We Could Be Heroes

by Bensiamin

Chapter 8

You could have heard a pin drop. Then the cries of disbelief. Then silence again, and finally Jackson said, "Is it that guy that was by the stairs that you were talking to?"

I nodded. "He drove here from Seattle when he heard about the funeral. He came to pay his respects, and when I talked to him, he didn't try to hide anything. I told him it would be important to meet you while he was here, and he readily agreed."

"God. What do I say? I mean, I've never even thought about this happening? Do we have to do this?"

"I wouldn't have asked him to join us if I didn't think this was an opportunity you both should take advantage of. You may never get the chance again otherwise."

Lois, who had been quiet all along, softly said, "Jackson, it's important. Even if you guys don't like each other and don't get along and never see each other again, it'll fill a hole in your life. You have to do this. It's just too important not to." She reached across the table and took his other hand. They held their grip for a few seconds, and then Gary put his hand on top of theirs, saying, "She's right. You can't not do this. It's too important."

Jackson just smiled, not looking at all happy. I added my hand to those on the table. "Trust me, please? Just give it a chance and see what happens. He took a big risk coming here. At least we can try and give as much back."

"Okay. I'll give it my best shot." That's when the doorbell rang.

"Do you want me to get it," I asked?

Jackson nodded, "Yeah, I'm too nervous."

"Okay, you guys stay here, I'll be back in a sec."

JC had changed into jeans and an open collared shirt and had a smile on his face. I took his hand and pulled him into the house. "Thanks for coming. I really appreciate it. I've told the kids, they're all in the kitchen. Come on."

I hung up his coat and we walked into the kitchen and I said, "Okay you guys, this is JC, and that's Gary, and his girlfriend Lois, and Jackson."

JC was carefully formal. He extended his hand and shook with Gary, then with Lois, and then he took Jackson's hand and looked him square in the eyes. Both of them were being cautious, but I swear I saw something flash between their eyes, and a slight smile developed on both of their faces. They held their handshake grip for a long time, just looking at each other, as if they were unconsciously sharing information and establishing some kind of communication. Finally, they let go and JC stood back, and I said, "Sit down, and let me get you a beer. I've got to get this salmon on the grill, then I'll be back."

I popped the can and put it in front of him and hauled the filet out to the grill where the briquettes were now perfectly covered in a gray ash and radiating high heat. I slide it on the grate, skin down, and then closed the lid. When I rejoined them all inside, I grabbed a beer, saw the kids all had gotten drinks of their own and popped the top, saying, "Okay, what did I miss?"

Jackson looked at me. "Well, JC just told us that he flies Life Flight helicopters. That's pretty cool!"

"It sure is. Where did you become a helicopter pilot?"

"I enlisted in the Army in 1960, and they tested everyone after basic training, and I came up with the abilities to fly, and I ended up being sent to rotary wing flight school. That was two years after basic training, so by the time that was done it was 1963 and the Vietnam War was getting going. I started out flying regular Huey UH-1 helicopters, but then in late '63 when the longer Huey was introduced for carrying troops and as a medical evacuation version, I ended up a Medevac pilot. When I got out of the service, any commercial helicopter pilot job was a lot more attractive and less dangerous than flying for the Army."

"Wow," was almost universally exclaimed by the kids. "You were in Vietnam?"

"Yeah, I'll tell you about it sometime, maybe. You know, it wasn't the best of times. It was a hard war. A lot of people died, and a lot unnecessarily. But anyway, I did two tours over there, and then when I left the Army there were quite a few choices, like crop dusting, or private pilot work, or TV station work or Life Flight. Life Flight was closest to what I did in the service. You know, flying injured patients to get treated. It has an important component of doing good work for people in need. But enough about me, tell me about you guys. You three are quite the line up, you know?"

Neither Gary nor Jackson jumped right in, and Lois to her credit understood what was happening and started acting as master of ceremonies, updating JC on Gary going to community college and being a great bike mechanic, Jackson working away with her to complete their senior year in high school, how both of the brothers had built a successful lawn mowing business during the summer, and all of them having to put up with me! That got a big laugh, and I said it was time to go check the salmon. I slid the garlic bread in the oven on the way out the door.

JC looked at her, "And what about you? Where do you fit in the picture?" She blushed lightly. "Well, Gary and I are dating. We only really connected because of a plot the good Reverend put together for a Harvest Fair, and Jackson got roped into organizing it, and he conned me and a few other friends into helping out, and Gary got involved too, and we had this great fair and raised money for the church and it was a lot of fun too. And I got a boyfriend!"

Then she got very conspiratorial as she saw me walking back into the kitchen carrying the salmon. "And we all got Pastor Dave big time. Didn't we, Pastor Dave?" I just rolled my eyes and headed for the kitchen counter. JC was smiling and said, "Come on, give me the details."

Lori told them about the dunking booth that Gary had built and Jackson's idea for the big banner with my picture on it with the El Camino, and how I was the guy sitting on the dunking chair, and the hook line on the banner was: "Your chance to get even with the Pastor!" JC cracked up at that.

"That's super creative! And what a setup. I bet the line of people wanting to get even was long all day. And I bet the Pastor spent a lot of time in the water!"

Lori was laughing out loud. "Oh yeah, Jackson told him in the morning to plan on being wet all day, and he was!"

I interrupted. "Okay you guys, time to eat. Are we going to eat here at the kitchen table or in the dining room?" Everyone looked around and said, "Here's fine." "The kitchen is fine be me," JC added, "more casual and comfortable too."

I put the platter with the salmon on the table and said, "Gary, garlic bread is in the oven. Jackson, get the dressing on the salad and toss it. Lois, you get the potato salad, and we're ready to go." They all jumped into action, the rest of the food was on the table in less than a minute, and then it was silent.

They all looked at me like "We're in the parsonage, it's dinner, and you're going to say grace." So, I did, a basic one, not knowing where on the continuum JC might be. The dinner went really well, and while we were all talking away, someone mentioned Jackson's fort out in the woods, and JC seemed interested and asked to see it, and after we'd washed the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen, Jackson took him out for a while to show him. It wasn't raining but it was wet and damp, so I couldn't understand why they wanted to go, but they did, and came back smiling like they'd bonded somehow.

I'd reminded them it was a school night, and Jackson admitted he still had some homework to do, and while Gary didn't have class the next day, he did have a project he was working on. Lois was the only one who didn't have homework, but her parents wanted her home early. JC took the hint and shortly said he needed to be going. He had a thirty-minute drive to his sister's in McMinnville. We all walked to the front door, and JC said he had to drive back to Seattle in the morning for work, but he and Jackson agreed to talk by phone. Gary took Lois home and Jackson went upstairs to knock off his homework. I heard Gary come back twenty minutes later, and he leaned in and waved before he headed upstairs.

I was reading on the couch about 9:30 when I heard Jackson come down the stairs. He smiled as he came in the living room and made a beeline to the couch next to me, leaning up close as I wrapped an arm around him. "How are you feeling, Lover boy?"

He thought a minute and said, "Exhausted."

"That's normal. You're on an emotional roller coaster, and you don't know it yet, but you and Gary still have some more grieving to do. But you've got each other and we're all in this together as we confirmed this afternoon. What did you think about that? And meeting your father?"

"I liked the way the funeral went—thanks for that. The outing with Lois was pretty amazing. I guess it's a good thing Susan and Ellen confronted us when they did, or we'd probably have really blown it. Lois is great though, and I like her more and more. She and Gary are good together."

I nodded. "And your feelings now about meeting your father?"

"Well, you know, I was spooked to start with. Afraid really, because I didn't know what to expect, but it turned out he's nice and a cool guy." He yawned and snuggled up close under my arm.

"What was with that stare down with JC when he was shaking your hand at the kitchen table?"

"I don't know. There was something there. I felt like Regis in The Heritage of Hastur, like we were exchanging information or something. It wasn't like telepathy, but it felt positive. And you saw we've got the same color eyes." He yawned again and I could see his eyes closing.

"I saw that the minute I met him. I love your eyes and didn't miss for a second where they came from. You should go to bed. I know you're tired and emotionally beat too. Get a good night's sleep and you'll be ready for school tomorrow, Okay? I'll be up in a few minutes and see you for breakfast."

I kissed his forehead and he struggled up, gave me a hug and headed upstairs.

So now, not only had we conducted Lilly's funeral, we'd met his father and there were two teenage boys living with me in the parsonage. Where would it go from here?

I don't know how to describe yesterday. I mean there was the funeral and that was a downer. We all knew Mom was sick with cancer and could die, but we thought it would be a while and didn't think it would be sudden. But David came through, walking us through the tough decisions, and encouraging us to do the right thing when we wanted to kind of cop out. I didn't even want a funeral. I didn't even want to go in the church I was so pissed. But I finally saw it wasn't all about me, and that there are lots of other people in the picture too, and somethings you've gotta do things for them too.

So anyway, the funeral was nice and went well, and the people were really sincere afterwards. That was a surprise too. I expected kind of the cold shoulder, you know, for the kid whose Dad (they think!) is in jail, and whose Mom was an alcoholic, but it wasn't that way. They were nice and seemed concerned. It was mind blowing. I was holding it together pretty well till Susan and Ellen came over, and hugged me, and then it was all over. I mean they've been there with us, inside the firestorm of the last few months, and they knows me and care about me, and the walls all just came down and I turned into a bawling baby. It was embarrassing. They all said there's no shame in it, but really!

Anyway, the day started changing when the funeral was over because David planned dinner for us and invited Lois too, which was great for Gary, and then they outed us. I don't mean publicly, but they both said they knew, and they didn't care, and they knew we loved each other and to go ahead and show it. I actually got to hold David's hand in front of other people. That was rad! Later when we were washing the dishes Lois told me how lucky I was to have found someone who really loves me at my age, cause her friend's brother ended up in a couple of relationship where he got used and dumped, and that came on top of all the bullying he got at school. And she told me no matter what, she and Gary are there for us. So suddenly the day was really improving. And then the bombshell happened. My Dad was invited to dinner!

I couldn't believe it and didn't have a clue about the stranger at the reception after the funeral. There were a few other people there I didn't recognize, and I saw David talking to him, but David talked to almost everyone. I never knew my own father, so it never crossed my mind. He seems nice and was friendly, and when I first met him, we shook hands and he just held my eyes, looking deep into mine like he was trying to see into my soul. And his eyes are the same color as mine. He's almost six feet tall, so maybe I'll get there too. Anyway, we all had a great dinner and he wanted to know about all of us and wasn't nosy or anything. It was like he was really curious, like he just wanted to know. I didn't think he was trying to impress me or anything, more like we were both checking each other out. Somewhere in the conversation he found out I had a fort out back in the woods, and he wanted to see it. We'd cleaned up after dinner, and it wasn't raining, and David reminded us it was a school night so we couldn't be long.

When we got there, I fired up the lantern and told him about building it to get away from all the stuff in my house. He asked about that and why I needed to get away, and he really seemed to want to know, so I started telling him about Bud and the physical abuse and Mom drank too much and went along with him and all that, and that the fort was the place I could escape to. He seemed so sorry, like it was his fault. And he apologized. He apologized to me!

I didn't understand, but he kept on, maybe because he felt guilty, but he told me he was sorry he wasn't there, but that he'd had a short fling with Lilly and then left town and not long after that enlisted and went to basic training and didn't even know she was pregnant and didn't find out that I was in the picture till when I was in junior high, when his sister in McMinnville told him. He told me he should have done something, but he was afraid. He said he'd been pretty messed up for a few years after he got out of the Army, almost manic-depressive, and it finally got to the point he had to get counseling at the VA in Seattle, or he was going to lose his job. And he did get his life together, and he had his sister check on me, but he just couldn't bring himself to do something cause he thought it would be unfair to me to just show up and drop the bomb. Of course, he assumed everything was hunky dory, and had no idea what the real story was for Gary and me. That's when he took my hands and stared at me hard again and apologized again and started crying. I mean like really bawling. And I did too, and we hugged each other and just sat there for a while.

When we finally got our emotions back together, I told him to stop worrying about it. That I'd learned so much in the last few months and grown up and gotten my act together and knew it wasn't all about me, and that he wasn't to blame for any of the stuff that happened. I was trying to change the subject onto something more positive and I asked if he had any brothers, thinking maybe I had uncles that I didn't know about. He got quiet and said he had one brother, who was his identical twin, who also enlisted in the Army, but he died in Vietnam. His dad was career Army and was still alive. I didn't know what to say then! Twin brother! Died in Vietnam! I had a grandfather! I realized for a minute that I'd had a pretty sheltered life.

JC looked at his watch then and said, "We'd better get back or David won't be happy, it being a school night. He seems like a real good guy. I mean stepping up and taking care of you and Gary, being involved in the family when Lilly was sick. I can tell all of you get along really well."

I wanted to tell him. I so wanted to tell him, But I knew I couldn't and shouldn't. It was too soon. I didn't know him well enough. Who knew what could happen? We'd agreed with Lois and Gary to keep it really quiet. But I wanted him to know. I wanted to be able to share with my Dad, my real Dad, what was the most important thing in my life, since I now had him, another really important thing, in my life.

But not yet. Maybe soon. Depending on how it all plays out.

The interment went as well as could be expected for December in the Willamette Valley. The morning started with rain and low clouds, but by noon the cloud deck was lifting, and the rain was letting up, and by 2:00, it had become partly cloudy. That meant that umbrellas weren't required by 3:00 PM for the graveside service. Gary didn't have class today, and Jackson had a pass to leave early, and to her credit, Lois was right there with Gary, along with her parents.

Susan and Ellen were there too, along with the Parsonage Committee and a few Session members and an odd number of other folks. The interment service was short and sweet. Susan and Ellen both took special efforts to be with and comfort the boys and ended up making a big deal out of both of them coming to dinner at their home the next evening.

Lois came home with us from the cemetery, and her parents followed, as did Susan and Ellen. Lois' Dad was driving a Mustang Cobra II, which looked like a pretty cool car, and turned it turned out that he owned the Ford dealership in town. I'd explained to her parents that the boys were staying in the parsonage with me until we sorted out the details.

Dinner was going to be simple, and I'd made lasagna in the morning after Jackson went to school, and while Gary was working on his homework. We all settled in the living room, and I offered everyone a drink. Lois' Dad asked for the beer, the other adults asked for wine, and Jackson took care of soft drinks for he, Gary and Lois. While we were in the kitchen, I asked how he was doing, and he smiled and said, "Pretty well. We're almost through this, and it's going better than I thought it would." He leaned over and rested his head on my shoulder momentarily, and kissed my cheek, whispering, "Thanks for holding us all together." I hugged him back.

The conversation was a bit stilted to start, as is often the case after a somber event, most of it being about how nice the graveside service was and the blessing of no rain, etc. Lois's Mom sensitively asked Gary and Jackson how they were doing, and Jackson was quick to reply.

"We're getting through it Okay because Mom got her affairs together, knew what was happening and planned for it, we had time with her before the end. All that and because Pastor Dave has made it all work for us. Like staying here so we don't have to deal with the empty house right now."

She looked at Gary. He smiled and said, "It's all of that, plus Lois is holding me together. I don't know if I'd have made it with all we've been through this year if she wasn't here for me." He was holding her hand so tightly it must have hurt, but she was smiling softly.

Her Mom said, "You two have something special, we can all see that. You just let us know how we can help. There'll be a lot to do, and more than you two can do even with Pastor Dave and Lois."

I pointed out that Susan and Ellen were involved because they were not only trustees of Lilly's estate, but friends of all of us. That was news to Lois' parents, and her Dad commented on how great that was and good planning on Lilly's part.

That allowed Susan and Ellen to redirect the conversation onto more upbeat subjects like school soon ending, Christmas vacation, and things like that. After a few minutes I asked who was staying for dinner, and Lois' parents begged off, though it was agreed that Lois was staying and Gary would drive her home, and Susan and Ellen agreed too.

As Lois' parents were leaving, I thanked them for coming by, and said, "You're going to miss the dinner action!"

Her Mom looked at me quizzically and I said, "Everyone has a job. Jackson is making the salad Gary is doing the garlic bread, Lois usually keeps everyone in synch, and it all comes together! Plus, I made lasagna with a great Italian recipe from back east!"

The lasagna was a hit, but lasagna is really hard to screw up. The recipe I used included spicy Italian sausage and finely chopped red peppers, so it had additional flavor elements beyond the tomato sauce and cheese. We were in the dining room, the kitchen table being too small for six of us, and once I'd brought in the lasagna, the kids brought in the salad and bread, and we settled down to eat. It was a surprisingly pleasant meal, and I was pretty well confirmed that both boys were now on the back side of Lilly's death, and while still having grieving to do, were not going to be trapped in a cycle of depression.

Susan and Ellen didn't stay long after we ate, and Jackson and I cleaned up and washed the dishes while Gary drove Lois home. He joined us in the living room when he returned. We were listening to Fleetwood Mac's Rumors album, that I'd been given for my birthday by the counselors at the end of church camp.

Jackson and I were scrunched up at one end of the couch, him leaning against me, and me with my arm around his shoulder. Gary dropped onto the other end of the couch, looked over at us and smiled.

I smiled back and said, "She's a special lady, isn't she?"

He nodded back, and said, "I don't know why I deserve her. She's so great and so together. She makes me into something I wasn't before." As he made the last comment, I could see the emotion welling up and the tears starting in his eyes.

Jackson was watching too, and extended and arm and said, "Come here bro, this is the kind of time we all need some hugging." Gary unabashedly slid down the couch and leaned up against Jackson, who put his arm over his shoulder and pulled him in tight. After a minute I gingerly put my hand on the back of his head and said, "We're all in this together, and we'll sort it out, and we'll get through it. We're kind of like the Three Musketeers now."

Jackson said, "You mean one for all, and all for one?" I nodded, and he said, "I can do that!"

Friday morning Roger Talbot called, saying that he'd heard that the mother in the family with the crisis had died, and to express his condolences. He asked how the funeral service went, and I told him very well, that we'd followed the standard form from the Book of Order, simplified it a little since it a rural parish and then I took the opportunity to tell him how our choir director and choir had really risen to the occasion, learning a new hymn on two day notice and performing it very well. I expected him to say something along the line of how great that was for the choir in a small church in a rural community. But he didn't. Instead he came right back with "What hymn was that? One of the alternates in the Book of Order?"

I told him no, that the choir wouldn't have had to learn those as they'd already have known them, and that we'd gone with a hymn more in line with what the family wanted, specifically Grechaninov's arrangement of Lord, Lettest Thou Thy Servant Depart In Peace .

There was stony silence. Finally, he said, "Well, that passage might have been appropriate as a reading, but singing an Eastern Orthodox hymn by a Russian composer is hardly consistent with denominational guidelines for a Presbyterian funeral."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. After a few seconds, I said, "You're trying to tell me that using one of the few hymns in the printed Funeral Service is more important than using a hymn that fulfills the needs and desires of the family that is burying a parent?"

He suddenly got starchy. "Don't try and pin this on me, David. You're the one who conducted the service. You're the one who made the decision. You're the one who didn't take Polity in Seminary like you should have. I'm beginning to have serious concerns about your commitment to the Gospel."

I said nothing for some time, the shock resonating in my head, and one part of my brain wanting to tell him to go to hell.

He said, "David, are you there? Hello!"

I decided to say one thing, and one thing only. "Roger, the last time I looked in the Greek New Testament, the word that we translate as gospel was evangelion, and my recollection from Greek class is that it means 'good news.' I can assure that my commitment to The Good News hasn't changed a bit. And now I'm sorry, but I have to go to an appointment."

He was too flustered right then to say anything else, so I just hung up. Honest to God! Was this for real? Questioning my commitment to the Gospel over a hymn selection? After a couple of minutes, it dawned on me that it wasn't the hymn selection at all, that was just symptomatic of making my own decisions outside the normal guidelines. He was still fried that I'd not taken Polity and had been hired by a church in his Presbytery and no one, including him, had caught it! I'd probably be dealing with this on and off for a long time!

I did have an appointment, but it was lunch with Spencer Sullivan and that was two hours from now, but I'd had as much of Talbot as I could take. When we met for lunch we chatted briefly about the funeral and then Spencer told me that with the will and estate work Lilly had recently done, especially given that the boys were now emancipated, meant settling the estate would be quite straight forward. Basically, within a few weeks he'd have the title to the house and property reconveyed into their joint names and do the same with the financial assets that were all in one bank account.

Since he was a member of Session, I told him about getting cross threaded with the Minister Advocate over a polity class, and he actually thought it was funny. "What the hell do they know. Like knowing all this policy stuff is somehow more important than being able to communicate with the folks in the pews? Give me a break. Dave, if this becomes a problem, let me know. This is something I'd love to help with!" He grinned widely!

"Trust me," I said, "if it comes to that, I will. It could be a fun fight! I don't see why it has to come to that, but this Talbot guy seems like a bit of a prima donna , so who knows!"

Gary was home before Jackson, and we sat in the kitchen and had a cup of coffee. I asked about school, and he said the classes continued to go well, and he was staying on top of his homework in spite of recent events. He was still surprised that he was doing well, especially since this first quarter included Intro to Horticulture, Soil Science, and Plant Nutrition. That meant learning technical material and remembering it, something he hadn't done well at before. He was excited about Winter quarter that included nursery operations, plant propagation, plant identification. "I'll be in the green houses a lot, growing stuff. That will be really cool. Then spring quarter it's the actual landscaping classes outside." He smiled, pleased with himself and what he was doing…and rightly so.

"Will you do something for me?" I looked at him as I asked.

"Sure. What's up?

"I want to get Jackson one of those Mongoose BMX bikes for Christmas. You said you can get a frame and build it up. Do you want to go in on it with me?"

He looked at me for a second like I was crazy, then started smiling. "Yeah, that'd be cool. I'll build it up for sure. How much of it do you want me to pay for?"

"If you're contributing the mechanic time to build it, that should be enough. You already bought the saddle, remember?"

"Is that fair?"

"Sure, it is. Time is money. If you want to throw in twenty bucks, and that'll make you feel better, fine."

"Okay, deal. I'll have to get on it tomorrow if I'm going to get the frame in time."

"Cool. You do that. Then we give it to him with no saddle, and he'll have to go find the saddle you gave him and mount it before he can ride the bike. That'll be fun to watch. You better put a quick disconnect on the seat post so he can handle that!"

Gary grinned. We were quiet, and then he looked at me and said, "Can I tell you something?" He acted almost embarrassed and was blushing just a little.

"You can tell me anything. You're almost my brother, remember?"

"Well it kinda has to do with that. There's you and Jackson and all that, but since Bud got arrested and put in jail you've stepped into my life too. You didn't have to, even if you and Jackson are together. You've become more than a brother, almost become another Dad for me. You didn't have to do it, and I'd been so shitty to your boyfriend for a long time I figured it was just an act, and you'd get even somehow or something like that. But you didn't, you just kept being you."

"Gary, I told you how I felt, and I made a promise to you. I'm a man of my word."

"I know, but I'm having trouble getting past feeling like I don't deserve any of this. Prof. McFall and I've talked about it a few times about deserving stuff and being in college. He's been a real help and so encouraging too, and he's pressed me a little about feeling the same way about other things. I never had a teacher like that before. Anyway, he told me to make sure that I told Lois how I felt and what she means to me, to make sure that she understood how important she is in my life. I've never done stuff like that before, and it was hard. But she helped me get through it."

He paused, gathering his thoughts, and I didn't say anything.

"Anyway, he told me I needed to tell you too. I don't really know how to say it, but I want to. If all that shit with Bud had happened and then Mom died, and you hadn't been here who knows how it would have ended up. All I know is that it would have been bad. But you made the difference."

I started to protest, and he said, "Please don't. Talking to Lois about it made me understand how important it is to say it, Okay. You saved me. You got my relationship with my brother back together You got us back on track with our Mom. I wouldn't have ever gotten connected with Lois without you organizing the Harvest Fair, and I never would be in college. I'd be another dumb lug pulling wrenches at the bike shop. I kinda owe you everything and just want to tell you I know that and thank you for it."

"Gary, you're Jackson's brother. Any decent person would have done this kind of stuff."

He looked at me, getting emotional again, his face flushing and his eyes reddening. "Can I give you a hug?" He'd never initiated any physical intimacy before.

"Of course," and I stood up. He walked over to me and wrapped his arms around my shoulders and pulled me close. He was almost as tall as me now and had lost weight and filled out over the summer. He held on tight, unashamed, and I hugged him back. I felt him sobbing, and then heard his say softly, "I love you David. Thanks for what you're doing for me. For all of us."

I pulled him tight, and just whispered back, "No worry, you're worth it. I love you too." That's when I looked up and away from him and saw Jackson was back from school and was standing outside the kitchen door on the back porch, watching but wisely not coming inside. I smiled at him and blew him a kiss.

We broke our embrace in a minute, and Gary wiped his face, sitting down to finish his coffee. I waved at Jackson and sat down too. "Any time, Gary, I'm here for you. And anytime you need a hug, you don't even need to ask."

We both looked up as Jackson came in the door. He walked over to the table, squeezed Gary's shoulder and kissed the top of my head before he sat down.

"Looks like heavy stuff. Is everyone Okay?"

I smiled and said, "Sure are, we were just having a guy to guy talk about what's happened."

Jackson smiled back and then as he sat down took my hand in his left and reached across the table for Gary's with his right and said, "Three Musketeers, right?"

We both nodded, and I said "Gary had been telling me about his classes for winter quarter and how well he's doing and how he's looking forward to next quarter, and he thinks he'll get good grades too. How about that?"

"Well, he's studying enough he should be getting straight A's, right bro?"

Gary smiled and I asked, "Have you figured out what's changed in terms of studying and getting good grades? What's different?"

He looked at us both and said, "Lois helped me figure it out. I'm not angry all the time, and I realized that I needed to do the homework and study. And guess what, if you do the homework and study, you learn the stuff and do pretty well on the quizzes and the tests! Like duh, right?"

The best thing about it was that he was making a joke and being a little self-deprecating, but he was also making a factual statement almost as if he was summarizing the results of an experiment or one of his horticulture projects. I asked how the projects were going.

"Well, you know, horticulture can be growing plants for food or as ornamentals. The projects are all in the green houses because it's winter, and I'm just messing around really, kinda getting started, but what we're really learning is what propagates best in our climate during our winter. That goes together with the plant nutrition class, and the takeaway is really about propagating your own plants. Because, if you're in the landscaping business and you have to buy your plants, you're going to make a lot less money that's if you propagate your own. So, the projects are going well cause I'm learning what's really good to grow here and how to do it, and then we do it in greenhouses next quarter. It also makes me want to have a green house before too long so I can propagate our own plants."

Jackson grinned. "Yay, Gary. More profit margin! Way to go, Bro!"

Gary started giggling. "Yeah, well if we get the mower paid for and grow our own plants, we won't have hardly any expenses and it'll be all profit. Get it? All profit?"

They cracked up at the craziness of it, but he was clearly onto something in terms of what it takes to have a very successful landscaping business. I looked at them both, quite happy with the progress they both had made in their own lives in the past five months, notwithstanding the challenges they'd faced.

I glanced at Jackson. "Anything new at school today?"

"Yeah," he said smiling, "We're doing a Christmas choir concert next Friday, the last day of school. It won't be a big deal, some popular Christmas songs, some Christmas carols, and the Hallelujah Chorus from The Messiah . The other stuff we've been working on will come next year. It's going to be at 2:00 PM. Can you be there?"

"Wouldn't miss it!"

He grinned and squeezed my hand. Gary said, "Sorry, bro, I won't be back from school."

"No worries. First things first."

"Not to be Debbie Downer or anything," I said to both of them, "but whether you know it or not, you've been running mainly on adrenaline this week. By the time you get to Sunday or Monday, that'll be over and you're going to have to deal with the reality, and maybe the depression and the grief. I just want you to be aware of that, so you don't get surprised when it happens, Okay?"

They both looked at me with a mixture of surprise and indignity. "Really, guys. That's the way it is. Whether she was perfect or not, your mother is a big deal in your life and she just died and you're going to have to work through that. Everyone does, but just don't think it won't affect you, and particularly you have deal with it, so it doesn't effect school. Here's the question I want to ask you. You've been staying here since Sunday, and it can't go on forever. But the reality is that there's only one more week of school and then it's Christmas break. Do you guys want to keep staying here until after Christmas? We're all getting along pretty well, and it's better than an almost empty house. Then we can deal with the house stuff next year after the holidays. No need to answer right now, but talk about it and let me know what you think, Okay? Now, we need to clean up and get organized to head over to Susan and Ellen's for dinner."

Lois had been included in the dinner invitation, and she arrived right on time. Gary drove the Buick sedan since there were four of us. That meant Jackson and I could ride in the back, and allowed Jackson to do plenty of backseat driving, giving Gary directions and telling him he was going too fast and the like. It was all good natured.

When he pulled in the driveway, it was still light, but heading to sunset, and the lights on Susan and Ellen's home gave out a warm glow. It was very welcoming. When we rang the doorbell, it burst open to an effusive greeting from Susan, and we could see Ellen standing in the hallway smiling widely.

"We're so glad you're here! Thanks for coming, and we hope this will be an upbeat evening to conclude a difficult week. Come in, come in." She and Ellen took our coats and ushered us into the living room. The house smelled wonderful, filled with aromas of cooking food, and they had a tray with cheese and crackers on the coffee table, and some interesting looking olives and salted almonds. There was no Christmas tree up yet, but the mantel piece had evergreen boughs and red candles, and the festive spirit was clearly brewing in this house. That made me realize I needed to do something about it too.

Ellen took drink orders, offering the kids lemonade, iced tea or an Italian soda made with sparking water. They seemed surprised at the range available. We adults opted for wine, and as we settled into the seating I said to Susan, "Jackson told me about next Friday's choir concert. It sounds like fun."

She smiled, "It should be. It's pretty simple stuff really, because for Christmas you have all these constituencies to please: some want carols, some want Christmas songs like Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, and some want more classical pieces. That's why we'll do a few carols including Panis Angelicus , plus the secular songs, and then a couple of classical pieces like the Hallelujah Chorus ."

"Sounds great to me. And this is at school, and all the students will attend?"

"Yes, and whatever parents choose to be there. Lois, are you coming?"

"Absolutely. Gary can't since he'll be in class at community college, but I'll be there. Have to be there for my friend Jackson!" She grinned at him as she said it.

"It'll be fun," she beamed. Ellen rose and headed for the kitchen, and I asked if I could assist. She nodded and I followed her, wine glass in hand. I could hear Susan and the kids chattering away.

Ellen grinned. "They have plenty to talk about. Susan told me about Jackson asking for coaching on how to sing that David Bowie song. I think it's hilarious. The choir teacher coaching a rock band! But she thinks it's fun, and that he's worth the effort."

"We'll have to see, won't we? He's still kind of got stage fright, but I'm betting that will dissipate once the band does a gig or two. Come to think of it, I don't know when that will be, but we'll see. Now, what can I do to help?"

She pointed me at the oven and told me to pull out the Brussel sprouts that had been roasting. That's when I saw the beef roast resting on the back of the stove under tin foil, and the pan with potatoes that she proceeded to mash.

The dinner was wonderful, and both of them were such good conversationalists that we talked about dozens of subjects, never once talking about the funeral or what comes next, which was, of course, their plan from the beginning.

After we'd cleared the table and carried the dishes to the kitchen, Ellen asked Lois to help her, and they returned with a coconut cake with lemon filling and white frosting that was to die for. Ellen sliced and served the cake to which Lois added vanilla ice cream, and we all ended up quite full and satisfied.

We were all elated at the end of dinner, but Jackson took the initiative and asked if he could say something. We all turned to him and he looked at Susan and Ellen and said, "I've said something like this to you before, but now I'm speaking for all of us. This was an amazing dinner and evening, and we know you didn't have to do this but thank you for having us all here. I don't just mean after the funeral to help us feel better, but this sure helps. I mean for the kind of people you are, and especially for how you treat Gary and Lois and me, like we're adults and friends. It's really special!"

Lois and Gary clearly weren't sure where Jackson was going when he started speaking, then their eyes widened, and then smiles appeared on their faces. After saying "It's really special," Jackson turned to them and said, "Am I right?" They both immediately broke into wide grins and agreed. I raised my wine glass and said "Here, here!"

Susan and Ellen were both touched by the compliment, and though they'd clearly entertained often, everyone likes to be acknowledged. And, here were these teenagers acknowledging their cooking and entertaining prowess as well as their humanity and friendship. It was pretty magical.

On the way home I asked Lois if she'd help me organize some Christmas décor for the parsonage, and she agreed. We dropped her off at her home, and it was cute to watch Gary walk her up to the front door and give her a kiss goodnight. I hugged Jackson. "Nice, huh?" He nodded and kissed my neck.

We were beat after the week, and all of us went to bed early. Jackson and I lay facing each other naked, stroking chests and bellies and playing with pubes, neither of us making a move. Finally, he said, "I'm horny and I'm really tired. I don't know what to do."

"That's easy, Lover Boy. We sleep tonight and make love tomorrow night."

Saturday was a wet day, and Jackson was seriously studying for the tests at the end of the quarter. Gary said he was going out to work on projects, and Lois was going with him. I told them when they got back, we'd do something simple like order in pizza or go out. They came back with an armful of evergreen boughs, and a beautiful wreath, all of which were laid on the back porch. "We'll put them up tomorrow or the next day," she said. Gary cornered me in the kitchen and said "I've ordered the Mongoose frame and it'll be here in a couple of days. Lois and I just made a run to the Bike Gallery in Portland and got the components. Good ones, like hand drilled cranks for less weight and really good derailleurs and stuff." I offered to pay him, and he said to wait till he was done, because he had a few more things to buy.

It ended up that we went to a local restaurant, and then Gary dropped Jackson and me back at the parsonage and took off with Lois. I didn't say anything about anything—he was a big boy now.

The Gospel reading for Sunday was Matthew 1: 18-24, the birth narrative describing Mary's betrothal to Joseph, the discovery of her pregnancy, and all that ensued around the subject of the virgin birth. I found myself immediately going to the mythological elements in the Hero's Journey, but knew it was a reach too far for the congregation. Instead I focused on comparing Matthew's birth narrative with that of Luke, and how Matthew's focused more on Joseph and his role in the betrothal, birth and family. I concluded it by discussing the meaning of the name Immanuel, meaning "God with us."

We were having lunch after church when JC called. We talked for a few minutes, and he said he had an invitation he wanted to put on the table for Jackson and me—could Jackson come up to visit him for a couple of days between Christmas and New Year's? They'd reconnected and spoken on the phone once, and it made sense to me and I told him so.

He said, "I want this to be Jackson's decision, not something he feels he has to do, but if he's up for it, will you drive him up, and I'll drive him back? I'd like to spend some time with you as well. I'll cook dinner the night you're here and we'll all get to know each other better."

I told him I liked the idea and that I'd get Jackson on the line. I called him in the office and went back to finish lunch with Gary. Jackson came back five minutes later and filled us in. "What do you think? Should I do it?"

"It's your call, not mine. He's your father. You've got to want to do it. I said I'd drive you up, but it's your decision. I can drive you up, that's no big deal."

He hemmed and hawed. "I guess I'm nervous now it's a reality. It was one thing here, in our house, but this is going up to Seattle to stay with him."

Gary finally said something. "Wait a minute. This is the guy who could talk to Susan and Ellen like he was a grown up on Friday night, toast them for having us for dinner and stuff, and you can't figure out if you should go visit your father?"

Jackson blushed. "I said I was nervous, bro. Come on, give me a break."

Gary just said, "No choice, man, you've got to go. He's your Dad, remember. When will this ever happen again for you?"

"Okay, okay. We'll go. David, you sure you're Okay with driving me up after Christmas and staying over, and then JC will drive me back?"

I nodded, "Can do."

He said, "I've got to call JC back!"

The final week of school was almost literally a blur, with final classes, intense studying, and then final exams. By the time we woke up Friday morning we were all a little dazed, but we'd established a warm and happy domestic rhythm, all getting along well. First one down started the coffee. I usually prepared breakfast, otherwise Gary and Jackson would have just grabbed some toast or cereal and headed out the door.

Lois came over Monday afternoon after school, with candles, red ribbon, icicles and other things and went to work on the decorations. An hour later the wreath was wrapped with a huge red ribbon bow and draped with some icicles, and on the front door. The boughs had become an arrangement on the mantle like Susan and Ellen's, interspersed with candles and icicles. The parsonage was beginning to take on a festive air!

A couple of evenings Lois joined us for dinner. Jackson was sleeping with me, and it was beginning to feel like the rest of our life. It was so blissful to have him fall asleep in my arms, and to wake up with his warm and soft body, usually making little soft and lyrical snoring sounds, just a hand reach away. It was an intense week, and our sex was correspondingly restrained. Everyone needed their sleep.

Thursday evening after band practice I was in the living room when Jackson came home. He dropped onto the couch next to me.

"Hi Lover Boy. Everything Okay," I asked as I pulled him in for a kiss?

"Yeah, just busy this week. Like crazy busy. I'll be glad when tomorrow's over and we get some vacation. Oh, and guess what about going up to see JC? Will called Mayer Brothers jewelry about the bracelets and they don't do mail order. So, I can go down there while I'm in Seattle and buy one for him? I mean if that works for everyone? Where's Gary?"

"He said he was going over to Lois' house to recover. He had two finals today, so I think he needed some loving moral support."

"Well, speaking of loving moral support, I sure could use some right now too! I'm thinking of a different kind of support though, the kind that involves a long hard cock. You know what I mean?"

"But don't you have finals tomorrow? You should be studying," I said, knowing full well he'd finished his today and Friday was just a wrap up day.

"I'm done and you know it. I think I aced most of my tests, and after this week I think I deserve some extra attention from my Sexy Man. Come on, let's go upstairs."

He led me up and we after we rotated through the bathroom, met naked at the foot of the bed. There was moonlight streaming in the window, and it made his skin silvery and reflected off his hair while it illuminated his eyes.

"You look magical with the moonlight streaming over your body. I have told you before how beautiful your body is, haven't I?"

He smiled demurely as I stepped up to him, stroking his cheeks and down his neck to his pecs, and rubbing his nipples that I could feel harden between my fingers. His hands were on my back now, and I continued stroking down his belly as I felt his cock harden and stand erect.

"Don't rush, Rev," he whispered in my ear, "I want to make out with you. It dawned on me today that we haven't had a real intense kissing session for a while. You're a pretty good kisser, remember? I do! Your tongue in my mouth gets me so hot, and I don't want to take it for granted. I don't want to take anything about you for granted. Ever."

He snaked an arm around my neck and pulled me to him, his mouth open and his tongue eagerly waiting, like a cobra in a basket. His words had been real, and I heard him, and met him ready to go. I didn't want to take anything for granted either. Our tongues immediately began their dance, as we sensuously stroked each other's shoulders and backs.

Our mouths became slicker with saliva, and we jostled together, sharing the passion and slowly beginning to bring our cocks together on each other's bellies. I felt his hands move up my neck and across my cheeks, and his fingertips slip through the hair on the sides of my head where he held me tight and pulled my head into him firmly. His tongue was as deep in my mouth as it could go, running down the insides of my teeth and across the roof of my mouth.

We hadn't touched each other below the waist yet, but I was so sexually wound up I was beginning to pant. He was too. I reached up and took his head in my hands and slowly slipped away, leaning back to take in the image of this hot and gorgeous young man who found me so desirable. "My Lover Boy is on a tear tonight. A beautiful, passionate and loving tear," I whispered to him.

He smiled devilishly, his eyes sparkling in the moonlight.

I looked down and then back up, staring him directly in the eyes. "Now you're especially beautiful, with that magic wand I feel against my belly. That beautiful thing that cast a spell over me. Will you do it again? Will you put it inside me, cast your magic on me, make me feel like no one else on earth?"

He smiled, demurely now, and I reached down to stroke the inside of his thighs and rub his scrotum as I said it. I felt him shudder and his hands came up to my neck and then his fingers ran back up into my hair and he pulled me to his for a deep kiss."

"I want you. I want you and your magic inside me," I whispered.

"Will you ride me? I want to see your face, watch your eyes, be able to kiss you?"

I smiled, turning him so his back was to the foot of the bed, and dropping to my knees so I could lick the bottom of his cock, and then take him in my mouth, wetting him as much as I could while getting him going. He gasped and when he started to groan, I stood up and slowly pushed him back on the bed and reached for the Vaseline.

When I climbed onto the bed to straddle his hips he smiled devilishly again. "I've been dreaming of this all day. It was so amazing the other night when you did me, I want you to feel the same thing."

I leaned down and kissed him, then sat up and after applying some Vaseline to my anus, reached back and grasped his cock. Then after sliding my crack up and down his cock, I lifted up and back and positioned myself over him and slowly settled. I felt his cockhead against me, then unconsciously I felt myself relax and open and the head of his cock begin to slip into me. He gasped again, even though he wasn't in me, and I felt a warm sensation begin to radiate inside me.

I consciously thought "relax" and began to slide down, pushing more and more of his cock into me. The imagery of that black velvet tunnel came back to me, but this time it was my tunnel, and it was his cock sliding up it, and it felt inside of me the way I could see in his eyes it felt to him. His mouth was open, and his head was back, driven by the sensations that the motion was sending down his cock and into his body.

When I felt his pubes on my bum, I leaned over and weighted my arms and slowly started moving up and down his shaft. He groaned again and whispered, "Kiss me, please. Now, kiss me."

I did, driving my tongue into his mouth as I knew he wanted, trying to match the thrust of my tongue with my motions on his cock. I could feel his breathing pick up, his breath rushing in and out of my mouth as we kissed. I wanted to watch the feelings and see him cum, so I leaned back up, sitting almost straight on him, slowly rising and falling, and feeling him beginning to use his own hips to lift off the bed and drive into me as I came down on him.

I knew he was getting close, the fast breathing turned to gasps and his eyes were losing focus, and that's when he grasped my cock. I'd been leaking precum, and all he had to do was roll his fist around my highly lubricated head and I felt like I'd been touched with an electrode. His thrusts were shallow because of our position, but he was hitting my prostate on every one, and as I could see him getting close, I could feel myself following right behind.

He finally hissed, "Oh David, I'm going to cum, I'm going to release my magic in you. I want you to cum now, cum for me."

I did, and we came almost together. His belly and chest had my cum on them and I felt him pulse deep inside me, releasing his seed in me. After I came, he released my cock, and I leaned down, lying on him, kissing him and licking his neck and kissing him again, just lost in the joy of expressing my feelings for him. I felt him soften and then slip out of me, and felt the emptiness for a few seconds but then his hands were on my bum, stroking me, feeling down into my crack, rubbing and stroking up my back, running along my spine and we were just perfectly connected. It was a fabulous release to end a stressful week, and after we cleaned up, we slept like babies.

Friday broke with a high cloud deck, which would be a good thing if the rain held off through the afternoon and the choir concert. I got to school early and was in the auditorium before the choir assembled. Jackson and Will had spotted me and were walking over. They both had grins on their faces. Jackson's eyes were sparkling, and I could tell he was immensely happy.

He dialed the grin back to a smile, and said "Hi, David," as he discreetly stroked my arm.

"Hi you guys. How was the day? All ready for the concert?"

"Well, yeah! Will and I have been ready for days. We just had to finish up this school stuff, you know!"

Will was watching him and then looked at me, saying, "You need to ask him about his grades, Pastor Dave."

I'd been caught flat footed. "You have them already? I didn't think the teachers would have your test graded this fast, and have your final grades too?"

"It's a small school, Rev." He was grinning again.

"I can tell this is going to be good," I said, adding softly, "if we were home, would it be Okay if I hugged him first, Will?"

Will grinned. "That would probably be a good way to do it. Tell him, Jackson."

"I got all A's!" An A- in Psych and Phys Ed, and an A or A+ in everything else."

"Wow! That's my boy. You nailed it, Jackson. Way to go. Now I do wish we were home so I could hug you. How'd you do Will?"

"I got one B+, but everything else was A's, so I'm pumped, and my folks will be happy. This boy did it though. He told me he was out to make you proud, and he pulled that off, didn't he?"

I was grinning like a fool, and Jackson was almost beside himself with excitement. I was standing facing them, and reached out my hand between them, and Jackson's left hand came up, carefully concealed by Will. Our fingers touched and intertwined for a few seconds.

"Way to go. For now, that's all, just way to go."

I let my hand drop away. His smile was still radiating, and his eyes were happy while understanding the loss of contact.

Will said, "We better get going. We've got to get to the choir room and get changed and ready to perform." Jackson nodded and said, "We'll come find you after the concert, Okay?"

I nodded, and they turned and walked off. I wandered around for a minute and then saw Lois had seen me and was coming my way. We chatted and I asked if she'd heard about Jackson's grades. "No, but I can tell by your smile that he did good, right?"

"All A's! That's great and gives him a much better chance of getting into a good college."

"That's far out, Pastor Dave. I knew he had it in him. I'm hoping Gary can do the same. Not just to get the grades but because it would do so much for how he feels about himself."

I smiled at her, "You're right, it would do wonders for his self-esteem, and I'm betting he'll get really good grades, even if they're not all A's. He's been working hard, and you've been a really good influence and mentor for him. I'm really thankful. I know he means it when he says he'd never have made it without you beside him."

She blushed and said, "I don't know, I helped, but he did it himself."

"Yeah, he did, but don't sell yourself short. You don't just have a romantic relationship with him, you believe in him. You understand that before you no one believed in him, don't you?"

"You did. You did before me."

"Okay, I beat you to it by a month, but it's different. He could think I had to because of me and Jackson or because I'm the church pastor. You didn't have any of that obligation stuff. You saw deep and saw the real person and made a decision and you believed in him and that made all the difference."

I could see she was starting to blush, so I just gave her a quick hug and said, "You're a great person. Shall we find a seat?"

She nodded and led our way down to the middle of the auditorium. Ushers handed out a small program with the performance list.

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas

Panis Angelicus

Deck The Halls

Silent Night, Holy Night

The Hallelujah Chorus

After a few minutes Susan entered from the side of the stage, followed by the choir girls in dresses, and the boys in jackets and slacks. Jackson had one jacket, and it looked a little tight, but he filled it nicely.

After the choir took their places, the accompanist sat down at the piano, and Susan turned to the audience and welcomed all the student to the last event of the quarter—for which she received a round of cheers from the students. She then thanked the parents and friends who were attending and explicated the program.

"This won't be a long performance and it's intended to be fun. So, we'll be singing a mix of popular Christmas songs, mixed with Christmas carols and more formal classical pieces."

She paused, and then said, "Remember what I said about the intention is that this is fun. If you want to sing along, please do. Many of you will know the words to many of these songs, so feel free…just don't drown out the choir! They've been practicing hard to perform well for you, and you owe it to them to hear them sing. So, with that, we'll open with something light and really fun called Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.

It was a great choice to open with because it was informal and the younger kids loved it, and most could sing along. Switching to I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas caught many by surprise because while very well known, it's not all that easy to sing, most people not realizing that Bing Crosby was a baritone. It changed the tone from somewhat goofy and light to a more reflective and anticipatory one.

Panis Angelicus was a dramatic change because it was in Latin and almost no one know it translated as "angel's bread," came from the Latin Mass from the feast of Corpus Christi with the arrangement by Cesar Franck. It's beautiful and meditative, and thus it was quite a contrast when the choir switched to Deck The Halls , sung with gusto to the sixteenth century Welsh melody with lyrics by the Scottish composer Thomas Oliphant.

The mood shifted back to meditative when the choir softly and lyrically sang Silent Night, Holy Night , the old hymn composed by the Austrian Frank Gruber to lyrics written by the new parish priest, Father Joseph Mohr. Most people didn't know all the lyrics, but they all knew the repeated last two lines of each verse, "Sleep In Heavenly Peace," and "Christ the Savior is Born," and "Jesus, Lord, at thy birth," and all sang along.

Closing with The Hallelujah Chorus was a wonderful choice because while most people recognize the hymn, few know the lyrics, and here Susan was conducting the performance of the original Handel arrangement, the one that wasn't composed for the massed choir sound. The result was a success—even though a music critic would have had comments about a weak soprano section, the choir falling behind the piano once or twice, etc. But this was a high school choir in a small town! Overall, it was well sung by the choir, who could manage this arrangement, the audience was familiar and comfortable with the song, and it was pretty hard to argue with the message and the feeling that the song delivered.

As they ended and quiet descended on the auditorium, there was hushed silence from the audience, and then slowly smiles started to appear on the faces of the singers in the choir. They were satisfied with their performance, and happy with the job they'd done. The audience burst out in raucous applause, and Susan turned waving her arms to quiet them down.

"I think I can tell by your applause that you enjoyed the concert, and we are so glad. I speak for the choir, that they're thrilled you liked the performance, and we hope you carry home with you the spirit of the songs to make for a spiritual and enjoyable Christmas season. Enjoy your Christmas vacation, and Merry Christmas everyone."

As we were leaving the auditorium, I saw Ellen, who had been sitting behind us, and waved at her. We chatted for a couple of minutes and I asked if she and Susan would like to drop by the parsonage for a glass of Christmas spirit on their way home. She smiled brightly and said she was sure they would, but it would be a little while for Susan to get organized and close up the choir for the quarter.

"Not a worry. You get there when you get there. Lois, do you need a ride home?"

She shook her head, "No, my folks aren't here, but I'm doing some shopping with friends and then I'll be over later when Gary gets home from college."

I gave her a smile and told Ellen I'd see her later and went to find Jackson. He was coming out of the choir room with Will, both of them obviously happy as clams.

Will said he had to get home, and I heard him tell Jackson he'd see him the next day, and then we headed home. I quizzed him in the car, and he felt that the choir had done well, as well as could be expected given the mix of talent, and they were all pleased with Susan's selection.

"And how do you feel about your personal performance?"

"I'm satisfied. Only two of the songs took any real effort, Panis Angelicus and the Hallelujah Chorus, and my tenor parts there weren't hard. It just required focus. Will and I can pretty well track each other, and it helps that we sing together outside choir, it makes it easier for things like this."

"You noticed everyone was happy and pumped, right?"

"Yeah, that was cool. It was neat that our first public performance was good, the audience liked it, and that there were songs they could sing along with. That's something I never thought about much before, but audience participation is a neat thing."

Dinner was going to be a simple affair, but I'd gotten a bottle of Champagne hoping Susan and Ellen could come by, and I put that in a bucket with some ice. Jackson changed into 501's and a flannel shirt, and looked quite charming as he opened the front door to let the ladies in. They were elated with the Champagne, and we had a pleasant conversation about the choir concert, how the performance went, and the interesting mix of pieces chosen. Lois and Gary came in and joined us, and the conversation continued till Susan and Ellen departed, and I turned to dinner.

When Gary took Lois home, I asked Jackson what he was doing for Gary for Christmas and what he thought I should do. He said he was figuring it out with Will the next day, but said with the classes Gary had coming up I probably couldn't go wrong getting him a professional pair of hand pruning shears. And Lois? He had a good suggestion there too.

Saturday after breakfast Gary took off to "do some Christmas stuff" with Lois, and Jackson disappeared with Will. I headed out to do some myself and found a really good quality pair of hand pruning shears with a leather holster at a nursery supply shop. I'd almost gotten out the door of the store before I saw the book display rack and stopped and went over to look. They had a wide selection of titles, but the one that jumped out was a British book on growing and arranging cut flowers. That could be right up Lois' alley. I also picked up a nice bottle of Champagne to take by for Susan and Ellen, given their enjoyment of "the bubbly" the night before.

I was home by lunch time, and to my surprise found Gary and Lois in the living room decorating a small Christmas tree they had purchased. I expressed my surprise and tried to join in but was told it was off limits: they were doing it. I could go make lunch if I wanted to do something…so I did.

When they were done, they came into the kitchen and I served some tomato bisque and grilled cheese sandwiches that turned out to be a hit for the weather. Jackson and Will came along half an hour later, and I repeated the offering for them. They left the living room in fine decorated form, suddenly transforming it from a neutral parsonage to a Christmas home.

Gary and Lois were out on a date that night, and Will had to spend the afternoon with his parents. Jackson and I were alone for the afternoon and evening and decided to catch a movie at Newberg's only movie theatre. We caught the 4:15 show of "A Bridge Too Far," a big World War II production with lots of big stars, about Operation Market Garden. It had lots of action scenes, and while it didn't get great reviews was still entertaining and at times gripping.

We were home for dinner, spent the evening snuggling in the living room reading and listening to music. Jackson just seemed pleased to relax at home after the last couple of weeks. I had my sermon prep done, so it was fine by me.

About 9:30 Jackson winked at me and wiggled his eyebrows. "Are you ready to go up, Rev? You know, for a little quiet and romantic love making?"

I looked at him, trying to appear confused. "You want quiet love making. You who, as I remember it, wanted me to impale you last time?"

He grinned and leaned over and delicately kissed my lips, forcing them open with his tongue. After a minute of our tongues doing their dance, he said, "Yes, my Sexy Man, nice and quiet and sensual. I think that's the vibe for tonight. What do you think?"

I smiled and nodded.

He was right!

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Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead