"Grandma had suggested the Bledsoes come over for early lunch at eleven so we wouldn't have to stop on our way back to eat. Mr. Bledsoe planned to drive straight through this time and since we wouldn't be pulling the trailer -- we'd be in his car instead of his truck pulling a trailer with two horses -- we'd make much better time than we had on the way down before.
"Lunch was a pleasant affair, although grandma did some not-so-subtle quizzing of both Mr. and Mrs. Bledsoe as well as Alex. She was convinced they -- especially granddad -- were not strict enough on Alex and let them know that I would be spending a lot of time making up for my lack of proper education and preparing for an ordination I should have had when I turned twelve. Mrs. Bledsoe was shocked to learn of the deficiency in my upbringing and was in complete agreement with grandma about my future with no time for anything except school, chores and the church. She hinted that Alex would be in a similar situation. Mr. Bledsoe gave her a 'so you think' look."
Good Feelings and Unwholesome Thoughts
"Once we were on the road, Mr. Bledsoe asked me what that was all about and I told him because of the situation in my family -- and I gave a pretty full account of that -- I had not been ordained at twelve.
"'Understandable,' he said, 'but then I'm not a very good Mormon. In fact, I wondered if your grandmother wasn't about to sign me up for remediation back there,' he laughed.
"We ate before going to Gertrude's and arrived there just after nine, tired and ready for bed. As soon as Alex and I had undressed, we climbed into bed and he immediately said, 'Man, I have really missed jerking off with you.'
"'Same here, but I didn't miss jerking off! Well, I did one night. After spending the afternoon with the bishop being quizzed and lectured to about unclean thoughts and actions, I was so tired of hearing about masturbation and sexual impurity that I just decided I had had enough. 'Course I had a wet dream!' We laughed and jerked off together. After we had cleaned up, Alex was soon asleep. I lay awake for some time, thinking about what awaited me when I returned to Wellsburg in four weeks. I was still not asleep when Alex spooned himself to my back, threw an arm over me and pulled me to himself. I'm sure the bishop would have had a heart attack, but it felt so right.
"Saturday morning, early, Mr. Bledsoe took us to a tack store. 'Josh, your granddad agreed you two guys should be dressed to fit the part and gave me some money from your "extras" fund.' Half an hour later, Alex and I were pretty fancy cowboys in black pants, chaps, boots and hat, all trimmed in silver. Back at Vic House, we got dressed in our finery and biked out to the riding school where we met Jean Jean and Michelle, who were also well-dressed as cowgirls. We were all surprised when Mavis walked us into the stables and said, 'Some generous spirits have provided custom saddles for the four of you.' I knew that the saddles we were looking at cost at least seven or eight hundred dollars apiece and probably more. Mine and Alex's were black with silver trim and the two girls, who rode bays with black tail and mane, had rich brown saddles with gold colored trim. Beautiful!
"'Just who are these generous spirits so we can properly thank them?' Jean Jean asked.
"'Not telling,' Mavis responded, then added, 'a good show tomorrow is all they are asking in way of thanks.' We never learned who paid for the saddles, but I suspect Gertrude had a hand in it and maybe the girls' and Alex's dads.
"We rehearsed the few tricks we knew. Didn't seem like much to me, but Mavis assured us the crowd would go wild. 'They'll be half wild just because you're riding four beautiful Mustangs. Add a few simple tricks and they'll want to buy you a beer. 'Course, being underage might prevent that,' she laughed.
"'Mormons don't drink,' I said and grinned.
"'Yeah, sure,' Jean Jean said.
"The parade was a real hoot. As Mavis said, when the announcer said, 'Ladies and Gentlemen, Jean Jean Barnett, Michelle Russell, Alex Bledsoe and Josh Taylor riding Mustangs,' the crowd did go wild, shouting, whistling and applauding. Just before we reached the grandstand, we started doing our tricks and you would have thought we were the entire parade from the crowd's response.
"As soon as the parade was over, Gertrude and Mavis said they were taking us to lunch. When we asked what we should do about the horses, Mavis laughed, 'You could ask the Mayor to tend them for you and I think he would but, actually, he has given permission for you to leave them in the park. You can just hitch them where they can graze and they'll be happy.'
"'Yeah, but who'll clean up the horse shit?' Jean Jean asked, then blushed.
"'Not you, honey,' Mavis replied, 'so don't worry about it.'
"After a great lunch, we went back to the park where our horses were waiting for us. A couple of policemen were keeping an eye on them and all the people who wanted to touch them. The four animals were being very patient, but let us know they were ready to go as soon as they spotted us. We four mounted up and rode out to the riding school.
"'Interested in riding awhile?' Jean Jean asked as we neared the school.
"'Sure,' I responded, 'as soon as Prince has lunch and maybe a good rubdown which, after this morning, I think he deserves.'
"'Right,' she agreed.
"We gave the horses a good rubdown, fed them and sat on the corral fence while they ate. We talked about our week at home, our families, school and the usual stuff. Finally Jean Jean asked, 'Got a girlfriend back home?'
"'No, having a girlfriend when you live as far out of town as I do doesn't work very well. Besides, I've not seen one that captured my interest,' I added.
"'How about you, Alex,' Michelle asked.
"'Same,' he laughed. 'As a matter of fact, Josh is the only friend I have.'
"'Same,' I grinned.
"That evening we six went to Folsom Stadium for the Boulder fireworks. I couldn't understand why Gertrude and Mavis insisted we get there and be ready when the gates opened at seven and I sure didn't understand why they wanted us to climb nine zillion steps to the top of the stadium. I mean fireworks are fireworks. They go up in the air and you can see them without climbing forever.
"When we settled in near the top, the two women opened their large bags and produced sandwiches and cold drinks for us and beer for them. The stadium took on a festive air and a band played and a sing-along started. Before it was dark, dancers and acrobats performed waaaaay down below. I started to ask why we hadn't sat lower so we could see the show, but never got around to it. When it was finally dark, there was a sudden boom and a giant streak of red shot into the sky and then burst into a red, white and blue flower -- almost at our eye level! Now I understood why we were so high! The fireworks continued for almost an hour before a grand finale when the night sky came ablaze. Mavis looked at us and asked, 'Worth the climb?' We all nodded, huge grins on our faces.
"One night after we had been back two weeks, Alex and I went to bed and, as usual, were ready to jerk off. The night was hot so we were lying uncovered and the full moon made the room almost bright enough to read. We were looking at each other, cocks hard and both streaming precum before we touched them. Alex reached out slowly and took my cock in his hand and asked, 'Need some help, friend?' I grinned, nodded and took his cock in my hand. We made the session last as long as possible and I had never had such a feeling or orgasm as I did that night. That was our practice for the rest of our time in Boulder.
"The second four weeks in biology got into reproduction and the last week was devoted to human reproduction and sexuality. The next to last day, homosexuality came up and there was almost a civil war. It started when the instructor asked what we thought caused homosexuality. 'It's not caused. That's a lie spread by homosexuals. It is a choice that a person makes, a wicked, evil choice that is the work of the devil,' Roger Smith practically shouted.
"'Your data for that?' the instructor asked. For once half a dozen different breeds of Protestants, Mormons and Roman Catholics were in complete agreement. It was an evil choice because the Bible and the church said so.
"Nathan Johnston, the last person in the group I would have suspected was gay said, 'Then they are wrong! Saying being gay is a choice is pure bullshit. I'm gay, I've known I was gay almost as long as I have known me. Took me until I was thirteen to admit it to myself because who would want to be gay? Who would choose to be treated like shit? You guys are just mouthing some bullshit you've been told. All the research that's creditable says I had no more choice about being gay or straight than I did about my eye color. None!'
"Pandemonium ruled until time for the class to be over. As we walked to lunch, the class continued to argue until Roger said, 'We Mormons are not supposed to associate with anyone who is a homosexual,' and moved away from the group. More than half the class followed him. Neither Alex nor I did.
"'Aren't you two Mormons?' Nathan asked. 'Aren't you afraid you might catch the gay disease or that I might molest you?' His tone was bitter.
"'We're Mormons,' Alex replied, 'but we've been your classmate for eight weeks and I don't think I'm any different than I was eight weeks ago, neither are you or I guess you're just not interested in molesting me or something.'
"Nathan smiled and said, 'Thanks, as to the latter part of that, in a heartbeat.' We all laughed.
"What that discussion had done for me was two things. Deep down inside, I had known I was attracted to boys and in the middle of the class furor, I realized that it was not a phase. I, like Nathan, was gay. It had just taken me longer to admit it. The second thing it did was make me aware of how careful I had to be because I lived among a group of people and with grandparents who would reject me in a second if they discovered my secret.
"That night, when Alex and I were in bed, he asked, 'Josh, did the discussion in class today make you angry?'
"'You mean all the hate being poured on Nathan? Sure as hell did.'
"We were silent, each with our own thoughts for several minutes. 'Josh?' Alex asked.
"'Do you think our liking jerking each other off makes us gay?'
"'I don't know. Do you?'
"'No,' he sighed, 'I think we like jerking each other off because we are gay.'
"'Yeah,' I said, looked into his eyes and said, 'I know I am.'
"'I am too,' he said.
"We wrapped our arms about each other and, trembling, talked about all that meant when we got back to Wellsburg. We were pretty depressed before we fell asleep.
"When we got back I found granddad had not exaggerated when he said I'd have little time for anything beyond school, chores and studying, and meetings to make up for my lack of Mormon education. Unfortunately, the more I studied, the less I liked what I was getting into. I was ordained deacon and that added more duties to my already hectic schedule. School, after the summer program, was deadly dull and boring. The fact that Alex and I were freshmen taking sophomore English and chemistry made many kids resent us. Also, being a 'good student' was expected, being smart was not and it seemed other students resented us and teachers disliked us because we asked questions and questioned some of the things they said. Again, Prince was a life saver. I rode every day, regardless of the weather, maybe not far, but I rode. Alex and I had worked out a system by which we knew when I would be riding to the grove. He, of course, could ride there any day he wanted to.
"We did decide we should not be seen together at school as much as we had been since some students were making comments about that. We no longer sat together on the bus and managed to get different classes except for the two sophomore ones. I did balk when Alex said we should choose someone else for our lab partners. Granddad had backed off a bit about my spending time with Alex because he knew I wasn't with him when I was doing chores or the church stuff. He asked about our school schedule and I told him we only had the two classes together. He said I should have other friends, but never pushed it. On the other hand, grandma was constantly checking up on me with the bishop. Well, granddad actually talked with the bishop, but grandma was the one pushing him.
"Alex and I never talked about being gay after that last night in Boulder. We both knew we were and were both struggling with what that meant, but we didn't talk about it. I knew my feelings for Alex were growing and thought his were for me, but we never talked about that either. What we did talk a lot about was the growing tension in his home and the almost constant harangue his father received from his mother. Much of it was based on her displeasure with him as a Mormon and especially as a Mormon father, but he had plenty of other shortcomings which she pointed out, usually in a loud voice.
"When I turned fourteen in November, I did all that the church expected and asked me to do, at least externally. Internally there was no longer any question in my mind that I was not cut out to be a Mormon, especially since I was gay. At the same time, my grandparents, and especially my grandma, had started talking about my two years as a missionary. She had decided if I was approved, I should do that immediately after high school and before college. It would strengthen me when I faced the evils and temptations of college. She was also hell bent on my going to BYU. I hoped to earn a decent scholarship so I could go to UC-Boulder.
"Alex and I had, individually, worked on our trick riding and when we met in the grove, we told each other what we were doing. We got a chance to show off what we had accomplished at a festival in the spring. We both had different tricks now, as well as being able to perform together what we had learned last summer. We pleased the crowd and granddad was proud of me and said so. Grandma never mentioned it. When we had finished and were back with the horses, we gave each other a big hug and, I'll admit, we held each other longer than was permitted under some unspoken 'man's code.' We were seen by someone who reported it to the bishop. Both of us were, individually, admonished about 'unmanly behavior.' Grandma was very upset and granddad told her she was seeing too much in two young men who had just demonstrated their skills and were excited. She, nonetheless, hinted that going to Boulder might not be a possibility. Granddad told me to apply and when I did and was accepted, he assured me I could go. I could hardly wait until school was out.
"The last day of school was only half a day to get report cards and we had requested and received ours the day before. Both of us had straight As. We missed that last day and started the trip to Boulder instead, so Mr. Bledsoe could be back Sunday and not miss any work. He had gotten a promotion and couldn't miss work as easily as last year. I think Prince and Princess knew where we were heading because they were obviously as excited as we were.
"It was good to share a bed with Alex again when we stopped in Rawlins, but we had to be careful that we didn't wrap our arms around each other, which we both wanted to do. Fortunately, I had a painfully full bladder very early because when I woke, both our arms and legs were entwined. When I got back in bed, I slipped one of the extra pillows between to make sure we stayed separated. I needn't have bothered because I never went back to sleep. I just lay there watching the boy beside me knowing that while I wouldn't utter the word soon, I was in love with him. Yeah, I felt love, forbidden love, for Alexander David Bledsoe.
"When we reached Boulder, we were greeted by long hugs from Gertrude. 'Welcome back, scholars,' she said when she released us from the hug and then kissed each of us on the cheek. We were delighted to learn we would have the same room and as soon as we were inside, stripped off our clothes, tossed our 'garments' in the bottom drawer of our chest and pulled on boxer briefs Alex had bought without his mother knowing. We had six pairs between us, two each red, black and blue. We put away our other things, including a couple boxes of Kleenex and a large jar of Albolene, and headed downstairs for lunch.
"As soon as lunch was over, Mr. Bledsoe headed back to Wellsburg and Gertrude suggested we three ride out to the riding school. I was surprised when she hopped on a bike and took off. I had not seen her on a bike the summer before and later learned she had decided she was not getting enough exercise and took up biking. She could ride as long and hard as either Alex or I, at least at the beginning of the summer. When we arrived, we headed for the corral fence where Jean Jean and Michelle were sitting, watching the horses. Soon the four of us were one mass of hugging fourteen-year-olds.
"Mavis soon had us on our horses and demonstrating what we had learned -- and forgotten -- over the fall and winter. Jean Jean had found an instructor in Denver and was way ahead of the other three of us. 'Not bad, any of you,' Mavis said, 'and Jean Jean, I expect you to help me get the other three up to speed. Gertrude, how about a cup of coffee? I'm sure these four would like to get reacquainted and their horses would enjoy a ride.'
"We took the hint and headed for the bridle trail. It seemed anytime we needed to pair off, Jean Jean and I ended up together and Alex and Michelle. Alex and I had talked about this and what we needed to do to let them know that they were great friends, but that was all there would ever be. Well, that got taken care of on the ride that day.
"We were just having a lazy ride, Jean Jean and I ahead of Alex and Michelle, when Jean Jean asked about school and all. Since she was not a Mormon, I had trouble explaining to her why I had had practically no free time and how bored and all I was with the time I spent making up for having missed my ordination to as a deacon. 'Alex and I were lucky to see each other once a week,' I complained.
"'I thought you rode the bus for miles and miles as well as had all your classes together. Didn't you even eat lunch together?'
I felt I was between a rock and a hard place. How could I explain why Alex and I saw so little of each other. I finally told her that my grandparents and my bishop were afraid we were spending too much time together and might, because of that, become too close.
"'You mean like jerk-off buddies or lovers?'
"I guess when I was trying to explain why Alex and I hadn't seen a great deal of each other over the winter, we had stopped the horses and Michelle and Alex had heard most of our conversation. I was struck dumb, but Alex was quick on his feet and asked, 'What do you know about jerk-off buddies?'
"'I have two brothers, remember? I know about such things but, anyway, do your grandparents and bishop think being gay is a disease you can catch or that someone can make you gay or that "it's a choice" nonsense?'
"'I'm afraid they do. It's the stand of the church,' I said.
"'And boys who see too much of each other have unwholesome thoughts and engage in sinful activities,' Alex said, his voice a perfect mimic of our bishop.
"'Look, I want you to know it makes no difference to me whether you're gay or straight. Well, some difference,' she grinned, 'Josh, if you were straight, I'd be after you.'
"'And you're not,' Michelle said, 'like I'm not after Alex. I thought I could turn a gay guy straight last year and learned I might as well have tried to change his brown eyes to blue.'
"'Wait a minute! Who said we're gay?' I said, panicked.
"'Nobody,' Michelle said. 'So don't worry, but I'm not expecting a hot make-out session with you this summer or next. Our secret, a secret between very good friends. Blood oath.' She took a pin from her blouse, pricked her finger and held it up.
"The three of us pricked our fingers, pressed then together as we all said, 'Blood oath.'
"Our fingers still touching, Michelle added, 'Friends forever!'
way to start a summer program!' I thought."
of all, without a delightful month with S and G in Oz, Sentinel
would never have been. Fond memories remain.
One of the things that keeps an author looking good are editors. Two from opposite sides of the world worked on Sentinel Mountain.
Jesse from coastal North Carolina (a visit with Jesse inspired the setting for The Saga of the Elizabethton Tarheels) got first crack at Sentinel Mountain and paid special attention to my haphazard use of commas.
Scott from Australia has been editing since second or third chapter of A Special Place. Any polish that Sentinel Mountain has owes much to Scott who managed to edit the manuscript in spite of loss of a job--which he loved, paid the bills and gave him time to work for free--floods and typhoons.
mistakes are mine.
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