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Chapter 2

Brian awoke to an unusual sensation.

His body was wrapped in warmth and comfort, but the end of his nose was ice cold.

He blinked his eyes and tried to get his bleary mind to explain why such a strange and unlikely thing was happening to him.

As he slowly came more awake, the memories came back to him in a rush.

His father had picked him up from school and handed him over to a complete stranger who went by the name of Jack.

Brian cautiously turned over to look beside him in the bed and his breath caught at the sight.

Jack was lying there, turned on his side and facing him.

Brian couldn't help but marvel at how innocent and... beautiful Jack looked as he slept.

Jack's golden hair lay tousled and unkempt on the pillow and it framed his youthful, nearly angelic, face.

It was all that Brian could do not to reach out and touch him.

Anything so beautiful just begged to be touched, held... adored.

Before Brian could pursue that train of thought any further, he realized that he needed to use the bathroom.

It was uncomfortably cold in the cabin and Brian was reluctant to get out of the incredibly warm and snuggley sleeping bag. But when nature calls, it's best to answer.

Brian carefully got out of the sleeping bag, doing his best not to make any noise and wake Jack.

He immediately took his coat down off the peg by the door and put it on, then forced his feet into the stiff boots he had worn the night before.

* * * * *

The early morning chill outside was like a slap in the face, and Brian was jolted from his half-drowsy state into full wakefulness.

The sky was light, and the first rays of the sun were just peeking over the horizon.

As much as Brian would like to have stood on the porch and enjoyed the view, the sudden chill in the air had changed his bladder's request for relief into a demand.

He started down and away from the cabin, toward the outhouse, when Jack's words from the night before came to him.

Jack had said that when they needed to pee, they would normally just go behind a tree.

Brian decided that, since Jack was going to all the trouble of trying to help him, that he should at least put forth an effort and not wait to be told what to do every step of the way.

He glanced behind him and saw that the cabin was just out of view, then walked off the path and found a suitable tree to christen.

* * * * *

As Brian walked back toward the cabin, he saw the door open, and Jack stepped out.

"Good morning!" Jack said with a relaxed smile as he casually walked down the path, away from the cabin.

Brian was surprised to see that Jack was wearing a pair of glasses. They weren't horn rimmed, but the frames were stark black against his gentle features.

Jack noticed Brian's surprised look and said, "It wouldn't make sense for me to wear my contacts while we're camping. Besides, I think my eyes will appreciate the break. I know the glasses look dorky, but I guess that's part of roughing it."

"No. I think they look great." Brian said quickly, then added, "You should think about wearing them all the time."

"Really?" Jack asked uncertainly.

"Yeah. Seriously." Brian said with conviction.

"Thanks." Jack said with a smile, then quickly added, "Excuse me, I need to visit the lava-tree."

"I already marked that one." Brian said as he pointed.

"I'll watch my step." Jack said with a grin, then hurried away.

Brian continued back toward the cabin, feeling unusually relaxed.

* * * * *

Once Brian was back inside the cabin, he was surprised that it didn't feel nearly as cold as it did when he first woke up.

There was certainly a chill in the air, but it wasn't quite so insistent after being outside.

After a moment of looking around, Brian walked to the stove and hesitantly reached out to touch the handle.

Once he was assured that it wasn't going to burn him, he carefully opened the wood stove and found a bed of faintly burning coals.

The heat that emanated from the stove felt so good that it was almost intoxicating.

Brian walked to a bin of wood, a few feet away, and carried two small pieces back to the stove and put them in.

He waited for a moment to see that he hadn't suffocated the coals, then when the wood started smoking, he closed the door of the stove and stood.

"I'll get the fire going, then we can go get some water from the spring while the cabin warms up." Jack said as he walked into the cabin.

"I already added some wood. There were still coals left from last night." Brian said hesitantly.

Jack walked to the stove and peeked inside before saying, "Good job! I didn't think you'd know to do that."

"I saw you build the fire last night." Brian said shyly.

"You did good." Jack said with a smile as he patted Brian on the shoulder, then added, "Let's get the jugs and head up to the spring. As soon as we have water, we can start making breakfast."

"We? As in, 'me' cooking?" Brian asked cautiously, then accepted two empty 2 ½ gallon containers from Jack.

"Yeah." Jack said with a grin. "Who knows? You might enjoy it."

"I don't mind helping, but the only cooking I know how to do involves a microwave." Brian said frankly.

Jack chuckled, then said, "Don't worry, I'll show you what to do."

* * * * *

Even though the air was cold, the sunlight was sparkling through the trees.

Brian felt on the verge of sensory overload from all the intense sights and unfamiliar sounds all around them.

"It's just up here." Jack said, noticing Brian's distraction.

"It's really beautiful here." Brian said in wonder.

"It is." Jack said with a smile as he looked around.

"I guess when I've seen pictures of forests and stuff, I never really... it's so... BIG!" Brian said, obviously not able to express what he was feeling.

Jack chuckled and nodded his agreement before saying, "Here's the spring. You're going to get wet, there's no way around it. So just fill your jugs and try not to worry about it."

Brian stopped and couldn't seem to wrap his mind around what he was seeing.


Coming out of a rock.

All on it's own.

"Rinse your jugs out before you start filling them." Jack said, then reached over a shallow pool of water below the spring and caught some water in his first jug.

He swished it around a few times, then dumped the water into the pool.

"It only takes a few minutes, but the jug gets heavier as it fills." Jack said as he started filling the jug. "Remember that you have to carry the jugs back to the cabin, so just fill them as heavy as you're willing to carry. We can come back as often as we want for more water."

"Okay. Thanks for telling me." Brian said honestly. "I would've tried to carry them full, because it might be part of an important lesson or something."

"I don't do lessons on an empty stomach." Jack said with a grin, then sat his first jug aside and picked up the other.

"I'll remember that." Brian said with a smile.

* * * * *

"Here's your bread." Jack said as he took a loaf of bread from a plastic shopping bag.

Brian took the bread from him, but had no idea what he was supposed to do with it.

"And here's your toaster." Jack said with a smile as he held up a flat metal basket on the end of a long metal arm with a wooden handle.

"Okaaaaay." Brian said slowly as he hesitantly accepted the strange implement.

"Put the bread in the basket, latch it closed, then open the stove and toast the bread over the fire. You have to keep a close watch on it, because it will burn quick." Jack said frankly.

After a moment of consideration, Brian nodded confidently.

"While you're doing that, I'll be making us some bacon and eggs."

"That sounds great!" Brian said as he figured out how to open the latch on the basket.

Brian loaded two pieces of bread into the basket, side by side, then latched it closed. He opened the stove and watched carefully as he moved the bread close to the flames.

"I'm making coffee, but you can have water or a soda from the ice chest, if you like." Jack said frankly.

"I've never really had coffee before. I've always thought it smelled good. I think I'd like to try it." Brian said consideringly, then yelped, "Crap!"

"What?" Jack asked quickly.

"I burned the toast." Brian said as he withdrew the smoldering pieces of bread from the stove.

Jack chuckled, then said, "Try again."

"Yeah." Brian said with resignation, then looked around before asking, "Where's the trash?"

"We'll be using plastic shopping bags, so we can haul our trash out with us when we leave. But when it's something like that, you just throw it outside, away from the cabin, so the critters can enjoy it."

Jack smiled as he watched Brian take the toast out of the basket and walk directly to the front door.

He hadn't missed the fact that Brian had chosen to go behind a tree this morning instead of going to the outhouse. To Jack, it was evidence that Brian was honestly making an effort to overcome his fears.

A moment later, Brian walked back into the cabin and returned to his place in front of the stove.

"How do you like your eggs, Brian?" Jack asked as he put coffee grounds into a percolator that appeared to be decades old.

"Either scrambled or stepped on." Brian said as he prepared to make another try at toast.

"Stepped on? What's that?" Jack asked with a smile.

"Sorry. That's what my family calls it. It means to break the yolks as soon as you put the eggs in the skillet." Brian said absently, most of his attention dedicated to his bread toasting duties.

"Do you have a preference?" Jack asked curiously.

"No. Just as long as the yolk isn't runny, I'll be happy." Brian said honestly.

"I have a hell of a time keeping the yolks from breaking, so it won't be a problem." Jack said as he took a cast iron skillet and sat it on the stove top.

"How's this?" Brian asked as he held up the 'toaster' so Jack could see it.

"Perfect! Two more slices and your part of the cooking is done." Jack said happily.

"Where do you want these?" Brian asked as he took the pieces of toast out.

"Here." Jack said and held out one of the 'pie pan' plates, so Brian could put the toast on it.

"Shouldn't we change out of these wet clothes?" Brian asked curiously as he prepared to make the next batch of toast.

"They'll probably be dry by the time we're done cooking. But, either way, we'll change out of these sweats after we're done with the breakfast dishes." Jack said simply.

Brian nodded as he carefully watched his bread toasting.

* * * * *

"Hey! This food tastes wonderful!" Brian exclaimed.

Jack smiled, then said, "For some reason, just about everything seems to taste better here. I don't know if it's because we're burning more energy or maybe the wood stove and cast iron add something, but I agree with you completely."

Brian nodded and continued to enjoy the marvelous taste of the meal he and Jack had prepared.

"I was thinking that after we get done, we can go for a walk in the woods and see if we can find any good fire wood." Jack said casually.

"You'll have to show me what to do. I've never chopped wood or anything like that before." Brian said cautiously.

"I didn't think you had." Jack said with a smile, then added, "We have plenty of wood stacked behind the cabin, but it would be a waste if we left some fallen trees nearby to rot when we could make good use of them."

Brian nodded that he understood what Jack was saying.

"How do you like the coffee?" Jack asked curiously.

"It's alright. It doesn't taste as good as it smells, but I think I like it." Brian said, then took another drink from his cup.

"Well, I think the coffee is especially good on a chilly morning like this. When you're warm inside, it helps you to deal with the chill outside."

"Makes sense." Brian said casually, then as he moved to take another bite of his food, he accidentally knocked over his water glass.

Jack tried to catch it before it tipped over, but he didn't quite make it.

"I'm sorry!" Brian yelped as he quickly picked up the glass.

"It's no problem." Jack said as he got up to get a towel.

"I'm really sorry, Jack. I hate it when I do that." Brian said despondently.

"It's fine, Brian. It was almost empty." Jack said casually as he wiped up the small trail of water from the table.

The look in Brian's eyes was one of profound regret.

Jack decided that Brian needed a change of subject, so he said, "It looks like we're just about finished here. I've already got a pot of water heating on the stove for dishes. If you'll help me, we can get them done so we can start our day."

"Just tell me what I need to do." Brian said, looking much relieved.

* * * * *

Jack and Brian worked well together as a team doing the small amount of dishes.

Brian was surprised that such a basic chore was so completely different from what he was used to.

When the dishes were done, Jack took the dishpan of wash water outside to dump it as Brian finished drying the last of the dishes.

When Jack returned to the cabin, he quietly said, "It's time for us to change. You'll probably want a t shirt and a long sleeve flannel shirt so you can take off a layer if you get too warm."

Brian walked to his backpack and looked inside. All the clothes were folded or rolled and were very neatly packed.

After one or two tries, he found the clothes that he would need.

"Brian." Jack said, to draw his attention.

Putting down the shirt he was holding, Brian turned and froze at the sight of Jack standing before him, completely naked.

Brian's eyes went wide as he stared at Jack.

"Look in my eyes." Jack said quietly.

It took a moment for Brian to tear his gaze away from Jack's manhood, framed in a nest of dark golden curls. But finally Brian managed to force himself to meet Jack's eyes.

"Brian, you looked at me and nothing horrible happened." Jack said seriously.

It took a moment for the words to register, but Brian finally hesitantly nodded.

"Our goal is for you to get comfortable enough that you can talk to me when we're naked as easily as when we're dressed." Jack said quietly.

"I understand, but it's hard." Brian said helplessly.

"Not at the moment." Jack said with a grin, then reached down and gave his limp dick a quick tug.

Brian blushed scarlet red and turned away in embarrassment.

"Look at me." Jack said firmly, but not harshly.

Brian forced himself to meet Jack's gaze again.

"I'm exactly the same person you were talking with at breakfast, just a few minutes ago." Jack said seriously.

"I'm sorry, Jack. I'm really trying. But I feel all shaky and my heart feels like it's about to explode out of my chest." Brian said as tears welled in his eyes.

"That's adrenaline. It's a normal reaction when you're afraid. But when that happens, you have two choices. You can either give in to it or face your fear and deal with it."

"And if I give in to it, then it'll keep happening." Brian said quietly.

"That's right. Try thinking about it like this. When you deal with people, you label each other so you know how to interact. When you're with a teacher, you take on the role of a student. When you're with your father, you take on the role of a son." Jack said carefully.

Brian nodded that he understood, but couldn't see how it related to his current situation.

"When you act frightened, like a scared little mouse, you draw other people to react in the opposing role of a cat. They become predators because you react like prey."

Brian pondered that for a moment, then hesitantly nodded.

"Look at me, Brian." Jack said gently.

Brian hadn't realized that his gaze had shifted away, but he quickly met Jack's eyes.

"You don't have to be comfortable looking at naked guys. But you really need to be able to control your reactions so you don't draw people to treat you badly." Jack said with concern.

"I'm trying." Brian whispered.

"Then undress." Jack said simply.

"What?" Brian asked with renewed fear.

"I want for you to take off your clothes. Then I want you to stand here and look me in the eyes and talk to me." Jack said seriously.

"I... I can't." Brian whispered as his eyes began to well with tears again.

"Yes, Brian. You can." Jack said firmly. "I'm going to stay right here. And I promise that I won't say or do anything bad to you."

"I'm not afraid of that." Brian mumbled.

"What is it then?" Jack asked curiously.

"I just... I don't want you to see me." Brian said as his blush started rising again.

"I saw most of it while we were changing last night. Nothing bad happened. You look perfectly normal." Jack said honestly.

Brian seemed to be frozen in thought, at war within himself.

"Do it, Brian. Right now." Jack said firmly.

"But I..." Brian began to protest.

"Now!" Jack barked.

Before he could think better of it, Brian hooked his thumbs in the elastic waistband of his sweatpants and underwear and pulled them down in one quick move.

"Look at my eyes." Jack commanded.

Brian could feel himself blushing wildly, but did as he was told.

"Nothing bad happened." Jack said gently.

Brian could feel his heart racing and felt his hands and arms trembling.

"Take a few deep breaths and relax." Jack said as he continued to look into Brian's eyes.

Brian did as he was told and drew the air slowly into his lungs and tried to calm himself.

After a long moment, Jack gently asked, "Feeling better?"

Brian hesitantly nodded.

"Good. Now, the rest of it." Jack said, then at Brian's uncomprehending stare, he clarified, "Finish undressing."

It took a moment for Brian to react, but finally he began to slowly pull his sweatshirt off over his head.

Jack waited for a moment, then quietly asked, "What were you embarrassed about?"

"It's all... big and weird looking and I'm getting hair and stuff." Brian mumbled.

"So? Look at me. Mine's bigger than yours and I've got lots of hair. What's the difference?" Jack asked curiously.

"I don't know. It's just... I saw the other guys and I'm... not like them." Brian muttered.

"How so?" Jack asked curiously.

"They're like I used to be... you know." Brian finished uncomfortably.

"So you're maturing a little sooner than they are. That's a good thing." Jack said honestly.

"It is?" Brian asked hesitantly.

"Sure. I think every boy wants to hurry up and become a man. You've just got a head start on the rest of them." Jack said with a smile.

"Really?" Brian asked in wonder.

"Totally!" Jack said with a grin, "If anything, they're the ones who should be shy. Just think about it. Physically, they're still little boys and you're becoming a man."

"So this is supposed to happen?" Brian asked cautiously.

Suddenly, Jack understood the root of Brian's problem.

"No one's ever told you about what to expect as you grow up, have they?" Jack asked with concern.

"I've heard some stuff, but... no, not really." Brian said quietly.

Jack slowly started to smile, then said, "Then I've got some really good news for you."

"What's that?" Brian asked hopefully, seeming to really need some good news about then.

"We've got something else to blame on your dad." Jack said with a grin.

"What?" Brian asked curiously.

"He's your dad. It's his job to prepare you for these changes. He didn't, so he failed. He sucks. It's not your fault."

Brian chuckled at the announcement.

"Go ahead and put some clothes on, nudist." Jack said playfully.

"Okay." Brian said with a grin, then started to dress.

"What's happening to you is called puberty. It happens to all kids, eventually. Your body is changing, just beginning the transformation from boy to man..."

* * * * *

After dressing, Jack and Brian left the cabin and started a slow, casual walk in the woods surrounding the cabin.

Jack briefly outlined male anatomy and the stages of puberty, in general terms, so that Brian could get an overview of what normally happened.

Brian followed along and was paying his full attention.

"I can't say how it is for everyone, but at your age, I had a problem with spontaneous erections." Jack said casually as they walked.

"You mean, like, a stiffy?" Brian asked cautiously, verifying that he understood.

"Yeah, woody, boner, hard on, it's all the same thing." Jack said thoughtfully.

"That's normal?" Brian asked cautiously.

"Yeah. But I think it's different for everyone. I mean, for me, I'd pop a bone all of a sudden for no reason at all. Hell, I once boned up when my grandma kissed me on the cheek. Talk about embarrassing." Jack chuckled.

"So getting a... stiffy... that doesn't make me gay?" Brian asked cautiously.

"No. What makes you gay is if you want to make love to a guy." Jack said seriously, then added, "Unfortunately, it gets confusing because our cocks seem to have minds of their own, especially at your age."

"But, I want to look at guys, you know, their bodies. Does that make me gay?" Brian asked desperately.

Jack considered for a moment, then said, "I don't think so. Considering that you've been dealing with all the changes of puberty without anyone to help you, I think you're probably just curious and trying to establish in your own mind what's 'normal'."

Brian didn't respond and seemed to be considering Jack's words carefully.

"Tell me, Brian. Do you think about what it would be like to kiss a boy? You know, hold him tight and love him?" Jack asked curiously.

"No... I've wondered what it would be like to touch y... a guy. But I never thought about kissing or holding or stuff." Brian said shyly.

"Then I don't think you have to worry about being gay. It's natural to be curious. I've always heard that it's even natural for guys to experiment together. What makes the difference is who you want to hug and kiss and 'love'. All the rest is just mechanics." Jack said thoughtfully.

"I want to touch you." Brian whispered with a tinge of fear in his voice.

"Where?" Jack asked curiously.

"In the cabin, I guess." Brian said uncertainly.

Jack chuckled, then said, "What I was asking, is where on my body you'd like to touch me."

"Oh, your dick." Brian said shyly.

"Boys have dicks, men have cocks." Jack said seriously, then stopped walking and opened his coat.

"What are you doing?" Brian asked suddenly, even though he had a pretty good idea.

"I'm letting you touch my cock." Jack said simply, then proceeded to open his zipper.

"I can't..." Brian began to protest.

"Why not?" Jack asked as he pulled his pants down slightly, then fished his cock and balls out through the fly of his boxers.

Brian looked at Jack with fear, obviously not having an answer.

"Just go ahead and satisfy your curiosity. Nothing bad's going to happen." Jack said quietly.

Hesitantly, Brian reached toward Jack's cock, then looked up with concern.

"Go on. It won't bite." Jack encouraged.

Brian experimentally touched Jack's cock and said with surprise, "It's soft."

"Semi-hard, actually." Jack said with a grin.

"I mean, from the way it looks, I thought it would be, like... rough, I guess." Brian stammered.

"Yeah. I can see why you'd think that." Jack said gently, then quietly added, "Feel the balls."

Brian's curiosity overrode his shyness for a moment as he let his hand drift down and gently cup the low hanging balls.

As Brian probed, he noticed that Jack's cock was quickly approaching full hardness.

"That's what happens when you give it attention." Jack said frankly.

Brian slowly withdrew his hand and stared at the stiff cock with wonder.

"So? You wanted to touch it. Did that answer your questions?" Jack asked as he worked to get his stiff cock back into the confines of his underwear.

"I don't know what my questions were, but... yeah. I think so." Brian said uncertainly, then hesitantly asked, "Isn't that uncomfortable?"

"Yeah. But now's not the time to do anything about it. I'll take care of it later." Jack said as he finished zipping up his pants.

"How?" Brian asked curiously.

"Have you ever heard of jacking off?" Jack asked as he buttoned up his coat.

"I've heard the word, but I don't know what it is." Brian admitted reluctantly.

"You remember what I was telling you about sperm, right?" Jack asked as he motioned for Brian to start walking again.

"Yeah." Brian said hesitantly.

"It builds up." Jack said frankly, "When you get hard and stroke your dick, you get a really good feeling and then your sperm releases. It's called cumming."

"I think I did that once, but I was sleeping when it happened." Brian said shyly.

"Oh yeah, that's a wet dream. That happens when a lot of cum builds up and needs to be released. Once you start jacking off, that probably won't happen much anymore." Jack said frankly.

"Once I start? You mean, I'm supposed to be doing that?" Brian asked cautiously.

"I think most guys do. I know I do." Jack said frankly, then added, "Some people, mostly religious types, think it's bad or makes you a pervert or gay or whatever. In the old days, they'd even tell you that it'd make you go blind."

Brian giggled when Jack made a show of adjusting his glasses.

"But honestly, I don't see anything wrong with it. It feels good and you're not hurting anyone." Jack said simply.

Brian seemed to be thinking about Jack's words, very seriously.

"You may not be ready for that yet. If you don't feel like doing it, then don't. Not everyone is built the same way or operates on the same timetable." Jack said frankly.

"I think maybe I want to, I just... I don't know how." Brian said timidly.

"Remind me when we get back to the cabin, and I'll show you enough to get you started. After that, whatever you do or don't do is up to you." Jack said seriously.

* * * * *

They walked quietly through the trees for a few more minutes, each lost in their own thoughts, when Brian quietly said, "When my dad dropped me off with you, I thought I was going to be taken to... like, a military school or a boot camp or maybe something even worse."

"I know. It was written all over your face." Jack said with a grin.

"And you just let me sit there and be scared?" Brian asked as he looked at Jack with hurt showing in his eyes.

"You've got to realize, that I'd never met you before and I hadn't been told much about you. I thought that it would be best if I acted stern at first so you'd get the message that I was serious and that I wasn't going to coddle you." Jack said gently.

"I was so scared. My dad picked me up from school and didn't tell me anything at all about what was going to happen." Brian mumbled.

"I'm sorry about that, Brian. But I couldn't just hand you the answers. You had to have the balls to ask. Part of all of this is to get you to learn how to declare yourself and ask for the things you need. As long as you insist on acting like a doormat, people are going to walk all over you." Jack said simply.

"But back home, anytime I speak up, I get told to shut up." Brian said thoughtfully.

Jack stopped walking and looked Brian in the eyes as he asked, "What have we discovered about your dad since you've been here?"

"That he sucks." Brian said frankly.

"Yep. That he does." Jack said with a grin, then added, "And this is yet another example of 'how' he sucks."

Brian thought about Jack's statement, then slowly said, "So he was always telling me to shut up, then got mad at me when I wouldn't speak up for myself."

"That's what it sounds like to me. He may not be the asshole of the year, but I wouldn't nominate him for any parenting awards, either." Jack said frankly.

Brian slowly nodded, then said, "So that's what you meant back at the gas station. You were kind of letting me know that I could speak up for myself and that you wouldn't yell at me."

"Except that I couldn't just come out and say it, or you wouldn't really understand. You had to discover it for yourself. If I told you, you'd hear it, but you wouldn't know it." Jack said seriously.

"I feel like everything that I've learned in my life was all wrong." Brian said distantly.

"Not everything, I'm sure you learned plenty of important things the right way. But since your dad totally sucks, you missed out on a few of the basics."

Brian ruefully grinned, then said, "My whole life, I always thought my dad had all the answers and was right about everything and that I was a failure because I couldn't be what he wanted me to be."

"What do you think he wanted you to be?" Jack asked curiously.

"I don't know. A typical boy, I guess. I get the feeling that he wanted me to play football and get into fights and... you know, stuff like that." Brian said thoughtfully.

"Did he ever try to teach you to play football or take you to a game, or take you out in the back yard and teach you how to defend yourself?"

"No. Never." Brian whispered regretfully.

"Well, as far as I can see, you're not a failure at anything. He's a total suck ass father, but that's not your fault. I'll help you learn some basics, then we'll turn you loose on the world and see what happens."

Brian smiled at the words, then the walk continued.

* * * * *

"Can I ask you something?" Brian asked, breaking the long silence.

"Sure. Anything." Jack responded immediately.

"Why are you doing this for me?" Brian asked curiously, then quickly added, "I really appreciate that you're helping me this way, but I don't understand why anyone would go to all the trouble."

"Well, I told you the main reason before we went to sleep last night." Jack said frankly.

Brian racked his brain, trying to think of what Jack might be talking about.

"I even told you to remember it." Jack prompted.

"Because I'm worth it." Brian said with a smile.

"Right. That's the main reason." Jack said honestly, then added more quietly, "It's also because of some other stuff."

"Like what?" Brian asked cautiously.

They walked in silence for a moment, before Jack finally said, "My parents divorced when I was about five years old."

Brian nodded, but remained silent.

"I moved out with my dad and my mom stayed at home with my little brother, Dillon. He was just a baby then." Jack said quietly.

Brian stared at Jack as he tried to imagine how a little five year old would feel, being ripped away from his mother and younger brother.

"My dad is great. And I don't just mean compared to yours." Jack finished with a smile at Brian.

An understanding smile was Brian's response.

"A couple years ago, kind of out of nowhere, my mom showed up with Dillon and just dumped him on us." Jack said distantly, then added, "It's not that we wouldn't have welcomed him or didn't want him. But mom kind of just showed up one day and said, "Here's your kid, he's your problem now.", then she left."

Brian could see that telling the story was painful for Jack.

"Dillon was a real mess. I mean, he was drinking and doing drugs and had even tried to kill himself once." Jack said regretfully.

Brian stared at Jack with wide eyes and couldn't imagine how that must have been.

"It was when he tried to kill himself, that mom decided that she'd had enough. I found out later that her and her husband were about to split up, and it was mostly because of Dillon." Jack said distantly.

"So what did you do, I mean, to help Dillon?" Brian asked cautiously.

"My dad and I tried talking to him, but it was like talking to a brick wall. He was so full of anger and resentment that we couldn't get through to him." Jack said quietly. "One weekend, the three of us got in the truck and came up here, to the cabin. We hiked and talked and... well, I guess you get the idea."

Brian smiled and nodded.

"It's the only happy memory I have of my brother." Jack said as his eyes filled with tears.

"What happened?" Brian asked quietly.

"A couple weeks after we got back, he killed himself." Jack said as he took a red bandanna handkerchief out of his back pocket and wiped his eyes.

Brian took a step closer to Jack and put an arm around his waist to comfort him.

"Thanks." Jack whispered, then continued, "I don't know... I'll probably never know why he did it. But what I do know is that he absolutely hated his existence. He had a lot of problems and... they seemed so big to him that he wanted to die to get away from them."

"And that's why you wanted to help me?" Brian asked quietly.

"Yes. I always thought that if Dillon had come to live with us sooner, then we could have reached him and he'd still be alive today. But if I can't have my brother back, the least I can do is keep someone else from going down the path that he did." Jack said quietly, then added, "So, in a way, me helping you is a tribute to him, showing that his life really did mean something."

"I know I'm not your brother, but... you could still think of me that way, if it would make you feel better." Brian offered quietly.

"I already do, Brian." Jack said as he draped an arm around Brian's shoulder to casually hug him. "Even before I met you, when I'd heard about what you were going through, I could tell that you were on a path that led to a very dark place. I imagined what you must be feeling and... well, I guess that's when I started to care about you."

"Who told you about me?" Brian asked curiously.

"My dad." Jack said simply, then clarified, "You'd know him as Coach Reed."

"He's your dad?" Brian asked with surprise.

"Yeah. Like I said, he's great." Jack said with pride.

"I wish mine was." Brian said sourly.

"You just said that I could think of you as a brother, right?" Jack asked seriously.

Brian looked up at him and nodded.

"Well, when you adopted me, you adopted my dad, too. We're a package deal. Remember, he's the one who arranged all this." Jack said with a gentle smile, then added, "And I'll tell you from personal experience, that if you'll let him, he's going to want to do all the dad things that you always wished your dad would have done with you."

"So, do you and your dad want to use me to take Dillon's place?" Brian asked hesitantly, and seemed to be afraid of Jack's reaction.

Jack was surprised by the question, but gave Brian a quick smile to put him at ease before responding, "No. Dillon was with us for such a short time that I don't think he left a void in our lives that needed to be filled. I think that it's more that, since your dad sucks and mine is so great... it just makes sense for all of us to do this. You, me, dad, we'll all be happier if we end up being a family."

"It sounds good, except that... since I've never done stuff with my dad. I don't know, it'll be, like, weird and stuff." Brian said awkwardly.

"Yep. But as long as you don't act like a doormat, that shouldn't be any problem. Yeah, it might be awkward at first, but just give it a chance and if you don't like something, say "no, I don't want to do that", and that'll be the end of it."

Brian nodded his agreement.

"Give me the hatchet and start gathering up these branches." Jack said casually.

Brian looked around and was surprised to see that they had happened upon a small fallen tree.

He took the hatchet from the tool belt that Jack had given him at the cabin and handed it to Jack, then proceeded to gather up the small branches in the area that didn't need to be chopped.

* * * * *

"I think I'm having TV withdrawal." Brian said with a chuckle as they carried armloads of wood toward the cabin.

"That's part of what makes this place seem so magical. It's completely unlike our day-to-day lives in the so-called real world." Jack said thoughtfully.

"What do you mean 'so-called'." Brian asked curiously.

"You need to understand that the world that you grew up in is like a stage. Everything that you're used to seeing every day is a prop. This is what's behind the stage. This is what's real."

"Wait, are you talking about 'the Matrix'?" Brian asked with a grin.

Jack chuckled, then said, "Maybe, in a sense. All the houses and streets and schools are a house of cards built on the very real world that we're standing on. Living in their 'constructed' world is fine, but I think it's important to realize what's underneath. Be comfortable in your own skin. Be able to recognize silence. Take a 'real' look at the sky without light clutter clouding your vision. Breathe clean air so you know what it tastes like. Drink real, clean, unpolluted, untreated water straight from the earth. After experiencing all this, then you can see the fabrications and constructs for what they really are."

"Yeah. I don't know if I really want to go back." Brian said quietly.

"I think that's natural. But the fact of the matter is that you're still you. Here, there, it doesn't matter. All the things that are important, you carry with you. So if you decide to stay, you're not getting away from your problems because you brought them all with you." Jack said honestly.

"If that's true, then what's the point of being here at all?" Brian asked curiously.

"The slower pace and change of scenery help you look at things from a different perspective. Not having a thousand little niggling distractions vying for your attention allows you to relax in a way that just doesn't seem possible in town." Jack said as they approached the cabin.

Brian followed as Jack led them around to the back of the cabin and over to a large wood pile.

* * * * *

"Well, we've checked out most of the woods surrounding the cabin and got some firewood, to boot. What do you feel like doing next?" Jack asked simply.

"I don't know. What are the choices?" Brian asked curiously.

"Well, we could go fishing and catch something for dinner. I guess since we've had such a productive morning, we could decide that we've had enough drama for one day and take the rest of the day off to rest and relax. Or, I suppose we could hike up to the hot spring and take a long, slow, soaking bath." Jack said with a grin.

"But don't you have anything 'fun' we can do?" Brian whined playfully.

"Brat!" Jack chuckled.

Brian smiled, then said, "I don't know, I mean, if we don't go fishing, does that mean that we don't eat tonight?"

"No. There's no shortage of food. In fact, it would probably be better if we finished off a few of the perishables today and save the fishing for another day." Jack said frankly.

"So that kills option one. Would it be possible to go have that long bath, and then take the rest of the day off?" Brian asked curiously.

"Sure, except that the hot spring is about a two hour hike from here. By the time we get back, there won't be much of a day left." Jack said honestly.

"I'm okay with that."

"Great! Then let's pack up the sandwiches and get ready to go." Jack said happily.

Before Jack could walk away, Brian stepped forward and hugged him.

"Thanks for doing all of this, Jack." Brian said quietly.

"Thank you, too, Brian. Having you here is helping to heal some wounds that I thought would never stop hurting." Jack said as he held Brian firmly.

"Hey. No more drama. It's our day off." Brian said playfully.

"You started it!" Jack responded, shifting Brian to his side so he was hugging him with one arm.

"Okay. You're right. But no more drama today, after this... right?" Brian asked mock-seriously.

"Oh, let's see. A two hour hike, then we get NAKED and bathe for a while, then a two hour hike back... I don't know, is there any part of this scenario that might cause one of us to react dramatically?" Jack asked, as if thinking aloud.

"I see what you mean." Brian said, now completely serious, then he added, "I can't promise that I won't freak out a little bit, but I'm okay with trying. That's progress isn't it?"

"Brian, that's TREMENDOUS progress." Jack said as he looked into Brian's eyes. "And no matter how things go at the hot spring, just the fact that you are not only willing to go, but you CHOSE to go... It's fantastic. I'm proud of you. Now let's get those sandwiches so we can get going."

Brian chuckled, then said, "Yeah."

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

We now can see some of the reasons why Jack wants to help Brian, and I needed quite a few Kleenexes to make it through that part of the chapter.

Brian was pretty surprised to see water coming out of a rock.? After all, water comes out of a faucet, doesn't it? I mean Water coming out of a rock makes about as much sense as milk coming out of some big old cow, or something.

Brian is beginning to see what is happening to him, and hopefully, he will soon begin to realize that you can't let other people keep stepping on you and then mop up the floor with you.? He needs to assert himself, and I think Jack has done a pretty good job of showing Brian that he really does need to change his attitude. Brian has already learned a lot, but there is still a lot more to learn.

I almost forgot something. When Jack was telling Brian about the old tale about people going blind from masturbating,? He didn't explain how that silly idea got started.? Way back in the olden days, even before I was born, no one knew how venereal diseases were passed along, or for that matter, what they were.

Syphilis, in particular, if left untreated, will make you go blind, crazy, and, eventually, you die. Of course, this was long before they came up with Penicillin, or any other antibiotic, for that matter, so if you got Syphilis, you were pretty much done for.

Back then, it was considered a sin to have sex outside of marriage, and although people still had sex, just like they do today, they were pretty much unwilling to admit it to anyone.? So when the doctors would ask their patients if they had been screwing around, they would deny having sex with anyone, and that they had only been masturbating, and since the doctors didn't know what was happening to the patients, they assumed that they were telling them the truth, and the story about going blind from it, became common place. Silly, but what can you do???

I can hardly wait for the next chapter.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher