Jay & Miles

by ColumbusGuy

Chapter 60


POV: Mikey, Dirck

"I don't want to go to school today, Jay…"

The words hung in the still morning air as we stood just outside my open garage door. The turquoise and white Pontiac that normally sat there now stood purring in the semi-circular gravel drive, waiting to whisk us off to Monday's classes. My boyfriend looked at me with an uncommonly worried expression on his wide-awake face. Unlike me, he was happy to get up before dawn, while I wanted nothing more than to sleep in. Eleven years of school hadn't changed that about me, but today I was also dealing with worries that had kept me tossing most of the night.

My Dad's blue and white Suburban was parked at the head of the other leg of our drive, with Mom's dark blue Mustang parked in front of our second garage. At our usual pickup time of 6:45 the morning light was beginning to make its appearance, but today my father wasn't getting himself ready to head out for work, and that was what had given me a near sleepless night.

"What's wrong, kæreste?" Jay ran two fingers along my left cheek as his cornflower blue eyes tried to draw answers from the emotions flitting across my face. He could tell at a glance that this was more than my normal morning lethargic state. "You were fine when I dropped you off yesterday afternoon…"

Yesterday had been a lot of fun, even when Dirck had pulled their other truck close to the downstream end of the pond to roust us out of the tent to pack things up and head up to the house for breakfast. His good-natured ribbing as we stumbled around watering the bushes and trying to pull on our shirts would have been funnier if we'd been conscious enough to take part, but my Dane was the only other one of us who was fully awake. A half hour later, he had everything squared away and told us to climb in back since the truck's cab would hold only two people comfortably thanks to the floor-mounted gear shift. Bouncing along the dirt track's rutted length woke us faster than all the activity we'd done up to that point.

Breakfast was another one of Rosalie's memorable meals, though it was just us boys around the table; Dirck had told us as we were packing that they'd eaten already, and if we wanted anything hot, we'd better get our 'butts in gear'. I could taste cinnamon in the pancakes piled on our plates, and the syrup was real maple rather than the imitations most of us were used to from the grocery store. Jay hadn't mentioned anything about making their own, so I assumed it came from one of the local farmer's markets, or maybe Lynd's Fruit Farm on Route 40—they were a major source of fresh fruits, vegetables and juices from their own farms, so it wouldn't surprise me to find them selling syrup too. Grape juice at a dime a cup had been one of my favorites there for as long as I could remember.

"Mikey?" Jay's soft inquiry brought me back to my present worries rather than indulging myself in the happy memories of time shared with my parents as a child. Some I could still recall vividly, while others remained alive only in the black-and-white photos in our family albums, like a trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway when I was maybe seven or eight…though I could see in glorious color the day my Dad made me a little rocking chair when I was five and I sat down on the fresh red paint in my eagerness to try it out. Or the time he helped me learn to ride my big boy new red Schwinn bike with the chrome fenders and white-wall tires…that day the training wheels came off scared me to death, but he'd been there to steady me until I was ready for the push he gave me to pedal on my own.

Now my father was two years shy of turning sixty, so last night could have been nothing, or a premonition of things to come. I didn't want to find out, but some things would happen no matter what we tried to do. Jay hadn't seen this side of my family yet—and I hoped he never would; when it came to their health, my parents were on opposite sides of the coin: my Dad never let sickness get him down or sought out help only when necessary, while my Mom went to the doctor for every little malady real or imagined, and was taking an array of pills every day.

"Talk to me, elskede …"

I took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. Telling Jay would make it more real, and I wasn't sure I was ready for that, but he had to know. Maybe he could help me decide what I should do—go to school and try not to worry, or skip and face the possible consequences? The only times I'd missed school so far had been when I was too sick to go, or it had been cancelled due to snow.

"Dad was a little late coming home yesterday because one of the other crews didn't show up to help inventory a huge store over in Dayton, so it took sixteen hours not counting the two hour drive each way. He ate a little dinner and sat in his recliner to read the paper like usual, then took a little nap. When he tried to stand up, he got a pained look on his face and sank back down using his right hand to rub at his chest…he tried taking some deep breaths, but we could tell it hurt a lot—then he asked Mom to call the emergency squad….Jay, he has never asked for them to come out on his own behalf!"

"Pokkers—what did they say…did they take him to the hospital?"

As worried as I was, I couldn't stop a little smile coming to my lips at Jay's little Danish expletive…I now knew it meant 'Damn,' but the word sounded so funny to my ears that it almost always made me laugh. I had to wonder if he said it then because he knew how I'd react, and wanted to ease my mind a little. It would be just like him, as were his hands now wrapping themselves around my back in a warm embrace.

"I don't remember all the things they said because some of it was medical stuff like blood pressure readings and listening to his heart with a stethoscope…they even used a machine where they had a graph of his heart-beat that they called in…but I think they mentioned something about a minor attack, and urged him to be transported to the hospital.

"When they said that, Mom tried to get him to go, but he decided to wait until later. They'd gone over a lot of questions about how he was feeling, and what symptoms he had before they arrived and now…and he told them about the long work schedule he'd had for the past months and the shift he'd just finished. When they heard that, and did another reading that showed his heart was nearly back to normal, though he still had a little shortness of breath, their supervisor said it could also be stress-related rather than a heart attack, but still wanted him to go in for tests…"

"Why aren't you two off to school," I heard my Dad's voice coming from the door into the utility room by our kitchen. Neither of us had heard the knob turn and the door open, so we didn't know if he'd seen Jay hug me or not. Jay had been holding my hands then, and still held one as we turned to face my father and whatever he might say next.

"Mikey was telling me about last night, and how much he was upset about it…and I'm worried too, Mr. Stevenson."

For most kids, this would have been just words to express polite concern or social manners, but I was pretty sure my parents knew Jay better than that after having eaten dinner with the Beckels on several occasions in the past month or so. They hadn't said much to me about it other than that they were 'good people' and 'seemed nice,' but one thing they did tell me was that they liked the idea of me and Jay becoming friends. I still remembered the night my Dad told me about his best friend growing up, and how he thought Jay would be a fine one for me to have, and to keep that going even after school was finished next year.

Had he seen anything just now that let him know we were more than friends?

I felt Jay give my hand a squeeze as my Dad stepped down into the garage and made his way toward us. He was dressed in a pale blue shirt and grey pants—not his normal supervisor's uniform, hair slicked back and parted on the left as usual. I'd seen him apply Brylcreem almost every day to his hair even on vacations, and couldn't figure out why a lot of older men did that. From the label I knew it contained water, mineral oil and beeswax, and didn't want my hair feeling all greasy right after I'd washed it. Nobody at school used stuff like that, and now that I thought about it, neither did Jay's father.

A large, tanned hand landed on my shoulder, then Jay's, and I felt a soft squeeze. "Boys, I appreciate your concern…but it's not something you need to worry about. I'm feeling a lot better today—but I'm going in to Mount Carmel East to have the tests done that the paramedics mentioned last night. We won't know anything until the results come back, so why fret over the unknown and make yourself feel bad too?"

"But Dad—we could…" I was cut off from saying anything more when I got pulled into a tight hug against my father's broad chest. I wondered if I'd ever catch up to him in height like I nearly had in build. I was almost done growing and still was three inches shorter than his 6'4. Jay ducked with a grin when grabbed for in turn, so he only had his hair vigorously tousled instead.

"No 'buts,' Mikey. You know how this goes—lots of sitting around waiting, then waiting more while the doctor does his job…then even more waiting. And in the end, it's a quick talk saying 'we'll let you know when the results are in,' and 'go home and rest until we call'. You won't be able to be there for the tests themselves, and you know all the magazines in hospitals are ten years old at best and are either ladies' fashions or sports ones. I bet you'd even welcome your old Algebra book over those!"

Jay snorted out a laugh. "He's got you there kær—razy Mikey…" I watched my boyfriend's face turn red as he realized his barely caught slip of the tongue. I hoped like hell my father hadn't noticed or I'd be in a heap of trouble.

I felt a sense of relief as my Dad chuckled and tried to mess up my own hair this time. "I'll be home when you get out of school, so you can call from Jay's for any news rather than waste time coming here first. I'll call the school or Jay's house if I'm going to be later than that."

"What about Mom?"

I almost missed his sigh as we got closer to my car, which was still idling throatily. The question was sheer reflex rather than a genuine thought. As much as I loved her, my Mom and hospitals weren't something I wanted to experience too often. At any other time she could be a boost for your morale, but if sickness was involved, then she gave off vibes of constant worry and would fuss until you wanted to scream or run and hide. Once she knew what was wrong and had an idea of what to do, then she changed back into 'practical' Mom.

"She's going in to work like always—no sense in both of us missing work…and speaking of that—enough of your guff, and get your fannies to school." I watched as he pulled a ten-dollar bill from his pocket and handed it to Jay. "The way that thing sucks down gas, it'll be empty before you get there. Why Mikey couldn't buy one of those little Japanese Matchbox cars I'll never know…."

"I like old cars—all the way back to that green Nash sedan that I broke the wipers on when I was four—and who is it that owns a Suburban now, and a Caprice, an El Camino and a station wagon before that? Oh, and that old Caddy we finally got rid of two years ago, hmm…."

I got a little shove toward the passenger door of my car for that remark, and Jay laughed again as he climbed in behind the steering wheel to head off any further verbal sparring between my Dad and me. As Jay backed up a bit to turn for our departure, I watched my Dad as he stood by the garage before giving us a wave and heading inside.

By the time we got to school, we were ten minutes late and I was back to worrying whether my Dad was really okay, or just trying to cheer me up. I didn't know what I'd do if something went wrong and I lost our new-found connection so soon after getting it back….

"Want to have a picnic out by the pond, skat? I'll be checking the back fences and I could meet you there about noon…" To sweeten the deal I pulled Rosalie into my arms and nuzzled her neck. Over the years we'd been married, and during the courting before that, it was just one of the ways we used to keep our ardor alive.

"Stop that, kæreste …I've got laundry to do first, then I might find something to pack for us after that. Any idea what you want me to fix?" Despite her words, she leaned in for another bout of romancing. Finding time for making out on a farm wasn't easy, but now that the kids were grown and the planting done for the moment, we could pretend we were teenagers again.

I kissed her lips for a few minutes before pulling back. "I could go for a nice, sweet pigeon," I grinned while waggling my eyebrows lecherously.

That got me a swat on my arm, then my butt as I turned for the coffee-maker. Hey!"

"We're fresh out of pigeon—the only spare bird around here right now is a randy old rooster that's only good for the stew pot…"

I wasn't going to let her get away with that one. "You better get that pot going then, because it's gonna take some time for this rooster to soften up, elskede min."

Rather than another swat as I'd expected, Rosalie gave me a big hug and then I jumped when I felt her fingers pinch both my cheeks through my jeans. "Hm, no meat on this at all…nothing but muscle and gristle—still, I'll find something that'll go with it. Now, get out of my kitchen so I can whip up something filling for all your hard work."

I made my way back to the storage shed where I kept a few rolls of barbed wire and put one in the back of the truck, along with wire-pullers and fence staples. I was fairly sure I wouldn't find any broken sections, but you never could tell. The fences by the road were fine as I saw them every day, and so were the ones around the cattle pastures, but it had been early last Fall when I checked the ones around the main crop areas. I didn't bother with a fence along the property line with the woods as that would hinder the deer's movements in and out, and everyone knew where my farm ended and the next one began.

Now that the Kellers were getting on in years, I'd offered to help them with their field work, but John had told me last year that his oldest son and his family would be moving in during the Summer to take over, but I kept an eye on them anyway. They were good neighbors, and we'd watched their kids gradually go off to college or other jobs the first few years we'd lived here, so it would be nice to see younger kids around their place again. From what he told me, Jason had five kids, three boys and two girls ranging from fifteen down to seven years old. I didn't know their names, but we'd sort that out once they moved in after Memorial Day.

I did find some broken strands of wire, and other spots where the staples needed to be replaced. A couple hours' work had those fixed, and I also checked the fields near the fence line for progress. It was too early to see much, but new shoots were springing up in the field corn and sweet corn acres, and the soybeans were just starting to show their first sprouts germinating. The fields of Timothy hay and clover would be ready for first mowing in about a month, and the fallow fields were fast absorbing the crop remnants left over after last Fall's harvesting we'd plowed under to put needed nutrients back into the soil.

A glance at the clock in the truck read 11:30 as I pulled up to the shed and unloaded the fencing supplies again. I hadn't thought I'd be done early, but now I could freshen up and walk back to the pond with Rosalie rather than meet her there. I was hit with the odors of freshly baked bread and fried chicken as I set my boots on the back porch.

"Well, I guess you found a spring chicken after all," I quipped as I pulled my girl into my arms for a quick hug.

"You need a shower, mister…otherwise I'll eat all this by myself." Rosalie put the last pieces of chicken on some paper towels to drain before lifting her head to kiss my cheek. "Make it snappy because you're carrying the hamper, and I'm starving. Oh, and Mikey's father called to see if you had time later this week to work on the truck. He mentioned getting lumber for the new bed and needed measurements."

I stopped on my way up the back stairs. "You sure he said this week and not the weekend? He told me he never has days off except on the weekends….He must have called before going in."

"He definitely said Wednesday, and asked if you could set aside several days for the job. Sounds like he's taking some time off, so try giving him a call before you bathe." She watched as I picked up the receiver from the top of the wall phone and dialed the Stevensons' number. I let it go for seven rings before pushing down the button and trying a second time. Still no answer.

"He must have gone in to work, so I'll try later this evening. Be back down in ten, kæreste."

The walk back to the woods was slow and ambling, neither of us in a hurry with the kids off to school and chores done for now. Rosalie carried an old blanket fur us to sit on while I was weighed down by our wicker picnic hamper that had two straps keeping it closed. The inside of the lid held plastic plates and saucers, along with places for knives, forks and spoons. I was told not to carry it like a suitcase which would have been easier, but by the handles on the two shorter ends. When I asked why, I was told to mind my own business unless I wanted our dessert to be ruined. I hadn't noticed any on the counter, so had no idea what it could be. I hoped it was something other than cookies since those needed no special precautions.

I saw the spot where the tent had been set up, and thought it would be good for our picnic since the grass was still lying flat on the ground, but Rosalie wanted to be closer to the pond's bank. She also passed on the fire-pit the boys had used, so we walked further along the shore to a small copse of beech trees that were in full leaf now. Our parents had told us that beeches were especially loved in Denmark, and we'd been happy to find a few stands of them on the property shortly after moving in.

As Rosalie spread out the blanket, I looked around a bit more, seeing we were on a slight rise and we had a fairly unhindered view to the east. "Kinda reminds me of the spot on your far's place doesn't it?"

"What are you going on about now," I was asked as the picnic hamper began yielding its contents. A plastic tub held the fried chicken, still fairly warm from cooking, and another held green beans, also warm. Instead of the bread I was expecting, there was a lumpy mass of rolls all connected together that smelled of cardamom.

"You made hveder? Aren't you a few days early?" The spicy yeast rolls were a special item we only had as kids on Great Prayer Day, and that was still four days off on Friday. Here in America, you could always get fresh baked goods, but our parents had told us that bakeries closed on the Thursday before the holiday and didn't open until the next Monday. They'd brought that tradition over with them too, as they had many others, but Rosalie and I didn't go to church often, so that particular religious custom had been dropped when it came to our own children.

"You don't want any," she asked, and I quickly pulled the pan closer to my side of the blanket. That got a laugh and a toss of her honey-blonde hair. "You work so hard, and never ask for anything, so I thought you deserved a treat…now what do you mean by this place reminding you of my family's farm?"

I raised my eyebrows in surprise. Rosalie never forgot anything…and I almost blushed thinking about the first time we'd made love in a similar spot the night before we got married. I couldn't prove it, but I think we conceived our first-born Gejr that night.

"…at se Pinsesolen danse…" I prompted.

Now she did blush, and I reached over to brush my fingers lovingly across her reddening cheek. Pinse was another old Danish custom we didn't celebrate now, but with the kids being older, maybe it was time to start it again; we were told that it was a welcoming of Spring's arrival, but tradition moved it to a later date when warmer weather was almost guaranteed. It was a time for dancing and drinking and staying up until dawn to watch the sunrise, but the early Church had given it a religious connection by linking it to Easter and the appearance of Jesus to the Apostles seven weeks after his resurrection.

Rosalie paused in setting things out on the blanket, then continued after giving me a quick smile. I puzzled at the lack of plates, but when I asked about eating the beans all she did was hand me a fork. "Live dangerously—since it's just the two of us, we'll eat them out of the dish." A lack of cups was met with the opening of a small thermos, and when I took a drink, it contained my home-made apple brandy rather than the expected coffee.

As bare chicken bones replaced fleshed ones, we talked about our memories of courting and the first hectic years of marriage. "It's no wonder we got out of the habit of watching the 'sun dance'…three kids in four years was pretty fast," I grinned.

Rosalie snorted. "Somebody had read that kids should be closer together in age to prevent conflicts later as they grew up…"

"Well, it worked for our parents didn't it, and our lot had fewer fights than their friends did." This was an old argument we'd given up on years ago; I thought it was sound reasoning, yet my doubting wife claimed it was due to how we raised them and the examples we set. Either way, we had three well-adjusted and fairly happy children as proof we'd done something right.

We decided to wait a bit on dessert, which I finally found out was a Dutch apple pie. This version had no crust, but was baked in a glass pie pan with a mixture of flour, cinnamon, sugar and butter sprinkled on top. While it cooled more, we talked about our kids and their possible futures. I guess we'll always worry about them, even when they've moved on and begun lives on their own.

"I'm surprised Lene is going to the Prom with Bobby—I thought that was over?"

"Dirck, for all her brains, she's a teenager…I don't know the whole story, but our youngest talked her into going when he asked her last week. I don't know if it'll be a permanent thing or just for this one occasion, but she did confess that he's the only boy she's felt so close to."

"At least the Great Dress Hunt is over," I laughed. "Do you think it'll be finished by Saturday?"

"It should be done before then. The collar is fine, so I measured the length last night and cut off the extra material to make a choker and faux belt tonight, then I'll hem the dress tomorrow and do the final fitting. I just wish I had a Twenties-style hat to go with it….Her hair's short enough I can give it a nice style that will suit the image we want."

I knew better, but I still thought of my Lene as my little girl, and wanted to keep her that way for a few years longer. Rosalie saw my pensive look and smiled. "I'd better call Bobby's mother and let her know what we're doing so she can help him find an outfit too. Your daughter insists that there be no tuxes, so I have to make sure Mrs. Thomas understands.

"Lene would love to see him in a bow tie!" The idea of the gangly red-head in one of those had us both laughing. I sobered a bit, no thanks to the brandy, as I moved the topic to our youngest son.

"What about Jens? I know he and Miles are happy and think they'll last forever, but what do you think…they're only seventeen and neither has had any experience with love, or even dating before now?"

Rosalie shook her head and sighed. "He's the only one I don't worry about; Love struck him like a bolt out of the blue, but he's determined that Miles is his one and only partner. You can see as well as I that the feeling's mutual."

I nodded my head at that. After our heart-to-heart on the back porch a few weeks ago, I knew he felt the same way Jay did. I only had one concern. "Do you think his parents will be okay with their son being gay?"

We both pondered that for some time before I got an answer.

"We've only met them a few times over dinner, and those weren't exactly casual occasions, so I can't say. Henry is older, and probably more set in his ways, but his mother is from a very rural place in the Kentucky hills….Those areas can be very religious from things I've heard."

I nodded again. "Miles says they haven't gone to church in almost six years, and it was a Lutheran church. How fundamentalist can they be?"

"You know as well as I do that no matter what the denomination says, a lot depends on the pastor of that particular congregation…some Lutheran synods support gays, others don't. Miles might not have even thought about that when he was twelve…. I don't know if Jay did, and Jerry always kept things to himself, though he did ask more than a few questions when you had your 'chat' with him."

Now it was my turn to sigh. Gejr Harald, who preferred being called Jerry by his friends, was responsible, kind and honest, and the one I worried about the most. He never gave me any cause, but I couldn't help wondering if I'd put too much on his shoulders when he was growing up. We told him it was his job to be a good older brother to his sister and baby brother, and he'd done that better than we could have hoped…but did we rob him of his chance to be a little boy by doing that? He had his group of friends like every kid does, and he got into trouble once or twice, but he always seemed to keep an eye out for anyone who tried to pick on his siblings. Until Linda and Jay were older, he usually put their interests before his own, yet he seemed to have as much fun as any other boy.

Was that why he'd dated only two times in high school? Once the other kids could help with chores, he'd had more time for himself, and that's when he began riding with his friend Tommy Haskins, even entering as a team on matching Appaloosas in the 4th of July parade several years in a row. I found out it was his idea to rewire my old truck for better starting and brighter headlights. With what we now knew about Jay, I wondered if Jerry and Tommy might have been involved, but Tommy had a string of girlfriends to pick from once he was old enough to drive, and they'd even double-dated for their Senior Prom.

Jerry's letters from his Coast Guard posting on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco Bay gave us some details of his enlistment and training, and some accounts of trips to see the tourist sights like China Town and Fisherman's Wharf, but not much on his social life. Once his initial training was completed, he'd gone on into advanced classes to become a medical corpsman, and he seemed to enjoy that a lot. The city hadn't seemed to change much since I'd passed through it on my way home from Korea some twenty years ago, but I remembered all the distractions a naval town could offer soldiers on leave.

I figured I'd have to get my eldest alone for a private chat when he came back for Linda's Graduation party next month. I knew there were things you couldn't put down in a letter, but his phone calls had been hardly more forthcoming. I found it hard to believe that a twenty-year-old sailor in a wide-open port like San Francisco lived the life of a monk….

I felt a finger flick my left ear, and my eyes focused on the beautiful woman next to me, concern clear in her deep blue eyes. "Where were you off to, kære?"

"Just thinking about our Number One Son," I laughed, paraphrasing a line from an old Charlie Chan movie starring Warner Oland…or was it Sidney Toler? Both had made numerous movies featuring the Chinese Police Detective based on some books from the Thirties, but they both played his part so consistently it was difficult to remember which man did which movie. I'd read all six of the original Earl Derr Biggers books, and seen most of the movies, but I didn't know how many Rosalie had seen.

That got me a less than lady-like snort from my wife. "There's no 'ancient Chinese Secret' to Jerry," she laughed giving me a line from a popular laundry detergent commercial we'd seen a few nights ago. "He'll work at a problem on his own, but if he needs help he'll come to one of us for advice. Remember when he wanted to buy Jay a new bike six years ago? He was just thirteen then, yet he'd worked out a solution before coming to us when he needed our help…if there's anything wrong, he'll let us know."

"I guess you're right, as usual. So I'm worried over nothing, again as usual?"

Rosalie pecked my cheek and began putting containers back in the hamper. Once that was done, she smiled at me and walked over to the pond, swirling her fingers in the clear waters. "Pokkers—still too cold for a swim. Maybe we need a quick rinse after sitting out here in the grass all afternoon…."

The walk back to the house was part jog and lazy stroll, but we were both very aware that our kids and their friends would be home from school in an hour and a half, and our little idyll would be finished. I helped put the leftovers away, then followed my girl upstairs. We undressed one another quickly but lovingly and opted for the shower rather than our antique bath tub.

You can blame it on the Spring, but we had to rush dressing after our water had gotten too cold to stay under any longer. As it was, we were just coming down the back stairs when the sound of multiple car engines came through the open windows above the sink. I heard car doors slam as the phone began to ring, so I picked it up giving my Rosalie one final satisfied grin.

"Hello?...Oh, Henry, I was going to call you later about the truck…The boys just got in from school. Sure, I'll put Mikey on…."

Mikey and Jay had sprinted in from the back porch, not slowing to remove their shoes, both with anxious expressions on their faces…and I saw Mikey wipe at his eyes behind his thick glasses. He grabbed at the receiver and let out a ragged breath.

"Dad? You okay…."

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