I am normally a restless sleeper, tossing and turning without ever actually waking up. Either my sleep that night was unusually quiet, or Kelly asleep was insensible to anything less powerful than an earthquake. At some point during the night his body must have become too heavy for me, because now in the early morning I was spooned against him, the warmth of his naked back tantalizing me as it touched my equally naked front. My slowly rising penis nestled into the crevice of his backside. I didn't want to go there, either figuratively or literally, so I carefully extricated myself from the bed. I would rather have gone back to sleep, but my over-active kidneys made it imperative that I make a trip to the bathroom.
As long as I was going to the bathroom, I decided to take my toothbrush. My mouth tasted like the Russian army had slept in there overnight. The trip to the bathroom didn't take long, but it was still early and the air was cool, so by the time I slipped back in beside the sleeping boy the touch of my cold skin was enough to disturb his slumber. He stretched slowly and turned toward me, his hair rumpled, his eyes only half open. He looked a little confused for a moment, then he broke into a grin. "Good morning," he mumbled. His breath was not as fresh as it had been the night before, but I could stand it.
I leaned forward and kissed the end of his nose. "Good morning yourself." As I recall, my last thought before drifting off to sleep was that I would really have to think about what was happening between Kelly and me, examine the legal and moral implications of what I was doing, and in general be the adult and let him be the kid. Impulsively kissing him like that was not a good way to start my self-reformation. Interestingly, Kelly seemed completely untroubled by my behavior.
"What time is it?" He seemed a little more awake now.
"It's about five o'clock."
"Five o'clock? Shit!" He rolled away from me and resumed his near-fetal position. I snuggled in behind him. "Damn, you're cold."
"I arranged that just to torture you."
"I believe it. Now I have to go to the bathroom. Feel this," he said, and before I knew what was happening, he grabbed my hand and pressed it firmly against his morning erection. "Why does that happen all the time?"
"This one's easier to explain than the classroom boner. Did you study erections in your sex ed class?"
There was a pause, and then he said, "I haven't had much time to study any erections, but we did learn about them." Apparently, his sense of humor woke up before the rest of his brain.
"So do you know how that soft little thing gets to be big and hard like this?" I asked, giving his penis a couple of wiggles.
"Is this going to be like a lesson now?"
"Damn, you really are a teacher. It's five A.M., I want to sleep."
"You said you had to pee."
"I guess I do."
"And you have a hard on because you have to pee, so I repeat, how does this" (and I touched him) "get to be like *this*?" I gave one firm stroke to make my point.
"Ummm. That felt good. It's got all kinds of, like, tubes in it and they fill up with blood and that makes it stiff. Our sex ed teacher blew up an air mattress to show how it works." A rather different kind of blow job, I thought.
"Okay, so during the night your bladder fills up and presses against the blood vessels that go to your penis. The blood in the arteries going to your dick has enough pressure to get through. But the blood in the veins on the way back has less pressure and gets blocked. So blood can get into your penis, but it can't get out, and all those little tubes" (a few more illustrative strokes) "fill up and bingo, you've got a boner."
"So that's why it goes away as soon as you piss."
"Well I haven't pissed yet, so are you going to do something about this?"
So much for my hope that last night would be viewed as a one-time indiscretion. I still did not know what I was going to do in the long run, but at the very least Kelly and I were going to have to talk about this before anything else happened. I would have to put him off, without making him feel that I was rejecting him. "No," I said lightly, "you've got morning mouth," and I gave him a friendly slap on the rump. "Besides, we've got a big day ahead. We're going to Yellowstone, remember? So grab some clothes and head for the bathroom. If you wear the long T-shirt you won't be embarrassed. And take your toothbrush."
Breakfast was cold cereal and milk, plus toast made in a little metal gizmo that held four slices of bread at a time around the heat of a gas burner. There was hot chocolate for Kelly, and for me, a double tall mocha courtesy of the little stovetop espresso maker I had bought back in Portland. This was, in fact, my idea of 'roughing it'. We chatted about nothing in particular, so at least half of my brain was available just to observe him.
His face was always animated, and he used his hands so much when he talked that I guessed he would become mute if I tied them behind his back. I had known him less than two days, yet I had already had a sexual encounter with him. If someone had told me about such a thing, I would have immediately assumed that the child was a wanton, a hardened seducer, perhaps even a prostitute. But Kelly, when he wasn't recalling the abuse he had suffered, seemed to be bright, alert, entirely normal, and no more preoccupied with sex than any other normal fourteen-year-old boy. Well, there was also the fact that he seemed emotionally younger, rather like a twelve-year-old who just happened to have entered puberty.
I got up to make myself another mocha. It wasn't Starbucks, but it would do. It was my low-budget substitute: a shot of espresso, plus about twice that much boiling water and a packet of non-fat Swiss Miss. Don't knock it until you've tried it, as they say. As I sat back down with my mug of mocha, I did not respond to Kelly's description of a fabulous save made by the goalie of his school's soccer team. Instead I said, "Kelly, we need to talk about a few things."
The light in his eyes suddenly went out. He slumped down in the cushions of the dinette, his hands went into his lap, and he gazed down at them. A photo of the moment could be captioned, 'Sent to the Principal's Office'. Without lifting his gaze, he softly asked, "Are you going to make me leave now?"
"What? No!" I quickly worked my way around to the other side of the small dinette and wrapped my arm around his shoulders. "Kelly, I told you I would try to help you, and I will. We are going to Yellowstone today, and we are going to have a good time, and we are going to sleep tonight in this camper, and we're going to just take one day at a time until we figure out what to do, okay? Why would you think I'd want you to leave?"
"I thought you'd think what we did last night was bad."
"Who told you that?"
"My stepdad. He said if we feel things down there, it's Satan between our legs trying to get us to do things and if we give in to temptation and touch it, we'll go to hell and God will hate us forever."
Shit! Well, that's exactly what I've stepped into this time. My lack of self-control has caused Kelly to doubt his own value as a person. I am supposed to be the adult here. When I should have been finding out more about him, getting to know him, forging a relationship with him, I was molesting him in the shower. All I could do now was to deal with the situation as best I could. Doctor Spock didn't cover this situation. And while I pondered, my silence was adding to his anxiety. I took a deep breath and forged ahead. "Do you go to church, Kelly?"
"All the time."
"Does you pastor say the same thing?"
For this first time, Kelly looked up at me. "My stepdad is the pastor," he said.
Deeper and deeper! The only thing needed to make this picture complete would be to find out that his stepfather's church had nothing to do with any denomination anyone had ever heard of, but was just a splinter group of people who thought there was no point in being a Christian if it didn't make you superior to everyone else. "What's the name of the church, Kel?"
"It's the One Way to Truth Tabernacle."
"And how many people are there in church on Sunday morning?"
"Maybe a dozen, and their wives and kids."
Game, set and match. Hook, line and sinker. Three strikes and you're out. Your honor, I rest my case. Some damn saying must be appropriate here. I had met too many of these guys with their personal little flocks. Trained in a mail-order Bible school if at all, ordained by some traveling evangelist with no connections to any legitimate church organization, or maybe just suddenly 'called', they gathered a group of people so naive and gullible that by comparison the 'Reverend' looked brilliant, and then started to preach. Ignorant of the great tradition of two thousand years of the Christian church, they thought that they and they alone understood the Truth. Certain that every question had one right answer and that they knew what it was, picking and choosing bits and pieces of Bible verses because they didn't know how to read intelligently, they used the Christian faith to support their personal prejudices and attack their pet peeves. They were the dark underbelly of American Christendom. They were racists like Samuel Butler, fascists like Billy James Hargis, showmen like Jim Baker, mass murderers like Jim Jones. So what about this 'Reverend' Foster? I remembered that Jim Baker, after he got his life squared away, said that the deeper he became mired in his secret life of sexual excess, the harder he preached against it. Foster was probably a pervert in preacher's clothing. But, of course, who was I to be talking about perverts? Who was that in the shower with Kelly last night? Not Reverend Foster.
"Kelly, listen to me. That's not what God is like. He isn't waiting behind the door so he can catch you doing something wrong and hit you over the head with a big heavenly two-by-four. That was just your stepfather trying to use God to get more power over you. God loves you. He gave you a beautiful body, and it's working just the way it's supposed to. You haven't done anything wrong, Kel. The only person who has done anything wrong is me."
"Me. I shouldn't have touched you like that in the shower last night. It's wrong for an older person like me to do things like that to a young person like you."
Kelly looked up at me again, and tears came to his eyes. His face twisted into a grimace, like someone experiencing a great grief. He barely managed to choke out his words. "But I thought... when you picked me up, I thought... I thought that bad people were going to... were going to... and then you came and I... I thought... I thought you loved me!"
I had never used the word 'love'. It had crossed my mind, but I had dismissed the thought as presuming too much, too soon. Now it seemed that I had the heart of a very vulnerable young boy in my hands. I could crush it with a word. I had already run out of time to be cautious. I hugged him to my chest and said, "I do love you, Kelly." But he was in too much emotional turmoil to take that in.
Kelly was still sobbing almost uncontrollably. "When you... when you touched me... I thought... I thought it was... because you loved me... and... and it felt so wonderful... and now you say it was wrong... and so... and you must hate me now... I'm sorry I made you do something wrong... I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
God, wasn't this a lovely mess? I didn't trust myself to say anything. I just held him tight, holding on for life, for love, for joy, for grief, as he poured out the pent-up emotion of the last two days, and longer. In the sobs that wracked his body, in his hoarse panting cries, I heard the pain of his motherless childhood, his father's death, his stepmother's hostility, his stepfather's condemnation, and other events about which I dared not even guess. I kissed the top of his head, and then again, and then his ears and his forehead and his eyes, and I began to say, over and over, "I love you, Kel, I do love you. I couldn't hate you, not ever." And when at last his paroxysm of grief had spent itself, and his heaving sobs became hiccupping breaths, I said, "I want you to lie down on the bunk with me, Kel."
My bed was now a dinette, so I helped him up onto the bed above the cab, then climbed up myself and lay down beside him. I enclosed him in my arms, and he clung to me and rested from his ordeal. When his breathing was calm and regular, I said, "Let's start over, Kelly, okay? I've made a mess of this, and one thing you can't ever do is unscramble eggs. So just forget everything else I said, and know this. I'm going to stop worrying about what's right and wrong, I mean the big words with capital letters, RIGHT and WRONG. I'm only going to think about what's right for you. I'm going to think about what you need, and I'm going to try to give you what you need. You said that when I touched you, you thought it was because I loved you. Well, it's true. I do love you. I can't explain it, but it's true. From the time I first saw you asleep on that picnic table you started worming your way right into my heart, and I now I can't get you out. I don't *want* to get you out. I love you, Kel."
The light had come back on in his deep blue eyes. He smiled at me, and the smile made his face seem to glow from within. Then once more he did something unexpected. He moved toward me slightly and kissed me on the lips. It was not a not a passionate kiss, not a lover's kiss, but it was more than the kiss a son might give his father. It lasted longer than the fleeting touch of last night, but not so long as to be arousing. "I love you too, Uncle Art."
It was as if time had been suspended, and was now resuming. I could not even guess how long he had wept, how long we had snuggled together on the bed. But when I checked my watch it said 7:30. We had awakened so early in the fresh morning that we had put in a full day's emotional workout before the other tourists had stirred in their trailers. "Okay, tiger, how about we go see some geysers?"
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