A voice from across the fence along Jason's property shouted: "That would be a very bad idea."
Jeremy froze and looked to his right. A tall, lanky, Hispanic man on horseback was looking steadily at him. North immediately recognized the horse and the rider; he had last seen him at Jason's father's service.
"Hey, Martin. What are you up to?" North asked as his breathing and heart rate returned to normal.
Martin threw his right leg over the saddle horn and slid down to the ground to face Jeremy. Jeremy and his confederates were now nervous and uncertain.
"Vi asked me to come out and do some varmint control," Martin said evenly as he looked at Jeremy and put his hand on the butt of the Bushmaster .223 Varmint Special rifle in the leather sheath attached to his saddle. Jeremy's eyes widened, and his two minions raced back down the road.
"I need a word, Jeremy," Martin said, his hand still on the rifle, canting his head toward a place up the road.
Jeremy, initially frightened by Martin's arrival, began to think about escape. His father had taught him that most Mexicans were involved in drug cartels or gangs, and although he didn't entirely believe that, some of the Mexican kids at school scared him. He knew also that Martin had worked for Fred and Vi for a long time. He couldn't be sure about how much Martin had overheard of his confrontation with North.
Then, there was the natural authority that Martin exuded; Jeremy had been trained by his father to acquiesce to authority. All in all, Jeremy calculated that listening to Martin was the best course.
"North, would you hold the reins while I chat with Jeremy?"
"Sure, Martin." North walked over to the fence and took the proffered reins, watching Martin and Jeremy make their way thirty feet up the road.
Martin was separated from Jeremy only by the fence. He crooked his finger, motioning Jeremy closer until they were near enough to touch each other. What Martin said to Jeremy was inaudible to Brent and North. Martin spoke without animation, and his posture was relaxed. He held Jeremy's gaze while speaking. Just before the conversation ended, Jeremy stepped back with a look of near panic on his face.
Martin walked back to the horse with Jeremy, on the other side of the fence, trailing him. When they both were abreast of North and Brent, Martin reached for the reins and mounted his horse. North looked at him questioningly, but Martin said nothing.
A pale Jeremy, looking down at his feet, walked by the other boys and back down the road, Martin wheeled the horse around and took off at a gallop toward the horse barn on Jason's farm.
Brent finally regained his tongue: "Well, that was close."
"Yeah, it was. I'm sorry you were dragged into this."
"Don't apologize. You didn't do the dragging. Jeremy did. I wonder how Martin knew we needed help."
"Maybe a coincidence."
"Sure," Brent said with no conviction.
"Let's walk back. I'm done for the day."
When Martin reached the horse barn and began to unsaddle his mount, Vi walked in and asked, "Was Mark right?"
"Yeah, he was, Vi."
"Varmint control. I had a talk with Jeremy. I suspect he won't bother North or Jason again, but you never know."
"How'd you manage that?"
"Fred always told me that when negotiating with a man you should appeal to his self-interest. I appealed to that big snot's self-interest."
"You didn't threaten him, did you?"
"No, I made him a promise, but some people feel threatened by the least little things, Vi."
"I don't want you getting yourself in any trouble over this, Martin."
"You and Fred have been good to me since I showed up on your doorstep all those years ago. You treated me as family, not some south-of-the-border drifter. If I had to take on some trouble to help you or Jason out, I wouldn't hesitate, and that goes for anyone you or Jason care about as well. I'm no fool, Vi, and I don't make promises I can't keep."
"I know you don't, Martin. Thank you."
Vi walked out of the barn and over to the back porch of the main house. She sat on a step there and called Steve's father on her cell phone.
"Mark, thanks for the heads-up, and thank Steve, too. Martin managed to interrupt whatever Jeremy had in mind for North and Brent. I didn't ask the details, but you know Martin. He wouldn't do anything crazy."
"I know he wouldn't, Vi, and thanks for the report. You never know what Jeremy's father will do, but I suspect that Jeremy won't even tell him about the incident. I'll thank Steve for you."
Vi pushed the end-call button on her phone and thought that had Fred lived, Jeremy's fate might have been worse by far. She went into the house, finished preparing dinner and waited for Jason to come home from practice.
A late September snowstorm had covered the upper reaches of the loop trail through Bird Meadows and the spur trail to the Hellroaring Canyon overlook, so Jason had taken Jonathan past the road up to the Bird Meadows parking area. Halfway toward Bench Lake, he parked the old pickup at a rarely used helicopter landing site at the trailhead of a path to the floor of Hellroaring Meadows. At first, the trail passed through dense forest, the sound of Hellroaring Creek calling from the north toward Mt. Adams; it then opened into sedge-filled meadows. The wildflowers were long gone, but views of the southeast shoulder of the mountain they knew as Klickitat and its erose snow-covered peak off to the northwest were wonderful. This late in the year the trail was theirs alone.
The boys walked west on the overgrown trail that paralleled a small stream that fed into the larger Hellroaring Creek. Near a small spring at its head, they found a large rock where they could eat PBJs and sip water from their Camelbacks. Their destination, Heart Lake, lay atop a hill to the northeast.
To Jonathan, Jason seemed a different person from the one he had worried over for the past few weeks. Jason was relaxed, and whatever angry beast lay in the depths of his psyche was quiet now. The happy, laughing, even-tempered boy that Jon had first known was present again.
After lunch, they sat facing away from each other, leaning their backs into one another, heads touching. A stranger observing them would have seen two friends, each supporting the other like bookends, the pressure exerted by their backs perfect to achieving a balance. That description would have been a perfect analog of their relationship.
"Football's over soon, Jase."
"I won't be sorry to see it go. For one thing, I'll be able to get to Portland more often."
"We're doing pretty well with the long-distance thing."
"One of the things I'm happiest about loving you is that I feel connected to you even when we're a hundred miles from each other."
"I know. I'm really glad that we're not anxious when we're out of each other's sight. I wonder if Jim and Tom felt like we do now when they'd been together only a couple of months."
"No regrets about pairing up with a cowboy?"
Jonathan laughed, shaking both of them, "I feel as if I've known you forever. We were lucky to be in the right place at the right time."
"We need to go up to Seattle soon to check out living arrangements for next year."
"I don't care where we live as long as we live together."
"That's so romantic, but we're way too noisy to live in a dorm. We need our space and maybe soundproof walls."
"Very funny, Jase."
Jon thought for a few moments and shared a growing concern. "I'm really worried about North. With Annie in Portland, he'll be pretty much alone when we've left for UDub."
"North is never alone, Jon. He's getting close to Brent, and I believe that Steve will be a friend eventually. I'll sure miss North, though."
"Yeah, I'll especially miss the sleepovers. Do you think it's weird to enjoy sleeping with a straight guy so much?"
Jason answered immediately, "No. I had a crush on him from the first day I met him, before I admitted to myself that I was gay. But I realized quickly that nothing physical was ever going to come of it. Fortunately, you saved me from pining away."
"I gave him hell for not telling me you were gay. He and Annie somehow knew that we would end up together."
"They may have had a good idea, but we made it work."
Jon and Jason sat quietly for the next half hour, one looking downstream and the other looking upstream. They could each feel the other's breathing through the connection of their backs. Jason mused that simply being here in the same world as Jon was a grace.
Jon almost nodded off but stood and asked Jason to ford the small stream and walk toward Heart Lake. Only posts with blazes marked the trail as they moved across the meadows toward the hilltop lake.
"I'm glad you're feeling better. You are feeling better?"
"I guess I was getting pretty hard to live with. I don't know how to describe what I was feeling. The worst part was being angry and not knowing why. I felt as if I was flying off the handle at the smallest things."
"I just knew you were hurting. You never seemed angry with me."
"I've never been seriously angry with you. You are the lifeline I can use to pull myself up from whatever darkness I'm in. What worries me is that I know that the source of my anger is still down there. Papa's dead, and my unresolved feelings about him are a big part of the puzzle, but there are other pieces I can't understand yet."
They had arrived at the lake and, with arms wrapped around each other's waist, gazed across the isolation of the meadows to the mountain above, enjoying the peace of unspoken companionship.
Jonathan broke the silence: "I know these few months have been very hard on you. You're the best thing that's ever happened to me. And you seem in better spirits since you talked to Frank."
"He's some gardener. He's had a great loss, and he's offered to help me. I believe he will. I can now see a possible way out of my funk, and that possibility and you make life joyful. He's a guide, and you're the light. You're much stronger than I am."
Jonathan risked touching on the issue that frightened him most. "Jase, I know about Frank's son. Look. You tell me if things ever get bad enough that you feel like ending your life."
Jason started to reassure Jonathan, but Jonathan stopped him. Holding back tears, he reminded Jason, "We have responsibilities to one another. Klickitat bonded us when we stayed the night up there. Neither of us can abandon the other as long as we maintain that bond."
Jason embraced Jonathan and whispered to him, "The Mountain gave you and me Medicine, city boy. Don't worry. I'm not going anywhere, I promise."
"Jase, before we leave here, please tell me that you're going to walk the distance with me. I couldn't stand it if you aren't sure about being together as long as we both live."
"Jon, I've been lucky enough to find the 'water which is in the vessel of mercy,' and together we're going to turn it loose on the world."
Jon broke the embrace. "Come on, Jase. Let's head back. I'm getting cold, and we have miles to go before we rest."
On the way back across the meadows, the boys spotted a single figure at the end of the trail they had walked to get to the spring. After fording the two streams between them and the trail to back to their truck, Jason recognized the man and waved to him as they approached.
"Hey, Mr. Matson. I haven't seen you in a while. This is my partner, Jonathan Sumner."
"Jonathan. Pleased to meet you."
Jonathan stepped forward to shake hands with the older man. "And you, sir."
"Jon, Mr. Matson is a ranger for the Yakama Nation."
"Vi called to say you'd be out here, so I thought I'd see how you were doing. Not many people come out here this close to winter."
"I wanted Jon to see Heart Lake."
"Well, you two carry on. Good to see you again, Jason."
"Thanks, Mr. Matson."
The ranger walked back down the trail, and the boys gave him a head start before, holding hands, they walked back to the truck and the road that eventually would lead them home. They would make it there by four.
While Jonathan and Jason were hiking through Hellroaring Meadows, Annie and North called to ask Vi if they could take some horses out for a ride. Vi told them that she would be happy to see them and that the horses needed some exercise. She met North and Annie at the horse barn just before lunchtime. After hugging both of the kids and briefly catching up with them, she watched patiently as they each saddled a mount.
"You're real riders now," Vi told them. She was proud that both of them could get the horses ready for the ride without her help. Before they mounted, North and Annie fed their horses carrots broken in half.
"I want some time alone with each of you before you head back on Sunday, just to catch up completely." She had noticed a small change in Annie's mien — a very subtle sadness.
Annie and North thanked her and said that they'd see her when they came back. Mounting like old pros, they guided the geldings out onto the fields at the back of the farm. The spring wheat and third alfalfa cutting were complete, although there were a few alfalfa acres that might get a fourth cutting. The couple guided their mounts away from the fields being worked and over the recently harvested land. In the distance, they could see the machinery used in the harvest, idle now. Hands were in the fields finishing the harvest cleanup work, and North thought he saw Martin supervising one of the crews. He hadn't been able to thank Martin for saving his ass a few days ago, so he made a note to himself to swing by at the end of their ride.
The character of the land was much changed since Jason had first taken them riding through the tall wheat stalks. Leaving the buildings and farm hands behind, they now rode over wheat stubble for half an hour. Annie had grown to love this kind of solitude, perhaps the only part of being in Goldendale she loved other than being with North and his family. Two months ago she could not have imagined being a horsewoman, though she was still a novice. Something about being so high above the ground on the back of so much power spoke to her heart. She had come to understand her friends' fascination with these animals, a fascination she had always derogated.
Annie pulled her mount to a gentle stop, and North followed suit when he realized she was no longer traveling on. He circled his horse back to her side.
He had known Annie for much of his life, first as a friend and then, as they both entered adolescence, as a romantic partner. Since his move to Goldendale, though, he had begun to detect turmoil building in her.
"Anns, out with it. What's going on?"
"I'm bummed about Jon and Jason leaving for university next fall. I suppose I never really considered that our little group would break apart. Except for Jason, we've known each other and been a part of each other's lives for a dog's age. Now, just when things are getting a little settled, we won't have much time to enjoy each other."
"I know being apart from you so much has been very painful for me, but my dads have seemed so much happier and more relaxed."
"I can see that, Northy. I'm just feeling sorry for myself. I want to get to know Jason better, and I want to be able to talk to him and Jon face to face next year. I wish they weren't graduating."
"Anns, you know that if the long-distance thing is getting to be too much for you, we should talk."
Something in Annie broke loose, and her voice rose, "I hate it. I miss our old life, but I want to support Tom and Jim. It's going to be much harder when Jon leaves for Seattle; I don't know if I can do it."
She looked more forlorn than North had ever seen her. Panic, a sensation most unfamiliar to him, rose in his heart. He asked what he thought he would never have to ask.
"Is staying with me too difficult, Annie?"
The question almost strangled Annie. She wanted to answer, "no," but the opposite answer was apt as well. Tears came to her, and she couldn't give voice to any answer. North saw her struggle and tried to rescue her.
"Annie, you don't have to answer now, but as much as it would tear me up if you needed to leave me, I would be sorrier if you hurt yourself by us staying together."
"Fuck, North, we're only sixteen. We sound like characters in a Bronté novel. I want to be with you forever, but I have to find my own way, too. As it stands now, we are thinking about going to different schools after we graduate. I'm not sure I can do this across a country even if I can manage another year across a state."
North was left with a sick feeling as all the certainties about their relationship that he'd held for the past four years evaporated.
When Annie had unsaddled and groomed her horse, she asked North if she could have some time to talk with Vi alone. He wanted to find Martin, anyway, and told her he'd be back in a little while. Annie walked slowly to the back door of the farmhouse and knocked lightly. Vi's musical voice invited her in.
Before she could say hello, Annie broke down weeping and ran to Vi, who held her tightly while she cried. Though Annie was close to her own mother, now more a friend than a parent, Vi was different. She had become a mother-figure and a grandmother-figure wrapped up together. After Annie had exhausted her tears, Vi relaxed the hug and held her at arm's length.
"You got here just in time, Annie."
"I hate blubbering like an idiot, Vi. Sorry about that."
"Child, life creates a balance between joy and sorrow. The best we can hope is that the joy outweighs the sorrow, at least by a little. I noticed fear when you were saddling the horses. Why are you afraid?"
"Since I fell in love with North, I've always thought we would spend our lives together. Life has become so complicated now. I miss him when he's here and I'm in Portland. What good is having a best friend and love mate if you're never together?"
"You, North, Jason and Jonny are woven together as a good cloak is woven. When the cloth begins to fray, the whole cloak isn't necessarily ruined. You take steps to save what you have worked so hard to weave."
"Maybe I'm missing Jon already. I've never thought about how much my feelings for North are wrapped up in Jonathan, especially this year with North so far from Portland. Maybe the issue isn't North and I, it's losing my second-best friend."
"Daughter," Vi responded to the girl, "my People believe that the Raven is a trickster, and sometimes the Trickster can fool you into mistaking need for love. The Trickster is always trying to fool you. If you never saw North or Jonny again, would you regret what you became together?"
"No, not at all."
"Well then, don't get so wrapped up in fearing what you might lose that you can't enjoy what you have. None of us outlasts the World. Fear is the Trickster's weapon. You should always look past your greatest fears to see the Trickster behind them."
"I worry that I'm not strong enough to stay apart from North after Jon leaves and after we graduate and too selfish to put myself through the pain of separation."
"Nothing is intended to last forever, but if you chance to find the one person with whom you have the deepest heart connection, be careful not to waste the chance. At your age, weeks, months, a few years seem forever. Daughter, I tell you they are not. You can't and shouldn't try to act like an old woman, but you can trust the advice of one."
Annie hugged Vi again. "You're not an old woman, but I'll call you Mother. I'll think over what you've said."
"Now, let me hear about how the rest of your life is going."
After watching Annie begin to unsaddle her horse, North mounted again and, leaving Annie to talk alone with Vi, cantered out across the fields hoping that he could catch Martin. As he approached the crew of hands cleaning up the most recently harvested field, he saw the tall Latino form of Martin. Smiling, he slowed and carefully approached until he was about fifty feet away from the workers. His horse kicked up dust from the remnants of harvested stalks and the now-unirrigated earth, and he didn't want to bother the hands.
The horse in tow, North closed the gap between Martin and him. Martin had noticed North riding toward his crew from a half-mile away and recognized the rider at half that distance. He spoke to the crew in Spanish and walked over to greet the boy.
"Hey, North. What brings you out here on a perfectly good Saturday?"
"Martin … I'm sorry, I don't know your last name."
"Juarez, like the city."
"Mr. Juarez, I want to thank you for helping me the other day. I'm not sure what would have happened if you hadn't shown up."
"You're welcome, Mr. Underhill," Martin said with a broad smile.
North smiled back. "Please, call me North."
"If you call me Martin, I will."
"Then, thanks, Martin."
"Some people bear watching; Jeremy is one, along with the rest of his family."
"Jeremy has stayed away from me and Jason since that day, so whatever you said apparently has worked. I know you've helped Jason's family for a long time, but you've only known Jonathan and me for a couple of months, so I'm doubly appreciative."
"Vi says you are family. If you're her family, you're my family."
"I know Jason really appreciates how you and Ben have looked after things since Mr. Johnson died. Jason's had quite a difficult time."
"I know he has. My family is in Ciudad Obregón, and my favorite nephew is gay. I know what he and his partner have suffered. Jason is a good man; I won't have anyone troubling him without good reason."
"Do you see your nephew often?"
"I get back twice a year usually. Rodrigo has a fine young man as his partner. They live in Mexico City now, but they come over to Ciudad Obregón when I visit."
"I'm sure you've made a difference in your nephew's life, and you've made a difference in mine. I hope we can talk occasionally. Maybe you could show me pictures of your family."
"Early evenings are best for me. Give me a call to be sure I'm in." North mounted his horse. "Por cierto, you sit a fine horse now," Martin said as North started off.
When North pulled up to the barn, Annie was waiting. As soon as he dismounted, she came to him and held his face between her palms and kissed him. The kiss camouflaged nothing.
When she dropped her hands and separated their mouths, North said, "I'm going to go off by myself more often. What's going on, Anns?"
"Nothing new. I had a nice talk with Vi. Your turn now, sweet one. I'm going to brush Butternut again."
North shook his head in puzzlement and walked across the broad backyard to the house. He was about to knock when Vi shouted out, "Get your little butt in here, second son."
North used the mat to get most of the dust and dirt off the bottoms of his shoes and walked through the mudroom into the kitchen. Vi put down her kitchen knife, washed her hands, and then hugged North. She now thought of the boy as Jason's brother and a second son. She blessed the day that Tom, Jim, and North purchased the farm next to hers.
"I don't see you often enough, second son. You feed my heart, you know."
North was especially pleased to hear her say that. "I know which one of us is the caretaker, Mrs. Johnson."
"Jasey seems to be doing a bit better since you and your fathers arranged for him to talk with Dr. Gerard. Thank you, for helping arrange the meeting. Gardening is such a great metaphor for life."
"Frank is just a wonderful friend. When I was five and having trouble with other kids' reactions to me having two dads, he gave me the gift of humor along with his advice. He's as good a listener as I've ever talked to."
"I know Frank asked Jasey to talk with some of the children Frank works with at the drop-in center in Portland. Maybe some of the kids could come out to Goldendale to see the country a bit. Helping others is a wonderful way to help yourself."
"Speaking of help, I don't want you to violate any confidences, but how did Martin end up along that road?"
Vi conducted an internal argument, which ended with her answer. "Steve's father, Mark, is a deputy sheriff; he called me before school let out that day. He said that Steve overheard Jeremy and his friends mentioning North, Brent, and County Road 15 as he walked by them during lunch and became worried when he saw them leave school before the last period; he thought that they might be up to no good. Steve did the math and called his father."
"I guess I'll have to thank Steve, but how did Martin get involved?"
"Martin became involved because of Steve's father calling me. Mark told me that he was tied up with a major investigation but that he didn't want to have to investigate an assault on North and Brent. I mentioned the problem to Martin, and he just nodded and mounted up."
"Do you know what he said to Jeremy?"
"No, and I don't want to know. Martin is no one to fool with, and Jeremy knows that, but Martin told me he made Jeremy a promise."
"Well, whatever he did, Jeremy and his buddies have left Jason and me alone. Brent and I appreciate what Martin did. I'm going to visit with him some evening soon so he can show me pictures of his family."
Vi smiled. "Rodrigo, by the way, is a handsome devil."
When Jason and Jon rolled in from their walk in Hellroaring Meadows, Vi had a snack and drink for them — not too much because the boys were having an early supper with Jim, Tom, North, and Annie. Vi knew that Tom had planned something else but had no idea what.
"I know you two have to get over to North's place soon, but I hope you have time to tell me about your walk today."
Jon looked at Jason, and without words they reached accord on a spokesman. Jon began, "We walked by a little creek and out to a natural spring where we sat and talked about the future and a little about the present. Then, Jase took me across the meadows up to Heart Lake. Jase told me that the bugs are bad there in the summer, but there must have been a frost because they were under control today. The best part of the walk was that for most of it we were alone in our own little world…"
Jason interrupted with a smile, "Slow down, city boy. Take a breath."
"Sorry, Vi. That side of the mountain is so different from the High Camp side. The … what do you call it, Jase?"
"The sedge was brown and thick. We had to be careful where we walked. Jase said that the land on the west side of the lake is pretty marshy, but today where we walked, it was dry."
Vi laughed at Jonny's enthusiasm and said, "You already love that old mountain, don't you Jonny? I know a lot of my own People that don't understand its magic, but you do, and for that, I am happy. Now, what did you talk about?"
This time Jon looked to Jason to continue the story.
"We've been talking a while now about going to school in Seattle. We both applied, so we want to head up there to see where we might live."
"Don't they have good freshmen dorms?" Vi asked with a perfectly straight face.
Jason paled a bit, but Jon saw through the question.
"I think she's playing with you, Jase."
"Mama, that's not very nice. Can you see Jon and me living in a dorm?"
"They don't have gay-men-only dorms?"
"Cute, Mama. We'd just be more comfortable off campus."
"Ah, too noisy for a dorm, then."
Jason was aghast that his mother would say such a thing, but Jon replied for both of them, "Exactly."
"Well, Seattle isn't cheap. You'll have to see what you can find."
"Mama, you're still okay with me going. If you need me here, I can stay and go to school later."
"Your father and I ran this place for a spell, and I can assure you that with Martin's and Ben's help I can manage just fine. You both can come back in the summer, and I'll work you to death."
"I just want to be sure. I won't have a good time in Seattle if I'm worried about you down here."
"I could always come up there and play housemother."
Jon immediately vetoed that idea.
"Jasey, I think the day you went to meet the new neighbors was a very fortunate one, but the day you met Jonny was even more fortunate. There's a pile of things to be done before you take off to the university, so don't take your eye off the road, son."
"I won't, Mama. As soon as football's over, I'm going to call Frank and see what I can do to help him."
"The season's going so fast. What about Homecoming?"
"We're playing Naches Valley."
"I'm not talking about the game, Jasey. I'm asking about the dance."
Saturday night after the early dinner, Tom asked everyone to help him move the furniture back toward the walls of the living room and then to roll the rug up and move it against a wall.
North looked at Jim with a question on his face.
"Don't ask me," Jim replied.
"You'll see," Tom said in answer to the unposed question. "I've arranged a diversion from our problems. I think we all need to have some fun to the exclusion of any worries."
"Oh no, Tom, we're not…" Annie exclaimed.
"What? Will someone please tell me what's going on?" North asked in a thoroughly exasperated tone.
Jonathan and Jason, like Annie, had figured out the puzzle, leaving only Jim and North in the dark. Jonathan walked over to North, grabbed his hand and twirled him around on the shiny oak floor.
"Oh, you're kidding, Dad."
"I'm dead serious or dead unserious, my boy."
A knock summoned Tom, who opened the front door, stepped outside, and closed the door behind him. A few minutes later, Tom came back accompanying a lithe, dark-complexioned man with long, coal-black hair tied back in a ponytail and wearing tight black pants and a black shirt unbuttoned enough to reveal a bit of a taut chest. As he moved, everyone's eyes followed him.
"Everyone — this is Eduardo Marechal, a Brazilian friend and colleague, but he's now living in Buenos Aires. I'm helping him translate some poetry by Ana Emilia Lahitte into English. Tonight, though, he is going to share his other passion with us: tango. Eduardo, these fine souls are my family." He introduced Eduardo to each of the family in turn, beginning with Jim.
Mr. Marechal could best be described as courtly in the Old World sense, feigning a kiss to Annie's hand without pressing his lips and saying to her and the others in turn, "é um prazer conhecê-lo."
Jon and Jason were in equal parts fascinated and aroused by the feline grace of Eduardo's movements. They looked at each other with raised eyebrows and smiled, facial gestures that did not escape Eduardo. Eduardo looked carefully at each of them and said, "Perfeito."
Tom said, "I think we all passed Eduardo's test and we've been accepted as students."
Then, Eduardo rattled off five or six sentences in Portuguese before breaking into laughter and saying in nearly perfectly unaccented English, "Yes, you all will make excellent dancers -- especially these two," indicating Jason and Jonathan, who blushed deeply.
North gave voice to all the younger ones' fears. "I think the tango is too complicated for us. Don't we need roses to hold in our teeth?"
"You are a naughty one, North. First, no self-respecting tango artist dances with more than saliva in his mouth. As to your first fear, I ask you — can you walk?"
"Well, of course," North replied.
"Then you can tango. I am especially glad that we have so many handsome men who will dance the tango with each other, because they can move fluidly from leading to following. Annie will help me demonstrate the traditional female movements."
Eduardo had the six "students" line up against the east wall of the living room. He stood before them with his hand on his left hip.
"The tango is just an elaboration of walking. As I told North, if you can walk, you can tango. The basic steps of the tango are done to the following cadence — slow, slow, quick-quick, slow. The lead, usually the man, starts with the left foot and the follower starts with the right. Watch while I do the lead steps."
Eduardo faced away from the six and stepped out onto his left foot, then his right, and then a quick step again with the left followed by a forward sidestep to the right and a quick closing of the left foot to the right. His posture was erect, and his upper body was quiet while his legs moved. If he had been dancing with a partner, he would have looked directly into her or his eyes.
"Come, Annie, dance with me to show them how to follow."
Annie couldn't wait. Looking back at North with a huge grin, she went out to meet Eduardo, who positioned her in front of him with her feet together. "You start with your right foot, stepping back, and follow my lead. Don't look at your feet; you know how to walk. Look into my eyes."
Annie waited for Eduardo to begin and responded to his right hand on her back and his left hand holding her right at head height. He stepped out, and Annie followed perfectly as he chanted, "Slow, slow, quick-quick, slow."
He led Annie over to North. "All right, the rest of you pair up and practice walking. Look into each other's eyes, not at your own feet."
For the next hour, beginning with the chant of "slow, slow, quick-quick, slow," they progressed from walking to a simple tango song. Jon and Jason danced together at first, and both started on the right foot, causing a collision. The others stopped to laugh before Eduardo reprimanded them.
The partnerships changed, and all the men danced lead and follow. At first, they looked down at their feet, only to be sternly corrected by Eduardo while they tried to suppress giggles. The sight of Jim and Tom trying to immerse themselves in the sensual dance heartened the younger ones, and Jason had to admit that when Jon danced with Eduardo, the couple really clicked. This was nothing like the stiff dance of Gomez and Morticia Addams in Addams Family Values. This dance was communication, and as in fine conversation, once they stopped worrying about each word, messages flowed like water.
They each screwed up enough to be the butt of someone else's joke. On a couple of occasions, the room looked as if a huge Twister game was in progress. To Jason, the most interesting effect of the dance was a concentrated calm, especially when he danced with Jonathan.
They danced for over an hour, finishing with practicing a simple turn. Eduardo helped them move the rug and the furniture back into place and stayed to talk for a bit, answering questions about Argentina's and Brazil's culture and politics.
As he was bidding everyone good night, he stopped directly in front of Jonathan and Jason. "You all should have enjoyable sleep tonight — especially you two."
Monday morning found North at his usual table in the school library. He looked up from his book, Hari Kunzru's My Revolutions. One of the girls on Goldendale High's cross-country team, a sophomore, was standing patiently across the table from him, staring. She was pretty in an ultra-pretty way: dark hair and creamy complexion with understated makeup. North knew she was a good athlete, and if he were single, he might ask her out. Of all the girls on the team, she had been the one who paid him the least attention.
"North, can I talk to you a minute?"
North nodded to the chair directly across from him, and she took the seat. "Are you going to the Homecoming dance?"
"I don't know. I might if Annie can make it." He expected a disappointed response, but instead, the girl plowed on.
"Is Jason going to go?"
"You know Jason's gay, right?"
"Everyone knows, North. Answer the question."
"I'm sure he and Jonathan would be everyone's favorite couple," North said, tongue in cheek. "Why do you want to know?"
Amanda looked at North for a moment, making up her mind to trust him. "Because I want to go."
"You can't go unless Jason and Jon go? You've lost me, Amanda."
"I want to go with Amy."
North was rarely surprised, and he may never have experienced the depth of surprise that he was feeling now. Amy was another runner on the team, a plain, bright girl who had maybe a tenth of the athletic ability possessed by Amanda.
"North, you're supposed to be über-bright. Wake up."
"Really? That's wonderful. You know what you're suggesting?"
"Oh, yeah. My parents are fine with it, and so are Amy's"
"Wait a minute. Where have these parents been while Jason was getting his ass kicked?"
"They had no idea. They do now, and Amy and I want Jason and Jonathan to go to the dance."
"You have no idea the shit this is going to stir up."
"North, you have no idea how sad it would be to let this opportunity pass."
After a minute's consideration, North said, "I love it, but we really need to be talking to J and J."