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Chapter 4

As Jack and Brian walked naked and silent through the woods, Brian considered his feelings, or more precisely, his lack of them.

Finding himself in this unfathomable situation would have been impossible to imagine just a few days ago. But now, Brian couldn't find any trace of embarrassment as he walked along.

To Brian's eye, Jack appeared to be in the same introspective state, naked and unashamed as he, just another animal in the woods, walked along in harmony with their surroundings.

* * * * *

The time had passed by without notice. All too soon, the pair arrived at the cabin. Jack walked in ahead of Brian and immediately went to his side of the bed and began to put on his sweats.

"It's going to take a while for dinner to cook. Would you mind going to the spring to get us some fresh water to go with dinner while I get the stove going?" Jack asked casually.

Brian walked across the room and picked up the jug that they had emptied earlier.

As Brian walked toward the door, Jack hesitantly asked, "Don't you want to get dressed first?"

"My clothes'll just get wet if I do." Brian said simply, then continued on his way.

Jack watched Brian's bare butt walk out the door, then muttered to himself, "I've created a monster."

* * * * *

As Brian walked to the spring in the diminishing late afternoon light, he felt a smile come across his face.

He wasn't thinking any particular thoughts. He wasn't feeling any particular feelings. But somewhere, deep inside him, he was happy.

After filling the water jug, Brian slowly walked back toward the cabin, looking forward to the coming night. Not because of anything they were planning on doing, because, as far as he knew, they didn't have any plans. He was simply looking forward to being surrounded by safety, security, acceptance and love.

Deep inside him, he felt a pang of regret that he couldn't have the same feeling when he was at home with his parents, who were, by definition, supposed to support and love him.

* * * * *

Once Brian was back in the cabin, he put the water jug on the counter by the dishpan, then walked across the room and began to put on his sweats.

"Is there anything I can do to help you with dinner?" Brian asked casually as he dressed. The soft fabric of the sweatsuit felt amazingly comfortable as he slipped it on over his chilled skin.

"No. Not right now. It's going to be a while before the stove is hot enough to get the water to boil." Jack said casually, then turned before continuing, "But if you want, you can unpack your backpack. There are some kitchen supplies in there, under the clothes, that I'm going to need."

"Oh, okay." Brian said as he started to take the clothes out of the backpack, then asked, "Where should I put these?"

"You can use those wooden crates in the corner as dresser drawers if you like." Jack said casually.

"Sounds good. I'd like to see what clothes I have to choose from." Brian said simply.

"I know they're probably not what you're used to. But no one will see them but us." Jack said as he moved around the kitchen area, organizing things.

"Well, I don't wear clothes like this back home, but that's mostly because my mom has always done my shopping for me. I never really cared too much about stuff like that." Brian said frankly.

"That settles it. You're not gay." Jack said with a playful grin.

Brian chuckled, then responded, "Whew! I'm glad that's settled."

Jack gave him a quick smile before going back to work.

Once Brian was past the clothes, he found several pouches of dehydrated food and a few canned goods.

"Where do you want the food?" Brian asked as he carried an armload of food across the cabin.

"Over here. I've cleared a space for you." Jack said as he motioned to the counter top.

"Why so much dehydrated stuff?" Brian asked casually.

"Mainly because it isn't perishable. We don't have a refrigerator, so we need food that we can store for a long time without it going bad." Jack said honestly.

"But what about the eggs?" Brian asked as he glanced at the ice chest.

"They'll be fine. If they can survive under a chicken's ass, a few days at room temperature won't do them any harm." Jack said frankly.

Brian chuckled and nodded his understanding.

"The sandwiches were the last thing I was worried about using up. They're gone now, so we just have to take care not to cook more than we can eat, and there shouldn't be any problem." Jack said frankly.

Brian walked back to his backpack to start looking through all the little pockets and pouches as he said, "I don't think it should be a problem, considering how good everything tastes here and how hungry I always seem to be."

"You and me both, Brian." Jack said as he worked on putting the food away.

Every time Brian opened another pocket or pouch on the backpack, it revealed another treasure. He found a sewing kit, a very old looking pocket knife, a compass, a few things that looked like things an expert woodsman would be able to use, but he had no idea what they were, and then he found a folded up piece of paper.

When he unfolded it, he was surprised to see that it was hand written, in a nearly illegible scrawl. The printing was similar to his own handwriting when he was in first grade. At first he thought it was a joke, or some kind of secret code, mostly due to the hand drawn heart symbols. But when he deciphered the meaning, his blood ran cold.

Brian's eyes filled with tears and he debated within himself whether or not he should show the letter to Jack. He couldn't even begin to guess at what Jack's reaction might be.

They had had such a good day. Was it really so much to ask that Jack be allowed to enjoy one full day of happiness before the harsh realities of life intruded to bring his spirits down?

He watched as Jack checked the stove and smiled that the water was finally beginning to boil. The debate continued within Brian as Jack started to slowly pour the contents of a pouch into the boiling water as he stirred.

Finally, Brian decided that Jack needed to see the letter. Whether it hurt or not, the man had been so incredibly open and honest with him that it would be a crime, no, a sin, not to show him that same respect in return.

But after another moment of watching Jack's dinner preparations, Brian's resolve crumbled and he decided that it would be best for Jack if he got the message after dinner, when there wasn't anything that he needed to be doing or worrying about.

"Is there anything in your backpack that needs to be unpacked?" Brian asked as he folded the piece of paper and put it back in the side pocket of the smaller backpack.

"Yeah. It's about the same as yours, mostly clothes and supplies." Jack said casually.

"Where do you want your clothes?" Brian asked as he looked around to see if there were any more crates.

"Just lay them on my side of the bed and I'll take care of them when I'm done here." Jack said with a smile.

Brian nodded, then went to the business of unpacking.

* * * * *

Once Brian had finished with Jack's backpack, he went back to the crates to get a better look at his clothes... Dillon's clothes.

The most obvious thing about them was that most of them were black. There was a midnight blue t shirt with a stark white raven on it that was the most colorful shirt in the collection. There were also a few t shirts with skulls and other slightly nightmarish things, but none of it was any worse than what he'd seen other kids wear to school.

After a few more minutes of looking through the clothes, he decided that, overall, he liked the style.

"Soup's on." Jack finally called from the kitchen area.

Brian was surprised at just how good their dinner tasted. Intellectually, he knew that the chili was dehydrated and the cooking instructions were 'add water', but the resulting chili along with buttered bread, was as fine a meal as he had ever tasted. Of course, the feast was complimented by tall glasses of cool spring water, that, just an hour before, had been inside the earth.

Brian was able to eat his fill, and there wasn't a single scrap of food left for them to share with the local wildlife.

Without offering or being asked, Brian automatically walked to the dishpan and helped Jack do the dishes.

He felt the dread building up in him, but couldn't deny that giving Jack the letter was the right thing to do.

When he had dried the last dish and put it away. He drew up his courage and quietly said, "Jack. I found something while I was unpacking."

"What did you find?" Jack asked with interest.

Rather than answer verbally, Brian walked to the backpack.

Jack looked at Brian curiously before taking the piece of paper from him.

Brian watched as the color seemed to drain out of Jack's face.

Tears started to well in Jack's eyes before he stiffly said, "I need to bring in some wood before it gets dark."

"Okay." Brian said quietly, then watched as Jack hurried out the door.

Brian walked to the stove and checked to see if the fire needed any wood. It seemed to be fine, so he left it alone.

After a few minutes of walking around the cabin, Brian finally settled into one of the chairs at the decades old table and waited.

Less than an hour before, Brian had felt so carefree and like nothing was impossible.

Now, all he could do was sit quietly and worry for Jack.

* * * * *

Brian walked to the front door and looked out. The early evening twilight had given way to darkness.

Picking up the flashlight, Brian walked outside.

As he turned the corner, he spotted Jack, propped against the back of the cabin.

Before he turned off the flashlight, he caught a glimpse of the wet trails of tears on Jack's cheeks.

Feeling his way in the dark, Brian finally took hold of Jack and held him firmly.

After a moment, Jack put his arms loosely around Brian and returned the hug.

Brian held Jack close for a few minutes, silently offering his support.

Then something odd caught Brian's eye and he looked up.

Brian nearly gasped at the sight of the infinite sky above them.

Jack wasn't in any state to be talking about the stars just then, but Brian was amazed at the seemingly countless stars filling the sky. He had never imagined such a majestic sight.

"It's getting cold. We need to get inside." Jack said hoarsely, barely breaking the silence.

"Okay." Brian said gently, then turned his flashlight on and watched as Jack gathered an armload of wood.

When it was apparent that Jack was ready to go, Brian led the way, shining the light were Jack would need it.

* * * * *

"Are you alright?" Brian asked in a whisper.

"Yeah. It's just that he never... that's the only time he ever said that he loved me." Jack said, barely able to restrain his tears.

Brian nodded, and knew that there weren't any words that would be adequate to comfort his friend in this situation.

"Thanks, Brian." Jack whispered.

Brian nodded, and got a sense that Jack was past the worst of his pain.

"Well, the dishes are done. We have fire wood. So I suppose that the rest of the night is ours to do with as we want." Jack said, obviously wanting to change the subject.

"If I had my phone, I'd at least have a few video games and my music. I don't have any idea of what there is to do." Brian said honestly.

Jack chuckled, then said, "That's part of the magic of this place. Without any of those things to divert your attention, you have to develop a new set of skills."


"Like conversation, story telling, playing games, singing, or maybe just sitting silently and thinking about things." Jack said frankly.

Brian nodded thoughtfully.

"Of course, I promised to teach you a new trick when we got back to the cabin." Jack said with a grin.

"Oh, yeah." Brian said as a blush immediately colored his cheeks.

"It's up to you. If you don't feel like you're ready, I can show you some other time." Jack said gently.

"N-No. I want to." Brian stammered, "I'm just... scared, I guess."

"If you want me to show you, all you'll have to do is watch for a couple minutes. I won't touch you or ask you to touch me." Jack said as he looked Brian in the eyes.

"That's okay. I mean... it's not like I haven't touched you already." Brian said shyly as a fresh, even brighter, blush overtook the previous one.

"This is different, Brian. That was to satisfy your curiosity. This is something sexual. There's no way that I'd let us do something like that."

"Why not?" Brian asked curiously, sounding less nervous.

"I like you, Brian. No, I love you. If we were to do anything sexual together, everything would change between us. It might feel good at the time, but we would both know, deep inside, that it's wrong."

"Wrong?" Brian asked quietly.

"Well, wrong for us." Jack amended. "We're not meant to be lovers. If we tried, I'm pretty sure it would destroy what we already have."

Brian thought for a moment, then slowly nodded his agreement.

"So, do you want to teach the 'big guy' a new trick? I'm pretty sure you're really going to like this." Jack said with a grin, as he casually gestured toward Brian's crotch.

Brian giggled and said, "Yeah. That sounds great."

* * * * *

Jack motioned for Brian to walk with him over to the bed.

"When you get to be my age, some porn usually helps things along. But for you... well, I doubt that you'll need any encouragement." Jack said, then pulled his sweatpants down.

"Wwwhat should I do?" Brian asked nervously.

"Just sit down and watch. This won't take too long. I'm just going to show you enough to get you started." Jack said as he then pulled off his boxer shorts.

Brian's eyes went wide when he saw that Jack was already fully erect.

Jack walked to his backpack and took out a small jar.

"Petroleum jelly is one of those all purpose things like bailing wire and duct tape that you should always pack with you on a trip. It's useful for a lot of different things, but this is probably my favorite." Jack said as he gathered some of the pale goo on his fingertips before closing the jar.

"Just so you know, you can't use this with a condom. So if you're going to be doing anything that requires a condom, you'll need a water based lubricant." Jack said seriously.

Brian looked at Jack uncertainly.

"Oh, come on! Don't tell me that no one's told you about condoms!" Jack said with exasperation.

"I've seen lots of stuff on TV, and I've heard things. I'm just... I don't know if I understood it right." Brian said cautiously.

Jack nodded, then said, "Remind me to cover that with you before we leave."

Brian nodded that he would.

"I guess we'll start with the basic stroke." Jack said as he took hold of his slightly less rigid cock.

Brian watched with wide eyes as Jack slowly began to stroke himself.

"Since you're cut, like I am, you should be able to do just like I'm doing." Jack said as his strokes became longer and more fluid.

"What do you mean 'cut'?" Brian asked shyly, feeling like it was something that he should already know.

"It means that we don't have foreskin." Jack said simply as he continued his long, rhythmic strokes.

"You mentioned foreskin before, but I don't really understand." Brian said timidly.

Jack took firm hold of his cock and forced a sheath of skin to gather around his glans.

"When boys are born, they have skin like this that covers the entire tip of their cock and sometimes beyond. Sometimes when a boy is just a few days old, a doctor or a rabbi cuts the foreskin, leaving the glans... the head, exposed." Jack said carefully, then continued to stroke himself.

"Why do they do that?" Brian asked cautiously.

"There's something in the old testament teachings about it, so for some it's religious. I think for everyone else it's an excuse to mutilate our penises so the glans will be exposed and desensitized. That way we won't enjoy sex as much." Jack said frankly.

Brian thought about that for a moment, then said, "Can I blame this on my dad, too?"

Jack chuckled and said, "Sure. We can't be sure that he told them to do it, but I think it's safe to assume that he didn't tell them not to."

"Is that cum?" Brian asked as he pointed to a glistening pearly drop on the tip of Jack's cock.

"Not exactly. That's precum. It's the body's natural lubrication." Jack said, then used his thumb to spread the precum around his glans.

Brian watched in wonder, transfixed by the sight.

"I think it's basically the same fluid as cum, there's just less of it." Jack said, and Brian noticed that his voice sounded different; deeper, huskier.

"I was going to show you some other strokes, but I'd better stop." Jack said as his pumping hand came to rest.

"Why are you stopping?" Brian asked cautiously.

"Me showing you how to do this is one thing. Me jerking off and shooting my load in front of you is something else and crosses a line." Jack said as he reached down to pick up his boxer shorts.

"I can go outside for a while if you want to finish." Brian said quietly.

"Actually, I was thinking about going to the outhouse so I could do just that. And while I'm gone, you could deal with anything that might have come up in the last few minutes." Jack said as he glanced at the tent in Brian's pants.

"So, when the cum... comes. What should I do?" Brian asked cautiously.

Jack walked to the door and tossed a roll of toilet paper to Brian, then took another for himself.

Brian didn't come anywhere close to catching it, but fortunately, it landed on the bed, beside him.

It was obvious that Jack noticed the failed catch, but all he said was, "I'll knock when I get back."

Brian nodded and watched as Jack walked out the door.

* * * * *

After a moment of hesitation, Brian slowly pulled down the front of his sweatpants. His hands automatically continued the process without him being consciously aware and a moment later he was standing naked, breathing shallowly.

With shaky hands, he gathered some petroleum jelly on his fingertips.

Hearing his heart pounding in his ears, he took his engorged cock in his hand. And he absently noted that it had never been as hard as it was at that moment.

As soon as he stroked himself with his slimy hand, a flood of sensations coursed through his body, unlike any he had ever known in his life.

Feeling lightheaded from the nervousness and excitement, he did his best to mimic Jack's movements from earlier and couldn't believe the amazing feeling.

After that, instinct took over and his hand was a blur, jacking with all the force and fury at his command.

The sitting position he was in felt a little awkward, so he laid back on the bed without missing a beat.

Brian closed his eyes as the indescribable sensations in his cock became the center of his universe.

He felt an urgency building within him and his hand started moving impossibly faster.

Completely lost in sensation, he stroked himself until the urgency erupted into a long ropey white strand of cum, flying across his stomach and chest.

He was unprepared for a second spurt that shot up his chest and onto his mouth and nose.

His pumping hand slowed as lesser spurts also collected on his chest and stomach.

Finally, his hand stopped and he just lay there, breathing heavily.

The world was calm and silent around him as his body felt as though it were made of lead.

Absently, Brian licked his lips, then, too late, remembered that it was his cum that was there.

His first instinct was to be revolted by it, but as the taste registered, he realized that it was sweet... and slightly salty.

He didn't lick his lips again, nor did he spit. He was too exhausted to be concerned and continued to lie in a satiated heap on the sleeping bag.

A knock on the door snapped Brian out of his half drowsy state.

He sat up quickly, wanting to hide the evidence of what he'd just done. But just as quickly he realized how silly the thought was and called out, "Come in."

Jack stepped into the cabin, then stopped just inside the door.

"I see that everything 'came out' okay." Jack said slowly.

Brian giggled, then said in a small voice, "I made a mess."

Jack smiled at him as he said, "I'll get you a damp cloth. I don't want you using up all the toilet paper."

"Thanks, Jack." Brian said past a chuckle.

"How are you?" Jack asked as he wet a towel and wrung it out.

"Never better." Brian said softly, but sincerely.

"I'm glad. Even though it's a wonderful thing, the feelings are so intense. I could understand if it was a little bit frightening." Jack said as he walked to Brian and began to wipe him clean, starting with his face.

"No. It was perfect. It was you that made it perfect for me." Brian said honestly as he looked up into Jack's eyes.

"I don't know much about psychology and stuff, but it seems to me that this is one of those turning points that can be a wonderful memory or end up scarring you for life. I really hope that years from now you'll look back on this day and be able to smile at the memory." Jack said as he gently wiped Brian's chest and stomach.

Without thought, Brian leaned forward and put his arms around Jack and pulled him into a firm kiss.

It only lasted a few seconds, but it might as well have lasted forever, since time lost all meaning. The only thing that existed for Brian in that moment was feeling.

Finally, Jack pulled back and looked at Brian with concern.

"It's okay, Jack. That was love, not 'in love'. I didn't have words, and I needed to tell you, so you'd know." Brian said as he looked into Jack's eyes to convey his sincerity.

"I understand, Brian." Jack said quietly, then sat on the bed beside Brian and pulled him into a firm hug.

They sat like that for a few minutes, until Brian reluctantly said, "I've got to pee."

"Big boys call it 'needing to piss', but go on." Jack said as he released Brian, then handed him the damp towel and continued, "Here, you can finish cleaning up while you're out there."

Brian stood and quickly pulled on his sweat pants, then stepped into his boots.

"Here." Jack said as he waited for Brian to pull on his coat, then handed him a flashlight.

* * * * *

Brian walked briskly to the treeline and dropped the flashlight and towel on the ground before quickly pulling down the front of his sweat pants and beginning to take a much needed pee... piss.

When he finished, he smiled to himself as he took a moment to clean the last of the petroleum jelly off his, now limp, cock.

Finally, he turned to walk back toward the cabin, then stopped. He felt a sense of tranquility, of inner peace, that he had never known before.

He tilted his head back and looked at the infinite stars above him as he took in a slow, deep breath of clean, fresh air.

The air was cold, but he didn't care. He felt alive for the first time. And life was beautiful.

* * * * *

Jack was organizing the clothes that Brian had unpacked for him.

The door opened and Brian said, "I just stopped in for this. Be right back."

Jack turned in time to see Brian grab a roll of toilet paper before disappearing back out the door.

He smiled, then went back to getting things put away the way he wanted them.

Once that was done, he sat down on the bed and considered the tremendous undertaking that he had committed himself to.

When his dad had told him about Brian, he had imagined a boy who was closed off, maybe not to the degree that Dillon was, still, that was his expectation.

But Brian had surprised him. The boy was open to his instruction, he was almost desperate for it.

The way that Brian seemed to watch his every move and hang on his every word worried him, because he was afraid that he might say or do the wrong thing and hurt him.

He didn't really have a plan, more like a series of objectives.

Without a handbook or any real experience, Jack felt like he might be in over his head.

Brian seemed to have grown up deprived of any sort of male role model.

The boy's shyness was only one symptom. He also seemed to be starved for physical contact and desperate for any type of approval.

Jack knew that the activities in the coming day would not only provide Brian with some much needed confidence, but also give him several opportunities to achieve things, for which Jack would reward him with praise and affection.

His thoughts turned to Dillon and how troubled he had been the last time Jack had seen him.

Even though Dillon and Brian were two very different people with completely different problems, Jack could see a definite connection. He felt that his father had chosen correctly to become involved because Brian would almost certainly have started down the path to self destruction if no one had helped.

With his low self esteem and a complete lack of support, Jack couldn't see any way that Brian would have been able to deal with the challenges of adolescence that were only just beginning to surface.

The door opened and Brian stepped into the cabin.

"While I was sitting there, doing my business..."

Jack quickly interrupted, "I think that now would be a good time to start using some 'big boy' words."

Brian flashed him a 'seriously?' look, then slowly said, "Okay. I was taking a... dump, then out of nowhere, icy wind blew on my... ass! It... scared the shit out of me! I thought there was an animal or something down in there licking me!"

Jack tried, but he couldn't contain his laughter at Brian's expression.

Brian glared at Jack and waited for him to quiet.

Finally Jack said, "The outhouse is old and it's got a few loose boards. Now and then a draft will blow through."

"Yeah! Now you tell me." Brian said indignantly, but a smile had found it's way into his expression.

Jack picked up the box of hand wipes, then said, "Wash up, then let's see what we can come up with to do next."

* * * * *

After cleaning his hands, Brian walked to the table and took the seat opposite Jack's.

"Brian, I know that I've mentioned this before, but I want to say it again to drive home the point. Part of what makes this place seem so magical is the absence of all the technological toys that we use to distract us and keep us from thinking. Being here, like this, we have to become active participants in our entertainment."

It took a few seconds for Brian to process Jack's words, but finally he said, "So watching TV, listening to .mp3s and stuff like that is sort of one-way entertainment. We don't have to do anything but soak it in, and because of that, we're forgetting how to 'be' entertaining."

"Saying 'forgetting' kind of implies that we ever learned in the first place. I think that so many parents use the television as a baby sitter and video games as 'play' for their kids that there's a whole generation that's growing up who don't have the first clue about how to make up a game or entertain themselves." Jack said thoughtfully.

Brian nodded, finding no evidence to dispute what Jack was saying.

"Being here, without all those 'conveniences', we have the chance to talk or play games that we've made up for ourselves or even to just appreciate some peace and quiet. There's also the experience of being out of touch. We don't have a phone or a computer to talk to other people. No one is going to call or text us."

"Yeah. I always carry my phone with me. It was in my backpack. I don't think I can even remember a time when I was completely 'out of touch' with everyone." Brian said slowly.

"So this may be the first time that you've been able to experience the sense of being 'alone'." Jack said quietly.

"Well, not totally alone." Brian said with a smile.

Jack returned the smile, then said, "True. But you're getting the experience of being 'out of contact'. I think that's important. Without that lifeline, always waiting to be used, there's a feeling of independence, of separateness, that you never really can feel when you're inside a city."

"Yeah. I guess so." Brian said thoughtfully.

"Do you realize what we're doing right now?" Jack asked seriously.

"Just talking." Brian said hesitantly.

Jack smiled, then said, "How often do you have the experience of sitting down with someone, face-to-face, and talking with them like this?"

Brian thought for a moment then slowly answered, "I don't think I ever have, not like this. Whenever I've sat and talked with someone, it was for something to do with school or for some other reason that I 'had to'."

"I can't talk about everywhere, but from what I see around me, it looks like conversation is becoming a lost art. Mindless incessant chatter is doing quite well, but true civilized, thoughtful conversation has gone the way of the dinosaur. I mean, sure, there's the whole Internet version of conversation, and I guess that's okay, but there's a 'distance' to it. It's safe because there's anonymity. But talking to someone, looking them in the eyes, reading their facial expressions and body language... I just don't see it happening anymore." Jack said distantly.

Brian slowly nodded, then quietly said, "We never did anything like that at my house. I mean, talk. Dad's always watching the TV or doing chores around the house. And mom's always doing... something. Mom things."

"Well, that's another way that I was lucky. Every now and then, dad would take a night for us to sit and talk about things. He might order a pizza or something, and then we'd just sit there and talk about his work or my classes and whatever else came to mind. It actually sounds kind of boring when I'm telling about it, but it's hard to explain how important it is. It's like my dad's way of showing me that he's interested in my life and that he really want's me to be a part of his life."

"Wow. I can't even imagine how that would be." Brian said in wonder.

"What does your family do at dinner time? Do you eat together?" Jack asked curiously.

"Oh yeah. I'm not sure whether it's mom or dad who came up with it, but we always sit down together at dinner time." Brian said as he looked Jack in the eyes.

"What do you talk about?" Jack asked with interest.

Brian thought for a moment, then said, "Nothing, really."

"So you just sit there, silently?"

Brian thought for a little bit longer, then slowly said, "Yeah. I don't think anyone ever told me that we weren't allowed to talk at dinner, but... we never really did. Sometimes dad mentions something, like, that we're going to visit my grandfather in the nursing home, or something like that. But, other than that, I can't think of anytime that we've really said anything."

"Are you close to your grandfather?" Jack asked curiously.

Brian shrugged, then said, "Not really. I only get to see him once every couple of months, and then it's only for a few minutes."

"My grandpa and I are really close. This is his cabin." Jack said with a gentle smile, then continued, "If it weren't for Grandpa, I don't think me and dad would have done very well after the divorce. Grandpa brought us up here and talked with both of us. I don't even know how long we stayed here... it felt like forever. But me and Dad and Grandpa went for walks and talked about stuff. It felt like what a family 'should' be."

"I don't know what that feels like." Brian said darkly, then realized something, and smiled. He looked Jack in the eyes and said, "Yes I do know. This. This is what family feels like."

"That's right, Brian. Sharing our thoughts and feelings, sharing in 'doing' things, in having experiences. Connecting, bonding or whatever you want to call it, this is what family is about." Jack said as he looked into Brian's eyes.

Brian smiled, then it faded as he said, "But then I'll have to go back... to them."

"The great thing about family is, that once you get it, you have it forever. You carry it with you. When your dad is being a dick-wad and you're feeling alone, you can remember that you have a family that loves you and will always be happy to see you and do things with you." Jack said with a gentle smile.

"Tell me, Brian, do you play a musical instrument?" Jack asked curiously.

"I wanted to learn piano, but my dad said 'no'. He said that after a long day of work, he didn't want to have to listen to me playing scales while he was trying to relax." Brian said distantly.

"He sucks." Jack said frankly.

Brian smiled and nodded.

"If you really want to learn to play the piano, we'll get you a keyboard and headphones, so you can practice without disturbing anyone. From what Grandpa says, people used to learn to play music so they could get together and share in the pleasure of playing together. No one ever thought about making a career out of it or making money off of it. The whole point was to enjoy making music and share the joy and the music with others." Jack said quietly.

"Do you play an instrument?" Brian asked curiously.

"Yes. I play the guitar." Jack said with a smile, then added, "And I play it badly."

Brian giggled at the declaration.

"I didn't bring the guitar this trip because I didn't want to take the chance of it becoming a distraction." Jack said honestly.

"Well, maybe if I can get a keyboard, we can find the time to play badly together." Brian suggested hopefully.

"Yeah. I'd really like that." Jack said with a smile.

There was a lull in the conversation, and Brian felt like he should say something.

"Would you like some popcorn?" Jack asked curiously.

Brian blinked, then, just to be sure he had heard correctly, asked, "Popcorn?"

"Yeah. I brought some and we've got a popping basket. If you'll do the popping, I'll melt some butter for when it's done." Jack said as he stood from the table.

"What do I have to do?" Brian asked cautiously as he walked with Jack to the stove.

"It's kind of like when you make toast, except that you have to shake it a little so the kernels don't stick." Jack said as he took a wire mesh basket on an arm and handed it to Brian.

"Open that." Jack said as he walked to the pouches of food and retrieved a plastic bag of popcorn.

Brian opened the top of the basket and watched as Jack poured in the kernels.

"Close it up and you're ready to go." Jack said with a smile, then sat the bag of popcorn aside.

Brian closed the basket, then opened the wood stove that had a generous amount of coals built up, and slowly moved the basket over them.

"I'm putting a bowl beside you so you can dump it out when it's done. I'm thinking we'll need two baskets." Jack said frankly.

Brian nodded as he watched the basket carefully. He didn't want to take the chance of accidentally catching the popcorn on fire.

* * * * *

After a few minutes, the first kernels of popcorn started to pop. Brian couldn't help but smile as he watched the popcorn kernels exploding inside the wire mesh basket.

Due to his microwave experience, Brian knew that when the popping had slowed to only one kernel every few seconds, that it was time to stop.

He took the basket out of the stove, then carefully opened it and poured the steamy hot popcorn into the waiting bowl.

Jack was immediately at his side with the bag of popcorn to fill his basket again.

Brian went back to toasting the popcorn kernels over the coals while Jack took the bowl and added butter and salt to the popcorn.

"My mouth is watering." Brian said with a grin.

"I know. Me too." Jack said happily as he placed the bowl of prepared popcorn at Brian's side.

Brian noticed and snagged a few pieces of popcorn as he carefully watched his basket.

"Excellent popcorn." Brian said with appreciation.

"Yeah. None better." Jack said happily as he walked to the ice chest.

The first kernels of popcorn started to pop, then Jack asked, "Do you want orange soda?"

"Sure." Brian said casually as he shook the basket and made sure it didn't drift too close to the coals.

"It's not going to be ice cold, but I've never really minded that too much." Jack said as he placed two cans of soda on the table.

"Why don't you just keep them outside?" Brian asked curiously.

"We've tried that. We've also tried using the pool under the spring as a refrigerator, since the water's so cold. The raccoons and such are very resourceful here. It's as likely as not that anything we put out there won't be there when we come back for it." Jack said frankly.

Brian chuckled, then turned his full attention to the basket as the popcorn started to pop.

In less than a minute, Brian was emptying the basket into the bowl.

Jack quickly poured butter over the popcorn, then gave it a generous dusting of salt.

* * * * *

"Nothing EVER tasted this good." Brian said after his first mouthful of popcorn.

"Yeah. Except every other thing that we cook up here. It's all wonderful." Jack said with a grin.

"I just can't believe how something as simple as buttered popcorn can feel so special! I have microwave popcorn at home all the time and it's no big deal. I can't even tell you what the difference is except that this means something." Brian said with difficulty.

"Brian, you made that. It's your accomplishment. I help you with the butter and salt, so that makes it something that we shared. We're sitting here, enjoying it together without anything else to distract us, so that makes it more of a focus for our attention. We haven't been getting a lot of things that you would consider 'treats' since we've been up here, so that makes it special." Jack said consideringly, then added, "Or maybe it's because I used real butter."

"It's got to be the butter." Brian said playfully.

Jack smiled, then went back to eating his popcorn.

* * * * *

"Do you know how to sing?" Jack asked as he relaxed back in his chair.

They had finished the popcorn and were nursing the last of their sodas.

"No, not really." Brian said shyly.

"I'm not a great singer, myself. But I still enjoy doing it when I get the chance." Jack said frankly.

"Okay. But I wouldn't know what to sing." Brian said shyly.

"It doesn't matter. Just think about some of the songs you like, and try to sing one of them. If it's something I know, then maybe I'll join in." Jack said with an encouraging smile.

"You say that we've got nothing in common, no common ground to start from, and we're falling apart." Brian began to sing, he was a little bit flat, but all in all, not bad considering that he had probably never sang A Capella before.

Jack decided that, since he knew the song, that he would join in.

"You'll say, the world has come between us, Our lives have come between us, But I know you just don't care." They sang, more or less in unison and slightly off pitch. Still, for a first try, it wasn't that bad.

"And I said, what about 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'? She said, 'I think I remember the film, and as I recall, I think, we both kinda liked it.' And I said, 'Well, that's one thing we've got." They sang together, and this time they actually seemed to come together enough that they sounded like they were singing the same song.

This time, Brian sang alone. Mostly because Jack wasn't sure about the next lyric of the song.

"I see you - the only one who knew me, and now your eyes see through me, I guess I was wrong. So what now? It's plain to see we're over, and I hate when things are over - When so much is left undone." Brian sang in a voice that was clearer and sounded more confident than when he began.

"And I said, what about 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'? She said, 'I think I remember the film, and as I recall, I think, we both kinda liked it.' And I said, 'Well, that's one thing we've got."

Brian nodded to Jack, signalling him to join in, then began to sing, "And I said, what about 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'? She said, 'I think I remember the film, and as I recall, I think, we both kinda liked it.' And I said, 'Well, that's one thing we've got'."

Jack stopped, but Brian continued with the next verse, "You say that we've got nothing in common1... Why did you stop?"

"Because all it does is repeat over and over after this." Jack said frankly.

"Yeah. Songs sometimes do that." Brian said simply.

"Not like this one. It really repeats a lot, I mean, to the point of being annoying." Jack said seriously.

Brian thought about it for a moment, then said, "I guess I can see how you could feel that way, but it doesn't bother me."

Jack smiled a brilliant smile which confused Brian.

"You just disagreed with me." Jack said happily.

"Yeah. So?" Brian said hesitantly.

"Brian, don't you get it? A doormat would NEVER disagree with someone. You listened to my opinion, disagreed with my assessment, then voiced your own opinion, which you stated respectfully, I might add. That is AWESOME! If we can just get you comfortable enough to do that all the time, with your family and at school, then you should be in great shape when you get back." Jack said cheerfully.

"If I knew it would make you this happy, I would have disagreed with you sooner." Brian said hesitantly.

Jack chuckled, then said, "Keep that attitude coming, buddy. By the time we get you back home, they won't know what hit them."

"I'll do my best." Brian said with a reluctant grin.

* * * * *

As the night went on, more singing and general conversation ensued.

Even though all they had done was talk and sing, Brian couldn't remember a more entertaining night in his life. The evening had seemed so full and so much fun.

"I was thinking that, if you wanted, you could try something new tonight." Jack said casually.

"What's that?" Brian asked with interest.

"Sleeping naked." Jack said simply.

"Why would I want to do that?" Brian asked cautiously, not knowing if there might actually be some good reason for it.

"I've always thought that it felt good. It's more comfortable. I was just thinking that this would be a safe place where you could try it out and decide if it's something that you like." Jack said frankly.

"I always wear pajamas at home." Brian said slowly.

"I figured." Jack said with a shrug as he stood, then added, "I usually sleep naked, the cabin was just too cold last night, and besides, I was afraid that I'd freak you out if I stripped naked and went to sleep beside you."

Brian chuckled, then said, "Yeah. I probably would've been laying there, terrified, the entire night."

"Come on, tomorrow's a work day so we need to get our sleep." Jack said with a grin as he started to undress.

"Oh yeah, horrible things." Brian said as he walked to his side of the bed.

"That's right. So we need to get our rest." Jack said as he pulled down his pants.

"I don't think that will be a problem. I feel like I could sleep for a week." Brian said as he also undressed.

Jack was completely naked, he glanced over at Brian and found that he wasn't paying him the least little bit of attention.

"Goodnight, Brian." Jack said as he sat on the edge of the bed and scooted into his sleeping bag.

"Goodnight, Jack." Brian said happily as he did the same.

Once he was assured that Brian was settled into place, Jack reached beside him and turned down the fire of the lantern until it went out.

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

Well, it seems that another hurdle has been passed. As time goes by, Brian comes, more and more, out of his shell.

Real Butter makes a BIG difference. Margarine is not very different from plastic, actually, and is not particularly good for humans, and it doesn't taste very good, either.

Oh yeah, 'Breakfast at Tiffany's.' That is one of those songs that gets on your nerves after a while, like 'Hey Jude' and 'The Boxer', two hours of 'lie-la-lie's'.

I can hardly wait to see what happens next.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher

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