Mary McGinnis called me on Monday to check in and I told her just what I’d told Jackson and Gary, that I thought with the cancer returning Lilly had limited time, and that continuing the in-home therapy sessions made no sense. She agreed and asked me to keep her appraised of events as they unfolded. The boys were back in school, heading into the last part of their quarter before Christmas break.
Tuesday after school Jackson came by to let me know that he’d connected with Josh at lunch and they’d had a good talk. He didn’t know if the boy was gay, but he was on the small side.
We were sitting on the couch, Jackson in my arms with his head on my chest. He went on, “I told him I was late going through puberty and undersized too, so he just had to be patient and it’d all work out.” He grinned and then started giggling.
I said, “What?”
“When I said that to him I had a thought flash through my mind that I should be saying if he was really lucky ‘it’d all work in,’ as in ‘work into my boyfriend’s ass,’ but then I’d have had to tell him I’m gay and have a boyfriend and that we have wild and crazy sex, and I figured that was going too far for the first talk.”
I was almost cracking up. “You are a very smart and cautious boy! Don’t want to give up too much info too soon. Anyway, thanks for talking to him. Maybe it’ll help him get on his feet.”
“We’re having lunch together tomorrow, so I’ll let you know. I’ve got an essay to write tomorrow night, but I’ll be here with you Thursday night after band practice. Gary’s going to cover for me.”
I whispered in his ear, “that sounds exciting!” He wiggled his eyebrows.
It was about 8:30 Thursday night when I heard him walk in the back door. I was in the office working on my sermon, and doing some budget work, and met him in the living room.
His smile was warm, and he was emanating happiness. “You look like you just came back from your birthday party. What’s up?”
“You won’t believe what happened? Will’s already worked up an arrangement of Heroes, and it’s good, and guess what? He’s saying I have to sing the lead part.”
“Whoa! That’s pretty cool”
“Well, yeah. And scary. Will says his voice is too low, and mine is enough higher it’s just right, especially to handle the high notes.”
“You mean like Pavarotti singing the high C’s?”
“Yeah, right. Ha, ha! They’re not that high. Anyway, we sang it a couple of times tonight, and it went Okay.”
“Just Okay? I know you already know the lyrics, so that shouldn’t have been a problem. What was the issue? Getting the instruments right or just getting it all in synch?”
“More the synch part. There’s some interesting pauses when what you expect to be the normal cadence of the lyrics changes and the next line comes in a few beats later, stuff like that. Nothing major, but it takes practice. I’m mainly just nervous about if I can do it.”
I hugged him firmly. “You know who to go ask if you can do it, don’t you?”
“Yeah, my vocal coach.”
“Here’s a radical thought. I bet she hasn’t heard the song. Why don’t you get together with her with the record and ask her about singing it? Maybe sing along with it and see what she says.”
“That’s a great idea. Why didn’t I think of that?”
“Dunno! What else happened today?”
“Josh and I talked again at lunch. He seems a little more confident. He said he was really stoked about your idea that the kids from Youth Fellowship can be friends and a support group to help each other out. I feel sorry for him, not having many friends. I know what that’s like. Anyway, there’s another win for youth fellowship.”
We lapsed into silence, and I felt his hand stroking my chest and slipping under my shirt and then down below the waist on my boxers, his fingertips tickling my pubes.
“Come on, Lover Boy, let’s go upstairs.”
I knew he’d have to sleep at home, we couldn’t risk overnighting, but we proceeded unhurriedly, first undressing each other and caressing each other. We kissed passionately as we stood at the foot of the bed, our naked bodies grinding against each other. I slowly laid him down on the bed and we laid next to each other, our warmth growing as our passion built and our bodies intertwined. Jackson’s tongue was deep in my mouth, demanding, and I loved it and responded. This was my boyfriend and lover, and we could ask of each other.
I rolled him on his back and slowly lifted his legs up in the air, giving me access to kiss and lick and moisten him, and I could hear him pant and then groan and finally hiss, “David, fuck me, please. Now!” I happily did, and later he likewise did me. We were reaching a point where our physical love making was strongly male and incredibly vital, and equally tuned in to pleasing each other.
Later, I hated to feel him leave, but he kissed me softly and whispered, “See you tomorrow, my Sexy Man.”
I slept like a baby after that.
Friday, I took Lilly to the hospital to see the oncologist for follow up. She seemed noticeably weaker than the week before. This time after the physical exam the oncologist ordered took X-rays and blood tests and told us they’d have results in a few days.
I called Susan and Ellen that evening and updated them on events, and Susan said she’d come by and visit Lilly on Saturday. Jackson came by the parsonage after school, and we talked about it, but the mood was subdued. Lilly was weaker and struggling to maintain her normal schedule and activities.
Gary and Jackson both had lots of reading to do on the weekend. Gary and Lois had a date on Friday that was going to begin with dinner with Lois’ parents, and that gave Jackson and me Saturday night. The latest James Bond movie, The Spy Who Loved Me, was playing in Sherwood, a half hour away, and we decided to risk going.
I’d never read the James Bond novels, and the movie was a stretch plot-wise, but was engaging! The skiing off the edge of cliffs and driving a car underwater was pretty amazing, but the story line about the megalomaniac out to destroy New York was a stretch. The other bad guy, Jaws, the seven-foot giant with the steel teeth was pretty amazing, though. The thing I liked best about it was the theme song Nobody Does It Better.
I told Jackson on the way home, as I held his hand on the console, that’s the way I felt about him. We didn’t even hold hands in the darkened theatre, not wanting to risk anything. But we were holding hands all the way home.
The lexical readings continued in Matthew on this Sunday, and the Gospel reading, chapter 3: 1-12 was the passage about John the Baptist beginning his ministry in the wilderness of Judea with the call of “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” All the Gospels begin with the declarations of John, and here we began a new gospel cycle. For many the idea of a passage like this at the beginning of Advent, as the church prepares for Nativity, the birth of Christ, is confusing.
The fact is, though, that Advent is a time of preparation and the ministry of John the Baptist was also one of preparation. John asked of the Jews then what Advent asks of us now: are we making a straight path for the coming of the Lord and his Kingdom?
Gary and Jackson came by on Sunday afternoon to talk bikes. Gary had told him that the bike shop was picking up the Mongoose frame line, and that he’d be able to order a Supergoose frame and build the bike up for Jackson. When I asked about designs and quality, Gary said from what he knew Mongoose and Diamond back were the best.
“Better than Schwinn,” I asked grinning.
“Yeah,” he said, smiling sadly. “Schwinn has fallen behind, and no serious BMX rider is on one anymore.
I asked them both what the financial picture was. “You’ve been paying off the mower and other equipment to Mr. Sullivan, how much is left on that and what have you got saved? Jackson, can you afford this?”
I was pleased to learn that they had the mower and equipment over half paid for, but they’d only each been able to save a couple of hundred dollars. The focus of paying off the mowing equipment was paying off in two ways: they were being super responsible on the financial side, and Jackson didn’t have enough money to do the bike by himself. That made doing it as a Christmas gift pretty easy!
I asked if they wanted a drink and grabbed three out of the refrigerator while they talked Mongoose versus Diamondback. It seemed like Jackson was in love with the Mongoose idea—maybe it was the catchy brand name. When the conversation had died down, I asked Gary how his date went.
He smiled, “We had a great time. We always do. Lois is the best!”
“And how was dinner with the parents?”
“It was good too. I’ve met them before and talked to her Dad a couple of times. He’s a cool guy. Really mellow and easy to be around. I was kind of embarrassed to start with, you know with what happened to us, but her parents were great and didn’t make me feel uncomfortable about Bud and all, and I’ve had good talks with her Dad. Boy, who knew how different Dads can be!”
I didn’t want to push too much, so left it there. Jackson jumped in and shared that was his experience with Will’s parents when their friendship started back up. “It makes us know what we didn’t have, but it’s also kinda cool that we get to be involved with some normal Dad’s, huh Gary.”
Gary just smiled and nodded his head. Jackson said they had to get home to work on dinner and stuff, but he’d be back for Youth Fellowship at 6:30.
I nodded and as they headed for the door I said to Gary, “Keep up the good work. You’re doing great in school as well as on the romance front.”
He looked back at me and smiled but was blushing.
Youth Fellowship was uneventful, but Josh was part of the conversation at the end, and when I asked if there were any new problems anyone wanted to talk about he said that Jackson had talked to him and they’d eaten lunch together a few times and he’d learned something new. Everyone looked at him, curious to say the least.
He went on, “I learned that Pastor Dave was right about what fellowship is or can be, and that us here don’t just have the same interests, but we can take care of each other. It made me think of the Fellowship of the Ring, you know in the Lord Of The Ring books. Where all these different kinds of people band together for the same purpose, and they take care of each other.”
Most of the kids gave the impression they didn’t understand what he was saying, but the older ones, especially Jackson and Will certainly did. I figured the rest of the youth fellowship would suddenly understand when it happened to them and they found they needed the fellowship.
When the results came back on Monday, it was as we’d feared. The mass on Lilly’s liver had grown, and the blood tests showed the cancer was spreading. She handled the news stoically, and Ellen came by to visit her in the evening and they frankly discussed the realities and time frames.
Jackson came over after dinner. He was clearly down when he walked into the house, and I just extended my arms from where I sat on the couch, and he came right over and fell into my arms.
“It’s alright, my beautiful boy. It’ll be alright. Today’s news just confirms what we all expected.” I hugged him tight to my chest and felt him sobbing.
After a few minutes he was breathing normally again, and I sensed he’d just needed to unload some emotion. I tipped his face up, looking into those beautiful eyes, and said, “You are so beautiful when you’re vulnerable like this. You’ve had a tough six months. The confrontation with Bud and all that, and now losing your mother. But you know what? You’ve handled it amazingly well. You’re bright and mature, and what you’re feeling now is normal. You know why?”
I felt him shake his head against my chest.
“It’s because you’re a human being. It’s natural to feel like this.” I kissed the top of his head and held him tight.
When we went to bed, I led him upstairs and slowly undressed him, wanting him to feel loved and appreciated and beautiful even though I was certain sex wasn’t on his mind.
It wasn’t but it was it was still lovely to have him snuggle back into my chest so I could wrap an arm over his chest and hold him close, letting him know he was loved and cared for.
We both woke about 6:30, and Jackson seemed mentally and physically refreshed. “Why don’t you use the bathroom, shower and get ready for school, and I’ll go down and start breakfast.”
He nodded and hugged and kissed me. I heard the water running as I brewed the coffee and started breakfast. He came into the kitchen looking reconciled.
“Are you feeling better?”
He smiled wanly. “As better as possible, I guess.” He walked over to me and put his arms around my waist and hugged me hard. “Thanks,” he whispered into my chest. “I love you so much.”
“Me too, Lover Boy,” I whispered back into the hair on the top of his head. “I told you you’re not alone. We’re in this together. You’ll probably be getting me through some kind of a personal crisis before too long. That’s what lovers do.”
We were quiet, just holding one another. After a minute I said, “Pour some coffee and get going on breakfast. You’ve got a school bus to catch.”
He leaned up and kissed me briefly, smiled, and it seemed like he was ready to face the day. When he left, I reminded him that I had study group in Portland Wednesday night and would be back late.
“No worry, my Sexy Man. But I may be here Thursday night demanding my due. For sure by Friday!” He was grinning now, and it seemed for sure like the night’s melancholy had cleared
Prof. Higgins welcomed all of us to his home again that evening, and his wife was a gracious hostess. When we settled down to start the discussion of the third chapter of Campbell’s book which was on ritual he opened by quoting Campbell’s thesis: “The function of ritual, as I understand it, is to give form to human life, not in the way of a mere surface arrangement, but in depth.” He then went on to expand on Campbell’s discussion of how ritual is structured to develop members of a social group so that it functions efficiently, particularly assisting individual members through the major transitions of life, such as puberty to adulthood and the final transition in death.
The Sociology professor commented that it was an attractive definition at a very high level, but that the chapter seemed disjointed from the previous one, and that Campbell never really got down to the practical level where most people live in discussing ritual.
Prof. Higgins jumped right in. “That’s one way to put it. I think a big problem is that these are transcripts of lectures given with sometime between them, and that is quite different than writing chapters of a book that treat subject areas in sequence. The third chapter is about ritual, but as you say is at a very high level, and in my view did not serve well at all as a follow on to chapter two. I was very much taken with his comment about the function of ritual to give form to human life, but the thesis just didn’t get developed in the chapter. So, let me ask what’s on everyone’s mind?”
“Let me put this on the table before everyone,” I said. “There are two things I still haven’t resolved and still struggle with from chapter two. On the one hand, the statement that while mythology in Oriental religions is understood metaphorically, in Occidental religions we’ve chosen for whatever reason to understand it literally. Then on the other hand, is the statement we discussed briefly last month that ‘the entire history on which our leading Occidental religions have been founded is an anthology of fictions.”
What ensued from that was an animated discussion of the tradeoffs between interpreting myth literally, versus metaphorically, and the causative factors in the west. I could tell the ministers and even the college students weren’t happy at all with Campbell’s statements about the level of instruction in the Bible story being “a nursery tale of disobedience and its punishment,” which has resulted in an attitude of fear and dependency in western religions, in contrast to eastern ones that are more for “self-responsible adults” by being metaphorical.
The two professors talked about the sociological and psychological tradeoffs between the literal and metaphorical approaches. We didn’t resolve anything, the subjects being much too large for that, but it certainly gave everyone something serious to ponder!
On the drive home I tried to synthesize all of that in my mind, in addition to Higgins’ material on identity and tribalism from the lecture the month before, and after half an hour of mental gymnastics realized I just couldn’t do it. What Paul Gallagher had said to me rang true: I couldn’t force this to conclusion. The subjects were too big and the implications of what I was currently dealing with were too significant. I just had to let them percolate and work them out as they came up from my subconscious mind.
Jackson came by after band practice Thursday for a few minutes and said among other things that they’d continued to work on performing Heroes. I asked if he’d spoken to Susan, and he smiled and nodded. “It’s not her kind of music, but she was cool when I asked her after choir and said to bring the record with me tomorrow and she’d give it a listen and we’d talk about it.”
Friday evening when he came over after dinner, I was in the living room reading and he did that amazing physical feat of kissing me and hugging me, all the while dropping onto the couch so he somehow ended up laying with his head on my lap. I stroked his hair and asked him how the day went. He said there was good and bad. I arched my eyebrows.
“Josh and I ate lunch together, and he’s turning out to be a good guy, and a smart kid, just kind of shy and withdrawn…something I kind of know about!” He smiled wanly at that. “After lunch we separated in the hall since our classes were at other ends of the building, and I just got a few steps down the hall and I heard him say something loud like “Hey, what are you doing?”
“When I turned around, I could see a few bigger guys around him, and he was pushed up against the lockers. I turned around and went back and they were giving him shit about being a pansy and too small to go out for any sports and stuff like that. I walked up and asked what they thought they were doing?”
He had my attention now. “And?”
“Well, it turns out they were a mix of juniors and sophomores, and bigger than Josh, but not that big—like half of them weren’t much bigger than me, even if they do play football. One of them said, ‘Why do you care about this fairy?’ That started getting me pissed, and I just looked at them all and told them because he was my friend and that there were rules against bullying.”
He got quiet. “What happened then,” I asked?”
“It went back and forth for a minute, you know the line like ‘we’re not hurting him, we’re just having fun,’ that kind of crap, and I told them it didn’t look like fun to me, and if they kept it up they’d be in trouble. Then one of them asked me what that was, and pointed at my bracelet and asked me if I was a fairy too?”
“Really? What did you say to that?”
He smiled. “I guess I was thinking faster on my feet than I usually do. I said, “No, pal, I’m not a fairy, I’ve just got good taste. And by the way, if you guys don’t move on now, I’ll report you. And if you hassle Josh or any other smaller kids again and I hear about it, I’ll report you.”
“Then what happened?”
He smiled broadly now. “It was like popping a balloon with a pin. They just folded. I mean they made a wise ass remark or two, but just broke up and headed down the hall. It just goes to show that most of the time they just need to be stood up against. I mean, I’m not a fighter, I don’t know what I’d have done if they turned on me, but they just folded and that was it.”
“Pretty amazing, Lover Boy.” I leant down and kissed his forehead. “Now we can add Tough Boy to your other list of attributes, like Academic Boy and Music Boy and Lover Boy! Little did I know what I was getting myself into.”
“Yeah, right? Like I’m all those things! Anyway, you won’t believe what happened after that.”
“You mean with Susan and the record?
“Well, no. I’ll tell you about that, but after I left Josh and before I got to class, I saw Will walking toward me wanting to know what had happened. He said he saw the group break up and figured they were the ones hassling Josh. I told him what happened, and he said, ‘way to go!’ about threatening to report them, and then I told him about the bracelet and them accusing me of being a fairy too.”
“I bet that was interesting, now that Will knows where it came from and what it means.”
“Interesting is right. I was a little panicked, you know like they’re going to find out and it’ll all blow up and stuff. He knew what I was talking about and told me to chill. He said, ‘how are they going to find out anything? Who’s going to tell them?’ All they can do is hassle you for wearing a bracelet.’ He was right, and then I calmed down and we talked about it some more, and you will not believe what he said then!”
He really had my interest now, for a range of reasons. “I give! I can see it could go a few different ways but can’t even begin to guess.”
“He said, ‘I’ve got the cure. I’m going to buy one too. Then you won’t be the only one wearing one, and let’s see what they say about that!’
“Wow! That’s friendship. I mean he’s putting himself and his reputation on the line for you.”
“I know, it’s amazing. He made me tell him the name of the jewelry store, it was Mayer Brothers, right?”
I nodded. “He said he was going call them and order one—not a Lovebirds one—but another style. Is that outrageous?
“It is, and that’s friendship. Amazing. And that coming after you lived out what you exhorted the Youth Fellowship about, not letting abuse happen and standing up for each other.”
He rolled over on his side and wrapped his arms around my waist and hugged me.
“I’m still kind of surprised at myself. I mean, I’ve never stood up for anyone. I never even stood up for myself, and now this. I’m kind of stunned. What if it happens again, or if it happens to me, like they corner me?”
“The odds are it won’t. You stood up to them and they stood down. But Josh won’t forget, word will get around, others will decide not to take it, and if Will joins the team, there will be another side, and I’m betting that it won’t get out of hand. Not saying you won’t hear about it, but I bet it won’t get out of hand.”
It wasn’t lost on me, or him that he’d been talking into my stomach, and had been rubbing his head on my crotch and I was getting hard. I felt him exhale and his breath blew through my shirt and stimulate my stomach and I shuddered. With that he rolled over, so he was facing down and started mouthing my hard on through my pants.
“My Lover Boy is hot to trot tonight,” I whispered to him. “Let’s go upstairs.”
We turned out the lights and walked up the stairs hand in hand. I turned him at the foot of the bed and held his face and kissed him deeply and our tongues started their dance and my hands were under his shirt in no time, stroking his back and shoulders, and then slowly unbuttoning his shirt and dropping it on the floor. He’d been rubbing my hard on with one hand, the other under my shirt stroking my chest, and then he unbuttoned my shirt, and we paused to undress.
I put my hands on his hips, feeling his soft and warm skin, and slowly ran them up his sides, feeling the soft hair in his armpits, and then slid them up onto his shoulders where I could hold him, all the time looking in his eyes. “I don’t just love you with all my heart, I’m so proud of you too. I may call you Lover Boy, and you are, but you’re all man too. A young man, but a man with a heart and a spine. I love you so much.”
I pulled him in for a long and passionate kiss, as he continued to stroke my cock. His tongue was deep in my mouth, then wrestling with my tongue as he stroked me, and then reached under my cock and took my balls in his hand and slowly pushed me back onto the bed. My knees were bent at the edge of the mattress, and his hands were on my knees, and he slowly and seductively ran his hand up my legs, his fingertips stroking the inside of my thighs. I reflexively spread my legs, and he stroked the tops of my thighs, then started stroking my cock with one hand and kneading my balls with the other. It was so softly passionate that I almost stopped thinking, just feeling the sensations.
That changed when I felt him move up, a finger on my perineum and then his mouth on my cockhead. I gasped and felt him swirl his tongue and proceed to get my cock really wet. He clambered up on the bed, and then over my legs until he was straddling my hips, and leaned back, holding my cock into his crack and slowly raising his hips up and down. I began to understand his plan when I saw he had the Vaseline and reached around to rub some on his anus, and then leaned down to kiss me.
“I want to ride you, David. I want you deep inside me. I want you to feel me impaled on you.”
He guided himself onto my cockhead, and I felt him open and slowly begin to settle only me. Why it felt different, I don’t know, except that I was able to see his beautiful cock and pubes, the ridges and muscle definition of his torso, and reach up to stroke his pecs and rub his nipples. He groaned with pleasure as he slowly relaxed and took more of me, and he was watching me, smiling and his eyes shining in the dim light.
When he had slid down my full length, he groaned with pleasure, and I gasped from the sensation. He was resting on my pubes, and then he slowly started raising himself on his knees, then slowly dropping back down, all the while stroking my chest and abdomen.
“My god, Jackson, this is so intense, I don’t know how long I can last.”
He smiled again, saying nothing, but watching my eyes as I started to breathe faster. It wasn’t long and my breathing increased again, and he could see me starting to get close and he started stroking himself, hardening his own cock. I came before him, bucking up from the bed, feeling like I must be pushing my cock into the very center of him, and his stroking picked up too. I came before him, shooting into him, and crying out in a series of animal shouts. I could feel it get slicker and more sensual as I moved in my own cum deep within him, and then he gasped and cried out while he shot four or five times onto my chest and belly.
We both had our eyes closed, experiencing the sensation, and when they opened, we were intently looking at each other, seeking confirmation that it had been as good for the other as it had for each of us. His motion stopped and he collapsed forward onto my chest, kissing me deeply, and nuzzling against my neck as I embraced him and made soft cooing sounds.
His weight on me was wonderful. We were pulled together by gravity and love, his warmth radiating into me, the slickness between us adding a new wet dimension as I slowly slipped out of him. We lay like that for some minutes, reveling in what we had just accomplished. Bringing each other to a high level of pleasure in a new way.
Finally, I whispered in his ear, “I told you that you were an amazing lover, and you just proved it.”
He didn’t immediately respond, then said, “It’s easy when it’s you, and unbelievable when you’re inside me. I could see in your eyes how intense it was for you. It was for me too, to cum like that with you deep inside me was just…I don’t know how to describe it. It wasn’t just a climax; it was some kind of melding together. Deep and fused and connected and explosive all rolled into one.”
After we cleaned up and were lying in each other’s arms, recovered from the moments of bliss, I asked him if he was up for a hike at Silver Falls State Park the next day. “The forecast is high clouds and partly sunny, but it’ll be fun to be out in nature.”
He nodded and said something that sounded like “Sounds like a great plan,” and then we were asleep.
He didn’t wake up at go home at 5:30. With his mother’s tacit acceptance of our relationship, it felt like we were in a new place, but one we still had to treat carefully. I woke up at 7:00 and he was awake, and leaned over and kissed me, and reached down to hold my cock. “Did I tell you last night how much I love this part of you?”
“You don’t love all the rest of me?”
He grinned. “There are certain times that I love this part the best.”
“Well, I think I’ll take that part downstairs to start the coffee while you take a shower. How’s that for a thought?”
He gave me a squeeze and another kiss. I slipped into my boxers and headed downstairs. Hearing the toilet flush and the shower start to run, while a banal sound in the average household, was music to my ears this morning, an indication of progress in our now developing life together.
I set out the fixings for breakfast, and started the coffee, then went up to shower. Jackson, smart boy that he was, had brought a change of clothes with him the night before, and was standing by the bed looking radiant in fresh boxers, his skin glistening in the early morning light.
“Hello, my Sexy Man! You look a bit of a mess this morning. I think you need to get spruced up for our day!”
I walked over, grabbed him and gave him a kiss, then headed for the bathroom. We were on the road by 8:30 and enjoyed driving into the rising sun as we headed south and then east to Silver Falls. We fell silent after a while, reveling in our own thoughts. Finally, I saw Jackson slip off his boots and lock the door, assuming his favorite position with his feet on the console. He smiled and he said, “What are you thinking about?”
I didn’t respond immediately, and then said, “I was thinking about you. Specifically, how much more a complete person I’ve become since you became my boyfriend and lover. And on top of that how joined, I mean completely joined to you I felt last night. When I was inside you, and it felt like I was so deep inside you. You used the word fused last night, and that’s how it felt in a new way.”
He moved his feet off the console, resting them on my thighs and kneading them with his toes. I reached down and held them and glanced his way. He was smiling, but as soon as we made eye contact the smile began to turn into a grin and the dimples started to flare. His eyes were sparkling in the morning light and he said, “You filled me up. It was sexy and the climax was absolutely unbelievable, but it was all of that because it was your clock and you filled me up and made me whole.”
I squeezed his feet. “The good news is that we do the same thing to each other. Have you thought about how lucky we both are to have found each other? Setting aside being gay, I don’t think it’s this good for most people falling in love, straight or gay. I consider myself the luckiest guy in the world.”
He blushed at that, incredibly cute in the morning light.
We almost had Silver Falls to ourselves. There were a few other hikers, but when we pulled in there were only three other cars in the parking lot. We were early enough that we decided to hike the Trail of Ten Falls, including the side trail to Double Falls with its 178-foot waterfall. It may not have been raining, but it was wet, and we were glad for boots and rain gear. The most amazing thing was how much more water was pouring over all the falls now that we were into winter with its rain, compared to August in the height of summer when we’d been there with the church camp.
We’d brought lunch that we ate and mid-day and were heading home a little after 3:00. On the way I asked how the session with Susan and Heroes had gone. He grinned. “Well, it’s not her kind of music, but I told her the story you told me about the wall and separated lovers and all that, and she cracked this big knowing grin. You know what I mean?”
“You mean like the one you’re wearing right now?”
“Well, yeah! Anyhow, she got it, and then when I played the track for her she said she understood not just the lyrics, but the message that Bowie and Eno were trying to convey in the lyrics, and the emotion that David Bowie conveys in the song. She had some good pointers for me about listening closely to how he emphasizes ‘us’ in the line about ‘we could be us’ and how he emphasizes ‘shame’ in the line about ‘and the shame was on the other side,’ things like that.”
“Did she say anything else.”
He smiled devilishly. “She said she now understood why you gave me the album and why the song means so much to both of us. She said she thought it was wonderful. She really like the line about “we can be us,” cause it means something for her and Ellen too! I also told her about the line I didn’t think made sense, you know the ‘nothing will keep us together line,’ and she agreed. She also offered to help me on the performance side once we have the song worked out. Can you believe that? She’s going to come to a band practice and listen and coach us. Is that wild, or what?”
Wild was the word, but that was Susan, and she was some kind of woman! We were back home by 4:30. After unpacking the EL Camino, and changing into dry clothes, we spent some time on the couch in the living room just enjoying each other’s presence, until Jackson finally looked at the clock and said he had to get home to help with dinner.
“Thank Gary for both of us for covering for last night, Okay?” He nodded and kissed me and headed home.
The Gospel lesson for Sunday was Matthew 11: 2-11, the passage about John the Baptist asking if Jesus was the foretold Messiah. John is already in prison and sends word to Jesus, asking if he is the one who is to come, and the answer from Jesus is striking in that he doesn’t just say “Yes,” or provide some kind of argument about how he fulfilled ancient prophecy, rather he lists what he’s done: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” And all of these are actions we have seen as indicative of the arrival of the Kingdom of God. I left it there, this being Advent and wanting the congregation to think about it in terms of the pending arrival.
Neither Jackson nor Gary had come to church, as Lilly was feeling especially weak. I caught up with Susan and Ellen during coffee hour, and I kidded Susan about agreeing to be vocal coach for a rock band. She laughed, and said, “At one level, music is music. If I can help them, then it’s worth it and it will be fun. Who knows, I may learn something myself!”
On the drive home I reflected on the Gospel passage and my sermon, and found myself wondering about Campbell’s assertions that western religions interpret their myths literally, and what it meant if his statement was true--that ultimately it didn’t matter if Jesus Christ or Gautama Buddha were real people or not.
Death, when it came, did so suddenly. Lilly had been too weak to go to church but had come downstairs and was in the living room. The boys were making lunch in the kitchen after they’d gotten home from church. They heard a loud groan and found her semi-conscious on the couch. Jackson called me and I told him I’d be right there and asked him to call Ellen too. When I got there, he said Ellen and Susan weren’t home yet, but he’d left a message on their answering machine. Lilly looked bad to me, she was breathing, but the breaths were shallow, and her color wasn’t good.
I decided this could be it and was about to call the fire department and ask for an ambulance when I saw Ellen’s Volvo pull up at the front of the house. Susan was with her. I let them in the front door, and Ellen said they turned around as soon as they got home and heard the message. Jackson explained about the loud groan, how Lilly had seemed almost unconscious when they got into the living room. Ellen became professional nurse, pulled out a stethoscope, listened to Lilly’s chest and back and then felt her abdomen. Then she turned to us.
“There’s a decision to be made about calling the ambulance. Knowing that the mass was back on her liver two weeks ago, and the blood tests confirming the cancer has spread, her condition has worsened considerably. She has fluid buildup in her abdomen, most of it probably from her liver failing. Given her very shallow breathing and semi-conscious state, I think it highly likely that one or more of the veins in her liver has ruptured and she’s bleeding internally.”
“What do we do?” Jackson and Gary asked almost at the same time.
“We call for an ambulance, but you two need to decide when. It is highly unlikely that she is going to recover from this. That is, she’s going to die. If it’s what I’m pretty certain it is, then it is untreatable, and she’ll just be kept comfortable at the hospital. You have the decision to make to allow her to die here at home with both of you, quietly and peacefully, and then call the ambulance. Or, call now and have her die on a gurney in the emergency room.”
The boys looked at each other, and I could see them shaking their heads. “Will she regain consciousness,” I asked Ellen?
“Very unlikely. If she’s bleeding out, then she’s slipping out of consciousness due to lack of oxygen in her brain, and that will get worse, not better. Before long she’ll have more and more trouble breathing, and then death will be close.”
“What do you suggest,” I asked for the boys.
“If it were me,” she replied, “I’d make her comfortable, be with her as she passes, and then call the ambulances. That avoids all the heroics at the hospital, which would likely only extend the inevitable by a few hours. It also avoids her being intubated and given a lot of drugs.”
She looked at Gary and Jackson. “How long?”
“I’d guess just an hour or two. This is your opportunity to say goodbye to your mother, and I think you should take it.”
That’s what they decided to do. Ellen asked for two sheets, and we carefully rolled Lilly sideways on the couch and placed them under her and placed a light blanket over her.
Then Ellen turned to both boys and took them by the hand. “She’s not going to regain full consciousness, but she may still be able to hear you or understand you. So, I think all of us should go into the kitchen so each of you, one by one, can spend some time with Lilly, tell her what you want to tell her, and say your goodbyes.”
It was a somber hour and a half, and Jackson went first, and then I held him with my arm around his shoulder while Gary said goodbye. Finally, I spent some time with her as well. Lilly died about 4:00 PM and we called the ambulance. When they arrived the driver and paramedic knew Ellen, and she explained everything to them, that the children at her recommendation had decided to let the patient die at home, and no questions were asked.
The ambulance left with Lilly’s body about 5:00 PM, and after a few hugs and words of support Susan and Ellen left to go home after a very long afternoon. I told the boys to come with me and led them over to the parsonage. We walked in the back door and I asked who was hungry, and they both nodded, so I pulled out pasta and ground beef and tomato sauce and set about making spaghetti Bolognese. “Jackson, there’s the makings for a green salad in the fridge too. Will you do that? Maybe you can get Gary to help.”
They both nodded. “Gary,” I said, “do you want to call Lois and tell her what’s happened and ask her if she wants to eat dinner with us? You can use the phone in the office.”
A ray of light flashed in his eyes, accompanying a slight smile. “Thanks.” He headed for the office and I could hear the conversation start. Jackson had the salad made before he came back.
“Is it three for dinner or four?”
“She’s on her way over. Thanks for suggesting it. I think I’ll need to be with her more than I thought. I started crying when I told her about Mom dying.”
I dropped everything and walked over to him. “There’s no shame in crying. It means you’re in touch with your emotions. And having someone to share it with and who empathizes is really important. You and Lois are great together, and you know what else? The fact that she wants to be with you through this speaks volumes to the kind of person she is. Do you know what I mean?”
He nodded, tears still on his cheeks. We finished preparing dinner, and the big question was whether to have Italian or Thousand Island dressing on the salad. It was still being debated when Lois walked in the back door. Gary suddenly looked like his savior had arrived, and almost ran to her. She just pulled him to her and hugged him and stroked the back of his head while he cried on her shoulder.
I caught Jackson’s eye and nodded for him to follow me into the living room. “They need some space, and so do you. Are you holding up Okay?” I was holding him close, whispering into his ear? He nodded, and was silent, but after twenty or thirty seconds he started sobbing. “No shame in crying, remember that. She was your mother after all. Grieving is important.” I just held him for a few minutes.
When it stopped, and it also seemed likely Gary had gotten through his first bought of grief, we walked back to the kitchen. They were both smiling. “How about we have dinner? It’ll be like a high-class Italian restaurant. However, Lois, we need you to settle the open argument: Italian or Thousand Island on the salad?”
“That’s a no brainer. Italian. It’s spaghetti!”
Dinner was a bit solemn, but also pleasant. Characterized by a kind of softness. When we’d finished eating and cleaned up, I said, “Okay, I hate to do this, but we have to get back to reality because there are decisions that have to be made about the funeral. Lois are you up for being part of this?”
Gary turned to her and simply asked, “Will you, please?” She nodded as she took his hand.
We all went into the living room, and I outlined the usual Presbyterian funeral and gave them a quick walk through of the structure and options. Neither of the boys wanted a heavy-duty religious service, but they both recognized that their mother had been a lifelong member of the church and wanted a Presbyterian funeral service. I assured them that I could tune the service down so it would satisfy both requirements.
Jackson was adamant. “I don’t want all that resurrection and eternal life stuff. This is the church that says I’m a depraved sinner and going to hell, so why are we playing this game?”
Gary looked at me and said, “My father was a member and you know what he did to me. Until he got put in jail Mom was his enabler, so I’m not the right person to ask. I’ve got a bad taste about it all.” Lois was judiciously silent, being there to support her man.
“Okay, guys, let’s look at it this way. The funeral has two main purposes, we’re debating the religious part of it. The other part is a kind of saying goodbye. When it’s a religious service and all the people who attend are religious, then that’s the tone of the goodbye. Do you follow me? Your Mom’s not here, but you know what she’d want if she was able to choose. You know what the people who will attend will expect. You also know what you do and don’t want. What I’m suggesting is a happy medium. We’ll use the Presbyterian service for the funeral but go light on all the doctrinal stuff. Let me give you an example. We’ll do the Gospel reading from Matthew about ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest,’ instead of a doctrinal passage about the final resurrection. And we’ll have a simple Psalm, and instead of a hymn with all that doctrinal stuff you both don’t like, I’m going to suggest a real old and traditional text ‘Lord, Let Thy Servant Depart In Peace.’ It’s called the Nunc Dimitis in Latin and there’s a very approachable arrangement by the Russian composer Gretchaninov, and it’ll be sung in English. How’s that sound?”
They were both nodding. “Just keep it simple, Rev, Okay,” Jackson asked.
“Will do. Now, the next question is about a separate memorial or some kind of gathering after the funeral service?”
Their faces were blank. “Okay, look at it this way. The funeral service is a religious service before the body is buried. The memorial service is a less formal thing focused on the person, where people talk about the person who has died.”
They looked at each other, and their expressions told the tale. They didn’t want that. She was their mother and they loved her for that, but she’d been party to too much bad stuff, and they didn’t want to sponsor a cheerleading session.
I tried to lighten it up. “You know what we’d do if we were Catholic? We’d hold a wake?”
“What’s a wake?”
“In its best form it’s a party where everyone gets together and remembers the person who has died and celebrates. If you’re Irish that means a lot to drink. We could ask Mary McGinnis. Remember her, the CPS person. She’s Irish Catholic. She’d know what to do. She’d probably bring a bottle of Irish whiskey!”
They were both smiling but shaking their heads.
“Okay, how’s this for a compromise all around. We have a simple and straight forward funeral service in the church. Then we all go downstairs afterwards for a kind of mini-wake with refreshments. That lets people express their condolences to both of you. You may not care right now, but trust me, it’s important to people to be able to say that to you. To show they care about you. It doesn’t have to be a big affair, Okay? We’ll keep it simple and upbeat. How’s that sound?”
They nodded, both with wan smiles on their faces. Gary looked at Lois for a sanity check. She nodded too. Then he said softly, “Thanks for handling this for us, David. I’d hate to have to go through this with someone I don’t know and trust, given all the shit that’s gone down in this family.”
I took both their hands. “Hey, we’re all in this together, and we’ll all get through it. I’ll sort out the details, and we’ll try to have the funeral on Wednesday afternoon. Now, to the practical matters. You both have school tomorrow. Do you want to stay here tonight instead of sleeping at home? It’s up to you. You’re both adults, or almost adults, but losing a parent is tough, and you don’t have to be in that house alone right now.”
They looked at each other and then back at me. “We’ll stay here tonight, Rev. Thanks.”
“Okay, let’s do this. You guys head home and get what you need to sleep over. Plan on a few nights. Lois, will you help them get organized. Then come back here and we’ll sort out the details.”
Lois took charge, “Come on you two, let’s get going? This won’t take much time if you don’t dawdle.”
After they left, I called Susan and Ellen and thanked them effusively for the time they spent and the help they’d been in the afternoon. I told Susan we were going to try and organize the funeral for Wednesday afternoon, and she agreed. I told her about the plan, and she said she was familiar with the Gretchaninov arrangement but didn’t think most of the choir were. But, she said, we’ve got choir practice on Tuesday evening, and that’s what we’ll work on. “Take my word, we’ll have it for you by Wednesday.”
I asked her how many people were likely to attend, the best place to order refreshments, and by the time we were done talking, I felt like the funeral service would go as well as we could expect.
Lois led the boys back within thirty minutes, and then said she needed to head home because it was a school night. She kissed Gary was off. I told them to follow me upstairs and showed Gary the guest room. He tossed his stuff on the bed and said thanks. Then he went on, “David, you know that I know about you guys, and I think it’s fine. So, let’s not beat around the bush, Okay? Jackson doesn’t have to pretend he’s going to be in his own bed. I’ll be fine. Lois is the best, and just the fact that she came over this evening for me and was part of all this means I’ll be Okay.”
I was caught up in an emotional tidal wave right then. I knew he knew, and knew he knew I knew, but this was the first time it was all out on the table. “Gary, if Jackson or I were a girl, you’d be on your way to being a brother-in-law. But, we’re not, and we can’t the way the legal system works, but I can’t tell you how much your open attitude and acceptance means to me. I told you once that I love this guy like a brother, and I’ll never hurt him. Remember? Well, you know it’s more than a brother. I’ve never loved anyone in my life like I love your brother. The other part still stands: I’ll never hurt him. You can count on that.”
“I know. I’ve seen it. No worries, Rev.” That was the first time he’d ever called me Rev. I wanted to hug him, but just smiled. I’d leave the hugging up to him.
“Okay, boys. Tomorrow’s a school day for both of you. We can’t be staying up late. Is there anything else you guys need to do for school tomorrow?” Both shook their heads.
“What time do you leave for college?”
“I’ll be on the road about 7:30. First class is at 9:00.”
“Okay, we’ll have breakfast at 7:00, that means you’ll be set by 7:30 and Jackson too to get to the bus. What say we get ready for bed then?”
I went downstairs and turned the lights out, and when I came back up, I could see the light under the door from Gary’s room, and when I got to mine, Jackson was already in bed. I did a quick bathroom circuit and slipped into bed, wrapping my arms around him.
“Can I just hold you and snuggle tonight?” His voice sounded soft like a child. I kissed the top of his head and pulled him to me. “That’s just what the doctor ordered!” And so, we went to sleep.
The funeral was at 3:00 PM on Wednesday, which meant minimal disruption of school schedules. Gary was back from Salem in plenty of time, and Jackson only had to miss his last class. Both were at the church by 2:45 when the funeral home brought the casket and positioned it in the front of the church below the communion table. I asked them to join me and we quietly placed the pall over the casket.
I held both their hands and said, “I’m going to step out now. This is the best time for both of you to say your final goodbyes, Okay? Among the most important things about a funeral is closure. Once the funeral starts there will be lots of people, and you probably won’t get a quiet time with your Mom again. When you’re ready, meet me in the choir room, and we’ll get ready to start.”
They were there in five minutes or so, and when we walked into the church to start the funeral service there were over forty people, including all of the Parsonage Committee and most of the Session. The service went as we’d planned it. With the standard structure of Spiritual Prayer, Confession, The Gospel reading from Matthew, a short Sermon on the Gospel, the Affirmation of Faith and then the choir sang Lord Let Thy Servant Depart In Peace.
They did a commendable job given the short practice time, and Susan had delivered in a huge way. The service concluded with the Prayers of Thanksgiving, the Commendation and Blessing. I invited all in attendance to join us downstairs for some light refreshment and then Jackson and Gary joined me for the Procession during which Psalm 46 was read. It begins “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear.”
We walked out of the nave, and down the stairs, during which I took their hands and asked how they were doing. Jackson smiled. Gary said, “We’re doing Okay so far. I’ll feel better when Lois gets down here.”
That only took a couple of minutes. Lois was in the church hall and on Gary’s arm in no time. You could see his mood improve immediately. It was a pretty typical gathering, with almost everyone in rotation to greet me, then express their condolences to Jackson and Gary. That was, all but one middle-aged man I saw standing near the door by the bottom of the stairs. He acted as if he felt out of place, but stayed, just watching the activity, particularly watching the boys.
I’d greeted everyone but him pretty quickly, and then walked over to him, extending my hand and said, “Hello, I’m Pastor Ayers. I don’t think we’ve met.”
He looked me squarely in the eyes and said, “You’re right, we haven’t met. But I appreciate you introducing yourself. I guess you’re the new pastor I’ve heard about.” He was just under six feet tall with wavy brown hair, hazel eyes, a trim build and a firm handshake.
“That would be me. I have to ask, where did you hear about me? I haven’t been here long enough for my reputation to travel very far. Do you live here in Newberg?”
“No,” he said, “I live in Seattle, but my sister lives down in McMinnville. That’s how I heard about the funeral.”
I was immediately interested. “So, you drove here from Seattle for the funeral? What’s your connection to the family?”
“Well, Reverend, that’s kind of complicated. My sister isn’t a church member, but you know how it is in small towns, the word gets around. By the way, my name is JC Dean.”
I hadn’t made the connection yet, but my mind was whirring. “Yes, JC, good news travels fast in small towns, and then no doubt on to all the family and social connections. Which are you? Family or social?”
He winced visibly and stammered a little as he began to answer. “Well, Reverend, I, I…I guess you’d say social, you know. No formal connection to the Harris family .”
“Well, either way, it’s a great thing that you took the time to be here for the funeral. And all the way from Seattle. What do you do by way of work?”
“I’m a Life Flight helicopter pilot. You know, pick patients up and fly them to hospitals. Stuff like that.”
Helicopter pilot. That was the link that suddenly clicked in my brain. I looked straight at him, willing him to try and look away, locking into those eyes that I knew I’d seen before.
“JC. I’m guessing that doesn’t stand for Jesus Christ, right?”
“No, Reverend, we should both be so lucky. It stands for Jack Curtis, but I’ve always been called JC, from when I was just a kid.”
I still hadn’t let his eyes leave mine, and then it clicked: hazel eyes plus helicopter pilot. “So, does that mean you’re Jackson’s father?”
He was quiet but didn’t try and dodge the question for a second. I gave him a great deal of credit for that.
“Yes, it does, and that means you must have been close enough to Lilly for her to tell you, or at least tell you some of the history, am I right?”
“Yes, you are. And I don’t want to load a huge amount of guilt or responsibility on you, since you’re here for Lilly’s funeral, but you should know that Jackson only found out a few months ago that he’s not Bud’s son. He’s taken, in good spirit, to referring to himself as a bastard to make clear he’s not Bud’s son. But I think you can see that it would be good to resolve that little situation, and I can tell you for certain that meeting his real father would be very important to him.”
He paused. “I’m not opposed to it. That’s not why I came down there. That was to pay my respects to Lilly, but I knew there was a high risk I’d have to face this, and it’s a responsibility that I won’t dodge. How do you suggest we do this?”
“That’s easy. This isn’t the place. Do you know where the parsonage is?” He nodded.
“Then let’s do this. After everyone’s left here, the boys are going to say their final goodbyes when the funeral home removes the casket. The interment will be tomorrow afternoon. They’re staying with me at the parsonage now, because Bud is in jail. You may have heard that?”
“So why don’t you come over for dinner at 7:00 tonight? That good-looking girl with Gary is his girlfriend Lois, and she’s a great person and a good friend of Jackson’s. I’m pretty sure she’ll be there too. Come and join us. You made the effort to come to this funeral knowing the risk, so let’s just take it head on and at least let him know who his father is, and then we’ll see where it goes.”
He nodded. “Okay, Reverend, I’ll be there at 7:00. I’ll call my sister in McMinnville and tell her I won’t be there for dinner.”
“By the way, JC, the name is David.” I shook his hand, and he turned and walked up the stairs.
After the funeral home people left with the casket, Jackson rode home with me, and Gary rode with Lois. It was a quiet ride, but eventually Jackson said, “You know what, you were right. All those people wanted to say their condolences and that was kind of nice. It used to be I’d have just blown that all off, but they seemed sincere. I mean I know Mr. Sullivan and Will’s parents were sincere, but everyone seemed that way.”
“You may not have felt like you were part of this church community because of what you’ve been going through for the last couple of years, but maybe the surprise is that they all thought you were? Remember, that was the surprise you discovered about Susan and Ellen a few months ago?”
“Yeah, I know. When both of them came up to me I just gave them a big hug and cried on their shoulders. I felt like such a baby.”
“I can tell you that they didn’t think you were a baby. They thought you were a young man in touch with his emotions. Just like I do. Losing parents isn’t easy, even in the best of cases.”
We were home about 6:30, Gary and Lois right behind us. We all changed into more comfortable clothes, and suddenly all of us were in the kitchen. Jackson was looking really cute in Levi 501s and a nice flannel shirt. I’d gone to the grocery store in the morning, and picked up a filet of chinook salmon, so in the spirit of everyone keeping busy, I had Gary go to work on garlic bread, Jackson on the salad, and Lois on a potato salad with potatoes I’d boiled earlier. When I pulled the salmon filet out of the refrigerator, they all commented on the color. “The guy at the counter said it was native and fresh, because it’s still the end of the fall chinook run. Should taste good. I’m going to cook it on the grill using a marinade recipe our cook back home used.”
I’d made the recipe earlier—it was just reduced apple juice with garlic, soy sauce and butter, but it was exquisite on salmon. I left the filet covered on the counter to come to room temperature and started the briquettes in the grill while the kids worked on their assignments. When I came back in the kitchen, the garlic bread was ready to go into the oven, the salad was ready for dressing, and Lois was stirring the potato salad into final form.
I sat down at the kitchen table, and within a couple of minutes they all did too. It was 6:45. They were quiet, Gary and Lois holding hands, and me desperately wanting to hold Jackson’s hand. I didn’t know yet what Lois knew. She was a smart girl. She looked at me and then at Jackson and said, “Gary has told me, and I don’t care. If you guys love each other, that’s fine by me. You can hold hands, you know!” Then she held up hers with Gary’s hand in her grip to make sure we knew what she was talking about.
Jackson smiled, “Lois, you’re the best. Thank you. I owe you big time.” Then he took my hand and held it up in the air above the table. I kissed the back of his hand, then looked at her.
“I do, and we do, but even though it’s technically legal now that Jackson’s eighteen, it’s not something that’s likely to go down well in this town or with the church, so as much as I hate deception, discretion has to prevail here, Okay? I would be lying if I didn’t say that having you know makes me really nervous.”
She looked me straight in the eyes, with both a smile and a certain firmness. “I have a friend in Portland whose brother is gay and went through hell in high school. I think I know what it’s like and no one will learn anything from me. Gary and I agreed to that. We know it’s legal now with Jackson eighteen, and with both of them emancipated, but this is small town Oregon, and it’s pretty conservative, but we know how to play it. Does anyone else know or suspect?”
I smiled, still nervous. “Well, Miss Albright and Miss Hayes pretty certainly figured it out. They challenged us a couple of months ago to do nothing to confirm their suspicions.”
“Yeah, that scared the shit out of us,” Jackson added, “I thought I was going to die, and David almost puked.”
“But, they’re in professional positions, and they were doing what they thought was best for us, warning us off so we didn’t’ force their hands and make them do something they didn’t want to,” I hastened to add. “I guess we’re more obvious than we think. Oh, and Will has pretty much figured it out too.”
“People in love can tell about other people in love. It’s that simple.”
“Well, thanks, from both of us.” I looked around at all of them. “Oh, and by the way, we’re having a guest for dinner.”
They all looked surprised. Jackson finally said, “Who? Susan or Ellen?”
“No,” I said, holding his hand tight and looking straight at him. “It’s your father.”