The new day brought with it the beginning of a new pattern of life for Jason and both his biological and, now, extended families. The new pattern was dictated by disease and struggle. Fred's initial course of therapy would last twelve weeks, and after the first two weeks of going to the center every day, Fred would receive infusions on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
Jason found his father's behavior more complex as Fred struggled to hang on to life. The intensity of the side effects had waned over the first three days but would wax with a vengeance when the dose was increased. The effects would never completely abate.
To Jason, sometimes his father was as he had always experienced him, distant and stony. But, at other times, Jason found Fred approachable and even funny. Fred's expressions of fatherhood oscillated, reflecting his internal debate about Jason's revelations. He and Jason settled into a kind of "don't ask, don't tell" posture about Jason's sexuality.
Fred's health and his religion prevented a healing discussion about both Jason's struggle to come out and his fears about his father's health. To Jonathan, Fred was polite and superficially friendly.
Jason gradually recalibrated his expectations for his father's acceptance. He would have to be satisfied with a grudging acknowledgment without enthusiasm. Jon would never be a second son to Jason's father. In fact, Vi and Jason never broached the subject of Jonathan's and Jason's sleeping arrangements on nights before therapy.
Vi had arranged to accompany Fred to the Saturday and Sunday treatment sessions. She had difficulty convincing Jason and Jon that they needed a break. She succeeded only by reminding the boys that Fred expected Jason to go to the mountain with Jon.
"Jasey, you take Jon. If you pay attention, you'll learn something up there."
"Okay, Mama. We'll go. I can't decide where to take city boy."
"Untrue, Jasey. I can tell you've already decided."
"Divide Camp. Then over to High Camp."
"Jasey, I know you can find your way when you put your mind to it."
"This isn't going to kill me, is it?" Jon asked.
"Why do you always think I'm trying to kill you?"
"You put me on a horse. What more proof do I need?"
Vi laughed at the two of them. "You're a survivor, Jonny. You go up there with Jason and listen while you walk."
Jon and Jason talked about the amount of time the trip would take. Being out one day only would be too much of a push, so they decided to stay at High Camp one night and come back Sunday on the Killen Creek Trail.
Tom wanted to learn the area, so he agreed to drop them off and pick them up. Truth be told, he would have liked to go with them, but he knew this trip should be theirs alone. Before they confronted the world, they should solidify their relationship.
The hiking gear Jon and Jason had bought at Stone's was still at Jason's house and ready to go whenever they were ready on Saturday. They agreed with Tom on departing at nine. The drive to the trailhead would take them about ninety minutes and give Tom a look at the city of White Salmon and the town of Trout Lake. Tom planned to pick them up at one the next afternoon.
Jason's father was almost confined to Vi's and his bedroom. He still had fever and chills and an occasional bout of nausea and vomiting. He was too weak to work and too weak even to want to work. He kept Jim's words in mind. After twelve weeks he would be better if only for a short while. He was happy that Vi would go with him to the center tomorrow. He thought that Jason and Jon deserved a break, and even if he couldn't embrace his son's nature, he appreciated Jason's and, for that matter, Jon's dedication to helping him. Friday night, he spoke to the boys briefly to wish them a good trip.
Before sleeping, Jason showed Jon how to pack for the overnight trip. The H.A.W.G Camelbak pack Jon would carry was packed with food, mostly high carb and protein and low-fat food, as well as the first-aid kit and a change of clothes, including the new fleece jacket. Jason's pack was an Arc'Teryx 50 that held the titanium cooking gear, a light-weight, two-man tent, the cook stove, his change of clothes and jacket, and the water purification system. Each boy's Camelbak water bladder was placed in the packs, and sleeping bags and Thermarest pads were attached to the bottom of Jon's pack and to the sides of Jason's.
Jon lifted both packs. "No fair, Jase. Yours is way heavier."
"City boy, that's because I'm used to doing this. You need to go slow at first. Next time you can carry the heavy one."
Jon felt comforted by Jase's mention of a second trip. "Okay, but we can trade if you need a rest." Jason had come to expect Jon to pull his weight. He was happier each day that Jon wanted to be with him.
The sun was well down when they said good night to Vi and climbed into the beds that were still pushed together. They were entirely used to being naked with each other now and while in Jason's room didn't give clothing a thought.
In bed, Jason stroked Jon's belly. Jon almost growled his approval.
"Would you fuck me, Jase?"
"You heard me. I asked you to fuck me."
The whole concept of topping and bottoming was something they'd never discussed. In fact, although Jason knew guys did that to each other, he couldn't imagine Jon taking his dick that way.
"Jon, I'm not sure that's a good idea. Are you tired of just sucking each other?"
"No, of course not, but I want to feel you inside me."
"Have you done it before, Jon?"
"Yes, only a couple of times. But, I mostly did it to please the other guy. With you, I want it for me."
Jon moved his hand to feel between Jase's legs. "Feels like you're in favor."
"Everything I've read about this says it hurts, and I don't want to hurt you. I mean, I'm a little bigger than you. I can't see me fitting in that tight little ass of yours."
"You're more than a little bigger, and let me worry about my ass. If you don't want to try it, we won't."
"I'm in if you promise to tell me if I'm hurting you, Jon."
"We'll go slow, and North or maybe Annie has kindly provided lube and condoms."
Jon put a little lube on Jason's hard-on and then rolled a condom on and lubed it. The fit was tight, and this was the first time Jason had worn one. When Jon had Jason prepped, he lay back on the bed and put his pillow under his ass. He reached out and pulled Jason between his legs by his handle. Jon placed the tip of Jason's dick at his hole.
"Push slowly, Jase, and stop if I tell you."
"Easy for you to say, city boy."
Jase began to press slowly forward. The resistance was more than he expected. Jon was breathing slowly and deeply. Finally, Jason popped through, seating his head in Jon's ass.
"Fuck, that hurts," Jon moaned, and before Jon could stop him, Jason pulled out.
"Jon, I'm so sorry."
"Jason, if you pull out like that, this is going to take forever. Just stay in and let me get used to you. Now, one more time."
Jason repeated the process, and Jon reacted the same way. Jason was so worried about hurting Jon that he went soft.
"Jon, I can't do this now. I'm hurting you too much. This is a fucking disaster."
Jon gave a disappointed laugh. "Good description, cowboy. We'll try again another time, because I want you to fuck me even if it hurts a little at first."
"It sounded like it hurt more than a little."
"We'll work on it." Jon pulled the condom off Jason's rubbery dick, which he wiped clean of the lube.
They brought each other off with their mouths, but this time, Jon played with Jason's ass as he sucked, and Jason learned the utility of the prostate. Jason found Jon's prostate while sucking him and was amazed at Jon's orgasm.
"Sorry I couldn't fuck you, Jon."
"Jase, you have to stop treating every bump in the road like a full-scale calamity."
Jon slapped Jason lightly for that comment. They washed their hands and cleaned each other up a bit before dropping off to sleep.
* * * * *
Saturday morning found Tom and the two boys driving south on US 97. The morning was unusually clear because of a light east breeze through the gorge. When the Forester reached the place where they usually followed Highway 97 across the river to Oregon, Tom turned west on Washington 14 toward White Salmon.
Jon looked south across the Columbia and could see the cars speeding along I-84. Even though State Route 14 was two-lane, they made good time, passing through Wishram, Lyle, and Bingen before finally turning north at Underwood onto Washington 141. The highway rose steeply from the gorge at first, the city of White Salmon on their right, until it turned into a slow, steady climb for the remaining 20 miles to Trout Lake. The land was a little greener than the land around Goldendale, and farms dotted the land here as well. The car passed through the small town of Husum and pressed on to Trout Lake.
At Trout Lake, they stopped at the Grange to pick up some pastries at the Saturday Market. On the way out of the town, they went north on Forest Road 23 where 141 jogged west. The gravel forest road was well maintained, and they took it until FR 2329 veered off in a paved stretch around Takhlakh Lake before turning to gravel again. The little Subaru vibrated over some of the washboard road surfaces as Tom tried to pick out the smoothest path. Shortly after passing Takh Takh Meadow, they arrived at the Divide Camp Trailhead.
Tom helped the boys get their packs on and wished them a great hike. He and the boys double-checked the pickup time, but Jason reminded Tom that he and Jon might be thirty minutes on either side of that time. At ten-thirty, Tom watched as the boys started up the trail, which he could see rose gradually but steadily up the slope to Klickitat. Jason, his clothes slightly faded and worn, was in the lead, and Jon, looking like he just walked out of Stone's, fell in behind him. Only a few cars were parked at the trailhead. When the boys were out of sight, an envious Tom started his drive back to Goldendale.
The Divide Camp Trail paralleled the east fork of Adams Creek. Because of its steep passage from Adams Glacier, the creek and therefore the trail were fairly straight, and as Tom had observed, climbed steadily uphill. Within a quarter mile, Jon had passed Jason and was moving ahead rapidly.
Jason allowed himself to admire his boyfriend's ass in the new hiking shorts a few minutes before calling to Jon, "Somewhere you have to be, city boy? It's not just about getting there; it's also about enjoying the progress."
Jon slowed, allowing Jason to catch up. No one else was on this stretch of the trail, and the trail was wide enough that they could walk side by side. Jon let Jason set a steady but slower pace. As they climbed, the trail became harder packed and rockier. Jon could occasionally hear the creek to their left but couldn't see it. Jason saw Jon looking toward the sound of the water.
"We'll be right next to it in a mile or so."
Jon smiled, and Jason could tell he was really enjoying himself. For them, North's place in Goldendale was a magic bubble tied to place and containing only friends and support. On this trail they were in a moving bubble for just the two of them, safely away from problems of family or strangers.
The slower pace regulated their breathing and encouraged conversation. Jason's care about cancer and his father dropped away.
"Jon, what are we going to do when you go back to Portland?"
"I've already asked Jim and Tom if I can stay 'til the end of summer."
"But, eventually you'll go back."
"Jase, you'll know by the time I leave if you can put up with me permanently."
"City boy, I'll gladly put up with as long as you'll have me. You'll be back in the city. The club is there and a lot of cute guys."
"You have to know that I'll respect whatever limits are needed to keep us together. Don't worry, because I'm not lonely now."
The creek sound was louder now. Jason figured they'd stop creek-side for lunch and to let Jon rest. Otherwise, Jon would be an aching wreck for the trip down tomorrow. Jason had to remind Jon to take frequent sips of water from the tube connected to his water bladder.
After a few minutes of silent walking, Jon talked about his own insecurities. "Jase, I don't want to pressure you, but are you thinking of coming out to anyone else in Goldendale?"
"If I don't, it won't be fair to you. I don't want you to feel like you have to hide when you're with me. I'm just not sure what will happen. You went through it; tell me how it went for you."
"Jase, you're a jock. I'm pretty obviously not, so I took shit for a long time before I came out. Coming out for me was just confirmation of what most people thought. I got beat up a couple of times, but the worst was the constant harassment."
The emotion rose in Jon as he remembered those days. "I thought about killing myself."
"I'm so glad you didn't, Jon. I don't know where I'd be if I hadn't met you and the others."
"North saved my ass. Here was this straight, pretty, blond guy giving my tormenters a ration of shit whenever he could. He, and then he and Annie, wouldn't let me stay alone. They were friends to hang out with and do things with outside of school."
"North's special, isn't he? Annie, too."
"Oh yeah. Of course, I fell in love with him. He and Annie were so patient with me. I see now that I felt that way because he was the first guy who didn't care if I was gay. That, and he is spectacular to look at. Annie didn't get at all jealous. In fact, she commiserated with me because she and I felt the same way about North. I've known North almost since Jim and Tom adopted him. We were best friends, and we'd sleep over at each other's homes all the time. We were four or five, and neither of us loved wearing clothes. Jim called us his little nudists. Other than a little comparing, there was nothing sexual about it. When I fell for North, I worried that if he knew, he'd be freaked and cut me loose."
"No. He knew for a long time before I got up the courage to tell him. It didn't hurt that Tom and Jim were such good guys. North told me he had always known. Maybe he absorbed some gaydar from his dads. He became my defender, and when he and Annie got together, she came right along."
"Don't I know it. See, everyone pretty much knew I was queer. I was just a convenient punching bag. No one suspects about you; well, almost no one. If you come out, they'll see you as a traitor. You know that those two guys we met at the school suspect, right?"
"No way. We didn't give them anything to suspect."
"We didn't have to give them anything. We've become a couple, and I'm afraid that's obvious to anyone who looks carefully. They suspect, Jase. I'm worried about how you'll do if I'm in Portland most of the time."
"Jon, I'm going to tell people. We'll hope North steps up again."
The water sound had been getting steadily louder. Coming around a slight bend in the trail the rocky bed of the creek came into view. The creek water was tannish gray with ash picked up from the creek bed in its course from the glacier like glacialmilk, Jason said. The speed of the water surprised Jon at first. Then he thought of the gravity produced by the steep incline. He carefully threaded through the rocks and put his hand in the water—very, very cold.
Jason told Jon, "Let's stop here and eat something."
Jon looked around, smiling at the suggestion. "What's over there?" he asked, pointing away from the creek.
"Just trees and scrub. Why?"
"Jase, I'm thinking of giving a new meaning to trailhead. I do need a snack."
What Jon was suggesting dawned on Jason. "You're not serious?"
"Come on, cowboy."
Jon led Jason, who was looking around to make sure they didn't have an audience, off the trail away from the creek until they lost sight of the trail. He told Jason to take his pack off and then pushed him against a tree. He unbuttoned Jason's shorts, thanking him silently for wearing the shorts with the mesh lining. With the zipper down, Jason's very hard dick popped out over the mesh support. Jon gave Jason a slow and thorough blowjob. He looked up occasionally to see Jason looking furtively around, but the possibility of discovery also seemed to excite his boyfriend. Jon pushed Jason's shorts down his thighs and pulled the boy into his mouth with hands gripping Jason's ass. Jon heard Jason moaning out his orgasm while trying not to alert the hikers he was sure were only ten feet away and tasted him.
"Fuck, Jon. You and I are going hiking a lot! Now it's your turn."
After Jon came and they dressed, they carried the packs back to the trail. Sitting on a fallen trunk on the side of the trail, they ate peanut-butter sandwiches and trail mix. A few hikers walked by, greeting the boys in passing. Jon and Jason smiled broadly, returning each greeting and thinking: 'You have no idea what we just did.'
After half an hour, they donned the packs and started walking again. Now, they walked in silence, listening to the water sounds as the mountain appeared larger and larger. They were facing Adams Glacier, which rested in a depression caused by a huge, prehistoric landslide in the middle of this side of the mountain.
The peak spanned more and more of the horizon as they approached Divide Camp. When they came out of the tree line, Jon stopped, speechless. He had seen Mt. Hood from Portland for years and had gone to Timberline on the slopes of Mt. Hood with North's family frequently. This view of a mountain was entirely different. Jon saw no lodge, no ski lifts, and no parking lots. Where Hood seemed huge in his memory, this mountain was a hulk, not as sharply peaked, but nearly a thousand feet taller.
As they approached Divide Camp at the base of the glacier, the light reflecting off the bluish ice was almost blinding even through his sunglasses. The boys walked by a few campsites of climbers who had started for the summit before dawn and then came to a T-intersection in the trail.
Turning left, Jason told Jon, "Now you'll be able to say that you hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, even if only for a mile."
They were skirting the tree line as they pushed slightly uphill and northeast toward High Camp. In twenty minutes they were at another intersection, and they turned right toward High Camp, away from the Pacific Crest Trail, uphill, and well clear of the tree line. This camp was more crowded with the tents of mountain climbers, but most people were already on the mountain above them. Jason led Jon, scouting for a site for their tent. He found a good spot; the nearest neighbor was a single-person tent about 30 feet away.
By the time they had pitched their tent, the sun was lowering in the west, and the light was dimming. They set the rest of the site up and put the extra clothes they had packed in the tent along with their pads and sleeping bags. Jon thought the tent small for two people, but liked the enforced closeness it would require.
By the time they had set up their campsite, the occupant of the one-man tent had returned. The boys saw a man about Tom's and Jim's age, shirtless and in very good shape. He had a very open smile and looked completely at ease alone here at the base of the mountain. He waved as he walked over to their site.
"Hi. You guys just get here?"
Jon was reticent, so Jason answered, "Yeah. We got a late-morning start. We're not climbing, just hiking. I'm Jason, and this is Jon."
The man looked at them carefully. "I'm Justin. Where you guys from?"
"Jon lives in Portland, and I'm from Goldendale."
"This is a great place for friends to meet. I live in Vancouver."
"Jon's visiting a neighbor in Goldendale. It's his first time up here."
"Jon, you look like an old hand. When my … partner was alive, we camped here every year. I still love to come up here."
Jon saw Jason's reaction to the man's mention of his partner's death. Also, Jon's gaydar lit up. "I'm sorry your partner died."
"Thanks, but we had such a great life together that I never feel deprived. Well, I'll be leaving with the sunrise, so I'm turning in early. I'll try to be quiet. You two, take care of each other and have fun. You don't need to worry about being quiet."
Both the boys thanked the man, who walked back to his tent and climbed in.
As Jason helped Jon learn how to set up the small cookstove and get dinner ready, he whispered to Jon, "You think his partner was a guy?"
"I thought so."
"See, Jase, your gaydar is coming along nicely."
The two boys busied themselves around the campsite. "Um, what do I do if I need to take a dump?" Jon asked.
Jason started laughing, but not unkindly. He took a small plastic spade, a roll of toilet paper, and a section of PVC pipe with caps on each end out of his pack.
"Go down to the tree line, find some cover, and go to it. When you're through, unscrew the cap and get as much as you can in the pipe along with the TP. Screw the cap back on and turn anything left on the ground over with the spade. Please, keep the equipment clean. What we bring in, we take back out, even our crap."
Jon looked very uncertain about that arrangement. He thought that Jase might be kidding him but quickly saw that he was serious.
Jason cooked their dinner—a pasta dish with chicken and a fruit crumble for dessert. The boys ate like boys will eat, finishing everything. Jon volunteered to clean up using water heated on the stove and biodegradable soap.
As the sun was setting, the boys placed their packs at the tent entrance, removed their boots, climbed into the small tent, and zipped the closure. Jon was happy that the top of the tent was mesh and allowed them to see the sky. Jason set up a small, battery-powered lantern and hung it from a tie on the tent ceiling.
Jon asked, "What's the dress code?"
"You and nothing but you."
"It's already getting cool. We'll freeze to death, Jase."
"I'm going to give you a lesson in wilderness survival. The best way for two people to remain warm is for both of them to sleep naked in the same bag."
"I see a future for me as a survivalist, cowboy."
They unzipped their bags, deciding to use one to cover the Thermarest pads on the tent floor and the other to cover them—creating a camping double bed. Jason knew it would get cold at this altitude. The boys lay naked on top of both bags, looking through the mesh in the tent top as the air cooled and the stars splashed out against the blackness. Jason pointed out Polaris to Jon, who was on his back at Jason's side.
How long they had looked at other stars circling the lodestar, neither of them knew. When Jon shivered slightly, Jase moved to cover them. Jason and Jon, warming in their little cocoon, listened to the breeze caused by the rapidly cooling air against the mountain's lingering heat. Klickitat was whispering to them. The boys each heard the whisper—their problems weren't so great. The mountain, having watched men's lives for eons, told them that they could stand together for one lifetime.