Beyond Salvation

by Mark Peters

Chapter 5

I wasn't sure what time it was, but I had been lying awake for what seemed like hours, unable to sleep. I had been hoping I might have been able to get my rocks off again so that I might have been able to finally go to sleep, but it wasn't to be.

The silence stretched out, interspersed only by the quiet snores coming from the next room.

'JJ… are you awake?' I heard Pete whisper into the darkness a little while later. I froze.

'No,' I replied after a few moments, wondering if he may have heard the muffled noises which I had been making inside my sleeping bag.

'Can I ask you something?' he finally said, once more in a whisper.


To be honest, I was kind of curious by what might be coming, unless of course he was going to freak out about the fact we had both jacked off in the showers this afternoon.

More silence.

'Well?' I prompted.

'Ummm… how long have you… errrrr…'

Still more silence.

'How long have I what? Known I was gay? Been sucking cock… or what?'

He gave a quiet snort. 'All of the above, I suppose.'

I couldn't help but smile into the darkness, while also stifling a giggle. 'Is my little country boy slightly more bent than I thought he might be?' I asked.

'I dunno. Let's just say I'm… what's the word?'


'Yeah. That could be it.'

It was my turn to go quiet as I tried to digest what he might, or might not, be trying to say.

'Well? Are you going to tell me?' he asked, after a short while.

'I think I knew I was different from the time I was small. As for the rest of it, well, as I've already told you, I had tried and failed when I was twelve, but it all really started when I was thirteen,' I finally said to him.

'Really? What happened?'

'Are you sure you want to know about this?'

'Yeah. But only if you want to tell me.'

I thought about it for a second before I continued, not knowing exactly where all this was heading, but still wanting to find out all the same.

'It happened at the shopping mall,' I said. 'There was a hole in the wall in the restroom and I had often seen other guys cocks when I would look through it. I realised then that I liked looking at them. Anyhow, this day when I looked through, I saw this guy wanking himself. He saw me looking and looked back through at me. He saw that I had a hardon and he stuck his finger through the hole and pulled it out a few times. I didn't know what he was doing so he said to me I should put mine through the hole.'

'Holy fuck. Did you?'

'Eventually, yes. He took hold of it at first… are you really sure you want to know all this?'

'Ummm… yeah. I do.'

'Okay then. The next thing I knew I felt something warm and wet… he had started sucking me off, although I wasn't sure exactly what it was that he was doing at first. I tried pulling back, but he wouldn't let me, so I stayed there, and he kept sucking away. After the first bit of a shock I was hooked. It felt… wonderful. And when I blew my load… in his mouth… it was the most amazing feeling I had ever felt.'

'How old was he?'

'I don't know, I didn't get that good a look at his face. Maybe in his teens I think, but hard to say.'

'Have you ever actually done anything with anyone from our class?'

'Apart from trying it on with Dallas you mean? Nah.'

The silence stretched out for a while. I guess we were both deep in thought.

'Did you really mean it when you said being sucked off was wonderful?' he asked a few minutes later.

'Yeah. It is. It's the most amazing feeling. Especially that first time.'

The silence stretched out, but I could hear him breathing, slightly heavier than before.

'What did you mean when you said you weren't exactly virginal?' I asked.

I heard a soft giggle.

'C'mon. Spill!' I demanded.

'I… I fucked one of my second cousins a year or so ago. Or should I say, she fucked me!'


'It was at a family reunion thing. I was sixteen. She was nineteen. We went off for a walk and once we were away from everyone her hands were all over me and she started kissing me. Next thing I know we're both naked in the bushes and I'm on my back with her squatting down on me. Riding me!'

Now it was my turn to say, 'Holy fuck! I never had anything like that happen to me.'

I thought for a second and then, thinking back to when he had asked if the blowjob was wonderful, I decided to chance my arm a little and asked, 'Have you ever been sucked off?'

'Errr… no, I h-haven't,' he stammered.

'Have you ever wanted to try it?'

'Ummmm… maybe. I… I was just wondering what it would be like.'

More silence. Thankfully I could still hear the light snoring coming from next door.

'Are you hard right now?'

'What?' he almost squeaked.

'You heard me.'

'Ummm… yeah, I am. All this talk… you know?'

I wasn't sure if this was right or wrong, but it was now or never, I figured.

'Yeah mate, I know. If you… errr… want to do something about it, why don't you slip down from up there on your top bunk.'

'Are you fucking serious?'

'Mate, I never joke about things like this. It's your call. You already know I'm a fag. I won't think any worse of you if you don't want to, just like I hope you won't think any worse of me for asking.'

There was no sound or sign of any movement from up above, so I figured I might have scared him off, but moments later, in the dim light, I saw his legs swing over the side of the bunk and he dropped quietly to the floor.

My heart skipped a beat as I swung my legs down onto the floor and sat up, directly in front of him.

'Are you sure?' I whispered to him.

'N-no,' he replied. 'But… but I still w-want it.'

I smiled to myself in the darkness and reached out to him, touching him gently on the bare skin of his legs, which caused him to jump. He was wearing only a set of briefs, so I reached up and slipped my fingers under each side and started tugging them down, pulling at them until they were down around his knees and then finally around his ankles. I felt him steady himself by leaning forward slightly on to the edge of his bunk.

'You okay so far?' I asked him.

'Y-yes,' he replied.

'Step out of them,' I ordered him. 'It'll save you from falling over and making a loud bang if you get unbalanced.'

He did as he was told and flicked them away to one side.

I could only see an outline, with just one side of him softly illuminated by the weak light coming in through the window, so I had to largely imagine what he was like. I could only imagine his smooth body, topped with blonde hair and pubes, with perhaps just a hint of a trail from his navel down to his manhood. I could only dream of his firm pecs, from which pert nipples were now protruding.

I reached out and touched him on the inside of each leg, letting my hands ride up his thighs, while blowing gently in the direction of his cock. I saw its shape jump in front of me as the warm air caressed him and at the same time there was a sharp intake of breath.

When my fingers reached his balls, I let them linger over those for a while, as I leant forward and kissed his navel, letting my tongue slip out between my teeth and plunge inside. I wasn't going in for the kill straight up, I wanted him to remember this night as being more than just a quick blow job.

He moaned slightly as I did so, then I started working my way downward, kissing him every inch or so, teasing him with my tongue, until my chin came into contact with his rapidly expanding cock. It didn't appear to be all that long at first, but when I wrapped my hand around it so I could guide it into my mouth I soon found out that what it lacked in length it certainly made up for in circumference.

'Oh, wow,' I whispered into the darkness, 'that thing is thick!'

'Is that something you like?' he asked me.

'Oh, yes, mate. I can't see it, but I just know it's beautiful.'

'Maybe you could see it if we go for an early shower in the morning?'

'Yeah? I think I like that idea.'

Done with talking, I ran my thumb over the tip of it and felt the pre-cum oozing out, then I stuck my tongue out and licked slowly across and around the tip. I felt his body shudder as I did so and heard him moan softly, then opening my mouth I let my lips encircle the head of him for a few moments, before then taking some more of him into my mouth.

He stretched me in a way that I hadn't been stretched in quite a while, but I was truly enjoying this, and I was pretty sure he was too.

Forcing my head down on him a bit further I tightened my lips and then started sliding back and forth, slowly at first, then gradually picking up speed.

'Oh, god,' he moaned. 'I can't believe I'm even doing this, but that feels fantastic!'

I stopped briefly to wet my lips some more with saliva, then started again, working my head up and down, all the while playing with his ball sack with my fingers, tickling them, pulling them, rolling his nuts around in my hand.

Within just a few minutes I felt his body start to tense and realised he was getting close, so I upped the pace a little, really working him hard, faster and faster, until suddenly I felt his cock lurch in my mouth and a wad of hot, salty semen spurted straight down my throat, followed by another, and another, and then still more.

I took all that he had to offer, without once letting go of his cock and letting any of the precious seed escape, and by the time I was finished he was half collapsed forward with his weight leaning heavily on the top bunk, yet he was standing on his tiptoes with his legs trembling like jelly.

I licked him clean while he stood there catching his breath, then stood up and pulled him into a tight embrace.

'You were awesome,' I whispered into his ear, before hugging him again and leaning over and kissing him fully on the lips.

For a moment I thought he was going to pull back from me, but I held him tight and soon he was kissing me back, his tongue just as eager as mine to explore new territory, while his hands slid down my body and wrapped themselves around my own hardness.

Without saying a word to him I reached up with one hand and pulled his mattress from the top bunk, forcing it into the space where my bunk was, so that it was lying on top of mine, then I slowly sat down on my bunk, pulling him down with me as I did so.

The bunks were wider than I had originally thought when we had first found our room, and they certainly appeared to be strong enough, it was just that the thin mattresses made sleeping uncomfortable. I didn't want this night to be spent uncomfortably, for either of us, so I pulled him gently toward me and wrapped my arms around him, holding him tight and never wanting to let him go.

That was how we went to sleep, naked and in each other's arms. When I awoke in the morning I was still holding him close, as the first glimpses of sunlight came streaming in through the window. I continued to lie there, just watching him and holding him. He was lovely, almost angelic, and with his skin being tinted by the golden light of the early morning he appeared to be glowing.

Moving my head slightly I glanced down to get a first look at the cock I had caressed the night before. He was hard once more and looking at it I wasn't to be disappointed. I loved the vein that ran along the top line. I loved the softness of his blonde pubic hairs and the hairs on his legs, now backlit by the morning sunlight.

He must have sensed my slight movement, for when I looked back up at his face his eyes were open, watching me.

'Good morning,' I whispered to him, then leant forward and kissed him on the lips.

'Good morning,' he replied. 'I thought it was all a dream and that when I woke up I would be on the top bunk, alone.'

'Did you sleep well?'

'Eventually,' he replied, with a wicked grin. 'Thank you for last night. It was more than I had ever imagined it could be.'

'Glad to be of service.'

'Do you want to take that shower now, before everyone else stirs?'

'That sounds like just the ticket,' I replied, while letting him go and allowing him to sit up.

He got to his feet then reached his hand out to me, which I took, then he pulled me to my feet.

We both grabbed for our shorts and pulled on t-shirts, then found our towels and toiletry bags, before slipping out of the room and going straight out the end door of the carriage, which was right next to our room, then down the steps, before heading across towards the shower block.

At some stage through the night it must have rained, as the paths and gardens were all wet, with water clinging to leaves or lying in puddles here and there.

There was no one around when we reached the showers, so we took a risk and both slipped into the same cubicle, before turning on the water.

As well as soaping each other up and washing each other, which for some reason seemed like the most natural thing in the world for us to do, I gave him a repeat performance of last night's activities, managing to drag it out a little longer than before and making the enjoyment last, despite the obvious risk.

He took great delight in playing with my nipple rings and the stud through my navel, but when he discovered the studs in my penis he took even greater pleasure in checking those out more closely.

'I knew about these,' he whispered, while fingering the rings and studs in my upper body, 'but I never knew about the others. Don't they hurt?'

'Only when handled incorrectly,' I replied.

At one stage I let my fingers slip between the cheeks of his butt, running along his crack and just tracing over his hole, but he quickly grabbed my hand and pulled it away.

'Let's not go there,' he whispered hoarsely.

I asked him if he wanted to try sucking me, but he wouldn't be in that either, so I figured he was most likely just curious. Of course there wasn't anything wrong with that, but I knew then and there what the limitations of this relationship would be.

I knew also that we could possibly exist like this for a long, long time if we were happy doing that, but knowing some of the bi and curious guys that I've hooked up with over the past few years like I do, I didn't hold out much hope for anything more than what we had last night ever happening in the future.

As we dried each other off I drank in the sight of him, burning it into my brain. He was no longer the boyish, somewhat naive and charming country boy that he had been twenty-four hours earlier. In my eyes he too had almost become a god.

When we headed back towards our room I was grinning to myself, while Pete appeared to be deep in thought. We both knew, I think.

Oh well, you win some, you lose some, I guess.

We met up with Merry over breakfast a little while later, which was served in the dining room. We were already there and enjoying some coffee when she came in, looking as if she hadn't slept a wink.

'What's wrong with you this morning?' Pete teased her as she sat down at the same timber table with rustic looking bench seats that we were sitting on.

'That bloody Kaitlyn… she snores worse than my father!' she moaned as she sat down beside Pete. 'So, how did you guys sleep?'

'Like babies,' I answered, while glancing quickly at Pete and noticing him blush slightly as I did so. I hoped that Merry wouldn't see that.

'That's good then. You'll be nice and fresh for today's exploration of the mine. I'm warning you now though… one, or both of you, will probably have to carry me at some stage of the day!'

'Is that what you call payback?' I asked her.

'You could say that,' she laughed, then noticing our empty plates asked: 'Now, what's for breakfast?'

Pete took her over to the self-service breakfast bar and while she helped herself to cereal, fruit juice and toast he refilled his coffee mug. It looked like it was going to be a long day, so I guess it probably wasn't a bad idea to fill up now.

Judging by the noise level in the dining room, which had started to build up over the past little while, I looked around us and could see that most of our class were already here. Getting up from the table I took my empty plates back over to the counter and joined them at the coffee bar, grabbing a refill for myself before we all then returned to our same seats. It was just then that we noticed Dallas and his mates come in, performing their usual stop at the door so that everyone could admire them, before finally heading to a bench on the opposite side of the room from us.

He looked around the room as he took his seat and our eyes locked for just a second, before I glanced away. I don't know what it was, but for some reason lately he seemed to do that every time he entered a room, almost as if he were seeking me out. It hadn't always been like that of course, as for the most part for the past five or six years I had been largely ignored by him. I had to admit that it was beginning to weird me out just a little bit, but by the same token I couldn't help but always look his way. It was as if I were under his spell.

There had once been a connection between us… once upon a time. Could there still be something there, I wondered?

Moments later Mrs Bird and Mr Spillsbury, along with Hollywood and Miss Petrie, entered the dining room, with Hollywood soon clapping his hands together to get our attention.

'All right people,' he said to as he stood in the middle of the hall, waiting for us to quieten down. 'Can everyone please have some breakfast then we will meet at the buses at nine o'clock to head out to the mine. And please, can you all make sure that you are wearing sensible clothes, footwear and sunscreen for the trip out there. I don't want to have to be the one facing your parents if something happens.'

'Now for today,' Mr Spillsbury added, 'we will be visiting an old gold mine, which will allow you to experience what the miners went through back in the day. There will also be assignments handed out, which will need to be completed and handed back in before we leave for home this afternoon.'

Once the speeches were finished the four of them headed for the breakfast bar and were talking amongst themselves as they selected something to eat and eventually moved toward a vacant table.

Hollywood gave me a nod and said, 'Good morning guys,' as he came past our table, which I returned. He had given me the impression lately that he was keeping an eye on me, but in a good way of course, and he was another one that I put in the category of being one of the good guys, alongside Pete. I was glad that I had them both on my side, although a fat lot of good that would be if I suddenly found myself alone and down a dark alley. And there were quite a few dark alleys around our school, not to mention what might be found down this mine we were heading to.

When Merry had finished her breakfast and Pete and I had finished our coffee top-ups, we all decided to head back to our rooms and get our gear ready for the day, before then meeting back at the bus before nine, which was about forty-five minutes away.

I was aware of eyes watching me as I left the hall. I also heard some laughter, which sounded suspiciously like it was coming from Timmy Baker and his pals, but for the most part I had come to be able to ignore most of that sort of crap these past two weeks. Still, I didn't dare look back at them as the three of us headed out into the morning sunshine.

'Okay then guys, I'll meet you at the buses in half an hour then, all right?' Merry asked us as we stopped by the steps up into our carriage.

'Sure thing,' Pete replied.

We watched her as she walked away from us. Even I had to admit that she was looking good.

'It's okay,' I said to him. 'You should go for it… for her.'

'What?' he asked, sounding slightly shocked.

'You heard me. What? Are you all of a sudden going deaf, or something?'

'I… I… I'm not sure what you mean.'

'Pete, mate,' I said to him, placing a friendly arm around his shoulder. 'How about we go inside, and I'll explain it all to you?'

I wasn't asking him. I was telling him.

He looked at me sideways with a lop-sided grin, but I didn't wait around for him. I jumped up the few steps onto the landing outside the door to our carriage. I looked back at him as I opened the door and went inside and saw him giving one more longing glance in Merry's direction before he finally made the move and followed me. He came into our room a few moments later, looking slightly flushed.

'How do you do it?' he asked me as he sat down next to me on the bunk.

'What's that,' I asked.

'How do you keep your cool? How do you know what people are thinking? How the fuck do you stay sane?'

For the first time in two weeks I really felt like laughing. If only he knew what was really going on in my head?

'Have you ever noticed a duck, just swimming around on the surface, looking all calm and serene? You would think that they wouldn't have a care in the world, wouldn't you?'

'No. I guess not. But what the fuck does that…'

I had put my hand up, to silence him.

'The thing is,' I said. 'They may look nice and calm on the surface, but below the water they are paddling away like crazy, just trying to keep afloat!'


'Well, I'm a little bit like the duck. I might appear to be calm and in control… well, at least some of the time… but for the rest of the time I'm paddling away like the duck, just trying to keep my head above water. Understand?'

'Yeah, I think so.'

'Good. Now, as for you, well, you're a whole different beast.'

'I am?'

'Most definitely. You said yesterday that you were confused,' I began.

He nodded.

'And are you still confused? I mean, after last night you have every right to be, and to be honest I shouldn't have ever even thought about asking you what I asked you.'

'Well, you did, and I said yes, and I'm glad.'

'That's good, mate. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Now let me tell you how it all works, mate,' I began. 'You're a typical hot-blooded, young guy who wants whatever he can get, whenever he can get it, when it comes to sex. Am I right?'

'I guess,' he replied, while nodding slowly.

'You're no different from about ninety-five percent of all the guys that have ever been born. You said you were confused, and so realistically if you've got an itch you need to scratch it. Last night and this morning you managed to scratch that itch and satisfy a curiosity that a lot of guys have. You got to experience how the other half lives. The thing is, you enjoyed it, and chances are you will quite probably enjoy it again at some stage in the future, if not with me, then maybe with someone else, but deep down you know that's not really you. I gave you the opportunity this morning in the showers to go that extra step, but you didn't. You weren't even remotely interested.'

'No, I guess not. So what does that mean?'

'It means that you're not entirely gay. It means that, at best, you're curious, or at a stretch you may even be bi, but at the same time you don't see any harm in having a bit of fun along the way.'

'No, I suppose not.'

'Pete, I knew where you and I stood as soon as you said no to us going any further this morning. We won't ever be serious lovers, and I'm okay with that. From time to time we may still find ourselves in a situation where we might enjoy a bit of mutual fun, and if you're okay with that, then I will be too.'

'How could you possibly have known all that?'

'Trust me, I've met a few guys like you these last few years,' I replied.

'Am I that… errr… transparent?'

'Only to the trained observer. And there aren't too many of those in these here parts. The question is, are you okay with all that? Are we still good?'

He looked up and met my eyes, holding my gaze for quite some time. I could almost see things ticking over in his mind, but then he just smiled.

'Yeah, JJ, we're still good. In fact we're better than ever. I really owe you big time. You've opened my eyes in a way I never thought possible.'

I reached out and hugged him, before planting a quick kiss on his cheek. He quickly drew back then he leant forward again, this time kissing me fully on the lips, long and hard and passionate.

'I'm so glad you feel like that,' I said to him once we had parted. 'Now, if you were smart, you'd go after Merry. I think you two would be good together, and I'm pretty sure she feels the same way about you.'

'Are you sure? Has she said something?'

'No, Pete, I've just seen the way she acts around you. You should go for it.'

'But what about… you? What about… us?'

'Weren't you listening to me just now? Don't worry yourself about all that, we'll cross that bridge if, and when, we get to it,' I reassured him, and meaning every word of it. The thought of crossing that bridge with him once more excited me, although at the time I had no idea just how prophetic those words would prove to be.

Where we were going this morning was a few kilometres away from our campground, so we gathered at the buses at nine o'clock as Hollywood had asked us to. Both buses were already running and warmed up, so it only took a few minutes to load up and head out. Even the rangers came on board the buses with us, so we were feeling quite excited about the morning ahead.

Earlier that day I had looked at the timetable which said we would be spending the morning and through to about two o'clock visiting the mine, before coming back to the camp area, packing our gear and setting off for home by about three thirty.

We were due back at the school by around six that evening, or at least that was the plan.

As the buses pulled away from the camp we found ourselves driving back down through the old town, which by now was quite familiar to us all. When we were clear of the town the buses picked up speed as we climbed the hill, so we sat back and watched the scenery. Before we got to the top of the hill, however, we slowed, then turned down another road, which appeared to be taking us deep into the bushland.

We followed that road for some time, crossing two small bridges over small but fast flowing creeks along the way, then we turned off onto another road, little more than a track this time. The bus drivers seemed to know their way, so I assumed that they had been here before.

Eventually we came to the end of the road, where there appeared to be a turning circle carved out of the bushland that was large enough for the buses to park and turn in. The space was bordered by logs, but beyond those there was only dense bushland in every direction.

After the rain that had fallen through the night, everything around us was damp. There were puddles along the edge of the road and the dirt road was slippery and quite muddy in places.

As we filed out of the buses it looked to me like we were being dropped off in the middle of nowhere, and judging by the expressions on the faces of Merry and Pete and just about everyone else in the group they were thinking the same thing.

'Errr… Teach? Where's this mine we're supposed to be looking at?' someone asked.

Mrs Bird just smiled and said, 'We're almost there.'

'Almost in the middle of nowhere more like it,' someone else remarked, which only earned a short round of laughter from everyone.

'Just follow the ranger, people. He shall lead the way.'

We all turned to look at the National Parks guy who had come with us on the bus. The other ranger was on the second bus.

'It's not too far folks, I promise. Just a short stroll down the hill in fact,' he said, as he set off along the road.

Reluctantly we set off after him, following along like a mob of Brown's Cows according to Mrs Bird. We hadn't gone more than about fifty metres, though, when we caught up with him again, waiting by a post at the side of the road, upon which we noticed a sign which read 'Eureka Track.'

Looking in the direction where the fingerboard was pointing we could see something of a track leading downhill through the thick, wet scrub. Every fifty metres or so there was another post, around the top of which there was a strip of reflector tape, which I guessed would be there as a bit of a guide in case folks started getting lost or something.

'It's a bit of a goat track, but it's not too hard a walk. It's actually downhill all the way,' the ranger said to us.

'Yeah, but that means it's all uphill coming back!' someone said.

'I'm sure you will manage,' he replied.

'So, how far is it really?' one of the girls asked.

'We go down the hill a ways, then we cross a creek. The mine is not far up the other side of the hill from the creek.'

Everyone looked like they didn't quite believe him, but nothing more was said as he led off down the path, brushing aside low hanging branches which flicked water from last night's rain back on to those who were following closely.

The damp bushland gave off a sweet, fresh scent which was quite pleasant; however, the path proved to be steeper than we had first imagined and quite difficult going, and by the time we were halfway down the hill we were already breathing heavily, even though it was actually a downhill trek. It was strewn with rocks and branches and in many places it was barely discernible from the surrounding scrub.

After about half an hour of walking we began to hear the sound of running water, which was something of a relief; then it wasn't long afterwards we came to a large, open, grassed area at the edge of a creek that was flowing brown and murky and quite fast, flushed it seemed by the overnight rain.

All I could tell was that we were well below the spot where we had been panning for gold yesterday. I didn't even think we were on the same river; this one was smaller than the river near the camp area, in fact it really only looked like it was a creek. Having said that, however, it was currently running wide, deep, muddy and very fast.

At one end of the clearing we could see a rather crude bridge that spanned the creek, which was comprised simply of a large log reaching from one side to the other. Attached to the log on either side were some posts and between each post there was a length of rope which, we presumed, was supposed to be the safety rail. The log itself had been milled, with the top edge taken off it, so at least the surface we would be walking on appeared flat, however, the log also sat at quite an angle, with the end touching the far bank sitting several feet higher than the end at which we were standing, making the whole thing look quite treacherous and unstable.

'Are we expected to walk across that?' one of the girls screeched.

'It's perfectly safe,' Mrs Bird said to us all. 'It has been used for years.'

'Yeah, and it bloody looks like it too!' Timmy Baker replied.

'That'll be enough from you, I think, Mr Baker,' Mrs Bird scolded.

'But, Mrs Bird, just look at it!'

'As Mrs Bird has said, it is perfectly safe,' our friendly neighbourhood ranger added. 'Come on, I'll lead the way.'

He set off toward the bridge, but no one seemed keen to follow him.

Suddenly I felt someone push me in the back and say, 'You first, fag. I don't want you following me over there!'

I spun around to see Timmy Baker standing there, leering at me. I felt my right hand clench into a fist, almost involuntarily, but before I could do anything Pete suddenly stepped between us.

'Back off, Baker,' he hissed with some menace, which itself didn't seem to have a great effect, however when Merry stepped up beside Pete that seemed to generate the desired response, as Timmy quickly stepped backward, the grin quickly wiped from his face.

'What's going on up there?' Mrs Bird said from somewhere over Timmy's shoulder.

'Nothing, Mrs B,' Meredith answered, 'Timmy was just trying to push in.'

'What did I tell you, Mr Baker? I think it's about time you pulled your head in! You and your friends back to the end of the line.'

The smug look of satisfaction on Meredith's face was priceless, but that was nothing compared to the look on Timmy's face.

Glancing over his shoulder I saw Dallas standing there as well. Was that the beginnings of a grin he was sporting?

'All right then you lot, time to get moving,' Mrs Bird said to the three of us, while making motions with her hands as if she were trying to shoo us away.

Meredith, standing between Pete and me, linked one arm through each of ours and turned us toward the bridge, where we found Mr Ranger waiting patiently.

'You guys going first then?' he asked.

I felt like saying: 'No, we're just going to stand here and watch everyone else fall into the creek,' but thought better of it.

'Looks like it,' Meredith cheerily replied, letting us go and stepping onto the end of the log.

'Okay, no more than two at a time, so the next one be ready once she is halfway over. Hold onto the ropes on both sides as you go, and watch your step,' he instructed.

Merry started walking across the bridge like she had done it a thousand times before, making it look easy. When she was about halfway across the ranger waved Pete and me forward, so Pete stepped up onto the log and started to make his way across, looking down as he did so, which earned him a reprimand from the ranger: 'Keep your head up. Don't look into the water.'

He did as he was told and when he had reached the halfway mark it was my turn.

'Don't fall in, fag,' I heard Timmy call out from behind me, which earned him yet another rebuke from Mrs Bird. I glanced back over my shoulder in his direction and could see Dallas glaring at him in a way that I hadn't ever seen him do before. I couldn't understand just why he would do that, but still, it gave me some hope that he maybe did have a heart lurking beneath that muscled chest of his.

'Come on, keep going up there,' I heard the ranger say to me, so I turned back around and kept walking. One foot after the other, hand over hand along the rope, that's all I had to do. From behind me I heard someone laugh, but I thought, 'Fuck 'em,' and now, more than ever, I was determined that I wouldn't look back at them.

When I reached the far end of the log Pete and Merry were there ready to grab my arms and help me off it, which I didn't think I would need, but soon found that my legs were jelly when I went to step down.

'Don't worry, it was like that for us too,' Merry said.

I thanked them, then we stepped back away from the log as the next person came over, followed by the next one, then the next one. Pretty soon the entire group had made it across. Even that smart arse Timmy Baker looked as white as a ghost when he stepped down off the log.

'All right then, off we go,' the ranger said to us and pointed toward the trail which started to head off up the hill.

As Merry and Pete and I were closest to it we set off uphill, dodging fallen logs and branches and trying to keep upright on the uneven ground. When I glanced back at the rest of the group after we had gone a little way, I could see them all climbing the hill and seemingly standing head and shoulders above them all, at the tail end of the line, was Dallas. He looked up and our eyes met, but just as quickly he glanced away, looking back down at the ground.

There was nothing there. I had convinced myself of that. No feelings. I was nothing to him.

Turning back around I caught up with Merry and Pete, and a few moments later we came to what looked like a large, level clearing, but we quickly realised that it was much more than that, as scattered about were various implements and relics from a time long ago, and there at the side of the mountain was a gaping hole, from which a narrow set of railway tracks protruded.

'Oh, wow. We're here!' Merry exclaimed.

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