Matt and Tim II

by Small Town Guy

Chapter 9

Tim folded up the sheet and slipped it into his jacket which still hung from the frame.

"Tomorrow morning, when we get the grill going....I'll throw this in. I don't want anyone seeing this!"

"Oh! Gee! I think I'm getting a little scared over this! We'd better wait and see what they tell us to do..."

They crawled into the bag and drew it up to their necks.

"Oh yeah!" Tim gasped, "Gram was right....Listen to that wind out there!"

"Well, I made double sure I got all the snaps on those flaps. And I zipped up all the windows. It shouldn't get too drafty in here."

"Okay Matty....Shorts off! Bare-assed! I wanna feel you tonight."

"Have you got something planned for tonight?"

"...Well, let's just see what happens," he replied with a grin, switching the lamp off.

"Oh shit!....Oh shit!" Chris gasped, crawling into their sleeping bag, "Listen to that wind! Awh!....I believe I'm going to hear all sorts of eerie sounds tonight!"

Joe pulled his head down onto his chest and hugged him.

"...Nothing to worry about. We'll be warm 'n dry in here..."

"...Oh do you believe we shall have a....a thunderstorm?!"

"No, Chris....I was thinking about that dew that just settles over everything. I think that's the worst thing about camping......Everything gets damp 'n clammy."

Chris tugged at Joe's neck and tried to relax.

Ethan and Ryan lay on their sides. Their lamp was on at their heads.

"Oh wow! That lamp is lots brighter with new batteries."

"Yeah. Hee, hee....Poor Chris had to lose blood for us to have light."

Ethan looked at Ryan with a serious expression, yet held a crooked smile.

"Oh gee, Rye......I was, umm....a little scared today....That talk with my mom?..."

"Oh yeah....I was going to ask you about that. I forgot."

"...Well, umm....I guess she's kinda okay with it. Well, by the way she talks...

"Well, you know our parents are going to those PFLAG meetings."

"Yeah, well......It's just they don't say anything about it! I can kinda tell they're sorta thinking about stuff. You gotta know 'em. I mean they don't really say anything good about it....but nothing bad either."

"Well, my mom didn't really say it....but I kinda think she knows we're....umm....kinda fooling around..."

"Oh gee....I'm sure my parents think the same thing."

"Well, umm, I don't think she minds too much about us out here camping, but she hinted that she wouldn't really like us havin' any....overnighters at the house."

"Well....I can kinda understand that. As long as we can keep seeing each other, huh? Oh gee, E....I don't know what I'd do!"

Chris cuddled up to Joe, shivering.

"Don't tell me you're cold!"

"No....It's just that wind......Oh shit!....I think I'm going to hear all sorts of weird noises tonight. I keep telling you, I've never done this before. I've always been in a nice sturdy house. And....and I'll admit it....Thunderstorms frighten me something awful."

"Well, I don't think we'll have to worry about thunderstorms tonight."

They drew close in the dark and listened. The tent fluttered and shook.

"Oh gee," Chris continued, "I think there's a power line or guy wire out there somewhere. I can sort of hear that vibrating sound. That sort of howling. Oh gee! I think I'm getting awful frightened again."

Chris turned to his back.

"Come on, Joe. I want you to lay on top of me for a change."

"Well I feel bad about that. I think I'm too heavy for you."

"Oh gee, Joey! I'm not made of glass! You keep treating me as though I'm a porcelain Kewpie doll or something......I won't break!"

Joe turned over and lay on Chris. He kissed his cheek.

"Hee, hee....You know you're the only one who's ever called me Joey. I kinda like that."

"Awh, don't start on all those sad recollections, huh? Those boys were using you!"

Joe felt Chris' hands rub his back.

"Oh," Joe continued, "I thought I'd never find a boyfriend. I'd just sit around and think of how nice it would be to have one. Someone to do things with, share things with..."

He felt the concern in Chris' touch as he continued to rub his back.

"...Oh I worry about us at times....Well, me actually....I just hate it when I get so scared over everything....Storms....wind....strange sounds in the night. I'm so frightened over such trivial matters......I'm a bit frightened you'll be tiring of me."

Joe drew his arms around Chris' neck and gave him a slight tug.

"Now that's one thing you'll never have to worry about. I understand all that, Chris. This is your first time out doing anything....Well, out doing things for yourself. I think everyone is kinda scared about doing things for the first time. I'd never leave you over something like that. In fact, I like being here with you. And I'll even admit that wind does sound a bit eerie. It's just the rest of us have done this sort of thing before. You'll make it. It'll keep getting easier."

Joe kissed his cheek, only to find a salty tear on his lips.

"Oh Chris! Everything's okay. Don't worry about a thing."

"I'm not thinking about the wind right now. I'm thinking about all of you. Oh gee, this just feels so good. You've all accepted me so well. You don't laugh at me and make fun of me or call me names...

"What's that saying we hear about when we're little?....'Sticks 'n stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.'......Ha!......Words do hurt, Joey....Sometimes they hurt awful!......I was so worried over this trip....Oh! Not that I didn't want to come out here. It's just that I thought you all would tease me and that....because I'm so helpless out here."

"Chris!....You know us all better than that! Scooter 'n Toby are always acting silly. Matt and Tim....oh gee! You know Matt and Tim! They're wonderful! Tease you?! You know them better than that!......And....and....Ethan 'n Ryan! Well, I guess we don't know them all that well, but they're going through a rough time right now....Well, Ethan anyhow. He keeps saying he's not real sure of himself. And that all gay boys kinda know about themselves from a very early age. Nah! I've been on blogs 'n chat rooms. There are lots of boys....well, girls too that weren't real sure of themselves. Actually I think it has more to do with....with the social standard. I think it sorta well, as one boy put it....'Pushes you into the closet.' I think that's how he worded it. If people were more accepting....I think it would be lots better for the gay people."

Joe felt a tight hug from Chris. He felt it different from others. There was a subtle difference in pressure and tangible sensation. He could nearly hear Chris speaking to him through his act of touch alone.

"Well, (sniff) I've been rather careful in trying not to be too much of an inept dork! When I knew my parents were coming out here, I sort of got a bit excited over such. And you saw the results of that! I get teased enough when I'm not being dorky!"

"Chris....You're in a class of older kids. I think they're just jealous of you. You just happen to be one of those kids that can grasp things very quickly. There aren't many people like you who can learn things so quickly. And....well, you haven't had all the....well, the diversions other kids have. You never had a video game system. You didn't do what all the others were doing in your age group. Even Tim admits he did lots of studying...reading. It's like he says, 'That's all I had!' He had a hard time accepting himself. And being extra shy, he had a hard time with making friends. I was never....well....really shy. I could talk to people. And well, I really didn't have a hard time with accepting myself......It was my dad I was scared to tell......Oh gee, after Mom died 'n all....He was really having a hard time of it. I didn't want to come out to him. I actually thought I'd never tell him! I don't know what happened....I just broke down and told him one night. I just didn't want to hide it anymore. And I told him I didn't want to....well, complicate things for him. Well, he took it kinda....well, okay. I guess it's like lots of the other parents. He worries about the others out there....The haters!..."

He hugged Chris' neck and kissed the plastic bandage on his temple.

"None of us are going to laugh at you or tease you. Even if you get a bit klutzy......And I have to agree with them......You're awful cute when you've got a dirty face."

"Oh please."

"Hey, I'm serious about that. You don't always have to be neat 'n perfect all the time. I mean, I don't want you getting banged up and hurt, but a little dirt and a few rips in your clothes.....They....well, they make you look....normal! Hee, hee....That's the only way I can put it! Oh Chris, you're such a little angel! Oh gee, I'm just so happy I found you..."

Ethan and Ryan were on their sides, facing each other. The electric lantern was on at their heads. Ethan gazed at Ryan's face.

"...E....Why the serious face?"

"Oh Dew!....I'm....I'm okay now! I mean with myself! Okay? I just like looking at you. I sort of think back to those times where I first.....well, noticed you. I mean....well, it's kinda hard to explain. I don't think it was well, a gay thing....Yet....I think I always thought you were cute! Well, not exactly boyfriend material right off. I think I was about a year or two behind everyone else. I mean in the....gland department.

"...Yeah....I went out with Heidi....but I don't think it had anything to do with dating.... That boy, girl thing. I think I did it because....well, it was just the thing to do! I mean I liked her and all. Umm....well, not exactly like that! Just kinda as friends. We sure didn't have any.... well, relationship! I was sort of happy when she got together with Jerry. I was sorta trying to break it off with her....but....but I didn't want to hurt her, you know? And....well, I think she felt bad about it. She said I was good to her and she felt like she was dumping me. I think it took a few weeks before I convinced her I was okay with it. I mean I didn't avoid her or Jerry. I always made it a point to talk to them and all. Hee, hee....Jerry's kind of a nut anyhow. Oh! I don't mean that in a bad way. I mean he's just fun-loving, know?......Me?....Well, I think I was just a bit too serious about things. I had a lot on my mind."

He caressed Ryan's cheek with the back of his fingers as he smiled.

"...Yup, Dew....I think I can finally accept things as they are......Questioning! Oh gee, I don't ever want to go through all that again..."

He gave a shy grin.

"Oh gee, Dew....That night at Tim's place. When you asked me to kiss you? I....umm.... well, I wanted to. I think I was just shy 'n scared. Remember how you sort of scrunched up your lips for that first kiss?....And I told you to sort of relax your mouth. Wow! That second kiss....I keep tellin' you....that was hot!"

Ryan gave a shy grin and a slight blush. He rubbed Ethan's shoulder.

"...Oh yeah. I already told you I was hoping you'd say it was....well, nice or something like that. I was never expecting you to say it was hot!"

"I've always wanted to ask you. Were you....umm....feeling me out?"

"You probably aren't going to believe this....Well, maybe in the back of my mind I was. I was more interested in seeing what kissing was like. I was already umm, sure of myself. I think it was more of a curiosity thingy. Yet....when you said it was hot....Oh wow! I was never expecting that. That's when I really started hoping you were gay!"

Ryan reached out with both hands and squeezed Ethan's shoulders.

"...And don't worry about me if you're still a bit unsure of yourself."

"Rye!....Let's not get into..."

"I'm serious about that E!....If you found out you were straight....I could understand that. I've already told you....if you found another boy....that's what would hurt."

Ethan drew him close and kissed his lips lightly, lingering for a moment.

"...It's not going to happen..."

Toby let out a yell as he crawled over Scooter.

"...Bahhh!....A spider! I felt a spider on my shoulder! Where's the flashlight?"

"Tob!....Keep it down. People are trying to sleep out here."

Toby got to his feet.

"Where's the flashlight?....And the bug spray!"

Scooter reached for the flashlight at his head. He shined it around the sleeping bag.

"I don't see anything."

"Shit too! I felt it on my shoulder!"

Scooter aimed the flashlight's beam along the window flap. A cloth strap bounced with the tent in the wind, its end frayed.

"It was the tie-down on the window flap! That's to tie the rolled flap up so it isn't waving all around."

"Well it sure didn't feel like that!"

"Look at the end of it! It's all frayed! It was bouncing in the wind. It was rubbing against your shoulder. I would have thought it was a spider too."

Toby gripped his chest.

"Oh shit! I think I almost had a heart attack!"

"Tob....Get back in the bag here. You're going to catch a chill prancing around bare-assed!"

"In a minute!....Where's that detergent jug we got at the launderette? I'm so nervous, I gotta pee!"

"Hee, hee....It's in the laundry bag."

"Gimme that light! I can't see a thing here."

"The laundry bag is right there! The bottle is the only thing we have in there!"

"I got it!....I got it!....Oh! Oh! Oh!....Ohhhhh....I almost peed on the floor! That was close!"

"I'll stuff this strap inside the window flap...

"Ohhhh! Feel that wind coming in? It's cold!"

"Yes! It's blowin' across my bare ass!"

"Well hurry up. You're going to catch a chill. Gee, listen to that wind out there!"

"Arrggguuuhhh!" Toby grunted as he tackled Scooter around his neck.

They both pulled at the bag, drawing it up to their necks.

"Oh this is cold!" Toby gasped, reaching for Scooter.

"Awh gee, your hands are like ice!"

"If it wasn't for that strap feelin' like a spider, I'd still be sleeping."

"...Well, I guess the only way to warm you up is going to be with buttered boy sex!"

"Oh no!....Not tonight. It's just too cold in here."

"You won't be cold for long."

"No....Really! That wind is kinda scary..."

"Did you wake up Dew?" Ethan asked Ryan.

"Wake up?......I haven't been to sleep yet!"

"Well, gee, you were layin' there awful still 'n quiet."

"I just keep listening to that wind! When we were at the showers tonight, Chris was sayin' how he hears all kinds of things during the night. Well, now he's got me doing the same thing! I never even thought anything of it until he had to say that..."

"Well, I don't think we have anything to worry about. We're all nestled within these trees here. We've got a nice natural windbreak here. I'm sure glad we're not one of those people camping around the playground or the baseball field....Oh gee! There isn't a tree around!"

Ryan drew his arms around Ethan's neck and pressed his head to his chest.

"...Cold, Dew?..."

"No. Not really. It's nice 'n warm in the bag here. I just don't like the sound of that wind!......Oh gee, if Chris hadn't mentioned it....I wouldn't even be paying any attention to it!"

"Well, I kinda like this really. We're all snug into the bag here."

Both lay still for a moment. Each knew the other could hear a thumping sound from the shoreline of the lake.

"Oh gee," Ryan put in, "That sounds like a boat! I'll bet someone didn't tie up their boat very well."

"Yeah. I was thinkin' the same thing."

Toby twisted around beside Scooter.

"Cold, Tob?..."

"Not at all. We got it warmed up in here now.

"Umm....I was just thinking of Adam there......Remember when he came down to the beach to tell us he can't hang with us anymore?"

"Awh yeah!......I really felt bad for him. He was crying he felt so bad. And he was all banged up. Tob....really! I think his ole man did that!"

"Oh yeah. Oh yeah....He said he fell on the rocks. There wasn't a scrape on him. I know that was all put-on!...

"Umm....I was thinking about that first day we saw him. Remember he was down at the shore, feeding the seagulls. Awh, I didn't even know who he was at first and I felt bad for him. He was wearing that thin little t-shirt in that cold wind. He just looked so lonely...

"When we get back....well, umm....I don't think we should exactly go to his house, but we should kind of be watchin' for him. Even if it's just to tell him to hang-in there again. He's gotta be so lonely..."

Toby felt Scooter's arms draw him tight.

"...Who'd know about that better than us? When my dad broke things off with the both of us. Awh, Tob......I keep thinking about that. I mean it was just for a few months but....but it just felt like forever! I mean, we couldn't see each other....but at least we weren't gettin' the shit beat out of us......Or....or having to go to one of those camps!......The poor little guy....I don't know how he's getting by."

The following morning, Matt and Tim stood before the grill on its metal post. Tim had just lit the charcoal. They drew up their shoulders against the cold wind.

"Oh I sure hope it warms up today," Matt put in, "We can't do anything in weather like this."

Tim simply nodded as he pushed his hands into his jacket pockets. He felt of Landon's note. Drawing it out, he dropped it into the coals. It smoked for several seconds and burst into flame.

"Awh, poor Adam....Umm, let's not say anything to the others. Why ruin everyone's trip?"

Matt nodded as he drew up behind Tim. He hugged him from behind.

"We should have had them bring a radio out to us. I mean just for the weather if nothing else."

Tim nodded in thought again.

"Yeah, I thought of it......But this is a camping trip! I just didn't like the thought of radio, newspapers 'n TV......That's the whole reason we're out here in the first place....To get away from that stuff."

He gazed out over the choppy lake. The gray sky reflected from its surface. Tim thought of the contrast with the warmer, calmer days. On a warm, clear day, the blue reflected. He thought he could almost feel the warmth of the water. Today it looked cold and uninviting.

"Well," he said at length, "...we can't go swimming today, but we should take out a boat again for some more exercise."

He felt Matt shiver as he clung tightly to him. He looked over his shoulder at him.

"Oh gee, Matt! You kept calling me a wuss because I couldn't take the winter! It's a bit chilly today, but it's not that bad!"

Matt started for the picnic table.

"Well, maybe I'll feel better after I eat and wake up a bit more."

Two by two, the others began gathering at the table. Tim looked them over.

"What's everyone lookin' at me for?!"

This brought out smiles and giggles. Ethan got to his feet.

"Tim's right......Him 'n Matt have been doing all the cooking."

"Oh I'm just teasing you. I don't mind, really!..."

He glanced around in thought for a moment.

"...Okay. How about pancakes, sausage links, bacon 'n eggs?"

"Yeah!" several shouted out.

"Okay Chris....You get some water heating here and start on the sausages. I'll fire up the hotplate here and get the pancakes 'n eggs goin'..."

"Sausage on the grill?.....Oh gee, I'll burn it to a crisp!"

"Relax!......Matty will help you out......And we'll need some volunteers for another water run here."

Minutes later they ate at the table. They found it necessary to eat quickly as each item was finished. The wind was cooling the food. Tim continued to crack eggs into a frying pan and flipped pancakes on the griddle. The bacon disappeared instantly from a plate as quickly as he could replace it. Chris placed sausage out with a metal spatula. He had an apprehensive expression.

"Oh gee, I hope this is okay?....I'm a bit frightened I'm going to burn them."

The others cut into the tiny links and ate with smiles.

"Oh gee, Chris!" Toby put in quickly, "These are great!....Their almost better than.... than....HOT BUTTERED BOY SEX!"

Tim blushed as he drew his hand over his eyes.

"TOB!....Will you keep it down?!....We're going to get kicked out of here!"

Chris sat beside Joe and began to eat, yet had a bit of a shy smile.

"....So umm....My sausage is that good?"

They all laughed.

He looked up and swiveled his head around.

"Oh gee, this is great, huh?....I mean it's a little chilly but it's great just....hanging-out!"

Ethan looked up from across the table with a weak smile.

"Chris....Don't start getting all emotional again. We're all friends here. We love having you around. Yeah, you're new at all this, but you're doing fine..."

Chris pushed his fingertips under his glasses, wiping his eyes.

"Oh gee!....This is soooo nice. You guys are the greatest!"

"Chris!....Knock it off!....We'll start up the tickle machine again!"

Chris tried to sober himself quickly.

"Okay!....Okay!....I'm all right now!"

Everyone laughed.

Ryan stepped up to Tim at the hotplate.

"Oh gee. I feel bad about this. We're eating everything up as quickly as you're making it!"

"I'll eat in a few minutes...

"Oh gee, we're going to need some more pancake mix."

"I can do that," Ryan put in quickly.

"No!....No! Let me," Chris said, quickly getting to his feet, "I truly must do more of this!"

As the minutes passed, Ethan and Ryan walked away. Scooter and Toby seemed to be giving each other warm glances and soon wandered off by themselves. Matt and Tim finally got to sit down and enjoy their own breakfast. Chris began to gather dishes up.

"The water's hot!....I'm doin' dishes!"

"Chris," Tim sighed, "You're all ways pullin' KP out here. I feel bad about that."

"Well, you did all the cooking! It's only fair. And....and I actually enjoy this! I'm not lying!"

They watched him struggle with the heavy kettle from the grill. He poured it into a plastic dishpan.

"Chris?....Please? Me 'n Matty will help. I sort of used lots of dishes today. I didn't want to use paper plates and have that wind blow our breakfasts out onto the beach!...

"And before you go anywhere, I wanna check your knee again..."


"Chris....Even if I did use it, you wouldn't feel anything. I'll just use antibiotic and put a clean bandage on it."

Minutes later, as Tim was tending to Chris' knee, a car pulled into the campsite.

"Landon!" Matt called out, "What brings you all the way out here?"

"Oh I was in town here....Well, it's kinda small but they've got that electronic salvage store here. I had to pick up a few IC's......I'm already starting on a science project for next year. Okay guys!....Start breakin' my balls....The great computer geek!"

"Nah! We aren't going to tease you. You're an ace, Landon..."

"Well, I passed right by the park here on my way out. I just thought I'd swing by and see how you're all doin'."

He gazed out over the lake and zipped his jacket to his neck.

"Oh gee. I think I just caught a chill. I sure hope the bathroom isn't far from here."

Matt pointed toward the knoll.

"Right over there."

Landon walked away as Tim drew down the leg of Chris' jeans.

"Yup, that's healing up fast. Just try to keep it a bit clean."

He sat and began putting items back into the first aid kit.

"Mmm....Hey Chris....Joe....I was thinking here this morning..."

He blushed slightly as he gave a shy smile.

"...We've got our cameras here now......I was wondering if you could get another paddle boat this morning and....and take some pictures of me 'n Matty out there."

Joe gave a large smile as he dried the last plate. He folded the dishtowel and placed it under the hotplate to keep it from being blown away.

"And what is it about rowing a boat that makes you blush like that?....Hee, hee."

"...Okay....Okay!....I'd like to get a few shots of more than....just rowing!"

He drew money from his pocket.

"Here. Rent that wide boat....Number seven. Matt calls it the whaling boat! We'll be out there shortly..."

Joe and Chris began their walk toward the store. They noticed Joe place his arm over Chris' shoulders. He gazed down at his face. He had a nearly admiring expression.

Landon returned with a somber expression and sat at the table.

"Umm....Hey guys....I didn't want to say anything in front of the others...

"I think my dad wants to really prosecute Adam's dad..."

He took a deep breath and gazed out over the lake.

"I umm....never saw my dad cry before......But he cried over that video. Oh gee! He was a mess!"

He hesitated as he chose his words.

"I umm....don't really know where he stands on the scene, but...

"Well, he's just never said anything about it one way or the other."

He played with the keys in his hand.

"Now I didn't say anything about you to him. I know you'd rather not get involved in this..."

"Whoa!" Tim put in quickly, "That's not so! It's just that we gotta be careful. Right now we think Matt's parents are sort of adjusting to all this. But it's the same with me too. Our parents are mostly scared of the hate out there. They keep reminding us about our safety! I think that's the only concern they have right now..."

"...Yeah, well....I told my dad that I stopped at some convenience store and went in for a Coke....And....and when I came out....there was this flash drive on the seat. I told him I thought it was mine and that it must have fallen out of my pocket or something. And I told him I plugged it into my computer to see what I had on there. I told him I don't have any idea who could have put that in my car..."

He tapped his keys on the table in a moment of thought.

"Oh gee....Oh gee....I'd like to get hold of Adam somehow and....well, cheer him up some! I feel so bad for the little guy."

"Well," Tim began, "we were kind of thinking about that too....but....umm....His parents know about us. He's not allowed to hangout with us. He felt awful bad about having to tell us that."

Landon continued to tap his keys as he gazed out over the lake.

"Oh shit! Why do things have to be like this?......Why can't people just get along?"

Tim nodded.

"...Yeah....Well, I keep sayin' it over 'n over....People just love to hate and hate to love....There's lots of money in hate! All these....these family values groups are being supported by very hateful people."

Landon nodded.

"Yeah....Well, I just wanted to stop by to remind you that none of us know anything about this!....Okay?....I found that flash in my car! We're sticking to that story..."

Tim gazed at him a bit apprehensively.

"Lan...umm....I checked my phone. You deleted that vid, right?"

"Well....I didn't exactly delete it. I used a file shredder on it. It overwrites the file with random numbers. There's no way that vid can be recovered from your phone. I don't trust that delete operation. Lots of times it just opens that area of memory for it to be overwritten later. I made sure that was all wiped off your phone...

"And another reason I stopped by was that I didn't want to call you. Oh gee! If this gets as big as I think it's going to be....I wouldn't doubt lots of phone records are going to be checked...

"They know that happened out here! All they need to see is a flurry of activity on our cells! That would really be waving a red flag!"

"Yeah," Matt sighed, "That's the reason I called you on the pay phone."

"Hey....umm, you heard about the park, huh?"

"Oh yeah. It was in the paper."

"Well, I don't know what kind of records are kept on public phones......If questions get asked, you called me about the park....To see if I knew more about it."


"Well, umm....I'll get going here."

They all got to their feet. Landon seemed to hesitate for a moment. He shyly put his arms around the both of them, drawing them against himself.

"Oh you guys are the greatest!......And this is the whole reason I'm in the GSA. This kind of discrimination just has to come to a stop!"

Just as Matt and Tim stepped out onto the wooden docks, they noticed the clouds begin to blow away. Although not excessively hot, the sun was warm against their backs. Joe and Chris were struggling with another rowboat.

"Hey guys! I thought you liked the paddle boats."

"There aren't any left!" Joe put in, sweeping his pointed finger across the lake.

There were several near the shoreline. They all had young couples operating them.

"I think the park is some kind of honeymoon resort this week!"

Joe and Chris struggled with getting the oars into the locks. Tim had to hold back a giggle as Chris tripped over a seat with his oar.

"Oh gee, I hate this!" Chris yelled out, "I really hate this tippy feeling."

"Chris!....YOU'RE DOIN' FINE!....You said you wanted to learn things out here. Well, this is how you learn! You aren't going to do everything perfect the first time. Just have fun with it. Laugh about it. That's the reason we're all out here. This supposed to be fun. Let's just go out there and be a little silly!......Just....umm....don't drop our cameras into the water!"

He swung his camera out toward Joe by its strap.

"Okay now. Let me 'n Matty get into our boat."

They got into the boat and locked in their oars within seconds. Tim flipped the line from a wooden piling of the dock. Although their boat rocked considerably, they seemed to take little notice of it. Chris gazed at them. He already had droplets of water on the round lens of his glasses.

"Gee, you guys make that look so easy!"

"It is, Chris," Tim put in quickly, "...You'll see. Each time you come out here, it'll be easier than the last...

"Now you said you wanted to learn stuff out here. Let's go. We want to see you row!"

Chris giggled as he and Joe tried to coordinate their strokes.

"Come on Chris," Joe put in, "Longer strokes! Don't just use your arms....Put your whole body into it!....Pull!....Lean back! Put your back into it!"

It had taken them a few minutes but they soon fell into a smooth cadence.

"Hey!" Chris called out, "This is okay....It's lots easier once you get moving."

"Okay guys," Tim called out, "Race you to that spot there with the overhanging trees. Where we were the other day."

Instantly they saw Joe and Chris' oars dip deep into the water. They fell into a instant coordinated cadence.

"Awh Timmy!" Matt yelled, "They're already gaining on us!"

Not only was Joe and Chris' boat narrower, it had less draft due to their lighter weight. They drew ahead and entered the area a full minute ahead of Matt and Tim. Chris giggled and squirmed on the seat.

"Wow! I don't believe it! We won!"

Matt playfully shook his fist.

"We'd have beat you if it wasn't for this....this WHALING BOAT!"

Tim looked at him seriously.

"Matty....I like this boat. We can sit together so nice in it."

Chris continued laughing and wiggling.

"Chris!" Joe yelled out, "Quit with the squiggly-wiggly! We've got some serious photos to shoot now."

Matt hung his head with a sigh as they drew alongside.

"Oh gee, I think I'm suddenly getting a little too embarrassed to do this."

"Awh, come on Matty," Tim said, "Umm....well, I feel a bit funny about it too, but....I'm just thinking about the photos we'll have for our album. I mean the printed shots! Oh, we're going to have to buy another one. That one we started has only two pages left in it."

They drew the boats together, side by side and tied them together.

Scooter and Toby had rented a canoe and paddled out a distance from the shore. They had put their paddles up. They sat in the bottom, their backs up against the rear seat. They shared a bag of chips.

"Gee," Toby began, "It sure cleared up quickly today. It's lots warmer. I just wish that wind would die-down a bit..."

"Yeah Tob....It warmed up quick...

"You know, I like these canoes with the seats. I know they're not as sleek as the others, but my knees just get so sore."

"Yeah, this is nice....It's not like we're racing anyone."

"Tob?....You're actin' kinda weird again. I can tell. What's up?"

"...I had that....that dream again last night."

"Oh shit! Not the funeral parlor one again!"

"Yeah. It was."

"Tob! I got stabbed! And....yeah....I almost didn't make it, but..."

"No! No! I keep tellin' you, you're there with me! It's not your funeral!"

"Well, I think all this dying shit triggers it. You probably go to sleep with that on your mind....and....that's what causes the dream..."

Toby thoughtfully munched on a chip.

"...Umm....It's like I'd been there before. I mean in the funeral home......Just inside the doorway, is this little shelf where you sign the guest book. And right above that....on the wall, is this big brass shield or something. I mean like a coat of arms. And there's these two rams standing on either side on their hind legs. They have their front hooves resting on the edge of the shield. It looks so familiar to me...

"And we go into the parlor....You're with me Scoot! It ain't your funeral. And the place is packed! Well, adults are there! And when I look up at their's like they're all blurry. All out of focus. I don't recognize anyone! And there's these chairs on each side with like an isle going down toward the casket. I can hear that awful....organ music. And....and I can actually smell the flowers! I thought you can't smell or feel anything in a dream. And right over the casket, hanging up....there's this huge floral display. And right in the center is this display of carnations....white 'n pink. It's shaped like a big pillow! And there's this wide, pink ribbon running diagonally across it. There's print on it. And....and I'm trying to read it, but it's too far away to see the print."

Toby passed the bag of chips to Scooter.

"...Yeah....'n we're walking up to the casket. And I'm kinda stretching my neck up to see who's inside. And every time I get close enough....I wake up!"

"Oh shit! That's enough Tob! No more bodies 'n funerals 'n caskets!...

"Come on! We're out here to have fun and....and be together! No more about dying."

Toby looked up with a grin.

"You're right....This is our time!"

He gave Scooter a deep kiss for several seconds. He got to his knees and straddled Scooter's thighs, holding his head.

"Oh Scoot," he sighed, holding his face in his hands, "I hope we have a loooong time together. I just love you so much!"

"Okay now....That was really nice....sweet....but start being silly again. It's just not you to be so serious."

"Okay!....Let's go back to the tent and get nakey!"

"And have some more hot buttered..."

"No!" he exclaimed sharply, yet still a whisper, "No....We'll just lay there all scrunched up and....and if we fall asleep....we do."

"I think I'd like that....Umm....we still got another hour's rent on the canoe. Let's use that up first."

Toby put his head up and looked around.

"Oh shit! The wind blew us out almost to the center of the lake......I can hardly see the docks!"

Scooter sat up and looked around.

"Oh gee! I'll bet it takes us an hour just to get back!"

Tim sat on the boat seat beside Matt. He held his hands over his face, his elbows on his knees.

"Oh I don't know why I'm having such a hard time with this."

Matt blushed.

"...Well, hee, hee. I'm having a bit of a time with it too."

"Come on, you guys!" Joe shouted out, "We're all gay here. And nobody's around to see! I just want a few kissin' shots..."

Joe stepped from his boat into theirs. He sat on the rear seat, drawing Tim's camera to his eye.

"Come on!....Just a few sweet kisses......They don't have to be hot!"

Both Matt and Tim held their oars. They had their outer arms resting along the grips. Both gazed at each other with shy smiles. They both heard the faint click of the camera.

"That's it!....That was kinda sweet!....Really!....Now move in for a kiss!"

Both Matt and Tim gave a shy grin. They hesitated for a moment, then moved in for a kiss. They gradually began kissing deeper.

"Oh wow!....Hot!" Joe yelled.

Matt and Tim drew apart, with shy smiles.

"Okay!" Joe put in, "Now shirtless!"

"Awh, gee, Joe!"

"Come on!....Hey you two are really lookin'! I'm not joking here. Oh, Tim, I really miss your braces."

"Oh! Not the cute stuff again!"

"No! I'm not sayin' that!....You just look so different! Your shorter hair too. It's going to take a bit before I get used to it, okay?......And you're right! You're getting too old to be....cute anymore."

They continued on for several more minutes posing for Joe.

"Okay now......Stand up and grab that branch over your head."

"Oh no!....Oh no!" Chris suddenly yelled, "They'll shake spiders down! Wait 'til I get out from under here!"

"We won't shake the branch!" Matt put in quickly.

Reaching overhead they drew close together and kissed.

"Beautiful!....Got it!....Oh gee, I'm a little embarrassed to say it but......Oh gee, you two are really, you know it?"

They blushed as they sat on the tiny seat at the bow of the boat. Matt looked at Tim as he rubbed his chest.

"Yeah," he sighed, "I always liked Tim's skinny ribs sticking out, but I think I like this better!"

"Okay now," Joe put in, "Just kind of lean back and put your inner arms around each other. Great!......Now some rubbing chests......Great!......Now a sweet little kiss!....Got it!....Now for a deeper, hotter kiss!......Oh yeah! Got it!....Great!"

Tim leaned forward and rubbed his knees.

"Oh gee, this was all my idea!......Now I feel kinda funny about it."

"No! No!....That was great! Really! You'll love these shots...

"Umm....Take some of me 'n Chris now!"

They had all expected to see Chris blush. He was still gazing up at the overhanging branches.

"Well, umm....Let's just get out from under these trees first, okay?"

Chris' father had pulled into the campsite parking area. He got out of his car and glanced around apprehensively. He drew out his cell and pressed several buttons. Within seconds, he heard the tone of Chris' phone come from one of the tents. He closed it up and returned it to his pocket.

He paced about for a moment, fingering a bottle of capsules in his pocket.

"Oh dear......That wasn't a good idea of sending Chris out here with only a week's supply of allergy meds!......I never even thought of of them! I should have put them right out into the car before we left yesterday..."

He gazed out over the lake.

"Oh that poor little guy......He's probably sneezing and coughing something awful! The way his eyes are probably watering, I'll bet he can hardly see! And I know he's probably putting up a tough front for the boys. He'll try to hide it from them. Oh! He'll never be able to do that! I'm sure one of the boys would notice that and have him call me......Poor little guy. I'll bet he's embarrassed to say anything to the others...

"I think I'll check down at the docks......He seemed awful excited over those paddle boats."

Joe and Chris had surprised Matt and Tim. Neither had become shy or self conscious. They drew down into the bottom of their boat as Tim stood on the seat. They held each other in a deep embrace as they kissed. Tim took several shots.

"Umm....Just let me take a few more. The way this boat is rocking, I'm afraid these shots are going to come out all blurry."

"Check the previews on the viewer," Chris put in.

Tim stepped through several shots.

"Oh!....Okay!....They look fine. I was afraid I was shaking the camera too much."

Tim gazed down at them. Joe was tenderly running his fingers over Chris' cheek.

"Oh gee, Chris......This is kinda nice, huh? You just look so sweet layin' there. I thought you were a bit shy about this."

"Well, nah!....This doesn't bother me. I mean it's not as though we're bare-assed, huh?"

He suddenly covered his face with his hands.

"Oh gee!....I could never do that!"

"Hee, hee......Oh Chris....You're such a little angel, you know that?"

"Oh, don't start getting all sugary with me. I will be embarrassed about that!"

"Sugary?" Tim asked.

"Yeah....That's what I call it when Joe says sweet things to me."

He squeezed Joe's chest as he gave a serious expression.

"Oh Joe," he sighed, "I was soooo frightened about you thinking I was nothing but a class A geek! This....this is just a....a dream come true for me!"

"No," Joe replied seriously as he kissed the tip of his nose, "This is MY dream come true!"

Chris turned from his side to his back. He gazed at Tim.

"I just can't thank you guys enough for setting me and Joe up. Oh shit! I was just so scared 'n shy at the time."

Tim took on a serious expression as he stepped down from the seat. He sat down and looked at them.

"Umm....Well, we never told you this before but......Oh, Toby wanted to give it a try. We felt bad for Joe. Really! He's just been used all his life. We just couldn't think of anyone else to set him up with. Umm....We thought that was going to be a big mistake. You two just seemed so....miss-matched! The school's emo with the genius geek! Hey, admit it, huh? That's kind of a weird set."

Chris looked at Joe as he rubbed his chest.

"Well, a point. Joe and I....well yes! We're nearly from different planets! Yet, their was just something know?......Joe was all alone....I was all alone. Joe was the weird emo!......I was the accelerated boy genius! Neither one of us really had any friends.... much less a boyfriend! It might sound strange, but we've found lots in common with each other. Truly! I don't know how to explain it...

"It's like this boat here. It's like it was out drifting around in the ocean. No engine. No oars. And we sort of drifted next to each other. We needed each other at just that time. Joe's been so sweet with patient."

He gazed lovingly at Joe again, still rubbing his chest.

"...My dad....umm....I think he knew about me before I did!....You know what I'm saying here? And he truly had no problem with it. I think he can see what Joe did for me. He likes Joe! Lots! Oh gee!....He likes all you boys! He's really happy about all this. I mean it was sort of his idea we all go out on this camping trip. He's happy you all accepted me."

Tim kicked the bottom of Chris' sneaker.

"And why shouldn't we? Hey, you're just getting used to all this. We just have to show you the ropes a bit more. You're doing great, Chris! Wow!....I'm serious!"

"Oh yeah! I learned to heat water and do dishes!"

"Chris!....You did those things. You didn't just sit there! You're so ready to try something new......Okay, you've spilled water....You had a bit of a time with those sausages on the grill.... but you're trying! You're actually doing those things. And every day you'll try something new. And each day you'll get better at it....And oh gee! Hey, you guys just look so right together! Now that you've been together, you don't look so miss-matched."

Chris began to wipe at his eyes.

"Chris!....No cryin'!......We'll start up the tickle machine again."

Mr. Gavin nervously paced along the wooden dock. He gazed out over the lake. Soon his attention was drawn to two boats rapidly headed for him. He heard the unmistakable laugh come from Chris. Matt and Tim pulled strongly at their oars. Again the heavy, wide boat was no match for Joe and Chris.

"That's it!" Matt yelled, drawing his oar up from the water, "You win! There's no way we can compete with you in this....this TUG!"

Chris fell against Joe with a joyful giggle.

"Oh wow!....We beat them twice! Oh shit!....This is great, guys! Oh! I've never had so much fun in my life!....You guys are the greatest!....You know that?!"

As Chris turned to throw the line over a timber on the dock he saw his father.

"Oh! DAD!....Is everything okay?"

"Oh, everything's fine."

He squatted down on the dock, holding the bottle of capsules in his hand.

"It's just that we forgot to bring your allergy meds out with us yesterday. Why didn't you call us?!"

"Shucks, Dad!....I haven't used the meds I've got in the tent!....I never took one single capsule! Well, the first day I decided to try to go without them. Nothing bothered me! Ask the boys! I haven't coughed or sneezed once! And the second day?....Oh shucks! I actually forgot all about them!......In fact, this is the first time I really thought about them!"

He excitedly gripped the metal ladder which hung from the dock. He made only one step before his foot slipped. He fell backward back into the boat.

"Chris! Be caref..."

"No! Don't say it! Let him take his tumbles....No plastic bubble!"

"Oh! Hee, hee! I kind of slipped."

Again he climbed the ladder. Mr. Gavin smiled as he noticed Joe standing behind Chris. His hands and arms were poised to catch Chris if he were to slip again.

"Oh wow, Dad!....Hee, hee....Joe and I beat Matt and Tim twice today. Umm....this was my first time in a rowboat. Hee, hee....Joe and I had a bit of a time getting our strokes coordinated. We were going in circles there for a bit...

"We were way over there under those trees. Umm....I don't exactly like it....There are lots of spiders in the trees! You know me and my arachnophobia!"

He turned quickly and looked toward Matt and Tim climbing up.

"Oh gee! I just thought that was the same place Toby had that snake crawling up his paddle! Oh shit!"

"Umm...." Mr. Gavin began, "I'm not exactly a fan of them myself!"

"Umm....Hey! I'm not all that hungry yet. Lets all go out to that observation deck again. We can get more pictures out there."

Joe placed his arm over his shoulders.

"Sure thing....It's just I think I can do with a nice cold Coke from the store here first."

Mr. Gavin helped Matt and Tim secure their boat. He seemed to hesitate afterward. He leaned back against one of the timbers. He gazed at the bottle of capsules in his hand. Smiling, he slipped them back into his pocket.

"Ahh....Boys....I....umm....I just want to say how happy I am with you helping out little Chris here. He really needed this!"

"Oh it's fun just having him here with us," Matt put in quickly, "He's a bit scared of trying anything new. Awh! He's getting there. We had him grill some sausages this morning. Oh, he was so scared he was going to burn them...

"And they rented out all the paddle boats this morning. That's why he was in a rowboat. It sure didn't take him long to get the hang of rowing. He's learning quick. I can see how this could scare him."

"Well, I was about to say......I had my marine radio on this morning. Well, that's where I get my weather reports from......Oh gee, tonight there are medium craft warnings! Well, for the Great Lakes up there, but it's passing right through here too. Umm....Don't you boys feel bad about calling us if it gets really nasty. I sort of worry about the wind. And poor little Chris. Oh, he's frightened of thunderstorms while inside the house."

Tim nodded with a smile.

"Oh yeah. We had that storm last week. Hee, hee....I think we were all kinda scared of that. Everyone was in our tent!"

"Well, I selected that campsite last week. It's sort of nestled within all those trees. They'll serve as a good windbreak...

"...And thanks again for sort of keeping an eye on Chris. I won't forget any of this. I'll be sure to make it up to you boys."

"Awh! Mr. Gavin! You make it sound like it's a job or something! Like it's work for us! We'll never exclude Chris. He just gets so excited over some of the littlest things he does. We'll boost him up a bit. We umm....kinda feel bad for him. I mean, never being able to do this stuff before."

Mr. Gavin set his jaw and nodded grimly.

"I'm afraid I'm mostly responsible for that..."

He gazed over the lake and managed a small smile.

"Yeah....I was doing to him, exactly what my ole man did to me. Nope! It's going to stop! He's going to get out there and start doing for himself!....He's....he's got to start having some fun in life! He has to toughen up a bit."

"Well, we keep an eye on him. We make sure he isn't left out. And Joe sorta watches out for him too."

Mr. Gavin turned to look at the store.

"Oh yeah!....Little Joe....He's an ACE too!...

"Umm....that little toboggan party you had last winter. I....Well I sort of pushed him into that. Then I started having seconds thoughts."

He smiled here.

"Well, they didn't last long. He came home that night and just couldn't stop talking! He went on and on about the tobogganing....and your mom's chilli! And playing video games in your family room."

He nodded more to himself here.

"A family room! We don't have one....but that's going to change too!...

"Yeah boys, this is great. And I'll see what I can do for all of you."

Tim gave a silly grin.

"Well, you can get us all out here again next month! I mean, talk to all our parents. We're all having fun, not just Chris!"

He placed his arms over the shoulders of the both of them. They began a lazy stroll toward the store.

"...I plan on doing much more than that! I've got a few irons in the fire here. I don't want to....say anything yet. I've got a number of people working on a project. I think you boys would be interested in it, attorneys have told me to be mute on all this. This is quite a big project we're working on..."

He paused in his stride as he gazed at one, then the other of them. He shook their shoulders as he drew them close.

"...Ohhh....All you boys are great!......Yup! I'm going to see what I can do here."

Minutes later, Mr. Gavin drove along the highway.

"I've never seen such mature teens in my life. They all have it together. Oh! HOW I hope this project pans out!...

"Oh, little Chris....I've never seen him so happy before. Yup! I was doing just what my father was doing. Work, work, work!....No free time! Bust your ass!......Oh gee, Ken has it together too. Climbing the social ladder. He's right!....Yup, no dirt bike, jet-skis or new car! He recognized very early in life what life should be. It's no wonder Timmy has it together...

"...Camping next month? Caroline wants us to rent a trailer. Nah!....She'll sleep in a tent along with the rest of us. I'm going to have fun with my boy! I'm going to be silly! I'm going out there with the rest of them. Boating, swimming, hiking! Maybe I'll even cook up a few pranks to pull on the kids! Hee, hee. Oh if Father could see that! Hee, hee!"

His eyes fell to the brown plastic bottle of allergy capsules on the dash. He smiled.

"And I'm never going to put little Chris back into that plastic bubble."

The boys found their way back to the observation deck. They had encountered two couples out there. They were obviously newlyweds. As their coins ran out in the telescopes, they made their way back down the trail. Matt gazed at them leaving.

"Oh shit!....I thought that....that blushing bride stuff went out years ago."

Tim chuckled as he drew up to one of the rustic log railings overlooking the lake.

Ethan, Ryan, Scooter and Toby had joined them along the way. Toby was having Chris take photos of them as they acted silly.

Matt stepped up beside Tim and placed his arm around his waist.

"Oh gee, Tim," he began in a subdued voice, "I guess I was a bit shy and embarrassed over those shots in the boat too...

"Hey, lets step through some of those."

They both drew their heads close together as they looked at the tiny display. Tim snickered.

"Oh gee, Matty....We've been together for a year now, and I still feel kinda shy over this."

"Yeah, well, me too. I like the shots though......Oh! Oh! Back up one!......Oh I like that one!"

It had been a shot of Matt and Tim sitting on the seat of the boat. They both had their outer arms along the raised oars, gripping the handles with their hands. Their inner arms were around each others backs. They were both gazing at each others faces. Even to an untrained eye, one could see the love they expressed toward each other. The maturity they reflected added several years to their appearance.

"...Yeah, umm....I kinda like that one too."

Tim gave Matt a glance, then a glance toward the display again returning it to Matt.

He switched the camera off and allowed it to hang from his neck by the strap. He reached out and rubbed Matt's back.

"You know something, Matty?......You're always telling me I'm getting hot. I don't think I say that to you enough."

His face neared Matt's. His voice lowered to a whisper.

"...You are one hot boy....You know that?"

Their lips touched lightly for several seconds.

"Oh gee, Scoot!....Come on over here on this bench with me!"

"Tob!....I feel awful embarrassed over having our picture taken with us kissing!"

"Aaarrruggghhh!" Toby grunted as he pulled Scooter to the bench. He pushed him to his back, along the seat and straddled him. Holding his head in his hands, he kissed him deeply.

Chris took several shots from different positions as his high-pitched giggle could be heard.

"Okay, okay," Chris put in, "That should be sufficient."

Toby continued to hold Scooter's head in his hands. He gazed lovingly at his face.

"Scoot!....Years down the road from now, we'll be happy we have these pictures. We have to spend the whole week just getting caught-up on pictures."

Chris, Matt and Tim took more shots on the observation deck. Most were of the boys being silly. Matt had noticed a sudden change in Toby's character. He had grown a bit more serious as he gave Scooter glances. He had done such before on rare occasions. Matt motioned for the others to follow him back down the trail.

Scooter held the rail before him as he gazed out over the lake. He inhaled deeply as a tiny smile appeared on his mouth.

"Oh gee, Tob......Smell that fresh air! What a beautiful day. Well, it could be a tad warmer, huh?...

"Gee, why don't we go back and take a canoe out again. We'll just take it easy. No racing! I'd love to just paddle along real slow and just enjoy this beautiful day."

Toby ran his arms around him from behind and rested his chin on his shoulder.

"...I don't think there are any canoes left!....or paddle boats....or rowboats! This place is packed this week! And I gotta agree with Joe. It looks like they're all honeymooners!"

Toby hugged Scooter and kissed his shoulder, through his shirt.

"...Umm....Let's just go back to the tent and kinda lay around awhile."

Scooter looked back over his shoulder with a shy smile.

"...Toby......I know we all sorta tease you about you being an alien or something. You've really come out since I was in the hospital....and....and....well I like it! Okay?"

He turned in Toby's arms and rested his hands on his shoulders.

"...It's when you get a bit more serious......well, it seems like it's a hundred times more serious!"

Toby gazed at his face. He drew close and kissed Scooter's lips lightly, pausing for several seconds.

"...Scoot......I know you don't like to hear about this....but......I keep telling you....If you didn't make it....I didn't want to either. We've been together from the very start. And we've been through everything together.......Since we were five years old! You keep sayin' I'll find someone else. No!....There is other you! Scoot, I know we're awful young, but you've got to understand how much I love you...

"If something happened to you and I did find someone else....I know just what I'd do. I'd be comparing him to you all the time. And I'd think 'Scooter wouldn't do that,' or 'Scooter wouldn't say that.' I couldn't do it! I wouldn't even try. There's only one you!......What's that saying?....'Be yourself....Everybody else has been taken'? Oh shit, Scoot, there's only one you, and I'm the happiest boy in the world to have you."

He hugged Scooter tightly as he fought back tears.

"...Oh Scoot!......I love you so much, sometimes I think I'm just going to go crazy!"

Scooter fought back tears of his own as he returned his hug.

"...SEE?!....There you go getting all....all serious again!"

They kissed deeply for several seconds. In the distance they heard outboard engines. There was the sound of laughter and splashes from the swimming area. A small, private airplane passed overhead. There was the buzz of insects in the nearby shadows.

"OOP'S!" they suddenly heard a young female voice.

Drawing apart, they saw two young women approaching the deck. They hung their heads.

"Oh!....So sorrah bawys....We didn't know anybody else was out hair," one said in a clearly Southern accent.

They climbed the three steps onto the deck. Both held each others hand.

One had shoulder length, brilliant red hair. The other had a straw blond with pigtails tied up with pink yarn.

"...Umm....Don't mind us. We....we were kinda lookin' for a place to be alone as well."

The redhead placed her hand gently on the blond's back. Both wore halters and denim shorts.

"Hey, ya'll....This is Diana 'n I'm Brandy Mae......An'....umm....we're a couple too!"

Scooter and Toby dropped their arms from around each other. They hung their heads.

"Umm...," Scooter began, "I'm Scooter and that's Toby....And....ahh....Oh gee!"

"Oh shucks! Nayew don't go gittin' yer faces pinker 'an sassafras tea!"

They both sat on an opposite bench and stretched out their long legs. Both had dirty, worn sneakers on their feet. Brandy quickly grasped Diana's hand with a forced, serious expression.

"Nayew jess relax some 'n don't take no mind!......Me 'n Dee....well, we go back quite a ways. It's just we can't carrah on together much 'round where we live......The Bible Belt?"

Both boys nodded in understanding.

"Oh shucks! Ah s'ppose we be makin' some progress but....Not around our neck o' the woods. Lotsa hate 'round there. We figured we'd jess come up here fir a spell an' dew some campin''....juss be together!"

"Yeah....well, that's what we're doing too..."

"Oh shucks!....Nayew ya'll jess quit yer blushin'! Yer both tarnin' 'bout a hunnart shades o' red! What's the sayin'?....'Born this way!' Yeah....folks jess think it awl be a choice! You jess can't gettum to un'erstand anything."

Scooter gazed down at the deck. Nearly a year of memories flashed through his mind in a matter of seconds.

"...Yeah, me 'n Toby have been through all that too..."

He looked up.

"We're makin' progress with our parents now......They umm....know about us."

"Wail nayew! Ain't that jess the best news yet?! We're shore hopin' thangs will tarn 'round in our lyfetime. We both been thinkin' about jess movin' up ter New York. We jess wanna poot a bit o' distance 'tween us an'' awl them redneck homophobes!"

She gripped tightly to Diana's hand, glancing at her quickly, then returning to the boys.

"...Shucks, folks think jess 'cause equal marriage passes they all gotta get DEvarced?!.... 'n marry-up to some same-sex person?! It ain't gonner affect their lives none!...

"Me an' Dee here....Well, we're jess sorta a couple of those live-'n-let-live people."

Scooter and Toby slowly began to edge toward the steps.

"Oh nayew!....Don't yew two go runnin' off! We didn't mean ter embarrass ya'll."

"Well, umm, it's not that. Me 'n Toby were thinkin' about takin' out a canoe."

"Wail ya'll kin firget 'bout that! Awl them boats are rented! I think ever'one had the same idea terday!"

"...Well, if all the boats are gone, we'll just lay on the beach some. We're here with some other friends. We don't want to keep 'em waiting. We....umm....just stayed behind for a few a little."

"Oh shucks!....Nayew ya'll makin' me feel rail poorly over this!"

"Oh no!....Really! We really were about to get going. just enjoy your time together."

Scooter hadn't felt shy about reaching for Toby's hand as they stepped down from the deck. They began to make their way down the trail. Toby gave one last quick glance back.

"...Scoot?....Umm....I know those girls aren't exactly teenagers....and they sure aren't old ladies!....but I thought they were kinda....well, cute!"

"I know what you're saying."

"Awh gee....I don't think that's right. I think those older girls would rather be thought of as beautiful or....or pretty, or something like that. I don't think they'd want to be called cute!"

They returned to the campsite to see Ethan and Ryan sitting at the picnic table.

"Hey, where did everyone go?" Scooter asked.

Ethan looked up from a paper plate he was slicing an apple on.

"Joe and Chris went down along the lake. Chris is all excited about getting shots of the plant life around here. I guess he's planning to do some paper on it for school...

"Matt and Tim......I guess they were headed for the playground."

"Playground?!....Oh gee, how embarrassing!"

Ethan smiled as he cut an apple into wedges.

"...Well, I don't mind the swings......It's just you'd never see me on the merry-go-round or the teeter-totter!"

Scooter gazed at Toby.

"Well, there's no boats for rent....and it's still kinda cold for swimming. What do you say we get into our suits on and just lay out on that warm sand on the beach?..."

"Sounds good!"

They went for their tent.

Ethan was smiling as he sprinkled sugar and cinnamon on the apple slices.

"...Okay, here you go. And rub some of that sugar and cinnamon on your lips."

"Oh gee! I feel kinda silly about this all of a sudden."

"No! Come on! I keep saying it....This reminds me so much of our first kiss."

Ryan munched on an apple wedge as Ethan glanced around quickly. He quickly leaned in and licked his lips.

"Oh gee, E!....I'm afraid someone's going to see us doing this."

"You're right....Let's head for the tent!"

Matt and Tim sat on the swings. They were surprised the playground had so few children about. Matt gazed at Tim with a shy smile.

"I wanna just reach out and hold your hand, but I'm kinda scared."

Tim nodded as he pushed his feet against the ground, moving his swing in a small arc.

"I know what you're saying......Awh! Won't it be nice when this won't be such a....big thing in years to come?"

Matt nodded as he gazed out over the baseball field.

"Yeah......This kinda reminds me of one of those posters I saw on the Net. There were these two boys laying on the grass....kinda spooned-up against each other. And it said, 'One day we won't come out....We'll just say we're in love.' Ohhh, (sigh) won't that be nice?"

"...Hey, I like that!....Yeah, that sure will be nice."

"...Umm....Timmy....You kinda get that strange tone to your voice when you're thinking about something. And I don't think it has anything to do with holdin' hands."

Tim stopped the slight motion of his swing and nodded his head.

"...Yeah....I was thinking about tutoring this past year......Oh wow! I didn't ever think I was going to be able to do that. And....and well, it's still a bit difficult for me. I mean when I get new kids in....but....but....It's kinda nice when I see them catching on to new things.... understanding them. They just get so happy. I really like that. I like helping people..."

He studied the heavy links of chain in his hand. He used this thumbnail to flick tiny chips of green paint from them.

"...Matty....Remember that day I was helping you with your math? That first time? And you just got so excited and happy about it! You were just squirming all over, you were so happy. And you told me I should grow up to be a teacher!......I don't know how serious you were about that....but I've really been thinking about that."

"Oh, Timmy!....I was very serious about that. I'm not joking with you! You'd make a great teacher!"

Tim gazed down as he drew figure eights into the sand with the toe of his shoe.

"...Well, umm....I starting to think I'd really like that! It's....I don't know how to word it....It's kinda rewarding too. I really like it when I can sort of see that little light come on in kid's heads. They seem so happy. I think I'd really like teaching..."

"Oh Timmy! Go for it!....You're a natural! They'd like your silly stories. You don't just break things down to make them easier to understand....You draw all these funny symbols and stuff. You make learning fun!"

"...Well, umm....Matty......You know how hard it's going to be for teacher! I mean we're going convert everyone! We're going to indoctrinate all these innocent children into our gay agenda!"

Matt nodded with a sober expression.

"...Yeah, I see what you're sayin'....But there's got to be somewhere you could find a job. I'm sure you'd find a place that's a bit open-minded over that..."

Matt gazed out over the playground area.

"...Funny you should come up with that......You know how much I like science! I've been kinda toying with the thought of being a science teacher."


"Oh yeah!......I mean it's only been a year since I was so shy about meeting people and talking to them. I think I could do it!...

"Oh, I don't even believe I'm saying this!....Math and science go hand in hand. It was my interest in science that I think kinda motivated me to study math a bit more. Oh gee, Timmy! Math and science! They'll never be obsolete! In fact, I think they'll be a couple of the major things of the future. Even your dad keeps saying it's technology today. I don't see any end to it, Timmy!"

Although Tim nodded in agreement, he seemed distracted.

"...Well, I think I'm just going to be up front with everyone!......I'm not going to hide it any longer, Matty! If I get hired....all the cards will be on the table."

There was a sudden rumbling sound in the distance. They both looked at each other.

"Was that thunder or what?" Matt asked.

"It kinda sounded like it, but it also sounded like a big aluminum boat being dropped or something. I really don't know what that was..."

They gazed up at the sky. Although partly cloudy, they saw nothing which resembled storm clouds.

"Well," Matt said, "I don't know about rain, but I heard we're going to get some nasty wind tonight."

"Well, I'm not worried about that. We've got a nice little natural windbreak all around us. It's not like we've got our tent set up in the middle of the ball field over there."

Scooter and Toby stretched out on an old blanket on the beach. The heat of the warm sand could be felt through the thin, threadbare material.

"Oh wow! This is great, huh Tob?......That sun is nice. I just wish the air was a bit warmer. I'd like to just sit in a shallow spot and feel those waves wash by."

"No way! Not with snakes swimming around in it."

"There aren't any poisonous snakes around in the whole state, Tob!"

"I don't give a shit! All I'd need is to feel one of those slimy things wrap around my leg and I'd have a heart attack!......And the same thing goes for those SPIDERS!"

They rolled their towels into a cylinder shape and used them for pillows. It allowed them to look out over the water. Dozens of boats lazily drifted about. Young couples either rowed and others pedaled the paddle boats.

"Gee this place is packed this week....and it's only Sunday! We'll have to set our alarms on our phones. We'll get up real early and get to the store to rent a boat before they're all gone."

Matt and Tim came from the rear door of the camp store toward the docks. They had both bought plastic bottles of juice. Tim had bought a Sunday news paper and had it tucked under his arm. They made their way to a bench out there and sat.

"So what's the paper for, Timmy?"

Tim reached for the paper and began unfolding it.

"Well, I wanted to check the weather report....and....hee, hee, I like the comics and advice columns."

They divided up the sections of the paper between them. Matt began reading the comics as Tim glanced over the day's weather report. They sipped at their juice and tried to adjust their papers so as not to be in the intense sunlight. Even with the bright sun, the air remained rather cool today. There were many people simply lying on the beach and in fact, a few out at the raft. There was the steady drone of voices, punctuated with splashes and laughter.

Tim suddenly leaned forward and studied a short column.

"Awh, Matty!......You know that video exposé that was done on that local preacher?"

"Yeah. I really don't know who was behind all that."

"Well, according to this's kinda gone viral....Well, locally anyhow...

"Sounds like this preacher is really doin' some back peddling now. The church took down its website......I guess they got lots of nasty comments on it."

"GOOD!....The only way we're going to stop this shit, is to educate all these people about all the hate out there!"

Matt drew down the paper from his face and gazed across the lake.

"...I....I think some people actually enjoy hating!......I think they really get a sick thrill over it! I'm....well, I'm just happy I don't live like that. Enjoying hating?!...

"Why can't people just kick back and relax? All these places....states....have passed equal marriage. Why isn't it we haven't heard about people being forced to get a divorce and marry some same sex person? The world is still here! There hasn't been any....any Apocalypse! The sun keeps rising every morning. Nobody is being forced into....into the gay agenda! Oh shit! Where do people get all this crap from?"

Tim leaned forward, allowing the paper to sag between his legs.

"...The gay agenda!" Tim mused with a silly smile.

He rubbed his chin with his fingers as though thinking.

"...Let's see here....First we'll all take a nice long shower. We'll wash our hair and use one of those nice lavender cream rinses......We'll get dressed in our hottest clothes. And we'll go out and convert about ten straight boys a day! We'll indoctrinate them into the gay lifestyle. We'll lie to 'em....We'll use psychology on them....And....Satanic rituals! the afternoon, we'll all go out shopping!.....We'll buy wallpaper....and nice beige drapery....Nothing too loud! And I'd like to buy a couple of those stuffed toy unicorns......Won't they look so sweet 'n lovely on our bed?......And that west wall?....I wanna paint a lovely rainbow across it!....HA, HA, HA!"

He slapped his knee with his hand.

"Hee, hee, hee! Oh shit!....I kill myself sometime!...HOO, HOO!"

They both looked up when they heard a metallic clanking along the wooden dock.

"Tory!" Matt shot out with a large grin.

Tory drew up to them in her wheelchair.

"...Umm....Yeah, boys....It's me..."

She struggled with a life vest and a strange, collapsible plastic chair.

"My dad was going to take me out today....In a boat!....I guess they're all rented out."

"Umm," Tim began, "Yeah....We were going to go out too!"

It was here a young couple near the docks drew up in a rowboat.

"Hey! We heard that!" the young man said, tossing a looped rope over a dock piling, "We were out fishing! HA! If you wanna call it that!....Not even a nibble!..."

He helped a young lady to her feet as he held to the metal ladder.

"Hey, look....We've still got two hours rent on this thing. Why don't you kids take it out for a bit?!..."

"Wow! Are you serious?!" Tory yelled with a bright smile.

They shyly stepped up onto the dock.

"Yes we are!....Very serious!"

The young woman blushed.

"...We're going back to our camper now......At two o'clock, it'll be our first anniversary!"

"Wow! Congratulations!" Matt put in loudly.

The young man placed his arm around the woman.

"Yup!....At two o'clock it'll be our first anniversary......Twenty four hours!"

Matt and Tim couldn't help but allow a giggle slipping out.

"...And you're out" Tim slipped, slapping his hand over his eyes, "Oh gee! I don't believe I just said that!"

"Hee, hee. Quite all right, boys."

He gave the woman a quick hug and turned back to them.

"This is a country girl, here!....Very low maintenance!"

The woman turned to him with a smile and returned her gaze to the boys.

"For my Christmas gift last year....He took me out deer hunting!"

The young man beamed proudly.

"...And she dropped a twelve pointer!....Cheezzze! I never saw a rabbit!"

They struggled for a moment with their rods and tackle box.

"Hey!....Go ahead here. Like I say, the boat's not due-in until noon."

The couple left briskly, gazing at each other with smiles.

Matt studied the chair and life vest across Tory's thighs.

"...Umm....How do you work all this stuff?"

"...Well, I'll need a little help getting down into the boat......This chair kinda clamps onto the seat. Without use of my legs, I have a hard time sitting up very well..."

Within minutes they had the chair fastened to the rear seat of the boat. Both helped her into her life vest.

"...Umm," Matt hesitated, "We'd better let your parents know about this."

Tory nodded her head with a silly smile.

"Oh......Daddy will be here"



A man quickly ran out onto the dock.

"Daddy!....Matt was just saying he wanted you to know about this..."

She seemed a bit hesitant to continue.

"Dad!....This is Matty and Timmy!......From the....GSA?"

She had worded it into a question.

"You met them out at the park when we did all that work out there."

He seemed to have a relieved, yet slightly embarrassed smile.

"Well, umm....boys....I really don't mind this....But if you'd just stay a bit near the shore it'll prevent a couple more gray hairs."

"Oh shucks, Mr. Winters! Why don't you just hop in and join us?" Matt put in quickly.

He blushed and smiled again.

"Well, umm....I don't think you need a....a chaperone!....My concern is safety."

The three of them eased Tory down into her chair. It had been attached to the rear of the boat. Matt began to fasten her harness but suddenly stopped.

"...Oh gee....Umm....I take it these straps are to keep you from sliding down?"

Tory grasped the straps and buckled them over her thighs as she giggled.

"Oh gee, Matty!....You're so cute when you blush!"

"That's what I keep tellin' him," Tim slipped.

He suddenly turned his back and sat.

"...I did it again!....I don't believe I said that!"

They all laughed.

"Hey guys!....How's it goin'?"

Scooter and Toby looked up to see Paul standing beside their blanket. He wore baggy trunks and had his usual aluminum crutches, yet they both saw the modified tips. Rather than the rubber pads, they were equipped with metal spikes and disks, much the same as ski poles. They were obviously for use on sandy ground.

"Paulie! Hey! What brings you to the state park?"

"...Umm....Tory and I talked our parents into coming out here."

"Oh!....Tory!......You two have been spending lots of time together at the meetings."

Paul jabbed his modified crutch into the sand. He worked his way down and sat on a corner of their blanket.

"Oh phew!....I like the scent of coconut oil, but you two smell like you took a bath in it!"

Toby looked up with a shy smile and glanced from Paul to Scooter.

"...Well, you know these redheads!....Very delicate skin."

Paul gave a slight shy smile.

"...Umm....Yeah....Me 'n Tory have been spending lots of time talking. I think I'm kinda getting a bit....closer to her....Know what I mean?..."

Tory gazed at Matt and Tim before her on the center seat. She sat in the back with her chair secured to it. It gave her free use of her arms. She shook her fists at them.

"Matty! Give me that camera!"

"What camera?"

"The one in that leather pouch on your belt! We all know you just about carry it everywhere. And you talk about us girls with our cells!"

"What to you need my camera for?"

"To take a picture of you and Tim."

"We've got all kinds of pictures of us."

"Not one like I'm seeing right now."

She gripped at her shoulder straps with a grin.

"Oh gee....You two just look sweet together....You've been together for a year now and....well....You still give each other those....looks!"

"Does it show that much?!" Matt gasped.

"Well, not if I didn't already umm, know about you...

"You two don't have to be all over each other. It shows......Well, in a very subtle sort of way. As I say....I know what to look for...


Matt reluctantly handed it to her. She switched it on and immediately brought it to her eye.

"Now come on!....Scoot closer together."

"How much closer do you want us? There isn't any room on this seat to move apart!"

"You know what I mean....Get your heads closer together....Kinda cheek-to-cheek."

She took several more shots of them as they changed their pose slightly.

"Oh gee, you two just look sweet together. I'm bein' serious about that."

She held the camera in her lap as she thought.

"...Well, I think everyone in the GSA is kinda paired perfectly! I mean we all know each other. I mean personalities and that.

"...I might as well tell you......I think I'm getting a little sweet on Paulie."


"Oh yeah!...

"Umm....Has he ever said anything about me?"

"Well....well, gee!" Matt stammered, "I mean the only time we ever see him is at meetings and stuff."

Tory gazed down at the camera in her hands.

"...Well, I think it all started the day we cleaned up the park."

She quickly drew her hand to her mouth.

"Oh! Did you hear what happened to the park?!"

Tim nodded with a sober expression.

"We saw it in the paper."

"Isn't that rotten?!...

"And everyone agrees with me it's because the GSA did all that work out there....Hate! Oh gee, when will all the hate stop?!"

Tim nodded his head.

"Well, it's like Matty said....Things are looking's just....Well, we're always going to have the haters."

"Well, anyhow....Paulie was painting one of the benches. And he....well, was kinda looking at me......I had that big basket on that motorized chair and I was bringing sodas and water to all of you. I was kinda wondering if he was trying to get my attention......I mean for something to drink. I went over to him and asked him if he wanted something. Oh gee! He just turned all red! Umm....I took that as kind of a signal, know what I mean?...

"Well we talked a bit. Oh gee, Paulie was just so sweet 'n shy. I think we really got closer to each other that day. We've been e-mailing and chatting ever since."

Unknown to the boys, Tory had been absentmindedly stepping through the review photos on the camera. She suddenly held the camera up, gazing at the display.

"Holy fuckin' shit!....You guys are HOT!"

With this, both boys lost their grip on the oars. They lurched forward, laughing. They both wrapped their arms over their stomachs.

"Oh Tory!" Tim gasped, "That's the first time I ever heard you talk like that!"

"Oh gee," Matt added, wiping tears from his eyes, "I've never heard you say damn before."

They were both a bit taken that Tory hadn't blushed or seemed embarrassed by her words. Indeed, she held the camera closer to her face, rapidly pressing the review button.

"Oh wow!....Shirtless!....Oh HOT!....Oh, whatever happened to those two cute little skinny boys from last year?!"

"Tory!....Give me the camera back."

She turned slightly and seemed to be shading the display from the bright sun.

"Inna minute!....Inna....minute!"

Her jaw dropped. Her eyes widened.

"Oh shit!....Kissing!....You're kissing in this shot! Oh, I've never seen two boys kissing before!....Oh, that is sooooo HOT!"

Matt stood and reached for the camera. It caused the boat to rock. Tory gave up the camera quickly as she gripped her seat.

"Oh! Don't stand up. I hate this rocky feeling!"

"You'll get used to that."

Tory held her hand to her chest.

"Oh come on!....Let me see some more of those!"

"Tory....It's a little embarrassing, okay?"

She quickly pointed her finger at them.

"You got shots of you two in the tent, don't you?!......Oh! Are you bare-assed?!"

Tim covered his face with is hands.

"Awh gee!"

"Tory!" Tim put in quickly, "We don't have nude pictures of us!....Well, umm....that's not exactly it either..."

"Let's put it this way," Matt continued for Tim, "They're nude....but you don't see anything!"

Tory held her hand to her chest.

"Oh shit!....Oh, of all days not to have packed my high blood pressure meds! Oh! Boys kissin'!....Squeeee!"

Tim shook his head.

"Oh no!....Don't tell me you're one of those yaoi fan girls!"

"No....but I think I might become one!...

"Now give me that camera! I wanna see more!"

"Ohhhh," Tim sighed, "Give her the camera, Matty. She's gonna be thinking they're lots worse than they are!"

Scooter, Toby and Paul sat in a shallow area of the lake. Paul had eased himself down into the water with a gasp. He allowed his crutches to fall with a splash.

"Ohhh....This is kinda chilly."

"You know," Scooter said, "you're really good with those crutches."

"Well, it's not like my legs don't work. It's just that they're awful weak...

"And quit holdin' your hand against my back!"

"Oop's! Sorry....People like to talk."

"No! No, it's not that! It's because it makes me feel helpless. I can do for myself. Don't worry. I'm not gonna tip over. In fact, I'm okay sitting down."

Scooter noticed Paul's jaw tremble.

"Oh gee, Pauie......Are you sure you wanna sit out here? You look awful cold."

"Awh! I just gotta get used to this. I keep tellin' my parents I need to get outside more! I'm sure my body will adjust in time."

"Well, for me 'n Tob, it's the breeze that bothers us. If you get feelin' too cold, say something! Don't sit there just because we are."

"Well, it's a little chilly for me. I just gotta adjust to this. Dad's okay with this. It's Mom who throws a conniption fit!"

"Hee, hee....Is that anything like a hissy fit? My dad says Mom always has hissy fits."

"No! A conniption fit is ten times worse than a hissy!...

"Even my doctor told my mom to quit babying me so much. Even he said I've got to do more for myself...

"Dad worries a bit, but at least he lets me have a little fun."

Scooter leaned forward to look at Toby on the other side of Paul.

"Tob!......I know what you're doing! I can see your eyes kinda scanning the water."

"Yeah! And if I see one SPIDER....I'm OUT OF HERE!"

Within another twenty minutes, a cold wind began passing over the lake. Matt and Tim began pulling strongly at their oars. Mr. Winters was lounging on a bench along the rear of the store. He sipped a coffee from a plastic foam cup. His eyes fell to their boat. Even at this distance, he could hear the loud laugh of Tory. He heard her mumble at one time, then let out a squeal of laughter the next.

"Oh....I had that GSA all wrong! Tory's right....It's there for all the students. They actually do include all the students. And all the volunteer work they've done, wow! Everyone bitches about the younger generation. I don't think we've got anything to worry about. The world is in some great hands...

"Wow! That cold wind came up awful fast. It looks like they're headed back to the dock. I'd better get out there."

No sooner had Mr. Winters stepped out onto the dock, Tim tossed him a line.

Tory was still laughing and wiping tears from her eyes.

The three together had no problem in quickly getting Tory up to the dock and into her wheelchair. Tim reached for a blanket in a wire basket attached to the back and drew it over her.

"Oh Timmy! Quite treating me like a baby!"

The rush of wind was fluttering Tory's hair over her face.

"Tor! You aren't as active as we are. This wind must be killing you!" Tim shouted over the roar.

Already the lake's blue color became gray as choppy swells built up.

Mr. Winters bent over the wheelchair to be heard.

"I know I promised you the tent tonight, but not in this! We're staying in the camper tonight....with the heater on!"

He turned to the boys.

"We're here with the Rushes! You know....Paul's parents. Now if you have any trouble with the tents, you come bang on the camper. We'll put you up!...

"I've heard some of the fishermen talking. They have those weather radios tuned to NOAA and I guess there's some craft warnings tonight."

"Oh, I'm sure we'll be okay," Tim put in, then turned to Matt.

"We'd better get out that extra nylon rope and umm....tie the whole campsite down!"

Scooter and Toby walked on either side of Paul as they made their way back to the beach.

"Will you two quit holdin' my arms?!....I'm not gonna fall! Oh gee!"

They reached for their blanket. Toby folded it twice and draped it over Paul's shoulders.

"At least let us take you back to your campsite."

"What? You afraid I'm gonna get lost on the way?"

"Paul! This wind is awful! I can feel that sand just stinging my legs! What if you were to get sand in your eyes?! You could get all disoriented in just a few minutes!"

As they reached Paul's campsite, Mr. Rush was just stepping out of his trailer. He pointed toward them and laughed.

"Now I really believe in the Sandman!"

Scooter and Toby glanced at each other. Sand stuck to their wet, oiled bodies.

"Oh gee, Tob! Look at us!....We can't go back into the tent like this! We'll have sand all over everything!"

Ethan and Ryan lay on top of their sleeping bag, panting.

"Oh shit, E......That was way too fast again!"

"I know....I know....I just couldn't help myself! Oh! That apple scent on your breath! It just reminded me of our first kiss!....Oh, come here, I need a couple more."

Ethan kissed and licked at Ryan's lips.

"I already told you every time I smell apples 'n cinnamon, I think of our first kiss! Yeah, I was questioning at the time....Yet....I don't know....I still thought you were one of the cutest boys in school. It didn't just hit me....It sorta built up over time. I can deal with this, Dew..."

Ryan suddenly held his finger up.

"...What's that?!" he whispered forcefully, "Someone's here!....Sounds like Matt and Tim......Awh gee!....We gotta get dressed! Hurry!"

Matt and Tim entered their tent. They found a coil of nylon rope and stepped outside with it. They examined the exterior of the tent.

"...So," Matt began, "How do you tie down a tent?!"

"Well I was just thinking we'd throw the rope right over the top....against the frame. Then we'll tie the ends down to stakes in the ground. We've got lots of stakes."

Ethan and Ryan came from their tent. Joe and Chris were making their way back as well as Scooter and Toby. Matt was gazing at their bodies, covered with sand.

"So what happened to you?!" Tim yelled.

"...Well, umm," Toby began, "all we had was suntan lotion with a sun protection of ten!....So we decided to boost it to fifty, by rollin' in the sand!"

"Hee, hee!....You'd better head for the showers quick. I'll bet all the swimmers and fishermen that are freezing out there will be headed there too!"

An hour later, they all gathered at the table. Tim was before the hotplates.

"...Okay guys....Canned stew and veggies again! I'm not going to fart around with a fancy dinner in this wind!....I'm not even starting up the grill! With this wind, we'll have sparks flying all over the place!"

Although several moaned, they all agreed with him.

Within minutes, they all ate from heavy, plastic tableware. All of them had their heads down against the wind. Again, it seemed with each spoonful, the food quickly grew colder.

"Awh!" Toby shot out, "That wind is blowing sand into the food! I can feel it crunching between my teeth!"

"Eat up!" Tim simply put in, "And I think we'd all better have a few cans of food in our tents for supper. I don't think this wind is going to let up......Grab some canned meat and fruits and stuff. And GEE! Don't forget a can opener!"

It was here they saw a little girl with dark hair approach. Her nylon jacket was zipped to her neck. Toby was the first to notice her.

"Hi little girl!....What's your name?" he said, attempting to be friendly.

She stood at the end of the table and glanced along each one of them.

"I'm not a little girl!....I'm Mena! And I'm fourteen!"

"...Umm....Sorry," Toby put in quickly.

The girl smiled as she shrugged, throwing her arms out.

"Oh gee, that's okay....I'm little! And I'm always going to be little. I just hate it when people think I'm ten years old!...

"Umm....Aren't you Ethan and Ryan?" she asked, pointing to them.

"Umm yeah!" Ethan put in quickly, "...Do we know you?"

She walked to the opposite end of the table where they sat across from each other.

"Well, you don't know me. I've seen you around school. I'm a friend of Adam. Well, an across-the-street neighbor actually."

She stood there with a serious expression. She seemed to be searching for words.

" know he's gay, right?"

"Oh yeah. We know that."

"Well, did you hear his dad really beat him up bad? Umm....In fact, it happened right out here in their trailer!...

"Oh gee, his dad is in jail right now!"


"Oh yeah!"

She paused and gazed over all the boys.

"I umm....was visiting my aunt in the hospital. I went out on one of those balconies. Adam was out there in a wheelchair. Oh gee, he looked so sad. I asked him what happened and that's when I heard about everything."

She put her hands into her jacket pockets and gazed down at her feet for a moment. She looked up with concern on her face.

"He said his mom wants him to go back out to that camp..."

"Oh shit!....Oop's! Sorry!"

"Umm....yeah. He told me he wasn't going back!......He said he'd rather die first!"

All the boys lowered their spoons and forks, looking at each other.

"He said he can't do another week in that awful place. He said he's gay and nothing can be done about it! He can't change! He said he tried!"

All the boys gave a slight nod on hearing this.

"Yeah, he told me that too," Ethan said, then paused for a moment. "You know we're all gay too, right?"

Mena nodded and blushed.

"Well, I was kinda sure of it..."

She drew her neck down into her jacket against the wind which was still increasing across the lake. Large swells were forming into waves along the shoreline and crashing onto the rocky beach.

"Oh gee....poor little Adam....He just looked sad....No! That's not it either! I don't know what to call it! He....well he looked like half of him was missing! I know that sounds silly but I don't mean for it to...

"His eyes....Oh, he was always such a cute little guy!......His eyes!....Oh! He....he kinda looks like he's already half dead!...

"And....and he started crying. I felt soooo bad for him! He said he can't change! It's what he is and it can't be changed. And he kept asking me why everyone's telling him he's bad and beat up on him. Oh! He just looked awful!......And I don't mean just his bandages and cut-up, swollen face, his cast!......It's something so much deeper than that......He just umm....looked kinda spooky."

All the boys nodded in agreement.

Mena shifted from one foot to the other. She drew her shoulders up against the cold wind on her back.

"Well, parents don't want me with gay kids......I can't even join the GSA! I told 'em it's not just for gay kids! It's for everyone! And I told 'em how you keep the room open for two hours everyday after school. And how it's kinda like a study hall where everyone helps everyone. And everyone accepts each other.

"Well, I can't get caught with gay students....I just wanted to tell you boys this thing with Adam. You know lots of people....organizations!....Maybe you can get him some help......I just feel so bad for him.

"We grew up together. Well, we weren't real close friends or that, but he's such a sweet, loving little guy. He loved animals. He'd feed the stray cats and dogs. He liked pigeons too. They'd sit on his shoulders and even his head! All he had to do was hold his hand out and they'd land right on his finger! They....well I think they could sense his love. He said he wanted to be a veterinarian. He....he just had so much love to give. He hated to see any kind of suffering in the world."

She began to glance around nervously.

"Well, umm....I just wanted you boys to know about this......I thought I recognized you out here. We're just out here for the day....No camping.....Sort of a family reunion type of thing. Wow! What a lousy day it turned out to be...

"Umm....We're going to eat dinner in a few minutes and I'm sure everyone's going to want to leave. I'd better get going now."

"Okay, Mena," Tim put in, "And I promise we'll do whatever we can to help Adam."

The boys continued eating quickly as their food cooled. Nobody spoke.

Minutes later, Tim filled a plastic dishpan with cold water.

"Okay....Just throw your dishes in here. I'm not going to mess with heating water in this weather. It'll probably take two hours just to heat!...

"Now our tent is kind of the warehouse here. Go through your stuff in there and figure out what you'd like for supper. And don't plan on heating anything! I think this weather is here for the night...

"And everyone grab a couple of those soup containers. They've got this little button on the bottom. You push it in and it mixes some chemicals inside that produce heat. Then set the container upright again. After a bit, the soup will be warm."

"You're shittin' me!" Scooter shot out.

"No! Really! Just read the directions on the container. They have some kind of chemicals in the bottom section. When they mix, they produce heat!....Some kind of exothermic reaction!"

"Oh shit, yeah!" Toby put in quickly, "We need lots of exothermic reactions on this trip!"

They all chuckled. Matt looked at Tim seriously.

" really need to become a teacher!"

Minutes later, Tim stretched out, shirtless on top of the sleeping bag. Although daylight, the overcast and dark canvas of the tent, required him to switch on the lamp. He turned to his side as he reached for a dogeared paperback.

Matt joined him, spooning up behind him.

"Oh gee, I'm feeling that clingy thingy again! It's going to be another one of those times where I just can't get close enough to you."

"Matty....I keep sayin' it....cling all you want!"

He rubbed his hands over Tim's chest.

"I really thought I'd miss those skinny ribs to squeeze. I'm kinda enjoying this more solid feel."

Tim looked back over his shoulder.

"Solid?......Yeah, we're both real buff, right?"

"I don't mean like that! I just like the way you've filled out. I think we've both had quite a growth spurt over the last year......I still miss your braces though."

"Matty, please?"

"Well I do!......Yeah, I know....That cute thing again. And well, yeah....they were cute....but in a way, they were kinda hot too! I can't explain it...

"So what's the book about? Looks like it's kinda old."

"No. It's only three years old....Well, the copyright okay? I don't even remember where I bought this. I think it was at some flea market somewhere. Out in California we had lots of used book stores too. It came to mind when that Mena girl came over to tell us about Adam. It's....oh gee, it's about lots of those conversion camps. You know....those gay to straight places. There are lots of stories from people who infiltrated them, just to see what was going on. Poor little Adam. They do take it out on the kids. Everything is all your fault! These poor little guys. Oh, some of them are in their late twenties now, but they're still suffering from what they had to go through years back. I've been kinda skipping around in it. I'm going to try to read it from front to back."

Matt squirmed up against him.

"I was going to finish that who-done-it murder mystery. I've only got two chapters left. I think that dinner is setting in with me. I always get so tired after eating. I hope you don't mind if I catch a quick nap here."

"Hee, hee....Well after a few pages of this book, I'll probably nod off too."

Ryan examined a jar he lifted from a cardboard carton.

"Jelly! Oh gee! We gotta be careful with this. It draws ants something awful."

"I didn't just put that in there. It was already in there when I used that box for supper supplies from Matt and Tim's tent. I grabbed some fruits and a few of those little tins of meat spread. They'll be great on crackers or bread."

Ryan reached down into the bottom of the box, drawing up two apples in each hand. He looked at Ethan with a serious expression. Ethan could only blush.

"Oh gee, E!....I'm gonna get sick of apples awful quickly!"

"I'll NEVER get sick of apples....or cinnamon and sugar!"

Chris switched on his lamp for several seconds. The bright LED's cast a bluish-white light across its shiny, reflective aluminum surfaces.

"Whoa! Nice!......I put a little boost charge on this today. This should last us a couple nights if we need it...

"Oh! Where is that draft coming from?"

"Chris," Joe said, holding out his hand, "The flaps are all zipped and snapped....The window flaps are all zipped up. We can't get this tent closed up any tighter! That wind is getting nasty!......We'll just have to do the best we can."

"Aaaaarrruuughhh!" Toby grunted as he tackled Scooter around his neck, pushing him down onto the sleeping bag.

"Gee, Tob!....What's got into you?!"

Toby looked closely at his face. He was smiling, yet one could see a serious expression to his eyes. He rubbed Scooter's cheeks and kissed the tip of his nose quickly.

"...I really don't know what it is, Scoot......Today....umm....I mean just walking around out there with you......It's happened before....I kinda look at you and realize you're still here with me! It's such a wonderful feeling. Awh, Scoot!......When you were in the hospital, I just couldn't think!......In fact, the whole thing is just a blur in my memory...

"Umm......You know Tim's mom couldn't really say anything about you to anyone. Well, not without your parent's permission......I guess they said it was okay....but they never really said specifically it was okay for me to know...

"Awh....The day I gave blood......I was just sittin' there in the waiting room. There wasn't anything in there to read! Well, not for me!......And the TV was on a news channel....All the stuff about the storm 'n all. I don't know how long I sat there. It was probably only an hour or so, but it felt so much longer. Well, they did tell us when you were out of ICU and in a regular room. I just couldn't understand why it was taking so long before I could go in and see you. I guess Tim's mom said it would be good if I went in and you could hear my voice. Well, not that we knew if you could or not..."

Scooter nodded.

"...Yeah, I first started coming around when I heard Matt call Tim an asshole! Hee, hee. I thought that was so nasty of him, but I couldn't help from laughing. Oh gee, that's when I felt my stomach hurtin' so bad. I guess things started coming back to me, bit by bit."

Toby smiled as he rubbed Scooter's cheeks. He kissed his lips lightly.

"...Oh gee, sitting in that waiting room I think was the worst part of my entire life! I was just so scared! I mean, even after they told me you were out of ICU! I had to see you! Umm.... you were really messed up! And you didn't really respond to me, but I sure felt better that they just let me in to see you. And I told you to keep fightin' your way back."

Toby dropped his head beside Scooter's.

"...It''s just so good to be able to hold you again! Just have you next to me here."

Matt woke to see the lamp switched off. Tim was now facing him. They held each other. Tim's book was splayed out on the cooler at their heads. The tent was considerably darker. The wind was still strong. The canvas popped and snapped in the wind. The metal frame clanked continuously. Matt shivered.

"Oh! Is it cold in here!....Yeah, that's what did it! I gotta head for the bathroom!"

He literally tore at the main flaps of the tent. The snaps came loose in a rapid series of pops. A cold wind rushed in.

Matt ran for the bathrooms at the top of the gentle knoll. On his return trip, he noticed a wire trash basket which hadn't had its plastic bag replaced. Within he saw a large, empty juice container.

"I've got to grab that!......Oh yeah, it's got a threaded screw cap as well. I think this is the only thing about camping I don't like. Way too far to the bathrooms!"

On entering the tent again, he quickly began fastening the snaps.

"...Matt?....What are you doing?" Tim asked in a sleepy voice.

"Closing the tent up! I had to run out! Oh shit!....Is it COLD out there!"

"It's cold in here!"

Matt grabbed for a blanket and drew up beside Tim, spreading it out over the both of them.

"Oh, Matty! Don't fluff that blanket like that! It's too cold for that!"

"I'm trying to cover us! Oh gee....Let's get inside the bag here! That wind has teeth!"

Dark clouds were rolling in from the west. Although not yet sunset, the sky turned dark within minutes. Within the black clouds, slight flashes of lightning could be seen.

Chris raised his head. He drew closer to Joe who reached out and drew him into his arms.

"...Yeah Chris....That was thunder. Don't worry about it."

"Oh gee!......I'm not going into any of the other tents tonight! I've got to get used to this."

"Umm....Chris....Nobody's going to make fun of you. This is kinda scary....I mean being out in a tent. Let's just try to put the storm out of our minds for now...

"Hey, what do we have for eating in here? I'm hungry. It must be late."

It was here they heard Chris' phone beep.

Chris opened it and ran the volume slider up all the way. The roar of the wind and the snapping canvas were loud.

"Hello?......Dad!......No. It's not raining here yet........Well, umm....yeah, it's a bit frightening but we're quite dry!......I wish to say warm and dry, but the wind is a bit nasty today..............Dad, if our tent collapsed you may be sure I'd call you!..........You don't have to be embarrassed over calling..........Yes I know all about that....that plastic bubble thing of yours. Yeah, I figured Mother was behind that too! Trust me....If we get into real trouble, I'll truly call. I simply must make it through all this. I wish to do more of this over the summer. I won't be calling you if I'm scared! I'll only call if we should have some kind of emergency...

"Well, I shan't lie!....Yes, I took a bit of a spill out on the docks today. I scraped up my elbow a bit but Joe tended to it quite promptly!"

It was here a sharp clap of thunder sounded. Chris suddenly sat up on the sleeping bag, the blanket falling from him.

"...Father!....Don't you DARE send the limo out here for me! Oh! I should die of embarrassment! I must get used to this! You said so yourself. And I'll admit to being a bit frightened but I don't believe I should have a heart attack. If we truly are in danger, I shall call!

"Now we were just about to have some supper..........No, we won't be eating outside in the rain! We've plenty of canned meats, fruits and juices to eat right here in the tent. We've already set aside items for our supper tonight. Things which don't require any preparation. We saw this storm coming and are well prepared for it."

He turned toward Joe and rolled his eyes.

"Oh Joe!" he began dramatically, "These canap é s are simply smashing! And the hors d'oeuvre s are out of this world! What's that?....Oh yes indeed! The Russian caviare is delectable! And this lobster tail! Oh! Dipped into this's scrumptious !...

"Hee, hee, hee....Okay Dad. You heard me laugh! Do you feel better now?...

"Oh, hee, hee......Yes, I'm sure it'll be a bit frightening tonight but I'll survive. Yes, I'll call you if we should have any trouble."

Ethan and Ryan sat on their sleeping bag. Ethan drew his lips back from Ryan's. Ryan held a piece of apple wedge in his fingers.

"Oh shit, E!....I really think I'm getting sick of all these apples 'n cinnamon!"

"Oh don't say that!....I just love the smell of apples and cinnamon on your breath!"

"Oh come on!....Let's open some of this meat spread! I want a nice, thick sandwich of meat with a big slice of cheese on it!"

"Toby?" Scooter said in a sleepy voice, "What are you doing?"

"I'm peein' in this detergent jug!......Oh! It's so cold in here I just got an awful case of the chills!"

Scooter crawled from the bag to his knees.

"Oh gee!....Don't cap that thing up! I think I need it next!"

Within minutes they drew on jackets and were searching for food.

"Hey Tob, I think we're out of bread but there's some hamburger rolls down in the bottom of that carton there. They'll be good for sandwiches."

Toby held their electric lantern over the container.

"I'd better not find a SPIDER in here!"

Tim sat up in the sleeping bag. It slid down to his hips.

"It's no use. I can't get back to sleep. I keep hearing that wind and listening to the tent shake. And....and I'm hungry! Let's have something to eat."

It was here there was a brilliant flash of light outside the tent. This was followed by a crackling sound which lowered to a deep boom.

"Wow! " Matt put in looking up, "Here it comes!"

They gazed at each other as a torrent of rain fell onto the tent. Matt quickly got to his feet.

"I'm getting my jacket on!......And let's start looking for something to eat."

In the light of the fluorescent lamp, they searched through cardboard cartons and plastic totes. Matt sat on the sleeping bag and examined containers of soup.

"...I've heard of these self-warming soups....never tried one though."

"Well, the chicken ones are pretty good."

They slid a small plastic tote before them to serve as a table. Matt was reading the instructions on a soup container as another flash of light lit the tent. He jumped at the instant crack of thunder.

"That did it Timmy!......Now I'm going to admit getting a bit scared."

"Yeah, gee, listen to that rain coming down!......It sounds like it's ripping the tent!"

They opened a tin of meat spread and found several rolls.

"These rolls are a bit stale. I was thinking of a couple leaves of lettuce and slices of tomato on them. We could even put on a dash of oil and vinegar....soften 'em up a bit..."

"Stale is fine with me......I just don't want to see any green mold! Oh! GAG!"

They each spent several minutes garnishing their own sandwiches. Occasionally they would both jump at a loud crash of thunder.

Matt bit into his thick sandwich.

"Mmmm....not bad at all! Kinda like a mini submarine sandwich! And your right, the oil and vinegar kinda softens the roll a bit...

"...What's that sound?"

"Hee, hee....My cell....I changed the tone to drums! I'd never hear that weak little chime in this wind..."

Tim drew his phone from the head of the sleeping bag.

"...Hello?......Dad! Everything all right?........Hee, hee....You were going to ask us that?.... Hee, hee......Yeah, I kinda figured Gram would be having a hissy.......Tell her we're doing fine! In fact we're eating in the tent......Well, just cold sandwiches...........Well, yeah, it's really coming down here too! Lots of wind too..........I can hear Gram in the background! Will you put her on so I can tell her not to worry!"

As he paused here, he inverted the soup containers and activated the heating button.

"...Gram!......Gram!......Yes I know Dad took your cell away! Well, that's why! He knew you'd keep calling us........We're doin' fine! In fact we're eating supper in the tent here........Well I won't lie to's cold! But that's only because we're up right now. After we finish eating, we're going back to sleep...

"Oh yeah! Honest, Gram....We've got one of your blankets already in the sleeping bag and we'll be pulling the other one out as well.........No we're not sleepin' in a puddle of water! It's damp in here but it's not wet!........Well yeah! It's chilly in here but we sure aren't gonna freeze to death!......So big deal!....So if we catch a bit of a cold?......We're havin' fun Gram! This is all part of camping!"

He reached for the soup containers and set them upright again.

"...These will start warming the soup now," he said to Matt.

"...NO!......Gram we don't have the CHARCOAL GRILL in the TENT with us!......No! We don't have the electric hotplate in here either! Not on this damp floor!..........I said damp, Gram, not wet!........Gram, really!......These soup containers have a compartment on the bottom that mixes chemicals that produce heat!........Really! Ask Dad!........We aren't eating the chemicals! They're separate! We'll eat the soup and throw out the container...

"...Gram, we aren't doin' chips, popcorn and soda all week! We made sandwiches here with that meat spread. And we've got lettuce 'n tomato slices on 'em....And pepperoni 'n extra sharp cheddar cheese! And Italian dressing! They turned out great!"

He paused here as he took a large bite of his sandwich.

"...Nooooo we aren't eating spoiled meat! It was canned Gram! Canned meat doesn't need the cooler.........Yes we're being careful about spoiled food. There's still ice in the cooler. Tomorrow we'll be putting more in. We only had a few slices of bread go bad on us. We sure didn't eat any of it!"

There was another brilliant flash of light through the canvas with an instant crash of crackling thunder.

"Holy SHIT!" Matt yelled as he jumped.

"...Hee, hee, hee......Gram heard that!"

"Awwhhhh!" Matt said, reaching for the phone.

"...I'm so sorry, Gram!......Hee, hee....Well that really did scare me. I'm not gonna lie. It's nasty here, but we sure aren't wet!........Yes!....Gram....I promise we'll use both blankets for sleeping tonight........Oh yeah it's chilly in here but we've got our love to keep us warm!......Hee, hee......Oh, a couple of Timmy's hot kisses and I'll be off to la,la, land!"

Matt giggled as he handed the phone back to Tim.

"Oh gee, I think I can see Gram blushing over the phone!"

"...Gram?........Oh hee, hee......Yeah, I'll give Matt a kiss for you too!...

"...Yes Gram, we're doin' fine. Now let us eat our supper here. We want to finish off this soup while it's still hot.........Great! Now quit worrying over us. We'll call if we have trouble. Sure Gram, bye..."

Tim closed up the phone and gazed at it with a smile.

"...Well Matt....I think that hot kiss thing did lots to relax Gram. She says if we can still joke like that, we've got to be okay..."

"Awh gee, Timmy....I know Gram worries about us and all....but I wish she'd mellow-out a bit."

Tim nodded his head.

"Yeah....I keep thinkin' all that worrying is putting her under too much stress. She doesn't need that at her age...

"I think I'd rather she be calling us every half hour, than to have her worry."

Matt unzipped the sleeping bag its entire length and placed the two blankets inside.

"Yup, like I say....I never had grandparents. Gram is such a little angel......We gotta do something for her."

They stretched out and drew the blankets around themselves. Matt struggled with the zipper for a moment.

Tim was smiling as he switched the light off.

"...Umm....a while ago my mom told me about something Gram said...

"Gram umm....I think knew about us for quite awhile there. She didn't think Mom 'n Dad knew anything and she was worried they wouldn't take it so well."

He drew up close to Matt.

"Hee, hee....She was all set to rent an apartment and have us move in with her!"

"Awwhhh!....How nice."

"Yeah....We gotta get her a little something. And....hee, hee, I was thinking of baking her a little cake or something....You know....just for being her!"

"Awh gee, Timmy......A cake?....Do you think we've progressed that far in the kitchen yet?......Oh! I can see it all now!....Flour, milk 'n eggs all over the kitchen!....Smoke coming out of the oven!"

"Hee, hee....I don't think it'll be all that difficult. Mom has a bunch of recipes on a flash. In fact she keeps it in a kitchen cabinet....inside one of the coffee mugs. She prints out the recipes and just throws them out when she's done. I mean they get all covered with flour and oil and all. We'll find something simple. A little sheet cake or something."

They remained silent for a moment. Tim began twisting around. He reached for his phone.

"I'm gonna text Dad and tell him to give Gram her phone back! I don't care if she calls us every hour!"

They lay in the dark tent for several minutes. Matt studied Tim's face in the light of his cell. His phone beeped continuously as he keyed it. The canvas of the tent snapped. They could hear the constant wind-driven rain being blown over it. Thunder followed lightning nearly instantly, testifying to its closeness.

Within minutes, Tim put up his cell and spooned up to Matt.

"You know," he began, "I'm kinda glad Gram brought these blankets for us. I think that wind is finding every little opening."

"Yeah," Matt replied, "but I think it's a bit psychological too......I get the chills just listening to that wind...

"I sure hope we got this thing tied down good enough."

They remained in their own thoughts for several more minutes. Soon, Tim's cell sounded with the loud drum solo he'd programmed in.

"Oh gee!....Is that Gram already?!"

He struggled around and reached for his cell.

"Hello?..........Oh gee, Benny! What's up?........Really? Oh gee, that's great!......Oh, umm, I understand......Hey we'll be there!......It sounds like fun!...

"Well, hee, hee....Me 'n Matty are out at the state park right now....camping!......Oh knock it off! You aren't umm....interrupting anything, hee. hee. We were just about to go to sleep. This lousy weather......There's nothing to do outside...

"Nooooo! Seriously! You aren't bothering us!....We're out here with Scooter 'n Toby, and Ethan and Ryan......And even Chris came out with Joe!......Yeah, can you believe it?! Awh, little Chris is adjusting to this quite well. He's a bit nervous 'n scared, but he's really trying."

Tim continued for another several minutes talking. Matt could only hear his side of the conversation.

"...Umm....We understand all that Ben.......Well, it's not your fault! We've had a couple others too......No! Really! We understand all that!..."

He soon closed up his phone and placed it on the cooler at their heads.

"Benny?" Matt asked, "That sounds familiar."

"Yeah, Benjamin!......You know, the kid we tutored for a bit there?..."

"Ohhhhh yeaaahhh! I remember him now. The cute little ginger......Yup, we tutored him for a couple weeks until his mom found out we were gay....She kinda put the kibosh on that awful quick."

"Yeah," Tim sighed, "He was just so embarrassed that he had to tell us that..."

"Yeah," Matt continued, "I felt so bad for him that first day. He was telling us how everyone called him the Gingerbread Man! Oh shit!....He even started crying. That really hurt! Why is it that people can't just get along with each other?"

Tim reached out and drew Matt into his arms.

"We keep sayin' it, Matty....We'll always have the haters."

"So what was that call all about?..."

"Oh gee, he invited us to his birthday party!...

"I guess he's having some trouble with his parents......He's living at his gram's now. His mom is soooo scared he's gonna choose being gay! I mean she knows all about the GSA and how it's getting bigger 'n bigger. Lots of kids are coming out!......He tried to explain it's for everyone, but she doesn't trust it......Like we're recruiting kids onto"

"Ohhhh," Matt sighed, "How do people come up with this stuff?......How do you recruit someone into being gay?"

"Well, anyhow, in so many words, he kinda made it sound like he wanted to make all that up to us. In fact he even said for us not to even bring gifts. He said he just wanted us there!"

"Awh, poor little guy. He gets bullied and teased enough around school, he shouldn't have to put up with it at home..."

Ryan dropped his apple wedge back onto the paper plate.

"Awh, E....That's enough! I can't do another bite!"

"Dew!....You've heard the saying, 'An apple a day keeps the doctor away.' I just looove the smell of apples 'n cinnamon on your breath. I keep telling you, it keeps reminding me of our first kiss."

He pulled at the sleeping bag, drawing it up to their necks. He looked at Ryan in the light of their electric lamp.

"...I keep tellin' you, Dew....That kiss was HOT......You've gotta remember, I was still going through that....that questioning period. And I keep thinking about that...

"If I thought your kiss was hot....why wasn't that enough to convince me right there? Oh, I hated those days! It was like I couldn't make up my mind!"

"It's not....not a choice, E..."

"I'm not saying that!"

"Well it sure sounds like it...

"One time you seem all okay with this and that you aren't questioning anything. Then another time, I get the feeling you aren't all that sure."

"Well, yes I am! I'm not questioning anymore. I'm just saying that I should have known all along....And especially after that kiss."

Ethan leaned forward and gently licked at Ryan's lips.

"Mmmm....I just love that apple!"

"Awh, Joe!" Chris gasped, "Listen to that wind! It's shaking the tent all around."

"Don't worry about it Chris......We're protected from the worst of the wind here. We've got trees all around us."

It was here they heard a loud ripping sound, followed by a flapping noise.

Chris sat bolt upright.

"Oh shit! Oh shit!....That sounded like someone's tent rending!"

Joe quickly got to his knees and unzipped a window flap. He looked out through the netting.

"Nah!....Everyone's tent is still up...

"Oh gee, I think that was our plastic tarp over the table. Awwhh! It's all ripped to shreds! It's kinda flapping around in the wind. How are we gonna eat in the rain without our tarp?!"

"...Eat?......You're worried about eating?"

Another flash if lightning lit the tent as though it were daytime. The thunder shook the ground. Indeed, a lid on a kettle nearby rattled. In the distance they immediately heard the sound of a siren.

"Oh gee!" Chris gasped, "That lightning struck something and set it afire! Can you see anything out there?"

"Nah!....It's just dark...

"...Yeah, it's dark okay!......The lights are out in the park! We must have lost electric!"

Both Matt and Tim had jumped in each others arms.

"Did you hear that?!" Matt gasped.

"...I think half the people in the cemetery heard that!"

They both got to their knees as Tim fumbled with the lamp. The tubes lit with a glow.

They both sat on the cooler as Tim partially unzipped a window.

"Wow! Is it nasty out there!....And the lights are out!"

"What's that flappin' noise?"

"Awh, it's our tarp! I can't see it but I can sure hear it!"

Tim's cell began its drumming signal.

"Hello?....Gram!......No! We're all right!......Yeah, I think we lost the electric here too! The whole park is in the dark!........We're okay!......No the tent isn't leaking!......We're warm 'n dry, Gram........Yeah, that's the tent you hear........No! Gram! Please don't tell Dad to come out here for us! Oh that would be sooooo embarrassing!........No we aren't trying to appear tough! This will be over with in a few minutes........Gram!......Gram, will you calm down! We aren't hurt!......No we aren't scared!........Gram! This is all a part of camping! You just have to deal with this stuff from time to time...

"The only thing we didn't like today was that it was so cold and windy. We wanted to spend a bit more time out in the boat........I won't lie to you Gram. No, we didn't wear life jackets! We were real close to the shore. If we tipped over or fell out, we could have stood up in the water!........We aren't bein' careless!........No, we aren't doing any....any daredevil shit!"

This caused Matt to giggle.

"...Oh gee, Gram, will you calm down?! You're going to end up with a stroke or something!..........Yeah, it's windy!....It's wet!....It's cold!....It's damp!....But this is all part of camping! Gram!....Gram!......We ate in the tent tonight!........No we aren't starving!........We'll be replacing the ice in the cooler tomorrow morning!........No we wouldn't eat spoiled food!....... Yes, I know bad food will get us sick!......Gram!......Gram!......Geeeeeee! Gram! We aren't going outside in this! In fact, we were just about to go to sleep. It's just that crash of thunder got us curious. We heard sirens after that......I think a sub-station got hit or something. The whole park is in the dark.........Gram! We got a battery lamp in here! We don't need the city electric!........Gram! We won't get lost on our way to the bathroom!"

After several more minutes talking, Tim closed up his phone.

"Oh gee, I love Gram so much but I really wish she'd quit worrying!...

"She thought we were going to go outside in this!"

Matt smiled as he turned to him, rubbing his chest.

"Let's umm....get back into this sleeping bag! It's really cold in here."

They struggled around in the dark as they pulled the blankets and bag up to their necks.

"I don't know Matty....I don't think I can sleep now. We've been stuck in here all afternoon. Awh! I hope this rain is done tomorrow!"

"Yeah, I was just thinking about that. long as it isn't lightning and all, let's just go out!......So what if we get wet!....You can only get so wet! We'll walk around or go get another boat or something."

"I don't exactly like the idea of boating in the rain! Or really doing anything around the water. A thunderstorm could develop in minutes! We'll find something to do..."

Matt drew Tim into his arms.

"Ohhhh, there's that clingy thingy coming on again!......I don't know if I like this or hate it!....It almost feels like a pain!......Love shouldn't hurt! It should feel good."

"Matty!....I keep tellin' you....cling all you want!"

Matt's face drew close to to Tim's as he placed a deep kiss on his mouth.

Ethan drew his lips from Ryan's.

"Oh! My little....Dewdrop!"

He pressed his head close to Ryan's.

"...Nah, Dew....I'm not questioning anymore. I....I think that well, maybe I didn't want to admit I was gay....and....Oh GEE! That's not it either!....I don't know how to explain it!"

He held Ryan's head gently and kissed his cheek.

"...Umm....Maybe I'm one of those umm....late bloomers. I don't mean like for years! I think it was like about a year or so. You know. Kinda lagging behind the others. I don't think transition was as quick as others. It didn't just hit me all of a sudden. I think it was just a bit more gradual than others...

"Yeah, hee, hee....I was checking you out around school......I mean, not that I wasn't checking out the girls too....I mean lots of 'em are cute......You don't have to be straight to know if a girl is pretty, huh?......I mean I went out with Heidi, right?......I mean I don't think you'd call 'em dates or like that. Awh, gee, her parents wouldn't really go for that. And absolutely NO car dates! We just kinda went places and just sorta....hung-out! And, well, we kissed and that......I can't explain it. Heidi is soooo sweet 'n loving. She'd never be mean to anyone. And it was kinda nice....but....Well, it wasn't exactly hot you know? I always heard of those 'skyrockets 'n firecracker' things. Well, I never really felt any of that, you know?...

"And, well....I was old enough to know what bein' gay was and all. And I don't think I was exactly fighting it......I....I just didn't fully understand it at the time. I even tried to think of myself as BI!......Well, that didn't fit either."

He held Ryan's head gently in his hands. He leaned forward and kissed the tip of his nose.

"...Then there was that night in Tim's family room...

"...Oh wow, Dew! I'm tellin' you....that kiss was HOT!....I mean the skyrockets 'n all!...

"...Yeah......I think I'm finally okay with all this..."

Chris clung to Joe's neck. He seemed to be in a moment of deep thought.

"...Chris?....You scared?..."

"No, I don't believe so......That lightning has finally passed...

"I was just lying here thinking about that......It's as one of the boys said....The chances of getting hit by lightning are very slim......Yet....the chances of getting killed or injured by wind is so much higher! Why is it I fear the lightning more?"

"Hee, hee....Well, I think I'm the same way. Well, not so much as when I was a little kid. Oh! How thunderstorms scared me. It was awful!"

Joe squirmed about for a moment.

"...Well, perhaps we could try to get some sleep..."

Toby moved around, bumping against Scooter.

"Tob?....What is it?"

"Oh gee! I can't get to sleep. We've been in here so long. All we've done is sleep!...

"I think I'm hungry. I'll try eating something..."

He slid from the bag in only his underwear.

"Oh shit, is it cold in here! I gotta find my jacket!"

He switched on their lamp and wiggled into a rather long jacket.

"Oh! Oh! This just kills! Oh, it's so cold in here!"

"'re always cold!"

Toby quickly unzipped the entire length of the bag and began waving it.

"Oh shit! Toby! Don't DO that! Don't be mean!"

"Hee, hee......Wake up Scoot! Enjoy some of this fresh, crisp air! Hee, hee."

"Awhhh! Geeee!....Stop that!....Please?!"

"Hee, hee. Come on. Let's find something to eat!"

Scooter crawled from the bag and quickly pulled on a jacket and his sneakers.

"Oh, we should have left some snacks in easy reach of the bag! Oh, this is nasty."

He gazed at Toby holding a tiny LED light over a plastic tote.

"Toby, those totes have snap-on lids......No spiders can get inside."

"Well, I'm not taking any chances..."

Within a minute they located a pressurized can of cheese spread, crackers and juice. They sat on their sleeping bag and gazed around at the tent. It shook in the wind, ballooning outward. Wind could be heard through the treetops outside. Waves from the lake crashed against the rocky shoreline.

"Awh gee, Tob....Listen to that wind! It's got a kinda spooky sound to it. I sure hope it warms up today......Even if the wind doesn't stop, just as long as it warms up some..."

Scooter gazed at Toby as he munched a cracker. He'd put his arm around Scooter with a distant gaze toward the ruffling wall of canvas.

"Scared, Tob?"

"Nah!......In fact I don't think the wind is as bad as as it was just an hour ago. In fact, I think the rain stopped...

"It's just......Oh, we've been trapped in here for so long! I think I'm getting kinda depressed. We gotta go out tomorrow! No matter what the weather's like!..."

Scooter rubbed Toby's knee with a grin.

"Awh! Who cares....We got each other. This is so nice bein' together."

"Scoot!......We did it three times tonight! My cock's sore!....My balls hurt!"

"Hee, hee, hee....Oh gee, Tob!"

"Well, I'm serious here!......I don't think my equipment is gonna work for a couple days now!..."

Toby rubbed Scooter's back with a smile.

" gotta remember how scared I was while you were in the hospital. This is so nice just bein' together. Ohhhh, I was just so depressed when we couldn't see each other there for awhile......Then you got stabbed. Shit Scoot! You almost didn't make it! And....and I thought as long as you made it through all that, it would be okay....As long as you were alive! I wouldn't care if we couldn't see each other....just so long as you were alive..."

"Tob, quit talking about that all the time."

"Well I can't help it! This is just so nice."

Toby suddenly held his hand up, pointing his finger up.

"Listed to that?!..."

"What?....I don't hear anything..."

"Exactly!....The wind stopped! Maybe it'll be nice out tomorrow."

It was six o'clock the following morning as the boys gathered around the picnic table. Although the wind had stopped, the sky was overcast and the air chilly. Chris and Joe pulled at the shredded plastic tarp on the ground. The lines were still through the metal eyelets which had torn loose.

"Well," Chris sighed, "...So much for this....We might as well just throw it out! I'll climb up there for the ropes as soon as the tree dries out some."

Tim had plugged the hot plate into the power pole near the table. He held his hand over the elements.

Awh, rats!....I think the electric is still out! I'm just not that good at cookin' over charcoal! Not eggs! I'll burn 'em to a crisp!"

Matt threw his arms around him from behind. He hooked his chin over his shoulder and smiled.

"...Let's just use up our milk. We can just have cold cereal today."

"Oh yeah," Tim said, turning to the others, "We gotta make a....a grocery run to the store today. Well, just like milk 'n bread and stuff......And more ice!"

Over the next hour, the boys had a quick breakfast. They began to put their tents in order. Although the store wasn't open until nine o'clock, several went for ice from the vending machine in the screened entry area in the front.

"Oh! I just thought of something," Toby put in quickly, "Without electric, I doubt the ice machine is going to work!"

Ethan pointed toward a fenced-in area beside the store. Behind a heavy chain link fence was a generator within a heavy metal enclosure. Toby noticed the large LP tank at a distance.

"Hey," Ethan began, "you don't think the STORE is going to do without electric for one day during the summer, do you?......And the ranger's cabin has electric too! What they charge for food out here, they'd lose a couple thousand dollars a day!......Not to mention all the ice melting an' food going bad in the coolers!"

They returned to the campsite to see Tim up in the tree. He was untying the ropes which had held up their tarp. The coolers were on the ground beside the tents. It was obvious someone had opened the drains on them, running the water out. They dumped plastic bags of cubes into the coolers. Toby tossed his bag aside.

"Ahhh!....Oh! I think my hands are frozen!"

"Toby!" Scooter put in quickly, "You carry 'em by this twist top, not from the bottom! And you keep calling ME a retard!"

"Arruuugggghhhh!" Toby roared deeply as he dove for Scooter's neck.

He pulled Scooter to the ground as they laughed and playfully wrestled.

Within minutes they all noticed they had been squinting in the bright light. Looking up, they saw the overcast passing out over the lake.

"Oh wow!," Tim yelled, climbing down from the tree, "All right! Feel that nice warm sun! Let's hope this lasts!"

It was later as Matt and Tim climbed the metal ladder of the anchored raft. The wood floor indicated no splashes of water or footprints. Even the green fiberglass diving board appeared dry. They gazed around at the bright yellow plastic floats which were chained together and anchored around the swimming area. All boats were restricted from this area.

"Wow!" Matt put in quickly, "We got the whole place to ourselves."

He held Tim's shoulders and kissed his lips quickly.

"Hey!....None of that out here!"

They turned to see a smiling face just above the water. It was Mena. She swam with her arms at her sides. Indeed, a tiny wake formed from her neck. She reached out for the ladder.

"Wow!" Tim yelled, "Mena!....You can swim like a fish!"

"Oh!....Ha, ha....I'm cheating today....I've got swim fins on. I was going to do a little snorkeling but I don't want to leave my friend on the beach alone too long."

"So what brings you back out here so quickly? I thought you said it was just a one day type of thing....A family reunion?"

"Well, I never left. I ran into a friend who's camping out here with her parents. I spent the night. They got a camper. I must have really been out of it! I slept through it all. Everyone's talking about the storm last night...

"Well, umm....I just came out here to tell you the store is open. Your friend Scooter said there are lots of boats left if you want to take one out."

Tim looked at Matt. Matt curled his lip up.

"...Nah! Maybe this afternoon, huh?"

"Okay....Well, I'll head back to the beach. My friend is soaking up some sun. She doesn't want to swim. She says there are too many bugs 'n slimy things out here."

"Hee, hee....We got a friend like that too!"

They watched her swim a distance from the raft when they heard a voice from behind.

"Tim!....Matt!" someone called from a small motorboat just beyond the floats.

"Who's that?" Matt asked.

"Oh gee, that's Landon."

"Hey!" Matt shouted out.

"Can you guys swim over here? I'm not allowed to enter the swimming area."

Both jumped into the water and splashed the short distance to the floats. They both gripped to the side of the boat.

"Hee, hee," Landon giggled as he tossed a rope ladder over the side.

"Hey!" Tim put in, "Don't laugh at our....swimming! We don't plan on joining the Olympics!"

"Hey, come on guys. Hop in. Oh gee, I was kinda going to drive out to your campsite again but didn't want to make it too obvious....My uncle's cabin is right across the lake here. I was trying out his new boat here."

He assisted them into the boat. Both looked at the tiny engine clamped to the back.

"Wow!" Tim put in, "I'll bet this thing really moves!"

"Well, my uncle isn't into verrrooomm!....He's into fishing. Oh! Boring! I'd go nuts! I have to be a bit more active than that."

He took on a serious expression as he sat next to the engine.

"Umm....Guys......Remember me telling you about my dad seeing that video of Adam?...

"Umm....Well, he knows about me bein' a member of the GSA and all......And he knows its not just for....gays! He knows its for the, umm....underdogs. And he said he's really happy I'm trying to be a part of it."

He gazed out over the lake for a few seconds.

"My dad seems to give me the idea he was bullied quite a bit when he was a kid. He never was a big, strong person. I never thought of him as exactly a gay rights advocate. That video really got him goin'. I mean really! He's really against any child abuse!..."

He paused as he reached out to unscrew the cap of the gas tank on the engine. He looked inside.

"...Umm....I was out in the kitchen last night, nuking a slice of pizza. Well, his den is right next to it. I heard him on the phone. Oh shit! He was really hot over that vid! I don't know who he was talking to. I think it may have been his lawyer. Oh gee he was HOT! I've seriously never seen him like this...

"Umm....He said something about the doctors in the area wanting to set up a sorta boarding school."

Tim nodded with a silly smile.

"Umm....Yeah. My mom's a doctor. Awh! She told me about it. They're getting the royal runaround over it! I think it's all just a big pipe dream......The whole hospital is getting pissed over all this....hate!

"A boarding school?....For gay kids?!....Around this ultra-conservative town?!"

Landon nodded his head as he placed a funnel into the gas tank.

"Well, I don't know. I keep sayin' it!....I've never seen Dad this steamed up over anything! Umm......I'm getting scared over this whole thing, you know?...

"Now don't forget....we're sticking to that story of me finding that flash in my car! Now I'm sure everyone knows you two were here during all of this. You don't know a thing about it, right?!"

Matt and Tim nodded their heads with sober expressions.

Landon lifted a tiny plastic fuel container and began filling the tank.

"Okay......Nobody knows anything!....And....and if they want to check your cells, just turn them over! And don't look guilty over it! Make it look like you're really trying to help. They won't find a thing on your phone, Timmy! And we aren't going on our computers about any of this! No social sites....No e-mails....Okay?"

He set the container down as he threaded the cap back onto the engine.

"...Well, umm....That's all I really wanted to say. I'm getting scared. We don't know anything! I think this is going to get really big!...

"...Oh! Umm....All that vandalism out at the park?

"Oh shit! There hasn't been anything in the news or that, but I heard my dad talking. They think it was that McCluskey who had something to do with it!"

"You're shittin' me!......That cop wannabe?"

"Oh yeah! Oh yeah!......I didn't catch all of it, but I heard my dad talking. They had him arrested for a bit. Well, he didn't exactly have to pay bail, but they told him he'd better not go anywhere. He's being held as a person of interest. I guess he's just pissed about the GSA working on all that. He sure hates fags! I think he tried to make it look like a bunch of kids did that!....HA!....Like kids have access to acetylene torches to cut up the swings. And....and all those chemicals that ended up in the pool! And they found the sledge hammer in the pond out there! The one used to bust up the waterfalls?! It had been in the water too long to get any prints, but I doubt he'd be that stupid to leave prints behind......The concrete and paint on the hammer tested positive to the exact type we used on the waterfalls."

"Awww geeee," Tim sighed.

Landon leaned forward and gripped their shoulders.

"...Umm....I've gotta tell you something here. I don't know how this is gonna sound, but......Oh shit, am I glad I didn't turn out gay!"

Both Matt and Tim nodded their heads. Tim held his hand out.

"...Do you seriously think we'd live a life like this....if....if we had a choice?!"

Landon nodded. It actually pained them as they saw Landon wipe a tear from his eye. He tried to quickly compose himself.

"Well, I'll say one thing. For such a couple of such skinny little guys....You two have really filled out over the last year!"

Matt turned to Tim.

"Umm....What do you say we do take out a boat?"

Tim nodded.

"Okay, but just for four hours!"

"Hey!......Let me run you guys up to the dock," Landon put in, pulling on the rope starter.

Scooter and Toby sat in a rowboat near the shore. They studied a leaf Scooter had pulled from the surface of the water.

"I've never seen anything like this," Scooter put in.

He held it to his nose.

"It's got like kinda a sweet smell to it. Maybe Chris would be interested in it."

"Well, I'm botanist! Chris will know what it is."

Toby looked up.

"Oh no! We drifted right under all those SPIDER trees again!"

Both began to wildly draw at their oars.

"It's no use, Tob. I think we're hung-up on the shore."

Toby drew his oar from the oarlock and went to the rear of the boat. He pushed it against the marshy shoreline.

"That's it Tob! We're free now...

"Whoa!....Look out Toby!"

Toby turned to see a low-hanging limb strike him in the chest. He fell over into the water on his back. Quickly getting to his feet, he gripped the boat.

"Oh gee! Oh shit!....This is where we saw that snake!"

He pulled wildly and drew himself up, sliding into the boat face forward. He studied the wood slats in the bottom. There was a small amount of water sloshing around.

"Oh!....This thing smells rotten fish!"

Ethan and Ryan had just returned their canoe to the docks. They made their way into the rear entry of the store.

"Umm....I'm kinda thirsty," Ethan said, "...and not for a soda! Let's get a couple bottles of juice......Apple juice! Hee, hee."

They both studied the fruits through the glass doors of the cooler. Ethan eyed the apples. Ryan shook his finger into his face as he stepped close to him.

"E!....No more apples!" he whispered forcefully, "One more apple slice and I'm gonna barf!"

Ryan opened the door and drew out a plastic bag containing four large oranges.

"How about oranges?....Nice ice cold, sweet, juicy orange sections!"

"Sounds good!....And orange juice too!"

"Okay, I can do that!"

Joe and Chris were making their way back along the trail from the observation deck. Chris had his camera around his neck. He ran on about his photos he'd taken that day. He used botany terms which only caused Joe to shake his head. Chris suddenly slapped his hand over his face.

"I'm doin' it AGAIN!......Joe, I already told you to kick my ass when I do this!"

Joe held to Chris' head. He massaged across his temples and along the back.

"...You know, for such a tiny, cute little sure have lots of stuff in there! I'm really afraid you're going to overload your....your medulla oblongata! Err, whatever it's called!"

Chris giggled as he looked up at him.

"Joe....STOP me when I start going on as such!"

Joe gently held his face in his hands and kissed his lips. He drew back slightly.

"I keep telling you....keep being you! Oh, I just love this. I still think I'm dreaming! I just keep thinking this is just too good to be true..."

"Awh gee," Chris sighed.

He ran his fingertips under his glasses and wiped his teary eyes.

"Chris! Cut it!....I'll have Matt 'n Tim start up their tickle machine again!"

The rest of the week became rather routine for them all. The weather became warm and they had no rain. They still went out in the canoes, boats and swam around the raft. Thursday and Friday, they had more paired-off with each other. They all had noticed it, but said nothing. They knew their trip was about to end and wanted to spend more time with their partners.

It was Friday afternoon as they all gathered at the picnic table. It was covered with cardboard cartons, plastic totes and coolers. The tents had been collapsed and rolled into bundles beside the gravel parking space. Chris was turning his head on his thin neck, glancing around. Matt had noticed.

"Chris, you look like an owl sitting there......I'm sure we've got everything."

"Umm....I don't believe we've forgotten anything...

"It's just....I just can't explain it!......Wow! I had a swell time out here. I'm a bit tired from all the activity. You must realize I'm not all that much of....of an active person! I did indeed enjoy this. I'm a bit sad it's all over with......Yet....It's going to feel rather good to return home."

He glanced at two plastic egg cartons before him. They contained soil and many specimens of plants.

"I'm getting rather excited to get on the Net and check these out. Wow! I believe I've four or five items here that I truly never knew were indigenous to this area."

He pointed to several indentations within a carton.

"...Take for instance these mosses....Photosynthesis simply fascinates me! I believe..."

He suddenly stopped talking.

"Arugh!" he grunted, slapping his hands to the table, "I'm doing it AGAIN! I TOLD you when I start doing simply kick my ass!"

Matt drew close to him with a smile. He threw his arm over Chris' shoulder.

"...Chris....I know you sorta go off on these tangents....Your facts 'n figures thingy as you call it....but....I really don't think that's what you're doing this time......What is it?"

Chris' entire face became a rather sad frown. He removed his round lens glasses and set them on the table. He rubbed at his eyes with his fingertips.

"Oh gee!......I'm trying to keep my mind off this!"

He drew his hands down and they all saw tears on his cheeks.

"Oh GEE!....GUYS!......This has been simply the most happy two weeks of my entire life!......This was just wonderful! I never believed life could be happy!..."

He turned his head, looking them all over.

"It's just so pleasant to have friends! You've all accepted the brainy geek into your little group. ME!....The child prodigy!....The genius! The....the rich kid!......The one who lives in the mansion with the swimming pool and the....the gardens!

"I couldn't do much of anything out here to assist you and it truly made me feel so helpless. I could barely light a fire and heat water!"

He gazed at Joe beside him. He glanced over the others and returned his gaze to Joe, placing his hand on his chest.

"I've got all you for friends. And....and I've got Joe!....The most loving, understanding, patient....HOTTEST boyfriend in the world!"

He let out a sob as he pressed his face into Joe's shoulder. Joe's arms rose and wrapped around him. Again, they all knew Joe was no large boy, yet his arms seemed huge around Chris' tiny frame.

"...You've ALL been so patient with me!"

He looked up at Tim.

"I believe I've reduced your first aid supplies by fifty percent! I think I'm wearing all the bandages and antibiotics you had in there!"

The others couldn't find words as they wiped at their eyes. Tim stepped up to him and rubbed his back.

"Hee, hee....It's what my mom called The Change! You're going to be clumsy for a bit......and....Yeah! It's embarrassing......Well, it's funny when it happens to someone else, but not you! We all went through it. Hee, hee, Matty here says he's surprised he's still alive after all those klutzy years!...

"Awh, Chris....We aren't going out of our way to include you! You're great! And you've really helped Joe along as well. Shit! We all try to help each other along. Isn't that what it's all about?...

"And don't worry about those sudden spiels of facts 'n figures. I think we've all learned lots just listening to you. It's a part of you! It's part of your personality!"

Tim sat on the very edge of the bench beside Chris, facing away from the table.

"Yeah, Chris....You did real good at this. You started out heating water! You helped with dishes. But look where you are now! The last....the last two days you've been running the grill! Oh wow! Bacon, burgers, hotdogs! And you never burnt a thing!

"...I think we all feel about the same....We had fun out here, but it's kinda catching up with us. I'm a bit sad about leaving but it's going to feel great getting back again too."

It was here a long, black limousine drew into the gravel parking area. Behind this was a rather battered and rusty green pickup truck. Chris understood it was for the gardener. His father stepped out. He gave a concerned look toward Chris.

"...Everything okay, Chris?..."

"OH DAD!" he literally gasped.

Mr. Gavin felt a strange tug to his stomach. Chris had always addressed him as "Father." He felt a joy welling up within himself. His ideas of a normal family seemed to be playing out.

Chris ran to him and hugged him around his waist.

"...You just wouldn't believe the fun I've had out here! I'm truly sooooo happy you allowed such! This has been one of the happiest moments of my life!"

Mr. Gavin hugged him in return.

"....Well....There's going to be lots more of this just around the corner!...

"I'll admit it, Chris....It was that....that plastic bubble thing again. I worried so about you."

Chris stepped back, wiping his eyes and trying to sober himself quickly.

"Oh that was truly unnecessary! This trip was....was just AWESOME!"

Mr. Gavin sobered and looked at the boys.

"Chris?....Boys?......I'm going to be honest with you...

"Umm....That night of the big storm?....I got up and got dressed. Now, I give the chauffeur time off wherever it's possible..."

He seemed to blush slightly as he glanced down for a moment.

"I went out into the garage to get in the limo. I was going to come out here and take you all back to the house with me. Well, just for the duration of the storm."

He blushed slightly as he gazed at Chris.

"...I don't know if you're going to believe this, Chris......Your MOM followed me out there! In her pajamas! And she was just grabbing me and begging me to leave you alone! She said she was certain you'd call if any emergency should come up. She said you needed this! I couldn't argue with her....That's exactly what I've been saying of late.

"Ohhh!....I kept thinking of the last time I saw you out here. You were all bandaged-up with bruises 'n cuts all over!....Yet....yet you just seemed so happy!"

He glanced at Joe.

"It's as Joe says....You were doing that.... squiggly, wiggly thing again! And you were just gushing over it all. I don't think you stopped talking for a half hour! You were just so excited over it all."

Joe gazed at the truck.

"Umm....Why are you driving the pickup? "

"Hee, hee....I guess you don't see me doing much of that..."

He glanced down for a moment and back up again. He slipped his hands into his pockets.

"Well, boys, I don't want to umm....embarrass you or that. I just got to thinking. If I were to have clients picked up at the airport and they were to see....bugs 'n spiders in the limo! Oh! That could be awful embarrassing for all of us!...

"We'll toss all your camping equipment into the truck......I'll back it right into the garage and....And we'll.... DECOMINATE everything!"

The boys laughed as they got to their feet.

Chris and Joe had accompanied Mr. Gavin in the pickup, the others were in the limousine. They noticed the chauffeur speaking into a headset. The intercom came on.

"Boys?....It seems we need to make a detour before returning."

Awhile later they drew up to the city park entrance. They all drew close to the glass. There had been a heavy chain link fence already placed around the entire park. A man in a security uniform opened a large gate. They noticed the pickup ahead of them.

They climbed out of the car and glanced around. Mr. Gavin had gathered with two other men off to the side. Chris walked up to them.

" dad needs to talk to those people for a bit..."

They followed him toward what used to be the playground area. Although not whispering, Chris' voice seemed to lower a bit.

"...Umm....I don't know exactly what's going on around here...

"My dad bought this place from the city!......Well, it's going through the proper channels right now...

"I don't know what's going on! He gives me the idea he's going to turn this into an industrial park or some kind of office complex or something."

Tim lowered his head.

"...Well, I kinda hate the thought of losing the park, but getting business in here will sure help the town."

All the boys drew quiet and walked off in pairs. Matt and Tim noticed a temporary bridge over the stream. It was a series of heavy wood planks fastened to steel beams. They gazed at the swing set before them. It was obvious a cutting torch had been used to burn through the heavy pipes. Several inches of pipe jutted from the ground. They were blackened and had clearly been melted through. Chains and swing seats scattered the ground.

They walked toward the temporary bridge. Glancing back, they noticed Mr. Gavin had spread a map over the hood of the pickup. They were studying it.

They approached the bridge. They could already smell the odor of damp charcoal. On crossing the bridge, they saw what was left of the quaint, covered foot bridge within the stream.

"Oh gee, Matty!....We busted our asses with painting and waterproofing that thing!"

They made their way up the trail a distance. Matt glanced around. He managed a weak smile with slight blush. He reached out for Tim's hand.

"I think it was about here I reached out for your hand. You kept teasing me about blushing."

"Awh! I think I was doin' that because I was afraid I was going to start."

They neared the pond. In the center on the tiny island could clearly see the broken-up waterfalls.

"Oh Timmy!....The art department worked so hard on that! The park maintenance guys worked so hard getting that up there!"

"Yup!......And we worked hard on digging that trench all the way up here! Oh shit! I don't think I ever wanna use a shovel again!"

It was here they could smell the smoky charcoal remains of the pavilion. Their hearts sank as they gazed at the black mass of lumber and logs. There was the odor of asphalt from the curled and burnt roofing.

"Oh shit!" Matt gasped, "Oh shit!....I think I'm gonna cry."

They made their way into the center of the ruins. Matt gazed along a charred portion of what once was the log wall. In the debris were what was the metal legs of a bench. Blackened bolts hung loosely from holes where wooden slats had been attached. Matt slowly raised his hand and pointed toward it.

"I think that's the bench we sat at, on our first time out here."

He managed a weak smile.

"Oh gee, Timmy......You were telling me about all the mixed signals you were giving me. About how you felt so bad about it..."

He gazed off into the distance for a moment.

"...Then....then you turned around and looked at me. Oh wow! Your eyes! I'd never seen them serious! It was kinda scary and....and exciting at the same time!...

"And you sat on my legs 'n....'n kinda held my shoulders. And you leaned forward and kissed me! Oh wow! Was that hot! And I kept grabbing at you. Oh! I just couldn't get close enough to you! Oh! I wanted that moment to last forever! It was so.... hot lightening!

"We were out to each other!...

"Oh gee, I'm gonna start crying!"

Tim wiped a tear from his own eye.

"Oh Matty! I hate this....This is just so sad!....I don't ever want to come back out here! Come on. Let's go back. Mr. Gavin is probably waiting for us."

They took several paces but Matt stopped before the remains of the bench on the floor. He squatted down trying to unthread several bolts from the blackened metal. On the third, the nut clearly turned in his fingers. Straightening back up he threaded the fasteners back together, gazing at them.

"I'm saving this!" he replied, slipping it into his pocket.

The limousine drew into a large curved driveway. The boys gasped.

"I can't believe we've never been here!" Matt gasped, "We've known Chris for so long and we've never been here before!"

They approached the front of the home. There was a wide concrete stairway leading up to a terraced porch which ran the full width of the home. There were tiny wrought iron tables and chairs the entire length. There were tall white pillars which supported a roof overhead. The concrete railings curved outward along the stairway. At the base of each railing was a pedestal holding carved alabaster lions. They thought they were looking at an Antebellum movie site.

Tim's jaw dropped.

"Holy shit!....Talk about Gone With The Wind! "

Matt cast him a silly grin.

"...Frankly my dear....I don't give a damn!....Hee, hee..."

The intercom came on again.

"Well boys....This is going to be very informal. Just go up to those doors and walk in! Go straight down the hallway to the rear doors. I believe the missus will be waiting for you."

They climbed from the limousine and stood before the imposing stairway. Their jaws hung open. Tim approached one of the lions and ran his hand over it.

"Wow, Matty! These aren't cast....They're really carved! You can see the tool marks in 'em!"

He reached up and swung a heavy iron ring which hung from the lion's mouth.

"I think they used to hitch horses to these in the old days..."

They stood before the tall, wide white doors with ornate brass hinges and handles. Matt pulled at the heavy door and was amazed at the little effort it took to swing open. They stepped into a wide, long hallway. The floor was white marble with veins of black, gray and gold running through it. Along the walls were sconces with dim electric lights glowing in them. The cool air conditioned atmosphere surrounded them.

They glanced to their left. Here was a large dining room. The long, dark oak table had seating for twenty people. The wall to wall carpeting was a light blue. An ornate fireplace was against the outside wall. To their right was a living room. The carpeting was a bright red. Several period style chairs and couch were before another fireplace.

Toby pressed his hands to his chest.

"Oh shit! I'm afraid to touch anything!....I might leave a fingerprint behind!"

A distance farther down the hall was a carpeted stairway. It was wide and ran through a half spiral as it reached the floor upstairs. Their footsteps echoed as they continued on. They gazed around with large eyes.

Near the rear of the house they noticed a kitchen off to the left. Its modern architectural design seemed to conflict with the rest of the home decor. A large island was in the middle. It was obvious a gas grill was located here. Overhead was a large wooden exhaust hood. It hung well beyond the edges of the island.

Matt pulled at the doors in the rear. The large panes of glass had white, starched curtains over them. They gazed out over the lawn. Again, they all gasped. They felt the more humid outdoor atmosphere surround them with the many floral scents. There were flowers and planters everywhere. White trellis es hung with climbing vines and flowering plants. The cobbled walk was lined with plants in tall earthenware containers.

The boys were taken by Mrs. Gavin who turned for them, a garden hose in her hand. She wore a white tank top and faded bluejeans. On her feet were plastic beach sandals.

Tim slapped his palms to his chest.

"Wow!....Talk about a Garden of Eden! " he gasped.

"Well thank you!" she replied, looking around, "This isn't my work. All the credit goes to our gardener! Oh! He has such a way with plants!....Me?....I think plants hate me!"

She twisted at the brass nozzle of the hose, turning it off.

"...I....Well I think I over-water the plants! I feel so bad when they look dry."

An hour later they all sat at three picnic tables placed end-to-end. A light, paper runner passed over them all. The edges which hung over, waved in the slight breeze. They talked of their camping trip as they munched chips and drank sodas.

Large, square redwood posts were in the ground here. They supported a sunroof overhead. They could all smell the linseed oil it had just been sprayed with.

Mrs. Gavin came from the house.

"Okay boys! Not too much chips! The caterer will be here in just minutes. We're all setup by the side drive here...

"I want to see plates just heaping full!"

"Mooommm!" Chris whined, "We didn't starve out there! We ate great!....Huh guys? We didn't live on junk food!"

She stepped up to him with a shy smile. She held his head and kissed the plastic bandage still on his temple."

"Oh! GEEEE!....Will you stop that?! That's embarrassing!"

"Oh, Honey! I worried about you so out there. When we came out there with your supplies....Oh dear! You were all banged up! I just wanted to grab you and take you back home with me."

She folded her arms across herself and reflected for a moment with a slight smile.

"...Well, when you started talking....Wow, did you start talking!....About pranking each other....Being silly in the boats....the....the tickle machine! "

She glanced at the other boys.

"Oh, boys....I'm just so pleased you've included Chris. He needs this!"

Tim seemed hesitant as he glanced up at her.

"Well....umm....we're just happy understand all this."

She understood his shy statement. She stepped up to Chris again and ran her fingers through his hair.

"Oh boys....Jacob and I have absolutely no problem with this...

"I think I knew about Chris way before he did..."

She let out a sigh.

"Oh boys!....Chris didn't play with dolls or want his bedroom painted pink. It was just one of those things a mother sort of knows about."

It was here a white van backed into the side drive. They all noticed it.

"Well," Tim continued, "We sure didn't eat junk food. In fact Thursday night Chris made hamburgers! Wow! They were perfect! Oh!....Onions 'n garlic 'n dill!"

Mrs. Gavin smiled at Tim.

"Well, when Chris told me about his little....spills out there. I worried. I got a little teary when Chris mentioned how well you tended to his battle wounds! "

"Mom! It wasn't all that bad! A few nicks and scrapes."

"Honey, I told you about all this! You're changing right now. You have to be careful out there. Slow down a bit and watch where you're going."

Chris rose and went for Tim.

"Mom....Yes! I took some spills out there and got a bit banged up. But it was nothing! Nowhere near as painful as..."

He paused here and shook his fists into Tim's face.

" those ALCOHOL PADS!"

Everyone laughed. Chris held to his knee.

"Oh shit!....That BURNED!"

Mr. Gavin appeared and held Chris' shoulders from behind.

"Well, it's a little embarrassing but I'll admit to worrying a bit as well."

He took on a sober expression.

"Well boys......You were all so nice with Chris. Yes, we worry....but we're going to show you our appreciation..."

He gazed over a row of hedges toward the pool.

"...The pool is......Well, it totally unfit for swimming yet! We've got a company looking after it. The algae problem went just totally unchecked this year......And the indoor pool has been emptied for a new liner."

He glanced back toward the boys.

"I can assure you......We'll be putting on some....How do you kids say that? Some awesome pool parties this summer. And you're ALL invited!"

He hugged Chris again from behind.

"I believe I've made some awful mistakes with little Chris here......I wanted a....a little adult.... not a boy! Ohhhh geeee! I was turning into a father just as mine was. He wanted a miniature adult......not a boy! Oh! I missed out on an awful lot as a little kid."

He slipped his hands into his pockets and began to pace before the table.

"I've got a number of projects going all at once here. And....and I soooo want to tell you about several, yet I can't. You'll understand all this....this business stuff as you get older. There has to be a certain amount of security involved."

He gazed at Chris again.

"You boys are the greatest. Chris will grow up with some wonderful childhood memories. You've accepted him into your little group here. I just want to thank you all very dearly for that."

Tim slapped his palms to the table.

"Awhhh!....Mr. Gavin!......You make it sound we're going out of our way for Chris. Like it's a job!....Like it's work for us! It was great having him along. We had a great time, right Chris?......Admit it!....Even with all those....those arachnids crawling around!"

Chris set his glasses on the edge of the table and wiped his eyes with his fingers.

"Yes!....I wish to thank you all for such a lovely outing. Oh, I had such a wonderful time!"

"Chris!" Tim put in quickly, "Are you crying again?"

"Umm....Well, just a little okay?"

"TICKLE MACHINE!" Tim shouted.

Scooter, Toby, Ethan and Ryan quickly got to their feet. They held Chris to the ground as Matt and Tim began to tickle him.

"Oh! Hee, hee! Oh shit! Stop! Stop! Oh gee, I'm about to wet my pants! Truly! Hee, hee! I shall pee my pants! Hoo, hoo!"

Chris' parents looked on with smiles as the blinked their own misty eyes.

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