Jack in the Box

Chapter 35

Michael Waters - Arlington Road : October, 2000

The next morning, my Dad was waiting for me when I came out of the bathroom. I was feeling good, and he had a sleepy smile. He hugged me, saying, "I'm glad you're home. It was a good time?"

I hugged back, "I had a great time! You ever hear of the Nautilus?"

"The submarine?"

I grinned in triumph. "Yup, the one and the same. Well, I went on it!"

Dad was duly impressed, I could tell. We talked for another minute, then he went into the kitchen to fix breakfast while I got dressed.

As usual, I beat my mother and sisters to the food; then I had a little time to tell my father about my trip. He laughed about my trepidations with flying, then listened intently about the ocean, admitting that he'd been twenty-one before he ever saw one.

It was fun talking to my father like that, because he rarely talked about his past. He wasn't ashamed of himself; he just claimed that it was very boring.

We were surprised by a knock at the back door, and when I opened it, Hector was standing there with the most dazzling smile I'd ever seen on his face, and I could tell why. He was dangling a set of car keys, and I could see something shiny and black behind him.

I looked at him in surprise. "You got it?"

My Dad asked, "Got what?" but I was already pushing past Hector to see what he chose. I stood on the step and gawked at his new Outback wagon, all black and silver. "Wow!" was all I could think to say, "Pays to get good grades in your house!"

Hector put his hand on my shoulder, "C'mon, I'll take you to school."

I grinned, "Lemme get my books, gimme two seconds!"

I ran back inside, telling my father to go look at the car. I knew I was probably forgetting things as I crammed stuff in my pack, but I didn't really care. I stuck a pen in my pocket and put on my coat as I headed outside. Hector was showing my father the car, and I could hear him talking about the all wheel drive.

I asked excitedly, "When'd ya get it?"

Hector smiled, "Last night. I was up half the night figuring out how to work everything."

I walked around the car, admiring it and peeking in the dark tinted windows, and then I caught a glimpse of my father. I suddenly felt bad, knowing he couldn't afford one of these for himself, much less for one of his kids. I went over and hugged him, saying, "Nice, huh?"

He wrapped his arms around me, "It sure is."

I looked up at his face, then leaned my own against his shoulder. "I love you, Dad."

"I love you too, Mike," he said while patting my back.

Hector piped in, "Let's go, man!"

My father let go of me, saying to Hector, "You drive carefully, Hec," then he bopped my shoulder and turned to go back indoors.

I got in on the passenger side, marveling at the leather upholstery, the wood trim, and all the buttons on the dashboard. Hector got in the other side and started pointing out features, then he started the car and soft jazz music came out of the speakers. I was surprised that he listened to that, but I liked what was playing.

He was backing out of the driveway when I asked, "Who is that?"

"Huh? Oh, the music? That's old, it's Stan Getz." He cast me a hopeful glance, "You like it?"

I did. It was different from what I was used to. "Yeah, it's real nice. I never heard anything like it." We were driving toward town, "Oh, can we pick up Patty?" My timing was great, we'd just passed the house.

Hec put on the brakes and backed up, saying, "You might give me a little warning, you know."

I giggled, "Sorry, I didn't think of it. You don't mind?"

Hec smiled happily, "I don't mind anything right now. How's he doing, anyhow? I see him around, but he never talks."

I shrugged as I got out of the car, "I'm workin' on him. He's fucked up in the head right now."

Hec laughed, "That makes him special? I thought we all were."

I chuckled as I went to the door and banged on it. Pat answered, and I swept my arm toward the car. "How d'ya like my new wheels?"

Pat's jaw dropped, and he shrieked, "That's yours? Wudja do, rob a bank or something?"

I grinned, "It's Hec's. Get your stuff. Today we ride in style!"

Pat grinned and disappeared into the house, coming out in about thirty seconds with his coat and book bag in either hand. He ran past me to the car, exclaiming all kinds of things, and I followed after. I laughed when he dropped to his knees and made praying motions.

I touched his shoulder, "C'mon, Pat. It's just a car!"

He jumped to his feet grinning, "Yeah, but what a car! Oh, man, an Outback. I love these things." When he was climbing into the back seat I heard him saying, "Hector! You're a lucky bastard."

I was just getting in, and I saw Hec's face. He smiled at first, then it turned to something more serious, and he muttered, "Yeah, lucky."

I said, "You are lucky, Hec. Either that or you're doin' somethin' right. Jesus, look at it. You make the honor roll and you get a car like this! Anybody else does, they get a handshake and a cake."

Hector seemed to relax, "I know, Mike. Believe me, I know." He suddenly became serious, "Bus stop or school?"

Pat volunteered, "Bus stop for me! Lissy's gonna freak already 'cause I'm not on the van."

Hector seemed surprised and looked at me. "Your sister?"

I grinned at Hec, "Yeah, what's wrong with that?" I craned my neck around the very comfortable leather seat and looked at Pat, maybe a little threateningly.' You like her, right Pat?"

He smiled and nodded. I said, "Good! But if she ever comes home pregnant without a ring on her finger, you're gonna have more than a big eye to worry about.!"

I was kidding. Pat was considering what I'd said, and Hec was laughing, asking, "Oh, man! Are you the big brother from Hell?"

It was funny, but I kept a straight face and pointed my finger at Pat. "I could be!"

I could see that Pat didn't have a clue whether I was serious or not, so I smiled. "Just be good to her, Patty. You know I trust you."

Pat stared at me while Hec laughed. Pat's stunned face was kind of precious, and I finally said, "I ain't kiddin', Patty! Lissie's no dummy' you ain't gettin' any more than she's givin'."

I don't know why I said that, but it suddenly sounded like the funniest thing ever, and I started giggling while trying not to. Hector started laughing, too, and it was probably a good thing that we were at the lot where the buses to school picked us up, otherwise he probably would have driven straight into a tree.

"Oh man, Mike! I wish I got to give permission when my sisters wanna get laid."

I swung my head, suddenly interested.

Hector groaned and said softly, "That's not what I meant." He looked over at me, "I just meant that you get to protect your sister. I never get that. Just the opposite, really." He turned an embarrassed smile to me, "Poor Hector, huh? I swear, though, you got things going the right way. All I get is pussy whipped, like I'm the one who needs protectin'."

Pat climbed out from the back, thanking Hec for the ride and telling him what a nice car he thought it was, and I spotted Annie and Clay getting off their van. I pointed to them and asked Hector if they could ride with us.

Hector brightened, "Yeah, go ask them! I gotta wear out this upholstery evenly."

I glanced at him to see if he was serious, and he didn't seem to be. I got out and ran over to Annie, who was waiting for the Arlington Road van to show up. Clay saw me coming, and when I got to where they were I tapped Annie's shoulder and smiled as she turned around. She wore a dark green sweatshirt over a snowy white turtleneck, and the effect was stunning, making her face look almost framed.

I had come to really love morning kisses with Annie. Fresh from showers, dressed in clean clothes, smelling of toothpaste and Cheerios, they were the best. We kissed while Clay turned his back, then I said, "Hector got his car! C'mon, no bus today!"

It took Clay about a second to spot the Outback, then he grinned and started running toward it. Hec was leaning against it trying to look nonchalant, but he couldn't hide the look of pride from his face.

I took Annie's hand and we started walking over. I could tell that she was impressed by the car too. It really stood out, shining black surrounded by the dull orange of the buses.

When we got there, Clay was ogling and Hec was pointing out features to him. Annie was looking at Hector's car appreciatively, but it was a car. We took the opportunity to kiss and hug until Hector said, "Unlock those lips, guys. Let's go."

Hector could be funny. We unlocked our lips and got into the back seat, where we locked them again. Seatbelts were a hindrance, but we managed, and I wasn't exactly in a good state when we got to school. Annie was all flushed, and I had a hardon that was going to last until lunch time. I think the Stan Getz music got me and Annie into a different kind of mood.

It did that to all of us, really, took the focus off of Hec's new car. He and Clay had carried on a discussion about jazz all the way to school, intellectual stuff, while the melodic sounds had just reminded me and Annie of where I wanted to put my own sax.

I wondered if I should tell her about what had happened with Guy and Davy. I couldn't see it doing any good for anybody, so I kept my mouth shut. I'd tell her someday, I knew I would, just not right then. She knew I liked guys too. So what if a couple of them had fiddled with my dick?

Listen to me. Could I run for President or what?

With that thought, Annie and I left Clay and Hec in the student parking lot. Hector was occupied with other admirers, and Clay was still trying to talk about jazz.

I heard a voice calling my name, and when I looked around Dwayne was rushing our way. After greeting us, he excitedly opened a folder he was carrying and handed me some papers, saying, "I started last night, I couldn't wait." I started to read as Dwayne babbled on about how it was pretty rough, but the title already had my attention and Annie's. Meet Jack Murphy - The Story of a Morton Hero.

I looked up at Dwayne's excited face and smiled my approval. I liked it already. Dwayne wanted to show his teacher what he was working on, so he told me where to meet him after school, and left us standing there with the article, Annie reading it over my shoulder.

Dwayne was right about it being rough, but what he'd done was pretty amazing. He'd taken the tape I made and extracted just Jack from it, and he was pretty much spot-on correct with what he'd come up with. There was no me in it, just Jack.

It didn't take long to read the three pages he'd given me, but I don't think I'll ever forget them. My Jack, as seen from Dwayne's derived point of view. I laughed when I finished, not because it was funny, but because it was so good. I turned to look the way he had gone, knowing he wouldn't be there.

I had my arm around Annie's waist, and I turned back to her, saying, "This is really good, don't you think?"

She was reading it over again, and mumbled, "It's good, alright." She smiled at me, "You're doing a good thing here, Mike." She grinned and poked a rib with her finger, making me jump, then she kissed my cheek. "I really think it's wonderful that you're talking about Jack. He sounds so sweet, I can't believe I never made the effort."

I nudged Annie toward the building. "I don't think it would'a done any good if you tried." I was thinking back, "He did think you were cute, though."

Annie stopped. "Well, now I'm truly flattered. Is that really true?"

I nodded, but I should have kept my mouth shut. Jack liked the looks of lots of people, almost all boys. He knew a good looking girl when he saw one, though, and Annie was on that short list.

I used to get mad at Jack when he looked around and philosophized about other people's looks. I only had eyes for him, and I knew he wasn't just kidding around about other people. He was more advanced than me in the sex department, and when he saw me getting angry he always backed off and apologized, but I never really got it. He had me, and that should have been enough. I never once considered another person while he was alive, but now I was beginning to know what he was thinking.

I had Annie. She was right there liking me, caring about me, worrying about me. Still I dallied with Davy and Guy, and I didn't even consider it cheating. It was worse than fantasizing and talking like Jack had done, though, and it started to bother me that I'd done anything at all.

When we got to Annie's locker, I kissed her quickly and we made plans to meet at lunch. It was probably a very good thing that the only class we shared was study hall, otherwise my grades would have been in the toilet. It was early in the year, and I felt that I was doing pretty well in my classes. I had Jack to thank for my good study habits; he showed me that tackling school work in an organized manner made it seem all that much easier.

The morning was a breeze, and Dwayne stopped at our table at lunch to ask what I thought of the article. I told him how good I thought it was, which seemed to make him pretty happy. He wasn't a big smiler, but he loped off to eat his lunch with a big one plastered on his face.

Annie stopped off in the girl's room on the way to study hall, so I walked the rest of the way with Tony, who was a little antsy. "What's up?" I asked.

"Um... ah ..."


"Um, should I be gettin' a present for Paulina?"

"A present?"

"Yeah, you know, like for Christmas? Daddy says if she's my girl I should do stuff like that."

That kind of stopped me in my tracks. Daddy Wolfe was exactly right, Tony should get something for Paulina, and I should get something for Annie. Tony had me one-upped, though. "Why dontcha make her somethin'?"

He shrugged, "I thought'a that. I just don't know what. Are you gettin' somethin' for Annie?"

I winced, knowing I'd have to, and said, "I guess so, I don't know what yet. It's still a long way off."

Tony nodded sullenly, then suddenly said, "I got it! I can carve her some flowers! You can make some for Annie, too!"

I was surprised. "Me? Carve flowers? I kinda doubt that."

Tony tugged at my arm, "No, I'll carve, you can color 'em! I'll show ya how. Granny taught me an' I almost forgot."

I said, "I can't paint!"

"Not Paint. Come over Saturday, I'll show ya what to do, but we gotta start before all the leaves are gone."

I was lost, "Leaves?"

"Yeah, I got some dye left, but we need some yellow and red. C'mon, it'll be fun!"

I put my hand on his shoulder, "Tony, you're goin' on blind faith here, and I mean blind!"

He giggled, "You'll figure it out. It ain't hard, you'll see. We can make some for your mama, too."

It was my turn to giggle at the thought of having a mama. I was intrigued by the idea of making something, though, even for my 'mama'. Lord knows I'd tried when I was younger, the construction paper valentines that were mostly glue and tape, the model cars that were all glue and crooked wheels. I could snake a worm onto a hook with the best of them, but when things became artistic I was left seriously wanting.

Then again, I'd never had a real artist for a teacher, so Tony and I made happy plans for 'real early' on Saturday.

The afternoon passed much like the morning had, no problems in class, and soon I was at the door to the advanced English class where they worked on the paper.

Dwayne showed up at about the same time, and gave me a happy smile. "Hi, Mike. Ready?"

I was, and we went inside. There were other people there, the kids who worked on the school paper. Dwayne was the boss, and he spent some time checking out what the others were working on, then we sat in the back with his recorder on and I continued talking about Jack.

It was a little different than the night before when Dwayne had just allowed me to babble. Now he was catching me up on points, asking questions and generally wearing his reporter's hat. I didn't mind, except when the questions got a little personal. I was a little put off when he asked what I did to 'amuse' myself without Jack, but when he noticed my reaction he backed off.

I told him again how much I liked what he'd already written, and he said it was going to get cleaned up writing-wise and should be in the next paper. He'd decided to go with a series and, except for an argument with his teacher over the title, he thought it would be printed pretty much as he'd written it.

Before I left, I managed to ask, "Um, Dwayne. That night at the dance, you wanted to talk to me. Was it important?"

He kind of sagged in his chair. "No, not really, I guess. I just thought it might be nice to have somebody to talk to who understands." He looked around, and everyone else had gone. "I... well, it's lonely pretending to be what you're not, or not to be what you are... whatever." He stared at me, "You and Jack had balls, but look where it got you." He sighed, "I guess I don't have a spine. I saw the crap you guys got, and I really wanted to do something, but I didn't know what. I just went home and cried every night."

I felt sympathy, "You cried?"

"Yeah, I cried all the time. I'm sorry to say it wasn't for you and Jack, it was for me, for being like this." He looked at the floor, "You guys got all the heat and just shrugged it off. Me? I couldn't face it. I... um, I have a friend." He looked back up at me with a pained expression, his hands doing a cat's cradle thing. "He's older."

The way he said older gave me a chill. It didn't suggest someone a little older, so I asked, "How older?"

Just then the door opened, and we both turned to see a smiling Dave walking in.

"Ready to go, Mike? Am I interrupting?"

Dwayne and I both got to our feet, him saying, "No problem! We're all done here, we were just talking."

Yeah, with a lot of things unsaid. I looked at Dwayne's benign expression, then at Dave. I got up, picked up my things, and turned to Dwayne. "You get what you wanted? When's the next time?"

I swear he blushed, but he just said, "Not 'til next week, Mike. Yeah, you're doing great. This is good stuff, and I'm so glad you liked what I wrote so far." He smiled almost shyly, "This is gonna be great!"

I murmured my agreement, then followed Dave to his car. When we got in, I started reading what Dwayne had written out loud. Dave pulled off to the side and said, "Let me read that. You drive."

My heart took a happy bounce. "Me? You'll let me drive?"

He looked me up and down, "Why not? You can reach the pedals."

Full of pride, I got out and we switched sides. After looking around and through the mirrors about a hundred times, I pulled back onto the road, and I was driving! Whoa, what a feeling! What a sense of exhilaration! Power, control, it was all mine! And in an Explorer! I was up high looking down on everything.

Until Dave grumbled, "This thing has a gas pedal, you know. Try pressing that."

I did, I floored it, making Dave looe his papers over his head. "I didn't say to break my neck! There's a happy medium somewhere, try to find it."

I backed off the gas, and soon we were crawling again. I goosed the pedal a little, and finally found something between stop and race. Dave had retrieved the papers and finished reading, mumbling, "Wow, that kid can write!"

I smiled, gratified by the adult confirmation of what I already thought. "Yeah, Dwayne's good, huh? I really like how he did that. It's like whatever I said, he found the Jack in it."

I could feel Dave's smile without looking at him. He asked, "You think he has it right? I mean, this sounds a little bit idealized."


"Yeah, you know what I mean. Didn't Jack have any flaws?"

I started to think it before I said it, "Jack was a pile of flaws, if ya wanna know! That's what made him what he was, who I loved. Do you think that's what they want for the paper?"

I glanced at Dave, then put my eyes back on the road.

He said softly, "No, I suppose not. Oh! Stop at the mini-mart, we need some milk!"

I pulled in, almost panicking about the brakes, but I found the pedal before I drove through the building. Dave gave me a glance, then got out to go inside, as my heart pounded about my near stupidity. I'd driven the dune buggy for a month, and it was trickier than the car, but I'd been really caught off base when Dave asked me to drive. Driving in the woods and fields was different. There were no real consequences besides Joe's wrath if I cracked up the car. If I hit the building I'd hurt people, and that was a sobering thought.

When Dave came back out dangling his milk, I cheered up. If nothing else, I was still holding on… onto my own life, my own path wherever it led.

* * * * * * * *

I knocked on Tony's door at seven o'clock Saturday morning, the time we had planned on. I was all bundled up against the suddenly cold weather, complete with gloves, a scarf and a wool cap that I had pulled down over my forehead and ears. Mrs. Wolfe opened the door and grinned at the pile of cloth I must have looked like.

"Hi, Mikey. Come inside, you'll catch your death out there."

I walked in and, as usual, their kitchen smelled great. I'd had a pretty big breakfast, but the aroma made me hungry all over again.

Tony's father was at the table with a cup of coffee and an empty plate in front of him. He smiled and said, "Mornin', Mike. Anton's jammin' up the shitter right now. Sit down and tell us all about your trip." He looked over to his wife, "Ma, bring those muffins over here so Mike can have some."

In a minute, there was a small mountain of cupcake-sized muffins and a tub of homemade butter in front of me. I even had a cup of coffee, which was rare for me to do. Tasting a muffin, I wondered again about how Tony stayed so small when such wonderful food came out of his own kitchen.

My stomach was complaining about the third muffin that I had started on when Tony finally appeared, all smiles and good cheer. His face went red when his father asked, "Did it flush?"

"Yes, it flushed!" Then he giggled and looked at me, "You ready to go?"

I said, "Yup, dress warm, it's freezin' out there."

When we were both all bundled up, we kind of waddled up toward Tony's shack, leaving the trail to gather various leaves and plants into some paper sacks he'd brought. Tony was fussy about only picking leaves that hadn't begun to change color yet, and we apparently needed a lot of them. It was a good hour before we had three sacks crammed full, then we finally headed up the last of the hill, leaving the leaves in front of the shack and continuing on to the clearing where he made his glue. Fortunately for our noses, none of that was in the works, and we set about building a fire..

We'd been yakking all along about our dates the prior evening. Tony and Paulina had gone to see a movie while Annie and I had cruised the main drag in Arlington with Hector and this girl Clara. It had been a nice time for us. We bowled a few games, ate some hot dogs, talked a lot. Mostly we showed off the new car, which was a big hit with the other kids.

Hector was funny, he wouldn't park anywhere except under a streetlight, no matter how far we had to walk because of it. He wanted that car seen, and that was it. Period.

Clara was pretty funny, too, complaining about her antique name in a manner that was full of amusement.

Tony didn't even know what movie they'd gone to see. He thought it might have been a French comedy, because the people around them were laughing.

When we had the fire roaring, Tony dragged a steel frame over above it, and set a pot of water on the frame. We got the bags of leaves and hung around the fire until the water was boiling, then he dumped the leaves from one bag into the water. I watched expectantly, hoping to see some magic transformation from clear to colored water, but nothing happened.

Tony was warming himself beside the flames while I stared into the kettle. When it had all boiled for about a half hour, he took the kettle off and set it on the ground, then took a wooden scoop and began taking the leaves out and dumping them on the ground. After that, he put the water back over the fire, and when it was boiling again, he took what looked like a white flower petal from a little plastic bag and dropped it in, then another and another.

Amazingly, the liquid in the pot turned yellow the instant he put the first petal in, then the color deepened as he added further ones until he was satisfied. That water was as brilliant a yellow as one of Davy's shirts. We poured that batch into a few coffee cans and repeated the process with fresh water from the brook, this time using different leaves and the same flower petals, and coming up with a deep blue dye.

All the while, Tony had been whittling away at sticks, not really making anything except thin, long strips of wood in varying widths, which he was laying out on the ground beside him.

Amazingly, the same white flower petals made a dark red dye when added to the water that had boiled the last bag of leaves. I'd had enough.

"Okay, Tony, tell me what I just saw!"

He smirked a bit shyly, "Just forest magic." He looked at me somewhat helplessly, "I don't know the science, Mike. It's pretty cool, huh?"

My eyebrows went up, such as they could with the hat I had on, "It's very cool. What're those flowers?"

"Wild roses. Look!" He held a twig in the fire until it started smoldering, then blew on the hot tip and held it up to a white petal, which turned to that same deep red where the heat got to it. Then the red spot got bigger and the center turned blue, while a corona of yellow appeared around the red.

I could do nothing but smile in astonishment. "Don't tell me. Granny, right?"

Tony smiled sadly, his eyes watering a little, and nodded.

I had a sudden picture of Tony's own descendants scouring the woods for wild rose petals and different leaves. I smiled, hoping there'd be a whole troop of them, skinny little boys and girls scampering around to carry on the traditions their grandfather taught them. The ones his grandmother taught Tony, the ones she'd learned from someone who had gone before.

Tony was still making his little strips of wood. I picked one up and it was barely thicker than a piece of paper, pretty even too. I asked, "Now what?"

Tony didn't look up from his carving, "Take a break, I need some more pieces." He glanced at me, "If ya want, you can go ask Ma for some sandwiches and bring 'em back here."

I looked at my watch, surprised to see that it was already after twelve. I headed downhill to do something I hated to do, tell someone else's mother that we were hungry. Jack must have done that to me a hundred times. He'd get hung up doing something, and I had to be the one to say that we were hungry.

Thankfully, Tony's mother was better prepared. When I showed up at the door, she smiled and asked, "Tapeworms still at work? Come in, Michael; I have everything ready. When I stood inside the door, she handed me a paper and a quart bottle of soda "You boys don't stay out there too long, it's supposed to get ugly later."

I said, "Yes, ma'am," and headed back up the hill.

I found Tony in his shack, surrounded by partially completed birdhouses, trying to ignite some sand in a coffee can that was punched full of holes. I didn't know what he was doing, and I didn't care. I dug into the bag and found four sandwiches, two apples, and a clear plastic bag full of potato chips. I held that under Tony's nose and asked, "Homemade?"

He looked, and nodded like it was nothing unusual, then went back to holding a match to the sand in the coffee can. I wondered why he thought he could light sand with a match, but I was mostly hungry and unwrapped a sandwich. I said, "Sand don't burn, Tony," just in time to see it burst into flame.

He turned, "I know that. It's soaked with gas," he said, as he pulled down the plastic in front of the shed."

I started giggling. Tony had an answer for everything, a way for everything. Like a coffee can was going to keep us warm!

I handed him a sandwich and bit into my own. It was delicious, of course, and I recognized Christianson ham and some pretty sharp tasting cheese, all smothered in what I presumed was homemade mustard. It sure had a bite, and we didn't say much as we ate. The chips were delicious, too, all crunchy and not like the kind you got in a store.

And, also of course, the little coffee can was doing a pretty good job of warming up the shack. It occurred to me that it might not make a lot of sense to finish school, go to college, get a job. I'd do as well hanging out with Tony Wolfe and learning the secrets of the woods.

I smiled at him, "Nature provides pretty good, huh?"

He gave me a look that said he didn't know what I was talking about, so I tried again. "I mean, look at what we have here. The only things store-bought are the soda and that plastic. You, Tony, you could be like a pioneer or somethin'." I took a first bite out of my apple, "Look at this food! And don't try to tell me you didn't make this cheese, or your mother or father did. The only thing that came from somewhere else is the ham, and I bet your dad did some work 'stead of payin' for it. I'm right ain't I?"

Tony looked around, then smiled. "Yep, I guess, 'cept ya need a gas station for gas."

His look picked up some intensity. "I'm tryin' to get away from this, Mike. I don't wanna be a little hillbilly all my life. I wanna do things... go places!"

I swallowed the spit in my mouth, staring at Tony. He was right, everyone around our age dreamed of living somewhere else, someplace where things happened all by themselves, someplace where it took no effort to have fun and find things to do. I'd just come back from such a place, and no matter how much the people there disagreed with me, there were things to do, a mouth watering array of them. I'd only had a taste of it, but it was an enticing, alluring taste.

I had friends in Morton, but I wanted out in the worst way. "Tony?"


"Would you leave here if you could?"

He smiled, "I'm already gone, 'least in my head."

"You hate it here?"

He looked surprised, "Hate it? Not hardly. I really love it around here. I mean it's my home. I just don't wanna be here all the time." He beamed a smile my way, "You can't wait to get out, can ya?"

I thought about that, then leaned back and smiled. "I can wait, but I'm goin' someday. You should'a seen it, Tony, the lights from in the plane, the ocean. Did I tell ya how cold it was?"

He giggled, "Yeah, you said," then his look got more intense, "I wish't I was with ya. I really like Davy, and you had some good fun."

I did, I had good fun there, and for whatever reason, I decided to unload on Tony about the parts that weren't fun. The prejudice, Bobby...

The prejudice made him think, but what I said about Bobby made his already huge eyes bulge.

"His own Daddy? That rotten bastard! The kid couldn't even fight back"

I could see the tumult, the disbelief in Tony's eyes. He said, "Ya should'a brought him here, Mike. He can't be there anymore!" He lifted his pained eyes to me again, "What if the guy gets out again? What if he escapes?"

Oh, fuck. Tony was exactly right. I couldn't kidnap Bobby, though. Could I?

I could hear the sleet begin outside, and Tony and I set about getting started with our arts and crafts session. He began by taking one of his small strips and setting it into the blue dye for a second, then he pulled it out and kind of folded it up into a little something, saying, "This ain't for real, I just want ya to see how it goes."

Then he took a wider strip and set it into the red, then a still wider one into the yellow. He wrapped the red one around the blue, then the yellow around the red, and proudly presented me with a wooden rose. He stared at me, "That's just to show you how. We can do a better job with the colors."

I laughed at his artistry. What I had in my hand could use some more color, could use a lot of things, but it was a rose in my book. I looked at Tony, "Cool!"

He just smiled, continuing to amaze me. "Let's make some good ones."

We did. Tony bent wood, I dipped it into dye until he said it was enough. We weren't making roses, not just then, just laying groundwork for future roses.

It was fun working with Tony like that. I had an idea of what we were doing, but Tony was in charge, gently in charge, always asking me if I minded getting another color on my hands.

I laughed when I looked at my fingers. No, I didn't mind! We'd been mixing colors, and for the most part my fingers were black. I only wondered vaguely if it would come off, because I trusted Tony to know a way.

We took a break at one point to pee outside, and the weather was really nasty. It was more like January than October, but it was kind of pretty to see the trees fringed with ice.

We worked for a few more hours, listening to the intensity of the storm outside increasing. We decided to just finish up what we were doing rather than to leave the job half done. Tony's little heater didn't exactly keep the shack warm, but it wasn't freezing either.

When we finally had the strips all dyed the way Tony wanted, we stepped outside the shack, both of us happy to breathe clean air.

It was when I took my first step downhill that I realized the trail had turned to solid ice. I lost my footing immediately, and the last thing I could remember was crying "JACKIE!" as I slid headlong off the edge at the first bend in the trail.

Then it was black.

When I came to, it was warm, almost hot, and dark. And soft. Almost soft. Something was soft, something else wasn't. My shoulder and head hurt something fierce, and when I moved my good arm to touch my head, the something not soft stirred and said in Tony's voice, "Mike?"

"Tony? What's goin' on?"

"Are you okay?" then he yelled, "Ma! Mike's awake!"

In a few seconds, the room was bathed in dim light when the door opened. I was in Tony's room, in his bed, in his bed with him! I had no clue what was going on, only that Tony was in his underwear and I was in nothing that I could detect.

I was thoroughly confused as Tony's mother sat on the edge of the bed, his father standing behind her. His mother brushed my hair gently with her hand as Tony squirmed up into a sitting position beside me. Mrs. Wolfe's voice was as gentle as her hand. "You gave us quite a scare, Mikey. How do you feel now, child?"

"My head hurts and my shoulder hurts. What happened?"

She smiled, "Anton says you took up flyin' without an aeroplane. I think you slipped on the ice and fell off a cliff."

Tony's father protested, "It warn't no cliff, Ma, just a pile of rocks."

She shushed him and asked, "Does it hurt bad? Nothing's broken, you just got banged up."

Tony added, "Yeah, and about froze. You were all blue. Daddy just dumped you in the tub when we got ya back here."

I said, "Okay, tell me what happened." I looked at Mrs. Wolfe, "Yeah, it hurts pretty bad."

She patted my chest, "I'll get something to make you feel better." She glanced at Tony, "You tell him, Anton," then she brushed my cheek, "You're just fine, Mikey. Are you warm enough? I'll call your daddy and tell him you're up."

I closed my eyes for a moment, feeling her weight lift off the bed, then I felt a little kiss on my cheek from Tony. It startled my eyes open, and I realized that I had to pee. "I gotta go, Tony. Get me a bathrobe or somethin'."

He giggled, "Your clothes are right here." He climbed over me and tossed me my underwear and then the rest of my clothes. "Ma washed it all. You been out for hours!"

I pulled my underpants on under the covers, then sat on the edge of the bed and got into my t-shirt and pants. "Mind tellin' me what happened?"

Tony grinned and shrugged as he pulled his own pants up. "You took a big shitter, mostly, crashed into a tree. I couldn't get ya out, so I slip-slided my way here and got Daddy. We put on some ice cleats and brought ya here, then put ya in the bathtub to thaw out."

His voice seemed a little choked, so I asked, "What's wrong?"

Tony sat next to me and put his arm across my shoulder.

"It took a long time, Mike. I got scared. You never woke up, and it was over an hour before Daddy got ya back here. It was sleetin' all the time, an' ya looked like an ice cube. Daddy kept sayin' not to worry, the ice on ya would keep ya warmer." He giggled, "I thought he was nuts, but you turned pink in the warm water."

"Why didn't you just call rescue?"

His hand tightened on my shoulder. "Nothin's movin' out there 'til the storm quits. There's crashes all over the place, 'n Daddy said you're safer here."

God, for a little guy, Tony put out a lot of heat, and I found myself leaning into him to feel it. It had been hot under the covers, but without a lot of clothes on I was cooling off rapidly.

His mother came in with a steaming mug and set it on the table. "Drink this, it'll make it all better. Your daddy wants you to call, so do that first. This is too hot, anyhow."

She inspected me once again with her eyes and left. I mumbled to Tony, "Your mom's really nice."

He said, "Yeah, I know," then he grinned, "Go piss, then call home. You're gonna be drunker'n a skunk when you drink that stuff," pointing at the mug.

My eyebrows went up, "It's booze?"

Tony gave me a little shove to get me on my feet. "You'll see!"

I went to the bathroom, then into the kitchen to call home. My shoulder was all black and blue, that much I had seen in the mirror, but my face looked okay, and the pain was coming from the back of my head, even though I couldn't detect a lump there.

I called and talked to my mother, then my father, assuring them that I was sore here and there, otherwise okay. They apologized for not being able to come to me, but I understood. While I was on the phone, I was mesmerized by the aroma of whatever was cooking, and when I hung up Mrs. Wolfe had bowls of rabbit stew waiting for me and Tony.

I didn't know I was hungry until I smelled it but, as always, the aroma alone had me famished. Tony and I tucked into it, sopping up the gravy with homemade bread, and not stopping until we'd finished two bowls each and an entire loaf of bread.

Tony's dad had been sitting there watching us, occasionally shaking his head with a little smile. He smiled up at his wife, "Told ya he was fine. You always doubt me, woman."

She came over and gave him a long kiss, while Tony made a little 'o' with the thumb and forefinger of one hand, then poked the first finger of his other hand through it, grinning lasciviously all the while. He did that under the table, of course. I had to giggle, while at the same time wondering what kind of love would keep a couple turned on at their age. They had to be seventy or so years old, at least pushing it, and right then their love for each other was so obvious that I knew Tony's little gesture was probably a pretty accurate prediction of things to come.

Just then, the phone rang and Tony answered it, holding it out to me after a few moments and whispering, "Annie."

I heard Tony's mother telling him to get my drink while I talked to Annie, who was in a bit of a panic.

"Ohmigod! Are you okay?"

I said quietly, "I'm okay, just a few dents. My shoulder hurts, and I have a headache." I grinned into the phone, "Don't worry, me'n Tony're gonna get all shitfaced. I'll feel friggin' great in a little while!"

Annie growled, "You're drinking?"

"Nope, just medication. I hafta get rid of this pain, ya know."

I could almost see her shrug and sigh. "You're pathetic, I hope you know that. Are you sure you're alright?"

I giggled, "I didn't break anything important, if that's whatcha mean."

Annie laughed outright, "You guys are hopeless. Listen, Mr. Waters, if you're all hung over tomorrow, you can just stay with Anton until you're presentable.

Tony handed me the mug, and I took a sip. It was a strange brew, sweet and bitter at the same time. I liked it, and took another sip. "Don't worry, Annie. I ain't too presentable right now, but I'm okay. I'll call ya when I get up, okay?"

She sighed, "You're really okay?"

I smiled, "I'm fine, it's no big deal."

We made kissy sounds into the phone before we hung up, which got Tony giggling. I turned to look at his silly puss, then I started giggling too. He wouldn't have thought it was funny to begin with if he didn't get the same thing from Paulina, and it just seemed funny. Actually, as I finished my mug, everything seemed pretty funny. Whatever was in it was good, and I wanted more. I wanted to ask for some, but my lips had stopped working, and Tony helped me back to his room as I giggled myself foolish..

"Forget it, Mike," he said, laughing as he pushed me onto the bed, "You're cooked."

I felt totally foolish, grinning at Tony, "SO! Did ya get a piece of my ass when I was out?"

He wheezed out a laugh as he shook his head no, "I bet ya don't hurt anymore!"

Even that sounded funny, "No, I don't hurt anywhere. You didn't screw me when ya had the chance? Jack would'a ..."

I was fumbling uselessly with my belt buckle, and after some minutes of that Tony pushed my hands away and helped me get undressed.

* * * * * * * *

The next thing I knew, it was morning, and my mother was there hugging me awake. I kind of slapped at the other side of the bed with my hand feeling for Tony, but I was alone in it. I lifted my eyelids a little and said, "Hi, Ma!"

She half lifted me up, "Oh, Michael, are you alright?"

I opened my eyes all the way, and saw my mother close, my father and sisters behind her, Tony's parents behind them. It was like coming out of a dream that didn't make any sense. My mother's face was right there, so I kissed her on the lips quickly then said dreamily, "Where's Tony? I'm okay, I think."

Tony's father chortled, "Yup, for a boy who was all blue last night, he looks pretty good."

I settled back on the pillow, wanting more sleep. I knew it wasn't going to happen, but I was pretty happy that everyone was there. My family, Tony's family, all there for me when they thought I was hurt.

Then Tony showed up, all dressed for the outdoors, with his hands behind his back, I smiled up at him, and his own toothy grin brought the sunshine indoors.

The grin turned into a friendly smile, and he took a hand from around his back and handed me a beautiful wooden rose. Then he gave me an equally beautiful wooden tulip from the other hand, then he took them both back and set them on the table. He put a cold hand against my cheek and smiled, "Everyone's here, Mike." He looked over his shoulder at the rest of our families, "Y'all should know, I love this guy!

We both saw startled faces, and Tony turned as red as a tomato. " That ain't what I mean!" He stammered, "This boy gave me the world! I can love him if I want to."

"And you should!"

Paulina's voice. She scrunched through and leaned close to me, "How ya doin', tiger? Your girlfriend's all worried about you."

Annie was right behind Paulina, and she was a sight. She was always pretty, but her concern added something to that, making her twice as pretty. My smile broke out just seeing her, but when she cuddled up to me on the bed, right in front of everybody, I thought I'd hurt my face with my grin.

"Poor baby," she said, kissing me and stroking my hair, giving me a hardon that was thankfully hidden by the covers. I don't know why, but I heated up quickly, and my father made a little comment about saving it for a private place.

That got Annie up pretty quickly, but there was promise in her eyes. I asked, "The roads're okay now?"

My mother said, "Yes. It turned to rain just around midnight. Now the sun's out and it's really pretty nice outside." She got close to me, "We're taking you to the clinic, so you have to get up now."

I didn't want to, but I smiled as evilly as I could and started to rouse myself. "I ain't got nuthin' on. I hope you're ready for this."

That emptied the room fast enough, all except Tony. I smiled at him, "Thanks for the flowers."

He smiled shyly, "I just wanted ya to see how they can come out. How's your head?"

My head felt pretty good, and I said so. The shoulder was another thing, it hurt like hell, and Tony had to help me get into my clothes again. He made me smile, he was so matter-of-fact about everything, even my Annie induced boner. He laughed as he told me what I'd said the night before about him screwing me, and he promised that he hadn't.

I knew that, and vaguely remembered joking about it, then he said with a leer, "I was tempted, you got a nice ass," which got a good laugh out of me..

I went to the bathroom, and then it was time to leave. I got a soft hug from Mrs. Wolfe while Tony's father placed his big hand on my good shoulder, then Tony gave me a bony hug, and we were off to the clinic for x-rays.

Paulina and Annie followed us there, and after about an hour I was pronounced to be okay, and told to take it easy with my right arm for a few days. Aspirin was all I needed for pain, though I thought better of that, remembering Mrs. Wolfe's little potion.

After we were done there, I desperately wanted to go with Annie and Paulina, but my parents insisted that I go home and take it easy.


Paulina brought Annie to my house, then left. Annie and I went out to the barn so I could catch up on my e-mail, which I really hadn't done since I got back from up north.

There was lots of mail, but Davy, Clay and James were all in a messenger session, and I got invited to join as soon as I logged on.

That was fun for awhile, then I got a separate message from Davy, saying that it was in the paper about Bobby's father. It hadn't been explicit about the type of abuse, but Davy had figured it out, and thanked me for not telling him. He knew why I couldn't.

I told him that Tony thought Bob shouldn't be there anymore. Davy didn't agree. He'd talked to Bally, who knew what had gone on, and Bally said that Bob could stay with him if his father ever got out, which didn't seem likely anyhow. The guy had been charged with two counts of rape of a minor, among many other charges, and according to the papers, he could be in jail forever anyhow.

I had to explain what we were talking about to Annie, and she started crying. "How does this happen? His father did that?" She turned her round, tear filled eyes up to me, "That is so unspeakably cruel... that man should be de-nutted, beheaded, I don't know...drawn and quartered. Disemboweled! Six? Six years old?" She hugged me and cried, "That bastard!"

I hugged her until she was just sniffling, then she kissed my cheek. "You're the real man here, Michael. You did that for somebody you didn't even like!" She kissed me briefly on the lips, then wiped her eyes and looked into mine. It was a questioning look, but she didn't say anything. After a moment, she looked back at the computer screen, where the last message from Davy said that Guy said to say hello and thanks.

"Guy? Who's Guy?"

"Just a kid I met. I told you... the one with all the jokes."

She looked into my eyes. "I remember. What's he thanking you for?"

I looked back at her. I had to come clean. "Annie, Guy's gay. I... um, I-I-I... I really liked him. We, um... we did somethin'."

Annie literally sagged in my arms, letting out a little gasp. " Did something?"

My mouth was dry. "We, um... we... Oh, shit, I don't know how to say this."

"Just say it then."

Good idea. "We, ah... we jerked each other off." The heat coming off my face could have warmed Tony's shack for a winter month.

Annie put on a sad smile and said, "Oh," then she squeezed me a little and said quietly, "I suppose it could have been worse." Then her voice got even quieter, "Is that the way you want to go?"

Tears were pouring from my eyes by then, and I said. "No... I don't know." I laid my cheek against her soft hair, "You give me strength, Annie. I don't wanna lose you, I just gotta be honest. It just happened, it didn't mean nuthin'"

She nodded a little and said, "You just said you really like this kid. Does that mean nothing?"

I intensified my grip on Annie. "I didn't mean it that way, I didn't. You'd like him too, he's easy to like. He's like a happy kid, it was fun to be around him."

Annie snorted, and the tension was broken. She giggled, "I think you'd be happy to be around anybody who can breathe, as long as they have working hands" She gave me a pleading look, "Michael, I hope you know how I feel about you. You're the most sensitive, caring boy I've ever known. I just... um... I don't know." She kissed my cheek, "It's just that at some point you're going to have to decide something. And when you decide, it's going to have to be once and for all. That's as fair as I can be."

I hugged her to me. It was the first time that we'd been that close and I didn't pop wood that could set a new high on the Mohs scale.

My eyes hadn't spent their load yet, they continued to leak as I marveled at the soft and loving body that was entwined with mine. I felt bad and good. Bad on two counts: one, that I'd messed around at all, and two, that I hadn't told her about Davy, and I knew I never would, never could. That was absolutely private, and I knew that neither Davy or I would ever speak it out loud to anyone.

I felt good, really good, that Annie gave me the space to figure myself out. The thing with Guy was history, something that happened when it shouldn't have, but I was forgiven.

As the doubt fled my mind, the blood rushed back into my dick, and Annie noticed, since she was sitting on it. There had been a million beeps on the computer from the IM session. I typed in "Later," and we headed to the confines of the back of the barn.

My arm hurt.

My head hurt.

My heart hurt.

My dick hurt.

Annie's soft hand was in mine.

She'd take care of everything.


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