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Chapter 5

Brian awoke to the feeling of soft fabric all along his naked skin. It was so warm and comfortable, he couldn't imagine another feeling that could compare. As he opened his eyes, he found that he was looking at Jack's sleeping face, just a few inches away.

The more Brian got to know Jack, the more handsome he seemed. And beyond being handsome, he was also beautiful. That beauty shone from an inner joy that radiated out through his eyes and voice. But when he was sleeping, innocent and unworried, Jack was angelic.

As Brian gazed at Jack, he assessed his feelings. What he might have mistaken for attraction the previous morning was now more clear to him. What had confused him was that he'd never felt that type of love before and when he felt it he thought the feeling was romantic love. But what he was feeling for Jack was what he imagined that other people felt toward their beloved family members. Brian felt cheated. He felt that he had been entitled to that type of love all along and that his parents had robbed him, they had, in fact, 'neglected' him by denying him such a basic thing that would have cost them nothing to give.

In an effort to evade the dark thoughts of his parents, Brian got up and quietly put on his sweats. After putting on his boots and pulling on his coat, he quietly walked out the front door of the cabin.

The sun was just starting to rise.

Brian stood on the porch and took a moment to drink in the beauty of his surroundings. Even though the air was cold and he could see the puffs of his breath, it was so mesmerizingly beautiful that he couldn't help but stop to appreciate it.

Finally, when he had had his fill of the scenery, Brian slowly walked down the, now familiar, path and found a convenient tree where he could do his morning business.

On his slow walk back to the cabin, he became aware of just how relaxed he was feeling. That caused him to think back and consider that at no time in his life that he could recall, had he ever felt so utterly content. You're supposed to feel safe at home, you're supposed to feel relaxed. Home is supposed to be your sanctuary, your haven from the tempest of everyday life... or, so he had always believed. But now, in just a few short days, a cabin in the middle of nowhere had become more of a home to him than the house he grew up in. And the virtual stranger that Brian had only met two days before had become closer and dearer to him than any member of his biological family.

Eventually, Brian's musings receded and he made his way back to the cabin.

Jack was still asleep, looking adorable and Brian was surprised to find that he had the urge to kiss him. Again, it wasn't any type of a romantic feeling that was driving him. But Jack just looked so cute and Brian wanted to be able to express the love that he felt.

Instead, Brian walked to the box of hand wipes and took one out, then made quick work of washing his hands.

After that, he went to the stove to see if there were any coals left from the previous night.

There weren't. They hadn't done anything with the fire before they went to bed, so it had burnt itself out.

Brian debated trying to start the fire himself, but since he had never done it before and hadn't been watching closely when Jack had first started it, he didn't want to take the chance of doing it wrong and messing something up. Instead, he decided to go to the spring and get some fresh water to go with breakfast.

He took the two empty jugs and quietly walked to the front door.

* * * * *

Returning to the cabin, Brian found Jack awake and working on the fire.

"Would you show me how to start the fire when you have time? I was going to do it, but I didn't want to mess it up."

"Sure. Maybe tomorrow." Jack said casually.

"I got us water. Is there anything else I can do to help with breakfast?"

"Not yet. It's going to be a little bit before the stove is hot enough to cook breakfast. And you can go ahead and change if you want. There's no need for you to stand around in wet clothes in this cold cabin when there's nothing else needing to be done."

Brian nodded and went to his side of the bed.

"Did you sleep well without pajamas?"

"Yes. It was great. I don't think I'll be able to do it when I get home. I can't imagine my folks being okay with it." Brian said frankly.

"I know how that is. While Dillon was living with us, I started sleeping in my boxer shorts. As much of a rebel as he pretended to be, he was really skittish about nudity."

"Worse than me?" Brian asked with a grin.

Jack considered for a moment, then said, "Actually, yes. You were comfortable changing clothes in the same room with me. It wasn't until the underwear came off that you really had a problem. Dillon was shy about his body and refused to change clothes in front of us. While we were up here at the cabin, he actually went to the outhouse to change clothes."

Brian thought for a moment before saying, "I thought I was the only one who worried about stuff like that."

"No. I think just about everyone does to some degree. Some can manage it and others have to work to overcome it." Jack said honestly.

"You don't seem to have much of a problem." Brian said honestly.

Jack shrugged, then said, "Well, I had an advantage. When I was little, Dad and I would get ready for work and school at the same time. We'd both be in and out of the bathroom for showering, teeth brushing and stuff like that, so we'd see each other naked just about every day."

"My mom and dad have their own bathroom. I don't think I ever even saw my dad without a shirt... not that I'd want to." Brian finished with a queasy look.

"Well, for me, it was just normal. And because I saw my dad naked so often, whenever I had a question about something, I could just come out and ask him. By the time I reached puberty, I had a pretty good idea of what was about to happen and I couldn't wait for it."

Brian sadly smiled and muttered, "That must have been nice."

Jack picked up on the regretful tone of Brian's voice and said, "Brian, you didn't miss out on anything. You're just getting started. We may be playing 'catch-up' right this minute, but by the time we're done, you'll be ready to face everything that's coming." Jack said frankly.

Brian nodded, then walked to the bed to straighten his sleeping bag.

Sensing that Brian would appreciate a change in subject, Jack said, "I'm going to need lots of toast this morning, so as soon as the fire is going strong, you might want to get started."

"Lot's of toast?" Brian asked curiously.

"Yeah, I thought I'd make us some eggs and creamed chipped beef on toast." Jack said frankly.

Brian thought for a moment, then slowly asked, "Creamed... beef? That really sounds disgusting."

Jack chuckled, then said, "Regardless of what it sounds like, it's full-on awesome. And if you don't like it, I'll be happy to eat yours."

Brian smiled at Jack's enthusiasm, then said, "If you say it's good, I'll trust you."

"Just give it a fair chance. I'm betting that you'll like it." Jack said happily.

"Do you think the fire's ready yet?" Brian asked curiously.

"No. I'll let you know when. Just relax for a few minutes." Jack said as he set up the percolator.

Brian went to the bed and laid down on top of his sleeping bag.

"Would you feel up to a hike after breakfast?" Jack asked casually.

"Sure. Did we need to do something, or is this 'just because'?" Brian asked curiously.

"I thought we had a baseball here, but I couldn't find it. So I thought we could walk down to the SUV and get the soccer ball from the back seat." Jack said absently as he chopped what looked to be beef jerky on a cutting board.

"Yeah. Sounds good. And we can carry out some of our garbage and dirty clothes and other stuff we're not going to be needing." Brian said thoughtfully.

"Hey! That's a great idea!" Jack said with surprise. "That'll make our walk down that much easier when it's time to leave."

Brian smiled at Jack's praise.

"I was thinking that after we get the soccer ball, we could take the long way back to the cabin, so you could see a few of the sights." Jack said as he sat the chopped meat aside.

"The 'long' way?" Brian asked cautiously.

Jack chuckled, then said, "Yes. There's a longer way to get to the cabin that we use if it's been raining. It doesn't have a bog or as many steep inclines, but it takes nearly twice as long."

"So it's a choice between a longer, easier path and a shorter, rougher one... it sounds like one of those metaphor things that they're always trying to teach us about in English class." Brian said thoughtfully.

Jack thought for a moment, then said, "More of an allegory, but yeah. If you want to look at it that way."

Before Brian could think of a response to that, Jack said, "I need to take a piss. You can go ahead and start the toast whenever you want and I'll start on the eggs and gravy as soon as I get back."

"How much toast?" Brian asked curiously.

"Four slices each, I think." Jack said as he started walking toward the door.

"Do we have enough bread for that?" Brian asked quickly.

"Yeah. There's another loaf. As long as you don't burn too much, we'll be fine." Jack said with a grin as he walked out the front door.

* * * * *

Brian was busily toasting bread when Jack walked back into the cabin.

"I guess I'd better get busy or you're going to be finished before I get started." Jack said as he cleaned his hands.

"I wouldn't count on that. Toasting bread like this takes quite a while." Brian said frankly.

"Maybe, but I still think that toast made this way is better than what you have at home. I mean, not only does it taste good, but you also have the knowledge that someone actually took the time and care to make it 'just right'. I think that knowing that makes you appreciate it more." Jack said casually as he put a cast iron skillet on the stove.

Brian thought about that for a moment, then quietly said, "My mom cooks for us all the time, and I know she works hard to make sure everything is good. This is different, but I'm not sure why."

"Because you're participating. If I just put the food in front of you at the table, you probably wouldn't appreciate it half as much as when you've contributed to making the meal." Jack said honestly as he put the cut up dried beef and some butter into the skillet.

Brian slowly nodded, then said, "Maybe I should offer to help mom in the kitchen sometime. I feel bad that I've never really appreciated how much work she puts into taking care of us."

"It's what's normal for your family. That's just the way it's always been. It's easy to take things for granted in a situation like that." Jack said thoughtfully, then added, "But you really should offer to help your mom around the house, not just to be of help, but also so you can fend for yourself when you need to. Otherwise you might find yourself being eighteen and on your own and not knowing how to do even the basic chores."

Brian took the 'toaster' out of the stove and checked to see that the bread was sufficiently toasted, then said, "Yeah. I guess I always figured that someone would teach me that stuff when I needed to know it."

"Trust me, Brian. They won't." Jack said seriously. "Look at how bad they screwed up preparing you for puberty. If that's any indication of how they're going to prepare you for life on your own, you'd better start right now on learning things for yourself."

Brian chuckled as he loaded the next batch of bread into the 'toaster', then said, "Yeah. Otherwise, I'll be living in my apartment, looking at a can of pork and beans, trying to figure out how you're supposed to get the stupid thing opened."

"Yeah. And you'll wonder why the clothes don't just magically appear clean and folded in your dresser anymore." Jack said as he tore open a pouch, then dumped the contents into the skillet. A moment later, he started pouring water into the skillet as he stirred with a wooden spoon.

"I really am on my own." Brian said distantly.

"No. Not completely." Jack said seriously, drawing Brian's attention. "You'll have me and my dad there to help you whenever you need us. But you're going to be the one responsible for making sure you're prepared for life away from mommy and daddy. If you don't put forth an effort, then nothing we can do will really help you."

Brian nodded, then suddenly looked at his 'toaster'. Luckily, the toast hadn't burned while his attention had been diverted.

Jack moved the skillet off to the side, then took a second, smaller cast iron skillet and put it on the stove.

"Scrambled or stepped-on?" Jack asked casually.

"Whatever you feel like cooking." Brian said without concern as he loaded more bread into his 'toaster'.

Jack nodded, then went to work frying the eggs.

After a few minutes of contemplation, Brian quietly said, "Jack. I'm scared."

"Of what?" Jack asked curiously.

"Everything's changed." Brian muttered. "It's like my life before I came here was just a dream."

"More like a nightmare, from the way I heard it." Jack said honestly.

Brian gave an ironic chuckle and a slight nod, then said, "It's like the entire world is different now. Everything that I 'knew' before turned out to be lies. I guess what I'm saying is that nothing makes sense anymore."

"The world hasn't changed, your perception of it has." Jack said quietly. "When you're a child, you are the center of your world. It's a very one dimensional existence and has a limited point of view. You're just breaking out of that and seeing that the world is broader and deeper than you ever imagined."

Brian checked his toast, then looked up at Jack and quietly asked, "I can't go back, can I?"

"To the way you were?" Jack asked to confirm.

Brian nodded.

"No. Growing up is a one way street." Jack said simply, then added, "But you're not the only person who regrets the loss of... I hesitate to call it innocence, but I guess it's as good a word as any. I can't say for sure, but I think that maybe that's part of the appeal of drugs and alcohol. People are trying to numb their perception of reality, trying to reclaim something that is lost forever."

Brian thought about the words as he opened the toaster and took out the last of the toasted bread.

"I think that, together, we'll figure out how to live well in reality, so we aren't tempted to immerse ourselves in addictions to avoid it." Jack said with an encouraging smile as he took the skillet off the stove.

"That sounds like one of those things that's easier said than done." Brian said as he sat the 'toaster' aside, then stood with the plate of toast.

"As a very wise man once pointed out to me, it's the easy things that you usually end up most regretting." Jack said with a grin.

Brian smiled at Jack's comment, then asked, "Wise, huh?"

"You have your moments."

* * * * *

"So, what do you think of creamed chipped beef?" Jack asked cautiously.

"This is soooo good!" Brian said in amazement.

Jack smiled at the declaration.

"You really need to teach me how to cook stuff like this. I want to be able to fix this for myself when I get home." Brian said between bites.

"It's really easy. Dried beef, butter, country gravy mix and water." Jack said with a smile at Brian's appreciation of his efforts.

"What about the eggs? How do you make them taste so good?" Brian asked curiously.

"Eggs, butter, salt and pepper." Jack said simply.

"That sounds simple enough. I wonder which one my mom is leaving out, because her eggs never tasted this good." Brian said honestly.

"Just remember that being here adds something to anything you cook. If you tried to cook exactly the same thing at home, it probably wouldn't seem quite as good." Jack said honestly.

"Yeah. The magic cabin." Brian said with a grin.

* * * * *

After finishing their meal and doing the dishes, Jack and Brian gathered up the things they wouldn't be needing, so they could haul them down to the truck.

A misty chill hung in the air, but thanks to their brisk pace, the walk was comfortable.

Every time they rounded a bend or crested another rise, Brian was once again amazed by the scenes of natural beauty.

They spoke very little on their hike. Jack sensed that Brian would get more out of their walk if he was left alone to appreciate the beauty of their surroundings on his own terms.

Finally, they walked around a dense stand of trees and saw the SUV in the middle of a grassy meadow.

"That seemed a lot easier than it was the other night." Brian said with surprise.

"Yeah. The hike to the cabin is mostly uphill. Also, it's a little bit easier to travel during the day." Jack finished with a smile.

Brian chuckled and nodded his agreement.

"Let's just put all this stuff in the back seat, that way the cargo area will be empty for our backpacks. We can just drop and go." Jack said as he opened the rear passenger door.

"Sounds good to me." Brian said cheerfully, then handed Jack the things he had been carrying.

"Here you go!" Jack said, then tossed the soccer ball to Brian.

Brian wasn't fast enough and the ball smacked him on the forehead before bouncing off and rolling away.

"I'm sorry, Brian! I wasn't thinking." Jack said quickly.

"Don't worry about it. I'm fine." Brian mumbled as he rubbed his forehead, then walked over to pick up the ball.

"Really, Brian, I wouldn't do that to you on purpose." Jack said with concern.

"I know. I'm not mad. It's my own stupid fault." Brian said as he carried the soccer ball back to where Jack was standing.

"No, it wasn't. You weren't prepared." Jack said seriously. "If it were your fault, I'd be the first to tell you."

"Okay." Brian said quietly, not sounding to be completely convinced.

"Toss it to me." Jack said as he closed the door.

They were only a couple feet apart, so Brian stepped forward and handed the ball back to Jack.

"I was thinking that we could toss this back and forth while we walk. That way you could get used to the weight and feel of it." Jack said casually.

"Walking and catching... at the same time? Um... I can foresee some problems with this plan." Brian said cautiously.

"Stay close, and it shouldn't be a problem." Jack said quietly, then asked, "Ready?"

"I guess..." Brian said hesitantly.

"Here." Jack said, then tossed the ball, one-handed, into Brian's hands.

Brian's hand's automatically closed around the ball, and he froze in his tracks.

"I caught it!" Brian said in amazement.

"Well, yeah. I practically handed it to you." Jack said slowly, curious at Brian's reaction.

"But I NEVER catch ANYTHING." Brian said emphatically.

Jack was surprised by the depth of Brian's conviction in his declaration.

"That's over now, Brian. Those days are gone. Starting today, starting right now." Jack said seriously.

Brian hesitantly nodded.

"Toss it back to me so we can get back to walking." Jack said more gently.

Jack watched Brian's expression of concentration as he tried to throw the ball to Jack.

It took some doing, but Jack did catch the ball, even though it went high and wide.

"Let me show you how to hold it when you're throwing, that might help...

* * * * *

Jack was honestly surprised.

As bad a catcher as Brian was, he was even a worse pitcher. Jack could be standing two feet away and Brian somehow managed to throw the ball too high, to wide, or just plain drop it.

"Brian, this may sound stupid, but would you try something for me?" Jack asked as he stopped walking.

"Sure. What?" Brian asked hesitantly.

"Close one eye, then throw the ball to me." Jack said seriously.

"Okay." Brian said hesitantly, then did as he was told.

Brian's pitch was too high, but mostly on center.

"Now the other eye." Jack said seriously as he stepped forward and handed the ball back to Brian.

After an uncertain look at Jack, Brian closed the other eye and tossed the ball back to him.

This time, the ball landed right in Jack's hands.

"I did it!" Brian said joyfully.

"Yes. You did." Jack agreed, then handed the ball back to Brian as he said, "Let's see if you can do it again."

"Yeah!" Brian said happily, then closed his right eye and concentrated before throwing the ball to Jack.

Once again, the ball was perfectly on target.

"Yes! Yes!" Brian crowed as he pumped his fist in the air.

Jack found himself on the verge of tears at Brian's excitement over such a simple achievement.

"That was great, Brian. You did it exactly right." Jack said with a gentle smile.

Brian's smile was luminous. Jack didn't think he'd ever seen a more joyous smile in his life.

"Hang on, let me try something." Jack said as he took out his red bandanna handkerchief.

"Anything." Brian said happily.

Jack smiled, then took the bandanna by diagonal ends and rolled it up.

Brian watched him curiously and finally asked, "What's that for?"

"This is going to be your eye patch." Jack said seriously, then added, "At least, for as long as we're playing ball."

"Did you blow your nose on it?" Brian asked cautiously.

"Nope. I got a clean one when I got dressed this morning." Jack said casually.

Brian nodded that he heard, then hesitantly asked, "So, something's wrong with my eyes?"

"Yeah. It looks that way. You'll need to get that checked out when you get home." Jack said casually, then said, "Turn around so I can get this tied to the right size."

Brian turned and Jack loosely tied the bandanna around his head, like a headband.

"Okay, now let's see if it works." Jack said as he gently turned Brian to face him, then pulled the bandanna down to cover his right eye.

"What do you think is wrong with me?" Brian asked slowly.

"I don't know. But it should only take a trip to an eye doctor to find out." Jack said as he shifted the bandanna around so it was just right. "Ready to go?"

"Yeah." Brian said as his smile returned.

"Here." Jack said as he gently tossed the ball to Brian.

The smile on Brian's face when he caught the ball made Jack want to hug the boy.

* * * * *

They took the longer route back to the cabin, tossing the ball back and forth the entire way.

Although Jack wasn't an expert, he felt that while Brian would benefit from some practice, all things considered, he was probably on par with the other kids in his class.

Brian was almost giddy with his new-found ability to catch and throw a ball.

If Jack didn't know better, he would have sworn that Brian had floated the entire walk back to the cabin.

"I think that's enough of the ball playing for now. We can do more later." Jack said as they approached the cabin, then thought to add, "You can take the bandanna off now."

"Do you mind if I keep it?" Brian asked hopefully, then quickly added, "I mean, so I can have it in case I need to catch something again."

"That'll be fine. You can either take it off, or scoot it up and wear it as a headband. Whichever you like." Jack said with a smile.

Brian shifted the rolled up bandanna up so it rested on his forehead, then asked, "So, what are we doing now?"

"Well, right now, I'd like to see how fast you can run. Depending on how that goes, we'll decide what needs to be done next." Jack said seriously.

He hated lying to the boy, but if he told him that he wanted to watch the way he ran, Brian might become self-conscious and not run in his natural gait.

"What do you want me to do?" Brian asked with a smile, looking as though he was ready to take on the world.

"When I say 'go', I want you to run to the nearest tree and tap it, and then run back to me as fast as you can." Jack said frankly.

"Okay." Brian said as he turned to face the tree and bent slightly so he was ready to take off running.

"Go!" Jack said as he watched Brian intently.

Although Jack's dad, Cameron, hadn't spoken specifically about Brian's athletic performance, Jack had been hearing for the past few years about how, increasingly, Cameron was getting kids into his gym class who didn't know how to run. Apparently, all their lives had been spent in an environment where any type of play that involved running was either discouraged or not possible.

As Jack watched Brian run, his fears were confirmed. Brian's ankles were swinging out as he ran and his arms were flailing around. So far, since they had known each other, nothing about Brian had ever caused Jack to think of the boy in any feminine terms, at least, until now. The fact of the matter was that Brian ran like a little girl.

"How was that?" Brian asked as he ran up to Jack.

"Not too bad. But I think I can give you a few pointers to improve your speed." Jack said with an encouraging smile.

While he preferred to be honest, he realized that in a circumstance such as this one, that it was better to tell a little white one and give Brian some gentle instruction than to tell the truth and risk another jab at Brian's already fragile ego.

"I'm going to run to the tree. I want you to pay attention to my feet and ankles. Watch how I line them up when I run. When I get back, I want to see if you can mimic my moves." Jack said seriously.

Brian nodded, then watched as Jack took off running. He watched Jack's stance and form as he ran, trying to imprint the image on his mind so he could duplicate it.

Jack slowed as he approached Brian, then said, "Okay, don't worry about speed. Just focus on positioning your feet, pulling your knees up and keeping your ankles in line with your strides."

Brian nodded that he understood what Jack was saying.

"Ready. Set. Go!" Jack counted down, then watched as Brian took off running.

His first try was better. Not great, but better. Jack decided that once he was able to get Brian into proper running form, that the only thing that would help him would be practice.

* * * * *

"Let's head back to the cabin. I need to get lunch started." Jack said to Brian at his side as they jogged.

Once they had Brian's sprinting form under control, Jack transitioned to jogging. Brian's form was actually okay, but Jack wanted to make sure that Brian had the stamina to endure a reasonable workout.

"What are we having?" Brian asked, a little bit out of breath, but not too bad considering the distance they had jogged.

"I was thinking about some chicken soup." Jack said simply.

Brian thought for a moment, then said, "Yeah. That does sound good. Like the perfect food for a day like today."

"That's what I thought, too." Jack said happily, then noticed the clouds in the distance and said, "It looks like we could be in for some rain this afternoon."

"What are we going to do if it rains?" Brian asked curiously.

"We'll need to bring in a good supply of wood for the stove and make sure all the water jugs are filled. That's about it." Jack said thoughtfully.

"What I was asking is what are we going to be doing the rest of the day if it's raining outside?" Brian asked seriously.

"Oh, I don't know. We'll figure it out when it happens." Jack said with a smile, then added, "We've probably got a few hours before it gets here, so we'll have plenty of time for our next 'horrible' lesson."

"When you hit me." Brian said a little bit nervously.

"That's right, Brian. But it's nothing to get wound up about. It shouldn't take very long. You'll just have to get through it." Jack said gently.

"Yeah." Brian said quietly as they approached the cabin.

"I'm going to get started on lunch." Jack said as he slowed his jog to a walk.

"I'll fill the water jugs." Brian said immediately.

Jack smiled at Brian's willingness to do the chores without being asked.

* * * * *

When Brian returned to the cabin, he found Jack working diligently on making their lunch.

"Is there anything I can do to help?" Brian asked as he put the water jugs on the floor in the 'kitchen'.

"The cooking is under control, but if you wanted, you could bring in a few armloads of wood. There's no telling how long it's going to rain, and we'll be a lot better off if we don't have to deal with wet wood." Jack said absently as he opened a can of cooked chicken.

"How much wood do you want?" Brian asked without hesitation.

Jack stopped and thought for a moment, then said, "How about you fill the bin, then stack that much again on the floor beside it. That should get us through for as long as it decides to rain."

Brian nodded, then walked out the front door.

* * * * *

Jack stirred the chicken soup on the stove, then looked curiously over at the wood pile.

Brian had carried several loads of wood into the cabin and stacked them just as he had asked, but Brian seemed to have been gone for longer than he should.

Just as Jack was about to go outside to see if Brian had run into a problem, Brian walked into the cabin with a huge smile on his face.

"I saw a squirrel." Brian said happily as he unloaded an armload of wood onto the pile.

"This place is thick with them." Jack said frankly.

"But this one, he was so small and cute. He just sat up and looked right at me. He was only about three or four feet away from me." Brian said happily.

Jack couldn't help but be drawn in by Brian's wonder at something he considered so commonplace.

After a long silence, Brian quietly said, "I love the 'real world'."

"I'm glad. Some people can't cope well with change and just can't deal without their 'things'." Jack said, then motioned for Brian to take a seat at the table.

"I guess I can understand that. I was feeling lost without my phone. I mean, it's got games and music and stuff." Brian said absently as he accepted a large, steaming bowl of soup from Jack.

"Well, I'm not immune to the lure of those things. But my grandpa has always been very strict about not bringing any technology up here. At first I felt a little bit lost without the toys, but now I understand just how wise he was to insist on keeping this place the way it is." Jack said as he took his seat, opposite Brian.

"This soup is great." Brian said appreciatively after taking his first spoonful.

"Yup. I boiled the water all by myself." Jack said with a grin.

Brian chuckled, then took another spoon of soup.

"A lot of people think of going camping as an escape from reality. But I still think that this is reality and that life in the city is more illusion than substance." Jack said thoughtfully.

"But for a lot of people, life in the city is reality. That's probably why they get caught up in addictions. Maybe it's human nature to never be satisfied with the reality that we find ourselves in." Brian said slowly.

"I don't know about that. I think maybe it's more that there are some people who are never satisfied. Others adapt to their reality and become content with it." Jack said speculatively.

"Contentment and laziness look pretty much the same to me. Just because people don't try to change their reality doesn't mean that they're happy with it." Brian said as he met Jack's gaze.

Jack carefully considered Brian's words, then slowly said, "Maybe."

Brian's eyebrows went up, silently asking him to expound on his one word response.

"I still like to think that there are people who are happy being exactly where they are." Jack said thoughtfully.

"I like to think a lot of things. That doesn't mean any of them are true." Brian said frankly.

Jack chuckled at the statement and nodded his agreement.

"It's funny though. Everything that seemed so important to me just a few days ago all seems meaningless now." Brian said distantly.

"I'm sure those things are still important, but probably just not as important as you once believed." Jack said with a gentle smile.

"Yeah. I guess." Brian said noncommittally, then continued, "But the new 3D world has a whole lot more to it than I ever imagined."

"Like?" Jack asked with interest.

Brian chuckled, then shyly said, "Well, the whole sex thing, for one. I mean... wow. I've heard about that stuff all my life and sort of understood it on some level, but now... wow."

Jack laughed and nodded his agreement.

Brian smiled, then slowly said, "It's hard to put into words, but having this different point of view just makes it so that I feel like I need to revisit everything I thought I knew and challenge my assumptions."

"Yeah. Maybe that's part of what makes teenagers so rebellious." Jack said speculatively.

"A part of me can't wait to get back home so I can rip into my dad. Of course, another part of me is still scared of speaking up." Brian finished regretfully, then added, "Hopefully we can get that part to just sit down and shut up."

"Being afraid isn't a bad thing. It causes you to be cautious and not take unnecessary risks. Your impulsiveness and fearfulness are important tools, but they're miserable masters. What we need to do is make sure that it's you that's in control." Jack said frankly, then clarified, "You need to have the courage to act on your impulses when you believe that's what's right. But you also need to evaluate your fears and decide if they're justified."

"Courage, huh? That might give me a little problem." Brian said quietly.

Jack snorted with laughter, then said, "Give me a break! You're so brave that it's almost unbelievable."

"Me? Brave?" Brian asked incredulously.

"Brian, you were terrified to be naked in front of me, but you made yourself do it. You've been screamed at and demeaned for your athletic performance, and you still tried when I asked you to. All your life you've been told to shut up every time you've ventured an opinion, and yet, here you are, openly sharing your point of view with me." Jack said with admiration, then quietly added, "If our situations were reversed, I don't know if I could have handled it."

"I think you can handle just about anything." Brian said with a grin.

Jack shook his head and said, "Even though there have been some tough times, I've always had my grandpa and my dad there to help me through things. You've never had that kind of support, and it looks like up until now, you've built up a good fortification of defenses to be able to deal with everything all by yourself."

"It's not like I had a choice. That's just the way things were, so I had to deal." Brian said honestly.

"I know. But what I'm saying is that you did 'deal'. You've faced what would have broken other people, and you made things work. Now, when something came up that was too big for you to handle with your skill-set, Dad noticed and arranged for me to help you. There's no shame in this. You didn't fail at anything. You're here right now because... well, because your father sucks. I mean, it was his job to teach you this stuff. But you're also here because my dad saw you dealing with harassment and teasing and not handling it well. He could see by your reactions that you didn't have the coping mechanisms in place to handle what was happening to you. So he asked me to help you."

Brian slowly nodded, then cautiously asked, "But all the naked stuff and running and catching... how's that going to help me with bullying?"

"Well, it removes some of the things that trigger bullying behavior. That, in itself, is a very good thing for you. But aside from that, it helps you to build self-confidence." Jack said frankly, then carried the kettle of soup to the table and ladled their bowls full again.

"But, what should I do when someone calls me 'Princess'?" Brian asked cautiously.

"That's one of those things that you'll have to decide for yourself. I'm trying to give you the tools that you'll need, but what you do with those tools is going to be up to you." Jack said as he looked Brian in the eyes.

"But..." Brian trailed off helplessly.

Jack felt sympathy for Brian's need to know how to deal with the most important question in his mind.

"I tell you what." Jack said in prelude, "I can't tell you exactly what to say, but what I can tell you is that if you can be honest, and I mean brutally, completely, honest, that you'll usually stop a bully in his tracks. Bullying behavior is usually a defense mechanism that's trying to mask some insecurity that the bully is too much of a coward to deal with. If you can figure out what that might be and say it aloud, you disarm him."

"I don't understand." Brian said slowly.

"You're as white and skinny as a piece of chalk. I think I should start calling you chalk-boy from now on." Jack said in a poorly mimicked teasing tone.

Brian puzzled over the statement for a moment, then shook his head, indicating that he still didn't understand.

"If I'm making fun of you for being too white or too skinny, then that probably means that I'm insecure about my darker skin tone or the shape of my body." Jack said frankly.

"But there's nothing wrong with your skin color or your body." Brian said slowly, still not quite understanding.

"And there's nothing wrong with your cock, but you're still shy about it." Jack said honestly, then added, "The things we're sensitive about don't always have a basis in reality. The prettiest girl in school might see herself as too fat, too tall and with teeth that are too big for her mouth. That doesn't mean that any of it's true, but if she's insecure about those things, she might start picking on people based on their appearance, to distract people from looking at her appearance."

"But why would anyone call me 'Princess'?" Brian asked slowly.

Jack shrugged, then said, "You'd know better than I would. From the way it sounded from my dad, there's just one or two bullies responsible for all the misery you've been feeling. The rest are just going along with it. If that's the case, then you need to deal with those people and the rest of it will take care of itself."

"Okay. I think I get all that. Except for why they call me 'Princess'. That makes no sense to me." Brian said honestly and seemed almost desperate for an answer.

"Princesses are spoiled. They expect everyone to kneel before them and cater to their every whim." Jack said simply.

"I'm not like that!" Brian said indignantly.

"I'm not saying that you are. But since I don't know why they call you princess, I'm trying to come up with the attributes of a princess so you can pick out any that might apply to you... or to the people tormenting you."

"So spoiled and entitled. Is that it?" Brian asked cautiously.

"Pretty." Jack said simply.

"What?" Brian asked with surprise.

"Princesses are typically thought of as pretty. Maybe someone who's tormenting you, finds you attractive and can't find a more appropriate way of expressing his attraction." Jack said frankly.

Brian laughed at the very idea.

"Come here." Jack said firmly as he stood and took a step away from the table.

Brian hesitantly stood up and walked to Jack's side.

"Look in the mirror and tell me what you see." Jack said as he led Brian to the small mirror on the wall.

It took a moment for Brian to force himself to look in the mirror, but finally he did.

"Forget about the little kid that you're used to seeing. Look at the guy in the mirror as if you're just meeting him." Jack said as he stood aside.

Brian studied his reflection, but didn't say a word.

"It's not just your cock that's growing up. Look at your face. You're becoming a young man. That's not a little boy that's looking back at you." Jack said quietly.

"I can't be... I'm not..." Brian stammered in wonder.

"Face it, Brian. You're a stud." Jack said with a grin.

Brian blinked, but couldn't find any words.

Jack waited for a moment, then said, "But if you spend too much time in front of that mirror, you may turn into a princess."

Brian turned quickly at the statement.

"Help me with the dishes. We have things to do before it starts raining." Jack said with a gentle smile.

Brian slowly nodded, then hesitantly asked, "Do you really think I look good?"

"Didn't I already say that?" Jack asked with a grin, then added, "Or do I have to fuck you to prove it?"

Brian was shocked by the suggestion.

Jack noticed and rolled his eyes before saying, "Yes, Brian. I think you're very attractive. I swear that if I were your age and didn't think of you as a brother, that I'd be trying like crazy to get into your pants. Is that better?"

Brian blinked, then giggled before answering, "Honestly. I'm not sure."

"Hold the dishpan while I pour the water in." Jack said as he took the pot of hot water from the stove.

"You said... I mean, that thing about... um, fucking... How? I mean, I don't know how guys... um, do that." Brian stammered with a scarlet blush.

"To tell you the truth, I've never done that with a guy. But from what I understand, you grease up the guy's asshole, make sure it's stretched out enough to take the size of your cock, then you just stick it in there and it's party time." Jack said as he got the dish water ready.

"That's it?" Brian asked with surprise.

"As far as I know." Jack said as he poured water into a second dish pan for rinsing their dishes.

"Why haven't you ever done it?" Brian asked curiously, feeling less nervous due to Jack's casual reaction to his question.

Jack shrugged, then said, "I guess mostly it's because I've never wanted to, and no one's ever asked me to do that to them. Once, when I was just a little bit older than you, an older guy, like, sixteen or seventeen, said that he wanted to fuck me. He said it kind of like he was joking around, but I'm pretty sure that if I'd said 'yes', he would have done it."

"What did you do?" Brian asked in wonder.

Jack chuckled at the memory, then said, "I was scared and excited and... I don't know. The adrenaline was flowing, that's for sure. But all I really did was play it off as a joke and said that I wasn't into old guys."

"But why didn't you just tell him that you're not gay?" Brian asked curiously.

"Mostly because I've noticed that no one believes it... ever. The more you go on about how gay you're not, the more people are certain of how gay you are." Jack said frankly, then handed Brian a washed bowl.

"But if you don't say that you're not gay, then people might think that you are." Brian said slowly as he rinsed the bowl and stacked it in the drainer.

"They're going to think whatever they want to think, no matter what you say. If someone asks me, I'll tell them. Otherwise, I just let them believe whatever they want. What other people believe really doesn't matter as long as you don't let it."

"So, if everyone thought you were gay, it wouldn't bother you?" Brian asked cautiously.

Jack considered for a moment, then said, "Yeah. It would. But I'd try my best not to let it become the biggest, most important thing in my life. Because, outside the bedroom, what does it really matter?"

Brian considered Jack's words as he rinsed the dishes he was handed. Finally he said, "I understand what you're saying in my head, but I don't know how I could make it not bother me. I mean, no matter what, it still seems like a pretty big deal."

"My dad talked to me about this stuff a lot. You know, whenever I'd ask him about things. So by the time I had to deal with it, I already had all the stuff he taught me sorted out in my head. It's probably going to take some time for you to get things into an order that makes sense to you." Jack said honestly.

"Yeah." Brian said with resignation.

"Leave that. Let's go outside so we can get started on our next lesson." Jack said as he hung the dishrag to dry.

Brian looked at the dishes, and was surprised to find that they were all washed, rinsed and stacked in the drainer.

* * * * *

"To start with, why don't you punch my hand, right here." Jack said as he held his hand up.

Brian balled up his fist and did his best to hit Jack's palm with all the force that he could. Unfortunately, he missed and punched Jack in the jaw.

"I'm sorry, Jack! I didn't mean to do that!" Brian said quickly.

"I know, Brian. It's okay. You didn't hurt me." Jack said as he rubbed his jaw.

"Oh God! I'm really sorry!" Brian said as his eyes welled with tears.

Jack could see the misery in Brian's tear filled eyes and pulled him into a quick hug.

"I'm fine. Really. You didn't hurt me at all." Jack said softly as he held Brian close.

"I'm always screwing things up. I'm such an idiot." Brian said as he cried into Jack's shoulder.

Jack pulled Brian away from him and looked him in the eyes as he said, "You're NOT an idiot! And if I EVER hear you say that again, I'm going to punch you, for real!"

Brian stopped crying and looked at Jack with wide eyes of surprise.

"I love you, Brian. And no one is allowed to talk bad about you in front of me, not even you." Jack said firmly, then after a moment, he added, "It was an accident. That's all."

Brian slowly nodded.

"Now, why don't you put on your eye patch, then let's try this again." Jack said more gently.

Brian looked at Jack with confusion for a moment, then realized what he was saying and pulled the bandanna down to cover his right eye.

"Okay. Now try to punch my hand, right here." Jack said as he held his hand up.

Brian balled up his fist and punched Jack's hand, but it wasn't his best effort.

"Just because I love you doesn't mean that you can't piss me off." Jack said firmly. "Now hit my hand like you mean it!"

Brian tried again, and this punch had a little bit more force behind it.

"Better." Jack said with a nod, then continued, "But there's definite room for improvement."

* * * * *

It took about half an hour of instruction before Brian was able to manage a somewhat decent punch.

Jack was a very patient teacher until the moment that Brian gave less than his best, then he would become stern to encourage Brian to try harder.

Finally, Jack said, "That was good. I felt that."

Brian smiled at the praise.

"Okay, I've been thinking about how to do this next part, and that's why I wanted to get you able to punch. We're going to trade punches for a while." Jack said seriously.

"Like, how?" Brian asked cautiously.

Jack punched Brian on the shoulder with one quick jab.

"Ow!" Brian said as he reflexively grabbed his shoulder to soothe it.

"Like that." Jack said with a grin, then added, "Your turn."

Brian looked at Jack uncertainly for a moment, then did his best to punch Jack squarely on the shoulder.

"Do you think you hurt me?" Jack asked seriously.

"Not really." Brian said honestly.

"Why is that?" Jack asked as he looked into Brian's eyes.

"You didn't even flinch. I mean, you acted like I never even touched you." Brian said frankly.

"See if you can manage to do that." Jack said simply, then popped Brian on the shoulder.

"Ow!" Brian yelped, then grabbed his shoulder again.

"We're going to keep on doing this until you can take a punch without reacting to it." Jack said simply.

Brian was becoming frustrated and slugged Jack's shoulder with his full force.

"Nice one." Jack said without showing that he had even felt it.

"Come on. I can do this." Brian said, then tensed his jaw and waited for Jack's next punch.

As Jack pulled back to throw his punch, Brian scrunched his eyes closed and waited for it to hit.

When the punch didn't come, Brian peeked open his uncovered eye to find Jack with his fist cocked and ready to fly.

"Look me in the eyes and let it happen." Jack said seriously.

"Let it happen." Brian parroted as he met Jack's gaze.

Jack let the punch fly, and to Brian's credit, he didn't call out. He did react, but not nearly as obviously as he had before.

"That's better. Your turn." Jack said seriously.

Brian tensed his jaw and tried to throw a punch that Jack would have to acknowledge.

Jack took the punch as though it were nothing, then responded with a quick jab to Brian's shoulder.

Brian had prepared himself enough that when the punch landed, he didn't wince.

"Excellent! If you can do that every time, you're going to be just fine." Jack said happily.

Brian was still determined to make Jack acknowledge him and hit Jack's shoulder as hard as he could.

Jack obviously knew what Brian was trying to do and responded with a punch to Brian's shoulder that was just a little bit harder than the one before.

Brian got a determined look in his visible eye and hauled off and hit Jack even harder.

"Hey! That hurt!" Jack yelped, then, before Brian knew what had happened, Jack had tackled him to the ground.

Brian felt a spark of fear, not sure if Jack were going to try to hurt him, until he felt Jack's fingers digging into his sides.

There was no way to stop the laughter that followed.

Brian was ticklish.

Jack was on top of Brian, sitting on his mid-section, as he mercilessly tickled Brian's ribs.

"Stop! Stop!" Brian said between his gales of laughter.

"Why should I? You hurt my shoulder." Jack said playfully.

As Brian wriggled around under Jack, he suddenly realized that he had an erection and that it was pressing into Jack's ass.

A moment later, Jack seemed to realize the same thing.

"Unless you want for me to be your first, you'd better move." Brian said as he looked into Jack's eyes.

Jack let out an amazed chuckle, then said, "That was PERFECT!"

Brian looked up at Jack with confusion.

"That's the attitude! That is EXACTLY what you need to be doing when you get back home." Jack said as he got off of Brian, then offered his hand to help Brian to stand.

"Be a smart ass?" Brian asked cautiously.

"You just got a boner while we were wrestling. Instead of being embarrassed about it, you completely turned it around with your attitude. If you can just keep doing that, you're not going to have any problems!" Jack said with excitement.

"First you get all happy when I disagree with you and now you're about to jump for joy when I rub my stiffy on your ass... If this is what it takes to make you happy, no wonder you're single." Brian said slowly.

"Well, you dry humping my ass isn't what made me happy. It was your very appropriate reaction to it. But you just keep that attitude coming, buddy. By the time we get you home, you'll be able to turn it on like a fire hose." Jack said happily.

Before Brian could think of a response to that, a strong gust of wind seemed to rise up out of nowhere.

"The rain's coming and we still need to fill the jugs we used at lunch and fill the spare water jugs." Jack said quickly.

"Race ya!" Brian called out and took off running before the words had registered.

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

It is nice to see Brian progressing so much.� He is definitely learning to overcome his fears and beginning to react in a more outgoing manner. All his life he was taught, through parental bullying, that he was supposed to be that doormat that everyone walked on so easily.

Now, he is becoming that dreaded thing, a teenager.� His biggest job now is to refine and bolster that attitude and allow it to grow and flourish.� He has to understand that he has a responsibility to himself, if no one else, to look people in the eye and react honestly to whatever comes his way.

None of the things that he was so afraid of are anywhere near as bad as he feared. He is even contemplating the possibility of standing up to that bully of a father he has.� I don't know if he will actually be able to do that, but it will be interesting to see how his first meeting with the man who taught him to be such a wuss will go, now that Brian knows that his father was, in large part, responsible for his attitude toward himself.

I can hardly wait for the next chapter, to see what Jack has in store for Brian.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher