This story concerns adult and teenage gay males who may be involved in sexual situations. If it is illegal for you to read such stories, or if you do not like to read such stories, please leave now.

This story is copyright 2006 by the author who retains all rights.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

This is my third submission to Nifty. My previous submissions can be found in the High School section under Kiel’s Story. Any comments or questions are welcome at:

A warm thank you goes out to all who write. I appreciate knowing someone is actually reading this stuff, whether you like it or not. I try to answer all emails, even flames. (I’m a writer, I live for rejection.) Although sometimes it takes a little time to get back to you, I do try to answer. If I'm remiss in replying to yours, I apologize.

The Pastel Cowboy

by Carl Holiday

Chapter 11 – Falling in Love, Again

Conan was standing at the bedroom door drinking root beer from a can when Zach woke up. He didn’t say a word, just stood there across the room not looking at anything in particular. Zach eased himself up in the bed, but was having a little difficulty considering his right arm was on the floor over near where Conan was standing. The bloody knife that obviously had been used to sever it from Zach’s body was stuck in the floor next to arm. Zach looked at his armless shoulder and, while he really didn’t want to because everyone in the house was going to wake up, he screamed as loud as he could.

Conan was laughing, a gut wrenching, guffawing laugh that made root beer trickle out of his nose. Zach could help laughing at the brown liquid dribbling out of Conan’s nostrils, mixing with the semen smeared on his lips. Zach couldn’t help himself as another scream ripped out of his throat and he fell off the picnic table bench where he was sitting next to his father. He looked up from the pile of cow dung he’d fallen onto and saw all of them, except Uncle David, laughing at him. He stared into his favorite uncle’s dark eyes and saw someone who looked familiar.

“Zach? Wake up, Zach,” Jeremy’s voice filtered in through the foggy mist of the dream. He wasn’t in Carruthers. He was in a bed in the McDonald house on Foundry Ridge. Zach opened his eyes.

“It was only a dream, Zach,” Jeremy said.

“Yeah, you should’ve been there,” Zach said as he watched a prominent vein snake along the inside of Jeremy’s right bicep and disappear under the sleeve of the white t-shirt. He needed to pee, right now, but he felt a little groggy. He looked at the clock radio’s digital display, it was six-thirty and time to get up. “Can you make sure I don’t pass out on the way to the john?”

“Sure, come on,” Jeremy said as he stepped away from the bed. “Sit up slowly and sit for a minute on the edge of the bed. What were you dreaming about?”

“The guy who beat me up,” Zach said. A wash of faintness fell over his eyes as his feet hit the floor. This wasn’t going to be easy. “I’m going to need help washing myself this morning. I can’t take a shower with the bandage over my eye.”

“It’s okay, I’ll do anything to help you,” Jeremy said as he sat down beside Zach. He was close so their thighs were touching. “Were you serious last night?”

“Serious about what?”

“About not having sex.”

“I promised your grandfather there won’t be any problems,” Zach said. He wanted to put his hand on Jeremy’s leg, but didn’t want to deal with what would happen next. “He doesn’t want to find us sleeping in the same bed.”

“He knows we’ve had sex,” Jeremy said as his hand slowly caressed Zach’s shoulders. “He knows we’ve already done everything.”

“I think he might regret that decision,” Zach said. He wanted to touch Jeremy so much, but this had to be worked out now while he wasn’t really able to do much of anything. “I think he’d prefer us to be a little chaste in the house, which means you’ve got to get your driver’s license. Jeremy you can’t imagine how much I want to be close to you, but I promised your grandfather.”

“Well that sucks,” Jeremy said. He stood up and extended a hand. “Here let me help you up. You don’t think he’d do something drastic do you?”

“He’s your grandfather. What do you think?”

“Yeah, he’d do something drastic and be nice about it, too.”

Zach went into his bathroom and Jeremy stayed close to him at the toilet. He didn’t mind since he was a little groggy from the pain medicine and figured he’d fall over if he was alone. His luck seemed to be going in that direction lately.

He’d been going somewhere when he left Carruthers in May and now he was very close to a dead end in his life because of an overwhelming desire to have sex. Yeah, he needed help. He was getting as loony as Steven.

Jeremy took his turn at the toilet and then began to undress.

“What are you doing?” Zach asked.

“You said you needed help with your bath,” Jeremy said as he walked over to where Zach was standing. He knelt down and pulled Zach’s boxers down to his ankles. “Lift a foot.”

Zach looked down and placed a hand on Jeremy’s head to steady himself as he raised his left foot. After Jeremy finished removing the boxers he stayed down on the floor. Zach knew what Jeremy wanted, but he wasn’t certain he wanted the same thing.

He felt the other boy touch him with his fingers and he knew he couldn’t stop himself from responding as Jeremy wanted. He felt Jeremy’s lips begin to caress his inner thighs just above his knees. He wanted this and, yet, he didn’t. He felt himself growing in the excitement of the moment, but something else, something far away was calling him. He looked down, but Jeremy wasn’t there, nothing was there. Everything was going away and he couldn’t stop himself from collapsing down on top of Jeremy.

“What the hell were you thinking?” Bud’s voice came through the fog as Zach slowly came back to an awareness of the present.

Zach opened his eyes and through the haze of fainting and his uncovered right eye he saw Jeremy whimpering in a chair on the other side of the room. He was back in bed and Bud was standing between him and Jeremy with his back to Zach.

“Well, do you have any idea what’s wrong with him?” Bud asked in a stern voice. Zach could tell the old man was angry and was somewhat glad he wasn’t the target.

Jeremy continued to whimper, which only seemed to exasperate Bud even more.

“Go to your room, we’ll discuss this later,” Bud said. Zach watched Jeremy stand and walk out of the room.

Bud turned and walked over to the bed where he sat down on the edge. He placed a hand on Zach’s thigh and stared into the boy’s eye.

“I doubted you when I guess I should have been more concerned with Jeremy,” Bud said. He was trying to smile, but doing a poor job of it. “Our doctor will be here soon. As far as I can tell, you’ve reinjured whatever is wrong with your face, but we’ll let him decide what should be done. Try to sleep.”

Zach stared up and remembered the doctor giving Paul instructions on what should be done about the broken cheekbone, how it was important not to reinjure the area. He shut his eyes, his uncovered eye, and hoped he could just fall asleep, but he worried about Jeremy; and, he wondered why he kept worrying about the boy.

He must have slept because he became aware of someone removing the bandage over his left eye. He looked up and saw an older man, probably the McDonald family doctor, sitting on the bed. Bud was behind him. Jeremy was over in the chair.

“Good, you’re awake,” the doctor said. “I’m Doctor Thomason. You wouldn’t have any instructions for this, would you?”

“In my bag,” Zach said. “They said something about a couple screws.”

“I was afraid of that,” the doctor said. “We need to admit him. I call for an ambulance. Do you know what happened?”

“He fainted,” Bud said as he handed the doctor the papers from Zach’s bag

“He shouldn’t have been up without help,” the doctor said.

“His help wasn’t paying attention,” Bud said, looking at Jeremy.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to save your eye and not cause too much scarring,” the doctor said. “Bud, I think we’d better get him down to University Hospital. There’s a maxillofacial surgeon down there who’ll do a better job than anyone I know.”

“We’ll do whatever’s necessary,” Bud said.

“Will you call Paul?” Zach asked. As he spoke he felt a searing rip through the side of face and up into his eye. His hand flew up and covered his eye.

“No talking,” the doctor said, pulling Zach’s hand away from his face. “We’ll get you a pad and no touching, that’s not good, either.”

“I’ll call him when we get you settled in the hospital,” Bud said. “Now, relax.”

Other than having a room full of medical students discussing his case every morning, Zach didn’t mind being in University Hospital. He had a great view of Portage Bay and the north end of Capitol Hill. Other than having a soft diet, the food wasn’t all that bad, either. All things considered, he didn’t see any reason, other than the obvious, for the nightmares.

There was Dr. Helen Cunningham, however. He’d never imagined a grandmother could be a psychiatrist, too. She wasn’t all that old, maybe mid-fifties, but her hair had gone gray when she was thirty-three. That came up early in their visits when she was coming to Zach’s room a couple times a day after the surgery on his face. He liked her because she was easy to talk to and he sensed she genuinely cared.

He was supposed to be at his last appointment right now at her office in the medical school. It was quite a hike and he should’ve left a half hour ago, but he couldn’t get out his door because he was certain Conan was out there in the halls somewhere. Zach was certain he’d heard Conan talking to someone in the hall earlier in the morning, but when he’d finally managed to get out of bed, put his robe and slippers on, and get to the door, no one was there other than one of the housekeepers.

“Where’s Conan?” Zach asked.

She stared at him like he was crazy or something.

“Where’s Conan?” Zach asked, again.



“I don’t know no Conan.”

“But you were talking to him a minute ago.”

“Hey, I just got here and there wasn’t no one in this hall.”

Zach stared at her in disbelief. He’d heard Conan. He was positive he’d heard Conan talking. So certain, in fact, he couldn’t get out his door in fear he’d be attacked again and lose his left eye. That’s what the surgeon told him. He had to be extra careful of that eye for at least a month. With Conan out there somewhere he wasn’t going to be able to protect his eye. He’d lose it and Paul wouldn’t want to paint him. He’d never get down to the studio.

All morning he listened for Conan’s voice, but didn’t hear it. Maybe he was looking for Zach and was caught by security wandering down the hall checking rooms. That could have been the reason Zach heard Conan’s voice, but he wasn’t certain that was the situation. He was late for the appointment, now, because …

… because …

… because …

… he couldn’t show himself in the doorway because Conan might see him. Zach felt the tremble way down in his gut. It slowly spread outwards. He knew that was so stupid. He was afraid of someone who in all likelihood couldn’t be there. He was afraid it was as simple as that, but the trembling continued and it was getting worse.

One of the ward RNs suddenly appeared in the doorway. Zach stared at her and hoped she wouldn’t notice him trembling. He tried to smile, but his facial muscles weren’t cooperating.

“Doctor Cunningham called,” the nurse said. “You’re supposed to be in her office right now.”

“I … you see … I … can’t …” Zach heard the words, his last words. He felt his legs give out. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t see. The world ceased to exist.

Zach opened his eyes and realized he was still in bed. Jeremy was sitting in the chair beside the bed reading a magazine. Sara was in the chair by the window talking on her cell. They’d been coming to see him in the evening ever since the surgery. If this was evening, then he’d been unconscious for close to seven hours; somehow, that didn’t sound very good. Then he noticed the IV. They’d removed his IV three days ago. This didn’t look good at all.

“Um, is everything okay?” Zach asked no one in particular.

“Uh, yeah, I guess,” Jeremy said, looking up from the magazine.

“What happened?” Zach asked.

“Everyone’s hoping you might tell us,” Sara said. She’d gotten up and walked over to the bed. “They thought you’d simply fainted, but they couldn’t bring you back, so they stuck the IV in your arm and did an MRI of your head. Grandfather’s talking to them now. How do you feel?”


“I’ll go tell the nurse,” Sara said.

“What’s wrong with you?” Zach asked as he stared at Jeremy.

“Nothing in particular,” Jeremy said.

“You sound worried about something. You’re not worried about me, are you?”

“What do you think? They called grandfather and said you’d passed out. They said you might have had a stroke or something. They didn’t know what was wrong with you. You could’ve died.”

“But, I didn’t.”

“But, you could’ve.”

Zach nodded acceptance of Jeremy’s assessment of the situation and turned to watched Dr. Cunningham and another doctor walk in the door, they were soon followed by the ever present clutch of hatchlings looking for a tidbit of knowledge that might give them some idea of where their future lay in medicine.

“I’ll be back,” Jeremy said as his fingers lingered over Zach’s hand.

“Yeah, okay,” Zach said, smiling.

“Well, what happened?” Dr. Cunningham asked.

“I was afraid to go out the door,” Zach said. “I thought I heard Conan’s voice in the hall this morning and as the day went along, I kept thinking he was right outside waiting for me.”

“Who’s Conan?” the other doctor asked. Zach looked at the nametag. It said the doctor was an assistant professor of neurology.

“The boy who attacked Zachary down in Texas,” Dr. Cunningham said.

“And, who was the boy who just left?” the other doctor asked. Zach looked at her. The tone of her voice sounded familiar, the stress wasn’t where it should’ve been.

“He’s my friend,” Zach said. “I’m staying at his house until my uncle returns from Texas.”

“Zachary, we’ve talked about Conan before,” Dr. Cunningham said. “I thought we’d gotten past that issue.”

“I thought so, too, but it sounded like he was waiting for me. He would’ve attacked me. I was going to lose my left eye. He would’ve hit me in the face. I knew that was going to happen as soon I as stepped into the hall. I couldn’t leave. I … I … you see he …”

“Zachary, stop!” Dr. Cunningham said.

Zach looked at her and felt the trembling in his stomach start to subside. She was smiling at him as only a grandmother can smile. He felt so much comfort and assurance in that smile he rolled onto his side and shut his eyes. She’d protect him, he knew that. She’d keep Conan away from him.

“Zachary?” Dr. Cunningham asked after what seemed to be no more than a few moments.


“Are you okay?”

“I’m sorry I didn’t come to your office for my appointment,” Zach said. He opened his eyes and only Dr. Cunningham was in the room. “I wish I could see you some more, now. I wish I hadn’t screwed up and not come this afternoon.”

“I’m not going anywhere for the time being,” she said. “Come on, get out of bed. Let’s talk for a while, okay?”

“I’d like that.”

Three days later, Zach was stretched out on a chaise lounge beside the pool at the McDonald house watching Jeremy swim laps. According to Dr. Cunningham, he was going to be okay, in time. Conan was turning up in the oddest places, but he was not waking him up anymore and Zach wasn’t afraid to go to sleep.

The only problem he recognized that might adversely affect him in the foreseeable future was his waning friendship with Jeremy, who seemed to accept Zach’s presence in the household, but, also, seemed to look forward to the day when Zach wouldn’t be interrupting his life. For Zach, who was no longer certain how to act around the focus of his attention, Jeremy’s growing lack of interest in their increasing separation aggravated his problem with getting rid of Conan’s ethereal presence in his life.

No matter where he went, the mall, zoo, waterfront, beach, or wherever, Zach saw someone or heard a voice that might have been Conan. Every time it happened an anxiety attack was nearly triggered, but the meds were helping a lot and he had some mental exercises that Dr. Cunningham taught him to refocus on the reality that Conan was in jail down in Texas, so there was no way that he could be anywhere near Zach. Yet, Conan kept popping up, usually at times when he was concentrating all of his attention on Jeremy.

Zach knew he was hopelessly in love with Jeremy, but they hadn’t kissed since he came back from the hospital. Jeremy was helping him with his bath, but there was nothing close to affection in the perfunctory way Jeremy touched him. And, now, as Zach watched Jeremy’s smooth, nearly naked body cut through the water in front of him, he could only think of how wonderful he felt when they were close, very close to each other in a nearly forgotten embrace charged with rampant sexual energy. It certainly was enough to give him an erection which he didn’t have because of the medicine he was taking for the anxiety attacks.

When Jeremy reached the far end of the pool, he pulled himself up and out of the water then slowly walked over to where he’d hung his towel. Zach watched Jeremy begin to dry himself then glanced toward Zach. Suddenly, he turned and headed toward the door to the patio.

“Jeremy!” Zach called out when Jeremy put his hand on the door handle.


“Can we talk?”

“Why? What’s the use?”

Jeremy went out the door, leaving so quickly Zach was still trying to come up with a response. When he realized Jeremy wasn’t coming back, Zach stood up and went out onto the patio, too, where Raul had breakfast spread out on a sideboard by the door to the kitchen. Sarah and Bud were sitting at the table beside the koi pool. They seemed to be in a deeply serious conversation, but Zach ignored them, focusing instead on Jeremy who was loading a plate with the chunky fruit salad Raul made fresh every morning, the two poached eggs Jeremy ate every morning, and four slices buttered toast covered with blueberry preserves.

“We need to talk,” Zach whispered in Jeremy’s ear when he came up to the sideboard.


“Because I love you and you’re playing hard to get, that’s why.”

Jeremy turned toward Zach and looked into his eyes. Zach stared back searching for some sense if his love was connecting with Jeremy.

“Grandfather told me to stay away from you,” Jeremy whispered. “You know what I did to you.”

“That doesn’t mean you have to ignore me like I’m not here,” Zach said as he picked up a bowl and began ladling fruit salad into it.

“What about your eye? I thought you were worried you’d lose it if I touched you, again.”

“Fuck my eye.”

“I don’t think that’ll work, but there is something I’d like to fuck.”

“Yeah, I know.”


Zach turned away and walked over to the table beside the kitchen garden where he sat in the only chair that was in the sun. Jeremy hadn’t followed, but went to the table where Sarah and Bud were sitting. Obviously, one of them wasn’t ready to take the next step. With Bud between them, Zach knew there was little chance of them getting together for anything more meaningful that a quickie in the bath and that wasn’t what he wanted.

With his right arm in a cast, his left eye covered with a bandage, and seeing Conan all the time causing him to fear going anywhere, Zach wasn’t certain he could be as sexually responsive as Jeremy might want him. There was, also, the SSRI Dr. Cunningham prescribed for him which was playing hell with his sexual response. It hadn’t fully kicked in as far as the anxiety attacks were concerned, but he was beginning to feel better about going away from the house, until he saw Conan lurking in some shadow, that is.

He watched the McDonalds laughing about something and wished he had the nerve to join them. Bud seemed to be busy with something so Zach wasn’t seeing him around the house. Sarah had a boyfriend now, a tall, skinny junior from Seattle University, named Darnel, who reminded Zach of Eb on the old TV program Green Acres. The boy’s backwoods Mississippi drawl only reinforced the image in Zach’s mind of a bumbling country boy who was more at home slopping hogs than some of the obscure, esoteric areas of number theory that seemed to interest him slightly more than his interest in Sarah. When Zach asked Darnel why he chose Seattle University over some more prestigious school in the country, he’d said, “My daddy and granddaddy went to Seattle U, so I had to come here. ’sides how else was I to meet a pretty girl like Sarah.” Or, that’s what Zach thought Darnel said as the accent was so strong he wasn’t quite certain what the boy said.

Suddenly, Zach became aware of a lot of attention being directed his way. He looked over at the other table and all three of the McDonalds were staring at him. Jeremy got up and walked over to Zach’s table.

“Grandfather wants to know if you’d like to go to the ocean with us,” Jeremy said. “He has a vacation home down near Ocean Shores and thought you might enjoy being down at the beach.”

“Sure, are you going?” Zach asked. He looked into Jeremy’s eyes hoping to find some emotional link he could hold onto, but Jeremy quickly diverted his attention to Zach’s half empty bowl of fruit.

“Of course, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Jeremy said. Zach thought he heard a little frustration in Jeremy’s voice, but he could’ve been mistaken.

“No, it sounds like fun,” Zach said. “Too bad I can’t go swimming.”

The McDonald beach house, nearly as huge as the Foundry Ridge house, was closer to Pacific Beach than Ocean Shores, but since Zach hadn’t been to the ocean he didn’t know what he was missing when they first arrived. The house sat atop a fifty foot cliff looking out over the Pacific Ocean and the beach, a narrow strip of driftwood covered sand, accessible via a long trail down the small valley cut by a nearby creek, wasn’t visible from the house.

They’d arrived on a Tuesday and it was now Friday afternoon. Jeremy, Sarah, and Bud had gone fishing every day since their arrival, leaving well before dawn to get down to the docks in Ocean Shores. Eb came down Wednesday evening and capitalized Sarah’s attention since then, plus being included on the fishing expeditions. Other than late afternoons and evenings, and except for Raul, the cook, Zach was alone in the house.

“This should suit you more than a room up on the children’s floor,” Bud said as he showed Zach into a bedroom on the creek side of the second floor on the first day. It was as larger as his bedroom at the house in North Park with a small sitting area with a small sofa, side chair, end table, coffee table, ottoman, and fireplace; a queen size bed, two nightstands, reading lamps, dresser, and walk-in closet; track lighting, original art, an entertainment center with stereo and television, and a window wall with slider leading out to a private balcony large enough for a couple chairs and table; and, a private bath with a whirlpool tub and separate shower.

“If you need anything, be sure to ask Raul,” Bud said when Zach started unpacking. “He likes you, you know.”

“Who?” Zach asked.

“Raul. He thinks you’re a good kid.”

“Good,” Zach said, wondering if having the cook like him was a good thing or not; or, maybe it was simply a suggestion that Zach wasn’t family and shouldn’t expect the three members of the family to arrange activities to keep him busy. He felt himself being subtly pulled away from Jeremy and suspected this week would make or break their possibility for a relationship in the future.

Zach stared for a moment at Bud as the older man went about describing the room’s features, including the French doors into the library where he followed Bud. That room was dimly lit by subdued track light in the ceiling and the slider out to a balcony, which had stairs down to the patio and pool below. There were a lot of books, novels and non-fiction mostly, the general theme centering on trains and train travel, arranged in custom built, teak bookcases around the room, one of which was entirely large picture books and in the corner a Z-scale layout was set up on a coffee table.

“The controls are in this table,” Bud said as he sat in the sofa and open the drawer of an end table. “This switch is for the lights and this is for the control panel. You can hold it in your lap for better control of the trains and switches.”

“You got a train set with the ocean, a swimming pool, all these books, and whatever else around here?” Zach asked.

“Certainly, after a while, at least a few years, even the ocean gets boring,” Bud said as he turned on the layout and started switcher to make up a mixed freight.

Zach turned and walked back to his suite. As he was passing a bookcase, he saw a hardcover edition of Murder on the Orient Express and removed it from the shelf. He looked around the room and silently wondered how long it would take him to get so bored of reading he’d have to play with the train set.

On Friday afternoon, Zach was sitting on the sandy beach leaning back against a large log listening to the waves thundering on the shore while he read Evil Under the Sun. He was reading a book a day and had to admit he enjoyed reading about the Christie’s Belgian detective. A light breeze blew in off the water while a few gulls wheeled and soared above. Although his eyes went through the motion of reading the book, his mind was elsewhere, probably somewhere out on the ocean where everyone else was fishing.

The week had progressed pretty much as he expected. Bud seemed to be doing everything he could to keep Jeremy occupied and away from Zach; and, Zach let it happen because all of the activities Bud came up with were things Zach felt incapable of doing, anyway, including go-karts, beach horses, miniature golf, and real golf down at Ocean Shores. They’d even gone up to a beach restaurant up at Moclips the previous night, leaving Zach to fend for himself down at the house. All of Bud’s actions were not as subtle as Zach thought they could’ve been, but he saw Bud’s intent. He certainly didn’t agree he needed to give up on Jeremy, but didn’t know what he could do against his host who could at any moment pack him off to North Park and out of Jeremy’s life permanently.

A gull silently swooped in low over Zach’s head and landed a few yards away. It was a young bird, still mostly brown, and too inquisitive for its own good. It stood away from Zach, staring at whatever interested its little black eyes, which Zach suspected was the small bag of corn chips beside him. He reached into the bag and pulled out a chip. The gull took a few steps toward Zach, ever present hunger overriding fear of the human.

“Want a chip?” Zach asked. The gull took a few steps back. Zach popped the chip in his mouth and the gull took a few steps forward. In the near distance, he heard another gull call out and turned to see three gulls over by the waterline.

“They’ll mob you if you play with ’em,” Jeremy said.

Zach turned at watched his friend walk across the beach logs toward him. He was wearing a white pocket t-shirt and turquoise board shorts.

“You’re back early,” Zach said as he tossed out a chip to the gull in front of him. An older gull swooped in and grabbed it before the younger one got up the nerve to hop closer to Zach.

“You’ve done it now,” Jeremy said. “Here, give me the bag.”

Jeremy took it and ran toward the water then started dropping chips from the bag along where the surf was washing up onto the beach. When the bag was empty he neatly folded it and shoved it into the back pocket of his shorts. He ran back to Zach and sat down in the sand on Zach’s left side.

“Grandfather and I had a fight,” Jeremy said as he took Zach’s hand in his. “He wanted me to drive him into Aberdeen and I told him I wanted to spend some time with you. He said I needed practice driving more than I needed to waste my time hanging around you. He swore at me. Then he said some things about you. You know, about what you were doing when we met.”

“I was wondering how long it was going to take him to figure out I wasn’t good enough for you,” Zach said. The gulls had all the chips cleaned off the beach and were heading down the beach. “I suppose he wants me to move out.”

“Yeah, he said you weren’t going to be around much longer, but I told him I wanted you to stay with us. He said you weren’t like us and I told him I wasn’t as stuck up as he was. I told him my father, his own son, was a sexual pervert and you couldn’t say that about your father. I asked him if he felt proud that his own son nearly killed a friend of mine. He slapped me.”


“Yeah, the bastard! Sarah and Darnel saw him do it, too. I told him if you had to move out, I was going too.”

“I don’t think that’ll happen,” Zach said, thinking of David’s reluctance to have him back in the condo. Zach fully expected to spend the next four years in a dorm room.

“Remember, I can move back to Switzerland.”

“Bud told me your mother doesn’t want you.”

“She doesn’t, but she’s hardly there that much anyway. The housekeeper takes care of us when we’re not in school. Mother will let me live there, if I ask.”

“Do you want to move to Switzerland?”

“No, I want to be with you. I want to be your friend. I want us to be boyfriends,” Jeremy said as he got onto his knees and knelt beside Zach. He leaned over and they kissed. “And, I’ll hold off, like you want. Okay?”

“Thank you,” Zach said. Jeremy leaned over and they kissed, again. When Jeremy broke away, Zach said, “It won’t be forever, I’d just like us to get to know each other a little better. I don’t want it to be just about sex, as much as I like doing it with you.”

Jeremy sat down beside Zach and leaned against his body using the older boy as a pillow. Zach opened his book and began to read. The rhythmic pounding of ocean swells onto the sandy shore played out to a couple gulls dozing one-legged a few yards away.

“Why is life so complicated?” Jeremy asked.

“Because we’re young and don’t know the shortcuts yet,” Zach said. “It’ll get easier when we get older.”

When the boys returned to the house everyone, except Raul, was gone. After going to their respective rooms and freshening themselves, they wandered separately down to the kitchen where Raul was tossing a salad, adding various fresh vegetables, and finally throwing in some canned salmon. He drizzled a red wine vinaigrette over the bowls contents, folded it into the green leaves spreading salmon, radishes, chopped sweet onions, slivered carrots and turnips, and chopped pecans through the mix before dishing out three servings. He set the dinner plates down on the kitchen table where three places were already set with silverware and water glasses.

“Your grandfather has gone back to North Park,” Raul said. “He told me to call Sarah to fetch the two of you when I tire of putting up with your shenanigans. He trusts that you will not sleep together, but I refuse to monitor your sleeping arrangements. Sometimes I just don’t understand that man. In any event, Sarah said she would be down next Wednesday to take you two back, or you can go with me in the Escalade on Thursday. Either way, she said something about registering at North Park on Friday.”

“Oh, yeah, I guess it is getting to be that time,” Zach said. “Maybe I’d better call my Uncle David and see if I have a place to live or if I have to go back to the dorm. I hope they’re back from Texas.”

“You could live with us,” Jeremy said, smiling faintly.

“I don’t think your grandfather will agree to that,” Raul said.

“Yeah, no kidding,” Zach said.

“What’s his problem all of a sudden?” Jeremy asked.

“I think it has a lot to do with how I’ve been screwing up my life lately,” Zach said.

“That could very well have a lot to do with it,” Raul said. “Plus, your friendship with Steven probably contributes a lot, too.”

“You know Steven?” Zach asked.

“Yes, but only in a professional sense,” Raul said. “He’s done a few watercolors for the house.”

“The ones by the pool?” Zach asked.

“No, they’re in Mr. McDonald’s suite,” Raul said. “I believe Mr. McDonald had high hopes for the young man. That is until his recent admission to Fir Grove.”

“You know about that, too?” Zach asked.

“You’d be surprised what, and who, my grandfather knows,” Jeremy said.

Silence enveloped their supper as each contemplated the degree of their interactions over the next week. Zach realized he had to take this opportunity to get to know Jeremy more than that the boy had a beautiful body and was a terrific sex partner. There would be sex. That was almost certain, if he could get an erection, that is. He wanted it nearly as much as Jeremy, but he wanted it on his terms, whatever they might be.

Raul was a puzzle, an unknown person in the McDonald household who seemed to be a lot more powerful than Zach had initially suspected. He assumed the man was mainly a cook, but he seemed to have a number of other duties in the house, including taking care of his employer. Obviously, Raul wasn’t a sitter, but Bud left him responsible for Jeremy and, possibly, Zach. The only problem, which wasn’t really a problem as such, as Zach saw it, was that Raul’s importance to the McDonald family was something he took very seriously, but not so seriously, though, that he couldn’t sit down at a table with Jeremy and his houseguest.

Zach picked at his salad as if looking for a fly that was not unexpected in any dish his mother made due to the large number of flying insects inhabiting their house. Flypaper and insecticides seemed to have little effect on the little black devils as they flitted through the screen doors and windows as if they were made of chicken wire; and, one always seemed bent on committing suicide by diving into a salad bowl where mayonnaise and leafy vegetables conspired to disguise its foul body from an unsuspecting bite. The foolish bugs that lurked near the mashed potatoes were easy to distinguish from the overall whiteness of the dish, but a salad or smattering of various legumes on a child’s plate required diligence to inspect every bite lest an unwanted crunch turned out to be a fresh, juicy fly.

Of course, a meal of a salad was not something he would have had at home where meat and potatoes dominated a plate. Salads and other vegetables were only reluctantly accepted and then only under threat of a wooden spoon smacking down upon tender flesh. There was nothing like expected pain to encourage even the most reticent child’s mouth. Zach thought back to his earlier days on the ranch when he’d watch his father eating the meat and potatoes, but only having no more than half a spoonful of salad or vegetables. He remembered thinking how great it would be to be able to not have to eat according to his mother’s rules, then growing up and discovering vegetables had a very important role and no matter their disgusting taste, texture, or likelihood of unwanted airborne bugs, they were necessary for growing bodies, but that was after he’d been in school and paid attention to what was being said.

“Zach?” Jeremy asked, breaking his friend’s train of thought.


“What are you thinking about? Me?”

“No, home.”

“Do you miss it?”

“I miss how it was before I went on that canoe trip. I should’ve said no, but I thought they were my friends. I guess you can never be certain who your friends really are.”

“I’m your friend,” Jeremy said. He placed his hand over Zach’s and their eyes met.

“Yeah, I guess you are,” Zach said. He scooted his chair back and stood up. “If you two will excuse me, I think I’ll go for a walk. I need some time alone.”

Zach half expected Jeremy to come running after, but that didn’t happen. He headed toward the beach, as a walk down the highway to the little store a couple miles away seemed to be too public for his sad mood. He did miss home, but not the home he left. There were happy memories and then there was the year of hell.

He stopped at a tree that fell in a winter storm and sat on the log. The little creek gurgled over rocks a few feet away, the water hidden by a broad swath of salal. He heard Jeremy’s feet crunching on the gravel path, but didn’t move. Not being in a mood for anything except homesickness, Zach didn’t look up when Jeremy sat beside him.

“Will you sleep with me tonight?” Jeremy asked.

“No sex,” Zach whispered.

“No sex.”