Blackberry Winter
Chapter 1
By John Yager
Copyright © 2004

Usual stipulations apply. All my stories can be found in the NIFTY Prolific Net Authors section. I also maintain a notification list.  If you'd like to be added to it, let me know at the e-mail address below.

As always, many thanks to Andrew for proofing.

Steve worried all week. He checked the weather forecast each morning before leaving for school and every afternoon when he got home. It was warm for April but there was a possibility of rain on Friday.

Friday was the big day. Steve and his best buddy, Dan, had worked out all the details. They had Friday off for teachers' meetings and Steve's mom had agreed to drive them up to Clark, just beyond Clark, actually, where the Ten Mile Trail began. From there they'd hike in to Butte Canyon and spend Friday and Saturday night at Eagle's Nest. It wasn't much of a cabin, just one room with a wood stove for cooking and heating if the nights got cold. There was an outdoor privy and a well.

At fourteen it was a real adventure. It was also a mark of their reputations as mature young men that their parents and their scout master had agreed to let them go on the trek alone. Completing it would also gain them the two remaining merit badges they both needed to be approved for the Eagle Scout award.

Steve's dad had made the arrangements for the cabin. "It's in the state forest preserve," he'd said. "There's a service road up there so they can get in with a four-wheeler in good weather to make repairs and deliver fire wood. You'll have all the wood you need for the stove, but don't expect company this time of year. The only sensible way in in April is by foot, and, even hiking, you may find the trail pretty wet in places.

The boys knew that if the weather turned bad, the outing was off. Both Steve and Dan's parents had agreed on that. A little rain, maybe, but any chance of a late spring cold front and they'd have to wait. The problem with waiting was that Eagle's Nest was booked solid for the next four months.

Thursday after school Dan went home with Steve. They'd spend the night at Steve's house and leave at seven the next morning if the weather held. They finished organizing their backpacks and loaded them in Steve's mom's SUV. There was nothing left to do but wait. Wait and check the weather.

That night the boys talked quietly across the three feet between the twin beds in Steve's room. Steve had shared the room with his older brother, Todd, until the previous September. Then Todd went off to university and Steve became the titular ruler of his own domain.

Steve and Dan had been best friends since kindergarten and they'd spent uncountable nights at each other's house. At Dan's house they shared a double bed. At Steve's, of course, they slept in the twins or, earlier when Todd was still at home, they sometimes "camped" together in sleeping bags in the Olivers' basement den or, in the summer, in the back yard.

They'd been on their school's swimming team and in scouts together since they were seven, first as Cubs, then in the regular troop. Dan, however, who was an only child, had gone off to summer camps more frequently than Steve had been able to do.

While the boys had grown up in the same town and gone to the same schools, their families lived in different neighborhoods and attended different churches.

Physically, Steve and Dan were a good match. They were both about five-ten and had the genetic potential to gain three or four more inches by the time they were fully mature.

Steve had soft, sandy hair, which he kept cut short, gray-blue eyes and almost no body hair. Dan was a little darker. His hair was light brown, also cut short, as was common with most of the boys on the swimming team. His eyes were brown, almost the same color as his hair.

Neither Dan or Steve had any facial hair to speak of and neither had begun shaving. Body hair was only a promise of things to come. Weighing right at one-forty, they were well proportioned, maybe just a little lean. They were good looking fourteen year old guys with athletic bodies which were beginning to fill out and more nearly resemble men than boys.

"I think the really bad weather will go south of us," Dan said, assuring Steve. "It's going to be okay."

They stared at the ceiling, each thinking his own thoughts, and eventually they fell asleep.

"Okay, boys," Steve's mom said as she hugged them both. "Be careful and stay safe. Your dad and I will be here to pick you up at four o'clock Sunday afternoon. She sat in the warm vehicle watching the two gangling boys as they headed up the trail. Their backpacks looked too heavy for them to carry, even though she had to admit they'd both filled out a lot over the last year. They were no longer boys, she told herself, but not yet men.

When they waved from the first turning of the trail, she honked a final good bye and turned the SUV toward home.

Mothers had to know when to let go, but it wasn't easy.

Ten miles is a long hike, but with backpacks holding all their provisions, let alone a steady climb, it was exhausting. They stopped frequently, not just to rest, but to blaze markings in the trunks of trees so the trail they were on would be easier to follow.

They also took time to stop at several lookout points where the views were magnificent. The trail followed a series of ridges and climbed steadily, often following the crests of sheer bluffs which curved along the course of a river far below.

They were both very glad when the little cabin came into view, although neither boy would admit it to the other.

As they'd been told, there was a generous stack of split firewood standing against the wall of a small shed behind the cozy little cabin, which was sheltered in a clearing surrounded by tall pines. As they entered, it seemed to welcome them into its compact but cozy interior.

They unpacked their gear and got things organized. It was good to think the packs would be considerably lighter on the hike back on Sunday afternoon, let alone the fact that they'd be going downhill most of the way.

"What now," Steve asked when they had their provisions put away.

"I guess we could make the bed," Dan said.

They'd been told the only bed at Eagle's Nest was a double, so they'd brought standard sheets and two blankets. Since they'd always shared a double when Steve had spent overnights with Dan, they figured it wouldn't really be a problem, even though they'd kidded each other about kicking and snoring and farts.

Once the bed made, they brought in a good supply of wood and Steve started a fire. It wasn't really all that cool yet but it would be as the afternoon wore on and gave way to night. "Besides, we'll need to boil water for that dehydrated stew," Steve said.

"The stew's for tomorrow night, ding bat," Dan teased. We have to use the steaks tonight in case it gets hot tomorrow.

"Oh, yeah," Steve grinned. "No frig."

"No frig and no ice."

As it turned out it didn't matter.

The primary objective of the weekend was to draw up a map of the Ten Mile trail. There were some old markers along the entire length of it and the trail itself was so well worn that it was not a problem following it, but the scout troop wanted better markings and a good map. The two tasks would complete their work on the merit badges they needed.

During the remaining hours of the afternoon they studied the Geodesic Survey maps they'd brought along and plotted the compass readings they'd taken on the way up. Once home it would be a simple task to trace the map with the new readings they'd made and finish the project.

"Maybe tomorrow we can go further up Butte Canyon and mark the high trail for another mile or so," Dan suggested.

"That's not part of what we were told to do," Steve said.

"I know, but it would be cool to do a little extra."

"Yeah, I guess," Steve agreed, "cool."

The day was waning and the little cabin was getting cold. They lit one of the oil lamps and Steve hurried out for more wood. They built up the fire as Dan laid out the provisions for their dinner; two steaks, dehydrated vegetables, even some sort of fruit pudding with instructions which sounded more like alchemy than food preparation.

It wasn't long before pleasant odors filled the cabin and not much later before the boys sat on opposite sides of the small table, enjoying their meal.

It was dark before they finished and carried water in from the well to wash up their few dishes. They stoked the fire for the night and each of them made darts to the privy before turning back the bed.

Dan moved the lamp to one of the bedside tables and the halo of light fell softly on them as they sat on opposite sides of the bed, getting out of their heavy hiking clothes. Then, wearing only jockey shorts and T-shirts, they hurriedly got into bed.

"Oh, gees," Steve moaned. "It's cold as hell."

They both scooted instinctively toward the center of the bed, away from the edges were drafts slipped under the blankets and between the sheets.

In seconds the entire length of Steve's shoulders, torso, hips and legs was pressed against the corresponding parts of Dan.

"Oh, yeah," Steve purred. "You feel so warm."

If asked, Dan would have had to concede that Steve's body did not feel warm at all. In fact, if felt cold, but for reasons having nothing to do with physical warmth, he wasn't about to complain.

"Here," Dan said, sliding his arm under Steve's shoulder and drawing him closer.

"Yeah," Steve sighed.

Dan reached out from under the covers and turned the wick on the lamp down until it went out. A shimmer of pale light still shone through the little windows, casting a soft glow over the little room.

They lay quietly for a while, reveling in the increasing warmth of their shared bed.
Eventually, though, Dan had to move.

"Are you warm enough?" Steve asked.

"Yeah, warm enough," Dan whispered, his lips only an inch or so from Steve's ear. "But my arm's gone to sleep."

"Oh, gees," Steve, "I hate that."

He rolled over so he could reach Dan's arm and began to slowly massage it. The massage only made it tingle, like a massive pins and needles attack, but Dan wasn't about to tell Steve to stop.

For his part, Steve couldn't help noticing the muscular firmness of his friend's body. They'd watched each other grow and mature over the years they'd been on the swimming team together, and since the previous fall they'd also been working out together with the weights Steve's brother had left in their basement. They'd seen and admired each other's maturing bodies in silence, but Steve had not actually felt Dan's new muscles before and was impressed by how much mass he'd gained.

Dan groaned at the odd mixture of pleasure and pain and Steve took the groan as permission to extend his ministrations a little further. As he rolled over to give himself better access to Dan's shoulder and arm, his leg moved unintentionally over his friend's body and he discovered that it wasn't only Dan's arm that was hard.

The boy's cock was fully erect, tenting the sheet and two blankets, causing a noticeable mound in the bedcovers.

"Hey," Steve laughed, "do I do that to you?"

"Yeah," Dan responded, "and I bet I'd have the same effect on you if I gave you a massage."
Steve drew back a little and looked closely at his friends eyes, trying to read some hidden meaning there.

"You saying I'm queer," he finally responded, his voice little more than a whisper.

"Queer, smear," Dan laughed. "We've both just got raging teenage hormones. All it takes in a little stimulation and our smoke stacks light up."

"Yeah?" Steve said. His voice was low and his forehead was furrowed.

"Yeah, really, Steve," Dan said, his voice low again. He realized his buddy was spooked and he wanted to reassure him.

They lay in silence for a few more moments, Steve's hand resting, but still, on Dan's chest.

The kid has really filled out, Steve thought to himself.

Finally he rose up a little, causing a cold draft to dart under the covers. He looked down at Dan's handsome face and rather meekly asked, "how's the arm?"

"Still prickly," Dan said.

With no further comment, Steve began to massage his friend's shoulder and arm, letting his hand stray from time to time over the maturing mass of Dan's chest.

I wonder if my body would feel this muscular to Dan if he were rubbing me, Steve thought, but the idea worried him and he tried to put it out of his head.

With amazing ease, Dan fell asleep. Steve listened to the change in his friend's breathing and was sure it was for real.

He stopped massaging Dan's shoulder and lowered his head to the pillow. Still laying on his side facing Dan, he stayed in that position for a long time, just watching the outline of Dan's torso rise and fall under the covers as Steve's hand again moved lower, finally coming to rest on his friend's chest.

The fabric of Dan's T-shirt was soft and thin and Steve could feel the hard mound of his friend's developing pectoral muscles and the amazing warmth which radiated from his body.

The thought that such close physical contact was unnatural continued to haunt Steve's thoughts, but he made no effort to move, telling himself he was only huddling so close to his buddy to find a little warmth in the cold bed.

Both Steve's father and his older brother had made disparaging remarks about "guys who were attracted to other guys," and Steve knew such feelings were wrong.

"Homos are all sick," his dad had exclaimed one morning at breakfast when Steve was twelve. "Can you believe they actually find other men sexually attractive?"

"Really, Thomas," Steve's mother had scolded. "You shouldn't talk like that in front of the boy."

Steve's father had been reading the newspaper and was apparently agitated by some story about gay rights.

Steve's mother's scolding had, however, only silenced his father in her company. Alone with the boy, or when Steve and his brother and father were off doing some "guy's thing," the comments continued, from both Steve's father and from Todd, his older brother. He knew how they both felt about "queers," and had begun to accept their reasoning as justified.

He'd watched with dismay the mannerisms and behavior of the few effeminate boys at his school. He'd heard the comments made by other boys in the locker room about "fairies" and "queens."

His dad and brother were right, of course. Steve knew that. But knowing it, couldn't stop him from marveling at Dan's firm, muscular physique, wondering how it would feel to touch other parts of his friend's body, his belly, perhaps, or his legs. What would it be like to actually touch even more forbidden parts?

Those thoughts resonated through his tired brain, making slumber impossible. Eventually, though, Steve too fell asleep.

To be continued.