Instead of talking, Josh announced he'd decided to go home. We both needed time to sort things out, he said, and he'd be back in the morning. I said something like, 'sure' and didn't believe him. He looked at me straight, and said, "No, I mean it!" And strangely, I knew he did. Somehow, doubt of Chad's truthfulness had fled, despite his obvious deception of more than 20 working days with me.

I had another night of poor sleep, and that spelled irritability and the first part of being depressed again. I vowed that I would not let myself slip into that morass in which I'd swum for years after Coach's departure.

I would not let his son slip into my heart. Would not. I was torn between feeling about him as a sudden stranger again, to feeling avuncular toward him: he was the son of an old lover, should be like my nephew, or even my own son! None of those roles fit him at all, and all of them did at the same time.

It'd didn't make it easy that I'd learned to respect him. Hard working 20 year olds were as rare as hens teeth. Alan---I had to stop a second and switch gears---Josh, was more than a hard worker, he was serious about doing a good job. He stopped and listened, he learned, he did things the right way the next time, and frequently thought of ways of simplifying, or doing things better. If nothing else, he made the kind of business associate I'd often thought I wanted. (Of course, I'd done nothing to recruit one! In hindsight, I think that I was eschewing all males as way too dangerous).

But I had no clue as how to characterize him: beyond what I said above, he was as much as enigma as the day he walked into my life. And, knowing, now, why he had done so, didn't help much. Why, for example, did he bother to work so hard, learn the business of growing flowers, come up with innovations, if he was simply intent upon getting some sort of revenge and departing again? The alternative notion was just as bizarre: he had come here and truly wanted to help me? Nonsense. That he was sexually attracted to me? It "felt" impossible.

Well, we'd talk this morning. I'd ask him all those things. My curiosity, at least, would be laid to rest. But, I learned to early-warn about feelings---all those years of therapy were worth something---and I knew that the sense of powerful dread I had was more complicated than all that.

Of course it worked out nothing like that. Nothing ever did.

"Hi," he said, in a tone that made me look up quickly to see what facial expression matched the strange tone. He didn't meet my gaze, and he certainly didn't "feel" friendly. He was five minutes late, unheralded in our month together to date. "What are we doing today?"

"I thought we were talking..." I said.

"I'm not sure I'm ready for that," he said, and turned to gather tools. We were removing a row of junky trees which shaded a corner of the field where more basil could be grown. The market for fresh basil was pretty good right now. We could market it fresh to the chain of SuperSavers which had a pretty decent fresh herb cooler in each of its stores.

He grabbed the chainsaw and the axe, and started walking the small winding lane we'd created between this house and the second field. It made an unusually picturesque country lane, mainly because instead of building it straight, Alan---Josh!---had insisted we build it that way. Once completed, I could see immediately his reasoning, and his esthetic sense had been right on.

"Come on, we'll take the truck," I yelled after him.

"No thanks, I need the walk!" No matter how dusty-dirty we finished the day, Josh arrived the next day looking fresh again, his boots cleaned and a fresh pair of cutoffs and t-shirt glistening in the morning sun---if we had sun.

"Come on, Josh," I yelled after him, walking quickly to catch up. "We have to talk..."

"We do? I don't think so." He didn't look around. Kept walking.

I gave up. Pisser. Fuck him! More talking to myself just like that: I didn't ask him to come here! I was happier before he came!

When I drove up, he was swinging an axe with a vengeance. He wasn't the best axeman I'd ever seen, but he'd learned a lot in a month, and besides, neither was I! But the fury of his strokes felled one tree after another, their ends "beat up" with a dozen miss-strikes. I made to start the chainsaw, it'd be worlds easier, then thought better of it. Let him work it out of his system, I thought.

I leaned back against the tailgate of the pickup, my muscles sore from tossing and turning all night without rest. It was fun, despite the emotional charge hanging in the air between us, to see him work. A slender male, I thought, like his dad, or more like his mother, perhaps: he would be all his life. But he'd developed good solid muscles throughout his arms and chest, and they were all gorgeously revealed when he swung the axe. He was covered with what could best be called "peach fuzz," golden short hairs that matched his head and in the right sun, he literally refracted the light. And he wore cutoffs that only a tease could craft: they hung low and they rode high, and the thin band of what was between only seemed to accentuate his natural, er, accouterments.

"Are you just going to sit on your ass?" He yelled at me, never turning around. He either had eyes in the back of his head, or a sixth-sense, I concluded. Or maybe a mirrored visor on his cap?

"That's what I was planning to do," I answered, "No way I'd get within a dozen paces of you and your crazy ax!"

"Smart fucker, aren't you?"

"Truth is, no."

"Me either."

"Yeah, I know. You wouldn't be here if you had a lick of sense."

All I could hear in response was a kind of hmmph sound that showed how short of breath he'd become as he chopped furiously. He stopped and threw the ax. I was afraid for a micro-second that it was at me or the truck, but instead it went into the air, up an incredible distance then dropping down again crashing the woods. I doubted we'd ever find the sucker again.

He turned towards me, then, his chest heaving in deep sucking breaths, and I knew that it wasn't just exertion. It was the painful effort to avoid wracking sobs again. He looked away, clutched his arms around himself, walked to and fro, and sighed, swallowed repeatedly, did everything I knew a man would do to avoid letting tears come into his eyes, when he thought he'd lose face if he did. I did him the courtesy of turning away, straightening the tools in the back of the truck.

Finally he sat down on a patch of moss already filled with wood chips from his efforts. I slowly turned back towards him.

"I disgust myself." He said.

"I've been there, too. But what did you have in mind?"

"I can't believe what I did to you yesterday."

"I don't have a clue what you're talking about..." (But I thought I did!)

"Fucker, don't lie to me, don't EVER lie to me, okay? All the rest you've done, well, that's past history, but I don't want to be lied to!"

"Okay, okay. You're disgusted with yourself. I think it was because you...." I couldn't bring myself to say it. What if I was wrong? I would shame him.

"...grabbed you like that! I couldn't fuckin' BELIEVE I did that!"

"Frankly, neither could I..." I said. True, but I bit my lip. Shit, what WAS the right thing to say?

"Okay, let's make an agreement, okay? Okay?" His chest rose and fell quickly again.

"Sure, whatever."

"I won't tell you anything that isn't absolutely true, and you won't tell me anything that isn't. Deal?"

"Okay, sure, deal." I didn't know how hard that would be.

"I mean, for as long as we know each other. I promise I won't tell you any lies. Will you?"

"Sure. I promise."

"My mother told me a bunch of lies. Whenever I asked her about my dad. My real dad. I asked her to tell me the truth, and she just told me a bunch more lies."

"Are you sure?"

Josh merely nodded, tears gathering at the corners, now.

"Not a good scene," I commiserated. "My mom never talked to me. She was always too tired."

"Yeah?" He looked up at me with a moment's intense interest, as though for a second he'd seen me as a real human being again. But that moment lapsed again quickly as he got immersed in his own misery.

"She used to tell me that my dad wanted to see me. That he called and talked to her about me and my sister, but wouldn't/couldn't talk to us..."

"That sounds true."

"He never tried to see us..."

I nodded. In agreement with him about something I knew absolutely nothing.

"Not once."

"When did he leave you guys?"

"A couple of months after we left Maine. He took a job in another state, we moved back to my Mom's parents. Then he started drinking, apparently.

He was never a drinker before. I never saw him again. "

"I never did, either."

Josh looked up, looked into my eyes, his own questioning and hurt, and saw what I meant. Something shifted in him, then. "Did you love him?"

"More than anybody in my life."

"How could you have done that to him?"

"I loved him. I was so needy that I couldn't stay away from him. I had to soak him up. I think that anybody who saw us together could have guessed immediately that we were in love. Stupidly, I thought, somehow, that if we were discovered, he'd have to...." I realized that what I was about to say was give up his family and stay with me forever. I was TALKING to his family. My voice trailed off, and then I realized my vow to be truthful.

I said in a tiny forlorn voice for which I was ashamed, "...leave his family and live with me forever..."

Josh looked at me with wonderment, and hatred, and curiosity, and ?? Each traveled across his face in rapid succession, replacing the other. "Just like that, huh? You would take him for yourself? We'd be screwed..."

"I'm afraid that it was just like that... I never gave a second thought to what utter devastation could come to him. I just thought that our love was enough. I knew he loved me, that he'd want to live with me. But I knew he loved you guys more. I thought being discovered would FORCE him to come with me..."

"So, what'd you do? Turn him in?"

"No! Who ever told you that?"

"I overheard him talking to my Mom. That once when he came back and told her what was happening. He said you talked to the school board!"

"I never! I would never have! I would have died first!" I shouted, the missing piece tumbling down around my ears. Coach had never said another word to me, because he thought I'd screwed him over, betrayed him! But why, oh why, would he have thought such a thing? "How could he have thought that?" I asked his son, increduously.

"So you didn't?" Josh said, disbelieving. He shook himself. "Look, we've promised to tell the truth... There's nothing for either of us to gain, now, by telling anything other than the truth!"

"I'm telling you the truth. I WILL tell you the god's honest truth as far as I know it!" My vehemence must have convinced him, at least partially.

Trust would be a long time coming between us, I reckoned.

"So who ratted him out?"

"I have no idea."

"He must have thought you did. But, okay, you say you didn't. It really doesn't change anything."

"No, really it doesn't. Not for you, maybe. But it makes all the difference in the world for me."

"Because he never told you anything. He left you just like he left us.

Not another word."

"I never knew why. It was the hardest thing in my life to get over. If I ever did..."

"Mine, too."

"So, who led whom into this thing between you?" Josh said, looking at my face with renewed hostility. I could tell that he'd spent years believing I'd corrupted his father. Well, so had I. However, it plainly wasn't quite that simple.

"I wrote an essay, which I stupidly---he said "Freudian slip"---left with another paper. It told of a fantasy plus some real things I had with another male student. He confessed to me he'd had some similar thoughts.

And we got together. He resisted it all the way, thought it was wrong. I made it hard for him, every step I led him on."

"But he was the teacher, he was the one who got roasted."

"I've spent 10 long years going through all of this, Josh. He WAS the teacher. He was the one who had to refuse. I was so hungry for love, for acceptance, that I would have loved Attila the Hun if he'd just grinned at me twice. You don't know how low my self-esteem was..."

"I probably have some idea."

"You? But why? Your dad truly loved you. I know that. Surely you must have known it, at least before he left you guys. And your mom?"

"I try to remember it. I think I remember it. But a man who loves you doesn't just up and leave you and never talk to you again, never see you again.... He wouldn't do that."

"Now he's dead so neither of us can ask him what was going through his mind..." I mused. "A million times I wanted to ask him why he never said a word, wrote a letter, anything... For years I tried tracking him down. I picked up the phone dozens of times. I never called him, though."

"But he thought you screwed him over. He would've felt betrayed. He wouldn't have wanted to talk to you. At least THAT made sense."

"Well, to you. And maybe to me. But it meant that he'd never believed how much I really loved him. If he had, he'd have known I could never have done that to him! What he did put the lie to what we had..."

"You piss me off, you know!" Josh suddenly yelled at me. "As though 'what you had' was some wonderful special thing, when it was just sex! You were willing to take a good man and lead him down. You ruined his life! You ruined MY life!" Josh raised his fist at me, and I thought he was going to strike me, but he never got up off the ground.

"I can see that. I mean, I can see why you think I did. I don't blame you one iota. Really, I don't." I felt so badly for Josh and the flood of self-hatred was poised to wash over my entire consciousness like it had so many times in those bleak years.

Josh sat, cuddling himself, rocking back and forth and nodding, and I could see his skin blotched with goose bumps. Not that cold, I told myself.

This was all emotion. Years of it, stored up, soured.

"But you're right. The kid's the innocent one. The older guy is supposed to know not to go there, right?"

"That's what they all say. The politically correct version of responsibility, at least. I was too young to defend myself. By default, he's the guilty one."

"Crap, isn't it?"

"I think so. Yeah."

"How do you live with yourself?" Josh turned to me. It was an honest question.

"For years I scarcely could. Then I went into therapy. I learned that there is such a thing as forgiveness. That no matter what you've done, you finally have to forgive yourself. God can forgive you, too. Does, I believe. I've never tried to talk myself out of believing I was guilty.

But finally I believed that guilty, or not, I could be forgiven, God would forgive me. But."

A long silence fell between us, and finally Josh said, "'But' what?"

"But I never gave his family, you, a second thought. I can see that I have done something far worse than I ever thought. And forgiving myself for this will be much, much more difficult.... And I can never really ask you to forgive me. Were the tables turned, I wouldn't forgive you."

Josh looked up at me silently. I could not foretell his thoughts, his conclusions.

"You are being honest, aren't you?" He said, almost in awe. "It must be tougher-than-hell to be that honest."

"It ain't easy. I didn't sleep last night or the night before. I'm dead on my feet, to tell you the truth."

"Me, too." Josh laughed. "But I'm a hell of a lot younger than you are, old man." The sudden shift of our moods, which had happened once before, was dizzying.

"Watch your tongue, you impertinent shit!" I yelled back at him. Both of us were trying to keep the seriousness in our voices, but were losing the battle.

"Fuck, I hate you!" Josh said, wagging his head back and forth. "And you know the biggest reason? Because I like you. After all that you've done to my family and me, I like you! And THAT makes me hate you more!" All of this, so weirdly strange, was said with more affection than malice.

"Yeah, ain't it the pits? You've come here to do me some wild misdeed, completely mis- represented yourself, and hate my guts. And still, I think, I like you better'n anybody I've met since your father. You know, I can't believe I didn't know you immediately when I first saw you. You are so much like him.... Or, you know, like the best of your mother AND your father."

"Am I? I can hardly remember him."

"He was a kind man, a gentle one, a beautiful man. And better looking than he ever knew. I know that sounds like stuff that makes you sick when you hear it from me, but it's all true."

"No, it's okay. Actually it helps to know that he was a good man."

"He did. He told me directly, more than once, that he'd never wanted to hurt you."

"Yeah? Hard to put it into context isn't it, when you consider what he did--or rather didn't--do after that?"

"You know, I think that, misguided though he might be, that he figured you guys would be better off without him. That somehow, his shame would rub off on you guys, and that he had to stay away from you to keep you from being identified with him."

"I've thought of that. My mom said he was staying away from us because he loved us. I considered what she was saying crap. I thought she was lying to us. To make him seem better than he was. You know, mothers who want the kids to remember their shitty dad with some fondness..."

"You dad deserved better than what you just said, he truly loved you."

"Well, I'll never know that for sure, will I?"

"Unless, by some stretch, you could learn to believe me."

"Yeah, there is that..." Josh seemed to ponder that and his countenance brightened a tiny bit.

"I'm so fuckin' tired I think I gotta take a nap," I said to Josh. Truth was, this conversation had added immeasurably to my fatigue. I felt my eyelids collapsing onto my face. "I gotta stretch out before I fall down."

"I know. I'm zapped, too, notwithstanding the egregious difference in our ages..."

"You want to take the day off and go home and get some shuteye?" I asked him. "'cause I'm not worth a tinker's damn out here, now."

"To tell you the truth, I don't much want to go back to my house. The two guys I live with are not the most pleasant guys to be around sometimes... They're there 'cause they work evenings."

"Why not?"

"They think I'm queer."

"And they don't come onto you? They're missing out on the best beat THEY'LL ever see, then!"

"Yeah, well, thanks, but they don't exactly view the world the same way as that."

"Okay, yeah, I know what you mean. Why don't you crash here? You can have the sofa, or the glider."

We walked back, left the truck in the field. Neither of us said anything, and perhaps there was no more to say right then. Anyway, it "felt" right.

I woke up from my nap and gazed at my wristwatch. 2:45---I'd slept more than 6 hours. The sleep of the damned, I thought. I felt like I had several more hours in me, hardly felt rested, but worried about Alan---shit, JOSH!---and went out to the porch to find him. But instead, he was camped out on the sofa; it was too short for his lanky frame, his knees up and apart, one hand flung over the side, and one over his eyes. His cutoffs were too short, and the leg hole revealed his Jockey clad basket rather clearly. I tried to tear my eyes away from it---him---with little success. His boots were off and placed neatly next to each other on the floor near the big chair. His white socks were clean, I noted, and he breathed with easy breaths, no snoring. He was a delight.

I walked to the end of the sofa and looked back at him. I tried to tell myself that it wasn't for the obvious reason---a better look at his genital bulge!---but it was painfully obvious to myself, after a moment, exactly what I was doing! I kicked myself, mentally, and moved away, scrounging in the fridge for a cold beer and popping the lid softly. The sound must have been like a beacon through layers of sleep, for Josh immediately stirred, sat up, looked around with a moment's confusion, then espied me looking at him, shook his head to clear it, and smiled. Not the old smile, I thought, but one with some real warmth in it. I felt suddenly overwhelmed with gladness. I must have smiled back, then, though I think my face had taken off on its own.

"What the hell are you anyway? Black or something?" Josh said it in a way which made it seem that he was trying to pick a fight, or trying to insult me, and just as clearly was jibing me to get a rise, to generate some teasing, some humor flowing where it was long overdue.

"Yeah, or something. Half. Dad. Never knew the sucker. Took off before I was born."

"Rough."

"Yeah, worse than one you had at least 10 years!"

"Don't let's go down THAT track just now again, okay?"

"Yeah, you're right. One thing worse than another doesn't make the first one any easier to take."

"So, tell me, chief, do black guys really have more fun? I mean, are their peckers REALLY bigger?"

I felt like telling him that his father, very definitely a white guy, had the biggest pecker I'd ever seen, but bit my tongue before I started it.

That wasn't the kind of thing one said to a father's kid.

"Yeah, huge. Every one of us. Huger than any of you pimply white nerds.

We have ALL the fun. You guys are so fuckin' neurotic you wouldn't know what to DO with it if we sat down and gave you lessons."

"Yeah? And you DO give lessons, right?"

"Don't let's go THERE, okay?" I said, my 'pecker' unfortunately rising a few notches through my sweats, which I slept in, even for naps.

"Why not? Josh said, trying to carry on the same ribald taunting of the last few moments.

"'cause it'd be like incest, okay?"

"You aren't my father!" Josh's anger was sudden, but fortunately disappeared instantly again. I don't know what I would have said if it hadn't. Nothing seemed right. No, I wasn't his father.

"You're 27." He said suddenly, emphatically. "I'm 20. You're not my father...."

"No, I'm not."

"So, is it an age thing?"

"No, it's not that."

"Is it you don't find me attractive?"

"Shit, Josh, why are you pursuing this. You CAN'T want anything with me.

Not with all our past baggage!"

"Isn't that for ME to say?"

I thought for a second, and had to agree with him. That part WAS for him to say. Not that I could see either of us getting past the baggage. It was all too improbable.

"Okay, after your dad, I became quite a male slut. You know. Promiscuous.

It's a miracle I didn't get AIDS. I lived a fast and easy life. New York City. Back in the days when it was pretty raunchy. I got sick of it, sick of my life, sick of my sexuality. Probably because it was overlayed with what happened with Coach, er, your dad. I got into therapy. Gave up all that shit. Came here. I've had a good life here. I think I could slip back into all of the old crap again. I don't want to. I found some peace."

"You'd become promiscuous again if anything happened between us?"

"No, no, you're misconstruing my words. Deliberately, I think."

"Am I?" he asked me, looking devilish, coy, seductive as hell.

"Yes, you are." I walked over and tossed his big feet onto the floor, wanted to take them into my lap instead. And sat down on the end of the sofa, making sure none of my body came close to touching any part of his.

"Look," I said to him, looking at him squarely in his eyes, thinking to emphasize the clarity of my intent, as well as the positive regard, affection, with which I was saying it. It was a colossal mistake. Once our eyes hooked, they locked, and something entirely different began to well up between us there in that room. It was liquid, warm, all-encompassing, and both of us were immediately and irretrievably aware of it. I think I must have been blushing, I knew that he was. But neither of us could look away. My cock became as hard as a rock in about 3-1/2 seconds, and I knew it was bulging my sweats like crazy. I draped my own big hands over my lap to try to keep it from showing.

"Look?" he said, his eyes never wavering from my own.

"Shit!" I said, unable to extricate myself from the feeling that the floor had been jerked away from underneath my body and my spirit, and that I was sinking into warmth, dreadful-but-wonderful and pervasive warmth. "This isn't what I meant to say..."

"What....did....you .... mean....to....say," he mouthed, his eyes drinking me down, down, his mind unable, I thought, to make the sentence come out anything other than rote.

"We can't do this." I said, pleading with him to break the connection.

"It wouldn't be right."

"Is that what my dad said to you?"

That did it, I snapped my eyes away from his, and stood up, my hands dropping away, suddenly unaware and uncaring about the monster tent my cock made with the front of my sweats.

"What the fuck is this? Are you trying to make a point with me? That the same thing can happen to me that I did to him? Is this really just a part of your revenge plot? You're going to suck me in and then spew me out, just like you think I did to him?" I seethed, raged, helpless in fury, hurt. And with a feeling of incredible vulnerability that had come and washed over me without warning, one that I vowed would not overtake me again. This would kill me, I thought. Way too dangerous.

"No, no!" Josh yelled back at me, his eyes suddenly brimming with tears.

"No!" He got up and rushed from the room, and I heard him running through the yard. In a moment, his car started and he drove away. I sat and heard the silence, saw him as though he were still there, stunned by both of our actions. Sensing a tremendous danger that remained just outside the edges of my vision. And a great lurking warmth that I was ill-prepared to name.

I realized that Josh had left his boots. I went over and sat in the big chair, picked them up one- by-one. Then I put them on.

He called the next morning. "Hi," he said, softly, flatly, into the phone.

"Hi," I answered back. Silence loomed.

"Am I working for you anymore?"

"Do you want to be?"

"Yes, I think I do."

"Then you are."

"I'm kinda silly without my boots. The guys thought I'd been run off by some wife someplace, after screwing the husband silly. I got a couple of hours of ribbing. They thought it was all good fun. I don't think I appreciated their humor."

"You ever tell 'em you were gay. Assuming you are, that is...."

"Oh, you haven't figured that out, yet, huh?"

"Well, it's never that simple is it?"

"Not really."

"So, did you tell 'em? I mean, why are they picking on you like that? I mean, you look as masculine as any man I've ever seen in my life." (Well, he was beautiful, and that isn't always the 'most masculine.' --but I wasn't far off, anyway).

"Huh?! Well, anyway, that's not the point. I refused to go with them to pick up girls one night, and they started ribbing me. You know, the kind of stuff that they really don't believe, either, but intended to piss you off. It worked, I got pissed off. I don't like going around closeted, so I told 'em "yeah, I'm just waiting to fuck you guys' brains out..." I tried to make it sound like one of those banters guys gets into. And it came out all wrong, I think. They looked at me like I had head-lice they were gonna get, and then I did the worst thing I could do. I turned bright red. And, well, it just got worse. Anyway, they assume, now, that I am, and I let 'em think what they want. Fuck 'em."

"Well, if they're still talking to you and teasing you, it can't be all that bad..."

"I'm just tired of it. They never let up. It isn't respectful."

"So, you wanna move out?"

"Yeah."

"You can move in here,"

"I can?"

"Yeah, but I'm serious. It's gotta stay Platonic. Okay?"

"Why?"

"It's just gotta, that's all. You agree?"

"I'm not sure I can....uh, well, sure, okay. It's your call anyway. I can't force anything on you, right?"

He hung up. I reached down and unlaced his boots.

We worked side-by-side, in harmony again, and it felt right and good. He grinned at me, and meant it. And I grinned back. We got both fields looking beautiful, and the cars came streaming by to look. After a bit we started selling plants. It was amazing how much passers by would pay for plants if they could dig them up themselves right from the field. I had to give up the bookstore job---there wasn't enough time in a day to tend everything that needed it. We made enough money to get by the winter, I thought. Josh had some ideas anyway.

Josh took over the back bedroom, and I made it my practice never to go in there. I suspected that my old clothing fetish would stream back again if I gave it any sort of foothold at all. I caught Josh looking at me, and he must have caught me looking at him.

'I can't stand it anymore!" He yelled at me. It was mid-October, plants were dying back. "Will you touch me? Will you let me touch you? This is slow torture! I can't live here like this. I don't want to anymore!"

"I thought we were having it good here?" I said, suddenly feeling the onslaught of the terrible fear I had in the past of imminent abandonment.

I thought I heard him saying he was going to leave. My heart felt like it stopped and my lips quivered, and my voice and head froze up. I could neither think nor speak intelligently.

"Yeah, maybe for you." He paused, then went on, "Well, what'll it be? Can we go forward with this, or not?" He demanded. "I know you want it, too."

"I...." My eyes must have been wide open and terrified, but no words would come out. This hit me like a bolt out of the blue. I'd known that we were passing each other with electricity, but not that this crisis was coming.

"Never mind!" he shouted back at me, "I can see the answer. I don't have to ask." He went into his bedroom and I heard shuffling and banging. He emerged carrying his backpack from one strap, and looked at me, forcing my head up with one hand. The first touch that I'd allowed from him, virtually since those first wrestling matches we had. When our eyes locked again, he said to me, "You don't know what you're missing. I love you.

Baggage and all. You stupid man. But I can't live here like this. I'm going backpacking. I gotta get out of here. But when I come back, you have to tell me, yes or no. I'm not going to live this way."

"Josh..." I heard myself saying. Pleading for time to talk it over, maybe, except that I couldn't talk, and was terrified of what I would say, or what I wouldn't be able to say.

He looked at me another long second, his eyes softening, full of love all of a sudden, and moving close to me, he touched his lips against mine, the first electric touch, the softest most perfect touch I'd ever had on my lips. Then he whirled and was gone.

I sat down, my knees shaking and my heart trip-hammering, my mind whirling with the full extent of the terrible apprehension, with the dreadful and seductive warmth threatening to engulf everything.

When I arose again from my chair, which might have been 15 minutes, or two hours, I walked into his room. Something had been crossed, I knew.

I walked over to his closet, and scanned the clothes that he'd left, then my eyes traveled to the floor where I saw his jeans and sweatshirt and, there, his undershorts, socks. I picked them all up and moved to his bed.

His clothes smelled like him, clean and sweet, masculine and good. I could climb into his second skin, I knew. Be touched everywhere by what had been touching him.

The next two days were the most terrible I'd ever experienced. It was like I was losing Coach all over again. I knew this wasn't Coach. This was a completely different man. One that I'd come to respect and love. And after my move into his closet, I knew the full range of the sexual attraction I felt for him, too. I could use the 'love' word now. But my experiences had all taught me that loving was the same as losing. This way lay terror. Either way, I would lose.

Surely my life had been better before Josh came along. I'd regained self-confidence, serenity, beauty, even. I'd dealt with my guilt in some fashion, could look myself in the mirror and even liked what I saw. Now, though, everything was tilted, and most of my old turmoil haunted every waking moment. I wanted to call up my old therapist in New York, k, talk to her on the phone, knew I couldn't. I called and made an appointment, called and canceled it. I didn't eat and couldn't sleep. I had a fierce headache and a persistent pain between my shoulder blades, like my esophagus was tightly clenched, until everything hurt, straight through my chest.

He came back. It was a Friday evening. I heard his car, dreaded his arrival and couldn't live without it. I wanted to love him more than I wanted anything in my life, and was so frightened that I kept dropping things.

He stood in the doorway, his own eyes large and haggard, dark circles under them. Thinner, I thought, and strangely, even more attractive than I'd ever seen him.

He tried to garner some answer from there, I think, and I suddenly sensed that his fear and my fear were akin, though at different levels.

"John," he said to me. He rarely used my first name. He came through, then to stand in front of me. He looked me up and down. I made no attempt to hide anything from him. I had his big tan boots on, his sweatshirt; I'd worn his stuff the whole time he was gone. He immediately recognized that fact, and a broad grin came across his face. "You're wearin' my stuff, aren't you?"

"I am."

"Does that mean 'yes'?"

"I'm crazy, going crazy, gone crazy. I'm so scared I can't eat and can't sleep. It means 'yes.'"

"YES!" he yelled, and he rushed to me and clutched me frantically to his chest, which was heaving as mightily as my own, though I thought for different reasons. "Fuck, yes!"

"I just wish...." I started to say.

Josh put his fingers across my lips. "Shush! Just say 'yes' and mean it!"

"I can't live without you," I said softly, my face clenched between the palms of his hands, one on either side of my cheeks, gently but firmly holding me. "That much is true." "But I'm terrified that all of the things that have happened will happen again. I can't go through that again!"

"It doesn't have to be that way." He gently said to me, looking into my eyes, holding my face tenderly.

"I'm going to start seeing somebody again. I can't live with the apprehension, either. After...."

"I know, after Coach...." he used that word, because he knew that's the way I thought of him. It was a conscious loving act that he did when he said it that way.

"Yeah, well, I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry. Be joyous! I am!" Josh kissed me, then, softly, then more persistently, more insistently, his thinner lips pressing my own, opening my mouth, his hot breath blowing across both of us, his tongue, ah, ah, shit..... my brain went into overload. His was the taste I'd missed for those ten long years. It was though I was suddenly thrust back in time. I felt my cock throbbing and then, suddenly, I'd cum in my shorts.

He must have sensed what had happened, for he pulled away from me and looking at my closed eyes and heaving breath, touched my cheeks again with this fingers and finally got me to open my eyes. "Did what I think just happened, happen?"

"I'm afraid so."

"Shit, you're easy!" He laughed then, and I felt one hand grappling with the top button of my jeans, which gave way , and then his hand was beneath the waistband and holding me through the wetness in my shorts, and then, it's hard to describe here, his hand was touching my skin. My knees were shaking so hard I though I might sit down on the floor.

He knelt, then, before me, and unbuttoned the rest of my fly buttons and ran my jeans down my thighs. His own jockeys stared right at him, inches away, wet and smelling of my semen. He looked up me a half second and then his mouth touched the tented fabric and I could feel it's heat. I felt the gentle suction. He was sucking my cum from the material! My cock was instantly hard again. He continued his gentle sucking, his mouth moving sideways until he found the tip of my cock, many inches away. His saliva wetted that spot as well, and I could feel the striking wet warmth spread and his mouth move on me.

Then, hands on either side of the Jockey's, he pulled them down and my dark cock sprang free. Josh looked up at me, then, and smiled, touching my stomach with one hand so I'd open my eyes. "What they say, you know, it's true! You black guys, you have the big ones!" I had no ability to say anything back, and I doubt he would have heard. His mouth held me, then, sheathed the tip of my rod and one hand began to stroke me up and down, while his mouth moved on the upper fourth of me, gently sucking, licking the slit in the top of my very large glans. Josh was no expert at this, but it made absolutely no difference in the world. That it was Josh down there, the beautiful handsome man I'd learned to love, made every movement every nuance an act of connection so intense, so wonderful, that my whole being focused on that piece of me. My body began shuddering, and my hips wanted to thrust. One quick thrust left Josh gagging. My cock was far too large for a complete entrance into him, I thought. Josh reached between my thighs and held my testicles, one in either hand.

"Mmmm" I heard from down below. Josh grunted with what sounded like utter and complete happiness. He stopped what he was doing and came up to stand before me.

"Can we, like, go to bed? I want you in every way."

He led me to my bed, where I sat down, and Josh bent before me, unlacing the heavy boots, and slipping them from my feet. In seconds we were both nude and Josh threw back the covers. We crawled between the icy sheets and the warmth of him, the sheer wonder of his touch all along the front of my own body, was like heaven had opened.

"Oh, ah!" was all I said for a moment, then "I can't believe I kept this from happening!"

"Yeah, it's unbelievable isn't it? Unfucking unbelievable!" Josh lay atop me, his body moving slowly in different places, hands moving across my arms, massaging my biceps, touching my neck. He raised up slightly so that he could move his body lightly across mine, his hard stomach just barely sweeping mine own, his pendulous cock and testicles dragging across my own.

My hands came up and held him. My first touch of his pure essence of maleness. Here was a man of real "substance," his penis narrow but extremely long, hard and soft at once, in the most delicious way which only cockskin can create. His testicles were definitely of the family proportions. I flashed back on those of Stephen, so amazing. These were nearly as large.

"Are you pleased with what you found down there?" Josh whispered in my ear.

"Oh, yes! You are perfect."

I was pulling at him, jacking his long long cock with both hands, his body held up to give me access. His thighs were opened around my own, his legs touching my knees and legs. I held his wondrous balls, and felt his body grow feverish and incrementally more excited.

"Oh, Stephen," I cried, "you are so fantastic!"

Josh, froze, rose off me and ran from the room. I heard his door slamming behind him.

"Oh, fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck," I recited in a mantra of incredulity. My abject terror rose in full strength. Now, I knew, our love was impossible, I'd shamed it out of existence. Josh could NEVER return to my bed. How could he?

I tapped at his door. "Josh, forgive me! Please, please, forgive me. I can't believe that slipped from me. Please talk to me... Please....."

There was no answer. I tried the door, softly. It was locked. I tried one more time to get him to open it. There was no answer.

I went back to my own bed, my cock dangling flaccid, still large. I wanted to cut it from me, it'd led me down this path of absolute misery. There was powerfully little reason to believe that anything would ever be any better.

There was only a small little piece of me that held on. I'd once made a man outrageously happy, I could remember some place in my overloaded brain.

It no longer seemed to click in any way other than intellectual, but I knew it'd been true.

I sank back down on my bed. I slept feverishly, probably only a short while, but I had no sense of time these last days. When I awoke, Josh was in bed with me again. His warm body was pressed all along the side of my own, and he held my genitals in one large hand.

"I shouldn't have overreacted like that," he said softly in my ear. "it was an honest mistake."

"Yeah, but it was your father!" I said, miserable, tears not far off.

"So? If he loved you, I can love you can't I?"

"Can you?"

"I can. I'm sure I can. I do." He moved his hand slowly in my lap. I felt myself rising up again.

"Are you sure you want to do that?"

"I'm sure." He snuggled against me even more tightly, one foot sliding up and down my leg and over my ankle and over my own foot. The soft plantar arch of his foot caressed my skin. It was a sensation I never wanted to live long without again.

"Can I confess something?"

"Sure, but what do YOU have to confess?" I whispered back in the darkness.

"The most disturbing thing about this is that the very idea of you being with my father, well, it should be distasteful, but I don't find it that way. And THAT shocked me when you said it!"

"You don't?"

"Not really. I should, shouldn't I?"

"I don't think about 'should's' anymore. We're all too crazy to figure out WHAT the hell we 'should' be feeling or not feeling."

"Yeah, isn't that the truth?" Josh was stroking my cock, now, gently, slowly, my firmness growing into soft steel.

"I can't believe how BIG you are!" He whispered in my ear. "And so nice!"

"You know, I wouldn't mind us doing, uh, I mean, you...." Josh wasn't able to finish his soft statement.

"Anything," I said. "Anything and everything."

Josh delved beneath the covers, took me into his mouth again. The suction and warmth of his mouth and tongue were ferocious. My buttocks rose up off the bed involuntarily. "Unnnggg" I heard coming from my mouth.

His tongue found my piss slit and delved into it. The incredible feeling of it was mind blowing. His hands slipped down my flanks and found my testicles. Ah shit! I didn't want to cum again so quickly.

"Stop!" I hissed at him. "I'm gonna cum in another second if you don't."

"So?" His mouth was off me. I mentally quelled the rising spasms of orgasm, stopped it just in time.

"So? I want to enjoy this! I mean, longer, you know what I mean..."

"So, John, what is the thing you like best?" he asked me as he 'came up"

again and snuggled all along my side, one leg thrown over my waist and touching my balls. One hand holding me there, but not moving. Thank heavens. It WOULD have been over.

"Best? You, I like you best."

"Yeah, I know. I've known it for a long time. You just wouldn't let it happen."

"You can hardly say that now, can you?"

"No, you're right." His hand moved slowly on me again. I couldn't believe what sensations that alone created!

"So, will you fuck me?"

"You've had any experience doing that?" I asked him. Aware that this sounded a bit like 'the older man talking to the younger one...'

"No. But I want you to be the first."

"Then I will be."

Josh moved away from me, inches, and lay on his stomach. I turned towards him and ran my hand down his backside, feeling his tight hard small buttocks. His skin was so smooth. I swung one leg over his and ran it up and down on the two of his, then down to his feet. I found feet so erotic, just touching mine and his together!

"Turn over!" I told him. He did so, readily.

I pushed the covers down, and crouched above Josh, looking at the wonderment of his cock, the even more astonishing set of balls which hung there just beneath. The tip of my tongue touched him moved around his glans. I was good at this, I should be, all those years in New York which I wasn't happy about.

"Ah, fuck!" Josh shouted. "Shit, I never FELT anything so good!"

I made tiny little tongue movements and exerted strong suction on just the tip of him, my lips fitting the coronal ridge of him perfectly, my tongue moving up and down the underside and making darting movements into his piss hole. I loved the taste of him.

"Ahhhhhhh!" Josh screamed in utter, frenzied sexual excess. His hips thrust a couple of times and I knew that he'd cum if I moved another muscle. Suddenly, not caring, I sucked the entire length of him into my mouth, and straightening my throat, beyond.

"Ahhhhh!" again. Josh's body thrashed and bucked. His cock was thrust in and out of the tight muscles of my throat. "FUCKKKKKKK!" I could feel his buttocks clinch underneath my hands, his muscles there contracting and relaxing in rhythmic waves corresponding to the first and many subsequent squirts of his cum into my mouth. Nothing had ever tasted this good, ever.

I sucked every drop down.

I came up, then, and Josh was lying there, limp as a dishrag, one arm thrown over his eyes.

"Fuck, that was INTENSE!" He laughed at me, looking at me, now.

"You liked it, then?"

"Ah, shit, I didn't imagine it'd feel like that."

"You aren't a virgin, are you? I mean, you weren't...." The thought was suddenly shocking and I realized that it had never crossed my mind.

"No. Not quite. I fucked a couple of my girlfriends. What's not to like?

But nobody ever did THAT to me before. Not like that."

"What are you telling me, Josh. You've never been with a man?"

"Did I say that? That's not true, but I never let any man DO ME before. I always did them."

"Oh." I relaxed a bit.

"I want to fuck. I mean, I want you to fuck me...." He renewed his original request. He got on top of me, legs on either side of my flanks, touching me, and crouching above me, and suddenly, wildly, was kissing me, tongue invading my mouth, rough. Aggressive. He was driven, somehow. He held my engorged cock with one hand and tried to sit on me. I could have told him that would never work. It didn't. He grunted with effort, tried to find 'the spot' where I could slide into him. It wasn't anything that simple. But I let him try. Finally, have minutes of painful trying, his mouth came off mine, us both covered with wetness, mainly his, but I loved it.

"How do you make this work?" he asked me in utter frustration.

"Not so easy, when you consider how big I am and how little that place is you want to put it...."

"It's gotta be possible!" Josh said, demanded, really.

"Josh, lover, wonderful fantastic lover that you are," and I stopped long enough to explore the inside of his mouth and his smooth teeth, savoring the taste I loved so much, "this may not be possible."

"You make it work!" he demanded again. "I don't care how uncomfortable it is the first time."

I threw him back on the sheets. I looked deeply into his eyes. My hand slipped down and held that treasure, already entirely firm again. I moved my hand on him, sending delicious slivers up and down his smooth body.

"Josh, what is this? I know, too many questions don't help. But this feels like you're driven..."

"I can't tell you..."

"Sure you can. We promised to be honest, remember?"

"When Dad told my mom about you two, they got to shouting. She was ranting and raving. About his not wanting sex from her anymore. What was he doing, anyway, fucking some kid's asshole? He shouted back at her, no, he was letting the kid fuck HIS asshole."

I moved my hand from Josh's cock, instead hugged him tightly to me. "This thing, this is really powerful between us, isn't it?"

"It doesn't mean I don't love you. I do."

"I know you do. I love you. More, I think, than I was capable of loving him." Neither of us needed me to define who 'him' was, I think. "In those years it was all about sex and being cared for, soaking up his regard like a plant needs sunlight. I did love him, but it was all about taking.

Except I gave him pleasure, a lot of pleasure. That has saved my life a lot of times. When I can remember that, I mean."

"I don't care about that right now. I just want it to be good between US!"

"Yeah," I touched the side of his face, kissed him again, softly, tenderly, our lips sucking at each other. But what was "us" and what was "us" in all this, I thought?

We hugged each other tightly and fell asleep, the immediate need for sex having been at least partially relieved. When I awoke, it was daylight. I was alone. My heart roared into overdrive again, my fear rising up like a thundercloud.

"Josh!" I called out.

"Yeah?" he answered. Oh, fuck! I leaned back, such relief flooding over me that I could hardly breathe.

"Nothing," I tried to make it sound casual.

He came back from the bathroom, then, carrying the jar of Vaseline, and popped under the covers with me. "I'm not going to let you out of this bed until you've been inside me, all the way... I think I found the magic ointment that'll let it happen..."

I laughed, with him, then. Laughed harder than I should have. It was my relief still flooding me with ecstacy. I was in the brittle throes of such lust-love that I was threatened with oscillations so intense I'd simply burn out and away, I thought. Lust was one thing which I'd experienced often enough. Love was something which I'd experienced really only once before, the only time I'd had them together, and that once had left me wounded for years. It was more powerful than I thought I was capable of handling.

Josh looked at me, the love in his eyes so obvious that I could no deny it.

Let it just be, I told myself. His hands were opening the jar of Vaseline and he was lifting out a huge gob of the stuff. "No, no," I said to him.

"Let me take charge of this little adventure."

"Good," he acquiesced, "you know how, I don't"

I threw the covers off of us both, and spread his legs widely, and crouched between them. He uttered something from beneath his overthrown arm (he covered his eyes, I learned, when he was experiencing something intense, when he wanted to feel it 'all the way'---later he confirmed this with me. "Don't just do me that way again! Please..."

"Hush!" I said, taking his cock in my mouth, feeling it firm quickly and wonderfully in my mouth. No pleasure in the world like feeling a man GET erect while his penis is inside your mouth. He tasted like semen. I licked him into raging firmness. My hands were busy beneath him, finding his asscrack, finding his pucker.

Josh moaned beneath me. "Yes!" he cried when the tip of my finger found him. His hips came up off the bed.

I dug a gob of the grease from the jar and anointed his hole, and my finger slid in easily, one knuckle's worth, his tight sphincter wildly fluttering around my finger.

I took my time, keeping him firm with my mouth, but never enough to let him get close to cumming.

His body was shuddering with pent-up sexual heat, his hands came down and grasped first my head and then his buttocks, pulling them more widely apart so that my finger could move up inside him. Then his legs came up and he closed them around my shoulders, firmly holding me, his body shaking in wild thrusting movements. I thought he could cum momentarily, and so I removed my mouth and my finger.

"Don't!" he pleaded with me. "Leave it there!"

"Never fear, lover. Before I'm done, you'll feel all of me. Every single inch of me."

"Shit, yeah!" He grinned and opened his hips again and lay quietly again.

My finger was back at his backside anew. This time his anus opened easily and readily. I remembered Stephen, his asshole so anxious to receive me. There had been no doubting that this had been the pre-eminent thing that he'd always wanted. This man, his son, was a 'chip off the old block,' a thought which tickled my fancy, then, something I thought impossible relative to Stephen, who for years had only brought painful memories.

I had his cock in my mouth, and crouching higher, managed to get a bit of him into my throat without gagging. The tightness of my throat muscles started Josh's involuntarily shuddering again. But in that time, two and then three of my fingers had invaded his bottom.

"Ahhh, shit!" Josh squirmed beneath me. "That's a stretch, isn't it?" His face had the look of mild-to-moderate discomfort which so many pictures of men have when one is being invaded by a particularly large cock!

"Push down!" I coached him. He did. Magic. I could feel his anus relax, and flutter around my fingers.

After a bit, his discomfort obviously ended, Josh looked up at me, kissed me, and said "Well, what are you waiting for? Let's do this thing...."

I hovered over him, then, my cock greased heavily, and he reached underneath his raised legs to grasp me, and then, helping, felt me settle heavily into his crack and then, without further ado, "find" his pucker.

I rested only a moment before exerting a tiny bit of pressure, and felt the tightness of him encompass the head, only, of my cock. Josh's head was tossed back, his gold hair flung across the pillow, sweat on his brow, eyes closed, his lips came open and his white teeth showed momentarily. I smelt his warm breath, which I loved so much, and kissed him on the lips. He responded by kissing back, hard, tongue in my mouth, while his butt moved around under me, the only effect being my slipping slightly more inside him. I felt the sudden "whoosh" of his breath in my mouth, and his eyes came open in mild alarm.

"Unnnn" came from somewhere deep down inside him, muffled by our mouths plastered together. And then, he raised his hips to meet me and I was driven "home." That is the only word that really describes the sensation:

"home"---where I belonged, where I wanted to be, the place where I knew I'd

'always' want to be. Deep inside him, but also touching his body in so many external places, his powerful thighs around my sides, his legs grasping my buttocks and pulling me in. I knew, then, that I'd always been waiting for him. All the previous stops along the way had been just that:

stations on the path.

Josh's golden tawny skin was so fantastic, I could swim in it. His blue eyes opened again and he looked at me deeply. And wiggled his butt under me.... The sensations were glorious, and we both grinned at each other, never losing eye contact. And then the waves of lust overcame us both, as I raised my hips, then lowered them again, and the deep plunging began, owned us both. My toes thrust against the bed sheets trying to find purchase there for ever-deeper penetration. His legs grasped me hard and his whole body shuddered. I looked down to see a whitish pool of his semen lying near his belly-button. I scooped it up quickly and ushered it to my waiting lips. With the taste of him permeating my taste-buds, I felt my own orgasm building someplace in the base of my spine, firing off salvos of scintillating while light in my brain, and then the liquid left my body and entered his, while my mind soared into a deep smooth golden curve, up and up and finally over and breathless the whole way.

"God, that was incredible!" Josh said, minutes later when we'd "come to"

again. I was somewhere deeply, still, inside him, but laying on his folded-up body, heavily. My cock had never gotten soft.

"I'm going to have a leg cramp here, I think," Josh laughed. "But I don't want you to leave!"

We scrambled then, to get one leg, one gloriously long foot, up and over so that we could turn, both on our sides, me behind him, now, nestled like spoons, touching in every way possible. The warmth-yet-strange coolness of his small buttocks pushed back into my groin were more erotic, I believed, than anything I could remember. In moments, I had to resume my slow thrusting inside him.

"This is nice...." was my gross understatement, my hand splayed over him, and grasping his genitals, rising again, insistently. The smoothness of his long narrow cock was fantastic.

"You like?" Josh teased me, knowing that I'd "come home," just as much as I

"knew it." There was no doubt between us, then, and I doubted there ever would be again---at least in this circumscribed part of our lives. We both loved it maximally. This entry, this position.

We took our time, then, loving deeply over an hour, maybe, but time had lost meaning. Finally, after we joined in another mutual climax, we came apart and Josh rose, shakily, and headed for the shower.

"I'm never gonna be the same," he said, after he'd come out, nude now, and glorious, I thought. Surely there'd never been anybody in the history of mankind as beautiful as Josh! He glowed in the light, I thought, his skin tawny gold. He crouched on the bed beside me, my cock still faintly smelling of him. Neither of us minded the aroma, but there was no doubt where I'd been.

"Whew! Just look at that thing! I never knew a man could be that big!"

He winked at me.

"Keep on, flatterer!"

"Sometime, would you tell me about my father?" He said, his tone changing slightly, but I couldn't tell to what.

"I thought I already had."

"No, I mean, sexually..."

"Like what?" My head was firing off warning lights, then, and I treaded very lightly on the minefield ahead.

"You SAID you'd be honest."

"And I shall be, always, with you...." I emphasized the glory of the 'you'

in that sentence. In my reckoning, at that moment, I was the luckiest man alive, for I'd been with the most beautiful man in existence. It wouldn't have mattered what any other observer might have said----"in love" makes everything emphatically so.

"Well, what DID you guys do?"

"Well, most of the usual things. There are only a few variations possible on the 'basic 4'" I said, hoping he'd let it lie, then.

"Did you do them all?"

"No. We would have, I'm sure, but things blew up too soon."

"So, what DID you do?"

"Well, he never fucked me. Everything else we did."

"Funny," Josh said after a long pause, "that I always thought he played the active role."

"Why do you say that?" I replied, suddenly curious, but dreading.

"My mom told me that you were not the only one with him...."

"Surely she must be wrong!" I found my mind reeling and my a giant sword-like pain running through me.

"I have reasons to doubt she was...." He said finally. Throughout all of this, his hand rested quietly on my thigh, inches away from my penis. I was intensely grateful that through this intense, difficult conversation

(though why we had to have it now was uncertain for me) at least he was maintaining some connection with me!

"Your dad was a good man...." I heard myself saying the same lame words I'd said, probably too often already. I found myself unable to linger here and say more, not now. I roused myself. "I need to take a quick shower myself...."

When I came back he was gone. I cursed myself for leaving when I should have stayed! I raced to the front window to see if his old car was gone.

It was.

All of the old abandonments flooded over me, into an endless well of suffering as I sank physically and emotionally on to the carpet. I don't know how long I lay there, in more pain that I could deal with. Finally, though, some tough part of me that I scarcely knew existed, made me stand up, dress in work clothes, and go out to the fields. I slaved feverishly in the hot sun the rest of that day, and 3 more, all day, dying a quiet death each time I returned to my bungalow to see no evidence of Josh. I finally managed to capture some of the old serenity that I had when I worked in the fields, though, and I told myself incessantly to stand tall.

I kept hoping that he'd at least call, feared terribly he would not. As it turned out, there was a call, but it wasn't from him.

"Hello." The young woman's voice on the other end of the line didn't introduce itself.

"Hello," I said, refusing to give more away than that, either.

"Is Josh there?"

"He isn't. I'm not sure I can even take a message," I said lamely.

"This is his sister, Lisa. I'm worried sick about him."

"How did you know to call here?"

"He gave me this number. I'm afraid he didn't tell me any more about you..."

"Oh. Well, yes, he's been working for me, and living here for a few months."

"Is he okay?"

"Well, yes, he was okay until he left 4 days ago. Of course I don't know after that."

"Can you tell me anything about what's going on with him?" She prodded, but I could discern the deep concern in her voice.

"Well, not really, more than I've said."

"I'm tempted to come to New York," she said, tentatively.

"Would that help? I mean, I don't even know where he is!"

"Are you his lover?" She suddenly asked, the bluntness of her query shocking. But she didn't sound accusatory.

"I think this is a conversation you have to have with him, Lisa," I said gently.

"Look, can I come there? Please. I really need to find him."

"He's not here," I repeated, gently, liking her voice, and hurting for her as her voice revealed.

"But he'll come back, won't he?"

"I wish I knew. I desperately hope he will."

"You care for him, I can tell."

"Yes, I do, deeply."

"Good, he needs that."

But when she saw me, two days later, she immediately knew who I was, and her eyes opened in terrible turmoil. "Why didn't you tell me!" She wailed at me. Her hands came up to her open mouth, and she recoiled, then left quickly. I felt like a terrible pariah, afflicted with leprosy or worse.

That was the most miserable day of the 5 since Josh had so abruptly left.

But she returned in a couple of hours. She came into the living room quietly, and sat, crouched on the edge of the sofa, clutching herself, tears ringing in the corners of her eyes.

"Okay," I said, bringing her a cold drink, and sitting in the chair at some distance. "Please tell me what is going on, won't you?"

"I had to come and see you. I've been so worried about Josh, for years, really. He went from pillar-to-post, would come back home and Mom and he would have these endless shouting matches. Finally, 4 or 5 months ago he left for good, it seemed, and we didn't hear anything and then I started getting these calls. He sounded worse, and then gradually better. I figured he'd found somebody. I just hoped that whoever he found was nice....." Her voice trailed off.

"I try to be a 'nice' man," I inserted, gently, wondering if that was even true. Lately, I had powerfully little to spring back upon.

Lisa looked up at me briefly, then away, again. "I never ever once imagined that he'd been looking for you!"

I couldn't respond. I could only look away, deeply hurting in every faraway niche of my head, and knowing nothing to say to help her or me.

"My Mom certainly never said much good about my Dad. And she only talked about you directly, once, and that wasn't very flattering, either."

"I'm surprised you recognized me." I said, finally, making small talk.

"Oh, no surprise, when somebody is as ingrained into your memory as you were."

"But at the time---I think you only saw me once---I wouldn't have meant anything to you at all.

"Oh, kids have radar, or something like that. I already knew that something powerful was going on between you and my dad. And I was terribly jealous. He was wonderful, when he was around, which was about 5 minutes a year. And my Mom, well, she tried, maybe, but she was always difficult.

Well, wounded maybe. But hard on us. She cried a lot, she was cross and irritable, never happy with herself, nor me, and never trusted Josh a moment."

"Too much like his dad, maybe?"

"Probably."

"In a way, it's understandable, isn't it? I mean, your Dad, me really, hurt you guys an awful lot."

"I never thought it was just you. I knew he had to be a big part of it all." She said, looking quickly at me, and trying, I thought, to be supportive in a strange, soft way.

"Thank you. You're the first person, including myself, who ever really said that directly."

"Nobody? Surely not."

"Well, I had a therapist. She saved my life. But she wasn't into giving out warm fuzzies, really; she made me work for myself."

"Yeah, I need a therapist. Probably a lot!" She suddenly laughed. "Josh and I, we were always close, and we talked. Probably that was the only thing that kept us sane."

"You were lucky, then."

"Josh was always my hero," she said, finally. "He always looked out after me. But then, when he got to be a late teenager, bad things started happening to him."

"Like what?"

"He started staying out late, he told lies, he drank too much, and he ran with a stupid, bad crowd."

"Self destructive, huh?"

"That's what I told him. Mom just screamed at him, until finally he stopped coming home."

"Must have been pretty terrible."

"It wasn't good." She put her hands into her lap, and held one with the other. "But I'm telling you too much."

"No, it puts a few pieces together for me."

"But I never knew that he'd found you."

"Do you know why, even, he wanted to?"

"He talked about you a lot. He kept wondering how anybody could have led his perfect father down the Primrose Path so readily. Why hadn't our dad been able to 'see' what would happen to him, to us?"

"Ah, so he came her to look the Devil in the face, is that it?"

She looked up sharply, meeting my gaze for the first time, I thought, and a sudden smile broke forth. Just like Josh. At the most serious moments, something humorous would tip him over. She looked so much like him that it was almost painful to look at her sitting in my living room, where I so much longed for him to return.

"Isn't that funny?" She asked herself, as though a light had come on. "I was about ready to agree with you, and then I had a thought something like this: the worst thing that ever happened to YOU was to meet our screwed-up family!"

I looked back at her. She was smallish, where Josh had grown big, delicate where he'd become manlike, vulnerable when perhaps he tried not to be. I wanted to give her a hug, tell her what a beautiful woman she'd become.

I couldn't do any of those things, of course. Instead, I told her the truth, "when I met Coach-- your father--the first time, I was so far down that I was a lost soul. He treated me with respect and kindness, taught me to care about myself. I think he really, truly, saved my life. Judging from what happened to me later, even despite his help in my teenage years, I'm sure I'd be dead, or worse, now. I can never help but be grateful to him. And I also believe that had it not been for me, that he would have stayed with his family and done the right thing by them. At least he kept telling me how much he loved you and Josh."

Lisa broke into sudden tears, but wiped them clean with her fingers after a few uncontrolled seconds---as though she'd been in the spot countless times. "I'm glad you said that. There've been times when I doubted those far off memories I still have. When I thought that I knew he really cared for us. After that, it would have been hard to tell...."

"Well, I firmly believe he did. You'd have had to be there to see how he said it."

"Do you think that you and Josh can work this out, whatever it is?"

"I don't know. I'm not sure WHAT it is. I thought we'd gotten past the really big hurdle. Of course, he knew who I was..... That's obvious, I guess. Anyway, he came here, 'loaded for bear' but then it seemed that things got better, and then, well, he asked some questions, and after I answered them, suddenly took off. I have no idea where he is. I'm worried sick."

"I hope so, too. Even after all everything has been said and done, I think you are a nice man."

"Well, thank you," I said, finally, feeling warmed a bit. "And you've grown into a really beautiful woman." Whatever reaction I expected, I didn't get.

She looked at me, warily, unsure perhaps what I was angling at.

"I'm sorry. I knew I shouldn't have said that."

"It's okay. I don't accept compliments very well. That's part of all that's happened to me."

"Nor I. Usually, I can't believe them."

Me, too!" She said, sparking on a great similarity, and smiling. When she smiled she was a warm person, I sensed. And I felt myself stirring a little, something I didn't expect nor particularly want. It's just because she looks so darned much like her brother, I told myself.

"I gotta go. I needed to see you with my own eyes and see his place. But I'm going to stay in town for a few days, maybe look around, and hope that Josh comes back. I really really need to talk to him."

"You're more than welcome to stay here."

"Thank you, but... "

"I understand. I wouldn't trust me, either. It doesn't even really help that I'm gay, does it?" I laughed, then, and she did, too. A kind of gentle ruffle behind her hand, as though she was timid about showing it.

"I wish my dad had just been able to admit that he was gay, or had this gay part of him, and just talk to us about it. I could have forgiven him.

Instead, he had to go off like that and we never had the chance.... What do you think makes a man turn his back like that on people who love him?"

"Lisa, I haven't a clue." I said it for her and for me and for the world of hurt people out there, maybe for my mother, too.

She left, then, and I went to bed, wiped out emotionally and physically, and unwilling to think about anything any more. Sometime in the night, I awoke, suddenly, but without panic. I realized that I wasn't alone, and then I felt the touch of a hand on my arm.

"John," he whispered. "I'm back. I'm sorry I left. I don't plan to leave anymore."

"It's okay," I said, "I just thank heavens you've come back..."

He pulled back the sheet and crawled into bed with me: quickly I discovered he was naked. Everything that had happened between us was as nothing compared to that incomparable "first night" we spent together.

In the morning, spent from too little sleep and too much sex, if there is such a thing, we lounged and laughed some, and compared notes over the last 5 days. I was about to tell him about Lisa, when the doorbell rang.

"Oh, fuck!" I said, smelly, I knew, and inclined to just ignore it. But ringing doorbells aren't easily ignored, in my head. I got up and put on a tattered robe and slippers and headed towards the front door. Josh darted up and into the bathroom, his balls and penis hanging low and looking a bit red.

"Lisa!" I said, surprised, and deeply embarrassed. I hemmed and hawed, trying to buy myself some face and something to say.

"Oh, I've caught you in a bad way..." she said, turning away, and then I noticed a quick smile again, lightening her face. "Is Josh back?"

"As a matter of fact, he came back last night."

"I should have guessed!" She laughed at me, and then pushed past me into the house, brushing by me and smelling good, worlds better than I thought I must. If she noticed, she said nothing.

"Josh!" she called, excited.

"Sis!" he cried from inside, and then came out, running, in another robe of mine, and stopped short. They looked each other, up and down, and smiled, and finally Lisa turned back to me:

"Whatever else, this is the happiest I've ever seen my brother. Thank you."

Conclusion.

 

John Wood

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