Tales from Bentonville
By David Lee
Copyright © 2005, 2016
Copyright © 2005, 2016
The July 4th celebrations in small-town Iowa aren't as grand as those in bigger places like Cosgrove. In Bentonville, the firemen had a big fund-raising breakfast to start the day. There was always a small carnival at the county fairgrounds to provide some entertainment for the rural folks. Some of the town's people predicted that this would be the last year for this type of celebration because everyone would go off to bigger towns with bigger entertainment. However, the crowd was actually larger than the year before. People from other towns were coming to Bentonville because of the more laid-back, rustic atmosphere.
Probably every kid from age five and up was at the carnival. There wasn't anything else going on in town. Trent called Dane to see if he and Colt wanted to go. Of course, they did. He said that he would call Sara to see if some of the girls would like to go too. It would all be Dutch treat; this wasn't a date as such, just a group of friends hanging out together.
When the boys met up at the appointed spot in the early evening, Sara and Carrie were there. They had called Leah, but she was going with someone else. (She and her friend would have joined them, but she was still miffed about Colton's not wanting to go steady.)
The Ferris wheel wasn't anything like the one Dane had been on at Navy Pier in Chicago, but it was better than nothing. From the top, a person could see the tower of the courthouse half a mile away. The kids had fun eating cotton candy and funnel cakes as well as going on the rides. No one seemed to care that there was an extra guy in the group. They were just a bunch of friends hanging out and having fun.
Colton tried most of the rides, but balked at the notion of riding on one in particular. This was one with small tub-like cars which spun around while they went up and down like a small rollercoaster over an oval track. He was sure he would disgrace himself by "urping-up" his second funnel cake. So he elected to sit that one out while the other four shared a car.
Dane made it a point to wave at Colt each time they passed near the bench where he was sitting. On the third pass, Dane froze in place as he saw Robert, Colt's stepfather, standing next to Colt. Dane knew this would be trouble.
On the next pass, Dane watched helplessly as Robert walked behind Colt nudging him toward the woods at the edge of the fairgrounds. The ride was slowing down, so Dane jumped from the car and headed in the direction his boyfriend was going. He barely heard the ride operator swearing at him as he picked up speed.
Trent told the girls to find a security officer as he too ran toward the trees.
As Dane got closer, he moved more slowly and quietly. He could hear the snapping of twigs and rustle of old leaves ahead. Then he heard Robert's voice.
"Tell me what I want to know and I won't cut you. All I want is your mother's address."
"I don't know where she is!" Colt responded loudly. "She didn't tell me where she was going after she left Sioux City. She was afraid that I might let it slip and you would find out."
(Colton could sense that someone was moving in the shadows behind Robert. By talking loudly, he hoped to cover any noise that person might make.)
"Don't give me that shit! You have to know where she is. How do you get in touch with her?"
"We only email."
"Okay, you little bastard, you had your chance."
Robert tossed the switchblade knife from hand to hand. The blade gleamed in a shaft of moonlight that shone through the trees. Colton readied himself for evasive action. He wished that he hadn't let Robert force him so far from the crowd, but that knife against his back had been a powerful motivator. At this remote place, even if he screamed as loud as he could, no one would hear him.
Robert lunged, but Colt's reflexes were quicker and he managed to dodge the blade. His plan to run back toward the carnival was thwarted by a dead branch that tripped him up. Robert laughed at his plight. But his advantage was cut short by another piece of dead limb that crashed against his skull. The knife went flying and Robert fell to the ground in an unconscious heap.
Colt jumped up and ran toward Dane who dropped the branch in order to hold his lover. Trent came forward to pick up the piece of wood to strike Robert again if he tried anything. He wasn't taking any chances.
In the distance the boys could hear the voices of Sara and Carrie.
"The last we saw of them; they were coming this direction."
"We're back here," Trent called.
Seconds later, Deputy Saunders shined his flashlight on the boys. He quickly assessed the situation and handcuffed the semi-conscious Robert.
"Wow, Trent, you pack a real wallop!" he exclaimed as he looked at the tear in Robert's scalp.
"Not me," Trent said. "Dane is the one who laid him out. The bastard was going after Colton with a knife. It's here on the ground somewhere."
The deputy's light soon picked up the glint of the steel blade. He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and picked it up carefully so as not to put his fingerprints on it. As Saunders was doing that, Robert stood up and made a run for it.
Trent threw the stick (that he was still holding) toward Robert's feet to trip him. Deputy Saunders straightened up and pulled out his gun.
"Robert Crider, why don't you try that again? It would give me great pleasure to have to shoot your sorry ass."
This time, Robert didn't move.
"Okay, I'm reading you your rights. You are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. If you refuse that right..."
The deputy then used his walkie-talkie to contact another officer who was on duty at the carnival.
"I should have done that in the first place. I really didn't think he was stupid enough to try to get away in handcuffs!"
After Deputy Anders arrived, they all went back to the bright lights and noise of the celebration. The fireworks display was beginning at the other end of the fairgrounds. The beauty of the pyrotechnics seemed surreal juxtaposed against the recent terror in the woods.
Although Robert was carted away to jail, the kids didn't want to stay. Their evening had been spoiled beyond reclamation. Deputy Saunders got a part-time security man to drive them to their houses. He didn't want them to be left alone to walk home after their scary experience.
Sara was dropped off first. Trent decided to stay with her at her house for awhile. Next, Carrie was taken home. Dane saw her to the door making sure that her family was there. Finally, Dane and Colt got to grandma's house.
Greta was home alone when they arrived. From the pale look of both, she knew something was wrong. It didn't take any prodding on her part for the whole story to come out. She hugged them saying how proud she was of how they had handled the deadly situation. Then she made them some hot chocolate. Despite that fact that it was a warm evening, the hot beverage felt comforting -- possibly because it was made as an act of love.
Finally, the boys decided to go upstairs to bed. As they left, Greta held Dane back for a second.
"Hold him close tonight. He's going to need you." She whispered.
Dane nodded as he ascended the steps. He did hold Colt close that night. There was no desire for sex, just the desire for intimacy. Colt felt secure as long has he had Dane with him. Together, they could face anything.
About 3:00 a.m., Colton's screams awakened the household. Dane held him and talked to him as he stroked his back.
"It's okay, Baby, I'm here. I'll take care of you. You're safe in bed with me."
DJ came hopping up the stairs and into the room to see if he could help. He saw that Dane had pretty much taken care of it.
"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked Colton.
Colt nodded. What he described would have made Stephen King shudder. The scene was filled with blood. Colt's mother, Sharon, lay dying and Colt's guts were spilled out on the floor. To add to the horror, Dane was lying beside him, his life ebbing as his blood seeped into the carpet.
DJ wrapped his arms around both boys. He held them tightly for a long time.
"I'm with you, guys. What you feel is almost like what a guy feels in a war zone. I know your pain, Colton. Believe me, I know."
Colton buried his head in his uncle's chest. The warmth and scent of a strong man was comforting to him. When the boys had settled down enough to rest, if not sleep, DJ hobbled toward the stairs.
"Thanks," Colt called out.
"Any time," DJ responded.
The next morning, both boys went for a session with the psychiatrist. Dr. Klein talked with them a length about their experience and how to deal with it. He told them that most adults would probably not have been able to do what they did.
"How did you have the guts to sneak up and brain the bugger?" he asked of Dane.
The boys laughed at his choice of words. He was glad to see that they still had a sense of humor. He was sure that they would ultimately come through this with few, if any, emotional scars.
"Can I tell him?" Dane asked Colt.
"Sure," Colt replied as he reached for Dane's hand to hold it.
"I love this guy with all of my heart. If something happened to him, I would die too."
"I guess that I might be able to do that too if someone were threatening my wife," Klein said. "Yes, despite the fact that I don't like violence, I could kill to save someone I love."
"You didn't say anything about us being gay," Dane commented. "Aren't you going to try to cure us?"
"Okay, here goes. Congratulations for knowing yourselves and for finding someone to love. Have you told your families?"
"My dad knows," Colt spoke up, "and Grandma. But we haven't told Dane's parents. They've had enough to deal with, with DJ's injury in the war and all. We want to wait until things get back to normal."
Dr. Klein nodded.
"Just be careful that you don't use every new event as an excuse not to tell them. I know your grandmother. I'm sure that she'll stick by you."
DJ went back to the routine of taking the boys with him to work out at the health club after his day at the office. He arranged to have an earlier schedule at Rockwell so they could do it before dinner. Despite the cost of gas, DJ felt that the boys and he needed to bond by exercising together.
It was on one of these trips that DJ took the boys out to eat after their workout. Ellen had a doctor's appointment in Cosgrove and she and Greta would meet them at the little Italian restaurant where Greta had taken the boys before.
Dane had been worried about his mother. She had never been ill in her life that he could remember. That Greta was taking her to see a specialist in Cosgrove had given Dane some nights of fitful sleep. Luckily Colt was there to hold him as he had been there for Colt.
The guys arrived first and secured a good table. DJ had a glass of red wine and the boys had cokes as they waited for the women. When the ladies came in they were both beaming. DJ jumped up and hugged his wife who whispered in his ear. His smile spread almost literally from ear to ear.
"Twins!" he exclaimed.
"Yes, the doctor detected two distinct heartbeats. Here I thought I might be having some abdominal tumor and it turns out I'm pregnant. I can't believe it has happened after all of the years of trying without success.
The boys got up and joined DJ and Ellen in a hug. The patrons at other tables began to clap. It was then that the Johnson family realized they were creating a scene. Fortunately, it was a joyful one.
DJ was going to order a bottle of wine to celebrate until Greta reminded him that Ellen couldn't have any. He decided that he was nearly drunk with joy and didn't really need any additional alcohol. Since the boys were under-age, he felt he shouldn't make the expenditure.
On the drive home, the boys were split up, but for good reason. Colt drove home with his grandmother beside him and Dane drove home with his dad next to him. It was more road experience for both.
Naturally, they wanted to tell the world. DJ dialed up Wade from Greta's speaker phone so that all could get in on the conversation. They talked forever. Wade and Roger were nearly as elated as the happy couple.
In the next several days, DJ and Ellen made plans to buy a home of their own. Because Ellen had been thrifty, they had been able to live okay without touching very much of the equity they had gotten out of their other house. Since property in Bentonville was a fraction of the cost of places in the suburbs and DJ had a good, well-paying job, they would be able to afford something pretty nice.
Dane was of two minds about it. He knew that with an expanding family, they would need more room. He knew that they couldn't live with grandma forever, but he hated to give up the arrangement that he and Colt had. He let it slip in conversation with Greta one afternoon. She just smiled.
"I have already told your parents that you two are welcome to live with me for as long as you want. I know that eventually you'll go to college and may move away, but I would keep you boys here forever if I had my choice."
Needless to say, Dane felt relieved. It was great to know that he would always be welcome in this house, whatever happened.
As if by magic, the Victorian house on the lot behind Greta's property came on the market. It hadn't been lived in for three years since old Mrs. Carter went to the nursing home. Its decline had come several years earlier since she wasn't able to keep it up by herself. She was survived by a nephew of her husband's and he had no desire to keep or fix it up. The realtor thought that they would let it go for a song.
It wasn't a huge house by Victorian standards, but it had four bedrooms and was filled with beautiful, if shabby, old furniture. Nothing in it had been changed in probably 70 years or more. Despite its moderate proportions, it had all of the gingerbread trim and gracious air that made houses of that era desirable.
There was also a large garage that had been converted from a stable. And, there was a graceful gazebo in the backyard. These were in pretty good shape other than needing painting and some detail work.
DJ put a low bid on it immediately. The nephew countered with a much higher price. DJ put in a second bid raising his offer by $2,000 and specifying that all of the furnishings and contents of the house be included in the sale. Since there was no other interest in the house, the heir decided to let it go for the price that DJ offered. The family pictures and keepsakes had been removed already shortly after the old lady's death so there was nothing left that the nephew treasured. His taste ran to modern furniture anyway.
So, the Johnson's were able to purchase it with all of its contents at a very modest price. Some of the pieces were antiques worthy of a museum setting. A few needed to be repaired and refinished, but some were usable with only cleaning and polishing.
DJ was elated with the house. The place was structurally sound, but needed a new roof and lots of updating. Many of the things that needed doing could be done by DJ and the boys over a period of time. There were various people in the community with the necessary skills to do the work that the family couldn't handle.
Once they got possession, they went into action to get it ready for the coming winter. DJ's colleague, Craig, from Rockwell listened to the enthusiastic review of the new house. He told DJ that he would be happy to volunteer some time in redoing the roof. Since DJ didn't feel that his prosthesis would allow him to climb around safely, Craig would take it on.
"I will check with my son and his partner to see if they might be available too. They are first-rate craftsmen. We might be able to give you a weekend pretty soon."
Craig conferred with Zeke and Bryan who accompanied him to Bentonville one evening later in the week. They wanted to look it over to decide on how many squares of shingles to order. Dane and Colt were overjoyed when they found out who was coming to help. When the group from Cosgrove arrived, the boys all hugged each other in greeting. Craig and DJ were both surprised that they were already acquainted.
The younger boys insisted that they could help with the tear-off and that they could also learn to put on new shingles. DJ agreed after Craig told him about using ropes tied around the chimney to keep the guys from falling to the ground if they lost their footing. He and the older boys would do the same.
The following Saturday morning, Craig arrived in his minivan with not two, but four young men. Trevor and Marc had the weekend off and insisted on helping. If they had a large crew, it could be done in a shorter time. Dane immediately called Trent to come and help too. He wanted him to have a chance to see his brother.
Armed with scoop-shovels, the young men made short work of the existing roofing. They pieced in new plywood sheets in places where leaks had rotted the roof. Then they applied new drip-edge and felting. While the older ones were doing that, Dane and Colton were picking up the rubble and placing it into a large dumpster that DJ had obtained from the garbage company.
DJ had also hired a crane operator to lift the bundles of shingles up to the roof. There was no way that he would allow the men to carry the 80 pound bundles up an extension ladder to that height.
By noon, the new shingles were being laid. A halt was called for lunch. Ellen and Greta had prepared a huge amount of food for the workers. It was served on a picnic table in Greta's backyard. The young men all did justice to what was served and to a couple of gallons of iced tea and lemonade. When they had rested a bit to allow the food to digest, they climbed back up to continue.
When it got close to dinner time, the work stopped for the day. The guys from Cosgrove promised to be back the next afternoon to finish. The main part of the house was already done and the lower part started. The rest would take only a few more hours to complete.
That night, a tired but happy pair of boys climbed the stairs to their bedroom at Grandma Johnson's house. Their muscles ached, but they felt like men. They had worked hard and not failed to keep up with the older guys. It did wonders for their self-images.
After their shower, they climbed naked into bed.
"Are you too tired?" Dane asked.
"For what?" Colt snickered.
"You know." Dane countered.
"No." Colt said.
"No, I'm not too tired."
In the next few minutes, both boys rose to the occasion proving that they were young men in every sense of the word. They had remembered to shut the door at the foot of the stairs so that the rest of the family remained unaware of their love-making.
It may have started gently, but it soon escalated into a white-hot passion. The experience of working like real men might have heightened their testosterone or possibly it was just their lust. No one's tonsils got injured in the process, but both ended up with mouths that felt "used." It was by mutual consent and wasn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, they were both very much turned on by it.
By early afternoon on Sunday, the house roof was finished and the garage and Gazebo were stripped and prepared for shingling. Dane, Colton, and Trent were going to finish those in the next couple of days. They were proud that DJ trusted them to do it. Once again, they felt like they were being treated as equals in an adult world.
After the roofing was done, DJ hired contractors to put in a new furnace and an air conditioner. He had the whole place rewired at the same time.
Then came the installation of new thermal-pane windows and lots of insulation. DJ found a source for windows that would look authentic. He decided that the expense of replacing them would be recouped in energy savings in the next few years. He stopped short of having vinyl or aluminum siding put on the house. Not only was the cost prohibitive, but he felt that too many modern materials would change the look of the place for the worse. Since Craig and his team wouldn't accept any money for their labor, DJ could stretch his resources further, but not that far.
While the contractors were working on the outside and on remodeling the kitchen, DJ and the boys were working on other rooms on the inside. The old varnished woodwork was still unpainted and began to look fine after it was scrubbed clean and polished. Then the walls received new paint. Some of them had to be treated with stain-hiding primer before the finish coats were applied. The boys spent lots of time painting, but their grandmother made sure that they also took off time to play at the town swimming pool. She told them that she wanted to get her money's worth out of the family pass, but they knew she was trying to get them to have fun.
The house project was good for all of them. It was a kind of therapy. Creating and restoring things helped to give them a sense of fulfillment and chase away some of the demons that lurked in their heads. It was as true for Colton as for DJ.
Colton's nightmares began to subside again. The sessions with Dr. Klein helped him immensely. His cuddling sessions with Dane were also essential to his wellbeing. He was beginning to smile regularly. When he was feeling good, his sense of humor showed. His teen antics brought smiles to the faces of the rest of the family as well.
As rooms began to take shape, the furniture was again placed in the house. Greta had paid for the reupholstering of the settee and the chairs that matched it. They were something to behold when they were finished.
The dining room was equally stunning with the new upholstery on the chairs. The dark, heavy pieces were appropriate for the large room. Mrs. Carter would have been pleased to see them restored to their original beauty.
All of the improvements cost money, but the family had paid cash for them. They had used up most of the equity from their former house on the down payment and improvements, but with interest rates at an all-time low, the family could easily afford the mortgage on this one. DJ and Ellen were being careful not to get themselves into the financial bind they had been in when living in the suburbs.
The major part of the restoration project was done before school started. The painting of the exterior was begun, but would take a few weeks because of moving the scaffolding around. However, as soon as the master bedroom and bath were completed, Ellen and DJ moved in. Dane and Colt remained with Grandma. She was pleased.
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