A Friend of the Devil

by Bensiamin

Chapter 22

Friday morning, I called the administrative office at the Community College and was was able to speak to the same person and arrange a campus visit at 3:00 PM that afternoon. She told me the head of the horticulture program might be available and to check with her when we got on campus.

I ran Jackson and Gary down on their first job and gave him the news and told him we'd need to leave at 2:00 PM, so he'd need to head home early and clean up, to wear slacks and a decent shirt, and we'd go give it a run. Jackson said not to worry, he'd finish up the afternoon mowing.

I pulled in the Harris driveway at 2:00 and a cleaned-up Gary came out the front door. He looked quite reputable. If it had been Jackson, I could have kidded him about cleaning up pretty well, but Gary was still pretty sensitive, so I just said hello and bit my lip. We chatted about various stuff on the way to Salem. Finally, I asked him if he was nervous.

"Well, yeah. I haven't done this before."

"I know you haven't. But can I tell you something? You know what I see right now? I see a competent professional looking college applicant. He's finished high school, he's been a partner in a successful mowing business all summer, he's got the best equipment of any mowing business in town, he wants to learn more about the Community College's horticulture and landscaping program and is also considering applying to it."

He looked a little skeptical. "Well that all sounds good. I guess I've got to live up to that, right?"

"Yes, that's the image you want to project. It's not a lie. It's all true. You just want to project a positive and assured image, that's all."

"Okay, I hear that. What do you mean 'considering applying to' the program?"

"Oh, that's easy. You don't want to seem too anxious. You want to create a feeling that you're not desperate for it. You want them to want you before they find out you want them more. You know, like with dating girls." I smiled at him.

"Well, I don't have much experience with girls either, but I think I know what you're telling me. Don't come off nervous or too anxious, right?"

"That's it. You want to appear to be cool, calm and collected."

He rolled his eyes at that! We parked on campus at about ten minutes before the hour and found our way to the Admin building. The college had been founded in 1974 so it was a mix of permanent and temporary buildings but gave off the air of being together and well organized. The administrative person I had spoken to gave us a quick tour of the campus, then we reviewed the horticulture and landscape program and she offered to introduce us to the program director. She walked us down down a couple of flights of stairs and to the right office and introduced us to the director, named Horace McFall. He was a very pleasant and professional man and seemed happy to meet Gary. He explained the program to him and then asked Gary to tell him a little about himself.

Gary requited himself well. He wasn't embarrassed and said he hadn't been a good student in high school mainly because of a lot of family problems that had recently been resolved. Mr. McFall looked at me and I nodded. Gary went on that he and his brother had started a lawn mowing business this summer and it had gone really well, and he'd realized he was really interested in landscaping and that I'd encouraged him to pursue the horticulture and landscaping program. Mr. McFall asked him a few questions about his lawn mowing business, how it worked and why it was successful. Gary basically answered him that it was a combination of hard work, good planning and good equipment. McFall was curious about the good equipment part and Gary told him they'd had the opportunity to get financing to buy a riding mower, and that meant they could do more jobs faster and if their plan held together they'd have it paid off before next summer.

McFall seemed quite impressed and after they briefly discussed the individual classes told Gary that the classes were not yet filled, and that he'd encourage him to apply. But, if he was interested in doing so he should go back up to the Admin office this afternoon and apply in person, since the term start date was so close. We agreed to do so and thanked him for his time and went back to Admin. Gary filled out the application, left his high school grade transcript that he'd brought with him, and I got the brochure with the tuition costs.

On the drive home he was quiet for a while and I gave him his space. Finally, I asked what he thought about the idea and the program now that he'd seen it in person. He finally said, "I like the idea even more and the program seems just right for me. I'm still not sure though."

"Not sure of what?"

"Well, you know," he said quietly, "if I'm up to it."

"Are you worried about if you're up to it or if you deserve it?"

He looked at me hard. "Why do you say that?"

"Because, Gary, I think you're struggling with self-image problems. You don't think you're good enough. Like you're not worth it. I'm being direct with you about this because you are worth it. I told you before you're a good person and you are. Now I'm telling you that you deserve this. You just have to decide you want to do it and want to make the best of it. It's like I told Jackson about going to college. He's gotten decent grades but not great grades, because he had a lot of the same problems you had. What I said to him is it's not too late to get good grades and get into a decent college. He's got to study hard and get A's and if he does that this year, especially if he does it this quarter he can make the case that he figured out his problems and got his shit together and now is a good student."

Gary cracked up. "Got his shit together! I didn't think you swore Pastor Dave."

"Oh, I swear when it's appropriate. I'm sure Jackson's told you. But the deal is the same for you. You just have to decide you deserve this and are going to make a success of it, and you'll be on your way. What do you say?"

He was quiet for a while. Finally, he said, "I haven't convinced myself yet, but I believe you, so I'm going to give it my best shot. How's that?"

"That's all we can ask for. There'll be a lot of work, and a lot of studying and a lot of driving, but you can handle it. You can do this, and we're all here to help."

At that point we were on the bridge over the Willamette River and just south of Newberg. "How do you think your Mom's doing with the chemo sessions," I asked?

"I don't see her getting any better, but she told us that's the way it is a lot of the time. There's two more weeks so we're hoping then we see her get better."

I agreed. "That's the hope!" We were pulling in his driveway a couple of minutes later. He thanked me for the ride and the time and all the help.

I shook his hand, then pulled him over for a hug. "Glad to help. That's what we're here for, to help one another! See you this weekend."

To my astonishment, I woke up at 11:00 PM or so to another kiss and a warm and supple body slipping between the sheets and cuddling up next to me.

"To what do I owe this visit," I whispered?

"I just had to come. I had to be with you. It's never been happier in our house. Gary is acting like a different person, like he's happy for the first time ever. And it's all thanks to you."

"No, it's not all thanks to me. It's thanks to all of us and all the stuff that's happened over the last couple of months. I've just been kind of a catalyst."

"Oh, come on! Don't be so humble. You're selling yourself short. You've done a lot since you got here."

"Maybe, Lover Boy, but if you want to get really analytical about it, do you think I would, or could, have done any of this stuff you're giving me credit for if I hadn't fallen head over heels in love with this really cute guy who got me in touch with who I am and who I want to be? I don't. But, enough of all that. Now that you're here, I want a deep passionate kiss, and then I want to feel your wonderful body and we'll follow that with some delicious lovemaking. How's that sound?" He giggled and kissed me, and our tongues started their dance.

About 5:30 I felt him slip out and dress next to the bed. I grasped his hand and kissed the back of it and whispered, "I'll see you for breakfast about 7:30, Okay?" He gave me a quick kiss, nodding his head.

Breakfast in the morning was classic bacon and eggs, and I poured Jackson a cup of coffee as I saw him coming up the driveway. I still thrilled to see his smiling face cross the back porch and walk into the kitchen, as if he was a messenger from the heavens bearing shafts of sunlight with him.

He certainly fit the bill in my eyes: like Helios he was a handsome young man who entered the house in the morning shining sunlight into the room. The only thing missing was the chariot of the sun that he drove across the sky each day. I knew I was lost in love, and probably only remembered enough about Greek mythology to get into trouble, but that's how I felt each morning when he came into the kitchen. I suppose the test would come in January when it was still pitch black and pouring rain. Then we'd see how much radiance there was!

After we'd had a hug and kiss and he'd had a few sips of coffee I said, "Okay, it's bacon and eggs this morning. How do you want your eggs, and will you put the toast in when I start the eggs?"

He smiled and said, "Over easy would be great. But, don't break the yolks!"

I grinned and slipped the bacon into the frying pan. He came over next to me and slipped his arm around my waist. It felt so complete and so domestic at the same time. I leaned over to kiss the top of his head and paused. "You know what," I said? He looked up.

"Two months ago I could do this and lean over and kiss the top of your head easily. It's harder to reach now. You have been growing. Have you measured your height lately?"

He grinned. "Nope, but I'll take your word on that. The only thing I've been worrying about growing is my cock. I want you to be happy with it like I'm happy with yours."

I smiled and hugged him. "Gosh, I guess we're a couple. In fact, a contemporary gay couple. We can talk so freely about all this stuff now. I'm thrilled you are happy with my cock, and I'm equally happy with yours. You know I think it's one of the most beautiful things about you, don't you? In fact, I was thinking that last night as I took it in my mouth!"

He grinned and acted just a touch embarrassed. "Okay, Rev, you got me there! I do love you so, though. And after last night, I don't know what to think. And, I don't just mean the sex. I talked to Gary for a while after you left Thursday night. He was crying. But I think they were tears of joy. He couldn't believe you're doing what you're doing for him. Deep down he still thinks you ought to hate him, not do things like this for him. I tried to tell him that puppy stuff again, about being good and doing bad things, but I'm not sure he really believes it yet. And after you guys got back from Salem, last night he was suddenly positive like he had hope in himself."

"He's been told he was a piece of shit for years, and treated that way too, so he started believing it a long time ago. It's going to take time for him to get beyond it. You were treated the same way, Lover Boy, but there's a big difference in personality. You didn't buy it and were just rebellious enough not to accept it and let it become it part of you. You'd even developed an escape plan of sorts! Gary can get over this if he can build his self-esteem. That's why doing this course work is so important. He'll prove something to himself. Then if he can expand the mowing business, he'll prove something else to himself and it can go on from there."

"I get it, I'm just saying that you're doing it while most people stood around and either made him feel shitty or ignored it."

"Well, you know, I really believe what I said when I preached on the Parable of the Good Samaritan. That's all I'm doing. Trying to be accepting and care for the injured. Remember what I think I told you about the concept of the church as a hospital? If we'd all act that way, it would be a much more pleasant world, don't you think? Now, get the bread out for the toaster. I'm putting the eggs on!"

Three minutes later we were sitting down to breakfast. "How are you coming on Frankenstein?"

"Well, it's not written in modern English, so it takes concentration, and that takes time. And that's on top of the History and the Psych reading! I don't remember getting this much homework last year! Anyway, the story is interesting. Did you know it was published in 1818 when Mary Shelley was twenty years old? I mean that's not much older than me! When we were discussing the book, our teacher said that Mary, Percy Shelley, who became her husband, and Lord Byron decided to have a competition to see who could write the best horror story. Mary Shelley comes up with the story about a scientist who created life and was horrified by what he had created. That became the monster in Frankenstein."

"I guess I knew some of that," I said, "but not all the details. Where are you in the story?"

"Have you ever read it," he asked? I shook my head and said, "I saw the movies!"

"Well, the novel set up is really cool. It's what they call a frame story, meaning a story within a story, because it's made up of letters from an explorer named Captain Robert Walton, who has flopped as a writer and is on an expedition to the North Pole where he figures he's going to become famous. But during the voyage they see a dog sled driven by this big figure and later they rescue this guy who turns out be be Victor Frankenstein. He's been pursuing the big man Walton saw, and starts to tell Walton his story. You see, Frankenstein is the name of the guy who made the big man, not the name of the monster! Did you know that?"

"I don't think that was made clear in the movie, was it?"

"No, our teacher said the original story gets pretty confused in the movie. Anyway, don't ask me about the subtitle, the part about 'The Modern Prometheus' since I haven't gotten that far and need to find out who Prometheus is."

"You're really into this, aren't you, Jackson?"

He smiled. "Yeah, I think it's a great story, and analyzing the way it's written is really cool too. I guess the teacher was right in picking this one to start with, to get us hooked on good literature. It also means I've had to put The Last of the Wine aside for now." He giggled at that, then looked at the clock and said, "Geez, Rev. I've got to get going. I didn't realize I was talking so much. Thanks for breakfast and for what you're doing for Gary. I'll see you this afternoon. Hopefully we'll be done mowing early enough that we can go see Will race." He kissed me and was out the door.

I cleaned up breakfast leisurely and then spent some time finishing up my sermon prep, which I'd fallen behind on this week. Jackson wasn't back by 2:00 PM so I knew we wouldn't have time to see Will race since the BMX track, he was riding on this afternoon was on the other side of Portland. He finally made it over about 3:30. When I asked what happened he got embarrassed. "We ran out of gas on the riding mower, then had to borrow a gas can and walk to the station. It was so embarrassing and wasted a whole hour! They need to put gas gauges on those things."

I grinned. "Or, you could check the fuel level each day! I remember I ran out of gas one day the summer after high school when I was still living at home and I had to call my Dad. He drove down in his Cadillac, pulled up where I told him I was, got out of the car and opened the trunk and pointed at a filled gas can. After I poured it in the gas tank of my car, I placed it back and shut the trunk. Then he said to me, "It's just as easy to keep the top half filled as it is the bottom half." Then he got in his car and drove away. That's all he said. It sure made the point."

"I guess it did make the point, but that was kind of cruel, wasn't it," he asked?

"I suppose so, but that's the kind of guy he was. Or is! Anyway, I haven't run out of gas since, and I'm betting you don't now either." It was late enough in the afternoon that we just spent some time together. I put on the Foreigner album he'd given me for my birthday, and we sat in the living room and talked about school and life and bicycles and the weather. We'd reached the point where we could just enjoy being together, there didn't have to be a subject or an agenda. We could just be together. It was so liberating! Before he went home, I suggested he ask Lilly and Gary if they all wanted to come over for dinner Sunday evening. I told him it wouldn't be fancy, probably Lasagna and salad, but it would be one less thing for them to do, and fun for us all to get together. He told me he'd ask and let me know at church.

Once again, the service was well organized, and the choir sounded splendid. Lilly was there with the boys, but she looked pretty drained. This Sunday's passage was the next reading in Luke, chapter 16: 1-13, the Parable of the Dishonest Steward, about what today we would call a manager who was caught being dishonest and about to lose his job. He doesn't want to become a laborer or a charity case, so he goes to all the people who owe money to his employer and lowers their debts to increase collections and win favor with them. Then, to everyone's surprise, the employer commends the manager for his shrewdness. I pointed out that it shouldn't be lost on anyone that this parable follows the one about the Prodigal Son and redemption after coming to his senses. Both the dishonest manager and the prodigal son had squandered that which was entrusted to them.

I pointed out that the Greek word we now translate as shrewd can also mean prudent or wise, and that what is being commended is not the dishonesty but that when caught out, the manager changes his behavior to the employer's benefit. In other words, he has realized he can't serve two masters and has realigned his priorities with those of his employer. That is consistent with what we've been reading across Luke, about understanding the call of the Kingdom and living lives consistent with the values of the Kingdom.

As they were leaving at the end of the service, Lilly acknowledged the dinner invitation and asked if I was sure I wanted to go to all that bother. I told her it was really no bother and I wouldn't have offered if I didn't want to. She accepted and we agreed they'd all come over about 6:30 PM. That was when Jackson walked up with Will in tow and interrupted us to let us know Will had run his BMX race the day before and just got moved up to Expert level. Jackson was thrilled, "It means he qualifies for regionals and has a big race next month! How cool is that?" Will was beaming and blushing at the same time. I congratulated him and continued greeting the rest of the members.

At the end of coffee hour Susan and Ellen and I had what was now becoming our weekly chat. Susan volunteered that there had been a brief meeting of the Harvest Fair committee after school on Friday and they were hard at work on the prize and raffle contributions. We both agreed we needed another formal meeting the coming Friday to really assess where we stood. I asked if Lilly had broached the subject of being trustees with them?

Susan said she had on the drive to the hospital on Friday but wanted to confirm it was as straight forward as Lilly had made it sound. I smiled, "On the surface I think so, but things are never as simple as they appear in this life, right? The first part is that she has approved Spencer's suggestion that he petition the court on her and the boy's behalf to grant them emancipated status, so they are out from under Bud's parental control and oversight. That addresses the legal reality that in the eyes of the law they're still minors and if she dies before they're twenty-one, Bud could reassert himself in unpleasant ways. Then she's planning for the future and putting her assets, which are mainly the house, into a trust, for which she's asking that we be the trustees. The point is simply that after emancipation they would be viewed as adults in the eyes of the law, but are still young, and have limited experience and need adult guidance mainly on financial matters."

They both said that Lilly hadn't explained the emancipation part, but that given Bud's behavior and vindictiveness, planning for the worst out of him in her absence made good sense and they were pleased Spencer had suggested it. They both had agreed to be trustees and were especially happy when I told them about recent developments with Gary and that he'd applied for the horticulture and landscaping course at the community college. I explained the short timeline we were working on and asked if they'd both write letters of recommendation for him, since he didn't have a strong GPA, and character recommendations probably would help significantly. They said they'd be happy to, and I asked if I could pick them up in the afternoon, because I needed to be back to prepare dinner for Lilly and the boys for this evening, and wanted to deliver the letters in person the next day. We agreed I could swing by their house anytime after 3:00 PM.

I went home and typed up my letter, and picked up theirs later in the afternoon, and then headed home to prepare the lasagna pasta and make the meat sauce. I'd learned what cooking skills I had from the cook my parents employed in Philadelphia. She cooked for us on weekends, and many Saturday mornings had included food prep and cooking lessons. I had the lasagna assembled and in the oven by 5:45, put a green salad together with dressing ready to add later, and prepared some garlic bread ready to go into the oven. Before I left Susan and Ellen's home, they had given me a peach cobbler with large smiles and the comment that I wouldn't have to worry about preparing dessert as well as dinner!

I had the table set and just had time to wash up and put on a fresh shirt with the doorbell rang, and I led them all into the living room. The first order of business was something to drink, and while wine would have been nice, especially with dinner, it wouldn't do with a parent in AA, so we all settled for soft drinks. Jackson offered to get them, and we sat down and talked for a few minutes while Simon and Garfunkel played in the background. Lilly was quite excited about Gary having applied and the prospect of his being accepted, and I debated telling them about the letters of recommendation but decided against it at the moment. I'd fill Gary in later. She commented on the classes Jackson was taking and the amount of homework already and how serious he seemed about doing the assignments. I smiled and asked if he'd told her about the secret ploy the English Lit teacher used? She frowned and I explained how she started out with Frankenstein instead of poetry or a Shakespeare play, and that appeared to have achieved high engagement—at least with Jackson. He grinned and Lilly smiled and commented about how he was reading up a storm.

The dinner came off well, and the lasagna tasted as good as when Dolores used to make it at home. You can't beat a good family recipe. Lilly was impressed, but I pointed out how simple lasagna really was, and said the highlight would be the dessert that Susan and Ellen had given me, using what was likely the last of the late summer peach crop. The cobbler was a huge hit, and almost all of it was consumed. We chatted casually after dinner and Lilly asked how soon Gary was likely to hear about the application, and my response was that with classes starting a week from the next day it would have to be by Wednesday or Thursday of the coming week. She nodded and said she'd looked over the tuition costs and was sure they could be covered. She was starting to look tired and said she needed to head home and lay down, and Jackson acknowledged he had homework left to complete as well, and they took their leave by 8:00 PM.

I called in the morning and spoke to the same lady in the administrative office and asked her when would be a convenient time to drop by some letters of recommendation to go with Gary's application? She thought for a minute and suggested 1:00 PM would be an optimal time and I left around noon to be there on time. When I got to the admin office we exchanged greetings, and I explained that I thought letters of recommendation might help given Gary's mediocre grades and the short timeline we were working on, and she smiled knowingly and commented that it was a very good idea. She asked me if I had a few minutes, and when I nodded, she asked me to take a seat while she made a phone call. I wondered what she was thinking, but she'd been very helpful so far, so sat down while she made her call. She came back in a minute and said, "I just spoke to Professor McFall, you remember you and Gary met with him on Friday?"

I nodded, and she went on, "Well, the application went to him this morning, and I'll tell you between us, that we're so close to classes starting that there won't be time for the application to be processed normally, meaning through an application committee. It will essentially be Professor McFall's decision. He'd like so speak to you while you're here this afternoon. Do you remember how to get to his office from here?"

I nodded again and thanked her profusely. She smiled broadly and said, "Community colleges have a mission that is broader than just academics. A lot of it is assisting people in the community. I think you'll find that's what Professor McFall would like to speak to you about."

I easily found my way back to his office, knocked and heard him call, "Come in," and did so. He rose from his desk and greeted me. He smiled broadly as he brought me in and said, I think this is the first time I've had a minister in clerical garb in this office. It's an honor!"

I smiled back, just a tad embarrassed, but had purposefully worn my clergy shirt and collar with a dark jacket. One never knows what circumstances one might encounter! He showed me to a seat across his desk, resumed his seat in his desk chair and said, "Tell me a bit about yourself."

I filled him in on graduating from Yale, attending seminary, recently graduating and accepting my first church appointment in Newberg just this past July. "The summer has been quite a blur; I can tell you."

"I'm sure, I'm sure," he exclaimed. "But let's get to the business at hand. You know, I received and reviewed Gary Harris' application this morning. I'm very glad he completed it in person on Friday. I was quite taken with him when we spoke, and with the fact that you appear to have initiated this and drove him down here….and now you're back in my office today."

I smiled and said, "Well, Professor McFall, I'm sure you know the passage in the Gospel about bearing one and other's burdens. It's no more complicated than that."

He smiled knowingly. "I'll accept that as a starting point, but have to tell you that I planned on calling you by phone today, and having you here in person makes what I wanted to discuss with you so much easier and less uncomfortable. Now that I've reviewed his application and his transcript and add that to the conversation the three of us had on Friday, I'm in a bit of a quandary. He doesn't have the best of grades from high school, as I'm sure you know, and I noticed you accompanied him not a parent. That said, there's something about him that's I don't know, is compelling, and I wanted to speak to you about the circumstances."

"The reason is that this is a relatively new community college, and while I appreciate the academic rigor of Ivy League universities like Yale, community colleges have a significantly different mission. In addition to education they include workforce training, remediating students and community enrichment. When I think back on our conversation together on Friday and compare that with his transcripts, reading between the lines I think I detect some major problems in his background, and perhaps some recent and significant changes or improvements. He spoke about family problems himself. Am I correct in my assumptions?"

I smiled again, appreciating both his candor and empathy. "Yes, Professor McFall, you are correct. You'll understand that as his pastor, I'm constrained by confidentiality, but I can tell you what's public record. He and his younger brother have had a number of very bad years with an abusive father who is now in jail serving a term for repeat physical abuse. The parents are getting divorced. The mother has a cancer diagnosis. But in spite of all that, Gary has turned a corner this summer after getting out from under the father's abuse. Unfortunately, when turnarounds like this happen, it's too late to change a poor GPA."

Professor McFall nodded. "Go on. On the personal level?"

"As you know, he started a business with his brother, they've done well, he volunteers as a bicycle mechanic at the local BMX track, he and his brother have rebuilt their relationship, and he has realized he has a real interest in landscaping and that he has the opportunity in front of him to make a career if he can get the right educational foundation. I've only known him for just over two months, but in that time, I've seen the change and can attest to not just the personal change, but a recognition that he actually has the possibility of a positive and successful future and he's seeking the opportunity. That's why I drove back down here today, not knowing we'd be speaking, but to deliver these letters of recommendation, because my sense is that much of this decision will be made at the personal level. This boy needs a chance to get out from the negative circumstances he's been trapped in, and an opportunity to become a healthy and productive citizen and community member. That's about all I can say."

McFall had tented his fingertips and against his lips as he listened and sat quietly processing what I'd said for some time. His eyes were smiling, and I didn't detect any hostility. He finally said, "We're so close to the Fall quarter beginning that our usual application review process and committees are no longer at work, so this will to a large degree be a decision made by me since I'm the director of the program in which he wants to study. Please leave the letters of recommendation along with your business card. I need to consult with a couple of my colleagues, but I assure you that I will call you no later than Wednesday with an answer. Is that acceptable."

"More than acceptable," I said thankfully, "and very gracious. I won't take any more of your time and will look forward to your call." We shook hands and I began the drive back to Newberg.

Jackson was obviously at home and watching, because I still hadn't changed out of my clergy garb when I heard him calling me from the kitchen. I told him I was upstairs, and he came up just in time to catch me in my boxers. I was reaching into my closet but heard him in the doorway and was about to ask him how school went. He said, "Don't stop now, my Sexy Man, I want to watch."

I turned and grinned at him holding a pair of jeans. "What," he cried, "you're not going to change your boxers? That's not fair."

"Well, I showered this morning, you know, and I haven't broken a sweat today, so I just need to get in some comfortable and casual clothes."

He'd walked across the room to me by this time and took my hand. "Speaking of 'comfortable and casual' you come right over here with me and let's work on comfortable and casual." With that he pulled me down onto the bed and was on top of me in a second kissing me passionately.

"Boy, something lit a fire under you, huh," I gasped between kisses. He just grinned, his dimples flaring. "I never get to see you naked in the daylight. It's always dark when we can get together. I know we've got to be careful, but you are so gorgeous to look at. Especially right here." And he leaned down and licked a nipple. "And, also right here." And he licked the other nipple. Meanwhile his free hand was toying with the hair on my chest and then started sliding down my belly. Then he said, "and especially right here!" His hand shot under the elastic of my boxers and he grasped my cock, which by now was half hard.

"Whoa, Lover Boy," I gasped, "this feels wonderful, but it's way too risky. Someone could walk into this house. I know you love me, and my body feels it too, and I love you back the same way, but we've got to be responsible and careful."

He looked at me with mournful eyes that could have been lifted off a Bassett Hound, and after kissing me one more time he rolled off my chest and just lay on the bed. That enabled me to get up and dressed, and then I turned to him and said, "Come on, beautiful, let's go get a drink and talk."

When we each had a soda, we settled in the living room and he said, "You've been acting mysterious today." I glanced at him questioningly. He smiled and said, "Come on, give it up. The El Camino was gone with I got home from school and you didn't say a word about it. You were all dressed up like you were going to church. I think you would have told me about a funeral if there was one, so what's the deal?"

I knew there was no hope of not telling him, but I bound him to secrecy and filled him in on the letters of recommendation Susan and Ellen and I had written and that I'd taken them down to the community college, and even had the good fortune of speaking with the program director again. "Are you kidding me? You did all that? That's outrageous. What made you think of that?"

"This is private, Okay. We're working on building Gary's self-esteem so if he thinks I pulled strings, which I didn't, that won't help him will it?" He touched his lips with his index finger, the universal sign of silence.

"Look, I went to an Ivy League college and part of the application process is a personal interview on campus. It's not just complete an application and send a transcript. They want to see the applicants and the committee interviews them and assesses their qualifications. Now that happens in schools that are very competitive, but it can be pivotal to being accepted. That's why I pushed for the visit on Friday, and we were very lucky that the program director was available and met with us. And guess what? He took a hankering to Gary. That was positive, but I took it as an opportunity to follow up with letters of recommendation from three professionals attesting to his good character and motivation to be accepted in the program. We'll have to wait to find out if it's going to work!"

He was silent for a minute. "Wow! Just, wow! That's all I can say. You are one crafty guy." He was grinning as he said it.

I grinned back and remarked, "Do you remember anything from yesterday's sermon. You were there. I'd prefer it if you used the word shrewd, as in the case of the shrewd manager. Or maybe the other meanings, prudent or wise." I couldn't hold the high brow tone together any longer and started giggling myself. He hugged me to him.

I asked what Gary was doing, and he said he was down at the BMX track volunteering on track repairs and stuff like that. "He'll be home soon so we can help with dinner. By the way, Rev, that was great lasagna last night, and Mom really appreciated you asking us over. She tries to prepare meals and then we cook them and clean up, but just the preparing wears her out. Anyway, I need to get home and coordinate with her on dinner, and I've got a lot of homework. We got a weird assignment in Psych that's due on Wednesday and I'm not real comfortable doing it. Will you help me with it tomorrow evening?"

"Sure. Just clear it with you mother so she knows why you're coming over here, Okay?" He smiled, kissed me, and was gone. He'd now shifted into the new schedule that went with school. He helped Gary finish the mowing on weekday afternoons, they usually dropped by for a soda when they were done, then Jackson started homework, or if they stayed a little later, they were home to help with dinner, and then Jackson was head down on the homework. The way it was being assigned and as serious as he was about it, I could see Sunday afternoons being consumed as well.

Tuesday after mowing I said something to Gary about hoping to hear from the community college tomorrow, and he smiled hopefully and gave me two thumbs up. Jackson reminded me he was coming over after dinner for help with his Psych assignment, and I told him we needed to have another formal Harvest Fair committee meeting and he said he'd work to schedule it again on Friday after school.

When he came back over after supper, he said the Psych assignment was an Identity Chart for all the students in the class. The instructor thought it important that they understand the role of identity for themselves if they were really going to be able to understand how it worked in the lives of other people. The idea was to make a list of things that comprised their identity and then fill it into the form. I read the material that he had from class, and then the identity chart assignment. I had a question. "How is this going to be used? I mean is it just for you, for each student, to help stimulate your thinking? Because a lot of it is really personal and shouldn't be public."

He looked blank. "I don't know, and none of us students thought to ask. Why do you think it could be a problem?"

"Well look, the textbook describes identity as the things that make you who you are, and points out that most of them come from family, community, tribe or work, right? The the idea is that you fill in the boxes at the end of each of these lines with a characteristic. In other words, you're answering the question 'who am I' by using different kinds of words or descriptors, right?"

He nodded, and said, "Why am I feeling uncomfortable about it then?"


I paused. "Okay, you know I'm no psychologist, and I think I understand the teacher's point that doing this can help each student understand themselves. To me there's two big factors. The first is the psych one, and the second I'm only beginning to understand after reading Campbell's book about mythology and attending that lecture. The psych one is that in therapy sessions the therapist has to try and learn about and understand the patient, right? In other words, understand not just the person that the patient shows to the world, or the person that the patient wants the therapist to see, but the real 'deep down' person. Are you with me? That means the therapist is trying as best he can to answer the question 'who is this person really?' Or put another way, what is this person's identity? Now you'd expect a therapist to want to be able to answer that question if they're going to help their patient. But all those therapy sessions are confidential because it's really personal information."

I went on, "On the mythology side of things, according to Campbell the simplest explanation of mythology is that it answers the existential questions "Who Am I? Where Did I Come From? And, Where Am I Going?" The first one of those three questions is identity—Who Am I. Most of our identity we don't choose, it is something we acquire or absorb or accept from our family and community, and by extension from our tribe or religion. As we grow older, if we are fortunate enough to understand it and liberated enough as a person to be able to assess it, we reach a point to be able to make decisions about the identity that our mythology bestows on us. Meaning, that we begin to be able to make choices about out identity, to change from what came to us from family and tribe and religion, most of which we had no choice about, to reject those things we don't agree with and replace them with those we do."

"How do you know so much about this," he asked.

I smiled and said, "I guess I was lucky. We had pastoral counseling classes in seminary, and they were good because the seminary had a school of psychology. And I took some leadership development classes and they started out working on personal identity. Like I said before, the idea was that you can't help others until you understand yourself."

I paused, and I could see Jackson was following what I was saying. "So, if the goal is that you do this exercise to better understand yourself, that makes sense. But it should go no further, in my opinion, unless you want it to. I think its inappropriate if these have to be turned in as a class assignment because you don't know what will happen to them."

Jackson said, "I think I'm following what you're saying, but I'm still not getting what the problem is."

"The problem has to do with candor and honesty. Some of what you'd list would be physical like brown hair and hazel eyes, some would be relational, like son and brother, some would be educational or vocational, like student or the job you have, but some would be about beliefs and others would be about deeply personal characteristics. If all you did was fill this out and say stuff like 'brown hair,' and 'hazel eyes,' and 'five foot eight,' and 'brother,' then who cares. But if you're really honest and transparent about who you are, what your identity is, do you know what you'd put down there?"

He shook his head.

"You, Lover Boy, would say things like 'abused child,' and 'homosexual,' and 'father in jail,' and 'mother with cancer.' Do you see what I'm talking about?"

"Oh my God. I never thought of that! I thought it was more like describing what I look like and what I do. You mean it's describing who you are? Geez, you're right. That is scary. Do you think our teacher knows that?"

"I have no idea, and I think it can be a very valuable tool, but if I were the parent, I wouldn't let my kid fill this out unless I knew exactly how it was going to be used."

"But it's due tomorrow! What do we do?"

"Well, if you have the teacher's name I could call and ask about that stuff."

"Would you? I mean I don't want to miss an assignment but now you've got me really spooked about being honest."

"Being honest and transparent can be hard because what can come with it is real consequences. Yeah, let me see if I can call the teacher as pastor, because I'm guessing other parents may be having the same questions tonight."

I was lucky that being in a small town everyone was in the phone book and most were home on a weeknight. I introduced myself as the pastor at Grace Church who was helping one of her students who's a member of the church with the Identity Chart assignment, and really wanted to understand what the intended purpose of the assignment was, and how the completed form would be used.

The teacher, who was very enthusiastic, made clear that the sole purpose was to help each student understand themselves more deeply so as to better understand and empathize with other people that had the conditions that would be studied in the psychology class. When I asked what happens to the completed Identity Chart and pointed out that if answered honestly would potentially contain some very confidential information, she paused. "Well, they belong to the students. They're not being collected or used by me. They're just to help each student understand themselves more fully."

When I asked her if she understood how some of the information that could be answered in the chart could be used against the students in certain circumstances, she said, "Well, this is a pretty new concept in self-awareness, but there's no intention for it to become public."

I cautioned that though I wasn't a psychologist, as a pastor I dealt with plenty of confidential information and that I cold see the potential for misuse if the completed charts became public. She assured me that it wasn't the intention, and that she would make clear to each student that they were private, to be kept to themselves to help them understand themselves better and be more empathetic and perform better in the psychology class. We left it there, but I was still unsettled.

Jackson said, "Well?"

"Well," I replied, "I guess where I end up is that we all have at least two personas. There's the one we project to the world, that's the one we want the world and other people and our friends to see. Then there's the real person, how we really are with all our warts and shortcomings. That's the one that requires really honesty and transparency to describe. That's the one therapists spend dozens of hours trying to understand. What your teacher just told me made perfect sense, and I think the motivation is commendable, but I don't think she's thought through what can go wrong, and so my recommendation is that you fill it out the way you want people to see it, rather than being completely honest and transparent."

"I'm with you! I don't want to risk it getting around and the wrong people seeing that stuff you just listed. I'd be dead meat probably and guaranteed to be ridiculed and hounded all year."

"That is just the concern. So, my suggestion is you complete it the way you want people to see you. I will say, though, that it looks like a worthwhile tool, and I bet if you and I both had completed it as honestly and transparently as we could on June 30, and then completed it again tonight as honestly and transparently as we could, we be struck with the changes."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, back then you would have said gay or homosexual, and I would have said heterosexual…because I wasn't in touch with myself enough to say bisexual or homosexual. We both would have said abused child, although the circumstance would have been different—you got physical abuse, I got emotional abuse. We both would have said brother and son, and I would have said estranged father but now you know you're not the son you thought you were. We both probably would have said few friends. You might have said bullied at school and home. We both would have said sexually unfulfilled. We both would have said single. See what I mean about the changes."

He was grinning now. "Yeah, it's kind of like an updated road map of something, isn't it? But the more honest it is the more scary it is, huh?"

"Sadly, that's true. Although on the other hand in an honest and transparent relationship like the one we have it can be really healthy and helpful because it shows us how we've changed and grown and helped each other."

"So, for the assignment, I fake it?"

"No, I think that's the wrong approach. You now know a lot more about it then anyone in your class, and maybe that includes your teacher. So, you're going to fill it out with selective omissions, leaving out the descriptions or characteristics that you know could be used against you if it fell into the wrong hands. That's all. Simple, right?"

"Is it Okay if I do it now and you look it over?" I nodded and he went to work on the kitchen table. I told him I'd be in the office. Ten minutes later he gave me a shout and I came back in and looked the chart over.

"That looks fine to me. Just enough data to be informative, but not enough to cause problems. I've been thinking about this though in terms of our relationship. Maybe it's worth both of us spending some time filling out one of these for back on June 30 and then sharing it with each other. What do you think?"

He was quiet, looking just a little surprised. "You'd want to know all that stuff about me?"

"We're in a relationship where we're continually learning more and more about each other, right? So, what's to hide. On the other hand, we can't help each other unless we know where the pain is, and we can't be sensitive to each other's needs if we don't know where the problems are. Anyway, it's just a thought. Maybe it's too much too soon. Just think about it. Two months ago, I never would have agreed to do it for anyone, even my therapist if I had one, but I'm willing to do it for you, my Beautiful Boy."

He came around the table to sit next to me and just pulled me close to him. I wrapped him in my arms, never feeling so content or completed. I'd reached a new level in my life. For this young man I was willing to open up my heart so he could see anything and everything he wanted to. That was a new one for someone as self-constrained as I'd been raised to be.

I was in the office Wednesday afternoon when I heard what sounded like a herd of buffalo come up the driveway hooting and hollering. It turned out to be Jackson and Gary barreling in the back door to the kitchen yelling for me. I hopped up and met them, to be greeted with a "Guess what" question? The question was accompanied by much jumping around. I could have played dumb, but what was the point. I looked at Gary and said, "Did you get the call you wanted?"

He was radiant, like a kid on Christmas Day. "Yes! When we got home from mowing, Mom said that the Community College called and my application was accepted, and I start class on Monday. Is that amazing or what?"

His excitement was contagious, and I could see Jackson was just as excited as he was. I grabbed him in a hug and said, "It is amazing, but it's also something else. It's deserved. You deserve this. Now it's up to you to make the most of it."

The excitement was quickly shifting to emotion, and I could see him almost start to tear up. "I will Pastor Dave, trust me, I will. I'll probably need help from you two, but I will."

We all just kind of stood there and grinned stupidly at each other for a minute. Finally, I said, "If class starts on Monday, do you have a class schedule? What about textbooks? Can you get them on Monday, or do you need them before class starts?"

He looked a little sheepish and said, "I don't know."

I grinned at him. "Hey, this is easy. You and I will buzz down there in the El Camino on Friday morning and complete the registration, get your class schedule and handle the textbooks too. Then all you'll have to do on Monday is show up for class. If we time it right, we can be down and back in the morning and you'll be here in time for your mowing jobs. What do you think? Oh, also you've got to inform the bike shop you won't be available for the mechanic job since you're enrolling in community college. Tell them that no later than tomorrow so they're got some time to find a replacement."

He smiled. "Going down on Friday would be great. Thanks. And I'll go down to the bike shop right when they open in the morning, when it won't be too busy, and I can talk to the owner." Jackson was standing behind him grinning encouragement! As they headed home Jackson gave me a quick smile and said, "I'll tell you about the identity chart assignment tomorrow."

Thursday was a late mowing day and Jackson and Gary came by for a soda and a quick chat and that was about it. We agreed that I'd pick him up at 8:15 AM so we could be at the community college campus around 9:00. He told me that talking to the bike shop owner about not taking the job went pretty well, mainly because he wasn't flaking out but not taking it in order to go to school. The owner was pretty impressed, and that made Gary feel good about himself and his decision. Jackson said the discussions about Frankenstein were getting pretty detailed, and they were starting to have regular quizzes, and I told him I hoped he was taking good notes. It wasn't Gary's favorite subject, so he begged off and I told him I'd see him in the morning.

Jackson grinned and said, "Want to hear how the identity chart assignment went?" I nodded.

"Well," he began, smiling broadly, "the teacher was a little flustered when class started because she said she wanted to make clear something that she'd clearly overlooked when she assigned it, and she'd had calls about it, and that was specifically that the completed charts were private. Then she actually spent a little time talking about what she called the outer self and inner self, what you described as the identity you show the world and the identity you keep to yourself. What do you think about that, Rev?"

"I think it's pretty commendable. I can think of a lot of my teachers and instructors, maybe most of them, who never would have been willing to admit an oversight like that. And then it sounded like that may have led to a better understanding of identity, right?""

"I think so," he said, "I mean she didn't get into how it relates to mythology, but she did talk more in depth about knowing yourself and being honest about yourself in order to understand your identity. She didn't say anything, though, about what I thought was the most important thing you said."

"Which was?"

"That most of your identity isn't chosen, more like it's imposed on you by your family or community. I think that is so important to know. Like if kids don't get told that growing up then don't have any idea that they've got choices, right? That they don't have to be one way or another or be what their parents tell them they have to be. How can that not be taught?"

I grinned. "You're right to be concerned about never being told how identity is formed and that for most people it's imposed, to use your term. I think I said bestowed, but it's the same idea. But you know, a lot of it you absorb or take on as you grow up, before you're old enough or know enough to make your own decisions. That part of it is formative and a big part of how you make it through those early years. It's only later, as you get older, that you can start understanding and make those choices. That's where it's really important that parents and families and communities and churches understand that and make it clear. The trouble is that it is a lot easier to impose than to offer choice, and you know, there's always a big risk when you offer choice."

"You mean like the choices may not be what the parents want, right?"

"Exactly! Not what the parents or the family wants. Not what the community or tribe wants. Not what the church wants. I may have said something to you before about the church and helping people discover their gifts. It's quite similar and tied to identity. The most frustrating thing for me in seminary was there was always lots of talk about helping people discover their gifts, even about helping people discover who they are, but there was always the caveat "in Christ." Meaning "discover who they are in Christ." Which is to say discover the so-called Christian model of behavior and belief as defined by this denomination or that church. So, it never really ever got down to helping people discover who they really are. What if they discovered they were gay! Or even helping people discover their gifts beyond playing the guitar or teaching bible study, for the same reason, they might decide they want to do something different. You've got to be careful about what people might find out about themselves."

"I get it. Just tell them what to believe and what to do. That's what it was like in my house, till I started pushing back. Then that's when Bud started riding me and making my life miserable."

"I can see that. But look, you've got to get home. I promise we'll continue this conversation, Okay? Maybe tomorrow after the Fair committee meeting, or the weekend."

We picked up the soda cans and walked to the kitchen, where he gave me a quick kiss and was off home.

I pulled into the Harris driveway at 8:15 the next morning, and Gary was right out the door and ready to go. On the drive down he said he had a check his mother gave him to pay his tuition, he just had to fill in the amount, and another for his textbooks. He sounded quite pleased about it. I asked him to tell me a little about how high school had been for him, and he had trouble getting going, but it finally all seemed to come down to being so unhappy at home, and having such low self-esteem that he couldn't get into the work, then he felt like he was always behind, which made him feel worse, which led to being angry, which led to getting into things like football and bullying where he could vent the anger.

I didn't press much beyond that, and when we got to the campus, it was only ten minutes in the administrative office to register and pay his tuition, and then another ten minutes in the bookstore to purchase his textbooks. We walked around campus a little more, and then headed home. The Fall quarter classes were Horticulture, Soil Science, and Plant Nutrition. He was thumbing through his textbooks on the drive back, and I stayed quiet to see his reaction. He actually seemed positive and intrigued. Finally, he'd gotten through them all and I asked, "What do you think? Too much of a challenge?"

He looked at me slyly. "Is that a set up question?"

"No, I'm really curious. On the way down you were telling me why you didn't do well in high school. Now you've got the textbooks, you've thumbed through them, so you have some sense of what they are, and I'm asking what your first reaction is. Do you feel overwhelmed?"

He thought for a minute, then said. "Not yet. Maybe later, I don't know. I know I've got to study hard, and I will. How I feel is kind of excited." He acted just a little embarrassed.

"Excited is a good thing! If you're excited about the challenge and about learning new things, then you're off to a great start. You'll need to make sure over the weekend that your Mom's car is filled with gas and have the tire pressure checked and all that. I don't think it's been driven much in the last two months".

He nodded, and about that time we were pulling into our street. I dropped him off at home so he could change and offered a ride to the mowing job, but he said he'd ride his bike. I had some lunch and reflected on the week. Quite a bit of progress. Fingers crossed for good outcomes.

I was already at the church when the Harvest Fair Committee all showed up from school, and on time. Will and Tom came together, and Lois and Kathy walked in together as well. Just then Jackson walked through the door. Gary was with Jackson and I raised my eyebrows. "He wanted to come, Pastor Dave. We have one more mowing job that we'll do afterwards, but I was telling him about what we're doing, and he was curious. Right Gary?"

Gary nodded, acting just a tad embarrassed. Everyone actually seemed pleased to see Gary and have him involved, and Lois commented that she hadn't seen him since the school year ended and he looked so different. He actually blushed, "Well, we've been mowing lawns all summer, so I've gotten in better shape and gotten a real tan from being outside all summer."

Will jumped in, "You should see their set up Lois, they do mowing and trimming and have a riding mower and can just burn through the jobs. It's pretty impressive. They're the best equipped kids around here to do lawn mowing."

Gary grinned but was still embarrassed. He went on, "Anyway, it sounds like a good thing you're doing, and it sounds like fun too. Maybe I can help out. Listening to Jackson I'm thinking you've got tons of stuff to do between now and…what date is is?

"October 1," I said, only eight days away. Susan had joined us by this time, and the committee meeting got going in full force. I was amazed to learn that they had all the food organized. Meaning hot dogs and related stuff from a local concession company that agreed to loan the church the hot dog stands and pop corn machines. And they had gotten all the soft drinks donated by the local wholesaler, and the church ladies' organization was baking all kinds of baked goods, so there would be plenty to eat and a profit to be made there too.

They'd also gone full force on getting donations from the auto parts store to the local hardware store to the feed and grain store to…the list went on and on and translated into big prizes for the raffle and smaller prizes to go along with the games. Then we turned to what I thought was the most complicated part: the carnival games themselves.

They'd settled on a mix of games so there were smaller and simpler ones for the small kids, like bag toss into a target board with a hole and bottle stand when you threw balls to knock down stacked bottled. On the larger scale for older kids was Balloon and Dart, shooting basketball hoops, Ball and Bucket Toss and what they hoped would be the big hit, a Dunking Stand. Their problem was that they hadn't gotten the dunking stand built so someone could sit in a chair while kids threw balls at a target and tried to dunk the person in a tank of water. Tom and Will and Jackson went back and forth on it, Tom and Will debating if they could get their Dads to build it, Jackson saying he could do it if only he had the time. Lois and Kathy had been quiet through the give and take, and so had Gary. Finally, it died down without resolution and Gary spoke up.

"Hey, you guys, how about I build It? I start community college on Monday morning, but we don't have any mowing jobs on Mondays, so I can start in the afternoon, and there'll be time each day during the week. Maybe I can even get Jackson here to help me a little."

Everyone chuckled at that, and Jackson just grinned. Lois finally said something. "You're going to community college? That's so cool! Where?"

"I'm studying horticulture and landscaping at the community college in north Salem. It's a drive, but it's the closest program to here."

"That's impressive, Gary. I'll help you if you need help with the Dunking Stand. You know, painting and stuff like that."

Gary momentarily looked like he couldn't believe what he'd heard but recovered quickly. "Wow, Lois. That would be great. Let me get going on building it and then I'll give you a shout. How's that?" She nodded.

Gary went on, "there is one technical question, and that's about the weight of the person who's going to be on the chair and getting dunked. It'll be very different building it for some 90-pound high school kid or for a 170-pound adult. Who's going to be sitting in the chair."

The room got silent. Then I noticed evil grins starting to emerge on the committee member's faces, and slowly all eyes turned to me. Then it dawned on me. "What? Is this some kind of set up?" By this time, I could see Susan grinning too. "So, the idea is to sell tickets for an opportunity to humiliate the pastor, is that it?"

Jackson was the first to speak. "Yep, that's pretty much it. We all think it'll be a real hit. We may even get kids from other churches. You know, the ones where there's never any chance to give it to the pastor!" They all cracked up on that one.

I knew this was a foregone conclusion—I'd suggested the Harvest Fair and couldn't not be the star attraction. I'd probably never live it down, but it could be fun too! The last item to discuss was the music. Will's band had agreed to play a few songs to close the Fair. It would start at 11:00 AM, and the Fair would close at 3:00 PM and the band would play for twenty or thirty minutes. They planned on putting posters up for church, and Susan asked if we could put an insert in the Sunday bulletin. I nodded yes. They planned on a few posters at school too. The plan was to make a small stage by laying down some plywood on top of four stacks of pallets they'd gotten ahold of from the soft drink distributor. The band was using small Fender amps so it should all fit on stage.

Jackson and Gary had ridden their bikes to the committee meeting, and after everyone had left, Susan and I sat and got caught up for a few minutes. "I'm impressed how much has been accomplished," I said. "I expected progress, but I didn't think it would be this close to under control. Have you been doing a lot of work behind the scenes?"

Susan looked at me amazed. "Not me! I helped with the food stuff, like connecting them with the hot dog concession people, and organizing the women to bake, but Jackson's been doing all the other organizing 'behind the scenes.' Like I told you a while ago, he's become a new person. He's friendly and motivated, he knows how to motivate others, they all like working with him, he can figure out what needs to be done and enlist people to help get it done. It's quite amazing to watch happen, particularly compared to the Jackson from last school year. Something quite amazing must have happened in his life, don't you think?"

She smiled slyly, and before I could say anything said, "No answer required! I just want you to know he's done most of the organizing. And he's been an active participant in choir too, we're still doing basic training and learning parts and things of that sort, but he has a good voice and isn't hesitant in the least. He's a great asset."

I had to be careful what I said, and Susan knew it too. "That certainly is impressive to learn. He's been pretty quiet about the Harvest Fair planning, and I think that's good. It should be the Committee's project and I'm glad he's doing a good job. I told him after the last meeting that it was was leadership, the ability to inspire and motivate others to take action. He didn't think he had it in him."

She smiled broadly. "Oh, he has that ability and many more, and it's wonderful to see them come to fruition and to see that so much of it is made possible by his new approach to life because of your friendship. Now Pastor Dave, changing the subject, are things under control for Sunday service?"

I told her I was pleased with her hymn selection, and that the choir had been performing very well, and I pretty well had the sermon for Sunday under control. She nodded and smiled and said, "Good news. With that I'm off. I have to get home as dinner preparation is my turn tonight. See you Sunday Pastor Dave." Before she left, I asked if she and Ellen could come over for an informal cookout the following Sunday after the Harvest Fair. If all went well, we'd have something to celebrate!

Jackson had said he was coming over tonight, and I decided that I'd do something different—not go to bed and be fast asleep but wait up for him. I turned the lights out downstairs about 10:00 PM and went up to my bedroom, pulled the drapes closed and sat in the chair to read. I had only the reading light and a bedside lamp on, so the lighting was low and warm. I was re-reading The Joy of Gay Sex, and once again really enjoyed and appreciated the introduction. This time, though as I read the terminology definitions and what Paul Gallagher had referred to as the "how to" section, I didn't find myself surprised or aghast, rather interested like a student wanting to understand the mechanics. I thought I heard his footsteps on the stairs a little before 11:00 PM.

The door swung open and I heard a whispered "What?" as he saw the lights were on and the bed was empty. I sat quietly and watched him step into the room and look around. It was a thrill to see the surprise on his face change to pleasure as our eyes caught each other. His eyes were questioning, and I took the initiative. "You got my attention when you said we never see each other in the light. I decided I've been lazy and taking advantage of you, just going to bed and falling asleep. You deserve better, Lover Boy, so you'll get better from now on."

He grinned and the dimples flared. In three quick steps he was in front of me and I stood and dropped the book in one fluid motion and then we were in each other's arms. "God how I love you, David," he whispered in my ear before we moved to a deep and passionate kiss. We just made out for two or three minutes. It was glorious. Our hands were under each other's shirts, stroking our backs, then dropping to grasp each other's buttocks and grinding on each other.

Finally, I broke away and said, "Let's take advantage of the light. Let me undress you?"

He smiled, nodding his head. I kissed him quickly and then slowly began lift his T-shirt up his torso, carefully stroking up his sides as I did. He shuddered. As I moved to lift the shirt over his head, he automatically lifted his arms straight up and I pushed the shirt up to his wrists and held it there, so he had to keep his arms over his head. Then I leaned down and kissed and licked his neck, and the one armpit I could reach, and then back to his neck and up to his chin and onto his lips. He was freshly showered and tasted it. He shuddered again, and finally pulled his arms out of my grip and tossed the shirt on the floor as he grasped me to him. "Oh, my Sexy Man, this feels so wonderful." I kissed him again and stepped back.

"I'm not done yet," I said as I smiled wickedly at him, reaching down for the waist of his shorts. I undid the button, then reached my hands up to his lips and then stroked them down his neck and across his pecs and down his abdomen and back to the waist of his shorts where I slowly unzipped the front, all the time looking him straight in the eyes. He simply looked hungry. Hungry and passionate. When I dropped his shorts and boxers in one move, he smoothly stepped out of them as they reached his ankles, and I began to stroke his pubes. Our faces were only inches apart, and I could feel his breathing quicken. He was really hard by now, and I could feel it below my fingertips. Slowly I moved down through his pubes to the base of his shaft, ever so gently rubbing. I could feel it pulse in response, rising and falling in front of me. Then I slowly ran the tips of both fingers from the base out to the head of his cock. Our eyes were still locked, and I was doing my best to say "I love you" with my eyes. When my fingertips reached his cockhead, it pulsed strongly, and I could feel it wet with precum and I knew he wouldn't last long.

I wanted it to be wonderful for him, so I leaned in and kissed him briefly. I could feel his panting in and out of my mouth, as his eyes just radiated desire. With that I dropped to my knees and took him in my mouth in one motion. He gasped loudly and grasped the back of my head with his hands. I reached my hands around to hold his buttocks and slowly pulled back so I could work the head of his cock with my tongue. I heard him groan loudly, "Oh my god, Dave, I'm going to cum." The groan got louder as I went all the way down on him again and I felt him begin to buck and pulled back to take all his cum and enjoy the feeling as he shot in my mouth. Three or four shots and I could feel his knees begin to buckle and he rested his hands on my shoulders. I pulled off and then licked him once or twice to finish and looked up at him. His eyes were glazed, and his mouth was wide open, still panting. I stood and pulled him close to me and whispered in his ear, "That's what you deserve. You are the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."

"Oh my god, David, oh my god! I can't stand. Can we lay down, and then you have to let me undress you?" We moved to the bed, laid across it and I stroked his face and hair as he recovered. His arms were wrapped around me, stroking my back and shoulders. Eventually his breathing returned to normal and I felt his hands slip down to my butt and begin to massage my buttocks. "Okay, David, now I want to slowly take your clothes off and see your gorgeous body appear," he whispered in my ear. He stood up and then leaned back and took my hands and pulled me up to stand in front of him. He reached up and kissed me, then stroked my cheeks with his fingers, and ran them down my neck to my shirt collar where he slowly and languidly began to undo the buttons. As each button opened more skin was exposed and his tongue was right there licking it. When enough shirt was open, he licked and nibbled and then sucked on my nipples. I thought I'd die it felt so electric as I ran my fingers through his hair and held his head. When he had the shirt front completely open, he slid it off my arms and then started licking my navel and down to the waist of my shorts which he began to open and unzip and let drop to the floor. I managed to step out of them and could feel my hard on bouncing off the underside of his chin. He ignored it and nuzzled in my pubes and I could feel one hand under by balls, stroking my perineum while the other had slid over my buttock and was in my crack, beginning to stroke my anus. For the first time ever I'd been elevated to such a level of sensual stimulation that I almost wasn't conscious of what was happening or where, it was that intense. We were standing only a foot or two away from the foot of the bed, and I felt him turn me around to face the bed, and he whispered, "Lay down on the bed."

I didn't think about it, I just did as he asked, laying down with my groin just on the edge of the mattress, my cock pressed up against my stomach. His one hand had never left my crack, and I felt the other join it and then they spread my legs further apart and I felt his tongue on my perineum, licking down to my balls, I shuddered as if I'd been touched with an ice cube. He licked up and down as I began to writhe on the bed, and after a minute I felt him spread my buttocks apart and his tongue was licking up from my perineum and was on my anus. I was so far gone there wasn't even the possibility of questions or second thoughts. The sensations were so intense as he licked and occasionally stabbed at my opening with his tongue that I felt like I was on overload. He continued for a minute or so, somehow knowing how close I was, and then I heard him say, "David, turn over."

Mutely I did, as he leaned back momentarily, and then I was laying with my bum right at the edge of the bed, and he leaned forward licking my scrotum as one hand took my cock and slowly started stroking. I could tell he was being careful, stroking slowly, and then as he heard my groans and panting, he leaned up and licked my cockhead a few times and then took my cock in his mouth. That was all it took, and I cried out and started cumming in his mouth. He held me tight and took every drop, relishing it as I had his. When it got too sensitive and I started squirming on the bed, he pulled off and slid up the bed to embrace me and give me a deep kiss. He whispered in my ear, "I told you that you were my Sexy Man. I don't think you believed me. You see how sexy you are? How sexy that felt?"

I could barely speak, but managed to squeak out, "I believe it if you say so. It has to be true as amazing as that felt. Thank you, my Beautiful Boy. You are totally amazing." We eventually clambered up on the bed, under the sheets, and fell into blissful sleep.

Today's Gospel lesson was one of the classics, equal in standing with that of the Good Samaritan, namely the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Everyone knows the situation, the poor man Lazarus spending much of his life begging outside the doorway of the rich man, but the two of them finding their places reversed upon their death, with Lazarus ensconced in an honored place beside Abraham, and the rich man in Hades. The reversal of fortune makes the point about how we live our lives and places an especially strong emphasis on the poor. Having spent years in my childhood living overseas, I'd seen endemic poverty, and could speak from experience about how fortunate we are as Americans and how unaware we are about how much of the human race lives much poorer lives. The challenge put before us by the parable is that of how we live our lives, how we use our wealth, and if we care for those in need. Jesus didn't give any parables about how to succeed in life, or how to become rich in ten easy steps, but he regularly spoke about caring for the less fortunate around us. You only have to look around to find someone less fortunate that needs your assistance, financial or otherwise.

Both Gary and Jackson spent Sunday afternoon doing homework. Our schedules shifted once the week began. Gary having class in the morning this quarter, meant everything shifted later. Starting Tuesday, the mowing began later and ended later too, so we weren't able to meet up at the end of every afternoon. Monday afternoon Gary was at work on the Dunking Stand and we didn't see him. Jackson came by late and we caught up. They were on the backside of Frankenstein in English Lit with quizzes every other day and heading for an exam, Spanish was still on basic vocabulary and grammar, Psych was focused on understanding social psychology—meaning how outside influences effect the person, but World History had a new development. Jackson was amazed to have read about and then discussed an ancient city in western India that had an advanced and complete water system over 4,500 years ago.

"It's called Dholavira and is in Gujarat if you know where that is. It's the ruins of an ancient Harappan city that was part of the Indus Valley Civilization. The city was almost 120 acres and built of stone and has a water reservoir and storm water channels. On top of that these people understood hydraulic engineering because there are all kinds of water channels and water conservation systems and stuff. They brought water in, distributed it, and got the waste out. That was 4,500 years ago. That's amazing, don't you think?"

"Sure is," I said, "I've always been impressed with Roman hydraulic engineering like Pont du Gard, the huge water aqueduct in southern France, but that was only 2,000 years ago. Those people in the Indus Valley must have been amazing. What happened to the city?"

"Well, it was an archaeological discovery about ten or fifteen years ago, and they think the weather changed like 2,000 years ago and that was the end of it. No water, the people had to leave, it got buried in sand, and that was the end. Amazing, huh?"

The rest of the week was much the same. A few minutes together late in the afternoon after mowing, then Jackson and Gary had dinner at home and now both had homework. Thursday they were over a little bit earlier, and Gary enthused about his horticulture and plant nutrition classes, but I couldn't' get him to say anything about the Dunking Stand. I was hoping he wouldn't be able to get it done on time.

Friday we were all at the church after school was out, starting to get things organized and set up for the Fair. We knew most of the set up would be in the morning, but the whole committee said they'd be busy all evening doing last minute stuff…to which I wasn't invited. Susan volunteered to stay at the church till they were done, and we all agreed to meet back at the church at 8:00 AM.

Saturday morning, Jackson was in the kitchen at 7:00 AM, looking for breakfast, we both sipped coffee while I fried some bacon and he poured the pancake batter onto the grill. As we ate I asked how the setup had gone the previous evening, and he said everything had finally come together and it was going to be great, especially because the weather had cooled down a bit and we had high clouds to take the edge off the direct sun and heat.

"What was with the secrecy last night," I asked. He grinned, dimples flaring, and he said slyly, "You'll see, and by the way, don't forget your swimsuit!"

When I got to the church, the transformation was amazing. The entire parking lot looked like a carnival with flags and banners, the carnival games spread out with food tables in between. At the entrance was a giant hand-painted banner "Welcome to the Grace Church Harvest Fair!" As I walked around, I was impressed with not just the set up, but the level of detail. There were stacks of hay bales with pumpkins on them, hand painted banners over each carnival game, signs detailing the food and drinks with prices, and on and on. This committee of teenagers had really been hard at work.

As I was reflecting on all of that I suddenly saw the Dunking Game and understood the secrecy. Gary had put together an amazing dunk stand with a large stock tank that was full of water, an assembly with a target the size of a salad plate on one side and an arm that had the a plastic seat mounted to it that was poised over the water-filled tank. Behind it was a huge banner mounted on some kind of wall like a stage set. It had a cartoon drawing of me driving my El Camino, big shoulders and even bigger head sticking out of the driver's side window, waving and grinning madly. Over that was written. "Dunk the Pastor. Your chance to get even!"

I cracked up, the cartoon drawing was too funny, they'd captured me and the El Camino just right, and the "get even" by-line had to be planned to work like magic for all kind of kids who over the years that gotten cross-threaded or reprimanded or caught out by their pastors. I was standing there giggling to myself when I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Jackson and he said quietly, "Pretty cool, right?"

I replied, "It's beyond cool. It's amazing. I want to know who came up with this."

"Well, Gary built the dunk tank, Lois and Kathy did all the banners. Well, Lois did the designs, but she and Kathy did the painting. Aren't they cool? Oh, and guess what? Lois was working with Gary on the banner while he was building the dunk tank, and they kind of hit it off together. How about that?"

I raised my eyebrows and said, "Truth is stranger than fiction, as Ripley once said. So, make sure the committee know we're having a celebration cook out dinner at the parsonage tomorrow evening. I've already invited Susan and Ellen. That includes Gary, and your Mom if she feels up to it, Okay?"

I could see Gary working with Will and Tom to put the finishing touches on getting all the games placed and working, and Lisa and Kathy were finishing up the banner and flag placement. Jackson bumped my hip with his. "So, Rev, here's the deal. We would like you to welcome everyone at 11:00 when the Fair opens, Okay? You know, hop up on the stage. Tell them it runs till 3:00 and then there will be some live music to wrap up and we want everyone to have a good time and be safe, you know stuff like that." He was smiling widely.

I agreed and then the sly smile crept across his face. "Then after the announcement, you'll need to go change into your swimsuit and assume your position in the dunk tank. And by the way, plan on being wet all day. I'm betting there's going to be a lot of kids that are going to jump at the opportunity to take their frustrations out on you!" He was cracking up as he finally got that last comment out, laughing so hard he had to hold himself up with his hands on his knees.

"Right. Jackson. Very funny. Ha ha! If that's the way it goes, don't forget that the tag line on the banner works two ways."

"What?" he gasped out between chuckles.

I said, "It doesn't just apply to the kids who buy in to try and dunk the pastor, it applies to me too. Instead of getting mad, maybe I'll get even…with you…later!"

The Fair was a success beyond expectations, thanks to the planning and hard work the committee had put in. The turn out was quite large, and the word must have been spread at school because there were lots of kids there who weren't in our church. They had enough prizes for all the games and the raffles, and the food and drink sales were strong all afternoon. And Jackson was right, I was wet most of the afternoon. I think the longest I went without hitting the water was fifteen minutes. And it wasn't only kids trying to Dunk the Pastor—there were a sizable number of parents with "I'm going to get even" expressions on their face. The only consolation was that while it felt ice cold when the Fair started, but the middle of the afternoon the water had warmed up, so the shock factor was gone.

I bailed out at 2:30 and went in the church to dry off and change clothes, and then was back to announce at 3:00 that the Fair was now closed and to introduce the band. Before I did that, though, I took a few minutes to confirm everyone had a good time, and they should know who made it possible, and introduced the Fair Committee including Susan to the applauding audience.

The band played well, doing a bunch of covers from back to the late '60s, but including more recent popular songs like Elton John's Don't Go Breaking My Heart and Steve Miller's Fly Like An Eagle. They played for half an hour and everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves. After Will thanked the audience for being so supportive, he said that there was one more announcement before the Fair was over. I saw Jackson hop up on the stage and take the mic.

He went through the routine of asking if everyone had a good time? Did everyone like the music? Big applause. He made sure they knew it was a fund raiser for Youth Fellowship at Grace Church and everyone was welcome. Should they have the Fair again next year? He got applause and positive reactions to all of those. Then he said, "So here's the last announcement. The person who had the idea for this Harvest Fair is in the audience. But I've got to ask a question: how many of you did the Dunk Tank game?" There was a rousing response from the audience.

"How many of you did it because you could get even?" Now there was a raucous response from the audience, especially from the kids. It went on for a minute or so, and Jackson was grinning wildly on the stage.

"I thought so! We figured that there are probably plenty of you that wanted to get even somehow, and that's cool because it's probably well deserved."

The audience cracked up and cheered over that, including a lot of the parents.

Jackson went on. "So, not only is there this person who gave us the idea and helped along the way, but he's also the person who took the brunt of the getting even, and that's Pastor Dave. So, we want to give him the Good Sport award for putting up with all the public humiliation!"

With that he whipped out a little plaque and waved me up on stage. I was cracking up as I clambered up there, most of the kids hooting and cheering. I didn't want to take any of the attention away from the fair committee, so I just said, "Thanks for this award. It was the people on the committee that did all the work. I guess that's why I had to pay the price. They did the work, not me!"

I thanked everyone for attending, urged them to get home safely, and we closed it down. Meaning of course, that once the attendees had left the Fair Committee and some volunteer parents had to start breaking everything down and putting it all away and cleaning up the parking lot. It was done amazingly fast. Within two hours it was complete. At some point someone I'd never seen pulled in with a large pickup truck and I watched a few people dump the water out of the stock tank and then load it and the dunk tank assembly into the bed and off the driver went.

I knew what pretty much everyone on the committee and all the volunteers were going to be doing this evening, and that was resting.

It's been another pretty crazy week, but this time it's good crazy! School started after Labor Day, and it only took a few days for the homework to start piling on, and like lots of reading assignments! But before school was Labor Day weekend, and David took me camping!

He cleared it with Mom, and even talked to Gary about it, and that was wild, but turned out great. Me and Gary are getting along a lot better now, cause we've sorted out our old problems and the Rev was right, working together with the mowing business really helped. When you've got to depend on each other, and you don't let each other down then it gets you closer together.

Anyway, it was car camping in the El Camino, but it was far out. We hiked and walked on the beach and met other kids from Portland and played ultimate frisbee which was totally cool because I was an equal. I mean I was always the small kid and not athletic, but all the bike riding for the paper route plus actually growing this summer has made a difference! I had dreams before we went about the sex, like wild sex in the back of the El Camino, but it didn't happen. We'd done a lot and we were tired and there wasn't a lot of room, but what was really amazing was that it didn't matter. It was just perfect to hold each other and sleep together. I hope that doesn't mean we're losing our sex drive or anything! I hope we were just tired!

School had been like twice as hard as last year, but an amazing thing is going on, and that's for both Gary and me. We're into school and our classes and we're doing our homework and learning! Go figure. I'm trying to figure it out because before school was just something I had to do. Now it's a challenge. I mean a challenge as in a good way and a lot of work, but I meant it when I told David I don't want to be his dork lawn mowing boy friend. I want him to be proud of me. And I'm starting to see that I want to be proud of me too. That was hard to understand, but seeing it happen to Gary is what clued me in. David was so good helping him get into the landscaping program, and he couldn't believe the pastor would believe in him like that, and then when he accepted it, he wanted to work hard cause he felt he owed it to David. And then I could see something I'd never seen before—that he wanted to be proud of himself too. That's when I realized it also applied to me, and we're both realizing how screwed up we were and now that all that shits behind us, we've got a future.

Well, I've got two futures. The career future if I do good in school and get into college. And the relationship future with my Sexy Man. God has he become my Sexy Man. I started calling him that kind of as a joke, but he's been so open and learned about sex, (just like I have!) and under that minister exterior is a real sexy creature that's coming to life. I know I'm learning too. When I used to tell David I wanted to get it on, I thought I knew it all, but I don't. He keeps saying things about what a great lover I am. Right!

And then the camp counselor thing grew into us doing the Harvest Fair….and I don't know why I suggested it, because I never thought I could pull it off, but we did. The committee was great, and Will and Tom and Lois and Kathy were so fun to work with and worked so hard and we all got along, and they never treated me like I didn't deserve to be the leader guy, we just all did it together, and Susan was like a magician in the background, pulling off the food and stuff like that. Then there was the dunk stand! I have to admit the "get even with the pastor" part was my idea, and everyone thought it was fabulous, including Susan! Go figure! Turns out she has a wicked sense of humor! Will's band played great and everyone stuck around to hear them, and it was like a little music festival and that was so cool too! In the end I know we made over $300 and we'll get the final number tomorrow!

So tomorrow we're having a cookout at David's place, I mean the parsonage, and that'll be fun. It'll be a celebration of the fair and working together and all that. And extra cool is that Gary and Lois have hit it off and are holding hands and probably kissing and stuff too. They seem to like each other a lot.

It's late and I've got to go to bed. I'm beat after the Fair, but I was so pumped up and excited after today that I had to write this all down while it was in my head. It's been an amazing three months. Like more has happened since July 4th than any other time in my life. I guess I grew up. I know I grew, cause my body is bigger and I've got more hair in the important places! But the most important thing is that I'm discovering the real me, and I'm in love with the greatest guy and he loves the real me too! How great is that!

In spite of having been at the Fair all day, Susan had the Sunday service organized as usual, we'd chosen the hymns earlier in the week and so essentially all I had to do was show up to lead the service and preach the sermon.

The passage from Luke that was today's Gospel lesson at the beginning of chapter 16 is one that on the surface appears difficult because it has two parts that don't seem to compliment each other. The first, addresses the disciples request for greater faith, and the second shifts to Jesus' expectations for the disciples. The first contains the famous passage about faith as great as a mustard seed, the second appears to rebuke the disciples for a minimalist performance—servants doing only what they were told to do. I reminded everyone of the previous passages in Luke about the coming of the Kingdom and the call that went along with it, to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to give alms to the poor, and that one could well describe that as mustard seed faith. A basic faith that extends into the world to help, rather than faith that is some kind of exchange. My example was the "Accept Christ" movement which put the emphasis on us, making us the ones doing the accepting, and given that we're humans that almost always means we see it as an exchange. We'll get something in exchange. The lingering question was is, in fact, that is the type of thing the disciples were being rebuked for?

After coffee hour I hopped in the El Camino and drove to the Food Town to buy supplies for the cookout. I wanted to make it easy, so I got a few six packs of soda and one of beer, a bottle of white wine, and then a large package of potato salad and one of three bean salad at the deli, and ten medium sized rib eye steaks. I'd cleaned the grill that was in the garage a few days earlier, so all I needed was a large bag of charcoal briquettes and some starter fluid and I was headed back home.

Everyone arrived within five minutes of 6:00 PM, including Lilly who looked tired but assured us she wanted to be there and stay as long as she could. The parsonage had a few metal lawn chairs and a small picnic table that I'd pulled out of the garage, and Jackson had helped me carry the kitchen chairs and the kitchen table outside, so we actually had seating for ten people. All the drinks plus a bottle of white wine were in a cooler with ice, and as soon as people started arriving, I'd fired up the briquettes, knowing they took thirty minutes to get to full temperature.

I noticed that while Lois and Kathy came together, as soon as Gary arrived Lois had moved to his side like iron filings to a magnet. That was a good sign. Once everyone was comfortable, I stood up and thanked them all for being here. "This is a little celebration because the Fair Committee did such a fabulous job planning and executing the Harvest Fair. It went off flawlessly, from my point of view and I have to say that subsequent Fair Committees are going to have a very high standard to live up to."

I hadn't planned anything with Susan, but didn't want to be taking all the attention, so I turned to her as said, "Susan, you were the Adult Advisor, and I was just the sponsor…and the dunking stand sucker!" That drew a great laugh. I went on "So Susan, would you like to share some thoughts as an inside observer?"

She set down her glass of white wine and stood up. "Well, you all know I've been teaching school for a long time and I've been choir director for a long time too. Probably a lot of people would tell you I've been doing both too long, but that's the way it is! So, among other things, that means I've seen a lot of kids come and go, and I've seen a lot of committees come and go. You know the old saying about having a dime for each thing in life? Well, if I had a dime for each of those committees, I could retire in Hawaii by now!"

Everyone laughed at that. "So here's what I want to say to you, specifically to you five that were on the Fair Committee, because as the Adult Advisor I was just along for the ride, mainly to keep you out of trouble, make sure you didn't make big mistakes, and answer questions when you had them. That said, you are an impressive group of young people, and that includes our newest and honorary member, Gary, who showed up of his own volition and offered to help and jumped right in. Without him we wouldn't have had what has turned out to be the most memorable carnival game at the Fair!" Everyone applauded, and the committee cracked up at that comment.

Susan continued, "Lilly, you didn't make it to the fair, so you need a little explanation. Your two sons cooked up the carnival game that was the highlight of the fair. Gary built this amazing dunk tank, and these teens all convinced, or maybe it was forced, Pastor Dave to be the person sitting in the dunk tank seat. And Jackson, in all his consummate and conniving wisdom dreamed up the tag line for the dunk tank. Have they told you what that was?"

Lilly shook her head. "Well," Susan said," it was a huge banner that said, 'Dunk the Pastor – your chance to get even!' and you should have seen the kids and adults lined up to try and get even!"

Lilly was smiling, but exclaimed, "Oh my! That seems like it was right on the edge!"

I was laughing along with everyone else and said, "Lilly, not to worry. It was all in good fun and for a great cause. I didn't know before, but a subject area worthy of graduate level study is why such a large percentage of the population want to get even with the pastor!"

Again, everyone cracked up, and Susan continued. "Will and Tom either found or got their parents to build the other games and managed to get the hot dog and pop corn concession equipment donated. Lois and Kathy designed and painted all the banners, which led an amazing festive air to the whole event. What I can say, after living here for quite a few years, is that Newberg has never seen a Harvest Fair like the one you very competent and capable young people executed."

Susan paused for a minute, then continued. "We're so appreciative of Gary coming into the group with all of his skills and talents." She paused for a round of applause, and Gary looked down, embarrassed. Susan looked right at him. "No need to be embarrassed, Gary, you didn't have to do this, yet you did, and you did great work." She looked specifically at him sitting next to Lois, the two of them holding hands, and softly remarked, "And it appears that another wonderful outcome from this involvement has taken place!" They both blushed at that.

Susan wasn't missing a thing. She then turned to Will and Tom. "Now, on the subject of music, both of you know that rock and roll is far from my favorite music form. However, I do make exceptions for specific circumstance, and this was one of them. Your performance with your band mate was terrific, and clearly the audience loved it, and it was a fabulous way to end the Fair." Another round of applause.

Susan wasn't done. "Now, I want to say something specific, if I may. I meant every single word I just said about the involvement and the work that each of you individually contributed. Without each and every one of you it wouldn't have happened. However, as is almost always the case, behind every group of successful people there is usually one person who has the vision and also has the ability to engage others and get them to share the vision and pull together to make it happen. It's like the old saying that you can have a dozen of the best draft horses in the country, but if you can't get them into the harness and if you don't know what to do then, you won't get any plowing done. So, with all due credit to the work you did, I want to make sure that we thank Jackson, who was the man behind the scene I've just described."

That comment was followed by loud hoots and cheers and a round of applause, and Jackson blushed like crazy. Susan sat down, and I stood up to make a couple of final comments. "Thank you, Susan, and I can say I agree with everything you said. Second, just for the record, I've never seen Jackson blush like that since I moved here. Have any of you. I mean look at him, he's red like a beet!"

All the kids were cracking up, but the wiser adults were just a little chagrined. I rubbed it in just a little more. "Really, Jackson, you may have to go take an aspirin or something you're so red. You don't look well. Are your hands and feet red too? Maybe you're having an allergic attack?"

He couldn't get any redder, but his eyes were starting to glare, and the smile was starting to fade. I let him stew for about five more seconds, and then said for the benefit of all there, "Jackson, I'm kidding you, of course. By the way, do you remember what I said to you in the parking lot about the banner on the dunk tank?" He nodded his head and didn't say a word.

I turned to everyone else and said, "Before the Fair opened, he told me to plan on being wet all day, and he was laughing so hard he could barely stand up. And I told him that it was fine to have that beautiful banner that said, "Your chance to get even," but that it wasn't limited to just the kids paying to dunk me. I would have the opportunity to get even too. And, I just did. Jackson, you're so cute when you blush like that. Doesn't everyone think so?" They all cheered and laughed, and the blushing appeared to ease just a little.

"Okay, seriously, now that we've got that over with, Jackson and all the rest of you, thanks for all you did to plan and organize the Harvest Fair. It went off superbly, and Susan tells me that we made almost $400, which means we have quite a fund to launch the Youth Fellowship this fall, which was why we did this in the first place. So, it seems to me that the barbecue is ready and I'm going to go grill steaks. Lois and Kathy, will you bring the salads out of the kitchen? You all know where the drinks are, and someone please make sure Susan and Ellen have a refill on their wine if they want one. And, last thing, you have to come tell me how you want you steak cooked. Then for dessert we have a gorgeous apple pie that Susan and Ellen brought."

The steaks simmered on the grill and tasted as good as they smelled while they cooked. Even though I hadn't grilled steaks for a long time, I didn't overcook any of them, and everyone was happy with the dinner. The apple pie was a hit, topped with some wonderful vanilla ice cream.

It wasn't too long after dessert that Lilly announced she was tired out and needed to get home as she had a therapy session in the morning. Gary and Lois offered to walk her home, and they all thanked us for dinner. Jackson told them he'd be home in a few minutes. Then Will and Tom and Kathy said their goodbyes. It was, after all, a school night.

Ellen had been surprisingly quiet all evening, but finally as the remaining four of us sat around the table she looked at Jackson and then me and said, "I wasn't involved in the Fair Committee, but I was there and impressed with what was accomplished. It was very efficient and professional. Notwithstanding what all four of us agreed to a month or so back, I want to tell you both how much I admire you, how well you work together, how much you care for each other, and how much you bring out the best in each other. Please do one thing for me?"

She looked directly at both of us. We were both surprised and maybe a touch worried, and probably showed it, but we both nodded. She simply said, "Don't ever stop. And now, I think Susan and I should head home. Susan has to teach in the morning, I have the hospital shift tomorrow, and somehow I think that Jackson probably has some remaining homework to attend to."

With that they stood to leave, and Jackson stood also and said, "Thanks so much for what you both said, and for what you are to us. We're not at school or church, so can I ask something of both of you?"

Susan and Ellen both nodded. Jackson blushed a little and then said, "Can I give both of you a hug?" Both ladies broke into wide grins and extended their arms. I had a feeling they hadn't had a request close to that one for years. It was a three-way hug, and somehow (I don't know how) it grew into a four-way hug. When we parted Jackson said, "Thanks. Now I've got to help Pastor Dave put the furniture back and then go see about that homework." And that was the end of the cookout that celebrated the Harvest Fair.

After we'd returned the furniture to the kitchen, and cleaned up, Jackson and I stood quietly on the back porch just enjoying the quiet and darkening evening. Finally, he looked up and said, "Guess what, Rev?"

I was caught completely off guard and probably looked it. "What?"

"Three weeks and I'm eighteen!"

He was trying so hard to keep a straight face, but I could see the smile lines at his eyes, and the strain in his lips. I leaned down and kissed the side of his face and just said, "Yep, three weeks. And then we have the rest of our lives!"

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