Kaiser's Rodeo

by Bensiamin

Chapter 6

They set about getting the Scout clean, starting by rolling it outside in the sun. Then they vacuumed out the interior and gave it a good wipe down, followed by washing the exterior. It had dried by the time lunch was over and they pushed it back in the barn. Michael put it in gear and set the parking brake, then they stood looking at the almost shiny vehicle.

"How're those boots feeling?"

"You know, I'd forgotten I had them on. I mean once they started drying, I didn't feel the moisture, and they've gotten more and more comfortable, and I forgot what was going on."

"That was the plan. Come on, let's go do the lawns. I think we should change into shorts and sneakers for that."

They cleaned up after the mowing, and after dinner headed down to grandpa's barn to wait for Jerry. Grandpa came up to join them and commented on the cleaned up Scout, and they were all inside when Jerry's truck pulled up outside. They walked to the door to greet him, and after he picked up a box from the passenger side, Jerry walked toward them.

"Howdy, gents." Then he looked at Nate. "I've got to say you don't look like a city boy anymore!"

Nate grinned. "Grandpa told me I needed to get properly outfitted for a summer in cowboy country, and Michael and his dad took me to the western store yesterday. I upgraded to Wranglers and got boots and this pretty cool hat." He paused, then went on, "You think I look okay?"

"You look normal for around here, and that's a major compliment! Come on, let's get to work. Getting this carb on and the air filter in place won't take long. Then we'll probably have to spend some time getting it started and making adjustments."

They had the carb on the manifold and the fuel line and accelerator linkage connected in fifteen minutes, and in another five they had the air filter housing in place. Jerry stepped back. "That looks a lot better, don't you boys think? Cleaned up carb and a new shiny air filter housing! Looks pretty professional under the hood now!" He laughed.

The Scout started on the second try, and it only took another fifteen minutes to get the mixture and idle adjustments set and lubricate the linkages, and the engine sounded like it was supposed to. "She almost purrs now, don't you think?" Jerry asked with a grin on his face.

The boys nodded and Jerry stepped back from his work. "She looks pretty good now you've got her all cleaned up and got those new tires on." He looked at Michael's grandpa and said, "Seems to me these two should take it for a little drive around the property, don't you think so?"

Grandpa nodded and said, "And I'll buy you a beer and we can sip it on the porch while they do."

"But, wait!" Michael said. "Our deal was you get to drive it first."

"Well, yeah, but you know. It's your project rig, so it's only right. Anyhow, how can I turn down a beer on the porch. You don't want me to offend your grandpa, do you? You guys go drive it for a few minutes and try not to break down, then come back and report to us how it went."

Grandpa smiled at them and said, "Just keep it in two-wheel drive for this test run. I'll show you about four-wheel drive and the high/low range tomorrow."

They nodded, climbed into the front seats, buckled up and then grinned at each other.

"Go on you two, get going!"

Michael shifted into 1 st gear and released the parking brake and they slowly eased out of the barn. Grandpa and Jerry stood in the barn door watching them drive away.

"That's a sight for sore eyes," grandpa said, "and I thank you for helping them out."

"It's my pleasure. I know what it's like and so do you. We were their age once, too, remember… though it's hard to believe sometimes."

"Come on, Jerry. Let me buy you that beer. If we're lucky we'll be able to finish it in peace and not have to go out and tow them home."

Michael turned into the driveway and headed toward the highway. He looked at Nate and said, "Down to the reservoir?"

Nate just nodded.

A few minutes later they pulled up to it, Michael shifted into neutral and set the parking brake.

"Aren't you going to shut it off?"

Michael looked at him and kind of flinched.


"Nothing. I mean… well, what if I shut it off and it won't start, and we have to walk back?"

"We tested that stuff the other night, didn't we? Or you just don't want to risk it and be embarrassed the first time out?"

"Well, yeah! Having to go get a tow home is not my idea of a good first drive."

"I get it. Let's play safe and let it idle then, and we can put it through its paces tomorrow."

"Good plan."

"How much gas is there?"

"Half a tank."

"Then we're good. How long are we going to park here?"

"Long enough for a good kissing session. I figure that's the best way to remember this first drive. So, why don't you slide over here and put those soft lips of yours on mine, and let's see what kind of fire we can start."

They were only gone fifteen minutes when they pulled the Scout into grandpa's barn and then walked to the porch.

"Good timing, boys. We're just finishing our beer. How'd she run?"

"Really well. You're right Jerry. With the rebuilt carb it sounds like she's purring. We just went to the reservoir and back. Nate said we should wait till tomorrow to put her through her paces."

Both older men chuckled, and Jerry said, "That's good thinking. There'll be more options if something goes wrong. Seriously though, I think that's unlikely to happen unless you get stuck somewhere. We've tested all the systems, so unless a problem shows up in the drive train you boys should be good to go. Remember what I said about paying attention to the brakes. They seem okay, but if they start to squeal or aren't responsive, we may need to put on new brake shoes. And keep an eye on the radiator hoses. They're old enough they may need to be replaced so watch for leaks." He turned to grandpa and said, "I need to be heading home, but I thank you for the beer and the company." Then he turned to the boys and said, "You run into any problems, or even just have any questions, call me. Don't be bashful, okay?"

They nodded and thanked Jerry for his help, and then watched him walk to his truck and drive off. The boys sat down next to grandpa on the porch.

The older man looked at them. "So, how'd it feel?"

"It was so cool, Grandpa," Michael said, "my own wheels. Thanks so much."

Grandpa looked at Nate.

"It was very cool. Plus, with no top on, just open like that, it's just us and the Scout and the world. It's amazing."

"That's what I wanted to hear. You boys will have a lot of fun in it. And now you're kind of independent and can do your own thing. I'll show you the four-wheel drive stuff tomorrow. Just remember two things."

They looked at him expectantly, but before he could answer, Michael's dad appeared out of the evening gloom.

"Well, look who finally got here!"

"I just thought this should be a time for you and the boys," Michael's dad said. "Well, you and the boys and Jerry. How'd it go?"

They gave him a quick description of the evening's events while grandpa stepped inside to retrieve two more beers. He came back with them and two sodas for the boys. As he sat down, Michael said, "Grandpa was just about to tell us the two things we needed to remember."

He grinned, took a sip of his beer, and then said, "The first one is that it may be a four-wheel drive rig for off road and difficult conditions, but nothing gets stuck like a four-wheel drive. Meaning that if you get in a bad situation and get her stuck, the odds are you're really stuck. The fancy Scouts had winches on the front and this one doesn't, so remember that and don't get yourself stuck."

He looked at his son and they exchanged knowing smiles. "The second thing," he continued, "is that it's just as easy to keep the top half of the tank full as it is the bottom half. Keep the top half full and you're probably never going to run out of gas."

Michael and Nate nodded solemnly. They chatted a while longer and then bid grandpa goodnight, and all headed up to the house. As they walked Michael's dad asked Nate how the boots felt?

"They feel great. I told Michael this afternoon that I'd forgotten I had them on. I guess that's a good sign, eh?"

"Yeah, I'd say that tells the tale. Now that they're dry rub some boot grease on them."

They spent some time filling Michael's mom in on the evening's accomplishments and then begged off to go to their room and listen to some music.

Michael's mom reminded Nate to call home and ask his mother about the rodeo job and fill her in on what had been happening. She suggested they save calling Jerrod and Roger till the next night. "Otherwise, you guys will spend the rest of the evening on the phone!"

She grinned as she pointed Nate at the phone. He hauled Michael along with him, and they spent ten minutes filling Nates' mom and Matt in on the new clothes, the rebuilt carb, and the first time out in the Scout and the prospect of the job at the rodeo grounds. Nate put Michael on and heard him answer questions about how physical it would be and how risky. Michael was very matter of fact, and then pointed out that his parents agreed it would be good for both of them. He handed the phone back to Nate with a grin, and in a minute his mom told him it would be okay, but that he had to be careful.

When they got to Michael's room, he told Nate to pick some music. Nate had brought along a few CDs and asked about Duran Duran. Michael smiled and said, "Sounds good. Go for it."

Nate slipped in the Greatest Hits CD, and as the music filled the room, he settled down on the bed next to Michael who put his arm around him and pulled him close. "Did you have a good day?"

Nate smiled and hugged him back. "Yeah. It was great. You heard Jerry, I'm acceptable out here now with boots and Wranglers and the hat. We had a good day on the ranch, and made good progress on the Scout. At home I'd be bored stiff."

"Good thing you're not bored."

"It's more than that, and you know it. I already feel like I'm part of your family. I mean your parents just accept me like I'm part of it, they accept us, I've got a grandpa now. It's like, wow! All that and I've only been here four days."

"You're a good guy, and they all like you as a person," Michael said softly into his ear, and added, "and don't forget Stew thinks you're a real looker too!"

"Yeah, that too, I guess."

"That, too, for sure. You know how I feel about you and about you being here. This is already shaping up to be the best summer ever." He paused, then reached down and caught Nate's chin with his fingertips and tipped it up so he could look in his eyes. "All that other stuff is top notch and great, don't get me wrong. But the best thing is that you're here with me. That's what I think, and I love you, too!"

"Being here with you is the best. I told you I've never felt this way before."

Michael kissed his forehead and then said, "Want to take the Scout out off roading tomorrow, or go into town and see Stew and buy gas?"

Nate giggled. "Well, it's a four-wheel drive. Don't you think that's the first thing we should do? I mean, let's not go out in the mountains or desert or something, and get stuck like grandpa warned us not to. But, you know, take it off road and put it through its paces."

"Okay. We'll drive it out to water the cows in the morning, then come back here so grandpa can show us the four-wheel drive stuff, then we'll head out. We'll get mom to make some sandwiches we can take with some drinks in a cooler, and we'll make it an adventure."


Michael ran his hand across Nate's chest and said softly, "Now, why don't we get ready for bed and put some of the advice we've been reading about into practice."

At breakfast Michael's dad listened as they asked his mom to make sandwiches before she went into town to teach summer school. "What are your plans, then?"

"We'll come back after we water the cows and grandpa said he'd show us how the four-wheel drive works, then we thought we just head out and see some country, you know." He grinned at his dad.

"I know. I used to do it, too, you know! You boys just be careful. You're still getting used to that rig, and it takes a while to feel comfortable and know what the performance limits are. You don't want to make me come pull you out or haul you home, 'cause you'll never live it down." He grinned as he said it, and continued, "It's good to see you're being adventurous and heading out on your own."

"I'll make the sandwiches before I go," Michael's mom added, and they'll be in the refrigerator. You boys just be careful, okay? And take a long sleeved shirt so you don't get sunburned if you're out too long with no top on that vehicle."

They nodded, thanked her for breakfast and headed to the back porch to slip on their boots and hats and walked down to grandpa's barn to get the Scout out. He wasn't up and about yet, and they headed down the road toward the cattle. The sun was up over the Blue Mountains to the east and the air was warming quickly. They found that even with the roof off the windscreen diverted the air flow so their hats weren't blown off, and the advantage of the wing windows was that they could rotate them fully open, so they pointed into the cab and quite a lot of fresh air came in.

When they turned off the main road, Michael looked over at Nate and grinned, his excitement and enthusiasm suddenly catching up with him. "This is so cool!"

Nate nodded and grinned back. When they got to the gate, Nate hopped out and opened it so Michael could drive through. They now had the watering process down to a pretty efficient routine, and it wasn't long before they drove the fence line to inspect the cattle.

Nate looked over at Michael and said, "This truck track is no problem in two-wheel drive, but I bet it'd be different in the winter."

"Oh yeah, four-wheel drive for sure," Michael replied. "Course, by the time the weather turns cold and nasty all the cattle are back in the big paddocks next to the barn. Still, you're right."

They pulled up on a slight rise so they could see the cattle herd grazing, and it was now full sunlight. The vale they were in was alight in the morning sun, the cattle placidly living out their lives in this pastoral setting.

Michael set the brake and shifted into neutral and said, "You're driving back."

"But I don't know how to drive a manual shift."

"You're going to learn, 'cause we both have to be able to. I only know how from driving the tractor. Manual transmissions weren't part of driver's ed. You're going to get to start either with the Scout or the tractor, and I'm nominating you for the Scout today. Come on!"

He walked around the rig, and Nate slipped over behind the steering wheel. After Michael buckled up, he said, "Because it's older, this clutch engages more smoothly than the tractor, not jerky at all, so it should be easy. Just push in the clutch, slip it into first gear, and then give it some gas at the same time you let the clutch out. Oh, release the parking brake!"

Nate grinned and then said, "This'll probably be like when Jackson let Matt drive the Challenger. He killed the engine the first time."

"Naw. You've been watching me, you've been working on the engine, you're in tune with it. It'll probably lurch the first few times, but just give it a little more gas and don't panic. We both have to be able to drive it, so relax and let's go."

That statement resonated with Nate. He realized it was true, that he'd been working on the Scout and knew something about it now. He knew it, and maybe somehow it knew him, and there was no point in being up tight.

He flashed a smile at Michael and followed the instructions. He was a little out of synch between the gas pedal and the clutch, and the Scout did lurch a couple of times, but nothing major and in a few seconds, it was rolling along the truck track.

"Very cool, my man! See, I told you so." Michael sounded happy.

"You sound like a proud father."

"More like a proud boyfriend. You did great. You should have seen me the first few times on the tractor. It jumped all over the place."

At the gate Michael got out and swung it open and Nate drove through and stopped, waiting for Michael to get back in. He drove off and Michael said nothing. After a minute Nate looked at him with a grin on his face.

"See, I told you you'd know how to do this, no problem. You are in sync with this machine."

Nate's smile widened. "I'm in sync with this machine and with you. You know that, don't you?"

Michael just grinned back and blew him a kiss. "My man!"

After they got home, they packed the sandwiches, some chips and a few drinks in the cooler and then secured it in the back with bungee cords. They drove down to the big barn to let Michael's dad and grandpa know they were off.

"You boys getting along alright with that rig?" grandpa asked as they walked in.

"Oh yeah," Michael said. He nodded at Nate and added, "He learned how to drive a manual transmission this morning. How about that!"

Grandpa grinned. "See, no longer a city slicker. What are your plans?"

"Stew told us we should go down to the Bike Pit at Pilot Rock. It's not that long a drive on the highway, and we can get gas there."

"That's a good idea, especially for your first time off road. Let me show you how four-wheel drive works." Michael's dad just smiled knowingly at them and waved as they walked out of the barn. Grandpa walked them through the process of engaging four-wheel drive with one lever on the transmission hump, and how the other was used for engaging low range.

"In a lot of ways, it's just like the tractor, but remember the transmission has synchromesh, so it doesn't naturally grind like the tractor. It's a manual tranny, so you want to be stopped when you engage four-wheel drive and when you change from high to low range. Go slow, don't be doing anything dramatic. Have fun, and I don't want to hear you had to call your dad to haul your asses out of some place!" He grinned at them and walked back in the barn.

"You know he only sounds that way 'cause he loves us, right?"

Nate looked at Michael and smiled and then said "I'm figuring that out. What's this place like?"

"Well, it's outside of Pilot Rock, which is a town with… I don't know, maybe a thousand people. Stew told me it's over thirty acres mainly used for BMX and ATV riding, that has some basic courses, and some hills, but also some cool mud pits for four-wheelers. It's open to the public, and there's no admission, and being a weekday there probably won't be a lot of people. It's not even ten miles away, so it should be no problem. Come on, let's go put her through her paces!"

The drive to Pilot Rock was uneventful and they filled the tank before they headed over to the Bike Pit. There were a bunch of teenagers on BMX bikes riding the course, a few on ATVs riding another trail. They talked to the ATV drivers and found out driving the Scout on the ATV trail was fine. They also pointed out the mud bogs, but they were pretty dry due to summer weather.

It turned out the ATV track was not very challenging for a four-wheel drive vehicle, but it did give them both the opportunity to practice some basic four-wheel off road driving. Afterwards they drove off the track and over some rough terrain along the western perimeter of the property, and both agreed they were getting the feel of how the Scout drove and responded. Then they headed back to the mud bogs where they paused for lunch and scoped out the course. They were basically a series of deeply excavated rectangular pits that meant the vehicle was going over small hills and then down into the mud pits, then up the next hill and repeat. Michael drove the first time through, and he was quite cautious until he realized that the water level was so low that it didn't even come up to the axels or the bottom of the doors. It turned out to be great fun and challenging, because even though not deep, the traction wasn't the best, and there were times he had to shift into low range to get going up the hill out of the mud. After a couple of times through, Nate felt confident enough to try, and he'd been watching the previous runs closely so he pretty well knew what to do.

They pulled over next to the start of the ATV trail when they were done and got out to watch the riders go by. After a few minutes Nate leaned into Michael and said, "That was very cool. But you know what?"

Michael looked at him and raised his eyebrows.

"Look at the Scout. There's mud all over her. We better head back and wash her before that mud sets up like a rock."

"Good thinking. Let's go." They waved at the ATV riders as they left and headed home. Michael pulled in next to the big barn where there was a large water hydrant on the barn's agricultural well.

"Okay, so we've got to try and not soak the interior, 'cause the top isn't on it, alright? This hose will give us plenty of water pressure which will make it easy to clean the windows and the undercarriage. How about I'll soak down this side and you wipe it down with those towels while I do the wheels and wheel wells, and then I'll rinse. We can trade off on the other side."

They had it pretty well cleaned up in twenty minutes and decided to let it sit in the sun to dry. Michael nodded at Nate and said, "Come on."

He headed around to the side of the barn with Nate in tow and stopped under a couple of large cottonwood trees. There was a small amount of grass growing, and Nate said. "I'm thinking that while the rig is drying, this would be a good time to take a nap on that patch of grass in the shade." He smiled at Nate, then laid down with his head against the base of the tree and pulled his hat down over his eyes. Nate followed suit, but instead of the tree, lay with his head against Michael's stomach, and pulled his hat over his eyes as well. As he fell asleep, he felt Michael's hand settle on his chest.

That's how grandpa found them ten minutes later. He assumed that's where they'd be when he saw the Scout washed and sitting in the sun to dry. He rounded the corner of the barn and when he saw the boys asleep together, he stopped and found he was smiling to himself as he leaned against the barn. It was a long time gone since Korea, almost fifty years, but his memories were still alive and vibrant, and as he observed the peaceful and affectionate connection between the two boys, he found himself not only smiling, but thinking "what if?"

After a minute he quietly retreated back to his house, determined to wait on the porch till the boys appeared. He figured it wouldn't be long, and he was right. Within ten minutes they appeared. He waved them over, as they came up on the porch he asked, "I'm glad to see you taking care of the Scout. How'd you two make out?"

Both boys grinned and Nate said, "It was a lot of fun. I've learned to drive a manual transmission and gone four-wheeling in the same day. What a deal, eh?"

Grandpa looked at Michael. "And you?"

"The same. It was a lot of fun. The Scout runs great. Have you got any soda pop in the fridge?"

Grandpa nodded and tipped his head towards the door. "Bring me one of those grape ones, if you please."

As Michael went inside and Nate sat down, he continued, "Are you having as good a time as it looks to this old man?"

Nate looked him straight in the eyes and saw both love and serious inquiry, and simply said back, "Yes. I'm having a great time. I think this is the best time I've ever had."

"You boys getting along as well as it looks?"

Nate didn't even flinch and said, "Yes, Grandpa. We're having a great time. I've never felt like this about anyone. Michael's so fun and so cool and so caring and…." He ran out of words.

"That's okay, Nate. You don't need to say anymore. I'm not trying to embarrass you. I just want to make sure. You know why?"

Nate raised his eyebrows.

"Because my other new grandson, that being Roger, asked me to make sure you two were okay, so I'm just doing my job." He laughed. "If I don't Roger will be all over me for dereliction of duty!"

Michael came back out on the porch with drinks for all of them, and after they all had a sip or two and relaxed back in their chairs grandpa looked at them and then said, "You two were a beautiful sight taking your nap on the side of the barn."

Both boys looked at him and he just smiled back. "I'm paying you two a compliment. You're good together. It's as clear as day that you're made for each other. The way you were laying together was beautiful. To me it looked so peaceful… and loving."

Michael reached out for Nate's hand, and then said, "Thanks, grandpa. You don't know how much it means to us that you and mom and dad accept us and aren't making a big deal about it."

"I think I do. I've never told you all the details, but you know a little about my friend in Korea. If Robbie hadn't been killed things would have been different. For one, I probably wouldn't have gotten married to your grandma, and your dad and you wouldn't be here. That would be a huge loss if you ask me. On the other hand, it wasn't something that could have happened because he died. I just want you two to know that watching you together takes me back there, makes me think a lot about what could have happened if… but more importantly it makes me really happy for both of you that you found each other."

They sat quietly for a minute, the boys feeling the significance of what the older man had said. Then Nate said, "You know, I didn't know what to expect when I came out here. I sure didn't expect this. That you'd all make me part of the family, and that you'd be my grandpa, and that you understood somehow how Michael and I feel about each other." He looked the older man straight in the eyes and then added, "You are the coolest old man I've ever met."

Grandpa grinned, then said, "You be careful who you call an old man! Seriously, though, you boys have this whole summer before you, the chance to make all you want out of it. I'm happy to be part of that. I just want you both to be happy, to discover as much as you can about each other and your relationship."

He looked at Michael and then said, 'It was always wonderful having you for a grandson, but you know what? You've grown up a lot in the last year, not in the least because of your cancer. You dealt with the most serious thing that's happened in your life so far, and you did it well. I have to think something similar has happened to Nate even if his condition was different. It seems to me that made you both grow up faster than most, but helped you both to appreciate what you've got. I can tell you that I sure appreciate having both of you as grandsons. Well, you two and Roger. I can't leave him out."

Both boys smiled with just a touch of embarrassment, and the message of thanks was communicated. They sat quietly for a couple of minutes, then grandpa said, "What are you two love birds doing this weekend?"

Michael was the first to answer. "Well, tomorrow we're going into town to see about jobs at the rodeo grounds. Maybe we'll get together with Stew after that. You think it'd be cool to drag State Street in the Scout?"

Grandpa grinned. "All I can say is that it'll probably be the only Scout out there." He laughed and then added, "at least we won't have to worry about you boys getting a speeding ticket!"

Before long they agreed it was time to get cleaned up for dinner. They parked the Scout in grandpa's barn and walked up to the house to clean up. After helping wash the dishes, Nate headed for the phone and called Jerrod and Roger. They ended up handing the phone back and forth as they updated their friends in Portland on the week's developments.

"So, Nate, you've become a cowboy, is that the story?" Roger asked.

"Well, I don't ride horses or rope cows, so maybe not."

"He's just wearing the clothes. I'll tell you though," Michael added laughing, "his butt sure fills out the Wrangler jeans he's wearing right now."

"That's good to know," Roger replied. "And we can be confident that you're working your way through the gay sex book and that's all working out okay? Not meaning to pry, but you know, just making sure everything's cool."

"Yeah, it's all cool," Nate said. "You'd be proud of us. The last two nights we've been reading about blow jobs."

'Yahoo! That's a good sign," Jerrod said, having pulled the phone away from Roger. "Did you learn anything new? Like, any new techniques?"

"We're working on techniques," Michael replied. "Maybe we'll have to compare notes the next time we're all together. Seriously, though, tomorrow we're going down to the rodeo grounds 'cause Stew told us they've got some opening for part time work. Meaning two days a week and it'll give us money for the Scout. Anyhow, what I'm getting at is what are you guys doing over Labor Day weekend? Because that's when the Pendleton Round Up is held, that's the big national rodeo. Maybe you guys should plan on coming out for that… and spending the weekend. Then Nate can go home with you for school, but we'll all have a long weekend together. What do you think?"

Jerrod paused, and then said, "I think that's a great idea. I'll have to talk to David and Jackson, but we'll do that and let you know."

They then talked about the summer's hospital visitation work at different Portland hospitals and how Chloe's training was coming along.

"You know, the biggest surprise for me," Jerrod said, "is how important having an older trained dog is. Suzanne reminded me that dogs are descendants of wolves and that they're pack animals. So, they learn from each other. Chloe seems to be learning really fast and I think it's because she has Kaiser to watch and model from."

They kicked those ideas around for a couple of minutes before Michael's mom walked by and gave them the sign that they'd been on the phone long enough.

"Gotta go. You know, it's long distance, and mom's letting me know that time's up!"

When they walked back into the family room, Michael's dad waved them over and said, "Your mother has something to discuss with you."

The boys shot a glance at each other, then sat down on the couch. She looked at Michael.

"Don't panic, you two! I just want you to know that your dad and I have been talking and we're pleased your summer is getting off to such a good start with the Scout and working on the ranch and so forth. Specifically, you know that your dad got a cell phone a few months ago to stay in touch when he's out there, or in town, or we're apart. You know what I mean! At any rate, you boys now have a vehicle and you'll be going places on your own, and that's all well and good. We just want to know there's a way to reach you, and more importantly for you to reach us if there's a problem. So, today, I added a basic cell phone to our family plan for you."

She handed Michael a small box. "It's on our plan, and it's a way for us to call you if we have to, or vice versa if you need to reach us."

Michael accepted the box she handed him gingerly, but after opening it, said enthusiastically, "Wow! It's a Nokia! And how did you know I'd like this orange colored case?"

She grinned, knowingly. "Well, the salesman isn't much older than you, and when I told him you were a senior, he made sure I understood that it was important to be hip, not to have it look like some old businessman's phone. Anyway, I think he said it also does text messaging, whatever that it. The important thing, though, is that we can stay in touch."

She looked at Nate, "This applies to you as well. Think of it as a phone for both of you. If you two are going to be out and about in the Scout and working at the rodeo, then we all need to be able to keep in touch."

Michael and Nate thanked her, then Michael looked at his dad who just smiled knowingly and winked at both boys.

They retreated to their room shortly after and Nate said, "Your turn for the music." Michael put on The Best of U2 and they settled back on the bed. "What? No Cranberries?"

Michael smiled at him as he nudged his shoulder. "I don't want to over do it. I really like that album and used to listen to it a lot… I mean a lot! But that's me."

"Speaking of me… meaning you and me… that was some pretty heavy stuff grandpa was saying to us this afternoon."

"I guess it was. He's been my grandpa for almost seventeen years, you know, so I'm kind of used to how frank he can be. I guess he can catch people off guard. Did it surprise you?"

"I guess that he was so open about himself and Robbie, and what he thinks about us."

"He only told me about his friend, Robbie, last year when I started talking about being gay. He's a good person. He comes off as kind of cranky, but he's got a heart of gold. You've figured that out already. My parents were great during the cancer therapy, don't get me wrong, but grandpa was totally there with me, being encouraging and realistic about beating it. Knowing he went through the war kind of means he's tough and has his shit together and knows how to get things done, you know what I mean?"

Nate snuggled up against Michael, resting his head on his shoulder. Michael's arm went around him and pulled him tight. "I know. I'm just realizing what I missed with no grandpas and my dad dying with I was young. You've had this cool older dude with all this experience that doesn't care you're gay and wants to do everything he can so you're happy. What a deal."

"He wants us to be happy. That's what he said."

"I know. I'm just talking about the relationship you've had with him. I wonder how different I'd be if I'd had a grandpa like that all my life."

"You turned out pretty good even without one, and you've got a grandpa now. He thinks you're a pretty cool guy."

"Because we're together."

"No, because you're a pretty cool guy. Us being together helps, but he's a good judge of character. Don't sell yourself short. Remember, he's not seeing you in your Little League uniform hitting home runs. He's seeing you up here in his world, and he likes and admires what he sees. Just like I do."

"I never had to think about stuff like that before."

"Well, you don't have to overthink it now, you know. Just accept it. Like Stew told you that you're a really good-looking guy. Grandpa is telling you that you're a good person. He's pretty good at figuring out who the good people are and who aren't."

"You think?"


Nate glanced up at him. "Lighten up on yourself, okay? I've played some sports but I've never been an athlete, so I don't know what it's like to be a star, but I figure it means you've got a lot of expectations to live up to and all kinds of performance shit you have to do for people… you know, to prove yourself. I'm figuring that comes along with doubts about if you're doing well enough, if you're good enough. Guess what? With grandpa and my folks and me, you don't have to live up to any standard. You don't have to prove anything. We like you just like you are."

He turned Nate's face up toward him and kissed him and said, softly, "Well, I love you just like you are."

"I hear you, I guess. I always felt I had to live up to the kind of athlete Matt was. So, you're telling me to chill out?"

"I'm telling you to be you. We all love the you that you are. You don't need to be some baseball star up here. You don't need to be a better baseball player than your brother, and one who's also miraculously recovering from orthopedic surgery. You can just be you, playing the cowboy in Pendleton for the summer, and filling these Wranglers with your amazing butt." He reached around and pulled Nate up on top of him, holding his butt by both buttocks and ground them together.

"Ohh… I like how that feels."

"Me, too! Now, will you quit overthinking all this stuff and just accept we all think you're just fine the way you are? In fact, I'm pretty much liking the way you're feeling in those Wranglers, in front… and back here." He kneaded Nate's ass and then said softly in his ear, "that chapter on blow jobs said America is the blow job capitol of the world. How about you and me prove them right? Maybe I can make you see stars again."

"Only if I can make you see stars, too!"

They kissed and then stripped, and Michael pulled Nate close as they stood at the foot of their bed. Michael kissed him again, making it physical and sensuous, stroking his hands up and down Nate's back from his buttocks to his shoulders, running his fingertips into his hair. When he could feel Nate really responding and that he was totally hard, he dropped to his knees, placed his hands on Nate's hips and slowly extended his tongue below the head. He wiggled the tip of his tongue and heard Nate gasp, then he slowly lifted Nate's cock up with his tongue so that it was horizontal. Then he slowly began to rub his tongue back and forth on the underside. Nate groaned as he ran his fingers through Michael's hair, occasionally clutching his scalp as the tongue made small circles below his cock head. Then, as he felt Michael's mouth slowly slip over his cock, engulfing the head and then sliding down the shaft he felt waves of pure pleasure wash over him. A random thought occurred to him. Maybe he should just accept who he was, that he was here being loved, and not worry about being something else.

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