Places: Salina, Utah
Part One
By John Yager

This is one more in the series of stories collectively titled Places.

Andrew, as always, thank you for much needed help with proofing and editing.

This work is copyright © by the author, 2004, and may not be reproduced in any form without specific written permission from the author. It is assigned to the Nifty Archives under the terms of their submission agreement but it may not be copied or archived on any other site without the written permission of the author.

All my stories can be found under my name in the NIFTY Prolific Net Authors section.


"Yep," I agreed.

"Bavarian Auto Works."

"Yes," I said, looking up at the kid.


"Right again." He was seventeen, eighteen, maybe, blond, five-ten, and he had what looked like a nice body under baggy jeans and a loose T-shirt. His complexion was clear, a little tanned and his eyes were a strange shade of blue, almost aqua, almost green. He had an amazing smile, halfway between a normal smile and an open-mouthed grin, as if he were perpetually on the verge of laughter.

"I never saw one before."

"Really? I'd figure you'd get a lot of tourists pulling off  I-70."

"Not as many as you'd think. Most of them go north along I-80, through Salt Lake," he said, still walking around my car, slowly checking it out. "I can wash it for you."

"It needs it," I smiled. "It's practically plastered with bugs."

I'd left San Francisco three days earlier, stopping to see an old friend at Lake Tahoe. I'd then gone on east along old US Highway 50, through Carson City and Ely, Nevada. At Delta the road angles southeast to I-15, then northeast to Scipio and then southeast again to Salina, going through miles and miles of desolate but still amazingly beautiful territory. I'd often driven fifty miles without seeing another car. Just on the west edge of Salina, 50 joined I-70 and headed on east toward Denver.

My plan, though, was to continue on south to Glen Canyon and Lake Powell, before heading back north to Arches National Park, and then take I-70 to Grand Junction, over the Continental Divide and on to Denver. Time wasn't an issue and I loved driving, seeing new places.

"Ten dollars for a full wash job, inside and out. Is that okay?"

"Where I come from it's cheap, if you do a good job."

"I'll do a good job, Mr. Yager, a real good job."

"Well, first tell me where to get something to eat and where I can find a Laundromat. If there's someplace close enough to walk, I guess you can wash it this evening."

I'd pulled off the highway, figuring I'd spot a few of the chain motels, but there were none and I'd come on into town. Salina, Utah was the classic western town, a main street with a few shops, a feed store and a couple of cafes. There were a few motels and I'd pulled into was called Thomson's Inn. It seemed to be the newer and cleaner choice. I saw from their sign that the motel was affiliated with one of the national franchises, so it probably had to meet their standards.

"I'm Joseph," the boy had said when I checked in. He already knew my name from the registration card. Once he'd finished signing me in and had handed me the room key, he'd followed me out to my car, perhaps thinking he could help me with bags and maybe get a tip for his efforts. I didn't mind. He was a cute kid, polite but not at all pushy.

"The best place to eat is Thomson's Cafe,  just across the road,'" Joseph said, "and we've got some coin operated washers and dryers in the back of the motel. I'll be glad to do your stuff while I wash your car."

"You wouldn't by any chance be Joseph Thomson, would you?" I laughed.

"Yeah, I am," he grinned again, this time also blushing. "There are a lot of us around, but the cafe belongs to my aunt and uncle. My mom owns the motel."

"Is that the place with the signs back on the highway saying they have scones?"

"Yeah, but they have a lot of other stuff, too."

"What's with the scones, Joseph? I saw a couple of other signs along the highway advertising cafes which had them."

"Well, I guess they're a sort of Utah specialty, made like scones anyplace else, but cooked on a griddle instead of being baked."

"Is that some sort of frontier thing?" I asked.

"Yeah, it is," he said, seemingly impressed that I'd have come to that conclusion.

"They say when our Mormon ancestors came west they didn't have ovens so the women started making scones on a griddle over an open fire. Now they still use a griddle, but I guess it's gas, not a wood fire like in the old days."

"So is everybody around here Mormon?"

"Yeah, pretty much," Joseph said, "Mormon, LDS, Jack Mormons," then grinned again and added, "some better than others."

"I never heard of Jack Mormons," I said.

"There the ones who aren't doing so good, at least by the standards of the church."

"How do you rate?" I asked, giving him my own best grin.

"Not so good, I guess."

"Well, they'll probably straighten you out, get you married off in a couple of years, and set you back on the path to righteousness."

"Not likely," he said, the grin gone. He kicked a loose gravel on the asphalt parking lot. "I just want to get out of here."

"Well, if I'm just going across the street for dinner, I guess you can do the car now." I handed him the keys and a twenty dollar bill. "Sorry I don't have any change."

"That's okay" he grinned again, "I can get quarters in the motel office." I picked up the one bag I'd need along with my briefcase, which contained my lap computer. "I'll pull it around back to wash it and then park it right outside your room and return the keys."

"That'll be great, Joseph, you know where to find me."

"Yep," he grinned, "either across the street munching scones, or back in your room."

"Probably back in my room. I don't intend to eat much," I smiled back at him. He really was a cute kid and so very engaging. "By the way," I added as I headed for my room to get rid of my bags, "I don't suppose there's any internet service here."

"Yeah, we have wireless,"

"Really?" I was amazed.

"We've been on-line for several years but we just went wireless a couple of months ago," Joseph said, again beaming.

I watched as he got in my car and started it, pulling slowly, carefully around the end of the motel and disappearing from view.

So that's how it began, this tale I've called Salina. In reality, it began in Salina, but as you'll see, it moved on.

"Here's your keys, Mr. Yager," Joseph said, holding the jangling key ring out to me.

I sat in a back booth, having one more cup of coffee and one more scone with a bit of homemade jam. It was a perfect dessert following a surprisingly good meal. I'd been much longer than I'd expected, lingering over dinner as I looked through three or four days of back newspapers. I'd not heard or read much news since leaving San Francisco and it was good to catch up. NPR, I'd learned, didn't penetrate the wilds of Nevada and Utah and I was cursing myself driving across several hundred miles of brown hills for not having gone ahead and bought the satellite radio I'd been looking at.

"Hey, Joseph," I said, looking up at his cute face. I noticed at once that the grin wasn't there, replaced now by a more serious, even worried expression.

Not good, I thought, he probably dented a fender .

"You want to sit down, Joseph?" I said and he quickly slumped into the booth facing me. "How about one of these scones and a cup of coffee?"

"Yeah, thanks, Mr. Yager, a scone, but no coffee. That's not on the approved list of beverages for us good Mormons." The grin was back, or at least a flicker of it.

"I thought you said you didn't rate so high on the Mormon righteousness scale anyway," I teased, lowering my voice so only Joseph could hear.

"That's my aunt behind the counter," he whispered. "Around the family I try to tow the line."

"Okay," I chuckled, "one scone, and what to drink with it?"

"Maybe a glass of milk," he said, getting up to speak to the plump middle- aged lady who'd cooked and served my meal.

Yeah, he looked like milk, I thought, clean, wholesome, and a really cute guy. The boy next door, even if next door was a thousand miles from nowhere.

"So how did the car wash go?" I asked when he slipped back into the booth.

"Oh, fine, really great. I think you'll be pleased."

"Glad to hear it," I smiled. "When I saw the worried expression on your face just now I sort of figured you'd crashed it."

"Oh, no, sir, I was real careful."

"Then why the downcast expression?"

"Could we talk, Mr. Yager?"

"We are talking, Joseph."

"I mean private, could I maybe come to your room?"

"Sure, if you want."
"I'll get your laundry and bring it to your room when it's finished in about half an hour if that's okay."

"Great, Joseph, but you're going to spoil me. I'm not used to this kind of service out side a five star hotel."

He grinned again and consumed the last of his scone. He'd eaten the whole thing in no more than three bites.

True to his word, Joseph knocked on my door in just half an hour. I glanced at the bedside clock and saw it was getting late, too late to talk long.

"I folded everything, Mr. Yager," he said, placing the neatly sorted clothes in two stacks on the dresser, one stack of colored sports shirts and the other, white underwear and socks. "Here's your change."

He handed me a five and an assortment of change. I put the change in my pocket and handed him the five. "Thanks, Joseph. That's for such personal service."

"Really, Mr. Yager? You don't need to do that."

"Hey, that kind of service should be rewarded."

"That's the biggest tip I ever got."

"Well, don't spend it in one place, as my dad used to say to me."

"There aren't many places to spend anything around here."

I pointed him to one of the two chairs and sat down facing him. "So what is this private conversation you wanted to have?"

He was silent for a moment, looking at the window, the walls, and then finally, at me. "I don't want you to think I was snooping into your stuff, Mr. Yager, but when I was vacuuming out your back seat I moved the pile of magazines you'd left there."

"Ah," I said, finally getting the point. There had been a couple of New Yorkers on the top of the pile, along with the most recent issue of Newsweek, but under them, on the bottom of the pile, had been a copy of current issue of The Advocate. "I guess I sort of outed myself."

"So you are gay?"

"Yes, Joseph, gay or bi, I've not really figured it out."

"So you like guys and girls, too?"

"I like people. If my relationship with someone I like becomes sexual, I am more than happy with it, whatever gender they are."

"I think I'm gay, too," the boy said, his head down, his eyes seemingly fixed on my shoes, and with an obvious catch in his voice.

I was silent, waiting for him to continue, but after a minute or two, he made a soft, sobbing noise and I realized he was crying. Reaching out, putting my hand on his shoulder. I stroked him gently, feeling the firmness of his muscles beneath the thin cotton of his shirt. "That can't be easy, in this environment," I said softly.

He leaned in a little more toward me, resting his forehead against my shoulder as I continued to stroke his shoulder and upper arm.

The silence continued a little longer. He sniffed. I got up and came back a moment later with a handful of tissues. Returning to him, I placed them in his hands. He looked up at me, laid all but one of the tissues on the table, and with the remaining one, blew his nose. Then looking up at me again, his eyes red and his cheeks flushed, he whispered, "it's hell."

We sat there a few moments longer and then he went on. "When I was fifteen I had a boyfriend, one of my cousins, actually. He's older than me, and it only lasted about a year and a half. He's in the army now.

"Before he left for basic training, he came to my room one night. I thought he'd come to say goodbye. I guess in a way, he had. He pushed me down on the bed and jabbed his fist in my chest, then he leaned over and whispered in my ear, 'if you ever tell anybody about us, I'll tell them it was all your fault, that you're just a little cock sucking queer.'

"He's been gone now for almost two years but he'll be discharged soon. I haven't heard from him once since he left. A couple of months ago my mother told me he's going to marry one of my father's nieces when he comes home. The idea of him being back here, living in Salina with that girl, and probably having a brood of little Mormon kids . . ." He looked up at me and shuddered. "I've promised myself that I'll be long gone before he comes home."

"How old are you, Joseph?"

"Eighteen, almost nineteen."

"I thought you were younger."

"I know, everybody thinks I'm just a kid."

"What are you going to do?"

"I've taken on-line classes for the last two years and I have enough credits to enter university this fall as a junior."

"That's taken a lot of self discipline, Joseph."

"Yeah, but I had a lot of motivation," he said, looking up at me. I saw the shadow of that cute grin was back. "I really want out of here."

"So where do you intend to go?"

"The University of Denver. They offered me a pretty good financial aid package and I can get a job there at one of the hotels. I have friends who work there now and they're always looking for staff."

"It sounds like you have things planned."

"I'm leaving in a couple of weeks and I can hardly wait."

"Are your folks driving you to Denver?"

"No," he said, looking down again. "I only have my mom. My dad died when I was eleven. She can't be gone that long, not with the motel and my two little sisters to see to, but she is doing everything she can to help me with the cost of college."

"So how will you get there?"

"A friend of mine is driving to Grand Junction on the tenth and I can ride that far with him. From there I can get a bus on to Denver."

"That must take a while."

"Yeah, I'll stay over one night in Grand Junction, so it will take the better part of two days, but I don't mind, as long as I'm getting out of Salina."

"I'm glad you shared all this with me, Joseph," I said, again touching his shoulder, giving him a little squeeze. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"No, it's just good to talk to someone. There's nobody here I can do that with."

I just smiled, leaving it to the University of Denver to correct his grammar.

"I'm glad you saw those magazines and figured out I might be sympathetic."

"Me, too," he smiled, getting up to leave.

"Hey," I said as an after thought, just as he was reaching for the door, "would you like to take those magazines?"

Joseph stood there silently, looking back at me. "Maybe the New Yorker, if you're through with it."

"Not The Advocate, too?"

"I'd be afraid someone would find it."

"Sure," I agreed, realizing what a deep closet he'd been forced into. "Come on, we'll get it out of the car."

He'd parked my car just in front of my room as he'd said he'd do, and with a push of the remote and the opening of the rear door, I took out the New Yorker and handed it to him.

"Enjoy," I said.

"Thanks, Mr. Yager. Maybe I can see you in the morning before you head out."

"Sure, Joseph. Do you want to meet me for breakfast?"

"Hey, that would be great."

"Thomson's Cafe at eight o'clock?"

"I'll be there."

I had trouble getting to sleep that night. I lay awake thinking about Joseph and how difficult life had been for him. I realized how fortunate I'd been, growing up in a totally different environment where I was allowed, even encouraged, to find my own way, discover my own nature.

The next morning when I walked into the café, the boy was there waiting for me in the same booth where we'd sat the night before, and in front of him was a plate of steaming scones.

"Hey, Joseph," I smiled as I sat down.

"How did you sleep?"

"Not too well."

"Oh, gees, was the bed uncomfortable?"

"No, the bed was fine, but it was sort of your fault," I said with a grin so he'd know I was teasing.

"How, Mr. Yager?"

"Oh, just thinking about you, your life here and your plans to get away from Salina."

"Yeah," he smiled back.

"When did you say you plan to leave?"

"A week from Sunday."

"Does that get you to Denver when you can get into a dorm?"

"No, actually, I'm going to share an apartment with the guys I know there, the ones who work in one of the hotels and are going to get me on there."

"Gay or straight?" I asked, lowering my voice so no one else could hear.

"Straight, unfortunately, but they are escaping from Mormon control like me."

"Well, you'll have that in common."

"Yeah, but I won't be able to be all that open with them."

"Maybe they'll surprise you and be more accepting than you think."

"That would be nice."

At that point Joseph's aunt came over to take our orders.

"You want the full breakfast, Joseph," she asked, giving her nephew an affectionate squeeze on the arm.

"Yes, please, Anna." Then turning to me, he said, "Aunt Anna's 'full breakfast' is two eggs, sausage, hash browns, and all the scones you can eat."

"That sounds great," I said. "I'll have to eat light the rest of the day, but let's go for it."

"You want coffee, sir?" she asked.

"You make it, I'll drink it," I said.

"We make it, we just don't drink it," she shot back with a twinkle in her eyes, then added, "milk for you, Joseph?"

"Yes, ma'am."

I waited until our food had come to ask my next questions, the one I'd been weighing all night.

"Joseph, can you move into the apartment whenever you get to Denver?"

"Yes, I want to have a few days to get settled into a job before registration on the eighteenth."

"So if you got there a little earlier than you're planning, it would be okay?"

"Yes, in fact, it would really help."

"How much stuff do you have to take?"

"Not much, a couple of suit cases and a backpack, I guess."

We were both silent for a few minutes while we finished our breakfast. When the boy looked up from his empty plate and smiled, I went on. "If this is a bad idea, Joseph, just say so, but I plan to drive south from here. I want to see Glen Canyon, the area around Lake Powell, and Arches National Park. Then I'll take I-70 on into Denver. I should reach there by the weekend."

"It sounds like a great trip to me, sir."

"That's not what I was asking, Joseph. I was going to ask if you'd like to come along. I could get you to Denver several days earlier than you planned."

"Oh, gees, Mr. Yager, that would be amazing."

"What would your mother say?"

"I think she'd be okay with it, if she met you and she figured you weren't some sort of serial killer or something," he laughed for a moment and then stopped suddenly to add, "but it would take me a while to get my stuff packed. It's all organized but not in my suitcases or anything. I couldn't hold you up."

"Let's go talk to your mom."

Needless to say, we didn't get away till the next day.

Our first step was to talk to Joseph's mother, who seemed willing enough for her only son to get a free ride to Denver, but a little suspicious of my motives. I went out of my way to assure her that I'd take good care of him and that he'd call her each evening to let her know where we were. It was when I gave her my office phone number in San Francisco that she seemed to make up her mind. I suggested she make a phone call to my staff there and ask any questions she wanted. She did make the call, but I think it was when I also gave her my mobile number that she seemed to finally become comfortable with me.

"Joseph is a wonderful young man, Mrs. Thomson," I said, "but I think you probably realize there isn't much for him here in Salina. He's determined to get a university degree and the opportunity to study at the University of Denver will open a lot of doors."

"Yes," she'd said. "I know he can never be happy Salina. He's not like other boys around here." I knew there was an unspoken understanding between us when she added, "you'll be good to him."

"Yes, Mrs. Thomson, I'll take good care of him."

Then it was a matter of Joseph packing, which took several hours, followed by the Thomson clan insisting that we stay over another night so they could have a proper going away party, which was held that evening at the cafe.

I stayed over a second night, not as a paying guest this time, but as a friend of the family.

Joseph came to my room late that evening. "I can only stay a minute, but we'll be together tomorrow night."

"Yes," I agreed, not sure what he meant. "One more thing, Joseph," I said as he started to leave.

"Yes, sir?"

"No more 'sir.' No more 'Mr. Yager.'  My name is John, just John."

He smiled. "When we leave, when we're alone, but in front of my family, I'll call you Mr. Yager."

We had another huge breakfast the next morning and then, finally, about nine o'clock, we were on our way.