by David Lee

Chapter 3

Life continued to improve for Jackson as January progressed. At a school board meeting early in the month, his petition to finish his public-school education in the system he'd grown up in was granted. It wasn't like his father had moved and was paying taxes somewhere else, so they weren't losing any revenue due to his change of address.

In addition, the board members hoped to see their school win several wrestling trophies during the current season. Crofton had a winning tradition to uphold, and their chances would be greatly diminished if Jackson were forced to leave.

With that settled, he was eligible to wrestle at the district match at Prairie High on Saturday. He was pumped!

After their morning chores were done, Jordan drove him to the school where the event was being held. He didn't have a conflicting swim meet, so he stayed to cheer his friend on.

Laura had given the boys her blessing to be gone all day. She would tend to the needs of the horses in their absence. Someone had to be around to help with the birthing of a foal if it happened that day. If she needed additional assistance, she could call a neighbor who boarded his mount with her. If he wasn't available, she'd spend the money and have Dr. Cunningham come.

Jackson was in top form. He had easily made weight at the official weigh-in the previous day and had done it without starving.

He pinned his opponent in record time. The other guy was favored to win because of his record up to that point. What was particularly sweet for Jackson was that this was the very kid who had sneakily pulled the hair in his pits to distract him in the past. Without being able to count on the illegal trick, since Jackson had shaved it off, the boy's advantage was lost.

Jackson was pretty sure the guy might have stood a chance of winning if he had enough confidence in his abilities so that he didn't have to rely on cheating. It was too bad, because he had real potential. Someday, someone would rat on him and he'd be disqualified.

Crofton's wins in the match were numerous enough for them to take home the trophy. Coach Carlson was proud of his team, and thankful he'd managed to keep his star wrestler.

Jordan was included in the victory celebration at a pizza parlor after the tournament. Some of the team wondered why this stranger was among them because Jackson had never mentioned having a cousin who looked like him. Coach Carlson set them straight, saying he provided Jackson's transportation and they'd have been out of luck without him because he couldn't have left his job early enough to have ridden on the bus. The team appreciated it, and they welcomed Jordan as if he were part of the group.

On the ride home, Jordan reached over to hold Jackson's hand. They didn't talk a lot; they didn't have to. More and more, they seemed to be able to communicate their feelings wordlessly.

Arriving at home, the guys found out that Star hadn't given birth but was close. Laura would set her alarm to check at intervals during the night. Their Sunday was likely to be a busy one, so they'd better get their rest while they could.

Jackson had showered with the rest of the team at the gym before their celebration. Jordan hadn't, so he did it before joining Jackson in their shared bed.

"Wanna see the pix I took of you today on my phone?" Jordan asked.

"Sure. Did I look okay?"

"If 'HOT' means the same thing as 'okay,' then you did!"

Jackson looked at the photos and grinned. Jordan had taken them at angles which showed off his body, particularly his package, to its best advantage. Looking at the outline of his own junk stimulated his libido.

"You could do soft-porn photography," he teased.

"Definitely, when you're my subject. That's a fine piece of meat you're hiding in there."

Both were horny and they knew they wouldn't sleep without relieving the pressure which was building up in their bodies.

"I care about you, Jordan. This isn't just sex," Jackson proclaimed right before kissing his boyfriend on the lips.

"Mmm," Jordan responded.

After that, talking ceased and lustful moaning took its place. Again, they found release through frottage.

The teens were awakened at around 3:00 AM by Laura because she needed help with Star. The mare's water had broken, and she would deliver very soon.

The boys quickly donned their jeans and flannel shirts, not bothering with underwear. They joined Laura in time to help.

Mares tend to be secretive in the time of foaling, but Star seemed to want company. Laura stroked her head while the teens each took hold of one of the baby's forelegs to assist.

The little colt emerged quickly after that, and they all helped clean him up. Fortunately, it was a normal birth, so they didn't need to call the veterinarian.

The experience of witnessing a new life come into the world made Jackson emotional. He didn't hide the tears as he and Jordan embraced in a kind of victory celebration.

Up to this point, Laura hadn't witnessed any overt display of affection between Jackson and her son. Seeing their reaction to the event, Laura thought the boys would be great parents and good veterinarians if they chose that course of study. In addition to being sensitive, they didn't shy away from getting messy when the job called for it.

It was toward the end of January when Jackson receive his personal emancipation proclamation. It didn't take the judge long to hear the case and rule in Jackson's favor. Clint Conover had no objection to his son's independence. The kid was more of a liability than an asset. He was happy to be free of any responsibility.

Laura and Jordan had gone along to support Jackson's claim of being pitched from his home on the worst day of the winter, so far, but their testimony wasn't needed. However, their emotional support meant a lot to him.

"If Mom were alive, I know she'd want me," Jackson sighed. "I'm glad to be free, but I miss having a family."

"You have a family," Laura said, as she put an arm on his shoulder.

Jordan put an arm around his back too. He was careful not to make a greater public display of his feelings toward Jackson. Jackson understood, and was thankful for the gesture.

John Jacobson hadn't emailed his family for a couple of days, and they were beginning to get worried. The attack on the restaurant in Manbij had shaken people in the US who had believed the erroneous claim that ISIS had been totally defeated.

In his email, John told his family that communications had been limited after the bombing to prevent ISIS from hacking into the accounts of military personnel. Most of his peers thought the blackout was more about controlling the information his friends and he might send to the folks back home.

Things weren't over yet, and they shouldn't get their hopes up about seeing him anytime soon. There was still an outside chance he might be home before the end of the year, but that would depend on someone else coming in to replace him.

He also sent greetings to Jackson, welcoming him into the family. It would be difficult to estimate how great it made both boys feel. Jordan had told his father he was growing fond of Jackson. It made the guys feel like John was blessing their budding relationship.

Jackson wrote him a note of thanks, tacked on the bottom of Jordan's response.

Thankfully, conference finals for swimming happened a full week ahead of the wrestling state tournament. It meant that there wouldn't be a conflict. Jordan hoped Jackson could be present to support him, and he could reciprocate. Unfortunately, fate had different plans.

On the day of the swimming meet, Dan Sorenson who boarded his horse with the Jacobson's wanted to go riding in the afternoon. The weather had turned unseasonably warm and he was eager to enjoy it.

Someone would need to be home when he came. Laura didn't give the combination of the padlock to anyone outside the household. It wasn't that she didn't trust Dan; she didn't want to set a precedent that she'd regret later if someone's prize mount got stolen.

Jackson insisted on staying home to take care of it. He knew how much Laura wanted to be there for her son, and he was, after all, the hired man.

Laura was torn. Jackson wasn't just the hired help. In the short time he'd been there, he'd become her son's lover, in some sense of the word. She didn't know what all it entailed, but she knew they were closer than brothers. She had nearly done some insisting of her own.

She was still considering staying home as she drove Jordan to school where he would catch the team bus to Iowa City with the rest of the team.

Jackson was finishing up the chores on his own when he heard a vehicle in the drive. Curious as to whom it might be, since Laura had barely left and Dan wasn't due until much later, he looked out the stable window. A man with a duffle bag exited the taxi and trudged toward the house. Jackson couldn't see his face well but knew this could only be one person.

Rushing to the yard, he intercepted John on his way to the house.

"Welcome home, Sir!" he saluted him.

"Only the men under my command have to greet me like that, Jackson. From you, I expect a hug."

Jackson was happy to provide it. In the back of his mind, he'd worried about how Jordan's father might receive him. All of that concern vanished instantly as he melted into the arms of this loving man.

It had been a long time since Jackson had been embraced by a male other than Jordan. His own father had never been demonstrative, even when Jackson was a little boy. His coach would give shoulder squeezes from the side but rarely full-on hugs. Like many other educators in today's world, Carlson feared being accused of molesting students.

Both John and Jackson had moisture in their eyes as they moved apart.

"Um, have you had breakfast? I was just going to make some so Laura wouldn't have to. I'm not bad at it."

"I'm sure you're an accomplished cook. Jordan thinks you're perfect."

"About that, Sir, are you okay with us, um, being close?"

"Certainly. I want him to be happy. And you, Son, had better stop calling me 'Sir!' You can call me 'Dad' or 'Papa' or 'John' if you like."

"How about 'Papa John' and then you can run that Mexican takeout place in Cedar Rapids."

"I'd be fine with that, and I love your sense of humor. I've always wanted another son."

They were through eating when Laura came in the backdoor mumbling about being held up by a car crash on highway 30.

"Some idiot came roaring though the roundabout and caused a big mess. At least it appears no one was hurt. I hope I didn't get glass in my new tires.

"Oh my God, John, you're home!"

"Either that or I'm an apparition," he joked as he enfolded his mate into his arms.

Jackson busied himself clearing the table. He turned his back on the couple so they wouldn't feel self-conscious over their uninhibited display of affection.

"Jackson, we can stay home this afternoon so you can go to the swim-meet. You can drive Jordan's Jeep. We have a lot of catching up to do."

"Um, I don't think so," Jackson answered. "I appreciate the offer, but I think Jordan's parents should both be there to cheer him on. If you guys want to start, um, 'catching up' without me around, I'll be out bonding with Starboy."

Having said that, he donned his sweatshirt and went out the back door.

An hour later, Laura came out to the stable to find Jackson busily doing bits of maintenance which had been neglected during John's recent deployment. She smiled at how industrious and helpful this novice had turned out to be. Jordan had been correct in his assessment of the boy. She'd initially wondered how much it had been influenced by his obvious crush on Jackson and how much would prove true.

"John's sound asleep," she said. "Thanks for your understanding about us 'catching up.' You're definitely mature enough to live on your own."

"I don't think I could do it without Jordan and you. I couldn't make it alone."

"We all need each other, Jackson. Jordan and I couldn't have held this operation together much longer without help. You've proved to be exactly what we needed."

"But now that Papa John is back…."

"It'll take him awhile to hit his stride. By then, you and Jordan will be at Iowa State. We may be able to function without you then, but we may have to hire additional help when you're gone. So, don't assume you're going to lose your job and your home."

Jackson turned away, trying to hide the tears but Laura sensed them.

"Would it be okay if I hug you," she asked.

He only nodded because he didn't trust his voice.

About an hour after Laura and John drove off to see their son's meet, Mr. Sorenson pulled into the drive. He greeted Jackson cheerily and complimented him on how well-kept his horse appeared.

"We do our best by our four-legged friends," Jackson responded. "Have you met our newest baby?"

Dan hadn't, and he was soon admiring the foul. A part of him wanted to suggest not gelding the youngster, but he felt it wasn't any of his business.

After Dan rode off, Jackson continued to putter. He could have taken the afternoon off, other than to be there for Sorenson's return, but he wanted to do his best for his new family.

At the district swim-meet, Jordan was antsy as he often was before competitions. He wished Jackson were there to ground him, but he respected his boyfriend for his selflessness. Putting Mom ahead of his own wants was truly admirable, and it said a lot about his character.

Looking around the tiers of seats, he finally spotted his mom toward the top row. Beside her was a man in fatigues. Was it possible? He gave a tentative wave in the direction and received a crisp salute from Lieutenant Colonel Jacobson in return.

Suddenly, Jordan's nerves calmed, and he felt a new determination to make his dad proud.

As a result, Jordan swam his best time ever. He not only held up his end, but also made up the split-seconds Evan had lost getting off the block late. It was a sweet victory for him, personally, and for the relay team in general!

Coach Dvorsky had had his eyes focused on his men, but he hadn't missed the voice of his old friend cheering for his son. The minute the boys were out of the water, he motioned for John to make his way down to the pool.

John embraced his still-damp son, lifting him off his feet. After the coach started it, fellow team-members began to applaud and chant, "Welcome home, Lieutenant Colonel John Jacobson. Thank you for your service." The officials tried to quiet the crowd down, to no avail. Almost everyone in the facility stood and joined in clapping. They didn't sit down until John saluted them and asked them to.

"Dad, I gotta go pee!" Jordan announced as he ran to the restroom.

The team from Lisbon High had been rather lackluster before that reunion scene, but they seemed to find new strength after it. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to send them to state. Still, Jordan had reason to be proud. He'd done his best, and no one can take that away from a guy.

Jackson grinned as he looked at the video Laura had sent him. It included the times on the scoreboard and the scene with father and son, poolside. He knew he'd done the right thing by staying home so they could be there.

Jackson was searching in the fridge to figure out what leftovers he might nuke for dinner when he heard Laura's car in the drive. Moments later, the family came in the back door carrying a big container of salad and several pizzas. Soon the celebration began, but not before the boys had held each other tightly for a moment.

"Thanks for what you did," Jordan whispered, trying to hold in his emotions.

Jackson went off his self-imposed diet just a little that night. He didn't want to be a party-pooper, and the pizza was quite fine. Laura had placed whatever wasn't initially put on their plates into the oven at a medium temperature to keep it warm.

After the cleanup was taken care of, they sat around the kitchen table chatting. They were careful not to bring up any subject that might be stressful for John, but of course the boys, especially, wished to know more.

"I've saved the big announcement until last when we could all be together," John said. "I didn't want either of my sons to hear it secondhand.

"My request for retirement from the National Guard has been granted. I'm not at all certain that very many of our troops will be home anytime soon. I'll miss some of them terribly, but I miss my family more and they come first.

"Retiring at my present pay-grade assures us of a good income. On top of that, my old job is waiting for me if I want to return to it. And, we have the stable business which I'd like to expand.

"With that in mind, I've come to a decision about Starboy. I don't think he should be gelded. He has good genes from both sides of his lineage."

"It's not my place to say so, but I'd hate to see him lose his 'nads. He's a fine horse," Jackson said.

"I agree," Jordan spoke up.

"Good! I do value your input. Laura says you're both good judges of horses and men."

Laura stifled a yawn, and said she was headed for bed. John was going to follow her until she indicated that she actually needed to SLEEP.

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