The Food of Love

by Bensiamin

Chapter 7

We slept in a little Saturday morning, then after breakfast got the house organized, did a little yard work which made us feel like proud homeowners. Over lunch we talked about JC and Frank's visit. They pulled up out front in the early afternoon, and Jackson saw them and hollered. It was all hugs and good vibes when walked out to meet them on the sidewalk. It turned out they'd gotten lost twice after they got off I-5, trying to get down to the Sellwood Bridge to get over to Sellwood.

It was so good to see them both, I realized for the first time how much I'd missed them. We, of course had to start with the walk around the house and the yard, and they really liked the it. Frank commented on the large basalt blocks that were part of the foundation, and then JC pointed at the BMW and said, "What's with two cars? Coming up in the world now that you've left the miserly ministerial ranks and joined the college set?"

He was grinning, and I knew he was kidding. I gave him a brief summary of the story of how we ended up with the BMW and then propositioned him. "The El Camino is for sale. If you need a good utility vehicle, we can talk terms."

He thought that was funny. "No, I'm good, I've got just the kind of vehicle I need. You'll probably do Okay selling it, with that SS package on it. The Deans are a Mopar family, you know. I still don't understand why you went German, though?"

That required the lengthy explanation about the engineering and features like the turbo charger and five speed transmission. He wasn't buying it, so finally I said, "Okay, you hold that thought. While you're here this weekend, we'll find the right place and you drive it, and then you tell me what you think." I had just the place in mind.

That quieted him down, and we all laughed and then headed into the house. Jackson gave them the tour and explained the decorating work we'd done and how we got the furniture and Marcia's role in all of it, and then…smart boy that he was…reached in his pocket and pulled out a quarter and held it on his index finger above his thumb.

He looked at his Dad and his Grandad. "Who's going to call heads or tails?"

They looked at him like they didn't get it. "Well, there's one bed in the guest room, and a fold out bed in the study. Unless you guys want to sleep together like me and David, you've got to decide who gets what." He was grinning evilly as he said it, and I almost fell down laughing.

JC was right there. "Put the coin away. I'm sleeping on the pull out. The old man here needs his comfort. You know, he's getting soft in his old age. Right, Dad?"

Frank kind of grinned, and then Jackson showed them the rest of the house. After they got settled, we walked the neighborhood and down to Oak Bottoms Park at the Willamette and back to the house. They really liked the neighborhood, and Jackson told them that when we'd been looking, we worked hard to find a place that had the characteristics and feel of JC's house.

I'd gotten steaks to grill, and they'd be accompanied with roasted potatoes and steamed broccoli, all of which would be easy. Jackson had the salad and bread under control, so we settled down on the back porch, where he proceeded to take drink orders. Our small bar was starting to get some use!

We spent the evening discussing how the summer had gone, my concussion recovery, all the details of the various events that you really can't convey in the periodic phone calls to stay in touch. I spent a lot of time watching and listening, since it was such a thrill to see Jackson mesh so well with his Dad and Grandad. He told them about his scholarship, the choirs he'd be singing in, his planned course work, and all the rest of it. They were enthralled and supportive.

JC and Frank were driving back to Seattle on Monday, since he had to fly on Tuesday. So, we'd previously arranged to drive down to Newberg so they could see Gary and Lois. That had led to a new development, which was all of us driving to McMinnville, where JC's sister lived. That meant Frank could visit his daughter and see his grandkids, and Jackson would get to meet his aunt for the first time. The drive down to Newberg was fun. The weather was great, and the BMW was comfortable, even for Jackson and JC in the rear. Frank appreciated riding up front and not having to clamber into the back seat of the two-door car.

Gary and Lois were expecting us, and since our last visit a couple of weeks prior, they'd finished all the painting and had upgraded some of the furniture too. It was really starting to look like their house. There was a fairly new Mustang in the driveway, an early wedding gift from Lois' dad, so now they both had their own wheels and were proud of it.

We didn't stay long, heading down to McMinnville where a barbeque was planned for when we arrived. I didn't know what to expect, and Jackson had expressed a little concern, but we needn't have worried. When we got there, JC's sister, whose name was Phyllis, turned out to be just as friendly and open as he was, and after we were introduced and shown around, she steered us over to one part of the back yard, obviously wanting to clear the air.

"I don't know how to do this any way but directly, so don't take any offense. Jackson, you didn't hear from me over the years because first it took some time for me to figure out that you were JC's son. I knew about the fling with Lilly, but neither of us knew that a child resulted, and when I found that out and told him, he felt it was too many years too late to interfere in your life. But he asked me to kind of watch and keep him informed. That's how he heard about your Mom's funeral, because I saw the obituary. I hope you're not offended by that or angry at me."

Jackson told her that he understood and that he and JC had talked about it, and that there were no hard feelings. "I keep getting more and more relatives. First a father, then a grandfather and now and aunt. How great is that?" He was smiling, and his eyes were sparking in the sunlight, and it was clear he was sincere. She thanked him and asked if she could give him a hug. Then she turned to me, "I've heard so much through JC about what Jackson and Gary went through and your role in getting them through it, so I've really wanted to meet you too. But it just wasn't my place to show up in Newberg and introduce myself. So, it's kind of ironic that you're living in Portland now, and here we are meeting at my house."

I smiled at her and said, "Well, truth is stranger than fiction, and I'm pleased that the connection is finally made, and you and Jackson are connected."

She looked at us both, smiling, "Great. I don't want to make a big deal out of this, but I thought it was valuable to clear the air. Now, let's join everyone else and make Gary and Lois feel comfortable here too. Dad told me about the little talk he gave you and Gary at your graduation, and he feels a sense of ownership not just for you, Jackson, but for Gary too."

We rejoined the group, and Frank was busy talking up a storm with Gary and Lois, and had pretty well pinned them down that if they were going to get married, which he highly recommended, then they needed to get on the stick and pick a date, get approval to use the church and get it on my schedule. Just like a senior Army officer, get right to the point, do it now, and waste no time. I just stood back and watched. They were going to do this on their schedule, but some encouragement like this was nothing but good.

Over hamburgers I asked Gary about the best choice in a new bike, and he apologized that since he wasn't working at the bike shop any longer, he was a little out of touch. "I hear there's a new trend coming, they're called mountain bikes, with a new frame design that has more clearance and is really designed for off road riding. But, it's not in production yet. I think the best bet for an all-around bike is still an adult BMX frame and then build it up like we did Jackson's bike. I wish I could help, but not working at the shop, I don't have access to parts and tools and stuff."

I told him I was just asking for information, not because I was expecting him to build the bike for me. I decided that next trip to Bike Gallery in Portland had to come soon. When we left, we followed Lois' Mustang back to Newberg, and spent a few minutes with them before heading back to Portland. Lois whispered to me, "We're close to setting a date. You know Gary, he comes to decisions like this in his own time, then he's all in."

I grinned and nodded. "How's the landscaping business?"

"It's growing really fast. There's more opportunity there than just mowing. We're almost to the point of needing to hire another employee. Plus, and you'll love this, I used that certificate you and Jackson gave me for the Japanese flower arranging class, so I'm starting to do flower arranging. On top of that, the lady knows a lot about Japanese garden design, so that was another plus because I can help Gary there when customers want some Japanese touches. Did you know there are over fifty varieties of Japanese Maples, that come in three forms and have five different leaf types…to say nothing about leaf color. They're so amazing to use in landscaping for color and structure. And, the best part is that they're a natural in our climate."

I told her I was amazed, but thrilled that she was so engaged and that meant she was intimately involved in the business and that they were operating like a team. "Call me when you've settled on the date, and we'll go to work on the details."

I had my plan for the drive home. We went north out of Newberg on the hill road to the top of the Chehalem Hills where the Bald Peak turn off was. From there it was a really nice downhill road into the Beaverton area with a number of pretty tight turns, a lot of nice gradual turns, and a generally pleasant Alpine drive. I pulled over at the top and got out and looked at JC in the back seat. "Okay, your turn. You get to drive now."

It caught him off guard, but he manned up and hopped out, I got in the back next to Jackson, and JC belted himself in. "I haven't driven a stick shift for a while, it might take me a time or two."

Jackson was right there. "You'll do fine. Remember, it's a five speed and the shifter has short throws, and the clutch engages pretty quickly. It's fun to drive."

It was clear JC had driven sports cars before, because once he'd gotten the feel of the clutch and shifter, he knew just what to do and was putting the car through its paces without pushing the envelope. I swore I heard him whoop a couple of times as he dove into a turn, or zipped out of it. Before we got to Beaverton he pulled over, saying he didn't want to drive it in town, and as we drove home, I heard him talking to Jackson about responsiveness and tight steering. I noticed Jackson said nothing about tightness to him, like he had to me!

That evening we all walked to our local restaurant, had a pleasant time together, and a good discussion about the immediate future. They were both interested in my campus ministry work, and equally interested in Jackson's course selections. Tuesday was registration day, so he'd have to make final decisions by then, but he let on that following Carter's suggestion of a balanced liberal arts education, he'd wanted to start out with Biology 101, Intro to Philosophy, Intro to Sociology, first year Spanish for the language credit, History of Western Civilization and then choir and glee club which counted as his arts credit.

For JC and Frank, who didn't attend college, that sounded like a huge load, especially with two choir practices per week, but I knew based on what he'd accomplished last year, that he could handle it.

Sunday was another glorious day, and we'd now gotten familiar enough with the general area that we could comfortably show visitors the lay of the land. We all piled into the BMW, crossed the Columbia to Vancouver, then drove up the Gorge on the Washington side to Bridge of the Gods at Cascade Locks, and then down the Oregon side, stopping at Multnomah Falls, which neither JC nor Frank had visited before. Jackson wanted them both to see the Lewis & Clark campus, so after grabbing lunch on the way, we spent some time walking the campus, and then gave them a short tour of downtown Portland before we headed home.

They'd be driving back to Seattle on Labor Day, but we had decided to cook out on the grill Sunday evening, but upgraded it to grilled chicken instead of burgers and hot dogs. JC wanted to help, so I turned the grill responsibilities over to him, and Jackson and I prepared the rest. Frank was quite interested to watch us work in the kitchen, with frequent comments about teamwork, and appearing to know what we were doing and enjoying seeing it. Always with a grin, like he saw some unusual humor in it, but equally always shaped with love and affection.

We saw them off home Monday morning, and turned to getting organized for the end of our first summer together, which though it began with a downer in the bike wreck, had ended up being filled with fun and new adventures, and had been blissful in the opportunity to set up house and actually create a home.

Later in the afternoon Jackson called Will, and found out that they'd both raced and done well on Saturday, but there hadn't been time to do anything. Will had driven down to Salem today and had met Kevin's family and then they'd loaded up their bikes and driven up to a county park on the North Fork of the Santiam River east of Salem. The weather had been good, and they'd had fun trail rides and a good work out.

I looked at Jackson. He said "What?"

I said, "Exactly! What? As in what happened…besides that?"

He smiled. "Well, they talked a lot and hugged, and I guess kissed a little, and Will said it felt warm and positive. Kevin apologized for being distant but said he's sorting through who he is and has to deal with his family and all the religion stuff. But Will said it was fun and nice. So, I guess I was being too paranoid, and I need to give the guy the benefit of the doubt and support them instead of being suspicious."

I grabbed him and pulled him close. "For the record, Lover Boy, you weren't being suspicious. You were being concerned. There's a big difference. Concerned is what friends do. Concerned is what you are when you love someone."

Finally, I heard him say into my chest, "I know. I just feel stupid now for being so wigged out the other day. I guess it was just from reading that book and seeing all the possible things that could happen, and my imagination got away from me. So, anyway, they've got a date for next weekend. Kevin's got a car now, and Will's met his family and the common ground is BMX racing, so he's going to drive down to Eugene for a bike ride and dinner. Will sounded excited and positive, so I have to be too. You know how he's so open, he was going on about how beautiful Kevin is with the red hair, and seeing him hammering it on a BMX track is such a trip and how lucky he is. So, he's stoked not just about starting college, but about his first formal date."

"Cool. So, we wish him the best and send positive vibes his way. Is he moving into the dorm tomorrow?"

"Yeah, most dorm residents moved in over the weekend, but with the BMX race he couldn't do that. He still thinks he can get state rankings this year, so he wasn't going to throw that over for a move in. He'll be busy tomorrow, moving in and registering on the same day! Ah well, that's the price you pay."

"You'll be busy tomorrow too. It sounds from what you told Frank and your Dad that you've settled on your courses?"

"Yeah, I decided to follow Carter's advice. He turns out to be a pretty smart guy. No point in re-inventing the wheel, right?"

"That's for sure. You know that technically this is the last day of summer, don't you?"

I felt his head nod. "You also know that since this was our first summer living together and it was a pretty damn good one, that calls for a celebration, don't you think?"

I could feel him move in my arms, kind of like a little start. "What does that mean?" He was still talking into my chest.

"Well, I was thinking that we made wild and passionate love the two nights before your Dad and Frank came to visit, and we skipped it while they were here because we didn't want to embarrass them."


"Well, if I remember correctly, and I do, you insisted on me being inside you on both of those occasions, and as I'm sitting here thinking about it, and also feeling you get hard in your shorts, there's nothing I'd rather feel right now than this beautiful cock you've got deep inside me."

I'd been rubbing him through his shorts, and now slipped my fingers up one leg of his shorts and boxers and found his balls, and was slowly stroking them.

He was quiet, but I could hear his breathing increase, and then he said, "I'm getting so hard inside these shorts that it's starting to hurt."

He leaned back and looked at me, the light from the table lamps reflecting off his hazel eyes. "You really want me to fuck you?"

"I think that's what I asked you, isn't it?"

"I know it is, and I'm glad that's how you're feeling tonight, because so am I. I love having you in me, but I also love the wild look you get in your eyes when I'm inside you, looking down on you, and you're writhing on the bed. Is that what you have in mind?"

"As a matter of fact, Lover Boy, you are reading my mind."

The next day was busy for both of us, but it also started to establish what would become our schedule. Jackson's first class was at 8:00 AM, and while I didn't have to be in the Campus Ministry office till 9:00 AM, getting in early meant we could ride together, and I'd have uninterrupted time in the office before students started showing up and activity started to happen. We'd park at the Campus Ministry office and he'd cross the street to campus and be on his way.

As he headed across the street that first day, I remember standing in the parking lot, watching a confident young man head over to register for college. What a contrast to the uncertain and inhibited young man I'd met just fifteen months before. This one strode confidently, head up and looking certain, and knowing just where he was going. In contrast, there I stood, not wearing clerical garb but holding the leather brief case Gary and Lois had given me. I wasn't sure if I looked the part, but I was ready to start.

I knew Mona wouldn't typically be in until 8:30 or 9:00, depending on traffic, and I remembered her counsel about expecting things to be slow the first days and even weeks. I settled down to sketch out some ideas about non-denominational services. Then I pulled out a copy of my new job description to review it. I had no false ideas that I had this one under control. It was quite different than being a church pastor, and I wanted to make sure I wasn't missing any details. Ian had ordered business cards for me, and the box sat on my desk where Mona had left them. I had to smile to myself, as I'd never had business cards before, and there was something pleasant about seeing my own name in print that way.

It struck me then that the smartest thing to do with the business cards was to use them. I'd heard Mona come in and after we'd said good morning, I asked her if we could have a short kick-off meeting to review administrative activities and discuss the budget. The budget was pretty straight forward, and I could see the operating funds were pretty thin. We weren't on a spartan budget, but we wouldn't be splurging on stuff either. She was really candid that she kept the place running and did admin and the secretarial work I needed as required, but most of the activity, or lack of it, would be a function of what I organized. Once there was a schedule of services, youth meetings, counseling appointments, etc., then there would be activity.

I asked her what she thought of my plan to walk the campus that day and meet as many faculty members as I could, give them a business card and make sure they understood that we were open for business, and that they should understand that the role was to provide spiritual support to students, staff and faculty. She thought it was a good idea, and something my predecessor should have done, instead of sitting here and waiting for people to come to us.

Before heading across the street to campus, I called The Oregonian and placed a classified ad for the El Camino, to run on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and do so for the next three weekends. We'd be seeing if Dieter and JC knew what they were talking about regarding values!

I was just about to leave when Ian called and asked me if I was free for lunch, and we agreed to meet in the cafeteria at 12:30. When I got back to the Center shortly after noon, Jackson was crossing the street from campus. He was happy he'd been able to get all the classed he'd hoped for. He'd run into Carter and spent some time chatting, and then spent some time with the choir director. I told him about my lunch appointment and desire to meet some more faculty members after lunch. he grinned. "No worry. I've got to get my textbooks, and then the smart thing would be to read the introduction or first chapters, so can I come back here to do that?"

Now I grinned and said, "Let's go inside and I'll introduce you to Mona. I'm betting you two are going to get along." As we walked in, she looked up with a grin and said, "So, you've found a student in need already? Usually it takes a few days before they experience the spiritual crash and come to us for help."

Her eyes were twinkling, and she was smiling, and taking in Jackson as if she was reading a book. For a second he was caught off guard, then he smiled back and just said, "You can stop fretting, I haven't had a spiritual crash and burn. I came by for more important things than that!" She was still smiling and turned to me saying, "Seriously, Pastor Dave, who is this good-looking young man. Did you just stumble over him in the parking lot, or was he lost on campus and needed directions?"

I knew there was no point in being anything but frank. We'd be driving to campus together every day, he'd be at the Center a lot, he said he was going to volunteer.

So, I looked directly at her and said, "My read is that you are as open minded as you are intelligent, so, I want to introduce Jackson Dean to you. He's my boyfriend, as in we live together. He's just starting as a freshman, and he has a choir scholarship and says he wants to volunteer here at the Center too."

Jackson stepped forward with a big smile, and took her outstretched hand.

"Well, that's the best news of the day! You've got your first volunteer. And such a good looking one too." Her eyes were still twinkling, and she was smiling like she was really enjoying the give and take, and she was looking directly at Jackson, "I'm pleased to meet you, Jackson, and really happy you want to volunteer. The Director role is important for how this place works, but having the right volunteers is what really makes it hum, because you're students. We're just fuddy-duddy staff and faculty. You're the ones other student believe and look to."

She stepped back, and Jackson said, "Thanks for the welcome. I don't know how qualified I am to do much of anything really. My best friend and I helped David with Youth Fellowship last year, but that was mainly leading the singing and stuff like that. But I said I'd volunteer and help where I can."

She looked at both of us and then said, "Thank you also for being open about your relationship. Portland is kind of progressive, though even here gay rights is new, but fortunately on campuses like this one and Reed College there's a much more open mindset. I grew up in San Francisco, which is a lot more progressive, so you don't have to worry about me being judgmental. Anyway, being open about such things is the best approach. In case no one's told you lately, you two look good together."

We both blushed at that. "Listen, I've got to meet Ian for lunch at 12:30, then I'm going to make some more faculty introductions. After lunch Jackson's going to buy his textbooks and then come back here to read until I finish up. Maybe that'll give you a chance to kind of break him in."

Jackson glanced at me like he wondered what that meant, and Mona smiled widely. I just said, "Gotta go. I'll see you back here mid-afternoon."

Ian was on time, and fortunately lunch went as I had hoped. Being registration day, there were a number of faculty meetings, but most faculty members were in their offices much of the day doing final preparation for courses starting the next day. I explained to Ian that my approach was pretty simple: I'm the new campus minister, I want you to know I'm here to help students, staff and faculty, I'll be organizing some non-denominational programs and am available for guidance and counseling as needed, and my door would always be open or they could leave a message on the Center's answering machine.

He was pleased to learn I'd given away over twenty of the cards he'd ordered, and particularly happy when I told him Carter has asked me to co-teach the first few Comparative Religion classes on mythology. He asked a few questions, and I outlined identity and tribalism and where they fit into the larger belief system and mythology subject.

Like most good lawyers he had a way of cutting to the heart of the matter. "Help me understand why this would be important to students."

That gave me a few minutes to make the points Jackson had made to Carter over dinner only a few weeks back, that most youth are not raised to know what their identity is or where it comes from, let alone that they have control over some of it, and at a time in their life when most of them are exploring their identity and new options, they need support in doing so.

He nodded as I explained my position to him, asked a few more detailed questions, and finally said, "It sounds to me like you should use Carter's class as a launch pad, then build your Youth Fellowship program around these subjects. If understanding those things really helps students get in touch with who they are and begin to achieve their potential, then that's much more important than Bible studies and sing-along meetings."

I grinned. "You don't know how pleased I am to hear you say that. I've worried about where the boundaries are and didn't want to go too far or anything, but you've just given me the green light. One of my biggest frustrations in the organized church has been watching the degree to which there's a lot of lip service about helping people discover themselves and develop their talents, but not much is really done because of the fear that people will discover things that may be uncomfortable, start to question, maybe leave. Here, in an academic setting, we can focus on helping students understand, on empowering and helping them. And don't worry, it won't be anything extreme or radical. I'll be closely coordinating with Carter, and you as necessary."

"I know you will. As I see it, it works for Carter too, because his class sees a lot of students who have to meet their Liberal Arts course credits, and for those that are interested in spiritual work at the personal level, which can't happen in his class, you're creating a forum where it can happen. Keep me posted on how it goes, and how I can help."

With that he was off, and I spent the next couple of hours meeting faculty and handing out business cards. When I got back to the Center, Mona was working at her desk in the foyer, Jackson was in the lounge settled in a chair reading. He glanced up, smiled and waved, but kept on reading.

I smiled at Mona as I walked up to her desk. "How'd it go?"

She smiled back. "What a kid! You've got quite a find there," she said softly.

I grinned back at her. "I do. I'm the luckiest guy in this city! I'm so glad you have the attitude you do. It's going to make our working together so much easier. With me what you see is what you get, so trying to hide that I'm gay and that the two of us are in a relationship wouldn't work."

Her smile widened as she said, "You'll find that's pretty much my approach to life too. One has to ease into these things with a new boss, but now that we've got the facts on the table, we'll work together fine. By the way, did Ian say anything about your predecessor and gay students?"

"Not today, but he did when we met last week."

"Well, not to divulge any personal information, but one of the problems with your predecessor was not just that he couldn't or wouldn't have any outreach to gay students, but that he was a homophobe. He was a bigot. That was really tough because we'd have occasional students come here for help, spiritual help or struggling with their faith and being gay, things like that, and he'd have no time for them. I can tell it'll be different this year."

"It sure will. Did you and Jackson get along?"

"Oh my, yes. He's a sweetheart. We got along fine. I made him tell me his whole story, and that means he told me a great deal about you, so now I know we'll do fine."

She was grinning widely when she said that, and I knew she was working me, but I appreciated it because it showed what kind of person she was.

"I'll have to find out how much he told you, so I know where the land mines are."

I walked in the lounge and sat down next to Jackson. "First day, and already in the books. What a scholar."

"Yeah, right! Me, the scholar! I'm just trying to get a little ahead of it all, so I don't get swamped. This is a lot of course work."

"Are you ready to go? I've just got to drop some things in my office and get my case and we can head home."

He nodded. "Ready when you are."

On the drive home I told him what Mona had said about him and that she told me he'd spilled his guts about us.


"She said she made you tell her our whole story and a whole bunch of stuff about me."

"Did not!" Then he grinned. "She's cool. She's got a wicked sense of humor, but she's a real open and caring person. I mean, I feel like we're friends already and I could go talk to her about almost anything. You won't believe it, but it started with the typewriter."

"I like her a lot too. I know she was kidding about getting you to spill your guts. I will have to watch out for that sense of humor, that's for sure. What about the typewriter?"

"Didn't you notice she has that really cool orange IBM Selectric?"

I felt stupid. "No, I missed that. Not paying attention to details, I guess."

"Well, I didn't miss it, and I asked her about it, and it's the older model with the rounded style to it, and the color is really cool, and I told her we had a newer model…and that led to 'how'd you get one and why,' which of course led to the bike wreck and the injuries, which led to the house and us moving to Sellwood, how we got together and all that. I didn't divulge any personal information. You can be sure of that."

"Well, that's a relief. I really do like her sense of humor, and she seems very happy that my predecessor is gone and I'm here…or at least that there's a new campus minister and things may change. What else did she tell you?"

"You'll love this. She's half Jewish and half Romanian. Her father was in the oil business and met her Mom in Romania before the war. He was Jewish and her Mom was Roma, as in a Gypsy. Anyway, they fell in love and that meant her Dad got her Mom and the immediate family out of Romania before the war started. Did you know that the Nazis didn't just murder Jews, but that they went after homosexuals and Gypsies too? She said if her Mom hadn't met her Dad so the family could leave, they probably all would have been killed."

I acknowledged I'd heard about the persecution of homosexuals and gypsies.

"She made it clear to me that what it meant was she understood what it means to be part of a minority, especially a persecuted minority. She's not what she called an observant Jew, but she understands. In my book that makes her very hip."

I agreed. Over dinner I told him about Ian's suggestion that I build Student Fellowship along the lines of identity and tribalism and faith, instead of making it a Bible study or song fest, and asked what he thought.

"I think it makes sense. I'm guessing most kids starting college are either looking to leave behind all the stuff they had to do before, or they're looking for more interesting alternatives that they get to decide about. So, having a Student Fellowship that's just like Youth Fellowship at church back home isn't going to interest many. If I was starting here and we weren't together, do you think I'd go? I'd have no interest after what I've been through. Even someone like Will who didn't have all the negative stuff in his life like I did, still had enough of the really religious family that you can be sure he's not going to go either because he's exploring. So, make it help kids explore and I bet it'll work."

I grinned. "That's a great way to put it. If I couple what you just said about exploring with the first advice Susan gave me when I moved to Newberg, I might succeed at this position."

"What advice was that?"

"Well, we were talking about sermons, and I was nervous about my first sermon, and she said I should focus on a message to help people get better and do well. She said that's how she approaches teaching."

"That's a pretty cool mantra. Help students explore themselves, get better and do well."

"If I could patent it and sell it as a medicine, I'd make a million."

He reached over and put his hand on top of mine. "Well, medicine or not, I can tell you it's an approach that works. It worked for me. You helped me explore and understand myself, you helped me get better, and because of that I started doing better in life, at school, everywhere."

I smiled back, loving the affection. "Okay, I'll accept that, but don't forget we agreed it was reciprocal. You did all the same things for me. We wouldn't be here together as happy as we are if we both hadn't been helping each other."

That first day set the stage for the week and the quarter. We'd drive to campus together, frequently get together for lunch, and if my involvements ran later than his, he'd settle down in the Center and start his homework. Mona loved it and encouraged him to be on the lookout for a couple more volunteers, and to let other students know they could read here too during the day. In her mind volunteers didn't have to come with specific skills or agree to certain responsibilities. Rather, they agreed to be part of the Campus Ministry program and scene. Meaning they were there when students that were curious or had specific needs or wanted to study somewhere other than the library came by. They were available. That meant there were peers they could relate to.

With the Cappella Chorale practicing on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, he'd frequently eat at the campus cafeteria and I'd pick him up after choir practice. Wednesday Glee Club practice was from 3:00 to 5:00 PM, and then we'd ride home together. The first Wednesday, Glee Club was mainly orientation and the director was the same as for Cappella Chorale. When we got home, Jackson called Will to check in, and was happy to report that his week at U of O had gone much as his own, except Will was living in a dorm and had a roommate who apparently was a decent guy. They talked about classes and homework and bikes, and of course about his upcoming date on the weekend with Kevin, and he promised to call Jackson and let him know how it went.

Tuesday's choir practice had been mainly basic introductions, testing the new student's abilities and ranges, fitting them into the choir sections, and beginning to work on unison and harmony singing. Thursday included the unveiling of the program for the October recital.

Wednesday evening after the first full day of classes he said he didn't know if he'd be able to finish Ordinary People . I raised by eyebrows. "Well, there's a lot of reading in Philosophy, Sociology and History, and regular reading in Biology too. I've got to stay on top of them."

I agreed. "Maybe it becomes recreational reading on the weekend?"

He looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. "You're kidding, right? That subject, that family, with all their problems, should be recreational reading?"

I grinned. "I guess I have it easy with The Lord of The Rings , don't I?"

The next night on the drive home from choir practice I asked how the program for the first recital looked.

"Interesting and complicated. I'm one of the newbies, so I'm doing a lot of learning and it's more like I'm singing accompaniment than anything else, but everyone says it's the way it starts for all new choir members, and they are making me feel welcome. The program design is interesting because it's all sacred music, but it's going to start with There Is A Balm In Gilead , using a choral arrangement of the old spiritual. Then it switches to classical with one of the Liebeslieder Waltzes by Brahms, then continues that line with a Motet by Bach. Then there's a big switch, to a contemporary composition of the Agnus Dei by Samuel Barber, followed by a des Prez Renaissance polyphony composition of Ave Maria, and for the conclusion there's a really cool choral arrangement of O Fortuna from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana"

"Wow! That sounds like a lot to learn."

"Yeah, trust me, it will be. At least I got some good exposure to that kind of singing with Susan last year, but these are more complicated and technical pieces, so it'll be work…but fun, I think. The Carmina Burana ending should be a hoot, because we'll be performing in the chapel, and for that one there'll be two pianos, percussion and cymbals instead of a small orchestra. It'll be one of those close with a bang kind of things."

"What do you think of the program design?"

"I like it. It starts with something familiar that a lot of people can sing along with, then there's four really great and complicated sacred pieces, and then it ends with an amazingly strong and vibrant piece that has drums and cymbals. What's not to like?"

Thursday I attended Carter's first lecture where he introduced me as the new Campus Minister who would co-teach the first few classes with him, and then proceeded to outline the course, discuss the required reading, and started the discussion about mythology like he had done last Fall by discussing Star Wars . Once again, the connection to the file let him open the subject up in ways people could relate to, and I realized how important it was to have a popular and relevant illustration at hand which was now becoming a fixture of popular culture.

By Friday we felt like we were in the groove, had the morning commute down, thought we had our heads around our schedules, and had settled down for the Quarter. Jackson was complaining about biology, though, that he thought he'd dodged having to take chemistry, but Biology was starting out with sections on atomic structure, chemical bonding, acids and bases. I chuckled, saying, "I guess you've got to learn the basics to understand cellular biology, right?" He just rolled his eyes.

I started working on what I'd discuss in the first of Carter's lectures where he handed it over to me on identity. He'd offered to let me use his illustrations on tribalism, and I was finding the Fowler papers on the developmental states of faith to be both eye-opening and very helpful correlates with how tribalism works in shaping a person's identity.

That night we decided to celebrate a bit and walked to the Sellwood Grill, our favorite local restaurant, and then onto to a movie. The weather was still good, so we took advantage of that on Saturday to mow the lawn, weed the flower beds and spread some mulch on them. During the day I got three calls about the El Camino, and one older man came by to look, but I got no offers. In the afternoon, we cleaned up and went to the Bike Gallery hoping the sales had started and not wanting to wait too long and find the inventory was sold out. We were in luck, and found an adult Mongoose BMX frame. I told the owner I had an insurance payment to replace my old Schwinn, and he assured me that with the frame on sale they could build it up pretty much like Jackson's for less than the payment I'd received. That was good news.

Sunday, Jackson planned on studying and I working on my identity lecture notes. During the morning I got five calls about the El Camino. Apparently, Sunday was the day to sell a car! Two were interested enough to say they'd come by to see the car in the afternoon. Shortly after lunch Will called. When they were done Jackson came in the study looking neutral. "How's it going? How's Will doing?"

"I'm not really sure. He seems pretty frustrated after yesterday. Kevin started college this week too, at Willamette University in Salem, and he's got a car now, but he's living at home. So, their date was that he drove down to Eugene with his bike and they had a really good ride together, and got back in the early evening and cleaned up in the dorm, then went out to get something to eat, and they talked a lot."

He'd paused. "Yeah, go on."

"Well, he said it was weird. He asked Kevin if he wanted to see a movie or go do something and he kept begging off, and then it turned out that he had to get home that night to go to Mass in the morning with his parents."

"What did Will think was going to happen? I mean he's in the dorm with a roommate, it's not like that's very workable as a love nest. I bet there's even rules against overnight visitors."

"Yeah, there are. But Will said again it turned weird, and Kevin couldn't decide on doing anything, so they ended up driving back to campus and hanging out for a while, and Kevin's car has a bench seat, so they were getting romantic, like kissing and feeling each other up and stuff. Nothing serious, but then Kevin says he's gotta go."

"How's Will feeling? I mean deep down how's he feeling. That has to hurt?"

"It does and that's why he's frustrated. He said he just doesn't get it, like they slept together when they were here and he knew he couldn't get Kevin into his room for sex or anything, but instead of a fun and romantic time it seemed like it was more important to get home for his family and for church in the morning."

"What did you say then?"

"Well, I tried to take a soft 'well what did you expect, you're in a dorm' approach, but he said that's not the point. He actually said, 'It feels like he doesn't want to be with me. Maybe a little or something but not for long, not for real.' I know that hurts."

"I bet it does and has to be frustrating too. You know, in a way it's not that different than what happened when they were here, just on a shorter timeline. You remember how he told us that Kevin kind of turned off when they went to bed, and then was kind of weird in the morning and seemed to want to get back?"

"Yeah, I do. It's totally weird. I hope it doesn't keep up like this. For now, though, I've got to start studying. We've gotten through the intro to Sociology, about what are societies and how did they develop. Now we're moving on to the development of sociology itself, then I'm betting the fun stuff begins."

"How's the reading in Western Civ?"

"Well, right now I guess you'd call it understanding the precursor, you know, the cradle of Western Civilization in the Near East. We covered a bunch of that last year in world history. So, it's more detail on the start of civilization and development of urban societies in Mesopotamia and Egypt. A lot of it is about the development of law codes and bureaucracy and writing."

We both went back to the work before us, and mid-afternoon the first guy interested in the El Camino knocked on the door. It was parked at the front of the driveway, so he'd already done a visual inspection, and we chatted at the front door. I gave him the run down on the specs and price, and asked if he wanted to see the interior. He nodded and I stepped inside to get the keys and let Jackson know what was up, then walked him to the car. I handed him the keys and let him unlock the driver's door, and as he opened it, he said, "Far out! Leather seats, and in good condition too."

I remembered what JC had said about the SS version of the El Camino holding its value higher and longer than the regular version, and how Dieter had so deftly gone about selling me on the BMW. "Yeah, I've kept the leather in very good condition. No feet or shoes ever got on those seats, I can tell you that."

He slid in and settled into the seat and grasped the steering wheel. "Are you familiar with the SS package on the El Camino," I asked as neutrally as I could? I felt like I was channeling Dieter! He shook his head. I walked him through the engine, the trim package, the wheels, the badging, and then I leaned forward a little and said, "See that lever right there?"

He nodded. "What's that?"

"That's the lever to release the seat so it rotates into the door opening." He moved the lever and rotated the seat, so he was facing out the door. He grinned widely, and I realized two things. First, he'd just sold himself on the car like I had sold myself on the BMW. Second, I hoped he wouldn't ask my why it mattered that the driver's seat rotated. I hurried on to tell him the passenger seat did the same and asked if he wanted to see in the bed!

He appreciated how the camper cover had kept the bed in pristine shape, and then we walked around the front and I popped the hood, and he satisfied himself it had the big engine he wanted. He still had the keys, so I said, "shall we take it for a test drive. I mean you drive." He nodded, and we headed out for a fifteen minute test drive, during which he asked me about service frequency, if I'd had any major problems, the stereo which I told him was a top-of-the-line model installed by the Chevy dealer I'd bought it from.

When we got back home and he parked the El Camino in the driveway, Jackson strolled out to join us. At first, the guy didn't know what to make of Jackson, then I guess he assumed he was my brother or something. I didn't care what he thought, and when he started trying to get me to concede on price, Jackson stepped right in.

"We get the Sunday paper, but I didn't look this morning. Maybe you can tell me how many other SS model El Caminos are for sale in Portland today."

The guy looked blank. Jackson went on, "Probably not many, right. As in, maybe one or two. That's why my Dad told David not to budge on the price. It's a fair asking price, and there aren't any other SS models. So, if that's what you want, then that's the price."

He smiled at me, "Right, David?"

"That's right." The guy tried again and then gave up. He wrote me a check and I had him sign a sales agreement and told him I'd deposit the check the next day, and as soon as it cleared, I'd call him and he could come by and pick up the El Camino and the signed title.

All in a day's work. I felt like I should call both Dieter and JC and tell them how right they were, but Jackson convinced me to chill out!

The first mythology class went well. Carter took the first ten or fifteen minutes to talk about how Joseph Campbell provided a high-level overview of mythology and the different forms around the world, and then explained how Campbell summarized mythology as the thing human beings created to answer the three Big Questions: Who Am I, Where Did I Come From and Where Am I Going.

He then said, "In case you missed it, the first question of that series is the identity question. So, with that, I'm going to turn the class over to Rev. Ayers, our Campus Minister, to discuss identity and how it relates to mythology—which is something of a specialty for him.

The first thing I did was tell them I preferred to be addressed as "Pastor Dave," and when not in class they could usually find me across the street in the Campus Ministry building. I also said that we're available to students and faculty to help with counseling, spiritual questions, worship…and even things as arcane as identity questions With that out of the way, I started framing up identity in practical terms, using the same approach I'd taken in Jackson's Psych class last year.

I drew an identity chart on the board and handed out copies of blank ones. I asked how many had studied Psychology previously and if they'd discussed identity, and less than a third of the class had. Then I spent some time on what the concept of Identity was and why it mattered. Specifically, that psychology tended to speak of personal identity as how we conceive ourselves. However, to try and make it relevant, the approach I took was that if these students represented the typical first or second-year college students, then they were undergoing one of the major transition points in their identity. Most were away from home and family for the first time and therefore free to explore new things, and that included who they were and what they wanted to be, and made the point that's identity exploration.

Then I moved on to how identity worked, and that for the most part it is how we understand ourselves and what we show the world about ourselves, but the key most people don't understand is that the majority of that identity is bestowed upon us by our family and culture and society. That's where a tool like the Identity Chart came in and was very helpful.

"The idea behind it is simply to help you identify and label the elements of your identity. Is everyone with me so far?"

A few nodded, most sat silent.

"I know what you're thinking! Why do we need a dumb tool to do this? As in, I already know who I am?"

I looked around the class. "Am I right?" There were smiles and some giggles.

"Bear with me, I think I can make the case of why it's important. Let's start with this. Why do you suppose identity is part of learning psychology, if you could just get by with labels or clinical definitions?"

Quiet again. "The reason is that if someone is really going to be able to understand other people in order to help them, then you have to understand their true identity. The obvious things you can see, but not the less obvious or hidden elements. And by extension it's important that the helper has to understand themselves. The idea is to make a list of the things that comprise your identity. I've found the chart more helpful than a list because it's two dimensional and seems more dynamic, and it doesn't have an automatic hierarchy, a listing from top to bottom built in. All the elements are arranged with the person in the center, and that's you. Yes, there's and upper and a lower half, but we'll all just try and work around that."

I seemed to be getting a little more understanding. "So, the idea is to list the elements that make you who you are. Some are physical. I started filling out the chart, beginning in the upper right-hand area. "If I do this for me, I might do it like this." I put Brown Hair in one box, and Tall in another, and American in a third. "Now, let me ask you: is that very helpful if you're trying to figure out my identity?"

A student a few rows back said, "Not really, we can see the brown hair and the tall part, and assume you're American by the way you talk."

"Right you are! You just put your finger on the most basic parts of identity, the physical one. They're also the least helpful in terms of getting to know yourself and others because most of them are obvious and visible. What's interesting is that when people get asked to list the elements of their identity, guess what the most common elements listed are?"

A few students chorused, "the physical!"

I grinned, "Yes, that's true. The physical, and then the next categories of the obvious or most comfortable. Let me give you an example that I'm borrowing from Prof. Higgins because my experience has been pretty much the same as his." I then told them about participating in or leading leadership development seminars where the opening part was to introduce people to one another, and the request was to go around the attendees, where each person would give their name and tell the group something about themselves.

"Guess what happens virtually every time?"

It was quiet, and then one student said, "They can't do the physical descriptions, can they? I mean everyone can see that."

"You're right, but they do the next most convenient thing. If I asked you all to do that exercise what would you say, in front of all these other students that don't know you...and here's a hint, and in front of whom you probably don't want to embarrass yourself or divulge really private information?"

They were quiet, but from the widened eyes I knew I now had the attention of a few more of them. "Good, you're starting to understand the dynamic. A lot of identity is deeply personal and sometimes not comfortable to speak about, or, and this is part of it too, it's cultural or subconscious and hard to vocalize. That's where a tool like this helps a lot. So, let's start again."

I erased what I'd written so far and started again. "Let's try it this way, and I began filling in Son, Brother, Pastor, Christian, Audiophile, Seminary graduate, Campus Minister , and turned to the class. Now, does that start filling out my identity? Does that help you understand me better?"

Many students said things like, "Yeah, now we know more about you," but another said, "But, they're pretty much outward or physical or incidental."

I grinned again. "You're getting it. What I've put up so far could apply to a hundred thousand people in the United States, couldn't it. At one level it tells you more, but at another is incidental as one of you said."

I looked at all of them, and it seemed like now I had their attention. "So, let me start to fill in some more meaningful information. Understand that some of it happens to be true of me, the rest of it is hypothetical for the purpose of this exercise. The parts that apply to me are public knowledge and I have no hang ups about sharing them. Are you following?"

Most of them nodded, and I went back to the board adding Absentee Father, Emotionally Distant, Insecure, Good Student, Truth Seeker, No Friends, Lonely, Unfulfilled, Questioning my faith, In Love.

I stepped back from the board and let them read it all. "Okay, now what do you think?" I pointed at the student who'd said "incidental" and said, "Do you want to answer that?"

She hesitated and swallowed. "Well, that stuff's not incidental, that's for sure. It just changed big time."

"Do you want to go on?"

"Okay, I now know a lot more about you personally. Or at least in this case some more personal stuff, though not necessarily about you, because you said a lot was hypothetical, right? But a lot of this is the kind of stuff you'd only tell your good friends, or your family would know about, not public knowledge."

"Now you've got it! When you get beyond the physical and the obvious, a lot of identity is very personal and sometimes painful. That's why it's important to understand how it works. There are what you might call two levels of identity: what we show the world, that which we're comfortable with; and that which only we or those close to us know, which we may not be comfortable with or which is private, and which we keep from public view. So, a lesson is that if you complete this chart honestly and transparently, it shouldn't be for public distribution, it should be private."

There was a lot of nodding and pursed lips.

"Now maybe you begin to understand the challenges in psychology and psychiatry to get beyond the obvious, beyond the person that the patient shows to the world, the person the patient wants the clinician to see, and down to the real, the deep-down person. The therapist is trying to answer the question 'who is this person really?' And often the person, the patient can't answer that question for themselves. What we're going to be discussing in the next class is how identity is formed, and how much of it comes from family and tribe and culture and religion, whether we know it or not. In the third class we'll talk about how these elements of identity are bestowed on us, and how they related to beliefs and tribalism. For now, though, the key is to understand that we don't choose most of what comprises our identity. It is something we acquire or absorb or receive from our family and community, and by extension from our tribe or religion. As we grow older, if we are fortunate enough to understand it and liberated enough as a person to be able to assess it, we reach a point to be able to make decisions about the identity that our mythology bestows on us. Meaning, that we begin to be able to make choices about our own personal identity, to change from what was bestowed on us by family and tribe and religion, most of which we had no choice about, to reject those things we don't agree with and replace them with those we do."

I paused, and asked, "Are you with me on this?" and I saw most of the student's heads nodding.

"Good, because we'll wrap it up by circling back to the subject of mythology. That was precisely Prof. Higgins' point in starting out with Joseph Campbells summary statement that mythology came into being to answer three questions: Who Am I? Where Did I Come From? Where Am I Going? It's also worth noting that they are in that order for a reason. "Who Am I? Is the identity question. Presumably it was the first question thinking homo sapiens asked themselves, and the answer to that question is your identity. So, a core part, the original purpose of mythology is understanding your identity. And related to it is Where Did I Come From? And related to that is Where Am I Going? I hope you can see how the second and third question move from Identity (who you are) to belief (what you believe about where you came from) and then on to where you're going? I think the most important thing to understand is that all humans believe because we think, and we ask questions. You can't ask those three questions and formulate an answer without beginning to create a belief system. Everyone believes…something. We do it just because we're human. Then the question is what we believe and where it comes from and if it is specific to us."

Jackson called Will on Wednesday, and came back smiling. "It looks like things have changed. They've been talking on the phone, and Will kind of confronted him about acting like he didn't really want to be with him, and that's not how you treat people you care about, and Kevin was like really sorry and apologized and said he hadn't been thinking clearly. Anyway, they're going to try again this weekend. Will has a cousin who's a senior and he has an apartment and he's going to be out of town for a football game this weekend, and told Will he could use the apartment. So, Kevin's going down again and he agreed to stay overnight. Maybe this is a breakthrough and they'll get back on track."

"How did he sound?"

"Excited, you know how people sound when they're talking about something they're excited about, or especially someone they're excited about. It was all upbeat and positive. I know Kevin's cute and sexy, but I hope Will isn't blinded by his emotions and hormones and is forgetting some of what's happened already. I mean I can only push so far, it's his life."

"We'll be in Newberg for Gary and Lois' wedding, so let's hope they have as good a weekend as we do!"

In Thursday's mythology class I began to discuss tribalism, using the final illustration Carter had developed in his series, knowing he would come back and deal with tribalism and how it develops and forms in much more detail as the class progressed. My point was the relationship of identity and tribalism, and how out of it develops specific belief systems. I set aside the definition of tribalism as something limited to third world primitive peoples, and used the dictionary definition of "the behavior and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one's own tribe or social group," pointing out that it isn't restricted to primitive peoples, but is equally present in almost all social groups.

"As Prog. Higgins will help you understand in this class, we're dealing with the behavior and attitudes tied to loyalty and affinity for the tribe or social group. Conversely, in the other direction, the tribe or group to which we belong exerts forces on us that require loyalty and affinity, and ultimately result in specific behavior and attitudes. The important thing for you to grasp is that Tribalism is not an occasional or indirect influence on these three major phases of elements of identity, rather it is equally important and influential force in all of those phases. So, now ask yourself 'what are the constituent parts of a tribe?' and how does that relate to identity?"

I stopped for a minute to see if they were with me, and the student who made the incidental comment in the last class was smiling. She gave me confidence.

"What you'll be learning is that that Tribalism is present from start to finish, because individuals and families and communities are part of the Tribe. The grow up in it, live in it, contribute to it and learn from it. There's no separating them, regardless of how we might prefer to think about it. Unlike our hunter-gatherer forebearers for whom the tribe and conformity to the tribe were essential for survival, in our day and age tribalism has to do with lifestyles, shared interests, behaviors and habits, and from those things come the social connections and networks that are part of the tribe. So, this is the important connection to identity. If most of identity is formed by family and community and culture, those things are part of and operate within the tribe. So, one of the ultimate shapers of our identity is tribalism."

I got a question or two there about if tribalism wasn't really a primitive social dynamic that didn't exist any longer, and assured them that wasn't the case and to just stay tuned—that Prof. Higgins would give them all the information they needed to answer that question for themselves.

"So, trust me, you will spend time when Prof. Higgins takes over the lectures again delving into the developmental details of tribalism, how it is a major element in the development of belief systems and religions, and thus of mythology. My goal in discussing it at this point is to talk about identity and how the development of identity is tied to tribalism. Let's start with the fact that in early times there was often a direct one-to-one connection between a tribe and its belief system or religion. As these belief systems and tribes became successful over time, they developed social foundations and traditional practices. Those became the major and minor religions, and among the major ones we're now talking about Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. My point is that we can't talk about identity in isolation, and we need to understand the relationship of identity to tribalism and of both to the religion, and vice versa. Tribalism underlies our identity because the most basic human organization is the family, and groups of families become bands and bands group together into tribes. Developmentally this was for survival and then as societies began to develop, for organizational purposes and control."

I got one or two questions about how I could equate tribalism with religion and said I wasn't, that it was a developmental precursor, and they should save that question for Prof. Higgins later in the class. "My point in bringing it up is that it's the foundation upon which the rest of our identity is built. I hope it interests you enough that you pay more attention now when Prof. Higgins dives into the details. Here's the thing I want you to remember, as humans we develop across our lifetime. Remember the example about how people introduce themselves by talking about education of vocations? Take a look at this illustration."

tribalism chart

I pointed to the upper half and said, "Here are the identity development stages which start with tribalism plus family, then add education and finally add vocational. Think of those as the layers of identity that we develop. Most of the tribal and familial elements are bestowed on you and you have almost no say about them, the educational and vocational are added on by choice. For many people the tribal and familial lessen as they age. It often moves from a conscious force to an unconscious one. For others, tribalism dominates throughout their life. The point is just to make sure we realize it's always there, that it never goes away, and it can have greater or lesser influences across our lives. In the lower section of the illustration, I'm giving you a taste of what we'll discuss next class, and that's how faith forms and develops, and how that process interacts with and is shaped by tribalism."

Carter then discussed the reading assignments for the next week, and we wrapped it up. I picked Jackson up after choir practice and we briefed each other on our days. Mine was easy, talking about the mythology class. He had a lot more detail about reading requirements for his classes, the new information about papers due, and the exam schedule. I smiled and squeezed his knee. "You'll do fine because you understand how to scope the required work, how to prepare for it and how to get it done. I was continually amazed at how you did that last year. You do remember that you got almost straight A's, don't you?"

He grinned back. "Yeah, I do. Thanks for that reminder. I guess, every once in a while I need an ego boost that I can do this."

"No worry there," I said, as we turned onto the Sellwood Bridge. "Now tell me about choir practice."

"In a lot of ways, it was more of the same. We're starting to sing everything in the Fall program, but it's a lot of work on technique and detail, and that's the way it's supposed to be at this point. The Brahms and des Prez pieces are subtle and technical for all the voices, so there's a lot of work to do there."

"Are you enjoying it?"

"Yeah, it's not what you'd call fun, but I'm enjoying it."

Saturday morning, we drove to Newberg for a wedding! I'd let JC know and he very much wanted to be there, but his Dad wasn't up for it. We got there mid-morning, and the wedding was at 1:00 PM. I'd spoken to Susan and Lois during the week, and with those two acting as the planners I knew there was nothing to worry about. Lois and I talked through the service format, and we agreed it would lean simple rather than fancy and formal. When we arrived, Lois gave us a quick tour of the house, which now had a dramatically different feel due to the painting they'd done, completed with the new furniture and layout downstairs. She told us that the money to furnish it was her parents' second wedding gift, because while they were impressed that Gary had a house, they also felt like it needed to be their house. She was immensely proud of it. Gary helped us carry our stuff up to the guest room, and grinned as we walked in. Jackson smirked and said, "What?"

Gary couldn't help it, and broke out laughing. "Don't you think it's funny that we've switched places. You and David used to have the master bedroom, but Lois and I are in there now, and you two are in the guest room, which used to be my room. After all those jokes about breaking in the beds when we re-did the upstairs, I think it's pretty hilarious." We all agreed it was, and also showed just how interesting life can be. Jackson wasn't going to let the opportunity pass, and a sinister grin came on his face. "So, now is it Okay if we quiz you about the details of breaking in the bed in your bedroom like you did us? I mean, if you and Lois are sleeping in there, I'm guessing there's more than sleeping going on."

Gary smiled back serenely, "That, little brother, is for us to know, and you to worry about!"

Jackson had the good sense to leave it at that, and we put our clothing away and headed downstairs to join Lois and JC, who'd just pulled in. Gary and Lois were as happy to see him as he was to see them, and they embraced and were smiling away like they were the oldest friends around. It was sweet to watch. We had an early lunch so we could be at the church by 12:30 to tie up any last-minute loose ends.

When we walked in, I was amazed. Lois had put her flower arranging skills to work, and with a couple of friends had decorated the church so that it looked like a lovely wedding chapel. It was warm and vibrant, and the stark feeling many churches had was gone. Susan was there and very happy with the effect. She and I walked through the music for the service, then I went through the drill of making sure the bride and bridesmaids would be ready on time, and that the groom wasn't flipping out. He and his best man were hanging out in the waiting room, having a pretty relaxed chat and catching up on life.

I saw Will arrive and sit with Tom, his old band mate. Lois' parents and her family and a small group of family friends made up most of the people in the church. Ellen was there of course, along with a number of school friends. Susan had arranged for a few choir members to be there, so the hymns were sung on key and with gusto. Lois looked almost angelic when she appeared in a simple but elegant wedding gown, and was walked down the aisle by her Father. Gary, and Jackson, had walked from the waiting room with me, and he was standing up front looking serious and responsible, but totally in love. He was dressed up in the one suit he now owned! Lois' bridesmaid was a friend from school, and the four of them standing in a line in front of me was a sight to see. The service itself was simple and warm, and following it Lois' parents had organized a catered reception in the church hall, and the food was quite good.

The joke of the day was where they were going on their honeymoon, which was nowhere! As both of them said, it was still the mowing and landscaping season, and they had no choice but to wait till winter and do something then. It was somewhat ironic and also encouraging that they were committed enough to each other and their dream of building their business together that they deferred the typical honeymoon. They were driving down to Salishan Lodge on the coast for one night, and they left soon after we all got home, and they changed clothes. We wished them well and watched them drive off in Lois' Mustang. Jackson was joking it was a good thing her Dad had given her that car, or they'd be pulling up to this plush resort lodge in a ten-year old International pickup!

We'd arranged to stay overnight, and had a pleasant evening with JC, and he and Jackson so easily interacted and enjoyed time together that it was a pleasure to watch. JC was particularly interested in how classes were going and wanted an update on each one. Once the academics were out of the way, he wanted an update on choir and glee club. He was really interested in what and how Jackson was doing. We also talked about the idea we'd had of joining him salmon fishing on the Olympic peninsula for the Fall runs, but the fact was that Jackson was too busy with school, and we agreed maybe it was best to defer to Spring. Jackson told him about the choir performance in October, but made clear he was a new member and just singing with the other tenors and no feelings would be hurt if he didn't drive down for the event. We talked about maybe getting together at Christmas, as he was scheduled to fly over Thanksgiving. We'd invited Susan and Ellen back up to Portland to join us for Thanksgiving.

Sunday evening, after we were back home, Will called. Jackson spent quite a while on the phone with him, and it sounded upbeat. He came back into the living room smiling.

I looked up from The Two Towers , and said, "It sounds like it went well?"

"Yeah, Will's stoked." He sat down next to me on the couch and swung around to lay his head in my lap. "The weather was great, just like here, and they had another super bike ride and he said that was a lot of fun. They just have fun together. So anyway, afterwards they went back to his cousin's apartment and got cleaned up, and Will had gotten all the stuff for pizza and a salad, and they made it and cooked it and had dinner, and he said it was intimate and romantic. He's never said anything like that before, so that's cool. Then they went to a movie and when they came back, they sat in the living room and hugged and made out, and eventually they went to bed and there was a little tension about getting their clothes off."

"Yeah? What does that mean?"

Jackson was grinning. "Well, remember, all he knows is what I taught him when we had our intervention. Like I told him to strip when I did, and then I said it's time to get these boxers off and get in bed. Remember me telling you that?"

I nodded.

"He said it was kind of like that, that he had to tell Kevin what to do, and he was hung up about getting naked, but it wasn't about dropping his boxers and showing his cock. It was about taking off his T-shirt. Oh, and this is never to be repeated, Okay?"

I nodded again. "Will says he's got beautiful red pubes and a really sexy cock. How about that?"

I grinned. "Good for Will, and good for Kevin."

"So, anyway, when he finally took off his T-shirt Will could see this thing he was wearing a kind of like a necklace with two leather squares hanging on it. Except it's got one in back and one in front and it's tied behind his back, so it doesn't swing around. I mean Will says, what's the big deal. Lots of people wear hippy jewelry. So, they got in bed and made out some more, and did a little oral, slept in each other's arms, and Will said Kevin told him that he loved him."

"Wow! That's major progress. That must have made Will's day after the last few weeks."

"Oh yeah, he was happy as a clam. Kevin didn't say a word this time about being home or leaving early for Mass or anything. It was like he meant what he said that he loved him, and wanted to be with him, but he had to take off at noon to get home for homework and stuff. But it was all like really positive and loving. Will just sounded so much better than the last couple of weeks."

I admitted that sure sounded upbeat and crossed my fingers for Will.

"And guess what else?"

I raised my eyebrows. "Will's cousin is going to be gone next weekend too, U of O has two away games in a row, so Will's got the apartment again, and Kevin says he's coming down."

I told him it sounded hopeful, and he asked me how I was doing on the Tolkien book. "I'm almost done. I'm past the part where Frodo and Sam meet up with the Gondorians led by Faramir, and they capture Gollum and then they head to Minas Morgul on their quest to return the ring. They just took the path with the steep stairs and into a tunnel in the mountain that they think will get them where they want to go."

"Trust me, that won't happen. At least not the way you expect!"

"What does that mean?"

"I'm not saying, I don't want to spoil the story for you, but I'll just say you and Sam and Frodo are about to meet Shelob. Now I've got to get back to my homework."

While we were cooking dinner, he asked me how it turned out in the tunnel. "Well, thanks for not ruining the ending. Shelob was some spider. And now Frodo's been stung and hung up in her web and Sam is trudging on by himself. I guess we finally got a real cliff-hanger."

Over dinner we talked about the coming week's schedule, his choir practice and homework load, and then the Campus Ministry discussion group. "You know, you really don't need to feel you have to be part of it and be there on Wednesday nights. You've got plenty of other things you have to do."

"I know, but we're a team. That may sound lame, but I believe it, and I learn stuff, and if I can help other kids get through what I did, then it's all good. Do you think it would help next week, if I work up a kind of hybrid version of my identity chart to show them how far you can go, and how it can help you understand how you've changed?"

"I think that would be amazingly helpful. It's way different coming from you, another student, instead of from me. Be careful how much info you include, though."

"Oh, I will. I've been thinking about it, and a few people know I'm gay, and I'm not ashamed of it, so I'm thinking about including that, but nothing about our relationship. I figure that's private, and if some people find out or figure it out, that's on them. What do you think?"

I stroked his face. "I think you're incredibly brave and compassionate at the same time."

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