The Scars Above My Heart

by Sean English

Chapter 8

Come Camp With Me (Part II)

As they stood and stared at one another, an award silence followed. When both Alex and Brett smiled at the younger boy, the youth warily sized them up. He finally reached out and shook Alex's hand. "Ethan," he said simply, pulling his hand back curtly as soon as greeting was finished.

Coach Jacobs scratched his head, all the while looking down at the smaller boy. "I don't get it, is there a problem here or something? Ethan?" the man asked in a low tone.

As another silence followed, it was Alex who finally took the initiative. "Uh, Brett and I had a run in with his Dad a few weeks back, one that didn't turn out for the best. Ethan, his sister and Mom, I think, came in on the middle of an argument," he explained. He took a deep breath before lowering his voice. "There's no problem with me, Mr. Jacobs. Ethan is more than welcome to start with us in a little while, if he wants to."

"What time are you set to begin?" the older man asked.

"Um, we originally planned around 8:30 or so," Brett spoke up.

Mr. Jacobs hesitated. "That weather front coming through last night left us all in an unusual chill this morning. How about you reschedule and push it up into the early afternoon. It should warm back up considerably by then, especially once the sun has had time to take over this morning."

"Sure thing. So, how about from 1:00 to 2:30? Is that okay?" Alex asked.

"Perfect! I'll announce the change in a few minutes, along with some other notices." The man looked down at Ethan again, who had remained silent while still observing both teens intently. "How about it, son? That sound okay with you?"

Ethan never removed his eyes from Alex. "I'm not your 'son', sir. But yeah, it's fine." It was delivered in a haughty tone, but not without a minimal level of respect. Afterwards, the young man turned and walked away, joining a group of other boys lining up for the breakfast buffet.

Mr. Jacobs stared after him. "Oh boy, you may have your hands full with that one. He looks like he may have some major issues." Turning back, he addressed both teens with a lowered voice. "Listen, if you have any problems with him, or any of the kids for that matter, let me know. Okay?"

"Will do," Brett answered, while Alex nodded. As the man walked away, the two teenagers then crossed and joined the line of boys as well. Nothing was spoken between them as they collected bowls of hot oatmeal and sausage links. After picking up a carton of juice at the end, they then made their way quietly to one of the empty tables and sat down. Brett looked around for the younger boy and spotted him across the room, sitting by himself. "What do you think his problem is, I wonder?" When Alex didn't respond, he turned to him directly. "Hey, Earth to Alex, come in Alex!"

As if breaking from a trance, the teen grunted. "I don't know, Brett. I just … I know, that was kind of weird and all. He was spooked, for sure."

Brett sat back, studying. "I don't think he's the only one who got spooked. You okay?"

Alex grunted. "Of course, I am," he replied quickly before he took a bite of food. Afterwards he became thoughtful. "You know, maybe you should be the one to work with him, just in case it has more to do with me than anything else."

"Why would you think that?" Brett asked. "You know that he wasn't around when you and porky had that scuffle."

Alex shook his head. "I know, but don't forget, Harry is his father. Ethan's been around his Dad a lot more than we have since then."

Brett wrinkled his nose, but then nodded as he conceded the point. "Okay, I guess. I mean, that's fair." They sat in silence as they continued to eat, but the encounter had left an overall air of mystery. Although Alex said nothing more, Brett knew it was bugging his friend, and he made it a point to try and figure out why later.

"So, like I told you guys yesterday, the biggest trick of being able to make it around in the water is to not panic any," Alex explained to the group, as they were now together, readying to begin again.

One of the boys looked onward and scoffed. "Huh, easy for you to say. You've never been taken out in the middle of a pond and dumped overboard, and then told to find your own way back to shore!"

Alex observed him with surprise. "Really? Someone did that to you?"

"My old man did it, not once, but twice! And then when I couldn't do it and started to go under, he grabbed and pulled me out, and then told everyone I was hopeless," the boy replied, blushing.

Alex made his way over to the youth and put a hand on his shoulder. "Never, ever think that, okay?" Raising his voice, he called out to the entire group, "Never let anyone put you down, or berate you like that. It is not hopeless, you are not hopeless, and when you learn how to do all this stuff, you'll discover for yourself that word doesn't even belong in your vocabulary! Swimming is not hard at all – you learn a few patterns, and then you kind of condition yourself for it. Before you know it, it'll be second nature to you."

"What does that mean?" another boy asked.

Brett spoke up then. "He means it'll be like going to piss in the bathroom! You'll do it without even thinking about why you're doing it!"

All of them laughed at that, while Brad piped up. "But we do think about that, though! Who wants to walk around with a full bladder, holding your pee in all day!"

More laughter, until a surprising voice popped in. "Yeah, but do you have to think about HOW you do it?"

Alex turned and saw it came from Ethan, then smiled and nodded. "Exactly. Some things, once you learn, you don't have to really think about them anymore, you just do it. Like riding a bike, or putting on your underwear, or washing your head, or eating - you just do those things because you already learned how to do it a long time ago. You don't think about how you're doing it, because you just do it, right? Once you learn how, swimming is like that, too." Looking back from the direction he came, he spoke louder. "Listen, it doesn't matter whether you're in the middle of a bath tub, a hot tub, a pool, a pond or lake, or even in the middle of an ocean. You might get surprised if someone dunks you, or if you fall in or something. I grant you, that can seem scary at first if it happens. Maybe you didn't expect it, maybe it shocked you just because you got wet and all. Fine, so it happened. The only reason you would drown though, is if you panic - and that's what I'm trying to teach you not to do, here and now. Once the surprise or shock wears off, your body starts to take over, and you start to make your way back up to the surface. And once your head is above water, you get to breathe all the air you want. You don't drown or anything, unless you just panic." He looked around at the group again, making eye contact with each person and catching their attention. "Seriously, I know we get scared sometimes, because I remember what it was like when I started out. Even though it may sound kind of dumb to say the water is your friend, that's the way you really need to think about it. I mean, I get it, I really do - water is not a person or animal or anything like that. The thing is though, if you don't want to think of it that way, then you have to at least realize that it doesn't have to be your enemy, either." There were general nods around the circle.

For the next two hours, the boys got into their tasks and various exercises seriously, some learning quicker than others, but helping out when they could. Alex worked with all of them, teaching them how to float, tread water, and relax in the water. He had the boys dunking their heads underneath, teaching them about learning how to hold their breath, and how to kick upward without the use of their arms. Before the session was over, he and Brett began flipping them up and over their shoulders, to simulate being thrown into the expanse. Though scary at first, all soon realized that what their teacher had been telling them was true. By the end of the session, a great deal of fun and laughing could be heard all around.

Even Ethan got involved with their games somewhat, but the boy purposefully avoided Alex and chose instead to buddy up next to Brett. Alex noted it, and kept his distance for the most part, trying to ignore the displacement. In the back of his mind though, he could not help but wonder what was going on. He shook it off though, and had Brett work with him through most of the things that had been started the day before, but also some of the new points being taught that day. When the group had finished and began wading back to the shoreline, Alex congratulated the others, but made it a point to turn to speak with Ethan as well. "I watched you with Brett today, Ethan. I just want you to know I think you did great."

Ethan peered back at him for a moment, but then walked on ahead in silence. Brett veered his path until he stepped in beside his friend. "Something is going down, bro, but don't worry about it. I think he's okay, but… we'll have to wait and see."

"Do you think I've done something to him, or…?" Alex asked, dejected.

"I don't know, but either way he'll have to face it sooner or later. Maybe we'll understand then," Brett replied in a low voice, before changing the topic. "You did super, you know that? A lot of these guys love the way you're teaching them this stuff. They were talking about you a lot and all when I was working with them, thinking you're pretty cool."

Alex stopped and glanced at him before shrugging. "Okay, I guess. I think they're all pretty cool, too. Tomorrow, we'll all probably be learning how to use our arms the right way, then they'll really start swimming and all. We might have to turn some of them loose then, unless we maybe do one more lesson."

"So? That's a good thing, right?"

"Well, yeah, except…" Alex paused, looking back to the water before shaking his head. "Except, I kind of like doing this, you know? I like teaching and helping them learn and everything."

Brett moved in front of his friend, causing him to stop. "You like it, because you're good at it, Alex. Trust me, I see it, and they see it, too. These guys trust you, and you already know how much that helps in a friendship, especially when you're starting out, right?"

Alex thought about that. "Well, most of them might. I'm not so sure about Ethan, though."

"Ethan doesn't know you yet. Give him some time and I'll bet that changes." He turned and then started leading them both up the bank. "Come on, let's go grab something to drink. I'm getting thirsty, and I want some dry clothes for the afternoon. We've also got some free time coming up for a while. What say we go shoot some baskets before we grab a shower?"

"Sounds good to me," Alex replied, though shaking his head again.

"What?" Brett asked. "The shower thing?" he whispered, and when Alex giggled, he bumped shoulders again with his friend. "Come on, you know they're divided in stalls and everything. Well, at least with half-height walls, so I can't really peek at you like before. Unless, of course, I stand at the entrance - which come to think of it, might not be a bad idea! Or, we could share one, too!" As Alex laughed again, Brett suddenly blushed. "You're never going to let me live this down, are you?"

Alex looked up just then and leaned in close. "I don't know. I guess it kind of depends."

"On what?" Brett asked.

"Maybe on how good I get treated by you this week," came the whispered, devious reply. Brett slowed in surprise, not understanding at first, but then a wide smile appeared. He then hurried to catch up.

Alex and Brett spent the latter part of the evening with most of the boys in the camp, surrounding a huge bonfire that was lit near the lake. Although the day had warmed considerably, the late afternoon and evening brought with it a mild, chilling breeze. Marshmallows, hot dogs and other tangible foods for roasting were brought out, along with plenty of soft drinks - a welcomed change which most all the campers were grateful for.

Alex and Brett both joined a group of the older teen volunteers who had gathered by themselves away from the younger clusters. Many were swapping stories of the antics they had all experienced thus far, something Alex found both interesting and amusing. As they continued, at one point he leaned close to Brett and spoke in a low voice. "Sheesh, all of this out of two days and one night? What are these guys going to talk about by the end of the week!" he observed, making his friend giggle. One of the other teens sitting nearby, turned and grinned at him.

"Oh, this ain't even close yet! Wait until Thursday or Friday gets here!" the boy chimed. "By the way, I'm Rob."

"Alex, and this is Brett," the teen responded, introducing themselves.

"Yeah, I know Edwards, he was here last year. Not sure I've seen you around though," Rob acknowledged.

"He just moved to down the road from me this spring," Brett answered. "He, uh, is kind of new to camp stuff, but he's learning fast."

"Oh, is that so? Wait a minute… Alex… Aren't you the new swim teacher?" When Alex nodded, he sat back and propped himself on his hands. "Yeah, I've heard about you. You've got some of these guys roused up, all right, talking left and right about learning how to swim. That's all I've heard about this afternoon, about how you had them doing this or that, and how they were almost already swimming like fish. They're so excited, none of us could get them to shut up for a while. They've certainly taken up with you, I think."

Brett laughed. "That's what I tried to tell him, but he doesn't listen to me. At least, sometimes he doesn't," he teased. Although no one could see it, Brett could tell his best friend was blushing deeply. Leaning in, he bumped shoulders. "But like I said, he's learning and finding some of this stuff out quick."

Rob nodded, stretching his legs out. "Don't knock it, man. A lot of these kids come from broken homes, or broken families, or worse. They have to put up with a lot of shit the other 51 weeks of the year, but they come out here to get away and be wild and free. That's what tickles their pickle, I guess." He then looked up into Alex's expression. "Being wild though, doesn't mean they don't look for some of us to make friends with. Some of them, they need friends now - more than ever, I think."

"Why is that?" Alex asked.

Rob looked around, watching the various boys move in and away from the fire. "Because when they leave here, Alex, they know they have to go back to living again. When they're here, they know there are certain rules they have to follow, but they also know they can be themselves, too." The teen paused before lowering his voice again. "I know, because I used to be one of them. Still am, somewhat anyway." Looking up to see the looks of surprise on both their faces, he went on to explain. "I came from a hell hole, to be honest. My Dad was knocking my mother up left and right, anywhere he pleased, didn't matter if we were watching TV or in the bedroom, or even the basement steps. He was rough, and he hurt her bad sometimes. He basically didn't give a shit about her or what she felt or anything. He even made me sit sometimes and watch them while they did 'it', you know, screw. Told me I might as well get on with my sex education, as he called it. I would get the belt if I tried to run away or anything, too, so I had to watch." The teen whistled just then. "Whew, he really set my ass on fire a few times."

"Shit!" Brett breathed aloud, to which Rob nodded.

"It's real, man. The bastard beat me, beat her, beat my younger brother - all of us going for broke. One night though, he finally went too far with our Mom, so she got us out of the house and over to our grandparents right before she collapsed. Grandma called the cops, and they threw his sorry ass in jail. Mom finally divorced him, and we live on our own now in assisted housing." Rob stopped and sighed. "Don't worry about us though, we're okay. It's just the fact there are other guys here who have to live with shit, too, and believe me - some of them have it a lot worse. And if its not the physical stuff they deal with, it's the mental stuff that drags them down. Stuff like being told they're worthless, or some such fucking shit. I swear, that stuff is just as bad as physical abuse and abandonment sometimes. That's what I mean, see? For some of these guys, that's what they're escaping from, if only for a week."

"There is also another side of it, too," Rob went on after a moment. "Some kids that are here come from the wet hen brood. You know the type, mamma's boys who can't get away with even a sneeze without their mom's doting all over them. I mean, some mothers are the type that are seriously overbearing, or overprotective. Hell, they'd wipe their kid's ass for them after they poop, if they could get away with it, literally. Those that get here, they know little to nothing about how to live in the outdoors, how to be free and wild and everything. So, the week they spend here is like a whole new world for them."

"Wow," Alex breathed in awe, thinking about what the teen was saying. "That's… that's…"

"Yeah, I know, right?" Rob answered for him. "It puts a lot of things around here in perspective. Most jocks or jackasses couldn't care less about these guys, really. But, by living and being one of them and seeing the things like I have, it gives me a new perspective anyway." Rob paused, then scrutinized Alex closely. "You know, Coach said something yesterday about how we should watch out for anyone that seems left out or alone. Homesick, some of them call it. He wasn't kidding, you know. A lot of these kids, they're here to get a break from their parents and all, and it works out great. But some don't always adapt that well. That's the real reason you, me, Edwards and some of other, older teens are here. Sure, we're here to help the counselors out and everything, and that's great. But we're also here so we can help these guys. For one week a year, we can let them feel special, and be free but not feel alone. That's my number one mission, you know, to be here for them." He nodded toward the crowd. "That is, as long as they'll let me."

A silence fell between them until Alex raised his fist halfway between them, which Rob grinned and met in mid-air. "I didn't know all that, but I certainly understand it," Alex offered. He glanced at Brett before continuing. "I was telling Brett last night that I didn't expect some of the things here yesterday, but that's just because I've not been around it any. Now certain things fall into place, I think."

Rob nodded. "Let me guess, you didn't expect all the skinny dipping, right?" When Alex blushed, Rob laughed. "Hey, no sweat. You get outside of camp here, you'll never see anything like it again in our schools or neighborhoods. Life gets in the way out there. While you're here though, as long as you don't get too crazy, almost anything goes. It's like there's a different kind of life in here. The 'rents and counselors here know that, and so long as no one gets hurt, they pretty much go along with the flow. That's a part of what we're supposed to watch out for, too. I mean, not everyone is into skinning, and those who don't do it, they have to be made to understand that how they feel is okay. Just as much as those who do want to do it, they have to feel the same, that it's okay and all. In other words, as long as everyone feels safe, then meh, let them go naked all they want."

"That kind of makes sense," Alex acknowledged. They sat in silence a bit longer, watching the fire.

"So, want to roast some hot dogs? I could use a snack," Brett mused after a huge sigh.

"Sure, why not," Alex replied as he started to get up, but Brett waved him back down.

"Stay, I'll get some for both of us. How about you, Rob?" He asked. When the teen nodded, he started walking away. "Okay, three snack kits coming up!"

"So, how long have you known Edwards?" Rob asked after the teen had disappeared.

"Um, pretty much since I moved in. He rode his bike down to our house, maybe a couple of days afterwards," Alex replied.

Rob nodded. "That's cool. He's kind of a goofy nut sometimes, but I can tell you his heart is in the right place. I've seen him really get in with some of the guys around here and all. Last year, some kid had an accident off one of the docks. Edwards stayed with him the entire day, just so the runt wouldn't have to be alone. That's saying something, you know? Some of these volunteers, they'd just rather pawn the kid off on someone else and go on with having their own fun."

"Really? That's cool," Alex replied. "Say, do you two go to the same school and all? Or do you just know him here through camp?"

"Just through camp, really. We were partnered up a lot our first year here, meaning in the same den and all. As for myself, I live up near Rushville, which is another town farther to the East in the next county."

"Really? But you came over to Greensburg to catch the bus, right?" Alex asked.

"For our district, we always meet at the high school in there, because it's sort of the central location for everyone. Most of these guys come from around five or six school districts," Rob explained.

"Oh, I didn't know that," Alex nodded in understanding. "I guess it makes sense though, given how many guys are here."

Rob looked around. "The camp was originally designed to hold about 300 people, but I've heard they squeeze about 330, maybe 340 in sometimes. They always split boys and girls into two different weeks too, and there are never anywhere as many girls as there are guys. If the groups get too big, they'll hold a second camp in July, too - but in the last few years that's never been a problem. That's just for our district, too. There are two other districts that use the camp here, just like we do. One from the north, I think, and one from farther down in southeast Indiana."

"Not the west?" Alex mused, curious.

"No, there are other camps and national parks out there, especially out towards Bloomington," Rob replied.

"Oh," Alex acknowledged. "Is it, like, expensive to come here? The guys?" Alex asked cautiously.

"I don't think so. The camp gets a lot of support from some of the bigger churches, the Indiana State Police, and even some of the school districts will contribute the school buses, some food, gas, and so on. All the helpers are volunteers, too, so it keeps the cost low." Rob paused, looking thoughtful. "I think I overheard the rate is set at something like $60 for the week, but if anyone has a problem paying, they'll usually lower it for them. Or some of the churches might sponsor them completely." Rob wrinkled his nose. "Which really does help. Some of these guys, they come from decent families, but like I said, some of them are just flat broke and barely getting by."

Alex looked on at the various boys running around. "I understand," he replied softly.

"Okay, spill it. What's gotten you so quiet, tonight?" Brett whispered into Alex's ear. Once again, the two were stretched out, each having just finished another round of intimate play with the other. After enjoying their camp roast for a while, the two had quietly walked away and returned to their cabin. Before any of their charges arrived, both quickly jumped into the showers in the darkness to rinse off quickly. Once done, they retreated to their room and closed the door before drying off. Inside, Brett had taken the lead as he had promised, and pulled Alex playfully down onto the bed on top of him. The next thirty minutes had then been spent in a gentler embrace that surprised them both. Their intimacy, never questioned between them, had brought about giggles and more as they squirmed around with each other. Both playfully explored and responded to the other's touch in sensitive places, with their hands caressing, guiding, and probing all over. Their climax had not been one of lust, but one of deeply settled emotions channeled between their hearts as they reached their peaks almost simultaneously.

Alex had finally turned and settled inside of Brett's arms, sighing contentedly at being held so closely. Brett continued to run the fingers of his hand all the way up and down his best friend's chest, traveling lightly to his lower belly and beyond, before retreating the way they had come. The fact he was holding someone as close and stark naked as he was, and that the someone was sharing such a primitive warmth with him, felt truly amazing. It was not just a physical temperateness, but a spiritual warmth he felt, and it was something Brett soaked up like a sponge on the inside. It was a feeling of oneness, or so it seemed, as he cuddled in and pressed his flesh snuggly into Alex's backside. He had closed his eyes for the moment, drawing on an inner strength as he felt the essence of Alex's soul mixing with his own.

They had remained basking in the afterglow of their feelings for several minutes before Brett posed his question. As Alex turned his head, he faced the boy holding him in his arms and leaned forward, nuzzling their noses together before he answered. "Nothing, bro. I'm just feeling really happy right now. I think about how lucky I am, or maybe how lucky we both are. I'm kind of like you said you were last night, about not knowing that a person could feel this way, you know?"

Brett nodded. "Yeah, it is kind of special. At least it is to me." He sighed deeply, nuzzling back into Alex's neck before his friend spoke again.

"It is to me, too. Not just the sex either. It's just, I don't know, it's just us being us I guess. Does that make sense? Like, right now you're holding me, and I wouldn't trade it for anything," Alex whispered.

Brett smiled. "As long as I don't get a boner and pork you, right?"

Alex scoffed. "It's like you said last night, I don't really care. Right now, if that's what you wanted to do, I'd let you. Just so long as we can keep this for the rest of the week, if not longer."

Brett shook his head, though. "I don't want to though, so you're safe. Honestly, I just want us to spend our time feeling each other up, you know? That's something you told me about a few weeks ago, remember? I'd never considered what that meant before, but now? Oh my God, Alex… Like last night, it was enough just kissing you that it made me cum again, remember?"

Alex giggled and then leaned back further, reaching up and kissing Brett again softly on the lips. "Remember? How could I forget!" he whispered. "When we get home, and I need some more memories to add to this trip, that might just be the number one thing that puts me over the edge when I need to cum."

"Whoa!" Brett whispered, smiling again. "Did I just hear you actually talk dirty to me?"

Alex laughed out loud this time before blushing in the pale moonlight. "I'm not ignorant, Brett."

"I know you're not. I'm just happy you finally trust me enough to say those kinds of things," Brett replied.

Alex shrugged. "I've never been afraid to, Brett, honest." He rolled onto his back, maintaining the intimacy between them. "You know, in some ways it still amazes me."

"What does?" Brett asked. There was a silence that followed, one which prompted Brett to ask again. "You okay? What amazes you, bro?"

"Yeah, I'm fine, just thinking is all," was the soft reply. Alex then drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Well, one is that my scars don't seem to stop you from loving me, you know? And two… my dick is actually worthy of you paying any attention to, I guess."

It was Brett's turn to laugh this time. "Your dick is as normal as anyone else's, Alex. Except for that extra skin, but then you're not alone. Fuck, there's other guys we saw like you, remember?"

"Yeah," Alex responded, grinning.

In the moonlight, Brett could make out his friend's face easily. "And besides," he added, "if I'm going to make out with somebody, another boy at least, then honestly? It would have to be with you. You've never done it, and neither have I. It makes all this sex stuff kind of special, knowing that we're sort of discovering it for ourselves, all on our own."

"Fuck yeah, I'll agree to that any day," Alex whispered. "And please don't pick on me for swearing. This time I meant it, every bit."

"Yeah, I know you did, and for once it didn't sound freaky," Brett replied, his own grin meeting the other.

Alex closed his eyes. "I don't mean to sound freaky. I'm just me, Brett."

"Well then, just you, keep doing what you're doing, just be yourself. It's why I love you, you know," Brett whispered, then leaned in and kissed his friend lightly on the lips. "MMmmm…"

"Yeah, I know," Alex whispered. another minute passed in silence before Alex stirred. "You know, there's something else I think I can appreciate, too. After what that guy was telling us tonight - what was his name, Rob?" He felt Brett nodding, so he continued. "When I think about these guys, and what they go through and all, it makes me feel like I'm one of the luckiest kids there is. I have both my parents, and I have my best friend here with me. I've never been abused or abandoned. My Mom and Dad don't fight or even really argue - not that I've ever seen or heard, anyway. And, yeah, maybe I've been sheltered and stuff, but neither of them harass me or anything. I'm pretty independent, or at least I think I am."

Brett nodded again. "You're one of the most independent, self-reliant people I've ever known, bro. I'm not just saying that, either. There are lots of guys I go to school with, even in my grade, who couldn't make a decision about anything if it even meant saving their life. It's not that they're bad or anything, they just… some of them don't know their ass from their dick, you know?"

"I can understand that, yeah," Alex replied. "Dad told me something once. He said he'd always be there for me, as long as he lived, but there was nothing wrong with me making a mistake. Sometimes it's how you learn and all. He said the trick was to learn not to fall too hard when they happen. I guess I just kind of took it to heart." He looked into the eyes staring at him in return. "Kind of like you and me. I didn't know how some of this stuff between us would go, but that's why I figured if I make a mistake, then at least I'll learn from it, you know?"

"You haven't made one yet, have you?" Brett whispered.

"Nope, not that I know of." Alex sighed then. "We've gone pretty far and I haven't heard anything out of you, or felt guilty about anything yet. I mean, fuck Brett, I've sucked your dick and swallowed your cum. How much deeper can something like that get? If that's a mistake, then I'm really screwed."

Brett smiled. "I've done the same thing, bro, and felt the same way. I don't know about you, but I don't plan to stop anytime soon, either. Unless you just want to."

Alex shook his head. "I think I kind of like it. For you and me, anyway." He suddenly grinned mischievously. "You know, there is something you've got to do for me now, and sometime soon."

"What's that?" Brett asked.

"I want to see you, all over. Not in dim light or moon-light or any of this shadows crap. I want to see you all the way, without clothes, from head to toe. I want to look at everything up close, like lift your balls up, see the end of your dick, check your ass - everything. Everything I keep feeling when we're together, which is cool, but have never gotten to really explore, you know?" He giggled. "How's that for dirty thoughts? For me to want to see you naked? Does that sound perv-ish?"

Brett leaned in and nuzzled his friend again. "Nope, is sounds almost awesome enough to make me horny again though! Now that I think about it, I guess you've never had that chance, have you. Not like I have."

"Nope, not yet. Aw, Brett," Alex breathed aloud in a frustrated tone, then rolled and hugged his friend tightly. "You're the best thing that has ever happened to me, man. Don't you know that? It's the God's-honest truth. That's why I trust you so much. That's why I don't feel alone anymore. That's why I don't care what we do, as long as it's with each other, and as long as you still feel like we're halfway normal at least." He brought his leg over his friend's hip and wrapped him in even closer. "See? I don't care. I honestly don't, fucking care."

Brett hugged tightly, his eyes beginning to water from the emotion of the moment. "You're not alone Alex, and neither am I," he whispered back. "And yeah, someday, somewhere, we'll have all the light in the world and you can look, explore, and see and touch me all over, all you want, I promise." Afterwards, they remained that way for a moment, until sounds of boys returning in the outer room were heard.

As Alex pulled back smiling, Brett glanced at the door before mumbling. "Fuck it tonight, they'll be fine. If they need anything, they'll let us know."

"Okay," came the whispered reply, before Alex rolled again and returned to pushing his back into his friend, spooning snugly. "By the way, don't let me forget to call Mom tomorrow, okay? Oh, and is your Mom or Dad coming up this week? I think you told me they usually come for a day or two to help out, right?"

"Yeah, they do, but they're not coming until Thursday," Brett replied.

"Thursday? Isn't that the day we're all supposed to be going on the field trip?" Alex asked.

"Yep. Seems that a lot of extra adults are coming in for that one this year."

"Any idea what it's going to be yet?"

"Nope, they're keeping a tight lid on it. Rob said he asked the coach, but only got a smile back and was told it was a special treat this year. I guess we'll find out soon enough," Brett answered. He hugged his friend and then lowered his voice again. "Alex? You did hear me, right? When I said you're not alone, and neither am I, anymore?"

In response, Alex hugged the arms that was holding him. "I've known that for a while now, yeah," he whispered.

"Then good, don't forget it man. Okay?"

"I won't," came the soft reply. Both boys then fell silent, and before long were fast asleep.

Sunday morning rolled upon the camp quietly, with the sun shining brightly once again from the East. The temperature was warming rapidly, and by the time Brett and Alex made their way outside, considerable activity was already taking place in the camp. Several groups of boys were moving about, some headed for breakfast while others in different directions. In the distance, the two saw several boys scattered across the banks of the lake, fishing poles in hand and trying their luck.

As the two approached the mess hall, Brett yawned. "Sunday mornings ought to be reserved for sleeping in, if you ask me."

Alex laughed at him. "You just need some caffeine. Do they have coffee here?"

"Afraid not," Brett shook his head. "At least, not for us. The adults do, of course."

They entered the building, however, to the smell of bacon in the air. "I don't believe it! There's actually biscuits and gravy here!" Alex exclaimed, quickly reaching out and grabbing a plate.

Brett watched him curiously as the teen took a biscuit onto his plate and began breaking it into little pieces. Afterwards, Alex smothered them with a type of milk-gravy specially made with sausage chunks in it. "You actually like that stuff?" he commented, surprised.

"Oh, yeah!" Alex replied. "My Grams always made this when we visited at her house for breakfast! She'd have this and sausages, scrambled eggs, and sometimes she had tomatoes sliced up, too!" He glanced back to see the surprise on Brett's face. "Why? You don't?"

"Well, some yeah, but… I don't know, with you from the north and all, I didn't think you'd really be into anything like this kind of food," Brett replied, getting his own biscuit and splitting it in half, before topping it with large spoons of gravy. "I mean, don't get me wrong, it's more of a southern food, but-"

"My grandparents, on both sides I think, had southern roots. So, it's not new or anything. I actually love it!" Alex replied, grabbing both a carton of milk and a juice from the end of the counter. As they sat and attacked their plates, Alex let out a sigh of satisfaction. "Not as good as I remember, but it is still really good!"

Brett looked on indifferently. After consuming a few bites for himself, he remarked. "You know, I don't think you've ever talked about your family much. Not to me, anyway. Your grandparents, aunts or uncles - anyone, really. Do you even have, like, cousins or anything?"

Alex purposefully took another bite of food, carefully contemplating his answer before he replied. "I don't have a big family, Brett. My dad's parents passed away a few years ago, when I was like seven or eight. He has a brother, living in New York somewhere, but not married or anything. I think he just lives kind of on the wild side, you know, goes to parties a lot and stuff." After taking another bite, he continued. "As for my Mom, she has two sisters, both married, both with kids. They're, um, all girls, from roughly four to eleven, I think. Somewhere like that."

"Wow!" Brett replied, impressed. "So, you're saying you're the only boy in the line from either side of your family?"

Alex blushed. "Yeah, mostly. I'm the oldest, too. I think one of my aunts had a son, a long time ago, but he died within a few months after being born."

Brett's face registered sadness. "Really? I'm sorry…"

Alex scrunched up his face before shrugging. "I think he was born with some kind of health problem or something, and just couldn't make it. So, yeah, that's about the sum of my family." They sat in silence for a few moments then, finishing their breakfast before Alex stood. "I need to, like, go to the bathroom. There is one in here, right?"

Brett pointed to a hallway off to one side. "Down there. I'll take care of our plates and wait for you."

"Well, okay, but uh, I might be a few minutes," Alex replied under his breath, his expression giving Brett all he needed to know from the implication.

"Okay, okay, sorry… I'll still wait for you, though I might be outside," Brett replied.

"Cool. I'll try not be too long."

Brett took their plates and containers to the nearby recycle bins, then walked outside. Not far from the entrance were a couple of old park benches. Glancing about, he chose one of them and then sat down heavily. Once again, something nagged at him, but he was uncertain as to why. As much as Alex had been opening up lately, there was still a part of his friend he did not understand. Thinking back over the answer, Alex did give him the basics by answering the question, but that was all he offered. It seemed like his friend was purposefully holding something back, although what it might have been, Brett had no real idea. It wasn't the first time it had happened, either.

Sighing deeply, the teen stretched hard. "I'm just being stupid," Brett said to himself. He and Alex had given themselves over to each other in their relationship already in so many ways. Since they had been together from the beginning, he had learned so many things about his friend, and was still learning more with each new day they faced. Why did this particular moment bother him though? Did it have something to do with the things his friend told him he couldn't talk about yet? If so, then Brett grew worried. What kind of trouble could Alex, or rather his whole family, be in right now? What could create that much mystery and depth around them? Brett had already thought about it before, drawing the conclusion it must be something troublesome. At first, when Alex revealed the details of the house fire, and that the three of them had lost practically everything, so many things then started to make sense - to a point, at least. The more he studied and thought about it, however, Brett wasn't so sure now that it answered everything.

As he sat there contemplating it, he didn't notice when Alex suddenly appeared at his side. Looking up in surprise, he grinned. "What, are you the fastest pooper in the east now? Crap, that was quick!"

Alex laughed, before lowering his voice. "Sometimes, I guess. I mean, I don't believe in sitting on the throne just for the sake of sitting there, you know? Some people might get the wrong idea and all!"

Brett laughed, but then shook his head as he accepted the hand that helped haul him to his feet. "Some guys sit there for exactly that purpose Alex, so they can enjoy a supposedly private hand job, I think," he mused under his breath.

Alex blushed before laughing it off, but not before glancing at his watch. "So, we have like, 40 minutes or so before swimming starts again. Want to go down to the water and let me show you what we'll be doing today?"

"Sure," Brett replied. They started off to the lake, and before long arrived at what they now termed to be the 'Training Beach'. To both boys' surprise, however, they found a few of their pupils were already gathered, including Ethan. Alex noticed right away the youth was in the water, practicing some of their moves from yesterday. "Hey!" Brett called out, greeting the group.

Two of the other boys waved and started to move out of the water toward them, but Alex waved them off. Ethan subtly moved over to the floating docks, however, and grasping onto a running board, waded out into deeper water. Once there he used the dock for support and began his kicking exercises. Alex gave Brett a questioning look, to which his friend simply shrugged.

Entering the water, Alex made his way over to the youth slowly until he was stopped a few feet away. There he leaned against the dock, watching as Ethan continued to kick, struggling to keep his body toward the top of the water. He would succeed for the short term, but then sink again before starting the cycle over. "Uh, is it okay if I tell you something?" Alex finally asked, a hesitation in his voice. Ethan stopped and turned to observe the teen, his face totally expressionless. Alex took that as a positive sign, so he went on. "When you're kicking, don't kick so fast, and don't let the kicks come so much from your knees. Instead, stretch and let both of your legs extend out all the way. That way, when you kick, it's coming from your thighs and the rest of your lower body, not just below your knees. It puts your whole body in motion, and you'll find it keeps you on top of the water a whole lot easier."

Ethan considered the words carefully before stretching out and attempting to follow his instructions. To his surprise, he found his body could stay afloat on top of the water without difficulty. He continued for several minutes that way, and Alex decided the effect was overall much better. As he prepared to turn and leave, he saw Ethan stop and stand upright. "What is it with you?" the young boy asked.

"Huh?" Alex replied, turning back in confusion.

"I don't get you, sometimes. I mean, I watched you work with everybody here yesterday, and you got along with all of them, and they get along with you. And I see you around camp and everything, being nice or whatever," Ethan mused aloud. "But… you're supposed to be some arrogant asshole with a dick shoved up your butt or something… at least, according to my Pop anyway. I don't get it."

Alex stared at the youth for a long time before answering. "Well, if that's what you want to believe, then I can't stop that."

"See? That's what I'm talking about. You don't act like an asshole, or some other mother fucking bastard, as he calls you. You're… well, it's like you're a whole different person. At least around here. I don't get it," he repeated again.

Alex was initially at a loss of words, but just then Brett, overhearing the exchange, quietly waded up beside his friend. "It's simple, really," the Brett interjected. "He isn't an asshole to begin with. You've been getting bad information, that's all."

Ethan turned and looked hard at the newcomer. "So, you're saying my Pop… he's a liar?"

"We didn't say that, Ethan," Alex piped up quickly. "We don't know what your Dad has told you, or what you or he thinks, or anything else. Honestly, if you look at it from my point of view, I don't know anything about you either. Other than you wanted to learn how to swim. That's what I'm here for, buddy. To help you learn how to do that, but only if you'll let me."

"Believe it or not, I can see that, I think," the boy answered before narrowing his eyes. "You've been nice enough about it, I'll say that much. And this… it's a funny way of doing it, but I admit it seems to be working alright."

"Why wouldn't he be?" Brett asked, but then Alex held up his hand to quiet the teen. Taking a step closer to the younger boy, Alex lowered his voice.

"Listen, if you're afraid I'm going to think you're like your Dad or something, then don't be. Everyone is different, and everyone deserves to be treated fairly, marking their own way. If you're afraid I'm going to do something to you, then don't go down that path, either. The only thing I'm doing is being here, for you, if you need me. If you don't want me here, I can leave you alone, and just let Brett work with you. But I'm here to teach, that's all Ethan. Anything else, well, that's up to you guys." Alex stopped, scrutinizing the younger boy for a reaction.

Ethan's expression softened. "I honestly don't care which of you teaches me, I just want to learn. I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be a dick-head about it."

"I didn't think you were that bad," Alex answered, smiling. "Maybe a little frosty, but… meh."

"You know, you were the one who asked if you could tell me something, though. To me, that's just crazy."

"Why?" Brett asked.

Ethan glanced between hem both, incredulous. "Because he's the effing the teacher!" He turned to Alex. "It's your job to tell us stuff, right? You shouldn't have to ask… and… you know…"

Alex shrugged. "I only asked you that because, well, I couldn't help feeling like you wanted nothing to do with me. If that were the case, I just didn't want to make you mad or feel anything worse."

Ethan scoffed. "Why, though? What does that matter to you?"

"Everything, because I respect you, that's why," Alex answered rather forcefully. "Look, I understand if you don't get it, okay? But don't make me out to be some … some … bully or something. I didn't do anything to you to warrant that, all right?"

Ethan stood still for a moment, then slowly nodded. "You're right, you didn't. I'm sorry. I think I'm just… confused right now, that's all." He turned away and stared across the lake. "I'm confused about a lot of things lately."

Alex and Brett glanced at each other before Alex took the lead and finally worked his way up close to the boy. "Is it anything we can help you with?" When they were met with silence, he added. "You know, this camp – it's a good place to just let it all out. Sometimes that's the way to un-confuse yourself. Just talking about it, with yourself, or with a friend."

Ethan scoffed. "Friend? I don't have any friends man, and talking with yourself will only get you sent to the fucking funny farm!"

"You're wrong," Brett fired back, coming up beside them both then. "You've just made two, right here. If you'll have us, that is."

"Two what?" the boy asked, his eyes narrowed again.

"Friends," Brett answered, his voice almost a whisper. The surprise on the youth's face caused the two older ones to smile. Behind them, they could hear several of the other boys beginning to gather together. Glancing back, Alex acknowledged them, and then leaned in close to Ethan, lowering his voice again.

"Listen, you're not really that far behind the rest of us. All you need is a little more practice. I'm going to put the other guys through some exercises before we start actually learning how to use our arms and stuff. Why don't you take the time and stay here for a bit with Brett, and just do what I showed you, okay? Then you'll be ready for some of the stuff we're going to do today."

"What, you mean like kicking?" Ethan asked, doubtful.

"Yes, kicking – using your whole leg, and not just the part below your knees. Here, start out again, but this time let me put my hand under your belly for a moment." Seeing the continuing dubious expression that met him, Alex added in a soothing tone. "For once, just trust me, okay? I'm here to help you, not hurt you."

The boy hesitated, but then turned to the docks. "I've got no reason to not trust you," he whispered, and then did as he was told. Alex reached under him and felt around the stomach until he found his desired balancing point, right at and just below the boys navel. From there, he stepped back a short way and gently lifted the youth upwards, holding him at an angle while the boy started kicking. "Now, don't panic, just stretch your legs out, and don't get in any kind of a hurry. Use your whole leg, and keep your butt up on top of the water. It's not as hard as it sounds. Yeah, that's it, just like that." After a moment he stepped farther away until only his extended hand kept the boy upright, letting him continue at his own pace. "Just like that. Get used to the idea you don't have to bend your knees to control your kick. You can't go too slow though, or else you lose control over keeping yourself up and moving forward, see? But you don't have to go fast like some road-runner, either. Practice that for maybe the next 10 minutes, while I get everyone else going, okay? Then, Brett will start taking you through the next part."

As Alex stepped away, he whispered into his friend's ear. "Watch him, don't let his butt fall any. When he's had enough, then have him do the same thing, but out in the water here where he pushes against you, like we did with the others yesterday, okay?" Brett nodded in understanding, before Alex turned to join the rest of the group assembling.

For the next hour or more, a remarkable transformation began taking shape with the class. Following simple steps, Alex taught them how to reach for the water as if they were crawling, as opposed to slapping it from the top, and to time it in such a way that they used one arm at a time to glide through it on their own. Initially he had to work with them by pointing out what they were or were not doing correctly, but as each boy began realizing what was happening, their excitement grew. Before long, one of the boys found he could cross the length of the lower-water area without any assistance, and his success gave encouragement to the others.

At one point, Brad joined the growing crowd who had succeeded, high-fiving and fist-bumping anyone near him who would return the favor. Some of the smaller boys began shrieking with laughter as they also began swimming around on their own, their confidence steadily growing. One even sneaked up behind Alex while the teen was treading water and startled him with a fierce hug, making them both submerge briefly, but coming back to the surface all the same, laughing with each other. Their success caused some of the others to do likewise, and although Alex often sensed their approach after that initial attempt, he didn't fight it. He felt a deep, growing satisfaction within himself as he watched their happiness erupt. The group was accomplishing something that to them, only two days before, had seemed impossible to do. He continued to instruct, floating along beside them and sparingly using his arms only for minimal support until they were able to understand and move on their own.

Before long, Brett had moved up beside him silently. Getting Alex's attention, the teen pointed. Ethan was now among the others swimming in the distance as well, although with less poise and practice than the others. Regardless, the youth was able to move through the water now without fear, and the look of pure joy on his face spoke volumes. The two older boys finally backed up to the beach and sat down, bumping fists yet again while watching the others continue to play and move through the water, some even into the deeper areas.

"Well, it looks like you did a hell of a job here, didn't you?" The voice, they discovered, came from Mr. Walters as he quietly approached from behind and knelt between them. "They're having the time of their life right now, aren't they?"

"Yeah, they are," Alex acknowledged, then laughed as he saw some of their silly antics take off. "You might be able to give them their trials this afternoon or tomorrow, if you want."

"There's no need to. If you tell us they can do it, we'll take your word for it." The man then handed Alex a set of wristbands, before standing. "There should be enough there, but if not just let me know. Good work, boys. That is something to be proud of, and I know they appreciate it, too." With that, the man walked away.

"So, what's next, coach?" Brett asked with a grin.

"Whoa, I'm not a coach! Don't start with that stuff!" Alex answered, blushing.

Brett looked out over the crowd before turning back to his friend. "Not to them, Alex. Right now, you're on top of their world. Look at them - compared to when we started Friday afternoon. You did it - you lived up to one hell of a promise in their eyes. They'll do anything for you right now, I promise."

Alex thought about that for a minute before responding. "I didn't do anything that special Brett, but thanks anyway. One more class, I think, then we turn them loose. We need to teach them about how to jump off the dock, and how to dive and stuff without getting hurt. Then if you want, we'll take them up to that place you told them about."

"Okay, when do you want to do it? Tomorrow morning?" Brett asked.

"Sure, why not? As long as the weather is okay."

"Then that's what we'll do. What say we get them out and fill them in," Brett replied, standing up. Reaching out, he also helped Alex to his feet before calling the group of boys onto the shore. Once assembled, he addressed them loudly. "Okay guys, one more lesson, then we'll give you your wristbands."

"One more? What will we be doing?" Brad asked. When Brett explained, the boys began cheering, nodding in anticipation. As the group started to break up, Brad lagged behind momentarily, and then subtly approached the two older boys. Before either could speak, the boy suddenly embraced Alex with a quick hug. "The others were giving you one, I had to add mine to the list," he whispered before backing away with a grin. He then rushed to catch up with the rest of the group. Alex stared on in wonder, but then smiled.

When Alex and Brett entered their den, some of the boys who had just come from swimming were changing out of their wet shorts. While some had entered the shower area, others were changing right there in the in the room without any embarrassment of the others around who could them. As the two older teens walked through on the way to their room, some of them looked up and grinned, but none seemed to mind their state of undress. Alex noted it once again, but shook his head once they were secluded in their room. "I still find it amazing, you know? The guys out there and all."

Brett glanced at him in amusement, fully understanding what his friend was talking about. "You do realize, that if we take them up to the north side, they'll want to skin, and they'll want us to skin with them."

Alex slowed, but then shrugged. "I'll do it. I'm not afraid." He glanced at Brett, then smiled. "You didn't freak out at my shoulder and stuff, so maybe they won't either."

Brett approached and placed his hand on Alex's shoulder, then moved it over and above his friend's heart. "No one is going to freak out with you, I promise. They'll be curious, and they'll want to know all about what happened to you, but in the end, no one is going to freak out. They like you, Alex. They trust you. Hell, we get in the water with them and there's no telling what will happen! They'll capture you, bunch up on you, grab you … everything you can think of and then some you can't. Trust me though, you'll love every minute of it!" He then leaned in close. "And if they don't do any of that stuff, then watch out, because I will!"

Alex smirked. "Somehow, I expected you were going to say that."

Later that afternoon, both boys had just finished calling home, as Alex had promised to do. All was well, and Alex's father bade his son to relax and have a good time. Brett discovered that Gina had fallen ill with a respiratory infection, and thus was keeping his Mom on her toes during his absence. Short of that, all was going well in the Edwards' household, too - except for a certain four-legged mutt who seemed sad that his master was gone.

As scheduled, the two teens joined a group of others after lunch, meeting with a new counselor, Mr. Freedman. The man gathered the group and gave them basic instructions of what the afternoon's canoeing adventures would be like, before moving down to the lake. A large group of boys had gathered by the docks when they approached, and the next hour was spent dividing and organizing the boys into respective groups. The counselor gave instructions and taught them about canoeing, its origins and how they were generally made, before allowing them to load up. Their excursion then began, and the large group worked their way around the lake, allowing each of the boys a fair turn at managing the paddles and learning how to steer. Alex found he liked the task and noted the various locations around them that seemed particularly interesting. As they approached the northern side of the lake, he heard Brett call out to him from another canoe, pointing off to a dock extending from the shore, albeit much shorter. Looking closer, Alex also saw several trees with tires hanging from ropes in the background. Grinning, he recognized this was going to be their destination already foretold, so he gave Brett a thumbs up.

In the last length of the circuit, Mr. Freedman halted all the canoes and had them line up in a row. With specific instructions, he turned the last segment into a race, allowing each group to organize as they saw fit. Once the race began, shouts were heard all the way around as the boys sprang into action. For a while, the race was actually quite close, but as they neared, two canoes began pulling ahead of the others. One was the group guided by Brett, which fought hard to stay abreast of another being guided by Rob, the teen the two had met around the bonfire. Racing neck and neck, Rob's canoe slowly pulled ahead and arrived first as the others closed in. Many cheers went up, and as the rest worked their way into the dock, much shoulder-slapping, high-fives and fist-bumps could be seen.

The excursion had taken the better part of the afternoon, and once the groups were released, Brett found his friend along the shoreline. "Well? What did you think of that?"

Alex grinned. "Another good one, actually. I kind of liked it. You?"

"I always like canoeing. You would think it could get boring, but with swapping everyone around every few minutes, and then learning how to steer and stuff, then the race? It's all pretty cool." Wrinkling his nose, he continued. "Dad and I have gone canoeing and kayaking on some of the rivers around home and to the south. They're always interesting, because you have to avoid the sand bars and twist your way in and around them to get anywhere. And then there's always stuff to see, a lot different than when you're driving on a road. Oh, and of course you move slower, so you notice a whole lot more that way, too."

Alex nodded. "I believe you, especially after seeing it's a slower pace and everything."

"Yep, you got it. So, what's on the agenda now? We're free for the rest of the day, by the way. See, I told you we'd have some time to ourselves," Brett commented. "We won't have anything until swimming again tomorrow, and another canoe session."

"Will it be with the same guys?" Alex asked.

"Canoeing? Not necessarily. Some will be signed up to do it again, but most of them will be the guys who couldn't get into today's sign-up," Brett answered. As they walked along slowly, in continued silence, he asked again, "So, anything you want to do?"

Alex shrugged. "Honestly? I'm kind of tired, I think. I was going to wait and see what you thought first."

Brett nodded. "I understand. To be honest, I am too, a little bit anyway." He looked toward their den. "We could go up and just hang out a while, maybe play a board game or something. Dinner will be ready in a couple of hours, too."

"That actually sounds nice. Maybe, uh…"

When his friend didn't continue, Brett stopped. "Maybe, uh… what?"

"Well," Alex replied, hesitating. "I don't know. I think I want to get an actual shower sometime after a bit, too. I know we rinsed off last night, but that just swept the lake water away." He blushed. "I know, it's kind of weird, but my head has started itching a lot, and I don't know…"

"It's not weird at all, Alex. Lots of guys are like you. Come on, I'll even join you and stand guard if you want me to," Brett teased, making his friend laugh.

"You don't have to guard anything, good grief!" Alex saw the grin spread wide on Brett's face, then moved inward, bumping shoulders with him. "You're a goof ball sometimes, you know that?"

"Yeah, but I'm your goof ball."

That night, there was a silence around the camp. In the outer room of their den, several of the boys had gathered around one of their tables and were playing Uno, an American card game someone had brought along. Although it was for no known reason, they played in hushed voices, with occasional giggling emerging from stories or other recounted adventures thus far. Alex and Bret had retired to their room, but left the door open for a change, allowing the outside air to flow more evenly throughout the cabin. It was unusually warm, a stark contrast to the previous day's coolness they had all awakened to. This night, most of the boys were without their shirts, and wearing only briefs or boxers. The ceiling fans were on high speed, but even with the late evening hour, they had not provided much comfort yet.

Alex and Brett were both lying upon the bed, although at opposite ends for once, as it provided more room for them both to recline and relax. Several topics had crossed between them, and they spoke freely for some time, their conversations intertwined with the various sounds of the night. They had fallen silent at one point for several minutes, before Alex sat up and faced his friend. In the moonlight, his white t-shirt reflected a level of brightness unexpected upon Brett, who lay with his hands tucked behind his head. "Can I ask you something?" he began, his voice low and soft.

"I don't know, can you?" Brett shot back before giggling. "Are we going to go through all that again? You know you can ask me anything, bro."

"Yeah, yeah… dumb question, I know," Alex chided himself, but then pulled his knees up to his chest and rested his chin upon them. "The other night, you said you had caught some of the guys, like, doing stuff before. Were you serious?"

Brett nodded. "Yep. They do stuff too, Alex. You already know some of them will sleep naked, on top of their covers and everything. Heck, a night like tonight, I wouldn't be surprised if half of them or more do that. Then yeah, I've actually seen or heard some other stuff, too."

"What kind of stuff, though?" Alex asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

"I've seen them jerk off, sometime by themselves, sometimes with a friend," Brett explained. "And I've heard some go down on others, too. I walked in the showers one time, and there were two guys in there, one of them on his knees while the other was backed up to a wall. They broke up really quick when they heard me come in, but they both had boners hard as a rock, so it doesn't take a lot of imagination to guess what they were doing, you know? Then, there was another time when I was walking a trail, and I saw two guys off the path and up behind some bushes. I sneaked up and watched one of them getting it on with the other. And I mean, really getting it on!"

Alex became thoughtful. "That makes sense then. Today, when I came in to shower, there were some guys sharing the back stall. I don't think they knew I was there at first. I'm not sure, but I think they were jerking off."

Brett giggled. "Really? How so?"

"Well, one was bragging he could shoot the quickest," Alex explained with a smile. "And then after a few seconds, he told them to watch."

"Well, a lot of these guys, it's kind of like Rob told us, you know? This is their chance to get away from everything, and then be totally wild for a week. Honestly? I wouldn't be surprised to find any of them doing stuff, if they wanted." He thought for a second. "Some of the other volunteers have told me they woke up in the middle of the night to go take a piss or something, and they would catch some others sucking or doing something real quiet with each other in the bunks, like messing around."

Alex thought about that. "Do you think any of them like… you know…"

"What, screw?" Brett asked, but then shook his head. "I don't know. I kind of doubt it, really. There's an age where having fun with one another is one thing, but no matter how horny you get, there's a line where going all the way, you know, boy fucking, goes too far. I mean, I could be wrong, but… for me, when I was here, that's just not something the guys did."

"Did you do anything?" Alex asked, then immediately regretted it. "Sorry, don't answer that, it's none of my business."

"It's okay, though. I don't mind answering. No, the worst I ever did was skinny dipping in the lake. I never jerked off with any of the guys, or anything like that. It doesn't mean I didn't come back to my bunk and have some good tugs - you know, spooges by myself, but… that was it, honest." Brett sat up then, pulling his own legs to his chest and joining his friend up close. "It's like I told you, I've never done things like that until you and I started to do them that night. Honest."

"I believe you, Brett, and besides - I wouldn't care if you had. I just… I never did either. Heck, outside of library books, I've never even seen another dick until now. Well, seeing yours and then these guys," Alex offered sheepishly. "I don't know why that's such a hang up for me, it just seems… strange, that's all."

"Alex," Brett began. "It's strange because you grew up differently than we did, me and these guys, I mean. There's nothing wrong with you, believe me. Don't worry about it, just - be okay with it, for their sakes, anyway." He paused. "You know, you really don't have to skin tomorrow if you don't want to. They'll understand."

Alex shrugged. "Honestly? I'm not worried about it, and that's the truth." He leaned in close to Brett until they bumped shoulders, where he stayed. "Without sounding too much like a pervert about it, in a way, I find it pretty cool and all."

"Really? How come?" Brett asked.

"Well, it's kind of cool to see how, in a way, I'm not so different than everyone else is, but at the same time, it's also kind of cool seeing how different we all can be from one another. Like, down there," Alex explained after a moment. "They're younger, I get that, but-"

"At our age, it doesn't matter that much Alex," Brett cut him off, explaining. "Besides, there's only two to three years difference in all of us anyway. Most of them are old enough to have pubes, or start growing them anyway, so come on - they're growing up just like we did. I understand more than you think I do, you know. Like, remember when I told you I hadn't seen any uncut dicks before? Look around tomorrow, or any other time we're around these guys while they're skinning. You're going to see almost all of them are cut, like me. At least, that's the way it was before now. This year, there are a couple we saw the other day, more like you, I know, but still… remember?"

Alex nodded. "Yeah, I remember." He turned to look deep into his best friend's eyes. "Brett? Thanks man. I promise, I'll get over it eventually."

Brett laughed. "You think I'm worried about it? Come on, if that's all we have to worry about, we've got it made, Alex. You and me, us." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "Love ya, remember?"

"Yeah, I do," Alex replied. He started to lean in closer and then thought better of it. Glancing to the doorway, he spoke again. "Are we going to leave it open all night?"

Brett followed his gaze. "As hot as it is, I think we should. Yeah, I know, we can't do any kinky stuff, but we can still lie back here and sleep."

Alex grunted. "Just not naked, I know."

"We probably could, but we also probably shouldn't," Brett agreed. "I can trade a night off, as long as I can still feel you beside me." He started to pull his t-shirt off but paused. "Is it okay if I shed this, though?"

"Sure." Alex then turned around, and they both lay back, with Brett hugging the wall. Although their proximities were as close as ever, neither seemed to mind. Within minutes, both fell soundly asleep.

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