North silenced the alarm. Jason became aware that North hadn't put his shorts back on after getting off last night. He finally pieced together that North had used his boxers to clean up.
"Morning, North. If we're going to cook, we better get going."
"Leave me alone. They can cook for themselves. Better, you cook for them."
'Not a morning person,' Jason thought.
"No. They're your crew. Get in the shower or I'll drag you in."
"You're just mean, you know. A good friend would find a way to let me sleep."
"Get something on and get cleaned up. You smell like a cum factory."
North's lack of clothing dawned on him. "Oh, sorry about that".
North scooted out of bed, got some shorts out of the dresser, and went to shower, leaving Jason to think about the night.
'He's like a big puppy, a smart one, but a puppy,' Jason thought. He realized the transition from object of desire to younger brother was complete.
"Oh, well," he said aloud.
North came back in in his shorts. "All yours. Thanks for being cool about last night. Hope it didn't gross you out."
Taking a chance, Jason answered, "I rather enjoyed it." He pulled himself up and headed to the bathroom.
North checked his texts and found nothing new. He dressed in regular shorts and a bright T-shirt. For now, he was barefoot. He went to the kitchen and began to get out the stuff they'd need. He hoped Jason could make decent pancakes or waffles. He was useless, except for scrambled eggs and sausage or bacon. Jason came from his room dressed like North, except for the sneakers on his feet.
"I hope you can cook, because I don't want to hear the griping if it's up to me."
"What do you want to make?"
"I was thinking I'd do eggs and turkey sausage and you could do waffles."
"Show me the Eggos."
North looked bewildered. "You're kidding, right? Please tell me you've used a waffle iron."
Jason rooted around in the cupboards until he found some Bisquick and, in the fridge, blueberries. North showed him where the bowls and the hand mixer were. The milk was already out. "Vanilla extract, please."
"What am I, your assistant? You can look for it."
"North, if you know where it is, it'll save time. Don't go all sibling on me. I'm a guest, remember."
"The hell you are. After last night you're as family as it gets."
Jason smiled, as he located the spices and the vanilla extract. He whipped up waffle batter and heated the iron. As he was finishing, the doorbell rang.
"Get it, will you, Jason?"
He opened the door to find a boy and a girl looking at him in surprise. She was tall for a girl, almost as tall as North, and just as blonde. Her hair was shorter than North's and she was very slender, almost boyish.
He was the girl's opposite in complexion. Where she was fair and blue-eyed, he was dark with black hair that looked naturally mussed, but which had in fact been artfully arranged. She was wearing calf-length pants and a feminine T-shirt. He was in close-fitting jeans with a long sleeve shirt over a T-shirt. She was cute. He was … well, breathtaking—slender, but with well-muscled forearms. His eyes had at first seemed brown to Jason, but as he looked closer, he realized they were a gold-flecked hazel. He caught himself staring, and so did Jonathan and Annie.
"You must be the famous Jason. I'm Annie and this stud is Jonathan."
"Yeah. I guessed." He was still looking at Jonathan.
"Get a room, guys. Hey you in there, Northy?"
North appeared behind Jason, and she almost knocked Jason over, throwing herself into North's arms. As they kissed, Jonathan said to Jason, "I guess we know who needs a room."
"Northy?" Jason whispered to Jonathan.
"She's the only one allowed to call him that."
Jonathan walked toward the kitchen, and Jason admired the retreating view. 'He looks just as good from behind.'
"Hey, lovers, we need to get breakfast started," Jonathan suggested, as he dipped a finger in the waffle batter and licked his finger, looking straight at Jason, who quickly looked away.
North hadn't told him that his new friend was gay. He'd sort North out about that one later. 'Tall, blonde, and built like a linebacker,' Jonathan thought. 'He's probably so deep in the closet that he can't see the door or has a boyfriend. No one like that could be out and single.'
Making him uncomfortable for a couple of days could be fun, if his reaction to the finger licking was any indication.
Jason shook himself back to the world. North and Annie had finally separated, and walked over to the kitchen. "So what are you guys cooking up for us?"
"Jason is in charge of waffles, with vanilla extract I might add. I'm doing the rest."
"He cooks, too," Jonathan said.
"I'm right here, guys," Jason laughed. "I learned to cook on all the cattle roundups I've been on."
"A cowboy, yet."
"Jonathan, he's bullshitting you. You are so easy," North told Jonathan.
"Yeah, North, but not cheap."
"You should have seen him put Tom in his place last night. I don't think I've ever seen Dad so surprised."
"Fiction or poetry?" Annie asked.
"No shit." Looking at Jason, she said, "You're going to have to tell me about that conversation."
"After breakfast and before we leave, he has an appointment to talk with Tom."
"Jason, I've never known Tom to stop writing for anything on a Saturday," she said.
She and North were hanging on each other, but not in an overtly sexual way that made Jason uncomfortable. The doorbell rang again, and Jonathan went to open the door. "The rest of the crew, Jason."
Several voices mixed with Jonathan's. Two more girls and another boy walked in as Jason began making waffles and North was managing the rest. They moved toward a small table in a breakfast nook with a window looking out to the Cascades. As they were passing, Annie shouted over the din, "Jason—Pete, Mary, and Frannie. Frannie, Mary, and Pete—the famous Jason."
Jason waved as they passed and they waved back. Mary's and Frannie's glances at Jason lingered appreciatively. Jason registered Pete first. Nice, but no Jonathan, and he didn't get the impression that Pete was the least bit interested in him. The girls, on the other hand, obviously were. Maybe his situation wasn't so obvious.
They had a pleasant breakfast, and Jason appreciated that none of the crew made him feel an outsider, nor were they protective of North. In fact, Jason spent most of the time answering their questions, although he did pick up bits and pieces about all of them except Jonathan, who was largely silent but who paid attention to Jason's answers. Jason found himself looking toward Jonathan even when answering someone else's question. He was aware that he was acutely attuned to Jonathan's reaction to him.
Jason started to help with the cleanup when North told him to check in with Tom in the office. He walked the short distance to the office door and knocked.
"Come on," Tom answered the knock.
* * * * *
"North suggested that I chat with you before we go out. Is now a good time?"
"It is, and I'm really glad you stopped in. I see the clan hasn't devoured you."
"No. They've been very kind."
"Which one interests you the most?"
Without thinking, Jason blurted, "Jonathan." Unable to pull the comment back, he looked down at his lap.
"Jason, I haven't known you long and I don't want to presume a familiarity you're not willing to grant, but I like you. You're obviously bright and sensitive, and you were brave to come back and give us a chance."
"My Mama told me to do what I thought was right, but then that's always her advice. I'm so glad I did. You've made me feel welcome, and I really like how you and Jim treat North. I feel like I've known you a while and that it's safe to talk with you."
"I can promise you that it is. Nothing we talk about leaves the room, unless you take it with you to share."
'Well, here goes,' Jason thought.
Tom had turned from his laptop to face Jason. He leaned forward and waited.
"Did you really want to talk about the poem with me?"
"Yeah, actually. I was astonished that you picked that one as a favorite. Not many people outside the business have read it. There's nothing overtly gay about it, but it does speak to the feminine in men as a creative spark. Mind you, I know a lot of gay men who don't have access to that spark."
"Well, I'm just lost a little bit. My father will explode if I'm not straight. I've tried to ignore my feelings. You won't share what we talk about with anyone, not even North?"
"That's right, just like I wouldn't share North's confidences with you."
"I had a wicked crush on North when I first met him, and it scared the crap out of me. That's why I ran out. I mean your whole family was so attractive, I had to get away." He teared up and wiped at his eyes with his forearm.
Tom handed him a tissue. "It's difficult, isn't it. You're in between. Your mother's advice is the best I could imagine. You still depend on your father and don't want to disappoint him, but trying to act like something you're not can be very destructive. By the way, Jim and I will like you whether you're straight, gay, or in between."
"I'm … gay."
"Acknowledging that's a big step for you. Jim was pretty sure when he first met you, but I wasn't. What I mean is, you're not so obvious that most people would even consider the possibility. Secrets are hard on you, but some need to be kept so you can survive."
"I think that secret is going to be a lot harder to keep now that I've met all of you."
"You do know that North's straight?"
"Yes. Disappointed, but I'm feeling more brotherly than lustful about him now."
"That's a relief, because he really likes you and he could use a good friend back east."
"I'm so afraid of what my father's going to do, and how I'm going to find someone in Goldendale."
"Remember, you have two parents. Have you thought about talking with your mother and asking her how to handle your father?"
"No, I hadn't. You know she's part of the Nation. I think a lot of the Bands are pretty down on gay people."
"You're not gay people. You're her son. She loves you, and she'll find a way to come to terms with who you are. She sees your heart, not which sex you love."
"I'll have to think about it."
"If you have real problems, you're always welcome in our home. We're beginning to think of you as North's older brother."
"That means a lot to me. I'll have a safety net."
* * * * *
Annie bit North's earlobe lightly. The others were on the deck, planning the day. "Your lucky he's gay. Otherwise, he might have given you some competition."
"I'm not sure he is. For a while he did get that hungry look when I was with him, but lately not so much."
"Northy, he's so into Jonathan, I'm surprised they didn't do it in front everyone. Jon's smitten, too. I thought you planned that."
"Definitely not, but I think we should encourage it."
"I don't think they require much encouragement."
"I'm going to rescue him from Dad so we can get going."
A light tap on the door startled Jason. "Come out, come out, wherever you are! The crew wants to get going, and we're not going anywhere without you."
"That sounds like a command. Thanks for talking with me, Tom. I feel a lot better."
"Jim and I will always help you if we can. North knows nothing about being gay but we do and so does Jonathan. You might want to talk with him, if you're okay with him knowing."
Tom rose and hugged Jason as he moved to the door. As Jason left the office, North spoke to his father. "How come you never read that poem to me?"
"Because you know where the books are, and you should read as much of Williams as you can. Now, off with you all so I can get back to writing. Jason, thanks for sharing your thoughts on the poem."
"I learned a lot, Tom. Thanks for your help."
North tugged on Jason's arm, "Come on. Everyone's waiting."
In his absence, the crew had decided to walk up a ways to Northwest twenty-third for some lunch and to look in some of the little shops. They followed a pedestrian path from the condo building away from the Willamette and South. The late morning was warm, but not uncomfortable, and the pace was leisurely.
Jason noticed that North and Jonathan bumped shoulders from time to time as they walked. He realized he was jealous, but for a while couldn't figure out the object of his jealousy, North or Jonathan. He was in the rear of the group with Annie. She slowed, and he slowed with her to keep pace. She reached out to take his hand, startling him. They were so familiar with each other, he thought.
Quietly, as the rest of the group went on ahead, Annie said, "North told me about your rough start. When we first Skyped about it, I didn't like your behavior at all."
"I can see why you'd feel that way. Everyone's so protective of him. Hell, even I feel that way."
"But, when he told me about how you came around, I decided to keep an open mind. He needs a good friend out there."
"His whole family is so different from anything I've experienced. I need a friend, too, you know?"
They picked up the pace a bit, so the rest wouldn't get too far ahead. "I do understand. Jon's very attracted to you."
"What? Why would he be attracted to me?"
"Because you're a stud with a brain and a heart. Because North really likes you, and North doesn't really like that many people." She squeezed his hand. "And, because you're gay."
Tom couldn't have told her. He thought North might suspect. "How do you know?"
"The way you looked at Jon when you met. And, then later, at breakfast, you were always looking to Jon, trying to figure out what he thought about what you said. I know the symptoms." When he looked over, she was smiling. Did North's family just attract people like this?
"I admitted that for the first time today, to Tom."
"You admit crimes, you recognize yourself. Maybe you recognized the fact today, but you've wondered for a while."
"How do you know this stuff?"
"Because I stood by Jonathan when he was coming out. He talked to me before he talked to anyone else. Sometimes it's easier to talk to a girl. Jon described those feelings before he recognized the truth. The thing is, Jon comes across as confident, out there, a little in your face, but that's bravado. He's looking for what we all are—someone to care, trust, and love. Don't mess with him, please."
"I'm not experienced enough to mess with anybody. I don't know how to figure out a relationship."
"Well, you'll have an opportunity with Jon, because he's going back with North and me. By the way, Jon is hoping you'll try."
"I don't get what he'd see in me."
"He does, and that's what counts. He hasn't said anything, but I can tell from watching him watch you. While you were talking to Tom, North told us about your dinner last night. He's so proud of you, and Jon knows how stingy North is with his affections."
They wandered up to the little coffee shop where the others had already ordered and were sitting outside at metal tables. "About time. You changed allegiance, Annie?" Pete kidded.
North said, "No chance. Annie and I are joined at the soul."
The others gave knowing laughs. Jon looked at Jason. "I saved a seat for you."
Jason took the seat, and lunch passed in teenage conversation. Jason began to feel that he had always been with this group. As they chatted, he considered what a relationship with Jonathan would mean. At one point in the conversation, Jon put his hand on Jason's shoulder, and the others, to a person, looked as if they thought the gesture right.
"Jason, did North tell you we're going dancing tonight?"
"He mentioned we might, Jonathan. If we do, you'll have to give me lessons."
"These guys will tell you, I'm a good teacher."