so much about the huge inventory of books at Powells that I was pretty sure I could find The Symposium and A Hero With A Thousand Faces

When Jackson came by after work, I caught him up on the site visits and he was happy it was shaping up so well. "Those kids are going to be blown away! This is going to be a bitchin' church camp."

"Sorry," I said, "what was that?"

"Oh, sorry, Rev. Bad choice of words. I guess I've picked it up again from being around Tim. You know it really means cool or great, right?"

"Well, maybe so, but I guess there's a word choice question there. Would you expect him to talk about his 'bitchin' mother' given the other definition of the word?

He grinned and said, "You're right, Rev. Bad choice. I take it back and will replace it with 'outrageous church camp.' How's that?"

I grinned and then he giggled. We were getting so we could enjoy the give and take in conversations over what might otherwise be contentious subjects.

Friday, I wrapped up my sermon prep in the morning and got another couple of hours of church member calls in. I was close to having spoken to all of them, though with the whirlwind schedule of the last three weeks, almost none were in person. I was happy almost all of them were plenty busy with it being summer and no one was yet asking for one-on-one meetings. I was also lucky that the church organizations like the Adult Bible Study and the Women's Group were not meeting for the summer. Once school started Jackson's schedules would change dramatically and I'd likely be plenty busy too

In the afternoon I went to Spencer Sullivan's office. We started out talking about the boys' mowing business, and he was pleased that the impact of the new mower and cart as as positive as I related. He told me that he'd spoken to the divorce attorney and that the divorce was not being protested by Bud and would be concluded in the next month. The settlement would be pretty straight forward as he's speculated, with the house going to Lily, Bud retaining the business and Lilly receiving child support. He told me that once the divorce was complete, he's working with Lilly about a new will so that her assets would be directed as she wished.

He then got quite serious and said this was even more important now that she was facing a possible cancer diagnosis. He also said that in the case of a worst-case outcome and Lilly's death we needed to start thinking about next steps. Legally Bud was still the father of both boys until they turned twenty-one, and upon Lilly's death he would be the surviving parent. That had the potential for trouble, even if he was in jail, and there was the practical problem of both boys legally being minors. He said there were some possibilities that could be considered, emancipation being one, so they were out from under any parental control. We agreed that we these were options we needed to keep on the table as events unfolded.

On the drive to Susan and Ellen's we talked about the huge efficiency benefits of the riding mower and the utility cart. Jackson was really impressed with the power steering and how tight the turning radius was, letting them get into really tight areas to mow. The set up was also taking a big work load off them both by not having to carry the trimmer and other equipment. We'd planned that he was coming to me tonight after we'd returned from dinner, and Gary and his Mom were asleep. He described what she had told them about the appointment and tests at University Hospital and it matched Susan's comments. We were all waiting for test results now.

I told him that timing was getting tight now, with church camp starting next week, and I hadn't gotten to the zoo yet, but planned it for tomorrow. Was he interested in coming along? He was excited at the prospect but said he'd have to see if Gary could handle the two mowing jobs by himself, or it he could find someone to step in.

When we arrived at Susan and Ellen's home, they greeted us like family, and whisked us out back to the patio with the sun umbrella and brightly colored cushions. The blooms were gone off the roses and lilacs now, but the back yard and flower gardens looked well maintained. The roses had all been dead headed, the beds had been weeded, and it all looked fresh and inviting.

We talked about the upcoming church camp and the need to meet on Sunday afternoon with the counselors to make sure we had the responsibilities and logistics under control. Susan assured me she had the instructional and music elements for the church portion under control. I told her about the site visit to Willamette Heritage Center and that the trip to Astoria confirmed that the Column was the main site, but we needed to allow extra time for the climb up and down, and that rather than the Maritime Museum just visiting the pier would be plenty. She seemed surprised, and Jackson jumped in. "Trust us, Miss Albright. The museum is good but it's small and technical. The pier is outrageous. It's huge and you can see the mouth of the Columbia and smell the ocean and see seals and watch ships go by. It will be lots more fun for the kids, especially the smaller ones."

She nodded her head. "I have to go with the assessment that you two experts have made in your site visits. I'm glad you were both able to go together. Two heads are so much better than one, don't you think." She glanced knowingly at Ellen.

I went on to tell them that the zoo would be tomorrow, and then we'd be ready for the start of church camp. I didn't expand on Jackson joining me. Somehow it didn't seem that they needed that information after what they'd said about the Astoria visit.

They had prepared a lovely summer dinner, replete with fresh vegetables, and then with fresh Marionberries and cream for dessert. After we'd finished eating, Ellen and Susan alternated clearing dishes from the patio table to the kitchen, and we helped in spite of all their protestations. When everything was put away, Susan turned to us and said, "We'd like to have a conversation with you in the living room." The evening had been so pleasant I don't think either of us expected it to be anything other than a continuation of the same. We followed them in and after we were all seated, Susan turned to Jackson and me and said, "As I said in the kitchen, we want to have a conversation with you about a specific subject, and it will probably be the type of conversation where we do most of the talking, and I apologize for that in advance."

She paused, and during the brief interlude I saw Jackson's eyes flick my way showing concern. I later figured out he'd seen and heard Miss Albright in "disciplinary teacher" mode before.

"Ellen and I have gotten to know you both and we care about you both a great deal, and I've told you on numerous occasions that the friendship between you is a good thing for both of you. However, we've been observing your relationship and it appears to be more than a friendship. That is to say, more than a friendship in a problematic way. So, we want to ask you how much more there is to this relationship than meets the eye?"

I saw Jackson's face freeze and his pupils dilate, and I felt the bottom drop out of my stomach.

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