Kaiser's Pack - Next Gen

by Bensiamin

Chapter 1

Kaiser's Pack- Next Gen, by Bensiamin

The picture by jon@aus is reproduced from Flickr and in the public domain and provided here under the doctrine of ' fair use ' which is believed to apply.

© 2021 by Bensiamin. All rights reserved.

This is a work of gay fiction. While the locations are real, all characters and situations are imaginary. This story contains characters who earlier appeared in the Kaiser series, so the characters and story line will be more complete if you've read them first.


The week of Spring Break was drawing to a close, and Jerrod and Roger were back home in Portland after visiting their friend Michael in Pendleton. It was Friday morning, and they planned on driving over to visit Nate Willis at his home. Nate's older brother Matt had been the homophobic class bully, but was changing. Nate was recovering from a major hip surgery to repair the degenerative damage caused by Perthes disease and had been home from the hospital two days.

Jerrod, Roger, and Kaiser, their Golden Retriever therapy dog, were one of the dog therapy teams at Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland. At David's suggestion they'd told Eric's Mom, Coach Sam (she didn't like her full name of Samantha!) about Nate since he was a Little League baseball star and she'd had a hip injury during a college ski race. She had expressed interest in helping how she could.

Chapter 1

It was still early on Friday morning, and Jerrod woke up slowly. They had a busy day ahead, but no real rush. He turned from his back onto his side, missing Roger's presence after being together the previous three nights in Pendleton. Normally he'd nestle the side of his face against his boyfriend's shoulder. He closed his eyes, starting to drift off to sleep and wishing he was able to snuggle closer to his boyfriend. This was when he always felt the happiest and safest, when he was tightly bound to the boy he loved.

His thoughts went to the few days they'd spent in Pendleton with their friend, Michael, a cancer survivor they'd befriended from the hospital. He'd come out to his parents while they were there, and that trip had made for a busy spring break. This morning they were visiting another patient they'd met doing dog therapy work at Doernbecher Children's Hospital, and then playing tennis later with Eric and Kim.

He knew he'd drifted back to sleep because he woke a little later when he felt Kaiser's nose pushed into the small of his back. Jerrod startled and smiled to himself, thinking 'trusty dog." He brushed his curly, auburn hair off of his forehead and yawned as he saw the clock said seven thirty. He washed his face and dressed, then took Kaiser out for a quick pee walk and was feeding him in the kitchen when David and Jackson came in. Jerrod poured orange juice and Jackson made coffee as David got breakfast underway. They were eating and talking about the pleasant dinner the night before when the phone rang. Jerrod glanced at David and Jackson. Jackson grinned and said, "You're closest."

It was Sam, a teacher and girl's PE coach, and the wife of Jackson's oldest and best friend. "Welcome back. Jackson told me the plan was you'd be back late yesterday. Remember you told me about that patient you're visiting? The one that had the hip surgery? That's this morning, isn't it?

"Yeah, we're planning on going over about ten o'clock or so. He was discharged Tuesday, so he should be settled in by now."

"That sounds good. Why don't you pick me up on your way over? I need to get out of the house. Spring Break is starting to wear on me."

Jerrod grinned to himself, imagining the scene at the Summers' house with all of them off at the same time because Eric and Susan were in high school, Sam coached high school, and Will taught music at Lewis & Clark College. "What is it, Sam? Too much time off together?"

"Something like that. I need a break and to do a good deed. Pick me up on your way, and we'll go see what kind of trouble we can cause."

When Jerrod pulled up to the curb in front of the Summers' house, Sam was out the front door within seconds. She trotted to the Cherokee and jumped right in. "Okay, let's go," she said, as she reached over the seat back to pet Kaiser.

"Are you in a hurry?"

"Not really, but Kim stayed over last night, so I just cooked breakfast for the whole crew and then cleaned up and I need to be doing something different. Every day this week has felt like the weekend! You know, everyone home, all day long! Tell me about your new friend and his medical condition."

On the drive to Roger's house, Jerrod told her what he knew about Perthes disease, what Nate had gone through, how the surgery was necessary because the bracing approach hadn't worked, and that he'd be in the partial body cast for four to six weeks.

"Wow! That makes what I went through seem like nothing at all. I just had a major hip pointer."

They'd pulled up to Roger's house, Jerrod beeped the horn, and Roger popped out the front door. He hopped into the back seat next to Kaiser, saying, "Hi liebling . Good morning, Sam."

"Hi, Sunshine. How's it hanging?" Sam said as she reached back to clasp a hand.

"It's good. We've had a good week, and my acceptance letter to Portland State was here when we got home." He looked at Jerrod watching him in the rearview mirror, grinned and said, "Did you get a letter?"

Jerrod hadn't thought to tell Sam he'd been accepted at Lewis & Clark, with all the talk about Nate's condition. He grinned back at Roger. He'd planned to make it suspenseful, but that wasn't going to work. "Yeah, I did. I got accepted at Lewis & Clark." He glanced at Sam. "Did Eric get accepted? How about Kim?"

"He did. He had good grades, but he also had an inside track with his Dad teaching there. Kim got accepted at Portland State, but neither of them have heard from U of O or Oregon State. Both state universities seem to be on a later notification cycle."

Jerrod shifted into gear and pulled away from the curb. "It'll be cool. Eric and I can look out for each other, and so can Roger and Kim."

It was only a four-minute drive to the Willis house. They walked up and knocked on the front door, and a minute later Matt answered the door. He looked confused and surprised to see an adult with them on the front porch.

"Hi, bro. How's it going?"

Matt looked at Jerrod and said, "It's good. I'm kinda caught off guard with all of you here."

"No worries, Matt," Jerrod quickly replied. "This is Eric's Mom. She had a hip injury in college so wanted to come visit Nate, too. Are you going to let us in or just stand there?"

"Oh, sorry. I didn't mean to just stand here. Yeah, come in. Nate's been hoping you guys would come through today."

"Was there ever any doubt?" Roger asked. "Remember where we left it on Monday? We're all in Kaiser's Pack now and we all love each other. Right?"

Matt blushed, but then smiled and nodded and said, "Yeah, I remember. Come on in." He closed the door behind them and said, "Nate's room is down the hall here." He led the way, and when they went in Kaiser trotted right over and dropped his head on Nate's bed, licking his hand and waiting to be patted.

Roger and Jerrod had been doing so many different things since Monday that they'd forgotten that Nate would look the same at home, a fifteen-year old lying on a bed in a body cast that started high on his chest, went and over his groin, and then wrapped around and continued down one leg to the knee. The bed sheet was pulled up to his waist.

He was happily smiling at them and stroking Kaiser. "Hi, you guys. I was worried you wouldn't come."

"We told you that was the deal. Nate, this is Eric's Mom. She's a high school coach and wanted to come visit you 'cause she had a bad hip injury in college."

"Really? Wow, that's cool." He looked at Sam, and said, "I mean that you wanted to visit me, not that you had the hip injury."

"Not a problem, Nate. My name's Sam, short for Samantha. At school they call me Coach Sam, but how about you just call me Sam? Can I say that cast you're wearing looks like the most uncomfortable thing I've seen in a long time?" She grinned at him.

"You've got that right. I've only been home three days, and they said I'd get used to it, but I don't know. It's pretty much a total drag."

Sam sat down in the chair next to his bed, intent on a conversation with Nate. She looked at Matt and said, "How are you on room service? Can you make me a cup of coffee? What about your brother? Does he need something?"

Matt stumbled for a couple of seconds, then understood and smiled at her saying, "Coffee coming up. What do you want, Bro?"

Nate said more orange juice, and Matt nodded for Jerrod and Roger to follow him and they headed for the kitchen. He pointed at the stools by the island and put coffee grounds and water in the brewer then said, "I'm like totally amazed that Eric's Mom is here after all the shit I gave him."

Jerrod grinned "She doesn't know. Eric's a good man, he's not a rat fink. He fights his own battles. Sam's the best, and she's the kind of person who just wants to help. She was a ski racer in high school and college, and relates 'cause she was laid up for a couple of months her freshman year, after she crashed in a race and smashed her hip. The docs worried the head of the femur was going to die, just like happened to Nate, but for a different reason."

"No way!"

"Yeah. Small world, eh?"

"You guys want something to drink?"

They both said orange juice, and Matt poured. While they were waiting for the coffee to brew, Roger asked how he'd been doing.

"Well, Mom's at work every day, so I've been here with Nate since he got home. That's cool. Basically, it's try to keep him company and then when he needs to go to the bathroom, help him get in there."

"How's that working out?"

"It's complicated. I mean he has to start using that walker to keep weight off the hip, right. He's still can't get in and out of bed by himself, and that thing is clunky, so it's just easier if I pick him up and carry him in to the bathroom. That means stand him up in front of the toilet and hold him there to take a piss, and kind of hold his leg up in the air when he needs to take a dump."

"Sounds fun," Jerrod said with a wry smile. "You don't need to keep him upright and hold his cock, too, do you?"

"What? No way. He can hold his own cock."

"Can he wipe his ass, or does he need you to do that for him?"

Matt blushed this time. "He really can't, so I have to. I mean, what the fuck else am I supposed to do?"

"That's what you're supposed to do," Roger said. "Remember, we're all in Kaiser's Pack now, and that's the deal. We take care of each other."

"Jackson told me a while ago that the first year he and David were together," Jerrod added, "David got hit by a car while on his bicycle and it tore the rotator cuff in his shoulder, and his arm was in a sling and he couldn't use the arm for weeks. Meaning his right arm. Guess which arm he wiped his butt with? Yep! And guess who had to wipe his butt for him? Now you know why they love each other so much!"

Matt rolled his eyes and scrunched his face. "Too much information, man!"

Then he said to Roger, "Will you take Nate his OJ and see if Sam wants sugar and cream in her coffee?"

As he disappeared down the hall, Jerrod said, "So, what happens next week when school starts?"

"I don't know yet. Why"

"Because, Big Guy, you'll be in school, too. Your Mom works. Who gets Nate to the bathroom and back during the day?"

"I've already started worrying about that," Matt said as Roger rejoined them with Sam's order.

"Well, stop worrying. I've got wheels. So, if you can get him to take a dump in the morning and then a real long piss before you leave for school, you and me will zip back here at lunch time so you can get him to the bathroom. Then after school, forget the bus. Roger rides with me, and now you will, too, and we'll just shoot straight here after school and we can make Job One getting Nate to the toilet. What'a ya think?"

"That's an awesome plan. Come on, let's get this coffee down to Sam."

They walked in on an animated conversation and it was clear Nate was completely taken with this woman who was a high school coach and understood teens and had suffered through a similar injury.

She sipped her coffee and then said, "Pretty good, Matt. Not as good as Starbucks, but still, pretty good for a high school barista!"

Matt grinned, embarrassed, and said, "Yeah, well."

Sam then brightly said, "Nate has been explaining how adroitly you handle his health care and personal sanitation requirements, carrying him to the bathroom and helping him out with the difficult aspects of personal hygiene caused by that cast."

Matt stared blankly, then looked at this brother and said, "You didn't tell her about all of that did you?"

"Yeah, why not. She had the same problem after her hip pointer. Even without a cast her leg was wrapped and immobilized, and going to the toilet when you have to keep your leg straight and put no weight on it is a major prob. Turns out she had a killer roommate." He paused to let Matt hear what he was saying, kind of enjoying embarrassing him, and then added softly, "Turns out I have a killer big brother."

Sam turned the conversation back to rehab and starting physical therapy, aiming to get Nate thinking ahead about progress and improvement. Jerrod said to them, "Why don't you two talk recovery and we'll go in the kitchen with Matt and talk about school stuff, getting your class material and homework assignments. Kaiser can stay here with you guys."

When they sat down in the kitchen, Jerrod said, "The class material will be a no-brainer. You should be able to get it from each of his teachers, and Roger and I will help if you need it, okay? We'll help Nate get it done, too, if he needs it."

Matt nodded.

"Now," Jerrod went on, "how are you doing?"

"I'm doing fine. I mean, it's been easy this week since it's Spring Break. I have started worrying about next week with school and stuff, but you guys already have a plan for that." He stopped, looking from one to the other and then said, "I still don't get it. Why are you doing this? I mean you like Nate 'cause he's a dog therapy patient and all, but you're helping me, too. Why?"


Jerrod waited for Matt to look at him and then continued. "You may think we've got some grudge or ulterior motive after what happened before. We don't. It's over, it's gone. Right, Roger?"

He looked at his boyfriend, who grinned and then said, "I don't remember a thing. What was supposed to have happened?"

"You guys are fucking crazy, you know that? I mean good crazy, but still." He smiled at them.

Jerrod looked at him and said in all seriousness, "Listen Big Guy, we're all in Kaiser's Pack. That's a serious deal. We all take care of each other. Something might happen to me this summer and you'd be covering for me. Who knows? The end of last year it centered on Roger. Right now, it centers on Nate, but that won't last long. Four or six weeks will go by pretty quickly, and then we'll by worrying about getting him to physical therapy two or three times a week, and by the end of summer he'll be starting normal activities again and life will be good."

"You think, really?"

"We do," Roger said softly, "we've talked to the Ortho nurses at the hospital, and that's pretty much the story we got. He may not be playing as full on as he used to, but he can start playing again if he wants to and is careful. Something that I learned with my epilepsy is that you can't be stupid about it, you have to go with what the docs say, but you can't be controlled by fear either. The docs said even though I was blacking out, that I had a treatable and temporary form and I'd outgrow it. I didn't believe it and let myself get all depressed, 'cause all I could think about was why my boyfriend would want to stay with a blind epileptic. He kept pulling me back to reality and telling me it was all about thinking positive. That's what Sam's doing in there with Nate right now. I mean Sam and Kaiser."

"I hear you, but I still don't know why. I mean I get helping Nate, but why do all this stuff for me after what I did to you guys."

"Matt, can I ask you a hard question, a personal question?" Roger was, looking at him with a soft smile, his face covered in an open and innocent expression.

Matt looked at Roger, a little trepidation showing on his face. "Yeah, you can ask."

"Why are you feeling guilty about this?"

"What'a ya mean guilty? I'm not guilty. I just don't get it."

"Meaning you don't think you deserve it?"

He was quiet. Then he slowly said, "Yeah, kind of."

"We told you already, let all that stuff go, all that guilt stuff. You're one of us now, one of Kaiser's Pack. We love each other, and that means we take care of each other. Help each other out. That's all there is to it. No obligations, no guilt. Can you get with that program?"

"I guess. I mean, I'll try. It's pretty new. I mean since our Dad died it's all been kind of strained and nothing ever felt right."

"Is that why you felt you had to be the tough guy? Because nothing ever felt right?"

Matt was silent.

Roger and Jerrod gave him space, then Jerrod said, "If nothing ever felt right, that was then. Guess what? Like I told you, I went through that, too. The situation was different, but I didn't feel right, and I was angry. You can turn the page if you want to. We're all here now, not back there then. It's time for things to start feeling better. Okay?"

Matt nodded, not saying anything.

Aiming to change the subject, Roger said, "Where did you apply for college? Heard anything yet?"

Matt smiled and said, "Oregon and Oregon State, 'cause they've got big time football programs, it's in-state tuition, and I'm hoping for an athletic scholarship. I should get in 'cause I had decent grades. I also applied to Washington State but that'll be out of state and harder, and getting an athletic scholarship is going to be a major part of it."

"Good thing you were a star in high school then, right?" Roger quipped with a smile and his eyes sparkling and all innocent looking.

"Yeah, right! Let's talk about that after I find out."

"That'll probably be next week. Oregon and Oregon State are later than Lewis & Clark and Portland State."

"Yeah? How do you know that?"

"Because certain of your friends have already found out. I got my acceptance from PSU and Jerrod got his from Lewis & Clark. So did Eric and Kim. Sam told us that Oregon and Oregon State are on a later cycle. So, plan on next week having good news!"

"God, I hope. You don't know."

"Come on, bro," Jerrod said, "Let's go see how Nate and Sam are doing."

As they'd anticipated, Sam had convinced Nate that there was a tunnel of light ahead of him, that he just had to be positive and patient, and that within a week or two he'd be able to comfortably get up and about with the walker and maybe even leave the house, and that after the cast came off the physical therapy would be a take off ramp to full recovery.

He was grinning at her. "Is this the kind of pep talk you give all your athletes at school?"

"Of course! You don't think you develop winning teams by letting them just sit around and stew in their own doubt, do you?"

"And you really think I'll be playing baseball again?"

"Sure, why not. You'll have to ease into it, but yes. Now, tell me about those trophies on that bookshelf, and those team photos. What's the deal?"

Nate looked a little embarrassed. "Some of the trophies are kind of like MVP things, and a couple are team championships. We were a pretty good team for a few years. The picture on the left is the first team championship."

Sam picked up the picture and held it up for examination. "When was this taken? Let me see if I can pick you out?"

Nate said, "it was three years ago when I was twelve. We were a Major Division team for eleven and twelve-year olds. The next year I was on the next team up for twelve and thirteen-year olds."

Sam was listening and looking intently back and forth between the photo and Nate on the bed. "You've grown up a little haven't you? Still, I'm guessing this is you. The good looking one right here." She pointed at a broadly grinning young man kneeling in the front row.

Nate grinned. "Yep, that's me. I was smaller then, and it was the next year my hip started hurting, and the year after that it wasn't working so well, and I had trouble running. But I could still hit and field!"

Sam grinned back at him. "I bet you could. Who's this man next to you? Was he your team's coach? He looks familiar."

Nate nodded and said, "Yeah, that was Coach Evan. That was the last year he was coach in our league. See, there's a different coach in the next picture. That's Coach Phil. Coach Evan really knew baseball and helped us develop a lot."

He stopped and quickly glanced at Matt. Jerrod was watching Matt as Sam and Nate talked about the photos, and as Nate mentioned Coach Evan, he observed the blanched expression that appeared on Matt's face.

It wasn't long before it was apparent that Nate was getting tired, and they all said it was time to go. The agreement was that Team Kaiser would be back the next day since they had to be at the hospital on Sunday, but Sam had faculty commitments at school, so she said she'd stop in one afternoon in the coming week.

They talked about Nate's condition and his prospects on the way home and Sam was positive and hopeful. "That boy's tough. He's gone through two years of hell, but he's still pretty much upbeat, and there's still a spark in his eyes. What he needs right now is more of what you three are giving him. I mean friendship and hope."

As she stepped out of the Cherokee in front of her home she leaned over to the window and said, "This team is doing great work, just in case you aren't told that very often. And my respect for you has grown a lot because you've extended it outside the hospital with boys like Nate. Keep it up! Everyone should receive therapy like this when they need it."

She turned and they watched her walk up the sidewalk, then turn at the steps and wave. Team Kaiser headed home. The weekend before the start of Spring Quarter was off to a good start with partly sunny skies, and the promise of more daylight and less rain and gray clouds.

"What made you ask Matt about feeling guilty?" Jerrod softly asked his boyfriend as they were driving to Roger's house.

"It just felt right. We both know something's boiling in there, inside him. When he started talking about it, he also talked about the anger. They're both connected, don't you think?"

"Yeah, I do. I just don't know how yet. We should talk to David and Jackson about it. David is the psychologist. It was pretty weird when Sam was asking about Nate's trophies and stuff?"

"Sure was. Matt kind of got a sour face when Nate mentioned that Coach Evan, and acted like he didn't want to be part of the conversation. Maybe we can find out more tomorrow."

He changed the subject. "Tonight, we're all going out to dinner to celebrate, you know?"

Roger nodded. "Do you know the details?"

"David made reservations at the Chart House. That's a great seafood restaurant up in the hills south of the hospital, with a great view of the river and east over the city. Since there's six of us, that means two cars. So, we're meeting you and your parents there, and then you're coming home with us. You're sleeping with me tonight, and I have plans."

"That's good to know. We should both take naps so we're ready for each other."

"I like that idea."

Roger nodded his head and wiggled his eyebrows. He leaned over and kissed Jerrod's cheek when the Cherokee stopped in front of his house. Jerrod kissed him back and said, "Have fun with your chores. See you this evening, selle ."

He helped David and Jackson with some house cleaning and then yard work after lunch, and the weather stayed as high clouds and not rain. They all walked down to Oaks Bottom Park and took a long walk along the river. As they got to the north end of the park, they stopped to watch a few kayakers paddle out of the slough and into the main channel.

"Looks like fun, doesn't it," David asked out loud. "Maybe we should try kayaking this summer. We could rent some to start with."

They got to the Chart House on schedule, found close-in parking, and were just being seated when Roger and his parents arrived. After brief greetings they settled in for a pleasant evening with wide ranging conversation from the new experience of calving on a ranch, to helping a friend come out to his parents, to their college acceptance.

On the drive home they filled David and Jackson in on the visit to Nate and Matt. Roger was effusive about how great it had been to have Sam along, how she connected with Nate because of the shared hip injuries and as a coach was able to talk about his baseball accomplishments in a new way and give him hope.

"You were right, Uncle David, asking Sam to get involved was an important thing to do. That kid's gone through a lot, and still has a lot of work ahead of him. She made him believe it was totally doable."

"That's Sam. She's top notch. How are things with Matt. Is he reconciled to the new social dynamic and past the tough guy bully stuff?"

Jerrod frowned. "He's past the tough guy bully shit, but is still struggling with why we're doing what we're doing. You know, second guessing himself. I keep telling him he's in Kaiser's Pack now and it's a new scene, so he just has to accept it. But there's something else I haven't figured out yet."


"Yeah. It's about the anger. He was starting to tell me about nothing feeling right after his Dad died, and when I asked about it, he kind of said the anger started then. I guess I can kind of understand some of that. You know, you're twelve or thirteen and your Dad is killed and gone, and there's this big hole in your life. Anyway, I'll keep talking to him about it."

"I can kind of relate," Jackson said. "More about Gary than me, I mean when Gary's Dad got arrested and was in jail and gone, he was a senior. That was hard for him, even if he was being abused."

"I bet. And we found out that until a few years ago Matt played baseball and football, too. You know, like Bo Jackson, till he got burned out and quit baseball and went for the ski team."

"Keep talking to him," David said. "Unresolved anger can be toxic, and it's kind of unusual that his Dad dying would be the root cause. I mean, any teenager would be angry about the unfairness of life if their Dad died, but over time they learn that people die all the time, that's the way life is. It's not like it's something that was inflicted on them as a punishment."

Jerrod was pensive, looked at Roger and then back and David and said, "Good advice. We'll do that. We're playing tennis with Eric and Kim in the morning, then going back to visit Nate after lunch. We'll see what we find out."

When they got home the boys bid an early goodnight and Jerrod was in bed when Roger came in from the bathroom. He crawled in bed, kissed Jerrod passionately and then said softly, "It's been quite a week, don't you think?"

Jerrod pulled him close and nodded. "It sure has. All of it good, too. And being back in our bed, with you lying in my arms is about the best feeling in the world." He paused, kissed the top of Roger's head and said, "Can we go slow, just let me hold you and feel your warmth and see where it goes?"

Roger snuggled closer and whispered, "Of course."

It was only minutes later that his fingertips were circling Jerrod's nipples and then dancing across his belly and into his pubes and he said softly, "I can see I'm not the only one who's horny."

"I never said I wasn't. I just said I wanted to hold you and cuddle you for a while first." He reached down and softly put his hand around Roger's cock, and felt Roger reach for his. "Yes!" he sighed.

Jerrod woke early the next morning, and this time as he rolled on his side, he could see Roger's profile in the dawning light when he opened his eyes. He snuggled closer, putting an arm over Roger's stomach and resting his face against his shoulder. He was conscious of Roger's aroma, wafting up from his armpit. This was his soulmate's smell, one that he totally loved. A random thought flashed through his mind about an article he'd read about pheromones and dog's sense of smell, and he remembered that the two main sources are the sweat glands in the groin and armpits. He smiled to himself, thinking it was good that Roger smelled the same both places. Strong but not overpowering, masculine and yet still sweet.

It was a smell he found very attractive, he thought to himself, as he nodded off back to sleep.

Later, as they walked into the kitchen, Jackson grinned and said to David, "Oh look, the Bliss Twins are here for breakfast."

Jerrod rolled his eyes and said, "Other than the fact that it's too early, Jackson, we're glad you approve. Can you cut us some slack?"

Jackson was giggling away, and David rolled his eyes at the give and take at the kitchen table.

The tennis game was rousing, given that Eric had been able to get access to the Lewis & Clark courts, too, since his Dad was on faculty. They played hard and laughed about how much more tennis they'd all have under their belts than the other players by the time the tennis team try outs started. Jerrod made a point of making sure Roger knew he was signing up for the tennis team on Monday and no weaseling out would be tolerated. Kim grinned at him, "You said you'd go out for tennis, man, so there's no escape."

Roger and Jerrod took Kaiser for a walk at the neighborhood park after lunch, to take the edge off, before they headed over to visit Nate. Matt let them in, and Kaiser gave him an animated greeting, then headed straight down the hall to Nate's room. Matt yelled that they'd be down after he introduced Jerrod and Roger to their Mom. She was in the kitchen baking, and was happy to meet Nate's new friends.

"You're the young man with the car that's going to drive Matt home at noon on school days to help Nate get to the bathroom? Thank you in advance for offering to do that."

Jerrod nodded and apologized that Kaiser went straight to Nate's room. "He just shot straight in there as soon as we came in the door. Did Nate tell you he's a member of Kaiser's Pack?"

Nate's Mom looked confused.

"It's a thing with Kaiser. If he checks you out and accepts you, then you're a member of his pack. It's kind of like a club. You know, a club made up of good folks that take care of each other, that's led by a dog."

"How sweet."

"Well, Nate was an automatic member. As soon as Kaiser saw him at the hospital, he was all over him and that was that."

Roger looked at Matt. "Did you tell your Mom?"

"What? No. I mean, we hadn't gotten around to…"

"Matt, you didn't tell me what?

Matt was quiet, struggling somehow, and Roger kept going. "Matt's in the Pack, too. He was there when we visited Nate, and Kaiser checked him out, too, and decided he passed. Pretty cool, eh?"

"I've got to see this dog. He sounds like he works magic. I can come back and put this cake together in a few minutes."

When they walked into Nate's room, they found Kaiser up on the bed lying next to Nate with his head on the thigh without the cast. Nate was happily stroking his ears and talking to him like they were old friends. Kaiser raised an eyebrow, as if trying to understand why he was being disturbed.

Nate introduced his mom, who was named Laurie, to Kaiser, and she made a thing out of meeting the dog she'd heard so much about.

"Sorry he's on the bed, Mom. He just jumped up." Nate tried to look all innocent.

His mom grinned. "Well, I don't know if that's part of dog therapy, but if it helps you get well faster, then I'm not going to complain."

After a few minutes she excused herself to finish her cake and Jerrod asked Nate how he was doing.

"I guess I'm getting used to the whole routine. This is the first time I've ever looked forward to school staring just because this whole scene is so fucking boring. Oh, and guess what?" He grinned and his eyes glimmered.

"No idea, clue us in."

"Michael called me last night from Pendleton."


"Yeah. Remember, he was with you on Monday when you came back to see me in the hospital."

"I do." Jerrod was cheering in his mind that Michael had followed through and called Nate like he said he would.

"He told me all about your trip up there and all the wild and crazy stuff that happened."

Matt said, "Wild and crazy stuff? In Pendleton?"

Nate grinned at him knowingly. "Yeah, they hiked and drove around, and it's calving season and these guys helped Michael birth calves, and everyone loved Kaiser, and Roger blew his parent's minds when he gave Kaiser a manicure, and Michael came out to his parents. All in two days. Wild and crazy, huh?"

He was grinning and happy with himself as he watched his brother absorb the information.

"That does sound wild and crazy. You actually were birthing calves?"

Jerrod and Roger alternated telling them about helping cows with their first birth, and the straps to pull the calf out to help the cow. Matt and Nate were wide-eyed. "Michael's grandpa called us city slickers, but he said later that we did a pretty good job."

"Wild." Matt was still trying to conjure up a picture in his mind of what had been described. Then he looked at his little brother. "What do you mean he came out to his parents?"

Nate looked at him incredulously. "He told them he's gay. They hadn't talked about it before."

Matt's expression went neutral, and then he said, "Oh. Is that what it's called? How come he's telling you about that kind of stuff?"

"Well, because we're all in the Pack, and because these guys are gay and because I told him I used to have a crush on Johnny Robertson."

"You told him about that? That was two years ago. I thought that was all over. I don't get it." He paused, then looked at Jerrod and Roger. "Sorry, you guys, I'm not being a homophobe. This just caught me off guard."

"No worries." They just smiled back at Matt.

Nate went on, "Matt, he's my friend. He's my age. He was a patient, and he understands what I'm going through, and I like him. In fact, I like him a lot. He's my age, and he's cute and he's a cool dude. Okay?"

"What do you mean 'he's cute?' That's weird."

"It's not weird. He is. He's cute. I want to get to know him better."

"Your call. Fine by me."

They talked for a while longer, and explained how Matt was going to ride to school in the Cherokee, and how they'd zip home at lunch break and then back right after school. Nate thought it was very cool.

After they said goodbye to Nate, they walked down the hall together towards the front door. As they approach Matt's room, Jerrod said, "So, Matt, are you going to show us your room? I'm betting you've got twice the number of trophies Nate does."

Matt had looked embarrassed, but it seemed like he felt stuck, and said, "Yeah, if you want. They're just sports trophies, you know."

"No. I heard Sam tell Nate yesterday that they're more than that. They're indicators of accomplishment. Remember she said, 'As we grow older, we take them more and more for granted, especially the earliest ones,' but they were a big deal when you got them, weren't they? Come on, we want to see your awards."

Matt gave a weak smile and opened the door into his room. It was surprisingly tidy for a teenager, and Roger commented on it. Matt grinned timidly and said, "Mom doesn't put up with much mess, and we all help with the housework and stuff since she works. It didn't take me long to figure out it's easier to keep it tidy than have to do it all at once."

The wall over Matt's desk had three shelves full of trophies and awards, as well as medals and photographs. Matt gave a cursory description, and Jerrod realized he was a little uncomfortable talking about his accomplishments. Jerrod pointed at a few off to the side of the upper shelf and said, "So, Matt, these three over here look like baseball. I didn't know you played baseball, too."

"Yeah, I did both for a few years, then I decided I didn't want to play baseball anymore. It just got to be too much, so I quit the team."

Jerrod's eyebrows had gone up. "Wow! The way you play football and ski, I bet you could have been another Bo Jackson."

"No, don't go there. He was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of athlete. They threw away the mold after they made him. Anyway, I've always skied, too, so after I quit baseball, I skied more and got on the ski team, and that was cool."

It was clear Matt was not happy having the attention on him, especially that brought about by his athletic trophies and awards. Which seemed odd to Jerrod because he was so competitive during the event or the game. Why was he so uncomfortable about the awards, and almost embarrassed about the baseball trophies?

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