This is the final chapter of `Learning with a Man'. Any comments or questions can be directed to the author at nothlit(at)hotmail(dot)com

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real people or events is entirely coincidental.

Learning with a Man
Chapter 9

    It wasn't a big fall. I think. One second I was standing on an ice shelf, the next I was falling through thin air. I didn't even have time to cry out before I slammed into something on my right side; the impact knocked the air out of me. I briefly saw a flash of rock and then I careened wildly in the opposite direction, still falling, seeing something white right below me coming closer and then—
    Bottom. I crashed down hard. I landed face-first into a pile of something really cold but soft. It was in my mouth, and I gagged trying to spit it out. Then I rolled over. My head recovered from the shock just in time to see I'd fallen onto a snow pile, and then a second hard impact rocked it as Ray half-slid, half-fell down the mountainside and crashed, missing falling on top of me by just a few feet.
    "OW!" he yelled.
    I coughed up some more snow. I happened to glance to my right and saw empty air; I'd fallen not three feet away from another drop. I backed away hurriedly until my back was against solid rock. My mind was reeling.
    "Jeff?" Ray called, struggling to stand in the knee-deep, soft snow. "JEFF!"
    He saw me and waded through the snow as fast as he could. There was real, naked worry in his eyes, and visible relief when he saw where I was.
    "Hey," I said.
    "Jesus, Jeff; are you okay? Did you break anything?"
    He knelt down by my side and reached out to me, then kind of hesitated, unsure what to do with his hands.
    "I'm fine," I said, trying to stand up. A sudden stab of pain in my side made me wince with pain. I dropped back down onto the snow.
    "What's the matter?" Ray said worried.
    I gritted my teeth, pressed my elbow against my right side. It hurt. "Ow. I think I broke something."
    "Don't move."
    A voice reached us from above. Chris. Looking up, I couldn't see him; only the mountainside and the now-blue sky.
    "RAY! JEFF! Can you hear me?"
    "We're here!" Ray yelled, cupping his hands over his mouth. "We're okay!"
    "Stay there!" Chris yelled. "I'm radioing for help!"
    "Got it!"
    We heard Chris's voice growing fainter as he called for help. Soon it was just us there on the ledge, and the silence. The sun had come out, and its rays warmed us, if only slightly. The wind was blowing, but in here we were sheltered from the worst of it. As long as we didn't move too much, we were safe.
    Ray looked at me with an intensity that bordered on anger, his eyes fixed on mine, his hands clenched into fists. I actually thought he was mad at me for being so careless and forcing him to come after me, but then I saw his eyes were too bright; I saw his lip was quivering slightly.
    I was completely shocked to see he was trying not to cry.
    The first tear rolled down his cheek and then suddenly he was hugging me, holding me fiercely to him, literally trembling with emotion.
    "Don't ever do that again, Jeff," he said, his voice husky. "Not ever again. I thought you'd... I thought... I'd lost you."
    I returned the hug, forgetting about the pain in my side, forgetting about everything I'd been telling myself about Ray for the past day and a half; just completely, overwhelmingly happy, lost in the warmth of Ray's embrace. I don't know how long we stayed like that, holding one another in the snow, but I didn't care. Ray was with me. He had risked his life for me, hadn't even hesitated an instant when he'd seen me fall. The enormity of that realization hit me like a sledgehammer, shattering any lingering doubts I might still have had.
    When Ray kissed me, I returned the kiss with all my being, trying to express in that one moment of deep contact just how much Ray meant to me. And in return, I felt him do the same, felt him break down the last of the barriers that kept him from being himself completely and just be. With me. By the time we drew back to look into one another's eyes, I was also crying a bit.
    Ray wiped his eyes with the back of his sleeve, not even embarrassed at his outburst. Not anymore.
    "I told my parents last night, Jeff," he said quietly. "About me. About us."
    I thought I'd heard wrong. "You what?"
    "At the park, I tried to call you back but you ran away," he explained. "I felt awful. I think I was a little too harsh with Janice when I told her to leave me alone. She'd caught me totally by surprise when she showed up, and to be honest I froze, those first few seconds... but when I saw you leave something inside me snapped. I told her she wasn't my girlfriend anymore and to stop acting like she was. All the guys heard it, and they'd also heard me calling after you. I told them to shut the hell up and left them standing there; I didn't care what they thought. I took off after you. By the time I got to your house, though, you'd already gone inside. Your dad said you were angry about something, so I didn't go in, even though I desperately wanted to talk to you. I went back home instead.
    "As soon as I got home I called my parents and asked them to sit down in the living room with me." Ray paused, and took a long breath. He let it out slowly. "I told them everything, Jeff. I didn't want to hide anymore, and I felt awful for the way I'd made you feel. So I came clean and told them all about me, about how I felt about you. They were pretty shocked, I guess. They didn't even know what to say. I didn't mind, I was expecting that, and I told them we'd speak again once they'd had a chance to think it over. Then I went to my room and tried to call you, but you didn't answer. Same thing in the morning with my texts. I left before my parents woke up and came here when I learned you were coming after all."
    "I... I don't know what to say, Ray," I stammered. I really didn't. I was speechless.
    Ray smiled that roguish smile that always got me. "I do. There's something I want to say to you, Jeff. I love you."
    "I think I've loved you for a long time, even if I didn't let myself know it," Ray continued, reaching for my hand and taking it in his. "You can't even begin to imagine how much I regret the awful way I treated you before. I think I was terrified of facing what my feelings really meant. But this last week I've spent with you, and particularly that day in our quiet place... I didn't know it was possible to feel so happy. Being with you, I felt like nothing could go wrong, ever. You make me feel complete. You always have, but now I've grown enough to understand it.
    "You've taught me how to love, despite what the world might think; to be myself, even if others don't like it. You're braver than you know, Jeff. You're more mature, you're sure of what you want, and sure of who you are. Sometimes I feel as if you're the older one of us; as if you're a man, while I'm still a boy. I've learned many things from you without even realizing, but most of all I've learned to understand how much I love you. I love you, Jeff... and I'd jump off a mountain for you." He grinned. "Oh, right. I think I just did."
    I was crying in earnest now, overcome with emotion, unable to believe just how incredibly happy Ray's words made me feel. I swallowed a lump in my throat and said, "I love you too, Ray. I always have."
    Ray's humble, happy smile at hearing me say it was all the answer I needed. We kissed again, tenderly, passionately, and when Chris finally climbed down on a thick, sturdy rope to the ledge where we were lying, he found us in each other's arms, smiling. I waved hi to him as he jumped the last few feet and landed in the snow.
    "Are you guys all right?" he asked, genuine concern in his voice.
    "We're fine," I said.
    "Yeah," Ray added, giving me a quick kiss on the cheek. "We're much better, actually."
    Chris was surprised at the gesture, but he got over it quickly. He actually smiled. "Glad you guys got over whatever it is you had going on before. You sure you're not hurt?"
    "Jeff hit his side," Ray said. "Does it still hurt, Jeff?"
    I moved my arm experimentally and tried to stand up. Ray helped me up gently.
    "It hurts a bit," I admitted, "do you think I broke a rib or something?"
    Chris shook his head. "If you had a broken rib, you'd know; trust me. You're probably just bruised. I'll set you up to get pulled up first, Ray, and then I'll take Jeff up with me. I got some other guides to help out above. Good thing they were nearby; most were just beginning this morning's climb."
    I watched Ray climb up, helped by some people above us. It hadn't been that big of a fall, really, even if it had felt like I'd fallen from much higher. Ray was over the edge pretty soon, and then Chris strapped me to the rope in a complicated setup that secured me at waist level. He took a secondary rope and climbed along with me, while the people above basically pulled me up. I helped with my feet, pushing away from the rock and practically walking up the sharp slope. My side hurt, but not all that much anymore. I managed to climb all the way up without any incident.
    The people above cheered when they saw me come up. Chris helped me get rid of the harness thing, and Ray came right over to me. He hugged me again, actually lifting me up in his enthusiasm, and all I saw was him, even as the cheers went on around us. Some people came over to clap us on the back; amateur climbers like us, who'd stopped by to help. The guides were congratulating Chris on his quick thinking, and I had to tell about a dozen people I felt just fine. About half an hour later, the group finally dispersed and we all sort of climbed together to reach the summit of the mountain at last.
    That last climb was as different from the climb of the day before as night is from day. Ray was always close by, and Chris too, and even though we didn't speak much once we got going and the exertion began to make itself felt, I enjoyed every second of the slow, hard ascent to the true summit of Mount Adams. The view seemed more beautiful today; the snow a purer shade of white. Some climbers walked a long distance ahead of us, some were hanging out in the back, but we all sort of climbed as one group, drawn to a sense of community by my fall, and the way it had brought us together. Ray caught my eye every now and then and smiled. When I got too tired to keep going at a normal pace, he slowed down with me and held my hand, and we kept going.
    I was soon taking about three breaths per step, shuffling my crampon-tipped shoes through the ice and loose snow, mostly staring at the footprints of Chris ahead of us. The climb was tough, but the summit looked real close now. I told myself to keep going and made a silent promise to start exercising for real. Maybe I'd go to the gym with Ray; maybe he'd be even be my coach. The thought brought a smile to my lips.
    "Almost there!" Chris called, pointing ahead. Some climbers were already gathered by the geographical marker, and some others by a tall shed-like thing that stuck out of the snow; a really scenic point to take triumphant pictures.
    I grunted. I would have said something, but I was using all my oxygen just to keep moving.
    Half an hour later, with me practically dragging my feet through the snow, we reached the summit. The true summit.
    "We did it!" Ray said happily. "We're here!"
    "About time, too," Chris said, grinning. "I bet the view is much more spectacular after a near-death experience, right guys?"
    I nodded and concentrated on breathing. Ray had enough breath in him to actually laugh. Other climbers started going down as we climbed on top of the shed, and I waved absently, transfixed by the view.
    "That's Mount Rainier over there," Chris told us. "Pretty cool, huh?"
    I looked all around: at the clouds that floated below me, actually below me, on the lower slopes of the mountain, their shapes fluffy and elongated, a bright shade of white. I saw the bright blue sky overhead, curving up slightly in the horizon; the bright sunlight of early morning, the magnificence of the mountain we had just climbed. It was breathtaking.
    "I'm glad I'm here," Ray told me softly, "but I'm even more glad I'm here with you."
    We kissed at the top of the mountain, the cool wind blowing all around us, the sun warm on our faces, and the world at our feet.
    "Hey guys!" Chris called. "You want a picture or what?"
    Ray tossed him his phone. Chris caught it and backed off a bit, focusing the frame.
    We did. I had my right arm around Ray's waist, and raised my left fist triumphantly, feeling elated, exhausted, and incredibly happy.
    We stayed at the top for a few more minutes, taking pictures while Chris told us some amusing facts about the mountaintop. I found out I'd been the first guy to have an accident like that in like a million years. If I hadn't deliberately wandered off from the path and onto that freak ice shelf, I would have been perfectly safe.
    "Anyway," Chris said, "We should get going if you guys want to make it back to base camp before dark."
    I looked down at the long, long climb down ahead and groaned. "I'd forgotten about the climb down."
    "Isn't there a faster way down?" Ray asked.
    Chris grinned. "I thought you'd never ask."
    He led us to a steep snowy part of the southern slope and handed out ice axes.
    "Basically, think of this as an awesome natural slide," he said. "Glissading is easy to do in a sitting position. You won't get tired and we'll zip down the slope so fast you won't even believe it. Your butt will get wet, but it will be awesome. I promise."
    He showed us how to get in a self-arrest position, made sure we were ready... and slid right down.
    "Whoooooo!" he cried, going down the snowy slope at an alarming speed.
    Ray and I looked at each other.
    "Let's go!" Ray said, grinning.
    I sat down on the snow, with Ray several feet away. I assumed the position, gripped my ice axe tight, and pushed off.
    I picked up speed insanely fast. I slid down on the snow like it really was a slide, and I couldn't help but shout out.
    "Whoa! Whoooooooo!"
    Ray was shouting similar things off to my left, but I kept all of my concentration on sliding down straight as I sped by, down on the cold wet snow, not even minding that my butt was getting soaked, and lost in the exhilarating sensation of the glissade. It felt like an insane mixture of skiing down and rocketing down on a sleigh, except this time there was nothing but my outer layer of clothing between me and the snow. I wasn't even worried about going too fast; the sensation was too awesome. We zoomed through areas that had taken us more an hour to climb, and the cold bite of the wind that took the air away from my quick, shallow breaths just added to the emotion, the thrill of the slide.
    The minutes flew by, and we went down the mountain so incredibly fast that when I saw the tiny figure of Chris off in the distance, standing up at a spot that had to be Lunch Counter, I was slightly disappointed that the wild slide down was going to end.  I leaned down to increase my speed for the last few hundred feet, shouting my throat raw and using my ice axe only at the last minute to help myself come to a stop right as the slope leveled off. I slid to a full stop and lay for a few moments in the snow, looking up at the blue sky, hearing Ray shouting nearby, also slowing down from the sound of his voice.
    I stood up, brushing cold and wet slush from the back of my jeans, smiling. I caught Chris's eye and he waved me over. Ray followed soon enough.
    "Wasn't that awesome?" he asked us.
    Our stupid grins spoke for themselves.
    "Dude!" Ray said. "I want to go again!"
    "No way," I protested. "We'd need to climb all over again!"
    "Oh, come on, Jeff," Ray said playfully. "I can carry you if you're just too weak..."
    "Shut up, Ray."
    Chris laughed. "We should start down now, guys. We want to get you home before dark."
    I checked my phone. "No signal... how am I going to tell my dad to come pick me up?"
    Ray raised an eyebrow. "Um... I'm driving you back?"
    "Oh. Right. Oops."
    "It's good you're talking to each other again," Chris commented. "Yesterday was the most awkward climb I've had with a group, by far."
    Ray smiled at me. "Things are good now."
    "Okay then," Chris said. "Let's get going!"
    "My butt is wet," I complained, once we began the descent.
    "So is mine," Ray said. "I wish I'd brought an extra pair of jeans."
    "Would you rather have come down the traditional way?" Chris asked us.
    "No way!" I said.
    We took lots of pictures on the way down, of Ray and me, just me or just Ray, or all three of us where we could manage. It was amazing. Once we reached the tree line, the cold let up significantly, and we could stash most of the equipment back in the backpacks. Crampons and heavy jackets were all put away, which gave us a lot more freedom to run around and explore things we'd simply ignored on the way up, when I'd been too concentrated on brooding to really see anything worth noting.
    We found a fallen log, overgrown with moss on its north side, and we sat down there for a snack. Ray and Chris shared stories about their time in the track team during high school, and I was happy to listen. Then the conversation turned to what Ray planned on doing now that he was supposed to be going to college.
    "I'm still trying to decide," Ray said, "but now it basically depends on Jeff."
    "Huh?" I asked, mouth mull of granola bar.
    Ray grinned. "Since Jeff is moving for college too, I'd like to study somewhere that's close. Maybe even the same school. That way we can meet up for lunch and after classes. And I'll keep an eye on him, make sure nobody gets any ideas about bullying him again."
    Chris nodded. "That's a good plan. Except for the fact that you haven't decided what you want to do yet, Ray. Do you seriously have no idea?"
    "Well," Ray said, shrugging. "I kind of told Jeff I'd like to do something related to cars. Like... um... becoming a mechanic."
    I could tell Ray felt a bit self-conscious about admitting his dream to somebody else, but Chris was very encouraging.
    "That's awesome! I've seen the things you've done to that old wreck of yours, Ray. You have talent. Remember that time when we were in high school and my car started making those weird noises? You figured out what was wrong with it in like three seconds. If you're good at something, and you like it, I see nothing wrong with going for it."
    "See?" I joined in. "Chris thinks it's a good idea too."
    "Yeah, I guess. Now all I have to do is tell my parents. They probably won't like it... and I guess I'd better wait. One shock at a time."
    A few minutes later we left and went down at an easy pace, stopping here and there whenever we saw anything interesting. When we finally saw the base camp below, I was almost disappointed. I was cold, wet, I had a slight headache from the altitude and my side hurt every time I jumped, but I couldn't remember being happier. I didn't want this trip to end.
    "Here we are," Chris said as we reached the cabins. "Brought you back down in one piece. Even if you guys made it difficult. You do realize I almost had a heart attack when Jeff fell, right?"
    "Sorry," I said. "I survived, though."
    "This was an awesome trip, Chris," Ray said, extending his hand out. Chris shook it, smiling.
    "Glad you enjoyed it."
    "You're a great guide," I said. "Thanks for everything. Particularly the saving my life thing."
    "No problem, Jeff. I guess you better guys get going, though. I've got some paperwork to fill out and then I'll head out. It was nice climbing with you."
    "Same here," Ray said. "You should come by when you're in town, Chris. We three could go out or something."
    "Will do. See you guys!"
    "Bye!" I said.
    Jeff and I headed for his car. I was about to get in when Chris called, "Hey Jeff!"
    "Yeah?" I said.
    "Take good care of Ray, okay?"
    I waved. "I will!"
    We got in the car and, after some more waving, Ray drove off. I looked back at the mountain once as we headed down.
    "We should come back sometime," I said.
    "Yeah," Ray agreed. "We should."
    "Ow," I complained, settling down on the seat. "I'm sore all over."
    "How's the pain in your side?"
    "Better, I think. As long as I don't lean in that direction."
    "Okay. Cool."
    "Hey, Ray?"
    "Why... did you jump after me?"
    He thought about it for a few seconds, hands on the wheel. The car bumped along the dirt road that led down, back to the highway.
    "I don't really know," he said at last. "I just reacted. I guess it was something deeper than anything I can explain with words. When I saw you fall, I was more than terrified. It didn't even occur to me to not jump."
    "I love you, Jeff. I can't stand the thought of something happening to you. I guess my suicidal jump down a mountain sort of proves it."
    I smiled. "Yeah. I think it does."
    The road back was long, but I didn't care. I cherished every moment with Ray, every look he could spare as he drove. We passed the field where we'd spent the day together just a couple days back, and I couldn't suppress a smile.
    "Wonder what that farmer's dog is doing now," I said as we drove by, remembering the big mean beast that had scared us half to death.
    "As long as he's not running after me trying to chew my leg off, I don't care," Ray said.
    I grinned. "I guess you're right."
    Soon the gas station came into view, and the diner where we'd first met.
    "Hey, Jeff?"
    "I'm starving."
    "Me too."
    "Trail mix and granola bars just don't cut it for me. What do you say we get a burger?"
    Ray pulled over into the parking lot beside the diner, and we went in. We were pretty dirty, to say the least. Our clothes were dusty, our hair was a mess, and I was sure there were mud stains on my jeans I couldn't see. Nobody batted an eye, though. We sat down at our table and ordered our meal.
    It was the most delicious hamburger I'd had, by a long shot. Maybe it was the fact that we were starving, like Ray pointed out as I was scarfing down the last bits of my food. Maybe it was just the fact that I was with Ray. Either way, one hamburger wasn't enough. I had to order another one.
    "And another one for me, too," Ray told the waitress. "Thanks."
    "I can't believe I'm still hungry," I said.
    "Me too. I hope they hurry up. I don't have any fries left."
    The hamburgers came soon enough. Mine disappeared just as quickly as the first one had.
    Ray didn't finish his, though. He pushed the plate away with a fourth of hamburger remaining.
    "No way," he said. "I'm full."
    "I finished mine," I told him.
    "If I eat anything else I think I'll barf."
    I laughed. "Okay, then let's go."
    "Yeah. Good idea. You know what I really, really want now?"
    "A shower!"
    We left when it was already dark outside. Ray drove us home in silence, and I was content to just sit there beside him and remember the day. It had been awesome. One of the best days of my life.
    It wasn't over, though. When Ray pulled over into his own driveway, I saw his parents were by the door, waiting for him.
    "I texted them I was coming," Ray said, a bit nervously. "I didn't expect them to here there, waiting."
    "You want me to... you know... go home?" I asked.
    "No," Ray said quickly. "Let's go say hi. Together."
    We stepped out of the car. I was shocked and also thrilled when Ray took my hand as he walked up the porch steps, right up to where his parents were standing.
    His dad looked like he'd lost his ability to speak. He looked at Ray, then at me, then back at Ray. His mother made this little whimpery sound—and then she rushed forward, and hugged him.
    "Ray! Oh Ray, I'm so glad you're okay!"
    "What?" Ray said, taken aback. I stepped back a bit so his mom could hug him better.
    His dad sort of grunted and reached awkwardly to pat him on the shoulder.
    "We got a call from your guide," he explained. "He told us what happened."
    "Oh," Ray said. "But it was no big deal or anything..."
    "We're just glad you're okay, son," his dad said. Then he looked at me. "Both of you."
    Ray's mom let go of her son and then hugged me, so unexpectedly I think I squeaked. I returned the hug awkwardly.
    "Your dad was worried sick," she said to me. "You should go tell him you're okay, Jeff. We were all so worried."
    "Uh... okay..."
    "Come inside, son," Mr. Savage said. "You need to get something to eat."
    Ray looked my way, then back to his dad. "I'm going to Jeff's first, if that's okay, Dad," he said. He took my hand again.
    His dad blinked at the gesture, trying to hide the shock but not being very successful at it. He was about to say something when Mrs. Savage took his hand and squeezed it. Then he nodded.
    "Uh, okay. You two boys take care. And don't be too late in coming home, Ray."
    "I won't," Ray said.
    We walked toward my house. Behind us, we heard the front door close. I felt Ray's hand trembling slightly in mine.
    "That went well," he said. "I thought they were going to freak out."
    "Yeah. Me too."
    "I wonder what Chris told them," Ray mused. "Do you think he exaggerated a bit?"
    I shrugged. "No idea."
    We came home; the door was unlocked. I pushed it open and led Ray inside.
    "Dad?" I called. "We're home!"
    "Coming!" came his voice from upstairs.
    He came quickly down, the worried look in his face vanishing when he saw we were fine. Then he saw Ray and I were holding hands. His smile lit up his face.
    "Jeff! You're okay!"
    He rushed to me and gave me a bear hug with all his strength, swaying me a bit from side to side even. Then he let up a bit and yanked Ray toward us, hugging us both with evident relief.
    "I'm glad you're okay, Jeff. And Ray, thanks for what you did for my son. Chris told me what happened. I can't even begin to tell you how thankful I am."
    Ray was blushing fiercely. "It was nothing, Mr. Irons; really..."
    My dad clapped him on the back with his heavy hand. "It wasn't nothing, Ray. That was very brave of you to do. I'm glad Jeff has found someone like you."
    Now I was blushing, too. "Dad!"
    He laughed, stepped back, still smiling. "Okay, okay. Well boys, I think you'll want to take a shower after such a long day. There's food in the fridge if you're hungry; I got to get going now, got a delivery to make. Don't stay up too late, okay?"
    "Sure..." I said, as Dad grabbed his keys and jacket and left in a hurry.
    "I hope he's not late," Ray said, as we heard the sound of Dad's car starting. "I bet he stayed home until we came just so he could see you were okay."
    "Weird, though..." I said. "It's Sunday. He doesn't usually work Sundays."
    Ray grinned. "Hey. Either way, we got the house to ourselves. And now I can do this."
    He kissed me, tenderly, and I closed my eyes and kissed him back. I ran my hands through his hair, breathing in his scent. Feeling his body pressed against mine kind of worked against me, though, because what had started out as an innocent kiss soon got me hard. I kissed Ray more passionately, and he responded right away.
    "I think," he said between kisses," that we... should go... get a shower."
    "Okay," I said, kissing him one last time. "Let's go."
    I led him upstairs, to my room. I took off my jacket and dumped it on the floor.
    "Man," I said as I shrugged off the T-shirt I was wearing, "my jacket looks like I rolled around in the mud for half an hour. I had no idea it was so dirty."
    I took off the T-shirt gratefully, but winced when I had to stretch to pull it over my head.
    "Whoa," Ray said.
    He pointed to my side. "That looks painful."
    I looked down. A patch of skin on the right side of my ribcage was dark and a bit blue, with some red thrown in for good measure. "You got to be kidding me. It looks like an elephant stepped on me!"
    "Maybe you should go to the doctor, Jeff."
    "Nah," I said, grinning. I touched the spot gingerly. It hurt, but not all that bad. "It looks a lot worse than it is."
    "You sure?" He sounded genuinely worried.
    "I'm sure, Ray."
    I'd started to take off my jeans when I saw that Ray was just standing there awkwardly; he hadn't even started to undress.
    "I can, um, wait till you've gone and then I'll take a shower," he said.
    I rolled my eyes.
    "Don't be such a dick. We're taking a shower together."
    He blinked, all shy. "Oh."
    I swear he was blushing. "What's the matter, Ray? It's not like we haven't... you know."
    "Well, we're at your house," he stammered, "and, um, your dad knows I'm here, so... I don't know..."
    I grinned, pulling off my jeans. "Why do you think he left?"
    His eyes grew wide. "Oh."
    I unzipped his jacket for him and pulled it off his shoulders. "Come on."
    I went to the bathroom to turn on the hot water in the shower and finished undressing there. I stepped into the shower just as Ray was coming in, still in his boxers and acting like I'd never seen him naked before in my life. He also kept looking over his shoulder downstairs, as if he expected my dad to burst through the door, pitchfork in hand and yelling at him at any moment.
    Then he saw me, fully naked under the stream of hot water, and he forgot all about being shy.
    I must confess that showering together looked a lot more romantic in my head. The shower was kind of small, so there was a lot of edging around and reaching for the soap awkwardly, plus bumping into corners or into the faucets in the tiny space. We also had to shower properly, so we couldn't really fool around as much as I'd have wanted to. Ray was paranoid about hurting me if he touched my right side by accident, too, so the shower idea ended up being a lot more about washing off the dust and sweat of the climb and a lot less about anything else I might have expected.
    Not to say it wasn't nice. Having Ray so close, fully naked with me, was simply awesome. Every time his skin touched mine it sent shivers up my spine. I also had a raging hard-on since the beginning, which was impossible to hide, and after the first few awkward moments Ray's dick had gone hard, too. I tried not to look but I was totally unsuccessful. He noticed, and grinned. Then he offered to rub my back with soap and turned me around.
    I practically melted in his arms. I was tired and my muscles were sore, and Ray's touch was like magic. He kneaded my shoulders, his hands slippery with soap, and then rubbed my back. I sighed with pleasure and pulled him to me. He hugged me from behind, linking his hands around my waist, kissing my neck as the warm water fell over both of us. I felt his hard cock on my butt and leaned back against it. He shivered slightly and returned the pressure, rubbing his cock up and down my crack.
    I turned the water off and snatched a towel from the rack. I gave another one to Ray and he grinned as he dried off, his dick sticking out as hard as ever. I dried off as quickly as I could, too, and tossed the towel on the floor without even bothering to see where it fell. Ray did the same. Then I grabbed his hand and led him back into my room.
    I locked the door behind us, and the second he heard the click, Ray took me in his arms and kissed me, hard. I returned the kiss, seeking his tongue, and tasting in Ray's mouth and his kiss the same urgency that was pumping through my veins. His cock was pressed against my belly, big and hard, and my own cock did the same. Ray reached down with one hand as he kissed me and grabbed his dick with it—and mine too. He began to jack us off together, and the sensation of having his raw manhood and mine touching was almost enough to send me clear over the edge right then.
    He seemed to sense it, though, and he let go after a few slow strokes. Then he led me gently toward the bed and he lay down, beckoning me to join him with his eyes. For a brief instant I almost couldn't believe it. Ray, lying naked on my bed, his magnificent, ripped body within arm's reach; his dark hair wet from the shower, his big cock rising up from a nest of dark pubic hair, and his balls hanging between his legs. It was his eyes that drew me the most, though, and the look I saw in them: I saw the lust, sure; the way he looked at my body with searing intensity. But I also saw the love. That's when I jumped him.
    I landed on top of him and the touch of his warm skin on mine was electric. I kissed him on the lips, on his cheek and down towards his neck, my own lips exploring the sandpaper roughness of his two-day beard. I ground my body against his, feeling his dick throb between our bodies, and I caressed the firm, hard muscles on his chest, his shoulders, and his arms.
    I wanted to take it slow, but the knowledge of his hard dick between us was too much. I needed to take him in my mouth, and I got on all fours, reaching for his dick with one hand. Ray tensed up when I grabbed it, his shaft rock-hard in my hand, and moaned aloud when I opened my mouth and took his dick all the way in, as far as it could go.
    I sucked him off every way I could think of. I used my tongue to caress the sensitive head of his dick and Ray moaned again, his dick throbbing in my mouth, and I got to taste his precum as drop by slow drop slid out of his piss slit, right onto my tongue. I ran my lips up and down his shaft like I'd done before, and Ray loved it. Then I moved further down, to his balls, and took both of them in my mouth. I played with them using my tongue, my mouth full of Ray's man taste and my own dick hard with arousal at feeling him writhe with the pleasure I gave him, whispering my name. When I had them good and wet I went back to his cock, sucking him, coating his thick shaft with my spit, alternating between taking him into my mouth and jacking him off with both hands, pumping as fast as I could and driving him wild. When I went back to using my mouth he would grab my head and push me down onto his cock, just a bit at first but then harder as he got lost in the sensation, until he was practically driving all the way into my throat, pumping into it, giving it to me.
    We went at it for several minutes, until Ray decided to stop. He pulled me up, sitting up to kiss me deep, and as he did he guided me down on the mattress so now I would be on my back. Then he took the position I'd been in before and, taking my own hard dick in his hand, he parted his lips and began to suck it.
    He was good at it. He knew how to use his tongue and his lips to drive me to the heights of pleasure as he serviced my dick with his warm, wet tongue. He licked it and sucked on it with a vengeance, his head bobbing up and down with the rhythm he set while I moaned with pleasure, telling him how good it felt, grabbing a handful of his hair and tugging on it, hard, when his throat relaxed enough to take me all the way in. I could tell he loved sucking me off; his free hand was flying over his dick as Ray jacked himself off in time to the motions of his eager, willing mouth.
    He kept going for much longer than I had, and eventually he stopped working my cock and went down, just like I had, and began licking my balls, taking them one at a time into his mouth, using his tongue to feel them, licking them well. But he didn't stop there. He used his hands to spread my legs a bit wider, and sort of prop my ass up a little, and before I could react he bent down and slid his tongue right over my hole.
    I gasped; I was surprised, and the sensation was unexpected... and incredible.
    "Oh, Ray... wow... that feels so good..."
    "Yeah?" he asked, his voice muffled.
    His tongue worked my ass hungrily, and I was moaning with pleasure as he did. The warm, wet touch of it as it slid all over my hole, pressing down on it every now and then, simply blew my mind away. I spread my legs wider using my hands, holding onto the back of my knees for balance, and Ray buried his face between them, using his tongue to service my hole like I'd never imagined it would be possible. I arched my back with pleasure at one point, begging him to keep going, and he complied, going at it until my hole was slick and ready. Then he propped himself back up and put his index finger in his mouth, licking it thoroughly. He looked me right in the eyes as he put his hand over my ass and used his finger to find my asshole. I was a bit scared, my heart pounding in my chest at what he was about to do, but I gave a small nod. That was all Ray needed. He drove his finger right up my ass.
    "Ah!" I cried. I didn't even know if it was in pain or pleasure.
    "Does it hurt?" Ray asked me.
    I shook my head. I couldn't trust myself to speak.
    "Okay," Ray whispered.
    He pushed in with his finger, and at first I tensed up, panicking a little. It felt so different to that time I'd done it alone... I realized I was shivering a bit, but I gritted my teeth and told myself to relax. I felt Ray push against my hole again, and this time I managed to calm down a little bit. Just enough for Ray's finger to slide in.
    I moaned. Ray looked at me, concerned, but when he saw I was obviously enjoying it he went a bit deeper, his finger pushing into my ass firmly, slowly. Then he took it out, lubed it up again.
    "Do it," I told him "Ray, finger my hole."
    He didn't need any more encouragement. He pushed inside a bit faster this time, and drove his finger all the way in. I cried out, loudly, but I didn't care. It felt amazing. And when Ray moved his finger around in small circles, trying to widen the hole a bit, I went wild. I grabbed his forearm and pulled him in, driving his finger as deep into me as it would go. I caught a glimpse of Ray's cock and saw it was dripping precum, Ray obviously as horny as I was. We both knew what we wanted to happen, and I couldn't wait for Ray to try.
    But he was patient, caring for me and making sure I was ready. He tried pushing two fingers into my asshole next, and it hurt more than the first time. It actually took me a while to relax enough for Ray's fingers to slide in easily, but when they did, the pleasure he gave me was even greater. I swear I came close to coming several times, even though I wasn't even touching my own throbbing, rock-hard dick. I think by that point Ray was even hornier than I felt. He worked my hole good and loose, though, taking his time, making sure I relaxed and, sure enough, after a while I stopped feeling the urge to tense up when he slid his fingers up my ass. I closed my eyes, concentrating on breathing, and when he tried three fingers it almost didn't hurt. Almost.
    By then I couldn't wait anymore. I spread my cheeks wide with my hands, exposing my waiting hole to Ray.
    "I want you, Ray," I said, my voice husky. "I want you inside me."
    Ray swallowed. Now it was he who couldn't speak. He lubed up his cock, grabbed the base and leaned forward, his dick head pressing against my asshole. He looked right into my eyes as he pushed.
    It hurt. Even with all he'd done before, it hurt. I was too horny to care, though, and I forced myself to relax, gritting my teeth against the pain, letting Ray slide into me, feeling his big, hard shaft driving all the way inside, slowly but relentlessly. When he was all the way in, he stopped, looking at me with a mixture of lust and concern. I think I was sweating with the effort of relaxing, of enduring the pain that was also incredibly, unbelievably mixed with pleasure, and little by little the pain began to fade.
    The sensations spiked up again when Ray began to slide out and I grunted, unable to keep silent when he came out all the way. Then he tried going back in and I suppressed the urge to back away, letting him slide in again, bracing myself... but it hurt a lot less the second time. Ray gave me a few seconds to get used to having him inside me and then began to move in and out gently, sliding his cock into my ass and backing away in short, smooth thrusts. At first I resisted, but he persevered. As he did, I was able to focus less on the diminishing pain and more on the incredible sensation of having his thick cock inside me. I reached out and grabbed his waist, pulling him to me. He took that as a sign that I was ready and began increasing the speed and urgency of his thrusts.
    "Ah!" I cried. "Ray...!"
    "You like it?" he asked, hips thrusting forward, hard.
    "Yeah! Oh!" Another thrust. He was going all the way in now, going deep, and hard.
    "Yes... oh, yes..."
    Ray pounded me savagely after that, working up an almost animal intensity in the way he was having his way with my virgin, tight hole. I was enjoying it too much to think clearly; I was only aware of Ray on top of me, inside me, panting with effort and grunting with pleasure, low in his throat. He fucked me as hard as he could, and I enjoyed every second of it. The wild thrusts of his hips were followed by my moans of pleasure, encouraging him, making him go deeper, pounding me faster. The bed was rocking, creaking up and down with every hard thrust of Ray's cock into my ass, and the burning and the pain I had felt were gone. Now I experienced only pleasure.
    Ray slowed down and shifted positions slightly, kneeling between my legs with his knees spread apart for balance. Then he took my left leg and put it over his shoulder, which left my ass halfway in the air. With his other hand he grabbed my hard cock in an iron grip, and he slid inside me again.
    "Oh, Jeff..." he moaned.
    "Fuck me, Ray," I begged.
    He did. He drove in and out of my hole hard, slamming into me with the force of a piledriver. As he did so, he jacked me off with his hand, pumping on the shaft of my cock hard and fast, as fast as he could while he was plowing me with his big man dick. He was sweating from the effort, eyes shut tight, his muscles rippling under his skin and still he fucked me wildly, hungrily, and the sensation of him fucking me up the ass like that just made me want more of him, and he gave it to me. He gave it to me all the way.
    He soon began to breathe fast, jacking my cock with the same urgency he was pounding me. I knew he was getting close, and I almost couldn't hold it in anymore, but I wanted to come right as he did. I reached for my cock with my hand and Ray let go of it, grabbing my leg with both hands and grunting, tensing up, about to reach his own explosive climax.
    "I'm coming, Jeff!"
    "Oh, yeah!"
    He barely had time to pull out of me and then he was suddenly coming, spurting his man juice everywhere, warm drops falling on my chest, on my face, on my arm. The sight of Ray emptying his balls over me was all I needed. I jacked off fiercely, my own body going rigid with the incoming orgasm, and then I cried out, the pleasure streaking through me like sweet, intense fire, and I came. I shot my load up in the air, and some of it hit my face, some landed on the sheets, but I didn't really notice. For that instant of perfect pleasure, I felt as if I was one with Ray, and Ray was one with me.
    Ray shuddered with pleasure and leaned down, on top of me, right as I was shooting out the last of my own load. I went limp, spent but completely blown way by the experience. I accepted Ray's tender kiss, and kissed him back, tongue to tongue, holding him tight to me, our cum mingling against our skin. After a long, long instant, Ray pulled back to lie down next to me.
    "I love you, Jeff," he whispered.
    "I love you too, Ray."
    "Are you... you know, are you okay?"
    I nodded. "Yeah. I'm fine."
    "I totally forgot you were bruised... did I hurt you?"
    "No, you didn't. And I totally forgot, too," I said, grinning.
    "That was... incredible, Jeff."
    "Yeah. It was."
    We lay there on the bed for a bit, just breathing, enjoying each other's company.
    "I think we'll need to shower again," Ray said after a while.
    I stretched on the bed. "Yeah. I guess so."
    He kissed me again as we stood up.
    So we showered again. The warm water was wonderfully soothing, and I found myself yawning a lot both during and after the shower. I was more tired than I'd realized, and it was starting to show.
    I lent Ray a pair of shorts and a T-shirt since his clothes were all dirty, and when we had dressed we went down to the kitchen for a snack of cookies and some milk I found. We didn't speak much—we didn't need to. Once in a while Ray would catch my eye, and smile, or I would pass him a cookie and hold his hand for a bit.
    "I guess I should be going," Ray said, when the last cookie was gone.
    "You're not staying?"
    "I promised my parents I'd check in with them; I'm guessing they'll want to talk to me and stuff."
    "Oh. Okay."
    "Don't worry, Jeff. Tomorrow I'll come over as soon as I can. We'll go out someplace; maybe I can take you out for breakfast?"
    "That would be awesome."
    "All right. Besides, I don't want to still be here when your dad gets home."
    "Huh? Why not?"
    Ray blushed a little. "Because it would be kind of obvious that we... um..."
    "Come on, Ray," I said, rolling my eyes. "My dad's okay with it."
    "Yeah, maybe... or maybe not. It's still kind of awkward. I'd rather take things slow on that front while he gets used to the idea."
    "Okay. See you tomorrow, then?"
    "Yeah. See you tomorrow."
    Ray kissed me goodbye and left. I went up to my room and got in bed after turning off the lights. I was tired, but I couldn't sleep. I kept remembering everything Ray and I had done today. It was weird to think that just this morning we'd been standing atop a mountain, and that just a little while ago we'd had sex right here in my room, on this very bed. The thought made me smile. It also made me feel kind of horny again, but I was too tired to really do anything about it. I didn't even notice when I finally fell asleep.
    The next day I woke up around nine. I yawned hugely, wondering what had woken me up. Then my phone buzzed again and I picked it up.
    It was a text from Ray:
    `Hey! Still up for breakfast? I'll come over at 9:30 if it's ok.'
    I smiled and typed in my answer, `sure. Come on over.' Then I got out of bed and winced at the many small aches I felt in my body. After yesterday's exercise, plus the fall and everything, I was sore practically everywhere. My legs were sore, my shoulders too. My side hurt a bit less, but I was still a bit bruised. Even my neck hurt a bit, but I suspected that was from sleeping in a weird position.
    I took a quick shower and dressed, obsessing over what I would wear as usual. When I'd found a black shirt that I thought looked good enough, I put it on along with a clean pair of jeans, combed my hair and sprayed on a bit of cologne I never used. We were only going out for breakfast, but I wanted to look good. I was still checking myself out in the bathroom mirror when I heard the knock on the front door.
    I rushed down, smiling, almost giddy with excitement, and threw open the door. There was Ray, looking as handsome as ever, wearing a semi-formal shirt and holding something in his hands.
    "Hey," I said.
    "Hi, Jeff."
    He leaned forward and kissed me. He smelled great, and he was freshly shaven.
    "I brought you this," he said.
    He gave me a small rectangular package.
    "What is it?"
    "Open it."
    I tore open the wrapping paper and took out a small framed photograph. The frame was wooden and looked hand-made, and in it was a photograph of Ray and me, standing side by side at the top of Mount Adams, one arm raised up in celebration and wide grins on our faces.
    "When did you...?"
    "I got the frame at the gift shop when you weren't looking, back at base camp yesterday. Printed out the photograph this morning."
    "Which gift shop?" I asked.
    "The one you didn't see."
    I looked at the photograph, smiling, feeling the rush of the warm feeling I got whenever I was with Ray. We looked happy in the photograph, but not nearly as happy as I felt right now.
    "Thanks, Ray. It's awesome."
    He grinned. "I thought you might like it."
    I brought the photograph up to my room and set it on my desk. Ray waited downstairs, so I came back down quickly and followed him out, closing the front door behind me.
    "Where are we going?" I asked him.
    "There's this cool new place at the mall where they serve only waffles. Every kind you can imagine. They're delicious."
    "That sounds great! I'm starving."
    "Yeah, me too."
    Ray and I walked to his car and got in. He started the engine and drove off.
    "So," I said. "How did it go last night? With your parents?"
    Ray shrugged. "More or less. I guess they'll need some time to get used to the idea that I like guys. It wasn't that bad, though. Mom was a big help."
    "I'm glad," I said, and gave Ray's shoulder a little squeeze.
    We got to the mall in less than ten minutes. Ray found a parking spot right away, and we went into the mall, going for the restaurant section on the first floor. There were lots of people our age hanging around, and when we got to the waffle place we saw that it was packed.
    "Wow," Ray commented as we stood in line, waiting for a table. "I didn't think it would be this crowded."
    "Yeah," I said. "This place must be pretty good."
    "Ray!" somebody said loudly. "Ray! Over here!"
    A guy was waving to catch Ray's eye. He was sitting at one of the tables facing the window, with a two girls and another guy. I knew one of the girls; she'd been in my class. Sarah. The others I knew only in passing. The guy waving was someone Ray knew, obviously; I didn't know him by name but I'd seen him around.
    "Ray!" he called again.
    Ray waved. "Hey, Pete!"
    I had this awful flashback to the way Ray had acted the last time we'd been at the mall together. I think I had about half a second to stress out about what would happen—but then Ray took my hand and led me into the restaurant with him, heading right for the table where his friends were waiting.
    They all stared when they saw us come inside holding hands. They were just as surprised as I was. Then Sarah was the first one to recover and asked casually, "Hi, Ray. How have you been?"
    "I'm great," Ray said, giving my hand a squeeze. Then he looked at me with a smile. "Guys, I'd like you to meet Jeff. He's my boyfriend."

                                                      The End

Well, that's it for `Learning with a Man'. I hope you guys enjoyed the ending! Thanks for all the comments and e-mails you've sent; they were very encouraging and your kind notes were always welcome. This story started out as something really short but it sort of grew in the telling, and it ended up becoming almost a small novel. It's been great to read how some of you were able to relate to the characters in the story, and thanks to those of you that followed this story week after week as each chapter was being published.
By the way, I've started another story on Nifty called `Bear Hunter'. You might want to check it out; the link is below. See you around.