Following the white van, Connor tried to stay alert after hours on the road. Glancing over he saw Dana yawn then settle back down reclined back in her seat. They had taken too long getting their gear packed therefore it was after ten when they left the university.  A quick lunch in Spartanburg, South Carolina then back on the road, they were finally below Atlanta. It was six in the afternoon and the sun was dropping down in front of them as they drove toward Montgomery. The professor said they were going to stop somewhere near Montgomery for the night.

They were due to arrive in Mobile the next afternoon then on Monday they would start their research, taking a boat up the Tensaw River through the river delta that flowed into Mobile Bay. In the white university van were Professor James Sullivan and Tony Barresi with Dana and Connor following in his personal truck, a 4 X 4 Chevy with more gear in the bed. Tony, Dana and Connor were doing post graduate work for their environmental studies degree. It’d taken them a year to get everything set up, the research in past studies, the selection of a site and coordinating with the university in Mobile for assistance, the biggest being the renting of their twenty-five-foot research vessel.

Connor had suggested the Tensaw River for he was familiar with it and the rivers that fed into it and branched off of it as he meandered toward Mobile Bay; Spanish River, Apalachee River, Raft River, Mobile River, Middle River and many other creeks, bayous and bays that made up the delta region. He grew up in Mobile where his parents raised his sister and him in a renovated Victorian house in a historic district of the old bay front city. By the time he was a teenager he wanted nothing more than to leave, to go somewhere he considered more sophisticated and when it came time to select a college for his desired study, he chose the university in North Carolina that had a reputation of being more progressive with the added benefit of being a long away. After four years of graduate studies then the last year of post graduate studies he began to feel a pull back to the Gulf Coast and its old ways.

For Dana it was an area she was familiar. Her family took many vacations in Gulf Shores for its nearness to her home town of Knoxville, Tennessee. Tony considered it somewhat of an exotic choice for its deep southern location and cultural diversity. He was from Hammonton, New Jersey, the fifth generation of Italians who immigrated to the states in Nineteen Twelve and going to college in North Carolina was his greatest exposure to the south to date.  After a lot of preparation, they found themselves on the road to do the field research. It was early May and already hot, with scattered rains occasionally breaking the day’s heat.

“Where are we?” Dana asked as she sat up stretching her arms out and twisting her neck.

“We crossed the Georgia-Alabama state line about thirty minutes ago. Should be in Montgomery in about an hour.”

“Good for I’m ready to get out of this truck.”

Shorter, the exit read and Connor followed the van down the ramp. They cut back under and drove till they came to a cheap hotel. They checked in, secured the items from Connor’s truck in the room and walked across the street to a restaurant, some inexpensive chain that afforded them a quick meal. On the walk back, Connor saddled up next to Tony.

“Hey, you wanna run over to that convenience store and grab some beer?”

“Sure man” replied Tony, “hey guys we’re going to grab beer. Meet you back at the room” he added, addressing Dana and Mr. Sullivan.

Darkness descended, and the sky was clear, the brightest stars visible even with the lights around the parking lot and pool. Dana sat at the edge of the pool with her feet in the water, and Tony and Connor sat at a table, each slowly drinking a beer. They were quiet, the exhaustion of loading up early this morning then being on the road all day having caught up with them. Tony slid down low in his chair and rested his head on the back. Only the sound of traffic passing by the hotel broke the quiet of the night.

“The Professor said to sleep in. We didn’t need to hit the road till about ten or so” said Tony, his voice low trying to keep the sense of quiet.

“Good for after the last few weeks I could use it” replied Dana as she got up. “I’m heading in. I want to get a hot shower and climb into bed” she added as she placed her empty bottle back in the carton next to the three other empties.

“See you in the morning” said Connor as Tony held up a hand in acknowledgment.

Connor and Tony finished their beer and placed the empty bottles in the carton. They continued to sit, for a long time neither saying anything.

“Just think in thirty-six hours or so we’ll be on your Tensaw River” said Tony.

“Yep.”

“I guess your folks will be glad to see you. When did you make it down last?”

“Christmas. We’ve been so busy with final details and arrangements I’ve not had time to make the trip. I’m going by to see them tomorrow night. You made it to Jersey last month, wasn’t it?”

“The month before. It was my sister’s wedding so I kind of had to go” replied Tony laughing.

“Yeah, that would have been bad.  What about you? You seem serious with Mary. Any big plans after we finish?”

“I don’t know…the last few months have been strained.”

“Sorry…maybe you just need to get this trip behind you.”

“Nah, it’s not that, it’s just…well, we’ll see. What about you? You dating anyone seriously?”

 Connor glanced over to Tony knowing Tony knew he hadn’t been serious with anyone since Paul over a year ago. They knew he was gay for he did nothing to hide it, but it had been a relief when he found Tony and Dana joking around with him like they do everyone else. The crass comments after a one-night stand, the questions about those he dated for more than a month, which had not happened often in the last year or just the silly comments or snide remarks that friends say to each other.

“No, but you nosy bastards already knew that” Connor replied smiling over at Tony as he stood up. “I’m heading in. I need a shower and if I wait too long I won’t have the energy for it”

“Right behind you” said Tony sitting up so he could stand.

***

Tony’s cell phone rang, and Connor opened his eyes to look across the room to the bed Tony had taken. He saw one arm come out from underneath the blanket searching for the phone on the nightstand.

“Reach a little further” said Connor as he pulled the blanket over his head. They had cranked the air conditioner down low and the room was chilly.

“It was the Professor. We’re to meet at the fast food joint down the street for breakfast in thirty” said Tony after he ended the short call.

A little over an hour later they were back on the interstate. Soon they were driving through Montgomery coming to the end of I-85. The hard-sweeping curving ramp brought them around and onto I-65 where they accelerated back to speed and headed southwest. For about an hour they drove along a flat terrain then slowly, gradually they were driving across an undulating landscape. Up and down the ribbon of asphalt wove across the countryside. At the lowest points they crossed creeks and rivers and at the highest points they drove across plateaus, most of it covered with pine.

Dana read over their research as Connor drove, keeping several car lengths behind the van. Less than an hour out of Mobile the interstate leveled off, crossing over the low country that ran along the rivers’ final leg before dumping into the bay.

“We’re almost there” said Connor as he flipped the radio to a local station coming out of Mobile, one he had listened growing up, the familiarity of it now comforting. Glancing over he saw Dana close the folder and put it back into her backpack.

“Wow this place flattens out” said Dana as she looked out the side window.

“Yeah, everything along the delta and around Mobile is flat.”

The interstate became more bridge than roadway, eventually coming to one long bridge that spanned the rivers. When they came off the bridge the interstate curved southward.

“Not far now. We’re just north of the city. The interstate was built well north of the main part of the delta.”

“I thought the interstate crossed right along the mouth of the rivers at the bay?”

“That is I-10.”

“Oh.”

As they came into the city on the interstate Connor sped up and moved around the van. He knew the city and was to lead them to the university. Exiting at Spring Hill Avenue the made the hard turn back on the I-65 Service Road heading south parallel to the interstate till they came to Old Shell Road. Heading west they cut through the suburbs till they came to the university.

Connor led them through the campus till they arrived at their destination and saw a woman and man waiting on them.

“I guess the professor called ahead” Dana stated as Connor shut off the engine.

“Good, for I don’t know any of these buildings.”

***

They found themselves in a class room, a large map of the rivers flowing into Mobile Bay on the wall. The two professors, Mr. Cooper and Ms. Harrison, gave the team a rundown of the region, the things they already knew from their own studies from a few years back and went over the logistics in coordinating the use of one of their research boats.

“We had one of two students that were going to act as a guide for you but it being near the end of term neither could take the time, so we’ve arranged for someone else” said Ms. Harrison as they came to the final coordination issue.

“Does this person know the river?” Professor Sullivan asked.

“Yes, very much so, more so than any of our people. In fact, we’ve used him from time to time to help us go into some of the more remote regions” Mr. Cooper replied.

“His name is Joshua Sims, and his family has, in one way or another, worked on the rivers for generations” said Ms. Harrison.

“We’re talking about a family that has lived and worked on these rivers since before the Civil War” added Mr. Cooper.

“Great; when will we meet Mr. Sims?” Professor Sullivan asked.

“Tomorrow morning. He’ll pilot the Mabila around to your pickup point, which will be across the street from the USS Alabama park. There is a dock there you can use to load up. We have everything set up for you to be able to long term park” said Ms. Harrison as she closed up her brief case.

“Connor, you know this parking lot?” asked Professor Sullivan.

“Yes, sir. With morning traffic, we should plan on leaving the hotel by six in the morning.”

“Okay everyone, you heard him, we’ll grab breakfast on the way, so be at the van about a quarter till” Professor Sullivan added.

“If that is all, I should be going. Dana, you ready for me to drop you off at the hotel?” said Connor as he stood up.

“Yeah.”

“Come on Tony, let’s go too” said Professor Sullivan.

Connor dropped Dana off at the hotel back near I-65 and headed toward the old central city of Mobile to the historic district his parents resided. The familiarity of home was comforting, especially after the long drive, and the evening passed with everyone sitting around the dining table. It was later than Connor intended when he finally left, nearly eleven o’clock, but he felt relaxed for the first time in days. He drove through the quiet streets of the old neighbors winding his way back to the hotel. As he drove he reminisced about the evening. There were the conversations about college, his research, and what they were going to be doing the next week. His parents told him the latest news of family and friends, the kind of things that never made it into phone conversations. He had to laugh at recollecting how his mother asked if he was dating anyone, for she had been the one who struggled with him coming out, the one who fretted about what it meant. In the end she was supportive and tried to talk to him about his relationships as she would anyone else. What made this evening particularly funny to him was her asking if Tony was someone he was interested in. It had been hilarious for he knew Tony all too well and he was without a doubt very straight. At the hotel the parking lot was quiet as well the lobby. He went up to the room where he found Tony sound asleep. A quick shower and he fell into the other bed allowing sleep to overtake him quickly.

At the landing site Connor was parked next to the van, its rear doors open as Dana and Tony were pulling out gear. Tailgate down, Connor was sliding out the gear he had in the bed of the truck, sitting it on the ground. The sound of early morning traffic passing by on its way into the city created a constant rhythm of sound, so he didn’t hear the boat till it was pulling up next to the dock. Looking up he saw the twenty-five-foot research vessel, its aluminum hull’s only decoration a blue and red stripe with the university’s logo above it. The small cabin was positioned toward the stern leaving a large work area in the bow. Out back two outboard motors that were idling as the boat drifted up to the dock where Professor Sullivan waited to tie it off.

Connor and the others were talking earlier about what kind of person this Sims fellow would probably be, each guessing an older man, late forties or early fifties with a weathered tan complexion. Connor pictured the men he saw around Mobile, those that worked the docks, with muscular bodies and a roughness that Connor could never feel comfortable around, thus he felt a little anxious about who would be their guide. Watching Professor Sullivan secure the boat he saw a ball cap moving around in the cabin, then come out at the stern. He looked lean, t-shirt and jeans that fit loose. And he didn’t look as old as they had been guessing. The professor pointed their way and the guy jump off the boat and headed toward them.

 “Come on Connor, grab something and get it on the boat” Tony exclaimed as he and Dana passed carrying gear toward the boat.

Lifting two cases Connor headed toward the boat. Along the way he came up their guide, sunglasses blocking view of the guy’s eyes Connor quickly realized he looked much younger than they had guessed, even younger than himself.

“You Connor?”

“Yeah…you must be Joshua.”

“Yeah. I assume everything goes on the boat?”

“Yes” Connor replied as they passed. A quick glance back he saw Joshua go toward the gear sitting on the ground at his truck. The cases he was carrying were heavy, so he turned and headed to the boat.

Within minutes they were loaded up, Joshua and Professor Sullivan within the cabin area, open to the stern, with Tony sitting behind them going through some gear. Dana and Connor sat in the bow going over their notes and rummaging through the gear at their feet. The boat pulled away and turned north heading up the Tensaw River. They quickly passed under the I-10 bridges and into the area where they could see Polecat Bay to their west, then Delvan Bay and in front, the Tensaw River, its muddy waters moving slowly toward them. Soon they were within the banks of the river with marsh on both sides. The sound of traffic on I-10 and Battleship Parkway behind them growing fainter and fainter till the only sound was their own boat.

The gathering of samples and the dropping of traps was to begin at the first island within the river, an oblong marsh land that came into view after rounding a slight bend to the right. Connor and Dana looked toward the cabin when they heard a tapping sound. Joshua was rapping his knuckles against the window then pointing up ahead.

“I think we’re almost at our first test site” said Dana as she moved to the front of the bow. Connor nodded his head in acknowledgment then followed Dana.

“He looks like a kid” said Dana as Connor came up beside her.

“Yeah, a bit younger than we thought, but if he knows the river…” Connor replied.

“So, whose team does he play on? Yours or mine?” Dana asked stifling a laugh, knowing it was a way to tease Connor.

“A country boy that grew up on these rivers in south Alabama, I’d say yours” Connor replied as he watched them get closer and closer to the marsh island ahead. “You ready to gather samples?”

“Yep.”

For hours Joshua steered the boat up the Tensaw and down some creeks as the team gathered samples and set out traps with bright orange buoys to mark their locations.  They went down Conway Creek, up Crab Creek and Threemile Creek till they came to where the Apalachee River forked off of the Tensaw. Tony put out the traps making sure the lines up to the buoys were not tangled while Dana and Connor collected samples. They worked at a continuous pace, making notes and getting gear ready, then the process of collection, all while Professor Sullivan and Joshua navigated along the river and its tributaries.

Connor tried to stay focused on the work, tried not to glance over toward Joshua, but time and time again he found himself looking. He tried to read him, not to determine whether, or not he was straight or gay, for he assumed the answer to that already, but to get some sense of his character. Who was this guy, so young by expectations, that knew these rivers so well? Connor had not seen him look at a map, not once. And the way he handled the boat, one that wasn’t huge but on some of the narrow side creeks it still amazed him how Joshua maneuvered it perfectly.

Late in the day they pulled up to the dock at Cliff’s Landing where they had established permission to overnight camp next to a pavilion. As they unpacked tents, sleeping bags and gear Dana asked Joshua about the club and what other amenities were close by.

“I don’t know much about the club, but I know there is a bar a short distance inland. It’s just... you do not want to go there. I think its best we stay together in camp.”

The tone of Joshua’s reply was not missed by anyone and no one brought up venturing out later from camp. Tony and Dana got the portable stove set up while Connor prepared the food for cooking. Joshua and Professor Sullivan set up the tents and tossed everyone’s gear into each one. The five small tents were set up in an arc on the west side of the camp fire and pavilion. By the time they finished Connor was setting a picnic table with the food while Dana set the cooler with beer and drinks nearby.

“Let’s eat” Tony exclaimed as he took a beer from Dana and sat at the picnic table.

“Joshua, a beer…or a soda?” Dana asked.

“Beer, and before you ask I’m twenty-one” Joshua replied as he slipped off his shades for the first time hooking them on his cap.

“You still get carded?” Connor asked in a light tone.

“All the time” Joshua replied as he sat down opposite Tony.

As the five of them settled down, passing the food back and forth, the conversations circled around on the day’s work then tomorrow’s agenda. They were going to work up the Tensaw till they came to the Mobile River then continue northward to Jackson. When they finished eating, each sitting around with another beer the conversation slowed eventually turning toward Joshua.

“How do you know these rivers so well?” Tony asked causing everyone to look over at Joshua.

“I’ve been on them all my life, hell, had my first boat when I was eight” Joshua replied. Turning to Connor, “I was surprised you needed me if you are from Mobile.”

“I don’t know these rivers. I spent my time down on Dauphin Island or over in Gulf Shores or along the Intercoastal Waterway. Rarely did we go up these rivers” replied Connor.

“You live in Jackson?” asked Dana.

“Just outside of town. I have my own little place.”

“You’re not married, are you?” Dana continued, her curiosity getting the better of her, but the others listened, waiting to hear Joshua’s response for he seemed so different from what they expected.

“No, there’s no one” he replied looking down as if embarrassed.

“I’m sure it’s not for a lack of trying” Tony interjected, his natural male bravado showing.

Joshua looked over at Tony, smiling, giving a nod then shrug. “Yeah, there has been a few who wanted a ring and a husband to go with it. What about ya’ll? Boyfriend or girlfriends?” Joshua added looking from Dana to Tony and Connor.

“Nothing serious” replied Dana.

“Oh yeah. Mary…two years now” added Tony.

Connor hesitated answering, then looked at the others who were waiting for his response, Dana and Tony smiling, wondering whether, or not he was going to admit to being gay.

“No…no one. Our post graduate studies have left so little time and we’ve been so focused on this trip and…”

“Excuses, excuses” Dana interrupted, causing Professor Sullivan and Tony to laugh along with her. Connor shook his head then laughed along with them.

“So never anything serious?” asked Joshua.

“Oh there was Chris two…years….ago…” said Dana, realizing as she spoke what she had said. For a moment Tony and Professor looked surprised at this admission and everyone could see how it had shocked Connor. The four of them looked over at Joshua expecting to see some judgmental reaction, instead saw him smiling, mischievously.

“I’d keep that to myself as we go up river” Joshua finally replied breaking the silence. “I can tell you some will not accept that and…well…let’s not find out.”

“You’re not going to…freak out or anything, are you?” asked Connor.

“Nah…it’s cool” Joshua replied as he reached over to the cooler on the ground next to him. “Anyone else need a beer?”

The five of them sat for over two hours, talking about the river. The more Joshua talked the more he surprised everyone. Although he only had a high school diploma they discovered he self-taught himself, read books on the river that gave him knowledge beyond the experience and old wisdom handed down from generation to generation. Professor Sullivan moved closer to Joshua, taking the discussion into aspects of current research. The time passed quickly till the day’s work caught up with them, one after the next yawning and stretching. Professor Sullivan was the first to call it a night, making some comment about not being as young as he once was. Dana retired next leaving Tony, Connor and Joshua sitting around the picnic table, the night calm, no breeze of any kind and the sound of insects seemed to grow louder. Empty beer bottles sat on the table as they sat facing toward the river, the faint illumination of a security light barely breaking the darkness. The sky was filled with stars that made it seem to shimmer over the black outline of the flat land of the river.

“Oh damn…what time is it?” Tony asked stretching his arms out and twisting his back.

“Ten after eleven” replied Connor.

“I’m turning in. I want to call Mary before going to sleep.”

Connor and Joshua watched Tony stumble over to his tent, drop to his knees, unzip the tent and climb into its darkness. A faint square of light could be seen through the tent and they knew he was on his cell phone.

“What are you going to do after you get your degree?”

“I hope to get a position with some scientific research group and travel around the country.”

“That sounds nice” Joshua replied as he leaned forward, elbows on his knees looking down at the ground.

Connor could sense the missed opportunities; the way life probably was slipping by for Joshua. “Why don’t you enroll in college? You’d be great at it and…”

“Man, I can’t afford to go to college. I’m just some backwater hick who….” Joshua angrily replied, his voice trailing off.

“Don’t sell yourself short. I’ve never seen anyone have such instincts on these rivers and you know so much, you…”

“I what? Just enroll and start classes in the fall. It’s that simple? For you, maybe.”

“We could help, make some calls…” Connor began then stopped when he saw Joshua just shaking his head no. He knew this was not the time to continue.

“Have you ever considered leaving this area? Just move somewhere else and get a fresh start?” asked Connor.

“All the time” replied Joshua, then turning to look at Connor, “how do you do it?”

“Do what? Go for my dream of scientific research that lets me work on water, lets me move along coastal regions and along rivers. I don’t know…just do it and don’t look back?”

“But how do you…deal with…everything else?”

Connor sensed there was something else Joshua wanted to know, some other aspect and he wondered how to respond.

“How I deal with what? Moving away from home and family? The routine of course work that includes topics I don’t care about or struggle to understand? The worry of how I’ll support myself and my research, how I’ll be able to afford to do the traveling?  Or the worry that I’ll not have time for a personal life, to have the time to find someone I can be partners?  Or how to deal with being a gay man in a world that is far too often intolerant?”

Connor saw it, something he said near the end that triggered a response in Joshua. He could see it in his face, the sadness in his eyes before turning away and staring back at the ground.

“Joshua…you just have to take the first step. It’s the hardest one and each one thereafter is a bit easier.”

For a long time, Connor sat looking at Joshua who didn’t move. Joshua continued to sit, head down, staring at the ground.

“You want to talk about what is really bothering you?” asked Connor. Joshua shook his head no. “Well…I’m going to turn in. If you need anything…come to me. Okay?”

Joshua nodded his head and looked around at Connor, “Okay.”

Connor went to his tent, kicked off his shoes, setting them just inside, and he crawled in. He tugged off his shirt and cargo pants for it was too hot to sleep in his clothes. He lay on top of his sleeping bag in just his boxers and tried to settle down, tried to push aside the conversation with Joshua so he could get to sleep. They were to be up at dawn and he desperately needed sleep. He could hear Joshua stirring around the picnic table, tossing their empties in the trash and moving the cooler back over to their tents. He listened as Joshua moved to his tent, the sound of the zipper and a faint light within the tent. When the light went out Connor assumed Joshua had finally settled down and he lay still listening to the sound of insects and the occasionally hoot of an owl somewhere in the nearby woods.

How long it had been Connor wasn’t sure, but he heard the zipper on Joshua’s tent and the movement of Joshua climbing out. Listening intently, he wondered if Joshua just needed to relieve himself. Then a faint shadow crossed over his tent, and Connor leaned up on his elbows.

“Joshua?” Connor whispered.

“Can I…get in your tent?”

For a moment Connor didn’t know what to make of it, but he didn’t care. He leaned forward and slowly unzipped his tent.

“Yes…come on” replied Connor as he scooted over to give Joshua room. He saw the dark outline of Joshua’s body, the lean torso and the faint glow of the white boxers he wore. Joshua slipped in, zipped up the tent and eased down next to him. He felt the warmth of Joshua’s body then the hand that came to rest on his chest.

“Will you hold me?”

The tent was dark, and Connor could only see faint outlines of the body next to him, but he could feel it, sense it in ways that made him feel acutely aware of his own body. He brought his right hand over and rubbed the forearm on his chest, then moved up to the bicep. The arm wasn’t bulked up like the guys who worked out all the time, but was lean. But beneath the smooth skin it was solid to the touch, the body of someone who did manual labor. Joshua shifted closer and he felt the warm breath of each exhale on his neck. A leg came to rest over his own, the hand on his chest began to move, slowly, circular motions that caressed his skin and made him grow aroused. Lips touched his neck and he turned toward Joshua. He saw the dark form of Joshua’s head move over him then the press of lips to his own. They kissed passionately, lip to lip, then open mouthed. Connor felt the hand move down his stomach and over the front of his boxers till fingers wrapped around his elongating cock.

Using his left hand, the one pinned between their bodies, he rubbed over the front of Joshua’s boxers feeling the growing erection within. He manipulated it as best he could, using his thumb and forefinger to provide light squeezes along the thickening shaft. Joshua moaned into his mouth then pulled away. Connor could see him sit up and work his boxers off. Joshua leaned over and mouthed the front of his boxers. He felt the hot breath and the pressure of lips closing down along his shaft, moving from the base to the head. The mouth closed over the head and sucked on it causing Connor to moan as he pushed upward with his hips. He felt fingers running along his waist, grasp his boxers and tug on them, trying to get them pulled down. He raised his ass and let Joshua strip him, working the boxers down his legs then off each foot. His cock bounced out free, smacking down on his stomach.

Joshua kissed his thigh, lips firmly pressing against his skin. He felt Joshua move upward till he felt those lips touch his sac, then the rake of tongue over it. He reached down and ran his fingers through Joshua’s hair as he felt the kisses along his shaft then the lips wrap around the head. Joshua swirled his tongue over it then plunged downward taking Connor in his mouth.

“Fuck” Connor uttered in a low strained whisper as Joshua manipulated his cock. Up and down the shadow of Joshua’s head moved over his cock and he felt it, the way his cock would be engulfed in the hot slick wetness of Joshua’s mouth over and over. He couldn’t help it, the sensations too great, and began to pump upward. Joshua took it, let his cock piston through his lips.

The tent grew hot, the very air heavy with their sex. Joshua sat up and Connor watched as he moved over his body. The outline of the naked body rising over him. The taking of his cock holding it up. The feel of the body moving down against it, pressing down, till he felt the familiar squeeze as the head penetrated. Joshua eased down, all the way. Then he rode it, moved up and down, slowly at first but his pace increasing, a little faster each time, till he was riding Connor roughly, their fuck physical. Their stifled cries and heavy breathing seemed to explode in the small tent. Connor sat up hugging Joshua to his chest where he felt Joshua’s cock pressed against him, hard, wet, it raked over his skin with every move.

“Fuck” Joshua uttered between clinched teeth, “fuck me.”

Holding Joshua within his arms, cock buried all the way inside of his body, Connor rolled Joshua over on his back as he moved over him. He began to fuck, to drive himself into Joshua, feeling the tightness lessen till his cock slipped easily inward and out. Joshua’s legs wrapped around his waist and he could feel each foot brush against his thighs as he thrust inward, over and over and over.

Joshua came first, this entire body shivering within Connor’s hug. Connor felt it, the wetness between them and the way Joshua shook and worked his hips trying to take more, to get Connor deeper within his body.

“Oh…fuck” Connor uttered as he felt his release, the surge through his cock till he was coming. He felt each ejaculation, every one, as he thrust inward, roughly, trying to push in deeper.

Then they collapsed by each other breathing hard, their bodies hot and slick from their exertions. They lay naked letting the cooling night-time air absorb their heat. Joshua drifted off to sleep first as Connor stared into the darkness where he lay listening. When Connor let his eyes close the fatigue of his long day and exertions over took him and he drifted off to sleep.

Connor woke to the sound of someone making breakfast at the picnic table and the soft whispers at one of the other tents. He lay a moment, mind in a fog then he jerked awake and sat up remembering last night. He was alone. He quickly dressed, unzipped his tent and stuck his head out. Professor Sullivan was at the gas cooker preparing breakfast and Joshua was getting plates and utensils onto the table. Dana and Tony were breaking down the other tents getting them packed away.

“Hey, it’s the late sleeper” exclaimed Tony and the others looked over at Connor.

“What time is it?” Connor asked as he glanced over to Joshua who shook his head no. Connor knew what it meant, knew Joshua wanted him to keep quiet about last night.

“It’s six twenty” replied Dana as she tossed a packed tent next to some gear.

“Come on Connor, we’ll eat then load up. We’ll be on the water a little after seven if we don’t mess around too much. That’ll give us a good twelve hours of daylight to work with” said Professor Sullivan as he lifted one fried egg after the next to a plate.

As they ate they discussed their itinerary for the day, the working their way along the Tensaw River till they came to the Mobile River. They would pull in at the Mt. Vernon Landing for the night. It would be a long day, the winding of the river made its actual distance substantially longer than the crow flies.

“Are we to camp like last night at the landing? I know there are no facilities there” Joshua asked.

“Yes. We checked about a hotel that might be close to the river, something we could hike but I’m afraid there is nothing close, so we’ll rough it at the landing” Tony replied.

Breakfast finished, gear stowed back on the boat, they pushed off and headed upriver, following the Tensaw River’s meandering path till they came to where Middle River merged into it just below the I-65 bridges. They veered to the right keeping on the Tensaw, stopping at designated points to collect sample and drop traps.

“Why the Tensaw?” Joshua asked Professor Sullivan as they passed under power lines.

“It was a region Connor was somewhat familiar, it is exposed to the usual litany of boat traffic and effluence from various sources. And the big thing for us is it is not the main river in the system but one that runs parallel to it.”

“The Mobile River.”

“Exactly, so we’re doing additional studies that show the relationship between the two rivers. People mistakenly think the Tensaw is somehow cleaner, not as bad, but the way these rivers are interconnected…”

“Like one eco-system.”

“Right, then what is in one will typically be in the other.”

They made their way north, working along the meandering path of the river, eventually seeing more and more development along the more eastern arcs of the river. When the river cut back with the marshland, passing the creeks and waterways that branched off, Joshua pulled out his cell phone and choose a contact.

“Hey, Ronnie, this is Josh. I didn’t catch ya at a bad time did I?” asked Joshua. “No? Good…hey, listen, I’m guiding an expedition up the Tensaw..” said Joshua stopping to listen, “…the Tensaw.” Joshua listens a moment, then adds “Yes, that is right. Well, we’re going to stay at the landing tonight, or that is the plan…” Joshua listens, making a frustrated face at Tony and Professor Sullivan. “Ronnie, just listen. You think the guys at the fire house would let us crash on the floor in the open bay? You’re still waiting on that fourth truck, right?” asked Joshua, then listening to the reply. “Really…hey if we can use the showers and bathroom, maybe the kitchen to actually cook some real food…” said Joshua then stopping to listen. “Great…yeah, we need that too. I’ll call you when we’re close. Thanks buddy, this means a lot…yeah, we need to…okay…later.”

“I take it you’ve made alternate arrangements for this evening?” Professor Sullivan asked.

“Yes, sir. The guys at the volunteer fire station will let us crash at there. They have an open bay we can camp out in and we can use their bathrooms and kitchen.”

“Sweet” Tony exclaims just before he races to the bow of the boat. Professor Sullivan and Joshua watch as Tony tells Dana and Connor, smiles slowly spreading across their faces. They look over at Joshua giving thumbs up.

When Tony moves back to the stern to ready the next traps, Dana and Connor prep for the next sample collection. Connor sits and pulls up their notes checking them once again. Dana sits next to him leaning over close.

“So, about last night. You want to confess?”

“What?  What are you talking about?”

“Seriously, you’re going to deny it? I heard you guys. Does this mean you’re now dating a rough river boy?” asked Dana stifling a laugh.

“It’s not like that, and move back. Joshua is watching you and probably suspects something is up.”

“I know it was last night” replied Dana as she got up and went back to the bow of the boat.

The shadows on the river grew long as the sun sat low in the western sky. The waters became even darker as the Mabila sliced across its surface. They rounded another bend, turning from northward to westward where the connection to the Mobile River lay ahead of them. Joshua called his buddy letting him know they were close, only minutes away from reaching the landing.

Two trucks greeted them. A large 4 X 4 crew-cab and a van that easily accommodated their gear. The drive was a short one and soon they found themselves at the volunteer fire department with its offices on one side and two bays on the other. Through an open garage door, they saw three trucks with an open area behind one of them. It was their lodgings for the night.

“Two of us will be upstairs in our quarters during the night so if you need anything don’t hesitate to come up. Downstairs through that door are two bathrooms, each with a shower and to right, that door with the glass in it, that is the main breakroom room area with a kitchen. We got ya’ll some stuff for breakfast in the morning” said Ryan, one of the firemen.

“As for dinner, you can see we decided to have a little cookout” said Ronnie, the friend of Joshua’s who organized everything.

“We really appreciate everything you’re doing” replied Professor Sullivan.

“Forget it…any excuse for a cookout and we’ll take it” Ronnie replied smiling.

With help from several of the firemen they had their gear set inside and sleeping bags laid out. They took turns getting cleaned up, each coming out of the bathroom refreshed in clean clothes. Behind the fire station there were three picnic tables set up in a line, with a large grill going to one side, drinks iced down in coolers and dishes of baked beans, salads, and deserts scattered over one table. As the sun dropped below the horizon they were sitting around the tables with the firemen eating and talking about their research, how it was post-graduate studies, what they were hoping to learn and how they choose the Tensaw and were going to go further upriver for two more days. It was getting late when everyone pitched in to clean up, to get left over food into the refrigerators and gather up the trash.

Ronnie had sat across from Connor and Joshua and all through dinner he had watched Joshua, noticed his mannerisms, the way he responded to anything Connor had to say. As the others cleaned up Ronnie stopped Connor asking if they could talk, leading him to a picnic table that sat at the back of the property under an old live oak, its branches spreading out horizontally to unimaginable lengths.

“What’s up?” Connor asked as he sat down on the bench next to Ronnie, their backs against the table watching the others get everything put away.

“I want to talk to you about Joshua.”

“Joshua?”

“Yeah…” replied Connor hesitating for a long time. He looked over at Connor then back toward the others. “Joshua really likes ya’ll. I mean, most of the people he guides up these rivers can make him so angry. You can’t believe how mad he can be coming back, saying they disrespect the river. He loves these old rivers.”

“We can tell; I’ve never seen anyone who understands them the way he does.”

“Did he tell you he has a library in his house. An actual library…I mean that good ole boy…books like you’ve never seen. Well, maybe you have, but not us. On these rivers, and on rivers in general and other books about the environment.”

“I’ve asked him about going to college, but he…”

“Dismisses it; I know. I tried to get him to go two years ago. There is too much history of life on these rivers, generation after generation just making do. Accepting it as their lot in life.”

“So, what do you think we can do?”

“Get him away from here” Ronnie whispered, as if he was afraid someone would hear. “I’ve known Josh since he was nine years old, met him on this river when I was sixteen, out with friends. We thought we were hotshots, first time our parents let us go off on our own and we come up on this little kid in a john boat. Jesus, you should have saw him.”

“He mentioned growing up on the river.”

“That is the literal truth. But this place isn’t really for him. He’s…not himself here. I’ve seen it. The way he keeps himself isolated. I can’t tell you how many have tried to date him or fix him up with a date…it’s just not…” Ronnie stammers for the words. “Look I see how he is around ya’ll. I see how he is around you. I don’t know…everything…but I know an opportunity when I see it. If you can help him…” Ronnie stopped seeing Joshua coming their way with three beers. “I may be asking a lot but if you can help him…that’s all I’m asking.”

“We’ll see what we can do…I’ll…Joshua, thanks” Connor said changing tone when Joshua got close.

They sat under the live oak, sipping on their beers, Connor listening as Ronnie and Joshua talked about their lives, Ronnie’s wife pregnant again, one of the guys in the station having a drinking problem, another about to get married. Joshua talked of his father, still working at a shop repairing boats in Jackson and how he was considering a change, some way to stop taking hunters and sports fisherman on the river. Connor caught the change in tone when Joshua mentioned the hunters and fisherman, glancing over to Ronnie who gave him a nod in acknowledgment.

“Shit, I’ve got to get home or Shelley will have my ass. Joshua, call me when you finish this little expedition, and Connor, it was nice to meet ya” said Ronnie as the stood up and headed toward his truck.

“It is late, and we have another early morning tomorrow” Connor replied as he and Joshua stood up and headed toward the station. The bays were nearly dark, only one small light on the far wall dimly lit the interior. The area where everyone else were already settled down for the night was dark. They walked slowly, each seemed to want to say something. Ronnie drove off, his taillights quickly disappearing around a bend. About forty feet from the building Joshua reached out and took Connor by the arm.

“Can we stay out for a bit?” Joshua asked.

“Yeah, sure” Connor replied letting Joshua lead him back to the far picnic table, the one they had just left, the one in the dark shadows beyond the illumination of the security light on the building.

Connor followed Joshua till they stood by the table. He wanted to reach out and take him in his arms, but he worried that was not what Joshua wanted, not this time, so he stood still looking at the his outline in front of him, the dark shadow of his back. When Joshua turned around Connor felt the hug, both arms wrapped around his waist as Joshua kissed him.

Everything happened quickly after the kiss, clothes tugged off, hands roaming over the other, the caresses and kisses, and Joshua pulling Connor toward the table, pulling him up between his legs as he lay back.

“Connor…please…” Joshua whispered in a pleading tone.

Connor moved up to him, holding Joshua’s legs tight to his chest as he held his cock down, feeling how hard it was, so aroused by Joshua. He moved forward and placed his cock at Joshua’s opening, pressed against the tightness of it. He felt Joshua push back, felt the urgency of it, the desire. He pushed harder with his hips feeling his cock squeeze through the tight opening, milking his cock as he sank it further and further into Joshua’s depths.

Connor fucked Joshua with an urgency, thrusting inward over and over. His hips smacked against Joshua’s ass as he rocked him back and forth. The old picnic table squeaked with their movements, echoing the steady rhythm of their fuck.

“Fuck me…fuck…me” Joshua uttered over and over as he held onto the table’s edge, his voice reverberating with his rocking motion.

Connor’s felt his own desire, the heat of his own body, the way sweat trickled down his sides and back, the way Joshua’s legs felt, the soft hairs and muscular calves of each rubbing his chest. He kissed the closest part of Joshua to his mouth, the left calf. He kissed it, placed his mouth to it then nipped the flesh with his teeth as he felt his own release grow imminent.

“Fuck…Jesus…I’m going to…” Connor exclaimed as he pushed inward all the way and pumped his hips in short jagged thrusts. He came hard, each ejaculation seemingly emptying him of all his strength. Then he pumped his spent cock slowly within Joshua feeling the soothing slickness of his load as he cooled down as his body settled down.

Pulling free Connor stepped back as he reached down for Joshua, taking the hard cock in hand, feeling the girth of it and the curve of the shaft. He stroked it as he held Joshua’s legs against his chest till he felt Joshua trying to pump his hips.

“Get up and sit on the bench” said Connor as he stepped back giving Joshua room to stand. He guided Joshua to the bench, kept him facing outward as he guided him down. He moved over Joshua, awkwardly getting each leg over the bench on either side of him. Taking Joshua’s cock in hand he held it up as he moved down to it, brought himself down till it touched him, pressed against his own tightness. He lowered himself till he felt the breach of his opening, the penetration as Joshua’s cock stretched him open. He stifled a cry as he moved downward taking inch by inch, till he had all of Joshua sunk into body.

“Connor…fuck…” Joshua whispered as he leaned forward, and Connor felt the lips touch his chest, rake over his skin then suck on his left nipple. He cried out again as Joshua nipped it, lightly biting down, making him arc his back manipulating the cock sunk in his hole. Connor worked his hips, grinding down on Joshua’s cock savoring the way it felt, the fullness of the penetration and the way it locked their bodies together. He rose up, slowly, feeling the thick shaft tug at his opening. Easing back down, he took all of it again. Over and over Connor moved up and down, his pace increasing till he moved with a frenzy. Joshua’s hands moved over his back, along his sides and across his chest. He felt the way they moved slickly over his skin and it urged him on, his pace increasing even more. The picnic table rocked with their fuck as Connor worked his body up and down.

Joshua’s hands took Connor by the waist, fingers digging into his sides. He knew Joshua was close, knew release was imminent and he kept up his pace even as his muscles ached with their exertion and sweat poured from his skin.

“Fuck…oh FUCK…” Joshua exclaimed as he pumped upward with his hips.

Connor felt the way Joshua shook beneath him, the way Joshua was trying to sink even further in his hole and he felt it, the way Joshua’s cock flexed within his body. Joshua leaned back, skin glistening in the dim light, as he shoved upward with his hips till he was spent.

They could have continued, both still partially erect, but it was far too late, and they were out in the open even if it was dark. They dressed quickly, quietly, struggling with buttons and shoe laces. Back at the building, they eased though the door and over to where their sleeping bags lay spread open, the two of them close together. Connor hesitated, thinking his bag was on the other side of the room, but he was exhausted and had no energy to consider it. Joshua was lying on his bag as Connor eased down on his own, neither pulling the bags closed to zip them up. It was still too hot. As Connor lay there trying to fall asleep, the earlier conversation with Ronnie playing in his head he saw movement to his other side. Glancing over he saw Dana rise enough to let him know she was awake, then lay back down. He wanted to laugh at the situation, to just feel the release of it but he closed his eyes, stifling this desire and waited for sleep.

Connor woke first the next morning, outside still dark. He had slept poorly, waking constantly unable to get the conversation with Ronnie off his mind. He eased up, stretched and stood up. After hitting the bathroom, he went into the kitchen, deciding he would get their breakfast started. He heard doors open and close, heard someone in a bathroom then saw Dana come into the kitchen.

“Need some help?”

“Not really but you can get plates and cups out and set that table for us.”

Connor waited, knowing Dana was going to bring up last night, as he flipped the bacon and sausage patties and scrambled the eggs. She set out plates, utensils, placed cups on the end of the counter near the refrigerator where she took out orange juice and went over to the coffee pot where a brewed pot sat ready.

“About last night…that is none of my business, but I think you should be careful” said Dana without looking up.

“Careful?”

“Yes. Don’t hurt him…okay” Dana replied looking over. “Imagine what it must be like, living in some small town of…what...five thousand people, and you’re gay? It has to be hard.”

“That part I can all too well imagine, and worse.”

“What do you mean?”

“I doubt if tolerance is a big thing around here. Ronnie, that friend of Joshua’s, he wants us to help Joshua ‘leave this place’ as he put it.”

“Damn.  Well, be careful. He seems to be so…nice.”

They looked up when the door opened brining their conversation to an end. Tony, Joshua and Professor Sullivan came in together making their way to the coffee.

“Everyone sleep alright?” Professor Sullivan asked as he took a seat.

‘No, not at all’ thought Connor as he spooned the cooked eggs onto a plate.

After breakfast, they cleaned up then packed up their sleeping bags. As the set everything at the garage bay the two trucks from the night before pulled up outside. Thirty minutes later they were back on the river, the Mabila moving over the muddy waters.

“Joshua, this Gumbo Lake, what is like?” Professor Sullivan asked pointing to his map.

“It’s not really a lake. It’s a swamp, and it is just to the east of us.”

They rounded a tight bend and moved by a steel processing plant. Everyone looked at the alien environment, something they had not seen since leaving Mobile, having traveled along marshland and swamps for two days.

“Goddamn it” Joshua uttered in a low voice.

Professor Sullivan looked at Joshua then back at Tony with raised eyebrows. Tony nodded back, acknowledging he heard.

A couple of more tight bends and the river straightened out with gentle bends giving the Mabila a northward direction for the rest of the morning and early afternoon. They gathered their samples, dropped the traps and eased onward to the next site. For Tony and Professor Sullivan, there was a focus on the tasks. But for Dana and Connor there were the quiet conversations, the whispering about Joshua as one or the other glanced up looking at Joshua through the windshield. Time and time again Joshua would smile at them, sometimes giving a small wave.

It was getting late, the sun low in the western sky, and Joshua maneuvered the Mabila around a couple of bends and a power plant loomed up over the tree line. Professor Sullivan and Tony saw Joshua shake his head as he pointed to the north of the power plant.

“There is a plant over there that is a superfund site so be prepared to find all kinds of shit in your samples.”

Joshua guided the Mabila along the opposite bank where they took samples and dropped a trap. Moving forward they swung around a right-hand bend then began to swing around a left hander. The left bank was a large sandbank that ran for a quarter of a mile or longer along the tree line.

“Joshua, let’s pull up here. We can camp out on the sandbank and sleep on the boat” said Professor Sullivan seeing Joshua nod his head as he slowed the Mabila and guided it over to the swallow waters along the beach. Dana and Connor looked up seeing them maneuver toward the sandbank knowing they were stopping for the day, enough daylight left to prepare dinner and get set up.

Connor and Tony helped Professor Sullivan with the cook stove, the prep and cooking. They talked quietly among themselves about the work they had completed so far. Connor kept glancing over to Dana and Joshua who were sitting on the sand bank watching a barge being pushed upriver.

“That boy knows so much more than he lets on” said Professor Sullivan as he stepped next to Connor holding out a pan for the cooked chicken.

“I know” Connor replied looking up at Joshua. “It’s a waste for him to be stuck here.”

Sitting in a circle in their camp chairs, plates in their laps, they ate dinner as they talked about the last section they were going to do the next day that would take them to Jackson. Once finished, each taking a beer, they relaxed, Tony leaned back completely, head tilted back till he could look up at the starry sky.

“Joshua, what is some of your more interesting excursions on the river?” asked Tony and they listened, for over an hour, as Joshua talked more than he had since started their trip, telling one story after the next.

Joshua finished a story and fell silent which no one was inclined to break. Insects and the occasional bird the only sound. Joshua stood up and walk past Connor.

“You wanna go for a walk” Joshua asked Connor in a low voice. Connor didn’t reply but just stood and followed. Professor Sullivan glanced over to Dana, eye brows raised. Tony began to get up to follow but Dana reached out touching his arm as she shook her head. Tony eased back into his chair nodding his head acknowledging what he had suspected and now knew.

Connor followed Joshua as they walk up river on the soft sandbank, moving around the gradual bend till the camp was out of sight. There was enough moon light to make the white sand appear to glow in its dim light and Connor could see the white t-shirt Joshua wore as he followed. Joshua stopped and turned to Connor, slipping his t-shirt upward to take it off. Connor moved on him, took the shirt in hand when it was around each forearm pinning them behind Joshua’s back.

Connor kissed Joshua on the lips, then down along his jaw. He pulled Joshua against his body feeling the heat of the bare torso. Letting go of the t-shirt he reached down and fumbled with the front of Joshua’s jeans, working the button lose then tugging the zipper down. Shirt on the ground, jeans and boxers around his ankles Joshua pressed his growing erection against Connor’s. Connor stepped back, undid the buttons of his shirt till it fell open. He undid his cargo pants and frantically pushed them down along with his boxers. Joshua reached out and took him in hand, stroking him, making him fully erect.

“Fuck me, Connor…please…just fuck me” Joshua pleaded as he turned around and bent over offering himself to him.

Connor kissed Joshua between the shoulder blades as he reached around his waist and took him in hand. He felt the hard, thick cock fill his grasp and he stroked it, slowly, as he moved up behind him putting his own erection against Joshua’s opening. Joshua pushed back, his hips moving back and forth ever so slightly to the rhythm of Connor’s hand. Connor kissed Joshua on the back of the neck as he penetrated him, pushing forward slowly while he kept stroking his cock. He felt Joshua’s body shiver against his own as he sunk inch after inch through the tightness.

“Fuck” Joshua uttered as Connor pushed up tight to his ass.

Connor stood up and held Joshua by the waist as he began to fuck. He thrust his hips forward till their bodies slapped together. Joshua’s hand touched his thighs as he piston in and out of the loosening hole.

“Fuck…fuck me Connor…uh…uh…” Joshua repeated over and over as he rocked with their fuck. He kept his head down, eyes closed, trying not to think about anything but this fuck, the feel of Connor deep in his hole. When he felt his own release, the need to come, he began to pump his own hips, pumping his cock through Connor’s hand and his ass back on Connor’s cock.

It was a quick fuck, the pace frantic, and Connor felt Joshua coming, the way his whole body shook and how he worked his hips. It drove him to fuck harder, to drive into Joshua harder. He felt his own release, the way every muscle tightened, his breathing ragged, and he slammed into Joshua’s hole feeling each ejaculation. He jammed his cock inward all the way with every release, pressing their bodies together. Finally spent Connor lay on Joshua back feeling their hard-breathing fall into rhythm.

Connor stood up and pulled free as he stepped back. They both pulled up their pants then Connor buttoned up his shirt as Joshua retrieved his t-shirt from the ground slipping it back over his head. When they headed back, their pace was slow as they walked side by side.

“Joshua…if you could leave, go somewhere else, would you do it?” Connor asked as they rounded the bend bringing the boat in sight.

Joshua was quiet for a long time.

“I don’t know.”

At the boat they found everyone sitting on their sleeping bags on the deck in the bow. Each had a beer and they were talking quietly as Connor followed by Joshua climbed on board.

“Grab a beer” said Tony as he pushed the cooler over toward them.

Connor and Joshua sat on their sleeping bags, the two of them next to each other by the cabin. The bow had been cleared of all their gear, it now stowed in the stern, cases stacked higher than the sides of the boat. It was a quiet conversation, one revolving around what Tony, Dana and Connor hoped to do once they finished their studies at the university. Each one had applied to various government organizations and private research groups just before leaving for this expedition. Joshua listened, unable to feel their anxiousness and excitement, instead a feeling of envy overtook him, something he tried to hide by appearing supportive and in good humor when the others laughed.

Eventually, one by one, they settled down. Tony first then the others till it was just Joshua sitting up looking out over the river. He heard Connor mumble in his sleep and for a long time he watched him sleep. When he slipped down into the sleeping bag he glanced at his watch and saw it was nearly one in the morning.

***

Connor and Dana prepared breakfast on their gas stove while Tony set up their chairs and pulled out the plates and utensils. Professor Sullivan was sitting on the bow of the boat watching a barge be slowly pushed by. Joshua woke to the noise of the barge and sitting up he saw the others wave his way.

“How long did he sit up last night?” Dana asked Connor.

“I have no idea.”

Joshua climbed down followed by Professor Sullivan. Breakfast cooked they sat in a haphazard arc facing the river eating from the plates resting in their laps.

“We have one more long day ahead of us to make it to Jackson. How many sites have we set up for sampling and traps?” asked Professor Sullivan.

“Twelve on this leg, fewer than the others” replied Tony.

“Well, let’s finish and get going. Josh, what is the river like ahead of us?” asked Connor.

“We have the usual winding back and forth. There is one place the river loops back nearly on itself then loops back immediately keeping us moving northward. After that there are only a couple of hard bends in the river. We should be in Jackson by six or so, I would think” replied Joshua.

The Mabila moved up river, Joshua once again at the helm with Professor Sullivan and Tony behind him going over notes and preparing traps. Dana and Connor in the bow were preparing to gather samples. The day passed with everyone settled into the routine, Joshua maneuvering the boat near the bank or at the mouth of a creek or bayou, Tony easing traps over the side making sure the line to the buoy didn’t get tangled, and Dana and Connor collecting the samples from the bow, placing them in the case properly labeled. They ate lunch on the move, passing around sandwiches and drinks as Joshua kept the boat on their northward path.

Professor Sullivan called ahead to make sure the rental van would be at the landing waiting for them. They were going to tie off the Mabila just off the bank of the river at the landing and head across town to a hotel for the night. As the afternoon passed, the sun low in the western sky Joshua pulled out his cell phone.

“Hey Rick…yeah it’s me. We’re almost to the landing, about an hour or so at most. Can I still use your old truck?” asked Joshua as he steered the boat around a gentle bend in the river. “Great. I want to go check on my place while we’re here” he added then listened to the reply. “We’re heading back in the morning…yeah…it’ll be a hard day tomorrow for sure. Hey man, thanks for letting me use that truck...okay…see you shortly.”

“A friend letting you use his truck?” Professor Sullivan asked.

“Yeah, it’s an old one he kept when he bought a new one a couple of years ago. Looks rough as hell but it runs fine” Joshua replied.

They could smell the papermill before they saw it and as they moved northward the mill and other facilities came into view on both sides of the river. Joshua slowed the boat, some unconscious move at the sight ahead of them. Connor and Dana looked at the smoke rising from stacks and the spread of the facilities along the bank of the river. Looking back, Connor saw Joshua’s expression. One of disgust.

A white long wheelbase van and a small car sat at the landing and as they pulled up an old Chevy truck, the body battered, especially the rear fenders, pulled in next to the van.

“Professor, looks like our rides are here” said Joshua motioning toward the group of vehicles.

“Thank goodness. I’ve had enough of this boat for one day” replied Professor Sullivan.

Connor stood at the bow ready to release the anchor. Joshua maneuvered up close to the bank until the hull raked over the sandy bottom. They were a few feet from the bank, but the water was shallow where Joshua had them positioned. Tony and Connor eased over the side and took the cases and dry sacks from Joshua and Dana till the boat was cleared and everything was on the bank of the river. Professor Sullivan pulled the van over and they quickly got everything loaded.

“Hey, Joshua, go check on your place, get cleaned up and meet us back at the hotel. Unless you’re tired of us, join us for dinner” said Dana as Connor and Tony checked the boat one last time.

“You sure?”

“Yes…you know the hotel?”

“Yeah, the one on North College.”

“It’ll take us a while to get checked in, gear stowed away inside and cleaned up…it’s quarter after six now, say, eight?”

“Eight it is; I’ll see you at the hotel.”

While the group drove through town, checked in at the hotel getting their gear into the three rooms they had on the ground floor then cleaned up and in clean clothes Joshua was driving out of town along the familiar two lane that wound through the countryside till he came to the dirt lane that snaked into the wood down to a creek. Along its bank sat a boat house and back under the old oak that circled the lot sat an old 2 story farm house. It was a small house, only two bedrooms and bath upstairs, but it was Joshua’s, had been for over a year when he bought it from family after a great aunt passed.

It was five after eight when Joshua pulled into the parking lot at the hotel. Tony was at the van leaning against its side talking on his cell phone. Tony waved when he saw him crossing the drive.

“Hey, go on to room 124; Connor is getting ready now” Tony whispered to Joshua then went back to his call, “I’m back; so, we should be back in three days, I think. Depends on if we push the drive coming back” said Tony as Joshua walked past on his way to the room.

Connor opened the door shirtless, wearing just a pair of jeans. Joshua looked at the bare torso and the low-slung jeans wanting to reach out and touch him, to feel that body in his arms.

“Hey Joshua; come on Connor get dressed. I’m starving and everyone else is ready” said Dana who had come up behind Joshua.

Pulling a bright yellow t-shirt over his head then slipping on flip flops Connor came toward the door.

“I’m ready…let’s go for I’m starving too.”

They piled into the van and drove down the street to a restaurant, one of those chains that seemed to be in every town. It was thinning out and they took a large table near the bar. There was a round of drinks, then salads served then another round of drinks brought out along with their meals. They talked very little during the meal, just the occasional comment about the food or a quick question to Joshua about the town. By the time they finished, plates taken away and a final round of drinks served, they were leaned back relaxed feeling their days on the river.

“I was thinking, since it’ll take a day and a half to get back, why don’t we sleep in tomorrow, grab lunch and get on the river by one or so. It’ll make us do the remainder the next day, but the weather is to be perfect the rest of the week” said Professor Sullivan looking around the table to see how the others were responding to his suggestion.

Connor glanced over at Joshua who was looking back, trying not to smile.

“I’m game” Connor replied as Tony nodded his head in agreement.

“I could use the sleep and a morning not rushing to push off” Dana added.

“Then it is settled. Let’s meet at the van around eleven. That’ll give us time to load up then go for lunch before heading back to the boat” said Professor Sullivan.

Waitress paid they headed outside for the van. Joshua and Connor lagged behind a few steps behind Dana and Tony.

“You think…maybe you’d like to come over to my place? You could crash there for the night?” Joshua asked, suddenly sounding unsure of himself.

Connor smiled back at him, leaned over close replying, “I’d thought you’d never ask.”

Back at the hotel Connor didn’t explain why he was getting into the truck with Joshua and no one asked. After a short drive out of town, down one two lane road then another, they were driving down a narrow dirt lane passing a few mobile homes and old houses in severe disrepair. After a few minutes they came to a gate. Once through, Joshua drove them along a narrowing lane that meandered under the tree canopy of old oak, pine and magnolia. They came to the old farm house. Connor could see in the light of the porch it was neatly painted a dark green and trimmed in earthy brown tones. Pulling around the house Connor saw they were on a small river, wide enough for boats but just barely. Sitting at the edge of it was a boat house with dark shadows concealing the boats underneath. Joshua pulled around to a carport positioned off to the side of the house and Connor saw off in the distance a barn sitting at the edge of a small pasture, its siding a dark weathered gray.

“This was a great aunt’s place and after she died I bought it from a cousin.”

“Looks like a nice place.”

“It is…away from everything and access to the Mobile.”

Connor followed Joshua across a small screen porch into the house coming directly into a small kitchen.

“You want anything to drink?”

“I’m good” Connor replied as he followed Joshua through the kitchen with its small table for dining into the living room. Framed photos of the river and its wildlife covered each wall. Old rod and reels were on one wall neatly arranged on hooks horizontally. The furnishings were simple, a sofa, chair with coffee table and side tables, each with a lamp. Joshua moved through the room into a small hall and Connor followed. A narrow stair sat in the hall and Connor followed Joshua as he ascended the stair.

“This is my bedroom and the bathroom is through that door” said Joshua pointing to the door on the left.

“Go ahead, I don’t need to use it” Connor replied and watched Joshua go in easing the door closed behind him. It made him smile, this sense of modesty, a decorum that wasn’t expected. While he waited, he looked in the room he assumed was a second bedroom only to find it was the library Ronnie had mentioned the day before. The two interior walls completely lined with shelves from floor to ceiling. A desk sat at the window that looked out the front with a computer taking up most of its top. A small lounge chair sat at the window in the side wall, its brown leather looked soft and worn with age. Moving along the shelves he saw the titles, some he knew from his own studies, but many he didn’t.

Hearing the toilet flushed, Connor moved quickly out of the room, switching off the light and easing the door closed. He felt as if he had trespassed into an area that was private, a place out of bounds. As he heard water running he moved into Joshua’s bedroom sitting on the bed, waiting for Joshua to join him. He felt it, this sense they had all night. There was no urgency to rush or to keep hidden from sight. He felt relaxed and excited. Joshua came into the room and he spread his legs and pulled him to stand between them as he pushed up Joshua’s shirt kissing his stomach.

Connor felt Joshua’s hands lightly hold his head as he kissed the firm smooth skin and breathed in his scent. He pushed upward on the shirt and Joshua took it by the waist band and pulled it over his head. Running his hands over Joshua’s chest he felt the smooth skin, so soft to the touch, but underneath, firm, the muscle solid. He raked one hand over the right nipple feeling the hard nub in the palm of his hand. He moved his hands upward, around Joshua’s sides till he could hook his fingers over each shoulder. Pulling down he guided Joshua to bend to him till they could kiss.

As they kissed Connor reached for Joshua’s jeans, working the belt loose, slipping the button free and tugging the zipper down. He tugged the jeans and boxers down, gently working them along each leg. Joshua stood up straight as he leaned over and helped him free each leg. Naked, cock beginning to rise up erect, Joshua stood in front of him. It was the first time Connor could really look at him, to see the lean muscular body, the high pecs with their small nipples, the long torso and the small fan of pubic hair over the rising cock. He put his hands on each thigh and ran them upward feeling the curve of Joshua’s ass then moved to hold him by the arms just above the elbow. As he leaned back to lay on the bed he pulled Joshua down with him.

Joshua slipped down next to Connor, naked, cock rolling over his stomach as it grew erect. Connor lay at his side, still fully clothed, pushing one leg down between Joshua’s bringing his knee up till it pressed against Joshua’s ass. Using just his index finger Connor traced the line of Joshua’s jaw, ran it down his neck, slowly, at times barely touching the skin. He wanted to make this last, to really know Joshua’s body, every line and curve, to feel the firmness of the smooth skin, the solid feel of each muscle and the way he responded to his touch, how the rate of his breathing increased, the moments when he shivered at some sensitive touch or the soft moans that escaped from him.

Connor moved his hand down to Joshua’s stomach feeling the rise and fall of each breath as he leaned over and kissed him, initially a gentle touch of lips then more aggressive, open mouth, tongues dueling, he kissed Joshua as he slipped his hand downward, fingers combing through the pubic hair then encircling the thickening cock. Joshua pumped upward with his hips pushing through Connor’s fist.

Connor released Joshua and leaned up working the buttons of his shirt free as he kissed along the side of Joshua’s neck, then right below the ear where he mouthed the lobe, lightly bit it giving it a tug then he tongued the curvature of it. Joshua moaned, his body undulating beneath him as he struggled to remove his shirt. Joshua sat up and helped get the shirt off, and when Connor sat up working his jeans and boxers off Joshua leaned against his bare back and kissed his neck. Legs free of the jeans and boxers Connor kicked them to the floor as he felt the kisses on his neck and the warm body pressed against his back. Turning he guided Joshua to lay back as he moved on top. Working his legs, he maneuvered down between Joshua’s legs and let the weight of his body rest on top of him.

Connor moved on top of him, let their bodies rub against each other till both were erect, their hard cocks sliding against each other and pressing into the other’s abdomen.

“Put it in me” whispered Joshua, his tone demanding, pleading, as his hands cupped Connor’s ass and pulled them together even tighter.

Connor moved down, slipped his arms under Joshua’s legs at the knee and he shifted back over Joshua. He brought Joshua’s legs up over as he moved over him. He pressed his cock to Joshua’s ass when it was turned, up, body spread open, hole exposed, turned up for his cock. He pressed against it, felt the tightness, the resistance to his entry. Joshua’s hand stroked his sides, wrapped around his back and hugged their bodies together.

“Fuck me…please Connor…” uttered Joshua and Connor pushed with his hips feeling the head of his cock squeeze through Joshua’s tightness. He kept pushing feeling each inch of his cock squeeze through, the tight opening milking his cock as it sank into Joshua’s depths.

He felt Joshua quivering while pushing upward to take him. The contact between their bodies was hot, every touch arousing as he slowly pulled outward then pushed back in. Over and over, slowly at first, painfully slow till he couldn’t take it; till Joshua couldn’t take it. Then he fell into a steady rhythm, hips rising and falling, sinking into Joshua’s depths each time. Joshua clung to him as he drove himself inward, cock pushed deeply till their bodies came together.

Unhurried, Connor fucked slowly, steadily, keeping Joshua pinned beneath him. He fucked till his arousal pushed him, tempted him to fuck harder, faster so he pulled out and got Joshua to roll over. He moved on top and pushed back in, slowly, gently, till pressing tightly against his ass.

Joshua pushed upward trying to get Connor deeper into his body as he buried his face into the mattress, moaning with the pleasure of their fuck. Connor bear hugged him, around his arms and chest, as the pace of their fuck increased.

“Fuck me…fuck…Connor…” uttered Joshua as Connor’s pace increased to the point the bed rocked beneath them, squeaking with every thrust inward. Connor fucked till he felt it, the need for release. Thrusting deep within Joshua, hips grinding against Joshua’s ass he felt his load surge through his cock, felt the ejaculation, each one, as he jammed inward, hard, over and over, till he was spent.

Rolling off Joshua he snuggled down next to him, their faces so close they could feel each other’s warm exhales.

“Joshua?”

“Yeah?”

“Do me.”

Joshua rose then leaned over and kissed Connor. They moved around on the bed, touching and kissing each other, hands and lips moving over the other till Connor lay sideways on the bed, head hanging over the side. Joshua held Connor’s legs firmly against his chest as he pushed into him. Slowly penetrating Connor’s tightness, his thick cock stretching him open. Connor grabbed at the blanket, each fist balled up tight as he took inch after inch.

Connor shivered when he felt Joshua push against his ass; he had all of him and it gave him a sense of fullness, a sense of connection with Joshua.

“Oh fuck…do me...come on…fuck…” Connor whispered as Joshua began to fuck, to pull outward then push back in, gradually building up his pace till he was fucking hard, the bed rocking noisily back and forth. Connor pleaded for this fuck, moaned with each thrust inward as he felt Joshua piston inside his hole.

Joshua grabbed Connor by the arms, just below the elbows, lifting him up and swinging him around on the bed. It was a roughhouse move and it made them snigger then laugh out loud. Josh held Connor down as he pushed inward all the way. Quickly they fell into a fast rhythm, Joshua hovering over Connor, his body undulating with their fuck.

Connor felt every thrust inward, the fullness of it as he took Joshua’s fuck. He watched the undulating body, the way every muscle became evident, pushing to the surface of the skin, quivering, stretching and contracting with movement. He pushed upward with his hips, back arched, trying to get Joshua into his body deeper to increase the sense of penetration. Sweat dripped onto his chest and stomach and he saw how Joshua’s skin glistened, wet with sweat. He could even feel the heat radiating from him.

“Fuck…give it to me…come on…fuck me…” Connor pleaded when he felt the change in Joshua’s rhythm, the way he shifted into short quick thrusts, jamming away at his hole.

“I’m coming…Jesus…” Joshua cried out as he shoved inward, all the way, their bodies grinding together as he came, ejaculating till he was spent.

For a long time afterward, they lay in a heap, sweating bodies intertwined on top of the bed. It was Joshua who moved first, sliding to the edge of the bed and sitting up.

“Come on, let’s shower off” said Joshua as he tugged on Connor’s arm leading him to the edge of the bed getting him to sit up. They staggered into the bathroom, Connor following Joshua straight into the shower. They moved slowly, lethargically, soaping each other up with their hands then taking turns rinsing clean. Toweled dry they tumbled back into bed, both exhausted from their days of work and the exertions of the night.

It had been early morning, the sun not yet up, when Connor stirred, moved tighter against Joshua till they were kissing, hands moving over the other and finally Connor up against Joshua as they fucked once again. Connor manipulated Joshua, stroking his cock as he fucked him from behind. When Joshua came, Connor fucked him harder, driving his cock roughly inward all the way till he too came.

The next time they awoke the alarm clock was going off.

It was nearly one in the afternoon when the Mabila cast off and headed down river. They moved quickly from one drop point to the next, recording the catch, keeping some small fish for testing, and putting the trap back on deck. They backtracked down the Mobile River. They were passing the landing at Mt. Vernon when the sun began to drop below the horizon, but they pressed on, soon branching off onto the Tensaw River, following its meandering path.

They finally stopped for the night where the Middle River branched off, pulling over toward the bank and anchoring. It was a clear night, the full moon low in the eastern sky slowly rising higher. They arranged their sleeping bags in the bow of the boat after a quick dinner of sandwiches and chips and settled in for the night.

At the break of dawn, they prepared breakfast and quickly got underway, knowing they were making good time they could be back in Mobile by mid-afternoon. Connor and Tony were in the bow to pull up each trap, with Dana sitting back against the cabin recording everything. Professor Sullivan stayed next to Joshua, keeping track of their position and the next pickup point. From time to time Connor would look Joshua’s way feeling lost on what to think, how to feel about the expedition coming to an end, and thus his time with Joshua. Early that morning he tried to talk to Joshua, offer some options that would let him leave this place. He wanted to say more, to offer more, much more, but felt silly feeling the way he did after only a few days with him. This desire to try to get Joshua to leave with him, to come back to North Carolina, at least till he finished his post graduate studies seemed outrageous when he thought about it, even as he tried to give it reason and logic. For his part Joshua seemed to close in on himself, refused to discuss it. Connor sensed a resignation in Joshua, some notion that he belonged here.

Joshua navigated the Mabila down the Tensaw River, stopping at each drop then moving on to the next. It was only a little after ten when they passed under the bridges for I-65 and into the wider section of the river. Professor Sullivan called his contact at the university, informing them of their imminent return. They were going to have Joshua drop them off at the landing where they would load up and take off for Montgomery for the night. Joshua would take the Mabila back to her dock location, check in with the university to hand off the keys, get into his truck and head back to Jackson taking I-65 out of Mobile then 43 northward back to the town.

Joshua maneuvered the Mabila up to the dock at twenty till four, traffic on the parkway already heavy in both directions. He helped the team get their gear into the van and truck, everyone quiet, diligent, working efficiently to get everything stowed away. Joshua lingered, stood to one side as Connor got the last of the gear secured in the bed of his truck. Stepping over the tailgate, one foot on the bumper then the other coming down to the ground Connor came down near Joshua. They stood facing each other for a brief moment, then Joshua looked away, turned his head toward the river then down looking at his feet.

“You sure you don’t want…” said Connor.

“No…just drop it okay?” Joshua replied.

“Okay. You have my number and…”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, come on their waiting and you guys have a long drive ahead of you. You should get going.”

Connor wasn’t sure what to say so he moved closer and gave Joshua a hug. He felt a trembling and wasn’t sure if it was Joshua or himself doing it. Joshua pushed him away motioning toward the cab of the truck.

“Call me?” Connor asked as he stepped back.

Joshua just nodded his head and Connor was sure he would not hear from him, that he would burrow himself back into his life in Jackson.

They made it to Montgomery around seven thirty, checked in at a hotel and went out for dinner. Afterward they all called it a night for they still felt the fatigue of their expedition. Connor shared a room with Tony and for a long time listened to him softly snore from the other bed as he thought of Joshua, wondering what he should have done differently.

The next morning, they were on the interstate early and headed up I-85 for North Carolina. Arriving back at the university late in the afternoon they quickly unpacked their gear, put away the samples for testing over the next few weeks. They cleaned up the gear and put it back in storage then each of them went home to rest and prepare for the morrow.

Connor moped for days, trying to figure out why he couldn’t let it go, but as Dana, Tony and he went through their samples, doing one test after the next, recording their findings, preparing the documentation to support them, weeks passed. Connor could joke around as before, hang out with friends at bars or clubs and go about the chores of his life; laundry, grocery shopping, paying bills and working at the part time job on campus. But each day brought the same longings, the same sense of missed opportunities, of things that should have been different.

Three months passed, and Connor had not heard from Joshua. He had left a few messages but gave up after a while. Tony, Dana and he had done most of their work on their project and Dana agreed to type it up while Tony did the graphics and charts. They let Connor have time off for he had done most of the testing, and he also had something to do, something that would take a couple of days. Early on the fourteenth of August, the campus deserted except for a few other post graduate students, Connor was tossing an overnight bag into the cab of his truck and driving away. He drove all day, stopping only for gas and something to eat. He drove till the sun shone into his eyes. He drove to Evergreen taking the second exit and headed west on the two-lane road. The road passed fields and pastures of farms, cut through stands of young pine planted in rows, so unnatural looking compared to the natural woods he occasionally came across. For miles he passed those fields and woodlands till he finally came upon a familiar name. Just before hitting the bridge he saw the sign: Alabama River. One of the rivers whose waters eventually flowed into Mobile Bay.

The sun was low in the sky when he drove into Grove Hill and turned onto 43 heading south. ‘It wasn’t far now’ he told himself as he shifted in his seat and settled back for the remainder of his drive. As he approached the town he pulled up the map he had printed out, the one marked in red tracing one road then another. He had spent an evening trying to remember the roads and each turn. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he was close, close enough he could figure it out when he got there. He came into the town’s limits and quickly turned. He drove for a few miles then turned again taking the narrow two-lane road away from town. It looked familiar but for a few miles he questioned himself, wondering if he was wrong, until he came upon a road side produce stand and knew he was right. He slowed as he watched for the dirt road. He nearly missed it and had to back up. Driving over the rough dirt road he passed the mobile homes and old houses till he came to the gate.

The last of the drive was short and he eased along the narrow two rut lane till he saw the house, then the boat house on the river. He eased around to the back pulling up behind a Ford truck. Lights were on in the kitchen, a shadow passing over the curtains then coming into view at the back door.

Connor stepped down and walked across the yard still trying to decide what to say, how to say it when he saw the door open and someone standing at the threshold, the light behind casting him in shadow.

“Connor?”

“Hey, Joshua...surprise?” replied Connor, his voice low, unsure.

“What…what are you doing here?”

“Well you never called and…and…can I come in?”

The screen door opened, and Connor moved up the steps into the screened porch, passing Joshua very close. When the door slammed shut Connor turned to find Joshua moving to him. They hugged, tightly, bodies pressed together. After a long time, Joshua finally pulled back, took Connor by the hand and led him into the house.

“You finishing up with dinner?” asked Connor when he saw the clean dishes sitting on the counter.

“Oh, no, I just got home. I was about to fix dinner” replied Joshua letting go of Connor’s hand and moving into the small kitchen. “Have you had dinner?”

“No. I was going to suggest we go grab something in town.”

“Nah…let’s stay in. I picked up some steaks from the grocery store with the plan to freeze one. I’ll grill them both so we don’t have to go driving back into town.”

Connor smiled, glad not to have to do any more riding. “What can I do?”

“Get the grill going. Everything you need is in that storage box on the porch.”

Connor got the grill going then helped in the kitchen, the two of them constantly bumping into each other, the kitchen barely large enough for one. Salad pulled together and everything cooked they moved out to the screen porch and sat at the small table Joshua had set up. It was a quiet night, only the occasional sound of an owl and the constant sound of insects. At first, they talked about small things, unimportant things that had occurred since they last saw each other. By the time they finished with dinner and were relaxing with a whiskey Connor grew serious, telling Joshua his idea, the plan he had formed in the last month, one that included Joshua. He had a position with a research group based in Virginia. He was looking at being initially based in Florida with his first field work in the Big Cypress swamp. And the group had field hand positions, those that were support, and Connor had an avenue to get Joshua a position, but it would take time.

Joshua sat listening, not sure what to believe. When Connor finished he sat silently trying to process everything.

“Listen, think about it but…this is it, an opportunity. Come with me. I leave in September, four weeks from now and head down. Either meet me down there or come after I get settled, but…will you come?”

Joshua smiled, stood up holding out a hand for Connor.

“What?”

“Take my hand and come on” replied Joshua.

Joshua led Connor through the house, up the stair and into his bedroom. They stood next to the bed, kissing for a long time then they undressed each other, carefully slipping each button free, working sleeves down arms or pants down legs. They helped each other until they were naked. Joshua pushed Connor on the bed climbing on top of him. Leaning over he kissed him.

“I’ll need four weeks to finish up my obligation here” Joshua whispered, so close to Connor their lips grazed each other. “And I’ll have to figure out what to do with this place” he added as he moved his ass over Connor’s growing erection while he ran the fingers of his right hand through Connor’s hair.

“Keep it…rent it out” replied Connor as he pushed upward with his hips pressing his cock tightly to Joshua’s ass.

“Can I bring my boat?” asked Joshua as he rose up on his knees taking Connor in hand, holding him up. He eased down till Connor was touching him, pushing against his tightness. He eased down further till Connor breached his tight opening and began to sink into his hole.

“Shit…fuck…what will I do until you get me a job on the crew?”

“Whatever you want…anything to keep you busy, but I…fuck…oh that feels good…I should have you a position in about four months…maybe sooner” replied Connor as he felt Joshua take his cock, sink all the way down on it then pull up, slowly, milking every inch of its length. When Joshua was up on his knees, he began to work his hips thrusting upward, pushing into Joshua’s depths till his back and thighs burned with the exertion and he settled back on the bed and let Joshua move on him, up and down with a steady rhythm.

Joshua’s cock was hard, slapping down on Connor’s stomach with every drop downward. It grew wet, leaked more and more till Connor’s stomach was slick with it. Unable to take anymore stimulation, the need for release coursing through him Connor began to thrust upward again, harder, short jabs up till he came.

“Oh…fuck…” cried Connor as he pumped wad after wad into Joshua who was stroking his own cock as he furiously moved up and down. As he came down from his release he felt the hot splatter of cum across his chest and stomach and knew Joshua was coming too.

They moved to the shower, soaped each other up then in a state of renewed arousal Connor held Joshua against the tile wall and entered him again.

***

Connor woke during the night and snuggled up to Joshua’s back feeling the warmth emanating from him. He felt the slow rhythmic rise and fall of his breathing and found it comforting. This is the first time in a long time he slept well, felt a sense of contentment that he didn’t want to ever end.  Considering the possibilities, the future that lay before him he shifted till his face was right at the back of Joshua’s neck and he felt his own breath warm the space between them. Images of the river floated into his mind, the boat gliding over the smooth surface as it moved up river. The sky was clear, and trees lined each side of the river, wild, untamed, in places reaching out over its surface. Joshua was standing beside him, hair tasseled by the wind, smiling. Connor shifted down and fell deeper into sleep.

They woke early, both needing to get moving, Joshua to the river to take some fisherman up river and Connor to hit the road for he had to be on campus the next morning. Rushing to get dressed, a bowl of cereal splashed with milk, the two of them rushed till they were outside, Connor in his truck ready to pull away.

“Call me tonight when you get in” said Connor as he pushed Joshua’s hair out of his eyes.

“Okay.”

“You’ll be down in four or five weeks?” asked Connor making Joshua repeat their plan, reinforcing it to get Joshua to commit once again.

“Hopefully four, but I’ll keep you posted. I think I have a cousin who’ll rent the place from me. She had been looking for another place and she is trustworthy.”

“Whatever you think is best” replied Connor. He leaned over, and Joshua closed the distance bringing their lips together. “I’ve got to hit the road.”

“I need to go too; they’ll be waiting on me.”

Seven years later

The sixty-five-foot research vessel sat at the dock, its six crew members securing the equipment on deck and cleaning up after weeks up river, following one branch of this great system after the next heading west till the waters became too shallow. The city was a hive of activity, even at this late hour, the sky aglow with its lights.

Itacoatiara sat on the bank of the mighty Amazon River where it was one of the largest ports. On the dock, supplies were brought out; two pallets of food, clean clothes, water, batteries of all types for the various equipment and letters from home. Connor walked across the deck checking that everything was secure as he waited for Joshua to secure the cabin for the night. It was their fourth large expedition and the longest so far. Their travels up the rivers had started seven weeks ago and they were back in Itacoatiara for some rest and supplies. The da Agua was new to them, a research vessel the center had bought earlier in the year from a group down in Argentina. It had cost a small fortune to refit with the gear they needed but they had plans for the boat other than this one expedition.

The last seven years seemed like a dream, unreal in so many ways. It took over two years for Joshua to move from a field hand doing grunt work to becoming their navigator, but on an expedition in Viet Nam he got his chance. From there it was Thailand, India then early last year the African expedition that lasted three months. They worked side by side, and at night, alone in a tent, or room rented in some small town or village, or as during this expedition in their private cabin below deck.

Tonight, would be a night off the boat, a clean room in the city and time to move about on land, to dine and drink late into the night before going to their room where the fatigue of the past weeks would be momentarily gone. Connor heard the cabin door close and saw Joshua cross the deck coming toward him. Joshua looked up, his face illuminated by the lights of the dock and Connor saw the smile, the one from his dreams.

Grant
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