Author's note: This scene backtracks to just after Joey and Skeeter had had their ‘moment' via web cam.
"Joey, what the fuck dude! What's happening? JOEY!!" I screamed all the while spurting my pleasures, at the same time watching Joey's face and body contort in major pain on the computer screen in front of my face.
When he would not answer me I quickly terminated the connection then pushed speed dial #2 which is the number I had assigned to his home phone.
"Hey Skeeter." Derrick answered casually.
"GET YOUR MOM AND DAD IN JOEY'S ROOM NOW!!!!!!!! Something's wrong with him! Call me!"
"Shit. Okay. Bye!" Derrick said. Click.
"Oh fuck. Oh fuck. Oh fuck. No. Please God, please God keep him safe, please!" I thought before leaning forward and resting my head on the computer desk, but for just a moment.
I looked up at hearing voices coming from the cam. A man and a woman, and a guy... people I assumed to be Joey's family entered. Immediately they made their way to Joey who was leaning over in his computer chair, clutching his side, trying to breath, crying at the same time, gasping for breath, his eyes filled with fury... or was it terror...
The guy walked around between the web cam and Joey thus blocking my view of what was happening. What I saw next scared me even more: the man and boy were picking up Joey from his chair and then they left the room, and then disappeared.
All of my own terror, fear, worry, angst and upset came out of body in racking sobs, low level screams, and gnashing of teeth... just then I heard the door to my room open... There stood dad, James, Thomas and Luke. Dad had a key in his hand. Quickly he put it into his pocket then walked to me then stood waiting expectantly for me to tell him, them what was going on that had me so upset.
I was unable to speak however dad leaned into my face, "What is the matter with you, boy?"
Someone, I couldn't tell who it was, and right then I didn't care, said, "Get a towel."
"J... J... J... J... Joey... something's wrong, hurt, broken ribs... oh God..." I said sobbing.
Dad put his huge hand on my shoulder and began pulling me in. Another voice said, "Wait..." It was then I felt someone rubbing a towel over my front side from top to bottom then back up again. Dad looked down then immediately turned his attention back.
"Stephen, you have to calm down. I don't understand what you're saying. Thomas, get mom. Luke, get Stephen a pair of underwear or something. Kevin, let go of Stephen's leg – come on son, let go, we're going to the kitchen table."
I reached for dad... I needed his strong arms holding and comforting ... he picked me up and curled me into his arms, held tightly, whispered calming, reassuring, and strength into my ear. He said, "James, just toss something over him... we'll take care of that later..."
Mom met us in the hallway, "What's the matter? Stephen, get a hold of yourself..." She put her hand across my forehead and said, "Let's go downstairs..."
Even Stacy was hovering over me. Worried looks crossed her face. She said to anybody in the vicinity, "I'll get some hot chocolate going... come on Kevin... you can help me."
Stacy and I had had a stormy relationship, never really bonding, in fact we had got into each others' faces twice, almost going to blows, and the last time – it happened in the barn... I called her a fucking cunt. It was ugly and I didn't give a fuck. There was nobody around. It was our opportunity to straighten things out, or not. We had stood in front of each other, glaring, raging within our own skins, daring the other to make the first move. She wouldn't back down, neither would I. I don't know how long we stood there, can't tell you. God, if there is one, cracked a bright light that lit up the entire barn and then crashed the cymbals as if a rock song was being ‘taken down' to a crash bang finale.
We both jumped out of our boots. Fright replaced all anger. The acrid ionic smell, similar to arcing electrical wiring, filled my olfactory senses, hers too. She said, "That hit the fucking barn or close by."
We looked up to the ceiling from corner to corner to corner to corner and everywhere between. While we didn't see any tendrils or smoke or a gashing hole anywhere or flames, I took off for the loft to check on the hidden recesses that would be caused by hay bales stacked against the walls. I ran the periphery, nothing untoward was seen.
Another crash bang shook the entire barn as yet another lightning struck the barn or close by. Startled out of my pants, I slipped off a hay bale and landed on the floor but not close enough to the edge to make falling from the loft a possibility.
Next, I heard the south big barn door being opened as the rain pelted, as the hail pounded the roof and anywhere else it could find. Stacy yelled, "The machine shed, it's on fire!!!"
The machine shed is where we kept spare parts to repair tractors, combines, hay balers, lawn mowers, and the like. Also, therein were small cans of gasoline used to fuel small engines too small to be fueled from the big 55 gallon gasoline and diesel drums sitting on frames not too far away from the shed.
I peeled out, started down the stairs from the loft when yet another crash bang proceeded by a particularly bright flash of light. I was startled so badly that I missed the last two stair steps and landed on the barn floor in a heap. Quickly I got up and assessed any damage to my body – other than a skinned knee I was fine.
When I arrived at the barn door I saw the machine shed ablaze and an old oak tree about 10 feet from the shed split in half and smoking. The hail was the issue. I would have estimated the sizes to be at least soft-balls.
Stacy and I closed the door to prevent a hail stone from striking us – being hit by one of those would surely have killed or at the very least severely maimed a human body.
Both of us stood in that barn, close to the door, shaking and trembling from the super adrenalin rush. The hail was crashing the roof, sending pieces of splintered wood and small shards of sheet metal to the floor and to the loft.
Mom's voice came over the intercom system used for communications between the house and the barn, and all other out buildings. "Are you guys okay, where are you?"
Stacy tweaked our end of the intercom, "The machine shed, it's on fire. The big tree next to it is split in half. We're okay. Where's dad? Luke was out feeding the goats."
Mom replied, "Luke's okay, he's here in the kitchen. Your dad, James, Mark and Thomas went to town, Kevin's holding onto my leg."
I said, "There are gas cans in the machine shed. Dad and I filled them full yesterday."
Mom said, "You, stay put, don't go outside!"
"We're not going anywhere. I've never seen hail that big, mom." Stacy said factually.
"Neither have I. You guys go up in the loft and make a tunnel of hay bales. Stay under it until the hail stops. Go. This won't last very long." Mom said parentally.
With that, we raced up the ladder, rearranged hay bales so that they covered us in the area where I went to when I needed to be alone.
We were breathing hard, our hearts were beating wildly, we were shaking in our skins but for the short term we were okay, our stand-off put on hold.
Water began trickling, dripping on our heads as the pummeling overhead continued unabated. I was concerned that the roof was being torn to all hell. Then we heard hail balls hitting the floor down in the barn proper. Then, just like a light switch had turned off, the hail stopped and then the torrential rains and hurricane strength (or so it seemed) winds prevailed.
I looked at Stacy; she looked at me... somehow our adversarial, almost violent stance with each other evaporated and hasn't to this day returned. Although we were not and are not particularly close we did easily move into and stay in a mutual respect for each other mode.
I said a simple one syllable word, "Fuck" to describe the mayhem of the previous 15 minutes.
We stayed huddled for another 10 or 15 minutes. Over that time the drips from the ceiling became steady little streams. I was too afraid to move, Stacy was too.
The crash bang thunder faded off in the distance replaced with occasional low rumblings. Those occasional low rumblings are often comforting while going to sleep, or even during the night while asleep. The torrential downpour slowed to light sprinkles that could be heard hitting the valley tin edging the roof and the peak at the very top of the gables.
After another 5 to 10 minutes, not hearing much of anything else, I made my way out of our makeshift fort and then stood to my full height. I exclaimed, "Holy fucking shit, come on Stacy, it's okay but things are really fucked up."
I stood there in complete awe at seeing the various holes in the roof. I was utterly taken aback at seeing that the area where we'd been hiding out was left largely unscathed. "Come on, let's go check it out. Let's go out the north door though, I don't know if the fire is close to the gas cans. That's some wicked dangerous shit should they blow."
With that we took off down the stairs. I went to the south door then with Stacy's help we opened it. The sight before our eyes is one that I'll never ever forget – it's one of those moments etched in a mind to last for all eternity.
In one regard the scene before us looked like a winter wonderland in that it was white for as far as one could reasonably see. What made it different, however, was that the ‘snow' was entirely ice crystals the size of soft-balls perhaps even larger. A berm had been created as the hail had rolled off the barn roof. Not a word was said between us for quite some time.
In another regard the scene before us looked like a war zone. A quick scan did not, thankfully, reveal anybody or any animal lying injured... or worse.
Holding hands to steady ourselves we ventured out. What's amazing about storms in the Midwest is that they are usually brief but intense. The sun came out between broken soft appearing clouds. Stacy broke the silence, "Look at that!" She was pointing to the northeast... I looked in the direction she was gazing into... Together we saw a brilliant double rainbow. It was majestic. I wondered where the Leprechaun with his pail of gold was but didn't say anything because I was awestruck. The rainbow was perfectly delineated from one end of the bow to the other; every color imaginable was perfectly meshed together into something abso-fuckin-lutely brilliant. Add to that, impossible actually, lightening strikes way off in the distance from cloud to ground... the magnitude of the scene is nearly impossible to describe to do it justice.
After the intensity of the moment passed, together we walked to the north end of the barn to see what the machine shed was doing. It was simply smoldering thanks to the torrential rains that had apparently put the fire out. The building was a total loss, even I could tell that.
The stable was totally shattered beyond any recognition. Dad was going to rebuild it anyway because it had been old, weather beaten by years of its existence, and it was largely unused by the animals... perhaps they had a premonition that it wasn't safe, or something... animal intellect never ceases to amaze me.
The tree-line beyond looked like match sticks sticking out of the ground all helter skelter, not at all like trees should look like. I shuddered and wondered if the trees surrounding the creek were damaged. Pushing those thoughts from my mind, apparently Stacy did too, we ventured on out to check out the barn. The roof was totally destroyed. Thomas and Dad had entirely rebuilt the roof two summers prior my arrival.
"Let's go to the house." I said distantly, not really believing the war zone seen thus far, worrying about people, our family in the house, and what had happened to the house itself.
"Let's go check on the animals first." Stacy said very nearly silently, reverently.
I dreaded doing that. My heart plummeted to my toes. When we turned the corner to head up the lane leading to the goat pen we saw Luke kneeling on the ground with his head bowed down.
Stacy choked, "Oh no. Oh my God in heaven. No. Please no."
I'd thought Luke was hurt after seeing the goats all huddled under their relatively small shelter lean-to.
I broke away from Stacy then as fast as I could go on those slick hail stones ran to Luke with my heart in my toes hoping against all hope that he was okay. A thought passed – mom said he'd been with her in the house, safe from the storm but then his goats were his connection with... banish the thought.
I reached Luke then quickly lifted up him by his shirt and belt loop. Tears were freely rolling down his cheeks. His eyes were terror stricken, his body was stiff, and I smelled the stench of body waste.
But... he was breathing, though raggedly. I saw no obvious injury to him, thank God. Stacy arrived then together we brought him to his feet. He grabbed Stacy and held on to her like his life depended on her strength. I closed in behind him and put my arms around his body and held him tight.
I quickly looked around the pen looking for carcass or for some other reason to elicit such a panicked response from Luke. I didn't see anything. After a deep, deep backward hug to Luke, I broke away from the embrace then headed into the pen and walked over to the goats huddled altogether, scared out of their wits. Other than for some bruises on their backsides I saw no blood or obvious fractures, and none dead though a relative newborn lay underneath the biggest goats. At first, I thought the little guy had been trampled to death or worse pummeled to death by the ...
Then he raised his head up. Rather than having been trampled or beat to death I quickly came to the conclusion that he'd been there because the older goats had protected him from the ravages of the storm.
I walked back to Luke and Stacy. Luke had been watching me like a Hawk. I smiled, "Luke, none of your goats are dead. Some are bruised but I saw none of them with any obvious serious injuries. Come on let's go see them."
Stacy said, "I'm going to the house to check on things there."
Luke and I carefully walked into the pen and to the hut. Unable to stop myself, I began sobbing at the sight in front of me. I continued to sob as I walked to Luke, the sobs becoming harder and harder with each step I took. Luke looked up. He said, "My babies."
The goats were nuzzling Luke's legs, butt, crotch, tummy, and the bigger ones nuzzled his chest and neck with their noses – they were happy to see their beloved one.
I thought, "There is a God. And He's not the one the preachers talk about in church."
My moment was broken by the sound of horses whinnying in the background. "Our horses!" shattered my mind. They had been put to pasture that morning. It was mating season.
I tore out toward the field, falling and stumbling all along the way because of the huge soft-ball sized hail stones. I put out of my mind all the bruises and battering... I had to get to the field. The horses were congregated at the gate leading in. All were beaten and battered but they were still standing except for James' horse "Coltrane". He was lying on the ground beaten to all hell. While he was still breathing he was moving around in terrorizing pain and suffering. "Gerta" and the rest of the horses were gathered around him. Gerta looked at me with pain in her face – I knew her well, and I thought she knew me well too. Her pain though, I felt, was not from injuries but rather from the sad state of affairs Coltrane was experiencing. There was only one thing I could do.
As fast as I could I ran to the house. Dad and my brothers hadn't yet arrived home. I knew they would be on their way, I just knew it; it was a feeling in my bones.
I walked; half ran into the house, "Mom, Coltrane is hurt badly! When is dad going to be home?"
"They're on their way. The roads are treacherous; the main road is flooded. Dad thought it would be maybe an hour or so. Is he bad, Stephen?"
I didn't say anything. My feelings were pouring out of my pores. I wasn't crying but I was standing there with dread oozing uncontrollably. Mom said to Stacy, "Stay here with the little ones."
Mom grabbed a kitchen chair, stood on it and reached high into the cabinet over the sink then stepped down with The Key in her hand. She then went to the gun cabinet, retrieved a 22 caliber rifle, grabbed then handed to me the box of shells from a drawer then locked the cabinet closed. She then put on her boots and together we headed to the field, albeit slower than I had ran to the house but nevertheless she was quick.
When we arrived at the gate she took but one look at Coltrane, and the horses gathered around him. She said, "Back the horses away. I have to do what I have to do. I'm sorry Stephen but he's in pain. It is against God's will to knowingly let an animal suffer."
"Yeah." I replied sullenly but went into the field and led Gerta away. The rest of the horses followed. When we arrived at the rise one single shot was heard. I reached up and kissed Gerta's muzzle. She whinnied, tossed her head back then nuzzled my shoulder then she and the other horses took off at a gallop and circled the field... was that their way of sending Coltrane safely into the next world?
When I arrived back to the gate, mom was standing there waiting. I knew she did the right thing; it was the only thing she could do. Somehow I knew James wouldn't think that way for a while, but then maybe he might. I knew he'd seen animals put down out of necessity because of sickness or injury. But – it hadn't been his beloved.
I knelt down before Coltrane's lifeless, extracted his halter, rinsed it in the water trough and then we headed back to the house but not before we checked the chicken house. Fortunately the coop was okay, its metal roof beaten and battered, but intact. We also walked by the goat pen. Luke was still reveling in the love of his goats. I told mom what I'd seen and what Luke had experienced. She said, "Those goats are good for Luke. They are the first flesh and blood he bonded with when he came here, Stephen. I don't even want to think about... no never mind... they're fine."
"Mom, I need to see Luke again but first I need to get him something from his room. Are you okay?"
"I'm okay Stephen. It may change when I have to tell James. It might be well for you to be here when he gets home because he will undoubtedly..."
"I'll be here mom." I replied.
We then walked to the house quietly except for the crunch, crunch of the ice pellets beneath our feet. Quickly, I went to Luke's room, gathered him pairs of jeans and underwear then headed to the goat pen. He went to the barn and changed while I experienced some serious nuzzling from his babies while he was gone. I reached down to the newly newborn, picked it up, checked it over for injury then after seeing it was truly okay I nuzzled its head and nose in the crook of my neck. After maybe 10 minutes Luke returned smiling at seeing me with his baby. He took her from me then we began laughing hysterically because the baby began an attempt to nurse his bare nipple.
I went and checked on the other animals. I'd been sure they fared the storm okay because they all had sturdy shelters to protect them from the ravages of Mother Nature. They were. I then headed to the house. Dad and my brothers still hadn't returned home. Mom said they were about 10 minutes from home and that I should be out in the driveway awaiting their arrival. She said she'd be looking out the window, that she'd come out when they arrived.
While waiting I went to mom's garden and found it beat all to hell. I figured the only salvageable items would be the potatoes. The rest would rot but it was early enough in the season to replant. Stacy came out and together we picked up what could possibly be edible because they were still fresh.
When we were about halfway through, dad's old truck came driving down the lane. He skidded the truck to a stop in front of us. Mom came out of the house, quickly walked to where we were standing then said to Stacy, "Stacy, stay here with the little ones. We'll be back in a few minutes."
"No problem mom." Stacy said then gave her a quick hug.
Mom then turned to me, "Stephen, stay here. This something I need to do. James will be okay."
I replied, "Are you sure?"
"Yes, this is something your dad and I need to handle. It's best this way."
The rest of us went about clearing tree limbs, damaged slats from broken fences, and other such things in the aftermath of the storm. About 45 minutes or so later we heard the Caterpillar fire up off in the distance. Even from the distance it was from the house the powerful bellows from its powerful diesel engines could be heard clearly. Thomas looked at me then walked over, I said, "Coltrane, he was hurt badly."
Thomas said to all of us, "Come on, we need to be with our brother. Coltrane had to be put down."
With that, we all got together, even the little ones and Stacy came along, then headed down to the horse field. Dad was on the Caterpillar digging a grave for Coltrane. James was okay, he really was, sincerely. He walked over, hugged me tight and said, "Thanks for being with mom. She's never had to do that before. Usually dad has had to do it. Coltrane was hurt just too bad to be saved. Mom did the right thing... thanks for being here. I hope Gerta sires soon. I'd like to have his offspring to be my own, if that's okay?"
"I'd be honored." I said choking up. A lone tear escaped James' eye which he quickly brushed away and replaced with a coy smile, a smile that was truly genuine.
After we each shoveled a shovel full of dirt into the grave, after Coltrane had been placed in it, dad used the Caterpillar to complete the task and tamp the dirt down firmly then we headed to the house and had cold cuts, salad and potatoes, the latter from the garden for dinner. Conversation was tight and sometimes difficult, but James told a few stories of his experiences with his beloved horse Coltrane, through his tears of grief.
End of flashback
Dad, in his strong arms, carried me to the kitchen where he sat me down in a chair then held onto my shoulder with his large hand as I said, more calmly, what I knew – leaving out the sex parts because there were young children present.
Kevin in his infinite wisdom said, "Were you and Joey bumping each other?"
Luke snickered. James rolled his eyes. Mom looked down to her plate then looked back up with stern eyes silently saying "We'll talk about this later, but not now."
Luke handed my underwear to me. Quickly I put them on. I was still sticky.
Stacy brought the house phone to me and sat it down. I entered Joey's house phone number.
Derrick answered, "Mauer residence. Hey Skeeter."
"What's wrong with Joey?" I rushed.
"He's having muscle spasms. You know he had broken ribs, right?"
"Yeah. He told me. Is he okay?"
"Mom's giving him some medicine. He's calming down. What the fuck dude, were you having phone sex or something?"
Thank God our phone wasn't on Speaker – I replied nondescript, "Something like that. Are you sure he's okay? Can I talk to him?"
"Uhm, yeah, just a minute, Nathan's putting a pair of underwear on him ."
I felt a major case of heat transcending my neck and face. It was unavoidable. Luke, of course, capitalized on the situation and made a face telling me knew what I didn't want everyone else to know. There were just too many people around to flip him off, playfully of course, but I consigned it to memory and would get him back at some point in time, promise.
"Hey, sorry about that." Joey slurred. A red flag jumped into my head. That's the way he'd talked when he was doing drugs and shit back in the hood.
I asked, for more than one reason, "Are you okay?"
"I'm okay now mom, dad, thanks. I will. Yes I promise. I love you too, good night."
"Timmy, would you sleep with me? Maybe we won't be so afraid that way. We can sleep together. I'd really like that if you would. I'll understand if you don't want to." Joey said away from the phone.
Another voice, a voice I didn't recognize (it was a young boy, I assumed it was Timmy) said, "Joey wants me to sleep with him, is it okay?"
Yet another voice, I recognized it as June's said, "If Joey wants you to sleep with him then go ahead and get in the chair with him, I'll help guide you so that you don't accidentally brush his sore places."
I then heard a couple of groans and moans, an "Owie", a "Scoot here, there, okay, Skeeter are you still there? Sorry."
"What's up? Are you okay?" I asked concernedly.
"Yeah, Timmy's going to sleep with me tonight. I just had to get comfortable. I'm okay now."
"Okay kewl, well, I'll let you get some rest. I just had to talk to you."
"I'm glad you called. I love you so much. I'm sorry for worrying you." I heard a snicker and a groan, Joey continued, "I guess we're busted."
I found that funny despite mom, dad and everyone else around me, "Yeah, I would imagine, okay I'll talk to you later. Call me tomorrow, okay?"
"Count on it. Good night. I love you. ."
After hanging up the phone, I looked around which included scooting around in the chair to see dad's face. Mom was looking at me sternly; dad was not mad but he was definitely upset. He said, "Stephen go take your bath, get dressed then come outside to the swing. Your mom, you and I are going to sit down. Now go do as you're told."
I then got up, headed upstairs and before I got there I heard Stacy say, "Don't be too hard on him. He's a brat but I can manage him. He's okay."
Dad said (not angrily or challenged), "You, young lady, mind your own business. He knows of a rule and went off and disobeyed it anyway."
"Oh, okay, I didn't know." Stacy said then went into the kitchen. Mom followed her. Dad looked up the stairs then pointed to the bathroom.
As I sat on the toilet relieving my colon of its contents I was thinking along the lines that I'd broken the rules and would have to pay the consequences. I didn't have a problem with that but I was having a serious problem with the long distance relationship with Joey yet I couldn't run away nor could he, we were too young to really make it out there on our own. After the last one dropped I cleaned up then ran bath water, got in, washed up well including my hair then dried off, streaked to my bedroom where I put on a clean pair of underwear and jeans with no shirt. I put on a pair of socks then padded downstairs to see what mom and dad wanted. Stacy pointed outside. I said, "Thanks." then took off for outside.
Mom and dad were sitting on the porch swing; they looked up when the door opened. They weren't pissed but then again they weren't happy as they normally were. They motioned for me to sit between them. I said seriously, "I messed up. I broke the rules."
Dad said, "Yes you did. I'm glad you manned up, it says a lot about your fibers. Stephen we made the rule because your behavior is illegal. We ALL could get in very serious trouble, even jail time. Or you could be taken away from us and taken to a prison for children. I hear that is a bad place to be. Mom?"
"Stephen, if you get caught you won't be here. I've seen you grow and flourish on our farm with the animals, the wide open spaces, the freedom you have here, your brothers and sisters, and the hard work you have put in on not only our farm but on yourself. Your mind and body have grown stronger. You have purpose. If you left then it would break our hearts."
Dad said, "Your mom summed it up. Son, the juvenile centers are too far away for us to travel to very often. You know how much work we have here. That and the little ones couldn't get in... But let's not talk about that. I hope you understand the seriousness of the situation we're faced with."
Mom said, "Stephen, we have decided to disconnect the internet connection in your room. If you want to use the internet then you'll have to use the connection in the living room."
"Mom, please no, don't do that. I'll do anything. Dad, take me to the shed and thrash me."
Dad said, "You are cruising for a thrashing for talking back to your mother. The decision has been made. If you have nothing to hide then what's the problem with connecting on the internet in the public area of our house, I don't see a problem, not at all. The other thing is: your mother is terminating, and she'll do it tomorrow when she goes into town to do shopping, internet and text messaging on your cell phone. We're not going to put you or ourselves in a legal bind. Our decision is final and is not negotiable. I'm sorry it has come to this."
My world came crashing down all around me. It all ended right there and then. I put my head between my knees – I didn't want them to see me crying. My resolve was failing, "May I be excused?"
Dad replied, "Yes. Think about it. We would do the same thing if this situation ever came up with ANY of our children; you're not being singled out."
"I'm going to the pond then I'm going to camp out, if that's okay." I said, my resolve quickly disintegrating.
"Go to the pond. You can't camp in the loft though. The ceiling is damaged. I'll get up there tomorrow to see how bad it is then we'll go from there." Dad replied.
"Go get a long sleeved shirt on. The mosquitoes will be thick as molasses. While you're inside, fetch me the spray. I'll spray you down." Mom said parentally. I knew she was right.
Silently, I got up, reached for the door handle, mom said though, "Stephen, this is hard for us too. We know how important your phone and computer is for you."
"Yes ma'am. May I be excused?"
I took off upstairs, ignoring Kevin's demands for attention, taking the stairs two at a time, making sure to pound each footstep with sufficient force to shake the banister. I tore into my room, yanked off a flannel long sleeve shirt from its hanger so hard that the hanger flipped onto the top shelf then clattered to the bare wood floor, landing in a corner. I picked it up and hung it where it belonged. If there is anything that mom gets pissed about it is a messy closet.
I then wondered why I gave a flying fuck. After all they took my fucking life away. Why the fuck is taking my life away so goddamned important – why did she say that it did.
I put the damn shirt on, buttoned it up, made sure the sleeves were proper (another pet peeve she has), pulled the collar up so that as much of my neck was covered as possible.
I sensed a presence in the room. I turned around; it was dad standing there with a scowl on his face.
"I'm sorry; I'm acting like a damn baby. I'm a mess right now."
"Come with me. It's time we had a talk." Dad said parentally. I knew what was in store. I seriously thought about padding my ass cuz I knew it was about to get busted into next week. Dad knew what I was thinking. He took hold of my shoulder then led me down the stairs – I walked down them normally. When we passed through the kitchen I thought about bolting out that door – but then another thought supplanted the first one – where would I run to?
Silently, dad and I walked to the door once I'd given Kevin a hug and kissed his forehead. He giggled. I forced a laugh and acted like I was coming after him but he would have no part of that threat. Instead, he came running at me, his legs carrying him at warp speed, then he wrapped himself around my leg and wouldn't let go – until I started tickling him.
The sum total of everything that had happened that day then caught up with me. The dams of emotion inside my head burst wide open for all to see. I didn't care. But the water works turned off quickly. Kevin, upset, sat in my lap holding my face in his tiny hands then kissed my lips. I hugged him hard (for him). He then made a big deal of helping me up to my feet. I kissed his cheek then headed out the door. Dad was waiting. Once again he put his big hand on my shoulder then we quietly walked to the barn. When we arrived, I went to the nail where he'd kept his belt then handed it to him and headed into the stall for my thrashing. Once there, I lowered my jeans to my knees then bent forward but not over, and waited for the inevitable. I figured 5 swats with all the fuck ups I'd done or been involved with over the past several days.
"I'm glad the machine shed didn't explode. We'll not put gasoline in there anymore. Are you afraid of heights?" Dad said from afar.
I'd figured he'd followed me but when I reluctantly turned around he wasn't there. The only thing I knew to say, so I said it loudly, was, "I'm ready."
"I know you're ready. I asked you a question, boy."
Dad had said time after time that a son answers his father face to face. Not knowing what quite to do I turned around then waddled to the entryway all the while holding the belt at the ready.
"Uhm yeah, kind of sir. I mean I'm okay here in the barn." I replied softly. It's not easy to admit to weakness, or at least it hadn't been previously admitted out loud. Each time I'd went up or down the stairs of the loft I had to steel courage from somewhere.
"That's a pretty wishy washy answer, young man." Dad said casually yet sternly at the same time.
"Yes sir, I'm afraid." I replied convincingly, at least to myself.
"That's fine. Pull up your pants. Put the belt away."
I waddled to the hook, hung the belt on it, pulled my pants up, fastened the clasp then turned around to face him. I was befuddled, not understanding the seemingly sudden turn of events.
"Sit down Stephen, let's talk."
We sat down on overturned livestock trough. He put his arm around my shoulder, stole a few seconds of quiet then said, "Stephen, you're about to turn another page on your birthday calendar. I didn't have this talk with Thomas until he was 16. Listen to me very carefully because I'll not repeat it."
"Yes sir, I'm listening carefully. Can I ask you a question first, it's very important?"
Dad looked me in the eyes then nodded. "Sir, why didn't you thrash me?"
"I didn't need to. You thrashed yourself. That's what I am going to talk about. Every boy turns into a man at some stage of their journey... some don't unfortunately. Some boys have to turn into a man much younger in life... these kids get all screwed up because they didn't have time to grow into manhood. And I'm not talking about growing hair through puberty. What I'm talking about is a boy taking it upon himself to mature, to take responsibility for his actions, and to have willingness to accept the consequences for his mess ups, to respect, to become respectable, and to be decent about all of it both good and bad."
I looked to the floor. I hadn't done anything other than to begrudgingly accept the consequences, other than that I acted like a fucking baby in a temper tantrum.
"I didn't do so well sir."
"Stephen, you do not hear me curse very often... don't repeat this... and don't tell your mother... bullshit. Any boy who prepares himself for a mighty thrashing for acting like a baby, for doing wrong... gets a gold star. That's hard to do, boy. That says a lot. Why do I need to thrash you... the answer is I don't. If I were to thrash you it would break your spirit, you would always go around thinking you were a worthless piece of turd, and you'd probably not know right from wrong. You came here with the ‘I'm worthless attitude' but I've seen you change over the relatively short period of time you've been here. I can't break that. Do you understand?"
"I've tried to be good, really I have."
"That's not the point Stephen. The point is that you ARE a good young man. I'm proud of you. You have a good heart. You belong here. Your family needs you. Do you know or understand how that little boy in that house adores the very ground you walk on?"
I grinned, "Yes sir. I love him too. I never had a little brother so sometimes I don't know how to treat him. I hope I don't goof it all up."
"Stephen, that boy was so afraid of me that he'd run and hide in a closet until I left the house. He was afraid of Thomas too. The only person he'd respond to was Stacy, and somewhat my wife. It took some time for him to soften up to my wife. He still had nothing to do with me... that is until you arrived. He's in my lap a lot these days. Sometimes he even falls asleep in my arms. That's the Stephen I know and love so much."
I felt the tears welling up in my eyes but I fought them down. When I could breathe again I said, "Sir, my old man nearly beat me to death. He took away something I'll never ever get back. Nothing I could do or say made any difference. I wanted him to love me so much. I wanted him to tell me not to go out of the house on those cold nights – he'd push me out. Being here is all strange to me... mom made a big deal out me putting this hot shirt on to keep me from being eaten alive by those bugs. You didn't bust my ass, sorry... I mean my butt..."
"I can't change your past Stephen. I don't know how I can make that right. I'm a dumb ass farmer and don't know all that psychological stuff about raising kids."
"Don't change. Sorry for interrupting you... I didn't mean to."
"Okay, I didn't know, nobody around here tells me anything like what you just said. So we're doing okay?"
"I'm a street kid, dad. I grew up hard... I know that now. I didn't know it then. Sometimes I slip back. I try to watch it but sometimes I slip back – sometimes I do it on purpose just to see if I really want to go back there. I get afraid I'm gonna fuck, I mean screw things up, sorry, there I go again. See?"
"Stephen, listen to me very carefully. Do I have your attention?"
"Yes sir." I said, looking him directly in his eyes. I even put my hand on his shoulder. He shuddered though he didn't know he did.
"Stephen, you cannot be sorry for who you are. You can be sorry for what you do. Does that make sense?"
That bowled me over. As hard as I tried, I could not stop the tears, I could not stop... I could not, they would not, stop. I leaned into dad. He put his arms around me strong and tight. My throat constricted, I thought my breathing was going to... never start again... but it did start again when he rubbed my back while squeezing me with his other arm. I don't know how long we sat there like that... maybe forever... I was hoping for forever because I never wanted that feeling to ever go away. I finally felt like I wasn't a fuck up, a waste of cytoplasm, a disappointment, a free ride for welfare money, a trick to fuck, and all the other shit I'd been taught.
I tried to bring it back but whenever I'd try to say something out came a bunch of happy emotions that would once again constrict my throat, tighten my chest to the point of being unable to breathe, threaten to drown me in buckets and buckets of emotions I never knew I'd had, and, and, and...
After a while, the tears were gone. I felt clean and refreshed even though snot was all over my face and dad's bib overalls, and my back was killing me from leaning over and being held so damn tight but it was all good. I went to sit up but dad held firm and said very, very softly, "Just a minute Stephen, just one more minute, please."
One minute turned into at least 10 minutes but who was counting. For the first time in my life I actually felt absolutely and totally ‘safe'. I didn't want that moment to end, but, somehow I thought that moment would last even though we weren't blubbering and squeezing each other half to death.
When dad did release me he quickly reached into the pocket on the top front of his overalls, wiped his eyes and blew his nose. He took one look at me then went to his work bench and tore off paper towels then wiped my face like a little kid. He even said "Blow". Sheesh. Okay. Whatever. I did.
When we got ourselves together, dad said, "Stephen, from what I've seen so far, correct me if I'm wrong, I'm thinking that Joey's having a hard time with what he wants in life. Are you and he okay?"
That question caught me off guard. It was a question I really didn't want to answer. I decided to answer his question with a question, "Why would you think that dad?"
"Son, I'm not thinking at all. When your mom and I started dating in junior high school, people said we looked like we were in love – yeah, they said we looked in love before we ever even dated. We've known each other our entire lives. I've seen other people – my brother actually comes to mind first. He'd dated many women, married 3 of them, one of them twice but he never had ‘that' look until he met Gloria his 4th wife. They've been married 13 years. They're just as happy as they were the first day they met, if not more so. You're mom is a matchmaker Stephen. Be careful of her." Dad chuckled.
He then reached into his bill fold, went directly to one of those little slots then pulled from it a picture. The picture had two little kids; each was no more than 6 years old; each had their arms around one another like they'd been together for a hundred years, or longer. They looked happy, contented, and they had a warmth in their eyes... you could just see it.
I asked, "Who are they?"
"Your mom and I? Do you see that today?"
"Yeah, definitely. Dad..."
"Do you see that in Joey and me?" I asked, afraid to ask because I didn't know the answer. I loved Joey...
"Let's go to the house. I want you to pick out a picture from the album you and Joey created when he was here visiting – or do you have some of the two of you on your phone?"
"Yeah, they're on my phone. Uhm, dad, some of the pictures..."
"Tell you what. You go through your pictures and pick out your favorite one of all. Don't worry about how you're dressed. Just find your favorite of all then we'll look at it together... with full amnesty."
Excitedly, I looked through all our photos. We had a lot. Some dressed. Some not. Some compromising. Some were X rated. Two of them were XXX rated. Two of them caused my bone to rise to the occasion – I quickly shuffled past those. I picked out two that Mark had sent to me when Joey and I were on the creek bank. We were together, face to face. Both of us were smiling... that was my favorite of all time.
I stood there staring at our eyes.
Quickly, I shuffled back through our pictures looking for one that looked like mom and dad when they were little. I paid special attention to the pictures we'd taken not five minutes after having sex. I looked at one still picture I'd taken when my dick was still inserted into Joey; I looked at a picture Joey had taken when I was lying on my stomach – both our faces was in it and taken no more than one minute after we'd blown our loads in or on each other.
I looked at the picture of mom and dad when they were 6. I looked back at the picture of me and Joey in that compromising position. Our faces were turned mostly in the same direction as mom and dad's had been long ago.
That was the picture I wanted to show dad. No butts, no cocks, no sticky bellies or pubes, no pubes, no bellies at all... just our bare shoulders and faces showed. And our shoulders and faces did not have splooge splattered all about them either. We were happy and contented and relaxed... I kept looking at it then I'd look at the picture of mom and dad again. I flipped back to the pictures on the creek bank... then back to the other picture.
Dad looked at me carefully, his eyes soft and kind. He was searching me just like I was searching for...
Finally, I decided on a picture with me still inside Joey's butt. Nothing bad was showing, only our faces, shoulders and backs down to the mid portion were visible. I locked the picture in, expanded it to full screen, and then carefully laid it and dad and mom's picture side by side on his workbench, and then stepped aside.
Dad said very softly, very reverently, "Stephen, this is a very private moment for you... you've made your decision because I see it in your eyes... do you want to share your decision with me... you don't have to, but then again maybe you need to."
I bent forward lightly touching my forehead to the front of his bib overalls, my eyes went closed but not so tight that they hurt, but not so tight to keep any tears that needed to fall from falling... no tears were falling, "Dad."
To be continued
Revised March 15, 2012