Jack in the Box

Chapter 11

Michael Waters - Arlington Road : August, 2000

After my father and Mr. Anderson got the oil boiling and showed us what to do, I cooked the fish with help from Tony and Pat. Our neighbor, Mrs. Rizza made the batter, and it was extra good, with a nice spicy zing to it. We could only cook about five the little perch at a time, but after a few people tasted it and let others have bites of theirs we had a steady procession of customers standing there with paper plates in hand. We cooked up all the perch that I'd caught as well as Pat's and his father's.

Each batch only took a few minutes in the oil, and each of us were hiding one for ourselves every once in a while. When the fish had all been cooked, the three of us took our salvaged tidbits and sat on the steps at Dave's house to eat them. We'd just started when Jens Christiansen appeared. I hadn't seen him since the night of the accident, but he walked right up to us.

"Hi guys."

We all said some variation of "Hey, Jens!"

He looked like he wanted to stay, so we scrunched together to make room for him. I broke a fish in half and held a piece out to him. He took a bite and chewed.

"Mmmmm. Thanks. We couldn't come yesterday because Grandma's sick. Ma didn't wanna leave her, an' Pa was workin' the smokehouse anyhow." He was looking at Tony. "Is that you Anton? You look... different!" He looked at Pat and seemed to have the usual problem of choosing an eye to focus on. "You all ready for high school, Pat? I'm kinda scared an' excited all at once."

Pat said, "I guess. I really feel like a dork with these glasses. I can't do squat 'til my head gets better, but it'll be more fun than sittin' home."

Jens smiled sadly at Pat, then grinned at me and put his hand on my shoulder. "I guess we wouldn't be goin' at all if it wasn't forthis guy. I never said thanks, but you saved my life. I am grateful, and I know my Ma's grateful. My Pa?" He held his hand out flat with his fingers spread a bit, then flopped it back and forth a little. "Eh?"

We all laughed a little. I'd never really known Jens. He was younger than me and lived across town on a pig farm. He was always small, though not scrawny like Tony. I never realized he was so outgoing and friendly. He had a happy looking smile and hair that was so blonde it was almost white. He sure didn't look old enough to be starting high school. His voice was husky, but it didn't sound like it had really started to change yet.

I was looking back and forth between the guys. I'd promised Tony I'd go for a bike ride and I wanted to ask Jens to join us, but I didn't want to leave Pat out, at least not make plans right in front of him. Tony took care of it.

"Hey, Jens. I just got my first bike. Ya wanna go ridin' with me an' Mike tomorrow?"

Before Jens could answer I said, "Maybe we could meet at Pat's and just mess around in the driveway." I looked at Tony and smiled, then pointed out the tire mark on my leg. "Tony's a little dangerous right now."

Pat and Jens questioned in unison, "Tony?"

"Yeah, short for Anton."

They both nodded in understanding, then Pat said, "Hey, that's not short! They both have two syllables."

Jens grinned. "Two syl - lah - bles. Don't put the em - pha - sis on the wrong syl -lah- ble."

We all started laughing. I looked at Jens and asked, "So, what'syour nickname? You only have one syl - lah- ble!"

He seemed indignant, then looked up. Our eyes all followed his to find his father standing there, a giant of a man. I briefly wondered how Jens was so little, but his father grinned and said, "His nickname's Toot. I ain't sayin' why, but that's what it is." He looked at me and smiled, his eyes wet. "Thanks, Mike. Thanks for my son." He looked like he was going to cry. "Stand up and let me shake your hand, okay?"

I stood up and gripped his hand, then got pulled into a hug. My face was about level with the middle of his chest, but he had one arm around my back and was patting my shoulder with his free hand. I could tell that he was crying and it made me start to get tears in my eyes. At one point he was leaning on me and I thought I'd go over backwards, but he quickly pulled away and looked me in the eye, his face covered with tears.

His voice was halting, choked with emotion. "I'm sorry Mikey, you should'a got that a long time ago. I got no good excuse. Just with Jens in the hospital and me with the farm by myself, it got set on the back burner. You should just know if there's ever something I can do for you, all you gotta do is say the word. Anything at all, you just ask."

I looked back at Jens and he had tears in his eyes, too. His father held his hand out and Jens stood. We ended up in a three way hug. Jens was whimpering, but he said, "I was too scared to talk that night, but I heard you and Jeddy. I knew I was losin' it, but you guys stayed right there. I owe you, Mike. I owe you my life!"

I didn't want to sound trite, so I said nothing at all. We just held the hug for a few more seconds, then Jens' father said, "We all owe you, Mike. You and Jack." He gave me a concerned look. "You doin' okay?"

My attempt at a smile failed, but I said, "Better." I looked over at Pat. "I'm just glad these guys made it. I wish I could'a done more."

That was the first time I'd ever said anything like that about the crash. I had tried and tried not to think about that awful day, but thoughts about 'what if' had invaded my mind once in a while. What if I hadn't been concerned with my nosebleed and stood up a little quicker, what if I hadn't questioned feeling somebody else's thoughts in my head, what if I'd gone to the front of the bus sooner? Might somebody else have lived through it? The answer was always no, they didn't have a chance, but the questions wouldn't leave me alone.

I never talked about it, though, and just saying that one thing made me start thinking about what I actually had done that day, made me think about committing acts of love. Was it? Better to ask, were they? Did they come from Jack or did they come from me?

The easy answer was that they came from Jack. He cared, I just wanted him.

I looked quickly back and forth between Jens and Pat. Jens was alive because we did something. We stemmed his bleeding just barely enough that he made it to the hospital. Pat was alive because we didn't do anything. We kept him warm and didn't move him a single millimeter. Jed sat with him and sang to him for a minute, but he doesn't know I saw that. His other brother, Pat's twin Kevin, was dead in the seat opposite, moved there by me.

I knew people wanted me to say something right then, but the picture of Jed singing softly to Pat wouldn't leave my head. He only did it for a minute, but it occurred to me that his little tune wasn't just an act of love, it was a monumental act of love. I was in awe of it, just fitting it in with what Joe had told me earlier, how love multiplies when it's practiced. I did the only thing I could think of and started to cry, my knees buckling.

Mr. Christiansen still had me in a hug, so I didn't fall, but suddenly there were arms all around me.

I heard voices - Anton, Pat, Jens and his father. Voices... hands... arms, all for me. Acts of love? Love just happening all around me? Just for me? I put it in my stockpile, then gradually regained something like composure. I was glad I'd talked to Joe. All I had to do right now was accept this, not run away from it or try to turn it somehow. For that moment in time I was a loved person, loved for who I was, by simple acquaintances.

I smiled, then I frowned. Then I ran. I got through Dave's screen door and turned around. "Pat's house tomorrow! Ten A.M." I turned and hurried to Jack's room, closed and locked the door behind me. I turned the light on and sat down with a pencil and paper to write.

I could faintly hear people calling my name, but they didn't keep it up.

I wrote fast, feverishly. I hadn't written to Jack in days, and there was too much. Too many things had happened, things that I felt bad about and things that I felt good about. I started with the bad things, then tore it up. If Joe was right I'd have to stick with good things, then I tore that up too. Jack should know everything, good and bad.

I told him about my anger about Anton, thinking he'd connect with that, then about the picnic. Jack had only gone once and he didn't have a good time. That was typical of him. When we were alone he was Mr. Joke. Put him in a crowd of funny people and he felt out of place.

Then I told him how I'd come to terms with Anton and I apologized to Jack for Anton's words. I wasn't sure I was allowed to do that but, hell, it was my letter. I was doing the writing.

I told him about what Dave did with me and Anton, what Joe had said about love. I told him about seeing Jens and his father, about how they felt.

I wrote and wrote and wrote, but I ended it by telling him not to worry. I was going to become a love magnet so I'd be easy for him to find.

I signed it 'Love, Michael', but then I added '(Turd Head)' so he wouldn't confuse me with somebody else. I was thinking about what Joe had said about spirits being lost and confused things.

There was a sudden banging on the door and I got up to open it. It was Jed, smiling almost shyly. "I'm goin' home, Mike. I gotta leave early tomorrow. I couldn't just go without sayin' goodbye." He looked around then back at me. "You doin' okay now? I wish I could stay."

I felt bad that he was going away, but I didn't want him to feel bad for me. I smiled the best I could and looked into his eyes. "I'll be fine Jed, don't you worry. I think I learned some good stuff today. All I gotta remember is to remember."

Jed spread his arms a bit and I fell into a hug with him, my face against his shoulder. "Bye Jed. Good luck at school."

He squeezed me a little tighter. "Thanks, I'll need it." He pushed me back a little and put his hands on my shoulders. His smile was tearful. "You be good, Mike. Remember that I love you. I'll call as soon as I get a phone, okay?"

"Bye, Jed. I love you too."

We looked at each other for another second, then he turned and left. I sat back against the wall wondering when I'd see him again, wondering if he'd really call me.

I picked up the letter I'd just finished. And read it back over. Satisfied, I put it with the rest of them and stood up to leave. Then I sat and grabbed a blank piece of paper.

Hi again Jack,

I almost forgot. Dave said you sent me angels, and I think I know who some of them are. I'll find the rest, I promise.


I love you,

I really, really do,

Michael Waters (your friend and neighbor)

In case you forgot, it's 543 Arlington Road, Morton

I put it on top of the pile, then stood up and left the room. I was just going to go outside, but I saw Dave washing dishes at the kitchen sink. "Hi Dave!"

"Oh, hey Mike. You okay?"

"I'm fine. Where is everybody?"

He grinned at me. "It's Sunday night. Most people have to work in the morning. There's still a few people in your yard, but the party mostly broke up." He was staring at me. "You're a nice guy Mike, and I'm really startin' to like you. Let's go next door to your house. I want a hug from you, but it's gotta be in front of your folks."

He was smiling and I grinned. "Alright! Let's go!"

I wasn't sure why, but I wanted... needed... to feel this man's touch. He was like me, gay, but he seemed like a normal man. That's what I wanted, normal. I knew I was queer, for Jack anyhow. I just didn't know if I was queer in general. I guess I was. Pat and Jens were good looking to me, just not in a sexual way. Anton didn't have a sexual bone in his body, but he had a nice smile and was eager to be my friend.

Dave did, though. I mentally slapped myself for thinking it, but the man literally oozed sensuality... sexuality. I wanted to be like him. Not like my father... not like Andy,.. not like Joe. They were all straight, and they were all wonderful men, but if I needed to be gay I wanted to be just like Dave.

I just didn't know where I fit in. I had surely loved Jack and done some things with him. I could see the beauty in other boys, Jed and Pat being examples, but Jens and Anton also in their own way. I just had no attraction to them other than in a friendly sort of way.

I was confused, wondering if I really was queer or Jack had just been some kind of experiment. That couldn't be, it wouldn't explain the feelings in my heart for him. I truly loved Jack, treasured the handful of times we'd had sex, but that wasn't all of it. I had loved Jack for the person he was, rough edges and all.

He'd been hard to know at first, then it took a while to actually like him, but once I liked him it didn't take much to turn my feelings into love. He'd taught me the little I knew about gay sex, but he'd wanted to do things that I just wasn't ready for. I had been a big chicken in the sex department, and I regretted it all the time since he died. Jack's good nature had let me off the hook time and time again, but in the process I'd denied him what he really wanted just as many times. After he got killed, it was the thing that I felt the worst about. I'd always thought there was time... so much time...

I snapped out of my reverie as Dave and I stepped up onto my porch. My father was sitting there with Andy, and my mother was sitting at a table with Andy's wife and Mrs. Rizza, who was a widow. My father and Andy were speaking quietly while the ladies tittered merrily on the other side of the porch.

As soon as my father and Andy acknowledged our presence I turned to Dave and leaned into him, my face against his shoulder and my arms wrapped around his back. I felt his arms wrap around me, one hand patting my shoulder. I whispered, "Thanks Dave, for everything." I looked up into his gentle smile. "Thanks for movin' in here."

I saw him look to my father, then back at me. "You're a big boy now, Mike. You can work this out, and you're doin' fine." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "You'll find Jack, I promise."

I looked at his dark eyes and found reassurance in them. I didn't want to let go of that, wanted to stay there wrapped in his strong arms, wanted to memorize his scent. It wasn't to be. Dave put his hands on my shoulders and pushed me away, mouthing 'Thanks' as he did it. He smiled broadly, then dropped his hands. I turned around to look at my father and Andy. I wanted hugs from them too. I really wanted to take turns sitting on their laps like I used to do, but I knew I was too big for that. They were in lawn chairs, and another 140 pounds would have made them collapse.

The thought made me smile. I held my hands out to both of them and they put their beers down and stood up. I hugged my father first, then pulled Andy into it. It felt good to me and none of us said anything for a while. I finally said, "I'm sorry I'm a jerk. I think I'm gettin' better now, so just stick with me, okay?" I looked up hopefully. They both had little smiles on their faces.

Andy said, "Keep it up, Mike. I'm glad to see that smile again. You know where I live, so stop by sometime." He glanced over at his wife. "It's a lonesome old house when I'm alone in it."

I looked behind me and saw my mother looking back at me. I broke loose from my father and Andy and started walking towards her as she began to stand up. We fell into a hug and she started stroking my hair. Mom's hugs were always the best, so soft and warm. She always smelled good and always made happy little sounds. All she said was, "Oh, Michael." but I knew exactly what she meant. My mother's love was without condition, nothing required in return. All she needed to know to love me was that I lived and breathed, and from seeing Jack's mother after he got killed, I knew it was the fact that I had ever lived and breathed.

I was tired, and I excused myself to go to bed after giving Andy's wife and Mrs. Rizza the obligatory kisses on the cheek. I was almost in through the kitchen door when I felt two hands on my shoulders and heard Dave say, "Be good to your friends, Mike. They'll help you find Jack."

I turned around and looked at him. "What friends? I thought you were gonna help me!"

He looked into my eyes for a second, then shook his head. He smiled. "It's all mysterious, huh? You have friends, Mike. They have problems, too. Be good to them and make lots more friends. You'll find your Jack."

I stared at him, not having a clue where he was headed. I was tired, exhausted really. Dave's smile told me it could wait for tomorrow, so I started to turn around again only to be pulled back again by another tug on my shoulder. Dave was grinning.

"Joe left his dune buggy here. You wanna learn how to drive it?"

Major excitement went through my mind, then I remembered my plans. "I'm goin' for a bike ride tomorrow. Is later okay?"

Dave grinned. "Later's fine." He bopped my shoulder. "Get some sleep. I'll be around, okay?"

I smiled back, then headed into the house. I really was tired, so I peed and washed my hands and face and fell into bed. I had a little problem... a hardon. I'd ignored them since Jack died, just kept my hands off and gone to sleep, then let nature take its course.

It wasn't going to be denied that night, though. I fingered myself through my shorts, then undid them and pushed them off. I still had underpants on and continued stroking myself. It felt good, and I had visions of Jack in my mind. It was the first time that I couldn't stop myself. My hand gripped my pole inside my underpants, surprising my mind about how big it felt.

All I could wonder was 'where did that come from?' Since Jack had died I'd only touched it to piss, and it never really felt any different. It didn't matter right then, my hand still fit around it. I started stroking, gently at first, then more furiously. I only stopped to push my underpants down, then I increased the pace.

My brain was doing double duty, urging me on to get off on one side, making me think I was somehow cheating Jack on the other. The new heft of my dick had me picturing him trying to suck it all down, the feeling in my nuts making me wonder if he'd really want all of what I felt I was going to blow.

At that point I didn't care, not even a little bit. I pumped until I blew, and it was the wildest orgasm of my life, bar none. Jack had given me blow jobs maybe thirty times, but I'd never once squirted it out like that when he was alive. I was breathless, but I had cum on my cheek, on my chest, all the way back down to my hand and my dick. I knew I had to clean it up and that it would take effort. I worked up enough strength to go into the bathroom and wash myself up.

Something in my head told me I should have felt guilty, but I didn't. I felt good... relieved. Jack should have been there for that, but he wasn't. Maybe he was, though. As I drifted off to sleep, I felt a smile come out of nowhere and wondered if it came from him.

* * * * * * * *

Monday dawned cloudy and much cooler than it had been for the past few weeks. I looked out my bedroom window as I was putting my bathrobe on, and I could see that it had already rained some, though it wasn't doing anything at that moment. I took my shower, then walked into the kitchen for something to eat. I poured a glass of juice, then had two bowls of banana nut crunch. It was only eight o'clock and the house was quiet. I went to my room and put some clothes on, jeans and a sweatshirt, because the outside thermometer read barely over sixty.

I found myself looking at the picture of Jack and me. It was a pretty crummy photo, but it captured Jack just the way I remembered him, full of life and wit and intelligence. Every time I looked at it, all the love I'd ever felt for him washed back through me. It was taken when I was still thirteen and Jack had just turned fourteen. I had now just turned fifteen, but Jack could never age. I felt sad about that, but I didn't really mind in a way. I had to grow up, but when I was forty, fifty, sixty, Jack would still be a boy of fourteen. I could always look at that picture and remember the best days of my life.

I kissed the picture, then decided to see if Dave was up. I'd been pretty crummy to him, and I wanted him to know that I really liked him and that I wasn't always a jerk.

I walked across the driveways and onto his stoop, then knocked softly.

"Yo! Come on in!"

I opened the door and walked inside. I looked in the kitchen and Dave was at the table with a cup of coffee and some papers spread out in front of him, some dirty breakfast dishes looking like they'd been shoved aside. He looked up and smiled. "Hi Mike. What's up?"

He always seemed so happy. I had to grin. "I just came to say hi." He gestured for me to sit down, so I sat at the chair at the other end of the table. He was wearing shorts and a tee shirt. "It's cold out. You better not go outside like that."

He grinned. "Thanks, Ma."

That made me chuckle, then I tried to look serious. "I'm sorry Dave, for the way I been behavin'. I must look like some little creep to you."

His eyebrows went up a little, then he smiled. "We all have our creepy moments, kid. When I was around your age I thought I had to clobber everybody to get by. I was a mean, angry little cuss."

"I clobbered Tony yesterday."

"I heard. Did it make you feel better?"

"No! It made me feel awful. I still hated him, but I never meant to hit him. I never hit anybody before"

"Now you're friends?"

"I guess... sorta. I like him better'n I did anyhow. He still talks funny."

"You know why that is?"

"Why he talks funny?"

"Yeah. It's because he only talks to his parents and that's their accent. You'll see, the more he talks to other kids the more he'll sound like them. I must sound funny too, but I'll start to sound more like the people here the more I talk to them. You just keep talking to Anton. You'll see."

"Can I ask you somethin'?"


"Why'm I... why'm I queer? I mean, nobody else I know is."

"You know me."

"That's not what I meant, I mean... nobody else in school. Nobody my age. I ain't even sure if I really am."

"Just Jack?"

I nodded. Dave looked like he was thinking.

"Mike, I didn't have a clue when I was a kid. I mean, I grew up never really thinking about sex. I met Timmy when I was eleven and he was thirteen. You wanna know how we met?"


"I kicked the shit out of him because other kids said he was queer. I didn't really know what it meant, but I just did it."

"That is mean!"

"Yes, it was very mean. Anyhow, I met some people... my angels." He smiled, but it was to himself. "They were all men about my Dad's age when he died. One of them was Barry, and I just about idolized him. He was big and strong, but kind and gentle and smart at the same time. He had a great way of explainin' things. Then I found out he was gay, and I couldn't believe it. Anyhow, he made me talk to Timmy... really talk to him. Guess what? I liked him. We got to be best friends, I mean we were the other half of each other. We were like that for three years, never a sexual thought in my head."

I was spellbound. He'd known Tim since he was eleven? I just nodded, hoping he'd go on.

"Then I got into some big trouble. I dumped Timmy like a hot potato and never said anything. He never knew why and it just about drove him crazy." He stared at me. "I don't mean this as anything but what it is. At least you know what happened to Jack. He didn't just ditch you and disappear, but that's exactly what I did to Tim. He spent six months thinkin' it was somethin' he did. The next time I saw him I was tryin' to kill myself, and he saved me."

I was stunned. "You tried to commit suicide?"

"Oh yeah. Timmy saved me, then a whole bunch of angels jumped in and brought me back to the real world. I was a mess, physically and mentally. I was the biggest loser on the face of the earth, but I started to get my health back. Then Timmy came to see me and told me he loved me." Dave looked at me, anguish on his face. "Mike, I denied myself for the longest time. I knew I loved Tim, but I knew what that made me and I wouldn't have it! It took all my angels to make me realize that it didn't matter. I loved Tim and it didn't matter one bit what anybody else thought about it. When I finally understood that, my life clicked right into gear." He smiled. "Well, that's my story, but it hardly answers your question."

"It's some story, though. Like me an' Jack in reverse, sorta. We took all the crap after we told people we were in love. My father lost his cork, then we got all kinds'a bullshit at school."

"I heard about it, and it really sucks. You don't know any other gay kids?"

"Nope. It's just me."

Dave smiled. "I really doubt that. You're not looking anyhow, are you?"

"Not to replace Jack, if that's what you're gettin' at. I just feel weird, just the town queer."

"Lonesome position, huh?"

"Yeah, it sure is." I looked up at him. "Nobody knows what I feel like, what I lost when Jack got killed. I mean, grownups like you understand but it ain't the same thing."

His smile was gentle. "I know. The best thing you can do is open up, be friends with everybody. People are people, Mike. They don't have to be gay to like you and try to understand you. You must know that by now. I saw you with your friends last night, the Anderson boys, Anton and... that little white haired kid ... "


"Yeah, Jens. He's the other one you saved, right?"

"That's him, but I didn't ... "

"Stop thinking that, Mike. You saved that boy's life, whether Jack told you how or not! You still did it! What I'm getting at is that those four boys think the world of you. Listen... most of my friends are straight. Most people are straight. Don't go denying yourself friendships because you think you're different. The only thing different about you is who you choose to love in a sexual way, but you're going to love a whole lot of people in your life that you don't want sex with. Go ahead and love them! Don't be afraid to say it!" He sat back and smiled. "End of lecture."

Dave brightened his smile until I smiled back. "Is that what you do?"

"It's exactly what I do. There's good in everybody, Mike, sometimes you just have to dig for it a little."

I thought that was funny. "I'm glad you had a good shovel when you met me!"

Dave jumped a little in his chair. "HA HA! See? I told you we'd be friends! I knew it!"

We both chortled for a minute, then I noticed the clock on the wall. "I gotta go to Pat's house. Tony and Jens are comin' over."

"You guys have fun. I need to find a way to get the dune buggy across the brook."

I grinned as I stood to leave. "Build a bridge!"

Dave laughed and we waved goodbye.

I got my bike out of the garage and rode down the wet street to the Anderson's house. The sky had lightened up, but it was still cloudy. The cool air felt good, and I hoped Tony would actually be good enough on the bike that we could take a little ride. I knocked, then walked in without waiting for a response. Jens had already arrived and he and Pat were in the living room watching some talk show on TV.

"Hi Pat! Hi Jens! Where's Tony?"

They both looked up and actually seemed happy to see me. I mentally dropped a little mulch into my incoming love pile, then added some to theirs by realizing that I was really glad to be there and expecting to have some fun.

Pat said, "Haven't seen him yet. He must be walkin' over."

"Oh. You guys aren't gonna watch TV all day are ya?"

Pat looked at me. "It's all I do, Mike. You got any better ideas?"

There was no malice in his voice, just hope that I might actually have something in mind. I didn't, but I could fake it. I smiled, then said, "You got a checker board? It's gotta be better than TV!"

Pat looked happily surprised. "Really? Checkers? I'll kick your ass at checkers!"

I grinned. "Like Hell, get the board." I looked towards Jens. "You in? Winner takes all!"

Jens looked surprised, but not happy. "Checkers? Come on guys! I'm fourteen years old! There's gotta be somethin' besides checkers!"

Pat looked at him and smiled. "Why don't you just jerk off? Get the dust off that thing!"

Jens laughed, then leered at us. "Let's all jerk off!" He started undoing his jeans. "Come on guys, it's better than checkers!"

Pat laughed and started opening his pants. I gulped. "You guys are gonna jerk off? Here? Right now?"

I looked at Pat and he was looking at me. "Tell me you never jerk off and I'll call you a liar! Get it out, man!"

It was weird. I was the queer there, but these guys had no qualms about beating off in front of one another or me. I looked at Jens and all I could see was hand, but when I turned my attention to Pat I could see that he had pretty big rod for a kid his size.

I sat back on the couch, a hardon insinuating itself on me. I was just about to join them when there was a banging on the door. I quickly put myself together and ran to answer it while Pat and Jens covered up. It was Anton, as expected, smiling at me when I opened the door. He seemed out of breath.

"Sorry I'm late." He smiled brightly, showing me his good teeth. "I made you this!" He handed me a rolled up piece of paper. I moved over to the kitchen table and spread it out, my heart almost stopping when I saw what was there. It was just a piece of typing paper, but on it was a photo-perfect likeness of Jack done in pencil. The exact same Jack as in my picture, only by himself and in the center and perfectly clear.

I knew Anton had done this, but I had to ask. "You drew this?"

He put a small smile on his face and nodded his head. "Do you like it? I can try again. It's just what I remembered from your picture."

I looked back and forth between the picture and Anton a few times, then looked at Tony with tears forming in my eyes. "How do you do that? It's perfect, Tony, I love it!"

He smiled broadly, then looked around. "Where's Pat and Jens?"

"In the livin' room." I grinned as evilly as I could. "Jerkin' off."

His eyebrows went straight up towards his hairline. "What're we waitin' for?"

"Why Anton Wolfe! Don't tell me you do feelthy things with the same hands that make all that art!"

He gave me an innocent look. "Me? No, this is the first time. Honest!"

"Yeah, right! The first time today maybe."

He snickered. "The first time since before breakfast, maybe."

Jens and Pat were back to watching television, a game show now. Tony said, "I thought you guys was jerkin' off!"

Pat looked up, "We were 'til you came knockin' the door down."

Jens had his pants opened before Tony even sat down. Pat wasn't far behind. I sat down and rubbed myself, then started undoing my pants as Tony did the same thing in a chair opposite me. I don't know why, but I thought the whole thing was pretty funny. Sex as a group activity, no different than doubles at ping pong. It was something I'd never done with other guys, just me and Jack. There was no modesty, just some sly checking of each others' equipment. I caught a glimpse of Jens, then Pat. Pat was looking at Anton, awe on his face.

"Je-sus! Lookit the pole Anton's got!"

I looked at Anton, duly impressed, then Jens yelled, "Oh yeah? Well, look at this thing!" I suddenly felt another hand on my dick, pointing it towards the middle of the room as two other pairs of eyes focused on it. I felt no embarrassment at all, just a huge surprise.

I slapped Jens' hand away and cried, "Hey! That's mine! You play with your own thing!"

Pat yelled, "Yeah, if you can find it Jens!" We all laughed, then began pulling on ourselves, watching each other at first, then losing ourselves in the sexual feelings. That's all they were, too. No love here, just frenetic energy that wanted casual relief. When Jens said he was about to cum I watched his hand on his dick, then saw a single white bead just sort of form on the end of it. I almost laughed, then remembered I had been the same way once, remembered how good it had felt at the time. It didn't have to shoot out to feel good.

I was close myself, then wondered frantically about the mess I was about to make. I ended up putting my left hand over the tip of it just before I came. It was a good thing in a way because I shot another powerful load. It wasn't all over my shirt, but it had made the cum drip back down my dick into my crotch hairs, and both hands were covered in the stuff. I didn't know exactly what to do at first, but I eventually stood and started walking to the kitchen. It wasn't far, but it wasn't easy. My pants dropped about an inch with each step I took and I could hear the other kids snickering behind me.

I finally made it to the sink and rinsed off my hands, then wetted some paper towels and cleaned myself up. I was alone, but suddenly embarrassed. I'd beat my meat in front of three other kids and thought nothing of it, even though it was the first time I'd done something like that. Alone in the kitchen, my pants around my ankles and my dick and balls hanging over the top of my underpants, I felt ashamed. I sensed a presence next to me and turned to find two of them.

Anton and Pat were in the same condition I'd entered the kitchen in, and they both seemed pretty humble as I turned the faucet on for them and moved out of the way to straighten my clothes out. I hadn't intended to look, but I saw both their asses and, yes, Anton actually did have one. I had to comment. "Nice butt, Tony. Small, but nice. Very nice."

He didn't turn around, but he snickered, then wiggled his butt at me. I saw Pat's hand reach around and pinch Tony's ass cheek, making him squeal and elbow Pat in the side.

I turned my attention to Tony's drawing of Jack. He hadn't even known him really, but he had captured his essence so well it brought tears to my eyes. The way he had drawn Jack's eyes and his expression was perfect.

Jens walked over. "Whatcha lookin' at?"

I turned the picture to him. "It's Jack Murphy. Tony made it." He reached for the paper so I let him take it.

Jens looked closely at it for a solid minute, then briefly at me. He looked over at Anton with astonishment on his face. "You drew this? This is amazing! I didn't know you could draw."

Pat reached for the picture while Tony beamed at Jens. "You like it? I like to draw, I do it a lot."

Pat looked as surprised as Jens had. "Anton! This is beautiful!" He looked at Tony with eyes full of hope. "Can you make me one of Kevin?" He looked back at the picture. "Oh man, this is beautiful! He looks so... alive... so real."

Tony was getting excited. "You want me to? You got a picture of him?"

Pat smiled. "We're identical twins. Just draw me."

Tony shook his head. "Nope. Could you tell the difference?"


"Then if I draw you it'll be a picture of you. I need to see one of him."

Pat looked at Tony for a second, then said, "Be right back." He ran off, then we heard him running noisily up the stairs, then a few thumps across the floor and back before he thundered back down the stairs, picture in hand. He handed it to Tony.

I looked over Tony's shoulder at it, and it was a great shot. It was Pat and Kevin stepping out of their beached canoe with their fishing poles in opposite hands. They had identical happy expressions and they were shoulder to shoulder. I certainly couldn't tell them apart, other than they weren't dressed the same. Tony looked at the picture, then handed it back to Pat. "Okay. I'll work on it tonight. You want just Kevin?"

Pat looked at him. "I didn't even tell you who was who."

Tony said, "It's okay, I could tell."

Pat didn't believe it. "Yeah? Well who's who, then?"

Tony seemed surprised. "It's you on the right, so it must be him on the left."

Pat asked, "What if I said you're wrong?"

Tony smiled a little. "Then you'd be a-fibbin, Pat. I know you and I'm pretty sure I know your picture when you show it. I'm right, ain't I?"

Pat was defeated. "Yeah, you're right. You wanna take this with you?"

Tony said, "Nah, I got it." He looked at me. "We gonna ride bikes or what?"

I shrugged. "Sure," then I looked at Pat and Jens. "We're just gonna practice in the driveway. You guys comin' out?"

They both nodded and we headed outside into the cool air. My bike was right where I'd dropped it next to the step. Tony had to go to the shed to get his, but he was smiling when he wheeled it back towards us. Jens and Pat sat on the steps and watched as Tony and I rode back and forth the length of the driveway in front of them.

Tony was doing pretty good, if a bit shaky. I felt a twinge of sadness watching him. Here he was fifteen years old and just learning how to ride a bike. He'd be getting his driver's license before he got any good at it. My bikes had been literal parts of me since I was about four years old. I outgrew the first bikes and wore out the subsequent ones.

Tony was game, though, and listened carefully when I pointed something out to him. After about forty minutes of back and forth I'd had enough and steered across the lawn to where Jens and Pat were sitting. I watched Tony transition from the pavement to the lawn, which caused him to fall over.

"You okay?"

"Yeah, damn!" He pushed the bike off himself and walked it over to where we were, a sheepish look on his face. "It just felt so different when I hit the grass." He looked at Pat. "You got some paper? I can draw that picture now if you want."

Pat jumped up. "I got paper! Can I watch?"

Anton grinned at Pat's eagerness. "Yeah, y'all can watch. Jes keep your mouths shut."

We all followed Pat into the house. He moved some things from the kitchen table, then left the room and came back with paper and some pencils. Anton sat and we crowded behind him and looked over his shoulder. He started by just making gray blotches on the page, using the side of the pencil point. When it looked as sharp as a needle, he began putting lines in, then as it dulled he went back to using the side of it.

The picture looked like nothing at first, but after a fascinating half hour Kevin Jerome Anderson started to come alive again. Tony worked really quickly on the details, amazingly real and living eyes appearing in just minutes, a perfectly detailed hand gripping a yet to be drawn fishing pole. What was really amazing was that a black on white drawing could impart so much color. I picked up the one Tony had drawn of Jack, and you could tell he had reddish-brown hair, green eyes, even imply that he was wearing a red and white striped shirt.

I looked at Jens and Pat and they appeared to be as amazed as I was. Jens was just staring at what Tony was doing, but Pat was getting emotional watching his brother come to life. I moved beside him and put my hand on his back, whispering, "You okay?"

He just nodded and wiped his eyes. He put his mouth to my ear and whispered, "I can't believe this. Did you know he could draw like that?"

I shook my head, and felt Pat lean his shoulder against mine. We watched as Tony finished up another phenomenal likeness. Tony only looked at it for a second, then turned and held it out to Pat. "Here ya go. Is it okay?"

Pat took the picture and really examined it, his face taking on an anguished look. I got nervous about the picture and took it from him, handing it back to a worried looking Tony. Pat turned to me and started crying out loud. I held him for a second, then pulled a chair out with my foot and helped him sit. He put his arms on the table and put his head down and just kept sobbing. Tony and Jens both looked upset and started asking what was wrong, but I knew what was wrong. It was quiet time and I shushed them. Pat had to let it out. Tony had gotten too close with his likeness. Kevin wasn't Pat's mirror, he was his brother, different in ways only they knew, ways Anton had figured out with little more than a glance at a photograph.

I whispered to Pat, "Take your time. We'll stay here, Patty."

The other guys just took chairs and sat down, understanding that Pat was experiencing a spell of grief. I stood behind Pat and kept my hands on his shoulders until he started to calm down. When he did, he was embarrassed for crying like that in front of his friends, and his glasses were filled with tears. I took them off his face and cleaned them at the sink while Tony and Jens reassured him that they understood. I handed him his glasses and he went into the bathroom to wash his face. He came out looking okay, if a little sheepish.

I said, "You guys wanna come to my house for lunch? There's lotsa stuff from yesterday." I looked at Pat. "I'll call my Dad. He'll come pick you up."

He shook his head. "Naw, you guys go. I'll just watch TV or somethin'."

We pleaded with him, but he wanted to stay home like he was supposed to. Jens decided to stay with him, so Tony and I headed out. Tony wanted to ride his bike on the street and that's what we did. If you were walking or in a car the road seemed pretty flat, but it was actually a slight uphill grade all the way to my house. Tony made the ride fine, but when he got off the bike in my driveway his legs were both shaking and he looked like he was in pain, then he grinned. "Wow! That's hard work!"

I laughed. "You'll get used to it." I saw my father on the back porch and headed that way. "Hey, Dad! Look what Tony did!" I got on the porch and pulled the drawing of Jack out from inside my shirt and handed it to him, noticing the birdhouse still sitting on the other table. I walked over to take another look while my father checked out the picture.

I hadn't gotten all the way into my chair when I heard my father say, "Ohmigod! You did this, Anton?"

I looked over and Tony was looking at the picture over my father's shoulder. "Yeah. You think it's good?"

"This is more than good, Anton. I'm no expert, but this is art!"

"Daddy says I'm a good artist, only it won't feed me."

My father looked at the picture again, then craned his neck to see Tony. "You'll eat, kid. Believe me. Hold on." He looked at me and said, "Mike, go see if Dave's got a minute. I want him to see this."

Anton looked all excited when I walked past him. I knocked on Dave's door expecting him to answer, but he didn't. His car was there, so I looked out around the barn. I couldn't find him there either and figured he must have gone for a walk or something. I went back to our house and reported that Dave wasn't to be found, then remembered we'd come there to eat. We all went into the kitchen, then my father started handing us containers from the refrigerator. Nobody wanted to start the grill and cook anything, so we ate cold macaroni salad, potato salad, and plain old salad. We hadn't eaten much when I heard a vehicle pull in. I looked out the window and saw Dave getting out of Joe's dune buggy and reaching for some bags in the back.

I ran to the door and yelled, "Hey Dave! C'mon over and have lunch. Dad wants to talk to you!"

I could tell that I'd startled him, but he gave me a good natured smile. "Hi! Let me put this stuff away, then I'll be right over."

I nodded and went back inside. "That's Dave. He'll be right here." I sat back down and ate a few bites before Dave appeared at the door, looking in. My father and I both waved him in.

He looked at the table and said, "Mmmm. Looks like the picnic continues." He dropped his hands onto Anton's shoulders and said hi to us all, then took a seat and started filling a plate. We started eating and making light conversation about the change in weather.

When we were about done my father wiped his mouth with a paper napkin, then asked Dave, "Did you see the birdhouse Anton made?"

Dave said, "I heard about it, but I didn't see it. It's really unusual? I'm not used to hearing a lot of talk about bird houses."

My father said, "That's not the point. I'm talkin' about the kid who made it - Anton." He gestured towards Tony, then handed Dave the picture of Jack. "Look at this!" He looked at Tony. "When did you draw this?"

"This morning."

We all looked at Dave, who was studying the picture. He looked at Anton, then me. "This is Jack, isn't it?"

"How'd you know?"

His voice got weak. "I'm not sure... I just knew! It had to be." Dave turned his gaze to Anton. "How'd you learn to draw like this? This is really nice work!"

Anton looked like he'd had one too many ego boosts that day. He faced Dave and said, "It's just a picture! It ain't worth no fuss. I draw stuff like that all the time."

Dave put his elbows on the table and his head in his hands, staring at Tony. "Anton... jeez! This isn't just a drawing, this is a presence! I guessed right away who it was, didn't I? I never even heard of Jack before this week, but you make this picture and I know it's him." He smiled, that soft Dave smile. "You have a gift, Anton." He looked back at the picture. "Oh man, wait'll Timmy sees this. He knows all about art, but you don't have to know much to see that this is good."

Tony looked uncomfortable under all the praise, and I think Dave sensed it. He smiled at me and asked, "So Mike! Ready for some lessons in the fine art of dune buggyin'?" He looked at Tony. "You can come, too. This one has a back seat!"

Tony and I both said, "Yeah," then I had a thought. "Hey, Dad. If we go night fishin' will you remember to pick us up when you get off?"

My father smiled, seeming to be happy that I'd even thought of it. "Where might ya be? Arbutus Pond maybe?"

I turned to Tony. "I mean, if you want. D'ya even like to fish? Can you stay over?"

He seemed eager. "I like fishin'. I gotta ask if I can stay." His smile was precious. "You sure? I thought you hated me."

"Used to, Tony. It's different now that I see you got a big ... " noticing Dave and my father made me adjust my comment, "talent."

That made Tony and me laugh, but my father and Dave hadn't noticed the pause. "I'll call Pat to see if him and Jens can come! C'mon Tony, it'll be fun. I love fishin' in the dark!"

Tony called home and got permission to stay. I called Pat to see if he could go night fishing and if Jens wanted to come. I told him it would just be at Arbutus pond, which was right beside the road. He had to call his father to see if it was alright, and so did Jens. Pat said he'd call back and I told him to leave a message if nobody answered.

Our plans weren't particularly solid, so I left it with my father that I'd leave a message for him at work whether if we were going for sure, so he'd know to pick us up or not. I looked eagerly at Dave. "Are we gonna learn to drive the buggy?"

Dave smiled and asked, "We?"

I said, "Yeah, me an' Tony."

"You mean Anton?"

I couldn't help but smile. "I mean Tony."

I smiled so hard it was difficult to make words come out.

"I always hated Anton. Tony's my friend."


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