This story deals with a gay teenage romantic theme with occasional melodramatic and sexual situations. The usual restrictions apply: please read no further if this type of story isn't to your tastes, or if you're under legal age. This story may not be reprinted anywhere without permission. The contents are ©2008 by John Francis; all rights reserved. Comments to the author are welcomed at


Chapter 5

I’m glad I bought that shampoo yesterday, I thought, as I eyed my small arsenal of grooming equipment on the little shelf up in my makeshift hayloft bedroom. My hair was still wringing wet from the quick bath I had taken out in the yard a few minutes earlier. I glanced in the hand mirror and winced. Hopeless. If a drowned rat saw me, he’d think I was a distant cousin.

I sighed when I remembered the advice my best friend J.D. had given me back home in Seattle. Home seemed a thousand light-years away from 1864. I set the mirror down and thought back to the last time I had seen J.D., which was during the last week of school before the summer break. We were in the Math wing’s bathroom, which was deserted at the moment.

 “Girlfriend,” he said, wagging his finger in my face, “your biggest problem is that you have much too low an opinion of yourself.”

I hated it when he called me that, just to torment me. J.D. was the most “out” kid I knew. He always claimed he was already gay “in the womb,” and I believed him. Some gay guys had a flame that burned a little brighter than anybody else, and J.D.’s was positively radiating. But he’d been my best friend — “BFF,” we used to say — for almost three years, since I came to terms with my sexuality right before I turned 13.

“Shut up, Jonathan,” I snapped, deliberately using his first name, which he despised for some mysterious reason. “You’re not Oprah, and I’m not a girl.” As if to emphasize my point, I zipped up my fly, then flushed with my elbow.

He giggled and made a fluttery gesture as we turned the corner to the sink. “Oh, honey, don’t I know it.”

I washed my hands while he chattered on. We weaved our way through the bustling crowd in the hallway. Just as I was about to give him a retort to one of his snide comments, a handsome junior wearing a bright red team jersey stepped out from a nearby classroom and sauntered through the crowd. The boy gave me a sideways glance, but I immediately spun around in the opposite direction, dragging J.D. along with me.

“Here we go again,” he whined, letting me tug him away from our class. “Will you just get that moronic thug out of your head? Puh-lease!”

Leaning against the rough wood of the hayloft wall, almost 150 years away from the hallway, I felt tears stinging in my eyes at the memory. Luke Martin. That fucking bastard. Luke was easily the most popular guy in school — he was rich, he looked like an Abercrombie & Fitch model, and had won an entire display-case full of awards on the gymnastics team, plus he was an honor roll student. Good looks and brains… at least on the surface.

Less than a month ago, Luke had enticed me over to his house to hang out on a Friday afternoon. I didn’t even know he knew my name, and I was stunned that he even deigned to talk to me — Luke being one of the great royalty of Garfield High’s junior class, and me just one of the freshmen peons. I had a little notoriety for starring in a couple of school plays, plus winning our local school version of American Idol the month before, where Luke had first noticed me. But I was stupefied when we got to his kitchen and he handed me a Diet Coke, then gave me a long kiss. Rich, handsome, athletic, smart... and gay! That, despite going steady for all year with Lisa Woods, who was the queen to his king. We spent he entire weekend together, having sex in almost every room of the house, leaving me exhausted but exhilarated.

Unfortunately, as I learned by Monday morning, he had what J.D. called “the morality of a lawn chair, and not a very clean one, at that.” Luke utterly ignored me in our English A.P. class in third period, then wouldn’t answer his cellphone when I called him later that afternoon. By Wednesday, it was clear I was out of his life — a used condom tossed unceremoniously in the garbage.

As I caught my breath by the water fountain near the History wing staircase, Luke and three of his jock friends sauntered by.

“Hey, I thought this was a no-fag zone!” one of them quipped. They all roared with laughter. And Luke laughed the loudest.

I stepped forward, my face red with fury, my fists balled and ready to clobber any of them, but J.D. held me back. “Not here, hon’,” he said in a low voice, then put his arm around me. He turned back to the crowd. “We’re more men than you’ll ever be, and more woman than you’ll ever get! Eat me, bitches!” he said in a loud voice, causing them to chortle even louder.

J.D. led me down the hall into an empty classroom, then closed the door and gently pushed me down in a desk in the front row. The din of the voices outside began to fade. I sat, shaking, my face still burning, my fists clenching and unclenching. I opened my mouth, there weren’t any words to describe how... abandoned I felt.

“He isn’t worth it, Jase,” he said in a low voice, most of his femininity evaporating, and leaned close to my face. “You’re better than that.”

I started to answer, but my voice cracked, and I felt a stream of tears trickling down my face. “He — he said... he promised me...”

“...nothing but bullshit,” J.D. interrupted, giving my hand a quick squeeze. “If you’d just asked me, I would’ve warned you: Luke Martin will fuck anything that has a hole and a heartbeat. He’s a total slut.”

I glared at him.

“It’s true!” he insisted. “I knew he went both ways — you can always tell, by that little light behind the eyes — but I was never stupid enough to fall for it.”

I cleared my throat and wiped away the tears on my right cheek.

J.D. sat down beside me, then started to pick at an imaginary hangnail. “OK, except for that one blowjob about a year ago.”

“WHAT?” I yelled.

J.D. let both hands flutter momentarily up in the air. “Oh, it was just a quick booty-call,” he said, looking away. “Not like it was a big deal or anything.”

“You never told me about that one,” I said through gritted teeth.

“Hey,” he protested, raising his hands in mock indignation, “you know I maintain a strict ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.” He pantomimed zipping his mouth and throwing away the key.

“What about the ten other guys you did tell me about?”

He gave me a hmmph. “Well, those guys were out already,” he said, as if that explained everything. “Closet cases like Luke are an exception.” He leaned towards me conspiratorially and held two fingers apart by about an inch. “But Luke was a pretty small case... if you know what I mean.”

I nodded glumly. Luke had looks and muscles to spare, but the gods had penalized him in at least one department. The price of a pretty face, I guess.

The 4th-period bell clanged in the distance, echoing along the concrete corridors and giving us a start. The scent of summer was in the air. I had already finished half my finals, and only had three more to go in the next two days before I was officially out of ninth grade. But what did I have to look forward to? Nursing a broken heart all summer long? At least I wasn’t a virgin anymore... but for what?

“You’ve got that dreamy look in your eyes again,” J.D. warned, pulling me up by my arm and ushering me out the door. “Look, sweetie, it’s like I told you before: you’ll find somebody else. Luke’s a jerk. Trust me, Mr. Right is out there, somewhere on this planet. Maybe even two or three if you’re lucky. You’re bound to meet him eventually. It’s just a question of fate — fate and good timing.”

I stopped to grab a drink of water. My next class was physics, and the teacher, old Mr. Skowronski, was so genial that he didn’t care if we were on time for his classes or not, as long as we passed his weekly quizzes.

“Fat chance of that,” I said, wiping my mouth on my sleeve. “There’s nobody at this hellhole of a school I’d ever want.” Or who would ever really want me.

“Then maybe there’ll be somebody in St. Louis who’s more your style,” J.D. said, as we approached the Science wing. “One of those hunky corn-fed midwestern farmboys. Mmmm-mmmm. Meet me in St. Louis, Louie!” he sang out loud.

“Shaddup,” I whispered, as we took our seats at the back of the physics lab. Fat chance I’ll ever meet a hunky farmboy over the summer.

“Jason!” called a voice from outside the barn. “Papa says we gotta leave in five minutes for church! Mama says we’ll burn in hell fire if’n we don’t get there on Sundays.”

Lem’s voice snapped me back to the reality of 1864. “Almost done,” I called down from the hayloft. I pulled up my pants and buttoned up my shirt — my one good “church shirt” as Mrs. Colt called it — then pulled on my socks and boots. I took one last look in the mirror and shuddered. I was definitely having a bad hair day.

“What I would give for a blow drier right about now,” I said wistfully, then stepped down the ladder to the sawdust and dirt below.

§ § § § §


The First Baptist Church of St. Louis was an enormous brick-and-wood cathedral, with an ornate bell tower that loomed over the front of the building. After tying off the cart’s horses with the other wagons on the side, Mr. Colt led us up the stone steps and around the chalky columns that guarded the main entry doors. As I walked in, I was surprised to see at least 500 parishioners already seated, forcing us to take the next to last row — which was fine by me.

The church smelled of cedar and sweat, and the seats creaked and moaned with even the slightest movement. The air was thick, and I began to feel a little sleepy. Despite the mid-October date on the calendar, it felt like July inside; most of the ladies fluttered lace fans near their faces, while the men tugged at their collars and looked utterly miserable. Mr. Colt had an ill-fitting black coat, but still wore his overalls underneath.

I dozed through most of the sermon, dreaming of air conditioning and my home back in 2007. Mrs. Colt had warned me that Reverend Lucius Abrams was known far and wide for his hellfire and brimstone lectures, but to me, his speech was an endless drone that rose and fell like an ocean wave, interrupted occasionally by the more avid churchgoers in the front row adding an “amen” or a “say it.” Apparently, Mr. Colt agreed with me, because I caught him snoring quietly once or twice. His wife rapped him sharply until he begrudgingly picked up one of the bibles in the pews to read along with the passage.

“Kinda boring, ain’t it?” whispered Travis, who sat next to me, right on the back right aisle.

I nodded and stifled a yawn. Over the next two hours, the reverend’s sermons were interrupted by a dozen mournful hymns from the choir, featuring a lead tenor who was painfully sharp. The organ at the front of the church wheezed as the organist pumped frantically on the pedals, filling the air with a gloomy dirge.

“After dinner, I’ll take ya huntin’ out by Miller’s farm,” Travis said in a low voice. “Prob’ly catch us some rabbits, mebbe even a deer. You ever had venison?”

A cartoon image of Disney’s Bambi entered my mind. “Not my favorite,” I said with a shudder.

“Rabbits then,” he said. “You know how ta shoot?”

I shook my head. “I’m kind of an ‘entertainment savant,’” I said, managing a slight smile. “I can sing and act, and I know enough dance moves to get by, but I’m not much good for anything else.”

“Good enough for me,” Travis whispered. He grinned and his whole face lit up. God, he was dazzling. I looked away, afraid he would notice me staring at him.

He leaned close to me. “We’ll get us a coupla rabbits and then maybe drop by the crick for some swimmin’. This is prob’ly our last chance, since winter’s comin’. Ya know how to swim, right?”

I gulped and nodded. My swim trunks were still back in 2007, so that meant we’d have to... Yikes.

“Course,” he said thoughtfully, “ya got that cut on your head, and the doctor said not to get it wet or nothin’, so you best be careful of that.”

“AND THE LORD SAID UNTO MOSES,” bellowed a deep voice to our right.

We looked up to see the face of Reverend Abrams, who, unbeknownst to us, had stepped down from his pulpit and walked to the back of the church.

The man eyed us warily and raised his hands heavenward for emphasis. “GO DOWN AND CHARGE THE PEOPLE,” he thundered, “LEST THEY BREAK THROUGH UNTO THE LORD TO GAZE, AND MANY OF THEM PERISH!” His voice echoed across the wooden beams, and I looked up to see about 490 people staring at us. My face reddened.

Travis and I abruptly sat up straight and stared straight ahead as nonchalantly as we could. Reverend Abrams harrumphed, then continued his oratory as he strode back to the pulpit. Mrs. Colt shot me a disapproving glance and shook her head. Lem giggled, and I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing.

§ § § § §

At last, just after 10AM, the sermon ended and we sang one last hymn, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” Doesn’t have much of a beat, I thought, but with the right arrangement, we might just have a hit, ladies and gentlemen.

Travis and I were halfway down the aisle, weaving our way through the crowd when Mr. Colt’s voice boomed after us. “Boys! Ain’t you forgettin’ Sunday School?”

“Awwww,” muttered Travis. “We were gonna head out to the woods to fetch some rabbits for supper.”

“That kin wait,” insisted his stepfather. “You boys got some more Bible learnin’ to do ‘fore that. Take your brother and Jason here across the way to Miss Whitley’s. And don’t you go nowhere else until noon.”

“Your father and I have a meeting with the elders,” added Mrs. Colt. “Then there’s the 10:30 service for poor Mr. Elsworth, who died last Tuesday. You three go to Sunday School, and you learn your prayers, hear? We’ll meet back at the house for dinner at 12 sharp.”

I still wasn’t used to calling lunch ‘dinner,’ but I had to roll with the punches, 1864-style—at least until I figured out a way to get home.

“Ain’t five days of schoolin’ enough?” muttered Travis under his breath, as we pushed our way through the crowd and started down the stone steps.

“Apparently not,” I whispered back.

We joined a crowd of other children and teenagers on the curved path, but as I took a step forward, a shadow fell across my face. I felt a chill and looked up to see Reverend Abrams, who was idly twisting his string tie and staring down at me. He suddenly smiled and stuck out his hand.

“Hello, young man,” he said in a deep baritone. “I’m...”

“Reverend Abrams,” I said, reluctantly shaking his hand. “My name’s Jason Thomas.”

The man squeezed my hand a little too hard. “Yes,” he said thoughtfully. “Kin to Olivia Thomas, isn’t that right?”

“She was my aunt. I came out here from... from, uh, Vancouver to stay with her, but my mom didn’t know she was...” I looked down, partly acting, but also trying to keep my story straight.

“...gone to her reward,” he said, finishing my sentence. “Very sad. I knew Olivia years ago when she was part of our congregation, but she chose a different life some time ago, after her husband died. Tragic thing, losing a member of our flock in that fire. Sorry you couldn’t be here for her funeral last month. It was quite beautiful — yes, it was.”

I nodded, but didn’t reply. The reverend’s weathered face crinkled like a burlap sack, and his eyes narrowed. I looked away, hoping I’d be able to get away with the mishmash of truth and lies I was weaving. An uncomfortable silence passed.

“Sarah Colt tells me you can sing,” he said, abruptly changing the subject as he stroked his sideburns with his long, sinewy fingers. “‘A voice like an angel,’ she says.”

I shrugged. “I sang back home — mostly pop songs, a little rock. Mostly contemporary, but I know a decent selection of oldies.”

The reverend looked confused.

“That is, not a lot of hymns,” I said quickly. “The music here in St. Louis is a lot different from... uh, back home.”

He seemed satisfied with that. “You interested in becoming part of the First Baptist choir? We rehearse Tuesdays and Thursdays, just an hour or so. Got a warm fire and apple cider, along with a heapin’ helpin’ of the Lord’s righteousness.”

“Gotta have that,” I said drily. “I’ll — uh... I’ll think about it, Reverend. Nice to meet you.”

He gave me a thin smile and clapped me on the shoulder, squeezing me a little too hard. “Hope to see you Tuesday evening, Jason. And welcome to our community. Christ be with you.”

I followed the curving path, now well behind Travis and Lem and a crowd of other teenagers, and walked to a smaller wooden building, which apparently had been rebuilt on the land occupied by the original church from the late 1700s. Our boots clattered on the floor, then we pulled our chairs in a circle, where a prim older woman held court.

“Turn your books to page 129,” she commanded. “Now, who can tell us the story of Lot’s wife?”

“She turned into a pillar of salt,” I said, my voice surprising me as much as everybody else. Killer special effects, I thought, remembering the last time I had seen The Ten Commandments on DVD.

“Yes, after she looked back to watch the angels destroy the city of Sodom.” She nodded approvingly. “That was God’s fury to the Sodomites.”

I winced. Don’t knock sodomy unless you’ve tried it, I thought.

§ § § § §

The Sunday School discussion was at least a little more lively. I tried to sit back and let the other kids do the talking, but I caught a couple of girls eying me curiously, and caught one blonde whispering to another and pointed at me. I again cursed my lack of a blow drier. God knows, I wasn’t even close to being a male model, but in the right clothes and with the right hair, I was passable. But in my present state, I must’ve looked like a total retard.

Mr. and Mrs. Colt had left in the wagon half an hour earlier, leaving the three of us to trudge home on the 3-mile dirt road that led back to the farm. We walked briskly, but I figured it would still take almost an hour to get there. Lem chattered on about a friend of his who was going to trade him a frog at school in the morning, while Travis kept silent. The sun peeked over the trees, and I loosened my collar and slung my coat over my shoulder. Maybe the rains are gone for awhile, I thought, wondering how long I’d have to wait before returning to Marsen’s Cave in search of the mysterious blue light.

Just as the road began to bend eastward, I stopped dead in my tracks.

“Did you hear something?” I asked, looking around, straining my ears. “I thought I heard voices.” Something beautiful — a song I’d never heard before.

“I didn’t hear nothin’,” said Travis, kicking a rock along the ground.

“A bird, maybe?” suggested Lem.

Just as I started to respond, a ghostly wave of voices rose up in the distance, crying “Hallelujah!”

“Over there,” I pointed to an open section through the trees. “That sounded incredible!” I pushed my way through the thicket, narrowly avoiding a large clump of thorns, then stopped at a clearing.

At the bottom of a hill was a large dilapidated brown shack, surrounded by a makeshift picket fence. Several horses were nearby, and there was a sign in the distance that I couldn’t quite read. I started down to get a better look, but Travis held me back.

“That’s the nigger church,” he said, matter-of-factly. “Ain’t our kind.”

I rolled my eyes. “Well, they sing a shitload better than those jerks we heard this morning.”

Lem’s eyes widened at my profanity and he let out a hoot. “Mama’ll wash your mouth out with soap if’n she hears ya say that.”

“She ain’t gonna find out if me or Jason says ‘shit’ or anything else, ya little nimrod,” Travis snapped. He turned back to me. “We gotta git goin’. C’mon — dinner’s waitin’.”

I swayed for a minute, then closed my eyes and listened to the voices. I realized what was missing from the Baptist Choir was passion — something that pulsated from every note from the voices of the black church. The melody was unfamiliar to me, but it was beautiful nonetheless.

I felt a hand tugging at my arm, and I snapped out of my reverie.

“Let’s go.”

Travis and Lem scurried back up the path, and I followed at a distance, turning back every so often to savor the music that rippled through the leaves.

Strange, I thought. It seemed like there was no predicting where you might run into unexpected beauty in this bizarre world.

§ § § § §

“You sure you know how to use that thing?” I asked, as Travis pulled the rifle from the gun rack over the fireplace.

He nodded. “This is a Henry ought-twenty-two,” he said, confidently. “Jimmy — my brother James, that is — me and him used it for the last coupla years, huntin’ on weekends. Used ta be my father’s — my real father’s, that is — but I only started shootin’ when I turned 13.”

“He’s a great shot,” added Lem breathlessly. “Tell him about the time you hit that fencepost ‘cross Jeff Jacobson’s backyard, Travis!”

He shrugged. “Just practice, is all. Ain’t nothin’ to shootin’, ‘cept for holdin’ your breath and concentratin’. Aim careful, squeeze the trigger, and hope for the best.”

I picked up the weapon and hefted it. It was bulkier than I expected, at least ten pounds, with a dull metal cylinder at the front and a heavy carved wood base at the back. “Volcanic Repeating Firearms Company, 1861,” I read on the engraved brass plate. “New Haven, Connecticut.”

“Push this down,” said Travis, indicating a metal release catch along the top, “then pull both sides towards you.”

I did and the rifle effortlessly snapped open with a solid ‘clank.’

“I got me ten cartridges, which should last us all day, if’n we’re lucky.” He jingled them in his hand.

“Are those dangerous?” I asked, examining one of the bullets. They didn’t look anything like the ammunition I’d seen in Die Hard and other action movies.

“Depends on who’s usin’ ‘em,” he said, gently lifting the rifle out of my hands, then began expertly loading the arsenal. “They’re usin’ the ought-forty-fours in the war. That’s double the firepower of this one, but you can only fire a couple dozen rounds ‘fore it gets too hot to handle.”

“Ya think Jimmy is usin’ one of these against the Yankees?” asked Lem, caught up in the excitement.

Travis froze, started to reply, then thought better of it and snapped the rifle back in place. “Got no way of knowin’,” he said. “But he’d be lucky to have a gun like this. Reckon they’re usin’ Enfield Muskets.” He turned to me, then hoisted the rifle onto his shoulder. “Those are from England. Pea-shooters.”

I started to ask why the Confederate Army was using guns from overseas, but decided to let that little detail of history go unanswered.

“Go fetch us a sack, Lem,” ordered Travis. “We’ll need ‘em for our catch this afternoon.”

The boy darted out of the room and reappeared seconds later with a cloth bag. “I’m comin’ along to help, right, Travis?” he said hopefully.

Travis shook his head. “You got chores with Mama,” he reminded. “Besides, me and Jason here got man-stuff to do. Nothin’ for little boys like you.”

“Am not!” cried Lem.

“Are so!”

 “Am... ow!” There was a loud smack.

I turned, startled, to see Mr. Colt glaring, while Lemuel rubbed his head.

“You best let the older boys go off and do their huntin’, Lemuel,” the man ordered. “Go help your mama feed the pigs out back.”

Lem slinked out of the room, still rubbing his head and muttering to himself, and Travis and I made our way to the front door.

“You be careful with that, now,” Mr. Colt warned after us, “and don’t be shootin’ up the countryside like you did last week. Them bullets don’t grow on trees, Travis.”

“Yessir,” Travis mumbled, as our boots clattered across the wood porch.

“And I expect at least five good’n’s for supper tonight,” Colt yelled, as we made our way across the front porch. “Be back ‘fore sunset, and your mama’ll have the fire ready.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Yes Sir!” called the man.

Travis kept going. “Yes, sir,” he muttered. He clenched and unclenched his jaw, and I followed him through the orchard and off to the west, a part of the Colt farm I hadn’t visited before. In seconds, the woods swallowed us up until the sun was only a vague orange light in the distance.


§ § § § §


“Hush,” Travis whispered. “Just hold your breath and squeeze the trigger.”

We were sprawled on our stomachs, using an overturned log as a makeshift gun mount. About 50 yards away I could just make out two furry ears twitching, as if the creature couldn’t decide whether he was safe or not.

“Tell me again: do I close my left eye or my right?” I whispered. Either way, the blur in the distance seemed impossibly small through the gun sight.

“Keep your left shut!” he hissed. “Aim through your right!”

“I am, I am,” I said, shifting my position slightly. Just then, a flock of overhead birds furiously fluttered, sounding like a giant feathered aircraft was about to crash on top of us. I squeezed the trigger and the gun exploded with a tremendous roar, sending me sprawling backwards into the dirt. I looked up and saw a blur of gray as the rabbit tore through the grass, darted past a nearby tree trunk, then vanished in the forest.

“Lost him!” Travis cried. “That’s the second one today!”

I handed him back the gun, my ears still ringing with the shot. “I warned you, before, Travis: I’m a singer, not a hunter.”

He shook his head, then checked the bloody sack to his right. “We’ve only got four rabbits for supper,” he said. “Colt’s gonna expect at least one more, maybe more.”

I cocked my head. “‘Colt?’ You never call him, ‘Dad’?”

“Told ya before — he ain’t my daddy. Far as I’m concerned, he’s just ‘Sir.’ Or ‘Mr. Colt’ to everybody else.”

Travis slung the bag over his shoulder and started trudging off in our prey’s general direction. I had to jog to keep up with him.

“But he’s Lem’s father?” I asked, nonchalantly.

He shook his head. “Our real daddy died almost five years ago.” The twigs cracked like firecrackers under our boots, and I almost slipped once or twice. “Lem was real little. I don’t think he even remembers our real father anymore. Seth Colt’s the only daddy he knows. But he ain’t blood.” He fell silent, then turned away.

I let the silence pass as we walked together in the forest. After a few minutes, the surrounding trees and vegetation seemed completely unfamiliar to me.

“You sure you know where we’re going, Travis?” I asked, wiping some of the sweat and grime out of my eyes. For all I knew, we could be in the jungles of Vietnam, or somewhere deep in the Congo. If an elephant charges out of the brush, I thought, I’ll know for sure.

The blond boy looked around. “Reckon we can find some rabbit warrens ‘round here someplace. Colt says they do a lotta damage to our crops.”

The sound of croaking frogs and crickets was almost overpowering, giving the forest the eerie feel of a Disney Jungleland Cruise ride. I followed him through the tall weeds, which parted like a natural curtain to lead us out to a small outcropping that overlooked a wide creek. There were voices and splashing noises in the distance.

“Is that the Missouri River?” I asked, stepping closer to get a better look.

“Not hardly,” he said, then pointed off to his left. “The Missouri’s way out yonder. This is just one of them little streams.”

“A tributary,” I added, remembering a random factoid from an old geology class.

“Somethin’ like that.” He peered in the distance, then broke out in a broad grin. “Why, if that ain’t Jasper and Andy! And Johnny, too! C’mon, let’s go skinny dippin’!”

“But I thought...”

“We got time for huntin’ later!” he said, scrambling down the hill.

I followed him down to the muddy banks below, where a half-dozen boys were frolicking in the water. Two of them were perched on wooden rafts, trying to jab each other with long wooden sticks. Another boy called out from above us.

“’Bout time you got here, Travis!”

I looked up to see a dark-haired boy, totally naked, perched in the limbs of an ancient tree, which hung over the water. He looked like he was about as old as Travis and myself, and was clinging to a rope tied to the uppermost tree limb. Travis led me over to a large shrub dotted with shirts and pants, along with several pairs of shoes parked in the dirt. As I took my clothes off, I felt my face redden at the thought that I was about to join a half-dozen naked boys in a river.

“Watch this!” yelled a loud voice.

I looked up just in time to see a blur as a rope arced out over the water and the boy leapt out into the air, then plunged at least 20 feet into the water with a tremendous splash.

“Good one!” called Travis. The other boys responded with whistles and whoops.

I looked up to see Travis standing naked beside me, casually hanging his shirt on a limb. I turned to avoid seeing him, but my heart was hammering so loudly I was sure he could hear it.

“You gonna come in, Jason,” he asked, “or is your head still hurtin’ ya?”

I shrugged, trying to seem casual, and avoided looking below his eyes. “Maybe in the shallow end.” God knows what kind of germs they have in 1864, I thought. I’ll probably die of gangrene or worse. I gingerly touched my bandage and was relieved when I felt almost no pain at all. I slipped out of my shoes and socks, hung my pants and shirt on a limb next to Travis’ clothes, and felt the cool air flutter around my naked body. I took a deep breath and headed towards the river. Ready or not, here I come.

My heart still pounding, I waded out until the water was about at knee level, then stopped. The muddy riverbed oozed beneath my feet felt like some kind of viscous glue, and I gingerly touched a few underwater plants with my toes. Back in my old life in Seattle, I’d never been in anything other than a swimming pool before, because the Pacific was usually too cold to swim in for me. The Missouri River wasn’t exactly warm, but it was a heckuva lot more comfortable than the beaches back home.

Still, I felt a sense of dread. Images of slimy reptiles suddenly filled my head, probably leftovers from watching old National Geographic specials on PBS with my father.

“There any snakes around here?” I called to Travis.

He surfaced to my right, sprayed out some water from his mouth, then flipped his shaggy blond out of his eyes.

“Mebbe a few,” he said. “But most snakes’re more a-skeered of us than we are of them. That’s what my brother taught me.” Turning to a boy on his left, Travis pointed to me. “Andy! This here’s my new friend Jason. He’s from Can-a-da.”

“Vancouver, actually,” I added splashing some of the water up on my body. I tried to avoid letting my eyes dart any lower than any of the other boys’ shoulders, fearful of an instant erection, and I prayed that the water’s temperature would be the equivalent of a cold shower. “My family lived on the Northwest coast, just above Washington.”

“Washington, what?” the boy asked.

I momentarily panicked, then tried to remember when Washington became a state. Was it before or after the Civil War? I had to make sure all my lies added up, or else these people would probably burn me at the stake.

“Washington territory, ya dang fool,” said a third voice. “Anybody knows that.”

The voices grew closer, and I looked up to see a half-dozen teenage boys paddling closer, eying me with curiosity. I decided to wade out a little deeper, feeling a little... well, exposed, then crouched down in the shallow water to my waist.

“I seen him,” said one, who I recognized as one of the boys from the cave. “He was with me an’ Frank ‘n Jesse over at Marsen’s Cavern on Friday night. We all nearly died in that cave-in. Gave us quite a fright.”

I peered at him. “You’re... John? Johnny?” I was terrible at associating names and faces, but his was one I remembered from the rocky cave with the blue light.

He nodded. “Johnny Younger. You’re that Thomas boy, right?”

“Yeah, that’s me. Jason Thomas.”

“Didn’t know there were any Jews in the Thomas family,” said another boy to his right.

I looked up, momentarily taken aback.

“I saw you, just now,” he said, accusingly. The other boys began to gather around in a half-circle, making the water ripple in circles around our thighs. “Jew.”

I tried to avoid looking at them. Seeing a half-dozen nude teenage boys, especially in circumstances as casual as this, could have an immediate — and dangerous — effect on me.

“Stand up,” he ordered. “You’ll see.”

I slowly stood up, letting the water trickle down my naked skin, momentarily gratified that my penis had barely stirred. Despite the visual stimulation, the cool water swirling around my knees made this situation anything but erotic.

“Actually, I’m... uh, a Presbyterian,” I said. “At least, my family was.”

The five boys stepped closer to get a better look. I suddenly realized that all of them were uncircumcised, and I clearly wasn’t. I began to blush.

“So what if his john-thomas ain’t like ours?” said Travis, wading over to my side and standing up. “That don’t make him no Jew.”

“Uh, everybody where I come from is... y’know, like this,” I explained, feeling my dick start to stir with the unwanted attention. “I mean, I didn’t exactly have any say in it, since the doctor did it to me when I was born. Removing my foreskin, that is.”

Johnny stepped forward, his penis dangling back and forth. “The only peters like that we ever saw ‘round these parts were from dirty Jews.” He leaned forward menacingly. “And we don’t cotton much to Christ-killers.”

I glared at him. “I’ll make a note of that,” I retorted. “‘Jews, blacks, and Yankees.’ Anything else I should add to the list? Aside from stupid assholes and ignorant hicks?”

With a loud cry, the boy launched himself at me and landed a solid punch on my shoulder, missing my face by inches. I howled with pain, then grabbed him by the neck and pulled him down into the water with all my strength.

“FIGHT!” yelled one of them.

All I could see was a flurry of bubbles and spray, as our fists flew back and forth. One blow hit me just below my right eye, but I managed to hook one of my legs behind his and pushed him backwards with a splash, then we began to roll around in the muddy water. He began to scream. His hand lashed out and tried to grab me, but only succeeded in scratching my chest. The water stung my eyes slightly, but it was too muddy to see clearly. I came up for air, grabbed a quick breath, then brought my knee up as hard as I could, prompting a satisfying scream from my opponent. When we broke back up to the surface, I began to slap him with both hands, as hard as I could, pummeling him with a whirlwind of blows. There was a trickle of blood on his mouth, and a deadly look in his eyes. He cocked back his fist as if to hit me again.

“STOP THAT!” cried a voice.

Travis yanked me up out of the water, and two other boys dragged Johnny in the opposite direction, flailing and screaming.

“Ain’t no Jew gonna get the best o’ me!” he wailed.

“I told you, you schmuck — I’m not Jewish!” I called back. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

Travis shot me a glance, but said nothing.

We sloshed out of the water and headed back to the bottom of the hill, where our clothes were stashed. The other boys silently stared at us as we dressed. By the time I turned back to the river, most of them had disappeared, one paddling away on a raft, another staring down at us from the perch of a tree hanging low over the water.

“C’mon,” muttered Travis. “Let’s get outta here. We got us one more rabbit to catch.”

I followed him through the woods, pushing past the weeds and vines, making our way back to the path. We kept silent for several minutes, and I was soon out of breath, just trying to keep up with him.

“Not a very good first impression with your friends,” I said, jogging up next to him. “I’m sorry about that.”

Travis wouldn’t look at me. “You fight like a girl,” he said, hefting the rifle up to his shoulder and walking a little faster. “Like some kinda sissy. Even Lem fights better’n that.”

My face reddened. “Well, what do you expect, Travis? I got a concussion, my Aunt’s dead, I’ve been in this...” — I stopped myself from saying, “this crazy Civil War nightmare” — “this place for four days, and now some doofus tries to punch me out because he doesn’t like my dick! Where I come from, people don’t act that way, especially to strangers.”

“They do ‘round these parts,” he muttered.

I followed Travis as we made our way through a group of fresh new trees. I swatted two or three mosquitoes away from my face.

“Speaking of which, where exactly are we, anyway?” I asked.

“Coupla miles from the church. Me and Lem spotted a bunch of rabbits out here two weeks ago. Maybe we can scare up one more for supper.”

I started to respond, but he held his index finger up to his lips and pointed to an oak tree about 50 years away. I saw what could be a spec of gray fur, peeking out from behind the trunk. A few seconds later, two furry ears popped into view. Travis quietly cracked open his rifle, ejected the spent shell, loaded in a new one, then slowly snapped it back, making almost no sound. He lifted the rifle up to his shoulder and took careful aim.

Suddenly, I became aware of a melody, almost an angelic choir.

Travis stopped. “You hear somethin’?”

I nodded. “What is it?”

He turned and looked back at the distant forest. “Oh, it’s just the nigger church again. Don’t pay them darkies no never-mind.”

I started to respond, but the voices suddenly rose to a loud crescendo, then stopped abruptly, as if someone pulled the plug on the speakers. I followed the sound over to a large bush and peeked over it. In the distance was the same dilapidated building I had seen earlier that morning, only now a small crowd of worshippers was exiting out the front doors. All of them were black, some wearing very shabby clothes. Most of them shuffled down a dirt road leading south; one man went back inside and closed the door.

I waited for the last of the crowd to disappear, then took a few steps forward and began to climb down the hill.

“Where you think you’re goin’?” Travis hissed.

“I just want to see the ni­–... I mean, the black church,” I said. “Just take me a second.”

Travis grumbled but leaned the rifle up against a tree, near the bloody sack that contained the day’s bounty, and followed me down the hill and over to the church.

Close-up, it wasn’t quite the ramshackle building it had first appeared to be. The roof looked solid, and the porch was made of polished wood, very neatly done. A hand-painted sign over the doorway proclaimed it to be the “Gospel Hall All-Faith Church — est. 1860.” I slowly pushed the door open. The room was dark and empty, with a few shafts of light poking through a window at the very back, to the left of the podium. I spotted an upright piano half in shadow off to the right, with a few scraps of paper on a stand above the keyboard.

My fingers twitched. I hadn’t practiced piano for almost a week, since I had left home before my trip to St. Louis. I turned to Travis.

“I gotta do something,” I said. “It’s hard to explain, but... just give me a few minutes at the piano.”

“This ain’t no place for us, Jason,” Travis whispered. “Not for any white man ‘round these parts.”

I grinned. “I’m not from here, remember? Keep watch at the door and just give me five minutes.”

I crept down the aisle past several rows of seats, far smaller than the First Baptist Church we had visited earlier that morning. The room smelled damp, but had a pleasant aroma of strange perfume and spices. The floor creaked beneath my feet as I approached the piano bench. There was an unlit candlestick on a shelf above the keyboard, and I instinctively felt for my Bic lighter, which was still in my pocket. Seconds later, the piano was bathed in a warm glow. I sat down at the keyboard and played a couple of introductory chords, then winced.

Ouch. The B-above middle-C was definitely flat. I’d have to avoid that one, or fix it if I could find the tools later.

I tried a few more tentative chords, then began quietly singing to myself.

“When you’re down and troubled...
and you need some lovin’ care...”

“That sounds even better than the guitar,” said a voice behind me.

“Travis!” I gasped. “You scared the shit out of me.”

“Do that again,” he said, sliding next to me on the bench. “How do ya make them chords like that?”

“Like this?” I played a few little runs, then mixed in some major and minor scales, followed with a couple of tricky piano exercises I liked to use to limber up, leading up to a glissando with a dramatic flourish.

“That’s amazin’,” he said, his whole face grinning from ear to ear.

“It’d be even better if the thing was in tune. Listen to this.” I tapped the B key. “That’s at least a half-step flat. And this one.” The lower G-sharp key was even worse. “Here’s how it should sound.” I whistled the right frequency, then kit the key again and shook my head. “Not even close.”

“How do you know that?” he asked, clearly impressed.

I shrugged. “It’s a curse,” I said. “I have perfect pitch, or close to it. If I hear a note, I know immediately if it’s on or off frequency. You have to be born with it. Drives me nuts when I hear something out of tune.”

I continued to play a few practice lines I could remember, moving into a kind of bluesy jazz mode.

“I’ve been playing piano almost since I could walk,” I said, shifting into a different key. “My mom loves to tell the story about how she found me playing piano at my grandmother’s house when I was three years old. I just sort of naturally gravitated to it, and figured it out on my own, almost before I could talk.”

“You didn’t have a teacher or nothin’?”

I chuckled. “That came later. But every weekend, I’d bug my folks to take me over to my grandparents’ house, just so I could play the piano. They eventually had to buy me a keyboard when I was 8, and then I actually took lessons a couple of times a month, when we could afford it.”

I led into a few minor chords I stole from Chopin, and let the notes ring out in the darkness until they evaporated.

“I swear,” he said, almost reverentially, “you got real talent.”

“You swear, huh?” I played another quick run, followed by a syncopated intro, then began to sing.

“I swear...
by the moon and the stars in the sky...
I’ll be there...

I swear...
like the shadow that’s by your side,
I'll be there...

For better or worse,
‘till death do us part,
I'll love you with every beat of my heart...
I swear.”

I played a few concluding chords, then glanced over to him. I don’t know if it was the flicker of the candle, but his face seemed to glow with an expression of pure love and affection. I cleared my throat, feeling very embarrassed.

“That was... that was just plain beautiful,” he said, almost whispering. “How’d you make up a song like that, outta nothin’?”

I laughed and shook my head. “No, no. That one was sung by two different artists back where I come from. A country singer named John Michael Montgomery had a big hit with it, and then another group sang the same song and had a smash pop hit with it all over again a few months later. Big song from 10 or 12 years ago.” In my time, that is, I reminded myself.

He shook his head, half in disbelief. “I still can’t believe you know this much about music. All I know is farmin’ and shootin’... dumb stuff like that. And you’re only fifteen, just like me.”

I chuckled. “I grinned. “Fifteen is older than you think,” I said. “Here’s another one.” I played the opening melody, then began to sing.

“I’m 15 for a moment
Caught inbetween 10 and 20
And I’m just dreaming...
Counting the ways to where you are

15... there’s still time for you
Time to buy, and time to choose
Hey 15, there’s never a wish better than this...
When you only got 100 years to live.”

I finished the long instrumental close, then let the last notes of the piano ring out, reverberating against the wooden walls of the small church.

“That’s… that’s beautiful,” said Travis. “How you get your voice to sing so high like that?”

“That’s called falsetto,” I said. “It’s not exactly your real voice. It’s kind of a voice above your regular voice. It took me six months of lessons before I could figure out how to get any kind of decent vibrato in my falsetto range, and how to slide back down to my regular voice, which is kind of a high baritone. I’ve got about a two-and-a-half octave range, which my teacher says is pretty good.”

“It’s really somethin’, no matter what you call it.”

Just then, there was a brief smattering of applause behind us. We turned to see a black man in a dark suit coming down the aisle. We quickly stood up and I slammed the keyboard cover down with a thud.

“Hi,” I said, a little too loudly. “I’m, uh... I’m really sorry for trespassing, but I heard your choir and just wanted to see where all the music was coming from.”

The man stood by the piano and eyed me warily.

“They sound great,” I hastily added. “The... uh, the choir that is.”

“Thank you,” the man said, finally breaking out in a smile. “And you sing very well, yourself, young man. I’m Titus Meachum — I’m the pastor of this church. And you are?”

“Jason Thomas,” I said, holding out my hand, which he gripped firmly.

“Thomas... Jason Thomas,” he murmured. “You related to Miss Olivia Thomas?”

I nodded. “She was my aunt.”

He smiled, but it was a sad smile. “Miss Olivia was a fine woman... a friend of this church. She wasn’t exactly one of our parishioners, but she helped us in many other ways.”

Travis shifted on his feet uncomfortably. “We gotta go,” he said in a low voice.

The pastor nodded. “I understand. Please, feel free to come by anytime. Our church is open to anyone.” He paused, then looked at Travis. “Regardless of color. Free man or slave, they’re all welcome here at the Gospel Hall All-Faith Church.”

I grinned. “Maybe I will. If nothing else,” I said, nodding towards the piano, “I might be able to help you tune that piano.”

“We could use some help at that,” the man replied.

“C’mon,” said Travis, who led me back down the aisle and half-shoved me out the front door. “Let’s get back to huntin’.”

We returned to the small clearing where his rifle and bloody sack still lay. There were no signs of the rabbit anywhere.

“Damn,” Travis muttered.

The sun was beginning to stain the sky with deep reddish hues. Travis pulled out his pocket watch and shook his head.

“It’s almost five,” he said. “Colt’ll tan my hide if I don’t bring back more food for the table.”

I grinned. “I’m good for vegetarian tonight. Just give me a salad and some milk and I’ll be okay.”

“Make sure you tell him that.”

“I will.”

§ § § § §


When we were halfway through supper, there was a knock at the door.

“Who in tarnation can that be?” growled Mr. Colt. “Ain’t expectin’ nobody for dinner, are we, Sarah?”

“Go get the door, Lem,” said Mrs. Colt.

The boy scurried out of the kitchen. I heard some voices, then Lem dashed back to the table. “It’s Mr. McBillin from the general store,” he said breathlessly. “He wants to talk to Jason.”

My fork froze in mid-air. What’s this about?

“Maybe he’s come back to finish yellin’ at ya,” said Travis with a smirk.

I hadn’t forgotten the confrontation I had with the angry Scotsman in town the day before.

“As long as it’s not Johnny coming over to punch me out again, I’m OK,” I said drily, and made my way over to the front door.

The man stood in the doorway, with a glowing lantern casting a weird glow on his face. His wife gave him a threatening glance.

“Go on, Angus,” she prodded. “Say your peace to the young man.”

I raised an eyebrow and looked at McBillin expectantly.

“I, ah... my wife and I wanted to ask you... that is... if it might not be expectin’ too much...”

“Just say it, Angus!” prodded the woman, whom I recognized from the store yesterday.

He turned to her. “I’m gettin’ there, Sally.”

Mr. Colt stepped next to me. “Evenin’, Angus. What brings you out to my farm? Trouble back in town?”

McBillin shook his head. “No, Seth. After meetin’ this young man yesterday mornin’, I thought maybe... well, perhaps I was a bit too hasty with our conversation.”

“I’m sorry about that,” I began. “I really shouldn’t have butted in to your business.”

“No need for apologies,” Mrs. McBillin said. “Angus and I wanted to see if you might be interested in coming to work for us at the store. Just a few days a week after school, and all day on Saturdays.”

“I canna pay ya much,” Angus quickly added. “I figure maybe 50 cents a day would be fair. A dollar on Saturday.”

Realization set in. “Tell you what,” I said, trying not to smile too much. “I’ll take that for a start, but I’d want a percentage of the gross if your sales go up.”

The man raised an eyebrow. “What d’ya mean ‘percentage’?”

I shrugged. “Say you’re doing $2000 a month in gross income now. If it goes up to, say, $3000 a month for November, you give me ten percent of the difference. Ten percent of $1000 would be an extra $100.”

He thought it over. “Not a penny over five percent!”

I did some quick math. “OK, but then I’d want a raise to $1 a day.”

“Only if the profits go as high as you say they will.”

“I’m pretty sure of it,” I said with a grin. “In fact, I bet you’ll do so much business you’ll have to open up another store inside of a year.”

Colt let out a laugh. “Angus,” he said, wiping his eyes, “I never thought I’d see the day when a boy would out-negotiate you in business.”

“Hey, I saw Wall Street three times,” I said to him. “‘Greed is good.’ That was the guy’s motto. Not a bad business philosophy, up to a point.”

Mrs. Colt looked concerned. “But the boy’s schooling...”

I raised my hands in mock surrender. “I promise, I’ll do my homework and all that stuff.” I thought, how hard could school be in 1864? There’s only what... 30 states to learn? And half as much world history? Plus no Computer Lab, which was the bane of my existence.

“Then we have a deal then?”

I shook the man’s hand, and he clapped my shoulder. “I’ll say this, m’boy — ya drive a hard bargain. Are you sure ya don’t have any Scots in ya?”

“I think the Thomases are all English-Irish,” I said, “but I’m not sure about my mother’s side of the family. She was a Donaldson — Marie Donaldson.”

McBillin’s face brightened. “Aye,” he said, “Donaldson’s a good old Scottish clan. Goes back for generations, it does.” He clapped my shoulder. “Ya just might be a Scotsman after all, boyo.”

“Thanks, Mr. McBillin. I’ll be by the store first thing after school on Tuesday.”

“Tuesday’s choir rehearsal,” reminded Mrs. Colt.

“Wednesday, then. I’ll work every day until 6, and then give you a full eight hours on Saturday.”

He nodded. “And maybe we can talk about those changes ya come up with. Like movin’ the counter up to the front.”

“You got a deal.”

We said our good-nights, then returned to the kitchen, where Mrs. Colt had made a fresh custard pie for dessert.

“Great dinner, Mrs. C,” I said, pushing my chair back from the table. “Man, I’m gonna be gaining weight living with you guys.”

She smiled. “Seems to me you could use a few more pounds. Sure you wouldn’t like some rabbit stew? Lem left half his bowl. I can just warm it right up.”

I shook my head, stifling a yawn. “No. Better get to bed.”

“You boys got school tomorrow,” reminded Mr. Colt, as we walked out the back door down the dirt path that led to the barn. “Get yer chores done at dawn, then on your way to some proper learnin’.”

“A little red one-room schoolhouse?” I said, remembering an old 1940s movie I had seen in a film appreciation class.

“Not hardly. They got up to grade 12 over at the Jefferson School. Sixteen different classes. I ’spect you’ll be goin’ to 9th grade with Travis.”

“That works for me.”

Colt nodded, then walked away in the night.

Travis jogged up to me and helped me open the barn door, then started to walk back to the farmhouse.

“Hey,” I said, touching his arm. “I’m sorry about the fight at the river. Guess I got off on the wrong foot with some of your friends.”

He shrugged. “People ‘round here don’t always like newcomers. ‘Specially people who’re different.”

Yeah, I thought. I’m different, alright — a gay kid from 2007. That’ll go over real well with these ignorant bigots.

“I’ll try not to be too different at school,” I said, as we walked over to a nearby fence post and leaned against it. “Maybe you can help me fit in.”

“Ya need to learn how to fight — that’s for damn sure,” he said. “Gotta take care of yourself.”

I shook my head. “I’m not a fighter, Travis. Not my style. But I don’t let anybody push me around, either.”

He grinned. “Maybe I can teach ya to throw a good punch. My daddy knew how to fight. He taught me and James how to box when I was ten, the summer ‘fore he passed away.” He put up his fists, then made a few quick moves, missing my chin by inches. “Daddy used to say he was a ‘student of pugilism,’ whatever that was.”

“I think that’s something to do with boxing,” I said with a sigh. “I know piano real well, and I can sing as well as anybody I’ve ever met, but fighting’s not exactly my thing.”

I glanced down at the ground and noticed several rabbits had come up to a fence post to chew on the grass. They were less than ten feet away, but paid no attention to us.

“Hey,” I whispered, nodding towards the rabbits. “I bet you wish you had your rifle right now.”

Travis shrugged. “We sorta have a truce after sunset. I say, they’re fair game as long as there’s light out. At night, they can run around all they want.”

“Wish I could get a truce from Johnny,” I said. “But I don’t think he’ll go for it.”

“I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to you,” he said in a low voice.

“Thanks,” I said. “I’ve dealt with assholes like him before. But maybe you can teach me some moves, in case I have to clobber him.”

He leaned in close, his face just inches from mine. The moonlight caught a gleam in his eye, and I had to catch my breath. For a desperate moment, I thought he was going to kiss me.

“You’re... you’re a good friend, Jason,” he said, almost in a whisper. “Your music... it really makes you special.”

“Thanks,” I said, feeling overcome by a wave of emotion. We stood there, an uncomfortable silence between us. The crickets seemed to hesitate, their nightly symphony slowing for a moment. Should I go for it? My heart was hammering in my chest. I leaned forward. If I shifted my head just half a foot, I could kiss him.

But just before I could make a move, he stood up and began walking back towards the farmhouse. “I’ll send Lem out to wake ya at dawn. We got a few chores to do, then we’ll leave for school at 7:30.”

“Thanks, Travis. Good night.”

“And don’t worry about tomorrow,” he called over his shoulder. “I’ll make sure nobody bothers ya at school.”

I was shaking a little as I closed the barn door, then I leaned against it and closed my eyes. This is always my problem, I thought. Falling in love with a straight guy is the stupidest mistake I could make. I could just hear J.D. taunting me with his list of Gay Do’s and Don’ts. That one was number three on the hit parade, along with unsafe sex and hooking up with strangers on the Internet.

I climbed up the ladder, then pulled off my clothes and flopped down on my bed. I thought back to the boys I had seen back at the river earlier that afternoon and fought to keep the image out of my mind. I’d never get to sleep with the vision of those hot naked guys from the river, dancing around in my head. But the dread of starting school in the morning was more than enough to kill any erotic fantasies for tonight. Still, I wondered how I’d survive going to school with kids from the 1860s — people that I had nothing in common with. Could I really pull this off?

As if to answer my question, one of the cows in the lower part of the barn let out a loud belch, followed by a long “moooooo.”

“Thanks for the support, Bessie,” I muttered, then pulled the covers up to my chin.


excerpt from “100 Years”
By Five for Fighting
words & music by John Ondrasik
© 2004 EMI Blackwood Music, Inc. (BMI)
All Rights Reserved.

excerpt from “I Swear”
words & music by Gary Baker & Frank Meyers
© 1994 Morganactive Songs, Inc. (BMI)
All Rights Reserved.

excerpt from “You’ve Got a Friend”
Music & Lyrics by Carole King
©1971 EMI Music Publishing, Inc. (ASCAP)
All rights reserved.


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