My 5th Nifty story and as always I welcome your emails, comments, critiques. You can read my other stories by looking me up (JJ) under prolific authors. Enjoy! And Support Nifty. -JJ jj.writer76@yahoo.com

 

 


What Grows in Winter

Chapter Seven: Much to Be Thankful For

 

"I don't mean to put this on you, Jacob. It's a little awkward even for me because you are my boss and this may be crossing the line, but I just want to help my wife's family. They're not really sure what to do."

Jacob had been preoccupied all morning with the feed numbers. He was so nervous about getting stuck in winter with food running short, and every indicator said this up-coming winter could be a long and hard one. Long and hard was great with TJ, not so much with season. He'd gone over those numbers so many times and had to trust he was right. Still, next time he was at Conyers he might order another 10 tons before prices climbed. Mac's family concern was just another issue he didn't plan, but he, of course, would help resolve. Looking out the window at the whirling snow he responded to Mac.

"I can talk to him, if you want. See what's going on in his head" he replied. "Teenagers as a general rule are confused. Add sexual identity to the mix, and it can make for a tough time for him and his family."

"I'd appreciate that, Jacob. I really would. It's just... well, Barbara was saying, she doesn't want it to... to look like counseling. Like we are trying to get him some help. Even though that's what we are doing."

"So don't hang a sign outside `gay teen counselor inside'?"

Mac smiled. "Less obvious would be better."

"I get you. Look you find a reason for him to come here this week and I'll take care of the rest."

Wednesday afternoon Cody knocked on the office door looking for his uncle Mac. Jacob was ready to greet him and spend some time with the young man, and after introductions he offered him a ride around the farm to look for his Uncle who conveniently had his cell phone off.

"So you're Mac's nephew? He's a great man your uncle. I couldn't run this place without him." Cody didn't respond. "What year of school are you?" Jacob asked pulling away from the office.

"Senior" he replied.

"Good. So getting ready to graduate. What are you thinking for next steps?"

"I don't know. I applied to some schools."

"Great! What do you plan on studying?"

"I don't know."

"What do you like?"

"Nothing. I don't like school."

"Nothing? I don't believe that. There's got to be something you like. History?"

"No."

"English or literature?"

"Not really."

"I'll just go out on a limb and rule out sciences... what about music? Or art?"

"I like art, yeah."

"OK, so that's a start."

"Yeah but my dad says I can't be an art major. He says you can't do anything with it."

"Hmm. Well, I don't want to tell your dad he's wrong, but..."

"He's wrong."

"Yeah, he's wrong. You can do a lot with an art major. Especially if you are good. What's your medium?"

"My what?"

"Your medium. You know, oils, sculpture, drawing?"

"Oh. I just use pencils. Never tried oils or anything like that."

"Well, you gotta start somewhere. That's cool though if you can draw well. I can't. I guess I always knew I was destined to be an agriculture major and end up here, but it's been good."

Cody was looking out the window and didn't seem to be interested in small talk. Jacob looked over at the lanky teen and recognized all the signs from his own High School years. Fear. Confusion. Intrigue. A desire to find someone who understands you but a need to fit into the crowd. Cody was about 5'10'' and had messy long brown hair that had become stylish again with bangs hanging down to his eyebrows and falling over his ears. His cargo pants were baggy and cinched tight at his narrow waist and he had on several layers of shirts: tee shirt over thermal long sleeve with an unbuttoned flannel all under a North Face fleece that was too light for the cold weather. His air had the weight of the world, and Jacob knew in part it was typical teenage angst, and in part it was compounded pressures of being different in small town America. It made him glad he was no longer 18.

Jacob knew how to draw him out of his shell. He just had to time it right. They pulled up to the large barn where they kept the majority of the hogs. Several men were working there and Jacob knew once he planted this seed Cody would be dying to ask him but would not say a word in front of these men. Good- it would fester and torture him. It would eat him alive and force him to speak his mind when they got back in the car.

Jacob put the car in park, and as he was exiting said nonchalantly "Let's go check if he's in here. I hope so. I have to get back. My boyfriend is coming over for dinner and I want to be ready for him." He didn't even have to look at Cody's face. Jacob could almost hear his jaw drop, and before the young man could process this glorious information Jacob had almost jogged inside and moved on to another conversation. "Hey Tony, is Mac inside? I've been looking for him and he told me he might be here."

"Mac? No he's not here. I don't think."

"I'll go look. Cody, let's go look inside."

Inside it was so noisy Cody could hardly hear Jacob who was pointing out some of the operation and talking about the tons of pork they produce each year. Cody didn't care, and not because the place smelled terrible, or the noise was atrocious. No, Jacob said "boyfriend". Jacob was gay.

Jacob was gay!

It was visible in Cody's eyes he wanted to talk. His demeanor had changed, his mouth, his posture, his very aura. But Jacob wouldn't let him get off this easy. He continued to walk around the barn stopping to talk to the men, Cody at his side, and it was 10 minutes later that they were back in his truck where it was quiet and private.

"Well guess he wasn't there. We can try to the grain barn. Sometimes he goes there to check on..."

"Did you say boyfriend?" Cody interrupted eagerly.

Jacob feigned confusion. "What? No I was talking about your uncle and where he could be."

"No, earlier. You said your boyfriend is coming over?"

"Oh, yeah. TJ. He's a great guy. You'd like him. He's a cop." Jacob paused dramatically and put on a concerned face. "Please don't tell me you are offended that I'm gay. I hope you're not like that."

"No! No! I'M GAY!" he said proudly.

"You are? Well I had no idea!"

"Oh my God! I've never really met another gay guy. There aren't a lot around here!" Cody was visibly excited and his smile and radiance only magnified his youth. It was very endearing.

"No one at your school?"

"No! That's the problem! I'm like the ONLY ONE!" Cody said enthusiastically. He couldn't contain his delight.

"Well look at that. Another gay person. Right here in Kansas."

"I KNOW! I can't believe it."

"So how are you holding up with it? Do your friends give you a problem?"

"A little bit. Not a ton because it's such a small school and I've known everyone since we were in kindergarten. But still, I know they started treating me differently. I just want to graduate."

"Ah! Look who's calling me. It's Mac!" Jacob said faking his surprise for the perfectly timed call. He answered his cell and decided that Mac needed another hour to finish up and "I'll ask him. Cody your uncle wants to know if you wouldn't mind hanging out with me until he's ready. Yeah, Mac, he says that's fine. We'll be at the house then."

Mac hung up the phone with a smile. Jacob surprised him at every turn, and always seemed to win more and more respect. He was humbled that someone 30 years younger than him could still teach him lessons.

Jacob and Cody sat in the farm house living room for the next hour and Marie put out hot chocolate and cookies. Buckley jumped onto the couch and lay down in Jacob's lap as they talked openly and honestly about dating, the internet, sex, safety, and above all self-respect. After confirming Cody was 18, just because he felt more comfortable knowing he was a legal adult, he shared some stories of mistakes he'd made earlier and how he regretted them, but how he never did anything risky or dangerous. "You know how like your parents are bad at the DVR and they can't seem to figure out the internet? It's a generational thing. But they grew up in the midst of the AIDS crisis, and they seem to be smarter about sex than out generation. People our age, they have this fascination with risky sex and bareback sex and somehow all the warnings and education the older generation got has worn off. So I know when you get to college you will do stupid things because everyone does. And if you saw some of the guys I hooked up with because I was lonely and horny, you'd be ashamed for me!" Jacob said to Cody's laughter "but still I never did anything that put me at risk. I still got tested, but knew going into the test it was just an extra precaution. I knew I was clean. I just want you to promise me you'll be careful too." Jacob thought for a moment he'd given this speech so many times in the last month he should develop a powerpoint presentation.

He gave Cody his cell phone and email and told him to stay in touch if he had questions or concerns or "just wanted to talk". By the time Mac came to pick him up he was a different kid, and Mac knew Cody's parents would be eternally grateful to see their son still knew how to smile.

Though they were technically in the same generation Jacob marveled at their age difference when he received his fifth text within the first twenty minutes of Cody's departure. Who has time to text this often? Twice he had to decipher the acronyms the young man employed. "IDK" mean "I don't know" Eddie confirmed.

Eddie. Hmmm... Eddie and Patrick were clicking, but it was almost too bad because Eddie and Cody were about the same age. But Eddie was much more mature; a lifetime of abuse and neglect had forced him to grow up too quickly. In a sense, even TJ had a more youthful spirit than Eddie. Then again, Patrick still acted like a kid, so he and Eddie were well paired ying and yang. Jacob wondered what type of guys Mark was into... but Cody was too young for Mark. Mark was more mature than any of them, and too driven and determined. He'd probably scare the crap out of young Cody who looked like a Boy Band wannabe, though he was certain if given the chance Cody would do things to Mark he'd never done before. Shit... most guys would. Even the straight ones.

Well, it wasn't for him to play match maker, Jacob decided. He'd stick with just giving them an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on and an awful lot of self-respect and self-confidence. And that's when the idea hit him... today was the Monday before Thanksgiving, and why not celebrate it together? Sure he wanted to see his parents and escape to the warmth of Florida for a few days, but this way he could be with TJ and not leave Eddie alone... it was a great plan! His new support group of guys all over to celebrate the classic American tradition! He just had to let his parents know.

"And the grain levels are good?" Mr. Tucker asked from the home in Florida. Jacob pictured them warm and sunny amidst orange and lemon trees while he watched a blanket of white cover the frozen land.

"They are dad, yeah. I emailed you the numbers this morning. Did you see them?"

"No, no I didn't go onto my email today. Maybe tomorrow."

"Ask him if they have a lot of snow" Mrs. Tucker was heard in the background saying to her husband.

"Your mother wants to know..."

"We've got about 2 feet of snow" Jacob replied. Sometimes he felt like Isaac from the Bible. His parents were already old when he was born, and they were more the age of grandparents than parents of a 26 year old.

"He says two feet of snow" Mr. Tucker told his wife.

"Hey dad, look I want to clear something with you. You know I've been helping a few kids from the area who are gay and struggling."

"How's TJ? Ask him how TJ is" Mrs. Tucker chimed in.

"He's good, dad. Tell her he's doing really well. TJ and I, we are both helping these kids and so this Thanksgiving I want to stay here and have dinner with them. It would be good for them."

"He's not coming for Thanksgiving, Linda. He's having the gay friends over."

Jacob laughed. His dad said it so bluntly and awkwardly... he knew he meant no harm by it. It was just a generational difference, but still it was funny the way he phrased it- like they'd all be dressed as Carmen Miranda and instead of turkey it would be a big gay goose wearing a feather boa.

Mrs. Tucker picked up another phone in the house. "I need to do this for these guys, mom. Some of them are picked on and feel really out of place and so I think it would be nice if TJ and I had them over and they could talk and open up. I'll still come down for Christmas."

Mr. and Mrs. Tucker understood Jacob's plans and were impressed by their young son's generous spirit, though admitted it would be lonely at the table without him. Jacob thought planting this initial seed would be a good start since at Christmas he wanted to ask his dad to give him one of the houses he was building for his planned charity. That was not missing Thanksgiving dinner... that was a $100,000 donation.

Emails went out, and Patrick and Mark accepted the offer, though Mark could only stay for dinner and had to drive back early Friday morning for practice. He did have a game on Saturday, the last game of the season, and scored tickets for them all to watch. That would be a nice treat, a cold treat, but still fun to watch Mark play on his last home game before the potential NFL combine.

What about young Cody? Hmm... Jacob called Mac, floated the idea, and asked him to speak to Cody's parents about it first. Yes, he was 18 and legally an adult, but Cody was still a kid at home and this was the more prudent route if the ultimate goal was family acceptance and accord. Several hours later Jacob got a call from a local though unfamiliar phone number.

"Mr. Tucker, this is Steve Addison. I'm Cody's father. I believe you talked to my son some days ago?"

"Mr. Addison, hello. Nice to meet you. I did talk to Cody. He's a great kid."

"Mr. Tucker I just wanted to thank you."

"Please call me Jacob."

"Alright, Jacob. I just wanted to thank you. There's been a real transformation in Cody these last few weeks. I know he regularly texts and talks to you, and whatever it is you are telling him has really improved his spirits."

"Good. I'm glad. That was the whole goal."

"I...um... my wife and I don't know any gay people. And I know for Cody this has been a challenge. Feeling like he's alone in the world. I do love my son, you see. I just want to understand him is all."

"I don't think there's ever been a parent who understands their teenage son, gay or straight, Mr. Addison" Jacob said lightheartedly. He could tell Mr. Addison was smiling.

"No, you're right about that."

"I don't mean to break up your family on Thanksgiving, Mr. Addison. My invitation to Cody was just that- an invitation. I thought it better to float the idea to you and your wife first rather than directly to Cody."

"And we appreciate that. If it still stands then, Jacob, you can go ahead and invite Cody and let him decide. I think one Thanksgiving away won't hurt much. And if it keeps him happy, then we're all in favor of it. Only thing I ask is please not to give him any alcohol. Not implying you would, Jacob, just taking a precaution." Jacob was pleased at that statement. Only a dad who really does loves his son would say something like that.

Needless to say Cody JUMPED at the invitation to spend Thanksgiving at the farm, and since his family would spend the holiday with their Grandmothers in Kansas City, Cody would even be spending the night. Without alcohol.

Thursday morning the kitchen was bustling with activity. Marie had prepared most of the meal on Wednesday and Jacob only needed to reheat a few things. The turkey was in the oven, pies were on the counter, and bowls full of delicious side dishes were in the warming drawers. Eddie had set the dining room table finding a deep burgundy table cloth and white overlay. Autumnal colored napkins were folded at the six place settings and a row of single white candles lined the center interspersed with gold, crimson and orange leaves, gourdes, miniature pumpkins and deep red berry clusters. Water, wine and champagne glasses stood like soldiers before every place. When TJ walked in he stopped short and admired the splendor.

"Wow. If you EVER doubted you are gay... then this should be the proof." Eddie smiled shaking his head which TJ reached out and slapped gently. "Really impressive. How did you know how to do all this?"

Eddie walked over to the buffet and showed TJ his I-Pad. "Martha Stewart dot com" he smirked.

"Well I hope Martha's ok with me putting beer cans on the table."

Jacob heard a car pull up and he went outside, dish towel in hand, Buckley at his side to great Mr. and Mrs. Addison in person. "He's in good hands!" he assured them. "Have a safe drive and we'll see you tomorrow afternoon." Cody looked like a new man: he held his head a little higher, his eyes were bright, his smile genuine. The once pissed off at the world sulking teenager now was confident and affable. It had been a remarkable few weeks (and a few hundred texts that put Jacob over his limit for the first time ever). He stayed at Jacob's heels in the kitchen trying to help with the meal while Eddie and TJ watched the Detroit Lyons in their annual losing ritual. But then the door opened and Cody saw two men walk in: one must be Patrick. Jacob had said they look alike, and he was dating Eddie. And the other was... an angel.

It was lightening.

Electric.

"My heart was struck through my eyes and surely I will die from the wound" wrote Chaucer about love at first sight. Cody had now seen it. He'd now felt it. He was ready to die. For God so loved the world that he created Mark.

Even Buckley knew beauty when he saw it, and the jumpy, excitable Beagle charged happily to him howling and longing to be petted. Mark knelt down rubbed the dog's belly letting him lick his face and moaning in delight. Buckley was in love and everyone noticed.

Cody wasn't quite as subtle. He shook Mark's hand too long looking deep into his eyes with a wide, full tooth grin. "Can I get you something to drink?" "Do you want me to take your bag upstairs?" "There's cheese and crackers on the table. Would you like some cheese and crackers?" Cody found himself watching football... and cheering with a second and a half delayed reaction whatever Mark cheered. "Offsides" yelled Mark. "Offsides!" Cody agreed. He wasn't really sure what offsides was. But Mark knew.

Mark.

Mark. Mark, Mark, Mark. Mark!

"It's his first crush" TJ whispered to Jacob in the kitchen. "He's probably never let himself have a crush because he was afraid. But he knows with Mark it's ok."

"And he's making up for lost time" Jacob whispered. "How's Mark reacting?"

"Honestly I think he's clueless."

"Assign places at dinner. Put Mark at the other head and Cody next to me."

"I want to sit next to you" TJ smiled.

"You sit where you're told at dinner, and I'll make it up to you at dessert" Jacob said with a kiss. TJ wrapped his arms around him and pushed him gently against the wall. "I'll save some of that whipped cream and bring it up to the bedroom" he winked.

The group gathered around the table which was overflowing with food: turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with mini marsh mellows, corn bread stuffing, green beans, brussel sprouts with cheese sauce, cranberries. Everyone's champagne glass was filled with sparkling cider and red and white wines and water pitchers stood ready on the sideboard.

"Could I say the blessing?" Mark asked humbly, surprising and pleasing his host who nodded proudly.

They joined hands and bowed their heads. "Dear Lord" Mark began "On this day we gather to give you thanks for all the things you give us. We have much to be thankful for. We are thankful for our friends and family. We are thankful for our health and for this food. We remember those who have none of these things, and we ask you to take care of them. But mostly Lord, we are thankful that you put people like Jacob into our lives. Because his love reminds us that you love us, and that you will always love and accept us because you created us. We ask your blessings on Jacob, and we thank you for bringing us together as friends. Amen."

"Amen" they all replied, but Jacob, who had been so overcome couldn't speak. He looked across the table at Mark who smiled and winked discreetly. It was all the "thank you" he could ever need.

"To friendship" TJ said holding up his glass in a toast.

"To FRIENDSHIP!"

With the dinner over, and all the plates and glasses cleared and washed, the stuffed men returned to the football game and sat getting comfortable on couches and chairs fighting off the tryptophan. Jacob laid out all the dessert on the table in the family room and they ate it buffet style with ice creams and whipped creamed. TJ sat with him eating pumpkin pie, giving Jacob a few bites off his fork while keeping one eye on the game. Eddie had given up and laid his head in Patrick's lap and fallen asleep. Patrick brushed his long black hair with his fingers while quietly cheering on the game. Mark was sitting on the floor leaning against the couch with Buckley resting in his lap. He stared intently at the TV making mental notes and mumbling plays to himself while Cody watched and wished he was as cute as a Beagle.

By 10pm the room had fallen silent as most were ready for bed having drunken and eaten themselves into a stupor as mandated by the Thanksgiving tradition. TJ turned off the TV and told everyone to go upstairs. He sounded like a camp counselor. There was talk of a late morning trip to the mall for black Friday. Jacob wanted to buy some new computer monitors and a TV for the office. Cody said he would go with him, but Mark had to get up early and drive back to campus. Eddie asked Patrick if he wanted to "hang out" at home. He agreed, and felt his cock swell a little. The house alone... could get interesting.

They said their goodnights in the upstairs hall along with several hugs and "you're awesome, Jacob" comments. Though he had fun Jacob was glad when TJ closed the bedroom door and they were alone. TJ pulled Jacob onto the bed, wrapped him up in his arms, and kissed his head. "If we have kids we need to space them out a little more."

Jacob laughed. "You don't think we'll have four gay sons all the same age?"

"Probably not. But if we do, they'll all turn out pretty well I'm sure." He pulled Jacob up higher to kiss him and felt Jacob's hand start to pull his shirt out of his jeans. It was the initiation of some well-deserved intimacy between the two men interrupted by a knock at the door. TJ could taste Jacob's slightly annoyed laughing in his kiss. "Come in" he called. It was Mark.

"Hey. Sorry. Can I borrow some toothpaste? I forgot mine."

"In the bathroom" TJ replied. Another knock. This time it was Patrick.

"You guys have any Advil?"

"Bathroom" TJ replied. He tried to kiss Jacob again when he saw Eddie walk past them and also go into the bathroom. He heard the trio laugh about something. Only person who was missing was...

"Is Mark here? I have toothpaste" Cody said walking into the room. Pretty soon there was another party starting in Jacob's bathroom as the young men had gotten a second wave while TJ and Jacob only wanted to strip naked and falls asleep together.

"We'll buy a deadbolt for the bedroom door so the kids stay out" TJ whispered. It made Jacob smile. That was the second time he hinted at kids... which means he was hinting at something else. Gay marriage wasn't "legal" in Kansas, but that wouldn't stop him if he and TJ thought they were ready. And every day Jacob thought they were getting there...

His marriage dream was shaken awaken by the bed moving. They were all climbing on. First Eddie on top of Jacob making him the meat in an Eddie and TJ sandwich. Patrick got on one side of the stack, Mark on the other and Cody... well Cody got right on top of Mark, of course. Mark still had not seemed to catch on. This was just guys messing around, in his mind. He forgot the pure honesty Tucker farm afforded them all.

"Go away!" TJ moaned with a half-laugh.

"No way! We're all sleeping here tonight" Patrick confirmed.

"Sleep over!" Eddie agreed.

"Come on man. You let me stay with you last time" Mark whined with exaggeration.

"Go away!" TJ moaned again with a bigger laugh.

"I don't want to sleep alone!" Mark announced.

"Sleep with Cody" Patrick suggested innocently. It made Jacob's eyes widen and he looked at TJ pinned below him. In the tenth of a second silent glance they had an entire conversation and decided to let the proposal play out without their intervention."

"Come on Cody. You'll keep me company tonight, right?" Mark said rolling Cody off his back. The young man fought hard to contain his excitement.

"Yeah! Yeah! Let me go brush my teeth!" he said jogging out of the room. Jacob marveled. Mark seemed smarter than that. He didn't think it ill will or malice, no, just complete obliviousness.

"Hey be careful, Mark" TJ whispered. He moved to get up and Jacob and Eddie rolled off him. "That kid's been hot for you since you walked in the door and I can guarantee you he's never even kissed a guy let alone slept with one."

Mark looked shocked. "I... didn't mean..."

"No, I know you didn't."

"Look, Mark" Jacob started "I bet you are used to guys following you around and wanting to be your friend. It's the price of fame. But for Cody you aren't a football star on campus. You're a good looking college guy who is nice to him."

"Shit. Should I tell him no?"

"No!" Patrick affirmed.

"That would crush him" Eddie agreed.

"Let him stay, be nice, sleep with him the way you slept with us. Just be careful because he's young and vulnerable and his first night in bed with a guy should be a good memory. Not one of rejection or regret" Jacob explained.

"Jesus Christ way to put pressure on me!" Mark exclaimed.

"You know what? Just be honest with him. You've never had sex with a guy yet, have you?" TJ asked.

"You know I haven't."

"Well neither has he. Tell him you have that in common and that you want to wait as he should wait. He'll follow your lead."

"You do that, Mark" Patrick began "and just hold him all night, and it will be the best thing you can do to him. Not every guy gets to be so lucky as to spend the night with a guy like you."

Mark smiled and nodded. He understood. He'd had sex before, not with men, but still- sex is sex, and he knew someone young could began a messed up life if sex is used as a means to take advantage. Time to follow Jacob's example and be selfless for the night. Besides, he was tired and would probably fall asleep in a few minutes anyway.

Cody was wearing a tee shirt and long pajama pants when Mark returned to "their" room, but the anxious High Schooler wore his smile best of all. Mark couldn't help but smile back. He closed the door on Buckley who whined sadly. Mark needed to focus on one being at a time and offered a heartfelt, tacit apology. He invited Cody to sit on the bed with him.

"Can I be honest with you?" he asked. Cody nodded. "I'm really new to this. I've never been with another guy. And at this point I want to wait for the right moment and the right person." Cody started to look disappointed. "So I want you to stay here. I do. I just didn't mean to give you the impression something might, you know, happen... I hope I didn't mislead you."

Cody feigned a smile but the sadness in his eyes showed his sorrow. "Nah, it's OK. I didn't think you would. I can go sleep in my own room."

"Why? Stay here. We're still friends, right?" The young man just nodded but he was clearly beginning to get sad. Even... tear up. "Oh, shit man, I'm sorry. Don't do that. I didn't want to make you sad." Mark didn't know what to do or say. This was all really new...

"No... it's just... I've never been with a bunch of people before where I could be so comfortable and myself and..." he took a long pause. "I'm still a virgin."

"That's nothing to cry about!"

"Yeah, says you. You're not, right?"

"No. Well with guys, yes."

"And were you a senior in high school and still waiting to have your first kiss? I don't think so" Cody snapped. The teenage angst- Cody contra mundum- was back. But Mark would have none of it.

"No. I was a senior in high school using girls to stay in the closet because I was afraid of who I was. And now I'm a senior in college still in the closet, still using girls because I'm afraid of who I AM. At least you are brave enough to be true. You may be lonely, Cody, but at least you didn't use and hurt people. I did, and that's much worse."

Cody was surprised by his honest confession, and it instantly took his own self-pity out of the picture. He wiped his eyes and nodded in understanding. "You think I'm brave?"

"I know you are brave" Mark said patting his back and putting his arm around his shoulder. He debated in his mind... it might backfire, it might be a bad move, but he had a hunch they had an understanding between them. So he went for it. "And if it's OK with you, I'd love for my first kiss with another guy to be with someone so brave." Cody blushed and the smile was back, ear to ear, as his heart raced. "Good. Get in bed." Cody scrambled under the covers while Mark set the alarm on his phone. "You mind if I take my shirt of?" Cody shook his head. He thought his erection might rip through the sheets and poke out the lights in the ceiling. Mark stripped to his boxers, and Cody admired the chiseled physique, the light dusting of fur along his chest, the ripples of muscles in his abs, perfect semi circles under his pecs. This would be his first kiss? He was the luckiest kid in the world. With the lights out and soft glow from the moon bouncing off the blanket of snow pouring through the window, Cody saw his silhouette move across the room and peel back the covers sinking into the mattress. Suddenly he was on his back, pinned under the weight of the star athlete who had both hands on either side of his head. He could feel Mark's breath against his face as he softly stroked his messy brown hair. Cody wrapped his arms around the massive back, feeling the warm skin and taught muscles. Then lips were against his lips, barely touching, gently applying pressure until a tongue forced his lips to part and Mark gained entry inside his mouth, and in that open mouthed exchange of life, of air and water, Cody was sure he could taste Mark's true essence, his soul, his love, his fear, his being. It was now part of him in the most intimate and special way.

Mark pressed his forehead against Cody's and the tips of their noses touched. "That was a great first kiss" he whispered. He rolled over to the side to spoon Cody pulling him into his embrace. Cody found his outside hand, took it into his own and pulled Mark closer feeling the muscles in his biceps and the hairs along his arm. Closing his eyes he had Mark on all the senses: in his mouth where he let the saliva pool in his glands so he could continue the flavor of another mouth inside his, in his touch where muscle and skin rubbed all over his body, in his smell distinct, unique, foreign and unmistakable of another man wafting over him. He could hear the sounds of Mark's breathing and the calmness of his body as heartbeats could be sensed against his own back. And though it was dark, he could see Mark better than he ever could before.

Mark closed his eyes and prepared to fall asleep thinking he handled the situation well. He marveled, too: Cody, for his first time, was one hell of a kisser.

Six men, all close in age, all the same and all different fell asleep that night: muscular star Mark and timid and lanky Cody in innocence and chastity; dark and angular Eddie and bubble butt pasty Patrick in sensuality and barely contained lust; TJ and Jacob in complete and unabashed love naked, tangled, breathing drooling, leaking feeling every part of the other and discovering how loving another is greater than loving oneself. Different stages of relationships, different stages of romance, difference stages of self-discovery, all very natural, all very normal, all beautiful.

Much to be thankful for indeed.

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Author's note:

To all the Codys out there... look for your TJs, Jacobs and Marks. They are out there. Not on Craigslist. Not at rest stops. They are out there in plain sight. Sometimes it's a stranger turned- pen pal (and I have a couple Codys in my life with whom I correspond) and sometimes it's a loving Uncle (Bless you J.M. !). Be careful, be smart, be proud, and don't be afraid to wait even for the first kiss. In the end it makes you stronger, love more deeply, and give more generously. -JJ