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Matt and Tim II

by Small Town Guy

Chapter 8

Chris had just reached out and hung his glasses through the handle of the lamp. He switched the bright LED lamp off. The tent fell into darkness.

"Wow....I've never know such darkness before. I must admit it was truly frightening that first night out here."

Joe drew up close to him in a deep hug.

"Hey, those first few nights will scare anybody."

"Well, I don't believe it was just the darkness. I kept hearing things. My imagination got a bit away from me."

He raised his head and seemed to be listening.

"...Well, I believe Tom and Jenny must have left. I felt a bit poorly about not going out there....Yet, this is so much better than donning damp, cold clothing to socialize on such a chilly evening."

He heard Joe chuckle as he felt his lips on his cheek.

"...Oh Chris....You have a way with words. I'm sure they understand."

"Well, that wasn't it entirely...

"I've been lying here thinking of today. All you boys have been so good with me. I've truly never known anything wonderful!"

"Well, gee, Chris! We're all friends here. And I think Ethan and Ryan really felt bad about tossing you in today."

"Well, I brought that up with them in the showers tonight....while the rest of you were still in there. I believe they understand..."

It was here Joe felt Chris' hand on his stomach. He rubbed it in circles.

"...Umm....Do you think we're ready to something tonight?"

Chris felt tender strokes to his shoulder.

"…I'm ready when you are. But I'll say it again, Chris......I don't ever want you to think I'm using you. I told you all about my past. I know what it's like be used!"

Chris drew his arms around Joe's neck.

"Oh Joe," he sighed, "We've really got it good together, huh? I just love our cuddling together....our kisses. It's just I think it's time we umm....take it to the next level..."

"I'm all in favor of that..."

"Oh gee. I think I'm getting all shy again!"

"Well, let's just lay here and scrunch-up to each other. Let's just see what happens."

Ryan quickly drew his shirt over his head in the dim light of the battery lamp.

"Oh....Oh! It hurts to take my shirt off!"

"Well, I don't know why you even put it back on! All we did was go to the bathrooms."

"Well, it's chilly out there. And I didn't want it to look like we were kinda giving Tom 'n Jenny the cold shoulder. I didn't know they were leavin'. They're really nice, huh?"

"...Sure are!....Gee, wouldn't it be nice with millions of other people just like them?"

"Well, I guess it's just going to take time. It's like they keep reminding us at the GSA meetings......It's not going to happen overnight!"

Ryan dropped his jeans and stepped out of them. He quickly dove for the sleeping bag and wiggled his way in.

"Oh shit! Oh shit!....I wish they'd invent an electric sleeping bag!"

"Hee, hee....We'd roast in an electric bag!"

"Well, I don't mean for all night! Just to kinda warm it up some. Oh this just kills! It's actually painful! Once we warm it up, I'm okay again...

"Oh gee, I think tonight's the coldest night we've had out here! It wasn't this cold during that thunderstorm we had!"

Ethan reached for the dim lamp and held it over an open cardboard box.

"Oh gee, I think we have to get a new set of batteries for this thing. I can't see shit!"

"What are you doing?"

"Looking for something to eat....cookies or candy or something."

"After that supper we had?!....I'm still stuffed!"

" know I can't swallow pills! I had to chew those tablets out there. Oh, I've still got that bitter taste in my mouth. Uck! I just wanna eat a single cookie or something."

Ryan heard the crinkling of cellophane.

"Ah, yes! Chocolate covered marshmallow cookies!"

"Umm, gee E....That sounds kinda good. Toss one here!"

Ethan sat on the sleeping bag. He held the cookie in his mouth as he untied his shoes. He quickly removed his shirt and jeans.

"...Yeah....Tom 'n Jenny are great," Ethan continued at length, "Oh gee, Jenny and her playin' matchmaker all the time....And I don't mean with just the straight couples either......She's even got a couple girls together too! I kinda asked her tonight if she was sorta pushing us together. In so many words....she admitted it. I don't know if we're giving off signals or what. She said it wasn't all that obvious unless you were really looking for it. Well, she mentioned where the GSA wants to include some of the younger kids too. I don't know. I never really felt left out when I first started junior high..."

He took a slow bite of his cookie and chewed thoughtfully.

"...Oh gee, Rye......It's like I already told you......Waiting for them at the library that one day....Oh shit, I was sooooo nervous! I keep tellin' really felt like a date or something. I already told you I thought you were cute an' all. Well, after that paper we did in the library..."

He placed the rest of the cookie into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully again. A smile spread over his face.

"Yeah," he nearly sighed, "That day we were on that computer together....Oh wow!......That's the day I noticed your green eyes! Oh gee, I had so much going through my mind at the time. I was really confused. I....I think I've....adjusted..."

He turned to look at Ryan. He had the sleeping bag drawn up to his neck. His eyes were closed. He was obviously already sleeping. One arm was extended out across the bag. He still held his part eaten cookie in his hand. On his lips was a smear of chocolate. Ethan smiled as he removed the cookie from his hand.

"Awh gee......My little....Dewdrop....already asleep. I guess he was tired. I never really noticed how we were kinda pushing it in that canoe. Wow, I sure felt it as we were docking and tying up the canoe again. Wow, my shoulders..."

He slid into the bag beside Ryan with a smile. He leaned forward and gently licked the chocolate from his lips.

"Oh wow!......I'm gay....I'm gay....I know that now......And it doesn't bother me in the least! Oh gee, Mom still thinks this is some kind of....of phase I'm going through. I wonder if I can get her to understand..."

He reached for the lamp and turned it off. He drew Ryan close to him.

"Oh Rye is just soooo cute when he sleeps. I love waking up in the middle of the night and just feeling him next to me. I wish I'd wake up more often......Well, I do when I'm alone......but when I sleep with Rye....It's just! I just sleep so sound when I've got him to hold. It's not or that......Oh I don't even know what to call it! When I look at his's such a....a sweet feeling I have.

"Oh gee....Is this love?....I thought love was supposed to be all nice and warm 'n wonderful. This....this almost hurts! Oh gee, sweet precious little Rye. I'm just so close to hurts! It's almost like a real pain. It shouldn't be like that....Should it?"

Ethan turned to his side. He placed his hand on Ryan's head and kissed his cheek lightly, lingering for several seconds.

"He's just so....sweet...

"Oh gee....All of a sudden I can finally accept I'm gay....And it hurts to be with Rye? What other surprises are in store for me?"

He wiped a tear from his eye.

"I wonder why they're even letting me out here with him......I wonder if Mom's going along with this show me something. This was really all Mr. Gavin's idea. I think he's doing this for Chris. I think he talked everyone into it....And even a second week out here!...

"Dad....Well he didn't really say anything one way or the other....He just seem to give me the idea he's going along with Mom. I wonder if they're trying to show me this is just some....passing phase or something."

He gathered Ryan close in his arms and pressed his cheek close to his.

"...Oh....This is almost like what Tim told me....or was that Matt?....You....You're so close to each other, you kinda feel like you're one. Well, separate....yet....joined somehow. I think I know just what they're trying to tell me. Oh gee, I wish this wasn't so confusing.

"Matt 'n Tim....I don't think they were confused about anything....just awful shy. They both admitted that.

"Oh, I want Rye on top of me! I'll try not to wake him up..."

He slipped his arm under him and drew him close. He rolled to his back. Ryan's head dropped against his shoulder. He seemed to stir for a moment, placing his arm on Ethan's chest and gripping his shoulder for a moment.

"...Oh shit. I forgot he was really sore tonight....I hope I didn't hurt him...

"Oh gee....No canoe tomorrow. We just pushed it too much today......I'm really sore. I really don't want to go out in the canoe. It's kinda hard

"I think I'll try to convince him into walking the trails tomorrow....I just want to talk to him a bit....and I really don't know what it is I want to say!..."

Chris was holding Joe's shoulders while his head was on his chest. Their eyes had adjusted to the dimly lit tent caused by one of the lights outside. Joe was running his hand over his back. They had remained quiet for some minutes now, both considering their own thoughts.

"Oh gee, Joe," Chris began at length, "I don't know how to explain this......This is nice....It's just that umm....I think I was way too fast here. You know, that's the first time I ever had someone else touching me."

Joe grinned as he hugged him tight and kissed the top of his head.

"I kept asking you if you were sure you wanted to go through with it."

"Oh no!....It's not that I wanted you to stop. It's just....I think I feel a bit strange now......I feel a bit embarrassed......Oh gee, I'm not so sure that's the proper term either. Perhaps it's just I feel a bit....well, self-conscious."

Joe grinned again as he rubbed his back with one hand and ran his fingers through Chris' hair with the other.

"Oh Chris!" he sighed, "...I've umm....told you about my past. I just never thought I'd end up with someone as sweet as you. And I know what you're saying here. It's just that....umm....we're not all that hot 'n bothered right now."

Joe hugged him again, yet slightly drew him up. He smiled as he kissed his cheek.

"I guess you could say I'm a bit....self-conscious too......It's just....Oh gee! I just feel so close to you right now. And it's sort of well....scary for me too..."


"Oh I guess it's whenever I felt close to someone....something would happen and just everything fell apart. It seemed like I was always lonely....I mean constantly! You know how those....those people out there keep talking about the gay lifestyle!....The Gay Agenda!......And how we're never going to find happiness......I think I started believing that for a bit there."

Chris placed his hand to the side of Joe's face.

"...The way I see it......Those boys didn't care about you. Umm....Don't feel poorly over such, but Matt and Tim told me some of it. I hear people saying things about the gay community and how we're all just out for one thing! And how we're all....lascivious and salacious! We're all cheating on each other!...

"Oh shit!......What's so difficult about understanding love?!"

Chris gently rubbed the side of Joe's face as he kissed his other cheek.

"Love is love, Joe......Why does gender have so much to do about it?!"

Chris felt a tear on his lips. He drew back and looked at Joe's face.

"Oh shit! Don't start crying, Joe. I don't know how to deal with that..."

Joe gave him a deep hug. He managed a slight smile.

"...I'm happy, Chris......It's just that I'm kinda scared too. It's like Matt keeps saying....I guess he's a bit scared too......He says it's that old saying....'If it's too good to be probably is!' I've just never been so close to anyone as I have with you."

Matt's arms tightened around Tim's neck as he kissed his shoulder. He suddenly reached behind himself and began tugging for the zipper on the sleeping bag.

"You left the bag unzipped! I thought I felt a draft across my ass!"

"...Well, after we going there, I think I sort of forgot about it."

Matt fumbled around in the dark. Tim not only heard the zipper close, but felt the bag tighten up a bit. The bag suddenly warmed.

"Oh shit, is it cold tonight!" Matt gasped as he turned back to Tim.

Tim only smiled as he hugged him.

"...Yeah....I know....and I love it! When it's chilly like this, you always scrunch up to me so nice..."

He gazed up for a moment.

"...Oh yeah, I love this......Mmm....It's nice in the bag here."

Matt drew his arms around his neck and playfully kissed Tim's nose.

"...Yeah, I like this too!......I mean, it's not exactly freezing in the bag here, huh?.... This is nice, just holding each other."

Tim smiled and held his head. He gave him a light kiss.

"Oh gee, Matty....I love you so much......I don't think I say that enough."

"Oh yeah!....You do......Well, not the words exactly....but you show me in so many ways...

" were a bit quiet at the table for supper tonight. Something on your mind?..."

"Well, not really, Matty....My mind was just wondering. I was thinking of us meeting in school there on that first day......Oh gee! Remember I told you I kinda had lots of things on my mind?..."

"Yeah. I felt kinda bad about that. You were mentioning about how you were kinda shy and sort of a loner yourself. I couldn't understand it. You were just too hot to be a loner......I mean even if you were straight! Shit, I think every girl in the whole school was checkin' you out......And I'll admit it....It made me kinda jealous..."

"Oh gee, Matty......I was soooo close to just coming out to you right there! Really!....I just wanted to pour it all out!......How I hated going to a new school and bein' gay and all. And hating my braces!....Oh shit! It just seemed like everything was happening to me all at once! I just can't tell you how close I was to just coming out! I mean, you were a complete stranger to me. It was just that things were happening so fast, I guess I was getting to the point of just giving up."

He paused for a moment with a deep hug to Matt.

"I already told you about my mom picking me up that first day......I was telling her about you. I really don't think she believed me. And I kinda told her you were shy too.......Oh gee, I almost told her you were cute!....a couple times! I just caught myself!

"I was thinking, 'Oh gee!....I think I told Matt he was cute!'....Well, I was thinking it at the time....but I think it just slipped out."

Matt cuddled closer to Tim. He looked up at Tim and smiled.

"Well, there were a few times I almost said you were cute too....I just caught myself!....Oh shit, Timmy! You were so cute....I was just shakin' all over!"

"Awh!....I should have been up front with you from the start!"

"I can understand it....We were both awful shy....Even if we weren't....that's kinda hard to just come out with..."

He paused as his arms tightened around Tim's neck.

"...In fact....I'm kinda glad everything turned out as it did. We didn't rush into anything. And it....well....hee, was kinda nice with us just sort of feelin' each other out....dropping hints and all....It was....well, it was fun!"

Tim smiled as he gathered him into his arms.

"Yeah," he sighed, "That was kinda fun..."

Matt began to suddenly look around in the tent. The outside light at the gravel road penetrated the canvas.

"Oh shit! Timmy! We're still bare-assed!"

"You just remembered that?!"

"Awh gee!"

"Hee, hee....I was going to mention that, but I figured I'd better not....You'd start grabbin' for your shorts right away."

"Well umm....even now I'm still kinda self-conscious about it....I mean....when we're done!"

"Awh Matty....I realize it's not all that hot 'n sexy right now, but I keep tellin' you....I enjoy this just as much. I just love this when we're all cuddled together like this."

"Well....yeah!....I like it too. It's just this clingy thingy with me. I still say this is just too good to be true."

Matt kissed his cheek and pressed the side of his face to Tim's as his arms twisted around his neck.

Ethan hugged Ryan tightly.

"Oh little Dewdrop. I think I'm going to start crying again. I can't do that. What if he wakes up? He'll think I'm questioning again. Oh never! This is great! I think I can finally accept all this....Well, especially with my sweet little Dew here in my arms...

"Oh gee, Mom's going to be out here Saturday with our food 'n stuff. I really think she's doing all this on purpose. I'm just afraid she's trying to show me this is just a stage....a phase I'm going through......I wonder if I should just tell her."

Joe held Chris' head tightly to his chest.

"Oh Chris" he sighed deeply, "You'll never know how much I've just dreamed of this! It's....It's almost like a dream!....a fantasy! You have no idea how long I've been looking for someone as special as you. I can just feel it!"

He felt Chris' head nod against him.

"I like this too," he replied with a slight sob.

"Oh don't start cryin' again, huh?....That'll get me goin' too."

"No! No!....I'm happy....I'm happy about everything! I'm just thinking about our week out here. Everyone's been great! I feel like I'm finally a part of something. I've never had this before in my life......Oh yeah....The Rich Kid who goes to school in a limo!....The kid with the indoor heated pool....The kid with everything! I'd give it all up for what I've got here 'n now! I've never had it so great in my life!..."

He seemed to hesitate for a moment. Joe felt his hand rub his chest. Although he couldn't see Chris' face, he could nearly feel him blushing.

"Tonight was great....Oh gee, I hated being quick. But this is the first time I've ever been....touched by someone else. Wow! It was really great."

Chris squeezed his chest.

"...I just hope you don't feel too poorly over me getting my jeans back on."

Joe hugged him.

"...Nah!....I understand. You feel a bit embarrassed about it now, huh?"

"No....It's not that. I truly mean that....Well....yes, I guess that was part of it....but mostly it's because I believe I'm taking on a chill. We aren't all 'n bothered right now..."

Joe hugged him deeply again.

"I just don't want you to ever think I'm using you....You're just so special to me. Oh, the nights I've just dreamed of something like this happening to me."


"Yes. I'd never hurt you....I know what it's like....I've been there too many times."

Matt and Tim woke to the sound of Ethan's voice.

"OH NO!....How could anyone DO SOMETHING LIKE THAT?! This is awful!"

"Awh!" Ryan put in, "Look at our beautiful fountain!....Our WATERFALLS!"

They quickly dressed and went outside. Ethan and Ryan had a newspaper spread out over the picnic table.

"Hey!....What's up?" Tim asked.

They looked up from the paper.

"Someone vandalized the park!....They busted up our waterfalls! They cut the chains on all the swings with a bolt-cutter er something. And they set fire to all three pavilions!......And....and the little covered bridge that went over the stream!"

Tim's tired eyes shot open.

"You're shittin' me!..."

"No!....No! Look at the pictures here!"

Tim quickly drew the paper around to face the opposite side of the table. He and Matt sat down.

"Ohhhh, NO!"

"Turn the page!....Turn the page!....Look at the swimming pool!......Someone put some kind of orange dye into it! I guess it really stains things. And they clogged up all the filter inlets. The pumps were running dry!....They burned up!" Ethan nearly shouted.

Tim pointed to the charred remains of one of the pavilions.

"Matty! Look at OUR pavilion!......That's where we kissed that first day we came out to each other! I loved that place!..."

Matt seemed interested in a column at the bottom of the page.

"...Oh shit!......The city says they're going to shut the entire place down! It'll be too costly to repair everything....tens of thousands of dollars!"

They both looked up at each other with sad expressions.

"Who'd DO something like that?!" Tim gasped.

Soon, their voices woke the others. Everyone began to gather around the table, pulling at sections of the paper.

Ethan placed his hand under his chin and rested his elbow on the table.

"...Me 'n Rye went to the camp store this morning. Nobody was up yet and we didn't wanna wake anybody. We needed ice for the cooler. I wish I hadn't seen that paper on the counter!"

Ryan reached out and rubbed his back.

"...E....You couldn't hardly miss that with the big sign up over it!"

Tim kept staring at the photo.

"...Matty!....OUR pavilion! It's....charcoal! Oh shit!....We had such nice afternoons in there....We fed the squirrels and hugged and held hands!......OUR pavilion!"

Matt pushed the paper away, a sober expression on his face.

"We busted our asses out there to make the place nice! We were trying to save the city money!......All that painting....digging....wading through the stream 'n pulling junk out of it! This really sucks!"

Minutes later they began eating cold cereals for breakfast. There was little talk among them as they were each absorbed in their own thoughts. Eventually, each couple seemed to wander off in different directions. Ethan and Ryan headed for the trail which followed along a third of the circumference of the lake. Ethan grasped Ryan's hand and held it tightly. Ryan looked up at him.

"...Ummm....It's really bad about the park, huh?....But I seem to get the idea you aren't thinking about that..."

Ethan nodded his head.

"....Last night," he began softly, "...I was just kinda laying there, holding you."

He glanced down at the trail, up at the trees and across the lake.

"Oh gee, Rye......I started thinking about this trip. I know Mr. Gavin had lots to do with this......I mean with getting all the parents to go along with this...

"Well....I started thinking about my mom telling me....well, she's always telling me not to worry about....stuff......You know....About thinking I'm gay and all. She thinks it's....well, bothering me or something......And she thinks it might be just a phase I'm going through and all. I couldn't really say anything to her about it....because I wasn't sure. I keep saying it....I didn't always know!"

He looked ahead along the trail ahead and shrugged.

"...I keep tellin' her I'm not worried about it!"

He glanced at Ryan, releasing his hand. He put his arm around his waist and drew him closer.

"Oh shit!....I might as well just tell you this...

"I was kinda layin' there thinkin' last night. I was holding you. OH! RYE! just felt soooo good! I liked it Rye!....I loved feeling you up against me......And I kept thinking that all the parents will be out here tomorrow for all our groceries 'n supplies 'n stuff. I really think she's doing this for me....I mean kinda pushing us together so I'll realize that this is just a stage I'm going through...

"I gotta tell her, Rye......I gotta tell her I'm sure of myself now. And....and I really don't know how she'll react to it..."

He gripped Ryan's hip and drew him closer as they walked. He bit down on his lower lip.

"Oh shit!" he continued, "What if she doesn't want us together anymore?...

"I was layin' there thinking about all this stuff and I got really scared. I well, I started cryin' again, okay?"

Ryan reached out and drew Ethan closer with his arm around his waist. He looked up, concerned, but didn't reply.

Ethan took a deep breath and sighed.

"...I....I really understand this now......I know it!...

"Umm....I know we kinda....fooled around there a few times....and....and it was great, Rye! Really!....But this goes so much farther beyond that. It wasn't well.... exciting!....I don't mean that in a bad way......It's just....It was so much more than that, okay?..."

He paused here, looking down at the trail before them. They weaved their way along the trail, avoiding rocks and tree roots which jutted up from the dirt trail. They soon reached the wood deck where the telescopes were mounted. They noticed wood benches had been placed around the rustic wood rail which surrounded it on three sides. They took the three steps up and Ethan dropped to a bench. He held an expression of deep thought. Ryan stood close before him, concern on his face. Ethan reached out and held to his hip. He looked up at him.

"...Oh shit, Rye......I don't think I should even say this......but I'm just getting so close to you. I mean it's not all sexy 'n hot, you know? It''s....Oh! I just can't explain it!"

Ryan gave a slight grin as he stepped up onto the bench. He placed one foot on either side of Ethan. Allowing his legs to slide through the opening in the back of the bench, he sat on his thighs. He put his arms around Ethan's neck and drew close to him. Although the morning air was warming, the humid atmosphere from the lake still caused a slight chill in the air. He felt the heat coming from Ryan's chest and arms. He reached up and encircled his chest with the entire length of his arms.

"...Oh gee, Rye......We'd better be careful here. Someone could come walking through here any minute."

Ryan only looked deeply into his eyes and drew forward. He kissed Ethan softly for several seconds. Drawing back, he looked at him again with a slight smile. His deep green eyes gazed at Ethan's face. He nearly noticed a smile in them. He held him tightly, fighting back tears.

"...Oh gee, oh gee, I gotta watch myself here. I don't wanna make a scene here. Oh, what would I do without little Rye here?....Oh, my little Dewdrop!"

A tear silently ran down each of his cheeks.

Matt and Tim sat beside each other on a large rock near the lake. Tim gazed out at the several boats drifting aimlessly. Seagulls glided on currents of wind. His expression was dark and pondering. Matt reached out and rubbed his knee.

"...Oh gee, Matty......I feel kinda....well....sick inside, you know? Oh that picture of that burned pavilion......OUR pavilion!......Oh, I keep thinking about our first time out there. That was soooo nice. You had told me about how I was kinda dropping hints to you and how I had you so confused about us. I really felt bad about that. And remember when I promised you I wouldn't ever do that again? I really meant that! And I sat on your legs and kissed you......I......I could just feel you sorta understanding me...

"We had come out to each other that morning......And....and....well, it was great! Yet, it kinda felt to me we were kinda....well, coming out to each other all over again! I mean really understanding each other."

He paused, gazing out over the lake. He tried to force a smile as he looked back at Matt.

"...Oh shit, Matty! Something kept drawing me back there. You....well you kinda liked being out on that rock at the lake to do your thinking....Well, until Scooter 'n Toby had all those problems with their parents. Then you liked being out at the river....the dam, to do your thinking.......Well, I guess I sorta told you I didn't like it there. There was just too much sad memories about that place. I wanted to go back to the park....into our pavilion! Oh! That kiss we had out there!......Umm....Well it was kinda hot 'n all, but it was so much more! Oh, I just felt so close to you then...

"....You keep sayin' you wished our first kiss had been in a more....romantic setting. You didn't exactly like the idea we were in that cold, damp tent....during that thunderstorm....Matty, it was wonderful! I really liked it!

"And I keep thinking about that pavilion out at the park. That storm came in and we got kinda nervous about that. We ran for our bikes and headed for home."

Tim grasped for Matt's hand on his knee. He looked down as he interlocked their fingers. He gazed up at the horizon across the lake.

"Oh shit, Matty......The more I think about that....I kinda wished we'd stayed out there. There was nobody around! We could have just sat there and let it rain! We could have just held each other....kissed a bit more....talked..."

He picked up a piece of narrow driftwood and began tapping it on a smaller rock before them. It was serving as a sort of footrest for them both. He seemed give a slight smile at the memory of it.

"...I umm....never told you about this....but I was just waiting for another thunderstorm to come through. I wanted to go back out there and just sit there with you. We could watch the lightening....listen to the thunder....the rain kinda hissing on the roof."

He looked back at Matt.

"...You know Matty....We didn't really say a lot to each other there at first....but it wasn't really necessary."

He tossed the stick aside and gripped Matt's hand in both of his own.

"You can say so much with just your looks....your touches! I think we both did lots of that. We really didn't need to talk all that much."

Matt nodded his head, yet with a slight sad expression.

"...You should have told me that, Timmy......Yeah, I think I would have liked that too."

They both had their gazes turn back out over the lake.

Scooter and Toby stood in a large wooden rowboat. Scooter flipped the looped rope off from a wood piling of the dock. Toby held an oar as he stepped over the center seat. His foot caught on the seat and he fell forward, the oar falling across the boat. Scooter chuckled.

"Oh shit! Oh shit!....WHEN am I gonna get outta this KLUTZY STAGE?! I feel like I've got chains holding my ankles together!"

"Hee, hee....I didn't take a picture of that Tob....and I sure won't tell anyone about it."

They sat beside each other and inserted the oars into the locks. After several seconds they maneuvered their way from the dock. The sun was rising higher into the sky and the warmth was welcome. Again, seagulls overhead held their wings out, gliding on the air currents. Their calls were loud in the morning silence. In the distance a crow cawed. People were already placing blankets and towels out on the beach.

Toby glanced at Scooter. He held a sudden sober, serious expression.

"...Toby?......That damage that was caused at the park......I can't help but was by some really hateful homophobes!......And I think it was because the GSA had lots to do with that."

Toby nodded with a serious expression of his own.

"...Yup....Isn't it awful we've got all these fags, queers 'n....'n degenerates around?"

Scooter let out a deep sigh.

"Oh shit!....How much longer is this going to go on?!....All the hate out there! I....I actually think people enjoy being hateful!"

Toby looked down, still drawing at his oar.

"...Oh yeah!....And lots of people are actually getting rich from it! I'll never understand it myself."

He glanced up at Scooter.

"...How can people be happy and enjoy life with all that hatred?"

Scooter gazed down, drawing at his oar as well.

"...I guess it's just that saying....'misery likes company.' People don't want to climb up and make their lives better....They'd just rather pull everyone else down!"

They both rowed in silence for a moment. Toby gave Scooter several glances. He seemed to notice.



" got that....that serious look again."

Toby dropped his oar into the water.

"Ohhhh! I was just thinking of that stretch where we couldn't see each other any more......and about you gettin' stabbed an' all..."

He suddenly reached out and held Scooter. He placed one hand on his back, the other on his chest.

"Oh shit, Scoot!......All I could think of was us having to wait 'til we were eighteen and just get outta town! I wouldn't care if I was flippin' hamburgers at some greasy spoon somewhere! I wouldn't care if I had to scrub toilets! I wouldn't care if we had a little three-room apartment!..."

He gazed over the water.

"...It's just......oh shit!....When you got stabbed an' all....Scooter!....You almost didn't make it! And....and all I thought about was me havin' such a hard time waiting five years to be with you again......And then I was suddenly thinkin'....I might not see him AT ALL!......Ever again!"

He reached up and drew the back of his hand over his cheek, trying to catch a tear.

"Oh shit!....Scoot!....I....I really didn't wanna go on if you didn't make it."

Scooter wrinkled his face in frustration.

"Toby!....You'd find someone else!"

"I wouldn't bother trying! I know that! I wouldn't even bother looking for someone else!..."

Toby wiped at his eyes with his fingers.

"...We've....we've been together since kindergarten! We aren't that old, but we've been might as well say....all our lives! And....and (sniff) I want it that way! I want to spend all my life with you!"

Scooter seemed to be fighting tears of his own as he reached out to hold Toby's shoulders.

"...Tob......Everything's turned out fine!......I know we all kinda tease you about bein' some kind of alien look-alike....and....and abducting the real Toby......But I think it's my dad! Oh wow!...

"For awhile there in the hospital....I just kept thinkin' that he was saying all those things just so I'd....kinda fight my way back. I thought he'd go right back to being the way he was. I can't believe how he's changed!"

Scooter ran his hands down Toby's back and kissed his cheek for several seconds.

"Oh shit, Tob......This is soooo nice. We keep sayin' it....We've got each other.... We don't need anything else!"

He pressed the side of his head against Toby's and kissed his shoulder, through his t-shirt.

Joe and Chris sat on a bench within the playground area. Both had plastic cups of ice cream in their hands. Chris seemed to be in deep thought as he licked his plastic spoon. He was gazing at the children playing.

"You know," he began matter-of-factly, "...I never even got to go out to the playground as a little kid."

Joe looked his way. He reached out and rubbed his back.

"Awh!....Don't worry about it Joe. It doesn't really bother me. I was a very sickly little kid at the time..."

He dipped his spoon into the ice cream with a thoughtful gaze.

"...Umm....Father never really said anything to me about it....but I believe he wanted me inside one of those plastic bubbles! Oh, I had so many allergies....lots of breathing problems. He brought me to a specialist. He was a real young doctor. Umm, well, while you're a little kid....everyone appears to be old, huh? But I can remember him so clearly. I'd say he must have been in his early thirties or so....but to me he appeared more like he was twenty five! He told Father I just had an awful low tolerance for infections and that. That's where Father told him I was....well, in a house....a hospital!....And we had all these filters and equipment....literally sterilizing the air! The doctor told him to shut all that equipment down! He said I never got a chance to build up a natural immunity to things. A simple cold and I was in bed for two weeks! I guess Father thought what he was doing was best for me. The doctor explained to him to....well sort of ease me into it. Oh gee, it was only a year and I was feeling so much better."

He stirred his partially melted ice cream in the cup.

"...Oh gee! It's so nice out here!...

"I guess I never really had anything to compare my life to......I was always inside! And I never got to read any funny or silly things. Only the Classics!......And that classical music being piped into every room!......I guess after awhile you just don't hear it any longer......And I had no video games or anything..."

He took a dainty spoonful of ice cream and nodded his head slightly.

"...Yup!......I'm actually happy that Father had that with Grandfather......I think it made him see all sorts of things. Wow! That's when I got my very first video game for Christmas....And....and Father actually sat on the floor and played along with me! Wow!......I believe he used to think that was nearly....nearly Bohemian to sit on a floor!"

Joe chuckled at this.

"Truly!" Chris put in quickly.

He returned to stirring his ice cream in thought.

"...Joe," he nearly whispered, "...This has been the best week of my life!"

Joe simply smiled and rubbed his back again.

"You're getting there....very quickly!"

He continued to stir the cup in his hand as Joe watched.

"Chris!......You've got soup there!....Not ice cream!"

Chris suddenly gave him a large smile and began drinking down the ice cream. His upper lip had ice cream on it as he smiled again.

"Oh Joe!....I can recall having some sherbet dessert after supper......Oh! Simply two spoons of that and I had such a splitting sinus headache!"

He glanced around the park.

"...Yes!....This is what I truly needed!......Sunshine!....Fresh air!....Not that filtered, ultraviolet, sanitized stuff I was breathing!..."

He glanced down at their feet. The grass here was worn down into a clay-like dip from all the people who'd sat here.

"...And....and DIRT!......Digging into dirt with my bare hands! Oh! Mother would have cardiac arrest if I should ever have....dirt...on my hands!"

Although he felt poorly for Chris, Joe tried to laugh it off.

"Oh gee, Chris!......Enough of that, okay?"

They tossed their empty cups and spoons into a nearby trash barrel. They placed their arms around each other as they made their way back to the campsite with a lazy stroll. Once there, Chris gazed up at a nearby tree. Most all the trees here were tall pines. Few had branches less then ten feet from the ground.

"...You know what I wish to do?" he asked, pointing toward the oak, "I wish to climb that tree!......Now childish is that?!"

"It's not childish Chris!" Joe said with a sudden rush of enthusiasm, "I love climbing things!"

They both started up the tree on opposite sides. Joe was literally amazed at Chris' sudden skill and nimbleness. He seemed to have some innate ability to choose handholds and footrests. They were simply stubs of older branches which had died and decayed away.

"Oh! How totally ungentlemanly of me!" Chris shouted out with a slight giggle, " uncouth!....How unrefined! uncivilized I've become! This is truly barbarous!"

"Hee, hee....Stop it, Chris! When I laugh, my arms get weak!"

Ryan was kissing Ethan still sitting on his lap, straddling his hips. He gently broke his kiss and gazed at Ethan's face. His eyes were wide. He hugged him tightly as he sighed.

"Oh wow, Dew......That wasn't exactly well, it kinda felt like you sucked all the air out of my lungs!......That sure was....umm....different!..."

Ryan managed a small smile.

"Awh gee, E....That first kiss we had over in Tim's family room......Umm....I really liked it!....It's just I was hoping you were going to say it was good or nice or something like that. Wow! I keep tellin' you, I never thought you'd say was hot!"

Ethan hooked his chin over his shoulder as he hugged him tightly.

"Awh, Dew!......I umm, wasn't really thinking about it real deep....but I think in the back of my mind I really wanted to kiss you. I mean I was really happy you wanted me to you how to kiss. I mean, yeah, I was still awful shy 'n that....And I was still questioning. But I thought, 'Wow! Here's my chance!' I really wanted to see what it would feel like. I mean....hee, hee....Oh gee, I felt a bit funny about that....Umm.... almost a bit scared......Oh! Not scared that I'd like it! It's just with us both bein' boys and all, you know? And I wasn't so sure if you weren't gonna tell anybody about it. Oh gee, how I wanted to kiss you!"

Ryan chuckled.

"Why didn't you just ask me?!"

"Well, umm....It was just that we were BOYS!....You gotta remember I was still questioning at the time."

He drew his head back and looked seriously into his eyes.

"Oh! You were sittin' there with that cute scarf on....'n your was just perfect! You just looked so sweet......And those green eyes of yours were....well it was almost as though they were shining with a light of their own......And I'll say it again, Dew....That kiss was HOT!"

Ryan smiled and moved in for another kiss. It was here they heard voices coming from down the trail.

"Oh shit! Rye!....Someone's coming! Get off me!"

Ryan tried to quickly get to his feet. His shoes were caught within the opening of the back of the bench. Removing one foot he stood on it, yet the other was still caught. Yanking his foot, his shoe came off. He began to fall backward. Ethan leaned forward to grab him. They both fell to the deck. The heavy bench tilted forward and fell on both of them.

A young couple approached with a toddler between them.

"Well now," the young man said, "I guess we got here just in time."

"Oh gee!" Ethan gasped, "How embarrassing!"

"Hey, you guys hurt?"

"...No....Just trapped under this bench."

"Well, let me give you a hand there."

He lifted the bench up and tilted it back. They quickly got to their feet. Ethan blushed.

"Oh! gee!....We....umm....We were standing on the see if we could umm, see the docks from here. We came out here yesterday in a canoe..."

Ryan sat on the bench and put his shoe on as he giggled.

"Well, hee, hee, I don't think we'll try that again."

Matt and Tim still sat out on the beach near their campsite. Both were in deep thought, yet they'd occasionally hold hands or put their arms around each other.

"Oh gee Timmy....We've been here for a couple hours! Not that I don't like it, but I'm getting a sore ass on this rock!"

"Hee, hee....Yeah, me too!"

They stood up and stretched. Matt gazed at the campsite.

"Awh! I wonder if we should even start dinner. What if nobody shows up?"

"Let's just go to the camp store. We can grab a hot dog and chocolate milk."

It was late evening as they all sat around a small fire on the beach. It was near the campsite and offered many large rocks to allow for a "fireplace" and "chairs." Tim was ripping up pizza boxes and tossing them onto the fire.

"...Oh gee, Tommy....This was great! I'd never have thought of eating pizza on a camping trip."

"Well, I just wanted to do something for you all. I've gotta leave tomorrow afternoon an' get back to work again."

Tom tossed several pieces of cardboard onto the fire. His expression was solemn as the orange flames rose up.

"...Umm......I really like this....You know, sorta hanging out like this. I'm umm, dropping out of football next year. Even with one part-time job and classes, it gets rough."

He gazed into the flames.

"...And umm....I really want to start going to the GSA next year. It's just....umm, I don't really know what to do! I mean I want to help, but I don't know how!"

"You don't have to do anything!" Matt put in, "Just hangout with us a bit. I mean around school. The more students see that sort of thing, it'll gradually get better all around. And like we's not just the gay kids. It's all the one's who kinda feel left out. We're open to everyone!"

Tom studied another pizza box beside him. He tossed it on the fire. It momentarily suppressed the flames as smoke curled up. Suddenly it burst into flame. They all seemed to gaze at his face in the light. His expression was pondering.

"...A couple days ago," Tom spoke quietly, seriously, "I read of another bullycide on the Net..."

He pressed his fingers into his stomach.

"...Oh gee....It just made me really sick, you know?"

He glanced around at the others.

"You guys are great....You know that? You don't shit on anyone!......And you're always right there to help the underdog."

He continued to press his fingers into his stomach, nearly massaging it.

"...Oh! I could never bully you guys. That's sick! I really hate to see that stuff goin' on, you know?"

He forced a slight smile as he looked around.

"...Awh gee!....I'll say it....You're all cute little guys! You know that?"

"Oh, that was sweet," Jenny nearly sighed as she rubbed his shoulder.

Tim pushed at his other shoulder.

"Well, don't worry about any of us trying to kiss you!" he said, trying to be silly.

Matt too seemed to sense Tom's several seconds of embarrassed silence.

"...And we won't grab your ass either!"

Everyone chuckled. Toby looked at him.

"...But we'll look at it!"

Tom hung his head as the others laughed.

"...Well, umm....I don't have to be gay to see that!....Do I?"

There was a pause as he poked the cardboard ash in the fire with a twig. The bright orange flames were dying.

"No!....Really guys!....I umm look at those pictures of those little guys on the Net. The bullycides. Oh shit! It hurts! It really does!...

"Oh gee....I look at those photos and see those little....angels. And I wonder why people have such....such hate in their lives!"

He tossed another cardboard box onto the fire. His face was sad and serious.

"...I'm gonna tell you guys something here..."

He poked at the cardboard box with the twig, centering it in the circle of rocks. He seemed to be gathering his thoughts.

"...I....I see all these little guys pictures on the Net....and think they're no longer with us....And....I keep thinking they'll never walk a beach and....and hold hands with their boyfriends......They'll never know that first kiss that we all hold so dear in our memories......Who cares if it's gay or straight?!"

He paused here. Matt let out a sigh.

"Awh!....That....that was kinda nice Tommy! That was really....sweet!"

"Awh gee!" Tommy gasped as he covered his face with his hand.

There were several chuckles from the group.

Jenny tossed her arms around him in a slightly clumsy sideways hug. She kissed his cheek quickly.

"Tommy!....Don't ever change! You're such a feeling person. That's something to be happy about....not embarrassed....I knew there was something very special I loved about you."

He gave her a silly, toothy grin.

"...Really?!....And all this time I thought it was my PhD!"

"Your PhD?!"

"...Yeah!....Pretty huge dick!"

Everyone laughed as she slapped his shoulder.

"Tommy! Quit bein' gross!"

They grew quiet for a moment.

"...Umm..." Matt began, "Thanks again for picking up the pizzas. And most important....letting us chip-in for it. Five pizzas!....Wow, that would have been just too much."

"Oh I really don't mind. I....I guess I'm just trying to umm....sorta make things right! I want to help. I'm joining the GSA this fall. It's just I don't know what to do."

Tim poked his shoulder with his finger.

"Tom....We don't have gay parades down main street!

"It's like Matty said there....If other students just see you with us....around school....Well, they might start feeling a bit more comfortable about it themselves...

"You can kind of spend a little time with Tory and Paulie too...

"G....S....A, Tommy! Gay....Straight Alliance! We want as many people in there as possible. And the more people who see that....the better things will be. You don't really have to do anything....Just kinda hangout with everyone. In a few more years, this will all be routine, that people won't even notice it! They won't even think about it!"

Tom's face held a serious expression. He poked at the fire more. Several sparks and pieces of cardboard ash rose up.

"...Well....umm....I'm not exactly scared of talking to groups. We do that at games and pep rally's......It's just....I wouldn't know what to talk about!"

"Tommy! You don't have to talk about anything!

"You can talk to the kids one-on-one......Ask about their classes....their hobbies! See if you can help someone with their homework. It's kinda like a study hall for lots of kids. They don't have to worry about bullies harassing them in there! And bein' called geeks 'n nerds! We all want to just....umm....get along! There's enough hate in the world today."

Tom smiled as he poked at the fire.

"I think that's what I like most about you guys," Tom nearly whispered, "...I'm.... I'm not gay......but I can see the hate out there too. I'm all for tolerance. You guys are doing a great job!"

Tim gazed at the fire as Tom poked at the remaining pizza box ash.

"I was on the Net a few days ago," Tim began, "I guess it was some gay rally I had located somehow......There was this kid holding up a sign......I said, 'When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will be a better place.'......Wow, that's....that's just profound!"

Tom smiled, nodding his head rapidly.

"Oh yeah....Oh yeah. There's money in hate! Lots of it! Ohhh....all these people out there begging for more money! Oh!....We've got to stop those....sick homosexuals! We can't have gay marriage!....Why that's going to lead to more child sexual abuse! And ....and, why....people will want to start marrying animals!....and buildings! We've gotta stop all these perverts and....and sodomites! We've got to do God's work and put a stop to all this!"

He tossed the twig onto the fire and gave a deep sigh. He rubbed his face with his hands for a moment and sighed again.

"Sheeple! That's what they're called! Everyone goes along with the flock. Aren't there any independent thinkers in the world anymore?! Everyone keeps watching everyone else!....And they don't want to do anything too much different than everyone else! Whatever happened to the....the individualist?!"

Tom took his eyes from the fire for a moment and glanced at Tim. He put his arm over his shoulders and tugged at him, returning his gaze back to the fire.

"...I just feel so bad for you guys......What is it you've done that's soooo bad, that everyone has to hate you?"

It surprised the others looking at him. He had quickly ran the cuff of his sleeve over his cheek, catching a sudden tear. Jenny had noticed it as well. She simply reached out to rub his back.

"Oh gee, I the back of my mind....I think that's another reason I quit the team. I mean....yeah! I was working two jobs at the time too....but it's so hard to get along with everyone when you know they're haters! There are quite a few on the team. Oh shit! I'm getting tired of all the....the politics of it all! And the coach....He was kinda cool a few years ago......I don't know what happened to him! Holy shit! If we lose a game, he just goes NUTS! It''s not fun anymore!"

He paused for a moment, still gazing into the fire.

"...Umm....Yeah, I see you guys around the school. Little Tory....Paulie.... Daymond! They just seem so happy lately! And I know it's because the GSA kinda took them in. You people don't just do! You keep saying you're all inclusive. And it shows! You guys are doing one hell-of-a-job! I'm proud of you!"

It was here he drew his arm around Tim's neck and pulled him close. He kissed his cheek quickly.

Although the others weren't exactly shocked by his action. It had surprised them he didn't suddenly draw his arm from around Tim.

"Ohhhh!" Jenny sighed as she rubbed his thigh, "Tommy, that's about the SWEETEST THING I've ever seen you do!......How many more surprises have you got for me in there?"

Tom blushed a bit, but he appeared in no hurry to draw away from Tim.

"Yeah, guys......I really want to help. But it's like I say....I don't know what to do."

"Tom....they already told you! You don't have to DO anything! Just hangout and have some fun. The boys....well, the girls too!....They won't be all over each other! And yeah, we talk about the gay scene in there....Students bring in stuff to put up on the bulletin board. They give Matt news clips and stuff like that...

"It's just....Well, when everybody sees us all getting might get them thinking. I'll bet there's lots of students who'd love to go in there and just hangout. I think they're just a bit scared or embarrassed. Oh gee, I can't wait for the day this will be just routine!"

Tim chuckled.

"...Well, if you really want to help....maybe we could get a gay rally started. You could dress-up in some tight leather jeans 'n a padded bra! We could find you a long, blond wig!....And you could carry a big rainbow flag around the grounds!"

Tom suddenly drew his arm back from Tim and covered his face with his hands.

"Awahhh geeeee!"

The others broke out laughing.

"Tommy! We don't doooo that stuff!...

"Umm....Well we hoped sometime we could have some kind of rally....but it wouldn't be like that! We'd like to have some booths where we could pass out fliers. You know, educational stuff......And we could print up some sheets with Websites on 'em that parents could go to....Chat rooms....psychologists....and even some pro-gay religious groups. And we could sell like....rainbow bracelets 'n those little unicorn pins....or little stickers that kind of reflect a tolerance or support!...

"Umm....Tommy....Do you really think any of us consciously decided to be gay? Do you really think this is a conscious choice we made?"

Tom's face reflected a sudden serious expression. He rubbed his knees.

"...Nah!......I've never thought that! It's just there are so many out there who think it is a....a choice! How do you reach people like that?..."

He remained silent for several seconds, thinking.

"Umm....We all joke about our little town here. And....well, I'm really going to miss it. It's just this is such a dead end place to get anywhere in life. There's no work around here! Things are bad everywhere! It's just the people here......Oh gee, sometimes I think they would be better off living in the eighteen hundreds!"

He drew up his legs and threw his arms around them.

"...I....I just don't understand all the hate in the world!"

Tim reached out and squeezed his shoulder for a moment.

"Tommy......One thing I learned in life....people love to hate....and hate to love!"

Tom nodded his head with a sad expression.

"...Umm......Yeah....Umm....A few years ago I guess the GSA wanted to have one of those little....rallies as you call 'em......Oh shit! Talk about fighting city hall! Everyone had some kind of excuse! They couldn't have it on the field at school. They couldn't use the auditorium! They couldn't use the gym or cafeteria! The city wouldn't let 'em use the park!"

He picked up a piece of driftwood and tossed it onto the fire.

"...Ohhhh! When the churches wanted those places....the city practically handed them the permits!......And the glee club! And the art club!....the science club! It seemed like anyone could use those places! They even allowed a revival group to use the school auditorium for some meeting!......I never went to it but I heard there was an awful lot of anti-gay rhetoric going on in there!.......Oh shit! Talk about the dark ages! I....I don't know how you people deal with it!"

Tim reached for a twig beside himself and poked at the fire.

"...We have to, Tommy," he nearly sighed, "It's just one of those things...

"...Umm....Our parents....well, I guess they didn't exactly like hearing the news. But they were kinda cool about it......In fact, the only thing they worry about are the haters. I can understand it..."

They all noticed Tom wipe his sleeve over his eyes again.

"Oh gee!......I keep seeing all those pictures of kids on the Net that were either killed or committed suicide......They sure don't look a....a threat to anyone. I'm....I'm trying wrap my mind around all this! What is all this hate accomplishing?!"

For the moment, nobody could think of anything to say to him. Jenny rubbed his back.

"...Umm...," Toby began quietly, "I know I joke around lots....but you don't have to worry about us....umm with our....umm....PDA's. We really don't do that in public. Umm....don't feel bad about it, Tommy......We can see you're really a great ally! And don't have to do anything in the meetings. Bring your homework into the meetings! Or....or maybe you can even help tutor some kid who's having trouble with some class. Like we say....Just being there is a plus for us!"

Tom looked up with a thoughtful expression.

"I don't know why I'm like that......I guess I just can't see myself doing that! I mean even as a joke! It just kinda....Eeeeyyooo!"

The others laughed.

"...I shouldn't be like that......A kiss......Sharing a kiss....An expression of love. I can understand love......It's like the saying goes....'Love is love.' And I think I can even understand it. I just have this thing about it..."

They all sat around in silence for a minute. Tom glanced at Jenny with a smile.

"Well, I hope I don't sound like I wanna ditch you guys....but me 'n Jenny planned a little stroll along the trail before it gets too late."

Tim stood and stretched.

"...Yeah, well, it's later now......We were all kinda waiting until the showers weren't quite so crowded."

He rubbed his stomach.

"...Ohhhh gee! That pizza is sitting good! I'll sleep like a rock!...

"That was great, Tom......And it was great letting us chip-in for it. That was a little more than buying a big bag of chips for us all."

Ethan looked up.

"Well, you guys go ahead......Me 'n Dew will hangout until the fire goes down to embers. We got lots of water here to dump on it."

Tom stood, brushing sand from his jeans.

"...Umm....DEW?!" Tom asked.

"Oh shit!....I did it again!"

The others laughed.

"...Oh!......I nicknamed Rye, Dewdrop, 'cause he's so sweet."

"Oh gee! That's cute! Really guys! I like that!......You're all umm....kinda sweet."

Minutes later, Ethan and Ryan drew up the zippers on their windbreakers. The breeze had shifted from over the lake and the damp air was chilly. Ethan reached out for Ryan's hand. Ryan looked up at him.

"...Awh, E!......You aren't havin' another one of those umm....questioning things, huh?"

"...No. Not at all......As a matter of fact....I'm not questioning anything!...

"Umm....My mom is going to be out here tomorrow with our supplies. I'm....well, I'm kinda thinkin' of just coming out to her......I mean not that she doesn't know already! It's I say....she thinks this is a....phase I'm going through. I'm kinda scared, Dew......What if she believes me this time?....What if we can't see each other anymore."

Ryan's face grew serious as he reached out with his other hand and rubbed Ethan's back.

"Oh shit, E....I don't like even thinking about that," he replied in a whisper.

Ethan reached up and stroked Ryan's cheek with his fingers.

"Oh DEW!......I don't know what's gonna happen......Umm....My mom seems.... well....kinda okay with it. But like I say....she thinks this is all a stage with growing. What if she starts to think it's....real?......I don't wanna lose you, Dew!"

He held his hand to Ryan's cheek and drew close to kiss him. Again he felt both his cheek and several strands of hair on his lips.

"...Umm....E....I know we're kinda young....well, really young. And I know it's a long shot 'til we're out of school......but......I swear to God, E....I'll wait for you!"

They both threw their arms around each other in a clumsy hug. Both had tears running down their cheeks.

An hour later they returned from the showers. They all sat at the picnic table at their campsite. They remained silent as Tim switched on the lamp at the table.

"...Well, umm....I don't know about the rest of you, but I sure don't feel like a snack tonight. Oh gee, that pizza is still sittin' there in a big lump!"

The others all nodded.

"Well, umm....I don't know what to say here......It's kinda too early to go to sleep and kinda too dark to do anything else!"

Toby leaned forward over the table. The light of the lamp struck his face.

"...Well....umm....Why don't we get nakey?....And have some more hot buttered boy sex?!"

The others chuckled as Matt glanced in his direction.

"...Toby!......By the time you're're going to wear it down to an inch!"

Scooter smiled as he rubbed Toby's back.

"Oh gee....don't take Toby that serious."

He glanced down at the surface of the table.

"...We don't umm....really do that much. I don't know. Maybe we just don't have that teenage sex drive that everyone else has."

"And I thought we were umm....slow," Matt put in, glancing at Tim.

Scooter gazed at Toby as he continued to rub his back.

"...We don't....well, exactly go crazy over it. But I think we're just about right. I don't know what it is......We umm....we just like holdin' each other. Oh gee, there just aren't words for it!"

He grasped Toby's hand and looked at him.

"Yeah I keep sayin' it....We don't have much, but we've got each other."

Ethan and Ryan came up from the beach.

"Well, we sure got that fire put out," Ethan said.

He drew Ryan to the tent by the arm.

"I think we'd better head for the showers now too."

Scooter leaned over the table. He spoke in a soft voice.

"...Ummm....Does Ethan seem a bit....strange to you these days?" he asked nobody in particular.

Tim nodded his head with a smile.

"I think he's coming out to his parents tomorrow."

"Oh shit!" Toby gasped.

"Nah!....I think everything will be okay...

"Umm....I was kinda talking to him yesterday....and....and yeah I'm sure his mother suspects something."

"Well gee," Toby put in quickly, "he should do that after our camping trip!"

"Well, I don't know," Tim continued as he gazed at the lamp, "I think they'll be cool with it....Well from what I gather anyhow..."

He glanced around, noticing the gathering cloud of mosquitoes and insects being attracted toward the light. He shut it off.

"From what he says......I really think they already know......Well, he calls it questioning. I don't think that's what it is exactly. Well, not in the usual sense we call questioning.

"I believe he just never thought about it one way or another. Well, not until it hit him all of a sudden. It's like little things I kinda picked up on....umm....His mom keeps telling him not to worry about it....and it could just be a stage he's going through."

Toby grasped Scooter's hand.

"...Well, I think he should just be quiet about it. Why ask for trouble?"

Ethan and Ryan came from their tent with clothes rolled up within their towels.

"Well," Ethan began, "You guys don't have to wait up for us."

Tim nodded as he drew the zipper up on his windbreaker.

"Well, it's not just that......It's that cold, clammy wind from over the lake. It's just so damp tonight. Oh gee, I'm wide awake! Maybe we can just get into our sleeping bags and read for a bit. That usually always makes me tired."

As Ethan and Ryan made their way back to the campsite, they noticed the table empty. The tents obviously had their lamps on in them. Ethan slapped his hand to his forehead.

"Oh I forgot to replace those batteries in the lamp that we bought today. We can't see a thing around here."

"Well how hard can that be?!"

"Awh, the bottom of the lamp has these strange clips on it. I have a hard time opening it, even in the daytime."

"Awh the heck with it! I don't think we'll really need it."

They entered their tent and both tossed their dirty clothes in the general direction of the laundry bag. They struggled in the dark as they removed, jackets, sweats and shoes. They quickly dove for the sleeping bag.

"Awh we should have worn heavier jackets!" Ethan gasped, "That wind is bad enough without bein' damp from our showers."

They turned to their sides in each others arms. Ethan kissed his cheek lightly, pausing for several seconds.

"Yeah, Dew......I'm just going to level with my parents tomorrow. They should really know....Oh gee....I don't know what's going to happen."

Ryan rubbed the side of his head.

"...Umm," Ethan hesitated, "...I'm not....well, real scared about it. I mean our parents are going to PFLAG meetings 'n all. I haven't heard anything really nasty about it.....Well, nothing exactly positive either, but they seem to be thinking about it more."

Ethan drew him into a tight embrace. The action alone told Ryan more than the words which followed.

"Rye......No matter what happens......I swear by everything!......I'll wait for you..."

Early the next morning, Matt and Tim sat at the picnic table. They drew up the hoods of their gray sweat jackets.

"Awh! This is nasty!" Matt nearly shouted, "I'm sure glad the whole week wasn't like this!"

"Well, according to the newspaper yesterday, this should break by noon."

Matt gazed at the grill on its post.

"Well, let's get the charcoal goin'."

"I really think that should wait. Let's wait 'til everyone's up."

"That could be a couple more hours!"

It was here they heard Chris' voice. They could clearly see motion against the tent flaps.

"Oh!....Oh!.... I HATE this!"

He stumbled from the tent, still pulling on sweatpants. He made several paces from the tent before his pants fell to his ankles. He tripped, falling forward into the dew soaked grass.

"Awh shit!" he yelled, pulling wildly at the pants, drawing them up.

"Spider, Chris?!" Tim asked with a chuckle.

"No!....No! The bathroom! Oh gee! I'm going to wet my pants for sure!"

He held the loose drawstrings in front with one hand and the rear waistband with the other. He literally ran pellmell for the restrooms.

Joe stepped out, still snickering.

"Hee, hee....Chris said the sleeping bag was too hot and unzipped it. I don't think he knew how cold it was in there."

He joined Matt and Tim at the table. He looked out over the lake.

"Oh look at that water. Even with this wind there's hardly a ripple on it!......And the way those gray clouds are reflecting off it. Oh gee, it looks like it's frozen over!"

Within a half hour, they were all gathered at the table. Chris stood up.

"Well, let me get the fire going here..."

Tim looked at him and rolled his eyes.

"Chris! With this wind, we'll never get an even heat off that charcoal. Let's just start up the hotplate."

"No! That's cheating too much. I was just thinking of hot water for those instant cereal packages. Gee! In this wind, eggs and pancakes will be cold before we get two bites!"

He was about to pour charcoal from the bag but set it back down.

"Oh we'd better scoop out some of this ash before we start it up again."

He began to scoop out ash with a large serving spoon and placed it into an empty cereal box. As he ran for the trash barrel, he tripped. The box fell from his hands and struck the ground. A large cloud of gray ash settled around him.

"...Oof!....Awh shit!"

"Chris!" Joe shouted, "You're getting the squiggly wigglies again!"

Chris didn't reply as he continued on to the barrel.

Joe turned to the others.

"Oh, he's all nervous over his parents coming out here today."

"Nervous?!" Matt asked.

"Well, excited....okay?....He wants to show them around and tell them all the stuff we did out here...

"Oh gee, he's really happy out here. He's never done any of this before!"

Joe looked down at the table, drawing the zipper up on his jacket.

"Awh!....I feel bad for him....He's really missed out on a lot."

Chris returned, still brushing the ash from himself. He quickly poured more charcoal into the grill and squirted fluid onto it. It took him three matches in the wind before the orange flames rose up.

"Good!....Now I'll get us more water," he said excitedly, reaching for two green plastic water containers.

"Chris!" Joe put in quickly, "You can't carry two water jugs. Those are three gallons! I'll help you."

They returned within minutes. Tim suddenly jumped up, pointing at Chris.

"Chris! You got blood running down your face!"

"Oh shit!....I took a spill....It's not that bad."

They set the water containers down. Joe turned to Tim.

"It isn't really that bad."

Tim took a look at a cut just forward of his temple.

"Okay....It's not that bad. Just let me get the first aid kit."

"Oh geeeee!....I'm not a little baby!"

Tim didn't reply as he got the kit from the tent.

"Sit down on this bench here."

Chris was holding a paper towel to is head.

"I'm okay! Gee!"

"Chris!....My mom is a doctor! I grew up hearing nothing but germs and infections. That's gotta be cleaned and covered!......Any break in the skin is bad out here."

"I just hit my head on a sharp pebble in the road."

Tim tore open a small alcohol pad and wiped it over the cut.

"Ahhhh!....Oh shit! That hurts worse than falling down and getting the cut!"

"Germs Chris!"

He applied an antibiotic ointment to an adhesive patch and placed it over the cut.

"Really Chris....It's not the size of the cut. Just a break in the skin can cause awful trouble out here."

"Oh, I feel like I'm being a pain in the ass again."

"Chris! We know you didn't do that on purpose!...

"Hey, your jacket's all wet in front here. We gotta find you a dry one."

"I've got extra jackets in the tent."

"Well get into some dry clothes."

Chris left for the tent and had been in it for several minutes. Joe got to his feet and went to check on him. Just as he approached, the tent flaps opened. Chris was on his knees, brushing dirt out with an old automotive snow brush.

"What are you doing?"

"Cleaning this place up a little! If my mom saw that tent, she'd....she'd have a hissy fit!"

"Chris!....We're camping!....We aren't in the army havin' an inspection!"

"Oh, ho, ho!....I'd rather have a marine sergeant coming through, than my mother!"

They all laughed.

"You think I'm joking about that?! Oh! Shit! If she saw that tent, she'd....she'd have a conniption fit! She'd huff 'n puff an' act as though she were having cardiac arrest!"

He returned to the grill and examined the coals.

"Well, I believe it should be several more minutes before our fire is suited for cooking."

He stepped back, only to have their blue plastic tarp strike him in the back of the head.

"And I believe I could tighten up the knots on this tarpaulin."

He removed his sweat jacket and began to climb the tree. Out onto the overhead limb, he untied the knots. He drew up the nylon ropes and secured them again. As he was about to climb down, he felt his sleeve catch onto something.

"Oh gee!....I believe my sleeve is arrested on something here."

Tim stood below him.

"Well, take it easy."

He and Joe lifted on his legs.

"Oh! It's a nail! Someone put a NAIL up here!"

He began to bend at the knees. Joe quickly reached up to push against his back.

"Watch it Chris!"

There was the sound of ripping cloth as they lowered him. He gazed at his ripped sleeve.

"I do believe Mother is going to be a bit irascible when she should see this!"

The others chuckled.

As they ate breakfast, Ethan fumbled with the battery cover on his electric lamp.

"Oh gee! They could have designed this better. These clips are awful sharp. Why couldn't they have made this rechargeable?!"

Chris was watching him from beside.

"I believe these clips need to be pushed down first and then swung aside."

He reached over to assist. There was a loud snap.

"Ouch! Oh shit! I cut my finger!"

Ethan grinned at him.

"That's why I don't push DOWN on 'em!"

Tim sighed as he reached for the first aid kit.

"No! No!....It's not that sufficient to require any attention!"

"Chris! Camping! Dirt! Germs! INFECTIONS!"

"I believe a simple bandage should be quite adequate."

He watched Tim begin to tear at another alcohol pad.

"NO!....NO! I truly believe the antibiotic should be quite ample for so small a cut!"

Tim seemed to not hear him as he grabbed for his hand. He wiped the pad over the cut.

"Aaaahhh!......Have you considered a consultation with your analyst?!......I believe in the deep recesses of your mind, you may have a tendency toward sadism!"

They all broke out laughing.

Minutes later, they had finished up with the dishes. Chris was looking over the rock strewn beach.

"Perhaps we could all go down to the lake and pick up a few pieces of driftwood or such. It's rather difficult doing so when it should become dark."

"Great idea, Chris," Tim put in, "And we'll take some of this stale bread 'n rolls along to feed to the seagulls."

Tim suggested he use Chris' camera to photograph them out there. Being his camera, there were few shots of himself on it.

Matt and Tim watched Chris and Joe. It was obvious Joe was glancing at him frequently. He'd often suddenly reach out when Chris seemed to slightly trip or misstep. He put his arm over Chris' shoulders or the palm of his hand to his back. It was as though Joe were gauging an arm's length from him at all times. Although Joe was smiling and talking, it hadn't covered the concern on his face.

Matt let out a slight chuckle as they walked some distance behind Chris.

"...Oh gee, I really feel kinda poorly for Chris, huh?......I don't think he was able to do much of anything! He gets excited over the smallest of things."

Tim nodded, glancing down. They took cautious steps themselves over the rock strewn shoreline.

"...I think I'm gonna, umm....kinda take Mr. Gavin aside and tell him this is the best thing for little Chris...

"Oh gee, when he was asking for that extra week out here and started crying...... Oh, I thought for sure his dad was going to think something was wrong. Yet, I don't know......It was kind of a....a giggly cry, huh?"

"Oh yeah. I noticed it myself. Actually I think it helped! He was just all bubbly and excited. And......Joe......Look at how protective he is with Chris. I hope it works out for them. I mean I never really knew Joe. It's just those few times we saw him where he just seemed down! Joe's happy now. You can see it! He's always giving Chris those sweet looks."

"Yeah, I noticed it too."

It was here they looked up when they heard Chris' voice.

"Oh shit!"

In the center of the large ring of rocks which served as seats around their fire pit, they saw legs waving in the air. Joe was already reaching down.

"Oh! You okay Chris?"

The legs disappeared and Chris' round head came up.

"...Oh yeah. I'm okay."

They had been placing wood beside the fire pit, but both had released their loads too quickly. They gathered up the stray pieces and placed them into a more orderly pile. Matt and Tim approached, both with concern on their faces. Matt suddenly pointed at Chris.

"Oh shit! Chris! Your face is all ash!....Oh wow!.....That's the first time I've ever seen you dirty."

He had a smear of black carbon along the side of his face. Gray ash was in his brown hair. He examined the palms of his hands. They were coated with a greasy black carbon as well.

"Awh!......Look at this!....I ripped a hole in the knee of my pants!"

As soon as Tim was certain he was uninjured, he couldn't help a giggle slip out.

"Matty's right! We've never seen you like that......You look kinda cute with a dirty face, you know that?"

Chris seemed despondent as he wiped his hands on the thighs of his jeans. He drew up his sweat jacket and wiped his face. He noticed the smear of dirt on his gray jacket.

"Oh! Now my clothes are all shit too!"

"Chris!" Tim put in quickly, "We're camping! This isn't a five star hotel!...

"Now get next to Joe here and I'll take your picture..."

"Picture?!....I must appear a fright!"

Joe understood Tim's motivation for the photo. He stepped beside Chris and drew him close with his arm.

"Fright?....Tim's right......You do look cute with a dirty face."

Chris managed a sheepish grin as he threw his arm around Joe.

Tim took several shots as Ethan and Ryan came along with armloads of wood. They tossed it on the pile as they turned to the others.

"Oh gee!" Ryan put in quickly, pointing toward Chris, "You really look cute with a dirty face! look normal!"

Chris could only manage a shy smile.

They began their way back to the campsite. Chris took a bit more time than the others at choosing places to place his feet along the rocks. It became obvious to the others he wasn't quite as nimble over the rough terrain.

"Oh no!" he gasped again as he fell forward.

Getting to his feet, he wiped his cheek with his sleeve. Tim instantly saw the scrape and a bit of blood seeping out.

"Looks like another trip to first aid!"

"Oh no! I shouldn't require it! It's simply a bit of an abrasion!"

"Chris!....Germs!....Bacteria!....Infections! My mom took care of a lady who had a finger amputated! You know what caused it? She poked herself with a pin while hanging laundry. She didn't think it was serious either. A lost finger over a pin prick!"

"Awh no!....You'll put alcohol on it again!"

"There's some aerosol antibiotic spray in there....I don't think it'll even require a bandage."

Minutes later, they all gathered at the picnic table. Scooter and Toby insisted they remain on the beach to gather up more wood. Tim tended to Chris with soap and a cloth.

"Oh I hate this!" Chris moaned.

Tim placed a towel over his eyes.

"Here. Hold this in place and I'll just give it a little spray, now......Does that hurt?"

"...Well, not as bad as the alcohol."

Chris removed the towel and folded it up, placing it on the table.

"Oh! You guys must think I'm a real klutz!....A real pain in the ass! I was really hoping this wasn't going to happen."

"Chris! That was an accident!"

"Well, I worry about you boys not wanting me along on the next trip. This makes me feel poorly. I can't do anything out here!"

"Chris....You're doing just fine! Do you think we all knew exactly what to do out here right away? We all took our spills, burned our food, got wet, got scraped up. You'll learn everything along the way."

Tim glanced down at the rip over Chris' knee.

"Chris......Roll this up. I see blood around this rip on your knee."

He rolled up the leg of his jeans and noticed another cut on his knee.

"Ah ha!....You were trying to hide that from me, huh?!"

"No! I didn't even know I got cut! I mean it hurt but it wasn't that bad!...

"...No! No! I see you ripping open another alcohol pad!"

Tim held down on Chris' thigh as he wiped the cut quickly.

"Aaaaahhh!" Chris yelled, gripping his leg, "Oh that's worse than falling on it in the first place."

Tim continued with antibiotic ointment and a bandage. He glanced up at Chris. Tears were running down his cheeks.

"Chris....You really gotta be careful with cuts out here. I'm not doing this to hurt you. Do you know what's in the soil around here? Bacteria!....Okay, it's good for the soil but not in a cut!"

"I know....I know....It's just that I'm having so much fun out here....And....and I'm awful frightened you won't want me back here with you. I don't want you to think I'm a baby. I want to come back out here again! I'll....I'll try real hard to help out! And....and I can wash dishes and....and heat water, and sweep out the tents....and I'll even do all the laundry at the coin-op!"

Tim stood and drew him close. He pulled his head to his chest. He quickly kissed the top of his head.

"Chris!....We aren't gonna ditch you! You had a couple accidents. We aren't going to ditch you for that. You're learning quickly...

"Now....If you don't stop crying....we're....we're going to start up the tickle machine again!"

It was here a large limousine drew into the parking area. It was simply a space beside the tents which consisted of soil, sand, gravel and hardy grass.

A young woman stepped out from the back door.

Chris, still seated, turned his head away, gripping Tim's hips.

"Oh shit! Oh shit!....Mother and Father are here already," he forcefully whispered, "I wasn't expecting to see them until noon!"

Although dressed casually, the woman carried a certain air of sophistication. Even to the young boys she appeared at least a decade younger than her husband. Her brunette hair was held back with a silver clip. Her eyes fell to Chris and she suddenly gasped.

"Oh Honey!....Are you all right, Chris?"

He wiped his eyes on his sleeve and tried to sober quickly. He turned his head as he stood up. She saw the scrapes along his cheek, the bandage before his temple, the tear streaks through the soot, the rolled up leg of his jeans with the bandage on his knee.


"...Umm....umm....I'm okay! I....I just took a couple little spills....Hee, hee....Tim got me all fixed up again. Truly! I'm quite all right!"

"Why are you crying?"

"Umm....because I'm just so happy!"

"You're HAPPY?!"

Tim placed his arm over Chris' shoulders and drew him close.

"Awh....Chris was a little worried we weren't going to invite him out again. He had a few falls today. And he feels a bit lost out here. This is all so new to him."

He roughly shook Chris by his shoulders.

"He's learning quick though. He even grilled hamburgers on the charcoal. He helps with getting water and doin' up the dishes. He'll do fine."

Chris' father stepped up to him. Unlike his wife, he didn't seem to have the excessive concerned expression on his face. He smiled.

"Looks like it's been a rough day for you already."

"Oh, I'm quite fine! I just took a few spills today. We gathered up wood for the fire on the beach tonight. I sort of fell into the pit while replacing wood."

He wiped his eyes again and managed a more convincing smile.

"Oh!....You simply have to see our fire area down on the beach here. We roast hotdogs on a stick and everything!"

His mother cupped her hand over her mouth.

"Chris!....I included those long forks in your dishes! Oh! Gee!......You're using dirty sticks to cook your food?!"

Mr. Gavin rolled his eyes.

"Carol....Leave the boy alone."

Chris became excited again. He motioned them to follow him down to the shoreline.

"You've simply got to see our fire area! We've got a circle of big rocks around it for sitting. Matt and Tim's friend came out last night and brought pizza! And we roasted marshmallows too!..."

He continued on with an excited voice. They followed along behind him.

"...And Zack....had a snake crawl up his oar! And I had a spider on my beach towel!..."

Matt saw Tim give a slight smile as he closed up the first aid kit.

"Oh Matty....Poor little Chris......He's really missed out on a lot, huh?"

"Yeah, I was thinking the same thing."

They watched Chris and his parents walking along the rocky shoreline. Chris was obviously showing them their fire pit. They were talking but only the louder words could be made out.

"...And this is where we roast our hotdogs......It's really nice around the campfire at night with the yellow flames dancing around...

"Oh!....And over here we..."

"Chris! Will you please SLOW DOWN?!....You're going to fall again."

"Carol....Will you leave the boy alone?!"

Within minutes they made their way back up.

"....And....and we've got paddle boats we take out! You simply must see them."

"CHRIS!....Please slow down!"

Chris stepped up to the grassy area surrounding the campsite. His toe caught on a clump of sod and he fell forward. His mother gasped. He quickly got to his feet as though nothing had happened.


"Carol. Leave the boy alone."

Chris approached the picnic table about to reach out for his camera.

"...Oh! I've got all kinds of photos too!......There's a little observation deck up the trail here!....Oh yes! The deck!"

He began to run in the direction of the trail.

"...You must see the deck! It even has telescopes on it to view the lake!"

He suddenly ran back toward the table.

""I'll take my camera along!"

He suddenly stopped and switched direction for the trail, only to reverse himself toward the table again.

"...Perhaps I could show you the previews of some of my photos!"

He suddenly switched directions for the trail again.

"...Well, a bit later. Come on. You simply must see the observation deck."

"Chris! Will you SLOW DOWN?!"

"Carol. Leave the boy alone."

They walked toward the trail as Joe fell in with them.

Another car drove up. Matt noticed it was Ayumi's SUV. She drove while Clara was seated beside her.

Matt simply smiled as he looked at Tim.

"Oh my stars!....It's Gram!" he put in with a rather accurate impersonation.

Tim had to chuckle as they made their way to the car. Ayumi stepped out and looked over the lake. Clara took her time with opening her door. She gripped her jacket against the cool breeze as she stepped out. Her white hair fluttered in the wind.

"Oh my stars!....This is much too cold for you boys to be out in!"

"Gram!....We're fine! This is supposed to blow over by noon. It's been kinda nice for swimming and everything."

"You swim in weather like this?!"

"No!....It's been warm all week! Well, a bit chilly in the morning, but it's fine."

"Oh dear!" she huffed, making here way toward the tent.

She gripped at her jacket with both hands.

"I've got to see how you boys are living. Oh! This is such nasty weather. That tent can't hardly provide for you in weather like this."

She drew back one of the flaps and looked in.

"All I see is a sleeping bag!....Why there are no blankets or anything! Oh my stars!....You boys are going to end up sick out here!"

"Gram," Matt put in, "Those bags are warm! We sleep like rocks! And we sleep....shirtless too!"

"Oh my stars!"

Tim drew close to him in a subdued voice.

"I'm glad you didn't say bare-assed."

Matt winced.

"I almost did!" he gasped in a whisper.

Clara made her way to the grill on the metal post and gazed into it.

"And this is all you have for cooking on?!"

"Gram, it's fine!....And we have a hotplate over here for things that need a bit more attention."

She gazed over the plastic tarp overhead. It ruffled and crinkled in the breeze.

"...And this is all you have for protection while you eat?"

"Gram, it's fine!....It's just to keep the dew and rain off us."

She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered.

"Oh my stars!......I well knew you boys were out camping, yet I never took thought of primitive this could be."

"Gram! That's the point of it all!....People come out here for a break in their routine. They like the rustic conditions....The well water....Cooking over a real fire. Just smell that fresh air! (Sniff.) Smell that lake water....the scent of pine....the mossy smell of the rocks down there..."

"Yeah, Gram," Matt put in quickly, "I mean it's a bit chilly when we get up but we're sure warm in the bag."

He raised his arm and pointed toward the showers on the grassy knoll.

"We've got hot showers....'n....'n things that go flush in the night!"

"Hee, hee. Oh you boys."

It was here Chris and his parents were making their way back. Joe and he were holding hands. It appeared natural. His parents seemed to take no notice of it.

Chris suddenly broke from Joe and began to walk backwards.

"...And....and you've got to see the paddle boats! We'll take you down to the docks and..."

"Chris!....Please watch where you're going!"

It was here his heel struck a tree root which jutted up from the ground. He fell over into a backwards somersault. As his feet touched the ground, he instantly drew up into a standing position. It had nearly been comical.

"Oh! Honey! Are you okay?"

"Carol....Leave the boy alone."

They gathered near the table and talked for a moment with Auymi and Clara.

Chris continued to pace about and wiggle. Joe eyed him.

"Chris!....Will you stop the squiggly wigglys?!"

"Father!....Please come out to the docks with us. I wish to show you the boats!"

He continued to pivot around on his toes.

"...I'll show you the place where I was tossed into the water!"

"You were thrown into the water?!"

" Mother! We were being silly!"

He stomped his foot against the ground.

"Oh!....This is the most fun I ever had in my life!...

"...And....and oh! That thunderstorm! Oh! We were all a bit scared of that. We all ran for Matt and Tim's tent. Oh! I felt as though Joe and I were the last people on earth! It was truly frightening for a bit there...

"And....and I show you where Zack had the snake crawl up his oar! And....and where we were when that seagull pulled Joe's hotdog right out of the roll, hee, hee..."

His father looked at him with a smile.

"...Chris....Joe's right....You're going to wear out your clothes from the inside! "

"But I've so much to show you yet! Let's go down to the docks!"

Although his father was excited for him, his mother appeared both bored and a bit apprehensive.

"Oh do we truly have to go over there?!....Those docks will probably be all smelly of fish! And I'd rather not see any boats! I'll just worry when I get back."

"Mother!......They aren't speedboats! They're paddle boats! You peddle them just as you would a bicycle!"

"...Well, the less I know of what you're doing out here....the less I'll have to worry about. I have no idea whatever possessed your father to suggest such an asinine outing such as this!"

"Carol! You're not putting that boy into that plastic bubble again! He needs this! Look how happy he is. He's learning a bit more independence."

He gazed at Chris with a slight smile.

"...In fact....I was a bit happy he got a little banged up! He has to get ready for the real world. What we've been doing has been all wrong! He needs friends! He needs to be out in a tent during a thunderstorm. He needs to build fires and roast hotdogs! He needs to be heating water and washing dishes....and cooking!"

Carol grimaced for a moment. She turned to Chris.

"Oh dear! I can just imagine how you've been eating out here! Chips and soda and cookies and treats!"

"Mother! We've been having bacon and eggs for breakfast! And pancakes!....And cereal! And for lunch and dinner, we've had beef stew and....and vegetable chowder! Even when we grill hamburgers, we always have potatoes and some vegetable. Since I've been out here, I've eaten one bag of chips and one ice cream!"

"Well, you certainly don't look pale. It's just when I saw you all cut-up, I nearly had a coronary!"

"Timmy's mom is a doctor! He fixed me up! In fact, getting hurt wasn't anywhere near as bad as those..."

He turned here to face Tim.


He turned back to his parents.

"...Oh gee! That alcohol burned like hell! I hate that shit!"


"Oh....Excuse me!"

Carol gazed at him, shaking her head.

"Look at you! Clothes ripped up! All dirty! A bandage on your face. A bloody hole in your jeans....and....and..."

"Carol! Leave the boy alone!"

Chris started toward the docks.

"Please come this way! You simply must see the docks!"

Clara got to her feet.

"Oh my stars! I'm not so sure I wish to see boats either! I believe I'll worry too."

"Gram!" Tim put in quickly, "We'll stay here and unload the groceries. That's kind of a long walk for you anyhow."

"Oh nonsense!......I'm getting about so much better these days!"

As the boys loaded the tent from the trunk of the car, Ayumi and Clara sat at the picnic table. It was here that Ethan's mother drove up. Both Ethan and Ryan ran for the car. His mother stepped out.

"Oh Honey!....Dad feels so bad he couldn't come along today...

"That awful thunderstorm we had?....Well it burned out some transformer outside of the mill. They were without power for two days!......He had to go in today because they're so far behind."

"Oh that's okay!....We just want the food!....Hee, hee."

"Oh you little shit!"

She turned to Ryan.

"And your folks feel awful poorly as well, Ryan. They both had to work today too. They'll be here about five, with more of your supplies. I told them I could drop them off for them but they want to see how you boys are doing."

Within minutes she joined Ayumi and Clare at the table. They talked among themselves as they watched the boys resupply the tents.

"Oh!" Ayumi suddenly put in, "Have you met my mother-in-law Clare?....And this is Linda Randall."

"...Oh yes!....Well, we've just briefly met here and there while picking up the boys...

"Oh! You look so great today, Clare."

"Oh Linda, I feel so dandy lately! And I keep saying it's the boys! Oh! I have such a grand time looking out for them."

"Well, I certainly hope Ethan isn't giving you a hard time. You have to kind of keep on him. He's not the tidiest boy around."

"Oh never!....Everyone of those boys are absolute little angels! I believe some of that youth is working its way toward me."

Mrs. Randall gazed toward the tent as the boys made trips into it.

"...I'd really like to go in there and check their canned goods. I'll bet they haven't opened one!"

"Oh, I don't think you have to worry about that," Ayumi put in quickly, "By the sounds of Tim's text messages, I think he's been assigned the cook...

"Yes, he never was one for sweets and snacks....It was just I was a bit concerned over how thin he was for a bit there. Now that he's met Matt and getting outside, I think he's really been filling out. Oh (sigh) all he did was sit in front of that computer."

"Oh my stars!......For a bit there I thought they both had that....that Anna-wrecksa-whozits, whatever! Oh!....Just skin 'n bone!"

Ayumi gave a sudden solemn expression.

"...I believe he was on the Net an awful lot over....This!"

Mrs. Randall nodded her head.

"Oh yeah....Oh yeah....I think Ethan has been having some worries over these lines as well..."

Ayumi reached over and gripped the back of her hand for a moment.

"I'm so happy you're dealing with this so well..."

"Well, it wasn't....easy exactly. I mean I understand all this....You just keep hoping....not my kid!"

"Well, I think you did fantastic at that PFLAG meeting."

"Oh! We've been to several!...

"In fact....I was kind of hoping to get Ethan alone for a few minutes today."

"Oh yeah......The talk?"

"Well, believe it or not......I'd like to put his mind to rest on all this. I think it's what they call the questioning period. "

"Oh yeah, but that wasn't the thing with Tim......Oh I felt so bad for the little guy. Won't it be nice when kids can grow up and not have to hide all this? I think it was awful rough on him..."

"Oh yeah, we're making progress. I saw on the news where the majority is saying we just might as well get used to.... marriage equality. I just worry about all the hate out there."

Ayumi nodded with a knowing expression.

"...That's the only concern Ken and I have for the boys."

It was here that Toby came running up from the rocky beach.


His eyes fell to the women at the picnic table. He covered his mouth with both hands.

"OH, SHIT!....I mean....I mean....I'm sooooo sorry!"

They all laughed.

"...Quite all right," Ayumi put in quickly, "I don't exactly have a terrarium full of them myself..."

He jumped around, slapping his hands to his sides.

"...Oh!....It was BIG!....And....and it had these real long legs! And they were all hairy too!"

Scooter was seen coming up from the beach.

"Toby! It ain't a spider! Look! It's some dried up plant root or something!"

"I don't care!....Keep that thing away from me! It looks real! Oh! I hate those rubber spiders too!"

"...Okay....Okay! I threw it away...

"Ummm....Seein' as our parents aren't going to be here 'til five or so....Let's take a canoe out for a half day..."

They wandered off in the direction of the docks.

Mrs. Randall seemed a bit apprehensive.

"I actually wouldn't mind it if Ryan came along......Yet, I'd so like to get Ethan alone for just a few minutes to talk..."

Tim had heard her as he passed with several grocery bags.

"Hey Rye!" he said, heading for their tent, "We'll have to put these in your tent. Ours is about filled up again."

"Sure thing," he replied, reaching for them.

Ethan was still inside the tent. As Tim spoke to Ryan, the women could hear him.

"...Umm....Rye......I think Ethan's mom wants to kinda talk with him today. Let's just go down to the docks and chill-out a little."

"Sure....Sounds good."

Mrs. Randall gazed down at her feet and sighed.

"...Well, I guess that was easy enough..."

Minutes later, Matt and Tim held to Clara's arms as they made a slow pace toward the docks. She pulled her arms from their grasp.

"Now stop that! You're treating me like an old lady again! I'm quite capable of walking on the grass here. It would be different if this were all rocks!"

"Gram!" Tim nearly pleaded, "Mom could have parked the car in the store's parking lot. The docks are right out behind."

"Ooohhh! You boys!......I keep telling you, this is the most fantastic thing to ever happen to me! Oh that damn rocker! I'm telling you boys that thing was the worst thing for me! Since I've been fussing over you boys....well, my stars!....I actually feel ten years younger! I quite capable of walking this short distance."

She gazed ahead in thought for a moment.

"Yes. This is just wonderful! Oh, Timmy, I worried so about you. You were just such a loner. We had no idea what was going on with you. I think now that you're more active, we're all a bit more happy about it..."

Ethan walked the trail with his mother. She had asked to see the observation deck.

"Oh, Honey! I've been thinking about this day all week! I really wanted to talk to you....and I just don't know how to start..."

Ethan nodded, trying to force a smile.

"...Yeah....Me too...

"Umm....Last night I told Ryan I had to talk to you..."

He paused, gazing at the trail before them. She knew he was organizing his thoughts.

"Mom......I was on the Net a couple weeks ago....a chat room. Umm....Well, it's kinda kids."


"Well, there was some kind of argument going on. Oh I hate that! When people start arguing I usually just click off....but this time I didn't. Some boy on there was talking about LGBTQ people. He kept insisting that the 'Q' stood for queer! Another boy said it stood for questioning! Then the first boy said there was no such thing as questioning! He always know! He said questioning was just an excuse to umm....kinda stay in the closet. And that lots of kids classify themselves as, kinda avoid using the term gay...

"I usually don't jump into a chat room and argue with anyone. Like I say, I just click off...

"...Yet I just couldn't hold back! I told him I didn't know about myself. And that I did lots of questioning......And that I didn't always know!"

He gazed down the trail for a moment.

"...Wow!......I was never expecting it....All of a sudden there were a dozen people trying to get on all at once! I think the site was almost ready to crash, it was so overloaded! There were all kinds of boys commenting on that......Well a couple girls too! And lots of them said it wasn't easy for them....and that they didn't always know....

And that they questioned a lot too!"

He gazed down at the trail again.

"I think that's what I always had on my mind. Lots of them say they always knew! Even Timmy and Matty. I guess they couldn't actually explain it to me. It's like they say....when you're don't know exactly what's going on. Well....even as I got older....I still didn't know what was going on. Oh gee! That's not right either. I....umm....know what gay is, Mom! It's just that I didn't know if I was!"

He hesitated for a moment.

"...In the tent there, I think it was the night before last....umm....Well, me 'n Rye were just laying there about to go to sleep. Oh wow! We were so sore from canoeing that day. I think we pushed it a bit too much...

"I had the lamp on there for a bit, but the batteries were kinda going dead...

"Oh wow! Poor little Rye! He zonked right out. I was still awful sore. I took some pain pills that Timmy has in the first aid kit. They supposed to have a sleep ingredient in them."

He continued his gaze along the trail ahead. Their pace was slow.

"Gee, Mom......I was just kinda....well, looking at Rye. I'll say it!....He just looked so sweet 'n cute...

"And....and I started umm thinking again....Not questioning!....Mom....I'm gay!"

She managed a weak smile, yet didn't reply.

"...I umm....told Rye I was going to tell you....You keep telling me not to worry about it......I'm not worried!"

He kicked at a pine cone on the trail. It was mostly clay and pressed solid from the thousands of feet which had passed over it.

"...I kept looking at Rye layin' there......And he just looked so cute 'n sweet. And I thought I loved him so much. In fact, I was worried if I decided I was straight....Oh, how that would hurt him! And I didn't want to do anything to hurt him...

"Then I kinda wondered why I was so worried I'd hurt him......It was because I just couldn't do it!...

"Mom......You know how we have trouble with talking about sex and all....Well, this had nothing to do with that!....It wasn't sexy, Mom! It was all kinda warm and wonderful....and kinda hurt as well. I knew I loved him......and I....I knew I was gay! This isn't some experiment! This isn't some phase I'm going through. Not any more! I know what I am, and I've accepted it!"

His mother seemed to have a sober expression.

"Oh, Ethan!....You put that all so well!...

"Yes! When I met your father....It was almost love at first sight....And it was so deep, it....well it hurt! I know exactly what you're saying...

"I....well, I didn't really say anything to you. I wasn't so sure myself. You didn't appear interested in boys....yet you weren't interested in girls either. You were always talking about video games and movies! You weren't all that interested in sports, yet you weren't exactly scared of getting dirty either!......Oh, I hope I'm not stereotyping......I just thought boys that were interested in camping and canoeing weren't....that way!

"Oh Honey!......I didn't expect you to be interested interior decorating or all that. I guess I was just getting these mixed signals from you. And I even thought that....yes, this could be just a questioning thing with you. I really didn't want you to think about all this and get yourself all stressed out. We all kind of go through that....well, gay phase or whatever it's called."

She paused here for a moment before continuing.

"You know we're going to those Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays meetings. And they've helped me greatly......Yet, well, as much as I'd like to be more progressive over all this....I just can't seem to do it!...

"Ayumi tells me the boys are just about living together in that family room. I didn't say anything to her....but I just can't go that far with it. Oh! I don't mind you boys out camping......It's just I can't see myself setting up a room for you two! Well, I understand Matt is living there while his parents are overseas....Yet I'm just not to allow something like that...

"Oh Ethan!....You've got your whole life before you! You've just barely begun to live! I really don't have all that much of a problem with this. It's as Mr. Webster's the hate out there. I get so scared at times."

"Mom! Me 'n Ryan don't walk around HANGING on each other!...

"We go for walks in the woods here. We go out in the canoe. We help out where we can. We go out and swim a bit. We're camping! We aren't on a romantic cruse! We're doin' boy stuff! And I have no intention of going to school to learn about art or decorating! The closest thing to art I'll ever get is drafting! I like drawing houses and buildings. I mean the real stuff!....Blueprints!...

"I like wood shop! I like to sand wood and stain it. I like the feel of it in my hands, the smell of fresh wood! I wouldn't mind making furniture....But....Oh gee! Everything is just mass produced today! And I sure don't want to be a carpenter!"

Mrs. Randall hesitated as they approached the deck.

"...Ethan....I'm not putting any pressure on you over anything. I just want you to be careful. There's so much hate in the world today!......Oh, sometimes I think the whole world is going sideways with all the shootings and violence and what-have-you."

Back at the dock, Ayumi had treated to ice cream. The day was becoming warmer. They all talked as they sat on benches along the dock. Chris tossed his dish and plastic spoon into the trash barrel.

"Okay, Mother....Father put two hours rent on these paddle boats. Step out onto this one."

She turned to look at her husband.

"...Jacob, you didn't!"

"...Yes I did! Now get down here sit in the boat. We're going out for a cruse."

"...Oh!....Now I feel totally silly over such!"

"Nonsense! Come along....Chris and Joe will lead the way."

With prompting, he led her onto one of the boats. She sat with an expression of embarrassment.

"Oh!....I feel totally....daft doing such a silly thing!"

"...This isn't silly! It's FUN!......It's the very thing which father wouldn't allow around our house! He's the most....over dignified ole coot I've ever seen! Now we're going to have FUN with our boy!..."

They slowly made their way from the docks with Chris and Joe leading. Chris kept looking back. Although they couldn't hear his words, it was obvious he was excited again.

Tim gazed out over the lake.

"...Umm....Mom....We read about the park in the paper..."

She momentarily covered her eyes with her hand.

"Oh, Timmy!......I wasn't going to tell you about that. I didn't think you boys knew about it. I didn't want to ruin your camping trip with the news...

"Yes, it's all over the local news. I think the police have a suspect. Well...a person of interest as they call it. They think it was adults who staged that. They believe they wanted it to look like some teenagers had done that. They did a very poor job of it. That dye they put in the pool?......Well, I understand other than its ability to stain, it's harmless. Yet no teenagers would have access to any such stuff. It was bought at a local chemical store...

"And the bolt cutters! They were brand new! The striations on the chain showed that. They're looking for the tool. Whoever owns it will have some explaining to do..."

She paused here hesitating to continue.

"...Yes, boys....I know what you're thinking......It was because the GSA had lots to do with that......And that's just what the whole town is thinking!......If it's any consolation, I believe lots of people in town have come over to your side!"

Back at the observation deck, Ethan sat with his mother on one of the heavy wooden benches there.

"...Yes, Ethan....It took a bit for us to adjust to this. We understand so much more about it now. But like I say......It would be a lot different if Ryan were a girl....We don't mind you coming out here a few times this summer and just having some fun, yet....we aren't going to set up a room for you two!"

She gazed at his thoughtful expression for a moment.

"...And we certainly aren't going to keep you two apart! We've heard some awful stories about people who did that. And it certainly doesn't accomplish anything."

"...Well, Mom......That's all I worried about. Me 'n Ryan just want to be together. I can understand everything else."

Tim glanced at Clara. He was looking for any signs of fatigue or pain. She seemed comfortable on the bench. It was obvious she was enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. The morning's gray sky was breaking up and the wind had calmed.

"Well boys," Ayumi put in matter-of-factly, "I'm afraid I have to get back and catch up on some lab reports. I think I'll be rather late tonight."

It was here they heard Chris' mother laughing. They pulled up to the dock.

"Oh dear!" she gasped, "I feel so silly out here doing this....Yet, hee, hee....It was fun!"

Mr. Gavin gave Chris and Joe a knowing glance. He had a silly smile himself. He looked at Carol.

"I think we'll all be out here next month! For an entire week of this!"

"You know something," Caroline put in frankly, "I think I'd enjoy that myself."

It was here the others saw Ethan and his mother walk up the wooden dock. She noticed Ryan give Ethan a concerned look. Ethan smiled as he sat beside him on the bench. She instantly noticed their communications by their simple body language.

"...So how did it go with your mom?"

"Okay....I think she understands this is no....experiment!"

She saw Ethan place his hand on the back of Ryan's as he held it to the bench. They simply looked into each others eyes. She actually saw the love each was expressing toward the other. She suddenly felt less apprehensive.

"...No I don't think either one of them is....experimenting," she thought.

"Well, boys," Mr. Gavin put in loudly, "We're going back to the campsite and we'll toss all those laundry bags into the trunk. I'll get you over there to that laundromat."

Back at the campsite, Clare entered the tent with Matt and Tim.

"Now you boys let me help you out here."

They were stuffing the last of their socks and t-shirts into the bag.

"Gram! We've got a few jeans 'n shirts here," Tim put in, "We can do this ourselves. We've survived all week out here. I know how you like to help out, but me 'n Matty have to start doing more of this kind of thing for ourselves."

"Oh! Yes! I must agree with you........Yet....Oh how I miss you boys not being around to fuss over. It's just too quiet. Oh that breakfast nook is just so empty in the morning."

"Well Gram, me 'n Matty already told the boys you've been showing us some of your cooking secrets. We've kinda been the cooks on this trip......And not one of them has complained yet!"

"Oh, I'm so thrilled to hear that!...

"Oh my stars!....It's rather warm in here, isn't it?"

"Gram, we already told you that! When the sun hits this canvas, it's warm in here even on a rather cold day!"

"Well now I don't see any jackets here......Just a couple of your windbreakers."

"Gram!....We don't sleep in jackets! And the windbreakers aren't really even dirty....just smoky smelling from the fire."

"Well, now....Where are your blankets?!"

"We don't have any blankets! We don't need a blanket in the sleeping bag! Gram! Modern insulation!......Warm!......High-tech camping equipment!"

"Oh! I worry so about you freezing out here! And laying here all wet from a leaky tent! And I'll bet you two are still sleeping shirtless!"

"...No Gram....We don't sleep shirtless......We sleep in our underwear!"

"Oh MY STARS!....Look at my arms just all chills. Oh! You boys are going to be awful sick after all this!"

She stepped from the tent shaking her curved finger in the air.

"...I told your parents to make sure you have all kinds of jackets and blankets! You may be having fun, but there'll be the Piper to pay for all this!...

"I believe I'll start getting a cold kit together for each one of you!....Aspirin tablets!....Decongestants!....And I believe I'll get that vaporizer out with a large bottle of Balsam! You boys are going to be a couple of sick little puppies!"

Chris ran from his tent with a gray, drawstring bag. It was packed heavy with dirty clothes. He instantly tripped and went sprawling over the grass.

"Chris!....Honey!....Slow down and be careful! Are you hurt?"

"Carol....Leave the boy alone."

He quickly got to his feet and grabbed the bag.

"No Mother!....I tripped! I've tripped quite a few times out here....and I'm still alive!"

"Oh! Look at you!....All ash and dirt!....A bandage on your head! Ripped clothes! A....a bandaged knee protruding from a bloody rip! Oh dear."

She quickly glanced back at Mr. Gavin.

"...Perhaps coming out here next month isn't a very good idea!"

"Carol....Leave the boy alone," he replied, walking before Chris.

He bowed as he held out his hand, as if presenting royalty.

"....What you see here healthy dirt! He needs this! No more filters! No more climate controls in the house!....No more plastic bubble! Gee, Carol! Let the boy have some fun in life!......Yes, he's a bit banged-up. But look at him! Have you ever seen him so full of color and excitement? Have you ever seen him happy?!"

Ethan and Ryan came from their tent. They too held a heavy laundry bag between them. Ethan studied a handful of change in his palm.

"Ethan," his mother put in, "I've got plenty of change here for you....and the others as well..."

"I'm way ahead of you on that," Mr. Gavin replied, going for his car, "I've got several rolls of change right on the console in here...

"Now come on boys....Off to the coin-op!"

Clara joined Ayumi, still waving her curved finger in the air.

"Well now I'm going to see to it that Kenny brings a couple of jackets out here tonight for the boys......And a couple heavy blankets!"

Ayumi glanced at Mr. Gavin with a smile.

"MOM!....Leave the boys alone!"

"Oh my stars!....They're going to be soooo sick next week!"

Tim fell in close with Ayumi as she went for the car.

"I'm really surprised Gram hasn't been calling us every couple hours."

Ayumi smiled.

"You father took her cell away!"

"Awh, that's mean!"

"No Hon......She still has the house phone and a list of all her friend's numbers from the senior citizen center...

"She just doesn't recall all the numbers she's programed into her cell. Oh you boys would have her calling every couple hours!....Checking on you!..."

She gave a slight embarrassed grin.

"Well, I shouldn't say anything......I was very concerned during that thunderstorm. And....yes....I sort of worry about you eating properly....if your cold or sick....I guess you two have things well under control."

The laundromat was a separate building not far from the showers. The boys rushed out and each grabbed for their own bags.

Ethan's mother joined them inside.

Ryan quickly turned to Ethan.

"Your mom came with us," he whispered forcefully.

"Yeah....She doesn't trust us to do the laundry right."

"Oh shit!....Oh shit!......Our....our shorts are in there....Our....wet shorts!"

"Well, I doubt they'll still be wet!"

"No......But what about......stains?!"

"Oh shit! Oh shit! Let's get this dumped into the first machine!"

They both held the bag over the machine, shaking it wildly. They quickly lowered the lid. Linda walked up to the machine and opened it again.

"I just knew you boys would do that! You've got all your whites mixed in there!"

Ethan quickly lowered the lid.

"Well....umm....these are camping clothes! They don't have to be perfect!"

She raised the lid again.

"I'm sorting these things out!....The whites can go in this machine right next door here!"

"Umm....umm....Me 'n Rye can do that!....Right Rye?!"

"Yeah! We can do that!"

They both crowded next to her.

"What has got into you two?!....I can take care of this."

Ethan's eyes darted around. They fell to Toby, filling a larger front loading machine.

"...Well, umm....Okay....It's just we don't want Toby to freak if you find a spider in there!"

"OH MY!" she shouted, quickly drawing her arm out. She quickly lowered the lid.

"Go ahead boys....but make sure you find everything in there. My goodness, those t-shirts will be gray!"

It was early evening. The other parents which arrived late, had joined in. There were several conversations going on simultaneously. Plastic bags and cardboard boxes were being transferred to the tents.

Ethan's mother had drawn up the courage to enter their tent.

"Oh, I hope I don't run into any bugs in here!"

The battery powered lantern hung from the metal frame. She checked their previous supplies and was pleased the vegetables had been missing. Many of the snacks were still unopened in their original bags and boxes. Indeed, most all the oranges, pears and apples were gone. The tent didn't appear excessively disordered.

"Mom!....I know what you're doing! We're eating good! We even polished off a couple canned hams and potatoes!"

"Oh Hon! I worry so about you two eating junk food. I worry if your sick, cold, wet and scared."

"Okay Mom....We were a little scared during that storm! It's just that we had quite a day that day. We were beat! All we wanted to do was sleep! If I was a bit more with it....Yeah, I think I'd have been more scared. We were just so tired, we really didn't think about it all that much."

He hesitated for a moment.

"...And....umm....I was thinkin' about me 'n Rye....And you and Dad....And me 'n Rye again."

"...Quit your worrying! Just have some fun out here. You've got your whole life ahead of you yet!"

A distance from the campsite, Mr. West stepped up to Mr. Gavin.

"...Ahh....Jake......I've been giving your offer quite a bit of thought. I....I think I'm going to accept it."

Mr. Gavin grabbed his shoulder with a smile.

"...Well, Frank......I know it's the boys who sort of got us together. And I know they're young. Awh! Who knows how this is all going to turn out. But all that aside, I can really use someone like you."

They both gazed out over the lake as Mr. Gavin continued.

"...These, umm....younger guys......Well, I'm not saying they don't know their stuff. It's just so hard to depend on them. With you around, I know I could run off somewhere and do whatever needs to be done. And I wouldn't have to worry about things...

"I was seriously thinking about turning everything over to Chris when he gets older......I'm just not so sure he'd be interested in something like this. Oh gee, the little guy. I can't put that kind of pressure on him. I want him to make up his own mind. If he took over the firm and didn't actually have his heart in it......Everything could fall apart!...

"Well, I guess that's quite a ways off into the future. But I'd really like you aboard! You're established around here. Gee, Frank! You can weld! You're good at electrical repair, wiring, plumbing....carpentry. Holy shit! You could be any of five or six people I could use! You aren't using those skills being maintenance at the hospital! It's a waste! You could be doing something you really enjoy. It would be good for both of us, all the way around!"

Tim was at the table, plugging in a power strip at the electric pole. He'd gathered up a number of cells and rechargeable lamps.

"Anybody got anything else that needs recharging?....We've still got two more outlets on here."

Scooter placed their lamp on the table.

"I think this could use a good boost charge."

Toby ran up.

"We don't need that! If there's spiders in there....I don't wanna see 'em!"

"Tob! We need light at least for a little bit! How are we going to find our clothes in the dark?....And our food 'n snacks?..."

Minutes later, they all gathered at the fire pit on the rocky beach.

Chris' mother had reached for a stick. Mr. Gavin gave her a silly smile.

"...And you didn't want Chris using a dirty stick to roast his hotdog on!"

"Oh!....What the heck!"

The light driftwood had quickly burned down to embers. She placed the frank near the coals and slowly rotated it.

"Oh dear," she sighed, "I've been sort of flip-flopping on this all day......At one time I think this is fun....Then I get a bit frightened again......I think of strange sounds in the night....and....thunderstorms while living in a tent!"

"Caroline....That's what camping is all about. You rough it a bit. You get closer to nature! Gee! You have no idea how many years it's been since I've sat out on a beach as we're doing now....Having a fire!....Eating!....Talking! Oh, how I've missed this!"

He suggested to all the parents there, they make plans for a week during July. They all became excited over the suggestion and decided on the second week of the month.

Caroline gave a weak smile.

"Oh my! That paddle boat was so frightening at times....then at others, so fun! I must admit, I felt a bit silly there at first. I believe you're right Jake. We have to try this at least once. I have no idea how I'll fare at such a thing. And I keep thinking of thunderstorms in a flimsy tent."

"Oh Mother," Chris put in quickly, "I was indeed frightened, but we certainly didn't get wet."

He glanced over at his father.

"Gee....I've never seen you so excited over a camping trip!"

"Well Chris," his father began frankly, "I guess you can thank Grandfather for all this!....Oh! Gee! I was following right along in his footsteps....and I hated it!...

"And you can thank Tim's father as well!"

Tim seemed surprised at hearing this.

"Oh yeah Timmy! Your father has a good head on his shoulders. He never got trapped into this....this boring lifestyle. And it is!....It truly is.

"Oh yes, he's right. We're so concerned with earning a living....we....well we aren't actually living any longer. We become robots....automatons!....Another gear or sprocket in the business world. He never lost sight of his priorities in life. He vowed from the start, he wasn't going to climb that social ladder."

He gazed seriously at Tim.

"Yup!....He's got a great wife and kid....a good lot in life. I sure hope you know how good you have it Timmy."

Tim nodded vigorously.

"Oh yeah!....I sure do!"

Tim gazed down at his frank at the end of a stick. He drew it closer to the coals as he tossed several more pieces of wood on. It had been more for light.

"My dad doesn't want me to think he's bein' mean by making me work for things. Making me....well, do for myself. I understand him perfectly!"

"I'm glad to hear that," Mr. Gavin said, looking at Chris, "...And Chris is going to do lots more for himself as well...

"Chris knows I'm not being mean either. I told him all about it...

"And I'll tell you boys something else......There aren't many people I'd trust leaving Chris with out here. You boys are just so mature! Oh! I'm not saying you don't have fun and prank each other....all that stuff......It's just I see how you all sort of support each each other...

"Oh gee, Chris! When I first saw you out here....I almost reacted the same as your mother. Oh! You were all dirty and banged-up!....Yet....I could see you smiling! I knew you were all right. And as much as parents want to protect their kids from such things.... well....That's not always good either. You have to get out there and....and take your spills....Get your cuts 'n bumps! You have to get your own experience...

"I guess it may be a bit different for girls....You boys need to get out here and do these things for yourself."

He glanced over all of them in their group, settling on Chris again.

"You sure didn't look all that sickly and anemic when I first saw you out here. Hee, hee, oh Chris....You were dirt from head to foot. Yet....yet I could still see a very healthy boy standing there...

"Oh were such a tiny, sickly little guy. I think we both worried about you....And we worried a bit too much! That umm....plastic bubble thing again."

Chris wiped a tear from his eye.

"Oh Father! You have no idea how much I've enjoyed this!"

"Oh, I think I do!"

Ryan shifted position around Ethan so he could be next to Chris. He put his arm over his shoulders.

"...Umm....We were being a little silly the other day. We pretended to be pirates and kinda tossed Chris into the water. Oh! I mean it was shallow and all. He could stand up."

He looked at Chris with concern as he tugged him across his shoulders.

"...He....well he started crying. Oh gee! We really thought we hurt his feelings or something. We felt really bad about it. But he said it was because he was happy...

"And he keeps feeling like he can't do anything out here......You're doin' fine, Chris..."

Chris nodded and wiped his eyes again. His mother gazed at him.

"Yes Chris....Your father is right....We've got to take you out of that plastic bubble..."

Mr. Gavin looked the other boys over.

"Yup, Chris! You have some great friends here. I think I'm a fair judge of character...

"...And Tim....I know your mother is a doctor, and you had to have learned something from her. And I knew you'd call an ambulance if you saw something serious."

He gazed at the fire for a moment.

"Umm....We all know what's going on with you boys here....And I certainly don't have any problem with it......It's just....well, as Mr. Webster says....It's your safety! That's the only thing us parents here are concerned with."

He continued gazing into the fire. His expression was one of deep thought.

"...I want to do something about all of this. It just I don't know what it is. I don't know where to start or what to do...

"I'm rearranging the whole company right now......I'll be closing lots of offices in foreign countries....Well, the ones with so much political unrest in them anyhow.

"I....I can't actually say what's going to happen, but I can assure you kids....things are going to get better!"

He paused here for a moment. Everyone there, including the parents, saw the few seconds of emotional pain in his expression.

"...My father...Oh gee!....He wasn't just a homophobe....It wasn't just the gay community with him....It was everything! I think he hated everything and everybody... himself included...

"I'm switching the company to a more all inclusive workplace. Benefits! For everyone! Better relations with management and even worker-to-worker. We've got to....well, modernize the whole firm!"

He nodded his head.

"Yup!....I'm certain I'll be losing some clients....yet....I'm sure I'll make up for that in other places. We've got to open those doors! We've got to get rid of all these archaic social standards. We've got to move on. If we don't modernize the firm, we're going to go under in the next twenty years. I'm sure of it."

Not only the boys, but the parents as well, nodded their heads.

Caroline reached for a roll and placed a frank in it. She gripped the frank with the roll and pulled the stick from it. Mr. Gavin looked at her.

"You just roasted that on a dirty stick! Are you actually going to eat that now?!"

She took a large bite of it, nodding her head. She smiled as she chewed.

"...You're right, Hon!....No more plastic bubbles!....For any of us!"

Everyone had remained quiet. It was obvious she hadn't finished speaking yet.

"...Yes....Oh gee, it seems today that everything we eat, everything we do, is bad for us somehow. I'm just not going to worry about it anymore!"

Chris leaned toward the fire as he sat opposite her.

"Mother!....Perhaps a dog peed on that stick!"

Everyone laughed as she took another bite. Chris pointed across the fire.

"You could be eating dog pee!"

He suddenly drew his hand back.

"Oh shit!....That fire is hot!"

Everyone laughed again. Mr. Gavin shook his finger at him.

"See how good this experience is for you?!....Today you learned that fire is HOT!"

Everyone laughed again.

Again Chris launched into an excited account of his week of camping. His entire body wiggled. He rapidly jumped from one subject to the next. Caroline looked at her husband and gave him an understanding smile.

A half hour later, the parents stood. Caroline gazed at Chris.

"I think you'd better get into that shower tonight with a scrub brush!"

"Yeah," Tim put in, "...And take all those bandages off. The soap will sting a bit, but we gotta keep those cuts clean. I'll patch you up again afterward."

"...Well, no ALCOHOL PADS!"

"Nah!....Just some more antibiotic ointment."

As the boys led the way back up to the campsite, Mr. Gavin watched Ryan. He walked beside Chris, with Joe to his other side. Ryan held his hand on his back. Mr. Gavin understood he still felt poorly for pranking Chris.

He glanced at the others. None seemed to be excessively attached, yet he could see the concern they all had for each other. It had been a casual touch or a simple smile. He'd caught words of encouragement, not only toward Chris, but the others as well. They'd give each other a rough hug or a silly nudge. They all seemed healthy and in good spirits.

"Oh, these little guys are the greatest......I'm sure not worried over Chris being out here with them. Okay, I'm sure there are pranks going on....those boy-will-be-boys things......Yet, I can see a maturity here that one doesn't often see in kids this young. Then again, I'm sure they understand they have to be careful. They all seem to watch out for each other."

Caroline continued to cajole Chris about eating well and being cautious. Her facial expression was one of sudden concern again. Mr. Gavin knew it was only because they were about to leave.

"Caroline! Please!....Leave the boy alone! Just let him have some fun!"

"Oh dear, I shouldn't have come out here today. Now I'm going to worry all week.

"...Oh please be careful. There's so much danger out here."

"Caroline! This is a state park! He's not on some survival training exercise."

"Well, you get yourself cleaned up! And you keep warm in that tent. We're supposed to have some very chilly nights yet."

She held his shoulders and gazed at his face. She suddenly smiled.

"Oh! I believe you do look awful cute with a dirty face!"

It was here Joe came from the tent with a large bundle under his arm.

"Well Chris, I got our clothes and lots of shower gel! I can't seem to find the scrub brush though. Hee, hee."

Mr. Gavin grabbed for his wife's elbow and began drawing her to the car.

"Leave the boy alone......He's....he's learning things out here, and he's having fun doing it!"

It was nearly an hour later as the boys all came back from the showers in a group. Matt squinted in the darkness as he pointed toward the campsite. The other parents had left but now there was a different car parked there.

"Who's that? Did someone come back for some reason?"

Tim squinted as he leaned forward a bit.

"Oh! I think that's my dad's car! Oh shit, I hope everything's okay."

They both broke into a run. They approached two shadowy figures sitting at the picnic table.

"Dad!....Is everything all right?"

"No!......Your grandmother is having a fit! It seems she forgot to bring your PIES out here today!"

"Oh my stars! We got all the way home and I saw the pies still on the dining room table! Oh! I'm getting so forgetful lately!"

"Awh gee, Gram....You didn't have to come all the way back out here just for that!"

Tim switched on the fluorescent lamp on the table just in time to see his father roll his eyes.

"I don't think it's just the pies, Timmy. Gram's getting nervous again. She thinks you boys are starving....and cold....and injured....and scared."

"Gram! We're in a state park! We got all kinds of food. We're aren't hurt or cold. And we got our cells if there's an emergency."

Clara shook her curved finger at Ken.

"And don't be putting all the blame on me!....I know you felt poorly over not being able to come out here today!"

He gave a silly grin.

"Oh she's right, boys. I wanted to come out here with your mother on her resupply mission! It's not that I'm worried about anything. I just want to see how you're all doing."

The others began approaching the table. Tim gave a quick rundown on their week's activities. The others had to join in as well. Clara's gaze went from one of them to the next as they spoke. She suddenly drew up the zipper on her jacket.

"Oh my stars!....Look at you fellas!....Just back from the showers!....Wet hair and all! And not one of you is even wearing a jacket! Oh dear, you're all going to catch an awful chill."

"Mom....Leave the boys alone......Does it look like they're freezing?"

She got to her feet, waving her curved finger in the air.

"Now you boys get into those tents and pull on some jackets!"

Over the months they had all grown close to Tim's family. They all understood Clara's concern.

"Yup!....We'll do that!" "Right away!" "Okay, Gram!" "Yes, ma'am!"

"Did I just hear someone say 'ma'am'? I'm Gramma! And don't you forget that!"

She began digging into a cardboard carton and setting pies out onto the table. From another box she drew out two heavy blankets.

"Now you boys put these blankets into your tent. My stars! It may be June, but there's an awful chill in this night air!"

"Gram! That sleeping bag is warm! Okay, like I say....It's chilly in the morning, but that's the only time! Gee, we'll roast in these blankets."

"Well, now you put these in your tent. If you decide not to use them, just don't let me know about it! Oh gee! My stars! I'm getting the chills just watching you stand there all damp from your showers!"

"Mom!....Leave the boys alone. They're doing fine."

Ethan returned with his windbreaker on. Instantly his eyes fell to the pies.

"WOW! Gram!....You made us apple pie!"

"...And a blueberry, a cherry, and a raspberry! You'll each have your favorite!"

"Oh wow!....Oh wow! Look Dew! Gram's apple pie!"

Ryan went for the plastic cake container which they used for their tableware. He began pulling out forks.

"Drew?....Oh my, and I thought you were Ryan!"

Matt and Tim laughed as Ethan blushed.

"...Dew, Gram," Tim put in, "D....E....W! Ethan named him Dewdrop because he's so sweet! Hee, hee."

Clara gave a blush.

"Oh my, all you boys are so sweet...

"Well now, boys....I was sort of thinking you could eat these after your dinner tomorrow..."

"But that's a whole fourteen hours away!......We'll never survive that long! Not knowing your apple pie is here. And besides, we don't want any racoons, er squirrels, er mice eating them!"

"Oh my stars!......You had to remind me of all the animals out here!"

The others began to gather around the table. Paper plates were handed out as well as forks. Clara couldn't help a large smile.

"Oh this is just such a thrill for me to see you boys enjoy this."

Chris cut his fork into his pie and smiled.

"Oh! Blueberry pie!....This was just so nice of you ma'am..."

"Oh you little shit!"

"Hee, hee....Umm sorry....Gram."

"Now that's so much better!...

"Oh, you boys are just so sweet and polite. Oh! How I worry about you out here all alone. I wonder if you're hungry or cold or scared."

"Well, umm....I think that first night was the worst," Chris began, "Oh gee, I think my imagination was running away for a bit there. I'm getting used to it. And besides, with all the activities I've been doing, I sure don't have a problem with sleeping."

It was here Clara saw the cut before his temple.

"Oh dear! You're cut!"

"Oh I did that earlier today. In fact....I took a few tumbles today and got a bit banged up."

"Oh! Now see?!....You keep telling us not to worry about you, yet we see this!"

Tim studied it in the light of the lamp.

"Yeah. Getting it wet kinda started it bleedin' again. I'll go get the first aid kit."

"Well no....ALCOHOL PADS!"

Both Clara and Ken watched Tim care for Chris. Joe sat beside him, rubbing his back.

"You'll be okay Chris. In a couple days those will heal right up."

Tim applied a bandage to his head.

"Well, if you keep 'em clean! I'm not joking with you. These aren't exactly sterile conditions out here."

Clara's gaze turned toward Scooter and Toby. Both ate with their heads down. Toby looked up at Scooter.

"...And before we go to sleep tonight......I want you to use that bright lantern there. You check out that tent for any spiders!"

"Oh you boys!....All this talk about animals 'n mice 'n bugs 'n spiders! I have no idea how you can enjoy yourselves under these conditions."

"Umm....Well, for me, it's just the spiders. Once we check the tent out and turn off the light, I'm okay again."

"Oh my! I could just see myself in one of those tents!......All I'd need to feel are tiny little feet scurrying over me and I believe I could run all the way home!"

They returned their attention to Tim and Chris.

"Okay Chris....pull that pant leg up and let's check out that knee."

"Awh gee! It's more of a bump than a cut!"

"Sure it is! And there's blood on the knee of your jeans again."



"Well, I'd better not see an ALCOHOL PAD in your hand!"

"Just antibiotic."

"Oh shit! That burns!"

He suddenly covered his mouth as he looked at Clara.

"Oh! I'm so sorry ma'am....GRAM!"

"Hee, hee......Oh you boys are just so sweet with one another. It does my heart good to see you fuss over each other."

"Well Timmy wasn't so sweet earlier today! That alcohol was worse than getting hurt!"

Ken was nodding his head as he looked at them.

"Yeah boys....I was just thinking the same thing. I like seeing you care for each other. And Chris....Your father suggested this camping trip, but I could tell he was more than a little bit apprehensive over it. But he's right you know....You've got to get out there and take your spills. I don't want to make it sound as though I didn't think you could handle this......It's just....well, even your father admitted it. You were a bit too sheltered. You needed this, Chris. You need to fall and get cut-up a bit. You need fresh air and sunshine......Well, gee! A thunderstorm or two as well! I think you're adjusting just fine."

He suddenly reached into one of the cardboard cartons.

"Oh! I almost forgot....Matt....Tim....I brought your cameras along!"

"Oh great," Tim put in, "There were a couple times I kinda wished I had it."

Matt studied his camera.

"...Yeah....This will come in handy for proof!"

Clara and Ken simply stared at him.

"...Oh!....Umm....I was thinking of getting back to school this fall. You know.... how our English teachers are going to have us write one of those themes of How I Spent My Summer Vacation!"

Ken chuckled.

"Well, I'll sign a sworn affidavit that you were actually here!"

"Well, I was sort of thinking about a paper as such myself," Chris put in, "It may be a departure from custom, but I was thinking of including photographs! As they say, 'A picture is worth a thousand words.' I've already ideas for biology. I've some photos of the plant life out here. Perhaps we could get some of the wildlife out here as well."

Tim nodded with a silly smile.

"Sure!....You can photograph the snakes and Toby will do the spiders!"

"SHIT TOO!" Toby shouted, "...Oh! Sorry Gram..."

"Hee, hee....Oh my stars! You boys and your snakes, bugs 'n spiders. I believe I'm headed for the car now."

She stood, waving her finger in the air.

"Now you boys dig out those blankets tonight! All of you! It's supposed to get very cold and windy tonight."

She gripped her arms and shivered.

"Oh my!....I just can't see sleeping in a tent through all this!"

"We'll be fine, Gram," Tim put in, "We're all resupplied with food 'n batteries 'n charcoal....'n money! Everything we need!"

The boys followed them to the car. They all thanked Clara repeatedly for the pies.

"Oh boys! It was a thrill to see you enjoy them so!....Now you put the rest of those pies in the cooler. I'd hate to think of scurrying animals in your tents!...

"Now Timmy 'n Matty! Get your jackets on!"

"Gram, we're going to sleep now! Do you expect us to sleep in jackets?!"

"Well yes!....And both of those blankets as well!"

"Gram......We'll be sleeping in our shorts!"

She rubbed her arms through her jacket.

"Oh my stars! Don't even tell me that! I believe I'll go home and plug in my electric blanket tonight!"

The boys had all returned to their respective tents. Matt and Tim wasted no time in undressing. They placed the lantern on the cooler at their heads. Tim drew open the sleeping bag.

"What's this?" he asked, reaching for a sheet of paper. His eyes quickly scanned it.

"It's from Landon!....He didn't want to call us over that video we got of Adam!.... He showed it to his father......Holy shit! They're goin' to the DA with it! And they're going to see if Mr. Gavin can help out!

"Chris' father?!....Why him?!"

"Umm....He's got money, Matt....And lots of connections around town."

"Oh shit!....We'd better not tell the others about this! It'll ruin their trip."

Tim nodded with a serious expression.

"Yeah......We'd better not tell anyone 'til we check this out. I really don't want anyone knowing it was me who took that video! I sure don't want to get into any trouble!"

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