Kaiser's Pack - Next Gen

by Bensiamin

Chapter 3

At dinner, when Jackson told David and Jerrod what he was doing the next day, Jerrod initially was in disbelief, then it slowly dawned on him.

"You really connected, didn't you?"

"I don't know yet. What I do know is that I grew up without a father and he's spent the last few years without a father, and we've got that in common. I know what that pain is. I can see the pain in him. I think you're right that there's something else going on in there, too. So, I'm just going to see if I can get through the pain and connect. I'll tell you though, anything I'm able to do is because of the groundwork you laid. My sense is that he's never really been accepted for who he is by anyone outside his family. That's why he's struggling to understand how and why you guys accept him and treat him like you do."

Jerrod grinned. "I thought David had the psychology degree."

"Well, I guess some of it rubbed off on me." He looked at his partner and winked. David grinned back and then looked at Jerrod, saying, "But don't lose sight of something I've said before. This is happening with Nate and especially with Matt because you involved yourself to help them. I mean you and Roger, or course, but you made the conscious decision to do it. Remember me saying before about you guys becoming the next generation to take over helping gay kids?"

"Yeah, I do. It seems like a big responsibility, though."

David laughed. "Well, you both seem to be off to a pretty damn good start!"

The next morning Jackson pulled up to the curb in front of Matt's house, revved the engine and hit the horn twice. Matt appeared at the door, smiling widely.

As he settled into the passenger seat he said, "Mom thinks this is really cool of you, and Nate is in there like dying of jealousy."

"When we get back you can tell him he's got a rain check and gets a ride as soon as he can figure out how to get in this car with that cast on!"

Matt smiled back, clicked his seat belt and they headed east on Tacoma Avenue and then north on McLoughlin Boulevard. Matt asked about the car and Jackson explained that it was a Special Edition model with a 383 cubic inch engine and a performance cam. "You can see it's got four on the floor, and it can really haul, but it's not the over-the-top version they made with the hemi engine. Dad said it was a sane version for a guy like me." He grinned at Matt, who smiled back.

It was early enough there wasn't a lot of traffic, and it was especially light on Highway 26 when they turned east and could really let the Challenger roar. They naturally talked about cars and Matt said he didn't know much, but thought old muscle cars like the Challenger were cool. Jackson admitted he wasn't a natural car guy like Eric's dad, and most of what he knew he'd learned along the way. "Will's still got his old Chevy Nova, and it's a pretty good performer too. I know the most important thing is driving them and changing the oil regularly. My Dad asks me every time we talk, when was the last time I had the car out of garage?"

"He sounds like a cool dude."

"He is. He's always been a car guy. He was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He lives in Seattle and directs flight operations for Life Flight up there. He's going to retire soon, then we'll see what happens."

They'd turned around and were heading back to Portland. Matt said, "My Dad liked cars and always talked about wanting some kind of performance car, but you know with a family he had to be practical, and then there was affording it. Anyway, he bought a Volvo 850 Sedan when it came out. He called it a four-door performance car. I remember it had a 2.5 liter five cylinder engine and a five-speed manual transmission. He loved it and thought it was so great, but Mom hated the manual transmission. I always thought he'd teach me to drive in it. Then a year after he got it, he got killed."

"Jerrod told me you told him about your dad dying in an accident at work. That's so sad. What happened to the car?"

"Well, he had a good job with a big construction company, and the life insurance policy was enough to pay off the house and the car loan and stuff, but mom hated the manual transmission, so it wasn't long before she traded it in on the station wagon version with an automatic. So, besides the cars in Driver's Ed, I've only driven the Volvo wagon." He paused and looked at Jackson with a wry grin, "It's not a performance car!"

Jackson grinned back and said, "Replaced with practicality! It's noon, how about we stop at our house and have a quick sandwich. David is out doing stuff so it'll be simple, and your mom's home, so she can take care of Nate, right?"

Matt nodded and when they got home, they settled in the kitchen and Jackson put out chips and salsa, some drinks and made a couple of sandwiches.

They chatted for a couple of minutes as they ate, and then Jackson turned serious. "You told me yesterday when we were talking, that you're figuring out it feels good to have friends like Jerrod and Roger. Have you figured out yet what it was that made you feel like you didn't have any real friends?"

"Well, not really. I mean, you know with mom needing me to help her after dad died, and with school and sports and stuff, there's only so much time."

"Yeah, that's true, but you were saying how nothing felt right, and then there was all that anger. Have you figured out what that's all about?"

"My dad dying, I guess. We were close and he was a good athlete and good at teaching me sports and stuff, and then he was gone."

"Is that when you were in Little League? I'm guessing football came later, right? Not till junior high school?"

"Yeah, dad got me into Little League and taught me the basics and would pitch for me in the back yard, you know, and hit ball after ball so I could practice fielding. When I got bigger, we moved to the park Nate told you about yesterday. Dad was an assistant coach in Little Le ague, too. He said it was important to be on a team and work and learn teamwork and stuff. And that was great for a couple of years. He was always there cheering me on, and then one day it was all gone."

"Well, not all gone, right? I mean you were still on the team. You had them. You could still play.

"Yeah, for a while, but there were problems."


"Meaning that the last year I didn't get along with the coach and then I quit."

"Really? Why was that?"

"Well, he was on me all the time about how I was playing, and wanting to spend time with me to work on skills, and… and just all over me about stuff."

"And you quit baseball because of that?"

"I mean it just got to be too much. I quit baseball, but I'd started playing football, so that's what I focused on."

"Matt, I've only known you two days now, but I'm going to take a chance because I like you a lot. And I know Jerrod and Roger like you a lot, too. Like I told you, I grew up without my dad. I had a stepfather, and have a half-brother named Gary. My stepfather sexually abused Gary, so I know something about that, too. I talked to Sam last night and she told me about Coach Evan. She's a coach, too, so she knows most of the other coaches in the area, and what's going on. She remembered that he suddenly left under a cloud, and there were rumors of sexual impropriety. Have you figured out what happened back then with you and your coach after your father died?"

Matt was looking at him wide-eyed and then looked down at the table, just staring at his hands.

Jackson remained silent for a couple of minutes, and Matt glanced at him a couple of times, but didn't seem able to say anything.

"Matt, you've got to sort this out. If you don't, it'll eat you up from the inside. Trust me, I've seen it. David and I have worked with high school and college kids for twenty years. I know how hard it is to get in touch with a lot of this stuff. Meaning, the things you've stuffed away so you don't have to deal with them. And I know how hard it is to open up and dig them out and then to talk about them. It's painful, isn' t it?"

Matt's face was flushed, and he nodded. "Yeah, it is."

"Have you figured out that I'm on your side, just like Jerrod and Roger are?"

"Yeah, I have."

"Can I try something different that might help?"

"What'a ya mean?"

"It's something David used on me as a way to express emotion and convey a message without having to talk about it, 'cause a lot of the time all that talking sounds like a lecture. And I know you get plenty of that at school. It just means you come in the living room with me, and I play you a song. And not to worry, it's an old rock song. I figure you'll be able to handle it."

Matt smiled weakly, and nodded, "Okay, I'll give it a try."

Jackson sat him in one of the armchairs, cued up the record and handed him the album cover. "The song is called Behind Blue Eyes by The Who. The lyrics are right here. I suggest you follow along, then we'll talk some more."

No one knows what it's like
To be the bad man, to be the sad man
Behind blue eyes
No one knows what it's like
To be hated, to be fated
To telling only lies

But my dreams, they aren't as empty
As my conscience seems to be
I have hours, only lonely
My love is vengeance that's never free
No one knows what it's like
To feel these feelings like I do
And I blame you
No one bites back as hard
On their anger, none of my pain and woe
Can show through

But my dreams, they aren't as empty
As my conscience seems to be
I have hours, only lonely
My love is vengeance that's never free

When my fist clenches, crack it open
Before I use it and lose my cool
When I smile, tell me some bad news
Before I laugh and act like a fool

And if I swallow anything evil
Put your finger down my throat
And if I shiver, please give me a blanket
Keep me warm, let me wear your coat

No one knows what it's like
To be the bad man, to be the sad man
Behind blue eyes

Jackson watched Matt read and listen, and saw the immediate engagement, as well as the emotional response that followed. Halfway through the song the tears were beginning to show, and he struggled to control himself for the rest of it.

When the song ended, Jackson lifted the tone arm and turned off the stereo. "So, let me tell you a little about the song. Peter Townshend wrote it one night on tour after they met a bouncer who had these amazing intense blue eyes and a dark military background. I guess we'd call it PTSD today, but the guy with the blue eyes just radiated pain from the losses and hardships. Can you relate to that?"

Matt nodded. "Yeah, kind of."

"So, PTSD is post-traumatic stress disorder, and everyone thinks it's a military thing, but it happens to anyone who's suffered trauma. Sexual abuse is a trauma. Especially for children. You're an attractive guy, Matt, and I bet you were a very cute kid. You're an athlete with a great physique. That was obvious the first time I met you. You know what else was obvious? To me, anyway?"

Jackson waited, and Matt finally said, "What?"

"The pain behind your eyes. It immediately made me think of this song. I'd just ask you to think about the lyrics, about what it says about being the bad man and the sad man, about being hated and fated and telling lies, behind those eyes."

Jackson waited, and Matt said nothing.

"You know how the song starts off kind of soft and reflective, and then halfway through it changes to this hard-driving rock and roll part. That represents the crazy pain and how it can control you, or what has to happen to break through and get beyond whatever it is that is causing that pain behind your eyes. It doesn't have to keep being this way, Matt. You have to tell me if I'm reading things right or completely off the wall. But, for sure, whatever it is, it doesn't have to control you anymore."

Matt was still silent, but looking up at Jackson with a pained but hopeful expression, the tears running down his face.

"You heard how the song talks about what's going on inside? Like, feel the feelings… none of my pain can show… my love is vengeance that's never free. You've got to sort this out or you risk being trapped in that fate of your love being a vengeance that's never free. You probably also heard the hint of suicide in the line about 'if I swallow anything evil put your finger down my throat." Jackson stopped again, and Matt was still looking at him, listening but not speaking.

"I know there's love in there because Jerrod told me you have a heart and I've seen you take care of your little brother. Do you want to talk about it?"

"Yeah. I've never heard it before."

"Heard what?"

"Heard what I feel like inside. Heard it said… or sung, you know, out loud."

Matt lapsed into silence and kept staring at his hands. Finally, after a few deep breaths, then a couple of sobs, he said, "It's not because of my Dad dying, though that really hurt, it's because of my Little League coach."

"Coach Evan? Was he sexually abusing you?"

Matt nodded, then haltingly said, "Yeah. He knew my Dad, like he got to know all the parents of kids on the team. He came to the funeral, spent time with me to help me out, got closer, you know. It helped a lot 'cause I was hurt and lonely. Mom thought it was great 'cause I wouldn't be alone and he'd kind of fill the hole from my dad. He told me he loved me and would take care of me. And then it started."

"How did it start?"

"You know. Hugging and holding, which felt good 'cause I felt so empty. And then the hugging turned into rubbing and he'd be holding my butt and stuff."

"So, did he start fondling you and getting you hard?"

Matt nodded.

"And was that embarrassing?"

"Well, kind of. I mean I was already jacking off, but I knew it was wrong with him, but we were close, and it felt good and stuff."

"Did he jack you off, so you came?"

Matt nodded.

"That would have felt better than good. That would have felt wonderful, even if you felt guilty about it. Did he have you fondle him? Get him hard? Jack him off?"

Matt nodded, blushing furiously now.

"Last question. Did it go any further? Was there any penetrative sex?

Matt, still blushing, but w ith tears in his eyes, shook his head. "No, it never got any further. It went on like that for a long time, and then I figured out he was also working on a couple of other kids and playing around with them. I thought he loved me, like, only cared about me. It was stupid of me, but it was also stupid of him. Like he didn't think we'd talk or something. Then I saw him sidling up to Nate and that really pissed me off. I asked him what the fuck he was doing, and he called me an ungrateful shit, and about then I guess one of the other kids told their parents 'cause suddenly it all blew up and he was gone."

"And did you ever tell anyone? Like your mom or a nother coach or a counselor at school?"

Matt shook his head. "Nate knows something happened, but no details."

"Do you understand now that he took advantage of your pain and anguish after your dad died so he could start grooming you? That's the technical term when an adult starts to work with a kid to prepare them. He was grooming you as you worked through your grief, helping you feel better but also dependent on him, and then on top of the injury you suffered with your dad's death, he added the insult of abusing you."

"I guess."

"Let's stop there for now, okay? We've covered a lot of painful ground. You're a brave young man, and I want you to know Kaiser was right."

Matt looked up surprised and confused.

"If Kaiser picks you for his Pack, that means you're okay, that you're a good guy."

On the drive to Matt's house Jackson told him about the process of grieving, and that if it gets stopped it can cause unresolved conflict. He also pointed out that stuff ing away all the feelings about what happened can cause the anger that the song talked about.

"I'm going to ask you to do something for me."


"I'm not a psychologist, I'm just a guy who lives with one and has seen my share of life's shit. David is a psychologist. I'm going to ask you to meet with him a couple of times. You've got to be able to get this out, to talk all this through, get to the point that you realize it's not about you being a bad guy, and let all the bad feelings go. You're too good a guy, with too much potential, to let it all fester inside. Will you do that for me?"

Matt was sobbing again. "Yeah, I will. You guys have done a lot for me and Nate, I guess I have to." He paused, then added, "If I don't, I'm guessing Kaiser would run me out of the Pack."

"You've got that right. He'd be outraged because you know what he wants most of all?"


"What he wants most of all is what's best for you. That's why he's a therapy dog."

Over dinner that night, Jackson briefed Jerrod and David on his time with Matt. Jerrod expected the conversation to have been direct, but was wide-eyed as Jackson described the events. He then asked about the song.

"It was a hunch. Like I told him, it immediately came to mind when I met him. I saw the pain in his eyes."


"Yes, and you may not have seen the pain in his eyes, but you knew there was a deep hurt that was making him be the way he was."

He paused and glanced at David, who said, "You mean like it was with Kevin?"

"Similar, but not the same. Kevin had a haunted look in his eyes. I'm sure there was pain, but it was in the background. This was pain, pure and simple."

"Who was Kevin?"

"He was Will's first boyfriend his freshman year in college, who was condemned by his Catholic family for being gay and committed suicide."

"Oh, my god!"

"Yeah. Stuff like this can be serious. Not that serious for everyone, but it's serious stuff. Anyway, the song is an old rock and roll song by The Who. It's about the sad, bad, hurting, lying person behind a pair of blue eyes. It was written about a bouncer they met at some club, but the point is obvious, and Matt understood exactly with that point was."

"Will you show me the lyrics, play me the song?"

"Sure. Now, another thing. I'm taking another chance letting you know so much of this, in as much as it's confidential. I think knowing it will help you in your relationship with him, but I need to know you'll treat it as confidential."

Jerrod nodded, "You can count on that. I just hope you found the cause of his problem and it can get sorted out."

Jackson looked at his partner and said, "You're the psychologist, like I told Matt. Did I go too far too fast? And apologies in advance for signing you up for a couple of therapy sessions."

"No worry on signing me up. It's what we do. On the first question, I'm sure many therapists would feel it was too direct and too soon, but they wouldn't have been part of the back story like you've been for the past six months. On top of that, because of the friend and family involvement you know far more about Matt directly and indirectly though Jerrod and Roger. Finally, there's the simple fact that your direct approach was not only predicated on wanting the best for him, but that it worked. He opened up and he shared with you what happened to him, what appears to be the root cause of his trauma. So, I'll tell you not to worry about it and add 'mission accomplished.' If you'd overstepped boundaries, he was likely to have told you."

"And you're okay meeting with him?"

"Sure am. Because he's Jerrod and Roger's friend and now he's your friend, too. And above and beyond that, he's in Kaiser's Pack and we take care of our own. It'll be interesting to see how much further he's willing to open up and how receptive he is about resolution. We'll see."

David turned to Jerrod and asked, "How was the time at the hospital?"

Jerrod grinned. "It was great again. We saw some of the longer stay Ortho and Oncology patients, and Dr. Yanowitz asked us to see a couple of his patients. They're pretty fragile after neurosurgery, but they sure seemed to enjoy having Kaiser visit. You can see their eyes light up, and then slowly a smile sneaks across their face. It's cool. Oh, and the dog therapy coordinator asked if I had been trained in CPR?"

"What's that?"

"Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation. The hospital is doing an inventory of all staff members that know how to do CPR. I do 'cause it was the second part of the mountain first aid course I had last year. You know, 'cause people have heart attacks and stuff when they're skiing at altitude. Actually, it was the year before last, wasn't it? Anyway, it's knowing how to do chest compressions to keep blood flowing if the heart stops, and mouth-to-mouth to keep the patient's lungs oxygenated."

"Have you had to use it on a real patient?"

"No, I thought I would when we found Matt, but once I cleared his airway he coughed and started breathing. It reminded me, though, that I need to find my first aid manual and brush up. I'd forgotten I took the course back when I was still in Philly."

After they'd cleaned up from dinner, they went into the living room where Jackson played Behind Blue Eyes while Jerrod read the lyrics. His eyes were wide when it was over. "You played that for him, and he didn't go tilt? That's pretty heavy."

Jackson nodded, reflective in the moment.

"Remember when you played Like A Rock for me a while back?" Jerrod continued. "You said there was another Bob Seger song about a life that didn't go so well. Would you play that for me?"

"Of course. It's called Against The Wind, and was also among his biggest hits. It starts off reflective, but the arrangement is driving and upbeat, so it gives the impression of being positive, but that's not what's in the lyrics. Most people think it's about running against the wind, overcoming obstacles to be successful, and that's a little part of it, but the main message, as far as I'm concerned, is about making the wrong decisions. It starts out talking about the heat of a great first love, but it didn't work out and he found himself alone after the heat burned out. He finds himself surrounded by strangers he thought were his friends, and he's further and further from his home. Then maybe he sorts his life out 'cause he says 'the drifter days are past him'… but it ends with him saying he's still running against the wind. That's what I meant about not making the wrong decisions that you have to live with for the rest of your life. Here's the lyrics."

Listen to the YouTube of Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band perform Against The Wind


When the song ended, Jackson stood up and stopped the album. Jerrod was watching him when he turned, and they found themselves looking directly at each other. Jerrod swallowed, feeling the emotion well up and looked from Jackson over to David and then said softly, "You guys know how thankful I am that you're part of my life, right? I just had to say it again."

He fell silent and Jackson stepped over, pulled him up out of the chair and hugged him. "We do, and we're equally thankful you're in our lives to o."

Jerrod wiped his eyes and then said, "Thanks, Jackson. That meant a lot. I need to go call Roger and tell him how thankful I am he's my soulmate. I don't think I've told him that for a while."

They pulled up to the curb the next morning and Matt was out the door before Jerrod could tap the horn. They all greeted one and other, and as they pulled away, Roger said, "Week two of personal limousine service. You're a special dude."

"Cut me some slack, okay," they heard from the back seat as Matt got settled and snapped his seat belt. "You guys are really cool for doing this, and I still can't get over what Jackson did yesterday. The drive, the time he spent with me and all. I'm guessing he told you about it."

"He gave us the highlights of your time together, and said you had a really good talk. He also said the details were personal and confidential and it was up to you to decide what we should know."

"Wow. That's really cool. He's a pretty impressive guy."

"He'll be your friend for life, if you let him," Jerrod said.

"He said that about you, too."

"I guess that comes from living with them." Jerrod grinned at Matt in the rearview mirror and then added, "Or, maybe it's something in the water. What'a ya think?"

"The water! Yeah, right. After our talk last week about transparency and friends, I guess you two deserve to know it all. I thought about it more last night and decided that if I could tell Jackson I should tell you guys, too. I got sexually abused by our Little League coach. That's why I quit and why I get so uptight talking about playing baseball back then."

"How far did it go?"

"Not that far, really. He never fucked me, if that's what you mean. Anyway, he was also working on other kids on the team, and I saw him start after Nate, and that put me over the edge, and I confronted him about it."

"And what happened then?"

"Well, for him, it all blew up. One of the other kids told their parents, and next thing you know, he's outta there. Sam told Jackson about it."

"So, have you got it sorted out in your own head?"

"No. But Jackson made me promise to meet with David a few times and I said I would."

Jerrod had pulled in the parking lot and into his favorite space. "That's good to hear. Come on, guys. We've got to get to class."

The rest of the day went smoothly.

On the drive back to school at lunch on Wednesday, Jerrod said, "After school today, I'll zip you home and then I've got to come back 'cause we've got GSA."

"You're still going to that?"

"Yeah, Matt. We know we're gay, but there's still stuff to learn, believe it or not. And there's the bigger deal of helping those kids that aren't out or the ones that are getting bullied."

Matt winced and blushed.

"Let it go. That was then. I'll tell you though, David gave us four GSA talks before spring break, and they were really informative, not just for gay kids either. Maybe you should think about coming along with us sometime."


"You know what it means, don't you?"

"Well, I guess. It's like your gay support group or something."

"No," Roger said, "It's Gay Straight Alliance. As much as anything, it's helping straight people understand gay people, and the problems and bigotry they face. There's like five of six straight kids."

"No way."

"Oh yeah! Think about it, Matt. You're already in Kaiser's Pack, you and Nate, and guess what? You two are the straight ones. Me and Jerrod, Eric and Kim, David and Jackson, and our friend Michael in Pendleton are all gay." Jerrod pulled the Cherokee into the parking space and got serious, turning in his seat to look at Matt in the back seat. "It would be important if you could see yourself doing it, because you used to be a bully… but now, you're just a really cool guy. It would send a really important message."

"You really think I'm a cool guy?"

"Well, yeah. And Kaiser told us, too. Did he get it wrong?"

"No, I mean, well… he got it right, it just sounds weird hearing you say something like that."

"It's true," Jerrod added. "Prove it to yourself, and start coming to GSA. You'll be amazed, trust me."

"Let me think about it, okay?"

That night after dinner, Jerrod called Michael. He spoke to his Mom for a couple of minutes before she called Michael, and when he came on the phone, he said he'd planned on calling, too.

"Really? Great minds think alike, eh? What's happening?"

Michael told him that his Mom had spoken to the faculty sponsor of their GSA, and though there were less than ten kids, he was happy for support and help from another teacher, especially a woman. He was really positive when he learned that because her son was gay, and that she wanted to start attending to support him. They'd agreed that she'd wait at least a week or two, so it didn't seem like he needed his Mom to protect him.

"That's cool. So, you went today?"

"Yeah, our GSA meets on Wednesday's like yours. Cool, huh? Anyway, it meant I was outing myself at school, but so far it turned out not to be a big deal."


"Meaning there's still tomorrow with other kids, but it was cool with the kids in GSA. They're in all different grades, and pretty nice and friendly and accepted me and stuff."

"You didn't think that they wouldn't, did you?"

"Well, no. I mean, not really… but you never know. Anyway, the vibe was good." Michael paused. "Guess what else?"

"Tell me, dude!"

"I met this cool guy."

"Really? Far out! Fill me in."

"Well, he's in my grade and I don't know why I didn't know him. He lives in town and his Dad has the big feed and tack shop. You know, kind of like a western store."

Jerrod laughed, "You mean he's a cowboy dude like you?"

"Well, kind of. I mean, he doesn't live on a ranch, but he knows the ropes 'cause he grew up around it all."

"So, you guys have lots in common, besides being gay, is that what you're telling me?"

"Yeah. It's pretty cool."

"Pretty cool? It's way more than that. It's fabulous. You've for sure got a gay bud, and maybe a boyfriend. What's not to like?"

"Well, I don't know about boyfriend, you know how it is."



"You remember what happened last week?"

"What do you mean?"

"When you came out to your parents and grandpa?"

"Yeah, of course."

"Good. I just wanted to make sure you hadn't forgotten. You were brave and confident, you told them what you knew about yourself and you told them what you wanted."

"What do you mean 'what I wanted?'"

"You said you didn't want to live a lie. You wanted to be true to yourself, remember?"


"So, all you have to do is continue being true to yourself. Figure out what you want and go for it. What's the dude's name?"

"Stewart, but everyone calls him Stew."

"Cool. So, have you asked Stew for a date?"

"Well, no! I mean I just met him today."

"You said you wanted a relationship like me and Roger have, right? That won't happen unless you get together with someone."

"Yeah, you're right."

"Hey, don't get bummed. I'm just riding you a little bit. Think about it though. You met Stew. You obviously like him. You see some connections. So, think about getting together with him to do something. Go to a movie. Go on a hike with Ruby. Whatever. Don't just shine it on and assume it'll happen all by itself. It wouldn't have happened with me and Roger if Eric and Kim hadn't set up a tennis game and then I was on the spot."

"I hear you."

"You need a close friend, Michael. Whether he becomes your boyfriend or not."

"I hear you. Let me chew on it, okay? What else is going on?"

Jerrod filled him in on college acceptances, their helping Nate out at home. "I think it's great you've been calling Nate. It means a lot to him."

"He's fun to talk to, and I remember when I went home from the hospital no one was calling me or coming to visit. We're all in the Pack, right?"

"Yeah, and he thinks it's so cool. He also thinks you're cute and really likes you."


"Yeah. Too bad you live so far away. Anyway, besides Nate, there's his brother. You remember Matt from when we were at the hospital?"

"How could I forget!"

"Well, that's amazing, too. The guy that had been the bully in our life is now our friend. He's Nate's main caregiver during the day, and both of them are officially in Kaiser's Pack.

"Wow! That's pretty rad."

"It is, but you saw how Matt and Kaiser connected. Anyway, it just goes to show. I told him today he and Nate are the first straight guys in the Pack. Well, other than Sean. He didn't know what to say about that."

"Are you sure Nate's straight?"

Jerrod paused. "Not a hundred percent. I heard his comment about having a crush on a kid a while ago. And he says you're cute and I bet he'd go out with you if you asked him. Maybe he's not so straight after all. That's all I know. It's still pretty amazing what's happened with Matt."

They laughed over the irony and decided they needed to get started on homework.

Thursday was a partly sunny day, and they'd told Matt in the morning that they'd be zipping him home after school but not stopping because it was their afternoon with Sean.

"Right, Thursday is Sean day. Do you two do-gooders never stop ?" He was laughing when he said it.

"Sean is one of the coolest kids we know. He's younger than Nate and has cerebral palsy, and he and Kaiser totally love each other. You want to know one of the things about someone like Sean that's so cool? Just like a dog, he doesn't know how to be anything but honest. He's totally himself and he lives for moments of pure joy like when he's with Kaiser. He doesn't need big, expensive or fancy shit. He's happiest in his life in moments like that."

Matt was silent, but Jerrod could see his face moving and knew the wheels were turning inside his head.

"Want to come with us? We'll zip to your house, get Nate's piss taken care of, then go meet Sean and then we'll bring you right back afterwards. I know Nate will be cool with it."

Matt was slow answering, and Roger turned in his seat. "Matt, do this. It'll be good for you. He's a cool kid. He's in the Pack, too, you know."

"You didn't say he was in the Pack."

"Then we left him out by mistake. Sorry. Guess what, though. He was the founding member, so you've got no choice. You've got to come. It'll be like an initiation or something." Roger stared him down, his innocent eyes sparkling, and a warm smile on his face.

"Okay, I don't think I have any choice. I told you before you guys are crazy, but I'll go with you."

When they pulled up to park, they could see Sean and his Mom already there, having come in through a gate from the sidewalk on the street. They locked the Cherokee, and on the curb, Jerrod said, "Kaiser, Heel!" and the four of them slowly started walking. It didn't take long for Sean to see them coming, and his good arm went up in the air as he cried out "Kaiser!" in pure joy.

Kaiser perked up, seeing Sean and knowing the voice. Jerrod again told him again to Heel, and they walked a few more steps before he said, "Kaiser, Release." Kaiser was off like a shot. They watched Sean take a few halting steps in the direction of the dog, but for each step Sean took Kaiser was making three bounds, and was upon the now laughing boy in no time. Sean stopped, Kaiser paused before him, and then raised up on his hind legs, licking Sean's face. Sean's good arm came around the dog, and Kaiser's weight did the rest. They ended up doing a kind of twist and roll with Sean on his back, laughing loudly as Kaiser licked him more and more.

As the boys walked toward the action, Matt said, "How did you train him to do that stuff?"

Jerrod grinned. "That's why it's called training, Matt. You should see him get in position when Roger tells him it's manicure time!"

Matt was amazed, but by then they were next to the writhing mass of boy and dog on the ground. Sean's Mom was laughing almost as much as her son. She looked at the boys and said, "You'd hardly believe he saw Kaiser a week ago, would you?"

Roger grinned at her. "Hey, they're best friends for life."

Jerrod told Kaiser to Stop, and said to Sean 's mom, "Sorry, he's going to be kind of muddy."

"It'll all wash out. It's worth it for a few moments of this kind of happiness."

Jerrod called Kaiser to Stop again, and he did, stepping back a pace and looking at his master. Jerrod patted the side of his leg and told him Heel, and Kaiser reluctantly came over and stood next to him. As Sean was getting up, still looking totally happy, Roger introduced Matt to Sean's mom, and then turned to the boy and said, "Sean, this is our new friend named Matt. He's a friend of Kaiser's, too."

Sean swung his look to Matt and smiled a totally disarming smile. His eyes were bright, and he simply said 'Hi.'

Matt took a step forward and put out his hand and said, "Hi, Sean. Jerrod told me you were Kaiser's first best friend. Is that true?"

Sean beamed and nodded his head, and haltingly said, "Best friend ever."

Matt grinned and Jerrod said, "Sean, want to throw the ball for Kaiser?"

Sean nodded and Jerrod said, "Let's go over past those trees, it's more open."

They all turned to walk in that direction and Jerrod saw Sean slip his good hand into Matt's, making a simple declaration. "Friend."

When they got past the trees, Jerrod handed Sean the ball and gave Kaiser a Sit/Stay command. "Sean, are you ready?" The boy nodded and Jerrod said, "Okay," and he threw the ball.

Kaiser sat watching, with his tail was wagging, and after the ball hit the ground, Jerrod said, "Kaiser, go get it." The dog was off like a shot. It was a quick retrieve and he trotted back to Sean who said, "Kaiser, drop it."

Roger was standing next to Matt and said, "He can't throw it very far, and he'll get tired after a while and he'll need you to throw it for him."

Matt nodded, not thinking, but just part of the activity. After ten or so more throws, Sean was tiring and Roger said, "He needs some help."

Matt stepped up next to Sean as Kaiser brought the ball back and said, "Want me to throw if for you this time?"

Sean smiled and nodded, then said, "Kaiser, drop it."

Matt picked up the ball and said to Sean, "Short or Long?"

Sean smiled widely and said, "Long!"

Roger had stepped up behind Matt and said softly, "Hold on a sec." Then to Kaiser he said, "Kaiser, Come." He walked to Matt's side and Roger patted his thigh and said, "Attention." The dog looked momentarily confused, and Roger said to Matt, "He knows you've got the ball. Pat your thigh and say 'Attention.'" He did, and Kaiser understood immediately and sat beside Matt's leg.

Roger softly said, "Kaiser, Stay," and then to Matt, "Make him stay till after you've thrown the ball and are ready for him to go, then just say 'Go get it,' and he will." Matt did just as he was told, and threw what in baseball would have been a throw from mid-field. As it hit the ground he said, "Kaiser, Go get it.'

Kaiser was off like a shot, and Matt repeated the routine once more. The next time Kaiser came back he made Kaiser drop the ball, turned to Sean, and said, "Call Kaiser and make him sit at Attention."

Sean did, patting his thigh with his good arm, both of them saying 'Attention' and Kaiser sat next to Sean. Matt asked if he was ready, Sean nodded, and Matt said, "Tell him to Stay, then I'll throw the ball and you tell him to Go Get It, okay?"

Sean nodded with excitement and said "Kaiser, Stay." The dog sat next to Sean's leg. Matt threw the ball, and then with a squeal of delight Sean said, " Kaiser, Go Get It." Kaiser was off like a rocket, and came back panting.

"We better take a rest, guys," Jerrod said. "He's not used to fetching balls as far as Matt's throwing them."

He looked at Sean and said, "Is Matt your friend?"

Sean smiled widely and took Matt's hand and said, "Best friend." Jerrod could see the emotion on Matt's face but carried on. "Do you know why he can throw the ball so far?"

Sean was wide-eyed and shook his head.

"Matt used to play baseball. He was a star."

Sean grinned, "Star. My friend is a star."

It wasn't a question. It was a pronouncement. Matt was immediately embarrassed and tried to explain that he was just on a winning team, but he could do nothing to convince Sean that his newest friend wasn't Portland's star baseball player.

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