All my life I have suffered from a tendency to make a quick series of wrong choices, such as deciding to take a short cut, then realizing it was too slow and turning around, only to discover that a one-way street made it take so long to get back on the original route that I should have stayed on the short cut. I felt a little bit like that now, driving down the road away from Jellystone Park in the early Saturday morning light. Mrs. Watson's mention of the police had thrown me for a loop, there was no doubt about that. I had made a quick decision to leave immediately for Seattle, before realizing that we were in no immediate danger. Then I committed myself to a quick arrival in Seattle, only later coming to grips with the fact that nothing was in place. Kelly's legal status in Wyoming was unresolved, the Watsons had not been approached about the relationship between Kelly and Freddie, there was no guarantee whatsoever that Kelly would not end up as another child lost in the labyrinthine foster care system.
It was all going much too fast. I could not stop this juggernaut, but I could slow it down just a little. I called ahead to my Thousand Trails membership campground outside of Seattle and made a reservation for Saturday night. The end of a long day's journey would be no time to begin any heavy discussions with the Watsons. On the other hand, waiting until a workday would limit our time too severely. Sunday would be best.
We were moving up into the mountains now, and Kelly was transfixed by the spectacular scenic views. I decided to try an experiment. Kelly treasured the jazz his father had loved, and his stepfather's church had disapproved of all contemporary popular music. Since his taste had not been spoiled by an excess of noise masquerading as music, I wondered how he would respond to something quite different. At our first stop I slipped a CD of Antonio Respighi's 'The Fountains of Rome' into the changer and waited for a stretch of road that would bring us across several ridges in a fairly short period of time. I started the music as background, then gradually turned up the volume. Of course, the music was not as well matched to the changes in the landscape as it would have been in a well-edited video. Still, Respighi's way of using successive crescendos, each beginning at a point just slightly louder than the one before, suited the rise and fall of the mountain peaks. The ultimate crescendo was almost orgiastic in its intensity, with a string sostenuto over a pulsing repeating figure in the brass, slowly dying away with occasional diminishing repetitions of the brass figure, into a tranquil finale. Whoever said Ravel's "Bolero" was the only piece of music that sounded like sex? Kelly said nothing through the entire twenty or more minutes. Finally, as the last strains died away, he said, "Uncle Art, that was awesome! What was that music?"
Rather than take time with unfamiliar names, I pressed the remote control to advance to the next disc. "If you think that was awesome, listen to this." I cranked up the volume, and Richard Wagner's 'Ride of the Valkyries' blasted from the speakers, reminding me of the helicopter gun run in 'Apocalypse Now'. It was the music the helicopter pilot played at the Grand Canyon as we skimmed the treetops, just before the earth dropped away to reveal the breathtaking beauty of the canyon. I wish Kelly could have been with me at that point in the trip, but for him now it was almost like taking a roller coaster ride. Although he was starting to overuse the word, he pronounced Wagner also to be, "Awesome!" I just hoped the Watsons appreciated classical music!
Around ten-thirty we drove in to the lakefront park in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. I could drive for hours without stopping, but Kelly needed activity. We walked the boardwalk, threw Frisbees on the grass, and picked up a light lunch at a waterfront restaurant. I was spending far too much money on restaurant food, but since I was cutting two weeks off my vacation, I decided I could afford it.
Back in the camper and on our way to Spokane, I finally gave in to a thought that had been nagging at the back of my mind since the night before. There was still something about the incident with Bryan in the showers at Jellystone Park that bothered me. Was it just harmless flirting, or was there more? I decided I had to bring it up.
"Kelly, I'd like us to talk about Bryan."
"Who?" His tone of voice was a dead giveaway. There was something here he did not want to talk about. There was no way he could have forgotten the boy's name.
"Now, don't go all innocent on me, Kelly. That whole business in the shower with Bryan last night. What was that about?"
Kelly shrugged his shoulders. "I dunno," he said.
"I'm not buying that. Was it just harmless flirting, or were you serious?" No response from Kelly. "Let me put it a different way. Suppose I hadn't been there. Suppose there had been a lock on the door so no one could tell what was going on. What would you have done?"
"What do you mean?"
"Kelly, quit it, we've got no time for bullshit! You know exactly what I mean, so stop evading the issue. What would you have done? Would you have wanted to have sex with Bryan?"
"I dunno. I guess."
"Now let me get this straight. Here is a boy you have known for about ten minutes. He's cute, right, I'll admit that. My guess is that he is also completely sexually inexperienced. An older boy, much more sexually aware -- you -- takes an interest in him. He looks up to the older boy. After all, how many big kids with hair on their dicks and everything actually pay attention to a twelve-year-old? And you were going to use his admiration of you to seduce him so that you could get your rocks off one more time? Am I getting this right?"
"I guess... No... I don't know."
"Okay, let me try it another way. Suppose it's just Bryan and me in the shower. What if I deliberately give myself a boner and show it to him, and then start asking him if he understands what's happening to his body. I'm pretty experienced at working with young boys, Kelly, I could get pretty close to him. What would you think if I ended up masturbating Bryan in the shower?"
"You wouldn't do that."
"Wouldn't I? I did it to you."
"That was different."
"Why was it different?"
"Because... because I needed you, and... and I knew what I wanted, and..."
"So you wouldn't want me to take advantage of an inexperienced boy, but it would be okay for you to do it? He admired you, Kelly, he looked up to you, right from the start. And you were prepared to take advantage of that to get what you wanted?"
Kelly had never looked up at me since the conversation began, but his cheeks were beginning to flush red. "I didn't think of that," he said quietly. I decided to press my advantage.
"And what about Freddie?" He looked over at me sharply. Now I really had his attention. "I thought you told me you love Freddie."
"I do love him," he protested hotly.
"Do you? Or do you just love what it feels like when you're in bed with him? Are you ready to put his needs above your own? Do you want Freddie and nobody else?"
"Yes!" he nearly shouted.
"Or do you want Freddie for yourself, but still reserve the right to have Bryan and any other cute boy who just happens to come along?"
"Kelly, did you know that of all the people who are arrested for child abuse, about ninety per cent of them were abused when they were kids? Do you see where I'm going with this?"
"You mean you think I might end up abusing other kids?"
Deep breath. "I don't know, Kelly. I hope not. I'm just trying to give you some things to think about. You're a smart kid, Kel. You're basically a decent kid. I think if you know about the possibilities, you can probably avoid them."
"So you think I shouldn't have done anything last night?"
How I wished there was an easy answer for that one. I was treading a fine line here. I wanted to make Kelly aware without loading him with a lot of guilt. The burden he carried from the years of abuse from Jason was heavy enough. My father used to say something about being as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves. I needed that kind of wisdom now. "Kelly, I'm a pretty smart guy too. I'm pretty good at helping people think through problems. But I don't pretend to have all the right answers. There's nothing wrong with a couple of boys swapping stories about their boners. I wouldn't be surprised if half the boys your age haven't experimented some with other boys. You've never been in a situation where you could do that, except with Freddie. Of course you're curious about other boys and their equipment. It's just that there's a fine line here. On one side is two boys experimenting and learning together. On the other side is an older guy taking a younger one to places he really isn't ready for yet. Which side of the line were you on, Kel?"
"I don't really think I did anything wrong."
"Good. I'll take your word for it. I just wanted you think about it, because you're going to be making friends, and you're going to have to decide what to do with your feelings. I think I can give you something that might help in the future."
"It's one of the oldest ideas in human history. Christians call it the Golden Rule, but almost all religions have some version of it. It says that you should treat other people in the way you would like them to treat you. And that means thinking not about what people want, but about what's best for them."
Kelly appeared to be thinking this over, and then he reached across and touched my arm. "I love you, Uncle Art," he said. This was nothing like the response I expected, but at that moment it was the best thing he could have said.
"I love you, Kel."
I always knew that at times I could feel other people's emotions. At this moment there was a palpable sense of warmth and love. I let the moment stretch on for a while, and then I broke the silence. "I have something else I want to talk to you about, Kelly, but that's enough for one session. What do you say we listen to a little Chicago?"
"Ride of the Valkyries?"
So with Wagner thundering in our ears we came out onto the plateau toward Spokane, on our way toward whatever destiny awaited us in Seattle.
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