Jon awoke when the sun was still below the horizon but softly lighting the eastern sky behind the mountain. He saw Jase sleeping still and knew that the mountain in a kind of ceremony had joined them. Knowing how he wanted to celebrate the union, he reached over to the clothing he had stored in the tent and pulled out a condom and a small tube of lube. Nudging Jase and kissing him awake, Jon didn't have to explain his desire.
Jason looked at him, silently agreeing. Worried after the last attempt, he said, "I'm not going to hurt you, Jon."
"No, you're not. You are going to lie there, and let me do the work, cowboy."
When they finished, Jason wasn't worried any longer. The boys would have to pack out a used condom along with the other waste. Hands on each other's thighs, both of them savored Jason's first time. Jason could still taste the remnants of Jon's spend, and he was deeply satisfied at the ride Jon had taken on him.
Jason thought that he would gladly bury himself in Jon as often as possible or at least as often as Jon wanted. Sucking each other was wonderful enough, but damn, Jason thought, fucking was incredibly more intimate. He remained only mildly irritated that Jon hadn't fucked him. Still, Jon seemed to be fine with a tender and prolonged blowjob. Jason felt that something had changed, and he remembered his mother's tales of bonding rituals on the mountain's shoulders among her people—not sex, but just as intimate.
Jon was pleasantly sore, a waning warm reminder of Jason's big prod. Controlling the penetration, as he had from atop Jase, made the pain manageable. Jase had remained so still, not wanting Jon to cede any control, and looked so concerned every time discomfort registered on Jon's face. When the initial pain had passed, Jon felt more loving and more loved than ever before. Rising and falling while looking into Jase's eyes, he had finally encouraged Jase to move, which he did with unrestrained enthusiasm.
For both of them, in silence but connected, the pleasure continued in their hearts.
"Jase," Jon whispered, "I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did."
"Enjoy? Holy shit, Jon. I never had a clue how much a part of another person I could feel."
"Just confirms what we're learning about each other."
"Fucking was wonderful act, Jon, but fucking you was the most special thing I've ever done."
"Not to argue, cowboy, but I think I fucked you, even if you were inside me."
"Maybe at the beginning, but at the end, we were fucking each other. All I know is that I don't want to do that with anyone but you, and I want to do it a lot. But, the next time we do, city boy, you're getting inside me."
Jase rolled onto Jon and pulled the top sleeping bag close around them as the morning chill reached into the tent. He would keep Jon warm and safe. He was near tears with love for this boy. He also knew that enough tears of sorrow lay ahead, and the ache in his throat told him that he could get through the sorrow with Jon's help.
* * * * *
North always missed Jon, but was surprised at how much he missed Jason as well. In fact, as he considered his feeling, he missed them as a couple. Annie was busy with Tom, reading aloud a scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream, a favorite of Annie's that she usually read with North. North hoped that Jason and Jon would have time to read a play before Annie had to get back to Portland. He would have to be careful not to let jealousy that Jon was staying longer than Annie become apparent to the Js, as Annie and he had begun to refer to Jason and Jon.
North was proud that the scenario that he had scripted for Jon and Jason had turned out so well. Initially, he hadn't been sure of Jason, but Annie and Jim had reassured him. Matchmaking, always a hazardous undertaking, was fun when it worked. He'd been through Jonathan's coming out with him and figured he'd be able to act as a midwife for Jason's coming out. Portland had been different, though; there, he was a known quantity with established allies. Here, he and Jason would have to manage the feat alone.
Tom's invitation to come read with Annie and him interrupted North's speculation.
* * * * *
When Jon finally climbed out of the tent into the cool day, Jason was already cooking breakfast—oatmeal with brown sugar mixed with raisins and hot chocolate to wash it down. Jon walked over and stood by Jason at the cookstove, which provided a little warmth. He looked over to the site where Justin had camped to see an empty space.
"He left before dawn."
"How come you didn't drag me out earlier? I could have helped with breakfast."
"Well, city boy, I thought you'd need nourishment after the way the morning started."
"I am feeling peckish, and a little dehydrated. I seem to have lost fluid earlier."
Neither of them wanted to leave, but each had decided to do what needed doing back in Goldendale. Jason remained worried about his father, but being on the mountain with Jon had removed any doubt about how to stand proudly before Fred. His father would have to deal with his own issues.
Before breaking camp, Jason took Jon up to the tongue of the glacier, which formed a continuous path to the summit. They could see climbers heading up the icefall half way to their goal. The boys slipped and slid about on the ice. Jason was as carefree as he had been since meeting Jon, and Jon couldn't believe they stood on the beginning of the path to the summit. They stood on the beginning of many paths. After an hour of play, they walked back to their campsite.
Breaking camp seemed easier than setting it up. The packs were less carefully packed, and with one last survey of the site, Jon shouldered the larger pack, leaving Jason with the Camelbak. They stood close to one another for a last unimpeded view of the mountain, then turned their backs and headed toward the tree line from High Camp. The path led directly onto Killen Creek Trail. They would never get close enough to this creek to see it, but once they plunged through the tree line, the scenery was an extraordinary mixture of evergreens.
Jon became aware of the steepness of the grade as they headed down. In some ways, walking downhill was harder on his knees than walking uphill. They talked about nothing in particular, joking and stopping occasionally to look closely at the plant life. Ninety minutes later, they walked out into the trailhead parking area. Tom smiled, taking pictures of the two whose clothes now both had a dusty patina of wear.
"Look at the conquering heroes," Tom cried. "You guys look great. Good time? No problems?"
Jon laughed, "Well, he didn't kill me."
"I can see that. In fact you look pretty happy."
Jason said, "Oh, he is, and so am I. That old mountain whispered to us last night."
What?" Tom asked.
Jon chimed in, "He's right, but it whispered secrets."
Tom helped the boys get their packs off and stowed in the Forester. They took their hiking boots and socks off for the trip home. Jon talked almost all the way home about how much more awesome Mt. Adams was than Mt. Hood. Jason and Tom exchanged glances of approval at Jon's exuberance. Journeys away from great adventures always seem shorter than journeys to them, and this drive was no exception.
Tom stopped by Jason's home to drop him off and to allow Jon to collect a few things. Jon would stay at North's place tonight and join Jason for the trip to the cancer center tomorrow. Neither of the boys was thrilled with the arrangement, but could see its practicality. Jon needed to do laundry and see North and Annie; Jason needed to spend time alone with Vi and his father.
The next week was marked by Fred's treatment needs. During the week, Vi stayed at the farm and the boys accompanied Fred. With each increased dose, Fred went through the mill of by now familiar side effects. The good news was that his liver and spleen were shrinking, bringing relief from the belly pain. Fred was very weak and not at all happy with his dependency. He had never before been in a situation where he couldn't care for himself or those for whom he was responsible and he detested the circumstance. His disposition was growing more testy each day, and Vi, very patient with him, gently reminded him of how hard people were working to get him through the ordeal.
On the trips to the cancer center, Jon became more familiar with the geography of The Dalles, as he and Jason walked the streets at lunch time or took a brief break from sitting at Fred's bedside. The following week would bring a reduced three day a week schedule for Fred's treatments, a happy improvement in the situation. Jim told Fred, Vi, and the boys that he was pleased at Fred's progress but warned them that his situation was still perilous. Jim treated Jon as if he were part of Jason's family even if Fred couldn't manage to do that. Jon frequently stayed overnight with Jason, and they became surer that their relationship wasn't a passing fancy. The night on the mountain and the following morning had changed their outlook on the difficulties that maintaining their relationship would bring.
When the week of the reduced treatment schedule arrived, Fred's attitude lightened, and everyone found him easier to live with. On Tuesday and Thursday and the weekend days, Jon allowed himself to be pulled from the bed he shared with Jase at an entirely unreasonable hour to help his boyfriend with the farm work. The boys found themselves as happy working with each other as they were playing together. Fortunately, Fred was still too weak and self-involved to think about his son's sleeping arrangements. Vi insisted that Jason and Jon have some weekend fun. She suggested that Jon take his extended family rafting on the White Salmon River.
* * * * *
Sunday afternoon at one, the whole clan, including Jim who had made his rounds earlier than usual, was at the outfitters, All Adventures Rafting. Jason knew the owners who had lived in the area for years and had pioneered rafting through the only Class 5 rapid on the river. Most of what the clan would do today would be Class 3. Vi had talked with the owner, and, because they were a party of six in-shape people, he agreed to let the group take a raft with no other clients. The river guide was a kid not much older than Jason, who had grown up rafting the river.
Jason had told them to wear quick-drying underwear and T-shirts under their clothes. They changed into wetsuits out in the open at roadside by the outfitter's shack. Annie was as fearless and unconcerned about stripping down to underwear as the boys. In wetsuits, helmets, booties, and special PFDs, they boarded a van to go up river to meet the guide. Arriving at the spot they would put in on the river, they gathered with the guide who gave instructions what to do if they were dumped from the raft. Jon didn't look too sure about his chances if that happened. The raft wasn't what Jon had imagined. It was rubber with sides that made a well in which the riders could sit. The guide reviewed the verbal commands he would use to guide the party in using the oars, finally telling them to just have some fun.
The White Salmon, fed from White Salmon Glacier on Mt. Adams, was like most Northwest rivers before men dammed them, churning and fast. Before they put in, the guide gave them positions in the raft—Jim and Tom in the rear, North and Jason in the front, and Jon and Annie in the middle. Jason and North would have to do the most work. They smiled at each other, and Jason knew that North couldn't wait. When they were at mid-trip, they would pull over to a bank and discuss whether they wanted to try Husum Falls and its class 5 rapids. North knew what his vote would be.
As they made their way downriver, Jon thought that this was the best roller coaster ride he'd ever taken. Annie was a constant smile, amid her screaming at Jason and North when the guide told them to dig hard. Once, the boys in the bow almost let the nose go under, but increased the rate and depth of their paddling to bring the bow up. The half-way conference led to a unanimous decision to raft over Husum Falls. The trip over the edge of the falls was the only moment of terror for the four in the rear of the raft. For the two in the front the whole ride over the falls and into the swirl below was only exhilarating. They were, however, thoroughly soaked, and the glacial water was cold.
By the time they arrived at the pullout site, the little Class 3 rapids seemed puny. Collecting clients from other rafts, the outfitter drove them all back to the shack where they bought and ate a great lunch after stripping out of the wetsuits and gear and getting their clothes back on with the assistance of strategically place towels. As they ate, they laughed about various points on the trip. Jim gave the guide a generous tip. The outfitter had a cameraman stationed above Husum Falls, and Jim bought some stills and the video of their wild ride over the falls. He and Tom sat together, shoulders touching, looking at the family they had made as a result of adopting one special boy. Anyone looking on would have seen a family obviously composed of three loving couples.
* * * * *
The warm east breeze blew through downtown Goldendale, where Jeremy was gathered with three friends for two on two basketball games. Not much happened in Goldendale on Sundays, except church and hanging out. Basketball was only one activity that Jeremy intended to undertake today. The other was sharing his insight into Jason's character.
When he finished his story about seeing Jason and Jon together and shared his interpretation of the facts, the others stood or sat in stunned silence. Finally the other boy who had met the clan, Steve, spoke.
"That's bullshit, Jer. I've known Jason my whole life. He's a good guy. In fact, he's the only reason I haven't flunked out of school. He's never refused me help. My dad says his father's real sick. Cut him some slack."
"Fine. If you want a fag helping you with your homework, go for it. I don't care how much he's helped you, that doesn't have anything to do with whether he's queer."
Steve replied, "Well, I'm sure as shit not taking your word for it without talking to Jason and giving him a chance to explain."
The others nodded before Jeremy concluded, "You know little Blondie we met the other day has two fag fathers, and the other one is pretty girly. I'm telling you, Jason and that kid were practically all over each other."
Steve had the last word, "What about the girl? She was obviously into the blond guy. If having gay fathers lets you get something like that, I might sign up."
* * * * *
Monday, Fred was a little more energetic after a weekend of rest. The trip to therapy wasn't unusual, and an increase in the Campath dose produced another round of nausea, vomiting, fever, and chills. Jason admired how uncomplaining his father was in these circumstances. Another day passed for all of them.
Annie was preparing to return to Portland and was clinging to North more than usual. North and she were obviously unhappy, although they had been apart when North's family made the move to Goldendale. She was a little snippy with Jonathan, who was staying. She and North spent a lot of time in their room, and the others gave them their space.
* * * * *
Tuesday, death began for Fred as it did for many, with a single cough. Over the day, the coughing became steadily worse and he began to have pain when he breathed. With no immune system, the pneumonia was a wildfire in his lungs. Vi thought that he just didn't have enough energy to do the work of all that coughing. In the evening, his fever spiked, and she couldn't get it down. His conversation meandered and made no sense much of the time. Finally, she called Jim who was already on his way home. He stopped by and examined Fred. When he looked at Vi, she knew Fred's trial was ending.
"Vi, if you want to get him to a hospital, I'd recommend taking him to Klickitat Valley. If we're going to try to do something, we'll have to be quick."
"Will the hospital make any difference?"
"Then he stays here. That's what he wanted. How much time?"
"Not much. Maybe an hour or two. Are there other relatives I can call for you?"
"We're all the family either of us have, except for Jasey … and Jon. Will you stay with him while I talk to Jasey?"
After Vi left to go downstairs, Jim went to the bedside. Fred was laboring to breath and his brain was already starving for oxygen. Jim reached down to take his patient's hand; there was no sign of reaction.
"Fred, I'll be right here. You've done as well as anyone could."
Jason ran up the stairs, followed by Vi. The boy was shaking. Jim pulled him over to the bed with the hand not clasping Fred's and gave him Fred's hand as tears began to run down the boy's cheeks. Vi stood behind Jason, almost to be sure he didn't collapse.
"Vi, I have to make a short call. Scream if you need me."
Jim ran downstairs and pushed the speed dial button on his cell. Tom answered, and Jim explained what was happening. "Jon needs to get here quickly. Ask the others if they want to come, and bring the box of chucks from the closet by the office. Hurry."
Back upstairs, Jim found Jason and Vi as he had left them. He did another quick assessment. As far as he could tell, Fred was unaware of his surroundings. His breathing was shallower and had begun to take on the irregularity of an agonal rhythm. Vi held Jason from behind, propping him, although he was a little steadier now. Jim thought that he must at least feel a measure of satisfaction that Fred was going to die knowing who his son was. He noticed that Vi did not call anyone from Fred's church; maybe she and Fred had talked about that issue.
A few minutes later, Jim heard Tom calling up from the living room. He hurried down and took the box of chucks from Tom. "You all wait here. I'm going to send Jason and Vi down for a couple of minutes. Annie, you and North need to decide whether you want to come up or not, presuming it would be okay with Vi and Jason. Jon, I know your decision already."
Jim ran back upstairs. "Vi, you and Jason go down for a couple of minutes. I need to help Fred get ready."
"Mama, go on down. I'll stay and help Papa."
Vi left, and Jim told Jason what they were going to do. Without going into any detail about what would happen when Fred died, Jim let the boy know that death could be messy. He told Jason to spread four of the chucks under his father when Jim rolled him onto his side. His biggest fear was that just moving Fred would cause his death. Jim pulled the covers down; Fred was in a pair of boxer shorts. When Jim rolled Fred towards him, Jason spread the absorbent pads under his father from the other side. When Jim was satisfied, he rolled Fred back and covered him.
"Jason, you're really helping here. Not many young men get to help their fathers with this part of life. Go bring your mother back up."
Jason did as Jim told him, and when he returned, the whole group was with him. Jason, Vi, and Jon stayed close to the bedside, while the others, including Jim, stood back at the foot of the bed. Over the next half-hour, Fred's breathing became shallower and more erratic, finally stopping. Vi looked over to Jim who felt for a carotid pulse, and finding none, looked at Fred's fixed and dilated pupils. He looked at Vi, Jason, and Jon and nodded.
Jason began to sob, and Jon held him tightly, crying a bit himself for the man who had tolerated his presence in his son's life. But, Jon would never forgive the man for letting a stupid thing like who Jason loved cause so much trouble. North was stoic, but Annie was holding back tears. Fred's was the first death she had seen, and she could barely look at Fred's lifeless body. But, she was glad she was there for the Js.
Vi was calm, and told them all, "You go down now. I want to sit with him alone for a while."
They filed down the stairs, leaving Vi behind a closed door with the body of the simple stubborn man with whom she had shared a life.
* * * * *
After twenty minutes, Jim, walked back up the now familiar staircase and knocked lightly on the door. Vi said to come in. He found her sitting on the bedside with one of Fred's hands in hers. Jim felt awkward intruding on this communion, but he needed to let Vi know something.
"I apologize for interrupting, Vi. Our whole family wants you to know how sorry we are, and I want you to know that I had hoped Fred would take an entirely different path."
"Jim, he tried his best, as he always did. I wasn't prepared for how fast it took him when his time came."
"For what it's worth, I think you made the right decision. Once the pneumonia took hold, with his immune system depressed as it was, he wasn't going to get better."
"I know, Jim." She placed the hand she had been holding on Fred's chest and turned to hug Jim. "Thank you for trying so hard to help him. If you couldn't tell, he admired and trusted you, and as much as he could, thought of you as a friend. But, the most important thing your example did for him was to give him hope that Jason could be a good person."
"Your son is special, Vi. He's a good person, right now."
"I know, but Fred was caught between a father's heart and God."
A few minutes later, Vi told Jim that she didn't know what to do now, not about life, but about how to deal with the practical problems of Fred dying suddenly at home.
"Do you have funeral arrangements?"
"Yes, we made them just after the diagnosis."
"Good. I'll sign the death certificate. I suggest that when you're ready, you call the funeral director. I'll talk with them when they come for Fred."
"Would you send Jason up and have Jon come up with him?"
As she waited for the boys, Vi worried about Jason because any father's death leaves a hole in a son's heart, and the younger the boy, sometimes the bigger the hole. When the boys entered the darkened bedroom, Vi saw something new in Jason. His grief had no panic. Somehow, he had made a kind of peace with Fred, loving the decent man, but at least for now no longer hurt by the gulf between them that Fred couldn't or wouldn't cross. In Jason's face as he stared at the body, Vi saw that her son was no lost boy. Standing at his left, Jon put a hand on Jase's shoulder.
* * * * *
The funeral was on Thursday. Fred's body was not embalmed, and Vi had it placed in a simple wooden coffin. The family drove out the Bickleton Highway and took Old Mountain Road to Ekone. There on the White Eagle Memorial Preserve they would bury Fred. The hearse followed the tan truck and the Forester. Vi carried sprigs of a wild rose bush and three woven tule mats.
At the grave, Vi knelt and brushed the sides of the hole with the rose sprigs and then dropped the tule mats to the bottom. Jim, Tom, North, Jason, Annie, Martin, and some other farmhands carried the coffin. Female pallbearers were unusual. They placed Fred on the straps laid across the grave, and the Preserve staff lowered the casket. Vi sang a brief mourning song, recounting important milestones of her life with Fred. She would not speak his name again for a year.
Then, each mourner tossed a handful of earth onto the coffin. At the end of the brief private service, Jason was crying in Jon's arms while Annie held Vi. As they drove back toward Goldendale, traveling to their new life, Vi and Jason left Fred in peace.
* * * * *
Thursday night after burying Fred, both families had returned to Vi's and Jason's home for dinner and conversation, much of it happy. Vi had taken Annie aside for a private talk, and to thank her for helping Jason so much. Annie, for her part, was coming to love the Indian woman. She told Vi that she'd be back before the summer ended.
North's family was up early on Friday. Jim was already at MCMC, and Tom was going to drive Annie back to Portland. At their farm, Vi and Jason had been working for hours. After finishing up the morning work, Jason went to North's to say goodbye to Annie. He was welcomed as if he were another son. He and Jon kidded Annie and North about making up last night for all the time they would be apart. When Annie told Jon that he was just jealous, Jon had to agree. He didn't remind Annie that he and Jon would be making up for a sad two days when she had gone.
Tom, North, and Annie took off for Portland about eleven, leaving Jason and Jon on their own. The boys had just started to take advantage of the privacy when the doorbell rang. Jon put his clothing straight and answered the door to see one of the football players the clan had met at the high school in Goldendale the other day. His happy feeling chilled.
"Can I help you?"
"Um, I'm Steve. We met the other day. I went over to Jason's and Vi told me he was over here. I just wanted to tell him how sorry I am about his father."
'Sure you do,' Jon thought.
"Just a second. I'll tell him you're here."
Returning to the living room, Jon told Jason, "Steve is here. If you don't want to talk to him, I'll send him packing."
Jason sighed. If Jon was right, Steve suspected they were gay and a couple. One good lesson he had learned from Fred was that strategy consisted of doing now what would be necessary eventually.
"No, bring him in, but you stick around."
Jon retrieved Steve and ushered him into the living room, where Jason said hello and shook Steve's hand. Then Jason and Jon sat side by side on the sofa, leaving Steve to sit in a chair facing them.
"Jason, Dad, Mom, and I are so very sorry about your father. My parents admired him, and he helped them out a lot when they first moved here."
"Thanks, Steve. He was very sick for a while at the end; it wasn't easy, but he never complained."
"Jason, if there's anything we can do, please let us know."
"I will, Steve, but we're doing fine. North's family and Jon have been the best."
Steve sat in silence. Here was the opening, but he wasn't sure he had the guts to take it. Jason solved that problem.
"So, Steve, something else on your mind?"
Jon put his hand over Jase's to answer the unasked question. Steve's eyes widened.
"You know, Jason, Jeremy is telling everyone that you're qu … gay and that you guys are a couple. I told him that kind of talk wasn't fair until someone talked to you."
Jon spoke for the first time since sitting with Jason, "So talk to us."
Steve looked nervously from Jason to Jon. "Well, I guess it's true."
Jason replied, "Yep, gay and with Jon. You going to make a fuss about it, Steve?"
"Damn, Jason. You've always treated me good. I mean you're my friend, but this is just so … I didn't have a clue."
Jon spoke again, "He's still your friend. He's the same guy who helped you."
"Not quite. I didn't know that guy was into other guys."
Jason could see Jonathan getting more and more pissed at Steve. "Look, Steve. I'm with Jon, and pardon me for saying so, but if you're worried that I'll come on to you, you're not my type. I want to be your friend, but if it's going to get all weird, you need to take a hike."
Steve was stunned into silence. This was more like talking to Fred than to the Jason he had known. "I have to think about this, Jason. But even if I never understand, I'm not going to pile on like Jeremy probably will."
Jon thought, 'Well, that's something.'
Steve stood and made his way to the door. As he was leaving, he looked back at the couple. "You're going to have rough time when school starts."
With Steve out the door, Jon looked to Jase and said, "I think the shit's rolling downhill."
As he took Jon's hand and led him upstairs to their bedroom, Jason said, "Oh yeah. No way to stop it now."
The cover was off the book, and the book was open.