Eli yinishyé

(My Name is Eli)


In the beginning there was darkness, a world devoid of light, the Nihodilhil. This First World existed on an island floating in dark seas surrounded with mist. Shadowy creatures lived in the mist and on the island there was one lone pine tree…

This is where the Navajo Creation Myth begins, the Diné Bahane’. A tale so complicated I could not begin to tell it to you here, but I will give you a glimpse of what it contains. It’s important to understand a culture when you are going to write about it. The old ways of the Diné (Navajo people) are still relevant to many in the Navajo Nation, although the modern world has overrun a lot of those beliefs. But it would be good to remember: no culture is complete without a past.

That dark world is where First Man and First Woman came into being. These were not ordinary human beings but supernatural creatures, and they were not alone. Other beings like the Great Coyote and the Air People lived in this world.

The four points of the compass existed in this First World as shadowy manifestations like clouds. The myth assigns them colors: Black and White, Blue and Yellow. They had a very important role to play.

Black and White Clouds came together in the east and their first puff of wind gave birth to First Man, and with him came white corn. Then Blue and Yellow came together and their wind blew west to give birth to First Woman, and with her came yellow corn.

But this was an inhospitable place and these beings escaped through a hole in the sky to the Second World. Here they encountered furry animals, birds and insects which they took with them on their journey to the south and the next level, the Third World.

This is the place where everything finally came together. This world contained rivers and mountains in which lived the spirit gods known to the Diné as the immortal Holy People, and they were also represented by the four mystical colors.

Are you with me so far? This world is important because far to the east lived Turquoise Boy and to the west White Shell Girl. These creatures were neither male nor female but both sexes combined and the myth introduces us to these gods as the first nadleehi or two-spirited beings.

The myth at this point gives the Diné their first ritual developed by the Holy People. In it the creatures of First Man and First Woman become human. In a matter of four days she gives birth to twins, one male and one female, and they are nadleehi…as are the following sets of twins she births over and over again.

A quick way to populate the world I imagine since the twins all grow up to adulthood in a matter of days and find mates among other humans who suddenly appear in the story without explanation. Very Biblical stuff…and this is only the beginning.

The Third World finally turns out to be another inhospitable place where men and women become divided and jealous, upsetting the balance of nature. In the midst of all this turmoil the humans are warned of a great flood that will drown their world and they escape to the mountains and plead with the Holy People for their lives.

(Sound familiar? This myth developed a few thousand years before the Old Testament stories)

There in the mountains appears Turquoise Boy, the first nadleehi among the gods. He hears their plea and raises up a giant reed through which everyone escapes into the Fourth World. This is where the Diné believe they exist today.

The Fourth World is where the Sun and Moon come into existence and the first humans settle into life with the gods…and so on and so forth. The myth really does get very complicated after this, filled with imagery and symbols of birth, life, and death.

The whole tale of creation is open to interpretation by the spiritual advisors, the Hatalii, the Diné medicine men. But it seems the most important facet of the Creation Story is the way it includes rituals that allow The People to speak to the Holy Ones.

To outsiders these manifestations of spiritual practice among the Diné are seen in ritual dancing, songs and chants, and the most incredible works of art made by sand painting. These are things a tourist might see and are welcome to observe in public showings. But there are private rituals as well…ones we shall never see.

The Navajo, Diné, The Earth People…whatever name you may choose, are a tenacious people. They dwell in a land of great beauty with towering hills of sedimentary rock and parched earth where water is more precious than gold. They “live in beauty” the myths say, where sudden thunderstorms give them magical rainbows.

Their ancient ways have stubbornly resisted the intrusion of the government and forged their own national image. Like many of the nearly five million Native Americans in existence today they face social and economic problems. The struggle to maintain their native heritage after centuries of oppression is still a very real issue.

The old ways fade as the younger generation of Diné leave their ancestral homeland and are absorbed into the general population, but even that is difficult for those without an education. A complex patchwork of government regulations has done little to protect the great wealth of natural resources that lies beneath the feet of the Diné:

So before I embark upon a rant about historical injustice to Native Americans I will move on to my story about that younger generation. This is a story of fiction which contains many truths and some outright fabrication. Sometimes our modern world seems in great contrast to the ancient ways of a culture, but when a young native boy has questions about life…in which direction should he seek answers?

Chapter One

U.S. Route 89 is a two lane blacktop heading north out of Flagstaff, Arizona, and for a distance of twelve hundred miles it runs all the way to the Canadian border. As a major road it had long been displaced by the Interstate highway system which now carried the majority of long distance traffic.

But Route 89 was still the lifeblood of many towns and communities from New Mexico to Montana. It was the lure of new and different places that attracted Eli and made him conceive plans for a road trip. It wouldn’t be the first time he had taken off when his parent’s backs were turned, but it had been a while.

As he remembered it was at age four when he rode his little tricycle all the way down the long driveway at the family ranch in Yuma. It took him a while since the loose gravel didn’t give him much traction, but he was determined to do it the minute his mother took her eyes off of him. And when he reached the highway that led into the city he stopped because the cars went by real fast.

That little adventure ended rather abruptly when the mail carrier happened by and saw him sitting there. It was almost a half mile back up to the house but the carrier loaded Eli and his tricycle in the little mail van and drove the boy home. Maybe it was the spanking he remembered most, but even that faded over time.

At age ten Eli got on one of the dirt bikes used by the ranch hands and took off for the Colorado River. This time he was gone all morning exploring the border between Arizona and Mexico. He wasn’t lost or alone since there were vast crops of lettuce and plenty of laborers out in the fields. But the border patrol spotted the cloud of dust Eli left behind as he flew down one of the canal roads and they stopped him until his father arrived.

There was no spanking this time, but he was grounded for weeks. His father seemed to understand his son’s wanderlust and put the boy to work with the ranch hands. But that was all six years ago and the urge to go on a journey had returned…only now the need was different.

Eli’s mother had been a Porter and the daughter of an important man from Texas when she met Pete Begay. Working on her graduate program in archaeology, Ruth had come to Arizona on a summer grant program to study the native dwellings on the Navajo Reservation.

Nothing in her white upper class family had prepared her for the simplicity of life or the complexity of spiritual beliefs she encountered among the Navajo, or as they liked to be called, The Diné. A world of difference existed between those who lived in the Navajo Nation and outsiders…she had many lessons to learn.

Pete was a complicated individual whose presence in the study was dictated by his father’s demand to the university that a representative of the local Nation chapter be present at all times. Walter Begay was a strong clan leader with several sons of which Pete was the youngest, and so he was spared from the family ranch that summer to work with the university students.

It was never meant to happen…they were from such different backgrounds. But by the end of summer Pete and Ruth were in love and ready to get married. It was one of those stories Eli loved to hear, and his mother was quite the story teller.

Her mother had fainted at the news and her father flew into a rage when she announced her last name was going to be Begay. But hardly anyone in her family refused a wedding invitation to see Ruth Porter become the bride of a Native American. The wedding was hastily arranged because Eli’s oldest sister Betsy was already on the way.

Eli’s mother loved to show off the wedding photos when family came to call. The ceremony was held in Flagstaff at the family’s summer grazing ranch so Pete’s brothers and cousins could all attend. Ruth’s parents flew in from Houston, along with her brother, sisters and a few curious cousins to boot.

The image they all had of Pete’s family ranch was of some tumble down shack in the hills. So imagine their surprise when they drove through the gates and up to a ranch house that looked more like a resort hotel. The house was built from local materials since all the stone and wood they could possibly use was right there on the ranch.

The mountains rising in the background, vast acres of grazing sheep, and a home any millionaire would envy…the Porters were certainly humbled that day. Ruth would always laugh about the prejudice in her family, and then swore if any of her children acted that way they would be grounded for life.

So Eli was of mixed blood, and although his sisters were more like his mother, he mirrored his father’s proud native heritage. His friends in Yuma knew of his mixed parentage and many of them were much the same. Being a Begay made it easier to get along with the local natives, many of whom were Apache, with a few Navajo like himself thrown into the mix.

Ever since school had let out for the summer, Eli had been dreading their annual trip to Flagstaff. Of course leaving Yuma behind for a few months wasn’t a bad idea. Hell, it would be a hundred degrees or more in the desert down there for most of the summer. Flagstaff was in the mountains, a whole lot cooler, and besides, the sheep would grow fatter in the hilly grasslands.

Sheep…Eli’s whole life revolved around the small wooly creature. But there was nothing glamorous about being a sheep rancher. They weren’t at all like the more famous cowboys of the Old West. But cows were big dumb creatures and hard to handle, whereas sheep were smart. At least that was all Eli ever heard from his father.

The Begay family had been sheep herders for several generations, although Eli was sure he wasn’t going to make a career in sheep. He might be just sixteen but when he turned eighteen…POW, he was out the door and gone. If he had his way he would never touch another sheep in his life. Let his sisters have that pleasure once they graduated college.

Betsy was the oldest, and probably doomed to get married and stay in the sheep business. Nan wanted to study veterinary medicine, a perfect match for a career in sheep. But not just any sheep, these were Begay sheep, and Eli’s father ran one of the largest private herds in the state.

Thousands of sheep, fourteen employees, twelve trucks and twenty thousand acres would be Eli’s legacy to share…if he stayed. The family had a nice home in Yuma for the winter while the sheep grazed on the Colorado River delta not too far away. And then there was the huge ranch in Flagstaff for the summer months. He had to admit that the view of the San Francisco Mountains was one of his favorite sights, but most of that was seen over a river of white wooly backsides.

The work was tedious and Eli was expected to do his share of the chores. He gravitated towards taking care of the dogs that worked the herds and provided their first line of defense against predators. But Old Miguel their foreman had taught him a lot over the years, and it was enough for Eli to realize he wasn’t cut out to raise sheep.

Being forced to spend his summers in Flagstaff was terminally boring. All his friends from school were three hundred and twenty-five miles away in Yuma, and from Eli’s point of view that sucked. To make it worse, they all sent him text messages describing the fun things they were doing, although he was sure some of those were lies.

Yuma was the county seat, had a population of around one hundred thousand and covered a hundred some square miles of territory. California was a few miles to the west and Mexico was just down the road to the south. Every school kid in town learned the facts about their southern neighbors, along with a good dose of Arizona state history.

But Yuma was in the desert, a hot and very dry climate where nobody would survive without the Colorado River, and neither could the sheep. The Navajo-Churro breed had been around since before the West was settled. A hardy creature entirely suited to the climate, even though the white man had tried to eradicate them for decades to punish the natives. But like the people, the sheep had survived.

If you lived in Arizona the Native American and Mexican influence was everywhere. People and architecture, food and customs…every segment of life held something unusual and special. But Eli didn’t feel special, even if he did come from a wealthy family. The money did nothing to ease his boredom. He felt like he didn’t know anything about life.

Eli’s grandfather had retired from the family ranching business some years before and moved back into the Navajo Nation just outside of Tuba City. The grandparents lived in a small community of elders who had chosen to live this close to the desert because of the regional health care facility in town.

At the start of each summer Pete took his family up to Tuba City to visit and pay their respects to the elders. Walter and several of the older men used these family visits to educate the children about their heritage and this is where Eli had developed his interest in the native side of his family. His father was no help in this quest for knowledge because Pete saw himself as a modern American businessman. He didn’t exactly reject his native heritage but he had little use for it.

Eli had decided he would have to borrow his mother’s car to make his journey. She wouldn’t really mind…well, perhaps she would, if she found out. But his parents had gone back down to Yuma for ten days and the minute they pulled out of the driveway his mind had screamed: ‘Road Trip.’

He’d had a license for over six months and his parents said he was a good driver. The auto insurance for a boy his age was outrageously expensive so he would have to be very, very careful. But the Chrysler was a sturdy car, although rather large for his needs.

The car was old and built like a tank his mother often said. The vehicle was a decade older than he was…a 1987 Town and Country station wagon. Not exactly a luxury car, but then she had the new Jeep to drive around town. The wagon had been his Grandmother Porter’s car, and now that she was gone it sat in the garage most of the time.

Eli had grown up driving work trucks around the ranch. The days of horses on a ranch had given way to four-wheelers and pick-up trucks. But the wagon handled like a dream by comparison, and the ignition key was hidden in the fancy cream pitcher they never used. Who poured cream in a pitcher when a carton of milk on the table was just as convenient?

Miguel would be the only one who needed to know anything, but Eli had a story ready to cover that. The foreman knew everything about running the sheep business and a lot about kids because he had six of his own. Maybe Eli would feel a little guilty about lying to the man since he was a distant cousin, but he would only be gone a few days at most. What could possibly go wrong?

A road trip would mean new vistas, new people, and hopefully a new understanding of himself. In all his sixteen years of life Eli had never left Arizona, except for two visits to distant relatives down south in Mexico. There was a ton of family in and out of his life because his uncles and aunts had large families, but Eli still felt alone.

There were things he didn’t understand, but he couldn’t talk to anyone who was family. His friends would certainly never understand. No, the one person he might have talked to had moved away, and that was so unfair.

“Sixteen is a tough age,” Eli’s father had said one afternoon as they surveyed the brush looking for stray lambs. Sex wasn’t the issue since Eli had grown up watching the animals breed.

“You can’t let your body rule your mind, son. Take your Uncle John. He got married at seventeen because some little girl talked her way into his pants. At least that’s the story he tells. I think a man has to take responsibility for his own actions. John did the right thing by getting married, but only after he’d done the wrong thing. I know you’re a smart boy, Eli…you’ll figure it out.”

But he still hadn’t figured it out…well, at least not the big question. There was only one point he was sure of, he wasn’t going to get any girl pregnant. That might make his parents grateful for the moment, but his reasons might make them squirm. It all came down to Michael Perez and what happened between them last year. Last year when Eli was fifteen and faced with a sudden new reality about his life.

Michael was eighteen and had grown up in Yuma just like Eli. They attended Cibola High School together. Of course the boy was a senior while Eli was a freshman so it would seem unusual for them to become friends. But their relationship had a rocky start.

He had been sitting with a group of freshmen for lunch on a Friday when this tall, lanky senior had slid into an empty chair at the end of the table. The boy had a camera in hand and smiled.

“Howdy, boys and girls,” The boy said. “Oops, only boys at this table. What? Are you afraid the girls will bite?”

“Nope, they’re all dating seniors like you,” Billy Reinhart had replied.

“Oh…yeah, that sucks doesn’t it. I’m Michael, photographer for the yearbook. The Conquistador…have you heard about it?”

Michael was staring right at Eli for some reason, and the look was enough to make him squirm. “Yeah…we know about the yearbook,” Eli said.

“Good. I’m out prowling the hallways and today my subject matter is freshman, so I’m here to take your picture.”

Michael took a few shots of the group sitting around the table, and then Eli noticed the camera spent a considerable amount of time pointing in his direction.

“Will we be in the yearbook?” Billy asked.

“Of course you will,” Michael replied. “Right before Christmas they do that awful week of school photos. You know, the ones guaranteed to embarrass each and every one of you. But I like doing these candid shots and running around encouraging you to join the school clubs. Are any of you photographers?”

The lens was pointed right at Eli who nodded just as he heard the shutter trip. Michael went on to solicit each of them to join a club of their choice and meet new friends. But then he stood up as the bell rang to end the lunch period and as the others drifted away he smiled at Eli.

“Room 23A after the final bell, if you can. I’ll show you my photos,” Michael said.

“I…I have to catch the bus,” Eli said.

“Where do you live?” Michael asked.

“Out 16th Street.”

“Okay, if you miss the bus I’ll take you home. I’d like you to see my work, and if you’re interested we might set you up with a camera and turn you loose.”

“I’m not much of a photographer,” Eli said.

“Let me be the judge of that. I need to train a replacement at some point this year before graduation,” Michael said, and then he smiled. “Who knows, it might be you.”

Room 23 was in the old wing past the art classrooms and wedged in next to the print shop. The ‘A’ designation was a storeroom in which they had built a darkroom. After his last class Eli walked through the quiet shadows of the print shop with the smell of ink and thinners still lingering in the air.

The door to the darkroom was open and he could hear the sounds of someone moving things around inside the cramped space. “Hello?” He said.

“Oh, there you are,” Michael said. “You didn’t tell me your name.”

“Eli Begay. Wow, this place is pretty small.”

“Yeah, the equipment outgrew the space a long time ago, but we have everything we need to develop great stuff in here. Come on in and grab a stool.”

There was already a stack of developed photos sitting on the counter with lengths of film hanging from little lines strung overhead. Michael had a row of negatives sitting on a light table in the corner.

“You ever develop your own film?” He asked.

“No, I use the drugstore,” Eli said. “But my mom has a digital camera so I can download stuff on the laptop.”

“Digital is okay, but I really like film because it makes the photos seem warmer. What do you shoot?”

“Nature,” Eli said. “The mountains…sheep.”

“Begay…your family has that big sheep ranch,” Michael said.

“Yeah, that’s us.”

Michael nodded and picked up the pile of photos. “Here, look at some of my stuff.”

There were photos of students in the hallways, a science lab and the cafeteria. Eli quickly came to the photos Michael had taken at their lunch table. Billy and Ernesto looked animated, but there was something about the photos he had taken of Eli. First off, there were a lot of them.

“You make a good subject,” Michael said. “The many moods of Eli…you’d make a good model.”

Eli laughed. “I don’t know about that.”

“You want to see my secret stuff?”


“Yeah…I could get in so much trouble, but you won’t tell on me…will you?”

Eli shook his head, wondering if Michael had been spying on the girl’s locker room. Michael went and closed the door, throwing a switch on the wall even as he slid a bolt across to lock the door.

“They’ll think something is developing,” he laughed. “So here is what I shot last year.”

He set a large scrapbook on the counter in front of Eli and sat back down on the other stool. The very first photo set the tone for what was to follow, and it was a shocking image.

A sweaty jock from the football team with his uniform half off. The muscle definition of his upper body was astounding, as was the tube that had worked its way out of his jockstrap and hung down his thigh under the skin tight pants of his uniform.

“Damn…he let you take that?” Eli asked.

“Bruce? Hell yeah, biggest show-off in the school last year.”

There were several other photos of Bruce which only proved Michael’s comment. Eli didn’t know what to say…why was he being shown these things? The photos were technically perfect, but the subject matter…was this a test?

Richard followed Bruce, and if anything the second boy’s photos were more graphic. Richard was a wrestler, and in the first several photos he wore nothing under his uniform. The size of that cock seemed surreal, stretching out the fabric until it looked like he might just burst through. But that wasn’t necessary because he also posed in the nude.

Eli had never seen a cock that big. Even without an erection it looked menacing.

“Are you planning to follow a career in porn?” He asked.

Michael nodded. “Yes…I’m going to Los Angeles and these are going in my portfolio. What do you think?”

“The photos are beautiful, but aren’t they illegal?”

“I was seventeen when I took them, but the models were both eighteen so that’s legal. Of course I took them here at school so that’s a bust if anyone finds out.”

Eli turned to the next page and what he saw made him gasp. Perhaps he should have known it was coming. This time the model in the center was Michael. There was no mistaking Bruce’s muscular body on one side, or Richard with his massive cock on the other.

The boys were standing as a group, touching, hugging…and yet there was nothing overtly sexual except for their closeness. Michael’s body stood in contrast to the athletes, and that was the point. But the photo was beautifully done, the lighting just perfect to show skin tones and expressions.

Michael was gay Eli decided, and the others probably were as well. He felt set up.

“Yes, I am…and I don’t think you are, Eli.”

“Then why…why show me this stuff?”

Michael shrugged. “I had to show somebody. I think it’s some of my best work…I didn’t mean to offend you.”

Eli stood up and unlocked the door. “You could have just told me you were gay.” And with that he walked out and ran for the bus stop.

He managed to be the last one on the bus that day and sat in shock the whole way home. Fortunately he had chores to take his mind off of what he had seen. But later that night he was alone in his room and the images came flooding back.

Bruce and Richard were show-offs, all muscle and meat. On the other hand, Michael was ordinary by comparison. Tall and thin, with dark curly hair that spoke of his Mexican heritage. A lot of the Mexicans Eli had met were hairy creatures, but not Michael. How did…Bruce was so big and Richard’s cock was so massive. Did they…how could they?

The image of Michael had the most appeal. He looked almost feminine standing there between those brutes. The poses suggested a sexual encounter, but nothing was shown. And then Eli became aware of the stiffness between his legs. It was the most inspired session of masturbation he could remember…and the messiest. But why did Michael show him the photos?

What did Michael think…what did any gay guy think? Eli didn’t have any answers, just more questions. Okay, well he did have one answer and that was disturbing. The photos had turned him on. Not in the darkroom, not in front of Michael, but in the quiet of his room…

The images played back in his head, quickly running from Bruce to Richard and always ending with Michael. He must have set a timer to take those shots. The last one he had seen was exciting…tender. Michael leaning against Bruce’s chest, looking up into the big guy’s face.

That would have been enough to be suggestive, but then Richard had stood behind Michael with his assets nearly touching the boy’s butt. Suggestive was one thing, this was bordering on explicit. It made Eli wonder if the next photo would have shown penetration, but he hadn’t turned the page.

How anyone could handle something that large…well, perhaps Michael knew, or at least the photo indicated he might. Eli awoke with the images still in his head and masturbated again. It promised to be a long weekend if this was all he was going to think about.

Eli wasn’t sure he could face Michael at school on Monday. How do you look someone in the eye after you’ve masturbated to his image all weekend long? But there were things he wanted to know and only Michael could give him the answers.

It didn’t take long for Eli to encounter Michael that morning. The boy was standing in front of the school taking pictures as the buses stopped to discharge the students. Eli saw him through the windows of the bus as he walked down the aisle towards the door.

It was hard to look at Michael now and not see the sensuous creature from the photos. He was a handsome boy, well dressed, and Eli was slightly shocked at these thoughts. Michael was gay, the only gay boy Eli knew, or at least the only boy who had ever admitted to being gay. There had to be others in their school…why hadn’t he noticed before?

Eli stepped down off the bus and slid his backpack on, centering the weight between his shoulder blades. Michael saw him and smiled, moving through the crowd, camera in hand. There was another camera slung around his neck and he pulled that off as he reached Eli. Handing over this camera Michael nodded at the crowd around them.

“Take some shots. The film is 400 ISO with 36 exposures, and the mode is in auto focus. You shouldn’t have any trouble.”

With that he turned his back on Eli and started taking pictures again. Eli looked down at the camera, a Minolta, expensive thing. And for the next fifteen minutes they circled one another, sometimes back to back as they caught the lives of their fellow students on a Monday morning.

“I’m sorry,” Michael said over his shoulder.

“No need,” Eli replied. He gave a short laugh. “It inspired me this weekend.”

Why the hell did he admit that? None of the students around them would understand even if they heard the comment. But they were being ignored. Click…click.

“I didn’t expect that…” Michael said.

“Sure you did…you were hoping,” Eli replied.

“Maybe I was…it’s lonely with Bruce gone.”

“Bruce was…?

“Yes…for almost two years. I loved him.”

Click. Eli tripped the shutter on a freshman boy who had dropped his notebook. A somewhat geeky looking kid who glanced up and smiled with a mouthful of braces when he realized his photo was being taken. But other students had stopped to help the guy pick up his drifting papers before they blew away. A little human interest. Click.

“Why me?” Eli asked.

“I didn’t know…handsome boy…I want to know you better.”

“Well, I certainly know you now.”

Click. And then the warning bell rang.

Eli handed the camera back and Michael smiled. “See you at lunch?” He asked.

“Sure, that works,” Eli replied.

It did work, at least enough for Eli to relax all morning. Michael needed a friend, but that didn’t mean a sex partner. Viewing people through the lens to capture an image and some facet of their lives was interesting. The unusual nature of Michael’s life left Eli wanting to know more. After school in the darkroom became a refuge, a place to talk.

“Have you ever seen real porn before?” Michael asked, handing Eli a large envelope.

“Not really. Just some magazines the ranch hands have lying around the bunkhouse,” Eli replied.

“Magazine art isn’t real. They airbrush away the reality.”

The dozen photos of Michael and Bruce were graphic. Gay sex didn’t look a whole lot different than what Eli had seen in some of those magazines. Of course there were different body parts involved, but the sensuality of their lovemaking looked so emotionally real.

“I was a sophomore when it all began,” Michael said. “I was too skinny to play football, but the coach let me help out. I passed out towels and water during the games, and Bruce was such an amazing player.”

“That huge body…did he take steroids?” Eli asked.

“Nope…never. You want to know why? It shrinks your cock.”

“You mean he got that big naturally?”

“He did, started lifting weights when he was ten years old. He was six foot two by the time he was twelve and puberty had already done its thing. Imagine being that age with an eight inch appendage between your legs. Totally embarrassing.”

“I didn’t know how big it was…just huge looking,” Eli said.

“Yeah, huge…and by the time he was sixteen it was even bigger. But that’s not why we met. He got injured, had to have his ankle taped before every practice. I watched how it was done and the coach said I could do it. So for a month I taped his ankle, which allowed me to know Bruce a whole lot better.”

Michael sighed. “Of course I had a crush on him, but we couldn’t be more opposite. He weighed a hundred pounds more than I did, but he was gentle as a lamb…at least to me. I don’t know when I noticed our relationship changing, but rather than ignore me while I applied the tapes he started talking.

“Well, it was more than talk really, he started showing off, but in a nice way. Day by day the bulge in his shorts got bigger and I tried not to notice. We were often alone in the training room because the coach had the rest of the guys out running laps, and that’s when I got to understand Bruce.”

“Did you know he was gay?”

“No, not at all. I had fooled around in middle school but never anything serious. But then here I was with this big man on a table in front of me with a huge bulge in his shorts. I had to make a decision right then and there.”

Now Michael smiled. “I taped his ankle and the bulge grew like it normally did. I guess Bruce was beyond caring if I saw what was happening. So I looked right at the bulge and smiled. The door was locked, the coach had the only key, but he was out on the field. I reached for it and Bruce pulled his shorts off.

“You don’t want to know all the details of what happened, but I think I was his first gay sex. Not that I was any expert, but we both learned something new that day. Bruce went out with girls just to maintain an image. But he always ended his dates early by telling the girls he had to maintain his training. Instead he would slip over to my house, or we would meet somewhere.

“Two years, Eli…two short years of loving someone all gone. Bruce went to UCLA, lasted one semester and joined the Marines. I have no idea why except his father did pretty much the same thing. I get the occasional letter, but he never says anything significant because he worries the censors will read it. Maybe he wants to forget what we had…I just don’t know.”

The words were sad, but Eli didn’t see any tears. There had probably been a flood of tears at one point, but that time had passed. Michael did need a friend, someone who would listen and not judge. Eli knew he could do that, but how would he get past the attraction?

“Thanks for listening,” Michael said. “I’m not looking to replace Bruce so don’t worry. I figure if I get to LA and start working there will be more than enough beef to keep me busy.”

“You like big guys?”

“Yeah, but I like sweet ones too…I think that’s why I like you.”

“I could never be a substitute for someone like Bruce…I’m not gay…I hope,” Eli said.

Michael smiled. “It isn’t any fun, not at our age…too many complications. I’m sure that’s why a lot of boys choose abstinence.”

Eli turned sixteen that winter, a memorable moment in life. But so was the friendship with Michael. They never had sex, unless you consider looking through the lens at Michael posing nude to be anything like sex. But all that did was give Michael some more personal photos for his scrapbook and allow Eli to take home more tantalizing images in his head.

Eli meant exactly what he’d said: he didn’t want to be gay. Look at all the crap gay people endured…you could see it all over the news and the internet. Suicides, beatings, murder…had the world gone mad? He understood the ethnic feelings about homosexuals from south of the border. To many of those good Catholic folks the only good gay was a dead gay. What the fuck?

Michael posed for him, a lesson in how to shoot naked images. No one questioned their time in the darkroom since they were producing hundreds of photos about school life. The yearbook staff chose their favorites and the book came out the first week of April.

Eli was pleased to see his name in the credits and enjoyed the accolades he received from his classmates. But then the final product only meant that his time with Michael was coming to an end. The boy was heading west the week after graduation and Eli was off to Flagstaff for the summer.

All that would remain were a few photos of Michael with his clothes on and the lingering memory of the kiss they had shared. Yes, it was a gay kiss…there was no doubt about that. But Michael had wanted it, and in truth, so did Eli.

Now Michael was gone and the memory lingered…as did that huge question. They had e-mail, but Eli couldn’t put his thoughts into words and Michael wouldn’t pressure him. If there was an answer Eli would have to find it for himself.

Eli told the ranch foreman that he was going to visit a friend in Phoenix and would be gone for a few days. It was an unexpected announcement, but Miguel trusted him to do what was right. The station wagon was in mint condition even though it had almost two hundred thousand miles on the odometer. Miguel wished him well and then went back to work.

Eli went back to his room and began packing for the trip. All the miles he planned to drive meant he might be able to meet some interesting people and he would certainly want their picture. He put the digital camera in the bag on top of his clothing, and added several storage drives. When he got back he could download scenes from the trip…but he decided that wasn’t enough.

If he met some interesting people it seemed logical he might like to know how to get in touch with them in the future. He could collect e-mail addresses and maybe they would give him a way to keep in contact.

So that was about it. The ranch virtually ran itself since the employees knew their business, he wouldn’t worry about that. Eli drove into town and stopped at the bank for some cash. He had his own ATM card, a cell phone for emergencies, and a yearning for the open road. It was time to go.