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by Pietar

I was in my usual spot, high up the tree in the empty lot three doors up from my house. It's a quiet neighborhood filled with working families. A safe place to live. Unless your name was Chase Monroe.

The kids in school decided my first name was better as a verb. Around the time I was in 5th grade, they began to chase me. I'm small, skinny, and thin, but I can run. It was my best defense. I was only caught twice. Once, when I was 12, just off school property after school had let out. They picked the smallest boy with them, a kid named Rosco, who was a little more than a year younger than me. They told me to fight him and prevented me from running.

I didn't want to fight, not even against Rosco. He and I were about the same size, but I'd never been in a fight before and frankly, I was a bit scared. And I was smart enough to know that it was a losing situation. If I won, it would only be because he was a year younger than me. And if I lost, it would mean that I got beat up by a little kid.

But I was surrounded, so I put up my fists. He charged right at me, ignoring the punch I threw at his head (which missed anyway) and lowered his head and drove it into my stomach. He landed on top of me and proceeded to pummel away for all he was worth. I ended up with a split lip and a bloody nose before the other kids lifted him off. They all laughed as I lay on the ground crying.

Yeah, I'm a crybaby. Too much so it seems. My ma tells me boys my age shouldn't cry so much, but I can't help it.

The second time I got caught was this year. It happened just after I'd turned thirteen. There were a dozen boys, and this time they didn't use Rosco. A coven of witches was with them. I know, I know, witches don't exist. But then, you probably never were a 7th grade crybaby. Girls can be just as cruel as boys. Sometimes worse.

Our town is small, so there is only one school. It included grades 1 through 8. The older kids go to high school in the town down the road. There were no buses except for the high school kids; everyone walks, the furthest kids live on a farm almost a mile away, but the rest live in town. There are six streets – Frost Street, which runs through the center of town, and five intersecting streets where all the houses are.

The presence of the girls changed things. Instead of beating me up, the boys decided to have some fun. They gave me a choice. I could give all of my clothes to the girls, or they would strip me and tie me to a tree. Either way I would end up naked.

"He's really going to do it!" Ellen Kirkpatrick said as I started unbuttoning my shirt. She was Rosco's older sister. "Give it to me," she ordered as I removed it. I handed it to her, along with my undershirt, and then my shorts. With each item that I removed, my ears burned hotter. The girls were laughing and cheering me on. In the end, I handed over my last article of clothing, my briefs, and had nothing left to give them but a show.

They gathered around and made me dance and sing. Kid's songs – songs from back in 1st grade. The crowd drew other kids to it. I saw 1st graders laughing at me. When the girls had seen enough, they ran off in different directions, dropping my clothes in front yards down four separate blocks. I didn't find my underpants until the next day at school where they were taped to my desk.

"It's just boys being boys," I had been told several times by various so-called adults. "Stand up to them and they'll leave you alone," was another popular answer to my complaints. They hadn't seen Rosco beat the crap out of me. Telling adults wasn't going to stop them. Fighting them would just result in me getting hurt. I decided I needed to change seats in school from the front of the room to the back so that I could get out the door quicker.

Anyway, as I said, I was in my tree. From there, I could spot kids as much as two blocks away. It wasn't like they chased me all the time, I don't know what triggered it. Maybe on test days when I always got the highest grade. That really made Ellen Kirkpatrick angry. She was the other A student, but sometimes got 98's and 99's on tests and homework. I always got the highest score. But just because school was out didn't mean I could give up being careful.

I hated summer. It was hot. And kids were left alone with little supervision. After being seen naked by most of the kids in town, I had good reason to be scared. I figured it would only be a matter of time before a bunch of 11- or 12-year-olds decided to let me give another Oscar-winning performance. I pictured myself naked, hands tied behind my back, on Highway 59, a mile from town and having to make my way up Frost Street in order to get home.

I guess I get easily distracted. Back to my tree. A car I'd never seen before was making slow progress down my street – Longfellow Road. It stopped at the house across the street from my tree. Mrs. Donovan's house. She has two grown kids. I had known Benny Donovan before he joined the marines. He'd been nice to me. The other boy's name I forget. He was just entering college when I started 1st grade. It was a really big deal. Not many kids from our town ever went on to college.

I've got to get back to my tree or I'll never get through the story. The car pulled up and parked in the street in front of Mrs. Donovan's house. Not in the driveway. I suddenly had a horrible thought – what if it was someone who was going to build a house here? I might lose my tree!

A woman got out from behind the wheel at the same time the back door opened and a forlorn looking boy got out. Yeah, I know, what kid uses words like forlorn? I did. I use words other kids never do. The dictionary gets used a lot by me. Spelling is my strong suit.

Lonely, pitiful, or miserable were other words could be used to describe him. The boy didn't look around at his surroundings like I figured any kid would do in a strange neighborhood. His face was directed at his feet as though there was something interesting down there. He wore a long, tattered coat, even though it was already above 80 degrees outside. His legs were bare under the bottom of the coat, and his feet were in dirty, worn sneakers. I got just a glimpse of his face and saw he had a black eye. His hair was cut butch style, barely over a quarter inch long anywhere. I guessed he was anywhere between 12- and 14-years old. I mean, it was hard to tell, I couldn't see enough of him to really be sure.

Mrs. Donovan came out and stood on her front porch, so she had been expecting them. The woman put an arm over the kid's shoulder, but he shook it off and stepped away from her. His face was looking at the ground, not at the house and not at Mrs. Donovan. All three of them went inside.

Ten minutes later the woman came out alone. She sat in her car writing something in a notebook before driving off. She went to the first intersection, Poe Avenue, and turned back towards Frost Street.

Soon after the car left, I heard my mom calling from three houses down and, after a quick look around, climbed out of my tree and ran home.

"Take that box to Mrs. Donovan," she said as I entered the house. The screen door slammed behind me.

"Sorry," I said. I'd been told a thousand times not to let the screen door slam. I might be gifted in school; it was hard to tell because the competition wasn't all that great, but I seem to have a very hard time remembering to do stuff at home. Like not letting the spring pull the screen door closed so it made a noise like a rifle shot when it slammed closed.

"What's in it?" I said as I started to pull the flaps back.

"Never you mind," Ma said. "Just take it to Mrs. Donovan. And invite her to dinner tonight."

"Hey, these are my clothes." I'd pulled the flaps back. Inside were two pairs of underpants, socks, pajamas, a pair of long pants, shorts, and three shirts.

"Stuff you can do without until we replace them," Ma said. She gently pulled my arms back and refolded items I'd removed. "Just deliver it, and remember to invite her over. She has company and probably doesn't have time to cook. But she needs this right now, so scoot!"

The only time I'd ever been to Mrs. Donovan's house was on Halloween two years ago. Last year I'd grown too old to trick-or-treat. At least that's what I told my ma. The real reason was I didn't fancy becoming someone's trick. Or treat.

She answered almost as soon as I was done knocking. She blocked the entranceway to her house so I couldn't see the boy I knew was in there.

"Thank you so much for this, Chase," Mrs. Donovan said as she took the box from my hand.

"Why do you need that stuff?" I asked.

"Never you mind about that for now. Please tell your mother I said thank you." She started to close the door, and then I remembered.

"My ma said you were invited to dinner tonight."

"We'll see. Tell your mom I'll call her and let her know. And thank you again." Then she closed the door.

I ran across the street and climbed up my tree. Like nearly all the houses in town, Mrs. Donovan's was a box-shaped, two-story house, on a quarter acre block. It might have had a basement, some did, but I'd never been in it so I don't know if it did or not.

I'd no more than made it to my spot when the small window in the middle of the upstairs opened. That would be the bathroom. The curtains were open, and in just a few seconds I saw the boy enter. He didn't have a shirt on. There were bruises on one of his arms to go along with his black eye. Someone had hurt him bad. Mrs. Donovan put something on the counter, probably my clothes, and left, closing the door behind her. The boy stood there, looking at his reflection in the mirror. I could see that unlike me, he had muscles.

Then, as he stepped on the edge of the bath, I saw, for just one second, his butt. Two thoughts struck me at the same time. One, he'd been naked, in front of Mrs. Donovan. And two, and probably more important, his butt had six long, blistered cuts across it. They were scabbed over, but the skin around them was still bright red.

Many, probably all the kids in town got spanked. Even me. Some, especially as they got older, got paddled. I'd seen a couple of bright red buns before. But nothing like this. I theorized a cane or whip must have been used to make the marks. It shook me to the bone. Not wanting to see anything more, I climbed down and walked home, my head filled with sights I'd wished I'd never seen.

Mrs. Donovan and the boy didn't come for dinner that evening. Or the next day. I checked from my tree, but it looked like the house was empty. I worried about the boy. Was he in the hospital because of what I saw on his butt?

Ma noticed that I was hanging around the house more than usual. The next day, I didn't leave the house immediately after breakfast like I normally do. That caused Ma to question my health. When she checked, she said that I didn't have a fever, then she mentioned the word colonic.

"You're probably just constipated. I'll get the stuff, you get undressed."

I'd last been 'cleaned' when I was ten. I hated it then. And now I was a teenager. Thirteen years and a couple of months old. I even had a few hairs growing down there. I didn't need, nor want, a colonic. While she got the bottle and tubing out, I left the house and went to my tree. I wasn't sure if I wanted to look into Mrs. Donovan's house or not, but my curiosity overrode any concern that I might have.

I climbed higher than I ever had before. The light was on in the bathroom, and the window was open again. From the advantage of greater height, I could see the boy bent over the counter. He had my pajama tops on, but his butt was bare, and Mrs. Donovan was rubbing some white cream on the six cuts.

I quickly looked down at his face. He winced, but his mouth remained closed. He wasn't crying. I sure would have been. As I stared at him, I suddenly realized he was also looking right at me.

I was paralyzed for a moment, before carefully working my way down the tree. I paused a few branches down and saw him at the window. All I could see now was his face and chest, and there was no way that I could hide the fact that I was in the tree and had been spying on him.

Feeling shame for what I had done and seen, I started for home. But I didn't dare hide there or my insides would be filled with that warm solution that made my belly hurt until I was allowed to get on the toilet and release it. All the while I'd be totally naked in front of Ma.

I headed for Frost Street. The stores would be open soon and I'd be safer there then places where kids hung out in the absence of adults. I was on Dickinson Avenue, a half block from Frost, when a voice came from behind a trash dumpster.

"Chase, whatcha doing here?"

It took a moment for the voice to register. It belonged to Steve McCormick. He wasn't a threat. If I were to suddenly be swallowed up into the earth, he would become the next most-picked-on kid in town. He was a little bigger than me, and a bit stronger, which made sense because he was almost fourteen. He'd been held back in 6th grade because he had very poor language skills. He had a limp from a broken leg that hadn't been set properly when he was younger, and came from probably the poorest family in town.

"Hi Steve," I responded. "You hiding back there?"

"Naw, just searching. Sometimes there's good stuff in here."

His greatest find had been a bike that had been run over by a car and had a bent frame. He struggled to pedal it, and the chain kept coming off, but it was his bike – the only one he'd ever had. I had taught him how to ride it.

"All I found today was this." He came from around behind the dumpster holding small folding knife with half the blade broken off. "Soon's as I get it sharp it'll still be usable."

"Uh, Steve, you reek," I said.

"What? Why do you use words like that when you know that half the time I ain't got any idea what they mean?"

"You smell. No, you absolutely stink," I said after getting a better whiff of him.

"Oh, yeah, there was some garbage in there," he said as he sniffed his arm. "And I think something dead too. Maybe a skunk."

"Yeah, it smells like it." I had to take two steps back from him, the smell was that strong.

"Hey, how about if we go to the creek. I can wash the smell off there."

"I don't know," I said hesitantly. The creek was just outside of town, along Highway 59. And if we were caught there by other kids, there'd be nobody to help us.

"Come on, its summer. The other kids don't even get out of bed until about now. Nobody will be there." He didn't wait, he trusted that I would follow and started that way. I had my doubts, but the truth was, he was probably right. It was early in the day. An hour or two from now, there was no way I'd go. But this time I followed him. We had to walk slow on account of his leg, but we got there soon enough.

I should have thought of it earlier, but I hadn't. We didn't have suits. It didn't seem to bother Steve, he stripped down without even giving a look around. He wasn't wearing underpants. His body was white except for his arms and lower legs, and his butt caught my eye as he headed for the creek carrying his clothing.

I think that phrase needs some explanation. His butt, and my eye. I'm not sure what it was that made me stare as he walked away. It was a butt, but more than that somehow. Creamy white, with big cheeks that showed a bit of the muscle under them as he walked. I'd heard the term "bubble butt" once, and for the first time I think I understood what it meant.

"You coming?" he said when he reached the edge of the water. He turned and looked at me. "You ain't even got off your clothes yet. You don't need to wash yours, so come on."

His penis dangled as he talked. It looked a lot like my own. Except his was soft. It was between three and four inches long, and covered his smooth sack. He had just a bit of hair around it, just like me.

But mine was not soft. For a reason I didn't understand, watching his butt had made mine get stiff.

"Don't be a chicken. I've seen it before, back when you showed it to all them girls. Nobody is coming, so strip. Or I swear, I'll come up there and rub my body all over yours so that you stink too. Then you'll have to strip to clean the, what'd you call it? Oh yeah, the reek from them."

He took two steps back towards me. I knew he'd do it. If I let him catch me. He'd think it funny to rub his clothes all over mine. Or maybe his body, like he said. I thought about that naked boy rubbing me and my dick got even harder. I didn't know why, but I was thinking I might enjoy it. Except for the smell.

But I was a coward. I couldn't do it. I couldn't take my clothes off in front of him. "I, uh, I have to be home soon. My mom said to be back before ten. We're going shopping."

"That's bullshit and you know it. Chicken! Cluck, cluck, cluck. What do you have to be ascared of? You ain't got nothing that I don't have. Come on, just get naked."

"Somebody might come," I said, looking around to make sure they weren't. "What if they took our clothes?"

"Well, mine are right here with me so's I could wash 'em. But you might just have to go home naked. Being naked ain't all that bad. Kids have already seen your little dick."

I took a step back, ready to leave.

"Come on, Chase, don't go. Swim in your clothes if you don't want me to see you naked. Please don't go. You're about the only kid in town I trust and like."

My clothes would take hours to dry if I swam in them. And if I went home with wet clothes, Ma would be angry. Especially since she was already sure I was sick. I compromised and stripped to my briefs. I held the rest of my clothes as I walked down to the water's edge, but once there I had to drop them. I quickly got into the creek.

"Ah, now I get it," Steve said with a chuckle. "You got a stiffy. I get them too. Did it get stiff when you was looking at my ass? Or when I let you see little Stevie?"

"NO!" I said. "Neither. It just gets that way sometimes. I can't control it." I was in the water, ducked down so that only my head showed. But I couldn't keep my eyes focused on Steve's face. I had to look down and see his dick again. We were just a few feet apart. I had no idea why I found it so fascinating. Or why looking at it made my own penis jerk inside my briefs.

He laughed, and wiggled his hips so that his dick swung from side to side. Then he tossed his clothes into the stream and jumped in after them.

The stream was small most of the year, but provided a safe way for rain to run off to what I guessed was a distant river or lake. It was warm all summer long. A tree had fallen across it years past, and other kids who used it over the years had added rocks to help dam it up until it was oval-shaped, ten feet wide and about a car's length long. In the middle it was only about four feet deep.

We used small rocks and sand to wash his shirt and shorts, and after we gotten as much of the smell out of them that we could, he got out and hung his clothing on a branch so they could start to dry. Then he returned to the pond and started washing his body.

After he was done, we sat in water up to our waists, hardly talking. My penis had finally gone soft.

"I got one too, want to see it?" he asked suddenly.

"One what?"

"A stiffy. Just like you." He stood up and showed me.

I'd never seen a boy with a stiffy before. Well, my own, but that doesn't count. Erect, it was at least four inches long. Soaking wet, his pubic hair was barely visible, but his sack clearly showed that it contained two good-sized balls. Bigger than my own. He allowed me to stare at it without saying a word. After several seconds, I realized what I was doing and forced myself to look away.

"I'm gonna take care of it," he said, and sat down right on the bank with his legs in the water but the rest of him on the grass.

I had to look. I couldn't not. He used his right hand, just like I did. He rubbed it up and down several times until his legs suddenly stiffened. Then three bursts of what I knew was semen shot out and landed in the pond. My dick was stiff again.

He stood up and turned to the side and peed.

"Come on, my clothes will finish drying as we walk back. We've probably done stayed here too long anyways."

I had forgotten about that. Other kids might show up at any time, or we might pass them on the trail back to town. But once again, I had a stiffy. I didn't know what to do. I couldn't stand up or he would see it. But I couldn't stay here either.

"You got another problem down there?" he asked as he pulled his wet shorts up. "Just do what I did. You know how to play with it, don't you?"

"Yeah, of course," I said. "I uh, just, I don't know. Not with you here."

"I know you should make up your mind soon," Steve said. "We need to get gone. Just do it in the water, then I can't see it if you're scared."

"I'm not scared," I said. But I was. As to be expected, he challenged me to prove I wasn't.

In one of the bravest moments of my life, I pulled my briefs down past my ankles and tossed them behind me. Now I couldn't chicken out. I stood and moved to where he'd sat. He moved around to the side.

"Nice one," he said, which embarrassed me more than anything else. "'Bout identical to mine."

I wrapped my right hand around it and took care of it. He didn't say a word, not even after I shot. Then I got up and faced him, my penis still mostly hard.

"I'm not afraid. I'm modest. I've never done that in front of anyone before."

"Cool," he said. "Me neither, till you. I'm glad you did it, it looked cool. Get dressed and let's get going before we have to do it in front of a bigger audience."

"Identical" and "Audience." Two of the longest words I think I'd ever heard him say. Maybe that odd way of speaking and the poor grammar was just a cover. Maybe he wasn't as dumb as people, myself included, thought he was. He got away with not doing his homework or reading in class because of it. Maybe he was smarter than me and just played dumb so he didn't have to work as hard as I did.

I pulled my shorts up without putting the wet briefs on first. Then I rung as much water out of them as I could before putting my shirt on. We both added shoes and headed back. We made it all the way to town without seeing anyone who might pose a threat.

Ma must have decided my sickness had passed, because she brought cookies out to Steve and me as we sat in the shade of the big tree in my backyard. I can still remember the rope swing that used to hang there. The rope broke a couple of years ago and I never replaced it with a new one.

"What was it like that day?" he asked as he munched on a cookie. "The day you stripped naked for half the kids in town."

"What do you think it was like?" I said, almost yelling. Then I calmed down. "Sorry, that was pretty rude of me. It was horrific. All the kids were laughing and cheering and clapping."

"Not all of them," he said. "I wasn't. Several other kids in the back weren't either."

"Why were you there?" I asked. "If they had seen you, they'd have put you up there next to me."

"Most likely true," he said, then he fell silent.

"I've always wondered if I hadn't stripped myself, would they have really tied me naked to a tree? I guess I'll never know for sure."

He didn't say anything for a few moments. I was about to change the subject when he did decide to speak.

"That wasn't a random attack. It was planned. They had kids staged to force you to go where you ran. And I saw inside Kurt Bander's book bag. He had two short lengths of rope in it. They would have tied you to a tree. I heard them joke about it. One of the girls there wanted to see you naked and the whole thing was her idea."

That was stunning news. And quite scary too. "Which girl?"

"I don't know. They just talked about 'her' or 'she', they never used her name. But it was Kurt Bander and Jess Richards who were in charge. Not Pete Malone."

Pete had been the boy who gave me the ultimatum to either strip or be stripped and tied.

"I'll bet it was Ellen Kirkpatrick," I said. "She was the one who collected all my clothes and then gave them to other girls. It was her that made me dance and sing those stupid songs."

"Maybe. I wouldn't be surprised if you were right." Then he got quiet again. This was by far the strangest conversation I'd ever had with him. Normally he chats away constantly, using poor grammar and words that don't exist, like 'irregardless' or 'firstly.'

"Which bothered you the most?" he asked suddenly. "Being seen naked by the boys or by the girls?"

I had never considered that question, and didn't want to just then. So I dodged it and changed the focus of the conversation.

"I was just so scared and embarrassed that it didn't matter. If they had tied me to a tree, would you have untied me?"

"Not at first," he said without hesitation. "I'd have left, and waited a while before coming back. But yeah, I would have, if I could."

"Why would you leave me hanging?" I questioned.

"Because Kurt Bander had two ropes in his book bag. The other one was for me. They expected me to come and untie you if you hadn't stripped on your own."

"You know this? Or are you just …"

"I do not doubt my belief at all. They knew I was there and ignored me. Like you said, I should have been tossed up there next to you. The day before it happened, I was told not to be your friend. Alex Dietrich said it to me."

I had to pause to contemplate all of that. He sounded so sure. And he had good reasons to back up what he was saying.

"Then why are you here with me now?" I asked.

"Because we are friends. It passed. There was a purpose to it, but I don't know what it was."

Silence again.

Broken a minute later by Steve.

"That was a lie. I do know the purpose. They suspected you were queer. But when you got a stiffy in front of the girls, they thought it meant you weren't."

"I'm not," I said. "Do you think I am?"

"Not for me to say. I don't care either way. But they figured that I was about your only friend, and if you were queer, I would be too. If you'd been tied to the tree, I would have tried to get away. I'm not sure I would have made it. That's why I would have to leave you there for a while before daring to come back. Not because I was scared of being tied up naked, that would have been embarrassing, but I'd have survived it. It was because I didn't want them thinking I liked boys. I'm not very proud that I would have left you hanging because of what they would say about me."

His normal way of speaking was gone. He talked like an educated person, and used words and phrases properly. "Who the hell are you? And what have you done with Steve McCormick?" was all I could think of saying. He simply smiled at me.

Ma came back a few minutes later.

"Chase, you need to come in and get cleaned up. Mrs. Donovan is coming for dinner tonight. And she's bringing her guest along too." She looked at Steve.

"Steve, normally I'd be happy to invite you to stay for dinner. But I'm sorry, not this time. Next time for sure though."

"Yeah, no problemo Mrs. Monroe. I gotta be getting back home anyway. Got me a ton of things I haveta be getting done. Thanks anyway."

And just like that, the old Steve was back, bad grammar and all. He left without saying goodbye, and I followed Ma into the house. "Who's her guest?" I asked.

"Well, I guess we'll both know that when she introduces him, won't we? Go get in the shower, and wash your hair. I'll come and get your clothes and put them in the wash, they smell a bit skunky to me."

I don't remember even washing, although I must have because Ma didn't make me go back. I spent the time analyzing all that Steve had said.

Was I gay? I knew that queer was a word intended as an insult. But the question wasn't as easy to answer as I thought it would be.

There was Kathy Smith and Audrea Rowe. I liked being with either of them. And back a few years ago some boy had flipped Jen Castellano's skirt up and I saw her underpants. I don't remember if I got a stiffy then, but I do recall I liked what I saw.

On the other hand, I'd stared at Steve's butt. 'Admired' would be more accurate. And his penis! I'd watched him masturbate, and it had excited me.

Steve's question still echoed in my head. Which embarrassed me more? Being seen naked by boys or by girls? He had to tease me, then call me a coward, to get me to undress in front of him, and even then, I kept my underpants on until the last minute.

The water suddenly turned ice cold as the washing machine started. I broke out of my day dream and got out and dried myself. I wrapped the towel around me and went across the hall to my room and got dressed in clean clothes.

"Go back up and comb your hair," Ma said to me as I made my way into the kitchen after getting dressed.

I left to comb my hair.

"That's better," she said when I returned.

"Do you know anything about the boy Mrs. Donovan is bringing with her?"

"I know that his name is Finn, and that your clothes fit him even though he's fourteen." She paused. "I also know he had some trouble at home, things that he probably does not want to talk about. So don't pry. It looks like he'll be staying with Dorothy for a while."

"Is he related to her?"

"I don't know, but I suppose he could be. Either way, she's all alone now that her boys have moved away. I'm sure she's a bit lonely at times in that house all by herself. It will be good for both of them to have each other." The bell rang just then.

"That will be them. Remember, don't pry." We went to the door and she held it open for them as I stood in the middle of the room.

"YOU," the boy said the moment he saw me. "How much did you see?"

"Na-na-nothing," I stammered. "I'm sorry."

"Chase, what did you do?" Ma's voice was harsh.

"I was in my tree. I saw him. That's all."

"Finn, what happened? Why are you so angry?" Mrs. Donovan asked.

"Nothing, don't worry about it," he said. But it didn't sound like he meant it. He was angry. I really couldn't blame him.

"Uh, look, I, uh. Can we go to my room? I want to show you something." I had nothing to show him, but I could see we needed to talk. And not in front of Ma and Mrs. Donovan.

"Yeah, that'll work out fine," Finn said. Mrs. Donovan put her hand on his shoulder and started to say something, but he pulled away from her. "I'm fine. He's just going to show me something. He apologized. Things are cool." He still sounded angry as he looked at me and said, "Lead the way."

I should have been scared. In fact, I was scared. He was my size, but with thicker arms and legs. He had muscles, and I had skin and bones. But with Ma right downstairs, I felt safe. We needed to settle this away from the adults. I let him into my room and then closed the door.

"Wait a second," I said as he was about to say something. I listened at the door for several seconds before turning around. "Okay, they didn't follow. The third step squeaks. Look, I'm really very sorry. I saw the marks on your backside."

"That's all?" he asked. "What did they tell you? What do you know about me?"

The questions didn't make any sense. "All I saw was the six marks on your butt. I thought that was what you were mad about. That I knew someone had hit you. What else was there to see?"

"You weren't looking at me because I was naked?"

"No." Why did everyone suddenly think I was gay?

"Okay, sorry. I thought someone told you about me. No one is supposed to know. Mrs. Donovan and Ms. Keller, my social worker, are the only ones who know."

"Know what?" I asked. "All I know is that your name is Finn, you're fourteen, and my clothes fit you. And that now that you are mad at me for something you thought I knew but I don't."

"These are your clothes? Sorry, I didn't know where they came from. I thought they were old clothes belonging to Mrs. Donovan's kids from when they were young. And I guess I'm not mad at you. Why is that your tree?"

I'd never contemplated that question either. "I guess because I claimed it. I hide up there sometimes."

"Hide from what?"

I wanted to say that I'd tell him my story if he told me his, but I sensed the timing was wrong. "I'm not, uh, some k-k-kids. Damn, I lost this stutter years ago." I swallowed and did the breathing exercise I had learned back in third grade. "I'm picked on a lot. I kind of hide from most everybody."

He looked down at the floor for a few seconds. When he looked back up, he held out his hand.

"I think we, I, got off on the wrong foot. I'm Finn Anderson. I'm fourteen. And I tried to kill my dad."

How was I supposed to respond to something like that? A dozen questions ran through my mind, most of all, why? But instead I stood there looking dumb.

"I guess I wouldn't know what to say either," he said after giving me long enough to answer. "You want to see them close up? They're almost healed now. Mrs. Donovan doesn't think it will leave a permanent mark or scar."

"Y-y-y-you," Damn. It was back. Just like when I was eight. I breathed again, in fast, out slowly, and pictured the words I wanted to say, like I was reading them. "You mean the cuts I saw on your butt. Maybe, but only if you don't mind me seeing them."

"Shit, you already have seen 'em," he said. He unfastened his pants – well his now, I guess. Then he turned around and pulled the back of his briefs down. "How do they look?"

"Like they must have hurt like heck. But you're right, they look a lot better than when I first saw them."

He pulled the back of his pants back up and fastened them.

"My dad did that with a branch from a tree. It was thick as my thumb. And yeah, it hurt like hell. Don't you swear?"

"Yeah, sometimes, I guess. But no, not much. Ma doesn't care much for it."

"What about your dad?"

My heart fell, and I stared at the floor for a few seconds.

"He died in a construction accident when I was eight. That's when I started stuttering. The kids at school all made fun of me because if it. It took a year of work with a speech therapist before it went away. And now I'm doing it again."

"I'm sorry for that, you obviously miss him. But I wish my dad had died when I was eight. Then maybe my mom would still be alive. I think he killed her, but officially, it was an accident. He beat me regularly, but the last six months it started getting more severe. He did my ass a week ago."

"And then you – never mind, I'm sorry for almost asking. Don't mind me, I uh, let's just say it's been an interesting day."

"No, you wanted to know. I used a bow and arrow while he was cutting another branch to use on me. He broke the first one across my ass. I wanted to kill him, but missed and just wounded him. My lawyer told me not to ever say I tried to kill him. Instead I said that I was just trying to stop him. I was referred to juvenile court and had my hearing yesterday. I was charged with assault. I'm on probation until I turn sixteen."

"Do you mind if I ask one more question? I'm not supposed to, Ma told me not to, but if you don't want to answer, you don't have to."

"Go ahead and ask. I'm pretty sure I know what it is."

"Why? I mean …" I paused for just a second.

"Why did my dad fry my ass? Because he caught me fucking someone."

That was a shock. "Did s-s-she get pregnant?"

"No, she didn't get pregnant. No fear of that happening." But the way he said the word 'she' was odd. Then I got it. He must of have seen something in my face because he explained it.

"It wasn't a girl. It was my best mate Alan." He paused. "I'm a fairy, and I thought they had told you that. I thought that was why you were spying on me. To see what a queer kid looks like."

"Why'd you tell me that?" I was dumbfounded. "You don't know me well enough to trust me with information like that. What if I was to blab it around town?"

"You already told me. You aren't popular. You don't have many friends. You get picked on. You're not the kind of kid who would tell."

I had no response to that. So, I said, "I guess we should be headed back downstairs. They'll be holding dinner on account of us."

They were, but neither Ma nor Mrs. Donovan asked a single question about what we had talked about for so long in my room.

That night after dinner we helped by doing the dishes. He washed and I dried because I supposedly knew where things went. Then he surprised all of us when he asked if he could spend the night.

Mrs. Donovan and Ma had a quick meeting, and decided it was okay. We watched a T.V. show, but I really can't recall what it was. My mind was churning with a thousand and one thoughts. Like were we going to share my bed? Or would one of us be on the floor? I'd shared my bed with Steve, but he'd never told me he liked guys.

It got late, and Mrs. Donovan said she'd leave the front door unlocked in case he needed to come home. He said he'd be fine.

We had both showered before dinner, so we just went to my room. Ma just assumed we'd share my bed. I wasn't so sure.

"I only have two pairs of pajamas," I said. "The ones you have, and these."

Finn laughed. "You can have the other pair back if you want. I don't wear them. At Mrs. Donovan's I sleep in briefs, but back at home I slept naked. Are we sharing the bed or do I get the floor?"

"Uh, the floor's kind of hard," I said. It was wood, but there was a small rug along one side of my bed. "Are you going to s-s-s-sleep … uh …"

"I'm sorry I'm making you stutter. I will wear whatever you want. Relax, I'm not going to rape you."

"Of course not; I didn't mean that," I said quickly. "I just, if you want to s-s-sleep naked, that's okay I guess."

"Will you sleep that way too?" he asked. Then a second later he added, "Your whole face just turned red. I guess that option is out."

My dick was rising again. And my brain seemed to have taken a vacation. "Not necessarily. Not if you want to. I will if you do."

His eyes looked around the room and settled on my nightstand. There was an alarm clock that I hadn't wound since school let out. And a box of tissues. You know, in case I had to blow my nose in the middle of the night.

"Naked it is," he said, and didn't hesitate to begin stripping. I stood there, my eyes riveted on him, until he was done. His dick was about half hard, which was half as much as my own was. He was cut, but some of the skin still bundled up around the glans. He had more hair then me, and his balls were bigger. But he was older too.

"Your turn," he said. "Let's see it."

"Are we, are you, uh, g-g-going to d-d-do stuff?"

"We can do anything you want. Or nothing. I would like to, and to be honest, I'm enjoying this. But if you aren't, then I'll put the underpants back on and jack off in the bathroom and you can wear your pajamas."

"I, uh, I don't know what I want. Or even what I am. I'm kind of stuck. You decide."

"Start by getting undressed. We don't have to do anything. But I do want to jack off and I don't mind doing it in front of you. Have you ever done that with another boy present?"

"Masturbate? Is that what jack off means?" He nodded and tried to keep from smiling. "Yeah, Steve watched me do it this morning. I kind of watched him do it first."

He didn't speak. He grabbed two tissues from the box and lay on top of the sheets and started stroking. I couldn't take my eyes off it. He let the semen shoot into the air an inch or so before catching it in the tissue. When he was done, he wiped his penis and dropped the used tissue into the trash can. Then he held out the second one to me.

I stumbled out of my clothing, tossing them around the room instead of folding each piece as I'd been taught. I lay next to him, my penis throbbing.

"I'm not sure about this," I said. "Does this mean I'm like you?"

"It doesn't mean anything except that you are horny. You want to learn a new way to get your balls off?"

"Balls off?" I asked. I'd never heard that term.

Finn didn't answer verbally. He leaned over and put his mouth around my penis. His tongue twirled over the tip of it and my whole body reacted, and I began shooting almost immediately. I'd never in my life thought it could feel so good.

"How was that?" he asked me as he lay back down next to me.

"What the hell," I responded. "That was, ahh, fucking wonderful."

"I thought you didn't swear," Finn said with a laugh. "At least you didn't stutter when you did."

We were both still wide awake, so we lay side-by-side above the sheets.

"Tell me about Steve," he said.

"There isn't much to tell," I began. "His name is Steve McCormick, and he is close to your age. He walks with a limp because of an injury when he was little. He likes …"

"Sorry, Finn said, placing a hand on my thigh that made me jump a little. He removed it immediately. "I don't need everything you know about him. Jump ahead to more recent things. Like the two of you watching each other jack off."

I needed a moment to consider my next move. Should I? Or not? I decided I should. I grabbed his hand and put it back on my thigh, much higher than where he had put it. His little finger tickled my ball sack.

"We didn't just watch each other do it," I began. "Well, I guess we did. I watched him, and he called me chicken for not doing it too. I still had my underpants on then." I shared the story, but it drew questions about the past. So I told him about the two times I'd been chased and captured. And what Steve had told me about it being done to see if I was gay.

"Kids here sound like jerks," he said when I was done. "What does your ma say?"

"That I should stand up to them. Stuff like that. Same as the teachers in school."

"Yeah, adults are pretty much useless except for getting us food. Do you know anything about fighting?"

"Yeah. I know I totally suck at it. I got beat up by a kid a year younger than me." I paused and turned my head, noticing for the first time that he was erect again. "Can I tell you something?"

"Only if you are confident you can trust me," he said. Kind of an odd response. But I did trust him. He'd told me his story after all.

"I cry easily. Kids like to make me cry. It usually doesn't take much." He didn't say anything. "Something else too," I said. "I think I might be gay. When I climbed the tree to the higher branches, I was hoping to see your dick."

"I kind of thought that," he said softly. "But I didn't know why. But you can see it now."

I looked at it again, and saw it twitch a little. It seemed to sway up and down, parallel to his body. I made another decision. Without permission, and before I could chicken out, I bent over and took it in my mouth.

"Whoa, stop, hold on a second," he said, pulling my head back up. "Your teeth. You need to keep them under or behind your lips. Don't let them scrape the flesh."

"Sorry," I said. "I've n-n-never done it before. Okay if I try again?"

"Always. I will tell you before I cum so that you can pull back if you don't want to taste it."

"What does it taste like?" I asked.

"Salty most times. Different tastes. But not bad."

"I'm going to try it," I said. "I owe you."

"NO! Never feel like you owe me just because I did you. I did that because I wanted to, not so that you'd suck mine. If we make a bet and you lose, then you owe me. You don't have to do this if you don't want to."

"But that's the thing," I said. "I want to." I leaned back over, being careful with my lips and teeth this time. It took a lot longer to get him to cum than it had for me, and he did warn me, but I stayed on it and swallowed it down. He was right, it wasn't bad.

We fell asleep still above the sheets. I woke up to sunlight in my room and saw the curtains were open, but Finn was gone. I got up and grabbed my shorts and put them on.

I found him in the bathroom across the hall from my room.

"Hope you don't mind that I borrowed this," he said, showing me that he was using my tooth brush.

"Eww," I said with a smile. "Your mouth was over my dick and now you're getting dick on my brush!"

"It was you who tried to bite my wiener in half," he said as he rinsed. "There might be a problem."

That got my full attention.

"Your ma woke me up. She saw us."

I wondered what she thought. The two of us, side-by-side, naked. I guess I'd find out at breakfast. Even though I was famished, I suddenly was not in a hurry to get downstairs.

"Morning Ma," I said as we came into the kitchen.

"Morning," she said. "Finn, would you mind going out and getting the paper please? Its right at the end of the drive."

"Sure," he said. I think we both knew she wanted to talk to me alone.

"Ma, I can explain," I said.

"Explain what? That you were naked? Both of you?"

"Yeah, I g-g-guess. S-s-see …"

"Chase, you don't have to explain it. I want you to live the life you want. I admit, I was surprised, but that's all. I don't judge you. Just make sure you don't end up hurt. You're stuttering again, so I know you're upset. You don't have anything to be afraid of. You are my son, and I love you no matter what."

I introduced Finn and Steve, and they seemed to get along well. Of course, I never brought up what Finn and I had done in bed.

Later in the summer, Finn and I got a job detasseling corn. The pay would be $2.00 per hour, which seemed to us to be a fortune. We had to get up early and ride our bikes a couple of miles down Highway 59 to the farm. Steve didn't come with us. He said he was allergic to both early rising and work, but I think it was more likely he was ashamed of his bike and the fact that it probably wouldn't make it that far and back. We promised him we'd share our pay by treating him when we returned.

The process involves walking down the rows of corn and pulling the tassel out of the female plants.

"Female?" someone asked, beating me to the question. "How the hell do we tell the difference between male and female corn?" The kids who had done this before laughed. It turns out every 5th row was planted with male corn seeds, and we skipped them so they could pollenate the female rows.

It sounded like an easy job until we got started. But the reality was it was hot and humid. I learned that corn gives off a lot of water when it is growing, so the humidity in the field was much greater than away from it. And there is no breeze in the middle of a 40-acre field of corn.

An older teen was assigned to each group of 15 workers. It was his job to record how long we spent on breaks. Each group had kids with different amounts of experience. The pay went up the more years you returned.

The first day, neither Finn nor I had thought about lunch. By noon we were dead tired, thirsty, and hungry. The kids who had been here before had come prepared. Not just for their own needs, but for ours. We bought water and sandwiches from them for $5.00 apiece. Two and a half hours of hard work lost buying lunch. By mid-afternoon, my hands were sore from pulling those darn tassels. And my back was sore from having to reach up, as the tassels were all head high or more.

By three o'clock, I told Finn I'd had enough. I told him to keep going, I'd wait for him by the bikes, but he quit too. We went to our group's supervisor and told him we were done. He looked through his list of hours worked and added the numbers. When I asked, he didn't hesitate to allow me to see my line, but he covered up all the other lines. The numbers looked right; I was convinced that I wasn't being cheated.

"Smart of you to check," he said to me. "Some places cheat on the time to save money. This place is honest. It helps them to get enough kids to return to get the job done on time."

My take home pay? $10.50, but I still owed the kid I had bought lunch from, so I only took home $5.50. Far less than the $20 I'd dreamed of coming home with. It seemed like a lot of effort for the pay, but still, it was a lot of money for me. And I learned a very important life lesson. Making money by physical labor takes a lot more effort than I thought it would.

After the bike ride home, Finn and I were both far too exhausted to do anything, so we split for the night. I promised him I'd meet him at 5:30 the next morning and we'd do better then.

The next day, we both had learned the lesson of not being prepared. We each brought plenty of water and a filling lunch. And we both had gloves. There were fewer kids than the day before, as about half of the 1st time kids hadn't returned. But it didn't take long before the muscle pain got too much for me. Finn worked an hour or so longer before he quit. I got another $12 that day, and told the kid in charge that we wouldn't be back.

As we headed down the highway towards home, a big Chevy sedan passed us. I had seen it around town, and when it stopped and pulled over just ahead of us, we peddled harder hoping to put our bikes in the trunk and be able to ride home in comfort.

But as we approached, five kids my age got out of the car. Kurt Bander, Jess Richards, and three of the four witches from the day I was naked – Judy Kemp, Karen Hannity, and Sue Townsend. The only one missing was Ellen Kirkpatrick.

"They're trouble," I said to Finn. We got off our bikes.

Kurt opened the trunk and got out a piece of wood. As they approached us, I could see it was a broken handle from a shovel. He swung it in the air and looked at Finn.

"Who the hell are you?"

Finn actually smiled. "I'm Finn Anderson. I just moved here. And you are?"

"Oh yeah, the foster kid. I heard you were living here. Are you and Monroe friends?"

"Yes, we are," Finn said pleasantly. My knees were shaking, but he didn't seem the least bit concerned. "I didn't catch your name."

"Forget about me. You don't want to know me. If you get on the bike and leave now, we'll let you go. But Monroe here is going to give us a little show, aren't you Chase? A little song and dance, just like before."

"Why are you picking on him?" Finn asked. "He didn't do anything to you."

"I told you, get on your bike and ride away, or you'll be featured in our show too. We're bored, and Karen saw Monroe. She likes a good show, and asked us to stop." He turned from looking at Finn and stared at me.

"You know the routine Monroe. Strip. Everything off. Do it quickly and we'll leave you your bike to get home on. Make me wait and you can walk home naked."

With the memory of my earlier nightmare, I started to pull my shirt over my head, but Finn told me to stop.

Kurt turned his attention back to Finn, and Jess started working his way to the side. My side.

"I gave you a fair chance punk. You should have taken it." He swung the handle through the air again. "Now you strip too."

"No," Finn said softly. "And you can't make me."

Kurt didn't hesitate. He stepped forward and swung the four feet of shovel handle. But Finn turned and took it on his arm and shoulder. He kept moving forward, and punched Kurt. Hard, right in the middle of his chest. The bully dropped to the ground gasping for breath.

But Finn wasn't done. He saw Jess moving past me and kicked out and up, right between the legs. Another bully down! I looked around and saw that the three girls were just standing there.

Finn reached down and took the handle from Kurt's hand.

"Strip," he ordered. He turned to Jess, who was trying hard to not puke, and said the same to him. "Get up and get naked before I start using this." Finn swung the handle in the air, allowing the whooshing sound to penetrate the boy's thick heads.

To my surprise, they both managed to get to their feet.

"Please, we weren't really going to …" Kurt never got to finish telling us what they weren't going to do. The stick hit him in the back of his knees and down he went again.

"Strip. Everything. Be naked in the next minute."

I think it actually took two minutes or longer, but Finn wasn't keeping track of the time. When they were both naked with hands over their privates, he told me to gather up all of their clothes and put them in the trunk of the car.

"And then close all the windows and lock the doors," he said to me.

"No, wait, please, that's my dad's car," Bander begged. "I have to get it home before he finds out I drove it. I have to refill the tank first. Don't lock us out of the car. It's miles back into town."

"Change of plans Chase," Finn said. "Find the keys to the car and give them to this punk. We'll keep everything else. They can come to your house to get them back whenever they want."

I was very sure I didn't want a pissed-off pair of bullies coming to my house, but I did what he said anyway, hoping he'd be there when they showed up.

Both boys were going to get in the front, but Finn made Jess sit in the back, between Judy and Karen, and had Sue take the front passenger seat. The car was a stick shift, so there was no way that Kurt would be able to use his hands to cover his nakedness. A working solution as far as I was concerned.

But Finn wasn't done. We put the clothing and our bikes in the trunk and Finn told me to get in between the two bikes. He left the trunk open and I heard him tell Sue to slide over next to Kurt.

We rode until we were just at the outskirts of town. Finn had Kurt stop, and he and I got out and got our bikes and all the clothing and closed the trunk, leaving the five kids in the car to do what they wanted.

When we got to my house, I saw that Finn's arm and shoulder were bruised from where the handle had hit him, and I remembered he had the same bruises the first time I'd seen him. I asked him about it.

"My dad had a shorter stick. Easier to swing hard and fast. That shovel handle was too long. I knew the kid wouldn't be able to hurt me like my dad had done."

He told me not to worry about him, that it hardly hurt. Steve came by and we told him what had happened along the road. It was about an hour later when Ma came to the back door and said, "There is a girl and a boy out front who want to speak with you."

We went around the house instead of through it. It was Ellen and Rosco Kirkpatrick. It was Ellen who spoke.

"Do you remember the place where you were stripped?" she asked.

"How could I ever forget. Why?"

"You have clothing belonging to two boys. They need you. Bring them their clothing. And you will need a knife. This is not a trick; I had my fun with you earlier. Now you have given me an even greater present." She and her brother turned and left.

"I still got my knife," Steve said. "The one I found that day before we went to the stream."

"Let's go, I'm curious," Finn agreed.

We gathered the clothing and headed for the spot. There was a crowd of probably 20 kids hanging around, most of them younger than us. As we approached, I saw what had attracted them.

Kurt Bander and Jess Richards were tied to a tree. Both were still as naked as when we had last seen them. They also both had a stiffy.

"Get out of here," I yelled. "Leave them alone." Some of the kids left, mostly the real little ones. But a dozen or so stayed. We ignored them and walked up to the two boys. Kurt was crying.

"What happened," I asked him.

"I threatened to hurt her brother when he wanted double the price for gas because he could see we were desperate," he sobbed. "Instead of pumping the gas, he ran to the office and called her. I had to get out naked and pump it myself. Before we got away, she and some other guys came and brought us here. I think every kid in our grade has been by to laugh at us."

"Who?" I was confused. "Who was 'she'?"

"Ellen Kirkpatrick. She's the one that had us make you strip. She enjoys seeing boys naked and scared."

Finn took charge. I think he sensed my anger and was afraid I'd do something. He had good reason to think it.

"We have your clothes. We'll trade them. Are you two ready to make a deal?"

"Anything," Kurt said. "I'm sorry for what we tried to do. It was worse for us then when your friend was here. Ellen told the girls that they were free to touch us. Anywhere. A lot of them did."

"Yeah, I'm sorry too," added Jess. "Please cut us free."

"All Chase wants is to be left alone," Finn said to them. "Him and his friends. Right Chase?"

"Yeah, I guess." Seeing the two boys totally naked had given me another stiffy. I was jealous that I'd missed out watching girls feel them up.

"Before we cut you free," Finn began. He had the full attention of the two naked boys. "I want you to know that if I hear of anyone giving my friends trouble, I'll come looking for you two. It won't matter if you knew about it or not. You'll suffer the consequences. So, you two had both better make sure that all the other kids leave them alone. Got it?"

"Yeah," they both said.

"Cut the ropes," I said to Steve.

He stood right in front of them. I was worried he was going to do something else.

"You're lucky Chase said to free you. He told me you were going to leave him naked out on the highway. If it were me, I would have been more than happy to leave you here just as you are." Then he used the knife to cut the two ropes.

Kurt and Jess dressed as fast as they could and left. Without naked boys to make fun of, the other kids all left too.

The years passed quickly after that. Finn got adopted by Mrs. Donovan, but kept his last name. We traded blowjobs a dozen times or so over the next year. We hung around with Steve as much as we could, but he thought himself a third wheel when he was with us, and made himself scarce most of the time. I didn't get to see him as much as I wanted, but we remained close friends all the same.

When school started, Finn was put in my grade because he'd missed a lot of school after the events that shaped his life. Kurt and Jess were scared to death of him. Kids who had been afraid to be my friend before were suddenly free to talk with me, sit with me at lunch, and come over and play after school.

Finn had changed. Instead of being forlorn, he was now happy, hopeful, and secure with who he was. His past was never made known to anyone. I keep his secret to this day.

In our junior year at high school, I met a girl who liked me. We went to a movie together, and when I put my hand around her shoulder, she put her hand on my thigh. I got a stiffy. We never got beyond the first stages, and the 'romance' only lasted two months, but I decided I probably wasn't gay after all. Finn and I remained close friends, but the blowjobs and mutual masturbation didn't interest me as much from then on.

After high school, Finn and Steve both got jobs in Middelburg, the county seat. I went to college and came home with a degree in Education. Ma was very proud of me, and told me she always knew I was bound for better than what this town offered. She told me where to find Finn and Steve, and after spending a month with her I took off to go see them. I got a job teaching junior high English and Literature in Middelburg, and Finn and I lived together for the first couple of years. I got married a year ago, and Finn and Steve both were best men and have remained very important parts of my life.

It is strange how the most unexpected encounters, like meeting Finn, can change your life completely.

This is a work of fiction, and is not a biography of my life.

The character I named Finn is based on a real person, and some of his background in this story comes from my friend's real life. He did use a weapon to stop his dad from hurting him, and he was put in a foster home close to my house. His dad did go to jail for what he had done to my friend, but I didn't include that here because this is a fictional story and we are seeing it only from Chase's point of view. My main character never thought to ask and Finn didn't bring it up. In my real life, I didn't learn that until probably a year after I met my friend. He didn't like to talk about his past and details came out over time. For this story, I condensed Finn's background into a single conversation.

My friend and I did experiment with sex more than once. The first time was on my bed, and it pretty much happened the way I wrote it for Chase and Finn. Beyond that, our story was very different from Chase and Finn's. We remain friends to this day. I got approval from him before publishing this story.

All other people, places, and events are from my imagination. I did live in a small town, but it was large enough to have three elementary schools and a junior and senior high school.

Early in the story, I mention a short fight between Chase and Rosco Kirkpatrick. The idea for that came from a movie. I think it was "The War," starring Kevin Costner, but I could be thinking of the wrong movie.

Charles Well did the final review of this story for me. One of his stories, "Cow Pies and Country Cousins" is published on this site. He and I have worked together on many stories. Thank you, Chuck for another good and helpful review.

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