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Matt and Tim II

by Small Town Guy

Chapter 10

It was late Saturday afternoon as Matt and Tim rushed around the kitchen. There were measuring cups, spoons, mixing bowls and flour over the entire surface of the island. Matt rushed to the sink with whisks, electric mixer blades and a large rubber spatula.

"Ohhhh! Hurry Timmy! Gram's gonna be here any minute now!"

Tim glanced at the clock.

"Oh shit!....We should have taken that cake out ten minutes ago!"

He ran for oven mitts on a counter and rushed toward the oven, opening it.

"Awh, shit!"

"Tell me we didn't burn it!"

"No. It's not burned......It's just that the whole center collapsed! There's like a big sunken spot right in the center. It didn't puff-up like Gram's sheet cakes!"

It was here Tim's cell beeped.

"That's a text Matty! Get that for me!"

Matt dried his hands on a dishtowel as he ran for the cell on the counter. He studied it.

"...'I'm in the ladies room at the department store. I can't do anything more. Gram wants to be home with HER BOYS!....I can give you thirty more minutes....TOPS!'..."

"Oh Matty! We can't ice this thing right from the oven! It's too hot!"

"Oh gee, that thing looks really....umm....sad!"

"Come on Matty. We gotta get this flipped out onto a cookie sheet or something!"

Matt placed an aluminum foil covered sheet onto the table of the nook.

"I'm wayyyy ahead of you."

"Awh, rats!....It won't come out!"

"Yes it is! I can see it! Keep shaking it!"

The cake dropped a bit diagonally across the sheet.

"Awh! Some pieces stuck to the pan!"

"Don't worry about that! It's not that bad."

Both glanced around the kitchen.

"We gotta get this place cleaned up! I don't think Mom will be pissed but Gram can't see this! It'll ruin the surprise!"

"We gotta hide this cake, Timmy! We can frost it later when it's cool."

"Umm....The garage! Gram never goes out there."

"Yeah? And what if your mom pulls into the garage?!"

"We'll hide it in the dining room!"

They both grabbed for an end of the sheet and went for the dining room.

"Tim....What if your mom lets Gram off at the front door?"

"Yeah, you're right......The bedroom!"

"The bedroom?!"

"Umm....Okay!......The refrigerator! It'll cool down faster in there."

"Timmy, the first thing Gram will do is heat a coffee and go for the cream!"

"Okay....umm....The utility room!"

They started for the door, both trying to anticipate each others moves.

"Careful, Matty! We're going to have this thing end up on the floor!"

"Umm....Timmy!....The utility room is connected to the garage!"

"Yeah!....Umm....The family room!....Gram never goes down into the basement!"

They started down the stairs.

"Hold your end up higher, Matty! It's slidin'! We're gonna have cake all over the stairs!"

"Okay, let's set it right here on the coffee table......Careful! The game controllers are under there!"

Minutes later Matt was drying several measuring cups. Tim was wiping the island.

"Okay," Tim asked, looking around, "Did we miss anything?"

"Timmy! The bag of flour on the counter!"

Matt put away the last aluminum measuring spoon, glancing around.

"Okay....umm....I think that's about it. I hope we didn't forget anything."

"The exhaust hood!" Tim said, going for the range and switching it off, "I left this on to suck out all the cake smell! Oh! I sure hope it doesn't smell like a bakery in here. Can you smell cake?"

"Timmy! We were in here for hours! The only way I'd notice is if we came in from outside!"

They heard the remote control overhead door rise on the garage. Within seconds they heard the car enter. Two doors slammed shut. They heard the storm door hydraulic closer actuate with a slight hiss.

"Oh Ayumi!....I've got two plastic bags here! I'm not killin' myself......Quit treating me like an old lady!"

"...Mom....You are an old lady."

"Why you little shit!"

"Hee, hee....Mom....You know I mean that in the nicest way. You've got to slow down some. We worry about you."

They entered the kitchen, Clara before Ayumi. Ayumi glanced toward the boys at the breakfast nook. They saw her eyes quickly scan the kitchen. She hadn't seemed to stare at anything as a signal to them.

"Oh my stars!" Clara said, setting the bags onto a counter and waving her finger, "I've got MY BOYS back from that camping trip...

"Oh dear!......Boys, I was truly scared of that awful storm..."

"...Gram," Tim nearly moaned, "you worry too much."

"Well I can't help it!......I really tried! Awh, all I could think of was you two laying in that damp sleeping bag....cold, shivering in the dark....all scared and alone..."

"Gram, I won't lie to you......Me 'n Matty were a little scared....but over the wind not the lightning......And even if the tent blew over, I seriously don't think we'd even get hurt!"

Clara began drawing items from the plastic bag.

"Oh, all I could do was picture myself out there. And I mean even as a young girl! I believe I'd have just ran out of that tent and off into the woods, screaming."

"Hee, hee, Gram!"

"Oh! I'm not trying to be funny here! I truly believe my entire mind would just....just shut down! I'd panic for sure. I....I just don't believe I'd even be able to think under such conditions!

"Oh my stars, Ayumi! Do you believe you could shut that air conditioning off for a bit? I come in from that warm weather and catch such a chill!....I do believe I need to visit Miss Jones!"

"Hee, hee," Matt giggled, "Don't worry about that, Gram. It affects me 'n Timmy too!"

After Clara left the kitchen, Ayumi drew close to them.

"So where's the cake?....Did you have any trouble with it?"

"Ummm," Tim hesitated, "It came out a little sunken in the middle. And some of it stuck to the pan, but we got most of out. It's cooling in the basement..."

"THE BASE....The basement?!"

"Well, where else could we hide it? It too hot for frosting yet!"

"Well, we're going to have a quick, light lunch here in a bit. It's just way too hot today for a heavy meal."

There was the sound of the second garage door opening.

"Oh good!" Ayumi put in, "I was hoping Dad wouldn't take too long at the hardware store."

After a quick lunch of sandwiches and salad, the boys started for the basement.

"Umm...." Tim hesitated, "Just let us go down here for a few minutes. We have all kinds of camping equipment recharging. We'd better shut them down."

Ayumi saw Matt hiding a container of frosting to his opposite hip. Tim had slipped a table knife to his side.

Several minutes had passed. Ayumi grew concerned.

"Oh let me see what those boys are up to. I'll be right back."

She entered the family room. It was the first time she's seen the track lighting on full bright. The boys had just set plastic tubes of frosting down. They had lettered the cake in red icing.

The cake was diagonal to the sheet. The center was indeed sunken. It had been frosted with white icing. In several thin places, the cake was showing through. "For The Best Gramma Ever!" was written on it in block letters. The lettering was off-center, with words at an angle. No two letters were the same size.

Ayumi tossed her head back and covered her mouth.

"Oh!....Ah, ha, ha!....Hoo, hoo!"

"Oh Mom!" Tim said in urgency, "Maybe Dad could run out real quick and get a GOOD cake!......Awh shit! We tried so hard with this!"

"Oh, boys! (Gasp) I'm not laughing at you! Oh!....Get a good cake?....Gram's gonna just love this. This is a good cake! Better than any you could buy at the best shops!"

They entered the kitchen. Both Matt and Tim held the cake as level as they could.

"Surprise, Gram!"

They quickly placed it on the table of the nook. Clara looked at it. She tried to smile but had to draw a paper napkin to her eyes.

"Ooooooo....How sweet!......'To The Best Gramma Ever.' Ohhhh, what a beautiful cake!"

Matt and Tim slid into the opposite bench seat. Tim held out his hand, indicating the cake.

"Ohhh Grammm!......You don't have to make us feel good. Awh!....We tried so hard to make this nice....Oh, this is just really embarrassing!"

"Oh now, you just hush up! That's the most beautiful cake I've ever seen! May God strike me dead!"

Ken lifted a knife, about to cut into it. Clara slapped his hand.

"Kenny!....Now you just wait a moment...

"Oh boys! You simply must get your cameras! I want a picture of this!"

"Ohhhh noooo!" Matt said, tossing his head back and covering his eyes.

"Now I'm most serious about this! Oh my stars!....There isn't the most expensive pastry shop in all of France which could top this!"

They both caught Ayumi's wry smile. 'I told you so!' it was saying.

Matt took several shots of the cake. Clara had him stand on one of the bench seats and capture a shot directly down. He stepped down with a blush.

"Oh Gram....I sure hope you don't show these shots to anyone."

"Not show them?!....Why everyone at the senior citizens center is going to see these!"

Tim sat on the edge of the seat, his legs still out toward the kitchen.

"Oh Gram!....The whole town is going to be laughing at us!"

"They certainly will not!......You boys will understand that in years to come."

Ayumi took photos of the boys on either side of Clara, their arms around her back. She hugged their necks, drawing them closer.

Ken reached for the knife again.

"Okay!....Let's eat!"

"Oh Kenny! Will you sit still for a moment!"

"Mom!....I'm joking here!......Now we have to get a shot of you cutting that cake."

Ayumi went for the refrigerator.

"And I'm getting some of that good vanilla bean ice cream out!"

Minutes later Tim was still talking.

"...Yeah Gram....Me 'n Matty were layin' around in that tent and just trying to think of something we could do for you...

"You''ve been so good about all this!....US!"

"Oh Timmy!....Let's drop this silly code we're talking in!....The word is GAY!...

"Oh my stars! Boys!....I saw it long before I ever stepped into the kitchen here and saw you two kissing!......Ohhhh yes! I keep telling you I could see it in your eyes. Oh, the way you two looked at each other. I keep saying it, you just can't hide something like that! You were just sweet with each other..."

She dabbed at her eyes with a paper napkin.

"...Oh dear. There you were out in that cold, damp tent in that storm....and you were thinking of something you could do for me....Oh, I'd never be able to do that. I'd be so worried about myself!"

"Gram!....I told you the truth....We were a little scared but it wasn't that big of a thing. You have to expect things like that when you're out camping. The weather isn't always with you. We had some rain we had a few cold days, but overall, it was kinda nice."

They all ate in silence for a moment. Clara ate her cake with her head bowed. They all thought she felt a bit emotional over the moment and didn't question her.

"OH MY STARS!" she shouted, lifting Tim's camera from her lap.

"Gram!" Matt gasped, "You're looking at the review shots on there, aren't you?!"

She had lifted the camera from her lap, still looking at the display.

"I've never seen GIRLS with suits as tiny as some of these boys are wearing!"

Tim leaned forward and glanced at the rear of the camera.

"Oh, that's Tommy."

"Oh my!......To be sixteen years old again! Oh, how I'd like to grab those buns!"

"MOM!" both Ayumi and Ken shouted out in unison.

Matt and Tim covered their faces.

"Gram," Tim put in, "That's Tommy!....Jenny's boyfriend! He's straight, Gram."

He hesitated as he glanced at Matt.

"...But....umm....We think on a scale of one to ten....Tommy's definitely an eight!"

"...An eight?!....Now that's definitely a....a twenty!"

"MOM!" Ayumi and Ken shouted again.

Ayumi took the camera from her hands and placed it on the bench seat between herself and Ken.

Clara held the top button of her dress and pumped it up and down.

"Oh my stars!....I may be an old lady....but I know a hot boy when I see one!"

"MOM!" they yelled again.

Matt and Tim giggled.

"Oh gee, Gram," Matt said, slightly embarrassed, "We think he's kinda hot too!"

"Oh, you BOYS!......Don't tell me you've already got....roving eyes!"

"No Gram....Hee, hee....We kinda play this game where we assign a boy a number between one and ten......And umm....We're never off more than a point!"

"Oh you boys!"

"Awh Gram!" Tim put in quickly, "We already told each other that there isn't a boy in the school that could turn our heads!....Even if every one of 'em were gay!"

He quickly got up and went for the utility room. He returned with a small, rectangular, gift wrapped box.

"I'll be honest with you Gram. Me 'n Matty tried to wrap this. I think it ended up worse than this stupid cake!....We brought it back to the store so the lady could do it."

"Now this is not a stupid cake!...

"Oh, boys! It's beautiful! And do you know why?......It's because you did this all by yourselves! I can just imagine how hard this all was for you. And you did it all because you were thinking of me. Oh! This has been the most wonderful party I've ever been to!"

"Well, Gram, that gift isn't all that great. In fact, after awhile we felt a bit silly about it. We just didn't know what to get you...

"I suggested to Matt we should get you one of those little shopping carts on wheels."

"I've already told your mother not to ever buy me one of those! Why I'd be draggin' that thing down the street looking like a little ole lady!"

She opened the package carefully and found a rather sophisticated TV remote.

"Oh! How lovely!....My very own remote."

"Umm....Yeah, Gram......It's one of those universal things. I already programmed it for the TV in the living room."

He stood up and drew a silver chained dog leash out.

"Now this is going to sound silly but we got this too. Here Gram, it hooks on to this little eyelet at the bottom here.......Now the other end with the leather loop will go over the leg on the end table. Not all that secure but hopefully it'll remind others not to go too far with it!"

She turned to Ken and Ayumi, stabbing her curled finger on the buttons.

"Do you hear that?!......This is MY remote!....That MY BOYS got me! You aren't to touch it!"

They all laughed.

Ken glanced out the window in the fading light.

"Well boys....You've been gone for two weeks. As we said, you'll be caring for the lawn. The front yard doesn't look too unkempt....yet....That back yard looks as though it's a jungle!

"Tomorrow morning it's old clothes....gasoline, oil, mower, grass stains and lots of sweat!"

Matt gave a silly grin as he slapped his palms to the table.

"And then I'll start PAINTING THE HOUSE!"

They all laughed again.

"...Well now, boys......Ayumi and I are going out tomorrow for a sort of brunch. We just don't get much time to be together. Gram will be here. Just don't give her a heart attack!"

"Oh my stars, Kenny!....These boys are certainly old enough to be cautious around a power mower!"

Tim reached out across the table and ran his finger through a patch of frosting on the cake sheet.

"Gram!......You worry about us out in the tent in a thunderstorm! Yet it's okay for us to run a mower?!"

"Well you can control a mower!....You have no no control over all that wind and lightning! Yes, I worry something awful!"

Tim put his finger in his mouth, licking the frosting from it.

"Dad! We really felt bad you took Gram's phone from her..."

"She would have been calling you nearly every hour, checking up on you! I wanted you to just go out there and have some fun!...

"Well," he continued, "this was all sort of Mr. Gavin's idea. He really wanted to get Chris out there to experience some of that....boys-will-be-boys stuff! I really thought there was going to be a bit of....disagreement between Ethan and Ryan's parents. And....and I talked to them about that. I guess it wasn't this....thing!...

"Oh gee, Mom......I'll say it....The gay thing!....

"The way I understand was mostly the same things all parents worry about...... Tripping out on the trails and breaking a leg......Falling out of a boat and getting knocked unconscious!......Climbing trees and falling......Having fire in the tents!......And eating junk food for two weeks! And they even worried about storms just like Gram there. They worried about all you boys. Shivering in a cold tent, all scared 'n wet 'n uncomfortable!"

"Okay, Dad....We had a few nights where were we had chilly temps. But we weren't shivering and scared!"

He looked at Matt who was shyly forking crumbs of cake around his plate. He quickly reached for his head.

"...And I sure wasn't freezing out there with the hottest boy in the world next to me!"

He quickly kissed Matt's lips.

"Ohhhhh, GEEEEEE! Timmy! That's just soooo embarrassing!"

Matt quickly drew his attention to Mr. Webster.

"You really have to believe me....We don't do that in public!"

Mr. Webster gave a slight blush.

"The three of us have no problem with that......We keep telling you it's the people OUT THERE we worry about......All the hate out there...

"Ohhhh you little guys have come so far in just a year!...

"Oh gee!....I shouldn't be calling you little guys any longer. You're not little anymore! You've both had quite a growth spurt in the past year."

Tim nodded.

"Yeah, we noticed that last winter when we thought our clothes were shrinking!"

He looked at Clara.

"...We realized that we hadn't heard Gram calling us walking skeletons anymore."

"Oh my stars! I was truly worried about you two! You were both so skinny! I worried so about all that Anna-wrecksa that's going around......And some boys do catch that too. I've read of it!"

"... Anorexia, Gram."

"Oh yes, indeed you two are just filling out so well. I keep saying it....There's nothing wrong with being on your computers and learning things......There's nothing wrong with playing games and watching movies. It's just I'm so happy the both of you are getting out more! My!....I believe you've both got a bit of tan in the past couple weeks.

"Oh my stars!....The two of you are growing up so fast!"

Sunday afternoon Matt and Tim were sitting in the gentle whirlpool of the river with Scooter and Toby.

"...Like I say," Scooter was talking, "We called you a couple times this morning to see if you wanted to come out here."

"Awh gee!" Tim put in, "We had to take care of the lawn this morning. And that stupid mower conked-out on us! We're fairly good at mechanical things, but not engines! We had to use that reel-mower that you have to push!"

He rubbed his shoulders.

"Awh! I thought all that rowing and swimming would help us a bit. We're both awful sore today."

"Well, you aren't going to build yourself up in just two weeks!" Scooter put in quickly.

Even over the rush of water, they heard a clanking noise from the service road. They noticed a thin boy on a rather large bicycle. He stood on the peddles as it was obvious he couldn't reach them from the seat. It was red in color. The fenders were loosely bolted and bouncing, the headlight on the handlebars was hanging from a single wire and swaying from side to side. He jumped from the bike and placed it on its side a distance from the rocky shore. His body language appeared shy as he neared the shoreline. His shirtless frame was tiny, with thin arms, legs and rounded shoulders. They saw what they believed to be a large swimsuit on him, yet could easily have been shorts.

"Who the heck is that?" Scooter asked, squinting his eyes in the bright sunlight.

Tim raised his arm with a friendly wave.

The boy hesitated for a moment and drew his hands to his mouth, forming a "megaphone."


Tim put his hands to his mouth and shouted back.

"No! But they're friends of ours!....Come on out here! It's too hard to hear over the water!"

He carefully made his way over the slick, mossy rocks. He approached with a shy smile.

"Umm....I'm Jimmy.....I know Ethan and Ryan from school......It was kinda hard to see you all the way out here with just your heads sticking up."

Tim nodded.

"Well, the water usually isn't all this deep here....It's all the rain we got lately."

Jim seemed shy and hesitant to sit with the others. Matt had clearly seen it.

"Hey!" he put in with a friendly note, "Sit down and join us."

They saw an expression of caution on his face. His cheeks puffed out but he quickly sighed, sinking to his neck. His slim body slumped into the water. It rose to his brown hair.

"Oh gee!....This water is warm! I was kinda preparing myself for the shock. The lake's still kinda cool yet."

Tim raised his hand from under water and held it toward him.

"...I'm Tim....That's Matt....That's Scooter....and Toby...

"...So....umm....Ethan and Ryan?......We were camping out at the state park with 'em."

"Oh yeah!......Well, you know Mena, right?"

"Well not real well. We just sorta met for a few minutes at the state park where we were camping. I guess she knows Ethan and Ryan..."

"Well, umm....I'm not exactly really close friends with them....but we sorta hangout at school and that..."

He bowed his head, looking at the surface of the water just inches from his face. They saw his fingers come up and grasp a brown sprig of evergreen from the surface. He seemed hesitant to continue.

"Well....umm....I'm okay?"

They all understood his shy reluctance.

Tim made it obvious as he drew his arm up from the water and placed it over Matt's shoulders, drawing him close.

"...You're in same sex company here."

"....Umm....Yeah....Ethan and Ryan, umm kinda told me...

"Well, they told me about themselves at first. Well, Ethan was the one who called. He told me all about him and Ryan."

He seemed to give a slight, shy grin.

"...Well, I don't know what it was about Ryan......I was kinda sure about him....Ethan? Well, he's really cute 'n all....but I just couldn't figure him out right away...

"Well, anyway......They told me about Mena and how she saw Adam and all in the hospital..."

He toyed with the piece of twig in his fingers, still shy, hesitant.

"I guess he told her about that camp that he was made to go to..."

He tossed the twig over his shoulder and gazed at the spillway over Tim's shoulder. They could see his hands under the red-orange water. He was stroking his thighs.

"...Last year....My parents made me go to one of those places..."

The others could only bow their heads without replying.

"...I should never have told them about me!......It was just....I don't know....I wanted to be honest with them about it!....You know?...

"Oh gee......I don't think the place where Adam was sent was anywhere near as bad as the one I had to go to!"

He drew his hands up from the water and measured off a distance.

"They got like these little dolls there. In the old days, I think they were called rag dolls! And one is kinda dressed up with long hair and kind of a dress on it......The other one has short hair and sorta has jeans on..."

He gazed at the water rushing down the spillway. His face seemed to take on an almost trance-like expression.

"...They....they tell you they're your parents! And they make your mom sound like real dykey 'n overbearing. And your dad is kinda feminine and real woosie, you know? And they tell you you're gay because it's your parents fault! And they give you this little baseball bat and have you beat these dolls to get all the anger out at your parents!"

"You're SHITTIN' ME!" Tim put in with a combination gasp and shout.

"Ohhhhh no!......And they tell you, you were molested as a kid. And if you don't agree with them, they just keep on you! Well, I didn't agree with them....Ever!....And they just kept telling me it really did happen and that I was just repressing the memories!...

"And....and they make you stand in front of a mirror....Naked! And they point out all the disgusting things about your body! And how you want another boy because his body is so much better than yours!"

"You're SHITTIN' ME!"

Jimmy rubbed his face. It was obvious he was trying to hold back from crying.

"No!.....They really do that stuff to you......And I heard there are worse places to be! They starve you....keep you awake for days, and just turn you into a....a robot!"

He looked down again. They saw his finger come up from under the water. He waved it around, twisting a piece of seaweed around it.

"Oh gee! I just had to tell you all this. We're all so scared over Adam. His dad's in jail but his mom keeps telling him he's going back to that camp until he's straight again! He told me he'd rather die than go back there!"

"Awh gee!....Are your parents talking about sending you there again?!"

Jim's expression was one of a relieved smile.

"...Nah!......Well, I didn't really say anything to them when I first got back. Then I told 'em about having to beat on those dolls 'n stuff. And how I was told they were gay 'n lesbian and how that's what made me gay!....Oh gee, Dad was really pissed! He had no idea what they were doing to me in there."

He drew the wrapped seaweed from his finger and tossed it away.

"Umm....My dad works in a....a warehouse! On the loading dock! He never graduated from high school. And he admits it was a mistake....but he sorta ran away from home. He doesn't like to even talk about it......In fact I never even met my grandparents on his side.

"Well, he had a friend in school. He gives me the idea he was kinda geeky 'n all but he ended up the class valedictorian! I think he was one of those real studious types. He didn't really have any friends or that. I think Dad felt bad over it...

"Well, anyhow my dad met him at some little diner downtown. He was just passing through. He's a marriage counselor now. Well, he's had lots of training in psychology 'n all. My dad told him of that place I was at......Ohhhh! He told my dad just what he thinks of those places! And all the damage they can cause!....Especially if you're there when you're young! I think he had a couple gay guys come in to him to sorta talk things over. They were married to women and just couldn't continue on!

"Well, my dad hasn't really said anything to me about bein' gay or that......But I kinda get the idea he's sorta tryin' to make it up to me."

He pointed toward the shore.

"That's my dad's bike! I had to use it today 'cause mine has a flat tire. He keeps saying he's going to fix his bike up and we'll go out riding together..."

He hesitated here for a moment.

"...I know he's not lyin' to me....but....when he gets home at night.....Oh gee, he's just totally beat! Sometimes he even falls asleep right at the supper table!......He's hoping he'll be in a good position for dock foreman. He won't have to do all that lifting 'n bustin' his ass!...

"...Umm....yeah......I called Ethan and Ryan this morning. There was no answer at either of their houses. Ethan had told me about this place here at the river and how nice it was. He said you're all going to kinda hangout here a lot this summer......So that's why I came out here.

"Yeah, we're all worried about little Adam. Ethan says your family is really cool about gays, huh?......Are you the one with a doctor for a mom?!"


"Umm....Jimmy......We already talked to my mom about all that...

"Adam's dad is in jail. He can't hurt him from there......And his mom doesn't beat on him. I mean you can't say he's bring abused! That's the whole thing, Jimmy! Unless you can prove he's being abused, there just isn't anything you can do about it! You can't just walk into someone's house and take their kid away!"

Jim bowed his head as he spoke. It had been above a whisper in order to be heard over the rush of water.

"...Ohhh the times I wish I had just millions 'n millions of dollars. Oh! I'd like to set up a school just for gay kids. Where they wouldn't be beaten or sent to those gay-to-straight conversion places. A place where they'd be loved and supported."

Tim's expression became very grave. He looked lovingly at Matt and kissed his cheek.

" just wouldn't believe the times me 'n Matty thought of that!...

"For awhile there, my mom was telling us about doing just that! I mean all the doctors at the hospital want to help too. They see lots of this nasty shit going on. She says they're just getting the royal runaround. This whole town isn't friendly!"

They all sat in silence for a minute, each to their own thoughts.

Jim drew up a stone from the mud and examined it.

"...Oh gee....Now I'm sitting here thinking about all this...

"I come out here and start all this. I don't even really know any of you...

"It's just we're so worried over Adam. I had to just fill you in real quickly."

"Awh!" Tim scoffed, "We're all friends here. Don't worry about it...

"Umm, my mom is doing whatever she can. I guess all the doctors there are doin' their best. My mom can't exactly talk about lots of these things....but....but she gives me the idea there's lots of abuse around this area. And back out in California....I guess there were lots of ummm....suicides and beat-up kids...

"Well, one was in the news! Some guy found his kid was gay......Oh wow! He tied the kid up and just beat the crap outta him. And....and he found some kinda lamp cord and plugged it in and shocked him with it. And he tied plastic bags of ice to him and stuck him with pins and all kinds of awful things!..."

He gazed around and sighed as he attempted to smile.

"I guess the kid is in his twenties now......He's into all kinds of gay rights groups out there. I saw him on a vid on the Net......Oh gee, he seems to have it all together! Really! I mean for all he went through?! Oh gee, I don't know if I'd hold up that well."

Jim smiled as he continued to examine the stone in his fingers. He rubbed the sand polished surface.

"...Yeah......I hear your parents are really cool about you two. Oh, gee, it must be nice."

Tim smiled and threw his arm over Matt's shoulders again, drawing him close.

"Oh, we've really got it nice! Yeah......Well, it's just good my mom is a doctor. She sees all this shit goin' on! A couple times there....out in California....Oh wow! She was really down! I can tell those things. She doesn't exactly get pissed....She gets real quiet and just sorta walks around thinkin' about stuff. You know it's bothering her...

"Matty's parents......Well, I think they had a kinda hard time with all this. They're coming around. I think they're understanding more about this..."

Tim gave a deep sigh.

"Yeah, Jimmy......Me 'n Matty are always wishing we had all kinds of money to help out."

He glanced at Matt and rubbed his shoulder.

"Me 'n Matt....Well, we're both starting to think about teaching! Yeah, we sure won't be members of the yacht club.......Not at those wages! But I think I'd really like it!...

"I tutor at school. A couple months ago, I had this one boy. Oh wow....He was really having a hard time over it. I worked for weeks with him. Awh, I felt so bad for him..."

He paused here as a slight smile formed.

"...Then there was this one day....It was like a light just came on in his head! You could see it all over his face!....And....and just everything fell into place for him! Wow! He was just so happy! was really rewarding, you know?"

Tim continued in thought over the incident, smiling pleasantly. Jimmy could see his hand, gripping Matt's shoulder under the water. He continued to rub the polished stone in his fingers.

"...Well, ummm....I still feel a bit uncomfortable over all this...

"Oh gee! I think I'm starting to get a little embarrassed all of a sudden....Hee, hee....I come out here and start going on with all this stuff. I'm starting to think it might have been better if I had waited until Ethan and Ryan were out here."

Scooter reached out and squeezed his arm for a moment.

"Don't worry about it......We're all getting kinda pissed over all the hate out there."

"Umm....Scooter," Jim said, more considering the name, rather than addressing him, "Aren't you Jerry Shelby?"

"Yeah, that's a nick-name that I got some years ago."

"Oh!....Oh!....Aren't you the kid who got stabbed by that Jason Peters awhile back?"

Scooter nodded his head.

"Yeah. I almost didn't make it."

Jim seemed to blush uncomfortably here.

"...Umm....Oh gee. I didn't exactly know him but I really hated him! He was always beating-up on the gay kids and the emos 'n handicapped kids......You gotta be really sick to punch kids on crutches and in wheelchairs!"

Tim looked up here with a serious expression.

"Umm....Well, yeah....but he had a really screwy home life. Lots of hate there."

Scooter reached up and scratched his cheek. His expression was solemn.

"He umm....admitted to us he was gay..."

"You're SHITTIN' ME!"

"No! Really!......This might sound strange to you, but....Well, at the end there, I really felt poorly for him."

Jim gazed back down into the water.

" a way I think I did too! I don't know what it was. I heard he jumped off that overpass. I never knew he was gay."

"Well, he had lots on his mind. Oh shit!....I think his mom is hooked on drugs!....Well prescription drugs. I don't think she knows where she is half the time!......And the ole man....he's just a no-good alcoholic. People are surprised when they see him sober....well, half sober!"

Jim lifted his head and gazed at the spillway. The high level of water was dark at the crest. As it spilled over, it became white. Toward the bottom, the foam disbursed.

"Oh gee......I don't think my parents are that bad. I mean with that conversion therapy stuff. I really think they got taken in! Well, Dad almost admitted it!...

"...Yeah!......Oh they make things soooo cool, 'n loving sounding. They told my parents that through God, all things are possible! And that Jesus could help me through all of that. They just sounded like they were soooo concerned over me. Awh! For a while there, they almost had me convinced I was going to be straight again..."

He gazed at the spillway again. They could see him organizing his thoughts.

"...Yeah......After a bit there....well when I told Dad about all the stuff they did to me in there. Well, he really changed! Umm....He quit goin' to church and everything. Oh! Not that he's an Atheist or that! I think he's reconsidering all the stuff he was taught. I think he's talked to others or looked stuff up on the Net!...

"My mom....Oh, she's just so hard to understand at times. She can't just say it! I mean say things right out! She uses all these polite little words 'n stuff. She won't even say gay! She says this or that person is weird, or that they're strange! If I ever heard her say homosexual, I think I'd shit!"

Tim giggled here.

"...Umm....Sorry Jimmy. I don't want to make it sound like it's not serious."

"Oh! I understand!...

"Mom said my dad went to see Father Murphy......You know, to kinda ask questions 'n stuff. Well......Oh gee! I guess they really got into it! Dad was really pissed! I don't know exactly what he said but it was kinda like Christianity was supposed to be about love 'n acceptance, not hate!...

"He went down to that Mission Church......You know....the one down there in the poor part of town?....Well, I guess it never was exactly a church. I think it was a movie theater years 'n years ago. My mom won't go there!....Well, I guess there are all kinds of alcoholics 'n homeless people in there....Poor people!....I mean, they aren't bad people! They're just down on their luck....Know what I'm sayin'?

"I think some reverend in town here sorta opened that up for them. He wanted to get lots of those people into his church. Oh gee!....His congregation said they were gonna leave if he kept bringing in all these drunks 'n smelly homeless people!"

Tim nodded his head vigorously.

"Oh yeah!....Oh yeah!....We can't have sinners in the church, can we?!"

"Oh wow, Timmy!....That's exactly what my dad said!...

"Well, anyhow I guess he really gave one of those Fire 'n Brimstone sermons. It ended up they'd use that old movie theater. The preacher doesn't even pass the collection plate in there. Gee, these people have all they can do just to buy clothes or shoes or something to eat! He doesn't even charge them. He preaches for free!

"And he set up a donation jar just inside the door. his regular church. And they donate money to run a little soup kitchen and that...

"Well, even Dad said it was kinda scary goin' in there. He said all these can kinda see it in their eyes. They look like they just gave up on life. He said they look so empty! I guess it actually made him feel better about his own life. He said he's never going to bitch about his job on the loading docks again. He's just happy he has a job!...

"And if that donation jar starts lacking money......well, hee, hee....The preacher kinda starts hinting about getting all these lost people into there. Wow! Kinda sly, huh? That jar really fills up again."

"Awh gee! I don't know, Jimmy," Tim put in thoughtfully, "...Isn't that kinda like having people kinda pay to keep people away from the church?!"

"Yeah! Hee, hee....Kinda sly, huh? Okay, maybe it's not exactly right, but at least the preacher gets to talk to these people......Kinda give 'em some hope!"

There was a pause here. The boys looked up and saw several seagulls squawking above. The sky was cloudless and the sun intense. They waved their arms around, under the water, enjoying the action of the whirlpool.

"Yeah," Jim continued, thoughtfully, "I was in Sunday school one time as a little kid. We learned about people asking Jesus why he hung-out with beggars 'n sinners. He told them it was because the sick person needs a doctor....not people who are well! That's kinda profound, huh?"

Tuesday afternoon Matt and Tim crawled from the tent they had put up in the backyard. They had placed it primarily over the brick terrace. Nylon ropes ran from the tent to stakes pounded into the nearby lawn. They drew out a plastic bucket of gray water. Nearby was a large vacuum from the garage. Ayumi came from the house in white shorts and halter top. She held a tall glass of lemonade in one hand. Matt turned to her.

"Awh gee, Mrs. Webster. You're such a pretty lady."

"Oh Matty, that's so sweet of you," she replied, sitting on a plastic pool chair.

"Well I don't think there's a gay boy in town who hasn't at least taken a second look at you."

He hung his head.

"Oh, that first time I came over here....I told you that you looked so young! Oh gee, I really wasn't thinking you'd look like an old lady. I just didn't know what to say!"

"Awh, Matty....don't get all shy 'n embarrassed."

She reclined on the chair, stretching her long legs out and sipped from her glass.

"I keep telling you Ken and I are going to stay as young as we possibly can!...

"Well, I do have to be a bit more....professional at the hospital. And Ken has to do the same at the firm. He has to meet people from all over the world. We can't hardly lounge around in faded jeans and sneakers!"

She gave a strong stare at the tent.

"Oh boys!......I really thought you'd have your fill of camping! Oh! Two weeks of cooking over a grill.......Heating water......Doing dishes at at picnic table!"

"Mom! We're just going to spend a couple nights out here. We set the tent up here because it's killing the grass. There's a big yellow spot on the lawn there. And, besides, the patio is more level. We broke camp kinda fast there on Friday. We wanted to clean it out better. We vacuumed it out and just about scrubbed the floor! Oh, gee! All that chocolate frosting from....from Cupcake over there!"

Ayumi shaded her blushing face with her hand.

"Oh, you boys are just so sweet! I love your little....endearments with each other..."

She paused, a hesitating expression on her face.

"Oh, I don't know if we're even doing the right thing here with you boys...

"I keep thinking if one of you were a girl! You know this just wouldn't go over with us!"

"Mom......I keep tellin' you....It's not just the......intimate moments we have together...

"Oh, it's been over a year now!"

He approached Matt from behind and drew his arms around him. He hooked his chin over his shoulder.

"It's just the same as it was a year ago!......That first kiss....Holding hands out at the park. It was....It was just so warm! We still feel that, Mom!...

"Oh gee!....All we've been hearing about is nasty parents, 'n....All these reparative therapy places! Belittling people and putting them on some guilt trip! Hate, violence, bullying!"

He dropped his arms from around Matt.

"...We talked about this......You and Dad aren't going to have to worry about a thing when you retire. We'll move in with you!..."

He gave a silly grin.

"We'll push your wheelchair out into the kitchen 'n put a bib on you....We'll give you that little spoon with the ring in the handle so your crooked fingers can grip it."

Ayumi slapped her hand over her eyes.


"Hee, hee, hee!......And we'll have a nurse on duty twenty four, seven! So she can change your diapers!...Hee, hee..."

"TIMMY!....STOP IT!....NOW!"

"Hee, hee, hee....Ha, ha!...

"And we'll adjust your oxygen tank on the wheelchair when you get winded from watching the six o'clock news! Hee, hee."

"TIMMY! Stop that right now!"

"...And we'll adjust your lap blanket and draw your shawl over your head when you get chilly."


Tim jumped and slapped his knee.

"Oh! Ahh, ha, ha!......Oh shit! I kill myself sometime!"

"Timmy....that isn't the least bit funny," Ayumi replied, yet with a smile, "I've already told you all that. When I get that bad pull the plug!"

Tim continued giggling as he hugged her shoulders and kissed her temple.

"Oh Mom!....You're gonna live forever!"

"Ohhhhh Timmy!......Us doctors take an oath. You've heard it all before....' no harm!' Oh, Honey......I see all these little old ladies in there. Oh dear! They've got....burn marks on their chests from being resuscitated! We try everything we can do to keep them alive. Yet......Oh, I've brought this all up at meetings. Is that really 'doing no harm?' We're in such a technological age today. I truly believe that's....well, tampering with nature a bit too much!...

"Timmy....I realize your father and I don't actually have a....a religion! We don't even belong to any denomination. But neither one of us is an Atheist! We have a very strong faith. We believe everyone has....well....their assigned time where God calls them home. We shouldn't tamper with that...

"And all this....this anti-gay stuff! People say it's not natural! Well, it certainly is! We've always believed it's perfectly natural. We may never actually understand the cause and all, but I still believe it's all perfectly....natural! Yes. I truly believe that love knows no gender!"

Matt neared her, shyly brushing his thighs and knees of dirt.

"Well, we just wanted you to know how much we appreciate this. Oh gee, it's been kinda slow but I think my parents are gradually....adjusting to all this."

"Matty, I'm sure they're already all the way there! Ken and I have been e-mailing them. Oh wow!......They've made progress in leaps 'n bounds!......They just have a bit of a....time with expressing it to you. I really think that....that painting your dad sent you two was kind of his way of making up for things."

Matt hung his head.

"Oh gee....Yeah!....For my dad to do something like! That was really umm.... STICKY SWEET! I keep wondering where he'd find a painting like that!....Two boys kissing in a tree house?!"

"He didn't find that painting, Matt...

"They were sightseeing one day. Just sort of walking through town. They met an old, retired gentleman. He was one of those....ohhh sidewalk artists or whatever you call them. He was doing paintings of the town....Churches, bridges....quaint little cottages...

"He'd paint whatever anyone asked for. And I understand he could do lots of those paintings in under an hour!"

Ayumi smiled and blushed slightly as she continued.

"...And your father says, even at that advanced age I guess he could do some rather racy stuff for the newlyweds!"

"Oh wow!....He....he like, ordered that painting?!"

"He sure did! I'm sure all of this will, well, smooth out over time. His concern is the same as ours....your safety!"

"Yeah, we understand."

"Oh! You boys go finish up your tent. Just don't go snacking too much. You're both slowing down a bit more and not having the appetites you used to have. That growth spurt? Gram is putting on a light supper for tonight and she's just so pleased to see you two eat! You know how she cares about MY BOYS!"

They nodded their heads.

"Oh....She continued....I went through your camera with Gram."

Tim slapped his hands over his face.

"Oh gee, Mom!"

"Oh Timmy!......I wasn't being nosy about it! I know you two are a bit....conservative with that sort of thing...

"We both agreed on one photo in particular...

"I believe it was taken by Chris...

"Oh, it was so sweet....You two were rowing that big boat. You weren't even touching each other! You were gripping the oars! And you were sorta leaning in toward each other and kissing......I printed that shot out for her."

"Awh! Noooo!" Tim put in.

"Timmy!....It was sweet!"

"Awh! Gram's gonna have pictures of us all over the whole house! I'm gonna be totally wasted!"

He tried to recover himself quickly.

"...Come on Matty....We have to set that fan up in the doorway of the tent. We gotta dry it out so we can get our sleeping bags in there again."

"Umm....Not right now," he said with a silly grin, glancing at Ayumi, "I've got to go out into the garage for brushes and a bucket of paint! Because I'm gonna PAINT THE HOUSE NOW!"

Ayumi laughed.

"...Go on, boys...

"Gram's at the shopping center with her friend. Dad's going to stop at the deli on his way home with some cold cuts and salads. We'll get together for a light supper tonight. It's just way too hot out today for eating a big meal."

An hour later Tim drew a large fan from the front of the tent.

"This is dry now. Let's roll out this sleeping bag and organize the place."

They crawled around, pushing in a plastic tote with snacks as well as the cooler.

"Timmy, I don't know why we keep doing this. Okay, we eat a few snacks, but we always seem to let the ice melt in the cooler. We never really use it!"

"Matty!" Tim forcefully whispered, "There's no ice IN that cooler!......I put your CAMERA in there!"

Matt suddenly drew his hands to his mouth.

"Oh shit!....I forgot all about MY camera!"

"Well I didn't!......I saw that while we were unpacking. I slipped it into the cooler and ran down to the family room with it! I hid the camera under the couch!"

"Oh shit! Maybe we'd better just delete lots of those pictures."

"No way, Matty! Some of 'em....well they're kinda hot and I wanna keep 'em!"

"Oh gee, Timmy....Those shots in the tent!....We're....we're bare-assed!"

"Awh Matty....You don't actually see anything!"

"Well you sure can tell we're bare-assed! Awh shit! I totally forgot about those! Oh, what if your mom or Gram saw those?....I'd die!"

"Hee, hee....We'll get those transferred to a password protected flash. Then we'll delete 'em....I don't want to reformat the whole camera! They'll know we're hiding something!"

"Oh shit, Timmy....Lets get into the house and fire up that computer. I'll feel lots better once we get those pictures off the camera!"

A half hour later, Matt sat hunched over his computer. It had been set up next to Tim's. His hair was still damp from a shower, and clung to his head. Tim entered with simply a towel wrapped around his waist. He gave a sly grin as he drew the towel open.

"Like what you see?"

"Oh Timmy!....Come over here and let me kiss it!"

Tim quickly wrapped up again.

"No way!......I'll have a stiffy in three seconds! Gram 'n Dad are going to be here any minute now and they'll want us out there for supper!"

Matt stood and drew Tim close. He rubbed his ribs and kissed his chest.

"Oh shit, Timmy....You're really getting hot! Really....solid!"

Tim backed away from him quickly and went for his dresser. He couldn't resist a shy smile.

"Well, thanks!......I keep tellin' you....I'm tired of the....the cute shit! We're getting too old to be cute anymore!"

Matt drew up behind Tim and placed his arms around him. He kissed his shoulder.

"Oh Timmy....I'll always want you to have a little....cute to you!"

"Matty! Quit scrunchin' up against me. We can't hardly walk around in the kitchen hiding our stiffies with notebooks in front of us!...

"So did you get those photos onto the flash?"

"Oh yeah....I didn't edit any of them yet. That would take too long. And I went through the camera twice to make sure I didn't leave anything....umm....too hot on there!"

"Oh, I sure hope you didn't delete all the kissin' 'n huggin' photos!"

"Well, no......I figured that would make it too obvious. I left a few. And I kept all the ones on there that were kinda silly too!"

They entered the kitchen minutes later. They were dressed only in terrycloth shorts.

"Well, Mom's still out there on the patio...

"Umm....set your camera on the island there. I'm sure someone will see it!"

"Oh gee," Matt replied, setting his camera down, "I'm all set for a nice, cool, crispy salad!

"Yeah!....Me too!"

Tim drew toward the breakfast nook. He picked up a thin cardboard case which was there. He flipped it over and began to study the back.

"Oh wow!....I think Mom got herself a new calculator......Oh wow!....Full graphics...Eight level parenthesis....Factorials....Full trig functions....And....Oh wow! Even polar coordinates!"

"I never knew she needed something like that."

"Well, I doubt she'll use all the functions......Doctors need lots of math too."

Matt hung his head.

"Awh shit!......What doesn't require math today?!...

"I'm starting to wonder if I should even try to be a science teacher!"

"Matty! You'll do fine!......The way you're interested in science?! That's half the battle! You'll be studying something that interests you. And....and we'll room together at college. I'll help you with all your math. You're doing fine! Wow! You learn stuff really fast!"

Matt managed a shy smile as he drew up to Tim. He placed his arms around his neck and gazed at his face.

" can hold my attention. I've never had such a hot teacher before!"

He pressed his lips against Tim's. They both let out a weak moan. Tim placed his hands on Matt's bottom and drew him close. The sound of the outside utility room door-latch clicked. They drew apart. Tim stomped his foot on the floor.

"Gee!....That always happens!"

Ayumi entered and placed her tall, empty glass into the sink, filling it with water. Tim quickly grabbed for the calculator on the island.

"We were just looking at your new calculator, Mom. This thing has everything on it!"

"Oh dear....I forgot all about that," she sighed.

She went for the island and sat on a stool there. She reached for the calculator from Tim's hands.

"...That's not my calculator!'

She seemed to be gathering her thoughts for several seconds.

"...So do you know a Benjamin from school?..."

"Oh yeah!......We told you about him....The ginger boy?......Awh we felt so bad for him. He's a cute little guy. I don't know why the kids gotta tease him...

"Well....umm....He's the one who's mother found out about us and kinda put an end to the tutoring."

"...Well, did he send you any birthday invite?"

"...Well, not exactly....He kinda called me and sorta invited us both over. I mean we were out camping at the time. Of course he didn't know that...

"Umm....I guess he's having a bit of a time with his parents. He's living at his gram's place right now. I don't know what it's all about....Oh! I mean he's not gay or anything like that. He's straight....I don't know what it is. Just that generation gap thing! I think his parents are like....super-conservative and they're kinda clashing over stuff."

Ayumi stretched her arms across the island. She began spinning the lazy Susan.

"I don't even know how to tell you boys this...

"I got a....letter from his mom..."

She pinched her temples and let out a sigh.

"...I think you can forget about that invite...

"Oh dear......It was a very nasty letter......You boys were UN-invited!"

She began to toy with a whisk which hung from the lazy Susan.

"Oh, boys!......I was just so angry....I....I tore the letter up!...

"She just went on and on about the....the brainwashing society is getting today that there's no choice in being gay. She said even the politicians are going along with it because it's the politically correct thing to do. And if they don't, it'll cost them votes...

"She went on and on about it being a gender disorder and that there's help out there! Oh yeah! She even included lots of those Websites with all that gay-to-straight crap! She even went as far to say that people against these places call it child abuse. Well, YES! She said the ex-gay truth will finally come out! She doesn't like the idea there's a....a movement going on to outlaw all those ex-gay corrective therapies!

"In so many words......She said she doesn't want Benny associating with you because he may think it's the fashionable thing to do. As though it's suddenly cool to be gay, or act gay. Okay, I'm not saying she actually used the word......but like so many others....she said she doesn't want her boy associating with....with degenerates!"

She swung her long legs around on the stool and sighed.

"...Oh!....That woman is such a....a CUNT!"

Matt and Tim instantly doubled over at their waist, gripping their stomachs.

"Oh!....HOO, HOO, HOO!....OH MOM!....Oh shit!....Hee, hee, hee! I've never heard you talk like that!....Oh! Tee, hee, hee!"

They both made their way to the table of the breakfast nook and collapsed. They continued to laugh as they wiped tears from their eyes.

"Oh shit!....MOM!"

She couldn't prevent a slight blush as she managed a smile.

"Ohhhh geeee!" Tim continued, gathering himself, "Don't worry about this stuff! Me 'n Matty understand all this."

He took several seconds to sober himself.

"Oh, Mom......I really think in our lifetime, we'll see marriage equality....We'll see partner benefits in the workplace. We'll see lots of laws passed for equality...

"...But....umm....I think it might be as much as three more generations before everything kinda settles down. And even then I'm sure there are going to be the haters! There will always be haters!......And I'm not talking about just the gay community. People just love to hate! They will always find something that's different or not politically correct that they can hate!"

Ayumi managed a larger smile.

"Ohhh, boys! I'm just so pleased you understand all this..."

She turned back to the island and lifted the cardboard container with the calculator.

"...I went down to the shopping center yesterday and bought this at the office supply store down there. I was the most expensive one they had! I was about to gift wrap it but I got all side-tracked on it...

"I'm sending this to Benny! His birthday present. And I'm making it very clear it was from you two boys! Now if his mother wants to send it back?....Fine!...

"Now boys......I really want you to....well, steer clear of Benny. I don't want any trouble over this. That woman could just be angry enough to cause all kinds of trouble over this. We don't need that. Hangout with your friends. Just be nice to people...

"Oh gee! Listen to me talk!....Be nice to people? As if either of you would deliberately be cruel to anyone!......Let's just try to let this ride. Another one of life's experiences. Yes, it gets difficult at times. But we'll just do the best we can."

Minutes later Clara and Ken had arrived. Ayumi had spread a tablecloth over the picnic table on the patio. Ken helped by setting items out. He gazed at the tent with a slight smile.

"I really thought you boys would be soooo tired of damp tents and cold meals!"

"Dad!....We didn't eat cold meals!....We had burgers 'n stew 'n vegetable chowders! We ate good! Right Matty?...

"And I'll say it again....We were a bit scared out in those thunderstorms but we sure didn't shiver in a puddle of water in the tent....We had a great time!"

Clara made her way down the steps of the back porch. She hadn't side-stepped down as she had in the past, but took them one at a time. As she made her way toward the table, they saw her steps were less cautious, more certain. She seemed to have a more confident stride. She set out two bowls on the table. Ken gazed at them, about to reach out.

"Wow! Mom!....Bread pudding!"

She slapped his hand away.

"You keep your mitts off those!......Those are for my boys! We only had several slices of bread left and this is as far as it went!"

Ayumi sighed.

"Mom, will you sit down?!"

"Oh my stars, Ayumi!......Will you quit treating me like a little ole lady?!...

"Why, just a bit ago I was telling the boys that rocker is killin' me faster than anything! Oh! HOW I enjoy all this!

"Ohhh boys!....How I missed all this while you were gone! I was simply bored to death! I worried something awful during those storms. Oh! If I were in some flimsy tent during all that, I believe I'd have died of fright alone!"

She sat on one end of the bench and wiped a tear from her eye.

"You boys were out in that tent all cold 'n scared....And....and you were thinking of doing something nice for me. You came back and made that lovely cake for me!"

"Oh Gram!....That cake was a disaster!"

"Now it was no such thing!" she yelled, waving her curved finger in the air, "That was the most wonderful, sweetest thing that anyone has ever done for me...

"And that lovely remote on my stand in there! It's just so wonderful to know I can reach out and find it there."

"Awh gee, Gram....The more we think of that, the more we realize it was a silly gift!"

"It was nothing of the sort!"

They ate in silence for a moment. Ayumi drew up Matt's camera from the bench seat.

"Well now....Let's see what Matt has on his camera here!"

Ayumi forked salad in her mouth with one hand. She rested the wrist of the other against the table, the camera in her hand. She stepped through the photos.

"Ohhhh my!....That little Chris is such a....such an angel! Oh! That tiny little neck and round little head....And that smile! It just covers his entire face! He's just so sweet.

"Awhhh and Ryan. I just love that hair that curves out and hugs those sweet little cheeks."

She remained silent for a moment as she stepped through several more shots with a smile.

"Oh my!....Mom! Look at this!"

She handed the camera to Clara.

"Oh Mom!" Tim shot out, "I hope that isn't another kissing picture!"

"Ohhhh no!" Clara said, "It's a picture of you two rowing that big boat!....Oh my stars! Look at those chests and arms straining! And I don't see a single rib sticking out anywhere!"

Matt blushed as he looked at her.

"...Well, I'm sure it was your cooking that helped."

"Oh you boys are just so sweet!....You've filled-out so well!...

"I was just so concerned over all that Anna-wrecksa-whozits....what-cha-ma-call-it!"

Ken choked on a bite of his sandwich.

"Mom! I wasn't worried about them. I knew they'd fill out after a bit. It was their metabolism!...

"Remember how skinny I used to be?"

Clara stared out over the camera, her expression was one of thought.

"...Well now I don't recall you being....thin....but I recall you could eat enough for three!"

Ken chuckled as he reflected.

"Remember that Thanksgiving Day I got into your blueberry pie?!"

"Oh my stars! Hee, hee....Oh dear! I think you were only eight years old then. I came into the kitchen and saw you eating that pie right out of the tin I had baked it in!"

Ken covered his face.

"Oh shit! Did you give me hell over that!"

"Hee, hee....Oh Kenny....that was all an act! I did that to keep myself from laughing!...

"You were sitting there with blueberries all over your face and nearly up to your elbows! Oh! Hee, hee...I was going to wash you up right there in the kitchen sink....but I had you do it! Oh my stars! I had to run out of there to laugh!"

"You could have fooled me! You said I was going to sit at the table and eat dinner!....All of it!"

"Oh my, yes! And you had two helpings of everything! I have no idea where you put it! You ate as much as the adults!....And that whole pie on top of it all!"

She gazed at the camera display again.

"Oh my stars! You two are getting just so handsome!"


"Well I know you boys don't want me calling you sweet anymore."

"Gram....In your case, we'll make an exception....Just don't call, okay?"

"I keep telling you I don't have to be sixteen to know hot boys when I see 'em!"

"Awh geeee, Gram!"

Later that evening, they brought cups, glasses, bowls and platters into the kitchen. Clara began filling the sink.

"Now you just drop all those things on the island there," she said, "I'll put everything up and wash the few things we have here."

The boys returned to the kitchen as Ken and Ayumi relaxed on pool chairs in the cooling evening air.

"Now you boys go outside!"

"No Gram....We're going to help you in here."

They seemed to have thoughtful expressions on their faces as they sat at the nook. They began to put cold cuts and salads into plastic containers with lids.

"Umm....Gram....Me 'n Matty were talking. The more we thought about that remote we bought you, the sillier we felt about it."

"Oh never! I love it!"

"Gram....Really! We'll get you something better."

"Oh, boys!"

She dried her hands on a dishtowel and sat on a stool at the island.

"...Timmy....Remember when your parents bought that first microwave?....Oh dear! I didn't know which button to push to heat a coffee!

"You showed me how to press the timer buttons. And how to set the defrost cycle. And the beverage button......Even the slower, reduced power, so things had time to cook through. And you just made it so simple for me to understand.

"Oh Timmy!....I sort of looked at that remote you boys bought me. All I thought was looking at something like that years ago. Oh my! All those buttons and controls! I'd have been lost! You even showed me how to set the timer to record shows to watch later. You were so sweet 'n patient with me. Oh I felt so dumb!......Yet, little by little you helped me along.

"Yes, I looked at that remote and knew right away I'd have no problem using it. It's a wonderful gift!....You have no idea how frustrating it is, not being able to find that remote! Well, years ago it....well it was a remote! Today it's so much more. It's a necessity! Why one couldn't turn the TV on without it! Today's TV's don't even have knobs on them!

"That was such a wonderful thing to get me. Don't feel poorly over it. I love it!...

"And that wonderful cake!..."

"Awh gee, Gram! That was a....a disaster! We tried so hard with that."

"Boys....That cake was beautiful!...

"I looked at the cake and didn't see....just a cake! I saw you two running about the kitchen here. Oh my stars!....I saw you two all nervous. I could see flour all over the island. And eggs falling to the floor. I saw the counter tops all covered with spilled milk!...

"Boys....that was a cake you made all by yourselves. It was so much better than having brought in a store bought cake. It was something you made for me! All the work you put into it. That's what I saw!

"And before you go out to your tent tonight....I want you to print out that cake photo!"

"Oh! I sure hope you aren't gonna show that to anybody! How embarrassing."

"Well now yes I AM!...

"I'm going to the senior citizens center tomorrow for brunch. And I'm taking that photo in with me. I'm certain nobody's going to laugh about it!"

She hesitated for a moment.

"...And I'd so like to bring in those....other photos of you two. I just can't! Lots of those people there are so....conservative! They'd never understand!"

She hesitated for a moment, nervously adjusting her position on the stool.

"Oh, boys....I had Margaret here for an afternoon while you were out camping.

"Now she's not a....a religious fanatic! But she enjoys watching that one Sunday afternoon religious show on TV."

She bit down on her lower lip.

"Oh my!....That preacher!....Oh! He was waving his arms around! Shouting! He....he was calling you boys some awful names!......Sick....twisted....SODIMITES!....And how you're going to burn in hell!.....And he was saying that 'Satan delights in homosexual perversion!' And all that....awful....awful hate! You boys would never be capable of such hatred!"

She wiped a tear from her eye.

"Oh my, all I could think of was you boys....and all your friends as well. You're all such loving, compassionate, sweet little guys. You have so much love to give!...

"I had to keep leaving the room......I'd pretend to use the bathroom....or go into the kitchen for tea and sweets. I just couldn't stop crying!"

Both boys jumped up and hugged her.

"...Gram....Me 'n Matty know all about that stuff. There's big money in hate, Gram!...

"If it's any consolation....we've read on the Net where lots of these hate groups are falling apart. Okay....some of them remain. And they start another hate group! But they don't call it that. They'll have words in it like, 'love,' 'hope,' 'renewal,' and 'therapy!' And it's nothing but another hate group! But every time there's a split in one of these groups....there are less 'n less people there to hate..."

They slowly made their way back to the nook. Tim stretched his legs out into the kitchen toward the island.

"It's funny you even came up with this Gram...

"Me 'n Matty met Adam out at the park. Now he's lots younger than us so we just kinda know him from around school.

"Oh gee, Gram....He was sent to one of those reparative therapy places. They do awful things to you in there. He had to tell us he couldn't hangout with us. His parents think he's going to catch something again! They don't want him following the gay lifestyle! And he just felt so bad about it. He walked away crying! It hurt him so much...

"Gram....We didn't want you to know about it. We told Mom and Dad about it. I guess his dad really beat him up. Well, he's in jail now but his mom wants him to go back into that camp! He doesn't want to go. We really think he's going to commit suicide before he goes back there...

"Oh Gram!....We don't want you to feel bad over it or worry about it. We understand all this. We're careful out there in public. I'm sure things will get better and better for us...... But....Well, a hundred years from now....there will still be haters out there! I don't think it'll ever go away completely. And it'll always be something! "

Clara lifted her apron and dabbed at her eyes.

"Oh boys....I just feel so poorly over all this. I just can't understand it...

"Oh gee....Listen to me! It was my brother that explained all this to me. I keep saying it, I'd probably be just as backwards and hateful as everyone else...

"Ohhh, we had very deep discussions with each other. We'd sit in the kitchen there. We had a lovely little wood stove in there for the winter. Oh, we didn't cook on it or that. We just used it for extra heat......And we'd talk way into the night...

"Oh my....I must admit when we were younger, we'd certainly scrap with each other. Oh how I enjoyed those nights with him. I believe we both did lots of growing up. Oh, we grew so close together. My only regret was we never saw each other after that. I wish I could have afforded a trip out to their lumber company. And we could sit about and just talk into the night. And I'd loved to have talked with his partner as well. When Kenny wrote me, he'd often slip in a note of his own. He was just so happy I was understanding. Oh, back then, I believe I was their only positive reinforcement. I shudder at the thought of our father finding out his secret. Oh! I do believe he would have killed him."

"Oh Gram....That's enough of this....this sad stuff. Me 'n Matty understand. We'll be careful. We'll always have the haters. Things are really looking up. And I'd even say gay rights are gathering more....more momentum! Still not as quickly as we'd like, but we're progressing quite fast..."

He quickly started for the sink.

"Now we'll help you out with the dishes here."

"Now you boys go out on the lawn there and visit! You just leave this all for me...

"I keep tellin' you I just love this so!"

"Gram! We'll visit after we help you."

"Oh you don't have to worry about me. I was just so bored around here while you were gone......And I'd sit around and worry about you out there, being cold 'n wet 'n scared."

"Well, we had a great time. And it was kinda nice to see Chris enjoy himself too. I'm sure he was scared, but he adjusted. Him and Toby are like really scared of spiders."

Clara rubbed her arms.

"Ooohhh dear!....Oh my stars, don't even mention such a thing around me!"

She pushed her way toward the sink.

"Now at least let me wash these things. You boys can help dry and put things away...

"But first!....Into your room and print out a big photo of that cake! I want that for tomorrow!"

They entered the kitchen minutes later. They walked side by side, each holding an edge of the photo.

"Awh Gram! Really!......You can't take this out to show people," Tim nearly whined.

"Gram," Matt put in quickly, "Let us try just one more time to make you a good cake. We'll have more time and won't be so rushed."

"Now there was nothing wrong with that cake! You boys were just sweet enough to try!

"Oh boys!....It didn't turn out perfect, but that's not the thing here. You made it! And that's what makes it so special!"

Ken turned to Ayumi, reclining on her chair. The yard lights had switched on.

"Earth to Ayumi!" he shouted with a smile.

She turned to him on his chair which he'd drawn up to her's.

"Oh dear!....Yes. I've been daydreaming something awful lately...

"Oh! Ever since the boys told us about that little....umm Adam. It's been bothering me. He's not a patient of mine but I see him around the hospital. He likes his wheelchair parked out on the balcony."

She sighed as she stretched out, sipping from another tall glass of lemonade.

"Oh Ken....his eyes!....They just look empty! It''s just like he gave up! His injuries were bad....but not life-threatening. Oh, that sad face. I try to cheer him up whenever I see him...

"Well, he's going to be discharged tomorrow. I tried my best to see what we could do to keep him there for a bit longer....You know....sort of as a high risk patient."

She sipped at her glass again and sighed.

"The boys didn't have to say anything to me....You could see it! I've seen the look before. Oh! Way too many times!"

Ken reached out and took her hand.

"Umm....Kipi....I called Mr. Gavin yesterday to see what could be done about this. He contacted a couple of his lawyers...

"Now there's no doubting he's been abused. Yet the ole man is in lockup. He can't hurt him. There's no evidence his mother is doing any of this to him...

"I don't think we can get the court to pull him out of there without evidence!"

Ayumi nodded.

"Well, I don't think it's that so much. I think it's that camp! How can people do that?!"

"Awh, Keep!....The first thing those religious outfits start screaming is First Amendment rights. Freedom of religion! Nobody's taking that away from them! Nobody's going to shoot them if they go to church on Sunday morning!...

"I remember this buddy I had back in the navy....Awh!....He was a bit of a Heller! He liked to turn loose a bit on shore leave......But he sure wasn't a bad person! Oh, he'd do anything for anyone. A real pal to everybody...

"Well, we had this sort of religious guy on ship. He was always belittling him and giving him these little jabs. I really felt bad for the guy. He was good Keep! He had a heart of gold! Well, one day I guess he'd just got his fill from this guy. I think it was right after Sunday morning services. This guy told him he should have been there. That he should try the Christian lifestyle! Hee, hee....You know what he said?....'Just because I sit in a garage for an hour on Sunday morning, doesn't make me a car!' I thought that was a real good analogy."

Ayumi nodded again with a slight smile.

"Strange you should mention that...

"Back in San Diego we had a young man come in. Oh, I was in the civilian hospital at the time. And it was just a minor cycle accident....A nasty road rash...

"Well, I noticed this beaded, rainbow bracelet he had on. He had to take it off so we could treat him. Awh! He seemed a bit embarrassed over it. I tried to put his mind to rest. I told him I was very open-minded over that sort of thing.

"Oh dear. He mentioned he wasn't gay. He'd been to a gay pride rally with his friend.... who was gay. He went along as an ally.

"Well, he just got to talking....I let him go on. It sort of distracts the patient from his treatment.

"Oh dear......He mentioned his father was gay. I guess he got some counseling in his church. Ohhhh, they told him all that 'you can change' stuff and that he needed a nice little church girl to settle down with. Well, he was still young and single at the time. They had him totally convinced at the time that he could change.

"Well he really went along with it. After some fifteen years or so, he just had to admit it wasn't working...

"Awh! He became awful distant from the whole family. This boy's mother felt cheated....Left in a loveless marriage. She started abusing the kids....She drank! She was just about hooked on prescription drugs. The father felt poorly he didn't do anything about it. The children felt guilt that they didn't try to help each other with the abuse. Oh, it was all such a sad story.

"I guess this boy just decided to stick it out until he could graduate. He got out of there! He became a motorcycle mechanic. He....he just felt so....up about life! He had his own little place....Lots of friends!....Gay and straight. He sounded so happy about life! I mean for all he'd been through?! He just seemed to have it all together.

"He even contacted his father. Oh, they both still lived right there in San Diego. They still get together. They've still got such a connection there! He said he didn't hold anything against him. Oh! In so many words he said his father just bounced back! Well, umm he did get a divorce and got into a more positive counseling group. He found a partner at one of those counseling sessions. And his boy takes them both out for lunches. Oh, nothing fancy! Just little diners. And I guess they really talk! They've all grown so close. They sound happy together.

"Ohhhh, he tried to contact his younger brother and sister. Oh dear. I guess his brother is some skid row alcoholic....His sister is just about a resident at the local jail. She's been arrested for drugs and prostitution so many times! I think they're both trying to forget, but it destroyed them! I have no idea how many kids his sister had. And I wonder if they're being abused or neglected.

"He hasn't located his mother. He doesn't know if she's dead or alive."

She reached out and gripped Ken's fingers.

"Oh Honey!......Such hatred! They say they love and wanted to help that man....Yet it totally destroyed three people! Can't people see this?! Can't they see the sham marriages? Can't they see what this is doing to people.....entire families?! They call this love?.... forgiveness?....tolerance?....equality?!"

He gave her a silly grin.

"...Kipi....The next time you start wondering if we're doing right by the boys....Think of this story you just told me...

"I keep sayin' it....They were meant to be together. They've helped each other. They're very happy, well-adjusted kids....And very mature for their age."

He returned her grasp by squeezing her fingers as he reflected for several seconds.

"Hee, hee....I keep thinking of those two playing those video games...

"Oh! One day I was down there....I believe I was changing the filter on the furnace. Oh! They we're really getting mean with each other! I was just about to say something when they put up their controllers. I don't recall which one of them won the game, but they just smiled at each other and grabbed each others hand. It was just so sweet!

"Oh Kipi!....I keep saying those two are just way ahead in the maturity department. I don't ever worry about them doing something foolish....Yet....Yes!....I worry about the hate out there."

They both seemed to go into a short period of thought. There was a dead calm in the night air. Crickets and frogs could be heard from a distant vacant lot. Insects could be heard buzzing around the lamps on their poles. Ken could hear the ice cubes in Ayumi's glass. She repositioned herself, stretching her long legs out and sipping from her glass again.

"...I was just thinking of Mr. Shelby....Scooter's father...

"Oh that time Scooter was stabbed....He came rushing into the emergency room. Oh Kenny!......He was as white as a sheet! He....he looked half-dead! I know just what the boys mean when they say someone looks like a zombie! Oh! It was just awful!"

She repositioned herself again, slightly to her side. She gazed at Ken.

"For those first couple days....I could just see him thinking! You know how Timmy always teases Matty about his thinkin' sessions! Well, I know just what he means. For those first two or three days....I believe he did lots of thinking. How I wanted to question him...

"Us doctors do what we can for our patients, yet there's lots of psychology with parents, friends, husbands 'n wives. I knew it was about Scooter being gay....and....and his awful hatred. I sooooo wanted to kind of bring that up but....I just felt that wasn't very....professional...

"I just told him as I do others....about Scooter being unconscious and that he could very well hear things, even though he couldn't respond to them. And I told him to be upbeat about it all!....I told him to tell Scooter positive things....And how there's lots of psychology to recovering. A patient will fight harder at recovery if there's something to live for! I told little Toby the same thing."

She sipped at her glass and smiled.

"As you know, we keep those little graphic charts from the monitoring equipment. It was after Scooter had been discharged that I was sort of going over them. Oh Kenny! I noticed a....a spike on his chart....then another....After several more hours....another! It didn't make any sense!....I mean there was just no reason for it. Then, in my mind, I started going over the time line while he was there. I mean, his blood pressure was low, but stable....His respirations were very stable....It was his heart rate which had spiked. And I started going back in my mind. The first spike was just a bit after I'd told Mr. Shelby to be positive with him. I'm sure another was when Toby went in to visit. Then we had Timmy and Matty go in with Toby. There were more spikes!....Then his respiration increased!....Not just in frequency, but in volume! You can see exactly where he regained consciousness! I keep saying it, Kenny, lots of patients may be unconscious but they're very aware of what's going on around them. They may not even remember it later, but....those spikes! I'm sure of it."

Ayumi lapsed into a moment of thoughtful silence.

"...Yes....Mr. Shelby....I just couldn't believe such....such a turnaround in him!....And then I guess Matt's father had told him about his....situation. And I told him about Tim....I believe he really got to thinking.

"Yeah, I think we both saw the signs there...

"I got on the Internet one night and started reading about all those awful suicides! And I started thinking about Timmy!....And little Matty too. Oh! I got so scared. That's when I started dropping little hints and that. I had always told the both of them to come to us for any reason and that we'd never bitch at them or lecture them. I told them both that nothing is worth dying over!

"...Awh!....This truly doesn't bother me. And I understand it perfectly......Yet...

"Well, remember lots of those meetings we went to? Lots of the parents are understanding now. They've accepted their kids....yet....They sure aren't letting them live together!"

She gazed over her glass.

"I'm wondering if....well, maybe we're being a bit too tolerant....A bit too....permissive!"

Ken smiled and gripped her hand again.

"I've thought of that myself..."

He paused here, swirling the ice in his glass.

"...That....that psychologist they had at that meeting at the school....Remember how he mentioned about kids sort of....experimenting?....The boys wanting to see how they measured up to their friends? I nearly chuckled at that...

"Oh Hon....I recalled some of my days out camping. All that boys-will-be-boys stuff. Yeah....We did it too. That sort of experimental phase we all go through....None of us were gay. We all grew up and got married....had families..."

He gazed at her face in the subdued light of the terrace lamps.

"I don't regret those days....The pranks!....The streaking around in the nude out at the campsite in the woods. The bare-assed swimming out at the lake. Hee, hee....Oh gee! We had fun out there! It's still wonderful memories to recall!...

"It's like the reverend said in there at that meeting....Being silly! Happy! Having fun! And he quoted that passage, 'A merry heart does good like a medicine.'..."

He paused again, gathering his thoughts.

"Richard is overseas right now, learning some very high-tech theory. It's great! He made the right decision. And Matty's here living with us...

"Keep?....What if the boys were straight? Would we be doing anything different? So what if they're....experimenting....or talking about girls and sex. Would we be keeping them apart if they were straight?......Well....I'll admit one thing....I'd sure be checking if they were sneaking any girls into that tent!"

"Hee, hee....Oh Honey! You're right! What harm can it do?......This is an entirely different scenario!"

She nodded her head.

"Yes I thought the same thing when that psychologist was up there talking. Oh dear! I remembered some of the....the slumber parties I was at as a teenager."

Ken gave her a silly, toothy grin.

"I've heard about those! I guess there isn't too much....slumbering going on."

"Ohhhh!......We'd be up 'til the sun came up!...

"Oh dear....My friend Leah! Well, now her parents weren't permissive by any standard. Yet they'd allow us girls to be alone to talk about boys 'n dating and all that teenaged stuff.

"...One of the girls turned on the stereo in there. Well, Leah didn't have a television in her room......You didn't see much of that in those days......And there was a number that came instrumental....One of those....bump 'n grind sort of things with the guitars and drums...

"We....we all started doing a....strip tease!"

"Wow! Would I have liked to seen that! I'll bet you were kinda hot at sixteen!"

She slapped her hand over her face.

"Oh gee! Why do I always have such a difficult time talking about these things?!"

Ken reached out and tugged at her wrist.

"Hee, hee......I'm going to tell you the same thing Timmy tells Matty......You just look soooo cute when you blush!"

"Well, I'll tell you we never went....less than our panties!......And I wasn'! Oh dear, I was tall, lanky......'n flat! That tall, skinny look wasn't in back when I was a girl."

She gazed off at the horizon. A crescent moon was rising, yet dense clouds would occasionally obscure it. The wind had shifted and brought in a cooler air.

"Ohhh....Feel that cool breeze. Umm....I realize we've got air conditioning but I'd much rather open a window. I like the fresh air coming in..."

Tim stood at the island and slid the remainder of the cake into a shallow plastic container with a lid.

"Oh Gram!......The more I look at this cake....and....and think about that silly remote we got you, the dumber I feel!"

"Oh my stars, Timmy!......Will you stop?!...

"That was just soooo nice of you and Matty! Boys!....I'll think of you both every time I use that thing!"

"Oh we should have got you something more functional!....More useful!"

"Well now it certainly isn't useless! You know me....I'm not one to keep surfing all over the channels! I have about five that I watch regularly. It's that lovely fast forward button! Oh how I hate all those silly commercials! Why, I recall one night several weeks ago I recorded two one hour shows. By cutting the commercials out, I watch them both in an hour and six minutes! Now that's ridiculous! That's fifty percent advertising!"

"No....We should have got you one of those nice little shopping carts. Something more functional, more useful!"

"Oh my stars! Don't you ever get me one of those things! I'll look like an old lady!"

"Gram....You are an old lady!"

"Why you little shit!" she shot back, while playfully slapping the back of his head.

"...Hee, hee....Yeah. And we'll put nice, wide pneumatic tires on it for winter use. With those nice shiny chrome spokes!"

Matt turned from the island where he was sealing lids on containers.

"Yeah!......And we'll put a rechargeable battery in it. We'll have a nice bright headlight on it so you can see in the dark!"

"Yeah!" Tim added with a grin, "And one of those little air horns! You'll be able to just blast your way through those crowds!"

"Oh you BOYS!"

"No!....I got a better idea!....We'll install a public address system! With a big speaker! And we'll have a recording of a machine-gun! Wow! You'll have people diving out of the way! Hee, hee!"

"Oh you boys!"

Matt turned to her seriously.

"Oh gee. It's like I told Timmy. I never had grandparents. But you make up for all of them!"

"Oh Matthew! You're just so sweet!"

Ken glanced at Ayumi.

"Sure did cool off quickly. I think I feel rain in the air."

Ayumi chuckled.

"...The boys set up the tent! What did you expect?...

"I really thought they would have their fill of camping by now...

"I just keep thinking of those shots I saw of little Chris."

"Oh yeah!......I don't think there's one where his whole face isn't smiling!"

"Awh, yes....He just looked so sweet with that dirty face! I've never seen him looking so happy!....So normal!"

Ken nodded his head.

"Yup....That dirty face. And all those bruises and bandages! Hee, hee....Jacob admitted when he first saw him, he nearly ran for him....He had to remind himself about that plastic bubble thing again."

Ayumi nodded.

"...I think we're all guilty of that to one point or another. Well, we didn't exactly put Tim a plastic bubble, but I worried about him. Way too quiet. Way too much of a loner. I had no idea what was going on in his life. Yes, I worry about him out there. Yet I'm so glad this is all out in the open now."

"Well I think Jacob and Caroline were a bit too protective of Chris. Very protective. It was sort of working in the opposite direction for them. I think when they saw Chris out there.... all bubbly 'n smiley....Well, I think they sort of realized they were doing the right thing...

"Awh! All us boys went out there and got our dirty....acted silly! I think they all needed that!....

"And you know something?......I'm kind of anxious to get out there next month as well!"

"Yes. I believe I am too."

She glanced at him with a silly smile.

"And I want to take one of those little paddle boats out as well!"

"Yeah....Well, I mentioned to the guys at the firm that we were going to go out to do those things. I think the idea is catching on around there too. Everyone admits we leave an air conditioned home....We drive to an air conditioned an air conditioned car! Then we sit in front of computers or drafting tables. With the exception of some home improvement or lawn care....we're never outside!

"Yeah! As I say....Nearly all of us are ex-navy....And we're all interested in this company because of all the marine equipment we're designing. It's exciting, Keep! It's really interesting work......No! It's not work! We really enjoy all the things we're doing......Yet, I think we all realize we're getting stuck in that little nitch. That oh, that nine-to-five thing! We get so used to this routine....we sort of forget how to get out there and just enjoy life a bit. In so many words, the guys almost admitted they wanted to get out there too. And get a little dirty!....silly!"

Ayumi sipped at her glass again and let out a sigh.

"Yeah....Do you have any idea how long it has been since I simply went swimming?!"

"Oh yeah! You're talking to an ex-navy man here. I have no idea how long its been since I touched water that hasn't come out of a tap!"

"Oh dear, I've got to go out and get a new swimsuit."

"Yeah!....A nice hot, blue, French bikini!"

"OH!....Ah, ha, ha!....Shurrr I will!...

"And I'll lay down on the beach next to a bunch of college boys and spread suntan lotion on, while I swish my hair around!"

"Oh shit!....You wouldn't do that now, would you? Those poor boys....Their blood pressure will go up so high, they'll all get nose bleeds!"

"Hee, hee....Oh Honey....That's so nice of you to say, but I'm wayyyy beyond bikinis!"

"Never! You've really kept yourself in shape. Well, being a doctor I think you eat better than the rest of us......And you're on your feet nearly sixteen hours a day!..."

He rubbed his belly.

"Yeah....I think I'm going to work on losing another fifteen pounds. I've got to get out there and be a bit more active."

"Well, I wasn't thinking of exactly buying a...a granny outfit. Just a modest one piece."

"A modest one piece?....What does that mean?....No holes in the knees?"

"Oh Kenny!"

"Hey!....There are lots of....of over forty models out there today!"

"I'm a mother of a teenager!......I'm not a model!"

"...Well, how about a nice, cute little two-piece?"

"No! Not even that!....Oh, I'd feel so self-conscious."

Ken stood and gave a long stretch. He scratched the back of his head as he gazed up at the sky.

"Well, I don't see any lightning, but I could swear I just felt a few drops of rain falling."

"Yes. I feel it too. Awh, I just wanted to lay here for another half hour....Yet, it is getting a bit chilly."

She stood as she tossed the ice from her glass onto the lawn.

"Yes, I believe the wind is picking up too..."

She smiled as she reached out to rub his shoulder.

"Let's pop that movie into the bedroom TV."

"Well, just as soon as I....pop into the shower for a couple minutes."

They heard Matt and Tim walk out onto the back porch, followed by Clara.

"...Now you boys take these jackets here! Please!"

"Gram, we're not out at the state campgrounds! If we get that cold, we'll come inside."

"Oh dear....I feel rain!....Perhaps you should go into the family room for tonight."

"That's no fun!....We like our cozy tent. We're really warm in the sleeping bag, Gram. And....well, it's kinda nice to just lay there and listen to the rain falling."

"Oh my stars!....Why anyone would prefer a cold, damp tent on a night like this is totally beyond me!"

"Mom....Quit harassing the boys! They'll be fine," Ken spoke up.

He then glanced at the boys.

"...Well, I will admit I thought you two would have had your fill of tents by now."

"Awh, we're just going to sleep out here. In the morning we'll be back into the kitchen for what Gram says is a decent breakfast!"

"Oh, I worried so about you two!....And your friends as well. Oh, cooking over a campfire! I can just imagine the meals you ate out there."

"Gram!....We ate good! Bacon and eggs....Hot cereal....And burgers with vegetables. We didn't keep alive on....on junk food!"

"Well now, I washed those old blankets. Just let me get you one out of the closet here."

"Okay, Gram....We'll take a blanket out with us. We'll, hee, hee....wrap up like a double burrito!"

Within a minute the rain began falling heavier. The boys entered the tent and each tossed a blanket onto the sleeping bag.

"Awh!" Tim shot out, "I forgot the lamp! It's all charged up on the kitchen counter."

"Well, we don't really need it, huh?......Unless you plan on reading the evening paper!"

"Well, I'm sure not going to run back out into that! Wow! Listen to it come down."

They drew off their t-shirts and felt around in the dark finding their way into the bag. Both turned toward each other and drew each other into their arms.

"Oh shit, Timmy!....I'm feeling another one of those clingy thingys coming on. Oh, I don't think I really like this."

"Oh!....Cling to me!....Suffocate me!"

"Not funny, Timmy! I'm being serious here. I keep sayin' it....This should feel good!"

"Oh, it does!"

"Yeah, but it feels a bit scary too....A bit painful. Love shouldn't hurt Timmy! I just hate these....these little spells I go through. I just can't get close enough to you! I just kinda well, like ache all over! This feels so good, it hurts!"

"Oh Matt! I think Gram was right....Let's pull those blankets into here."

They struggled around in the dark and managed to double the blankets. They rolled up in them and drew close again. Their eyes became more adjusted to the dark. The yard lights glowed against the canvas. Tim held Matt's head in his hands and drew his face close.

"I keep saying it, Matty....You're the absolute best thing that ever happened to me. When I look close at your face like this....I keep thinking of that first time I saw you in school. Oh, I was trying soooo hard just to think of something to say. And....and I'll say it again....I really thought of just grabbing your head and kissing you! Well, it was more of a fantasy in my mind, but I was really thinking of it! That's not me. Oh you were just hot! Yeah, hot 'n cute 'n dreamy and just everything all rolled into one!"

"Awh, Timmy, that was nice...

"Yeah....I'll remember that day forever! I thought for sure that I was just going to drop! Oh, my legs were just so weak! And, hee, hee....I was thinking of just dropping to my knees and grabbing your hips and kissing that perfect round little set of buns. Hee, hee....Well it was a fantasy of mine too....I mean, I'd never really do that....but....I never even thought about such a thing before. I was just so busy checking you out, I didn't really have time to think about what to say. I was sure trying."

The next morning was already uncomfortably warm. Clara had made a breakfast of bacon and eggs for the boys. They sat at the nook and ate slowly, savoring each bite.

"Well, now," Clara put in, sitting on a stool near the island, "If you two don't look all rested up! Perhaps you released some of that silliness on your camping trip and decided to get a decent sleep!"

"Yeah, hee, hee," Tim put in, "We really had a great time. I think Chris had it best."

"Oh my stars! I don't believe there's a photo on those cameras where his entire face isn't just beaming! Ohhhhh, I felt so poorly for him. I believe his parents are trying their best to....well, let go a bit."

"Oh yeah, Mr. Gavin admits it. He never got to do any of that stuff as a boy..."

(beep, beep)

Tim ran for his cell on the counter where he had it charging.

"Hello?......Scoot!....The river? Sounds good! Ethan and Ryan too?....Great! Hey, we'll be there! We've gotta do the lawn today. And we're going to take the tent down first. We set it up to clean it out and let it dry some. It won't be until this afternoon......Sure, see you then..."

As he made his way back to the table, Clara smiled as she sipped from her coffee mug.

"Oh Timmy!....You have no idea how wonderful it is for me to hear your phone ring and have friends calling you. Oh, we were all so concerned. And I still say it was little Matty here who got you out of your shell."

Matt smiled as Tim sat across from him.

"...Tim helped me as well. It's....well, it's kinda scary knowing about yourself....and knowing people don't....ummm....approve of it."

"Well you two sure are progressing quite well. Oh my stars!....You're both filling out so well. I was truly frightened over the both of you. You were both so thin and weak looking."

"Well," Tim began, "...just keep calling us cute okay? We don't mind. Please don't call!"

She readjusted her position on the stool and sipped her coffee with a smile.

"Ohhhh, I understand......I was never one to stereotype. Then again I believe it had lots to do with my brother. Ohhhh he was pansy! Oh! He always was such a big strong farm boy! Well, I believe he sort of grew up with that. Oh, life on a farm is soooo rough, boys. Not that we weren't doing well! Oh, for such a small family farm we did quite well. It's just I believe so much of the profits have to go right back into it. Seed....fertilizer....maintenance on all the equipment. It's a rough life, boys. Us girls had our share of rough, dirty work too!"

Matt looked at Tim.

"...So Scooter wants us out at the river?"

"Yeah, hee, hee....I guess him and Toby are still a bit sore from the camping trip. They want to just be in the whirlpool and relax some."

"Whirlpool?! Oh my stars! You boys be careful out there."

"Gram....You can sit down in it! It's real gentle. And the water is just sooo warm! Really! And we just like to sit there and talk about stuff. Sometimes we can get very philosophical over things."

"Oh, I believe I had my instances with that as well. Umm....My brother and I again. Oh, we'd sit in the kitchen there and just go on way into the night...

"I'd just try to be a bit....happy about things. Oh, Kenny would get so depressed over things at times. I tried to cheer him up. I tried to keep him going when things got rough for him.

"Oh!....And that park thing! All that damage out there? I saw on the news this morning where they found that.....oh that auxiliary officer guilty of all that vandalism out there!..."

"Really?!....It was him?!"

"Yes indeed! They even found a bolt cutter in his house. And the tool marking were an exact match! Ohhhh my, I believe they found all sorts of other things as well. Lots of that neo-Nazi stuff. And....and all sorts of things that were anti-gay. Lots of hate literature.

"And they found containers of chemicals he'd put in the pool...

"Well, they found him guilty!......He's going up for sentencing in another couple months."

"Months?!" Tim shot out, "Why don't they just do it now?!"

"Well, they all believe there has to be someone else involved. There's just no way he could have done all that damage by himself!....Well, not in one night! I believe they're offering him a lighter sentence if he testifies against them...

"Ohhhh, just be careful out there, boys!......There's so much hate out there."

"We understand, Gram......Me 'n Matty aren't....aren't all over each other."

The boys entered he tent. Tim was about to roll up the sleeping bag. Matt tackled him around his neck and down onto the bag. He gave him a deep kiss as his arms twisted around his neck.

"Mmmm....mmmm....Oh gee Matty....I just love it when you get like this!...

"And....ummm....I think I'm feeling a little clingy right now too!"

They held each other tight as Tim ran his lips over his cheek.

"Ohhhh....Yeah!....Clingy! You're right Matty. I still feel us getting closer....Oh gee I didn't think it was possible to love someone so much!"

"Yes, Timmy!....I just get so scared at times. I keep thinking about that saying, 'If it's too good to be true....It probably is!' scares me!"

"Well let's not even think of that stuff. Let's just enjoy it being....good!...

"Well, Scooter and Toby will be waiting for us. We'd better get going with the tent here."

Matt gazed at Tim's face as he blushed.

"...That was umm....kinda nice the way we woke up there for awhile last night..."

"Oh shit! Matty!....That scared me for a few seconds! Really!"

"Hee, hee, ha, ha!"

"Matty! Waking up and finding Junior in your mouth?"

"Hee, hee, hee......I thought you were awake! You were as hard as a rock! And you were moving around!"

"Well, that's no indication I'm awake! And I do move around in my sleep!"

"Hee, hee, hee....Oh Timmy! You got one mean little tongue! Oh, I have such a time with just....just holding back!"

"My tongue?! Look who's talking!....With that....that snaky thin tongue of yours?"

"Hee, hee....You should get one of those little metal knobs pierced into your tongue."

"Oh shit too!....With my fear of needles? I grew up with my mother being a doctor! Oh gee! If I ever needed an IV they'd need ten orderlies just to hold me down!"

"Hee, hee..."

Matt's expression suddenly grew serious. He gazed at Tim's face.

"Ohhhhh Timmy!....I just love you sooooo much!"

They drew up to each other in a deep hug.

"That was so nice last night......I mean after we were....done! Oh, that gentle rain just pattering down on the tent. There was no wind or thunder 'n lightning."

"Awh gee, Matty I didn't want to fall back to sleep so soon. I just hate that! I really do! I wanted to just lay there and hold you and....and listen to that gentle rain. And rub your back. And feel your hair against my lips! Ohhhh, that just felt so good!"

"Awh, don't worry about it. I was kinda fighting it too. I didn't last too long either. I just liked listening to the rain too....And....and holding your chest....Feeling you breathe....I just thought of all the times I just dreamed of something like that happening to me. And I just kept thinking this was no dream! It was real! I was holding boyfriend! A person in my arms!...

"Oh shit, Timmy....I think I'm going to start crying again!"

"No Matty. We can't do that. We're going out to the river. We can't look all teary...

"Now come on....We gotta get this tent down before it rains again. And get after that lawn!"

Once again they reached the grassy knoll beside the dam. The day grew intensely warm but didn't have the high humidity of the past several days. They gazed over to the shoreline. Four bicycles were on their sides. They switched their gaze toward the whirlpool. Nobody could be seen.

"Gee, where is everyone?" Tim nearly gasped.

Placing their bikes on the grass, they drew up to the stonework of the side of the dam. Water rushed over both spillways. It thundered against the rocks below. A white foam would form and drift along. Several seagulls were seen above. Tim's attention was drawn to the second spillway out. He shook his head and tried to focus his eyes on movement there.

"...What?....What is that?....A head sticking up?"

It was here Matt had noticed the movement as well. It was a head sticking up through the torrent of rushing water. The white water had parted around the head as though it were a curtain of cloth. Suddenly three other heads poked through the cascade. The rumble of water was much too loud to hear any cries for help. Four heads were sticking out at the top of what appeared inverted V's in the white sheet of water.

"Oh shit!....Matty!" Tim yelled over the thunder of water as he pointed toward them.

His face had literally blanched. Indeed, even his lips had turned nearly white.

Matt began laughing. He leaned forward, slapping his palms to his thighs.

"Oh!....Hee, hee, hee!......Don't worry about that!..."

It took him several seconds to collect himself.

"Really Timmy! They're okay!..."

He pointed toward the nearest spillway.

"This spillway is called the new one. Well, it's about ten years old. That one out there is called the old one. Well it was the original one......They found in the spring and early summer it couldn't handle all the runoff from the rains. The river actually backed up! It's over forty years old! It's a bit lower than the new one. The water just shoots out over it! Oh gee, see the water hitting the concrete a few feet out? Over the years it actually eroded a notch into the concrete! They're actually standing on that notch. Well, you kinda hook your heels into it. You can lay back in there and the water actually goes over you! I mean it doesn't even touch you. You can breathe under there! Come here, I'll show you."

Matt made his way into the water on the high side of the dam. Tim's expression was cautious and apprehensive. He noticed the surface of the water near the spillway. It almost appeared as though it were nearly glass. It's shiny surface would speed up and curl over the top of the spillway. Although he couldn't actually see the water crashing below, he could hear it.

As Matt sunk to his chest, he reached overhead and grasped a metal beam.

"Hang onto this, Timmy. That current is awful. It'll push you right over."

They gradually made their way out to the spillway. Several times, Tim was ready to turn around and go back. He felt the water pushing his body sideways. His hip kept striking the concrete. They finally reached the second spillway. Tim noticed Matt turn and face it. He did likewise.

He suddenly gasped as he felt the pressure of the water literally press his entire body to the concrete wall. He found it was an effort to literally breathe with the pressure against his back.

"Oh shit Matty!....I'm getting scared here!....I'm like literally pinned to the wall! I...I can't move!....I can't breathe!"

"Chill Timmy! Relax! Don't fight it! Don't panic!"

Matt was looking at the beam overhead which he was gripping.

"Okay now....Kinda push your toes against the concrete....At the same time pull up on the beam here. Once your legs are clear, you'll get pushed right over. Just DON'T let go of this beam! You'll slide down the other side! You'll slide down and hit that notch in the concrete. I did that one time a couple years ago. Oh shit! I had a black 'n blue ass for like two weeks! Hee, hee!"

Tim gave a nervous chuckle. He watched Matt pass over. He gripped the rusty beam overhead and clung to it tightly. As he drew his body up, he felt it much easier to breathe. He felt the water push his legs over. His feet were literally backpedaling until his heels caught in the narrow notch. This made it much easier to grip at the beam overhead. He glanced up at the rusted ironwork. Moss and snails clung to the damp surfaces. He could literally smell the iron and minerals which came from the rushing water overhead. The thin wall of water rushed over their heads, glistening with the sunlight passing through.

"Oh shit!" he yelled, "I don't think I like this!"

"Hey!" he heard Scooters voice, "We got company!"

Matt turned to Scooter on his right and shouted, "Yeah, we saw your heads stickin' out! Hee, hee....I think you almost gave Timmy a heart attack! He thought you were stuck out here!"

Matt turned to Tim on his left. His eyes were large and his face still pale.

"Oh gee, Toby!" Tim yelled, "...I don't know how you do this! You! Of all people! You were scared to just slide down the old one!"

"Awh!....It's really scary the first couple times! You sorta get used to it! You kinda learn how to let the current work with you!"

Matt noticed Tim's expression. Some color had returned to his face, yet his eyes were large. He gazed at the water spilling overhead. The sun continued to glitter through it. The roar was nearly deafening.

"Oh wow!....This is umm....kinda spooky! Oh gee!....We're like underwater! And we can breathe under here!"

Matt could see the apprehensive expression on his face.

"Relax Timmy! The worst part is just getting over in here!....If you feel like to gotta let go, just toss your legs out a bit. You'll miss that notch and won't slide over it...

"Just grip this beam really tight and poke your head out like this."

Matt leaned forward and pushed his head into the cascade of water. He entire body shook and trembled with the force of water rushing over. Again it parted. Tim could actually see the river below. The water and foam flowed around the rocks. Matt drew back. His wet hair was flat to the sides of his face.

"Try it Timmy!....Just hang on real tight!"

"Ahhh....I don't think I'm ready for that right now!"

Although Tim noticed the others pushing their heads out, he couldn't hear their words over the roar of water. Scooter quickly drew back and glanced at Matt.

"There's a car coming in from the service road out there!"

Matt again pushed his head out. His body shook and trembled again as water rushed over his shoulders and back. He drew back.

"That's Tom 'n Jenny!....We'd better get out there! They'll wonder where we are!"

He turned to Scooter.

"Hey! Maybe we could get their attention!"

Scooter and Toby, as well as Ethan and Ryan poked their heads out again. Tim noticed both Matt and Scooter had released one hand from the overhead beam. He somehow knew they were waving to them. Matt noticed Jenny look their way. He waved frantically. He knew shouting was useless. They'd never be heard over the roar of water.

They were making their way out toward the whirlpool as Jenny caught sight of them. She suddenly drew her hands to her mouth as she jumped up and down in the shallow water. They saw her pull at Tom's arm and point in their direction.

All five drew back in. Matt looked in their direction.

"Oh gee! Jenny's gonna think we're drowning!....We'd better slide down there and tell 'em we're okay!"

Scooter gave him a series of quick nods with a sober expression. He turned to Toby.

"Okay Tob!....Race you down!"

They drew up their feet and swung from the beam several times.

"...In THREE!.....TWO!......ONE!"

They released their grip and disappeared into the wall of water.

Matt turned to Tim.

"Okay Timmy!....Do just like Scooter 'n Toby! Swing from this beam and push your legs out! When you feel the water hitting your knees, let go! You'll jump this notch and won't slide over it!"

He watched Matt push his feet against the concrete to get into a swing. He let go and vanished into the cascade. Looking farther along, he noticed Ethan and Ryan had already slid down. The rumble of water sounded twice as loud. Indeed he could literally feel the sound vibrating through his chest.

"Oh shit! Oh shit!....What did I get myself into here? I gotta go! If little Toby can do it, I should be able to as well."

He gazed to his left and then his right.

"Oh gee. This is such a....a lonely feeling in here! Spooky! Oh, I feel like I'm the last person on earth!"

He took several deep breaths and held the last. His cheeks literally puffed out. Drawing himself up he pushed against the concrete with his feet. His feet pushed against the cascade of water. As he felt the water strike his knees, he released his grip from the beam. For a second, he felt a sudden lightness in the pit of his stomach as he began to slide down. His feet struck the bottom and he quickly tried to stand. His forward momentum caused him to fall forward into the water. He quickly got to his feet, wiping his face with his hands. He glanced at the others standing there.


As they made their way to the whirlpool, they saw Jenny jumping, shaking her fists. They were still too distant to hear her voice. She suddenly collapsed into the water and sat. They made their way slowly over the rocks. Tim noticed they were all worn smooth from the eroding action of water and mud, yet they had to be careful not to slip on the mossy surface.

As they drew closer, Jenny slapped her hands into the water before her.

"Oh you boys are such....such FUCKIN' ASSHOLES!"

They all laughed. Matt gave a mock expression of shock as he drew his hands up to his mouth.

"JENNY!......I've never heard you talk like that!"

She continued to slap her palms and forearms into the water before her.

"Oh! SHIT!....Don't EVER scare me like that again!"

Although smiling, Ethan sat beside her with a somewhat serious expression. He rubbed her shoulder.

"We weren't tryin' to scare you! We were trying to get your attention!"

She drew her arms from the water and pressed her crossed palms to her chest.

"Oh SHIT!......I think that's as close as I've ever been to a HEART ATTACK! You guys were underwater way too long! I thought for sure I was going to see dead bodies floating down the river!"

Tim sat a distance before her.

"We weren't underwater! That spillway is like a little waterfall. The water goes over your head! You can breathe under there!"

She appeared as though she were about to cry. She gasped and drew her hands over her eyes.

"Oh gee!....Oh gee!"

The others gradually moved in and sat into the gentle current of the whirlpool.

Toby sat beside her and pulled at her wrists, drawing her palms down.

"Oh shit, Jenny....We really didn't mean to scare you. We knew you saw our bikes down there. We were just trying to get your attention so you wouldn't worry about us!"

"Oh boys!" she gasped looking around. She crossed her arms before herself and held her shoulders. "You're all so sweet and loving. And not with just each other. With everyone! OH! I just don't know what I'd do if something nasty happened to you!"

"Awh," Matt put in, "You're really sweet yourself, know that?"

"Oh boys....I'm sorry....I really thought you were in trouble there."

They remained silent for a moment. Ryan glanced at Jenny.

"...Umm....Jenny......We were out on that camping trip. And when me 'n Ethan saw you out there, we started talking. Umm....we know you sorta pushed us together. We want to kinda do something for you."

"Oh, never!....You've already done for me! Just seeing you two together is all the reward I need!...

"I already told you about that. I could see it! You didn't! Oh, that stereotypical thingy you hear so much about! It was very subtle. A person would have to be really looking for it. Ohhhh, it was just soooo sweet, the way you two would look at each other. Really! I had to look carefully, but I saw it there."

Ryan tilted his head forward, looking down shyly at the surface of the water.

"...Well, umm....we really want to thank you for that. We were just too shy 'n scared 'n nervous to do anything about it."

"Okay then....Do you really want to do something for me?"


" two can give each other a real big kiss!....Right now!"

They looked at each other with slightly shy smiles. Ryan stood and sat on Ethan's thighs as he straddled his hips. They pressed their open mouths together.

Tom quickly drew up his hand and shaded his eyes.

"Awh gee!"

"Oh!" Jenny gasped, "Oh! Wow!....Oh, SQUEEEE! Oh, that is HOT!"

Ryan returned to sitting between Ethan and Jenny. She gazed at his hair. It was wet, but no longer soaked. It still curved out forward holding tightly to his cheeks. She pressed her fingers to it.

"You just came down the spillway and got your hair soaked! How do you get it to stay perfect?! It's just so cute!"

He shrugged.

"It just kinda....goes that way on its own!"

Toby waved his arms around underwater.

"Ohhhh! This is great. I just love this little whirlpool. I'm still sore from that camping trip!"

He glanced at Scooter.

"Scoot wanted to race Ethan 'n Ryan in that canoe!"

He rubbed his right shoulder.

"Oh! Rowing that big boat! I think I pulled a muscle in my shoulder. It still hurts!"

Scooter looked at him.

"I keep telling you! That's too much fappin' with that hand! You gotta switch over 'n use your left hand more!"

Tom covered his face with his hands.

"Oh gee!....Oh gee!"

"Ha, ha, ha!" Jenny laughed, "Lighten-up a little Tommy! Gee! This isn't exactly the Victorian era anymore!"

Tom began to readjust his position. He reached into the water.

"Oh gee!....I'm sinking in here. I can feel a sharp rock pokin' into me."

He got to his feet and bent over, feeling for the rock below. Jenny looked up at his bottom in his tight suit. She reached up and squeezed it with one hand.

"Oh gee!....I'd like to bite into that like a ripe peach!"

"Awh, JENNY!"

Everyone roared with laughter. Tom quickly sat again, tossing a wedge-shaped rock aside.

"Lighten up, Tommy!......I'm just trying to be a little silly. You were just so down this morning!"

Tom nodded with a serious expression.

"...Yeah......Oh gee......I was cleaning up my room a bit this morning and I ran across some notes and printouts...

"Remember last year we were talking in the GSA room about all those conversion places?....Well, I was going to write a report on them. I mean I had all sorts of notes 'n stuff....There just wasn't any order to anything! Oh it was just a big hodge-podge of notes that had no order to them. I never did get the report done. Oh, my job, school, homework....and trying to squeeze in a few hours sleep?! I just didn't have the time for it. And, I hate to admit it....I just forgot about it all!"

He gazed toward the spillways over Matt and Tim's shoulders.

"...I started paging through them this morning. And I really started kicking myself I didn't follow through with that. It would have been great for some of those meetings where we had the parents at. Oh shit!"

He leaned forward and rubbed his wet hands over his face.

"Ohhhh....What some of those kids went through...

"Some of 'em aren't really conversion places at all! I mean not that it's going to happen anyhow, but they were....Well, slave camps! Really! I think these people got together and just decided to bullshit their way into getting cheap labor for their cattle 'n pig farms! They were charging the parents to use their kids for forced labor!...

"Well, they didn't use those words. They told the kids that the Lord helped those who worked for things!......Oh yeah, all religious 'n all. And....and I think some of those employees really got their jollies by pushing little gay kids around. They'd use lines like, 'Work builds character!' And how 'Satan uses idle kids for perversions!' And that only hard work was going to straighten 'em out again. Oh there was lots of psychology to it too. All bad!"

He rubbed his face again and looked up.

"I was into football last year. Oh, it was rough, sure! It's just I didn't have the time for it. Not with my jobs and school 'n everything...

"I'm not one to sit in the house and watch TV all day or play video games! It just doesn't interest me. I'm the type who has to be a bit more active. I'm an outdoor person, okay? And, well, I think I've kept myself in fairly good shape..."

He paused here in thought. They could nearly see fear in his eyes.

"OH!....If I had to do the work some of those little kids had to do....I think....I really think I'd drop by the end of the day! I don't know how they survived!....Well, I guess some didn't!...

"And they had this one place out west somewhere. After all that filthy labor all day, they had to go to the nighttime campfire! They'd read the Bible and have to memorize lots of the passages......Oh some of those kids just couldn't keep awake! They'd fall asleep! And they'd get beat for it! They were told that Satan was doing that to them! That he didn't want them learning the Word of God! Oh they were really put on a nasty guilt trip! I read lots of those stories and just broke down crying!"

It was here that Jenny and Ryan on either side of him, began rubbed his back.

"...Umm....Yeah, I ran across those notes this morning and just started feeling so guilty over it. I really wanted to do a good report on all that. And....and I got so involved in my social life, I just forgot about it! How could I just forget about something like that?!...

"Well, I guess lots of those places were exposed. They've been shut down! But what about all those kids out there? Oh shit! I wonder what they're thinking......They've been told nothing but self-hate. They've been told that God hates them....That everybody hates them! And that they can change and then everyone will like them again, and their lives will be so much better! How many of them are still alive today? How many of them are in some dark ally, shooting-up with drugs?!....How many of them want to get high for just a little while in order to forget the pain?....How many of them just want to get drunk to put away the pain and a lifetime of negative reinforcement?......How many of them hardly have proper clothing?....A warm, dry place to sleep?......How many are in line at some soup kitchen before the sun comes up, in order they don't run out of food? HOPE!....What happens when you don't even have any hope left? They're probably all dirty 'n covered with sores. They're having stomach cramps because they haven't eaten in a couple days. They're probably enduring awful toothaches from a mouth of rotten teeth! They no-doubt end up stealing food....stealing anything! Just so they can get arrested. They're given warm jump-suits without any holes in them. They get medical and dental help. They've got a nice warm bunk to sleep in....and three meals a day. A jail cell must feel like a five star hotel to them!"

He gasped, covering his face.

"Oh shit! I'd never survive just the psychology of it! All the hate! Oh shit, why is there so much HATE in the world today?"

Jenny reached out and held his arm.

"Okay Tommy....enough!"

"No....Umm....I'll be okay."

He began picking at floating debris which were being drawn into the whirlpool. He thought for several seconds.

"...Umm......Oh gee, I hate to even admit this..."

He gazed off at the spillway again.

"...When I joined....well, I guess you don't exactly join the GSA here....but when I went in to try to help out......I was wondering if well, maybe I was doing it because it was the IN THING to do....Because it was fashionable! Like I wanted to be part of the group or something. I'm not gay....I'm straight....And I've never questioned it. And one day I asked John about that. Oh gee, he never really admitted it....but I think he had the same thoughts at one time...

"He....he gave me a bunch of Websites to go to. Oh they weren't all pro-gay and educational either! Some of 'em were downright nasty! And he gave me addresses of those....those coming out sites....You know, where kids talk about coming out to their friends 'n family. And a few were....well, those novelettes....You know, short stories. He knew with my busy schedule, I didn't have lots of time to read....As much as I'd like to...

"He just told me to read the stories with an open mind. He said to put myself in the character's positions. And I did!......Oh shit. Lots of those stories made me cry with all the....the HATRED in it! And I even cried at the happy stories too! Shit! I don't have to be gay to understand a....a love between two people, huh?..."

He hesitated in thought for a few seconds. He tossed several twigs and leaves over his shoulder.

"Yeah....umm....those....those people out there....I call 'em the Religious Reich! You know what they call me?......Well, they can't call me gay....but they call me an....enabler! Like that's something bad?! Well, yeah!....I am an enabler! I want minorities to enjoy all the rights I have! I don't care what your religion is....or your code of ethics!....If you're depriving people of the same rights you have....that's BIGOTRY! And I don't care how you slice it or grind it! It's still BIGOTRY!

"Yeah! I'm an enabler! I want to enable kids to go to school and not have to worry about getting beat up!....or....or being called fags 'n dykes 'n whores! And....and having nasty stuff written all over their lockers...

"I keep hearing, 'What about the children?!' Yeah! What about 'em?! Oh we can't have them associating with....with degenerates!....With abominations! We have to protect them from that stuff! They need to be taught more about hate and discrimination! What's that saying again?......Hate is a choice? Well, I guess so huh? Is hate a family value? There are an awful lot of people out there you'll just never convince that's what they're doing!"

He dropped his arms underwater. He gazed over all the boys. A slight smile spread over his mouth.

"Oh gee! You boys are the greatest! Jenny's right! You're so giving! You don't harass anybody! You're all ready with a smile. You seem to always have something positive to say about someone. You''re just so well-adjusted! So happy! I think it's great!"

He thought for a moment again. His smile faded.

"Oh yeah, a couple months ago I read a story on the Net....Oh, this boy came out to his parents. Oh gee!....Oh shit!...

"I guess they lived in some old house or something. It still had those old iron radiators for heat. His father handcuffed him to a radiator in his room! He showed him gay porn while he stuck needles into him with an electric cord attached to 'em. He gave him shocks. He packed ice all around him! He burnt him with an iron! Oh shit! The nasty stuff he did to him. He had him endure pain whenever he was shown gay porn! He figured that if he associated being gay with pain....he could cure him!...

"Umm....Well now that was some time ago. This guy was in his twenties now. He was just telling the story."

He drew his hands up and rubbed his temples with his fingers.

"Oh shit!......I couldn't do that to a stranger, much less my own kid!..."

"Oh yeah!....Oh yeah!" Tim put in quickly, "I read that too!"

"How do people survive something like that?!" Tom continued, "....I mean he seemed to still have it all together. They even had a photo of him on the site! He....he was smiling! Well, yeah, I guess he had reason to....but I don't think I could do it. I think my brain would be literally scrambled!"

They all lapsed into a moment of silence. Tom and Jenny gazed at the spillways behind Matt and Tim. Matt and Tim, facing them, gazed up at several seagulls. They continued overhead, seldom flapping their wings. Their crys could be heard over the rush of water.

Matt waved his arms underwater before himself. He enjoyed the warm current of water circulating around him.

"Yeah......I think Benny's kinda worried about being sent to one of those places."

Tom quickly glanced at him.

"Benny ain't gay! Anyone can see that!"

Matt nodded his head quickly.

"Oh yeah!....And I seriously think his parents believe that too. It's just know.... Power Tripping thing that parents love to pull. They don't want him in the GSA or that. They don't want him hanging with the queers 'n fags!......He tried to explain it's for everyone, but they don't want to hear it. They're using that as a lever to get him to do things...

"Poor little guy. He gets teased something awful."

Tom put on a large smile.

"...Well not so much lately....I hear he has a girlfriend now. I don't know her name, but I've seen them together. She's a real cute little thing. I hear she's a whiz at algebra. She's helping him along. Hee, hee, not one of his better subjects."

"Oh yeah," Tim put in with a nod, "We had him for tutoring. It only lasted a couple weeks until his mother found out we were gay. She wouldn't even let him switch tutors. NOT with me 'n Matty in there!......Oh!....All those....those gay germs we're exhaling! Yup, he'd catch the gay for sure!"

Tom reached out underwater and held Tim's wrist.

"Oh shit!....It's gotta be rough. This is the whole reason I'm in the GSA! And....yeah, it's for others too, but I'm backing up the gay kids. I think even the football team is coming around....Well, there's a couple of them that I doubt will ever come around. Too much hate!"

He let go of Tim's wrist and began picking at debris on the surface of the water again. He tossed leaves, twigs and pieces of seaweed over his shoulder.

"I was reading somewhere where they did this poll......They asked people if they thought the church had anything to do with the gay hate today. Wow! Two thirds said yes!...

"Umm....My parents don't have lots to do with church....Well, they go for Christmas and Easter....but that's about it. But we sure aren't Atheists or that. They don't mind me being part of the GSA or having gay friends. It's just....well, they don't really say anything one way or the other! They don't prevent me from going....but they don't exactly encourage me either. Maybe they're just staying neutral on the subject. Maybe they're just letting me decide my own matters of personal conscious..."

Matt nodded.

"Yeah, we know Benny ain't gay......Umm....He's living at his gram's place right now. He's having lots of trouble with his parents or something...

"He umm....invited us to his birthday party......Well, I guess his mom found out about that. She sent Tim's mom a letter....UNinviting us!"

"You're SHITTIN' ME!"

"Nope!....Tim's mom still went out and bought him a real expensive scientific calculator....With a big screen on it and graphic capabilities! She wants to see if it'll get sent back. He really shouldn't be accepting gifts from us......abominations!"

"Awaahh!" Jenny gasped as she took hold of Matt's hands, "Oh that really....hurts!"

Tom nodded his head.

"...Well, I'm sure you can say goodbye to that calc! Calculators can't be gay, huh?"

It was one PM on Saturday as Mr. Gavin's limousine parked before the funeral home. He had taken all the boys. They stepped out in various states of formal and semi-formal dress.

Chris combed his fingers down through his hair and adjusted his glasses. He wore a suit which had been tailored just to his tiny frame. Matt and Tim stepped out in sport jackets. Both twisted their necks in white shirts as they adjusted their ties. Scooter and Toby stepped out in white shirts with dark sweaters. Ethan and Ryan followed. They too wore less formal shirts and ties with sweaters. The air was humid and the sun intense.

They made their way up a cobbled walk. It was in the shape of a semi-circle. Near the door was a large overhang. Underneath was a long rectangular planter. It held tiny ferns and assorted flowers. Through the tall glass doors was a gentleman in a brown suit and tie. He opened the door for them. They filed in with apprehensive expressions. None of them wished to be here, yet the air conditioned interior was refreshing. Indeed, the cool, dehumidified interior was almost welcome. They climbed three carpeted steps. Directly before them was a tiny shelf with the guest register. Tim turned to Matt.

"Umm....I guess my mom 'n dad will take care of that," he whispered.

Turning around, they waited for the others. Toby's face paled as he gripped Scooter's arm with both hands.

"Oh shit!....Oh shit!" he whispered forcefully.

With one hand he pointed above the shelf. There was a large bronze coat-of-arms with two rams on either side. Their front hooves were placed up against the shield. Their antlers curved back as they held their heads high and majestically.

It was here they heard the organ music flowing out from a room to their right. Already they could see the brown metal folding chairs inside. They slowly made their way toward the door. They all felt a cool draft escaping, with a very strong scent of flowers. Although they had to admit it was sweet and fragrant, they all felt a bit nauseated.

Toby again gripped Scooter's arm.

"Oh shit!" he whispered forcefully again, "...That's the smell too! Those flowers! Real sweet, but kinda....sickening too!....And....and that awful organ music. Oh shit! Oh Scoot! I think I'm gonna be sick..."

Scooter put his arm over Toby's shoulders and turned him slightly to the left. Toby noticed a long, carpeted hallway.

"...Umm....There's the men's room right there on the right."

"Umm....No....Not right now. Let's umm....go in and just get this over with!"

They entered the room. There was an isle of red velvet carpeting. Along the edges was a brass strip holding it in place. Toby tripped but Scooter caught him around his chest.

"...Umm....Just let me....umm....sit here for a minute."

Scooter eased him onto a couch nearby. The others gathered around. Their expressions were sober. Chris' lips were rolled into his mouth. He was biting down on them in an intense effort not to cry. He ran his fingertips under his glasses and rubbed his eyes. Matt glanced over each of them. His eyes stopped on each face for just a second.

"Oh gee!....I can't handle this......These boys were all so silly and happy all the time. I can't stand seeing 'em all so....serious 'n sad."

Matt pressed his fingers into an ache in the center of his stomach.

A sob suddenly escaped from Chris. Joe drew him close and pulled him to the couch. He sat, pulling Chris down beside him. Again, Matt saw Joe's arm over Chris' shoulders.

"Gee. I think I'm always going to remember Chris and Joe like that. Joe looks so big beside Chris. And his arm looks huge....yet so gentle and caring. I think he just keeps looking for an excuse to do that. It looks....I don't kinda protecting. Yeah, that's what it is. Chris is so scared of everything. I think Joe is helping him through it all. In fact, I think that's what Mr. Gavin sees too. It has to be. Joe was so sad and lonely that time we met at the hospital. I never believed they'd hit it off as well as they've have."

Tim glanced to the front of the room. There were many adults standing randomly about. He could catch glimpses of floral arrangements along the floor and above on the wall. He caught glimpses of a kneeling bench with its padded railing. He saw what he thought was the white satin lining of a casket lid. He blinked his misty eyes and drew out a tissue from his pocket.

Matt glanced down at Chris on the couch. His eyes were closed tightly. His arms rested along his thighs. His hands were clenched into fists over his knees.

Joe removed Chris' glasses and tenderly wiped a tissue over his eyes and cheeks. Joe's expression was already one of concern over Chris, rather than their surroundings.

Tom and Jenny entered. They were dressed in simple, light, short-sleeved shirts. Tom wore no tie. He had on a pair of well-pressed slacks and shined shoes. Jenny wore a conservative skirt, several inches below her knees. On her feet were white open-toe sandals with a slight raised heel.

They had entered in somewhat of a rush, gazing down before their feet. They quickly passed the boys without comment. Indeed, it was obvious they had not even noticed them. They were soon absorbed by the crowd in the front of the room.

Ethan and Ryan stood beside the couch. They shifted their weight from one foot to the other. They'd place their hands in their pockets for only seconds and remove them again to wring their fingers. Occasionally they'd reach up to wipe a tear from their cheek.

Toby began rubbing his knees as he looked at Scooter beside him. He quickly reached for his hand.

"Oh shit, Scoot," he whispered forcefully, "...Umm....If something should happen and we're not allowed to see each other again......Don't ever do something like this!......You just remember, I'll always be there! Well, maybe not right there but I'll be waiting for you."

He drew Scooter's hand up and kissed his fingers.

"...I love you Scoot......And I always will! I know that for sure. Don't believe anything they tell you!......Maybe we won't be able to see each other. But we can wait. We'll make it!"

Toby got to his feet.

"...Well....Umm....We'd better get up there, huh?..."

The rest began to follow. Toby was the one setting the slow pace for all the others. They broke through the crowd of adults. They looked forward at the shiny bronze casket. It was nestled within a literal mound of floral arrangements. The lower half was closed. Placed upon it was a simple green wreath. The upper half was open. A satin and lace cloth was draped out over the edge. Toby suddenly stopped. His hand rose up slowly as his finger pointed toward a floral arrangement above. It consisted of white and pink carnations and was shaped as a pillow. Diagonally across it was a wide red ribbon. In fancy white script it read, "We'll always love you. Your friends."

Scooter felt a tug on his arm as Toby faltered for a moment.

"You okay Tob?"

"Umm....yeah....I'll be okay."

Tom and Jenny rose from kneeling. They both wiped their eyes as they turned and quickly walked away. The others gathered around. They gazed into the ivory white lining. On a tiny satin pillow was Adam's head. He wore a simple white shirt and brown slacks. His hands were placed one upon the other. It was obvious his left arm still wore a blue cast. The sleeve of his shirt hugged tightly to it.

Their gaze returned to Adam's face. His eyes seemed to be peacefully closed. It was obvious much makeup had been done to his face to hide cuts and bruises. The makeup made him appear too tan. They didn't like his mouth. It was too red with makeup to hide the cuts here as well.

Ethan and Ryan who had been closest to him, simply held each others hands tightly as tears ran silently down their faces.

Tim reached for Matt's hand.

"...It just doesn't seem fair, Matty," he whispered, "What did he ever do to deserve this? I just keep thinking......He'll never walk a beach and hold hands with his boyfriend......He'll never be able to feel that first kiss. He'll never get to hug the one he loves. Oh, shit! I gotta sit down here..."

They made their way to the first row of metal folding chairs and sat. At the opposite end was no doubt, Adam's mother. She wiped at her eyes and nose with a hanky. A man sat on one side of her, a woman on the other. They appeared to be relatives. It took little time for Matt and Tim to notice few of the adults offering her condolences. Of those which did, it had seemed too formal, too mechanical.

Two young boys entered and knelt before the casket. The each drew out a yarmulke and placed them on their heads.

It was here the school's football team entered. They were all dressed in simple white shirts and gray slacks. They surrounded the casket and bowed their heads for a moment. Tim saw who he knew was the captain of the team step forward. He held a toy football. It was a brown plastic foam with a single red rose arrangement attached. He placed it within the wreath. They all paused for a moment, gazing at Adam. They took turns and left one by one.

They were followed by the team's cheerleaders. They were all girls. Each wore something different, yet they were all conservative with subdued colors. One girl placed a teddy bear at Adam's shoulder. She gazed at him as her face wrinkled with pain. She broke out sobbing, covering her face, nearly collapsing. Several of her friends held her up and slowly walked her out.

Tory entered here in her wheelchair. She had used the handicapped entrance on the side of the building. The electric doors had opened. She held one hand over her head as she grasped a part of a large rainbow flag. A friend was pushing her along. Behind her came Paulie. Although he required to grip his crutches, a part of the flag was held in his hand. They were followed by many of the GSA members. They continued to file in and go toward the front. The entire casket and floral arrangements were hidden by the students.

It was here the rest of the adults seemed to take notice. Whispered conversations stopped. Everyone's attention was drawn to the front of the room. The crowd parted slightly so that the flag could be seen. As Paul jockeyed for a position before the casket, he lost his grip on the flag. It sank to the floor, with only Tory having hold of it. Matt rushed forward and drew it up. He held out an end for Paul to grasp again. He ran his fingers over the top as he straightened it out between them. He felt of the smooth nylon. He stepped up to it from behind and pressed his chest into it, stretching it slightly. His fingers were pointing down at the first stripe.

"The rainbow flag," he said simply.

Although he hadn't spoke loudly, his voice sounded out in this room of whispers.

"...RED......LIFE!....For all too many of us, life is just way too short. Life should be happy, full of joy......And we should all share in it. We should help one another. Support one another, not tear each other down..."

He glanced down at the flag stretched across his chest. His hands lowered as his fingers stopped at the next color.

"...ORANGE......HEALING!......I've seen so many students come into our GSA wounded!....So broken! Some of them are just sobbing with wounds. OH! NOT cuts 'n bruises....broken bones....probably nothing you can even see! Yet there it is, all over their expressions. And it's seldom a fist in their face......It's usually the isolation....the exclusion. The nasty notes....the hateful graffiti marked on their lockers. The....the hateful words...FAG!.... DYKE!....Whore! Degenerate!....And fat slob!....And geeky nerd!....And...and cripple! And they have their social sites hacked with all kinds of hateful things put up...

"For lots of these kids, their social sites are about all they have. They can't swim or ride a bike or go to dances. They're restricted to wheelchairs and leg braces. Their social sites are all they really have. Just to communicate with others who have the same problems. They go online looking for hope, looking for someone just to say a kind word..."

He ran his hands down farther, his fingers stopping at the next band.

"...YELLOW......SUNLIGHT! The only sunlight some of these students ever see is coming in through the windows! And they see others out there playing, being silly, running, swimming!......Sunlight....So life giving, so necessary!....We sure wouldn't last too long without the sun."

Again he glanced down, lowering his hands.

"...GREEN......NATURE!......Yes, nature. Nature....Or as we say....'Born This Way!' Nothing's broke or needs fixing or....improving! You aren't going to turn an apple into a pumpkin because it can't be done! It grew as an apple! The way nature intended it to! Or as Einstein said, 'A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.' What's wrong with an apple being an apple? Why try to change it? It doesn't work anyhow..."

His fingers lowered again.

"...BLUE....ART!......I don't know why it is, but for some reason when people think of art, they think of a painting in some gallery or museum...

"Art is so much more. Cooking can be considered an art....Wine making....archeology, architecture, mathematics, textiles......indeed the whole of science can be considered an art. Where would we be today without the arts? No electric lights, no electronic communication, no cars, locomotives, airplanes or turbine powered ships. Gee!....We'd still be living in caves and wearing animal skins."

He glanced down again.

"...PURPLE....The HUMAN SPIRIT!......Morale?....Or as some people would put it, gumption! A psychological state? A mental state? Even if we all have biological life, where are we going without spirit? ...

"I've seen for myself, lots of people without spirit....that drive . That thing that makes you want to go on....not give up. And we all have our....well, our limits.

"Einstein also said, 'If you convince a fish that intelligence is one's ability to climb a'll always believe it is dumb.' We've all seen a lack of human spirit. We're here to strengthen it. We want to be all inclusive. We want to love, not hate. We want to strengthen that human spirit. To give that drive, that push to go on! Reach out! Live!..."

He glanced down at the flag again with a smile as his fingers ran over the red stripe.

"...And we're back to RED again....LIFE!"

Paul and Tory released their grip on the flag as Matt folded it. Paul leaned in and whispered to Matt.

"I think Tory would really like to give Adam the flag."

Matt nodded. Tim had heard Paul as well and got to his feet. Matt pushed the wheelchair before the casket. Tim drew the kneeling bench slightly to the side. A hush fell over everyone inside. Matt and Tim assisted Tory in getting to her feet. They held her around her waist and hips. She leaned forward and placed the flag on Adam's chest. They were about to assist her back down, but she grabbed at the casket with both hands, pulling herself closer.

With tears running down her cheeks, she kissed her fingers and pressed them to Adam's lips.

"...That's from all of us," she whispered, "We'll all love you.... forever! "

After returning Tory to her chair, Tim drew out tissues from his pocket and handed them to her. She covered her nose and mouth with them. It was more to muffle her sob than wipe her tears.

They all drew to the sides to allow others to pay their respects.

Two men stood off to the side. Nobody seemed to be familiar with many of the adults here. Only the ending of their conversation could be heard.

"...and well....I guess the little guy was just so scared about going back to that place.... Yeah, the coroner said the toxicology reports identified his mother's tranquilizers in his system."

Matt and Tim walked off to one side and sat on a couch there. They'd become teary themselves after Tory's actions. Both wiped their cheeks with tissues.

"...Oh shit, Timmy....I gotta just get outta here for awhile....That organ music is getting to me. And all these flowers! Oh, I think I'm gonna barf!"

Ethan and Ryan watched them go for the exit. They sat on another couch on the opposite side of the room. It had been closer to Adam's mother. They considered stepping up to her to offer her some sympathy. Neither could find words.

"Oh Rye!" Ethan forcefully whispered, "In a way I feel kinda bad for her......Yet....if it hadn't been for her pushing that conversion therapy thing, Adam would still be with us!....And I don't care what people believe about those places. Why can't they do a little research on those things? It's been scientifically proven you are the way you are!"

Ryan nodded as he reached out for his hand.

"Yeah....I'm just wondering if this wasn't all because of his dad. Maybe she was really hoping he could turn straight and he wouldn't get beat anymore."

Toby stood alone before the casket again. He wiped at his eyes with a tissue.

Young people still filed through. The casket was not only within mounds of floral arrangements, but toys, stuffed bears, heart-shaped pillows, helium balloons and devotional candles with arrangements and tiny, paper pride flags attached to them.

Although he hadn't been familiar with Adam or as close as Ethan and Ryan, he recalled many times talking to him in school. He remember his shoulder length brown hair. It had been cut short during his stay at the camp. He remembered his shy smile, his soft voice.

Toby went for Scooter who was now sitting on the couch which Matt and Tim had left. He sat beside him and sighed.

"Oh gee!......I just keep thinkin' about that last time we saw him......Remember?......We were out on the beach and he told us he couldn't hangout with us anymore because we might recruit him into our....our gay lifestyle! Remember how banged-up he was? He said he fell! Yeah, sure! Oh shit!....He walked away from us just crying. I felt so bad for him. He was going through all that psychological stuff 'n getting beat up an' all and he was worried about US! Oh! It just hurts so bad, Scoot!"

He pressed his fingers to his chest as he gasped.

Outside beyond the u-shaped driveway, Matt and Tim sat on the edge of a brick planter.

"Oh, Timmy! It sure is hot 'n humid out here. I just hope you don't mind. I had to get away from all those flowers! I mean it's hard to explain. They were just so sweet 'n strong smelling, I was actually getting sick from them!"

Tim didn't reply. He only nodded his head.

"...And that organ music! That was kinda starting to work on my nerves too."

It was here they saw Tim's mother making her way toward them. It gave them the sudden realization there were few adults here which weren't strangers to them. She sat beside Matt and stretched her legs out. She reached into her purse and drew out her cell just enough to have Matt notice it. She returned it and closed up the purse. She sighed.

"Oh my....With technology where it is today, we need more social instruction. I don't believe a....a wake is the best place to be drawing out a cell and making a video!"

She paused, glancing at the people coming and going. She returned her attention to Matt.

"Oh Matt......I was sitting toward the back. You were way too far up there at the front for me to draw my phone out and capture anything. But I did make an audio recording of you."

She glanced down for a moment.

"Ohhhh....I got your talk on that flag. Tonight when Ken and I e-mail your parents....I'm going to attach this to it! I think they'll be so proud of you...

"Well, we weren't going to even mention Adam to them. We thought they might worry."

She paused and glanced around at the lawn and well-trimmed hedges nearby.

"I....discretely took a few shots in there. All those kids crying....The toys 'n stuffed animals an' flowers 'n balloons........Oh Ken is right......The world is in good hands. I'm so hoping the next generation will make a big difference."

She glanced at Mr. Gavin's long, dark limousine parked a short distance away. The driver couldn't be seen through the dark, tinted windows.

"Joe took Chris out to the limo. Oh that poor little guy. He was sheltered from a bit too much in life. His father knows he needs this......He needs this as much as camping and just hanging out with his friends. He understands he was doing a bit too much and it wasn't helping Chris any. Do you see what we're telling you boys?"

Tim nodded.

"Oh Mom!....Have I asked for anything?!"

He reached out and grasped Matt's hand.

"Scooter and Toby pointed that out to us last year. They said they had old, used bikes. They didn't have the latest video games, or cells or anything, actually. Yet they never missed it. They said they had each other and that was all they wanted. It's just hard when stuff like this happens. Adam didn't ask for this. He really tried. He just admitted he couldn't change just to please his parents. How do you convince someone of that?"

Ayumi nodded.

"...Well boys......I understand what lots of these parents think......I say I understand. I don't necessarily agree with them...

"When I heard about all this......I got hold of that Reverend Winters. He's the one who spoke at that meeting you kids had last year. I told him who I was and that I was certain Adam's mother just needed a little guidance through all this. He came in here before the doors were even open to the public. I think he had quite a talk with her......Well, not necessarily long, but he believes it was quite helpful for her. He believes it may have got her thinking...

"Oh dear, with everything else on her mind right now it may be a while."

She hesitated for a moment.

"I've noticed none of you kids have extended your sympathies to her yet..."

Tim stared straight ahead, watching another couple enter the door.

"...I can't!" he stated simply, then turned to her.

"...Mom!......All I hear about from these haters about the kids! Well, I am! I thought about Adam! And I'm still thinking about him....and all the others out there! I'm thinking about all those other suicides!......These people don't want to stop that! They want to just keep kids away from the gay community! Like they're going to catch or learn it! They say they're protecting the kids! No they aren't! If they really cared in the least, they'd be a bit more accepting...

"I just read on the Net where some kid was taken out of one of those awful places......It was too late! He didn't make it. He lost so much weight! There were burn marks on his body! He had fractures! It was obvious he suffered something awful.

"And Matty read of another suicide out west. Poor little guy was bullied since he was in third grade. His homework was tore up......They broke his favorite lunchbox. In high school they wrote nasty stuff on his locker......He had to put up with that stuff for eight years! How did he last that long?! He was going to be a senior next year. He only had one year to go! He couldn't make it for one more year!...

"And last week I read where some little twelve-year-old boy tried committing suicide for the second time! They had a picture of him. Oh shit! He looked more like eight years old! He was just so cute 'n tiny. He sure didn't look like a threat to anyone. How can people DO THAT?! How can people hate so easy? Yeah....What about the kids? If they're so concerned about the kids, we wouldn't be hearing about all these suicides....At least one a week! And those are the ones that get into the news and on the Net......What about all the others? What about the ones that are hushed up? I really wonder how many are hushed up."

He glanced down for a moment.

"No!....I'm not saying anything to that woman!......You have my sympathy?....Shit too! Only Adam has my sympathy! And all the others in the same place! I'm just trying to keep away from her!......I'd probably end up asking her if she's satisfied now! Little Adam is dead! He won't be an embarrassment to you any longer! He just wanted to find someone to love. He just wanted to be left alone...

"I can still see him in my mind......He was out there at the park in that cold wind. He was feeding the seagulls. Someone told us he thought of being a veterinarian. Wow! He would have made a good one. He just wanted to see a little less suffering in the world....even the animals!...

"Me 'n Matty weren't there at the time but....he had to tell the others he couldn't hangout with us any longer. And he cried over it! He was more worried about us! Oh shit! Oh shit!"

He quickly pulled out another tissue and wiped his eyes.

Ethan and Ryan had remained on the couch. Their stares were fixed on the casket. Although they couldn't see Adam, they could see the expressions of those who walked up to gaze at him.

They glanced at the satin lining of the lid. More flowers, pillows and stuffed animals covered it.

Ethan reached out for Ryan's hand.

"Let's umm....go over to Scooter 'n Toby. They look kinda lonely over there."

They sat beside them, gazing at them. Scooter nearly appeared in a trance. He continued to gaze at the casket.

"...I," he began weakly, "I keep thinkin' this is all a nasty dream....and....and I'm gonna wake up!......And none of this is going to be real! I wanna believe this is a dream."

Ethan could only toss his arm over his shoulders and give him a shake.

They watched Mr. Gavin come forward. He was followed by Tim's father.

"It's a terrible thing to say," they heard Ken whisper, "...but I didn't really want to come up here."

Mr. Gavin nodded his head with an expression he thought the same. He pushed his hands into his pockets and sighed.

"...Well....This certainly does it!" he whispered forcefully, "I'm....I'm going along with the project! When a small town as this, has its second suicide......It's time something needs to be done."

He gazed at Adam's face.

"The kids keep saying we need more....more education with this stuff......I know they're right....but....How do you educate people over these things?! For some, it's just way beyond education!......They've been so conditioned to believe this is wrong....nothing's going to change their minds! You can't use logic on people like that! Their minds are already made up. It's going to be a rough mountain to climb."

He nodded his head with a forced grin.

"I had Joe take Chris out of here for a bit. I was going to have the driver just take him home....but I had second thoughts over it all. I can't go on protecting him from all of this! He needs to see this is going on. Yeah, it hurts me to see him hurt......Yet, he has to see all this....He has to be a part of it. He has to prepare himself......I don't want to protect him from all this and one day have it all come crashing down around him. He needs to....well....get his feet wet! He needs to ease into all this."

He drew out his cell and gazed at it.

"...Cells!......You're right Ken....Technology is really advancing on us fast. Faster than we can put together a few common rules of etiquette and decency. I think people are becoming very rude with their cell phone use."

He stepped back.

"I'm headed for the men's room for a moment. I'm having the driver send Chris and Joe back in here."

The boys watched a tiny girl walk up alone. She stood gazing at Adam's face. She clasped her fingers before herself as tears silently ran down her face.

Ethan turned to Ryan.

"Hey....Isn't that Mena?....The girl from the park?"

"Umm....yeah, I think it is."

"She looks kinda lonely up there all alone. Let's go up there and kinda keep her company."

As they stood, Ethan drew several tissues from a nearby dispenser.

They drew close to her and Ethan held out the tissues, pushing them into her hands.

"...Umm....we're Ethan 'n Ryan......And you're Mena, right?"

She nodded her head silently as she pressed the tissues to her eyes.

"...Umm," Ethan began again, "We kinda met at the state park."

"Oh yeah....I thought I knew you."

"Well, umm....Are your parents here with you or anything?"

She shook her head. Her expression was one of intense grief.

"They don't know I'm here. I just told them I was going for a walk. Oh gee, if they found I was here....I don't know what they'd do! They don't like Adam's whole family. They call 'em a bunch of rednecks! And that they're all crazy! And now with his father being arrested....oh, wow! They kept telling me they don't want me to be around any of them. They said they were always trouble!"

She returned her gaze to Adam's face.

"...Adam wasn't crazy....He was loving! He was always so sweet 'n loving. If someone hit him or pushed him down....he'd just get up and walk away. He didn't even say anything nasty to them. It just wasn't in his nature to do something like that...

"What's that line?....'Actions speak louder than words?' That was Adam! He never told people to be nice with each other....loving....He showed it! He always walked away from trouble. And even if he was down....he'd still try to cheer up others. He always had something nice to say....something positive. He always had a smile for someone else. Oh gee, I just hurt so deep down for him. It's just not fair..."

She looked at them again.

"...Why is it that just the sweet, loving people seem to get shit on all the time? We're all brought up to be nice to others....How do things like this get twisted around?...

"When I was a little girl....I had a long talk with my grandmother one Saturday morning. She was baking stuff in the kitchen. I....I was trying to understand morality....ethics. What's right and what's wrong. It was just too far beyond my little five-year-old mind. She simply told me if I found myself in some dilemma, where I didn't know what to do....I was to ask myself a question......'What would Jesus do?'........Wow!....I think I've been doing that ever since...

"Would Jesus beat up on a little kid because he was....different? Would He push little kids down and make fun of them? Would......would He send kids away to those awful conversions camps?....And get them so scared....they'd rather die first? He taught love, not hate. How is it that things have got turned around?!"

She gazed at Adam again. Her face wrinkled in pain.

"My mother said that Adam is burning in Hell now because he committed suicide. Because he killed himself. Oh shit!......I just can't get myself to believe something like that! Adam was good! He was the nicest person I knew. He never did anything bad to anyone!.... Even when they did bad things to him! He just walked away. He just wanted to be left alone."

She broke into sobs as her tiny body shook. Ethan and Ryan both placed their inner arms around her.

"...None of us believe that," Ethan put in, "It's like Matt keeps saying....'Everyone has their own breaking point.' Adam tried as best as he could with whatever he had."

Mena's legs weakened and she began to sink to the floor. They assisted her to sitting on the little kneeling bench. They both got to the floor before her on crossed legs. She gasped several times, getting herself under control.

"...I'm little!......Oh, our family has had people like me before. It's something genetic or whatever it's called. It skips several generations....then it hits again...

"I was telling my grandmother about it one day. I was just soooo depressed. I saw all these statuesque models that were just so perfect! And I knew I'd never be like them. And Gram told me it's just one of those things where it's nature! It's the way God intended us to be."

She thought it strange that Ethan smiled here. He reached out for a devotional candle which was burning nearby. A tiny rainbow flag was attached to it, along with a single rose and several sprigs of baby breath. She noticed the wax was all liquid. At the bottom was a metal clip which supported the wick. He drew out the flag.

"...Umm....Matt gave a little talk awhile ago about the rainbow flag. I guess you weren't here for that. I never knew each color represented something. In fact, hee, hee, I already forgot them....Well, except for the green......He said the green represented nature! And he even said, 'Born this way.'......You were born little. And you're right....there's a reason for it. It's what we're supposed to be....for whatever reason..."

He set the candle aside and looked up at her.

"...Mena....Wouldn't you think it's kinda strange if your parents sent you to some camp where they promised they could make you tall?....It won't happen! And I'm sure they would understand that too! In fact, they'd probably laugh about it!......Yet......we've got all these places that claim they can make you straight again......Straight again! As if you were straight at one time and they were going to change you back again. It's what you are and for whatever reason, that's what you're going to be...

"I....umm....never really well....fought my orientation. I wasn't living in any denial over it. It's just I did lots of questioning over it. I wasn't really sure. Oh! I am now. I just know there's no changing it. I'm sure Adam knew it as well. He tried to tell them. Oh gee, how do you reach people like that?!"

He glanced toward Ryan beside him. He reached out and combed his fingers through the hair curving out along his cheek.

"...And then there are people born gay....who have such perfect hair that even the girls are jealous!"

Mena managed a smile here. She looked down at her hands.

"Oh gee....All these toys 'n gifts around here. I wanted to bring something for Adam. I couldn't even go out for a card. I don't want to get caught here. I wish I had just a little something I could leave for him."

She began twisting at a tiny ring on her little finger and pulled it off. She examined it carefully.

"My friend and I exchanged friendship rings last year when we were thirteen. Oh, she had to leave. Her parents got jobs in New York State. Oh gee, that just crushed us both. I thought I'd never survive. I'm sure we'll meet-up again somewhere......I'll just have to tell my parents I lost it!"

She got to her feet and gazed at Adam again. Glancing around she leaned forward and quickly tucked it under his fingers.

"...You can give that back to me when we meet-up again too. I know you'd never accept it. I'm just having you hold it for all three of us......We'll all be together again. And there will be no hate or darkness there. Just love."

She pressed the tissue against her eyes again.

"Oh gee, boys....I'd really like to stay, but I can't get caught here. I've really got to get home. I've gotta wet some tissues and get my face back into order here..."

Mr. Gavin noticed Chris entering again with Joe. He had to smile as he saw Joe wipe a hanky over Chris' cheeks. He reached out and adjusted his suit coat and straightened his tie.

Chris pointed to his nose.

"Oh shit!....There are those awful botanical failures again! What an assault to one's olfactory nerves."

Joe chuckled.

"Here Chris. Put this mint in your mouth. It'll moisten your mouth and settle your stomach."

Matt and Tim entered behind them. Tim's mother had to return to the hospital. They both stepped forward and rubbed Chris' back.

"Hang in there Chris," Matt said, "We aren't staying here for four hours and going through the services. I don't think any of us could handle that."

"Perhaps we could do something in the utility room downstairs. I wish to throw a chain into one of those electric boxes down there. Perhaps it would be enough to stop that haunting organ music!"

"Yeah, sure!....And knock out the air conditioning at the same time?! We'd suffocate in here!...

"Come on, let's go sit with Scoot 'n Tob..."

As the couch was only large enough for four of them, Matt, Tim, Joe and Chris drew up metal folding chairs. They faced them toward the couch. Chris rubbed his knees.

"Oh....How does one open a pleasant conversation during such a lamentable moment such as this?...

"Oh, poor little Adam. I never knew him....yet....Oh I see so much of this on the Net. They're totally unknown by me, yet I feel so for them...

"A boy up in Canada had left a suicide note on his computer or such. Oh, how truly sad. I simply cried at reading it. He suffered so. The awful names he was called. The awful things they did to him. Even if I thought such were wrong, it wouldn't annoy someone about it until it provoked them into suicide! How totally inhumane..."

He dabbed at his cheeks again with his hanky.

Mr. Gavin stepped up to them with somewhat of a slight smile.

"...Umm....boys......Mr. Webster here suggested we take you all home in a bit to get your swimsuits. He believes the best thing for all of you is an afternoon to yourselves. I believe there's an area at the river called the whirlpool. I'd surly offer the pool but we're still having somewhat of an algae problem."

Chris looked up at him.

"...We're....we're going out to the river?!"

"...Well yes!....And more sunshine and exercise."

"...And what does Mother have to say about such?......That smelly river with all the dead fish and horrid bacteria?"

"Don't worry about her. I believe she's coming around. She agrees you look so much healthier with that stay out in the park...

"After a nice soak in the river, we'll have the limo well packed with blankets and towels. You'll all come over to our place and have a quick trip through the pool house showers. THEN....we'll all gather out back for a nice little picnic."

He hesitated here for a moment.

"...And then boys......I'll have a little announcement to make. I want it to be a surprise...

"Now I just want Chris to spend a bit of time here with all your friends. Just keep doing what you've always been doing....Supporting each other. I'm sure they'll all need you."

It was here they saw Jim approach. Behind him was obviously was his father. He seemed to be allowing Jim to set the pace. Jim paused several paces from the casket. His father glanced around and noticed Adam's mother sitting alone. She'd stopped crying, holding a hanky wadded in her fist as she held her fingers to her chin. There was an indication of deep thought in the expression on her face. He passed over to her, sitting in a chair beside her.

Jim continued to stand in a moment of uncertainty. His eyes flicked over the floral displays on the wall, across the casket and down along the floor. Ethan and Ryan had taken notice and went up to him. They stood on either side of him with their inner arms around him.

"...Oh shit....Oh shit," he gasped in a forced whisper.

His eyes were large and round. His face was pale, indeed even his lips appeared white.

"...I....I don't think I wanna look in there. I wanna remember him like the last time I saw him......Well, he wasn't exactly laughing....but he had that sweet smile....that soft voice."

Ethan yanked him close, his fingers gripping his hip.

"...I think everyone will understand if you feel like that. Oh gee, I think we all felt like that when we came in here."

Ethan sidestepped, slightly pushing against Jim and Ryan. Two girls appeared and made their way up.

Matt gazed over from the couch.

"...Hey," he whispered to Tim, "That's Cinnamon and her girlfriend from the GSA."

"Yeah, it is!....Oh gee, I always thought they were really cute but I almost didn't recognize them......Waaayyy too conservative. They almost look like college girls."

They both had got to their knees on the tiny bench. Cinnamon was on the blond girl's left. They had grasped each others hand on the rail and bowed their heads for a moment. Getting to their feet, they gazed lovingly at Adam. The blond girl suddenly turned her back and drew a tissue to her mouth. It had no effect on stifling her sob.

Matt and Tim joined them. They both saw the tears running silently down Cinnamon's cheeks. They had both marveled at her complexion. It had always appeared clear and creamy, nearly flawless. Her shiny black hair tumbled over her shoulders in ringlets. Tim took her hand.

"...Oh gee, Cinny......This is my first funeral and I just don't know what to say to anybody! How do you cheer someone up at a time like this?"

She nodded her head in understanding.

"...Yeah....umm....We really didn't even know Adam. We first heard about it on the GSA's Website. It doesn't make any difference....He could be from the other side of the world and it still affects us!"

She reached up and placed her hand on Tim's shoulder.

"...WHEN is this gonna stop?....It just has to stop! Can't people out there see what this is doing to others? Oh!....We've gotta protect the children from agenda! This hate isn't protecting anyone from anything. It's making things worse."

She fell forward and pressed her tearful eyes into his shoulder. He held her tightly, totally at a loss for words.

Scooter gazed at Toby beside him on the couch.

"...Umm....I'd really like to go over there and say something....but what do I say?"

Toby nodded as he gazed over at them.

"Oh gee, Scoot....I think I've learned something here."

He faced Scooter seriously.

"I'm not ever going to call you a retard again! That's nasty!"

Scooter reached out for his hand and squeezed it.

"Tob....I know you're joking. You've always called me a retard. Especially when I do something silly. It''s just you! And then we'll start wrestling and being silly again."

He drew Toby's fingers to his mouth and kissed them.

"...Awh, Tob....Whenever you call me a retard or a dummy.....I always hear a little I love you in there somewhere. Don't ever stop doing that to me."

Ethan rubbed Jim's back.

"...Umm....You wanna sit down here or something."

Jim shook his head.

"...I don't know what it really is......I want to remember Adam as I last saw him......Yet, if I don't see him in there....I'll never accept the fact he's gone from us..."

"Well, just take your time. Me 'n Rye are here for you."

Cinnamon turned to the blond girl beside her.

"...Hannah?....Have you got the card?"

She simply nodded and handed Cinnamon an envelope. She took it forward and placed it within the wreath, beside the toy football.

Stepping back, she continued to gaze at Adam's face. She spoke to nobody in particular.

"Oh......First Adam. Who would have known. A bully and a victim. Both from this little town."

They slowly drew to the side and went for the couch there.

Jim seemed frozen in place. Soon he stepped forward, then back again.

"...Umm," Ryan hesitated, "Would you like to kinda sit down for a bit?"

"No....No....I've gotta look. I've gotta see him..."

He took several quick steps forward. He stood still, gazing into the casket. His expression didn't seem to indicate any sorrow. It seemed impersonal, indifferent. A tear ran down each cheek.

"It's true," he gasped, "...Adam's no longer with us..."

Ethan rubbed his back.

"...You're wrong......Adam will always be with us..."

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