by Richard Norway

New Washoe City was a small unincorporated town twenty miles south of Reno. It had a population of only 2,875 people. I remembered the first time I crossed its town limits; I had expected to see horses tied to hitching rails. No, pickups and sedans were parked along paved roadways. I guess I had watched too many western movies when I was younger but even without horses, the town seemed to have a Western feel.

Jason had summoned me here with a frantic phone call that morning. He wasn't just close to tears on his call; he was actually bawling. Extremely upset, he hadn't even given me a clue as to why I was needed here; his had been a fervent plea to come meet him. Finally, he calmed enough to tell me that his brother, Conner, was dead, but he wouldn't or couldn't tell me how or why. All he could do was plead for me to come help him. I sensed a panic in his voice. Jason was my best friend, so there was no way I could turn him down.

Jason's call early on Sunday morning had me anxious throughout my drive from Clayton, California. He had moved to Clayton from New Washoe City when he was seven years old to live with his aunt and uncle. Whatever the reason he'd left his earlier home was, he never explained it.

Jason moved back to New Washoe City after middle-school graduation three years ago, and I visited him there several times, so I was familiar with the layout of the town. He'd told me on the phone to meet him in front of the New Washoe City Clinic. I had a vague idea where it was located. After driving into town, I continued my way down Main Street toward the clinic.

As I drove past an old-time stable, a large group of people milling around the stable caught my attention and curiosity. The stable grounds opened to me as I passed, and I was stunned by what I saw; Jason hanging from a large oak tree with a rope around his neck. He was motionless, just hanging there. I screamed out his name as I threw my car into park, kicked my door open and ran to him. The crowd, silent but restive, watched me.

I grabbed Jason's legs and tried to lift him to slacken the rope, but it was too tight around his neck to make any difference. I screamed for help, but no one stepped forward.

"Please," I pleaded. "Help me cut him down."

A young man, maybe in his early twenties, came around the corner of the stable, looked up and screamed, "Oh, fuck," and started running toward me. He saw what I was trying to do and yelled, "We need a ladder. Hold on, I'll get one." He then turned and headed into the stable barn.

He was back within a minute with a short step ladder. He started up the ladder, pulled out a pocketknife and started cutting the rope. I lifted Jason to help the rope slacken.

Jason's body fell like a sack of potatoes. I knelt beside him and cried uncontrollably. I then looked up at the man and asked him, "What happened here? Who did this?"

He looked down at me for a moment and then turned to face he crowd. His eyes paused at each person for a second, then continued to all those around us.

"They did, every one of them," he said, then looked down at me.

"Who are you?" he asked with a tinge of anger in his voice.

"I was a friend of Jason's."

"Is that's the boy's name?"

"You didn't know him?" I asked.

"No. I just saw him around."

"But why? Why did they do this to him?"

He looked up at the crowd that was finally dispersing then back at me.

"We can talk later. By the way, what's your name?" he asked without the anger from before.

"My name's Paul Lockhart," I said, looking earnestly at him.

"Okay, Paul, help me get him off the street."

"Where to?"

"We'd better take him to Doc Underwood's. He'll know what to do."

He ran outside of the corral, got into his ancient pickup, and drove it to Jason's side. I helped him put Jason's body in the back of the truck. Touching Jason's body this time brought back my tears. The man looked at me and nodded.

"We need to go," he said.

I nodded back to him, and we drove off.

My mind was sizzling with anger over what had happened to Jason. I could not banish the image of him hanging from that tree from my mind. It was haunting to see such a dear friend hanging like that.

I turned to ask him something, but then realized I didn't know his name. He noticed me looking at him.

"In case you're wondering, my name's Conner Taylor. You don't live around here, do you?"

"No. I'm from Clayton, California."

"Never been there," he replied. "Ever been to New Washoe before?

"A few times when I was visiting Jason. This is my first trip alone."

"How old are you anyway?" he asked.

"I'm sixteen."

"I'm twenty-one. Sixteen huh? You must have just gotten your license."

"Couple months ago. This is my first trip outside of California by myself."

We sat quietly until he pulled up next to a rustic building. It had a sign over the front door that read 'New Washoe City Clinic.'

"We're here," he said turning toward me.

I saw that he had been crying.

When we entered the clinic, the receptionist asked us if there was something she could help us with. I stood back to let Conner do the talking.

"We found a young boy hanging from a rope in the stables. We cut him down and brought the body here hoping you would know what to do with him," Conner said.

"Let me get Doctor Underwood," she said as she turned and went to the rear of the clinic.

"I suppose we should have called the sheriff first," Conner said to me, "but I couldn't leave him hanging there like that."

Conner's reaction to seeing Jason didn't seem to be for someone who had 'just seen him around.' His crying in the truck coupled with his willingness to quickly get Jason off that tree led me to believe that he knew Jason more than he was letting on.

As for myself? I was full of questions, particularly WHY.

Dr. Underwood came from the back of the clinic with two male assistants. "Where's the body? he asked Conner.

"It's in the back of my pickup out front," Conner said.

"Okay, drive your truck around back, Conner. We'll take it from there. When we take the body inside, stay with us." The doctor looked at me for a moment. "I didn't get your name. There are a lot of questions that need answers."

"I'm Paul Lockhart."

Conner left to drive his truck around back while I stayed with Dr. Underwood. The next thing I heard was Dr. Underwood scream, "Oh, Jesus fucking Christ," as he first saw the body.

I watched as two assistants carried Jason's body into the back of the clinic and placed him on a stainless-steel examining table. Dr. Underwood examined Jason for a few minutes, concentrating on the rope burns on his neck. He turned Jason over on his side and felt along his spine. Dr. Underwood's eyes were clearly moist with emotion.

"Do you boys know if Jason did this to himself or if someone else did this to him?" he asked.

To add to my confusion, I remembered Doctor Underwood calling Conner by name as if he knew him. And now, he's using Jason's name as if he knew him too.

"Did you know Jason?" I asked.

"Just about everyone in town knew Jason or knew of him."

I looked at Conner. His eyes were closed, his brows furrowed, his lips pursed, and he looked like he was about to cry again. Something seemed terribly wrong here. Why was Conner so distraught? He'd told me he hadn't known Jason.

"Boys, I need to see the stable before I can determine how he died. I also need to call the sheriff, but I want to see the stable before he gets there. I don't want him screwing up what I need to see, so I've got to hurry. Conner, you can go home. Where are you staying, Paul?"

"I'm not sure right now. I need to call my dad and let him know I'll be here for a few days. Maybe he can get me a hotel room."

"Okay, guys. I'm going to have his body taken to the County Morgue. Conner, you can make any arrangements for him with any funeral home you want," Dr. Underwood said.

Why was Dr. Underwood telling Conner to make those arrangements? Conner said he had only seen him around. This was getting weird, really fast.

"Paul, we should go," Conner stated without asking me.

Conner turned to me before he started the truck's engine and asked, "You wanna come to my apartment for a while? I'm sure this has been as trying for you as it has been for me, and we can relax there."

"Thanks. I'd like that. I am pretty wrung out, too, so thank you."

On the short drive to Conner's place, I called my dad to tell him what had happened.

"Hey, son. How was the drive? Okay?"

"Yeah. It went smooth."

"Any idea when we should expect you home?"

"Dad, I need to tell you something. Jason's dead," I said, emphasizing the word 'dead.'.

"Oh, my God! What happened?"

"I found him hanging from a tree in a stable yard here in town. Someone I met helped me cut him down and take him to a doctor."

"Are you all right, Paul?"

"No, I'm not. You know what Jason meant to me and, right now, I feel sick."

"Do you know how it happened?"

"Dad, I don't know shit, and it's eating me up inside. I need to stay here for a few days."

"Paul, I'll make reservations at a hotel there for you. I'm coming too. It'll take me about four and a half hours to get there. Is there someone there that can help you; someone you can talk to?"

"Yeah. I met a guy named Conner. He's the one who helped me with Jason's body. I'm with him right now."

"Okay. I'll be there as soon as I can. Stay calm, Paul. I'll call you when I get there."

"Come into my palace," Conner said while sweeping his hand for me to enter first. "It's not much, but it's mine."

Conner's apartment was on the second floor with an outside entrance. It wasn't spacious, but looked large enough for a single bachelor, if that's what he was. It had a small living room with sofa, two easy chairs, two end tables with lamps. For entertainment he had a 55-inch television on the wall opposite the sofa. The kitchen was small but had enough room for a round table for four. A single bathroom with a tub with shower complemented the only bedroom.

Conner went to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator before turning to me. "Paul, I'm going to have a beer and try to relax. I know you're only sixteen, but would you like one too?"

"Thanks. I'd love one," I answered.

Conner brought the beers and after handing me one, sat on the sofa while I sat in one of the easy chairs. He stared at me for a while with a forlorn expression on his face.

Finally, he asked me, "Paul, how well did you know Jason?"

"I met Jason when he moved to Clayton. We became very close. He was my best friend. We met in the third grade, and ever since then we did everything together. We were both shaken up with him having to move away right after middle school."

Conner then leaned forward, looking straight at me. "Did you know he was gay?"

That question floored me. He said he hardly knew him, so how would he know that? And why was he asking me? Jason had come out to me in the eighth grade, and it had meant nothing to me; we were still best buds after that.

"Yes, I knew," I said.

Conner leaned back for a moment, and then said, "Paul, I have to tell you something that I'm not very proud of."

Then he leaned forward again.

"Paul, I've lied to you. I told you that I didn't know Jason very well. There are reasons for that. But the truth is that Jason was my younger brother. I had two younger brothers, twins. Jason was one of them, and Trent the other one. I know who you are, too; Jason spoke of you a lot."

My eyes bulged. Maybe I was wrong about Conner. His reactions were not so far out of line as it seemed from the beginning.

I stared at him and noticed that Conner's eyes were becoming moist as he talked.

Conner continued, and said, "Trent told me last year that he thought he was gay, too. I warned him to never tell Mom or Dad. Dad threw me out when I confessed to him that I was gay when I was nineteen. I needed to protect Trent from that happening to him. Paul, my parents are extremely homophobic; hell, the whole town is! If you're gay, you won't be welcome here.

"It may sound strange, but it does happen occasionally where all three brothers turn out to be gay."

"I don't think I'm gay."

Conner nodded. "But Jason, having been raised in California, thought it would be okay if he came out, even with the town the way it was. It wasn't okay. It was horrible. He was harassed and beaten many times. The last one sent him to the hospital with broken ribs, a broken nose, and a severe concussion. The concussion almost killed him because they couldn't stop the bleeding in his brain. They had to induce a coma to make the swelling go down. He survived it all, though.

Conner could no longer hold back his tears.

"Paul, I sent Jason to the hospital because I was too afraid to stand up for him," he almost screamed at me. "I'm a fucking coward."

He then lowered his head into his hands and sobbed.

It was obvious to me that Conner was having a breakdown. I don't know why a 16-year-old felt so compelled to comfort a 21-year-old, but I got up and sat next to him. I put my arm around his shoulder and pulled him into me.

"Conner, I had no idea anything like this was happening to him," I softly said.

Conner raised his eyes to me.

"I know, Paul. Jason told me he didn't want you to know. And, you still don't know half of it," Conner said as he was trying to hold off his crying in front of me.

Conner put his arm around my back and drew me in closer.

I could hear him even with his face in my shoulder, "Thank you, Paul. Thank you for being here."

We stayed like that for at least ten minutes until his sobs finally began to ebb. Looking down at him, I could see his eyes were so tightly closed it seemed like he never wanted them to open.

When he started to pull away from me, I got him to lie down on the sofa. I went into his bedroom and retrieved the comforter and pillow from his bed. I raised his head and put the pillow under it and spread the comforter over him. He had already fallen asleep.

Something was stirring in me as I watched him sleep. I was feeling his pain even though I hadn't gone through it like he had. He was Jason's brother, and I loved Jason in the way a teenager cares about his best friend. Now my feelings for Conner had evolved into that of a family member.

I walked around the apartment for a few moments before winding up in his bedroom. Looking at his bed, I realized that I, too, was wrung out from all the things he had told me. I lay down and was soon asleep myself.

It seemed like only a few moments later when I was wakened by the chirping of Conner's cell phone. It took me like forever to find it in the living room and, by the time I found it, the call had ended. I pressed the screen to see his recent calls and was surprised to see that it was Dr. Underwood who had just called. I returned his call.

"Dr. Underwood here," he said.

"Dr. Underwood, this is Paul Lockhart. Conner has told me a lot of what had been happening to him and Jason. He's extremely distraught and asleep right now."

"I'm not surprised. Conner has been through more than any young man should endure."

"It appears to me that you know Conner pretty well," I said.

"I do. He's become like a son to me. He's come to me many times over the last couple of years and opened up to me about what he's been going through."

"Is there something I can do to help him?"

"Can I ask what he's told you?"

"I know he's Jason's big brother, and I know about the terrible time Jason had when he came out. He also told me about Trent, his other brother, and how he's trying to protect him."

"That family of his needs a lot of help, I'm afraid. I will not go into details because that's something that Conner will have to tell you. I'm only his doctor and can only deal with his medical concerns. But when he asks, I do try to support him and give him fatherly advice."

"I understand."

"Paul, I need to ask you something."


"Conner appears to have gotten close to you, and he may open up to you even more. You're going to hear a lot of what Conner and Jason have been going through and a lot about this town. It won't be pretty. Do you think you're up to hearing all this? This will be a strain on you."

"I don't know, Doc. I do know this, though. Jason was my best friend back in California. He was like a brother to me, and when I found out that Conner was Jason's brother, Conner became family to me too."

"Sounds to me, Paul, like you have a big heart. You'll need that to get through this."

"I think I hear Conner waking up, so I should let you go."

"Will you have Conner to call me when he's awake, please?"

"I'll do that and thank you."

Just then, Conner walked into the bedroom and sat beside me on his bed.

"Who was on the phone? I heard you talking."

"That was Dr. Underwood. He wants you to call him back."

"Thanks, Paul. I expect he might have some news about Jason, so I'd better call him back right away."

I handed Conner his phone, and he walked into the kitchen. I stayed on his bed to give him privacy.

Twenty minutes later, Conner returned and sat beside me on his bed. He had tears in his eyes, so I knew that whatever Dr. Underwood said to him was upsetting.

"Paul, Jason committed suicide."

Hearing that I instantly broke into tears

"That was all he said to begin with, but after a short pause, he continued. Jason had climbed the tree as far up as he could, so his fall would be great enough that he would die instantly. The rope was tied to the highest branch that would hold him. He also said that there was no chair or foot stool on the ground, meaning he intended to fall that distance. His neck had been broken in two places. He told me that the sheriff's only comment was, 'Well, good riddance.' The sheriff, as well as the entire town, is extremely homophobic. Dr. Underwood said that the town is to blame for Jason's depression that caused him to end his life. That crowd just stood there and watched Jason die. They did nothing to stop him; some even shouted encouragement to him."

I was openly crying at this point.

Conner wrapped both of his arms around me and pulled me into him. "Let it all out, Paul. Cry your head off. You need this as much as I do." He was now crying, as well. "We both lost a brother today, Paul. And, as God is my witness, Jason will not be forgotten. This town will pay."

Conner held on to me for a few more moments as we cried with each other. Eventually our crying was reduced to sniffles. At that moment, my cell phone started chirping. I picked it up and checked who was calling. "It's my dad," I said to Conner.

"Hi, Dad. Where are you?"

"I'm at the Holiday Inn wondering where you are."

"I'm with a friend right now, at his apartment."

"Tell me where it is, and I'll pick you up."

"Don't worry, Dad. Remember I've got my own car. I'll come there."

I turned to Conner and said, "My dad's at the Holiday Inn now. I want you to come up and meet him. My car's still at the corral. Give me a ride to pick up my car, and then I'll follow you to the hotel cuz you know where it is better than I do."

"We're only a few blocks away, so we should be there in just a couple of minutes," I told Dad.

"Conner was Jason's brother, wasn't he?"

"Yes," I said nodding my head.

"I figured it had to be. Jason had mentioned his name to me a lot," Dad said. "Okay. When you get here, have him come up, too; I would like to meet him. I'm in room 321."

"Okay, Dad. See you shortly."

"Why would he want to meet me?" Conner asked.

"He did ask me who I was with, and I told him your name."

Conner thought for a moment, and then finally said, "I talked to Jason many times on the phone while he was living in California. I'm sure that Jason had mentioned my name to your dad."

"So?" I asked.

"I'm sure your dad wants to ask me a bunch of questions about Jason, and that's going to be like opening Pandora's Box. I'm not sure if I want to go there."

"Conner, my dad's pretty respectful. If he sees that you're reluctant to talk about Jason, I don't think he'll go on with those questions."

"Paul, I really don't want to talk about Jason to your dad. A lot has happened to Jason, and, in a way, it brings up how I failed him."

"Conner, you don't have to be afraid of my dad."

"I'm not afraid of him, Paul; I'm afraid of me; opening my mouth, too much."

What Conner just told me brought back the memory of him blaming himself for Jason's death. I then realized that if Conner talked to my dad, it would be possible he would have another breakdown. I needed to play this carefully.

When we arrived at the Holiday Inn, we made our way to the third floor and to room 321. I knocked on the door to announce our arrival, and Dad immediately opened the door. Dad looked at me for a moment, then at Conner for another, before ushering us in.

Dad grabbed me into a hug, and said, "I'm so sorry to hear about Jason. I know this must be hard for you."

We continued our hug for a few moments until Dad pulled away and looked at Conner.

"And you must be Conner?" he asked.

"Dad, this is Conner Taylor. Conner, this is my dad, Richard Lockhart."

"Good to meet you, Conner," my dad said as he stuck out his hand and shook Conner's.

"Jason was your brother?" Dad asked.

"Yeah," Conner said with his head slightly bowed.

"I'm so sorry, Conner. It's hard to come up with the right words to say at a time like this."

"Thank you, Mr. Lockhart. Most people try to say the right words and don't do a particularly good job at it. You realized that an 'I'm sorry' is enough to completely express your feelings."

Dad looked at Conner and a smile grew on his face.

I also looked at Conner, thinking that he seemed wise beyond his years.

"Boys, would you like something to drink? That little fridge is loaded with all kinds of sodas," Dad said.

"No thank you, Mr. Lockhart. I'm good."

"It's not 'Mister'; it's Richard," Dad corrected Conner.

Conner smiled and nodded.

Conner sat in the only easy chair in the room while Dad sat on the desk chair, leaving the bed for me.

"Well, tell me what's been going on," my dad asked.

I told him what we knew about finding Jason. I glanced at Conner for a moment as he shook his head.

"Mr. Lockhart, sorry, Richard, I need to probably jump in here. There's a lot of background that Paul doesn't know, so I should probably talk about that."

"Okay, Conner, you have the floor."

"First off, this town is extremely conservative and quite homophobic. It didn't used to be. It all started about five years ago when a new church moved into town. It's an Old Testament fundamentalist church. The town's people, curious to hear what the church was all about, flocked to it. The first sermon was how the townspeople were all sinners, and, if they stayed with his church, they could be saved and go to heaven. Of course, the thought of heaven appealed to everyone. As time went on, his sermons touched on gay people and how they were destined to go to hell. He quoted the Bible, the Old Testament Bible, to make his point. One passage said that homosexuals should be put to death. I don't know if you knew that Jason was gay."

"Yes, I knew, and Jason was still welcome in our house," Dad answered.

"That was the start of my town turning against Jason. He tried to come out when he got back here, and it did not go well for him. He was ostracized at school, many businesses refused to do business with him; he couldn't even get a haircut for God's sake. No one would even talk to him, and then the physical bullying started. He was beaten up many times and even landed in the hospital once."

Conner gripped his hands together tightly.

"We almost lost him that time," Conner choked out as his tears flowed down his cheeks.

"Jason told my folks he was gay, and my dad went ballistic. Jason was told to leave the house and never come back. He subsisted on the streets for almost a year; by that time, he was in terrible shape.

"Dad told me that his son, Jason, did not exist anymore, and I was forbidden to have anything to do with him. When I came up to you, Paul, to help get Jason down, I was afraid to let you know who he was to me. That was my fault. But I couldn't forget that Jason was my brother. I tried to help him as much as I could. I brought him food, blankets and warmer clothes when it got cold."

Conner's emotions had now overcome him as his tears flooded down his face. He got up from his chair and came to sit on the bed with me. I put my arm around him, and said, "Conner, you don't have to go on. Don't put yourself through this again."

"NO, Paul. I gotta do this. Richard, and you, too, Paul, need to know what happened to him, and to me."

I looked to him with reassurance in my eyes. "Okay. But remember, Conner, I'm right here for you."

Conner looked at me, and said, "Thanks," as he tried to smile but was having difficulty even doing that.

"The evening Jason was so savagely beaten I was walking to the park where Jason slept at night to bring him some dinner. Up ahead I saw four boys, about my age, beating and kicking another boy on the ground. They were in a stand of trees making it difficult for me to see completely. I hid behind a large oak tree, and, when I heard the boy scream, and from the sound that scream, I knew immediately it was Jason.

"I cringed and buried my face in that tree, fear keeping me there, paralyzing me.

"When the boys walked away, I inched myself from behind my hiding place, not wanting to be seen, and then I ran to where Jason lay. I knelt before his body. His face was covered in blood. I looked up, and I screamed. I knew what a coward I had become.

"I called 911, and they dispatched an ambulance. I stayed with him, waiting the agonizing minutes for them to arrive. When they pulled up, I was told to go sit down and let them do their work. I sat against a tree, hiding my shame in my hands for not doing anything to stop his bullies. I knew I was to blame for what had happened to my brother, my little Jason.

"I knew I was gay even before Jason came back. But I was too afraid to even admit it to myself, so I stayed in the closet. I knew what would happen to me if I ever came out. But then eventually, I put my fears aside and came out to Mom and Dad. I was right; they threw me out, too. I was nineteen and had a decent job, so I was able to get by. I had a one-bedroom apartment, and that enabled me to let Jason stay with me. Jason knew I was taking a chance by letting him stay with me and only did it occasionally. Once he was released from the hospital, he stayed with me while I took care of him. Jason told me that he wanted to go back to your house in California but didn't have the bus money. If I had it, I would have given it to him, but I didn't. Without the bus money, he decided to stay close to his brothers.

"Jason had changed after his last beating. He had become despondent, would not go out, and hardly spoke to me. I knew he was in a deep depression, so I called Dr. Underwood. He came over and tried talking to Jason to lift his spirits, but I don't think he was successful. That was yesterday, the day before Jason committed suicide.

Conner had been getting more and more emotional, finishing with, "It's all my fault he's dead right now," almost screaming.

Conner was now openly crying, and even Dad rushed to the bed to hold him. Not knowing who to call to get Conner some help, I called Dr. Underwood. He told me not to let Conner out of my sight and that he would be over in minutes. I told him we were in room 321 at the Holiday Inn.

When Dr. Underwood, arrived, he went straight to Conner and knelt before him. He looked into Conner's eyes closely, and then said to my dad, "Is there any alcohol in that fridge?"

"There's some small bottles of whiskey and rum in there," my dad answered.

"Make Conner a rum and coke, will you? That should help calm him. Is there a paper bag somewhere? Conner's hyperventilating."

Dad went to the trash can and pulled out a small brown paper bag and handed it to Dr. Underwood who inflated it and held it over Conner's nose and mouth.

"Breathe easy, Conner. You're going to be all right, son."

When Conner's breathing returned to normal, Dr. Underwood removed the bag and handed him the rum and coke that my dad had made.

"Drink some of this, Conner. It'll help calm you. It's a rum and coke."

Conner almost gulped the entire glass in one swallow, and then laid back on the bed.

"Conner needs to get some sleep. He's been through a lot today. I assume he told you about what's been happening to him and Jason, and that's probably what induced his breakdown."

I hadn't yet had a chance to introduce the doctor to my dad, so he stepped forward, extended his hand, and said, "I'm Richard Lockhart, Paul's dad." The two men shook hands.

"I should say I'm glad to meet you, Richard, but I'm not so glad to meet under these circumstances. I assume this is your room. Would it be all right if Conner slept here tonight?"

"That's no problem at all," my dad said. "Conner and Paul can have one bed, and I'll take the other."

Dr. Underwood then turned to me. "Paul, Conner's pretty upset right now. I know that he sees you as a brother, so don't be alarmed if he wants you to hold him tonight."

"As tight as I can," I answered.

"Have him see me in my office tomorrow. I want to prescribe an anti-depressant for him. I don't want him to think that what his brother did would be his way out, too. I tried to get an antidepressant to Jason after I saw him last, but I was too late."

"Thank you for coming, doctor," my dad said. "I could see by the way Conner was reacting that he needed help."

"Thank Paul for his quick thinking and calling me."

Dad looked at me… and smiled wearily.

Dad helped me undress Conner down to his boxers, and we tucked him in on one side of our bed. He was already asleep. Dad and I then quickly undressed ourselves and crawled into our beds. It was late and neither one of us had even considered having dinner.

Later that night, I felt Conner move closer to me. I knew what he needed and put my arm over him, my hand on his chest. He then scooted even closer to me, grabbed my hand, squeezed it, and pulled it to himself. No words were spoken; they weren't necessary.

We had breakfast the next morning in the hotel's restaurant. We were famished from the lack of last night's dinner.

Halfway through breakfast, Conner looked at my dad. "I need to apologize for my behavior last night and to thank you both for taking care of me. I'm not usually like that."

My dad fielded that one. "Nothing to apologize for, Conner. I finally understand what you've been going through these last couple of years.

I put my hand on Conner's across the table, and said, "I think you're doing a great job, Conner. Hang in there."

When we arrived at Dr. Underwood's office, he already had Conner's prescription waiting for us at the receptionist counter. We were about to leave when Dr. Underwood came around the corner.

"I'm glad I caught you before you left. There are a few things that we should discuss. Come into my office if you have a couple of minutes."

We headed back to his office, and I saw it was a small office crowded with bookshelves, a small desk, a small conference table and chairs.

"Did you guys get enough coffee this morning?" he asked.

"I could always use another one, if you have some already made," my dad responded.

Not liking coffee, I said, "I'm fine." Conner was silent.

Dr. Underwood called out to his receptionist to bring a couple of cups of coffee and a couple of cokes.

"Coke's alright with you, Conner, Paul?"

"Perfect," we answered.

"Have a seat," he said as he pointed to the conference table.

Once we were settled with coffee cups and coke cans in front of us, Dr. Underwood began.

"Conner, you told me that you wanted this town to pay for what they had done to Jason. What did you have in mind?"

"I'm not exactly sure what I want to do. All I know is that this hatred has got to stop."

"Do you want revenge? Is that it?"

"No, I don't want revenge. I want justice. I want something done to stop this hatred."

"That's the answer I'm looking for, Conner. Revenge is never a solution. But you must realize that getting rid of people's hatred will take a long time to achieve. People don't change very easily when they've held those beliefs for many years."

Conner reflected. "But can we take away some of the influences that made them that way? That might make it easier for them to change."

Dr. Underwood smiled.

"I've thought about this for a number of months, and that is exactly what I came up with."

"So, what do we do, then?" Conner asked.

"Here's what I've come up with," he said, and he laid out a plan of things to do. The meeting lasted over two hours as we all had a lot of questions. When we were all in agreement, we had a plan and marching orders.

As we got into Dad's car to leave, Conner said, "Oh, shit. Paul, I wanted you to meet my other brother, Trent. He and Jason were twins, very much alike, so I expect you'll like him."

"Is he still living at home?" I asked.

"Yeah. You need to know he's gay. I told him never to tell Mom or Dad, so he hasn't been thrown out.

"Well, you can't go there, so, is there someplace we could meet up?" I asked.

"That meeting took so long, it's lunchtime now. Why don't you invite him to lunch with us?" Dad asked.

"Good idea. He's sixteen and has his driver's license; he even has his own car now. How about we meet at Big Daddy's Burger Palace? I know, the name sounds funny, but their burgers are the best in town. I know it's Trent's favorite place."

"I'm down," I said.

"I'm just following along," my dad said.

"No, you're not Dad. You're in this just as deep as we are. Besides, you're buying," I said.

"Okay, I'm down too, then, I guess."

We all sat at a booth in the rear of the Burger Palace. Trent wasn't there yet, so we held off ordering until he arrived.

When Trent walked in the front door, I recognized him instantly because he was a perfect likeness of Jason. I watched him as he approached and couldn't keep my eyes off his face. He was my Jason all over again, and he was beautiful. Conner was by the window next to me, so Dad, across the table, scooted over to the window to make room for Trent. Trent sat down across from me.

"Trent, this is Paul Lockhart. We've become quite good friends with all that happened yesterday. Across from me is Paul's dad, Richard. He drove in last night to be with us after he heard about Jason," Conner said.

Hearing his brother's name, Trent's eyes glazed over.

"It's okay Trent," I said to him as I put my hand lightly over his for a moment. "It was horrible what happened to him, and we're all grieving right now, too."

Trent looked right into my eyes, just the way Jason used to, and nodded his head.

"Paul and Jason were best friends in California. Jason called Paul and asked him to come to New Washoe yesterday to be with him. That's why Paul's here," Conner said.

"Why did this have to happen?" Trent asked.

"That's one of the things we want to talk to you about. I don't know if you know, but Jason committed suicide yesterday," Conner said.

Trent closed his eyes as tears began leaking through his eye lashes. He then lowered his head and put his hands across his face.

I was feeling Trent's grief and the pain he was going through.

"I didn't know. I just found out that he was dead this morning."

Just then, Trent looked up, bolted from the booth, and ran to the restroom.

"Go after him," Dad yelled.

"I'm closest," I said, and jumped up and ran after him.

When I opened the restroom door, I saw Trent leaning over the sink. I approached him and lightly placed my hand on his shoulder to let him know I was here. He looked up at me with a tear-stained face.

"You knew him, didn't you?" he asked.

"Yes, I did… for many years. He was my best friend."

He then looked up at the mirror in front of him.

"I wish I had the years that you had with him. Dad wouldn't let me go with him to California. He said he was a bad influence on me."

"Why was that?" I had to ask him.

"I'm not exactly sure. I do know that Jason hung around some kids that dad never approved of. He and Dad got into a screaming argument one day about that. I listened from the kitchen, and Jason used some words that Dad didn't approve of. Dad told me to never be like Jason. From then on, Dad had nothing good to say about Jason. Every time I did anything that Jason would do, Dad would talk down about me. Jason was gone two days later, but Dad didn't stop talking down to me."

"I'm sorry you didn't get a chance to know him."

Trent lowered his head, speaking to the sink. "Me too."

"Trent, I'll give you those years, if you'll let me."


"I can tell you all about Jason, what he liked, what he hated, the times we had together, the times we were so happy to be best friends. I can help you have the memories you need about him. Trent, I can be your best friend like I was with Jason."

He turned from the mirror and again looked at me with Jason's eyes.

"I don't even know you. How can we be best friends?"

"Give me the time, Trent. We're only sixteen. We still have a lifetime in front of us."

Trent looked up and breathed a sigh.

"Okay, Paul," he said and turned to walk by me.

When we returned to the booth, everyone could tell that Trent was trying to pull himself together. He was even trying to smile.

"You okay, little bro?" Conner asked.

"I'm fine," he said as he looked at me, and we sat down together.

"Trent, we've been meeting with Doc Underwood, and he's come up with a plan to erase the hate and homophobia that has surrounded us," Conner started. "We'd like you to be a part of our plan."

You know I'm gay, Con..." Trent stopped talking and turned to look at those around him. "After that, I guess now the whole table now knows. I have a personal stake in stopping what drove Jason to do what he did. I'm in if you'll have me."

I looked up at him, and said, "We want you. Let's do this for Jason." Conner and my dad both nodded. We then filled Trent in on our plan.

"Where do we start?" Trent asked.

"Like I said to you in the restroom, we start by you and me getting to know each other better. So, what do you like to do?" I asked.

"I read a lot, I play chess with my computer, but it cheats, I run, and I love to go on walks through the woods."

"You wanna go on a walk with me tomorrow?" I asked.

He looked up at me again.

"I'd love to."

Trent and I set out the next morning on our hike. He was obviously experienced as he had all the right equipment. Dad had bought me a good pair of hiking boots last night because a guy needs his own special boots that fit only him. Trent must have gotten up early because he had made us lunches to keep our energy up. I didn't know the terrain, so I let him pick where we would go.

"We don't have a lot of hills around here, so, I'm taking you out of town to the foothills west of here. There's a lot of evergreens up there to give us some shade when we need it."

"Thanks for taking me, Trent. I know I'm going to enjoy this. We had a mountain close to us where I lived in California called Mount Diablo. Jason and I used to hike the trails on that mountain every chance we could get. On one of the rest-stops we made, we could see the whole San Francisco Bay area. It was gorgeous."

"Well, don't get your hopes up too high. We don't have a big city like that or an ocean to look at."

"Don't worry. I'm just excited to be here."

We hiked over flat ground for a short distance until the trail began to climb. It was not too tiring as I was in fairly good shape, but I did notice that Trent wasn't breathing hard either. He seemed in rather good shape, too.

After an hour of hiking, he suggested a break, of which I was glad. The views from where we had stopped were beginning to show some interesting terrain, hills mostly, but I could see an evergreen forests ahead.

"Tell me about California," he said. "I've never been there."

"California is such a large state that you can do just about anything you want there. There's the ocean, of course, but you can be on ski slopes in a matter of hours. The middle of the state is a big farming area that produces most of the vegetables that the rest of our country eats. It's a wonderful place to live because there's so much you can do there. The big downside is that housing is awfully expensive. I guess that's because a lot of people want to live there; you know that supply and demand thing."

"What did you like to do when you were there?"

"I liked to do mostly everything that you said you liked. I read a lot, swam in the high school pool, went on hikes with Jason. Many times, me and Jason would just ride around on our bikes, for no other reason than to just see what was out there."

"I like to swim too. I use the school pool like you do."

Trent became quiet for a few moments.

"Was Jason adventurous like you seem to be?"

"Yeah, he was. Many times, he had to talk me into doing things he wanted to do even though I wanted to relax and read."

"Like what things?"

"I remember one time when he wanted to ride our bikes in the rain. I told him he was stupid, but he told me that it would be a blast, to breathe the rainy air, to feel the rain on our faces, to feel the freedom it would give us."

"Did you give into him."

"Of course, I did, because he was right."

"I wish I were adventurous like him."

I turned to him, wondering why he said that.

"You are, Trent. I know I haven't known you but for the last few moments, but I can see Jason in you. Maybe you didn't get the opportunity with your home life, but I see you just like I saw Jason. You have it within you to be just like your twin. Being twins, he is a part of you just like you're a part of him. Please don't forget that."

I could now see his lack of self-worth. I wondered how much he had been talked down to at home. That's something I wanted to work on with him.

"I like you, Paul. No one's ever talked to me like you do. Conner tries, but I know he's got a lot on his mind, and he's a lot older."

"I like you too, Trent. We're going to be great friends."

He smiled at me, and said, "Okay, next stop, lunch."

And off we went.

I hardly drank any of the bottled water he had brought, and he had to keep reminding me that we had to drink to keep hydrated. That statement surprised me after he had talked with so little self-confidence before. In a way, he was taking charge of me, and that was Jason all over again. I was right: Trent was just like my old boyfriend. Wait a minute. Did I just say 'boyfriend?' Jason was not my boyfriend. I am not gay, remember? Jason was my best friend.

That thought stayed with me for the rest of the afternoon. I didn't know if I was gay or not because I never thought about it. But now I was starting to think about it, thinking about the 'what ifs,' if I were gay. What if? If I were, I would want a boyfriend. I knew Jason was gay, so he would have been my choice of a boyfriend. Then, Trent entered my mind. Jason was gone, so I needed to think about Trent. I liked him very much. We seemed to get along. I knew he was smart and thought through things. Trent was gay, so I didn't have to worry about that complicating matter.

I watched him in front of me as he led the way, wondering if he was right for me. Of course, he would be. Now, get that question out of your mind, Paul. I told myself I'm not gay, so why think that?

My mind was so fucked.

"You're awfully quiet back there, Paul," he said breaking my menial wandering.

"I'm okay, just thinking."

"Anything important?"

How could I answer that? Of course, it's important; too important to talk about right now.

"Nah, nothing important," I lied.

"We should be heading back now. This trail loops around and takes us back to where I parked my car."

On the drive back to the hotel, Trent looked at me briefly while he drove. "Paul, I had a wonderful time with you today. It's only been one day but, it just being the two of us, I feel closer to you."

"I feel that too, Trent. I think we've got a budding friendship going."

"Me too," he said, as he again briefly looked at me. "What would you like to do tomorrow?"

"I don't know. Maybe go swimming. This August heat makes me think about being cool."

"I'm down for that. Our school has an Olympic-size pool. We can see who's faster," he said as he laughed.

God, I saw Jason all through him.

"Sure, you won't need your arm floaties?" I asked him.

"I have some but don't use them. You can borrow them if you need."

"Fat chance. I didn't bring a bathing suit, so I'll pick one up tonight," I said.

"Don't bother. I'm on the school's swim team, and I've got plenty. What size do you wear?"

"30 inch."

"Great, that's what I wear. You like color or plain?"

"You have that many?"

"Yeah, I wear colored ones when I want to show off."

"Plain's good for me. I'm not ready to show off - yet."

Trent looked at me, and I couldn't make out the expression on his face. I'm sure the word 'yet' was going through his mind though.

"Okay. I'm not sure if I should go to your house, though," I said. "Why don't you bring them over to the hotel? We can change there."

"We don't have to do that. Our pool has a changing and locker room. I'm on the team, so I have my own locker there."

"We're on for tomorrow then, and don't forget my suit. I don't want to show off that much."

Trent only shrugged his shoulders as he smiled at me.

Trent arrived at the hotel around noon and came directly to our room. Dad was with me and wanted to talk to Trent for a moment.

"I did a little investigating yesterday into this fundamentalist church. It appears that their reverend, Doctor Karl Fredrickson, was fired from his last church. The bishop told me that he was let go because the congregation was fed up with the hate that he was delivering. The bishop told him that he would not give him a recommendation. So, Fredrickson decided to open his own church, and he opened it right here in New Washoe. He has no standing or accreditation within the national evangelical church, or any other church, for that matter."

Trent stared at Dad for a long time. "What does all that mean?" he asked.

"It means that we're going to close that church, and this town will never have to hear his hate-filled words again."

Trent stared at Dad again for a long time and then looked up toward the ceiling, his eyes now moist. "Jason might be alive today if only this had happened years ago."

Trent lowered his head, looking directly at us. "That's what it means," he said.

"Still thinking about going swimming?" Dad asked. "If you are, you boys should go. I still have a lot to do," Dad said.

"Thank you, Richard, for helping save other boys like Jason. Jason would be proud of what you're doing," Trent said.

I went to Trent and put my arm around him. "You still want to go swimming? We don't have to, you know."

"No. We should go. This news is something we should be happy about. So, let's celebrate it together," he said with his eyes still moist.

Once we climbed into Trent's car, his mood made a complete turnaround. He was happy. He looked at me, and said, "You ready to lose?"

I had to smile and laugh at him, "In your dreams."

I let Trent lead me into the gym because he knew where his locker was located. Entering the gym, the smell of the locker room brought back my PE days in school. However, the realization that I was going to be naked again made me cringe. It wasn't so bad; I'd done that before in my gym class. But this time was different; it would be in front of Trent. I was almost hyperventilating with the thought of what was to come.

As I looked around the locker room, I noticed that others were wearing Speedos. Trent set his gym bag on a bench, opened it, rummaged around a bit, and pulled out a pair of white Speedos.

"Here. These are for you," He handed them to me.

"You're kidding, right? You want me to wear these?"

"What's wrong with these? Everyone on the swim team wears Speedos. See, this is the pair that I'm going to wear." He showed me a bright red pair.

"But yours are red, mine're white. Everyone can see everything."


I stepped closer to him and whispered so no one would hear.

"You're gay and you did this on purpose. You just want to perv on me, don't you?"

He grinned and then said, "I'm sorry, Paul. Really. I didn't do this on purpose. I just didn't think. It's just natural for me to dress this way during swim practices. Forgive me?"

I glared at him for moment, just long enough to let him know I was slightly pissed.

Since I wouldn't be the only one wearing Speedos, I said to myself, well, when in Rome, grabbed the white suit from him, sat down and started taking off my sneakers.

Trent opened his locker and stuffed his tee shirt inside, then looked down at me. "Paul, there's plenty of room for your clothes in here too."

"Thanks," I said and threw my sneakers inside with one elegant toss.

We undressed, but I turned from him to take off my boxers and slip on the pair of speedos. I stood with my back to him for a moment. Okay, Paul, you can do this, I said to myself and turned around.

Trent was already in his speedos, and he looked at me as I faced him. I saw his eyes move up and down my body, stopping at various places. I was right; he well and truly was a frigging horndog.

We quickly showered and hit the pool. I was the first to jump in the deep end and, as I came up for air, I just knew what he was going to do. He bombed me as he jumped in. For a minute, I thought this was Jason. That's exactly the thing he'd do, too.

We splashed and played around for about 15 minutes, until he asked me, "Are you ready to get beat, little pollywog?"

I frowned at the word, 'pollywog.' "Like I said, in your dreams."

"Okay. Let's start at the shallow end. We can get a good push off from there. It's a fifty-meter pool, so once up and once back. That okay with you?"

I smiled at him, knowing that I was a pretty good swimmer. "I may have to back off a little on the downhill to let you catch up. I don't want you to feel bad."

"You're silly, you know that?" he said.

I was a little stupid because I wound up with him on my right side. I usually come up for air on my right side, so I'd be able to see him, but on the way back, he'd be on my left side. I wouldn't know where he was.

"On the count of 3 – 2 – 1, we go when I say go. Agreed?" he asked.

I nodded and, hearing the word 'go,' I pushed off and decided to relax for the first leg to save my energy for the return leg. I saw that Trent was keeping up with me and appeared to be relaxing as I was. We both reached the end at about the same time, with me only a short second in front of him. I pushed off and began my speed run. I couldn't see him but assumed he was behind me. When I reached the end, I swished the water off my head and looked back to find Trent, but the bastard was sitting on the edge of the pool, legs in the water, watching me. He'd beat me.

"Wanna try again," he asked with a shit-eating grin.

"No. You won that one. I'm beat so maybe another time." I was pissed, disappointed in myself, but that grin kept me from being mad at him. He was too cute for that.

We played around for a while, splashing each other, then decided to call it quits. Trent jumped out first and turned around to give me his hand to help me get out.

Now, anyone who knows anything about Speedos knows they're tight around you, but white ones? When they're wet, they show everything you have. Trent didn't have any reluctance or embarrassment in checking me out.

Before stripping out of the Speedos We showered again to get the chlorine off. When we dressed, I again turned away from him. Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel. I was rationalizing why he'd beat me in the race; I knew that being on the team, he swam every day. Because of that, he was in better shape than I was. Jason usually won our swimming races too, but I wasn't going to tell Trent that.

Dad wasn't in the room when we arrived, but he had left me a voice message on my phone. When I played it, he said that he would be out all afternoon and be back around five for dinner with us.

"What do you wanna do, Trent? Looks like we have the rest of the afternoon to ourselves."

Trent made a flying leap to our bed, landing on his back. "Nothing. I want to relax for a bit," he answered.

"I'm down for that, too." I joined him on the bed.

After a few moments, Trent turned on his side, looking at me.

"Paul, can I be serious with you for a minute?"

"Of course."

"My life has been pretty drab up until now. I mean, I haven't had a friend like you before, someone to talk to like I can you. We've become friends in the brief time that I've known you, and I want us to be more than just friends. I'm starting to think of you as my best friend. This probably sounds crazy to you. We haven't known each other that long. I only met you twice briefly when you were here to see Jason, but it's what I want."

I spoke to the ceiling to hide the moisture of my eyes. "Trent, you're an amazing person, do you know that? The way we react together, joke around together, laugh together, it's become obvious to me that we're already best friends without even knowing it."

"There's something else, Paul. I'm not sure if this is the right time to tell you this, but I must tell you. Paul, you know that I'm gay. What you don't know is that I'm very much attracted to you."

I turned my head to look at him; I didn't know what to say. I'm not usually at a loss for words, but what he just said to me had my head spinning. I just continued to look at him.

"I'm sorry if I upset you, Paul. I didn't want to do that, but I had to be honest with you."

Now he could see the tears in my eyes. I've wanted him to be my acknowledged best friend ever since we had lunch together just a minuscule number of hours ago, and now it was happening. I've grown to care about him, and it's more than just caring about a brother. Looking at him now, I have no idea how to even describe the feeling I have for him. Is it love? I have no idea what love is, but it is the only word I could come up with.

"Trent, I'm going to tell you something that has been going through my mind ever since we met. Please don't take this the wrong way. I think I might be falling for you, Trent."

Trent smiled at me; his lips were trembling.

Trent's lips continued to tremble for a few moments, and then he lowered his head toward mine. I knew what he was about to do. Was I scared? Hell yes. Was I hesitant? No! For some reason, I wanted him to kiss me. I even thought I might want to kiss him. Me, Mr. Not Gay. Weird, huh?

His lips were the silkiest things that have ever touched my mouth; I couldn't get enough of them. I closed my eyes, and my dreams focused on Trent. He didn't press any harder but left his lips in soft contact with mine. Everyone has heard about fireworks going off in your head when you kiss your special one for the first time, haven't they? My head was exploding. I wrapped my arms around his body and held him tightly to me. I wanted us to become one.

Trent lifted himself slightly, breaking our kiss. "Paul, I'm so sorry for doing that to you. My feelings for you got the best of me, and I couldn't stop myself. Please don't be angry with me."

"I'm not angry, Trent. Truth is, I wanted you to do that more than you realize."

Why am I acting like a gay twink? I had to ask myself

We sat up together Indian style on the bed and faced each other. Trent looked down at me while I looked down at him. Seeing what we saw, we both had to giggle as we adjusted ourselves.

Just then we heard the door open as Dad walked in. He looked at us sitting on the bed across from each other and smiled. "Looks like you two had a good time together. It's good to see both of you smiling again."

"We had a great time in the pool today. It was good to have some fun for a change," Trent said.

"That is until the SOB beat me in a race we had," I quipped.

"Well, that's good to hear. Finally, someone put the kibosh on that ego of yours, Paul."

I stuck my tongue out at Dad. Dad laughed.

"What have you been up to today, Dad?" I asked.

"Things are rolling on that plan we came up with. Today I met with your school principal, Trent. How do you ever get along with that…? I don't know what to call him."

"That's Mr. Osgood, and I use the word fool. I never got along with him, nor do any other kids," Trent said.

"He didn't want to see me, even though I made an appointment with him this morning. I wanted to see their anti-bullying policy. He didn't have it in his office, so he called the front desk to have it brought in. It was short, and it didn't take long to read the whole thing. When I questioned him about how well it was being enforced, he became huffy, saying he had another meeting he had to go to and ushered me off to a school counselor, a Mr. Green."

"Him, I like, Trent said.

"He was extremely helpful, and quite up front with me. He told me the policy was a good one, came from the district, but that the implementation and enforcement was nonexistent. School staff never followed it because the higher-ups never supported it. Mr. Green called in a couple of teachers to talk to me. One was hesitant, citing his need for his job, but the other two teachers gave me an earful. Both cited cases where when a student was bullied, no teacher intervened and, in many cases, just looked the other way. This was upsetting me. I asked them if they would accompany me to a school board meeting to tell them what they had just told me. The two outspoken teachers readily agreed. One teacher informed me that Mr. Osgood was not only a homophobe but a bigot toward any minority in the school.

"After leaving the counselor's office, seething about why the principal was still there, I went to the front desk and requested a special board meeting to discuss the anti-bullying policy. They said they would try to arrange one and get back to me with a date and time.

"Trent, this is what I'd like you to do. When we find out when the meeting will take place, I want you to get as many kids as possible who have been bullied at that meeting. Can you do that?"

"Sure. That'll be easy. I think most will go."

"Thanks, Trent. Don't be surprised when I call for the resignations of both the principal and the vice principal. They're both involved in allowing what happened to Jason and others."

"Could that really happen?" I asked.

"It should. Those meetings are open to the public and I'm going to make sure the press is there, too. This community should be involved with what's happening to their kids and make a noise."

I leaned over to Trent and said, "When my dad gets on a mission, like he is now, he won't let go of it. We are only hearing the beginning. Shit is about to hit the fan in this town."

Dad, Trent, and I had dinner in the hotel's restaurant that night. Trent and I had burgers and fries, while Dad had meatloaf. The food was unremarkable, so we talked of other things. Dad wanted to know how Conner was doing.

"Since Doc got him those anti-depressant pills, I'm hoping to see a change in him. Doc's receptionist said the pills may take a week or so to take effect." Trent said.

"I worry about him. We've become pretty close after what happened," I said.

I didn't want to say what happened to Jason, but only said, 'what happened.' Just the mention of Jason's name always seemed to bring tears to Trent's eyes.

"What do you want to do tomorrow, Trent?" I asked.

"Why don't we just hang at the park?"

"Trent, I don't think you want to go there. It's going to bring up some bad memories for you. And the truth is, I don't want to go there either. I don't want to see that place ever again."

"I think Paul's right, Trent," Dad said.

"Okay, how 'bout we take in a matinee movie tomorrow? I think that new Spiderman movie is playing."

"That's good. I haven't seen it yet," I said.

"I haven't seen it yet, either so it's a date.

My eyes bulged and I looked at Dad, and I saw his eyes open slightly. I knew he heard the word. Dad nodded and smiled. I'm not gay so it's ridiculous to consider outing myself. But I knew Dad had suspicions when Trent used the word 'date.'

Trent said that he should be getting home but walked with us back to our room. He said his goodbyes to Dad and thanked him for all he was doing. I said I'd walk him down to his car.

As we left the hotel, Trent grabbed my arm and led me to the side of the entrance. He pushed me up against the brick wall and kissed me. Why did he do that? He just knew that my stomach would have butterflies for the next four hours. How was I supposed to get any sleep now?

"Couldn't resist," was all he said and walked into the parking lot.

Damn him, I said to myself. He knows full well what he does to me.

Trent showed up at our door around noon the next day. When he walked into our room, I was surprised to see that Conner was with him. When I looked at Trent, my body shook. He had blood all over his face, and his left eye was puffy and turning black and blue.

"Good God, Trent, what happened to you?" I shouted.

Dad heard me, jumped from his chair, and came over to me. He looked at Trent and had the same question.

Conner stepped in front of Trent.

"Trent did a stupid thing last night. He started telling Dad about meeting Paul and what an exciting time they were having. When Dad asked him who this Paul was, Trent told him that he was a friend of Jason's. It got ugly then with Dad yelling at him. Dad was mad, calling Trent a fag just like Jason. Trent tried to tell him that he's not, but Dad just hit him, several times, and, when Trent was down, he kicked him several times. Trent got up and tried to run from the house, but his sides hurt so much, he could only hobble. When he was outside, he called me to come get him. He told me to take him to my place, so I did, and then told me what happened on the way over there."

"Why didn't you come here last night?" Dad asked.

"I should have, but I thought I could take care of him. I tried to wipe the blood from his face, but his nose hurt and kept bleeding. I know now that was stupid. The next morning, Trent was still in a lot of pain. I told him I was taking him to the doctor. Know what he told me? He said, `No. Take me to Paul."

My dad went berserk, or at least as berserk as he ever gets.

"Paul, get your jacket. Conner, come with me. I'm taking Trent to see Doc Underwood."

When we got to Dr. Underwood's office, the receptionist, taking one look at Trent, said, "Stay here," and left to get the doctor.

"Dr. Underwood wants to see you in examination room B right away. Come with me," she said when she came back.

In the exam room, he told Trent to lie down on the examination table/chair thing. Trent tried to get himself up on that thing but couldn't make it, so I got up and helped him. He kept saying, "Ouch, ouch," as he twisted trying to get up.

"Did your old man do this to you, Trent?" Dr. Underwood asked.


Dr. Underwood's face now filled with rage.

"Every one of you boys have had to deal with that bastard. Sorry for my language, but I've dealt with this too many times.

He looked at us for short time, and then said, "I'd like you all to leave for a moment while I examine Trent."

"I'm staying," I said with more defiance than I intended.

Dr. Underwood looked toward Trent who nodded his head.

"Okay, you can stay."

"Doctor, I want this documented, I want pictures. I would also like your report because as you know, what happened to Trent is criminal," Dad said.

"How well I know." the doctor answered. "Be aware that I must report this abuse. Now get out of here so I can do my work."

I was impressed with Dr. Underwood. He was not just a kind man; he was also a no-nonsense man.

Trent's examination was hard on me because of the sounds of pain coming from him. I sat in the chair and cried for him.

When Dr. Underwood had completed his examination, he asked Dad and Conner to come in.

"Trent will need to go to the hospital. They're going to have to set his nose and take x-rays of his ribcage. No need to pay for an ambulance when it's not life threatening. I can't leave right now, so can you drive him there?"

"As quickly as I can," Dad said.

"Don't get a ticket." Dr. Underwood said. "I'll call ahead and let them know you're coming."

Dad and Conner sat in the front seat while I sat in the back with Trent. My concern for him, unthinkingly, caused me to put my arm around him for comfort and actually, comfort for me, too. I looked up and saw Dad watching me in the rear-view mirror. I gave him a half-hearted smile. He looked back at me, and I saw that all-knowing smug smile on his face. He knew everything about me without asking one fucking question. God, I love him.

Trent looked worse when they released him than when he went in. His nose was encased in bandages and more bandages surrounded his eye with a few more on his jaw. I felt so sorry for him.

As we drove home, Trent said, "Richard, "I can't go home, so if it's all right with you, can I stay with you and Paul tonight?"

"Don't worry, Trent. There's no way that I would take you home. You may be staying with us for a while."

Trent nodded his head and smiled, and I could see some of the tension he was feeling leave him. "Thank you, Richard."

When Dad told Trent that he would be staying with us for a while, I instinctively knew he had something up his sleeve. I know my dad too well. I reckon I'd find out later what that something was.

We left Conner off at his apartment, but he didn't go up right away. Instead, he walked around the car and opened Trent's door.

"You take care, little bro," he said to him. "You do whatever the doctor told you to do. And you do whatever Richard tells you to do, capiche?"

"Yes, big bro."

Conner then leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

Was I jealous? Hell yes, I was. I wanted to do that.

"I love you, little bro," Conner said as he closed the door and hurried to the stairs to his apartment.

Back in the hotel room, I asked Trent how he was feeling.

He said, "Like shit. I can only breath through my mouth."

"Feel like anything for dinner?"

"No. But you two go ahead."

"Dad," I said. "Why don't you go?"

"Aren't you coming with me?"

"No. I'm okay. I'm going to stay with Trent."

That goddamned knowing smile of his again. I didn't think I was that obvious.

Trent laid back on the bed, and I watched him.

"Do you wanna get some sleep? You look awfully tired."

"I think I should."

"Want any help getting into bed?"

"Stop acting like a mother hen, will you? I know how to get into bed."

"I'm only trying to help," I said.

"I know Paul, and I thank you. It's just me being grumpy."

He thought for a while and then turned to me.

"Hmm. There is something that you could do though."

"Anything, just ask."

"I can't bend over without it hurting. Would you mind taking off my shoes, socks and pants?"

He didn't know how much I would enjoy that.

"No problem. Let's get your tee shirt first." When he was down to his boxers, I pulled the sheet and comforter back and he eased back onto his pillow. When he tried to pull his legs into bed, he yelled, "Ouch."

"Ribs hurt?

"Yeah, a whole lot. The hospital gave me some pain pills. Would you mind getting me a couple of them from the bathroom?"

"I'm here to serve," I said as I went to get them.

He took the meds and I helped him get his legs into bed. He lay back and closed his eyes. I watched him waiting for the meds to take effect, and soon he was asleep.

I sat in the easy chair and watched him sleep, and my mind began to wander. I sat back, watching lights flash on the ceiling from car headlights through the window. The eerie sight on the ceiling made me think. I knew it was time to be honest with myself. Am I gay or am I not? The way I feel about him means I should be gay. I'm wondering if the kiss had anything to do with that. No, I thought. At the time, I wanted to kiss him. Maybe I am gay then. But if not then, when did I turn gay? That's stupid because you don't suddenly, turn gay. You are your whole life. I guessed what they said about there being a gene that you have even before birth was true, and it dictated that. But what about Jason? I loved him, and he was gay. We were the best of friends, but we weren't boyfriends. I think we could have been except that I was in total denial back then. But did I have sexual feelings, desires, for him? I don't remember that. Had I been blocking them unconsciously? Was I still in denial? My mind was so screwed up. I didn't know what to think. If I was in denial, could it be that I was afraid not to be? Right then, I was telling myself to face the truth, but the truth scared the hell out of me.

My tears were now flooding unabated from my eyes. I knew that I was facing a life-changing decision and not ready to make it. Not having the courage. Not yet.

If I were gay, this would be a whole new world for me. Was I ready for it? The answer was no, I wasn't. Did I care enough about Trent to live in that world? I had to think about that, and I didn't want to think, didn't want to have to accept that I was different from what I'd always thought I was until I realized that if I didn't accept myself as gay, I'd lose him.

I lowered my eyes to watch him again. Why was life so complicated? Why was it so hard to accept that I was gay and be done with it? Why, why, why did I have so many unanswered questions? Could it be because I wasn't grown up yet? Did all these questions get answered then?

The little voice in my head was tired of all the wavering, the indecision. It was no longer timid.

'Buck up, Paul. Just say it.'

I hesitated, then: "I think I'm gay."

'No, Paul. Say it with meaning.'

"I'm gay."

'Yell it out, Paul.'

"I'm gay," I screamed, and was dropping my head into my hands just as Dad opened the door.

Oh, fuck.

He walked over to me, and asked, "Is there something you wanted to say to me, Paul?"

I lowered my head, but I knew that I should face him.

"Dad, I think I'm gay."

Dad sat down on the floor beside me and said, "I figured that out a long time ago, Paul. To begin with I thought it was Jason, but I see now it's Trent, isn't it? Do you love him?"

"I don't know what love is, Dad. I've never been in love before."

"You will eventually. Do you dream about him at night?"


"How does it feel when you're waiting for him to be with you?"

"I can't stand it. It's the worst feeling in the world. It makes me feel empty."

"How does he make you feel when you're with him?"

I had to look up to stare at Trent again.

"He makes me feel like I'm sitting in the clouds above with no cares in the world. He makes me happy. He makes me laugh. He makes me cry when he's hurt. I could look at his face all day long. I want to be by his side forever."

"Paul, you may not know it, but that's love; you are in love."

My lips trembled as tears ran down my cheeks, and I squeaked out, "Yes, I am."

"Have you become boyfriends yet?" he asked.

"No. I just admitted to myself tonight, just now, that I was gay."

"Have you told anyone else, Conner for instance?"

"Dad, I haven't even told Trent."

"It makes me feel young again to see young love growing."

"You're not upset with me?"

"Why should I be? You're my son, and I'll love you, no matter what, forever. The only thing I want to see is you happy."

Dad got off the floor, and I jumped into his arms. After a prolonged emotional hug, I released him and focused my eyes on Trent. He was sleeping and looked so peaceful. Evidently my screaming hadn't wakened him.

I walked over and sat in the bed beside to him. Dad was watching me as I ran my fingers through his soft brown hair.

"Trent, have I got something to tell you when you wake up."

"I am awake. I didn't want to tell you because your hand in my hair felt so good."

"You're a sneaky bastard, you know."

"What did you want to tell me?"

I looked at my dad.

"Boys, I've had a busy day. I think I'm going to take a shower," he said giving us some privacy.

I turned back to Trent as Dad went into the bathroom. I then stretched out and laid beside him.

"Trent, I have to say, I've had a terrible afternoon."

"What happened?"

"Shhh. Let me finish. I spent the day thinking about you and me but mostly about me. I went through every reason I had to think that I could be gay and every reason why I'm not. The difficult part was that I had to take a hard look at myself with total honesty. I ended up talking to myself. All my life, I didn't even know that I was denying who I really am. Well, my love, not anymore. I'm gay."

"Wait a minute. You just called me your love. Why'd you do that?"

"Because you are. I not only love you, I'm in love with you. I then leaned over to kiss him.

"Ouch! Take it easy, okay?"

"Suck it up, man, because I am going to kiss you.

My heart fluttered as our lips met. I cannot get over how velvety soft his lips were.

When I broke the kiss, I lay back and just looked at him.

"It took you long enough. I've been waiting for this for… Oh, God, has it only been three days?" Trent asked.

"I know it must have been an exasperating wait for you. It took me a while to make up my mind."

"You don't know the half of it. Paul, I knew I was in love with you after you talked to me in the restroom. You are an amazing person. You humble me for wanting me."

"Trent, I want to kiss you again, but I'm afraid of hurting you."

"For you my love, I'll put up with anything."

My luck wasn't with me that night. Just as our lips met, Dad walked out of the bathroom. The timing he had was getting ridiculous.

"Get a room, boys. Oh, you have a room. Well, whatever you do, keep it quiet."

I looked up at Dad and blushed apple red. Trent pulled the comforter over his head.

Dad came over and sat on the end of bed, watching me the whole time. After he sat down, he turned to Trent.

"Trent, you can come out now. I'm not going to bite."

Trent slowly lowered the comforter and sat up.

"I've watched you two, and what I see is how happy you two are together. But it's only been a couple of days, and I don't know you, Trent, that well yet. So, I asked the one person that knows Trent: Conner. Your brother loves you very much, Trent. And from what he said about you, you are the perfect boyfriend for my Paul. So, I want you to know that I'm delighted that you two found each other." Dad got off the bed, turned around and said, "But, like I said, keep it quiet."

"Oh, I almost forgot. Trent, I was pretty upset that your dad hit you yesterday. I've contacted Social Services and told them what happened, and I have a meeting with them tomorrow morning at 9:00. I also called Dr. Underwood and he has the photos and his report ready for me."

"There's something about dads that can't let go of things," I said quietly to Trent.

"Trent, you haven't had anything to eat yesterday or today. Can I get you something from the restaurant?" Dad asked.

"I can't chew anything cuz my jaw still hurts. I might be able to drink some soup and maybe some juice."

"What kind of soup would you like?"

"Just anything without lumps."

Trent and I slept together that night. I was afraid to touch him for fear of causing him any more pain. But that didn't stop him from trying to cuddle up to me. He struggled, so we wound up holding hands for the rest of the night.

We stayed in the hotel watching a movie that morning waiting for Dad to get back. I was surprised to hear a knock on the door around 10:00. Conner had come over to see how Trent was doing.

"You look awful," was his greeting.

"You wouldn't look so great if Dad did this to you either."

"Are you in any pain?"

"Enough, but I've got some pain killers when it gets too bad."

"Is there anything I can get for you?"

"No. I'm good."

"Looks like you're being well taken care of," he said as he glanced at me.

"Yeah, I've been teaching Paul how to be a good wet nurse, but don't tell him I fake it a lot to get his attention."

"I heard that!" I yelled.

"Con, there's something that I have to tell you," Trent said.

"Yeah, what's that?"

"Paul, would you come over here for a minute?"

I walked over and stood by his chair.

"Bend down and kiss me."


"Just do it."

So, I bent down and kissed his lips.

"I knew it. I just fucking knew it," Conner said as he turned and danced around the room. "God I was hoping if Trent got a boyfriend, it would be you, Paul."

"So, you're not surprised?" Trent asked.

"Just surprised that my hopes have come true so quickly."

"I've got to run, guys. I'm meeting someone for lunch." Conner said then moved toward the door.

Knowing Conner, I was surprised that he didn't tell us who he was meeting. Why was he keeping this a secret? I thought for a moment. Remembering that Conner was single, I smiled.

Dad came in around 2:30 and plopped down in the easy chair.

"What a day," he sighed.

"Wanna tell us what you've been up to?" I asked.

"First I want to talk to Trent. Trent, do you want to go back home?

"Are you kidding me?" he asked.

"No. But I do need an answer from you."

"You know I never want to go back there."

"Good because you're going to have to say that to a judge."

"What's going on Dad?" I asked.

Dad turned to me and asked, "Paul, would like a new brother?"

My eyes shot open at what he was implying.

"Trent, this is important. Would you like me to adopt you?" my dad asked him.

Oh my God! Oh my God! I couldn't believe what my dad was asking him. I looked at Trent and the tears were rolling out of his eyes. Then his lips began trembling.

"You want me?" he asked hesitantly.

"I had to talk to Alice first, to see if it's okay with her, and she has no problem with it. She was actually excited about it. But it's also only if you both want it." Dad said.

Trent looked at me.

"I don't know, Dad. Mom may not know what a wimp he is, you know. And he needs to stop snoring."

Trent was now on his feet, no concept that he was still in pain.

"I can't help it. I can't breathe through my nose," he yelled at me.

I smiled. "Yeah, I guess we can take him."

Trent glared at me.

"I know you're only teasing me, Paul, but you can be one massive prick sometimes," he said.

"All right, you two. Stop acting like you're already married."

Now, that put an idea in my head.

"Trent," Dad continued, "this is far from final. There are a bunch of hoops that we must jump through to get there. The court will have to revoke your mom's and dad's parental rights. Then there's the adoption process to go through. Another glitch is that I don't live in Nevada. I live in California. They will be the ones to approve the adoption because that's where you'll be living. Once your parent's rights are revoked, you'll be put in the custody of Nevada Social Services. California CPS will then collaborate with Nevada Social Services to get you adopted in California."

"Do I have to move to California?" Trent asked.

"Only if you want to be with me and Paul."

"Yes, I want that." Trent said purring like a kitten.

"There's something else we need to talk about and that's what to do about Jason's body. This may not be pleasant to talk about, but it must be done. I called Washoe County. They said that they had already called your dad and wanted to know what he wanted to do. He basically told them it's up to them; he wanted nothing to do with it."

I Looked up and saw Trent lower his head and close his eyes. Won't his pain ever stop? I shouted to myself.

"We should talk to Conner. He's the oldest responsible one in the family now and should be involved with that decision," Dad said.

"We can't right now," I said.

Everyone looked at me.

"What'd ya mean? He was just here a couple of hours ago." Trent said.

"Well, he said he was going to have lunch with someone but wouldn't say who," I said.


"Remember, he's single."

Trent looked at me for a moment.

"Oh," was all he said.

"We should call him later," I said.

Dad looked at me with questions on his face.

"I think Conner's on a date," I said.

All Dad said was, "Oh."

Later that afternoon, Trent called Conner but had to hold the phone away from his ear. He then pushed the speaker button.

"… works with me at the docks at the plant. We've talked a lot during breaks, and I finally got the courage to ask him to lunch. He's Swedish and talks with that gorgeous accent. His name is Thor, of all things. Know what he told me? He said he'd love to have lunch with me. I think we have a lot in common. Oh my God. I think he's gay too…. He knew Jason. They used to play soccer in the park. They became friends..."

"Conner," Trent had to break in.


"I'm so glad for you. But we need to talk about something important. Paul and his dad are here with me at their hotel room, and we need to talk about what to do with -"

Trent was now choking up, so I grabbed the phone from him while he sank gently into the easy chair.

"Conner, this is Paul. I'm sorry, but Trent had a tough time with what he was trying to say. We need to talk about what you want to do with Jason's body."

"Oh man, Paul. I knew this was coming. I'll be there in a couple of minutes," and the phone went dead.

"Conner's coming right over," I told everyone.

When Conner entered the room, he saw Trent with his hands over his face and he went straight for him. He knelt in front of him and said, "Little bro, let me decide for us. You do not need to go through this. Let me do it."

Trent lifted his face to his brother.

"I need to be involved in this too. He was my twin brother."

Conner looked at me and then at my dad.

"How about we do this. Let us talk about it. If you agree or if you don't agree, tell us."

Trent nodded his okay.

Conner got up and looked at us for a moment.

"I'd like you guys to give me your opinions of what we should do. Paul, you go first."

"Guys, I loved Jason more than you know, but I can't make that decision for you. I'm not family."

"No, Paul. You are a part of our family. You have every right to help us make that decision."

"Thank you, Conner," I said as my eyes glassed over.

"I wouldn't even know which church to go to. I won't take Jason to Dad's church, that's for sure," Conner said.

"There are other churches here," I said. "There's gotta be a church that's gay friendly, but I haven't the faintest clue which one"

"Maybe we can look in the phone book. Or maybe we can drive around and see which one has a rainbow flag out front."

"A funeral will cost thousands of dollars, you know. We don't have the money to afford that," Conner said.

"I do," my dad spoke up.

We all looked at my dad.

"Jason was a part of my family, too. Whatever you come up with, I'll foot the bill."

"You don't have to do that, Richard," Conner said.

"Yes, I do, and I will. My suggestion is that you contact a mortuary and have Jason's body transferred there. Secondly, find out which church is gay friendly, and tell them what you want to do. Let them take it from there."

"How do we find out which church is gay friendly?" Conner asked.

"Just go to one, anyone except Catholic, and they'll tell you which church to go to."

"Is this okay with you, Trent?" Conner asked.

"Thanks, guys, and yes, it is."

We now had our marching orders. Jason would be treated with the respect he deserved.

As he was leaving, Conner asked me, "How can your dad do this for us?"

"I never told you this, but Dad's loaded. He owns an architectural firm with three offices in California. It's called RH Design Consultants, Inc."

"No wonder your sneakers are better than mine," Conner chuckled as he left the room.

Trent was up before me the next morning. I sat up in bed watching him, and he seemed to be moving around a lot better. Someone knocked on the door at 9:00.

"That's probably Conner. You wanna get that?" I called to Trent.

I was right; it was Conner.

Dad came out of the bathroom just as Conner came in the room.

"I must have shaken a few heads because they've scheduled the school board meeting for tonight. Trent, you need to get on the phone and call as many kids as you can, and especially the ones who have been bullied. I want to pack that meeting," Dad said.

"What time should I tell them to be there?"

"The meeting starts at 7:00 in the school district building."

"Trent, most of those kids don't know me. I think it would be better if you made the calls." I said to Trent.

"I've got an appointment at the hospital today. They want to check me over, I guess," Trent said."

"What time's your appointment?" Dad asked.

"It's at 1:30."

"That'll work out well. I've a meeting with that church's council at 3:00 today."

"Doesn't your dad ever stop?" Trent asked me.

"Told ya," I said.

"In the meantime, Trent, get on your phone calls," Dad said.

Trent wrote down names and phone numbers from his contact list and he started in. By the time he'd noticed it was 1:00 and had thirty-two kids that were going to be there. Trent told me that what amazed him was the enthusiasm and eagerness those kids showed to help stop the bullying.

"Better get ready, Trent. You don't want to miss your appointment," Dad said.

"Are you coming with me?"

"Now, that's a dumb question. Of course, we are, all of us."

"I guess you're driving then, huh?"

Dad flicked Trent's ear as he walked out the door.

"Ouch, that hurt."

"You'd better get used to stuff like that with Dad," I said.

The first thing I noticed when Trent got back to the waiting room was that the bandages across his nose were gone. His nose was a little blue, but you could see his face now, even with the bruising. He was still beautiful, at least to me.

"Mr. Taylor?" the doctor asked as he came up to Dad.

"No, I'm not his dad. Conner here is his older brother," Dad said as Conner walked up.

"Okay," the doctor said as he turned to Conner. "Your brother's nose is healing nicely. I removed the pads that we used to stop the bleeding and help keep the nose in place to heal. He's breathing normally now. His face bruises are also healing, but his jaw will still be a little painful for a while. Rib bones heal fast as they're small, but he's still going to have some discomfort for a while. I've prescribed a milder pain medication than the one he had been taking. He's to take one every eight hours for the next five days. He's young and kids always seem to heal faster than people my age. Any questions?"

"No, and thank you, doctor," Conner replied.

"I can breathe again," Trent said as we were getting into Dad's car. "But I think I want to keep snoring just to piss off Paul."

"Better not, or you sleep alone," I spat out.

Dad dropped us off at the hotel, and he headed to the church.

Trent plopped on the bed, and I did the same next to him. Conner sat in the easy chair. We rested for a few moments until Trent raised up on his elbows.

"You like this Thor guy, Conner?"

"Very much. I had goosebumps all through lunch."

"What'd you talk about," I asked.

"Mostly about us and what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives. I told him I wanted to become a writer. Thor told me he's good with computers and wants to become a programmer. He said that Jason recommended that he should go to college. Jason also recommended some colleges for him in California."

"Is this getting serious?" Trent asked.

Conner paused and smiled at us.

"Maybe," he said.

"So, when're you gonna see him again?" I asked.

"We're gonna take in a movie on Saturday."

"When can we meet him?" Trent asked.

"The way you two horndogs act, maybe never," Conner said.

Dad walked in the room earlier than I thought; he was gone less than an hour.

"You wouldn't believe what happened," he said before he even sat down."

Well, now he had our attention.

"First off, this church was formed by their preacher, Dr. Fredrickson, but he couldn't run it alone. So, he formed a Counsel to help with running the church. What he didn't know was that the counsel was legally running the church. I was worried how the Church Council was going to take what I had planned on telling them. I shouldn't have. They had voted yesterday to let Fredrickson go. He was fired this morning. They saw what the hate he had been preaching was doing to this town. They're even welcoming gay people to their church. Their doctrine is still 'hate the sin and not the sinner.' We'll see how that goes. Well, one victory out of the way."

I could see the parking lot was almost full at the school's district office. Dad found a parking spot, but it was at the far end. We were joined by a bunch of kids that I didn't know along with their parents, all heading up to the building. Trent knew every one of them.

"This is going to be great," Trent said to me.

"Let's hope they listen," Conner said to no one in particular.

The filled parking lot should have told me the room would also be packed. It was. I figured the audience section of the room had seats for around sixty people. There was a camera operator in the rear adjusting his camera, meaning the press was there in force. At the front of the room facing the audience was a long table where nine adults sat. I figured they must be the district's school board members. At the head of the center aisle was a small podium with a microphone.

The man in the center of the row of seated adults stood and asked for everyone to find a seat.

When the room quieted, Mr. Stephen Jacobson, the Board President, took his seat and spoke.

"The Washoe County School District Board of Trustees is now in session. All members are present, so we have a quorum."

I thought he'd bang a gavel, but he didn't have one.

"This meeting has been called to discuss the district's anti-bullying policy. It is our understanding that there is some controversy concerning how that policy is being implemented. This portion of the meeting is to hear public comments. Anyone wishing to speak, please raise your hand, and when I acknowledge you, please come to the microphone and state your name for the record."

Immediately, all thirty-two kid's hands went up. I could tell the board president was surprised at the show of hands.

"Before we get too rowdy, Mr. Lockhart, would you like to address the board?"

"Yes, thank you, Mr. Jacobson," Dad said after reaching the podium.

"My name is Richard Lockhart. I am not a parent of any student attending this high school. I am here because I am appalled at what I've seen and feel an obligation to abolish the systematic abuse I've seen."

Dad turned and looked at me.

"Paul, would you pass out the papers I brought, one to each of the board members?"

I got up, made my way to the board members' table, and passed a packet to each member.

"Thank you, Paul," Dad said to me.

"What I've passed to you are four signed sworn statements, two from current teachers and one from the school's counselor and one from Dr. Underwood, the physician that examined Trent. These are statements saying what they've witnessed.

"As you can see, there are a lot of students that want to tell you what happened to them. I think these students should have their voice heard. This is their school, and they have the right to be heard."

"We may not get to all of them, but let's proceed," Mr. Jacobson said.

"Thank you. To keep some order, I'd like to have Trent Taylor come up to the podium. He's a junior at the high school and knows each of the students here. As the hands go up, I'd like him to pick the student to speak to you. As that first student finishes what he or she wants to say, Trent will pick the next one. We'll keep going until you've all heard what they want you to hear. I must caution you though. Some of what you're going to hear will be unsettling, and, in many cases, criminal."

Trent came up to the microphone.

"My name in Trent Taylor, and please forgive me cuz I'm not used to speaking like this before a lot of people; I'm kinda nervous." Then he turned to the audience.

"Who wants to come up here and speak?"

And of course, all thirty-two hands went up again.

Trent looked around the room, and said, "John Coleman."

John came up to the podium.

"My name is John Coleman. I'm a sophomore, and as you can see, I'm not a big guy, and I get hassled a lot. Recently, I had to go to the boy's room between classes and three guys caught me in there. They started pushing me and calling me names."

"What names did they call you, John," a female board member asked.

John looked up, not answering.

"It's okay, John. You can say the words here."

"I'm told never to use those words. They called me a scrawny piece of shit and a fag."

"Go on, John," she said.

"Then they pushed me again harder, and I fell down. The biggest guy then stomped on my wrist."

John held up his right arm showing the cast.

"He stomped me twice and broke it in two places. I can't write anymore. I'm hoping I'll be able to again when the breaks heal, but the doctor says he can't be sure."

"Was there anyone that witnessed this?" Mr. Jacobson asked.

"Yeah, the other two guys in the room with him."

"Did you report this incident to anyone?"

"No. What good would that do? Nothing ever happens to those bullies," John said angrily, turned around and walked away.

Trent watched him, and I could see the pity in his eyes. I just shook my head.

"Anyone else?"

Now, thirty-one hands went up.

"Clay Walker," Trent said as he pointed to him.

"My name is Clayton Walker, but I go by Clay. I'm going to say something that I've never told anyone except my mom and dad."

Clay began to shake.

"I'm gay. I've known since I was a sophomore last year. You can ask me why I've kept that a dark secret, but I'll tell you without your asking. It's because I don't want to get beat up, that's why; I'm scared. I know one guy, Tony Venetti, here at school. He was a nice guy. Well, a bunch of the guys accused him of being gay. He got beat up in the gym by his soccer team, the whole team. He had to go to the hospital, it was so bad. I never saw Tony again because he left the school. I went to the hospital to see him, and he looked like he was going to die. They said he almost did. I cried for Tony that night."

Clay turned from the board members to the audience for a moment, and I noticed that he had tears falling down his cheeks.

"Know what the soccer coach said after Tony was beaten? He said, 'I guess they don't like fags.' That was all he said. I read somewhere that teachers are supposed to report bullying to the principal, That they had to. He never did. And guess what? Tony wasn't even gay.

"I get up in the morning and my stomach aches because I don't want to go to school. I'm scared of being there."

Dad, sitting next to me in the front row, put his face in his hands. I knew he was hiding his tears.

"Who's next?" Trent called out. "Neal, come on up."

"I'm Neal Steward. Yes, I'm Chinese, as you can tell, but my mom and dad had my name changed when they adopted me from China when I was two years old. I was never beat up, but the kids at school ridiculed me because I'm Chinese. They did everything they could to embarrass me. The name calling and pushing I could tolerate because I wasn't hurt. The worst thing that happened to me was when I was stripped naked in the boy's room and pushed out into the hallway. I usually don't cry, but right then, I couldn't help it. I held myself facing the lockers, not willing to move while hearing the laughter all around me. Someone finally came up to me and gave me his jacket to put around my waist. He went inside the boy's room and got my clothes for me. He said the boy's room was empty, so I went back inside and put my clothes back on. I need to say thank you to that person who saw me in that hallway and did something."

Neal turned to Trent and put his arms around him.

"I never had a chance to thank you, Trent," Neal said to him.

My eyes had surpassed being glazed over after seeing and hearing that.

"Thank you, Neal, and thank all of you for coming out tonight," Mr. Jacobson said. "I would love to hear all your stories, but there is a time limit set for board meetings and our time is running short. I'm going to close this public hearing because after reading the statements you brought, Mr. Lockhart, and hearing from a couple of you students and seeing so many more students wanting to share their experiences. The board and I are going to meet in closed session tonight. We should have our decision on this matter by tomorrow."

Dad stood up.

"Mr. Jacobson, may I say a final word?"

"Yes, Mr. Lockhart, but please be brief."

"Thank you. The atmosphere in any organization is promulgated by the figures that lead that organization. This, of course, is also true for a school. I know most of your teachers want to teach because their passion to teach is what brought them here. They need guidance from above to accomplish what they're destined to do. New voices need to be heard from the top to put an end to this kind of behavior. This place must be safe for your students. They need to feel safe to learn. That's all I want to say except for thank you for hearing us tonight."

"Mr. Lockhart, even though you don't have a student with us, I'm sure you speak for all of our parents. Enjoy the rest of your evening while the board makes some tough decisions."

I had looked in the phone book and found a Lutheran church not far from Conner's apartment. When I explained that the service was for a gay teenager, I was directed to the Metropolitan Church. They gave me the address and directions to get there.

I was skeptical about entering; I hadn't been in a church since I was nine years old. I looked up at the stone building with its massive front door; it was intimidating to me.

I started up the steps, and, as I was about to enter, a young man in his mid-twenties, came through the door. I stopped in front of him, not knowing what to do, not moving. I looked up at him.

He stopped, looked down at me, and said, "Can I help you with something?"

It took a minute for me to get my voice back. "I'd like to talk to someone about a funeral," I said.

"Come inside. I'll get Pastor Manfred for you. What may I call you?"

"My name's Paul Lockhart."

As we walked down the center aisle of the church, he turned to me and said, "You look kinda young to be talking about a funeral. Is it for someone you knew?"

"Yes," was all I could say as I began to tear up remembering Jason.

He noticed and said, "I'm so sorry."

He led me through a side door, down a short hallway and into Pastor Manfred's Office.

"Dr. Manfred, this is Paul Lockhart. He would like to talk to you about a funeral."

Dr. Manfred got up from his desk, came over and shook my hand.

"Please have a seat," he said while showing me to a small conference table. Then he asked, "What is it that you'd like to know about funerals?"

"I need to order a funeral."

"I'm sorry. You look so young, I thought you were simply curious."

"It's for my friend."

"Can I ask his name?"

"His name is Jason, Jason Taylor."

Dr. Manfred sat back in his chair, still looking at me.

"What happened to Jason, if I may ask?"

My tears were now rolling down my cheeks, and I was having difficulty saying what Jason had done.

"Jason… Jason… hanged himself," I finally got out.

"I knew Jason, not personally, but I knew of him."

"How did you know him?"

"This church is very welcoming to those who are gay. Many of the young people that come here knew Jason and spoke of him often. Some of them came to me asking for advice to give Jason to overcome the problems he'd been dealing with. I asked them to see if they could talk Jason into coming to see me, but he never came.

"Are you a relative of Jason's, Paul?"

"No, but we grew up together. Jason lived in Clayton, California, where I live, with his aunt and uncle. He and I became best friends."

"I heard about the trouble he was having at home, and that he had to move out."

"You knew about that?"

"Yes. I wish I could have done something to bring that family together again."

"There's nothing you could have done. It would not have been possible,"

"How are Conner and Trent holding up?"

"Conner's doing alright, but Trent's not doing so well dealing with it."

"They were twins, weren't they?"

"Yeah. Jason was gone for so many years that when he returned, Trent had hardly any memory of him. I'm trying to give Trent back some memories."

"How are you doing that?"

"I talk to him about what Jason was like, what we did together, what he thought, things like that. Trent and I have become good friends."

"You're an amazing young man, Paul, for what you're doing for Trent."

"He's an amazing young man, too," I said.

Dr. Manfred went to his desk and checked his appointment calendar. "We can have his funeral service this Friday at 1:00 PM, if it's alright with you?"

"I have to check with Conner, Trent, and my dad first. I'll have to let you know."

"Let me know as soon as you can. There are a lot of arrangements I must make. Have you decided on a cemetery yet?"

"That's something else I need to talk to them about."

Dad got a call the next day from the chairperson of the school board and, of course Conner was here checking up on Trent again. We all gathered around Dad to hear what the school board had come up with.

"Well, boys, they did it. The principal and vice-principal have been canned as of this morning," Dad relayed to us. "It seems the board was disgusted with the situation of bullying on campus. They're also planning on school-wide staff retraining. This should take no more than a couple of weeks, but it appears that your school is about to become safe for everyone," Dad said, looking directly at Trent.

Trent's lips trembled as he tried to smile at hearing the news. I figured that he was getting emotional and happy at the same time as a tear slipped from his eye.

"I need to call Social Services and see how they're coming along," Dad said as he picked up his cell phone.

After the call, Dad said, "Gather around boys. Things are happening."

We were listening carefully, especially Trent, who moved in front of us closer to Dad.

"They were impressed with what I gave them as evidence that Trent had been abused. In response they paid a visit to Trent's parents. It didn't turn out well for Trent's parents. He denied everything saying that Trent ran into a door. They asked how a door would cause Trent's broken ribs. At that point, Trent's mother owned up to what had happened. They will be filing charges against your dad. Trent's been placed in the custody of Nevada Social Services. They've also contacted Child Protective Services, CPS, in California and explained the situation to them. Since Alice and I have been fostering parents before, they are taking action to have our license renewed and are opening an adoption process for Trent. One thing that California needs is a home inspection to finalize that process. That means that Paul and I need to return to California when they make their home inspection. They fussed about Trent staying with us and not sending him to a temporary foster home, but I explained that Trent will be coming with us to California for CPS to meet and interview him. They said that they would contact CPS for their okay since CPS will be overseeing the adoption."

"You want me to go to California with you?" Trent asked.

"Damned right we do," I spoke up.

Dad looked at me and gave me that grin again.

"Yes, Trent. You should come with us. That way you can meet with CPS people and get to see your new home. It's not much, but it'll do," Dad said.

I looked at Dad and had to frown. I knew what kind of home we had, and 'not much' was a complete fabrication.

Jason's funeral service was held the next day, Friday, at 1:00 PM. I was not just nervous; I was petrified. I had not been in a church, except for my talk with Dr. Manfred, in seven years, since I was nine years old and didn't know what to expect. Conner had told me to just take it easy, one minute at a time, and I would get through it.

Conner walked in followed by Trent, Dad, and me following. Soft organ music was being played that seemed to give an air of reflection. Dad and Conner proceeded to the front pew, but once inside, I couldn't move. Jason's closed coffin glared at me from the front of the church. That may sound ridiculous, but the sunlight through the windows lit the coffin and the reflection seemed to be directed into my eyes and mine alone. I knew he was inside that metal box. I was not going to break down. I was going to stand tall, but my tears would not listen to me. Trent, beside me, took my hand briefly, but knowing that I wasn't moving, put his hand arm around my waist and prodded me forward. I looked up into his eyes. I saw something that did not look like grief, but a solid, almost fearless, determination. That youthful 16-year-old boy was not there. Beside me was a man.

After we had taken our seats, I chanced a look at the coffin ahr /gain. It was topped with white roses. It was beautiful. A large picture of Jason stood on an easel left of the coffin. The smile on Jason's face was that joyous one that he always proudly wore.

I hadn't noticed while I was walking in, focusing on Jason's coffin, that the chapel was filled. Most of them looked to be around Jason's age, kids, boys, and girls, some with parents.

The minister, Dr. Manfred, walked from the back of the church to the front and turned to face the congregation.

"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all," he started with.

"I want to thank you all for coming today to celebrate the life of Jason Raymond Taylor. Looking around, I see the love in your hearts directed toward your friend, Jason."

Boys, girls, men, and women throughout the congregation were all drying their tears in remembrance of their friend at what the minister said.

"I would like for anyone, who would like to say a few words in remembrance of Jason, to please come forward."

Dad stood up and made his way to the podium beside Jason's coffin. "My name is Richard Lockhart. Jason grew up in the town that I live in, and he became my son's inseparable friend. He would have dinner at our house at least three nights a week. Jason was a happy kid, smiling constantly., and he had so much promise. I knew and loved Jason because he was like a son to me and my wife. We feel enormous grief and loss over what happened to him." Dad looked down at us. "What happened to Jason, and how he was treated, should never have been allowed to happen." Dad didn't say anything more and left the podium, but I knew exactly what he meant.

It was my turn now, and I knew that I wouldn't be able to keep my tears in. Standing at the podium, I said. "My name is Paul Lockhart. I'm Richard's son. Jason was my best friend as we were growing up together. I loved him like a brother."

I had to pause to gather my resolve for what I wanted to say.

"Jason didn't just pass away silently. His death will resound in this town for years to come. You all know what happened. Jason was a small part all of you. Because he was here, he touched your lives in many little ways. I cannot, I will not ever forget him, because he touched my life. I ask you all to keep his memory alive."

I was now bawling and had to leave the podium. When I sat down, Trent put his arms around me, and I cried on his shoulder.

"Thank you, Paul. What you said was beautiful," Trent whispered in my ear.

Conner rose next and approached the podium. My name is Conner Taylor. I was Jason's older brother." Conner turned toward Jason's coffin.

"I shall miss you little bro."

Conner turned back to look toward us. I could see his tears streaming down his face. He was breaking down.

"There's so much I want to tell you about my brother, but… I can't find the words…or even the courage."

Trent immediately ran to him, threw an arm around him, and led him back to his seat.

Then Trent returned to the podium.

"My name is Trent Taylor. I'm Jason's twin brother. I want to thank my family for saying such kind and caring words about my brother. But I don't think you're going to like what I have to say."

Trent looked down at us. Dad and I knew what was coming. His words were becoming more forceful.

"Jason took his own life. He hanged himself," Trent almost yelled. "Why he did what he did is a travesty that this town must live with. They drove him to such despair that he could find no other solution than to end it all. In his mind he had to be free of the ridicule, the teasing, and the beatings. Many people of this town made this happen, they encouraged it. And many of you here today, let this happen.

"It started when hate and intolerance filled this town with the words of the Old Testament. Why? Because Jason was gay. I'm gay. There are some of you out there that are gay, too. To you I say, don't be afraid to live your lives to the fullest. Jason was proud of who he was. I'm proud of who I am. I hope you all know what I'm talking about."

I could see tears now bleeding from Trent's eyes. I ran to him and put my hand on his shoulder. I wanted to let him know I was here for him. Trent put his hand on mine for a moment and nodded to me. Then he turned around and faced the congregation.

"A small light burned within Jason because he was here. It might seem that his light has been extinguished. But that is not true. His light burns within all of you because he touched your lives and your hearts.

"Please, please, I ask you all in the name of God, do not let that light be extinguished. Keep his light burning within you. Jason's light will live within me till the day I die."

Trent then turned to me and wrapped his arms around me. He unabashedly bawled on my shoulder. Dad and Conner rushed to us and wrapped their arms around us. We all cried.

Then, something unexpected happened. A young man from the congregation stood and remained silent. Then a young girl across from the boy stood and silently faced us. One by one, everyone in the congregation stood. They were acknowledging Trent and what he said.

Almost marching like an army, we filed past Jason's coffin and said goodbye to him, some with words, some silently, but all with tears. Trent looked at the standing congregation and bowed his head to them. There was not a dry eye among them.

When we all eventually returned to our seats, Dr. Manfred mounted the podium.

"We are all grieving over the passing of Jason. But God, in his wisdom, is guiding us to get through our grieving. As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil…"and he continued with the 23rd psalm.

The service at the cemetery was somber. When Jason's coffin was lowered into the ground, Dad, Conner, Trent, and I took a handful of the dirt alongside the grave and dropped it on Jason's coffin. My hand released the soil, and I watched it fall. An image of the beautiful face of Jason appeared in my mind above the coffin. He was smiling at me. I knew he was now at rest.

I turned and ran. The crowd opened for me as my tear-stained face couldn't look at the coffin any longer. Dad came up to me and put his arm around me.

"You're a brave man, Paul. You've held up under this trying time with the courage that I wish I had. I'm proud of you, and I know Jason's proud of you."

I buried my head in his shoulder and cried.

We got word the next morning that CPS had approved our request for Trent to stay with us until we got to California. I was extremely excited to go back home, but Trent was apprehensive.

"What's the matter, Trent? Why so glum?" I asked.

"It's just that I've never been out of Nevada before."


"No, never."

"Are you afraid of going?"

"It's just that I won't see Conner again."

"Why did you say that? You know that we'll be back to visit, and he can visit us."

"You know I will," Conner broke in. "I'm not going to lose you."

"I know. I'm sorry. I know I don't say much, but I do worry about things a lot, especially when they change. Conner, please don't worry so much. You're not going to lose me, and I'm not going to lose you," Trent reassured his brother.

The next morning, we went to Village Inn for breakfast; it was much better than the restaurant at the hotel. The excitement in the air at our table over our upcoming trip to California was exhilarating. We had planned to leave after breakfast. Trent, Dad, and I had packed our bags the night before, leaving out only what we were to wear today.

"I can't' believe you guys are really going," Conner said.

"Conner, this may be the most important trip of my life," Trent answered him. "I'm going to find out if I have a home to go to."

"I know little bro, and I wish you all the happiness in the world. I will miss you; you know?"

"And I'll miss you too. This isn't the end, bro. Remember what they told you last night about visits."

"You better text me what you're doing. I still have to keep my eye on you," Conner said.

Trent and I climbed into the front seat of my car while Dad climbed into his.

The scenery driving home across the country was boring to me as I had been this way before. Trent, however, could not keep his eyes off the changing vista. Occasionally, he would poke me, saying, "Look at that."

As we came down from the Sierra Nevada Mountains, we pulled off I-80 at Colfax.

"Just a quick stop to get something cold to drink," Dad said.

Trent was even more excited when we neared Sacramento. His poking became almost non-stop. "Look at the tall buildings," he shouted. I loved Trent like this. He was like a child filled with amazement and enthusiasm.

Our house was situated on Mountaire Parkway in Clayton in the foothills of Mount Diablo. Trent's eyes were trained on the houses as we passed them.

"You live here?" he questioned. "These houses are huge."

I didn't say anything to him as we pulled into our driveway and parked. Trent just stared at the three-car garage in front of him.

Dad came around to my side window and said, "Come on boys. Grab your stuff and let's go inside. I know Alice is anxious to meet Trent."

I led Trent into the entryway and had to hold up as he just stopped. The chandelier hanging from the second-floor ceiling caught his attention. In front of him was a winding staircase leading to the second floor. To his left was a large sitting room/library and to the right was a formal dining room that would seat sixteen. Dad had to do lots of entertaining for his business, and dinner parties were always on the agenda. Beyond the dining room was the kitchen with a breakfast nook where we found my mom. Immediately, I was attacked by Scooter, my dog. He was a small shih tzu that thought he was much bigger than he was. He tried to leap on me, but only managed to get as far as my knees. I had to kneel to greet him.

When I got up, Mom was already on me with a hug. "I was so sorry to hear about Jason," she said to me.

I turned toward Trent. "Mom, this is Jason's twin brother, Trent. Trent, this is my mom, Alice."

She looked at Trent, and I could see a tear fall from her eye.

"I'm sorry." she said. "You look so much like Jason that for a moment, it seemed as though he was standing in front of me."

Mom left me and hugged Trent, swaying back and forth.

After what Mom said about seeing Jason in him, Trent's eyes filled with tears as he hugged Mom back.

"Let's get Trent settled in. Paul, why don't you show him to the guest bedroom?" Dad said.

"Come on, Trent," I said as I grabbed his suitcase. "This way."

Mom turned to Dad, and spoke to him quietly so we wouldn't hear, but I did.

"I had always wished that we could have adopted Jason. It was horrible that Jason chose to end his life, but Jason is not dead. I see him alive in Trent."

Dad hugged Mom tightly, and said, "I know. Our wish seems about to come true. But try to remember that Trent is not Jason. Trent is his own person."

I led Trent up the stairs to the guest bedroom. When he walked in, he said, "This room is huge. That's a king bed, isn't it?"

"Yup, and it's all yours. I can help put your things in the dresser for you if you want."

"No. I want to do that. I want to feel the ownership of being able to do it."

"What about the rest of your stuff that you left behind?"

"Your dad told me that my folks have to ship it to me. I hope they get it all and don't break anything. Maybe I can get Conner to supervise, now that Dad's not there."

Trent's bedroom had a dresser, two empty bookcases, a desk with side table containing a laptop computer and printer, a 50-inch TV on the wall opposite his bed, a large window next to the TV and an ensuite bathroom. Trent opened the bathroom door and saw a counter with sink and a large mirror above, a bathtub, separate shower, a linen closet, and another closet.

"I can't believe this is all about to be mine," he said. "You didn't tell me you lived in a mansion."

"Once you get used to it, it won't feel so big. You haven't seen the back yard yet. Look out your window."

Trent walked over to the window and looked down at the back yard.

"I thought you said that you used the school's pool to swim. What's that doing here?" he asked, pointing down at the pool in the back yard.

"I use both, but this one, I reserve for when I wanna skinny dip."

Trent turned and looked at me with his eyes wide.

"Your parents let you skinny dip?"

"Well, yeah. Their bedroom is on the first floor in the front of the house, so they can't see me. And they know that if I'm going to use the pool, it'll be sans bathing suit. They don't mind if I do."

"I couldn't even walk around home in my boxers."

"My 'rents won't mind if you do. Just don't be naked in front of them; they might not comment on it, but it wouldn't be polite."

Trent started opening his suitcase to put his clothes away, but I put my hand on his arm.

"Hey, you wanna see my room? It's right next door to yours."


"Come on."

When Trent entered my room, there were no clothes on the floor like I had left them. My bed was made, and all my books were back in their bookcases. Yes, I had two, just like Trent's room. He looked around and saw my stereo and CD collection. He walked over and picked out a couple my CD's.

"These are mostly classical," he said.

"I know. I'm weird, but I like classical music."

"So did Jason," he said.

"I know. I introduced him to it."

Trent turned from me and faced the window again.

"I wish people would stop treating me like I'm Jason. I wish people would be able to see me and not Jason."

"I see you, Trent. I have always seen you. I loved Jason, but I'm in love with you."

"I didn't really know my brother until you came along and taught me to know him. You showed me what he was like, the bad and the good. I think I'm stronger than he was. I see life in front of me while he only saw despair."

"Trent, Jason's despair didn't start until he moved back to Nevada. You learned over a long period to handle what to him came as a shock. You're you, and you have a new life here now."

He turned back to me. I could see the emotion he was dealing with in his eyes.

"Paul, I can never forget my brother, nor do I want to. But I've got to be me. I want to live."

I walked over to him and put my arms around him, hugging him close to me. I let his tears fall on my shoulder.

"Let's do that together, Trent. Let's live life together."

"We're only sixteen. What do we know about life?" he asked.

"Yeah, but, look at it this way. We have a lifetime journey ahead of us. Just think of all the things we'll be learning as we take that journey."

We both heard the quiet knock on my door followed by mom's voice. "May I come in?"

Trent started to pull away from me, but I held onto him even tighter.

"Come in, Mom," I said.

The door creaked open, and Mom entered but stopped as she looked at us in full embrace.

"I'm now seeing the full extent of what your dad said to me about you two. Paul, I realized that you might be gay years ago, and it didn't matter. Trent obviously makes you happy. And Trent, I know you're a little shy having just met me, but your face doesn't hide your happiness with Paul. Richard said that I was going to be happy for both of you, and he was right."

Of course, Trent blushed. I walked over and hugged my mom. When Trent saw what I was doing, he also walked over and joined us in a three-way hug.

Mom broke the hug, and said, "I came up to tell you boys that dinner is ready, and then you got me sidetracked. Ellen's made your favorite, Paul: meatloaf."

Trent turned to me. "Who's Ellen?"

"Oh, she's our cook, and she makes the best meatloaf in town," I answered.

"You have a cook?" Trent questioned.

"Come on, boys. It's time Trent met Ellen," Mom said.

Ellen had her back to us when we walked into the kitchen. She was bent over removing the meatloaf from the oven.

"Don't talk to me until I get this out. You don't want me to drop it, do you, Paul?" she asked, her back still toward us.

"No, Ellen," I answered.

She put the loaf pan on top of the stove and turned around. Ellen stopped when she saw Trent and stared at him.

"You must be Trent," she said. "You are the spitting image of Jason; I was confused for a moment."

"Yes, ma'am. I'm Trent."

"I was so sorry to hear about your brother. He was like a fixture around here."

"We will all miss him," Trent said.

"Trent, your brother's on the phone," my dad yelled from across the room.

Trent hurried across the room and took the house phone from him.

"What's up, Bro?"

Trent listened for a moment. I could see the happiness in his smile.

"Are you sure?"

"Oh my God. I can't believe that," Trent said with tears in his eyes.

"You bet. I'll see you soon."

Trent handed the phone back to my dad and slowly walked over to us.

"What is it, Trent," I asked. "Why are you crying?"

"Conner's boyfriend, Thor, has just been accepted into a major university. He's going to be leaving Nevada."

"But what about Conner? Are they going to be separated?"

"No. Thor wants him to go with him."

"So, where are they going?" I asked.

Trent paused for a moment, looking at all of us.

"Thor's been accepted into the University of California at Berkeley. He'll be studying Computer Science. And Conner had applied and was also accepted. He'll be studying Journalism. They'll be only a few miles from us."

I sat in the booth of the breakfast nook to take this all in. In a weird sort of way, Jason had been responsible for what was happening. He made us laugh together, he made us cry together, and he brought us together as a family. Jason was a friend of Thor's. I just knew there was a connection there. Jason had obviously influenced Thor to follow his dreams, and for Conner to follow his. That's the reason that Conner and Thor were going to be moving so close.

Jason had touched all of us, and he brought us together as a family.

The End

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