The Concord Five

By Sequoyah Pendor


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This is a work of fiction; any coincidence is just that, a coincidence.

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© 2000 - 2003 Sequoyah Pendor. All rights reserved.

Chapter One


As I got in the car, I could hardly hold back the tears. Sure, we were all sad -- as friends always are when a time of separation comes -- but it hit me harder. I was leaving the woman I had come to see as my best friend and now the love of my life. Michael and Mary Kathryn and Bill and Linda had only left friends; I had left the light of my life.

Paula and I had talked a lot about that the nights we slept together in the tent. We talked about a lot of things. We talked about having sex -- making love with no boundaries -- and decided it was best to put it off, as difficult as that proved to be. We talked about how little time we really had together after we discovered we were in love. And, I guess most importantly, we talked about what would happen if we found someone else. I didn't want to even think about that, much less talk about it, but Paula is a very practical woman.

"Jacob, I can't imagine it happening, but let's be honest. How many high school romances have you known which lasted when the couple split up -- going to different colleges or, as we are, where one is in college and one is in high school? I can't think of a single one. Even couples who were officially engaged didn't make it."

I had to admit she was right, and then protested we were different.

"Maybe we are. I think we are, but what if we're not? There are high school events you'll want to attend with a date and I'm sure the same will be true for me. Is that going to be ok? I mean, is it ok for us to date casually for special occasions or not? If we do, what happens if we fall in love with someone else?"

"I honestly hadn't thought about that, Paula. I really hadn't. But if we are in love and if we are committed to each other, I don't see why we can't date occasionally so long as the person we're dating knows where they stand. Do you?" I looked at Paula closely because I knew her eyes would tell me the truth.

"See no reason at all. If we trust each other and make sure the date knows it's just a friendly kind of thing. No, I see no reason not to." Her eyes told me she was telling the truth.

"And if we fall in love with someone else?"

"Jacob, all I ask of you is that you be honest. When you see it happening, don't lie to me. Be a man and be up-front. If that is the way it is, we might still be friends after the hurt is over, but that's not likely."

"Glad we talked, Babe," I said. "So long as we're honest with each other, it'll be ok." I leaned over and kissed Paula and, as I did, I said to myself, "It's going to take some woman to turn my head because I think I've found the only one for me".

Thoughts, memories, were all racing through my mind as the miles rolled by. I don't know when I fell asleep, but I did and only woke up when Bill stopped for gas and a pit stop.  


All of us, except Mom and Dad, spent only one night on the road going home, stopping in a motel somewhere in Kentucky. Because of Mom's condition, she and Dad took an extra day to get back, stopping and resting frequently, and calling it a day early on Monday and Tuesday. The rest of us got home late Tuesday and all were very tired. We had stopped for supper in Concord, so when we got to Mary Kathryn's, I kissed her goodnight, went home, took a quick shower and fell into bed.

The Larsens expected me for breakfast Wednesday morning so I was up early, ran with Mary Kathryn, showered and drove to her place. I told her she should shower with me, but she wisely decided a fresh woman after a run would be hard to explain.

We were all reluctant to do anything after the two weeks in Ohio and getting back tired the night before, but the summer was over. Gabrielle and Jens were off to work and Mary Kathryn and I were meeting the Fellowship -- what was left of it -- and Ms. Jones at 9:30 at the school. She had asked that we come in to make some plans for the opening of school.

Mary Kathryn and I arrived a bit early and went to Ms. Jones' office. She asked about our summer, how Matt and Luke were doing, and we told her that we had been with them as well as Eugene, Larry and Paula and our families and friends in Ohio for two weeks, getting back the night before. She wanted to know all about it and we were in the midst of telling her when Bill, Linda and Jacob came in. They joined in the conversation and we just talked about the summer until it was well after 10:30.

"Glad you had a good summer, even with all the bad things. Jacob, I'm sorry about you and your parents, but know that Bill and his family will make you welcome."

"They have already," Jacob said. "I think they're trying to spoil me," he laughed.

"Well, you have earned a spoiling from me," Bill said. He then told Ms. Jones how Jacob had made his dad realize he hadn't been paying attention to him.

"That's great," Ms. Jones said. "Maybe we can hire him out to wake up parents this year. And, Jacob, I guess you are a bit lonesome with Paula in Ohio."

"Lonesome doesn't begin to cover it," Jacob said. "This is going to be a rough year for the two of us."

"Think we may help by keeping all of you busy," she said, seriously. "But, first, we have some things to work on such as the calendar, the usual, and then I have some special things I want to talk to you about, so let's get busy."

We worked on the calendar of events and what students would be expecting and when, everything from homecoming to SAT and AP exams. By the time we had finished, it was lunchtime. "How about taking a break?" Ms. Jones asked. "It's time for lunch and I have taken the liberty of ordering pizza for us and have prepared a salad to go with it. Let's go to the courtyard and wait for the pizza, which should be here in five or ten minutes."

While we were waiting, sipping on soft drinks, Ms. Jones asked, "I heard something about a trip to the Black Hills, Michael. Was that a vacation trip?"

"Hardly. Matt and Luke went there to do a vision quest. Mary Kathryn and I were there for different reasons." Between Mary Kathryn and I, we told her of our experience there, I mean as far as you tell anyone about medicine man training and preparing for womanhood. Ms. Jones was fascinated and kept asking questions, some of which Mary Kathryn and I answered with, "I'm sorry, Ms. Jones, that's something you don't talk about to others". She was really fascinated when we told her how Red Hawk had died.

"I guess that means your training is complete then, doesn't it?"

"I don't think so," I replied, "but I don't know what happens next, since Red Hawk is dead. We'll just have to wait and see."

"Maybe what you have learned can be used in one of the things I want to happen this year. In one of the workshops I attended this summer, I learned about high school peer counseling programs. Students counsel and help other students after a pretty intensive training program. It works where it is being used. Peer counselors also serve as mediators when students get into conflicts. One of the things it does is to change discipline. Too often students are suspended, or even expelled, when they get in trouble. When that happens, they are put on the street where they often get into deeper trouble. Maybe we can find an alternative to that."

"I want each of you five to come up with at least three others you know -- sophomores, juniors and seniors -- so we can pick a team of twenty. And don't, by the way, look at just grades or even people who have never caused trouble. Look at people you are sure could be trained to help other students -- those who, you recall, helped students last year. I was told students often just go on instinct. Think you can do that? All of you have had experience without training, so I immediately thought of you as the core group."

"How long do we have?" Bill asked.

"I have scheduled a camp for a training retreat two weeks after school starts. You will have a 'for credit' class which will continue training and provide support. That, of course, will start as soon as school starts. And you'll need to think of a teacher who can work with you. I have some ideas, but I'd rather that come from you. In addition, I was thinking of Ms. Norman as a co-advisor."

"She was the first one I thought of," Eugene said.

"Well, think of another. It probably should be a male so you have the male-female dynamic in the advisor team."

"Ok, we'll be thinking about that," Bill said. "It sounds like a very good idea to me."

"Here's another very radical idea," Ms. Jones continued. "I have talked with Millie about it and she has taken it to the board. They are reluctant to give permission for it, but Millie has a couple members as enthusiastic about it as she is. They have given approval for us to move ahead, subject to the final plan being approved by them."

"The student council has, for all practical purposes, been an organization without purpose. This summer I did a lot of reading about the way this country was set up. Why couldn't a school, which has elected student officials, be set up to operate in much the same way? Of course there are some decisions I would have to make and some things I might over-rule, but why shouldn't the student government be responsible for the rules -- like laws -- by which we operate? Why shouldn't students form a court to try students for infractions of the rules? Why shouldn't students decide how discretionary funds be spent? I think it would work. Then students would really take seriously what we as administrators and faculty say, but know is wrong, 'This is your school'. What do you think about that?"

"Well, as you said, it's a pretty radical idea. Members of the student government are generally elected in a popularity contest and probably would not be the best choices," Mary Kathryn observed.

"And just what makes you think that's not true of political leaders?" Linda asked.

"Now that you mention it..." I mused. "Why not try it? It couldn't be worse than it is now. 'Course it's gonna take a lot of explaining to get that across to students."

"Yea, and there will have to be a rough period in which you keep hands off, at least up front, before students believe it and take the idea seriously," Jacob said. "But, you know, I think students will be harder on students than faculty and administrators are."

"Probably," Ms. Jones said. "I guess I would have to have final say, since I have to answer to the board and parents. But I'm willing to stay out of it as much as I can, even if the place starts going to hell in a hand basket at first."

"As I am sure it will," Mary Kathryn said.

"Well, you have your work laid out for you. Think you can have a final plan by Monday?"

"We have already called a meeting of the Fellowship -- what's left of us -- at the falls Saturday. Why don't you come by late Saturday afternoon and see what we've come up with? Even have supper with us. We'll be having a picnic about 4:30 or 5:00," I said.

"Sounds good to me. I've set aside the conference room for you to use. A copy of the school board's rules and regulations is there for reference. You don't need to look at them all -- I'm sure you don't need to know the procedure for purchasing toilet paper!" she laughed, "but matters of discipline, behavior, dress codes are there. If you find something you think needs changing, write it up with the changes and reasons and I'll present it to the board or explain why I can't. Any questions?" There were none and we adjourned to the conference room.

We discussed the peer counseling program and thought it was an excellent idea, but really weren't ready to recommend others for it without some thought, so we turned to looking at the new role of the student government.

The first thing we looked at was the student handbook. All of us were astonished at the pages upon pages of rules. We certainly had never read them and doubted that many other students had either. All of us could remember when a teacher had busted a student for disobeying a rule we had never heard of, but realized they were so many and so nit-picky that could happen. Actually, because of that, they had no real meaning. After an hour, we had reduced the rules to very few: "Students are to be academically honest. Students are to respect the authority of administrators, teachers, student government members and any other designated authorities. Students are to respect each other. Students are to respect the property of the school board and of each other. Students are to respect rules of classroom behavior as established by each teacher." That was it. Of course, there would have to be a lot of discussion of the implications of the rules, but there was no need to have five pages on academic honesty as the old handbook had. Every student knew the difference between honest work and cheating.

We were asked to attend the general faculty meeting at the end of the day and make our presentation. Most teachers were very much for having fewer rules and all agreed that they would have to take responsibility for spelling out how they would be applied in their classrooms.

As we were leaving the school, Mary Kathryn and I asked Greywolf and Yong Jin if we could come by and talk with them about what Ms. Jones had proposed and they agreed. Both were very supportive of the idea of student government taking a larger role and of the peer counseling program but, as the Fellowship did, they needed time to think of people for the counseling program and how to present the student government's new role to students.

When I got home, I called Christopher and asked if he'd like to go for a ride in the country. I hadn't seen him since I talked with him earlier. He didn't seem too interested, but said he'd do anything to get out of jail. I didn't bother to ask him what he meant, just told him I would pick him up in half an hour. He said he was at his grandfather's restaurant, so I drove straight there.

When I went inside, Demetri greeted me heartily and asked what I had been up to. I told him about all of us going to Ohio and helping the crew there get set up, then asked where Christopher was. Demetri rolled his eyes and motioned with his head to the back room as he called out, "Christopher, someone here to see you".

Christopher came, almost running from the back room, a huge smile on his face. When he saw me, he came to a sudden halt and the smile disappeared. "Oh, it's you," he said in a voice he might have used to greet an executioner.

"Yea, it's me. If you don't want to go with me, fine. I have other things to do so I don't need to waste your time or mine." I saw no reason to ignore his expression and obvious feelings.

"Oh, I'll go. It's just that I thought you were someone else."

We went outside and climbed into the Tracker. As we did, I noticed that Christopher had a few more things pierced which I wouldn't have believed had someone told me, because I didn't think he had anything unpierced when I first met him. As we started out of town, I asked, "What've you been up to this summer?"

"Mostly being worked and bored to death. The old man insists that I work in his rundown place and I'm there six or eight hours some days. Other than that, I've mostly been bored except when one of the guys comes by."

"Who've you been hanging out with? Anyone I know?"

"I guess. They sure know you. I've made friends with the real kewl crowd, Dude, you know Kenny Haines, Frank Kitchen and Spike Ellis and that bunch of kewl dudes."

"Kewl dudes, my ass," I thought. "That bunch are the bottom-feeders deluxe. They have been in and out of juvenile detention so often they think it's home because they are still young enough not to get sent to jail for dealing drugs, alcohol violations, vandalism and theft. Yep, they are kewl dudes all right." I decided not to say anything about them and just see what Christopher would tell me.

"What have you and they been up to? Having fun?"

"Sure have, man, when I can get some money out of the old man. I mean he pays me for working, but it's not enough. We got a-hold of some great grass last week, but it's gone and I'd sure like some more. Kenny's picking up some today, I hope. Yea, and we found a guy who will buy beer for us. He takes half, but I've been able to sneak a bit from the till occasionally so we can party. But you're not into fun are you, boy?"

I was ready to demonstrate just how much a boy I was NOT by busting the son of a bitch one, but held my temper. "Sure I'm into fun. It's just that I don't need weed or beer to have fun."

"Don't know what you're missing. Still haven't found a chick to screw. I was used to getting a lot of pussy when I was hanging out at my old lady's, but can't seem to connect here. I mean other than what the dudes come up with. But I will." He cupped his cock and balls in his hand and jiggled them. "Sure need some pussy. You getting any ass these days? Hear you got a regular girlfriend."

Ok, he had stepped over the line this time but I still kept my cool -- mostly. "First of all, Christopher, if I am or am not having sex with my woman, it's none of your damn business and would not be something I'd talk about to someone I barely know. Second, I don't like the way you refer to Mary Kathryn, my woman. You make her sound like some kind of tramp or whore and I don't like it."

He laughed and said, "You answered my question. You're not getting any ass."

I was really steaming. I pulled to the side of the road, looked him in the eye and said, "Christopher, who you run with and what you do is your business. You're being a damn fool and you'll learn that soon enough, but that's your affair. BUT my relationship with Mary Kathryn is not your business and if you make another remark suggesting she is trash, I will beat the shit out of you. You better understand that. Now do you want to go back or shall we start over?"

"Hey, be kewl, dude. Just be kewl."

I calmed down some and we drove out to the farm. Christopher said he had never seen a real farm, so we just walked around the place where I answered questions. I couldn't believe he was so fascinated by things like vegetables growing in the garden, cows feeding and so on. "Look, I would really like to see how you get milk out of them cows," he said.

"Sorry, can't show you that since most of 'them cows' are bulls and are just about as capable of giving milk as you are."

"That's the reason they have only one teat, they don't give milk."

"Not a teat, dude. They have only one of those just as you have only one."

"Oh," he said.

"We raise beef cattle, not milch cows. So we don't milk cows, but maybe I can show you how to get milk out of a cow. It's almost 5:00. There's a dairy farm not too far from here and they should be ready to start milking. Let's go."

When we arrived at the Heidelberg farm, several men were preparing cows for milking while other cows were already in the milking stalls being milked. Mr. Heidelberg was at the end of the long milking parlor and I told Christopher to walk quietly as we started toward him.

"Hi, Michael, haven't see you in a coon's age," Mr. Heidelberg said as he extended his hand. As I shook it I said, "Mr. Heidelberg, this is Christopher. He's Demetri's grandson."

"Demetri that runs the Greek place?"

"Yea, that's my granddaddy."

"Got a great man for a grandfather, son," Mr. Heidelberg said. "He's got a good heart. Well, what can I do for you, Michael?"

I laughed. "Christopher wants to see how you get milk out of a cow."

"Well, Christopher, if you look at the cows in here, they have a milking machine attached to their teats. It uses a vacuum to milk them. But I guess you'd like to see how it was done by hand. I've got a kind of pet cow who is willing to be milked by hand. I'll bring her in shortly. Meanwhile, make yourself at home." We walked around and again I answered questions. A few minutes later, Mr. Heidelberg came in leading a cow. "This is Daisy," he said, as he placed a bucket of feed in front of her, and walked back, sat on a low stool and started milking, both hands producing powerful streams of milk which foamed as it hit the bucket. After a while he asked, "Michael, can you milk?".

"Not with both hands, and I'm not very good, but I can do it." Mr. Heidelberg got up and I took his place on the stool and produced a pretty weak stream of milk. After I had struggled bravely for a while, Mr. Heidelberg asked, "Want to try, Christopher?". Christopher nodded and took my place.

Try as he would, he couldn't get any milk. Mr. Heidelberg placed his hand over Christopher's to show him the movement needed. After he tried for a few minutes, Christopher had finally produced a tiny stream once or twice. Finally, Daisy looked around at him and gave him a swat with her tail, tumbling him backwards off the stool. Mr. Heidelberg laughed as he reached out and pulled Christopher to his feet. "I know it looks easy, but you have to learn a technique, just like doing anything. Daisy knows you are new at this and gets a bit annoyed. Guess you're not hurt."

"No, just embarrassed," Christopher replied.

"Don't be. She can still do that to me if I don't watch it," Mr. Heidelberg said. "Well, I guess we all had enough hand milking today," he added as he led Daisy to a milking stall.

"Thanks, Mr. Heidelberg," I said, shaking hands with him.

"Yea, thanks," Christopher said, sticking his hand out.

As we were walking back to the Tracker, Christopher said, "Dude, that milking machine thing could give you one hell of a blow job," and laughed. I decided not to tell him it would probably give him one that he would regret, as some dairy boys I know had found out!

Once we started back to town, he started talking shit about weed and beer and pussy again. I was pretty pissed when I let him off. I was sure that most of what he was saying was pure smoke and bullshit, but I wondered why he thought he had to talk such shit to me.

I took him back to the restaurant and when I let him out said, "Laters". As I drove off I thought to myself, "This is not a project I want!"

I talked to Mary Kathryn about my time with Christopher, and how he seemed to be ok when we were on the farm and at the dairy, but I got pissed all over again when I told her how he talked about women and her. "Michael, he wasn't talking about me," she said, "but about the women he has known or probably thought about. Maybe that's the only kind he has known."

"Mary Kathryn, I have never had such mixed feelings about a person as I have about Christopher. On the one hand, he's an asshole, a user, and a no-good jerk. On the other, when I look at his granddad, I know there has to be something worthwhile in him if he hasn't killed it already. I think I saw that coming out while we were at the farm and dairy. Still, on the one hand, I'd like to just beat the living shit out of him and on the other I'd like to try to help him make something of himself."

"Well, I know where you stand," Mary Kathryn laughed, "...confused. I guess we'll just have to keep working until he chooses one way or another."

"I guess so, but it's not going to be easy," I replied.

I decided I'd ask Christopher to join the Fellowship at the school Thursday, and when I called him late Wednesday night, Demetri said he hadn't come in yet. "He's out and gone all hours and I don't know what to do about it," he said.

"Doesn't he have a curfew from the trouble he got in before he came here?" I had no idea whether he did or not, but thought there must be one.

"I don't know. I guess I should look over the agreement he signed to get to come," he said.

"Have him call when he gets in," I said.

It was 1:00 when he called and the phone irritated Dad big time, but he didn't say much. He didn't have to, he just called from his bedroom, "Michael, it's for you".

"Michael here," I said into the phone.

"It's Christopher," the voice on the other end said. "You wanted me to call you?" Christopher's voice was definitely slurred.

"Yea, I wanted to invite you to go to the school tomorrow with a group of us."

"Why the fuck would I want to go to the fucking school before I have to?" he asked.

I explained what we were doing and when I finished said, "I thought you might be interested in getting to know some people."

"Fucking damn teachers' fucking pets? No, thank you."

I was pissed at him again but, knowing his condition, I said, "Just a thought. Sorry," and hung up. This guy was definitely a problem, but I had promised Demetri I would keep an eye on him and, by damn, I would!

When the Fellowship got to school the next morning, we compared notes on who we thought might be good as peer counselors. Among us, we came up with eleven. That meant we could add four more if all of them accepted. It was a pretty mixed bag. Of course there were good students who had never been in trouble, but there were also a couple who had been in real trouble but seemed to be straight now. There were a couple of girls, a guy we thought might be gay, a football player and a cheerleader, and one additional basketball player Bill said had really changed during basketball camp. When we showed the list to Ms. Jones, she thought we had done a good job but took one off the list because she had moved during the summer. She added one we did not know who had been sent away to boarding school last year while her mother and father were going through a nasty divorce, but who was coming back to live with her father.

The rest of the day we spent setting up the student government and its committees and so forth for its new role in school. When we finished, we presented our findings to the faculty again. Ms. Moore, who had seemed very opposed to the idea the day before, said we had done a good job and maybe she had been wrong in her statements that day. "I'll definitely take a 'wait and see' attitude," she said. "You certainly deserve a chance to prove this will work, and I'll support it until I see it's not working."

"You know, Janice, it's going to be rough at first. This is, after all, something very new for all of us, and very radical."

"I'm willing to hold judgement until the rough time should be over," she said.

"That's all I ask," Ms. Jones said.

Ms. Jones had asked that we meet with her in her office after the faculty meeting. When we got there, Ms. Norman was already present and greeted us all warmly. "I'm really excited about the peer counseling program," she said. "I have heard how well it is working in other places and am really glad we're going to have a shot at it. Who have you decided on as a co-advisor?"

"We haven't," I answered.

"Well, who would you suggest?"

I wanted to suggest Greywolf, but didn't think I should. It would be almost like Matt suggesting his father. Besides, I wasn't sure I wanted Greywolf to hear what I might say.

"To my mind, the best person for the job is Mr. Allen or Greywolf," Jacob said.

"I'm afraid Mr. Allen is out," Ms. Jones said. "He's being given many more responsibilities this year. If he wasn't, I would agree he is an excellent choice. What about Greywolf? Why not Greywolf?"

"I think he is the most obvious choice. The number one reason is that we all know him so well and know what he stands for. He sure seems to have a grasp of what teenagers need and want. I don't know any other faculty member nearly as well and we would start out with a high level of trust in him," Jacob replied.

"How about the rest of you?" Ms. Norman asked, looking around at all of us.

"I certainly think Jacob has spoken for all of us," Bill said.

"Same here," Linda said. "We have been through a lot with him, both here and outside school, and he's perfect."

"Michael, Mary Kathryn, you haven't said anything and I didn't notice you nodding agreement," Ms. Jones said. "What's your position?"

"I can't speak for Mary Kathryn," I said, "and I think Greywolf is perfect except, well, I'm not sure I want to be telling secrets with Greywolf in the room. I mean suppose, just suppose, Mary Kathryn and I were, maybe, kinda, having sex and that caused some problem or something and... well, you know." Damn it, I blushed.

"Mary Kathryn?"

"Ms. Jones, I was thinking about the same thing -- not about having sex, but suppose Michael and I had a problem. Could Greywolf leave it here at school?"

"As you said, all of you know him very well; better, I am sure, than I do. What do you think?"

"I could see where that might be a problem for Michael and Mary Kathryn," Bill said. "Yea, I can see where it might be a problem for them but, knowing Greywolf -- not as well as they do, of course, but pretty well -- I don't think it would be a problem for him. I think he could and would honor confidentiality for them as well as for someone else. But I can see where it could be a problem for them."

"No-one said you had to talk about your own problems before the whole group or before Greywolf," Ms. Norman said. "And I'm sure he would have no problem with keeping general discussions and others' problems to himself. Actually, I don't think he would have a problem keeping your own secrets unless he thought you might be in danger."

"And you need to make clear that is the one reason, and the only reason, confidentiality will be broken -- to protect the safety of the person you are working with or someone else. If a person is talking about suicide, for example, you have to seek help whether the person gives you permission or not."

"To tell the truth, I can't think of anyone I trust more than Greywolf," Mary Kathryn said. "It's just that the idea of discussing certain things with him present might be difficult, and I guess if I needed to talk with someone, I could see one of you."

"Sure you could and I hope you would," Ms. Norman said. "So are we agreed Greywolf will be asked to become co-advisor?" We all agreed.

"Let's see now. Jacob, you are student government vice-president and Michael is president. Bill, do you have an office?" Ms. Jones asked.

"He's secretary of state or whatever my closest advisor is," I answered.

"How about you two?" she asked, looking at Linda and Mary Kathryn.

"Guess I'm first lady," Mary Kathryn laughed. "Actually, I had thought about running for junior class president last year, but decided I really didn't want the job."

"I'm senior class president," Linda said.

"Then, Mary Kathryn, I guess you are head of the peer counselors by default. Talk to Greywolf and see if he's willing to take on another job," Ms. Jones said. "We need to get the student government organized as soon as possible. So, Michael, you and Jacob need to be ready to present the new plan Tuesday at opening assembly, and you can say more about it Thursday when you introduce the officers and committees of the new order. Students need to realize that student government is a great deal more important than in previous years. Tuesday will be a madhouse regardless of what we do, but I think we'll start with assembly, have short classes-thirty-minute classes will count -- and then spend the rest of the day working on organizing the student council. Teachers not involved in the student government will take the rest of the students to get the final touches done so school can get down to business Wednesday."

"What about freshmen representatives?" Jacob asked. "They will not have been elected. Usually the election is held at the end of the third week of school."

"Since they are coming from two different schools, they won't know each other," Linda said.

"The election is always a runaway for Constitution since it is twice the size of Liberty," Mary Kathryn reminded us.

"Ms. Jones, that is always a problem. Why can't we have two elections, one for former Liberty students and one for Constitution? Their representatives could have half a vote instead of a full vote. Then, before Christmas break, we could have another election to choose new representatives. That way students would have plenty of time to get to know each other," I suggested.

"Don't you think that would keep the Liberty-Constitution split?" Ms. Jones asked.

"Don't think it will be any worse than before," I offered. "After all, the representatives will have to get together or they will cancel each other's vote."

"Ok, we'll do it that way. You've done good work today. See you tomorrow?"

"I think not," I said. "We have done about all we can do. Jacob and I need to get speeches ready, but we can do that without coming here."

"I think I hear the falls calling," she laughed.

"You're right. And we'll be there Saturday as well. You're coming by for supper, aren't you? And you too, Ms. Norman."

"About 4:30 or 5:00 you said?"

"Right. Ms. Norman?"

"Would love to come."

We left the office and, as we headed to the parking lot, we decided we'd meet at the falls about noon and Jacob and I would have a draft of our speeches. "By the way, if you don't mind, I'd like to ask Christopher to join us. He probably won't, but I'm going to need all the help I can get with that asshole." Everyone saw no reason not to invite him, but we were all pretty sure he wouldn't come.

After we left the others, Mary Kathryn and I drove home and then walked to the falls. We crossed the canes and were hardly to the beach before we had shed all our clothes. We swam for almost an hour, horsing around and having a good time, then lay on the beach making out. Both of us had to call a halt a couple times before things get out of hand. Well, things actually got IN hand and both of us were under considerably less sexual tension when we got dressed and left the falls.

I got home before Mom and Dad, looked at the supper menu Mom had posted and saw that there was nothing I couldn't do to get it ready so Mom wouldn't have to do it. As I busied myself in the kitchen, I realized I really hadn't had a chance to talk to them since they got back from Ohio.

They had got back in the early evening the day before, and Mom had been very tired so I didn't do more than ask how their trip had been. Mom said it was good, but she was exhausted. Since I had eaten at the Larsens' and Mom and Dad had eaten before they came home, they had gone to bed very early. Mom was six-and-a-half months pregnant and probably shouldn't have made the trip, but she had insisted and her doctor had okayed it provided she and Dad took it easy -- and they had.

When they came in, I said, "Supper in half an hour". Mom grabbed and kissed me then said, "Michael, you are an absolute dream! I am dead on my feet. I had a really busy day and wasn't really rested from the trip. I think I want a shower before supper and just relax with my feet up." She left and I heard the shower start shortly afterward.

Dad set the table while I finished supper, and he put the food on the table as Mom came out of their bedroom in her robe. As Dad held her chair for her, she sat down and said, "Michael, I really do appreciate your doing supper. If I knew then what I know now, I think I might not have made the trip. I'm glad I did, but I really paid for it today. I told LaShandra, my new receptionist, I would be in the office only six hours a day, beginning Monday. I've also been told I will no longer be on-call at the hospital until I go back full-time after the babies are born."

"I think you should start half-days next week," Dad said.

"I will, David, if I find I am getting too tired. Michael, will you say grace?"

I did and we started eating. "Son, you are a good cook!" Dad said after a couple bites. "Tell me, what's going on at school before it starts?"

I told Dad and Mom about the peer counseling program and the new role for the student government. "I'm really excited about it, but also a bit frightened," I concluded.

"Anything as different from what has been, as these two programs are, is bound to have problems. I think the new role of the student government will be such a radical change that even the best students will have to have some time to adjust to it. Those who want to cause trouble will test the limits in every way they can. And, of course, there are those who don't want freedom because they don't want to accept the responsibility for their actions. You know, if you are told exactly what to do, it's 'they' doing to you, so you can be completely irresponsible," Mom said.

"Well, Jacob and I have the responsibility of explaining it to the student body. The Fellowship is meeting at the falls tomorrow at noon. Jacob and I are supposed to have draft speeches then. We're planning on spending Saturday there as well. Ms. Jones and Ms. Norman are joining us for a picnic around 4:30 or 5:00. We want all the families there too."

"Sounds good -- the picnic and your new roles at school," Mom said.

"I fixed dessert," I said, "fresh fruit cups and oatmeal cookies. Want them with coffee on the patio and watch the sunset?"

"Sounds like a winner," Dad said, and Mom nodded.

We didn't have much to say as we sat watching the sunset on an evening that was cool for late August. It was actually dark before we took our dishes inside. Mom went on to bed and Dad and I cleaned up the kitchen.

When we finished, I went upstairs and phoned Christopher. He wasn't at home again and his grandfather said, "Michael, he's out and gone very night. I don't know where he is or what he is doing -- well, that's not quite true. I know some nights he comes home drunk and on others I can smell he has been smoking -- not cigarettes either. One night he came in smelling of weed and sex. You know, he had been having sex and I could smell it. I don't know what to do. If I turn him in as I am supposed to do, he'll have to go back to the detention center where he was before I got him out. Yet if I don't turn him in and he gets picked up, I would be in a lot of trouble. I'm just about at my wits' end. I'm too old for this."

"Demetri, I don't know whether I am too young or too old, but he's a mess and I really don't know what to say. Yesterday we drove out here and he really seemed like a different person. I do know that the bunch he's running with are bottom-feeding scumbags and real trouble. Well, tell him I called, but I don't want him calling here at some unholy hour again. I was going to invite him to join us at the falls tomorrow, but he refused before and we would be doing some pretty important work. Just tell him we're spending the day at the falls Saturday and would like for him to come. If he's interested, I'll pick him up."

"Sure wish he'd take up with you and your friends, but I don't know."

Christopher didn't call and I didn't call him again about Saturday. I had his answer.

Chapter Two


Friday we worked very hard on the speeches to be given in the opening assembly and another for Jacob and me to give Thursday. All four speeches were devoted mainly to the new role of the student government, but the first two did talk about the peer counseling program. Everyone was pretty much satisfied with them by lunch. After lunch, we went over them again while we relaxed before swimming. After that, we spent the rest of the day swimming and relaxing on the beach. At one point when we were all sitting around resting, after a pretty hard game of water keep-away, we talked about Christopher.

Bill had some contacts with the police department and had talked with Zack Ramsey, a young fellow who had graduated from Independence a couple years earlier and was now a rookie policeman. He told Bill he knew that Kenny and his crowd were smoking herb and getting drunk and that Christopher was right in the middle of it. "The whole department knows, but we are trying to move easy, especially with Christopher. We all respect Demetri and know he got a pretty messed-up kid tossed in his lap. The others are small fish and we are hoping they will lead us to bigger fish," he had said to Bill.

"I knew I'd rather try to save a rain forest," I moaned. "You guys have got to help me with this one. When I phoned Christopher the other night, Demetri said he knew all this and was caught between turning him in and having him go back to juvenile detention, or not turning him in and getting in trouble himself. He said just what Zack told you, Bill. He also said he had come home smelling of sex. What did he mean?"

"Zack told me he had been on patrol and found Kenny and the bunch with Zell Albritten--you remember her, I guess. She was still in high school when you were freshmen, but I think she was eighteen then and in our class. She was the school slut and since she dropped out last year has been the town whore. Zack says some beer and weed and she's your girl."

"Anyway, it was three in the morning and he was at the end of that dirt street down past the old cotton mill and saw Kenny's car. When Zack saw them, one of the guys was pumping away on Zell but, when he drove up, they all ran--staggered was more like it." Bill laughed, "Actually Frank Kitchen was on top of Zell and, when he tried to run, his pants fell down and he tripped and fell on his face. Zack said he just yelled and told them to go home then drove back a ways and waited to make sure they left. After they had gone, he went to where they had been. 'There were two cases of empty beer cans lying all around,' Zack said. 'It was obvious they had been smoking, drinking and taking turns fucking Zell all night,' he added. So, sure, can you imagine what a mess Christopher was after participating in an all-night gang-bang? I'm sure he smelled like a whorehouse on Sunday morning. A real class act is our problem child."

"But he is our problem child, right?" I asked. "Not that I wouldn't like to just beat the shit out of him and forget it."

"If it was easy, we wouldn't be needed," Linda said. "And you do think there's some good underneath all the shit?"

"Yea, I do," I replied.

"Then I guess he's our problem child," she responded.

Needless to say, Christopher didn't call and was not with the Fellowship Saturday.

Saturday was a glorious day and we all had great fun. The speeches were done and when Ms. Jones and Ms. Norman looked them over, they thought they were good and would do the job. The families had a good time together at the picnic, even Millie and Ms. Wright who didn't have their kids there. Millie took in her stride being teased about Woody. It started when Bill asked her what she had heard from Ohio and she answered, "Woody's doing great... oh, you mean from Eugene!".

After the parents left, we all went skinny dipping and afterwards started making out until Mary Kathryn noticed Jacob and said, "This is not being fair to Jacob. We are just rubbing in the fact that Paula's not here." She then motioned for Linda and told her the same thing, and we put a lid on our making out until we all were ready for bed. Jacob moved down the beach a bit and I assumed was asleep as soon as he lay down. Bill and Linda had gone down-river, out of sight, and I'm sure didn't stop before they had made love completely.

Mary Kathryn and I went to the foot of the falls, spread our blanket out of Jacob's sight and made powerful love. Once again, I told Mary Kathryn I didn't know how long I could call a halt after we had spent some pretty hot time, stopping just before having sex. She agreed, but we did manage to stop after we brought each other off. Snuggled in each other's arms, we finally went to sleep.

When we all arrived at St. Mary's Sunday morning, I was surprised to see Demetri and Christopher in church. I don't think I had ever seen Demetri there before, since he went to the early Mass. They were sitting in the pew where my family usually sat, so I slid in next to Christopher and Mom and Dad took the outside. When I spoke to Christopher, he just grunted. Demetri shrugged.

At coffee hour, the Fellowship all made it a point to speak to Demetri and Christopher and Christopher was at least civil. "What are you doing tomorrow for Labor Day?" I asked the two.

"The cafe is closed," Demetri said. "I am planning on a quiet day at home. I told Christopher we would go on a picnic or have a cookout if he wished, but he wasn't interested, right Christopher?"

Christopher nodded and then added, "Would like it except I'd like to be with dudes my age, not just with old folks."

"They probably feel about the same way," Bill said. "How'd you like to join us at the falls?"

"Planned to hook up with my buds, but they have something else going on and I wasn't invited. Don't know what. Guess I may as well. Couldn't be any more boring than hanging around the house with a bunch of old folks."

"If you've got a problem with what you call old folks, you might not want to come," Linda said. "All our parents will be at the falls, at least most of the day, but we have a great time with them. In fact, I think most of us wish we had more time with them." Subtlety wasn't exactly a strong suit with Linda these days. Also, when I thought about it, her air-head, cheerleader role had slipped a lot since last spring.

"Well, if you kids are going to be there, it is still better than hanging around the house and I have no place to go, no-one to go with and no way to go," Christopher replied.

"As a matter of fact," Bill said, "why don't you score some good points with your grandfather and invite him to come. There will be people for him to talk to and it won't put any crimp in your style. 'Bout time you got some good points I understand."

Christopher looked at Bill strangely, shook his head and said, "Well, why not? Still better than hanging around the house all day with him. Who do I need to ask about inviting him?"

"No-one. Just ask him. We'll probably get there about mid-morning, have a picnic lunch about noon and then a real cookout and all in the evening. Bring something to swim in...."

"There a pool?"

"Not exactly," Mart Kathryn laughed, "but a great place to swim."

"If you and your grandad want to bring food, that's great, but if he wants a vacation from cooking, there will be plenty," I said.

"I'll speak to the old man. Be right back." The kid was acting human again. I couldn't figure this out.

"Can you believe it?" I asked. "Damn! Here he is acting like a decent human being. I just can't understand it."

"Maybe if you knew more about his past you'd have a clue," Mary Kathryn suggested.

"Maybe, I just don't know."

Christopher came back and ALMOST seemed a bit excited. "The old man said I could come, but he wasn't sure about himself. Believe he sorta thinks this is a kid's party and he feels awkward about being invited by kids. Don't know why."

"He's from the old school. Plus this is a small southern town where traditions are still alive," Linda said. "I'll take care of that," she added as she grabbed Bill by the hand and walked toward Yong Jin. Soon I saw Yong Jin talking to Demetri and he was nodding.

Sunday dinner, the first since we had been in Ohio, felt very odd without Matt and Luke. I think it was the first time we all really, really missed them. It seemed even stranger when we started talking about the gathering tomorrow.

"Michael, I thought you said Christopher was a real pain in the ass," David said. "I was impressed when he asked Demetri about joining us tomorrow."

"That's it, Dad," I responded. "He's like two people. When he was with me on the farm and at the dairy, he was a great kid, then he calls me in the middle of the night drunk. It's really strange."

It rained late Sunday afternoon and into the evening. Monday morning it was cloudy when Mary Kathryn and I went for a run, but by 9:00 it was a bright, warm, sunny day. I was really glad because I was looking forward to getting together with everyone again.

Greywolf had asked Uncle Michael and John to pick up Demetri and Christopher. When they arrived, Christopher was carrying a huge picnic basket. "Fixed up some really Greek dishes," Demetri said, "not the common Greek restaurant dishes. Hope you like them."

"If it's food, we'll probably like it," Bill laughed.

"Man, this place is beautiful!" Christopher exclaimed as he sat the basket down and stood, looking around. "It looks like it's out of a movie or something."

"If you want to see another beautiful sight, come with me," I said, and started up the trail to Lookout Rock. When we reached it, I wasn't sure whether Christopher was awe-struck or scared. Finally he said, "Dude, this is one beautiful place, but I'm kinda put off by height. Makes me kinda nervous."

"Then let's go back down. No problem."

"You won't tell the others that I'm a wuss?"

"Why would I do that?" I asked. "Everyone's afraid of something. I guess it's normal," I said as we walked down the trail.

The food was great. The Greek dishes Demetri brought were definitely a hit.

After lunch we all just flopped down on blankets and relaxed. The talk among the kids was of school starting tomorrow. Christopher seemed interested in both the new role the student government would play and the peer counseling program. "You mean students will be in charge of discipline? That's wild! I bet it won't last because you know kids won't rat on their friends and certainly will be easier on each other than the authorities will," he said.

"Not sure about that," Mary Kathryn said. "If the system is to be successful, we'll have to take the job seriously. You know if things get out of hand, the authorities will not let it go on. It's up to the students to make it work."

"Well, I don't think it will work. Who's afraid of students?" Christopher asked.

"It's not a question of fear," Bill said. "The question is whether or not we want to have a school that is ours or let someone tell us how to do everything. In a year or two, we'll be responsible for our own life and it would be good to have a little practice."

"I sure like the idea of being responsible for the school rather than it being responsible for me," Jacob added.

"Dudes, it may work, but I don't think so. I don't want anything to do with school. I hate it: being told what to do and being told to learn stuff I don't like and will never use. It's all a waste of time. Just another bunch of bullshit old folks think up to make my life miserable." Clearly this was the asshole side of Christopher speaking, but that's all we heard from that side of him on Labor Day.

After we had sat around talking for a while, Linda called out, "Water calls! Ladies get the lower bushes," as she jumped up, ran to a gym bag she had brought and grabbed her swim suit.

"Come along, Christopher. We'll use the cane brake near the falls. Get your swim trunks." Soon we were all swimming in the water which, even in September, was not exactly dishwater warm.

"Race you, Michael," Mary Kathryn said as she scrambled out of the water and raced up the trail to the top of the falls. She got there first because I had to swim some distance before I could get out of the water. When I reached the top of the falls she said, "I won. What's my prize?"

Grabbing her and pulling her body to mine, I said, "This," and gave her a tongue-in-the-mouth kiss.

When we broke our kiss, she said, "You were runner-up," and pulled my lips to hers. As we broke our second kiss, she said, "Runner-up prize is not so bad, is it?" She laughed, turned and dived off the falls' edge, and I was right behind her. As we came up, I saw Bill and Linda were repeating our performance. Right behind them, Jacob--without Paula--hugged himself and then dived in.

Christopher was standing in the shallow water near the edge of the falls' basin, his mouth gaping open. As I drew near him, he looked at me and said, "Damn! You dudes trying to kill yourselves? That is one fucking high dive."

"We've been doing it, at least Mary Kathryn and I have, almost from the time we could swim. It's great fun. Wish you would try it."

"Dude, I'd shit my pants as soon as I got to the edge up there. Can't think of what all I might do if I dived in. Hell, man, I've always been afraid of the kiddie diving board at a pool."

"If you change your mind, one or all of us guys will go with you."

"No, thanks. I think I'll just stay down here."

After a few more dives, we got involved in a wild game of water keep-away. Just after we started, the parents, one at a time, came into the water. Even Millie got in and swam a bit before getting out to sit on the bank with her feet in the water.

The game was going great when I heard a shout from the top of the falls and looked up in time to see Uncle Michael and John join hands and dive in. When they surfaced, Jacob tossed them the ball and shouted, "Kids against parents". The game was really wild and, in spite of the energy of youth, the parents had the ball most of the time. However, they wore out faster. After a while, Uncle Michael said, "That's enough for this handsome, but older, man," and joined Millie and Margaret. Margaret hadn't bothered to change and sat with Millie, her feet in the water.

When Uncle Michael left the game, John went with him. I guess they forgot that Christopher and Demetri were present because when John sat down beside Uncle Michael, he gave him a quick kiss. I saw it out of the corner of my eye, but was looking straight at Christopher. I could have predicted the look that crossed his face.

It was late afternoon before we all got out of the river and, by that time, Dad, Jens and Greywolf had the grills going. Soon everything was ready and we all ate more than enough a second time. We finished eating just before sundown and, without anyone speaking, people started walking to Lookout Rock. Bill came up to me and said, "I don't think Millie should try the walk up by herself. I'm sure she would try, but a slip and she could break another hip. Think we could help her?"

"We can try," I answered and the two of us walked up to Millie and each wrapped an arm around her.

"Don't you think for a minute you're fooling me," she said, "but maybe we can fool the others. I don't like to think I'm a helpless old woman."

"Older than dirt you are for sure, Millie, older than dirt," Bill laughed. "But helpless? Never. However, as capable as you are, a slip on a pebble and your ass would roll down to the river."

"You're right, of course, but I don't have to admit it out loud," she said in a stage whisper.

I had told Mary Kathryn about Christopher's fear of heights and was pleased that she and Linda had gotten on either side of him and were walking up the trail with him.

When we reached Lookout Rock, we all sat down. I looked over at Jacob and could see how he missed Paula. This was a special place for them and I knew he was feeling pain at her not being here, and joy remembering how this was where they had first acknowledged their love.

Everyone sat in silence watching the sky's display. The day had been beautiful and sunny, but now there was a bank of low clouds to the west and the sun was making them a magnificent display of ever-changing colors.

Christopher sat, silent, but obviously awestruck by the sight.

The sun had sunk below the horizon, but it was still light as the parents started leaving. David was making sure Margaret didn't slip, and Greywolf and Jens were helping Millie. Uncle Michael and John walked down the steep trail holding hands. As the parents left, Bill and Linda walked to the edge of the falls, kissed, held hands and dived. I wanted to do the same thing with Mary Kathryn, but couldn't abandon Christopher.

"If you'll pass on the kiss, I'll dive with you, Christopher," Jacob said.

"I don't know. I'm terrified of heights," Christopher replied.

"In that case, I'll walk down with you. I didn't know that."

"Well, if I could get to the edge without looking down, I might be able to do it," Christopher seemed to be talking to himself.

"Want to try?" Jacob asked. "I'll guide you and you can close your eyes if you like. But if not, I'll walk down with you. You don't have to prove anything to anyone around here."

"I'll try," Christopher said, his voice revealing more than a hint of fear.

"Close your eyes," Jacob said, as he reached out and took Christopher's hand. He led Christopher to the very edge of the falls and said, "We're there. I'll count to three and then open your eyes and dive with me. And don't be afraid. If you can't, I'll stick with you."

They stood on the edge of the falls as Jacob counted when he reached three, Christopher could be heard catching his breath and then the two of them dived. Mary Kathryn and I followed as soon as they were out of the way.

When we surfaced, Christopher was jubilate and kept shouting, "I did it!". He was the center of everyone's attention. Those in the water were patting him on the back and the parents were cheering.

We all got out of the water and got things packed, ready to leave. As we walked away, Linda said, "Wish we could stay for skinny dipping, but tomorrow's a big day."

"Yea, back to fucking school," Christopher lamented. No-one responded.

When I got back home, Mom and Dad were sitting in the kitchen. "Michael, Christopher sure seemed to have a good time," Mom said, "and seemed nice enough."

"That's what I can't understand, Mom," I replied. "He was great, but the other side of him is just as rotten as this side is good."

"Would like to know what's going on with him," Dad said, shaking his head. "Maybe he can get straightened out--with a lot of help."


Linda, Jacob and I took Christopher home. Shortly after we got in the car, he asked, "That Uncle Michael and John, are they cock-sucking faggots?" I glanced in the rearview mirror in time to see Jacob turn red and look as if he could kill.

Before he could say anything, Linda, in a very calm voice said, "If you mean are they gay, the answer is yes, but what they do in their bedroom is none of your damn business. And if you want to stay around this group--IF we decide to let you stay around--you'll never use those words again. Understand?"

Well, I said her voice was calm, not that she was. When I glanced in the rearview mirror again, I could see Jacob depressurizing and Christopher looking as if he had been hit in the face with a sack of fresh dog shit. But he wouldn't let well enough alone. "You mean you think it's ok for someone to be a fag... be gay? You have to be sick."

"Look," Linda responded, again calmly, "You are the sick one for deciding people can't be who they are. John and Uncle Michael have been great friends to all of us when we were having a tough time. They have stood by us when it counted. They love each other very much and, if you had paid attention, you would have seen that and you would have seen as well that they loved and were concerned about us. So they're gay. That's who they are, that's how they were born. But I damn well rather have them around than some straight people who hate."

"Well, you can say that, but I can't stand their kind."

"You can't stand loving, caring people? Is that what you are saying?"

"Hell no, I'm saying I can't stand fag... gay people and don't like people who like them either."

"Well, I guess you'll have to stay away from us then," Jacob said. "Four of our closest friends are gay and we sure as hell missed them today. Mary Kathryn's brother and the Greywolfs' son are gay and were married at the falls where you were today. Millie adopted a son when his father beat him until he was near death and put him on the street. His partner is Larry Watley, Claudia's son. All four are at Oberlin and none of us will tolerate anyone bad-mouthing them."

"How can you stand to be around them when you know they want to fuck you?" Christopher asked.

"They have about as much desire to fuck me as you do," Jacob was talking through clinched teeth. "They are in love and committed to each other. Would be nice if some straight people were that way instead of poking a dick into any warm, moist hole so long as it belonged to some slut."

Knowing what had gone on between Zell and Christopher, I looked in the mirror again and saw Christopher was a bit subdued. After a few minutes' silence, he asked, "What happened to that Michael dude? I had noticed his face before but, man, his chest and belly look like he was in a knife fight sometime."

"He was," Jacob said. "A bunch of assholes who hated gays attacked a painting of Matt Greywolf and, when they turned to Matt, Michael jumped in and took the knifing. No-one expected him to live. And you know something, Christopher, he did it protecting a gay man who he loves as a brother--who he thinks of as a brother--and no-one, but no-one, is straighter than Michael. Maybe that's the reason we don't care if someone is gay or straight. Like Michael, we know on which side of the fence we stand so we don't have to worry about it." I knew exactly where Jacob was headed and tried to keep my eyes on the road as well as on Christopher. "Yea, I guess if you're not sure and are afraid you might be gay, you hate gays and make all sorts and kinds of remarks. But if you aren't worried, you just take them as they are and our friends are top notch."

I expected Christopher to explode, but he didn't. He just sank down in the seat and said nothing until we reached his place. As he got out, all he said was "Thanks," as he turned and walked away.

As we pulled away, Jacob said, "You know, I think I might have hit a nerve there."

"I wouldn't be a bit surprised," Linda said.

Tuesday, Jacob and Michael presented the two new programs to the student body. There were some questions about the peer counseling program including how a student could become a member. Mary Kathryn, as de facto president of that group, suggested that students who were interested give their names to her. "For now, the group is limited to twenty and there are only four openings left, but everyone wishing to become involved will be considered," she said. There were also questions, a few of which named names, asking how the present members had been selected.

Ms. Jones answered by saying a faculty group had looked over the students who had proven helpful to other students the year before and had asked some students to think of others. "We were not interested in just good students or students who had never been in trouble, but students who had already demonstrated their concern for the school and, particularly, for their fellow students." That seemed to satisfy those who had questions.

It was obvious that the new role of the student government would raise tons of questions. Most of those asked, I think, had to do with discipline and how students would discipline students. One student asked, "Can we let the faculty handle our case if we like?". Ms. Jones said a student could choose that, but any who made that choice should be aware that the old punishments would have to apply.

It was clear that the student council had a major job yet to do. We had laid out an organization, but getting bodies who knew what they were doing would be a major task. Classes for the day were over after lunch and the work of getting the student government organized began in earnest. By the time school was out for the day, there was a body for each slot and initial training had been done. After school, our work was presented to the faculty again. One of the new teachers raised a question about trials. She was concerned about when they would take place. Ms. Jones said that, since a common punishment the year before had been after-school detention, trials would be held immediately after school. "But I doubt that we will have many," she said, "since most cases can be handled by a magistrate's court".

As the Concord Five walked out of school, I spotted Christopher at the side of the building with Kenny Haines and his crowd. "Christopher's with that bunch of losers again."

Four pairs of eyes followed my glance and Jacob said, "Shit, that fellow sure does have two faces. Yesterday he was a really nice fellow. I really liked him. Now he is with a bunch of assholes I wouldn't piss on if they were on fire!"

"Pretty strong feelings, eh Jacob?" Linda laughed.

"Damn right!"

By the end of the week, we were all pretty well done-in with school and getting the student council going. The peer counseling program was more or less waiting for the training weekend. We had all noticed that when we saw Christopher in school, if he was alone he greeted us like a friend. When he was with Kenny and that bunch, he pretended he didn't see us. Michael was getting very frustrated. In fact he was ready, as he often told us, to beat the shit out of Christopher. Linda and Mary Kathryn kept Michael under control, reminding him that Christopher had a good side.

As we walked to the parking lot, Michael said, "Look, we've had a week and a half already. Why don't we do something different this weekend?"

"How about going to the club in Lexington?" Linda suggested.

"Think five straight people will be welcome?" I laughed.

"Well, you can date Jacob," she retorted.

Friday night found us at the club where we were having fun, but it wasn't the same without the Oberlin Five. I kept looking for Nelson, but he wasn't to be seen. Just before eleven, Mary Kathryn said, "It's not the same, is it?".

We all talked about how we missed the rest of the Fellowship until Jacob said, "Tell me about it!". I guess we should have been more sensitive to him. I was about to suggest we go home, when Jacob said, "Hey, look! Nelson just walked in with his girl. She is the same one, isn't she?"

Nelson was at the entrance looking around and, when he looked our way, Jacob waved him over. When he reached our table, it was obvious the girl was not the same one. Nelson had a new girlfriend. "Hey, guys, good to see you again!" Nelson greeted us. "This is Alexandra McElroy. Alex, these are some friends from Concord. What's been going on this summer? How's the rest of the crew?"

We three guys stood up when Nelson reached the table, and now got two chairs so Nelson and Alex could join us. As soon as they were seated, we started talking about the summer. Alex seemed interested in hearing about people she did not know. When we had done a summary of the summer's soap opera, Linda said, "Seems you have been busy this summer as well, picking up a new girlfriend along the way".

Alex laughed and said, "I got him on the rebound". As she said that, she gave Nelson a kiss on the cheek.

"Well, I guess there's some truth in that," Nelson laughed, "At least I got bounced. I got a 'Dear John' letter the week before finals. Had you asked, I would have said I would have been devastated, but I was surprised by my reaction. I was relieved. It had been over for weeks, but I just wouldn't admit it. I was too chicken to call it off. I guess I took the coward's way out, but I didn't mind her calling it off. As soon as I realized it was over, I took off after Alex and finally caught her. Best thing I ever did. So, are we going to dance or not?" he asked, as he offered his hand to Alex.

We danced a couple dances, talked with Nelson some more and then it was time to go home. On the way home, I asked, "Why can't we have a teen club in Concord? There's not a lot to do and we could use one."

"Why don't we talk to Fr. Tom about St. Mary's getting one started? Mary Kathryn asked.

"That sounds like a good idea," Michael said. "Let's do that. Let's corner him tomorrow and ask for an appointment."

Fr. Tom was interested and we made an appointment to get together with him before the youth group met Sunday evening. When we presented the idea to him, he said he'd have to take it up with the vestry, but he was all for it.

The second week of school things started settling down, but there was still a lot of work to do with the student government. Everything was in place, but training was going slowly. About when we thought everything was ok, another problem would raise its head. The biggest block was students who had been elected to a do-nothing student government by winning a popularity contest and now found a lot of work was involved. Some were concerned that if they sat on the court or had to enforce rules, they would lose their popularity or friends.

"What kind of friends do you have," Mary Kathryn exploded in one meeting, "if they expect you to duck your responsibility? If you don't want to be a part of the student government, then get the hell out! Resign! Get your lazy asses off the council!"

MIchael leaned over to me and said, "Holy shit, I knew she was a wild woman, but this is more than I expected! But she's right."

"Well, are you in or out? You can't take all day. we've got work to do," Mary Kathryn demanded.

"How did Mary Kathryn get on the student council anyway?" I whispered to Michael.

"Until someone else asks, she just is. If it's questioned, she is Ms. Jones representative. Voice, but no vote. It's in the Constitution and agreement we drew up and got approved by the school board," Michael whispered.

Buffy Leister, captain of the cheerleaders and junior class president, had done most of the complaining. After Mary Kathryn's outburst, she jumped to her feet, stormed over to Mary Kathryn, bent over her--her tits barely missing Mary Kathryn's face--and shouted, "Well, Miss Goody Two Shoes, you may want to work your ass off with this silly school, but I have better things to do. You can take your student government office and shove it up your ass, you fucking ass-kisser. I resign!"

As she started stomping out of the room, Jack Abernathy, vice-president of the junior class, said, "I think that little show of yours, Buffy, shows disrespect to Mary Kathryn and to this council. I am charging you with that. I believe the next session of court is Wednesday after school. I'll see that you are served with the proper papers."

"Fuck you and your god-damned papers," Buffy said, and stormed out of the room.

"Now that she's gone, just exactly how do I--we--go about charging her?" Jack asked. Michael called on me to explain the process again. When I finished, Jack said, "Good. I'll see that it's done. So now we need to have a special election to elect--a vice-president or a president?" he asked.

"Vice-president. You're president if the council accepts Buffy's resignation." There was no need for a vote. The entire council made its position known in almost a single voice.

"Maybe Mary Kathryn can get on the council honestly," I whispered to Michael.

"I was just thinking of something else. We still have a slot or two open on the peer counseling team. I think Jack needs to be invited to join."

"Agreed. I'll go talk to Ms. Jones right now," I said.

"I'll talk to Jack as soon as Ms. Jones gives her ok. Also tell her about the special election. We have a break in fifteen minutes, try to make it back by then."

When I got back I reported that Ms. Jones had approved the addition of Jack to the peer counseling group provided he was interested. She had also scheduled the trial and special election.

During the break, Michael was talking to Jack. When I joined them, Jack was saying, "I'm not sure, Michael. I'm not confident I can handle my own problems, much less someone else's."

"Ms. Jones thinks you can," I butted in. "She has approved your addition to the peer counseling group. Ms. Norman was really pleased as well. She said, 'I could kick myself for not suggesting him before. He's been through a lot and done very well. He'd be a good addition.' Seems the two of them think you're up to the task."

"Well, if you really think I can, I'll give it a try."

"Great! When you get a chance today, tell Ms. Norman and she will make schedule changes. She was going to get it worked out assuming you'd say yes."

Buffy's trial was set for Wednesday after school. When offered a trial before a magistrate, she demanded a jury trial. That made things more complicated but was to be expected. One real problem, evident at once, was the fact that members of the student government had all heard Buffy's outburst, and none felt they should sit as judge of her case. Fortunately, at the last moment, someone remembered that one member had been absent and not in the meeting at which Buffy had exploded. Names were drawn Tuesday afternoon for the jury. Buffy chose her boyfriend to defend her. Roger Davis was prosecutor. The trial didn't last long and the jury found Buffy guilty of showing disrespect to the school, the student government and to Mary Kathryn.

As soon as the jury made its decision known, Bridgette Dunnigan, the judge, pronounced sentence. "Buffy Leister, a jury of your peers has found you guilty of the charges brought against you. In regard to showing disrespect to your school, I find this especially repugnant since you are an official representative of Independence as a cheerleader. Accordingly, I am stripping you of your office in that organization. Additionally, your position as cheerleader is not assured as you are, as of now, on probation. In regard to the charge of showing disrespect for the student government, you have resigned from the organization and you are prohibited from running for an office for one year. Finally, for showing disrespect for Mary Kathryn, you are assigned ten hours of community service. The assignment will be handled by the head custodian." It was obvious Buffy was ready to start another fuss, but her boyfriend put his hand over her mouth and led her out of the room.

The training weekend for the peer counselors was exciting but tiring. We started Friday, after school, and didn't get home until late Sunday night. There were team building exercises, a lot of role playing, discussions about our own anxieties, and lengthy discussions about the kinds of problems we might be called on to help students overcome. A good amount of time was also devoted to mediation. One of the role-plays almost got out of hand when two students started a mock conflict which quickly turned into a real one. We all got to see mediation in action when that erupted.

Of course much of the real learning took place around the edges, especially after the official sessions was over. The bull session in the boys' cabin Saturday night was especially lively when someone mentioned a family friend who had told his wife he was gay. "I hope you don't think that is funny," Jack said. "I just went through that last year."

"Your dad is gay?" someone asked.

"Yea, my dad is gay. He married because everyone thought he should and put a lot of pressure on him. He is an only son and he had to keep up the family name, all that sort of thing and, he says, he thought if he got married, he'd get over being gay. When he told mom, she was hurt, confused and angry. Dad was too. When he told me, he asked if I thought he was different and I couldn't see that he was, except he was no longer living a lie."

"I guess I could see Mom's position as well. She had been used. She, of course, filed for divorce and set out to, in her words, 'even the score'. The process of getting a divorce got dirtier and meaner and I was caught in the middle. Finally I had had it. We were all meeting with a counselor and, when the two of them started at each other, I was really pissed--and hurt because they were both pulling at me--and let it be known. I finally shouted at the top of my lungs, 'You both are being childish and hateful. You don't give a flying fuck for anyone but yourselves. All you want is to hurt each other as much as possible and you don't give a rat's ass how you hurt me. You both say you love me, and I love you both, but right now you don't love anybody. To hell with both of you. I hope they put you in the same room in the hottest spot in hell.' Well, that got their attention."

All the guys in the room were laughing their heads off and, finally, Jacob said, "Jack, I know this is not funny but, damn, you have painted a wild picture. I sure wish I had had guts to lay my parents out like that."

"Well, it worked. They finally started trying to make the process as painless as possible."

"Of course I blame my dad for lying and getting me in the mess but, like I told them, if Dad hadn't lied, I'd never have been born and if they thought I was worth a shit, they'd see that and be thankful for it--regardless of what else had been involved in their marriage. It took a while, but I think they see that there were some good things coming out of what never should have been. They have little or nothing to do with each other, but they don't bad-mouth each other, at least not to me."

"Doesn't sound as if you used non-directive counseling in their case," Michael laughed.

"Sometimes I think you have to be directive, to point out what's right. I'm sure not going to say to some jock who's pushing his girlfriend to have sex when she doesn't want to, 'What I hear you saying is that you want to have sex'. What kind of damn fool response is that? It's bullshit."

There was general agreement that Jack was right, even if we had been told to be non-directive and keep our opinions to ourselves. Sometimes a great theory can get in the way of what is needed practically.

Monday, at homeroom, it was announced there were three candidates for the vice-presidency of the junior class. One was an air-head who was very popular with the guys--and with the girls who wanted to be popular. Another, Susan, had been cheerleader co-captain with Buffy. She was a good student, a good leader and a good representative of the school. The third was Mary Kathryn. By Wednesday, it was pretty clear that the air-head had a lead. Mary Kathryn and Susan had split the remainder of the student body. Several of us had talked among ourselves and thought that the only way we were going to get someone worthwhile to replace Jack was for Susan or Mary Kathryn to drop out in favor of the other. "But they both are so hard-headed, I'm not sure either will," Linda had said.

"Mary Kathryn has a place in the student government," Jacob had said. "That's not going to change, and Susan would be a good addition."

"Are you man enough to ask Mary Kathryn to drop out?" Linda asked. "I'm not."

"I'll talk to Michael," Jacob offered.

"Coward, taking the easy way out," Linda chided.

"Damn right! Paula would kill me if I gave Mary Kathryn reason to kill me first!"

Fortunately, there was no violence. When lunchtime came, the Fellowship started gathering at our usual table. Jack was eating with us now. Mary Kathryn and Michael came in late and had Susan with them. As soon as they were seated, Mary Kathryn said, "That bimbo is definitely ahead in this election. Gang, I need help. Michael, Susan and I have been talking. It's clear to us that the new role of the student government hasn't sunk in and the student body is going to elect an air-head to replace Jack as vice-president of the junior class. The only way that is not going to happen is to narrow the race down to her and one other person. We think one of us should drop out in favor of the other, but we want to know what you think."

Suddenly everyone was looking at Jacob. He finally said, "We have been talking about the same thing. Mary Kathryn, no doubt you'd be great but you have a seat on the council already, even if you don't have a vote. Susan would be a great addition and we'd actually lose nothing. If you were elected, we'd lose Susan and gain nothing because you're on the council already."

"Learned mediation well, didn't you, Jacob?" Mary Kathryn said. "And you're smart, because that is exactly what I said. Ok, it's agreed: I'll drop out in favor of Susan. Susan, welcome to the Fellowship."

"Is membership in the Fellowship automatic?" Michael asked.

"No, you have to be invited and I just invited her."

In spite of Mary Kathryn's dropping out, the election was still close and Susan won by a narrow margin. But she won.
Chapter Three

Mary Kathryn

By the end of the third week of school, the Fellowship was back up to six with the addition of Jack and Susan. It was not like it had been the year before, but it sure was a good group. Generally we had some business to discuss over lunch. Usually it involved the student government but at other times it was the peer counseling group. The peer counseling group was getting off to a slow start which was probably good because we all were pretty unsure of ourselves and, while daily classes were intense, we still wondered if we could handle student problems.

My first client was a freshman girl who asked to speak to a peer counselor and I was selected. Her name was Margie and she was not an exceptionally pretty girl, quiet and kinda mousey. I told her I could meet with her during fourth period in the counseling center's conference room. Almost by the time she was inside the door, she started crying. I gave her a tissue and waited until she had regained control. When she had, I asked her what was bothering her. "I think I might be pregnant," she answered.

"Want to tell me about it?"

"Well, one of the football players started hanging around me and asking me for a date. I didn't understand why because I had never been popular with boys and he was a football player and could have had just about any girl he wanted. He was very nice and I liked him a lot. I told him I wasn't allowed to go out with a boy except on a double date. My father is very strict. Anyway, we dated a few times with his brother and his girlfriend. One night we said we were going to a movie but, instead, we drove out into the country and parked. We didn't do anything except some heavy making out. Well, he did take off my bra and played with my breasts, but that's all except some french kissing."

"Every time we went out, that's what we did instead of going where I told my parents we were going. Last weekend, we drove to the movie and his brother and girlfriend got out and the two of us drove into the country and, well, he kept telling me how much he loved me and that if I loved him, I would show it. Before I knew it, he had most of my clothes off and was making me hot with his hands all over my body. I kept telling him I loved him, but I wasn't ready for sex. Finally he said I didn't love him or I'd show it and if I didn't love him, he'd have to find someone who did. So we had sex--twice--before he took me home after picking up his brother, and now I think I'm pregnant."

"What makes you think you're pregnant?" I asked.

"He didn't use anything. I mean he didn't use protection. He said it didn't feel good."

"Is that the only reason you think you're pregnant?"

"Well, in sex education class we were told that if the boy didn't use protection you'd get a disease and get pregnant."

"Are you sure that's what you were told?"

"I think so. Didn't they tell you that?"

"I was told that if the boy didn't use protection I MIGHT get a disease and I MIGHT get pregnant, not that I would."

"Oh, maybe that's what they told us as well. So maybe I'm not pregnant? And maybe I didn't catch a disease? Maybe?"

"You can only catch a disease if he has one and you can only get pregnant at certain times of the month. Do you remember that from sex education class?"

"I'm not sure. But what am I going to do?"

"You need to see Ms. Norman and arrange to get a pregnancy test. If it is positive, then you will need to talk with someone other than myself--Ms. Norman or a nurse at the health department about your options. But make arrangements for a pregnancy test first. Right now you don't know whether or not you have that problem, but don't you think you have one with your boyfriend?"

"Yea, when I told him I might be pregnant he asked, 'Who you been fucking to get yourself pregnant?'. I told him he knew I had only had sex with him and he called me a liar and said that if I was pregnant, he wasn't to blame. 'It's somebody else's,' he said. But that's not true." The poor, confused girl started crying again.

Man, I was having a hard time not telling her what she should do. I needed to remember that I wasn't there to give advise, but point out options. I wanted to tell her what she must have known, but didn't want to accept: namely, that she had been used, and when it looked as if her "boyfriend" might have to take some responsibility, he ran. I reminded her she needed to see Ms. Norman and assured her I would be available if she needed to talk some more.

Well, she did need to talk. Over the next couple weeks we talked at length about having sex, taking responsibility for one's actions, not lying to parents and all sorts of things. She wasn't pregnant, but I think she had learned a lesson the hard way. I guess it is because I am a woman, but I also talked to her about taking some pride in her appearance, and she certainly started doing so and didn't look at all like the mousey person I had seen the first time. I also asked her about taking a sex education class at the health department to clear up some areas about which she was very ignorant.

From that experience, Susan, Linda and I got a women's group started. It dealt with all sorts of issues women have, from makeup to motherhood.

Fr. Tom called Friday evening to tell me that the vestry had approved setting up a teen club at St. Mary's. "You need to get your friends together and work out a set of by-laws as well as all the details," he said. "When you get that done, bring it in and I'll take it to the committee who will be in charge, but the operation of the club will be in your hands. Keep me posted and if you need something, ask." I thanked him and, as I hung up the phone, remembered Ms. Jones telling Jacob she would keep him busy. It looked as if the whole world was hell-bent on keeping all of us busy. I called everyone Saturday and we agreed to get together Sunday afternoon and begin to put together by-laws and plans for opening the club.

I called Mary Kathryn and asked her if she would like to have just a regular pizza and movie date Saturday night. "I think it's about time we did just an ordinary teen thing." She agreed. When I finished my work around the house and farm, it was mid-afternoon. Mom was home and had lain down to rest. Dad had gone into town to pick up some supplies. Having nothing I especially needed to do, I sat down and started working on plans for the club.

It was about 5:00 when I heard Dad downstairs. I went down and the two of us got a coke from the fridge and just sat talking about nothing in particular. He asked about the plans for the club, how school was going, that sort of thing--but mostly we just talked.

At 6:00, I went upstairs, showered and started to get dressed when I noticed my beard. Mary Kathryn hadn't trimmed it recently and it was pretty terrible-looking. Without a lot of thought, I got some scissors and started trimming it. The more I trimmed the worse it looked. Finally I just cut as much off as I could, grabbed a razor and shaved. I really looked strange!

I had hair all over me, so I showered again, got dressed and went downstairs. Mom and Dad were sitting in the kitchen. "I'll be back before too late," I said, "Mary Kathryn and I are going to a movie and have pizza, that's all."

Both Mom and Dad were looking at me kinda strangely and Dad finally said, "You sure that's all?".

"Well, probably some heavy making out, but just the usual teen date thingy. Laters."

When I got to Mary Kathryn's, both Jens and Gabrielle looked at me as if something was wrong, but said nothing. Not so with Mary Kathryn! She came downstairs, took one look at me and said, "What in hell have you done! You look naked!" That was just the beginning. She let me know in no uncertain terms that she liked the beard and that I had done her a great injustice by shaving. All I could say was to assure her it would grow back. As it turns out, it didn't because when it started growing out it scratched her face and she decided she liked a smooth face after all.

After we had pizza, we went to the movie. I couldn't tell you what it was. There's something special about necking in a movie--I guess because adults frown on it but, man, I loved it. After the movie, we went to a fast food place and had a milkshake and then drove home. It wasn't late, but both of us admitted that we had really put in a long week with regular school work, student government and the peer counseling program. As we stood on her porch, making out, Mary Kathryn finally said, "Shaven One, I love you to death, but I am just about exhausted."

"Same here," I agreed. "Beddy-bye time?"

"Beddy-bye time," she agreed. After one, final, goodnight kiss, I went home and collapsed.

When I went down for breakfast, Dad was just coming in from work. He had been called out while I was at the movie. One of the EMS team members had come down with bug at the last minute and Dad got called in. It was obvious he had had a rough night and was half-asleep when I joined him at the kitchen table. He looked at me for several minutes and finally said, "Michael, I can't put my finger on it, but you sure look different. I noticed it last night."

Mom laughed as she put food on the table, "It took me a while, but I suddenly got it last night. David, he is no longer a hairy booger. Strange how something so obvious escapes you," she said.

"Guess I am used to seeing you both ways and just didn't get it," Dad said. "Bet Mary Kathryn didn't like it."

"You're right about that. But you don't look like your usual self either. Rough night?"

"Yea, real rough. The usual for the most part, but one really strange case. Mr. Heidelberg called 911 about four this morning and said he needed us at once. When we arrived, he had Christopher in the milking parlor. His dogs started barking around quarter of four and when he got up to see what was wrong, he saw some people--he thought four--running away from the barn, the dogs right behind them. They got in a car and roared off. The dogs came back toward the barn and, when he started in that direction, one of them ran up to him and then raced away again and again. He finally realized the dog wanted him to follow it."

"The dog led him toward the manure pond--you know, the pond where the wash water from the barn goes. When he got there, he thought he saw something at the edge of the pond but couldn't be sure. Mrs. Heidelberg was standing on the porch and he yelled for her to bring him a flashlight. With it, he could see a body lying almost covered by the manure water. He dragged the body out of the filth and saw that the person was alive--barely. The young man had been badly beaten and tossed in the manure pond. Mr. Heidelberg said he suspected he would have been tossed all the way into the pond had the dogs not started barking."

"He and Mrs. Heidelberg got the wounded man into the milking parlor where they washed him down good with the disinfectant used to clean the barn. 'You know, David,' he said to me, 'that pond is a soup of all kinds of bugs, I know it's full of e. coli and probably tetanus. We store the liquid manure there until we can spray it on an idle pasture for fertilizer.' While I was looking at the young man, getting him ready to transport, Mr. Heidelberg got a good look at him and exclaimed, 'That's Demetri's grandson, Christopher. He was out here a few weeks ago with your Michael.'"

"Michael, he was severely beaten and has numerous cuts, all of which had been soaked in liquid manure. Even if he hadn't been beaten, the cuts were enough to kill him from infection. We got him to the hospital and the ER nurses gave him another good wash down. He seemed to have no broken bones, but he was bruised badly along with the cuts. He wasn't conscious when I left. Dr. Walker suspects he has a concussion. He's getting IV antibiotics, but it doesn't look good."

"Who beat him up?" I asked.

"Don't know," Dad answered. "But they were out to do more than just beat him up. They were out to kill him and may have done so yet. All I know is Mr. Heidelberg said there were four of them and he gave the sheriff a description of the car. He only got part of the license number, but maybe it's enough. Do you have any idea who might have done it?"

"Dad, he was into weed and beer. I don't think anything beyond that, and he was stealing money from Demetri to buy those. But this seems like more is involved than a little weed or beer. Zack did tell Bill the police were interested in getting the big fish rather than that bunch of small-fish assholes he has been hanging around with."

When the gang met at church, I told them what had happened to Christopher. Bill said he'd see if Zack knew anything, as soon as he could. After church, Mary Kathryn asked for some of the altar flowers and we took them to the hospital for Christopher. No-one was allowed in his room except Demetri, who came out to speak to us."

"Mary Kathryn gave him the flowers and his eyes immediately filled with tears. "I don't know what to do. I don't know what I could have done to save him from this." When he had regained control, he told us there was no change in Christopher's condition, which was still extremely critical. "Dr. Walker said he had to be honest. Christopher might not make it. I tried to call his mother, but her phone has been disconnected. I got the manager of her apartment and he said she had left two weeks ago with no forwarding address. I'm not surprised. To be honest, she's a common prostitute and heaven only knows where she is--even if she is alive."

As we were leaving, Danny walked in. I had not seen him in ages. "Danny, how's it going?" I asked in greeting.

"Pretty good. Actually, I got in kind of a bind, but things seem to be working out. What are you all doing here?"

I told him about Christopher. "Can you keep us posted on his condition? He's a sort of project of ours."


"What are you doing here?" Bill asked.

"Well, as I said, I got in a bind. Buddy's girl--Gloria Jones, remember her?" I nodded, "asked him to move in with her. Of course he wanted to, they seem to be made for each other. But he hesitated because that would mean I'd have to pay all the rent on our place. I couldn't manage that and he couldn't help pay it and half of Gloria's place as well. I wanted him to make the move because Gloria has done more for him than I would have thought possible."

"Anyway, we talked to Chelsea and Gladys about it. They suggested he go ahead and I take a room at the hospitality house until I could work something out. I did and, after I had given it a lot of thought, decided to put aside college for the time being and do the practical nurse course. With my time at hospice, I could complete the course in six months. Meanwhile, I got a part-time job here at the hospital--part of which counts toward my clinical training. So here I am. It's rough. I still work at hospice, do the necessary classes, and work part-time here. I earn enough to afford an efficiency, which is all I need."

"Think you might stick to nursing?" Mary Kathryn asked.

"Think I might. If I do, I'll go on and become an RN. I'd like to do that I think, and get my minor in English. I think I could write, but right now I don't have time for anything."

"I remember you saying you thought it would be hard for you to find a special friend," I said. "Any luck?"

"Afraid not, but I don't have time for that anyway. Got to run. Good talking to you guys," Danny said, as he left at a trot.

"Amazing how well Danny seems to be doing," Bill said.

"Yea, and Chelsea and Gladys deserve extra stars in their heavenly crown for the support they have given him and Buddy. They would never have made it otherwise, you can bet on that," Linda said.

Yong Jin had invited the fellowship to Sunday dinner. When we got to the Greywolfs', Margaret told us she had talked with Dr. Walker. He was not very optimistic about Christopher. "He just doesn't have much fight in him."

Dinner was great, as always, but I think we were all thinking about the five who were not with us. "Think we'll ever get used to not having everyone together?" Mary Kathryn asked.

"Probably not," Greywolf answered, "and I guess we won't be together very often from now on."

After dinner, the five of us worked on plans for the teen club. When we thought we had it all done, Jacob said, "I'm sure we have forgotten something. Don't you think it would be a good idea to see if we could get together with some people from the Lexington club?"

"I don't know why we didn't think of that in the first place," Linda said. "I bet it would have saved us a lot of work. Bill, why don't you and I call next week and make an appointment to go over after school? Jacob could go with us."

"Sounds good to me," Bill replied. "I'll try to call tomorrow evening and we can go over when the people there can meet with us. Before then we need to get all we have done in order, typed, and send copies over to them. That way we won't have to spend all our time going over what we have done. Maybe we can get over there Thursday after school.

"Monday, Bill got the meeting in Lexington set up for the following evening. He called Fr. Tom and told him what was up. Fr. Tom said, "I'm going to Lexington this afternoon and can take a copy of your work over then. If you have no objection, I'd like to go over with you for the meeting tomorrow," and so it was arranged. Bill told us Tuesday at lunch the meeting had been set for that evening."

When I got home Tuesday, Mom was home since she was only working from 8:00 until 2:00. She said she was fine, but Dad was still trying to get her to cut back to just mornings. "Hi, Mom. How you doin'?" I said as I walked into the kitchen where she was working.

"Hi, Michael. I'm doin' fine. How you doin'?" she laughed.

"Fine, I guess. I'm kinda bushed from all that's going on. I can see why the student government never did anything. It's a big job."

"Makes you appreciate what the administration did before, I guess."

"Yea. Oh, Mom, how's Christopher? Any change?"

"I talked with Dr. Walker briefly today. He said Christopher is doing a bit better than holding his own. He's still unconscious, but the brain swelling is going down. It appears the antibiotics are doing their job and he's escaping serious infection. Demetri was able to find out that his tetanus shots were up to date which eliminated one worry. He's not out of the woods, Dr. Walker said, but he was hopeful--which he had not been when Christopher was brought in."

"Bill talked with Zack last night. He told Bill he was sure, from the rumors around the station, that drugs were involved. He said something more than a little weed had to be at the heart of the whole mess. Zack had told Bill earlier that one reason the police had looked the other way was to try and get some higher ups. Kenny and that bunch were very little fish."

"Michael, I know I don't have to worry about you, but I do. I mean about you, your friends and drugs. I skated pretty close at times, especially when I was an intern. There just wasn't enough time to do what had to be done and speed was available. After a couple times, I realized where I was headed when a beautiful young woman was brought into the emergency room in cardiac arrest--overdose of speed. That did it, no more speed for me. Michael, it's always tempting and most young people think it can't happen to them. End of lecture."

"Mom, won't say I won't experiment. Won't promise to just say no, but I think I have had the fact that no-one is indestructible pounded into me pretty well. Now there's Christopher."

"Sorry, Michael, I should have known that."

I walked over to Mom, put my arms around her--now very large--waist and said, "No need for apology, Mom. Parents are supposed to fret and worry about the younger generation going to the dogs."

"Michael, if more young people were going to the dogs like you and your friends, we'd all be better off," Mom said as she hugged me back.

Dad walked in as Mom hugged me and said, "Hands off my woman, you heart-throb!"

"Man, if I can have two good-looking men fighting over me in my shape, I must be something!" Mom laughed.

"You are!" Dad and I said together.

"Michael, just before I left the hospital a while ago, Dr. Walker said Christopher was still unconscious, but was responding to stimuli. He's hopeful for the first time. Sheriff Putnam came by, hoping to be able to talk to Christopher, but it will be a while before that happens. The sheriff did say the car which rushed away from the dairy had been located. It was found abandoned in the mall parking lot in Lexington. They found some leads in their examination of the car, but the sheriff didn't say what."

"I hope they catch whoever beat Christopher. He may be an asshole at times, but he's still a human being." We talked about him--and what had happened--during dinner, and the about the teen club.

After supper, I said, "I'm going to Mary Kathryn's. We are studying together. I think both of us are having second thoughts about our schedule. We're both taking four AP classes and it's really working us. Yong Jin added the junior AP English and it seemed a good idea to sign up for that as well as AP American history, AP chem and AP math, but I'm not sure. Actually, English and history are no problem from me, but the math and chem are something else. Mary Kathryn is the exact opposite. Between the two of us, we may make it, but on our own, it would really be tough."

Mom laughed, "Are you sure it's not AP making out that is occupying your time?".

"Mom, to tell the truth, we hardly have time for a kiss or two. I mean we really are having to work. Add to that the peer counseling program and the student government and we are two very busy juniors. I'm just glad the peer counseling class counts as a health/PE class and the computer class is a snap. I think we know more than the teacher. Of course when track training starts, it will add more to my plate."

"Son, I want you to be challenged and have to work hard. Hard work now will pay off, as your brothers have shown all of you, but I don't want life to be all work and no play. I can't tell you what to do. You'll have to decide when you have taken on too much and what you need to eliminate." Dad continued, "Now you're adding the teen club at St. Mary's. Be careful that you don't do too many things half-heartedly and not fewer things well."

"Thanks, Dad. RIght now I'm handling it all, but if it gets to be too much I'll cut back. Now I'm out of here."

I told the truth, Mary Kathryn and I were having to run in order to keep up with everything. Both of us thought that as time passed it would become easier. Of course, we took breaks for a bit of making out, but they were short and pretty tame.

Wednesday, at lunch, Bill and Linda told us about the meeting in Lexington. "The people we talked to had a lot of suggestions--mainly ways to avoid the mistakes they made when they started. Things like hiring an off-duty policeman just to be around, requiring membership and membership cards."

"What about food? You can get a decent meal there." Jacob said. "You know I'm always interested in food."

"Maybe we better just put you in charge of food," Susan laughed.

"That's like letting the fox guard the hen house," Jack said, shaking his head. "I've been around long enough to see how he inhales school food. Think what he could do with real food."

"Actually, they suggested, as big a problem as it is, that we do have food. Just hamburgers, hot dogs and chips. Fries are big trouble. Also suggested we start with just iced tea and lemonade. All are easy to fix and we do have a kitchen."

"There were lots of other suggestions and cautions," Bill said. "We're going to need another planning session. We're also going to need some startup money. There's a fair sound system but, sooner rather than later, that will have to be upgraded. If we get going well, we'll need to hire a DJ."

"Maybe not for a while," Susan said. "Let's talk with Keith 'Bad Man' Lewis. You know, the senior who is DJ for the local radio station early evenings and Saturday morning. I bet he'd be interested. He's kind of a loner here at school, but is a dynamite DJ. I'll talk to him. We are neighbors and used to spend a lot of time together."

"Sounds good to me. There he is over there in the corner by himself, just sitting down. Why not talk to him now?" I asked.  "Invite him over," Jack said.

Susan went over to Keith--I hardly knew him. He was, as she said, a real loner--quiet, reserved, going about his business without any major interaction with other students. I watched as she spoke to him. He looked toward us and I motioned for him to come over and was surprised when he picked up his tray and came over.

"I'm sure you know this crowd," Susan said, and then introduced us without waiting for his response. Keith nodded and sat down.

"Hear you want to get a teen club going," he said. "A good idea. Ever been to the one in Lexington?"

"Yea, that's what gave us the idea. We went some last spring." I then told Keith more than he might have wanted to know about how we found the club and why we really liked it.

"Great place. Everyone who behaves is welcome. I used to go with a friend who lived in Lexington, but... Anyway, I'm glad you're thinking about starting one. How the planning going?" While Keith ate, the rest of us ate in turns and, between bites, pretty much told him what we had done.

"Glad you talked with the group in Lexington. They had a rough time getting the club off the ground since everything was new. You have some good advise and ideas from their mistakes and successes. One thing I think you need to ditch is the idea of starting without a DJ and decent sound system. It'll never fly without those."

"Sorry to hear that, Keith," I said. "We're worrying about finding basic seed money to get started with essentially what we have."

"If you'll consider having me, I'll DJ for free until we get it off the ground. I really want to see such a club started here. Just to be sure, it'll be as open to everyone as the Lexington one?"

"Sure, wouldn't have it otherwise," Mary Kathryn said. "That is if you mean like Matt and Luke and Eugene and Larry. Yea."

"That's exactly what I mean. It'll cause an uproar here in Concord. You can bet the farm on that, but if you'll not willing to make it for everyone, then I want no part of it."

"Anyone between thirteen and twenty who behaves themselves. And, of course, parents and other adults associated with members can come. We need adults floating in and out, according to Lexington's experience."

"Good. Count me in. And don't worry about equipment for sound and lights, I think I can handle that. Got to run. Greywolf's doing a lesson on sound in AP physics today and I'm helping out. Laters."

Keith grabbed his tray, ran to put it up, and left the cafeteria just before the bell. "I'm going to talk to that young man again," Susan said. "I think he'd make a good addition to the Fellowship." The consensus of the group was with her.

Thursday, Mom told me she has seen Christopher and he was better, but still not out of the woods. "Dr. Walker has stopped the phenobarb but he is still not conscious. He is responsive but that's about all," she said. "We are all worried about Demetri as well. He is taking this very hard. He feels guilty because he didn't do something, although neither he nor anyone else can think of what he might have done. Of course, he could have reported Christopher, but that would have sent him back to the detention home and he tried suicide the last time he was there, so Demetri was afraid of turning him in."

"What's with his mom? He hasn't said anything good about her," I commented.

"According to Demetri, there's little good that can be said. Demetri's wife died after a long battle with cancer when Diana, Christopher's mother, was 15. Diana had started being pretty wild shortly after her mother was diagnosed, when she was 13. The two years her mother was ill, Demetri more or less neglected Diana and she got progressively worse--starting with having trouble with school..."

"Sounds kinda familiar," I said, and I wasn't laughing. "Yea, I know where she was coming from. Been there myself."

"But you had support from the Family and it stopped with trouble in school," Mom said.

"Michael, you don't know how sorry I am for neglecting you and how thankful I am that the Family took up the slack."

"No need to feel sorry, Dad, don't see how you managed even without my becoming a pain in the ass."

"Thanks, Son."

"After her mother died, Demetri tried to straighten Diana out, but it didn't work. She dropped out of school without his knowing it for weeks, came home drunk at all hours, and generally was completely out of control. By the time Demetri asked for help, little could be done. She was finally put in a residential treatment center in Jackson, but ran away after a couple months and completely disappeared," Mom said.

Demetri finally heard from her six or seven years later. A young man who had been living in a commune in Arizona left it and went back home. With some effort, he located Demetri and called him. When Demetri tried to contact her in the commune, he was told she had been kicked out because of a drug and alcohol problem."

"He did get an address of another member of the commune who had left with her. He finally located her in a flophouse in Chicago and went there, picked her up and brought her here. She was a physical wreck because of drugs and alcohol. Well, according to Demetri, she was an emotional wreck as well. She stayed here a year, first in treatment for her addiction, then living with Demetri. Christmas, a guy she had known in the commune came by and she left with him. She was gone for several months and came back pregnant with Christopher. When she found out she was pregnant, she raced home to get off of drugs and alcohol. She stayed clean all the time she was pregnant, thank goodness, and for several years afterward."

"When Christopher was eight she left again and, since then, has dragged Christopher through a lot of--pardon the expression--shit: drugs, alcohol, the whole mess. For the last several years, she has supported her habit by selling her body. She also often had live-in boyfriends/pimps, some of whom abused Christopher physically and sexually according to what he has told Demetri. By the time Christopher was 13, he was spending more time in the detention home than with his mother. Yet, in spite of all that, he has generally done well in school so far as the work is concerned, but gets kicked out because of behavior. So, you can see, there is very little good he can say about his mother. I just hope this last episode helps get his head screwed on straight."

"Yea, so do I," I said.

Friday, Keith joined the Fellowship for lunch. He was still very quiet, I think observing to see whether or not he'd fit in. When the talk turned to the teen club, he came alive. When we started talking about seed money, he suggested we sell the memberships. "Don't make it so expensive some kids can't afford it, but charge enough to raise money. As a matter of fact, we could have two levels of membership. One which would just let you in the club and another which would support the club and, if it made a profit, would earn a dividend."

"Don't think the latter would work," Bill said. "St. Mary's is a non-profit organization and can't make a profit. If we have a separate organization, we'll have to get a tax permit and all that stuff. Just went through that sort of thing with Dad. His church rented houses and just got slapped with a tax bill."

"Then we'll sell memberships, but charge a small admission fee. I know there might be some kids who can't spend a buck for entertainment but, let's be honest, they are few and far between and probably wouldn't show up anyway. If we knew kids who were really that hard up, we could give them special membership. But, generally, I know our age group: if it doesn't cost, we think it's no good and either will have nothing to do with it or will not take care of it," Keith said. "They'll trash the place if it's free, sad to say."

We finally decided to charge $5 for membership and $1 for admission. "Man, we need Luke to do a brochure and poster to get this show on the road," Mary Kathryn said.

"Suspect I'm not as good as Luke," Jack said, "but I think I can do a fair job. I'll have designs ready Monday."

When I got home from school, Mom called me into the kitchen. "Michael, Danny Elrod called a few minutes ago. He said he needed to talk to you, and asked that you call him as soon as you got home. He said it was important and urgent. He sounded very serious."

Chapter Four


When I came on duty Sunday afternoon, I ran into Michael and the gang who told me about Christopher Cicellis. As soon as I had time, I went up to his room to check on him. He sure didn't look good. In fact, he looked as if each breath would be his last. His grandfather Demetri was sitting beside the young man's bed. He looked exhausted. I told him to take a break and I would stay with Christopher. Mr. Cicellis reluctantly agreed to take a break for a bite to eat and the restroom (I learned later Christopher had his grandfather's last name because his mother had no idea who his father was).

I was surprised that Christopher wasn't in intensive care and, when Dr. Walker came in, I asked about that. "Really no need," he said, "because it's essentially just a waiting game. Of course the fact that there's not a bed there is also a factor. His grandfather, Demetri, has been right by his bedside since he learned Christopher had been hurt. You might check on the grandfather to make sure he's not starving himself."

"I just got him to take a break a few minutes before you came in. He was reluctant, but finally agreed to get some food and take a restroom break. So it's a waiting game, is it?"

"Yes, afraid so. We have done all we can do trying to knock out any infection he might have picked up in a manure bath. Also, he definitely has a concussion. I have him on phenobarb to keep the brain swelling down and that's about all that can be done. He doesn't seem to have any fight in him and he has not been taking care of himself, so his body has a definite uphill battle."

I could see that Christopher hadn't been taking care of himself. He was a bit over six feet I'd guess and didn't weight over 120-140 pounds. Dark, with black, curly hair, Christopher was a good-looking kid on the whole, but the fact that he was positively skinny didn't make him attractive as he could have been, and the bruises and cuts sure didn't help his looks. However, when Dr. Walker uncovered him to examine cuts that had been stitched, I could see he was not lacking in all departments!

When he finished examining Christopher, Dr. Walker said, "Well, at least he seems to be holding his own. I talked with the duty nurse, Danny, and if Demetri will go home and get some rest, you can keep watch on Christopher. I don't think you need to stay glued to his bedside like Demetri has been, but do keep a careful eye on him. I'm stopping the phenobarb in a day or so and I don't know what his reaction will be then--or in the meantime, for that matter--so just keep watch over him." Dr. Walker had been working over Christopher as he talked. When he finished, he covered him, turned to me and asked, "How's school going, Danny? Still working toward an LPN certificate?"

"School's going ok and, yea, I'm still working toward my LPN certificate. Should finish by the end of this semester. I'm looking forward to that and a break. With my school work, work at the hospice and here, I have little time for anything, even sleep. But I'm not complaining. Anytime I think about tossing in the towel, I remember Jake and also how far I have come since I was rescued from McBride."

"Good, that's about the only use the past has, keeping us living in the present and moving toward a brighter future," Dr. Walker said. "I'll see if I can catch Demetri and talk him into going home for a while. Good to see you, Danny, and to know you're doing ok."

Demetri came up shortly after Dr. Walker left and, after he was sure I would take care of Christopher, went home when I promised I'd call him if there was any change.

The next few days, I took my school work to the hospital and did it in Christopher's room. Friday, I had fallen asleep when I heard a groan, which yanked me awake. When I looked at Christopher, he was tossing around a bit and groaning. I took a cloth, wet it in cool water and started bathing his face. Suddenly he opened his eyes and was obviously startled. "Who are you? Where am I? What happened?" Questions were pouring out of him.

"Christopher, I'm Danny, Danny Elrod. You're in the hospital. You have been unconscious for several days as a result of a beating, but it looks as if you are coming around," I told him as I buzzed for the nurse.

The nurse came quickly and, when she saw Christopher was awake, said, "Thank goodness you're awake. I'll page Dr. Walker. I think he's still in the hospital."

"Christopher, I'm going to call your grandfather. The only way he would leave to get any rest was if I promised I would call him if there was any change."

Christopher groaned again then, in a very weak voice, said, "Demetri was here?".

"He refused to leave your bedside until Dr. Walker convinced him I would take good care of you."

"Oh. Where's Michael?" Christopher asked. "I need to talk to Michael."

"I'll call him as soon as I can," I told him as he then slid back into sleep.

When Dr. Walker arrived, he roused Christopher and did a quick examination. "Everything looks good Christopher. Maybe you are out of the woods."

When Demetri came, Dr. Walker told him Christopher had regained consciousness and was sleeping. He convinced Demetri he should go home and get some rest. "Demetri, I know you have spent every free minute you have here, and you are still keeping your place open and getting no real sleep or rest. If you don't get some, you'll be in here as well, and unable to do Christopher any good when he gets home. Now that he's on the mend, go home." Demetri gave a weak protest, but finally agreed to go.

"I'll be by in the morning before I have to open the cafe," he said as he left the room with Dr. Walker.

I left as well, and went to the hospice for my shift. Little did I know, as I walked out of the room, that a sudden change was in store for Christopher.

When I got to the hospice, I called Michael to tell him Christopher had said he needed to talk to him. He wasn't home, so I left a message saying it was important that he call me.

There were only two people in the hospice, the smallest number we had had in some time. I quickly completed the tasks left for me, and had settled down to do some studying when the phone rang. It was Dr. Walker asking that I come to the hospital at once. I told the nurse on duty what was up and she told me to go. "You're needed there and I can handle anything that comes up here."

When I reached the hospital, Dr. Walker was in Christopher's room supervising two orderlies who were preparing an ice bath for Christopher. "What happened?" I asked.

Dr. Walker explained that Christopher seemed to be doing ok and then suddenly had a raging infection with a fever to match. He had just finished explaining what was going on, when I was told there was a Michael Andrews on the phone asking for me.

I tried to call Danny at his place, then at the hospice. The person who answered the call at the hospice said Danny has just left in a rush for the hospital. When I reached him there, he told me Christopher had regained consciousness for a short time, but suddenly his fever had shot sky-high. It seems the dreaded infection had suddenly kicked in just when Dr. Walker thought Danny was out of the woods. "I called because, when he regained consciousness briefly a while ago, Christopher said he needed to talk to you. He asked where you were and said 'I need to talk to Michael,' just before he went to sleep again."

"Danny, I'll be right there," I said, hung up the phone, yelled to tell Mom where I was headed, and was out the door.

When I reached the hospital, I rushed straight to Christopher's room with the charge nurse running right behind me, telling me I couldn't see Christopher. When I reached Christopher's room, Dr. Walker was there along with Danny. I didn't see Demetri. "Dr. Walker, I told this young man he couldn't come here, but he just ignored me."

"Sorry he upset you, and I should have told you, but I asked that he come. Michael, we have a real problem here. Frankly, I have done all I can do. Danny said Christopher had asked for you when he regained consciousness for a short time, and I thought you might know something that would help. I'm afraid, after thinking we had this licked, we are going to lose Christopher."

"Does Demetri know? I'm surprised he's not here."

"I didn't call him," Danny said. "I thought I'd wait to see if there's any hope. He is not in very good shape, keeping his place operating and spending the rest of his time here. When it looked as if Christopher was pulling through, he agreed to go home and get some rest. I don't want to call him until I have to."

I turned to Dr. Walker and asked, "What's the problem, Dr. Walker?".

"Christopher has developed a raging infection. I thought that was all under control since we started IV antibiotics almost as soon as he got here. There didn't seem to be any infection, then wham! He has a raging one. We did cultures and determined the organisms we had to contend with and..."

"But you didn't actually try antibiotics on the cultures, did you?"

"No, I saw no need once we identified the organism. It's a common one--easily controlled. Or so I thought. I have never known it to be as difficult to kill and as virulent as this case."

"Don't know about raising cattle and keeping a dairy herd, do you, Doctor?"

"Afraid not, Michael." Dr. Walker smiled weakly and said, "About as close as I get to either is a well-aged steak and real cream in my coffee."

"We don't do it, and are a part of the group trying to get it stopped, but most cattle and dairy farmers take advantage of a little-understood property of antibiotics. By feeding antibiotics to cattle you get more pounds of beef out of them and more milk out of dairy cows with less feed. That means a higher profit. It's a widespread practice in the US. So, while the organism causing Christopher's infection is common, and easily controlled in most cases, he picked his up in a manure bath which is well-laced with antibiotics--the very ones you have been giving him, I suspect. You killed off the weak bugs while the strong ones multiplied as though the antibiotics were ice-cream. You need to try antibiotics against a culture from Christopher's bugs--if there's time." I added that when I saw that Christopher was almost completely packed in ice, in an attempt to get his fever down.

Dr. Walker motioned to the charge nurse, who was still standing at the door, and she raced away, returning shortly with materials to get a culture going. As she left, I said, "Dr. Walker, I know you didn't ask me to come here to give a lecture on cow shit and antibiotics. In fact, I'm surprised that I remembered that, but the thought had occurred to me when Dad said he was found in the manure pond."

"You're right, of course," Dr. Walker said as he handed the dishes for the culture to the nurse, who left with them immediately. "When Danny mentioned that Christopher said he needed to talk with you, for some reason I remembered your being here and in as bad shape as Christopher. I know it was Luke and Matt that pulled off whatever they pulled off that saved your hide, but I understand you are now a fully qualified medicine man..."

"Hardly. But I see what you are getting at. Don't know whether I know enough to do any good or not, but I'll sure try. I have wanted to beat the living shit out of Christopher more times than I like to think about, but no-one deserves what happened to him. Besides, he was my project and I'll be damned if I flunk Project Christopher. Danny, I want you here, and I'll need Mary Kathryn and..." Suddenly I remembered things I needed, such as sage and sweet grass, rattles... "I'll have to go home or call Greywolf and see if he has what I need." I looked at Christopher and wondered if he would last long enough for me to get what I needed, and whether I could do anything anyway.

"Michael, I'm here to do whatever you want," Danny said.

"I'll stay with Christopher while you get what you need," Dr. Walker said. "But be as quick as you can. We are running out of time.

"I'll be back as quickly as I can."

I raced down the hall, ignored the elevator, and started down the stairs two-at-a-time. When I reached the lobby, I was surprised to see Mary Kathryn walking through the door, carrying a large box.

"What are you doing here, Mary Kathryn?" I asked as I came to a sudden stop.

"I hoped you would know," she answered, then said, "Take this box. It's kinda heavy."

I took the box from her and asked again, "Well, why are you here?".

"The UPS man brought this box to our place about half an hour ago. It is addressed to both of us, but with our house number. The outside envelope was marked, 'Open envelope at once'. Here's what was inside."

She handed me a small card. Written on it was, "Take to Michael at once. He'll need this and you. He also needs Golden Eagle's garments."

"Mary Kathryn, this is weird. Have you opened the box?"

"No, I wasn't sure I should."

I was anxious to see what was inside and I needed to be on my way, so I ripped the box open in the middle of the lobby. As soon as it was opened, the fragrance of sweet grass, sage and cedar seemed to flow over me. Inside was a note, "Red Hawk left these for you. They were to be sent when he gave a sign. He appeared in a dream last night and handed his pipe to a golden eagle, so I am sending this to you, Golden Eagle." The card was signed with a drawing of a singing bird and the letters SS.

When I handed the note to Mary Kathryn, she smiled and said, "Singing Sparrow". I nodded, then grabbed Mary Kathryn's hand and practically dragged her up the stairs and into Christopher's room.

When Mary Kathryn saw him, she placed a hand on Christopher's brow, then said to Dr. Walker, "Christopher needs to be taken out of the ice, dried carefully and placed on a clean bed. Can you see that is done while Michael gets ready?" She was polite enough, but Mary Kathryn was giving orders and everyone knew it. Danny and the nurse hopped to the task of getting Christopher ready for I didn't know what.

When the nurse started to put a hospital gown on Christopher, Mary Kathryn stopped her. "Leave him as he is," she said. The nurse started to protest, but stopped when Mary Kathy gave her the eye.

I found sweet grass braids, sage and cedar chips in the box, along with a rattle made from turtle shells, a fan made from a bird's wing and a feather which had to be an eagle feather. Attached to it was a note which read, "This is a strange chicken feather, Golden Chicken, since you can't possess an eagle feather". I smiled to myself as I showed the note to Mary Kathryn, who almost laughed out loud.

When I had everything I needed, Mary Kathryn handed me a bundle she had been carrying. I opened it and found my leggings, breech cloth, arm bands, medicine bags--all my Lakota clothing. Without hesitation, I got undressed as quickly as possible and then dressed in my Lakota clothing. I felt a strange sensation when I placed the medicine bag around my neck. "Ok, Danny, you can stay with me and Mary Kathryn. Dr. Walker, you can stay if you like. Otherwise, no-one stays and no-one enters the room until I give permission." The nurse looked at Dr. Walker for his orders and he simply nodded. As he did, he moved into the corner of the room.

"Danny, you're going to have to be honest here. There is definitely going to be some danger involved, looking at what happened to Matt and Luke when I was knifed. If you don't want to stay, feel free to go. Also, if you have any resentment against Christopher, you probably need to go."

"I've been here and I intend to stay," Danny said.

"What about our resentment against Christopher?" Mary Kathryn asked me.

"I sure wish we could do a sweat because of that, but we'll just have to fight it. I don't know what else to do." It was finally time to act. I lit two braids of sweet grass and gave them to Mary Kathryn and Danny. I took a small bowl from the box, placed cedar chips and sage in it and started it burning. I felt I was in a strange world as the smoke began to fill the room. I didn't know what I was doing. It wasn't something Red Hawk had taught me--well, it kinda was and it wasn't. It was strange.

I took the bird's wing fan and fanned the smoke from the burning sage and cedar over Danny, Mary Kathryn and myself. Suddenly I had a vision of a sweat lodge. I started sweating profusely and could feel the intense heat of the sweat lodge. I was praying for purification for the four of us and, in my vision, saw Danny, Christopher, Mary Kathryn and myself sitting in a sweat lodge. I felt resentment flowing out of myself and could see it flowing out of Mary Kathryn, but not Christopher. A pure light surrounded Danny. He felt no resentment toward any of us. Rather, he had a look of tenderness and love, which made resentment impossible.

The ice and water in which Christopher had been lying was still in the room in two large containers. Mary Kathryn took a pitcher from Christopher's bedside table, dipped water from the containers and poured it over all three of us, then over Christopher.

That done, I started a chant for healing that Red Hawk had taught me. I danced very slowly around Christopher's bed, waving the fan, sweeping the smoke over his body. I was moving through a thick haze of smoke, but it was not the smoke from the cedar and sage. It was a haze of evil, which seemed to be fighting for control of Christopher's body. I found it difficult to see Mary Kathryn, and I needed to talk with her but couldn't. I saw her moving slowly, like a slow-motion movie, approaching the box. She took something from it, handed it to Dr. Walker and returned to her place at Christopher's head. She nodded to Danny and he grasped Christopher's feet. As they held his head and feet, I leaned over Christopher, took the eagle feather and drew a cross on his forehead--I was puzzled because I drew it backward and, somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind, I knew that--and then drew the sign for water over him. Having done that, I leaned over, placed my mouth to his and drew in a deep breath, turned to one side and exhaled fully. I then inhaled deeply, drawing the fragrance and smoke from the cedar and sage into my lungs. I turned back to Christopher, placed my mouth against his again and exhaled forcefully, filling his lungs. As I did, I collapsed.

I was surprised when Michael knew exactly what had happened to Christopher and explained it to Dr. Walker. From that point on, things got weird. All I really remember is feeling like I was in a sweat bath and then having some strange, I guess, hallucinations before passing out.

When I came to, I was in a hospital bed and burning up with fever. When I looked around, I saw Michael in a bed, across the room, tossing and turning. Dr. Walker came in and, before he was all the way in the room, Michael asked, "How's Mary Kathryn?".

"She's better than you two, that's for sure," Dr. Walker said. "Michael, I'm not sure about your treatment methods. First of all, the doctor gets sick and instead of one patient, I now have four. But, I'll have to admit, Christopher is a lot better than he was. From my experience with you, I assume you three have been bitten by the same bug as Christopher, though heaven only knows how that happens. Anyway, I got in touch with an infectious disease expert at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. As soon as I started describing what had happened he said, 'Another cow-shit case. When will farmers ever learn?' He then told me what he suspected we would find with the cultures and he was sure enough to recommend treatment, which I have started on all four of you. Right now I'm giving you something to control the fever, want you to drink all the fluids you can, and I'll see that you get something for sleep shortly. Now drink!"

I didn't need to be told, as I thought I never would get enough water. When I asked Michael what had happened, he told me what he thought had taken place. When I mentioned I felt like I was in a steam bath part of the time, he said he thought we had gone through a symbolic sweat to get rid of resentment of Christopher. "You didn't have any. I saw that," he said. The rest of the ceremony, I guess that's what it was, was to drive out evil spirits who were in control of Christopher. "I think," he said, "a part of it--since it happened to Matt and Luke--is that someone or someones have to be willing to offer themselves on behalf of the sick person. I think the symbolic sweat, my training, and there being three of us, meant we are not as sick as Matt and Luke were. Frankly, Danny, I don't understand it any better than you do. I just do what I have learned and what my spirit leads me to do."

We talked more about what had happened earlier, about his trip to the Black Hills and about his own experience of being near and desiring death. I was awed by the way Michael told me and by what I knew had happened, but it was still weird. I didn't think it would be something covered in my nursing course!

The nurse came in with juice and a handful of pills, one of which was to put me to sleep . It did its job quickly.
Uncle Michael

Margaret called me Saturday morning and told me all about what had happened with Christopher, Danny and the kids. She said Dr. Walker thought they could all go home Sunday afternoon, but would be at home for a couple days. "Could you stay with Michael while David and I are at work?" she asked.

"Of course. No problem. In fact, I'd love to. I haven't had a chance to really talk with him in ages."

"I suspect the Larsens would like to have Mary Kathryn at our place as well, if you will be there. She was also involved, and is not as sick as Michael, but a couple days out of school won't hurt," Margaret said.

"That's fine too," I responded.

Went I got home, I told John what had happened, and that I would be staying with the two kids for a couple days. "Of course, I'll be here when you get home since I'll only be there while Margaret is at work. She's only working six hours these days."

"Good. It'll get you out of the house for a change."

That had become a bit of a problem for the two of us lately. I know it's just getting used to living with someone, but little things are usually what eat away at a relationship, not big things. Well some big things do, as John had discovered in his first serious relationship.

Since the gallery was in the house, the only time I really got out was when I went on buying trips. All the sales I managed from the house, even those which involved works I had bought on a trip but had stored elsewhere. I would go for weeks without being out of the house, other than when I did errands around town.

John, on the other hand, was at school all day, as he said, dealing with adolescents and their hormones. When he got home, all he wanted to do was just relax. Especially on the weekends when he didn't have to go to school, I wanted to get out and do things, go places, and John still wanted to stay home. He was always urging me to go ahead and go and, occasionally, I did--but I'd come back, I'll admit, resenting the fact that I had been alone. I was alone all the time it seemed. So there was a note of bitterness in John's voice when he said staying with the kids would get me out of the house.

I enjoyed my time with Michael and Mary Kathryn. They were both in fair shape, so they were up most of the day. Both took a nap after lunch and Michael was still asleep when Margaret got home. She checked Mary Kathryn and found her vital signs were normal. "Definitely school for you Tuesday, but I think you need to stay here tonight, just in case."

Michael, it turned out, was not in quite as good shape. He was still running a slight fever. Margaret also got on him for not drinking enough fluids. "But I think you'll be ready for school Tuesday also."

I had a cup of coffee with Margaret and we talked about a whole lot of things. Finally she asked, "Michael, what's wrong? And don't tell me 'nothing'. You're just not your usual self, and every time John's name is mentioned, you change the subject. Trouble in paradise?"

"Well, maybe not trouble and it's definitely not paradise or, again, maybe you are right." I then told her about the problem John and I were having over going out. "I know it sounds trivial, and I keep telling myself it is, but it is still a burr under my saddle."

We talked for a while about that. Margaret was a good listener and said little as I talked my way through the problem. I guess it was the first time I had really looked at it as a real problem--because I kept talking and, otherwise, I would have said there was nothing to tell.

When I finished, Margaret asked, "Michael, have you talked to John the way you have been talking to me? I mean have you really talked to him?"

I realized I hadn't, and admitted it. "Why not? she asked. "How's anything going to be better so long as you don't talk? There has to be a reason you're not talking."

I thought about that and finally said, "I would like to tell you I don't know the reason, but I do. I don't know about you and David, but I am very conscious of the difference between John's age and my own. On the one hand, it doesn't seem like a lot and on the other it does. I don't know whether you know it or not, but gay men are generally pretty age-conscious. When you reach my age, you think there is no hope of finding someone to love. The usual places for meeting other men just don't work any more. I guess it's because the so-called "gay scene" just seems, well, immature and all the posturing is kind of difficult for someone my age. So you just give up and resign yourself to a lonely life for the rest of your years. Then if you are lucky, damn lucky, someone like John comes along. When that happens, you really can't believe it and you walk on eggs for fear you will chase him away."

"John feels fairly free to criticize me and the things I do. Often they are very small things to my mind but, when I try to tell him that, he gets upset. When I try to tell him the things he does which annoy me, he starts defending himself and gets upset. So I just walk easy."

"You're afraid of losing John and are working hard at making that happen, right?" Margaret looked at me unflinchingly. "Right?"

I hung my head, knowing that what she said was right and, at the same time, not wanting to admit it. I had too much to lose and knew that I would run out of chances if something was not done. "Yes, I guess you're right, Margaret. I guess you are."

"Well, do something about it." I promised her I would, and told her I'd be available Tuesday if she needed me to stay with Michael.

"Don't think I will, but thanks--and I will call on you if I do."

I was with Michael and Mary Kathryn on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday I left on a long-planned buying trip and didn't get back to Concord until Friday afternoon. When I got home it was still an hour or so before John came home. I was determined to work on our relationship and thought a romantic dinner would be a good start. We had gotten into a pretty dull routine because John didn't want to go out and I didn't want to be at home, so we had pretty much settled into a non-confrontational sort of mutual misery.

John was usually home by 5:30 at the latest, and he was that late only when he had a faculty meeting or a meeting with parents after school. When 6:00 came and he was not home, I began to worry. If he was much later, the very romantic dinner I had planned would be beyond eating, much less romantic. When 6:30 came and John still hadn't gotten home, I called the school but got no answer other than the recorded messages about school events.

At 7:00 I heard John's car and was ready to light into him about being late and not calling, when I saw his face as he came in the door. I didn't know what was wrong, but it was definitely major. "John, Babe, what's wrong, what's the matter?"

John took one look at me and tears started streaming down his face. He ran to me, hugged me to himself and the dam really burst. As I held him close and gently rocked him in my arms, I was in agony, knowing how much pain he must be in to be so out of control.

Chapter Five

John Stevenson

My last period art class is not my most exciting one. It is mostly freshman who take art to get out of something else. They are not at all interested, for the most part, and spend the hour horsing around. Instead of teaching, I find myself trying to maintain some kind of order and not have too many students leaving the class with painted hair or faces. Today was especially bad since there had been a pep rally just before class and the hormones and hyperactivity were both running high.

As I took a brush from a girl just in time to prevent her giving a girlfriend a blue face, I thought about the previous year's last period class. It was a dream class. It had many great students including Luke Larsen, until he attempted suicide and changed his art into an independent study. I guess Luke was that miracle student, the one each teacher is promised in a lifetime of teaching. Well, maybe they had not been very talented for the most part, but were interested and hard-working. Now what I really wanted was the bell to ring and have these feral teenagers to go screaming and rushing out the door, hyped-up for a football game and more. As soon as their over-sexed bodies were out the door, it would be home and a stiff drink for me and no thoughts of school for two days.

Shortly before time for the bell, the intercom crackled and Ms. Jones called my name. When I answered, she said, "Mr. Stevenson, excuse me for interrupting. I know it's Friday and you want to get home, but I need to see you in my office immediately after the bell. It's extremely important."

I answered that I would be there, and wondered just what could be so important as to keep me from getting out of here in a nanosecond after the last bell. Damn, I wanted to get the hell out of here! The bell rang and what I had thought were totally uncivilized animals became worse as they started shouting and racing out the door. Only Keith Lewis, a poor senior caught in this zoo, spoke as he walked out, saying, "Have a nice weekend, Mr. Stevenson."

"You too, Keith. Any new CDs this week?"

"Nothing I think worth playing, just a bunch of kid groups doing hip hop. Trash in my book. See ya."

"Yea," I replied and turned to walk down the hall to Ms. Jones' office.

When I walked in her office, Ms. Jones' face told me this was not something unimportant. "Sit down, John, I think you'll need to be sitting," she said, and gave me a very weak smile. "I want you to read this before I say a word... and I want you to read it all before you speak." She then handed me a folded piece of lined notebook paper.

On the outside of the paper, written in pencil, was, "Two Miz Joines, Independunce Hi scool Princeipul". I unfolded the sheet and read the inside: "Miz Joines U got one of them cock sucking sex perverts learning kids and i don't mean no 3 Rs. i mean cock sucking and sech. ef you don't believe it ask that keith lewis who hes been fucking and some other queers he's been wit." It was signed, "a christian frend of his". Under that was written, "that means in his holy name to. his holy name, him who hates perverts. read yor bible."

Ms. Jones was right. I needed to be sitting down. This was a bolt out of the blue. Had something similar happened when I first started teaching, I would have been out on my ear without any recourse. Then I had been very careful not to let anyone know I was gay. I still didn't parade it. Of course, anyone who knew Michael and me knew we were more than close friends--although we certainly were close friends. But now, after all that Millie had done, in addition to law suits which gave gays some protection--not enough, but some--I couldn't believe what I had just read.

I looked up at Ms. Jones, and saw she was looking directly at me. "John, I have only one question to ask and I hope and trust you will tell me the truth. Have you ever so much as kissed a student on the mouth?"

What kind of question was this? I had been accused by some ignorant asshole of seducing students and Ms. Jones wanted to know if I had ever kissed one? Had she lost her mind? I didn't know what she was up to, but I looked back at her and said, "Ms. Jones, I have never kissed a student, period. For years I was reluctant to allow a student to hug me, but they wanted to and I finally came to allow it, but it's always the student, not me, who initiates it."

"That's all I wanted to know, John. I'm not sure who is behind this, although I have some ideas. I don't think it will stop with this note. A similar note has gone to the school board already. So far as I am concerned, the matter is closed, but it isn't and I know it. I do want you to know that I never believed a word of it. I have known you too well to even think that you might abuse your position as a teacher. I am behind you one hundred percent, but you need to know that this is probably not the end of the matter. I wish I didn't have to say this, but I think you need a lawyer should this go any further. Call Millie. I have already talked to her and she is livid. I am sure she can recommend someone. John, you don't know how sorry I am that this has happened. You are a gifted teacher--even when given a room full of freshman," she smiled. "You have given much to this school and this community and I, for one, will fight to keep you here and teaching. And there's no accusation of you hitting on principals," she said, walked from behind her desk and gave me a big hug. "Know I'm for you, John Stevenson!" she said, hugging me again.

I didn't think I could face Michael just yet. I needed time to get myself together. I left the school and just drove out into the country. It was a beautiful early-October day with just a hint of autumn, but I couldn't enjoy it very much. What would happen if, somehow or other, the person responsible for the note was to win and I lose my teaching position? Michael had given up a nice place and business in Charleston to stay in Concord with me. What if, suddenly, there was no reason for me to stay? Where would I go? Would he go with me? To tell the truth, recently we hadn't been the two happy lovebirds we had been at the start of our relationship. He had some habits which just annoyed the shit out of me, and when I spoke to him about them he tried to pretend they were not important. And he's always wanting to go out and I just want to have a quiet time at home after dealing with kids all day. To tell the truth, we hadn't been working at our relationship and it showed, especially now that I really needed him, his understanding and support.

I finally realized that I was going to become a basket case any second unless I could feel Michael's arms around me and hear his assurances that everything would be all right. I was shocked when I looked at my watch and saw that it was after 6:30. Michael would be beside himself with worry and I wouldn't blame him for being angry at me for being so inconsiderate. Dreading seeing him and yet knowing that without him I couldn't handle this mess, I turned around and headed home.

When I walked in and saw Michael, I completely lost it. I just ran to him and he took me in his arms and hugged me close, asking what was wrong. He held me tight and rocked me in his arms until I got control of myself.

When I had stopped crying, I looked into his wonderful eyes and thought what a fool I had been for letting little things get in the way of our relationship. He was what I needed and what would see me though this mess. I smiled and then kissed him tenderly.

I showed Michael a copy of the letter and after he read it he said, "This is what Millie has been calling about". "She has called every half-hour since school was out."

Michael had prepared a wonderful dinner for us and, since I was so late, much of it was past its prime. After he had read the letter he, as I, hardly felt like eating, so the dinner went even further down the road of no return. Finally we did eat a bit, and Michael fixed two expressos and brought them and a slice of sinfully rich chocolate cake to the den where I was sitting. As he handed me the cake he smiled and said, "The condemned man's last meal?".

"Not so long as I have breath to fight," I said, and meant it. He almost spilled his coffee as he leaned over to kiss me.

"Or so long as I have breath," he said as he stood.

We had almost finished our dessert when the phone rang. I was almost afraid to answer it and was relieved when Michael did. After he said "Hello," he handed me the phone.

"John here," I spoke into the phone.

"John, Millie. Tell Michael to turn on that dreadful speakerphone mess. I want both of you to hear this."

"Millie wants the speaker-phone on, Michael," I said. Michael reached over and pushed the button and I handed him the phone. "Ok, Millie, shoot."

"John, I don't think I need to say it, but I will. I don't believe for a moment you have ever been anything but professional and helpful to your students--and everyone else for that matter. Constance and I talked for a long time this afternoon after she got the note. I don't know whether she told you or not, but it got to her by a pretty strange route. A student who works as a cashier at Wal-mart gave it to her after lunch today. She is in a co-op ed program and works at Wal-mart in the morning and goes to school in the afternoon. Seems when she was leaving work her supervisor gave her an envelope and said a man had asked that she give it to the student. Inside was another envelope telling the student to take the enclosed note to Ms. Jones. At least that's the story the student told. Constance checked it out and it seems that's what happened. Anyway, when Constance got it, she decided just to trash it and forget about it. Then she got a phone call and a man asked if she had gotten his note, and told her he had sent one to the school board as well. That pretty much meant she couldn't just ignore it."

"The note to the school board came in today's mail. I gave it to Sheriff Putnam and asked that he check it for fingerprints. He checked the one at school as well. Got a few good prints and is seeing if there is any way to trace the notes to the writer. Since one came through the mail, there may be a federal case there. Doesn't matter, as I urge you to get a good lawyer and fight this. If the writer can be found, sue the hell out of him for defamation of character and anything else you can think of. Too much suing going on but, damn it, people like the writer need to be taught a lesson. The school board lawyer may end up working against you--he better be careful if he does--so get someone you trust. If you don't have anyone in mind, I'll loan you one of mine. They draw a salary just to look pretty most of the time. As a matter of fact, I have already told one of mine he is on the case, but you can get another if you like. You know damn well I'm taking this as a personal attack as well as an attack on a damn good teacher and a good friend. I guess I'm wound down now. You have anything to say?"

I must confess, both Michael and I were having to work very hard to keep from laughing out loud. "Don't think I have much to say, Millie, except thank you for having faith in me. I have always known I was open to an attack like this, but I guess I had finally relaxed, thinking it wouldn't happen. I don't know how to defend myself against someone who is afraid or ashamed to sign his name."

"I'm not sure having an x for a signature would help much," Millie said, only half joking. "I'm also concerned about this Keith Lewis. Do you know him?"

"Yes, he's a petunia in an onion patch," I laughed. "He is the only serious student in my last period class, and a senior among freshman at that. Surely you know him. Everybody in Concord knows Bad Man."

"Bad Man? Don't think I know what you're talking about."

"Keith Lewis is Bad Man, the DJ for Saturday morning on the local radio station."

"Afraid I am more than a little bit old for Concord's Saturday morning radio. Is he gay?"

"I honestly don't know. I've never heard the kids teasing him and they usually do, even though it is forbidden. The kids like his show, but he's a real loner. I like him, maybe because he is a serious student in my class from hell."

"Well, if this gets out, I want him defended too. This is absolutely slanderous and could really devastate a kid. Well, just wanted you to know I'm behind you a hundred percent, as is Constance. Michael, you take good care of our boy. We're going to have to kick ass big time over this." Having said that, Millie--in her usual style--hung up the phone without saying goodbye.

After listening to Millie, I'll admit I felt better. It was like discovering you had a Sherman tank on your side when all you thought you had was a slingshot!

Michael and I talked a bit about the note and the mess it stirred up, but soon we were talking about our relationship and how we had allowed it to drift, rather than working at it. We got a lot straightened out, including the acknowledgement that we'd have to do it again and again. Then, both exhausted, we tumbled into bed and discovered we were not THAT exhausted after all. But all good things must come to an end and we finally drifted off to sleep, snug in each other's arms.

Saturday afternoon, Dr. Walker said I could go home if I promised to keep taking the antibiotic which had proven effective against the bugs in the cultures, drink plenty of fluids and rest. I was happy to promise anything to get back to my own place.

Sunday, I decided I would go by and see Christopher. When I got to his room, he was awake and looked surprisingly well. I mean he was still a pretty sick boy, but definitely on the mend. We talked about what had happened to land him in the hospital--well, not exactly. He just talked a bit about being in the manure pond, not how he got there--and what had gone on here. He couldn't believe the story I told him about how he had been cured. That is he didn't believe until he asked why Michael had been at the hospital. "He came because, when you woke up for a few minutes, you said you needed to talk to him."

"I did? I don't remember that. All I remember is I was sliding down into a dark, filthy pool and needed help to get out. I kept reaching up and and no-one was there to pull me out, and I thought I heard someone telling me to talk to a friend. Strange... All of it is strange."

"You don't know the half of it. You weren't conscious when it all happened. But, tell me, how did you get in that manure pond in the first place? Who beat you up and put you there?" Christopher turned his face to the wall and said nothing, and I didn't push. Finally, after several long minutes, he said, "Danny, I am so ashamed of myself," and started crying, completely out of control.

I walked over to the opposite side of his bed, sat on the edge and pulled his head to my chest, holding him as he wept bitter tears, all the time sobbing, "I am so ashamed".

>From the times I had found myself weeping like that in a therapist's office, I know what to do. I encouraged Christopher to cry it all out and he did, weeping an ocean of tears. All the time he was crying, he was clutching at me, holding on for dear life. He must have cried hard for ten or fifteen minutes, and had just regained control when there was a knock on the door. I got up and Christopher lay back on his pillow and said, "Come in". Sheriff Putnam and a deputy came into the room.

After he had introduced himself, Sheriff Putnam introduced the deputy as Deputy Austin. "Christopher, we need to talk to you if you are up to it," the sheriff said.

"I'll see you tomorrow, Christopher," I said.


"Promise," I replied, and nodded to the sheriff and deputy and left. There was more going on with Christopher, I was sure, than just being beaten and dumped in a manure pond, although that was bad enough.
Sheriff Putnam

When I got all the reports concerning the events surrounding Christopher Cicellis, I was very anxious to talk to the lad myself. I had a hunch the work my deputies had been doing for almost a year was about to produce results. I really needed to talk with Christopher, but he was too ill every time I called the hospital. Finally I got word that he was conscious and able to talk, so I asked Deputy Austin to accompany me to the hospital.

When we arrived, Danny Elrod was with Christopher. I have seen kids in trouble too often and, when I remembered how much trouble Danny had been in, I realized that there was always the possibility of them turning around--and Danny was proof of that. When Deputy Austin and I entered the room and introduced ourselves, Danny spoke then left.

"Christopher, we have some questions for you and we hope you have some answers for us," I said. "You were left in a pool of cow shit to die, don't kid yourself about that. Maybe you thought the people who did that to you were your friends and you want to protect them but, if you do, I hope you remember being left to die in cow shit up to your neck."

"Sheriff, I did think the guys who put me in the cow shit were my friends and, while I may have been damn stupid--I have been damn stupid--in the past, I have never been stupid enough to think that anyone who would do what they did to me is a friend. So ask away."

"Christopher, the car you were in before you got dumped was identified by Mr. Heidelberg. Actually, it was almost identified. He gave us a partial description and a partial license number. Fortunately, that was enough because a report of an abandoned car in Lexington fit the description and partial plate numbers, so it was located quickly. There were several beer cans in the car which have provided good fingerprints. And, as I'm sure you know, the prints were on file. They belonged..."

"To me, Kenny Haines, Frank Kitchen and Spike Ellis, right?"

"Almost. Your prints were not on the cans or anything else in the car. But there was a fourth set belonging to Ike Ramsey. Do you know him?"

"Not before Kenny introduced him as 'Ike, our friend and supplier,' that's all. And I did have a couple beers, so my prints should have been there," Christopher said.

"I think they made every effort to hide the fact that you were with them. What were you doing with that bunch?"

Christopher turned his face to the wall and said nothing. I just waited. Finally he spoke, "Sheriff, I am so ashamed of myself. Ever since I got here, I have been taking a little money from the till. Kenny, Frank and Spike used it to get grass and beer for us. I mean I generally paid for everything, but at least they paid attention to me. Anyway, last week Kenny told me we were about to get some really good grass and money as well. 'You need to lay hands on several extra dollars--at least a hundred,' he had said. I told him I didn't think I could, but I'd try. I was afraid Granddad would find out I was taking money if I took that much, so I just took a little each day, and had fifty when they came by to pick me up. We drove out into the country a bit, and Ike stopped the car and opened the trunk and showed us a bunch of little glass tubes. 'There's enough crack there to keep you in weed and beer as long as you like,' he said and then asked for the money."

"'Look, guys', I told them," Christopher continued, "'I don't mind taking money from the till to buy grass, but I am not dealing crack or having anything to do with it'. When I said that, Kenny slapped me across the face and said, 'Give me the money and shut up. You are in this just as much as we are.' I told him again I wasn't getting involved, and he slugged me and took the money I had. When he saw it wasn't what he expected, he hit me again and started kicking me. I passed out and woke up here. That's all I know."

"Can you describe the man with the three?" I asked Christopher.

"Not really. I mean of course I saw him, but never in very good light. He was tall, I guess six-one or two, dark headed--maybe even black haired--but with fair skin. He had a scar on his left cheek and a tattoo of a skull on the inside of his left arm. That's about it. But what about me? How much trouble am I in?"

"I suspect you have to ask Demetri that," I chuckled. "You said you stole from Demetri, but he hasn't reported that. You were with a bunch who planned to buy dope, but you didn't have any when you were dragged from the pit and there were no fingerprints on anything we found. Of course, I expect you to help us all you can."

"I certainly will. I think in more ways than one I have been given my life back." Christopher smiled, "You know that Greek Orthodox immerse babies in baptism so I got baptized again, in cow shit--but I guess cow shit is clean enough to give me a new start. I sure intend to help you all I can, I mean I was almost not here."

"You're right. You came very close to death and would have died had some decent people not worked to keep you alive. Well, Christopher, I think we have what we need but we may be back."

"Anytime," Christopher replied. "By the way, have you caught the four who put me in the pond?"

"Of course we have the three. That was easy since they just went home. We don't have Ike, but I think another day or two in jail will open the mouths of your former friends. We want Ike and Lexington police think they know where he is. But what we all really want is his supplier. Ike's really a pretty small fish. The higher up the chain we can reach, the better."

Christopher wished us luck and we left.

"When will it end, oh when will it end?" I asked myself as I hung up the phone after talking to Constance. I called her after the secretary at the school board had phoned to tell me someone had brought a letter addressed to the president of the board. I drove over, picked up the letter and read it. I almost exploded when I finished reading the ignorant slander it contained. Michelle, the secretary, told me there were copies sent to every member of the board. I knew there was no way it could be ignored, so I called Constance and learned she had received one as well.

Neither of us had any idea as to who had sent the venomous letters, and both knew that John Stevenson was in for a rough time. I called him and assured him of my backing, and offered one of my lawyers to defend him if he needed it. After I finished talking with him, I felt better and fixed myself a drink.

As I sat sipping my JD and branch, I suddenly felt very lonely. Damn it, I missed Eugene. I had a big hole in my life after Jason left home, and then Mr. Willingham had died, and I was well on my way to becoming a self-pitying old lady when Eugene entered my life. I know he thought I had given him everything, but I could never give him as much as he had given me. I started to call him when the phone rang. It was Woody.

We talked for over an hour. I told him about the attack on John and he was as upset as I had been. "He's a fine man," Woody said, "Anyone who has ever seen him with Michael would know he wasn't playing around with anyone else. Those two may have their problems--do you know anyone in a serious relationship who does not--but there's no doubt they are madly in love with each other. And I should know about being in love!"

Well, we talked about that for a while. It was private, but I will tell you that I felt thirty years younger when I hung up the phone. I suggested Woody might like to come down to Concord for a while and take in the beauty of the mountains in the fall. He said he'd have to give it some thought since he'd hate to drive the distance for only a day or two. I suggested he spend at least a couple weeks. We talked about that and then said goodnight.

As I got ready for bed, I was still thinking about Woody coming down and, at the same time, about what John was going through simply because he was in love. "It's amazing how much hatred is provoked by love. It really is." After I had said my prayers, I crawled into bed just as I heard fire sirens as the fire trucks raced down the street.
Uncle Michael

After John and I had discussed our relationship and sealed it afresh by making love, John quickly fell asleep. I did not. I lay beside the second man who had given me his love and whom I had loved in return. John and I had both been responsible for allowing our relationship to drift without giving it the care I should have known it needed. "An army always fights the previous war," echoed in my head as I came to realize--unconsciously for sure, but it was true nonetheless--I had been responding to John as I would have James, the first love of my life. But John was not James and responded to me very differently. I found both of us were often confused at first, but gradually we came to know each other on a very deep level, but I had, still, often treated John as if he were James, and that was wrong.

My mind then turned to the present crisis--and it definitely was a crisis--provoked by a vicious letter to Ms. Jones. I guess it is true that it is an ill wind which blows nobody good, because the storm the letter was sure to blow up had also shocked John and me into talking about us and getting out a lot of things which should have been out and dealt with weeks before. But we had dealt with things--mostly small, but definitely capable of growing large--and I relaxed, spooned myself into John's back and, just as I was drifting off to sleep, I heard a car scream around the corner. Almost immediately, there was an explosion and a bright flash of light. Both John and I jumped out of bed and rushed to the front of the house, where we saw flames through the window.

"What in the hell..." John exclaimed, rushed across the room, grabbed the phone and shouted, "I'll calling 911, Michael. Don't open the front door! I can see the flames and I'm afraid you'll be burned if you open the door." He then gave the 911 operator the needed information and turned to me. "What next, Michael?" he cried as we both grabbed our robes and headed for the back door.

Chapter Six


After Michael and I had talked about our relationship, and sealed it again with wonderful and tender love-making, I drifted off to sleep, comforted. I don't know how long I had been asleep when I was rudely awakened by a loud explosion. "What the hell?" I exclaimed, and leaped out of bed and rushed toward the front of the house. When I looked outside, the front porch was a mass of flames. I warned Michael not to open the front door and grabbed the phone, dialed 911 and gave the operator our problem and location. I had barely finished when I heard the sirens.

Michael and I threw on robes and rushed out of the house by a back door just as the fire trucks screamed into our street. The trucks had hardly stopped when firemen equipped with tank-type fire extinguishers quickly put out the fire on the porch and one in the yard. I saw that the one in the yard had been a burning cross.

A police cruiser pulled up soon after the fire trucks arrived, and its occupants came to where Michael and I were standing. A handsome young man introduced himself and his female partner. "I'm Officer Zack Ramsey and this is my partner, Officer Eliane Paige. What happened here?"

I told them we were in bed when we heard an explosion and when I got to the front, saw flames on the porch and called 911. "I have no idea who could have done this or why," I concluded.

"Well, Lane Nixon, the fireman in charge tonight, radioed us because of the burning cross. We haven't had any of that kind of Klan nonsense here in years. And it may just be one or two jerks. I'd sure like to find out who's behind this."

"Zack, come over here," a fireman, standing near the smoking cross, shouted.

Michael and I followed the two officers as they walked toward the cross. "Look what I found," the fireman said, pointing to a sheet of metal lying at the foot of the cross.

In very crude letters, a message was spelled out in red paint on the metal: "Cock suckers burn in hell. Some burn in their cock sucking beds. God's Avenging Angels." Beneath the message was a drawing of an angel holding a flaming cross.

"That sure is a new one on me," Zack said. "I've never seen anything like that. Lane, this is Michael Sanders and John Stevenson who live here. Mr. Sanders, Mr. Stevenson, this is Lane Nixon, night fire captain."

We shook hands all around and Lane continued, "We never had a chapter of the KKK around here, but years ago we did have a group in white sheets which called itself God's Avenging Angels. My dad knew them all and worked most of his life trying to get rid of them, and finally did. They burned a cross in a black farmer's yard and the fire spread, destroying his barn. But the slime didn't get away. One of them left a trail of gasoline from their car to the cross and, when he ignited the cross, the car caught fire and they were stranded. Welsh Henry, the black farmer, held them at gunpoint until the law got there. They all spent time in prison and had to pay to rebuild Welsh's barn and for the hay he had in it. They were broke when they got out of prison and I thought all of them had moved away. I suspect this is someone who knows about the earlier group and is aping it."

"I'll take this sign and see what we can get from it." Zack turned the sign around and laughed. "We have at least one fingerprint, a perfect one." Lane laughed as he pointed to a perfect fingerprint left on the sign by a paint-smeared finger. "See anything else which might be evidence?" Zack asked.

"There's an empty gasoline can near the cross and the bottles they used to make Molotov cocktails to throw on the porch," Lane said. Zack gathered up the things the night riders had left behind and said he would send someone for the cross in the morning. "And I'll see this area is patrolled tonight to make sure they don't return."

We all said goodnight and the firemen and police left. Michael and I went back toward the house, inspecting the porch when we reached the front. There was fire damage, but nothing serious. Repainting would probably be all that was required.

When we got inside, Michael asked, "John, do you suppose this was done by the same group or person who sent the letters to school?"

"I'm sure it was. I don't think two different groups or people would decide to harass me at the same time," I replied. We went back to bed and Michael hugged me to himself until I finally relaxed and sailed into the Land of Nod.


Dr. Walker came by my hospital room Sunday afternoon and, after I promised to take care of myself by getting plenty of rest, drinking plenty of fluids and taking my medicine, released me from the hospital. "But you are not to go back to school or work until Tuesday. You can move around a bit but don't overdo it," he warned.

As soon as I was dressed--it was good to have my ass covered after wearing a hospital gown for what seemed like days--I went by Christopher's room. Michael and Mary Kathryn were just leaving as I walked in. "Guess you are as happy to get out of here as we are," Michael said.

"I sure am. I had to promise I would take it easy and not go back to work or school for two days, but at least I'll be home."

"Same here," Mary Kathryn replied. "We're staying at Michael's under the watchful eyes of Uncle Michael and Michael's mom."

"Bet that puts a crimp in your style, Michael Boy," I laughed.

"Yea, nothing like having a good-looking woman nearby and someone holding a 'Hands Off' sign above her head. But I suspect we'll manage a little making out. Well, we've got to run. Laters."

When they had gone, Christopher asked, "Danny, what happened? What really happened?".

I pulled a chair close to his bed, sat down and said, "Christopher, I really haven't the faintest idea what happened. I mean I do, but I don't understand it." I then told Christopher what I remembered.

"You mean you actually saw resentment coming out of Michael and Mary Kathryn? Really?"

"Yea, I did. Well, you know it was like a fog or something but, yes, it was resentment. Why did they resent you?"

"They have reasons, real good reasons." Christopher then told me how he had been a real ass when Michael and the gang had done everything they could to give him a good time. "Worse than that, I know Bill and Linda--and Jacob too--told them how I had bad-mouthed their Uncle Michael."

"How? What do you mean?"

"I asked if he and John Stevenson were cock-sucking queers."


"And they got me told in a hurry. Also said Mary Kathryn's brother and Greywolf's boy were queer and were married. Can you beat that?"

"You think there's something wrong with that?"

"Sure, don't you?"

"As a matter of fact I don't. The way I see it, there's too little love in the world and two people loving each other means there's more. So what if they are two men or two women?"

"Well, it's just not natural."

"What's unnatural about it if that's the way they were born?"

"You think people are born that way and it's all right?"

"Don't you?"

"Well, no. It's just not natural. There's no place for queers."

"Christopher, there are some gay people who refer to themselves as queers. I don't like the term myself and wish you wouldn't use it. And if there's something so wrong with being gay, how do you think Matt and Luke--that's who you were talking about--had the power to heal Michael and keep him from dying? If they were so evil and wrong, I don't think they could do that. And you know what? If they hadn't, you'd be dead now. Maybe you need to think about that, Buddy Boy." I intended that last to hit home and, from the look on Christopher's face, it did.

After a few quiet minutes in which I could almost see the cogs turning in Christopher's brain, he asked, "And you really think people are born that way and it's not something they chose and, well, it's really ok?".

"That's what I said and that's what I meant. Now I've got to go."

"Will you come by tomorrow, Danny? Dr. Walker says I have to stay here two more days and it will get awfully lonesome."

"Won't promise because I don't know how well I will be. But if I can I will, ok?"

Christopher just nodded and I left.

Chelsea insisted I take off the rest of the week and my hospital supervisor did the same. Both said they would see that my shifts were covered. I didn't argue with Chelsea, but I did at the hospital. I couldn't afford to miss any more work than was absolutely necessary. I had to have every penny I could earn. When I told the supervisor that, she said she thought she could come up with light work. "You'll probably be able to get as much rest here as at home. Just check in with me each time you come in." She had me doing a little of this and a little of that, such as watching a monitor, and I was still being paid and that was important.

I called school and got my assignments. Fortunately, I had no labs scheduled--because I couldn't do those at home but the regular assignments I could, and did. Of course, I missed the lectures but Buddy found someone who would send me a copy of their notes. I felt pretty comfortable about school.

Remembering that Christopher was still in the hospital and his asking that I come by to see him, I went by Monday afternoon. Aside from his cuts and bruises, he looked none the worse for the wear. "Hey, man, you're looking good."

"Feeling ok. I think I could go home, but Dr. Walker says not until Wednesday. You doing ok?"

"I'm fine. Was told I couldn't work or go to school until Tuesday, but my supervisor found an easy job for me until I'm feeling better. I feel fine. Well, a bit weak--a whole lot weak--but, otherwise, I'm fine."

"Michael once said to me 'Methinks you protest too much," in regard to something else, but maybe it applies to you right now," Christopher said with a grin.

"Other than being as weak as dish water, I really am fine." I was standing in the doorway and Christopher patted the bed beside himself and said, "Have a seat".

I started toward the chair in the corner, but Christopher patted the bed again and said, "Here. I can see you better here." I sat on the edge of his bed, half-turned so I could see him clearly.

"Danny... you know that sounds like a kid's name, I think I'll call you Dan, Dan the Man." Christopher smiled and patted my arm.

"Thanks. I'd like that," I responded. "So how are you doing?"

"So far as being sick is concerned, I'm doing ok. I couldn't run a road race--I am really, really weak--but I'm doing ok. It's other things that are not so good."

"Such as?"

"Well, for starters, how I have treated Demetri--Granddad. You don't know what he did for me and how I have repaid him by being an asshole." Christopher told me about his mother and the trouble he had been in. He grew very quiet for a while then said, "I have been a real asshole, but I guess I was lashing out at what had happened to me. Not that that's an excuse. There's no excuse for what I have been and done. It's just an explanation, I guess."

"Yea, we are often our own worst enemy."

"Well, sometimes we're not. Sometimes someone else is our worst enemy. Like one of my mother's customers who moved in for a while--there were a string of those. She insisted I call them uncle. They were uncles all right--uncles to the devil!" Christopher told me how he had been abused by them and one especially. His eyes were misty. I could see he was on the verge of tears and I barely heard him when he said, "Thank God the bastard stole something from the old lady and she kicked his ass out."

He kept walking around the subject until finally I had an idea what he wanted to say, but couldn't bring himself to speak out loud. "He raped you?" I asked softly. Huge tears started rolling down his face as he nodded, then hid his face in his hands. I reached out and pulled his head to my shoulder and held him tightly, stroking his hair as the dam burst and he cried uncontrollably.

I kept holding Christopher tightly and stroking his hair until he regained control of himself. He raised his head from my shoulder, looked into my eyes and said, "You don't know how terrible it is. It didn't just happen once. I still feel like I'm dirty, filthy, unclean."

"Christopher, I do know what it is like. God knows, I know what it's like--every sickening feeling and all the cruel pain. I damn well know exactly what it's like. I have been there." Christopher started crying again, and this time he held me close and gently rubbed the back of my neck. I told Christopher about being a victim of McBride, leaving out no details. "I, too, felt unclean and filthy. I was sure no-one could ever touch me without being soiled as well. It's taken a lot of therapy to get over it and even now I sometimes get that feeling."

"You were raped?"

"Yea, again and again. Finally I just gave up and went along to save myself--and my ass," I smiled weakly at Christopher.

We talked for a long time, he letting out all the pent-up anger and hatred for what had happened to him and what he had done with his lashing out. Once he had pretty much exhausted himself, I told him about Buddy, Jake and myself. "Christopher, you have a long, often hard, road ahead of you. I won't lie about it. And you have a choice to make. You can either choose some form of self-destruction as Jake did, or you can seek--and you will find--help to overcome the damage done to you in the past, as Buddy and I have. There's no excuse now and, man, it is all up to you. You have friends and helpers available and they will be there for you, but you have to decide and you have to do the work." We talked a bit longer and when I was ready to go, I reached out to Christopher and hugged him. He clung to me, but this time didn't cry.

"You'll come to see me tomorrow?"



"Promise, Christopher."

"Chris, maybe?"

"Sure, I like that. Chris. 'Til tomorrow."

I went back Tuesday and the two of us talked much longer about our past and our feelings of being used and left feeling dirty. Finally I asked, "Chris, have you ever been in counseling?".

"Not really. I mean I have spent hours in the school counselors' office while they tried to decide what to do with me. I was a problem in school--a number one asshole there too. Of course, when I wanted to, I did well, but I seldom cared one way or another. I got sent to the next grade so my teachers wouldn't have to deal with me again. I am actually pretty far behind, I guess."

"Well you better do something about that, starting as soon as you can get the assignments you've missed. But I do think you need to see a counselor. It's what has kept Buddy and me going. I have no idea when we will stop, if ever. I do know we will probably have problems all our lives because of what happened to us, but we are closer to being normal than I ever hoped to be. You need the same thing." Chris said he would think about it.

"Chris, I want more than 'I'll think about it'. You have people ready, willing and able to help you but, by damn, you have to make the effort to ask and seek help. No-one can force it on you. I would if I could, but I can't."

Chris didn't answer, just changed the subject, but I was not letting him off the hook. Maybe for today, but I'd put him right back soon.

After we talked a while longer, I said, "Well, I have to go. Check with the nurse and have her make an appointment with a counselor. Ours is booked solid, I know, but I asked her about a counselor for a friend at school and she recommended Marvis Pitman. Your nurse can get her number and you can call for an appointment. I expect to hear when the appointment is the next time I see you. You get released tomorrow, right?"

"Right! But you'll come to see me anyway, won't you? I'll be at my granddad's house."

"I'm not too sure about that. The only transportation I have is my two feet, and apartment-hospital-hospice is a pretty small area and I have a ride to the college. If I'm up to it I'll give it a try, but I kinda doubt I can make that long a walk right now. But I'll call if I can't get over."

I turned to leave and Chris said, "Dan, no hug today?".

I laughed and said, "Wasn't sure you really wanted a hug from a man".

"Maybe not just any man, but I'll take one from you any time I can get it!"

I leaned over Chris and he put his arms around me and pulled me to himself. I lost my footing and fell on top of him. "Whoa! Take it easy," I laughed. Chris laughed as well and held me very tight. He held me for so long that I had some very strange thoughts, but dismissed them as Chris turned me loose. "I'll try to see you tomorrow," I said as I left.

Wednesday I tried to get everything done that I had been unable to do or had just been putting off, and although I really wanted to see Chris, I knew I wasn't up to the long walk. I phoned him and told him that and how disappointed I was, but I just wasn't up to it. He said he understood since he had pretty much worn himself out doing nothing, and he did let me know he was disappointed too. Not being able to be together didn't stop our talking. We talked on the phone for over an hour. When I asked if he had made an appointment with a counselor, he said he hadn't. "I was so excited about getting out of the hospital, I forgot."

"Chris, I want a promise you'll do that tomorrow. Promise."

"I'm not sure, Dan. I'm just not sure."

"You like feeling filthy and dirty, I take it."

"How dare you, Dan! How dare you!"

It was obvious Chris was crying and I guess I might have let up, but I kept thinking about Jake and what might have been the outcome had Buddy and I pushed him harder. Of course, we were having a hell of a time dealing with our own shit, but... it was past and nothing could be done now, except try to prevent it happening again. "Well I wondered, since you don't seem to want to do anything to change how you feel." There was a long silence and I just let it go on.

"Dan? Dan, are you still there?"

"Yea, I'm here, this time."

"Can't you say something?"

"I did."

"Dan, what do you want me to say? I mean what do you want me to do?"

"Chris, I want you to get where you think Chris is a pretty great man regardless of what has happened to him in the past."

"See a counselor?"

"Do you know any other way?"

"No, but..."


"Ok, I promise, Dan. I promise."

"Great!" We talked for at least half an hour longer and when I said goodbye, I reminded Chris of his promise.

I had the rest of the week off from the hospice and school, but I decided I could handle school, so I went back Thursday and Friday. By the time I got through school and the things I had to do around the apartment, I was pretty much beat and knew I couldn't handle a round trip to Chris' place. Instead, we again talked for ages on the phone. He was much stronger and planned to be up and about over the weekend. He told me he had an appointment with the counselor on Tuesday after school. "Dan, thanks for not letting me just slide along."

"Always happy to put a friend on the spot," I laughed, both because I was half-joking and because I was happy Chris had taken a step toward getting back into the human race.

Before we finished talking, he suggested we celebrate in some special way, but neither of us could think of anything. Then Friday night when we talked for the second time that day, Chris said he was planning something for the weekend and I should keep it free. I laughed and asked him just what he thought I would be doing to be tied up. As I hung up the phone, I asked myself just what was going on there. I wasn't sure, but I did know I really liked Chris. Beyond that, I wasn't sure of anything.
Mary Kathryn

I knew about Luke and Matt healing Michael, but I hadn't been there. It had sounded very strange, but it was not nearly as strange as Michael healing Christopher. How had Singing Sparrow known when to send the things Michael needed? She said she'd had a vision in which Red Hawk told her to send them but, to me, that was as strange as her sending them. I thought about that when I had recovered enough to think. Sure I knew that Michael, somehow or other, had been chosen to become a medicine man, and I had gone through my own preparation for womanhood, but it hadn't seemed as serious.--well that's not true, it was very serious. I didn't know what the difference was, but there was a difference between that healing and this healing in which I had taken part.

Back at school Wednesday, we were the talk of the school and at lunch the new Fellowship was full of questions. Michael and I spent the entire lunch period talking about our experiences. Everyone was amazed, but just accepted it as something special. One result was that both of us were being called upon again and again as peer counselors. Michael finally had to announce that we were working with all the students we could handle, and that the other peer counselors were as qualified as we were. By the end of the following week, as usual in a high school, we were old news and the load on us had slacked off. But the other counselors had become as busy as we had been--the program was really going well. Also, the woman's group Linda and I had gotten started was going well and we turned it over to two girls who were on the peer counseling team and were good leaders.

The posters for the teen club had been made and were posted all over the school and the town. We were set to open in a week--Friday, October 13--but there was a lot of objection to doing it on Friday the thirteenth, so it got postponed until the twentieth. Some people! Here in 1995 they were worried about Friday the thirteenth! Keith had become a regular member of the Fellowship and actually was a very sociable fellow with us, but was still a loner so far as the rest of the school was concerned. I think he wanted it that way since he could easily become a teen idol with his radio job and I knew he didn't want that but, heaven knows, it didn't stop some of the teeny-boppers from trying!

The student government was taking a lot of time. I was surprised when the discipline part became the smallest task. By this time, students had learned not to fool with student judges and juries. The penalties were swift and pretty tough. A favorite with judges was community service. This was really humiliating, in a way, since students doing community service were seen by other students. The community service, where possible, was related to the offense. For example, a group of girls who decided to use their lipstick on the girls' restroom walls were assigned to clean the restrooms for an hour a day for two weeks. After that there was very little cleaning to do in the restrooms other than the very routine cleaning to be expected in boys' or girls' restrooms. Everyone knows how students can make other students wish they were somewhere else, especially when where they are is cleaning toilets! All in all, the system was working.

The Fellowship could take a lot of credit for the success of both programs. But with school work, student government, peer counseling and the teen club, Michael and I were extremely busy. About the only time we got to spend together was doing homework. I never thought I would appreciate homework, but it did give us time together. And, of course, we had missed two days of school and, given our schedule, that meant we had major catching-up to do.

Christopher was in the hospital until Wednesday and wouldn't be back to school until the following Monday. Michael had gone to all his teachers for his assignments. We went to his place Wednesday after supper and took the assignments and helped him with them. He sure was a changed person. He was trying very hard to get his school work done and done well. He kept apologizing for being such an ass and, finally, Michael said, "Look, Christopher, you are forgiven so far as I am concerned. Now you have to forgive yourself."

"That's not very easy to do," Christopher had replied. "Man, I have fucked up going and coming, and not just here but practically since I was born."

"Christopher, I said when I first met you that I thought there had to be some good in you because you are Demetri's grandson and he is a fine man. That's the only reason I didn't beat the living shit out of you on several occasions. Now you have a whole load of crap behind you and you seem to want to keep going back and trying to drag it along. Leave it. It's over. You can't change it. What you can do is live a good life now."

"Easier said than done, but I'm trying. Dan has really been on my butt..."

"Dan? Who's Dan?" Michael asked.

"Danny Elrod. I think Danny is a little boy's name and Dan is not a little boy, he's a man. Anyway, he's been on my tail to make an appointment with a counselor."

"Probably a good idea. Sometimes you need help forgiving yourself--and others who have hurt you."

"Yea, well, I guess I will. But since you did whatever you did and kept me alive, I've wanted to know what happened to you when you were dying."

Michael started telling Christopher what had happened and, when he told him how he had been knifed, Christopher was full of questions--not about the event, but about Matt and Luke being gay. After we had talked for half an hour I guess, Michael and I got ready to leave and Christopher thanked us and begged us to come back. "We'll be back tomorrow--with more school work," Michael laughed, "and to pick up what you do tonight and tomorrow."

We did go back and Christopher was happier than I had ever seen him. I mean the change was really remarkable. After we had helped him with his school work, he started talking about Dan. "You know about him and his past?"

"Sure do. He was in a gang that tried to kill a bunch of our friends last year." Christopher looked shocked. Michael and I told him about the attempt to run Luke and our friends off the road. "But he sure has changed. He is a great guy," Michael said.

"Yea, he sure is," Christopher agreed, then changed the subject abruptly--at least I think he changed the subject. "I think we all need a little celebration this weekend. All of you for keeping me alive and me for being alive. Can't be anything really wild since I am still pretty weak, but I'd like to do something."

"We'll have to give that some thought," I said. "I think we can come up with something."

As Michael and I drove home, we talked about a celebration of Christopher's rebirth. When I said that, Michael slapped the steering wheel and said, "That's it!".

"That's what?" I asked.

"During Christopher's healing, I made the sign of the cross over him. It was backwards and I knew it, but didn't know why. I've been thinking about that off and on ever since. When you said rebirth, it came to me. Christopher is Greek Orthodox. They make the sign of the cross backwards. Well, I guess that's wrong because who knows which came first. Anyway, its different from the way we do it. I'm glad I finally realized that. But how are we going to celebrate?"

"Remember how much Christopher enjoyed the day at the falls? I think we all could use a day there. Sunday after church is a good idea."

"Sounds good, Wild Woman," Michael said as we pulled into my drive. The Tracker had barely stopped before Michael reached across and took me into his arms. As he did, the gear shift got him. "Ouch! Damn, I remember when Luke complained about a damn gear shift keeping him innocent. No worry for him, but if we are to provide the grandchildren, I need to remember that!"

"Poor Baby, think you can make it to the porch swing?" I was almost laughing, but when I saw the agony on Michael's face, I stopped.

"Give me a minute to recover," he said between moans. When he was finally able to walk, we got out of the Tracker and walked to the porch swing. I sat down and Michael sprawled out in the swing, his head in my lap. "Mary Kathryn, what has happened to all the hot love-making sessions we used to have?" he asked.

"Seems to me they have been replaced by being peer counselors, student government officials, and medicine men and honors students. Most of that means we are both busy caring for everyone else and no-one is caring for us, not even the two of us."

"I don't resent doing any of those things. I think they are important but, damn, we are also."

"I couldn't agree more, but what can we do about our situation? I don't see any answer."

"Mary Kathryn, there has to be one. We can't give and give and give with no receiving. We are only human, you know."

"Yea, I know, but we are wasting good time right now. That would be one step in the right direction." Having said that, I let action replace words as I bent forward while raising Michael's head from my lap. Our lips met in a passionate kiss, the first of many. A porch swing is ok for calm making out, I guess, but we were not into calm that night. We finally left the swing, and Michael leaned against the wall and pulled me to himself. His tongue invaded my mouth and made me aware of what we had been missing for what seemed like ages. Michael slid his hands under my shirt and up my back as his tongue dueled with mine. Slowly he drew a hand around my body, under my bra, cupped a breast, then pinched a hardened nipple between his fingers. My hands were behind his head, pulling his lips to mine. I could feel his hardness pressing against me. Michael was hot and I was hot. I reached down and slid his zipper open. My hand reached in and found his manhood and took it in my hand.

Both Michael's hands were rubbing my breasts, pinching a nipple now and then, sending electric charges through my body. I squeezed his manhood and started stroking it slowly. As I did, one of Michael's hands left a breast and traced a line down my front. He found my zipper, slid it down and his hand found my womanhood. Just as he started giving me great pleasure, the porch light came on. Both of us did a high-speed job of closing zippers and getting hands where no-one could object. We got presentable just in time, because Dad opened the door--I'm sure he had turned on the light to give us time to get decent--and said, "Don't you think it is time you two were at home?".

"I am home, Dad," I laughed.

Dad smiled and said, "You know want I mean, Miss Larsen. Five minutes more." He went back inside, closed the door and turned off the light.

Michael kissed me once again, softly, and said, "Mary Kathryn, I love you more than I can ever say and if I neglect you, know it's not because I want to, but because I am caught up in something..."

"Something bigger than both of us? Hardly seems possible, Michael, but I know what you mean. I guess, for the first time, I really do know what you mean because I have been neglecting you recently for the same reason, but..."

"But we have to find ways to not neglect each other. I know we love each other but, you know, I think love--and being in love and loving--is like a plant. It may be very hardy and all that, but it still requires care. Know what I mean?"

"I sure do, Babe."

"Tomorrow the falls?" Michael asked, when he knew he had to go.

"Tomorrow the falls. It may be our last chance to swim. If the weather's warm, we can take it, but it is October, you know."

"Yea. Tomorrow, my Wild Woman." Michael kissed me goodnight and said, "I'll give you a call when I finish Saturday chores."

After an hour working on some school assignments, I undressed, slipped into a shorty gown and went to the bathroom to brush my teeth. When I finished, I looked at myself in the full-length mirror and liked what I saw. And I knew Michael liked it as well, and that was all that was important. 


I was aching as I kissed Mary Kathryn goodnight, went to the Tracker and drove home. Mom and Dad had already gone to bed when I got there, so I was as quiet as possible getting in and going upstairs. Mom was really exhausted when she got home these days, and Dad had finally laid down the law. She was to work only half a day starting Monday. When I got upstairs, I went straight to the bathroom and finished what Mary Kathryn had started. I cleaned up, went to my room and worked a bit on a couple math problems I was having difficulty with. When I finished, I turned on my stereo, put on a nice, relaxing CD and crawled in bed. I had just got in when the phone rang. I grabbed it quickly, hoping it didn't wake up Mom and Dad.

"Michael here," I said into the phone.

"Michael, Christopher. Hope I didn't wake you up."

"No, I just crawled in bed. I only hope I got the phone before it woke Mom and Dad. What's up?"

"I tried to call you earlier, but your Mom said you were out somewhere with Mary Kathryn. Anyway, what I called about was the possible little celebration. I'm not sure how to go about it, but..."

"Hey, Mary Kathryn and I were talking about that tonight. We thought about a party at the falls Sunday afternoon. We forgot to do anything about it. Kinda got involved in some personal stuff."

"Hope I'm not interfering too much with your personal stuff."

"That's ok. What do you think about Sunday afternoon?"

"Sounds great. Can I invite Dan?"

"Sure, everyone will be there as before. Tell Dan to invite Buddy and Gloria as well."

"Are you sure this is ok with everyone?"

"Sure, I'm sure. Afternoon at the falls, if the weather is good, with an evening picnic."

"Great! And thanks again, Michael... for everything."

"Glad to do it, Christopher."

When I got up I had my usual Saturday chores and some other things Dad had for me to do. It was lunch time before I finished. I changed out of my work clothes, took a quick shower and ate lunch. After lunch, I asked if there was anything else I needed to do and Dad said I was free to go chasing wild women. "Dad, you are a better man than I am if you can chase wild women. Well, chasing maybe... but catching them? I have more than I can handle with the one wild woman I've caught." Dad laughed and said he guessed he liked to brag but, to tell the truth, he had all he could handle in the one wild woman doctor he had caught. Mom laughed and asked what made him think he could handle even one.

"Oh, I forgot. Mom, think we could have a picnic at the falls tomorrow afternoon if the weather's good? Christopher called last night and asked about a celebration of his recovery--and I think he meant a lot more than recovering from being sick. He's a really changed guy."

"Don't see why not. Who's invited?"

"I think everybody. This is likely to be the last weekend we can swim, so let's just invite everybody. Christopher asked about inviting Danny and I told him to invite him, and Buddy and his girl Gloria as well."

"I think I can get everyone rounded up. It's an excellent idea."

"Well, I'm off. I think Mary Kathryn and I may spend the afternoon at the falls since it's so sunny and warm."

I called Mary Kathryn and she said she'd meet me there.

As I walked to the falls, I marveled at how nice the day was. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. After all it was October and early October was noted for its beautiful sunny, warm, clear days--and this was definitely one of them. When I reached the falls, I crossed the canes thinking that Mary Kathryn would know to come on in if she wasn't there already. As I came out of cane break I saw her, sitting on a blanket at the edge of the water. Sometimes I forgot just how beautiful she was. I stopped to admire the woman I loved so very much. She was sitting with her back to me, her golden hair practically glowing in the sunlight. I walked toward her and, honestly, my heart was racing with the thoughts of being alone with her all afternoon.

I guess she didn't hear me, because I was right behind her and she hadn't moved. I sank to my knees, reached out and touched her shoulders as I leaned forward and kissed the back of her neck. "You better be Michael Andrews or you are in big trouble," she said without turning around.

"And if I am Michael Andrews?"

"Then you are in for some hot lovin'."

"Then you better believe I am Michael Andrews!" I said as I turned her to face me. "I am most certainly Michael Andrews!" I said, then kissed her full on the mouth, kneeling on the blanket she had spread on the beach.

Mary Kathryn reached up, placed her hands on my shoulders and pulled me down on the blanket. She had me at a disadvantage, as I was off balance, and she took full advantage of that. Before I could right myself, she was all over me. Finally, she was sitting astraddle my stomach and started pulling my shirt off. When she had it off, she became very quiet as she traced the scars on my chest with a finger, and got a kind of sad look on her face. "Michael, you know you are a wonderful guy who has given just about all you have to give for your friends. You know that?"

"I guess I never really thought about it. Like I didn't think when I jumped between Matt and that knife-wielding fool. I just did it. I guess that's the way I do most things. I just do them without thinking."

"Says a lot about the man I love. I mean you act in good ways without thinking. You just do what comes naturally. Have you ever really had an evil thought, Michael Andrews? I mean really?"

"Sure I have, often. I mean I was ready to beat the shit out of Christopher a dozen times. I think those were evil thoughts.

"But you didn't act on them. Maybe what I meant was, did you ever have an evil thought you acted on?"

"I guess you didn't pay much attention to me when Mom--Elizabeth Mom--was sick. I acted a complete asshole then."

"You're right. I didn't pay much attention to you then. I was madly in love with some little middle school kid with red hair. I was thinking about that the other day and you know what? I think it might have been Jacob. He was in the grade ahead of me and everyone called him Red, but I think it might have been Jacob."

"Well, I don't have to worry about that one. You go after Jacob and Paula will have your ass."

"Not if she's not here, and she's not."

I got a kinda sick feeling in my gut. I mean, Mary Kathryn couldn't really be after Jacob could she? "You aren't are you?"

"Aren't I what?"

"After Jacob."

"Are you kidding? Why would I want second best?"

"Well, I was just wondering why you brought it up."

"Because I wanted to tell you why I wasn't paying attention to you when you were an asshole."


"Yea, oh. And you know something else, Mr. Andrews? I don't think Jacob and Paula are an item anymore, at least so far as Jacob is concerned."

"What do you mean? What are you talking about?"

"You sure miss a lot, Michael. Jacob and Susan are always together and he gets that sick calf look in his eyes every time he looks at her."

"Are you sure?"

"Of course I'm sure. Women don't miss that sort of thing."

"Damn! I wonder how Paula will take that, if it's true?"

"It's true. But don't you think it's about time we got naked and got in the water? Right now the water will be nice because the weather is warm, but once it cools off..."

"Mary Kathryn, too muchum talk, notum enough action," I said in my worst movie-fake Indian voice.

We both knelt, facing each other. Mary Kathryn had already removed my shirt, so I unbuttoned hers and pulled it from her wonderful body. "You're braless," I said.

"Saving you some work."

To let her know I appreciated her thoughtfulness, I leaned forward and kissed a nipple then worked on it a bit with my tongue. "Think you better stop that if you want to get any swimming in," she giggled.

"Who cares about swimming when there are nipples to be kissed and played with?" I responded. As if in answer, Mary Kathryn leaned forward and nipped one of my nipples. In the time it took her to do it, I went from half hard to roaring hard.

Mary Kathryn reached over, slid my zipper down and said, "I see someone else is into time saving. No briefs." I half stood so she could slide my pants to my ankles, then sat back on my butt as she pulled them off, freeing a very hard cock. Having freed me, Mary Kathryn rocked back on her heels and I loosened and removed her jeans. We were both completely undressed and the sun felt very warm on bare skin. I managed to get in one kiss before Mary Kathryn jumped up, grabbed my hand and headed for the water where we dove in together.

The water was cold enough to take care of my erection and to make swimming a near-necessity. We swam and played in the water until Mary Kathryn swam to the shore, crawled out and raced to the top of the falls where she stood, beckoning me. I quickly joined her and we embraced, exchanged a passionate kiss and dived. For the next half hour we swam, dived and swam again. Finally, we both got out of the water and lay side-by-side on the blanket.

"Michael, do you realize that this is the first time we have had this much time alone in ages? Actually, we really haven't had any time to ourselves--I mean more than a few minutes here and there--since we got back from Ohio."

"I know, Mary Kathryn, and I have two very definite feelings about that. I feel cheated and feel I have cheated you. But what would you have had us not do in order to have time together? I keep asking myself that question and I can't come up with an answer. Or, to be truthful, I guess the answer is 'nothing'. And that makes it seem like I place everything ahead of being with you--and I don't, yet I do. I don't know what I mean."

"I don't either, but I feel the same way. Yet when I look around at other people our age, they don't have a problem like that. They seem to have all the time in the world and, in fact, talk about being bored and having nothing to do. Everything for them is booooriiiing."

"We're more like our moms and dads. They have their jobs, taking care of us--not as hard a job as it once was, or at least not as time-consuming--all that sort of thing, and not a lot of time for each other. And when I look at Mom and Dad, they are practically newly weds and still have to make time for each other. I mean they have been lovers a shorter time than we have. Doesn't that seem kinda strange?"

"All I know is we are going to have to start doing what they do and making time for each other. I need you and your support. I need to be told you love me. I need to be held by you. Doesn't mean that I think you love me less than you did, just that I, damn it, need to be told and showed."

"Then let's get on with show and tell!" I said, with more than a little enthusiasm. And we did just that. I'm sure what I told Mary Kathryn, often whispering in her ear, would seem like nonsense or just mushy words to someone listening, but it was what I felt and what I wanted Mary Kathryn to hear from my lips. She, of course, told me of her love for me and--while I might not have said so--I, too, needed to hear the words. We didn't short-change the showing either. It wasn't long until both of us were really hot. Mary Kathryn called a halt and I was kinda glad she did, but thought it was about time for there be no halt.

"I think we both need a swim to cool off," she said and, getting up, she grabbed a hand to pull me up. We swam for a short time, maybe fifteen minutes, and once again sat on the blanket. I had a thought that had been running around and around in my head in the past few weeks, but hadn't had enough time with my Wild Woman to do anything about it. But that moment there seemed to be time and to be THE time.

Mary Kathryn was sitting between my legs with her legs stretched out on either side of me. Facing each other, I decided it was the time to act. "Mary Kathryn, you have had a real taste of what I suspect my whole life will be like--running around doing what I feel I have to do and not spending time I want to spend with you. I suspect a lot of the time I'll be doing things other people think are crazy, such as rescuing assholes like Christopher was. You and I both know that I am headed for the priesthood and that means not much money and a lot of work. It also means that I have almost nine years before I am finished with school. To be honest, I don't think it's fair to ask anyone to wait that long for a normal life for a man and his wife, and mine won't be normal even then, but I'm selfish."

"Michael, you can say a lot of things about yourself, and some of them might not be exactly nice or desirable, but selfish is certainly not one of them and you know it."

"Maybe not in most things, but in one thing I think I am." I placed my hands behind Mary Kathryn's head, leaned forward and kissed her very gently. Breaking our kiss, I looked into her blue, blue eyes and said, "Knowing that it's definitely in the future--the pretty distant future, I guess--and knowing as well as it can be known what my life will be like, I have a question: Mary Kathryn Larsen, will you marry me?"

I guess Mary Kathryn was taken completely by surprise, because she had a puzzled look on her face. She finally looked at me and asked, "Michael, what did you say?".

I smiled, looked into her eyes deeply and asked again, "Mary Kathryn Larsen, will you marry me?".

"I thought I misunderstood you, Michael. But I guess not. You asked me to marry you."

"I certainly did. Do I get an answer?"

"Well, Michael, as you said, it will be years before we can even think about that. I mean even if we married before you start seminary... and you are starting seminary, aren't you?"

"Well, how do I know? I mean that's six years away. How do I know what I will be like, what I will think or decide six years from now?"

"I guess that's your answer, Michael. If you don't know what you will be like-- what you will think, decide six years from now--I don't see how you can expect me to be different. How can you expect me to know what I want to do six years from now?"

"Holy shit, Mary Kathryn, I was talking about seminary, not about getting married. I know about that. I mean I definitely know about that."

"And you don't know about seminary?"

"Well, I mean I could change my mind. I THINK that's where I'm headed, but I could change my mind!"

"Could you? Do you really think you can or that you will?"

"I like to think I can. I mean I'm a free man. I can do what I please."

"Can you? You have to convince me of that, because I don't believe a word of it."

"Mary Kathryn, you're just trying to change the subject."

"No, I'm very much on the subject. Michael, we are sixteen and high school juniors. To be honest, very few high school students manage to stay together more than a few weeks, months at the most. We have been a couple now for how long? The way I count it, it's been less than a year and you are talking about a lifetime. You may not think so, but when I marry it's going to be for good. 'Til death do us part'."

"For me too, Mary Kathryn. I'm not asking about a fling. I'm asking you to be my wife and seminary has nothing to do with that."

"Michael, you know better. And I certainly know better. It has everything to do with it. Sure, if I married you, I'd have a life of my own, but I'd still be a priest's wife and who you are would definitely have an impact on me. I think I have a right to a 'yes' or 'no' concerning seminary before I give you an answer."

"Would a 'yes' or 'no' change your answer?"

"Not fair, Michael, because I know you too well. You'd change your response to get the answer you want."

"You think I'd lie about seminary?"

"Well, I suspect you might wiggle your answer a little. So what's your answer?"

"To be honest, Mary Kathryn, I don't think I can get out of seminary and I'm not sure I have even the slightest desire to do so. I mean I'm sure I could, but I don't think I'd ever be happy or worth a damn if I didn't do seminary and become a priest. So I guess that's your answer. Now do I get one?"

"Michael, this summer I saw priests' wives close up. I had thought they would all be so uptight their mouths would be puckered like their assholes. I learned that was true of some. But most I met were just ordinary women, proud of their husbands, but not trying to be junior priests. I realized that I could be a priest's wife if that was what I wanted. But I decided that was not what I wanted."

"What the hell, Mary Kathryn! You told me you thought you would handle it. Now you say you can't."

"No, Michael, that's not what I said. I told you I could be a priest's wife, and I could, but that's not what I want."

"Does that mean your answer is no?"

"No, it doesn't mean that. It means that I don't want to be a priest's wife. I will be happy to be the wife of Michael Andrews, priest, but first and foremost I will be Michael's wife, not the priest's wife. May not be different to you, but it is to me."

"I think I understand. And is that a 'yes'?"

"That's a 'yes', Michael Andrews."

Chapter Seven


"You said 'Yes', Mary Kathryn!"

"Of course I said yes, Michael. Did you ever think I would say anything other than yes?"

"Well, I'll admit I was scared shitless there for a minute. To tell the truth, Mary Kathryn, I was really afraid you'd say no or say it was too far in the future to answer right now."

"But I said yes, Michael, and I meant it. Does it mean I can't change it later? No, it doesn't. Even if we get married while we're in college, that's three, four years from now and much could change. Look at Jacob and Paula. Who'd have thought their romance was just a flash in the pan? I would have sworn theirs was a love that would last forever and it's over in less than six months. So now my answer is yes and I mean it with all my heart."

"Man, Mary Kathryn, you sure know how to spoil a romantic moment."

"Yea, I guess I do. But I'm my father's daughter in a lot of ways, Michael, far more than Luke. I'm pretty much a realist--you know, debits on one side and credits on the other."

"Mary Kathryn, you not only spoil a romantic moment, you stomp the living shit out of it." I half-turned away from her.

"I'm sorry, Michael, I sometimes wish I could live in a fairytale world, but I can't. I'm just too damn practical, sometimes, for my own good." She reached out, placed her hands on my shoulders and turned me to face her. "Now are you sure you want to spend the rest of your life with someone who has a bookkeeper's mind?"

"Well, I thought I did."

Mary Kathryn laughed and said, "Would it help if she were a passionate bookkeeper?"

"That would depend on whether she was passionate about me or bookkeeping." As if in answer, Mary Kathryn caught me off guard again and, the first thing I knew, I was flat on my back with her sitting on my stomach. She laughed as she sank her hands in my hair and pulled my head off the blanket, bent forward and gave me a hot, hot kiss.

She then rolled off my body and, laying beside me once again, pulled my lips to hers. Her tongue started exploring my mouth and doing battle with mine. Her kiss went on and on. She started breathing through my mouth and it was really hot. When Mary Kathryn finally broke our kiss, I raised up on one elbow and looked into the eyes which opened into the soul of my world, my Mary Kathryn.

She reached up and started rubbing my chest, then with a finger started tracing the scar which stood out, whiter than even my fair skin. She was not looking at me as she drew her finger along the white line, but I could see her face and it was clear she was reliving moments I couldn't remember. Finally, still tracing the scar and without looking up, she said, "Michael, I was so afraid I was going to lose you and I just realized that I was playing with you when I said my answer might change. That day when they told me you might not live, I felt my whole world, my whole being, hung in the same balance as your life did. Had you died, Michael, I think I would have died too." Looking down at her face, I saw a tear running down her cheek.

"But I didn't die, Mary Kathryn. I didn't die and I am very much alive!" I said as I kissed her tears away.

Mary Kathryn's finger left the scar and started drawing circles around a nipple as she looked up at me, smiled, then pulled my lips to hers for a kiss than went on and on, getting hotter by the minute--and so was I. She gradually wormed herself under me and crushed her lips against mine. We had had some very hot make-out sessions, and I couldn't count the times that she had brought me to a climax, but it was never like this, never as passionate. I was streaming precum and as hot as I had ever been in my life. She was lying back on the blanket when I covered a breast and its hard nipple with my mouth. I kept flicking the nipple with my tongue as I gently sucked her breast. Mary Kathryn's hands were clutching my back, her nails digging in. It was not painful but very arousing--as if I needed arousing!

Finally, Mary Kathryn grasped my hard tool and guided it into herself. I was so hot and aroused that I wasn't doing a whole lot of thinking. I had always heard that teenaged males had their brains in their crotch and now I knew why! But Dad had pounded in my head the necessity of being gentle, especially the first time. It was a good thing because I was trembling, I was so hot and aroused. I moved my hips forward, entering Mary Kathryn slowly and, I hoped, gently. God, if I had known what being united with my woman would be like, I would never have held off as long as I did! She had given me pleasure, fantastic pleasure, before, but absolutely nothing compared with the feeling of just being inside her!

When I was all the way in, Mary Kathryn pulled me to herself and held me tightly against her body. I didn't move for the longest time, for fear that I would just lose it and it would all be over. Finally I started slowly moving in and out, in easy, gentle strokes. As I did, she sank her teeth in my shoulder and her nails buried themselves in my back. I knew that I was doomed to go over the edge long before I wanted to, so I moved very little. But as I moved in and out, Mary Kathryn started raising her hips to meet each thrust, giving me pleasure I had never known before. Then, as I thrust into her as deeply as possible, her breathing changed, coming in rapid pants and her body melted into mine as she slammed her hips against me. I stopped moving, then started moving in and out again, slowly, trying to keep control and not go over. A second time Mary Kathryn's breathing changed and she slammed her body against mine. That did it! I became rigid, my back arched and I exploded inside her. As my seed entered her body she had a third climax, then we both went limp. Resting on my elbows to keep my weight off of her, I kissed her and then laid my head over her rapidly beating heart.

In a very short time, I was completely limp and slipped out of my wild woman. We lay side-by-side, both silent for a long time, then she raised up, looked into my eyes and said, "Michael, we said our first time would be special and in this special place. And, Michael, it was, it is," and she kissed me with the softest, gentlest kiss she had ever given me.

"Future Mrs. Andrews, you have made me a doubly happy man. And, Mary Kathryn Larsen, if you ever think about changing your mind, remember you have a man who worships you."

"Same to you, Mr. Andrews, you have a woman who worships you." We lay in each other's arms as I enjoyed the fragrance of my wild woman and of our love-making. The sounds of the falls and the birds confirmed this special place and our first time making love without boundaries. We were silent, listening to the world around us--a world that was the same, yet very different from what it had been when I crossed the canes behind us.

We had another swim--the day was ending and it was getting chilly, so it was a short one. As we dried each other, Mary Kathryn once again pulled me to herself and started running a finger over my chest, circling one nipple, then the other. I didn't know why that was such a turn on for her or, for that matter, why it was for me, but it definitely was. We were standing, holding each other tight, when Mary Kathryn blew in my ear and then started nipping at its lobe. Her hands were now on my back, her nails causing shivers as they ran up and down my spine. I scooped her into my arms and carried her to the blanket. As I walked, she started flicking a nipple with her tongue and I was getting pretty hot again.

When we reached the blanket I knelt, with her still in my arms, then gently laid her down and covered her body with mine. She looked up at me and said, "Michael Andrews, do you know you put the Greek gods to shame? You are beautiful Michael--handsome, beautiful and mine, all mine." When she finished speaking, she wrapped her arms around me and pulled my body to hers as she buried her hands in my hair and pressed her lips to mine. Our kisses started out very gentle and there was a lot of looking into each other's eyes and smiling without words being spoken. Soon I realized I was getting very hard and hot again as our kisses became more passionate. As I felt my hardness pressing against Mary Kathryn, our kissing continued growing more and more intense. I knew I was again streaming precum and felt Mary Kathryn's wetness. I looked deeply into her eyes and smiled. She kissed me, her tongue sweeping around inside my mouth. I felt her hand as she once again guided me into herself. I had a feeling I had felt only once before and could never, in my wildest dreams, have imagined.

My having had a magnificent, blinding climax only a short time before, and now not as consumed by lust, our love-making was slower, easier and downright playful. This time, Mary Kathryn and I nipped each other's ears and nipples. There was a lot of smiling as I moved in and out of my wild woman, the very reason for my living. Even at that, Mary Kathryn had several orgasms and--as before--after a much, much longer time than the first, my body became rigid and my back arched as my climax set off blinding stars and rainbows in my head. Another thing was different from our first time: this time I was sweating profusely from making love to my wild woman, even though the air was definitely cooler. I collapsed on top of Mary Kathryn, being careful to keep my full weight from her.

After we had rested in each other's arms, Mary Kathryn said, "Michael, I think we best take a quick dip in the river before we get dressed."

I got up, extended my hand and pulled my beautiful woman to her feet and we ran and dived into the basin. The water was definitely cold--cold enough to take our breath when we dived in. We only swam for a short time, got out and started drying each other. As she dried me, Mary Kathryn said, "You better keep your shirt on or everyone will know you've been having sex with a wild woman".

"Maybe I want to announce it."

"You do and you're dead, because gentlemen and dead men do not kiss and tell!" she laughed and kissed me, ending the kiss by biting my lip.

We got dressed and walked across the meadow to the Larsens', holding hands, stopping often for kisses, some long and passionate, others short but sweet.

As we drew near the house, Mary Kathryn stepped in front of me, took both my hands and said, "Michael, It was very special for you too, wasn't it?"

I looked at her as if she had lost her mind. "Mary Kathryn, how could you even ask that? Wild Woman, it was beyond special. It was absolute heaven. And you know what?" I stood, looking into her eyes, and started singing! I started singing!!! "More than the greatest love..." As I continued, Mary Kathryn joined me and we stood in the meadow, just yards from her house, and sang to each other. "Damn," I thought, "this is like that frigging 'Sound of Music' with this singing in the meadow bit." When we finished our song, the Family's song, we embraced and enjoyed a very playful kiss.

Breaking the kiss, Mary Kathryn said, "You know what, Mr. Andrews?"

"No. What, Mrs. Andrews-to-be?"

"Our parents are going to have to be blind not to realize something is different and why."

"Think they would buy that I had proposed to you and that's what it's all about?"

"If you could downgrade that grin on your face, they just might."

We went inside and found Jens and Gabrielle in the kitchen preparing dinner. Gabrielle seemed distracted as she walked over, kissed both of us on the cheek and said, "Michael, your dad called and asked if you could have dinner with us tonight. He took your mom to the hospital earlier. SHE thought everything was ok, but she was having some labor pains. SHE was sure it was Braxton hicks--false labor--but HE said maybe so, maybe not, but HE was not taking no for an answer when HE decided they should go to the hospital. Nothing to worry about, I am positive. Men are like that. They panic easily when babies are involved. Margaret's a doctor, but nurse David decided they would go to the hospital and Margaret went along with him. I am sure they will be back in time for dinner which will be ready in half an hour or so. Did you have a nice time at the falls? I would have thought it was too cold for swimming."

"We had a great time, Mom. I guess we're just two hot-blooded teenagers. The water was chilly, but very refreshing. Michael and I have school work we need to get on tonight so we won't have too much to do tomorrow after the picnic. Give a call when dinner's ready. We'll be in my room."

Believe it or not, we actually got out our books and stuff, but I couldn't concentrate. I know Gabrielle had said Mom was ok, but they had told me that when Mom Elizabeth got sick. Besides, it was a month or less before the twins were due and I had seen how tired Mom had been lately. I sat, staring into space, my mind racing a mile a minute, conjuring up all sorts of scenarios--none good. I didn't realize I had tears running down my face until Mary Kathryn started gently wiping them away. "Mary Kathryn, I have lost one mom and I don't think I can take losing another one."

Mary Kathryn wiped the tears from my eyes, then drew my head to her breast. She held me, stroking my hair as she said, "Michael, Michael, Baby, your dad is just as on edge as you are, more so if that's possible. He's very concerned about Margaret and the children she bears. He is going to make sure they take no chances."

She still held me close as I nodded. I knew she was right. I hoped she was right. I wasn't being logical, rational. But my second mom had gone to the hospital and that touched emotions and anxieties I had thought were long past. Gradually I became calm and when I did, Mary Kathryn whispered, "Michael, you know one reason I love you is because, in spite of how you usually appear, you care. You care so deeply. My loving man, you will feel a lot of pain because of that, but I will love you only the more." She then lifted my face, looked into my eyes, and gave me an angel kiss.

Of course we had gotten no work done when Gabrielle called us to supper. As we walked down the stairs, Mom and Dad walked through the front door. As soon as I saw Mom I lost it again. I ran, put my arms around her and started bawling like a baby. "Michael, what in the world is wrong? What has happened?" She was holding me close and I couldn't speak for crying.

Mary Kathryn put her hand on my shoulder and said, "Margaret, when he heard you had gone to the hospital it opened old wounds. He was convinced he was about to lose a second mom."

"Michael, Baby, I am perfectly all right. I told your dad I was but I guess he, too, had similar thoughts so I went to the hospital knowing full well they would think I, a doctor, should have sense enough to know the difference between labor and Braxton hicks. Anyway, I am perfectly all right but if you two men are going to be so upset, I guess Monday will be my last day at the office until after the girls arrive. It's ok, Michael. It's ok."

I had finally stopped crying again and, when I looked up, Margaret said, "It's really foolish of you two to be so concerned but, I'll admit, I appreciate knowing you care so much. So how was the afternoon at the falls? Seemed a bit cool to me." When Mom asked, I felt my face growing red and hot. I was blushing! "That good, was it?" she smiled.

I gave her a sheepish grin in return and replied, "We had a wonderful time, Mom. Perfect afternoon."

She hugged me to herself and with her lips at my ear whispered, "I thought you must". I felt myself blushing again.

Once I got home from the hospital, I had nothing to do--not that I could have done much, I was so weak. Later I did do my school assignments that Michael and Mary Kathryn brought. When I found something I couldn't do, they helped me. Fortunately, the one thing that came naturally to me was reading. I missed out on a lot of things I should have learned in the past, but reading was not one of them. I mostly read to get away from the life I had with my old lady. Usually not high-class stuff, but reading is reading and I had no problem with stuff that required reading and answering questions. Math was something else and so was the chemistry class I was taking.

I guess Demetri wondered what had happened to me. I managed to get home before I completely lost it. I grabbed him around the neck and it seemed I couldn't stop crying. I think I had several years of tears which should have been shed but hadn't, and now, knowing I was safe in Demetri's embrace, they all poured out. Demetri kept patting me on the back like he was burping a baby--and I guess he was! When I finally was able to stop I said, "Granddad, I am so sorry I have been such an asshole. I really don't know how to behave when people treat me nice. I am so sorry."

"Christopher, you have been an asshole and that's the truth. I should have turned you in ages ago but I thought, somewhere, down inside, you must have some good in you. Son, you have had a rotten life. No-one should be allowed to bring a child into the world and treat him as Diana treated you. I, long ago, gave up trying to figure out why she turned out so bad. I have had to forgive myself for anything I did to make her the rotten person and mother she is. But, Christopher, you have a new start and I know that what you do with it will make us both proud. Something else, Christopher: for anything I have done to hurt you I am sorry, and I certainly forgive you anything you have done to me." That did it. I started blubbering all over, and Granddad started patting my back again.

This time when I had stopped, Granddad said, "Good to get that out of your system. Now you have a new start, Christopher, so let's have a bit of a celebration." Granddad made metrios--sweet Greek coffee--and brought out a plate of kolouria--Greek cookies. I loved them so much he practically had to hide 'em when he baked, to keep me from eating them as fast as they came out of the oven. We sat at the kitchen table, drinking our coffee and eating cookies. "Granddad, why do you think my old lady turned out so rotten?"

"Christopher, as I said, I long ago stopped trying to figure that out. Nevertheless, I have asked myself that question a hundred thousand times. She was always a handful, but no more so than any really active child. Then, when she turned thirteen, your grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. She really went wild. I guess I neglected her. I was so busy keeping the place open and caring for your grandmother. She decided she was in love with a senior and nothing we could do could keep her from meeting him. She managed to get out of the house one way or another. Of course, after a few months, he got tired of having a teenybopper for a girlfriend and dropped her for a senior. Then she really went wild, taking up with any guy who would have her. Finally your grandmother and I were at a loss as to what to do, and talked with a social worker who suggested we put her in a residential treatment program. She was there for a year, the year your grandmother died, and seemed to be doing great."

"She came back and the next couple years she stayed in school, dated and did the things her classmates did. Then, the summer before her senior year, she ran away with a man twice her age. Occasionally I got a postcard telling me she was ok and not to try to find her. Two years later, she showed up on my doorstep, pregnant with you, rundown, a real wreck. I took care of her, saw that she had medical care and ate what she should. I couldn't get her to stop smoking but she did cut down and, so far as I know, she drank no alcohol while she was carrying you."

"You were born and she was gone again, leaving you with me when you were three months old. I heard from her occasionally for the next three or four years. I guess you don't remember living with me then, do you?"

"No, I really don't. The first time I remember being with you was one summer when the old lady got sick and shipped me here for you to take care of. I was glad when I came because she was a regular hooker and doing a lot of drugs. Anytime something didn't go to suit her, I caught it. I was twelve then, I think. She came back after she got well, hung around for a couple months then took off. I stayed for... I'm not sure how long. Do you remember?"

"Yes, I do. You were with me for six months. One day she showed up, screamed at me for spoiling you, took you and left. I heard little from her until she called and said she was sending you to live here last spring."

"Yea, I tried everything to get out from under her. I skipped school, drank, smoked dope, stole--everything I could think of. I stayed in trouble but she didn't care so long as I caused her no trouble and, since she ignored anything I did, I was no trouble to her. Granddad, I hate that woman and what she did to me--and you--and what she let others do to me."

"What do you mean, Christopher?"

That did it. Again I dissolved into tears. "Granddad, the reason she sent me to you was because one of her customers moved in with us and raped me. Then, after raping me--I don't know the polite way to say this--he fucked my ass whenever he wanted to. Then he stole from the old lady and she kicked him out. But it wasn't long before she had another man living with her--her pimp, were the truth known--and I heard him telling her that I could command a good price and she agreed to put me on the street. She laughed and said 'The little fucker can pay his way with his ass'. I took a knife from the kitchen and put it in my jacket sleeve. He asked if I would like to go out for a burger and fries. I knew what he was up to, so when he got me to the red light district and told me not to expect to have a place to stay unless I sold my ass, yes, I definitely knew what was up. 'You're young, you're good looking, so don't sell your ass cheap. Twenty-five dollars for a blow job, fifty for a fuck and two hundred fifty for an all-night--that's what I get. Any above that, you can keep. Now get out and hustle.' When he opened the door and started to shove me out, I used the knife on him. Didn't do a lot of damage--well he had to have fifty or sixty stitches I heard."

"Anyway, when I was picked up and arrested, the judge knew about my old lady and when I told him why I had done what I did, he asked if there was any place I could be safe and I said here. I was angry that he put me on probation and, when I got here, I hooked up with a bunch of assholes--still, I guess, thinking I was punishing my old lady. Foolish, huh? She didn't and doesn't give a shit."

Granddad was silent for a long time and then he said, "Christopher, you have a new start. You have to put all that behind you and move on with your new life."

"Granddad, that's a lot easier said than done--leaving the past behind I mean. Dan has said he knows where I have been and that he and Buddy are still seeing a counselor, working through all that shit. I made an appointment to see one Tuesday."

"Good, Christopher, I stand behind you. I'm ready to do anything I can. If you need to see a counselor, I'll see that there's money for that."

"Granddad, I found out it will cost me very little because of my situation. I want to earn that. I owe you a lot too. I mean the money I stole from you."

"Well... I started to say, 'Never mind', but I think you'll feel better if you do repay some of what you took. So you can work for me or get another job. I won't insist you work for me."

"Granddad, I want to work for you."

"Good. We'll work out a schedule so it won't interfere with your school work and you'll need some time for yourself."

"Thanks, Granddad." I hugged him to myself and this time I didn't cry.

Sheriff Putnam came by to see me the day I came home. He told me the four who had attacked me had an arraignment hearing while I was in the hospital. They copped a plea. "Your three buddies turned against their supplier in exchange for boot camp and three years probation. By the way, they are prohibited from being with you and, aside from school, they are not to come within five hundred feet of you. When he saw what the three had done, the supplier, who had been under investigation by the Lexington police already, turned against his supplier for a lighter sentence. Seems the Lexington police cleaned up a pretty good-sized dope ring as a result. Thought you would like to know that. Hope you keep your nose clean from now on."

"You can depend on that, Sheriff, you can depend on that," I replied.

When Michael and Mary Kathryn came each day, they helped me where I was stuck. I really appreciated their help and struggled with how they could help me after what I had done. When they brought my school assignments, after the sheriff had gone, I told them what had happened to those who attacked me. We also talked about school, my turn-around, and what lay ahead.

Friday I tried to call Michael, but he was out with Mary Kathryn. His mom said I should call back later. When I did, I wasn't sure the phone even rang before he picked it up. I asked about the possible celebration we had discussed, and he said they had talked about it and asked if Sunday afternoon at the falls would be ok. I said it would be great.

I called Dan and told him, and asked that he invite Buddy and Gloria. "You can invite someone special too," I said. He laughed and said he thought his someone special would already be there, but refused to say any more. We talked for over an hour then. I'm not sure we said anything really, I just wanted to keep hearing his voice. When I hung up, I had a very strange feeling and wasn't sure what it was.


Saturday night when we all got home, Dad and I had a real talk with Margaret. We both told her in no uncertain terms that she could go to the office Monday to get things squared away for not returning until well after the girls arrived. She protested that she was fine, but it did her no good. As we sat in the kitchen talking, the phone rang, and when Dad answered it he said, "Great to hear your voice... Yes, she's doing ok... You're right, that just wouldn't be very smart... Yea, he's right here. Michael."

Dad handed me the phone without telling me who was calling. "Michael here," I said.

"Michael, my man. Douglas. How's it hangin' these days?"

I laughed and said, "Only occasionally, Douglas. Usually it's at least at half mast. What's up?"

Douglas told me about a Halloween party in Ohio and I asked, "You mean we all are going?".

"Sure, all except your mom and dad. Think they have other plans. Can you find out who can leave Thursday? If there are some who can, we'll make a stop in Lexington on our way up. We could come by after school."

"Sure. Everyone will probably be at the falls tomorrow afternoon. We're having a little celebration." I then told Douglas about Christopher.

"Invite him and anyone else you'd like to go. I'll call back next week to see how things stand. By the way, the Ohio bunch are doing great. Say, did you know about Jacob and Paula?"

I told him Mary Kathryn said they were no longer an item, but Jacob had said nothing.

"I suspect he will when he has to decide whether or not to go to Ohio, and whether or not the new girlfriend goes."

"Maybe, but she's a part of this year's Fellowship, so maybe not. We'll see."

When I hung up I said, "How do you like that? Invited to a Halloween party in Ohio by Douglas in Florida."

"What do you mean?" Mom asked.

I told them about the party. "Think you could see fit to allow me to miss school Friday through Wednesday?"

"I'm not sure about that Michael," Dad said. "You have missed several days already. Have you caught up?"

"Yea, Mary Kathryn and I are in good shape."

"I think we better talk to the Larsens before we decide. You know I don't like you missing school."

"I know, Dad, but we have been doing well with classes and have worked like dogs getting the peer counseling program and the new student government off the ground. I'll talk to Ms. Jones if you like."

"Good idea, Son. I hope you can go because it will be a great event. Sorry we'll miss it," Dad said.

Sunday dawned bright and beautiful and even warmer than Saturday had been. The St. Mary's crew were really up for an afternoon at the falls. At coffee hour, Fr. Tom walked over to where we were and said, "Sounds like a jolly crowd here and I hate to rain on your parade but we've got a bit of a problem. Seems someone has heard that your teen club is open to everyone," he chuckled, "by that they mean blacks. Don't know what they will think when they find out what 'everyone' means. Anyway, they didn't like the idea of an integrated club, according to the scuttlebutt. I don't know who did it, but someone called the fire marshal and the health department, and demanded they do an inspection of our facilities in light of the club's planned opening. Both inspectors told me they were all for the club and hoped that everything was ok but, since there had been a report, they had to do an inspection. Well everything was not ok. Nothing major, but we are going to have to do some work before the basement can be used. Sorry, kids, but it looks like it will take almost a month. To be on the safe side, I think you best plan to open after Thanksgiving. I'm really sorry about the hold-up and while there was nothing really unsafe, rules are rules."

"That does put a damper on things, but we need to be sure everything is as near perfect as possible because I know there will be some problems once we open," Mary Kathryn said. "We'll just have to make a 'postponed' sticker for the signs. By the way, are you coming to the picnic this afternoon?"

"I was invited and would like to have come, especially since it's celebrating Christopher's rebirth. That's right, isn't it, Christopher?"

"Absolutely," he replied.

"But I have a long-standing dinner engagement in Lexington. A seminary classmate became rector of the church there two, three months ago and we have been trying to get together. I was invited to dinner this evening a couple weeks ago. But have a good time for me!"

"We promise," Linda said.

After church, we went home, got the food and everything we needed, and went to the falls. We had barely gotten things there when people started showing up. When everyone was present, I got them all together for an announcement. "Folks, Douglas called last night and he and Janet are hosting a Halloween party at the gang's place in Ohio and you are all invited. I need to know who all will be going and who can be out of school Friday, as well as Monday through Wednesday. If there are enough who can leave Thursday, after school, the plane will pick us up in Lexington on the way up from Florida."

"What plane?" Jacob asked.

"Did I forget to tell you about the plane?" I asked as innocently as I could. "I guess I did. Douglas has a friend whose father is allowing him to use his private jet to pick people up and bring them back. You adults who work will be picked up Saturday morning and brought back Wednesday. Those of us who can miss school Friday school will leave Thursday night. He's determined the airstrip in Lexington can handle the jet. Up to a dozen people per trip."

"I think the Fellowship deserves a break, Michael. Think we need to talk to Jonesy Monday," Bill said.

"On my schedule already," I replied.

Monday, Bill and I made an appointment to see Ms. Jones. After we told her about the party, she said she thought we should go and enjoy ourselves. "I'll see that you get an administrative excuse so you won't be counted absent, so long as you get your assignments in and you can make up any tests you might have. I think you all deserve that. Wish I could go."

"You're invited," Bill said.

"Sorry, can't get away. But enjoy it for me too."

We thanked her and left.

At lunch, Christopher walked over to our table and asked, "Can a reformed outlaw join this bunch?".

"Sure," Keith said. "We're just making up the party plane list. Can you make it Thursday after school?"

"Yea, if I can get help to stay caught up with school. Man, I am so dumb."

"Not dumb, Christopher. You're just under-educated. You need to work your ass off and get up to speed," Jack said. "Anyway, we'll have to get a tutoring schedule to help you out. I'll help with chemistry."

"I'll take math," Bill said. "Where else do you need help?"

"Just those two, actually. Social studies and English are easy because I love to read. Computer science I like, and everyone pretty much starts out on an even basis there. I don't think you can do my PE for me and I definitely need to work on that. I'm a physical disaster area."

"Ok, let's look at this plane thing," Linda said. "Is it a dozen with or without Douglas and Janet? Do you know, Michael?"

"Yea. It's twelve in all, not counting the crew, so we can have ten going."

"Ok, where are we?" Linda asked. "For Thursday evening we have Bill and me, Michael and Mary Kathryn, Jacob and Susan"... I looked at Jacob when Linda coupled them. He looked at Susan and smiled. I needed to do something about this situation. "Jack, Christopher and Keith."

"That's only nine and I talked to Dan, Danny, last night and he said he could get the time off as well. He must be something to be able to do that. I mean he has two jobs and school."

"Glad he can make it," Bill said. "There's our Thursday flight. What about Friday night when we were planning for school kids to go? If we all go up Thursday, the parents could come Friday when Douglas planned on picking us up."

"Ok, there's the Larsens, the Greywolfs, Mr. Stevenson and Uncle Michael--have you heard about all the shit they've been through?" Linda asked.

"Hey, it's not just them," Keith said. "Mr. Stevenson has been accused of sexually abusing me. My dad is fit to be tied."

"Zack told me there was a nice fingerprint on the sign in Uncle Michael's and Mr. Stevenson's yard. He didn't know whether or not it had been identified."

"I hope they catch the bastards!" Keith said, in a tone that was very uncharacteristic of him.

"Where was I?" Linda asked. "Yea, the Larsens, the Greywolfs, Uncle Michael and Mr. Stevenson, Bill's parents and mine, Paula's and Larry's moms. That's a dozen already. Then there's Millie. What do we do about Millie?"

"When I told her about the party yesterday, she said never mind her because she would arrive on her own broomstick," I laughed.

"Ok, gang, we have a problem we need to deal with. Maybe it's none of our business, Jacob, but..."

"I guess it is your business since it seems that any of our business--well, most any of it--is all of our business. I meant to tell you before, but we weren't sure. Paula and I both came to the same conclusion. We were the two left feet in the Fellowship so we got together. Neither of us regret a single minute we spent together. We had a great time and thought we had a great love. But after a few weeks, our letters stopped being love letters and became letters to a friend. Paula is still the best friend--well, the second-best friend--I have, but we both realize we just fell into a relationship and thought we were madly in love. But after we were separated, we both found out we were just good friends, and we still are, but that's it. She has found someone else and, from what she writes about him, he is a great guy. She says they are taking it slow and easy because both want to be sure this time, same as Susan and me."

"I am really glad that you and Paula are still friends. I was afraid that after a while one of you would find someone else and hurt the other one deeply," Linda said. "So you and Susan are..."

"Special friends right now. I don't know where it will end up," Susan said. "And I am dying to get to know Paula. She must be one special person."

"She sure is," Jacob said.

"So," I said, "we're having a PARTY!"

There were high fives all around and we left the cafeteria chanting, "We're having a party".

Chapter Eight


Chris and I had talked about the party in Ohio after Michael announced it at the picnic, and I told him I didn't think I could go. I had missed work at the hospice and while I was caught up at school, I'd still be missing classes Friday through Wednesday. I guess Millie heard me talking to Chris, because she called shortly after I returned from the picnic. She said she thought I should go. I told her my hospital supervisor had given me an easy assignment while I was sick after helping Chris and I couldn't let her down. She asked if it was ok for her to try to work something out, and I said I didn't mind and thanked her for her interest. Half a hour later, she called back and said everything was set for me to go if I could take care of school. I didn't ask how she did it, I just thanked her.

I called Chris then--it was a nightly habit for us by now anyway--and told him I was going and could leave Thursday if a group was leaving then. He got so excited he could hardly talk. I wasn't sure what was going on with him.

I completed my assignments for the next day and walked to the hospice. I had the night shift and it' was usually very quiet. In fact, I often got to sleep most of the night. If someone rang, I'd take care of it but if nothing was needed, it was ok for me to sleep on the sofa in the office as long as I made a round every hour or so. I had learned to drop off to sleep, bingo. At least I thought I had but, when I lay down that night, all sorts of things were racing through my mind. I thought about how close I had come to Chris and tried to sort out the feelings associated with that.

I knew a lot of my feelings toward him were related to us both having been abused. I guess there's a kind of ready-made understanding there. We didn't have to talk about it, we knew. But that didn't explain everything. Buddy's and my experiences were closer than Chris's and mine, but I felt closer to Chris than Buddy even though I had known him only a short time. There was something just outside my consciousness which haunted me. I felt that if it were conscious it would explain everything--maybe not everything, but a lot. But I just couldn't bring it in focus.

I wondered what would happen to Chris in therapy. Sometimes things got worse before they got better. I laughed to myself when I thought that. How could things have gotten worse than they were when I started therapy? They couldn't.

Finally I realized that there was something going on with me that I just didn't understand, and no amount of staying awake over it was going to change that--so I went to sleep.

I had been asleep about an hour when a bell rang. It was Mrs. Cromwell--a beautiful person in a body devastated by cancer. She had to be in great pain most of the time, pain that even her morphine drip couldn't completely alleviate, but she never complained. She always apologized when she had me come in the night, and never failed to thank anyone for the least little thing.

When I got to her room, she said, "Danny, I really hate to disturb you. I know you've been sick and work like a dog, and what I want isn't necessary, but would you sit with me for a while?"

"Sure, Mrs. Cromwell. Anytime."

"There are times, Danny, when you know you are really alone, but still want someone with you. Don't try to make sense out of that now, just talk to me. What's on your mind these days? I know you're in school--that going well?"

"It's going very well, Mrs. Cromwell. I had to miss some when I was sick, but I did my assignments right along and am caught up. Yes, school is going well."

"How's the hospital? Do you like working there?"

"I do. I was surprised that I would think about working in a hospital, but working here has made me really appreciate what medicine can and cannot do. I'm convinced the people working in a hospital have as much to do with how well the medicine works as the medicine."

"You are very right, Danny. And this place would be terrible without the loving people who are here. Don't know that I could work with dying people day in and day out."

"Wasn't sure I could, Mrs. Cromwell, until I came to realize that we are all dying and all are living. Some of you here are living life to a much greater depth than a lot of teenagers I know."

"You're a teenager, aren't you, Danny?" she said with a small chuckle.

I laughed and said, "Yes, ma'am, for another year."

"Danny, I was lying here thinking about you. Somehow or other, I thought I needed to talk but, now that you're here, I was wrong. I need to listen. Tell me about yourself, Danny."

"There's not a lot to tell that hasn't been in the newspapers."

"Danny, I know all about that shit and I expect to look down into hell one of these days and see that bastard McBride roasting there." I was shocked, not only at Mrs. Cromwell's language--she was such a lady--but also at the vehemence in her voice. She was just a wasted body, but she sounded as if she could tackle an army.

"Why, Mrs. Cromwell, such language from a lady!" I laughed.

"I may be a lady, Danny, but there are sons of bitches in this world that make even a lady cuss," she said, and then gave another little chuckle. "But I don't want to talk about that, tell me about yourself."

"Well, I could tell you that it took me a long time to go to sleep tonight. Usually I just drop off to sleep when I want to, and have time, but not tonight. There's something that I almost know, but just can't quite get a hold on it. You know that feeling?"

"Like there's something that puzzles you and you almost know the answer, but when you try to get it, it slips away? Is that the kind of thing you mean?"

"That's it, Mrs. Cromwell." Then, for some reason I still don't understand, I started talking about Chris. "I met Christopher Cicellis--do you know Demetri Cicellis who runs the Greek restaurant?" Mrs. Cromwell nodded. "Chris is his grandson. I met him in the hospital," I said, but didn't elaborate on that. Instead, I just started talking and told her all about Chris's background and how he came to be in Concord. Then when I told her about his hospital stay and healing, she asked a lot of questions.

When I finished, she was very quiet. Then she asked, "You still talk to him?".

"At least once a day. We spent yesterday afternoon in the country--at the falls on the Larsens' place. I think it is on the Larsens' place. You know, he puts on macho airs but is terrified of heights. Earlier, a friend got him to the top of the falls by leading him up while his eyes were closed. I guess he got over his fear because he went up with me every time yesterday."

"He's a changed boy? I mean really changed?"

"He sure is. He's fragile right now, I suspect, but he's got good stuff in him. He had to have, to live through what he's been through." I continued talking about Chris for what seemed like a long time. I finally stopped, thinking I shouldn't be tiring the lady.

When I fell silent, she looked at me, smiled and said, "Danny, what you almost know will soon be very clear. Don't worry about it. It will make you happy. Now get some sleep." I fluffed Mrs. Cromwell's pillow, gave her a drink from her cooler, patted her hand, and went back and lay down. When I made my next round checking on everyone, she was dead. As I stood, looking at her still body, I knew she had seen something that was escaping me, but I decided she had told me what to do: be patient. I covered her and went back and called Chelsea. She told me I would find instructions in Mrs. Cromwell's folder and to call back if I needed help.

I looked in the folder and found that she had no family, no-one to be notified. The instructions were to call the undertaker and he would have instructions for her cremation. The ashes were to be scattered in the hospice garden. I called and made arrangements and was told the ashes could be picked up any time after the following day.

When Chelsea came in the following morning, I told her I had handled everything and she said she would pick up the ashes and, since Mrs. Cromwell had no family, she would ask Fr. Tom when he could come for the committal. I went to school and then worked four hours at the hospital, getting home at 8:00. The first thing I did was call Chris. I told him about my talk with Mrs. Cromwell and he said, "She must have been some kind lady. She was dying, and maybe knew it, yet her concern was with you."

"Yea, I'll really miss her. I miss most of the people who come to the hospice when they die. I thought it would be depressing, but most of them are like Mrs. Cromwell. They make you think of your life and what you are doing with it. And I have been doing an awful lot of thinking lately, about what I told her, about something that keeps bugging me, but I don't know what it is."

"This is going to sound weird, Dan, but I have the same feeling. I feel like there is something great going on and I keep missing it. Guess we are just two weird dudes."

"Yea, I guess you're right."

Every time I thought about the note someone had sent about Mr. Stevenson--I got one too--I grew livid! Mr. Stevenson was my favorite teacher. He always helped me with my art work--I wasn't very good, but I enjoyed his class and it sure beat the other classes I could have taken in its place. Dad was also very, very angry--not only because of what the note said about me, but also because it accused Mr. Stevenson.

My mom and dad had a rotten marriage for years, and the summer before my freshman year, it finally broke up completely. Mom moved back to Chicago to live with her parents until she could get a job and have her own place. They gave me a choice of where to live and there was no question but what I would stay in Concord.

In spite of what Dad and Mom said, I blamed myself for the break-up and at the same time wanted to get even with them for wrecking my life. My freshman year, I decided to do that by being a real trouble-maker at school. Dad didn't know what to do and most of my teachers gave up on me, but Mr. Stevenson didn't. He saw to it that I was in his class and really put the pressure on me to straighten out, while making sure I knew he thought I was worth something. If it hadn't been for him, I think I would have ended up in the juvenile court system.

Dad really appreciated what Mr. Stevenson had done for me, and when he was unjustly accused took it very personally. He said he would get a lawyer for me as soon as the persons responsible were identified. He was going to nail them big time. He kept asking who might have it in for me and Mr. Stevenson, and I couldn't think of anyone. It didn't make sense.

I was really surprised at lunch when, a couple weeks after the cross-burning at Mr. Stevenson's, Bill said that his friend Zack told him the fingerprint on the sign had been identified but the person's identity was being kept secret. He said the Chief of Police had told the officers he was keeping it secret from most of the department until there was proof positive of who was guilty. Zack did say the Chief had said not to take seriously the illiterate-seeming note or the claim to be God's Avenging Angel on the sign. Zack thinks it's someone well-placed and with a lot of clout in the community."

"But why all the nonsense then?" I asked.

"I guess to create a false trail," Bill replied. "I can't think of any other reason." Someone important out to get me and Mr. Stevenson? It still didn't make sense.

With the postponement of the teen club's opening, lunch conversation generally revolved around speculation about the note and cross-burning and talk about the party in Ohio. I was kinda surprised when I was invited to go. I liked being with these people, but they were involved in just about everything around the school and I wasn't. But they didn't seem to care. While they often worked on the same things, the group never questioned why one of its members wasn't involved in this or that. They appreciated my offer to help get the teen club going, and accepted me into the group. Easiest group I know to get into, you just have to be doing something constructive.

Monday, two weeks after the Sunday picnic, Bill came to lunch all excited with more news. "This is all unofficial, of course, but Linda and I saw Zack last night when we went out for a malted. He was getting ready to go on duty. He had overheard a conversation in the station. Two detectives were laughing and talking so loud he couldn't help but overhear them. One of them said, 'I hate to say this, but it does me good to see some high-and-mighty bastard get caught with his pants down. Can you imagine someone who has HIS education being fool enough to leave a fingerprint on a sign he put with a burning cross?' The other one was also laughing and said, 'I'm going to get a kick out of telling my ex that her ob-gyn is out burning crosses'. Zack said they never mentioned the name, but that kinda narrows the field doesn't it?"

I felt myself go white as Bill finished. I jumped up, quickly excused myself and ran out of the cafeteria.

I was startled when Keith turned snow-white, excused himself and dashed out of the cafeteria after Bill told us what he had learned from Zack. He even left his tray on the table and his book bag on the floor. "Take care of Keith's things," I said. "Something's bad wrong here. Bill, why don't you come with me?" We ran out of the cafeteria just in time to see Keith going into the restroom almost at the end of the hall. Both Bill and I went flying down the hall and into the restroom. Keith was leaning over a toilet, throwing up his guts. I walked up behind him and put my arm on his shoulder. I thought he was going to pass out. Bill must have thought so as well, because he grabbed a handful of paper towels, wet them in cold water and handed them to me. I started bathing Keith's forehead as he started having the dry heaves, having thrown up everything in his stomach.

After a few minutes, he stopped heaving, took the wet towels and wiped his face. Bill had gone outside and came back with water from the cooler which he handed to Keith. Keith thanked him, swished out his mouth and then drank some of the water. "Keith, the bell is about to ring. Would you like to go to the first aid room and lie down?" Bill asked.

Keith shook his head. "Is there some place we can go and talk? I think I need to talk."

"Sure," I replied. "Peer counselors use the conference room in the counseling center. If it's in use, Ms. Norman lets us use her office." Keith was pretty unsteady on his feet, so Bill and I got on either side of him and we walked to the counselors' center. The conference room was in use and when we walked around the corner to Ms. Norman's office, she was on the phone. She took one look at us and spoke into the phone, "I have an emergency here. I'll put you on hold for a few minutes and be right back." She just nodded to us, got up and left the room, closing the door behind her.

"Michael, Bill, thanks. Thanks very much. I need to talk to you and I hope we will still be friends when I finish, but it's not a very nice story." Neither Bill or I spoke.

"You know that I knew about the teen club in Lexington and that I insisted on ours being as open to everyone as it is. I knew about it because I went there pretty often last year. Of course you two know Rocky Rockford, Dr. Rockford's son?" We nodded. "Well," Keith paused and looked at us, "Guys, this is hard."

Bill and I were silent as Keith glanced at us with a pleading look. As he did, Bill said softly, "Keith, we're here for you regardless."

"Bill, Michael, I'm gay." I guess he might have been surprised when his statement got no reaction from us. After another pause he said, "I have known I was since I was twelve or thirteen. I never had a boyfriend and thought I probably never would. I was lonely and stayed to myself. I think I was kinda hating myself... No, I was hating the fact that I was gay and doomed to a lonely life. One fall afternoon, I took my bike to the lake and was just sitting there feeling sorry for myself when Rocky drove up and yelled at me, asking if I'd like to go for a ride. I decided, 'why not?' and we drove out into the country. I really enjoyed the drive and being with Rocky."

"He called that night and we talked for a long time about nothing really, but it was important to me. Someone knew I existed. He asked if I had been to the teen club in Lexington and I told him I knew nothing about it. 'How'd you like to go?' he asked and I said I would. We went and had a great time. That, by the way, was when I decided to be a DJ, and shortly afterward there was a spot for a Saturday morning teen show on the radio and I got the job. Anyway, the first night we were there, I saw some girls dancing together, but thought nothing of it."

"The next week, Rocky called me every night. At the time I thought we were just talking but later, looking back, I saw our talk wasn't as innocent as I had thought at the time. Anyway, the second weekend when we went to the club, two guys were dancing and, right in the middle of the floor, one kissed the other. I was thunderstruck. I said to Rocky, 'Did you see that?' He replied, 'Sure, want to try it?' and gave me a smile which would have melted the ice cap. I told him I'd like to try dancing with him, but would pass on a kiss in public. We danced until time to go. No kiss, but he sure held me close, and I was hard as a rock and so was he. I could feel him against me."

"When we were driving home, he reached over and pulled me across the seat, close to himself, and put his hand on my thigh. Gradually, he moved his hand up my thigh and finally started rubbing my cock. When we were several miles from town, he turned down a country lane and parked. As soon as the car was stopped, he pulled me to himself and said, 'We're not in public now,' and kissed me. I liked it. I liked it very much. Well I guess, gay or straight, you know about kissing and making out. Before I realized what he was doing, he had my zipper down and my cock in his hand. 'Babe, you could do me while I do you,' he said and I did."

"Things really got rolling after that. Every night there were phone calls which eventually became phone sex. At school, we found hiding places for quick kisses. We were having sex as often as we could, certainly every weekend when we went out. He beat me off, but I was always the one to get fucked and I did almost all the sucking. I know he was dominating me now, but at the time I was so crazy in love I would have done almost anything to please him."

"I was not only crazy in love, but also a damn fool. He wanted me to do things I didn't want to do. He insisted I swallow his cum when I sucked him off and I told him I didn't like it, but he said it was his gift to me. Every time I failed to swallow as fast as he shot, he told me I didn't appreciate him and that he didn't see why he loved someone who didn't like to give him pleasure. One thing I just absolutely refused to do was rim him. Every time he tried to force me, I got sick. I was such a fool. I had been so lonely and now someone wanted to be with me. I was so afraid he'd leave me, and he threatened to often."

"After Christmas, he started drinking. Well, he always had, but he was never drunk with me until then. When he got drunk he got abusive. A couple of times he burned me with a cigarette and once he tried to fuck me without lube and when I started screaming, he beat me. I was black and blue all over. Don't ask me why I put up with it because I don't know. Anyway, when Matt and Luke announced to the whole school that they were gay, I told Rocky we should join them. He laughed and said, 'They say they're in love. I'm not in love, you're just a good fuck. You are just my fucking bitch.' I told you I was a crazy fool."

"I took that and kept going back for more. Then all hell broke loose. We had gotten braver about having sex, but we never had in his place or mine. Spring break, his parents were going away and he wanted me to spend it with him at his place. Fool-like, I did. He stayed drunk most of the time and one night I suggested we go out since we had not left the house except to pick up some food or something. He said he didn't want to, but I started begging him. I really wanted to get out of the house. Finally he got really, really mad. He started cussing me and hit me a couple times. I told him I had had enough and was going. When I started to leave, he grabbed my arm. Before I knew what was going on, he knocked me down and I ended up tied spreadeagle on the bed. He passed out and I couldn't do anything about it. When he finally came around he climbed on the bed and started cramming his cock down my throat. I kept moving my head from side to side until he slapped me, then pissed in my face. I was crying and pleading with him. He laughed and started drinking glasses full of vodka. He finally passed out again. An hour or so later, I heard someone downstairs and started yelling. It was his parents."

"Dr. Rockford untied me and took me downstairs while Mrs. Rockford tried to get Rocky to his feet. Downstairs Dr. Rockford told me that if I said anything about what had happened, he would see that I regretted it. 'I'll see your queer ass in jail. Do I make myself clear? And don't think I can't do it!' I was so glad to get out and so frightened--I knew Dr. Rockford was a very powerful figure in Concord--I didn't say anything about it. I climbed back into my shell and every time I saw Luke and Matt I got sick. Their love for each other was so obvious, and all I had were memories of being abused, never really loved."

"Rocky called two or three weeks later and said he was sorry and tried to get me to go out with him. He started telling me how much he loved me. 'I miss you, Keith. I want you to fuck me,' he had said. I hung up a couple times and he called right back. He said he was going to keep calling until I went out with him or he'd tell my dad. I finally just let him talk so he'd stop calling. I knew I couldn't leave the phone off the hook or Dad would want to know what was up. I still refused to go out with him and he started screaming, threatening to tell about his fucking me. Fortunately, Dr. Rockford overheard him and knew he had to shut him up. If he exposed me, he would have to expose himself--and the town would know--something Dr. Rockford could not have. To shut him up and keep him from letting the town know what an asshole his son was, he bought him off with that fancy car he's driving."

"Rocky also tried to make up with me again, some weeks later, saying he had been drunk and didn't know what he was doing. 'You haven't always been drunk when you abused me,' I told him, but he kept threatening me. I finally told him to leave me alone or I'd tell the world he was a sick sex-pervert. I guess he knew I meant it because I suddenly became invisible."

"I thought I had just about put all that behind me when I got a call asking me to DJ at the club in Lexington. About the middle of the evening, Rocky came in with a freshman kid from Independence. He was all over the kid on the dance floor and, when they sat down, I could see Rocky fondling him. It made me sick. Monday when I saw the kid at school, I took him outside and told him my experience with Rocky. He didn't want to believe me, so there was nothing I could do. Then a couple weeks ago, he came to school with a black eye. He tried to hide it from me when we passed in the hall, but I stopped him and asked, 'Rocky?'. He nodded and said, 'You warned me, but I didn't want to believe it'."

"Later in the day, Rocky pinned me to the wall near the art room and said, 'I thought my dad warned you. You told Max about us, you bastard. Now you are in for it.' I never connected the letter and cross-burning to Rocky and his old man, but now..."

"Keith, you did the right thing. I'm sorry that you had that experience and suffered the way you did," I said.

"What makes it really hurt is I was such a fool to allow it to go on. Now this. Plus you know I'm queer."

"Don't like that word," Bill said. "You're gay and that makes no difference to me or the Fellowship."

"Keith, I think we need to go talk with Mr. Stevenson. I can't see how he's connected with this."

The three of us went to Mr. Stevenson's room and he took us into his office, which he called his fish bowl because it was glass on two sides. Keith told his story again in just about as much detail as he had told us. "But I don't see how you're involved," he said when he finished.

"I do. Now things are beginning to make sense," Mr. Stevenson said. "Rocky is in one of my classes and the first of school, I gave an assignment and when he turned it in, I suspected he hadn't done the work, but had no proof. I challenged him and his dad came in and read me the riot act because I had dared suggest his son had cheated. Then, a week or so later, I gave my first major test. I noticed Rocky was acting strangely, so I walked over to where he was seated--without him noticing. He had a cheat sheet. I took it, his test and Rocky to Ms. Jones. She asked what I usually did when I caught someone cheating and I told her I gave a zero. 'Exactly right, Mr. Stevenson. Rocky, you have a zero on this test.' It wasn't a week later, when he had a drawing assignment due, that I saw him take a student's drawing--forcibly, I might add--and give the student his. I gave him a zero for that as well and reminded him that he probably had already lost enough points to fail unless he did exceptionally well for the rest of the semester. His dad came cussing and screaming--during a class--and demanded I give Rocky credit or allow him to make up the two grades. I refused."

"He went to Ms. Jones and she backed me. When he stormed out of her office, he was shouting that he was on the school board, had influence in Concord, and would see we all were fired. He knows I am gay, who in the town doesn't these days? He knew about you and Rocky, so he must have decided to get us both run out of town by accusing me of sexually molesting you. No question in my mind it would have worked had Gray still been here, but I'm pretty sure it won't work now. Keith, I'm sorry someone you loved abused you and your love. No-one who loves a person wants anything except the best for them. Don't let your experience keep you from loving and being loved. Nothing in the world is better. Now you three need to go to the office for passes and get back to class. I will speak to Ms. Jones and see if we can't get this settled."

I was practically in tears as Keith told me about his relationship with Rocky. Keith is such a nice and talented young man, and could be scarred for life by that sadistic jerk.

I went to Ms. Jones' office as soon as I was free and told her what the guys and I had figured out. As soon as I said "Rocky" I could see the wheels turning in her head. When I finished, she called Millie and told her what we thought was going on.

"Millie says she will get the lawyer she has working for you to check things out. I'm sure you are on target--remembering what Dr. Rockford said the day I told him Rocky could not make up his zeros."

When I got home, I told Michael what had gone on at school and he exploded. He was ready to do major harm to Rocky and Dr. Rockford. He had just about calmed down when the police chief arrived with Mr. Chester, the lawyer Millie had working for me.

"Evening, Mr. Stevenson, Mr. Sanders," Mr. Chester, said as he came in. "Mr. Stevenson, I understand that you pieced some things together at school today."

"I sure did and while I have no absolute, stand-up-in-court proof, I'd bet a year's salary on it."

"You just might have an extra year's salary to bet. We do have absolute proof," the Chief said. "It took a while to get a fingerprint from Dr. Rockford. He wouldn't give us one and I can't say how we got it, but we did. We are ready to charge him on several counts. When we hauled him and junior in, both denied everything of course, but junior was careless as well as the good doctor. His fingerprints were lifted from the letter. Didn't use to be possible, but we have new methods. When we confronted them with the evidence, both started accusing the other. Junior said his dad made him do it and dad said junior painted the sign on a piece of metal he had left over from a project he was doing. We have both dead to rights."

"The question is whether or not you two want to charge them," Mr. Chester said. "Personally, I'd just as soon have them locked away, especially that rotten son, but their lawyer came over to try to cop a plea--seems things seldom get to court these days, but I guess it saves time and the state's money. Anyway, they had a proposal. I told their lawyer I'd speak to all involved. As for junior, he will be put on probation until he is twenty-one."

"I told both the good doctor and junior I thought junior was, if you will pardon the expression, a piece of worthless shit. I know he has abused several young men in town and it makes me sick," the Chief said.

"Anyway, they have agreed junior is to be placed on probation and leave town immediately. He is to go to a residential treatment center for not less than a year. Afterward, he is to go to private school--that's their choice," Mr. Chester said. "He can be in Concord holidays and two weeks in the summer if his dad is here--which is not likely."

The Chief laughed and said, "Both suggested only a week. Additionally, he is to surrender his driving license until he is twenty-one. He's a rotten apple all right, but a lot of the blame for that has to rest on the good doctor who has bailed him out of trouble ever since he was ten and caught shoplifting."

"As to the doctor, I checked with the medical establishment and all feel the town can manage without him. They also feel he's not a bad doctor, they just don't want him around after they heard what he had done. Through someone with influence, he has been offered a job at the state mental hospital where he will work for minimum state salary for five years. Additionally, he is to pay for all the damage done to your place, write a personal apology to Mr. Stevenson clearly stating that the letter was a tissue of lies; that letter to go in your file, Mr. Stevenson. Since he sought to get you fired, I suggested he owed you a year's salary, and he has agreed to that," Mr. Chester continued.

"That's all well and good, Mr. Chester," I said, "but what about Keith Lewis? Both father and son have done the boy damage which is possibly permanent."

"I know his dad was planning to sue for slander but, from your tone of voice, there must be more," Mr. Chester said.

"Chief, Mr. Chester, I'm not sure whether I should tell you this or not since it came through the school's peer counseling program and confidentiality is very important to that."

"I understand and wouldn't ask you to break confidentiality," the Chief said.

"Any possibility you could get permission from Mr. Lewis to discuss whatever it is with me?" Mr. Chester asked.

"I'll try. I'll call him. I'd really rather he tell you if he will."

"Give him a call and, if he's willing to talk, I'll send a car for him," the Chief said.

I called Keith and told him, briefly, what was going on and asked if he'd come and talk with the police chief and a lawyer. He was reluctant, but agreed to come. I asked about his dad coming with him and he said he didn't want that. "Dad doesn't know about me," he whispered into the phone.

When Keith arrived, he was very reluctant to talk. Mr. Chester finally said, "Mr. Lewis..."

"Keith, please."

"Keith, I am not officially your lawyer which makes this somewhat difficult. I understand your dad hired a lawyer in regard to all this."

"He was going to, he said he was, but decided to wait and see what developed. Until he knew who was involved, he said, there was no reason to hire a lawyer."

"How old are you, Keith?"

"Seventeen, almost eighteen."

"Seventeen is good enough, don't you think, Chief?"

"He's no longer a minor so far as criminal law is concerned. Not up on civil law."

"Keith, if you like you can appoint me your attorney and our conversation will be privileged."

"The cost?" Keith asked.

"There is a very practical side to the young man," I thought.

"I work for Millie Willingham. There will be no cost so far as I am concerned and I know she is so upset by this, she would say 'Go for it!' in a minute."

"Sounds good. Ok, Mr. Chester, you are my attorney."

"Good. Over to you, Chief."

"We have Dr. Rockford and Rocky dead to rights and they want to cop a plea. Mr. Stevenson said there was more to the story than just them slandering you. If there is, you can go ahead and charge them, sue them or we can work out something which will prevent you having to go to court. Son, it's up to you. I'd like to get junior put under the jail as it is and, if they have done damage to you, they should pay."

Keith sat staring at the floor saying nothing for a few minutes and then he said, "Chief, Mr. Chester, I'm gay." I knew he was testing the two, especially the Chief as he watched the policeman carefully to see how he would react. He didn't react at all. He didn't even answer. Keith looked up at the Chief and I guess saw that he wasn't knocked off his feet or anything, and he started pouring out his story for the third time in a day.

As he talked, Mr. Chester remained relatively calm but I could see he was growing angry. There was nothing subtle about the Chief's reaction. His face got redder and redder and the blood vessels in his neck were standing out. I expected him to explode any minute. When Keith finished, the Chief actually reached over and hugged the kid! "Son, I don't know about being gay. Not my bent, but I do know about abusers. Don't you ever let anyone abuse you again." He then looked at Michael and me and said, "I told you that junior was a worthless piece of shit and his old man helped him get that way."

"Keith, we can make sure junior isn't around to bother you." Mr. Chester then told Keith what had been agreed upon so far.

"I'll make sure wherever junior ends up in a treatment center, the staff knows about this and I will make sure that any school he attends does as well," the Chief said.

"What seems right to you in addition to that?" Mr. Chester asked Keith.

"I don't know."

Michael said, "Mr. Chester, the boy needs help getting over this experience and he needs an education. Dr. Rockford is a very wealthy man. Seems counseling until Keith decides it's no longer necessary, and a four-year college scholarship would be the least he could expect."

"Sounds reasonable to me," Mr. Chester said. "Reasonable to you, Keith?"

Keith nodded then said softly, "Thank you".

"Don't thank me, I am just trying to do my job. I'll take this back to their lawyer and, if it's agreed to, then we'll just notify the court as to what we have worked out and the judge can handle the details," Mr. Chester said.

"If they don't agree to these terms, I want all of you to throw the book at them in civil court while we do the same in criminal court. And to think that sucker was on the school board supposedly helping educate young minds," the Chief said, shaking his head.

"You'll all hear from me tomorrow," Mr. Chester said. "I'll call their lawyer tonight and give him until noon tomorrow to accept or reject our offer. Of course, part of it is in their plea bargain. They can't welsh on that."

"Thanks, Keith," the Chief said. "You are a brave young man and I hope one day you'll find real love." Mr. Chester and the Chief shook hands all around and the Chief asked Keith if he could drop him off.

I told him I would see he got home and they left.

As soon as the Chief was gone, Keith had a thousand questions for me and Michael about being gay and being in love, and how you know its love and ... and ... and...

On the way home he asked, "Do you think I should tell my dad?".

"Keith that is something you have to decide. I suspect he already knows, but maybe not. He needs to know sometime, but when is up to you. Also, you need to have some idea how he will react."

"Yea," was all he said.

Mr. Stevenson called to thank me for helping Keith and told me about Mr. Chester's and the police chief's visit. He also told me about the proposal to keep the doctor and Rocky from going to jail. "I guess that's ok," I said, "but I think jail might have showed Rocky how Keith felt".

"You're probably right, but this way Keith gets help overcoming the abuse Rocky heaped on him, and college as well."

We talked a bit longer and, before I hung up, I said, "I think I'll give Keith a call".

I called Keith and told him I had talked to Mr. Stevenson, and asked him how he felt about the outcome.

"Actually, Michael, I feel pretty good. On the way home from Mr. Stevenson's I decided to talk to my dad and tell him everything. Mr. Stevenson said he wouldn't be surprised if my dad thought I was gay and he did. He said he wished it was different because of all I would have to put up with but, other than that, I am his son and nothing had changed about that. I decided to tell him the whole story..."

I laughed and said, "Next time make a recording so you don't have to repeat it every few hours."

"There won't be a next time, I can tell you that, but it would have been good to just push a button today," Keith laughed. "Anyway, when I told Dad, he was ready to go kill Rocky right away. I told him part of it was my fault for putting up with it, and if we went to court it would all be public knowledge and I didn't think I could stand that. He was still angry, but agreed that settling it without it becoming the gossip topic in Concord was a good idea. So I feel better about everything, including myself, than I have in a long time. And I am going to take advantage--full advantage--of the counseling they have to pay for." He then thanked me again for my help and, just as we said goodbye, I got a call-waiting alert.

When I pushed the button and said hello, Mary Kathryn said, "Michael, I've got to talk to you".

"I'm listening."

"No, not on the phone. I need to talk to you in person. Meet me at the old oak in half an hour."

"Sure, if it's important, Mary Kathryn."

"It's very important Michael, very," she said, and hung up.

I couldn't imagine what was so important it couldn't wait. I kept trying to imagine what it was as I waited until time to sneak out of the house and head for the old oak. I remembered one night when Mary Kathryn and I had stopped there. I smiled because I thought I was in heaven when she got me off then, but it was absolutely nothing to what we had at the falls a week or so ago.

It was finally time to go and I left the house quietly. As I drew near the oak, I saw Mary Kathryn standing in the shadows. I immediately started running and, when I reached her, took her into my arms and kissed her. As I did, I felt tears on her face. "What's the matter, Mary Kathryn, what's wrong?"

She looked into my eyes and said, "Michael, the moon didn't change this week and it should have"

Chapter Nine


"Mary Kathryn, what in the hell are you talking about? What's this about moon changing and all that?"

"Michael, think! What is the moon's cycle?"

"Twenty-eight days. Why?"

"And what else is on a twenty-eight day cycle?"

I suddenly felt as if I have been hit in the pit of the stomach with a wrecking ball and, I guess, in a sense I had. I could feel the blood draining from my face. I may be dense, but not so dense I didn't know, finally, what Mary Kathryn was telling me. "You are telling me you are pregnant, right?"

Mary Kathryn just looked at me and nodded slowly. "Holy shit, Mary Kathryn. I thought you were on birth control pills. Holy shit."

"I was and I am, Michael, but nothing's foolproof."

"Why didn't you tell me? I could have done something."

"Best I recall, Michael, your dad was to talk to you about birth control."

"Well he did, but I thought you were on birth control pills and that was all that mattered."

"Michael, this is no time to start blaming each other. We both knew where babies came from and I guess we should have known Andrews men seen to have a knack for hitting the target the first time. I wanted to tell you a couple days ago, but I waited to make sure. Michael, since I was thirteen I have never missed a period or been late. I'm four days late. I couldn't go to sleep tonight until you knew. I guess I had to be assured being pregnant wouldn't stop you from loving me."

"Mary Kathryn, I'll never stop loving you, never. And I'm sorry that I seemed to--shit, I did--blame you at first. I know it's stupid and crazy and I am ashamed of it. God, Mary Kathryn, I am so ashamed." Huge tears were streaming down my face. "I have never been so ashamed in my life." Mary Kathryn and I were holding hands as she pulled me to herself and kissed the tears from my face.

"Michael, when I realized I was pregnant, I was ready to strangle you. I blamed you for wrecking my life. I guess it's just natural to find someone else responsible for what happens to us. We both knew what we were doing."

"But I should have had sense enough to make doubly sure."

"But that's over and done with. Now we have to decide what to do."

"What can we do? What will we do? I don't know. I can't think."

"I know, Michael. I always dreamed of how happy I would be when I became pregnant with your child, and I want to be happy but, Michael, I'm not. It shatters so many dreams, so many hopes. Michael, we are sixteen fucking years old. What do we know about raising a child? How can we do it? What about the plans we had for the future?"

Suddenly Mary Kathryn was weeping huge tears as I had done. I held her in my arms and kept kissing the top of her head, drinking in the fragrance of her hair. I loved this woman more than my own life and I had destroyed her future--and mine. "Our first time sure was special," I thought bitterly.

What do you do when the ground is cut from under you? I had always turned to the family--if not Dad and Mom, to the whole family. "Mary Kathryn, I don't know what we can do or what we should do. Right now I don't want to face Jens. I remember what he did to Matt and I think that is just a sample of what he'll do to me. But I do need the family. Will you come home with me and we'll talk with Mom and Dad?"

Mary Kathryn nodded her head against my chest. I lifted her chin and kissed her as gently as I could and said, "Mary Kathryn, I'm sorry".

"Michael, I'm sorry. She kissed me and, hand-in-hand, we walked very slowly toward home.

I knocked on Mom's and Dad's bedroom door and got no response. I realized they probably hadn't heard me--I had knocked so timidly--and knocked again. This time loud enough to wake them.

"Yes?" Dad said in a sleepy voice.

"Dad, Mom, Mary Kathryn and I need to talk."

"At this hour of the night? What time is it anyway?" Dad asked. "Michael, it's midnight."

"I know, Dad, but this is important."

"Michael, make coffee. We'll be there in a few minutes," Mom said.

Mary Kathryn and I went to the kitchen and I started coffee. It was ready when Mom and Dad, wearing robes and certainly looking like they had just gotten out of bed, came into the kitchen. I fixed coffee for them and we all sat down at the table.

"Michael, Mary Kathryn, what's the problem?"

Mary Kathryn and I sat, our heads down, occasionally glancing at each other. After how I had reacted, I hoped to redeem myself a bit by shouldering this like a man. "Dad, Mom, Mary Kathryn is pregnant and I'm the father." I don't know how I expected Dad to react. I certainly never expected him to go completely ballistic, but he did.

"Michael, how could you? How could you? You know better. If you had to start having sex, I TOLD you how you would have to take precautions and obviously you didn't." He had leaped from his chair and was storming around the kitchen. I didn't think I had seen Dad so angry, and certainly not in years. As he stormed past Mom, she reached out, grabbed his hand and held him. He continued telling me how stupid and worthless I was. "How could you?" he looked at me and asked in a loud voice.

"I guess he could the same way you did, David," Mom said in a quiet voice, and Dad immediately calmed down. She looked at me and asked, "Your first time, wasn't it? I nodded and she smiled weakly and said, "David, it seems to be an Andrews trait".

Dad sat back down and looked sheepish. He looked at Mary Kathryn and then me and said, "Kids, I'm sorry. I didn't mean all the terrible things I said. I am just shocked and hurt for you two. Forgive me?" Both Mary Kathryn and I looked at him and nodded.

"Now that we have the histrionics out of the way, tell me the details," Mom said.

Mary Kathryn and I told my parents about our Saturday afternoon. "Mom, Dad, we were so happy. We knew we were young, but we also knew we couldn't go on stopping when all the buttons had been pushed and we also knew we weren't going to stop pushing buttons. We had said our first time would be special, and at the falls, and it was. I guess it was more special than we realized," I said as I smiled a very, very weak smile.

"How do you know you are pregnant, Mary Kathryn? Have you used a pregnancy test?" Mom asked.

"I didn't have to, Margaret. Since I was thirteen, you could set the moon by me. I have never missed a period and have never been even a day late. I'm four days late now."

"I suppose we can talk about options now, but you need to be sure. I'll pick up a pregnancy test tomorrow and we'll make sure," Mom said. "A few days more or less won't matter if you are pregnant. We can hope that the moon got off track this time," Mom smiled as she patted Mary Kathryn's hand. "Kids, people have gotten pregnant when they didn't want to since the world began and I suspect it will be happening when it ends. Doesn't mean it doesn't wreck a lot of dreams and plans, but life doesn't end. David and I are here and will help you decide what to do and support you in your decision. Right, David?"

Dad was standing behind me and Mary Kathryn. He patted both of us on the shoulder and when I looked up at him, he patted my shoulder again and said, "Of course we will. Will you two, please, forgive me for my outburst? I really didn't mean it. I mean, I did, but I didn't."

"Dad, I know how you feel. It's the way I felt when Mary Kathryn told me and I blamed her."

"And I was ready to strangle Michael, and blamed him when I decided I was pregnant," Mary Kathryn said.

"Ok, you all reacted in a pretty bad way, but we all know that you know better and are ashamed," Mom said. "Mary Kathryn, from what Michael has been doing this fall, I know your life has been hectic as well. You, as he, have been going full out; your body has been under a great deal of stress, right?"

Mary Kathryn nodded and I was wondering where all this was leading. I suddenly realized that there was a helluva lot of female biology I didn't know about.

"I don't want to get your hopes up--neither of you are happy about this pregnancy, right?" We nodded. "There is a possibility that moon-regular Mary Kathryn may have been under enough stress to affect her cycle. Let's hang as loose as we can until we can do a pregnancy test, ok?" We nodded. "I have heard enough stories to know that in times of crisis you kids have all piled into bed together. Well, Luke and Matt are not here, but I think it might be good for you two to be together tonight, but just together." Mom raised an eyebrow and I had learned that was a warning sign spelling out clearly, "I mean what I said". We nodded again. Seems we had lost the power of speech. "I'll call Gabrielle and tell her Mary Kathryn's staying here." I guess both of us got horrified looks on our faces, because she said, "I can handle this without telling her why. Now you two get upstairs."

Mary Kathryn and I went upstairs, got undressed and slipped in to my bed. We held each other very tight and I said, "Mary Kathryn, I still feel like a shithead for what I said. I really do."

"Michael, it's over, it's done with, now get on with it." I kissed her ever so softly and said, "Baby, we really have bought ourselves a big problem this time."

"And we'll deal with it, Michael. Not fool enough to think it will be easy or to think I know what path we should take, but we'll deal with it."

I expected to spend the night wide awake, but in Mary Kathryn's embrace, my head buried in the crook of her neck, I felt myself relax. The next thing I knew, Mary Kathryn was shaking me. "Michael, Michael, wake up. Go get your mom," she was as calm as everything. I wasn't.

"Why? What's wrong? What can I do?"

"You can go get your mom." I turned on the light and saw blood on the sheet where we had been lying, lots and lots of blood.

I practically fell downstairs and this time I wasn't timid. I pounded on the bedroom door calling, "Mom! Mom! Mary Kathryn needs you! Hurry! There's blood everywhere!"

I was about to pound the door again when Mom opened it and, tying on her robe, asked, "Michael, what's wrong? What's happened? You have blood on your thigh."

I looked down and, sure enough, my thigh was covered with blood. Suddenly I had visions of Mary Kathryn having done something stupid. "Mom, I don't know," I was near tears again, "Mary Kathryn just told me to get you. Hurry, Mom."

Mom yelled back into her bedroom, "David, grab my bag and come upstairs. Something's wrong." Dad came out of the bedroom as naked as I was, carrying Mom's doctor's bag. "Throw a robe on, David, and come up."

When we got upstairs, I saw Mary Kathryn sitting in the middle of a sheet with blood stains all over it. I felt myself growing faint just as Dad stormed into the room with Mom's bag. "What happened? What's going on? Do I need to call 911?"

"Dad," I said and then everything went black.

When I came to, I was in a chair, my head between my legs and Dad was holding an inhaler under my nose. I pushed his hand away and when I looked up, Mom and Mary Kathryn were laughing like crazy. Mom said, "Michael, should you and Mary Kathryn ever get married, I hope you will learn to control yourself. I'm not sure she can stand such a display once a month."

"What do you mean? Why are you laughing? Why was Mary Kathryn bleeding gallons of blood? That sheet was covered with blood. I was covered with blood."

Mom and Mary Kathryn were sitting on the bed, still laughing themselves silly. Both moved over so I could see the sheet. "Is this the blood you were talking about?" Mom asked. There were two or three tiny spots on the sheet. "And you were covered with blood?" I looked at my thigh and there was the smallest smear of blood there.

"What happened to all the blood I saw? I mean there was blood everywhere."

Mary Kathryn, who had on one of my extra large T-shirts, got up, walked over to me, bent over and said, "Michael, it's really very funny. At the same time, it's not. I'm sorry you got so frightened and imagined things. We won't be needing a pregnancy test kit."

"What do you mean? What happened? I saw blood."

"Michael, you saw the blood you see now, no more, but your imagination got the better of you. As I suspected, all Mary Kathryn has been doing and all the stress she had been under just upset her clock a bit. There's not more than a few drops of blood involved. She started her period late. She wanted you to call me to see if I still had tampons or sanitary napkins, that's all," Mom said.

"You mean we're not pregnant?"

"I mean you're not pregnant," Mom said. "Now can we get some sleep? Michael, change your bed and you two get to sleep."

After Mary Kathryn and I got back to bed, she snuggled close and said, "Michael, I won't say I'm not happy I wasn't pregnant, I am. But I do want you to know that when the time is right, I will be overjoyed to have your children."

"And I will be overjoyed to father your children, Lady Love. I've been told that a condom takes away a lot from having sex but, Babe, the sacrifice will be worth avoiding what we have just gone through--or worse."

Mary Kathryn kissed me softly, snuggled into the crook of my neck and I felt her eye lashes as she fluttered them against my skin. "Michael Andrews, I love you even if you are a wuss and can't stand the sight of blood."

"Blood doesn't bother me, Lady Love, unless it's yours or mine." I kissed the top of her head and the next thing I knew, my alarm went off and it was time to begin a new day.

We got up early, both put on a pair of my sweats and ran. Several times I found myself throwing my arms in the air and shouting at the top of my lungs. Mary Kathryn kept laughing at me, but she was also on top of the world this morning. After we had turned around and started back, we gradually slowed down until we were just walking briskly, holding hands. "Mary Kathryn, do you mind if I talk to Bill? Dad gave me the facts, but he certainly didn't talk about how to use a condom without sacrificing too much."

"I was going to ask you about me talking to Linda. I know they have sex on a pretty regular basis and I don't know why we shouldn't ask them for any advise they might have."

"I just don't want to make our private life the topic of public gossip."

"We both know that Bill and Linda won't do that. I thought about asking them to join us at the falls, but it sure looks like rain."

"Lady Love, Bill and I will come up with something. You going on home?"

"Yea, I suspect I better. Margaret told me last night she had talked to Mom and told her I had been upset about a female problem. I suspect Mom knew what was going on, but she has a way around Dad."

"I guess I'll find out when I pick you up for school."

I kissed Mary Kathryn and turned in to my house as she started running again, headed for her place. When I got inside, I showered and looked in the mirror at the new beard Mary Kathryn had convinced me I should grow. It was looking good after more weeks than I liked to remember of looking pretty terrible. I got dressed. I kinda hated facing Mom and Dad after last night, but I remembered that turning to them was the first thing I thought of when Mary Kathryn told me she was pregnant.

Dad was preparing breakfast when I got down. I fixed myself a cup of coffee and sat down with Mom at the kitchen table. I didn't know what to say, so I said nothing.

"Michael," Mom said.

"Yes," I replied, too loudly and too quickly.

"Little on edge this morning, Son?" Dad asked.

I know I got a sheepish look on my face, looked up and said, "Yea, I guess you could say that."

"Michael, you know that I wish that you and Mary Kathryn had put off becoming sexually active until you were older. You know one reason from last night. There are others: emotional maturity, the need to be kids without the pressure of having sex, I could go on. But that doesn't matter," Mom said. "Since you have started, I want to ask a few things of you. First, I hope you won't make sex the basis of your relationship. If you do, you'll find that's all it is about. I know, I have been there. Also, I ask that you decide that protecting against pregnancy takes precedence over pure pleasure. Take it from me, I know that condoms decrease the pleasure of intercourse, but I think you know now that a pregnancy right now can take all the pleasure away and worrying about it can decrease your pleasure more than a condom."

"Son, I'd add something else and I don't know the answer, but I hope you won't make sex a 'back seat of the car' kind of thing--you know, 'sex on the run'. I don't think Gabrielle is, and I know Jens isn't, ready to have you spending the night with Mary Kathryn. I'm not sure your Mom and I are ready to say you can have sex here either. But I don't want you having sex anywhere else. Hell, I don't know what I'm saying. I know you can go to the falls, but that's not going to be possible soon unless you want to freeze it off. That would solve a lot of problems now that I think about it."

"David!" Mom exclaimed.

"Well, what is the solution? We don't want them in the back seat of a car or in some other place like that, but I'm not willing to say 'Michael, you want to have sex, take your pick anywhere in the house'. But I know that they are not going to stop just because they can't do it at home."

I had a feeling they were carrying on a discussion in which I had no part. "Dad, I think you are safe in saying the first time is not our last time. Mom, I don't think we'll end up just having sex. How long has it been since the first time? And we haven't had sex since, so we're not obsessed with sex. But you know we will have sex again and we can't have it here, and certainly not at her place, and not in the back seat of the car or some place like that, so where can we?"

"Michael, I guess we should have thought about this. If we had been realistic, we would have before, but I know I kept thinking this was in the future," Mom said.

"To be honest, Michael, I guess I was thinking just about you. That's the way my father thought. The girl's situation was her and someone else's concern, but that won't work. Mary Kathryn is as much mine as she is anyone's. She's a part of the family and I can't not think of her as well. We need some time, Michael, because I don't want you as my son or Mary Kathryn as... well as my daughter, having to act like sex is dirty. Give us some time, can you?"

"Dad, I'm sure we can. We have learned a lesson, an important lesson, at very low cost. I think we'll try not to have to learn others at higher cost."

"Thanks, Michael. And, son, while I wish you had waited, you could never have found a finer partner," Dad said.
Mary Kathryn

I really didn't know what to expect when I got home. Mom was in the middle of breakfast and Dad was drinking coffee and reading the newspaper--everything appeared normal. When I came in Dad said, "I hope you are alright this morning".

"I'm fine, Dad, just fine."

Mom looked at me, raised an eyebrow and said, "I assume you got your 'female problem' solved?".

"It kinda took care of itself," I replied.

"I trust there will not be a recurrence."

"Certainly not anytime soon," I said. Who was fooling whom? Mom knew exactly what the problem had been, I was positive of that, and poor old Dad was, thank heaven, in the dark.

"Glad to hear you're ok," Dad said as we sat down for breakfast.

When Michael picked me up he asked, "How'd it go, Lady Love?".

"Fine. Dad didn't know what was going on, but since it was a 'female problem', he didn't ask anything. Mom knows, she definitely knows. She said she didn't expect a recurrence and I assured her there would not be one anytime soon. How do things stand at your place?"

I told her Mom and Dad, especially Dad, were in a quandary about where we could have sex since they ruled out all the "sex on the run" places, but weren't ready to say we could hop in bed at home anytime we wanted to. "They know that sex at your place--certainly if Jens found out--is dangerous, to say the least. I wanted to tell them not to worry, I figured we could handle that, but I didn't because I'm not sure how we can."

"After last night, I think it is not a pressing issue right this minute, Michael. I know it hit you like a ton of bricks as it did me, but it was over soon for you. I have been worried sick for several days. I definitely don't want to go through that again."

It goes without saying, the lunch conversation revolved around the developments regarding Rocky and Dr. Rockford. Everyone was pleased that some good had come out of it. However, after everyone had their say about the outcome, Keith said, "I guess you all need to know I'm gay".

"Don't know that we do, since it really changes nothing. You're still Keith and we like Keith as is, but I know we all appreciate the fact that you trust us enough to tell us," Jack responded and the others nodded. "I'm just glad the business of attempting to discredit you and Mr. Stevenson has been settled. Now we can move on without worrying about it."

As we were leaving the cafeteria, I managed to get Linda aside enough not to be overheard and asked, "Linda, do you think you and Bill can find some time for Michael and me to talk to you?"

"Sure, something important?" she smiled as if she knew what was up.

"Yea, very important."

"I'll talk to Bill next period and we'll see what we can come up with. Later."

She walked faster to catch up with Bill. Michael told me later that they would meet us at the falls as soon as we could get there after school.

We all had a meeting after school to discuss adding to the peer counseling group next semester. Ms. Jones suggested we plan another weekend training session, maybe during the Christmas break. Those of us who had been involved in the program would be responsible for much of the training. "And I think it would be a good idea for those of you who have been carrying the program to spend time evaluating and planning before we get involved with new people," Ms. Jones said.

"It seems like an excellent idea to me," Bill said. "For example, we need a new way of assigning counselors. After Mary Kathryn and Michael were involved with Christopher they were swamped with requests."

"That's what I mean," Ms. Jones said, "and I am sure there are other areas in which you can make improvements based on your experience. I'll make arrangements for the sessions. Maybe we could start Friday morning and have the new people come in early Saturday."

"Sounds good to me," Jacob said.

After the meeting, Michael and I headed for the falls with Bill and Linda right behind us. We parked at my place and walked across the meadow to the falls, the two guys carrying blankets. The day was cloudy but it hadn't rained and, so long as you stayed in the weak sun coming through the clouds, it was pretty nice but, without the sun, it was definitely chilly. There would be no swimming that day.

When we reached the falls, Michael and Bill spread the blankets and we all lay on our stomachs, heads to the center, our chins propped on our hands.

"Linda tells me you two have something important you need to talk about, right?"

"Right," Michael said. "See we had a little problem this weekend. Mary Kathryn thought she was pregnant."

"I assume that means you two are having sex," Linda laughed.

"Correction. Had sex, once," Michael answered.

"Damn! Sure not a lucky break there. But you said she THOUGHT she was pregnant, not that she was."

"Same difference until you discover otherwise," Mary Kathryn answered. "I've always been as regular as clockwork, but this time was four days late. I panicked."

"Glad you don't have my schedule," Linda said, "I never knew when I would start or stop until I started taking birth control pills. That's evened things out a lot, but certainly not completely."

"Margaret thinks all the pressure and stress I have been under, since school opened, upset my cycle. I was regular before birth control pills so I was really sure I was pregnant."

"You are on birth control then?" Linda asked.

"Yea. Margaret gave them to me last spring-early summer," I replied. "She said she and Mom had talked about it. Both hoped we would wait, but knew sooner or later we wouldn't. But you have never thought you were pregnant?"

Bill started laughing big time. "Not once but twice. I began to think she was just trying to trap me because she was and then she wasn't. Of course, I didn't laugh either time she told me."

"Did you blame her for getting pregnant? I mean when she first told you?" Michael asked.

"Yea, I did. I knew that if she was pregnant, I was at least half to blame but, yes, both times I blamed her at first. I mean she was the one who had the pills and should be taking them. Of course, it turned out she just skipped a period. After she was a couple weeks overdue, we got a pregnancy test and it showed she was not, but those were anxious weeks. But, yea, I blamed her. Why?"

"When Mary Kathryn told me, I blamed her. I was sorry practically before the words were out of my mouth, but I still did it."

"I bet Mary Kathryn blamed you as soon as she decided she was pregnant," Linda said.

"I did, I sure did. It didn't make sense because I knew Michael would have stopped if I had asked, but I was ready and wanted him," Mary Kathryn said.

"Mary Kathryn, the pill is as close as you can get to being perfect birth control, but it's not perfect. It's just a risk you take," Linda said.

"It was a risk we DID take," Bill said. "But after the second time of going through hell thinking I was going to be a father, I decided I had some responsibility as well. I can tell you, I like sex without a condom and so does Linda, but it's a small price to pay to avoid what you have gone through and what we have gone through twice. I want kids, tons of kids, and so does Linda, but right now a kid would mean the end of a lot of dreams."

"Tell me about it," I said.

"Condoms not only make you less sensitive," Linda said, "but they take away a lot of spontaneity. But, Mary Kathryn, there's no reason you can't make putting a condom on Michael a pretty sexy thing."

"She's telling the truth there, Michael. So get condoms, keep them handy and use them. Couple words of caution. Don't carry them around in your wallet. They are latex and will deteriorate enough to break when in use. You know all those guys who carry one in their wallet and make sure you see the imprint? I can tell you, it's an old one that they have had for ages that they keep for show. And if you need lubrication..."

Michael laughed and said, "Maybe later, but we were aswim in it when we had sex."

"If you do, no oil. Water-based only. But I suspect you know all of that and it's not why we are here," Bill concluded.

"Well, except for finding out we were normal in accusing each other, you're right, but I think it helps to hear it from a peer rather than a parent," Michael said. "What we wanted to talk about is, well, where?"

"Where what?" Linda asked.

"Where we can have sex," I answered.

Bill laughed and said, "You CAN have it anywhere if Michael can get it up. Church lawn, the school cafeteria, on the back of a convertible during the Homecoming Parade, anywhere."

Linda was pounding him on the arm, which he was holding up to shield his face from her blows. "Bill, I oughta kill you," she laughed as she gave him a few more licks. "Your parents know?" she asked, after she left Bill alone.

"Mine do. When Mary Kathryn told me, the first thing I wanted to do after I got over the initial shock--and accused her of getting me in the pickle--was head for the parents."

"I hope you two realize how lucky you are to have supportive parents. And if you can't talk to one set, you've got two others. Neither Bill nor I have that although, thanks to Jacob, Bill does have a father for a change."

"Well, we went to my place and talked to Mom and Dad. Margaret was very comforting, telling us not to jump to conclusions until we had used a pregnancy test," Michael said. "Turned out we didn't need to."

I took great delight in telling the two of Michael's reaction to a couple drops of blood.

"Did you ever think he was just so happy he had to make up some reason for his excitement?" Bill asked.

"No way, Jose," I answered, "Michael was scared teetotally shitless."

"How would you feel if you saw me lying in a pool of blood?" Michael asked.

"Guess I would have freaked too," Bill said. "One drop or one gallon, it all looks the same when you're looking at someone you love and see blood. Anyway, what's the question?"

"My parents know and Dad has asked that we not go the back seat route or do sex on the run. At the same time, he says he's not willing to say, 'The house is yours. Have all the sex you want to anywhere you want to.' I can understand where he's coming from. I understand that but, as he says, we're not calling it quits after having sex once. That's the dilemma."

"I guess you might think it's easier for us since neither of us was a virgin when we became a couple. I know my dad knew I was having sex with anyone I could get to lie down before I started going with Linda. Now I don't think he's sure one way or the other. Mom just assumes that everyone not married is chaste because so long as she doesn't see it, say something about it or think about it, it doesn't exist," Bill said.

"My parents probably know. I'm not sure. I'm not sure they care," Linda said. "After Mom couldn't get me hooked up with one of Concord's fine scions from the right family--read money and social status, it had to be both--she just kinda gave up on me. Dad likes Bill and I guess he knows, and knows I am better off with Bill than most of the men Mom has chosen for me, so he just ignores it. But we don't have sex at my place, that is unless I am very sure they will not come home and catch us. I expect that would rip the whole thing."

"Maybe Dad does know and doesn't want Mom to find out anything, I don't know," Linda said. "If they are going to be gone long enough for us to use the house without fear of being caught, Dad tells me and makes it plain. Last week he was going on a business trip and took Mom--something he never did before, come to think of it--and told me, 'Your mom is going on this trip with me. I'll leave phone numbers where you can reach us if you need to.' The numbers were for motels and I knew where they were and when they would be back. We take advantage of those kinds of things."

"We also use my place when it's safe," Bill said. "Jacob is a big help because he serves as a watch out for us. Usually our time there is after school or something like that. When we first started having sex, we did a lot of quickies, but I wish we hadn't because the focus was on getting it in, shooting off and getting dressed. There was not a lot of loving put into those times. Now if we are going to be rushed, we just spend the time in other ways of expressing our love. The trip to Ohio, and our time there, was beautiful. We could have sex if we wanted or we could just be loving and tender with each other and stop. That's the way I wish it was all the time."

We talked a while longer about a lot of things, not just sex, and we were all really excited about the party in Ohio.

As we walked back toward the Larsens', Mary Kathryn walked ahead with Linda and I walked with Bill. I was a bit embarrassed about a question I wanted to ask him. After I started a couple times and got nowhere, Bill asked, "Michael, do you have something to say or are you just spinning your wheels?"

"Bill, I'm kinda embarrassed about asking, but, well, I need some condoms and I..."

"And you don't want all of Concord to know about it, right?"

Relieved, I answered, "Yea, Bill that's it".

"Hey, no problem. I'll buy some for you."

"How much money do you need, Bill?"

"How many do you need?" he laughed. "Actually, I'll get you a dozen for starters and you can pay me when I deliver them."

"Thanks a lot, Bill. I don't know why I'm embarrassed. I mean it's not that I'm running around screwing just anybody."

"Maybe if you were, you wouldn't be embarrassed. I never was until I started dating Linda and I didn't want just anybody to know we were having sex. I have a friend I trust at the drug store and I'll be happy to help you out... Was it as good as you thought it would be? Was it special?"

After I told Bill about our first time, he smiled and said, "Great! I'm really glad it was special. My first time was a disaster and, to tell the truth, I didn't enjoy it. It was never special, or as good as sex with Linda is, because it was just a way to get my rocks off. With Linda I am more concerned about her than myself and the amazing thing is it's better for me than it ever was when I was just thinking of Bill. Hey, Guy, love is wonderful!"

"Speaking of which," I asked, "what do you think about Paula and Jacob? I sure thought they had the real thing."

"Yea, so did I. But when Linda and I talked about it, it made sense that they just got carried away since all the rest of us had a partner and they didn't. I am sure that's what happened but, you're right, I thought it was the real thing."

"Well, I guess we'll see just how it is when we go to Ohio. I tell you I am really looking forward to that!"

"So am I. And it's only about a week away. By the way, have you thought about a costume? Linda said we'd need one."

"I haven't, but Douglas did say we should have one. Guess I better put that on my to-do list."

When we reached the Larsens', Gabrielle came out to the porch and asked us to come in for cookies and milk, something anyone who had ever had Gabrielle's cookies wouldn't turn down. When we got inside, she asked what we had been up to and Mary Kathryn said, "We've been to the falls solving the problems of the world. Don't know about the world, but think we got some of ours settled."

"I hope you don't need me or your dad to help you solve the rest. We won't be available," Gabrielle replied.

Chapter Ten

Mary Kathryn

"What do you mean you won't be available? What's happened? What are you doing?" It was obvious I was on edge as I panicked a bit, not knowing what was going on.

"Just calm yourself. Nothing major for you, I suspect, but pretty major for Jens and me. We have the lake house for the weekend and we're leaving work early Friday and will be back late Sunday night. I've made arrangements for you to stay with the Greywolfs. Think you can stay out of trouble?"

"I'm sure I can," I replied. When I glanced at Linda, she gave me the ok sign and winked. I blushed and hoped Mom didn't notice.

Thursday was a beautiful fall day, bright blue skies and warm, very warm for October. At lunch the whole gang decided we should go to the falls after school. It would probably be too cold for swimming, but we could just enjoy being outside after being cooped up in school all day. There was a small produce stand beside the road on the way home, and we stopped and got a bunch of apples which we munched on as we drove into the country. Bill and his carload stopped at the Greywolfs' and Michael and our carload went on to his place and got towels in case it was warm enough for swimming.

When we got to the falls, Linda and Bill, Jacob and Susan and Jack were waiting for us--sitting on a blanket Bill had taken from his car. Keith and Christopher were with our group. As soon as we arrived, Linda asked, "Who's going to test the water?".

There was a mad rush as Bill, Michael and Jacob started stripping. Christopher asked, "You guys going in the nude?".

"Yea, we're members of the world skinny-dipping team," Bill laughed. Christopher was hesitant, as was Jack, but it didn't take them long to get undressed and all five hit the water.

"How's the water?" Linda shouted to the guys.

"Water's fine," Michael answered, but I think his teeth were chattering. Linda and I quickly undressed and, while she was in no rush, Susan finally joined us. I dived in and the water was fine, I guess, but it sure wasn't warm! We swam awhile nonetheless, but finally all climbed out when we started turning blue. We quickly dried ourselves and got dressed. It was not warm enough to sit around naked.

Michael had brought a blanket too, so we spread it out and all of us flopped down. The sun felt good after the cold water. "Have you guys thought about costumes for the Halloween party?" Michael asked. "Douglas wanted us to wear costumes and, given what he's putting into this, it's the least we can do."

"Did you tell Dan he's to wear a costume?" Michael asked Christopher.

"No, I didn't."

"Will you be talking to him anytime soon?"

I swear, Christopher blushed and half-stammered, "I suspect I will. I talk to him every night. He's really a great guy, you know."

"Yea, we know. We also knew him when he was not such a great guy and that makes who he is now even more remarkable," Bill said. "Anyway, what have you come up with, Michael?"

"Thought I might go as a Lakota medicine man. Got all the stuff for that."

"I'll say you have, and it works," Christopher said. "Man, it really works."

"I guess that means I have to go as your Lakota woman," I said.

"You have to go as my woman, regardless of how you dress!" Michael said, and gave me a great kiss.

"Hey, no making out now. Christopher and Keith are without partners," Linda said.

"Maybe you two should be a couple," Jacob laughed. "That's what happened with me and Paula."

"Don't think so," Keith said, "but he is a nice one, if a little skinny."

"Yea, Christopher, we need to get to work and get you in shape," Bill said. "You eating enough these days?"

"Like a horse, but it all seems to be settling about my middle."

"Tomorrow, after school, we all meet in the weight room and get you started on a workout program. But what are the rest of you wearing?"

"I thought about digging out my great-granddad's Greek soldier's dress uniform, if Granddad would permit it," Christopher said. "It's a nifty outfit--knee socks, shirt with huge sleeves under an embroidered vest, and a pleated skirt. Told Granddad it looked like something a girl would wear and he told me never to say that to a Greek. 'Your great-granddad was a brave soldier and people know what kind of fighters the Greeks are.' It really would be great if he will let me wear it."

"Linda and I are working on something, but we want to keep it for a surprise," Bill said.

"Same here," Jacob said. "Susan and I have been thinking of wild outfits and I think we have it."

Keith said, "I haven't given it a lot of thought. I guess I still can't believe we are going to Lexington and climb on a plane to fly to Ohio for a party. It sounds like something a rock star would do."

"Hey, that's it, Keith... Keith Bad Man Lewis, rock star!" Susan said.

We talked about that a bit longer then the talk turned to all that had been going on in the fall. "To tell the truth, I am more than ready for a break," Michael said. "We have had more school work than most, since all of us except Christopher have at least one AP class and Christopher missed a bunch of school before and after he was dumped in the shit. How's school coming, Christopher?"

"Great. With Bill and Jack tutoring me in math and chemistry, I'm doing pretty well. Hell, I'm doing better than pretty well; I'm doing great and it sure feels good."

"Well, with school and peer counseling... Christopher, I think you should join that group next semester. We're having a training session during Christmas break."

"After all the trouble I've caused? I doubt that I would be accepted."

"Hey, you've been there and got back. That's what's important. You can tell some kid where they are headed and make it stick because you're been there," Keith said. "I planned to asked to join. I've seen what a word can do. If I hadn't spoken to that young kid, he'd been in Rocky's clutches and taken a long time to escape. It took me one hell of a long time to wake up."

That provoked a round of talking about people who stay with partners who abuse them. Everyone said they couldn't see how anyone could let it happen and Keith said, "Yea, I know. Now I look back and can't believe I let it happen to me, but I did. I know it doesn't make sense. It doesn't make sense to me, but at the time I guess I wanted to be wanted by anyone who would have me, even if it was to abuse me. I really can't explain it because I don't understand it myself. But I did learn one thing: I'll never let it happen again."

"I thought it was a very rare thing," Linda said, "but I'd say half the girls I talk to, especially those who are not pretty and popular, are abused to one degree or another by their boyfriends. Bill, you ever try that and you'll go to your grave childless because I'll rip your balls off," she said, as she gave him one of her patented slugs on the arm.

"How about women abusing men?" he asked as he rubbed his arm, pretending to be in great pain.

"Don't laugh," Jacob said. "I had a kid come to talk to me last week and he wanted to know if women were supposed to beat up on their boyfriends. It happens both ways. Of course I wondered what girl could beat up on him as he was a pretty good-sized fellow, then I saw his girlfriend. She should be on the football team," he laughed.

We lay in the sun for a good while longer, talking about school and what we planned to do in the next semester, and other things which were not important, just teen chatter.

I enjoyed being with the Fellowship, as they called themselves. I guess that really should be 'we call ourselves' because I have definitely become a part of that group. They were an honest, straight-shooting bunch. Once they knew my terrible secret, it made no difference. They accepted me just as I was and appreciated who I was. When the guys started stripping, I wondered just what was up and I was thunderstruck when it all seemed very natural to them. No-one was embarrassed or shy, no-one made fun of anyone. I'm sure that in ordinary circumstances there would have been a lot of "Mine's bigger than yours" kind of joking, but not here.

I also really appreciated how concerned they were for each other, for the school and all that. They were a real caring crowd. I was surprised when someone suggested Christopher and I could be a couple. I must admit I found the idea attractive, but I saw how Christopher reacted when he was asked if he would be talking with Danny anytime soon. You want a couple? There was a couple whether they knew it yet or not. Jack was also attractive, but I was sure he was as straight as they came. But I was not in a rush to get coupled up with anyone after my experience with Rocky.

After we left the falls, Michael took me and Christopher home. Going home was a lot more relaxed these days. Once I told Dad I was gay, I didn't feel as if I was hiding something which he might find out and do I didn't know what. We talked lots about what being gay meant in terms of relationships, society's reactions, problems in school, all those sorts of things. He made sure I realized that, while he wished I wasn't gay because of all the flack I would catch, he didn't feel any different towards me, or maybe he did. He was, particularly after I told him about Rocky, more protective. He was all for me going to the party in Ohio. "You'll see two gay couples there who seem to have it all together. I think that will be of benefit to you. Whatever you need to go, let me know," he had said.

At the falls that day we had talked about what we needed to take: regular clothing and toiletries, of course--and Christopher, who had lived up north, reminded us we each needed a warm coat--and a costume. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of going as a rock star. I'd pick up some temporary tattoos. I had black leather pants--tight!--and a black leather vest which I wore when I was DJ at the club in Lexington. I had an ear pierced with a stud, but needed to find a more obvious earring, I thought a silver ring. I laughed when I thought about going out and finding one. I was sure Christopher had a bunch from which I could choose. He was wearing about half of what he had been at the beginning of school.

Friday, when I got to the tables--two tables had long ago been pushed together to hold the group--where the Fellowship sat, there was a new girl there. She was as red-headed as Jacob, with fair complexion and startling green eyes. While I was not into women, I knew she was a looker. She was kinda short--I guess about five three or four--and had a fantastic figure. I noticed Jack was so taken with her that he missed his mouth a couple times when he was shoveling food into it. "Who's this new girl who has Jack all a-goo-goo?" I asked as I sat down. "I'm Keith," I said as I held out my hand.

She took it and Jacob said, "This is my cousin Rachel. She's new here as of today. Her mom and dad have split and her mother works nights so she asked her brother, my dad, if Rachel could live with him for a while--probably at least until school is out. Now ain't that weird? My dad threw me out of the house because I dated a Jewish girl, but takes in a cousin. Makes no never-mind to me, I have a real family--Bill's. Rachel will be treated like a princess to show me what I'm missing. She knows all about me being kicked out so she will play it cool."

"She will be making the trip to Ohio with us, won't she?" I asked.

"Hell, I hadn't thought about that. I'm not sure whether Dad will let her go or not. I know he wouldn't if he knew where we were going," Jacob said.

"Guess we need to think about this one and come up with something," Bill said. "Like a school trip or something. She sure needs to go."

"Gives us another problem to solve," Mary Kathryn said. "We have a planeload Thursday night and Friday evening as well."

"I forgot," Linda said. "My parents can't go. Dad is going on a business convention that weekend and Mom had planned to go with him. I guess Rachel can come up Friday with the adults. Probably not what you would choose, Rachel, but they really are a grand bunch of people."

Rachel had been sitting quietly, but I was sure her head would be spinning. "Rachel, has anyone bothered to tell you what they are planning for your life?" I laughed. "I guess you will learn quickly to speak up for yourself or your entire life will be planned for you and you'll not have the slightest idea of what's going on."

"He's right, Rachel. Don't be shy around this bunch or you'll be left out in the cold. Not that we mean to, but we just race along most of the time assuming everyone is keeping up," Jack said. "We have been invited to a Halloween party in Ohio. Mary Kathryn's brother and his partner, two other guys who are partners, and Jacob's former girlfriend, are in college at Oberlin. They own a house on Lake Erie which, from what I understand, was made for a Halloween party. A couple from the Sarasota School of Art decided to have a Halloween party there and are flying us all up. We'll leave Thursday after school and get back sometime Wednesday. You, of course, are now invited."

"If my head wasn't spinning before, it certainly is now," Rachel laughed. "A plane is carrying you to a party? In Ohio?"

"Yea, seems Douglas--he's the guy from Sarasota--has a friend whose father has a private jet which costs as much on the ground as in the air, except for fuel. Douglas is picking up the tab for the fuel. All we have to do is pack what we need, including a costume, and we're off to a party," Bill explained.

"Since Linda's parents can't make it, one of us should stay here and come Friday with Rachel," I said. "After all, we are all strangers to her and she will be coming with the adults."

"I guess I need to do that," Jacob said, but it was obvious his heart wasn't in it.

"Why don't I do it?" Jack asked quickly. "Bill, if you can give me the use of your car, I could pick her up, meet Jacob's dad and explain that I am picking her up for a school trip. We'll probably need an official-looking letter to throw him off track."

"Done," Linda said. "I will pick up some school letterhead when I work in the library this afternoon, and we can get a letter composed and ready. What kind of trip is it? Where are we going? How can she be contacted?"

"Well, obviously it's a sociology trip for social studies. She will be studying some interesting people and situations. Not many houses have two gay couples living with a straight man and woman--the woman the former girlfriend of one of the participants. We are going to an outpost of Oberlin College," Michael said. "You have the Oberlin Five's number don't you?"

"Yea, and that sounds good," Linda said. "I'll get the letter ready tonight."

"What do you think of all this, Rachel?" Jack asked. "It sounds kinda strange to me."

"Sure sounds strange to me. I've never done anything like this. Cut school I mean. I don't know what Uncle Ab will say."

"He'll say nothing except he's glad you are adjusting to school," Jacob said. "Of course if he finds out what you really did, he'll probably ground you for life, but I think we can cover for you and, if not, sneak you out of the house once in a while. One question, Bill, Michael, how will Jonesy deal with this?"

"I think we can handle it, don't you, Michael?"

"I think so. She was very easy about us going and I think she will let Rachel go as well. Bill and I will take care of that."

"And I'm to stay over and come up with Rachel Friday, right?" Jack asked. I took a look at him again and it was clear to me that guy could have creamed his jeans more than once during this lunch period!

"Yea, that's right, Jack, provided you can get yourself under control," I laughed.

"Man, I am under control," he said.

I leaned over and whispered to him, "Maybe now that you have shot off in your drawers a couple times but, man, you've got the hots big time."

He looked at me, grinned and whispered, "Damn right! I'm not about to let this one escape!"

On that note, the bell rang and the group broke up for Friday afternoon classes.

After school, we all met in the weight room and got Christopher started on an exercise program. We told him one of us would meet him after school each day.

As we were leaving school, Bill called to me. When I went to his car, he opened the glove compartment, took out a package and handed it to me. "The cash register receipt is inside. You can pay me when you like," he said.

I opened the package, took out the receipt and saw I had enough money, so I paid Bill. "Thanks a million, Bill. I really appreciate you doing this for me."

"Always ready to help a brother in the Fellowship, he said. "By the way, don't you think the new members need to be told about the rings? I was thinking last night that they were pretty important when we started and they are a good symbol. What do you think?"

"I think you are right on target. We'll bring it up Monday at lunch. And thanks again for these," I said as I lifted the package. "Mary Kathryn's parents are away for the weekend and I hope I have a need for one or two--maybe more."

"Hey, remember they are disposable, so don't try to hang on to one for a second round. Clean up and start over."

"That doesn't sound like much fun," I replied.

"Lot more fun than being called daddy," Bill said, and I saw he was only half-joking. "Mary Kathryn staying at her place?"

"Nope, at the Greywolfs'."

"Best I recall, Luke and Matt made great use of the trellis. Maybe you can as well. See you Sunday, if not before." Bill got in his car, kissed Linda and drove off.

I walked to the Tracker and when Mary Kathryn asked what that was all about, I tossed her the package. "Don't know about you, Wild Woman, but I plan to put some of those to use this weekend."

"I better be involved or you're a dead man, Michael Andrews!" she said as she pulled me to herself for a kiss. I managed to escape being impaled this time. Maybe I'd learn how to make out in the Tracker yet.

I took Mary Kathryn to her place to get what she needed for the weekend at the Greywolfs'. While she was gathering up things, I couldn't keep my eyes off of her. This new girl, Rachel, was a beauty sho' 'nuff and I could understand Jack getting that sick-calf look every time he looked at her but, man, she couldn't hold a candle to Mary Kathryn. I was lying on her bed as she packed things and when she finished, I grabbed her around the waist and pulled her on top of me. We both were very playful. I guess there was a lot of lust there somewhere, but I didn't feel lustful--I just felt great and, well, playful. We played around for a while before I became really aroused, But when Mary Kathryn crawled on me, took my shirt off and started nipping a nipple, I registered just a notch below diamond on the hardness scale.

Mary Kathryn leaned forward, pressed her lips to mine and her tongue started doing things to the inside of my mouth. Her hair, not nearly as curly as Luke's, fell forward, a cloud of gold around my face. And the fragrance! "God, Mary Kathryn, what is that fantastic fragrance? I have never smelled it before."

"I don't remember its name. One of Mom's cousins sent it to her for Christmas last year. She didn't like it and put it aside. Last week, when she was straightening up their bedroom, she called and asked me if I liked it. I did and she gave it to me."

"Mary Kathryn, I love it. It smells like... well, like... kinda like... I know, tuberoses and ferns. Think that's what it smells like and I love it!" We started playing around again and, this time, Mary Kathryn unzipped my pants and pulled them down my legs after she removed my shoes and socks. I lay, spreadeagle on her bed, in my briefs which were straining hard to hold my tool inside. I reached up and pulled Mary Kathryn's shirt over her head, unsnapped her bra and tossed it aside. I buried my face between her breasts and then started washing one with my tongue, stopping to suck on it gently from time to time.

I hooked my thumbs in the waistband of Mary Kathryn's pants and panties and slid them down her beautiful legs. She was all over me, kissing my nipples, nipping an earlobe, and then she moved down and gave my rock-hard cock a tease with her hair. She finally moved back up my body and whispered, "Michael, I am ready. I want you right now!"

"You may be ready, but I'm not."

She raised up, looked me in the eye and said, "That's a hell of a note! Get me hot as a firecracker and then say you're not ready. What's wrong with you, Boy?"

"Toss me my pants and I'll show you."

"You want what? You want your pants? What kind of joke is this?"

"Just toss me my pants, Woman," I answered.

Toss them she did, right in my face. I reached in a pocket and took out one of the condoms I had put there, hoping we'd end up at her house before the Greywolfs got home.

When she saw the condom, she laughed and said, "No, you're not ready. I guess I'll have to dress you." She took the condom from my hand, opened it with her teeth and took it out of the packet. When she saw it she laughed and held it where I could see it. "Leave it to Bill," she said as we both looked at a bright pink condom. She moved down my body, kissed the head of my cock, then rolled the condom on it.

"You did that like you have had practice," I said.

"No practice, but Linda told me she liked putting one on Bill and told me how. Nothing very complicated about it." She kissed my condom-covered cock, moved up my body and really started working on my nipples. I knew I was more than ready and was about to do something about it when she reached down and guided me into herself.

She had her first orgasm almost as soon as I was inside. I started moving in and out slowly, but gradually moved faster and faster as my wild woman urged me on. I guess it was the difference the condom made, but I didn't reach a climax as quickly as I had the last time we'd made love. When it did hit, I caught my breath and think I kinda blacked out for a second. Damn, it felt wonderful.

We lay in each other's arms, exchanging angel kisses until I was completely limp. Bill had given me very strict instructions about being careful when I withdrew, in order not to spill any seed. "You don't want to be planting anything," he had laughed.

I withdrew, picked up the condom cover and gave it and the used condom to Mary Kathryn so I could pick her up and carry her to the shower. After she flushed the "love peelings", we got in the shower together and had a wonderful time. We dried each other and dressed and drove to the Greywolfs' minutes before they got home from school.

I took Mary Kathryn's things upstairs to the guest room while Mary Kathryn stayed downstairs talking to Yong Jin and Greywolf.

When I came down, Yong Jin asked if I'd like some cookies and milk. "I seem to always have an abundance of cookies and milk these days," she said. "I guess I can't get used to not having Matt and Luke around all the time and I seem never to see you two. What's going on these days? I mean other than school. I know what you and the Fellowship are doing there. You two should be very proud of what you have brought about at school. I have never been so pleased with students as I am this year. But I'm rattling on. What's up with you two?"

I dared not look at Mary Kathryn and I don't think she looked at me. "Well, we are really excited about the party in Ohio. I still find it hard to believe someone has access to a private jet to haul us all to a party," Mary Kathryn said.

"I feel the same way," Greywolf said as he walked into the kitchen from the library. "I guess what is even stranger is the fact that they are hauling us old folks up as well. I don't think many Halloween parties around here would welcome parents."

"It's a shame they don't," I said. "I think any time we have a real celebration, parents are expected." I laughed as I said, "Don't know why that is".

"I really don't either," Yong Jin said. "I overheard two students talking about it in class today and one said, 'And their parents are going. How dull.' I guess I never thought about it that way."

"Neither do we," Mary Kathryn said. "You have never interfered with our plans if they weren't dangerous. You never spy on us and we just like having you around, most of the time anyway," she said and blushed.

"And we like being around, not as police but as party-goers as well as you all," Greywolf said. "Sorry Margaret and David won't get to go. She is doing ok, isn't she?"

"Yea, after that scare last week, she's behaving herself."

"I see the new girl, Rachel, has been incorporated into the Fellowship," Yong Jin said. "What's her connection with the group?"

"She's Jacob's cousin," Mary Kathryn said, and then told the Greywolfs about why she was starting at Independence.

"I'll never understand parents turning kids out of the house, but there's real irony in that situation," Yong Jin said. "But Jacob seems to be doing ok."

"Yea, he really loves Bill's parents and Bill's dad feels he owes Jacob big time for reminding him he had a son," I said. "Well, I see I have helped reduce the cookie surplus, Yong Jin, so I guess I better run. All right if Mary Kathryn comes to my place to study tonight? We get together just about every night to study. Only way we can both keep our heads above water these days."

"Sure, no problem. You want to come get her or let her walk by herself?" Greywolf asked.

"Mr. Greywolf, Sir, I would never let this beautiful woman risk walking in the dark, tempting dragons, trolls, ghouls and ghosts. I, Sir Michael will arrive on--well, in--my trusty steed Tracker and whisk her away to my castle for loving, AP English and AP math, and personal biology."

"You better watch that personal biology, Sir Knight, or the fearful Danish troll will have your head," Greywolf laughed.

I turned to Mary Kathryn and said, "Til we meet again, fair and beautiful princess," as I bowed deeply. I started a magnificent gesture of departure as I said, "Now I must exit stage right already," in my best Snagglepuss voice. As I did, I stumbled over a kitchen stool and fell, splat, in the middle of the kitchen floor. Mary Kathryn and the Greywolfs started laughing and, after I got over being embarrassed, I joined them.

"Sir Michael, methinks your trusty steed better be more trusty than your not-so-trusty legs," Yong Jin laughed.

"Anyway," I said, as Greywolf extended a hand and helped me up, "I'm out of here. Laters."

Ok, I admit it, my heart did a complete flip-flop when I saw Rachel. Jacob's dad had dropped her off at school and I was standing in the front hall, waiting for the gang before homeroom sent us in different directions. I said I flipped and I did, but I hesitated going over and speaking to her. I was waiting for the guys and, see, women gave me a real problem.

Don't get me wrong, I was definitely into women, but seldom had a date and never really had a girl. There had been just too many other things to occupy my time and energy. In fact, I was beyond just being a virgin, I'd had only one very hot make-out session. It had been on a science club camping trip when Faye, a girl I had wet dreams about, and I got together. I was madly in love with the woman, but didn't get a chance to ask her for a date until a couple weeks after the camping trip.

I had to get the car and a time my best bud, Curt, and his girl could double date, because I only had a learner's permit, not a full driver's license. Even then I was in such awe of Faye, it took that long for me to get up the nerve to ask her out in spite of the make-out session during the camping trip.

Curt lived way out in the country, as did Faye, but in the opposite direction. He had a steady girlfriend who lived in town. I finally asked Faye for a date and the four of us did a movie and pizza afterward. Curt took his girl home first because she had a definite curfew. Faye didn't. After we were well out into the country, headed for Faye's, Curt called over his shoulder, "Jack, how'd you like to drive? You need the practice." I liked sitting beside Faye, holding hands, but Curt insisted I drive.

Curt stopped the car, got out, and we exchanged seats. Of course he was supposed to be beside me for my learner's permit to count, so I was kinda puzzled when he got in the back seat with Faye. When I glanced in the rearview mirror, they were really going at it! I was steaming! Before I knew what was really happening, a bra came across the seat and landed in my lap, followed in minutes by a pair of panties! I really stepped on it, speeding dangerously on a country road. Minutes later I pulled into Faye's drive, got out, opened the door and she crawled out. I handed her the bra and panties. She said, "Thanks. And thanks for bringing Curt along. He knows how to treat a real woman!" I walked her to her door, turned and left. I was seething.

When I got back to the car, Curt was sitting in the driver's seat. "I don't think you are in any condition to drive," he said. I said nothing. Curt drove slowly for a couple miles. "Jack, I love you like a brother and I hope that we will always be friends but, even if tonight breaks up our friendship, I had to do with I did, Bro, because you are my very best bud. Faye is a slut. I know you are naive and innocent and if I just out-and-out told you that, the way you drool when you're around her, you wouldn't have believed me and I would definitely be on your shit list. This way there can be no doubt in your mind. Jack, you are too important to me to get involved with a tramp."

I said nothing for ages. I felt big tears running down my cheeks. I was in love with Faye--at least I had thought I was. As soon as the car stopped, I said, "Curt, you knew I loved her and you went ahead and did what you did."

"Jack, you only saw Faye at school except for being with her on the science club camping trip. I was there and know that, to your mind, you two made out big time. Why she was willing to stop with some hot kisses and being felt up, I don't know. I don't think she has stopped there with anyone else. You think you're in love, but it's hormones and romanticism. A damn dangerous combination, especially when they involve a woman like Faye."

I had stopped crying and was struggling with what Curt had said. He was right about me only having seen Faye at school and the science club trip. Maybe it was hormones and romanticism, but it felt like love. I mean I guess it felt like love. How did I know? Curt had gone just about as far as he could go without actually sticking it to her and, if I was honest with myself, I'd have to admit it was Curt who had stopped. Faye had said nothing to get him to stop. "Curt, I guess you're right. I mean there's no reason to think you're not being honest with me but, Curt, it still hurts. Man, it hurts like hell."

Curt hugged me and I put my head on his shoulder and I started crying again. Curt held me tight and said, "Jack, I know it hurts. It hurts like hell. Not only did you have to learn that Faye didn't think anything of you, but also that she is a tramp. It's hard, man, I know it's hard. But you'll get over it. Maybe you'll even forgive me. And, Jack, somewhere out there there is a great, wonderful woman who deserves a guy like you. May take a while but, sooner or later, she'll show up and then you'll know you had nothing with Faye. Ok?"

My head was still on Curt's shoulder as I nodded. "Curt, thanks. I know it hurts me but, Bud, I know it hurts you too. I mean, I know you didn't want to hurt me, but you did anyway because it was more important that I know what was going on than for me not to be hurt and you not to hurt me. Thanks, Curt."

"I'm forgiven?" Curt asked.

"Yea, not only are you forgiven, but you have my heartfelt thanks also. Doesn't mean it doesn't hurt, but it would have hurt a lot more if I found it out some other way. I know you were thinking of me. It could have been otherwise."

After that, I got busy doing other things and dating kinda took a back seat. Oh I dated occasionally, and for special occasions, but I never allowed myself to get as involved as I thought I was with Faye. Then it happened! May not be such a thing as love at first sight, but I can tell you I felt something the first time I saw Rachel and every time I see her.

When I got home, I knew I had it bad. Curt had moved away over the summer and I sat down and e-mailed him at once about Rachel.

I made another decision--I was going after this woman before somebody else got his hands on her.
Chapter Eleven


When I got home Friday, Mom said, "A bit late today, aren't you?".

"Yea, I took Mary Kathryn home to get her things to take to the Greywolfs' and spent some time with them. I realized, when I was there, I seldom see Greywolf and Yong Jin except at school. I need to do something about that."

"I suspect they will appreciate it. I know when David and I speak to them, they really miss Matt but also having the house full of kids. I miss Matt and Luke as well. Sure wish I could make the party but I'm having a coming-out party of my own before too long," she laughed.

I went upstairs and started working on Monday's assignments. I had an essay due the following week and was having trouble getting started on it. I looked at the notes I had taken on 'The Scarlet Letter'. The essay had to be about some aspect of the novel. I finally gave up, picked up the phone and called the Greywolfs'. Yong Jin answered. "Yong Jin, I am having a real struggle with the Scarlet Letter essay. Think I might come over, rather than Mary Kathryn coming here, and sit down with you a while this evening?"

"I think so. I'm pretty well caught up with grading. Come over for supper if you like."

"Thanks, Yong Jin. I'll check with Mom and call you right back."

Mom said she thought it was a good idea. "I know they will enjoy having you and Mary Kathryn."

"Well, I know I said something about needing to see them. And having supper is a social call, I guess, but this isn't just a social call. I really need help with my essay. I usually knock off an essay in no time but, for some reason or other, I can't get started on this one." I called Yong Jin and told her I'd be there for supper, and asked her to tell Mary Kathryn. Having put the essay off until later, I tackled AP American history. I had finished with both when I heard Dad arrive. I went downstairs as he came in the kitchen. "How was your day, Dad?" I asked.

"Not sure you want to know," he said. "I planned to get home earlier but we got a call just as I was getting ready to leave. It was a real mess. Two cars full of Independence students were, I'm sure, drag racing on the other side of town. They were side-by-side when they topped a hill and the one in the wrong lane did a head-on with a tractor-trailer rig. There were six kids in the car. Three were killed outright, three are in critical condition--two of whom, I think, will not make it. The motor was driven into the car and crushed the three in the front seat. Plus they didn't have their seatbelts fastened, so they were thrown forward as well. Two of those in the back seat didn't have their seatbelts fastened either. One was literally thrown from the back seat through the windshield and landed on the front of the eighteen wheeler."

"The one who had on a seatbelt will probably make it. She didn't look too bad, but has a leg that was so crushed she may lose it. I can take just about anything, but when I see kids slaughtered in a foolish accident, it's tough. I always have a moment when I'm afraid it's one of our kids."

"Who were they, Dad?" I asked.

"I don't know. They were so mangled I doubt I would have recognized them had I known them, but I didn't. One of the EMS crew members said the one who may make it was a Leister, but I'm not sure of that. Michael, I know you aren't prone to showing out in a car, but if I ever catch you or anyone with you not wearing a seatbelt, speeding excessively or driving recklessly, it's no car until you are fifty. Especially if you have a car full."

"Dad, I don't think you have to worry about that. The whole gang gets kidded about our driving because we don't show out. Bill's car is a lot hotter than mine, but he's a real stickler about defensive driving. He was in a wreck when he was ten or so and remembers it very well. I suspect this tragedy will make kids a bit more careful when driving--for a week or so. Jonesy has threatened to take away driving privileges from everyone unless scratching off in the parking lot and gunning motors doesn't stop. The student government has really cracked down on showing out in the school parking lot, but that doesn't mean half the guys don't scratch off, burning rubber as soon as they're off school grounds."

"It's such a foolish testosterone thing. Now we'll be having funerals for kids instead of seeing them at homecoming or a school dance. It's such a waste," Mom said.

"Yea," I answered. "Well, I'm off to the Greywolfs'."

"What's the occasion?" Dad asked.

"Yong Jin is going to help me with an essay and she invited me for supper."

"The fact that Mary Kathryn is there has nothing to do with you suddenly needing help with an essay, I suppose," Dad chuckled.

"Well, it might have had something to do with it, but I'm having a real problem with a Scarlet Letter essay."

"That's because the men in it are all weak and rotten," Dad said. "Not a very flattering picture of the male half of the race."

"Wonder if that's why Yong Jin chose it as our second novel of the year? Well, I'll be back later," I said and left for the Greywolfs'. It was nice, if chilly, outside so I walked.

When I reached the Greywolfs', they and Mary Kathryn were in the family room watching a TV newscast about the accident Dad had talked about. I watched as the video showed the car. I was amazed that anyone got out alive. The car was a chunk of twisted metal. Of course, the film had been made long after the accident since the camera crew had to come from Lexington. The next scene was outside the hospital. "As reported earlier, two passengers and the driver were killed outright. Three were reported earlier in critical condition. Since that first report, one of those has died. One remains in very critical condition and the sixth is in critical condition but is maintaining her own, according to doctors. The victims have not been identified since nearest of kin have not, as of this report, been notified."

Greywolf clicked off the TV and said, "I guess there is no way to convince teenagers they are mortal and that the laws of physics have not been repealed. It is really sad."

"The really sad thing is that we all see that mess of twisted metal and hear about the dead and dying, and it impresses us, but for how long?" Mary Kathryn said. "Within the week, kids will be scratching out of the school parking lot, burning rubber."

A few minutes later, we were sitting at the kitchen table having supper when the phone rang. Greywolf answered it and said, "It's Matt". He talked to Matt for a while, then Yong Jin talked to him. When she finished, she handed the phone to me.

"Matt, how's life treating you?"

"Hectic, that's how it's treating me. I'm so covered up with all I'm involved in I really don't get to see Luke as much as I like, and you know that's hectic."

"Not really. You'd have to see Luke 24/7 to see him as much as you'd like."

Matt laughed and said, "You're right of course". We talked about the upcoming party, school, and other things that someone away from home wants to hear. When I finished, he talked to Mary Kathryn, then Luke talked to her.

When she hung up, Mary Kathryn asked, "Did Matt or Luke tell you Luke is singing with a combo? I can't believe it! I knew he had a decent voice, but he has always stopped singing as soon as he thought someone was listening."

"They said nothing about that to me," I replied. "Luke did say something about a combo and they were practicing at the house. That's really funny. I can't see Luke as a rock star."

After we finished dinner, Yong Jin and I sat down to work on my essay. "Dad said I might write about the men in 'The Scarlet Letter'. As he said, they are pretty weak characters. I've been thinking about that. It's pretty obvious Dimsdale and Chillingworth are weak, so obvious that there's nothing to write about. But I like the idea."

"Michael, why do you think 'The Scarlet Letter' is required in the AP American lit class? I mean beyond it being American literature."

I thought about that for a minute or two and finally said, "I don't know, other than the fact that we keep referring to it in AP American history."

"You are on the right track."

"And it makes the characteristics of the Puritans concrete by telling a story. Man, I'm sure glad I didn't live in a Puritan settlement!"

"Why? Why in particular?"

"The religion was oppressive and I think any time religion and government walk hand-in-hand, life gets pretty bad, especially for someone who is outside the religious group."

"Ok, look at the two men now."

"You know, I think I could prove they were weak because of their attachment to Puritanism."

"Go to it and see what you come up with."

Mary Kathryn and I were working at the kitchen table, she on math and I on my essay. After half an hour, I had a thesis: "The two men in Hester's life were weak and ineffectual as a result of their Puritan beliefs." I had also found my supporting materials and written the opening paragraph. "Half your essay is done when you get a good, strong opening paragraph," Yong Jin had said again and again in class. Of course it wasn't literally true, but once I got a good, strong opening paragraph, the rest was easy.

I worked another half hour and had the rest of the essay sketched out. "Mary Kathryn, I need to go home and get this essay finished or close to it." When I leaned over to kiss her goodnight, I whispered, "Leave Matt's window open and a shining knight may show up to make your dreams come true."

Mary Kathryn laughed and whispered, "I hope he doesn't do a pratfall the way he did this afternoon. I'll be waiting," she said.

When I got home, Mom and Dad were in the den. Dad called as I came in the door, "Did you get anything done other than necking?".

"I will have you know, oh strict father, I kissed Mary Kathryn goodnight and, other than that, we did no making out and I got a good start on my essay. Thanks for the suggestion. I couldn't use 'the men are weak' because that is obvious, but it put me on the right track. I'm doing 'Chillingworth and Dimsdale are weak because of their Puritan beliefs'. I have the opening paragraph completed and the balance sketched out. I'm going up and see if I can finish it tonight. It's due next week, but the more I can get done the easier it will be to stay caught up after the Ohio trip." I hugged Dad and kissed Mom on the cheek and went upstairs.

I took a shower--a long one--and used a bit of cologne that I liked and Mary Kathryn was crazy about, put on a robe and worked on the essay. Yong Jin was right: once the opening paragraph is done, the rest is easy. By 10:00 I had a complete rough draft and the first edit done. I did my math assignment and AP chem. I was running out of school work by 11:00. I knew Mom and Dad were in bed and probably asleep, but Yong Jin and Greywolf were night owls. I needed to be very sure they were asleep before Sir Michael gave Lady Mary Kathryn the lovin' she wanted.

I was lying on my bed, listening to some music, when the phone rang. I grabbed it in a hurry, hoping Mom and Dad had not heard it and that they hadn't been awakened by it. "Michael here," I said into the phone.

"Michael, Christopher. Have you heard about the kids who were killed this evening?"

"Yea, Dad was ready to come home when the call came in, and he was on the run to pick them up."

"I talked to Dan a few minutes ago. He was on duty this evening when they brought in the three who were alive. One died shortly after they arrived. The other one in extremely critical condition has since died. Only one is still alive and it looks as if she will make it. What I called about was to ask if you didn't think the school should do something Monday. I think it would help me, and I didn't know any of them, but surely a lot of students did and something would help them as well, I think."

"Good idea, Christopher. I know school counselors will be brought in from the other schools and the peer counselors have done training in grief counseling, so I suspect we will be busy. I'll call Jonesy and get back in touch. I do think it's a very good idea. Glad you thought about it. How's Dan doing these days?"

"He's fine. Working himself to death with school and two jobs. I'm really glad he was invited to the party and can go. He needs a real break."

"I need to remember what all he's doing the next time I complain about not having time to do anything."

"Well, I better get to bed. I'm working at Granddad's place tomorrow after school. Goodnight."

"Goodnight." I hung up the phone and made myself a note to call Jonesy the following day about some kind of memorial service.

I looked at the clock and saw it was 11:30. I was positive Mom and Dad were sound asleep, so I slipped on sweats and, as quietly as possible, went downstairs and out the front door. I almost let the screen door slam, but caught it in the nick of time. There was no moon, but I had made the trip to the Greywolfs' so many times in my sixteen years that I probably could have walked it blindfolded. I checked to make sure there were no lights on in the house and there weren't. I was positive everyone--except maybe Mary Kathryn--was asleep.

As I started up the trellis, I got tickled when the thought occurred that it might as well be called Lover's Lane, since Luke used it often to reach Matt and now I was "traveling the trellis" to my love. I climbed through Matt's window and stole down the hall to the guest room. The door was open and I walked over to the bed. There was no light in the room and I went too far, ran into the bed and fell, sprawling, across the bed and Mary Kathryn.

"I hope you are a very awkward Michael Andrews or we are both in trouble," Mary Kathryn said. "You seem to have developed a very mean, clumsy streak lately. Kicking over kitchen stools and falling into a lady's bed."

"Well, I would have done better if you had left a night light on."

"Didn't see one. But now that you are here, I don't think we need any light."

I got myself straightened out and lay beside Mary Kathryn. She took my face in her hands and kissed me ever so gently. That was the beginning of some very long and increasingly passionate foreplay. It ended, of course, with our making love with no bounds. After experiencing another climax which set off sky rockets in my head, we lay together, our legs entwined, Mary Kathryn's head resting on my chest. We talked of our love, of what having sex meant to us and a lot of what would be nonsense to anyone not in love.

I guess we talked for half an hour before Mary Kathryn reached down, found my cock and stroked it slowly. In about a nanosecond, I was hard and ready for action again. This time the foreplay was shortened and the love-making longer. Finally, my body went rigid, my back arched and I thrust as deep as possible into Mary Kathryn as the sky rockets exploded again. After my climax, we lay together, neither of us speaking. When I had grown completely limp and slipped out of Mary Kathryn, I was pretty near exhausted. Again, Mary Kathryn rested her head on my chest. I was content, happy, relaxed.

The next thing I knew I was waking up. I didn't know how long I had slept or what time it was. Mary Kathryn was asleep, her head on my chest. I shook her gently and when she was awake she asked, "Michael, what time is it? How long have we been asleep?"

"I don't know, Mary Kathryn, but I better get the hell out of here!" I kissed her quickly, felt around until I found my sweats, pulled them on, kissed Mary Kathryn again and rushed out of her room, being as quiet as possible. I climbed through Matt's window and across the roof to the trellis. It was pitch black and I was feeling my way down the trellis. When I thought I had reached the end of the trellis, I turned loose to fall to the ground about six inches below. I was mistaken! I hadn't reached the end of the trellis and fell a couple feet, I guess. When I landed, my ankle turned over and I knew I had done damage when I started walking home.

By the time I got home, sneaked into the house and upstairs to my room, the ankle had started swelling. I debated whether or not to risk waking up Mom and Dad getting an ice pack out of the fridge or just ignore the swelling. I finally decided it was foolish not to ice the ankle, and went downstairs as quietly as possible. I took the ice pack out of the freezer and limped back upstairs. I knew the ankle would still be a problem in the morning even though I used the ice pack. How was I going to explain that to Mom and Dad?

I didn't sleep too much as the ankle was really bothering me and I had to take the ice pack off at regular intervals. Some time later I went back downstairs for a second ice pack and put the thawed one in the freezer. I finally fell asleep and slept for a couple hours without waking up. When I did, I dressed in sweats, took the ice pack downstairs to the freezer and walked out of the house. The ankle was definitely a problem. I saw Mary Kathryn running from the Greywolfs' toward me. I walked to the end of the front walk to meet her. When she arrived, I said, "Don't think I'll be doing any running this morning. I stepped off the trellis last night before I got to the bottom and twisted an ankle."

"Michael, what has gotten into you? You were never this clumsy before. Think you need to cut out sex if it's going to make you a staggering oaf," Mary Kathryn laughed, then said, "Why don't we just forget the run this morning?"

"I want some explanation for the twisted ankle. Let's walk down the road until we are out of sight from my house, sit down, then I'll hobble back, having twisted an ankle."

"Ok, but I think you and I need to do some serious thinking about lying to our parents. They trust us completely and if that trust is broken, it may never be given again."

"In spite of the fact that you are right and I agree, when and where are we going to make love?"

"I really don't know, but have some real guilt feelings about taking advantage of the Greywolfs."

"I can see your point, Mary Kathryn and, to tell the truth, I feel pretty rotten about taking advantage of them as well. At the same time, I don't know how we can be completely above board and have sex."

"I don't have problems not telling everything, but I sure hate to lie. There is too much at stake."

"I hadn't thought about it that way until I got home last night, but I sure felt guilty when I thought about what we had done--I don't mean having sex. I feel absolutely no guilt about that. I mean about taking advantage of the Greywolfs. I won't come creeping into your bed tonight, much as I want to."

"Thanks, Michael," Mary Kathryn said and kissed me gently. "But this time, we'll stretch the truth about your swollen ankle. I think we can go to your place now. Put your arm around my neck and I'll help you, Limpy."

When we walked into the house, Mom was in the kitchen, just making coffee. "Mom, I have twisted an ankle," I said.

"Get an ice pack on it at once," she replied. "Keep it iced for twenty minutes then no ice for twenty. That's about all that can be done. Are you sure it's just a sprain and nothing broken?

"I'm sure. Do you need to look at it?"

"I think I better." Mom looked at the ankle, looked up at me and said, "This doesn't look as if it just happened," she said as she moved my foot around.

"Ouch, damn that hurts."

"Well, I'm sure nothing is broken. Ice it as I told you," she said as she turned my foot loose. I suspected she knew I hadn't turned the ankle this morning, but she said nothing.

I went upstairs, showered, dressed and called Jonesy. She suggested Bill and I get together with her first thing Monday morning. I hung up then went down to breakfast.

"Your mom says you sprained an ankle this morning," Dad said after greeting me.

"Yea. It's pretty sore too."

"Keep icing it," he said, "and use crutches so you don't make it worse. I guess you won't be doing chores today."

"Not if I have to do much walking."

"I'm sure your mom can find things for you to do which don't require a lot of walking."

Mom did find a lot of little jobs to keep me busy. I finished about mid-afternoon. "Mom, if you are through with me, I think I'll pick up Mary Kathryn and go for a drive. The day is too pretty to stay inside."

"I guess you can get off for good behavior--and I expect the behavior to continue."

"Of course," I replied.

Mary Kathryn and I went for a long drive, going up into the mountains. We found a very secluded spot, spread a blanket and ate a couple apples she had brought. We lay back on the blanket, talking and making out. Finally I said, "Mary Kathryn, this is a very secluded place and nobody is going to see us..."

"You have something in mind?"

"Damn right, Wild Woman, and I will show you if you will save me from walking by bringing a little something from the glove compartment." When she came back she laughed and said, "This one says it's green and mint flavored! You wait until I get that Bill."

"You better go easy or we may be without even a plain, no-color, no-flavor one." We did some passionate making out which included undressing each other. Again, Mary Kathryn kissed the head of my hard cock and then rolled on a bright green condom. When it was on, she took the head in her mouth, licked it with her tongue, looked up at me and said, "It's mint flavored alright."

"I don't give a big fat damn what flavor it is, but I sure dig you licking my cock."

The woods were ablaze with autumn color. A small stream nearby babbled as it made a small waterfall over a stone outcropping. Our love-making fit perfectly its woodland setting. We seemed in harmony with all that was going on around us. Having made beautiful love together, we lay in each other's arms, listening to the sounds of the forest. I didn't know when we slipped off to sleep, but we did. When we awoke, Mary Kathryn made another trip to the Tracker's glove compartment and came back, kissed me and asked, "Would you like to try an orange one?" and laughed.

Having made fantastic love a second time, we relaxed, our legs entwined and Mary Kathryn's head on my chest. As she lay there, she started tracing the scar which covered much of my chest. She looked very pensive. "Why do you do that, Mary Kathryn?"

"It reminds me of how close I came to losing you and reminds me never to let you go."

"I don't think that's something you need worry about, MK. Nothing at all to worry about." She raised her head from my chest, kissed me and said, "I think we better go. I still have a couple things I have to do today, like mow the lawn. It's my job since Luke left."

"Wish you hadn't said that because it reminds me that I need to mow ours. I'm kinda surprised Dad didn't say something to me since I hadn't done it already." I stood and started folding the blanket as Mary Kathryn went to the Tracker and returned with a waste bag.

"I think we best get rid of the love peelings and not trash this place."

The family had referred to condoms as love peelings ever since Dad told a very bad joke about a couple who had gone to a farm to spend their honeymoon. After they had been in their room a couple days, not even coming down for meals, the old farmer knocked on their door and asked if they were all right. The new husband answered, "We're fine". "Don't you need to come down for a meal?" the old farmer asked. "No, we're living on love." To which the old farmer replied, "Well, I wish you'd stopping throwing the love peelings out the window. My chickens are eating them and dying."

We took back roads home, enjoying a perfect October day and the beautiful fall colors in the mountains--well, everywhere. When we got back, I took Mary Kathryn to her place so she could get the mowing done before going to the Greywolfs'. I went home, started the mower, climbed on and began mowing the acre lawn we had.

I didn't see how it would ever be of any use, but I had taken driver's ed in my old school. I was surprised when Granddad asked me if I could drive. "I've had driver's ed and drove then. I was pretty comfortable driving and got my permit, but after driver's ed I didn't get to use it since the old lady never had a car and wouldn't have let me use it if she had."

"Christopher, I seldom have enough time to drive with you, so there's little I can do to help you get a driver's license. But I hope you can find someone who will go with you while you practice. You'll need to get a permit and then, if you can find a licensed driver to go with you, you can take the car and practice until you are ready to get your license. You do that and I'll be happy to let you use the car anytime I'm not using it."

During our Thursday night phone call, I told Dan what Granddad had said. "I sure would like to drive enough to be ready to get my license," I told him.

"I have a license, for all the good it does me. I'd be happy to drive with you when I have time," he said. "As a matter of fact, I'll have a couple hours free tomorrow afternoon. Like to go get your permit then?"

"Sure. Maybe I can get Granddad to drive me over to pick you up."

"I'm feeling great these days and need the exercise. I'll walk over and be there when you get home from school," Dan said. When I got home from school Friday, he was there. Granddad gave him his car keys and we went to the DMV. There was no-one else waiting for a license or permit, so it only took us about half an hour for me to get my learner's permit.

After getting the permit, Dan said he had almost an hour before he had to go to work. When we got to the car, he said, "I think it best that I drive until we are out of town, then you can take over."

As soon as we were out of town, Dan stopped the car and we exchanged places. It had been so long since I did any driving that I made mistakes, but fortunately the road was empty. I drove for half an hour, then turned around and drove back to town. When we got back to Granddad's place, Dan told me he had four hours free Saturday afternoon and would come by so I could drive some more. Granddad drove him home while I took care of the restaurant.

Dan came by the restaurant at 2:00 Saturday. He said he thought I could drive in town. I drove out of town and headed into the country. I drove on past the Andrews' and some distance further into the October countryside. The day was absolutely spectacular. The sky was unbelievably clear and blue with only a few lazy, fluffy clouds. The trees were all aglow with reds, oranges, russets and yellows. "I am surprised at how warm it is," Dan said. "I know you are used to much colder weather than we have here, but this is unusual for here. What a perfect day!" he said as he clapped me on the shoulder.

We had crossed the river between the Andrews' and Larsens' and we were crossing it again when Dan said, "Turn right on the road coming up shortly. It's just a dirt field road, but it runs along the river a mile or so off the main road." When I had made the turn, Dan laughed and said, "Millie came down this road last spring and, while skipping rocks on the river, fell and broke her hip. I can just see her doing that."

When we reached a place where the road was practically on the river bank, Dan said, "Let's stop here and go down to the river. We should have brought a blanket to sit on, but I guess we can do without."

We walked toward the river and a huge maple tree. I didn't think I had ever seen anything as beautiful as the gnarled old tree, every leaf gold, red or orange. It had already shed a lot of leaves, but was still beautiful. The leaves it had shed could not be missed when I looked at the tree. As we walked under it, Dan bent, swept up a large armful of leaves and tossed them at me. I immediately did the same and soon we were engaged in a leaf fight, laughing and just having fun. Dan finally grabbed me, put me on the ground and started heaping leaves on me. I reached out and grabbed his ankles and pulled him down in the leaves with me. We wrestled around in the leaves for several minutes. Finally, we kinda ran out of steam and Dan got up, extended his hand to me and pulled me to my feet. We walked to the river bank which was covered with leaves from the old maple and sat down, side-by-side.

We both were silent for a good long time, just watching the river. The sun made the ripples in the river flashes of silver and the still water reflected the blue, blue sky. I was so at peace, so very, very much at peace, something I had known only a few times in my seventeen years.



We both spoke at the same and that made us laugh. I loved to hear Dan laugh. He had a very manly laugh, but it was also almost musical. It so matched the sparkling river and the golden day.

"You first..." We both spoke at the same time again and that set off a new round of laughter.

Dan pointed to me, but did not speak. "Dan, you know you said you had the same feeling I had? I mean that something was bugging you, but you didn't know what it was?"

"Sure. Mrs. Cromwell told me I would find out what it was and it would make me very happy. I think about it constantly and the answer still seems just out of reach. I still haven't figured out what it is. Have you?"

We were sitting side-by-side but, before I answered, I moved so I could see his face. I had to see him. I looked into his eyes and suddenly was scared. I didn't answer immediately because my answer... well, it might ruin a good friendship and I had so few friends in my life. Now, when I had good friends and especially Dan, I was terrified I might lose them, but I really wanted to let Dan know what I thought was bugging us. I continued to look into Dan's almost black eyes and, instead of saying anything, reached out, put my hands behind his head and drew him toward me. I looked deep, deep into his beautiful eyes and kissed him. At first it was a very gentle kiss but, before it ended, it was very passionate. When I broke the kiss, I looked into Dan's eyes again and said, "Yes, Dan, I think I have". I waited for his reaction, my heart pounding because he had to know what I meant and I didn't know how he would respond.

Dan had a very startled look on his face and I expected him to tell me to take my queer ass and go to hell. I was frozen, waiting for his reaction. Slowly a huge smile spread across his face and he said, "I think--I hope--you're right, Chris," still smiling. Then he wrapped his arms around me, pulling me close, and his mouth covered mine in a wonderful kiss. He broke the kiss and sat looking into my eyes, a smile still covering what, for me, was the most beautiful face in the world.

As we looked into each other's eyes, Dan said, "Chris, I gradually fell more and more in love with you each time I saw you in the hospital. I thought, the first time I saw you, you had changed from the asshole person I had heard about and he was gone forever. Then, I thought you were dying and any hope I had of you ever learning to love me was vanishing. When you had been snatched from death's jaws by Michael, I didn't think there was any hope for me because of your talk about gays. Yet, in spite of that, every time I was with you I loved you more, and not being loved in return hurt more." Dan then kissed me again. It was a very loving, gentle but passionate kiss.

I felt big tears running down my face. "Dan, I love you so very, very much. I don't deserve your love, but I am soooooo happy that I have it." We were both silent, smiling and exchanging tender kisses.

After a while I felt I had to tell Dan something about myself. "Dan, Michael once told me he thought I protested too much and I must be concerned about my sexuality. He was right, of course, but I had convinced myself I was straight. I guess a part of the reason was what had happened to me. But while I was in the hospital, I worked though a lot of things and that was one of them. The day you lost your balance and fell on my bed and practically on top of me, I wasn't sure whether or not I was gay, but I sure as hell knew I loved you, Dan. I haven't seen the counselor more than a few times, but we talked about me being abused and I told her I thought I was gay, but every time I thought about being gay, I remembered having been raped. I felt I had nothing to offer anyone. I mean I am still frightened of the idea of having sex."

"Chris, you have to know I have the same problem. I realized I was gay a long time ago and wondered why I didn't enjoy having sex with men as McBride forced me to do. I know now that having sex for a video or for money isn't what sex is about. There's no love involved. But there is love here, Chris, and sex can wait until we are ready."

"I am so glad you understand, Dan. But I sure as hell don't have any objection to kisses," I laughed.

"Nor do I!" Dan said and with those words he, again, pulled me to himself for a fantastic, tongue-in-the-mouth, kiss and that certainly wasn't the last one! After some hot kisses, we lay side-by-side, looking into each other's eyes. "Chris, I was so afraid I'd let how I felt about you slip and we wouldn't even be friends. Every time I thought about what you said about gays, I got cold chills. I knew I would live without us being lovers, at least I thought I could, but if I lost your friendship I didn't know what I would do. And every time I saw you or talked to you on the phone, I was praying that I didn't say anything that would tell you how I felt."

"Dan, I not only worried about that, but also had a real struggle with myself. I didn't want to be gay, but every time I thought about you, I realized I was. It took me a while to come to grips with that and I still had to worry about what your reaction would be. I don't know when I might have said something to you had you not said your special friend would be at the Halloween party. I kept trying to figure out who that might be and I kept coming up with the same answer. Keith Lewis and I were the only two not attached. When he told the Fellowship he was gay and of his experience with Rocky, I realized he wasn't your special friend or he would have said so. At least I thought he would have. That's when I decided to let you know how I feel and let the chips fall where they may, even though I was terrified. Damn, I am one lucky guy!" I, once again, covered Dan's lips with mine for a fantastic kiss.

"I'm very glad you decided to let me know because I don't think I would have done it. At least, I don't think I would have been straightforward with it. I guess, sooner or later, I would have made a slip and let you know, but I don't think I would have had the courage to come out with it the way you did."

"Dan, I was scared shitless when I kissed you but I had to do it. I had to let you know how I feel or just dry up and die. Even if you had told me to go to hell, I would have let you know and that was important to me, very important."

We lay side-by-side and talked about who we would tell and who we would not. We talked about what we saw ahead of us now that we had declared our love for each other. We also talked about having sex and, again, both of us said that could wait until we were both really ready. We knew that having sex, even with someone we loved, would bring back some very painful memories we each wanted to forget, but could not. We then talked as lovers talk. Maybe it wouldn't be important or make sense to someone else, but it was very important to us.

After one very long, very passionate kiss, Dan laughed and said, "You'd never know I was afraid of sex if you saw my hard cock!".

"Same here," I laughed. Then I reached down and rubbed Dan's hard cock through his pants. I looked into his eyes, smiled and opened his belt and slid his zipper down. He smiled back and did the same for me. I slipped his pants and boxers down his strong legs and freed his hard cock. He followed suit and soon we each held the other's hard, pulsating cock in his hand. I started stroking Dan's cock slowly, admiring it all the while. He was matching me stroke for stroke. Gradually each of us started moving our hand faster, while gazing into the eyes of our newly announced lover. I was hot and hard before Dan undid my belt, so I knew I could not last long. I knew I was close to going over the edge, but I didn't realize how close. Long before I was ready, I said between clinched teeth, "Dan, I'm..." I didn't get all the words out before I was hit by a climax which took my breath away. I guess my shooting cum over Dan's hand sent him over the edge, because he practically shouted, "Chris, I love you, Babe," as he covered my hand with his seed.

The air was full of the fragrance of our love-making as we lay back on the leaves, our smiles and kisses celebrating our having made love--not as fully as we would one day, but it was special and sealed our love nonetheless. Soon, too soon, Dan said, "I think we better get cleaned up and head back to town". We both slipped our pants and boxers the rest of the way off our legs and walked to the river. Dan had taken a handkerchief from his pants and we used it to clean up. Our love-making may have left us still half-hard, but the river water's chill took care of that!

We went back to where we had left our clothes, got dressed and walked, arm-in-arm, to the car, pausing at least a dozen times to exchange a kiss.

I got in the driver's seat, started the car and managed to turn it around without too much trouble. I drove down the farm road slowly, enjoying the feel of Dan sitting close, his hand resting lightly on my thigh.

"Dan, I know we talked about it some, but I am dying to tell someone about us. What I really mean is I am dying to tell someone about you loving me. Somehow or other, I feel that would make it real. Silly, huh?"

"Tell anyone you want, Chris. It's real to me now and I want the world to know 'I'm in love with a wonderful guy'," Dan sang from South Pacific. I laughed because I had never, ever been so happy.

As we neared the Andrews' place, Dan said, "Michael's mowing his front lawn. I can't think of a better person to be the first to know about us."

"Yes!" I said, and turned into the Andrews' drive when I reached it. Dan and I piled out of Granddad's car and walked toward Michael, who shut off the mower, climbed off of it, got a pair of crutches and limped toward us.

"What's wrong with the foot?" Dan asked.

"A little mishap on the road to love," Michael laughed. "For heaven's sake, don't go blabbing it or Mary Kathryn and I will be in deep doo-doo. I took a misstep climbing down a trellis after visiting her last night. Twisted an ankle. But what's up? I don't know when I have seen bigger smiles on faces. I would guess I am about to hear good news."

"No, not good news," I replied, "great news."

"Let me guess. You two have finally realized what a good part of the world--well at least the important people in Concord--have known for a while. You are in love with each other."

"Boy, you sure know how to take the punch out of an announcement," I said, trying to sound like a spoiled brat.

"Hey, how can it be an announcement when you are the last to know? Come on in the house and we'll see if Mom can't rustle up something to drink and a snack. Aside from the fact that all your friends had this figured out before you two did, who's to know and who's not to know?"

"Good question," Dan said. "We have talked about that and I guess any of our friends can and maybe should know, but the general public? No announcement to them. They'll just have to figure it out."


"Sure. Why not?" Dan said.


"Sure, Michael."

We went inside and Dr. Andrews was in the kitchen. When I saw her I blurted out, "Damn, you're big. Looks like at least twins."

"I thought everyone knew, Christopher. It is twins and they are going to be guests of honor at a coming-out party soon." While she was talking, she prepared a plate of cookies and glasses of lemonade, and put them on the kitchen table where the three of us were sitting. As soon as the cookies and drinks were on the table, she sat down with us. "What have you two been up to this beautiful fall day?" I felt my face get hot and knew I was blushing.

"Look, Christopher has never been around Matt but he has caught the disease," Michael laughed.

"What disease? What have I caught? I think I am well now."

"You have the MGTD--Matthew Greywolf Transmitted Disease--to wit, you blush," Michael laughed. I, of course, turned even redder. "Mom, these two disreputable young men have been out in the country somewhere discovering what all their friends have known for a while now. They are in love. I mean they are in love with each other."

"Is this true? Are you sure? Might it just be a moment's infatuation?" Dr. Andrews asked, but her smile and eyes gave away the fact that she was joking.

"Yes, it's true," Dan said as he leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. "To be honest, I thought Chris was a complete assh..."

"Asshole. Mom has certainly heard that said about Christopher by moi," Michael said. "And I can tell you, Dan, you never knew what a complete asshole he was and could be. Amazing what baptism in cow shit can do for a fellow."

"Michael!" Dr. Andrews said in a very stern voice.

"Not nice, Mom, but very true."

"I'm afraid I would have to agree," I said.

"I'll say 'Amen' to that from what I heard about him from very reliable sources," Dan said, then laughed.

I was blushing like mad when Dr. Andrews said, "Tell us all about this latest romance".

"One time Michael told me he thought I was confused about my sexuality because I protested too much," I said. "And I did. I said awful things about Uncle Michael... I can call him Uncle Michael, can't I?" Dr. Andrews and Michael both nodded, "...and Mr. Stevenson. And about Matt and Luke who I haven't even met. Anyway, while I was in the hospital, I did a lot of thinking about a lot of things, but that wasn't one of them until one day I realised that, gay or not, I was in love with Dan. I was afraid to tell him..."

"Because you were afraid you'd lose a friend. Damn! I think that must be one of the major problems gay men have," Michael said. "Luke almost killed himself over loving Matt and being afraid to tell him. But that's another story."

"I don't know when I first realized I was in love with an ex-asshole," Dan laughed, "but every time I saw Chris in the hospital, I fell deeper in love with him. After he was out, we talked on the phone at least once a day and I found I was looking forward to hearing his voice. His great Greek face filled my dreams--day, night and wet," Dan laughed. I blushed, and Michael and Dr. Andrews laughed loudly.

Dan then told them about his conversation with Mrs. Cromwell and how both of us had the same nagging anxiety lurking just out of our consciousness. Dan told them why we were out driving, where we had gone, and how I had announced my love for him with a kiss. "So we are a couple of new lovers," Dan said.

"I wish both of you many happy years together," Dr. Andrews said. "I don't have to tell you being gay, if it is known, is not an easy life. I hope and trust that your love for each other will see you through."

"Dr. Andrews, since you are a doctor, we have a real problem maybe you can help us with. I guess you know that gay couples have sex."

"I think I figured that out with Matt and Luke, Eugene and Larry around," she laughed.

"Well, we have a problem. You know how I was abused?" Dan asked. Dr. Andrews nodded. "Well, Chris has also been raped several times."

Michael had told me some time ago it was almost impossible to get his mom really angry, but I watched as her face got white and she said, through clinched teeth, "The bastard that would do that should have it cut off so short he pisses like a woman!"


"I mean it Michael. I really mean it. Sorry I interrupted."

"Do you mean Larry as well?"

"I guess there are exceptions to the rule and Larry has certainly gone through hell because of what he did. But someone raping someone and leaving them feeling abused and violated... yea, cut it off."

"Anyway, we are not ready to have sex even though we really are in love. It's a real problem for us."

"Christopher, are you in counseling? I know Michael said Dan had insisted you see a counselor."

"I started a week ago and it has been a big help. I don't think I would have told Dan otherwise."

"Your counselor can help you work through the emotional and psychological aspects of that. When you are ready, I will be more than happy to talk to you about the physical aspects. That is going to be extremely important for you two. It's important for any gay couple, but what was not a problem for, say, Matt and Luke, could be a major problem for you, calling up very unpleasant memories. So give me a call when you are ready to talk."

"Thanks," both Dan and I said.

"I've got to get out of here. I have night shift at the hospice tonight," Dan said.

"Dan, you have fallen in love with someone who was well on his way to wasting his life. You have been there as well. I admire both of you. And, Dan, I really admire what you are doing at the hospice. Chelsea and Gladys both sing your praises. If they were other people, I might take what they say with a grain of salt, but neither of those two are guilty of false praise. In fact, they are seldom guilty of praise at all," Dr. Andrews said. "By the way, I am deeply honored that you allowed me to be a part of a wonderful afternoon you will always remember."

"Thank you for being here for us, and for the lemonade and cookies. They could be habit-forming," Dan said.

"Yea, thanks much, Dr. Andrews," I said.

As we walked outside--slowly, since Michael was on crutches--I asked, "By the way, I haven't heard. Did Linda's letter work? Is Rachel going next week?"

Michael laughed and said, "Never let it be said that a self-important, self-righteous bigot is not always ready to prove he is superior. The arrogant son of a bitch told Rachel the letter proved he was important at the school and she was fortunate to have him as a guardian. 'My little girl has been selected for an important social studies project,' he told his wife," Michael laughed.

I joined his laughter and Dan looked puzzled. "I'll explain on the way home," I told him.

As Dan and I drove back into town, I told him about Rachel and the letter. "I know Jacob's dad," he said, "and I think his mom must have played around some to get Jacob. His dad is a first-class bigot, among other unpleasant things," Dan said.

When we reached Granddad's place, he offered to drive Dan home since I knew he would be unlikely to make work on time if he had to walk. Unfortunately, I had to take care of the restaurant so I didn't get a goodbye kiss but, as he walked out the door, Dan blew me one which I returned.

Chapter Twelve


Michael and I talked to Jonesy before school Monday about some kind of memorial service or something for the five who had died from the wreck. She said she planned to have David, Deputy Greene, who was at the wreck first, and Dr. Walker come and talk to the students about driving and the fact that, in spite of what they think, teenagers are not immortal.

"I think that needs doing. It's a good idea, but not what the students need first. Even those of us who really didn't know the five are grieving in a sense. I think that's what needs addressing before trying to teach us a lesson," I responded.

"Bill's right. If we make the death of the five into a safety lesson, not only will students resent it, but also it will not help the grief process," Michael added.

"You're right, of course. I guess I was just wanting to get rid of the anger I feel toward those who rode to their death in a foolish accident. But I don't think it can be a religious service. I know one of the students killed was Muslim and I think another was Jehovah's Witness. In spite of what you or I might wish, I think you better come up with a secular service--if that's not an oxymoron."

"I think we can do that," Michael said, "we'll have it together after lunch." As we left the office, he asked, "What do you think? Some poetry, some music, how would that be?"

"Sounds good to me. If you will get some people together to handle the music, I'll take some and we'll talk to Yong Jin about poetry and maybe some other readings."

"Ok, and we'll try to have it together by lunch," Michael said.

We got groups together during homeroom and talked about the service--which, since it was at school, would be called an assembly--and there were some good suggestions. After homeroom, my group got together with Yong Jin and made the selections to be read and decided who would do the reading. Michael had talked to Mr. Smith and had the music lined up before my group finished. He gave me the list of music and we created an order for words and music. Before lunch, we turned it in to Ms. Jones.

"I'll see that there are programs printed and we will have the assembly last period today. I have the times and places for the funerals and will put those in the program. I am sure many students will want to go. I'll attend all I can, but there are three Tuesday--two at the same time--and two on Wednesday. Tuesday Mr. Allan and I will attend one and Greywolf has agreed to attend the third. Mr. Allan and I will attend the two on Wednesday. Michael, you might want to assign members of the student government to specific funerals. I think the student body should be officially represented."

"I'll do that," Michael said. "When will the other program be? I think it should wait at least until the funerals are over."

"I agree. I will check with those who will be speaking and hold it Thursday or Friday according to when they will be available," Ms. Jones said.

"I hope you remember we will not be here Friday," I reminded Ms. Jones. "We are off to a party."

"Certainly hope you drive carefully. Ohio is a long way away," Ms. Jones cautioned us.

"We're not driving. I thought I told you. A friend of Luke's, who was in Ohio with us last summer has a friend whose father..."

"Has a first cousin whose mother's college roommate knows a plumber," Ms. Jones laughed.

Michael laughed and said, "Actually, Douglas' friend's father has a private jet and it and the crew are at Douglas' disposal."

"WOW! Wait until that hits Concord's weekly rag! I hope you get pictures for it and the school paper as well. That will certainly make a big splash. But if you do any driving, be careful. We have already sacrificed too many to the automobile god."

The memorial assembly--that's what it ended up being called--went well. Peer counselors and the school counselors from the other schools, as well as Ms. Norman, had been busy all day dealing with students who were grieving. I guess we were as well, but helping others on the road to recovery also helped us, and I know the assembly did.

Wednesday, Michael said he had talked to Douglas Tuesday night and had two important bits of information. The first was we were to be at the airport in Lexington at 4:30 sharp. That meant we had a fairly easy schedule since school was out at 3:20. If we went directly from school to the airport, we'd make it with time to spare. The second was that we should pack light. "You need to really impress that on the women," Douglas had told Michael. "Janet always tries to bring the whole house when we travel. Anyone bringing too much will not get on board. Do make sure everyone packs light."

Jacob and I packed Wednesday night. We had one medium sized bag between us. I called Linda and asked how packing was going for her. "I can't get all I need to take in my bag," she said.

"Linda, if that's your large bag, it doesn't matter because it is not going on the plane. Douglas meant it when he said pack light. We'll be there Thursday night through Wednesday afternoon. That's six days, but the Oberlin crowd has a washer and dryer. It will be simple enough to get clothes clean. You need a casual outfit, a dressy one and maybe work clothes and your costume. Oh, and a heavy coat which we can hang on the plane. All, except the coat, will go in a small bag. Jacob and I have a medium sized bag between us. Woman, you have to decide to have a bundle of clothes and things or go to the party. You can't do both."

"Bill, I'm going to look like something the cat drug in," she said, whining.

"Stop the whining, Linda," I said. "You know how I hate that. It will get you nothing."

"Bill, you just don't understand."

"You're right, I don't understand why it takes a steamer trunk for your things when you are only going to be gone six days. Maybe you can get together with the other women and figure out what you can share so you keep the luggage within the limits.

Thursday at lunch, like the teenagers we were, we forgot about the accident and the destroyed lives as we talked excitedly about leaving for Ohio after school. Linda, Susan and Mary Kathryn had managed to figure out things they could share and had only a couple bags among them. The guys had small bags. I guess that's the way it will always be.

After lunch there was another assembly at which David, Dr. Walker and Deputy Greene spoke about teen driving. They pulled absolutely no punches. For example, David described in detail the scene when he arrived at the wreck. His description was so graphic several students lost their lunch. "Better that than losing their lives," I thought.

He also made a point about seatbelts. "The one person in the car who had bothered to fasten her seatbelt, Buffy Leister, is alive and making progress. She almost lost a leg, but had she not had her belt on, she would not be alive." Little did any of us know that, even though she was alive, the accident would almost destroy her.

I must confess I wasn't really attuned to what was going on at school Thursday. My mind was on a plane and a party in Ohio. The final bell hadn't finished sounding before I was out of the classroom, headed for the parking lot. We had decided earlier that Jack and Rachel would drive my car and Michael's Tracker back to Concord. Linda, Jacob, Jack, Rachel and Susan were with me. Mary Kathryn, Keith, Dan and Chris were with Michael. Both cars were crowded, but we didn't care, we were going to a party! When everyone was in the cars you could hear the clicking of seatbelts, but that was not unusual for us. Both Michael and I would not allow anyone to ride with us without a seatbelt. We had put most of the luggage in my car's large trunk when we arrived at school so we would be ready to go.

Everything was going fine and we were a happy crew. Both cars had a CD playing and we were laughing and having a good time. We weren't speeding because we had time to spare until... until we were about ten miles from the airport and traffic came to a sudden and complete halt. There was a string of cars ahead of us, so we couldn't see what was holding up traffic. As time passed, we all began to be very antsy. We had less than thirty minutes before we were due at the airport ten miles away. If we didn't get moving soon, we'd not make the plane. Douglas had told Michael they could wait a few minutes but not long, because of the arrangements made with the pilots.

Suddenly I saw Michael get out of his car and run back to us, waving his new cell phone. "What's the hold-up?" I asked, as soon as he was within shouting distance.

"There has been a major wreck up ahead, a three-car pile-up blocking both lanes. I called the Highway Patrol to find out what was up and how soon they thought it would be clear. The officer told me to expect to be here for at least half to three-quarters of an hour. Douglas has my cell phone number and will call if we are not there at 4:30 to find out if we're going, but he definitely said they couldn't wait long. Since it was 4:00 when I talked to the officer, I explained our situation and asked if he had any suggestions. He told me there was a back way which would get us there in twenty or thirty minutes. I have the directions if you want to attempt it. They sounded pretty weird because twice we're to make a turn at a big cow. I asked him what kind of directions he had given me and he said good ones. He had me read the directions back and said if I followed them exactly, even if the way seemed very strange, we should have no trouble."

"If we're stuck here for thirty to forty-five minutes and still have ten miles to go when we can move, if we take the back way we could get lost a couple of times and still be there before we were out of this mess. Let's try it."

"We have to turn around and take the first paved road to the right about two miles back. I hope we can get people to let us cross the Lexington lane. It's really packed here. Let's go."

We got turned around with no problem and drove toward Concord. After driving a couple miles, there were few cars headed to Lexington so we made the turn onto the road without any trouble. It was a farm road, paved, but not marked and without road signs. I hoped Michael had gotten all the landmarks straight because they were the only guidance we had. After about four miles, he signaled for a right turn. I laughed when I saw the unmistakable landmark, a six- or seven-foot-tall fiberglass cow announcing "Thompson Dairy Farms".

The road we turned on wasn't paved, just gravel and very dusty. I had to drop back because, even driving slowly as Michael was, the dust from his car made it impossible to see and hard to breathe up close. After about three or four miles, Michael signaled for a left turn. I guess a large red barn was the landmark. I hoped it was, because I thought sure we had made a wrong turn. We crossed a cattle gate--you know, pipes spaced so cows won't walk across them, but a car goes over them easily. We were driving through a pasture! There was no real road, just the marks left in the grass by farm machinery. It was a pretty rough ride, to say the least, and I was really glad it was only about a mile before we drove out of the pasture across another cattle gate with another fiberglass cow. Michael signaled a right turn onto a paved road, and in two or three miles I could see the airport.

As we parked the cars, I glanced at my watch. It was 4:32. We all ran into the terminal where Douglas and Janet were waiting. There were hugs and kisses for those who knew the old married couple, and then introductions of the new members of the Fellowship.

When we finished greeting each other, Douglas counted noses and asked. "How did you know we could take eleven of you? I didn't know until we got to the plane."

"We didn't. Rachel is a brand-new member and Jack is staying behind to come with her tomorrow when the plane comes back for the old folks," Michael said.

"No need of that," Douglas said. "I didn't know that Marc had qualified to pilot the jet week before last. He's co-pilot on this trip so we can take all of you. Oh, here he comes now."

I am not into men at all, but even I could tell a drop-dead hunk was walking toward us.

"Marc, here's the Concord crew. Few new ones since I was last with them," Douglas said, and then introduced all of us. "Folks, this is Marc Langley, the best friend a man could have. Gals, you all have your man and Marc's not available anyway. Marc, Rachel and Jack were coming up tomorrow since there were eleven of them but, with you sitting in the co-pilot's seat, couldn't we take them all tonight?"

"No problem if they have packed light," Marc answered and smiled, showing two perfect dimples. He could drive any woman--or man if they were so inclined--wild and he had money, I mean m-o-n-e-y.

"There's the little problem of getting permission to leave tonight," Michael said. "Also there's school tomorrow. We sure don't want to upset Jonesy. She's a friend in fair weather and foul and we don't need to take advantage of her. I think we have gone far enough with the letter."

"Michael, get on your cell phone and get permission for... who was it? Jack and Rachel?" Douglas asked, "while we get your bags stowed away. Your bags packed, Rachel, Jack?"

"Mine is in my room ready to go," Rachel said.

"Same here," Jack said, "but in Concord."

"I'm sure we can find something for you to sleep in, if you sleep in anything," Douglas said with a melodramatic leer.

"You'll be among friends, and you can wear what you have on until the plane arrives tomorrow. Michael, think you can have someone pick up Jack's and Rachel's bags?" I asked.

"I'm sure I can. Jack, use my phone to call home and get permission. Also make arrangements about your bag. We'll be thinking of how we are going to deal with Rachel's situation."

While Jack phoned his parents, we discussed how to spring Rachel. "I'll call Jonesy and clear Jack and Rachel's leaving this evening," Michael said.

"Think you could ask her to call Dad and tell him there has been a change in plans?" Jacob asked.

"He does and we're dead meat," Linda said. "You know we gave him a not very legitimate letter on school letterhead. He will comment on the sociology trip and Jonesy will ask him..."

"I get your point, Linda. But how are we going to handle this?" Jacob asked.

"I'm clear," Jack said. "Asked Dad to take my bag to school and give it to Greywolf or Mr. Stevenson. I explained that there was room for all of us tonight and he said he was glad that I got to be with you all going up. He remembers most of you from the service for Gregory and thinks you are an amazing bunch. He will also go by and pick up Rachel's things and take them to school."

"I think I best call Jonesy now while you all struggle with how to deal with Jacob's dad," Michael said.

I suddenly realized no-one called Jacob's dad by name. He was just 'Jacob's dad'. I still didn't know how we were going to deal with him. I mean, he tossed my buddy out because he was dating a Jewish woman. Strange, Susan was also Jewish.

Linda and the gang were all talking to Marc and suddenly I had a great idea, one that wouldn't even involve a lie, not really a lie, just not the whole truth. "Keep it simple," I thought. "Excuse me, adoring hordes, but I need Marc. Marc, you have a nice deep voice which is totally unknown in Concord. Would you mind talking to Jacob's dad, telling him there has been a change in transportation and Rachel has an opportunity to leave tonight with the main group instead with the group leaving tomorrow?"

"Sure," Marc smiled and those dimples came out again. "Just fill me in on what I need to know."

Linda explained the ruse we had used to get Rachel in on the trip. While we were explaining that, Michael came over and said, "I talked to Jonesy. She was pleased that Rachel and Jack got to go with the whole crew. I also went so far as to tell her we were calling this a sociology field trip and how we came up with the idea. She got a kick out of that. Of course I didn't tell her it had been announced to one guardian on school letterhead. But Rachel and Jack are cleared by the school. So what are we going to do about Rachel?"

I explained what we had come up with and Michael thought it was a good idea. Jacob dialed the number and handed the phone to Marc. As I listened to him deal with Jacob's dad, I was amazed. He was one smooth talker. I could almost have sworn he was a social studies teacher at Independence.

Jack handed Marc a note about Rachel's luggage while he was talking. "Mr. Abernathy, I am sure you are as happy as I that Rachel will be able to leave with her group this evening. Since she was new at school, we had to put her with another group, only two of whom she knew. This way she will be with a group she at least knows...Yes, we realized that was a problem. However, we have made arrangements for her bags to be picked up and sent with the other group. Anything she might need before it arrives she can borrow from one of the girls in the group... Mr. Whitt, the father of another student will be around to pick up Rachel's bag and take it to school... Yes, another group leader has notified the principal that Rachel is leaving this evening and she will not be counted absent... Yes, I, too, am sure Rachel will learn much on this trip as well as have some fun. That's important to young people you know... Yes, I agree young people always want to have everything be fun... Yes, it's not like when we were young and had it hard in school, no fun... Yes, I remember when I was younger enjoying field trips with classmates... Yes, I assure you she will be well cared for. Good evening, Sir."

With the "when I was younger" remark, the whole crew lost it. Marc closed the phone just as everyone had reached the point that they could not hold in the laughter any longer. "Man, you are one damn smooth talker," Michael said, "when I was younger, indeed!".

"Guess we are ready to take flight," Douglas said. "Michael, Bill, you need to move your cars to the long-term parking lot. Rachel, Jack, I saw a grooming aids dispenser in the men's room and I suspect there is one in the women's. You might want to get a toothbrush. Everything else we have and can share."

Rachel looked pained and then blushed. "What's the problem, Rachel?" Susan asked.

"It's kinda embarrassing. I have no money. I intended to get some from Uncle Ab tomorrow."

"No need to be embarrassed," Jack said. "I'll pick up a toothbrush for you. Money is no problem so long as someone in the group has some."

Jack dashed in to the men's room and, as he did, Douglas said, "All of you better make a pit stop unless you want to use the plane's head. No problem with that except the last time I used it, we hit an air pocket and I got my head bumped." We all went to the restroom and as soon as we were back, walked out on the tarmac to the plane.

I knew the plane was a jet, but I wasn't prepared for how large it was and how luxurious it was inside. We all got in our places. Jack lost no time in claiming a place beside Rachel which made it obvious that Keith was odd man out as we were all coupled up. As the engines were starting Marc's voice came over the speaker, which was kinda silly since the cockpit door was open and he was looking back over the co-pilot's chair, grinning at us. "This is co-pilot Marc Langley who, on behalf of Captain John Kelly and myself, would like to welcome you aboard Broomstick Flight Thirteen, destination Haunted House, Ohio. And we are especially honored having friends of Douglas and Janet Armstrong aboard this evening."

Marc continued in a very good cabin attendant voice, "You will find safety instructions on a card somewhere. Please read them. In case we have to land in water, your seat cushion will do you no good. With it or without it, you're going to get wet. It will, however, keep you afloat. As soon as we reach cruising altitude your cabin host, moi, will be serving refreshments--courtesy of Marc Langley Sr. Meanwhile, be sure your seatbelts are snug and fastened, and just relax and enjoy your flight."

Marc turned around and another voice came over the speaker. "This is Captain Kelly. I would like to personally welcome you aboard. Both Marc and Douglas have told me much about you and I am delighted to be a part of your Halloween party. As soon as the cabin host finishes serving refreshments, I would like to turn the flight over to your co-pilot Marc Langley and come back and chat with you a bit."

The plane was still climbing but, after several minutes, it leveled off and Marc said over the intercom, "We are now at cruising altitude. You may unfasten your seatbelts and move around the cabin. When you are seated, please keep your belt fastened, otherwise you may bust your butt." Marc then left the co-pilot's seat, walked to the back of the plane, took a container out of a compartment and started walking back up the aisle. When he reached Rachel and Jack, who were closest to the aft, he said, "I have Coke, Seven-Up, Dr. Pepper and root beer drinks, and cranberry, orange and tomato juice." As each of us told him what we wanted, he handed it to us along with a bag of peanuts. "I hope you knew this wasn't a dinner flight," he laughed, when he had given us the drinks and peanuts.

"We did," Douglas said. "I phoned Matt and Luke last night and told them we would be starved when we arrived."

"Good, I haven't eaten since lunch and I am starved now," Marc responded. "Keith, I'm headed for the driver's seat. How'd you like to keep me company? Captain Langley will be back here and I'll be on my lonesome."

"Sure, I'd love to. I really would."

"Then come along."

I didn't know why Marc selected me to join him in the cockpit but, man, I was glad it happened. He was one good-looking hunk! As soon as Captain Kelly was gone, I slid into his seat. "How long did it take you to learn to fly this thing?" I asked.

"It took a while, and not because I wanted it to. I started pestering Dad's pilots to let me fly when I was just a kid, maybe eight or nine. When I was thirteen, I guess to get me out of his hair, Captain Kelly told me I had to go to flight school and get my pilot's license before he would talk to me about flying. I surprised him, I think because, while it took a year, I had my pilot's license shortly after I was fourteen--I couldn't drive a car, but could pilot a plane. Go figure. Of course, I wasn't ready to fly something like this, but I gradually worked my way up. I love flying and was real happy when I was able to fly this. So it's no big deal, just something I wanted bad enough to work for. I guess that's why it's important to me. I had to work for it. Almost everything I have is handed to me on a silver platter. I want for nothing except a Dad who cares. My Mom died so long ago I hardly remember her, and I have had so many stepmothers and stepmothers-to be I lost count. Dad loves young, good-looking women and making money. I hardly figure in the picture at all. Douglas and I had absentee parents in common. Of course, when his finally paid attention to him it was for the wrong reason. 'Good riddance' Douglas said when he got them out of the house. You know Douglas' and Janet's story?"

Marc glanced at me and his dark, dark blue eyes with their long, long black lashes made my heart skip a beat. He was one beautiful man. "Yea. Michael and Mary Kathryn told the Fellowship about them when he called about the party."

"The Fellowship?"

"Yea, the Fellowship of the Rings.

"What's the Fellowship of the Rings? It sounds mysterious and maybe kinda spooky."

I laughed and, when I did, Marc said, "Hey, nice laugh. It tells you a lot about a man. I'd guess you're bright--smart, you know--feel things deeply and have suffered more than a little, right?"

I laughed and said, "I'm not sure about being smart, but the other things, yea, I guess you're right. Speaking of which, we have one thing in common. I haven't a mom. My parents split the summer before my freshman year and I seldom see or hear from my mom. But our dads are definitely different. My dad and I are very close. He knows just about all there is to know about me. He probably could have provided every little thing my heart desired, but he refused to spoil me. I'm sure you would agree that having a dad who spends time with you, listens to all your problems--well, the ones you tell him about--is worth a lot more than money."

"Yea. Douglas and I would have traded just about everything for that, but it didn't happen and it's not going to. It's too late now, I think. But about this ring thing."

"I'm the second newest member--Rachel just came along this past week. You know about the Fellowship in general terms from tales around school, and if you are a member you find out the tales aren't nearly as interesting as the reality. I guess you could call Bill the father of the Fellowship." I then told Marc about the Fellowship, beginning with the previous year's school election, the rings, all I could think of. I didn't realize just how much of the history of the group I really did know. About half-way through I said, "I guess you already have heard more about the Fellowship than you ever wanted to hear."

"Not at all, this is really exciting to me. Man, I would like to be a part of something like that. Most of the friends I have--Douglas is the big exception--are friends because I pick up the tab for just about everything we do. No, I want to hear it all. Besides, I like your voice. You ought to use it some way."

"I guess I do. I have a teen radio show on Saturday mornings--well, most Saturday mornings. I have a sub this week, of course."

"That must be kinda exciting. I mean having your own radio show."

"I enjoy it, but don't let it give me the big-head since the station is a small one with a very limited audience, but the teen show does get a lot of attention from kids in the town and country."

"Bet it gets you loads of girlfriends."

"I guess it could, but I pretty much keep to myself at school because I'm not interested in having girls hanging all over me. Of course, now that I'm with the Fellowship, I'm not as much of a loner as I was. I certainly enjoy being with them and getting involved in things they do."

"Tell me more about this Fellowship thing."

"Are you sure I'm not boring you to death?"

"Hey, not at all. I'm thinking about joining up."

"You'd be welcome if you are into something creative and, I guess, having few secrets. They--we--tell each other just about everything. It really is one for all and all for one." I talked more about the Fellowship and when I thought I had covered everything---every time I stopped for breath Marc urged me on--I said, "That's all I know and now I am sure you have heard enough to make you sick of having asked the question."

"Not at all. I really think it's great. And you all wear rings?"

"All except Rachel. She was so new no-one remembered to tell her. I'd show you mine but you're flying."

Marc laughed and said, "Not really. We've been on auto-pilot since I took over."

I held up my hand, Marc took it and looked at my ring. I just about flipped when he took my hand.

"Kokopeli, the deformed flute player?" he asked.

"Yea, I chose Kokopeli because he's different and entertains people."

"It's beautiful," Marc said, looking at my ring.

"It really means a lot to me," I replied.

Suddenly a buzzer went off in the cockpit and I jumped. "What's that?" I gasped.

"Just a warning that it's time to begin our approach to the airport. Sorry to say so, but you have to get back so the captain can come forward. He wouldn't trust me to bring the plane in with this number of people aboard. Thanks, Keith, I've enjoyed our time together and I hope to talk to you more this weekend."

"I enjoyed it too. See you after we land."

When I got back in the cabin, Michael said, "You missed a good discussion with the captain. He's a great guy. Been flying for the Langleys for almost twenty years. He started a year or so before Marc was born."

"I may have missed a good discussion back here, but I enjoyed talking to Marc. He's a nice guy, which is pretty remarkable considering he's been spoiled rotten--no, that's not right, he has been given anything he ever wanted."

"Not quite true," Douglas said. "We both have been given any THING we wanted, but I think we both would have happily traded it for a dad who cared."

"I know exactly what you mean," Jacob said. "Although I have been given things, I sure never had a father who cared a great deal and, when the chips were down, he didn't give a shit about me."

"Having no idea who my father is, and having a slut for a mother, you guys who have parents don't know what a blessing you have," Chris said.

"I know both sides of that question," Bill commented. "My dad paid practically no attention to me until Jacob kinda gave him a poke in the ribs, and now I don't think I could ask for a better dad."

"Of course, the winner of the asshole dad goes to Eugene," Michael said. That, of course, meant telling the new Fellowship members about Eugene. They had some vague idea of Eugene's situation from the trial, but didn't know a great deal about it and, of course, Rachel knew nothing.

"He got off easy," Dan spoke up. "I had to go the full course with McBride." We talked a bit about that, but not long as Marc came on the intercom and said, "Be sure you are seated and your seatbelts are fastened. We are headed down." Ten minutes later, we touched down on the runway of a small airport--about the same size as Lexington's--outside Cleveland.

The plane pulled up to the terminal and the captain cut the engines and, a few minutes later, Marc came out of the cockpit and said, in a lispy voice,"Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Halloween Land. The aircraft is now stationary and you may prepare to deplane." He then shifted into a different voice and called, "De plane, de plane". I guess all of us had seen the reruns of "Fantasy Island" because we all started laughing. Switching back to his lispy cabin attendant voice he said, "As you deplane, Honeys, please take all your personal items with you. Gentlemen, remember to take your personal woman or man according to your preference." Finally, in his own voice, he said, "Gang, we are here! The captain has given me the word to open the hatch and we can leave. He will set your luggage on the tarmac, so pick it up as you leave. His flying partner should be waiting for us here to fly back to Concord with him tonight. They'll sleep in tomorrow and pick up the next load."

As soon as we stepped off the plane, we were met by the Oberlin crew. There were wild exchanges of hugs and kisses. Standing back from them was a tall, ruggedly handsome guy. After all the excitement died down, Paula reached back, got his hand and dragged him forward. "Crew, this is Kent. Kent, the Concord bunch, including some I don't think I know."

"Kent, I'm Jacob and know you have latched onto one great woman." As he spoke, Jacob shook hands with Kent and then kissed Paula again. "And this is Susan, the only woman who could have ever taken Paula's place." Paula hugged Susan and said, "Welcome to Ohio, Susan".

"Now that we have the potentially nasty bit out of the way," I said, "I'll introduce the others," which I did--except for Marc. "Douglas, I'll let you do the final honors."

"God, I am so glad to see you guys. This is my best friend in the whole wide world--and he was before I needed his plane--Marc Langley." After the hand-shaking, Matt said, "We are ready to roll as soon as you get your luggage."

"I'm pretty sure we all need to make a pit stop," Douglas said. "The head on the plane is certainly ok but a bit cramped, so I think we all waited."

"Make your pit stops and we'll start getting the luggage," Eugene said.

We were on our way back from the first load of luggage when Douglas emerged from the men's room. "Since all of you are here and there's a dozen of us, how are we going to fit in your cars?" he asked.

"Don't think you are the only one who can provide transportation," Matt said. "This way." When we got to the front of the terminal, there was a mini-bus in the parking lot with a luggage carrier on top. Luke climbed up and stashed the luggage as it was tossed up to him. Five minutes later we were on our way to the house.

When we pulled into the drive, it was hard to believe the house was the same one we had worked on in summer because the grounds were, obviously, carefully tended.

Luke parked in front of the house, climbed up and tossed the bags down. As we walked into the house, there was a wonderful aroma of food. "Man, I am teetotally starved," Bill said, "and I know I smell food. Who's cooking?"

"Kent, Luke and I," Matt answered. "We have learned a lot of secrets about preparing ahead of time, using a slow cooker and an oven timer. We sometimes do a whole meal that way, so when we get home it's ready and waiting. This wasn't quite that way, but enough to allow us all to meet you."

All the guests took their luggage to where they would be sleeping that night, and ten minutes later we were all in the living room. There was a great fire in the huge fireplace. "That fire sure feels, looks and even smells good," Susan said.

"It's apple wood," Kent said, "from our pruning last summer. You should feel honored. We are very selfish about using it, because there's not a lot of it and it does make a beautiful and sweet-smelling fire. But please excuse me, I'm needed in the kitchen."

After Kent left, I asked Paula to show us around. "I'm afraid I'll have to be excused as well. Larry and I are in charge of setting the table."

"I'm not as good-looking as Paula, but I don't have anything to do until cleaning-up time comes," Eugene said. "I'll be happy to be tour guide." Before he started, he called," Matt, Luke, your room off limits?"

"Nope, it's fine," Matt answered.


"It's open."


"Paula inspected it and gave me a gold star," he called from the kitchen.

"Then let's start at the top and work our way down--ending, don't you think, in the dining room."

The rooms were neat as pins, yet they definitely looked lived in. Marc was bowled over by the painting of Matt in Luke's and Matt's room. "Don't want to embarrass anyone," he said, "but I think anyone looking at that painting could tell the artist has looked on the subject in a very special way. Luke painted that, you said? And he and Matt are partners, right?"

"Not embarrassing at all. Matt and Luke are married--not legally of course, but they certainly consider themselves married," Eugene said, and briefly told Marc about their commitment ceremony.

"And you and Eugene are..."

"Partners. We have a very different feeling about a ceremony. We don't think it is necessary for us. I believe it was for Matt and Luke. All that aside, our commitment to each other is the same as Matt's and Luke's."

"Isn't this Paula's room?" Linda asked as we stepped into another room.

"It was Paula's room. It is now the guest room. After Kent came to live with us, Paula moved downstairs--leaving the upstairs as what she calls the bullpen."

"This is Kent's room. I guess he'll have to tell you how he came to be a part of the household. All you old-timers in the Fellowship know, but you new guys don't. I think it's his story to tell, so it can wait.

We continued the tour downstairs, ending up in the dining room, where the table was set with the magnificent crystal, silver and china that came with the house. There was a low arrangement of some kind of very pretty flowers in the center of the table, and a jack-o-lantern with six faces--the house crew no less. "That's some jack-o-lantern," Marc said.

"Luke's, of course," Matt said.

"And those certainly are beautiful flowers. What are they?" Susan asked.

"They are asters and still beautiful although we got them a couple weeks ago," Paula said.

The two Oberlin couples started laughing. I noticed Kent was kinda grinning and turning bright red. "Kent and Paula took a ride in the country a few weeks ago and stopped at a roadside stand. Paula couldn't decide on the flowers, so Kent bought out the stand. We had ice cream tubs full of flowers. They seem to last forever. We just take away the dead ones and re-arrange what's left. There are still arrangements all over the house," Larry said.

Larry directed us to our places at the table and said, "Paula".

Paula lifted her hands and blessed God for the food, the friends, for giving us a safe flight and for "the fruit of the vine which gladdens the heart of His people". The "Amen" was full of life.

The guys seated the women and we were ready to dive into a delightful and delicious meal after there had been a couple toasts with the wine at each place.

Chapter Thirteen
(This chapter opens November 1, 1995.)


When we got to the airport I noticed two men in pilot's uniforms standing by the plane ready to stow our luggage. As I took mine and Mary Kathryn's, I asked Marc how we could all go if there was a co-pilot.

"The plane can be configured a number of ways. Since he knew how many would be going back, Captain Kelly has added a seat so there are six rows of two seats. There's room for us all."

When we got on board, the couples just naturally took seats together. Keith didn't hesitate a moment when Marc showed him their seats. Once we were in the air, we all had to re-live the weekend. The trip was uneventful and about half-way to Lexington, most of the gang was asleep. Before I dozed off, I noticed Keith's head was on Marc's shoulder. Keith I was sure was asleep, but Marc was definitely awake. He was stroking Keith's hair and smiling as he looked at the sleeping DJ.

Arriving in Lexington, we got our bags and said our goodbyes to Marc, Janet and Douglas. I guess Keith and Marc had decided what the hell, because they were wrapped up in each other's arms exchanging long, slow, passionate kisses. Finally Douglas said, "Marc, if you want to get home and find out who your step-mother is, we need to be going."

Marc looked up, smiled and said, "In a minute," and went back to what he was doing. Finally Captain Kelly said, "Marc, we have a schedule to keep. Think you have had enough of Keith to keep you a few days."

Marc replied, "Never, but I guess it will have to do". He kissed Keith one more time and said, "See you before long, Soulmate," and turned and ran up the ramp to the plane.

We got our bags and took them to the parking lot, got in the two cars and left for Concord.

Thursday lunch, Keith was the last one to get to the table and, as he did, Linda said, "There seems to be a perpetual smile on your face these days, Keith. Wonder why?"

The smile on Keith's face got bigger as he turned red. Before he sat down, he spread his arms wide and sang, "I'm in love, I'm in love with a wonderful guy," bowed to the applause and sat down.

"I take it you have a hopeless case," Jacob said.

"You could say that," Keith said. "You could even shout that. When I got home last night I told Dad about the weekend and, after I had gone on for fifteen minutes, he laughed and asked if there had been anyone in Ohio other than this Marc person. I guess I turned bright red, because he started laughing and finally he said he was happy to see me so happy. It's wonderful!"

That, of course, started the whole group talking about the weekend again. Finally I mused, "I suppose Marc, Janet and Douglas made it home ok."

"Sure did," Keith said. "Marc called from the airport to let me know they had arrived and then we talked after he got to his place. By the way, he doesn't have a new step-mother, but his dad has a new live-in woman friend. Seems to me it's about time the old man grew up. He can't be in love with a new woman every month or so."

"Marc said he likes 'em young and good-looking," Mary Kathryn said. "Doesn't sound to me like love enters the picture. I can't imagine having sex with someone you hardly know or even someone you know, but don't really love."

"The difference between making love and fucking, remember?" Bill reminded us.

There were nods around the table.

"Well we had our party, now it's back to work," I said. "I have piles of work to make up. I think every teacher was jealous and doubled the assignments while we were gone."

"It sure seems that way," Jacob said.

"Hey, have you heard the news about Buffy Leister?" Susan asked. "She's still in the hospital, improving, but it will be a while before she's out. The doctors thought they were going to have to remove her leg, it was crushed so badly, but they managed to save it. I guess it's better than an artificial limb, but it will be shorter than her other leg. That must really hurt her since cheer leading was her life."

"But she's alive. Think about the other five. They are dead and gone." Jacob said. "Of course, I guess that's hard for Buffy to even think about. I mean, I don't think I could take it if five of my friends were suddenly killed."

"May happen, you never can tell, but if it does you can be sure it is in spite of having on a seatbelt and driving like I had at least half sense," Bill said.

The weekend came and went with nothing exciting happening. The Fellowship got together Sunday afternoon to get caught up with our school work. Yong Jin had said we could get together at her place so she would be able to help us out if we got stuck on English assignments. Bill was there to pull us out with math problems, and Greywolf to help with any Bill couldn't handle. Jack helped those who got stuck on chemistry and other sciences. I guess most people thought we got together to horse around, but we had promised to get caught up after the party and we really worked hard. When we finished, Yong Jin had cookies and milk waiting. We all sat around talking to the Greywolfs like old times.

School was school again. But Tuesday broke the routine as it was Election Day so there was no school. Mom was home these days--the babies were due any minute--as were the Greywolfs. Mary Kathryn and I went into town to talk with Fr. Tom about how the work on the parish house basement was coming. It was on schedule and we could expect to open the teen club as planned after Thanksgiving, and maybe Thanksgiving weekend.

When we got back, Mary Kathryn and I decided to take the risk of going to her place. I did drive all the way down the driveway which meant the Tracker couldn't be seen from either the Greywolfs' or our place. We went to Mary Kathryn's room where we started with hungry kisses. We were standing when I started undressing my wild woman. I dropped her blouse and then her bra to the floor, and started kissing her breasts and flicking her nipples with my tongue. Mary Kathryn grasped my pullover by the hem and slipped it over my head. I wrapped my arms around her and pulled our bare chests together. Her nipples were hard and she managed to rub them against my own erect nipples while her tongue found my mouth and invaded it.

Mary Kathryn started to remove my pants, but I stopped her long enough to get a condom from my pocket and then dropped my pants to the floor. As they fell, I unsnapped Mary Kathryn's skirt and it dropped to the floor as well. I then scooped my panty-clad lover into my arms and laid her on her bed. I slipped her panties from her body. She then removed my boxers, releasing my hard cock. As she did, I flipped her the condom. She caught it, tore it open with her teeth, shaking her head and growling. We both laughed as she rolled a bright pink sheath onto my cock. In a flash, I was on top of her, kissing her body, giving her breasts a tongue bath. Finally she reached down, took my cock in her hand, stroked it a few times then guided it into herself. I lay very still, prolonging the feeling of just being inside my lover. Slowly, very slowly, I started moving in and out of her in long, slow strokes. Soon Mary Kathryn's breathing changed and I knew she was experiencing an orgasm. We took our time and it was great. I do think that women have an advantage over us guys when it comes to having sex. I mean a couple times separated by a recovery time and I'm done for a while, but Mary Kathryn could have three or more orgasms each time we had sex and be ready for more.

I continued moving in and out of Mary Kathryn, slowly. I covered her mouth with mine and she sucked my tongue into her hot mouth. She was breathing through my mouth which made me even hotter. As much as I wanted to have our love-making last for hours, I finally reached the point of no return, pushed deeper inside her and yelled as I started shooting load after load of cum inside the woman I loved. I saw stars and skyrockets as I continued discharging my man's seed. When I finished, I collapsed, being careful not to crush Mary Kathryn under me. When I became limp, I lay beside my wild woman, looking into her eyes as she kissed me gently. "Michael Jacob Andrews, I love you, my medicine warrior. You are the very center of my universe. I love you so much it hurts sometimes."

"Mary Kathryn Larsen, you are the center of my universe as well. God, I love you, Woman!" We lay quietly, for a while longer, then got up and took a long shower together, stopping frequently for kisses.

Wednesday, Mary Kathryn and I told the gang that the opening of the teen club was a definite go Thanksgiving weekend if we wanted to open then. "We need to decide if we want to give up part of our Thanksgiving holidays for that. When we decide we need to remember the Florida and Ohio troops will be here," Mary Kathryn warned.

"I think that would be a good time to get it off the ground," Bill said. "You know the Ohio couples will be there as well as Keith and Marc, Chris and Dan. I don't know whether or not the Concord members will want to out themselves, but you know Eugene and Larry, Luke and Matt will be obvious couples. Should get said what we want said."

We talked about the pros and cons of opening Thanksgiving weekend and decided to open only one night, Saturday night, that weekend. "Ok, we need to get new stickers for the posters," Linda said. We decided we'd get them printed and put them on the signs Friday after we told Fr. Tom our decision.

When the end-of-school bell rang, Mary Kathryn and I piled in the Tracker and headed for home. "I think we need to get a snack and then hit the books," she said. "You're right: it seems the teachers ganged up on us while we were gone and haven't let up since."

"Just unhappy because they didn't have a party," I laughed. Mary Kathryn started to say something when my cell phone rang. She took it from the glove compartment and answered it.

"Really!... When?... Everyone is ok?... See you in a very few," she said as she closed the phone. "We need to make a detour, Michael, to the hospital. Seems Margaret decided today was the day and you have two new sisters."

"Mom's ok, isn't she?" I asked, as it was the first thought in my head.

"She and the girls are all fine, excellent in fact. They were born a couple hours ago. David said we could come by the hospital and see all three."

I was ready to make a U-turn in the middle of the road when Mary Kathryn said, "No you don't! Being a new brother doesn't mean you can drive like you are the only person in the world."

Obediently I pulled into a side road and turned around and drove to the hospital.

As we walked in, I saw Dann... Dan at the end of the hall. I started to yell at him and remembered where I was. Instead I ran down the hall toward him. I was about half-way to him when he turned and started walking toward me. "Hey, I see the big brother has arrived. Just saw your mom and the girls. They are all great. Your mom said they were waiting for you to come and name them. How did you get the honor?"

I told Dan about my bet with Mom and how I had won. "So I get to name them anything I like. You busy?"

"Not this minute."

"Come with us." The three of us took the elevator to the third floor and walked down the hall to Mom's room. When we got there she was lying in bed, of course, looking absolutely great with a baby on each side. They looked... well, they looked like babies. What can I say? "Which one is which?" I asked.

"What do you mean which one is which?" Dad asked.

"He wants to know which one is which, David," Mom said.

"Well, since he hasn't named then, what does he mean which one is which?"

"I mean who's the oldest."

"Since there's less than twenty minutes between their births, I don't know that it makes a lot of difference," Dad answered.

"Dad, you have been around Luke and Matt for over eighteen years and you think it doesn't make a difference? Matt has never let Luke forget he's older by a few minutes. So which one is which?"

Mom looked to her right and said, "She's the oldest."

"Well, she's Elizabeth Kathryn and we'll call her Elizabeth. No nicknames. You," I said as I lifted the corner of the blanket from the other's face, "are Mary Margaret and we'll call you Mary. Glad I got that done. Naming babies is hard work," I laughed.

"Try having one or two if you want to find out about hard work," Mom laughed. "I thought your dad would not survive."

"Everything is all right, isn't it--with the babies? I mean they have the regulation number of fingers and toes and you are too... all right I mean?"

"We're all fine," Mom said. "Called your dad about noon and by the time he got to the house, everything had started and was going fine. He assisted and I gave birth at home. He then got the EMS to come for us and insisted we come to the hospital. Think it would have been fine for us to stay at home, but you know your dad. We'll be home when you get there after school tomorrow."

Dan had been standing back and I had forgotten he was behind us. When I remembered, I said, "Dan, don't you think they are perfect? Babies, I mean."

He laughed and said, "Yea, I thought they were babies, but until you said so, I wasn't sure. Of course, I saw them earlier. They were babies then as well."

I had told Mom and Dad about Wounded Hawk and about Dan and Chris being a couple, so they knew why he was no longer Danny. "Dan, I think I like the name change," Dad said. "Wounded Hawk and Chris are right. You deserve a man's name. I meant to tell you last week, but never ran across you: we have an opening on the EMS team. Starting pay is not great, but it's better than the aide's pay you're getting from the hospital now. Also, you would get paid for taking most of the classes you take toward your LPN [Licensed Practical Nurse] license. Should give you more time and more money and you'd be training for a specific task. Think by the time you have your LPN, you'd also be certified for EMS. Then you could move straight into completing your work to become a registered nurse. Give it some thought and let me know."

"I think I can give you an answer now, but I need to know about working at the hospice. I have an obligation there, you know."

"I talked to Chelsea and Gladys and both think you should take the EMS position even if it means giving up hospice altogether. But since you'll automatically get the night shift with EMS, a privilege reserved for the low man on the totem pole," Dad laughed, "you will be on three twelve-hour shifts and off three. You could work at the hospice one or two of the nights you are off if you wanted to. Most nights when you are on EMS duty, you'll get about as much sleep as you would at home. Of course there are other times when you will be running like wild fire all twelve hours, and sometimes won't get to leave when the twelve hours are up because you will be out on a run or someone will be late for work and you'll have to take a call."

"It certainly sounds good to me. I do feel I need to talk to Gladys and Chelsea before it becomes official. They have done so much for me, I wouldn't ever do something which involves them in any way without checking first.

"As I said, I talked to them last week when I thought about mentioning it to you, but you are right. It's only fair that you talk with them."

"Thanks, Mr. Andrews. I really appreciate it. I'll see Chelsea and maybe Gladys tomorrow but, unless you hear otherwise, I'd like the job. What do I need to do about it?"

"Pick up an application in the EMS office before you leave tonight, fill it out and turn it in. Be sure to give me, Chelsea and Gladys as references. After you talk to them, of course."

"Thanks again for thinking of me. And I do think the girls look like real babies," Dan said to me. "Now you have to start acting like a big brother and setting a good example," he laughed.

"I always set a good example," I replied.

"Yea, well just keep it up. See all of you later," he said and left.

"Michael, David called the Larsens and Greywolfs and told them about Mary and Elizabeth. Also called the kids at Oberlin. I thought they would like some good news with the trial going on. Yong Jin is having all of you for supper. You might go on now and help her. You can come back this evening if you like."

I leaned over and kissed Mom on the forehead, looked at the girls again and said, "Guess this will take some of the strain off of Mary Kathryn, but it will be fifteen or sixteen years before these two start reproducing."

"It better be more like twenty or twenty-five or there will be some dead daddies around," Dad said. I don't think he was joking!

Mary Kathryn and I left the hospital and drove to the Greywolfs'. Yong Jin and Greywolf were just getting home when we pulled into the driveway.

"I guess you have seen your new sisters," Yong Jin said.

"Yea, we went by the hospital and saw them and Mom," I answered. "And I officially gave them their names. Are babies always red? They seemed very red and wrinkled."

"All are not, but most are. They will look more like humans and less like little old ladies every day," she answered. "But you were never red and wrinkled. You looked a couple weeks old the minute you were born. The day after you were born, you were lifting your head up. Pretty remarkable start in life."

"And he hasn't slowed down since," Mary Kathryn said, and kissed me on the cheek.

We went inside and helped Yong Jin get supper started. "I know I have objected to cooking at times," I said, "but after this weekend, I'm glad I have learned. Paula, Eugene and Larry didn't know how to cook and are still learning. Larry told me there had been some pretty bad meals while they were discovering how to boil water."

Jens and Gabrielle came in about 6:00, having been by the hospital, and Dad was right behind them. "Understand you were the midwife today," Jens said.

"Yea, I had expected Margaret to be in labor for several hours, since the twins were her first, but she started having regular labor pains and then, Bingo! There were the twins--very easy births."

After dinner, Mary Kathryn and I went back to the hospital with the Greywolfs.

Thursday, all the Fellowship were excited about the babies and I guess I was acting more like a proud father than a brother. The girls were important to me and the thought crossed my mind once that, in eight months or so, Mary Kathryn and I would have been parents had she been correct in thinking she was pregnant. I was glad Mom and Dad had the responsibility of two new babies and not us.

During lunch an office runner found me in the cafeteria and said I was wanted in the office for an important phone call. "Ms. Norman said you could take it in her office and Mary Kathryn might like to come with you."

When we got to Ms. Norman's office, she pushed the phone across her desk, but did not leave the room. I noticed Ms. Jones was standing outside the door. I picked up the phone, pushed the button to take it off hold and said, "Michael here".

"Michael, it's your dad. I have some bad news. One of the girls has disappeared."

"Disappeared? How can a day-old baby disappear?"

"It's obvious someone has taken her. When we got ready to go home, a nurse went to bring the babies and one was missing. Your mom would like for you to come home. Well, I would too. I know there's no danger of someone running off with you, but we'd like to have you home."

"I'm on my way right now." I hung up the phone and said, "Someone has kidnapped one of my girls." I felt myself losing control and everything went black. When I came to, Ms. Norman was bathing my face with a cool wet cloth.

"Are you all right now, Michael?" she asked.

All I could do was nod "yes".

"Your dad had told us what happened; that's the reason Ms. Jones and I are here. I told Mary Kathryn what has happened and she is with Ms. Jones. I don't think you should be driving. Mary Kathryn is in as bad shape as you are. I have sent for Bill to drive you two home. He should be here any minute."

Bill and Keith came into the office and both told me how sorry they were that someone had hurt me and my family, then Bill said, "I'll drive your car and take you and Mary Kathryn home. Keith will drive my car and bring me back. We're ready when you are."

"Let's go, then," I said.

When we got home, I thanked Bill and Keith and promised I would let them know anything I learned. Inside, Mom grabbed me and kept hugging me. She was clinging to me as if she feared I might disappear as well. "What happened?" I was finally able to ask.

"We know little more than what your dad told you. After I was discharged, I got dressed and rang for the nurse to bring the babies. When she got to the nursery, there was only one of the girls there, Mary. Of course people started searching immediately, thinking someone might have taken the wrong baby to a new mother, but it was soon clear that all were present and accounted for except Elizabeth."

"Hospital security called the police and the FBI since it is a kidnapping, even though there have been no notes or phone calls demanding ransom or anything else. The video tape from security cameras was checked immediately. The person taking Elizabeth was seen, but was wearing operating room garb, including a surgical mask, so the tape was not much help. It was obviously a woman but, beyond that, there's not much to go on."

Mary Kathryn and I debated calling the Oberlin crew and decided against it since there was nothing they could do

Mom's doctor had to give her a prescription for a sedative and Dad insisted she take one. I think he probably needed it more than she did because he was worried about Mom and Elizabeth. Jens and Gabrielle brought supper, but none of us really felt like eating. The Greywolfs came after supper and the whole Family sat, waiting for the phone to ring.

At two in the morning it did ring. Dad answered it and talked to the person calling for a few minutes and hung up. "That was the police chief. They found a baby, apparently still-born, in a dumpster near the old cotton mill. It was wrapped in a hospital blanket, but didn't have a hospital identity bracelet. The FBI agent advising the task force handling the kidnapping told the chief he suspected a woman had a still-born baby--she delivered it without help he guessed--and took Elizabeth as a replacement. If that is true, he has more to go on now than he did. They are searching records to see if they can locate someone who might have delivered in the last few days. That's some progress, I guess," Dad said.

"Don't you think if a woman were pregnant and gave birth by herself, she wouldn't have wanted anyone to know she was pregnant?" Mom asked. "I don't think there will be any record of her. It just wouldn't make sense otherwise."

I hated to think Mom was right, but what she said really made sense. "Isn't there some other way she might be traced? Surely she needed attention after she gave birth."

"Not necessarily," Mom said. "I could have gotten up and walked after the girls were born. I couldn't have run any races, but I could have walked. I looked at the security tape. The woman who took Elizabeth wasn't up to running races either. She moved in a way consistent with having recently given birth. I don't know but I'm willing to bet, when she is found, there will be no record of her ever seeing a doctor or showing up at the pre-natal clinic at the hospital, but she will have given birth within the last day or so. I'll bet money on that."

"Sure sounds solid," Greywolf said. "A high school girl pregnant and afraid of her parents?"

"Not likely, Greywolf. She has a baby. A high school girl afraid of her parents wouldn't be likely to show up with a baby would she?" I asked.

"Sounds reasonable, Michael, but is she acting in a reasonable manner?" Greywolf asked. "I don't think we can rule that out."

"But how is she going to explain a baby?" Mary Kathryn asked. "If she has kept being pregnant, giving birth and discarding her still-born child secret, why would she show up with a baby? It doesn't make sense."

My cell phone rang, surprising us all. I took it from my pocket and opened it. "Michael, Luke. We're all here. Dan just called us with the bad news. Why didn't the family call us?"

"Mom wanted to wait as long as possible since there was nothing you could do and she didn't want to interfere with school."

"When this is over we may give your mom a spanking. We're family, Michael."

"We know that, Luke, Matt, all of you, but there's nothing you can do. We didn't want you to worry."

"We'll decide about worrying," Matt said. "Any developments?"

"Not really, just some speculation." I then told the Oberlin crew what we had been talking about.

"Wait a minute," Kent said. "You're assuming she took Elizabeth home. What if she is hiding her the way she hid being pregnant? What if she really wanted a baby, but couldn't let her parents know?"

"Hey, that makes some sense." Paula said. "We were discussing something like that in psychology last week. Girls who have nothing and are not loved--maybe abused--want desperately to have something to love so they get pregnant. That would fit the facts, wouldn't it?"

"But she can't take a baby home," I answered.

"Right, so you need to look for a hiding place and find a girl getting formula," Eugene said.

"I think you all may be on to something. Going to hang up and see what we can do with your suggestions." I told the Family what the Oberlin crew had to say. "Where can you buy baby formula, bottle, diapers, that sort of baby things?" I asked.

"Anywhere," Mary Kathryn said, "the grocery store, convenience stores, drug stores, just about anywhere."

"Not much, but I'll call the task force working on this in case they haven't thought about that possibility," Dad said, and dialed the number and talked to someone.

One by one, people were falling asleep. Yong Jin and Gabrielle insisted Mom go to bed by reminding her she couldn't get exhausted or she might not be able to nurse Mary, and she was real gung-ho on breast feeding.

At 6:00 in the morning, a car pulled up outside. It was Bill and Linda bringing breakfast. They went to the kitchen and made fresh coffee--I didn't think any of us really needed more--and started fixing a real breakfast. As tired and upset as we all were, we put away a pretty good breakfast.

After breakfast the four of us--Bill, Linda, Mary Kathryn and myself--were sitting around the kitchen table drinking even more coffee and talking about the speculations of the night. "I'd be willing to bet she's poor," Linda said, "and probably has only one parent--a father."

"How did you come up with that?" Mary Kathryn asked.

"Ok, if she had both parents, she wouldn't be feeling so totally unloved and lonely--I mean maybe she would, but it would be less likely. And why do I think she is poor? Kinda the same reason. If her family had money, she'd have things--pets, dolls, things to love--but if she is dirt poor and has nothing..."

"Well, she did discard her still-born baby near the old cotton mill and that's sure a poor section of town. I mean really poor," Bill said.

"If our speculations are correct, she's not going to have money for what Elizabeth needs," Mary Kathryn said, almost in tears.

"How do you get what you need when you don't have money?" I asked. "You shoplift. The police need to alert the grocery store and convenience store in the old mill area. If we're right, she'll have to attempt to shoplift formula, diapers, that sort of thing."

"And shoplifting diapers will not be easy. The packages aren't small," Bill said. "We may be all wet, but I think someone needs to tell the police what we have been thinking."

"I'll get Dad," I said, and went to the family room where he and the rest of the Family were. "Dad, I think you need to come in the kitchen and hear what we have come up with."

When Dad got to the kitchen, Bill told him what we had been talking about. "May not be worth a damn, but it's something," he concluded.

"Sounds like good reasoning to me," Dad replied, reached for the kitchen phone and was soon talking to a member of the task force. When he hung up, he said, "The head of the task force didn't think your speculations were very wild. In fact he thought you had a better hold on the situation than they did. They will be keeping a careful watch out for someone shoplifting baby things. Now I think it's time all of you got some rest. Michael, Mary Kathryn, go to bed."


"If you like, but no hanky-panky."

"Dad, I don't think I could hanky-pank if I was paid to do so."

"You might be able, but not with me. I'm going to sleep," Mary Kathryn said.

"Guess we better head for school, Linda," Bill said.

I was barely undressed before I just passed out but, even at that, Mary Kathryn was asleep before I was.

It was noon before I knew I was alive. I got up, showered and dressed and went downstairs. No-one was stirring, so I went to the kitchen and got a glass of juice and sat down at the kitchen table. "Boy, life sure is uncertain," I thought. "A week ago six Independence students were out on a joy ride and now five are dead and Buffy, who lived to cheer lead, will never cheer lead again. We all had an absolutely fabulous time in Ohio and Keith seems to have met someone worthy of his love. Dan and Chris are developing their relationship. We get back and the eagerly awaited twins come into the world healthy and Mom is fine and then... Wham!... our world is shattered. But Elizabeth has to be found and be well."

In the middle of my reflections, Mary Kathryn appeared. God, how I loved that woman! She walked over to where I was sitting, put her arms around me and gave me a gentle kiss. Just as I was about to return it, the phone rang. I grabbed it and, before I could speak, Bill said, "Michael, at lunch today we were talking about the kidnapping and Keith had a great idea. If a high school girl took Elizabeth, she couldn't just leave her all day. We got Mr. Stevenson's absentee list and looked for students we knew lived in the old cotton mill village who were absent. Turns out none we knew were. Then Chris said the student wouldn't have to be absent. She could check in late after caring for the baby and check out at lunch or maybe check out early. Several girls from the village checked in late. Ms. Jones said there was nothing unusual about that but, get this, there were three who were checking out early. We tried to get a look at them all to see if maybe there was some indication they had given birth recently, but we didn't see any of them. Ms. Jones thought it was worth investigating so she called the task force. They are sending people over to follow the three. Maybe something will come of it. No news there I suppose?"

"None. Thanks for your thoughts and efforts. Tell the Fellowship we appreciate it."

"Just helping the extended family," Bill said. "Later."

Dad came into the kitchen looking like death warmed over. "How's Mom?" I asked.

"She's holding up well considering. We are both worried because Elizabeth has been gone for twenty-four hours now. Unless she is getting care, she could be harmed."

"I'm sure she's getting care," Mary Kathryn said. "I just worry that her care-giver doesn't know how to properly care for a baby. But I am sure she is doing the very best she can."

I told Dad Bill had called and what he had said.

Dad called the task force to see if anything new had come up. They told him about the suggestions from the school. Two of the girls had left school before they arrived and the third one had gone to the dentist. Dad learned that the two who had not been followed both fit the poor, one parent--father--profile. "They said they they were following up on both as soon as they could be located. When they checked with the two fathers, neither knew his daughter had left school. Both threatened to beat the life out of her when she came home. Sounds like two lovely families," Dad concluded.

Mary started crying and Dad went to get her. While he was changing her, Mom came out of the bedroom looking very haggard. When Dad brought Mary into the kitchen, Mom took her and started nursing her. She became very quiet and was nursing like a little pig. "I hope Elizabeth is being fed properly," Mom said, and big tears started running down her face.

Dad put his arm around her and said, "I'm sure she is, Margaret, and will be here for you to nurse soon."

"Right now I'm just concerned that she is all right and being cared for," Mom replied.

"If you don't need us, I think Mary Kathryn and I will take a little ride."

"Be careful," Mom said. Dad nodded.

Mary Kathryn and I got in the Tracker and drove toward town. "Where are we headed?" she asked, "as if I didn't know".

We drove to the old mill section of town and drove up and down the dirt streets. The mill had once supported several hundred workers. Well, supported was probably too strong a word. The wages were very low and mill workers lived in the mill village and bought everything from the mill store. The low wages and high prices in the mill world meant most workers were forever in debt to the mill and couldn't leave if they wanted to. Their life was hard and as soon as a kid, especially a boy, reached sixteen, he was expected to quit school and go to work in the mill. Since he couldn't operate or be around machinery, he was paid practically nothing. Of course, having dropped out of school, there was no future for him except the mill, if that could be called a future.

Then cotton fell out of favor and the mill struggled to stay in operation. It managed to survive until natural fibers came back into fashion, but didn't last long because foreign textiles could be produced much cheaper. The company finally folded and the mill was shut down and abandoned. Several times people had tried to do something with it, but nothing ever materialized. The mill houses were sold at auction for practically nothing--which was about what they were worth. The people living in the village now were very poor since they were uneducated and hadn't tried to get training or anything. Some, I think, believed the mill would start up again any day. So they took part-time jobs, worked at menial labor and many spent much of the little they earned on alcohol. The younger crowd saw no hope for the future and scraped together enough for grass now and then.

As we drove through the mill village, there were knots of guys and girls my age standing on corners smoking--tobacco or grass, it was hard to tell. Men and women, looking twenty years older than they were, shuffled along the streets or sat on falling down porches, gazing ahead vacantly. "Remember Sam Crawford?" Mary Kathryn asked.

"Yea, he graduated the year we started high school. Why?"

"He was from the mill village," she said. "His mom had died when he was very young and his dad was a drunk."

"I didn't know that," I replied.

"He worked in the office for Dad as a janitor," Mary Kathryn said. "He escaped mill village life by working his butt off. Dad encouraged him and he got a full scholarship to State. He has had all sorts of internships and will graduate this year. He had taken AP courses and managed to work and go to summer school at the same time, once he was in college, so he's done four years in three. Some can escape from the trap fate has given them, but it's not easy. Hey! Michael! There's Billie Sue Loggins. Wasn't she one of the two the police missed at school today?"

"She sure was! Wonder where she's headed?"

"Well don't get too close. We don't want her to see us."

"Take my phone out of the glove compartment and call the task force. Tell them we have spotted her."

"Michael, we don't know the number."

"Call Dad then and ask him. She's headed for the old mill, I'm sure. It's about three blocks from where she is and I don't think there's anything between the intersection she's crossing and the mill."

Mary Kathryn got the task force number from Dad and called them. They thanked her and said they thought they had the person who had taken Elizabeth. "The agent told me they had picked up Roxanne Simmons for shoplifting at the mill grocery. She had taken a couple cans of formula," Mary Kathryn said.

"I know Roxanne and I just don't think she would take someone's baby. I have no doubt she would shoplift if she knew of a hungry child, but I just don't think she would hurt anyone and especially hurt a mother by taking her baby. We'll let them deal with Roxanne and we'll follow Billie Sue."

We were staying about a block behind Billie Sue and it was soon obvious she was headed to the old mill. When she reached it, she stuck her arm through the broken glass on a door and pushed it open and disappeared inside.

"Now what do we do?" Mary Kathryn asked.

"We follow her," I replied. I hoped Billie Sue would ignore the sound of the Tracker as we drove up to the side of the mill where she had entered. We got out of the car and went through the door she had used. Inside was dark and dusty, with cobwebs everywhere. We took a few minutes for our eyes to adjust and then looked around. Billie Sue was nowhere to be seen. We stood very still. The only sounds were what you would expect in an abandoned factory--a slight breeze rattling the loose metal roof sheets and birds flying about. We stood very still and then heard, very faintly, what could be a baby crying somewhere ahead of us. We walked cautiously toward the sound. The floor was covered with bird shit, lint from when the mill was in operation, and pieces of junk of all kinds.

As we walked across the floor, we were being very careful not to make a sound when, suddenly, Mary Kathryn tripped over something and started to fall. I grabbed her arm and held on. While we were struggling to regain our balance, we heard the sound again. Mary Kathryn whispered, "Michael, that is definitely a baby crying". We started walking across the floor again. At the far side of the building, I saw a door slightly ajar. "There, she's in there," Mary Kathryn whispered.

We walked very, very carefully to the door and looked in. Billie Sue was holding a bundle, rocking back and forth, singing softly. I walked in and said, "Billie Sue".

"Michael. Michael Andrews, she said. "I'm glad you came to see my baby. Want to hold her? She's beautiful, Michael."

I motioned for Mary Kathryn to stay outside. "Sure, I'd like to hold your baby, Billie Sue. What's her name?"

"She's Jessica... Jessica Curran."

"Jessica Curran? Curran?"

"Yes. Her daddy's Philip... Philip Curran. Here, hold her and see how beautiful she is." I was not an expert at holding babies and, when I was struggling with getting it right, Billie Sue laughed and said, "Not too good at holding a baby are you? Here, do it this way." Having said that, Billie Sue took my arms and placed then around the bundle which was Elizabeth. "That's right. You learn fast. What I'd really like is to have a pretty little dress for her and some beautiful little shoes." Billie Sue had a dreamy look on her face. It was clear she thought this was her baby and she wanted something nice for her. I thought she should have a little pleasure before whatever happened to her did.

"Billie Sue, Mary Kathryn is here with me. We'd like to take you shopping for something for Jessica. A nice, pretty dress and some pretty little shoes."

"Would you do that? Would you really do that?"

"Sure we would. Come on, let's go shopping."

Billie Sue jumped up and called, "Mary Kathryn, want to go shopping? Michael is going to take me shopping for Jessica."

"Sure. It would be fun," Mary Kathryn said.

When we got to the Tracker, Mary Kathryn said, "I need to call Mom and tell her we're going shopping. If I don't and Dad finds out, he'll beat me black and blue."

"Your Dad beat you too?" Billie Sue asked.

"Yea, if I don't let him know where I am."

I smiled. Mary Kathryn was giving Billie Sue a reason for calling home which she could understand. I felt sorry for a teenager who knew that if her father was upset, she would be beaten. Mary Kathryn took the phone from the glove compartment and called my number. When someone answered she said, "Hi Mom. Michael and I are taking Billie Sue and her baby Jessica Curran shopping. We're going to buy her a beautiful dress and some pretty shoes." She turned to Billie Sue and asked, "Where do you want to go shopping, Billie Sue?".

"Can we go to that new baby store in the mall? I have gone again and again looking at pretty things for when my baby came."

"If that's where you want to go, that's where we'll go," Mary Kathryn said. "Mom, we're going to Bundle of Joy in the mall. I'm driving because Michael is holding Jessica for Billie Sue."

I noticed Mary Kathryn just laid the phone on the dash without turning it off. From time to time one of us commented on what we were passing. Billie Sue started doing it as well, pointing out things she liked or disliked.

Minutes before we got to the mall, I said, quite loudly, "I think Billie Sue should be allowed to shop for as long as she wants, don't you Mary Kathryn?"

It took a minute for her to realize that I was giving Billie Sue a few minutes of pleasure before heaven-only-knows-what would happen to her, and informing Mom what I planned to do, and Mary Kathryn answered, "Indeed she should. She needs to look and look before she picks out a beautiful dress and pretty shoes."

When we reached the mall, I was still holding Elizabeth. When Billie Sue reached for her, I said, "I'll hold her while you and Mary Kathryn look at dresses and shoes."

"Ok, because I want to find a very, very beautiful dress and some pretty little shoes, so you take good care of her while we look."

As we walked into the store, I saw Zack and his partner Irene who were standing at the door like security guards. "Zack, Irene, we're here with Billie Sue to pick out a dress and some shoes for the baby."

"Look as long as you want, Billie Sue. We'll be right here if you need us," Zack said.

Billie Sue and Mary Kathryn went on into the store and when they were far enough away, I said to Zack and Irene, "Everything's ok, as ok as it can be. Billie Sue is completely out of it, I think, so let her have the joy of picking out a dress and shoes before you take her."

"Sure," Irene said.

Half an hour later, Billie Sue and Mary Kathryn came back to where I was still standing near Zack. "Look what we found, Michael," Billie Sue exclaimed, holding up a very frilly dress and a pair of tiny black patent leather shoes. "I want to put them on her."

"She's comfortable right now. Give them to me and I'll dress her," I said. She gave me the dress and shoes and I started to put them on Elizabeth when she made a noise which sounded very much like she had messed her diaper. "I think she needs changing," I said. Billie Sue had a small bag with her. She reached into it and handed me a diaper. I put Elizabeth on top of a counter and, awkwardly, changed her diaper--it was just wet, no mess--and then got her dressed. When she was dressed, I held her for Billie Sue to see, then nodded to Zack.

"Billie Sue, you need to come with us for a while," Irene said. "Michael will take care of the baby."

"Now you take good care of her, Michael," Billie Sue said.

"I sure will, Billie Sue. Don't worry."

She left with the two officers without protest, stopping to wave as she got into the police car.

As soon as they left, Mary Kathryn started crying. "What in the world, Mary Kathryn? What's wrong?"

"Michael, you are one of the kindest, sweetest people I know. I am so glad you gave that poor girl a half hour or so pleasure." She then managed to kiss me full on the mouth in spite of Elizabeth.

Before she broke the kiss, Dad came from the back of the store with a couple of men who introduced themselves as members of the task force. One of them said, "The next time we have a case, I think I'll call on some students from Independence. We were busy chasing a shop lifter who had lifted a couple cans of formula for a neighbor's sick child while you two were finding the baby."

"We wouldn't have done it without the help of our school buddies," Mary Kathryn said. "I'm just glad it's over. And I feel so sorry for that poor girl. I guess I should be angry at her for taking our sister, but I'm not and I am very sorry for her."

"She's definitely in need of help," Dad said, "and you can be sure, she'll have a much easier life where she's going than she had at home. Speaking of which, that's where we need to be headed. I called Margaret and told her we had Elizabeth and she was safe, but she'll not believe it until she sees her. I'll take her now, Michael."

"Don't think so, Dad. I think I'll take her home. She's asleep and happy in her new dress and shoes. Which, by the way, you need to pay for."

Mary Kathryn and I walked to the Tracker and she said, "I guess I'm driving and you're holding the baby."

"Yea, and you know something, Mary Kathryn, it might not have been so bad had you been preg... Holy shit! This baby has just shit all over me!"

"What were you going to say, Michael?" Mary Kathryn laughed. "In case you haven't guessed it, you'll have to have lessons in putting on diapers before WE have one of our own. Elizabeth, you may well be better birth control than anything on the market," Mary Kathryn laughed then added, "especially with the perfume you are wearing--Bundle of Joy."

Chapter Fourteen

Mary Kathryn

I started laughing when Michael tried to hold Elizabeth in the air so she wouldn't mess him any more. Her diaper was completely loose on one side and the other side was dangling from her leg. Without being properly diapered, she had filled Michael's lap with a very smelly little present. "Mary Kathryn, having your lap full of baby shit is NOT funny!" Michael said.

"Think I was laughing at something else, Lover. You were about to suggest it would be great for us to have a baby of our own, and ten seconds later it wasn't a good idea but a nightmare. Your affections sure are fickle. I don't know whether I can depend on you or not. Maybe tomorrow you'll go running off with some blond bimbo cheer leader."

"Mary Kathryn, you know that's not true and it's not funny. How about you stop and we do something about this shitty sister of mine."

"No diapers, Michael, and no wipes. Just make sure you keep her covered so she doesn't get chilled, and put your window down."

When we pulled into the Andrews' drive, I got out of the Tracker and said, "Well come on, Michael." He got out and walked toward the house, holding Elizabeth under her arms and as far from him as possible. "Michael, you hold that baby right," I scolded him.

"Mary Kathryn, she's shitty."

"You carry her in the house like that, and that will be the least of your worries when your mom sees you." Michael was reluctant, but he cradled Elizabeth in his arms and carried her in.

When we got inside, Margaret came running to Michael, took Elizabeth from him and hugged the child to herself. Michael said, "I don't think you want to do that," but his warning was too late.

"Who in the world diapered this child?" Margaret asked.

"Michael gets credit for that job," I laughed," and I think he really wants diapering lessons so he doesn't get the same results another time."

Margaret took Elizabeth to the nursery and, as she did, called over her shoulder, "Michael, I think you are grown enough to clean yourself, but if not I'll be right up". Michael went up the stairs and reappeared fifteen minutes later. It was obvious he'd had a quick shower before changing into clean clothes.

We joined Mom and Dad and the Greywolfs sitting in the den. The TV was on, the sound turned off, and no-one was paying the slightest attention to it. "Why's the TV on and no-one watching?" I asked.

"There's supposed to be a report about the kidnapping at 6:00. It's still a few minutes before it starts."

"Dad, what's going to happen to Billie Sue?" Michael asked. "I feel very sorry for her. I know she gave us a lot of worry and all, but I still feel sorry for her."

"Michael, Billie Sue has major problems. I'm not sure what will happen to her eventually. She will spend the next ninety days in a juvenile evaluation center being tested and evaluated. At the end of the evaluation period, a determination will be made as to where she should go. I think it highly unlikely that she will be punished because I seriously doubt she knew what she was doing. She wanted a baby so badly that when hers was still-born, she went into total denial and looked for 'her baby'. But in spite of being in a fantasy world, she went about finding a baby in a very rational and methodical way. It is easy to see, for example, why she went to the hospital. After all, aren't most children told babies come from the hospital? And she was very clever in disguising herself as a doctor or surgical nurse. I was told she must have seen a surgeon or nurse toss operating room togs into the disposal bin and she used them. But I really don't think she knew what she was doing."

"I don't either. All the time we were with her, and especially while I was shopping with her, she kept talking about Jessica. I think she really believed, or had convinced herself, Elizabeth was her baby," I said. "I'm like Michael: I feel sorry for her."

"As I said, I don't know what will eventually happen to her, but I'm willing to bet she will have a better life than she has had, regardless of where she ends up," David said.

Just as David finished speaking, the 6:00 p.m. news came on and Elizabeth's kidnapping was the lead story. The anchor opened by saying, "Yesterday when a mother prepared to leave the hospital in Concord with her day-old twins, only one was found. Day-old Elizabeth Kathryn Andrews, daughter of Mr. and Dr. David Andrews, had disappeared. The baby was found late this afternoon by her brother and his girlfriend. LaTasha Jackson is standing by in Concord. LaTasha, what have you learned about the kidnapping?"

"Stu, Dr. Margaret Andrews gave birth to twins yesterday. According to hospital authorities, Dr. Andrews was at home when her labor started and her husband rushed home to discover his wife was so far along, a trip to the hospital was out of the question. Mr. Andrews is a nurse and a member of the EMS team in Concord, so he delivered his twin daughters. The twins and their mother were then transported to Concord General where all three were declared in excellent condition."

"Earlier today, when Dr. Andrews was preparing to return to her home, only one of the twins was in the nursery. According to hospital security, a video tape revealed a person dressed in surgical garb, complete with mask, took the baby. A task force was quickly set up with the help of the FBI, but was making little progress.

According to the head of the task force, friends of the Andrews family attending college in Ohio, and a group of Independence High School students--friends of the twins' sixteen-year-old brother--started speculating about who might have taken the baby and what might have been done with her. Here's what Maxwell Jones, head of the task force, said about the students' reasoning."

"Students here and in Ohio started trying to imagine who had taken the baby and why. I won't go into their thinking, but they decided the kidnapper was a high school girl, poor and with a single parent, an abusive father. With those things in mind, they speculated that the person would need to shoplift things for the baby. Michael, the baby's brother, and his girlfriend decided to put the speculation to the test and located the girl and the baby."

"The kidnapper was also an Independence student, I understand."

"Yes, she was. She had given birth to a still-born child and took the baby from the hospital to replace it."

"Why did she go to the hospital?"

"When asked that question, she said we should know there are babies at the hospital."

"What I can't understand is how she managed to walk into a hospital, take a baby and walk out."

"It was easy enough. She dressed in surgical garb she had seen tossed in a bin for disposal, so she looked like she belonged in the hospital and, because her face was covered by a mask, no-one suspected her."

"Can you tell us what will happen to her?" The agent told the reporter what David had told us and finished by saying, "From what I have found out, just about any place would be better than her home."

"While the students were out solving the case, what were your people doing?"

The agent laughed and said, "We were following up on some of the results of the group's speculation. They had decided the kidnapper was poor and would shoplift baby supplies. When a convenience store owner caught a young girl shoplifting two cans of baby formula in the same neighborhood where the Andrews baby was found, we thought sure we had the kidnapper. Turns out we were wrong. Seems the shoplifter had a neighbor with no food for her sick baby and no money, so she went shoplifting."

"I suppose she has been jailed."

"No. The store owner refused to press charges saying it is always right to steal food for a baby if that is the only way you can get it. In fact, not only did he not press charges, but he sent a case of formula home with the girl for her neighbor's baby. We reported the case to Social Services and they have taken food to the mother and baby and will see they are cared for. All in all, it has not been a bad day for babies."

"Thank you very much, Mr. Jones. Well, Stu, it has been a good day for babies, I suppose, but a very rough one for the Andrews family."

"LaTasha, were you able to learn how the girl reacted when the Andrews baby was taken from her?"

"Actually I was, Stu. I talked with two of Concord's police officers--Officers Ramsey and Paige. When the baby was found, the two who found her--I need to check my notes here--Michael Andrews and Mary Kathryn Larsen--reported the kidnapper wanted a pretty dress and shoes for the baby. The young couple took the kidnapper to a local baby shop and allowed her to shop for half an hour or so. When she had picked out a dress and shoes, Michael got her to let him dress the baby and when the officers told her she needed to go with them, apparently she trusted Michael to keep her baby. She left without presenting any problem. Officer Ramsey said Michael had asked that she be given the pleasure of shopping before she was taken away. An amazing young man, don't you think?"

"Sounds like it, LaTasha. We, by the way, found some file footage of Mr. Andrews from an interview he did last year concerning a memorial service at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Concord. We also have some footage of Miss Larsen and Mr. Andrews when they served as docents at an exhibition there last spring." While the announcer talked, in the background was video of Michael and me. "Have you been able to talk with any of the Andrews family?"

"No, I haven't. I hope to do so before the 11:00 news."

"Thank you, LaTasha."

David clicked off the TV with the remote and said, "I don't think Miss Jackson will be interviewing this Andrews."

"You know she will try," Dad said. "I am surprised she wasn't here with a crew when Michael arrived. Or, worse, try to get close-ups of Margaret crying."

"I wish she had been here to film Michael holding Elizabeth at arm's length and calling her shitty," I laughed.

"Michael! You didn't!" Margaret exclaimed.

"Well, she was. Very definitely."

When the phone rang, David said, "That will be LaTasha. I have no intention of talking with her."  "Neither have I," Margaret said. "I guess there will not be film at 11:00."

David answered the phone, listened a minute, covered the mouthpiece and said, "How do you like that? It's LaTasha Jackson, of course, but she's not interested in talking with either of us. She wants to interview Michael and Mary Kathryn."

"Well, what are you going to tell her? They are underage, so she needs our permission," Margaret said.

"I don't know. Jens, Gabrielle, what do you think?"

"I say it's up to them," Gabrielle said. "I think I'm for it because most of the news about young people is bad news. Why not have a bit of good news about them? But don't you think they should be asked before we decide?"

"I guess," David said. "Michael, Mary Kathryn, what do you think?"

"Why not? Good news about kids is a good idea," Michael said.

"Then you talk to her."

Michael took the phone, listened for a few minutes and finally said, "That's fine with us, but you have to agree to show us the tape exactly as it will be aired before it is broadcast... Well, if you can't do that, I guess there's no interview... Agreed." When Michael hung up the phone he said, "We get to see the tape in exchange, if it's permitted, for a picture of Elizabeth."

"Just a picture, no long filming," Margaret said.

"Right," Michael answered.

I had agreed to the interview because I did think it was good to have some positive news about young adults, but also because I wanted to say something about Billie Sue. Ever since I saw her sitting in that abandoned mill, holding Elizabeth, I couldn't get her and her situation out of my thoughts. LaTasha Jackson and her film crew would be at the house about nine, so there was no rush about anything.

Just as I hung up the phone, I heard a car drive up. When I looked out the window, I saw Bill's car and it was packed. People started pouring out of it, all carrying what looked like dishes. I went to the door and opened it just as Bill reached for the doorbell. "Man, that was fast," he laughed. "I didn't even hear the bell and here you are. We come, Oh Brother Michael, with food in our hands," Bill announced in the style of a southern backwoods preacher--something he did well, but had to be careful about, for most of Concord would see it as poking fun at THEIR preacher, which it was indirectly. It started when he had heard a country preacher praying over a woman in the hospital, "Oh Lord, we come to you with this dear soul's kidneys in our hands".

"Our moms got together and decided you didn't need to worry about food, so they prepared supper," Linda said. "Of course, you're supposed to invite us to eat as well."

"You're invited," I said.

Bill and the crew--under the very direct supervision of Linda--soon had food on the table. Dad said grace and everyone grabbed a plate and filled it. The adults were sitting at the dining room table, so we filled our plates and crowded around the kitchen table.

As soon as we were seated, Jacob said, "Hey, Rachel, show off the new ring and be sure and tell how you got it."

Rachel laughed and held up her hand to show off a Hopi inlay ring. "I chose one with a thunderbird because I like to drum," she said. "I called Dad and told him I needed money for a school social and academic organization. I knew he would fall for the social part. He is very keen on having me in a social whirl. He sent it at once and said he was pleased I was in with the right group. Of course he was right, but what he thought about was something like the Independence Sub-Debs."

"Somehow or other, I can't see you with the Sub-Debs," Bill said. "I get a mental image of you drumming and it just doesn't fit with the bunch who use valley girl speak--with their teeth together and a painted-on smile."

"I can't imagine myself in that situation unless it was a nightmare," Rachel laughed. "But I have a question. I have been thinking about what Roxanne did: stealing formula for that sick baby. I know she was shoplifting, but it was for a sick baby."

"We were discussing ethics in social studies last week and the question of whether or not it is ever right to steal came up. It was all very airy-fairy talk, just a brain twister," Susan said, "but it's not some mind game now. Roxanne stole food for a hungry baby. Did she do right or wrong?"

"It's easy to say it's never right to steal," I said. "That makes decision-making easy because it has already been done for you. I think most people like that--hard-and-fast rules--so they don't have to think."

"It's also easy to say it's always right to steal to feed a hungry baby. If the option is steal or go hungry, that's one thing. If the option is steal or go to work, that's quite another," Linda said.

"Well did Roxanne do what was right or wrong? I think we know most of the facts in this case. What do you think?" Rachel asked.

"I think she did right this time. She didn't, obviously, have time to earn money or get help because when she knew about the baby, it was hungry. Now if she steals next week, I think that's a whole different kettle of fish," Jacob said.

"Why?" Bill asked.

"She now knows about Social Services, she has time to earn some money. She has alternatives, acceptable alternatives to stealing," Jacob answered.

"Ok, so you are saying there is not a hard-and-fast rule about stealing," I said.

"Right. I'd say that about everything," Jacob said.

"Then there is no standard, no way of determining right and wrong. I'm very uneasy with that, but I'm also very uneasy with hard-and-fast rules," Mary Kathryn said. "There has to be something in-between."

"Last summer, while I was at the monastery, Father Abbot and I got into a similar discussion," I said. "He finally said that most such discussions weren't helpful because they were all theory. 'It's easy to think up situations which make for interesting discussions, but people are never theoretical and the situations in which they live are never simple,' he said. I guess I look at the world and at a situation and ask one question, "Does the anticipated action show love for your neighbors?".

"I can't argue with that, but what do you mean by showing love to the neighbor? And what if there are two neighbors and to help one you hurt the other. I mean the convenience store owner was hurt so the baby could be helped."

"The problem, since we live in a complex world and have to make messy decisions because life is messy, is how do you increase love in the world. We just have to decide whether action or inaction increases love among neighbors. If it does, it's a responsible and moral action. Only problem is almost always we have to decide between wrong and wrong or right and right. Seldom are we given the luxury of choosing between right and wrong. I have given a lot of thought to that and it's not an easy way to live, because you're always making decisions, but I think it's the only way to really live. End of sermon," I said.

"Gee, pretty heavy stuff, Michael," Rachel said. "So, was stealing the formula a responsible action and therefore a right action or not? Roxanne chose between stealing--a wrong--and allowing a baby to go hungry--a wrong. But was it responsible? It was a choice between a thing--formula--and a person--the baby. I say it was right."

There was general agreement that Roxanne had been responsible, and this was no theoretical situation. Having started a discussion of right and wrong, naturally the situations brought up became more and more outlandish, but fun.

We had finished eating, putting the food away and the dishes in the dishwasher when the doorbell rang. "I'll get it," I said, "It's almost 9:00 so I bet it's LaTasha Jackson."

When I opened the door, LaTasha Jackson was standing outside with a couple of others.

"I'm LaTasha Jackson," she said, "and you are Michael Andrews."

"Yes, come on in."

When we got inside, LaTasha introduced the cameraman and lighting tech as George and Alfred. "Where would you like for us to set up?" she asked.

"We are all sitting around the kitchen table involved in a great discussion of ethics. You can set up there or here in the living room," I said.

"Who is in the kitchen?" she asked.

"The Fellowship, our high school group."

"The ones who helped locate your sister?"

"That's right."

"Why don't we set up in the kitchen then, so all of you can be involved."


While the lighting tech was setting up the lights and the cameraman was looking at camera angles, LaTasha joined the group at the kitchen table. I introduced everyone after LaTasha had seated herself.

"Michael called you the Fellowship. What's that all about?"

Linda told how the Fellowship had started and how we lost members to college...

"I assume the college students in Ohio, mentioned as helping locate Elizabeth, are the members you lost?" LaTasha asked.

"Yes," Bill answered, "and Rachel, Keith, Jack, Susan and Chris are the new members."

"So you call yourselves the Fellowship?"

"The Fellowship of the Rings," Rachel added. When LaTasha asked, Rachel told her why the rings and showed her new one.

"I think it would be great to open with a shot of the rings. George, could you get an overhead shot of their hands?" George nodded and LaTasha said, "Put your hands together in a circle and George will shoot your hands from overhead".

When the hand shot was finished, the interview began. The group explained the logic we used to try to determine how and where Elizabeth had been taken. When we finished that, LaTasha said, "Michael said all of you were engaged in a great ethical discussion? About what?"

Mary Kathryn told how we were discussing whether or not what Roxanne had done was ethical.

"What did you conclude? And how about what Billie Sue did?"

"That Roxanne's was a responsible, and therefore ethical, action," Linda said. But we hadn't discussed what Billie Sue did."

That provoked a lively discussion in which the general consensus was that Billie Sue's was an irresponsible action. "I take exception to that," Michael said. "Actually I don't think Billie Sue was responsible for her actions at all. I think Billie Sue was living in an illusion. I am convinced she thought she had her own baby, I don't think she was aware she had taken Elizabeth."

"Ok, does that mean you can do anything you want when you are living in an illusion?" Bill asked. "Does that mean that if I am convinced I am hot stuff..."

"Don't think you want to go there on camera, Billy Boy," Linda said. Bill blushed.

"What I am saying is that if you are mentally incapable of making a decision, you can't be held responsible. Maybe you need to be placed somewhere for treatment or to prevent you from hurting someone or yourself, but you can't be held responsible," Michael replied. "That's the reason I sure hope Billie Sue gets treatment, not punishment."

"I feel the same way," Mary Kathryn said. "I know she thought she was shopping for her baby at Bundle of Joy."

We talked on about that a bit and, finally, LaTasha said, "Well, I think I have more than enough film. Anything you don't want shown? Otherwise I'll upload it so the film can be edited for the 11:00 news which is just an hour away."

We all decided she could use any of it. Then she asked for a picture of Elizabeth. Mary Kathryn and I went to the den and asked Mom about getting the twins.

"They are both awake, but no long filming," she answered.

Mary Kathryn and I held the two, and LaTasha got film, thanked us and left.

Monday, just after lunch, I was walking down the hall toward my next class with Mary Kathryn when we approached Phillip Curran, who was holding court with his buddies. "Yea, I knocked Billie Sue up. Since I was a football star and had money, she fell all over herself when I asked her for a date. She was a good piece of ass until I knocked her up. The stupid little bitch wouldn't get an abortion. She said she was going to keep the baby. I told her she was stupid, but she actually thought I would marry her or at least support her bastard."

That was as far as he got. I walked up to him and said, "Phillip, you are a no-good son of a bitch for treating that poor girl like you did."

"You better get moving, scarface, or I'll kick your butt good. She wanted to fuck, so I fucked her. If she was going to fuck around, she should have been on the pill. Not my fault that she was knocked up. Fortunately, the bastard died when it was born. Now move on or else."

"Or else what?"

"Or else, like I said, I'll kick your god-damn ass."

"Just try it, Asshole."

"Michael, let it go. He's not worth the effort," Mary Kathryn said.

I paid no attention to what Mary Kathryn said and she left, walking down the hall.

Phillip got in my space, grabbed the front of my shirt and pulled me toward himself until he was really in my face, his nose practically touching mine. "Who are you calling asshole, Asshole?" he demanded.

"You're the only asshole I see," I replied.

"What I did with Billie Sue is none of your fucking business," Phillip said as he shoved me.

"Phillip, you hurt Billie Sue and, because of what you did, you hurt my family."

"Tough titty, Faggot."

"Not a nice word, Phillip, and wrong in any case. Now shut up bad-mouthing Billie Sue. You took advantage of a lonely and confused young woman. You may think you are a man and a stud, but you're just a little boy trying to play manly games, Shithead."

"All I did was fuck her brains out and knock her up. No big deal, Chickenshit."

"A very big deal, Asshole."

"I warned you, Andrews." Phillip pulled his fist back, but I was quicker, landing one right on his chin, cold-cocking him. He fell to the floor like the bag of shit he was. His buddies were so surprised that they didn't react for a minute, then they were ready to gang up on me when the guys of the Fellowship ran up and grabbed them.

"That's enough," Bill said. "You all know about fighting in school. Michael, to the office." Keith got a cup of water from the fountain and splashed Phillip in the face. Phillip came around and, as he did, he jumped to his feet, his fist pulled back. Keith grabbed him, twisted his arm behind his back and stopped him from throwing a punch.

"To the office with you too, Phillip," he said. "If the rest of you want to go to the office as witnesses, come along, but there will be no more fighting."

When we got to the office, Phillip and I told Ms. Jones what had happened and both were truthful. "Michael, you hit Phillip and you know the student rule around here, 'You throw, you go'. You can have a trial or you can plead guilty and take your three-day suspension. Phillip, I can't do anything about the disrespect you showed, and the hurt you caused Billie Sue out of school, but you will have to stand trial for using derogatory language about her and Michael leading to this fight or you can save all of us time and plead guilty."

"I'm not guilty of anything except telling my buddies about Billie Sue," Phillip said. "I'll take my chances."

"Then you need to get your witnesses together for a trial Wednesday after school. You can go on back to class. Michael, what about you?"

"No use holding a trial, I cold-cocked Phillip and don't regret it. Well, I regret fighting, but not letting him know what a jerk he is."

"Then get your things and leave campus at once. You are suspended for three days, including today."

I went to my locker and got my books. The guys of the Fellowship and Mary Kathryn had gone to the office with me, so they knew I was suspended and would get my assignments. My teachers might or might not accept assignments I did while home because I was suspended. As I headed home, I wondered what Mom and Dad would say and do.

As I walked in the front door, Mom said, "Michael, what in the world are you doing home. School's not out for two and a half or three hours."

"Mom, I got suspended for three days."

"You got suspended? Suspended? Michael Andrews, you got suspended from school? For three days? What in the world for?"

"I cold-cocked Phillip Curran."

"You were fighting? I hope you have a good explanation for that," Mom said. I could see she was not at all happy.

I told Mom what had happened. "When he started talking about that poor girl, I just lost it. He caused her no end of grief and us as well. And he was bragging about it. After some name-calling, he got right in my face and drew back a fist and I let him have it. He went down and out like a light. The guys of the Fellowship kept Phillip's friends from jumping me and Bill escorted us to the office. I knew the punishment, so I just entered a guilty plea and got suspended for three days, counting today."

"Michael Andrews! You have been suspended from school for fighting. I know you were upset by what Phillip Curran said. I can understand that, but fighting? There was no need for violence. You know that."

"Mom, I really do feel bad about what I did--not about taking Phillip on for what he was saying, but about fighting. But, Mom, you should have heard how he talked about that poor girl. I just let my temper get the better of me."

"Michael, I hope you have learned a lesson about letting your temper run away with you. We'll talk to your father about this situation but, off-hand, I think you should not only be suspended for the three days but also grounded--no phone, no going anywhere, no e-mail. But we'll talk to your dad before any final decision is made. Until then, you are grounded."

I would have liked to argue with mom, but I saw the look in her eye which said I better not. I went to my room, got out my books, put on a CD--I turned the volume down because I was afraid Mom would hear it and add no music to my punishment--and started working on assignments. I was caught up, but had an essay for Yong Jin due before Thanksgiving holidays and an AP American history project I hadn't started which was also due before Thanksgiving.

The essay topic was our choice of any issue and was to be persuasive. I did some free writing and found, after I had written for a while, I was focusing on the situation with Billie Sue and Roxanne. I wanted to write an argument involving an ethical issue, but couldn't decide exactly what. I wrote some about both situations--just phrases, words, that sort of thing--for a while, then looked at what I had written. I saw that there was no way I could justify what Billie Sue had done. If she knew what she was doing, her act was irresponsible. But if she didn't really know what she was doing--and I was sure she didn't--she wasn't responsible: not irresponsible, but not responsible.

Seeing that I would get nowhere with Billie Sue, I focused on Roxanne stealing the baby formula. I worked for a good hour and had an essay ready for a final edit. It was pretty easy to write, especially since the Fellowship had discussed it at length. I took a bathroom break, stretched, and went back to my computer and did a final draft. I printed it out and would give it to Mary Kathryn when she brought my assignments.

I tackled the AP American history project. I had chosen to do a Powerpoint presentation on the causes of the war of 1812. I started by outlining my material and then did a story board. It took me until I heard Dad come in to get the story board done. When I heard Dad come in, I reluctantly dragged myself downstairs.

"I guess this is the part following 'Just wait until your daddy gets home,' isn't it? OK, Dad, I have been suspended..."

"You have been WHAT? Did you say you have been suspended?"

This was going worse than I thought, so I responded, "Yes, sir, I have been suspended for three days."

"Michael, WHY? Suspended for three days! Young man, I hope you have a good reason for being suspended--not that I think there is a good reason." It was obvious Dad was steaming. I couldn't think of any way around telling him what happened.

When I finished telling Dad about slugging Phillip and getting suspended, he said, "It seems to me, young man, you need to learn to control your hot temper. Suspended for three days for fighting. I can't believe it!"

"Seems to me the father might need to learn to control a hot temper as well," Mom said very quietly.

I expected Dad to really explode then, and he definitely started to, caught himself, and a slow smile spread across his face. "I did pretty much make a spectacle of myself, didn't I?" he asked sheepishly. "Sorry, Son. I guess I let my temper run away with me. Now that I'm rational, tell me again what happened."

I again told Dad what had prompted me to challenge Phillip Curran, and that I slugged him because he was about to slug me.
Chapter Fifteen
(This chapter opens on Tuesday, November 14, 1995)

I got up as usual Tuesday morning, showered and dressed and went downstairs. Dad was fixing breakfast and Mom was feeding one of the twins. The other was lying in a carrier on the kitchen table. "One down and two to go," I said as I sat down. "Dad, you have anything you want me to do today? I know I won't spend all day on school work. I don't have that much."

"You could work up the hay in the river bottoms. I'm really surprised that we got a cutting this late, but the weather has been so warm, I cut it Saturday so it's ready to bale and bring to the barn. If you get it done today, we won't have it to do Saturday. And you might help your mom with the girls. One baby is a full-time job and there are two here. You might even learn how to diaper one," Dad laughed.

"I really could use some help after breakfast bathing the two. If you'd help me with that, I'd appreciate it," Mom said.

"Mom, in time I might learn what and how to do for the girls, but you are going to have to tell me when there is something I can do. I won't just know it."

"I'm sure you will learn very quickly, Michael," Mom said. "When they cry it generally means they are wet, messy or hungry. That's about all babies care about--eating and staying clean--and you can hardly do anything about feeding them so long as I am producing enough milk."

"Mom, you make yourself sound like a cow!"

"Well, cows and I have something in common. We are mammals and mammals feed their young with their own milk," Mom laughed, "and I don't think you can help out with that."

The twin Mom was nursing had gone to sleep with a nipple in her mouth. Without thinking I said, "Man, I'd never do that, go to sleep when there's a nipple available". As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I realized what I had said. I could feel my face burning as Dad, then Mom, gave me a look and started laughing.

"Michael, I think you have great difficulty hiding much from us because you speak without thinking," Mom said.

"I do a lot of thinking but, you are right, too often I just blurt something out. Not very wise."

"Certainly not at all wise when you are talking--I assume--about Jens' baby girl. The Danish troll can be pretty terrible when he sets his mind to it."

Dad put breakfast on the table and we sat down. Just as dad finished the grace, Elizabeth let out a howl. "Food, mess or wet?" I asked.

"Not food, because she was just fed," Mom said. She slipped a finger under the leg of Elizabeth's diaper, pulled the diaper aside and said, "Not wet or messy. I guess that leaves a gas bubble." She put Elizabeth on her shoulder and started stroking her back. I was surprised when the baby burped. It was not a tiny little delicate burp at all.

After breakfast, I cleaned up the kitchen then bathed the twins under Mom's supervision. They were so tiny I was afraid I would hurt them. Mom kept reassuring me, telling me they were not china dolls. It didn't do a lot of good because by the time I had finished with the two, I was a nervous wreck. Mom promised me I would get used to handling the girls. "And, besides," she said, "they will get stronger and be able to hold themselves together."

By the time we had finished bathing the babies, the morning dew was gone and I could go to the river bottoms. Dad had bought a well-used hay baler several years ago, the old-fashioned kind which made neat square bales--not the huge rolls most modern balers make. We make plenty of hay, but not enough to justify purchasing a new baler. I went to the shed by the barn, started the tractor--which was also old, but kept running like a top by Dad--hooked up to the baler and headed for the bottoms.

The river bottoms--the broad flood plain along the river--is exceptionally fertile for the same reason the Nile's flood plain is fertile. Floods deposit soil from up-river, covering the flood plain. The river seldom floods, but over the years it had created the fertile river bottoms. When I reached the bottoms, I saw Dad had cut the hay, but had not raked it into windrows. That meant I had to go back to the house and get the rake to do that. I was in no hurry, the day was sunny and quite warm for mid-November. I unhitched the baler and drove back to the house, hooked up the rake and returned to the bottoms.

I enjoyed work like raking and baling hay. It required little thought and you could see what you had accomplished. I liked the fact that I didn't have to concentrate on the work so I could think. It was solitude for me and that was important. I needed time to myself just to think.

As I circled the meadow, I wondered what was happening at school. I was a little embarrassed when I realized I was thinking about how school was getting along without me and assumed the answer was "not well". I had assumed I was so important the school would collapse if I wasn't there running things. "What a swell-head you have become," I said to myself. As I continued raking hay, I took that thought further. If I weren't present, at least the Fellowship was. But it didn't take me long to remember we all had been gone for almost a week over Halloween, and when we got back the school was still standing and running very well, thank you.

I guess I had finally come upon an answer to a problem Mary Kathryn and I faced. We were so busy with school we had neglected each other, but it was our fault, not the school's. The women's group Linda and Mary Kathryn had started was going very well and they had turned it over to a couple of other women to run. I could see that there were other things in which Mary Kathryn and I were involved that needed to be turned over to someone else. For example, I didn't want to drop out of the peer counseling program, but there was no reason why the leadership should not go to someone else. By the time I had all the hay in windrows, I had thought of several ways Mary Kathryn and I could gain some free time while allowing others to experience leadership.

It was near lunch time when I switched to the hay baler and started making the rounds of the meadow again. As I did, I asked myself why I was there instead of being in school. I had slugged a fellow student who, no doubt about it, was a first-class asshole, but me slugging him didn't change that. It hadn't helped Billie Sue at all. Nothing had changed so far as she was concerned or, for that matter, so far as Phillip Curran was concerned. I will admit landing one on the asshole's jaw made me feel better, but I didn't need to get all self-righteous about it. It had done no-one any good. All I had really accomplished was getting tossed out of school for three days. "Bad move, Golden Eagle," I said to myself.

I took a lunch break and when I got to the house, Mom was busy feeding Mary. Elizabeth was demanding attention at the top of her lungs. "She probably needs changing," Mom said. "Think you can manage that?"

"Sure." Mom had showed me how to diaper a baby and I had gotten good at it. Not to say I liked changing a messy diaper, but I could do it. When I got her changed, I held her and she started rooting at my chest, looking for a nipple. "Hope you get over that before you're a teenager," I laughed.

When Mom finished feeding Mary, I took her, put her over my shoulder and stroked her back until she burped. When she did, she promptly went to sleep and I took her to the nursery. By the time I had Mary down, Mom was about finished with Elizabeth. While she finished, I fixed lunch for us.

When she came back to the kitchen, Mom said, "Obviously I don't approve of your behavior yesterday and I don't want you out of school, but you sure are a big help. Think if anyone could really tell you how demanding babies are the human race would die out in a generation. I've just started with these two and have the teen years to look forward to, but maybe they will be as little trouble as their brother. Thanks, Michael, not only for helping now but for always." Mom gave me a hug and kiss on the cheek and I blushed. "Why the blush, Michael?" Mom asked.

"Because I got to thinking this morning that I was beginning to think I was a lot more important than I am." I then told Mom how I had realized I was starting to think I was indispensable.

We talked about that and Mom assured me I had never acted like I thought I was the be all and end all, "but I'm glad you did that bit of reflection. It will help keep you from becoming self-important and you don't want that."

"Well I need to get busy with the hay. I think I can at least get it all baled today." As I circled the meadow with the baler, I resolved to be much more aware of myself, so I wouldn't slip into thinking I was something special--well I was special, but you know what I mean.

The last day of my suspension, I worked really hard. I took the tractor and trailer to the meadow and loaded the newly baled hay. I had four loads and each one had to be taken to the barn and stacked in a shed. It really was a two-person job--one on the trailer handing off the bales and the other stacking them--and I knew Dad expected me to wait until he could help, but I decided to go ahead and get it done. I dropped the bales off the trailer, then had to pick them up and stack them in the shed. After I finished, I knew I had been working! I would definitely have sore muscles. When I got to the house, I took a long hot shower which soothed them somewhat.

When Dad came home, he was surprised and I was tired and sore. "Michael, you could have waited until I got home or until Saturday, but I'm glad it's done." After supper, Dad said he would give me a good rub-down and it felt very, very good. When he finished he said, "Your school suspension was over when school was out today so I guess your grounding's ended as well."

"Thanks, Dad," I said as I rushed upstairs and called Mary Kathryn.

"Michael, no-one at school could believe you got suspended. Several people said they thought since you were so 'in' with the administration, you're get by with slugging Phillip. I think you did more for the student government by slugging that jerk and getting suspended than you have any other way. Just showed there are no favorites. I went to the trial this afternoon and Phillip was found guilty of showing disrespect to Billie Sue and using derogatory language. He's really upset because he was supposed to play in the Independence Invitational game, Thanksgiving Eve, but was sentenced to sitting on the sidelines. He got a sophomore judge, a girl, and I think he thought he could make eyes at her and get off light. She said he was not a good representative of Independence and would not represent us on the field. I think all the football coaches had fits. He's not the best on the team, but he's good. I heard the coaches stormed into Mr. Allan's office expecting the ex-coach to suspend the sentence, but he didn't." Mary Kathryn finally stopped to catch her breath and then asked, "But why are you on the phone? I thought you were grounded."

"I have been released. How about going into town for a shake to celebrate?"

"I'll call you back after I ask. Think all the Fellowship would like to see you. Want to invite them?"

"You afraid of me or don't want to be alone with me or something?"

"I'll get you alone later, but an ice cream parlor is hardly a place where being alone makes a difference. Call Bill and get the tree going." After one particularly frustrating game of phone tag, Bill had suggested we create a "phone tree", you know, where I call Bill and Linda and each of them calls two people. That way you only have to make two phone calls and everybody is contacted. Well if someone isn't home, you call the next two people. When I called Bill, he said he knew Chris was working that night and suggested we meet at Demetri's cafe--Cosmos.

Dad told me to remember it was a school night and I had to be home by 10:30.

I picked up Mary Kathryn. We were pretty good about not showing affection in front of Jens since it made him uncomfortable, but not having seen Mary Kathryn in a couple days, I give her a pretty passionate kiss when she met me as I walked into the house. "I'll have her back by 10:30," I said as we started out the door.

"Bill told me Chris was working at his granddad's place tonight. He said since it was Wednesday and church night for a lot of people, it was never a busy night and asked about us going there instead of the ice cream parlor. I told him it sounded good to me and that was the message we gave everyone."

When we reached the Cosmos Cafe, there were only a couple customers besides Bill and Linda, Jacob and Susan. Chris had put several small tables together for us. "Dan can't make it," he said. "This is his second day with the EMS. Michael, you can tell your dad he is really pleased with the job. Rachel and Jack will be here shortly. Jack had to call to get directions and it took him a while to get Jacob's dad to give his approval for Rachel to come. What'll you have Michael? Mary Kathryn? I have some Greek cookies and am making metrios--sweet Greek coffee. Don't know whether anyone would like the coffee or not. It's very strong and very sweet.

"I'm game," Mary Kathryn said. "I'll at least try the coffee."

"Since I don't take sugar in mine, I don't know that I would like it, but I'll definitely give it a try," I said.

While Chris was getting the coffee and cookies, Rachel and Jack came in. "Who called this meeting?" Jack laughed and added, "Michael, you are either a hero or villain at Independence," as he turned a chair backwards and straddled it. "I think the football team is gunning for you since they blame you for getting Phillip sidelined. Think you are a hero for most everyone else because you took your punishment. I guess it was generally thought that you could get by with anything."

"What will you have, Rachel? Jack? I have Greek coffee and we're all having cookies. The coffee is strong and sweet."

"The way I like my coffee and women," Jack said as he gave Rachel a squeeze about the waist.

"I'll have coffee," Rachel said. "Jack, you may get your coffee strong and sweet, but not this woman. Strong, yes. Sweet, only if treated right."

"I see the gang's all here," Keith said as he came in the door. "The usual, Chris."

"You come here often?" Linda asked.

"Ever since I was a kid. Dad used to bring me when he came. Demetri and I are old buddies. Where is the old Greek, Chris?"

"Wednesday nights I'm pretty much on my own. Few customers and I can handle any cooking--usually very little--which comes up," Chris said, as he set a plate of cookies on the table and served the coffee.

"Michael, you are very popular for being suspended," Keith said. "I was really surprised at how students think you are special because you were punished for slugging that bastard Phillip Curran. I guess everyone thought, since you were so big in student government, you'd get by with landing one on him. Of course the football team is ready to beat your ass."

"Don't think you are joking about the football team, Keith. Michael, I'd advise you to watch yourself. There are a couple or three of the Neanderthals on the team who have really been worked up by Phillip. It's sad to see how easily manipulated they are, but I'd watch it," Jack said.

"So how were your two and a half days of leisure?" Bill asked. "Sleeping late, all that good stuff."

"I wish. I helped a bit with the twins--by the way, if you decide to have sex without protection, you need to spend a couple days with babies. They are a handful and selfish as sin. But what I really did was rake and bale the hay in the bottoms and put it in the shed. Doing that by myself was real fun, NOT! But I'd like to get serious for just a few minutes." I told the Fellowship what I had been thinking when I was baling hay.

"Been thinking almost the same thing," Bill said. "We really need to start turning stuff over to the freshmen and sophomores or there will be a big gap when we start leaving."

We talked about that and came up with some people who we thought should be moved into leadership positions.

We didn't take long to get a good list and when we had, Susan said, "Enough chit-chat, let's get to something important. Keith, how's Marc?"

Keith blushed and said, "He's doing fine. He thought he'd be up this weekend, but there has been a delay with his plane. He has been assured it will be delivered a week from Monday. That's cutting it close since he plans to fly in the following Wednesday afternoon, pick up Paula's mother and go on to Ohio to get the crew there. It's a six-seater so I'll be going up with him."

We talked about Thanksgiving and what we planned to do over the holiday while the Oberlin Five and Marc were in Concord, but mostly we just engaged in teenage chatter--nothing important in content, but definitely important to maintaining our friendship.

The Cosmos closed officially at 9:00 and after Chris closed the doors, we all pitched in and helped him get things cleaned up. He didn't want to take our money for what we had, but we all insisted. While we all cleaned the floor and re-arranged the tables and chairs, Chris closed out the cash register, put the money in a bank bag and was ready to go. When he turned out the lights, Susan said, "Same place next Wednesday?" and we all agreed. Bill told Chris he would take him by the night depository at the bank. Chris thanked him and said he'd walk home from the bank so Bill could get everyone home on time.

It was just a few minutes before 10:00 when Mary Kathryn and I reached her place. It was a mild night for November but too cold to sit on the porch, and the Tracker wasn't made for making out. We went to the porch and got in some passionate kisses, but finally it was just too cold to stay outside. We went in and found Jens and Gabrielle watching something on TV in the family room. We went to the living room and were making out ok, as ok as it could be with parents next door, especially when one is a Danish troll. Too soon it was almost 10:30 and Mary Kathryn's curfew--and mine for that matter. I think I am the only guy at Independence who has a curfew. Mary Kathryn walked to the door with me and, after a long, great goodnight kiss, I went home.

When I walked in, Dad had one baby and Mom the other, pacing the floor with them.

"What's with the girls being up past curfew?" I asked.

"I guess they are just problem children," Mom said. "I think I ate something which disagreed with them."

"You ate something and they got upset?" I thought I had misunderstood.

"Sure. Where do you think milk comes from?" Mom laughed. "There are plenty of things I might eat which could disagree with them."

"Do you think there is any way to let kids know about babies? The more I find out about them the less I look forward to becoming a dad."

"You'll change your mind when the time comes," Dad said. "At least I hope it's the right time."

"Right," I said. "Well, I'm going up and leave you four waltzing. Don't have any school work due tomorrow and am ahead on some, but want to be sure I'm well ahead when Thanksgiving break comes and the crew is here."

"Michael, that reminds me. We are doing Thanksgiving dinner at the Greywolfs' this year. Yong Jin and Greywolf both asked that we invite everyone who was in Ohio--first and second time. Will you take care of finding out who will and who will not be there for dinner? It will be at 6:00 Thanksgiving Day."

"Sure, Mom."

When I got upstairs, I decided I would take care of that right away so I wouldn't forget it. I talked to Keith and asked him to check on Douglas, Janet and Marc, and told the others to check with their parents. I thought most of the parents would be having Thanksgiving at home and wouldn't come to the Greywolfs', but all would had been invited.

School Thursday was an interesting experience. Students who had never spoken to me did, some even saying they were surprised I took my punishment, others that I was punished at all. That was one group of students. The cheer leaders and football players either ignored me or made some pretty nasty remarks when they passed me in the hall. A couple of the football players threatened me and told me I better watch going into dark places. I generally ignored them and their tough-guy attitudes and threats.

I only saw Phillip once and he was down the hall when he shot me a bird. I thought I was being a real man when I ignored him, but if he could have heard what I was thinking he would have known I thought he was a slime ball.

Before homeroom Bill said, "Michael, I think you better watch yourself. I'm sure some real boneheads have been talked into doing you damage if they get the chance."

"I guess if they want to, they can take me on. Don't know how I would do against one or two, but I'll not roll over and play dead."

"Just be careful," Chris added to Bill's warning.

At lunch, Jack warned me again to watch myself. "I think there may be others not playing the Thanksgiving Eve game," he said. "There is sure to be a fight before the day's over unless what I hear is wrong."

"I hope not," I said. "I don't think I could take on the whole football team."

"It won't be the whole team," Bill said, "you can depend on that. Most are too smart to get involved in a fight, but there are a couple or three Neanderthals, who aren't smart enough to know they are being manipulated and used, who will probably do the dirty work. Just be alert."

I didn't give the warning a lot of thought because I was sure it was a lot of talk and bluff.

After school I had a meeting with Coach Dye, the track and field coach. He wanted me to be an assistant to him since track and field was not a big crowd pleaser so he didn't have assistants like the football and basketball coaches. We talked for about half an hour and I finally agreed to be his assistant since I would be with the track team anyway. "I just can't give up much more of my time and, in fact, I am trying to cut back."

"Don't think this will require much more time than regular track practice, but there will be more responsibility," Coach had said.

After our meeting, I was walking out of the gym when Billy Maddox--a football player who was a nice guy, but dumb as dirt--called me. "Hey, Michael, I need to talk to you." He was standing by the corner of the gym so I walked over to where he was and, just as I got there, two football players, Arch and Duffus, jumped me.

"What the hell is this?" I asked.

"You got Phillip benched and we don't like it. He's one of us," Billy said.

"Then you need to teach him some manners. Because of what he did, my baby sister got stolen. Is that the kind of friend you have?"

"Phillip didn't steal your baby sister. He didn't do nothing to you," Duffus said, "and you got him benched for our big Thanksgiving game."

"I say he did do something to me, but that's none of your business, is it?"

"It is our business. He's our buddy, ain't that right, Arch?" Duffus asked. "There's college scouts at the Thanksgiving Eve game and we gotta kick butt and you done took one of our goodest players," Arch said. "Now we gonna teach you some sense." As Arch spoke, he and Duffus grabbed my arms and pulled them behind my back. "This here's for Phillip," Billy said as he doubled up his fist and punched me in the stomach, knocking my breath out. While I was doubled over, trying to regain my breath, Billy grabbed an arm and Duffus took his place in front of me. I knew what was coming and tried to steel myself, but the second blow to my stomach knocked my breath out again. I was seeing stars and was ready to throw up when I realized Arch was now standing in front of me, ready to deliver a third punch to my tortured middle. As his fist landed, he suddenly fell to the ground.

I collapsed on the ground as Billy and Duffus turned me loose. From there, I saw Bill had put an arm around Arch's neck and put him on the ground. I fell because Keith, Jack, Jacob and Chris had also come to my rescue and put the two who had been holding me on the ground. As I looked up, I saw Chris take off around the building followed by Keith. "You three stay put," Bill said. I almost laughed at the idea that Bill, Jacob and Jack could make the three brutes who had attacked me do anything. "Sit down, now!" Bill ordered the three and they looked at each other and then at Bill and started laughing and stood up.

"Who you to order us around?" Billy asked. "You not our daddy."

"For which I am eternally thankful," Bill answered. "Now sit!" As Bill spoke, Jacob gave Billy a kick behind his knees, causing him to fall on his butt. "I said sit!" Bill said, as Jacob took down another player with a shove to the back of his legs. Jack put the third one on his butt and the three guys stood over the sitting football players, each with a foot on the fallen thugs' chests. As Jacob, Bill and Jack made sure the three stayed on the ground, Chris and Keith came back, each holding one of Phillip's arms twisted behind his back.

"Seems Mr. Curran got this all set up and was watching from behind the building, but he made the mistake of poking his head out to have a good look at the wrong time," Chris said. "So you three guys are in trouble because of Phillip. Wonder what will come of this?"

As Chris spoke, Ms. Jones and Mr. Allan came running over to where we were. As soon as they were close enough, Phillip said, "I don't know why Billy started a fight. I had nothing to do with it. These two came around the building to pick on me."

"We were just doing what you told us to do, Phillip," Billy said.

"Yea, you told us we needed to beat the shit out of Michael Andrews because he's a faggot who got you benched so we would lose the game. We just did what you told us. Ain't that right, Billy?" Duffus asked.

"I don't know what you are talking about Duffus. I didn't tell you to do anything."

"Yes you did so too," Arch said. "You told us that we needed to beat the shit out of Michael Andrews because he was keeping us from college scholarships and besides he was queer and might kiss us or something."

I just thought I had been sick from the beating! When Arch said I might I kiss him, I got the mental picture of it and I was really sick!

"Billy, Duffus, Arch, you three are suspended until you can appear in student court or, if you choose, before a school board tribunal. In either case, you will be charged with fighting on school grounds. You are to come to school tomorrow morning at 8:00 with a parent and decide whether you want to face a school board tribunal or a student court."

"Phillip, you are much worse than these three poor guys. You have duped them into doing your dirty work. You will be charged with inciting to fight, accessory before the fact and use of derogatory language. You are suspended until a parent appears with you and you decide how you want to be tried. Duffus, Arch, Billy, you will be required to testify about Phillip telling you to fight Michael. Now all four of you get off campus and come directly to the office tomorrow morning at 8:00 with a parent. Do you all understand?"

"Yes, ma'am," the three attackers said.


"I heard you," he answered with a snarl.

"Then I will see you in the morning--with a parent."

As the four started walking toward Phillip's car, Mr. Allan asked, "Are you all right Michael? I think we forgot you had been slugged a few times."

"I think I'm ok, but I bet I have a blue belly tomorrow."

"Sorry we didn't get here in time to prevent you getting jumped. I didn't think something like this would happen," Mr. Allan said.

After I assured Ms. Jones and Mr. Allan I was ok, they walked back into the school building. "Thanks, guys," I said. "I thought I was in for a real beating."

"I think you got one," Keith said. "Just glad we got here when we did. Wish it had been sooner. Wonder what will happen to those three? They are just dumb enough to be easily manipulated by someone like Phillip. And Phillip? This is his second offense and a very serious one."

"I won't be placing any bets on Independence winning the Thanksgiving Eve game," Keith said. "By the way, Chris, you did some fast running there when Phillip took off. Think your workouts are producing results. You need to try out for the track and field team next spring."

I think I was hurt more than I thought because when Bill and Keith helped me to my feet, I could barely stand, much less walk. They helped--actually just about carried--me to my car and Mary Kathryn drove me home.

When I got home, I stepped out of the Tracker and fell down. "Damn, my legs are like rubber. You gonna have to help me, Wild Woman." Mary Kathryn put an arm around me and I leaned on her as we headed toward the house. I thought I was doing fine, but then my rubber legs got me again and I fell. Mary Kathryn kinda caught me, but couldn't hold the dead weight I had become.

"Margaret, I need help," she yelled. When Mom didn't come, she ran into the house.

Mom came rushing out, stretched me out on the ground and started examining me. "I think I'll be all right in a few minutes", I said. Mom was probing around my belly and she hit a tender spot. "Ouch! Holy shit, Mom, that hurt," I shouted.

"Michael, I hope I'm wrong, but I think there's some internal damage. You need to go to the hospital and get checked out. I can't tell anything definite because I'm not Superman with x-ray vision. Mary Kathryn, get Michael's phone for me and I'll call David. I think an ambulance is needed so more damage is not done."

"Mom, I don't think all that is necessary. I'll be ok in a few minutes."

"Michael, you are worse now than you were a few minutes ago. You are getting worse, not better," Mary Kathryn said as she came back from the Tracker with my phone.

Mom dialed a number and said, "David Andrews, please. This is Dr. Andrews... David, Margaret. Michael got jumped at school today and took three blows to the stomach from three of Independence's football players. He's unable to walk on his own and I fear there may be internal damage. He's going to need to come to the hospital to be checked out... Ok, we'll be looking for you." Mom closed the phone and said, "David will be here shortly. Meanwhile, I think the best thing to do is just to cover you up here and keep you as still as possible. Mary Kathryn, if you will stay with Michael, I'll check on the twins and be right back."

"Sure." Mary Kathryn got a blanket from the Tracker and covered me with it. "Michael, why did you go to the gym area when you knew some of the football team were laying for you?"

"I just wasn't thinking, Mary Kathryn. Coach Dye had asked to see me, so I went. I didn't even think about the warnings I had been given. But how did the gang know where I was?"

"Bill saw me in the hall after school and asked why I was still around and I told him you had a meeting. You didn't tell me it was with Coach, so I wasn't sure where you were. Bill said he and the guys would hang around until it was clear you were safe. We were all in the parking lot and Linda yelled when she saw you being hit. I think all of them could be track stars the way they ran toward you."

"Mary Kathryn, I'm going to be sick!" I said and just managed to turn my head and raise it a bit before I upchucked big time. I think the torment vomiting did to my stomach brought on another wave of nausea and I upchucked again. Mary Kathryn was holding my head so I didn't vomit on myself. When Mom came out of the house, Mary Kathryn yelled what was going on and Mom went back and got a cloth to wash my face in cool water.

"Michael, if you vomit again, I'll give you something to stop it, but I'd rather not until we know what's going on."

"I think it's over," I said as the EMS ambulance's siren could be heard approaching.

When the ambulance stopped, Dad jumped out and rushed over to where I was lying. He and his assistant asked what had happened and I told them I had been beaten. Dad asked Mom some questions and then he and his assistant got me on a stretcher, all buckled in. They lifted the stretcher and slid it in the ambulance. "Margaret, I suspect he will be kept overnight at least. I'll let you know how things are as soon as I know something," Dad said and hopped in the back of the ambulance with me and we headed to the hospital. As we rode to the hospital, Dad checked my vital signs, asked for details of what had happened and asked a bunch of questions about how I felt, where I hurt and that sort of thing.

"To tell the truth, Dad, I hurt all over and I feel like shit. I keep thinking I'm going to barf again."

"All over and like shit won't fit on my forms," Dad smiled. "How about being more specific?" Dad probed here and there asking, "Does that hurt?" My answer was usually in the affirmative.
Chapter Sixteen

Dr. Walker

I got a call from David telling me he was bringing Michael in to be checked over. He had been beaten at school and seemed unable to stand on his own. I got to the emergency room just as they were bringing him in. "Michael, if you keep this up, we'll just reserve a room for you," I smiled, hoping to reassure the young man. He gave me a faint smile, but I could tell he was in pain. "What happened?" I asked as David started undressing him. Every time David moved him he groaned. I knew he was in pain because Michael wasn't the kind to exaggerate.

"Three of Independence's best used me as a punching bag--one punch from each in the gut while I was being held."

"I hope they are resting in jail," I said. "There are enough ways to get hurt in this world without some overgrown brute adding to it." As I talked I was examining Michael's abdomen. Each time I applied pressure, Michael groaned. "Michael, David, I find no indication of internal bleeding. I suspect there is just internal and external bruising which is going to be painful, but no permanent damage done. I will give you something for pain, Michael, and I want to keep you overnight for observation in case there should be internal bleeding which hasn't made itself evident. We'll have you in a room shortly. Meanwhile, just lie still--as though I needed to tell you that--and I'll give you a shot for pain. Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?" I joked.

Michael gave me a feeble smile and said, "It was ok until the last act and I don't think I want to see a repeat of that."

"So three brutes beat you up. Not that they didn't do enough damage, but I would have thought they would have done more," I said.

"They would have had my friends not rescued me. They put the guys on the ground and then two of them caught Phillip Curran who had gotten the big bruisers to attack me." Michael then told me how and why the football players attacked him.

"Don't see that they had any cause to do you harm. Phillip Curran deserved more than what he got for the way he treated that poor girl. The police brought her in after you and Mary Kathryn had found the baby. She was in pretty bad shape, not only mentally but also physically. I suspect her child was still-born as a result of her being practically starved as well as being physically abused by that drunk of a dad she has. I had lunch with one of the evaluation center psychologists yesterday and he is convinced she will be ok with some TLC. As bad as the cases are they get at the center, the staff is very good and compassionate and work miracles. Here's the nurse with a shot. Bottoms up, Michael." Michael rolled on his side, groaning as he did, and I popped him with a painkiller. "There, that should take care of the pain and I won't be surprised if you're asleep in a few minutes." I saw an orderly come into the emergency room and asked if he was responsible for getting Michael settled, and he nodded. We got Michael on a gurney and the orderly wheeled him away, headed for a room.

"David, I think Michael will be all right. I'm sure there is no internal bleeding. Another thing I worried about was the possibility of something being torn loose. His insides are bound to have a lot of scar tissue from his knifing, and I sure wouldn't like to have to go in again, but I think all's ok. What's going to happen to the jerks who did this--and that super-jerk Phillip Curran who caused it?" I asked.

"I don't know. I don't know how the school will handle it and I'm not sure how I should handle it. I could press charges, but I wonder if that would accomplish anything. I think I'll let Michael decide. He's so involved in the student government that I'd hate to undermine him."

"I'm hearing nothing but good things from what's going on out there--well, this is definitely an exception. Heard Michael got suspended for fighting. Is that connected to this?" I asked.

David told me what had happened and how Phillip had manipulated three of the more "mentally challenged" football players into beating Michael. "So far as the school is concerned," he said, "the four can go before a school board tribunal or they can go before a student court. The way the school court hands out punishment, I suspect they will choose the school board. If they let the four off scot-free, I'll probably file charges. If they receive reasonable punishment, I may let the school handle it. But, as I said, I think Michael will make the final decision."

"Keep me posted. I am interested in how this comes out because I hate to see something like this happen and the perpetrators get off with a slap on the wrist."

"Will do," David said and left to go to Michael's room, and I left for home.

By the time I got to Michael's room, he was pretty groggy. "Dad, please let Mary Kathryn and the Fellowship know I'm ok. I will be ok, won't I?" he asked, his speech beginning to slur. "I really feel terrible. The painkiller isn't doing its job."

"You're going to be ok, Michael. Dr. Walker found nothing seriously wrong. You'll be very sore for a while but, since tomorrow is Friday and you have the weekend to heal, you should be back in school Monday. Just take it easy and let the painkiller do its job." I didn't need to say anything since the painkiller had taken over and Michael was out like a light. I made sure he was asleep and then went downstairs to check out. "How's the new job," I asked Dan, who was checking in.

"I love it. Of course some nights get very long, but I have more time and a lot more money than I had before. Still work at the hospice two of my three free nights, but I really love EMS. You on your way home?" he replied.

"Yea, just completed a run out to our place. Three thugs beat up Michael at school today. He collapsed when he got home--not unconscious, just couldn't stand. Brought him in and Dr. Walker checked him out. Seems no serious damage done, but he will be one sore camper for a few days. He's asleep now. Dr. Walker gave him a painkiller. If you get a chance, look in on him."

"Of course. Are you sure he'll be ok?"

"As sure as you can ever be. Have a good easy night." I gave Dan a pat on the shoulder and left for home.

When I got home Margaret met me at the door. "How's Michael? Is he all right? What did Dr. Walker say? Is he spending the night in the hospital?"

"Whoa! Calm down a bit. Dr. Walker thinks there is no serious damage, but wanted to keep Michael overnight for observation. Dan will look in on him as well as the nurses who are responsible for his care. He's in good hands." I kissed Margaret and said, "So you can turn your mama button way down."

"David, I was really worried when he couldn't stand. I was afraid something inside had been torn loose."

"So was Dr. Walker, but there's no evidence of that. I think he is just bruised inside and out."

"What are we going to do, David? I'll be damned if those creeps beat up my son and get off scot-free. He's a good kid, David. He works hard, he behaves himself, he's compassionate and concerned. Look what he did for that poor girl who stole our baby. And because he won't have that worthless Curran kid talking about her as if he had nothing to do with her getting pregnant, he gets suspended and now beaten. I will not stand still if something is not done with those who beat him up and that Curran ass who put them up to it."

"Man, you are wound up, Margaret," I said. I started to smile, but thought better of it when I looked at Margaret.

"David, when I saw Michael lying on the ground this afternoon, I started thinking about all the kid had been through: his mom's death, finding out his brothers are gay, getting knifed protecting his brother, his experience in the sweat lodge--which I still don't understand--his participation in the cure of Chris, and now this. It's a wonder the child is sane."

"Margaret, do you know a more sane sixteen-year-old? And you can add responsible--well, most of the time--happy, caring, loving, terribly normal. Maybe normal doesn't do our son justice. Sure he has been through a lot, but he's come through. I think we can take some credit for that. The Family can take a lot of credit and he gets a lot of credit. I, too, want to know that those who beat him up are not getting off scot-free. He is sore and hurting--or would be except he is out of it--but he will be all right." I took Margaret in my arms and held her close. "Margaret, he'll be ok, Baby. He'll be ok."

"I hope so, David. If anything happened to that young man, I don't know what I would do. I was so afraid that when the twins were born, I would transfer all my love from Michael to them. I was really afraid I'd be their mother and Michael would become a step-son, half-brother, less than mine. I was wrong, David, and I am so glad. When I saw Michael lying in the yard, vomiting, I knew he was as much mine as the twins. I was angry, very angry, at those who had beaten him, but I was also happy. Does that make sense?"

"Of course it does," I said as I kissed the woman who had made me a man again.
Mary Kathryn

When Michael collapsed in his front yard, I didn't know what to do. I yelled for Margaret, but she didn't hear me and I had to go inside to get help. After the EMS had been called and David arrived, I felt better about Michael but I was still upset. I was also very, very angry at the three jerks who beat him up and at Phillip Curran who egged them on.

I was ready to follow the ambulance to the hospital, but Margaret asked me to stay with her. While we waited, we talked about Michael. Mostly she talked about Michael. She told me of her fears when she and David married, that Michael would think of her as the ugly stepmother who was trying to steal his mother's place. "Mary Kathryn, you will never know how overjoyed I was the first time he called me Mom. I knew he wasn't replacing Elizabeth with me, but that I had earned the privilege of being his mom. He has suffered so much, but is not a bitter kid. He's just a great joy and now some intellectual rejects have taken it upon themselves to beat him up. Well, they are not going to get by with it! If the law or the school doesn't do something, I will!"

I assured Margaret that the school would definitely do something. "Michael has pretty much made sure of that with his work getting the student government functioning. He got suspended for three days for a one-on-one fight. This was different. Three guys jumped him, taking him by surprise. I don't know where it would have ended had the guys of the Fellowship not been hanging around to make sure Michael was all right. You can put money on the school doing something. Maybe the law too. I don't know about that."

When David came back he told me there was no use in me going to the hospital. "Michael is out of it and will be for the night, I suspect. Dr. Walker gave him a stiff painkiller and he will get shots again as he needs them. I think he will probably be coming home in the morning, so long as nothing shows up beyond the bruises we know about. I promised him I'd see that the Fellowship is told what is going on, but I'll let you do that if you will," he concluded.

"I'll run on home, then, and start calling. I know everyone will want to know all the details--few as they are." I had started out the door when the phone rang. Margaret picked it up and, as she listened, motioned for me to stay.

After she told the person on the phone how Michael was doing, she said, "Mary Kathryn, Ms. Jones. She would like to talk with you."

I took the phone and said, "Ms. Jones, Mary Kathryn".

"Mary Kathryn, I want to say how very sorry I am that Michael was beaten up. I know it upset you."

"Upset is not strong enough, Ms. Jones."

"No doubt. I let the four go home to get them away from the school before Mr. Allan did a job on them. That would be a real mess, but he was ready to. He had the football coaches in his office for over an hour, reading them the riot act. He assumed they knew something like Michael's beating was in the air and did nothing about it. He has told them the Thanksgiving Eve game is off. They started to argue with him but, even with his door closed, I could hear him trimming them down," Ms. Jones said.

"I can't speak for Michael, but I am not sure he will stand still for the game being called off. I know he will raise cane if the four are allowed to play, but calling off the game doesn't seem right to me and I suspect it will not to him. But we'll know in a day or so. I am sure he will not be in school tomorrow, but definitely will be Monday unless something develops. But what is happening to the four?" I replied.

"I have been on the phone with members of the school board. The general feeling is that they should go before the school board tribunal. I have agreed to that provided the four ask for it. If they choose the student court, I will fight for that. I think the student government has shown, time and again, it can handle discipline problems--I think better than those of us in the administration did. But I called to ask you to meet with the student council before school tomorrow. I'm trying to contact everyone."

"I'll be calling the Fellowship and will tell those involved in student government about the council meeting if you like."

"I would appreciate it if you would. See you in the morning." I hung up the phone, said goodnight to the Andrews and went home. David told me to drive Michael's Tracker and I did.

I told Mom and Dad what had happened and Dad was ready to take on the four students single-handed. "I hope they don't think they can get away with this," he thundered. "If something's not done to them, I'll personally charge them with something."

"Dad, I don't think you have to worry about them getting by with anything. I hope the student court gets to try them. They will really be hung out to dry. And what I really hope is that sophomore girl judge gets Phillip Curran's case. She was ready to hang him before and... after this? I suspect he will wish he had the school board handling his case."

"Is it true students are tougher than the administration was?" Dad asked.

"I'm not sure they are tougher, but they are much better at making the punishment fit the crime and it shows. Never has Independence been as clean as it stays now. It doesn't take many days policing the campus before you realize the easy thing to do is dispose of trash right in the first place. But we'll see what happens to the four tomorrow. I have to leave early because Ms. Jones is holding a student council meeting before school. I ate with Margaret while we were waiting to hear about Michael, so I am going to call the Fellowship about Michael and the student council meeting."

It took a while to contact everyone since I didn't think the phone tree would work. Everyone would want to hear directly about Michael and not second- or third-hand. When I finished, I was not up to doing much of anything so I went downstairs, told Mom and Dad good night and went to bed. Before I went to sleep, I thought a lot about Michael, not just about how much I loved him and how I treasured his love for me, but about Michael the man. He was truly one in a million and, as much as I resented it at times, he was one that had to be shared with the world. He was too big and too good to be claimed by just one person. But I damn well was going to keep a major part of him for myself!

I got up when Mom and Dad did, got ready for school and had breakfast with them. Usually I got ready for school after breakfast, but I needed to be there early. I had just finished breakfast when the phone rang. It was Michael.

"Michael, how are you? Is everything ok?"

"Well I started to say I'm fine, but that's a lie. I am sore as hell. But Dr. Walker came in early and said everything looked good and I could go when I was ready. I asked about going to school and he said it was fine if I felt I could. I called Dad and he said you had my Tracker. I want you to get me some clothes--Mom will have them for you--come to the hospital and we'll go to school."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure. Now get a move on. I understand there's a student council meeting."

I told Mom and Dad what was up, grabbed my things and headed for the Andrews'. Margaret had Michael's clothes ready, so I took them and rushed to the hospital.

Michael had showered--I needed to trim his beard again, I noticed--and was sitting on his bed with a sheet covering his privates. "Here's your clothes," I said as I kissed him. He slid off the bed in all his naked beauty. "Michael, what if someone comes?"

"Believe me, they had seen everything I have," he laughed, "just as you have. Now help me get dressed."

He had to sit down and pull on his pants because bending was too painful. Between the two of us, we finally got him dressed and left the hospital.

The student council members were just standing around talking when we arrived, and several started to hug Michael but I was standing guard. I'm sure a good hug would have been agony for him. I finally said that and the girls responded by kissing him instead and the guys shook his hand. Several members of the football team were on the council and they made a special effort to greet Michael.

Michael finally got things quiet enough to call the meeting to order and immediately turned it over to Ms. Jones.

"I called this meeting because of an incident which occurred yesterday after school. Three members of the student body, in a very cowardly manner, beat Michael Andrews so badly he had to spend the night in the hospital and probably should not be here today. The three undertook their dastardly deed at the instigation of a fourth. The three were in my office this morning with a parent and all three chose to go before the school board tribunal rather than face a student court. I think that says much about how well the student court is doing. The instigator was supposed to be here with a parent as well, but did not show up. He is suspended until he and a parent do show up."

"But that has nothing to do with you since one hasn't shown up and the three have chosen the school board tribunal. What this meeting is about is the Thanksgiving Eve football game. Mr. Allan, will you present your position on that?"

"Thank you, Ms. Jones. As all of you know, I'm sure, Phillip Curran was tried in the student court and found guilty of violating the prohibition against name-calling--to be blunt, degrading a young woman he got pregnant and abandoned. In showing what I consider wisdom beyond her years, a sophomore lady judge sentenced him to the bench for the Thanksgiving Eve game. She said, correctly, that as a member of the football team, he represented Independence High School and he had proven unworthy of that honor. Yesterday, he proved his unworthiness again as did three other football players. While I don't think it is right for me to pass judgement on the three before they appear before the tribunal, I do feel I have the right and duty to deny them representing this high school."

"The football coaches and I had a long--and often loud, I believe Ms. Jones would agree--discussion yesterday after the four attacked Michael. I feel that under no circumstances should the four be allowed to wear the uniform, much less play. The coaches contend that, without the four, Independence cannot hope to win and players who are being scouted would not be seen in a favorable light. The coaches essentially said that without the four, they were unwilling to play the game. I said no way were the four to be dressed in Independence uniforms."

"Then something happened which I have been expecting from students, not coaches. One of the coaches said, 'You say the students are in charge, but when things don't go your way, you prove they are not by pulling rank'. I'll admit, he was right. So, after they left, I talked with Ms. Jones and we agreed to hold this meeting and put the ball in the students' court, so to speak. The meeting is yours, Mr. Andrews." As soon as Mr. Allan said that, the council started applauding, then they all stood and Lakota war whoops--which hadn't been heard for some time--exploded in the room. It took a lot of gavel-banging from Michael before the group would stop.

"Thank you, very much," Michael said, then added, "The chair recognizes Richard".

"Mr. Chairman, I am in a real dilemma here. I play football and I am depending on a football scholarship for college. Without the four who disgraced themselves, the football team and the school, I definitely will not be able to shine as I need to shine to get a scholarship. At the same time, I am unwilling to walk on a field where those four are uniformed and playing. It may well cost me a scholarship, but I think the game should be called off." About half the students applauded Richard's statement.

"The chair recognizes Maggie."

"Mr. Chairman, I feel that the entire school is being punished for the deeds of four. What they did was despicable, but the entire school was not responsible for their behavior. Also, why should players who are dependent upon college scholarships be forced to give them up because four team members are asses?" There was some applause, but not much.

There were at least a half-dozen more students who spoke, but did not really say anything new. I thought we would just stay deadlocked over whether to play the game with the four or call off the game.

"Mr. Vice-president, will you take the chair, please," Michael said. As soon as he spoke you could hear a pin drop.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the student council, I will be very honest: I am not objective about what happened yesterday. Fortunately, good and faithful friends--at great risk to themselves--came to my rescue before any permanent damage was done--although my body protests that remark," Michael smiled. It was obvious he was not kidding. He was in pain. "It seems to me we have two different problems before us and we are trying to solve them as though they were one. I'm not sure what power the entire student council has in regard to discipline, but I think one problem is whether or not Phillip, Billy, Duffus and Arch can, should, will, represent this body and this school on the football field. For me the answer is no--an answer that Richard first suggested. Just for our information, I'd like to have the members of the football team state where they stand on that issue and that issue alone. In short, as a member of the football team, are you willing to play on a team which accepts the four? I'd like to know your answer."

"Michael, you are asking if we are willing to play on a losing team," Stan, a quarterback said.

"No, I want to be very clear. I simply want to know whether or not you are willing to play on a team with the four."

"I don't want to even share the toilet with them," Andy, a center, said.

"I take it that means you don't want to be on the same field with them," Michael smiled.

"Michael, I WON'T be on the same field with them, period."

"That goes for me," Richard repeated.

Some players raised their hands, others nodded, and some said, "Same for me".

"I could be wrong, but it seems to me not a single player will play on the same team with the four. Am I correct? Give me a sign," Michael asked. Every player put up a hand. "Thank you. That's settled. Now we turn to the other problem. Should the game be called off? As I understand it, the coaches say 'yes' unless the four play and Mr. Allan says 'if they do'. Well, I think they both are wrong. The coaches because they would allow ruffians to represent us. I think Mr. Allan is wrong because the whole team was not involved therefore the whole team--and truth be told, the whole student body--should not be punished. And just who says the good guys on the team can't win a game? And what is so bad about losing if it means you do so because you have principles? I say let the game go on and Independence can hold her head high, win or lose."

Michael's statement was met with silence for a few seconds, then thunderous applause. When the council was finally in order again, Michael said, "Mr. Vice-president, I will assume the chair again. Ladies and gentlemen of the council, I believe we have made a decision and I trust we are going to back it up with support for the team like it has never known before. We stand adjourned!"

Michael had asked for support from the students for the team and it was given. As he said, the football field on Thanksgiving Eve would be a field of honor, whether the game was won or lost.

I guess the coaches just didn't understand. Before homeroom, the head football coach and his assistant were seen storming down the hall from the gym, apparently headed for the office. During homeroom, Ms. Jones announced the decision of the student council. "In response the two football coaches threatened to resign and their resignation has been accepted. I have talked to the team co-captains and they have taken on responsibility for preparing the team for the Thanksgiving Eve game under the supervision of Mr. Allan."

There was a general gasp at the announcement, then applause could be heard all over the school. Michael leaned over and said to me, "This is as it should be. Students should be allowed to make decisions about how Independence will present herself." I heard what he was saying, but was more conscious of how he looked. He was definitely in pain. Finally he said, "I've got to go home. I can't handle school today." We asked permission to go to the office and Ms. Jones told me to take Michael home. When we got there, he leaned on me as we walked to his house. Margaret and I got him in bed and she checked him out and said she saw no evidence of any new problem. "Think you are just extremely sore. Take it easy for a while then I'll get you up because you need to move some from time to time." With Michael settled, I went back to school.

I realized in the middle of the student council meeting that I really wasn't up to staying in school. I managed to finish the meeting but, during homeroom, I needed to get home. Mary Kathryn and I went to the office and Ms. Jones told Mary Kathryn to take me home.

When we got home, Mom and Mary Kathryn got me in bed and Mom checked me out, decided nothing new had shown up and gave me a pain pill. I snuggled down in bed and drifted off to sleep.

Mom came upstairs and got me up at eleven and said I should get up and move around after she checked me out again. "I can find absolutely nothing wrong," she said. "I know you have internal as well as external bruising, so you are and will be sore but you're ok... considering."

I went downstairs with Mom and held Mary while she nursed Elizabeth. "Mom, when are they going to start being people?" I asked, since Mary was completely ignoring me in spite of all I could do to get her to smile or something.

"Hey, Big Brother, you've had sixteen years practice and they have less than two weeks. Give them time. Won't be long before they will be responding," Mom laughed.

When Mom had finished feeding Elizabeth, we put the twins to bed and Mom asked, "You hungry?".

"Yea, I am." Mom prepared lunch for us and we sat at the kitchen table talking about the day before and the meeting that morning. "Mom, do you think I was right in insisting the game go on?"

"Since you also backed the players who said they would not play with those four jerks on the field, yes, I think you did right. I also think Ms. Jones was right in calling the coaches' bluff. It was obvious the only thing they were interested in was winning. Now they are just PE teachers without the extra money and prestige of being football coaches. Maybe they will learn a real lesson from their students."

We talked while Mom cleaned up the kitchen. I was little help because moving was painful. Mom suggested I go for a short walk, which I did, then came back and lay down again.

When I woke up, it was three and school would be out shortly. I went downstairs and Mom suggested I go for another walk. "A bit longer this time," she said.

I was sore, no doubt about that, but with Mom's encouragement, I decided to go for a walk--running made me hurt just to think about it. The day was clear and sunny. It was not exactly warm, but not uncomfortably cold either. I walked out of the house and decided I'd go the falls. I took a very leisurely stroll across the meadow and when I reached the falls climbed, somewhat painfully, the trail to Lookout Rock.

Sometimes something happens which cries out for thinking time, but I didn't know when I had devoted so much time to reflection as I had this week. There was the day while I was working in the meadow and now. When I got to Lookout Rock I sat, looking at the river below, and found myself thinking about Mary Kathryn and what she had to put up with because of me.

It wasn't just the present, but in years ahead. I wished I could just become one of those guys who has a wife and kids, watches football, drinks a beer and thinks life is great. But I knew it would never happen. Over the past what... actually less than a year... I came to realize my life was not my own. Sure, I supposed I could go against the grain. Maybe I could be just a good Joe who never got involved in anything more radical than arguing over politics. I supposed I could do that, but what a horribly dull life it would be! If I was honest with myself, I knew that I really couldn't just turn off the part of me which rebelled against the status quo when it dishonored people. To tell the truth, I had pretty much accepted that my life would be variations on the theme played out with Billie Sue, Phillip and the three brutes who beat me up. Maybe a physical beating would be uncommon, but there were other things which beat up on a person.

I wasn't thinking so much about myself. I had accepted what my life would most likely be, but there was Mary Kathryn. I loved her more than anything in this world, but... did I have the right to ask her to share a life that was bound to involve a lot of pain? If I loved her as much as I claimed, could I ask her to share my life as I knew it would be? Didn't she deserve a life without me hanging around her neck causing her grief? Sure she did. She deserved a wonderful life. The place I was headed with my thoughts was just too much right at that point. The sun had warmed Lookout Rock and it was warm on my body, making me very drowsy. I didn't know when I fell asleep.

I didn't know what had happened to the years, or remember them passing, but I was no longer a kid. I started feeling my body to make sure I was real and I was. I was dressed in clericals and walking up to a house. It was our house, but different. It was a different color and the trees had grown tremendously. When I went inside, Mary Kathryn met me and gave me a quick brush on the cheek which, I suppose, passed for a kiss. "Happy birthday, Michael," she said, but she didn't mean it. I could see that in her eyes. "How does it feel to be forty?"

"Forty! I'm just sixteen."

"Don't you wish," she said. I looked at her. She was still blond, but there was gray in her hair. Her face was lined. She looked older than Gabrielle who was about forty the last time I had seen her. "Michael, I don't want you to worry, but I got another phone call today threatening your life. I'm sure it was Duffus. Is it really that important for you to take a stand against him and his fellow brutes' mistreatment of the Mexicans he employs? I know the condition of the housing they provide in the old mill village is terrible. The wages they get paid are little enough to begin with, and those who live in the village have rent to pay and have to buy at Phillip's store at absurd prices. Frankly, there is little difference between the Mexicans in Concord now and the black slaves here years ago. I know all that, but must you stand alone on this?"

"Mary Kathryn, you know the answer to that. I have to. I just wish it didn't involve you."

"You know, Michael, if you hadn't been so selfish and me so near-sighted, it wouldn't be this way. If you hadn't insisted I keep my promise to marry you, I would have had a decent life. As it is, few people speak to me, we have little or no money and threats on your life are routine. Remember when you got beat up by those four football players? That should have been a tip-off for me. I should have realized that was the way it was going to be for all my life and told you then I wanted out. But I didn't and now I am stuck."

"Mary Kathryn, you are not stuck. You are free to go. I won't hold you any longer."

"Michael, there are the kids, What am I to do when we have five kids you can barely support now? If I took them, that would be a second household and you know you couldn't support that. No, Michael, I'm stuck."

Mary Kathryn was stuck and so was I. But what really made me sick was that the woman I loved more than anything in the world saw being with me, being my wife, as being stuck. I had done that to her!

Suddenly, I felt someone kiss me. I opened my eyes and saw Mary Kathryn leaning over me. I smiled, then remembered what? A dream? A vision of the future? I sat up and said, "Mary Kathryn, we need to talk".
Chapter Seventeen

Mary Kathryn

When I got back to school, excitement was intense at Independence. Excitement hadn't been as high since Greywolf and Michael had led the revolt against Mr. Gray the year before. You could feel the spirit among the students and it felt good. Jacob, acting as student body president in Michael's absence, announced there would be an assembly in the last period.

During lunch, students started singing the school fight song out of the blue. The cheerleaders came bouncing in and started performing. Students who were never interested in sports before, and especially in football, were joining in the singing and cheering. "I think the original idea behind school teams has resurfaced at Independence. They should be about teamwork and sportsmanship. Sports should rest on a firm morality about fairness, not a win-at-all-costs attitude," Keith said, and had the agreement of the Fellowship. "Jacob, what's this assembly all about? Something connected with the attack on Michael?" he asked.

"Well, kinda, but not really. It's going to be a big surprise, I think, and another affirmation of student power," Jacob answered.

"Anyone heard what has happened to Phillip? Understand he didn't show up with his parent this morning," Chris said.

"I haven't heard anything," Linda said, "but no-one has seen him so far as I know."

"And you would know," Susan laughed.

"You better believe it!" Linda agreed with a chuckle.

The excitement couldn't go on long at the fever pitch it was at lunch, but there was definitely a resurgence of school spirit which I hoped would continue.

About the middle of the last period, Jacob came on the intercom and announced that all students should report to the auditorium. "Teachers, dismiss your classes in order, beginning with freshmen."

When we got to the auditorium, the football team, in uniform, was on the stage--along with Ms. Jones, Mr. Allan and Jacob. The band was on the floor, waiting to play but, before anything official started, some students started singing the school fight song again and the sound was tremendous. When the seniors were in their places, the band started the alma mater. Seldom is the alma mater sung and I was surprised at how well it sounded. As soon as it was finished, Jacob walked to the microphone and said, "Students of Independence..." As soon as he said that, students started applauding and cheering, then someone started a Lakota war whoop and students quickly picked it up. Jacob looked around at Ms. Jones, who merely shrugged and laughed. Jacob raised his arms for silence, but the act only increased the war whoops, applause and shouting. He kept looking at Ms. Jones and raising his arms for silence until, finally, it was restored.

"Independence students, I am sure all of you know of the attack on student body president, Michael Andrews, yesterday. I am happy to report that no serious damage was done although it was initially feared he had internal bleeding which could be life-threatening. He received three blows to the stomach and is extremely sore. However, he did make it to school for a meeting of the student council this morning. Under his leadership, the council made two decisions concerning the Thanksgiving Eve football game. The first was that the four responsible for injuring Michael will not be allowed to play in the game. The football team--every single player--said they were unwilling to play on a team which included those who attacked Michael.

Unfortunately, the football coaches do not have the high principles and morals of the team and resigned when advised the four were off the team. Again, with the full support of the football team, the decision was made to play the game, even if Independence cannot win--but Independence can and will win!" The auditorium once again exploded.

When silence was restored, Jacob said, "Mr. Allan, would you address the student body, please?".

"Thank you, Jacob. Students, last year Independence gained national recognition through the efforts of four students, with very little help from faculty members, when they produced a concert and art exhibition. This year, she will do the same, except it will be through the efforts of a football team with principles." Mr. Allan said he had been meeting with the football team co-captains for a couple hours. "We decided the team knows its strengths and weaknesses, where it needs to work and how to use members most effectively. Technically I will be acting football coach, but the team itself will decide who will play and the plays it will use to defeat Andrew Jackson High School on Thanksgiving Eve. You can be proud of the young men representing you on the field."

"Thank you, Mr. Allan. Students, three of those who attacked Michael chose to face a school board tribunal rather than a student court. I guess that answers those who felt student courts and judges would be soft on student infractions. It is my understanding the tribunal met today and has rendered its decision. Ms. Jones, will you please report on the outcome of today's session of the tribunal."

"Jacob, students, the school board tribunal met in an extraordinary session at 10:30 this morning. This is the first time the tribunal has met this year and the usual time between an event and the tribunal is a week or so. Because of the violence of the attack on Michael Andrews, the tribunal was called into session quickly. The three confessed to their part in the beating, but offered the defense that they were influenced to take part by Phillip Curran. Since all are over eighteen, the tribunal declined the defense stating they were old enough to know better. Because the three confessed, the tribunal did not take evidence or call witnesses, and reached a decision quickly. All three are suspended from school until the beginning of next semester, and prohibited from participating in any sport or extra curricular activities for the remainder of their high school careers at Independence. Should they violate any school rule when they return, they can and probably will be expelled."

"Phillip Curran, who was responsible for causing the attack on Michael, was to have appeared in my office this morning with a parent. He did not. I phoned his home and learned his father did not know of the attack and Phillip's part in it. I informed his father he has been expelled from Independence and is under a restraining order prohibiting him being within five hundred feet of Independence or any Independence activity. Of course his sentence is subject to review by the tribunal since he has a right to defend himself. It is my understanding from a phone call from his father, less than half an hour ago, that Phillip has left Concord to live with his grandmother in Jackson."

"I'll close by saying I am very, very proud of you, Independence High School students. Thank you for making me proud to be your principal."

Jacob asked the students to stand and once again the alma mater was sung, after which we were dismissed. As students left the assembly, someone started the fight song and the band took it up. It had been a very emotional day!

As I drove home alone, I thought about the light of my life, Michael Jacob Andrews. It seemed to me that Michael was destined to bring about change for the best through his pain. He suffered and Independence grew. I was so proud of him and really honored by his love. I mean it was more than just being in love with him and him loving me. That meant the world to me, but there was more. He was an incredible human being who was willing to share his life with me, to let me be a part of that life. And, what's more, I had his love. I could hardly wait to get home and let him know just how great I thought--knew--he was.

When I got to the Andrews', Margaret said Michael had gone for a walk. "I'd bet anything you want to name that he's at the falls."

I walked across the meadow, humming to myself I was so happy.

When I reached the falls, I didn't see Michael. I wondered where he might be if he wasn't here. I doubted he had climbed to Lookout Rock as sore as he had to be but, then, he was Michael. On the off-chance he had actually climbed to the top of the falls, I started up the trail. When I neared the top, I could see Michael, stretched out on top of Lookout Rock, sound asleep.

When I reached him, his face was not peaceful. He was obviously not at ease. Maybe he was in pain from his beating, but I thought something else was going on. I looked at my sleeping hero, then leaned over and kissed him gently. Michael opened his eyes, smiled, then quickly frowned. "Mary Kathryn, we need to talk," he said.

"Sure, what about?" Mary Kathryn responded.

I told her about my dream and then said, "Mary Kathryn, I am selfish, wanting you to be a part of a life which will be... difficult? Yea, difficult and then some, I guess."

"Michael, for someone who is supposed to be--is--a leader and a good student, you can sometimes be awfully dense. First of all, you seem to think you are in control, not just of yourself but me as well. If I didn't want to share your life, you can bet your ass nothing you could do would make me. As hard as it might be for you to realize--and accept--I am my own woman and I make my own decisions."

"Second, you seem to think that you are strong enough to fight the good fight alone. Well, I have news for you, Michael Andrews. Without me you couldn't do it. You know something, Michael? Behind every good man, there's a good woman. Well," Mary Kathryn looked at me with a gleam in her eye and said, "I guess behind some good men there's a good man--as our brothers prove. What I'm saying is: it takes two to make those involved whole, and it doesn't matter if it's two men or two women or one of each. You need me, Michael, you really do. But what you don't see is that I need you. We need each other and, together, we are whole and we are not whole without the other. It's as simple as that. Doesn't that make sense?"

I looked at Mary Kathryn and knew she was right. In spite of the fact that it hurt like hell, I hugged her real close and, I'll admit, I was pretty misty eyed as I kissed her passionately. "God, Mary Kathryn, I don't know what I ever did to deserve you. I mean that."

"Michael, I don't know what I have done to deserve you, but we have each other and that's just the way it is," Mary Kathryn said, then leaned over and kissed me ever so gently. She then told me what had gone on at school. "You would have been very proud of Jacob. He's not that silly kid who ran against you last spring. And the spirit at school is as high as it was at any time last year." We sat atop the rock, our arms about each other, talking about what we had to do the following week.

"There has to be some spirit event every day to let the team know they are appreciated," Michael said. "We also need to plan for Thanksgiving. I mean I know the moms and dads will take care of dinner, we need to think about how to make Thanksgiving special for all of us."

Saturday dawned rainy, cold and gray. I had hoped the Fellowship could go to the falls, but that was definitely out. It also meant there would be no work outside Saturday morning, but there was plenty to do inside. I got my laundry together and took it downstairs, got Mom's and Dad's and the twins' and started doing it all. As soon as I got the first load started, I started doing the vacuuming. It took a while for me to find a way to vacuum without too much pain from my soreness. As soon as a load was dry, I folded it and went back to vacuuming. By the time the laundry was done, I had finished the vacuuming and dusting. I took my clean clothes to my room and put most of them away, since only a few things get ironed.

"Michael," Mom called from downstairs.

"Yea, Mom?"

"Lunch in ten minutes."

"Right, Mom."

I decided I needed to change clothes, so I did, and then went downstairs. Dad was just walking in the kitchen as I came down. "How's things with the EMS today?" I asked.

"Fine. We had only one call. An elderly lady out near Fairview fell and thought she had broken a hip, but was only bruised."

"Dad, I don't think you EVER put "only" before "bruise". Believe me, I don't talk about being ONLY bruised."

"Well, Son, she just fell on her butt. No-one used her for a punching bag. By the way, I called Julian Curran today and asked about Phillip. He told me Phillip had gone to Jackson to live with his grandmother and go to Andrew Jackson. I told him I expected Phillip to be punished for his part in beating you. Mr. Curran said he couldn't do anything about that since Phillip was no longer living in Concord. I informed him that since he had managed to dodge punishment from the school--unlike the three he egged on--I had no choice but to file charges."

"He said since Phillip was no longer here, he didn't see why that was not being punished. 'Living with his grandmother is punishment?' I asked him. He replied that it was punishment because Phillip had to leave all his friends and give up playing football. I realized I was getting nowhere with him, so I just hung up the phone and went to the sheriff's office and filed charges against him for aggravated assault. Told the sheriff that he needn't waste any effort going after Phillip because I knew he would be back in town sooner or later. 'Probably for Thanksgiving,' I said. So we'll see. I think Julian is pleased he doesn't have to deal with Phillip, and Phillip thinks he has outsmarted Concord. We'll see."

"Dad, have you thought about the possibility that Mr. Curran might do the same for me slugging Phillip? I'm not sure filing charges is a wise move."

"Damn! I sure never thought of that but, knowing Julian Curran, that is a very real possibility. What should we do? I don't want Phillip getting away with what he did."

"He's in Jackson with his grandmother. Mr. Curran thinks he will be attending Andrew Jackson High School but, until he squares things at school, he can't get a transcript, can he? If he can't get a transcript, he cannot enroll in Jackson. He will definitely want to be here Thanksgiving Eve for the ball game. He will want to be able to laugh when Independence gets its ass kicked--which is not going to happen. Seems to me the best thing to do is to let Ms. Jones take care of it. Mary Kathryn said Ms. Jones has a restraining order against him. If he so much as steps on school property, he's trespassing. That way, we'll not be directly involved."

"Sounds good to me," Dad said. "I'll call the sheriff and drop the charges as soon as I know Ms. Jones has made sure he can't come on school property without being arrested. Got a head on your shoulders, Son," Dad said as he tousled my hair. "By the way, you need to get that woman of yours a hold of your beard. It's looking pretty ratty for want of a trim."

"Meant to have her do that yesterday, but I wasn't thinking too straight. I'll go to her place early and have her do it. As a matter of fact, I need to leave right now. See you later."

When I got to the Larsens', they were just finishing lunch. "Piece of apple pie, Michael?" Gabrielle asked.

"Gabrielle, have I ever turned down a piece of pie, especially one of yours?"

Gabrielle smiled and asked, "Ice cream?".

"Of course," I answered. She handed me a large slice of pie with a scoop of ice cream. "Gabrielle, you have outdone yourself. This pie is heavenly." When I looked up at Gabrielle, she was trying hard not to laugh. I looked at Jens, who pretended he was reading a paper. When I looked at Mary Kathryn, she was all smiles. "You made this, didn't you, Wild Woman?"

"Sure did," she laughed. "So finish it up so I can get to that beard before you are arrested for being a shaggy beast."

Mary Kathryn had just finished trimming my beard when Bill, Linda, Jacob and Susan arrived. "Looks like we could have had some of the weather we had last week while we were cooped up in school," Bill said as he shook the water from his coat. "Waste good weather on school and give us this mess on the weekend."

The next to arrive were Chris and Dan. "Sure I'm supposed to be here?" Dan asked. "Isn't this just the high school crowd?"

"More than welcome, Dan, because we're doing very little about school today. This is Thanksgiving holiday planning," Bill said. "Where's Keith? I thought he would be the first one here since he's practically walking on air thinking about the holiday."

Bill hardly had the words out of his mouth when Keith came in. "Now we're all here, where do we start?" Bill asked, paused and said, "Well, I see we are all being pretty self-centered. No-one has asked, so how you are doing, Michael?"

"I'm still very sore, but a lot less than yesterday. I think doing a little work this morning helped."

"Anyone know what's going to happen to Phillip?" Dan asked. "His dad was at the hospital asking about Michael's hospital stay yesterday, one of the nurses told me. She said he paid the bill without comment."

I told the gang what Dad had done and what I asked him to do.

"Frankly, I think he should have charges filed against him," Keith said, "but I can understand why you might not want to do that. So he will be prohibited from attending the Thanksgiving Eve game? That will sting because you know he wants to be there to see Independence get its ass whipped so he can brag about how it would not have happened if he had played," Jack said.

"You really think Independence will get its butt kicked?" Linda asked.

"I don't see how it can be otherwise," Jack said. "We were definite underdogs before the four were sent packing. I'm sure the guys will give it their best, but I don't think we stand a chance."

"Don't put all your money on Jackson," Mary Kathryn said. "I think some people are going to be surprised at how well the team does by directing itself. Maybe a big surprise there and even a small loss will be a victory for us. But we need to talk about Thanksgiving. You know you are all invited to the Greywolfs' for Thanksgiving dinner with the Family. Your parents too. Who's coming? And include your parents."

"Demetri and I will definitely be there--and Dan too," Chris said as he looked at Dan with that sick-calf look of someone hopelessly in love. "Demetri plans on bringing some food," Chris said.  "He could make a bushel of those cookies and I'd be happy," Jacob said.

"Ditto that," Rachel chimed in.

"My parents won't be coming," Linda said. "We're having Thanksgiving dinner Saturday with my aunt and uncle in Lexington, but I'll be there."

"Same with me," Bill said. "Well, not exactly the same. My parents are going to Mexico for a vacation, but I'll definitely be there."

Turned out only Demetri and Keith's dad, of the parents, would be present. All the Fellowship would be. "I had a hard time getting to stay instead of being with Mom," Rachel said, "but I finally got Mom to agree to come here for dinner Saturday."

"I'm assuming Marc will be here," Chris said, laughing.

"Darn tootin'," Keith said. "He has found out that his plane can land on the small airstrip here, so he's picking Paula's mom and me up at 3:30 Tuesday. He planned to fly back that night with the Oberlin crew if weather permits, but realized he'd probably run into trouble over flying time--he's permitted to fly only so long without a break. It seemed best to leave very early Wednesday morning. By the way, he needs a place to stay. Dad is pretty good about me being with him, actually, he's very happy about it. He's very ok with me being gay, but he's not ready to have me sleeping with a lover right now in his house--dammit! As much as I wish we could just be normal and sleep together, I respect Dad enough to follow his wishes until he is ready to accept Marc's and my relationship completely. Since we only have two bedrooms, I need a place for Marc to stay. So anyone have an extra room for a damn good-looking, hot man?"

"Our guest room has had its walls papered with teddy bears and has been taken over by two selfish women," I said, "but I bet the Greywolfs would be glad to have him stay with them. I'll ask. If not, we can make other arrangements."

"Oh, I almost forgot... Janet and Douglas won't be coming. Douglas' parents are unhappy where they are living and are trying to get back to Sarasota. They have instituted a court case of some kind. Marc said Douglas and Janet were both about at their wits' end. They hope they can come Christmas but, right now, they have just about had it."

We talked about Douglas' and Janet's situation for a while, then Linda said, "Look, remember the talk in Ohio? I mean about Douglas and Janet getting their family together? Michael, I think you should call Luke and have him work on Douglas and Janet. Even if they have a mess with his family and a court case going on, nothing will be happening over Thanksgiving."

"I certainly agree," Keith said. "Marc and I didn't just talk lovey-dovey stuff. Marc talked about Janet and Douglas--more Douglas than Janet since he and Marc have been best buds for years--and one of the things Marc said was that Douglas really looked up to your families. I think they need to be around normal people--well, that's not exactly what I mean because, let's face it, your three families are not the usual run-of-the-mill families. I guess what I mean to say is they need to be around loving families."

"And that includes all of you," Mary Kathryn interjected, "and some of your families. I agree wholeheartedly, and Michael and I will call Luke tonight."

"With that out of the way, what about the opening of the teen club?" Bill asked. We discussed what we needed to get done for the opening and got people assigned to take care of it. "We're responsible for getting it off the ground for sure," Linda said, "but as soon as it's really up and going, we need to turn it over to some other people. Look how few of us will be in Concord next year. Like Michael and Mary Kathryn said, we definitely need to get as many people as possible involved in everything."

With Thanksgiving and the teen club settled, Mary Kathryn asked who wanted apple pie. Needless to say, everyone did. As we were eating, we talked about ways to show support for the football team. "There is always a big parade for the homecoming game," Susan said. "Think we could get a parade organized and ready for Wednesday after school?"

"Pretty hard to get floats built or even rented on that short notice," Bill said, "but we've got the band, the football team and the cheerleaders. What could we do, starting with those?"

"Jackson High is always poking fun at us as farmers and country hicks. How about turning the tables on them?" Linda asked.

"Just what did you have in mind, Linda?" I asked.

"Nothing, really, but surely there is something we can do with that idea. It would really rub salt in the wound if we did beat them."

"Well at least that's a starting point," Dan said. "Farmers, farm equipment, jeans and checked shirts. Let's think."

"Hey, while I was suspended I used some farm equipment, but for a parade? Hay rakes, balers and trailers? Afraid I don't see anything in my mind," I said.

"Ok, a hay trailer. How about putting the band on a couple of trailers with bales of hay for seats. Think they will appreciate not having to march," Susan suggested.

"Not sure but what we want the band marching. They put on a pretty good show," Bill said.

"You are right about that. They outdid Jackson in that department the couple times I have seen them," Rachel said. "But why not put the team on a hay trailer? Make a pyramid of hay and put the players on the sides."

"Michael, what kind of baler do you all have?" Jack asked.

"An old-fashioned one that makes square bales and drops them out the back. Why?"

"A dummy dressed as a Jackson player going in and a baled one coming out. Then some slogan on the side of the baler, like, 'Jackson, Independence will chew you up and spit you out'."

That got the creative juices flowing good fashion. Ideas were just popping when Keith said, "Then there's a manure spreader".

"Hold on," Chris shouted, "No manure in any shape, form or fashion!" and laughed.

Before we finished, we had organized a parade using farm machinery for floats. "Hey, I think it'll outshine the homecoming parade," Keith said. "Now we need to get TV coverage and try to get Jackson's team here in time for the fun."

"We need Jonesy's approval before we put the machine in operation," Bill said.

"I'll give her a call," Mary Kathryn said. "Principals aren't supposed to have a life outside of school," she laughed, picked up the phone and dialed. "I'll call the school first since she's probably there. It's ringing... Ms. Jones, Mary Kathryn Larsen. Need to check something out..." Mary Kathryn then told her what we had been doing. "Sure, we'll take care of getting it organized. Would you contact Mr. Smith about the band? I don't think he'd like a student calling him on Saturday. After all, he doesn't get paid principal megabucks!... Ok, we'll wait until we hear about the band before we move ahead."

Fifteen minutes later, Mr. Smith called. He said he liked the idea, but he thought it should be a student thing since we had come up with it, the football players were coaching themselves and, which we didn't know, the cheerleaders were doing the same. He told us to call Jose Gomez, who had taken Eugene's place in the ensemble and was student assistant for the band. Susan called him and he was very excited and said he'd contact the members. "He said he was sure the band would be all hyper to do the parade," Susan said.

"Now, just how do we get Jackson to see the parade?" Chris asked. "Any ideas?"

"The homecoming parade always ends at the stadium. If we are careful not to get on the field, why can't the whole parade circle the stadium a couple of times just before game time?" Keith asked.

"We'll need to clear that, but with whom? The head football coach was also the athletic director. I suspect when he resigned one, he was fired from the other. So who's in charge? Mr. Allan?" I asked.

"One way to find out," Bill said. "I'll call him. I think he'll welcome our plan." Bill called Mr. Allan. When he hung up, he said, "He's very excited about the whole idea. The only thing he said we already knew. We have to be very careful and not get on the field and damage it. So let's get going organizing."

We made a list of people we needed to call: the cheerleader captain, a couple farmers about equipment, the newspaper and the Jackson TV station as well as the Lexington one. Both station managers said they were planning to cover the game, but would have crews in Concord early.

"Well, I think we have done a day's work," Chris said. "How about hitting the Cosmos for coffee and cookies?" His suggestion was readily accepted.

Sunday, Fr. Tom told us everything was ready for opening the teen club after the final reinspection scheduled for Wednesday. We showed him the plans we had put together and he found nothing to add.

Monday at school, I made the announcement about the parade during homeroom. Before homeroom was over, the president of the sophomore class came to the office and asked if classes could march in the parade. "Sounds like a good idea to me," I told her. "Why don't you make the announcement?"

She did and added that, since the theme was farmers against city slickers, students should dress as farmers. "Checked shirts, seniors red and white, juniors green and white, sophomores blue and white and freshmen black and white. I have called Bargains Galore and they are getting shirts and selling them at their cost, $5.00 each. Anyone who can't afford it should see your class president."

"How are the class presidents going to get money for those who can't afford a shirt, even at five bucks?" I asked.

"Don't think there will be many requests. The store manager at Bargains Galore has put up $100 for those who need help. I figure I can make a sweep downtown and pick up a couple hundred from merchants if it's needed. I think the town is really excited about this game after what has gone on. If we come up short, we'll ask for money from students.

"I see where you are going to be a powerhouse at Independence. By the way, I forgot your name."

"Victoria, Victoria Henry."

"Henry, Henry. I know that name for some reason or other, I mean other than Patrick."

"Patrick probably owned one of my ancestors," Victoria laughed. "My grandad was pretty well known around here."

"Welsh Henry! Of course! I heard his story when Mr. Stephenson had a cross burned in his yard. So I guess you got some of his genes, sho' 'nough."

After school, Mary Kathryn and I went to Bargains Galore to buy shirts, since we didn't have green and white checked shirts. When we arrived, all the Fellowship was there. We had discussed Victoria's plan to make sure everyone who planned to march had shirts. When we got to the store, they had set up four tables, labeled freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors. A clerk was behind each table with a cash box. Students walked up, gave the clerk their money and picked up a shirt of the correct size. Victoria had instructed students who needed help buying a shirt just to hand the clerk what money they had and the clerk would take the rest out of the kitty.

The Fellowship had given Rachel money for a shirt since she got very little from her parents and next to nothing from Jacob's dad. As Bill stepped up, he gave the clerk $6.00 and said, "Put the extra dollar into the kitty for those who need help." Most of us followed his example and what he had done got passed around, to where most students were paying $6.00 for their shirts.

As we were leaving the store, Victoria said, "Be sure to wear your shirts and jeans tomorrow and Wednesday. There may be news people at the pep rally Wednesday."

"There will be news people at the pep rally?" I asked Keith.

"Wouldn't be surprised," he answered. "I spread it on pretty thick when I called the newspapers and the TV stations."

Tuesday, the excitement at Independence was high. I didn't see a single student who wasn't wearing a checked shirt. You would have thought that jeans and checked shirts were required uniform.

During lunch, the band played in the cafeteria. It was hard to get Keith still enough to eat lunch, he was so excited about Marc arriving. Marc called during lunch to tell us Douglas and Janet couldn't leave without risking a great deal. He didn't know the details, but the court case was getting really nasty. I loaned Keith my car to drive to the airstrip. Bill would take me and Mary Kathryn to the airstrip to pick it up. Keith would call when they returned. We were all hoping Marc was up to flying back tonight, but didn't want him to take any chances with our brothers and friends.

After school, the marching band was being put through its paces by Jose. They were doing some very complicated moves and they looked good, very good. Bill suggested we go to the field and see how the football practice looked. I guess we expected to see chaos, after all it had taken two highly paid experts as coaches, hadn't it?

When we reached the field, the team had been divided into two and were playing against each other. Every member of the team was on the field, playing. Even Skinny Dawson was playing. Skinny had gone out for football every year and had always, I guess out of pity, been on the team, but never played in a game. He was hardly football material since he was about five four and probably weighed a hundred ten soaking wet, but he could run! As we arrived he caught a pass and streaked across the field. Maybe he should have been on the team all the time.

The two teams were so evenly matched, it was difficult to see how good--or bad--they were. Not only was Skinny Dawson proving to be a possible surprise for Jackson, but there was a bigger surprise in Majorie Boyd. Marjorie was an excellent kicker but, since she was a girl, was never allowed to play, but she was in the middle of the practice. The co-captains were each coaching one of the teams. We watched the practice for a while, during which the co-captains got the players together several times to discuss what was going well and what needed work. After each such discussion, players were exchanged. Bill, who knew more about football than I did, and who attended all the games, started laughing after one such switch. "Jackson is coming here to play the team they have scouted, and no doubt have video of games they have practically memorized, but the team they expect will not be on the field. The co-captains are making sure the best each player has to offer is used and there are no favorites out there. Damn if I don't think Independence has a chance of looking pretty good tomorrow night. One thing for sure: the four who got tossed off the team won't be missed. Man, I am looking forward to this game!"

Keith called at 9:00 and said Marc had to take a break so they would be flying to Concord in the morning. "We had hoped to leave here very early," he said, "but it seems Matt has a glitch and has to see Professor Larkin in the morning. We still hope to see everyone at school. It's good, though, Marc doesn't need to be flying without the proper rest."

"Well, don't keep him awake all night making love," I laughed.

"Only until 1:00 or so," Keith laughed in return. "See you at school."

I was glad Marc had to stay over. I'm sure he had to do so because of regulations for pilots but, even if he didn't, he had to be tired. And, besides, there was no doubt in my mind that he and Keith would get a chance to sleep together which they wouldn't have had they flown back right away.

Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve, the excitement at school was at fever pitch. Everyone was in jeans and checked shirts, and giving each other high fives as they passed in the halls. During homeroom, Ms. Silvester, my homeroom teacher, asked Bradley Sims, one of the co-captains of the football team, how practice went. "I was sure surprised," he answered. "We discovered a lot of talent which has been warming the bench all season. If we had more time to practice, we would be some team. But, even with just Monday's and Tuesday's practice, I think we will make a good showing tonight. And the support we have from students is a big help."

During lunch the cheerleaders, in uniform, put on a good show. Mary Kathryn had to dash off to do something before I finished lunch. As I was walking out of the cafeteria, I saw Buffy Leister in a corner of the hall crying. I went over to her, put my arm around her shoulders and asked what was wrong. "You want to know what's wrong? My whole life is destroyed. I can never be a cheerleader again. That's what's wrong."

"Buffy, you have a whole life outside of cheerleading."

"The hell you say. I kept my grades up so I could cheerlead. Every summer I spent in cheerleading camp so I could be the best. All of my friends are cheerleaders and now I seldom see them. Even when they are not in cheerleading practice, they will have little to do with me because we have nothing in common. You tell me why I should go on living."

"For one reason: I would be very sad if you weren't around and if for no other reason, the alternative is very permanent. Maybe you'll never cheerlead again, but there's a whole world full of wonderful things to do."

"Yea, well, I'm not interested in a lot of wonderful things. I want to cheerlead."

I suppose I should have been gentle and lied and said one day she would, but I didn't see any point in that. It was a lie and she would know it was a lie. I didn't want to tell her what was running through my mind--namely that if her life was about cheerleading, it was going to be a very short life anyway. Who has heard of a thirty-year-old cheerleader? But I did give her a bit of a reality test. "Buffy, one thing is for sure. You'll never find a reason to go on living, hiding in a corner and crying. You have had a tough break and have to recreate your life. I can't think of a better time to start than right now. Come on, let's go to class." I walked Buffy to her class and said, "Buffy, think about what you need to do and can do with the body you have on your hands. There's a wonderful world waiting for that."

"Thanks, Michael, I guess," she said, and walked into her class. It was next to last period and Keith still had not called, but I wasn't worried, much--yet.

Pep rallies generally walk a thin line between utter chaos and pandemonium. Today's was different. As soon as Ms. Jones announced teachers should dismiss their classes, beginning with the freshmen, the freshman walking down the hall started singing the fight song. As each class was dismissed, the song started afresh. When the seniors started pouring into the stadium, the whole school was singing with them. The band came marching onto the field doing some very fancy movements. The cheerleaders took over and, finally, the team ran onto the field. After the cheering quieted down, Bradley Sims and Lowell Pitman each talked about the team and the last two days' practice. Both commented on the teamwork which was better than they had ever seen. They also said there were players who had not played in a game, or had played only a couple games, who had demonstrated great skill in practice, "I know Jackson was expecting to kick our butt before the four jerks got kicked off the team and the two coaches resigned. I can't promise you a victory tonight, but we will give Jackson a good run for its money. You can bank on that!"

I reminded students where the parade would form and told them to be there at 5:00. "The game starts at 6:30 so we want to run on a tight schedule in order to get to the stadium shortly before kick-off. Now if you will stand for the alma mater." The singing was the best I had ever heard from the student body. As soon as it was finished, someone started Lakota war whoops and others picked it up as the stadium emptied.

I had expected Keith to have called before the pep rally to say the crew had arrived from Ohio, but he had not. In fact, the pep rally ended and he still had not called. As I was walking toward the parking lot with Mary Kathryn, my cell phone started vibrating against my leg. When I opened it, it was Matt saying they had just landed. "We'll meet you at the airstrip and Bill can take some of you and you won't have to be packed in the Tracker," I told him. The airstrip was not far from the school, so we were there in fifteen minutes or so.

There were a lot of hugs and kisses before we all got in the two cars and headed for home. Bill said he would drop Eugene and Larry off at Millie's. The Tracker certainly wasn't designed for six passengers, but we managed to get all six of us--Matt and Luke, Keith and Marc, Mary Kathryn and myself--jammed in. Keith was going to the Greywolfs' with Marc. The two would meet Keith's father after the ball game. On the way, Luke and Marc told us Mr. Blalock had advised Douglas and Janet not to leave Sarasota. Seems there was some legal scheme which might overthrow Douglas' grandmother's will. "But they will be here Christmas--come heaven, hell or high water," Marc said.

When we reached the Greywolfs', Mary Kathryn said, "Matt, Greywolf told us you could use the van this weekend. We are all meeting at the Cosmos before the game if you two would like to come along. We're meeting at 4:30."

"All the Fellowship be there?" Matt asked.

"Sure. Matt, if you're going, you can drive the van and we can all pile in," I said.

"Sounds good. Hey, you know, I like Oberlin and Holtkamp and all, but it's good to be home," Matt said.

"Yea, it sure is," Luke said, "And especially since you managed to have a fight going on. I'm sure you got the football team in the pickle it's in just for us."

"What pickle? I haven't heard about the football team being in a pickle," I said in my "what's this nut talking about?" voice.

"I don't think I have heard anything about a pickled football team," Mary Kathryn said. "Now if you want to know about one that is pumped and ready to go, I can tell you where you can see one in action."

"Leave here at four?" Matt asked.

"Sounds good," I said and drove home. The day had taken the starch out of me. I was still sore from the beating, but I wouldn't have missed the day for anything.

Chapter Eighteen


The Greywolfs were not home when we arrived from the airstrip. I was surprised when Matt just opened the door. "Are doors usually unlocked?" Marc asked.

"We seldom lock doors out here. Haven't seen the necessity. It's such a habit that we didn't lock the door in Ohio until Waterside. Now we have a security system which is monitored. Don't like the idea that doors have to be locked, but like the fact that someone might enter the house and do it or us harm less. After the bomb scare, everything is secure, but here, nope, don't lock doors. Come on in and I'll show you to your room, Marc."

Matt took us upstairs and showed Marc into a large guest room. "I love these old farm houses," I said. "They have such huge rooms and high ceilings. Makes me feel comfortable."

"Marc, I hope you will feel comfortable. Make yourself at home. If you need something, ask. I think you'll find most of what you need either in your room or the bathroom. I think I'll shower and change clothes before we leave for the Cosmos. When did the Cosmos become a teen hangout?" Matt asked.

"It's not really a teen hangout," I said. "But since Chris became a part of the Fellowship, we get together there, especially when he has to work and we need to talk about something. Demetri has kinda adopted all of us."

"Something else I meant to ask: what's with all the checked shirts?"

The Ohio crew knew about the attack on Michael, the resignation of the coaches and the parade, but not about the theme of the parade. "The Fellowship decided we needed a parade, but we had so little time we knew we couldn't build floats. Since Jackson has always referred to us as farmers and hicks, we decided to run with that. Instead of floats, we're using farm machinery and everyone is dressing in checked shirts and jeans. Victoria Henry, a sophomore, made a deal with Bargains Galore and so we got the shirts for five bucks. She also got money to help those who couldn't afford even five dollars. Each class has a color. I'm a senior so I'm wearing red and white. Michael is a junior and is wearing green and white. Classes are marching in the parade and will all sit together, at least until half-time."

"Wild!" Marc said. "I'm beginning to like this school more and more."

"Join up and I'll make you like it even more," I said. Marc had been putting his things away but, when I said that, he stopped, walked over to me, put his arms around me and his lips against mine. His tongue invaded my mouth and he pressed his hips against me. Instant hardon!

"You two start that and you'll never make the parade," Matt laughed as he walked out the door and down the hall to his room. Marc waved "bye-bye" to Matt without taking his lips from mine. His tongue was working miracles and I was really getting hot. Finally I broke the kiss and said, "Marc, you are starting something I don't want to stop, but I think we better go downstairs and meet your hosts."

Marc looked into my eyes, smiled and said, "If you insist, but I can't get enough of you, Keith. You are all I have thought about, dreamed about, wished about since the Ohio weekend. You know, I have had lovers before--sex partners is more like it--but I have never come close to loving another man the way I love you. More than anything in the world, I wish we could be together--not just a weekend here and there, but really together. I love you, man, I really, really do."

"Marc, I can't begin to tell you my feeling for you. I love you, that's true, but it doesn't begin to say what I feel. I dream of you, I daydream about you and when I'm not dreaming, I'm thinking about you, about us. I want to be with you, I want to make love to you, I want us to be what Matt and Luke, Eugene and Larry are, a committed couple."

"Man, that's a big step. I mean those four talk about until death do us part. Are you ready for something that heavy? Don't you think we might work our way toward that? Are you sure you want something that permanent? Are you really sure? Really?"

I felt as though Marc had plunged a knife in my chest. I looked down so he couldn't see the tears welling up in my eyes. He had talked about being in love and all that sort of thing and I guess I had jumped to the conclusion that he meant more than obviously he did. What could I say? What should I say? I could laugh it off, maybe, I could lie or I could be honest. Well I wasn't in the mood for lies and pretending. I looked up into Marc's eyes and said, "Yes, damn right I am ready for that kind of commitment. It's the kind of commitment I am more than willing to make to you and, to be honest, it is the kind of commitment I expect from you if we are to be lovers. Not fuck-buddy stuff, no boy toy, no sex kitty."

As soon as I started talking, Marc bowed his head so I could no longer see his eyes. I couldn't tell how Marc was reacting. I didn't know what he was thinking. I was growing weak-kneed, waiting for some response. Finally, he looked up, a smile slowly spread across his face, he gave me a passionate kiss, broke it and said, "Then if you are serious, Keith Lewis, will you marry me?".

"Will I what?" I couldn't believe what I was hearing, or maybe I just thought I had heard wrong.

"Will you marry me? Won't be legal and doesn't have to be as elaborate as Matt's and Luke's ceremony, but will you promise to be mine until death do us part?"

"You are damn right I will!" I practically shouted as I grabbed Marc and swung him around.

"Then if you will put me down, I have something for you." He went to a suitcase, took out a small box, opened it and inside were two identical, richly engraved, gold rings. He took them out and slipped one on the ring finger of my left hand. He held the box while I took the second ring out and placed it on his finger. "One of these days, Keith, we will have a ceremony to let the world know we are committed to each other." I grabbed Marc again and kissed him like it would be my last kiss. Finally, we broke apart and he laughed, "I really do think we need to go downstairs and greet my hosts".

When I got to the Cosmos after school, Granddad was still baking cookies. We had done several batches the day before, so we had a whole shitload already! But I also knew the crew could put away a pile and some other kids from school had started dropping in for cookies and a drink. There were only four people in the cafe, two farmers who often came by for baklava and coffee and two men I had not seen before. When I walked in, Granddad said, "Chris, I have a couple people you need to meet". I walked over to the table where the two men were sitting with Granddad and he introduced me to them. "Mr. Hieronymus and Mr. Anickton, my grandson, Christopher." As I shook hands with the two men, Granddad said, "Chris, Mr. Hieronymus and Mr. Anickton are from the Hellenic Society of Jackson. They came by to talk about a scholarship. The Society gives one each summer for a student to go to Greece. They would like for you to apply for it. Gentlemen, Chris is very involved with a parade this afternoon and this is not a good time to talk to him. I'm not sure he's calm enough to make sense," Granddad laughed.

"We have heard about the ball game tonight, but didn't realize there was a parade involved. So you have something to do with the parade?" Mr. Hieronymus asked. "Sit down and tell us about it."

I sat down and told the two men about the attack on Michael, the football team's decision not to allow the four responsible to play, the resignation of the coaches, the whole story.

"Sounds pretty impressive to me," Mr. Anickton said. "I like the idea of students being responsible for their school. So when and where is this parade to take place?"

"A group of the student leaders will be gathering here shortly. At 5:00 the parade will assemble and start about 5:30."

"I can see why you are excited and that this is not the time to talk about the scholarship. We'll leave information with Demetri and get back to you later. To change the subject, from the Jackson paper it seems this game will be a walk-away for Jackson. Now, without coaches and four of the best players gone, it should be a slaughter," Mr. Hieronymus said.

"I hope Jackson is thinking that way because I believe there is a surprise in the works," I responded.

"Think we might stay around and see," Mr. Anickton said.

As he spoke, Matt came in with Luke, Mary Kathryn, Michael, Marc and Keith. "With you in a minute," I called.

"Go on and get with your friends, we've got until March to get everything in for the scholarship. It's awarded April first--and it's no April Fool joke."

"Thank you and I will definitely be in touch," I said as I shook hands and went to join the gang. Granddad had started serving cookies and coffee, but I told him to go back to his friends and we would take care of ourselves. Everyone had finally decided they liked the coffee and Michael and I were busy serving them when Bill, Jacob, Linda and Rachel came in. "Where's Jack and Susan?" Jacob asked. "Don't tell me he's running off with my girl."

"He'll not get far," Rachel said while trying to look tough.

We had all gotten seated when the two came in with Dan right behind them.

We ate cookies and drank coffee, all the time becoming more excited and nervous.

"Why is everyone so nervous?" Marc asked. "I thought everything was under control."

"If there is one thing this group knows, it's that everything is never under control," Linda said.

While we were eating and talking, Fr. Tom came in. "Come join us, Father," I called out.

"Don't mind if I do," the priest said, "Especially if I can get a coffee."

"Coming right up," I said.

When Fr. Tom got his coffee, he said, "I have great news. We had the re-inspection today and everything passed. We could open tonight."

I could see the wheels spinning in Linda's head. "Why not? Why don't we have a victory dance tonight? Won't have to have food. The drink machine works. Why not?"

"Don't have the sound system in place," Keith said. "Think it would not be wise to start with a poor system."

"How long to get it set up just for tonight?" Jacob asked.

"With help, half an hour, forty-five minutes max," Keith replied.

"It's just after four. Could we get it and get it set up before 5:00?"

"If we had a way to get it all, I suspect we could."

"I have the family van," Matt said. "How many do you need to get it?"

"Luke, Jacob, Chris and Bill, if you could help, I think we might make it."

"Let's go," Jacob said. "Father, is the parish house open?"

"Gertie should have gone, so no, it's not."

"Hold up," Bill said. "We are about to go dashing off without asking a very important question. Father, could we have a dance tonight?"

Fr. Tom laughed and said, "I was wondering if I had been booted out. Sure, why not, especially if it's a victory dance. The parish house will be open when you get there."

Eugene and Larry walked in as we were leaving. "What's up?" Larry asked.

"We saw you coming, so we're leaving," Luke said and laughed as we left.

When we got to Keith's place, his dad had just gotten home. Keith introduced Marc and the two shook hands. Keith told his dad what was up and he helped get the equipment into the van.

When we reached the parish house, Fr. Tom was waiting for us. The rest of the gang was busy setting up the room. With Keith directing, the sound and light equipment was soon in place and tested. When the test finally met Keith's approval, Jacob said, "Four-forty-seven." We all piled into the van and Bill's car and headed for the vacant lot behind the courthouse where the parade was assembling.

The marching band was leading the parade, of course, followed by the hay baler with its two dummies. The president of the freshman class was driving the tractor pulling the baler. She was one good-looking farm girl! The rest of the class officers were riding on the baler. Behind were the members of the freshman class, marching and dancing down the street, all dressed in their black and white shirts.

Following the freshmen was a hay rake, driven by Victoria Henry. She had added a straw hat to her dress and she, too, was a good-looking farm girl. The sophomore class officers were having a hard time staying on the rake and some of them finally gave up and just walked beside it. The sophomore class was the largest in the history of Independence and the stream of blue-and-white-shirted students just kept coming.

The junior class "float" was an ancient combine. Someone had painted a banner which read, "Jackson is like the chaff which the wind driveth away" and hanging from the chute where the straw is discarded was a dummy dressed as a Jackson football player. Susan was driving the combine and the rest of the junior officers were on it.

When the juniors in their green and white shirts had passed, the senior "float" appeared. The seniors had been very secretive about what they were using and as it came down the street, everyone started laughing, except me--it was a manure spreader. Fortunately, unlike the other "floats" it was a brand new, unused machine. Its banner read, "This is for you, Jackson". The senior officers were all sitting in and on the manure spreader, tossing candy wrapped in brown paper to the spectators who packed the sidewalks along parade route. The seniors following their officers were carrying pitch forks and hoes as they sang the school fight song.

Michael and Jacob, and the two other student government officers, riding on a brand new, bright green tractor, followed the seniors.

The brass and percussion ensemble on a flat-bed truck appeared, and it was obvious they had done some quick work with the cheerleaders who were on a flat bed coupled to the first one, performing to the music.

Finally, what had developed from our idea of having a hay trailer with the football team appeared. It was not a hay trailer, but a flat bed behind an eighteen-wheeler. On the bed was a huge hay pyramid with the football players standing on the steps of the pyramid, looking tough, until they got tickled, which happened often. They were also tossing a football around. The players had buckets of foam "footballs" and, from time to time, they threw passes to kids on the sidewalk.

The parade started at 5:30 and it was 6:15 when it finished a second turn in the stadium. As the classes passed their designated section, they peeled off and filled the bleachers. Gradually the home side of the stadium filled with blocks of color as students found their places. I leaned over to Mary Kathryn, who was seated in front of me and said, "One damn good parade, regardless of how the game goes."

The announcer introduced the Jackson team as they ran on the field to the cheers from the visitors' side of the stadium. Usually the cheerleaders hold a large banner at the home team's end of the field and when the players are announced, they run through it. Tonight was very different. As each player was announced, he walked on the field, escorted by a farm girl. That is all except one. Margie was escorted by a real stud.

Independence got to kick off and Margie demonstrated how it should be done, but things went downhill from there. It was soon obvious that losing several hundred pounds of brute flesh made a real difference. Jackson pretty much went were they pleased, when they pleased. It took only a few minutes before they had scored a touchdown and the extra point. Jackson's line looked like a gorilla convention. Even the largest guys on Independence's team were small in comparison.

When Independence finally got the ball, it was fumbled and recovered by Jackson. The visitor's side of the stadium were laughing hysterically. We had high hopes, but they weren't realistic, obviously. At the end of the first quarter the score was twenty-one zip. It was obvious Independence couldn't do a running game without the four who were not on the field. Every running play, which was Independence's standby, ended when the ball carrier hit a wall of hard flesh.

At the beginning of the second quarter, Skinny Dawson caught the kick-off and went streaking down the field. A couple times someone attempted to tackle him, but grabbed an armful of empty air. He was a red, white and blue blur. When he crossed the goal line, he was all alone. The score was now 21 to 6. Independence easily scored on the extra point kick. The score gave new life to the team, but not enough long enough. In rapid succession, Jackson scored two touchdowns, including the extra points, and a field goal. The score was 38 to 7. "The score's beginning to look like a basketball score," I said to Susan who was sitting near me.

It was almost the end of the first half when Independence recovered a fumble on the Jackson ten yard line. "I hope they don't think they can run the ball through that line," Jack said. "A field goal doesn't help much, but it beats nothing. Looks like that might be in the offing as Margie is back on the field." However, the play was very unexpected, a pass to Skinny. "Skinny's so small, I think the other team just overlooks him," Susan laughed. With the extra point, the half-time score was Jackson 38, Independence 14.

During half-time, the band and cheerleaders put on a great show. While Independence was well on its way to a good butt-kicking, spirits were high.

When the game resumed, things looked better, but Independence hadn't added to the score and Jackson didn't need to. Jackson fumbled on their ten yard line again and before they knew what happened, Skinny was covering the ball with his body. "Where the hell did he come from," Jack laughed. "I tell you, that kid's invisible. Now I hope they don't think they can push Jackson over the line." They didn't. Instead, the ball sailed in the air and landed in Skinny's waiting arms. It was almost impossible not to make the extra point and Independence now had a score of 21 and Jackson had not scored in the second half.

On the next play, Skinny caught another pass and was promptly put on the ground. "That Skinny's going to be crushed by those Jackson bruisers," Mary Kathryn said. The Fellowship had re-grouped during half-time and were all sitting together. Marc and Dan had joined us. The team got set up for its next play and it was obvious they were going to pass to Skinny again, so obvious that Jackson was taken by surprise when Margie kicked a great field goal. "24 to 38 sure sounds better than 21 zip," Dan said. "Think 24 is 24 points more than Jackson thought we'd make."

The next time Independence got the ball, Skinny was running out for a pass when a huge Jackson player tackled him as he turned to catch the ball. The fifteen-yard penalty and first down was a boon to Independence. "That's the first time Jackson had a penalty called on them tonight, but not the first time it should have been called. They are pulling some pretty rotten tricks," Marc said. "Watch number 27."

On the next play, number 27 grabbed Bradley's face mask, and threw him to the ground. The officials either didn't see or ignored the incident, calling no penalty. For the first time, Mr. Allan took some direct action in regard to the game, lodging a protest. When play resumed, number 27 tried to grab Bradley's face mask again, but he, and some of his team-mates, were so intent in his mischief that they failed to see what was going on and an Independence player raced down the field with the ball and across the goal line. The extra point was also good.

Jackson seemed rattled for some reason. They hadn't scored since half-time. Of course Independence had scored only once. Jackson made up for their failure to score when they recovered an Independence fumble and scored. Amazingly, the kicker missed the extra point, but the score still was 31 to 44. Suddenly Independence seemed to catch fire. Margie was still on the field and started the scoring with two field goals, one right after the other. With the score at 37-44, Jackson called time-out. Play had hardly resumed when the third quarter ended.

When the fourth quarter resumed, a number of players had left the game and the Independence ones walking on the field were essentially bench warmers. Most were too small to be football players, but I guess the co-captains decided to let everyone play. "Looks as if it's 'Let's give everyone play time' or Independence is trying something wild," Bill said.

"Maybe this is where Jackson gets confused because the players aren't those they had scouted," Michael said. Confusion reigned on the field, that was obvious. Not only were the players not what Jackson expected, but also the plays were unorthodox to say the least. As a result, Independence quickly scored a touchdown and the extra point, tying the game at 44-44. "The score looks more and more like a basketball score. Damn, I don't think I've ever seen a game with such high scores," Dan said.

After an Independence time out, Jackson pushed Independence into its own end zone for a safety and the score was 44-46. The play seesawed back and forth with Jackson playing very conventional and orthodox ball and Independence having everyone wondering what would happen next. In a fluke, the ball fell into the hands of an Independence player who looked at the ball, looked surprised and started running like his pants were on fire. It was clear he was only interested in escaping the Jackson players headed toward him. He wasn't even looking where he was going, but back at those chasing him. He was so intent on escaping that he didn't realize he had scored a touchdown until one of the Independence players, laughing his head off, pointed to the score board as the extra point made it read 51-46. The Independence stands went wild.

The celebration was short-lived as Jackson quickly scored two field goals, bringing the score to 51-52. Jackson called a timeout and made several substitutions. Skinny and Margie went back in the game and play resumed with just minutes on the clock. Jackson was within yards of scoring a touchdown when an illegal block penalty was called. With third down and twelve yards to go, Jackson fumbled and Independence got the ball.

Independence huddled and when they put the ball in play, Skinny was racing down the field for a pass when he was tackled. The pass interference penalty gave Independence a first down. Again, Skinny raced down the field, drawing the attention of Jackson which permitted Margie to try for a field goal. The ball sailed through the air and seemed to trip the end of game buzzer as it sailed through the goal posts. It took a few seconds for what had happened to sink in, then the Independence stands went absolutely wild. Someone started war whoops and soon the stadium was ringing with them as the scoreboard flashed the final score, Independence 54, Jackson 52.

When the pandemonium had subsided a bit, Michael was at the microphone. "Independence students! There will be a victory dance at St. Mary's Teen Club following tonight's game. Everyone is welcome--even if you're no longer a teen."

Fans had started leaving the stadium when two policemen raced across the field, chasing someone. When they caught him, they put him on the ground and cuffed him. When they lifted him to his feet, I saw it was Phillip Curran.

I am not a big football fan and, actually, know little about the game. There is so little action most of the time I get bored and start looking around, missing what little action there is. But tonight's game was different. It was about much more than football. I was almost as excited as Keith and the other Independence students, and when Independence actually won, I was celebrating with the best of them.

After the game, we all piled in Matt's van and Bill's car and headed for St. Mary's. "Who's driving your Tracker, Michael?" Matt asked as it pulled past us leaving the parking lot.

"Maybe Yong Jin and Greywolf. You have the van and I think their other car is being worked on. I'm sure it is."

"There's another couple in the car," Dan said. "Speed up a bit and we'll see."

When we pulled up alongside the Tracker, Michael said, "It's Mom and Dad. What are they doing here? Who's keeping the girls?"

"I'm very sure they are being well cared for," Mary Kathryn said as she stroked Michael's back.

When we reached St. Mary's parking lot, we pulled up along side the Tracker. "Who's caring for the girls?" Michael asked as soon as he could get out of the car.

"They are in good hands," Dr. Andrews said. "Chelsea is babysitting."

When we got in the parish house, there were a few others there. Dr. And Mr. Andrews and the Greywolfs were the only older people. Well Fr. Tom was there.

"Mom, Dad, did you see the police get Phillip?" Michael asked.

"Sure did. Suspect he wishes he had missed the game on two counts now," Mr. Andrews laughed.

Keith pulled me in to a corner, gave me a quick kiss and said, "Marc, I've got to go DJ, but I had to have a kiss before I started."

"I think you need a real one," I said, and gave him a passionate one.

When we walked back out into the main area, there must have been fifty to sixty kids standing around, talking excitedly.

Keith flipped some switches and lights started dancing around the room. "Good evening to Independence students and friends who are celebrating a special victory tonight. Originally the teen club was scheduled to open Friday, but with the great day and evening we have had, let's celebrate. All of you have seen the rules for the club, they are few--no drugs, no alcohol, no fights, no putting anyone down. EVERYONE is welcome. To open the celebration, an old, old song which is very, very special to me and my friends. It's a slow one for dancing with the one you love." I knew what was coming and really wondered how it would go over with this crowd. "For my special someone and all the special someones here."

When "More" started playing, Greywolf and Yong Jin, Dr. And Mr. Andrews moved onto the floor. I watched to see what Matt and Luke, Eugene and Larry would do, knowing that what they did could make or break the club. Before two lines had been sung the two couples moved onto the floor followed by Bill and Linda, Jacob and Susan, Jack and Rachel. Dan and Chris were looking at each other and finally moved onto the floor. "Damn," I said to myself, "I am not going to miss out on this". I walked over to where Keith was set up, extended a hand and he smiled and we moved onto the floor, but stayed near his equipment so he could get back to it quickly when the song ended.

When it ended, Keith started a very up-tempo one and the older folks left the floor for the younger crowd. I was at the edge of the floor and couldn't see what was going on. I could see no-one dancing. Everyone was standing in a circle, keeping time. I walked over to where I could see what was up. In the center of the circle was a girl, I think I was told her name was Victoria Henry, doing some wild dancing with the ensemble leader. Keith had told me his name was Jose Gomez.

When the song ended, everyone applauded and cheered. There were a couple more fast dances and Jose and Victoria were dancing fools--they were terrific. The next slow dance, two girls I hadn't seen before moved onto the floor. Fr. Tom came up beside me and said, "It was very important that the "Everyone Welcome" message got across. We have gay couples, a lesbian couple, mixed-race couples and even," Fr. Tom laughed, "Matt and Luke, a mixed-race gay couple, as well as kids from the old mill village and the upper-crust part of town. What more do we need to say, 'All are welcome'?" I think the point has been made. Now we wait for the fall-out. I have never really had a decent moral battle in my life and here, as I face retirement in a year or so, I think it's time I did. But I'm sure you are not interested in that."

"Actually I'm interested in anything having to do with Keith's town and life. But what I really want to talk with you about some time is the commitment ceremony you had for Matt and Luke."

"Actually, Marc, I didn't have it. They asked me to celebrate the Eucharist and I did, and then blessed their union. I couldn't keep from it. The Bishop gave me some flack about it and made me promise I'd never do it again. What I didn't tell him was that I didn't expect to be asked to do it again, bless the union of Matt and Luke that is. Taking a bishop literally is often the easiest way to deal with him," he laughed. "But are you planning on a union ceremony, I assume with Keith?"

"Sometime. We have known each other for such a short time, but I think we're in this til death do us part. I guess you could say we are engaged at this point."

"I noticed the rings," Fr. Tom said. "They are beautiful. I hope you will take time to really get to know each other. That's the problem with most couples today, I think--gay or straight--they jump into something without knowing each other."

"That's going to be more difficult than I thought. I haven't told Keith yet, but my dad heard his new wife--or girlfriend, I can't keep up with it--propositioning me last week. Dad may or may not know I'm gay, I think more than likely he knows, but forgets. He even forgets I'm around most of the time. Anyway, I knew he had heard the latest in his string of conquests trying to make me one of hers, so I got the jump on the situation by telling him about it and how uncomfortable I was when she did it. Just before I left, he gave me a handful of brochures for private schools--all well away from our place in Florida. I guess I'll have to go and that probably means I'll see even less of Keith than I thought."

"Hmmm, let me think about that. I think I know a school which you might find worthwhile and allow you to see Keith occasionally at least. Check with me before you leave."

"Thanks for your interest, Father."

"Just hope I can help."

It was almost 10:00 when the dance got started, so it seemed like no time before Keith announced the last dance of the evening. Knowing what it would be, I walked over to where he was sitting and, as soon as "More" started, he literally jumped down and into my arms. Several other couples joined us, of course all the Fellowship, but I was pleased to see several black couples on the floor.

Keith had told me in Ohio that the black community in Concord was small but, as many of the whites, most were old families. Even in 1995, many black parents didn't want their children associating with white kids, just as many white parents didn't want their kids associating with black children. It was obvious that the kids had other ideas, as there were a few mixed-race couples on the floor. Keith had also told me, when I asked about Jose Gomez, that there was a small, but growing, Hispanic community in Concord and both blacks and whites were having to learn to deal with the newcomers. I was pleased to see Jose was not the only kid of Mexican ancestry on the floor.

Mom and Dad left the dance shortly after it really got started. I was sure Mom wanted to get back to the twins. Probably being a bit over-protective. When they left, so did the Greywolfs. The dance over, Keith started getting his equipment stored. We were all ready to help him, but he said there wasn't much anyone could do to help, so everyone left except Matt and Luke, Marc, Mary Kathryn and myself. When everything was properly stored, we got in the van and Luke said, "Matt and I are staying at his place tonight and we asked about getting you home, Marc, and they said try to get there by 1:00. Mary Kathryn and Michael have a midnight curfew since tomorrow's not a school day. Do you have a curfew, Keith?"

"I do, but it's 1:00 tonight."

Luke said, "It's 11:30 now, we'll do a slow drive home and drop off Mary Kathryn and Michael and go to the Greywolfs' for a while, then see that you get home Keith."

"Sounds good to me," Marc said.

I expected everyone to start making out like bandits, but it didn't happen. Mary Kathryn snuggled up to me, Keith snuggled up to Marc and we all talked about the evening. "I still find it hard to believe that Independence beat Jackson," I said. "And the score!"

"It would be hard to convince anyone that it wasn't just a runaway game with scores like those," Marc said. "And as little as I know about football, I know Independence wouldn't have beaten Jackson without some very unorthodox football. And the very idea that a skinny kid could do what--what is his name?"

I laughed and said, "You know, I don't know. I didn't pay attention when it was called tonight and I don't think I have ever heard him called anything except Skinny, Skinny Dawson. He is skinny, but he runs like the wind. And Margie... that girl has fought to be on the football team ever since she was a freshman. She got put on the team this year because her dad was bringing a lawsuit against the school. So the two bench warmers saved the day."

"Because students were in control. They didn't have to put on a show for their coaching peers, all they had to do was pick the best for the job and do it," Mary Kathryn said.

"Man, I'd give anything to be a part of a school like Independence," Marc said.

"Think the only choice you have is Independence," Keith said. "I don't think there is another like it."

"Well, I guess you don't have to worry about that now since you are in college," Luke said.

"Why do you say that?" Keith said.

"Yea, I'm a senior in high school this year," Marc responded.

"Since you and Douglas are such good buds, I guess I thought you were the same age," Luke commented.

"It makes sense," Marc said, "and we are the same age--well, almost. But you know school systems. Douglas is three weeks older than I am. When we were three, we started in a private preschool--me because Dad was gone most of the time and he thought my nanny was spoiling me, Douglas because his mom didn't want to be bothered. We became instant best buds at three and still are. But Douglas' birthday is the last of August and mine is the middle of September. I don't know about school cut-off date in North Carolina, but in Florida--at least when we started school--you had to be six by September first to start first grade, no exceptions, so I have always been a year behind Douglas. Yea, I'm a high school senior this year."

We all continued to talk about the game, then the dance. "Fr. Tom seemed pleased that guys danced with guys and girls with girls, blacks with whites and Mexicans with whites and blacks," Marc said.

"I was glad too," Keith said. "We said it would be open to all and meant it."

"We've already had some problems because of that. Someone called the health department and fire marshal and demanded inspections. The repairs and changes that had to be made delayed the opening, but this was a grand way to get started. Of course I'm not fooling myself. There will be more flack if I know Concord and its bigots," Mary Kathryn said. "Keith, I loved you starting with THE song. Well, here we are. Guess this is goodnight." Luke had driven into the Larsens' drive while Mary Kathryn was talking.

"Make it a short goodnight, Golden Eagle," I said as Mary Kathryn and Michael got out of the van.

"That reminds me. I have been thinking about this whole Indian medicine bit ever since I was in Ohio," Marc said. "It is very strange."

"You don't know what strange is until you are in the middle of it," I said. "You have seen Michael's chest haven't you?"

"Yea, where he was knifed."

"Well, most of the scars are from him being knifed, but he also has scars from an experience in a sweat lodge. You know about the sun dance?" Matt asked.

"Only from watching "A Man Called Horse," Marc replied.

"That might be a Crow ceremony, not Lakota, but the piercing is the same. Michael has scars on his chest like he was pierced for a sun dance, but he got them during a sweat lodge ceremony. Exactly how, I can't say, don't know. But, yea, it's pretty weird," Matt said.

We talked about the sweat lodge and our experience in the Black Hills, the parts you can talk to other people about. Marc was fascinated by our vision quests and getting our names. "Seems like someone wanted to make sure you were a wolf man," Marc laughed. "Silver Wolf Greywolf."

"Ever hear all his names?" I asked.

Both Keith and Marc said they had not. "I did hear you call him what I thought was a strange pet name, but don't remember it," Keith said.

"I hope you are ready for this," I laughed. "His full name is Matthew Sarang Hanun Pomul Silver Wolf Greywolf. His mother is Korean and his dad gave him a Korean name, Sarang Hanun Pomul, which means--his dad thinks at least and his mother is not talking--beloved treasure, and he is," I said, as I leaned over and kissed my Sarang Hanun Pomul.

As I did, Michael climbed back in the van. "Man, that Mary Kathryn is hot stuff and can get me steaming, but it's as cold as Dante's hell out there! Sure glad the cold front waited until after the game." I drove Michael home. As he left the van he said, "See you all tomorrow. 'Night."

When we got to Matt's place, his Mom and Dad were in bed, so we tried to be very quiet. When we got upstairs, Matt said, "Give a call when you are ready to go."

"If you don't mind, I'd like for Keith and me to talk to you two for a while. No use getting all steamed-up with only half an hour or so to do something about it," Marc said.

"Sure, come on in our room," Matt said.

When we got inside, Keith said, "That sounds great: 'our room'".

"That's what it is, it's our room. We decided we would spend time with both sets of parents, but as a couple, not as singles. Sometimes our parents, especially my dad, forget that we are a couple, but by us acting like--being--one, they get reminded," I said.

"I'd like to learn as much as I can about being a couple," Marc said. "I don't know how we are going to work it, but that's what I want for us and that's what I hope Keith wants."

"I sure do, but with us being separated, it's not going to be easy."

Both Keith and Marc had a hundred questions about what it meant to be a committed couple. I was surprised that Marc was so insistent on having a ceremony. Keith looked at it as a nice touch, but it definitely meant more to Marc. Finally Matt said, "I don't think you are ready for that step yet because it means something different to each of you and until you can agree on what you are doing, you better not do it."

A few minutes later, Keith exclaimed, "Hey, I'm going to be late if I don't get moving."

"Marc, think you can find your way back or do we need to go with you," I asked.

"I'm sure I could in the daylight, but I'm not at all sure I can at night. I'd appreciate it if one or both of you would go with us."

"We'll both go," I said.

After driving in Cleveland, driving in Concord at 12:45 was a dream. At midnight, most of the traffic lights change to blinkers and there were very few cars on the street. It took hardly any time for us to reach Keith's place.

Keith got out, followed by Marc, and the two walked, hand in hand, to the front door. The outside light was not on, but a nearby street light lit up the front porch. When the two reached the front door, Marc took Keith in his arms and gave him a long, passionate kiss. But all good things must come to an end and, reluctantly, Marc left Keith standing outside the front door and returned to the van.

As he climbed in, Marc said, "No-one has ever loved someone as much as I love Keith. The very thought of leaving him again tears me up. Every minute I am with him a voice in the back of my mind reminds me of how little time I have with him. I've got to figure out a way to be with him."

"Not sure I go along with no-one ever loving someone as much as you love Keith. As a matter of fact, I think the two in the van with you have a love at least equal to yours but, yes, I think you need to figure out a way to be with him if possible. Love can grow when you are separated, but the day-to-day stuff a couple has to work out requires day-to-day contact. Being together on a daily basis soon rubs away excessive romanticism and you have to deal with the things which irritate hell out of you as well those which are priceless," I said.

"And, believe me, there are things which can really bug you when you are together every day," Matt said.

"Such as, Lover?"

"Such as your habit of rolling up in the cover and freezing me to death when we are asleep."

"And you put your cold feet in my back when you crawl in bed late."

"And Matt always leaves the cap off of the toothpaste."

"And Luke puts the toilet paper on the holder the wrong way.

"And Matt can be a real grouch in the morning."

"And Luke is cheerful when he gets up. He even whistles in the morning!"

"Hey, I didn't mean to start a family fight and have it end up in a divorce!" Marc laughed.

"Well, we were having fun at each other's expense but, seriously, the little things the other does which you dislike are the things you have to learn to live with."

"Or which you have to try to change," Matt added.

"And there are a hundred little things that go to make you very thankful you have your partner's love," I said, "like waking up and him being beside you."

"That's what I want but, even before that can be true, I've got to find a way to see Keith more than an occasional weekend. I knew that in Ohio, but now I definitely know it has to be."

"Maybe you can do it. Sure hope so," Matt said as I pulled into the Greywolfs' drive.

After Matt and I had said goodnight to Marc, we went to bed. Matt spooned myself into my back after kissing me goodnight. He was on his way to sleep when I turned over and asked, "Matt, why is love so difficult?"

"What do you mean, 'difficult'?"

"Well, I was thinking about Marc and Keith. It looks as though they will be separated and seldom get to be together. At best, they will have a couple weekends a month together. Then I got to thinking about others we know. Your mom and dad, for instance. There were objections to them being in love because of racial difference. Mom's family objected to Dad, I suspect out of guilt because they remembered what Hitler and the Germans had done to the Danes. David and Margaret had to overcome an age difference and a status thing--she being a doctor and he a nurse--and a money thing since she makes a lot more than he does. Uncle Michael and John had the same kind of money problem and an age difference. Michael and Mary Kathryn are too young. We sure had our problems. I wonder why that is?"

"Remember 'The Scarlet Letter', Luke? Hester called her love-child Pearl, after the parable of 'The Pearl of Great Price', a parable about a man selling everything he had to buy the pearl? I think that's about love. Love costs because it is so valuable. It is in short supply so, in order to have it, it costs much. You have to be willing to give up everything in order to have it. You may not have to actually give up everything, but you have to be willing to."

"And hate is cheap."

"Maybe, maybe not. I guess you have to give up love, which is priceless, in order to hate, but I guess if you hate, you fail to see that love is a priceless treasure."

"Pretty deep stuff there, Dark Angel."

"Yea, but love is, pretty deep stuff I mean."

"Yea, but so very simple at the same time," I said as I kissed Matt very gently.

"Yea, it's as simple as getting a butterfly kiss from someone you love, your soulmate," Matt said as he snuggled in my arms and was asleep in seconds. I wasn't. I thought about our conversation about love. Matt was right, of course. Love is a treasure of great price and I was certainly willing to pay whatever it demanded of me because, without Matt's love I had nothing, was nothing.

Chapter Nineteen


I was awakened by bright, bright sunlight streaming through my window. When I looked at my clock, it was 10:00 and no-one was stirring. I guessed Mom and Dad were also taking advantage of the holiday and sleeping in.

I hopped out of bed, ran to the window and when I looked out, the whole world was covered in a blanket of snow. We didn't get a lot of snow, but it was almost traditional to have snow Thanksgiving--but I had never seen a white Christmas. As I looked out the window, I suddenly shivered. The house was cold and I was standing in my birthday suit, looking at snow. I quickly pulled on sweats and socks and went downstairs. The first thing I did was check on the twins. They were covered and apparently warm.

I knocked on Mom and Dad's door and when Dad answered said, "We have no heat, Dad. I'll see if I can find out what is wrong." I went to the basement and checked the furnace. When I pressed the reset button, it stayed in, but the furnace didn't fire. The furnace was new since we had replaced an old oil burner with natural gas one or two years before when gas became available. When I went back upstairs, Dad was up and starting coffee. "The reset was tripped, but the furnace didn't come on when I reset it."

Dad went to the stove and, when he turned on the gas, it did not light. "I can't understand this," he said. "Surely there is gas."

"I'll call the Greywolfs' and see if they have gas."

Greywolf answered the phone and I asked if they had gas; he said they did. When I told him why I called he responded, "Tell Margaret to get those babies ready and all of you over here pronto. Can't have you all freezing."

Dad agreed and said, "Michael, help your mom get the babies ready while I call the gas company". Mom and I soon had the babies wrapped up warmly and in their carriers. "Margaret, are you sure you paid the gas bill? The company says the gas was turned off for non-payment."

"I certainly did and you need to remind them that they are not allowed to turn off the gas when the temperature is below 40, as it certainly is," Mom said, handing him a cancelled check.

Dad talked on the phone a bit more and I could see he was getting angry. "Look, I have the cancelled check in my hand... I don't care what your computer shows. Some idiot typed in the wrong thing because I have the cancelled check... Lady, will you read me everything you have on your screen... That's the problem. You have the wrong name. I am David Andrews. Lady, I don't care what your computer says, I am sure I am David Andrews and I happen to know the address I have had for twenty years... Yes, please do. Yes, that is my name, but not my address... Right, my bill has been paid and it is for the address where you turned off the gas. We have two new babies here and no heat... It better not be tomorrow before the gas is turned back on. We have two new babies and the temperature is below freezing, both of which mean the gas should not have been turned off. Your service man may not have known about the babies, but he certainly knew the temperature... What you are telling me is that you have a service man turning off gas, but he can't get back to turn it back on until tomorrow, is that right?... Lady, I don't care if the president of the company has to leave his Thanksgiving dinner and come out here in a three-piece suit, you have until noon to get the gas back on and re-light the pilot... I'm not being unreasonable. I am being very reasonable. If the gas is not on and the furnace running by noon, I'm calling the chairman of the state utilities commission. Goodbye."

"David, we need to get the girls to the Greywolfs'. I'll do that then try to figure out how I am going to do my part of the dinner. I know both Yong Jin and Gabrielle will have all their stoves can handle without adding mine."

"You better have gas by noon or I mean I will call the state. I have never heard anyone as rude as the woman I talked to. She kept saying it was my fault that the gas was turned off."

We all got dressed for the weather, got in the van and drove to the Greywolfs'. When we walked in, the Greywolfs--including Luke--and Marc were finishing breakfast. "You should have gotten here a few minutes earlier and had breakfast," Luke said.

"If you don't mind, we could still use breakfast," Dad said in a "Please, Sir, may I have more" voice. "Our gas was cut off sometime this morning. I called and the crabby woman at the gas company told me we had not paid the bill. She had someone else at our address. If the gas isn't on by noon, there will be hell to pay."

Greywolf and Yong Jin had started fixing breakfast for us as soon as we walked in.

"Surprised you're here alone, Marc," I said.

"Not by choice, you can be sure," Marc said. "Mr. Lewis wanted Keith to go with him to see his mother--Keith's grandmother--this morning. He is supposed to drop Keith off here around noon. I'm working on being patient. Not doing very well at it, I confess. He is so close, yet not here with me. But, hey, there's snow! The only time I see snow is when I go on a ski trip."

"We'll have to play in it when Keith gets here because it will probably be gone tomorrow."

"Michael, I have a project for you this afternoon," Yong Jin said. "Ms. Jones asked me to prepare a brochure about Independence for some principals' conference she is attending. I have the draft ready and Greywolf has looked it over, but I'd like to have students look at it. Since the Fellowship will be here today, will you see what all of you think about it? I have several copies so you can mark up one."

"Be happy to. Think it will be great to let people know about Independence but, right now, I'm ready for food!"

"And it's ready for you," Greywolf laughed. Yong Jin and Greywolf took the girls out of their carriers. "I guess this is as close as we'll get to having grandchildren, so you can just expect them to be spoiled," Greywolf laughed. "They are beginning to be human," he said. He was holding Mary and she seemed to be looking around trying to find his voice. Her head was kinda doddering around and then she saw Greywolf, I guess, and smiled. "She recognizes her old Indian granddad," Greywolf said, laughing.

For some reason, I looked at Matt. He had the strangest look on his face. I didn't know what it was--sad, thoughtful--I wasn't sure.

Dad had left a note on the door for the gas man telling him we were at the Greywolfs'. It was almost noon when there was a knock on the Greywolfs' door. Matt answered it and the man standing there asked if someone could open our house so he could check and re-light the furnace.

Dad was going with him to take care of that. As he started to leave, Mom asked Yong Jin about keeping the girls. "It's too cold to take them to the house just now, but I need to get started on my part of the dinner."

"We'll take care of them," Matt said, and Mom went with Dad.

Yong Jin and Greywolf put the twins back in their carriers and neither liked it. Both let their displeasure be known quickly. "You were going to take care of them, Matt, so I guess you need to get started," Greywolf laughed.

Matt reached over to pick up Elizabeth and said, "Luke get the other one". Neither of the two really knew how to hold a baby, so I had to show them how. As soon as the guys had the girls, they stopped crying. I was surprised at the expression on Matt's face. I think what I had seen was the result of him being gay and not likely to have children. Now when I looked at him--and Luke--I thought it would be sad if they didn't. It was obvious they knew they were holding something very precious and their faces showed the love they felt for the two infants.

Mom and Dad had just left when Keith and his dad came in. "Snow especially for you, Marc," Keith said. He had walked up to Marc, took his hand and I thought was going to kiss him, but I guess he thought better of that and just smiled at him.

"I have to run into the office and get some things done--even on Thanksgiving--but I'll be back, you can bet on that," Mr. Lewis said.

When his dad was gone, Keith said, "Hey, babysitting. How did you two get stuck with Michael's babies?"

"Whoa, they asked for it," I said. "Just wait until they have to clean a messy bottom and see how quickly they try to get out of babysitting," I laughed.

"Marc wants to play in the snow," Matt said. "We'd join you, but we have children to care for."

"Ok, I can take a hint," Yong Jin said. "Just put them back in their carriers and you can go."

"But they'll cry," Matt objected.

"Not for long," Yong Jin answered. "They can't be held all the time."

"Sure you don't mind?" Matt asked.

"I'm sure. Run along and play," she answered in the voice she used when we were little kids.

Matt and Luke put the girls back in their carriers and I think were disappointed because they didn't cry. While they were doing that, I called Mary Kathryn. Gabrielle said she was already on her way. In fact, she came up the front walk as we left the house.

Marc really was like a little kid in the snow. The snow was wet enough to pack well so we made huge balls of snow and built a snowman. When we finished, a snowball fight broke out and we were busy pelting each other when Bill drove up with Linda, Jacob and Susan. They, of course, got pelted good getting out of the car.

Chris came driving up in Demetri's car with Jack and Rachel in it.

"Where's Dan?" Jacob asked.

"Since he's low man on the totem pole, he had to work over today. He'll be off at 4:00 and I will pick him and Granddad up then."

With the new arrivals, we built two snow forts and had a grand snowball fight. Finally, even Marc had had enough snow and we all went inside to warm up. As we walked in, Matt asked, "Mom, what do you have to warm up frozen snow warriors?"

"How does hot mulled cider sound? There is also hot chocolate. You can serve everyone, Matt, Luke. There's a fire in the library if you like."

"I like," Bill replied.

"Yong Jin, where are the brochures you wanted us to look at?" I asked.

"On my desk in the library," she answered.

While Matt and Luke were getting the hot drinks, Mom came and got the babies since our house was now warm. When Matt had served the cider and chocolate, he and Luke joined us looking over the brochure. "This sounds a lot better and looks a lot better than some of the brochures I have seen from very expensive private schools. Is all this true?" Marc asked.

"I haven't found anything untrue or even exaggerated," Linda said.

"Same here," Jacob added. Everyone agreed that the brochure was a good and accurate picture of Independence, at least as good as could be expected, trying to describe a whole school in a brochure.

"But what's this about private schools, Marc?" Keith asked.

Marc said, "Oh, Dad gave me a bunch of brochures from private schools, that's all".

"Marc, we haven't been together very long and, I'll admit, I don't know you as well as I will, but I can tell when you are fibbing. What's this about private schools?" Keith asked.

Marc got very quiet and sat looking down at the floor. When he looked up, he was misty eyed. "Keith, I wasn't going to tell you until our holiday was over because I didn't want to ruin it for you. Dad's latest woman--I think they are married, I really don't know--was hitting on me a week or so ago and I knew Dad heard her, so before he could say anything I told him about it and that it made me uncomfortable. The next thing I knew he gave me a fist-full of brochures from private schools, all a long way from Florida. I don't think I will have any choice about whether or not I go away to school. I know I won't be allowed to take weekends off frequently, so I won't be coming to Concord as often as I planned and hoped and wanted to come."

Marc had been misty eyed when he started telling about the private school situation, now Keith was. Keith was sitting in the floor by Marc's chair. He turned, reached up and took Marc's hand. Tears were running down both their faces.

"Marc, I think you need to add another brochure to your collection for consideration," Linda said and handed Marc one of the draft brochures about Independence.

"Why didn't I think of that?" Keith said, smiling through his tears.

"Yea, you said you'd like to be a part of a school like Independence," Mary Kathryn said. "It would solve a lot of problems. You wouldn't have to worry about whether or not you could get a weekend off, that sort of thing."

"There's a major problem with that," Marc said. "All the schools I can look at are boarding schools. Don't think Independence is ready for that yet."

'Maybe Dad would let you live with us," Keith said hopefully.

"Be realistic, Keith, he won't let us sleep together during this holiday so he sure is not going to say, 'Ok, Marc, you can move in'. No way."

"Wish we had an extra room," I said, "but the twins kinda took care of that."

"Maybe there is a solution," Matt said. "Mom and Dad have talked about how lonesome it is without kids in the house. With me gone, any student who shows up here has to make an effort. I think they might be willing to have you live with them. You know the guest room already, so what do you think?"

"I love the idea, but I don't want to get my hopes up," Marc responded.

"Well, you could find out about it in a few minutes; come with me," Matt said as he motioned for Marc to follow him.

While the two were gone, talk in the library became idle chit-chat. No-one wanted to say anything which might jinx the possibility of Marc becoming an Independence Patriot.

Marc and Matt were gone for what seemed like hours, but was only thirty minutes. When they came back, Marc was smiling.

"I think we have a deal," Matt said. "Mom and Dad are willing to have Marc live with them. We talked some about conditions and arrangements, but there will have to be more talk and agreement about those. Talked a bit about money. Anyway, the only catch is whether or not Marc's dad will approve. That would seem to be a given, but Marc says his dad will have to be convinced Independence is 'top-drawer'. Dad is calling Jonesy to find out about out-of-state students and whether or not Mom and Dad will have to be legal guardians. Details, but it will all be worked out before Marc leaves Sunday so he can lay a deal on the table when he talks with his dad."

"Why you be doin' the talking, Matt?" Susan asked.

"'Cause Bro Marc be speechless," Matt laughed, and Marc nodded his head rapidly.

The Thanksgiving mood had really shifted into one of thanksgiving, with the possibility of Marc coming to live in Concord. Everyone was trying to talk at once with no-one listening. Suddenly a voice cried out, "Anyone home around here?". It was Millie. She was using her cane because of the snow and also holding on to Woody's arm to make sure she didn't fall again.

"How did you escape from St. Alban's, Woody? Thought you'd be doing the Thanksgiving Mass," Matt said.

"Since I'll be leaving next month, the Bishop has found another retired priest who is interested in replacing me. I thought he needed to get a feel for the place so he is supplying for me today and Sunday. "By the way, Millie and I watched the game on TV. Sure was a surprise to me. And I have never seen some of the plays Independence pulled off. It was fun."

"Not nearly as much fun as being there," Marc said. "We all had a ball the whole game, well, most of the whole game."

"So how do you like Concord--and Concord with snow," Millie asked.

"It's great. I'm thinking about moving in," Marc replied.

"Are you serious?" Millie asked.

"Sure I'm serious. Dad is ready to ship me off to a private school and I don't see why Independence is not better, and I know the men--at least one of them--are better looking than any I'd find elsewhere."

"Where will you be living?"

"The Greywolfs and I are trying to work it out so I'll live here with them."

"Couldn't find a better place. Get your dad to draw up guardianship papers so the Greywolfs can take care of you in case of illness or accident, get your transcript here before next semester and you'll be ready."

"We were wondering about the guardianship," Marc said.

"We could sneak by on that, I suspect," Millie said, "but if something should happen to you or you got sick, the Greywolfs would have to get written permission before you could be treated. Might never need it, but it's good to have."

Woody and Millie went to the kitchen where Mom and Dad were, leaving the kids alone. We had pretty much wound down and were quiet. The chairs had finally been abandoned and couples were sitting on the floor, one sitting between the legs of the other, all of us just staring at the fire.

"Hey, it's time for me to pick up Dan and Granddad," Chris said. "I better run."

When Chris left, Matt asked, "Where's Eugene and Larry? They should have been here ages ago. Millie," he shouted, "where is your son?".

"He and Larry went on some mysterious errand to Lexington, but they should have been back by now. Don't know what they are up to."

She hardly had the words out of her mouth when the front door opened and Mom and Dad, Larry and Eugene all came in. Larry and Eugene were each holding one of the girls. Millie came into the room and said, "All right, Son, what were you two doing in Lexington today? You know better than to keep secrets from yo' mama."

"Oh, I forgot. Larry, what were we doing in Lexington today?"

"Oh, shoot, I forget." Larry went to the front door, opened it and yelled outside, "Millie's on the warpath". There was laughter outside and Jason and Anthony came in. It was very obvious Larry and Eugene, Jason and Anthony had put one over on Millie. I was surprised because I had never seen Millie so completely discombobulated. She got all misty eyed and kept hugging both her sons and their lovers.

Larry and Eugene were still holding the twins when Larry said, "Think we need some of these around the house in Ohio."

"Don't think Paula would cooperate," Eugene said.

"And just wait until you have to change a diaper, a messy diaper," I said. "I think it is better birth control than the pill."

"Was not about to go into that, but," Mary Kathryn said, "I see Michael is not forthcoming, so I guess I will have to tell the tale of the results of his diaper-changing when we found Elizabeth." Of course, she added a little--a lot--here and there until everyone was laughing.

Jens and Gabrielle, Larry's mom and Keith's father all came in together in the middle of Mary Kathryn's tale. The house was getting full and I think everyone liked it. I know I did. The adults were in the living room and kitchen and the kids were all still in the library. "I guess everyone's here now except John and Uncle Michael," I said after counting people on my fingers. "Wonder what their hold-up is?"

"I think you can ask them," Luke said. "A Lexus just pulled into the drive."

Uncle Michael and John came in, brushing the snow from their shoulders. "Is it snowing again?" Dad asked.

"It sure is. It is really coming down. Don't think there will be a lot of traveling tonight," John said.

"Where have YOU two been all day?" Millie asked. "I thought you'd be here hours ago."

"I have good news," John said. "Well, good news and bad news. I applied for a fellowship to study in Greece this summer and found out this week that I was a finalist. I got a phone call yesterday asking if I could possibly meet with two committee members in Jackson today. They were visiting friends and said if I could, it would save both of us time and travel. I would have had to go to Atlanta for an interview otherwise. Michael and I went over early this morning and I was really grilled. The interview took over two hours. When it was finished, they two told me I could start packing; I had the fellowship. It's an all-expense-paid six weeks in Greece studying Greek art. Of course I will also being doing a lot of photography as my part of the fellowship. I am very excited. That's the good news. The bad news is I will be in Greece six weeks and Michael will be flitting around the US with some weird art student I used to have."

"It's good news, really good news," Uncle Michael said, "in spite of the fact we will be separated. To make it better news, Luke's art tour will end at the same time as John's fellowship and there will be two weeks before Independence starts the fall semester. I assure you I will be in Greece the minute John's fellowship ends and we will spend two weeks touring the Greek Isles."

"Mr. Stephenson, you may have company in Greece. Chris told us the Hellenic Society in Jackson wanted him to apply for a scholarship to spend the summer in Greece--don't know how long, but it would be great if the two of you could get together for a day or so," Susan said.

"Sounds good," John said.

Things had just about settled down again when Chris arrived with Demetri and Dan. "Man, it is really snowing and the roads are getting very slick," Demetri said.

"I suspect I escaped just in time," Dan said. "I'm sure someone will not show up for the night shift. I have already pulled my three nights this week, and then worked today, so I'm glad I'm not around when people start calling in saying they can't make it."

Mom came into the library and said, "Kids--I mean the ones who live here--the tables are ready to be set."

"We can help," Rachel said.

"Sure," Mary Kathryn answered, "But we can't all get around so, guys, if you would get the tables set up, then we can start setting them."

Greywolf asked Matt and Luke to bring in more wood for the fireplaces and when they came back in Matt said, "It has almost stopped snowing, but there must be four inches on the ground."

In addition to the dining room table, folding tables were to be set up in the living room. The adults would be seated in the dining room and the kids at the folding tables. On such occasions, the three families combined china and so on. Mary Kathryn started the girls setting the dining room table while the guys set up the folding tables and chairs. We had just gotten the tables up and started unfolding chairs and getting them around tables when someone knocked on the front door. "I'll get it," Matt called, since he was near the door. As he opened the door he called out, "Add more plates. The Indians have come to Thanksgiving dinner!" and laughed. As he stepped aside, Taequo and Wounded Hawk walked in, both in traditional dress. Following Taequo was another very handsome Indian, also in traditional dress, who was probably a little younger than Taequo. He was hanging back, seemingly shy.

"Hey, come on in, Climbing Bear, don't be shy. Be shy around this bunch and you'll be left behind," Taequo laughed. "Folks, this is Climbing Bear--actually Sid Climbing Bear, but no-one should have to answer to Sid. Climbing Bear, these are the friends I told you about." Taequo introduced everyone--twenty-odd in all--then said, "Sir, don't think we have met". Demetri introduced himself. When all had been introduced, Taequo said to Climbing Bear, "Now, name them all," and laughed again. To Taequo's chagrin, Climbing Bear, with a mischievous smile, did just that--much to the delight of all of us.

"I see we got here just in time because I see empty plates and smell good food. Can't depend on Taequo these days. Always dreaming of Climbing Bear. Taequo was supposed to bring the buffalo but I guess he forgot. Hope you have enough without it," Wounded Hawk laughed.

"Sure we have enough for all except one," Greywolf laughed. "Guess Taequo will have to do without since he forgot the buffalo."

While the introductions and kidding were going on, Mary Kathryn and I found three more chairs and put them around a table in the dining room. All the food was placed on the kitchen table. Dinner was finally ready and Greywolf called everyone in to the dining room. "Since our first Thanksgiving here, the Family has maintained a tradition of asking each member to hold up one thing for which he or she is especially thankful. Let's observe a few minutes silence while each one reflects on the past year and chooses the one thing to hold up."

I always found this part of our Thanksgiving celebration exciting, because there were always surprises. Of course, most of the things people named were predictable. For example, Mom and Dad were especially thankful for each other and the new life they had together. But there were surprises as well. Matt said he was especially thankful for Taequo, "Otherwise, I would not have Luke," he said.

When he said that, Climbing Bear looked at Matt for several seconds, then a smile crossed his face as he said, "Ditto that for me".

Chris broke up everyone when he said, "I am especially thankful for cow shit which gave me my life".

Woody said he was especially thankful that old geezers could fall in love and Millie just said, "For an old geezer!".

Taequo said he was especially thankful for all the people who had entered his life in powerful ways, "All of you and others and, of course, Climbing Bear."

After everyone had named the one thing for which he or she was especially thankful, Greywolf said, "As head of this household, I would be honored, Wounded Hawk, if you would offer up all our thanksgivings." Wounded Hawk was silent for a few seconds, then started a chant, almost under his breath. Taequo joined him, then Greywolf, followed by Climbing Bear. I was surprised because it was a chant of thanksgiving Red Hawk had taught us, so Mary Kathryn, Luke, Matt and I all joined in. As the chant went on, I realized that we were drumming on the table and everyone joined in the drumming.

After dinner, everyone found a place in the living room--it was jammed! All the kids were sitting on the floor, as were Taequo, Climbing Bear and Wounded Hawk. Couples, as it seemed always, were sitting with one between the legs of the other. There was just general talk about what people had been doing since we were all together at Halloween, but nothing was being said about what everyone was dying to know, how Taequo and Climbing Bear had gotten together. I guess it really was none of our business, but it seemed everything was pretty much everyone's business. Finally Wounded Hawk laughed, "We sure are civilized, aren't we? We are all dying to know how an Indian as old and ugly as Taequo ended up with a soulmate as young and good-looking as Climbing Bear."

"Hey, Taequo is certainly not an ugly Indian and he's not that much older than I am--only seven years," Climbing Bear said. "But after what I have seen and heard here this afternoon and what Taequo has told me about this tribe, I'd like you to know my story."
Climbing Bear

[This is a short version of Climbing Bear's story. A much longer and more complete version is a separate, stand-alone story, "Climbing Bear".]

"I'm Apache. My Mom died in childbirth so I never knew her. My grandparents took me to raise after she died. My dad was in the military and I only got to see him when he was on leave. Every time he had to go back, he promised one day he would come home and stay. Then he was killed during the last year of the Vietnam War when I was twelve. My grandfather never got over his death and died two years later. I was fourteen then and was pretty wild but, after my grandfather died, I went completely wild. When I was sixteen, I came in from an all-night party, drunk, and found my grandmother dead in the kitchen of our shack. She had a heart attack. I knew if I had not caused it, I certainly was one of the causes. I loved my grandparents dearly and now they were gone. I had no family, no place to go. I drifted into Denver and hung out with some Indians there, doing odd jobs to earn money, most of which I spent on alcohol.

"I had known I was gay since I knew I was anything, but I was way, way back in the closet. One night a drinking buddy and I were drunk and we started playing around with each other. We were not very smart about it since we were in a park where, I learned later, gays hung out. The police caught us and we got tossed in jail. You can imagine what happened there.

"When I got out, I still had no place to go and no skills, so it was back to odd jobs and alcohol. One day I was working--grunt work, digging a ditch--when the banks of the ditch caved in on me. I was buried almost up to my neck for over an hour and when I was rescued, spent a couple weeks in the hospital. The day before I got out, a medicine man came in to see an Indian in the other bed in my room. When he finished, he came over to my bed and said, 'I think it's time you got rid of the bad spirits eating you'. I told him I wasn't interested in any Indian hocus-pocus bullshit. All he said was, 'I guess I was wrong. I guess it's not time,' and left.

"I got out of the hospital the next day and was back on the street. I had no money and I needed a drink. I went back to the park where I thought I could pick up some money--sorry ladies--by selling blow jobs. I never got that drink. I had just entered the park when a carload of rednecks drove by and one of them leaned out the window and shouted 'Hey, Chief, how about a blow job?'. The car stopped and the guy who had shouted said, 'Men, I think we need to teach this faggot Indian a lesson'. They raped me, then beat me up and left me in a drainage ditch at the edge of the park. I don't know how long I was there, but finally I dragged myself out of the ditch and half-way across the park before I passed out again.

"When I woke up, I was in bed somewhere, I didn't know where. I had been cleaned up and someone had taken care of my wounds. When I tried to get out of bed, I couldn't. Shortly after I came to, the medicine man I had seen in the hospital came in the room. 'I see you are awake,' he said. 'Seems to me you have a hard time staying out of trouble. I'm Wounded Hawk. Drink this.' He handed me a bowl of something hot and I drank it. It made me feel better right away.

"As soon as I was able, he took me up into the mountains and left me with another medicine man--his mentor, Black Horse. I lived with him for a year, learning about traditional ways, getting my head straight and my body strong. At the end of the year, Wounded Hawk came for me and said it was time I found my way in the world.

"He went with me to Winnemucca in Nevada, a smallish town, where he introduced me to an Indian family," Climbing Bear laughed, "with the good Indian name of Mr. and Mrs. John Taylor. I got a job working in a grocery store. I didn't make much, but the Taylors refused to take anything for my room and board. I started working on my GED which I earned in nine months. I had started driving a truck for the grocery store, and one day John asked if I'd like to become a trucker. I hadn't thought about it but, when I did, it seemed like a decent enough life. I went to truck drivers' school and when I finished, I started driving locally in Reno. After a few months, I started doing long hauls. It was a pretty lonely life, but I was making good money. For the first time I had money, decent clothes, anything I wanted. But it sure was lonely.

"Six months ago, Taequo's trucker friends--Al and Chris--introduced me to Taequo. We saw each other every time our paths crossed, which was fairly often. I had known Taequo for a couple months and found I was trying to get hauls which made sure our paths crossed. Taequo was so circumspect I never had a hint that he felt anything for me except friendship. I knew what I felt for him was a hell of a lot more than friendship, but I was afraid to say anything for fear..."

"It would ruin your friendship," Matt said. "The bane of all gay men, I think."

"Yea, how right you are," Climbing Bear said. "Anyway, Taequo had been in Cleveland with Wounded Hawk, attending a Halloween party with some group of rabble rousers," Climbing Bear smiled. "Our paths crossed in St. Louis and I picked up Wounded Hawk for the next leg of his trip as an official Indian. He told me about the party and started talking about Taequo and, before I knew it, I had poured out my love of Taequo and how frustrated I was that I couldn't tell him. Wounded Hawk didn't say anything one way or the other, so I dropped the subject.

"After he allowed a group of academics to salve some of their guilt, I picked up Wounded Hawk again and dropped him off in Denver where he was leading a conference on oral literature. He asked if it was possible for me to spend a few days in Denver after the conference. I made arrangements to do that and discovered Wounded Hawk had done the same with Taequo. We ended up spending a week in the mountains. We talked about a lot of things while camping, and Wounded Hawk seemed to find an awful lot to do by himself, leaving me and Taequo alone. It was hell for me. I wanted more than anything to tell Taequo how I felt, but feared he would run if I did.

"We had been camping for three days, I think, when--after we had eaten--we were sitting around the campfire. Suddenly, out of the blue, Wounded Hawk said--pardon me ladies--'Shit, am I going to have to do everything for you two knot-headed Indians? Taequo, keep your mouth shut while Climbing Bear tells you something.' I didn't know what to do or say. I just stared in the campfire and suddenly realized I was talking, telling Taequo I was in love with him. When I finished, Taequo said nothing. He just sat, poking the campfire with a stick. Wounded Hawk said, 'Taequo, knot-head, how dense can one Indian be?'

"I looked at Taequo and he was very much a Redman! He was blushing like a teenager!

"Finally Taequo started talking, telling me he was too old for me, he was too ugly and there were lots better-looking young men out there for me, all that kind of stuff. After five minutes I had had enough and said, 'Taequo, if you are not in love with me or don't want me, say so and cut the crap'. Taequo started with 'That's not what I mean,' and began telling me, again, why he was not good enough for me. To be honest, he pissed me off. I got up, walked over to where he was sitting, pulled him to his feet, smacked him lightly on the cheek, then gave him one big Indian kiss. When I came up for air, I asked, 'What was it you were saying?'. Taequo laughed and said, 'I can't seem to remember'. Well, we had two more days and nights on the mountain and then we came back to Denver. I flew to Reno, quit my job and became a team driver with Taequo. We are partners in more ways than one. And, I can tell you, this is one happy Indian."

"And I am another one," Taequo said.

Shortly after Climbing Bear finished his story, Millie and Woody, Uncle Michael and John and Demetri left. Yong Jin told Mom to go on and get the twins in bed, "We'll take care of cleaning up," Linda said. "You all did the preparation, we'll clean up later."

"Jens and I will go on then," Gabrielle said.

After they had gone, we all sat in the living room, listening to the three Indians tell tales. Finally Wounded Hawk said, "Luke, Matt, Michael, Mary Kathryn, I'd like to have some time with you four Friday night and Saturday morning. Any problem?"

"Could be," I said. "St. Mary's teen club is officially opening Friday night and we just about have to be there since it's our baby."

"When does it close?"

"At midnight."

"Friday night I wanted us to do a sweat in preparation for some training Saturday morning," Wounded Hawk said.

"I'd like to be involved in a sweat," Keith said.

"I definitely would," Chris said. "After my experience, I'd really like to be in one."

"What's a sweat?" Marc asked. Wounded Hawk described a sweat and told Marc its purpose.

"Sounds like something I need," Marc said.

"Seems to me the whole Fellowship--and partners--would like to be involved," I said.

"Fine," Wounded Hawk said. "We can do it after the teen club closes or before."

"I'm not really up on this sweat business," Jack said, "But from what I have heard, it seem like a good thing to do before the opening because we may need all the help we can get."

"Greywolf, you going to need this bunch of kids tomorrow?"

"Not if you need them," Greywolf answered.

"Taequo, Climbing Bear and I will sleep on the sacred ground tonight and get the fire started early. About 10:00, if you all will show up, we'll build the lodge. When does the club open?"

Mary Kathryn told him it ran from 8:00 until midnight.

"Sweat starting at 5:00 would be right," Wounded Hawk said. "Good idea having a sweat before the club opens." I don't think he knew just how true that would prove to be.

"We go now," Wounded Hawk said in his movie Indian voice. "Sleepum in snow. How? In sleeping bag," Wounded Hawk laughed and the three Indians said good night and left.

"Let's get things cleaned up and put away," Linda said. Half an hour later it was all done. Mom and Dad had gone to the library, and the living room became a passion pit.
Chapter Twenty


I guess it was about an hour later when Greywolf called from the library, "Atten-hut!". He gave us time to get decent and then came to the living room door. "Yong Jin and I have been watching the news. We now have over seven inches of snow and it is still coming down. The highway patrol has asked that no-one be on the roads except in extreme emergencies. I suggest all of you call your parents and tell them you are staying here tonight."

"Linda, telephone," Yong Jin called from the library. Linda had just walked back in the living room when Yong Jin called again, "Susan, telephone". Matt gave his phone to Bill, and I went outside and returned with mine. The next several minutes were hectic as some of the crew called parents and others answered the phone when their parents called.

When all parents had been told the Fellowship was staying put, Yong Jin came in and said, "Mary Kathryn, there are four of you girls. Luke and Matt planned to stay at your place tonight but, if they are willing, I suggest you women go to your place. If you don't mind sharing a bed, all four of you'll have a place to sleep."

"I'll save some girl from having to sleep with Mary Kathryn," I said.

"As I recall, Danish trolls actually have young men for breakfast who are found sleeping with young daughters," Greywolf laughed. "Raw! There will be three of you men to a room and if you don't want to share a bed, there are sleeping bags and pads here and at the Andrews'. Divide up as you please. I'm headed for bed."

After Greywolf left, Matt said, "I guess I need to get the four-wheeler out and drive everyone to the Larsens' and Andrews'".

Jack said, "I really think we need to escort these beautiful women to your place, Mary Kathryn, so we can be sure you are safe. A walk in the snow sounds romantic!"

"May sound romantic," Luke said, "but it's cold out there. I don't care how hot you guys get at my place," he continued, "I bet you'll need to stop by and thaw out before heading for the Andrews'. We'll choose bed partners when you get back."

"Ugh," Jacob said, sticking out his tongue. "Don't think I'd like your idea of a bed partner."

"Don't knock it 'til you've tried it," Luke laughed.

We all walked out on the front porch as we four guys got ready to walk our girls to the Larsens'. It was still snowing and, as we left, Bill started singing, "Sleigh bells ring, are you listening..."

"Do you think the Indians will be ok at the falls?" Chris asked as we went back into the house.

"I'm sure they will," Luke said. "If they thought they wouldn't be, you can bet they would be back here by the fire."

It was over half an hour before the four guys came back from the Larsens' and when they walked back into the house, all of them crowded around the fireplace. "Not only is it snowing like mad out there," Jack said, "but it is also colder than a well digger's ass. So how are we dividing up for sleeping?"

"Don't get me wrong," Michael said, "but if the straight guys go to my place, the guys here would probably be a lot happier".

"Sounds fine to me," Bill said, "But I want to get warm before I go outside again".

"Take your time if it means I get to snuggle in bed with my babe," Marc smiled, flashing his dimples at Keith.

After everyone had warmed themselves for a half-hour, I offered the four-wheeler to Michael to drive home, but the four guys left to trudge their way to the Andrews'. "Dan, Chris, Marc seems to have staked a claim on the guest room bed and it appears he's interested in having Keith share it with him. You and Dan can have our bed and Luke and I will take sleeping bags and the floor."

"Never, Matt," Dan said. "I would never toss you two out of your bed. Chris and I will share your room, if you don't mind, but we'll take the floor. You do have sleeping bags that can be zipped together, right?"

"Of course," I laughed.

"Well, since I have a prize bed partner, I think I'll take advantage of it," Marc said as he reached out, took Keith's hand and gave him a full double-dimple smile.

Keith blushed, but didn't hesitate, and the two started upstairs.

"Seems I have the same old bed partner and I love it!" Luke said, as he wrapped an arm around my waist and we started toward the stairs. He stopped when we reached the foot of the stairs and asked Chris and Dan, "You guys coming?".

"In a few minutes," Dan replied.

"I'll put out the sleeping bags and pads for you. There's a night light which I will leave on. You can turn it off when you get in bed if you like," I said.

When Luke and I got to our room, we walked to the window. It had stopped snowing and the moon was bright on the snow-shrouded world. I was standing in silence, in awe of the beauty outside, when I felt Luke's arm around my waist. He rested his chin on my shoulder and whispered, "Matt, it is so beautiful. The snow covers up all the ugliness, leaving everything pure and white." As we watched, a rabbit raced across the newly fallen snow, leaving deep tracks. Suddenly he stopped and stood up on his hind legs, perfectly still. I was holding my breath as if my breathing would frighten him. As we watched, he was joined by a second rabbit. The two stood together for a minute or two, then went hopping into the hedgerow. "Another happy couple," Luke said.

"Yea, another happy couple," I said as I turned and pulled Luke's lips to mine for a long, gentle kiss. Luke returned it, then swept me into his arms and took me to bed. As we snuggled under the covers, he said, "Matt, Sarang Hanun Pomul, it good to be home again, in your--no, our--bed. Do you realize we are two very lucky men?"

"Very lucky and very happy, Yonghon Tongmu." Wrapped in each other's arms, neither Luke nor I knew when Chris and Dan came into the room.

I'm sure Dad didn't want to know--or care--who was sleeping with whom. In any event, he called from downstairs about 9:00 Friday morning, "Breakfast in half an hour. Downstairs bathroom available."

When I opened by eyes, I glanced out the widow and saw there was not a cloud in the sky. The bright sun made the snow sparkle on the limbs of the old oak silhouetted against the clear, blue, blue sky. I turned my head, raised up on an elbow and looked at my beloved. I leaned over and kissed Luke's forehead ever so gently. I couldn't believe how alive and happy I felt, but it was nothing compared to the happiness I knew when he opened his eyes and a smile slowly spread across the face of my Yonghon Tongmu. His arms encircled me and pulled me to himself, his lips found mine and I was so filled with love for him tears started welling up in my eyes. Luke broke our kiss when a tear dropped on his hard, bare chest, looked into my eyes and, seeing my tears, pulled my head to his chest. He held me close as he whispered, "Matt, my Dark Angel, what is wrong? Why are you crying?"

"Luke, Bright Angel, I am so happy, so in love with you, so full of love and life, I just started crying. I don't know why because--yes I do--Yonghon Tongmu, nothing is wrong. I am crying because I am so happy. My life is whole and perfect because of you."

Luke kissed the tears from my eyes and said, "No more whole and no more perfect than my life is because of you, Dark Angel."

Luke and I were speaking very softly out of consideration for Dan and Chris, but it probably wasn't necessary because, as we crawled out of bed, the two were still sound asleep, completely wrapped in each other's arms and legs.

When Luke and I went down the hall to the bathroom, there was no evidence that Keith and Marc were stirring. "Should we wake the sleeping beauties?" Luke asked, got a wicked grin on his face and yelled at the top of his lungs, "Everybody! Wake up and spit! The world's on fire!"

I couldn't hear the response from the two couples, which was probably just as well. Luke and I quickly took care of our morning ablutions and when we got back to the room, Dan and Chris were locked in an embrace, exchanging a passionate kiss. "Better watch that or you'll commit yourself to something for life," Luke laughed.

Without breaking their kiss, the two each held up a hand. I didn't get it at first, but then saw both had on Hopi rings. When they finally broke the kiss, Dan said, "Your warning comes a little late. We made that commitment while we were in Ohio." Dan had never been a member of the Fellowship so he had not had a ring. Chris had given Dan his Fellowship ring and Dan had bought one for Chris. The two were almost identical, each sporting the friendship symbol on the sides.

"Congratulations, both of you," Luke said.

"Yea, congratulations," I added. Then told them, "The downstairs bathroom is available if you need it. Ask Mom and she will give you toothbrushes and anything else you need. Breakfast shortly."

Marc and Keith had gone into the bathroom down the hall. I knocked on the door and said, "Marc, you know where towels are. Keith, there are toothbrushes in the top drawer. Breakfast in a few minutes."

When Luke and I got downstairs, Dad said, "Good morning, Sons. Sleep well?"

"We slept so well I didn't know when Chris and Dan came to bed. I think we all slept well since it was pretty hard getting the others up."

"Who stayed here?" Dad asked.

"Dan, Chris, Marc and Keith."

"What did you do, separate the gays and straights?" Dad laughed.

"Made good sense to me, Greywolf," Luke answered.

"I guess it's ok except I wonder about Mr. Lewis. I think he might not approve."

"Dad, they are both eighteen and I suspect a lot more committed than some married couples are--Mr. and Mrs. Lewis for example."

"I know, but it's hard to accept your son's lover being a man."

"Was it hard for you to accept?" I asked, somewhat shocked at Dad's statement.

"You want an honest answer? A really honest answer? Yes, it was. For seventeen years you dream of your son growing up, marrying, having grandchildren and then, suddenly, all of those dreams are shattered. Yes, it was hard to accept, really hard. The fact that your lover was Luke... I started to say made it easier, but actually it made it harder, much harder, because I had dreams for Luke as well. So, yes, it was hard, very hard, to accept because I had your lives planned and suddenly the plans were smashed. What finally made it easy to accept was the realization you and Luke would never have lived out my dreams. They were my dreams, not yours, and by hanging on to them, I was denying who you were. To tell the truth, when I really realized that, I was ashamed. But that's behind me now and I not only accept you two for who and what you are, but also am happy that you are happy. That's all that's important now. End of confession."

Both Luke and I hugged Dad, and when I did I said, "Dad, I hope I never disappoint you and hope that my dreams become your dreams for me."

"Double that, Greywolf," Luke said.

When Dan and Chris came into the kitchen, Dan said, "No shaving this morning I guess. I didn't find a razor."

"I'm not sure we have any," Dad said. "We have little use for them around here. Luke, do you have razors here?"

"Yea, there are some in the drawer with the new toothbrushes upstairs. You can shave after breakfast if you like. I'll have to. Matt doesn't go for a scratchy face."

Marc and Keith came in and Dad asked if they had slept well.

"Sure did," Marc answered quickly. "I think I'll take Keith home with me. He's nice to sleep with."

"I see someone else has rings," Luke said. "I didn't notice those last night. They are beautiful."

"Guess they are engagement rings," Marc said, "because Keith has agreed to marry me, at least to be as married as you and Matt are."

"Congratulations to both of you. May you have a long, happy life together," Dad said.

We set the table while Dad finished breakfast. "Do we need to set a place for Indians?" Marc asked.

"You mean other than the Indians here already?" Dad responded.

Marc blushed and laughed. "I meant the outside Indians. I forgot that there were inside Indians as well."

"If there's food around, Wounded Hawk will be right there. He's more like Red Hawk than just his looks. Mom sleeping in?" I asked Dad.

"Just until breakfast is ready. She'll be here in a few minutes." As Dad spoke, the front door opened and the three outside Indians walked in, all wrapped in buffalo robes. "Hope your night was not too cold and miserable," Dad said.

"Pretty hard to be cold when you have a buffalo robe," Wounded Hawk answered. "And it's very hard to be miserable when you're sleeping on sacred ground. But it was pretty difficult to gather enough wood for the fire pit this morning. We finally rounded up enough to get a good one started."

"Good. We'll need to take wood from here," Dad said. "No need to try to find wood under all this snow. At least it has stopped snowing so we can take the four-wheel-drive and take wood to the falls after breakfast."

"Better hurry," Wounded Hawk said. "More snow on the way."

"The forecast is for warmer weather this afternoon and above freezing tonight," Yong Jin said as she walked into the kitchen.

"The forecast is wrong," Wounded Hawk said. "More snow, high winds and temperature approaching zero tonight. Wind and snow will be starting by mid-afternoon."

"You sure?" Dan asked.

"Sure I'm sure. Me heap wise old Indian," Wounded Hawk said in his movie Indian voice and laughed.

"I'm sure you've heard the one about the Indian forecaster, haven't you?" Climbing Bear asked with a grin.

"Don't think so," Marc answered.

"Indian chief is sitting at the entrance of his teepee when a warrior comes up and asks, 'Chief, what do we do today?'. The Chief replies winter is coming and everyone should gather wood. The Indians worked hard all day and gathered a huge pile of wood. The next morning the warrior comes again and asked what the tribe should do and the Chief said, 'There's a cold winter coming, gather more wood'. The warrior told the people and they doubled the size of the wood pile. Next morning the warrior comes and the Chief tells him to redouble the efforts of the tribe because it was going to be one hell of a winter. Well, the same thing happened for the next four days. The camp was practically buried in wood. Finally the warrior asks the Chief, 'How do you know there's such a bad winter coming?'. The Chief answered, 'I listen to the National Weather Bureau. They say we have a very bad winter coming. Come in to my teepee and we'll see what they say today.' They go inside the teepee, the Chief turns on his radio and tunes in the National Weather Bureau. The head forecaster is being interviewed. 'You have forecasted a very, very hard winter. How do you know that?' the interviewer asked. 'I know it's going to be a bitter winter because the Indians are gathering wood like mad.' Worth a chuckle at least," Climbing Bear said.

"Would be a lot funnier if it was not for the fact that is the kind of thing people expect from me when I do a symposium," Wounded Hawk laughed. "But I can assure you tonight will not be fit for man or beast. Which reminds me, the official opening of the teen club needs to be cancelled. It will be too dangerous for kids to be out tonight."

"Guess we need to wait a bit," Keith said. "Everyone will think we have lost our marbles if we called it off now. The snow is beginning to melt and there's not a cloud in the sky. Or maybe we call it off now and everyone will wonder if we have been watching Indians gathering wood," he laughed.

"You may as well go ahead and call," I said. I didn't know how or why, but I knew Wounded Hawk was right.

"Strange, I thought I was dreaming," Luke said, "but this morning before I was fully awake, I saw it snowing as we completed the sweat lodge. I guess I saw what was going to happen."

We sat down to a great breakfast and before we finished, Michael, Bill, Jack and Jacob showed up. Dad poured coffee for the four as Michael said, "Think we need to call off the official opening of the teen club. We are about to have a real snow storm."

"How do you know that?" Keith asked. "The forecast is for rising temperatures and melting snow."

"I know different. Just wait and see," Michael replied, but he did have a puzzled look on his face.

Mary Kathryn and the women arrived shortly after Michael and the men. As soon as Mary Kathryn walked in she said, "Real snow storm brewing. No teen club tonight." When she said that I looked at Luke and he just smiled. Later, when we compared notes, we discovered we all had the same mental image of the snow storm.

Keith said, "Steve McCann is the morning radio personality. I'll give him a call and shake him up."

Michael said, "Before you do, I better call Fr. Tom and tell him. I'd hate for him to hear it from the radio." After he hung up the phone, he said, "Fr. Tom laughed when I told him about the postponement. 'But I'll take a medicine man's word on that,' he said."

Keith called the station and when he finished said, "Turn on the radio and see what Steve has to say".

"Whoa, hoo. Just got a call from Keith Bad Man Lewis who is stranded out in the country with a bunch of Indians--yea, Bad Man, we all believe that... NOT! But get this, in spite of the official forecast, which I will now read: 'Rising temperatures Friday with a high near sixty. Lows Friday night in the mid-forties. Clear with melting snow.' That's what the US of A official weather bureau forecasts. Now Bad Man says temperatures will drop below freezing soon and by mid-afternoon we will have high winds and snow. He says because of the weather, the official grand opening of St. Mary's teen club has been postponed until tomorrow night. When I asked what if the official forecast was correct, he said it wasn't but if it was, everyone gets in the club for free. When I asked how he knew more than the official US of A weather bureau, he said he'd been watching Indians gathering wood. Think you better check what's in that peace pipe, Bad Man."

Keith switched off the radio and laughed, "Who's going to have egg on their face, white man or Indian?".

"Guess we'll soon see," Taequo said, "But right now we need to get wood to the falls". We put a large load of wood in the four-wheeler and drove toward the falls. Several times the snow had drifted so deep the vehicle started spinning its wheels but, with the crew we had, we just pushed it forward until it regained traction.

The sky was cloudless when we reached the falls. The fire had burned down enough to allow us to add more wood and put the rocks on top. Wounded Hawk had us put more wood on top of the rocks. The wood we had brought from home was dry and started burning quickly. The heat from it felt good because, even if the temperature had risen, it was still cold. Of course, one side roasted while the other side froze, so we all kept turning as if we were on spits.

We all found a block of wood to use for a chair and sat around the fire for a short time, turning first one way and then the other. Wounded Hawk asked if any of the women were on their moon and, when he did, Michael shot a quick glance at Mary Kathryn who smiled at him. Later he told me as soon as Wounded Hawk said something about being on the moon, he remembered Mary Kathryn thinking she was pregnant and got a sinking feeling.

The stone pit from the earlier sweats was still evident, but it needed digging out. Since none of the women were disqualified by nature, Wounded Hawk put them to work clearing out the stone pit. He then looked at Michael and said, "Time to build the lodge. You three medicine men take the guys and get the willows for the ribs." We walked down the river where we knew we could find tall, thin willows and started cutting them. As soon as a person was loaded, he went back to the falls. When Michael, Luke and I had cut the last ones, we walked back to find Wounded Hawk telling the guys how to build the framework for the sweat lodge and, at the same time, telling them about a sweat. They and the women were all working hard, but listening intently. Of course, most of them had some knowledge of a sweat from our experience last summer, but it was all new to Marc, so he had the most questions.

The framework was taking shape quickly with so many hands working. It was about half-done when the women finished cleaning the stone pit, and they joined those tying the willows in place, forming the domed framework. Soon the framework was completed and the covering attached. It was just after 2:00 when we finished. Wounded Hawk added more wood to the fire and, when he had finished, looked up at the sky. As he did, every eye followed his. The sun was no longer visible and the sky was gray. "Guess we need to get the truck to the house. Snow's coming." Even as he spoke, the first flakes started falling and it was soon snowing so hard it was difficult to see the house as we drove across the meadow.

Luke was driving and could follow the tracks we had made coming to the falls, which was good. Mary Kathryn and Linda were inside the truck and everyone else piled in the back. We had just got to the house and got the truck parked when the wind started. It was really blowing hard, straight out of the north, whipping the rapidly falling snow into giant swirls.

When we all got inside, Mom made hot tea from herbs Wounded Hawk gave her. The tea was very welcome as we were all chilled from our stay at the falls and then from the wind which cut through our clothes for the short time we were outside after it started.

We all sat down in the library with our tea. As soon as we were settled, Wounded Hawk said, "There'll be no food before the sweat for those who are participating. This tea starts the purification process which will be completed in the sweat. I hadn't planned on a sweat for all of you since I expected just the three medicine men to participate, but it's a good day for a sweat with friends and relatives."

"You have relatives here?" Rachel asked.

"Indeed I have relatives here," Wounded Hawk answered. "You see, before my old man, Red Hawk, died, he became a relative of Matt, Luke and Michael. So since he was my daddy, they are my uncles--I guess," Wounded Hawk laughed.

"How did he make them relatives?" Rachel asked. "I thought you had to be born kin."

Wounded Hawk told about the Making Relatives ceremony. "Lots of kids play at that, you know, two best buds become blood brothers. They are kinda serious about it most of the time," he said, "but for us it is very serious business. The three medicine men are truly Red Hawk's relatives."

"Could they do a Making Relatives ceremony for us?" Rachel was still asking questions.

Wounded Hawk said anyone could do the ceremony, "but you have to be very serious about it. These days few people actually bind the wounds together for fear of AIDS and other blood transmitted diseases. You got to be careful about making sure the knife is sterile. But that's just common sense. You also have to be very careful with whom you become a relative because relatives have responsibility for each other. They can be a real pain in the ass, but I guess we all know that!"

The Making Relatives ceremony was talked about a bit more, but the questions really started to fly when Wounded Hawk mentioned the Sweat Lodge ceremony again. There were a lot of questions about the two sweats held last summer. Michael was kinda shy about his experience since it was a high honor and he wasn't one to brag about serious things. Wounded Hawk finally said, "These three guys, for whatever reason, and I sure can't tell you why, have been chosen to be medicine men. Now tell me, does either Michael or Luke look like an Indian? Well, I don't think so either, but they are more Indian than a lot of men born Indians. The Great Spirit seldom asks permission to do something, especially when it is strange and unexpected." He talked at length about what being a medicine man meant, how you got trained, what was expected of you, that sort of thing. Suddenly he said, "Damn good thing you called off the opening of the teen club. It's already too dangerous for kids to be out driving."

I looked out the window and couldn't see the Andrews' house for the snow. "It was a smart move, wasn't it?" Michael laughed.

"Does that mean the sweat is off?" Marc asked. I could see he really wanted the answer to be no.

"Nope, sweat is on. We may need to walk to the sweat lodge, but we can manage that," Wounded Hawk said. "Since you will be at the falls with a long walk in the snow should you decide to leave the sweat, you need to know all you can so you can decide not to do it if you don't want to. Of course, you can leave at any time, nothing shameful about that."

Wounded Hawk then commented on the darkness, the heat and the length of the sweat. "Some people cannot tolerate being in the dark. Others find the sweat lodge makes them claustrophobic. For some the heat becomes intolerable. If you think any of that will bother you, you can choose not to go into the sweat lodge."

There were more questions. Marc and Dan seemed especially full of questions and Marc was growing more excited very minute. Finally, at 4:30, Wounded Hawk said, "I guess we better get organized before we go to the falls so we don't have to stand out in the white fluffy--cold--sunshine predicted for this afternoon. Let's start by all of you calling your parents. Don't think you will be going home tonight, so let them know not to worry."

While the gang was making phone calls, Wounded Hawk called to Michael, Luke and me. When we reached him, he called to Climbing Bear and Taequo asking them to join us. "Michael, I think this is your sweat. You remember how to conduct one?"

"Think I do," Michael replied.

"I don't want any 'I think I can conduct a sweat' crap, Michael. The answer is yes or no. And stop this false modesty bit. It's as bad as arrogance."

Michael definitely look chagrined, then said, "Of course I know how to conduct a sweat".

"That's better, maybe a bit too much arrogance, but you'll find the right balance in time. Luke, Matt, you will assist, especially with the chanting. I had planned to have Taequo assist me as doorkeeper, but he and Climbing Bear need to sweat together. I can manage by myself."

"You won't have to," Dad said as he came into the living room. "I will be honored to be doorkeeper."

"Mary Kathryn will open the lodge. Anyone who does not plan to participate? Remember it's no dishonor if you choose not to." Wounded Hawk waited for a minute or two and then said, "Fine, let's get dressed and go to the falls. Greywolf, Can you get everyone a towel?"

Dad nodded and said, "I'll get towels and I will drive the four-wheeler. People can walk if they like, but we'll need to get back to the house quickly after the sweat since it is so cold."

We all got dressed for the weather which, now, was heavy snow and pretty high wind and it was cold!

We all decided to take the truck to the falls since the wind was real furious and it was snowing like mad. I wondered how Dad could see to drive as the ruts from earlier were almost gone. When we reached the falls, the Fellowship crowded around the fire. Michael laughed and said, "You'll not be wanting to get close to a fire shortly."

Wounded Hawk handed Mary Kathryn a tobacco pouch and she started the ceremony to open the sweat lodge. When she finished, Michael announced the sweat lodge was open. The guys stripped to boxers and the women to T-shirts and shorts. Before we left the house, Wounded Hawk had warned the women against wearing bras if they had wire or metal fasteners, and the guys about metal zippers. "Metal touching your skin can burn you in the sweat." Dad and I held the flap open while the participants filed into the lodge, led by Luke.
Sweat Lodge Stories


I really don't know what I thought the sweat lodge would be like. I had heard the stories of Michael's, Matt's and Luke's experience in one, but I guess I looked at it as something which was ok if you believed in it, but just some weird experience I would take part in because my friends were. I certainly never expected it to be anything special for me. My expectations were, to say the least, very low. What I experienced as the ceremony went on was just that--an interesting experience. But during the third or fourth endurance--I'm not sure which--things took place which I couldn't explain except to say something really did happen to me.

Everyone in the Fellowship knew I had done a lot of fucking around before Linda became a part of my life. Hell, all of Independence knew that. I certainly never tried to keep it a secret and, on more than one occasion, had bragged about it. In the sweat, I sat staring at the glowing rocks and, as I stared, they became like a movie screen on which some of the really rotten things I had done to women appeared in living color. I felt deep shame for using people--women--as if they were disposable toys to be used and thrown away. In the midst of my shame, a bucket of water was passed into the lodge and Matt took a dipperful and poured it over himself. The bucket was passed around the circle and each person poured a dipper over their head. When it came to me, I started pouring the water over myself--thankful for its coolness--when I suddenly felt that it was more than water to cool me off, it was water to wash me. I could see it running down from my head, taking with it a blackness which the earth swallowed up. For the rest of the sweat--and from then on--I had a sense of being clean, my past forgiven. It was a great feeling.


I don't know what I expected to happen in the sweat--if anything. As it started, I thought about the night before, and being in bed with Marc. We had cuddled together, wrapped in each other's legs and arms. We did a lot of kissing which I loved, but neither of us was anxious to go beyond that. Why? I didn't know and still didn't. Well, actually, I think I did know why I was hesitant about making love fully and completely with Marc. I felt like I was unworthy of him and his love because of what I had done with Rocky and what Rocky had done to me. If I was honest, I was afraid I'd rub off on Marc, making him dirty. Marc must have sensed that and didn't ask for more than what I gave him readily.

I knew I couldn't go back and undo the past, yet I couldn't live fully in the present because I was bound by that past. I wanted to be free, to be free to love Marc as he deserved to be loved. When it came time to pray for myself, I asked for that. Of course, I didn't say all that aloud, but enough. As I stared into the red-hot stones, I felt tears running down my face, tears of regret for what had been and for my lack of freedom to be. Suddenly it seemed that a red hot stone became a burning fire which engulfed me. I felt it burning away my bonds to the past and from somewhere way back in my consciousness, I recalled a line from an old song 'the flame shall not hurt thee, I only design thy dross to consume, thy gold to refine' or something like that. I may have had the line wrong, but what it said happened to me there in the sweat lodge.


When I entered the sweat lodge, I felt hemmed in, closed in, being smothered as if I was in a huge black velvet bag which was getting smaller all the time. I wanted to escape, to escape the lodge. I remembered Wounded Hawk said there was no dishonor in leaving. By a sheer act of will, I managed to hold on through the first endurance, but was determined to leave as soon as the flap was opened again. With great difficulty, I steeled myself and waited. As I waited, I looked into the stone pit and, as I looked, the sweat lodge disappeared and I was in an open meadow. It was spring, the sun was shining, the sky clear blue with white fluffy clouds. I ran across the meadow and, about half-way across it, I saw Chris running toward me. When we met, we embraced and then walked hand-in-hand across the meadow. As we walked, I felt our spirits merge into one, yet we remained separate, whole individuals, whole as we had not been before and, at the same time, of one spirit. That image of the meadow stayed with me and I was able and willing to stay in the lodge through the other three endurances. I endured. After the sweat, when Chris and I compared notes, he had had a similar experience, including our meeting in a meadow. Very strange, but very beautiful and wonderful.


I knew about what had happened to Michael, Luke and Matt in a sweat last summer, but I was still skeptical as all get out. It seemed too much like some kind of magic. Of course, I didn't know how to account for the scars in Michael's chest unless they came from his knifing, or something really did take place in the sweat. Anyway, I was definitely interested in being a part of the sweat just because the Fellowship was all involved. What that group did meant a great deal to me. When the sweat started, it was kinda like being in church. There was certainly a feeling of being engaged in some kind of worship--different from what I was used to, but definitely worship. As the sweat went on, I was not really conscious of the heat or the darkness, just a sense of being close to people who were very important to me. When it came time to pray for myself and others, I really felt like I was praying and being heard when I prayed for each member of the Fellowship by name--and Marc and Dan as well. I finished by praying, again, for myself and for Bill and our relationship. When the sweat was over, I felt closer to Bill than I ever had. I think my love for him moved to a higher level in that hot darkness and I was pleased.


I had a real problem with the break-up of my family. I had known Mom and Dad had grown apart, each blaming the other. The last couple years, I cried myself to sleep many nights after they had a really big fight, continuing after I had gone to my room and covered my head with my pillow trying to shut out the angry words they were shouting at each other. More and more I felt I was to blame for their problems, especially when I heard Mom shout at Dad for getting her pregnant. She had said, "If you hadn't gotten me pregnant, I would never have married you and could have had a great life instead of being trapped in hell, living with you."

Dad had replied that it took two to tango and, besides, she was the one who told him it was safe because she was on birth control. "Maybe I'm to blame a little bit for you getting pregnant, but I don't think so. I think you wanted to get pregnant, to have a kid so you could trap me. Well, you did. You got pregnant with a kid and I am trapped."

Both of them really made me feel wanted and loved, NOT! I don't know why their words came back to me in the sweat lodge, but they sure did. It was like they were sitting in the darkness behind me, carrying on their blaming each other all over again, shouting until I covered my ears trying to shut out their angry words. I started feeling very sorry for myself and thinking that me being born had resulted in their marriage and the break-up of their marriage. I felt hot tears on my face.

Wounded Hawk brought in another glowing stone and added it to those already in the stone pit. As I stared at it, I saw a white buffalo appear above the stones. It looked at me with sad eyes and, as I watched, the buffalo became a beautiful Indian woman. She beckoned to me. While I could look and see myself sitting in the sweat lodge, I was also walking over the glowing stones to the Indian maiden. When I reached her, she enfolded me in her arms, kissed my forehead and said, "Rachel, I am White Buffalo Calf Woman. From this moment on, you will know you are a good, strong, beautiful, powerful woman. You will need no-one to tell you that and no-one can tell you you are not." She kissed my forehead once again and disappeared, and I realized I was still in the sweat looking at the glowing stones and I knew what I had been told was right. All I had to do was be who I was and live the life I had been given and I was happy.

Mary Kathryn

Weird... as soon as I was in the sweat lodge I had a very strange feeling. Or more accurately, a strange experience. When Michael poured the first dipper of water on the glowing stones I was separated from my body--I could look and see myself sitting in the sweat lodge from above it. I found myself in the Black Hills where we had been the summer before. I was joined by Matt, Luke and Michael around a campfire. Red Hawk--or maybe it was Wounded Hawk, I wasn't sure which it was--started a slow chant which all four of us joined in, although I was sure I had never heard it before. It was a chant celebrating life--being alive--and the richness of the earth. On the one hand, the earth looked the same as it had the summer before and on the other it was different--like something infinitely larger and more alive was revealed to the four of us. We could see all of reality, not just the small part we saw in our everyday living. There was a richness, a power, an energy, a beauty which was always the way the living earth was, but which we seldom see. It was as if we were united with all that is. It was awesome and I knew all four of us had the same experience and, without words or actions, all four of us understood who and what we were as shamans or medicine men--and woman.


The more I learned about this unusual group of people I had discovered, the more fascinated I became and the more I wanted to be a part of it. When we were gathered in the sweat lodge, I didn't know what to expect, even though I had asked Wounded Hawk a ton of questions. He finally said to me, "Marc, experience the sweat, don't try to explain it or analyze it, just let it be". I can never explain what took place in the sweat lodge. I know that I came out of it a better person, a more together person than I was when I went in. I know that I felt a deep obligation to these people who had allowed me to become one of them. I had prayed especially for Douglas and Janet--offering thanks for them having opened this rich new world to me and for their marriage. They were locked in a struggle with Douglas' parents which, again, was forcing Douglas to choose between Janet and his parents--an easy choice on the one hand, but a difficult one on the other. Regardless of how his parents had treated him, he still longed for parents. I know, I still loved my father. But, at the same time, I felt I had been given people who loved and accepted me. Yong Jin and Greywolf had already made me feel like an adopted son and I hoped Janet and Douglas would find the same. We were young adults, but we still needed a mom and dad. Somehow or other, I was at peace when the sweat was over, more so than I had been in a long, long time.

The participants in the sweat came out and, following Michael's example, rolled in the snow then quickly hopped in the four-wheeler and wrapped around themselves blankets I had brought. It took longer than usual to get to the house because of the snow and, as soon as we arrived, I dropped Luke and Matt, Marc and Keith, Dan and Chris off and told them to hit the showers. I then took the women to the Larsens and Michael and his crew to his place. All were to come back to our place for a feast ending the sweat. I wasn't really surprised when the usually talkative Fellowship was all silent. All, I suspect, were thinking about what had happened to them in the sweat.

Chapter Twenty-one

Mary Kathryn

When the sweat was over and we had all showered and dressed, we went back to the Greywolf house for a feast. Yong Jin had food left over from Thanksgiving ready when we arrived, and it didn't take long to get the table set and the food on it. After grace, we all dived in and, as soon everyone had gotten a good start on breaking their fast, we started talking about our experience in the sweat. We sat around the table for a couple hours talking, recalling what we had experienced. I was surprised that the expectations for the sweat had been so low and the experience so high for all those participating in their first sweat.

It was 8:30 before we finished eating and cleaning up. When we were done, Linda said, "Look, we are stuck here so we might as well make the best of it. How about a dance?" She hardly had the words out of her mouth before the living room was cleared and a CD started, and the dancing began.

I was surprised when Climbing Bear got Taequo on the floor. We were all dancing pretty wildly and soon were sweating without the help of a lodge. When everyone was ready for a break, Susan asked Wounded Hawk if he would teach us to dance Indian style. He said he'd be happy to, but he didn't have a drum.

"Think you could manage with a recording?" Greywolf asked. "I have a couple tapes of the Pine Ridge drum." Greywolf then remembered there were a lot of things we didn't know, and he and Wounded Hawk finally got us to understand that the drummers and singers who play together are known as a drum. Between the two of them they explained that the rhythm of a drum is very steady with only a few changes. "The drum beat is the heartbeat of Mother Earth--your heartbeat," Greywolf said.

Greywolf started the tape and he and Wounded Hawk demonstrated the step for male dancers. "We can get into other movements later," Wounded Hawk said, "but, for now, just keep it simple." He, Greywolf, Taequo and Climbing Bear each had a guy stand on either side of them, and kept working with them how until all had gotten the hang of it.

"In pow-wow dancing the men all have fancy clothing--some traditional and some of recent design with all kinds of glitter and glitz. Most women wear very restrained clothing, not a lot of flash and glitter--well, among young girls there is some, but mostly not. That's because women shed blood every month so they don't have to prove they are brave. Men have to get all dolled-up to remind themselves they are warriors," Wounded Hawk laughed. "It's a testosterone thing. Women's movements are very soft and subtle. Very gentle," he said. Then he showed us women how to dance. It looked easy, but I guess that's the feminine in it. It looked easy, but it was hard to make it look gentle, flowing and effortless.

After we had gotten the basic steps and rhythm down, we were shown other movements, such as how to honor the drum. It was great fun, but serious at the same time. Finally it was 11:30 and Taequo said, "I think I'm ready for bed, but we do have the makings of a good number of pow-wow dancers here and I guess, since Red Hawk made them relatives, they could dance with BIA Indians". He then started laughing and pointing to me then Luke. Soon Wounded Hawk, Greywolf and Climbing Bear were also laughing. We all stood around looking lost. When Taequo finally stopped laughing long enough to talk he said, "I can just see some of those tight-ass BIA Indians when those two blond Indians join a dance". Greywolf explained that BIA Indians were "official Indians".*

After the three visiting Indians gathered up what they needed and headed for the falls, Matt, Luke, Michael and I went to the kitchen to prepare a snack. Marc followed and asked about using the phone. "I'll use my phone card," he said.

"Not to worry," Matt told him, but he did anyway. He said he was calling Douglas. As soon as Douglas answered, Marc gave the phone to Luke to say hello and then sat down on a kitchen stool to talk to Douglas himself.


I wasn't surprised when Marc called me from North Carolina. I had expected it. However, I wasn't prepared for his weather report of snow and more snow. He told me about Thanksgiving dinner and the sweat, and now everyone spending Friday night together as they had Thursday night. They had danced and then had Indian dance lessons. He was very excited and it was obvious my bud was having one fantastic time. I asked about Keith and I could almost hear Marc blushing. All he would say was that it sure was nice to have someone to snuggle up to on cold winter nights.

I had nothing to report beyond the fact that Mr. Blalock had found another lawyer to assist him. He told me he was just too old to do the rough-and-tumble my case would require. My parents had decided to try to gain control of everything by saying grandmother had been incompetent when she made her will, thus voiding it. Mr. Neumann, the assisting lawyer, and Mr. Blalock both assured me the outcome was not in doubt, "Your Grandmother was as sane as any of us when she died, and the will was made well before she became ill," Mr. Blalock said. "But that doesn't mean it won't take time and money to defeat this latest ploy to get control of you and, more especially, your grandmother's money," he added.

A part of my parents' plan was to show how irresponsible I was and, thus, how Grams had to be incompetent to give me anything without a lot of strings attached. They had launched their attack while I was in Ohio, a trip they used to show I wasn't capable of using good judgement. They had stated in their petition that I obviously was irresponsible because I thought nothing of hiring a private jet to go party in Ohio. Of course their statement was not true, but that had to be proven false, along with a lot of other things they had included in their petition to the court.

Mr. Blalock said he hated to ask me to stay in Florida and not spend Thanksgiving with my friends, but he thought I better stay close. He almost cracked up when Janet said, "I guess that means I have to prepare the family's Thanksgiving dinner". But she did--with a lot of help from Lupe--and invited the Blalocks, and Mr. Neumann and his wife and son, along with my parents. My parents, of course, didn't show up, so we had a great dinner.

Marc told me he had some great news, but he wouldn't tell me anything more--not even a hint. Janet and I were both anxious to see Marc and find out what had him so excited.

After we had eaten and were pretty much wound down, Matt put a fifties-sixties tape in the boom box and soon we were all slow dancing. Matt had turned out all the lights and the room was lit only by the flickering fire in the fireplace.

As Keith and I danced, I held him very close. We were barely moving when I drew his lips to mine, thrust my tongue deep into his mouth and pressed my hips into his. I could feel his hardness pressing against my leg as I was sure he could feel mine. When I broke the kiss, I gazed into his eyes and whispered, "Ready for bed, Babe?".

Keith looked up and nodded as a smile spread across his face. Before he could change his mind, I took his hand, kissed it and we walked up the stairs to MY room, no longer a guest room. I belonged here and I was taking to MY bed a man I loved with my whole being.

When we reached my room I stopped Keith, took him into my arms and kissed him passionately. I broke our kiss and then swept him into my arms and carried him into the room, kicking the door closed as I did. I kissed Keith again and stood him on his feet and started undressing him. As I slid his shirt from his body, I bent forward and surrounded a nipple with my mouth, flicking it with my tongue. I reached down, opening his belt and fly, allowing his jeans to fall to the floor. His hard cock was straining at his briefs, begging to be released. I was happy to oblige.

I embraced my nude lover and held him close, but he still managed to slip my clothes from my body. We were both naked, very hard and very hot. We stood, our hips pressed together and our tongues doing battle. I released Keith, took his hand in mine and led him to my bed. I wrapped my arms around him and pulled him to me until I was lying back on the bed, Keith atop my body. Keith and I had talked a lot about our sexual experiences. We had gotten to know each other--including telling each other about our experiences with lovers, or people we had thought were our lovers. Truth be told, we hadn't just gotten to know each other in Ohio, we had fallen in love--but we'd had little privacy there, so our love-making had been limited to some hot make-out sessions and snuggling together in bed.

Not that I think we would have gone much beyond that had we had more privacy. We both had hang-ups about having sex. Well I really didn't have any hang-ups, but I wasn't ready to rush into anything, especially since Keith's sexual experiences were still painful to him. He really did have hang-ups, so I certainly wasn't going to push him. He had told me what had happened in the sweat, so I expected him to be freed-up and believe me he was--and I was ready for him! We were so hot that we were clumsy and bumbling. Finally I looked at Keith and said, "Babe, we have all night".

Keith looked into my eyes, smiled and said, "And I intend to make the most of it," and gave me a hot but gentle kiss. Of course, we were so hot that our love-making resulted in a climax for both of us long before we wanted, but it was a fantastic experience. I was thinking only of Keith, and wanting to give him my love. I concentrated totally on giving Keith pleasure, so I was surprised when we reached a climax at the same time and wave after wave of pleasure swept through my body. Our love-making was hot--very, very hot--but very gentle as well. After we had given each other the gift of our manhood, we curled together, exchanging soft kisses and gazing into each other's eyes in the moonlight reflected from the white blanket of snow outside. We lay, whispering of our love to each other until, once again, we were ready to take our love-making to the heights.

Totally relaxed and wonderfully tired after long, tender, passionate, hot love-making, we curled together and drifted into sleep where I dreamed of Keith. True to his word, Keith made the most of the night as we made love twice more before Luke called us for breakfast.


Sometime Friday night, the weather forecast for Thanksgiving day arrived, only a day late. I awoke as the sun falling through the windows played across my face. Matt was lying with his head on my chest, snoring softly. I smiled when I remembered him denying that he snored and offered as proof the fact that he had never heard himself snore. How long ago had that been? Remembering the first time we had slept together with no holds barred, I was amazed that it had been no longer than a few months. How the world had changed in less than a year!

As I looked at my dark angel, I recalled how we had been so sure we could never love each other more than we did when we first acknowledged our love, and smiled. Maybe we could never lust for each other's body as we did then, but our love had grown deeper each day. I also thought about what great support and love we had from our families and friends. On all accounts, we were richly blessed. I was lying very still so as not to awaken Matt, but he stirred, raised his head, smiled and gave me a morning kiss.

"Babe," I whispered, "I love friends, but there can be too many for too long. I'm ready for some plain, hot sex."

"No-one's in the shower, and I'm still Matt."

"Still hot-to-trot?" I smiled.

"Get me to the shower and I'll show you!"

We both got out of bed as quietly as possible and I picked Matt up and took him down the hall to the shower. Since we, as always, slept naked, there was no wasted time getting undressed, and even a piss did nothing to get rid of the morning woodies.

As soon as the water in the shower was warm, we climbed in and soaped each other's body, paying particular attention to the woodies and the balls beneath. We played around a bit, then Matt took my hard cock in his mouth and did wonderful things with his tongue, soon bringing me to a roaring climax. After I had returned the favor, we again washed the body we loved, dried each other and returned to our room, meeting Keith and Marc coming out of Marc's room, and Dan and Christopher, towels about their waists, on their way to the downstairs bathroom.

We dressed and went downstairs to find Taequo, Wounded Hawk and Climbing Bear in the kitchen preparing breakfast. As we walked in, Taequo handed us a cup of coffee as he said, "You know, Matt, I think I was right in saving Luke. There was a time there I wondered if he was worth it," he laughed.

"Taequo, I will be forever in your debt. He may not be worth much, but he's mine!" Matt laughed and gave me a kiss.

"Taequo, I was thinking about how much has happened in the last year--actually less than a year--and it's hard to believe. It was only five months or so ago that you pulled me from that guardrail--just a few months. Can you believe that?"

"Damn, it HAS been only five months," Taequo said, a surprised look on his face.

The five of us talked about all that had happened since we had known each other and kept saying, "That's hard to believe," and it was, but it had all happened.

"Taequo, five months ago you were alone, now you have Climbing Bear. I was ready to throw this life away and Matt wasn't much better off, and now we have each other in a bond deeper than ever. Life has been good to us," I said, as Matt kissed my cheek.

As he did, Marc and Keith came into the room. "Boyfriend for breakfast? I can go for that," Marc said and kissed Keith.

"From the looks on your faces, I think you must have had an early breakfast," Climbing Bear responded, and then burst out laughing when both Keith and Marc turned bright red.

"What's all the blushing about?" Dan asked, as he and Christopher joined us. "Marc and Keith contracted the Matt Greywolf transmitted disease?"

"Looks like it. I think they're blushing about what Marc had for breakfast," Wounded Hawk chuckled.

"Who's had breakfast?" Greywolf asked, after he and Yong Jin had said good morning.

"Don't think anyone has, at least not a regular breakfast," Wounded Hawk said. "You guys get the table set. Breakfast is ready."

We got the dishes from the cabinet and as soon as we were in the dining room, Matt said, "I don't think you have to be a medicine man, Luke, to see that something went on in the guest room last night."

"Yea, the goofy grins on two faces gave the secret away didn't they?" I laughed.

Both Keith and Marc looked up at us and really grinned. "Nothing happened in the guest room that I know about," Marc said, "but a good time was had by all in MY room".

"Don't know that I like this pushy Florida sun-bunny taking over my house," Matt said, then added, "Good to have another brother though, Marc".

Marc quickly got a strange look on his face and started getting misty eyed. "You don't know how good it is, Matt." Having said that, he walked over to Matt and gave him a hug. "You really don't know because you've always had Luke."

Wounded Hawk, Climbing Bear and Taequo brought the food and we all sat down for breakfast.

Breakfast was over and the table cleared before the others arrived. "That warm weather promised yesterday has arrived," Michael said, as he opened the front door while he was still cleaning his shoes. "Snow rapidly changing to mud out here. Should be no problem opening the club tonight."

As soon as the women arrived, we started the process of getting everyone home. "It sure will be good to get home, take a hot shower and get on clean clothes," Linda said as she and Bill left.

They took Jacob, Susan and Jack with them. Rachel had to go with us, otherwise Jacob's dad would pitch a fit. According to Rachel, he had reached the point where he exploded if he heard Jacob's name. "He rants and raves about Jacob selling out Christ for Jewish pussy," she had told us.

"I'll take the van and we can get everyone else home," I said.

"I think I can find my way if you want me to take everyone home," Marc said.

"We can tag along," Michael suggested, and he and Mary Kathryn went with Keith in the van.

When they had gone, I said, "It was good seeing everyone, but..."

"I think I know what someone said about grand kids," Greywolf chuckled. "It is hard to tell which is better, headlights coming or taillights going."

"Speaking of going, we have to hit the road," Taequo said.

"Matt, Luke, I'll be in contact," Wounded Hawk said.

"So will we," Climbing Bear said, extending his hand. After there were handshakes all around, the three left.

"Now that there is peace and quiet again, I think we need to talk about the new situation here," Greywolf said. "We have told Marc that he can live with us, but we'd like to talk to our sons."

Dad told us what they had told Marc, namely that they would be happy to have him live with them, but there were definite rules, "The same ones we had for you, Matt. I'm afraid Marc has been left alone so much he will find it difficult to remember to tell us where he's going, when he'll be back, who he is with, you know the rules."

"Dad, I think he is so happy he will be in Concord that he wouldn't object to anything except you telling him he can't see Keith. Besides, he needs to know what real parents are like," Matt said. "There is one problem, I think. What's the rule for him and Keith? I know they are both eighteen and that was a milepost for me and Luke, but what about Keith and Marc? Especially since Mr. Lewis has some say about the situation."

"Well, there's no question about whether or not they are virgins, we all know they aren't. I don't think I am off-base in saying they had sex last night, so what's the problem?" I asked.

"It could make a lot of difference and be downright sticky," Greywolf said, "if Mr. Lewis wants to cause problems. I guess I will leave all that up to Marc and Keith. What I told Marc was that I would expect him to be responsible. So far as I am concerned, as long as he is responsible, what he does in his room is his business. I can't imagine Mr. Lewis is so dense that he won't know that when he gives Keith permission to sleep over, the two will sleep together. What do you think?"

"I see your point, Dad. Luke and I will speak to Marc and make sure he knows what is and is not acceptable," Matt promised.

"We'll be happy to, Greywolf. Anything else we need to speak to Marc about?" I asked.

"I can't think of anything. I do know we have to do more talking about money. Marc is used to having carte blanche and that will not be true so long as he lives here. We'll have to work out some arrangement."

"Dad," Matt said, "he can have whatever he wants from his dad, but I think you are right, he needs an allowance. He needs to learn to live within a budget. He may never have to, but he needs to know. He will be paying room and board, right? And he will have chores?"

Greywolf laughed, "Afraid he'll have it easier than you did?".

Matt grinned and then said, "Yea, I guess, but I think it did me good".

We talked some more about Marc coming to live with the Greywolfs and Matt and I said we'd definitely have a talk with him before we left.

Since we had spent very little time with Mom and Dad, Matt and I went to my place. Mom and Dad were busy straightening up from their influx of female company. "I think girls make a bigger mess than boys," Mom said when she came down from upstairs with a load of bedclothes. As soon as they were in the washer, she sat down with us and Dad brought coffee, and the four of us just had a good visit.

We told them about Matt's tour schedule and my exhibitions. "I start in Charleston June 16 and Matt will be with me then, since his tour doesn't start until July 7. He will be back in Charleston for that and I will be in Chicago."

"We'll both be in Washington, Boston and New York at the same time, then I'll travel with Luke until his exhibition tour ends. Of course if I had selected the August tour, I would have been in Louisville, Los Angeles, Seattle, and back to Chicago while Luke was in Dallas," Matt added.

"Don't let him kid you Dad, Matt will also be in Louisville, Los Angeles, Seattle and Dallas. He'll be with me. The only time we would not be together, if he did both months, would be his first week when he is in Charleston and I am in Chicago, and his last week when he would be in Chicago and I will be in Indianapolis."

"We will be finished at Oberlin May 23," I said. "I don't know what the others are doing this summer. Paula, Kent and Eugene have done some talking about playing clubs with a couple of the other combo members, but nothing's solid. Paula has also talked about going back to the camp where she worked last summer, and Kent is giving serious thought to staying at the place and working on the landscape project he has going. Larry is looking for an opportunity to do video work this summer. He laughed about an expedition to India and Nepal his Case professor told him about. 'Yea, they'll take a rising sophomore, yea, sure they will,' he said, but he did complete the application and Eugene kept pushing him until he got his passport. I'm looking forward to having some time here--some of May and June until I start my exhibition tour!"

"Yea, I'll even enjoy working on the farm," Matt said.

"Been away so long you can romanticize the farm," Dad chuckled. "Hot sun, sweaty work, hay down your back making you sting. Looking forward to that, Matt?" Dad laughed.

We talked more about school, about the house and how things were going, just easy talk. Suddenly Matt stopped in mid-sentence, walked over to Dad and put his arms around him in a hug. "Jens, thank you so much for accepting me and your son. I suddenly realized how great it is that we still have our families. Dad said he had a hard time accepting Luke as my lover, a man. I know how much more difficult it was for you and, Jens, I really appreciate it. No, Jens, appreciate is not enough, but I don't have a word for it except... thanks."

As it was in old times, clearly Dad was somewhat embarrassed by Matt's display. He just reached around Matt and patted him a couple times and cleared his throat. He was saved further embarrassment by the entrance of Michael and Mary Kathryn.

"Everything's 'go' for the teen club," Michael said.

"Yea, we stopped by to check it out and stayed to talk with Fr. Tom. He said he had a couple calls about the club from St. Mary's people. They were very careful not to say why they were objecting, but Fr. Tom said clearly some objected to black, white and Mexican kids being together, and especially dancing together. Others, fewer, objected to men dancing with men and women dancing with women. He had to admit he almost lost it when one of the old biddies said if men danced with men it might turn them gay. 'You mean like Matt Greywolf and Luke Larsen?' Fr. Tom had asked. He said he could hardly keep from laughing out loud when he assured her that Matt and Luke could dance forever and not change their sexual orientation. 'I found it hard to believe there was anyone in Concord who didn't know Matt and Luke are a couple,' he told us. 'But then I remembered old Mrs. Foster thought Matt hung the moon and would never admit he was gay'," Michael laughed.

"I hope Fr. Tom doesn't think he has heard the last of this," Dad said. "There will be enough flack from people in Concord, but I suspect there will be those from outside as well. One of the people I know through business was behind the Lexington club from the beginning. You can imagine what I had to say about his support a couple years ago," Jens said with a weak smile.

"No problem imagining what you had to say, Jens. Not difficult at all, recalling your reaction when you discovered Luke and I were lovers," Matt said, with an "all is forgiven" smile.

"I know it took a long time before the bigots gave up trying to stop it. The outsiders were the biggest problem. When they finally realized they couldn't stop it, things settled down. I'm sure the same will be true in Concord. Yea, I suspect Fr. Tom is seeing the beginning, not the end, of protests about the club," Jens nodded wisely.

"Well, Fr. Tom said he would have something to say about the situation tomorrow. I think he's kinda excited about having something to fight for," Michael said.

"Any adults be around tonight?" Dad asked. "It would be a good idea if troublemakers turn up."

"There will be a couple off-duty police officers. One is a volunteer and the club has hired one, and there will be four parent volunteers, that's the way we set it up. Tonight there may be others because parents are always welcome. I think Bill's parents are on duty and I don't recall who else."

Michael and Mary Kathryn left for the club early since they were involved in running it--actually, I think they were in the kitchen. When Matt and I arrived, there was a good crowd already, but the music hadn't started. Shortly afterward, Keith announced "More" and the dancing started. The kitchen was going a land-office business until it closed at 10:00. Of course there were still drinks available and snack food from machines. As soon as Michael and Mary Kathryn and the kitchen crew had cleaned up, they joined Bill and Linda, Matt and me at a table. The evening was going fine and all were having a good time, when a group of skinheads came in shortly after Michael and Mary Kathryn sat down.

"Here comes trouble," Luke said as soon as he saw the four skinheads walk in.

"I hope not," Michael said. "Things have been going so well. At least Pop Cop is on the stick, he has moved around close to where they are sitting."

"Pop Cop?" I asked.

Bill laughed, "Yea, Pop Cop. He's near retirement age and I would have thought he'd not be interested in the club if not, in fact, opposed to it. But when we went to the police department to ask about hiring off-duty officers for the club, he said he'd be here as a volunteer. Seems he had only one child, a son who was killed in an auto accident when he was seventeen, and he still misses kids."

"He has not taken his eyes off the skinheads," I said, "but they seem to be enjoying themselves and causing no trouble."

"Maybe, but I don't trust them," Bill said, but nothing out of the ordinary had happened when the club closed at midnight. As soon as the doors were closed, we all pitched in to get things cleaned up and in order for Sunday.

Luke and I spent the night with his parents and piled out of bed in a hurry Sunday morning when Jens called us and said Gabrielle would have breakfast ready shortly. After breakfast, we showered and got dressed for church. Both of us were looking forward to being at St. Mary's again. St. Anne's just wasn't home.

As I sat listening to Millie's prelude, I thought about the possibility I would not be playing at St. Anne's when I returned to Oberlin. The organist had recovered enough to play again and I hoped she would decide to take over. Of course both Paula and Fr. Manville were hoping otherwise. With a recital to prepare for, I really preferred to be free of the organist's job.

Fr. Tom mounted the pulpit with more life--spirit--than usual, and looked out at the congregation for several seconds before he started his sermon.

"It's been an interesting week in many ways. Something happened which I don't recall ever having happened to me. I read the wrong lessons and Gospel when I started preparing for today's sermon. But maybe that was no accident since the events in mid-week showed me just how right the wrong Gospel was. The Gospel I read is St. Matthew's story of the last judgement, a story you all know, I suspect. It case you don't, I'll read it again." Fr. Tom read the story (Matthew 25:31-46. See below**), closed his Bible and said, "Not the way we think of the last judgement is it? But what does it have to say about events in Concord last week?"

"Last Wednesday Concord saw an rather unusual parade and certainly a different kind of football game. Both different as much for why they happened as for how they happened. Your children, your grandchildren, your neighbor's children decided there would be a football game to prove winning is not everything. For them winning took second place to decency and honor, a position which put some adults to shame, including the football coaches who resigned rather than face a losing game. The fact that Independence won was icing on a very special cake," he said. "Delicious icing, I'd add."

"The echoes of that game and the victory dance here at St. Mary's teen club have kept the phones in my office and the rectory ringing. I have spent many of my waking hours--and some when I would have been asleep--on the phone. To be honest with you, only a few months ago I would have answered the phone with soothing words, words to smooth ruffled feathers, placating words, words of compromise. But this is a new day, a new day shown to me by your children."

"Some of those calls, I am pleased to say few in number, were from members of this parish, members of St. Mary's. Some of those who called are noticed by their absence this morning. But most of the calls were from other residents of our fair city, many of whom were cowards, refusing to give their names, but very free with their threats. And some of the calls, the most vicious and threatening, were from outsiders, none of whom identified themselves by name, but were happy to identify themselves as members of one hate organization or another."

"And why the calls? Because there is much hate in the world. Some spewed out their hatred as racists--whites hating blacks, blacks hating whites and both hating Hispanics. Hatred. Many were Bible-quoting, Bible-thumping self-proclaimed Christians. 'Race-mixing produces mongrels, dogs,' I was told by one such caller--a man whose voice I recognized as belonging to a member of the country club set, the country club where race clearly is the determining factor for membership, not honesty, decency, honor. 'Race-mixing produces mongrels,' he kept shouting. 'Seems to me we need more racial mixing then, because we can use a lot more mongrels if it means we have more people and more families such as the Greywolfs,' I replied. There was much stuttering and stammering on the other end of the line."

"Others called to tell me the Bible condemns homosexuality. When I agreed with one--a member of one of the so-called better families--he asked why, then, I allowed men to dance with men and women to dance with women at the victory dance Wednesday evening. 'Because some of them are in love with each other and some are friends who like to dance together, I suspect,' I told him. He again reminded me that the Bible condemns homosexuality. 'It also condemns eating catfish--standard bill of fare at the country club Fridays, I believe. Ever eat catfish? It condemns mixing fabrics. Still wearing cotton and polyester shirts? How about shrimp, pork? Eating those? Over the years I have been in Concord, we have had young women, old women, middle-aged women having affairs with married men. Have you participated in stoning any of them? I don't recall the stoning of one woman in Concord. The Bible says women who commit adultery are to be stoned. I guess it would be ok for a man to have an affair with your wife. He'd be safe, but I guess you'd have to help stone your wife.' It was clear to me, if not to him, that we pick and choose the commandments to follow and those to ignore."

"So is there no standard? Of course there is. For years you heard it 'most every Sunday. Remember? Jesus, being a good Jew, knew the standard. He quoted his Hebrew forefathers: 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.' Loving God and loving your neighbor takes care of ALL the law and ALL the prophets, period, end of debate. And even loving God involves the neighbor. In the first Epistle of John, we are told about that for the author writes, 'If any one says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.' Clear enough isn't it?"

"And those who would separate the world into neighbors and not neighbors, the standard--the rule by which the neighbor is determined--is simple, very simple. Jesus got that said once and for all in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Your neighbor is anyone--I repeat ANYONE--in need. Anyone in need--old or young, black or white, Hispanic or a good old Anglo-Saxon Protestant or Roman Catholic or someone with no religion, resident of the mill village or country club estates, gay or straight--ANYONE in need is your neighbor."

"While not in the Gospel for today, you have heard it often enough to know that judgement belongs to God, not to you or me. So it is before the throne of the Son of Man that the judgement takes place, not in the barber shop, or the teachers' lounge or the country club bar or other hangouts in Concord. It is God's judgement and we better not interfere. As people step before the judgement throne, they are separated, some to the right, some to the left. To those on the right, the Son of Man says, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world'. To those on the left he says, 'You are accursed, depart form me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels'. And did you note the standard of judgement?"

"The righteous are not sent to the right because they are members of the church. There are no statements about being a member of the church, or even about being a Christian. In fact, it seems that being a Christian or a Muslim or Buddhist or pagan--or nothing at all, so far as religion is concerned, is not a matter of any consequence."

"And in light of those who called to straighten me out this week, I would point out that there is nothing about race. There is nothing at all about whether one is black or white, Hispanic or Anglo. Race has nothing to do with it. There is nothing about socializing only with your race or your social class. Nothing at all."

"Nor is there any concern with whether you are gay or straight. None, zilch, nada. One caller was ready to send me straight to hell because I allowed men to dance with each other. 'After all,' he reminded me, 'God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.' I responded from the depth of my being, 'You are only half-right. God created Adam and Eve, true, but equally true is the statement that he DID create Adam and Steve. For we are all created of God and, as such, are the beloved children of God--all of us, black, white, yellow, red, brown and tan; gay, straight, and in between. And we all have one task in this world: to love our neighbors--to give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked and visit the sick and prisoners."

"It strikes me that the question is not with whom you sleep, dance, or socialize--for all are God's children. The question is whether you show love for all people in active care for them. And surely a teen club is one way some of us can visit those who have been imprisoned by prejudice, hatred and bigotry. It is a place where we can visit those who are suffering from the sickness of drugs, self-hate, prejudice. It is a place where we can demonstrate the love we are required to show the world. St. Mary's teen club is a wonderful place for us to show the love of God to His children and it will remain so. Amen."

It was obvious to me that Fr. Tom had decided to take seriously the summary of the law--love God, love your neighbor--in a new and powerful way.

Sunday dinner was at the Larsens'. I was glad it was just the Family since we'd had little time together, without someone else around, this Thanksgiving vacation. Even Marc had gone to dinner with Keith and his dad. They planned to tell Mr. Lewis about Marc's move to Concord and both were nervous about what his reaction might be.

During dinner we discussed the sermon. "I've never seem Fr. Tom dig his heels in before, at least not as far as they are dug in now. You can bet those who didn't show up this morning are just the beginning. There will be more controversy at St. Mary's, but Fr. Tom has picked a good cause to champion," David said and we all agreed.

After dinner, Luke and I got our things together and Marc and Keith came by, with Larry and Eugene, to pick us up at 2:30. "Thanksgiving's over," Eugene said later, as he looked out the plane's window to Concord below.

"Yea," Luke agreed. "Now we are winging our way back to Oberlin and Paula and Kent."
 * BIA Indians: In order to be recognized as an Indian by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a person must prove they are one-eighth Indian. Because of the dreadful way the BIA has treated Indians in the past (and, truth be known, in the present as well) there is much ambivalence toward the BIA among Indians and often some toward BIA "certified" Indians.

** Jesus said, "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick and in Prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them 'Truly I tell you just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger, or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." Matthew 25:31-46