STANDARD WARNING: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to individuals, living or dead, is pure coincidence. Do not read this story if you are offended by man-to-man romance or sex. Do not read if you are underage according to the laws in the country, state/province, county, city/town/village or township where you live. There is sex between males. You have been warned!

Copyright 2003 by Nick Archer. Permission is granted to Nifty Archives to post one copy. No part may be copied, reproduced, republished, or reposted on another website without written permission from the author.

Tales from The Northwoods

The Heart of the Matter

A Valentine’s Story

By Nick Archer

Jason was weeping on the bed in our room in the bed and breakfast. Let me clarify that. He wasn’t really crying; just weeping in the way that drunks do.

"I’m so sorry, Ben. I’m so sorry," he blubbered over and over. "Do you still love me?"

"Of course I do." I ran my fingers through his short dishwater blond hair. It was still sticky from the gel he had applied earlier.

He suddenly opened his green eyes wide and round as if startled.

"You’re not going to puke again, are you Jase?"

I should have known that Jason would drink himself into oblivion if given the opportunity.

The evening was supposed to be a quiet little affair that Thursday night hosted by the owners of the bed and breakfast, Aaron and Rick. They hosted a small dinner party for Valentine’s Day. Another couple from Minneapolis, Steve and Trevor, joined us.

I had discovered the nice, little bed and breakfast the last time I was on a book tour. I always try to support gay-owned businesses when I’m on the road. Gay bookstores always get first priority over the superstores. I try to stay in gay-owned places, if I can.

I was scheduled to sign books at the Barnes and Noble in Duluth. It’s a fairly easy drive from Winter; about two hours. I could have driven there and back in a day, but I found the Superior Bed and Breakfast on the internet and decided to stay overnight. Since then, I’ve come up to stay simply for pleasure, to get away or to partake of the nightlife in Duluth and Superior.

Jason and I were taking an extended weekend in Duluth and staying at this lovely bed and breakfast. Since Valentine’s Day fell on a Wednesday we took a long weekend, leaving our home in Winter, Wisconsin on Thursday. Jason had only an Internet class on Fridays and I, of course, could catch up on my writing at any time.

The only thing we had planned for the extended weekend was a dinner given by Aaron on Thursday night. I thought it would be a nice, fun, romantic evening. It was Aaron’s idea to host a St. Valentine’s dinner for us. He had roasted a delicious rack of lamb, with twice-baked potatoes and fresh green beans and an endive salad. Afterward, we were going to play Trivial Pursuit.

Unfortunately, all it did was reinforce the age difference between Jason and me. What’s fun and romantic to a 42-year-old man is not the same as what’s fun and romantic to a 19-year-old kid. Jason got bored and there was lots of alcohol available. Since he was nineteen, he couldn’t legally drink in a bar. But we were on private property and as far as Aaron and Rick knew, Jason was 21. We didn’t bother to correct them.

Aaron and Rick were delightful hosts, if a bit over-attentive to Jason.

"Jason!" Aaron said after our delicious, candlelit dinner. "Have another piece of pie." Before Jason could accept, Aaron waddled off to the kitchen.

"He’s so skinny, Ben!" Rick fretted. "Are you sure you’re feeding him enough?"

Aaron returned with another slice of homemade blackberry pie. As he set the plate in front of Jason, he patted him on the head in the same manner a kindergarten teacher would pat one of her students. "I like to see a boy with a healthy appetite."

I pressed my lips together and waited for the inevitable eruption.

"I’m not a boy," Jason replied in a tightly-controlled but firm voice.

Good for you, Jason, I thought. Jason had managed to control his temper - he was very sensitive about being called a boy - and put the somewhat overbearing Aaron in his place.

As Aaron and Rick cleared the table, Steve, Trevor, Jason and I moved to the den, where a fire crackled in the fireplace.

"Would you like another beer, Jason?" Rick called from the kitchen. "We still have a few bottles of Leinenkugel’s Berry Weiss left."

"Yes, please."

It was all I could do not to intervene. I kept reminding myself, I’m not his father. Even though we played Trivial Pursuit in teams, Jason struggled. He’s very intelligent but he just doesn’t have the life experience that the rest of us have. Although he hid it well, I knew Jason was bored. To occupy himself, he drank and felt me up underneath the table. He gave my package a squeeze just as I tried to remember what the capital of Latvia was. After a while, sensing I was getting angry, he stopped playing with me and focused on drinking. As I watched him down one beer after another, I wondered how his slim frame would react to the onslaught of alcohol.

When the game was over, we cleared the table and oriented ourselves toward the fireplace. Jason passed out with his head on my shoulder as the five of us talked. Steve and Trevor decided to call it a night a short time later, and Aaron and Rick followed suit.

I roused him and helped him to our bedroom where he resumed his alcohol-induced coma.

I laid him on the bed and pulled off his shoes and socks pausing for a moment to admire the beauty and mystery of my young lover. I was determined not to let him spiral down into alcoholism. It runs in his family including his mother and two older brothers. But, he was he was doing very well in school at the U of W in Rice Lake; he was very helpful around the house; he worked part-time at the Co-op; he had been the most passionate, attentive and devoted lover a guy could ask for. I decided to cut him some slack tonight.

It was a big mistake not to stop him. Jason slept for about a half hour before waking with a start and staggering for the adjoining bathroom.

He puked constantly and copiously that night. You know you’re truly in love when you hold your man as he wretches over the toilet.

He moaned as he hunched over the sink to rinse his mouth. I wiped his face with a washcloth and helped him back to bed. He flopped on the bed and groaned morosely. I unbuttoned his jeans and pulled them off. Under his jeans, he was wearing a pair of white boxers printed with red and pink hearts.

I burst out laughing. "You are such a mess!"

"Are you laughing at me?"

"Your boxers!"

"I wore them for this…. occasion," he slurred. He started to sniffle again. "I’m so sorry, Ben," he blubbered for the sixty-third time that night. "Are you mad at me?"

"No, Jason."


"I promise. Now, try to get some sleep."

I slept until eight thirty the next morning, and I took a hasty shower because I knew Aaron and Rick stopped serving breakfast at 9. Jason was still snoring loudly. I decided sleep was better than breakfast for him at this point.

I couldn’t resist watching him sleep. My heart ached to hold him but I didn’t want to wake him. I settled instead for touching the baby-soft skin on his left ear, kneading his shoulder and running my hand down his thigh. I had a fleeting temptation to fondle his dormant cock but I resisted.

Would that I could exorcize his demons.

I kissed his sleeping forehead before going down to breakfast.

The hardwood floor creaked comfortably under the carpet as I descended the magnificent main staircase. I paused to marvel at the multi-colored light streaming through the eight-foot stained glass window above the stairs. From the dining room I could hear the welcoming sounds of silverware on glass plates and hushed male voices. The scent of coffee made my stomach growl.

Steve and Trevor smiled at me when I entered the dining room.

"Oh, Ben! You’re up. How would you like your eggs? Here, you can start on the blueberry muffins." Aaron handed me a basket with a towel draped over the contents. I could feel the warmth from the bottom of the basket.

"Scrambled, please."

"You got it. Do you think Jason will be coming down?"

"I doubt it."

Steve and Trevor smirked at each other.

"Your boy-toy overindulged last night, didn’t he?" Steve asked in a sing-song voice. I wanted to wipe his smirk off with a ball-peen hammer. I’d been expecting the stereotyping. Even so, it still irritated me when it presented itself.

I set the muffin I was buttering down on the plate in front of me and made direct eye contact with the life-sized slug posing as a human being seated across the table. "He is not my boy toy," I said in my coldest voice, clearly enunciating each word.

"Well, excuse me, Mary."

I would have choked him had not Aaron arrived with my eggs at that precise moment. "Here we are!" He announced a little too loudly and nervously.

Luckily, Steve and Trevor excused themselves.

Aaron perched on an adjoining chair as he wiped his hands on a dishtowel. "Pay no attention to him," he whispered. "He’s an asshole."

"Understatement of the year."

"I think you two make a cute couple."

"Thanks," I said, not sure how to respond.

"I guess I was a little taken aback, though, Ben. I mean, he is….youthful."

I couldn’t help but chuckle. "Yes, that he is."

"I think he’s absolutely charming. He’s so respectful and polite. Unlike so many kids these days." He clucked his tongue and rolled his eyes. "And he’s beautiful, Ben. What a looker!"

I took a bite of the eggs as I pondered my next comment. Aaron is a world-class gossip and I knew that his internal hard drive was recording every word for future playback. Some might consider what I told Aaron next an inexcusable breach of privacy. But I knew that every word was going to get back to Steve and that Steve was essentially jealous.

What the hell, I thought. Why not go for the gold? I see Aaron and Rick about twice a year and I’ll probably never see Steve and Trevor again in my life.

"And he’s hung like a horse," I reported matter-of-factly.

Aaron gasped and touched my forearm with his fingertips. "You are so scandalous!" He nodded approvingly. "Good for you! How long have you known him? More than six weeks, I hope."

"More like six years."

He gasped again and covered his mouth with his fingers. "No! That would have made him….."


"Girlfriend, what’s your cologne? I’m gonna run to Younker’s for some!" He shook his head in admiration. "Life is stranger than fiction, isn’t it?"

I smiled back at him. "Sometimes it is."

Still grinning and shaking his head, he rose from the table to begin clearing breakfast.


The Superior Inn was only about two blocks from downtown Duluth, but I drove the short distance anyway. Downtown Duluth is like a smaller version of downtown Minneapolis. Skywalks connect most of the major buildings and therefore avoid the ferocious winters in the area. I loved wandering downtown areas. Duluth has managed to sustain its downtown even after the major department stores departed by nurturing small and unique specialty stores. There were antique stores to get lost in and quaint shops and boutiques to explore. But it was a jewelry store that Aaron and Rick had recommended that was my main destination.

I could have gone to Miller Hill Mall, I guess. The Barnes and Noble is inside the mall. But I knew that Jason would like to browse the bookstore as well and that he’d probably want to go once he got out of bed. If he managed to survive his hangover, I thought we might go later that day. That was one thing we had in common besides sex. Jason did like to read. But in everything else we were woefully mismatched.

Jason! What was I going to do about him? I couldn’t get over the nagging feeling that something was not quite right. I had stepped out of the parental role into a romantic role with Jason. I’d known Jason since he was thirteen and loved him and nurtured him as if he were my own son. And I never touched him. He wasn’t really my son; not by birth or as a foster son. But he might as well have been. I helped him with his homework, found part-time jobs for him, took him fishing and canoeing and on camping trips. I listened to him and provided a safe place where he could be himself. I hugged him and held him when he needed it. That was the limit of our physical contact.

This past Christmas I discovered another side to him. He had romantic feelings toward me. He was sexually attracted to me. Two of my best friends, Don and Evan, brought me to the realization that I had feelings for him as well. A big snowstorm trapped Jason at my house over Christmas. It was then I made the decision to love him as more than a son.

I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew how difficult it would be to redefine the boundaries in my mind. I had no idea just how difficult it would be.

There had been days when the generation gap yawned between us. He did manage to control his drinking for the most part, but when he did drink, he got drunk. He limited himself to one six-pack a week but that six-pack was invariably gone Friday night. Then he’d be horny and sometimes a little too arduous in his lovemaking.

And on the topic of lovemaking, Jason was always up for it. Me, I’m 42 years old and my homefires don’t burn with quite the intensity as his. Don’t get me wrong; I not yet ready for a Viagra prescription. It’s just that I like to take my time with sex. And frankly, I don’t have the energy of a nineteen-year-old. Jason can be a little too goal oriented; which is a nice way of saying he’s just a horndog, especially if he’s been drinking.

A bell tinkled as I entered an antique store. I smiled a greeting to the proprietor. I spotted many shelves of old books toward the back of the store and made a beeline for them. It’s an occupational hazard, I guess. All writing fascinates me.

My mind was still preoccupied with the mysteries of Jason.

In January, I took Jason to a piss-elegant party in Chicago thrown by another writer. Ken Nash wasn’t exactly a friend; in fact, I disliked him. He was an exquisite writer but his abrasive, arrogant and downright bitchy personality kept me at a distance. He had been the president of the Newtown Writers, a gay and lesbian writer’s group. Three or four years after being voted out, he still viewed himself as the prince of Chicago’s gay writing community. He somehow found time to criticize everything I wrote and, I found out later, he did the same to many other Chicago-based writers. Even after I moved to Wisconsin, he still emailed negative comments about my work. I finally just blocked his address.

I didn’t want to go. I knew the party would be peopled by other writers, would-be writers and a herd of vapid, superficial, young pretty boys. In the end, it was Jason who insisted we go. Wanting to please him, I reluctantly agreed.

The party was held at Nash’s loft on the near West Side. Entering the loft was like Moses parting the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments. All the impeccably dressed queens stood back to drool and admire my young man from the Northwoods. Every tongue stopped and all eyes looked our way. Jason did look stunning. He had shaved and he looked handsome in his new suit and a green tie that set off his eyes. While he wore the double-breasted suit I had purchased for him, he still insisted on wearing his army boots. His choice of footwear brought raised eyebrows from the prissy queens.

After we obtained some refreshments, we settled on a couch at one edge of the vast loft space. Jason insisted on holding my hand which I found both charming and irritating. His palm was nervously moist. All sorts of men found a reason to make their way to the edge of the party and talk to us. Mostly they were other writers that I distantly knew. They complimented me on my writing while their eyes raked over Jason.

Even some of the young men found a reason to come over to us. Their function at the party was ornamental at best. I suspected most of them were circuit party boys. The fact that they came over to talk to us surprised me given the negative editorial about circuit parties I had written for Chicago’s gay newspaper last year. In the piece, I scolded the charitable organizations, most of them AIDS-related, that threw megaparties as fundraisers because of the activities that took place at them. The circuit parties were notorious for widespread drug use and anonymous sex. I upbraided those organizations for supporting the very high-risk sexual behaviors that they were supposed to be preventing. The editorial was not well received among Chicago’s gay glitterati.

Jason was quiet and edgy. I wondered if he was having second thoughts about the party.

Ken finally took a break from his hostess duties and made his way over to us. He tried to engage me in conversation but his eyes never left Jason.

Finally, he said to me, "He’s stunning. Congratulations, daddy."

I saw the anger rise in Jason like hot water in a bathtub. In truth, his comment had pissed me off, too. Jason raised his chin defiantly and he spoke with dignity. "He’s not my daddy!" he nearly shouted over the obnoxious music. "He’s my husband."

"Well!" He placed his hands on his hips. "It can talk after all!"

"Yeah, and it can punch, too. So unless you want your face rearranged, you’d better get the fuck away from me."

"You’d better curb your dog, Strickland or he’ll meet some of Chicago’s Finest. And we both know what they like to do with their nightsticks." Ken finally retreated.

Jason loosened up a bit after that, but still remained close at my side. It was clear, though, that he didn’t fit in. He had committed a major fashion blunder by wearing his army boots. He smoked. He drank beer while everyone else sipped white wine.

Afterwards some of my "friends" just had to offer an endless stream of unsolicited advice. One bitch even went so far as to say that Jason "might not be an appropriate choice."

I might have laughed it off if I hadn’t been having my own doubts.

Of course my real friends, Don and Ellen and Evan, have been completely supportive. Don has talked me down from the ceiling several times. He, more than anyone, knows how much I love Jason and how much Jason loves me.

But is love enough? That’s the $64,000 question. Is love enough to sustain a relationship between two people as disparate as Jason and I?

I left the antique store with an old copy of Great Expectations, a couple National Geographics from 1980 and a year-old World Almanac. Don’t ask me why an almanac that’s only a year outdated would be considered an antique. I exchanged pleasantries with the proprietor and strode a few blocks to the jewelry store that Aaron and Rick had recommended. There, the manager greeted me and said he had been expecting me.

Putting my misgivings aside and perhaps ignoring reality, I made a purchase at the jewelry store.


When I arrived back at the bed and breakfast, Aaron greeted me.

"Hi, darling! Did you get your shopping done?"

"Yeah. Thanks for the jewelry store recommendation. The owner was terrific! And I got exactly what I wanted at a good price."

"Can I see?"

"Of course." I opened the bag and took out the ring box.

He opened the lid with a snap. "Oh, Ben! It’s beautiful!" He gushed in a stage whisper. It was a gold band but crafted to look like it was braided. "So romantic, too! When were you planning on giving it to him, if I may ask?"

"I’m not sure."

"I wouldn’t do it now," he said as he shook his head slowly. "He’s nursing one hell of a hangover. I’d wait until dinnertime."

"That’s an idea. But can we get a reservation? Probably everyone in town is going out tonight."

"I know a perfect place. I have connections and I’m sure I can get you a table. Excellent food, it’s dark, quiet and the owner is gay-friendly."

I laughed at him. "Are you getting kickbacks from these places?"

"Not at all," he said with a wink.

I poked my head out the back door. "Hi."

There’s a three-season porch on the back of the Victorian house in which Aaron and Rick run their bed and breakfast business. They had decorated it in a Northwoods style with rustic Adirondack chairs an amazing table made of bent sticks. On the floor, they had laid some sort of beige indoor-outdoor carpeting.

It was cold that day and even the closed windows didn’t help much. Rick’s prized garden was barren and so were all the trees, thereby exposing the porch to view from the neighbors. A dog barked in the distance.

He was slumped in one of the Adirondack chairs with his feet propped on a second chair and his legs crossed at the ankles. He was wearing his Timberland boots and the hunter green sweater I had bought for him recently. The sweater complimented his green eyes. The boots flipped my fetish switch and caused my dick to twitch.

He was smoking and had a small glass ashtray perched on an arm of chair. His breath merged with the cigarette smoke to form great white clouds over his head.

"Hi," he responded without enthusiasm.

I stepped out onto the porch and scraped a third chair next to his. I noticed his eyes were bloodshot and puffy. I wasn’t sure if it was because of his hangover or because he had been crying. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.

"How are you feeling?"

"Like hell."

I reached over and picked up his pack of Marlboro Light 100’s, shook out a butt, and lit it.

His face registered shock. "What are you doing?"

"What does it look like?"

"You don’t smoke."

"Not anymore. You know I used to." I coughed a few times as my lungs protested the smoke. "Have you eaten?"

"Aaron made me a sandwich." He held up the bottle of water. "He also insists I replenish my fluids. Such a Jewish mother."

I grinned.

"I’m sorry for last night," he said quietly.

"Jason, you really don’t have to apologize. You’re an adult and you made the decision to drink. The only one suffering is you."

"I embarrassed you."

"And yourself."

"I did, didn’t I?"

The cigarette tasted terrible but I let it burn between my fingers. It was something to handle and fiddle with. Something to divert my attention away from the matter at hand. I rolled the cigarette between my thumb and index finger against the lip of the ashtray to remove the ashes.

"Are you happy, Ben?"

The question took me aback. I felt a wave of panic wash over me, but fought it back. My heart started beating faster and my hands trembled. You’ve been expecting this, I told myself. You’ve known all along he was too young for you.

I forced my voice to remain calm. "Why do you ask that?"

"I don’t think you’re happy. I can tell."

"I think you’re projecting onto me. I think you’re the one who’s unhappy."

"I’m happy. I’m right where I want to be. You’re the only thing I wanted. I wanted you for years. I waited for you to make up your mind." He tapped the ashes off his cigarette. He still avoided my gaze by staring outside.

"Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it." The cigarette smoke was starting to build up on the porch and beginning to irritate my eyes. I rubbed them.

The tears were right there under the surface; waiting. I could already feel my nose get congested and I sniffed through my nostrils. Jason looked over at me.

"What?" he asked.

I just shook my head.

He ground out his cigarette and reached over to my hand. "Tell me, Ben."

A stray tear found it’s way down my cheek. "It’s….I feel…." I paused and took a deep breath. "It’s not working out, Jason."

I had expected tears from him. Instead I got anger. "It’s not working for you, you mean?"


"I don’t know what you want from me, Ben! I just don’t know. I started school to please you. I don’t even know what I want to major in! I went to mandatory classes to get my driver’s license back. I lost touch with my friends to be with you. I cook and clean around the house. I stopped drinking - well, almost. I don’t know what else you want from me, Ben." As he lit another cigarette, I could see the tip of the cigarette tremble. "I’m trying to please you, Ben. So you are mad at me for getting drunk?"

"That’s part of it, yes."

"Well, excuse me for being human and wanting a little fun!"

I tried to explain. "Yes, absolutely, I wish that you hadn’t gotten drunk last night. Watching you puke is not my idea of fun. But that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. There are some things you just have to experience for yourself, get it out of your system and move on. I’ve been so drunk that I threw up. It’s been a long time since that happened, but I’m over it. Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt."

"So you think I’m immature?" He asked in a calmer voice.

"No immature; inexperienced, maybe."

"What do you mean by that?"

"There’s some things you just have to experience for yourself. You’re still discovering the world. Your identity is still changing. You said it yourself; you’re not even sure what you want to major in. Drinking is another example. Sure, I’ve gotten sick. But I know my limits now. That comes from age and experience."

"You just can’t let go, can you?"

"Let go of what?"

"Let go of me as a little boy."

That was it. That was the heart of the matter. "I’m trying, Jase. It’s not easy."

"Fuck trying!" He shouted. "Just do it!"

"Keep your voice down!"

"Don’t patronize me, Ben! I’m fucking sick and tired of it!" He ground out his cigarette and stood up.

"Where are you going?" I asked him.

"For a walk."

As Jason crashed out the door leading to the back yard, Aaron stuck his head into the porch. "Is everything OK?" he asked with a nervous smile.

"Fine," I answered brusquely.

"Sorry if I bothered you." And with that, he closed the back door.

I sat on the back porch awaiting Jason’s return in the cold. I felt like our relationship was dissolving faster than the icicles on Aaron’s roof. After he didn’t return in an hour, I finally went inside the house.

"How’s the Paris of the Northwoods?" Don asked. I had called him to check on the condition of our pets.

"Still here. Still frozen. How are the animals?"

"They miss you and Jason. The cats hide under your bed every time I walk in."

"They’re shy."

"What’s wrong?"


"Something’s wrong. I can tell by your voice. You’re my best friend, Ben. You think I don’t know when you’re upset about something? Spill it. Now."

So I did. I spilled all the guilt and anger, the ugliness and the doubt over the wire. I wasn’t crying but I heard my own voice quaver as I told Don the story of our first fight. "We’re not happy, Don. We’re not happy alone or with other people. There’s no safe place except for sex."

Don started chuckling.

"What? What’s so funny?"

The chuckles cascaded into laughter. "You’re such a control freak, Ben."

"And that’s funny?"

"Very, at least to me."

"You’re an asshole."

"It’s a classic power struggle. Almost every male relationship has them. Jason wants some control in the relationship. So let him have some control. What did you have planned for tonight?"

"We were going out to dinner. Aaron, the owner of the bed and breakfast, recommended a place."

"Let Jason make the decision about where you’re going to eat tonight. Let him have some control. Let him drive to the restaurant. And let him wear what he wants to wear."


"Because that suit you bought him for Nash’s party represents another form of control over him."

"It was a gift, Don. He certainly couldn’t afford it on what he earns part-time at the Co-op."

"But don’t you see? You’re always buying him things, Ben, especially clothes. He’s not your life-sized Ken doll. He can dress himself without your help."

I was beginning to understand. Jason had no credit cards; in fact, he already had a poor credit rating. In order to keep utilities running in her trailer, Jason’s alleged mother had used her children’s names and social security numbers to obtain service once the original service had been shut off for nonpayment. It was illegal, of course, but somehow Misty had gotten away with it for years. The result was that her sons had negative credit ratings even before they turned eighteen.

"By letting him drive, he has to watch his alcohol intake. He’s the designated driver. And you can rest assured he’s going to want to look his best tonight. It’s just that kids have different definitions for dressy and casual wear. He’ll look great whatever he wears, Ben."

"That’s true," I conceded. Jason is so handsome he could wear rags and make them look fashionable. "You’re brilliant, Don."

"I know." I always admired Don’s modesty.

I sighed. "I feel like the only place this relationship is going is down the toilet."

"The only reason it will go there, Ben, is because you flushed it. Knock it off. Get a hold of yourself, Ben. Get your own insecurities under control. I thought you two had resolved the father-son issue."

"I thought so too."

"Then let it go, Ben. It you treat him like an adult, chances are he’ll act like one. But if you continue treating him like a child, making all the decisions, then you’re in trouble. Where’s Jason now?"

"He went out for a walk."

"It’ll give you time to do what you need to do."

"What’s that?"

"What’s your real talent, Ben?"

"Fucking up relationships?"

"Well, there is that, but that’s not what I was thinking of, sweetheart. You are a master wordsmith. You have a way with words. Use that talent, Ben. Write down your feelings in a letter and give it to him. Give him a rose or something else romantic along with the letter."

"I know! I know what I can give him."


"Is it ever going to end, Don?"

"What, sweetheart?"

"The fighting, the insecurity, the jealousy?"

"You want to know something? The two of you are jealous, all right, but you’re not jealous of other people. You’re jealous of each other’s age."

"What do you mean?"

"You’re jealous of his youth. You remember what it was like to drink to excess and still be able to work a full eight hours the next day. You could go out dancing without your back hurting. You had all these options to choose from and the whole world was waiting for you. On the other hand, he’s probably jealous of your age. He wishes he were so stable and secure and in control. He needs that from you, Ben. That’s what I mean. The two of you have to stop being jealous of age and start enjoying your own ages."

I was sniffling and I wiped my nose on my sleeve. "I think you’re right."

"Of course I am."

"Will it ever get easier?"

"Yes, I’m sure it will. But it will never, ever go away. The age difference is going to be with you for as along as the two of you are together. If you two learn to communicate better, you may get used to it, like wearing glasses. I promise."

By this time I was weeping quietly.

"Are you OK, hon?"


"Stay with him, Ben. Keep working at it and don’t give up. Not just yet. He’s not Christopher. He won’t fuck around behind your back. He’s completely devoted to you and he loves you totally. You’re doing him a world of good. Just look at all the positive changes he’s made in the two months he’s lived with you. And he’s good for you, too. He keeps you young and I’ve never seen you happier. Since he’s moved in, you’ve produced some of your best writing ever. Speaking of writing: Go write your letter, Ben."

"Thanks, Don. Thanks for listening."

"My fee for psychological services is $150 an hour."

Jason was gone almost three hours and in the meantime, I almost drove myself crazy with worry. My Jeep remained in its parking space, although he did have a set of keys. He’d never been to the Twin Cities before. It was not knowing where he was that drove me to distraction.

I paced. I browsed though the National Geographics I had purchased earlier. I looked up the capital of Latvia in the almanac. Riga -- I should have known that.

Still restless, I went down to the den to watch some TV. The den was right off the front entry hallway. I surmised that when the home had been built it probably had been used as a formal parlor. I sank into a large, comfortable wingback chair that faced away from the entry hall. Aaron was taking a break from his housekeeping duties. He was stretched on a daybed while watching Oprah.

He smiled a greeting at me.

"What’s the topic today?"

"People who overcame difficulties in their lives. I think she does this topic once a week. Would you like some coffee? I just put a fresh pot on."

"Sure, thanks."

I like Oprah, but not enough to record the show if I’m going to be gone. While Aaron was in the kitchen, Oprah introduced her guests. There was a woman who lost over 300 pounds, a man who was wheelchair-bound but still lifted weights and played basketball and a mother who lost her children to a house fire. I found myself thinking, Hell, if they can overcome those things, I certainly can find a way to make my relationship with Jason work. This was probably the kind of thinking that the producers of the program wanted me and other viewers to think. As a writer, I can recognize when the media is being manipulative. That doesn’t mean I’m not susceptible to the manipulation.

"Would you like your coffee like you usually take it?" Aaron called from the kitchen. "Black?"

"Maybe with a spot of creamer and sugar, please."

"You got it."

"Delicious!" I commented after Aaron handed me the mug.

"It’s vanilla hazelnut."

During the next cycle of commercials he asked me, "Are you going to go to some of the bars while you’re here?"

"I was thinking about it."

"You might want to consider Triangle in Superior. It’s a dyke bar but men are welcome. They’re also pretty lax about carding, so Jason could get in." He gave me one of his trademark winks.

So Aaron did know Jason was under 21! I wasn’t surprised. Maybe he was just guessing but very little slipped by Aaron.

I heard the front door open and shut behind me. I felt a cold draft on my arm.

"Hi, Jason," Aaron called to him.

It was all I could to not to leap out of the chair and hug him. I just sat holding the mug in my hands. I didn’t even turn around to look at him.

"Hi, Aaron."

"Were you out walking?"

"Yeah, I went downtown." There was a long pause as Jason sat on the bench in the hall to remove his boots. I heard each boot thump to the floor. His voice came closer. "Very neat. Lots of cool shops. I went into a really cool antique store."

"Would you like some coffee?"

Due to the high back of the chair and the fact I was facing away from the front door, Jason didn’t see me sitting there.

"No, thanks. I had a cup at a place called Java Junkie’s."

I heard his voice come still closer. Finally, I could see his face. His cheeks and prominent ears were still flushed from the chill outdoors. Still, his skin had an unhealthy pallor. There were dark circles under his eyes. The sock on his right foot had slid down his ankle so that the toe of the sock was about three inches away from the toes of his foot. His face looked sad, yet he still managed to smile for Aaron. When he spotted me, his smile vanished and his face became a mask of sadness and anger.

"Hi, there," I said quietly.

"Hi," he said flatly, without inflection. "I need to talk to you."

"OK. But before we do, there’s something for you on the dresser in our room."

He scowled. "What is it?"

"Go up and see and then we can talk."

I wanted to follow him upstairs. I wanted to watch his face as he read the letter I had written. But I didn’t. I tried to focus on Oprah.

Aaron patted my knee in a friendly manner. "Let him go. Let him have some space. I’m sure that it’s a beautiful letter, Ben." He took a sip of coffee and turned his attention back to the TV.

Another tense ten minutes passed before I heard his stocking feet on the stairs and in a flash he was standing in front of me. My heart skipped a few beats in rhythm with his feet on the stairs.

He placed his hands on the arms of the chair and leaned forward. "You…you…" He wore a serious look on his face and then, ever so slowly, the corners of his mouth turned upward into a smile.

I waited for him to compose his thoughts. His face was difficult to read at that moment. I think I saw some relief there. His eyes were aglow with a spark I hadn’t seen in at least twenty-four hours.

"I love you, Ben." He covered my face with kisses.

"Awwww! How sweet!" Aaron commented. I exhaled a deep sigh of relief. The letter had done what I had intended.

"Did you mean it? The things you said in the letter?"

"Every word." I placed my right hand on the back of his head.

"And did you mean it about…." He stopped himself…."well, you know. Tonight."

I smiled. "Of course."

Aaron arched his eyebrows so high; they almost met his receding hairline.

He offered his lips to me. I obliged him with a perfunctory smooch, uncomfortable with Aaron in the room and obviously watching us.

"Ahh…I think I’ll excuse myself." Aaron left the room.

"Let’s go over to the daybed," I suggested. Jason stood and held his hand out to me.

"Come on, old man." He yawned.

I flashed him a smiling dirty look. "You’re the one who’s yawning."

"Sit at the end," he directed. "I want to put my head in your lap."

"Like old times," I commented. When he was thirteen and fourteen, this had been one of his favorite avenues of affection. He would only do it when Christopher, my former lover, wasn’t around. He continued to put his head in my lap over the years, although with much less frequency.

And in case you’re wondering whether we ever did the Posturpedic Polka when Jason was younger, the answer is no. Sorry to disappoint you.

"I’ve got a terrible headache."

"You’re probably still hung over. I can get you some Tylenol."

"No, don’t go." He clutched my arm. Our eyes met. He reached up and ran his fingers through my hair - what little there was of it. Oprah was wrapping up her show. Another cycle of commercials ensued. There were often advertisements for local businesses; the ones that couldn’t afford the more expensive ad slots within the show.

"Thanks, Ben." He yawned again. "Thanks for the letter. It was beautiful." The letter would end up in his collection, I knew. Jason had told me recently that he had saved all the correspondence I ever sent him.

I massaged his temples in small, circular motions with my fingertips.

"That feels good, Ben." His eyelids began to droop. "So sleepy…." Suddenly his eyes flew open as if he just remembered he left his wallet at the gym. "I forgot to tell you. I love you, Ben."

"I love you, too, Jason." I was about to lean over to kiss him when Aaron arrived with a glass of water in one hand and two tablets in the palm of his other hand.

"I thought he might need this," Aaron explained sheepishly.

Jason sat up cautiously. He moaned. "Thanks, Aaron." He popped the pills into his mouth and chased them down with a gulp of water.

"Did you want to make reservations for you at Tony’s?" Aaron asked. "I probably should call before too long."

"Jason’s calling the shots tonight. Jason?"

Jason wrinkled his forehead. "Tony’s?"

"Fabulous restaurant over in Superior. The owner is gay, and so is most of the staff. Terrific food, reasonable prices."

"Sounds good to me, Aaron," Jason answered in an offhand manner.

Aaron took the glass from Jason and disappeared.

I let Jason recline on the daybed. I knelt beside it. "Why don’t you take a nap, kiddo?"

He yawned again. "I think I will."

As if summoned by telepathy, Aaron appeared with a lovely crocheted afghan and a pillow. It only occurred to me later that he had been eavesdropping.

After I shook the afghan out over him, I hunkered down beside the daybed again. My face was finally on the same plane as his. "Sleep well, son. Ooops!" My hand covered my mouth. "I’m sorry, Jason. I didn’t mean to…"

"It’s OK," he said with a dreamy grin on his face. "You know," he said quietly, "I used to love it when you called me son. I used to fantasize all the time that you were really my dad."

"You did?" It was a term of endearment more than a statement of relationship. I called him son in the same way Henry Potter called Hawkeye and BJ son. I realized something just then; we were mourning our old, comfortable roles as father and son. We had discussed this and on an intellectual level we had mutually decided that we were moving past the father-son thing. But our hearts were more reluctant to let go.

"I’d like it if you still called me son," he whispered. "But only in private - never with anyone else around."

"You got a deal, son," I whispered back. "But what about boy?"

He grinned. "We’re going to have to have some serious negotiations about that one."

I kissed him again. My leg was starting to fall asleep from kneeling on the floor beside the daybed. I sat cross-legged on the floor. Jason’s eyelids drooped and finally closed but the contented smile remained on his face.

I stroked his hair until he was asleep.

"You look so sexy, Ben!"

I blushed. "Thanks, Aaron." He handed me a vodka gimlet he had just made.

"You shaved," Steve observed.

I ran my hand over my smooth jaw. I really didn’t want to speak to the bitchy Steve, but I wanted to demonstrate that I was above his pettiness. I also didn’t want to appear an asshole. "Yeah, I figured it was about time."

"I’m glad you shaved, I can see the adorable dimples in your cheeks and your chin. Such a good looking man!" Aaron said as he fussed with my tie. "And this denim shirt really highlights your eyes." He sighed dramatically as he gave the lapel of my navy blue sport jacket a couple pats. "Oh, such a damn shame you’re taken."

"Please, Aaron!"

"I mean it. When I first met you I thought that there ought to be a law against someone as good-looking as you to have so much talent. Most of the time, God divides."

"What do you mean?" Trevor asked.

"I think God divides. If he makes you rich, he makes you a dog. And if he makes you gorgeous, he makes you stupid. The handsomest men in the world are always the stupidest. I mean, out to lunch!"

Trevor, Steve and I were laughing uproariously.

"Oh, yeah. Some of Hollywood’s finest have stayed here. I’m not mentioning any names, there was one young star who stayed here on a vacation. Gawd was he beautiful! Larger than life. He had charisma and presence. Then he opened his mouth. It was like, ‘Duh!’ I had just mopped the floor and I put down the Wet Floor sign. He saw it and he did."

I was laughing so hard, I was gasping for air.

"He had to study for a blood test. He couldn’t count to 21 unless he was naked."

"But not Ben Strickland! He got the brains and he got the looks! Enough to catch a beautiful boy - oops! - I mean, young man."

At that precise moment, Jason appeared from his shower. "Hi, everyone." He approached my chair and kissed me. I could smell his cologne; really, my cologne. It was Cool Water. His eyes looked much better after his nap and his cheeks had color again. He was wearing a green sweater vest over an immaculate white T-shirt and a pair of khakis. He had gelled his hair into the bedhead look that was so popular with the young.

When he greeted me with a brief kiss, my heart skipped a couple beats. This was my young man!

"Ready?" he asked me.

"Whenever you are."

"Have a great time, guys."

I patted my jacket pocket once again to ensure I had Jason’s Valentine’s gift with me. As we approached the Jeep, I handed him the keys.

"What’s this?"

"Keys. You remember; you need them in order to open and operate the vehicle."

"Smartass. Does this mean I’m driving?"

"It would appear so." He leaned over and unlocked the passenger door.

He giggled. "It’s kinda like when you took me practice driving. Remember?"

"Do I ever." One of the many parental things I did was to take Jason out on wooded roads around Winter to practice his driving just before he turned sixteen. It was a harrowing experience. I think most parents go through the sheer terror of sitting in the passenger seat as their adolescent son takes the wheel. I also gained a vivid understanding as to why insurance companies charge so much to insure teenage boys. A teenage boy views a vehicle as an extension of his penis. Those things he can’t fuck, he’ll drive over.

"I don’t know the way."

"Neither do I. But I did get directions from Aaron. We have to drive over the bridge."

"Not the big bridge?"

"Yeah," I said matter-of-factly. "Turn left at the next light."

"I-I-I don’t know about this…"

I looked at his face. "What’s the matter?"

I don’t like bridges, Ben."

"Pull over."

Jason pulled over in the breakdown lane on the ramp leading to the Aerial Lift Bridge. It was a defining structure; as much a part of the identity of Duluth-Superior as the Gateway Arch is to St. Louis or the Sears Tower to Chicago. The bridge rises like an elevator on two huge vertical towers on either side of the canal. It was almost a hundred years old and meticulously maintained.

Jason switched on the hazard lights as traffic streamed past the Jeep and rumbled over the 390-foot span. He looked very frightened at that moment. His eyes darted from the passing traffic to the imposing bridge structure ahead.

I was careful to make sure my voice remained neutral and calm. "What are you scared of, son?"

He was frightened. I could tell because he didn’t protest my use of the word son. His hands gripped the wheel so tightly I could tell his knuckles were white, even in the darkness of the car.

"I don’t like bridges" he admitted in a near-whisper. "And I hate heights."

"Do you want me to drive?" I asked softly.

For a long time, Jason didn’t say anything. I let the silence build while he made up his mind.

"You can do it, Jason. Just watch the cars ahead of you and the road. Don’t look over the side."


"Are you OK about this?"


"You can do it. Just take it slow."

He switched off the hazard lights, put the Jeep in gear, and eased back into traffic.

The tension in the Jeep was palpable as he started onto the bridge. Over the side of the bridge, the water was black. We really weren’t that far from the water, in my estimation. Maybe that was Jason’s problem. We were too close.

"You’re doing fine," I encouraged. "Just imagine I’m on the other side of the bridge waiting for you." I turned down the CD player to help Jason concentrate.

His eyes were fixed directly ahead. "PK 4623."


"That’s the license number of the car ahead of us."

"Oh." I glanced over at him again and noticed beads of perspiration on his upper lip.

At last we reached the other side of the bridge.

"I did it!" he exclaimed.

I smiled widely at him. "You sure did."

To be honest, I really don’t remember much of our conversation at dinner. It’s just as well.

My eyes were like a camcorder recording all the visual details. I remember parking the car and climbing over the piles of dirty snow at the curbs. I recall how the restaurant was dimmed and a single candle flickered on each table, and how Jason’s eyes sparkled in the candlelight. He smiled every time our eyes met.

Dinner was delicious. Our server Ian was swift, professional, and obviously gay. He had a delightful Australian accent. We were both highly amusement as we watched him try to figure out just what sort of relationship we had.

Because we were in a booth and because we spotted at least two other gay couples in the dark restaurant, we felt comfortable being somewhat affectionate. It wasn’t anything too obvious or overt. Jason played footsies with me under the table. We held hands under the table for brief moments.

"Would you gentlemen like dessert?"

I shook my head.

"We have these delightful heart-shaped cakes smothered in dark chocolate. Or we have chocolate-covered strawberries."

"I’d like the chocolate-covered strawberries, please," Jason smiled at him.

"Very good, sir." He departed for the kitchen.

I chuckled.

"What’s so funny?" He asked.

"All of a sudden, I feel like Johnny Camareri proposing to Loretta in Moonstruck."

He grinned. He understood the reference to Moonstruck but had no idea what was coming next. I reached in the pocket of my jacket and my fingertips found the ring box.

I held the unopened ring box in the palm of my hand. "Jason, this is for you. Happy Valentine’s Day."

At first, his eyes registered shock. When he didn’t reach for the box, my heart stopped. Maybe this isn’t what he wants after all. Maybe he doesn’t want a commitment.

I opened the box to reveal the gold band. His eyes brimmed with tears.

Believe it or not, there are times when words escape me. I make my living with words; I use them, arrange them, string them together. Sometimes I even abuse and invent them. But I was completely without words at that moment. The only words that came to my mind were the obvious ones.

"I love you, Jason."

Tentatively, as if the ring box were going to bite his fingers, he reached for it. His voice revealed emotions when he whispered, "It’s beautiful, Ben." He reached for the box but made no move to take the ring out. It sat in the open palm of his hand. A single tear overflowed onto his cheek. "Would you put it on me?"

I took the box back from him, removed the ring, and placed it on his left hand.

"Do you have Gramp’s ring?" he asked me.

I beamed. "I sure do. Do you want to put it on me?" I reached into my jacket pocket and produced the ring his Grandma had given him with instructions to give it to the person he really loved. Jason had given it to me at Christmas but I had worn it sporadically since.

He slipped it on my left middle finger. "I’m never going to take it off," I told him, my voice betraying my emotion.

Ian almost approached the table with Jason’s dessert, but saw what was happening and backed away gracefully for a few minutes.

For a few long moments, we sat openly holding hands on top of the table. We stared wordlessly into each other’s eyes. Our gold bands glittered with love. I’ll never forget that moment as long as I live.

The galloping rhythm of Cher’s A Song For The Lonely greeted us several doors away from Triangle as we approached.

"I’m not sure about this," Jason mumbled. I thought I knew why Jason was hesitant. It was the first gay bar he had ever been in.

"Why, sweetie?"

"Neither of us is wearing a flannel shirt."

I swatted his bicep playfully.

As Aaron predicted, no one sat at the front door checking ID’s. The bar was dark and smoky. In the back left corner was a pool table with several burly women hovering with pool cues in hand. The dance floor was a small rectangle nearby. I liked the look of the bar. The brick walls were exposed.

Jason too my hand and I turned to him. He was smiling in the dim light. I smiled back at him and gave his hand a gentle squeeze.

Despite the fact that it was still early, only a little after nine, there was only one unoccupied seat at the bar.

Jason almost had to shout to be heard over the music. "Sit down. I’ll stand."

"Are you sure?"


A short, stocky, Lea DeLaria look alike appeared behind the bar. "Gentlemen, what can I get you?"

Jason spoke before I could. "A beer. And I’ll have a club soda with a twist of lime." He grinned at me.

"Good boy!" I said to him as the bartender prepared our drinks.

Instead of protesting, he nodded and smiled. When the drinks arrived, I swiveled the bar stool so that it faced out toward the bar. Jason stood between my legs with his back to me. I wrapped my arms around his waist and grazed my lips on the back of his neck that caused Jason to wriggle with delight. I allowed my hands to explore his belly and chest.

In some ways, lesbian bars are great places for man-to-man romance. Of course, the management always understands. Plus, there are fewer distractions from other men on the prowl. Most of all, women were less likely to comment about the age difference than men were. By going to a lesbian bar, we avoided all the snide, sarcastic, rude, and stupid comments by reptiles like Steve.

Jason turned around to face me and placed his drink on the bar. He took my left hand in his, rubbing the pad of his thumb over the gold ring on my finger.

He wrapped his arms around my neck and whispered in my ear. "My man." Then, he licked my ear.

"Hey! Stop that!"

"Why?" he asked innocently.

The DJ slowed the pace a bit with Hero by Enrique Iglasias and dimmed the lights on the dance floor.

Jason grabbed my hand. "Come on!" He led me to the dance floor.

With one arm around my waist and the other around my shoulders, we danced cheek to cheek. Perhaps the word ‘dance’ was a bit of a misnomer. It was really more of a rotating hug.

"This has been one of the best days of my life," Jason whispered to me. "There’s only one day I can ever remember being happier."

"When was that?"

"The day you told me you were breaking up with Christopher and moving to Winter full time."

I kissed him as a reply. The colored lights swirled around us like a snowstorm of confetti. My right hand caressed his ass. Through the thin cotton material of his pants, I could feel that he was wearing boxer briefs. I started to get hard.

We parted just far enough that we could look into each other’s eyes. We kissed a long, romantic kiss. He smiled blissfully, sighed and laid his head on my shoulder. As we rotated slowly on the dance floor, one woman caught my eye. She was dressed in black, and had a wide smile on her face. She gave me a ‘thumb’s up." I grinned at her.

I held his slim body close to mine, celebrating his masculinity.

When the song was over, we returned to the single barstool we had claimed as our space for the evening.

"I’m ready to go," he announced.

"Sure? It’s still early."

"I’m going to hold you to your promise in your letter." He took my hand and placed it on his crotch. His dick was semi-hard.

Less than a half hour later, I was naked, on my back in our room at the bed and breakfast.

I was fulfilling the promise I had written in my letter to him.

Jason liked to fuck face-to-face. The difference this time was that he was fucking me. It was the first time.

In the darkened room, I could see a broad smile on his face. "Thank you, Ben."

I wasn’t real crazy about getting fucked. I never have been. I’ve always been a top. Perhaps it’s one of the reasons I’m still alive. Besides, it had been several years since I had been fucked and Jason was quite hung.

But I loved Jason with every fiber of my being and I wanted to please him.

As apprehensive as I was, Jason was thrilled and overjoyed. I just hoped his enthusiasm didn’t translate into bodily harm.

He was kneeling on the bed between my legs. He kissed my inner thighs. I watched his balls jiggle as he repositioned himself on the bed. He slid a lubed finger into my waiting hole.

"Are you OK?"

"Good so far," I answered. "Just go slow, babe. And don’t get too carried away with that telephone pole of yours."

He leaned forward to kiss me on the lips. "I promise. I’ll be careful. I never want to hurt you, Ben. I love you so much. Thank you for letting me do this."

The tip of his cock brushed against my balls. He leaned back and with a look of intense concentration, he positioned the head of his cock at the entrance to my chute. I sighed when he placed the head of his cock at my throbbing rosebud. With a small push it was inside me.

I closed my eyes and concentrated on what was happening to my hindquarters. I pushed out and he slid more of his cock into me. I did sense some pain, but overall it was going easier than I had anticipated. I won’t resort to the bike riding cliché, but it was close to that.

When Jason had buried his cock in me, he leaned forward and kissed me again. His smooth, lean chest brushed against my own hairy one. His kiss was incendiary but his lips were sweet.

For a long moment he lay on my chest with his cock stuffed in my ass. He propped himself up on his arms and began pumping.

He increased the frequency of his thrusts until the bed began squeaking. My ass relaxed even more as the pain subsided and turned to pleasure. I remember thinking He’s filling me. He’s filling my ass.

We both began to sweat and beads of perspiration dripped off the tip of his nose onto my face. One salty drop landed on my lip.

"Ben, Ben, Ben!" he chanted with each thrust. I remembered the trick of clamping my sphincter tightly around his cock. Christopher taught me to do that. I did actually learn something from him.

I became oblivious to all other sensations and completely focused on my asshole. I lost the fact that his hands were holding my ankles. I forgot about the dripping sweat. I ignored the squeaky bed. I was beyond all knowing except Jason.

"Fuck me, Jason," I whispered. "Fuck my hole."

My words seemed to excite him even further. He straightened his back and gasped loudly. I knew he was close.

"Oh Ben! Oh God! Yeaaaah!" He released his load. And then he collapsed on top of me.

We lay there a long time. I loved feeling the weight of his body on mine. I petted his smooth back and butt.

I had given Jason a powerful, heartfelt gift. I had let him have control. By allowing him to fuck me, I had empowered him.

As Don reminded me, power and control are very big issues in almost every man-to-man relationship. That was the heart of the matter. If Jason and I were ever going to get beyond our father-son relationship, it was essential that Jason have some say about the direction our relationship was going. It was imperative I let Jason have some control.

I had given him a ring. I let him drive. I let him wear what he wanted to wear. All these were merely token gestures. It was the powerful gesture of giving up control in bed that really turned the tide. By letting Jason fuck me, I communicated my trust and love to him.

And I found I enjoyed it.

Relaxed and sated, Jason snuggled next to me in his post-coital bliss. We were face-to-face under the soft, luxurious covers. In the twilight of the room, I could see a beatific smile on his face, although his eyes were closed.

"Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you, Ben."

"I love you, too, son."

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it. As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome at Constructive criticism is welcome, too. And don’t forget to visit my website New chapters are always posted there earlier than here.

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