The four drove south on US 97 and crossed the Columbia River to I-84 at Biggs Junction and then headed west toward Portland through The Dalles. Tom was driving, and Jim was reading a medical journal up front while North and Jason sprawled in the back seat of the Tribeca. Jason was musing on how much food they ate at breakfast.
These guys must work out all the time to look the way they did and eat that way. Maybe they were just matching fuel to work, he thought.
He was frankly envious of North's relationship with his fathers. He detected the respect and love North had for both of them and the boundaries he observed with them. Jim and Tom weren't older brothers for North, but they acted in that capacity sometimes. Both men were respectful of North, though, without losing parental authority. He tried to imagine a relationship like that with his father.
The dads were always asking North questions -- about what he was thinking, what his day was like, how he was feeling about things — and they listened to his answers as his mother did when he spoke to her. Jason's father never spoke that way to him. His anxiety about his fantasies and his shaky feelings about girls had no release in conversation with his parents.
"Jason, you okay?"
"You looked upset."
"No, I'm fine," Jason lied.
* * * * *
Looking back across the Columbia River to Washington, North saw the character of the land begin to change. The geology of his new home consisted of huge pillows of basalt everted through the pore that was Mt. Adams. The land around Goldendale was undulating and the vegetation yellowish brown, turning green for a short time in the spring.
As they moved west toward the greener covering of the Willamette Valley, North felt surprising comfort. Between homes is how he felt, but he was still more at home in Portland. He looked at Jason dozing against the car door. He remembered Jason's apology—how Jason had told them that his mother said he was skittish. He certainly was guarded. North had decided that Jason was a decent person, and he appreciated the effort Jason made to reconnect with him that second day. He was beginning to wonder if Jason was less frightened that first day than repelled. North knew that he wouldn't have made a trip like this with a friend of such short acquaintance, and he thought that Jason was also fearless in some ways. He knew he had a friend when school started up in the fall.
North looked from Jason's face to his pants. He must have been having a great dream, and the lump was impressive. Jason had told him that he had no special girl, and North, thinking of Annie, was a bit sorry for him. He thought about waking him but decided not to interrupt the dream. He rested against the door on his side of the car and dozed off while listening to The Wombats.
Jim looked back at the two boys. Remembering his own adolescence, he felt nothing but relief that these boys' turn had come. If I made it, anyone can. He noticed Jason's hardness and smiled. He knew it could be just a reflex that happened twenty times a night for those two, but hoped a dream had hardened him. Who was the co-star of that dream? Jim liked Jason and promised himself to be available to chat if Jason needed him.
By the time they passed the outlet mall in Troutdale, just outside Portland, the boys were awake, and Jim saw Jason look toward the stores.
Jim suggested, "We could stop there on the way back."
Both boys said, "Yeah!" almost at once.
"Good dream?" North asked quietly.
Jason looked at him with a question in his eyes and then realized that North was looking at his crotch.
"Shit," he whispered as North broke up. "Yes, if you must know."
Jason blushed and said, "I'll never tell."
* * * * *
Jason hadn't spent a lot of time in Portland, and when they pulled up to the condo building in the Pearl District, he was impressed—silent, staring-up impressed. North's condo was on the top floor. Following Jim, Tom, and North, Jason, mouth slightly agape, walked into the living area. The dads were putting away some dry food they'd brought. Jason looked at North and swept the expansive living room with his hand. North just shrugged, almost an embarrassed shrug. Dropping his bag, North pushed Jason across the living area and through the glass doors onto a three-sided deck. Jason could see the Willamette River and both Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens in the distance, as well as the Steel Bridge over the Willamette River.
"Well, I can sure as shit see why moving to Goldendale was, what did you call it, a major transition. I think I'm going to train as an oncologist."
"Yeah, a little over the top, huh? Actually, I think Tom's writing paid for most of this, so you might want to hold up on medical school. Look, to me it's just home, and I didn't pick it or buy it. It's beautiful and spectacular, and I'm not going to pretend that I don't like spending time here, but anywhere our family lives is fine with me."
"I'm unhappy at how envious I am. I guess I never considered how different life in Goldendale is going to be for you. I think you're right, though, you and your dads are going to be fine out there."
Tom called out to them to get their bags put in their rooms.
"I think we're being paged," North said, "Let me show you our digs."
North and Jason picked up their bags, and Jason followed North down a hallway to his bedroom. Jason started to drop his bag. North stopped him.
"Here's the thing. Annie may go back with us for a week, and if she stays over before we head back to Goldendale, I kind of hope she'll stay here with me. Would you mind taking the room across the hall?"
Jason's face must have registered his puzzlement which confused North a bit. "No, that's fine. I can't believe your parents would let Annie sleep in your room."
"Well, Annie's mom is okay with it, and Annie's on the pill." North whispered, "It's not like we fuck all the time. The long-distance thing is going to be hard, and we just like to spend quiet time together. I promised I wouldn't cut you loose, and I won't, but for sleeping … "
"Okay. That's all right." Jason was beginning to regret making the trip. His level of his disappointment at not sleeping in North's room surprised him.
"One more thing. Jonathan wants to come back, too. So he may bunk with you. You'll like him. He's funny and bright and cool. He's been my best friend. Oh, and he's gay, but don't freak. He's not predatory." North laughed as he said that.
"So, when do I get to meet the friends and girlfriend of North?"
"Tomorrow morning. Dad Squared has to be at OHSU all day, and Dad will be writing, so we'll be on our own. They'll show up for breakfast, and we'll figure the day out from there. Jonathan will want to go to Klub Z after dark to dance. You do dance?"
"Well, gee, mister, only line dancing."
"Very funny. I'll bet you're good on your feet. We just go as a group and everybody dances with each other. It's gay friendly, in fact, sort of a gay, underage club. Annie and I love it. Just a warning, expect to dance with Jonathan. I will."
"Well, that'll be a first for me."
"Consider it a first step in loosening up and getting comfortable with people who are different."
Jason wondered how different he was from the people North meant.
Well, he thought, what happens in Portland stays in Portland.
He was far from his father's influence and more than a little anxious. His mother had always taught him to be true to himself. Now, he would try. Maybe he could talk with Tom tomorrow.
"Just so you know, you're responsible for the rube from Goldendale."
"One thing I know about you is that you're no rube. Everyone's going to like you, and we'll all make sure you have a good time. Who knows? You may find someone special."
North showed Jason to the bedroom across the hall that had twin beds instead of a queen size like North's room.
"This all right? Let me show you our bathroom. If you want to shower, I'll take mine after you."
"Do I smell bad or something after the car trip? It's only been four hours since I showered at home."
North stepped closer to Jason, leaned in, and smelled his neck. Nope, you're okay. I'm going to grab one, though."
As North walked back to his room, Jason realized he was hard. Well, shit, he thought.
This situation would be comical if he didn't feel as if he was going to throw up. He wandered back to North's bedroom and, through the doorway, saw North in the hall, dressed only in boxer briefs, scoot into the bathroom.
Great, now he flashes me. He probably doesn't think I'd be interested. He's treating me like a brother. Well, I'll have to figure out how to be a good brother.
The shower went on, and Jason couldn't stop himself from imagining the scene in the shower stall. This was the first time that, when imagining North, he felt a little icky.
After his shower, North walked into Jason's room. He had a towel around his waist. Jason tried not to look fascinated, but North noticed again the same kind of looks Jonathan gave him. For the first time, North consciously considered the possibility of Jason being gay.
"We're having dinner in tonight. Dress is formal. Did you bring a tux?"
As Jason bit for a moment, North cracked into laughter. "Shorts and a T-shirt or whatever you're going to sleep in is fine. As long as you don't sleep naked."
Jason felt like someone had told him not to think of a naked North. Dinner was going to be painful. Tom and Jim seemed so nice and, well, normal. If that was gay, Jason wouldn't be so worried if he was that way.
Dinner wasn't painful, and Jason didn't think of North naked. The meal was like a seminar, in a good way. Tom and Jim talked about their work. Jason learned that Tom was an adjunct professor in the writing program at Portland State and that he was a guest at the U of Iowa Writers' Workshop. Jason knew that was a big deal. He was struck by how Jim looked at Tom when Tom was speaking—a look of pride, love, and interest. Both the men pressed North to offer opinions and forced him to support every one. They also included Jason, assuming that he would keep up.
After North talked with Tom a little about a writer Jason didn't know, John Fante, Tom said he couldn't understand North's appreciation of someone admired so much by Bukowski.
North told Tom, "Don't confuse personality with talent."
Tom just smiled, saying, "All right, then."
Then they talked about poetry, and during a ranging discussion, North said that Lapis Lazuli was his favorite Yeats poem. Jason knew that one, and grew more impressed with North. Tom mentioned the big three moderns, Eliot, Pound, and Yeats, and asked Jason who he thought was the best modern poet.
Without hesitating, Jason said, "William Carlos Williams."
Tom rocked back, and North looked astonished. "Way to go, Jason," North said. "Didn't see that one coming, did you, Dad?"
"No, I didn't. Jason, that's an unusual choice, but I think Williams became the greatest American poet of the last century once he shook off Pound, not that many of my colleagues agree. What of his do you like best?"
"That's too hard, but I like Blizzard and Transitional."
"You, sir, are a keeper. If you have time tomorrow, I'd like to talk with you about Transitional."
Jason was unused to being treated like an adult at the dinner table, and his family never had discussions like these. He began to understand how North became special.
North said, "I don't know that one, but I'm going to read it." There was a hint of pride in his voice at the hidden depths of his new friend. His dad wasn't easy to impress, and Tom was impressed.
Because Tom and Jim had cooked, Jason and North cleaned up, a ritual familiar to Jason. He felt like the dry stem of a flower opening and sucking up the attention from the men along with their approval. Darkness came on while they sat in this luxury condo and talked about a hundred interesting things.
Finally, North asked Jason, "You ready, because the day's going to start early, and we're the cooks? To bed?"
"You guys have fun tomorrow. North, we'll be gone most of the day. You know the rules. Where are you going tomorrow night?" Jim asked.
"Klub Z, Dad Squared. And, yes, Mother, I know the rules."
As he said the last, North went over to hug and kiss each of his fathers. Jason didn't quite know what to do, but that problem was solved when Tom came over and hugged him, followed by Jim. "Welcome, young man. Williams. I'll be damned."
They trudged up the stairs, and, as Jason started to go into his room, North said, "Look, for tonight, you want to bunk in with me?"
"Uhm, sure, but there's only one bed."
"That a problem for you?"
"No, I just don't want you to be uncomfortable."
"Why would I be uncomfortable? Jonathan sleeps in here a lot."
Jason let the comment pass. If North had figured out the secret, then he'd let it ride. "I'd like that. I think I will grab a shower now."
"Go for it. I'll see you in a few."
When he finished his shower, including relieving himself of a nice batch of semen, he changed into boxers and T-shirt and went across the hall. North was at the iMac that remained here in Portland. Jason wandered over. He looked over North's shoulder and saw a poem on the monitor, Transitional.
First he said:
It is the woman in us
That makes us write-
Let us acknowledge it-
Men would be silent.
We are not men
Therefore we can speak
And be conscious
(of the two sides)
Unbent by the sensual
As befits accuracy.
I then said:
Dare you make this
And he answered:
Am I not I-here?
"You are a surprise, Jason. I don't know how I missed this one." North stood and hugged his new friend. "Goldendale doesn't seem so much a wasteland now. Thanks for giving us a chance."
Looking Jason in the eye, he said, "You should take Tom up on his offer to talk about the poem."
"Maybe after breakfast while you catch up with your crew."
"Okay, but you can't hide from them for long."
North turned on some music from his docked iPhone — opera.
"You can't be raised by those two without learning to love opera. It's Casta Diva sung by Montserrat Caballé."
"It's sounds so sad."
"No, not really. Good night."
Jason felt North turn on his side so that his back was toward Jason. Jason was on his back, thinking about how he already felt part of this family. Mama, he thought, you are right. I have to find my own way.
North turned on his back. "I've got to take care of a problem. How about you?"
Jason immediately knew what North meant. "Well, I sort of took care of mine in the shower."
"You mind if I take care of mine here. I'm too comfortable to get out of bed."
"No, that's fine. I'll just listen to the music." Jason knew that North had decided to bond them in sort of an ultimate act of brotherhood.
O pure Goddess, who silvers
He glanced at North as he rested atop the covers, his shorts pulled off.
These sacred ancient plants,
North was so unselfconscious about this.
Turn thy beautiful semblance on us
Jason didn't feel as if he was witnessing a hidden act.
Unclouded and unveiled…
North was beautiful, Jason thought. Lucky Annie.
Temper, o Goddess,
The motions weren't hurried or furtive.
The brave zeal
The free hand glided over belly and chest, and back to thigh.
Of the ardent spirits,
He heard North whisper Annie's name, and wondered whether anyone would ever whisper his name in the midst of desire.
Scatter on the earth the peace
Jason heard the orgasm, and felt it as the bed moved.
Thou make reign in the sky…
North cleaned himself. The smell of his cum was plain in the air. "Want me to take a shower?"
"No, that's okay. Lucky Annie."
"Night, Jason. Thanks.
The iPhone began playing Fugazi at seven in the morning.