Well…that was it. He had done…done what…what had he accomplished? The wagon was sitting at the end of the customs station parking lot facing the highway. Why are you here, Eli?
The only thing he had discovered was that driving all these miles was tiring and he would have to be careful on the way home. That initial sense of wanderlust was long gone…perhaps he should have just stayed in Flagstaff. But that was an absurd notion; the journey was only half over.
Everyone he met had said they hoped he would find what he was looking for. How could Eli tell them that he didn’t really know what it was in the first place? Oh yeah, he had some vague notion of self-discovery…some need to find out if he was gay. But thinking he was and being unable to prove it just led to frustration. He wasn’t about to sleep with some stranger just to make a point.
Thinking gay was easy but being gay was hard since Eli didn’t have a clue about how to approach another guy for…well, for anything. He should have pressed Michael to have sex at least once so there could have been some understanding. This sucks a big fat one, Eli thought, and then he had to laugh. Shit, I don’t even know how to do that.
He really had no choice but to take Route 89 back to Great Falls. It would still be about six o’clock by the time he got there, and then he would be faced with the problem of where to spend the night. This far north there was hardly anyone on the road and so the opportunity to find someone who might sign for a motel room was impossible.
He might find a place to park the wagon on the outskirts of town, but then that risked being discovered by the cops. He needed a room, and a shower, and a good dinner before he slept. Eli was about six miles from the interchange where Route 89 and Interstate 15 crossed when he saw the van on the side of the road.
There was a boy about his age leaning on the back door and several other kids sitting in the grass by the side of the road. Eli slowed as he began passing the van and saw the hood was propped open. There was no doubt in his mind that these kids needed help, but weren’t there any adults around?
There was a logo and a bunch of words painted on the side of the van but Eli didn’t have a chance to read them as he pulled over in front of the vehicle. But the boy who had been standing behind the van came running up and stopped when he saw Eli step out of the wagon.
“Hello…you need some help?” Eli asked.
“I think so,” the boy replied. “Mr. Timms…uh, Robert, has been gone for almost an hour looking for a mechanic.”
Eli looked up the road towards Great Falls trying to remember if it was any great distance into town. The other three kids had come forward by now, curious to see what was going on. They all looked to be of high school age, juniors and seniors. Eli didn’t know much about auto mechanics but there was a large puddle of water under the front of the van and he knew that couldn’t be good.
“I think there’s a gas station up by the interstate, he ought to be back soon,” Eli said. “Where you guys from?”
“Calgary…I’m Tony and that’s Marsha, Frank and Peter.”
“I’m Eli…where are you going?”
Tony looked at the van. “We were going to Salt Lake City to perform our play but I think that’s off now. Richard wasn’t too happy with the van in the first place, but the church said he could use it.”
“Salt Lake, wow, that’s six hundred miles from here,” Eli said. “Are you guys Mormons?”
Tony laughed. “No, not at all…we belong to a Unitarian youth group. We were invited down by the Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City for a performance or two.”
“Hmm, well I’m headed through there tomorrow. Maybe I can drop you guys off,” Eli said.
Tony smiled. “That would be nice, but we’ll have to ask Richard. I imagine we could all fit in your car.” He looked at the wagon and noticed the license plates. “Arizona…you sure came a long way.”
“My little summer adventure,” Eli said. “I drove up here just to look at Canada.”
“You didn’t cross the border for a visit?”
“No, not this time. I don’t know anyone up there…” And Eli paused as a tow truck approached and pulled off the road behind the van.
“That’s Richard,” Tony said and he waved.
Mr. Timms was a nice man, just a little overwhelmed by the situation they were in. The tow truck driver took a look under the hood of the van and declared the radiator was busted, but that was only the beginning. It seems the engine had been running hot since they left Calgary and when the dipstick was pulled they discovered why.
“You have no oil in the pan,” the driver said. “I’ll tow you into the garage but I’m afraid this engine is probably history.”
“Oh great, that’s all we need,” Richard said. Then for the first time he seemed to notice Eli standing with the other kids. “Who are you?” He asked.
“This is Eli,” Tony said. “He’s offered us a ride to Salt lake City.”
“Oh…thank you, but I’m not sure if we can continue the trip at this point. Wow, is that an ’87 Chrysler?” Richard asked.
“Sure is,” Eli replied. “You know your cars.”
“Those brutes seem to run forever. I appreciate the offer of a ride, Eli, but I have to call the church and tell them about the van. I booked us two rooms at the Hampton Inn down the road in town. Where are you staying?”
“He’s staying with us,” Tony said.
That shocked Eli. He wasn’t sure why Tony said that, they hadn’t even discussed it, but it sure did solve his problem for the night.
“Sure, that’s fine,” Richard said. “He can share the room with you and Peter.”
The tow truck driver had backed up to the van and was hooking it up. Richard led the group around to the back and they unloaded their bags which then nearly filled the rear of the wagon. Eli, Tony and Richard piled into the front seat and the other three sat behind them. They followed the van as it was towed towards Great Falls.
‘Unitarian Church of Calgary’ read the sign painted on the side of the van. Eli didn’t know anything about that church except that Tony had mentioned a youth group. So these kids were actors on their way to give performance of some play…how interesting.
The Hampton Inn was only ten minutes down the road and so Eli didn’t have the chance to ask any questions, but he would. The irony of travelling all the way to Canada and then meeting a bunch of Canadians on this side of the border wasn’t lost on him.
The room had two double beds and Eli wasn’t sure how the sleeping arrangements were going to work. He offered to sleep on the floor but Tony wasn’t having any of that.
“You can share with me,” Tony said, looking over at Peter who smiled in return.
“Sweet, more room for me,” Peter said.
It would be for the best since Peter was the size of a football player and Eli would probably be crushed if the guy rolled over in his sleep. Eli begged first use of the shower since he had ‘camped out’ the night before and Tony agreed. Hot water had never felt so luxurious. But when Eli exited the bathroom he found Richard sitting in a chair by the window.
“The van is now ancient history,” Richard said. “I spoke to the Reverend and she agrees we should continue our journey since you have offered the means. We can always take the bus back home when we’re done.”
“Tony said you were offering a play when you get to Salt Lake City,” Eli said.
“Yes, Tony and my daughter wrote it. They’re very talented…did Tony tell you about the play?”
“No, I haven’t had the chance,” Tony said, “but I will… maybe after dinner.”
“Yes…food,” Richard said. “I’ll go collect the others and we can meet downstairs in the dining room.”
Richard left and Peter followed him out the door. Eli rummaged in his bag for some clean socks while Tony sat on the bed and began to talk.
“I know the Mormons are a pretty conservative religious organization, but the Unitarians are a pretty liberal church,” Tony said.
“I was going to ask,” Eli said.
“Our youth group is well organized and we take trips like this all the time. Richard has been our mentor since the beginning. He’s like a deacon in the church”
“He seems like a nice man,” Eli said. “So…your play, what’s it all about?”
“Well, two of the four of characters are gay and the play is about a boy coming out to the members of his church. Marsha decided we should write it as a practical lesson in acceptance. She went through the experience with her father.”
“So Marsha is gay…I mean she’s a lesbian,” Eli said. “I met a lesbian couple just yesterday on the way here.”
Tony sat quietly as Eli pulled on his socks and shoes.
“Aren’t you at all curious about why we’re doing a play about gay kids?”
Eli finished tying his sneakers and sat up with a grin. “I figure it’s more than just Marsha. Your youth group is for gay kids. That is pretty liberal for a church organization.”
“Yes, gay kids and their straight friends. Frank isn’t gay but he supports his sister. Richard is concerned for his daughter and all the others in our group. You know who Matthew Shepard is, don’t you?”
“The boy who was killed a long time ago…yeah, I know about that,” Eli said.
“I wrote a report about him for my social studies class last year,” Tony said. “My teacher, Mrs. Wilkins, gave me an excellent grade for it and then told my entire class about it. I know she meant well, but there were several guys at school who decided they didn’t agree with my conclusions.”
Tony sighed. “It takes a pretty ignorant person to think that the murder of another human being is justified because he was gay. I was beaten up and the two boys who did it were arrested. The police in Calgary have developed a good relationship with the queer community.”
“Queer?” Eli said.
“Yeah, funny, isn’t it? Gays and lesbians in some parts of our country identify with the word. I know most of the gay community in America finds it distasteful. In the wrong mouth it is hate speech. But the guys who punched me around called me queer, and the judge certainly didn’t like hearing that.”
“So the bullies got locked up?”
Tony laughed. “No, in fact the judge asked me what I thought would make a good punishment. They had to do a hundred hours of community service at a homeless shelter or face jail time. The Reverend at church commended me for my sense of fairness and we started the youth group. All’s well that ends well.”
“So…you’re gay,” Eli said.
“Yes…oh, I’m sorry…maybe I should have told you before offering to share the bed.”
Eli laughed. “Then you don’t know me very well. How could I turn down the opportunity to sleep with a handsome guy?”
“That’s what this trip was all about, Tony. I don’t really know what it means to be gay, but I was hoping to find out. Do you have a boyfriend at home?” Eli asked.
Tony shook his head. “No…I have gay friends. I took a pledge of abstinence when I came out.”
Eli nodded. “That’s intense. I don’t mean because you’re gay…but guys our age are pretty well focused on sex.”
“Are you experienced?”
Eli laughed. “No, but I am a solo expert. Don’t tell me you gave that up as well?”
Tony smiled. “Hardly possible, I’d be a lunatic. Perhaps we should go down to dinner.”
The play was about Marsha and her best friend, a gay boy played by Tony. Peter had the distinction of acting the part of her father and Frank was cast in the dissenting role of a church member. This was all discussed for Eli’s benefit at dinner and he could see the pride Richard felt for his kids.
It had been some years since Eli had attended church with his family, but he didn’t think much about religion, and even less now that he was beginning to understand himself better. Some religions supported their gay members, while still others found fault in anything dealing with homosexuals.
“The resources at our church for gay youth are just grand,” Peter said. “Richard made sure the youth group has access to all kinds of important information. He’s a wonderful man and a great father for his kids.”
Eli was sharing a table with Peter and Tony, while Richard and his children sat at the table beside them. Once dinner was served things quieted down and Eli had a chance to study these new people.
Frank and his father were football fans. That would mean soccer to the Americans. Marsha seemed just as much aware of the game as her brother and they both played on school teams at home. Unlike the college girl Eli had met, Marsha didn’t fit the tough lesbian image that Billie had projected.
The girl would be a dating success story in any school, but as a lesbian Eli had no idea how that worked for her. He could only assume she was out to her friends since her family knew. Were girls bullied for their sexual orientation? There was so much he didn’t know on the subject.
“We have a website,” Peter said. “You should look us up when you get home.”
“I’ve always been a little afraid of looking at gay things online,” Eli admitted. “My first attempts brought me all kinds of nasty spam that I was afraid my sisters might see.”
“You do have to be careful,” Tony said. “But go look at our site. We have links to positive information and none of it would be considered nasty. So you have sisters…”
“Older sisters, thank goodness. I’m the youngest.”
“Same here,” Peter said. “I guess that’s a good thing for me. After my parents went through all the craziness of raising my brothers and sisters I got off easy. My mother said it was just fine if I was gay just as long as I didn’t raise hell like my brothers. Our family was like a bunch of lunatics until everyone grew up. Now it’s just me and the parents living in quiet suburban splendor.”
Tony laughed at Peter’s description. The boy talked with his hands and gave a changing catalog of facial expressions to go with the words. Eli smiled, convinced that Peter was the consummate actor.
“We’ll bunk over at the church tomorrow night,” Tony said. “If we have to travel all day tomorrow…six hundred miles you said…you ought to stay with us.”
“I don’t know…”
“You won’t make it home…and speaking of home, do they even know where you are?”
“Not really. I figured to be gone a week at most and this is only my fourth night. They won’t be worried about me yet.”
Tony looked doubtful after hearing that, but he had to take Eli’s word for it. With dinner over there was still several hours of daylight left and little to do at the hotel. But across the street was one of those ubiquitous features of the American landscape, a shopping mall. They went as a group since Richard didn’t want to take his eyes off of his charges.
A Friday night at the mall and the place was packed with people. A food court, movie theater, and stores galore…everything to attract the teenage mentality in a small town. Yuma had its own teenage attractions, but Eli didn’t get to spend much time at the mall which was too far from his home.
Tony seemed a little more reserved as they wandered around the indoor plaza. Peter, with Richard and his kids, moved slowly past the store windows, gazing at all the displays. They seemed in no hurry so Tony took a seat in the center court where he could watch and Eli sat down beside him.
“You have them here,” Tony said.
“Have what?” Eli asked.
“The eyes…those guys who do nothing but watch us. The Centre mall at home has half a dozen men who sit around watching. I see the same ones all the time. That’s all they do.”
“I suppose they could be security people,” Eli said.
“Maybe, but I think they look at all the boys. It’s really very sad.”
Tony smiled. “You really are very new at this, aren’t you? Haven’t you ever been the object of someone’s adoring glances?”
“Me? I’m not anything special.”
“How wrong you are,” Tony said. “If you lived in Calgary we could be great friends.”
Eli felt himself blushing. It was such a sweet thing to say.
“Have you ever had a boyfriend?” Eli asked.
“No…I’m not ready to fall in love…not yet. Maybe you don’t understand that.”
“Love? No…not quite. I had some strong feelings for this older boy, but he graduated and moved to Los Angeles. I got about as close to him as anyone I ever met, but it wasn’t sexual.”
“He thought you were too young,” Tony said.
“Yes…how did you know?”
“That just shows he was a responsible person. Just because you meet a guy and they’re gay doesn’t mean you ought to have sex. I want a partner, someone to share my life, someone I can talk to, confide my deepest thoughts…and then perhaps we’ll fall in love.”
“That’s beautiful,” Eli said. “I wouldn’t know where to begin looking for someone like that.”
Tony slid an arm around Eli’s shoulder. “The beauty of it all is that he’ll find you when you least expect it. Sleeping around isn’t the answer because anyone can have sex without any meaningful understanding. The real joy in living is holding back until the right guy comes along and your heart tells you he’s the one.”
Eli smiled. “That might take forever.”
“No, it won’t. You have a lot to offer,” Tony said.
“I guess your choice of abstinence was pretty hard to make,” Eli said.
“Not really. I know several boys that sleep around and all they do is worry about it. Sex brings a lot of absurd pressure into their lives. I’m the happiest gay kid in my school. I feel like I’m in total control of my life….it’s powerful.”
“Puha,” Eli said. “The Paiute people believe in Puha, a power they feel that connects them to every living thing on earth.”
Tony smiled. “I’m not sure it’s all that, but it makes me feel special. Oh…will you look at that…”
Tony inclined his head across the center plaza at a group of girls, and the one boy who stood in their midst. Eli gazed across the distance and immediately understood what Tony was pointing out. The boy was tall and slender with girlish hips, or perhaps it was the clothes he chose to wear. He seemed more feminine than the girls around him.
“That’s not my kind of gay,” Eli said. “I don’t understand why he wants to be a girl.”
“He could have transgender feelings or he could just be acting the part,” Tony said. “Either way, he’s entitled to his choice. No, that doesn’t attract me either.”
“This is such a rural town. I’m surprised he can get away with it.”
“Attitudes change and he probably feels safe here in the mall. I think most people tend to ignore behavior like that unless they feel threatened. See the guy over there on the red bench? He’s been watching the boy, but he has a silly grin on his face…he thinks it’s funny.”
“I don’t understand transgender either,” Eli said.
“That is difficult, but I don’t imagine it’s a very nice thing to be carrying around in your head. Some guys have the surgery to…well, you know. I wonder how that works for them, can they really be a woman afterwards?”
“They can’t have children…”
“I would love to have kids when I’m older. Gay men and their partners do that now, and there are so many kids who need adopting.” Tony laughed. “Listen to me, will you? I have to finish being a teenager first.”
But what a fine adult you will become, Eli thought. Tony seemed to have all the right qualities to form a partnership. It was too bad they lived so far apart.
They were all in bed by ten o’clock with plans for an early start right after breakfast. It took Peter about five minutes to fall fast asleep, but Tony and Eli lay side by side and stared at the ceiling.
“First time I’ve been in bed with a guy,” Tony said.
“Same here,” Eli replied.
“What kind of guys do you find attractive?” Tony asked.
“The usual kind…two arms, two legs and a head.”
Tony giggled and they both broke up laughing.
“Shh…we’ll wake Peter,” Eli said.
“I doubt it. Does being Native American cause you any problems?”
“Not where I live,” Eli said. “There are several native groups around the state, and besides, I’m half white. There are those who discriminate against anyone foreign looking, but I don’t get much of that in Yuma. It would probably be different in Phoenix.”
“Being gay brings a lot of pressure on a guy,” Tony said. “I don’t see why people have to hate us so much, and I’m ashamed so many of them call themselves Christians. It’s not the religion, that’s just an excuse to justify their hate. Jesus taught love and they don’t get it.”
“I’m not religious,” Eli said. “At first I was just indifferent to the message they gave us in church, but my parents made me go. Now I believe too many people who go to church don’t think for themselves and just follow along blindly. Sheep do that and it always gets them in trouble.”
Tony chuckled. “I forgot you’re an expert on sheep. I’ll grant you there are some pretty bad people out there who call themselves good Christians. But a congregation is made up of individuals and we have some very good people in our church.”
“I’ve always imagined that Canada is so different than the United States, but that isn’t true, is it?”
“Not out here, maybe in Quebec, but they still think of us as a rural people. I’m going to be a teacher when I get out of the University, what kind of a career do you have planned?”
“I couldn’t begin to tell you…but I don’t want it to be sheep.”
Eli yawned and Tony rolled on his side, patting Eli’s chest. “Go to sleep, we have a long journey to make tomorrow.”
Eli rolled on his side and closed his eyes. He felt Tony snuggle up behind and a hand slide over in an embrace. The contact felt good…affectionate. A guy like Tony would make for an interesting relationship, but Eli knew the boy was unique.
Sometime in the night they changed position and snuggled up to face to face. Eli awoke at dawn with the boy in his arms and an urge he could not ignore. He wondered if Tony would awaken when he moved, but he really had no choice. He slid carefully from the bed, and then sprinted for the bathroom.
Eli stood above the bowl and almost groaned with relief, and then he remembered the way Tony had cuddled up last night. The pee stopped, but the stiffness didn’t begin to subside until the door opened.
“Sorry,” Tony said. “I have to go…now.”
Eli jumped and moved out of the way as Tony stood over the bowl. Okay, this could have been embarrassing but for some reason it wasn’t. Tony sighed with relief, and then looked over at Eli who was still holding his penis. A slow smile crept to his lips and when the urine stopped Tony lowered the seat and flushed.
“Are you planning to play with that thing?” Tony asked.
“Perhaps I should just take a shower,” Eli said.
“I’d like that, do you object to sharing?”
It felt good to hold Tony in his arms as they stood under the spray from the shower. The raw sexual urges were gone, leaving only the warm sensual feelings of a touch and a kiss.
What a shame that he had to drive a thousand miles to find someone like Tony. It hardly seemed fair to Eli that in just a short while he would only be left with the memory. He had left home to find himself, but the thoughts that had driven him were never as focused as they were now.
There would always be an emotional attachment to Tony because of the example he set. If they could not have a relationship, then at least Tony would be the ideal he should keep in mind as he sought someone else. Eli would not choose abstinence as a personal goal, but he would not place sex high on the list of qualifications in finding someone to love.
Tony held Eli in a quiet embrace for the longest time…and then the door opened again and Peter walked in.
“Sorry, guys…gotta go.”
Tony grinned and held a finger to his lips for silence. He motioned towards the shower curtain as the sound of Peter’s urine hit the bowl. Pulling the curtain open just a little they both peeked out. Eli smiled at the sight of Peter holding a whopper in his hand.
Peter looked over and smiled. “I usually charge for the view…but a private showing can be arranged.”
“Did I tell you the boy has a dirty mind?” Tony said.
“I should have known, but that is quite a sight,” Eli laughed.
Peter finished his business and flushed. “Perverts…finish your shower and let me take my turn.”
The day had begun, and so they climbed from the shower and headed back into the room to get dressed. Peter was holding his clean clothes and gave Eli a wicked grin as he went into the bathroom.
“Will you let Richard drive part of the way?” Tony asked, as they began to get dressed.
“I suppose,” Eli said. “Then I can sit and talk to you without being distracted.”
“Exactly, and you can help me go over the lines I have to say in the play.”
“You still need practice?”
Tony nodded. “I tend to forget things and Marsha gets frustrated with me. Peter has the whole thing memorized, but then he’s the only real actor in the bunch.”
“I gathered that…”
“Are you talking about me?” Peter yelled from the bathroom. He came back in the room toweling the moisture out of his hair.
Eli could only stare as the boy was completely naked and had quite the athletic body. Michael would have liked this guy and all his large attributes. Peter didn’t seem the least bit shy as he searched in his bag for some clean boxers. Well perhaps his ass was nice, but there was entirely too much hair on it.
“Eww, Peter…please cover your hairy butt,” Tony said.
“I have a nice hairy butt, you’re just jealous.”
“There’s less fur on the gorillas at the Calgary Zoo.”
“Hey, you’re talking about my family there,” Peter replied.
Eli laughed and Tony gave him a frown. “Don’t encourage the boy.”
It was barely seven when they walked downstairs and out to the parking lot to put their stuff back in the wagon. Tony stowed the bags in the back while Eli thought it would be smart to check his phone. There was one text message, and he was relieved to see it was from Miguel.
‘When U coming home?’ Was all it said, and the time stamp said it was from early this morning. Miguel didn’t sound worried, just curious.
“Did they find out?” Tony asked.
“Nope, just making sure I’m still alive,” Eli replied. ‘Home Sunday,’ Eli sent back. ‘Call if a problem.’ But the phone never rang…thank goodness.