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

Copyright 2002 by Nick Archer. Permission is granted to Nifty Archives, ASSGM, and gaywritings, to post one copy. No part may be copied, reproduced, republished, or reposted on another website without written permission from the author.

Thicker Than Water

By Nick Archer

Chapter 3


Early Thursday morning before Labor Day, Jake was awakened by a mourning dove outside his window. The volume of the mournful call indicated to Jake that the bird was nearby, perhaps even in the tree just outside his window.

"Shut up," Jake mumbled groggily and threw a pillow at the bedroom window. It missed. Buddy took the gesture to mean that Jake wanted to play. He attacked the pillow and tried to shake it back and forth.

Jake stared at the ceiling and wondered what he was going to do today. This evening, his dad was taking him to a picnic at the forest preserve on the south side of town. Walking the dog was on his agenda, as well as working out and masturbating. But his other options were limited. His father had installed blocking software on his computer that prevented him from accessing porn sites. Jake and the only friend he had made in Mokena - Ben - had had a misunderstanding a little over a week ago. They had not spoken since. His older brother wanted nothing to do with him, and his grandma would probably assign him a household chore if she spotted him.

He never thought that the result of living with his dad would be dishpan hands.

He slowly rose from bed and stood in front of the full-length mirror attached to the back of the bedroom door. He ran his hands up and down his nearly hairless body. He had grown a lot this summer. The workouts with weights had added bulk to his adolescent body and defined his muscles even more. He posed in several different positions in front of the mirror. His skin was deeply tanned from all the time he spent at Ben’s pool.

Because he was no longer hanging out with Ben, his access to weed had been shut off as well. Jake liked weed better than drinking. It was easier to obtain and there was no hangover the next day. Smoking dulled the pain and loneliness and made the summer more bearable.

His golden retriever puppy nuzzled and whined for attention.

"You have to go for a walk, Buddy?"

The puppy tried to lick his face and wagged his tail vigorously.

"Come on boy!" The exuberant puppy leapt three times before Jake clipped the leash to his collar.

The puppy tugged on his leash as Jake opened the garage door. The noise of door opening must have scared the bird away, because he no longer heard it’s mournful cry.

His Grandma’s house was located on Brightway Road. It was a large split-level ranch built in the late 1950’s. The kitchen, living room and dining area had an unusual cathedral ceiling - at least it was unusual when the house was built. When Jake moved in, he was given the bedroom on the lower level. The three bedrooms upstairs were occupied by his dad, his brother Jeff and, of course, his Grandma. Jake was pleased to find that he had a bathroom to himself on the lower level, as well as a door that led outside without going through the house.

Jake and the puppy reached LaPorte Road and turned left toward the railroad tracks. It was Buddy’s favorite place to go to the bathroom.

Jake had read on the Internet that dogs pee to leave evidence of their presence and to mark their territory. This was especially true of male dogs. It was similar to leaving graffiti. Jake wondered what he was writing in the tall grass. Was he leaving his address so available female dogs could find him?

They passed Ben’s house. Jake stood across the street, staring at the white brick ranch. An overwhelming wave of sadness washed over him. When he first moved to Mokena, he was elated to discover someone his age living so close to his Grandma’s house. Most of the other people in the neighborhood were mostly his Grandma’s age.

He heard the mourning dove coo again, and remembered what Matt had told him about the dove. Matt had been a nature counselor and a science teacher. It was Matt that helped him identify the distinct call of the mourning dove when Jake heard one in Park Forest just before he left.

Matt put an arm around Jake’s shoulder and explained to Jake that the bird had gotten its name because it’s call sounded like a person crying. It has a sad quality to it. Matt told him that Native Americans believed that when one heard the cry of a mourning dove that someone close to them was going to die soon.

"Of course," Matt added, "I don’t believe that. But I do believe that it could mean change is coming soon."

"What kind of change?"

Matt shrugged. "Anything. A change in your life somehow." Matt smiled at Jake and gave his shoulder an affectionate squeeze.

Jake stood across the street from Ben’s house; he remembered what Matt had said about change. Change is inevitable. Change is the only constant. Change is life.

But Jake had had enough change. He was more than ready for some consistency.

And so, although he was not generally a superstitious boy, he wished that he had not heard the mourning dove this morning.

He had also heard a mourning dove the day he met Ben.

It was late June and Jake was still hurting from being ripped away from Matt’s. Al Wagner bought his younger son a computer, a Nintendo game, CD’s - anything he wanted. He also gave Jake a generous allowance. Al could ill-afford to spend so much money on his younger son. His divorce had left him in a shaky financial situation. But buying his younger son gifts was the only way he could cope with the guilt of neglecting his son. Still, all Al’s money could not buy Jake what he wanted.

What Jake really wanted was love and attention from his father. When Jake was honest with himself - which was rare - he would have to admit that he was as much to blame for the distance between himself and his father. It was as if all of Matt’s coaxing and the professional counseling he received had been in vain. Jake didn’t talk to his father about what he was feeling. And so the silence helped to increase the emotional distance between then, and the distance created more silence.

However, Al was too wrapped up in his own world to notice. Al was approaching his middle thirties and terrified of being alone. He was determined to find someone - man or woman - to settle down with. Al spent most of his weekends at bars, at friends’ houses, at picnics, in a desperate search. And he did most of this without his son. On two occasions he had brought Jeff and Jake to picnics. Al had gotten drunk both times and Jeff ended up driving him home.

So Jake was left at home most of the time. His grandmother had already stated her disinterest in raising another boy. She was distant and aloof at best. At her worst she treated Jake like unpaid slave labor to clean the house, mow the yard, trim the hedges and clean the garage. In the weekly counseling sessions he attended, it became clearer that Al had learned his parenting skills from his mother. Jake had already vowed to himself that he would never be the kind of parent that his dad was. He would be more like Matt and Tim - loving, accepting, kind, fun and firm yet fair.

His older brother Jeff had immediately dismissed his younger brother with one word - faggot. Jeff used the word like a bludgeon and loved to watch Jake shrink when he did. Jeff enjoyed the power that the word faggot gave him. He didn’t have to touch Jake or even threaten him. All he had to do was to call Jake the hated word. And Jake would whither and pale like a houseplant deprived of water.

Nothing brought him out of his blue mood until Al brought home the golden retriever puppy. From the beginning, Buddy seemed to know who his master was. Buddy loved Jake above everyone else and assigned to him the alpha male role of his human pack. He followed Jake everywhere.

Jake set about training the puppy with purpose and diligence. He borrowed books on puppy training from the Mokena Public Library. He set up an area in the garage for the puppy to make his messes and cleaned them up. He read that dogs like a schedule, so he walked Buddy twice a day - once in the morning and once in the late afternoon.

His late afternoon walk took him through the rest of subdivision. He walked down Brightway, which paralleled the railroad tracks. This was perhaps his favorite part of the walk. On one side of the street were comfortable suburban houses, like his grandma’s. They were pushed back from the street and camouflaged by thick brush. On the other side of the road were the railroad tracks. A grassy ravine separated the tracks from the street. The ravine displayed an incredible collection of illegally dumped garbage. The vast majority was lawn clippings and garden waste since it is illegal in Illinois to dump yard waste in sanitary landfills. Also in the ravine were bottles and cans, clothes and dolls, mattresses and lamps. In the summer, the grass and weeds grew tall and partially hid the trash. The dumping continued despite the fact that the ravine was clearly marked and despite attempts by the Boy Scouts to clean the area up. Mokena Police had finally resorted to looking through the plastic garbage bags for clues about where the trash originated.

Jake and Buddy turned left twice and headed back home on Burr Oak Lane. He did this religiously for twenty minutes twice a day. In the beginning, the puppy seemed to think it was playtime and made a sport of nipping at Jake’s heels. After about a week, the dog seemed to understand what was expected of him and used the time to relieve himself. Jake praised him just as the books had instructed him to do. When they returned home, Jake rewarded the puppy with a Milk Bone.

Inevitably, the puppy consumed his prize on the carpet. Never on the tile floor of the kitchen, but always in the dining area.

"That damn dog!" his grandma would screech. "You clean up the mess!"

The puppy would look at the woman with penitent eyes then resume his crunching.

It was the day after the Fourth of July when Jake met Ben. Jake was walking Buddy north on Burr Oak when Buddy spotted a boy about Jake’s age kneeling near an empty garbage can near the street.

The puppy tugged at the leash, sniffed the new boy and wagged his tail exuberantly.

"What a cute puppy!" The kid scratched the puppy’s forehead, which caused him to increase the tempo of his wagging tail.


"What’s his name?"


"Hi, Buddy!" He patted the dog’s soft fur. He refocused his hazel eyes on Jake and extended his hand. "I’m Ben."

"I’m Jake. What are you doing?"

Jake held up a spool of nylon fishing line as if it were self-explanatory. The puzzled look on Jake’s face must have told him otherwise.

A mischievous grin spread over Ben’s handsome face. Jake noticed the dimples in his cheeks when he did. The dimples reminded him of Tim’s.

"What day is today?" Ben asked.

"Umm, Wednesday."

"What happens on Wednesday?" When Jake was not forthcoming with an answer, Ben supplied it for him. "It’s garbage day. Now, please observe where the other end of the fishing line is." He gave the line a shake and Jake could just barely discern that it was tied to a garbage can on the other side of the street.

"I’m just finishing tying it to a garbage can on this side."

"But, what happens when a car comes?"

Ben, who had finished knotting the cord around the handle of the empty garbage can, stood and knocked on his forehead. "Hello? That’s the idea!"

"What is?" Jake hated to feel stupid.

"When a car drives down the street, the front bumper catches the fishing line and - SMACK!" He clapped his hands for emphasis, which made the puppy flinch. "Most of the time, the car will start dragging the garbage cans down the street."

Jake started laughing at the mental image of a honeymoon prank on acid.

"If we’re really lucky," Ben continued, "and the car is going fast enough, the garbage cans will smack on the doors of the car." He took Jake’s wrist. "I’ve got a good hiding place." He led Jake behind a small hillock that was about three feet high on the other side of the street. They lay on their stomachs and waited.

"It used to be more fun when everyone had metal garbage cans. At least that’s what my brother tells me. Now everyone has plastic. On the other hand, they don’t damage the car as much. So that much is good."

Jake felt a tightening in his belly. He had never caused this kind of trouble before, and it was a little frightening. But Ben was cool. Jake picked that up immediately from the way he dressed and his mannerisms. Ben was Post-Cool. But he didn’t want to say anything and be labeled a geek, or worse. Besides, Ben was the only kid he had met his own age this summer.

And it was fun to anticipate what was going to happen.

What Jake hadn’t counted on was that Burr Oak was a short street with very light traffic. So they had to wait for the next victim.

They did one of the things young teenagers do best: they talked. It gave Jake a chance to study his handsome face. Jake explained how he had ended up in Mokena. Ben told him that the high school they had started to attend was like a prison because the rules and regulations were so numerous. Jake already had the impression that Ben was somewhat a rebel, if not a troublemaker. But Jake liked that image. Jake found himself attracted to him exactly because he was a little rough around the edges.

"I even have to take out my earrings," he complained. Mainly the earring prohibition existed because of the fear of gangs at Lincoln-Way High School.

That Wednesday, Ben wore gold hoops in each ear. All of a sudden, Jake wanted to get his ear pierced. He already knew the fashion dictum for male ear piercing: Left is right and right is wrong. Translated, it meant that a right pierced ear alone meant that the wearer was gay. Maybe I should get them both pierced. It would be fitting. Besides, it looks cool.

Ben rolled over on his back and put his hands behind his head. The sleeves of his T-shirt pulled back, revealing more of his arms. He had a tattoo around his bicep!

"Nice tattoo," Jake said in admiration. He didn’t know much about them, but he knew it was professionally done. The tattoo represented two thorny vines criss-crossing around his bicep.

"Thanks. I haven’t had it for very long. A couple months."

"Did it hurt?"

"No. I was high when I got it," Ben replied as nonchalantly as if he was reciting what he had eaten for lunch. Jake stored this little comment in his brain for future reference. It added to his mystique.

"Can I touch it?" Jake asked almost timidly.

Ben shrugged his assent.

Jake had almost expected to feel a ridge at the edge of the deep blue lines, but all he felt was warm, firm skin. The muscles under Ben’s smooth skin contracted slightly at the touch of the other boy.

Jake knew something had changed that afternoon. Jake had been around nice kids. In Park Forest, he had hung with a relatively clean-cut crowd. They were typically middle-class young adolescents. His group of friends that included Mike and Brian were the leaders of the school. They were the ‘A’ crowd. They were the clique every other kid in the school strived to be a part of. They had the same values of good grades, conformity, and cooperation.

But, Ben was something else again. He was dangerous. Ben represented everything Jake was not. He was fashionable - but in his own way. It was clear that Ben dressed and presented himself exactly as he wanted. He wasn’t a fashion slave. He was masculine, but not in a traditional athletic manner. He was handsome, but not handsome in the way a GQ model was handsome. For Ben was a bad boy. And therein was Jake’s attraction to him.

Far down the street, they heard someone enter a car and the door slammed. An engine turned over. Carefully, they peered over the top of the small hill. A gray Grand Am approached the trap. Jake began to giggle but Ben elbowed him.

The Grand Am picked up speed and its front fender met the invisible string. The two empty garbage cans responded by smacking the doors of the car with a loud crack. Then the fishing line got caught and the car dragged the plastic garbage cans down the street before the stunned driver finally stopped the car and hopped out.

"Damn kids!" He shook his fist in the wrong direction. The fat driver’s face was florid with anger. He swiveled his head to see if he could spot the culprits.

By the time the driver stopped the car, they had run behind the nearby house, through several yards and finally re-emerged on the next block. On the side of the street, they fell to the ground and laughed until their side hurt. Buddy, who had no idea what was so funny, nonetheless joined in the fun by wagging his tail furiously and licking their faces.

When they caught their breath, they sat up.

"Did you see his fucking face?" Ben wheezed.

"’Damn kids!’" Jake mocked.

Another wave of laughter caused them both to splutter.

When Ben regained his composure, he said to Jake, "Why don’t you take your dog home and I’ll show you our tree house? Ride by my house and I’ll show you how to get there." Ben gave him a brief verbal map of where he lived.

Buddy nipped at his heels as Jake sprinted home.

Jake’s grandma was chopping vegetables at the kitchen table.

"I’m going to a friend’s house," Jake announced quickly as he dashed through the kitchen. The faster I can get out of here, the fewer questions she’ll be able to ask.

"You going to be home for dinner?"

"Yeah." Jake grabbed a baseball cap and put it on backwards. He liked how he looked in backwards baseball caps.

Jake pedaled his mountain bike as fast as he could to the brick ranch. He stood in the empty driveway straddling his bike for an uncertain minute. Ben was nowhere to be seen, and he wasn’t sure if he should knock at the front door.

Ben spotted him, and opened the front door. "Go around the back," he instructed. Jake put the kickstand down and opened the gate to the chain link fence immediately to the left of the garage. He followed the brick walkway around the side of the house.

"Wow! Nice pool!" Jake exclaimed.

Ben was shirtless. "Yeah, I guess. It’s nice when you don’t have to skim it every day and vacuum it once a week." Jake couldn’t help a glance at his chest. It was hairless like his own, but his nipples seemed to be swollen. "Come on down to my room for a sec."

Like his own room, Ben’s room was in the basement. Unlike his room, it was a shambles. Clothes were strewn everywhere. There were empty pop cans on the dressers and next to the computer. A dish with some crusty brown substance sat on the floor. The bed was unmade, the lampshade askew and the closet displayed a heap of clothing.

Jake found himself thinking Grandma would never let me get away with this.

He picked up a T-shirt off the floor and pulled it over his head. Ben opened a dresser drawer and rummaged through it. He pulled out a box about the size and shape of a cigarette pack. He grinned, showed it to Jake, and stuffed it into the pocket of his shorts.

Although Jake had no idea what it was, he smiled and nodded nonetheless. He didn’t want to appear totally stupid for the second time in a day.

Ben led the way back up the stairs and to the kitchen. From the refrigerator, he pulled two plastic bottles of Coke and handed one to Jake. The other one Ben put in the other pocket of his shorts. The weight of the mysterious box and the bottle of pop weighed his shorts down. Almost three inches of his underwear was visible over his shorts. Ben led Jake through the front of the house and to the garage, where he mounted his own bike.

He led them south then slightly east along the curvy streets. Jake knew there was a forest preserve at this end of town. Behind a street of newly constructed houses, Jake led them to a path. The path took them into the forest.

He could see the huge tree house almost immediately. He let out an involuntary "Wow."

It was a tree house to be proud of. About twenty feet off the forest floor was a rectangular house complete with a roof, windows with real glass, a balcony. It was a perfect miniature house. The peaked roof even had shingles. The exterior was covered in tan vinyl siding. Where had they gotten all the materials? They must have had help from someone who knows construction, Jake thought. There was a secondary platform about seven feet off the ground and the main platform was another ten feet above that. Stairs led to the lower platform, which had a full-sized door painted bright red. The stairs continued up from that point but on either side of the stairs chain link fence had been attached. Jake immediately understood that this was to limit access to the tree house. The main platform was suspended between five trees.

As they parked their bikes at the base of the stairs, Jake looked up to the underside of the main platform. It was built with joists just like a regular building. The rectangular house loomed above them.

Ben took off a chain from around his neck and unlocked the door. Jake was impressed with the workmanship. The door opened and closed effortlessly and perfectly - just as if it were installed in a house.

Up the stairs and through a hatch they went. The interior was unfinished, but professionally done. The floor was about twelve feet by ten feet. One corner of the building was devoted to a balcony that was accessed by a door with glass panels. There was a reclining lounger and a few white plastic resin chairs. There was a castoff coffee table that had seen better days. On it were several worn issues of Playboy and two overflowing ashtrays. Shelves were nailed between the interior joists, and they held boxes of snack crackers, a jar of peanut butter, and a boom box. Some CD’s were stacked on another shelf.

"This is in-fucking-credible!" Jake exclaimed. He opened the door to the balcony, which was about four feet square. Two more white resin chairs invited. A handrail was there for safety and to prop one’s feet upon. Jake stood on the balcony for a long moment and gazed out at the treetops and the houses in the distance. He breathed in a deep breath and exhaled slowly, giving thanks to whatever fates had brought him here.

Ben had accepted him. He had his foot in the door, so to speak. He knew Ben would help him make more friends. Ben had opened the door for him, literally and figuratively.

It was then that Jake heard the mourning dove. It’s got to be a sign that good changes are coming, he thought. Shivers ran down his spine as he listened.

Inside, Ben tuned the boom box to WKQX. The music drowned out the call of the mourning dove. For the past three months or so, the alternative radio station was in a serious thrash phase. Jake was not a big fan of the cacophonous music with screamed lyrics, but he was not going to admit this to Ben.

"Come on in and have a seat." Jake sat in the recliner. Ben held the wooden box in his left hand and was working a metal rod up and down in a compartment in the box. He studied the end of the rod for a second and poked at it with his index finger. He held the rod to his lips while he fished a Bic lighter out of his pocket. He lit the end of the rod and it glowed orange as he inhaled. He held the smoke in his lungs for a long moment before inhaling.

Jake knew what he was smoking. The distinct odor quickly permeated the small building. Ben finished the rod and tapped it in the ashtray. "Just a sec, and I’ll reload it for you. It’s kinda dirty."

Jake watched Ben with fascination. From under the recliner, he produced a wire clothes hanger. The neck had been straightened. Ben squinted through the small brass tube, and then poked the hanger through the tube. He worked the hanger in and out several times. "Too bad I don’t have some paper towel." The end of the hanger was now coated with a thick, tarry, resinous substance. Ben blew through the hitter a couple times and reloaded it. Without a word, he handed it to Jake.

Jake took it and all his anti-drug inhibitions fell away like the petals off a tulip in June. All the DARE classes he had attended, all the lectures from Matt, Tim and his own father, all the warnings from his teachers - they all amounted to nothing against Jake’s desire to look cool in front of his new companion.

The sun had almost set. Jake and Ben were laughing hysterically at nothing and everything. It started with a cartoon in Playboy and escalated from there. They laughed all over again at the garbage can prank they had pulled earlier. Finally, they just laughed because they wanted to laugh.

And there was another unexpected effect of the pot. Jake was horny. He knew he had to be extremely careful. Mokena was different than Park Forest, he reminded himself. He didn’t have Matt and Tim behind him. To be labeled as gay here would be disaster. But he didn’t imagine it when Ben grabbed his dick through his shorts while they looked at Playboy. Move slow, Jake told himself. Let him make the first move.

Red lights flashed. Something was wrong. He couldn’t do this, at least not with Ben. Some voice in the back of his head was warning him not to do anything. Or was it the effects of the pot? He couldn’t tell. Jake’s head was swimming. Was it Tuesday or Wednesday? Did he walk Buddy? "Dude, I gotta get home," Jake said to Ben. His legs betrayed him when he started to stand up.

In fact, the whole world seemed to be spinning. He was glad they had brought Coke with them. He was parched.

Ben stood up, too. "Remember, don’t tell anyone about this."

"Who am I going to tell?"

Apparently, Ben had to go home too, because he followed Jake down the steep steps.

Once they mounted their bikes, Jake turned to Ben. "Thanks, man."

"Hey, not a prob."

The sky had darkened to inky purple by the time Jake arrived home. Only the dim light in the range hood was on in the kitchen. Jake lifted a cover off a pot on the stove. Jake’s grandma had left his dinner out for him. In the dim light, he didn’t see her as she smoked a cigarette at the kitchen table.

"Where have you been?" She demanded.

Jake was startled, but recovered quickly. "At a friend’s house. Where’s my dad?"

"Out drinkin’ again, I’m sure. You gonna eat all that?"

"I’m hungry."

"What’s that smell?"

"What smell?"

"You been playing with fire?"

Not literally. "No, grandma."

"It’s your turn for dishes," she reminded him as she snubbed her cigarette out and left the room.

Jake ate in the dim light.

The next seven weeks Jake and Ben were inseparable.

Jake spent more time at Ben’s house than he did at home. There were two things that remained constant, however. Jake never missed taking Buddy for a walk. He knew that if he did, and Buddy made a mess on the floor, his grandmother would complain to his dad who, in turn, might even take Buddy away. Jake wasn’t going to let that happen.

The second constant was that Jake almost never saw Ben’s parents. He wasn’t sure where they were all the time, and Ben never offered an explanation.

They swam in his pool a lot and played water polo. They watched movies or played video games on rainy days. They spent a lot of time at the tree house. Ben occasionally invited other kids to the tree house. There was a boy named Rocky who had a younger brother Jimmy and another kid named Jeremy. He invited them up to the tree house but never smoked pot with them, and never mentioned it to them. Jake understood quickly that it was not to be mentioned to them, although he didn’t know why.

Another one of Ben’s amusements was to go joyriding in his mom’s car. She had an old Toyota with a manual transmission. They would take the car to the rural areas north of town. Ben drove like a pro, but Jake needed lots of practice. He ground the gears more than once at first, but as the summer drew to a close, driving was almost second nature.

Jake smoked pot all that summer, courtesy of Ben and his older brother. When Ben suggested that Jake start buying his own, Jake was more than happy to comply. After all, he was getting a huge allowance from Al and had little opportunity to spend it.

The next time Jake heard the mourning dove was the last Friday in August.

That night, Ben and his older brother were hosting a huge pool party. Ben’s parents were going to be gone once again. It was the last Friday night before school started. Rocky, Jimmy and Jeremy were going to be there as well as girls from the neighborhood. Ben’s older brother and some of his friends were also going to be there.

As soon as he arrived in his swimsuit, Jake was the focus of attention. His fit, athletic body and deep tan accented his handsome good looks. Boys as well as girls flocked around him. The attention from both sexes thrilled Jake, but an inner conflict raged. He was attracted to both and unsure how to handle his raging hormones. The effects of the weed were not helping either. The weed blurred the lines between the boys with their smooth, attractive chests and the bathing suits that held the promise of excitement, and the girls with their turgid breasts barely concealed by their bikini tops.

At regular intervals, Ben took him downstairs to his bedroom-slash-lair to get him high. By the time darkness fell over the party Jake was higher than a kite.

Disaster struck the third time Ben led Jake downstairs to smoke more weed.

Since their swimming suits were wet, Ben spread a towel on his bed so they could sit without getting the mattress wet. It was a ludicrous action considering the messy condition of the room. It was like trying to paint the Eiffel Tower with a can of spray paint.

They smoked three hitters each. By this time Jake had lost track of how many he had smoked. They flopped back on the bed and sighed with contentment.

Ben reached over and ruffled Jake’s hair. "Dude," Ben said quietly, "You’re my best friend."

Jake was deeply touched - and extremely confused. He was dying for physical contact from anyone. He had not been hugged since Matt hugged him at the courthouse. Ben never talked about his feelings, or about their relationship.

"Thanks, man," Jake replied.

Ben propped himself up on one elbow and grinned at Jake. He looked so sexy just then. He was wearing only swim trunks and a baseball cap. His tattoo and earrings added to his appeal. Jake caught his breath.

"It’s like I never want the summer to end," Ben said.

"Me neither."

"Hey, man, don’t go getting depressed on me," Ben said as he pinched Jake’s cheek.

Jake almost froze. Ben never touched him. What was he trying to say?

Jake held his breath as their eyes locked. Jake searched for a sign, any sign, but saw none.

Jake allowed his knuckles to graze the other boy’s bare stomach just above his navel. He was still holding his breath. Ben didn’t pull away. He didn’t say anything.

Jake became a little bolder and allowed his fingertips to explore Ben’s smooth belly. It was lean and smooth, although it didn’t display a six-pack as clearly as his own torso.

Ben responded by rolling over on his back, hooking his thumbs inside the elastic band of his trunks and pulling them down. His erect penis pointed at the ceiling.

Jake reached over and wrapped his hand around it.

Just then, the bedroom door burst open.

Rocky stood there in the doorway, his mouth gaping just like the door.

"Fucking faggot!" Ben screamed at Jake as he jumped off the bed. The next few minutes happened so quickly, he barely knew what happened.

Just as Jake stood up; Ben punched him in the nose, causing his nose to gush blood.

Before Jake could hit him back, Rocky was between them, holding them apart.

"Faggot!" Ben screamed. "Get out of my house!"

Without protest, Jake gathered his shirt and towel as Ben followed him screaming epithets. What had happened? How did everything go so wrong so quickly?

"Don’t ever come back here again, faggot!" Ben screamed at him.

Grandma was sitting in the darkened kitchen smoking when Jake returned home.

"You’re home early. How was your…..Jesus H. Christ! What happened to your nose?"

"Um - I dove into the shallow end."

"Jesus God, Jacob. You gotta be more careful. Get yourself some ice and come sit down at the table."

"I’ll be OK, Grandma." I just want to be alone.

In his bedroom, Jake applied the ice to his nose. When the blood finally stopped flowing, he turned out the light and went to bed.

In his mind, he replayed the scene in Ben’s bedroom over and over for clues as to what had gone wrong. He wanted it. I know he did. It must have been when Rocky walked in. That’s the difference between Mokena and Park Forest. In Park Forest, no one cared if I liked boys and girls. I hate it here.

I want to go home. Home to Park Forest. And Matt and Tim and Brian and Tommy.

Jake sobbed long and loud and hard. When his crying finally subsided, he heard the sad, melancholy call of a mourning dove in the tree outside his window.

Jake flung the window opened. "Fuck you!" he yelled at the bird. "You’re just a stupid bird!"

Thursday night one of Al’s high school friends had reserved the little Forest Preserve grove off of Old Wolf Road south of town. This little grove was part of the Hickory Creek Preserves, but it was all but forgotten except for high school kids who used it to party. The Will County Forest Preserve District finally had to close the grove off except for people who had reserved the grove.

Al’s friend had been unable to obtain a permit for the Friday night before Labor Day. It was already booked.

Jeff had to work that evening so he would not be attending. Al drove his younger son in his Ford Ranger. God, I hope he doesn’t get drunk tonight, Jake thought.

They made the obligatory rounds before they hit the food table.

"Look how big you are!"

"What a good-looking young man!"

"You look just like your….wait - you look even better than your dad."

Al beamed proudly while Jake fumed. What an asshole. Like he has anything to do with raising me. Like he pays attention to me. Like he cares what I do or where the fuck I am. Like he loves me.

Jake took all the compliments in stride. When he finally got a chance to sit down and eat, he scanned the gathering for any kids his age. There were none he could see. Most were younger than him by several years. Jake was soon bored. He wondered to himself: why I bothered to wear my Tommy Hilfiger T-shirt? No one here cares.

The forest preserves close at 8 PM and by this time Al was drunk. It was the thing Jake had feared. Al hid his alcohol well, so it was hard to tell. But Jake knew, and he knew his dad was in no condition to drive.

The partygoers started to pack coolers and food into trunks and mini-vans. Vehicle by vehicle, they left the grove.

"Come on, dad," Jake tugged at his arm. "Time to go."

"One more beer."


"Well, well, well. My own son telling me what to do. You listen to me…"

"Get in the truck, dad."

Surprisingly, Al complied by walking toward the green vehicle.

"Give me the keys," Jake demanded. "I’m driving."

Al laughed. "So, you’re driving, huh? You know how to drive a stick? Ok, son, show me what you can do."

"Yes, I can drive stick. And don’t call me son."

Jake had to adjust the seat forward so he could reach the pedals. He started the truck without mishap, released the parking brake and shifted the truck smoothly into first gear. Since he was unfamiliar with the truck and how it handled, he drove slowly. He steered the truck west on 204th Street, which is a quiet suburban street that intersects with Wolf Road.

Jake got a little nervous when he realized that his route would take them on busy Wolf Road, the major north-south street through the town. There was no way to avoid it, and no alternative route. He had done most of his driving practice on country roads, and wasn’t sure he could handle traffic.

He rolled slowly down 204th Street to the intersection. With his right directional on, he passed several opportunities to pull onto Wolf Road. He wanted lots of room.

"Move over," Al commanded.


"I’m driving."

"You can’t. You’re drunk."

Al raised his left arm rapidly and backhanded Jake. The blow struck Jake in the nose that was still healing from the previous week. The blood flowed freely onto his Tommy Hilfiger T-shirt. Al opened the passenger door and rounded the front of the truck. Jake scooted over to the passenger side of the seat. Jake’s head snapped back. He fixed his gaze out the window as his eyes filled with angry tears.

Al put the truck in gear and turned right. "Crying? Go ahead, little girl, cry." He turned right onto Wolf Road and shifted into second. "I knew Matt was a fag. Even back in high school. Well, you’re not going back there, so just forget it!"

Al was so drunk and wrapped up in his tirade to his son he wasn’t paying attention to his driving. It wasn’t that he was speeding - just the opposite. He was driving way under the speed limit. The slow-moving Ford was spotted by Mokena’s Finest.

"That faggot, Matt…."

"SHUT THE FUCK UP!" Jake screamed.

Al tried to backhand Jake again, and the truck swerved. Al missed Jake this time.

Just then, they spotted the flashing red and blue lights behind them.

The officer approached the driver’s window. "Registration and driver’s license, please. Then, please step out of the vehicle." Slowly and reluctantly, Al responded. The cop addressed himself to Jake. "You, too, son. I need you to step out of the vehicle."

The second cop was watching Jake. His hand rested on his weapon that made Jake nervous.

"Chuck, we’ve got a possible DUI here," he said to his partner. They had already called in the license plate of the truck to run a check. Their radios crackled in unison with a female voice: Wagner, Allan K., Illinois Driver’s License Waltz 200 - 6506 - 0551, Under court supervision…."

"So, you’re under court supervision, Mr. Wagner? Care to tell me what for?"

"I’m remaining silent. I know my rights."

The officer watching Jake relaxed a bit. "Do you have someone to come and pick you up?"

"My grandma or my older brother."

"What’s the phone number? I’ll call them." He dialed the number Jake gave him on his cell phone. "This is Officer Tivoli with the Mokena Police Department. Can you come pick up your grandson at the Amoco station at the corner of Wolf Road and LaPorte. No, Al is safe, but he’s being taken into custody -OK -- thank you ma’am."

The Officer Tivoli focused on Jake. "Jake? Is your name Jacob?"


"Do you prefer being called Jake?"


"What grade are you in?"

"I’m a freshman in high school."

"I have a question to ask you. Just before we pulled you over, it looked like you father tried to hit you. Did he actually hit you?"

Jake bit his lower lip and looked over at his father with a combination of fear, disgust and apprehension. He was torn. Al was his father, after all. He deserved some sort of loyalty. Or did he?

"Don’t tell them anything, Jake. Wait until I get a lawyer."

A voice in the back of Jake’s head screamed, NO! He doesn’t deserve your loyalty. Has he been loyal to you? Does he love you? Has he spent any time with you this summer?

"Yes," Jake said quietly.

"Is that where the blood came from, son?"

Jake hung his head. He muttered a barely audible, "Yes."

Officer Tivoli said nothing else to Jake, but smirked at Al. But the smile remained in the cop’s eyes. That smile spoke the words that would have been unprofessional for the cop to utter. Good job, son!

Grandma arrived, and Jake got into her car.

"Let’s get out of here," his grandma said.

"Jake, you little shit!" Al yelled. "I’ll get you…."

As they pulled away from the Amoco station Jake twisted his head toward Al. When he was certain Al was watching, he flipped him the bird.

Bad news always travels fast, and the news of Al’s DUI arrest attracted the interest of certain people in the Illinois justice system.

The next day was the Friday before Labor Day. Al had spent the night in jail. Late Friday afternoon, he was transferred from the Will County Jail in Joliet to Cook County. From there, he was taken to the Cook County Courthouse in Markham.

Al looked terrible Friday afternoon. His clothes were dirty and disheveled. His hair was standing up. Dark circles ringed his eyes. He had vomited on his shoes. His handcuffs had been removed for the time being.

Judge Kildare clucked her tongue and shook her head. "Mr. Wagner….Driving Under the Influence, Child Endangerment and possibly Child Abuse? What do you have to say for yourself?"

Al said nothing. Instead, he glared sullenly at the portly Judge.

"Would you care to add contempt of court?"

"I’m not saying anything until my lawyer is here."

"Fine, but first, let me ask you a question, Mr. Wagner. How are you at playing catch, Mr. Wagner?"

Was it a trick question? "Catch?"

"You know - catch. Like throwing a ball? It’s an activity in which I’m fairly certain you did not engage your son this summer."

"I used to be pretty good. I played baseball in high school."

"Good. Because now I’m going to throw the book at you. And I want to make sure you’re able to handle my pitches, Mr. Wagner. I’m a damn good pitcher."

She paused and leaned forward. Her dark eyes flashed fire over the rim of her reading glasses. "This is my ballpark, Mr. Wagner. And I always win in my ballpark."

With his father spending the night in jail, Jake wished he had some weed to help him relax. But he finally fell asleep without the aid of cannabis.

In the tree outside his window, the mourning dove called.

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it. As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome. I read and respond to all email (even if it takes a few days) Just click on one of the links below. And don't forget to check out my website (Chapters are always posted there earlier than here) and my other story here on Nifty, Pocketful of Stars, in the Young Friends section.

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