Kaiser's Pack - Next Gen

by Bensiamin

Chapter 8

Jackson was already home when Jerrod got there after tennis practice.

It had been a happy day. David and Jackson hadn't said no to his suggestion about Michael coming down from Pendleton for the beach weekend, and had promised to think about how it could work. Jerrod's parents had been pleased with the approach he'd taken the night before about the summer opportunity, namely to consult with them rather than inform them. His mom got Julius on the extension and they had a three-way discussion. His dad made it clear that unless he needed more spending money, what he'd earn in the summer wasn't the issue as much as how he'd maximally benefit for college and the future. His mom made the statement that from what she was hearing from Jackson and David, he and Roger were good at what they did, loved it, and were doing good work for patients. "Is that the case? Is that how'd you describe it?"

Jerrod smiled to himself, wondering if she'd be thinking the same way if she knew about their sessions helping Michael and Nate out, then he said, "Yes, Mom, I'd describe it that way."

She went on, "Well, I'm in a biased position because I'm in healthcare, and that's what this opportunity is as well. I guess I have to ask if the experience so far is helping your thoughts come together career wise? You may be going to a liberal arts college, but it will only be a year from now and you'll have to select a major if you haven't already done so."

"I know. I like being in healthcare. I like helping people, especially kids, so yeah… I'm kinda thinking a biology major and then see how it goes during college."

Julius replied, "In speaking to doctor friends at the club, the two pathways appear to be a Zoology major with a chemistry minor, or a Chemistry major with either a Physics or Math minor. More and more of medicine is becoming chemistry, and on the research side, statistical analysis."

"Good points, Dad. So, I'm asking you both. What do you think I should do?"

His mom said, "I'll let your dad go first."

"Well, a healthcare path, whether it ends up with medical school or some other area, is a solid career choice. It seems to me that you've tested the waters, so to speak, this year with dog therapy. You're good at it and you've learned a lot. The new opportunity continues and builds on that foundation, so it seems quite favorable to me."


"I agree with your dad. I also think you should follow your heart. You know yourself and your passions quite well. I'm impressed that you're having this discussion with us. I have to ask, though, is this something you want to do. If the offer on the table was this or to crew on an Olympic racing yacht for the summer, which would you choose?"

Jerrod laughed. "Mom, you know that's not fair! They're not equivalent choices. Roger and Kaiser couldn't be on the yacht with me. But in terms of helping people and learning more about it, then yes, it's what I'd choose to do."

"Then we seem to have assisted you in coming to the preferred decision," his dad said. In his mind's eye, Jerrod hoped that Julius was smiling at his wife as he made that statement.

"Okay, great. Roger is talking to his parents, too. If you want to call them and talk about it with them, feel free. Thanks for being great sounding boards and for the advice. I love you guys."

It had been a positive call, Jerrod thought to himself as he walked into the back yard. Maybe one of the most positive he'd ever had. Jerrod shut the kitchen door, and saw Kaiser was where he was supposed to be, on his bed in the kitchen. He raised his head and wagged his tail in greeting. Jerrod knelt down and gave his head a rub as Jackson asked how practice had gone and if they were ready for their first meet?

"Probably as ready as we'll ever be. This will be our first, so we'll see. Coach says we're a better team. I'm the number 2 player, which means he thinks I'm the second best player on the team, so that's cool but also means pressure. Luke is number 1, and he is better than me. I envy his serve."

"How about doubles?"

"We've got enough players for four doubles teams, and we've got two extra singles players too, so the team is strong and balanced. Roger, Eric and Kim play doubles, and Roger's partner is better than him, but they play well together, kind of complement each other."

"What's the start time?"

"Three thirty, since the match is at school. We've only got four courts, that means only one doubles match will happen while the three singles matches are played, then the last three doubles matches. So, assuming a couple of delays for whatever, it'll probably be at least six o'clock before it's over. Are you coming?"

"I probably can't be there at the beginning, but I aim to get out of work early. I do want to see at least part of your match."

David had walked in the kitchen and said, "Sounds like a tennis discussion."

"Sure is. Jerrod just told me the match starts at three thirty and will probably run till six o'clock, with doubles following singles. He'll be in the first round that starts at 3:30. Roger and his partner or maybe Kim and Eric will be in the second matches and the whole thing won't end till at least six. I'm thinking I'll call Sam or Will and Roger's parents, and suggest we all be there to watch, and then afterwards we all go for pizza at Bellagios. What do you think?"

"Sounds like a great plan to me. I bet Roger's parents are excited. They've never seen him play a competitive sport before."

Jerrod grinned. "Yeah, they were pretty pumped when we talked about it over the weekend. Roger kept tamping down their expectations!" He looked at Jackson, "Did you make any headway with the construction company?"

Jackson smiled and said, "I did. Had a lengthy conversation with the same HR specialist that I spoke to last week, the one that mailed me the info. She had read the material, too, and remember she told me that she didn't know much about it because she didn't really work in that area and it was a nonprofit program? That's going to work to our advantage, because she was very positive when I described the situation, the son of an employee who died on the job. She was also supportive when I suggested a meeting with the VP of Human Resources."


"Yeah, seriously."

David was grinning, "Jerrod, remember that Jackson is in marketing communications. He could have succeeded in sales, too. You've heard the old adage about being able to sell ice to Eskimos? That's my Jackson!"

They all laughed, and Jackson said, "I'm meeting with the VP on Thursday, so we should have something definitive before too long."

Matt had been cheerful but subdued on the school drives Monday, and it was the same on Tuesday. On the drive back to school at noon he asked both boys if they could hang out and talk for a while after they'd taken care of Nate after classes.

They both nodded, and Jerrod said, softly, "We're here for you, any time you're ready. Today will be great."

"That's what I figured, no tennis practice today, and Sean's not till Thursday." They'd parked the Cherokee and split up to head to class. Roger smiled and said, "Maybe he's sorted through his thinking. What you told me he and David talked about was pretty heavy."

"Let's hope so. Even if he hasn't sorted it all out, he can't keep holding it all in. That's what David said was the biggest part of the problem before. Anyway, we'll see."

Nate was understanding that the three of them needed to talk, and didn't even joke around about them leaving him alone. They went to the nearby Burgerville and ordered drinks and a large order of onion rings.

"Okay, man. Where do you want to start?"

"Well, it's kind of embarrassing, you know. Talking to you guys about my shit."

"Matt," Jerrod said, "I thought we sorted that out already. Nothing's off limits and nothing's too embarrassing to talk about. You think it's embarrassing for you, how about when I had to tell a few people not just that I was gay, and that getting in trouble back home was breaking and entering into a house, but in that fraternity initiation I had to suck off a senior." He paused and Matt's face was blank. "Think you can top that?"

Matt began to smile, and it widened and then he said, "In terms of doing gross stuff, no. You've got me beat." He glanced at Roger who started laughing. Matt looked uncertain, then it dawned on him and he laughed, too.

"Oh, I get it. Like, duh! Got me beat, as in beat off!"

Roger nodded and said, "Oh yeah. He's got me beat by a mile, too. I was just Mr. Goody Two Shoes, don't you know? Never got in any trouble." They all laughed together and got a reprieve when their onion ring order was called for pickup.

Jerrod came back with it and a handful of fry sauce packets, and after sitting down glanced at Matt and said, "Okay, bro, go!"

"Well, first, like I told David, I owe you again, big time, for giving me that Pink Floyd album and telling me to listen to Comfortably Numb ."


"Yeah, because I haven't taken any psychology classes or anything like that, but when David told me before that I was emotionally numb, it hurt, and I didn't want to hear it. Then when he said part of it was not having close friends or a social life or a girlfriend, well, that pissed me off. That's why I haven't been talking much this week. Nothing on you guys, okay? It's all me."

He looked back and forth between Roger and Jerrod, and saw accepting expressions with smiles.

"So, anyway, that's where I was Sunday afternoon after meeting with David, Meaning still pissed. I'd listened to the song a couple of times, and was kinda starting to like it, especially the killer guitar solos, but it just hadn't clicked. You know what I mean?"

He looked at them again, hopefully. The smiles were still there, "I do," Jerrod said, "been there, done that. Go on."

"So, Sunday after I got back home from shopping with Mom, you guys had already gone, and I took care of Nate, and Mom said she had dinner under control so I should just go chill. So, I thought, okay… maybe a nap. So, I put the CD in the player and cued up Comfortably Numb and then put the song on repeat and laid down on my bed."

He paused, looked at both of his friends again, felt the last vestiges of his nervousness fall away in the face of their accepting expressions, and continued. "So, I listened to the song, kind of humming along, and singing along in a few places that I remembered. It was just like listening to any song, you know… just being relaxed and listening to it. Then I guess I fell asleep, and the song kept playing, and I guess I kept hearing it. I don't know how many times it played, but when I woke up it was that kind of spacey feeling you get when you've been out, like in deep sleep, right?"

Both Roger and Jerrod nodded.

"Anyway, it was that kind of in-between state and I just felt like I was floating in a beautiful and peaceful place. I don't know where, in the ocean or in the air, or something, but it was beautiful and peaceful, and then I started hearing music and when I realized what it was, it was the last four lines of the song.

I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown
The dream is gone
I have become comfortably numb

That's when the 'comfortably numb' part hit me. I didn't need to get pissed or be a hard ass, because it's what had happened. I'd become comfortably numb. It wasn't my fault, it wasn't something I did or chose, it was something that happened to me. It's just where I am."

The conversation lapsed for a little while, and they ate onion rings. Matt's back was to the door and Roger watched five students from their high school walk in and place an order, looking around while they were waiting. They wore Letterman Jackets, and he thought he recognized guys from the football team.

Jerrod had been watching Matt and finally said, "Wow! That's a heavy realization. I relate because when Jackson and David were working on me about getting real about my problems in the summer, I was in denial and kind of angry, and finally I got over it. Good for you, man!"

Roger reached across the table and took his hand. "You know, wimps and babies don't talk about this kind of stuff, they don't do this kind of work on themselves. It takes a real person to do it."

Matt flushed, then smiled and said, "Thanks. I mean it."

He looked out the window, then when he looked back at them, he said, "So, that's why I was kind of quiet yesterday and today. But I kept thinking about what David was telling me. You know, he's good at what he does, but I feel sometimes like he's my dad or something. You know what I mean?"

Roger and Jerrod could see the emotion well up and move across his face and his eyes begin to moisten. Jerrod took his hand and said, "Same here, man. David's like my dad and Jackson's like my older brother. Welcome to my world. Our world, now."

Roger decided to try and lighten the moment and said, "So, does that mean you two are some kind of brothers? Because if you are," and then he looked at Matt and said, "that kind of makes you my brother-in-law or something, doesn't it?"

They all snickered at the dumb joke, and then Matt went on. "Okay, so to wrap this up. I've kept on thinking about what David said, what I did after the abuse, how I coped, that I kind of denied it happened, that I stuffed away all the feelings. That kind of stuff. But I kept listening to the song, like I told you I would. Now, this is where it gets really embarrassing, 'cause what started happening is that when it got to the last line of the song, you know, I have become comfortably numb, I'd start crying."

"That's a good sign," Roger said. "It means you're getting in touch with your emotions."

Matt nodded. "Yeah, I guess. So, I quit being embarrassed… which was kind of easy 'cause I was alone, you know? And then yesterday after school I was listening to it again and the same thing happened. I mean I'm lying on my bed crying after the last verse played, but this time for some reason I asked myself 'why?' As in, 'yeah, all that stuff happened, but why am feeling this way?' And it dawned on me, the answer was in the lines before, the ones about the child is grown and the dream is gone."

Matt stopped, the tears slowly formed in his eyes and he wiped a sleeve across his face. The boys were wisely silent, and Matt continued. "I finally realized I lost something and now I'm older and more grown up and it's gone. Like that poor kid I used to be that got abused lost his dreams and got stunted and, and… I'm him and that part of me is gone… and it hurts."

He wiped his face again and then said, "Sorry for dumping all this on you guys."

"Matt, we're your friends, remember. You can dump all you need to on us. That's the deal. And, guess what? I don't think it's a very big dump because you're telling us what you realized and what you felt, but you know you're also telling us something else don't you?"

"What?" Matt was looking down at the empty onion ring container. Roger watched the football guys pick up their order and head out the door, one or two pointing their way and laughing.

"With the realization you just told us about, you've got a way out. Like being lost in the forest and the sun goes down and it's pitch black, and you're stumbling around and tripping over stuff and getting bruised and cut… and then you suddenly remember you have a flashlight in your pack!"

He stopped and waited for Matt to look up at him.

"It means you've got a pathway out… if you decide to take it."

"I like the sound of that."

"That's what you've got to talk to David about next. It's what he helped me understand. I had to go back to Philly and meet the man whose house I'd broken into and apologize. I had to sort out the bad karma with my parents and tell them I'm gay, all of that. But once I'd sorted that stuff out, I was on the other side of it. I knew it was behind me and I could come back here to Portland and live with David and Jackson and be with Kaiser and my boyfriend… and plan on being bullied by you once school started."

He finished with a huge grin on his face, and reached across the table again and took Matt's hand. Roger took the other one.

Matt slowly smiled and his eyes brightened, and he finally said, "You are a crazy fucker, you know. Good crazy, like I've said before, but crazy, and I…,I love… " and the sentence faded.

"It's okay, Matt. We love you, too, and you can say it. We love you, you know. It's not just Kaiser."

"I know, and it means a lot. I've just never said it to another guy."

"Then, I'll start," Roger said. "Matt, you're my friend and I love you."

"Me too," Jerrod added, "you're my friend and I love you, too."

Matt smiled, "Thanks. I love you guys, too." Then he grinned. "That wasn't so hard. So, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it. Anyway, David told me that I was rounding third base on a run to home plate, and I had to figure out how to straighten out my line, so I was running straight for home, and how to get around the catcher if he had the ball and was trying to tag me out."

"I like that analogy," Jerrod said. "Leave it to David!"

"Yeah, and he'd have to use a baseball one, too, right? Just to rub it in."

They dropped Matt off at home and then on the way to Roger's house they agreed how great it was that Matt had broken through, was doing the work and getting in touch with what had happened to him.

"Hope, man. Hope. Can't beat that. I liked the baseball analogy. It really fits."

He leaned over and kissed Roger after he'd pulled up to the curb in front of his house.

The rest of the week moved by pretty quickly. It seemed like Wednesday was focused on the last tennis practice before Friday's tournament. Thursday was the regular day with Sean and his mom.

After taking care of Nate, they headed to the park to meet Sean and his mom. It started as it usually did, with Kaiser and Sean spotting each other from afar and making a mad dash for each other. When they had settled down, he greeted the older boys with a huge hug. Roger noticed that Matt seemed extra open and friendly, but wrote it off to having a good time after a few emotionally heavy days. They repeated the 'Attention' command before retrieving drills, and Kaiser was loving being released to 'Go Get It' while the ball was still in the air. He was almost like a heat seeking missile watching the arc of the ball as he raced to the anticipated point of contact. Sean had successfully thrown the ball a long way a few times. Long for him, anyway, and Matt went out of his way to make him proud, the way a parent or a coach would do.

When Kaiser was getting tired, they all sat down on a couple of benches to let him rest while the people talked. Sean sat down next to Matt, who put his arm around the boy's shoulder in an embrace of affection. Sean seemed happy and relaxed, and after a few minutes they all said their goodbyes and headed home.

They dropped Matt home first, then Jerrod headed for Roger's house.

"Those two have really connected in some special way, haven't they?"

"They have. At first, I just thought it was Sean being in awe of an athlete and thinking his new friend was some kind of sports star," Roger replied, "but, it's a lot deeper."

"And it's deeper on Matt's side, too. I know you saw that. It's good for both of them." He'd pulled up to the curb in front of Roger's house. "Sleep well, selle . Gotta get your rest tonight so you're ready for your first match tomorrow!"

"Thanks, liebling. Tomorrow night will be fun whether we win or not. Love you."

Jerrod cleaned Kaiser up when then got home before they went inside, and was feeding him when David pulled in. They talked about the day, and Jerrod told him about the new level of connection Matt had with Sean. They both agreed it was a good sign, especially after what Jerrod had told him about their heart-to-heart talk on Tuesday. When Jackson got home, he changed, and they all went to work on dinner. Jerrod desperately wanted to ask about the meeting Jackson had gone to that afternoon, but decided to play it cool.

He poured another glass of wine for David and Jackson as they sat down to dinner, and after a bite or two, Jackson said, "I thought you would have asked by now how the meeting went?"

Jerrod grinned and said, "I'm dying to know, but didn't want to seem too desperate!"

He got a grin back and Jackson said it went well, meaning an open conversation and discussion of the details. "Specifically, he acknowledged that the foundation has an application process for children of retirees to apply for scholarships. He also told me that the program language says nothing about children of former employees who died on the job, and that he'd have to take the matter to the foundation Board."

"That sounds positive," David said.

"But how long will that take?" Jerrod wanted to know. "If he's got to clear it with the Board and then if they say 'yes,' then there's an application process. It could take forever."

Jackson grinned again. "Don't slit your wrists quite yet, okay? It's a small foundation and they typically process less than a dozen applications a year, and we're not talking hundreds of thousands of dollars, so the application and decision process is quite short, he said."

Jerrod smiled back meekly. "Okay, good. You know I'm just concerned."

"I do. What I can also tell you is that he's a good guy, and he's got a son who's a senior at Jesuit High School, and he was interested that I went to high school in Newberg and graduated from Lewis & Clark, so we talked about schools and students and situations. That meant I was able to make him understand that Matt was a good enough athlete to qualify for a scholarship at Oregon State, but it was denied due to budget constraints. Also that on his mother's income, he'd be unable to afford college without a scholarship. I know I hit a chord with that."

"So, you're hopeful."

"In a word, yes. He said he'd try to have an answer about qualification in the next few days by speaking directly with the Board president. In other words, we're making progress. Have you heard from Sam about the scholarship opportunities she's looking into?"

Jerrod shook his head and Jackson said he'd call her after dinner to compare notes and so they could stay on the same page. He came down to Jerrod's room a little later after he'd started working on homework and sat on the foot of the bed.

Jerrod looked around hopefully. "Well?"

"Mighty deep subject. And this time with water in it! Sam talked to the person who administers their scholarships and she's pretty certain that Matt would qualify. Meaning he's got an adequate grade point, he appears to meet the financial hardship requirements, and the fact that he qualified for a scholarship at Oregon State but was denied because of budget, really works in his favor. She's going to call Matt's mom and set up a time over the weekend that we can meet with her. It's time she knows the details, and she needs to be on board because she'll have to complete part of the application having to do with her financial situation."

Jerrod beamed. "You guys wouldn't be having this meeting with her if you weren't pretty certain this could happen. I know you two. Am I right?"

Jackson grinned. "We're both quite confident, but one can't be certain in situations like these. That said, guess what else Sam asked about?"

Jerrod looked blank.

"She asked about the weekend we're doing next month at Robert and Dieter's beach house. Apparently, Eric and Kim filled them in. It's a long weekend for them too, and since Will teaches at Lewis & Clark, he's off that Friday just like David. She asked if it would be okay with us if they try to rent a beach house close by and join us for the weekend."

"Really? Wow, that would be wild. Are you okay with the idea?"

"Well, let's see. Will and Sam are only my best friends in the world, and Eric and Kim are only yours. So, given that… what would I likely say… except yes! It all hinges on her being able to find a place to rent. There's not even six weeks to go, so it could be close. Anyway, she's on it so maybe it'll happen. If that happens, maybe there's a way to handle all the people and ask Michael, too. I'll let you finish your homework so you can get a good night's sleep and be ready for tomorrow's match."

He rubbed the top of Jerrod's head on the way out and Jerrod reached up and grabbed his wrist to stop him. "You're the best, you know. You really are."

Jackson smiled. "We think you're pretty good, too. See you when you take Kaiser out."

At noon the next day they waited at the Cherokee for a minute with no sign of Matt, so they pulled up to the sidewalk near the door he usually used. A minute later he came out and it was obvious he was angry. He was hurrying, but his face was flushed from more than that.

He grunted 'Hi' and settled in the back seat. As Jerrod pulled away from the curb he said, "Something happen? Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I guess. Just another run in with some of the morons on the football team."

"Meaning what?" Roger asked.

"Meaning a few of them tried to hassle me again about switching sides and going to GSA and hanging out with the gay kids. That kind of shit."

"You mean like last time?"

"Yeah. Well, no, worse actually. Some of them saw me talking with you guys at Burgerville the other day and were giving me shit about that."

Roger remembered the five guys in Lettermen's Jackets. "Was it bad?"

"Bad in that I got really pissed, but not bad in that it was basically so stupid. I mean they're just fucking clueless, like have rocks for brains and their heads so far up their own asses they don't even know what they're talking about."


"Yeah, like they wanted to know if you guys were teaching me how to be gay and giving me lessons on how to suck cock, or if I was so emotional because you guys were breaking up with me. Just stupid shit like that."

"How'd that go down."

"Not well, because then a couple of them made the mistake of making personal remarks about both of you, and they ended up smashed back into their lockers and the other two had to pull me off them."

"Seriously? Are you in trouble for fighting?"

"It was in the gym, and none of the coaches saw us. It only lasted like three minutes. They're idiots and they got theirs. I don't care if I ever see them again, and I'll probably throw my Letterman Jacket in the garbage tonight."

Jerrod grinned at him as they pulled up in front of the house. "So, other than that you're fine and it was a great day at school?"

Matt had gotten another senior with a car to run him home after school to take care of Nate, but, was back before the tennis tournament started. He spotted David sitting with Will and Sam, and joined them. Jackson and Roger's parents got there toward the end of Jerrod's first set, and they settled in to be a loud and strong cheering section.

It was good experience for the tennis team, but it turned out that their Coach had been right. Their opponents were a better team and won the tournament, having won all three singles and two of the doubles matches. Kim and Eric won, but Roger and his partner lost theirs. Roger was very apologetic for unforced errors he'd made that turned the second and third sets, but his partner was gracious. "Just means more practice, Roger, and now we know what we need to work at."

After they dropped Matt home, Roger described it to Jerrod and his parents on the drive to Bellagios. Jerrod's comment was, 'Welcome to team sports, and what good sportsmanship sounds like. You've got a great partner, because he said nothing about this being your first match. He didn't blame you, instead he said we know what we need to work at. That's pretty cool."

From the back seat, Roger's dad said, "I agree with Jerrod. In English you'd describe his as a good sport. Back home, in German, he'd be called a gutte verlierer , which means a good loser, or in its most magnanimous usage, some who makes good losers out of us all. That you have such a person for your partner is wonderful, and what a great first experience."

They found two empty tables next to each other and pulled them together to accommodate all ten of them. The pizza was great and the conversation lively, and it wasn't long before the athletic coach in Sam came out and she started asking questions about the tennis matches, how everyone thought they had performed and what they could do better next time. Jerrod told her what Roger's partner had said after Roger admitted they lost because of his unforced errors.

She smiled widely. "Unforced errors! Welcome to my world. You're a lucky boy, Roger. You know why? I don't know your tennis coach, but I'm guessing he wasn't there for that conversation, and unless he was watching every match closely, he may not have seen your errors, so he won't be in a position to coach you. The biggest challenge is learning from what you do wrong or how to adjust to unplanned developments. You've got a good doubles partner and a great boyfriend who's your real tennis coach. What a combo!" She raised her beer glass in a toast, and everyone joined in.

April had seen less rain than usual, and the sun and warming weather had meant the grass was growing, and both boys knew they had to mow and do yard work on Saturday. They agreed that Roger's dad would drop him off at Jerrod's the next afternoon after he finished his own chores. Kaiser watched Jerrod doing the mowing, trimming and raking from his favorite position on the back porch, chin resting on his paws so he could watch the activity without having to participate. David and Jackson were off shopping and getting an oil change on the Durango. After Roger arrived, they all took Kaiser for a long walk at Oaks Bottom Park and then David said they hadn't gone out to dinner for a while. So, after they all cleaned up, they walked to the Sellwood Grill. It was no surprise that the boys went to bed early and enjoyed a subdued but pleasant love making session.

Suzanne and Rufus were on the same schedule Sunday and they were in the therapy dog room when Kaiser and the boys arrived. They chatted while the dogs ran around and burned off some energy. Suzanne handed them an envelope and said, "Here's the application for the summer stipend position. I spoke to the administrator again and she's excited."

"Why excited?"

Suzanne smiled. "Well, I used the ploy of talking to her again to confirm you would both qualify since you're both minors, though over eighteen. The answer is yes, but the fact is that she's excited that you're eighteen. In other words, fresh blood and the accompanying energy and vitality that comes with it." Her smile widened into a grin, and she continued, "Seriously. She thinks it's terrific. She asked about Kaiser's age, but I couldn't remember."

"We're guessing he's now six, based on the vet's guess that he was five when we found him."

"That's good to know and you'll include it in the application. You do know how old that is in human years, don't you?"

"I think the vet told us," Jerrod said, "but honestly, I don't remember."

"The most accurate conversion I've heard is the from the American Kennel Club, and it begins with the equivalent of fifteen human years for the first year, then nine human years for year two, and five years for each year thereafter. So, that's fifteen plus nine plus twenty, which puts him in the mid-forties in human years."

"No wonder he's more patient than we are," Jerrod said. "He puts up with us kids pretty well!"

They were pleased to see Dr. Yanowitz making rounds when they were on the Neuro floor, and he pulled them aside. "I keep hearing good things about you two and Kaiser from my patients. I'm just making sure my favorite patient is doing as well as he appears." He rubbed Kaiser's ears and asked Roger a few questions, then said, "If you guys aren't doing anything on Saturday, my band's playing at the Aladdin Theater. It's one of the coolest live music venues in Portland. They serve alcohol, and I know you're underage, but if you're accompanied by adults, they'll let you in. What do you think?"

Both boys grinned, pleased to be asked and said they'd talk to David and Jackson about it. After Neuro they spent the rest of their patient visit time on the Oncology floor and then headed over to visit Nate. They'd all agreed that since he started PT in another week or so, it was time he started getting out and about. He'd graduated from doing limited exercises in bed to spending time walking up and down the hall on his walker to try and keep fit and get more comfortable using it. Matt already had him in the cut off sweatpants, and they loaded him up in the cargo area, lying back against the lawn furniture cushions, with Kaiser keeping him company. They drove to Oaks Bottom Park because Jerrod and Roger knew there was good parking, the paved walkways were smooth, and the walk along the Willamette River would do Nate good.

They went slowly, and let Nate set the pace, and he had more endurance than expected, but was starting to feel it after a half a mile, and they took a rest and then turned back. His hallway routines had paid off. On the drive home Nate looked at his older brother and said, "So, are you going to confront the dirt bags or not?"

Jerrod glanced in the rearview mirror in time to see a smirk flash across Matt's face before he put on a false look of disgust. "Yeah, I guess it's about time. All along I thought they were my friends, and your friends, too, that I could trust them, and they cared about me. Now I find out they're two-faced and doing all kinds of stuff behind my back, and not even telling me about any of it. Some kind of friends!"

"Yeah," Nate chimed in, aiming to bolster his brother, "what kind of a shitty deal is that? At least you'd expect your friends to tell you what they're doing, right? Be straight with you?"

"For sure, instead it turns out they've been sneaking around, acting like they're my friends and trying to help, but not being honest about what's going on."

Roger finally turned in his seat and said, "What the fuck are you guys talking about? It sounds like you're drunk or something!"

"Oh, no! I just found out this morning that you and your boyfriend aren't the straight shooters you make yourselves out to be."

"Say, what?"

Jerrod could see Nate in the cargo area and had watched him say his bit and then struggle not to start laughing. He wasn't successful and started giggling and finally it turned into laughter.

"Okay, so what gives. I can see you're trying to pull off some kind of act back there, but Nate's in the process of losing it, so it isn't working."

Nate lost it after that, and totally cracked up.

"Well?" Jerrod asked.

Matt was still trying to be the aggrieved friend, but Nate had caught his breath and said, "Jackson and Coach Sam came to the house this morning to meet with mom. Afterwards they called Matt down, and I was exercising on the walker, so I was there too. So, they told mom that you guys had gotten them going on this scheme to try and find replacement scholarships for Matt so he could go to college."

"Oh really! Jackson didn't tell us when the meeting was."

"Oh, well," Nate cheerfully said. "Too bad, so sad!" Then he cracked up again. He was laughing so hard Kaiser had sat up trying to figure out what he'd missed.

"So, anyways, you guys, we're just giving you shit," Matt said. "Truth is I'm blown away, and so is mom. I think Nate knew what was going on all along, but he didn't tell me either, the little fucker. But seriously, this is huge. I mean they said they're both small scholarships, but if they happen it'd be enough to cover tuition and books and that's all I need."

"We agreed not to tell you till we knew the facts and knew you'd qualify to apply and were kind of confident you could get one or both. We didn't want you to get your hopes up is if it wasn't going to work out, you know?"

"Yeah, I get it, and I'm not pissed or anything. Happy really. And not telling me is cool. I probably couldn't have handled it along with the other stuff I've been sorting out. And you can talk about any of that. I've told Nate everything we've talked about."

"So, Matt," Nate added from the rear cargo area, "are you going to tell them about the other piece? Or is that going to be a secret between you and Coach Sam."

"Oh, yeah. I forgot." He caught Jerrod's eye in the rearview mirror and reached forward and squeezed Roger's shoulder. "Get this. Portland State University has a football team, the Vikings, and Coach Sam has talked to their football coach about me playing. I mean if I get accepted and get the scholarships and all. They're in a smaller conference than I was shooting for, and it's too late for a scholarship, but if it all comes together, I'd be able to play football, too. How great is that?"

"Pretty cool," Roger said, "but it's a lot to come together. How's it all going to happen?"

"That was my worry, but Coach Sam and Jackson are some kind of together people. She's already talked to my football coach because she needs a coach's recommendation for the Athletic Director's Association scholarship application, and he agreed. She also talked to the football coach at PSU, and said he's pretty excited about getting someone who was accepted to play at Oregon State."

"She's a mover and shaker," Roger added, "but still… you haven't even applied for acceptance at PSU. I mean I think it would be fab 'cause it's where Kim and I are attending, but we applied like months ago."

"She said the PSU coach was confident. It sounds like their choice of student athletes is a notch or two lower than Oregon State and they want better players. And, she said, she's already got my football coach to agree to do a letter to PSU making the case."

"Too much!" Roger just grinned, and Jerrod added, "Way to go, man. They didn't tell us any of the details. What about the Behlen scholarship?"

"Well, that one blew mom away 'cause she didn't even know there were any scholarships, and she hasn't had any contact with the company since the insurance settlement after dad died. I don't think she quite understood what Jackson was saying about children of deceased employees not being part of the program, but there was an approach about special circumstances or something."

"He told you he met with the VP of Human Resources?"

"Yeah, and that blew my mind."

"Well, he's too nice to say it in front of your mom, but he's willing to seriously go to bat for you, and David, too, to make the case they have an obligation to help the child of an employee who was killed on the job."

Matt was quiet and then said, "Those two are something else, aren't they?"

"They are. You probably don't want your mom to know all that detail. It'd probably make her nervous. Nate, what do you think?"

"You're right. She'd get all squeamish about putting pressure on them or whatever."

"Jackson's plan is to make sure they understand that they need to do the right thing. Can you imagine him showing up for their Board meeting or whatever, and he's got the Dean of Students from Lewis & Clark along, and they go to work on that group? I bet there'll be people squirming in their seats!"

They laughed, and then Matt said, "God, I hope so. It's my only chance. But let's not make a huge deal out of this in front of mom, okay. At least not till we know if it's going to come together."

They pulled up to the curb and everyone helped Nate out of the back of the cargo area and onto his walker for the trudge up the sidewalk. Matt steered him to the bathroom and then they settled him in his bed. Roger asked when the first PT appointment was?

"I made it on Tuesdays," Nate said, "because Matt said it was the only day you didn't have stuff after school. The first one is a week from Tuesday and it's at four thirty."

"Good. That'll give us plenty of time after school," Jerrod said, "and it'll be late enough the dog therapy teams will be gone, so we can use the parking like when we took you down before."

He smiled at Nate and said, "We're running late, bro, and have to go." They stood up and Matt started out the door. Jerrod turned back to Nate and said with a smile, "Sorry, no hand job today. Can you wait till tomorrow?"

Nate rolled his eyes and said, "I guess, if I have to!"

Over dinner that night Jerrod told David and Jackson about seeing Dr. Yanowitz, and his telling them about his jazz band playing the next Saturday night.

"Oh yeah," Jackson said, "the Aladdin is a cool place. It's an old movie theater that now does live music gigs. It's not far north of here, where the Ross Island Bridge crosses the river." He looked at David. "What do you think?"

"I think it sounds kind of fun. We haven't gone to a live performance together for a while, and this would be a change of scene and vibe. Shall we escort the two minors?"

Jackson grinned and said to Jerrod, "You clear it with Roger's parents, and it'd be better if he sleeps here that night. Like I said, it's an old movie theater, so there's auditorium seating and the sound quality is really good. But they have long intermissions, and if the band doesn't start to play till eight o'clock, the gig could run till ten thirty or eleven."

Monday passed as a normal day with tennis practice focused on the next tournament on Friday, It would be an away event at Jesuit High School across town in Beaverton, and the whole team had to ride the bus over and back. That meant a smaller cheering section and a late return. Jerrod heard the phone ring while he was doing his homework and it was Matt.

"You won't believe what just happened?"

"Fill me in, I'm open for anything tonight," Jerrod said with a grin.

"Coach Sam just left. She got the application in the mail today and drove over here to give it to me."

"That's very cool."

"Yeah, you weren't kidding when you said she's a mover and shaker. She handed it to me and said, 'Let's get this done!' so she can get it turned in. Mom's filling out the financial part and she wants me to give it to you tomorrow to drop by her house. Then she's getting a letter from our football coach so she can submit it all."

"That's far out! Waste no time. Thanks for letting me know. I'll let Jackson know as well. See you in the morning."

Tuesday flew by, and on the drive home from school Jerrod said, "Sam should be home now, so we'll swing by their house and you can give her the application yourself." He grinned at Matt in the rearview mirror. They watched Matt walk up the walkway to the Summers' house, and Roger said, "Boy, she was right on it, wasn't she?"

Sam had answered the door and they watched the short conversation on the porch. "Yeah, she's wasting no time, that's for sure."

When they got to Matt's house, the agreed upon plan was starting to prep Nate for his first PT visit in a week. He'd reached the point he could pretty well get out of bed and up on his own if he was careful, but they helped him out the front door and down to the sidewalk. "We're starting slow, bro. Today we'll see how far you can comfortably go. Maybe it's just down to the end of the block and back," Jerrod said.

Matt added, "The goal is conditioning, not setting any kind of record. You said you didn't want to deal with the wheelchair, so remember you're still not supposed to weight that leg. But if you can work up to being able to go around the block by next Tuesday without being too tired, your good leg will be strong and you'll be pretty fit to start PT. I talked to my coach today, and he said that's what we should do. He said too many people get way out of shape after surgery, and then instead of actually getting some physical therapy, the first few weeks are all about getting them back in shape."

"Okay, but you really think I'm out of shape?"

Matt laughed, "Yeah, bro. It's been six weeks and you've spent most of it in bed. You've done a few walker drills in the house and one outside walk at the park last Sunday. So, you've lost some of your fitness. Also, the leg that had the surgery is sure to have atrophied, so I'm betting most of the initial PT will be conditioning until the cast comes off."

They started off slowly, and made it down the block and around the corner before Nate said, "This is about as far as we went on Sunday. Let's turn around here. Maybe a little farther tomorrow."

Wednesday was tennis practice and then GSA, after which Matt took Nate for his training walk, which was a little longer than the day before. When they got to the park on Thursday, Sean's Mom was there alone and told them that Sean had the flu and she had made him stay home and stay in bed. They chatted for a few minutes and she promised to give him a hug from all four of them. Nate was surprised they were back early, but was ready for his training walk, and again made it a little further than the day before. He was elated and commented on his good leg not being tired and how his arms and shoulders were handling the work that the walker placed on them. He'd almost broken a sweat, but looked happy.

"Sorry, but you guys know you're on your own tomorrow, right? We've got to ride the team bus to Jesuit for the tennis tourney." Nate wished them well and said, "Let me know how it goes, okay?"

Their tennis coach had made clear that this would not be an easy tennis tournament because not only did Jesuit have a strong team, but one of their singles players was All State, and one of their doubles teams had won a state tournament the year before. That created worry that they all talked about on the otherwise boring bus ride to Beaverton. The tournament did not go well, and the team lost most of their matches. Only their top player won in singles, and only one of their doubles teams won.

On the ride back their coach spent most of the time talking to them about having performed well against a strong team, to think of it as good experience and to try and pick out a thing or two each one had learned from the opponents they faced.

When he was done and sat down, Eric said quietly, "There may be some things to learn from it, but it's a total bummer when you get your clock cleaned like we just did!"

Most of the team heard it and ruefully laughed, and they settled back for the rest of the bus ride. On the drive to Roger's house, Jerrod said, "Are you doing okay, selle ? That's two losses in a row."

"Actually, yes, because of something I never told you. Dad and I talked about it a couple of times, and this is my first year playing any competitive sport and the first one playing tennis, so I just figured the odds were against me winning. I mean, my partner is a good player, and I work hard not to let him down, but I just figured any win would be a bonus. Anyway, we're in it together this time, 'cause we both lost!"

"True, and that's a healthy attitude. You see why I love you so much. Mr. Cool and Rational… even though you can be like an animal sometimes when you're naked!"

They pulled up to the curb and Jerrod leaned over and pulled him in for a hug. "Will you be a wild animal for me tomorrow after we get back from the Aladdin Theater?"

He felt Roger hug him back and kiss the side of his head and say softly, "I think that can be arranged!"

Over dinner, after David and Jackson joined in lamenting the loss to Jesuit, Jackson said, "I've got some news about the Behlen foundation."

Jerrod's eyebrows went up.

"It turns out that Behlen Construction is a private family-owned business, and the foundation is a family nonprofit. That means that while it's an educational nonprofit, it was funded by Mr. Behlen and it is run by his family. The President is Mr. Behlen's niece, and we're meeting with her Tuesday afternoon."

"Seriously? Is that a good thing?"

"I think it is," David said, "because it means it's a smaller foundation and being family owned it's less rules bound and probably more flexible."

"It could also be more quirky," Jackson added, "so don't say anything to Matt in case it is quirky and we get blown out of the water!"

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