Castle Roland

Mountain Magic

by Sequoyah


Chapter 20

Posted: N/A

One thing about living on a farm and having farm chores, there are no holidays. There are still eggs to gather, cows to milk, pigs to be fed, horses to be cared for. Christmas morning was no different from any other morning on that score. Jason and I did sleep until 8:00 when Hank and Wesley, the hated morning people. came to wake us up. "There's over a foot of snow outside," Hank said. "I called Dad and he said he'd get the tractor and front blade out and plow the road down to here. In the meantime I suggest we get on with the chores."

Jason and I got up, did a minimum in the bathroom--pissed and brushed our teeth--and exchanged a long, hot, good-morning kiss. As soon as we were dressed, we went downstairs.

I couldn't believe our grandparents were still in bed but they were. Hank had gone on down and when we reached the bottom of the steps, he held a flannel nightgown-clad Beth in his arms giving her a wake-up kiss. That accomplished, Beth said, "I'll start breakfast while you guys get the chores done."

It was hard walking through the snow. Hank was right, there was at least a foot on the ground. When we reached the barn, Hank said he and Jonathan would do the milking since, once the cows were fed, the two of them wouldn't have to be told where things were.

Wesley had gone to the hen house with Grandmom several times, so he knew where the chicken feed and egg basket were. We had brought the kitchen scraps with us, so Jason and I added pig feed to them and fed the pigs--well they were no longer pigs but huge hogs, whose days in this vale of tears were numbered. They'd be butchered soon.

That done, I fed the horses. Granddad kept two--Blaze, who was now a very old horse, and John Henry, a young horse he had bought late fall, early winter. He was broken but needed training. He would be kept for riding and plowing the garden. "Blaze is too old to plow and I can't see keeping a plough horse and one for horseback riding," Granddad had said. "John Henry will just have to forget about his dignity when it's time to plow."

A neighbor had asked Granddad why he didn't get rid of Blaze, since all he did was eat. "I'm getting old myself," Granddad had answered, "and I just as soon not be sent to the glue factory. Blaze has done a lot of work over the years and he has earned a good stall and his feed."

After I had fed the two horses, I turned them into the hall of the barn so they could go into the pasture if they wanted to. John Henry, the young horse, went thundering out of the barn and was three or four yards into the snow before he realized things were not as usual. He snorted a few times and then started pawing the snow. He was a very confused and funny horse.

When we got back to the house and had put away the eggs and milk, Beth said, "Ok, farm hands, get washed up for breakfast." As we walked down the hall, the grandparents' bedroom door opened and Grandmom said, "Why didn't someone call us? I don't know when we have slept this late, and the animals must be starved."

"All taken care of, and the only starved animals around here are us kids. Breakfast will be ready as soon as we are washed up," Jason said as we went upstairs to wash up. When we got downstairs, Granddad had helped Grandmom get the dining room table extended and the leaves in place, since there were eight of us to eat.

Beth and Grandmom quickly got the food on the table and we all sat down to a real country breakfast--eggs, country ham, hot biscuits and fried apples, one of my favorites. As soon as Granddad had said grace, I said, "Hank, you need to hang on to this woman if she can feed you like this."

Granddad said, "I agree, Hank. Good cooking lasts a lot longer than good looks. Of course, with Beth you get both." Beth was turning redder and redder and really blushed when Hank said, "Ah yes, a good woman in the kitchen and a good one in bed and with Beth I get both!"

Beth looked at Hank, narrowed her eyes and said, "In your dreams, buddy boy."

Not to be out-done, Hank replied, "Of course in my dreams. That's all I meant, in my dreams."

"You better be careful even in your dreams if you want this woman around," Beth said.

"Way to go, girl," Grandmom said, surprising us all.

Hank was looking kinda cowed and the rest of us were having a good laugh at his expense.

"Little honest kidding," Granddad said, "never really hurt anyone. You are a good-looking couple and I know you each have a great deal of respect for the other."

"Sure do," Hank agreed, and Beth leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

We had all finished breakfast and cleaned up when there was a loud noise coming from the porch. When Hank opened the door, he saw his dad stomping the snow off of his boots as he removed his cap and gloves. "Good morning all," he said.

"Come on inside and get warm," Grandmom said. "Coffee?"

"Sure thing, thank you," Mr. Dennison said as he slipped his boots off and left them by the door.

"Some snow we had," Granddad said. "Know what the weather's supposed to be like tomorrow?"

"It's already warming up," Mr. Dennison said. "Supposed to get in the mid-fifties today and the same tomorrow. Above freezing tonight so I suspect the roads will be clear before the day is over."

"I hope so. We need to get to Charlotte tomorrow early," Granddad said. "The Old Woman and I are off to warmer climes."

"Florida?" Mr. Dennison asked and Granddad nodded. "On days like this I'd like to be two hundred miles south of the last 'Bridge Ices Before Roadway' sign," Mr. Dennison said, shaking his head.

"But then you'd miss spring and fall," Grandmom said.

"Yeah." Mr. Dennison said. "Wouldn't like that trade-off. So you two are off to Florida tomorrow. How you getting to Charlotte?"

"Mr. Dennison, I need a favor," I said. "We are taking the grandparents to Charlotte to catch a plane, but we are also hoping to get Wesley's things. Our vehicles are too small to do both and I wondered if Hank could use your van."

"Sure thing. You moving in permanently, Wesley?" Mr. Dennison asked.

"At least for the near future," Wesley said.

"Won't you miss all Charlotte has to offer?"

"I don't think it has much to offer me--at least that I want."

Fortunately Mr. Dennison didn't pursue that and instead asked, "What time will you be leaving?"

"We need to be at my place before 9:00," Wesley responded.

"Then you'll need to leave here by 5:00. You plan on going, Jonathan?"

"I planned on it, Sir."

"Then you and Hank might better spend tonight here again, since you'll need to leave not a minute later than 5:00 and 4:30 would be better. You can drop Mr. and Mrs. McElrath off at the airport on

the way in--when does your plane leave, Gerald?" Granddad told him at 10:30. "Your wait won't be too long after you get checked in and everything. Since 9/11, airport security has been so beefed up it takes a long time to get to your departure gate, I hear. Yeah, not later than 4:30 I'd think."

Hank's dad then told him he thought the main road would have been salted and sanded earlier, "and the snow on our road is melting fast. Beth, I think Hank can take you home early afternoon if Douglas will loan you his Jeep."

"Sure thing," I replied.

"Well, I better be getting along," Mr. Dennison said after he had finished his coffee and chatted a bit.

We still had two or three hours before trying to get Beth home, so we went outside and had a snowball fight, then built a huge snowman which lasted until long after the snow was gone elsewhere.

Jonathan showed Wesley how to make snow angels--Charlotte hadn't had enough snow for anything in Wesley's lifetime--and the two had a grand time. Both were playing like little kids. I was surprised at Wesley's behavior since he was such a man of the world, so to speak.

When Grandmom called us in for lunch, she said she had prepared hot turkey sandwiches from leftover Christmas turkey. The hot sandwiches and hot soup were really welcome since we all were chilled to the bone. We had been having too much fun to go in and I guess all, except Beth, were also too macho.

All of us piled in my Jeep about 1:30 in the afternoon to take Beth home. Our road wasn't clear by any means, but the snow had melted enough for the Jeep to get traction in the ruts. I drove very slowly and carefully until we got to the main highway, which had been plowed and the hills and curves salted and sanded. We made it into Coldsprings and Beth's place with no trouble.

Mrs. Gordon, Beth's mom, was delighted to see how well Wesley was doing. "I thought you were sure to lose something--ear, finger, toe," she said. "I'm pleased there was no serious damage done."

"No damage done and I am as good as new," Wesley said.

We took Jonathan and Hank home, and told them we'd be back after supper to pick them up for the night. Hank reminded us we would be driving their van, so he and Jonathan would come in it. "No need for you to come get us," he added.

When we got back to our place, Grandmom had Granddad in high gear--finding things, deciding what to take on the trip and what they would not need. "It's a shame we have to take heavy coats only to have them in the way once we leave Charlotte," Grandmom said. "We'll need them getting to the airport and when we get back, but they will just be extra luggage the rest of the time."

"Why don't you wear them until you get checked in and ready to go to the gate? We can take them and bring them back when we come to pick you up," Wesley said. "You'll not be outside once you get into the airport, except maybe a walk across the tarmac to the plane."

"Sounds like a winner to me," Granddad said.

When the packing was done, Granddad said, "Fellows, I know you know how to behave. If something comes up you can't handle, you know the Dennisons are just up the road. It's not that I don't trust you or think you are irresponsible, but just to make sure you don't forget something, I've made out a list. I'd like to go over it with the three of you to make sure you understand everything and, just as importantly, to be sure I haven't left something off."

We went over the list carefully and anything that wasn't clear got clarified. There were a few small things not listed which we would probably have remembered anyway, but it was good to have a list.

Grandmom said, "Jason, Douglas, you know what we have in the way of food and where it is. If you run out of anything, go to the store and get what you need. I hope you'll fix decent meals and eat well, but if not, then it's your stomachs."

Hank and Jonathan came just after nine. They had put in the back jump seat so the van would seat all of us. Fortunately, Grandmom had packed pretty light so there wasn't too much luggage to stow but, since the jump seat took up inside space, Hank had put the car-top carrier on. "I'm not sure we'll need the car-top going down, but coming back we'll have Wesley's stuff," he said. Turns out it was simpler just to stow the grandparents' luggage in the car-top carrier, which we did.

Anticipating the 4:30 departure time from our place, we all were in bed by 10:00. I expected to lay awake as I usually did when I knew I had to get up early but, wrapped in Jason's arms and legs, I relaxed and was soon asleep.

Since we had loaded the luggage the night before, as soon as we were up, dressed and had coffee, we were on our way. When we reached the airport, the grandparents checked their luggage curbside. As soon as that was done, we gave them hugs, took their coats and left, since we could not go to the gate area because of increased security since 9/11.

When we got back to the van, Hank said, "It's only a few minutes after 8:00. How long to your place, Wesley?"

"Forty-five minutes, maybe an hour this time of day. Depends on rush hour traffic. To be safe, since you are not used to driving in rush hour traffic, better allow an hour."

"Look, I want to get there and get gone before the maid arrives, but I also need a sausage biscuit and a pint of milk. Why don't you drive, since you have experience with rush hour and know where we are going?" Hank asked.

"Is that a good idea?" Wesley asked. "I don't have my wallet and therefore have no driver's license. They took my wallet at St. Paul's."

"Not a huge fine if we're caught," Hank said. "Drive very carefully and no-one will be the wiser."

"You sure your parents won't mind?" Wesley asked.

"They want their handsome and loving son back, still pretty and in one piece, so they would RATHER you drive and especially if you can find a Hardee's. I am so hungry I am wasting away." The two exchanged places and a few minutes later we had milk and sausage biscuits. We didn't stop to eat, but ate as Wesley drove.

Several blocks later, Hank, who was sitting in the front with Wesley, said, "Look, there's a U-Haul place. What say we stop and buy some boxes? That'll make getting your stuff together and in the van easier."

"Sounds like a winner except I have no money," Wesley responded.

"Ante up, guys," Hank said, and reached back for his wallet. We had plenty, and some to spare after buying boxes and packing tape.

Twenty minutes later, Wesley turned into a gravel drive I knew very well. The drive passed under very old, very large oaks, and was bordered by rhododendron higher than the van. The oaks and rhododendron were so large and thick that they made the drive dark and, unlike being among the rhododendron and oaks on a mountainside, spooky. I never learned why, but Grandmother Wilson had resisted doing anything to the drive beyond having fresh gravel added and smoothed once a year. Her son apparently agreed.

The drive ended at the huge brick house built in high Victorian style, a house I remembered from spending summers in Charlotte with Grandmother Wilson.

Wesley pulled into the portico, stopped the van and we all got out. As he stepped from the van and looked around, Hank said, "I don't think we need to worry about neighbors seeing anything. I mean unless they have x-ray vision. This place could be in the middle of a forest."

"True," Wesley said, "but there are ways and there are ways. The house is very visible from the back street. Once the neighborhood women start moving, you never know where they might turn up. There are walking trails all through the neighborhood. We are fairly well hidden and I parked in the portico like the van was supposed to be here. I think everything will be fine unless a neighbor is on one of the walking trails or driving the back street--and snooping."

"Now for the key and alarm code," Wesley said as he started down a brick walk toward a garden. He was moving slowly and looked as though he was counting bricks. Strange. He stopped, made a right turn and continued a few feet, stopped, bent, lifted a brick and took an envelope from under it. When he got back to the van he said, "Got the key and the security code. We're in business."

"Just curious, it's obvious you were looking for the brick which had the key under it, but how did you know which one? I know Mary Capers must not have told you since it took you a bit to locate it."

Wesley laughed and said, "Mary Capers and I have always had a hidden key in case we needed one to get in when we had snuck out of the house. We almost got caught once when Mother tripped over the loose brick we had used as a hiding place. We then came up with the idea of moving the hiding place around. I told her I would be picking up the key and code the day after Christmas--if I had come before or after it wouldn't matter since she had been told I would be here the twenty-sixth. So my first locater is the twenty-sixth row. It's the twelfth month, so the next locater is the twelfth column of row twenty-six and there's the key and code. Simple: the day of the month is the row and the month is the column. Works every time and the spot is only used once a year."

"Wouldn't it be simpler just to get a duplicate key made?" Hank asked.

"It would, except the keys have a chip in them or something. They can't just be duplicated and when we were grounded, our key was taken. Anyway, it was more fun this way," Wesley said. "Now for the treasure!" Wesley unlocked the door, stepped inside and moved a small painting to one side, revealing a keypad. He punched in the code and said, "Come on in."

Even when Wesley turned on the lights, the hallway was still dark, gloomy, just as I remembered it--dark, smelling of dust and furniture polish, unpleasant, choking. I felt myself getting tense. "Nothing has really changed since Grandmother Wilson lived here," Wesley said.

"Yeah, it hasn't. I didn't like being here then and I don't like being here now," I said.

Wesley actually hung his head and said, "I can understand why and, I can tell you, I don't want to be around here long!" Wesley was standing before a small table, sorting through mail. "Nothing here of interest to me," he said as he looked at the last envelope.

"How about the package?" Jonathan asked, pointing to a box resting on a shelf under the table.

"It's from St. Paul's Clinic," Wesley said after picking it up and looking at the address. "I bet, I hope, it's my things." Hank handed him his Swiss army knife and Wesley quickly cut the tape on the package. "Well, well, well, sometimes we are in luck," he said, taking a blazer, pants, shirt and tie out of the box.

"You're in luck because you got a dress outfit back? I bet you have a bunch," Jason said,

"I do, but none with this," Wesley answered as he took his wallet out of the blazer's inside pocket. "Got some cash and my ATM card," he said, holding both up. "But we need to get moving so we can be gone before Cassandra arrives. Douglas, do you remember seeing "Arsenic and Old Lace" one summer, and how you kept getting in trouble afterward?"

I smiled, remembering how annoyed my grandmother got at my imitation of the brother in the play who thought he was Teddy Roosevelt. "I sure do," I answered. Wesley stepped to one side of the staircase, bowed to me and I said, "Men, it's time to take San Juan Hill!" I then shouted "Charge!" and ran up the stairs. The four at the bottom of the stairs followed my example.

Upstairs, Wesley led us to his room, one I remembered well. It had been an upstairs sitting room and, unlike all the other rooms except the conservatory, was light and airy since one wall was mullioned windows. "Wesley, I remember this room so well. When we used to come for a week in summer, I always asked to sleep here. It was the only place that wasn't gloomy."

"How right you are," my cousin replied.

We all were looking around the room, taking in what made Wesley, Wesley, I guess. He had an interesting collection of books, pictures on the wall and his furniture which he said he had selected. After we had explored for fifteen or twenty minutes, Wesley said, "Well, let's get to work."

Hank had suggested we get everything packed and downstairs before we started loading the van. "It'll probably save loading, unloading, rearranging, and reloading to get everything in," he said. That made sense and we all got to work.

Jonathan was set to taping the boxes getting them ready for packing and then taping them closed when they had been filled. Wesley was busy sorting through his clothes, and those he wanted I packed. He wanted all of his CDs and his stereo, so Hank could pack those without Wesley's input. As soon as a box was packed, Jason took it downstairs.

After several trips, Jason said, "Man, I am getting a real workout!"

"You take my place," Hank offered, "and I'll carry boxes awhile."

He and Hank swapped jobs and before long it was clear that we all needed to rotate carrying the boxes, as it sure was a real workout.

When Jonathan had finished putting the boxes together, Wesley said, "Jonathan, I'll take all my socks and underwear. They are in the highboy, so you can pack those without my help."

"Man, I think you have two of every kind of sexy underwear in the world!" Jonathan exclaimed when he opened a drawer.

"You're only looking at one drawer," Wesley laughed. "There are a couple more with these," he said, opening a drawer filled with silk briefs and boxers.

"Those you have to share," Jonathan asserted and then blushed.

"Great, try on a silk bikini," Wesley grinned and said, holding up a bright blue one.

I was surprised when Jonathan took the bikini, turned his back to us, stripped off his clothes and pulled on the bikini. When he turned around, he presented a very nice picture--a lean but not skinny body, and a surprising package for someone so young and small.

"I like what I see," Wesley said.

I glanced at Jason and said, "Don't handle the merchandise, Wesley," then turned quickly when Hank spoke.

"Ok, you jokers, we have a job to do here," Hank said, and I realized he was embarrassed and upset by Jonathan's display and our comments.

"Right," Wesley said, looking at his watch which had been in the package from St. Paul's. "You can keep the briefs," he said to Jonathan who had picked up his clothes and got dressed.

"Thanks," Jonathan said quietly. I knew he was thinking about Hank's reaction to his trying on the bikini.

Soon the only thing left to be packed was the computer and its peripherals. There were still several boxes to be taken down and Jason and I started doing that. Unlike most people, I suspect, Wesley had saved the original boxes in which his computer equipment came, so packing took care but was not the major undertaking it could have been.

Everything had gone very smoothly and when we had taken the last boxes down, we were ready to start packing the van. Since everything was in one place, getting it in the van was done quickly.

When the last box was in place, Jason said, "Before we leave, we need to make a final check to see if we have missed something."

We went back upstairs for the final check and found nothing. Wesley looked at his watch and said, "It's 10:30. "We better get out of here. I don't think Cassandra will be in a rush today, since there's no-one home, but she's not going to be very late either."

The words were hardly out of his mouth when there was the sound of a car on the gravel drive at the back of the house. We all rushed to the windows overlooking the back drive and saw a car stopping. "Oops! That will be her now," Wesley said. "Let's move!"

We had just barely gotten into the van and the doors closed when Wesley put it in reverse and went flying down the drive--backwards. Fortunately he was able to stop quickly, because there was a car blocking the entrance to the street. A security guard got out of the car and came over to the van, swinging his night stick in one hand, the other on his gun. As he approached the van, Wesley said, "Leave this to me."

Clearly the security man felt he was much more important than he was, and was trying to pull off the tough cop bit as he asked, "Just where do you perps think you are going?"

"I beg your pardon, asshole," Wesley responded and I thought we'd all wet our pants as the man took his gun out of its holster. "This is my house and these are my friends who are helping me move out to an apartment, so get your fucking ass back in your fucking car and get the fuck out of here before I call my parents and the real cops."

"Smartass, you are going nowhere until what you call the real cops get here."

"We'll see about that, asshole," Wesley said. "You'll be filling out a job application tomorrow, if you are lucky, after my old man gets through with you. Dumbass, you don't even know who you are hired to protect."

When Wesley had stopped, he dropped the van into first gear and, as the security man started raising his gun, Wesley floored the van and shot down the driveway toward the house. His acceleration meant the van lost traction at first, and filled the air and the startled man's face with dust and gravel.

As we raced toward the house Wesley said, "Guys, I think I can pull this off. Cassandra has always kinda looked after me. I don't know what she knows--probably everything--or how she took finding out I was gay, but I do think she'll set this security man straight. He's definitely a good old white boy redneck and, while my parents don't know it, Cassandra is a very militant black woman who has a deep and abiding dislike for good old white boys."

The security guard was back in his car and on his way to the house, but we did have a head start. As soon as the van stopped, we all piled out and followed Wesley to the front door. Wesley opened the door and yelled, "Cassandra, help! I need you."

A large, very dark black woman came running into the front hall. When she saw Wesley she stopped, then ran and grabbed him, hugging him to her ample bosom. "What's wrong, Baby? Where you been? What'sapin'?"

"I'll tell you all about it, but first, get that idiot security guard off my butt."

The security guard was at the front door, obviously not knowing whether to just come in or wait for someone--in the words Granddad sometimes used, he didn't know whether to shit or go blind.

Cassandra went to the door and said, "I don't know what you think you doin', but this is Master Wesley's home. Now you jest git."

"Look, the security office was told the family was on vacation and we needed to keep a close check on the house. Someone named Millicent Williams called to say there had been a break-in here. Is that you?"

"What do you think? Do I look like I be named Millicent? I told you this is Master Wesley's house and he can come and go as he please so you jest git!" Cassandra emphasized her demand by flapping her apron at the confused man as though she was chasing chickens. The guard finally got the message, said, "Have a nice day," in a tone which clearly indicated he was not having one, turned and walked to his car and left.

"Now that I have kept you and your friends out of the pokey, get in the kitchen and tell me what's going on." Then Cassandra gave a short laugh and said, "That nosy Millicent Williams will spend all week trying to figure out what's goin' on here." As we all started toward the kitchen, Cassandra looked at me and said, "Child, I knowed you look familiar and it jest hit me. You Master Douglas, Miss Elizabeth's son."

"Right, Cassandra. It's been a long time since I saw you--well, except at the funeral."

"Poor baby, give me a hug."

As Wesley had been, I was smothered in Cassandra's bosom. When she released me, I introduced Hank, Jason and Jonathan. Cassandra shook hands with the three and said, "You must be good if you Master Douglas's friends." She then turned, fixed Wesley in her gaze and said, "All right now, Master Wesley, set yourself down and tell me what you doin'. Out with it."

We were all sitting around a kitchen table and Cassandra was holding court as judge and jury. I guess Wesley knew the truth was best and he started to tell Cassandra about what had happened between him and Dwight, but she stopped him saying, "I know all about that. Don't approve of men knowing men--you know what I mean when I say know?" She fixed Wesley with an icy stare, daring him to object. Wesley nodded. "But that Dwight Randolph is a no-good liar as well as bein'--you know what he bein'."

Wesley then told her about St. Paul's clinic and was omitting few details, but several times Cassandra would say, "That's enough. I get the idea."

"So, Cassandra, my parents were paying to have me abused--physically and emotionally. I escaped and the only place I thought I might go was to Douglas's. They have taken me in, treated me wonderfully, and I plan to stay.

"If Mother and Father find out where I am, they will do everything in their power to get me back to St. Paul's. So I'm hiding out. But I needed to get my things and that's why we're here. You can just forget you saw me or that you know where I am and all will be ok."

Cassandra obviously loved Wesley very much and said there was no way she was going to let anyone hurt him if she could help it. "Mary Capers will know how I am," Wesley said, "and I will let her know you know our secret...."

"Jest as soon she didn't know, Master Wesley. What she don't know she can't tell."

"That's what she says, Cassandra."

"Well, you all go ahead and git out of here," she said. "Master Douglas, you one good-lookin' man."

"Thanks, Cassandra."

"He's just as good as he looks, Cassandra. I think he got good blood from his father and not a bunch of nonsense from his mother," Wesley said.

We all got up and started out the door when Cassandra said, "Somethin' you might need to know, Master Wesley. There's been some meetings here with Mr. Olivet...."

"Sandy Olivet, the family lawyer?" Wesley asked.

Cassandra nodded and said, "Something about a trust fund. Seems yo' grandmama left a trust fund for her grandchildren's education. Mr. Olivet says he knows she intended it for you and Mary Capers, but he got her to make her will say 'grandchildren'. Mr. Olivet told her there might be more grandchildren after she was gone. Your mother wants to give it all to Mary Capers since she's the only 'real Wilson' left, but Mr. Olivet says no way. He also says you have to benefit from it too, Master Douglas. Some things do work out."

She turned to Wesley and said, "Baby, here's my number at home. Keep me posted on how you doin'." Wesley said he would. All five of us got a hug from Cassandra and we headed home.

"Man, I thought we were done for when that guy pulled out his gun," Jason said as we pulled out of the driveway and into the street. "I didn't know what would happen, but nothing I could think of was good."

"I'm only wish Cassandra hadn't gotten mixed up in all this mess," I said. "I hope the security company doesn't make a report to Wesley's parents and they find out she helped us."

"I wouldn't worry too much about Cassandra," Wesley laughed. "She knows exactly how to take care of herself and me. Believe me, she'll take my part any day over my parents when it comes to their doing something she thinks is wrong. She thinks she is my mama and, to be honest, she has been a mama to me, much more so than my mother. I could always depend on her."

Wesley was driving to get us out of the city, and when we were well out of town, he stopped and exchanged places with Hank. The rest of the crew were dozing, so I took shotgun. Hank looked back over his shoulder at our sleeping friends and said softly, "Douglas, I am really disturbed about something."


"I guess I may just not understand or am too stuffy, but when Jonathan put on the bikini and showed off, I was worried by Wesley's remark."

"How so?"

"I don't know. I guess I thought Wesley was kinda hitting on Jonathan. He's just a kid, a naive and innocent kid, and Wesley is pretty experienced."

"I sure agree that Jonathan is innocent and naive and Wesley is neither, but maybe it's like any other time when people who trust each other are together. They kid and joke around freely."

"And I wouldn't want that to change," Hank said. "But I also don't want Jonathan hurt or to have him get into something over his head. Know what I mean?"

"I sure do," I said. "We'll have to speak to Wesley--soon." I didn't tell Hank I had had similar thoughts during the hanging of the greens Christmas Eve, when Wesley seemed at times to be flirting with Jonathan. I guess I thought I didn't want to worry Hank any more than he was, or maybe not give him ammunition if he was thinking all gays were on the make.

"Thanks. I didn't want you to think I was blaming gays for being on the make any more than us straight guys are!" Hank laughed. Every time I thought Hank was shallow and not sensitive to what was going on around him, he proved me wrong.

Neither Hank nor I had anything more to say and, having gotten up so early, I joined those who had fallen asleep.

Suddenly I was shaken awake as I was thrown first to one side and then to the other. Wesley called out, "What the fuck?" Even though I was being tossed about, I could see Hank was as well, and was struggling to get control of the van. He was finally able to pull the van into the emergency lane and get stopped.

When I looked at him, he was as white as a sheet and trembling all over. It was a few minutes before he could speak. When he was finally able, he said, "Man, I went to sleep and only woke up when the van hit the shoulder of the road. I over-compensated and was headed for the median barrier. I was able, finally, to get slowed down and stopped out of the highway. I thought I was a goner."

He had just stopped talking when a state trooper pulled up behind up us, blue lights flashing. The young trooper stepped out of his car and was putting on his hat as he approached the van. When he reached the door, he said, "You must have a guardian angel on board. I thought sure you were a goner back there. Can I see your registration, insurance card and license, please?"

No-one said a word as Hank handed the trooper the documents which he studied very carefully. "What happened back there, Mr. Dennison?" he asked.

"No question about that, Sir," Hank said. "I fell asleep and only woke up when I hit the shoulder. I, too, thought I was a goner and have the wet pants to prove it."

The trooper smiled and said, "Well, I'm glad you did make it because I hate the sight of blood, guts and gore. You fellows out partying all last night? A little belated Christmas party?"

"No sir. We had to get up early to get their grandparents to the airport," Hank said as he pointed to Jason and me. "And to pick up Wesley's things," he pointed to Wesley, "he's moving from Charlotte to Haynes county."

"Into the mountains. God's country," the trooper said. "Think you can stay awake now?"

"I'm not sure I'll be able to go to sleep for a week," Hank answered, and smiled weakly.

"Ok, well be sure you have someone riding shotgun who is wide awake and can make sure the driver is awake," the trooper said as he handed Hank's papers back. "And get some dry pants," he smiled.

When the trooper pulled back into the highway, Hank said, "One of you guys like to drive? I don't think I'll stop shaking long enough to get us home."

Jason took over the driving. With everyone wide awake, there was no worry about a repeat of the near-accident, and only a few miles from where we got back on the highway, we were all relaxed, singing and carrying on.

Hank was navigating and got us off on the wrong route and, by the time he realized the mistake, it was closer to take the roundabout route than to go back. In spite of the fact that he was following a map, I don't think any of us was comfortable about our alternative route until Hank said, "Ok, here it is, junction with I-40." We got on the interstate and headed west.

A couple exits later, Jonathan said, "There's a Wendy's at the next exit."

"Does that mean you are hungry?" Wesley asked.

"Hey, it's nearly 2:00 in the afternoon. My sausage biscuit and milk played out long ago. Yes, I'm hungry!"

"Why don't we take a break?" Jason asked. "We needed to be in a bit of a rush going down, but there's no rush now. We'll be home by 5:00 and the offices won't need a major cleaning today. No-one was there yesterday and probably not today."

"Good idea," I said.

We got out and went inside, got our order, and took our time eating. While we were in line waiting for our food, Wesley said, "This is all on me--I think." He opened his wallet and said, "Yeah, I have enough. Before we go home today, I need to get to an ATM and get some money to repay you guys what I have borrowed."

When we finished eating, I took over as driver and Jonathan was riding shotgun. I wasn't surprised when those in the back dropped off to sleep, one by one. "Guess they got their bellies full and now it's time to sleep," Jonathan laughed. I glanced in the rear view mirror and, sure enough, there were three sleeping beauties among Wesley's things.

We rode in silence for a few minutes then Jonathan asked, "Douglas, can I ask you a question?"

"Sure you can," I responded, "but that doesn't mean I will answer it. Ok?"

"Ok," Jonathan replied. "You know I wrote that letter and all the trouble that caused, but I want to know, how can I be sure I am gay? How can I be sure it's not just a phase I'm going through? Mom--Mrs. Dennison--said she guessed Wesley really was gay and not just going through the phase all boys go through. She said he was too old for that. Jason said he loved you and you loved him and that you two were gay and you're older. How did you know?"

I thought for a few minutes before answering. "Jonathan, let me think a minute." I needed time to think a little because I knew Jonathan deserved a serious answer, and one he could understand. I needn't have worried.

"First of all, I guess Jason and I are gay if we have to be labeled. I just as soon be known as Douglas without any other label, but I know that isn't going to happen, regardless of who or what we are."

"Jonathan, let's try this: I'm, like you, not a clean-cut pure-bred boy like Wesley--at least his family thinks they are pure Anglo-Saxon, but who knows? Jason, you and I obviously have Indian blood. You can look at us and tell that if you know what you are looking for. Two things about that. First, that's the way we were born. When we came into the world, we had mixed blood--Cherokee, Irish, Scots to be exact."

"Think about that for a minute. That was the way we were born. No way we can change that. But--and I'm pushing the analogy here--do you know what an analogy is? I guess you do since that's one thing which gets pounded in your head in ninth grade."

Jonathan chuckled and said, "Yeah, I'm with you."

"Ok, so we were born with mixed blood and there was no way we could change that. Now, when we reached a certain age, being of mixed blood meant we did some things differently and we found it out either by being told or by the way some things happened. Hang with me as this isn't as clear as it might be. For example, you know how blond Wesley is...."

"Yeah," Jonathan laughed, "He gives 'white man' a new depth of meaning!"

"Right! So we went swimming when we are five or six and the woman Aunt Christy hired to watch us got a glass of iced tea, a book and sat in the shade reading. When Aunt Christy came to check on us because we had not come back in the house, Wesley was deep fried and I was only red, and even that was gone the next day. The next day poor Wesley had clear water blisters. Aunt Christy said it was because Wesley was fair and I was dark. You still with me?"

Jonathan nodded.

"Ok, you and I were born, like Hank, Jason and Wesley. Were any of us gay? Didn't know. No-one knew. In looking back, I think I always looked at boys differently from how someone else--Hank, say--looked at them. Then when I approached puberty--I think by the time I was twelve, maybe before--I started noticing boys. Not only that, I found when I heard other guys talking, I was noticing boys the way they were noticing girls."

"Hank? I think Hank was chasing girls before he got out of diapers. I was different from the boys like Hank who were out after girls. I was sure of that but didn't have a name for it. When I thought I had a name for it, I discovered it was a derogatory name--well, actually, names: queer, fag or faggot, pansy, queen, fruit. You know them. Naturally, that worried me."

"Then Jason entered my life. It wasn't love at first sight, but it was something at first sight. You know how we had seen each other before we met and all that. Anyway, there came a time when there was no question about it. I was in love with Jason. Sometime later, I learned he was in love with me. I knew that I was in love with a man and if that made me gay, I was gay, but it didn't matter. What mattered was my love and me. Just like it doesn't matter that I am of mixed blood. Both mean I function in certain situations in certain ways."

"But your question was how you can be sure you are gay and not going through a phase. I'd say the way you function in certain situations is the result of your inborn sexual orientation. And I don't mean the limp wrist, lisp and so on, which are supposed to mean someone is gay. What I mean is you notice boys in a sexual way. That's it. A phase? I think that might be true in the pubescent stage when things are still being sorted out and boys are experimenting, but when the time comes that you see boys and men as the objects of your sexual desires, I think it's settled. But, like being of mixed blood, it really doesn't matter in most situations. It's like being of mixed blood doesn't matter unless you're going out in the sun, looking for enrollment as an Indian, or something where being an Indian matters. How's that? Thoroughly confused?"

"No. I sure I'm gay, was born gay, but that doesn't matter when we are cleaning offices."

"Right," I said, as I looked at Jonathan and smiled. Now if we could just convince the Dennisons and Granddad of that!

Jonathan was quiet for a long time. At one point I thought he might have slipped off to sleep, but when I glanced over at him he was wide awake. Finally I noticed him turn toward me and as he did he said, "That means I don't have to worry about being gay or straight right now. Good. I just as soon let it take care of itself." I looked at him and smiled. His was a good idea, but I'd bet there would be worry from time to time, even if Jonathan had decided it wasn't important.

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