I woke up two hours later with a splitting headache, right between my eyes, something that never, ever happened to me. Not only that, I had an odd, tingly feeling that someone was watching me. But when I looked around the room, all of the guys were fast asleep. I could feel Jake's piss hard-on poking between my butt cheeks as I pried my way out of his tan and muscular arms. Apparently, we had switched places during the night. I stood up and rubbed my temples for a minute, sticking my fingers deep into the flesh, and quickly pulled on my dirty sweatpants.
Since it was still warm, I left my t-shirt lying on the floor. Sloan woke up and looked at me to take her outside. The minute I nodded in the affirmative, she was rearing to go take a wiz, like usual. As we wandered through the congested house, I could see that everybody was coupled up and snoring away, dead to the world. Enzo and Kenji were snuggled up and wrapped tightly in a couple of old purple paisley-patterned sheets next to us, while Tucker and Colton were snoring away happily on the other side of the couch, both of their naked asses sticking out proudly to the world. Colt had his right arm lazily draped over Tucker's broad back. I peeked into the living room and saw that Lisa was secured safely in Coop's long arms on the couch, holding her tight right below her naked and exposed tits. Turning away, I guessed that the little men were still fast asleep upstairs, still in their clothes. It was me and Sloan against the world.
It was still early, maybe about six. Sloan and I made our way quietly through the room and into my mom's big kitchen, where I grabbed a couple of aspirin out of the cupboard and downed them with a big gulp of cold water straight from the faucet. I couldn't believe that I was up again after only a couple hours sleep. We headed to the kitchen door and outside onto the big pool deck. The cold cement felt good on my bare feet, and I was glad to see the guys did such a great job getting rid of the blood stains and hosing everything down. Nobody would be able to tell that a bad guy got whacked out there.
It was a spectacular July morning, warm and sunny, with a slight, cool breeze coming down off the mountain tops. The few puffy clouds in the crisp blue sky were busy making bizarre shapes for the people living down below in the valley to try to figure out what they were. The little birds that hung out in our trees were darting around in a groovy way, chasing each other without a care in the world. A couple of pigeons were doing a crazy courting dance over by the diving board, while a red-headed woodpecker was darting from tree to tree looking for the right spot to start drilling. I watched them for a minute and decided that if I had to be reincarnated as an animal, I wanted to be a bird. I changed my mind when I figured out that I'd have to eat worms. Ick. Plus, my head was pounding so much right now that there was no freakin' way I could ever be a woodpecker.
While Sloan took a good, long, hard piss on one of my dad's favorite bushes, the one with the crazy red flowers, I slowly walked around the pool deck and sucked in the morning air, deep, deep into my lungs. It felt amazing, and it woke me up, but it didn't take away the pain in my head. For this time of year, it was unusually quiet and oddly calm. I didn't even hear the usual small-plane drone going on overhead. Nobody was mowing their lawns or firing up their old, rusty cars. It was totally, totally quiet. But then I remembered today was the Fourth of July and was a holiday. I guess the neighbors were taking advantage of the day off and sleeping in.
I looked around the yard and over to the path that went behind the garage that led to both the pool and treehouses. It was fresh and shady, silent, and still somewhat dark over there. Surprisingly, but not really all that surprising, I could make out a lone figure standing there looking back at me. Our eyes locked on each other. It was a man, very tall, standing perfectly straight, wrapped up in an old and worn red, white and black wool Indian blanket, with crazy fringe at the bottom. He had also donned a dusty black bowler hat that had an old playing card stuck in the band. It seemed funny to me at first, but completely normal after a second or two. Like this was his place. Like he had been here, like forever.
For some crazy reason, I wasn't scared, and instead, I felt compelled to go over and meet this guy and see what he was all about and doing in my backyard. Or maybe it was his backyard. I wasn't quite sure. I wanted to talk with him and see what was up. Maybe he was a ghost of a native Gabrielino-Tongva that inhabited this area for centuries before us gringos, like the dudes my dad told us stories about. They got screwed a hundred years ago. Up the butt, and not in a good way. Anyway, Sloan saw him too, and like me, instead of going ballistic, she cocked her head in wonderment. She seemed unusually content, and I could almost swear that she even smiled. Surprisingly, I wasn't bothered either by seeing a strange dude standing in the pathway in the middle of our backyard, this early in the morning.
The more I stared at him, the more I had this odd, magnetic attraction to him, and I started to walk around the pool and towards this guy. Sloan followed a couple of steps in front of me, excited, but not barking like she usually would. As we got closer to the path, I could see that he had tossed off the blanket and threw his hat to the ground and was standing there, buck-ass naked with his prominent assets hanging out front for the whole freakin' world to see.
He stood tall and erect, his sinewy arms crossed over his taut chest. He had a dark brown tan over his entire body, and long, shiny black hair that crept down his neck, way past his shoulder blades, and in front, almost to his big brown nipples. Two thin sections of his hair around the top of his forehead were braided with dark feathers and silver beads. The beads shined bright in the low light. His stomach was tight and had defined ridges like he had lived a hard, work-filled life. He had a big black bush of curly pubes hanging over his bulky, uncut meat, and droopy balls swinging to and fro. I noticed that the guy had sensuous, long hard legs that ended in big, really big, flat feet. Even though he had what epitomized the perfect body I still wasn't scared or worried by this guy, and not even interested in his nudity. Thing was, I felt compelled to go towards him for some unknown reason.
As I got closer and closer to this guy standing in the middle of the path, his look seemed to morph into a bunch of familiar faces. It made me wonder if I had taken some acid tabs instead of the two aspirin.
Shaking my head to try and clear it, I looked long and hard at this dude again. At first, I thought he was the Dark Man because for a split-second his face got all hairy and scraggly and he seemed to put on weight, but I realized that he was too clean and buff to be him. Then I thought it might be the guy that tried to break in the backdoor last night and got whacked and thrown down the canyon, but his face shifted too fast for me to be completely sure. And besides, that dude didn't have long hair like this guy did. The morphing faces sent shivers down my spine, but I still didn't feel any fear. In fact, it kind of tickled running down my back. Blinking a couple of times to clear my eyes, and taking another hard look at him, I thought he might be a ghost of the cop who fell down the cliff after getting bit in the crotch by that coyote.
But no. Oh no. Oh freakin' no. He wasn't any of these guys. He didn't seem to be anybody that I had ever met before, and yet, he was quite familiar. We were almost ten feet away from each other now when his face settled down and went blank, like an artist's pale canvas. The pain between my eyes suddenly went away with a hard jolt, and on came a crazy realization that this guy was my dad's long-ago friend Red Crow. Wow!
I scrunched up my face and tried to figure out how that was even possible since I had never seen him before. My dad had told me he was dead, maybe twenty years ago or more, and this guy didn't look much older than Colt. Not much older than a teenager. The naked guy stood there staring at me, cracking a slight smile on the corner of his mouth as he somehow sensed my acknowledgment of who he was.
We were maybe three feet apart when I came to a stop in front of him. We both stood there sizing each other up. I felt a strange calm, and I wasn't the least bit scared. Sloan plopped down hard on my foot, and I swear, when I looked down at her she had the biggest, shit-eating grin on her face as she stared up at this guy. Dogs just seem to know what's right and what's wrong.
Sucking in a bunch of fresh, cool air, I asked quietly, "You're Red Crow, aren't you? For some reason, I know you." I didn't need to say that because I already knew the answer to my question, but I had to start with something since he wasn't going to talk first – he was waiting for me. I could feel his thoughts though, coursing through my mind. It was strange, but energizing at the same time. I got the feeling that he was pure energy, and I wanted to spend hours talking with him. He was like nobody I had ever met before.
"Indeed. I am him. I am Red Crow. And you, my friend, are Wiley's number one son. Ryan Jacob Miller. Is that correct?"
"Yeah, but how the heck did you know that?"
"You are special. I've been watching you for a long time now. You should know that."
"Really? Me? All the time? I've never seen you before."
"Yes, you have. Your problem is you aren't aware. You have a big brain, but you don't use it to your benefit. We've been here the whole time. I know all. I have seen all."
"Seriously? All the time? Everywhere? Even in the bathroom?"
"Yes. Even plopping in the great white bowl."
"Oh, man. That's freaky. And you watched us in the treehouse when I was naked with Jake and doing our most private things together? But how? And why? Why would you do that?"
"Walk with me, boy."
"Are you going to answer my questions?"
"Maybe. Soon. Walk with me."
"To one of your secret places."
He stuck out his arm and motioned for me to follow him. I guess I didn't have a choice. Sloan happily jumped up and ran ahead of both of us towards the trail. Red Crow turned and followed Sloan, his firm, tight butt cheeks facing me. If he had any clothes, other than the blanket and that crazy hat, they weren't around here. I guess he traveled light. He looked nice being naked, but he didn't turn me on, and instead, made me feel comfortable and intrigued. And strangely, safe. I wanted to ask him some questions, but I'd have to wait. We walked silently and steadily for maybe ten minutes, maybe more, until we reached the rock outcropping that Jake and I had hiked to many times before. It felt even more sacred and special now that he was here.
Even though I had a million questions in my mind that I wanted to ask, I was tongue-tied and couldn't speak when we finally stopped walking. I didn't know what to say, or which question to ask first. Plus, I had this immense feeling that this guy was going to tell me things that maybe I wasn't ready to hear. The thought of that overwhelmed me. Maybe I was too young to hear what he was going to tell me. Or maybe I was too inept. But then, I was my dad's age when he had his experience with Red Crow, so maybe I'd be able to understand it after all. I felt conflicted and was starting to freak out.
"Ryan Jacob Miller, please sit. Turn down your mind. It's moving way too fast. Your brain is big, but you are not using it correctly. Don't get ahead of yourself."
"Okay. I'll calm down. Sorry. You know, you can call me just Ryan, if that's okay, or Ry. That's what my friends call me. And what should I call you?" I asked, jumping up and sitting on the edge of the big granite rock so I could look him in the eyes. "Is Red Crow okay?"
"No, Just Ryan, oh no. Call me Sam. Sam, Sam, Sam. Sam, I am," he said and started laughing. But I didn't. I didn't think it was at all funny. Why would a spirit joke about Dr. Seuss? When he calmed down, he started talking again. "Seriously, call me Red Crow. I don't think you could pronounce my real name, even if you tried. The literal translation in English is Red Crow, but I don't have the time to help you learn the translation into Navajo. The Navajo language is very complicated, and you'd probably botch it up."
"Yeah, right. Okay, Red Crow, it is. Red Crow is what my dad said he called you when he was a teenager and you guys hung out together. He told us the story about you guys a few of weeks ago. What happened at that lake. And Sam doesn't fit you. Sorry, but Sam seems goofy to me."
"That's fine. I like Red Crow. And I know Wiley's story. I am him, but I am not him. We are both, but not together."
"Huh? Both what?" Red Crow looked at me and smiled, but didn't say anything. "Okay, I kinda get it. Both and together. Ying/yang. Right and left. Like my mom's tuna casserole on toast. Separate but equal. Tasty, but not so tasty. Good, but not so good, depending on how you make it." I was nervous and starting to babble. "I get it. So are you dead? Or are you like a spirit or a ghost, maybe? You're not a vampire, are you? And why the heck did you come here to tell me this stuff?"
"Are you done with your questions? Just Ryan, you run at the mouth. I'm not a ghost, but something more like energy from another plane. It's hard to explain. You are not yet ready to understand all of it. You are smart, but not so quick."
"Well, make me understand then. I may be young, but I'm not stupid." Changing the subject, I said, "You know, my dad loves you like, well, like he loves my mom, I guess. But not like my mom. Geez, now I sound like you! Does that make sense? He cried over you when he told Jake and me the story of your life and when you died. We all did. It was very sad."
"I love him very much. And, I love your mother too, but she is not open to me yet. Sometime, she will be. But that is not our concern this morning, young buck. My concern is for you, and your boy Jake. Right now, the spirit of my people flows through me. They are here with me, sharing your love. And they are laughing with joy and wonderment. But do not be embarrassed or afraid, young warrior. This is normal to them, and they love you. All of you."
"Wow. That's heavy. Okay, what do you want to tell me?"
"I am nadleehi. I am what you would call two-spirit. I am both male and female. Masculine and feminine. I take the male form, but know all things female. I am male and female inside, deep inside my soul. But you already know that. I am the earth and the sky. Black and white. Positive and negative. Yes and no. A real dichotomy, dontcha know? In this form, I have a cock, but not a slit-skin pussy. I am hastiin achak (man spirit). Your dad is not nadleehi. You are not. Jake is not, and neither are your friends. You and your friends are not nadleehi. You are most definitely male, male who loves other males. Except for Lisa. She has a slit but acts like a man. That has caused us overlookers much humor, Just Ryan."
"Wow. Seriously? All you guys watched us naked? Lisa too? And what we do with our dicks? Bummer. Even when we're making out together? And smoking Coop's weed? I can't believe it. Do you overlookers like watching that kind of stuff? You sound kinda like pervs to me. Don't you have more important things to do?"
"Yes, we do. But we can't do those things in our plane. It gives us great satisfaction to watch you. It is gratifying to see you enjoy and share your love and joy with your bodies unconditionally and so freely with each other. It makes us happy. But we are not voyeurs. It is your freedom and love that you share that makes us so very, very happy."
"But still, that's kinda gross. It's like watching my parents do it. Do I have to look up and see if you're spying on us from now on?"
"No. It's not like that. We enjoy watching your life forms make love, with total compassion and understanding. However, after today we will have no contact with you in that regard, and we won't be watching anymore. Today is an important and last lesson for you."
I leaned back on the big rock and thought about that, looking deeply into the tall man's face. I hoped it was true. I didn't want to be making out with Jake and keep thinking that we were being watched, even if they were only ghosts or spirits or overlookers or whatever. I guess it sunk in because I said, "My dad told me you were special. And now I kinda know why. You know, he loved you. He loved you very much. He cried when he talked about you."
"I know. He is my Bich'áayaa íí'áhí, my, how do you say, boyfriend. But that's not the correct translation. The word brother comes close, but he is more than that; so much more than that. Inside. Inside my heart. My being, my soul. But not my soul. It's hard to describe. I think he knows that too. But it was not meant to be for us, at least not on this plane. Not now. It's not our time. It could never have been, and that made me sad. So sad, that I had to go away, long, long ago. I'm sorry that he had to be hok'ee (abandoned), but I did not have a choice in the matter. At least he met a wonderful girl and had two smart and intelligent free-spirited boys." He was staring straight at me with his dark, piercing eyes. But I wasn't the least bit uncomfortable.
"He knows. I know he does. He holds you right here in his heart," I said, pounding my fist hard to my chest. "I know he loves you like a brother." I was starting to tear up. "Maybe more than that. I think that's why he loves Jake so much and embraces us together. Maybe he sees you and him when he looks at Jake and me."
"Indeed. He is my shilah (brother). I love him very much. I will always love him. That is why I am here, Just Ryan."
"You put that snake on Jake's step, didn't you?"
"Maybe. Focus please, young warrior."
"Okay, okay. So what do you want to talk about? I wish Jake was here. I think he'd go crazy meeting you."
"That can't be."
"Because he is on a different path than you are. Don't get me wrong. You are both born to be together and do great things. He was born from the dark side, and you are from the light. Do not look worried, Just Ryan. He is not evil. But that side will always be there under his skin. It will be a constant challenge. But together, you both will do much good. It will be difficult and will test your love for one another. He has to go down his path, and you will have to travel down yours. But the paths will always cross, and you will always be together."
"What do you mean, his challenge?"
"He is night, and you are the day. He is black, and you are blue. Turquoise blue. You are a holy boy, born of water. He is black yei'ii, or black slayer. Monster slayer. He will always protect you. He has no fear; indeed, he is fearless. And his love for you is absolute. He is north, and you are south. He dives off cliffs while you swim below."
"Oh wow. Okay, I kinda get that. But anyway, my love for him will overtake our challenges, right? I'm certain of that. Like rescuing him from the boat last night. Why else would he have moved in next door to me? I didn't even know that I liked guys until the first second I saw him." I couldn't believe I was saying this out loud, but it didn't matter since these voyagers or whatever they were had seen us humping. "I think it was the same with him. I think we are soulmates destined to be together forever. Doesn't blue water overtake everything? Wasn't this world created from blue water? I think we learned about that in our science class."
"You are very wise, Just Ryan, but you run at the mouth. As for you and your Jake, that may be, and probably will be done. But it will be a difficult life for the two of you. It's not easy for two boys, well, young men, to be together as you two are in a sexual and romantic way. You have much on your side. Good friends, great parents, and strong love for one another. Plus, the spirit warriors above are looking out for you. But don't get me wrong. The two of you will have tough times ahead. But I know that together, the two of you will be incredibly happy and live a full and rewarding life."
"What about Jordy"
"The one you call Jordan is a new spirit. It is unwritten. It's anybody's guess. Guide him with peace, love and patience, and in a positive direction, so he will do great things as well. Teach him well, but you must be strong, and sometimes forgiving. Because he is a new spirit, he is what you call a sponge. Let him soak up everything that is good. But you do that already. I know. I see it."
I thought about that and said, "I try. Sometimes it's frustrating."
"So what about Lisa? And Cooper? He's my best bud, and I really hope he marries Lisa," I said.
The girl Lisa is in harmony with the earth. She will always be. She is special in her own right, although she will never admit it. Nothing will bother her, and she and your friend will have many, many children. That's the Mother Earth in her. But make no mistake. She is a wolf and will protect her cubs to her dying day. Do not ever cross her – she will be a tempest. If you keep her close to your heart, she will always be an amá to you and protect you and your Jake."
"Okay, thanks. I will. What else do I need to know?"
"Listen close and pay attention, Just Ryan. You have forged a special bond with your boy Jake. And with your tribe. They are all special men. You have good people who love you both very much. That is not common, and actually, is quite extraordinary. Keep all of them close to your heart, always. You must seal that bond with your boy Jake. You both must become blood brothers and unite your souls to each other and to the world. You must do this in front of your tribe. And you must do it today."
"What are you saying? Blood brothers? Seriously? And why today?"
"Today is a special day. You and your boy have proven yourselves. Your spirit warriors will guide you for the rest of your lives, but after today, we will no longer be here to protect you. You may need some guidance periodically, but you don't need protection from us now that you are proven," Red Crow said.
"Why do you talk in rhyme? Do you guys read Dr. Seuss when you're not watching us make out? You sound like the Dark Man."
"That is because I am. We are both. He is me, and I am him."
"Oh, man. Really? After today he will be gone too?" I felt sad for the Dark Man all of a sudden.
"Yes, really. Now go. Time is of the essence. I must shed this skin."
"Where will you go? Wait! You can't go yet. I have a million questions for you. Will I ever see you again?" I asked.
"It is not up to me to say. But you already know the truth, don't you, Just Ryan?"
"Yeah, I guess I do. You're right here," I said, patting my chest.
"And right here," Red Crow said, pointing at his head. "Now watch. This is freakin' bitchin, as you like to say."
He walked over to the middle of the trail and started to quietly chant. Sloan had been sleeping in the cool dirt at the base of the rock, but now she stood up to watch, too. As Red Crow's song became louder, he started to do a little shuffle, and soon he was spinning around and around. The faster he chanted, the faster he spun. Pretty soon the chant turned into a whirling-humming sound as he became a blur in a rainbow of sparkly colors. He was starting to fade from sight, but just before he was spinning at top speed, I heard him say, "Love your boy-o!"
And just like that, he was gone.
I felt kind of melancholy after that, but I also felt love and a kind of peace that I had never felt before. I wanted to run back to the house and tell everybody about what happened, but instead decided to take my time and think through everything he had told me. I guess that it made sense that we had some invisible help with our marina caper. After all, any one of us could have been seriously hurt or even arrested, let alone killed. And it made sense too, that the cops never caught up with us or suspected that we had anything to do with the boat crashing or Ace's pictures. I guess it was true what they say about having friends in high places. And in a weird way, it made sense that Red Crow took the form of the Dark Man. Then I realized that he didn't tell me how to do the blood brothers thingy.
Sloan was sniffing around trying to figure out where Red Crow disappeared too. I think it was driving her nuts. "C'mon, girl, let's head back to the house." We slowly and quietly hiked down the trail. When we got to the treehouse, I noticed that the blanket and hat were gone, and in their place was a thin necklace of small, silver beads and round, turquoise stones . Plus, the old playing card. I knew now that this wasn't a dream.
Back inside, everybody was still sound asleep. I looked at the clock and couldn't believe that we had only been gone for fifteen minutes. It seemed so much longer. Sloan looked around for the perfect spot and plopped down at Jake's feet. I stripped off my sweats and slid in next to him. He stirred a little, wrapped his arm around me and went back to sleep. I laid there for a while thinking over and over everything Red Crow had told me. It was an amazing experience, and I hoped that I'd remember everything that he said to me.
Around eleven, the guys were starting to stir, and I could hear Lisa and Coop whispering in the other room. Upstairs, I could barely make out the sounds of Woody Woodpecker coming from the TV in Jordy's room. Jake woke up and pulled me in real tight. "I had the best dream," he said. "Wanna hear about it?"
"Another nude beach adventure?"
"Sure. Lay it on me."
"You and I were old, really, really old. Maybe forty. We bought Uncle Gus's farm, and the guys were living there with us. Kinda like a commune. We had our own separate cabins that we had built ourselves. We even had a huge tipi in one of the fields that we slept in sometimes. And this huge pool! It was awesome. Colt and Tucker had a barn where they fixed up and restored antique cars, while Kenji and Enzo did some kind of artist stuff. I'm not sure exactly what. They had long hair and were totally in love. Lisa was married to Coop, and they had the house in the front by the road. He grew his ganja way in the back pasture, and I guess it was primo stuff because he made a lot of money off of it. They had a bunch of kids that called us both 'unca'. That was fun. We had the best house though because we built it ourselves with everyone's help. Do you think we could do that?"
"Build our own house? Sure, that would be boss," I said.
"No, dummy, grow old together. I don't ever want to be away from you."
"That's so weird."
"I was thinking the very same thing. But we have to do something first."
"Let's go for a swim. Then I'll tell you. When you hear it, you're going to shit your pants."
"But I don't have anything on."
"Then I guess you better get up and go to the bathroom, you nimrod."
We got in the pool and started doing our laps. One by one, the guys began to trickle out of the house as they woke up. Some of them jumped in the pool with us, while others hung around and murmured on the deck sipping orange juice or drinking coffee. I think everybody was still feeling drained from everything that went on yesterday. The last two outside were Jordy and Chris, and the first thing out of their sleepy mouths was, "We're hungry."
After breakfast, lunch actually, I told everybody about my early morning encounter with Red Crow. Jake was excited, but also a little jealous that he didn't get to meet him. I told him that he had been watching over us and that he was also the Dark Man. And who knows, he could have been a bunch of other people, like the delivery dude from Pizza Man or the weird man dressed in red down at the Porno Theater. Who knows how that metaphysical stuff works.
I went on to tell them how he called us a tribe, and what he told us about our future. Lisa began trembling when I told her what Red Crow said about her. "Like my dream," she murmured.
"Red Crow told me that our lives will always be intertwined, but we have to do some kind of blood brother ceremony. And we have to do it today," I said. "The thing is, he didn't tell me how to do it."
Jake was enthusiastic about doing a blood brother ceremony together with me. He especially liked the idea of doing it in front of our friends, or as Red Crow called them, our tribe. He wanted to do something special to make the guys part of the ceremony, but he didn't know exactly what.
"I have a scathingly brilliant idea," Lisa practically shouted out. "Leave it up to me." She ran around whispering her plans into everybody's ears. It was sorta funny seeing the looks that we were getting as she talked quietly to everybody so we couldn't hear. At first, the looks on their faces was shock, then surprise, and finally, once everyone got it, everybody had big smiles on their faces. They got up and started zooming off in different directions. Everyone was excited and happy to be included in her mad scheme.
"You guys go in the pool house and take a shower and get cleaned up. As soon as we're ready, we'll come get you. Close the drapes and don't you dare look outside. I'm warning you. If you peek, there will be blood."
"Okay, okay. What should we wear?" I asked.
"Who's being the nimrod now?" Jake said.
"Geez. I'm not sure that was such a great idea involving her. I hope your sister doesn't go crazy on us," I said, as we walked outside.
"You know she will. But it will all be good. You know why?"
"Why?" I asked.
"Because I love you."
Precisely at two in the afternoon, there was a knock on the sliding glass door. It was Kenji, and he wanted us to come outside. They were ready for us. We walked through the doors into the bright afternoon sunshine and saw the guys standing in a circle under the big oak tree under our treehouse. They had gathered as many of the fist-sized rocks that they could find and made a giant circle around the trunk with them. They were standing around the inside of the circle smiling at us. In the middle of the ring, Lisa stood holding an abalone shell and wearing a pure white robe that you could see through. She had her hair pulled back with a beaded leather headband that went across her forehead and tied behind her head. Everybody else was naked, except for Jake whose arm was still bandaged up. Surprisingly, even Cooper was naked too.
They had put a lot of thought into this and had probably ransacked Lulu's bedroom finding everything they needed. There were different items that they would be using for the ceremony strategically placed around the outside of the circle. The guys had caked themselves with mud that they had mixed with water from the pool and dirt from around the tree. Underneath their eyes in two dark stripes were patches of color. I guess they raided Jordy's Halloween kit from last year because everybody had on a different color paint that spanned the whole spectrum. On the guys right bicep was a 'J' mark in black, and on their left, was an 'R' in blue. I wondered how they knew to do that.
As we stepped into the circle, one by one the guys came up to us and gave us a big bear hug, rubbing off some of their mud and different colors of paint so that each of us had a small amount of their color and essence on both of our bodies. Nothing was said – and didn't need to be said. We fully accepted their unconditional love for us. Jordy and Chris were the last two to give us a hug, and since they were a foot and a half smaller then we were, we took turns picking them up. Once we were covered in colors and mud, the guys stepped back to their place along the stone circle, spaced out evenly. Kenji and Enzo to the east, Chris and Jordy to the south and Tucker and Colton to the west. Lisa and Cooper were standing next to us on the north side, next to the trunk of the big oak tree trunk underneath the treehouse.
Lisa indicated that we were to stand with our backs to the base of the tree so that we could feel the spiritual energy emanating from Mother Earth and radiate through us, and at the same time see and receive the love from our tribe scattered around the circle. She called for Coop to come forward and light the mixture of herbs and grasses that she had mixed and heaped in the shell. If I knew Coop, I had a pretty good idea what one of the herbs was in the mixture. Apparently, she had lined the bottom with dirt since she was able to hold the shell in the palm of one hand. Once it was lit and stayed lit, she used a pheasant feather to fan the smoke. Then, she started smudging everyone, starting with herself.
She drew the smoke from the shell with her feather over her heart, head, back, and shoulders, pulling the smoke down and grounding herself with Mother Earth. She stepped into the center of the circle and offered the smoke to the six directions. First up to the Creator, then down to the Earth. Next to the north, east, south and finally, the west. After that, she came around and offered the smoke to Cooper, using the feather to waft the smoke around his body in the same order that she had done on hers. Next came Jake, after Coop put in more herbs and sage, then myself, Kenji, Enzo, Chris, Jordy, Tucker, and Colt, in that order. Once that was done, she circled the smoke around the ring in a clockwise direction and set the shell down in the center of the ring.
She cleared her throat and began. "Who stands for these two?"
Everybody in the circle shouted, "We do!"
"I call on the Gods and Goddess above, the Mother Earth, the Holy Spirits and each of Our Spirit Guides, Warriors and Shield Maidens to come forth and join with us in this sacred oath of brotherhood. We ask a special request for our overlookers, Red Crow and his people, and the spirits that flow through this sacred ground to take special delight in this oath today. We unite our thoughts, love, and prayers into this ceremony of my brothers, Jake Thelonious Mariano and Ryan Jacob Miller, as they unite to prove their unyielding faith and commitment to each other." She turned to Tucker and said, "You with the largest lungs, please summon our friends."
Tucker reached down and picked up a large, white and pink conch shell, and walked over to the center of the circle. He took a deep breath and blew a note six times to the six directions, then carefully set it back down.
"Will the little men please come forward and place upon the brothers your offerings?" Silently and respectfully, Jordy and Chris approached both of us. In their hands, they held a braided binding cord, one for each of us. Jordy tied the turquoise blue and black binding cord loosely around my wrists as Chris did the same with Jake's black and turquoise blue one. While they were doing that, Lisa described the meanings of the colors. Besides what Red Crow had told me earlier about the black and blue, she went on to tell everyone, "The black signifies Jake's strength, empowerment, wisdom and vision, success and pure love. The blue cord for Ryan signifies tranquility, understanding, patience, and health. Together, they make dark blue, like that of the deep ocean, which signifies a safe journey, longevity, and strength."
When they were done tying the binding cords, the little men went back to their place in the circle. They were smiling proudly at us, both happy to be included in our ceremony. Lisa reached into her big, sheer sleeve and pulled out two index cards with printing on both sides. She handed one to each of us. "Would you both hallow the Siblings Call together?"
Jake and I looked at each other, then down at our cards. Together we said:
"Hail to Wodan, Highest God,
Hail to Thunar, Holy Ward,
Hail we Wuldor, oath-warder mighty,
Hail the Gods, High Goddesses, all."
Jake and I started to chuckle at what we had to read next.
"Jake, my brother, go first," Lisa said.
"Before all Asses and all Wans wise,
I, Jake Thelonious Mariano, swear this oath,
Troth to Ryan Jacob Miller true I'll be e'er,
My clan shall be your kin,
My mother thine.
Should this bond e'er broken be
Then spill the brother's blood
In rivers run red to the earth.
Warg be the word-breaker
Hella have oath-breaker.
So shall it be!"
It was my turn now, and I got to add my dad to the oath.
"Ryan, my brother, go next," Lisa said.
"Before all Asses and all Wans wise,
I, Ryan Jacob Miller, swear this oath,
Troth to Jake Thelonious Mariano true I'll be e'er,
My clan shall be your kin,
My mother and father thine.
Should this bond e'er broken be
Then spill the brother's blood
In rivers run red to the earth.
Warg be the word-breaker
Hella have oath-breaker.
So shall it be!"
Next, Cooper went around the tree and brought out a gold chalice and a bottle of red wine that had been opened earlier since the cork was partially sticking out. He also had a dagger that he got from somewhere, from where I could only guess. But it wasn't the one Ace had strapped to his leg because this one was fancier looking and had jewels on the handle, and besides, I hid the other one in the Citroen. Coop cut off the cords from our wrists so that we could do the next part of the oath unencumbered.
"I'll hold these for you," he said.
"Cooper, would you please pour the wine into the chalice?" He did and handed her the cup. "Now, please prick their fingers, Jake first and Ryan second. Then, brothers, squeeze a drop into the chalice."
I was kinda afraid that Coop might go crazy and slice off a finger, but I needn't have worried. He popped a little hole in each of our index fingers that didn't hurt at all. Jake squeezed out a drip of his blood into the chalice of wine that Lisa was holding, and I did the same. After that, Coop stuck the dagger in the liquid and mixed it around. Lisa and Coop looked at us while Jake and I said together,
"From Mother Earth's womb wend we forth again,
Brothers as Brothers be born!"
As if on cue, Enzo came up next to us with a small silver plate which held two good sized dirt-clods on a lace napkin. I had no freakin' idea what this was for.
"Would you both grab a clod and fling it over your brother's head and over and out of the circle? This part signifies your commitment to Mother Earth." Enzo kissed us twice on both of our cheeks, just like his dad did to him. Once we did that, Lisa had us link arms and read the oath on the back of the card, together,
"Now sworn in troth true we shall be,
Born new as kin in blood,
This Holy draught drink we brothers to Gods,
And mighty Goddesses, aye!"
"Please take a sip of the wine and pour the rest around the sacred tree where your brotherhood was born," Lisa said. When we were done, she proclaimed, "So it is wrought. All hail! The blood brothers be!" Everybody whooped and yelled.
Suddenly, as if on cue, a massive blast of warm wind came blowing through the brush enveloping all of us in love, jetted across the pool leaving ripples, and then off into the sky.
"Goodbye, Red Crow," I said.
I handed the chalice to Coop and turned and grabbed my new blood brother and gave him the biggest kiss ever. When we were through, he was beaming and so was I. We couldn't take our eyes off each other. The guys broke out into laughter and cheers, and came up and hugged and kissed us, even the little men.
And with that, we became official blood brothers!
The Lulu's and my dad came home a few days later from Uncle Gus's farm, and we told them as little of the story as we possibly could get away with. They were shocked and amazed, but proud that we handled ourselves maturely and that none of us got seriously hurt. Lulu wouldn't tell Jake and Lisa who their real father or fathers were, and we wondered if she even knew. But I knew deep down that someday we would find out.
As for Ace, they couldn't convict him on the kiddie picture stuff, but they did throw the book at him for being indecent in public and a whole bunch of other moral turpitude stuff. Mrs. Kravitz never missed a day of his court case and reported back everything to my parents. She was really into it. Ace was also being tried for the murder of the guy on the boat, but the evidence on that was pretty flimsy, and my dad thought he would probably get off on those charges.
We got a call one day from the cops telling us that Ace had escaped custody. Apparently, while Ace was being transported to the Courthouse, the bus he was on got ambushed on a side street downtown, near the Porno Theater. Somehow, he was able to escape unharmed, and he and his accomplices were never captured. There were rumors that Crash Ferrari may have had something to do with it, but whatever actually happened, we never found out. We hoped that Ace had taken off for Mexico or had gone for a long swim to the bottom of the ocean or something like that and that we'd never see him again. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. But that's a story for another time.
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