Warning, Disclaimer, etc., from Viking_30@yahoo.com, alias Bob Nelson.

The following story contains graphic descriptions of  tender feelings,  love, and sex between two consenting, adult males.   If this turns you off, if you are below the legal age to read about it in your locale, or if you are against freedom of the press for adults who WANT to read such stories, LEAVE!

The Bagboy
Chapter 6
by Bob Nelson

Brief Synopsis:  Greg and I had just been released by Ralphie, who had gotten the drop on his Daddy and was holding him at bay.   But we were way out in the woods, and I was still bleeding and weak.   You'd get more out of this episode if you'd go back and read the whole series up to this point.

Ralphie kept looking at his father, holding the rifle by the pistol grip on its stock, pointing it at his dad's feet.  With his other hand, he felt through his overall pockets until he found two more shotgun shells.  "Knew they were in here.  I like to take two shells with me to have a spare.   These are left over from my last two hunts."    With a grim smile, he picked up the shotgun and asked Greg, without looking at him, "Can you shoot a scattergun?"

Greg answered, "Yeah.  I've hunted a lot of birds and squirrels - - - even got a bobcat with one."

Ralphie handed Greg the shotgun and said "Good!  Shoot his sorry ass -- or blast him right in the gut if he tries to rush us -- or to get away.  I'm going to tie HIM to the tree, now.    Oh, it's OK,  I've learned how to tie rope together that's been cut so it's stronger at the knot than anywhar else.   You there (nodding quickly at me),  kin you hold a gun and shoot it?  Or lean agin that tree over thar to keep away from Daddy and out o' yer buddy's line o' fire?

I said "Gotta  lean against the tree.  Awful weak.   Lost a lotta blood."

Ralphie gave me a quick glance, noted again all the bloody clothes, and saw that the wounds were beginning to seep, again.   "Good call.  It takes a smart man to know when he CAIN'T do what he rilly wants to."   He circled around to hand Greg the rifle, too.  Greg handled them like they were extra arms on his body.  I idly wondered if that's where we got the term "firearms?"

Ralphie turned back to his father.  "Come on, you old Fart, belly up agin the tree.  Yeah, the same one.  Right whar you were gonna murder both o' these guys.   YOU can be tied up and then we'll let THEM decide what to do with YOU."    Instead of walking right up to his father, into his reach, Ralphie circled around to where he'd seen  a knotted stick that was a perfect club.   He picked it up then sidled toward his Daddy and waited for the skanky old bastard to make the first move.   Ralphie was lighter, but quicker,  so when his daddy stopped faking the "serious wounds" and lunged for Ralphie, Ralphie jumped to the side and brought the club down behind the man's ear.  The THUNK echoed through the glen as the mad dog homophobe moaned and sank down to the ground, unconscious.   Ralphie quickly drug the man over to the tree, pulled his arms behind him  and threw a couple of loops around his wrists.   Then, with the man incapacitated, Ralphie put a length of still whole rope under his Daddy's arms.  Greg rushed over and helped Ralphie hoist the old man up, snugly, face against the oak.   They quickly lashed him to the tree, as Ralphie expertly knotted the rope segments and tied  it each time it crossed any other rope.   After his body and legs were lashed, Ralphie untied the man's wrists, leaving a knotted rope around one, then walked around the tree, tied it to his dad's other hand, then tightened the rope firmly.  Now the man who was going to shoot us was tied up tighter than we'd ever been.

For the first time in what seemed forever, Greg was able to relax his guard.   He heaved a huge sigh of relief, smiled at Ralphie who was standing by him, patted him on the shoulder and said

"Great job, Ralphie. You saved our LIVES!  THANKS!  - - -  but you put your own in jeopardy."

Then Greg came over, hugged me very carefully, and kissed me on the cheek.  We'd all been living on adrenaline, and the release of that tension made us all so weak that Greg and Ralph could hardly hold up the weapons.  I was completely wiped out, sagged back against a tree and slumped to the ground.  Greg and I had been shot at, I was hit, then we were  taunted and threatened with death.  I don't know what Greg did, but I closed my eyes to avoid seeing our executioner pull the trigger.  THEN, at the last instant, we were given a stay of execution -- by the executioner's SON!  NOW the threat was over!    Total relaxation in all those tense muscles, nerves, and sinews.   As Jackie Gleason used to say,  "How SWEET it IS !!"  YES!  - - -  But we weren't out of the woods, yet.  Literally.

I looked at Greg with love in my eyes and said, "Thanks Greg, my love."

He got tears in his eyes and replied, "I never knew till today how much I love you, Bob."

We both looked over at Ralph-Ralphie at the same moment.  THAT  young man had just realized that he'd REALLY put his ass in a crack!  He was looking at us with new feelings chasing themselves around his face: relief, acceptance, "but where the hell do I fit?"   WE were almost safe, while HE had just cut all  ties with his Daddy, the rest of his family and this area.   NOW he had to keep ahead of whatever retribution the spiteful, sputtering, vengeful vigilante homophobe could dream up.  Greg and I both feared that it would be a quick bullet for Ralphie... with his father reporting "a REAL sad huntin' accident!  Ah'm jes' SO broke up!  Ah accident'ly killed mah OWN  SON."   Yeah.   Complete with crocodile tears!

"Ralphie," Greg began, as he walked back to the boy,  "we can never thank you enough for saving our lives!!   What was even braver was that you not only clobbered your old man to do it, but first got his attention by telling him you're gay.   That took a Hell of a lot of GUTS!  ARE you gay, or did you just tell him that to stop him from shooting us?"

"Is THAT what y'all call it?" Ralphie asked, looking confused.   "What the Hell is happy er gay about this kinda life, whar so many dipshit rednecks think they got open season on ya?  On US, now, I guess."

"Good question, Ralphie.  It's just a word somebody tied onto themselves when they got fed up with people like your Dad calling them queer or faggot, -- or pervert.  Prevert is the wrong way to say the word."

Ralphie squinted sideways thoughtfully, paused and with a pained look on his face asked, "What in Hell's the difference, if they're gonna kill ya whichever way they say it?  Yeah,  I'm gay, but I'll prob'ly call myself queer for a while.  I sure feel queer about all that went on here today!!!"

{Good point, Ralphie} I thought.  I was still too weak to talk -- and probably too weak to walk.

"You're right, Ralphie.  But the problem now is how we're all going to get out of here.  I have to get my friend to a hospital.   And we need to find you a place away from here.  A chance for you to grow up safe."

"You think I ain't GROWED UP?  Is that it?  After the way I saved you guys and got my own Daddy tied up."

"No, I mean you need some time around people outside of these mountains, learn how to live out there, 'cuz it doesn't look like you're going to be welcome around here for a long time," Greg said.

"Don'cha mean for EVER?  I ain't NEVER gonna be able to come back here!  It won't make no nevermind to THAT ol' sumbitch!!  He'll NEVER ferget!  He'll kill me next time he SEES me!  He said it today, and once he says he'll kill somethin', he never quits till he DOES!   So I'm outta here.  Nothin' here left fer me.  These er jus' about the only clothes I got.  An' I'm sure NOT sorry to leave HIM behind!  All he ever done was beat me, work me, and shout at me to make me feel wuthless.  Glad I larned how to use guns, even if he did always tell me I was no good at nothin'.  But I see whatcha mean.  I gotta learn to make a livin' and find a place to live -- where he CAIN'T find me."

This slender young boy, skinny from poor treatment, was now glowing with a new-found sense of self.  He had moved from fear to anger in action, to a sense of self.  He had  just discovered self esteem.  No, he had CREATED it by standing up to the mean, selfish, hateful man who had drummed into the boy a feeling of being worthless -- unable to do ANYthing worthwhile.   Ralphie's dark blond hair, which I had been only vaguely aware of, caught the last rays of the setting sun and shone like a halo around his head.  His eyes had the "look of eagles" and his shoulders had come up and back.  Ralphie had just put his boyhood behind him, and this young person, who moments before looked like a younger, more slender version of Michelangelo's David, now looked like a man.

All this time we were talking in low tones and watching Ralphie's father, who had come to and looked fully alert. Sure enough, he started hollering.   Ralphie, or Ralph, as it seemed belittling to think of him by the derogatory diminutive which his father called him -- turned, as his father screamed at us.

"You damned preverts tryin' ta have your way wi' my quareboy son?  Or did y'all already teach 'im what ta do and how ta do it?   By damn Ah'll git ev'ry ONE of ya,  soon as Ah get loose!"

Ralph strode over to his father, spat on his cheek, and said,

"Go to HELL, Daddy!!  You kept me here, to cook an' clean up some, but mostly to knock me around and tell me what a piece o' shit I was.  But I'm NOT a piece o' shit!  I only ever seemed that way 'cause I was hangin' around YOU.   I just wish I wasn't related to ya!  I'm leavin' and I WON'T be back!!."   He turned toward us with a tear at the edge of his eye, chin quivering slightly now that his father couldn't see him.

The pathetic old sack of turds spat toward Ralph's back, but it fell short. "You think yer gonna git AWAY with this?   Ah'll git the Sheriff to haul yer sorry ass in on attempted MURDER!   An' you think yer so high an' mighty now?   Lemme tell ya the real reason yer Mama run off.   When Ah found her in the cabin yonder over sixteen year ago, she was all swole up, pregnant, with nary a husban' in sight.  She'd been run off by her kin on t'other side o' the ridge fer bringin' shame on 'em and din't have nowhar ta go.  Ah axed her could she cook, sew, keep a garden, and keep house.  She said yeah, and decided I needed a woman.  Tol' her Ah'd keep her unless she brought shame on ME.   Wal, 'bout five yar ago she got to a revival meetin' and tol' the whole congregation her story.  Made me look a fool, so I tol' her ta git.  I said I needed ya to help me hunt, run the traps, an' cure the skins, did we get any, so she coudn' take ya wiv her.  So THAT's how High and Mighty yer Ma was.  An' you ain't nuthin' but a BASTARD, lahk I been callin' ya!"

Ralphie had spun around at the start of this tirade and blanched.  But as the vicious old reprobate tried to heap more burning coals on Ralphie's head, the words had the opposite effect.  By the time the vindictive spewing ended, the new Ralph was smiling, with a glint of pride in his eyes.  The first since we'd met him.  He walked over leaned in close to the man who had made his life Hell for 16 years.

"Thank you," he began in a quiet tone, as though he were having tea with the Queen.  "You have just given me the only present in my life.  And it was the best one you could ever give me!  You just told me that you are NOT my father!!!"   Ralph burst out laughing, whooping, dancing around the tree that held the wretch, "Ha ha ha, ho ho ho,  WHOOooo-EEEEEEEEEEEEE ! ! !  I'm FREE!   Free of YOU!  and I thank my dear Mother wherever she is that she prob'ly never let you in her bed for eleven years!   Either that or you couldn't get it up, just fired blanks,  or never even got yer rocks off!!  How else can you explain no kids with her?"

Ralph laughed louder with each phrase, laughed until tears rolled down his face, but he didn't even notice them.  The miserable son of a bitch who'd shot us, who'd cursed, demoralized and diminished Ralphie was now just sputtering and fuming, trying to start a word or a phrase, then stuttering in frustration.  He was pulling tighter and tighter against the ropes binding him, but Ralph had done a masterful job.  No rope was across the man's neck, so the old fart couldn't kill himself even if he'd wanted to.   Ralph finally ran down.  He'd let out all the frustration, pain, shame, and self disgust which was the only legacy the old man had given him.   Ralph started toward us, turned once to look at the old man, laughed, and ran over toward us, laughing.   He glanced at me, then turned to Greg and said,

"Mr. Greg.  This is the happiest day o' my life!   I never thought I'd be happy to find out I'm a bastard, but it sure beats all Hell outta bein' HIS SON!   I feel like I just got born and can go anywhere and be anything I want to be!   Let's get outta here!   Can I go with you two to one of the big cities?"

"Yes," Greg replied, "we ARE going to take you out of here, to be safe from him.   We're going to Lynchburg, and it's not a big city, like New York or Chicago."

"Oh, I didn't mean THEM,  I meant a big city like Amherst er Buena Vista.  I hear there's electric lights in all the houses, and most folks has cars.  Is that right, or has my frien'  jes' been spoofin' me?" Ralphie asked.  He had shrunk back into a boy -- a scared young teen.  All his brave actions and ability to make quick decisions seemed to leave him.  He'd just realized he was about to go through a door, and there was no turning back.

Greg laid his hand on Ralphie's shoulder for assurance.  It made Ralphie flinch at first, but then when he wasn't hit or kicked, he leaned in close to Greg to get what may have been his first warm and friendly human touch since his Mama had left.  He looked up at Greg's face half fearfully, half hopefully.  Greg smiled down at him and slowly put his arms all the way around Ralphie and hugged him.   Ralphie closed his eyes and shivered, then leaned in to Greg's hug while a wondrous smile spread across his face.  Greg reached up with one hand and brushed the boy's blonde hair off his forehead.  Ralphie looked up into Greg's eyes and the smile got even wider -- a real thousand watt smile!   God, when he smiled he was a gorgeous kid!  I had NO idea till now.   Greg's hugs ARE magic.  I know!  This one had soothed a badly frightened boy and lit a glow in him.

Ralphie's Daddy had been cursing, wriggling, shouting, and threatening us, but we'd all been able to ignore him in the relief of being safe --- safe for now.   Now the old, fat fart started another tirade.

"Air yew bofe gonna fuck him now, er later?   Guess tha's whatcha do an' thass why ya want him, ain't it?  Wal, he ain't no good to ME no more.  You kin have him -- till Ah find him and y'all, and get EVEN for THIS!"

Greg walked over to the ranting, frothing homophobe and calmly told him, "We're going to go find a State Trooper and swear out a warrant for your arrest -- for attempted Murder.  First degree!  Don't worry, we'll try to get him in here before it gets too dark.  Wouldn't want that bobcat to find you first.  Heard him on our way in."

"You mus' thank Ah'm STUPID!   There ain't been no bobcats in these hollers for twen'y yars!  An' Ah will be outta heah befo' any stupid ol' POliceman kin find his way in heah."

Greg walked over to Ralphie, gently took him by the arm, and brought him over to where I was slumped against the tree.   I felt weaker... but I would NOT faint or fall down!!   Greg looked me deeply in the eyes and kissed me gently on the lips, then whispered "You are SO special to me!   We've got to get you out of here."

He turned to Ralphie and said, "We're going to take you with us and let you stay in a safe place for long enough for you to learn how to get along in that big world out there.  Finish school and decide what you want to do for a job.  You saved our lives.  Now it's our turn to save yours.   You just wait here with my friend Bob while I go get my car.  I hope nobody did anything to it while we were up here."

"I don't think anybody's done nothin' to your machine.   I sat there for a couple hours jes' lookin' an' lookin'.   It's SO perty!  I was still there when Daddy found me.  He'd been lookin' for a while after he got the scattergun out'n our cabin.   Oh, err we all gonna RIDE in your machine to get over the mountains?"

"We will if it runs, and I have to get my lov--- friend to a hospital, NOW!"

Greg and I had been fascinated by our attacker's hateful blathering, and how it made Ralphie so happy, but my reserves had run dry, and I slowly tipped over onto the ground from where I I'd been sitting, propped against the tree.    Greg rushed over to find out if I'd passed out, or what...

"Bob, BOB!  Can you hear me?"

I had just enough left to open one eye, smile weakly, and whisper "Go get the Brat."

Greg jumped up, hollered to Ralphie, "Keep him covered!" and sprinted along the trail and out of sight.   In less than five minutes we heard the engine, and a few minutes later here came Greg, driving carefully along a foot path that was on the side of a hill.  Luckily not a STEEP hill.   I was just barely hanging onto consciousness, and felt my wounds starting to leak.   NO vehicle EVER looked so good!  He drove over right next to me, onto a spot that was almost level.  The only other level places were  the cabin's front and side yard.  Greg and Ralphie helped me into the passenger seat.   The back seat was too small for me to lie down in, and as Greg said, the shoulder harness would keep pressure on  the pressure bandage Greg had put on me.  I worried that it would rub right ON the wound if -- no, WHEN we went over any bumps.   {Well, here's my chance to TOUGH IT OUT!  I never should've said us older guys were tougher and survived better!!!!   Please, God - - - let me make it!   Is it getting dark?  Take some of the pain a while longer - - . . .}  Oblivion.

I'd finally passed out, and after Greg checked my pulse and breathing, both weak, he jumped in, fired it up and told Ralph-Ralphie to get in and hang on.  The boy got into the back seat with both weapons on safe, and off we went ,  carefully, but as quickly as Greg could safely go.   As we bumped away from our Armageddon, the old man cursed us, then threatened us, then pleaded with us to turn him loose.   It gave Greg and Ralph a deep feeling of satisfaction to hear him scared and groveling, they later told me.

 Greg shouted back to Ralphie, "Is there anybody else in your family or who lives back here that feels as strong against people like us, other than your Dad?"

"No, nobody else lives in this holler.  Mama left us about five years ago and now I know why.   Then I figgered she couldn't put up with his cussed meanness no more. Shore wisht I'd gone with her, but she jus' left sudden, one day when me 'n' Daddy was out huntin'   Now jus' Daddy and me live -- no LIVED up there a half mile.   We wanted to live down here in the GOOD cabin, but before Grandaddy died he said it was strickly for his other son, Adam, his first born son.   He said MY  Daddy lived up to his name of Cain all too well.  He'd almost killed his brother Adam when they was boys.  Cain didn't deserve to live there, only Adam."

Greg's felt a sudden chill and he later said he'd almost lost control of the Brat.  The son of a bitch  that tried to kill us both was his UNCLE!  His Dad's younger BROTHER!    That made Ralphie his first cousin!   What a wild twist!!!   I hadn't known Greg's Dad's name, but it had to be!   I kept my face as calm as possible, while all these new revelations went rattling up and down my spine, then raced around inside my stomach till it felt like a cream separator cranked up way too high!   But did that mean Greg's Dad would have some of the same homophobic feelings??  Were both boys taught those "truths" at their father's knee, in that cabin over there?

"Ralphie, did you have any more shells for the shotgun -- or for the rifle?"

"Yeah, I had two for the scattergun, one birdshot an' one double aught buckshot.  Ca'tridges is 'spensive, so we gen'rally go out with jus' one er two for each gun.  Ya larn to hit what ya shoot at with the first bullit if ya gotta put meat on the table.  I'd kilt my prey with one shot the last two times I was out, so kept these as spares. "

"That's why you were able to put the shotgun pellets exactly where you wanted!  And I sure am glad you kept the spares.  Thank God you're GOOD!  You DID save our lives, with the danger of losing your own."

Ralphie had quietly told Greg, "It warn't livin'.   I jus' felt like I was markin' time, till somethin' happened.  I didn't know if he'd kill me or I'd kill him, or I'd jus' go off through the woods and jus' keep walkin'."

"We're sure glad you HADN'T gone off.   When he brought you back we didn't know what to think, or to hope."

Greg had no more time for talk, as it had gotten dark about the time we passed where we had parked.   He sped up once we were on the smooth blacktop, and began to make time.  I was lucky I was unconscious, as he hit a few bumps, and took the curves fast, but we were alive and Greg was taking me to a Hospital.  He thought, {The Hospital at Amherst is small, under equipped, and barely staffed.  Probably NO one's there on a Saturday at 8 PM.   I'm going to turn my flashers on and head for Lynchburg General.   My Mom was a Nurse there, and it's a top level Hospital.. and I may know someone on duty to expedite your getting in.}

With flashers on, and flicking his headlights high-low-high-low, Greg drove about 65 to 75 down  Hiway 29 toward Lynchburg, passing most other vehicles.  But he had the Brat under total control.  He slowed for  the turn-off into Lynchburg, then again for the street to the Hospital.  He drove right up to the Emergency Entrance, blasting his horn, with the flashers lighting up the ER Entrance.  A grumpy looking Nurse came out, all in official white, WITH her R.N. cap and pin.  Guess she was Boss Lady, which she verified when she called out "What's all the NOISE out here??  This is a HOSpital, and this Entrance is for EMERGENCIES, which means Ambulances!!"

Greg hopped out as the Brat slid to a stop,  "Hi, Nurse Jane.   This IS an emergency!  Don't you think a gunshot wound and loss of blood for four hours is an emergency?"

"Greg???   Is that YOU, Greg?  Well of COURSE that's an Emergency!"  She quickly checked my vitals.  Later she told me my pulse was weak and "thready" and my breathing rapid and shallow.   I was in shock, but still alive.  Greg had gotten me there just in time.   She lifted a whistle from around her neck and blew a piercing blast on a bos'n's pipe!  She just blew "Set the Special Sea Detail.!"  Guess they use that here to signal "This is NO DRILL.  This IS an Emergency!"  It was a shrill and familiar sound.  My dad had been a Chief Boatswain's Mate, or "Bo's'n."  I faintly heard it.

Two Orderlies came RUNNING out pushing a gurney, slid to a stop and asked "Which one?"

Greg said she pointed at me, and ZIP, they were at the car with me.  They GENTLY unstrapped me from the Brat and lifted me onto the gurney, seemingly without moving any parts of my body,  just all of me went from sitting up to lying down.  Now they tossed the straps of the gurney over me but NOT over my wounds.  Quickly buckled each, tightened it, then they ran, pushing me in through the doors and up the hall, with Greg and Ralphie running behind.  The Orderlies only slowed down for the corners  and the door into the Operating Theater!   Not even Pre-op or Triage!

Greg and Ralphie collapsed into two chairs in the waiting room.  Ralphie had no idea how serious my condition was, but Greg did.    As he sat with his head in his hands, Ralphie leaned over and tentatively put his arm across Greg's shoulder, "He'll be OK, Mr. Greg.  You did good!  You got him here real quick, and I can tell they're good.  They'll save him."   Greg turned into Ralphie's arm, so it was around him, and Greg hugged the boy under the arms.  Ralphie responded with a hug, at first tentative, then stronger and stronger.  He realized that Greg needed the love and strength of a hug now as much as he'd needed it from Greg, back on the mountain.   Greg broke down and sobbed, now that the adrenaline rush was over -- again.   A Helluva day, so far, and it wasn't over yet.

After Greg's sobs faded, Ralph-Ralphie held him and stroked Greg's hair, making soothing sounds for ten minutes.   Then he asked, "What about that ol' sumbitch we left tied up?"

Greg straightened up, wiped his tears, got his handkerchief out of his pocket and blew his nose loudly.   He heaved a sigh, and stood up.   "Thanks, Ralphie, I really needed that.   Can I call you Ralph?   Ralphie sounds like a little kid but you sure haven't acted like a kid the last couple of hours."

The boy brightened, then beamed.   He stood up and gave Greg another big hug, but this was a happy, rib cracking hug of pure joy.  "I'd LIKE that!  I'd like that REAL GOOD!  I don't EVER wanna be called Ralphie agin!   That ol' fart called me that partly to keep me feelin' like a worthless dip-shit little kid!  But I AIN'T!  I feel like I've growed up ten years in the past few hours!"

"You act ten years older, too RALPH!,"  Greg said with extra emphasis on the young man's new name.  "Now I have to go call the State Police.  Come on with me.  I need you to tell me some of the roads or trails in that area.   They may want to ask you, too.  We can't do anything for Bob.  They're doing everything that he needs, in there."  He jerked his thumb toward the doors of the OR.

The two young men found the phones and soon had reported the incident.  The Sgt. on the Call Desk asked for details of where they could find the attacker,  which Ralph helped describe.   Then the Sgt. asked for  the name of another person who could substantiate where we were and that there had been a shooting.   Greg gave her Nurse Jane's name and the main number of the hospital ER, which he recalled from when his mother worked there.   The Sgt. thanked him and hung up.

Greg and Ralph walked back to the ER waiting room.  When they got there, they found a section with a couch, and sat on it.  They were the only ones in this entire wing, it seemed, except for those engaged in the OR.  Greg sent a silent prayer, turned and said, "Thanks for talking to the police, Ralph.   How do you feel, knowing they'll probably throw that old hellion in jail?"

"Free, Mr. Greg.  Free for the first time in my life, kinda like the time when I found a kit fox that'd been caught in one of our traps.  She had full tits, so I knowed she was nursing pups, just out findin' supper, and her leg weren't broke, jus' skinned.  She looked so scared and so pathetic, as though she expected me to jus' kill her.  I couldn't though, even though it woulda been a good pelt, prob'ly worth five dollars.  I'd had enough o' killin' poor critters, except those we needed for our food.   So I took off my shirt, threw it over her head and gentled her down, pettin' her and talkin' low.   When she stopped tremblin' and makin' them throaty li'l growls, I opened the spring trap an' set it aside.  I made sure she warn't hurt so bad she'd die, then set her down and pulled my shirt away.   She jus' sat there for a minute, dazed, then looked up at me like I was a god who'd come down to earth and let her live, again.   She gave me one look that was like she really knew I'd helped her on purpose, and it said "Thank you" plain as plain.  Then she turned and ran off into the brush.  I felt REAL good about that!  I never tol' my Dad--- that ol' sumbitch what I'd did.  Jus' kept it warm inside me, in a special place.  Today when you gave me that hug, I felt the same way that kit fox must've.  Thank YOU, Mr. Greg."

Greg told me that he puddled up and started to cry from the simple beauty of the boy and his story of love, helping one of nature's beasts.  He pulled Ralph into another hug, which they both needed, and held on as they both let quiet tears fall.  Peace.  Safety.  Love and acceptance.  All these washed over Ralph, shared by Greg.

Half an hour later, a Doctor came out of the OR, peeling his green scrubs hat off.  "He's going to be OK, gentlemen.  The surgery went well, and though he lost a lot of blood, he's doing well.   He'll be out for a few more hours.   Which one of you is a friend of Nurse Johnson?"    Greg raised a finger.  "Well, go see her to find out where you can wait to see this fellow.  She runs a tight ship, but doesn't want anyone to find out she has a heart of gold.   DON'T tell her I said so!", he said, turning with a smile.

"THANK you, Doctor!" Greg almost shouted, echoed by a soft "Thank you, Doctor." from Ralph.

{Wha?  Wha???  Greg?  Why do I HURT so much?  Where AM I?   Greg?  Where ARE you?  GREG???}
I had come to, but didn't know where I was.  WORSE, I didn't know where Greg was!!

"Gr-rr-r-r    Geh.  Gay-y-y."  I felt like I was yelling at the top of my lungs, but NO one was listening  WHERE was Greg?  Where was I?  Oh, God, don't keep him away.  I NEED him!   (Later I found out I was just squeaking.)

"Bob?  BOB?   Bob, it's GREG!   Bob, it's ME!  Can you hear me?   I'm here, Bob.  I've been here all night and all today.   PLEASE wake up, Bob.  Come back to us!   I love you.  I need you."

Those last six words were whispered, but they penetrated my fog like million watt laser beams, BURNING away the fog.   {Did I hear what I heard????   Did Greg say he LOVES ME??}  "Gay.... Gray ---  Wah -- Wa-wah ---   Waduh!"

"NURSE!   He's WAKING UP!"  Greg hollered out the door as he pushed the call button clipped to my bed.

Our friend the Boss Lady Nurse POPPED through the door, like she'd been just a few feet away for hours.
"YES, Greg.  Tell him to just take a sip, wait, then another sip.  His throat must be terribly dry with that Ox tube in one nostril.   It isn't past his vocal cords, though, so he can swallow safely if he's awake and alert.   BOB!  Do you HEAR ME?  ARE you ALERT  ENOUGH  TO  TAKE  A  DRINK?"

"Yeah.  Waduh.  Pea."  I replied.  Why was she shouting?  I wasn't deaf or dead, just groggy and THIRSTY.

"Can I give him a drink through the straw??" Greg asked, knowing it was usually an RN's or LPN's job.

"Of course you can, Honey.   It's what you've been waiting for, isn't it?  I TOLD you he'd come through it OK!"

Greg's hand went behind my head, raising me up high enough so I could get the bent glass straw between my dry, cracked lips and try to suck up some water.  It felt like I had two pieces of dry, split cactus leaves instead of lips.  OH.  Oh YEAH.  WATER!  A trickle, down my throat.  OH... MORE.  Greg was closely monitoring me and lifted my head a fraction higher, just enough to let all the parts work better.  Clamp lips around straw, raise tongue to hard palate, and begin to swallow.  Throat closing off the wind pipe, opening up the "swallow pipe"  -- and SUCCESS!  Another tiny swallow on its way to the stomach.  Each one got a little bigger.  Then Boss Nurse Lady told Greg, "That's enough for now.   His body isn't dehydrated, just his throat.  But it's sending Emergency signals to DRINK!   DRINK  LOTS  NOW!  But it can make him sick and we don't need him vomiting with all the tubes in and out."

{Tubes?  ALL those tubes???  GREG!}   "Gay-y-y?"

"Are you talking to me, or just calling me names, Bob?"

"Luh you, Gay.  Her you hay ih."

"You heard me say it??  Yes, I said it, but I whispered it to you.  I've been talking to you and sometimes talking loud to you for hours.  Was that the first thing you heard me say???  and You love ME??  No SHIT?  I mean REALLY?"


"Wow!  I heard  that Love speaks in a voice all its own, but now WE can PROVE IT!   Yes, Bob, I said 'I love you.  I need you.'   -- and I DO!  Oh, how I do!!!   Do you know how much you scared me?

"Haaahrie.   I haahrie."

"You'd BETTER be sorry, you crazy Cajun Viking!   What a blend!  At least the Viking part of you let you kind of shrug off a wound that might have put a lesser mortal underground.  Oh,,   BOB!"

I heard Greg sniff and start to cry softly, but very, very deeply.  Then sobs and LOTS of tears.  {Guess he WAS worried.   Glad he called me back!}

"Ah oo ohay  Gay?  I luh you.  I  loo."

That got his attention.   He raised up, wiped his eyes on his arm and said,  "Let's try to figure that message out.  I got 'Are you OK, Greg?   I love you.'  But what's  'I Loo?'   Wait a minute.  Your tongue's so dry and swollen you can't make tongue tip contact consonants.  The L is made the same place as T or D.  AHA!  Your message was 'OK, Greg.  I love you.  I do!'  Right?   No, don't  try to talk with your mouth, just talk with your eyes.  Yes.  You just told me YES!   HOORAY!  Twice sent, twice received.   GREAT message, Bob!  HOOOOOO EEEEEEEEEEE!"

This was said with a LOT of intensity of emotion, but not very loud.  Greg was sure smiling, eyes shining, though.  Tears still running, but fewer.    I sent him another eye message: eyebrows up, quizzical + smile.

"Me?  You BET I'm happy!!!   Happiest I've been in a while -- like 26 years!   Began falling in love with you and ALMOST lost you!  Then you lay there, faking that you couldn't hear a WORD I said, so I finally had to play my trump card.   Ace of trumps.   When I just *whispered* 'I love you' you perked up, opened your eyes and said 'I heard that.'  Best part was your next message, 'I love you, too.'   Of course you sent it in code, so I had to work and sweat to break the Code.  Hell, the Enigma code wasn't this hard.  HA!  I have a new name for you!  'Enigma.'  You are an enigma, wrapped in a puzzle, folded in a conundrum, or however Churchill put it.  Yeah, I know, two weeks ago we called each other "Lover" but that was during the heat of passion, when EVERY guy is in love!   This was different... we'd gone through Hell! Then I was SO afraid you were going to die!   You were SO brave all those hours when it looked like that redneck S.O.B. was going to kill us.  I just hoped he'd shoot me first, as I NEVER want to live without you, Bob.  I found that out today, Lover.  I want us to grow old together -- and today we almost died together instead.  Oh, BOB,  Welcome back!  You're gonna be ALL RIGHT!  and that means I'll  be  BETTER than all right!   WE'LL   BE   TOGETHER,  LOVER!"

Yes, Greg WAS happy and letting ALL the pent up fear out.   I'd NEVER heard him talk this much.  He was almost babbling.  He was carrying on both sides of our conversation, since I still couldn't really talk.  It felt like they'd packed my mouth with about 30 of those dry dental sponges, those gauze wrapped tubes of cotton.  {Oh well, what the Hell.  I'm sleepy, but it's OK now  MY guy is here.  My LOVER is here.  G'night - - . .} Zzzzzzz-zzz-zz

"Bob?  BOB?  NURSE!!!"

Nurse Jane was there immediately, again, they tell me.  Greg had a stunned look on his face, looking from me to her, mouthing the word "NO, NO.  Please God,  NO!!!"

She scanned the monitors above my bed, then watched me breathe as she reached over to take a pulse... which also let her palpate my skin/muscle tone and body temp.   One efficient Professional Nurse!

"No, Greg.  He  IS  OKAY!  He just fell asleep.  He's worn out, but he's breathing normally and on his own.  We never needed to put him on a respirator, thank God.  Some people have a terrible time getting weaned off of those.  He HAS had quite a busy day, lost a lot of blood, had a fun adventure ride through the mountains, and came through surgery like a champ.   When the anesthesia wore off, the FIRST thing he heard were your whispered words that you love him.   Well, Mister, THAT kind of medicine is not in MY pharmacy.  Wish it were, as it brought him up to full consciousness an hour or more before I thought he'd respond.   After 25 years in this wing, I've gotten pretty durn good at estimating when a patient will wake up.  YOU just ruined my forecast for THIS young man," she finished with a smile.

"Thank you, Nurse Jane.   But please, PLEASE don't tell anyone what you heard me tell him -- or what he told me.  It took me a while to figure it out, but he DID say it.  He told me he loves me too!  But my folks don't know and we had one HELLUVA day today, all because we were going to have one little kiss, just lips, deep in the woods.   We were NOT trying to flaunt it.. we just became aware of it a couple of  weeks ago.   And he's the FIRST one I've ever come out to -- two weeks ago!   He's only been out for five years, and it blew his marriage all to Hell.   Will you keep our secret?  Please????"

Greg had rattled on a high speed, hardly taking a breath, staring at her with a look of panic on his face,  Nurse Jane told me, later.   She just replied,  "What secret?  What magic words?  That you missed him?  You wanted him to come back.  Not to die?  I think it was MARvelous what a good friend can do, when it looked to YOU like he was dying.  WE knew he was in hardly any danger.  All vitals remained strong."  She gave him a big smile.

"WHAT???"  Greg almost screamed.  "You let me sit here thinking that he was at Death's door for the past eight hours when he was just sleeping off the AnesTHESIA????  What kind of a Hospital are you RUNNING, here?   It's enough to cause coronaries in the attending family members.... "  Then Greg realized that ONLY because this Nurse knew him and his Mom did she allow him to remain in a place where normally NO Visitors are allowed, or ONLY for ten minutes at a time, and ONLY parents, spouses or children of the patient.   Yes,  she DID let him watch in here, whereas he'd have been pacing, chewing his fingernails, going crazy with worry out in the halls.   He quickly caught his errors and his unwarranted anger, and was man enough to make amends, immediately.  "Thank you, Nurse Jane!  I apologize for my outburst.  YOU have let me watch over the man I love, the same day I verified that I DO love him.  Sorry to fuss at you and this department.  Really sorry!  In fact, I'm ashamed of myself for talking like that."

Nurse Jane said he looked SO contrite and abashed that she immediately consoled him with "Greg.  YOU went through a possible greater trauma than this man.   I think I heard him say just before anesthesia, 'Thank God I got shot, not Greg.'   He was not sure if he was going to make it, but was happy that if one of you didn't, it could be HIM, sparing your younger life."

"But I couldn't GO on without him!"

"And you let him know that during the last eight hours.   THAT's why I broke all the rules and let you stay.  I KNEW you had the medicine that he needed to fight back if he WAS near the edge.   Maybe he wasn't --- but maybe he was.  You were his lifeline, keeping him from going over!   Feel proud -- but also humble and thankful.   We in the nursing profession know  there's a power greater than any of our care or medicine.   We call it a Higher Power.  That was what or Who brought him back to you.  That's not a bad endorsement  for a couple to start with!  But, of course, you two are just friends.  GOOD friends, but just friends.  That's my story and I'll stick with it."  Now she gave Greg a BIG smile and a slow, deliberate wink.

"You're SO right, Nurse Jane.   As long as he's sleeping safely and peacefully, I think I need to take a walk and stretch my legs.  Maybe get a snack, hit the John.  Is there a snack bar in the hospital?"

"Yes, but it's closed.  We do have snack and drink machines on every patient floor.  Do you have any coins?"

"Only about half a dollar, but I have some bills.   Can I get change from one of the machines?"

"Sure, Greg.  The ones on this floor will give change for one or five dollar bills."

Nurse Jane watched Greg amble off, as though he were just loosening up.   First he stopped to wake Ralph, who had curled up on some armless chairs and fallen asleep.  Nurse Jane could see how the boy was first concerned, then delighted as Greg told him the progress I'd made, and that I was out of danger, sleeping.  Greg gave Ralph a bill and pointed to an area they could see which had snack and drink machines.  Then she
kept watching as he stopped at the Nurses' Station where he leaned over and asked something from the Nurse doing a records update.  She told him something, then pointed, repeated what she'd apparently said, pointed again, and nodded when Greg apparently repeated the instructions back correctly.   Jane waited a minute, then wandered over to the Records Nurse.

"Nice young man.   Son of a Nurse I know, but she never worked here.  He and his friend had quite a scary time, today.  Guess he didn't understand my directions to the gedunk machines."

"Oh, no, Miss Jane.  He asked me where the Chapel is and if it's open now.  I told him it's never closed.  He made me repeat the directions, then he said them back to me.   I know he went there, since the snack machines are in the other direction."

"Well, good.  Glad you helped him.  He helped his friend by staying with him.  It looked touch and go for a few hours, but I never want EITHER of them to find out!   Guess Greg figured he needed to go thank the Great Physician for leaving his friend here so they can continue their friendship.

Greg had found the Chapel with no trouble, slipped inside, and found a simple, elegant, softly lighted place of peace and serenity.  Pews for about fifty people, but he moved up to the velvet covered kneeling board at the chancel rail.

"THANK you God!  Oh  THANK  YOU  for bringing Bob to me, then BACK to me, today.  Oh, YOU know how I feel about him, and that we both feel YOU have blessed us in our love.. otherwise we both would have been killed with that first, single bullet -- or by a second and third one --- or he'd have bled to death. Or any other way that he could have slipped off --- died.   But YOU heard my prayer.  Maybe he DID ask that he be shot, not me, but YOU brought us both through.. and helped us get a cousin of mine out of danger that I didn't even know before today.  Oh  GOD.   THANK YOU.  THANK YOU,  THANK YOU SOOOO  Much!  Now just ONE little prayer more, God.  Please show me how to  help Ralphie, and keep him safe and give him a chance to grow up.  He SAVED us, and I need to help him -- but YOU can help him better, and even more."

Greg wasn't even aware that his tears had flowed softly and silently all the time he was praying, and continued to do so for the next fifteen minutes that he stayed there on his knees.  Bob had told him once that he believed in daily prayer and meditation, and had learned that prayer was talking to God;  meditation was listening.

This chapter ran a little long, but I couldn't leave you with another cliff-hanger,  could I?   It almost wrote itself and took a couple of twists that I didn't expect.  Yes, I HAD made an outline.  The plot line and characters jumped the track and headed off on their own.   What do you think?  Should I let the characters continue to write their own story or stories?  Do YOU have any suggestions?

Send comments, suggestions, and constructive criticism to me at the email address at the top or to <NailsB69@hotmail.com>    All e-mail will be answered, as soon as I can.  Flames ignored.

If you want a dandy "filter" to keep any virus out of your computer that comes in via your email,  you can get  a FREE download.   I do not have ANY affiliation with the company.  Just found it in Inter@ctive, an Internet weekly 'zine.   Go to www.finjan.com and get "SurfinGuard", a 2.5 MB file.  Sorry, they don't make 1 for Macs.