Jack in the Box

Chapter 52

Michael Waters - Arlington Road : November, 2000

I'd wondered how I might feel the next time I saw snow. Snow was the real culprit in the death of Jack and all those other people. We didn't get snow very often, and it wasn't much...maybe an inch or two. The most anyone from Morton could recollect from a single storm was six inches, and I was old enough to remember that one. It happened when I was seven, and I remember clearly how joyous all that snow seemed. We sat looking out the window while it fell, and begged to be let out in it.

Joyous, that's what snow had always been to me. Sliding down the road on a piece of cardboard, scraping enough off the porch to make snowballs, just enjoying the beauty of it while it still clung to the trees.

Even on that fateful day, the last meaningful exchange I had with Jack was about how much fun we'd have if there was snow when we got to Morton. We even had a special place we went when it snowed; a widening bend in a little creek, with pine trees all around and boulders by the water. It was a pretty spot anytime, but snow added magic to it, and we'd happily tramp the mile through the woods, with cold feet, to get there. Then we'd sit and look, usually silently, as this pretty little part of the planet morphed into a stunningly gorgeous little part of the planet, and we'd be awed every time by the process.

Now, even though each flake melted into oblivion the second it hit the road or the car windshield, I felt unyielding panic build within me, as if each flake was a miniature grim reaper come to take me.

I covered my eyes so I wouldn't see, but I began shaking crazily, certain of imminent doom. Davy noticed and stopped the car, sayijng softly, "Mike? It'll be alright; we're almost home. It's the snow, isn't it?"

I couldn't even breathe right. I tried to answer, then swallowed the word, and shook my head 'yes'.

I could tell that Davy was studying my face, and I felt his hand brush my cheek, "I'll have you home in three minutes, Mike. Then we'll take on this snow together." He touched my cheek again, "You okay?"

I nodded, but I didn't mean it. Davy got the car rolling again, and the tears started leaking from my eyes, and by the time the car stopped in the driveway, they were coming out in an uncontrolled torrent. I couldn't stop it, and I didn't try. I couldn't look, either. Davy came around to my side and undid my belt, then helped me out of the car, my eyes covered by my hands.

He got me to my feet, then guided me to the house, failing to tell me in time when we reached the steps. I hit my foot and went down face first so fast that my hands didn't even move to protect me, though they probably protected me better where they were. Davy helped me up again, and when we were finally inside, I opened my eyes to the warmth and dry of our kitchen. Our parents weren't back yet, and they probably wouldn't be until after the roadhouse closed, but there were plenty of loud voices coming from the living room.

Davy helped me out of my coat, then pulled me to him. "Calm down, Mike," he said as he stroked my back. "Oh, man. I never expected...never thought ..." He left the sentence unfinished and led me to a chair at the table. Where I sat I was looking right at the window, and it was snowing steadily out there now, but it didn't seem nearly as threatening from inside.

I heard my brother call out from the other room, "Who's there?"

Davy replied, "Mike and Davy! Can you come out here, Ray?"

Ray's voice came up suddenly behind me, "Problem?" After a pause, I heard, "Oh God, Mike! What happened?" and he was all over me.

I still couldn't let it go, and I was suddenly in another panic about my parents, my aunt and uncle. They were out there in it, and probably having drinks. I couldn't stand the thought, but there was no place to hide from it. I couldn't confront it either, the only images filling my head were those of another disaster, and I hated those pictures.

Davy and Ray were trying to calm me, but I just got worse. I was making some noise, and soon enough everyone was in the kitchen. Jed sat on the table, right in front of me, and I couldn't even look at him. I knew I was freaking everyone out, and I wanted to stop, but I couldn't help it.

I heard Joey say, "Get a paper bag, Ray." Ray questioned, and Joey almost yelled, "A paper bag! Get one...like a lunch bag or something."

In a minute, Joey was beside me. "Mike, I'm gonna hold this bag over your face. Blow into it, then breathe back in, then keep doin' it."

He stood behind me and put the bag over my nose and mouth, saying, " Blow, now inhale; blow again…"

That I did. "Blow out again, all of it."

It seemed to take forever, but I eventually did calm down some, and I'd stopped my crying. I ended up pushing Joey's hands and the bag, away, and just slumped forward.

All the while, people had been asking things like "What's the matter?" and getting shushed. Now that I was quiet, the room was silent, and then I heard Pat's voice.

"I'm scared too, Mike. Let's go outside and see the snow. It can't hurt us if we don't let it."

Jed said, "Patty...you don't have to ..."

Pat said, adamantly, "Yes I do." and put a hand on my shoulder, "Mike does, too." More softly, "It's just snow, Mike. Let's go make a snowman." Humor appeared in his voice, "I dare you."

I didn't say anything at first, and then I started to laugh, sort of. It wasn't a mirthful laugh, more the snot from crying making a bubbly sound as it pushed almost out, then back into my nose. It was a laugh nonetheless, and I heard Joey and others saying, "Yeah, I dare you, too."

In the end, Jed restrained the others from joining us, at least at first. Pat and I went out on the back porch to see the snow, to be in it, to overcome our fear.

We stood out there, neither one of us with a hat on.. The snow didn't amount to a hill of beans, about a quarter inch in depth by then, but things were turning white, turning pretty. We just stared for a long time, the two of us close together, as the snow accumulated on our hair, our shoulders, and all around us. It was so quiet...so peaceful, the snow so beautiful. I reached for Pat's hand, smiling at him when I felt it. He smiled back, then took my hand and held it. We watched the snow for a moment, then I said quietly, "Thanks, Patty. I needed this."

He sighed, "Me, too. I'm sorry about earlier, Mike. I didn't mean anything."

I squeezed his hand, "I know. Don't even think about it."

Pat squeezed my hand back, then we stood in the silence that softly falling snow brings down on you.

I got all caught up in it, not even remembering my panic from when the snow first started, when I suddenly got a cold earful of snow. I turned to see Pat scooping more off the rail, and immediately armed myself from the railing by me. The snow wouldn't ball up, but that didn't matter. I screamed, "You are gonna so die, Pat Anderson," then I threw what I had at him. He ducked from most of it, but I got him a little, then he got the back of my head with another one. We kept at it until the rails and floor were clear of snow, and we sat down laughing.

We didn't say anything about the accident...there was nothing to say, but we both realized that the snow was only a contributing factor, and fear of it wasn't going to grip us every time we saw a little. Snow was fine stuff, given the right circumstances, and these were them.

We didn't talk, didn't have to. We'd shared a fear, an unreasonable one, and that fear was gone. Snow was a substance that nature offered up once in awhile, and it was only circumstance that made it dangerous sometimes, circumstance that had changed both our lives so much. It wasn't the snow.

I honestly think Pat and I could have sat there all night watching the snow, if we were left to it. Eventually, Davy, Jed, Ray, Matt and Joey came out to join us, leaving all the girls in the house, and they only said hi before sitting on the rail with us, lined up just like ducks in a row.

I smiled, not at them, and nudged Pat. He understood, and we surreptitiously began scooping up new fallen snow. There wasn't enough to do damage, but enough to have fun. When I had a bunch, I jumped up and flung it right at Jed, who caught it square in the face. Pat got Joey just as good, and the battle was on.

You couldn't really call it a snowball fight, because it was cold enough that the snow was just fluff, and there wasn't enough to get more than half a handful anyhow, but it was plenty cold when it got inside your collar and down the back of your neck. There was lots of screaming and laughter, that's for sure.

We had a bunch of fun, though, trying to get back at whoever got you last. There were enough of us there that I didn't notice when Jed and Ray disappeared for awhile, and when they showed back up they had their hands behind their backs and grins on their faces. Ray walked right up to me, while Jed went to Patty, and they were both smiling. I smiled back at my brother, then he suddenly whipped around and dumped a garbage can lid of snow right on my head while Jed did the same to Pat.

Pat and I both started cussing loudly as we bent over to brush the stuff off of us, while everyone else laughed like it was funny. When I was bent over like that, I saw my chance when I looked at Ray's knees bouncing with his laughter, and right in arm's reach. I just leaned forward until I fell into him, grabbed Ray by the knees, and dumped him on his ass, me right on top of him. He was a little stunned by the fall, so I quickly went forward and shook my hair right in his face, making him scream and laugh at all the snow.

Pat, less sure of himself as far as his head was concerned, just swore and grabbed the lid from Jed and smacked him with it. Jed plopped down right next to Ray, rubbing his head and grinning at Patty. "You little shit! When you ever get your head fixed, I'm gonna be the first to bust it back in!"

There was silence for a moment, then Pat started laughing in this high-pitched sound that I'd never heard before. It was funny, and I laughed as Jed rolled over right next to Raymond, both of them laughing. Jed looked up at Pat, a wide smile on his face, "You win, little brother! Truce?"

The girls chose that moment to come out, all wrapped up in winter coats and scarves. Pat had his garbage can lid all aimed at his brother again, when Sally put a hand up against it, asking what was going on. At the same time, my sister ran over to Pat and ended up hugging him, saying, "It's cold out here! Let's make some hot chocolate."

Boy, that sounded good, though I doubted we had near enough for everyone. There was always coffee or soup or something, and it suddenly seemed imperative. The night had turned about the coldest I ever remembered, and when we stopped fooling around in the snow I started shivering.

I think everyone was cold enough, and we followed Lissie nto the house. As soon as Pat went inside, he stopped so dead in his tracks that I walked right into him. He cried, "I'm blind! Jesus, I can't see anything!"

Lissie looked at him and laughed, "Your glasses are all steamed up, Pat" She reached to pull them from his face, "Maybe this is one time you're better off without them."

As soon as the glasses were off, Pat smiled, "That's better," and started walking again, his hand firmly in Lissie's. He laughed, "Oh, man. I thought the cold messed up my brain again."

As soon as we were in the kitchen, Lissie got Pat settled in a chair and handed his glasses to me to wipe off. They were totally opaque with condensation, and very hard to wipe off. They kept fogging up again until I thought to run some warm water over them.

Jed and Ray went back outside for firewood, and in a short while we were all settled on the living room floor around a warm, flickering fire in the fireplace. We all had something hot to drink, and there wasn't a lot of conversation. Pat and Lissie were all entwined, as were Jed and Sally. I was sitting next to Davy, Joey beside him. Angie, who loved fireplace fires more than anyone I ever met, was laying on her stomach watching it, Raymond sat cross-legged beside her.

It was really peaceful, serene even. I stretched my arm around Davy's back and landed my hand on Joey's shoulder. Davy leaned into me, and Joey pulled closer. Jed and Sally started kissing right there, then Pat and Lissie did.

I didn't pay them any more attention than to notice, but silently wished Davy would turn his face to mine. He did nudge me and whisper, "Too bad Annie and Melanie aren't here."

I sighed, "Yeah, too bad," then lowered my voice, saying hopefully, "Since they're not, we could try our own thing."

Davy whispered back, "Hey, I promised to keep you honest!"

I grinned, "That you did, but you didn't spit on it."

Joey started a stifled, wheezing laugh. "Oh, God! You're tryin' to pick up a boy?"

Davy giggled and I said to Joey, as softly as I could, "Mind your business over there. This is a family thing."

Joey feigned hurt, "Hey, I'm your family."

I snickered, "You're my cousin, Joey. Davy's my brother and my cousin, maybe some kind of uncle too, we never did figure that part out."

I guess I wasn't as quiet as I thought. Ray said, amusement in his voice, "I'm your brother, Mike. I ain't enough?"

I snickered, "You're the perfect brother, too. My...ah, relationship with Davy is more complicated."

Joey, always the wit, chimed in. "Next you're gonna tell us that Davy's your sister and your aunt, too. Damn, man!" He peered around Davy to look at me, "Can I still be your cousin, or do I hafta be your girlfriend to get noticed?"

I looked at him in surprise, then determined that he was joking. I took my right arm off Dave and held both out to Joey. "You'd do that?" It was hard to keep a straight face, "Oh, Joey! I promise that I'll keep you happy!" As I said that, I noticed when Pat and Melissa stood up and headed down the hall, apparently in search of more privacy. They were followed shortly by Jed and Sally.

Joey had reached for the zipper to his jeans, "Oooh! Really?" Then his laugh turned into a mock glare, "Time to start, cousin! I'm on overload this week."

I put my hands to my cheeks, "Didn't you find my little gift the other night?"

Davy busted out laughing, but Joey tried to keep it up. He harrumphed, then grinned, "That was you! You forgot the Crisco, dipshit!" then it was his turn to start laughing.

I looked around to see who else thought it was funny. Davy and Matt seemed amused, and I started wheezing with laughter myself. I'd never once in my life thought of our living room as a romantic place, but I kind of wished it was one for me right then. I'd like to sit by the fire with Annie, maybe even have a bear rug to cuddle on. It wasn't going to happen that night, but the same idea had it's own appeal with Davy substituting for Annie.

I was a sick puppy right then. I hadn't actually gotten off in a week, and my need to was becoming pretty strong. I looked at Davy and Joey, who I suspected were in the same condition, and said, "I'll get the Crisco. You guys saved those things, didn't you?"

Davy laughed and smacked my shoulder. My brother looked at us and said, "Guys, can it. Angie's right here, and she's ..."

Angie glared at Ray, and burst in, "I'm twelve, Ray. I know about sex! I can listen if I want." She smiled sweetly at us, and then turned back to Ray, "Why are you picking on me? Liss is the one with a boy, and if I read her intentions right, she's doing with Pat just what," she smirked at Joey, "Sally's doing with Jed!" She smiled and stared at the same time, like only she could, way too smart for her age, "That's what it's all about, boys! Some get lucky, and some use toilet rolls. She stuck her nose up and sniffed, "I'm sure your day will come." She grinned, "Until it does, the Crisco's on the top shelf, right next to the refrigerator.

Ray gasped, "Angie?"

She stood to her full height, which wasn't much, and looked at him. "Raymond?"

"You know about all this?"

Angie pondered that, then said, "I know some things, others I can surmise. I know that it's snowing out, so nobody's going anywhere." She smiled slyly at Ray, "I know that my bedroom is occupied, and that I'll be sleeping out here, that your bedroom is likewise occupied, so you'll be sleeping across the way again. Otherwise," she widened her smile, 'I'm just a dumb little girl!"

There were four guys gaping at that dumb little girl right then, and I could tell that Angie loved it.

She stood firm, too. "Well?" she asked. Are you boys going to leave me alone so I can get some sleep? I seem to recall that you have a particular and collective problem that you have to take care of." She cracked a smile, "You boys do what you have to, I'll just sleep here on the couch." She waved her hand, "Disappear now, and I'll forget all I heard."

Ray seemed stunned. "You shouldn't say things like that about Lissie! If her own sister thinks she's shacking up with Pat, what are other people going to think? Even is she was, which I sincerely doubt, it's surely not your place to inform the general population.

He stopped, and Angie looked somewhat chastised, then Ray added, "Do you really think they're doing it?"

Angie nodded hesitantly, but said, "It's not something I should be discussing, you just told me so."

It was funny. Both Davy and Joey looked at me and asked, almost in unison, "She's twelve?" then Davy muttered, "Tell your parents to watch out!"

Ray laughed and said, "They already are! Angie's a bit advanced for her age."

Nothing else was said. We picked up our dishes and I washed them, then we got our coats off the hooks and headed across the driveway, stopping to look at the snow, which was now over an inch deep and falling steadily. I looked up and around, mostly because it was so pretty, but partly to see if there was any sign of Jack in any of it. He loved the snow if anyone ever did, and I half hoped to see him float down on a flake, but no-go.

It was a wishul thought at best, and most minds were still on what was going on with Jed and Sally, with Pat and Melissa. I wasn't sure what I thought, but the snow sure was pretty.

I guess I was mildly amused, to tell the truth. If Jed and Pat were getting laid, they could do worse than my sister and cousin. I wasn't really worried about my younger sister with Pat, anymore than I worried about my older cousin with Jed. If they were fooling around, more power to them. The last thing Jed or Pat would do was to hurt anyone and, to tell the truth, I would have liked to watch

Joey, out of nowhere, laughed kind of sadly. He ran ahead and turned around, looking at me and Ray. "Our sisters are gettin' laid! Why aren't we? We're all goin' to jerk off! Ain't that pathetic?"

Ray said, "Oh, no. Not me! Listen, you guys go do what you have to. I'm going back home."

He kind of grinned at me, and I asked, "Gettin' too old for this, Ray?"

He smiled and said, "No, just getting it. There are loads of wanton women at school!"

I returned Ray's grin, saying nothing, but I was curious about what he did with all those wanton women. I'd never had a conscious thought about Ray's love life. He had dated only one girl that I knew about when he lived at home, and that didn't last very long. He'd been a little on the round side then, and I knew he'd been self-conscious about his weight, but he was different now. He'd slimmed down and toned up since he started college, and he looked pretty good.

I said, "You dawg!" which elicited a happy sneer from him before he turned to go.

One thing for sure, it was cold as all get-out, so I followed Davy, Joey and Matt into the house, relishing the warmth. The chill was hard to shake, and it felt nice to get into my sleeping bag. For all our joking earlier, we were all tired, and it was very late. Conversation was quiet and unimportant, and I conjured up an image of Jack to fall asleep to.

It would be our last night together. Davy was staying until Sunday, but Matt was flying home the next afternoon and Joey's family was driving back the next night. Sometime before I drifted into sleep, I thought of ways to make their last day in Morton something to remember fondly.

That thought faded when I remembered a little thing with Jack, a funny one. We were hiking in the hills, in a place we'd never been before, and it was really pristine. Jack said, "I bet nobody ever walked here before. Think about it, Mike! We might be where no man has ever set foot before!"

That was a thought to consider, and as we walked uphill I saw no trace of a trail, no evidence to disprove Jack's theory. Not until he stopped to piss over a ledge, then started laughing almost hysterically.

"What?" I asked.

He gasped, "So much for wilderness! I'm pissing on a bunch of beer cans here." He zipped up and turned around, laughter all over his face. "I guess that kills the Davy Crockett experience, huh?"

I had amusing dreams that night.

* * * * * * * *

The next morning was something different. I was up first, as was usual, owing to the fact that all my friends were lazy asses. I went to my house to get cleaned up, and noticed a bunch of things on the way. It had stopped snowing, but there were probably two inches on the ground, and the sky was a rare shade of dark blue, the moon still visible.

Jed's car was there, too, which meant that he and Pat had stayed the night. I wondered about my sister and Pat, then dismissed the thought. If they'd done anything together, well...than they had.

The next thing I noticed was that the air was as cold as ice, and I got chilled really fast. Our outside thermometer said it was something between zero and five, probably only two or three degrees out. That was more like January weather than November, and it caused me to hurry inside, where it was nice and warm.

My uncle was sitting there having a cup of coffee, and I barged in going, "Brr," as I hugged myself. Uncle Mike smiled and said, "I agree. It's cold out! We had to jump-start two cars when we left the dance hall."

I said, "I'll talk later. Right now I gotta pee!" and I hurried off, not waiting for a response. I stopped when I got to the living room, and it was Patty Anderson sleeping on the sofa. I didn't know what that meant, if anything, and my bladder didn't give me time to ponder it. I guess the sudden cold, then the warmth, had given it some instructions that bypassed my brain, but I barely made it to the bathroom in time.

Relieved, I went to my room for my things. Ray was on his side, facing the wall away from me, and still snoring softly. Jed was in my bed flat on his back, his face almost smiling in his slumber. I got my robe from the inside of the closet door, and took another look at Jed, wondering if he was a happy sleeper, or if this was the face of a recently laid guy.

I chuckled my way back to the bathroom. When I was in the shower, my dick got hard. I knew what it needed, and I started in, wondering what it would be like with Annie, which got me into a fantasy where we actually did it. That didn't last long, because I didn't.

With release came realization. I could probably pressure Annie into doing it, but I appreciated that she had set some terms and conditions early on in our relationship. I loved her, too, and she was important, her wants and desires paramount to mine. Our love life, if you can call it that, was stilted, because that's the way things were. Still, she was willing and eager, whenever we got the chance, to go as far as we dared, and it was good for both of us. If Pat and Melissa went farther, then that was their business. To me, sex was what you made of it. If you needed more than I did, I certainly wouldn't judge you on that alone.

It's weird. When I got out of the shower and dried off, I was wondering seriously what had gone on the night before. When I finally stood in front of the mirror, I made a face at myself, thinking it was perverted to be wondering whether Pat and Jed actually got laid. I don't know the reason, but if they had, I wanted to see it, to hear all about it. It was naive, maybe, but I wanted the picture. Damn! I used to suck Jack's dick, and I knew what it felt like, how much I turned him on, what the result was, but I never conjured up a picture of me doing it.

I used to watch Jack sometimes, as he sucked me, but the pictures in my mind were fuzzied up by the sensations I was feeling. I was in love, and the sex we had, the things we did, were part of that love, not close to all of it. The sex I had with Jack brought us closer when we did it, but it never lasted long. It was the same with Annie, kind of important, but short lived.

Love sustained us...Jack and me, now Annie and me. Sex helped to enhance that love, make it something more special. I suppose it was pointless for two guys to have sex, other than the way it let you connect. It was destined to be just for fun, an expression of love more than love destined to sustain the species.

I chuckled to myself. Sex with Jack had been adventurous, even scary sometimes. It was adventurous with Annie, too, but not scary at all. I'd been timid with Jack, pushed myself on Annie, still respecting her limits. Limits were fine in their own respect. We'd gotten each other off many times, and in pretty imaginative ways. There was joy in sex, and I couldn't wait for us to become unbridled.

Still, there was Davy, and I wanted more with him. Weird, but I wanted more sex, not more love, and Annie could let me go for it, or quash my desires.

Stupidly enough, I decided to ask. Annie knew me, and if I did a good enough job elucidating my desire for Davy, she might give me the go-ahead. Or not. If she didn't, I could sit on my urges, take them out on her. If she did, I'd simply jump Davy's bones like I'd always wanted to. It was a quandary, but a pleasant enough one.

Most people were leaving that day, and Davy wasn't, so I'd have more time to be alone with him. We'd made this vow and that vow about being good, but it was a different good that I had in mind.

I spent time in the kitchen having breakfast with my father and uncle, and then hurried through the fierce cold out to the barn, Annie on my mind. I called her number, and she answered.

"Hey, Annie. I love you."

"Oooh. Hey, Studly, I love you too."

I said, "I...uh...I got scared when it started to snow last night. All I could think of was...that day."

Annie inhaled deeply, "Oh, Mike! I'm so sorry...I never thought."

I said, "Patty felt it, too. I was bad, though. Joey said I had a panic attack...I couldn't breathe right."

"Oh, my Lord, " Annie whispered. Are you alright?"

I sighed, "Yeah, I'm okay. It's like Pat and me went outside, and after awhile it was just snow. We ended up havin' fun in it, gettin' each other all wet. I don't know, it's just snow, and it scared me at first, but it's still just snow."

Annie's relieved giggle made me feel better, and I changed the subject. "Everybody's leaving today, can you come over?"

There was some stir on her end as she asked, then, "Clay can bring me. How are the roads?"

I hadn't checked. "Same as there, I guess. It's really cold, if you haven't been out."

She said, "I haven't," then I could detect the humor in her voice as she said, "You have something on your mind, so why not just say it?"

I giggled, "You can see through me, can't you?"

"Say it, Michael. Ask it...whatever."

"Heh! Um...it's Davy's last night here."


"And...and...I really love him, Annie! I mean...not like you, but I do just the same. I just wanted to ask...no, no, this is stupid!"

Annie sounded hesitant, "Ask what, Mike?"

"Um...well...for permission, I guess."

She sighed, "Permission for what?"

I gulped, then asked, "Annie? You know I love you, don't you?"

Softly, "You keep saying it. I know I love you."

I took a breath, "You know how I am, though?"

I thought I heard a little gasp, then a sigh, "Yes."

I felt so stupid asking that I almost didn't, but "You get pissed when you find out I did something with a boy. Is that because it's always been after it happened?"


"I mean, as opposed to...you know...if you knew it was gonna happen?"

A warning entered her voice, "Michael?"

"Annie, can I say what I want, then you can get pissed?"

I sensed a tapping foot and an icy glare. But I still had to ask. She said, "Say it, then."

"Annie, I love Davy, too. It's different, and I don't get it back in the same way as from you, but I love him." I panicked, "Different than how I love you, Annie, but I do love him. Does that make sense to you?"

Annie paused, "Should it?"

I reasoned, "I love Davy like you love Paulina. Um...you do love Paulina?"

"Of course I love her. She's my best friend."

I smiled, "Okay, so you'll understand this. If you and Paulina wanted to...uh, do something together, I could surely understand that. It would be the most natural thing in the world, nothing at all wrong with it."

"Mike, I don't do things with my girlfriends, and I'm afraid of your point here." She giggled, which I took as a good sign.

I said, "Still, it wouldn't be un-natural if you decided you wanted to. I mean that you should if it felt right."

There was a long silence, then Annie giggled. "Listen, you sound like a little boy asking your mother if it's okay to steal from her pocketbook. This seems so pathetic, but go ahead., Mike. Have your way with Davy, just don't tell me about it. I can't say that I appreciate this, but I am grateful for the heads-up."

"Have my way?" I asked.

"Yes, have your way, if Davy will give it to you. I'm um...getting accustomed to your special needs." She giggled.

"It's okay?"

She chuckled, that musical little laugh of hers. "Mike, to use your own words, don't do anything I wouldn't do!"

I grinned, "I won't...I haven't! Can you feel my smile through the phone?"

"Yes, I believe I can. Oh, Clay says the road's all icy. We'll come over after they salt them."

"I'll be here. I love you, Annie. More than anything."

"I love you, too. Oh, have you started your Christmas shopping yet?"

I thought she was going to ask me for something specific, which would be a big help. "No, just a little."

"Good. I'm going to the mall with Paulina tomorrow. Why don't you come along?"

I almost gagged, "The mall? Um, won't it be crowded? Is Tony going?"

Annie giggled, "Yes, it'll be crowded, that's half the fun. Paulina's trying to talk Tony into going, but he wants to stay home with his mother."

I tried, "Can I stay home with my mother? We hardly said boo to each other all week!"

"Grrr! You are such a typical guy. Heh, at least in that respect. Please, Mike? We never go anywhere, and it'll give us a whole day together."

I caved, "Okay, I'll go. You're gonna actually buy things, aren't you? Not just window shop?"

She laughed, "Yes, I'll buy things, but I'm sure we'll window shop, too."

I heard a sound behind me, and turned to find Davy smiling hesitantly at me. "Um, Davy's here, Annie. I'll see you when you get here, okay?"

She said quietly, "I'll let you go, then. Tell Davy I said hi and that...never mind. If you do anything nasty, please shower before I see you."

I giggled, "I will. Bye, Annie. I love you."

When we hung up, I turned a smile to Davy, looking him up and down. God, I felt lascivious, but he looked so damn good to me. He wasn't really perfect in the details, but the overall effect knocked my socks off. And he had Jack's smile, which almost killed me to look at. I managed a "Hi," then leaned back in my chair checking him out.

Davy blushed a little, then said, "Hi."

I grinned, hoping it wasn't a leer, then put some energy in my greeting. "Hi, Davy! That was Annie on the phone."

He grinned, "I guessed that." He looked around, "Are you out here for privacy? Am I butting in on something?"

I stood up, smiling. "No, it's just where I go sometimes. Did you eat?"

Davy relaxed and smiled, "Not yet, and I'm hungry!"

I guess I was feeling adventurous, at least horny. I said, as seductively as I could, "I'll feed you."

Davy's face darkened, "What's that mean?"

I backed off, "I mean I'll make you something."

He looked surprised, "You can cook?"

"Hell yean, I can cook. I make a mean chicken ala king." A joke came to me, and I burst out laughing, "I mean chicken ala kink."

Davy started snickering, "Mike, don't you ever tell me where you get the meat for that."

Sometimes things strike you funnier than they are, and this was one of those times for me. I couldn't help it, and started almost choking on my laughs. I fell into Davy and hung off him, lost in glee. Davy held onto me, laughing himself, probably at my own helpless laugh. He pulled me close to him, though, and I found myself developing a major league horn. It embarrassed me enough to stop laughing and pull away.

I glanced down at my pants to see if it was showing, and when I looked up I could tell Davy's eyes had followed mine. I felt my face flush, as did Davy's. I chanced a look at his crotch, and he was up as much as I was. We were both a little embarrassed, and I smiled at him. Taking a chance, I said, "I can take care of that if you want."

Davy's expression changed, "Um...I thought we promised." He got nervous, "You know...Annie and all that."

I had to think, and I took a moment. "Only if you want, Davy. I...um, I have permission." I smiled meekly.

Davy giggled, "You're full of shit!"

"I'm not, Davy! Annie said I ..." I cast my eyes toward the floor, "could have my way with you."

It was Davy's turn to laugh. When he caught his breath he said, with a lot of humor in his voice, "You tell Annie that I decide who has their way with me." We both laughed, then he continued, "What'd you have in mind?"

His sheepish look set me off laughing again. I was in a giggle fit, but finally managed to say, "You name it, Davy. I'm yours!"

We both laughed for a moment longer, then Davy had both hands on my shoulders, steadying me so I'd look at him. "Mike, you know how I feel about you...but I'm not like you." He saw the change in my face and pulled me to him, "I love you, Mike. I really and truly do, but the things we did...well, I stayed embarrassed for days. Don't be angry, because we both knew it all along." He pushed me back gently to look in my eyes, "Okay?"

I nodded, disappointed.

Davy pulled me into a real hug, our ears together, and said, "I'll always love you Mike, I just know it." His voice softened, "The other part just can't be, and I know you understand that."

I leaned into him, getting what I could, and sorely disappointed, "I know," I whispered. "I just can't stop my hopes."

He whispered back, "Your hopes aren't with me, Mike. Not real hopes, anyhow. Stick with Annie for now. She loves you in a sexual way, I just love you."

I looked into Davy's eyes and saw the truth, felt my error, knew the ending. Davy would be my friend forever, there was nothing that could break that, except me. I had a sexual desire for him that wasn't returned, at least not in any measure. I had to learn to be to Davy what Scott Johnson was to Joe Goldman. A would-be lover who would never experience the 'be' part. We could love, hug and kiss in public, but there would never be any 'be' between us.

I understood, and I wasn't really sad. Davy was right, and I was wrong to think I could change him. Our friendship could get rocky if I didn't pull in my horn, and I decided right then to do just that. I backed up a bit and smiled the best I could, "Okay, Davy." I almost gagged on a sob, "You're the best friend I ever had, let's leave it at that," I hesitated, "Okay?"

I looked at Davy, and he looked at me, then he grinned, "Okay, that's perfect." He looked in my eyes and said, "I'm sorry, Mike. We're just different."

I rested my chin on his shoulder. "I know. I'm trying to be good, but it's just that you...do things to me. I'm sorry."

Davy sighed, "I know, Mike, and I'm flattered…really, but I'm not made the same way as you." He lifted my chin so I could look at him straight, then he kissed me. We looked at each other for a moment, then we both smiled. Davy whispered, "I still love you, Mike." He smirked a bit, "Let's leave this gently, okay?"

I looked at him for some time while I tried to untwist the thoughts in my head, then when I had them wrung out I smiled, "Okay."

I was wrong, and I knew it. I couldn't change Davy anymore than he could change me. He accepted me, even knowing what I really wanted, and that was the important thing. I had to accept back, and it wasn't easy to do, but I could do it. I felt the fool for involving Annie, for thinking about it to begin with, but I had to accept or threaten both relationships.

Davy was kind. He changed the subject! "So," he said, "are you going to kink me up some chicken or what?"

I gawked at him, then laughed. "How about some eggs? I think there's ham, too."

He grinned, "Lead me to it! I'm freaking starved here." He thought, then said, "We could just go to my uncle's place. They'll have food all ready."

That sounded good to me, but I wanted to do something. "No, I'll make you breakfast." I looked at him, "I'm sorry, okay? I can be pretty thick sometimes."

Davy grinned, "Can't we all?" and pulled my shoulder. "Feed me! I'm hungry. Do that, and all will be forgiven!"

I laughed, "Only God can forgive."

Davy giggled as we pulled our coats on. "Maybe. You could be right you know, but you could be wrong too." He smacked the back of my head, "Just get me some food, we'll work the forgiveness factor later!" He took my hand and winked at me, a big smile on his face. "We'll figure out the weirdness factor as time goes on."

The salt truck went by while we were mounting the steps to the house, so things would start moving again before long.

I made Davy a big omelet that didn't look too good, but he said it tasted fine, and devoured it in no time flat. He wanted to spend time next door before people started leaving, so I told my Dad to tell Annie I'd be there if she showed up before I came back.

We went to Jack's old house first, and there were packed bags by the door, some commotion in the kitchen as people did last minute things.

We talked to Barry and Jack, who were hurrying a bit, and then said goodbye. Tim's father and Dave's mother came in, and when Barry and Jack left, we walked with them back to the barn.

I hadn't spent much time talking with them, but I regretted it. They both had a certain charm, and they were fun and interesting to talk to. "Next time," I thought as we parted. Damn, the world was filled with so many interesting people that I wondered how anyone ever got any work done. If I added up everybody I thought I should spend some more time with, I'd be talking well past my two-hundredth birthday. That was a happy, though probably unattainable, prospect.

I was sad to learn that some people had left the day before, and I hadn't said goodbye. Ronnie and Adam were still there, and we talked for a few moments. Ronnie asked, "Did you get lucky, Mike?"

I groaned, "No, not really."

He bopped my shoulder and smiled, "Come to Boston someday, we'll fix you ..."

Adam smacked his shoulder, "Hush up, Ron." He turned his awesome smile to me and said, "Mike, it's been nice getting to know you. If you ever do come to Boston, we'll... he had to put his hand on Ronnie's mouth, and we all laughed, "we'll be happy to show you around. " He grinned and let go of Ron.

Ronnie winked and said, "Yeah, we'll show you around alright. Don't be surprised if you show up as the main course one night!"

Adam smacked his arm and laughed, "Don't mind Ronnie. Please don't mind Ronnie!"

Ron laughed, "If Mike doesn't, who will?"

Adam rolled his eyes, "Stop, Ron." He smiled a killer smile at me and held out his hand. As I took it, he said, "Come visit, Mike. Boston's an interesting town, full of American history, and if that's boring, there's still a lot to do."

I smiled back, saying "Thanks, I'd like to." I don't know why, but I suddenly felt a rush of emotion. I'd been promising to visit here and there, and I really wanted to, but for whatever reason, I really wanted to see more of Adam and Ron. Somehow, in our brief conversations, we'd connected, especially me and Ronnie. Ron was the queerest, or at least the most obviously gay guy, I'd ever met in my life. Regardless of his somewhat outrageous behavior, we'd made a connection through loss, and he'd shown me something.

I squeezed Adam's hand, the hand of the handsomest guy I ever saw, then dropped it to hug Ronnie. There was nothing dramatic between us, but he'd taught me the most important lesson I'd learned that week. Jack was alive as long as I kept him alive, no longer.

As I half expected, Ron felt up my ass during the hug, but I didn't mind, and gave his a squeeze. Ron was the guy who convinced me that my memories of Jack were valid and important, the guy who got me to thinking they were like chapters in a book To use Tony's favorite word, that was profound thinking. Jack's last chapter had already been written, but I was destined to add new ones to my own life until my own time came.

Funny, but Ron had never said that last bit, just that I should hold onto Jack by reliving my memories of him. The idea that I'd be adding new chapters to my own life was my own, and it seemed seriously profound.

I guess I was holding on pretty tight, because Ronnie said, "Down, boy! Jesus!" He grinned at me, then at Adam, and said gleefully, "I haven't lost my touch! Let's just take Mike with us!"

I laughed and let go. We shook hands and said goodbye. I turned around and saw Jerry and his wife, and went to talk to them. They weren't leaving until later, but they extended a serious invitation for me to come visit them in Dallas. Since Jerry worked for an airline, he could get me free tickets, and I could ask Annie along if I wanted.

I said I'd go for sure, because I wanted to see Dallas, because I liked Matt, and because I wanted to get to know my new relatives better.

Talking to Jerry made me think about the money again, and that was fun. It lifted my spirits, and I could feel my happiness in my own smile.

I was wearing that smile when Annie and Clay walked in, followed by a whole bunch of people, including my sister and Pat Anderson. Jens Christiansen was with them, and he seemed happy to be there, but a little haggard.

I studied Lissie and Pat, trying to determine if they looked to be freshly fucked or not, and decided on a tentative maybe. They were glowing, but it might have been from the cold air.

Annie had my attention big time. She was wearing shades of gray and white, and had some squarish sunglasses with a red tint on the end of her nose. Oh my God! Her jeans were tight, dark gray low-riders, and she was wearing a light gray sweater over a snow-white turtleneck. It so set off her natural coloring so that the effect would have been astounding in a still photograph. But Annie was never still, and she hadn't seen me yet, so I got to watch her in motion. Oh, man! Pink cheeks from the cold!

Move she did. She was listening, talking, shaking hands, hugging, with such animation that it was hard to keep track of. When she finally spotted me, she hurried over, smiled and hugged me. Then we kissed, and it was such a happy one I thought I'd burst. That after the talk we'd had about me and Davy.

We broke the kiss, and I said, "You look great! Are those my pants you're wearing?"

Annie giggled, "Not yours, but I bought them at the same time." She turned around slowly, asking, "You like?"

I smiled, "I want!"

She grinned, "I still have yours if you want them back," then excitedly, "Clay got me this sweater. I love it! It's alpaca wool." She took my hand and brought it right to a breast, "Isn't that the softest thing you ever felt?"

It was soft for sure, but I yanked my hand back in horror. "Annie!" I whispered loudly, "People can see!"

She put my hand back there, smiling, "Let them." She didn't move her eyes from mine, "Heh, I'm wearing shades, so nobody can recognize me." She adjusted the glasses on her nose. "Like them? Clay bought me these, too."

I think those glasses on anyone else would have looked foolish, but Annie could pull it off, and I thought they looked sharp. I grinned and kissed her nose, "Very cool, Annie." For some reason, I couldn't stop smiling. I'm sure that the fact that she was there with me was a big part of it, but I think I was relieved that Davy was enforcing my chastity, such as it was.

I whispered, "Take a look at Pat and Liss, tell me if you think they look different."

Annie eyed me, "Different?" then looked at Pat and my sister, and back to me. "Different how?"

I blushed, "Never mind, I...I just thought they might look different."

Annie eyed me, "Mike?"

"Um, Angie thinks they're, um that they might...were ..."

Annie's eyes bugged, "You mean ..."

I nodded, and Annie asked, "Does that upset you? I mean, would it upset you?"

I shrugged, "I don't know, not really. I mean, I think I should care, but I don't even wanna know. Well, I do, but ..."

Annie still seemed surprised, but she smiled at me. "You should tell Lissie what you just said. Let her know that you're there if she needs you, but what she does, at least within reason, is her business, and that you'll keep your nose out of it."

I grinned, "Is that what Clay told you?"

Annie stared at me in disbelief. "No, that's what I told him, but I shouldn't have had to."

I had to laugh. I'd seen many exchanges between Clay and Annie, and to hear them go at it you'd think she wanted an older brother about as much as Clay relished the idea of a younger sister, but they always worked things out. I knew where Clay was coming from, and thought that I had an obligation to protect my sisters if the time ever came for it, but I really and truly wasn't prepared to deal with the idea of them having sex lives.

I said, "Okay, I'll stay out of it." Curiosity had me though, and I asked, "Can you find out if it's true? I mean, you don't have to tell me anything, just make sure they're being...careful, I guess."

Annie studied my face, "Mike, I hardly think it's my place." She grinned, "If you have those concerns, then you talk to Pat, and for God's sake, don't make it specific to the point he learns new things."

I stared at her, stupified. "How can I not be specific? This is a pretty...no, a singularly specific act we're talkin' about," I smiled, "and one that I have no first hand knowledge of."

Annie's eyes rolled, and she looked at her right hand, then her left one. "Yes you do, Mr. Forgetful." She held out her right hand and exclaimed, " This is your first hand knowledge! If you tell me you've forgotten, I'll have to get physical!"

I smirked, "That would be nice."

Her hands went up. "Alright! I'll ask, since you've decided to be primitive! Do you just want to know if, or do you want all the details?"

I giggled, "Don't you?"

Annie giggled, "Let's get out of here. People are starting to stare. I believe they think we're having a fight."

I said, "Don't worry, they won't know who you are with those shades on."

If Annie was ever going to smack me, it would have been then. Instead, she took my hand and tugged me toward the kitchen.

We stopped to say hi to Jens, which came out, "Hi, Jens. I haven't seen you around in awhile."

He smiled, "You didn't come for a ham. All I've done for a month is bulldoze shit, run the smoker, work in the store, clean up the store! This is my first day off in forever."

I grinned at Jens, ready to make a wise crack, then I saw the tiredness in his eyes. I said, "Make the best of it, Jens. If you need some help over there, give me a shout, okay?"

He seemed happily surprised. "Really?"

I bopped his shoulder, "Yeah, really. Just don't ask me to kill anything."

He snickered, "They're pigs, Mike. They have some dignity, and I don't think they'd take kindly to me making bacon out of them while they're alive!"

I cringed, "This is gross." I pointed out Ronnie, saying, "If you want a laugh, talk to that guy with the black hair. Are you hangin' around here today?"

Jens' eyebrows went up, "I'm sure not going home."

I took Annie's hand and said, "Good, we'll catch you in a bit."

Common sense told me that if everyone was in the barn house, Jack's old place would be empty. Annie and I bundled up for the short walk and, while we paused to admire the snow for a minute, we decided that inside was better than out that day. It hadn't warmed up a bit, even though the sun was full out.

I think I had a singular purpose in mind, and I know Annie sensed it, shared it. That sweater Clay bought for Annie was beautiful, and I desired to see it hanging on a peg, so I could admire it in its natural state. Right?

We chose the master bedroom over the smelly sleeping bags in Jack's old room and, with the door locked behind us, fell into a kiss that I'll always remember as elegant. Yeah, it was passionate, but we never got sloppy, at least not at first. That particular kiss was fun at the same time, full of love and giggles, full of want and need.

We were gentle with that beautiful sweater, but not with anything else. The rest of our clothes fled us like they were woven with steel, and the room was a giant electro-magnet. We took a second to laugh at where things had landed, then lit into each other like the lightning bugs we felt like. So little time, so much to do! We knew how to bring each other over the edge, and we did over and over again, until we were exhausted.

I laid next to Annie, a sheet pulled up over us, and stared at the ceiling, so totally content, so at peace with the world, that I was barely aware of my own weight on the bed. I clasped her hand and breathed, "You're wonderful, Annie. I love you so much I could cry," which I proceeded to do. I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion for this girl. My pretty, funny Annie!

She cried, too. "I love you, Mike, I really do." She shifted to her side, toying a finger over my chest, "Next time, maybe. Buy some rubbers."

I giggled, "That's a fancy thought. Do you mean it?"

She pulled closer to me and kissed my cheek, giggling , "I should slap you for that, but I mean it." She snuggled up even closer, saying softly "A fancy thought? I've had ideas for a long time about how it should be, but I've changed my mind. I love you. I don't know where we're headed, but I want my first time to be with you."

My tears were flowing freely. "I love you, Annie. So much I ..."

She kissed me, "Shh, don't even try, Mike. I know what you mean, and I feel the same way. Words won't do it, so just kiss me again."

Annie loved me!

I kissed her again, and again, anticipating.


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