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Chapter 7

The next morning when they awoke, it was still cold, rainy and windy.

Both Brian and Jack had to brace themselves against the cold before hurrying outside to make a mad dash to the outhouse.

Even though it took a few minutes more than a stop at the tree line, at least they were able to do their business under a shelter instead of standing in the cold drizzle.

Once they were back inside the cabin, Jack and Brian worked together to make a good, filling breakfast of fried eggs and grits with toast. Before doing the dishes, Jack put the large, cast iron pot of beans on the stove to cook.

Once the kitchen chores were done, they spent the rest of the morning relaxing in the cabin, just enjoying each other's company. They talked, sang, played silly made up games and even had one bout of gentle wrestling.

At noon they enjoyed a very satisfying lunch of bean soup. Jack had added canned ham and diced tomatoes along with some seasoning which made it absolutely delicious. Just after the lunch dishes were done, the rain stopped. Although, from the look of the clouds, they were fairly sure that it would be raining again soon, the pair went outside to enjoy the smell of wet, nourished earth and the glimpses of sunlight that managed to make their way through the clouds to sparkle on the wet leaves.

All too soon, the dark heavy clouds once again filled the sky and the rain started pouring in earnest.

The wind blowing rain against the window drew Brian to look out. Slowly, Jack joined him and they stood for a long silent moment.

"Even this is beautiful." Brian whispered.

Jack put a hand on Brian's shoulder, but remained silent as he watched the spectacle of nature at work.

"What are we doing tomorrow?" Brian quietly asked, still staring out the window.

"Assuming that it stops raining, I have quite a few things in mind. They're mostly just strength training exercises that you'll be able to use when you're on your own." Jack said honestly.

"Couldn't I do that in here?" Brian asked curiously.

Jack shrugged, then said, "I suppose you could. And if it's still raining tomorrow we'll probably do that. But I think being outside where you can run and go full-out is a much better environment for stuff like this. That way you'll be less likely to look at the exercises as a chore that you have to perform and more as something that you can do to feel good and make yourself stronger and healthier."

Brian slowly nodded that he understood.

Somehow the storm seemed to have made them both quiet and introspective. The morning had been playful and spirited. The evening was less so, but not at all depressed. Just quiet.

Finally, as they got ready for bed, Jack asked Brian if he'd like a bedtime story.

Brian chuckled at the offer, but finally admitted that it sounded nice.

As they lay in the bed, snuggled into their sleeping bags, Jack quietly told a long involved tale about a haunted house and a group of energetic teenagers.

Brian closed his eyes and could picture everything that Jack was telling him. As the story unfolded, Brian realized that he was enjoying it more than any movie he had ever seen.

When the story was finally over, Brian simply whispered, "Thanks, Jack."

"Goodnight, Brian."

* * * * *

The door slammed open as a gust of cold wind rushed into the cabin.

Brian sat upright in his sleeping bag and strained to see in the absolute darkness. For just a moment, Brian was remembering the story of the haunted house that Jack had been telling earlier.

Suddenly, the beam of a flashlight shone into the room.

"Who is it?" Jack called out from beside him, and it sounded like Jack was getting out of his sleeping bag.

It was hard for Brian to see what was going on with the way the flashlight was swinging around, but finally, he realized that whoever had entered was trying to get the door closed.

"Jesus! Fuck! It's cold out there!" A man's gruff voice growled.

"Dad?" Jack said in surprise, then called, "Brian, get my dad some of my sweats while I get a light on. He's got to be soaked to the skin."

It took a moment for Brian to grasp what was going on with his sleep fogged mind, but finally the words sank in and Brian climbed out of his sleeping bag.

By the time he had his feet on the floor, Jack had a match lit and was working to get the oil lamp going.

"It's not just raining cats and dogs. There's fucking cows and horses, too." Coach Reed said from the darkness by the door, sounding like he was trying to catch his breath..

As the light from the lamp finally began to fill the room, Brian was able to see well enough to pick out some sweatpants and a sweatshirt.

"Come on, Dad. Get out of those wet clothes before you catch pneumonia." Jack said as he rushed to the stove.

Brian stood and walked toward Coach Reed, holding the sweats, when he noticed the surprised look in the coach's eyes.

"Did I interrupt something?" Coach Reed asked cautiously as he looked from Brian to his son.

"Yeah, Dad. I was fucking the snot out of him when you walked in." Jack said impatiently as he added wood to the stove, then flashed his father a typical 'teenager' look.

Brian felt himself go pale at the statement and thought that his knees might give out.

"Hey! With you two running around stark naked, what am I supposed to think?" Coach Reed asked in his defense.

"We weren't running around. We were sleeping... In separate sleeping bags." Jack said firmly, then added, "Are you just going to stand there and drip, or are you going to get out of those wet clothes?"

Coach Reed chuckled as he started to undress, then said, "It does look like I'm a little bit overdressed for this party."

"How about we meet you half-way? If you'll put on some sweats, so will we." Jack asked as he stepped away from the stove toward his side of the bed.

Coach Reed leaned down to untie his boots when he noticed that Brian was still standing naked before him, holding the sweats for him to wear.

"You can put those on the table if you want. This could take a minute. Wet shoelaces are a bitch and a half to untie."

Brian stood for a moment, then the words finally seemed to make their way to his brain and he stammered, "Yeah... okay."

"Brian." Jack said firmly as he pulled on his sweats.

After a moment to put down the clothes he was carrying, Brian looked at Jack with question.

"You're going 'mouse' again. Stop it." Jack said as he looked Brian in the eyes.

It took a moment for Brian to understand what Jack was saying, but finally it made sense to him and he made a conscious effort to calm down.

"How was your drive?" Jack asked his father, allowing Brian a moment to collect himself and also to dress.

"How do you think? Because of the rain, I couldn't take the shortcut and had to drive halfway around the mountain to take the road. Then I had to hike the long way from the clearing in pouring rain and high winds. I was actually a little bit worried about you two. We don't get a lot of storms this heavy so far inland."

"There've been a few surges, but nothing to really worry about. We've been perfectly comfortable." Jack said frankly.

"It's stopped raining." Brian said slowly, then walked to the door.

"You have got to be kidding!" Coach Reed said as he followed.

All three stood in the doorway and heard nothing but silence in the wake of the spectacular storm.

"Figures!" Coach Reed finally said in a huff, then walked back into the cabin.

Jack gripped Brian's shoulder firmly, then leaned in and whispered, "Everything's fine, Brian. Trust me."

Brian took in a deep breath to calm himself, then turned to the sight of Coach Reed peeling rain soaked pants off his legs.

"Close the door. It's cold." Jack said casually as he walked to his side of the bed again.

"Yeah." Brian muttered as he absently reached behind him to shut the door, not taking his eyes off of Coach Reed for an instant.

"Here, Dad. You'll want to towel off before you put on the dry clothes." Jack said as he placed a towel on the table beside the sweats.

Brian finally realized what he was doing and glanced down to find that he was half hard in his sweats. It wasn't immediately noticeable, but Brian was self conscious about it, nonetheless.

"I left right after classes let out this afternoon and it rained the entire time. I was hoping that it would ease up by the time I got here, but it turns out that I arrived just in time for the worst of it. I actually thought about spending the night in the truck, but decided to make the hike up here since I was so close." Coach Reed said casually as he toweled off his hair.

The sight of Coach Reed had Brian frozen in his tracks. He had always known that the coach was a handsome man, but had never considered what he would look like naked. The coach was in good shape for a man of his age. Brian couldn't take his eyes off the man's furry chest and legs.

"Brian, I'm fixing some tea for dad. Would you like some?" Jack asked casually from the kitchen, where he was filling the kettle from the water jug.

"Um... yeah. Sure." Brian stammered, then thought to ask, "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"No. I've got it." Jack said casually.

Jack's words had snapped Brian out of his daze and he walked to the table, trying to look casual as he did so.

From his new vantage point at the table, Brian got a good look at Coach Reed's cock. The first thing that popped into his mind at the sight was that Coach Reed's cock looked almost exactly like Jack's. He was hairier, but beyond that, they were virtually identical.

"So how've things been going up here the last few days?" Coach Reed asked casually as he started to towel himself dry.

When Brian looked the Coach in the eyes, he realized that he'd been caught looking and could feel a blush rising up his cheeks.

"Great. We've figured out a few things and I've been doing what I can to help Brian. But I'm really glad that you're here. I think I've done about as much as I can on my own." Jack said cheerfully.

"What about the bullying? Did you figure out what that was all about?" Coach Reed asked as he stood, then walked beside Brian to pick up the sweat pants.

Brian couldn't resist the urge to look at Coach Reed's cock again. It was right there, close enough that he could reach out and touch it.

"Yeah. It turns out that Brian's growing up a little bit faster than his classmates. His dad never talked to him about what happens when you grow up... or anything else, for that matter." Jack added thoughtfully.

As Coach Reed pulled up his sweat pants, Brian looked up and said, "Since I didn't know it was normal, I wouldn't get naked in front of the other guys. They started teasing me because I was so shy."

"So, is that why you two were naked when I got here?" Coach Reed asked curiously.

"No. We were naked because it's the most comfortable way to sleep." Jack said from the kitchen.

"Jack's been helping me to try and get over my shyness, but I guess I'm still having a little trouble with it." Brian said timidly.

"It sounds like his family is really shy about nudity, so being naked and seeing other people naked sometimes freaks him out." Jack said frankly, then added, "But he's already a lot better than he was."

Coach Reed nodded at his son, then glanced at Brian consideringly.

"I can make myself do it, if I need to." Brian said quietly, then timidly asked, "Do you want to see?"

"You don't have to." Coach Reed said gently.

"I know. But I think it'll help if I know that I can make myself do it. I mean, if I can show you, then the guys at school shouldn't be that big of a deal, right?"

"Alright, if you feel that you need to." Coach Reed said as he looked Brian in the eyes.

Brian stood from his place at the table, then, before he could lose his nerve, pulled the sweat pants down his thighs and held his sweatshirt up out of the way.

He only stood that way for a few seconds, but it felt like forever as the coach looked at his body appraisingly.

"Jack says that I'm normal and that before long, the other guys will catch up to me." Brian said as he quickly pulled up his pants.

"Yes. You're all at that age." Coach Reed said reassuringly.

"Besides that, Brian's dad never taught him anything about... well, anything. So I've been showing him about pitching, catching, running... you know, guy stuff." Jack said as he placed two steaming mugs of tea on the table.

"Thanks." Jack's father said gratefully as he immediately picked up the mug.

"Hold on." Jack said, then rushed to the other side of the kitchen.

Coach Reed watched curiously, then broke into a smile when he saw what Jack was bringing back for him.

"Thanks." Coach Reed said with a chuckle as he accepted a miniature candy cane from his son.

Brian cautiously accepted another miniature candy cane from Jack, then noticed the aroma coming off the tea.

It was peppermint tea.

By the time Brian had his candy cane unwrapped, Jack had joined them at the table.

"When I left, you said you didn't think you were going to be able to make it this weekend. Did something happen?" Jack asked his father curiously.

"Sort of." Coach Reed said, then let out a long sigh.

"Something bad?" Jack asked cautiously.

"Yes. Very bad." Coach Reed said frankly, then continued, "We were scheduled to have a meeting this afternoon after classes let out, and from the tone of the announcement, we were all pretty sure that it was going to be something we didn't want to hear. That's why I thought I wouldn't be able to make it, because I figured that the meeting would drag on for hours, then I'd be dealing with the fallout."

"So what happened?" Jack asked curiously.

"The meeting lasted less than ten minutes. It was really just an announcement. Starting next year, there will no longer be a physical education program at our school." Coach Reed said in a flat tone.

"How can they do that?" Jack asked in wonder.

"According to the preliminary test scores, our students aren't reaching their full academic potential. Our school district is in danger of losing a significant portion of their funding. So non-academic classes are going to be trimmed or completely cut to help prepare our students more fully." Coach Reed said in a slightly condescending tone.

"In other words, they're going to teach to the test." Jack said darkly.

"Yes. In their mad scramble for the almighty buck, they're going to sacrifice God only knows how many students." Coach Reed said darkly.

"Sacrifice? How?" Brian asked curiously.

"What they're planning on doing is teaching the things... well, you can hardly call it teaching." Coach Reed amended, then continued, "They're going to force the students to memorize a series of correct answers to pointless questions for the sole purpose of passing some standardized tests. Once the tests are taken, the school will most likely continue to receive its funding, but the students will have wasted all that time never learning a single thing that will ever be the slightest bit of use to them."

"Are you going to lose your job?" Jack asked quietly.

Coach Reed smiled, then said, "No. I've got the teaching credentials and enough seniority that I shouldn't have to worry about that."

Jack slowly nodded.

"But if I have a choice in the matter, I don't want to be a part of this future that they're planning. I think that as soon as we get back, I'm going to start making inquiries and see if there are any openings for an athletic director in any of the private schools in the area."

"So there won't be any more gym class?" Brian asked absently.

"No. And they're in the process of cutting anything else that's not on the test that's not explicitly required by state law. So I'm expecting that the art and music programs are also on the chopping block." Coach Reed said regretfully.

"How can they get away with that?" Brian asked quietly.

"Because we allow it." Coach Reed said frankly.

Brian looked at him with question.

"The government officials, the school districts and the local schools all work for us. They only have authority because we 'give' it to them. The moment that they stop working in the best interest of the children, which is their job, we should be standing there and forcing them back into place and insisting that they do their jobs. But, instead, the apathetic public seems to think that it's someone else's problem, someone else's fault and someone else's responsibility to fix. Until they wake up and realize that it's 'their' failure, it's only going to spin more and more out of control." Coach Reed finished sadly.

"Way to cheer us up, dad! What else've you got?" Jack asked with a grin.

"Your mom called last night." Coach Reed said with a barely restrained smile at his son.

"Y'know, I'm just fine with talking about the decline of public education." Jack said with a grimace.

Coach Reed smiled and waited.

Finally, Jack reluctantly asked, "Okay. Fine. What did she want?"

"To talk to her son." Coach Reed said with an angelic smile that even Brian wasn't believing.

Jack tilted his head and gave his father a distinctly 'teenage' look.

Brian had to admit that he was impressed at the amount of ire that Jack could compress into a single glance.

Coach Reed chuckled, then said, "She called to offer you a job working at Russel's office."

Jack stared at his father for a few seconds, then shook his head in wonder.

"What's wrong?" Brian asked Coach Reed curiously.

"Russel is my step-dad... who I hate." Jack answered matter-of-factly, then added, "So naturally, Mom is trying to fix it so I can spend eight hours a day working with him."

"Why do you hate him?" Brian asked Jack with concern.

"Because he's a total douche nozzle. Forget the fact that he's fucking my mom, which doesn't earn him any points for good judgement in my book. The guy is a walking, talking stereotype, constantly looking for a reason to be offended. I have to watch every single thing I say and do around him because as soon as I let my guard down for a second, he's accusing me of being a bigot."

"Jack's right. Russel's played the part of the injured party so many times that everyone's sick of hearing it."

"So I guess this means that you're not going to take the job." Brian said hesitantly.

"Russel is a nurse in a plastic surgeon's office. I can't imagine what kind of horrible things I would have to do if I worked there. I'd probably be sweeping up old noses and carrying buckets of liposuctioned ass out to the dumpster all day long." Jack said consideringly, then added, "Honestly, I'd rather dig ditches than work with Russel."

"I'd rather get punched in the balls than work with Russel." Coach Reed said with a grin at his son.

Jack considered for a moment, then said, "I'd rather give grandpa a full body massage than work with Russel."

"Happy ending?" Coach Reed asked hesitantly.

Jack nodded seriously.

"I'd rather suck cottage cheese out of your mom's douche bag than work with Russel." Coach Reed said firmly.

Jack gave a full body cringe, then said, "Actually, I think I'd rather work with Russel."

Coach Reed thought about it for a moment, then said, "Yeah. Come to think of it, so would I, but it would be close."

Both men looked up at the sound of Brian's laughter and watched as he laughed himself silly, clutching his sides.

* * * * *

Once Brian's laughter calmed, he noticed that both Jack and Coach Reed were looking at him with amusement.

"Sorry. You guys are funny." Brian muttered.

"Yeah. We're a regular Laurel and Hardy." Coach Reed said with a grin.

"Who?" Brian asked in puzzlement, then looked at Jack with question.

"Don't worry about it. That's just one of those geezerly things that dads sometimes say." Jack said with a smile at his father.

"Brian, do you have any questions for me that Jack wasn't able to answer for you?" Coach Reed asked in an obvious attempt to ignore his son's comment.

After a moment to consider, Brian said, "Yeah. Jack said that since you're such a great dad and you let him know what to expect before it happened, that he never went through the things that I am. So, if you wouldn't mind telling me, I was wondering if you were shy at my age and how you got past it."

"It seems that my son has been experiencing some convenient memory loss." Coach Reed said with a grin at Jack, then turned to Brian and said, "In truth, there were a few months when Jack was incredibly shy around me."

"I don't remember that." Jack said seriously.

"Do you remember waking up before six in the morning so you could shower before I woke up?" Coach Reed asked curiously.

Jack thought for a moment, then slowly said, "Yeah. But I don't remember what that was all about."

"You were getting boners every five minutes and it was freaking you out." Coach Reed said frankly.

"Oh! Right! I was scared to death that you'd see me getting a boner when I was in the bathroom with you and you'd think that I was lusting after your body." Jack said thoughtfully.

Coach Reed smiled and said, "You were so worried about it that I didn't even want to bring up the subject. But eventually you seemed to deal with it on your own."

"Yeah. The boners stopped being so often and so random. And besides, waking up at five thirty in the morning flat out sucked. I'd rather let you see my boner than have to drag my tired ass out of bed that early every... single... day."

After a long silent moment, Brian cautiously asked, "Coach Reed, were you ever shy? I'd really like to know how you dealt with it."

"I'd really prefer it if you'd call me Cameron or Cam. I'd rather leave the 'Coach' at school." Coach Reed said frankly.

Brian nodded and waited hopefully.

"Actually, as I recall, I was something of a late bloomer. Well, maybe not. I spent a lot of time with my brother and his friends, all of them were a year or two older than me. All I remember is that they were all developing and I was still a little boy."

"Did they tease you about it?" Brian asked curiously.

"No. They wouldn't dare! My brother wouldn't let any of his friends tease me about anything like that. He always protected me." Cameron said distantly, then added, "I remember this one time when we were all out in the yard, back behind the shed. I guess someone had to piss or something like that. I really don't remember now how it started, but it ended up with all of us with our pants around our ankles and whacking off together. I don't know, that might have been the first time..."

Brian could feel his cock getting hard and could hear the sound of his pulse thrumming in his ears.

"One of the guys, Oliver, I think, he was my brother's best friend. Anyway, he was being all shy and looking around and finally asked my brother if he could touch his cock. Of course, what guy's gonna say no to that? So all of us were just standing out there jerking away while my brother got his first hand job."

"So you weren't ever shy about that stuff, huh?" Brian asked quietly.

"I was shy..." Cameron said thoughtfully, "But there's no way I was gonna let my brother see that I was afraid of anything. So even though I was the smallest one there, I whipped it out and jacked off with the best of them. So, yeah. I was scared to death, especially that first time. But I did it anyway."

"I think that's where Brian is, right now." Jack said frankly.

Brian and Cameron both looked at Jack with question.

"He's still shy. He's afraid. But he is able to make himself do it." Jack said frankly.

"So, have you two been jacking off together or anything like that?" Cameron asked curiously.

"No. I thought that would be going too far. I showed Brian what to do and left him to do it on his own." Jack said quietly, then looked to see if his father approved of his decision.

After a moment of consideration, Cameron said, "Yeah. That's probably best. I mean, if you guys had done it, I wouldn't have been bothered by it in the least. But this way Brian can save his first real sexual encounter for someone closer to his own age."

"Yeah. I think you're right. I remember how it was for me and... well, I just wouldn't want it to have been any other way." Jack said distantly.

"Jerry?" Cameron asked curiously.

"Yeah. One of the times when you took us up here, you had to go down to the truck for something and you let us stay in the cabin while you were gone." Jack said with a smile at the memory.

"If it's the time I'm remembering, the teenage hormones were thick in the air between you two. I took that walk down to the truck to get away before I embarrassed myself. I was really hoping you two would do something so we could get back to enjoying our trip." Cameron said distantly.

"Does that mean you were turned on?" Brian asked in wide eyed wonder.

"Sure. Most times it doesn't take that much to get a guy going. I don't know if it was pheromones that did it or what, but I sure as hell didn't want Jack and Jerry to see me all hot and bothered." Cameron said frankly.

"So you walked down to the truck and jacked off?" Brian asked cautiously.

"Yeah." Cameron said distantly, then looked at Brian and said, "You've got to understand, I've been single for a really long time. I don't get much action and I usually only take care of myself when I just have to."

"Why's that? I mean, you're not old or fat or ugly or anything. I bet that there's got to be a lot of women who'd want to go out with you." Brian said curiously.

"Yeah. Well, there's no shortage of eligible women, that's for sure. I guess maybe it'd be easy to accuse me of being gun-shy about getting into another relationship. But honestly, the way I look at it, if there's a woman over the age of thirty-five who's single, there's probably a really good reason for it. There's no way I want to go slogging through the dregs of the dating pool on the off chance that I'll somehow find the one woman in this hemisphere who isn't a psychotic bitch."

"It sounds like you and Jack have the same luck with women." Brian said with a sympathetic look at his friend.

"I've noticed." Cameron chuckled, then said, "What was that one girl's name? The one who was all high and mighty about being a vegetarian and always smelled like pot? April? Enid?..."

"Averil." Jack said darkly, then turned to Brian and said, "When I'd been dating her for about a week, she came over to visit while I was in the shower, getting ready for our date. Dad let her in and, well, he'd better tell you, I only got to see the end of it."

"The girl starts rubbing up against me like a dog in heat, then before I even know what happened, she's got her hand down my pants!" Cameron said frankly.

"Of course, that's when I walk into the living room and see what's going on. I guess it was a good thing that the first thing I saw was the shocked look on Dad's face, otherwise I might have been mad at him. Instead, I just let her know that I wasn't willing to share my girlfriend with my father and told her to leave."

"You could've let her finish." Cameron said as he looked askance at his son.

"Next time. Promise." Jack said with a grin at his father.

"So, are all your dates that bad?" Brian asked curiously.

"No. They usually crash and burn on a completely different level. Averil was the only one who ever made a move on my dad." Jack said, then looked at his dad curiously and hesitantly asked, "Wasn't she?"

"Well, Julie flirted with me a little, but since I didn't flirt back, it never went any further than that." Cameron said reluctantly.

"You should've gone for it. She slept with just about everyone else I ever met, why not you, too?" Jack said bitterly.

"I can't say that I'd never do that, because sometimes when you're there, in that moment..." Cameron drifted off with a helpless shrug. He finally continued by saying, "But I'd never set out to do that. I'd never intentionally hurt you."

"I know, Dad. I've always known that." Jack said with a smile.

After a long quiet moment, Brian reluctantly said, "Do you want to tell your dad about the letter..."

It took a moment for Jack to realize what Brian was talking about, but as soon as he did, his eyes clouded over with pain.

"What's going on? What letter?" Cameron asked as he looked from Jack to Brian curiously.

Brian looked to Jack, not having the first clue of how to even approach the topic.

"It's best..."Jack started to say, then seemed to think better of it and got up from the table.

A moment later he came back with the folded piece of paper and handed it to his father as he whispered, "Just read it."

* * * * *

There was a flash of pain in Cameron's eyes, but no other obvious outward reaction.

When he turned to Jack, about to speak, his throat made a 'click' that sounded loudly and clearly throughout the room.

"He said he loved me." Jack whispered to his father as the tears that were welled in his eyes started to overflow.

"I never doubted it. Not for a minute." Cameron said with a smile to his son, even though there were tears streaming down his cheeks.

Brian sat silently, wanting to do something to offer comfort to Jack and Cameron, but not knowing what he could possibly do that wouldn't just make everyone uncomfortable.

"It's after midnight, we should probably get to bed." Cameron choked out as he tried to get his tears under control.

"Do you need to be up early for some reason? Or is this just an old age thing?" Jack teased as he wiped his eyes.

"I'll show you old, you little smart ass." Cameron said with a grin.

"Seriously, Dad. There's no reason for us to rush to bed. None of us has to be up at any certain time. "

"I suppose not." Cameron conceded.

"Would you like something to eat? I could make you up some eggs or something if you like." Jack asked with concern.

"No, thanks. I'm fine." Cameron said gratefully.

"Have you thought about what you want to do about the sleeping arrangements?" Jack asked seriously.

"I brought the cot, it's in my backpack." Cameron said frankly.

"I can sleep on the cot, if you want." Jack said quietly.

"No. I brought the cot. It's mine." Cameron said playfully.

"A little possessive, aren't you?" Jack chuckled.

"I've been looking forward to laying down on my cot since I started walking in that monsoon. And I'm damned sure going to do it." Cameron said firmly as he walked across the room and began to unpack his backpack.

"Fine with me. I just thought you might like a nice soft mattress." Jack said honestly.

"Not tonight. Let's see how I feel in the morning. I may feel like trading with you tomorrow night." Cameron said warmly.

"Is there anything I can do to help you?" Brian asked timidly.

Cameron smiled at Brian, then said, "Yes. It seems that some water got into my backpack. You could help me hang things up by the stove so they can dry."

Brian glanced over at the stove and noticed for the first time that there were two nylon ropes strung across the room, close to the ceiling.

"Yeah. Sure." Brian said as he stepped forward. He accepted a stack of clothes that were wet, mostly on one side, then went about the work of hanging them on the clothes lines by the stove.

"Jack, you know how to set up the cot, don't you?" Cameron asked as he extracted the cot from his backpack.

"Let's see, I've only done it about a million times." Jack said with a roll of his eyes.

"If it collapses tonight, you're sleeping on the floor tomorrow night." Cameron said firmly.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah." Jack said with another eye roll, then started setting up the cot.

* * * * *

"I brought plenty of food." Jack said as he saw his father examining the ice chest.

"Yeah, well I didn't want to take the chance of Brian getting scurvy or rickets or beriberi from the complete absence of anything with nutritional value in his diet." Cameron said as he stood.

"But the dehydrated stuff doesn't need to be refrigerated." Jack said in his defense.

"Neither do most fruits and vegetables." Cameron said frankly, then extracted two plastic shopping bags from the backpack and handed them to Jack.

After a moment to look in the bags, Jack reluctantly said, "Point taken."

Cameron took three more bags out of the backpack and carried them to the ice chest.

"Wow, it looks like you brought a lot of food." Brian said with a smile.

"Not that much, really. But hopefully you'll enjoy having a little more variety in your diet." Cameron said frankly.

"So, Santa, what else did you bring us?" Jack asked with a chuckle.

"Well, little boy, since you've been so good this year, I brought this especially for you." Cameron said, then handed a small plastic box to his son.

Jack looked at the box, then at his dad with a smile as he said, "Thanks, Dad."

Brian looked at the box of hand wipes, then at Cameron with question.

"Jack gets funny about germs. He actually used to be a lot worse about it when he was a kid. Now, I think he manages it within reason, so I just accept it as part of who he is." Cameron said calmly.

"So, it's like a phobia or something?" Brian asked cautiously.

"It's a compulsion. But I've been to a psychiatrist about it, and it's really not a problem anymore. If you think about it, we're not so different from each other. You have a phobia, I have a compulsion. It's not so severe that either of us needs to worry too much about it. We both have the willpower to manage as long as we have our friends and family to support us." Jack said seriously.

Brian thought about that for a moment, then said, "Thanks, Jack. That really makes a lot of sense. And if you're able to manage your thing, then I'll find a way to manage mine."

"Sounds like a plan. You ladies do what you want. I'm ready for some sleep." Cameron said as he sat his empty backpack aside.

Jack looked around, then announced, "I'm ready, too. What about you, Brian?"

After a moment of thought, Brian said, "I need to visit the lava-tree, then I'll be ready."

Jack nodded that he had heard, then watched as Brian pulled on his coat and stepped into his boots.

* * * * *

Once Brian was outside, Cameron quietly asked, "How is he, really?"

"I think he's okay. But I'm really glad you're here. I've done everything I can think of to help him, and I'm afraid that it's not enough or that I've missed something." Jack said anxiously.

"After breakfast tomorrow, it might be helpful if you find an excuse to need to be alone so Brian and I can have a chance to talk." Cameron said seriously.

Jack pulled his father into a hug as he whispered, "Thanks, Dad."

"Hey, you're the one doing me a favor by coming up here with Brian and helping him." Cameron said gently, then thought to ask, "By the way, how are you?

"I'm about a thousand times better now that you're here." Jack said as he continued to hug his father.

"Just relax and let me handle it for a while. You've done good, you've earned a rest." Cameron said gently.

The door opening drew their attention.

"We were just..." Jack began to say as he pulled away from his father.

"It's okay. You missed your dad." Brian said dismissively as he walked to his side of the bed.

* * * * *

Brian was tired and didn't even look to see if anyone was watching as he skinned out of his sweats and climbed into bed.

Less than a minute later, Brian felt the bed shift and heard Jack getting into his sleeping bag.

After a long quiet moment, Brian whispered, "Jack?"

"Yeah?" Jack responded.

"You know earlier, when you were talking about your mom. I was just wondering... do you hate her?" Brian asked quietly.

"I'd have to care about her a whole lot more than I do to hate her."

Brian thought about the response, but didn't want to press Jack for more.

To his surprise, Jack continued, "When my parents got divorced, my mom cut all ties with me. She didn't visit me or call or write or anything. She totally excluded me from her life, like I was never born, like I never existed. Then, after Dillon's death, she suddenly got this idea that she has some kind of 'right' to be my mother again."

Try as he might, Brian couldn't even imagine being in Jack's position.

"Do you blame your mom for Dillon's death?" Brian heard himself ask before he was even aware of the question.

As Brian waited, he realized that Jack must have fallen asleep and not heard the question.

'Just as well'. Brian told himself as he settled in to sleep.

After another long moment, he barely heard Jack's voice whisper, "Yes."

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

It's amazing what a bit of knowledge can do. We are all scared of the unknown, and for whatever reason, some of us cope with it better than others. I would have to say that Brian has made a great deal of progress, now that he knows he isn't some sort of freak, or something. Jack has been a real help to Brian, and oddly, in some ways, Brian has also helped Jack deal with his feelings, too. 

Of course we each have our own particular fears, many of which have no  basis in reality.  I am personally a bit afraid to see my own blood.

One time when I was in my teens, I had to get a blood test, and the nurse was pretty good at sticking me with the needle. I hardly felt a thing. I watched her put the thing in my arm and then take out some blood. At the time I was actually a bit curious, since I hadn't remembered having it done before. She finished and put a cotton ball in the crook of my elbow and told me to hold my elbow tight to keep it from bleeding. She labeled the sample and put it away, and then came back to me. She offered me a glass of orange juice. She said I needed to replace the liquid that they had taken from me. I finished drinking the juice and handed her the glass. I figured it was all over, and was putting on my jacket, and she asked me if I was feeling all right. I told her I was fine and she helped me into my jacket. When I stood up, I became totally dizzy, and promptly fainted. After that, I just about fainted whenever I saw blood, especially my own.

I am not as bothered by it as I once was. I am still a bit nervous about it, but I can now get blood taken without panicking. It does take a bit of concentration to tell myself that it won't bother me, but once I set myself to doing it, I am pretty much fine with it.

Of course, we don't know what will happen when Brian gets back. Will his classmates continue to tease him, and just what will their reactions be if he doesn't panic or react badly to their teasing? I guess we will just have to wait to find out the answers, won't we?

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher.