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Chapter 3

Brian was surprised when he stepped into the cabin.

He hadn't even realized that he was cold until he felt the warmth.

"It feels good in here." Brian said in a low appreciative voice.

"Isn't it strange how everything that you take for granted is intensified here? Just stepping into a warm room after being outside feels like such a profound thing." Jack said distantly.

Brian nodded, then said, "Yeah. Just like the bacon and eggs this morning tasted so good. Back home, I wouldn't have even thought twice about something like that."

"Why don't you get the sandwiches and put them in this backpack? I need to visit the outhouse before we go." Jack asked as he handed a small backpack to Brian.

"Should I pack us some drinks, too?" Brian asked curiously.

"Yes. That's a good idea." Jack said as he took a roll of toilet paper from the shelf by the door, then thought to ask, "Do you need to go, too?"

"No. I'm good." Brian said casually as he walked to the ice chest.

Jack nodded that he had heard before walking out the door.

* * * * *

As Brian packed the food into the backpack, he thought about the incredible journey he had taken. In less than twenty-four hours, he had been pulled from a nightmarish existence and into, what seemed to be, the Garden of Eden.

He smiled as he thought about the embarrassing and incomprehensible thing that he had done. He had asked Jack if he could touch his dick... cock. And Jack had let him.

Brian felt his skin tingle with a blush and couldn't believe that he had really done such a thing. But, he was glad that he had done it. Not just to answer the questions that he still couldn't form in his conscious mind, but also to prove to himself that he could trust Jack.

If Jack would let him touch him in such an intimate way, simply because he had asked, then nothing that he could say or do would be likely to cause Jack to react negatively toward him.

Brian checked the backpack to see that they had a reasonable amount of food and drinks for the hike, then walked to the door and took one of the rolls of toilet paper off the shelf and carried it back to the backpack.

He didn't have to go, and didn't know that he would need to before they got back. But he felt that it was best to be prepared, because he sure didn't want to have to use a leaf. With his luck, he'd probably use poison ivy.

Jack walked back into the cabin and put his roll of toilet paper on the shelf.

"I packed TP, just in case." Brian said casually, while Jack took a hand wipe from the box and cleaned his hands.

"Good idea. I'll bring a shovel, in case we need to dig a latrine." Jack said as he walked to the corner and picked up a small shovel that seemed to be folded up.

"Is that everything?" Brian asked hopefully.

"Almost." Jack said, then took a white metal box off a shelf on the other side of the room before saying, "This is our first aid kit. It's always a good idea to carry it if we're going any distance away from the cabin."

Brian nodded as he accepted the box and put it in the backpack.

"Ready?" Jack asked with a smile.

"Give me a second. I don't want the first aid kit to squash the sandwiches." Brian said as he shifted things around in the pack.

Jack nodded, then seemed to think of something.

As Brian was about to close the backpack, Jack handed him a folded piece of cloth and a length of rope.

"What's this?" Brian asked as he looked at the cloth curiously.

"It's a duffle bag. We'll need it later." Jack said simply.

Brian shrugged, then said, "Okay. I'm ready."

* * * * *

Brian was astonished by the beauty of their surroundings.

The woods seemed to be alive with birds and all kinds of small animals. He mostly heard them and only caught fleeting glances, but enjoyed the experience just the same.

As they crested a small rise, Jack held out his hand to stop Brian, then made a shushing motion.

Brian froze in place, then slowly inched forward when Jack encouraged him to do so.

In the small clearing below them, there were no less than a dozen deer.

Brian watched in wonder as they quietly nosed through the underbrush, searching for tender young plants to eat.

Suddenly, they all seemed to look up at once, even though Brian hadn't heard anything that would have alerted them.

In a flash of movement, the deer darted out of the clearing, away from them.

"Wow. I've never seen anything so beautiful." Brian whispered.

"I know. It's just more of the magic of this place." Jack said, matching his quiet tone.

Without further discussion, the pair proceeded on their hike.

* * * * *

As they walked, Brian suddenly stopped in his tracks.

"Is something wrong?" Jack asked as he quickly surveyed their surroundings.

"I'm supposed to be in school right now." Brian said as he looked at Jack with surprise.

Jack smiled, then said, "I think you missed the bus."

Brian thought about that for a moment, then smiled as he nodded.

"Don't worry about it Brian. Dad took care of it." Jack said as he encouraged Brian to start walking again.

"How?" Brian asked curiously.

"You'll have to ask him. All he told me is that it's taken care of. You're not going to get in trouble for missing your classes." Jack said frankly.

"Good. I'm surprised that I didn't think about it until now." Brian said honestly.

"You've had a lot on your mind." Jack said casually.

Brian chuckled and nodded his agreement.

"Do you feel like talking about anything?" Jack asked curiously.

Brian thought for a moment, then responded, "I'm glad that you're helping me, I really appreciate it. But I'm not sure it's going to help me when I get back to school."

"We've only just started." Jack said honestly. "I've been trying to help you deal with each thing that's holding you back as it's surfaced. But we're not anywhere close to being done."

"What else do we have to do?" Brian asked cautiously.

"Horrible things." Jack said with a smile.

Brian grinned, knowing that Jack was playing.

"Pitching, catching, running... maybe some wrestling... I don't know, things like that." Jack said consideringly.

"It sounds tough." Brian said, trying to restrain his grin.

Jack smiled, then the expression faded as he said, "There is one thing that you might not enjoy."

"What?" Brian asked cautiously.

"You need to learn how to take a punch." Jack said regretfully.

"You're going to hit me?" Brian asked with a spark of fear.

"Yes." Jack said quietly, then added, "But it won't be like a fight and I won't do it any more than I have to."

"Why do you have to hit me at all?" Brian asked slowly.

"Because, sooner or later, you're going to have to defend yourself. If you're afraid to be hit, it's just going to cause your opponent to want to hit you that much more." Jack said regretfully, then continued, "But if you can look him in the eyes and show him that you're not afraid, it's as likely as not that he'll decide that he doesn't want to hit you after all."

"So your going to hit me, so I'll know how to keep from flinching away?" Brian asked cautiously, to verify that he understood.

"Yes. And you also need to be able to take a punch. So if someone does hit you, you'll be able to react and defend yourself instead of curling up and crying like a little baby." Jack said frankly.

Brian thought about the words, and reluctantly nodded his acceptance of them.

"You get to hit me, too." Jack said quietly.

Brian looked up at him with interest.

"You not only need to know how to take a punch, you need to know how to throw one." Jack said honestly.

"You're going to teach me how to fight?" Brian asked cautiously.

"No. That would take a lot more time than we have. If you want to learn how to fight, talk to my dad. He'll be all kinds of happy to teach you whatever you want to know." Jack said with a smile.

"So what are you going to teach me?" Brian asked curiously.

"I'm going to teach you how to throw one mean, wicked punch. If you can do that, you'll be prepared for about 95% of the confrontations that you'll face." Jack said seriously.

"Really?" Brian asked uncertainly.

"Yeah. Most of the guys who'll try to push you around are just big pussies and won't expect you to fight back. If you can paste them with one good punch, you'll earn their respect... or they'll run off crying to their mommies. Either way, one good punch is usually all it takes to shut a bully down." Jack said honestly.

"I don't want to fight." Brian said quietly, as his gaze fell to the ground.

"You don't always get a choice." Jack said frankly.

Brian thought about that as they walked.

"You don't need to worry about that too much. It shouldn't take much time for you to get the hang of it." Jack assured him. "The main thing we need to work on is your attitude."

"What's wrong with my attitude?" Brian asked curiously.

"Nothing at all. You're incredibly positive, considering what you've been through." Jack said honestly, then explained, "But what I'm talking about is the attitude that you 'project'."

At Brian's uncomprehending stare, Jack clarified, "Teenagers have a unique type of attitude that people, mostly parents, have a really hard time dealing with. Most teens come by it naturally, but I think it'll help you a lot if I help you to develop it consciously so you can use it when you need to."

"I don't understand what you're talking about." Brian said timidly.

"Say something to me that a parent would say, and I'll show you." Jack said as he stopped walking.

Brian thought for a moment, then smiled before saying, "Do your homework!"

Jack tilted his head down and cocked it slightly to one side, then looked at Brian defiantly.

Brian broke into a laugh when he saw the expression.

"What do you think I just said?" Jack asked, drawn into Brian's laughter.

"WHATEVER!" Brian crowed.

"Do you think you could do that?" Jack asked casually as they started to walk again.

"Yeah. Probably. It doesn't seem that hard." Brian said honestly.

"Trust me, the hard part is learning when NOT to use it." Jack said with a grin.

"So, are there other ones or do you just use the WHATEVER expression for everything?" Brian asked curiously.

"Oh, there are tons of them. I'll show you a few of the basics, but then you'll have to come up with the rest on your own. It's best if you personalize them anyway."

"Young man! I told you to do your homework!" Brian said sternly, trying to sound like a parent.

Jack turned and flashed him a completely different expression, this one with a barely restrained smirk.

Brian burst out in laughter at the expression.

Jack stopped and waited for him to calm down.

"That one... That was great! You HAVE TO teach it to me." Brian said as he fought to get his laughter under control.

"What do you think I was saying?" Jack asked with a smile.

"I don't think, I KNOW what you were saying. 'And just who the hell do you think you are?' was right there in your eyes." Brian said with delight.

"I think you'll need to work on the whole teenage attitude for it to work properly, but having a few of these expressions handy and ready to use should give you time to ease into it." Jack said contentedly.

* * * * *

"I need to visit the lava-tree." Brian said casually as they walked.

"Me too. Do you mind?" Jack asked as he stopped.

"Would it matter if I did?" Brian asked cautiously as he turned to look at Jack.

"Of course. It's technically our day off, so if you don't want to do it, I'm not going to insist." Jack said frankly.

Brian thought for a moment, then finally said, "Yeah, I guess."

"Pick a tree. Once we're there, just keep your eyes forward and don't worry about what I'm doing. I'm not going to close my eyes, but I won't be looking at you." Jack said seriously.

Brian nodded then pointed to a tree.

Jack and Brian walked up to the tree, side by side and both kept their eyes forward. It took a few seconds for Brian to get himself to relax, but the sound of Jack's urine splashing on the base of the tree was enough inspiration to get things going."

* * * * *

Once they were finished and both had zipped up, Jack turned to Brian and said, "What we just did would be considered acceptable behavior in any public bathroom. I think we'll need to do it a few more times to get you a little more comfortable, but the difficult part is over."

"You mean, that's it? You don't need to watch me pee?" Brian asked in confusion.

"Yep. That's it. And if anyone is watching you while you're taking a piss, they're the one with a problem, not you." Jack said honestly.

"But, it's still hard. No. I mean, when you talk to me I can't make myself start." Brian said with difficulty.

"There are some unwritten laws about public bathrooms. One of them is, you don't talk or look at each other while you're pissing. Another is that if you have a choice, you will never choose the urinal next to another guy. Also, don't use the stall just to take a piss unless all the urinals are busy and you can't wait."

"Why not?" Brian asked curiously as they continued their walk.

"Because it makes you seem like you're too shy to use a urinal around other guys. You know, that thing about acting like a mouse..."

"Right." Brian said with a nod.

"But what you just did, that was perfect. I think that the only thing left for you is practice. Once you get out of the habit of automatically being afraid of this stuff, you shouldn't have to worry about it again." Jack said with a smile.

"Thanks, Jack." Brian said gratefully.

* * * * *

"We're here." Jack said as they finally came to the top of a steep rise.

"Wow." Brian said as he looked at the surreal landscape covered with steaming pools of water.

"You see the edge of the treeline over there? That's where we need to go first." Jack said, then started leading the way down a steep path.

"Why over there?" Brian asked curiously as he followed.

"Because the steam from the hot springs will make your clothes wet and heavy if you leave them right beside the pools. Besides that, we've got to put our things out of reach of the wildlife or it might not be here when we're ready to go back." Jack said frankly.

"But it's freezing!" Brian complained.

"Not really. It's warmed up quite a bit." Jack said, then gave Brian a glance that let him know that he was being whiny.

"Okay." Brian said quietly and seemed to be reluctant about something.

"Come on, you're going to love this." Jack said encouragingly.

Brian forced a smile for Jack's benefit as he followed.

* * * * *

"I've seen it already. Remember?" Jack asked as he noticed Brian's hesitance.

"Yeah. It's just..." Brian trailed off and didn't seem to be able to force himself to undress.

"Go on. Just do it." Jack said encouragingly as he took off his clothes at a casual pace.

Brian had to fight the urge to run away as he forced himself to go through the motions of undressing.

"These hot springs have probably been around for 10,000 years, but they might go cold before you're finished." Jack said impatiently as he stood before Brian, completely naked.

Brian glanced at Jack, giving his best estimation of the 'WHATEVER' look, then finally forced himself to take the last step and pulled down his pants and underwear.

"Oh! I see now." Jack said quietly, then turned and started to gather his clothes and put them into the duffle bag.

"Yeah. It boned up while we were walking and it won't go away." Brian muttered as he blushed scarlet red.

"It could just as easily have happened to me. Trust me, your cock's going to do what it wants to do, no matter how you feel about it." Jack said without concern, then turned back and gathered Brian's clothes.

Brian's cock was stiff and curving slightly upward, like it was straining to reach his belly button. It was all he could do to fight the urge to put his hands in front of him to hide it.

The fact that Jack was working to suspend the backpack and duffle bag in the tree seemed to ease Brian's nervousness slightly. Him behaving so casually made Brian feel as though he weren't being watched.

"I think we're all ready. Come on." Jack said when the clothes were finally secured.

Brian shyly nodded as Jack walked past him to lead the way. Brian followed him toward the largest of the pools of steaming hot water, with his stiff cock bobbing slightly as he walked.

* * * * *

"Go slow and easy." Jack said as he carefully eased himself into the water.

"Is this safe? It seems awfully hot." Brian asked, as he waded deeper into the pool.

"It takes getting used to, but if you go slow, it'll be fine." Jack assured him as he rested back on the edge of the pool, leaving only his head above water.

As Brian's balls touched the water, he reflexively jerked up. It took a few more starts and stops before Brian was able to get his sensitive cock and balls to accept the heat.

"This is the first time I'm seeing you in full light. You're REALLY white." Jack said lazily as he watched Brian lower himself into the water.

"I don't go outside much." Brian said, a little bit defensively, as he went chest deep into the steamy water.

"Sorry, Brian. I didn't mean for that to sound insulting. It's just that you're... astoundingly white." Jack said haltingly as he looked Brian in the eyes to convey his sincerity.

"And how is that NOT an insult?" Brian asked playfully, finally able to ease down beside Jack, matching his position. He was amazed when he realized how comfortable he felt in the hot water. It didn't even compare to any bath he'd ever taken.

"Never mind. I was just surprised." Jack said dismissively as he closed his eyes and took a moment to appreciate the warmth.

"I think I know what you're going to say, but I'll tell you anyway." Brian said quietly, "I always felt like I was too skinny and scrawny to go outside in shorts or without a shirt."

"You look fine, Brian. I wouldn't lie to you about something like this, not even to spare your feelings." Jack said seriously, then cautiously added, "But you could use a little sun."

"Maybe when we get back, I can start doing some stuff outside." Brian said consideringly, then added, "I think that after being here and doing all this, that being a couch lump won't be as much fun as it used to be."

Jack chuckled and said, "You're probably right. Tell me, is there a park anywhere near your house?"

"No. Not really." Brian said thoughtfully, then added, "There's a golf course not too far away, but I can't think of any parks or playgrounds except for at the school."

"Do you know how to play golf?" Jack asked curiously.

"No. Do you?"

"Yeah. Maybe, when we get back, we could play golf together." Jack said casually.

"Doesn't it cost a lot?" Brian asked with concern.

"You'll need to rent some clubs and stuff, but I don't think it'll be too bad. We'll look into it and see if we can manage it." Jack said seriously.

"Yeah. As long as you won't mind teaching me, it sounds like fun." Brian said contentedly.

"It would probably be better if my dad taught you. He knows a lot more than I do and I know he'd really enjoy it." Jack said honestly.

Brian thought for a moment, then said, "I don't know. I mean, your dad is my gym coach. It'd be kind of weird doing stuff with him outside of school."

"He's a gym coach because he really loves sports and he enjoys teaching people. He tries to make it so everyone else enjoys sports as much as he does. It's hard not to have fun when you're learning from him." Jack said with a smile.

"Okay. I'll give it a try." Brian said thoughtfully.

"If you don't like it, you don't have to do it again." Jack said simply.

"Yeah. I remember. Don't be a doormat." Brian said with a smile.

"You're getting it!"

* * * * *

They soaked in silence for a while, just appreciating the warmth and letting their muscles relax.

Finally Jack broke the silence by asking, "Brian, why are you so nervous about being naked?"

After a moment of thought, Brian quietly said, "I don't know, I just am."

"What do you think is going to happen. I mean, in your most horrible fantasy, what bad thing do you imagine happening to you when you're naked?" Jack asked curiously.

"I don't know... maybe someone would see me and laugh at me?" Brian said hesitantly.

"They might." Jack said casually, then added, "But not because there's anything wrong with you. The only reason someone would have to laugh at you or make fun of you being naked would be if there's something wrong with them."

"What do you mean?" Brian asked with interest.

"I mean that you have nothing to be ashamed of. If someone else has a problem, it's their problem. They're either shy or have some other body issues and they're reflecting their own insecurities on you." Jack said honestly, then continued, "I don't expect this to make it so you aren't shy. In fact, I expect that you'll still be nervous and everything. But it's important for you to realize that no matter what anxiety you're feeling, there's no logical reason for it. There is NOTHING wrong with you."

"Except that I'm too white." Brian responded, half jokingly.

"Well, yeah. But that can be fixed." Jack said with a smile.

* * * * *

"What would you think if I was gay?" Brian asked, seemingly out of nowhere.

Jack thought for a moment before saying, "Honestly, I don't think that I'd think anything about it."

Brian looked at him curiously, wanting more of an answer.

"Unless you're saying that you're in love with me, I can't think of any reason that it would make a difference." Jack said frankly.

"I'm pretty sure that I love you, but I don't know anything about 'being in love'." Brian said thoughtfully.

"There's plenty of time for you to figure that out." Jack said with a casual smile, then added, "And I love you too, Brian. Just like you were a member of my own family."

"Yeah. That's how I feel too." Brian said with a responding smile, then cautiously added, "In fact, I think I love you more than them. You sure are nicer to me."

"What's your mom like? You've never said." Jack asked curiously.

"She's just a mom. She takes care of us and stuff." Brian said simply.

"But is she nice to you?" Jack asked with concern.

"Yeah. I guess. But... I don't know, it's kind of like me and her... we just do what we're supposed to do. She cooks and cleans and stuff and I do my school things and pretty much try to stay out of everyone's way."

"'Everyone' being your dad." Jack said cautiously.

"Yeah." Brian admitted quietly.

"So you're not close to your mom?" Jack asked curiously.

Brian thought about it for a moment, then shook his head as he said, "I used to be, but not now. I guess when I got old enough to start taking care of myself, she kind of just moved on to doing other things. She's always busy with the house."

"It's funny, I've never really had a mom. I always felt like I was missing out on something." Jack said honestly.

"From the sound of it, your dad was better than both my parents put together." Brian said with a pained smile.

"Yeah. I was really lucky." Jack said distantly.

"I think I'm lucky too." Brian said quietly. "Even though I never figured out on my own that my dad sucks, deep down, I always knew I didn't ever want to be like him. Now that I'm getting to know you, I finally have... an example, I guess."

Jack seemed surprised by the statement.

After a moment for the shock to wear off, Jack sat up and turned to look Brian in the eyes before saying, "Even though I may have some of the answers about how to help you with the things that are causing you problems right now, I'm a long way from being a good example."

"I don't believe that. You're everything that I'm not, everything that I want to be." Brian insisted.

"Brian, listen to me." Jack said firmly as he looked Brian in the eyes. "I've got some problems of my own that I'm dealing with. Why do you think I was able to come out here and do this with you on a moment's notice?"

Brian thought about that and finally said, "I don't know. I didn't even think about it."

"I'm nineteen. I'm still living with my dad and I don't have a job." Jack said frankly.

"Jobs are hard to find right now."

"I think that if I tried, I could probably find one, but the thing is, that I don't know what it is that I want to do. I'd rather not get locked into a job doing something I hate and be stuck in it because I'm too afraid to give up the pay or the seniority when I figure out what it is that I do want to do."

"What does your dad say about it?" Brian asked curiously.

"He says that I should take the time to decide what it is that I'd like to do with my life." Jack said frankly.

"Listen to him." Brian said as he looked into Jack's eyes. "You're my friend and I want you to be happy, just like your dad does."

"Thanks, Brian." Jack said appreciatively, then continued, "But I'm afraid that ten years from now I'll look up and notice that I've spent what are supposed to be the best years of my life living with my dad and accomplishing nothing."

"I think that since you're worried about it, that you won't let that happen." Brian said honestly.

"I see other people, my friends, and they're all in pretty much the same situation. I don't see any of them getting out of it. In fact, if anything, they're getting worse."

"Worse? How?" Brian asked with interest.

"Most of them spend their days sleeping and their nights getting high and playing online games. I only ever talk to them online because they hardly ever leave their houses anymore. Some of them, I met online and have never even seen in person." Jack said quietly.

"It sounds like they have problems, but you're okay." Brian said carefully.

"If it weren't for my dad, I might be just like them by now." Jack said regretfully, then explained, "It gets really lonely. I don't have ANY friends who I can visit or go and do things with. All the people I used to hang around with are either submerged in a job and a marriage and all that or they're substituting a computer generated reality for a real life."

"I'm going to have to watch 'The Matrix' again when I get home. I didn't know it was so relevant." Brian said, trying to inject some humor into the conversation.

Jack smiled at the words, then quietly said, "More than you know."

Brian looked at Jack with concern, knowing from his expression and tone of voice that he was about to reveal something that was really troubling him.

"I've reached a point where I'd rather look at online porn than go out on a date with a real girl." Jack admitted shyly.

"Why?" Brian asked curiously.

"I don't know." Jack said quietly, then amended, "I think that it's because all the girls that I've been interested in, turned out to be looking for... something else. Not me, anyway."

"What did they want?"

"I got the feeling that some of them used me like an accessory to impress their girlfriends. They weren't really interested in me, I was just something that looked good hanging on their arm. And then there are the ones who just wanted to have someone to pay their way so they could party every night. There hasn't been one who wanted to get to know me or even pretended that she might want to share in my interests. I'm tired of getting used, put off, disappointed, rejected and dumped. Porn is easier." Jack said frankly, then quickly said, "I'm sorry to be laying this all on you. I'm here to help you with your problems."

"Jack, we're friends. We're family. That means we help each other, even if it's just by listening." Brian said quietly.

"You're pretty smart for a kid." Jack said with a grin.

Brian decided that it was time for him to practice and gave Jack his best attempt at a 'WHATEVER' look.

Jack chuckled, then said, "You're getting better at that."

Brian smiled at the compliment, then said, "I don't think you have a problem, except maybe you're looking for girls in the wrong place. They can't all be like that. I have no idea what the right place is, but I'm sure you can find it. As far as your friends, again, it's not your problem. Maybe if you can show them that reality can be more fun than a computer generated fantasy, they might be willing to go out and do things."

"Have you ever been on a raiding party on teamspeak? It's hard to compete with a rush like that." Jack said frankly.

Brian thought for a moment, then said, "Considering the way that my reality is, it probably wouldn't be a good idea for me to start playing any of those games. I might never want to come back."

"I think you may be right." Jack said honestly, then smiled as he said, "How about we make an exciting reality for you, instead."

"Yeah. Let's do that."

* * * * *

"Are you okay?" Jack asked with concern as they walked away from the hot spring.

"You mean besides freezing?" Brian asked as he hurried to where they had left their clothes.

"Yeah. Besides that." Jack said with a chuckle.

"Hungry." Brian said honestly as he waited for Jack to release the rope and lower the duffle bag and backpack from the tree.

"I'm getting hungry, too. I know a good spot to stop on the way back where we can sit and eat." Jack said cheerfully as he handed Brian his clothes.

Brian looked at Jack speculatively. It appeared that the talk that they had had, had really been of help to Jack.

"Thanks, Brian." Jack said sincerely as he started to dress.

"After all you've done for me, I'm glad that there's something that I can do to help you, even if it is only listening." Brian said honestly, then pulled on his t shirt.

Jack noticed that Brian didn't seem the least bit self-conscious about being naked in front of him, but decided not to mention it and continued to dress as he said, "Whether you know it or not, you're doing a lot more for me than that."

"Like?" Brian asked curiously.

Jack shrugged, then said, "You're giving me a 'real life' friend that I can spend time with. You're showing me that I have value, that I can really do something to improve another person's life... not to mention that you're helping me resolve my feelings about my brother."

"These are his clothes, aren't they?" Brian asked as he looked down at the loose fitting black t shirt and black jeans he was wearing.

"Yeah. I'm sorry if that's creepy." Jack said quietly, then motioned for Brian to start walking.

Brian giggled, then said, "As long as it doesn't bother you, it's no problem for me."

"No. After Dillon died, we got rid of the few things that he brought with him, but we forgot about the camping gear. His backpack sat in the garage all this time, until I got it out to pack for you. That's when I found out that Dillon hadn't emptied his pack when we got back from camping. So I just washed his clothes and put them back in there." Jack said quietly.

Brian put an arm around Jack's waist and said, "I'm sorry you lost your brother, Jack. Reality sucks sometimes and I don't really blame anyone for wanting to get away from it. I guess what matters is 'how' you choose to get away. If you drink, do drugs, get lost in games or commit suicide, you're not helping anyone. No one is happier or better off. But if you try to escape your reality by changing it to make the world a better place and help people, then it's not a bad thing at all."

Jack stopped walking and stared at Brian with wonder.

It took a moment for Brian to notice, but he finally turned back to look at Jack with question.

"That was really profound." Jack said in amazement.

Brian shrugged, then said, "I have my moments."

* * * * *

They had walked in silence for nearly half an hour. It wasn't strained or uncomfortable at all, it was just that they both had some thinking to do and nothing needed to be said just then.

Finally, Jack broke the silence by saying, "It's right down here."

"What is?" Brian asked in confusion.

"The place where we can eat. Just watch your step, it's steep." Jack said as he led the way to some dense underbrush.

Brian could hear the trickle of water, but didn't see a stream anywhere.

"Careful." Jack said as he disappeared into some bushes.

Brian hesitantly followed and found that the bushes were masking the edge of a stream.

The place where Jack was waiting for him was like a little beach, formed from the sediment of the stream being deposited along the bank.

"This is nice." Brian said as he looked around.

A loose canopy of trees caused the sunlight to glitter and sparkle all around them, and the tinkling stream had a nearly tranquilizing effect.

"Ready to eat?" Jack asked with a smile.

"Past ready." Brian said with a grin as he took the backpack off his back.

"I love it here." Jack said as he looked up at the sparkling sunlight.

Brian looked at him and could see the peace radiating out from him.

"It shows." Brian said quietly.

"I think maybe I needed this get-away as much as you did." Jack said introspectively, then accepted a sandwich from Brian.

"Well, just don't expect things to be the same when you get back." Brian said frankly as he sat down to enjoy his food.

Jack turned and looked at him curiously.

"I see two ways that this can go. Either we each go back to the same thing that we left, or we work together and improve both our lives." Brian said simply, then took a bite of his sandwich.

"I really hope it's that easy." Jack said honestly.

"I didn't say anything about it being easy!" Brian said with a grin, then added, "If I've learned anything in the past twenty-four hours it's that the 'easy' things you choose are the ones you end up most regretting."

Jack thought about that for a moment, then said, "I suppose that's right. If I really invested some effort into finding a job, or new friends, or a decent girlfriend, then I'd probably be better off than just settling for whatever comes along."

Brian arched an eyebrow at him and waited for him to notice.

"Present company excepted." Jack added dutifully.

Brian nodded with a grin.

"I've never thought of myself as lazy, but... looking at it from this perspective, I guess I really am." Jack said thoughtfully.

"I am too." Brian said frankly.

Jack looked at Brian curiously, prompting him to explain.

"All of it. My dad, the guys at school, I just accepted everything that happened to me. It never even occurred to me to fight against it. Just be quiet and let it pass. Mommy will make it all better. Don't make waves. Don't raise a fuss. Just keep your head down and eventually all the bad things will go away." Brian said distantly, then looked Jack in the eyes and whispered, "I'm tired of being quiet."

Jack smiled, then said, "You know, there's probably not another living soul for about a hundred miles in any direction. I wouldn't mind if you wanted to make some noise."

Brian stopped and seemed to be thinking, then he quietly said, "I don't think I know how."

"Oh, you know how." Jack said with a smile.

Brian thought for another moment, then tilted his head back and let out a scream.

Jack considered, then said, "On a scale of one to ten, I'd rate that at about a two."

"Can you do better?" Brian asked with a grin.

As an answer, Jack opened his mouth and let out a scream that seemed to come from the depths of his soul.

"Wow!" Brian said in amazement.

"That one's been building up for a while." Jack said with a timid grin.

Brian got a determined look on his face, then started to scream in earnest.

It was an anguished cry, but there was a note of determination and defiance in there, too.

"Good one." Jack said appreciatively.

"I feel... all tingly. It's like I've been running." Brian said, barely able to contain his giggles.

"Sometimes, adrenaline can be a wonderful thing." Jack said peacefully.

"What else can we do? I feel like doing something wonderful!" Brian said with excitement.

Jack thought for a moment, then smiled.

"What is it?" Brian asked excitedly.

"Take off your clothes and I'll tell you." Jack said with a grin.

"What?" Brian yelped.

"Back home, how often do you get to do things naked?" Jack asked with a smile.

"I get naked when I shower. That's it." Brian said frankly.

"So? How would you feel about a naked hike back to the cabin?" Jack asked as he watched Brian's expression carefully.

"All the way back to the cabin?" Brian asked cautiously.

"At least for as long as it's fun. You don't have to, but just think about it. When will you have the chance to do something like this again?" Jack asked seriously.

"Remember me, the 'astoundingly' white guy? I think that should answer your question."

"You don't have to do it, but you said you wanted to do something wonderful and... this sounds kind of wonderful to me." Jack said frankly.

Brian thought for a moment, then asked, "Is this one of those lessons that I'm supposed to be learning?"

"No. It's just for fun." Jack said simply.

"And you said I can put my clothes back on whenever I want." Brian said slowly.

"Or don't take them off at all. It's completely up to you." Jack said honestly.

Brian slowly nodded in thought.

"I've talked myself into it. You do what you want." Jack said as he started to undress.

"But it's cold." Brian objected halfheartedly.

"We'll warm up once we start walking." Jack said simply as he pulled his shirt off over his head.

"But what about mosquitoes and stuff?" Brian asked cautiously.

"I haven't noticed any, but if you start having a problem, let me know, I have some bug repellent in the first aid kit."

Brian watched as Jack pulled down his pants, then came to a decision.

"If a mosquito bites my cock, I'm going to make you scratch it when it itches." Brian said as he took off his shirt.

"Just as long as you don't make me kiss it to make it better." Jack said with a grin as he sat down on the ground to put his boots back on.

"I was wanting to ask you about that." Brian said absently as he continued to undress.

"About what?" Jack asked curiously.

"Blowjobs." Brian said frankly.

Jack looked at Brian with surprise, then hesitantly asked, "What about them?"

"Well, I've heard some stuff, and it's all, like, that blowjobs are really great. I mean, from what I heard, it's like freaky, spectacular great. And I wondered if that's really true." Brian asked cautiously.

"It's true." Jack said simply.

"Have you ever..." Brian began to ask, then trailed off.

"Go ahead and ask whatever you want. It's fine." Jack said encouragingly, then asked, "You ready?"

Brian looked around to see that they hadn't left anything, then nodded.

Dressed only in their socks and shoes, carrying their clothes in the backpack and duffle bag, they began the trip back.

Once they were out in the open again, Jack had to admit, there was still a chill in the air.

In hindsight, he realized that it might have been smarter for them to have waited to get naked until after they were up the bank and on the other side of the scratchy bushes.

Jack wanted to generate some body heat, so he said, "Let's get moving."

* * * * *

They walked for a few minutes when Brian finally quietly asked, "Did you ever get a blowjob?"

"Sure. Lots of times." Jack said casually.

"How... I mean, I heard that you get a girl to stick it in her mouth. Is that it?" Brian asked hesitantly.

"First of all, whether it's a girl or a guy, a mouth is a mouth. I've had both and you can't tell the difference." Jack said frankly.

Brian's eyes went wide at the statement.

"And you don't just stick it in. There's sucking, licking, bobbing up and down, maybe if you're lucky a little trip down under to suck on your balls." Jack said thoughtfully.

"And it feels good?" Brian asked cautiously.

"It feels great!" Jack said with a smile.

Brian was quiet for a few minutes, then he hesitantly asked, "You said you did that with a guy. Did you ever, um... do that?"

"Are you asking if I ever gave a guy a blowjob?" Jack asked, just to be sure of the question.

"Um, yeah." Brian said nervously.

"Yeah. A couple times. But that was a few years ago." Jack said slowly.

"How was it? I mean, did you like doing it?" Brian asked curiously.

"It wasn't bad. I think I enjoyed that I was making my partner feel good, but I can't say that it's something that I really think about much. I suppose that if I were with a guy and we were messing around, I might do it again." Jack said consideringly.

"So it wasn't, like, gross or anything?" Brian asked cautiously.

"No. At least, I never felt that way about it." Jack said casually.

"Are you gay?" Brian asked hesitantly.

"No. But I'm open to trying different things. I've been with a few guys, but it didn't really 'do it' for me. I think for me, sex with a woman is better, I enjoy it more. Of course, the thing that's most important is who you're in love with. If something happened one day that I fell 'in love' and it turned out to be with a man... I'd be okay with that." Jack said thoughtfully.

"How can you say you're not gay and still say that you'd be okay with falling in love with a guy?" Brian asked in confusion.

"I prefer women. To me, that means I'm straight. To someone else, the fact that I'm open at all to the possibility of being with a guy would make me bisexual. And I'm sure that there are some people who would even call me gay. Honestly, it's all words. I'm just me." Jack said frankly.

"But I don't know what I am." Brian said thoughtfully.

"Some people know right away, others take years to figure it out. Just try not to worry about it too much, because worrying won't make it any easier or help you find out any faster." Jack said honestly.

"You know, I thought walking naked in the woods would feel... I don't know, naughty, or something. But this is nice." Brian said with a smile.

"Under our clothes, we're all just animals. Our bodies were designed to be touched by the sun and embraced by the breeze, so it's only natural that being out here like this would feel right." Jack said with a contented smile.

"You're kind of a poet, aren't you?" Brian asked with a grin.

"Not always, but out here, like this... yeah."

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

Well, we seem to have managed to come to the end of another chapter. Brian seems to be getting more and more comfortable in his own skin, and he is definitely becoming more open to new situations. He is very sharp, and he has picked up on the things that Jack is trying to teach him. Just as importantly, he is also teaching Jack different ways of seeing things. Jack is actually amazed at some of the ways that Brian sees through things and even puts things together in ways that Jack never thought of.

I am going to wait and see what will happen in the next forty or fifty chapters, and I will leave it to Multimapper to explain that.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher

Author's Note:

Thanks, Darryl. I guess it won't hurt for me to divulge some of my story writing secrets. ;)

Sometimes, when I'm writing a story like this one, I'll have ideas for what's going to happen later, even to the point of writing whole chapters of future events. To keep those future events in some kind of order, I number them with higher chapter numbers in chronological order. Darryl has already seen chapter 40 and chapter 50 of this story and finds it funny for some reason. I won't know how many chapters the story will actually end up being until it gets there. I guess we'll all find out together.

I hope y'all enjoyed the chapter. Let me know!