Fred pulled the Ford 350 into its shed. After being "leached" at the cancer center and arranging to go back tomorrow for the bone marrow test, he was deeply fatigued. Somehow identifying the disease and knowing its likely outcome had left him a little unfocused. He was also disquieted by his reaction to Jim Underhill. He was aware of a grudging respect for the man, a respect he thought was inappropriate. He'd told the man to call him by his first name. He considered the intimacy of sharing death with a stranger and a homosexual to boot.
He walked into the house and found Violet in the kitchen putting up some fruit. She looked at the man she had known almost her whole life and to whom she had been married for nineteen years. He still excited her. She was happy every day that she had stood against her father until the old man had agreed to let her marry outside the Nation. Fred was rough and taciturn, but what seemed coldness to many people, she saw as loneliness relieved only when the two of them were together. With her, Fred laughed and accepted her kidding. He was a decent and caring man.
If there was a part of Fred she'd change, it was how he treated Jason. He wasn't cruel or purposefully hurtful, and she knew he had learned how to be a father from his own father, as she had learned how to be a mother from her mother. The boy worshiped Fred and wanted so much more from his father than his father was able to give. As Fred came to her for a long hug and a passionate kiss, she felt the wind gone from his sails. She knew that a verdict had been rendered. This business with Jason and Jonathan was going to be very delicate, indeed.
"Not good news, love?"
"No. You know, I always wanted to die quick. Easier for all of us that way."
"Fred, you'll die like all of us: in our time. Tell me the details."
For a half an hour, Fred went over the situation, which was worse than Violet had feared. Still, she managed not to cry, because her tears were the thing that shook Fred's place in the world most.
"So, North's father is going to treat you?"
"It's that or go to Portland or Seattle all the time. I won't do that."
"Love, you don't let someone care for you in this situation because it's convenient."
"Vi, something about him lets me trust what he'll do for me. I'm confused. He doesn't seem like what I thought a qu … a homosexual would be like. Besides, I have to trust God to use whatever instrument He will."
"Before your religion came to my people, we thought that who a man had sex with was a small part of what defined him. I still think that way. I'll tell you right now that the boy they're raising has a good heart, and so do his friends. They've become Jasey's friends, and we should treat them accordingly."
"Did Jason go over there?"
"Yes he did, but they all came back, and Jasey took them riding."
"Oh, Lord. That must have been something, Vi."
"He introduced North and his girlfriend, Annie, and a boy named Jonathan. I especially like Jonathan, and I think Jasey is fond of him."
Violet saw Fred's eyes widen slightly, but he said nothing. Fred always considered before he spoke. He sighed. "I don't want to tell Jason anything yet. Can you take me tomorrow? I think you'll need you to get me to the treatments, too."
"Considering my social calendar, that'll be a stretch. You idiot, you're not negotiating with a farmhand here. You and I will walk the path to the end together." Now her eyes clouded with tears, and she quickly turned away for a moment.
"Fred, do you think we raised an idiot?"
"What the hell's that supposed to mean?"
"Your son is a quick study. You think you can keep this from him? That wouldn't be fair to the boy. He needs to help you, too. Do you want him to think he let you slip away while he did nothing? You've never been cruel to him, but not telling him would be cruel. Eventually he'll have the farm and the land, but you need to leave him a claim on you. Your dying isn't only about you."
"Let me think about it, Vi. I'm going to lie down for bit. Wake me in an hour, please."
* * * * *
Unaware that his father had returned, Jason was supervising the other three in unsaddling the horses. He told them that they had some post-ride care they needed to give the animals.
"Jason, I have a whole new appreciation for horse shit," Annie laughed.
"Annie, I'll take horse shit over exhaust fumes, although they're basically the same," Jason answered.
"You, boyfriend, have an appointment," Jason said to Jon.
"An Indian woman wants to sit with you. Don't disappoint her. Go on in. I'll take care of your horse."
Jon walked slowly to the back door. He was about to knock, when he heard her voice, "Come on. We'll sit and talk."
'That woman is plain spooky,' Jon thought. 'How does Jase live with someone like this? She doesn't scare me, at least.'
They sat at the dining room table and talked for half an hour. Jon was immediately at ease with Jase's mother. The conversation wasn't a cross-examination, and he found himself doing almost all the talking. Afterward, he remembered only two questions. She had asked if he was happy with himself and seemed satisfied with his answer. Then she unnerved him by asking if he loved her son. He felt safe telling her that he was beginning to. He saw no judgment in her eyes.
"Jonny, relationships between fathers and sons are complicated. Fathers have a long time to grow an idea of what they want for their sons. Friends, especially the best of friends, accept each other as they are. You know that Jasey is going to have a struggle with his father. I don't know if you are life-mates or not, but for a while he'll need you to continue to care for him, as you are doing."
Jon had no point of reference for this discussion. No adult had talked to him like this. No adults, except Jim and Tom, viewed him as ready to take responsibility for a relationship.
Finally, Violet told Jon, "In the Nation, children have many mothers and many sisters. I will be these to you, if you want. You call me Vi and you keep Jasey's trust. I ask no small thing."
When the other three came bounding into the house, Jon felt as if he were coming out of a dream. As Jason got milk and sweet bread out for them all, he looked at his mother and Jon.
"You didn't do some Indian magic on him, did you?"
"No such thing, Jasey. We talked from our hearts, and that's no magic."
Violet asked Jason to come to the living room for a minute, leaving the others to jabber about the ride and their relative levels of horsemanship. Jon wanted to go with Jason but respected Vi's wishes.
"Jasey, your father needs to go for a test tomorrow that will take most of the day. We're going to leave early. Ben, Martin, and the others will take care of the work, so don't worry about that. I wonder if you could talk to North's fathers about you spending the night and staying there tomorrow until dinner?"
"What's going on Mama?"
"Your father will know more after the test. I know it's painful to wait, but he needs to tell you the story. You're no fool, but don't think the world is ending just yet. Ask North about staying over, please."
A very uneasy Jason had the discussion with North, though he was looking at Jon most of the time. North called Tom and arranged the matter. Jason would come home with the others and stay the night and the next day. Ready to leave for the afternoon and evening, Jason had quietly roused his father, told him the plan, and wished him good luck with the test. Somehow Jason's father looked a little smaller to the boy, and seeing his father this way increased his fear.
Annie and North thanked Mrs. Johnson, both taking note when Jon called her Vi. Jason gave his mother a long hug, and the crew, after looking in a last time on the horses, boarded the old pickup for the short trip to North's.
As Jason drove, Jon told him, "I don't know what to do to help, but I'll do whatever you need, Jase."
* * * * *
Tom was waiting for them in the living room. The four of them were subdued until Tom cajoled them into talking about the morning ride, which was rapidly being transformed by memory into something between the Derby and the early Pony Express. At the end of four stories, each of which could have described a different event, the kids had a more usual demeanor.
Tom knew nothing of Fred's situation but sensed Jason's discomfort. Maybe he'd try to have a talk with him later. If Jason had to stay with them, the situation at home was probably not very good. The kids drifted out to the front porch, where North and Annie sat on a swing and Jon and Jason on a two-seat Adirondack chair. They faced Mt. Adams, shimmering in the haze of warm air.
Jason's voice ended the silence. "I'm going up on Klickitat's shoulders this weekend."
"Excuse me," North said.
"It's one of the Indian names for the mountain. You know, there used to be a sulfur mine at the top. That volcano is like Rainier, old and worn."
"I'd like to go, Jase," Jon said quickly.
North started to agree, but Annie clamped down on his thigh, her nails digging in. He was about to ask her what she was doing when he realized she was shutting him up.
"We can all go," Jason said, looking at North and Annie.
"We have plans," Annie replied.
Jason looked at them with rank suspicion and then smiled. "Looks like it's just us, city boy."
After they quietly watched the mountain for twenty minutes, each couple holding hands, North, in typical fashion, blurted, "So what's going on with your dad, Jason. We all want to help."
Annie slugged him in the arm, and he cringed. "Where's your famous sensitivity, wonder boy?"
North actually looked offended. "If we're going to help each other, we have to know what's going on. If the subject is out of bounds, then I'll back off. Jason is my friend, too," North said, piqued.
Jason figured he should break up the developing skirmish. "Thanks, Annie. I don't mind talking to you guys, but I'm pretty much in the dark. I know he went to Celilo Cancer Center this morning and that he's having a big test tomorrow; other than that I'm a mushroom here. Jim works there, North. Maybe you can get some info from him."
"Oh, man, I'm sorry, but Dad Squared never talks about his patients to anyone, not even Dad."
"Then I guess I'll hang on until tomorrow night."
After a bit more conversation the three transplants asked if Jason would show them downtown Goldendale, and North wanted to see the high school.
Jason pointed out that he couldn't drive on U.S. 97 or the city streets. "Maybe Tom would drop us off and pick us up a little later."
North was already on his way to ask. Stay-at-home fathers are quite convenient, and Tom was happy to drive fifteen minutes to downtown Goldendale. Jason suggested that Tom drop them at Broadway and Roosevelt, the street that ran by all the schools. Tom agreed to pick them up at Ayutla, a family-owned Mexican Restaurant on Simcoe Drive, at seven. He even offered to treat the clan to dinner.
* * * * *
They walked by the schools, starting with the Middle School and ending with the High School. North couldn't believe how small the school was. Jason told them that Goldendale was like a lot of small towns where everyone knew everyone else's business. Jonathan wasn't reassured by that thought. North, with his arm over Annie's shoulders, walked in front. Jon didn't feel safe taking Jase's hand, and for the first time in a long while, felt like he had to hide who he was. Jase and he bumped shoulders occasionally as they walked.
They walked around the High School for a while, moving through a little open area near the north end. Walking back across the parking lot to Roosevelt Avenue, they took the sidewalk west to see the front of the schools. More parking was south of them.
North thought, 'No mass transit here. Everyone drives or rides school buses.' He wondered if he should stage a symbolic burning of his Tri-Met pass.
As they walked back toward Roosevelt Avenue, they met a couple of guys who knew Jason. Jason introduced everybody and explained that the two were football players. They were very interested in Annie, which irritated North, but they also didn't miss how close Jon got to Jason. Jason, to his credit, didn't try to move away from Jon. The two groups parted, and the four continued up Roosevelt to Simcoe and the restaurant.
Jason said hello to the girl at the front and led the group to a booth. A young man brought them menus and greeted Jason. Then, as North, Annie, and Jon gaped, Jason and the waiter had a long exchange in Spanish. The waiter held out his hand for the menus, and disappeared into the kitchen.
"What? You can't live out here long without learning a little Spanish, at least a couple of Mexican dialects. A lot of the hands are Latino. North, you'll learn soon enough. I ordered chili rellenos for us. The Madre of the family that owns the place makes them fresh."
"The salsa's good, Jase," Jon volunteered.
"Yeah, not too much cilantro."
The four chatted easily through dinner. North talked about going out for track and cross-country. Jon didn't know if Jase had seen the flicker of suspicion on the other two boys' faces when they looked at him and Jon. He zoned out on the conversation, thinking about what he'd do if Jase decided not to come out, either to his father or his friends.
"Hey, city boy, wake up. Tom's outside." Jon looked up into Jase's smiling face. Jon really hoped this didn't get fucked up.
When they all were safe at the house, Jason called his mother but didn't talk to his father. Jim wasn't home yet. Tom came up and put his hands on Jason's shoulders.
"I know that bone marrow biopsies take some time and they'll have to keep your father a while after the procedure, so plan on being here most of tomorrow."
Jason walked out to the porch in the cooling evening. Jon followed and sat next to him on the swing.
"You're sleeping with me tonight."
It wasn't a question from Jon; it was a decision. Jason smiled and put his head on Jon's shoulder. Jon gathered him into a one-armed hug.
"I wish I could make it better, Jase."
Jason wasn't used to letting others take care of him. His father valued self-reliance and had communicated that value to his son. However, he didn't mind letting Jon take care of him a little. Jason's mother had taught him to accept affection and care. Jason felt as if he needed to strike a balance.
As the evening deepened, Jon was startled at the sky, already shining with more stars than he could ever remember seeing. He looked over at Jason; he wasn't going to let anything hurt this boy if he could help it. He had taken a lot of shots after he came out and he was ready for a few more if needed.
"Jase, you're getting cold and you're tired. Let's go in."
They said goodnight to Tom, North, and Annie before climbing the stairs to the bedroom. Tonight they would have a full size bed. "Shit. I forgot my bag. I'll be right back."
"Where is it?"
"You get cleaned up. I'll get it."
"But, I don't have anything to change into after my shower."
"Yeah, I know," Jon said with as salacious a grin as he could manage.
While Jason undressed and went to shower, Jon tore downstairs, put on a jacket, and picked up Jase's bag from the old truck. When he dashed back up the stairs, Tom and the other two looked bewildered but quickly returned to their conversation. Tom was a little concerned that Jim wasn't back yet.
In the bedroom, Jon dumped the bag at the foot of the bed and waited for Jase to return. When Jason came through the door, his hair was damp and he was holding a towel loosely in front of his mid-section. Jon looked at Jason's chest and his dick hardened.
'I'm going to chew on those nipples,' he thought.
"All right. Stop staring and give me some clothes."
"Uh-uh. You should walk around this way all the time."
"Jon, this isn't funny, and I'm getting cold."
"Well, crawl in bed and cover up then while I get my shower."
Jon started to leave the room in a pair of boxer briefs. "Oh, no you don't. If I had to go without clothes, so do you."
Jon shrugged, skinned off the underwear, and tore down the hall to the bathroom. With his father in the back of his mind, Jason climbed under the covers and briefly was uneasy about what he might do with Jon. He quickly pushed those doubts to the background as he reached down to play with his hard-on. Jon returned to the room, holding his towel just as Jason had, and, as Jon had admired him, Jason studied Jon, admiring the compact body. His boyfriend was lean but well defined. Jason knew he didn't use weights and thought how lucky Jon was to have that body without a lot of work.
Jason held the covers up, and after running the towel over his hair a last time, Jon dropped it and climbed into bed with his boyfriend for the second time. After looking at each other for a few moments, they began to make out, gently at first and then more hungrily. Jason felt more normal in this situation than he had in all his wanderings around Goldendale for the past three years. He wasn't sure how all the mechanics were supposed to work, but he knew this was right for him.
"Jon," he whispered hoarsely, grasping the other boy's penis, "I want my lesson now."
"You've been a good boy, so I guess I can pass on my incredible skill."
"Don't flatter yourself. For one thing, I have nothing to compare your skill to, and for another, you could have made me come the other night by breathing on me."
"Why, Jase, I am flattered, I can't get many people off by breathing on them. Okay, first rule: the judge isn't worried about perfect technique. In fact, the judge isn't sure what perfect technique is, but the judge is concerned about how much fun the contestant is having."
"The contestant is planning to have a lot of fun, assuming the judge can hold off longer than the contestant did last time."
Jon pushed the cover off them both. "The judge will last as long as he can, given the situation. The only rule the judge insists on enforcing is no teeth."
Jason scootched down so his face could hover over Jon's groin. He gingerly lifted the tight prod from Jon's smooth belly and lightly stroked it. This time he looked closely and was struck by the beauty of the organ, sleek like its owner, thick at its base and tapering toward the end. Even in the dark, Jason could see how pale the skin covering it was. The skin was taut and Jason could see the pinker scar of the circumcision.
'How the hell does he jerk off when it's so tight,' Jason thought.
Jon propped himself up on his elbows to watch Jason play, struck by the concentration he saw in his boyfriend. He quickly leaned over the edge of the bed to retrieve a small tube.
"Here, Jase. Try this."
Jason took the tube and flipped the top open. He squeezed a little of the gooey contents onto his palm and spread the lubricant over Jon, resuming his gentle stroking. Jason lowered his head and hesitated, reaching for the towel Jon had dropped on the floor and wiping the slippery stuff off, before licking the underside from the base to the tip. The dick flexed strongly and Jon thrust up toward his mouth. Jason played with Jon like he would a treasured toy before taking Jon in his mouth and seeing what he could do. Even in his enthusiasm, Jon's thrusts didn't choke Jason; the length was perfect.
After they had finished and were sharing the remnants of Jon's cum in a series of deep kisses, Jason didn't need to ask how he did. Jon's orgasm had been sudden and noisy, his hands gripping Jason's hair. Jason was surprised at how hot he felt when Jon exerted a little control like that. Jon then returned the favor, and this time, Jason lasted a little longer and enjoyed his boyfriend's more experienced mouth. They shared Jason's juices. Jason found that, although he was okay with his own taste, he craved Jon's, and he decided that he was going to practice as often as he could.
"Feeling weird, Jase?"
"Oh no, city boy. Feeling like I've come home."
As they rested atop the covers, colder thoughts of his father began to crowd out Jason's warmth. Jon sensed the change.
"You should try to sleep, Jase."
* * * * *
An hour later it was apparent that Jason couldn't sleep, and because he couldn't, neither could Jon.
"Stay here, Jase. I'll be right back."
"Where are you going, Jon?"
A naked Jon was out the door before answering. Jason heard the knock on North's bedroom door and a hushed conversation. Jon returned with a slim book that smelled a bit musty with age.
"Did you just talk to North naked?"
"Sure. We've been naked together a lot. I'm going to read you a bedtime story."
"Yes, snuggle in and try to relax. Think about the story." Jason laughed and pulled the light blanket over his lower half as Jon began to read.
“The King of the Golden River.” The fable rolled slowly, and Jon did all the voices. Eventually, Jason was listening to the story to the exclusion of thoughts of his father.
The last words he heard before sleep were:
"…the water which has been refused to the cry of the weary and dying is unholy, though it had been blessed by every saint in heaven; and the water which is found in the vessel of mercy is holy, though it had been defiled with corpses."