Chapter 20: A Close Call.
**Author's Note:** Please read the disclaimer in Chapter 00 before you read this.
The second day of camping was pretty much a repeat of our first, except for the fact that after lunch we went and played volleyball with some of the other campers, instead of taking another hike. It was quite enjoyable and we had a great deal of fun. Jason and Albert played on one team, while Colt and I joined the other, but Bert's height played a major factor in the outcome. His side won two out of the three games. Of course, that led to Bert's strutting around, like he had just won the Olympics.
After dinner, we played horseshoes again. Just as we had the day before, Colt and I beat the other pair two games to one, much to Albert's dismay. They had jumped out to the early lead, winning the first game, and it was obvious to all of us that Bert wanted to win this badly. I suspected he wanted to add this to their earlier volleyball victory, to give him an edge over us in the overall competitions. However, that was not going to happen. I actually thought Bert's head was going to burst when they lost the final game, especially since Colt had scored the winning points again.
Over the course of the day, there were no actual run-ins between Colt and Bert, at least none that I saw or Colt told me about, so I thought this might be a small positive sign. Colt didn't see it quite the same way, even though I encouraged him to keep trying.
That night the boys started telling stories as we sat around the campfire. I think they were trying to scare each other by coming up with the spookiest stories they could think of. I'm not sure what effect they had on each other, except Colt snuggled as tightly against me as he could that night and didn't even think about doing anything sexual.
Our third day started off normally too. About mid-morning, the boys decided they wanted to take a dip in the pond, but I wasn't quite ready to go swimming yet. I was hoping to go play another game of volleyball first, but I let the boys have their way. As they took off to swim, I went to see if I might be able to finagle my way into someone else's volleyball game.
The boys swam for a while, with Jason and Colt spending some of their time doing cannonballs off of the small cliff. At one point, Jason was looking around and noticed something out of the ordinary. "Hey, what's that?" he asked Colt, while pointing at a tree, which was on the same little rise they'd been diving off of.
"Looks like a rope of some kind," Colt answered. "Someone must have tied it around the tree for some reason." It appeared to be a nylon tent rope, but fairly long.
"I'm going to climb up and untie it," Jason announced. "Maybe I'll be able to figure out what it's doing there."
"Someone probably just had an extra piece of rope and tied it to the tree for the hell of it," Bert announced, as he sneaked up behind them. He had come over to see what the other two were talking about. "Just leave it be."
"No, I'm going to get it down," Jason insisted, as he began climbing the tree. He got to the rope easily, but had a little trouble untying it. After working on it for about twenty minutes, it came free and the boys quickly discovered why it was there. The other end of the rope was tied to a thicker rope, which had been coiled up and placed on a branch higher up. When Jason pulled the thinner rope, the thicker one came down and hung out over the water like one of Tarzan's vines.
"Damn, someone put it here so they could swing out over the pond," Jason announced, pleased with his discovery. "This small rope is just so they can pull it back, so they can use it again. That was smart, the way they hid it like that."
"Yeah," Colt agreed. "Who, but you, would have climbed up to untie it and check it out?" Jason took that as a compliment and beamed.
"Let's use it," Jason urged. "It will be a blast to swing out and drop into the pond."
"I'm game if you are," Colt announced, which was exactly what Jason wanted to hear.
Jason went first. He got a firm hold on the rope, jumped off of the embankment, glided out over the water and then let go. He plummeted into the pond, sinking quickly below the surface of the water. He reappeared, laughing hysterically, and then swum back to shore, dragging the thinner cord behind him.
"Man that was great," he enthused, as he walked back to join the others.
Colt eagerly took the rope and went next. He also got a firm grasp on the rope, raced forward and sailed out over the water. Just before the rope began to swing back toward shore, he released his grip and tumbled into their liquid playground. When he resurfaced, he was laughing too, totally thrilled by the experience. He hurriedly swam back to shore, tugging the rope with him, and climbed back up the embankment. Hesitantly, he held the rope out, offering it to Albert next.
"Here, it's your turn," he added, trying to be polite.
Although Albert didn't really want to try this, he wasn't about to wimp out in front of Colt and Jason. The last thing he wanted to happen was to look like a pussy in front of the other two. Therefore, he yanked the rope from Colt's hand, literally ripping it from his grasp, so he could pull the larger rope to him. He got a good hold on the rope, glared at Colt and then looked at Jason, before hurtling off of the bank. He swung out over the pond and let go. His body dropped downward, quickly sinking below the surface of the pond. When he came up, he was smacking the water frantically.
"Look at him goofing around," Jason quipped, amused by Bert's antics.
"He's not joking around," Colt announced. "I think he's in trouble." Having taken a Junior Lifeguard course, Colt recognized that Albert was fighting to keep his head above water.
Without waiting to see what was going to happen next, Colt leaped into the pond and swam up behind Albert. He spoke to Bert as he did so. "Bert, I'm here to help you," he told him, as he placed his arm under Albert's arm and around his chest. "Just relax and I'll help you get back to shore."
Fortunately, Albert did exactly what Colt told him or he might have taken them both to the bottom of the pond. Colt used all the knowledge he could remember from the course he'd taken just the year before and dragged Bert's limp body back toward the bank. Jason waded out to meet them and helped pull Bert onto the grass.
"Are you all right," Jason asked Bert, but he only got a weak nod in response.
"Jason, will you go get Leo and bring him back here?" Colt asked. "I want him to check Bert out, before he starts moving about." Jason's only response was a quick nod, before he started pulling his shorts and shoes on. As soon as he finished doing that, he ran toward the campsite to fetch me.
"Why did you do it?" Albert asked Colt, once Jason had gone.
"Do what?" Colt shot back, defensively. He thought this was Albert's way of blaming him for this mishap, because he had handed Bert the rope and put him on the spot.
"Why did you save me?" Bert clarified, which baffled Colt momentarily.
"Because you were in trouble and needed help," Colt replied, instinctively.
"You could have let me drown," Bert told him, "and then you could have had Jason all to yourself." Colt was even more shocked by Albert's latest statement.
"Bert, I told you before, this isn't some kind of a competition," Colt explained. "I did what I needed to do, without thinking about whether you liked me or not. I had hoped we could be friends, but even if that doesn't happen, I would never let you drown." Bert studied Colt's face and then looked down at the ground, almost as if he couldn't force himself to make eye contact with Colt.
"I'd have let you drown," Bert continued, in a hushed tone, "if it had been the other way around." This hurt Colt's feelings, but it didn't really surprise him.
"You say that now," Colt responded, "but if it had actually happened, you might have saved me too." Colt said that because he really hoped it might be true. He didn't want to think the worst of Albert.
"I wouldn't," Bert replied. "First of all, I'm not a strong enough swimmer to be able to do that," he admitted, "but I would have also realized it would be a way to get you away from Jason, without being blamed for it." Albert looked down at the ground again, almost if he was embarrassed by his own admission. Colt thought for a few seconds, before he said anything else.
"Bert, I don't hate you and I'm not trying to get Jason to stop being your friend," he explained. "I was really hoping we could also become friends, but seeing that doesn't look like it's going to happened, I'd settle for just not being enemies." Albert just looked at Colt, as if he didn't believe what he just heard. That was also the precise moment I returned with Jason.
Actually, Jason almost wasn't able to find me, as I wasn't at the campsite when he returned. Luckily, I was just coming back to the area myself, so I must admit my timing was pretty good. Once I discovered no one was playing volleyball, I went to check out the horseshoe pits. I practiced by myself for a while, but when no one else showed up, I decided to just go back to my tent and rest. I was nearly there when I saw Jason frantically running from my tent to his, so I hollered down to him, to see what he was up to. As soon as he saw me, he hurriedly told me what had happened and I raced to the pond with him.
I quickly checked Bert over, relying on my first aid background to make sure he was all right. It didn't take me long to realize that Albert's biggest injury was a bruised ego and shaken nerves. Colt had reacted quickly enough when he realized Albert was in trouble that Bert didn't happen to inhale any water. Due to that lucky break, I didn't think Bert would suffer any additional problems.
After questioning Albert about what had happened, I got his view of what had taken place. Once he dropped from the rope, it seems he went further underwater than he had suspected. When he didn't come to the surface as quickly as he thought he should, he began to panic. He might have been all right without Colt's intervention, but then again he might have been frightened enough to have continued his frantic reactions, tired himself out and drowned. As to how the other scenarios might have turned out, we'll never know. We were just thankful Albert was okay. Happily, we returned to our tents.
Once everyone quit talking about what happened at the pond, I fixed lunch. After eating, we all decided to just take it easy until dinnertime. Seeing the boys were going to rest, I concluded it would be the perfect time to run out and refill the coolers with ice. Before I left, I asked all of them if they wanted to go with me. No one did, so I made each of them promise to stay away from the pond until I returned. They said they would, so I trusted them and ran my errand. I also figured Albert wouldn't try to pick another fight with Colt, as long as Jason was there.
As soon as I left, Albert went over to talk to Colt. "Thanks," he said softly.
"For what?" Colt asked, slightly confused by this sudden change in Bert's attitude.
"For saving me, you idiot," Bert teased, surprised that Colt didn't know what he was referring to.
"Oh, that," Colt replied. "I told you earlier it was nothing."
"It was to me," Bert told him, "and I didn't thank you before, so I wanted to do it now."
"Okay, you're welcome," Colt answered, figuring that would be the end of their conversation, but it wasn't.
"I'm sorry I've been such an ass too," Albert admitted, "and I'd like to make it up to you. I told Jason, before I came over here, that I was willing for all of us to be friends now, if you're still willing to do that." Colt was stunned speechless. Albert thought Colt's silence meant he wasn't willing to agree to his proposal, so he started to walk away.
"Bert, wait," Colt called after him. "I wasn't saying `no'. I just wasn't ready for your offer, is all. I'd love to have all of us be friends." Jason knew what was going to happen, so he had been eavesdropping on their conversation. As soon as Colt and Albert agreed to be friends, he came over and hugged both of them. He finally had what he wanted; his two best friends were now friends too.
When I drove back to our campsite and parked the car, I was totally amazed to see the boys laughing, joking and having a good time with each other. I didn't say anything at that time, as I didn't want to risk reversing their progress. However, later that evening Colt filled me in about what had happened and I nearly cheered when I learned how things had worked out.
The rest of the camping trip was wonderful and we had a great deal of fun. The boys even made me promise to take them all again, whenever and as often as we could manage to go.
* * * * * * * *
The rest of the summer went smoothly and the boys continued to help Colt work on his basketball skills, when he wasn't busy with his lawn care service. Colt actually made a great deal of money that summer and gave a major chunk of it to me. I put it all into a savings account for him, although he didn't know it at the time.
In the fall, the boys were back in school and each of them started applying to colleges. Colt and I spent several days discussing which institutions he should consider and then he sent off applications to seven different colleges and universities.
That winter, Colt made the basketball team and they actually did quite well. They didn't win the championship, but they did finish with only two losses. I loved going to the games and cheering for them, seeing I knew almost every boy on the team personally. It was also nice that all of them would often come up to me after the game, to get my view on how they had played. It was a great deal of fun.
The holidays were also fantastic and both Jason and Albert stayed over at our place on several different occasions. In fact, we had the whole basketball team over on New Year's Eve, when I threw a huge party for them. There was no alcohol involved, but everyone seemed to have a great time – even those who brought a date. All the partygoers stayed overnight. We allowed the girls who came the use of the bedrooms and all the guys slept in sleeping bags in the living room.
After taking their dates home, most of the boys spent the next day with us too. Some went home in the late afternoon, but the rest stayed and watched the bowl games with us too. They only went home after the last game had ended.
The rest of Colt's senior year went by in a blur. He also made the baseball team in the spring and played second base, along side of Jason, who was the shortstop, and Bert, who played first base. We did manage to go on another camping trip, for an extended weekend over their spring break, but their baseball schedule prevented us from doing more than that. However, the boys were satisfied and we had another wonderful trip.
I was very proud of Colt when he graduated and Jason's parents threw a huge graduation party at their house, for all three boys – Jason, Colt and Albert. I guess Jason must have laid one hell of a guilt trip on them to get them to do it, but he pulled it off. It was a big catered event and I finally got to meet Arnold and Patricia Katz. There were tons of people in attendance and each of the boys received many graduation gifts.
Once the party ended, the Katzes asked Albert, his parents, Colt and me to stay for a while longer. We were all confused as to why they were doing this, but not for long. We had our answer when Arnold Katz addressed us.
"Over the past month," he began, "Jason has forced his mother and I to have many lengthy discussions with him. During those talks, he has pointed out many things to us, the most important of which were how we failed him as parents and how all of you filled that void for him. After talking this over in great detail, the three of us have decided we want to reward you for your kindness. Therefore, we wish to give both Albert and Colt a very special graduation gift." All of us were shocked by this announcement, but Jason was grinning like a Cheshire cat.
"Although Albert has known Jason longer, Jason thought we should still offer the same gift to both of you. Therefore, on behalf of my family, I'd like to present you each with this token of our appreciation." He handed both boys a card and urged them to open them. Inside, both boys found a lovely graduation card and an American Express Gold Card with two names on it, Arnold Katz and their own.
"You are to use those cards to pay for all of your college expenses," he announced, "and that includes transportation, meals and entertainment. I expect both of you to either mail or fax me your grades at the end of each semester, and as long as you don't drop out or flunk out of school, my family will pay your entire undergraduate educational expenses."
Anyone who looked around the room at that point would have noticed five mouths hanging open. They would have belonged to Albert, his mother and father, Colt and me. We were all having difficulty believing our ears. Jason rushed over to his two friends and hugged them both energetically, before confirming what they had heard. "I told you I'd pay you both back," he announced.
Suddenly, each of us came out of our temporary comas and began to object to such a generous gift. However, all three Katzes stood firm with their offer. Seeing we weren't about to change their minds, we all thanked them profusely. A short time later, we begged their leave and made our way home.
We did see the Katzes on many occasions after that, although I can't say we ever really became friends. However, we all remained friendly and they always went out of their way each time, to thank me for everything I'd done for their son.
Colt turned 18 about a month and a half after school ended, so I held a big party for him. All of his friends showed up and we had a cookout. The number of friends Colt had made in a little over a year impressed me and everyone seemed to enjoy being there and had a really great time.
I also spent most of that summer helping Colt prepare to go away to college. It was the culmination of a long, drawn-out process. It had all begun back in the fall, when I helped him choose which colleges to apply to. Then, after his acceptance letters came back, we had to decide which of those he would actually go to, since three different colleges had accepted him.
One of the institutions willing to admit him was a local college, and Colt really wanted to go there, so he could stay close to me. However, I didn't feel it offered a program that would meet his needs and goals. He was also accepted to two other colleges, both of which were located several hours away from where we lived. Each institution had an outstanding program in his intended major, but he didn't want to be that far away from me. After debating the pros and cons of each school, I finally convinced Colt it was in his best interest to choose one of the schools out of the area. I promised him I'd come to visit him when I could and that we'd bring him home for the holidays and breaks, so it wouldn't be that bad. I knew he didn't want to leave me, but I had to push him out of the nest and let him fly on his own.
Colt's four years of college weren't easy on either of us. I had to trust Colt and believe our love was strong enough to see us through our separation. If I hadn't been able to do this, my paranoia could have easily consumed me and made it impossible for me to survive.
During that period, I also remained in communication with Albert and Jason. Each of them would email or IM me whenever they saw me online, although Jason also phoned me from time to time as well. Jason and I spoke much more often than I did with Albert, but I kind of expected that. All three boys would get together when they were home and they spent a great deal of time at our house, although they would also go to Jason and Albert's homes too.
Ultimately, we all made it through those four years and all three boys graduating from their respective institutions. I was bursting with pride as I sat at Colt's commencement, watching him being awarded his degree. After the ceremony was over, Colt and I began loading his belongings into my car, so we could haul everything home.
On the ride back, Colt assured me that he had been absolutely faithful while he was away, even though I never asked him that question. He told me he had looked a little, because there were so many good-looking guys wandering all over the campus, but he was never tempted to be with anyone else, except as friends. I happily accepted his word for it, even though it probably wouldn't have mattered to me if he had messed around a bit.
Once we arrived home, we got him settled in our room again. There was no need for Colt to keep his other bedroom, as we didn't need to keep up pretenses any longer. Those who counted the most also knew we were lovers. Since we had the extra space now, we moved the computer into Colt's old bedroom and turned it into an office. We both benefited from that change.
A short time after the boys graduated, Jason's parents included him in their business ventures. As soon as he could, he hired Albert and Colt to work for them. In time, both boys grew and developed in their positions. Albert eventually took over the daily operations of their commercial properties, while Colt worked his way up to run the Real Estate office. He had such a way with people and was a natural for the job. Jason had also offered me a position, but I decided to stay where I was, telling him that if things didn't work out with my current company, I'd reconsider his offer later.
Jason and Albert both eventually married and had families of their own. Each of them blossomed in their new roles. They were very caring and loving husbands, wonderful fathers and great providers. However, neither of them let their pursuit of wealth diminish the time they spent with their wives or children. Colt and I became Uncle Colt and Uncle Leo to both families and we shared many holidays together.
One other thing happened too, something I would never have imagined possible, not even in my wildest dreams. Colt and I became parents as well. The clout of Katz Incorporated helped make it possible, as Colt's position in the organization gave him an outstanding reputation in the community. Colt and I ended up adopting a pair of brothers, who were eight and eleven when they came to live with us. The boys had waited three years to find a loving home and Colt and I were happy to provide it for them. Due to the fact that Colt never needed the savings account I had started for him, to pay for college, we decided to use the monies from his lawn care business to start a college fund for our two sons. We added to it regularly after that, so the boys would be well provided for, should something happen to either of us.
Every summer, Albert, Jason, Colt and I managed to take our families camping together, at our favorite campsite. When their wives and daughters join us, we don't skinny-dipped in the old pond, but we do still frolic in the water. However, when it's just us guys, all hell breaks loose. It took the boys a little time seeing the rest of us naked, before they wanted to try it too, but we never pushed them. Eventually, they decided on their own that it looked like fun and now they never hesitate to join us, when we all go in together.
Colt, Jason and Albert also love to tell stories about our days there, before the families came along, and the tale of how Colt saved Albert has grown to legendary status. Currently, it hardly resembles the truth any longer. The trio now uses that near tragedy to warn their own children about the dangers of the pond and the need to follow the strict safety precautions that have been established for them.
When Jason's parents decided to retire and get out of the family business, Jason bumped Albert and Colt up to the corporate office. The three of them have split the responsibilities equally and have expanded and improved operations, without allowing the job to consume their entire lives. It is nice to see them be able to balance the demands of both work and family.
Throughout the years, I have often looked back on two events in Colt's and my time together. The first was that fateful day when he came into my life. I will be forever grateful we each took the chances we did back then or none of this would have ever happened. The second was the day Colt left for college and when I began to question whether I had done the right thing by making him go so far away from home. In the long run, it worked out best for both of us and was exactly what we both needed to do. I'd let my butterfly spread his wings and take flight, not knowing for sure if he'd come back to me or not. I had trusted in our love and he eventually fluttered back into my arms.
Although many things have changed over time, the things that remained the same were Colt's commitment to me and my commitment to him. Even though we've had our share of minor problems, like all couples do, we've spent many, many wonderful years together - growing, sharing and learning to love each other even more deeply. I only hope that someday everyone can find a butterfly as wonderful as my own.
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