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 2000 by archer. Permission
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Matt had just returned from an early morning departure for Brian. It was Thursday morning, his usual day off. When he returned home his next door neighbor, Leah Levin said that she wanted to talk to him.
Matt seated himself in the other plastic chair. It was the first time he had sat on her porch. She had transformed the tiny concrete porch into an oasis with plastic lawn chairs and a small plastic table. And she had plants all over. Plants grew from planter boxes that hung from the steel tubular railing. She had filled in the area from the railing to the floor with black chain link fence. The fencing itself would have been ugly, but on it grew a lush ivy that Matt couldn't identify. Plants hung from the small roof that sheltered both their porches, and grew from pots on the steps and floor of the porch. Matt could identify the geraniums and petunias but was unable to identify anything else except for the ficus tree that sat in a large pot in a corner. Leah had a green thumb.
"I'll get you a cup of coffee," she said. Before he could protest, she was in her house. She returned with a mug that had been lightened with creamer. The coffee also had a sweet, nutty aroma to it. Matt sipped it.
"This is delicious."
"It's hazelnut from Gloria Jean's. I think
coffee is the drug of the 90's." Matt laughed.
"You're not usually up this early. In fact, I don't ever think I've seen you up this early."
He gave her a sly smile. "Leah, you've been watching me," Matt said in a teasing manner.
"Well, yes. It's the Jewish mother in me. I have to be careful."
"I went to St. Luke's to see a boy off to camp."
"Would that be the handsome blond I've seen the past few weekends?"
"That would be him."
"Don't worry, Matt. I just watch, I don't gossip. What's the story with him?"
Matt explained how he might be a foster father, and how the whole situation came about. He also gave a brief overview of Brian's background.
"That should be a wonderful experience for you and for him. I don't know you all that well, but I suspect you will make a wonderful father, Matt. You did say that you were a teacher at one time, didn't you?"
Nothing gets past Leah, Matt thought. "Yes, I was a teacher. And a camp counselor."
"Wonderful. You mom must be proud of you."
"Well....not exactly. She has her doubts. And to tell you the truth, so do I."
"Why is that, Matt?"
"It's something I've thought about for a long time, but it's kind of scary. It's a lifetime commitment."
"It's permanent, that's true. And being a single parent can be a challenge to anyone. Do you have family in the area who can help?"
"My dad. But I'm sure he won't want much to do with him. My mom lives out of state. My sister lives in Evergreen Park, but she has a little girl and she's pregnant with another. I don't want to burden her. I don't know what I'm going to do on the nights I have to close at the store. See, my company requires that the manager - meaning me - closes at least twice a week."
"I'd be glad to watch him."
"Oh, Leah, I couldn't ask that of you."
"Of course you can. I was a classroom teacher for twenty years before teaching at Governor's State." Before Matt had a chance to respond, she added, "And I don't want to hear any more protests. It's done. Now, tell me about that flamboyant man I see here quite a bit."
Matt grinned. "Marty? He's just a friend." The words `flamboyant' and `Marty' always seem to end up in the same sentence, Matt thought.
"With friends like that, who needs enemas?"
Matt laughed heartily.
"And then, there's a handsome younger man who had been banging on your door some evenings."
"What does he look like?" Matt asked, although he knew who it probably was.
Leah described Tim.
"Has he been bothering you? If so, I'm sorry."
"No. Not at all."
Tim knows what my car looks like. I can't understand why he'd be knocking if he didn't see my car. But to Leah, Matt asked, "When was the last time you saw him?"
"A couple nights ago. Let me think. Monday night, I think."
Matt absorbed this information.
"Is he a friend?"
Matt nodded, not trusting his voice. Still, hope burned white-hot in him. If Tim was looking for him, maybe he wanted to reconcile.
Leah reached over and squeezed his left hand. "Matt, is he more than a friend?"
Matt nodded. "My boyfriend," he said in a low voice.
"It was written all over your face, Matt. Something happened between you two, didn't it?"
"We had a fight."
"Want to tell me about it?"
Oddly, he did. There was something about her manner that was soothing and reassuring. Her brown eyes were kind and gentle and showed her concern. Plus, it was a lot like sitting next to a stranger on a cross-country flight. Sometimes it's easier to tell your troubles to a stranger. He plunged into the whole story. Matt surprised himself by keeping his emotions under control throughout the saga.
She listened carefully, leaning toward him. When he was finished, she was silent for a long moment. "You've got a lot of pride, Matt. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. Pride helps us keep our self-esteem intact. But, it's very clear you love him."
A stray tear rolled down Matt's cheek. "I do," he agreed.
"Then, tell him how you feel, child. At least do that. And give him the opportunity to tell you how he feels." Matt could only nod. He knew she was right.
"OK, good. And let me know how it goes, will you? You probably want to go back to bed, now. We can talk about the issues concerning a gay parent some other time."
"Thanks, Leah." They stood up at the same time and hugged. "You know, Leah, I'm curious. You've never told me what you teach at Governor's State."
For the long journey to the Wisconsin northwoods, Brian sat next to Mike. Jason Delcore sat in a seat across the aisle. Jason was a tall, lean young man, the same age as Brian but he was in a different cottage on campus. He had a younger brother, Kurt, who was riding on the other bus to camp. Jason had brown curly hair and blue eyes. He was always friendly toward Brian, although they had little in common. Jason was involved in basketball and wrestling.
Yet, sitting next to someone for nine hours, even if it was across the aisle, led to a certain camaraderie. Mike seemed content to watch the passing scenery out the window, while Jason and Brian talked.
"You can stay up until the counselors go to bed, which is 11. But you can't wake up any of the younger campers." Jason explained. "You can buy stuff at the store with the money you earn. You have to go to the evening activities, but you get to choose any of the classes that you want to go to." Jason was quiet for a time, then added more. "Also, there's only five or six guys to a cabin. I hope we have Tip. He's been a counselor there for a long time. He's really cool. And I hope The Beast isn't in our cabin."
Jason continued to talk intermittently until the Wisconsin border. At that point, he dozed off.
Brian slipped on his Walkman, and put the mystery tape in. Matt had thoughtfully written the titles and artists on the jacket of the blank Sony tape. Brian had never heard of most of the artists. Melissa Etheridge. k d lang. Erasure. New Order. The Communards. He liked the catchy beat of most of the songs, but was unable to find the connection between them. The last song on the first side started with a driving beat and a man's wail. It was Smalltown Boy by Bronski Beat. He listened to the tune the first time for the music, then rewound it and listened again for the lyrics. There was something about the song Brian related to. The boy was alone at a railway station with tears running down his face. The lyrics never explicitly said so, but Brian understood that the boy in the song was gay.
Brian rewound the tape a third time and
listened carefully. He closed his eyes and leaned back in the seat. Tears
squeezed out through his closed eyelids. Brian understood the connection.
All the songs were by gay artists or about being gay.
"Hi, I'm Pete Tiparelli. But everyone calls me Tip. Welcome to Illini Cabin." The tall, slim, brown-haired man shook Brian's hand.
The cabin was roughly twenty feet square. It was entered through a handsome screened porch ran the entire front of the cabin. Inside there was a small room partitioned off to the right. It was the counselor's room.
Brian dumped off his heavy duffel bag by a bed behind the counselors room. There were two bunk beds in this alcove. Brian took the lower bunk bed, Mike took the bed above him. Jason took the lower bunk bed on the other side of the alcove.
"You're crazy," Jason said to Mike. "Why don't you take a lower bunk somewhere else?"
"Because I want an upper bunk." Brian wondered if he was telling the truth.
"Take about a half hour to unpack and make your beds. Then, we'll talk on the porch," Tip said.
Luckily, The Beast was nowhere to be seen.
He had been assigned to the next cabin, Sioux.
More than a hundred campers sat on the Circle, waiting to be dismissed cabin by cabin into the dining hall for lunch. First, Bill distributed the mail.
"Delgado, Delcore. Smith. Rice. Kowalski."
"Looks like it's from Matt," Bill muttered as he handed Brian the letter.
"Who's Matt?" Jason asked as Brian sat down again on the circular stone wall.
"Foster father," Brian answered simply.
"Aren't you going to read it?"
"Later." Although he was thrilled about getting a letter from Matt, he didn't want to appear too eager. He stuffed it in one of his back pockets.
Brian dreaded going to his afternoon class. Would Gary, the nature counselor, even be there? The first few days, Gary had attended every class. He was a good teacher and good with the campers. But, then, he formed an alliance with Vance, another counselor who was a former St. Luke's student. Somehow, they snuck off camp every night and got drunk at a bar across the lake. Then, he would complain that he was too `sick' to teach class and sleep until lunch.
Brian felt overwhelmed. He was intelligent and creative, but he was running out of ideas. And the care of the animals -- feeding, cleaning the cages and watering them took all his free time. Worse, he felt that there was no one he could turn to. Jason and Mike had both helped him, but they had their own chores.
The animals were the main attraction of the nature lodge. The campers were fascinated with the reptiles and politely interested in the ducks and doves, but the most popular animals were those they could pet and hold. St. Luke's was a good institution, but an institution nonetheless, and many of the boys were hungry for attention and affection. The animals supplied a reasonable substitute for affection. They gave unconditional love regardless if the boy was a bedwetter, stuttered or was overweight. The two goats were friendly and would bump their heads gently against the humans for affection, but their fur was coarse and not very pet-able. The three albino rabbits were soft but they were timid not very responsive. By far, the most popular animal was the black-and-gray kitten named Prints.
Before Gary mistakenly surrendered to the illusion that being a camp counselor was like being at a summer resort with a lot of kids around, he did a brilliant lesson in animal prints and tracking. On the deck of the nature lodge, he spread a long length of butcher paper. Then, he mixed up several different colors of tempera paint. He took the then-unnamed kitten first, dipped his paws in red paint and had him walk across the paper. The campers thought this was so comical, Gary couldn't finish the rest of the lesson he planned. But the name stuck. >From then on, the kitten was called Prints.
When the afternoon class began at 1:30, he watched for the arrival of Gary. He waited with the restless group of nine-year-old Indian campers and gave up after fifteen minutes. He realized Gary was not going to show up.
"Let's go for a nature walk," Brian suggested.
"We did that yesterday," Lamar complained.
"Yeah," Todd chimed in.
"We wanna play with the animals," Julio declared.
Brian smiled. "OK. Tell you what. We'll
just take a short walk, and when we come back, there'll be enough time
to take some of the animals out of the cages."
At 9:30 that night, they had Tattoo. It was an evening ritual. All the boys stood on the porch of their cabins silently. Tip had made it very clear from the first day that he would tolerate no messing around during Tattoo. The boys of Illini cabin complied. Chris, the music counselor, went out on the dock in the lake and played two songs. The first was the traditional Taps. The second was a haunting but beautiful little melody that he couldn't identify. The tune gave him goose bumps. He closed his eyes and pictured Matt and his townhouse and the room that would one day be his.
After Tattoo most of the other senior campers raced down to the store to buy candy and pop. Jason and Brian stayed behind. Tip went to the counselors lounge to smoke and plan the next day.
Next door in Sioux cabin, they could hear The Beast's obnoxious voice taunting another kid.
"He's a prick," Jason commented as he reclined on his bed with a comic book.
"Above and beyond the call of duty," Brian
During his free period the next morning, Brian went to the library to read Matt's letter and write his response. It was one of the few timber-framed buildings in the camp. Tip told him that it was one of the original buildings that were part of a summer residence that was donated to St. Luke's.
The shelves were simple boards joined together. They lined the walls. There were also a few fixtures that had come from some commercial bookstore. Campers could "borrow" paperback books. They were seldom returned and that was fine with the camp. The philosophy was to interest the campers in reading. Campers could buy comics at one-tenth the cover price. Counselors used the library, too, as reference for their classes and to find stories to read to their campers at bedtime.
The library was empty at this time of day,
except for Jeff, the librarian. Jeff greeted the boy as he sat at one of
the tables and opened his letter.
June 25 Dear Brian: You've only been gone a few days, but I had a few minutes to drop you a line. I hope you're having fun at camp. Work is the same as ever. Summer is the slow time for bookstores, but we're doing returns. That's where we send books back to the publishers. It's a lot of lifting and some nights I come home aching. The weather has been really nice here, but it's supposed to get hot by the end of the week. Hope you liked the tapes I gave you. You don't have a camera, do you? Maybe I'll send you a disposable camera. Is there anything else you need? I can't send candy, they'll just confiscate it. Be good and have fun. Yours, Matt PS Marty says hi!
Brian began to compose his reply to Matt. He looked up at the bookshelves and spotted a cluster of books labeled Nature. There were several field guides and a star guide. Then he saw a slim paperback titled Sharing Nature. The letter to Matt could wait. He needed an activity for the afternoon class, especially if Gary wasn't going to be there.
That night, after Tattoo, Brian found Tip still in his room, flipping through some papers on his clipboard.
"Can I talk to you?"
"Sure," Tip said in his Boston accent. "Aren't you going to the store?"
"No, I hate Mountain Dew. That's all the pop they have this week."
Tip grinned. "I don't like it either."
After a beat, Brian asked, "Do you think I could have a blanket? One that I could get dirty?"
"I guess so. What do you need it for?"
Brian held up the little paperback in triumph. "It's for a nature activity and..."
"Why don't you ask Gary to get you a blanket?"
"Gary's hardly ever there," Brian blurted, without thinking.
One of Tip's eyebrows shot up. "Where is he during class?"
Brian now realized that he was getting Gary in trouble. He would volunteer no further information.
"Brian," Tip encouraged, "what you're telling me is not exactly new. Gary is not working out very well. The kids in his cabin have been telling me the same thing.
"He never shows up for class. He never helps with the animals. He's always sleeping in his cabin."
"Have you told anyone else?"
"No, except for Jason and Mike. They helped me clean the cages a few times."
Tip put a hand on Brian's shoulder. "Brian,
I will have to tell Bill or Phil to talk to him about this. And if you
have any more problems, tell me or Bill."
June 30 Dear Matt: I like camp a lot. Things are going good. The Beast isn't in my cabin, and I'm glad! We had Gold Rush Day yesterday. It was so much fun! My cabin had a barrel-rolling game and we made a lot of (fake) money. I bought a lot of snow cones. The nature lodge is good, but a lot of work. We have two goats, five ducks, three rabbits, two chickens (one of them laid an egg) a turtle one of the Indians caught in the lake and a kitten. Gary, the nature counselor is a jerk. But we're working on him. I saw your picture in the lodge. You were here 1980 to 1986. I'll bet you were a lot better nature counselor than Gary. There were some things you didn't tell me. You didn't mention how cool Tip is or how awesome the library is. Tattoo sends shivers down my spine. The food is great here, too. The cooks are the best! I miss you. Write soon. Love, Brian
Gary made an appearance at the Nature Lodge for the next few days, but his presence didn't help Brian any. He wore dark sunglasses, took a chair from inside the lodge and propped his feet up on the railing. He would have nothing to do with the campers and only opened his mouth to make sarcastic comments. Because of Gary's dark glasses, Brian couldn't read his eyes, but he knew the counselor was furious with him.
"He's being such a asshole," Brian complained to Mike as they were getting ready for lunch that afternoon.
"What are you going to do?"
"I guess I'll talk to -- who's that?" Brian
gestured to the unfamiliar counselor he had only seen a few times around
Clearing the Air: I've received a few confused e-mails about the
direction that Paternal Instincts is going, and so I wanted to clear the
air. Paternal Instincts is not a "daddy" story.
It was never intended to be. It's a story about parenting and mentoring
the younger generation. I stated clearly in the preface to Chapter
1 that there would be no inter-generational sex. I wanted to reiterate
this information because I don't want to lead anyone on and so you can
make an informed decision about your readership.
Your comments are welcome! This where I need to thank Richard again for his time in helping me polish the story.
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