The Shadow of a Soul

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Chapter 8: The Bumpy Road

I looked at Enoch with concern before following Jim Bob up to the front door of the house.

Jim Bob glanced at me uncertainly, then took a key out of his pocket and let himself in.

"Lonny, are you here?" Jim Bob called out as he stopped in the living room.

I noticed that the house seemed to be small, but very neat and tidy. As I looked around, I noticed that a large, black upright piano seemed to dominate the room. There was something unsettling about the house, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

"I'm in the bedroom." A voice called casually from down a hallway.

"I brought my cousin Mark to meet you." Jim Bob said nervously.

I shared a glance with Enoch, wondering if this had been such a good idea.

It seemed wrong to put Jim Bob through all of this stress.

There was a long moment of silence, but finally a man walked into the room and looked at me cautiously. He seemed fit and relatively good looking. Not as good as Enoch, but... never mind. He was okay.

A few seconds after he entered the room, I spotted something. It was kind of like what you see when a dust mote floats through the sunlight streaming in the window. Except that this wasn't a dust mote, and there wasn't any sunlight coming from the hall. The little flickering 'almost nothing' seemed to be following right behind the man.

"Hello Mark. It's a pleasure to meet you. Jimmy mentioned that you were coming to town." Lonny said to me in a pleasant tone of voice that wasn't entirely convincing.

"Yeah. Nice to meet you, too, Lonny." I said, trying to sound casual, then carefully added, "Jim Bob has told me all about you."

Lonny looked at me with surprise, then past me, at Jim Bob with question.

"Mark." Enoch said urgently, momentarily drawing my attention. "There is a spirit here. Please don't do anything until I have spoken to him."

I gave Enoch a slight nod and hoped that neither Lonny nor Jim Bob had noticed.

"I'm sorry." Jim Bob whispered as his eyes filled with tears.

That seemed to be enough confirmation for Lonny. He started to go pale as panic filled his eyes. It looked like he wanted to say something, but no sound came out. He just kept looking from Jim Bob, to me and back.

I'm not a mean spirited person... not usually. But this guy wasn't winning me over. I could see that Jim Bob was scared to death of his reaction, and Lonny wasn't doing anything to comfort him.

I glanced over at Enoch in time to see him looking back at me with a worried look on his face.

Oh great! I guess this means that Enoch doesn't have any good news for me either.

"Why don't we..." Lonny began to say, then seemed to falter.

"What I mean to say is, would you like to sit down?" Lonny asked nervously and I could see beads of sweat forming on his forehead.

I glanced over at Jim Bob and he looked like he was about to pass out.

"Yeah, sure." I finally said, then turned to Jim Bob and said more quietly, "Come on, let's sit down."

It took a moment, but either his legs gave out or he heard me. For whatever reason, he did finally sit.

"Mark." Enoch said as he approached me. "The ghost is named Bobby and he used to be Lonny's lover."

Well, that seems about right.

"Jim Bob, why did you bring Mark over here?" Lonny asked cautiously.

"Mark. Bobby died when he was Jim Bob's age. In fact, he says that him and Jim Bob look much alike. He says that Lonny is using Jim Bob to replace him." Enoch said anxiously.

"I don't know." Jim Bob responded in a trembling voice.

"Bobby says that Lonny lives alone, he works alone. Lonny has convinced himself that Jim Bob is important to him because he's rejected everything else that might have brought him happiness." Enoch said quickly.

I looked around the room with the new information in mind. Everything was neat and clean, but there wasn't a single thing in the room that would prove that it hadn't been that way for the past ten years. It was sort of like being in a museum. The room, probably the entire house, was frozen in time.

I glanced at Jim Bob and came to a decision.

"Okay guys, it's time for us to get real." I said, mostly to get their attention.

When Lonny and Jim Bob were both finally looking at me, I just flat out said, "Jim Bob, I understand that you're timid and worried about what Lonny thinks about you, but really, grow a pair. No one is going to respect you if you won't speak up for yourself."

Thankfully, both Lonny and Jim Bob were stunned enough for me to be able to continue.

"Lonny, first off, I'm gay. So this isn't about that. Second, the age thing, if you two are happy, then it's none of my business how you two get your jollies. So this isn't about that either." I said firmly.

"But Jim Bob isn't happy. His dad sees it, his brothers see it. Hell, I only met him yesterday, and I see it." I said while I still had the momentum. "So Lonny, what I'm saying is that you two need to make some changes because what you're doing now is tearing Jim Bob apart."

"What do you know about it?" Lonny was finally able to sputter indignantly.

Oh! Damn! He pushed the totally wrong button with THAT attitude.

"What do I know?" I asked in return, then glanced at Jim Bob for a moment before saying, "I know that having to lie is making Jim Bob distance himself from everyone who loves him and gives him support. I know that if you loved him at all, even a little bit, then you'd take into account what's best for him, not just what your dick is telling you."

That seemed to stun him a little bit. Good. Because I was on a roll.

"And since you asked, I'll tell you what else I know." I said, now looking Lonny right in the eyes. "I know that your lover, Bobby, died when he was just about Jim Bob's age, and that Jim Bob even looks like him."

Lonny's jaw actually dropped at the invocation of Bobby's name.

"I know that back when Bobby was alive, so were you. The two of you used to have fun. But now all you ever do is think about how good life used to be. You've turned your back on what's real and immersed yourself in a fantasy. Which, I suppose is fine, except that you're drawing Jim Bob into it with you, and that, I won't allow."

"You... How do you..." Lonny stammered.

Okay, that was a pretty good question. And I didn't really have much of an answer that didn't involve telling the truth. So I looked to Enoch to see if maybe he had an idea.

I was surprised to see him standing in front of the piano with the little flicker that was Bobby just over his shoulder.

When he noticed my look at him, he quickly said, "It appears that you could use a distraction. Bobby suggested that I play something for you."

I couldn't hold back a smile and gave him a quick nod.

Lonny caught my change in expression and followed my gaze toward the piano just in time to witness it start playing, seemingly, all by itself. The slow, lilting melody of Moonlight Sonata is creepy under normal circumstances. But hearing it now, like this, it even sent a chill up my spine.

"How... Oh my..." Lonny trailed off as he started to pale.

"Jim Bob, help me. I think he's going to faint." I said as I rushed to Lonny's side.

"I want to see a picture of Bobby." Jim Bob said firmly.

The tone of his voice was not only enough to draw my attention, but also to snap Lonny out of his slide into unconsciousness.

Lonny looked at Jim Bob with concern as he gently said, "Jimmy, please don't..."

"Don't call me that. My name is Jim Bob."

Actually, given the choice, I would have gone with Jimmy, but I kept that to myself and watched to see what the new and improved, testicled version of Jim Bob would do next.

"Whatever you say, Jim Bob." Lonny said cautiously. "Let's just sit down together and talk..."

"Fine. But first I want to see a picture of Bobby." Jim Bob said firmly.

"Please, let me explain." Lonny said desperately.

"Mark!" Enoch said suddenly.

I turned to look at him and saw him holding a framed picture, ready to toss it to me.

I held out my hand, ready to catch it.

I'm not much of an athlete, but fortunately I was able to catch the picture. Then I turned in the same motion and presented it to Jim Bob without even looking at it.

Lonny looked at me with shock, then asked, "What are you?"

"His family." I said frankly.

After a moment of looking at the picture, Jim Bob looked up at Lonny and bitterly asked, "Those were his clothes you dressed me in, weren't they?"

"Let me explain..." Lonny began to say, but was interrupted.

"You never loved me! You loved him and you wanted me to be him." Jim Bob said as angry tears began to fall down his cheeks.

"If you'll just let me explain." Lonny pleaded.

"Fuck you!" Jim Bob said, then turned and rushed away toward the door.

"Jimmy!" Lonny said desperately as he tried to follow, but I automatically stepped into his path.

"You need to start living in the here and now. Rejecting what you have in front of you and trying to reclaim something that is gone is going to destroy you." I said as I looked him in the eyes.

"But I loved him so much." Lonny said in a small voice, and for the first time, I think I was actually seeing the genuine person underneath.

"Then be the person that Bobby loved." I said gently. "Be real. Live in today. Maybe even find someone to love. Not a replacement for Bobby, but a whole new love, a first love. That's the best way to respect Bobby's memory. Think about it Lonny, you didn't just lose Bobby, you lost yourself."

Enoch moved to my side and whispered something to me.

I thought about whether or not I should say it, but Enoch seemed to think it was important, so I continued, "And don't let anyone else wear Bobby's clothes. It's creepy."

Lonny looked at me with question.

"Seriously man, you're in Norman Bates territory. Let Bobby go." I said, then turned to leave.

"I don't know if I can." Lonny said in a trembling voice.

"Open your eyes, look at the world around you and make a new dream that's based in today. I bet it takes a whole lot less energy to live in now than it does to try and recreate 'then'." I said honestly, then quickly added, "I need to go check on Jim Bob."

Lonny's tearful gaze was on the floor as I walked out of the room.

* * * * *

"Bobby wanted me to thank you." Enoch said quietly as we walked onto the small porch. "You said what Lonny's been needing to hear for a long time."

Before I could respond, I saw Jim Bob walk around the side of the house. I could see fresh tears on his cheeks, but his expression was more angry than sad.

"Are you okay?" I asked him with concern.

"How did you know?" Jim Bob asked as he walked up to look me in the eyes.

For just a moment, I was missing the timid little mouse version of Jim Bob that I had arrived with.

Before I could even attempt to answer, Jim Bob continued, "Was it really that obvious? Was I?that?blind?"

"No. It wasn't obvious." I rushed to say before he took over the conversation again.

"I can't believe I was so stupid! I believed every single thing he told me!" Jim Bob said as his tears fell.

"Part of loving is trusting." I said weakly, not really having much more to offer him at the moment.

"Yeah. Well, so is part of letting yourself be used." Jim Bob said bitterly.

Good point.

"I need a shower." Jim Bob said with a look of disgust at the house.

"Your brothers should be here any minute to pick us up. You can take a shower as soon as we get home." I said gently.

"Beau always takes forever at the library. It's just a few blocks from here." Jim Bob said as he started walking.

I made sure that Enoch was by my side before I started to follow.

* * * * *

We walked in silence for a few minutes before Jim Bob quietly said, "You have some kind of special powers, don't you?"

I thought about how to answer that, and finally settled on a simple, "Yeah."

To my relief, Jim Bob didn't pursue the topic.

As we approached the library, Jim Bob stopped to look me in the eyes.

"Thank you, Mark." He said sincerely.

"I'm really sorry it worked out the way it did." I said honestly. "If we went there and I found out that Lonny really loved you, I would have done anything in my power to have made it work out for you."

Jim Bob gave a weary little chuckle, then quietly said, "I believe that you would have. Thanks."

"Let's go find your brothers." I said, trying to inject some cheer into my voice.

As we continued our walk toward the library, a few steps behind Jim Bob, I felt Enoch's arm slip around my waist.

"I love you, Mark." Enoch said, close to my ear.

"I love you too, E." I whispered in return.

* * * * *

Finding Joe Bob and Beau in the library only took a minute. Jim Bob seemed to know right where they would be.

After checking out three books for Beau, we made our way back to the car.

Once we were on the road, Joe Bob finally asked, "How'd y'all's visit with Lonny go?"

"I don't want to talk about Lonny." Jim Bob said firmly.

Joe Bob's eyes went wide at the announcement, then he looked at me with question.

"Snake." I said, by way of explanation, then quietly added, "I handled it."

I could tell that Joe Bob had about a million questions that he wanted to ask, but fortunately, he kept them to himself.

As the ride continued, I just enjoyed the wonderful feeling of Enoch riding on my lap.

Did I mention that the road to our house is bumpy?

Well, if I did, I probably complained about it.

Please disregard that. I have a new found appreciation for bumpy roads... there should be more of them.

* * * * *

As we got out of the car, Jim Bob quietly asked, "Did you bring your pistol?"

Oh shit!

Joe Bob looked at his brother, then slowly said, "Yeah. It's in the trunk. What did you need it for?"

My mind started racing, trying to figure out how to stop him if he wanted to go back and 'visit' Lonny.

"I just feel like shooting right now. I'll pay you back for the bullets when we get home." Jim Bob said seriously.

"Don't you be worryin' about that. You just go and do what you need to do to feel better." Joe Bob said as he walked to the trunk of his car.

I felt a wave of relief wash through me. The last thing I want is to start my life in Texas as an accessory to murder.

"Thanks, Joe Bob. I'm going to be out back for a while." Jim Bob said as he accepted the gun case.

"Just remember that I'm here if you feel like talkin'." Joe Bob said sincerely.

"I know." Jim Bob said quietly, then revealed a slight appreciative smile as he added, "Thanks."

* * * * *

As we walked to the front door, I noticed that Beau was reading as he walked.

"I think Beau's gonna be fine on his own for a few minutes." Joe Bob said to me in a low voice. "You and me need to talk."

I glanced at Enoch with concern, not knowing what I was going to do next.

Silently, I followed Joe Bob into the house.

* * * * *

"Beau, you go on in the living room and sit down before you run into something." Joe Bob said in the entry hall.

A slight change in his course was the only indication that Beau had heard his brother's words as he read his book.

I watched Beau walk out of the room, then cautiously glanced at Joe Bob.

The intense gaze fixed on me made me internally squirm. It was everything I could do not to look away, but I had to meet his eyes to prove that I wouldn't be intimidated.

Finally, Joe Bob's expression seemed to soften a little, and he quietly asked, "What was goin' on between Jim Bob and Lonny?"

"I think you can guess." I said simply. I didn't know very much about the relationship and wouldn't want to make matters worse for Jim Bob by making too many assumptions.

Joe Bob's eyes dropped as he gave a weary sigh.

"But I think that whatever they had is over now." I added, not knowing if that would make Joe Bob feel better or worse.

We stood there silently for a long moment as Joe Bob seemed to be debating within himself about how he felt about what his brother had been through.

I heard three gunshots from behind the house, then silence.

Finally Joe Bob looked up at me and I was surprised to see that his eyes were welled with unformed tears.

"Why couldn't he come to me? He's my brother." Joe Bob asked in a voice that seemed to be less of a question than him voicing his inner thoughts.

Even so, I felt that I should answer ,since he had given it voice. "If I were to guess, I'd say that Jim Bob didn't want to disappoint you. He got into something that was bad for him, but tried to deal with it himself rather than do anything that would make you or your dad think less of him."

Joe Bob shook his head absently, not disagreeing but simply as an expression of wonder at what he had overlooked.

"I think that, when he's ready, it would be a really good thing for Jim Bob if you let him know that you still love him and that there's nothing he could ever do that would make you stop." I said quietly, hoping that Joe Bob would hear my words.

"Jim Bob was supposed to be going over there for piano lessons." Joe Bob said distantly. "Since me and Pa never done nothin like that, we didn't know that him spending so much time with Lonny wasn't normal. I mean, to learn something complicated like that takes a lot of time, doesn't it?"

"Yeah. It does." I said, pretty sure that Joe Bob wasn't hearing my words.

"But I saw the changes in him..." Joe Bob added darkly, "I saw him pulling away from the family. I should have known then that somethin' wasn't right."

"Jim Bob isn't a little kid. He's almost an adult. He's got to be able to discover things for himself and make a few mistakes." I said gently, then added, "Yeah. Things went wrong for him and he got hurt, but think about it. Next time, he's going to be more likely to take a good look at his situation before he jumps into anything."

Joe Bob nodded slowly.

"You and your dad kept an eye on things from a distance, then when you could see that he was having a problem, you did something about it. I don't think you have anything at all to be sorry about. You gave Jim Bob the space to deal with it himself, then when he needed help, you saw that he got it." I said in a more serious voice.

Another two gunshots sounded from behind the house, then silence reigned again.

Joe Bob seemed to be considering things, then looked at me and asked, "That thing with the snake and the door, what was that?"

"Do you want me to move something?" Enoch asked from a small narrow table against the wall just inside the front door.

I nodded to him, and Joe Bob followed my gaze.

Enoch slid a small porcelain figurine a few inches on the table.

"You mean like that?" I asked quietly.

Joe Bob's eyes went wide, then he cautiously said, "Yeah. That's what I was talkin' about."

I debated within myself about if I should share Enoch's real story. I could make something up, something about telekinesis or whatever. Joe Bob wouldn't ever know the difference.

But when I looked into Joe Bob's eyes, I realized that he deserved the truth. Joe Bob was a really good and caring person who I had come to respect in the short time that I had known him.

"You've heard the story about the ghost in the locked bedroom upstairs, right?" I asked quietly.

"Grandpa said that it attacked Grandma once." Joe Bob said cautiously.

I nodded, trying to figure out just how much I should share with him. I didn't really know where to begin and I didn't want to make things more complicated by saying it wrong.

"You let the ghost out of the room and... he's helpin' you." Joe Bob said speculatively.

I was surprised at what Joe Bob had been able to deduce from so few clues. No one could ever say that Joe Bob wasn't smart.

"Yeah. His name is Enoch." I said quietly.

"Where is he now?" Joe Bob asked cautiously.

I glanced over at Enoch, still by the narrow table, then tilted my head, indicating for him to join us.

When Enoch was standing at my side, I put my arm around his shoulders, so Joe Bob could see exactly where he was.

"This is Enoch. He used to live here, in this house, about a hundred years ago." I said seriously.

"And he helped you to help Jim Bob?" Joe Bob asked cautiously.

"I couldn't have done it without him." I said honestly.

"Thank you, Enoch." Joe Bob said toward the seemingly empty space at my side. "If there's anything I can do to repay you, just have Mark let me know."

I smiled at Joe Bob's offer, glad that he was taking everything so well.

"Would you ask him not to tell anyone else about me? I really don't want my presence to become common knowledge." Enoch asked hopefully.

"Enoch only wants for you not to tell people about him." I said quietly.

"I doubt that anyone would believe me, anyway." Joe Bob said with a grin.

God! Joe Bob's cute!

"Also, please let him know that Beau is aware of my presence and that we intend to play with toy soldiers at some future date." Enoch said thoughtfully.

I couldn't help but smile at the thought, then told Joe Bob, "Beau knows about Enoch, and they have plans to play with toy soldiers sometime soon."

"You told Beau?" Joe Bob asked with surprise.

"Yeah. That's why it took so long when we went upstairs so I could change." I said frankly.

"I was meanin' to ask about that..." Joe Bob said, then trailed off.

"You can ask me anything." I said immediately.

Joe Bob looked at me cautiously, then quietly said, "I've heard that gay guys can tell when someone's... like them."

"Gaydar." I said with a nod.

Joe Bob slowly nodded, then quietly asked, "Is Beau gay?"

"I don't know." I said honestly, then added, "I don't think he knows yet."

Joe Bob nodded that he had heard.

"Why? Do you think that he is?" I asked curiously.

"Sometimes he goes into the bathroom when I'm showering and hangs around while I'm shaving. I don't know if that's right or not." Joe Bob said slowly.

"Beau's probably just curious about what it's like to be older. Seeing your body and you doing things like shaving will give him a frame of reference for what is 'normal' when his body starts changing." I said thoughtfully, then added, "I think it's a good thing."

Joe Bob slowly nodded.

Three gunshots sounded from behind the house, and I looked at Joe Bob with concern.

"About Lonny." Joe Bob said in prelude, "What happened?"

I shook my head and said, "That's not for me to tell. You need to talk to Jim Bob about that when he's ready."

"But is he going to be causing trouble for Jim Bob?" Joe Bob asked cautiously.

I chuckled and said, "No. I think Enoch and I were able to scare the crap out of him enough that he won't cause Jim Bob any problems."

"I still feel like I should be kicking his ass for hurting my brother." Joe Bob said honestly.

"If there's any ass kicking to be done, it's Jim Bob's job to do it." I told him seriously.

Joe Bob reluctantly nodded his agreement.

"But it's possible that Jim Bob might be willing to accept a little bit of instruction in ass kicking." I said speculatively.

"Jim Bob's always been timid and kind of bookish." Joe Bob said slowly.

Suddenly there were three shots fired in the back yard, in rapid succession.

"I get the feeling that he might be open to your instruction today." I said frankly.

"Yup. You may be right about that." Joe Bob said with a nod.

We stood there quietly for a moment. I guess the subject had been exhausted and neither of us knew what to say next.

Finally, Joe Bob said, "I'm gonna go in and fix us somethin' for lunch."

"Do you need some help?" I asked automatically.

"Naw. But I wouldn't mind some company." He responded with a casual smile.

Damn! He's cute!

I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye and saw that Enoch was watching me and seemed to want to say something.

"I need to talk to Enoch for a minute or two, but then we'll be in to keep you company." I said, more to Enoch than Joe Bob.

A nod was Joe Bob's only response before walking toward the kitchen.

* * * * *

"You like him." Enoch said quietly.

"Yeah. He's great." I admitted.

"And he's very attractive." Enoch said regretfully.

"Yes. He is." I said as I realized what Enoch was feeling.

Enoch looked at me with anguish in his eyes.

"He's my cousin, my family. My feelings for him don't change how I feel about you one bit." I said honestly.

Enoch looked at me uncertainly, obviously needing more.

"I love you, E. And as soon as the crack between the dimensions opens enough for you to get through, I'm going to show you just how much." I said with a smile.

"I can hardly wait." Enoch said with a tender look that seemed much relieved.

"One kiss, then let's go in and keep Joe Bob company while he cooks." I said as I slowly encircled Enoch in my arms.

It may have only been one kiss, but it was a doozy.

* * * * *

Once in the kitchen, there wasn't much I could do but stand aside and watch Joe Bob work.

I'd never really watched anyone cook before, but watching Joe Bob was kind of hypnotic. It was like he had this big master plan of everything that needed to be done and knew exactly where he needed to be and what he needed to be doing every second.

The sound of a movement drew my attention away and I saw Jim Bob standing in the doorway. I automatically looked to see if he was holding a gun and was relieved to see that he wasn't.

"Thanks, Joe Bob. I feel better now." Jim Bob said quietly.

"Is the gun unloaded and locked up?" Joe Bob asked without looking away from his work.

"Yeah. It's locked in it's case and the case is locked in the trunk." Jim Bob said seriously, then timidly asked, "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Naw. I've got this." Joe Bob said absently. "You and Mark can hang out in here or go in the other room if you want. Lunch will be ready in about fifteen minutes."

I looked at Jim Bob curiously, hoping he could tell from my expression that I was okay with whatever he decided.

After a long, thoughtful moment, Jim Bob finally met my eyes and tilted his head toward the door, indicating that I should follow.

I glanced over at Joe Bob and noticed that he had stopped his meal preparation. He gave me a quick, grateful look, then went back to his work.

* * * * *

"Are you really okay?" I asked gently as we stopped in the entry hall, between the kitchen and living room.

"I don't know." Jim Bob said honestly.

I gave him an understanding smile and nodded.

"But there's something that I, um... well, I've kind of wondered about." Jim Bob said nervously.

"You can ask me anything." I said seriously. Although I know his father and brother both want desperately to help him, it seems that neither of them have the life experiences to be able to advise Jim Bob in his current circumstance.

"Lonny said, I mean, when I asked him about it, he said that we didn't have to, um... you know... use condoms." Jim Bob finished in a whisper.

"Did he say why not?" I asked hesitantly.

Jim Bob shrugged and looked away.

"Well, I guess before I make any assumptions, I should ask about what you two did. I mean, I can understand if you're shy about it, but there are things that lovers can do that don't introduce any risk of transmitting disease." I said carefully.

"We only ever did one thing. But we both liked it, so we did it a lot." Jim Bob said as he reluctantly glanced at me.

I waited expectantly, hoping he would give me at least a hint at the sexual act they had shared.

Jim Bob seemed to be waiting for me to say something. Finally I gave in and prompted him by saying, "What one thing?"

Jim Bob blinked in confusion for a moment, then nervously said, "Oh, I'm sorry. I guess... I mean, I forgot to tell you..."

I nodded, waiting for him to tell me what they had done.

"I fucked him in the ass." Jim Bob said simply. After all the stammering and nervousness, he said this last in as casual a voice as if he were talking about the weather.

I glanced at Enoch and found him staring at Jim Bob with astonishment.

I can't say that I was freaked out by the announcement or anything like that, but there was definitely some measure of surprise.

"Is that bad?" Jim Bob asked me nervously.

"No! Not at all. As far as I'm concerned, the world needs more tops." I said quickly.

Jim Bob gave me that confused look that was becoming all too familiar.

"And to answer your original question, what you two were doing was having unprotected sex." I said, trying to make myself sound clinical and instructive.

"But Lonny said it was okay. I mean, neither one of us are sick or has ever had anything, so he said that we didn't have to worry about it." Jim Bob rushed to explain.

"Jim Bob, your health and safety is YOUR responsibility. Not mine, not your father's or your brother's and not even Lonny's. It's up to YOU to be informed about potential dangers and make wise decisions to protect yourself." I said firmly, then quietly added, "Unfortunately, it's not just you who has to live with the consequences of your decisions. Everyone who loves you will have to deal with what happens if you don't act responsibly."

"Do you think I have AIDS?" Jim Bob asked in terror.

"No. I seriously doubt it." I said consideringly, then added, "But think about this. Lonny lied to you about the things he didn't want you to know about his past. That being the case, I think it's best if you get tested."

Jim Bob's eyes lit up with a fresh wave of fear.

"Like I said before, I doubt that you have AIDS, HIV or anything else. But until you get tested you'll always have that niggling little doubt in the back of your mind. You need to be tested so you won't have to worry about it at all." I said frankly.

"I wouldn't know where to go... I mean... how do you get tested?" Jim Bob asked in an overwhelmed tone.

"If I were back home, I could tell you." I said thoughtfully, then slowly added, "If I can get to a computer with Internet access for a few minutes, I'm sure I can find a discrete place to get it done. They'll probably have all kinds of good information for you, too."

"Do you think we could do it today?" Jim Bob asked in a low voice.

"Lunch should be ready in a few minutes, we can ask Joe Bob if he'd mind doing some more driving." I said with a smile to try and put Jim Bob at ease.

"Are... are you going to tell him... I mean... about..." Jim Bob trailed off weakly.

"Jim Bob, your brother loves you very much and is really worried about you. Even though it might be uncomfortable for you to talk to him about this, I think you've kept too many things from him already. Just be honest with him and let him share this with you. He wants to help you. Please let him. I know that nothing you could do could possibly make him happier right now."

I couldn't tell from Jim Bob's expression what he was going to decide to do. But I had said my piece and whatever happened next was up to him. Anything more that I might do would only make Jim Bob dependent on me to make his decisions for him.

"It's ready, y'all come on in to lunch." Joe Bob called from the doorway.

Perfect timing. That's just one more thing on the long list of things I admire about my cousin Joe Bob.

* * * * *

This time, I not only got to eat my food, but I even tasted it and remembered eating it. Joe Bob is really a fantastic cook.

Through the entire meal, Jim Bob seemed to be trying to work up the courage to talk to his brother, but just as he seemed to be about to speak, he'd retreat into his shell again.

As we were all finishing up, Jim Bob finally looked Joe Bob in the eyes and quietly asked him, "If you have time, can we go for a walk? I need to talk to you about something."

"I always have time. All ya ever have'ta do is ask." Joe Bob said in his slow drawl.

I smiled at Joe Bob's reaction, then said, "Beau and I will clean up the lunch dishes."

Joe Bob gave me a nod and a smile, then gestured for his brother to lead the way out of the room.

* * * * *

"Is Enoch here?" Beau asked as he helped me wash the lunch dishes.

"Yes. He's right here beside me, about a foot away." I said with a smile at the younger boy.

"Can we do something with Enoch? I know it's gotta be boring for him watching us doing stuff without him all the time." Beau asked seriously.

I shrugged, then looked to Enoch and asked, "What do you feel like doing?"

The wicked smile on Enoch's face took me by surprise, and before I knew it, I had an answering smile.

"What'd he say?" Beau asked curiously.

"He's thinking about it." I said, then looked at Enoch with question.

"Actually, I can think of one thing that we might all enjoy very much." Enoch said thoughtfully.

I nodded for Enoch to continue.

"Well, as wonderful a day as it's been, I am rather missing the familiarity of the bedroom. So, if you wouldn't mind, we could go to the bedroom and I could listen to you play your flute while Beau reads his book." Enoch said hopefully.

I smiled at the suggestion, then turned to Beau and said, "Enoch would like to listen to me play my flute and thought that you might enjoy reading your book."

"But I want to go with you." Beau said dejectedly.

"That's what I'm talking about. You can sit with us and read while I'm playing." I said with a grin.

Beau thought about it for a moment, then broke into a smile as he said, "That'd be great! I love reading, but sometimes I don't like it because I have to do it alone. This way it'll be even better."

"Then let's finish up these dishes so we can go up to my room." I said as I turned my attention back to my work.

Beau nodded happily as he took his place at the rinse sink, ready for me to hand him the next washed dish.

* * * * *

Believe it or not, I do know some cheerful songs.

I'm not sure if it was being able to see Enoch's look of delight, or maybe Beau's smile as he was reading, or maybe it was knowing that Jim Bob and Joe Bob were talking about things. It was probably all of the above.

For whatever reason, the music that I felt like playing was joyful and full of life.

As I finished an impromptu little melody that I made up on the spot, I noticed Joe Bob and Jim Bob standing side by side in the doorway.

"That was really beautiful." Joe Bob said in an impressed voice.

"Thanks" I said shyly.

"Jim Bob was sayin that there's some things he wants to do in town. Do y'all feel like doin that?" Joe Bob asked in his slow, drawling way.

"What're we gonna do?" Beau asked curiously.

"Well, I thought we could go back to the house, so Mark could use the computer to look up some things, then we'll see from there." Joe Bob said frankly.

I looked at Enoch with question, not knowing what he would want to do.

"Although leaving the house is somewhat terrifying to me, it is also exciting. I feel alive for the first time in a very, very long time." Enoch said in answer to my unvoiced question.

I smiled at Enoch, then noticed that Joe Bob was watching me.

"Sounds good to me. Do I need to change or is this good enough?" I asked as I looked down at my jeans and hiking boots.

"That'll be fine. Like Pa says, 'Anyplace that'd expect me to dress nicer than this is a place I wouldn't want to visit anyway'." Joe Bob said with a grin.

Without even trying, Joe Bob already reminds me of his dad, but when he tries... it's an absolutely?perfect?imitation.

"I guess I'm ready then." I said as I glanced at Enoch.

He gave me a loving smile, then walked to my side.

Joe Bob stepped away from the doorway with Jim Bob following close behind.

Beau walked ahead of us, then turned back to say, "I'll walk slow on the stairs so you can help Enoch."

"Thanks Beau, we really appreciate all your help." I said quietly as I guided Enoch out of the room.

Beau looked at me like I was nuts and finally said, "This is, like, the coolest thing ever."

I shared a smile with Enoch, then we worked together to get him down the stairs.

Suddenly, Enoch's words came back to me and I realized that I, too, was feeling alive for the first time in a very, very long time.

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

I am so happy to see another chapter of the wonderful, heartwarming story.

Beau is quite a good kid. I think he almost worships Mark. Enoch is also finally able to let loose a bit and, as he said, become a bit more alive. I can see that they do truly love each other.

I am sure that Bobby is pleased that Mark and Enoch were able to talk, or scare, some sense into Lonnie. I don't know how long it will take for Jim Bob to forgive Lonnie for what he was trying to do to him, if he ever can. I am not sure that I could forgive Lonnie, if he had done that to me.

Having said that, I know that Jim Bob is a very kind hearted person, and I suppose that if anyone could forgive Lonnie, eventually, it would be Jim Bob. I guess we will just have to wait and see what happens.

Joe Bob loves his brothers very much, and I believe he will be able to help Jim Bob get through this trauma, as well as anyone possibly could.

I am also pretty sure that Mark and Enoch will do whatever they can to help, as well.

We will just have to wait for the guys to let MultiMapper know what is happening, so he can write it down for us.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher