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I awoke to a wonderful feeling of ultimate peace.
Before I even opened my eyes, I was aware of the presence of Enoch at my side.
Slowly I opened my eyes and was surprised by what I saw.
The hazy ill defined form of Enoch from last night was replaced by the beautiful, ethereal creature beside me.
Although he was still transparent, I could see details this morning that were lost in the haze last night.
"I can see you a lot better today." I whispered.
Enoch's contemplative expression turned to one of joy as his jade eyes looked into mine.
I wanted to say more, but the words caught in my throat at his absolute beauty.
Hesitantly, I reached up my hand and touched his hair.
Enoch's eyes went wide as he obviously felt my touch.
"I felt you. I didn't even have to try." Enoch said in wonder.
His voice sounded like a whisper, like it was a sound that came from far off in the distance. But I could hear it clearly and nodded that I understood.
"Did you have a good sleep?" I asked gently as I continued to stroke his hair.
"I don't sleep." Enoch said with regret.
"You don't?" I asked curiously.
"No. Not once since I have been... in this place." Enoch said with a note of pain in his voice.
To exist for a hundred years without the ability to sleep or dream, never knowing a moment of true rest... I couldn't do it. I would go insane.
"So what do you do all night?" I asked as I watched his expression carefully.
Enoch looked away for a moment, then distantly said, "Night and day are the same in the endless void where I am. Before your arrival I would just sit and stare at the nothingness. It's the closest I can come to sleep."
"You said that's what you did before I arrived. What do you do now?" I asked quietly.
"I watch you." Enoch said with a shy smile.
I returned his smile and a little bit of his shyness seemed to fall away.
Those simple words, said so shyly, made me fall in love with Enoch all over again.
Regardless of the seemingly endless existence he's endured, he's content to sit up all night just watching me sleep.
I've never felt so beautiful... so loved.
Enoch raised his hand and quietly began to ask, "May I..."
But before he could complete his request, he seemed to think better of it and started to move his hand away.
"Yes." I whispered before he could withdraw his hand completely.
Enoch froze in mid motion and looked at me with question.
"You may." I said as I looked deeply into his beautiful jade green eyes.
Enoch broke into a timid smile, then his hand started moving toward me again.
I don't know what he was asking permission to do, but I couldn't imagine anything that Enoch could ask of me at that moment that I would hesitate to give him.
Enoch's hand moved to the side of my face and I felt the gentlest touch, the most ethereal and insubstantial of sensations as he brushed his fingertips against my cheek.
I held still and smiled at the action.
Seeming to be encouraged by my willingness to go along with him, Enoch moved his hand farther back so he was cradling my head, then moved in to give me a kiss.
The kisses we had shared up to now had been wonderful and beautiful, but there was still something about the experience that seemed unreal.
I don't know if it was the absence of body heat or maybe the lack of any taste or smell when our mouths joined that made our kisses seem more dream than reality.
But the sensation of his lips brushing against mine wasn't anything less than real.
His lips were slightly salty and I could detect the faintest hint of wood smoke coming from him as his mouth pressed to mine.
Without thought, I moved my arms around him and found that his transparent body seemed to have enough substance that I could really hug him.
My body began to respond as, for the first time since I had met Enoch, he seemed completely real.
All my senses were telling me that he was real and my instincts knew what I wanted to do next.
Enoch broke the kiss and backed away from me slightly to look into my eyes.
"You have done something to me. You've changed me." Enoch said in his whispery voice.
"I have?" I asked as I looked at him with wonder.
Enoch slowly nodded.
"How have you changed?" I asked slowly.
I wasn't sure that I really wanted to know, especially since I couldn't tell from Enoch's expression if he was happy with the changes.
"It is like you are drawing me out of my unreal world. It is as though, by your very will, you are summoning me back into physical being." Enoch said seriously.
"It's not just you E." I said frankly.
Enoch smiled at the use of my pet name for him.
"When I was over at my grandparent's house yesterday, I was able to see Uncle George. He's Allie's husband." I said seriously.
Enoch looked at me with slight confusion.
"He's dead." I said as I realized that I hadn't mentioned that before.
"So you were able to see a disembodied spirit?" Enoch asked with wonder.
"Not the same way I can see you. He was just kind of a blur... I'm not sure how to describe what he looked like but I could tell where he was in the room, just like when we first met." I said in a considering voice.
Enoch nodded in thought for a moment, then moved away from me.
"Where are you going?" I asked, not wanting him to leave, but also not feeling that I had any right to ask him to stay.
"I just want to show you something." Enoch said as he moved to the foot of the bed.
I felt myself smile, and I'm sure the expression on my face must have revealed what I wanted him to show me.
A moment later Enoch sat up with a look of triumph as he presented my flute case to me.
It took a few seconds for me to realize the significance of what I was seeing.
Before it had taken a great deal of concentration and effort for Enoch to barely move something in the real world, but here he was, sitting right in front of me, holding my flute case in his transparent hands.
"E, that's wonderful." I said in amazement.
Enoch broke into a glorious smile at my words.
Once again I felt so loved.
I had heard the word before, but I never really thought about the meaning.
I know my mom and dad love me. Even in the darkest days of their divorce, I never doubted that for an instant.
But at no time in my life have I ever felt absolutely cherished.
Not even close.
"Will you play something for me?" Enoch asked hopefully as he held the flute case out to me.
"Sure. I'd love to." I said as I accepted the case.
Enoch moved back up the bed to my side and watched as I assembled my flute.
"Is there anything special you'd like to hear? I doubt that I'd know too many of the same songs that you do, but if I've heard it before I can probably fake it." I said, then worked all the valves to be sure that they wouldn't stick.
"The song you played before, the somber one. Would you play that?" Enoch asked hopefully.
"Sure. It's called '10,000 Promises' and it's one of my favorites too." I said, then brought the flute to my lips.
Enoch watched intently as I began to play the slow lilting melody.
As I moved into the chorus I began to lose myself in the melancholy mood of the music.
* * * * *
I heard a gentle knocking on my bedroom door which caused me to stop.
"Yes?" I said cautiously.
Mom slowly opened the door and looked at me with a gentle smile.
"I'm glad you're up. I was hoping I'd get to see you before I left." Mom said quietly.
"When do you have to go?" I asked curiously.
"In just a few minutes. I was just making sure I didn't leave anything important behind when I heard you playing... It was beautiful." Mom finished proudly.
"Thanks. Do you know when you'll be back?" I asked curiously.
"It will probably be late tonight. Don't bother waiting up for me, I'm sure I'll want to go right to bed when I get in. I can tell you all about how things went in the morning." Mom said seriously.
"OK. But if you have some really good news to share, I won't mind if you wake me up." I said as I looked her in the eyes.
"Thanks. I'll remember that." Mom said with a smile.
By the tone of her words, I could tell that she really appreciated the offer.
After a glance at her watch, she quickly said, "I've got to go. I don't want to be late."
She leaned down and pulled me into a firm hug as she said, "I love you. I hope you and your cousins have a good day today."
"I love you too Mom. Good luck." I said as I returned the hug.
Mom was still smiling as she hurried out of the room.
* * * * *
"Your mother seems very nice." Enoch said as he stared at the door.
"Yeah. She's alright." I said as I rested back on the bed.
After a long silent moment, I noticed that Enoch was still staring at the door.
"You're still missing your mom, aren't you." I asked quietly.
Enoch absently nodded.
"Well, when my cousins get here, I'll ask them if they know where the family graveyard is. I have a feeling that they wouldn't mind showing it to me." I said as I thought about the new members of my family.
Enoch finally turned his gaze away from the door and smiled at me gently.
He was so beautiful.
I didn't have any words to express just how deeply I was falling in love. Words would only get in the way.
While continuing to look him in the eyes, I raised my flute to my lips and began to play with every bit of emotion that I was feeling.
* * * * *
I guess I lost all track of time as I was sitting in my bed, playing my flute for Enoch.
The sound of a firm knock on the front door broke the spell that we were under.
"That must be my cousins." I said as I hopped out of the bed and grabbed one of the pairs of short pants that I'd bought the day before.
"I will miss you." Enoch said with a pained look in his eyes.
"Why don't you come with me?" I asked as I quickly pulled on a tee shirt.
"I may become lost in the darkness." Enoch said with regret.
"I won't let you get lost. Just stick with me and you'll be fine. And if something happens that we do get separated, I'll go back and find you." I said as I looked him in the eyes.
Enoch seemed to be warring within himself if he should take the chance and venture out into the world that he hadn't visited for so many years.
Finally he seemed to come to a decision and nodded hesitantly.
"I love you E. There's no way I'm going to lose you now." I said firmly, then waited, to emphasize the point.
Enoch smiled and quietly said, "I love you too, Mark."
"Cool. Let's go, I want you to meet my cousins. They're really great." I said as I turned toward the door.
"If they are your family, I am certain that I will like them." Enoch said as he joined me by the door.
"You wouldn't say that if you met my Aunt Prissy." I said with a smile, then walked out into the hallway, making sure that Enoch was still at my side.
* * * * *
After a few stops and starts on the stairs, which I assume that he couldn't see, we finally started moving at a more normal pace.
"Beau! Get back out here. This is Mark's house now. It ain't right to walk in without being invited!" A voice said harshly.
"But maybe he's still asleep and didn't hear us knocking." I heard Beau say defensively, then in a scream he continued, "MARK! WE'RE HERE!"
I glanced at Enoch and could tell from his reaction that he had also heard.
"I'm right here. Come on in guys." I said as I stopped at the bottom of the stairs and waited for Enoch to catch up to me.
"Hi Mark. I'm sorry I walked into your house without being invited, but I didn't know if you heard us knock." Beau said timidly.
"That's fine Beau, I heard you but I had to put on some clothes before I came down." I said with a smile at the boy, hoping to put him at ease.
A movement out of the corner of my eye caught my attention and I noticed Jim Bob standing just inside the front door with a shy expression on his face... and he seemed to be blushing.
Before I could give it any thought, the front door opened to reveal someone who I hadn't met before.
This boy was a complete stranger, but I knew who he was without a doubt.
"You must be Joe Bob Junior. I'm Mark, your cousin." I said as I looked over this very handsome guy.
Beau and Jim Bob both had some of their dad's features, but they must have picked up some of their mom's too.
Simply put, Joe Bob Junior was the spitting image of his father.
"Yup. You can call me Junior if you want." Joe Bob said casually.
"He always says that, but no one never calls him Junior unless Pa's around." Beau said quickly.
Joe Bob gave a slow, casual nod of agreement which said louder than words that he really didn't care either way.
"You ain't had breakfast yet, have ya?" Joe Bob asked in his slow, Texas drawl.
"No, I just woke up." I said with a smile, then realized that it was a little bit strange that after knowing Joe Bob for only a few seconds, I automatically liked him.
"Then me and Beau are gonna make us all some breakfast." Joe Bob said simply, then looked down at Beau and said, "Git on out to tha car and start haulin' in the groceries while I get the stove goin'."
"I can help if you want." I offered quickly, feeling a little funny about a guest coming over to my house and having to cook for himself.
"Nah. You and Jim Bob got some talkin' ta do. Y'all best get to it." Joe Bob said seriously, then started walking toward the kitchen.
If anyone else I could imagine had come to my house and done the same thing, I probably would have thought they were being pushy and rude. But it wasn't like Joe Bob was ordering me around, he was just stating the fact that these are the things that need to be done.
I glanced at Enoch and noticed his gaze directed across the room.
When I followed it, I saw that Jim Bob was looking back at me with an expression of complete mortification as he realized the real reason they were visiting today.
Rather than pretend that I didn't know what Joe Bob was talking about, I figured that it would be best to just face it head on and see what happens.
"Let's go into the living room and sit down." I said as I gestured toward the living room door.
Jim Bob stood staring at me for a minute longer, then my words finally seemed to register.
Without a word, he quickly turned and walked into the living room, reminding me of a rabbit darting into his burrow as a hawk was swooping down for the kill.
I glanced at my side and from Enoch's expression, it appeared that he was uncomfortable and uncertain of what he should do.
"Love you." I whispered.
Enoch looked me in the eyes for a moment, then his expression relaxed as he said, "I love you too Mark."
* * * * *
As I walked into the living room, I noticed that Jim Bob hadn't sat down yet.
"Come on, let's get comfortable." I said as I gestured toward the furniture in the middle of the room.
I suppose what I was really saying was, 'let's sit down' because it looked like the only thing that would make Jim Bob comfortable at this point would have to be prescribed by a doctor.
"I'm guessing you've figured out what we're supposed to talk about." I said as I tried to will Jim Bob to meet my eyes.
The most he would give me was an occasional glance as his eyes darted around the room.
"I guess." He finally mumbled.
'Great!' I thought sarcastically, 'This is going to be like pulling teeth.'
I thought about the upcoming game of twenty questions that we were going to have to go through just to get to the point where he would admit that something was wrong.
Why was I doing this again?
What business was it of mine?
But before I could talk myself out of trying to help, I noticed Jim Bob's expression.
No matter what his problem was, he was suffering. It would be wrong for me to just leave him alone and hope that it all works out.
"I guess your dad already told you that I'm gay." I said in prelude.
Jim Bob's eyes went wide as he finally looked at me, and seemed to pale a little.
"I think the reason that he wants us to talk is so you can have someone to talk to who has faced something big and got past it. Because of the stuff that I've already dealt with, maybe I can help you with whatever is bothering you." I said carefully.
"But I'm not... nothin's bothering me." Jim Bob stammered.
From the way he was sitting on the couch, he looked like he was trying to tie himself into a knot.
I'm no expert on body language, but I'm pretty sure that's not how an unbothered person chooses to sit comfortably.
"Jim Bob, something is really eating you up. I can see it, your dad can see it, your brothers can see it. Whatever it is, probably isn't as bad as you think it is. But how long can you keep going like this?" I asked with concern.
Jim Bob was staring at me wide eyed. You know, the classic 'deer in the headlights' look.
I played back my last few words to try and understand which thing had panicked him.
'Your dad can see it'... yeah, that's probably it.
"You have no reason to trust me or tell me a single thing. I'm a stranger to you. But if you look at it another way, that's actually a good thing. I don't have any secret agenda, I'm not going to run off and tell about what you said to me because I don't know anyone here. I'm completely outside everything that's going on, so I can give you an unbiased point of view." I said frankly.
From the blank look on Jim Bob's face, I'm not entirely sure that he got what I was saying.
Hell, I'm not entirely sure he didn't slip into a coma back when I said the word 'gay'.
There was a firm knock on the living room door, then a moment later Joe Bob poked his head just inside.
"Y'all come on. Breakfast is on tha table."
"We'll be right there." I said as I stood.
Jim Bob's eyes shifted toward me slowly, as if he were only half aware of what his brother had said.
"We can talk some more later. We've got all day." I said with a quick smile, then glanced to see that Enoch was ready to go.
As I had hoped, Enoch was also standing, and started walking just a step behind me.
* * * * *
"You made this?" I asked with surprise at the variety of delicious looking foods on the table.
"Yup. Me and Beau did." Joe Bob said proudly.
"Joe Bob works at McDonald's, so he knows how to make all kinds of really good food." Beau said with pride for his brother.
"Oh yeah. I heard that you got promoted. Congratulations." I said as I filled my plate.
"Thanks. Ain't much to it. I just go in and do my job." Joe Bob said dismissively.
I got the feeling that, from Joe Bob's point of view, it was just that simple.
Anyone else would call it being responsible, mature and having a good strong work ethic. Joe Bob obviously doesn't think about it at all, it's just part of his nature. And from what little I've seen of his dad, I'm sure it comes from being taught those values from a young age.
And I doubt that Joe Bob Senior realizes just how much he's taught his son by example... And I guess by the same token, neither does Aunt Prissy.
"So did Jim Bob tell you what's wrong with him?" Beau asked bluntly.
"Beau! You ain't supposed to ask about that. Remember what Pa said?" Joe Bob asked firmly.
I'm sure Joe Bob was just asking because he wanted Beau to remember it. But Beau did as all little brothers tend to do.
"Whatever's wrong ain't our business and we ain't ta ask about it. Just as long as Jim Bob gits ta feelin' better, that's all that's important." Beau said, obviously repeating his dad's words from memory.
I glanced at Jim Bob and saw that he looked to be about two seconds from running out of the room.
Before I could think of anything to say to try and diffuse the situation, Beau said, "Mark, Pa said that you're gay. Is that right?"
"Beau. Hush now. It ain't right to be askin' about that. You need to be workin on that food that's there in front of you." Joe Bob said sternly.
"It's okay." I said quickly, not wanting Beau or Jim Bob to get the feeling that I was ashamed of being gay.
I turned to Joe Bob and said, "I mean, it's something that's kind of personal and I don't want to talk about it all the time. But if Beau has some questions, I wouldn't mind answering them."
"It don't seem right. I mean, Beau is just a young'un." Joe Bob said seriously.
"If he's got questions, it's best for him to get the answers from someone who knows what he's talking about." I said frankly.
"Yeah. It's best if he don't learn about that stuff the way I did." Joe Bob said distantly.
Okay. I know it's none of my business, but before I could tell myself that, I went ahead and asked, "How did you learn about it?"
Joe Bob looked at me with surprise at the question, and from his expression, I'm pretty sure he wasn't going to give me an honest answer.
"I think it'll be a lot of help to your brothers if they can learn about these things from us instead of having to go out and find out the hard way." I said as I looked him in the eyes.
Joe Bob looked away for a moment and seemed to be struggling with the decision, finally he said, "Back when I was just a little bit older than Beau, I heard about some stuff from the guys I hung around with at school. I asked my Pa about it and he sat me down and told me about the birds and the bees."
"What does birds and bees have to do with it?" Beau asked quickly.
I smiled at the question and said, "Nothing, that's just another way of saying 'the facts about sex'."
"Well, the stuff that Pa told me didn't have nothin' to do with what, um... guys do together." Joe Bob said self consciously.
"Yeah. I think a lot of parents leave that part out." I said with sympathy.
"So me and... a friend. We tried some stuff." Joe Bob said as his voice became so soft that I could barely hear him.
"What kind of stuff?" Beau asked curiously, not seeming to notice his brother's embarrassment at all.
"Maybe we should save that part of the talk till you're a little bit older." Joe Bob said to Beau, then looked at me to see if I was going to disagree.
I nodded that I thought he was right, then said to Beau, "Now that you know your brother has tried out some things, you can ask him if you ever need to know about it. And since I'm living here now, you can come to me too and I'll do whatever I can to help you."
Beau wasn't happy being denied the information he wanted, but finally he grudgingly accepted it.
"Anyway, me and my friend, we kinda messed around and... well. It felt pretty good." Joe Bob said quietly.
"So are you gay?" Beau asked curiously. His tone didn't hold any accusation or hope, just interest.
"No. When I got a little bit older, I started noticing girls and... well, doing stuff with guys just wasn't fun anymore." Joe Bob said introspectively.
I nodded that I understood what he was saying and said, "From what I've heard, that's pretty normal. Sometimes guys will mess around together and figure out how the equipment works, then when they get older, they get interested in girls."
Joe Bob looked at me with surprise for a moment, then a slight look of relief seem to come into his eyes.
He was worried.
I guess Joe Bob wasn't secure enough in his sexuality to know 'for sure' that he was straight and having me tell him that the things he had done were perfectly normal helped to ease his mind.
"So are you going to do that? Get interested in girls?" Beau asked as he looked at me curiously.
"No. I don't think so. I've known I'm gay for a couple years now. I did a little bit of the playing around like Joe Bob did, but when my friends were starting to notice girls, I was still noticing my friends." I said as I remembered those dark, lonely days.
"But you still could. I mean, maybe it just hasn't happened yet." Beau said seriously.
I smiled at him and said, "There's another difference between the way I feel and the way Joe Bob does."
All eyes at the table were fixed on me, even Enoch's.
"When I started messing around with guys, it was all about doing things that feel good and playing around... and maybe about doing something 'naughty'." I finished with a smile.
"But later, I realized that what I really wanted was something more. I wanted kissing, hugging, holding... I wanted love. It's hard to explain, but I know within myself that I want that love from a guy. Girls don't make me feel anything like that." I said distantly.
"I didn't think of that." Joe Bob said thoughtfully.
"Does your mom know?" Beau asked curiously.
"Yeah. I told my parents a couple years ago." I said with a smile at the younger boy.
"Were they mad at you?" Beau asked cautiously.
"No. They were just fine with it. My mom was great, in fact. My dad didn't get angry or anything, but he seemed like he didn't want to talk about it. I thought maybe he was disappointed in me, but I guess he was having his own problems then and... well, it doesn't matter. I know he loves me and he doesn't have a problem with me being gay."
"If y'all are finished with your breakfast, we can do the dishes and give y'all another chance to talk." Joe Bob said as he stood.
I looked down at my plate and was surprised to see that I had eaten every bite.
I wonder if it was good...
...It looked good.
"Why don't Jim Bob and I do the dishes. You cooked, so it's only right." I said as I also stood.
"You sure?" Joe Bob asked cautiously.
"Yeah." I said with a smile at Joe Bob, then looked at Jim Bob and asked, "That okay with you?"
Jim Bob nodded without looking up, then started gathering dishes.
Before turning to leave, I glanced at my side and saw that Enoch was only an arm's length away.
* * * * *
"Jim Bob." I said quietly when we were finally both in the kitchen.
After a moment, he reluctantly looked me in the eyes.
"A lot of people love you and are worried about you. I think I've said everything that I can to let you know that you can talk to me. So this is the last I'm going to say about it. If you can't talk to me, please just find someone to talk to who can give you some good advice." I said, then turned away from him as I opened the dishwasher.
After putting the glasses into the top of the dishwasher, I quietly said, "Would you scrape off the plates and hand them to me?"
Jim Bob blinked a few times, then looked me in the eyes as he asked, "If I tell you something, would you promise not to tell anyone?"
"Yeah. I promise." I said as I turned away from the dishwasher and devoted my full attention to Jim Bob.
"Well, I... Um, I'm gay." Jim Bob stammered in a whisper.
"I know how hard it is to say that for the first time. It's okay." I said gently.
Jim Bob nodded absently and I suddenly got the sense that he wasn't finished.
I waited for him to continue, but he seemed to be stuck.
"It's okay. Whatever it is, I promise never to tell anyone." I said quietly.
"Okay... well. You know the stuff Joe Bob said about messing around?" Jim Bob said with a tremble in his voice.
"Yeah. It's perfectly natural. I think most guys end up doing something like that." I said in a soothing voice.
"Well, I, um... I've been seeing this guy for a couple years... and he says that he loves me." Jim Bob mumbled.
Okay. That one threw me for a loop.
Timid little Jim Bob has had a lover for over 2 years!
As quiet and mousy as he is, I wouldn't have been surprised to find out that he was freaking out about touching another boy's nipple.
I never would have guessed that he was seeing anyone long term, and that they had already used the 'L' word.
"Do you love him?" I asked hesitantly.
He still seemed to be holding something back and whatever it was must be something pretty bad to have caused him to withdraw from his family.
"Yeah." Jim Bob said as tears started welling up in his eyes.
"Then I'm happy for you." I said, trying to sound assuring.
"He's... He's older than me." Jim Bob choked out as the tears started to fall.
WARNING! WILL ROBINSON! WARNING!
I could almost see that stupid robot flailing his arms.
"How much older?" I asked cautiously.
"Fifteen years." Jim Bob whispered as his gaze fell to the floor.
To hell with it!
I don't care how timid or skittish Jim Bob is. The boy needed a hug and he was going to get one!
I pulled Jim Bob into my arms and hugged him as tightly as I possibly could.
"You... you're not going to tell, are you?" Jim Bob asked in a trembling voice between sobs.
I clutched him a little tighter as I whispered, "I promised you that I wouldn't and I'm going to keep my promise. I swear that I'll never tell."
I guess that was the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back because as soon as the words left my mouth, Jim Bob started to cry for real.
As tears started to fill my own eyes, I saw that Enoch had moved where I could see him.
"We're going to help him, aren't we?" Enoch asked as he looked at Jim Bob with sympathy.
Even though I had no idea what I could do considering that I was in a new place where I didn't know anyone, I nonetheless nodded to Enoch and confirmed the commitment to him and to myself.
Some how, some way. I would help Jim Bob.
To Be Continued...
Well my goodness, what a wonderful chapter to this wonderful story.
I am pretty sure that Mark and Enoch will be able to help Jimmy bob.
I am so happy that Mark and Enoch can be closer to each other, and I am hoping that somehow they will be able to be together for real eventually. They both deserve to be happy.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher