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 2002 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

Winter Wonderland

Part 1 of 2

By Nick Archer

"You fucking bitch!" I screamed at Chris.

I could feel the weight of the sledgehammer in my hands. As I hefted it over my head, my biceps protested. But as I brought the hammer down on Chris’ late model Cadillac Escalade, the adrenaline made up for the muscle strain.

Chris stood off to the side wailing in his high-pitched voice. "No, Ben, please! Don’t!" He covered his eyes and screeched.

I didn’t care. I was beyond caring. I had caught Chris red handed with one of his little twinks. Again! He’s promised the last time that he’d never cheat on me again. I raised the hammer again and brought it down on the windshield. It gave me such satisfaction to see it shatter. By now, I was a crazed man. The adrenaline and hormones were singing in my bloodstream.

I was getting the revenge I so desperately wanted. I was getting the revenge I so desperately needed.

Again and again I raised the hammer and brought it down on the hood, the doors, the windows, the taillights and headlights, and the bumpers. I was going to damage the vehicle as much as my darling Christopher had damaged my psyche.

"You promised!" I screamed as him as I demolished the driver’s mirror. "You promised you wouldn’t fuck around again!"

The Escalade was his pride and joy. Chris rarely drove it; in fact, he was frightened to drive it in the heavy Chicago city traffic. I did most of the driving. But it was a status symbol. It proved that he could own and maintain a vehicle in the city as well as rent an expensive parking space in the garage of our luxury condominium. Status was very important to Chris.

Chris was very good at acquiring things. He acquired money, status, fame and possessions. He also acquired people. He collected them like stamps. Mostly they were people who constantly told him how handsome and talented he was. They constantly feed his fragile ego.

I raised the hood to get at the engine. Intellectually, I knew I couldn’t demolish the whole vehicle. But I at least was going to cause him a very hefty repair bill.

"You fucking bastard!" I yelled.

"Please, no," he whimpered.

As I brought the hammer down, it glanced off the engine block and landed against the windshield wiper fluid reservoir. Liquid the color of Windex flew everywhere. Fortunately, I was able to shut my eyes in time, but I could feel droplets of it running like tears on my face.

I wiped the sweat and wiper fluid from my eyelids with the back of my hand and looked into the face of the miserable, selfish slug I had called my lover for eight years.

I smirked in triumph.

I awoke with my heart pounding. My face really was wet!

Before I opened my eyes, I drew my palm downward across my face. The back of my hand came into contact with a cold, wet nose.

One of my dogs, Mr. Gower, was licking my face.

"Mr. Gower!" I became somewhat uneasy when I realized the moisture on my face was actually dog slobber. I think I would have preferred windshield wiper fluid.

"Go lay down!" I gave him the Great American Pet Command. I pushed his face away from mine.

I reluctantly sat up, swung my feet to the floor and shuffled to the bathroom. Once I relieved myself, I shuffled to the kitchen as I scratched my balls. Both the dog’s and the cat’s bowls were empty. I knew that my two canine eating machines had also emptied the cat’s bowls. They often do that when their own bowls are empty.

The first order of business was getting coffee started. Once the machine was gurgling and dripping caffeinated black gold, I turned my attention to feeding my four furry friends.

My two cats, George and Mary, had already started the Breakfast Concerto. To reproduce the wind section of the orchestra, they meowed loudly. Mr. Gower and Violet, my Labrador retrievers, added percussion to the animal concert by thumping their tails on the kitchen cabinets. To imitate the string section, they emitted puppyish yips of anticipation.

Once I had poured kibble in their bowls, I squinted out the windows at Blaisdell Lake. It looked smooth and leaden in the gray morning. My house sits on an incline about twenty yards from the shore. I moved closer to the French doors to read the thermometer mounted on the inside of a post on the screened porch. It read 32 degrees. Maybe the weather predictions were wrong, I thought. If it’s already 32 by 9 AM, surely it would warm up and the predicted precipitation would be rain. Weather prediction is the only profession where one can be wrong and still get paid.

As I usually do in the winter, I pulled on a pair of jeans and a heavy woolen sweater to walk the dogs before I took my morning shower. No need to go outside in the cold with wet skin and hair. My mother would surely disapprove. When I was in junior high, she had my gym period changed. It had started out that I had PE the last period of the day. But I was coming home with chill blains, so she contacted the school and changed my schedule.

You might think that walking the dogs is a silly activity when thick woods surround my house. Surely I could just let the dogs run free in the woods! I tried that and, trust me, it doesn’t work. In the summer they teamed up to tease, harass and sometimes kill hapless animals. Many times they found their way to the neighboring summer camp where the boys lavished attention on them. Skunks interrupted their hunting at least twice. Once Mr. Gower and Violet found putrid remains of a deer to roll around in. That ended their leashless freedom.

Sure, it’s a hassle for me, but it’s better than the alternative of trying to bathe two 70-pound dogs after an encounter with the carcass of a dead deer.

Our morning route took us up the driveway to the main road, if you can call it that. In reality, it’s no more than an old logging trail onto which gravel has been spread. The road ends in a Y intersection and placed there is a directional sign. An arrow that points to the left directs drivers to Camp Homewood. An arrow that points right directs drivers to my home.

Actually, my home was once part of Camp Homewood. Edward Hines who was a lumber baron from Chicago owned the whole complex of log cabins. It was his summer retreat. He left the campus to St. Luke’s School in his will. They converted most of the campus into a summer camp for their boys. St. Luke’s was constantly strapped for money so they sold my house and another situated close to mine. I can barely discern my neighbor’s house through the barren trees. Their decision to sell the two cabins was influenced by two other factors. They’re both some distance from the main cluster of buildings and they both are too luxurious to be converted into cabins for rough-and-tumble boys.

Still, on quiet summer nights I can hear the camp bell ringing and voices singing silly songs.

The dogs lead me back down our drive. After about a quarter mile, the drive branches again. The left branch leads to my house. The right branch leads to the Hatfield’s. Mildred and Larry only spend summers here, after winters in Florida and spring and fall in the Chicago area.

By the time we arrive back from our morning constitutional, large snowflakes have started to fall. They aren’t sticking yet. My Jeep is still snow-free as we enter the back porch. Even so, my mind races ahead to the day’s activities that include a trip into town for some last minute Christmas gifts and to firm up plans with my pet sitter for the time that I’ll be out of town.

Both dogs park their behinds in front of the kitchen sink and grin at me. We were such good dogs, weren’t we? We deserve a treat!

"You big babies!" I mutter at them as I hand each one a Milk Bone.

I stripped my clothes off and hopped into the shower. As I soaped up my body, I pondered the strange dream that had woken me up that morning. I felt a little frustrated at myself for still feeling anger at Christopher. I thought I had put that whole era of my life behind me. I’m secure now and happy. I’m making a good living, I own my home, and I take several vacations a year. I have good health insurance and smart, if somewhat conservative, investments. Living well is your best revenge.

But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m lonely.

There aren’t many gay men up here in the northwoods of Wisconsin. And there certainly aren’t many places to meet people in the tiny hamlets that pass as towns up here.

I climb to the loft area that serves as my home office. It overlooks the living and dining room areas. Last year I had skylights installed up here. They don’t offer much of a view, but the natural light prevents me from spiraling into seasonal depression. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

My answering machine is flashing. I press the button and hear the voice of one of the few editors to whom I have given my home phone number. I logged onto my computer as I called him back.

His secretary answers and I’m immediately put through to Evan Barrow, my editor at Little, Brown and Company.

"Darling!" He gushes. "How are you?" He asked in his clipped Boston Brahmin accent.

"I’m fine, thanks. It’s good to hear you."

"You, too. It’s been too long!"

"I’ll bet you want to know the status of Family Ties," I said warily.

"Well, yes. After all that is my job. Will you be able to send it to me after the first of the year as we discussed?"

"It’ll be ready," I promised.

"Good! Your public is awaiting the next installment anxiously. So am I, to tell you the truth. How is that satellite Internet setup working for you?"

It’s been almost a year since I signed on for satellite Internet service. I realized with a jolt that it’s been almost that long since we’ve talked on the phone. "I love it. I don’t know how I survived without it. Ameritech was dragging their feet in getting DSL out here and it goes without saying that there is no cable TV available. I had Dish Network installed the first week I moved here so the satellite dish was already in place. All I needed to do was subscribe. It’s a bit pricey but considering how much work I do over the Internet and by email, it totally pays for itself."

As we chatted, I sorted through the morning’s email. I skipped over the newsletters from the various author’s and writing groups I belong to. I’d get back to those later. There are also a couple personal emails from other writers. I passed over those, too. There was a letter from Advocate Men stating that a short erotic story will appear in the March issue. Another tells me that a story I had written will appear in Stroke 3, an upcoming anthology for gay men.

"Good for you! What are your plans for the holidays? Still going to your sister’s house?" Evan likes to parent me. He’s concerned and I appreciate it.

"Yes. I made the hotel reservations back in September." I prefer to stay in a hotel when visiting my sister and her family in the Chicago suburbs. I like the privacy and my nieces and nephew like the indoor pool at the hotel. Besides, one never knows. I might be able to pick up an attractive man for some fun.

"The only problem is that they’re predicting snow," I told Evan. "Well, some forecasters are, anyway. You just never know."

"Maybe you can meet that sweet young thing who was writing love letters," he responded with a hint of fatuousness in his voice.

"Think again! Haven’t you ever seen the movie Misery? Like I want to be tied to a bed so he can break my legs."

"You’re so suspicious. I saw his picture you forwarded to me. He can tie me to a bed anytime!" I heard him take a sip of his ever-present Caffeine Free Diet Pepsi. "What up with blond boy? Your handyman? Jason? Isn’t that his name?" The inflection in his voice when he spoke the word ‘handyman’ gave it a dirty connotation. Evan knew damn well what his name was.

"When will you ever learn to curb that filthy imagination of yours? I’ve known him since he was thirteen. He’s like a son to me."

"Uh-huh, right," Evan replied sarcastically. "And he’s never done any other jobs for you?"

"Evan, stop that this instant!"

"Well, you’re the one who always told me how he paraded around your house in nothing but a droopy pair of swim trunks all summer. About how he always takes a shower before you drive him home. And how he emerges from the shower in nothing but a towel. You were the one trying to get a glimpse as he changed in the guest room with the door wide open."

It’s true; I was always watching him. I felt my cheeks grow crimson. "I care about him. I could never touch him. Besides, he’s straight."

"Straight is a relative term. How old is he now?"

"Nineteen." My eyes unconsciously dart to the framed picture of Jason on my desk. He’s handsome in his shirt and tie. It’s his senior picture and his green eyes reflect the future. He had just gotten a haircut and his dishwater blond hair is cut very close to his scalp. The short haircut tended to emphasize his rather large ears. I thought his ears were adorable but Jason hated them and was very sensitive about them. He had told me that he tried to tape them down to his head at night so they wouldn’t stick out so far. I was very careful never to make references to his ears. Still, in the picture, he could be an Eagle Scout or a newsboy in a Norman Rockwell painting.

"You remember what it was like at nineteen! He’ll stick it into any warm hole he can find."

I began to lose my patience. "Jason is like a son to me. I’ve helped him out many times. And he’s helped me. You know he takes care of the animals when I’m gone. He’s fixed all sorts of things around here. He’s very good with his hands." I slapped my forehead at the unintentional double entendre.

Evan picked up on it immediately. "I’ll just bet he’s good with his hands!"

I tried to explain it one last time. "Jason is a very sensitive young man. He’s talked to me about a number of very personal subjects and entrusted me with a lot of information. He trusts me. I’m not about to throw that all away for the sake of sex."

There is a long pause on the phone line. "I’m sorry," he apologized. "I was out of bounds."

"’S OK," I told him, although it really wasn’t.

"I just think…"

"Well, go ahead and say it," I prompted.

"I was just teasing you about the sex, Ben. You know that. It’s just that…I think…I think you feel more than fatherly toward that young man."

Our conversation has ventured into territory I’m just not ready to deal with. I glanced at the time on the toolbar of my computer. "Look, I have to go. I have some writing to do and then I have to run to Winter to empty my post office box. I also have a lunch date."

"OK, darling. Have a wonderful holiday."

"Thanks, Evan. You do the same."

I hung the phone up. It was now 10 AM and my writing time. I write every day between 10 and noon. I’ve disciplined myself to do this. It doesn’t matter what I write; an essay, a review, a short story or another chapter in my ongoing novel. Every day for two hours, I force myself to sit at my computer and work. Most of the time, I’ll continue after lunch, especially if I’m on a roll. Even though most of my family, friends and acquaintances know not to call me during this time period, I turned off my phone.

Writing at home - and making money doing it - was made lots easier by technology. I have a fax on a separate phone line. And, of course, I can send articles and stories out through email. What a difference it’s made! I send written material out to editors I’ve never met or spoken to in cities that I’ve never seen. They can send it back to me with comments or revisions. Not to mention I can conduct research on the Internet. Oh, yes, I can chat with other friends who write - Jayne in Grand Rapids, Carl in St. Louis and Keith in Massachusetts. They give me feedback, ideas, and assistance.

Finally, I do a lot of my shopping on the Internet. Almost all the furniture in my home was purchased that way and most of my clothes. I also purchase my computer hardware, software and peripherals, office supplies, books and gifts through the Internet.

I reminded myself that I should be expecting Jason’s Christmas gift to arrive by UPS today. It had better arrive today. It’s December 22. Christmas falls on a Tuesday this year and I’m not sure if UPS will be delivering on Monday, which is Christmas Eve. In any event, I was planning on leaving for my sister’s Sunday morning.

Having broadband, high-speed Internet access can also be a distraction. I really had to discipline myself at first to write and not surf. Or at least limit my surfing to specific times of the day.

To begin my writing session, I opened my journal program. Some of my best ideas have come from my journal. The program I use for journaling has a handy little search feature. I can call up articles or essays using a keyword or phrase.

I entered the keyword ‘Jason.’

After a few blinks of the hard drive, the program indicates I have 62 entries about Jason. I was taken aback. I never realized I had written so much about him.

That which we value the most, we put the most energy into.

Wednesday, August 9, 1995

Chris is bored. He has whined since our arrival two weeks ago. He can’t sleep. It’s too quiet. He misses his friends. He’s tired of the ongoing kitchen construction. I reminded him that it was his idea to remodel the kitchen this summer. That earned me a few hours of silence. He’s insisted on all professional-grade appliances. This is the man who can’t boil water without first reading the directions. And even then, chances are that he’ll fuck it up somehow.

I love it here.

To keep Chris happy and to get away from the construction in the kitchen, we’ve decided to take a weekend trip up to Bayfield and stay in a bed and breakfast. The only sticking point is that we need to find a reliable pet sitter.

In a flash of inspiration I decided to ask Margie, the manager of the local Co-op IGA grocery. Even though she knows everything there is to know about everyone in town, she’s very discreet. Maybe there was a trustworthy teenager who had access to transportation and who could use a few extra bucks to take care of our pets.

"I have just the young man for you. He’s thirteen, but he’s very reliable. He certainly could use the money and one of his older brothers could drive him out to your place. His name is Jason Dunham."

I give myself a little shake. This is your writing time, I remind myself.

Very reluctantly, I close the journal program and open a story that I’ve been working on.

But my heart isn’t in it. Evan’s words are still haunting me. I think you feel more than fatherly toward that young man. Do I?

After an hour and a half of writing some drivel that I’m certain I’ll delete later, I close Microsoft Word, stand up and stretch.

As I stretched, I glanced up toward the skylights. They have accumulated a dusting of snow around the edges.

Outside, I hear a vehicle approach. I can’t see the driveway because there are no windows in the loft. I descended the stairs quickly and peered out the kitchen window to see Carl pull up in his brown UPS van.

He parked the vehicle and disappeared into the cargo area. Within seconds, he emerged carrying a large box with a smaller box, his electronic delivery pad and a travel mug balanced on top. Snow accumulated on top of the items in the short distance from his van to my front door.

"Hey Carl! Good to see you!" I’d been expecting the larger box. I had no idea what the smaller box was. It’s probably something that was backordered.

He thoughtfully brushed the snow off before he stepped into my front door.

"Need coffee?"

"Please." He handed me his stainless steel insulated travel mug. It’s strictly against UPS policies for drivers to accept food or beverages. But Carl and I are on a first name basis. After all, he delivers at least once a week.

I rinsed the mug quickly before filling it with coffee. Carl prefers his coffee black. I snapped on the lid and handed it back to him. He took the mug in both hands as if trying to warm them. His brown eyes flashed me a look of gratitude before he took a sip. I signed my name in the black rectangle of the keypad to indicate that I’ve received the packages. The larger one is from Westward Bound Outfitters. It contained Jason’s Christmas gift.

The smaller one is addressed to Jason Dunham in care of Ben Strickland. It has no return address. The small package is about the size of a shirt box.

"Where’s the smaller one from?" I asked Carl.

He pressed a couple buttons on the pad and squinted at the display. "Mrs. Emily Dunham in Hayward."

I smiled. "It’s Jason’s annual shipment of cookies from his grandma."

Jason has had things sent to my house and my post office box before, so the arrival of this package is not a complete surprise. Those things he doesn’t want his mom to find out about or that he wants to keep away from the eyes and hands of his brothers, he sends to himself in care of me.

Every year his paternal grandma in Hayward sends him the most amazing assortment of homemade cookies. I’ve driven him to Hayward many times to visit with her. She’s very sweet, but I don’t think she understands what our relationship is. She’s always referring to me as ‘Jason’s friend’ in a tone of voice that suggests that there’s something going on between us. Still, she always tells me I’m ‘a very nice boy.’ I like being called a nice boy at 42.

"Lots of deliveries today?"

"Tons. I won’t finish until after six, I’m sure."

"Are you working on Monday?"

"Yeah, we’ll be making deliveries. If we don’t get snowed in, that is."

"Is it starting to stick?"

"Yeah, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to let up anytime soon." Carl drives for a living so I trust his assessment of road conditions. "Well, I’d better get going. Thanks for the coffee."

"You’re always welcome, Carl. Thanks."

I watched him as he trudged back to his truck. I couldn’t wait until summer when I could see his magnificent thighs again in his brown UPS shorts.

I glanced at the kitchen clock and saw that I needed to get moving if I was going to be on time for my lunch date with my friend Don.

I dressed warmly, grabbed my keys and headed out for the Jeep. By this time, the show was falling heavily as it swirled down through the branches.

I turned onto County Road GG and after less than a mile; I reached the intersection with Highway 70. The towns of Loretta and Draper are located at the intersection.

They barely deserve the moniker of towns.

Built around the turn of the century to house lumberjacks for the Edward Hines Company, they were once home to 1,200 souls. Now they have less than one tenth their original population. Those that are left are mostly elderly and too poor or stubborn to move to a larger town.

Adjacent to Highway 70 is a parking area for the Tuscobia Trail. The Trail is a 76-mile gravel trail for hiking, snowmobiles and ATV’s. It runs from east to west and parallels Highway 70. Years ago it was an important railroad link to Park Falls and the Sioux Line. When the fine hardwood trees in this area were actively harvested earlier in the century, the wood was shipped by rail to a huge sawmill in Park Falls. When the line was abandoned in the early 60’s, the State of Wisconsin bought the abandoned rail bed and turned it into a linear state park.

The lumber from this area helped to build cities in Wisconsin and northern Illinois. It’s no mistake that the name of the county in which I live is Sawyer. Sawyer is another word for lumberjack.

Snow is beginning to stick on the pavement as I travel the seven miles along Highway 70 to Winter.

I checked the clock on the dashboard. I’m on time for my lunch date with Don. Naturally, he’ll be late. He’s always late for everything.

Snow swirled around the big sign that read ‘Welcome To Winter - Winter Area Chamber of Commerce.’ The sign is illustrated with a deer and a musky - two of the area’s claims to fame. Contrary to the belief of most vacationers, Winter was not named for the season. It was named for a railroad official who built the rail line through the town.

The outskirts of Winter are unlike many small American towns. There are no big box retailers. There aren’t even any fast food outlets, not even a McDonald’s. There’s only one gas station. Development has passed Winter by. North central Wisconsin is beautiful and clean and safe. It also can be boring.

Just before I turned left at the Amoco station, I passed the large factory that housed Midwest Manufactured Homes. Jason worked there for about a year after he graduated from high school. Then as the economy took a nosedive, he was laid off.

My lunchtime destination is The New Wannigan. Don and I are going to partake of their Friday fish fry. Every Wisconsin restaurant, tavern, supper club or VFW Post worth it’s salt has a Friday fish fry. The New Wannigan is unique in Winter because you can purchase the fish at lunch as well as supper.

As I opened the door to the restaurant, the steamy scent that greeted me indicated that the deep fryers were already busy. My stomach rumbled.

Flo greeted me at the door. "Donnie’s not here yet, Ben," she offered helpfully.

I smiled at her. "Why am I not surprised?" I glanced around. The lunchtime crowd seemed rather light. The TV mounted on the wall just below the ceiling was tuned to the Weather Channel. Across the bottom of the screen the background of the crawling text display was red. A red background indicated a weather watch or warning.

"What’s the Weather Channel saying about the snow?" I asked Flo as she poured coffee from one carafe to another.

"They’re saying eight inches, maybe more."

Damn weather never cooperates, I thought to myself. "Well, I need to run to the post office. If Donnie makes an appearance before I get back, please tell him I’ll be right back."

"OK, sweetie."

As I crossed Main Street, Linus Blazinski tooted his horn at me. I smiled and waved at him. Linus can be a crusty old coot and he was certainly upset when I first moved here full time. "We’ve got another one of THEM moving into town," I once overheard him say at the Coop. "This town’s going to hell in a hand basket." Not to mention I was a Flatlander. I was from the big, evil city of Chicago. I even talked funny.

Since then we’ve come to an understanding and a degree of mutual respect.

It was perfectly all right for gay people to vacation in and around Winter. They had money, after all. And Winter was always looking for money. The Chamber of Commerce had no intention of making Winter into a gay resort like Saugatuck, Michigan. But a few gays here and there would certainly help the mix. That was their thinking.

When I first moved here on a full-time basis after my breakup with Chris, I had to prove myself, just like any other outsider moving into this close-knit community. I accomplished this by singing in the choir at St. Peter’s even though my voice is less than adequate. I even considered joining the volunteer fire department, but my house is too far from town. By the time I got to any fire, it would have already burned itself out. I settled on volunteering time at the library and the Coop. There are two ways one can join the Coop. You can buy shares or volunteer your time as a cashier or stockperson. Of course, I bought shares in the Coop, but I also volunteered. It turned out to be a golden decision.

I had to go through a short training course about how to use the registers and about customer service. Due to my bookstore experience, it was easy for me. I only had to work one four-hour shift a month, but those four hours were invaluable.

First of all, it demonstrated to them that I wanted to be part of the community. The townspeople appreciated that. People got to know me on a first-name basis, and I learned their names. As time passed, I learned their personalities and buying habits. Later, it helped me understand the complex web of relationship threads that make up the tapestry of this small town.

And I learned I wasn’t the only gay person in town.

Of course there was Donnie. He was openly gay; no, he wore his gayness on his sleeve. He was a decade older than I and he had lived in San Francisco in the seventies. He had personally met Harvey Milk. Highly disillusioned after Milk’s assassination, he moved to liberal Madison where he was an activist. When he was diagnosed with AIDS sometime in the late eighties, he returned to his hometown to die.

But due to the new miracle drug cocktails he had outlived his original death sentence. He still has some health problems, to be sure, and there have been some very scary moments.

There was Ellen, the town postmistress. A practicing pagan, she lived with her partner Suzy on the outskirts of town with an incredible menagerie of animals. My cats and dogs came from them.

The Coop was bursting with shoppers as I strode passed it. Panicky people were laying in basic foodstuffs against the coming storm. I considered for a moment stopping to pick up a few things myself but the length of the lines at the checkout counters discouraged me. I really had enough food back at the house.

I did, however, stop in to ask Margie a question.

She was busy at the Customer Service Desk, making change for the cashiers and cashing checks for customers.

"HI, Ben!"

"Hey, Margie. You haven’t seen Jason today, have you?"

She shook her head. "Not today. He’s not on the schedule for today. Have you tried calling their house?" Jason stocks shelves part-time here. He is one of the few paid employees.

"Phone’s disconnected." I rolled my eyes.

"Again?" She grimaced. Margie, like most women in town, had a strong dislike for Jason’s mother, Misty. But she also genuinely liked Jason enough to put aside her animosity toward his mother. "If I see him, I’ll let him know you’re looking for him."

"Thanks, Margie. I’m having lunch at The Wannigan. Merry Christmas!"

"You too, Ben." And she returned to her work.

I passed by the Winter Laundry-Bakery. It was the source of endless amusement when Chris and I first discovered it. I’d like a dozen donuts pressed, please. Can you dry clean my coffeecake by tomorrow night?

I stomped the snow off my boots inside the homely little post office. My post office box was stuffed. There were several Christmas cards, lots of junk mail and a few checks from my various publishers and magazines. Finally, there was a cellular phone bill from Verizon. It was Jason’s phone and the bill was addressed to him, although I had signed for it.

I took out my pocketknife - all men north of Milwaukee carry a pocketknife by law - and opened it. It was just what I had expected: a disconnection notice. Jason had not kept up on the payments.

"That kid," I growled through my gritted teeth.

I mentally added a trip to the bank and a lecture to Jason about responsibility to my to-do list for the afternoon.

On the way out, I made sure to smile and wave at Ellen. She was dressed in all purple, as always. She said purple was the most spiritual color. He also wore her trademark clunky necklace with a Mother Goddess figure dangling between her ample breasts. She asked about my animals, and I assured her they were all happy and healthy and keeping their master under their paws.

Before reentering The Wannigan, I tossed my mail on the passenger seat of my Jeep.

I spotted Don at a table just taking his coat off.

"Hi Ben!" he shouted loudly across the dining room.

I peeled off my coat and sat down. Donnie looked good, and I told him so. I asked about his health. He told me that he was doing well and that his doctor in Hayward had prescribed a new drug for him.

Flo appeared at our table with her omnipresent coffeepot in one hand and a Leinenkugle’s Beer in the other. The beer is for me. "You boys having the fish today?"

"What else?" Don replied. "You’re looking especially sexy today, Flo!"

She threw her head back and laughed. "Wish I could get that lucky."

While we wait for the fish, I ask Don, "You haven’t seen Jason today, have you?"

"Nope. But I did talk to him the night before last. He came over to my place." There’s a cluster of mobile homes south of town on Highway W. Don lives a few doors down from Misty and her sons.

Don raised an eyebrow at me. "And I need to talk to you. It’s serious."

Flo returned with our food in plastic baskets lined with paper. Don interrupted our conversation momentarily to both tease and thank Flo.

The fish is nested on top of a pile of French fries and accompanied by a small dish of Cole slaw. The Wannigan serves traditional Wisconsin northwoods fish. It starts as white fish dipped in a beer batter and then deep-fried. The result is never oily or greasy. It’s tender and flaky and melts in your mouth. Best of all, the four most beautiful words in the English language accompany the Friday fish fry at The Wannigan: All You Can Eat.

Once Flo left to refill the coffee in another customer’s cup, Don continued. "Jason is very upset. When he was at my house, he broke down and cried."

I exhaled a deep sigh. "Don’t tell me he’s in trouble again."

Don swirled a few fries in ketchup. "No, he’s not in trouble. But, yes, it does concern you."

"What? What’s wrong now?" I demanded. Ever since that first summer when Jason watched our pets he’s been like a son to me. I never adopted him formally, although I was able to get guardianship in order to talk to his teachers at school. It more than obvious to the school administration that his mother had not the slightest interest in her son. When he got in trouble at school for clowning in class or fighting or not completing his homework, the principal called me.

When he was picked up for DUI the summer before last, the police called me before they called his mother.

Last year, when he discovered that his slutty girlfriend Mandy was pregnant, I tried to help as best I could. And when she miscarried six weeks later I held him as he cried, even though privately I was overjoyed.

When he was laid off from Midwest Manufactured Homes, I scrambled to find him work. I managed to patch together a few part time jobs for him by calling in a lot of favors around town.

When his beloved grandfather died, I supported him until his grief finally ebbed.

On the other hand, there had been successes. I encouraged him to try out for football when he was in high school. I reasoned that it would help channel his energy. His football career was a smashing success. It also helped him focus on his schoolwork, since he had to maintain a B average to play on the team. He made friends through the team. And the games helped us to bond. I missed only a handful over the two years he was on the varsity team, even though I’m not much of a football fan. His cunt of a mother never attended one.

But the past year I worried about him constantly. He seemed to be spiraling down in a cycle of alcohol, weed, self-pity and anger. And I felt helpless in controlling the downward spiral.

"Jason is a confused young man…." Don began.

"Huh! Tell me about it."

He wiped his fingertips on a paper napkin and looked me directly in my eyes. "He loves you."

"Pfffft! I know that! That’s not news."

"No. You’re not hearing me correctly. He doesn’t love you. He’s in love with you."

"W-what do you mean?"

"You know what I mean."

"You’re so full of shit."

"No, you my friend, are full of shit. Let’s look at the evidence. By the way, these are all incidents you’ve told me about. Jason has corroborated some of them. He was always disrobing in front of you. He was always trying to find some excuse to spend the night at your house. He was always trying to get you alone and away from Chris. Why do you think that is?

"I don’t know. But I’ve sure you’re going to tell me."

"Because he loves you."

Suddenly, I lost my appetite. "I am his father, for all intents and purposes. I’m really the only parent he has. I’m certainly chronologically old enough to be his parent."

"I know that," he responded evenly. "Hell, the whole town knows how you feel. But did you ever stop to think that Jason might feel differently about you? Because you’ve only looked at him as your son, you don’t see how much he adores you. Why do you think he’s so perfect around you? He’s never caused you any trouble; he’s never rude to you, never talks back. He’s even gotten sassy with me from time to time, but never, ever with you. Now why is that, Benjamin Strickland? Do you have sort of special power over young people? Have you consulted Ellen for some sort of magic spell?"

"I hate it when you get sarcastic. Knock it off, asshole."

He waved a hand. "Fine. But let’s look at more evidence. In all these years he’s been pet sitting for you, he’s never stolen anything from your house. God knows he’s had plenty of opportunities, not to mention he needed the money."

By now, Donnie is really worked up. He was an express train without brakes. "Finally, let’s look at the whole college fiasco last year."

"Let’s not go there." It was still a very sore spot with me. I had coached Jason through his ACT tests. I helped him write entrance essays. I coaxed and cajoled Misty into giving me the tax information he needed so we could complete his financial aid forms. He was admitted to several schools, but chose the University of Wisconsin/Barron County in Rice Lake. It was the closest to home. He was all set to leave for school in late August of last year when Mandy announced she was pregnant. Jason cancelled all his plans for college and announced he was going to stay home to work and provide for his baby.

I was so angry I didn’t talk to him for a month.

"Think about it, Ben! When did Mandy tell Jason she was pregnant?"

"It was just before he was going to leave for school last year."

"Wrong! Seriously, Benjamin, for a college-educated man you can be so stupid. Either that, or Alzheimer’s is setting in early. She told Jason she was pregnant over Labor Day weekend last year. Jason was supposed to be at school already."

Don was right. The University of Wisconsin, like most Midwestern schools, started their fall term in late August, before Labor Day.

"Oh, my God…." Was all I could mutter.

Don leaned across the table and whispered his next words in a fierce, breathy voice. "And do you know why? Do you want to know the real reason he didn’t go away to college? He couldn’t stand to be away from you. He loves you so much that he skipped his chance at college and the chance to get out of this hellhole. Mandy’s baby was just a pretext."

I just sat there as my fish grew cold.

"You remember what he looked like when you finally climbed off your high horse and consented to see him? He looked like shit. He wasn’t eating or sleeping. He looked like something from Auschwitz. Sure, he was upset about the baby. But he was more upset about losing you."

Maybe Don was right, but I was still trying to find fault with his hypothesis. "But he’s straight."

"Wrong again. What do you think it’s like growing up gay in a town like this? Even in 2001, I can assure you, it’s not easy. The worst thing a teenage kid can be called is a faggot." He lowered his voice to a whisper. I could barely hear him over the ambient noise of the restaurant. "You and I both know gay men and lesbians in this town who are married to people of the opposite sex. They got married because they felt they had to. You grew up in the Chicago area. Things are a lot different down there.

"Jason’s a typical boy," Don continued. "His hormones were raging and Mandy practically threw herself at him. And why not? That boy is the most handsome thing for a fifty-mile radius. But don’t assume he’s straight because he went to bed with a girl." He shrugged. "For all I know he may be bisexual.

"But I do know two things." He counted them off on his fingers. "Number one, he loves you with all his heart. He told me again the night before last. He’s tried to tell you for a long time, but you always brushed him off."

It was true. The past few months, Jason had been more and more open about professing his love for me. I had always given him a paternal pat on the back and responded "I love you, too," in a very nonchalant manner. It had never occurred to me for a moment that he loved me in a romantic way.

Tears started to stream down my cheeks.

Flo brought the check and set it down on the table. I hastily wiped the tears off my cheeks with my palm. For the first time since Don brought up the topic of Jason, I glanced around. The Wannigan had practically emptied out.

"They’re predicting a blizzard," she told us quietly.

"Thanks, Flo." Don opened his wallet and handed Flo a twenty-dollar bill. "We’d better get going. You still have to find Jason."

As Flo brought Don his change, we shrugged our coats on. In the time span of our lunch, the streetscape had been transformed by a dusting of snow. My car was covered. We are almost alone on Main Street.

Just outside the restaurant, Don grabbed me by the shoulders and looked directly into my eyes. "And number two; if you hurt him, I’ll make sure you’re run out of town. I’ll start the most vicious rumor and spread it around town."

That did it. Before, in The Wannigan, I had just been weeping. Now, I sobbed. Don embraced me as I cried.

"He has something very special planned for you. I can’t tell you who to love, Ben. But, please, please, if you don’t love him the way he loves you, let him down easily. Be gentle with him."

I managed to choke out, "Does he know you were going to talk to me?"

"No. And if you tell him about our little chat, I’ll scratch your eyeballs out and shit in the sockets."

I laughed through my tears. "OK. I promise."

"Check at Misty’s. I saw his pickup there earlier. He might be there."

"OK, Don. Thanks."

As Don released me, Linus Blazinski crept down Main Street in his ancient Chevy. He tooted his horn at us.

After a quick stop at the bank, I drove south on County Highway W. There, interspersed among the trees was a cluster of a half-dozen mobile homes plunked down without the benefit of a park. That’s pretty common up here. The mobile home parks tend to be nicer and snowbirds inhabit them. The less fortunate buy a tract of land and plunk their mobile home down there.

Only Jason and his younger brother Justin still live at home. His older brothers Jeff and Jeremy live with their girlfriends and are busily trying to add to the Winter’s population. I guess Misty thought that giving her sons names that began with the letter ‘J’ would give them some sort of continuity. God knows they needed it, considering that all four boys have different fathers. Not to mention the parade of boyfriends and husbands that have moved in and out of this trailer.

I wince as I notice that Misty’s car is parked in front. I was not looking forward to seeing her. To say that our relationship was strained was an understatement. When I first met her, I sort of liked her. She’s a tough girl and managed to support four boys mainly by herself. When Chris and I were spending summers here, she was more than grateful for the attention we gave Jason. We were sort of unofficial Big Brothers. We took Jason on trips around northern Wisconsin and he spent the weekend at our cabin. I fished and canoed with him. Sometimes we’d just watch movies on HBO or Turner Movie Classics. I took him to the closest mall in Rice Lake; fifty miles away. There I always indulged him at The Gap, buying him whatever he wanted. He kept most of these new clothes at my house because, he claimed, his brothers would steal them.

Wait a second, I thought. Turner Classic Movies. That boy watched all sorts of old black and white movies with me. What typical teenager would do that? Why had I never put the pieces together?

I dismissed the thought immediately. It’s just a stereotype.

I knocked loudly on the trailer door. Misty was probably sleeping off a hangover. Several minutes later Justin answered the door. He’s the same age as Jason was when I first met him. The main difference is that Justin is quite a hefty boy. To be honest, he’s a porker. Worst of all, he’s loud and obnoxious. I never liked him.

"Jason’s not here." He started closing the door.

"Do you know where he is?"


"Where’s your mom?"


He started to close the door, but I stuck my foot between the door and the doorjamb. "Would you tell him I’m looking for him?"

"I’ll think about it."

It had already been an emotional morning for me and I was in no mood for his bullshit. I flung the door open (it opened outside) grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled him toward me. "Listen to me! You WILL tell Jason I’m looking for him."

"Get off me, faggot!"

I gave him a shove. He tripped over a jacket on the floor and fell on his ass. "Fat little asshole." He looked startled. He’d never expected the faggot to shove him.

He was still screaming epithets as I backed out of the driveway. I had intended on throwing up some gravel, but the tires lost their grip under the gathering snow and they spun. I took a deep breath, downshifted, and backed out. I felt a twinge of guilt about having shoved the little beast. But I had only pushed him. He had tripped over the coat on the floor.

The snow was now sticking to the pavement as I pondered my next move. Winter is a very small town and he had to be somewhere.

As the adrenaline wore off, I became ashamed of treating Justin the way I had. I had let my animosity boil over. Oh well, he deserved it.

The best thing, I decided, was to go home. He would either find a way to get to my house or call. Don or Ellen or Margie would gladly drive him out to my house if they could. The only thing to do was wait.

Because snow had begun to cover the pavement, it took me a little longer to get home than it normally would. Thank God for four-wheel drive.

The dogs greeted me at the door. The row of French doors on the north and west walls of the great room emitted that certain glow when snow was falling. I realized I was tired. There were no messages on the answering machine, and no new email except spam.

I decided a nice mug of hot tea was in order. I filled a mug with water and a teabag and threw it in the microwave. I spotted the box of cookies that had arrived from his grandma.

A cookie or two would go nicely with my tea, I thought. But I decided against it and carried the box to Jason’s room.

I almost never come in here for several reasons. Jason is meticulous about his room. He always kept it spotless in spite of, or perhaps because of, the squalor at his own home. Also, I always wanted to respect his privacy and provide him his own space. God knows the trailer where he lived with Misty was cramped enough.

There’s not much evidence of his presence in the room. There’s only a double bed, a dresser and a small nightstand here. The digital alarm clock glowed.

I sat on the edge of the blue and green checked bedspread holding the package in my hands. I noticed for the first time a framed picture of me on the dresser. Tears threatened my eyes again. My fingers trembled on the package. Could Evan be right? Do I feel more than father toward Jason? Was Don right? Did Jason love me more than a father?

They say that the sense of smell can be a powerful memory trigger. As I sat there in his room, I could smell the cologne he always wore, even though there was no bottle in evidence. I could detect the presence of his body.

Sitting in Jason’s room was like entering a confessional. Yes, I had watched him as he changed clothes with the door wide open. How many times had I glanced at his crotch as he emerged wet and dripping from the lake? How many times had my eyes feasted on his smooth, hairless torso on hot summer nights? I had even considered taking his clothes from the bathroom as he showered. I wanted to see his body. Was it his fault because he left the door open or my fault because I looked? Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa maximus.

I had told Jason I was gay almost right from the start. He was a very bright kid and probably would have figured it out anyway. I mean - two men sharing a house and sleeping in the same bed.

And as I sat in his room my mind was flooded with images of him. I loved him. And now I finally admitted to myself that I wanted him.

With tears still streaming down my face, I placed the package carefully on his dresser and closed the door quietly behind me.

In the kitchen, I ripped off a piece of paper towel and wiped my eyes and my nose. I removed my mug of tea from the microwave, added some sugar and sampled it.

All of a sudden, I felt exhausted.

I lay down full length on the couch and turned on the TV. I tuned to one of the local TV stations. Dish Network provides local TV stations in this part of the state because we can’t pick up anything over the air. Sure enough the CBS station from Duluth/Superior has displayed a white W in the upper left corner of the screen indicating a weather alert. Between commercials, the weatherman announced that a winter storm warning as in effect in much of Minnesota, northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The snow would continue throughout the night and driving conditions were already hazardous. More commercials followed. Oprah was on next, and although I usually enjoy her show, that day’s topic of women in need of a makeover didn’t interest me.

I switched to Turner Classic Movies, which had begun its Christmas film festival. Going My Way was on. Before long, I was totally engrossed. I pulled the knitted afghan around me. George and Mary nested at my feet and purred contentedly. I dozed off.

The ringing phone woke me. My back was stiff from an awkward position. I lunged for the kitchen extension before the answering machine picked up. The clock on the microwave reported it was almost five o’clock.

"Ben? It’s Jason."

"Hey, I was looking for you."

"And I was looking for you. Can I come out?"

"Of course you can, son. You’re always welcome here."

There is a momentary pause and then in a small voice he asks, "Can you come get me?"

I was about to offer him some other alternatives, such as having one of his brothers drive him out. But, knowing Jason, he’s probably tried those already. "Of course. Where are you?"

"At the Amoco station."

"Stay there. I’m leaving right now. I’ll be there as soon as I can."

"OK, see you."

Just before I left, I turned on the Christmas tree and the lights around the windows.

It took me several minutes to brush the snow off the Jeep. I estimated that it was almost six inches deep. It was heavy, wet snow and since there was no wind it was falling vertically from the sky.

The road was just passable. If it continued to snow like this, I’d be snowed in for a few days. The county doesn’t plow my driveway or the access road. I contracted with Dan Hardesty to do that. During the last big snow storm in 1999, it was several days before he got to me.

Even with the all wheel drive engaged the roads were treacherous. I saw very few other cars on the roads. It took me almost 45 minutes to reach the outskirts of Winter. The Amoco station was closed as my headlights scraped the building.

My heart skipped a beat because I didn’t spot him at first.

And then I spotted him huddled near the door. He was hatless in the snow. He carried a bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag.

He opened the passenger door and stomped the snow off his black army boots before entering.

"Son, where’s your hat and gloves?" The rims of his rather prominent ears were red from the cold.

"Can’t find them."

"Your jeans are all wet. You’re going to catch pneumonia."

"OK, Ben," he said quietly. "That’s enough lecturing."

"What’s in that bag?"

"Fucking antifreeze, OK?" he snapped. If the mosquito was Wisconsin’s state bird, then drinking was it’s favorite indoor sport. Alcoholism was especially a problem the further north one lived. The long, dark nights begged for an anesthetic to deaden the pain and dispel the boredom. The legal drinking age in Wisconsin is 21, of course, but Jason’s older brothers bought alcohol for him to circumvent the law.

"If it keeps snowing like this I’m going to have to cancel my trip to my sister’s," I said in an attempt to change the topic. "My nieces and nephew will be so disappointed."

"That sucks," he said as he watched the snow swirl in front of the headlights.

"Your grandma sent your cookies to my house. The package came by UPS today."

"You didn’t open it, did you?"

"No, of course not."

I was upset that he would even think such a thing. There were so many questions on my mind. There were so many things I wanted to ask him about. The questions jumped around my mind like Mr. Gower and Violet trying to stick their heads out of the window.

The silence screamed in the car.

After 45 tense minutes, we finally arrived home. The dogs greeted us with ebullience. Jason took off his coat and hung it on a peg near the front door, but didn’t remove his boots.

"Please take off your boots. You’re tracking snow on the carpet." The last word of my sentence was punctuated by the slamming of his door behind him. He had taken the bottle with him.

I fumed as I resumed my place in on the couch in front of the TV. Why did he have to pick tonight to act like a brat?

Then it dawned on me. Earlier in the day, Don had truthfully stated that Jason had never caused me any problems. Maybe he was feeling his oats a bit. Or maybe he was just acting his age.

From behind his bedroom door, I heard the staccato sounds of hip hop music. His generation had embraced the musical form - mine never would. To me the term ‘rap artist’ is an oxymoron.

For a half hour, I lay on the couch and stewed over his behavior. Finally, I decided I was hungry and I heated some leftover stew in the microwave.

I rapped gently on his door. "I nuked some leftovers if you’re hungry."

The volume of the music suddenly declined to the level of a jet airplane. "OK." His voice was barely audible through the door over the music.

Four pairs of eyes - two canine and two feline - watched me as I consumed a bowl of the stew. They smelled meat and they wanted their share.

I set the empty bowl on the coffee table and started a fire in the fireplace. From my CD collection, I selected the Johnny Mathis Christmas album. So, sue me. I’m a gay man. Besides, my mom always played this album - on vinyl, of course - during the holidays, so it brings back a lot of memories.

The music emanating from Jason’s room stopped abruptly. Suddenly, Jason burst forth, carrying the bottle of vodka that was no longer sheathed in a bag. He was wearing a Gap T-shirt and plain white socks. He had also changed his jeans to Levi’s 501. I swallowed nervously. Normally Jason’s fashion sense ranged from baggy to super baggy. Like most kids his age, he favored urban fashions like Fubu. The snug fitting 501’s did not fit his persona, but he allowed me to buy them for him and wore them on occasion.

I wondered what tonight’s occasion was.

I was able to steal furtive looks at him as he passed through the living room to the kitchen without a word. The jeans accented his ass and his narrow waist beautifully. His snowy T-shirt emphasized his wide shoulders. The couch faces away from the kitchen so I couldn’t see his actions.

"Ben," he said quietly. I swiveled my head.

I saw him unscrew the bottle and dump the contents into the sink.

I couldn’t help but smile. I moved next to him at the kitchen sink.

"Good move," I said, giving him a playful poke in the ribs. Tickling was a form of communication and play. It was a form of affection.

"So, you want to play, do you?" He crouched down in a tackle position and backed out toward the living room. He had a huge grin on his face.

This was the Jason I loved. Playful, fun, full of life. He made a few swipes at me but missed.

I was able to grab his T-shirt at a moment when Jason was off balance. He landed hard on the carpet.

He wrinkled his nose. "This music! I can tell you’re an old man!"

"You little shithead!"

We wrestled and rolled and laughed and tickled each other until we were breathless and giddy. We rolled all around the great room until we stopped close to the coffee table. I ended on top of him. I could feel his erection through his jeans.

Our eyes met for a brief, uncomfortable dance. I began an assault on his ribs, one of his most ticklish places. My fingertips reported pleasure as his T-shirt worked up his torso and they came into contact with the smooth skin of his lower abdomen.

"No, stop!" he gasped. He thumped his heels on the floor but he had a huge smile on his face.

Suddenly, he lifted his head off the floor and his forehead came into painful contact with the underside of the coffee table. Everything on top of the coffee table jumped. The spoon rattled in the empty bowl I had left there.

His face screwed up and he started to cry.

I wanted to kill myself with remorse. I pulled him up into a sitting position and embraced him tightly.

"I’m sorry, Jase, I’m so sorry. Let me look at it." I inspected his forehead. There was no mark at all. I was confused; he didn’t look injured.

I realized his wound wasn’t physical. "Shhh! It’s OK, Jason." I rocked him gently as his sobs wracked his slim body. I stroked his soft brown hair. "You’re not bleeding." It was a lame attempt at humor, and when he continued to cry, I felt stupid about saying it.

"I’ll kiss it and make it better." I placed my hands on his cheeks, tilted his head down and planted a noisy kiss on his forehead.

He raised his head and gazed into my eyes. His crying did indeed begin to subside. I wiped the tears from his cheeks.

"What’s wrong, Jason? Can you tell me?"

He sniffled and wiped his nose on the sleeve of his T-shirt. "I always miss Gramps at Christmastime."

I stood and held my right hand out to him. "Come on, the couch is more comfortable." Jason’s grandpa, Emily’s husband, had a massive stroke three years ago on the day before Christmas Eve. Jason was their favorite grandson. His grandpa was like a father to him and Jason adored them. They were lovely people and I mourned George’s death almost as much as Jason.

Jason sat right next to me on the couch. I put my left arm around his shoulders and he laid his head on my chest. It was familiar position for us. Many times we had sat together just like this, sometimes on the porch, or down by the lake or even in my Jeep. Outside we could see that the snow was still falling. Unlike earlier in the day, the wind had picked up and the snow looked to be falling almost horizontally.

We sat cuddled together listening to Johnny warble.

Sleigh bells ring, are you listenin’

In the lane, snow is glistenin’

A beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight

Walking in a winter wonderland….

I was feeling so happy and content, I propped my feet on the coffee table which is normally a forbidden act. Jason followed suit. He rubbed his feet against mine.

"Ben?" he said softly.


He didn’t say anything for a long time. I looked at him. He looked up at me with glistening eyes.

He moved his face closer to mine. I was completely unprepared for what happened next. He kissed me. Right on the lips. I had never kissed him on the lips before.

It was electric. It was ecstasy. It was frightening.

I broke the brief kiss first.

"Ben…" his voice trailed off.


"Ben," he whispered. "Kiss me again."

I stood up. "This is not happening. This is so not happening!"

Jason also stood and crossed over to the windows. "I’m sorry," he addressed the glass.

My head was spinning. Don was right. Evan was right. I did feel more for Jason than I admitted to myself. And Jason was in love with me. I saw it in his face. He had stopped crying by this time and he was looking at me with lust and hunger. My heart thumped wildly in my chest.

"How about some hot chocolate?" It was an attempt to change the subject. Anything but love.

"Not right now." He was silent for a time, but I could see the uneasiness reflected in the dark glass of the door. "Didn’t you like it?"

"In a way, Jase, yes. But it wasn’t appropriate. You’re like a son to me…."

"Fuck appropriate!" he shouted. "I’m not your son!" He spun on his heels and faced me. "I’m not your son," he repeated in a more reasonable tone. "I don’t want to be your son. I never wanted to be your son. I want to be your…" He stopped himself abruptly.

"My lover," I said quietly.

"Yeah," he turned to face the window again. His shoulders slumped as if he was defeated.

I moved behind him and placed my hands on his shoulders. "Jason," I whispered. "Come on over to the couch and let’s talk."

But instead of moving to the couch, Jason whirled around and embraced me. He closed his green eyes and puckered his sweet lips.

Strange the things one thinks about when you’re kissing. I opened my eyes to see the snow beginning to drift inside the screened porch, having been driven there by the wind. Yet, snug and warm inside my log home, my inhibitions were melting away like the spring thaw.

Our lips met again and I tasted his honey; the honey of his youth, his virility, his blind faith in me.

He made little moaning sounds deep in this throat. I wrapped my arms around his impossibly small waist.

Our lips parted and he rested his head against my shoulder.

He took me by the hand and led me back to the couch. The lights on the Christmas tree and around the windows twinkled merrily just for us. He sat while I stood over him.

"I want to suck you," he announced.


He reached up and placed his index finger over my lips. "Please. Let me do this for you."

He sat on the edge of the couch and unzipped my jeans. Impatiently, he yanked both my jeans and my underwear down to my ankles. "Oh, yes," he husked. "You don’t know how long I’ve waited for this."

Without another word, his mouth was velvet fire on my stiff cock. He sucked vigorously and I was afraid he would make me come too soon. He seemed to have some experience as a cocksucker. I made a mental note to discover later where that experience came from.

"Take it easy, Jason. I don’t want to come yet."

I knelt down between his knees. My hands slipped under his T-shirt and explored his flawless skin of his chest and torso. He squirmed as I tweaked his nipples gently. I pulled his T-shirt off and he assisted by lifting his arms over his head.

As I kissed his left nipple, he moaned my name.

I was approaching the bridge.

Slowly and sensuously I unbuttoned his fly. I finally realized then that he had worn this particular pair of jeans to seduce me. He knew what a fetish I had for button fly jeans. He lifted his butt off the couch so I could pull the jeans and his underwear off.

The bridge loomed ahead.

He was circumcised - but then again I had known that from the first time he flashed it at me when he was about fourteen.

I’m a size queen. I’ve learned to embrace my inner size queen and make peace with him. Chris was hung well and I’m sure it was his cock size that kept us together years after we should have gone our separate ways. Jason, too, was hung well. It was such a pretty cock. It was straight and smooth and the circumcision scar was barely noticeable.

It was attached to a young man that I cared about. That was all that mattered at the moment. I intended to give him pleasure.

I knew that once I was on the bridge, there was no turning back. What the fuck was I doing? I was the adult in this situation; I should be in control. But I loved him so much and I wanted to pleasure his body as he did mine.

I began crossing the bridge.

His cock was smooth against my tongue and it tasted wonderful. I cupped his balls with my right hand as my left explored the flat plains of his chest. I had waited so long to make this journey with Jason and now that we were on the bridge together, nothing mattered to me. My only concern was to bring my young man to orgasm.

He moaned my name a few times and ran his fingers through my hair. Jason thrashed about on the couch and tossed his head from side to side.

Apparently, we had crossed the bridge a bit too quickly. Suddenly, Jason arched his back, moaned "Oh, Ben!" and shot his load. The first stream of come streaked across my cheek.

"Shit! I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to come so fast!"

"It’s OK, sweetie."

"I’m sorry."

"Really, it’s OK."

"I’m sorry! It’s my fault! I really wanted this to…."

"Stop apologizing already!" I said with a smile as I stood in front of him. In a gentler voice, "Stop apologizing and finish me." My right hand guided my cock past his lips while I placed my left on the back of his head.

With a thrust of my hips and a shove of my left hand, I pushed my cock down his throat. I was a bit rough and I realized I was taking a chance.

But Jason seemed to love it. His throat adjusted to the penis invader buried in it and I allowed his to find his own rhythm. He sucked vigorously and I wanted to reward his efforts.

He raised beautiful green eyes to my face to assure that he was giving me satisfaction. I smiled and nodded a confirmation to him.

Finally, at long last, I felt the tension build in my balls. I felt that familiar feeling that I was ready to shoot.

"I’m coming, Jase."

His response was to clamp his lips tighter around my cock. I shot my load in his mouth and he swallowed my juice. I love the feeling of shooting in someone’s mouth.

He smiled up at me and there was a dribble of sperm at the corner of his mouth. He pulled me to my knees and hugged me tightly as if trying to fuse our bodies into one.

"Oh, Ben, Ben," he whispered in my ear. "I love you."

"Thank you, Jason." I wasn’t ready to say the words back to him. He seemed to know and accept that fact.

I could smell my own semen on his breath.

"I’m going to clean up a bit." I glanced at the snowscape outside. "Looks like you might be here a few days," I observed on my way to the bathroom.

"I planned it this way."

"Some planning," I snorted. "Did you request this snow, too?"

"Yup. I wanted to be alone with you."

"I’ll have to call my sister tonight," I spoke to him from the bathroom. I studied my reflection in the mirror. This was the same mirror at which I had taught him to shave. It was the same mirror and I was the same man. My dark hair was streaked with gray, but luckily, I hadn’t lost much yet. I’m not overweight; I’ve managed to maintain my 36" waist. Yet, I am 42 and I do have the love handles to prove it. But still there was a difference. Had I lost my mind? I had just had sex with a man young enough to be my son. And he had just declared his true feelings for me. What was I going to do? What the hell had I gotten myself into?

Jason entered the bathroom as I exited. He gave me a playful poke in the ribs. "I think I could go for some hot chocolate now. I’ll bring out some of Grammy’s cookies to go with it."

"Excellent idea." I should have felt some sort of remorse or guilt. But I didn’t. Instead, I was elated. I felt really good. I decided to make real old-fashioned cocoa with milk, sugar and Hershey’s powdered cocoa. I placed a pot on the stove and started to simmer the milk gently.

As the cocoa warmed on the stove, I dimmed the lights, except for the Christmas tree and the lights around the windows. I poked the fire in the fireplace and added another log.

Jason returned to the couch first with the box of cookies. I carried two steaming mugs of rich cocoa to the living room. Mr. Gower and Violet followed, hoping to get a taste.

Jason had already torn the brown paper off the box. The box was indeed a shirt box and in a previous incarnation had come from JC Penny’s. He lifted the lid of the box and removed a layer of waxed paper.

Nestled in the box between the spritz cookies and the snickerdoodles was a ring box.

"What’s that?"

"Gramps left it to me when he passed away. Open it."

I removed the ring box covered in navy blue velveteen. When I opened it, there was a golden wedding band.

"I don’t understand."

"Grammy kept it for me. She said to tell her when I found someone that I loved and she would send it. Well, I found someone."

"It’s beautiful."

"Here, let put it on your finger." He slid it on my left ring finger, but it was way too big. He slid it on my middle finger instead and it fit perfectly.

"Does your grandma know you were giving it to me?"

"Oh, yes. She laughed and said, ‘It’s about time.’ In fact, she thought we were doing it a long time ago."

I had to laugh. "I’m glad she had such confidence in me."

"She likes you a lot. She knows how much I love you." He raised the ring to his lips and kissed it. "I want to live with you, Ben. I want to be your man. Do you love me?"

My voice was horse with emotion. "Of course I love you."

"Can I move in, Ben?"

I bit my lip. How was I going to answer him?

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it. As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome at Criticism is welcome, too, as long as you can point out specifics and make suggestions for improvement. And don’t forget to visit my website New chapters are always posted there earlier than here.

Other stories on Nifty:

Paternal Instincts, Family Instincts, Thicker Than Water.....College & Relationships

Pocketful of Stars.......................Young Friends

Resurrection Harry......................Science Fiction

Cooksville Chronicles.................Historical

Tales From the Northwoods.......Beginnings