It took us twenty minutes to unhook the camper, dump (and sanitize!) the drain tank, and get everything stowed for our hurried getaway from Wyoming. Twenty minutes of manual labor gave me time to still my panic and think. After Mrs. Watson told us they had called the Cheyenne police, I came to an even more frightening realization. It wasn't Foster to whom I had given my phone number. It was the Wyoming state police. How could I have been so stupid?
As I calmed down, however, the conversation began to come back to me. I remembered that I had given them a false name -- a playwright, wasn't it? Yes, August Wilson. And the phone number was to an anonymous answering service. I had first used them during the difficult months of my first divorce. The divorce settlement had forced me to sell our house. Heidi's mom had developed an irritating habit of calling or dropping by to nag her into visiting, and it made Heidi so angry that she wanted to keep our new address a secret as long as possible. The answering service could not be traced back to me. Well, not without a search warrant, at least.
Things were looking a bit better. It would take the Cheyenne police a day or two to decide whether to treat this as an actual missing person case. They would want to take a crack at solving the case themselves before asking for help from the state police. That gave us maybe a week before they would even think of trying to sniff out the identity of the mysterious caller. And we had done nothing suspicious to invite attention from the authorities. In every way Kelly appeared to be a normal, healthy boy willingly traveling with his father or perhaps grandfather. Without a name, the police could not follow a paper trail of campground registrations and credit card purchases. The only wild card was Mrs. Watson. If she were going to get concerned and give the police my name, she probably would have done so by now. Still, it would be a good idea to reassure her.
I ran the trip through the route planning software on my laptop to get a map and driving directions. This was not the route I had planned to take. My aim had been maximum contact with nature, not with freeways. Now my priorities had abruptly changed. The new route was pretty straightforward. North into Montana to connect with I-90, then eight hundred miles west to Seattle. Driving time was estimated at sixteen hours. It was already close to noon. We could probably make it to Missoula today, then push on to Seattle early the next morning. By Saturday night or Sunday morning we should be sitting down with the Watsons, and perhaps we would be able to make some plans for Kelly's future.
As soon as we were on the road, I apologized to Kelly for my momentary panic, and explained to him why we did not have that much to worry about. I instructed him in setting up the cell phone for speaker phone operation -- I had already learned by experience how dangerous it could be to drive with a cell phone in one hand -- and we placed our second call in an hour to Seattle. Amazingly, we were in range of someone's analog service tower. I thanked God that I had gotten a dual-mode phone and full national no-roaming-charge coverage before I left Portland on this trip.
"Mrs. Watson, this is Arthur Kent again. Kelly is here with me and we're driving down the highway using the speaker phone."
"Hi, Mom!" Kelly piped up.
"Kelly, are you really OK? When he -- Mr. Kent, I mean -- when he hung up so fast, I didn't know what to think. Can he hear me?"
"Yes, Mom, we can both hear you, this is a speaker phone. It's OK, he's really cool. I was in a rest area in --"
"Kelly, let me interrupt just a second. Mrs. Watson, I just want to let you know that we're on a cell phone and we're on the road, so we could drive out of cell phone range any time. If we get cut off, it won't be because I hung up. If that happens, I'll call you just as soon as we get cell service again. Okay, Kelly, go ahead."
"Okay, Mom, I was hitchhiking, and this really mean trucker dumped me in this rest area outside of -- where was that, Uncle Art?"
"Outside of Sheridan."
"Okay, Sheridan, and --"
"Wait, Kelly," Mrs. Watson interrupted. "Did you just say Uncle Art?"
"Are you with your uncle? I didn't know you had an uncle."
"No, Mom, I just call him Uncle Art because -- I mean, he's older than you are, and I had to call him something, and besides, if I had a real uncle, I'd like him to be just like Art is. Anyway," Kelly went on, forging ahead like an old locomotive with a full head of steam, "Uncle Art stopped and picked me up and he has this really cool camper or motorhome or something and we went to Yellowstone Park and we saw all kinds of neat stuff and we --"
"Kelly, slow down, please! You're with a strange man in a camper? Where do you sleep?"
This woman had her priorities right, worrying first about Kelly's safety. Still, I wondered how Kelly would handle this. He glanced at me and made a face that said, 'This could be trouble.' Then he said, "There's this table that we eat off of and at night it makes down into a bed that's big enough for Uncle Art and there's another bunk up above the cab or whatever you call it and that's where I sleep." Good boy. Nothing but the truth, and at the same time nothing close to the truth.
"Kelly, why were you hitchhiking in the first place?"
"Uncle Art already told you. My stepdad threw me out."
"Threw you out? I mean, I know he never treated you very well, but he really threw you out? Why?"
There was a pause. "I... I don't want to talk about that right now," he said. He sounded and looked very distressed, and the change in his tone of voice made it obvious that his earlier excitement and happiness were genuine. Mrs. Watson would have no cause to fear for Kelly's safety now. "I didn't know where to go," he said, and the memory brought tears to his eyes and a catch into his voice. "I wanted to come to you, but you had moved away, and I didn't have your phone number, and so I just went to the highway and started hitchhiking. I didn't care where I went. And Mom, it was really awful until Uncle Art picked me up. But I'm okay now, honest. Uncle Art is really nice to me." Kelly unsnapped his seat belt and lay down with his head on my upper thigh and began to cry in earnest. I quickly looked for a place to pull over, and tried to keep the conversation going.
"But Kelly, you --"
"Mrs. Watson," I interrupted, "I can imagine some of the things you must be thinking. But please, ask yourself this. If Kelly weren't okay, if he weren't safe, would I be bringing him to you?"
There was a long silence. For a moment I thought we were losing the call. "Mrs. Watson, are you still there?"
"I'm here. I'm sorry, it's just that I... I mean I had this picture of... I guess I should thank you for taking care of Kelly. But why didn't you say all this earlier? Why did you hang up?"
I took a deep breath, then blew it out through pursed lips. "Mrs. Watson, I can explain more about this when we get to Seattle. But please understand that legally, Kelly is still a runaway. If this Reverend Foster is as mean a bastard as I think he is -- pardon my language, but Kelly has told me a few things about him -- anyway, a man like that could easily make me out to be a kidnapper. So when you said you had called the police, I suddenly had this vision of Kelly being sent back to that house, or to a foster home, and, frankly, of me going to jail, and I guess Kelly and I both just sort of freaked. So I asked the one most important question, and we got ready and got on the road. So here we are."
"The one most important question?"
"Yes. Whether Kelly would be welcome with you."
"Mom?" Kelly had recovered himself enough to talk again by the time I had brought the pickup to a stop in a graveled pullout. "Can I really come there?"
"Of course, Kelly. You know that. We told you before that you could come to us anytime you needed to. We just didn't think it would be all the way here to Bellevue." The reception was starting to break up, and I knew we were getting to the limit of cell phone service. "When do you think you will be here?" But there was no time for me to answer, because with three warning beeps, the call ended.
After the excitement and intimacy of the previous three days, our trip to Missoula was surprisingly subdued. Neither of us knew exactly what would await us in Seattle. We could have talked the possibilities to death, but apparently Kelly and I shared a tendency to grow quiet and somewhat withdrawn when we were full of uncertainty. We listened to some quiet jazz, some Brubeck and some Stan Kenton, and then I introduced Kelly to a long-lived pop group with jazz roots, my favorite group of all time, Chicago. Kelly turned up his nose at some of the early songs, such as "Color My World," but came alive with songs of the middle period with Peter Cetera. He loved the cello riff near the end of "Hard Habit to Break," which happened to be one of my favorite moments in all of Chicago's recordings. I loved this group partly because I appreciated their fine musicianship. I loved hearing real musicians playing actual instruments, a group that could produce the same sound in live performance as in studio sessions, without lip-syncing or using pre-recorded segments.
The cell phone was now useless, so at our first stop for gas I used my prepaid calling card to call ahead to Jellystone Park and make a reservation for the night. Since it was now Friday, I felt lucky that a space was still available. Kelly could use some relief from the tension of the afternoon. I took advantage of Montana's liberal speed limit law and pushed the rig to the maximum, ignoring the fact that my gas mileage dropped to about fourteen with the high speed. By six in the evening, we were pulling through the entrance to Jellystone, one of a chain of delightfully tacky campgrounds. At twenty-six dollars for the night it was the most expensive place I had stayed on the whole trip, but after the stress of the day, I thought we were due for a little recreation -- well, a little conventional recreation.
We still had no cell phone service. Apparently, my company had no arrangement with a cell service provider in Missoula. This was one of the frustrating things about having a cellular phone. There were so many companies, but they were not interconnected except where specific agreements had been reached. Consequently, I had service where I least expected it, in and around Yellowstone, but not in Montana's version of a metropolitan area. I again used my prepaid card to place a brief call to Mrs. Watson, assuring her that we were fine and telling her our location, and letting her know that we would call when we got closer to Seattle. Freddie was still not home, but Kelly did spend a couple of minutes on the line with 'Mom.'
The last thing I wanted to do this night was cook, so we ate at the campground's weekend open-pit barbecue -- ribs this time, not burgers. Kelly delighted in the messiness of eating ribs dripping with sauce. He mopped up the extra sauce with greasy jumbo French fries and grinned at me. Twice he caught my eye and licked his lips slowly, lazily, seductively. Then he raised his eyebrows twice, almost like Groucho Marx, and giggled. There was no doubt what was on his mind. An employee came walking by dressed in a Yogi Bear suit, so of course we had to take Kelly's picture with his arm around the bear.
The miniature golf course was the real article, not the campy variety with windmills and clown's faces as obstacles. Kelly had never played before, and had a tendency to whack the ball out of the fairway entirely. It took two warnings from the course attendant before he settled down. He lost, of course, or would have if we had been keeping score. In fact, he was having so much fun on the course that he would have been happy to take a dozen or fifteen strokes on every hole, if only he could keep batting that ball around.
We headed next for the pool. I had a swimsuit. Kelly did not, but we decided that his shorts would do. Given today's styles, who could tell the difference? We took all our bath gear with us so that we could take our evening showers at the pool. The communal changing area was empty when we arrived, and Kelly was full of devilment. He sat down long enough to take off his shoes and socks, then stood up, turned away from me, bent over and dropped his pants, leaving me staring at the full moon. Before he could move, I stepped forward and gave him a swat on his bare rear that produced more sound than pain. He shrieked with glee, jumped up straight and turned around, his shorts dropping to his knees. He pointed at me and yelled, "Child molester in the bath house! Child molester in the bath house!"
I pointed at his dangling member and shouted back, "Flasher! Flasher! Arrest this man for indecent exposure!" At that moment Kelly stopped yelling and stood stock still. I turned around and saw a young boy, probably twelve years old, shirtless, swimsuit and towel folded over one arm, staring at us with an expression somewhere between bemusement and shock. Kelly and I burst into gales of laughter. The surprise of being caught in our little game came out as uncontrollable laughter. The boy finally grinned, shrugged his shoulders, and sat down on one of the benches.
While he was laughing, Kelly had let his shorts and underwear fall to the floor. What he did next shocked the hell out of me. Wearing nothing but a T-shirt and a smile, he walked over to the other boy, and held out his hand. "My name's Kelly," he said. "What's yours?"
I noticed that the youngster had a hard time deciding where to look. He looked up at Kelly's face and he blushed, but his eyes immediately dropped back to Kelly's crotch, which was exactly at his eye level. I wondered if he had ever been in a communal shower before. Kelly's boldness astonished me. Perhaps he was just by nature a gregarious kid who had never before had the chance to be himself. I hoped it was the love and acceptance I had given him that had given him the freedom to open up. But then I remembered Jason, who had kept Kelly naked every night for the last four or five years. No wonder he had no shame about his nudity.
The slim, blonde twelve-year-old finally took Kelly's hand. "I'm Bryan," he said. "Bryan Swenson."
Still shaking Bryan's hand, my boy replied, "I'm Kelly Grayson. This is my Uncle Art. Are you alone?"
"Yeah, my dad didn't want to come swimming," Bryan said, still blushing, still intermittently staring at Kelly's young cock, apparently fascinated by the little bush of pubic hair.
"You want to swim with us? Maybe you could help me. I don't know how to swim very well."
"O -- okay, I guess."
"Good, we'll meet you outside." As Kelly walked past me to finish changing, he grinned at me and winked. Now, what the hell did that mean? I quickly changed into my suit, but I did not give Bryan another show. If he wanted to look at anything, it would have to be my butt.
There were no lockers. I had discovered on my trip that RVers were a pretty honest lot. They were accustomed to leaving gear around their camping spots, and it was very rarely that anything disappeared. Of course, bringing a wallet or an expensive watch to the changing room would be leading people into temptation, but it would be safe to leave Kelly's pack and my gym bag there and just take our towels.
"Bryan's cute," Kelly said as we walked toward the pool.
I stopped and turned toward him. "Better not tell him that," I said seriously. "He might not like it. Boys don't usually call other boys 'cute.' He might think--" and then I stopped, not sure that I should have started down this road.
"He might think what, think I'm gay?"
I let out the rest of that breath all at once. "Yeah."
Kelly just shrugged his shoulders. "So what? I am gay."
A very public swimming pool was hardly the place to have this conversation, I simply said, "We can talk about that later. Come on, let's get in the water." Just as I was trying to decide whether to take it slow or get the entry over with in a hurry, a blonde whirlwind wearing royal blue Speedos hurtled past us, jumped from the edge, tucked into a ball and came down with a splash, effectively taking care of the problem of how Kelly and I were going to get wet. The lifeguard's whistle blew a warning blast just as Bryan popped up out of the water, pointing and laughing at us. The lifeguard was watching so we couldn't pay him back, but we both jumped in feet first and joined him.
Kelly, characteristically, got straight to the point. "Where'd you get the cool swimsuit?"
"It's a team suit. I'm on a swim team at the 'Y' back home. I forgot everybody else wears those baggy ones. These can be kind of embarrassing."
"Well, I think they're cu--," Kelly began, stopping himself just in time. "I think they look good on you." If truth be told, I would have liked to get a better look at Bryan in Speedos myself.
"Thanks," Bryan said, and his cheeks seemed to flush a bit. "That's a really cool necklace," he said, pointing at the jade and silver souvenir from Yellowstone.
"Thanks. Uncle Art bought it for me."
For more than an hour the three of us splashed around in the pool, not really swimming much. We stayed toward the shallow end because Kelly was not a confident swimmer. The boys wanted to play water tag, which went pretty quickly with only three of us. But trying to tag another when you were "it" often involved leaping forward and grabbing, and more than once I found myself with my arms full of squirming boy. Then Kelly announced a new rule, as boys will often do, this one being that instead of just touching, the one who was "it" had to hold on for at least five seconds. Water tag quickly turned into water wrestling, and there was something vaguely erotic, but not specifically sexual, about all that slippery skin. For a while two more boys, Peter and Tom, both of them of that indeterminate age associated with early puberty, joined us in that way boys have of just fitting into an activity without formal request or permission. Since Bryan and Kelly accepted me as part of the game, Peter and Tom seemed to have no hesitation about the close contact and the holding that resulted from Kelly's rule. One of them, Tom I think, I could have sworn deliberately ran his hand up over my crotch as he tried to wriggle out of my 5-second hold. I wonder if he was disappointed that there was not much of interest there, since I was not at all physically aroused by the game.
When Peter and Tom's father called them away for a late dinner, the game of tag faltered. The number of people in the pool was dwindling. We lay on our backs, one boy on either side of me, our necks bent backward over the lip of the pool, looking up at the stars. The lighting in the campground was indirect and shielded. There were none of those glaring mercury or sodium vapor lamps, so there was less light pollution in the sky than there would be near a major city. The Milky Way spread across the sky liked the sequined train of a goddess' gown. The sight inspired awe, not articulate speech. Quite by accident I think, Kelly chose exactly the right word.
"Awesome!" he breathed.
"Wow!" came Bryan's response.
It was getting late, and I was sure Bryan's parents would come looking for him soon. We pulled ourselves out of the pool, and without appearing to stare I was able to get a good look at Bryan in his racing suit. I could see what he meant about the suit being a little embarrassing. Every contour of his genitals was visible through the thin fabric. There was a small protrusion, as if his penis were half hard, a reaction I often had as a boy when cool air began to chill my body after swimming. As I have said earlier, I always did have a fascination with boys' bodies, but had never gone beyond the point of looking, except with Kelly.
Without thinking of the implications, Kelly and I walked into the handicapped-access section of the tiled shower area. It had two shower heads, one at each end, controlled by a single handle. The spray from the two heads overlapped in the center at about wheelchair height. Bryan followed us, and when we stripped down, so did he, after a moment's hesitation. But when Kelly and I began to soap down, Bryan simply stood there, unable to stop himself from watching. I could not help but look back, if a bit more discreetly. He already had a swimmer's body. He was one of those boys who had been born with some muscular definition, rather than with the stick-boy figure so common at his age. He was clearly on the edge of puberty, because his penis was no longer the tiny finger of young boyhood.
As he stood and gaped, Bryan seemed unaware of the fact that his member was beginning to lengthen and thicken, until he stood in all his boyish glory with a three- inch erection that stuck straight out from his body like a flagpole. Kelly stepped forward and whispered something in his ear. Bryan looked down, blushed and covered his groin with his hands. Kelly whispered in his ear again, then stepped back into the shower spray and began to soap his genitals, then to lightly stroke himself until he, too, was standing tall. Kelly dropped his hands to his sides, and so did Bryan, and they just grinned silly grins each other. The sight of the two boyish erections was doing things to my own body, and after making one attempt at turning my back, I decided to hell with it and made no attempt either to flaunt or to hide my own arousal. I certainly was not going to join in this little game, but neither did I not want to interfere unless it clearly began to go down a dangerous road.
Once more Kelly stepped forward and whispered in Bryan's ear, and this time the boy stepped forward into the spray. Kelly handed him his bottle of shampoo, and we all turned to the normal business of taking a shower. It appeared that the game was over. By the time we had toweled down and were getting dressed, all evidence of the briefly erotic experience had vanished.
We said very conventional good-byes to Bryan, unless you count the giggles that seemed to strike both boys as we parted, and we made our way back to the camper. I wondered if I should bring up the subject of Bryan, but it did not seem to me that Kelly was trying to exploit the boy. It was more like a childish experimentation, a game about what boys' bodies would do. What was unusual was the fact that Kelly was uninhibited by my presence.
"Have a seat, Kelly, we need to talk," I said as I closed the door behind us Kelly sat at one side of the eating area, and I sat on the other. He was looking down at his hands. "Kelly, you aren't in trouble. I just wanted to talk with you about what you said earlier, about being gay. We really haven't used that word before, we've only talked about your experimenting with Freddie."
He looked up at me, and his eyes were hot. "We weren't experimenting! I love Freddie!"
"I'm not saying you don't. But I know a few things about you, Kel. I know you were never allowed to have friends. I know you two slept in the same bed when you had run away from your stepfather. You were lonely and desperate and afraid. He's the first person you were ever really close to, I mean emotionally close, since your father died. If I had been you, I would have held on to him for dear life. Maybe you'll love him forever. Maybe what that means is that you'll always be friends. But if you are able to start to have a normal life, there will be other friends as well. Who knows, you may even start to find girls attractive."
"Never! I'm gay, I know I am."
"Kelly, I hope you trust me enough to at least listen to me and think about what I say. In my years as a teacher I have met quite a few students who were gay. Every one of them knew they were different already when they were in grade school, even if they didn't have a name for it. But Kel, you weren't allowed to grow up normally. Everyone you loved was taken away from you. You were forced into sex with Jason, and you were way too young for that kind of sex, and you learned that it could bring you pleasure. You were trained to like it, Kelly. You were trained the way some people would train an animal. Now that you're free of that, it's going to take some time for you to figure out what you really feel, and who you really are. Just take things easy, and give it some time, okay?"
"Okay," Kelly said, but it was a very tentative and uncertain agreement.
"And, by the way, if you really are gay, or if you only just think you are, I'd suggest that it doesn't pay to advertise."
"What do you mean?"
"Tonight when I said to you that Bryan might think you're gay, you said, 'So what? I am.' I think you need to remember that people can be pretty cruel. I'm sure you've read enough stories on Nifty to make that pretty clear. Just be careful, okay? I don't want to see you hurt."
Kelly got up and crossed to me and threw his arms around me. "Thank you, Uncle Art," he said. The position was awkward. I stood up so I could return his hug.
"Thank me for what?"
"For caring about me. For rescuing me. For being my Jeff." He looked up and kissed me then, a son's kiss for a father, then lay his against my chest. "Is this going to be our last time together?" he finally asked.
"I don't know, Kelly. It might be."
He looked up at me again, and this time tears were running down his cheeks. "I don't want this to end," he said.
"Neither do I. But you know it has to end sometime, don't you?" He nodded, then hugged me even more tightly. "There's one thing that will not end, Kelly. I will always love you."
"I love you, too." He kissed me again, and this kiss had nothing to do with a son's love. This was a lover's kiss, warm and deep and tender and passionate. "Let's go to bed," he said. "And grab a towel."
We made love that night, and this time it was face to face, Kelly on his back with his legs hooked over my shoulders. This was the way he wanted it, and I was not going to deny him any request. We gazed into each other's eyes the whole time, until the moment when I came in a shuddering orgasm that caused my eyes to involuntarily squeeze shut .
It was too soon for Kelly. His grunting sounds were just beginning to mount in intensity when my climax overtook me. As soon as I had recovered, I withdrew, cleaned up a little, and shifted my body downward so I could engulf his teenage erection in my mouth. As I bobbed up and down, his hips came up to meet me, and this time I was prepared when I felt his warm stickiness flooding my tongue. I swallowed as he groaned in ecstasy. Once more, at the moment of his greatest pleasure, he cried out, "I love you!" and then all the muscles of his body relaxed at once and he dropped limply to the mattress. I continued to nurse gently on his softening member, prolonging his afterglow.
We slept in each other's arms, clinging to each other in the knowledge that this might be our last night together.
[Note: Google Maps didn't go live until 2005, and the GPS system did not go mainstream until 2007. In this story we are back in the era of paper road maps and trip planning software. There also was no such thing as Internet access in an RV park. Cell phone service was still spotty, but there were pay phones everywhere.]
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