Castle Roland


by Joe Writer Man


Chapter 1

Posted: N/A


Copyright © 2012 - 2014 by Joe Writerman and the Revolutions Universe Partnership.

All Rights Reserved

Sunday, October 15, 2012

Centennial Logo"Be careful about what you ask for." The boy, rummaging through the mostly bare cupboards, said to a woman sitting up against an old beaten table, in an old dilapidated folding chair. The woman was twisting her dark red blond hair through her fingers. She was looking down at the table, likely nursing one hell of a hangover. You know the kind… where it hurts to even open your eyes, much less look up to see a twelve year old skin and bones kid, her kid, packing a backpack with whatever he could find to eat for the next few days, while he and his brother Luke took off for up the beach, away from the stink and stench of an oil town gone bust, though it left behind in its wake, barrels and barrels of unrefined sledge that was leaking, and threatening to shut the entire town down.

The woman, clearly annoyed with her son's 'attitude' was quick to come back, "You just remember: I didn't ask for you to be born. You sass me. I get no respect. You boys eat me out of house and home… god damn, put that fucking jar of peanut butter back where you found it. I swear to god… if it wasn't illegal…"

The boy, Jordan is his name, looked toward the woman, shrugged his bony shoulders, then defiantly shoved the jar of chunky Skippy down deep inside the backpack, taking care to nestle the glass container against and between two towels, four pair of underwear, a pair of jeans, two pair of shorts, four t-shirts, in other words – everything that was his. Jordan turned his attention back to the woman, shifted his eyes away from her gaze, took a moment to say the words he'd thought of for years and years, ever since she began telling him that he was a 'mistake', that he was never going to amount to anything, and other things along those lines. "Abortion was legal in 2000. Roe vs. Wade, remember?"

"Your father wouldn't let me do it, you little son of a bitch… how dare you!"

"Dad's dead. If I'm a son of a… nevermind, forget it." The boy softly said to the woman, smirking all the while, yet knowing what was going to happen next… Much faster than he had anticipated, she was up in his face, spraying spittle against his cheeks, nose, forehead, and eyes, screaming what a worthless piece of shit he was, that he was going to be the death of her yet

The boy was not doing well… an anger, a rage that he knew was in the background, was coming up, feeling like a separate person within himself… before he could react, it was her who got in the first blow. Her gnarly fist connected with the side of his face, just above and in front of the ear, knocking him to the dirty filthy floor, landing on one knee, before falling face first at her feet.

That was more than Jordan could take. He'd taken enough. There would be no stopping him now. So what she had a vagina between her legs, it was her who struck first. Lore has it – you don't hit a woman first, but if she strikes first, then all bets are off. She lost the wager on that bet.

Like a caged animal, Jordan was on his feet with his teeth clenched and his face scrunched up in a wicked twist. The woman was stunned. She was not used to his aggression. For a moment she was afraid, but she wasn't backing down. They were nose to nose, ready to square off – perhaps to the death.

In one swift motion, having youth on his side, Jordan leaned back, while, at the same time, rearing his right arm, his dominant one, back, to deliver the…

But his thoughts were interrupted.

Unknown to Jordan, Luke, hearing the commotion, came running from the other end of the house. One second before his young fist was about to smash her face, Luke grabbed Jordan from the back, wrapped his arms around his brother, and yanked the boy away. The fist, still going forward, flailed wildly in the air, with all of his strength behind it. Jordan is a strong boy, a very strong boy, but, Luke, is stronger.

"Jordan, don't. Come on, let's go. We're going." To the woman, Luke said respectfully, "We're leaving for a few days, don't know when we'll be back. You guys need some cooling off time away from each other."

Despite being restrained, Jordan never ceased looking directly into the woman's eyes, challenging her to hit him one more time, because if she did, then he'd already determined total destruction would be reined down upon her, even though he was shorter in stature.

There was only one other person who lived under that roof. That was Luke.

The woman, she couldn't keep any man around for more than a month or two. Luke's dad split the scene a few weeks ago… gone… just like that. No explanation. No warning. No inkling – just gone. For a while things were relatively good, but in the end, he'd give into the woman's demands for him to leave the kids alone so that he could devote all of his attentions toward her. It was sickening. So the two boys were often gone from sunup to sundown, often panhandling off the visitors who vacationed on the other side of the city, where the beaches were clean and the smell was not present.

For not being from the same father and mother, the boys sure did look alike, almost in every way; the only difference was that while Jordan had nearly white hair with a few strands of darker brown in and through it, like he'd had it frosted, but he hadn't had it frosted at all… it was all natural, other than being naturally sun bleached.

Jordan gathered himself together, stopped resisting Luke's restraints. Turning to Luke, but not taking his eyes off the woman, not for one second, he hissed, "Are you ready?"

The younger boy nodded. Together they went back to the room that they'd shared since Luke had come to live with them. The woman, seeing that her safety was no longer threatened, sat down at the table, picked up a cup filled with lukewarm coffee, touched it to her lips, put her head down, and silently cursed both boys for wrecking her life.

The boys, in their room, stared at one another for a moment, before Luke pulled Jordan into his arms, held him firmly, and whispered, "It's going to be okay. In a few minutes we'll be out of here. It'll be over. I need to get one more thing… are you okay, now?"

"No, but I will be. Thanks for stopping me, you know, back there, with her…"

Luke reached deep between the well worn mattress and broken down box springs, grabbed an envelope, then reverently placed into the bottom of his backpack. Jordan knew what that envelope contained. Luke had shown him pictures of his mom and dad, together, back when things weren't so chaotic, before his mom hadn't left – for another woman who hated kids. The girlfriend made it perfectly clear that there would be no kids, and when she said that – she was looking directly at Luke. His mom, all starry eyed and 'in love'… left their house that day, and never returned. That happened fourteen months ago; he ticked off the days, one day at a time.

Jordan, just as he was zipping up the backpack, having to put some of his 82 pounds against it, stopped, grinned to Luke, then exited their room, went into the bathroom, took the last roll of toilet paper from its hanger, returned and smashed it inside, then finished zipping the thing up. Luke snorted. Jordan gave Luke a big shit eating grin.

Before the boys left what had been their room, Luke said softly, so as not to be overheard, "Jordan, we're in this together, all the way, right?"

Jordan looked deeply into Luke's eyes, then pulled up his palm and faced it toward Luke. Luke did the same. Four days ago they'd made their pact while the woman was out and about doing whatever she did. They'd taken a kitchen knife, found a pumice stone in the tool shed to sharpen the knife, and then they did as quite a few boys out there do to signify their allegiance to one another, to be lifelong friends, no matter what. Luke made Jordan's slit, and Jordan made Luke's small cut, then, together, they held their palms together, laceration against laceration, until the blood congealed, thus binding them together for life.

Jordan, knowing he was 'different', so wanted to reach for and take that which wasn't his, but somehow restrained himself, though the evidence of his desire was clear and convincing, and did not go unnoticed by the younger, by three months, dark haired boy standing across from him.

Little did Jordan know that he'd awakened a part of Luke that he never before known of. Not even Luke was aware that something was different, that somehow life would never again be the same. He only knew that if they walked out of the house, and they were going to leave, they would never return for any reason.

Luke's pack was very heavy. The boy grunted as Jordan helped him hoist it up onto his back. It wasn't too bad when he stood up straight and supported the weight with both legs and feet.

Without looking back, Luke then Jordan exited the room they'd inhabited for a relatively short period of time. They walked into the kitchen. Jordan avoided the woman, walked to where his pack lay on the floor, picked it up, hoisted it onto his back, cinched the straps securely, but not too tight.

The woman walked to the boys, looked Jordan up and down, snorted, then turned and walked to her chair. Before sitting, she asked, "When are you going to be back?"

Luke saw Jordan tense up, like he was going to say something he'd, they'd regret. Luke held his hand up toward Jordan's eyes, then said to the woman, "We'll be out of your hair in just a moment. Ma'am, life has a way of changing right before our very eyes. Sometimes we see it, sometimes we don't."

Without saying a word, Jordan walked to the broken down screen door, pushed his way through it, and permitted the thing to clang shut, nearly in Luke's face, but Luke didn't mind, because when he walked out, he, too, permitted the door, with a little 'help', to slam against the door casing. Of course, a smile crossed his face when he heard her screaming about slamming the damn door…

Jordan waited for Luke at the tree at the end of the property. When Luke arrived, Jordan flashed him a great bit smile. They happily bumped knuckles, and were on their way… to where… well, they weren't really sure, but knew their destination was going to be far far away.

As they made their way through the familiar streets, the packs didn't see to be as heavy as they once were. With each step forward, Jordan relaxed more and more as time went on. The boys even began joking about a lot of things, though nothing in particular was brought up. They were just walking along, enjoying the scenery, and feeling the wind blowing across their faces and through their hair. Neither boy looked back, not until they'd reached the other side of the bay, nor had they stopped anywhere along the way, instead they made their way through the sunny faced boys and girls, their parents, grandparents, or whoever the people were to each other. Neither boy had a single dime to their name, nor did they have a dime between them.

Feeling weary from carrying their treasures some fifteen miles, the boys sat at a picnic table, shed their backpacks onto the table, breathed sighs of relief at dropping the weighted objects, that between the combined weights weighed at least as much as one of the boys. Both boys knew they wouldn't be able to carry their stuff all the way to their destination, but they'd made plans to do just that, for as long as they could. If only they could make it to the interstate. There they hoped to get a ride on the I-10, headed west. They figured that most of their travel would be in eighteen wheelers, riding along with some lonely truck drivers wanting some company to make their time pass quicker.

A few days ago, the boys had gone to the local library, gotten some help with the computers from the librarian. They spent a couple of days just looking at the various maps, getting good ideas about how to get 'there', making a plan, and made a vow to make their dreams come true – with the glitz and glamor firmly set in their young minds. And so it was – a clear destination. Persistent determination was clearly present. Their plan included hitting the I-10 by tomorrow afternoon, provided they walked fast, and persevered.

Although they knew it was going to be hot traveling, they hadn't planned on just how hot and tired they'd get by carrying and lugging along all of their worldly possessions on their backs through the sand, relentless sun and humidity. So, when they stopped at the picnic table, they realized that they were toast, and that they'd have to wait until evening to continue their journey.

While watching all the people all around, having fun and being carefree, and whatnot, Luke came up with an idea… Jordan, meanwhile, had taken off his shoes and socks. He had a propensity toward athlete's feet. Largely, the boy went barefoot ninety five percent of the time, but that was now impossible.

Luke got up, whispered into Jordan's ear, "Watch this." He then walked toward some people, a family, gathering up the remnants of their meal from the table. Upon arrival, "Here, I'll get that for you. Go ahead, have fun, this is your vacation, right?"

"Why yes it is, young man. Thank you. Come on guys, get your stuff together. This boy doesn't have all day." The man, apparently the father of two girls and two boys, and the husband of a nice, attractive, but way too much frumped up, woman. The woman wore a skeptical expression on her face, but complied with the man's words. Meanwhile, Luke, ever the observer, was keeping a watchful eye on what they were tossing away. Inwardly, Luke smiled to himself, thinking "one man's waste, another man's (okay, two hungry and thirsty boys) treasures."

Luke grabbed up their stuff and began walking toward the picnic table where Jordan was sitting, splayed out, looking mighty tired, and hot, too. Luke winked, thinking, knowing he had something to offer his friend. He turned around to make sure the family was on their way, before high-tailing it to the table where he sat the stuff down and began rummaging through it, looking for something to eat, and best of all – something to drink. In the mess of papers, there were two uneaten hotdog buns, sans the hotdogs, other than a couple of small chunks left behind. Luke handed one of the morsels to Jordan, then took the other for himself and gulped it down in one fell swoop. Luke was quite pleased with himself when he handed Jordan a half-filled with some kind of pop wax cup with a lid and a straw, to boot. Jordan looked at Luke like he was an alien from outer space. The younger boy just smiled, then lifted off the lid, and handed the cup back to his friend, while he took another cup and did the same thing.

It wasn't much, but it was the birthplace for bigger and better things to come. Before leaving, both boys walked to the restrooms, did their business, filled the glasses with fresh water from the faucets, slammed down the first glass, then filled them again to take along.

The backpacks, already heavy, seemed, to both boys, to be just that much heavier. Jordan offered, seeing Luke grimace under the weight, "We don't have to carry these much further, Luke. We'll be on the highway tomorrow. We'll get a ride. I just know we will." Knowing Jordan was right, Luke nodded, and even smiled.

The boys avoided state road 98 for as long as they could. However, just east of Tallahassee, they could see the lights of the big city far ahead from their vantage point, they decided to stop for the night in a grove of orange trees where they could be alone and hidden, yet close enough to the road to get a good early start tomorrow morning. They found a nice grassy area where they sat everything down, used two of the trees for personal business, came back, arranged the backpacks so that they could be used as a sort-of-pillow, but soon gave that idea up, because they were too full and bulky.

Luke, the more brazen of the two, thought of a way to get cooled off, to get washed up just a little bit, "You stink, Jordan."

"And you do, too, Bro. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"Great minds think alike." Was the only reply. The sun had gone down, so, both boys, hot and sweaty and stinky from the days' travel, quickly stripped to their skins, and were heading toward the shore, not more than a hundred feet from camp. The water, normally warm on hot afternoons, was quite chilly, as was the air. But a little chill didn't stop them from playing like boys should be doing, because, after all, they are kids, and kids like to play. But, these boys hadn't had many opportunities to just enjoy themselves, not like right now. For an hour, maybe longer, they just played, splashed around, and enjoyed the water, which seemed, to them, to be warming up. As would be expected, when their batteries drained, they drained completely. Laboriously, they made it back to camp, stretched out on the grass, used their shoes as headrests, and soon fell sound asleep, sleeping the night through. Without the fights, the woman banging pots and pans around, yelling, cursing, vomiting in the restroom, and whathaveyou, the boys were relaxed more so than they could ever recall.

Monday, October 16, 2012

Jordan, usually the early riser, didn't even notice Luke getting up, walking to a tree, nor did he hear the splash of bodily water releasing against the tree. Nor did he hear Luke sputter and spit and nearly puke from eating a not-quite-ripe orange picked directly from the tree, nor did he hear Luke gasp while sitting next to him, taking care of his carnal needs. Luke was quite happy with his experience. Looking down into his lap, he smiled, seeing the first noteworthy evidence left behind from a very pleasant experience.

What did wake Jordan, was when Luke shook him awake. Luke awakened him, because he saw bright red marks on either side of Jordan's spine, angry red marks… and no, these were not the same mean red streaks caused by being whipped by the woman. He knew immediately what had caused them, and he worried… knowing they'd just begun their travels. While shaking Jordan awake, he was, at the same time, reaching into the backpack, retrieving all of Jordan's shirts, hoping against all hope that they would relieve the friction the backpacks were causing to his bony shouldered friend and brother.

Jordan, unaware of what Luke was aware of, as soon as his eyes, opened, quickly got up, squeezed his fully staffed appendage, walked to the tree and started the release process. Luke giggled, seeing the long high arc the older boy was making. Jordan just looked back with a dreamy expression on his face, like "Oh my god, this feels so good!" Luke then cracked up at seeing Jordan's hand rapidly and purposefully shaking away those last few remaining 'drops'.

"Feels good, don't it." Luke said, knowingly, then snickered when Jordan fell to the ground, twisting like a pretzel, and mumbling unintelligent things that made absolutely no sense to anyone, including Jordan.

"Oh, fuck yeah." Jordan sat down next to Luke. Seeing Luke putting all of his shirts together made him wonder what the heck he was doing that for. Luke, seeing the questioning look on Jordan's face, offered, "Your back… you've got red streaks under where the straps are riding on your shoulders." To make his point, he reached over Jordan's shoulders and touched his fingers to the skin. Jordan noticeably winced at the touch, even though the touch was soft, then frowned and took the shirt bundle and put it on with Luke's assistance.

Little did the boys realize that the salt and sand, enveloping their bodies from their romp in the ocean last night, sweat and friction…

Jordan, the more reserved of the two, was happy and contented, bubbling with excitement, and anxious to get started on the second day. Luke, soon getting caught up in Jordan's enthusiasm, was laughing and carrying on, too.

Finally, though, knowing that they needed to hit the road, it was only then that they got dressed after eating a peanut butter-cold-cut-with-mustard-spread-all-over for breakfast. Though it wasn't much, and what they ate sounds like a weird concoction… don't put yourself between two hungry boys, else you'll likely have a war on your hands; a war that you will not win!

Luke was careful and diligent to make sure all the wrinkles were spread out evenly before helping Jordan to put on his heavy backpack. Taking the lead, as he sometimes does with Jordan, he fastened the straps around Jordan's waist and chest so that the weight would be evenly distributed. Jordan did likewise, but not before checking Luke's back and shoulders to make sure he didn't have the same issue. Luke's back, Jordan silently sighed, was just fine. As a preventative measure, Luke put on two shirts, and adjusted the straps so that the backpack was firmly attached to keep the offending friction at a bare bones minimum.

Two to three hours later, neither boy had a watch, they arrived at the I-10, feeling pretty well worn out from the long trek without a break. They dropped their backpacks at the fence, and stood there in utter amazement at all the traffic they would have to cross in order to get to the westbound lanes. With rush hour, heavy, heavy traffic running between Jacksonville and Tallahassee, including lots and lots of eighteen wheelers going both ways, the realization that there was no way they would make it across, struck hard. Both boys sat down on their backpacks and quietly contemplated on what their next action would be. Not only was there that obstacle, there was also the obstacle of making it over the ten foot fence, a fence they knew was used to keep pedestrian traffic away from and off the interstate.

Luke turned to Jordan, "Don't give up hope. We've come too far to stop, now." Jordan smiled, somewhat wearily, replying, "Never! Okay, Bright One, how are we going to do this, you know, get to the other side?"

Meanwhile twenty miles west, in the eastbound lanes, two cars traveling side by side, got into a bit of a scuffle as the driver of a later model Honda Civic cut off the driver in a late model Chevy Caprice. In fact, their vehicles touched, but thankfully they didn't lose control, for that would have spelled disaster – not only for them, but for the rest of the drivers coming out of Tallahassee going to their destinations.

The driver of the Civic is a young guy. A very young guy. A guy who had just gotten his drivers' license at the end of the school year, in May. Young inexperienced drivers are a menace, mainly because of their lack of experience and attitude of being ten feet tall and bullet proof.

The driver of the Caprice, an older man in his late 30′s, was driving into Jacksonville where he works as a software designer. He's got three kids at home and a beautiful loving and doting wife, a woman who had been his sweetheart since they were in second grade. Bill was also a weekend warrior around the racetrack. Racing was in his blood, but instead of being all cocky and arrogant and unforgiving, as had been taught to him since he was a little one, he was a kind gentle man, a good daddy, and a faithful husband.

So, fully using his skills as a safe, defensive driver, he ignored the kid and kept traveling down the highway at a sensible speed, staying with traffic, not trying to be first, nor was he the one to be dragging and lagging behind in the fast lane. But that doesn't mean that everybody drives in the same fashion. There truly are idiots out there in the world, and that kid was just one of them. Hopefully, he'll straighten out before something bad happens to either himself or others.

Meanwhile, about half a mile up the road, the kid in the Civic was 'playing around' with two other drivers, cutting them off, acting like he was going to pull into their lanes, playing daredevil, just generally being a dangerous asshole.

Several of the other, uninvolved drivers were calling into the Florida State Patrol to report the kid and the dangerous things he was doing. Troopers were immediately dispatched. One of them just so happened to be parked on an on-ramp some three miles down the highway on the eastbound side, just waiting for a call about an asshole driver, a wreck, a stranded motorist, pedestrians on or near the highway, or other calls that require legal intervention.

One thing a cop knows what not to do, whenever possible, is spook other drivers. As soon as lights and sirens go on – people do stupid shit. They will rapidly slow down for no other good reason other than to just slow down. They generally do not even take into account the cop is going after some situation ahead of them. So, Randall eased his vehicle into drive, began slowly heading up the ramp to get on the interstate. The very last thing that a cop wants to do is to get involved in a high-speed pursuit in rush-hour traffic… it's just asking for trouble, big trouble. Typically, pursuits are called off, or ended in these situations. They're just too dangerous for everybody concerned, including innocent drivers… especially innocent drivers.

The reports calling in were giving good, clear, concise descriptions of the driver and the make and model, and location of his car. Randall, a seasoned officer, from all accounts and purposes, knew exactly where the Civic was located. Knowing that the Civic would soon be intersecting, Randall gave it some gas so that a visual intercept could occur… sometimes, just seeing a law enforcement vehicle was enough to slow a speeder down to a reasonable level. Randall's souped up, copped up Dodge Charger was fully fueled, so he had plenty of time to follow at a safe distance, for however long it took. Looking in all directions, especially through the side and rear view mirrors, he got to the speed of traffic and eased the patrol car in. As was expected, the drivers put distance between him and them, which was actually a good thing. It might allow the crazed driver to pass on through traffic without a hitch, at which time Randall could follow the driver long enough to safely make a traffic stop.

As fate would have it, shit hit the fan. The reported Civic, taking full advantage of the distance between the patrol car and other drivers came rocketing down the right shoulder. Randall estimated its speed at over seventy miles per hour. Speed of traffic was in the neighborhood of fifty to fifty five miles per hour, except for the separated outer two lanes, designated lanes for truckers and other commercial carriers.

Randall, seeing the car coming up on him, had two choices. Neither would have a good outcome, no matter what he did as a law enforcement officer sworn to protect, even when his life might be put in jeopardy.

The first choice would be to pull over to the side of the road and let the driver pass, and hope that he would slow down and not cause any problems up the road.

The second option would be to cause a controlled accident, just between him and the offending driver, if that's what it came down to, if that's what had to happen. To serve and protect. To disable threats. To neutralize those who cause harm to others. These are some of the things that were going through Randall's mind as the distance between him and the Civic driver was closing in, and closing in – too fast.

Then everything changed. Out of the corner of his eye he saw two boys standing next to the fence on the right shoulder, some 40 feet away from the roadway, but, still, too close…

Jordan and Luke had stood up, had their hands on the fence; were surveying, contemplating, figuring out, debating on how to get across the highway. Just as they turned to walk down the fence line toward an on-off-ramp about half a mile away, they heard horrific screeches of tires, twisting metal, several thuds, and in the split second that it took them to look back to see what was going on… all they saw was a red car careening their way, spinning, with another car, a white car, bumping and bouncing, then both vehicles totally lost control… the little red car spun back into traffic, right in front of two big eighteen wheelers. The other car sped into the fence, no more than 20 feet ahead of the two boys, tearing down the fence, and then it flipped end over end and came to rest on its top.

But that was only the beginning… the crashes, bangs, cars flipping around, trucks jackknifing, careening into the jersey walls… was a like a horror flick coming true in real life.

Both boys, unharmed, other than for being thrown to the ground when the patrol car went careening through the fence, got up and started running toward the patrol car… they only knew it was a patrol car because its roof rack had been violently torn off and tossed away from them. Just as they arrived, they heard a man's voice cursing the seat belt that was holding him inside the upside down vehicle. The boys arrived, leaned in. Jordan said, "Sir, are you okay?"

Before the officer could respond, Luke seeing that the man was unable to get his seat belt loose, jumped inside the vehicle. Both boys noticed smoke coming from the front engine compartment. Jordan quickly tossed off his backpack and joined Luke inside the vehicle to get the man's seat belt freed, so he could exit. The man had scrapes and scratches about his face and arms. At first, totally rattled by the chain of events, the man resisted their attempts, until Jordan said forcefully, "Sir, your car is on fire. We've got to get you out of here before it blows up."

The boys worked frantically. The weight of the man against the belt was tremendous, making it very, very difficult to push the button to release the seat belt so that they could all get out, but finally it gave. The man fell upside down and cracked his head hard on the roof, which ended up in all three of them becoming a tangled mess of arms and legs, all attempting to get free at the same time.

When the smell of gasoline became very strong, inexplicably the chaos became organized enough for the boys and the officer to get out, and take off running toward the mangled maze of wrecked cars and trucks and delivery vans and utility vans… it was a big mess. Some people were standing around, some were helping other drivers, some were giving aid, some were hysterical, some were surprisingly calm.

When they all three got to the roadway, which was, of course, stopped at a complete standstill, the officer told the boys to go stand by the fence, to stay out of the way because all sorts of emergency vehicles were surely on their way, but before the two boys got too far away, the officer shouted, "Thank you!"

The boys, meanwhile, looked toward the cop car, turned upside down, just in time to see it envelope in flames, and then were knocked to the ground when it exploded. Shards of broken glass, bent and twisted metal pieces, some of it flaming, went everywhere, barely missing the boys. Within seconds, they'd gotten up and began running as fast as they could in the opposite direction, to safety.

Both boys, frightened to all ends, quickly turned away, away from the freeway, unzipped, pulled their flesh out, only to release their terror in front of god, bystanders, even a news helicopter arriving on the scene from the direction they were pointed. With their streams fully flowing, Jordan looked up into the belly of the copter – and waved. The boys would not know that – the live stream from the aircraft didn't stop – the reporters could not pan away quick enough… so there they were on live-TV.

Both boys looked at one another, and then cracked up, briefly finding humor in an otherwise disastrous situation.

The seriousness and gravity of everything, immediately returned once they put themselves back together, turned around and began slowly walking toward the massive maelstrom scattered all about, in front of their eyes. They stopped at the edge of the shoulder where it meets the outer driving lane, to observe EMS, Fire and Rescue, Law Enforcement, even the Coroner's van, and other various and sundry emergency first responders. Without even realizing what they were doing, or had already done, that is holding each other around their waists, they took it all in and attempted to start processing it , as only a twelve year old boy can, within himself.

Thankfully, no other fire ensued.

Seeing the boys standing at the side of the road, two paramedics approached the boys and demanded to know if they were all right. When both boys assured the personnel that they were fine, the personnel returned to attend to the injured parties.

Jordan pointed to a vehicle that was smashed beneath two eighteen wheelers. The only way you could really tell that it was a car was its bumper and flattened tires, other than that it was a bent and twisted wrecked white vehicle. Jordan, clearly mesmerized by the whole scene quietly asked, "Are they dead?" "They have to be." Luke replied softly, sadly, shaking off a chill that started at the back of his neck and descended to the balls of his feet. From Jordan's vantage point, he could see a partial head and a dismembered limb just underneath and beside the smashed vehicle. An involuntary, violent shudder shook him to his knees where he leaned his head down and lost the contents of his stomach. Luke, not seeing what Jordan had seen, but sensitive to the sounds and motions of his friend and brother, went to his hands and knees, straining and stressing, as he, too, lost it.

Several very long minutes passed.

Being somewhat recovered from their ordeal, the sound of an approaching vehicle got their attention. The vehicle, a large box truck, stopped within ten feet of them. The boys, thinking they were going to get run over, not wanting to get run over, quickly stood and stepped away from its path.

Several workers exited the Red Cross vehicle. One lady, a portly soul, with flaming red hair approached both boys. Seeing that the boys were pale and pasty from their exertions, which she had seen, she approached them, "Are you boys okay? Are you injured?"

"Uhm, yes, ma'am, we are, now." Luke offered, while checking his shirt for any evidence from the misadventure. Jordan, quickly said, as the woman approached them, "We're not hurt. Uhm… yeah, we're okay."

The lady, Doris, her name was written on the name tag affixed to her right lapel, said, "Are you sure? You looked mighty sick a few minutes ago… let me get you something cold to drink; I'll be right back."

Jordan was quick to respond, "Ma'am, we don't have any money. Maybe we could just have some water, please?"

The lady took pity on the boys, "We'll fix you right up. I'll be right back with something cold. Don't go anywhere." Jordan, then Luke nodded. Luke replied, "Thank you, Ma'am." She then took off for the back of the vehicle.

Luke got a very surprised look on his face. He then frowned woefully, turned toward the fence down by the exploded police car. He lamented, "Our shit." Jordan followed Luke's line of sight to see their belongings, their backpacks, plastered against the fence, but thankfully, it appeared that both packs were intact. By the time they returned with their worldly possessions, the lady was waiting, holding cold bottles of Gatorade, handed them to the boys, then went on about her business offering drinks to emergency workers who happened by on their way here or there or somewhere.

Jordan, realizing that he and Luke were holding onto each other, quickly looked to the side of Luke's face to see if he'd yet noticed how they were standing, holding each other… Luke never looked away from that white car, smashed beneath the trucks. Jordan turned Luke to face him, with some resistance, then Jordan drew Luke into his arms and held him tight, closing his eyes so that he didn't have to see anything more… his limit was reached, was surpassed very nearly to its breaking point.

Luke then started crying. Jordan felt it was his duty to support his friend, his best friend and brother, the best he could, but then immediately realized that he wanted to be present and accounted for… for Luke… and no one else. The crying boy soon regained his composure, and said, "I'm sorry, Jordan. I've got to get out of here. I can't take any more of this."

Luke then separated them, walked to their backpacks, waited for Jordan to follow, which he immediately did. Luke helped Jordan to put his backpack on, taking the same care he had earlier this morning given, and then Jordan helped Luke to put his on.

Luke offered, "Look, we can get through; the traffic's all blocked off on both sides, shit, this is terrible."

"Wait." Jordan said. He ran to the aide truck, grabbed two large bottles of the liquid refreshment, then off they went, crossing all 8 lanes of traffic, in addition to the two truck lanes in either direction. Then they took off, on foot, walking westbound in the westbound lanes, going by mangled pieces of metal, plastic and tires.

They'd been walking for over an hour before any traffic entered the freeway; one car here, one car there; two here; three there… until about an hour later when traffic was traveling as usual, in both directions, at highway speeds. And when trucks went flying by, the air displacement nearly knocked both boys off their feet, literally.

Jordan got Luke's attention, "Aren't we supposed to be waving our thumbs up in the air? That's what I've seen on TV, anyway."

"Good point." Luke replied.

Both boys turned around and walked backward, all the while sticking their thumbs up, all to no avail. Nobody hardly gives hitchhikers rides anymore, or so it seems. There have been too many incidents where both driver and or rider get hurt. Luke's dad had shared stories of his youth, 'back in the day' when things were more relaxed, when people weren't hurting other people, as much, back when you could trust people not to cause hurt or harm. These thoughts were swirling around in Luke's head, making him nervous about getting in a vehicle with someone they didn't know, but then again, there was their plan of getting to the west coast, arriving, hopefully, by the end of the summer.

By mid afternoon, the boys were hot, tired, sore, losing hope, silently wondering if they'd ever get 'there', wherever there is, hungry and thirsty. They'd largely been silent for the past hour and a half, or so, again – they had no watches to know exactly what time it was, not that they really cared at that point. They just wanted to get off their feet, even if for a little while. And with traffic buzzing all around them, they knew that stopping on the side of the road wasn't a good idea, so they didn't stop, and they didn't dilly dally around. They were making excellent progress, even though they were walking, or so they thought… the truth of the matter is that they were only a few miles away from the accident scene.

A large eighteen wheeler was just ramping up to enter the freeway when both boys began frantically waving their thumbs high up in the air. The truck driver looked at the two boys, made a mental note, or two, then shut the rig's acceleration down to a crawl, downshifting and braking to bring it to a stop on the side of the onramp, much to the boys' delight. Seeing no traffic on the ramp, both boys ran to the drivers' side of the rig. The driver looked down, opened the window so that he could look out. A frown crossed his forehead, but, nevertheless, he opened the door, climbed down, and stood in front of the boys, "You guys are just kids, little kids, what the heck are you doing out here by yourselves? It's dangerous!"

Jordan, his mouth loose, at times, countered, "And you're an old man… what the hell are you doing out here all by yourself?"

The man's eyes got great big, like, "What the fuck dude… you're talking to me like that, huh?" His jowls went up and down a couple of times while he digested that tid bit. "Well, you may have a point there… but that still doesn't explain why you're out here on the damn freeway all by yourselves."

Luke countered, mischievously, "We're not alone, are we Jordan?"

"Nope." The older boy replied, without hesitation, smiling, even.

The driver looked at both boys, sizing them up, then said, "Where you going? I might be able to help out."

Luke replied, "Vegas." At the same time, Jordan offered, "The west coast."

The man chuckled, "Well, boys, I'm not going that far. I'm dropping this load off in Pensacola, then I'm picking one up slated for New Orleans." The man scratched his graying hair, before saying, "I guess you're welcome to come with me. Any little bit is better than nothing, I tend to say. By the way, I'm not a pervert and don't mess with kids. I've got grandchildren your age… this is the only reason that I'm going to take you with me."

"Thank you, Mister."

"Yeah, thank you."

"No problem. Well, let's get you loaded up. We'll get on our way." The man said, then effortlessly removed the backpacks off the shoulders of both boys, carried them to the passenger side, climbed up the stairs and tossed them into the sleeper section of the humongous truck.

While he was topside, both boys ponied up against the huge diesel fuel tanks to take care of pressing matters. Jordan, groaning as the scant hot stinging liquid released, said to Luke, "This is so kewl. I told ya!" Luke nodded agreement, put himself away, and waited for his brother and friend to finish his duties.

The man, holding back at seeing the boys relieving themselves, waited until they were done before descending from the cab. He realized that the boys, particularly Jordan, was tired and worn out. Given their ages and the weight of the cargo, he felt for them, yet their enthusiasm was catching, so he felt that he needed to help them as much as possible, and it would start by taking them to New Orleans and making sure they had another ride for another leg of their journey.

After the boys were settled in, making sure they were properly belted, he went around to the drivers' side, climbed up, settled and belted himself in, checked traffic several times, then got a momentum going before easing into traffic, which was heavy and congested. He hated driving the rig during rush hour, but the load was hot, meaning he was already running a bit late, due to the accident, so, carefully, he didn't waste any time getting the rig rolling again.

The boys, particularly Luke, were watching the man shift through all the gears until they were at highway speed, traveling down the road to their next destination. The man then made the decision to make sure the boys were fed and cleaned up before they were on their way. It was the least he could do.

Jordan, seeing the Peterbuilt emblem on the dashboard, remarked, "This is the best truck on the road, isn't it Mister?"

"Yes, it is. They really don't make any trucks better than this. Kenworth comes in a close second. Either or is a good truck. I think Peterbuilt is more comfortable, though."

Luke piped up, "How many gallons to a mile does it get?"

The man chuckled, "This rig gets about 9 miles per gallon, depending on terrain and how heavy a load I'm carrying… yeah, it's about 9 miles per gallon on average."

"What are you carrying?" Jordan asked, curiously.

"Have you seen those little bottles of fuel used for Coleman lamps, stoves, and the like?" Both boys nodded, knowingly. Continuing, "Well, that's what I'm carrying."

"Oh, isn't that dangerous?" Luke asked, clearly surprised, and a bit worried.

"Well, yes, it can be. Let's just say a driver has to be careful to avoid any sudden situations, or to get in a dangerous position if at all possible. This load is stable, quite unlike a liquid load of say gasoline, milk. Liquid loads have a tendency to shift frequently, again depending on terrain and the driver. A driver has to be especially trained. You can't have a jackass driving all crazy and stuff."

"You probably saw the wreck back there?" Luke asked, seriously, frowning.

"Yes, I was there. Did you boys see the aftermath… it was terrible."

Jordan, feeling and seeing the car smashed beneath the two large trucks, offered, "Yeah… we saw a car flattened to pieces… there's no way the person or persons survived that… is there, Sir?"

"No, I saw it, too. There were quite a few cars destroyed. That was a horrific wreck, one of the worst ones I've seen over the 37 years I've been stripping gears for a living. Did you boys see it, too?"

Luke said, "Yeah, we saw it happen. We just about got ran over. We helped a highway patrolman get out of his vehicle before it caught fire and exploded. That was scary."

The driver looked toward both boys and saw their demeanor change from enthusiastic to sad and scared, reliving their ordeal. He wasn't about to tell them that there were thirteen reported deaths and many, many injured, several critically. No, he was going to and did keep that to himself.; they just didn't need to know. The boys also got quiet. Traffic was heavy, so the man kept his eyes peeled and his being on full alert. When traffic slightly cleared, he looked over only to see the boys sound asleep, and they stayed asleep until he reached the turn-off about two hours, give or take a few minutes, up the road.

Jordan then Luke awakened, looked all around to see why they were slowing. Jordan asked, sleepily, "Where are we?"

The man replied, "We're on the northeast side of Pensacola. Here's the deal: if you are agreeable, but only if it is okay with you… I'm going to make sure you have a decent meal at a good truck stop. There, they also have showers, looks to me like you boys could use one… it will also give you energy… if I may, can I ask when you last ate?"

Jordan looked to Luke, shrugged his shoulders, then replied, "Uhm, it's been a couple of days ago."

The man jerked his head toward the boys, not believing that it had been that long since they had eaten, because, after all, they were growing up. Hearing the taller boys' response made him all that more determined to make sure they, at least for now, had a good head start, and, internally, he would make sure that they had a ride beyond New Orleans where he would have to part from them.

With that decision, with that resolve made, they made their way to the distribution center, in short order.

"I want you boys to go back into the sleeper. Catch some winks. And do not leave the truck for any reason. There's a porta potty, in case you need to use it. There's also a reefer, I suggest you get loaded up on water and leave the pop alone. The heat can and does, easily, make a person dehydrated, and, well, let's just stave off it for as long as possible."

As the man opened the door, as the boys unbelted and began their way into the back sleeper, Luke asked, "Hey Mister, what's your name? Mine's Luke."

Jordan piped up, "Mine's Jordan."

The man responding, "Dale. Dale Wilson. Okay, I'm going to unload this load, you boys be sure to stay back there. There's also a stereo system that I use to go to sleep by. Feel free to turn it onto something you like better."

With that, Dale descended the stairs and his feet landed on the ground with a thud, causing him to swear at getting older, knowing that he wouldn't be driving for too many more years, knowing that he had to keep working to keep health insurance for his wife, Regina, having twice beaten cancer and its complications.

Meanwhile, the boys had settled in after grabbing bottles of Gatorade, knowing and understanding that Dale was correct. They are also very, very grateful for his meal and shower offer. Their tummies were way beyond being hungry. Profound weariness and exhaustion overtook the boys, and, soon, within 30 minutes, no more, they were sound asleep and oblivious to the world, lying on a soft non-broken down bed, for a change, being cared for and taken care of, for another change… thus sending them into deep slumber, even though they were far away from home.

But they really didn't have a home, not really. Jordan's mother barely tolerated their presence, feeling that they were in the way… not that she totally didn't give a shit, because she did, it's just because she doesn't know any better… nor does she want to know or do different. It was just well enough that they were no longer in her way, at least for a while. She was sitting at the kitchen table, with an open bottle of Miller High Life beer, sipping on it, wondering what she was going to do next, and wondering why the boys would have their backpacks filled to capacity… why was that? They were only going to be gone for a couple of days, and she knew that they would likely be on the beach, playing, but that thought quickly passed as she drank down the rest of the alcohol beverage, then got up for another one, and another, and another… until oblivion reached her once more.

Jordan lifted up his head at hearing the door to the rig open. Luke, still sound asleep, lying right up next to Jordan, didn't so much as twitch a muscle, even when Dale got up into the cab and fired up the powerful diesel engine. Jordan laid down his head; even though he'd never been taught or led to believe or much less felt cared for and taken care of, his eyes closed, his body relaxed, and a deep slumber took over. After a twitch or two, his body lay motionless, save for deep raspy breaths of air going in and out of his thin chest.

Meanwhile, Dale pulled the vehicle out of the loading dock area. Slowly he made their way up the steep incline that leads out of the staging area, intent upon getting the boys fed, showered and changed. Once he got up on the main road, he got on the CB and began the quest to get them a good ride, on their way, with safety clearly on his mind and in his heart.

Because his CB was ramped up, illegally, of course, his voice carried out for about a hundred miles, or so. Of course, he made mention that he had a special load that really needed taken care of because it was fragile. If a person knew what that meant, and most of the drivers did know what Dale was talking about, regarding the special fragile load, nobody said anything about being able to carry such a load. Although unsaid, it was and is clear that taking 'that' load is largely beyond what is legal, meaning that the law frowns on kids being taken across state lines – it makes the situation a federal deal should it come right down to it, and it was then that he realized he'd done what the other drivers were reluctant to do… and he put himself in a dangerous situation, and the boys, too.

But that realization and knowledge didn't stop him. Instead, he got back up on the I-10, headed west and stopped at the Love's truck stop just outside of Pensacola, pulled the rig into the parking lot, parked at a fuel pump, descended the stairs – this time much more gracefully, and put the nozzle into the tank to fill 'er up.

While it was fueling, he grabbed a ladder, a brush and a bucket of hot soapy water and began clearing the windshield of squished bugs, oil and other things and substances that obscure vision. The boys, oblivious to the world, sound asleep, didn't even notice when Dale pulled the rig to a long, wide parking area for big rigs… until the man, Dale, hoisted himself out of the seat and went into the sleeper, leaned over and began rubbing Jordan's hair, in an effort to wake him from his deep slumber.

Jordan, startled, opened his eyes in fright; his muscles tensed, but soon relaxed, somewhat, at seeing the soft eyes of the man, Dale, who had picked them up and given them a ride to where they were, wherever that was, or is.

Dale, imagining the boys' fear, softly said, "It's okay, Little One. We're at the truck stop… it's time to wake up – food! A shower. And time to relax for a bit."

Jordan nodded, then shook Luke to wake up, which he did, quickly, sensing and feeling the very exact same thing that Jordan was feeling, at least initially, until he, too, realized he was safe. Dale, seeing that the boys were fully awake and moving around, quickly made his way back into the seat for the driver, and then made a couple of phone calls while the boys were gathering up a change of clothes, shampoo, and a small bar of used soap. It was then, too, that the stench of spoiled food nearly overtook them, but not quite. Dale, smelling the putrid substances, or what was left of those substances, quickly made his way back into the sleeper, where the boys were gathering up their stuff, and said, "Geezus, what the hell is that?"

Forelone and downtrodden, Jordan offered, "Our food. It's all spoiled. Damn it." With resignation, Jordan quickly tossed the nasty shit into a small trash basket next to the portable refrigerator, but Dale would have no part of that, asking Jordan to hand the rancid, putrid smelling shit to him so that he could properly dispose of it, which Jordan did, immediately.

While Dale exited the rig, Luke turned to Jordan, "We're fucked, sort of, I guess. We don't got no… we ain't got any money to buy more." Jordan, thinking quickly, to stave off a wave of depression in Luke, replied, "It's going to work out… you'll see. Maybe we can ask Dale for some money so that we can buy food."

Luke, clearly annoyed, retorted, "We can't go asking people for money… I've got my principles… one of them isn't begging for handouts. Maybe we could wash dishes, clean restrooms, or something."

Jordan perked up, "Yeah. Well, maybe Dale can give us some ideas, or hook us up so that we can make some money… hurry up, I'm starved."

Luke, looking around the inside of the sleeper, quickly noticed two empty trash bags sitting beside the stereo. He grabbed them and began putting his clothes into one of them, and then handed the other to Jordan who did the same thing. Soon, they had their stuff all together and stowed, climbed up into the cab, looked for Dale, then saw him walking back from a fuel island. Jordan, then Luke looked down after opening the passenger side door, only to see a great distance between the seat of the rig and the ground. Both boys tossed their bags to the pavement, then began the journey to the ground, themselves. Their landing was much more graceful than Dale's had been. Dale came around to check on the boys. Finding them grinning at each other while picking up their bags, he securely locked the rig and they began a trek into the restaurant.

When they were inside, Dale said, "Let's take our showers first, get into some clean clothes, which will make us feel more like eating a good meal."

Jordan, quickly realized he didn't have any clean shirts, but then remembered that he was wearing four shirts to keep the friction on his shoulders to a bare minimum. Luke's idea had worked. No longer was the skin on his shoulders burning. He correctly figured he could just recycle the shirt closest to his skin with a clean one. That is the plan; it would work.

Dale handed each of the boys a five dollar bill, telling them to go to the cashier to pay for their showers, and then he'd meet them in the restroom. Luke found it a bit weird that Dale didn't have to pay for his… Dale, sensing Luke's question responded, "Love's has a card that permits me to take showers at no expense. The cost is one dollar. I figure you boys could use the change." Arriving at the entrance, Dale cautioned, "You boys go on into the showers… you, of course, can take them separately, or you do them together, whatever you decide is just fine… I'll go to an empty shower and take mine… how about we meet out here in say half an hour… will that work?"

Luke took hold of Jordan's wrist and led them about ten feet away from Dale, at which time he said, "We can take our showers together… that way we have nine dollars left…"

Jordan nodded. They returned to Dale, went inside, went to the cashier's cage, paid for their showers, then followed the man back to the shower rooms, located at the rear of the inside of the building, separated from Dale and entered one of the spacious stalls, dumped their belongings on a ledge like thing, stripped to the skin, got the water to temperature and stepped in.

Luke, intently concerned about Jordan's back and shoulders, turned Jordan around so that he could fully see by using the bright lights. Surprisingly, Jordan's back looked good. Inwardly, Luke was pleased that his idea had worked. He patted Jordan's back, "It worked." Jordan, agreeing wholeheartedly, quipped, "Whatever would I do without you?"

Luke smiled, then both boys went about the task of washing away the dirt, grime, sand and salt from their pores, fully and completely relishing the seemingly endless supply of hot and soapy water. They took turns washing the others' backs and shoulders where they could not reach for themselves. Jordan, especially, liked touching Luke's soft skin. Knowing how good Luke's vigorous washing did for him, he, too, made every attempt to make Luke's shower just as enjoyable as possible. Jordan's mind wandered, wishing he could wash the rest of Luke's body, which created a bit of an issue with that which designates him male. With that clearly in mind, and apparent, Jordan did apply the soap directly to the skin of Luke's legs, from just below his cheeks to the tips of his toes. Luke, too, had the same issue, so they, quickly but completely took care of their own needs, rinsed, exited the shower, then found large fluffy towels on the bench seat, which they used to dry off with, luxuriating in the soft cocoon and sweet fresh smell.

Luke, clearly enjoying the sensations, closed his eyes as he dried off. Jordan used his towel to dry Luke's back, then began vigorously running the cloth over and in Luke's hair. He knew what he was doing was weird, yet he was drawn to this boy like he'd never been drawn to another human being in all his twelve years on the planet, yet he felt that Luke was definitely not on the same page, so to speak.

Luke did, however, return the favor, but he didn't linger in any one particular spot. For that matter, neither had Jordan.

Dressed and as ready as they'd ever be, they exited, went to the sink, but realized they had no toothbrushes, or combs or hair brushes. So, with their hair unruly and stuck out in all directions, yet feeling clean and invigorated, they headed out to find Dale.

Dale was already sitting at a booth, making phone calls, when they arrived. Dale motioned for them to sit, that the waitress would be right back to take their drink orders, and then their meal orders. Dale said, "You boys order whatever you want. Try to get something filling, yet healthy, too. Fruits are good for endurance and they will provide you more energy and will help to keep you healthy. The roads are unforgiving, and being out in the heat and wind is dangerous."

Jordan knew that being out in the heat was treacherous, but he didn't realize, nor did Luke, that the elements were dangerous, but the more they thought about it, they knew that what Dale said was and is true, so when the waitress arrived, they ordered oranges, bananas, hot cakes, bacon and eggs, with the eggs sunny side up and done easy.

As he knew they would, the boys attacked, with vengeance, despite his warnings to go slow, their meals and had every last morsel slammed down in short order. Jordan, accidentally, despite a valiant attempt to suppress it – burped loudly, so loudly, in fact, that his mouth filled with undigested food, which he quickly swallowed down, all the while being clearly embarrassed. Dale laughed, and happily shook his head, somewhat savoring the knowledge that his words had no effect, until experience backed them up.

Both boys, invigorated and restored from their naps, showers, and full tummies, had their eyes wide open and were chomping at the bit, so to speak, to get restarted on their journey toward their destination.

Dale is grateful to see and experience their renewal. Inwardly, he smiled, knowing he had but a little to do with their good and forward thinking attitudes, renewed senses of adventure, and their happy interactions with each other, and him, too. As he sat there watching them interact, he thought of his grandson, Carlin, known also as Carl, but Dale always called the boy by his given name, rather than the shortened version. Carlin, also twelve, was much like these two boys sitting in front of him, and had a very real zeal and sense of adventure… he just hoped his grandson would not ever feel like he needed to go somewhere else to find his true happiness, and to search for something to fix his insides. He knew that his son Jeremy, would never ever let anything bad happen to his own son, Carlin, which caused Dale to visibly smile.

"What are you thinking of, Dale." Luke asked, then immediately added, "Sorry, I didn't mean to get in your business." Luke then nudged Jordan to let him out, but Dale verbally stopped him by saying, "It's okay, Son. I was just thinking of my grandson… he's your age… I'd guess you to be, what, thirteen, maybe twelve… and like you, he has a zeal and adventuresome spirit."

Jordan offered, after letting Luke up and out of the booth, "We're twelve, almost thirteen. What's your grandson's name, can I ask, sorry?"

"No problem, Jordan. There's no need to apologize for asking questions… it's the way we learn about each other. It's how we get to know who a person really is, and what they're made of."

Jordan nodded. Dale responded, "His name is Carlin. Everybody else calls him Carl. I call him Carlin, his given name…"

Luke, meanwhile, not used to eating so much food, quickly got up and nearly ran into the restroom where he found a stall and tended to his needs, allaying a sense of urgency.

A few minutes later, Jordan, wondering where Luke was asked for and received permission to go find him, thinking maybe he'd gone to the gift shop to look around. But Luke wasn't there in the shop. Concerned, Jordan went into the men's room, feeling his own needs giving rise, found an empty spot. When he sat down, because the walls were kind of high at the bottom, he saw Luke's tennis shoes, and sensed relief of knowing where he was. They chattered a bit, and finished at the same time.

Meanwhile, Dale had gotten busy on the phone, calling his trucker friends, trying oh so hard to get the boys a ride out of New Orleans, finally relenting after nobody would or could avail themselves of taking on a special fragile load, even though he did not describe the boys as being a load, rather he called them by name, telling them all he knew about their adventure. Since he wasn't on the road, and using a public address system, he felt more able and willing to share more details.

The final call, in a moment of pure determination, was made to an old flame from long ago, "Katy, this is Dale, how are you?"

"Oh my, Dale is that you, you old fucker?"

"Damn straight…."

Although they were long ago estranged, they still talked to one another, say, maybe, once a month or so… and it was usually about business. Katy had been driving big rigs for about as long as Dale, in fact, Dale and Katy were first road partners, in fact, Dale had gotten Katy into the business. After about a year, they'd separated and went their own ways; with Katy buying her own rig, working as an independent, and Dale continuing to work for the Orange Pumpkin, for hire. One good thing came from their relationship – a baby girl was born of their temporary union. Katy had taken a year off the job to have her, to get her bonded, and to get her started on this journey called life. At first, Dale had made sure that he was in town as often as possible to involve himself in her life, but it soon was decided, jointly so, that he should go his own way, and, so that is what he did, and she did, too. Dale, being a man of principles and loyalty, had given and continues to give financial support to the girl's growing up years, and her veterinarian school. She met a very nice man her age who's devoted to her care and welfare. He's also a veterinarian student, so their dreams and hard work went in the same direction. Dale had met him once, and immediately liked him, and knew that his daughter, Theresa, would be okay… he just knew it from the depths of his being. Although Dale and Theresa didn't have a day to day relationship, nor, really, a father-daughter relationship, they did, indeed, love and respect each other. Theresa called Dale her father at every opportunity.

Dale's current wife, his only wife, knew of Theresa and the quick fling of her husband, before he was her husband, and approved of it, knowing she couldn't control anything about his past, nor did she want to. She knew Dale was a good man, true to his word, faithful, and that he was a damn good daddy, and a hell of a good grandfather, having learned his lessons with his, their own children. And, she had no trouble, jealous trouble to be specific, with Katy and Dale talking together about whatever they needed to talk about, or wanted to talk about. No, jealousy is not in Regina's blood. She'd seen the jealousy tear apart her parents' relationship, that ended in a bitter divorce many years ago. She'd vowed she'd never do or be like that, ever.

With the love from his wife clearly in his mind, heart and soul, Dale felt free to talk with Katy about anything and everything, even the couple of deep dark times in his marriage to Regina, and even more often during Regina's two bouts with breast cancer. Dale thanks his lucky stars that Regina now has almost six years out from her last bout, meaning the doctors were cautiously optimistic about her full recovery.

"It is." Dale continued, "Say, I need to ask a favor of you… where are you?"

"Why, I am just crossing over the Red River, headed to Dallas with a reefer loaded with pot pies." Katy replied, giggling, knowing that would get a chuckle from Dale, who sounded way too serious. There's a story about a freezer load of instant food, from way back when they were running together, but that is for another story at another time, sorry, grin. Katy continued, "Where are you, Darling?"

"Oh, I love it when you talk to me dirty…" Dale grinned, and giggled, too, then continuing, "I'm in Pensacola, getting ready to grab a load. When this load is delivered, I'm heading home for a couple of weeks. Regina and I are heading to Honolulu for a week's vacation."

"Oh, that sounds kewl… are you going to grab a load of pineapples?" Katy asked, laughing heartily.

Dale grinned… they, too, had a story about pineapples, but like frozen goodies, the story is for another story in another time zone. He replied, "No! No more pineapples, if I can help it! God, I mean 'gosh, I never want that to happen again!"

Okay, a little backdrop as to their pineapple run, years ago… the load was picked up in LA and it was to be delivered in Dallas-Fort Worth. They were on the outskirts of Phoenix, driving during the night. Although the load was refrigerated, it couldn't be dilly dallied along, it had to get to its destination within 24 hours, no more, or else the load would be yours, and nobody is going to buy a load of second or third rate pineapples, unless it was black-market, and we didn't, and I do not, do the black-market thing… it's just too dangerous.

Anyway, we're on the outskirts of Phoenix, when we had a breakdown in the middle of the night. We lost electrical power, and despite our every attempt to locate it and fix the malady, we couldn't, and our load was late by about 8 hours… so, instead of dumping the load or selling it to unsavory characters, we drug it to South Texas, near the border, found a conglomerate that we gave the load to… you know, with their promises of feeding hungry and starving kids… my main downfall… anyway, after dumping it we headed to San Antonio for a load of peaches to take to Oklahoma City. We later found out that the pineapple had been sent to a plant just south of the US-Mexican border where they were converted into – booze, fine booze, which was then sent back to Hawaii!!! Little did they know… the whole story. Which all worked out fine, since Hawaii doesn't have a distillery on the islands, not a free-trade business, that is.

"Katy, all that aside, for right now, until next time… I have a situation. I need some help…"

Meanwhile, in the rest room, the boys finished their business at about the same time, Jordan walked to the sink, Luke followed a minute or two later, washed his hands, pushed the button on the hand drier, rubbed his hands together, per instructions on the apparatus. Luke stood beside Jordan, washed his hands, then they shared what little time remained, then, of course, as boys will do, wiped the rest of the water onto the front of their pants, until their little hands were dry. They then fussed with their hair, still seriously trying to get it more manageable, as they were just beginning to have a slight semblance of concern about their appearances.

"Fuck it." Jordan exclaimed, running his hands, one last time, through the mop of hair lying and sticking out all helter skelter on his head. Luke was having just as much luck, so he just thought, but didn't say, "Fuck it" too.

They exited the restroom, walked to the table where Dale was sitting and talking on the phone. He motioned the boys to join him. They did. Dale covered the phone, "I'm talking business." He then reached back to a rear pocket, retrieved his wallet, and, while juggling the phone with his chin and chest, pulled out a hundred dollar bill, and said, "You boys, go pay the bill. I'll be done in a minute or two. Why don't you grab some drinks… no soda pop, though, because it's dehydrating. Can't have that… not with you out on the road like you've been, go on, I'll be done by the time you get back."

Jordan took the bill. He looked at it real carefully… he'd never seen one of those before, ever. He turned to Luke, "Who's picture is that?"

Luke rolled his eyes, "You don't even know who's picture that is? Hell, it's written on beneath it."

Jordan, feeling a bit of the old 'dumb ass' feelings, quickly folded the bill, got out from the booth, and headed toward the cash register. Dale looked at Luke and shook his head, the expression of displeasure at what the boy had said to the other, clearly displayed. Luke, never ever, ever wanting to hurt Jordan in any way, quickly exited and walked to the older boy, took hold of his forearm, and, after a bit of resistance from Jordan, led them to the cooler where the drinks were located and kept in, "I'm sorry, Jordan. I didn't mean it 'that' way… the president on the bill is Benjamin Franklin… actually it's not a picture at all, rather it is a portrait. It and the ten dollar bill have no presidential picture… Jordan, you have to remember that we're brothers, and I guess, well, I feel safe with kidding around with you… I really feel good about what we're doing… and well, I'm just happy, so don't get mad at me, please… I promise I'll not make it sound like you're a dumb ass or anything…"

Jordan looked into the beseeching eyes of his friend, brother, confidante, and saw truth there. He relaxed, and easily pushed away those bad thoughts that he wasn't loved, not really, you know, like, really loved… as he'd felt coming from Luke all along. He realized, and read the happiness that was, indeed, flowing from this boy in front of him… without caring one little bit about what others might think of him, he drew Luke into his arms and held him tight, squeezing firmly, smelling the clean scent emanating from him. He noticeably relaxed, and just savored their brief moment together. Even Luke, the less demonstrative one of the two, brought up his arms and took Jordan in them, feeling better, knowing that Jordan forgave his indiscretion. He really did love Jordan, maybe more than he should, just like his dad had said before he'd left, but just attributed it to how they'd done, thought, and often said the same things, as if they were twins, or something equally as close.

When they parted, Jordan attempted to turn around very quickly. He did not want Luke to see the tears threatening to spill from his eyes; he didn't want Luke to think he was weak, or worse, some crying little girl. He didn't feel like a girl, nor did he look like one, taking a moment of pride at knowing that just below his belt-line was a burgeoning evidence of male-hood… hell, he relished the thought of when his first pube appeared, and then, just two nights ago, or was it one… time was loosing all sense of reality, when he felt and saw the liquid resting, running down his appendage. He did wonder why, especially when he was with Luke, when they were touching… why it…

"Hey, Earth to Jordan… come in." Luke said, smiling, grinning even. He took hold of Jordan's arm and swiveled him around. A sense of dread filled Luke's heart, seeing the tears leaking from his brother's eyes, or threatening to. Jordan tried hiding them… quickly, he reached up and brushed them away, took a deep breath, offering, "Come on, let's get our drinks… we need to get on the road."

Meanwhile, at the table, Dale said, "Thanks, I owe you."

Chuckling, Katy replied, "More than you'll ever know. See ya tonight."

Dale looked around for the boys, relaxed when he saw them standing by the drink case, but then felt a wave of concern as the two boys were standing there, facing off, then how quickly they hugged, and then even more surprised when Jordan broke their embrace and turned away toward the case, facing away. Did he see a shiny appearances on their faces, just below their eyes? Then, Luke the more brazen of the two, Dale could tell that Luke was more of a leader than was Jordan, intently began talking to the slightly taller boy, and how Jordan's eyes lit up, and how Jordan's face broke out in a smile. My gosh, how fast kids argue and make up… their abilities to do just that are to be – commended.

The boys gathered their drinks then headed to the counter. Dale turned his attention back to the cell phone he was holding in hand, nearly crushing it… he didn't even realize how hard his grip was. He punched in a number, then held the phone to his ear, "Mattie, this is Dale Wilson… I need to shift loads… I need to be in DFW this evening… family business…"

The dispatcher easily found another load for Dale to take to New Orleans, then another one from New Orleans to DFW. He hung up the phone, fully grateful that they would meet his needs. At the same time, though, he looked at his watch, and just about bugged his eyes out, seeing what time it was, and how they were going to have to book it in order for the plan to come together. It's okay though, he'd handled hotter loads in his career. His next call was to Regina. And he was talking to her when the boys returned.

Jordan dropped the change onto the table, sat back, and waited, hearing Dale say, "Honey, I have a hot, fragile, special load that has to get to Dallas-Fort Worth tonight… I'll be home in time. I know you want to go, and so do I, and we will. I just have to take care of this business; I'll tell you all about it when I get home." As he knew she would, she wished him safety, and closed off the phone by saying the words that everybody needs to hear every now and again, "I love you."

Regina knew what a hot, fragile, special load was and is. They'd been through this a number of times in the past thirty some odd years. She smiled, then she got busy with household chores.

With that, Dale gathered up the change. He quickly counted it out. A fifty dollar bill and a twenty wouldn't work very well with what he had planned, so he went to the cashier's desk and exchanged the big bills for one dollar bills.

Jordan, watching Dale exchange the money, worried that he'd done something wrong. He was torn, though, knowing that he hadn't stolen anything… reminding himself that he wouldn't stoop to stealing to make their dream come true. While Dale was talking with the lady at the counter, he got to looking at the news-stands with their headlines clearly and distinctly displayed. One of them, a local rag, displayed: "GAYS REPENT!"

Jordan's eyes went wide open. He quickly turned, and was going to walk out of the truck stop restaurant, but instead walked right into Luke who was standing right behind him, just waiting to put his hands around Jordan's eyes. Both boys were totally surprised at the turn of events. Then, add insult to injury, Dale was standing there laughing! Jordan, still quite upset, relaxed at Luke's touch, but stepped away.

Dale, meanwhile, walked to the boys, eyed Jordan carefully, and seeing that he was upset, folded the bills, then unceremoniously pushed them into Jordan's front pocket, startling the boy. The man, clearly upset that Jordan was upset, quickly retracted his hand, taking extra care to not touch anything… that was not and is not his intent… far from it. At first Jordan resisted, but relented as Dale wrapped his arm around his neck. Luke, reading the headlines, looked up, and angrily stated: "Ashwood is a motherfucking piece of shit… I don't believe that crap… shit."

Jordan, clearly frightened at Luke's outburst, pulled away, but then a prim and proper appearing lady, standing right next to Luke, looked at Dale with a disgusted expression on her face, and had the audacity to say to Luke, haughtily, "You, you little urchin should have your mouth washed out with soap. I never… God will get you, Kid. You just wait, things are changing."

Jordan, took hold of Luke's shirtsleeve and Dale's wrist, and pulled them on, away from the lady. As they walked by, Jordan muttered, under his breath, "And he'll fart bubbles all over your face.

With both Luke and Jordan's positions clearly understood, Dale is hurrying them outside before he has a conniption fit from suppressed laughter…

The boys were serious.

Dale tried oh so hard to not laugh, but was sorely unsuccessful; nearly rolling on the ground. The more he tried to stop laughing, the harder he laughed, until he was totally out of breath and holding onto Jordan's shoulder for support. Luke, non-plussed, remarked to Jordan, "He looks like a fish out of water!" Which sent Dale further into convulsions… Which, in turn, created somewhat serious smirks on the boys' faces. In any event, you couldn't tell if they were amused at Dale's reaction or the fact that they got him! Probably both.

When Dale, somewhat, regained his composure, he looked up to see two boys standing patiently next to the rig, waiting for him to unlock the cab so everybody could get in and get back on the road – to wherever Dale would let them off. The truth of the matter is: the boys were half-expecting to be dropped off at this truck-stop, which, would be okay. Jordan was less concerned than Luke, knowing they had some money to be able to at least eat and have water to drink.

Dale unlocked and opened the passenger side door, then grabbed Jordan's outstretched arm and hauled him up into the cab. No sooner had Jordan landed in the seat than he took hold of Dale's arm, looked into his eyes, and said, "Thanks. Thanks a lot." Dale nodded, then reached for Luke who was already up the stairs, but unable to enter due to Dale's bulky frame. Holding onto the door with one hand, he helped boy up and into the cab. Dale stood there looking at the two boys for a moment, then quickly made his way down, before a tear escaped. As he walked around the front of the coach, he resolved himself to make sure those boys got to their destination, safely.

Jordan, still feeling very uncomfortable over the newspaper situation and Dale's touching his person, got up and headed back to the sleeper where he could be alone to process his feelings, but Luke took hold of the belt loops on Jordan's pants, and urged his brother to sit beside him.

Dale fired up the engine and turned on the air conditioning to its highest setting. The heat and humidity of the afternoon was a killer. Already the sweat was pouring off his forehead and onto his shirt. When he reached his arm up to wipe it away, two boys were looking at him, for what he didn't know… but then he thought maybe an explanation was in order as to why he touched Jordan. Both boys had gotten upset over what the current administration is doing to its youth, all in the name of God, of course. Ashwood had some good points, but his bad points and shortcomings were becoming ever so much more noticeable as time went on. Whatever happened to the Constitution… life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…

"Boys, Jordan, I was not trying to touch you 'there'. I would never do that. I have never done that to a boy, not ever. That is yours, not mine, to have and to hold. I have two sons and a grandson… yes, I have seen them having erections… it comes with the territory of being a guy, but I have not ever, nor will I ever touch them without absolute good reason, a medical reason, an injury… anything else is best left to a doctor, or a partner, a girl or boy, of your choosing. The change in your pocket, Jordan, is for you boys. Before you say it, the money is a gift. When you are able to, just pay it forward. Someone will come into your life, taking out on an adventure, or maybe they need a helping hand… just be there for them. Are we squared away?"

Jordan noticeably relaxed. After nodding, he returned to the seat so that he could sit next to Luke who was waiting for his response. Once they were buckled in, Dale motioned for them to close the door so that they could get on the road.

Dale knew, and felt, deep down, that these boys did not need nor want authoritarian guidance in their travels, quite the opposite was and is the truth. You can't thwart a child's adventures; you just have to guide and direct them, and hope that their decisions are made with the most information they could listen to and understand… he'd learned these hard lessons with his younger son, Bradley. One can hope and pray. He was praying. And he was learning from these two vulnerable boys sitting in the front seat of the cab, looking at him, wondering what was going on…

The boys, sensing Dale wasn't entirely 'here', waited patiently until he returned. When he returned to the present, they relaxed. Within an hour, Dale had a load and they took out, taking the bypass around Mobile, Alabama, heading toward Biloxi, Mississippi, and then on to New Orleans.

As it was, they were really running behind. He knew that Katy could lose a load if he was too late with his special, fragile 'load'. Their plans were to meet at a truck stop just north of Dallas in Denton, Texas. Katy knew they were in route, as was she, and would make every attempt to wait just as long as it took for them to get there.

Dale had driven the route many times. Since he was a senior driver, he got, mostly, the southern routes, meaning that in winter time, he didn't have to, for the most part, jack with the snowy and icy roads, all that much, and not very often, maybe only once or twice a year, and even there, they were good about keeping him way south, like now, even though the sun was shining full bore, and the temperatures in the middle nineties for daytime highs.

The speed limit for cars on the I-10 was, for the most part, seventy miles per hour. Truck traffic had a limit of sixty miles per hour. Dale looked down at the speedometer. It read seventy miles per hour, and, still, traffic was passing them by like they were sitting still, so he didn't much worry about highway patrol, although it was on his mind. It had to be… not only for his safety and concern, but for the boys, too.

As they passed out of the city, the boys, and Dale, too, were treated to see a squadron of Navy pilots doing their thing, doing touch and go's on a runway close to the highway, or relatively so. Dale, meanwhile, was heavily concentrating on traffic, with some drivers whizzing here and there, unpredictably changing lanes, and driving way too fast for conditions. With the memories of the accident earlier that day, he backed off and let the crazies get ahead of their current position. When he felt it was safe, he cranked it up to over seventy miles per hour, putting miles behind them.

The wild chatter from the boys, excited at the aircraft, seemingly doing dodge bombing maneuvers was music to his ears. He made the decision to take his grandson on a trip when they got back from their vacation. He'd been promising the boy all along, however their time didn't seem to mesh, what with the grueling schedule he'd been keeping and the various activities the boy was involved with, in and out of school.

One thing he'd long ago learned about kids is that they are often unpredictable, and he found that these two boys were no different. Seeing them squirming about in their chairs, almost imperceptibly so, he looked toward them, only to see Jordan looking at him intently. A wan smile crossed the boy's face. Dale said, "We've got about twenty five miles until the rest area… can you last that long?"

A definite look of relief passed across Jordan's face. Luke, heavily engrossed in the large Rand McNally sitting on the console, looked up, saw the interaction between Dale and Jordan, and inwardly, then outwardly smiled his appreciation.

Dale, although driving, paying rapt attention to road conditions, did, see, from the corner of his eyes, the boys intensely studying the map, pointing here and there with their small hands and fingers, quietly discussing their route, possible complications, possible short-cuts, and their quiet resignations at seeing the Rocky Mountains, clearly in their way. Dale frowned when he realized he didn't know any of the northern truckers, so he couldn't really guide their travels after leaving Dallas. As they were driving along, Dale continued to think and worry about their travels across the desert. The unforgiving terrain and extreme temperatures of the desert were brutal and life-threatening. Too many people had died, mostly older people, when their cars broke down on the stretch of road between Phoenix and on up north to Las Vegas, the most direct route being state highway 93. Dale's often traveled that road, and knows that temperatures can easily surpass one hundred ten on most summer days, which is way too hot for a human being to withstand for more than a couple of hours. He knew, all too well, that temperatures leading into the canyon where the Hoover dam sits can easily be in the one hundred twenty to one hundred twenty five degree range. It's a blast furnace. No human being survives out walking in that kind of weather.

Then, if the boys were headed to the west coast, that would require them to travel through Death Valley; a name that lives up to its name. Travelers are urged, almost required, to travel those roads at night, because during the night, it is not uncommon for the temperatures to drop sixty to seventy degrees, and then, by ten the next morning, for the temperature to rise to one hundred, just like that.

His worry was put to rest. Jordan began looking up from the map at every opportunity. He'd look to Dale, Dale could see it all from his peripheral vision. He also noticed the boy squirming in his seat, like he had ants in his pants, or something like that… he couldn't remember the exact saying. Inwardly, he smiled knowing the boys were content with where they were right then. Dale also relaxed, knowing and feeling that the little rift, Jordan's misunderstanding, was resolved.

A few miles down the road, Luke spoke up, "There's a rest area fifteen miles… can we stop, please?"

"Yeah, can we stop, please?" Jordan parroted, impishly, innocently.

Dale, used to driving for several hours without stopping, inwardly groaned… they hadn't been on the road an hour yet…

Fifteen minutes later, he was setting the air brake, shutting down the engine, and saying, "Always be aware of your surroundings, stay together at all times, and do not wander around like you're lost or something. Sometimes, rest areas are not kind to the younger crowd." Dale said, firmly, but not harshly. He didn't want them to be afraid; he just wanted them to be safe, at all times.

Jordan did a high-tail into the restroom building, with Luke following close behind. Little did they know that Dale followed them at a distance, close enough to intercede should the need arise, but far enough away so that they would have a sense of privacy… Dale knew he wouldn't be able to be with them at all times, but while he was able to… he would be.

When the boys didn't immediately return, Dale just figured they were taking care of other matters, so, while always looking toward the restrooms, he flipped the levers that lock and unlock the mammoth hood from the frame. He wanted to check the oil and other fluids to make sure they were filled. The oil dipstick was the hardest one of all the reach, much less remove without contaminating it. To get to it, he climbed up on the frame, peered deeply into the hot furnace, and then cursed himself for touching one of the very, very hot manifold covers. When he pulled his head and body up and out to glance toward the restrooms, he saw the boys talking to a man. The man was very nearly obscuring his view of the boys with his mammoth frame, which looked mostly like blubber. While he was standing there watching them, he saw the dark haired Luke looking around past him a few times. Dale didn't see anything that looked like alarm on his face or in his body posture, so he went back to finishing the chore of removing that dipstick without touching anything else that was way too hot.

That took only a minute. When Dale looked up, both the boys and man were -gone-. He quickly looked around in all directions trying to find them, and couldn't see them anywhere.

Alarmed, Dale slammed the dipstick into the hole leading into the engine, burning his finger, then jumped down off the rig, and quite fast for his approaching sixtieth birthday in a couple of weeks, tore out toward the restrooms, entered, frantically looked all around, and was just about to leave when he heard muffled sounds coming from deep inside the room. "Jordan? Luke? Are you in here?" There was no answer from anyone, even though he knew there was at least one person present. When the boys didn't respond, he was about to leave, but then heard a thump against one of the stall doors.

Now, there is something to understand here, Dale is not a pervert who perves men's restrooms, meaning that he does not go snooping beneath or over stalls… but something just didn't seem right, so he broke his unspoken, unwritten rule and did so; getting down on his hands and knees and peering beneath the toilet stalls. From the noise that had been heard throughout the restroom, he expected to see at least one pair of legs whose feet were resting flat on the floor, but he saw nothing of the sort.

Unable to push away the pang on discomfort deep inside, Dale once again called, "Jordan? Luke? If you're in here, bang on something, anything."

It was then that Dale knew there was something terribly wrong… a man screamed, and then a boy screamed, "DALE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Then came the sounds of a scuffle. Dale was in the process of getting up with a state police officer entered the restroom. Seeing Dale on the floor, on his hands and knees, was not necessarily a good thing for him. But, he quickly got up, and then a boy's voice screamed again. This put both the officer and Dale into action. The man screamed again, this time he screamed continuously and constantly.

The state police officer walked, ran to the last stall, and shouted, "Highway Patrol! What is going on in there? !!"

It was then Dale heard Jordan's voice call out, scream out, actually because the man's voice coming from the stall was still screaming, "Help us! Help us! He's hurting Luke!!"

"Stand away from the door, do it now." The officer shouted, and without waiting for a reply or compliance, he slammed his foot into the door, knocking it off its hinges. A brief scuffle ensued. Meanwhile, two very scared young boys exited, tore out, and ran right by Dale, even though his arms were stretched out toward them, ready to take the frightened boys to comfort them.

Chasing after two twelve year old speed demons, Dale, pushing on sixty, was out of his league. The boys did not stop until they had crossed two drive lanes, one for cars and one for trucks, until they arrived at the rig, then tried to climb up, both of them at the same time, into the cab… but, the doors were locked, Dale had made sure of that. Getting burglarized was not entirely out of the picture, in rest areas.

Dale, walking quickly, and permitting an eighteen wheeler to pass by, made it to the boys and pulled them into his sides, softly reassuring them that the bad man was under arrest, or is in the process of being arrested.

Calming down, Jordan explained what happened, "We were doing as you said, Dale… we were standing around until you got here before we went in… he… he… he grabbed me by my shirt and yanked, but Luke tried to stop me… he then grabbed us both and took us into the bathroom where… where… where he tried to do bad things, but I fought him off…"

Luke nodded, though he was still way too frightened to speak.

Dale interjected a question to Luke, while rubbing his back, attempting to make the boy stop shaking, to calm him, "Did he hurt you, Luke?"

"He grabbed my… my… uhm… pants… he… he… he… touched… me…….. there."

"Through your pants, or inside them?" Dale asked, concernedly, still rubbing the little boy's back, reassuringly.

"Outside." Luke trembled.

Jordan added, "When the man did that, I racked him with my knee… I mean I really racked him."

Luke nodded, then fell into Jordan's arms; the older boy pulled him in and held on tight, pushing away Dale's hands in the process.

Dale, clearly taken aback by Jordan's aggressiveness, soon realized that he, too, was a man, and could well understand their skittishness, given what had just happened to them, knowing he and they had just met a few short hours ago, and that they didn't know him and he didn't know them, so he backed away a couple of steps to give them some space to figure things out, in their own way and in their own time. He realized that they were, indeed, brothers, or, maybe, even, closer than brothers… he wondered for a moment before calmly, reassuringly walking to the both of them, drew them in and held them as they trembled from fright. The good news is that both boys did indeed relax, Luke more so than Jordan.

Jordan is a smart boy, a very smart boy.

The three of them heard footsteps approaching. Dale, skittish from the skirmish, quickly enveloped the boys in his strong arms and pushed them behind him so that he could confront whoever it was that was walking up on them. As soon as he turned around, he relaxed… the officer was approaching with the man. Dale could see that the goon was arrested. The officer said when they arrived, "Sir, could your… your…"

Jordan stuck his head around Dale's large frame, "He's our grandpa… grandpa, when can we go? I need to use it."

Dale's eyes never left the officer's. Something passed between them; neither said anything for a minute or two, until the officer spoke first, "Sir, I need your grandsons to positively identify the suspect, or if you prefer, I can put him into my car and the boys can come look in the window. I'm sure they are frightened. Either way is fine."

Dale turned around, bent down and whispered into their ears, "What do you say? Shall we get this over, right now?"

Both boys nodded their agreement. Quickly, they both poked their heads around Dale, nodded, and then found Dale's arms so that he could pull them in.

The officer took off with the suspect, heading for the patrol car down the lane. When they were, maybe 50 yards away, Luke, then Jordan stepped back, looked into Dale's eyes – and Jordan shrugged his shoulders, having a bit of a smirk on his face. Dale laughed, as did the boys. They weren't laughing about their ordeal, instead they found Dale's becoming a grandfather two more times… funny.

With his arms around both of the boys, Dale escorted them into the restrooms, patiently waited while they were busy, then they headed back to the rig. The boys both laughed and giggled as Dale pushed them up the stairs with his strong arms. When they were up in the seat and he'd closed the passenger door, he stood there as dark thoughts, dark memories began passing through his mind.

All Dale could see or think about was his youngest son, Bradly, who, at the age of fourteen, three years ago, had been accosted by strangers while walking home alone from a class roller skating party. Dale was out on a run to the west coast when Regina called and told him, and asked, and pleaded for him to return home, because his son, as if there was ever a time… needed him.

That happened at a time when he thought his sons were growing up, not really needing him as much as they had when they were younger… but… he was sorely wrong, and had never really forgave himself for driving his load onto LA, unloading, and then when his wife, Regina, called once again, frantically, it was then and only then when he dropped the rig off at a company office and caught a flight home, but the damage was done… the relationship between he and his son as forever damaged; at one time, irreparably broken. Over the last year to thirteen months, since the boy turned seventeen years old, they have begun to break through the three year rift and drift between them, with them both committed to working things out. The process has been slow; beset with way up highs and bottom of the barrel downs, as they learn how to deal with their angers over the one single event that changed their lives, and the lives of their family, too. At the very last moment, while planning the Hawaiian trip, Bradly agreed to come with his family, but only if his girlfriend was permitted to accompany him. Regina, being from old-school, at first, denied his repeated requests, until she and his son got into a shouting match while Dale was home sleeping off a brutal cross-country trip.

Thankfully, Dale was able to calm the situation just before things came to a head, just before irretrievable things were said and done. Always, no matter what, Dale supports his wife, but he had an issue with Bradly's request, and Regina's absolute refusal to budge.

The problem was simply this: Regina assumed that Bradly and his girlfriend were indeed being sexual, when this was not the case, nor did they plan on becoming sexual… they were just good friends who shared their lives together in a very intimate, non-sexual way.

Then Bradly dropped a bombshell, one that nobody knew how to deal with… he asked, "What would the situation be if we were having sex?" Oh fuck… Dale, after getting to the crux of Regina and Bradly's communication barrier was not, and it is to be repeated – was not – ready for that one. Neither was Regina. For that matter, neither was Bradly. The silence in that room, other than for eyes bouncing around toward and away from each other would be considered, in most sitcoms – comical. The situation was clearly a stand-off. At that point in time, nobody was going to win, and everybody knew it. Bradly diffused the situation, bless him, by walking out of the room, heading for his room – with an evil smirk on his face. Meanwhile, Dale and Regina looked at one another, then getting caught up in a moment of mirth… began laughing hysterically.

Meanwhile, up in the cab, where the two boys were safe from the outside elements, including danger, Jordan took Luke into his arms, held on tight, "I'm sorry, Luke."

"What are you sorry about? There's nothing to be sorry for… you were right there with me. I was with you, too, Jordan… we're okay. Isn't this all that matters? We're doing this together." Luke, rubbing Jordan's back, said, sincerely.

Jordan, suddenly feeling very frightened, though not from the ordeal, could only hold Luke tightly against him, because he did not want Luke to see his eyes scrunching up to avoid crying. His feelings of being different from the rest of humanity were nearly overwhelming. He knew that those feelings were illegal and immoral, and just plain wrong, and then his inner hysteria increased exponentially at realizing his body was reacting in a way that it shouldn't ~ever~ react… those feelings were best kept to himself, at all costs, or, at best, between the sheets at night when he would, sadly, give into depravity. Luke could never know. He would never take the chance of fucking up their relationship, be that as it may in a legal sense, or human sense, or whateverthehell… it was all confusing.

Luke, meanwhile, felt safe and protected, and comfortable at being held in Jordan's thin, but nevertheless strong arms, with his breath blowing down the back of his shirt. He sensed that Jordan was having a hard time with what just about happened, although, being a sheltered child, he had no clue as to what that might have been. Jordan had been so very brave. He kicked that guy in the nuts so hard… you could hear the sound of his tennis shoe connecting, and then the man screamed in, what Luke hoped to be – mortal pain. While the man's squeezing hold on Luke's penis sure hurt, it couldn't match with what Jordan did to him. With that thought clearly implanted in his mind, and body, too, Luke returned Jordan's reassuring hug, holding on to comfort his hero.

Luke, unlike Jordan, once had a father who loved and cherished him, so he knew what a good hug was, so he made every effort to pass his love, however it is defined, into Jordan so that his fears would quieten and go away, hopefully sooner than later. As the two boys sat there quietly holding each other, Luke realized his physical reaction, that his male gland was pushing hard up against the thin cloths covering himself from the outside world, but, unlike Jordan, he knew that those things would happen, his dad had said so when Luke had seen his father in the shower with a wide expansive 'fatherhood' tool. The man had said to the boy that his, too, would grow, and would pop up just because it could, if for no other reason.

Jordan reached up around Luke's back and neck, and used his fingers to wipe away the tear that was threatening to fall, before Luke could see it, but they separated at the same exact time. It was then that Luke took in a deep breath at seeing Jordan's valiant efforts to wipe away the physical evidence of something troubling him. "What's wrong, Jordan? We're okay… nice kick, by the way!"

Jordan sat there wondering what was so great, heroic about neutralizing somebody who was going to surely hurt them. But, then, seeing Luke's beautiful smile, he just decided to just take Luke's words at face value. Then those thoughts, and a nearly overwhelming physical attraction, like a magnet to a piece of metal were starting to become strong, so, without a word said, Jordan got up, went back into the sleeper area and began the process of putting their stuff together.

The loud booming clank coming from the front of the rig nearly bowled them over in fright. Both boys, already skittish, jumped forward to see what that noise was all about. Unable to see anything up front, Jordan pushed Luke back, causing Luke to go crashing into the soft bedding. Jordan, pulling himself together, quickly made his way into the drivers' seat. It was then that he saw Dale's head pop up in the window, nearly scaring him half to death. From the look on Dale's face, he, too, was startled. Jordan, with his heart beating a mile a minute, dropped into the seat and held onto the steering wheel with his hands shaking like a leaf, with his head admonishing himself for being so damned jumpy.

Recovered from their impromptu fright, and laughing fit, they were soon on the road, headed to New Orleans to drop the load and pick up another one. They encountered a slight delay at the warehouse before they could get unloaded. Dale normally doesn't do off-loading, but did, so that he could pick up a new load on the other side of the wide expansive building.

Two hours later, they were back on the road, heading north on the I-10 to just outside of Baton Rouge, and then on up the I-49 to the I-20 that would take them into Dallas. Dale hates the entire Dallas-Fort Worth traffic system, often referring it to a clusterfuck, though silently.

As soon as Dale made the I-49 exit, he opened up both barrels, knowing that they would have to get to Dallas by 9:00 to 10:00pm that night. Traveling along at seventy, he knew, he would be inviting trouble. A quick mental inventory clearly told him that there would not be much trouble if he were stopped. His load was legal in every way, not that he ever carried 'bad' loads, though he was fairly often running overweight. This load, however, was just under the limit, so this would not be an issue. Also, he'd safety inspected the rig just that morning before pulling out of Jacksonville. Further to allay any worries, he was only going 5 over the posted limit… for cars, traffic was fairly heavy, and he was traveling with the speed of the road, which most often governs how much trouble one gets into.

The boys, when they first took out, were excited and watching Dale shift through all the gears, amazed that none got that rough metal-to-metal sound like the beat up old car that Jordan's Mom drove around like a bat out of hell, not caring what she did, or particularly where she was going… it was everybody move out of the way – or else. They asked a few questions about this and that on the instrument panel, and then settled in to study the atlas map, then, maybe fifteen to twenty minutes later, other than the drone of the powerful engine, the cab got quiet, or rather, devoid of some boy chatter, recounting the restaurant experience. Their mirth then turned on Dale, as they recounted his near heart-attack experience over the lady near the checkout stand… once again, Dale had to belly laugh, which set the boys off even more. You gotta watch those kids… serious one moment, and cracking up, stroking out with their own giggles in the next moment.

Dale looked to the passenger side, then smiled at seeing them cuddled together, sound asleep, like little angels… though he knew better about the angel bit… those kids were ruthless! But still… the picture indelibly etched in his mind, never to be forgotten.

And then, about 40 miles up the I-49, traffic slowed to a crawl, and even went stop-and-go for the next fifteen miles for road construction that had the road narrowed to one lane in either direction. Of course it was the left lane that was open; of course, they would be traveling in the far right hand lane of a six lane highway. Car drivers abhor, or seem to, truckers… those drivers will do some really stupid shit, and they are cautious about letting truckers in front of them, for fear that they will run five or ten minutes behind… most of them, when it really comes down to it, are not in a hurry to get to their destinations… in other words – they are assholes… but it just comes with the territory… you can't get all pissed off and upset at every asshole on the road, cuz you'd just have a heart attack and die if you did get all torqued off. So it was slow going, stop and go for the next 8 miles, and then the road opened back up. Dale got the rig up to sixty miles per hour, before the record repeated itself, but this time, the slowdown was backed up from Alexandria, twenty two miles away.

Not only was there the backup from the road construction, voices over the CB were saying that there was a crash up ahead, taking out the shoulder and right lane… of course, we were in the far right hand lane, meaning a lane change would have to be negotiated. More assholes, but what the hey.

The boys, being jostled by the stop and go, shifting of gears every two to four miles an hour, woke up. Both stretched long and wide, then looked all around the terrain to see what the hold-up was, what had awakened them, etc. Dale looked to them and smiled, then groaned at seeing Jordan looking at him intently, squirming in his seat. Dale motioned with his thumb that the boy should use the 'facilities' in the sleeper. Jordan vigorously shook his head 'no'. At the same time, the boy flashed Dale a peace sign. Knowing the peace sign all too well, Dale flashed the boy one back, but the boy shook his head 'no', this time more forcibly, and it was this time that Dale realized what the boy was signaling. Dale, assuming adult role, said to the anxious and squirming boy, "This 'rest area' is back there… I'm up here, busily shifting gears, and playing in traffic, go on."

Enough about that… let's just say the power windows were used to let good ole heat and humidity into the cab… okay, Dale had to giggle at knowing the boy was being jostled around 'a bit'. Luke, the younger boy, was just looking at Dale, smirking… pouring on the innocence, of course… Dale had to clear his throat and turn back to the road and keep his eyes there, as Luke's eyes held the same dancing glitter that his grandson, Carlin, gave him whenever they first saw each other after a lengthy (anything more than a week is – lengthy) separation. Of course, Carlin got that sparkling from his daddy, Jeremy, Regina and Dale's first born son, some 33 years ago, this coming August.

Just as the road opened up, just a little bit, Jordan entered the cab and quickly sat down beside Luke; they quietly whispered between them, just loud enough for them to hear each other over the revving up engine and shifting of gears, which would take them up to a whopping twenty one miles per hour… for about one hundred yards, then traffic stopped. Dale imagined traffic had come to a complete standstill while wreckers cleared the accident… hopefully nobody was injured, which was a very real possibility since traffic was already snarled from the road construction going on up ahead.

About an hour later, as soon as they got into Alexandria, the road opened up. The CB traffic said there was no more construction until the interchange with I-20 up by Shreveport. Okay, well that gave them about eighty miles to get some steam built up, to make some tracks, as the saying goes. Further reports said that the road was then clear into Dallas, though there was major construction going on in the downtown area, and to avoid that at all cost.

Dale quickly calculated their time, and seeing that it was going to be close, he made the decision to go on into Shreveport then catch 59 which went north to Texarkana where they would catch the 82 so they could take 75 into Dallas. That would work fine since Katy was going to be stopped in Denton, a northern suburb of Dallas.

With that plan firmly in place, he could relax, some, as much as possible anyway. When he looked down at the clock on the console, it read nearly six in the evening… even though the boys hadn't said anything about being hungry, he imagined that they were indeed 'starving' as any preteen and or ANY teenage boy would be… teenage boys eat a family out of house and home… twelve year olds are just practicing for the Real Thing… surely.

"Okay, boys, we're going to stop at the Love's coming up. I need to fuel up. I would imagine you boys need some fuel, too."

Dale received blank stares, which led to a slight shrug of their shoulders, in unison, then they both began squirming in their seats… you could see the hunger in their eyes, and absolutely feel the palpitations – coming directly from their stomachs. The boys really didn't realize that Dale, oh so well, knew the looks and mannerisms of semi-starvation from boys their age. Dale sniggered, with a twinge of sinister-ism added in, for good measure.

Dale pulled the rig into the last drive-thru fuel lane, set the air brakes, shut down the engine, climbed down, assisted the boys down, and got the fuel going into the huge one hundred twenty five gallon fuel tanks, one on either side. The boys were quick to stay close to the rig… they didn't even have to be told. The boys stayed together; never straying from Dale's vision. Where one went, there went the other.

Fueled up, they got into the cab and found a place to park, then headed inside to the restaurant, sat down at a table, made their orders of burgers, fries, onion rings, soda pops, and some snacks to take along since they wouldn't be stopping again until they reached their destination, the boy's destination, since Dale had to drop his load in the middle of Dallas. He then needed to get off the road as soon as possible. If there was anything he could get in trouble for, it would be over the fact that he'd been on the road since just before 5am.

Another reason the boys were staying together, is because they are scared shitless, what with all the cars, trucks, buses, and other means of conveyance, all over the place, not to forget to mention the big city with people going here, there and everywhere… strangers. The town they'd come from was small… they'd always lived in small towns throughout their lives, for as long as they could remember.

Jordan, throughout their meal was exceptionally quiet, reserved and clearly in deep thought, despite Dale and Luke's attempts to bring him out, to speak his mind, that he wasn't going to get into trouble for anything he said or thought.

Dale, thinking that maybe the boy was still upset about the newspaper he'd seen down the road, behind him, offered, "Jordan, are you upset about the newspaper headlines that you saw earlier today? You have every reason to be upset. I'm upset, too. Maybe we could talk about this?"

Jordan sat there still, but he did shrug his shoulders at the pregnant silence. Luke, meanwhile, was looking between Jordan and Dale, not knowing what that was all about. Luke could only stay silent for so long. The boy rested his hand on Jordan's shoulder, and used his other hand to turn Jordan's face toward him, and said, "What's up, Jordan? You know we talk about everything…"

Dale, sensing the boys needed to talk, alone, said, "Boys, I'm going to step up to the coffee bar right over there . We're going to need to hit the road before long, maybe in the next thirty minutes, or so."

Jordan, sat straight up in his seat. He looked first to Luke, then to Dale, then back to Luke, then Dale, then looked down into his lap for a brief moment before raising his head up to look deeply into Dale's eyes, searching for any trace of malice in the man's heart. Finding none, but noticing Luke's hand brushing his cheek, Jordan looked all around them, then nervously shifted in his seat, accidentally, or maybe intentionally, brushing away Luke's hand, looked all around one more time, before saying, with total resignation on his face, "I can't talk about it. Can we just go? Please?"

The waitress brought over the check. Jordan immediately grabbed it and stuffed it into his shirt, then urged Luke to get out so he could get out from his seat. The boy, Jordan, clearly upset, nearly shoved Luke out of his seat, before Luke got up… but, Dale took hold of Jordan's wrist, not hard, not forcibly, not even parentally, but as a friend, and guided the boy to sit back down, and then 'told' the boy to give him the check.

Jordan wanted to pay for their meal. While he was sitting on the porta potty, back in the rig, he counted out the money Dale had given to him. There was eighty plus dollars. Why did he do that for him, for them, for him and Luke? Did he think he would accept it? It was charity, after all. Both he and Luke had decided, before they ever left, that they would work their way out west, that they would not accept charity, which brought up another worry… Dale's picking them up was a godsend, yet, wasn't that a charity act, too?

While deep in thought about talking, or more correctly – not talking about the hate message in that newspaper, Luke brazenly reached inside Jordan's shirt, grabbed the check, and then very quickly, handed it to Dale, who took it, smiled at both boys, then got up and walked to the cashier where he paid for their meals, and some snacks to take along with them.

Alone, although he was fighting the urges off, Jordan began crying, wondering and wondering and wondering why people hate each other so damn much, why were laws being made to smash down the Constitution… he just couldn't get over the fact that people hated each other – so fucking much.

The cashier, a young lady, pointed to the table where she had seen the man, Dale, come from. She looked into Dale's eyes, just before he turned around to see them holding onto each other, as Jordan loudly cried, "Why? Why? Why? Why do people hurt each other?"


Editor's Notes:

Let me express my enthusiasm concerning this wonderful beginning to what I am certain will be a wonderful story.

If you haven't figured it out yet, this story is taking place in a new universe. There are some tell-tale clues mentioned here, which I won't point you to, now, because they are related to another story, or, actually, several other stories. I don't think that it will make much difference whether you have already read the other related stories yet, but when you do, you will see the connection.

Just be aware that a whole new set of related stories will be showing up on a website near you, and I strongly believe you will find some interesting material for your reading pleasure. Stay tuned.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher

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