A Friend of the Devil

by Bensiamin

Chapter 21

Jackson came by after the mowing the next day, and we grabbed a couple of sodas and sat in the shade off the back porch. "Well, come on, tell me how it went!" He was full of anticipation. I decided to play with his mind a little bit.

"Well, the lecture was Okay. But the highlight was I met another gay minister. Well, actually, he's a second-year seminary student, not a minister yet, but he's a member of a new gay-friendly church in Portland." I could see him smiling and following along. I continued, "He was there for the same reasons I was, to learn more about Campbell's mythology concepts and how to apply them to the film and all that. We got together afterwards for coffee and had a nice long talk."

I could see him struggle not to show how he felt about that last tidbit. If he hadn't been trying to keep a straight face, he would have looked crestfallen. "That's Okay, isn't it Jackson? You're not worried or anything are you? I mean about me having another gay friend." I struggled hard not to smile.

He was working hard not to look hurt. I couldn't keep it up any longer. I reached out and stroked the back of his hand, and said, "Don't be jealous. It was just a minister's talk."

"What do you mean? I'm not jealous! I'm just, just trying to understand, that's all."

"You're so cute when you're jealous. I've never seen that before. Your eyes get all soft and sensitive, almost watery, and your expression goes neutral. It's cute. But, it's not as cute as when you're grinning, and your dimples are flaring!" I was grinning now, and he was starting to as well, realizing I'd been messing with him.

"Was the minister guy cute?" He was trying to act curious, but not too interested.

"Well, kind of. But you know, he's older than you. You know, like twenty-three or so. Almost my age. He was kind of cute, but not really. Not at all like you're cute." He was starting to grin now. "Anyway, he's too old for me. You know me, don't you, I'm into underage boys."

He cracked up on that one. "Yeah, right. You find another underage boy and I'll make sure it's the last one!" He paused, just looking directly at me, grinning widely. "If we weren't really being careful about how we act in public, I'd tackle you, have you down on your back and show you about jealousy."

I squinted at him, "You and who's army? I am a little bigger, you know."

"Well, yeah. But I'm more motivated. You just rang my bell pretty hard; you know. Do I get to meet this gay minister guy sometime?"

"Well, maybe. He'll be going back to seminary soon, but it's possible. On the other hand, knowing one gay minister is probably all any single boy should have. You wouldn't want to overdose or anything. Anyway, you start school next week, and then the schedule will be really tight. Speaking of which, what have you decided about the paper route? Are you keeping it or going to quit?"

"I decided to quit. Sunday's my last paper delivery. I was leaning that way after you talked to me about it and the conflict with school and stuff. And then after you set me up and roped me into the Harvest Festival thing, I figured it was too much. I mean I don't want to blow the festival or anything."

I turned serious. "In think that's the sensible thing to do. Your Mom's going to get child support soon, when the divorce is finalized, and you should ask for an allowance. You're helping a lot at home." He grimaced.

"No, I'm serious, it's normal. Just because Bud denied you for years doesn't mean it's not normal. Anyway, if that doesn't happen for one reason or another, I'll give you the money to make up for your paper route just so you don't have the time requirement and stress and can focus on your schoolwork. It's really important this year. You have to do well the first quarter; you can't risk blowing that one because it'll be on your transcripts when you apply for college. Have you thought anymore about that?"

"Not specifically, but you convinced me that it's the best ticket out of this town. But beyond that, you know what? More importantly it's the best way to make a good life, I mean a good life with you, where I'm an equal part and contributing. I mean you're an educated professional, and I don't want to be like the dork lawn mowing guy who lives with you or something." He was almost giggling, trying to make light of it, but clearly, he'd done some serious thinking about it and come to an important decision.

He changed subjects. "Now, tell me about the mythology lecture." I walked him through the overview Prof. Higgins provided from Campbell's book about the elements of the Hero's journey, how he'd illustrated them with themes from the film, and how he'd said some themes weren't fully developed in the first film because the studio line was it was the first of a trilogy. That got a positive response. Then we talked about the Atonement of the Father piece and I told him how that had gotten my attention because I had an absentee father, and it was also something that would probably be important in his life because he didn't even know who his father was.

"Yeah, I've been thinking about that. I'm kind of like Luke Skywalker was, not knowing who his father is, huh?" I nodded, and said, "Yeah, but don't worry. We're going to work that out. We'll work out your story and mine too!" He smiled. I then shared the conversation I had with Fred, his comments about mythology possibly undercutting the whole premise of the Bible, and that when he asked me what most impressed me it was the father theme.

We both agreed that it made the film more interesting, and much more relevant! I asked him what he wanted to do on Saturday after the mowing was done, and he thought for a minute and said "Kayak, that was so cool, I can't wait to go again!"

Friday was mainly an office day, but Jackson came by in the late afternoon. It had been Lilly's second therapy day of the week, and Susan took her. I called the bike shop and set up the kayak rental for Saturday. Jackson said if it was like last week, she'd be wasted and really tired, and Gary was doing a sleep over with his BMX riding friend, so he would have to be there all night. I gave him a hug and encouraged him about doing the right thing and I'd see him Saturday afternoon and have the kayaks ready to go. I knew where we were going, because the bike shop owner had made another good suggestion.

Jackson was at the house shortly after lunch and I had the El Camino in the driveway with the kayaks in the bed, ready to go. He said he'd had lunch, so we hopped in and headed out. When we turned west out of town, not south to the Willamette River, he looked at me like "what's up?" I told him we were heading up toward Forest Grove where there was an 1,100-acre reservoir that opened up a few years ago, and that it should be a hoot! He grinned, "That sounds cool."

Hagg Lake was a hoot. Even though it was a hot July day, there were a couple of boat ramps, plenty of shady parking, some picnic areas and acres and acres of smooth fresh water. We managed to paddle across the lake and around maybe a third of the shoreline on the other side before we decided it was time to head back. This wasn't like white water kayaking where you could get bragging rights for doing some big wave, but it was just plain fun. And relaxing. When we got back to the boat landing, we loaded up the kayaks and grabbed a water bottle and wandered over to a shady spot in the trees and assumed our usual resting position with Jackson leaning back between my legs, resting on my chest. There was no one around, and we were able to just be, with me occasionally stroking his hair and kissing the top of his head. We talked about families and brothers and school and all kinds of stuff.

Finally, I asked him what classes he'd have when school started on Tuesday. He didn't sound too excited, but said, "First Period is English Lit, and that can be challenging because of the teacher, she's tough—but it could be fun. Second Period is World History which should be Okay—I got American History done last year. Then Third Period will be Music— that means Choir with Miss Albright. Then Fourth Period is the one I'm worried about—Psychology. It's an elective and I don't know anything about it. Then after lunch, Fifth Period is Spanish, and Sixth Period is Phys Ed."

"How do you know the periods," I asked? "You don't register till Tuesday." He said he knew what classes he wanted to register for, and Will had gotten a copy of the schedule, so he knew what classes were when. I told him I'd taken Psych in college and could probably help if he got stuck and would be around to help with homework and stuff, trying to emphasize the need to study hard and do well.

"No worries, Rev. I heard you about getting good grades, and I'm calling on you as soon as I need help. Would it be Okay to sometimes come over after dinner to study or when I'm working on reports? You've got kind of a library, and the vibe at our house just isn't a study one."

I nodded, "Any time."

He then turned to the more important thing on his mind. "So where are we going camping tomorrow, and how's that going to work?"

"Well, I got us a reservation at Devil's Lake State Park – we were lucky that there was one left, and it's just a basic spot with no hookups for a camper or trailer, but who cares—we're car camping. We just need to park there to sleep. I figured we can throw the mattress you've got in your fort in the back of the El Camino, and there's rest rooms at the camp site, and we'll eat at restaurants in Lincoln City, and it'll be great. What do you think?"

"Sounds cool so far. What's there to do?"

"Well, it's a straight driver from here to Lincoln City, the campground is at Devil's Lake a bit inland and it has hiking trails. There's a beach at Lincoln City, and a little north is Cascade Head Scenic Area. It's got beaches and trails and the headland is supposed to be one of the best views of the Oregon Coast."

"That sounds far out. Do we have to wait till church is over? Can't we leave earlier?"

I hugged him. "Right, like I've got a substitute lined up! Don't worry, I'm not staying around for coffee hour—I'm heading straight home to change. If Lilly isn't feeling up to going, then you'll be able to be out of there and ready to go quickly too."

And that's the way it worked out. We returned the kayaks and I had Jackson home by 5:00 PM, and Sunday Lilly decided to stay home, and the service was over by 11:00 am. The Gospel for the day was again in Luke the so-called "counting the cost" passage in chapter 14.

Then Jesus provides two brief stories or parables to illustrate the importance of "counting the cost" and giving up all for Jesus (14:28-33). Jesus is talking about discipleship and uses very stark language: "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple" (14:25). The passage raises an immediate question: does Jesus really call us to hate our biological families? Clearly, he's using hyperbolic language, and the real message is about primary allegiances. My illustration was the Protestant opponent of Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who died under the Nazis and railed against cheap grace. The ultimate questions being asked here are about allegiance: what are we finally loyal to? Is it family, as the illustration in the passage, or tribe or political party? The call is ultimate allegiance to the Kingdom and its values.

I struggled with this passage and the sermon about it because I was torn. How could I preach to people about primary allegiances and ultimate questions when I couldn't even answer these questions about myself? I had my understanding of the Gospel, but I was a Presbyterian and so were the people hearing my sermon, and they consciously or unconsciously subscribed to a specific view about what I was. The passage was about the cost of discipleship, and I was struggling with both the cost and the discipleship!

Still, by noon we were heading west on the Salmon River Highway toward Lincoln City. The weather was hot in the valley but was only in the low '80's when we got to the coast. Jackson was sitting in his favorite position, leaning against the passenger door with his feet on my thighs. Quietly, he said, "Rev, can I ask you a question?"

I glanced at him and smiled. "Anything."

"I didn't understand your sermon today. Is the point that we're supposed to hate our families if we love God? Isn't that what the Bible reading said?"

"Literally, yes, that's what it says. But it's a figure of speech. Jesus is using that strong language to make a point about all who follow him having to make the decision about priorities. Why are you asking? Now I'm worried that my sermon wasn't clear."

He was silent for a minute. "Jackson, you can say what's on your mind. It won't hurt my feelings. You know in seminary in preaching class, you get the professor and the students critiquing your sermon right there in class. Come on, tell me what you're thinking."

"I'm thinking you're not certain about this. I'm probably the only person who feels this way but compared to your other sermons you didn't feel certain. You didn't have a lot of, what's the word about being certain?"

"You mean 'conviction,' is that the word?"

"Yep, that's it. I didn't feel the conviction." He was kneading my thighs with his toes, letting me know he wasn't being critical, just trying to understand.

"You're right. There wasn't a lot of conviction. I felt like I was just regurgitating the passage back to everyone. I'm really struggling with this. It's starting to get to me. You know, living a lie, preaching about primary allegiances in a church that would condemn me outright for my primary allegiance. Which is to you. To us."

He was again silent, and the kneading continued. Then he said, "We're both in the same boat then. It's why I asked a while ago why we were Presbyterians or even Christians? Remember?"

"I sure do. It's almost haunted me ever since. It's something I've got to work out, but it doesn't need to be now, and for certain it's not going to ruin this camping trip!"

I reached down and squeezed his feet and then stroked my hand up his legs to his thighs, just so happy to feel him next to me.We checked in for the camp site first, then headed to the beach and spent a couple of hours just walking and playing frisbee.

At one point we ran into a bunch of high school kids from Portland that also had a frisbee and they got talking to us and we ended up playing a kind of hybrid game of ultimate frisbee. I'd never played ultimate before, knew how to throw a frisbee, but the opposing team part of it was a challenge. Especially when you get to the part about the person with the frisbee can't run and has only ten seconds to throw it to a teammate or be forced into change of possession. And, of course, we didn't have a marked-out field of play, so we were winging it on the field boundaries and there were lots of out of bounds calls, but we were all having fun on the beach and no one cared.

When we broke up Jackson really thanked the kids for involving us, and I likewise thanked the parents. As we walked back down the beach he said, "That was fun. It gives me hope for Phys Ed."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you know, I've always been the small one. Remember the Invisible Kid? Well Phys Ed always sucked because I'd never get chosen to be on the teams, and I never was any good because I never got any practice and stuff. But I guess you're right, I've grown some, and I'm big enough, and I did alright, and didn't embarrass myself, and we had fun."

I hugged his shoulder and said, "Those are all good things. Really good things," and we walked the rest of the way down the beach to the parking area. We headed back to Devil's Lake and took a good hike on the trails around the lake and then headed back to the El Camino.

"Shower time," I said! "This should be fun. We'll see if there's any hot water."

There was, though we had to do the delicate dance about getting out of your clothes in communal rest rooms and drying off after showering. There were lots of grins and wiggling eyebrows. But we managed to get cleaned up and stowed our stuff back in the bed of the El Camino and then headed into Lincoln City for dinner. We found a nice family café on Highway 101, had a decent meal, and then decided to take another walk on the beach before we headed back to the campground.

It was still partially light when we got back, and after a quick trip to the restroom, decided we'd hit the hay. Meaning we partially undressed outside, slipped into the bed of the El Camino and stripped off the rest of the way and then slipped under the sheets. That's when we discovered that a test run would have been good, because the bed on an El Camino isn't that big, and the mattress from Jackson's fort took up height, and the shell was low too because of the low roof line. There wasn't really enough room to sit up—at least not for me. We giggled about that and decided we'd just have to be satisfied with hugging and cuddling, and that turned out to be just fine. We'd had a full and fun day, and just holding each other, stroking and talking about the things in life that we'd been through turned out to be so pleasant and refreshing that it was more than enough.

The mattress was a hand-me-down from someplace, Jackson couldn't remember where he'd found it for his fort, and it wasn't that comfortable, but it beat sleeping on the steel bed. We both woke up a little stiff, headed to the restroom for a pee, and then back to town for what turned out to be a great breakfast at a diner above the beach. Great pancakes and bacon and really good coffee too!

Cascade Head is a massive basalt headland north of Lincoln City that juts out into the Pacific with amazing views north and south. The road from Highway 101 approaches the head and then the main trail climbs through a forest of large, gnarled spruce for over a mile to a meadow with a breathtaking view to the south across the Salmon River estuary. In the distance are Cape Foulweather and Lincoln City's Devils Lake. Then the path gets steep and climbs over half a mile to an upper viewpoint. We'd stopped in a market and bought some drinks and sandwiches that we carried with us and ate lunch at the upper viewpoint. It was classically picturesque and made a real impression on Jackson who'd never been here before, even though it was less than 75 miles from Newberg.

The drive back to Newberg was buoyant and cheerful after the wonderful time at Cascade Head. It was a wonderful way to conclude the summer, ending on a beautiful high note, and set the perfect stage for Jackson starting school the next day. We got back to town before dark, meaning in time for the fireworks. Lilly didn't feel like driving anywhere, so we just pulled the lawn furniture out on their front lawn and watched from there. It wasn't a big city fireworks display, but it was pleasant to watch.

I spent most of the morning taking Lilly to her therapy session and then bringing her back home. She apologized for missing church the previous Sunday but said she just didn't have the energy for it. She did say she'd had a call from Spencer on Friday and that he was coming by the house the next day with the legal papers for the divorce, the will and the emancipation. I told her that was a sign of progress.

Jackson stopped late Tuesday afternoon. He'd caught up with Gary to finish the day's mowing, then come over. He'd called his class schedule correctly and got all the classes he'd planned on. He had the syllabus for each of his classes. Spanish and Music, I wasn't worried about- they looked pretty straight forward. But the other three, English Lit, World History and Psych looked like advanced placement courses. "Wow. I'm impressed. I didn't think that the classes in the local high school would be this comprehensive."

He looked up at me and smiled, "You don't remember I told you we have a Quaker college in town? You don't see any of them cause they're mainly Quakers and go to the Friends Church but having the college in town has raised the standards at the high school. That's why I had one year of Phys-Chem and had two years of Algebra plus Geometry! I didn't get great grades, but at least I didn't have to take Calculus. That would have killed me."

I grinned. "Why, because you're better at the liberal arts than the hard sciences?"

"I guess so, but I can still remember how to do basic algebra formulas and lay out framing with geometry. You saw I built my fort, right?"

We were having fun and I said, "When does the homework start? What are the assignments?"

"That's tomorrow! Today was the meet and greet and walking through the course outline. After our book talk yesterday about Ancient Greece, I'm excited about World History, but it covers a lot of stuff in one year. From Early World Civilizations like China and India and Near East to Greece and Rome and then the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and the Enlightenment and Colonialism and this century!" He was reading from his syllabus. "That's a lot of stuff!"

"Yeah, it is a lot of material, but you've got the whole year, and think how much better you'll be with a handle on the sweep of history when it's complete. What's the syllabus for English Lit?"

He frowned. "That one's really got me worried. I mean it starts with interpreting literature and types of fiction and nonfiction but then listen to this." He picked up the syllabus and started reading, "Poetry, Prose, American Literary Periods, English Literary Periods, Essay Basics and Essay Writing. Geez! I bet this is one class if you get behind, you're done!"

"Could be," I said. "Is Psych any easier looking?"

"I don't think so. It starts with psychological disorders and then there's tons of sections on social psychology and then personality development and social development and all kinds of other stuff. I don't know!"

"I think you're worried because it all sounds very scientific and it's new to you. I mean, you've read a lot all your life so you know you can handle the literature class, right? It's just work. Same for History—you've read lots of historical novels, so it's not a foreign concept. Now there's Psych and most of it is new. But once you get past the newness part, I'm betting you'll do fine because you're bright. And, as an added bonus you may be learning a few things about yourself or even about me!"

He grinned at that. "Maybe you're right, Rev. It'll help us work out our stuff! Maybe I'll end up being your therapist!"

"Come on inside before you go home. You're already my sex therapist, and I'm not sure I need another type of therapist, but I do need some hugging and kissing, and we can't do it out here."

While we were cuddling I asked if he missed doing his paper route in the morning and he said "No, I woke up at the usual time, but then got to go back to sleep and I felt a lot better than usual in the middle of the morning. I guess you were right about the sleep loss and stress and stuff. It'll take a few days to get used to waking up later. But you know what I realized I really missed?"

I knew the answer. I was missing it myself. I nodded, "I sure do, I missed it too, hearing your bike tires in the driveway and then your footsteps crossing the back porch and then your beaming smile as you walked in the back door looking like a second sunrise, and all that love directed my way."

He looked a little pained. "Me too. It wasn't just one of the highlights of my day, those first few weeks after you got here, that's what saved my life. We got to talk and sort ourselves out and tell each other how we felt, and you cooked breakfast, and it was just the best."

I smiled at him. "Okay, let's do this. We promise each other that we've got a standing date for breakfast every Saturday morning. How's that? It would be harder on Sunday with church, and it won't work during the week with school. But, every Saturday. Work for you?"

We kissed to seal the deal. Then he said he needed to get home to get his textbooks organized and figure out his reading assignments for the week before dinner. I asked him to stop by after school the next day. And so, we began to establish a new school-centric schedule which meant I didn't see him in the morning, he came by late afternoons after mowing with Gary, and we were only together on Friday nights, or maybe the exceptional other weekend nights. It was worth it though. He was focused on school and getting good grades, like I sensed he'd never been before. He'd said he was doing it for me, but I also knew he was doing it for himself—that he'd started to see himself in a new light that was positive, and it was time for him to perform to the level he knew he was capable of.

The first week of school didn't have any major assignments, so Jackson did his homework at home, and we talked each day about how the individual classes were developing. How the teachers seemed, where the most work was likely to be. He told me on Wednesday that he'd gotten two girls to join the Harvest Fair committee and had talked to Susan and we were all meeting on Friday after school. He said Gary would cover and he didn't need to mow, and they all could meet right after school. The question what where? In the church hall or here in the parsonage? I told him it would be more comfortable and casual here so that was the plan. Now that school was in session it was difficult for Susan to take Lilly to her therapy sessions, so I was now planning on most Mondays and Fridays. It gave us plenty of time to talk on the way there, but she was usually pretty tired and napping on the return trip.

Friday morning on the way to the hospital she told me that Spencer had visited her on Wednesday and that the divorce would be finalized in the next week, and that he'd drafted her will and was setting up the trust for her assets to go into. He also told her he had made a court date to initiate the emancipation proceedings on the 29th, figuring she'd feel strongest on a Thursday. I made a mental note to put that on my calendar. Observing her, though, I was getting worried because having spent Monday and now Friday with her I couldn't see any improvement in how she felt across the week, but worse yet I couldn't see any improvement compared to the week or two before.

Susan beat Jackson and the rest of the kids to the parsonage on Friday afternoon. To be fair, her classes were over, and Jackson, Will and Tom had Phys Ed as their last class. We chatted for a few minutes, catching up over the first week of school, then the committee started showing up. The new members were two girls from church, Lois, a senior and Kathy, a junior, so they had plenty of volunteers now. I made everyone comfortable and made sure everyone knew that it was a church activity and I was the pastor and ultimately responsible, but it was their show. Meaning that Susan was the advisor providing oversight and the planing and execution was up to them.

Jackson ran the meeting and did a good job of involving everyone. He led them through the things we'd talked about previously based on the fair at my church back home, and he covered them well. Susan agreed on the baked goods idea and said she'd take that piece of it. They discussed what kinds of carnival games were realistic, including Ball and Bucket Toss, Balloon and Dart, Basketball, Big Six-wheel, Bingo and Bottle Stand, and most importantly if they or their Dad's could build the required game parts in time. That led to what the prizes were and the discussion about a raffle and the prizes for that, and pretty soon Jackson had them working up a list of most of the businesses in town that could donate anything from hamburger gift certificates to a big grand prize for the raffle. They were on a roll and had all the businesses assigned out to each of them before long.

Everyone seemed pleased with the planning they'd done, when Jackson sprung in on them. What were they going to do for a grand finale? They kicked around some ideas and then Jackson as much as told Will and Tom that the best way to have a great ending that would keep everyone around and guarantee a good time would be if the band played at the end. There was a lot of give and take on that, but finally it was agreed on too. It was getting close to time-to-be-home-from-school, and everyone got going. I walked them out to the front porch and watched them all leave. Jackson stayed behind for a minute, and I just said, "Way to go! It almost seems like you've done this before."

He grinned. "No, not really, as you know. It's just that I can see good ideas when they're put in front of me and I guess I know how to get other people involved."

"You know what that is, don't you," I asked with a wry smile?


"It's called leadership. A leader is one who inspires others and motivates them to action. Looks to me like you're setting a pretty good pace, Jackson."

He grinned. "Well, I've got someone I have to impress and can't let down. You know him. The guy that set me up for this thing. I've got to get home, but I'll be over later tonight, my Sexy Man."

That made my week! After that it was a pretty quiet evening. Solo suppers are easy, and then I got the sermon prep out of the way. We'd talked about bike riding on Saturday afternoon, and that required a minimum amount of preparation.

When Jackson appeared, I felt him come into my room and woke so as to be able to watch him approach the side of the bed, pull off his shirt and drop his shorts and boxers. He must have thought I was still asleep because he stretched. There was enough moonlight that it shone down his right side, illuminating that side of his beautiful body in silver light, while the left side was dark. The contrast was striking and could have made a beautiful Maxfield Parrish painting as he interlaced his fingers and stretched his hands above his head, arching his spine as his head tipped back and his pelvis pushed forward. He was definitely not just growing but beginning to fill out and develop a more mature musculature.

I whispered, "I could watch that all night, you're so beautiful in the moon light, but what I really want is that gorgeous body right here next to me."

He smiled back, "That's exactly where this beautiful body is heading." He slipped in beside me under the sheets. "Did you hear what I said?"

"Yes. Do you want to tell me about it?"

"I said I have a beautiful body because I've been taking seriously what you've been telling me about seeing myself through your eyes. If you think I'm beautiful, then that's good enough for me."

"If you only knew," I whispered, as I pulled his face to me and started kissing him. He responded passionately, sliding up on my chest, with his arms under mine and wrapped around my torso, making out sensuously as we ground together. He drew back after a couple of minutes, looking me in the eyes. "Am I the only one who missed this during the week?"

"No. I've been desperate to have you in my arms like this. I guess the only consolation to the new school schedule we have to get used to is that we're really ready for each other by the weekend."

He grinned, and the dimples flared. "Not ready, desperate, like you said a couple of minutes ago." Then he dove back onto my lips, ardently pushing his tongue into my mouth. We did tongue battle for a short time, then he slipped down and started nuzzling and kissing and licking my neck, heading for my nipples. Each stroke of his tongue was like a mild shock, and I stroked his shoulders as he focused on stimulating me. He'd turned sideways to me and reached down to run his fingers into my pubes, and I ran my fingertips down his spine, feeling each vertebra till I was at the end, on the tip of his coccyx and at the top of his crack. I slowly started rubbing my middle finger into the top of it. He responded and took my cock in his left hand, slowly stroking as I extended my arm and my finger reached his anus. I reached up and wet it with saliva and when I put it back and it was slicker and slid more easily, and he shuddered. We played with each other like that for a few minutes, before I said, "We're both pretty tightly wound tonight. Why don't we try something new? I'd fantasized about us doing a sixty-nine when we were camping, but the bed of the El Camino was too tight. Want to try?"

He raised his head, smiling at me, "Are you kidding, Rev. I'm for that."

I threw the sheet back, and said, "Okay, we've got a height difference to adjust for, so let's lay diagonally across the bed on our sides. That way there's plenty of room, we don't have to worry about falling off the side of the bed, and I'm not laid out straight. I can bend my back and shorten up and I bet we can make it fit."

I could see a devilish grin. "You had this planned, didn't you?"

"Well, I have been thinking about it. First, though, come up here and kiss me again."

He did and when we were done, I said, "Okay, now let's move across the bed, let's go slow and get in a comfortable position. We'll both have to have one leg raised. See, I've been studying the book! But once we're in position it should be comfortable."

We both moved around so we were diagonal on the bed and Jackson turned to face my groin and started kissing his way down my abdomen. In a minute he was laid out on his side with his lips nuzzling in my pubes, one hand slowly stroking my cock. I scooted around, bending forward and laid my head on his thigh, bringing his cock close to my face so I was able to lick the head. He shuddered again, and I felt him wiggle closer and nature took over. Momentarily we were both licking each other's cocks and slowly started taking them in our mouths.

It was sensuous and erotic and incredibly stimulating, but it was also satisfying in a new and different way. That instead of being overcome by the drive and the passion we could logically talk about and agree on what we wanted to do, decide how to do it, and then engage in a joyously pleasurable experience. And that is exactly what it was. It was slow and sensuous, giving to each other. With us on our sides with one leg up and bent at the knee, it was easy to hold his cock with one hand and use the other to stroke his thighs and bum, and then eventually slip up his crack and stroke his anus. He groaned anew and then I felt him push on my finger and it started to slip into him. I pushed slowly and found his prostate and slowly started stroking it. Within a minute I could feel his finger on mine, stroking it and then slowly slipping inside to be in contact with my prostate. We were both breathing heavily now, as the sensations were being created within and without.

We didn't cum at the same time, but it was close. Jackson came first, bucking in my mouth and groaning on my cock, and shortly afterwards I did too. It was an amazingly intense climax. We both finished taking all of each other's sperm, and then lying with our heads on each other's thighs, enjoying the closeness of the now softening organs that had just been so central to our pleasure. The thought that flashed through my mind was of how the images of ying and yang fit together, tightly connected, but also joined together in a way that completes each other.

Like clockwork, he woke and was leaving at 5:30, which worked great to assure he was home, and in his bed long before Lilly or Gary woke up. I watched him dress, he kissed me goodbye, and said "I'll be back about 7:00 for breakfast. You didn't forget, did you?"

I smiled. "No, I've got all the fixings. I was thinking pancakes and bacon with eggs. How's that sound?" He nodded and headed home. As I lay there waiting to fall back to sleep, I found myself thinking about the day when we wouldn't be playing this game and he wouldn't have to leave, and we could wake in each other's arms like we went to sleep. Someday, somehow!

I was up at 6:45 and had the coffee brewing by 7:00. The bacon was in the frying pay as I heard the tires in the driveway. He walked in the back door smiling widely. "It's another beautiful day, Rev!"

I agreed with him but would have to wait a while to experience it myself. "The coffee should be done if you want to pour two cups. How come you rode your bike?"

After a hug and a sensuous kiss, he poured the coffee and said, "Because I'll catch up with Gary on the mowing job. He'll ride the mower over there, and it'll take too much time to walk."

I drained the bacon and was starting on the eggs and pancakes when I saw him sneak a piece of bacon. "Uh uh! Just hold on a few minutes, and it'll all be ready. I'm glad you came with an appetite though. What time do you need to meet Gary?"

"I told him I'd be there no later than 8:30. Do you want me to do the pancakes? Then you're not doing it all."

"Sure. The heat is already on the griddle and the batter is in that bowl, so ladle away!" With Jackson doing the pancakes and me on the frying pan, we had breakfast on the table pretty quickly.

We were only a few bites in when I saw the grin start on his face. I tried not to smile, and just watched. It kept growing and his eyes were sparkling, like this geyser of humor was boiling up inside him and he could barely control it. Finally, I said, "Okay, give it up. What's so funny?"

He sputtered and stammered and then said, "Well, fortunately we've got this new program of talking to each other candidly and not being afraid of the sex vocabulary, right?" He was giggling now. I nodded my head. "Well, as we started tucking into breakfast, I thought of something kind of crude I heard someone say once."

I nodded again, with a slightly larger smile. "Well," he said, "I was wondering how we could be so hungry this morning when we both dined on tube steaks only a few hours ago." He kept on giggling and then lost it, just breaking up like a kid does over a stupid joke. The joke wasn't funny, but the situation was. I decided to play dumb and see how much mileage I could get out of it. "What do you mean by tube steak?"

He was laughing hard enough he was sputtering, and blushing as he said, "You know, our cocks…. tube steaks!"

"Oh, got it. That's a new one on me, but it was eight hours ago now, so we'd be expected to be hungry again. If you're so focused on tube steaks, who don't you put down that fork and forget that food on your plate and I'll see about serving you up another tube steak." I was wiggling my eyebrows, and he was still laughing, but it was starting to die down.

"Frankly," I said, "I got the joke, but you know how some jokes may be funny but still don't cut it. I'm offended."

He looked at me with a mix of humor and momentary worry. "I mean, I think it's demeaning to refer that beautiful piece of anatomy that you have as a tube steak. I think of the gorgeous shape it has, and the attractive colors, and how it can grow so large when it needs to and the amazing things you can do with it. It's so much more than a tube steak, don't you think?"

He leaned back n his chair, grinning widely at that. "You're too much, Rev. I thought maybe I'd gross you out with my kindergarten joke and you turn it around into some kind of anatomy admiration program!"

"Well, I do admire your anatomy, you know. I admire it very much!"

He leaned over and kissed me, "Sometimes I wonder why you put up with me?"

"I'm pretty sure it's because you're so cute. It kind of stupefies me and makes me forget everything else." I stroked his cheek. "You're the best, Lover Boy. You sure were last night."

He smiled seductively. "I think we both were. It was so cool that we were both so in synch, doing a sixty-nine and massaging each other's prostrate and enjoying providing pleasure to the other, and then the pleasure was returned in such a powerful way."

"I guess so on the powerful part," I said, "I'm still trying to figure that out. I mean, at least for me, the climax is so much more powerful when you're massaging my prostate. It's like it originates deep inside and the sensations emanate from inside instead of just at the head of my cock. Is that the way it is for you too?" I was amazed I was able to say this without stuttering or being embarrassed.

"Yep. It's like it heats up, inside my ass, and the more you massage the warmer it gets and then that warmth starts spreading, and goes up my cock and, well, you know what happens then, my Sexy Man. I never really understood what the word bliss meant until the last few weeks, now I know!"

"It was bliss on my side too, Lover Boy. You are very adept at providing pleasure. Now tell me what's new with school?"

He rolled his eyes. "Most of the classes this week are kind of introductory. You know, these are the expectations, here's what we're going to study, getting the reading assignments laid out and stuff. English Lit is hitting the ground running, guess what the first book we have to read is? It's Frankenstein!

"Really," I said? "I thought it was starting with poetry."

"Well, that's what the syllabus listed, but we're talking now about what makes great literature, the teacher is discussing literature elements like theme, narrative, viewpoint, symbolism, plot structure, and stuff. I'm thinking she's giving us Frankenstein as the first book to catch us off guard—you know, use a horror story to make it seem fun and easy or something!"

"That may not be a bad plan. You seem kind of positive about it. That said though, I think you need to get going if you're going to meet Gary on time. I'll clean up, and when you get back this afternoon, we'll just have to put your bike in the El Camino and head out to the track. No newspaper bags to remove or anything."

He stood up, leaned over and took my face in his hands and kissed me passionately. "Thanks for everything, including breakfast and last night, and for being you. I don't know where I'd be without you in my life right now."

We just looked at each other. No words were necessary. We kissed again briefly, and he headed out for the day's mowing. I cleaned up and did some stuff around the house, and then called my parents to dutifully check in. We hadn't spoken since one quick call they made to let me know they returned home safely after their visit. We chatted briefly about general subjects, and then rang off. It was hard when there wasn't a lot of substance to discuss. I tried to call my brother Michael too, but only got his answering machine and left a message.

Jackson was back about 2:30 and we loaded up his bike and headed for the BMX track, knowing that the day's races would be over and there might be other kids, but we could just chill out and have fun riding. He told me he and Gary would be juggling mowing schedules for the next two weeks because he was going full time at the bike shop for two weeks, so that mean a bunch of evening mowing. He'd already talked to all the clients and gotten their Okay. They were all happy to adjust their schedule with they found out it could help him keep working at the bike shop over the winter when the mowing season was over.

The riding on the BMX course was just plain fun. There were a handful of kids, but most had come and gone with the race schedule earlier in the day. Jackson told me that the next Saturday was Will's big race at a big BMX track in Portland. I told him we should go and provide moral support. He said he'd try and work the schedule with Gary. If it was in the morning it wouldn't be possible. So, we rode and raced each other, did the banked turns and jumps, and he still outperformed me just by virtue of being smaller and lithe. But that was Okay. He was a good bike handler, and in the end, it wasn't about winning for me.

When we got back, Jackson kissed me goodbye in the garage and headed home to be with Lilly and Gary. I had a light supper and gave my sermon notes a final review. It would be an interesting sermon after the challenge I'd struggled with last Sunday. This passage contained three parables, among them the most famous of all.

The passage, Luke 15:1-32 includes the Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Prodigal Son. According to Luke, they were given as Jesus' response to the Pharisees and scribes, who were grumbling amongst themselves about Jesus eating (repeatedly) with the tax collectors and sinners. It was a kind of classic set up, the ultra-righteous religious leaders looking down their noses at the little people.

At their core all of these parables are about repentance, the Greek word meaning to change one's mind. They all illustrate attitudes we need to change our minds about, especially that of the prodigal son, and all at the end reveal a new way of understanding. The first two parables emphasize repentance as a cause for rejoicing; that of the prodigal son says that he came to himself, in other words he finally remembered who he was and by changing his mind, got right with his father. Isn't that what Jesus is asking us all to do?

Susan and Ellen were very positive when we chatted during coffee hour. I smiled, then turned the subject to Lilly, who was also not attending church today. Ellen tried to put a good medical face on it, talking about how many times patients appear to worsen as they go through chemo and radiation therapy, and then start to bounce back when the regimen ends. I asked if she thought that was the case here, because I didn't see much bounce back between Monday and Friday. She demurred and said sometimes it's like that. She didn't sound that convincing, but we all agreed we had two more weeks of therapy, then we'd be in a better position to assess.

I took Lilly to therapy Monday morning, and she told me that Spencer was coming by on Wednesday with a legal update because the divorce was supposed to be finalized that morning. I made a mental note of that. That afternoon I called Paul Gallagher. He was in an appointment, but called me back within an hour, much to my relief.

After we got the pleasantries out of the way, and I apologized for it being a month since I had called and explained what had taken place. He asked for an update from my end. I told him about going to Star Wars, and the interesting connection to Campbells's book, and that I'd gotten an invitation to and attended a lecture about the two. He found that quite interesting, but as we discussed it, he was less interested in the mythology connection per se, as he was with the fact that I had found Atonement with the Father such a central theme. "David, you realize I hope that you are now starting to do your own therapy here? That subject is one of the handful of most important for all persons, and it sounds like you're stating to sort though it for your own life."

I agreed. "I don't think I've gotten very far, because I can confirm there's been no atonement with my father. I mean they visited me for a week, and we hardly talked about anything of substance."

"Achieving atonement with the father usually isn't easy or quick, and it also isn't a guarantee in anyone's life. I think the most important thing is that you're finally coming to grips with the fact that it is central to your life, and something that follows from that is the role that your absentee father has played in your own life, the decisions you made, things like that."

I acknowledged that. "I accept that, but I have to say that I've mainly thought about it from Jackson's point of view. He was raised without his father present, just a bad stepfather. That's a big void, just like Luke Skywalker."

"True enough, but sometimes it's easier to deal with the consequence of no father than it is with those of a present father who didn't live up to expectations. But not to dwell on that, what else has happened?"

I'd debated mentioning it or not but decided to just be candid. "Well, it was my birthday a few weeks ago, and Jackson gave me an album and a very interesting book. It's The Joy of Gay Sex. Have you read it?"

"You're kidding, of course! I'm gay too. Who hasn't read it? This is the guy that backed down the American Psychiatric Association! You know what I mean, that it's because of him that the APA removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. It's amazing because it's not just a 'how to' manual, but actually very practical, don't you think?"

"Absolutely, in the introduction, the way he re-defines the situation of gay men today versus during the classical age was pretty eye-opening, and I'm a guy that never studied the classics. Especially the line about a gay man today has the opportunity become the man he wants to be. That is amazingly liberating."

"You're absolutely right. Now you've got to come to grips with that reality there are the challenges and possibilities that come with it."

"I'm already struggling with the challenges. I don't know how much longer I can do this. I mean being a Presbyterian minister with the church's position as it is, and the degree of deceit and hypocrisy that I'm having to carry. Setting aside the relationship with Jackson, I've been consumed with getting up to speed in a new church and dealing with the family crisis and the two boys and all that, but the challenge is starting to seep through. It's showing up in my preaching. Even Jackson told me he could hear it."

"It's not unusual. You are working through a set of very fundamental propositions about your person and your life. I never said it would be easy, but it's what you want to do. You've already found the key: you now have the opportunity to be the man you want to be, rather than what your family, or society or whatever want you to be."

"You're right about it not being easy. Don't get me wrong, I'm not depressed or anything, just really struggling with the internal conflict."

"Have you received the material I sent you about Evangelicals Concerned?"

"Yes, but frankly I haven't had time to look at it.

"Well, take your time, there's no real rush. Remember, though, this is a para-church organization that's been around since 1974, and their goal is to educate clergy and families about homosexuality, so it will be valuable for you because they provide good information and support. The other thing you should put on your reading list is Margaret Evening's Who Walk Alone. It was published only three years ago by InterVarsity Press (believe it or not!) and she's one of the rare and lucid voices in the Evangelical community. She is a campus chaplain and former missionary, and her practical approach and candor comes through. For instance, she says things like we're all meant to enjoy our sexuality whether we're heterosexual or homosexual. And she has no time for it being dismissed as a disease or psychological condition. And if I remember it correctly, she basically says that if it's a relationship of mature love as opposed to one of immature infatuation, and promotes emotional growth as opposed to self-indulgence, then the result is that the people in the relationship will become more fully human. You don't find too many Christians being that bold today. Contrast that with the position that most Christian denominations take or with Anita Bryant!"

I thought about that description, said it was encouraging and told him I'd try to secure a copy.

We spoke for a while longer, and I told him that I was meeting with the Presbytery liaison the next day, for the first time. He commented that it should give me a better understanding of where I stood organizationally, and the level of openness and tolerance within the Presbytery.

Then he said, "Listen, another reason I'm glad you called today is that I'm going on vacation in early October with my partner. We're going to Europe for two weeks. Can I be on the lookout for anything for you?"

"Paul, that's very thoughtful to ask. Actually, nothing for me, but keep your eyes open for something cool or unique that would be a great gift for a eighteen year old teenager! His birthday is the 26th of October." He said he'd be happy to, and we also agreed to talk again the week before he left for Europe.

Tuesday afternoon both Jackson and Gary came by the house. They'd been able to finish the day's two mowing jobs a little early. As was now our norm, I grabbed three cans of soda and we sat in the shade off the back porch.

I asked what was new, and Jackson came right back with "You won't believe what we learned in World History today. I mean in this town. Do you remember that we're starting out with ancient Near East history, well (and maybe this was to blow our minds) the teacher starts talking about brewing beer? Beer! And he's talking about how the Chinese claim that the first brewed beverage was in China like 9,000 years ago, but he said what's interesting is recent archaeological findings in Sumeria, that's southern Iraq today, and that that's where beer brewing actually began in like for sure before 3,000 BC and maybe as early as 7,000 BC. Is that cool. I mean you drink beer, Rev."

"Wow! That's a lot of brewing history right there. And this was an archaeological discovery?"

"Yeah, in a place called Gordon Tepe or Godwin Tepe, but the even cooler thing…think mythology…is that for the Sumerians, they had a goddess of fermentation, and her name was Ninkasi. Is that cool or what? A goddess of fermentation!"

"That is pretty interesting. You must have a cool history teacher to get into that."

"Well, he's new this year, but he's just teaching us the facts, right. The historical facts. He's making it interesting. I think that's cool."

"You're right about that. So, Gary, did you learn that when you took history?"

Gary furrowed his forehead. "No, history was totally boring for me. I don't remember much except about the big wars and stuff. But guess what? I go full time as bike mechanic next week when the regular guy goes on vacation."

He was clearly excited about the prospect. "That's great. I bet it'll be a challenge juggling the schedule with the mowing, won't it?"

"Yeah, but we've talked to our customers and we do good work, so they're all Okay with us mowing late those two weeks. It'll be great to have the job even for two weeks, maybe it'll be full time next summer. Either way, it'll be more money to repay the loan for the riding mower."

I looked at him. "That's being really responsible, Gary. What happens though, if the word gets around about what a great job you and Jackson do mowing, and you have even more customers next year? How would you be a bike mechanic full time and do that?"

He shrugged. "We've talked about that and I guess it's be a good problem to have."

Jackson chimed in, "We figure we can shift the work around so I can start alone and then Gary can start when he's done at the bike shop and we'll finish up together."

"That's possible," I said, "but what I'm thinking about is that you guys are off to a great start, and the riding mower Mr. Sullivan made possible makes you one of the best lawn mowing options in town. If it takes off, you have the real prospect of starting a successful business. I mean a business that could grow over time to be more than mowing, like landscaping and stuff like that. Have you thought about that?"

He looked at Jackson. "We haven't talked about it like that. Do you think that's a real thing?"

"What? A landscape business? Absolutely, there are lots of them and the opportunity is in doing more than just mowing. You know, doing landscape design and sprinkler system installation and stuff like that."

I watched all of that compute in his mind. Finally, he said, "Yeah, I guess so, but we don't know anything about that stuff."

I smiled at him. "Well, not yet. You know that there are courses offered, don't you?"

"Well, yeah," he replied, "but that means going to school, and that means time and money, and where would I go anyway?"

"Easy, we're talking about landscape classes, right? I'm sure there's a program in landscaping somewhere around here. It's the northwest, and Portland is the Rose City, right? Lots of colleges back east have them. I doubt the college here in town has one, but you should check out the college in McMinnville. Maybe they do, and it's close. You should look into it."

He sounded a little reluctant, but I was watching Jackson, and I could see that the possibilities were registering with him. I could leave it to him to stay on the idea. I turned back to Jackson. "So how is reading Frankenstein coming along?"

"Well, quite well. It was interesting in class because the teacher made a point that a lot of us may have seen the Boris Karloff movie, or the more recent Mel Brooks Young Frankenstein, but she warned us not to get trapped by the story line in the movies—especially the Mel Brooks movie because it was a spoof or a comedy. I've got to be careful about that. I thought Gene Wilder was hilarious and loved the movie. Now I've got to re-learn the story!"

"Challenges, challenges," I replied smiling at him! Gary chuckled and then said, "Come on Jackson, we've got to get home. There's stuff to do."

"Okay. Can I catch up with you in a minute?" Gary nodded knowingly and walked down the driveway.

"He's being very accommodating, isn't he?"

He raised his eyebrows. "It's kind of spooky. Since he confronted you with that "do you love him?" line before we went camping, he's acting like he understands or something. You know, he's supportive and says he likes you and even commented a couple of times about our relationship."

We paused. He hurried on, "I know! We've got to be careful. It's just like with Susan and Ellen. He can't know till my birthday. I'm not saying anything. We'll be careful, Okay. I'm just letting you know that maybe we don't have to be so paranoid. That's all."

I smiled with some relief. "Let's take the cans into the kitchen." We carried the soda cans to the garbage and immediately embraced and fell into a long and passionate kiss.

"I miss you every night," I whispered.

"Don't I know it. On top of Mom, the homework and reading assignments are killing me already!"

I kissed him again. "It's something we've got to do. Once we get past your birthday maybe there will be other options. Who knows? But you've got to make school first and foremost. Right now, that's more important than us being together. Once you get a few weeks into the classes, though, it'll probably start sorting out and feel a lot more manageable. Now get going or Gary will be suspicious." I kissed him again and lightly swatted his butt as he headed for the door.

I could count on Jackson talking to Gary about landscaping classes and how that would benefit the business, but I doubted he would have the time to research landscape programs, so I went into the office and called the college in McMinnville, and had a conversation with the administrative office, where I was told they didn't have a program in landscape and horticulture but that there was one at the Community College in north Salem. I called there and requested they mail me material on their coursework. I also learned that the Fall quarter didn't start until late September. There was, in fact, an option!

The next day I met with the Presbytery liaison. We'd agreed to meet halfway and have lunch at a restaurant just south of Portland. I told myself I'd avoid discussing the mythology lecture and any other potentially problem areas. After the usual introductions and organizational discussion, he appeared to be a nice enough, but also very gung-ho on the "church way and church programs." He was friendly but appeared to have little tolerance for behavior outside the norm. I said it was too bad I'd arrived just a little too late to miss the most recent Presbytery meeting in early July, and he said it was pretty status quo. What he meant was that there weren't a lot of really hot issues discussed but went on to say that there was some discussion of the Presbyterian Church position on homosexuality, but it wasn't an agenda item, so it was shut down. He grinned and said it would be an agenda item for the November Presbytery meeting, and that there would probably be fireworks then! I wasn't sure what to make of that comment and decided to just let it slide. He made it clear his goal was to meet at least quarterly to stay in touch and support where he could, which I appreciated.

We walked out to the parking lot and came to my vehicle first. He asked me what it was, and I explained the concept behind an El Camino, and that for me without a family it was a great combination of car comfort and utility. He raised his eyebrows and then laughed, "You sure have unusual tastes in cars!" I just smiled, thinking to myself "if only he knew what else I have unusual tastes in!" I headed back to Newberg, very happy I was in a small rural town where I couldn't be easily forced into regular and frequent meetings!

The evening event was the monthly Session meeting where I was to report on the completed Church Camp, and fortunately the good news had preceded me about how the camp was run and how much fun everyone had. I walked them through the venues visited, again sang Susan's organizational praises, gave much credit to the counselors who made each day work and did so on schedule, and was able to report we came in a little under budget. Spencer made sure that I got a round of appreciation, which was thoughtful, but I simply said that success with something like this is directly tied to teamwork, and we had a great team that worked together!

Thursday some coursework information came from the community college about their horticulture program. If Gary had the inclination it might be just the thing. It was a one year program, kind of like getting a technical certificate, and described the course purpose as being able to perform skills and use equipment to care and grow plants in nurseries and greenhouses, recognize, name and understand management needs for plants grown in Oregon nurseries and greenhouses, and do basic landscape design. I called the administrative office back and found out that there was still time to register and enroll, as the classes didn't actually start for another ten days. The program was three quarters packed into the school year that concluded in mid-June. I explained who I was and that the son of a church member that had been going through some serious family troubles might be interested. She strongly suggested we visit the campus as soon as possible and then apply in person. I thanked her and told her I hoped to be back to her the next day or Monday.

Jackson and Gary came by after mowing and I told them we needed to talk. We grabbed sodas and headed to the back yard in the shade. I told Gary about my horticulture and landscaping investigation and what it had turned up. He started out suspicious, then his expression was one of disbelief. "You did this for me?"

"Of course. Why wouldn't I? Can you see that with some formal course work you'd broaden your knowledge a lot and could build a real business?"

"Well, yeah. And Jackson's been talking to me about that today too. Have you guys been plotting or something?"

I glanced at Jackson and smiled. "Scout's honor, Gary, we didn't discuss this at all since we all talked about it on Tuesday. I just figured you'd be busy enough mowing that it would be hard to do the research, so I did it. Now listen, this is serious. The Community College has the program. Do you know where they are in north Salem?" He said he knew about where it was.

I went on telling him about the program being three quarters in one year, that it was a technical certificate not a degree program, with three classes per quarter, and handed him the class list.

He seemed more excited as he realized this was both a reality and possible. He perused the class list that included: Introduction to Horticulture, Soil Science, Plant Nutrition, Nursery Production and Management, Pest Management: Insects and Diseases, Plant Identification course, Weed Management, Landscape Design and Cooperative Work Experience.

He looked up a little chagrinned. "Wow, all of that in one year? How would I do that? And how would I pay for it?"

I smiled. "Let's start with the basics and go step by step, Okay. Put all the constraints and reasons why you can't do this aside. So, first, are you interested?"

He nodded. "Okay then," I went on, "if we can work out the cost and all that other stuff do you want to do this? The Fall term starts on September 23. There's time to make it happen, but we have to move on it."

He looked at Jackson, who jumped right in. "Gary, you've got to do this. You've talked about a technical certificate of some sort and this summer while we've mowed you talked about landscaping. Listen, Bud's out of our lives. He's the one that always put you down and said you couldn't do stuff and didn't want you to go to school after high school because he wanted you for cheap labor in his machine shop. It's time to think about you. You can do this. You want to do this, I know it. You've got to do it Gary. At least you've got to check it out."

Gary was silent, but slowing a smile emerged and his eyes got happy and he asked us both, "Do you think I can do this? Really?"

Jackson was enthusiastic. I simply said, "Gary you can do this if you want to. And we'll do everything we can to make it happen and help you through it. There are three classes a quarter in this program, and we'll have to find out the class schedule. Susan, I mean Miss Albright, is taking your Mom to therapy tomorrow, so I'll come over and talk to her this evening. If she agrees, then first thing in the morning I'll call the administrative office at the college and try and arrange a campus visit tomorrow afternoon or no later than Monday."

His smile was broadening. "Now, though, there's a real practical issue, and it's a decision point. You can't do this and go full time for two weeks as the mechanic at the bike shop. It'll be hard enough to start this program and still do your mowing customers till the end of the season. But I'm serious enough about helping you do this, that I'll mow lawns for you if that's what it takes."

He was silent, though the smile was still on his face, and he was close to getting teary. "You''re serious, aren't you" he squeaked out?"

I didn't want to embarrass him. "Listen, you guys head home. Talk this over. Talk about the issues and the trade offs and the opportunity, Okay. Tell your Mom I'll come over after dinner."

They both agreed and headed home. I waited until after 7:00 PM and walked down to the Harris home. Jackson answered the door when I rang the bell, and I walked into a house that still smelled of dinner. "That smells good! What was for dinner?"

Jackson grinned. "Stuffed green peppers with mashed potatoes. Mom made it, and Gary and I cooked it. Does it still smell good, really?"

"Sure does. You should come over and cook me dinner sometime," I said softly. Then louder I went on, "I dropped over to see your Mom, is she available?"

Jackson took the hint and said, "Sure is, Pastor Dave, she's in the living room. Come on in."

We said our hellos and Jackson said he had homework to do and headed upstairs. I came right to the point with Lilly. "Has Gary spoken to you about our conversation regarding the landscaping and horticulture program and the Community College?"

She smiled and said, "Both of them have. Jackson is being the main cheerleader, but I'm encouraged that Gary is really interested and seems to want to do it. He hasn't seemed to want to do anything for a long time."

"Can we talk candidly?" She nodded. "My read is that he's just starting to get out from under the dark cloud Bud laid on him. He's shown real interest and ability this summer with the mowing business and it has real possibilities. And by that, I mean not just being a summer job, but growing into his own landscaping business. On top of that, he's warming up personally. I know Jackson wants to go to college and Gary doesn't have the grades, but he can probably get into this program. If he can then it will be a big boost to his self-esteem, to say nothing of his career possibilities. Before I go any further, though, I need to know if you see it the same way."

She was nodding her head, and said, "I do. I'm thrilled to see him coming out of his shell, like Jackson has over the last month or two. I've worried about what he'll do with his life and where'll he'll end up, especially if he spends too long as a bicycle mechanic. I mean that's good work, but it won't provide any financial security long term will it?"

"No, it won't," I agreed, "but this course work has the promise of giving him a foundation to have his own successful business. When Jackson goes to college, he may not be mowing lawns with Gary. But if Gary can expand the business beyond mowing, he could be on his way. So, if you agree, I'm suggesting that I'll arrange for a campus visit tomorrow or Monday. We need to get moving on this because we've only got ten days before classes start. When we're there I'll get the tuition information, so we'll know how much it will cost. If we can get him enrolled and work out the finances, will you let him use your car, since he'll have to commute to north Salem for class?

She nodded. "Of course. We don't have a lot in savings, but the main purpose was for education, and the child support is supposed to start next month Spencer told me on Wednesday, so I think I can handle the tuition and books costs."

I told her if I needed to help financially I would, this was that important. "If you're in agreement, I'll go up and talk to the boys and tell them the plan, then I'll call the college in the morning to set up the campus visit."

She nodded again. "That would be wonderful. Thanks, so much for caring about both Gary and Jackson. I know it would be easy to ignore Gary, but he's basically a good person too, and needs the kind of help along the way that you're suggesting."

I went upstairs and knocked on the doors to both their rooms. They both popped out in a few seconds wondering who was knocking, then saw it was me. "Where can we talk," I asked?

Jackson said, "Come in my room, it's more organized," and grinned! We all followed him through the door, and I described to them what Lilly and I had discussed and agreed on, contingent on Gary's final decision.

"So, what have you decided?"

Gary smiled, and hesitantly said, "I want to do it, but I'm nervous because I wasn't that great a student in high school."

"Okay, that's fine," I said, "but you know what's different now? You want to do this and compared to high school you can see how it will directly benefit you. On top of that, you're got a support group, us and your Mom and Susan and Ellen, who want to help you do this and succeed. If we can make it happen, we'll take care of the finances side, and your Mom will let you drive her car to go to class. And we'll all work together to make it happen. It's that simple. And on top of all that, you'll have Jackson right here to help you with your homework."

He grinned at that and Jackson made a sour face. "Right, Rev! Like I know a lot about horticulture."

I just wiggled my eyebrows. "Okay, here's the plan then. I'll call in the morning and try for tomorrow afternoon. If we can do that, I'll let you know in the morning. You may have to move some mowing jobs around or shift them to Saturday. If so, then we'll drive down in the El Camino and try to get this all sorted out and you can apply in person while you're there. Sound good?"

He nodded, with a grin on his face. "I can't believe this is happening. I still can't figure out why you guys are doing this for me."

"Gary, look at me." He did. "Remember the story about the puppy, and the difference between bad people and good people who occasionally do bad things? Remember what I had you say to me when we had that conversation? Well, that's why were doing it, because you're good people. Just hold onto that thought. Okay, I'm going to head home and I'll talk to you in the morning as soon as I know something."

Jackson walked me downstairs. I said goodbye to Lilly and told her I hoped she had a good therapy session in the morning. Jackson walked me to the door and couldn't resist a hug and whispered, "I'm coming over later, my Sexy Man!"

I whispered something about it only being Thursday, and he said "I don't' care. I can't wait any longer."

I walked home feeling upbeat, because with Lilly's health compounded with homework now that school had begun, Fridays or Saturdays had become our only real possible nights together. which created anticipation all week, and also tested our relationship in new ways. I was already fantasizing about having him in my arms again.

I suppose it was again about 11:00 PM when Jackson leaned down and kissed me. I woke up pretty quickly, and he lifted the sheets and slipped in next to me. I whispered, "No sitting in the chair, no clambering up under the sheets?"

"Nope. I kissed you because I wanted to wake you up simply. You look so relaxed when you're asleep, and then when you wake up you have such a sweet and innocent look on your face that just gets me really excited. See?" With that he took my left hand and put it on his hard cock.

"See what you do to me, my Sexy Man?"

I pulled him to me tightly. "I love you so much, my Beautiful Boy." I hadn't let go of his cock, and his hand had now gotten a grip on mine. "I've so missed our times together during the week. No guilt trip, it is what it is now, like we said the other day, but I just want you to know how much you mean to me and what you've done to my heart."

He was licking and kissing my neck, and I released him for a deep and passionate kiss. I could tell both of us were pretty tightly wound and wouldn't last long. "Is this Okay with you, just holding each other and me stroking your beautiful cock?"

I could feel him smile. "As long as I get to hold on to this one," he said, as he stroked mine all the way down and back up. "Oh, careful, I don't know how long I can last."

"It doesn't matter, my Sexy Man. What matters is how much I love you too. The rest is a bonus."

Within a couple of minutes, we'd both cum and shot on each other's stomach and needed the pillowcase to clean up. I know we drifted off, but it didn't last long because I woke to that wonderful feeling of his lips nuzzling my pubes and knew where he was headed. I threw the sheet back and whispered, "Swing around across the bed."

We were in a luscious sixty-nine position momentarily, and both lasted much longer this time. I loved the silken feeling of his cock sliding on my tongue and slipping to the back of my throat. I was rubbing his anus, and he was mine, and we both were moaning loudly this time, feeling the sensations of climax much more intensely. We came into each other's mouths only a bit apart, and clasped each other, resting our heads on each other's thighs and reveling in the peace and comfort and love.

Somehow, we got back into sleeping positions, and apparently slept through the night. To my amazement he was awake and up at 5:30 and kissed me goodbye.

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