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The contents of this story are fictional. Any resemblance of characters to living or lived persons is strictly coincidental. Certain characters engage in sexual acts which may or may not be legal in the state or country in which a reader may reside. Any reader with objections to graphic descriptions of sexual encounters between males who may not have reached the legal age of consent, or whose local, regional, state or national jurisprudence prohibits such descriptions, should not read further.

Chapter III

Monday, June 28, 1993

That night at dinner, we each went through our days, as usual.

Dad had got a new customer, a new shopping complex being built on the north side of the freeway. He was going to have to hire two more property managers, one to replace Willa Jenkins, whose husband was getting transferred from Travis to Washington, DC, another to handle the two new developments he'd be leasing and managing. The Jenkins were moving Wednesday, the 30th of June, and Willa had her last day on Friday. Mom had taken her a box of linen dishtowels as a going away present, and Dad gave her a gold broach he bought at a fancy jeweler's near the Capitol. Willa had been with him since he started the business about ten years ago, and he said he was really going to miss her.

Susie Westley's son had broken his arm falling off his bike, and she'd had to beg off working that afternoon. Susie was Dad's bookkeeper. She would probably be out all week.

Mom said Mrs. Davis told her that Block's Florist was going out of business. They'd had it rough since Safeway opened up their
floral department. She bought flowers from Block's every week, and didn't like the idea that Mrs. Block wouldn't be there any more. Dad made his usual canned speech about how big retailers were ruining the marketplace for the butchers, bakers and candle makers. I never saw any of them anyway, so it made no difference to me. Block's did, though. That was where everybody got their corsages for the Prom. Can you imagine giving your date a corsage that comes from Safeway? Gross.

Brad said he'd gone over to the Branston place, just in case, but the fire department had basically let it burn its way to the ground. The house was so old, the timbers were dry as matchsticks, and there was no way to get enough water onto it without calling in a few tankers, it being on the highest hill in the area, and all. Not enough water pressure, because of the drought that we'd had for the past four or five years.

Brad said it was all surrounded by yellow crime scene tape, so it must have been torched. His other jobs were doing all right, the Harris lady had finally chosen the trim color for the shutters and trim on her little Victorian, and Bud's cousin was doing okay as long as he only painted flat surfaces, not corners.

"He drips," he laughed. Chris was Bud's Mother's sister's boy. He was as intelligent as Bud was thick, and had all the will in the world, but was as clumsy as a three-legged chicken. He was a dreamer. In class, he'd just go into his own private little world, never listen to anything, yet still got all "A" grades. He read the books. The Greek Geek. (His Dad is Greek, and told his seven kids they had to work summers if they wanted school clothes after the age of twelve.) He already had his acceptance to M.I.T., and he wasn't even a Senior yet!

"Bud broke up with Susan," Brad said. "She wants to get married, and Bud doesn't think he should until he's sure. I think his Mom didn't like her." That must have been the big deal that got Bud's eyes all red. I'd butted into a mourning when Bud and Brad were sitting on the side of the pool together.

I mumbled something about taking Billy on my route, and told Dad I'd signed for $4.30 at lunch. I didn't say anything about Geoff, of course. Dad was on the board of the Club, and I didn't want Geoff to lose his job. Besides, I wasn't sure he was hitting on me, was I?

"Think you'll find another job to replace the Branston place?" Dad asked Brad.

"Nah," said Brad through a mouthful of meat loaf. He swallowed hurriedly as Mom gave him the 'Don't talk with your mouth full' glance. Hah! For once he got caught!

"Why don't you take some time off for a change, maybe stay up at the cabin all next week this year?" Dad said. "It's not like you haven't got enough cash for school, and it'd be fun to do a little dry fly before you leave."

Brad and Dad and I tied our own, and Mom pan-fried the fresh trout for breakfast, instead of bacon and eggs. My mind's eye immediately went to the rocky bed of the cold, fast flowing crystal of the upper tributary of the Pit River where we had our best luck, just behind the big boulders north of the remains of the old wooden bridge of the ancient logging road. I remembered the flash of the first trout I'd caught on my own fly, three years earlier when Brad had scooped it with the net, and later when Dad took a picture of me and Brad holding up a whole string we'd caught that morning.

"Actually, I figured on taking two," said Brad. "Bud can handle the other two jobs, then I'll spell him for a couple of weeks. His folks are going up to Anchorage in the camper, and he wants to see it."

Shit. I'd have to sneak somewhere up the hill to beat off for two whole weeks, and listen to my brother snore every night, hold back my farts, put up with him coming to bed later than me, waking me up, probably not making his bed, hogging the shower. Two whole weeks! "Still, he has a car . . ." I thought.

"Great!" said Dad. "I can come back with you and leave Mom the Cherokee, that way we won't have to drive two cars up."

"Figured on going up early, get the place spruced before you get there," Brad said a nanosecond before shoveling in a mountain of Mom's Cheddar Cheese and Chive double bake potato, effectively silencing him for a blessed second or two.

"Brad can take Tim," Mom said at Dad, like I wasn't even there. At least she got the name right while she was sabotaging me. "There's a lot of brush to clear, and the two of them can do a little each day, and still take some time to play."

Like I was a little kid that wanted to go play, or something. Geez.

"When you headed up?" said Dad, scraping the last crumbs of metalloid onto his fork with his knife.

"Well, if Skeet's up to it, maybe tomorrow afternoon," Brad said. I hated it when he called me that. Skeet referring to an embarrassing incident that happened before I knew I was me, the name my Gran cursed upon me when I went running across some snow up at Tahoe and fell on my year-old bum and slid all the way down a hill into a tree. I don't remember the incident at all, but I heard so much about it from everybody after the fact that I may as well have been there. No one knows why she called me Skeet, but it stuck all the way to Middle School, when I put my foot down and let it be known that my name was not Skeet, but Timmy. It took three fights and a bunch of pouting to get everybody with the program, Then two years later, I had to go from Timmy to Tim, but that was easier. No fights at school, and only the occasional slip at home. Of course, Dad was always calling me "Brad" and Brad got called "Tim" sometimes, but everybody I know at school seems to have the same problem with their Dads. Another one of those hormone things, I guess. Testosterone tremens.

There was still a piece of cheddar between his front teeth, but of course nobody saw it but me. Mr. Perfect never got caught by other people with things like that. How come I was the only one who noticed? I gave him a dirty "Don't call me Skeet" look, which he pretended not to notice.

"So?" Dad said at me.

"Whatever," I mumbled.

"Okay if Tim rides shotgun, Dad?" My ears perked up. Mom and Dad still made me sit in the back when we're out in the car. Seat belts and all. Shotgun is only the coolest place to be in Brad's 'Maro. Aside from behind the wheel, I mean. I only got to ride shotgun once before, when Brad took me to the game and didn't have a date. Oh yeah -- he didn't call me Skeet, either.

"Puhleeease, Dad?" I know, I was begging - I couldn't help myself.

"I mean, the back seat will be kinda full with stuff for the Cabin, and all," Brad defended. Him plugging for me, can you imagine? The heat must have got to him, what with the top down and him and Bud driving all over the place lookin' for a girl for Bud to dick.

"Okay, but keep the speed down," Dad said, after looking across the table to clear it with Mom and getting a little nod. That way I knew the answer before he said it, so I didn't react the way I felt, which was elated, ecstatic, ready to bounce around and wag my tail. I just sort of shrugged, like as if to say 'of course!' Kewl.

Wait -Tomorrow? Tomorrow was Tuesday! How could I possibly get ready for four weeks in just a few hours?

"I'll put you in charge of the Petty Cash, Tim," Mom said. "You'll need to pick up some things at Murdoch's and ice at Harry's, and I don't want your brother spending his school money for cabin stuff, so you'll have to keep an eye on him." There was a twinkle in her eye.

I have a good head for money matters, for some reason. I liked the idea of taking care of the cash fund, instead of Brad. He wasn't much interested in financial stuff, then. I'd be in control, for a change!

"Aw, Mom!" said Mr. Perfect. "It's not like I don't have any! We've made sixteen hundred apiece in just the last four weeks, and I'll have another twenty-four by the end of August."

"That's for College," Dad said in a mock gruff voice. "Long as you're home, we take care of the domestic stuff, hear?" He reached over and gave Brad a soft fist in the arm.

"S'Sir," Brad said, smiling at the light touch. Dad does that with us a lot, treats us like buddies more than kids. I know kids in school that don't even see their Dads, much less get up close and personal. Like Barry Philips - his Dad travels all the time, and even when he doesn't, just watches football and baseball and basketball and hockey on TV, and slugs down wine by the barrel. Fat as a goose, too. Dad never weighed more than he did when he married Mom, just before he went to Vietnam in '68. I saw the photos from when
he was there, all decked out in fatigues, tailored to show off his body. He was drop dead handsome. Just like Brad, except Brad was even, disgustingly, better looking and has a Perfect Body. Bastard!

Of course, Dad wasn't a TV freak, either. There was one in the den, and he and Mom watched a few movies now and then. He never had more than a glass or two of wine at dinner, and I don't think I ever saw him drink more than one can of beer, even on a really hot day. He preferred anything to just sitting around, and if he wanted to watch a game, it had to be in person.

"I'll have everything ready to go by lunchtime," said Mom. "Just a few things to keep you going until we get there."

Yeah right - I could see Brad's car almost buried under her 'few things.' Mom never let anything to chance, and we almost never needed anything she hadn't already packed, bought, or had delivered, except for the fresh stuff..

"I gotta say grace over the Hampton job tomorrow morning," said Brad. "Otherwise, Bud will handle everything for the rest of the week. We only have that and the Harris job going till the end of the month. We'll head up before the traffic starts to build, say two or three o'clock."

Dad and Brad started talking about who might have torched the Branston place. I sort of listened while Mom and me cleared the plates off the table, but more to sympathize with Brad than out of any real interest. While Mom got the pie out of the oven and sliced it, I got the pie plates down from the cabinet and put them in front of everybody. Brad winked at me and smiled, as if to say "well, we won that one!" I couldn't help but mouth 'thanks' at him. How come brothers are such shits some times, and such gnarls at others?

My pie got beamed down to my stomach before anybody else finished their second bite, and I asked to be excused from the table so's I could call Billy and let him know that I needed him to take the route on Tuesday, not Saturday, like we planned. Naturally, when Billy finally answered his telephone -- his Dad put in a line just for him, can you believe it? -- he squirreled me out of another five bucks to take it earlier, in addition to taking the whole week's profits. I let on that I was really stretched to do that, and didn't even drop a hint that I'd been ready to give him twenty, just to let me go up early with Brad. Sucker!

I was packed and ready to go a few minutes later. I mean, all I needed was to put a few pair of shorts and seven underpants and eight of my raddest T-shirts, plus two of my Speedo's and a pair of Birks. Everything else was either already up at the cabin, like towels and toothpaste and stuff, or would go into my sponge bag in the morning, like my new razor that I could use once every three or four days on my top lip and my chin. I went and helped Brad with the KP, like always, as soon as I heard Dad get up from the table. You knew he was getting up when he told mom that she had made the best pie ever, on top of a great meal, and he was going to have to go for a run to make sure he didn't get fat.

Dad was like that -- he never let an opportunity to praise my Mom go by. It was her bread, or her new hairdo, or the pie, or the fresh orange juice she squeezed for us, or anything. She always glowed in his praise. I learned a lot from that - never take your partner for granted, never leave any doubt that you appreciate the good things you get from somebody. I think it was a big part of why Mom and Dad stayed so . . . together, while other Moms and Dads seemed to have a tough time not getting a divorce. I tell Brad every chance I get how much I appreciate the good things he does, and when he praises me I still get all puppy-wiggly.

So anyway, Brad and me are scraping dishes, loading the dishwasher, getting the trash ready to put out, cleaning the kitchen to Mom's standards. (Although she always came in after we were finished and disinfected everything all over again, put things in exactly the right place. She wasn't being critical of us at all -- just making sure her family never got a single germ or bacteria from her kitchen.)

"You don't mind coming up early with me?" Brad casually said.

"Guess not," I said, suddenly feeling almost shy. Why was that? This was my brother, for chrissakes!

"I'm glad, Skeet."


"Well, I mean, I'm goin' away and all, and its all going a little fast for me, and I want to spend a little quality time with just you an' me before I go, and stuff."

"Yeah, right," I countered. "Work my ass off playing apprentice lumberjack, taking orders from you when I could be spending quality time with my friends." I instantly regretted sassing. I mean it was a little vicious, especially when I should have laughed a little. I played it straight.

"You can stay here if you want," he said quietly. "I just thought it'd be nice to help Dad out, so he doesn't have to bust his nuts. He only takes two weeks off a year. Him and Mom need a break."

Once again, my foot gets halfway down my throat before I can shut my gob. Shit.

"Yeah, that's the only reason I figured on going up with you, anyway. For Dad." Bullshit -- I wanted to sit shotgun, run and swim with Brad, bask in my exclusive possession of him for almost a whole week before Mom and Dad came up and let him off his leash, and he went into the village to shoot shit with guys his age. I couldn't tell him that, though. He'd use it against me, somehow.

"Whatever," he said, drying his hands and turning towards his room. "Gotta do the books tonight, so's I can hand 'em to Bud in the morning."

"What time you figure to be leaving?" I called after him.

"Maybe three," he said, not looking back. I wondered what I'd said wrong - he seemed kinda -- I don't know, down or something.

I went into the den and watched a movie with Mom and Dad -- I can't remember what it was, except I got uninvolved in it pretty quick, and started to fall asleep before it was half over. Dad nudged me awake with his foot and suggested bed, and I was in no condition to argue, so I just kissed Mom 'night, got my hug from Dad, and went to my room. I wish I'd gotten another kiss and hug - I miss that more than anything.

I didn't even get into bed, just fell across it and zonked after I threw on my sleep shorts, sock and T-shirt. I think it was Dad that came in and rolled me to one side then pulled covers over me. My feet were getting cold, so that was good. I hope he didn't notice the sock.

Tuesday, June 29,1993

I don't think I even pounded pud that night. My sock was dry in the morning, anyway. I always wear one, pulled down so's the elastic part was under my balls, so's I don't get my spunk all over me if I have a wet dream, or in case I wake up in the middle of the night and have to take care of business right away.

Like everybody my age, I figure, I splashed my spunk at least a couple of times every day, and usually once or twice a night. Otherwise your balls get inflated with the backup, and you can get elephantiasis, we all thought. It was as good an excuse as any, at least until girls in school got a little more advanced and let us start dicking them. That was the extent of my social life -- right hand Sally, occasionally left-hand Susie, and sometimes twins just for variety.

I wondered what I'd use as an excuse to buy my first condoms. Billy said he was going to say it was to make quality water balloons. Sounded too transparent to me. I hoped I could keep my dick hard when I had my first "real" date with a girl -- and that I didn't end up spewing all over her before I even got it inside her. Sometimes I thought that whole idea was a little gross, and maybe it would be better to just keep it to myself. Or maybe do it with a couple of friends first, to sort of get used to it. I mean, not anything queer or anything, just put it between a guys legs and practice a little, you know? Learn how to kiss, where to touch, that sort of stuff. I didn't think much about girls when I flogged my monkey, for some reason. It was usually something about looking at my dick, except it wasn't attached to me, it was right in front of my face so's I could see it good, and watch it as it grew and felt it expanding and the tingle started somewhere between my poop chute and my balls, and then it was over the edge and hot and ooohhhh...

"Don't forget to bring the . . . " Brad opened my door just as I lost it, shooting into my sock. Thank God, I hadn't taken the warm covers off me. The advantage of a sock - your dick doesn't rub against the sheets.

"Can't you goddam knock!" I squeaked in between the first and second spasms.

" . . .cash fund," he said grinning. He knew! The sonofa bitch knew he'd caught me pounding prick under the sheets!

"Get the hell outta my bloody room, dip squat!" I squawked as the third shot hit me in the back of the head.

"Sorry, Skeet! Sorry!" he laughed at me. The bastard laughed at me! "Mom's in the back and Dad's leaving the driveway now, so your secret's safe with me."

"What secret," I gushed as the fourth wave shivered my timber. I was still spurting, but it was almost over. Maybe he didn't know I was cumming, maybe he didn't think I was thinking about his chest, and the hollow of his throat under the Adam's apple . . .

"That you've got a truly vile mouth, brother of mine," he said as he was pulling the door closed behind him. At least he wasn't coming into the room! I couldn't have handled him pulling off my covers, seeing my cum sock all wet and sticky, knowing that I was too depraved to exist.

He then called through the door. "When you finish, get Mom to give you the petty cash right away. I might get here a little earlier than I thought, and we could split early."

"Whatta ya mean, finish?" I yelled through the door.

"Scratching your itch, of course!" he countered, and I heard his weight move down the hall.

Ooofff! I thought for a minute he knew he'd caught me!

I wiped my dick up good inside the sock, then got out of bed and ran to the bathroom to pee before I burst, throwing the sock into the hamper.

"Shit!" I thought as I looked at the clock on the wall. It was already seven thirty. I grabbed a hot one, couldn't find enough hairs on my lip or chin to bother to shave off, and threw my toothbrush and shave cream and razor back into the sponge bag, along with the stick of deodorant and my shampoo. I threw my sleep shorts back on to get from the bathroom down the hall to my bedroom, and naturally Brad was just rounding the corner from the kitchen toward his room, almost running, nearly bowling me off my pins.

"Forgot the book!" he said to no one in particular. He was wearing my favorite T-shirt of the week, the one with the arms ripped out so it was like sleeveless, and you could make out the ripple of the muscles on the tops of his shoulders.

His eyes were on my chest. For some reason, he wouldn't look me in the eye, then he brushed past. Like I say, almost took me out. I stood in the door of my room as he ran back out of his, the account book in his hand. As he passed by, he did something that got me all tingly -- he gave me a mock slap in the gut, and rubbed for just a second, then ran on.

"Nice abs you're building, Skeet," he said in a little growl, almost back into the kitchen already.

It made my day, that he finally noticed that my efforts were paying off. I wished he'd stop calling me Skeet, the shit head.

I spent the rest of the morning watching the agonizingly slow sweep of the second hand on my watch. Did my exercises, jogged my usual six mile route, showered again, that kind of stuff. Helped Mom by doing some weeding in the flower patch, while she did stuff in the kitchen.

She called me in for lunch around noon, and there was the usual smell of fresh bread. Tuesday was bread day. There was a hamper on the island, so full that the lids poked up, and a couple of bags of stuff by the back door, ready for us to load in the 'Maro. I opened the fridge to get milk, and saw a bunch of packages all wrapped and ready to go into the ice chest for the trip.

"What's in the parcels, Mom?" I asked, already drooling for the corned beef and horseradish and lettuce sandwiches she'd cut.

"Oh, just a small ham for sandwiches, and cheese, and a couple of hamburgers for you boys tonight - I know you'll be hungry by the time you get up there. A few chops for tomorrow, and lasagna for Thursday. All the fresh air and swimming and working will empty your stomachs pretty quick!"

I crammed half a sandwich into my gut.

"Now, Tim," she said in mock serious jest. "You don't need to inhale your food. It won't walk away."

"Hungry," I said after I swallowed. I hadn't chewed it all up, so it was a chore to get down. I helped it with some milk. "Farm work ain't good for dieting."

Mom laughed easily, and sat munching her half sandwich delicately. Mom wasn't really on a diet -- she just never ate much. She was still the same size as when she was in High School. I remember when she and Dad went to their twenty-fifth High School reunion - she wore a white shirt and cheerleader sweater from school, and they fit fine, except I'll bet her breasts were a lot bigger now than when she went to school, seeing how the sweater stretched over them. Oh, yeah. Mom and Dad were "High School Sweethearts," like in the movies. They dated all through college, while Dad was at Stanford and mom at Cal, and got married in their senior year. Neat, huh?

We prattled a little about how good the truck garden was doing - the tomatoes were already almost ready for picking, and we'd had some snow peas for Sunday supper.

Just as I was wrapping myself around the second sandwich, I heard Brad's 'Maro in the drive.

"Whoop!" I said. "He got off early!" I forgot my sandwich and ran to my room to get my backpack and sponge bag, hauling them out to the back door, ready to pile into the 'Maro and fly.

"Hold it, Tim," Mom admonished. "He's got to eat, too!"

I slunk back to the table, watching the door for him to come in, scarfing down a few pickles and stuff.

An hour later, it seemed, he finally sauntered in, like as if we weren't even leaving soon.

"Hi, Mom, Skeet."

"Hi, Dear," Mom gushed. "Corned beef on rye?"

"Yum!" said Slowpoke. "Okay I throw some duds in my duffel while you rustle 'em up?"

At last, my dimwit brother was getting the idea that he needed more than a smile and a beautiful body up at the cabin.

"Of course, Brad." Mom said, getting up to build him a pile of sandwiches. If it was me to ask, she'd tell me it wasn't polite to do that kind of thing, I should help. Mr. Perfect gets away with it all the time.

Despite myself, I got a plate out for him, and put some more pickles and pickled onions in the dish for him, and poured a glass of milk for him. Only because I wanted some more for me, of course. I carefully put exactly as much milk in his glass as in mine.

I couldn't believe it when he came back into the kitchen, his duffel already packed and under his arm, before Mom had finished his sandwiches. Could it be my brother actually wanted to go as much as me?

"Nah! Probably has a hot date up there," I thought to myself, bitterly somehow.

His hair hung down a little on his forehead, the perfect curl, just like Superman, but blonde. He sat in his chair, then bit into his sandwich with his Perfect teeth, and swallowed before he could have possibly chewed it at all. As usual, he got no rebuke, whereas I would have been hauled before the Court of Public Humiliation by Mom or Dad for gulping my food, causing all sorts of  gastrointestinal distress, risking stomach cramps and ulcers, you name it.

I sat across from him as always, and had no choice but to look into his Perfect eyes, at his Perfect skin. His big hands, long fingers, Perfect nails, everything disgustingly Ideal. How come I missed that bus? I had a zit on my left temple, and my hands weren't near as big as his were (but they're growing fast, Mr. Perfect, you better watch out, I'm gonna catch up to you!). I didn't bite my nails anymore, but they never looked as clean as his. Why didn't I get green eyes? Why was I still two inches shorter than him, and thirty pounds lighter, and still with a 26" waist, three inches smaller than him?

"I've made up a few extra sandwiches in case you get hungry on the road," Mom said. "Nothing fancy, just Cheese and Branston Pickle and lettuce on wheat. Oh, and there's a thermos of apple juice and a couple of bananas and a few honey crinkles." My Mom's honey crinkle cookies bring tears to your eyes -- just like Gran Weston used to make.

"You get the Cash Fund," said Brad. Not quite a question, not quite a statement.

"It's all ready on the kitchen counter," interjected Mom before I confessed failure. "I didn't want Tim to forget it after I gave it to him this morning."

Some Moms are fabulous. She didn't fib a bit, and got me off the hook for not remembering to ask for it.

"How much we taking?" Perfect said after swallowing.

"Well, I want you to pick some things up at Murdoch's, and there'll be ice and things, and probably another propane tank, so I put $250- into the envelope."

"You trust me with that much?" I said in almost disbelief. Like I said, I have this talent for tickling my tonsils with my toes.

"Don't be a nerd, Skeet," said Perfect through a mouthful of half mashed rye and beef. His teeth were, of course, flawlessly clean, and Mom didn't even notice he talked with his mouth full.

"Tim, I'd trust you with anything, you know that," said Mom, not anywhere near as condescending as it looks on paper. She was dead serious. "Unlike your brother, who'd lose his head if your father hadn't nailed it on with spikes."

"Hey, not fair!" said Mr. Perfect.

But Mom was right. Brad is absentminded sometimes, like all super intelligent beings. He went to school once last April without changing out of his sleep shorts, and "lost" his car keys once for a whole week until he remembered he'd put them under his floor mat because he didn't have any pockets in his running shorts. He'd lost his wallet twice at school, just putting it down on his tray in line. Lost is a euphemism for leaving it somewhere that sticky fingers can reach. Too trusting, Mr. Perfect.

"I won't lose it, I promise," I said proudly.

"But you need to keep a good record, Tim," Mom continued. "We're renting the cabin to your Uncle Jeremy for the month of August, and we have to keep track of expenses for tax purposes."

"Jeremy?" said Brad. "From LaLa Land?" He never called Los Angeles anything else. Said it was full of crazies and perves, probably all due to the drugs and booze the movie industry used.

"From Los Angeles, yes," Mom said, clearing a few things to the sink. "He and his . . . friend . . .are taking part of a sabbatical there."

Uncle Jeremy was my Mom's only living relative. They were brother and sister -- but only half and half, because Mom's dad was killed in Korea, and Gran Cushmann remarried when Mom was ten or twelve, I think. Jeremy came along, but then Gran Cushmann died in a car crash just when Mom went away to college, and Gran's second husband, Russell or something Baker, I think, moved to LA and raised Jeremy there. Mom never talked much about Jeremy, but you could see from the family album that she doted on him as a kid. I figured they'd had a fallout because they had different Dads, and when (Russell?) died of cancer a few years back, she never even got an invitation to the funeral. Plus the fact that Dad hates people who drink a lot, and Mom told Brad once that the last time she'd seen her brother he was stinking drunk and probably an alcoholic. He wrote things for television or something.

"What's a sabbatical?" I asked. I'd looked it up once when I saw it in a magazine, but couldn't remember.

"It's a long leave of absence to let you think and do research and stuff," said Mr. Perfect. I remembered, then.

"Not quite," I said. "I just remembered - it's when a school givea a teacher a whole year off every seven to do research."

"Okay, smart stuff," said Brad. "So how come Uncle Jeremy's getting one? He's just a writer, not a teacher."

"His . . . companion is a university teacher," said Mom. "They're just spending part of it at the cabin."

"Do you know her?" asked Brad.

"No," said Mom after a pause. "No, I don't. But I'm sure it will be all right."

"They coming here?" I asked. I was curious to meet the black sheep of the Weston family. Probably the exact opposite, the mirror image of Mom. She was good, him Darth Vader, she was loving and caring, him hateful and mean spirited, she was . . .

"No, there won't be time," said Mom. A little wistfully, I thought.

I wondered what it would be like not to see Brad for years and years, and not to know he was all right and happy and that he cared a little about me. I thought I understood why Mom sounded a little less cheery than I'd expect if her brother was coming to town. The cabin is only two hundred road miles from Sacramento. Well, a little more, but you get my meaning. To come all the way from L. A. and not stop to say howdy sounded like there was a lot lost between the two.

"Let's load up!" said Brad, breaking the beginning of a long period of silence. He got up and took his plate and glass to the sink, and grabbed a cookie from the jar for each of us, and we started carting the bags and the duffel and my backpack out to the 'Maro.

Our chariot sparkled in the bright sun, the chrome as polished as the finest silver, not a mote of dust on the long hood, the leather seats polished like the seat of a saddle. We loaded most of the stuff into the trunk. The ice chest and the groceries we loaded in the back seat and the foot wells, covered with a white nylon tarp, as that would be cooler than the oven of the trunk. Finally, after a lot of fiddling, we had everything set so that it didn't look like we were gypsies moving house, got a kiss and a "be careful" from Mom, and backed down the drive. I was already in classic shotgun pose, even if the chrome was too hot under my arm and I had to lift it just a little high to get it to rest on the door.

Mom stood at the end of the drive, smiling, and I shouted out "see you Friday night!"

"We may wait until Saturday morning, if Dad's tired," she called back.

"Okay," I said as Brad shifted into first. "We'll call on Thursday night!"

"Call when you get to town," Mom called out again.

"Okay," I hollered as we lurched forward. "Love ya!"

And we were gone. Mom was in the driveway, waving her dishtowel and smiling as we pulled away, her pink shirt and khaki gardening shorts glowing in the sun. It's one of those Kodak moments that never fade.