We Could Be Heroes

by Bensiamin

Chapter 10

It was another one of those pin drop moments, except this one came with stomach wrenching anguish because I realized instantly how much could be on the line for Jackson. If I never saw JC again, I could get along fine. Jackson, on the other hand, had only recently discovered and met his father, and had built up huge hopes. JC was ex-military like his Dad who had been career Army. Now he wanted to know if we were gay. If he turned out to be as anti-gay as most military people, notwithstanding his veneer of accepting civility, then this could crush Jackson.

Jackson and I were silent, and I quickly glanced at him. He had looked my way too. I could see a small smile on his lips and the glint was in his eyes. He was going to meet this challenge. He wasn't going to hide even if it put this budding relationship with his father on the line. I smiled back and nodded slightly.

The silence continued. Jackson was not rushing an answer. To his credit, JC gave us the space to process what he'd just asked, and sat quietly, his expression friendly but blank.

Finally, Jackson said, "Dad," and JC turned to look at him, "I'm gay."

JC smiled at him and said, "Thank you for telling me."

Then he turned to me, not saying a word.

"JC, I'm gay too, and I'm in love with your son. We plan on making a life together. You're an astute person and I'm pretty certain that you've already figured most, if not all, of this out for yourself."

He smiled again. "Thanks for your honesty. I appreciate the candor you both show and your willingness to call it as it is and not try to hide anything. I didn't ask you that question to put you on the spot or embarrass you. I asked you that question that way, because there's no point in us beating around the bush. Like most Vietnam vets I almost never talk about the war, and I almost never talk about Jon. I've answered your questions, Jackson, because you deserve to know. You are right about how similar Jon and I were, but there was one area where we weren't alike at all. I'm talking to both of you now because one way or another, we're all family here now. Jon was gay. He was among the toughest guys I ever knew, but he was gay. I'm straight, and that's where we were different. I didn't care. He was my twin brother. He didn't care that I was straight for the same reason."

"For the record, you don't have to hide any of this from me, and now you know why. I could tell you two were closer than two peas in a pod when you invited me to dinner at your house, and you know what? It was good. It was all good. By that I mean what you have together is so obviously positive and healthy that there's no disputing it. I think that's the case for Gary and Lois too. Jon never found that person he always dreamed would come into his life. He hoped after the war when he got out that he would, but it never happened."

He was quiet again, like he was collecting his thoughts. He began by looking at Jackson and said, "By the way, calling him 'Rev' was the first hint."

Then he winked, and grinned. "Your uncle would be proud and happy." Jackson grinned back at him, then blushed a little.

JC went on. "So, here's what I want you two to understand. I know you're in a relationship and it sure looks like you're in love, and I admire that and am even jealous, truth be known. I want to be as much of a father to Jackson as I can from here on out. I enlisted young, and I'm going on thirty-six, so if I'm lucky, I've got some years ahead of me." He looked at Jackson and said, "I know you're emancipated and eighteen and essentially your own man now, but I want to be as good a Dad as I can be. I know I've got a lot to learn and make up for, but I'm willing to do it."

He looked over to me, "With you being a pastor and all, I'm guessing you two are going to have some rough air ahead of you, and I want you to know I'll do whatever I can to help smooth it out."

He paused a few seconds and Jackson and I looked at each other and then back at him. The relief was palpable, the apparent confrontation had never come to pass, but we were not really quite sure what to say next. We didn't have to worry.

"David, is there any good reason you have to go back to Newberg tomorrow? I know you have to be back on Saturday because you've got a church service on Sunday, but convince me why you can't stay here a couple more days. We've got a family to put together, and I'm making the case that's more important than most anything else I can think of right now!"

The relief swept over us both and was visible on our faces as they broke into grins. Jackson got up and walked over to JC and said, "After that, I need a hug!" And he got one, and long and loving one. And then he walked over to me and said, "And I need one from you too!" And he got that one as well. Then he pulled me over to the couch and made me sit next to him.

"There's no reason I can't stay till Saturday. I've got nothing pressing. I'll need to call our church organist, so she knows, and I want to talk to Gary to let him know because he's there by himself, and the lady on the Parsonage Committee so she knows Gary is there alone for three nights. I can call them in the morning. What do you have in mind?

He looked at both of us and said, "I don't have anything formal in mind. I just know these are the last days of the Christmas break and Jackson has to be back in school next week. We're here, we're together, we'll stay in touch but may not see each other for a while. I can have my schedule shifted around to take the next couple of days off. I just think we should make the most of it. We can do whatever you want. See some sights. I'm pretty sure most of the Christmas market is still in place downtown. There's the Beneath the Streets thing, the old underground city. A long ferry ride to see Puget Sound. The Space Needle. What do you guys want to do?"

Jackson wasted no time. "I want to go up the Space Needle. David did when he came up with his parents a few months ago. And seeing downtown would be cool too if it's all still decorated. I want to do one special thing if we can while we're here."

JC looked at him and raised his eyebrows. "I need to buy a bracelet like this for my friend Will." He raised his right arm and slid up his cuff to show JC the Lovebirds bracelet.

JC smiled and said, "I noticed that bracelet, and it's very attractive. What's the story behind it?"

Jackson filled him in on how I gave it to him for his birthday and what the symbolism meant. "I got hassled by one of the school bullies about being a fairy for wearing a bracelet, and Will said he'd wear one too, to take the pressure off. That's why I've got to buy one for him while I'm up here. It's really cool of him to do, but the important thing is that David gave me this Lovebirds bracelet."

JC grinned. "I was right, two peas in a pod. That was very romantic and thoughtful."

"I was lucky," I said, "I didn't know about it when we came up here, but we stumbled on Mayer Jewelry store downtown and the owner described it to me, and it seemed like the perfect thing for him. We've still got to be careful, like you said and likely will face some rough air, but that's a sign of affection that most people wouldn't think too much about. Like a name bracelet. Remember when those were the rage in the sixties?"

"Well, it's agreed then. You'll stay till Saturday. You don't need to sleep in separate bedrooms either, you do what you want. By the way, Jackson, the way you answered my question about being gay is the same way Jon would have."

"What do you mean?"

"First, you didn't panic. I didn't see an iota of panic. That tells me you're grounded in who you are. Second, you did some quick thinking, weighing the costs and benefits and the implications. I saw the glint in your eye. That's what I meant about the same as Jon. When he came to a decision it was one hundred percent, and you could see it in his eyes. Then you checked with your boyfriend to make sure you were both on the same page. That all happened in a few seconds. Then you turned it around by waiting, making me wait and wonder what was going on in your head. Then you told me. That's the way Jon was."

Jackson was quiet for a few seconds, then asked, "Does that mean that's the way you are too? It seems like it must."

"Pretty much, that's probably part of why I ended up a pilot—you have to be able to process fast and make the right decisions quickly based on all the available info you've got. Probably why Jon ended up a platoon Sergeant at such a young age too. You're pretty mature for being a high school senior."

Jackson smiled and said, "I've grown up a lot in the last six months."

JC looked my way, and I realized as he did, that I was holding Jackson's hand. "A lot of it thanks to you, I assume," he said.

"Well, I was involved, but just think what happened in Jackson and Gary's lives in the last six months. They could either deal with it and cope and grow or not. They chose to cope and grow."

"To their credit," he replied, smiling.

"And for Jackson, he now learns he has a father he didn't know about, as well as an aunt and a grandfather. Does your Dad live in the area?"

"Yes, my Mom died a few years ago, and Dad lives alone down in Lakewood. That puts him close to a lot of other retired Army friends and acquaintances from Fort Lewis, which means he's in a community. He fought in World War II and Korea, and now his health is failing, but he's still in good enough shape to live alone. He's fiercely independent and won't give that up till he's forced to."

"How did he handle Jon's death? Did he know he was gay?"

"Not well. I mean he sucked it up and was the model stiff upper lip guy. It crushed my Mom. She knew about Jon, Dad didn't. I mean Moms can figure some things out that distant and busy Dads have trouble realizing. Our sister knew too, she figured it out. I knew because we talked about it, and how hard it was for him because back then there was very little tolerance for being gay, and it was even worse in a military environment, so he had to deny it and hide it, and that's probably why he never ended up having a healthy and loving long term relationship. I don't know what would have happened if he'd survived the war. I'm guessing he would have moved somewhere where he could be himself. I watched him struggle with being two people, not being able to be who he really was and wanted to be, and that's why I said what I did about being happy for both of you."

"Well, it ain't perfect. I'm not out at school," Jackson said, "cause it's a conservative town. Did you know about the Quaker college and that the town was dry until a few years ago? There's bullying at school, I've just been lucky so far because even though I've known for sure I was gay for years, it's only the last year that I've done anything about it. I guess Bud's keeping Gary and me on short leashes, meaning we didn't have hardly any friends or do anything other than go to school, meant it protected us from other people finding out."

It was getting late and shortly after that the conversation dwindled and we decided to go to bed and defer making decisions about tomorrow over breakfast. I grabbed my bag and carried it the room Jackson was in as it was further down the hall from JC's. When we got there, we didn't say a word, just looked at each other and took each other in an embrace of thankfulness. We hugged and kissed quietly for a few minutes and then one of us suggested we get ready for bed and continue it in bed. And we did, just lying together in this new environment, holding and caring for each other, thankful for our relationship and coming down from the emotion we'd just gone through.

I was on the phone making my calls after breakfast, sitting in JC's family room. Susan appreciated the call and assured me she had the service hymns selected and that the choir knew them well. I told her I was going to call the parsonage committee chair and then Gary. We talked about his being alone in the house, and she said she'd call the parsonage committee, and then call him later today or the next day as well. We rang off with a "See you Sunday, and I called Gary. He answered the phone neutrally, and after saying hello I asked if I'd woken him from sleeping in. He laughed at that.

"No, I get up the usual time! I'm doing some reading for next quarter because I'm working at the bike shop in the afternoons today and tomorrow and Saturday. They called because they've got a load of work assembling new bikes that were Christmas presents and stuff like that."

I told him about the change of plans and staying over with JC till Saturday. "Are you Okay being there alone," I asked.

He paused, then said, "Yeah, it's only three days but it's Okay because I'm working, and Lois and I are doing something each night. She's was here and cooked supper last night. Her parents invited me over on Friday. She's really helping me out, and I think she's trying to take care of me with you and Jackson gone."

"Is that a good thing for you?"

"Well, yeah! I mean I'm not the tough bully anymore, you know. I know I'd be lonely if she wasn't here a lot, and it's really cool that she cares enough to do it."

"You've got a good thing between you both."

"Yeah. And David, I told her last night like you told me I had to. I mean about the sexual abuse and my hang ups and stuff."

"And how did that go?"

"Well, I was embarrassed as shit, you know, the macho guy stuff. But you were right. She understood, and she said she that it wouldn't come between us and that it would just take time, but we could work it out. That what happened to me then was then, and what's going on between us now is now, and they're separate. I couldn't believe it. I mean, I know you told me it would probably go down like that, but I still couldn't believe it. I was crying, I just lost it."

"You know what? That's a healthy thing. You not only showed Lois you trusted her with some tough info, you showed her you are a real person with real feelings and not too embarrassed to share them with her. That's all healthy."

He paused for a few seconds. "Healthy. That's a good way to put it. I haven't been healthy for a long time, I think."

I told him what JC had said he had observed about their relationship. "That's cool too. Tell him I appreciate him sharing it, Okay. Anyway, I'll be fine. Plenty to do to fill the time till you guys are back, and thanks for calling. I miss you guys being around, so the call is really great."

We rang off and I thought to myself, "Wow! That's progress, he's expressing human emotions and letting a few people know he's vulnerable!" I'd heard voices in the driveway while I was on the phone, and walked out to find JC and Jackson in his driveway, talking over a low fence to a man that looked to be in his early forties and a teen age boy, certainly his son.

When I walked up JC introduced me to his neighbor Richard and his son Evan. "This is David Ayers, the pastor of Jackson's church. He drove him up from Oregon, so I'd have a few days with my newfound son!" We all exchanged the pleasantries, and then Evan looked at Jackson and said, "So do you want to come along with us? We've got to get going if we're going to pick up the furniture and get it to the dorm this morning."

Jackson looked at me and said, "Evan's a freshman at University of Washington. He lives in one of the dorms and he and his Dad are getting some furniture this morning for his dorm room. I told him I'd be going to college next year and he asked if I wanted to ride along to see the campus?"

I smiled. "Sound like a great idea to me. You've only seen a few, and I doubt one as big as UW, so yeah, you should do it!" I looked at JC. "Will we have time to do the Space Needle this afternoon when they get back?

"For sure. It's south of the Queen Anne area and the south end of Lake Union, so not a long drive, and we'll have plenty of time for that and probably drop down to Pike Place Market too. You guys get going. Richard, thanks for the offer. Seeing the campus will be great and making a friend close to his age is a good thing too."

Jackson smiled and headed across to their driveway and we watched them drive away.

"Did the calls go well? You ready for another cup of coffee?"

As we walked back in the kitchen, I told him they had, and shared a little about Gary becoming more human and vulnerable, but that I was still worried about him being alone in the house.

"How bad was the family situation really?"

He handed me a cup of coffee and we sat at the kitchen table. "On the control dynamic with Bud you have to understand that I only saw a few days of it before he was arrested. But CPS was involved over two years ago for physical child abuse, so this was the second time. There was plenty of physical abuse, as in whippings and hitting, and I think Gary got more than Jackson. There was also a lot of mental and verbal abuse, and it just kind of shut both kids down. Gary was also sexually abused and he's only just starting open up about that. As an example of where it was, I couldn't believe it the first time Jackson showed me his room and we got talking and he played me some of his favorite music, and the two main songs were Love Hurts, and Please Don't Judas Me ."

JC looked at me with a look that mixed blank with shocked.

"The meaning of the first one is obvious, the second is basically a plea not to betray someone again! There was the fort you saw, as a place to escape to, and he told me he thought about suicide a couple of times. So, it was a mess. Lilly had gotten to the point that she was mainly an enabler. Compliant to Bud's control and that meant she was reinforcing Bud's actions. That's why deep down I think both boys are highly conflicted about their mother and that it'll take a while for them to sort it out!"

"Do you think there's hope? What you're describing I couldn't have imagined happening, and I hate to think what I might have done had I been in touch with Jackson and known about it. What Bud was doing was criminal and inhuman."

"Sure was, and I'm hopeful because both of them are in relationships now. I'm not trying to pat myself on the back about my part, but I was impressed with your assessment of Lois and Gary's relationship. Some major and positive things happened this week, and I think their relationship is solid and that they're made for each other. More importantly they're helping each other. The funny thing is that Jackson pulled Lois into the Church Harvest Fair committee, and then Gary invited himself along to the last meeting and realized they hadn't figured out how to build that dunking booth, so he volunteered and she said she'd help him…and the rest is history. I can see both boys getting beyond the social shut down that Bud imposed. That's why I conned Jackson into being a camp counselor and that led to the Harvest Fair, and Gary now has a good relationship developing with one of his professors at the community college. So, yes, there's hope. In fact, there's not only hope, there's already progress."

We were quiet for a couple of minutes, reflecting on what we'd said.

JC was holding his coffee cup in both hands, below his chin like some guys do, when he started talking again, and it echoed out of his cup till he put it down. "David, I want to thank you. You know the guilt I'm dealing with, and that's over his whole life, but it seems like it was the worst in the last couple of years, and you were there recently when I wasn't. I'll never forget that."

I smiled and said nothing.

"However, I do want to ask you something," he went on, "that I'm struggling to understand. You're a minister, a Yale and seminary graduate, and you got into a relationship with an underage boy. How did that happen? I mean, didn't the ethical or legal problems set off all kinds of alarm bells for you? I can see Jackson is intense and pushy on something he cares about or wants. But you were the adult in the equation, you were his Pastor, for Christ's sake. How did that happen?"

I had two immediate thoughts. The first was the standard intellectual justification, the second was just be honest. A picture flashed in my mind of the two identity charts that Jackson had completed and shared with me, the total honesty he'd shown as he opened his heart and soul to me. I had to do the same.

"I think it's the difference between intellect and emotion, between head and heart. I may have gone to Yale and seminary. I took all the courses and read the books. So theoretically and intellectually I know about those things and about the power adults have over youth—I had a living example in Bud exercising it over the boys. And, yes, I thought a lot about the underage part. But that's not what you're asking. You're asking for a real, personal answer to your question about how and why it happened."

I looked directly at him, staring into those hazel eyes that seemed to be mirror images of Jackson's. He nodded.

I could feel tears forming in my eyes. "It's because I've never loved anyone before. I don't mean love like your parents and family. I mean real deep love between two people, the kind of love that completes you. And I've never been loved like that either. I've told Jackson that until I met him, I lived most of my life on emotional auto pilot. So, when it happened, I was swept away. It was like Alice going down the rabbit hole, there was no stopping it. You can pick your analogy if you don't like Lewis Carrol, but it was emotional and total. I swore to Gary at one point that I'd never do anything to hurt his brother, and I'll swear the same thing to you. I know none of this would hold up in a court, and if we'd been found out I'd have been defrocked and gone to jail."

I paused, and JC was looking at me, his eyes were soft, and he was listening. So, I went on.

"I have no doubt that I look like a hypocrite. I can hear the arguments some would make about being ethically compromised and having no personal integrity. I can tell you that I'm not a pedophile, I never thought about young boys before. I never even thought about being gay before! Yes, he was only seventeen when we met, but we talked about it and I wasn't forcing him into anything he didn't want. If anything, he knew what he wanted, and I was emotionally clueless, and he was leading me. I was willing to risk it all not to lose what was the most wonderful and precious thing that's ever happened to me." I was getting really emotional and starting to sob now, trying to honestly answer the question my lover's father had posed.

JC was cool enough to sit in his chair and quietly sip his coffee. Finally, after I'd wiped away the tears he said, "Coming from a military family with all the stuff about hierarchy and following orders and rules and regulations, I don't know if I could have done it. I probably would have gotten so tied up with the questions about what was right and what was wrong that I would have destroyed it. Following your heart can be hard. I can't tell you how much it makes my heart sing and ache at the same time to hear you describe it as the most wonderful and precious thing that's happened to you, because what you're describing involves my son. On top of that is what I told you about Jon. This is the kind of relationship Jon dearly hoped for that never happened."

We were quiet again which let me get my emotions back together.

"I meant what I said yesterday, JC. We mean to make a life together, and I don't quite know how yet, but I know we can and will do it. I also meant what I just said. I will never hurt him. You have my word on that. But what I want to hear from you is you're Okay with this. I'm not so much asking for your approval. I mean, we're gay and you're straight. Maybe that doesn't matter, but we're talking about your son. He's now over the age of consent, and he's legally emancipated. But that's not what I'm talking about either. You said yesterday we needed to start building a family here, and I agree, but I need to hear you say you're Okay with this, as morally and ethically compromised as it may appear that I've been."

He looked a little shocked. "Of course, I'm Okay with it! I hoped what I've said the first night at your house made that clear. First, let me say for the record on the underage thing, there's a range by state. Washington is sixteen, Nevada is seventeen, Oregon is eighteen. So, from a legal point of view it's not like eighteen is a fixed and magic number. If you guys had lived in Washington instead of Oregon there wouldn't have been a legal question. But there still would have been an appropriate age question."

"That said, I'm his father, and if you need to hear it from me then consider it done. I can see you guys are in love, and I'm more than Okay with it. I support it. I know all too well what kind of turmoil being unfulfilled in love and living a lie did to Jon. Is that good enough?"

I was sobbing again. He reached his hand across the table and took mine and squeezed hard. "We're all going to be fine. Trust me. I've got my son back. He's so lucky he's in a loving relationship. It's almost like I'm going from no sons to two sons, but I'm good with that. Okay?"

Fortunately for me, JC didn't stand up and hug me. If he had I know I would have lost it and turned into a bubbling emotional mess on his kitchen floor.

Jackson and the neighbors were back after lunch, they'd eaten at a drive in, and after thanking them and saying goodbye, he came inside, and we got organized to visit the Space Needle. On the drive there we asked how the visit to the UW campus went.

"Well, it's cool. Like really beautiful with Union Bay right below it, but it's huge. I had no idea. I think it's way too big for me. I'd be in shock or something, coming from a small town. But it was good to see what a big university campus is really like."

I smiled, and JC didn't say anything. He could have taken offense about why Jackson didn't want to go to college in the city he lived in, but he was cool enough to know they were just starting their relationship.

"So, you want to go to a small university or college?" I asked the question to keep the conversation going and try to help JC get a sense of how Jackson was thinking.

"Yeah, not the Quaker college at home, but the hard part is we're together, and I don't want to go off somewhere else. I don't know how we're going to work that out."

"We'll sort it out. Did you tell JC about your grades for last quarter?"

He shook his head and then went on to fill JC in on how well he'd done.

"That's super cool, Jackson. I'm really proud of you. I did Okay in school, but not great. I didn't work hard, and obviously you did to get such good grades."

He smiled. "Well, honestly, I did a lot of it because David made me understand it was my last chance to improve my GPA and have a better chance of getting into a decent college. I told you I'd grown up a lot in the last six months."

JC just nodded, as we were pulling into the Space Needle parking lot. We rode the elevators up to the top, the observation deck with rotating restaurant just below the 650-foot high top. I hadn't really appreciated it when I was here with my parents. It just wasn't a fun time, but now we were having a good time together. It was a clear and cold day, and this time I really appreciated the view that I'd seemed to miss before, of the downtown Seattle skyline, as well as the Olympic and Cascade Mountains.

JC drove us around various parts of Seattle, showing us the sights, and then we drove back to his place to clean up before going out to dinner. He insisted on taking us, and we went to a nice restaurant built over Lake Washington in the Leschi neighborhood. The lighting was soft, and the restaurant was quiet, and the food was terrific, making for a great setting for conversation

After we'd talked about college and finishing high school, life in Newberg, and JC's work flying helicopters, we all felt closer and more bonded. Jackson and I were sitting next to each other on one side of the table, and at one point, JC reached across the table and rested his fingers on the back of Jackson's hand and said, "Can I tell you something personal?"

Jackson nodded, "Sure, you're my Dad and we're getting close."

JC's eyes sparkled, the same way Jackson's do, and he smiled. "I want you to know that David and I had a heart to heart talk today while you were out looking at UW."

I saw Jackson start just a little, but he was cool and kept looking at JC.

"We talked about you two getting together, and I had a lot of questions I needed to resolve in my own head, and David honestly answered them all. I mean honestly answered them, like bared his soul kind of honesty. I know that won't surprise you. He told me you guys don't have any secrets. What I want you to know is what I told him. That I'm more than Okay with you guys being together and I support it. It's because I can see what it is, like being here right now and watching you two sit there, connected and caring about each other. It's also because like I told David, I know all too well what kind of turmoil being unfulfilled in love and living a lie did to Jon."

Jackson didn't immediately answer. He kept looking at JC, hazel eyes looking deeply into that other set of hazel eyes, and I felt him reach his free hand into my lap to take my hand.

"Thanks, Dad. I can't tell you how good that makes me feel. That you accept me and understand. It's so great."

Then he pulled his hand out from under JC's fingers and put his hand on top of JC's and squeezed. JC smiled widely and his eyes sparkled brightly, reflecting the restaurant lights.

Jackson looked at me and asked, "Do we tell him that there's another threesome?"

I grinned, appreciating how quick thinking he was, and JC looked a little quizzical.

"So, Dad, it's like this. David and Gary and I have a guy threesome we call the Three Musketeers. You know, 'One for all and all for one?' Do you remember that from the book?"

JC nodded.

"We're all in it together and take care of each other and look out for each other. It feels like we're in another threesome with you, and that's far out. And by the way, I love being able to call you Dad." He been in control of the conversation up to that point, but then he blushed just a tad.

"Not as much as I love having you call me that. I feel like my life is whole after a lot of years of feeling like it had some big holes in it."

He turned to me, "David, I'm sorry if we're leaving you out."

"Are you kidding me," I said, "You're not. This is your son that you just got reconnected with. I'm glad you think he's pretty cool because I sure do."

I squeezed Jackson's hand that was still in my lap and was also pushing on my cock. I knew he was trying to get me hard and put me on the spot, and I didn't care. JC paid the bill and we headed home.

Friday after a relaxed breakfast we went downtown and walked around so Jackson could see the sights, including the Elliot Bay waterfront, and then we visited Mayer Brothers Jewelers. Jackson was set on getting the bracelet that Will had been unable to order, and made me be part of the decision, whether to buy for Will a bracelet with bear or wolf terminators. We settled on bear because it just looked a little friendlier. JC and I were talking about other stuff and looking at other jewelry while Jackson paid the bill, and then JC said he thought that a good thing to do would be to let Jackson get a sense of Puget Sound.

He wanted to make sure we were up for a bit of driving, and we agreed and off we went. First south to Tacoma, then over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to Gig Harbor and then north to Bremerton where we talked about the Navy submarine base. Then we went on to Kingston where we took the ferry across to Edmunds, putting us back on the mainland at the north end of Metro Seattle. Up to that point it had been two in front and one in the back. We decided that was crap and all jammed in the front seat for the rest of the drive, Jackson sitting between us.

Both Jackson and I were awed with the size of Puget Sound, the amazing marine influence it has on climate and topography, and the overall beauty. JC pointed out that we were only in the south end of the Sound and to the north it stretched to the Salish Sea with the Orcas Islands and the Strait of Juan de Fuca that ran west to the Pacific. We then drove south and across Lake Washington on I-90 ending up at Seward Park at the south end of Lake Washington where we took a long walk on a peninsula jutting out into the lake.

When we got back to JC's home, he suggested a drink and/or a nap, and then we'd think about dinner. He had some steaks in the refrigerator, and all the other ingredients. So, we decided to do the civilized thing. We all took a nap, then we had a drink, then we started on dinner!

The steaks would be easy, as JC was a proven hand on his grill. I started some potatoes, then pulled out a cauliflower to steam and dress with some cheese sauce, and Jackson had the action item on salad. It all came together beautifully, and JC had a terrific bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon to go with the steaks. Poor Jackson, he still hadn't developed a taste for wine, so was sipping sodas, but seemed content.

What JC hadn't planned for was dessert, but there was ice cream in the freezer, so Jackson had a bowl while we finished the bottle of wine. It had settled down to a quiet and pleasant evening after a really good meal following a fine day of bonding and seeing the sights.

Jackson coughed to get our attention, waited for JC, and asked him if he could say something. JC nodded, smiling happily. "I was so stoked with what you said last night about talking to David about us and about accepting and supporting our relationship. I can't tell you how important that is to me. You know I never had a Dad growing up, and it's not your fault, Okay? Don't even go there. That's not what this is about."

He reached over and placed his hand on top of JC's hand. "Okay? No guilt, Okay?"

JC nodded, smiling wistfully at the maturity of this new son, who was now part of his life.

"You said we're building a family here, right? And I'm cool with that. I never fit into my family and now I know why. I thought it was cool for a while to call myself a bastard, but then I figured out that's really not. It's a demeaning term and not cool. But now I've got you, my real Dad back in my life, and I'm not a bastard. I'm a son. A proud son. And I love you, for all the obvious reasons, but also because of who you are. But my life includes David, my other half."

He paused, once again using the quiet for effect, like a good stage actor does. I could imagine him doing the same thing when he would be singing with Will's band.

He reached over with his other arm, placing it over the wrist of his hand that was resting on JC's hand. Then he pulled back the cuff of his flannel shirt to expose his Lovebirds bracelet. "You know what this means, and that David gave me this for my birthday, right?"

JC nodded, his smile widening and his eyes brightening in understanding.

"In a way this bracelet says it all." He paused again. I didn't know where this was going, and I realized that JC didn't either, except it had now moved to focus on our relationship.

Jackson reached into his pants pocket with his free hand and pulled out something that he brought up on the table, but it was hidden in his grip.

He hadn't looked at me, and he was looking JC straight in his eyes, hazel eyes to hazel eyes. "Thanks for what you said to me and to David yesterday. I want to ask you to do something for me. Will you?"

JC nodded. "I don't know what it is, but I'll do just about anything for you."

"I bought this today when we were at Mayer Brothers. It's for David."

He turned over his hand and exposed a Lovebirds bracelet.

"I want you to put it on David's wrist for me. Will you do that?"

JC didn't even pause. "Of course. I'm honored."

The emotional impact of what was happening was starting to hit me, as did the dialogue that had been going on between the two of them. I felt the emotion welling up and knew I wasn't going to be able to control it this time.

JC reached over and picked up the bracelet and turned to me. "David, reach your right arm over here."

I was kind of on autopilot, but did what JC was asking, and he slipped the bracelet on and squeezed it close so that it tightened around my wrist. The emotion was too much to contain then. I looked at him and smiled, feeling the tears in my eyes. I looked at Jackson and he was smiling radiantly, like he'd just conquered Everest or something, and I pretty much lost it at that point. He took my hand, the hand with the bracelet on it, and kissed the back of it. I was crying now, unable to hold the emotion and the feelings back.

Jackson was compassionate, and he watched for a few seconds, his eyes sparkling and smiling widely, and then he said out loud, "I think the tears mean you love me!"

Then he leaned over and kissed me, in front of his father. It wasn't just a peck on the cheek, and it wasn't deeply passionate French kissing either, but it was real and sensuous and long. His fingers were in my hair, and I had a moment of embarrassment that JC was sitting there watching us, and then I said to myself, "The hell with it," and kissed him back.

When we broke, I was still too emotional to say anything. Jackson reached over and took JC's hand again and said, "Just so you have no doubt that I love him like nothing else on earth."

JC simply said, "I have no doubt. You also know that what I just saw between the two of you is what I wish I could have seen between Jon and his other half."

We fell silent for a minute or two, just smiling at each other, Jackson and I holding hands, all of us reveling in the shared feeling of love and family. Eventually we had to break to clear the table and wash the dishes and clean up the kitchen. When we'd finished, JC wisely said, "You know, guys, it's been a long and emotional day. Why don't we call it now and go to bed? Get a good night's sleep? You have the drive back tomorrow."

I smiled and nodded my thanks. Jackson said, "Thanks Dad," and walked over and hugged him tightly. When we were in our room we stripped and climbed into bed together, holding each other, sharing the warmth and feelings that were still emanating between us.

I kissed his ear and whispered, "Thanks for the bracelet. You have no idea what it, and what you did, mean to me."

He kissed me back, and said, not being cheeky at all, "I think I do. You gave one to me, remember. This closes the circle, and it was so cool that JC had no problem being part of it."

I was quiet for a few moments, then said, "You know what you did, symbolically speaking, don't you? You asked him to marry us. It was the equivalent of a minister handing the marriage couple the rings to put on each other's fingers."

"I know. I thought about it for a long time. You do remember that my boyfriend is a minster, don't you? I did it on purpose because I wanted to test the threesome idea we talked about yesterday, and I wanted to know for sure that him saying he was supporting our relationship was for real. And, I wanted him to be a part of it. To be a part of us. He talked about rebuilding a family, and it seemed like the right thing to do to start to create that."

"I love you more than I ever thought possible," I sighed in his ear, pulling him into a tighter embrace.

"If you squeeze me any harder, you're going to break something." He was grinning now, and pulled his face away to look at me, and then swept in for a passionate kiss. I don't know if we made love that night or not. I know it was among the most beautiful nights of my life.

On the way south from Seattle we chatted about the visit, the time together, compared our bracelets, and kept it light. At some point I said to him, "You know, there are a few serious things we're going to have to deal with when we get back home?"


"Yeah, like you've got another week off before school starts. You and Gary are basically living with me at the parsonage. I love it, but it's the church parsonage, so that can't go on forever. We've got to decide what we're going to do. Then it won't be long before you have to apply to colleges, so you need to make a list and we need to do some campus visits and see what you think about the options. My guess is with classes plus choir plus band, you're going to have a busy quarter."

"No doubt!" He seemed nonplussed. "What do you think we should do about the house situation?"

"I don't know Lover Boy. The house belongs to you and Gary now, and you've got a meeting coming up with Spencer to finalize the estate stuff and transfer of assets. One part of common sense says you and Gary live there for now. But I can't stand the idea of us not living together, especially after the last few weeks, even if it is just down the street. I also don't like the idea of you guys living alone, even though you're both mature and responsible."

"No worry, Rev. I can't stand it either. I get it that the house you live in is church property. I think the first question is if the Three Musketeers want to stay together. If so, then then next question is about where. If it won't work in the parsonage, for whatever reason, then I say we all move to our house. I'm betting Gary would vote for that too."

"You're serious about that? You've thought about it too?"

"Well, yeah! I'm not dumb. I want us to live together as much as you do!" He was grinning, the dimples flaring, and I knew he was working me, not put off in the least.

"I don't want the Three Musketeers to break up. My gut tells me that sooner or later Gary and Lois are going to get married. That may happen before or after you go to college, but in the meantime, I love us all being together. I don't want it to end. I've got my Lover Boy and Gary is becoming the brother Michael never was to me."

He was quiet. I didn't say anything either. Finally, I started getting embarrassed. "Is that selfish of me to say?" I asked him.

He reached across the console and took my hand and said, "Selfish isn't even a part of it. We have these relationships between us all, and they're great. We just want to keep it going. If the parsonage thing is a problem, we'll move it to our house. That's all. We can clear out all the old Harris family stuff and start building a new family that's just us plus Lois. I think that would be far out. I bet Gary would too, don't you?"

I nodded my head and didn't say anything.

"Can I say something to you, David, I mean something really deep?"

I nodded my head again.

"What you said a minute ago about having your Lover Boy and Gary becoming the brother you never had is something you've never said before. I think it's fabulous because it's about the three of us building something, but for another reason too. You know what that is?

I shook my head, starting to feel stupid.

"You just told me something about the real you, the deep down, real David. The one who didn't have, but now has, someone who loves him. The one who didn't have, but now has, a brother he's close to."

I was quiet and felt the emotion starting to rise and could feel the sobbing that would be coming soon.

"It's Okay David. We're in this together. Like you were telling me a few months ago, getting in touch with your feelings and needs and emotions is healthy, right?"

He leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. I took his hand and pulled it up to my lips, kissing it repeatedly as the tears in my eyes made it hard to clearly see the lane markers as we drove south on I-5.

We were back home at the parsonage by 4:00 PM, and both Gary and Lois were there. I'd planned on dinner, so we'd stopped at the local grocery store as we came into town. Both were happy for us all to have dinner together, and then they'd go on their date. We had plenty of time, so settled down in the living room with Fleetwood Mac's Rumors playing. We told them about the sights we'd seen, how cool Seattle and the Puget Sound was, and they were interested, but both Gary and Lois wanted a blow by blow on how things went with JC.

Jackson looked at them, with raised eyebrows, implying this was private space. Gary said, "Right, come on, out with it." Lois laughed and said, "Gary told me about the Three Musketeers. You're not going to start withholding information from each other, now are you?"

Jackson grinned back, and walked them through our time with JC, up to and including getting the bracelet for Will. He pulled it out to show them, and they were dutifully impressed. Then he said, "Guess what else?"

He had their attention, and he knew it. They were both sitting next to each other on the couch, and we were in side by side armchairs. Jackson got up and stepped over to sit on the arm of my chair, and I knew where this was going. He reached down and lifted my right arm, taking my hand and said, "Look at this."

He slid the sleeve of my shirt up my arm, and Lois gasped "Wow! That's amazing." Gary was quiet but smiled brightly. "Okay, fill us in," Lois said brightly, "I want all the details."

Jackson told her about buying it at the same time as he bought Will's bracelet, and that neither JC nor I had known, and how that night after dinner he'd brought it out and asked JC to put it on my wrist.

"You did? And he did it?" Lois was an openminded young lady, but even she was voicing surprise. Gary was still silent but smiling.

"Yep, he did. David quizzed me about it later, and I did it that way because I wanted to be sure he supported us like he said he did. And he came through."

He looked at Gary. "How come you're so quiet?"

Gary's smile turned form a smile to a grin. "Because I know you pretty well, Bro. You kinda got him to marry you, didn't you? I mean there isn't a legal way it can happen here yet, and you're emancipated now so he can't make decisions for you, but that was still a pretty amazing move. Does JC know what he did?"

Jackson grinned back. "Yeah, I'm pretty sure. He may not think of it in the same terms, but he's a smart guy, so he knows what he did."

He was still holding my hand and squeezed it. "Don't you think so, David."

I smiled now, "Yeah, he's not religious, so he may not see it in terms of a marriage ceremony, but he knows he was asked by both of us if he approved our relationship, then Jackson asked him to do this, and he's acutely aware of how much like his twin brother Jackson is."

"What's that mean," Lois asked. We told them how JC had commented a couple of times on how Jackson's behavior and problem solving seemed to JC to be just like his brother's had been, and that his twin brother had been gay. "So, he knows full well that there were more reasons than just the obvious behind what Jackson asked him to do."

"And he was cool with it?"

"He was smiling the whole time!"

We fixed dinner after that, and while we were eating Jackson raised the housing question. He told Gary and Lois we'd talked about it on the trip, how he saw it, and that his bet was that Gary would see it the same way as he did. Lois was silent, knowing a decision between the brothers was called for.

Gary had listened closely. "All of us living together since the funeral has been great. I feel like I've got a life for the first time in years. Lois is a huge part of that, but you're right Jackson. I want the Three Musketeers to stay together. If it can't happen here, then we'll go down the street."

He looked at Lois, and she smiled and nodded her head. He asked her what she thought. "I think it's the right thing to do. You know the parsonage could become a problem because you two aren't related to David and because of the relationship that Jackson and David have."

Here she stopped and looked at both of us and smiled again.

"I'm trying to look at it as an outsider, and what I'd think, and I think it can be explained that David moves to your house to take care of you guys since your both "minors" and he's a trustee of the estate and fulfilling Lilly's wishes to take care of her sons, like that. If people accept that, then the risk of the relationship being discovered goes way down."

It was time for me to say something. "Thanks, you all. I love you, and we're building a family here, you know. I agree with all of you, and with Lois' logic. I can still use the parsonage as the church office, but position it as fulfilling my obligations as estate trustee. I think that's a terrific way to do it. I've got to tell you that I don't know what's going to happen over the next six or nine months. I've told Jackson, and now I'll tell you two that I'm struggling with being a minister and living a lie, and it's not getting any easier. On top of that, Jackson will be applying for college soon, and who knows where he'll be living in September. That puts a big question mark ahead of us all down the road. Right now, though, we've got to think about the immediate future, and I think moving a few doors down makes the most sense for all the reasons we've talked about."

Everyone was grinning. Jackson said, "Lois, you have to help us organize an estate sale, so we can remake the house for us and get rid of all the old stuff and memories, Okay?"

She nodded her head. I told them I would talk to Spencer on Monday about it, and kind of test the waters regarding the Session response. "On the practical side, there'll be a decision to make pretty quickly, and that's about bedrooms and who sleeps where. We don't have to answer that tonight, but it'll be one of the first we have to sort out."

It looked like none of them wanted to go there right now, so I just reached out and took one of Jackson's hands and one of Lois' and let her take Gary's hand and he picked up Jackson's. "This is a great family start. It looks to me like we've already outgrown the Three Musketeers, though!"

Before Gary and Lois left on their date I asked if I could say something else, mainly to Lois, but that I thought it was important that Gary and Jackson heard it too. They all nodded but seemed to understand this wasn't kidding around about sleeping arrangements.

"I'm not trying to make too much of this, Lois, but you pretty well know a lot about the relationship that Jackson and I have, and that's based in a big way on no secrets. Gary has become like a brother to me, the brother I didn't have, and we're open about a lot of things and getting more so. The Three Musketeers have talked about a lot of heavy stuff over the past few months, because we all have our problems to work out. Gary told us about the honest conversation he had with you while we were in Seattle, about what happened to him with Bud, and how great and supporting and loving you were about it. So, again, not to make too much out of it, but if I could, I'd give you the Tammy Wynette award right now. Do you know what I mean?"

Lois had been listening intently, a look of concern spreading over her face initially and then slowly changing to understanding as she realized this was praise and acknowledgment. The she slowly started smiling, the hint of a tear in her eye.

"A lot of young ladies might have done something different. But you stood by your man. I can see from the smile that you've heard the song and know what I'm talking about. So, just to be clear, you're practically one of the Three Musketeers, and you're one of my heroes."

Watch the YouTube video of Tammy Wynette singing Sometimes It's Hard To Be A Woman


Both Jackson and Gary were wise enough to listen and not try to jump into the conversation or make a wise remark. It took Lois a minute to get her emotions back under control, and then she walked over and hugged me, and whispered in my ear, "Thanks. I appreciate you saying that so much. It's just how I feel. He didn't deserve any of it. He was just a kid."

I hugged her back. "That's exactly right, and you being able to see that, and say that, is why you're my hero. I love you."

"We better let go now or I'll be crying again, and we'll never get on our date."

I chuckled and let her go. "Gary, aren't you supposed to be escorting this young lady on a date tonight? I've kind of scrambled her emotions, so you need to come to the rescue and take her out of here."

He smiled and quietly walked over, looking like he didn't quite know what to say, and took her hand. They headed for the front door, and after it closed, Jackson looked at me and said, "Holy shit! Where did that come from?"

"It just sprung into my head when I was thinking about Gary telling us about his honest conversation with Lois. I just thought she needed to know now compassionate and magnanimous her response was, not just have us all take it for granted."

"You are too much, Rev. Just too much. I guess she truly passed the initiation test, didn't she?"

I grinned, "She sure did. She doesn't know it, but she may have saved Gary's life when you think about the impact on him if she'd reacted a different way."

"How do you get four people into the Three Musketeers?"

"We'll have to work on that. Time to clean up."

After we cleaned up and washed dishes, we retreated to the living room. I put on the Steve Stills Manassas album, having developed a new appreciation of it since Jackson had used How Far as therapy for me. Jackson cuddled up against me, and I asked him about New Year's Eve, and what usually happened in Newberg.

His answer was short. "Not much. There'll be some people doing some fireworks at midnight, but not much else I know of." I suggested we have a party of our own, inviting Susan and Ellen, Will and a date if he wanted to bring one, Lois with Gary of course. He smiled. "That would be nice. It would be kind of low key, and just our tribe, right?"

He grinned on the use of the word tribe. I smiled back. "Yeah, and we're building our own tribe now, just like we're building our own family. Are you good with this idea?"

"Absolutely. I'll talk to Will tomorrow at church when I give him the bracelet. You can ask Susan and Ellen, unless they're already doing something. Then we'll go from there."

"What are you thinking now, after some time back home, about our time with your Dad?"

"I'm happy. He's cool, and he's sensitive and he cares. He likes you and he support us. What's not to like?"

I smiled back. There was not an argument to be made there. The small talk continued, and then I felt him reach up for my chin and turn my face his way and make me look down at him. "You know how much more I love you now that we're formally both Lovebirds, don't you?"

I grinned back. "You mean there's more love possible than what we already have and share."

"Yeah, it's a never-ending deal. It just gets better and better. At least that's what I believe. So, you do realize that while we were up at JC's we were sleeping together, but we didn't want to be noisy or obnoxious, so we didn't make love, and I'm really horny. Do you know what I've been dreaming about all day?"

"Oh, let me guess? It has something to do with a climax, right?"

He grinned back. "Actually, it has to do with at least two. What I've been dreaming about is that first we go up on your bed and do a sixty-nine, you know, just to release the pent-up energy. Then after we've recovered, we fuck each other to make up for the amount of time we've had to do without."

"You really are horny, aren't you?"

"You have no idea. There was one point on the drive down I almost reached over the console to give you a blow job, but I decided that it wasn't safe on the Interstate!"

I cracked up. "I think your suggested activities are a wonderful way to end the week, and close out the year, so shall we go up?"

Susan had become my worship planning and execution teammate, and I was really relying on her this Sunday, having been out of town for a few days and only spoken to her by phone. She proved her stuff once again, having chosen hymns that perfectly fit the post-Advent season. The Gospel lesson was again in Luke, chapter 2: 16-21, and the timeline is from the birth of Jesus in the manger, where the shepherds arrive, to eight days later when it is time for the circumcision. The passage turned, at least for me, on Luke's observation that "Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."

Obviously, according to the Gospel record, Mary had been told she was to bear this child, then she hears the report of the shepherds, and the language Luke chooses conveys that she was still struggling to fathom the meaning of what was occurring, and we see in later events like the twelve year-old Jesus in the temple, right through to the crucifixion, that Mary struggled with the question of faith. For many, Mary represents Christians who have questions and doubts, and I framed it in my sermon as Mary being a model for those seeking faith or seeking to strengthen their faith in the face of questions and doubts. I hoped that delivered words of encouragement, as I privately continued to wrestle with my own questions and doubts.

I caught up with Susan and Ellen during coffee hour, and Ellen commented that my recent sermons conveyed a candor and openness that let people know I was one of them. I smiled weakly, saying I hoped the message was valuable. Then I changed subjects and gave them a quick overview of our trip to Seattle. They took my extended stay as a positive, and I told them they were right. They were impressed when I described how JC had accepted us and made the case to me that we were building a family and there was no good reason for me to leave before yesterday, and that's what we'd done. I then told them that to really appreciate the implications of that they would have to ask Jackson, and a perfect time to do it would be this evening, if they were free for New Year's Eve.

They looked at each other and I could see a vibe pass between them. Ellen said, "We don't have any formal plans, just maybe this, or maybe that. However, what you just suggested is much more important, so we'll be happy to join you. I presume at the parsonage, and what time, and what shall we bring?"

I smiled happily, and suggested they come about 7:00 PM, we'd have dinner and enjoy the evening, and then see if any or all of us made it to midnight! I told them I was going to make a pretty unknown dish in the US, but one that was common in France, a stuffed and baked pumpkin. They both raised their eyes in interest.

"Jackson is the salad chef, so he'll insist on doing that. Would you like to bring desert?"

They nodded and said there was plenty of time in the afternoon to make an apple pie, and we left it there. I had two bottles of champagne in the refrigerator, so we should we set.

Jackson had left with Will after church as he'd been invited to join the family for lunch. They came by the parsonage about 4:00 PM. Jackson had given Will the bracelet he'd bought for him, and Will happily showed it to me.

I smiled and said, "Your willingness to wear that is a testimony to what real friendship looks and acts like."

He smiled back, acknowledging the compliment, but was all about seeing Jackson's new Mongoose bike, and they immediately went to the garage to check it out. Luckily for them, it wasn't raining.

I was organizing ingredients in the kitchen when Jackson came in. Will was impressed with the bike but had to get home to get cleaned up for his date.

I asked how he liked the bracelet, and Jackson gave the "A-OK" sign. "He liked the bear a lot. Most people won't be able to tell what animals are on the ends of the bracelets anyway, but it's still so cool he wants to do this. He's already got plans with his date to go to a party, so they're going to stop by early, but won't be here for dinner."

I nodded my understanding, and Jackson leant in for a kiss. "Tell me about dinner. What can I do?"

"Susan and Ellen will be here about 7:00, and Gary and Lois will be here before that. There's champagne in the fridge, so we'll probably eat at 7:30 or so. The timing will be easy because it's one big baked dish, and we'll have salad on the side."

"Okay, I'll do the salad. What kind of dressing? Vinaigrette? And what's the baked dish?"

"Vinaigrette would be perfect. That will provide some tartness to compliment the sweetness of the baked dish which is a stuffed and baked pumpkin!"


"Yeah, yeah, you never heard of it. It's a common thing in rural France, in farm country. It starts with sautéed onions and sausage, then that's mixed with chunks of bread. That's what I was getting organized when you came in. That's all mixed with herbs and salt and pepper, and some chopped bacon for extra flavor, and a bunch of grated cheese. Then it's packed into that pumpkin."

I pointed at the large pumpkin on the side of the sink. "It's the wrong kind. In France it would be a Vif Rouge de Provence , a Cinderella pumpkin, but we don't have them here, so I'm using what we've got. We pack the stuffing into it, then pour in some heavy cream and put it in the oven for two hours. My parents spent a vacation one fall in Provence, and that's where they learned about it. So, once prepared and into the oven it's perfect for entertaining because there's no timing pressure. Susan and Ellen are bringing an apple pie, so it's all easy."

He smiled and wrapped his arms around my waist. We swayed together at the kitchen counter, and I closed my eyes, just reveling in the sensation.

"So, Will was impressed with your new bike?"

"Oh yeah, he was impressed. Not that he's worried or anything. He's a better rider and bike handler, but he thought it was a great build up job and was very impressed with Gary's work and that you and Gary did that for me for Christmas!"

"That's cool. You two are getting tight. It's fun to watch."

"Yeah, he's a good guy, and a great friend. I'm going to go clean up, then I'll be back to help you with dinner, Okay?" He kissed the side of my neck and was gone.

I had all the raw ingredients out when he came back down. I smiled as he came in the kitchen. "Since it's New Year's and a celebration, I figured we do a team cooking thing. What do you think? You don't just want to be a salad wench for the rest of your life, do you?"

"Salad wench? I like the sound of that. It doesn't sound too bad!"

"Yeah, well, that's the person in a restaurant that chops lettuce and vegetables. You can only go so far on salad. You've started learning the kitchen basics, so let's do this together."

He grinned and wiggled his eyebrows.

"Okay, to start, you chop a couple of onions. Remember you learned how to do that?"

"Yeah," he said, "but you may need to watch closely so I don't screw it up."

"I can do that!"

I handed him the two onions. "First, cut off the top and root, then peel the skin off."

He did, but did it slowly, and was crying at the end. "There's lesson number one. You do the peeling at arm's length, and as fast as possible to keep the onion fumes out of your eyes."

He might have been irritated, but he was too busy snuffling and wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt. I gave him a few minutes to recover, then made him put the knife down and pulled him in for a hug and a kiss. "Uhmmh! You smell like a great French restaurant. Not sexy, but certainly attractive."

"Right Rev, you didn't tell me about the crying."

"Welcome to the kitchen. Things happen. Better to cry from onions than because you chopped the tip of your finger off…so, always think ahead about where the knife blade is going. Do you remember the next step for chopping onions?"

"Well, yeah, you cut them in half." He paused. "But I'm not sure if it's lengthwise or across the middle."

"Across the middle is the common mistake. Once you do that, it's really difficult to end up with fine chop. That's the cut to make rings. Shall we do onion rings?"

He grinned. "Oh, I see, each cut has a different outcome! No onion rings, since we're doing your recipe. So lengthwise, right, from top to bottom?"

"Yep, then lay them down flat on the cut side."

"Okay, I remember next is to cut them lengthwise in angled slices, right?"

I leaned over his shoulder, holding his hand in mine, lined the four halves up lengthwise, and positioned the knife in his hand against the onion half. "Now you make a series of lengthwise cuts like this…" I made the first cut for him then stopped, and nuzzled in his neck and kissed his ear, sticking my tongue in as far as I could.

"Rev, how can I be safely cutting onions with a sharp knife when you're doing that. What's that called? Driving me to distraction. You know what it makes me want to do, don't you? Stick my tongue into a certain orifice in your body!"

"Orifice! When did you learn about orifices?"

"In health class, dummy. The human body has many offices. There's one in particular that what you did makes me interested in!"

"I love that idea, but I think it would take us away from the cooking. Okay, I'll stand back and you finish the onion chopping. Remember you want to keep the online slices all held together, then rotate them ninety degrees and when you cut across the slices you get fine dice!"

He did and did it well. I handed him a large frying pan. "Okay, some oil in the bottom, then sauté the chopped onions slowly till they're translucent."

He grinned and went to work. When the onions were done, I said, "Now, transfer them to this bowl, and add some more oil to the pan. Then we set this ground sausage in there to sauté."

After he got that going, I handed him a simple potato masher. "This is the best way to break up the sausage and mix it with the oil. Just slowly push it thought the sausage to break it into smaller and smaller pieces. If you're too heavy handed, you'll splash hot oil all over the place."

He delicately handled that task, breaking the sausage down into smaller and smaller pieces. "Do you know the French chef's way to mash a garlic clove?"

He shook his head. "Okay, watch this. It's cool." I peeled a couple of cloves, and then set them on a cutting board and asked him to hand me the knife he'd used on the onion. He did it the right way, holding it blade up and offering me the handle.

"Good man," I said to him, "you're a natural." Then I laid the blade flat over the cloves and leaned on them, smashing them flat. "Now add that to the sausage, and then add the sautéed onions back to the pan."

He was grinning. "Wow, this is fun. It's like science and technique all rolled into one."

"Yep, and at the end you get to eat a great meal. That doesn't happen in Phys-Chem!"

While he was sautéing the sausage to finish, I did a fine dice on some bacon slices and handed them to him. "Now add these and continue sautéing till they're cooked, then we add some herbs and we're almost there."

When the bacon was close to done, I said, "Now, salt and pepper to taste, and that's an acquired art, but you'll figure it out over time. I added both and said, "Finally add this thyme and rosemary, and then let it sauté for another couple of minutes to incorporate the flavors, then set it aside on the back of the stove to cool, with the lid off."

When he was done, he looked up expectantly. "Are you enjoying this," I asked?

"Oh yeah! This is a gas. I'm learning stuff and it's fun. What's next?"

"We prepare the pumpkin!"

I pulled a long paring knife out of the drawer and said, "First thing is opening the top so we can get inside and also have a cap." I made that cut and lifted off the cap, and said, "Now the fun part for you is cleaning out the inside, removing the seeds and membranes."

"That sounds slimy!"

"It is a little, but a lot less slimy than some other things that happen in a kitchen." I handed him a large spoon and watched him clean out the interior of the pumpkins.

"We're almost there. Next, we cut that loaf of sourdough bread into chunks, put it in a bowl and add the sausage mix and toss it all together. Then we grate a bunch of that cheese over there, mix it in and "Voila!" we've got our stuffing."

We giggled and joked our way through that and suddenly we had a stuffed pumpkin.

"Leave room for the cap to go back on!"

Jackson grinned at me. "Okay. Now you're got to explain the chemistry to me. How does this all work?"

"That's easy, once you understand the way the elements work. That's what Doris, our cook, used to tell me. That's a lot like chemistry. So, a lot of the flavor comes from the spicy sausage and the onions and garlic and herbs, that's obvious. Then the bread chunks are a binder that holds it all together with the added help from the cheese—that also adds a flavor component, and then there's the magic component!"

He looked at me questioning. "Magic component?"

"Oh yeah, most dishes have a magic component. Do you remember what it was when we did those chicken breasts with onions and carrots a few weeks ago?"

"I want to say the wine, right?"

"No, the wine added flavor and was a thickener for the sauce when reduced, but the magic component was the sour cream that went in at the end."

He smiled knowingly. "And you said for this there's supposed to be heavy cream. How does that go in?"

Now I grinned. "It goes in now, and it's the ultimate indulgent part." I pulled two pints of cream out of the refrigerator and set them on the counter. This adds liquid so it's not too dry, it also acts as another binder pulling it all together like a kind of glorified pudding, and it adds flavor. It'll take probably a pint and a half. Your just pour it in through the cap opening, and it runs down and through everything and does its magic in the oven."

After the cream, we set the cap back in place, and slipped the pumpkin on a baking sheet into the over to bake.

"We'll check it in an hour and a half. If it's bubbling away in the center, we turn off the heat, pull it out after fifteen minutes, let it rest for fifteen more minutes, and then we're ready to serve."

"This has been cool, but why am I not excited about eating a pumpkin for dinner?"

"Because you are a gauche américaine ! And also, because you haven't tasted it before. You just wait and see what happens when we serve it. Now, I'm going to go get cleaned up. Why don't you organize your salad, and then I'll join you in the salon for some evening music and cuddling!"

He grinned wickedly. "We should have an hour before anyone arrives. I can have a lot of fun in that much time."

As it turned out, not that much fun, because Gary and Lois came home early, and we all spent the time together in the living room listening to music. We played the David Bowie album and then Fleetwood Mac, knowing that when Susan and Ellen arrived, we would switch over to Pavarotti and The Messiah.

They arrived a few minutes early, and we joked about no traffic in Newberg on New Year's Eve! Jackson took their coats and we all settled in the living room. Gary had switched over the music, so the Pavarotti album was starting as we all walked in.

Susan grinned broadly. "Why Gary, I had no idea you had such broad tastes in music!"

He looked like a kid caught pilfering candy. "Come on Miss Albright, you know I don't. David said we had to replace the rock and roll when you ladies arrived, so I cued up Luciano Pava...Pava, how do you pronounce his last name?"

Susan chuckled, "It's Pav-a-row-tee, and thanks for making the change for us. You all are such elegant hosts."

Jackson settled everyone in, and I went to the kitchen and quickly returned with the champagne and some appetizers, and Lois made a run for sodas. Will and his date Linda had arrived, and they settled in too. The conversation was light for a while, and that made it pleasant. Then there was a pause and Ellen looked at Jackson and asked if it would be appropriate to inquire how the time with his father in Seattle went.

Jackson smiled that luminous smile that is his alone, like Helios suddenly entering the room. Ellen said, "It went that well?"

"It was terrific. He's so cool and so understanding. He's got a great house, it was cool staying with him, he's really good on the grill, he showed us around Puget Sound, and he took us down to the jewelry store where I got Will his bracelet.

Both ladies and Linda raised their eyebrows. "I don't think I told you that I got bullied about the Lovebirds bracelet, and Will said he'd wear a bracelet too. You know, strength in numbers. Isn't that cool?"

Will held up his hand and said, "The power of unity over bullies. We're not letting those football jackasses succeed at bullying artists and calling us fairies and stuff."

Susan and Ellen applauded lightly, Susan adding, "That's real friendship, and as a teacher I can say that it's so encouraging to see students take the initiative to try and stop it. Way to go boys!"

The conversation carried on for a while longer, then Will told everyone he and Linda had to get going to the party they'd been invited to, and shortly were gone. I went to pull the pumpkin out of the oven

The conversation carried on as Jackson explained to them the symbolism on the bracelets. As I came back into the living room, I heard Jackson say, "…and, I can say this with us who are here together…Dad accepts David and me being together."

Ellen smiled and her eyes radiated a kind of ethereal joy. Susan broke into a wide grin and clapped her hands together. "That is superb. It's precisely what we were hoping for and also what we were most worried about." She looked at me. "So, all is well?"

"Oh yeah! Wait till Jackson tells you the rest of the story!" I didn't have to look at Jackson, I knew what would come next.

"So anyway, Dad had asked us if we were gay and we told him and then he told us about his twin brother, his identical twin who was gay. He died in Vietnam. We talked about all of that and that's when he said he accepted us because he understood what his brother went through. Then when we went to the store that sells the bracelets, and I bought the one for Will, and I also bought a second one. At dinner that night I brought it out."

He was creating a dramatic moment, knowing it would be appreciated by his music teacher.

Susan looked at him, understanding her student, as if to say, "Go on, take your time, then tell us the rest…"

Jackson got up and walked over next to me and pulled up his sleeve. "You know David gave me this, right?" They nodded.

He sat on the arm of the chair and lifted my arm and pulled back my sleeve and said, "This is the one I got for David."

They gasped, pleasurably, and we all fell silent. Lois was the one who took charge of the pregnant moment. "You should ask him how he arranged for the bracelet to be placed on David's wrist." Her smile alternated between angelic and devilish.

Jackson picked up the commentary and told them about asking JC to put the bracelet on my wrist. Their eyebrows raised, replaced by wide smiles. "You are one lucky young man," Ellen said, "finding your real father and having him accept and endorse your relationship like this. I only wish it could happen to every couple that is in love."

I was struck with the compassion of what she said, thinking about them and their relationship, and looked at Gary and Lois, who were all eyes for each other, and holding hands tightly. Gary looked at me, and I winked at him. He smiled back, his eyes sparkling in a way I hadn't seen before.

When we served dinner, it was a festive and enjoyable experience. None of them, including Susan and Ellen who were good cooks, anticipated the amazing blend of flavors when with a large spoon the stuffed pumpkin was served, placing on everyone's plate a mix of the flavorful stuffing sitting atop the baked pumpkin flesh. It was colorful and flavorful! And it was a great accompaniment to the champagne.

The apple pie was tart, and a delightful accompaniment to the ice cream. None of us made it till midnight. Susan and Ellen wanted to be home at a reasonable hour, Gary took Lois home, and Jackson and I had a glorious and amorous end to a wonderful year!

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